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For a moment they wrangled about it somewhat
sharply. Then Roudier, seeing a good opportunity for himself, suddenly
exclaimed: "Very well, let it be so. But you weren't there. So let me
tell it."

He thereupon explained at great length how the insurgents had awoke, and
how the muskets of the town's deliverers had been levelled at them to
reduce them to impotence. He added, however, that no blood, fortunately,
had been shed. This last sentence disappointed his audience, who had
counted upon one corpse at least.

"But I thought you fired," interrupted Felicite, recognising that the
story was wretchedly deficient in dramatic interest.

"Yes, yes, three shots," resumed the old hosier. "The pork-butcher
Dubruel, Monsieur Lievin, and Monsieur Massicot discharged their guns
with really culpable alacrity." And as there were some murmurs at this
remark; "Culpable, I repeat the word," he continued. "There are quite
enough cruel necessities in warfare without any useless shedding of
blood. Besides, these gentlemen swore to me that it was not their fault;
they can't understand how it was their guns went off. Nevertheless, a
spent ball after ricocheting grazed the cheek of one of the insurgents
and left a mark on it."

This graze, this unexpected wound, satisfied the audience. Which cheek,
right or left, had been grazed, and how was it that a bullet, a spent
one, even, could strike a cheek without piercing it? These points
supplied material for some long discussions.

"Meantime," continued Rougon at the top of his voice, without giving
time for the excitement to abate; "meantime we had plenty to do
upstairs. The struggle was quite desperate."

Then he described, at length, the arrival of his brother and the four
other insurgents, without naming Macquart, whom he simply called "the
leader." The words, "the mayor's office," "the mayor's arm-chair,"
"the mayor's writing table," recurred to him every instant, and in the
opinion of his audience imparted marvellous grandeur to the terrible
scene. It was not at the porter's lodge that the fight was now being
waged, but in the private sanctum of the chief magistrate of the town.
Roudier was quite cast in to the background. Then Rougon at last came to
the episode which he had been keeping in reserve from the commencement,
and which would certainly exalt him to the dignity of a hero.

"Thereupon," said he, "an insurgent rushes upon me. I push the mayor's
arm-chair away, and seize the man by the throat. I hold him tightly,
you may be sure of it! But my gun was in my way. I didn't want to let
it drop; a man always sticks to his gun. I held it, like this, under the
left arm. All of a sudden, it went off--"

The whole audience hung on Rougon's lips. But Granoux, who was opening
his mouth wide with a violent itching to say something, shouted: "No,
no, that isn't right. You were not in a position to see things, my
friend; you were fighting like a lion. But I saw everything, while I was
helping to bind one of the prisoners. The man tried to murder you; it
was he who fired the gun; I saw him distinctly slip his black fingers
under your arm."

"Really?" said Rougon, turning quite pale.

He did not know he had been in such danger, and the old almond
merchant's account of the incident chilled him with fright. Granoux, as
a rule, did not lie; but, on a day of battle, it is surely allowable to
view things dramatically.

"I tell you the man tried to murder you," he repeated, with conviction.

"Ah," said Rougon in a faint voice, "that's how it is I heard the bullet
whiz past my ear!"

At this, violent emotion came upon the audience. Everybody gazed at
the hero with respectful awe. He had heard a bullet whiz past his ear!
Certainly, none of the other bourgeois who were there could say as much.
Felicite felt bound to rush into her husband's arms so as to work up
the emotion to boiling point. But Rougon immediately freed himself,
and concluded his narrative with this heroic sentence, which has become
famous at Plassans: "The shot goes off; I hear the bullet whiz past my
ear; and whish! it smashes the mayor's mirror."

This caused complete consternation. Such a magnificent mirror, too!
It was scarcely credible! the damage done to that looking-glass almost
out-balanced Rougon's heroism, in the estimation of the company. The
glass became an object of absorbing interest, and they talked about
it for a quarter of an hour, with many exclamations and expressions of
regret, as though it had been some dear friend that had been stricken to
the heart. This was the culminating point that Rougon had aimed at, the
denouement of his wonderful Odyssey. A loud hubbub of voices filled
the yellow drawing-room. The visitors were repeating what they had just
heard, and every now and then one of them would leave a group to ask the
three heroes the exact truth with regard to some contested incident. The
heroes set the matter right with scrupulous minuteness, for they felt
that they were speaking for history!

At last Rougon and his two lieutenants announced that they were expected
at the town-hall. Respectful silence was then restored, and the company
smiled at each other discreetly. Granoux was swelling with importance.
He was the only one who had seen the insurgent pull the trigger and
smash the mirror; this sufficed to exalt him, and almost made him burst
his skin. On leaving the drawing-room, he took Roudier's arm with the
air of a great general who is broken down with fatigue. "I've been up
for thirty-six hours," he murmured, "and heaven alone knows when I shall
get to bed!"

Rougon, as he withdrew, took Vuillet aside and told him that the party
of order relied more than ever on him and the "Gazette." He would have
to publish an effective article to reassure the inhabitants and treat
the band of villains who had passed through Plassans as it deserved.

"Be easy!" replied Vuillet. "In the ordinary course the 'Gazette'
ought not to appear till to-morrow morning, but I'll issue it this very

When the leaders had left, the rest of the visitors remained in the
yellow drawing-room for another moment, chattering like so many
old women, whom the escape of a canary has gathered together on the
pavement. These retired tradesmen, oil dealers, and wholesale hatters,
felt as if they were in a sort of fairyland. Never had they experienced
such thrilling excitement before. They could not get over their surprise
at discovering such heroes as Rougon, Granoux, and Roudier in their
midst. At last, half stifled by the stuffy atmosphere, and tired of ever
telling each other the same things, they decided to go off and spread
the momentous news abroad. They glided away one by one, each anxious
to have the glory of being the first to know and relate everything, and
Felicite, as she leaned out of the window, on being left alone, saw
them dispersing in the Rue de la Banne, waving their arms in an excited
manner, eager as they were to diffuse emotion to the four corners of the

It was ten o'clock, and Plassans, now wide awake, was running about the
streets, wildly excited by the reports which were circulating. Those who
had seen or heard the insurrectionary forces, related the most foolish
stories, contradicting each other, and indulging in the wildest
suppositions. The majority, however, knew nothing at all about the
matter; they lived at the further end of the town, and listened with
gaping mouths, like children to a nursery tale, to the stories of how
several thousand bandits had invaded the streets during the night and
vanished before daybreak like an army of phantoms. A few of the most
sceptical said: "Nonsense!" Yet some of the details were very precise;
and Plassans at last felt convinced that some frightful danger had
passed over it while it slept. The darkness which had shrouded this
danger, the various contradictory reports that spread, all invested the
matter with mystery and vague horror, which made the bravest shudder.
Whose hand had diverted the thunderbolt from them? There seemed to
be something quite miraculous about it. There were rumours of unknown
deliverers, of a handful of brave men who had cut off the hydra's head;
but no one seemed acquainted with the exact particulars, and the whole
story appeared scarcely credible, until the company from the yellow
drawing-room spread through the streets, scattering tidings, ever
repeating the same narrative at each door they came to.

It was like a train of powder. In a few minutes the story had spread
from one end of the town to the other. Rougon's name flew from mouth to
mouth, with exclamations of surprise in the new town, and of praise in
the old quarter. The idea of being without a sub-prefect, a mayor, a
postmaster, a receiver of taxes, or authorities of any kind, at first
threw the inhabitants into consternation. They were stupefied at having
been able to sleep through the night and get up as usual, in the
absence of any settled government. Their first stupor over, they
threw themselves recklessly into the arms of their liberators. The few
Republicans shrugged their shoulders, but the petty shopkeepers, the
small householders, the Conservatives of all shades, invoked blessings
on those modest heroes whose achievements had been shrouded by the
night. When it was known that Rougon had arrested his own brother, the
popular admiration knew no bounds. People talked of Brutus, and thus the
indiscretion which had made Pierre rather anxious, really redounded
to his glory. At this moment when terror still hovered over them,
the townsfolk were virtually unanimous in their gratitude. Rougon was
accepted as their saviour without the slightest show of opposition.

"Just think of it!" the poltroons exclaimed, "there were only forty-one
of them!"

That number of forty-one amazed the whole town, and this was the
origin of the Plassans legend of how forty-one bourgeois had made three
thousand insurgents bite the dust. There were only a few envious spirits
of the new town, lawyers without work and retired military men ashamed
of having slept ingloriously through that memorable night, who raised
any doubts.

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