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She knew her husband too well to interrogate
him openly. He would have angrily replied that it was no business of
hers. In spite, however, of the clever tactics she pursued, she learnt
absolutely nothing. Eugene had chosen a good confidant for those
troubled times, when the greatest discretion was necessary. Pierre,
flattered by his son's confidence, exaggerated that passive ponderosity
which made him so impenetrable. When Felicite saw she would not learn
anything from him, she ceased to flutter round him. On one point only
did she remain inquisitive, but in this respect her curiosity was
intense. The two men had mentioned a price stipulated by Pierre himself.
What could that price be? This after all was the sole point of interest
for Felicite, who did not care a rap for political matters. She knew
that her husband must have sold himself dearly, but she was burning to
know the nature of the bargain. One evening, when they had gone to bed,
finding Pierre in a good humour, she brought the conversation round to
the discomforts of their poverty.

"It's quite time to put an end to this," she said. "We have been ruining
ourselves in oil and fuel since those gentlemen have been coming here.
And who will pay the reckoning? Nobody perhaps."

Her husband fell into the trap, and smiled with complacent superiority.
"Patience," said he. And with an air of shrewdness he looked into his
wife's eyes and added: "Would you be glad to be the wife of a receiver
of taxes?"

Felicite's face flushed with a joyous glow. She sat up in bed and
clapped her old withered little hands like a child.

"Really?" she stammered. "At Plassans?"

Pierre, without replying, gave a long affirmative nod. He enjoyed his
consort's astonishment and emotion.

"But," she at last resumed, half sitting, "you would have to deposit
an enormous sum as security. I have heard that our neighbour, Monsieur
Peirotte, had to deposit eighty thousand francs with the Treasury."

"Eh!" said the retired oil-dealer, "that's nothing to do with me; Eugene
will see to that. He will get the money advanced by a banker in Paris.
You see, I selected an appointment bringing in a good income. Eugene at
first made a wry face, saying one must be rich to occupy such posts, to
which influential men were usually nominated. I persisted, however, and
he yielded. To be a receiver of taxes one need not know either Greek
or Latin. I shall have a representative, like Monsieur Peirotte, and he
will do all the work."

Felicite listened to him with rapture.

"I guessed, however," he continued, "what it was that worried our dear
son. We're not much liked here. People know that we have no means, and
will make themselves obnoxious. But all sorts of things occur in a
time of crisis. Eugene wished to get me an appointment in another town.
However, I objected; I want to remain at Plassans."

"Yes, yes, we must remain here," the old woman quickly replied. "We have
suffered here, and here we must triumph. Ah! I'll crush them all, those
fine ladies on the Mail, who scornfully eye my woollen dresses! I didn't
think of the appointment of receiver of taxes at all; I thought you
wanted to become mayor."

"Mayor! Nonsense. That appointment is honorary. Eugene also mentioned
the mayoralty to me. I replied: 'I'll accept, if you give me an income
of fifteen thousand francs.'"

This conversation, in which high figures flew about like rockets, quite
excited Felicite. She felt delightfully buoyant. But at last she put on
a devout air, and gravely said: "Come, let us reckon it out. How much
will you earn?"

"Well," said Pierre, "the fixed salary, I believe, is three thousand

"Three thousand," Felicite counted.

"Then there is so much per cent on the receipts, which at Plassans, may
produce the sum of twelve thousand francs."

"That makes fifteen thousand."

"Yes, about fifteen thousand francs. That's what Peirotte earns. That's
not all. Peirotte does a little banking business on his own account.
It's allowed. Perhaps I shall be disposed to make a venture when I feel
luck on my side."

"Well, let us say twenty thousand. Twenty thousand francs a year!"
repeated Felicite, overwhelmed by the amount.

"We shall have to repay the advances," Pierre observed.

"That doesn't matter," Felicite replied, "we shall be richer than many
of those gentlemen. Are the marquis and the others going to share the
cake with you?"

"No, no; it will be all for us," he replied.

Then, as she continued to importune him with her questions, Pierre
frowned, thinking that she wanted to wrest his secret from him. "We've
talked enough," he said, abruptly. "It's late, let us go to sleep. It
will bring us bad luck to count our chickens beforehand. I haven't got
the place yet. Above all things, be prudent."

When the lamp was extinguished, Felicite could not sleep. With her eyes
closed she built the most marvellous castles in the air. Those twenty
thousand francs a year danced a diabolical dance before her in the
darkness. She occupied splendid apartments in the new town, enjoyed the
same luxuries as Monsieur Peirotte, gave parties, and bespattered the
whole place with her wealth. That, however, which tickled her vanity
most was the high position that her husband would then occupy. He would
pay their state dividends to Granoux, Roudier, and all those people who
now came to her house as they might come to a cafe, to swagger and learn
the latest news. She had noticed the free-and-easy manner in which these
people entered her drawing-room, and it had made her take a dislike to
them. Even the marquis, with his ironical politeness, was beginning
to displease her. To triumph alone, therefore, to keep the cake
for themselves, as she expressed it, was a revenge which she fondly
cherished. Later on, when all those ill-bred persons presented
themselves, hats off, before Monsieur Rougon the receiver of taxes,
she would crush them in her turn. She was busy with these thoughts all
night; and on the morrow, as she opened the shutters, she instinctively
cast her first glance across the street towards Monsieur Peirotte's
house, and smiled as she contemplated the broad damask curtains hanging
in the windows.

Felicite's hopes, in becoming modified, had grown yet more intense. Like
all women, she did not object to a tinge of mystery. The secret object
that her husband was pursuing excited her far more than the Legitimist
intrigues of Monsieur de Carnavant had ever done. She abandoned, without
much regret, the calculations she had based on the marquis's success
now that her husband declared he would be able to make large profits
by other means. She displayed, moreover, remarkable prudence and

In reality, she was still tortured by anxious curiosity; she studied
Pierre's slightest actions, endeavouring to discover their meaning.
What if by chance he were following the wrong track? What if Eugene were
dragging them in his train into some break-neck pit, whence they would
emerge yet more hungry and impoverished? However, faith was dawning
on her. Eugene had commanded with such an air of authority that she
ultimately came to believe in him. In this case again some unknown power
was at work. Pierre would speak mysteriously of the high personages whom
their eldest son visited in Paris. For her part she did not know what
he could have to do with them, but on the other hand she was unable to
close her eyes to Aristide's ill-advised acts at Plassans. The
visitors to her drawing-room did not scruple to denounce the democratic
journalist with extreme severity. Granoux muttered that he was a
brigand, and Roudier would three or four times a week repeat to
Felicite: "Your son is writing some fine articles. Only yesterday he
attacked our friend Vuillet with revolting scurrility."

The whole room joined in the chorus, and Commander Sicardot spoke of
boxing his son-in-law's ears, while Pierre flatly disowned him. The poor
mother hung her head, restraining her tears. For an instant she felt
an inclination to burst forth, to tell Roudier that her dear child,
in spite of his faults, was worth more than he and all the others put
together. But she was tied down, and did not wish to compromise the
position they had so laboriously attained. Seeing the whole town so
bitter against Aristide, she despaired of his future, thinking he was
hopelessly ruining himself. On two occasions she spoke to him in
secret, imploring him to return to them, and not to irritate the yellow
drawing-room any further. Aristide replied that she did not understand
such matters; that she was the one who had committed a great blunder in
placing her husband at the service of the marquis. So she had to abandon
her son to his own courses, resolving, however that if Eugene succeeded
she would compel him to share the spoils with the poor fellow who was
her favourite child.

After the departure of his eldest son, Pierre Rougon pursued his
reactionary intrigues. Nothing seemed to have changed in the opinions of
the famous yellow drawing-room. Every evening the same men came to join
in the same propaganda in favour of the establishment of a monarchy,
while the master of the house approved and aided them with as much zeal
as in the past. Eugene had left Plassans on May 1. A few days later,
the yellow drawing-room was in raptures. The gossips were discussing the
letter of the President of the Republic to General Oudinot, in which
the siege of Rome had been decided upon. This letter was regarded as a
brilliant victory, due to the firm demeanour of the reactionary party.
Since 1848 the Chambers had been discussing the Roman question; but it
had been reserved for a Bonaparte to stifle a rising Republic by an act
of intervention which France, if free, would never have countenanced.
The marquis declared, however, that one could not better promote the
cause of legitimacy, and Vuillet wrote a superb article on the matter.
The enthusiasm became unbounded when, a month later, Commander Sicardot
entered the Rougons' house one evening and announced to the company
that the French army was fighting under the walls of Rome.

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