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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. A little perspicacity would have detected
that beneath his apparent unconcern there was great anxiety with regard
to the political opinions of the town. However, he seemed to be sounding
the ground more on behalf of a party than on his own account.

Although he had renounced all hope for himself, he remained at Plassans
until the end of the month, assiduously attending the meetings in the
yellow drawing-room. As soon as the bell rang, announcing the first
visitor, he would take up his position in one of the window recesses as
far as possible from the lamp. And he remained there the whole
evening, resting his chin on the palm of his right hand, and listening
religiously. The greatest absurdities did not disturb his equanimity.
He nodded approval even to the wild grunts of Granoux. When anyone asked
him his own opinion, he politely repeated that of the majority. Nothing
seemed to tire his patience, neither the hollow dreams of the marquis,
who spoke of the Bourbons as if 1815 were a recent date, nor the
effusions of citizen Roudier, who grew quite pathetic when he recounted
how many pairs of socks he had supplied to the citizen king, Louis
Philippe. On the contrary, he seemed quite at his ease in this Tower of
Babel. Sometimes, when these grotesque personages were storming against
the Republic, his eyes would smile, while his lips retained their
expression of gravity. His meditative manner of listening, and his
invariable complacency, had earned him the sympathy of everyone. He was
considered a nonentity, but a very decent fellow. Whenever an old oil or
almond dealer failed to get a hearing, amidst the clamour, for some plan
by which he could save France if he were only a master, he took himself
off to Eugene and shouted his marvellous suggestions in his ear. And
Eugene gently nodded his head, as though delighted with the grand
projects he was listening to. Vuillet, alone, regarded him with a
suspicious eye. This bookseller, half-sacristan and half-journalist,
spoke less than the others, but was more observant. He had noticed
that Eugene occasionally conversed at times in a corner with Commander
Sicardot. So he determined to watch them, but never succeeded in
overhearing a word. Eugene silenced the commander by a wink whenever
Vuillet approached them. From that time, Sicardot never spoke of the
Napoleons without a mysterious smile.

Two days before his return to Paris, Eugene met his brother Aristide, on
the Cours Sauvaire, and the latter accompanied him for a short distance
with the importunity of a man in search of advice. As a matter of fact,
Aristide was in great perplexity. Ever since the proclamation of the
Republic, he had manifested the most lively enthusiasm for the new
government. His intelligence, sharpened by two years' stay at Paris,
enabled him to see farther than the thick heads of Plassans. He divined
the powerlessness of the Legitimists and Orleanists, without clearly
distinguishing, however, what third thief would come and juggle the
Republic away. At all hazard he had ranged himself on the side of the
victors, and he had severed his connection with his father, whom he
publicly denounced as an old fool, an old dolt whom the nobility had

"Yet my mother is an intelligent woman," he would add. "I should never
have thought her capable of inducing her husband to join a party whose
hopes are simply chimerical. They are taking the right course to end
their lives in poverty. But then women know nothing about politics."

For his part he wanted to sell himself as dearly as possible. His great
anxiety as to the direction in which the wind was blowing, so that he
might invariably range himself on the side of that party, which, in
the hour of triumph, would be able to reward him munificently.
Unfortunately, he was groping in the dark. Shut up in his far away
province, without a guide, without any precise information, he felt
quite lost. While waiting for events to trace out a sure and certain
path, he preserved the enthusiastic republican attitude which he had
assumed from the very first day. Thanks to this demeanour, he remained
at the Sub-Prefecture; and his salary was even raised. Burning, however,
with the desire to play a prominent part, he persuaded a bookseller,
one of Vuillet's rivals, to establish a democratic journal, to which
he became one of the most energetic contributors. Under his impulse the
"Independant" waged merciless warfare against the reactionaries. But the
current gradually carried him further than he wished to go; he ended by
writing inflammatory articles, which made him shudder when he re-perused
them. It was remarked at Plassans that he directed a series of attacks
against all whom his father was in the habit of receiving of an evening
in his famous yellow drawing-room. The fact is that the wealth of
Roudier and Granoux exasperated Aristide to such a degree as to make him
forget all prudence. Urged on by his jealous, insatiate bitterness,
he had already made the middle classes his irreconcilable enemy,
when Eugene's arrival and demeanour at Plassans caused him great
consternation. He confessed to himself that his brother was a skilful
man. According to him, that big, drowsy fellow always slept with one
eye open, like a cat lying in wait before a mouse-hole. And now here was
Eugene spending entire evenings in the yellow drawing-room, and devoting
himself to those same grotesque personages whom he, Aristide, had so
mercilessly ridiculed. When he discovered from the gossip of the town
that his brother shook hands with Granoux and the marquis, he asked
himself, with considerable anxiety, what was the meaning of it? Could he
himself have been deceived? Had the Legitimists or the Orleanists
really any chance of success? The thought terrified him. He lost his
equilibrium, and, as frequently happens, he fell upon the Conservatives
with increased rancour, as if to avenge his own blindness.

On the evening prior to the day when he stopped Eugene on the Cours
Sauvaire, he had published, in the "Independant," a terrible article
on the intrigues of the clergy, in response to a short paragraph from
Vuillet, who had accused the Republicans of desiring to demolish the
churches. Vuillet was Aristide's bugbear. Never a week passed but these
two journalists exchanged the greatest insults. In the provinces,
where a periphrastic style is still cultivated, polemics are clothed in
high-sounding phrases. Aristide called his adversary "brother Judas,"
or "slave of Saint-Anthony." Vuillet gallantly retorted by terming the
Republican "a monster glutted with blood whose ignoble purveyor was the

In order to sound his brother, Aristide, who did not dare to appear
openly uneasy, contented himself with asking: "Did you read my article
yesterday? What do you think of it?"

Eugene lightly shrugged his shoulders. "You're a simpleton, brother,"
was his sole reply.

"Then you think Vuillet right?" cried the journalist, turning pale; "you
believe in Vuillet's triumph?"


He was certainly about to add, "Vuillet is as big a fool as you are."
But, observing his brother's distorted face anxiously extended towards
him, he experienced sudden mistrust. "Vuillet has his good points," he
calmly replied.

On parting from his brother, Aristide felt more perplexed than before.
Eugene must certainly have been making game of him, for Vuillet was
really the most abominable person imaginable. However, he determined to
be prudent and not tie himself down any more; for he wished to have his
hands free should he ever be called upon to help any party in strangling
the Republic.

Eugene, on the morning of his departure, an hour before getting into the
diligence, took his father into the bedroom and had a long conversation
with him. Felicite, who remained in the drawing-room, vainly tried to
catch what they were saying. They spoke in whispers, as if they feared
lest a single word should be heard outside. When at last they quitted
the bedroom they seemed in high spirits. After kissing his father and
mother, Eugene, who usually spoke in a drawling tone, exclaimed with
vivacity: "You have understood me, father? There lies our fortune. We
must work with all our energy in that direction. Trust in me."

"I'll follow your instructions faithfully," Rougon replied. "Only don't
forget what I asked you as the price of my cooperation."

"If we succeed your demands shall be satisfied, I give you my word.
Moreover, I will write to you and guide you according to the direction
which events may take. Mind, no panic or excitement. You must obey me

"What have you been plotting there?" Felicite asked inquisitively.

"My dear mother," Eugene replied with a smile, "you have had too
little faith in me thitherto to induce me to confide in you my hopes,
particularly as at present they are only based on probabilities. To
be able to understand me you would require faith. However, father will
inform you when the right time comes."

Then, as Felicite assumed the demeanour of a woman who feels somewhat
piqued, he added in her ear, as he kissed her once more: "I take after
you, although you disowned me. Too much intelligence would be dangerous
at the present moment. When the crisis comes, it is you who will have to
manage the business."

He then quitted the room, but, suddenly re-opening the door, exclaimed
in an imperious tone: "Above all things, do not trust Aristide; he is a
mar-all, who would spoil everything. I have studied him sufficiently to
feel certain that he will always fall on his feet. Don't have any
pity; if we make a fortune, he'll know well enough how to rob us of his

When Eugene had gone, Felicite endeavoured to ferret out the secret that
was being hidden from her.

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