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But Felicite did not sit down; she
roughly exclaimed: "I want the letter."

At this Vuillet's eyes opened widely, with an expression of perfect

"What letter, madame?" he asked.

"The letter you received this morning for my husband. Come, Monsieur
Vuillet, I'm in a hurry."

And as he stammered that he did not know, that he had not seen anything,
that it was very strange, Felicite continued in a covertly threatening
voice: "A letter from Paris, from my son, Eugene; you know what I mean,
don't you? I'll look for it myself."

Thereupon she stepped forward as if intending to examine the various
packets which littered the writing table. But he at once bestirred
himself, and said he would go and see. The service was necessarily in
great confusion! Perhaps, indeed, there might be a letter. In that case
they would find it. But, as far as he was concerned, he swore he had not
seen any. While he was speaking he moved about the office turning over
all the papers. Then he opened the drawers and the portfolios. Felicite
waited, quite calm and collected.

"Yes, indeed, you're right, here's a letter for you," he cried at last,
as he took a few papers from a portfolio. "Ah! those confounded clerks,
they take advantage of the situation to do nothing in the proper way."

Felicite took the letter and examined the seal attentively, apparently
quite regardless of the fact that such scrutiny might wound Vuillet's
susceptibilities. She clearly perceived that the envelope must have been
opened; the bookseller, in his unskilful way, had used some sealing
wax of a darker colour to secure it again. She took care to open the
envelope in such a manner as to preserve the seal intact, so that it
might serve as proof of this. Then she read the note. Eugene briefly
announced the complete success of the Coup d'Etat. Paris was subdued,
the provinces generally speaking remained quiet, and he counselled
his parents to maintain a very firm attitude in face of the partial
insurrection which was disturbing the South. In conclusion he told them
that the foundation of their fortune was laid, if they did not weaken.

Madame Rougon put the letter in her pocket, and sat down slowly, looking
into Vuillet's face. The latter had resumed his sorting in a feverish
manner, as though he were very busy.

"Listen to me, Monsieur Vuillet," she said to him. And when he raised
his head: "let us play our cards openly; you do wrong to betray us; some
misfortune may befall you. If, instead of unsealing our letters--"

At this he protested, and feigned great indignation. But she calmly
continued: "I know, I know your school, you never confess. Come, don't
let us waste any more words, what interest have you in favouring the
Coup d'Etat?"

And, as he continued to assert his perfect honesty, she at last lost
patience. "You take me for a fool!" she cried. "I've read your article.
You would do much better to act in concert with us."

Thereupon, without avowing anything, he flatly submitted that he wished
to have the custom of the college. Formerly it was he who had supplied
that establishment with school books. But it had become known that he
sold objectionable literature clandestinely to the pupils; for which
reason, indeed, he had almost been prosecuted at the Correctional Police
Court. Since then he had jealously longed to be received back into the
good graces of the directors.

Felicite was surprised at the modesty of his ambition, and told him so.
To open letters and risk the galleys just for the sake of selling a few
dictionaries and grammars!

"Eh!" he exclaimed in a shrill voice, "it's an assured sale of four or
five thousand francs a year. I don't aspire to impossibilities like some

She did not take any notice of his last taunting words. No more was said
about his opening the letters. A treaty of alliance was concluded, by
which Vuillet engaged that he would not circulate any news or take any
step in advance, on condition that the Rougons should secure him the
custom of the college. As she was leaving, Felicite advised him not to
compromise himself any further. It would be sufficient for him to detain
the letters and distribute them only on the second day.

"What a knave," she muttered, when she reached the street, forgetting
that she herself had just laid an interdict upon the mail.

She went home slowly, wrapped in thought. She even went out of her
way, passing along the Cours Sauvaire, as if to gain time and ease for
reflection before going in. Under the trees of the promenade she met
Monsieur de Carnavant, who was taking advantage of the darkness to
ferret about the town without compromising himself. The clergy of
Plassans, to whom all energetic action was distasteful, had, since the
announcement of the Coup d'Etat, preserved absolute neutrality. In the
priests' opinion the Empire was virtually established, and they awaited
an opportunity to resume in some new direction their secular intrigues.
The marquis, who had now become a useless agent, remained only
inquisitive on one point--he wished to know how the turmoil would
finish, and in what manner the Rougons would play their role to the end.

"Oh! it's you, little one!" he exclaimed, as soon as he recognized
Felicite. "I wanted to see you; your affairs are getting muddled!"

"Oh, no; everything is going on all right," she replied, in an
absent-minded way.

"So much the better. You'll tell me all about it, won't you? Ah! I must
confess that I gave your husband and his colleagues a terrible fright
the other night. You should have seen how comical they looked on the
terrace, while I was pointing out a band of insurgents in every cluster
of trees in the valley! You forgive me?"

"I'm much obliged to you," said Felicite quickly. "You should have made
them die of fright. My husband is a big sly-boots. Come and see me some
morning, when I am alone."

Then she turned away, as though this meeting with the marquis had
determined her. From head to foot the whole of her little person
betokened implacable resolution. At last she was going to revenge
herself on Pierre for his petty mysteries, have him under her heel, and
secure, once for all, her omnipotence at home. There would be a fine
scene, quite a comedy, indeed, the points of which she was already
enjoying in anticipation, while she worked out her plan with all the
spitefulness of an injured woman.

She found Pierre in bed, sleeping heavily; she brought the candle near
him for an instant, and gazed with an air of compassion, at his big
face, across which slight twitches occasionally passed; then she sat
down at the head of the bed, took off her cap, let her hair fall loose,
assumed the appearance of one in despair, and began to sob quite loudly.

"Hallo! What's the matter? What are you crying for?" asked Pierre,
suddenly awaking.

She did not reply, but cried more bitterly.

"Come, come, do answer," continued her husband, frightened by this mute
despair. "Where have you been? Have you seen the insurgents?"

She shook her head; then, in a faint voice, she said: "I've just come
from the Valqueyras mansion. I wanted to ask Monsieur de Carnavant's
advice. Ah! my dear, all is lost."

Pierre sat up in bed, very pale. His bull neck, which his unbuttoned
night-shirt exposed to view, all his soft, flabby flesh seemed to swell
with terror. At last he sank back, pale and tearful, looking like some
grotesque Chinese figure in the middle of the untidy bed.

"The marquis," continued Felicite, "thinks that Prince Louis has
succumbed. We are ruined; we shall never get a sou."

Thereupon, as often happens with cowards, Pierre flew into a passion. It
was the marquis's fault, it was his wife's fault, the fault of all
his family. Had he ever thought of politics at all, until Monsieur de
Carnavant and Felicite had driven him to that tomfoolery?

"I wash my hands of it altogether," he cried. "It's you two who are
responsible for the blunder. Wasn't it better to go on living on
our little savings in peace and quietness? But then, you were always
determined to have your own way! You see what it has brought us to."

He was losing his head completely, and forgot that he had shown himself
as eager as his wife. However, his only desire now was to vent his
anger, by laying the blame of his ruin upon others.

"And, moreover," he continued, "could we ever have succeeded with
children like ours? Eugene abandons us just at the critical moment;
Aristide has dragged us through the mire, and even that big simpleton
Pascal is compromising us by his philanthropic practising among the
insurgents. And to think that we brought ourselves to poverty simply to
give them a university education!"

Then, as he drew breath, Felicite said to him softly: "You are
forgetting Macquart."

"Ah! yes; I was forgetting him," he resumed more violently than ever;
"there's another whom I can't think of without losing all patience! But
that's not all; you know little Silvere. Well, I saw him at my mother's
the other evening with his hands covered with blood. He has put some
gendarme's eye out. I did not tell you of it, as I didn't want to
frighten you. But you'll see one of my nephews in the Assize Court. Ah!
what a family! As for Macquart, he has annoyed us to such an extent that
I felt inclined to break his head for him the other day when I had a gun
in my hand. Yes, I had a mind to do it."

Felicite let the storm pass over. She had received her husband's
reproaches with angelic sweetness, bowing her head like a culprit,
whereby she was able to smile in her sleeve. Her demeanour provoked and
maddened Pierre. When speech failed the poor man, she heaved deep sighs,
feigning repentance; and then she repeated, in a disconsolate voice:
"Whatever shall we do! Whatever shall we do! We are over head and ears
in debt."

"It's your fault!" Pierre cried, with all his remaining strength.

The Rougons, in fact, owed money on every side. The hope of approaching
success had made them forget all prudence. Since the beginning of 1851
they had gone so far as to entertain the frequenters of the yellow
drawing-room every evening with syrup and punch, and cakes--providing,
in fact, complete collations, at which they one and all drank to the
death of the Republic.

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