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Oh! I recognise it! It is all stained with
blood. The stains are quite fresh to-day. His red hands have left marks
of blood on the butt. Ah! poor, poor aunt Dide!"

Then she became dizzy once more, and lapsed into silent thought.

"The gendarme was dead," she murmured at last, "but I have seen him
again; he has come back. They never die, those blackguards!"

Again did gloomy passion come over her, and, shaking the carbine, she
advanced towards her two sons who, speechless with fright, retreated to
the very wall. Her loosened skirts trailed along the ground, as she drew
up her twisted frame, which age had reduced to mere bones.

"It's you who fired!" she cried. "I heard the gold. . . . Wretched woman
that I am! . . . I brought nothing but wolves into the world--a whole
family--a whole litter of wolves! . . . There was only one poor lad,
and him they have devoured; each had a bite at him, and their lips are
covered with blood. . . . Ah! the accursed villains! They have robbed,
they have murdered. . . . And they live like gentlemen. Villains!
Accursed villains!"

She sang, laughed, cried, and repeated "accursed villains!" in strangely
sonorous tones, which suggested a crackling of a fusillade. Pascal, with
tears in his eyes, took her in his arms and laid her on the bed
again. She submitted like a child, but persisted in her wailing cries,
accelerating their rhythm, and beating time on the sheet with her
withered hands.

"That's just what I was afraid of," the doctor said; "she is mad. The
blow has been too heavy for a poor creature already subject, as she is,
to acute neurosis. She will die in a lunatic asylum like her father."

"But what could she have seen?" asked Rougon, at last venturing to quit
the corner where he had hidden himself.

"I have a terrible suspicion," Pascal replied. "I was going to speak to
you about Silvere when you came in. He is a prisoner. You must endeavour
to obtain his release from the prefect, if there is still time."

The old oil-dealer turned pale as he looked at his son. Then, rapidly,
he responded: "Listen to me; you stay here and watch her. I'm too busy
this evening. We will see to-morrow about conveying her to the lunatic
asylum at Les Tulettes. As for you, Macquart, you must leave this
very night. Swear to me that you will! I'm going to find Monsieur de

He stammered as he spoke, and felt more eager than ever to get out into
the fresh air of the streets. Pascal fixed a penetrating look on the
madwoman, and then on his father and uncle. His professional instinct
was getting the better of him, and he studied the mother and the sons,
with all the keenness of a naturalist observing the metamorphosis of
some insect. He pondered over the growth of that family to which he
belonged, over the different branches growing from one parent stock,
whose sap carried identical germs to the farthest twigs, which bent in
divers ways according to the sunshine or shade in which they lived. And
for a moment, as by the glow of a lightning flash, he thought he could
espy the future of the Rougon-Macquart family, a pack of unbridled,
insatiate appetites amidst a blaze of gold and blood.

Aunt Dide, however, had ceased her wailing chant at the mention of
Silvere's name. For a moment she listened anxiously. Then she broke out
into terrible shrieks. Night had now completely fallen, and the black
room seemed void and horrible. The shrieks of the madwoman, who was
no longer visible, rang out from the darkness as from a grave. Rougon,
losing his head, took to flight, pursued by those taunting cries, whose
bitterness seemed to increase amidst the gloom.

As he was emerging from the Impasse Saint-Mittre with hesitating steps,
wondering whether it would not be dangerous to solicit Silvere's pardon
from the prefect, he saw Aristide prowling about the timber-yard. The
latter, recognising his father, ran up to him with an expression of
anxiety and whispered a few words in his ear. Pierre turned pale, and
cast a look of alarm towards the end of the yard, where the darkness was
only relieved by the ruddy glow of a little gipsy fire. Then they both
disappeared down the Rue de Rome, quickening their steps as though they
had committed a murder, and turning up their coat-collars in order that
they might not be recognised.

"That saves me an errand," Rougon whispered. "Let us go to dinner. They
are waiting for us."

When they arrived, the yellow drawing-room was resplendent. Felicite
was all over the place. Everybody was there; Sicardot, Granoux, Roudier,
Vuillet, the oil-dealers, the almond-dealers, the whole set. The
marquis, however, had excused himself on the plea of rheumatism;
and, besides, he was about to leave Plassans on a short trip. Those
bloodstained bourgeois offended his feelings of delicacy, and moreover
his relative, the Count de Valqueyras, had begged him to withdraw from
public notice for a little time. Monsieur de Carnavant's refusal vexed
the Rougons; but Felicite consoled herself by resolving to make a more
profuse display. She hired a pair of candelabra and ordered several
additional dishes as a kind of substitute for the marquis. The table was
laid in the yellow drawing-room, in order to impart more solemnity to
the occasion. The Hotel de Provence had supplied the silver, the china,
and the glass. The cloth had been laid ever since five o'clock in order
that the guests on arriving might feast their eyes upon it. At either
end of the table, on the white cloth, were bouquets of artificial roses,
in porcelain vases gilded and painted with flowers.

When the habitual guests of the yellow drawing-room were assembled
there they could not conceal their admiration of the spectacle. Several
gentlemen smiled with an air of embarrassment while they exchanged
furtive glances, which clearly signified, "These Rougons are mad,
they are throwing their money out of the window." The truth was that
Felicite, on going round to invite her guests, had been unable to hold
her tongue. So everybody knew that Pierre had been decorated, and that
he was about to be nominated to some post; at which, of course, they
pulled wry faces. Roudier indeed observed that "the little black woman
was puffing herself out too much." Now that "prize-day" had come this
band of bourgeois, who had rushed upon the expiring Republic--each one
keeping an eye on the other, and glorying in giving a deeper bite than
his neighbour--did not think it fair that their hosts should have all
the laurels of the battle. Even those who had merely howled by instinct,
asking no recompense of the rising Empire, were greatly annoyed to see
that, thanks to them, the poorest and least reputable of them all should
be decorated with the red ribbon. The whole yellow drawing-room ought to
have been decorated!

"Not that I value the decoration," Roudier said to Granoux, whom he had
dragged into the embrasure of a window. "I refused it in the time of
Louis-Philippe, when I was purveyor to the court. Ah! Louis-Philippe was
a good king. France will never find his equal!"

Roudier was becoming an Orleanist once more. And he added, with the
crafty hypocrisy of an old hosier from the Rue Saint-Honore: "But you,
my dear Granoux; don't you think the ribbon would look well in your
button-hole? After all, you did as much to save the town as Rougon did.
Yesterday, when I was calling upon some very distinguished persons, they
could scarcely believe it possible that you had made so much noise with
a mere hammer."

Granoux stammered his thanks, and, blushing like a maiden at her first
confession of love, whispered in Roudier's ear: "Don't say anything
about it, but I have reason to believe that Rougon will ask the ribbon
for me. He's a good fellow at heart, you know."

The old hosier thereupon became grave, and assumed a very affable
manner. When Vuillet came and spoke to him of the well-deserved reward
that their friend had just received, he replied in a loud voice, so as
to be heard by Felicite, who was sitting a little way off, that "men
like Rougon were an ornament to the Legion of Honour." The bookseller
joined in the chorus; he had that morning received a formal assurance
that the custom of the college would be restored to him. As for
Sicardot, he at first felt somewhat annoyed to find himself no longer
the only one of the set who was decorated. According to him, none but
soldiers had a right to the ribbon. Pierre's valour surprised him.
However, being in reality a good-natured fellow, he at last grew warmer,
and ended by saying that the Napoleons always knew how to distinguish
men of spirit and energy.

Rougon and Aristide consequently had an enthusiastic reception; on their
arrival all hands were held out to them. Some of the guests went so
far as to embrace them. Angele sat on the sofa, by the side of her
mother-in-law, feeling very happy, and gazing at the table with the
astonishment of a gourmand who has never seen so many dishes at once.
When Aristide approached, Sicardot complimented his son-in-law upon his
superb article in the "Independant." He restored his friendship to
him. The young man, in answer to the fatherly questions which Sicardot
addressed to him, replied that he was anxious to take his little family
with him to Paris, where his brother Eugene would push him forward; but
he was in want of five hundred francs. Sicardot thereupon promised
him the money, already foreseeing the day when his daughter would be
received at the Tuileries by Napoleon III.

In the meantime, Felicite had made a sign to her husband. Pierre,
surrounded by everybody and anxiously questioned about his pallor, could
only escape for a minute. He was just able to whisper in his wife's ear
that he had found Pascal and that Macquart would leave that night. Then
lowering his voice still more he told her of his mother's insanity, and
placed his finger on his lips, as if to say: "Not a word; that would
spoil the whole evening." Felicite bit her lips. They exchanged a look
in which they read their common thoughts: so now the old woman would not
trouble them any more: the poacher's hovel would be razed to the ground,
as the walls of the Fouques' enclosure had been demolished; and they
would for ever enjoy the respect and esteem of Plassans.

But the guests were looking at the table.

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