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On marrying this
peasant's son, in preference to some notary's clerk, she had intended to
make use of him as a strongly made puppet, whose strings she would pull
in her own way; and now, at the decisive moment, the puppet, in his
blind stupidity, wanted to work alone! All the cunning, all the feverish
activity within the old woman protested against this. She knew Pierre
was quite capable of some brutal resolve such as that which he had taken
when he compelled his mother to sign the receipt for fifty thousand
francs; the tool was indeed a useful and unscrupulous one; but she felt
the necessity for guiding it, especially under present circumstances,
when considerable suppleness was requisite.

The official news of the Coup d'Etat did not reach Plassans until the
afternoon of December 3--a Thursday. Already, at seven o'clock in the
evening, there was a full meeting in the yellow drawing-room. Although
the crisis had been eagerly desired, vague uneasiness appeared on the
faces of the majority. They discussed events amid endless chatter.
Pierre, who like the others was slightly pale, thought it right, as an
extreme measure of prudence, to excuse Prince Louis's decisive act to
the Legitimists and Orleanists who were present.

"There is talk of an appeal to the people," he said; "the nation will
then be free to choose whatever government it likes. The president is a
man to retire before our legitimate masters."

The marquis, who had retained his aristocratic coolness, was the only
one who greeted these words with a smile. The others, in the enthusiasm
of the moment, concerned themselves very little about what might follow.
All their opinions foundered. Roudier, forgetting the esteem which as a
former shopkeeper he had entertained for the Orleanists, stopped Pierre
rather abruptly. And everybody exclaimed: "Don't argue the matter. Let
us think of preserving order."

These good people were terribly afraid of the Republicans. There had,
however been very little commotion in the town on the announcement of
the events in Paris. People had collected in front of the notices posted
on the door of the Sub-Prefecture; it was also rumoured that a few
hundred workmen had left their work and were endeavouring to organise
resistance. That was all. No serious disturbance seemed likely to occur.
The course which the neighbouring towns and rural districts might take
seemed more likely to occasion anxiety; however, it was not yet known
how they had received the news of the Coup d'Etat.

Granoux arrived at about nine o'clock, quite out of breath. He had just
left a sitting of the Municipal Council which had been hastily summoned
together. Choking with emotion, he announced that the mayor, Monsieur
Garconnet, had declared, while making due reserves, that he was
determined to preserve order by the most stringent measures. However,
the intelligence which caused the noisiest chattering in the yellow
drawing-room was that of the resignation of the sub-prefect. This
functionary had absolutely refused to communicate the despatches of the
Minister of the Interior to the inhabitants of Plassans; he had just
left the town, so Granoux asserted, and it was thanks to the mayor that
the messages had been posted. This was perhaps the only sub-prefect in
France who ever had the courage of his democratic opinions.

Although Monsieur Garconnet's firm demeanour caused the Rougons
some secret anxiety, they rubbed their hands at the flight of the
sub-prefect, which left the post vacant for them. It was decided on this
memorable evening that the yellow drawing-room party should accept the
Coup d'Etat and openly declare that it was in favour of accomplished
facts. Vuillet was commissioned to write an article to that effect, and
publish it on the morrow in the "Gazette." Neither he nor the marquis
raised any objection. They had, no doubt, received instructions from the
mysterious individuals to whom they sometimes made pious allusions. The
clergy and the nobility were already resigned to the course of lending
a strong hand to the victors, in order to crush their common enemy, the

While the yellow drawing-room was deliberating on the evening in
question, Aristide was perspiring with anxiety. Never had gambler,
staking his last louis on a card, felt such anguish. During the day the
resignation of his chief, the sub-prefect, had given him much matter for
reflection. He had heard him repeat several times that the Coup d'Etat
must prove a failure. This functionary, endowed with a limited amount of
honesty, believed in the final triumph of the democracy, though he
had not the courage to work for that triumph by offering resistance.
Aristide was in the habit of listening at the doors of the
Sub-Prefecture, in order to get precise information, for he felt that he
was groping in the dark, and clung to the intelligence which he gleaned
from the officials. The sub-prefect's opinion struck him forcibly; but
he remained perplexed. He thought to himself: "Why does the fellow go
away if he is so certain that the prince-president will meet with a
check?" However, as he was compelled to espouse one side or the other,
he resolved to continue his opposition. He wrote a very hostile article
on the Coup d'Etat, and took it to the "Independant" the same evening
for the following morning's issue. He had corrected the proofs of this
article, and was returning home somewhat calmed, when, as he passed
along the Rue de la Banne, he instinctively raised his head and glanced
at the Rougons' windows. Their windows were brightly lighted up.

"What can they be plotting up there?" the journalist asked himself, with
anxious curiosity.

A fierce desire to know the opinion of the yellow drawing-room with
regard to recent events then assailed him. He credited this group of
reactionaries with little intelligence; but his doubts recurred, he was
in that frame of mind when one might seek advice from a child. He
could not think of entering his father's home at that moment, after the
campaign he had waged against Granoux and the others. Nevertheless, he
went upstairs, reflecting what a singular figure he would cut if he were
surprised on the way by anyone. On reaching the Rougons' door, he could
only catch a confused echo of voices.

"What a child I am," said he, "fear makes me stupid." And he was going
to descend again, when he heard the approach of his mother, who was
about to show somebody out. He had barely time to hide in a dark corner
formed by a little staircase leading to the garrets of the house. The
Rougons' door opened, and the marquis appeared, followed by Felicite.
Monsieur de Carnavant usually left before the gentlemen of the new town
did, in order no doubt to avoid having to shake hands with them in the

"Eh! little one," he said on the landing, in a low voice, "these men are
greater cowards than I should have thought. With such men France will
always be at the mercy of whoever dares to lay his hands upon her!"
And he added, with some bitterness, as though speaking to himself: "The
monarchy is decidedly becoming too honest for modern times. Its day is

"Eugene announced the crisis to his father," replied Felicite. "Prince
Louis's triumph seems to him certain."

"Oh, you can proceed without fear," the marquis replied, as he descended
the first steps. "In two or three days the country will be well bound
and gagged. Good-bye till to-morrow, little one."

Felicite closed the door again. Aristide had received quite a shock in
his dark corner. However, without waiting for the marquis to reach the
street, he bounded down the staircase, four steps at a time, rushed
outside like a madman, and turned his steps towards the printing-office
of the "Independant." A flood of thoughts surged through his mind. He
was enraged, and accused his family of having duped him. What! Eugene
kept his parents informed of the situation, and yet his mother had never
given him any of his eldest brother's letters to read, in order that he
might follow the advice given therein! And it was only now he learnt by
chance that his eldest brother regarded the success of the Coup d'Etat
as certain! This circumstance, moreover, confirmed certain presentiments
which that idiot of a sub-prefect had prevented him from obeying. He was
especially exasperated against his father, whom he had thought stupid
enough to be a Legitimist, but who revealed himself as a Bonapartist at
the right moment.

"What a lot of folly they have allowed me to perpetrate," he muttered as
he ran along. "I'm a fine fellow now. Ah! what a lesson! Granoux is more
capable than I."

He entered the office of the "Independant" like a hurricane, and
asked for his article in a choking voice. The article had already been
imposed. He had the forme unlocked and would not rest until he had
himself destroyed the setting, mixing the type in a furious manner, like
a set of dominoes. The bookseller who managed the paper looked at him
in amazement. He was, in reality, rather glad of the incident, as the
article had seemed to him somewhat dangerous. But he was absolutely
obliged to have some copy, if the "Independant" was to appear.

"Are you going to give me something else?" he asked.

"Certainly," replied Aristide.

He sat down at the table and began a warm panegyric on the Coup d'Etat.
At the very first line, he swore that Prince Louis had just saved the
Republic; but he had hardly written a page before he stopped and seemed
at a loss how to continue. A troubled look came over his pole-cat face.

"I must go home," he said at last. "I will send you this immediately.
Your paper can appear a little later, if necessary."

He walked slowly on his way home, lost in meditation. He was again
giving way to indecision. Why should he veer round so quickly? Eugene
was an intelligent fellow, but his mother had perhaps exaggerated the
significance of some sentence in his letter. In any case, it would be
better to wait and hold his tongue.

An hour later Angele called at the bookseller's, feigning deep emotion.

"My husband has just severely injured himself," she said.

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