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Then, while
everybody was raising exclamations at this news, he went up to Pierre,
and shook hands with him in a significant manner. And when he had taken
a seat, he began to sound the praises of the President of the Republic,
who, said he, was the only person able to save France from anarchy.

"Let him save it, then, as quickly as possible," interrupted the
marquis, "and let him then understand his duty by restoring it to its
legitimate masters."

Pierre seemed to approve this fine retort, and having thus given
proof of his ardent royalism, he ventured to remark that Prince Louis
Bonaparte had his entire sympathy in the matter. He thereupon exchanged
a few short sentences with the commander, commending the excellent
intentions of the President, which sentences one might have thought
prepared and learnt beforehand. Bonapartism now, for the first time,
made its entry into the yellow drawing-room. It is true that since the
election of December 10 the Prince had been treated there with a certain
amount of consideration. He was preferred a thousand times to Cavaignac,
and the whole reactionary party had voted for him. But they regarded
him rather as an accomplice than a friend; and, as such, they distrusted
him, and even began to accuse him of a desire to keep for himself
the chestnuts which he had pulled out of the fire. On that particular
evening, however, owing to the fighting at Rome, they listened with
favour to the praises of Pierre and the commander.

The group led by Granoux and Roudier already demanded that the President
should order all republican rascals to be shot; while the marquis,
leaning against the mantelpiece, gazed meditatively at a faded rose on
the carpet. When he at last lifted his head, Pierre, who had furtively
watched his countenance as if to see the effect of his words, suddenly
ceased speaking. However, Monsieur de Carnavant merely smiled and
glanced at Felicite with a knowing look. This rapid by-play was not
observed by the other people. Vuillet alone remarked in a sharp tone:

"I would rather see your Bonaparte at London than at Paris. Our affairs
would get along better then."

At this the old oil-dealer turned slightly pale, fearing that he had
gone too far. "I'm not anxious to retain 'my' Bonaparte," he said, with
some firmness; "you know where I would send him to if I were the master.
I simply assert that the expedition to Rome was a good stroke."

Felicite had followed this scene with inquisitive astonishment. However,
she did not speak of it to her husband, which proved that she adopted it
as the basis of secret study. The marquis's smile, the significance of
which escaped her, set her thinking.

From that day forward, Rougon, at distant intervals, whenever the
occasion offered, slipped in a good word for the President of the
Republic. On such evenings, Commander Sicardot acted the part of a
willing accomplice. At the same time, Clerical opinions still reigned
supreme in the yellow drawing-room. It was more particularly in
the following year that this group of reactionaries gained decisive
influence in the town, thanks to the retrograde movement which was going
on at Paris. All those anti-Liberal laws which the country called "the
Roman expedition at home" definitively secured the triumph of the Rougon
faction. The last enthusiastic bourgeois saw the Republic tottering, and
hastened to rally round the Conservatives. Thus the Rougons' hour had
arrived; the new town almost gave them an ovation on the day when the
tree of Liberty, planted on the square before the Sub-Prefecture, was
sawed down. This tree, a young poplar brought from the banks of the
Viorne, had gradually withered, much to the despair of the republican
working-men, who would come every Sunday to observe the progress of
the decay without being able to comprehend the cause of it. A hatter's
apprentice at last asserted that he had seen a woman leave Rougon's
house and pour a pail of poisoned water at the foot of the tree. It
thenceforward became a matter of history that Felicite herself got up
every night to sprinkle the poplar with vitriol. When the tree was dead
the Municipal Council declared that the dignity of the Republic required
its removal. For this, as they feared the displeasure of the working
classes, they selected an advanced hour of the night. However, the
conservative householders of the new town got wind of the little
ceremony, and all came down to the square before the Sub-Prefecture in
order to see how the tree of Liberty would fall. The frequenters of the
yellow drawing-room stationed themselves at the windows there. When the
poplar cracked and fell with a thud in the darkness, as tragically rigid
as some mortally stricken hero, Felicite felt bound to wave a white
handkerchief. This induced the crowd to applaud, and many responded to
the salute by waving their handkerchiefs likewise. A group of people
even came under the window shouting: "We'll bury it, we'll bury it."

They meant the Republic, no doubt. Such was Felicite's emotion, that
she almost had a nervous attack. It was a fine evening for the yellow

However, the marquis still looked at Felicite with the same mysterious
smile. This little old man was far too shrewd to be ignorant of whither
France was tending. He was among the first to scent the coming of the
Empire. When the Legislative Assembly, later on, exhausted its energies
in useless squabbling, when the Orleanists and the Legitimists tacitly
accepted the idea of the Coup d'Etat, he said to himself that the
game was definitely lost. In fact, he was the only one who saw things
clearly. Vuillet certainly felt that the cause of Henry V., which his
paper defended, was becoming detestable; but it mattered little to him;
he was content to be the obedient creature of the clergy; his entire
policy was framed so as to enable him to dispose of as many rosaries and
sacred images as possible. As for Roudier and Granoux, they lived in
a state of blind scare; it was not certain whether they really had any
opinions; all that they desired was to eat and sleep in peace; their
political aspirations went no further. The marquis, though he had bidden
farewell to his hopes, continued to come to the Rougons' as regularly as
ever. He enjoyed himself there. The clash of rival ambitions among
the middle classes, and the display of their follies, had become an
extremely amusing spectacle to him. He shuddered at the thought of again
shutting himself in the little room which he owed to the beneficence of
the Count de Valqueyras. With a kind of malicious delight, he kept to
himself the conviction that the Bourbons' hour had not yet arrived. He
feigned blindness, working as hitherto for the triumph of Legitimacy,
and still remaining at the orders of the clergy and nobility, though
from the very first day he had penetrated Pierre's new course of action,
and believed that Felicite was his accomplice.

One evening, being the first to arrive, he found the old lady alone
in the drawing-room. "Well! little one," he asked, with his smiling
familiarity, "are your affairs going on all right? Why the deuce do you
make such mysteries with me?"

"I'm not hiding anything from you," Felicite replied, somewhat

"Come, do you think you can deceive an old fox like me, eh? My dear
child, treat me as a friend. I'm quite ready to help you secretly. Come
now, be frank!"

A bright idea struck Felicite. She had nothing to tell; but perhaps she
might find out something if she kept quiet.

"Why do you smile?" Monsieur de Carnavant resumed. "That's the beginning
of a confession, you know. I suspected that you must be behind your
husband. Pierre is too stupid to invent the pretty treason you are
hatching. I sincerely hope the Bonapartists will give you what I should
have asked for you from the Bourbons."

This single sentence confirmed the suspicions which the old woman had
entertained for some time past.

"Prince Louis has every chance, hasn't he?" she eagerly inquired.

"Will you betray me if I tell you that I believe so?" the marquis
laughingly replied. "I've donned my mourning over it, little one. I'm
simply a poor old man, worn out and only fit to be laid on the shelf.
It was for you, however, that I was working. Since you have been able to
find the right track without me, I shall feel some consolation in seeing
you triumph amidst my own defeat. Above all things, don't make any more
mysteries. Come to me if you are ever in trouble."

And he added, with the sceptical smile of a nobleman who has lost caste:
"Pshaw! I also can go in for a little treachery!"

At this moment the clan of retired oil and almond dealers arrived.

"Ah! the dear reactionaries!" Monsieur de Carnavant continued in an
undertone. "You see, little one, the great art of politics consists in
having a pair of good eyes when other people are blind. You hold all the
best cards in the pack."

On the following day, Felicite, incited by this conversation, desired
to make sure on the matter. They were then in the first days of the year
1851. For more than eighteen months, Rougon had been in the habit of
receiving a letter from his son Eugene regularly every fortnight. He
would shut himself in the bedroom to read these letters, which he then
hid at the bottom of an old secretaire, the key of which he carefully
kept in his waistcoat pocket. Whenever his wife questioned him about
their son he would simply answer: "Eugene writes that he is going on
all right." Felicite had long since thought of laying hands on her son's
letters. So early on the morning after her chat with the marquis, while
Pierre was still asleep, she got up on tiptoes, took the key of the
secretaire from her husband's waistcoat and substituted in its place
that of the chest of drawers, which was of the same size. Then, as soon
as her husband had gone out, she shut herself in the room in her turn,
emptied the drawer, and read all the letters with feverish curiosity.

Monsieur de Carnavant had not been mistaken, and her own suspicions were
confirmed. There were about forty letters, which enabled her to follow
the course of that great Bonapartist movement which was to terminate in
the second Empire.

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