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When about fifty men were assembled, he made a
speech, in which he spoke of personal vengeance that must be wreaked,
of a victory that must be gained, and of a disgraceful yoke that must be
thrown off. And he ended by undertaking to deliver the town-hall over
to them in ten minutes. He had just left it, it was quite unguarded,
he said, and the red flag would wave over it that very night if they so
desired. The workmen deliberated. At that moment the reaction seemed to
be in its death throes. The insurgents were virtually at the gates of
the town. It would therefore be more honourable to make an effort to
regain power without awaiting their return, so as to be able to receive
them as brothers, with the gates wide open, and the streets and squares
adorned with flags. Moreover, none of those present distrusted Macquart.
His hatred of the Rougons, the personal vengeance of which he spoke,
could be taken as guaranteeing his loyalty. It was arranged that each of
them who was a sportsman and had a gun at home should fetch it, and
that the band should assemble at midnight in the neighbourhood of
the town-hall. A question of detail very nearly put an end to their
plans--they had no bullets; however, they decided to load their weapons
with small shot: and even that seemed unnecessary, as they were told
that they would meet with no resistance.

Once more Plassans beheld a band of armed men filing along close to the
houses, in the quiet moonlight. When the band was assembled in front of
the town-hall, Macquart, while keeping a sharp look-out, boldly advanced
to the building. He knocked, and when the door-keeper, who had learnt
his lesson, asked what was wanted, he uttered such terrible threats,
that the man, feigning fright, made haste to open the door. Both leaves
of it swung back slowly, and the porch then lay open and empty before
them, while Macquart shouted in a loud voice: "Come on, my friends!"

That was the signal. He himself quickly jumped aside, and as the
Republicans rushed in, there came, from the darkness of the yard, a
stream of fire and a hail of bullets, which swept through the gaping
porch with a roar as of thunder. The doorway vomited death. The
national guards, exasperated by their long wait, eager to shake off the
discomfort weighing upon them in that dismal court-yard, had fired a
volley with feverish haste. The flash of the firing was so bright, that,
through the yellow gleams Macquart distinctly saw Rougon taking aim. He
fancied that his brother's gun was deliberately levelled at himself,
and he recalled Felicite's blush, and made his escape, muttering: "No
tricks! The rascal would kill me. He owes me eight hundred francs."

In the meantime a loud howl had arisen amid the darkness. The surprised
Republicans shouted treachery, and fired in their turn. A national guard
fell under the porch. But the Republicans, on their side, had three
dead. They took to flight, stumbling over the corpses, stricken with
panic, and shouting through the quiet lanes: "Our brothers are being
murdered!" in despairing voices which found no echo. Thereupon the
defenders of order, having had time to reload their weapons, rushed into
the empty square, firing at every street corner, wherever the darkness
of a door, the shadow of a lamp-post, or the jutting of a stone made
them fancy they saw an insurgent. In this wise they remained there ten
minutes, firing into space.

The affray had burst over the slumbering town like a thunderclap. The
inhabitants in the neighbouring streets, roused from sleep by this
terrible fusillade, sat up in bed, their teeth chattering with fright.
Nothing in the world would have induced them to poke their noses out of
the window. And slowly, athwart the air, in which the shots had suddenly
resounded, one of the cathedral bells began to ring the tocsin with so
irregular, so strange a rhythm, that one might have thought the noise to
be the hammering of an anvil or the echoes of a colossal kettle struck
by a child in a fit of passion. This howling bell, whose sound the
citizens did not recognise, terrified them yet more than the reports of
the fire-arms had done; and there were some who thought they heard an
endless train of artillery rumbling over the paving-stones. They lay
down again and buried themselves beneath their blankets, as if they
would have incurred some danger by still sitting up in bed in their
closely-fastened rooms. With their sheets drawn up to their chins, they
held their breath, and made themselves as small as possible, while their
wives, by their side, almost fainted with terror as they buried their
heads among the pillows.

The national guards who had remained at the ramparts had also heard the
shots, and thinking that the insurgents had entered by means of some
subterranean passage, they ran up helter-skelter, in groups of five
or six, disturbing the silence of the streets with the tumult of their
excited rush. Roudier was one of the first to arrive. However, Rougon
sent them all back to their posts, after reprimanding them severely
for abandoning the gates of the town. Thrown into consternation by
this reproach--for in their panic, they had, in fact, left the gates
absolutely defenceless--they again set off at a gallop, hurrying through
the streets with still more frightful uproar. Plassans might well have
thought that an infuriated army was crossing it in all directions. The
fusillade, the tocsin, the marches and countermarches of the national
guards, the weapons which were being dragged along like clubs, the
terrified cries in the darkness, all produced a deafening tumult,
such as might break forth in a town taken by assault and given over
to plunder. It was the final blow of the unfortunate inhabitants, who
really believed that the insurgents had arrived. They had, indeed, said
that it would be their last night--that Plassans would be swallowed up
in the earth, or would evaporate into smoke before daybreak; and now,
lying in their beds, they awaited the catastrophe in the most abject
terror, fancying at times that their houses were already tottering.

Meantime Granoux still rang the tocsin. When, in other respects, silence
had again fallen upon the town, the mournfulness of that ringing became
intolerable. Rougon, who was in a high fever, felt exasperated by its
distant wailing. He hastened to the cathedral, and found the door open.
The beadle was on the threshold.

"Ah! that's quite enough!" he shouted to the man; "anybody would think
there was some one crying; it's quite unbearable."

"But it isn't me, sir," replied the beadle in a distressed manner. "It's
Monsieur Granoux, he's gone up into the steeple. I must tell you that I
removed the clapper of the bell, by his Reverence's order, precisely
to prevent the tocsin from being sounded. But Monsieur Granoux wouldn't
listen to reason. He climbed up, and I've no idea what he can be making
that noise with."

Thereupon Rougon hastily ascended the staircase which led to the bells,
shouting: "That will do! That will do! For goodness' sake leave off!"

When he had reached the top he caught sight of Granoux, by the light
of the moon which glided through an embrasure; the ex almond dealer was
standing there hatless, and dealing furious blows with a heavy hammer.
He did so with a right good will. He first threw himself back, then took
a spring, and finally fell upon the sonorous bronze as if he wanted
to crack it. One might have thought he was a blacksmith striking hot
iron--but a frock-coated blacksmith, short and bald, working in a wild
and awkward way.

Surprise kept Rougon motionless for a moment at the sight of this
frantic bourgeois thus belabouring the bell in the moonlight. Then
he understood the kettle-like clang which this strange ringer had
disseminated over the town. He shouted to him to stop, but Granoux did
not hear. Rougon was obliged to take hold of his frock-coat, and then
the other recognising him, exclaimed in a triumphant voice: "Ah! you've
heard it. At first I tried to knock the bell with my fists, but that
hurt me. Fortunately I found this hammer. Just a few more blows, eh?"

However, Rougon dragged him away. Granoux was radiant. He wiped his
forehead, and made his companion promise to let everybody know in the
morning that he had produced all that noise with a mere hammer. What
an achievement, and what a position of importance that furious ringing
would confer upon him!

Towards morning, Rougon bethought himself of reassuring Felicite. In
accordance with his orders, the national guards had shut themselves up
in the town-hall. He had forbidden them to remove the corpses, under the
pretext that it was necessary to give the populace of the old quarter a
lesson. And as, while hastening to the Rue de la Banne, he passed over
the square, on which the moon was no longer shining, he inadvertently
stepped on the clenched hand of a corpse that lay beside the footpath.
At this he almost fell. That soft hand, which yielded beneath his
heel, brought him an indefinable sensation of disgust and horror. And
thereupon he hastened at full speed along the deserted streets, fancying
that a bloody fist was pursuing him.

"There are four of them on the ground," he said, as he entered his

He and his wife looked at one another as though they were astonished at
their crime.

The lamplight imparted the hue of yellow wax to their pale faces.

"Have you left them there?" asked Felicite; "they must be found there."

"Of course! I didn't pick them up. They are lying on their backs. I
stepped on something soft----"

Then he looked at his boot; its heel was covered with blood. While he
was putting on a pair of shoes, Felicite resumed:

"Well! so much the better! It's over now. People won't be inclined to
repeat that you only fire at mirrors."

The fusillade which the Rougons had planned in order that they might
be finally recognised as the saviours of Plassans, brought the whole
terrified and grateful town to their feet. The day broke mournfully
with the grey melancholy of a winter-morning. The inhabitants, hearing
nothing further, ventured forth, weary of trembling beneath their

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