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He was a weapon whose
hilt was held by an invisible hand. From that time forward he paid daily
visits to the Rougons. He required a centre of operations. His relative,
Monsieur de Valqueyras, had forbidden him to bring any of his associates
into his house, so he had chosen Felicite's yellow drawing-room.
Moreover, he very soon found Pierre a valuable assistant. He could not
go himself and preach the cause of Legitimacy to the petty traders and
workmen of the old quarter; they would have hooted him. Pierre, on the
other hand, who had lived among these people, spoke their language and
knew their wants, was able to catechise them in a friendly way. He thus
became an indispensable man. In less than a fortnight the Rougons were
more determined royalists than the king himself. The marquis, perceiving
Pierre's zeal, shrewdly sheltered himself behind him. What was the use
of making himself conspicuous, when a man with such broad shoulders was
willing to bear on them the burden of all the follies of a party? He
allowed Pierre to reign, puff himself out with importance and speak
with authority, content to restrain or urge him on, according to
the necessities of the cause. Thus, the old oil-dealer soon became a
personage of mark. In the evening, when they were alone, Felicite used
to say to him: "Go on, don't be frightened. We're on the right track. If
this continues we shall be rich; we shall have a drawing-room like the
tax-receiver's, and be able to entertain people."

A little party of Conservatives had already been formed at the Rougons'
house, and meetings were held every evening in the yellow drawing-room
to declaim against the Republic.

Among those who came were three or four retired merchants who trembled
for their money, and clamoured with all their might for a wise and
strong government. An old almond-dealer, a member of the Municipal
Council, Monsieur Isidore Granoux, was the head of this group. His
hare-lipped mouth was cloven a little way from the nose; his round eyes,
his air of mingled satisfaction and astonishment, made him resemble a
fat goose whose digestion is attended by wholesome terror of the cook.
He spoke little, having no command of words; and he only pricked up
his ears when anyone accused the Republicans of wishing to pillage the
houses of the rich; whereupon he would colour up to such a degree as
to make one fear an approaching apoplectic fit, and mutter low
imprecations, in which the words "idlers," "scoundrels," "thieves," and
"assassins" frequently recurred.

All those who frequented the yellow drawing-room were not, however,
as heavy as this fat goose. A rich landowner, Monsieur Roudier, with a
plump, insinuating face, used to discourse there for hours altogether,
with all the passion of an Orleanist whose calculations had been upset
by the fall of Louis Philippe. He had formerly been a hosier at Paris,
and a purveyor to the Court, but had now retired to Plassans. He had
made his son a magistrate, relying on the Orleanist party to promote him
to the highest dignities. The revolution having ruined all his hopes, he
had rushed wildly into the reaction. His fortune, his former commercial
relations with the Tuileries, which he transformed into friendly
intercourse, that prestige which is enjoyed by every man in the
provinces who has made his money in Paris and deigns to come and spend
it in a far away department, gave him great influence in the district;
some persons listened to him as though he were an oracle.

However, the strongest intellect of the yellow drawing-room was
certainly Commander Sicardot, Aristide's father-in-law. Of Herculean
frame, with a brick-red face, scarred and planted with tufts of grey
hair, he was one of the most glorious old dolts of the Grande Armee.
During the February Revolution he had been exasperated with the
street warfare and never wearied of referring to it, proclaiming with
indignation that this kind of fighting was shameful: whereupon he
recalled with pride the grand reign of Napoleon.

Another person seen at the Rougons' house was an individual with clammy
hands and equivocal look, one Monsieur Vuillet, a bookseller, who
supplied all the devout ladies of the town with holy images and
rosaries. Vuillet dealt in both classical and religious works; he was
a strict Catholic, a circumstance which insured him the custom of the
numerous convents and parish churches. Further, by a stroke of genius he
had added to his business the publication of a little bi-weekly
journal, the "Gazette de Plassans," which was devoted exclusively to
the interests of the clergy. This paper involved an annual loss of a
thousand francs, but it made him the champion of the Church, and enabled
him to dispose of his sacred unsaleable stock. Though he was virtually
illiterate and could not even spell correctly, he himself wrote the
articles of the "Gazette" with a humility and rancour that compensated
for his lack of talent. The marquis, in entering on the campaign, had
perceived immediately the advantage that might be derived from the
co-operation of this insipid sacristan with the coarse, mercenary pen.
After the February Revolution the articles in the "Gazette" contained
fewer mistakes; the marquis revised them.

One can now imagine what a singular spectacle the Rougons' yellow
drawing-room presented every evening. All opinions met there to bark at
the Republic. Their hatred of that institution made them agree together.
The marquis, who never missed a meeting, appeased by his presence the
little squabbles which occasionally arose between the commander and
the other adherents. These plebeians were inwardly flattered by the
handshakes which he distributed on his arrival and departure. Roudier,
however, like a free-thinker of the Rue Saint-Honore, asserted that the
marquis had not a copper to bless himself with, and was disposed to make
light of him. M. de Carnavant on his side preserved the amiable smile of
a nobleman lowering himself to the level of these middle class people,
without making any of those contemptuous grimaces which any other
resident of the Saint-Marc quarter would have thought fit under such
circumstances. The parasite life he had led had rendered him supple. He
was the life and soul of the group, commanding in the name of unknown
personages whom he never revealed. "They want this, they don't want
that," he would say. The concealed divinities who thus watched over
the destinies of Plassans from behind some cloud, without appearing to
interfere directly in public matters, must have been certain priests,
the great political agents of the country. When the marquis pronounced
that mysterious word "they," which inspired the assembly with such
marvellous respect, Vuillet confessed, with a gesture of pious devotion,
that he knew them very well.

The happiest person in all this was Felicite. At last she had people
coming to her drawing-room. It was true she felt a little ashamed of her
old yellow velvet furniture. She consoled herself, however, thinking
of the rich things she would purchase when the good cause should have
triumphed. The Rougons had, in the end, regarded their royalism as very
serious. Felicite went as far as to say, when Roudier was not present,
that if they had not made a fortune in the oil business the fault lay in
the monarchy of July. This was her mode of giving a political tinge to
their poverty. She had a friendly word for everybody, even for Granoux,
inventing each evening some new polite method of waking him up when it
was time for departure.

The drawing-room, that little band of Conservatives belonging to
all parties, and daily increasing in numbers, soon wielded powerful
influence. Owing to the diversified characters of its members, and
especially to the secret impulse which each one received from the
clergy, it became the centre of the reactionary movement and spread its
influence throughout Plassans. The policy of the marquis, who sank his
own personality, transformed Rougon into the leader of the party. The
meetings were held at his house, and this circumstance sufficed in the
eyes of most people to make him the head of the group, and draw public
attention to him. The whole work was attributed to him; he was believed
to be the chief artisan of the movement which was gradually bringing
over to the Conservative party those who had lately been enthusiastic
Republicans. There are some situations which benefit only persons of bad
repute. These lay the foundations of their fortune where men of better
position and more influence would never dare to risk theirs. Roudier,
Granoux, and the others, all men of means and respectability, certainly
seemed a thousand times preferable to Pierre as the acting leaders of
the Conservative party. But none of them would have consented to turn
his drawing-room into a political centre. Their convictions did not go
so far as to induce them to compromise themselves openly; in fact, they
were only so many provincial babblers, who liked to inveigh against the
Republic at a neighbour's house as long as the neighbour was willing to
bear the responsibility of their chatter. The game was too risky. There
was no one among the middle classes of Plassans who cared to play it
except the Rougons, whose ungratified longings urged them on to extreme

In the month of April, 1849, Eugene suddenly left Paris, and came to
stay with his father for a fortnight. Nobody ever knew the purpose of
this journey. It is probable that Eugene wanted to sound his native
town, to ascertain whether he might successfully stand as a candidate
for the legislature which was about to replace the Constituent Assembly.
He was too shrewd to risk a failure. No doubt public opinion appeared to
him little in his favour, for he abstained from any attempt. It was not
known at Plassans what had become of him in Paris, what he was doing
there. On his return to his native place, folks found him less heavy and
somnolent than formerly. They surrounded him and endeavoured to make him
speak out concerning the political situation. But he feigned ignorance
and compelled them to talk.

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