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But Felicite abided
by her original offer. They debated the matter until she promised to
procure him, on his return to France, some post in which he would
have nothing to do, and which would pay him well. The bargain was then
concluded. She made him don the uniform she had brought with her. He
was to betake himself quietly to aunt Dide's, and afterwards, towards
midnight, assemble all the Republicans he could in the neighbourhood of
the town-hall, telling them that the municipal offices were unguarded,
and that they had only to push open the door to take possession of them.
Antoine then asked for earnest money, and received two hundred francs.
Felicite undertook to pay the remaining eight hundred on the following
day. The Rougons were risking the last sum they had at their disposal.

When Felicite had gone downstairs, she remained on the square for a
moment to watch Macquart go out. He passed the guard-house, quietly
blowing his nose. He had previously broken the skylight in the
dressing-room, to make it appear that he had escaped that way.

"It's all arranged," Felicite said to her husband, when she returned
home. "It will be at midnight. It doesn't matter to me at all now. I
should like to see them all shot. How they slandered us yesterday in the

"It was rather silly of you to hesitate," replied Pierre, who was
shaving. "Every one would do the same in our place."

That morning--it was a Wednesday--he was particularly careful about his
toilet. His wife combed his hair and tied his cravat, turning him about
like a child going to a distribution of prizes. And when he was ready,
she examined him, declared that he looked very nice, and that he would
make a very good figure in the midst of the serious events that were
preparing. His big pale face wore an expression of grave dignity and
heroic determination. She accompanied him to the first landing, giving
him her last advice: he was not to depart in any way from his courageous
demeanour, however great the panic might be; he was to have the gates
closed more hermetically than ever, and leave the town in agonies of
terror within its ramparts; it would be all the better if he were to
appear the only one willing to die for the cause of order.

What a day it was! The Rougons still speak of it as of a glorious and
decisive battle. Pierre went straight to the town-hall, heedless of the
looks or words that greeted him on his way. He installed himself there
in magisterial fashion, like a man who did not intend to quit the place,
whatever might happen. And he simply sent a note to Roudier, to advise
him that he was resuming authority.

"Keep watch at the gates," he added, knowing that these lines might
become public: "I myself will watch over the town and ensure the
security of life and property. It is at the moment when evil passions
reappear and threaten to prevail that good citizens should endeavour to
stifle them, even at the peril of their lives." The style, and the very
errors in spelling, made this note--the brevity of which suggested the
laconic style of the ancients--appear all the more heroic. Not one of
the gentlemen of the Provisional Commission put in an appearance. The
last two who had hitherto remained faithful, and Granoux himself,
even, prudently stopped at home. Thus Rougon was the only member of the
Commission who remained at his post, in his presidential arm-chair, all
the others having vanished as the panic increased. He did not even
deign to issue an order summoning them to attend. He was there, and that
sufficed, a sublime spectacle, which a local journal depicted later on
in a sentence: "Courage giving the hand to duty."

During the whole morning Pierre was seen animating the town-hall with
his goings and comings. He was absolutely alone in the large, empty
building, whose lofty halls reechoed with the noise of his heels. All
the doors were left open. He made an ostentatious show of his presidency
over a non-existent council in the midst of this desert, and appeared
so deeply impressed with the responsibility of his mission that the
doorkeeper, meeting him two or three times in the passages, bowed to him
with an air of mingled surprise and respect. He was seen, too, at every
window, and, in spite of the bitter cold, he appeared several times
on the balcony with bundles of papers in his hand, like a busy man
attending to important despatches.

Then, towards noon, he passed through the town and visited the
guard-houses, speaking of a possible attack, and letting it be
understood, that the insurgents were not far off; but he relied, he
said, on the courage of the brave national guards. If necessary they
must be ready to die to the last man for the defence of the good cause.
When he returned from this round, slowly and solemnly, after the manner
of a hero who has set the affairs of his country in order, and now only
awaits death, he observed signs of perfect stupor along his path; the
people promenading in the Cours, the incorrigible little householders,
whom no catastrophe would have prevented from coming at certain hours
to bask in the sun, looked at him in amazement, as if they did not
recognize him, and could not believe that one of their own set, a former
oil-dealer, should have the boldness to face a whole army.

In the town the anxiety was at its height. The insurrectionists were
expected every moment. The rumour of Macquart's escape was commented
upon in a most alarming manner. It was asserted that he had been rescued
by his friends, the Reds, and that he was only waiting for nighttime in
order to fall upon the inhabitants and set fire to the four corners of
the town. Plassans, closed in and terror-stricken, gnawing at its own
vitals within its prison-like walls, no longer knew what to imagine in
order to frighten itself. The Republicans, in the face of Rougon's
bold demeanour, felt for a moment distrustful. As for the new
town--the lawyers and retired tradespeople who had denounced the yellow
drawing-room on the previous evening--they were so surprised that
they dared not again openly attack such a valiant man. They contented
themselves with saying "It was madness to brave victorious insurgents
like that, and such useless heroism would bring the greatest misfortunes
upon Plassans." Then, at about three o'clock, they organised a
deputation. Pierre, though he was burning with desire to make a display
of his devotion before his fellow-citizens, had not ventured to reckon
upon such a fine opportunity.

He spoke sublimely. It was in the mayor's private room that the
president of the Provisional Commission received the deputation from the
new town. The gentlemen of the deputation, after paying homage to his
patriotism, besought him to forego all resistance. But he, in a loud
voice, talked of duty, of his country, of order, of liberty, and various
other things. Moreover, he did not wish to compel any one to imitate
him; he was simply discharging a duty which his conscience and his heart
dictated to him.

"You see, gentlemen, I am alone," he said in conclusion. "I will take
all the responsibility, so that nobody but myself may be compromised.
And if a victim is required I willingly offer myself; I wish to
sacrifice my own life for the safety of the inhabitants."

A notary, the wiseacre of the party, remarked that he was running to
certain death.

"I know it," he resumed solemnly. "I am prepared!"

The gentlemen looked at each other. Those words "I am prepared!" filled
them with admiration. Decidedly this man was a brave fellow. The notary
implored him to call in the aid of the gendarmes; but he replied that
the blood of those brave soldiers was precious, and he would not have
it shed, except in the last extremity. The deputation slowly withdrew,
feeling deeply moved. An hour afterwards, Plassans was speaking of
Rougon as of a hero; the most cowardly called him "an old fool."

Towards evening, Rougon was much surprised to see Granoux hasten to
him. The old almond-dealer threw himself in his arms, calling him
"great man," and declaring that he would die with him. The words "I am
prepared!" which had just been reported to him by his maid-servant,
who had heard it at the greengrocer's, had made him quite enthusiastic.
There was charming naivete in the nature of this grotesque, timorous
old man. Pierre kept him with him, thinking that he would not be of
much consequence. He was even touched by the poor fellow's devotion, and
resolved to have him publicly complimented by the prefect, in order to
rouse the envy of the other citizens who had so cowardly abandoned him.
And so both of them awaited the night in the deserted building.

At the same time Aristide was striding about at home in an uneasy
manner. Vuillet's article had astonished him. His father's demeanour
stupefied him. He had just caught sight of him at the window, in a white
cravat and black frock-coat, so calm at the approach of danger that all
his ideas were upset. Yet the insurgents were coming back triumphant,
that was the belief of the whole town. But Aristide felt some doubts
on the point; he had suspicions of some lugubrious farce. As he did not
dare to present himself at his parents' house, he sent his wife thither.
And when Angele returned, she said to him, in her drawling voice: "Your
mother expects you; she is not angry at all, she seems rather to be
making fun of you. She told me several times that you could just put
your sling back in your pocket."

Aristide felt terribly vexed. However, he ran to the Rue de la Banne,
prepared to make the most humble submission. His mother was content
to receive him with scornful laughter. "Ah! my poor fellow," said she,
"you're certainly not very shrewd."

"But what can one do in a hole like Plassans!" he angrily retorted. "On
my word of honour, I am becoming a fool here. No news, and everybody
shivering! That's what it is to be shut up in these villainous ramparts.
Ah! If I had only been able to follow Eugene to Paris!"

Then, seeing that his mother was still smiling, he added bitterly:
"You haven't been very kind to me, mother.

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