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"He promised me a good article. The
'Independant' has not appeared yet--"

But her husband interrupted her, crying: "See! isn't that he who is just
coming out of the Sub-Prefecture?"

The old woman glanced in that direction. "He's got his arm in a sling
again!" she cried.

Aristide's hand was indeed wrapped in the silk handkerchief once more.
The Empire was breaking up, but the Republic was not yet triumphant,
and he had judged it prudent to resume the part of a disabled man. He
crossed the square stealthily, without raising his head. Then doubtless
hearing some dangerous and compromising remarks among the groups of
bystanders, he made all haste to turn the corner of the Rue de la Banne.

"Bah! he won't come here," said Felicite bitterly. "It's all up with us.
Even our children forsake us!"

She shut the window violently, in order that she might not see or hear
anything more. When she had lit the lamp, she and her husband sat down
to dinner, disheartened and without appetite, leaving most of their food
on their plates. They only had a few hours left them to take a decisive
step. It was absolutely indispensable that before daybreak Plassans
should be at their feet beseeching forgiveness, or else they must
entirely renounce the fortune which they had dreamed of. The total
absence of any reliable news was the sole cause of their anxious
indecision. Felicite, with her clear intellect, had quickly perceived
this. If they had been able to learn the result of the Coup d'Etat,
they would either have faced it out and have still pursued their role of
deliverers, or else have done what they could to efface all recollection
of their unlucky campaign. But they had no precise information; they
were losing their heads; the thought that they were thus risking their
fortune on a throw, in complete ignorance of what was happening, brought
a cold perspiration to their brows.

"And why the devil doesn't Eugene write to me?" Rougon suddenly cried,
in an outburst of despair, forgetting that he was betraying the secret
of his correspondence to his wife.

But Felicite pretended not to have heard. Her husband's exclamation
had profoundly affected her. Why, indeed, did not Eugene write to his
father? After keeping him so accurately informed of the progress of the
Bonapartist cause, he ought at least to have announced the triumph or
defeat of Prince Louis. Mere prudence would have counselled the
despatch of such information. If he remained silent, it must be that the
victorious Republic had sent him to join the pretender in the dungeons
of Vincennes. At this thought Felicite felt chilled to the marrow; her
son's silence destroyed her last hopes.

At that moment somebody brought up the "Gazette," which had only just

"Ah!" said Pierre, with surprise. "Vuillet has issued his paper!"

Thereupon he tore off the wrapper, read the leading article, and
finished it looking as white as a sheet, and swaying on his chair.

"Here, read," he resumed, handing the paper to Felicite.

It was a magnificent article, attacking the insurgents with unheard of
violence. Never had so much stinging bitterness, so many falsehoods,
such bigoted abuse flowed from pen before. Vuillet commenced by
narrating the entry of the insurgents into Plassans. The description
was a perfect masterpiece. He spoke of "those bandits, those
villainous-looking countenances, that scum of the galleys," invading the
town, "intoxicated with brandy, lust, and pillage." Then he exhibited
them "parading their cynicism in the streets, terrifying the inhabitants
with their savage cries and seeking only violence and murder." Further
on, the scene at the town-hall and the arrest of the authorities became
a most horrible drama. "Then they seized the most respectable people by
the throat; and the mayor, the brave commander of the national
guard, the postmaster, that kindly functionary, were--even like the
Divinity--crowned with thorns by those wretches, who spat in their
faces." The passage devoted to Miette and her red pelisse was quite a
flight of imagination. Vuillet had seen ten, twenty girls steeped in
blood: "and who," he wrote, "did not behold among those monsters some
infamous creatures clothed in red, who must have bathed themselves in
the blood of the martyrs murdered by the brigands along the high roads?
They were brandishing banners, and openly receiving the vile caresses of
the entire horde." And Vuillet added, with Biblical magniloquence, "The
Republic ever marches on amidst debauchery and murder."

That, however, was only the first part of the article; the narrative
being ended, the editor asked if the country would any longer tolerate
"the shamelessness of those wild beasts, who respected neither property
nor persons." He made an appeal to all valorous citizens, declaring that
to tolerate such things any longer would be to encourage them, and
that the insurgents would then come and snatch "the daughter from her
mother's arms, the wife from her husband's embraces." And at last,
after a pious sentence in which he declared that Heaven willed the
extermination of the wicked, he concluded with this trumpet blast: "It
is asserted that these wretches are once more at our gates; well then
let each one of us take a gun and shoot them down like dogs. I for my
part shall be seen in the front rank, happy to rid the earth of such

This article, in which periphrastic abuse was strung together with all
the heaviness of touch which characterises French provincial journalism,
quite terrified Rougon, who muttered, as Felicite replaced the "Gazette"
on the table: "Ah! the wretch! he is giving us the last blow; people
will believe that I inspired this diatribe."

"But," his wife remarked, pensively, "did you not this morning tell me
that he absolutely refused to write against the Republicans? The news
that circulated had terrified him, and he was as pale as death, you

"Yes! yes! I can't understand it at all. When I insisted, he went so
far as to reproach me for not having killed all the insurgents. It was
yesterday that he ought to have written that article; to-day he'll get
us all butchered!"

Felicite was lost in amazement. What could have prompted Vuillet's
change of front? The idea of that wretched semi-sacristan carrying a
musket and firing on the ramparts of Plassans seemed to her one of the
most ridiculous things imaginable. There was certainly some determining
cause underlying all this which escaped her. Only one thing seemed
certain. Vuillet was too impudent in his abuse and too ready with his
valour, for the insurrectionary band to be really so near the town as
some people asserted.

"He's a spiteful fellow, I always said so," Rougon resumed, after
reading the article again. "He has only been waiting for an opportunity
to do us this injury. What a fool I was to leave him in charge of the

This last sentence proved a flash of light. Felicite started up quickly,
as though at some sudden thought. Then she put on a cap and threw a
shawl over her shoulders.

"Where are you going, pray?" her husband asked her with surprise. "It's
past nine o'clock."

"You go to bed," she replied rather brusquely, "you're not well; go and
rest yourself. Sleep on till I come back; I'll wake you if necessary,
and then we can talk the matter over."

She went out with her usual nimble gait, ran to the post-office, and
abruptly entered the room where Vuillet was still at work. On seeing her
he made a hasty gesture of vexation.

Never in his life had Vuillet felt so happy. Since he had been able
to slip his little fingers into the mail-bag he had enjoyed the most
exquisite pleasure, the pleasure of an inquisitive priest about to
relish the confessions of his penitents. All the sly blabbing, all the
vague chatter of sacristies resounded in his ears. He poked his long,
pale nose into the letters, gazed amorously at the superscriptions with
his suspicious eyes, sounded the envelopes just like little abbes sound
the souls of maidens. He experienced endless enjoyment, was titillated
by the most enticing temptation. The thousand secrets of Plassans lay
there. He held in his hand the honour of women, the fortunes of men,
and had only to break a seal to know as much as the grand vicar at the
cathedral who was the confidant of all the better people of the town.
Vuillet was one of those terribly bitter, frigid gossips, who worm out
everything, but never repeat what they hear, except by way of dealing
somebody a mortal blow. He had, consequently, often longed to dip his
arms into the public letter-box. Since the previous evening the private
room at the post-office had become a big confessional full of darkness
and mystery, in which he tasted exquisite rapture while sniffing at the
letters which exhaled veiled longings and quivering avowals. Moreover,
he carried on his work with consummate impudence. The crisis through
which the country was passing secured him perfect impunity. If some
letters should be delayed, or others should miscarry altogether, it
would be the fault of those villainous Republicans who were scouring
the country and interrupting all communication. The closing of the town
gates had for a moment vexed him, but he had come to an understanding
with Roudier, whereby the couriers were allowed to enter and bring the
mails direct to him without passing by the town-hall.

As a matter of fact he had only opened a few letters, the important
ones, those in which his keen scent divined some information which it
would be useful for him to know before anybody else. Then he contented
himself by locking up in a drawer, for delivery subsequently, such
letters as might give information and rob him of the merit of his
valour at a time when the whole town was trembling with fear. This pious
personage, in selecting the management of the post-office as his own
share of the spoils, had given proof of singular insight into the

When Madame Rougon entered, he was taking his choice of a heap of
letters and papers, under the pretext, no doubt, of classifying them.
He rose, with his humble smile, and offered her a seat; his reddened
eyelids blinking rather uneasily.

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