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I was forgetting!" resumed Rougon, "Monsieur Peirotte is amongst
them. Granoux saw him struggling in the hands of the insurgents."

Felicite gave a start. She was just at that moment standing at the
window, gazing with longing eyes at the house where the receiver of
taxes lived. She had felt a desire to do so, for in her mind the idea of
triumph was always associated with envy of that fine house.

"So Monsieur Peirotte is arrested!" she exclaimed in a strange tone as
she turned round.

For an instant she smiled complacently; then a crimson blush rushed
to her face. A murderous wish had just ascended from the depths of her
being. "Ah! if the insurgents would only kill him!"

Pierre no doubt read her thoughts in her eyes.

"Well, if some ball were to hit him," he muttered, "our business would
be settled. There would be no necessity to supercede him, eh? and it
would be no fault of ours."

But Felicite shuddered. She felt that she had just condemned a man to
death. If Monsieur Peirotte should now be killed, she would always
see his ghost at night time. He would come and haunt her. So she only
ventured to cast furtive glances, full of fearful delight, at the
unhappy man's windows. Henceforward all her enjoyment would be fraught
with a touch of guilty terror.

Moreover, Pierre, having now poured out his soul, began to perceive the
other side of the situation. He mentioned Macquart. How could they
get rid of that blackguard? But Felicite, again fired with enthusiasm,
exclaimed: "Oh! one can't do everything at once. We'll gag him, somehow.
We'll soon find some means or other."

She was now walking to and fro, putting the arm-chairs in order, and
dusting their backs. Suddenly, she stopped in the middle of the room,
and gave the faded furniture a long glance.

"Good Heavens!" she said, "how ugly it is here! And we shall have
everybody coming to call upon us!"

"Bah!" replied Pierre, with supreme indifference, "we'll alter all

He who, the night before, had entertained almost religious veneration
for the arm-chairs and the sofa, would now have willingly stamped on
them. Felicite, who felt the same contempt, even went so far as to
upset an arm-chair which was short of a castor and did not yield to her
quickly enough.

It was at this moment that Roudier entered. It at once occurred to
the old woman that he had become much more polite. His "Monsieur" and
"Madame" rolled forth in delightfully musical fashion. But the other
habitues were now arriving one after the other; and the drawing-room was
fast getting full. Nobody yet knew the full particulars of the events
of the night, and all had come in haste, with wondering eyes and smiling
lips, urged on by the rumours which were beginning to circulate through
the town. These gentlemen who, on the previous evening, had left the
drawing-room with such precipitation at the news of the insurgents'
approach, came back, inquisitive and importunate, like a swarm of
buzzing flies which a puff of wind would have dispersed. Some of
them had not even taken time to put on their braces. They were very
impatient, but it was evident that Rougon was waiting for some one else
before speaking out. He constantly turned an anxious look towards
the door. For an hour there was only significant hand-shaking, vague
congratulation, admiring whispering, suppressed joy of uncertain origin,
which only awaited a word of enlightenment to turn to enthusiasm.

At last Granoux appeared. He paused for a moment on the threshold,
with his right hand pressed to his breast between the buttons of his
frock-coat; his broad pale face was beaming; in vain he strove to
conceal his emotion beneath an expression of dignity. All the others
became silent on perceiving him; they felt that something extraordinary
was about to take place. Granoux walked straight up to Rougon, through
two lines of visitors, and held out his hand to him.

"My friend," he said, "I bring you the homage of the Municipal Council.
They call you to their head, until our mayor shall be restored to us.
You have saved Plassans. In the terrible crisis through which we are
passing we want men who, like yourself, unite intelligence with courage.

At this point Granoux, who was reciting a little speech which he had
taken great trouble to prepare on his way from the Town Hall to the
Rue de la Banne felt his memory fail him. But Rougon, overwhelmed with
emotion, broke in, shaking his hand and repeating: "Thank you, my dear
Granoux; I thank you very much."

He could find nothing else to say. However, a loud burst of voices
followed. Every one rushed upon him, tried to shake hands, poured forth
praises and compliments, and eagerly questioned him. But he, already
putting on official dignity, begged for a few minutes' delay in order
that he might confer with Messieurs Granoux and Roudier. Business before
everything. The town was in such a critical situation! Then the three
accomplices retired to a corner of the drawing-room, where, in an
undertone, they divided power amongst themselves; the rest of the
visitors, who remained a few paces away, trying meanwhile to look
extremely wise and furtively glancing at them with mingled admiration
and curiosity. It was decided that Rougon should take the title of
president of the Municipal Commission; Granoux was to be secretary;
whilst, as for Roudier, he became commander-in-chief of the reorganised
National Guard. They also swore to support each other against all

However, Felicite, who had drawn near, abruptly inquired: "And Vuillet?"

At this they looked at each other. Nobody had seen Vuillet. Rougon
seemed somewhat uneasy.

"Perhaps they've taken him away with the others," he said, to ease his

But Felicite shook her head. Vuillet was not the man to let himself be
arrested. Since nobody had seen or heard him, it was certain he had been
doing something wrong.

Suddenly the door opened and Vuillet entered, bowing humbly, with
blinking glance and stiff sacristan's smile. Then he held out his moist
hand to Rougon and the two others.

Vuillet had settled his little affairs alone. He had cut his own slice
out of the cake, as Felicite would have said. While peeping through
the ventilator of his cellar he had seen the insurgents arrest
the postmaster, whose offices were near his bookshop. At daybreak,
therefore, at the moment when Rougon was comfortably seated in the
mayor's arm-chair, he had quietly installed himself in the postmaster's
office. He knew the clerks; so he received them on their arrival,
told them that he would replace their chief until his return, and that
meantime they need be in nowise uneasy. Then he ransacked the morning
mail with ill-concealed curiosity. He examined the letters, and seemed
to be seeking a particular one. His new berth doubtless suited his
secret plans, for his satisfaction became so great that he actually gave
one of the clerks a copy of the "Oeuvres Badines de Piron." Vuillet, it
should be mentioned, did business in objectionable literature, which he
kept concealed in a large drawer, under the stock of heads and
religious images. It is probable that he felt some slight qualms at
the free-and-easy manner in which he had taken possession of the post
office, and recognised the desirability of getting his usurpation
confirmed as far as possible. At all events, he had thought it well to
call upon Rougon, who was fast becoming an important personage.

"Why! where have you been?" Felicite asked him in a distrustful manner.

Thereupon he related his story with sundry embellishments. According to
his own account he had saved the post-office from pillage.

"All right then! That's settled! Stay on there!" said Pierre, after a
moment's reflection. "Make yourself useful."

This last sentence revealed the one great fear that possessed the
Rougons. They were afraid that some one might prove too useful, and
do more than themselves to save the town. Still, Pierre saw no serious
danger in leaving Vuillet as provisional postmaster; it was even a
convenient means of getting rid of him. Felicite, however, made a sharp
gesture of annoyance.

The consultation having ended, the three accomplices mingled with the
various groups that filled the drawing-room. They were at last obliged
to satisfy the general curiosity by giving detailed accounts of recent
events. Rougon proved magnificent. He exaggerated, embellished, and
dramatised the story which he had related to his wife. The distribution
of the guns and cartridges made everybody hold their breath. But it was
the march through the deserted streets and the seizure of the town-hall
that most amazed these worthy bourgeois. At each fresh detail there was
an interruption.

"And you were only forty-one; it's marvellous!"

"Ah, indeed! it must have been frightfully dark!"

"No; I confess I never should have dared it!"

"Then you seized him, like that, by the throat?

"And the insurgents, what did they say?"

These remarks and questions only incited Rougon's imagination the more.
He replied to everybody. He mimicked the action. This stout man, in his
admiration of his own achievements, became as nimble as a schoolboy; he
began afresh, repeated himself, amidst the exclamations of surprise and
individual discussions which suddenly arose about some trifling detail.
And thus he continued blowing his trumpet, making himself more and
more important as if some irresistible force impelled him to turn his
narrative into a genuine epic. Moreover Granoux and Roudier stood by
his side prompting him, reminding him of such trifling matters as he
omitted. They also were burning to put in a word, and occasionally
they could not restrain themselves, so that all three went on talking
together. When, in order to keep the episode of the broken mirror for
the denouement, like some crowning glory, Rougon began to describe what
had taken place downstairs in the courtyard, after the arrest of the
guard, Roudier accused him of spoiling the narrative by changing
the sequence of events. For a moment they wrangled about it somewhat

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