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Title: The Conquest of Plassans
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE CONQUEST OF PLASSANS


BY

ÉMILE ZOLA


Translated and with an Introduction by

E. A. Vizetelly


LONDON

CHATTO & WINDUS

1917



CONTENTS


 INTRODUCTION

 CHAPTER I
 CHAPTER II
 CHAPTER III
 CHAPTER IV
 CHAPTER V
 CHAPTER VI
 CHAPTER VII
 CHAPTER VIII
 CHAPTER IX
 CHAPTER X
 CHAPTER XI
 CHAPTER XII
 CHAPTER XIII
 CHAPTER XIV
 CHAPTER XV
 CHAPTER XVI
 CHAPTER XVII
 CHAPTER XVIII
 CHAPTER XIX
 CHAPTER XX
 CHAPTER XXI
 CHAPTER XXII
 CHAPTER XXIII

 NOTES



INTRODUCTION


With the end of the century there has come in France a great revival
of the struggle between religion and free thought which has so long
been waged there; and the stupendous effort put forth by the Roman
Catholic Church to annihilate the Third Republic has placed the country
in a condition of unrest such as it has only known on the eve of its
chief Revolutions. Behind the notorious Dreyfus case, behind the shouts
of 'Long live the army!' and 'Death to the Jews!' behind all the
so-called Nationalism and Militarism, the Church has been steadily,
incessantly working, ever fanning the flames of discord, ever promoting
and fostering coalitions of malcontents, by whose help it hopes to
recover its old-time paramountcy. Time alone can reveal the outcome
of this great effort, this 'forlorn hope' assault upon institutions
which have hitherto kept Catholicism in check and tended so largely to
the diffusion of free thought; but personally I am inclined to think,
with all due allowance for partial successes achieved here and there,
that this Clerical movement, however skilfully engineered under the
cloak of patriotism, and however lavishly financed by the bulk of the
money derived from the Lourdes 'miracles,' over which the Assumptionist
Fathers preside, and the offerings of zealots throughout the country,
will ultimately result in failure, for France is not at heart a
religious country, and when faith has departed from a nation can it be
restored?

The meaning of the Clerical movement to which I have referred is
twofold. In the first place there is the perfectly natural and
legitimate desire of the French Catholics to recover lost ascendancy;
and in the second place there is the conviction of the Vatican and the
French episcopate generally that France is the only country which under
favourable circumstances might be in a position to restore the temporal
power of the Holy See. In that respect the Pope can hope for nothing
from Spain or Austria or the Catholic States of Germany. In France
rests the sole hope of the Papacy; and thus on political as well as
religious grounds the establishment of a Catholic _régime_ in place of
the present-day free-thought Republic is the one great dream of those
who direct the fortunes of the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church.

All who know anything of modern history are aware that in 1849 a French
army overthrew the Roman Republic and reinstated Pius IX. in possession
of the so-called patrimony of St. Peter, and that in after years, until
France indeed was vanquished at Sedan, the presence of French forces
alone enabled the Pope to continue in the exercise of his territorial
sway. Both the Royalist reactionaries who sat in the National Assembly
of the Second Republic, and the Prince-President of that time,
afterwards Napoleon III., lent support to Pius IX., and in return
expected to receive the countenance and help of the French clergy in
their various designs upon France. But the clergy always seeks its own
ends, and more than once its policy varied, now being in favour of the
Royalists and now in favour of Louis Napoleon, according as it seemed
likely to secure greater benefits from one or the other.

Even when the contest for supremacy was over, when the Republic had
been murdered at the Coup d'État, and the hopes of the Count de
Chambord had been destroyed by the triumph of Napoleon the Little,
the clergy did not give unqualified support to the new government.
True, on the 1st of January, 1852, Monseigneur Sibour, Archbishop of
Paris, officiated at a solemn 'Te Deum' at Notre Dame in honour of the
triumph of a bribed and drunken soldiery over the defenders of the
Constitution; but Louis Napoleon had scarcely become Emperor before
a large section of the clergy began to protest that the new _régime_
was by no means sufficiently Clerical. The course adopted in these
circumstances was very characteristic and significant. An education
law had been passed in 1850, giving many privileges and advantages to
the clergy, such indeed as they had not possessed since the downfall
of Charles X. But comparative liberty in educational matters was
more than the French episcopate, eager for domination as the price
of its adhesion to imperialism, could willingly allow, and before
long a celebrated and remarkably well written newspaper, 'L'Univers,'
initiated a campaign against the Empire, taking as its standpoint that
the Pope was the virtual sovereign of the world, and that everything
must be subservient to the interests of the Roman Church. Half the
French episcopate actively supported the view which followed, _i.e._
that the education of the young ought to be entirely under priestly
control, the priests being the vicars of the Pope, even as he (the
Pope) was the vicar of the Deity. There were some curious and even
amusing incidents in the course of that now forgotten campaign.
For instance, it was actually proposed to abolish the study of the
Greek and Latin classics in France, a suggestion which many of the
Bishops vigorously upheld, though others of a scholarly turn pleaded
plaintively in favour of Horace and a few others, whose writings, if
edited in a Christian spirit, might yet, they thought, be allowed among
young men of proved morality!

With the educational controversy many political matters soon became
blended. The Italian revolutionaries were at that time doing their
utmost to frighten Napoleon III. into fulfilment of his early promises
respecting the liberation of Italy; and the Vatican, anxious for the
maintenance of the old order of things, since any change must help on
its own fall, made desperate efforts to prevent the interference of
France in Italian affairs, unless indeed it were for the consolidation
of the Papal power. Even as in recent times the Assumptionist Fathers
have intrigued for the overthrow of the Third Republic, so did the
Société de St. Vincent de Paul--which nominally was a mere charitable
organisation--seek to turn the Empire into a priestly _régime_, or in
default thereof to overthrow it. The position of Napoleon III. was the
more difficult since his own wife, the Empress Eugénie, acted as the
Vatican's spy and agent. Matters at last reached such a pass that the
Emperor's Minister, Billault, had on the one hand to prohibit political
allusions in sermons, under pain of fine and imprisonment, and on the
other to break up and scatter the intriguing religious societies.
Nevertheless the Empire's position remained a difficult one to the
very last, and Napoleon III. was often sorely puzzled how to steer
a safe course between the claims of the Pope and the clergy and the
aspirations of Italy and its well-wishers; to say nothing of the views
of all those who, thinking of France alone, by no means approved of
priestly power in politics.

It is on the state of affairs to which I have alluded, the hostility
of a part of the French clergy to the Empire in its earlier years,
that M. Zola has based his novel, 'The Conquest of Plassans.' The
priests, subservient to the Vatican, lead the town into a course of
opposition against imperial institutions, and the Government then
despatches thither an impecunious and unscrupulous priest, one Abbé
Faujas, for the purpose of winning it back again. Such tactics were not
infrequently employed at that time. Whilst a part of the clergy simply
followed its own inclinations, others venally took pay from the Empire
to do its dirty work. As often as not they subsequently betrayed their
paymaster, using the positions into which they were thrust for the
satisfaction of their personal ambition. Still, for a while these needy
hangers-on at the Ministry of Public Worship proved useful allies, and
the Empire was only too ready to employ them. It will be seen, then,
that the theme chosen by M. Zola rests upon historical fact, and it
may be taken that his story embodies incidents which actually occurred
under such conditions as those that I have described.

The 'Conquest of Plassans' may well be read in conjunction with 'The
Fortune of the Rougons,' M. Zola's earlier work, as the scene in
both instances is the same, and certain personages, such as Félicité
Rougon and Antoine Macquart, figure largely in both books. In the
earlier volume we see the effect of the Coup d'État in the provinces,
almost every incident being based upon historical fact. For instance,
Miette, the heroine of 'The Fortune of the Rougons,' had a counterpart
in Madame Ferrier, that being the real name of the young woman who,
carrying the insurgents' blood-red banner, was hailed by them as the
'Goddess of Liberty' on their dramatic march. And in like way the
tragic death of Silvère, linked to another hapless prisoner, was
founded by M. Zola on an incident that followed the rising, as recorded
by an eyewitness.[1] Amidst all the bloodshed, the Rougons, in M.
Zola's narrative, rise to fortune and power, and Plassans (really
Aix-en-Provence) bows down before them. But time passes, the revolt of
the clergy supervenes, by their influence the town chooses a Royalist
Marquis as deputy, and it becomes necessary to conquer it once again.

Abbé Faujas, by whom this conquest is achieved on behalf of the Empire,
is, I think, a strongly conceived character, perhaps the most real
of all the priests that are scattered through M. Zola's books. I do
not say this because he happens to be anything but a good man. M.
Zola has sketched more than one good priest in his novels, as, for
instance, Abbé Rose in 'Paris;' but in this one, Faujas, there is more
genuine flesh and blood than in all the others. True, his colleagues,
Bourrette and Fenil, are admirably suggested; the Bishop, too, an
indolent prelate who surrenders the government of his diocese to his
vicar-general, and spends his time in translating Horace (for he is
one of the few who favour the classics), leaves on one an impression
of reality; yet no other priestly creation of M. Zola's pen can to my
thinking vie with the stern, chaste, authoritative, ambitious Faujas,
the man who subdues Plassans, and who wrecks the home of the Mouret
family, with whom he lives.

Leading parts in the story are assigned to Mouret and his wife
Marthe, both of whom are extremely interesting figures. The genesis
of the former's career and fate is contained in one of M. Zola's
short stories, 'Histoire d'un Fou,' which he contributed to the Paris
'Événement' before he took to book writing. The idea, so skilfully
worked out, is that of a man who, although perfectly sane, is generally
believed to be mad, and who by force of being thus regarded does
ultimately lose his wits. In Marthe his wife, the grand-daughter of
a mad woman, we find the hereditary flaw turning to hysteria, in a
measure of a religious character, such as subsequently becomes manifest
in her son Serge, the chief character of 'Abbé Mouret's Transgression,'
which work proceeds directly from 'The Conquest of Plassans.'

In the latter book, as in 'The Fortune of the Rougons,' M. Zola
skilfully depicts all the life of a French provincial town such as it
was half a century or so ago, and in this respect he has simply drawn
upon his own recollections of Aix, where he spent so many years of
his boyhood. Much that he records might be applied to such towns even
nowadays, for electric lighting, and tramcars, and motor-cars, and
increased railway facilities, have made little change in provincial
society. There are still rival _salons_ and _coteries_ and petty
jealousies and vanities all at work; and if new parties have succeeded
old ones, their intrigues have remained of much the same description
as formerly. The many provincials who in M. Zola's narrative gravitate
around the chief characters are pleasantly and skilfully diversified,
and seem very life-like with their foibles and 'fads' and rivalries and
ambitions. Possibly the most interesting are the Paloques, husband and
wife, whom envy, hatred and all uncharitableness incessantly consume.
Again, Madame Faujas, the priest's mother, is a finely-drawn character,
but perhaps the failings of her daughter Olympe, and of Trouche,
Olympe's husband, verge slightly upon caricature. As for old Rose, the
Mourets' servant, though her ways are very amusing, and the part she
plays in the persecution of her master renders her an indispensable
personage in the narrative, it may be pointed out that she is virtually
the same woman who has done duty half a dozen times in M. Zola's
books--for instance, as Martine in 'Dr. Pascal,' as Véronique in 'The
Joy of Life,' and so forth. It is rather curious, indeed, that M. Zola,
so skilful in portraying diversity of character and disposition among
his other personages, should have clung so pertinaciously to one sole
type of an old servant-woman.

It is not my purpose here to analyse in detail the plot of 'The
Conquest of Plassans,' but, having dealt at some length with the
historical incidents on which the work is based, it is as well that
I should point out that politics are not obtruded upon the reader in
M. Zola's pages. Indeed, the book largely deals with quite another
matter, that of 'the priest in the house,' showing as it does how the
Mourets' home was wrecked by the combined action of the Faujases and
the Trouches. In this connection the dolorous career of the unhappy
Marthe is very vividly pictured. A fairly contented wife and mother at
the outset of the story, she is won over to religion by Faujas, whose
purpose is to utilise her as an instrument for the furtherance of his
political and social schemes. But religion for her becomes a mysticism
full of unrealisable yearnings, for she expects to taste the joys of
Heaven even upon earth. Carried away by her religious fervour, she soon
neglects her home; and her husband, it must be admitted, takes anything
but the right course to win her back. She begins to loathe him and to
indulge in an insane passion for the priest by whom she is spurned.
Then hysteria masters her and consumption sets in; and between them
those fell diseases bring her to an early grave. There are some finely
conceived scenes between Marthe and Faujas; but the climax only comes
towards the end of the volume, when Mouret, the husband who has been
driven mad and shut up in a lunatic asylum, returns home and wreaks
the most terrible vengeance upon those who have wronged him. The
pages which deal with the madman's escape and his horrible revenge are
certainly among the most powerful that M. Zola has ever written, and
have been commended for their effectiveness by several of his leading
critics.

 E. A. V.

 MERTON, SURREY: _Sept._ 1900.



THE CONQUEST OF PLASSANS


I


Désirée clapped her hands. She was fourteen years old and big and
strong for her age, but she laughed like a little girl of five.

'Mother! mother!' she cried, 'look at my doll!'

She showed her mother a strip of rag out of which she had been trying
for the last quarter of an hour to manufacture a doll by rolling it and
tying it at one end with a piece of string. Marthe raised her eyes from
the stockings that she was darning with as much delicacy of work as
though she were embroidering, and smiled at Désirée.

'Oh! but that's only a baby,' she said; 'you must make a grown-up doll
and it must have a dress, you know, like a lady.'

She gave the child some clippings of print stuff which she found in her
work-table, and then again devoted all her attention to her stockings.
They were both sitting at one end of the narrow terrace, the girl on a
stool at her mother's feet. The setting sun of a still warm September
evening cast its calm peaceful rays around them; and the garden below,
which was already growing grey and shadowy, was wrapped in perfect
silence. Outside, not a sound could be heard in that quiet corner of
the town.

They both worked on for ten long minutes without speaking. Désirée was
taking immense pains to make a dress for her doll. Every few moments
Marthe raised her head and glanced at the child with an expression in
which sadness was mingled with affection. Seeing that the girl's task
seemed too much for her, she at last said:

'Give it to me. I will put in the sleeves for you.'

As she took up the doll, two big lads of seventeen and eighteen came
down the steps. They ran to Marthe and kissed her.

'Don't scold us, mother!' cried Octave gaily. 'I took Serge to listen
to the band. There was such a crowd on the Cours Sauvaire!'

'I thought you had been kept in at college,' his mother said, 'or I
should have felt very uneasy.'

Désirée, now altogether indifferent to her doll, had thrown her arms
round Serge's neck, saying to him:

'One of my birds has flown away! The blue one, the one you gave me!'

She was on the point of crying. Her mother, who had imagined this
trouble to be forgotten, vainly tried to divert her thoughts by showing
her the doll. The girl still clung to her brother's arm and dragged him
away with her, while repeating:

'Come and let us look for it.'

Serge followed her with kindly complaisance and tried to console her.
She led him to a little conservatory, in front of which there was a
cage placed on a stand; and here she told him how the bird had escaped
just as she was opening the door to prevent it from fighting with a
companion.

'Well, there's nothing very surprising in that!' cried Octave, who
had seated himself on the balustrade of the terrace. 'She is always
interfering with them, trying to find out how they are made and what it
is they have in their throats that makes them sing. The other day she
was carrying them about in her pockets the whole afternoon to keep them
warm.'

'Octave!' said Marthe, in a tone of reproach; 'don't tease the poor
child.'

But Désirée had not heard him; she was explaining to Serge with much
detail how the bird had flown away.

'It just slipped out, you see, like that, and then it flew over yonder
and lighted on Monsieur Rastoil's big pear-tree. Next it flew off to
the plum-tree at the bottom, came back again and went right over my
head into the big trees belonging to the Sub-Prefecture, and I've never
seen it since; no, never since.'

Her eyes filled with tears.

'Perhaps it will come back again,' Serge ventured to say.

'Oh! do you think so? I think I will put the others into a box, and
leave the door of the cage open all night.'

Octave could not restrain his laughter, but Marthe called to Désirée:

'Come and look here! come and look here!'

Then she gave her the doll. It was a magnificent one now. It had a
stiff dress, a head made of a pad of calico, and arms of list sewn on
at the shoulders. Désirée's eyes lighted up with sudden joy. She sat
down again upon the stool, and, forgetting all about the bird, began to
kiss the doll and dandle it in her arms with childish delight.

Serge had gone to lean upon the balustrade near his brother, and Marthe
had resumed her darning.

'And so the band has been playing, has it?' she asked.

'It plays every Thursday,' Octave replied. 'You ought to have come to
hear it, mother. All the town was there; the Rastoil girls, Madame de
Condamin, Monsieur Paloque, the mayor's wife and daughter--why didn't
you come too?'

Marthe did not raise her eyes, but softly replied as she finished
darning a hole:

'You know very well, my dears, that I don't care about going out. I am
quite contented here; and then it is necessary that someone should stay
with Désirée.'

Octave opened his lips to reply, but he glanced at his sister and kept
silent. He remained where he was, whistling softly and raising his eyes
now towards the trees of the Sub-Prefecture, noisy with the twittering
of the sparrows which were preparing to retire for the night--and
now towards Monsieur Rastoil's pear-trees behind which the sun was
setting. Serge had taken a book out of his pocket and was reading it
attentively. Soft silence brooded over the terrace as it lay there in
the yellow light that was gradually growing fainter. Marthe continued
darning, ever and anon glancing at her three children in the peaceful
quiet of the evening.

'Everyone seems to be late to-day,' she said after a time. 'It is
nearly six o'clock, and your father hasn't come home yet. I think he
must have gone to Les Tulettes.'

'Oh! then, no wonder he's late!' exclaimed Octave. 'The peasants at Les
Tulettes are never in a hurry to let him go when once they get hold of
him. Has he gone there to buy some wine?'

'I don't know,' Marthe replied. 'He isn't fond, you know, of talking to
me about his business.'

Then there was another interval of silence. In the dining-room, the
window of which opened on to the terrace, old Rose had just begun to
lay the table with much angry clattering of crockery and plate. She
seemed to be in a very bad temper, and banged the chairs about while
breaking into snatches of grumbling and growling. At last she went to
the street door, and, craning out her head, reconnoitred the square in
front of the Sub-Prefecture. After some minutes' waiting, she came to
the terrace-steps and cried:

'Monsieur Mouret isn't coming home to dinner, then?'

'Yes, Rose, wait a little longer,' Marthe replied quietly.

'Everything is getting burned to cinders! There's no sense in it all.
When master goes off on those rounds he ought to give us notice! Well,
it's all the same to me; but your dinner will be quite uneatable.'

'Ah! do you really think so, Rose?' asked a quiet voice just behind
her. 'We will eat it, notwithstanding.'

It was Mouret who had just arrived.[2] Rose turned round, looked her
master in the face, and seemed on the point of breaking into some angry
exclamation; but at the sight of his unruffled countenance, in which
twinkled an expression of merry banter, she could not find a word to
say, and so she retired. Mouret made his way to the terrace, where he
paced about without sitting down. He just tapped Désirée lightly on the
cheek with the tips of his fingers, and the girl greeted him with a
responsive smile. Marthe raised her eyes, and when she had glanced at
her husband she began to fold up her work.

'Aren't you tired?' asked Octave, looking at his father's boots, which
were white with dust.

'Yes, indeed, a little,' Mouret replied, without, however, saying
anything more about the long journey which he had just made on foot.

Then in the middle of the garden he caught sight of a spade and a rake,
which the children had forgotten there.

'Why are the tools not put away?' he cried. 'I have spoken about it a
hundred times. If it should come on to rain they would be completely
rusted and spoilt.'

He said no more on the subject, but stepped down into the garden,
picked up the spade and rake himself, and put them carefully away
inside the little conservatory. As he came up to the terrace again
his eyes searched every corner of the walks to see if things were tidy
there.

'Are you learning your lessons?' he asked, as he passed Serge, who was
still poring over his book.

'No, father,' the boy replied; 'this is a book that Abbé Bourrette has
lent me. It is an account of the missions in China.'

Mouret stopped short in front of his wife.

'By the way,' said he, 'has anyone been here?'

'No, no one, my dear,' replied Marthe with an appearance of surprise.

He seemed on the point of saying something further, but appeared to
change his mind, and continued pacing up and down in silence. Then,
going to the steps, he cried out:

'Well, Rose, what about this dinner of yours which is getting burnt to
cinders?'

'Oh, indeed! there is nothing ready for you now!' shouted the cook in
an angry voice from the other end of the passage. 'Everything is cold.
You will have to wait, sir.'

Mouret smiled in silence and winked with his left eye, as he glanced
at his wife and children. He seemed to be very much amused by
Rose's anger. Then he occupied himself in examining his neighbour's
fruit-trees.

'It is surprising what splendid pears Monsieur Rastoil has got this
year,' he remarked.

Marthe, who had appeared a little uneasy for the last few minutes,
seemed as though she wanted to say something. At last she made up her
mind to speak, and timidly inquired:

'Were you expecting someone to-day, my dear?'

'Yes and no,' he replied, beginning to pace the terrace again.

'Perhaps you have let the second floor?'

'Yes, indeed, I have let it.'

Then, as the silence became a little embarrassing, he added, in his
quiet way:

'This morning, before starting for Les Tulettes, I went up to see Abbé
Bourrette. He was very pressing, and so I agreed to his proposal. I
know it won't please you; but, if you will only think the matter over
for a little, you will see that you are wrong, my dear. The second
floor was of no use to us, and it was only going to ruin. The fruit
that we store in the rooms there brings on dampness which makes the
paper fall from the walls. By the way, now that I think of it, don't
forget to remove the fruit the first thing to-morrow. Our tenant may
arrive at any moment.'

'We were so free and comfortable, all alone in our own house,' Marthe
ventured to say, in a low tone.

'Oh, well!' replied Mouret, 'we shan't find a priest in our way.
He will keep to himself, and we shall keep to ourselves. Those
black-gowned gentlemen hide themselves when they want to swallow even
a glass of water. You know that I'm not very partial to them myself. A
set of lazybones for the most part! And yet what chiefly decided me to
let the floor was that I had found a priest for a tenant. One is quite
sure of one's money with them, and they are so quiet that one can't
even hear them go in and out.'

Marthe still appeared distressed. She looked round her at the happy
home basking in the sun's farewell, at the garden which was now growing
greyer with shadows, and at her three children. And she thought of all
the happiness which this little spot held for her.

'And do you know anything about this priest?'she asked.

'No; but Abbé Bourrette has taken the floor in his own name, and that
is quite sufficient. Abbé Bourrette is an honourable man. I know that
our tenant is called Faujas, Abbé Faujas, and that he comes from the
diocese of Besançon. He didn't get on very well with his vicar there,
and so he has been appointed curate here at Saint-Saturnin's. Perhaps
he knows our bishop, Monseigneur Rousselot. But all this is no business
of ours, you know; and it is to Abbé Bourrette that I am trusting in
the whole matter.'

Marthe, however, did not seem to share her husband's confidence, but
continued to stand out against him, a thing which seldom happened.

'You are right,' she said, after a moment's silence, 'Abbé Bourrette is
a worthy man. But I recollect that when he came to look at the rooms he
told me that he did not know the name of the person on whose behalf he
was commissioned to rent them. It was one of those commissions which
are undertaken by priests in one town for those in another. I really
think that you ought to write to Besançon and make some inquiries as to
what sort of a person it is that you are about to introduce into your
house.'

Mouret was anxious to avoid losing his temper; he smiled complacently.

'Well, it isn't the devil, anyhow. Why, you're trembling all over! I
didn't think you were so superstitious. You surely don't believe that
priests bring ill luck, as folks say. Neither, of course, do they bring
good luck. They are just like other men. But, when we get this Abbé
here, you'll see if I'm afraid of his cassock!'

'No, I'm not superstitious; you know that quite well,' replied Marthe.
'I only feel unhappy about it, that's all.'

He took his stand in front of her, and interrupted her with a sharp
motion of his hand.

'There! there! that will do,' said he. 'I have let the rooms; don't let
us say anything more about the matter.'

Then, in the bantering tones of a _bourgeois_ who thinks he has done a
good stroke of business, he added:

'At any rate one thing is certain, and that is that I am to get a
hundred and fifty francs rent; and we shall have those additional
hundred and fifty francs to spend on the house every year.'

Marthe bent her head and made no further protestations except by
vaguely swinging her hands and gently closing her eyes as though to
prevent the escape of the tears which were already swelling beneath her
eyelids. Then she cast a furtive glance at her children, who had not
appeared to hear anything of her discussion with their father. They
were, indeed, accustomed to scenes of this sort in which Mouret, with
his bantering nature, delighted to indulge.

'You can come in now, if you would like something to eat,' said Rose in
her crabby voice, as she came to the steps.

'Ah, that's right! Come along, children, to your soup!' cried Mouret
gaily, without appearing to retain any trace of temper.

The whole family rose. But Désirée's grief seemed to revive at the
sight of everyone stirring. She threw her arms round her father's neck
and stammered:

'Oh, papa, one of my birds has flown away!'

'One of your birds, my dear? Well, we'll catch it again.'

Then he began to caress and fondle her, but she insisted that he, also,
should go and look at the cage. When he brought her back again Marthe
and her two sons were already in the dining-room. The rays of the
setting sun, streaming in through the window, lighted up the porcelain
plates, the children's plated mugs, and the white cloth. The room was
warm and peaceful with its green background of garden.

But just as Marthe, upon whom the tranquillity of the scene had had a
soothing effect, was smilingly removing the cover from the soup-tureen,
a noise was heard in the passage.

Then Rose rushed into the room with a scared look and stammered:

'Monsieur l'Abbé Faujas has come!'



II


An expression of annoyance passed over Mouret's face. He had not
expected his tenant till the following morning at the earliest. He was
just rising hastily from his seat when Abbé Faujas himself appeared at
the door. He was a tall big man, with a square face, broad features,
and a cadaverous complexion. Behind him, in the shadow, stood an
elderly woman, who bore an astonishing resemblance to him, only that
she was of smaller build and wore a less refined expression. When they
saw the table laid for a meal, they both hesitated and stepped back
discreetly, though without going away. The priest's tall black figure
contrasted mournfully with the cheerfulness of the whitewashed walls.

'We must ask your pardon for disturbing you,' he said to Mouret. 'We
have just left Abbé Bourrette's; he, no doubt, gave you notice of our
coming!'

'Not at all!' Mouret exclaimed. 'The Abbé never behaves like other
people. He always seems as though he had just come down from paradise.
Only this morning, sir, he told me that you would not be here for
another couple of days. Well, we must put you in possession of your
rooms all the same.'

Abbé Faujas apologised. He spoke in a deep voice which fell very softly
at the end of each sentence. He was extremely distressed, said he, to
have arrived at such a moment. And when he had expressed his regret in
a very few well-chosen words, he turned round to pay the porter who
had brought his trunk. His large well-shaped hands drew from the folds
of his cassock a purse of which only the steel rings could be seen.
Keeping his head bent, he cautiously fumbled in it for a moment. Then,
without anyone having seen the piece of money which he had received,
the porter went away, and the priest resumed in his refined way:

'I beg you, sir, sit down again. Your servant will show us the rooms,
and will help me to carry this.'

As he spoke, he stooped to grasp one of the handles of his trunk. It
was a small wooden trunk, bound at the edges with iron bands, and one
of its sides seemed to have been repaired with a cross-piece of deal.
Mouret looked surprised, and his eyes wandered off in search of other
luggage, but he could see nothing excepting a big basket, which the
elderly lady carried with both hands, holding it in front of her, and
despite her fatigue obstinately determined not to put it down. From
underneath the lid, which was a little raised, there peeped, amongst
some bundles of linen, the end of a comb wrapped in paper and the neck
of a clumsily corked bottle.

'Oh! don't trouble yourself with that,' said Mouret, just touching the
trunk with his foot; 'it can't be very heavy, and Rose will be able to
carry it up by herself.'

He was quite unconscious of the secret contempt which oozed out from
his words. The elderly lady gave him a keen glance with her black eyes,
and then let her gaze again fall upon the dining-room and the table,
which she had been examining ever since her arrival. She kept her lips
tightly compressed, while her eyes strayed from one object to another.
She had not uttered a single word. Abbé Faujas consented to leave his
trunk where it was. In the yellow rays of the sunlight which streamed
in from the garden, his threadbare cassock looked quite ruddy; it was
darned at the edges; and, though it was scrupulously clean, it seemed
so sadly thin and wretched that Marthe, who had hitherto remained
seated with a sort of uneasy reserve, now in her turn rose from her
seat. The Abbé, who had merely cast a rapid glance at her, and had then
quickly turned his eyes elsewhere, saw her leave her chair, although he
did not appear to be watching her.

'I beg you,' he repeated, 'do not disturb yourselves. We should be
extremely distressed to interfere with your dinner.'

'Very well,' said Mouret, who was hungry, 'Rose shall show you up. Tell
her to get you anything you want, and make yourselves at home.'

Abbé Faujas bowed and was making his way to the staircase, when Marthe
stepped up to her husband and whispered:

'But, my dear, you have forgotten----'

'What? what?' he asked, seeing her hesitate.

'There is the fruit, you know.'

'Oh! bother it all, so there is!' he exclaimed with an expression of
annoyance.

And as Abbé Faujas stepped back and glanced at him questioningly, he
added:

'I am extremely vexed, sir. Father Bourrette is a very worthy man, but
it is a little unfortunate that you commissioned him to attend to your
business. He hasn't got the least bit of a head. If we had only known
of your coming, we should have had everything ready; but, as it is, we
shall have to clear the whole place out for you. We have been using the
rooms, you see; we have stowed all our crop of fruit, figs, apples and
raisins, away on the floors upstairs.'

The priest listened with a surprise which all his politeness did not
enable him to hide.

'But it won't take us long,' Mouret continued. 'If you don't mind
waiting for ten minutes, Rose will get the rooms cleared for you.'

An anxious expression appeared on the priest's cadaverous face.

'The rooms are furnished, are they not?' he asked.

'Not at all; there isn't a bit of furniture in them. We have never
occupied them.'

Thereupon the Abbé lost his self-control, and his grey eyes flashed as
he exclaimed with suppressed indignation:

'But I gave distinct instructions in my letter that furnished rooms
were to be taken. I could scarcely bring my furniture along with me in
my trunk.'

'Well, that just fits in with what I have been saying!' cried Mouret,
in a louder voice. 'The way that Bourrette goes on is quite incredible.
He certainly saw the apples when he came to look at the rooms, sir, for
he took up one of them and remarked that he had rarely seen such fine
fruit. He said that everything seemed quite suitable, that the rooms
were all that was necessary, and he took them.'

Abbé Faujas was no longer listening to Mouret; his cheeks were flushed
with anger. He turned round and stammered in a broken voice:

'Do you hear, mother? There is no furniture.'

The old lady, with her thin black shawl drawn tightly round her, had
just been inspecting the ground-floor, stepping furtively hither and
thither, but without once putting down her basket. She had gone to the
door of the kitchen and had scrutinised the four walls there, and then,
standing on the steps that overlooked the terrace, she had taken in all
the garden at one long, searching glance. But it was the dining-room
that seemed more especially to interest her, and she was now again
standing in front of the table laid for dinner, watching the steam of
the soup rise, when her son repeated:

'Do you hear, mother? We shall have to go to the hotel.'

She raised her head without making any reply; but the expression of
her whole face seemed to indicate a settled determination to remain
in that house, with whose every corner she had already made herself
acquainted. She shrugged her shoulders almost imperceptibly, and again
her wandering eyes strayed from the kitchen to the garden and then from
the garden to the dining-room.

Mouret, however, was growing impatient. As he saw that neither the
mother nor her son seemed to make up their minds to leave the place, he
said:

'We have no beds, unfortunately. True, there is, in the loft, a
folding-bedstead, which perhaps, at a pinch, madame might make do until
to-morrow. But I really don't know how Monsieur l'Abbé is to manage to
sleep.'

Then at last Madame Faujas opened her lips. She spoke in a curt and
somewhat hoarse voice:

'My son will take the folding-bedstead. A mattress on the floor, in a
corner, will be quite sufficient for me.'

The Abbé signified his approval of this arrangement by a nod. Mouret
was going to protest and try to think of some other plan, but, seeing
the satisfied appearance of his new tenants, he kept silence and merely
exchanged a glance of astonishment with his wife.

'To-morrow it will be light,' he said, with his touch of _bourgeois_
banter, 'and you will be able to furnish as you like. Rose will go up
and clear away the fruit and make the beds. Will you wait for a few
minutes on the terrace? Come, children, take a couple of chairs out.'

Since the arrival of the priest and his mother, the young people had
remained quietly seated at the table, curiously scrutinising the
new-comers. The Abbé had not appeared to notice them, but Madame Faujas
had stopped for a moment before each of them and stared them keenly in
the face as though she were trying to pry into their young heads. As
they heard their father, they all three hastily rose and took some
chairs out.

The old lady did not sit down; and when Mouret, losing sight of her,
turned round to find out what had become of her, he saw her standing
before a window of the drawing-room which was ajar. She craned out her
neck and completed her inspection with all the calm deliberation of a
person who is examining some property for sale. Just as Rose took up
the little trunk, however, she went back into the passage, and said
quietly:

'I will go up and help you.'

Then she went upstairs after the servant. The priest did not even turn
his head; he was smiling at the three young people who still stood in
front of him. In spite of the hardness of his brow and the stern lines
about his mouth, his face was capable of expressing great gentleness,
when such was his desire.

'Is this the whole of your family, madame?' he asked Marthe, who had
just come up to him.

'Yes, sir,' she replied, feeling a little confused beneath the clear
gaze which he turned upon her.

Looking again at her children, he continued:

'You've got two big lads there, who will soon be men--Have you finished
your studies yet, my boy?'

It was to Serge that he addressed this question. Mouret interrupted the
lad as he was going to reply.

'Yes, he has finished,' said the father; 'though he is the younger of
the two. When I say that he has finished, I mean that he has taken his
bachelor's degree, for he is staying on at college for another year to
go through a course of philosophy. He is the clever one of the family.
His brother, the elder, that great booby there, isn't up to much. He
has been plucked twice already, but he still goes on idling his time
away and larking about.'

Octave listened to his father's reproaches with a smile, while Serge
bent his head beneath his praises. Faujas seemed to be studying them
for a moment in silence, and then, going up to Désirée and putting on
an expression of gentle tenderness, he said to her:

'Will you allow me, mademoiselle, to be your friend?'

She made no reply but, half afraid, hastened to hide her face against
her mother's shoulder. The latter, instead of making her turn round
again, pressed her more closely to her, clasping an arm around her
waist.

'Excuse her,' she said with a touch of sadness, 'she hasn't a strong
head, she has remained quite childish. She is an "innocent," we do not
trouble her by attempting to teach her. She is fourteen years old now,
and as yet she has only learned to love animals.'

Désirée's confidence returned to her with her mother's caresses, and
she lifted up her head and smiled. Then she boldly said to the priest:

'I should like you very much to be my friend; but you must promise me
that you will never hurt the flies. Will you?'

And then, as every one about her began to smile, she added gravely:

'Octave crushes them, the poor flies! It is very wicked of him.'

Abbé Faujas sat down. He seemed very much tired. He yielded for a
moment or two to the cool quietness of the terrace, glancing slowly
over the garden and the neighbouring trees. The perfect calmness and
solitude of this quiet corner of the little town seemed somewhat to
surprise him.

'It is very pleasant here,' he murmured.

Then he relapsed into silence, and seemed lost in reverie. He started
slightly as Mouret said to him with a laugh:

'If you will allow us, sir, we will now go back to our dinner.'

And then, catching a glance from his wife, Mouret added:

'You must sit down with us and have a plate of soup. It will save
you the trouble of having to go to the hotel to dine. Don't make any
difficulty, I beg.'

'I am extremely obliged to you, but we really don't require anything,'
the Abbé replied in tones of extreme politeness, which allowed of no
repetition of the invitation.

The Mourets then returned to the dining-room and seated themselves
round the table. Marthe served the soup and there was soon a cheerful
clatter of spoons. The young people chattered merrily, and Désirée
broke into a peal of ringing laughter as she listened to a story which
her father, who was now in high glee at having at last got to his
dinner, was telling. In the meantime, Abbé Faujas, whom they had quite
forgotten, remained motionless upon the terrace, facing the setting
sun. He did not even turn his head, he seemed to hear nothing of what
was going on behind him. Just as the sun was disappearing he took off
his hat as if overcome by the heat. Marthe, who was sitting with her
face to the window, could see his big bare head with its short hair
that was already silvering about the temples. A last red ray lighting
up that stern soldier-like head, on which the tonsure lay like a
cicatrised wound from the blow of a club; then the ray faded away and
the priest, now wrapped in shadow, seemed nothing more than a black
silhouette against the ashy grey of the gloaming.

Not wishing to summon Rose, Marthe herself went to get a lamp and
brought in the first dish. As she was returning from the kitchen, she
met, at the foot of the staircase, a woman whom she did not at first
recognise. It was Madame Faujas. She had put on a cotton cap and looked
like a servant in her common print gown, with a yellow kerchief crossed
over her breast and knotted behind her waist. Her wrists were bare, she
was quite out of breath with the work she had been doing, and her heavy
laced boots clattered on the flooring of the passage.

'Ah! you've got all put right now, have you, madame?' Marthe asked with
a smile.

'Oh, yes! it was a mere trifle and was done directly,' Madame Faujas
replied.

She went down the steps that led to the terrace, and called in a
gentler tone:

'Ovide, my child, will you come upstairs now? Everything is quite
ready.'

She was obliged to go and lay her hand upon her son's shoulder to
awaken him from his reverie. The air was growing cool, and the Abbé
shivered as he got up and followed his mother in silence. As he
passed before the door of the dining-room which was all bright with
the cheerful glow of the lamp and merry with the chatter of the young
folks, he peeped in and said in his flexible voice:

'Let me thank you again, and beg you to excuse us for having so
disturbed you. We are very sorry----'

'No! no!' cried Mouret, 'it is we who are sorry and distressed at not
being able to offer you better accommodation for the night.'

The priest bowed, and Marthe again met that clear gaze of his, that
eagle glance which had affected her before. In the depths of his eyes,
which were generally of a melancholy grey, flames seemed to gleam at
times like lamps carried behind the windows of slumbering houses.

'The priest's not at all shamefaced,' Mouret remarked jestingly, when
the mother and son had retired.

'I don't think they are very well off,' Marthe replied.

'Well, at any rate, he isn't carrying Peru about with him in that box
of his,' Mouret exclaimed. 'And it's light enough! Why, I could have
raised it with the tip of my little finger!'

But he was interrupted in his flow of chatter by Rose, who had just
come running down the stairs to relate the extraordinary things she had
witnessed.

'Well, she is a wonderful creature, indeed!' she cried, posting
herself in front of the table at which the family were eating. 'She's
sixty-five at least, but she doesn't show it at all, and she bustles
about, and works like a horse!'

'Did she help you to remove the fruit?' Mouret asked, with some
curiosity.

'Yes, indeed, she did, sir! She carried it away in her apron, in loads
heavy enough to burst it. I kept saying to myself, "The apron will
certainly go this time," but it didn't. It is made of good strong
material, the same kind of material as I wear myself. We made at least
ten journeys backwards and forwards, and I felt as though my arms would
fall off, but she only grumbled, and complained that we were getting on
very slowly. I really believe, begging your pardon for mentioning it,
that I heard her swear.'

Mouret appeared to be greatly amused.

'And the beds?' he asked.

'The beds, she made them too. It was quite a sight to see her turn
the mattress over. It seemed to weigh nothing, I can tell you; she
just took hold of it at one end and tossed it into the air as though
it had been a feather. And yet she was very careful and particular
with it all. She tucked in the folding-bed as carefully as though she
were preparing a baby's cradle. She couldn't have laid the sheets with
greater devotion if the Infant Jesus Himself had been going to sleep
there. She put three out of the four blankets upon the folding-bed. And
it was just the same with the pillows; she kept none for herself, but
gave both to her son.'

'She is going to sleep on the floor, then?'

'In a corner, just like a dog! She threw a mattress on the floor of
the other room and said that she'd sleep there more soundly than if
she were in paradise. I couldn't persuade her to do anything to make
herself more comfortable. She says that she is never cold, and that
her head is much too hard to make her at all afraid of lying on the
floor. I have taken them some sugar and some water, as madame told me.
Oh! they really are the strangest people!'

Then Rose brought in the remainder of the dinner. That evening the
Mourets lingered over their meal. They discussed the new tenants
at great length. In their life, which went on with all the even
regularity of clock-work, the arrival of these two strangers was a very
exciting event. They talked about it as they would have done of some
catastrophe in the neighbourhood, going into all that minuteness of
detail which helps one to while away long nights in the country. Mouret
was especially fond of the chattering gossip of a little provincial
town. During dessert, as he rested his elbows on the table in the cool
dining-room, he repeated for the tenth time with the self-satisfied air
of a happy man:

'It certainly isn't a very handsome present that Besançon has made to
Plassans! Did you notice the back of his cassock when he turned round?
I shall be very much surprised if he is much run after by the pious
folks here. He is too seedy and threadbare; and the pious folks like
nice-looking priests.'

'He has a very gentle voice,' said Marthe, indulgently.

'Not when he is angry, at any rate,' Mouret replied. 'Didn't you hear
him when he burst out on finding that the rooms were not furnished?
He's a stern man, I'll be bound; not one of the sort, I should think,
to go lounging in confessional-boxes. I shall be very curious to see
how he sets about his furnishing to-morrow. But as long as he pays me,
I don't much mind anything else. If he doesn't, I shall apply to Abbé
Bourrette. It was with him that I made the bargain.'

The Mourets were not a devout family. The children themselves made
fun of the Abbé and his mother. Octave burlesqued the old lady's way
of craning out her neck to see to the end of the rooms, a performance
which made Désirée laugh. After a time, however, Serge, who was of a
more serious turn of mind, stood up for 'those poor people.'

As a rule, precisely at ten o'clock, if he was not playing at piquet,
Mouret took up his candlestick and went off to bed, but that evening,
when eleven o'clock struck, he was not yet feeling drowsy. Désirée had
fallen asleep, with her head lying on Marthe's knees. The two lads had
gone up to their room; and Mouret, left alone with his wife, still
went on chattering.

'How old do you suppose he is?' he suddenly asked.

'Who?' replied Marthe, who was now beginning to feel very sleepy.

'Who? Why, the Abbé, of course! Between forty and forty-five, eh? He's
a fine strapping fellow. It's a pity for him to wear a cassock! He
would have made a splendid carbineer.'

Then, after an interval of silence, he vented aloud the reflections
which were exercising his mind:

'They arrived by the quarter to seven train. They can only have just
had time to call on Abbé Bourrette before coming here. I'll wager that
they haven't dined! That is quite clear. We should certainly have seen
them if they had gone out to the hotel. Ah, now! I should very much
like to know where they can have had anything to eat.'

Rose had been lingering about the dining-room for the last few moments,
waiting for her master and mistress to go to bed in order that she
might be at liberty to fasten the doors and windows.

'I know where they had something to eat,' she said. And as Mouret
turned briskly towards her, she added: 'Yes, I had gone upstairs again
to see if there was anything they wanted. As I heard no sound, I didn't
venture to knock at the door, but I looked through the key-hole.'

'Why, that was very improper of you, very improper,' Marthe
interrupted, severely. 'You know very well, Rose, that I don't approve
of anything of that kind.'

'Leave her alone and let her go on!' cried Mouret, who, under other
circumstances, would have been very angry with the inquisitive woman.
'You peeped through the key-hole, did you?'

'Yes, sir; I thought it was the best plan.'

'Clearly so. What were they doing?'

'Well, sir, they were eating. I saw them sitting on one corner of the
folding-bedstead and eating. The old lady had spread out a napkin.
Every time that they helped themselves to some wine, they corked the
bottle again and laid it down against the pillow.'

'But what were they eating?'

'I couldn't quite tell, sir. It seemed to me like the remains of some
pastry wrapped up in a newspaper. They had some apples as well--little
apples that looked good for nothing.'

'They were talking, I suppose? Did you hear what they said?'

'No, sir, they were not talking. I stayed for a good quarter of an hour
watching them, but they never said anything. They were much too busy
eating!'

Marthe now rose, woke Désirée, and made as though she were going off to
bed. Her husband's curiosity vexed her. He, too, at last made up his
mind to go off upstairs, while old Rose, who was a pious creature, went
on in a lower tone:

'The poor, dear man must have been frightfully hungry. His mother
handed him the biggest pieces and watched him swallow them with
delight. And now he'll sleep in some nice white sheets; unless, indeed,
the smell of the fruit keeps him awake. It isn't a pleasant smell to
have in one's bedroom, that sour odour of apples and pears. And there
isn't a bit of furniture in the whole room, nothing but the bed in the
corner! If I were he, I should feel quite frightened, and I should keep
the light burning all night.'

Mouret had taken up his candlestick. He stood for a moment in front
of Rose, and summed up the events of the evening like a genuine
_bourgeois_ who has met with something unusual: 'It is extraordinary!'

Then he joined his wife at the foot of the staircase. She got into
bed and fell asleep, while he still continued listening to the
slightest sounds that proceeded from the upper floor. The Abbé's room
was immediately over his own. He heard the window of it being gently
opened, and this greatly excited his curiosity. He raised his head
from his pillow, and strenuously struggled against his increasing
drowsiness in his anxiety to find out how long the Abbé would remain
at the window. But sleep was too strong for him, and he was snoring
noisily before he had been able to detect the grating sound which the
window-fastening made when it was closed.

Up above, Abbé Faujas was gazing, bare-headed, out of his window into
the black night. He lingered there for a long time, glad to find
himself at last alone, absorbed in those thoughts which gave his brow
such an expression of sternness. Underneath him, he was conscious of
the tranquil slumber of the family whose home he had been sharing for
the last few hours; the calm, easy breathing of the children and their
mother Marthe, and the heavy, regular respiration of Mouret. There
was a touch of scorn in the way in which the priest stretched out
his muscular neck, as he raised his head to gaze upon the town that
lay slumbering in the distance. The tall trees in the garden of the
Sub-Prefecture formed a mass of gloomy darkness, and Monsieur Rastoil's
pear-trees thrust up scraggy, twisted branches, while, further away,
there was but a sea of black shadow, a blank nothingness, whence not a
sound proceeded. The town lay as tranquilly asleep as an infant in its
cradle.

Abbé Faujas stretched out his arms with an air of ironic defiance, as
though he would have liked to circle them round Plassans, and squeeze
the life out of it by crushing it against his brawny chest. And he
murmured to himself:

'Ah! to think that the imbeciles laughed at me this evening, as they
saw me going through their streets!'



III


Mouret spent the whole of the next morning in playing the spy on his
new tenant. This espionage would now enable him to fill up the idle
hours which he had hitherto spent in pottering about the house, in
putting back into their proper places any articles which he happened to
find lying about, and in picking quarrels with his wife and children.
Henceforth he would have an occupation, an amusement which would
relieve the monotony of his everyday life. As he had often said, he
was not partial to priests, and yet Abbé Faujas, the first one who had
entered into his existence, excited in him an extraordinary amount of
interest. This priest brought with him a touch of mystery and secrecy
that was almost disquieting. Although Mouret was a strong-minded
man and professed himself to be a follower of Voltaire, yet in the
Abbé's presence he felt the astonishment and uneasiness of a common
_bourgeois_.

Not a sound came from the second floor. Mouret stood on the staircase
and listened eagerly; he even ventured to go to the loft. As he hushed
his steps while passing along the passage, a pattering of slippers
behind the door filled him with emotion. But he did not succeed in
making any new discovery, so he went down into the garden and strolled
into the arbour at the end of it, there raising his eyes and trying to
look through the windows in order to find out what might be going on in
the rooms. But he could not see even the Abbé's shadow. Madame Faujas,
in the absence of curtains, had, as a makeshift, fastened some sheets
behind the windows.

At lunch Mouret seemed quite vexed.

'Are they dead upstairs?' he said, as he cut the children's bread.
'Have you heard them move, Marthe?'

'No, my dear; but I haven't been listening.'

Rose thereupon cried out from the kitchen: 'They've been gone ever so
long. They must be far enough away now if they've kept on at the same
pace.'

Mouret summoned the cook and questioned her minutely.

'They went out, sir: first the mother, and then the priest. They walked
so softly that I should never have known anything about it if their
shadows had not fallen across the kitchen floor when they opened the
street door. I looked out into the street to see where they were going,
but they had vanished. They must have gone off in a fine hurry.'

'It is very surprising. But where was I at the time?'

'I think you were in the garden, sir, looking at the grapes in the
arbour.'

This put Mouret into a very bad temper. He began to inveigh against
priests. They were a set of mystery-mongers, a parcel of underhand
schemers, with whom the devil himself would be at a loss. They affected
such ridiculous prudery that no one had ever seen a priest wash his
face. And then he wound up by expressing his sorrow that he had ever
let his rooms to this Abbé, about whom he knew nothing at all.

'It is all your fault!' he exclaimed to his wife, as he got up from
table.

Marthe was about to protest and remind him of their discussion on the
previous day, but she raised her eyes and simply looked at him, saying
nothing. Mouret, contrary to his usual custom, resolved to remain at
home. He pottered up and down between the dining-room and the garden,
poking about everywhere, pretending that nothing was in its place and
that the house simply invited thieves. Then he got indignant with Serge
and Octave, who had set off for the college, he said, quite half an
hour too soon.

'Isn't father going out?' Désirée whispered in her mother's ear. 'He
will worry us to death if he stays at home.'

Marthe hushed her. At last Mouret began to speak of a piece of business
which he declared he must finish off during the day. And then he
complained that he had never a moment to himself, and could never get
a day's rest at home when he felt he wanted it. Finally he went away,
quite distressed that he could not remain and see what happened.

When he returned in the evening he was all on fire with curiosity.

'Well, what about the Abbé?' he asked, without even giving himself time
to take off his hat.

Marthe was working in her usual place on the terrace.

'The Abbé!' she repeated, with an appearance of surprise. 'Oh, yes! the
Abbé--I've really seen nothing of him, but I believe he has got settled
down now. Rose told me that some furniture had come.'

'That's just what I was afraid of!' exclaimed Mouret. 'I wanted to be
here when it came; for, you see, the furniture is my security. I knew
very well that you would never think of stirring from your chair. You
haven't much of a head, my dear--Rose! Rose!'

The cook appeared in answer to his summons, and he forthwith asked her:
'There's some furniture come for the people on the second floor?'

'Yes, sir; it came in a little covered cart. I recognised it as
Bergasse's; the second-hand dealer's. It wasn't a big load. Madame
Faujas came on behind it. I dare say she had been giving the man who
pushed it along a helping hand up the Rue Balande.'

'At any rate, you saw the furniture, I suppose? Did you notice what
there was?'

'Certainly, sir. I had posted myself by the door, and it all went past
me, which didn't seem to please Madame Faujas very much. Wait a moment
and I'll tell you everything there was. First of all they brought up
an iron bedstead, then a chest of drawers, then two tables and four
chairs; and that was the whole lot of it. And it wasn't new either. I
wouldn't have given thirty crowns for the whole collection.'

'But you should have told madame; we cannot let the rooms under such
conditions. I shall go at once to talk to Abbé Bourrette about the
matter.'

He was fuming with irritation, and was just setting off, when Marthe
brought him to a sudden halt by saying:

'Oh! I had forgotten to tell you. They have paid me six months' rent in
advance.'

'What! They have paid you?' he stammered out, almost in a tone of
annoyance.

'Yes, the old lady came down and gave me this.'

She put her hand into her work-bag, and gave her husband seventy-five
francs in hundred-sou-pieces, neatly wrapt up in a piece of newspaper.
Mouret counted the money, and muttered:

'As long as they pay, they are free to stop. But they are strange
folks, all the same. Everyone can't be rich, of course, but that is
no reason why one should behave in this suspicious manner, when one's
poor.'

'There is something else I have to tell you,' Marthe continued, as she
saw him calm down. 'The old lady asked me if we were disposed to part
with the folding-bed to her. I told her that we made no use of it, and
that she was welcome to keep it as long as she liked.'

'You did quite right. We must do what we can to oblige them. As I told
you before, what bothers me about these confounded priests is that one
never can tell what they are thinking about, or what they are up to.
Apart from that, you will often find very honourable men amongst them.'

The money seemed to have consoled him. He joked and teased Serge about
his book on the Chinese missions, which the boy happened to be reading
just then. During dinner he affected to feel no further curiosity about
the tenants of the second floor; but, when Octave mentioned that he had
seen Abbé Faujas leaving the Bishop's residence, he could not restrain
himself. Directly the dessert was placed on the table he resumed his
chatter of the previous evening, though after a time he began to feel a
little ashamed of himself. His commercial pursuits had made him stolid
and heavy, but he really had a keen mind; he was possessed of no little
common sense and accuracy of judgment which often enabled him to pick
out the truth from the midst of all the gossip of the neighbourhood.

'After all,' he said, as he went off to bed, 'one has no business to go
prying into other people's affairs. The Abbé is quite at liberty to do
as he pleases. It is getting wearisome to be always talking about these
people, and I, for my part, shall say nothing more about them.'

A week passed away. Mouret had resumed his habitual life. He prowled
about the house, lectured his children, and spent his afternoons away
from home, amusing himself by transacting various bits of business, of
which he never spoke; and he ate and slept like a man for whom life is
an easy downhill journey, without any jolts or surprises of any kind.
The whole place sank back into all its old monotony. Marthe occupied
her accustomed seat on the terrace, with her little work-table in front
of her. Désirée played by her side. The two lads came home at the usual
time, and were as noisy as ever; and Rose, the cook, grumbled and
growled at everyone; while the garden and the dining-room retained all
their wonted sleepy calm.

'You see now,' Mouret often repeated to his wife, 'you were quite
mistaken in thinking that our comfort would be interfered with, by our
letting the second-floor. We are as quiet and happy as ever we were,
and the house seems smaller and cosier.'

He occasionally raised his eyes towards the second-floor windows, which
Madame Faujas had hung with thick cotton curtains, on the day after her
arrival. These curtains were never drawn aside. There was a conventual
look about their stern, cold folds, and they seemed to tell of deep,
unbroken silence, cloistral stillness lurking behind them. At distant
intervals the windows were set ajar, and allowed the high, shadowy
ceilings to be seen between the snowy whiteness of the curtains. But
it was all to no purpose that Mouret kept on the watch, he could never
catch sight of the hand which opened or closed them, and he never even
heard the grating of the window fastening. Never did a sound of human
life come down from the second floor.

The first week was at an end and Mouret had not yet had another glimpse
of Abbé Faujas. That man who was living in his house, without he ever
being able to catch sight even of his shadow, began to affect him with
a kind of nervous uneasiness. In spite of all the efforts he made to
appear indifferent, he relapsed into his old questionings, and started
an inquiry.

'Have you seen anything of him?' he asked his wife.

'I fancy I caught a glimpse of him yesterday, as he was coming in, but
I am not sure. His mother always wears a black dress, and it might have
been she that I saw.'

And as he continued to press her with questions, Marthe told him all
she knew.

'Rose says that he goes out every day, and stays away a long time. As
for his mother, she is as regular as a clock. She comes down at seven
o'clock in the morning to go out and do her marketing. She has a big
basket, which is always closed, and in which she must bring everything
back with her, coal, bread, wine and provisions, for no tradesman ever
calls with anything for them. They are very courteous and polite; and
Rose says that they always bow to her when they meet her. But as a rule
she does not even hear them come down the stairs.'

'They must go in for a funny sort of cooking up there,' said Mouret, to
whom all these details conveyed none of the information he wanted.

On another evening, when Octave mentioned that he had seen Abbé Faujas
entering Saint-Saturnin's, his father asked him about the priest's
appearance, what effect he had made upon the passers-by, and what he
could be going to do in the church.

'Ah! you are really much too curious!' cried the young man, with
a laugh. 'He didn't look very fine in the sunshine with his rusty
cassock, I can vouch for that much. I noticed, too, that, as he walked
along, he kept in the shadow of the houses, which made his cassock
look a little blacker. He didn't seem at all proud of himself, but
hurried along with his head bent down. Two girls began to laugh as he
crossed the Place. The Abbé raised his head and looked at them with an
expression of great softness--didn't he, Serge?'

Thereupon Serge related how on several occasions, as he was returning
from the college, he had at a distance followed the Abbé, who was on
his way back from Saint-Saturnin's. He passed through the streets
without speaking to anyone; he seemed to know nobody and to be rather
hurt by the suppressed titters and jeers which he heard around him.

'Do they talk of him, then, in the town?' asked Mouret, whose interest
was greatly aroused.

'No one has ever spoken to me about him,' Octave replied.

'Yes,' said Serge,' they do talk of him. Abbé Bourrette's nephew told
me that he wasn't a favourite at the church. They are not fond of these
priests who come from a distance; and besides he has such a miserable
appearance. When people get accustomed to him, they will leave the poor
man alone, but just at first it is only natural that he should attract
notice.'

Marthe thereupon advised the two young fellows not to gratify any
outsider's curiosity about the Abbé.

'Oh, yes! they may answer any questions,' Mouret exclaimed. 'Certainly
nothing that we know of him could be likely to compromise him in any
way.'

From that time forward, with the best faith in the world and without
meaning the least harm, Mouret turned his sons into a couple of spies.
He told Octave and Serge that they must repeat to him all that was said
about the priest in the town, and he even instructed them to follow
him whenever they came across him. But the information that was to be
derived from such sources was quickly exhausted. The talk occasioned
by the arrival of a strange curate in the diocese died away; the town
seemed to have extended its pardon to the 'poor fellow,' who glided
about in the shade in such a rusty old cassock, and its only apparent
feeling for him now was one of disdain. The priest, on the other
hand, always went straight to the cathedral and so returned from it,
invariably passing through the same streets. Octave said, laughingly,
that he was sure he counted the paving-stones.

Then Mouret bethought himself of enlisting the help of Désirée in the
task of collecting information. In the evening he took her to the
bottom of the garden and listened to her chatter about what she had
done and what she had seen during the day, and he always tried to lead
her on to the subject of the tenants of the second floor.

'Now, just listen to what I tell you,' he said to her one day.
'To-morrow, when the window is open, just throw your ball into the
room, and then go up and ask for it.'

The next day the girl threw her ball into the room, but she had
scarcely reached the steps of the house before the ball, returned
by an invisible hand, bounced up from the terrace. Her father, who
had reckoned on the child's taking ways leading to a renewal of the
intercourse which had been interrupted since the day of the priest's
arrival, now lost all hope. It was quite clear that the Abbé had
made up his mind to keep to himself. This rebuff, however, only made
Mouret's curiosity all the keener. He even condescended to go gossiping
in corners with the cook, to the great displeasure of Marthe, who
reproached him for his want of self-respect; but at this he became
angry with her and defended himself by lies. However, as he felt that
he was in the wrong, it was only in secret that he henceforth talked
to Rose about the Faujases.

One morning she beckoned to him to follow her into the kitchen.

'Oh, sir!' she said, as she shut the door, 'I have been watching for
you to come down from your room for more than an hour.'

'Have you found out something then?'

'Well, you shall hear. Yesterday evening I was chatting with Madame
Faujas for more than an hour!'

Mouret felt a thrill of joy. He sat down on an old tattered rush-bottom
chair, in the midst of the dirty cloths and vegetable parings left from
the previous day, and exclaimed:

'Go along! make haste!'

'Well,' continued the cook, 'I was at the street-door saying good-night
to Monsieur Rastoil's servant, when Madame Faujas came downstairs to
empty a pail of dirty water in the gutter. Instead of immediately going
back again, without even turning her head, as she generally does, she
stopped there for a moment to look at me. Then it struck me that she
wanted to speak to me, and I said to her that it had been a beautiful
day, and that it would be good for the grapes. She said, "Yes, yes,"
in an unconcerned sort of way, just like a woman who has no land and
has no interest in such matters. But she put down her pail and made no
attempt to go away; she even came and leant against the wall beside
me--'

'Well! well! what did she say to you?' cried Mouret, tortured by his
impatience.

'Well, of course, you understand I wasn't silly enough to begin to
question her. She would have gone straight off if I had. Without
seeming to intend anything, I suggested things to her which I thought
might set her talking. The Curé[3] of Saint-Saturnin's, that worthy
Monsieur Compan, happened to pass by, and I told her he was very
ill and wasn't long for this world, and that there would be great
difficulty in filling his place at the cathedral. She was all ears
at once, I can tell you. She even asked me what was the matter
with Monsieur Compan. Then, going on from one thing to another, I
gradually got talking about our bishop. Monseigneur Rousselot was a
most excellent and worthy man, I told her. She did not know his age,
so I told her that he was sixty, very delicate also, and that he let
himself be led by the nose. There is a good deal of talk about the
vicar-general, Monsieur Fenil, who is all powerful with the bishop. The
old lady was quite interested in that, and she would have stayed out in
the street all night, listening.'

An expression of desperation passed over Mouret's face. 'But what
you're telling me is what you said yourself,' he cried. 'What was it
that she said? That's what I want to hear.'

'Wait a little and let me finish,' Rose replied very calmly. 'I was
gradually gaining my purpose. To win her confidence, I ended by talking
to her about ourselves. I told her that you were Monsieur François
Mouret, a retired merchant from Marseilles, and that you had managed in
fifteen years to make a fortune out of wines and oils and almonds. I
added that you had preferred to come and settle down and live on your
means in Plassans, a quiet town, where your wife's relations lived. I
even contrived to let her know, too, that madame was your cousin, that
you were forty years old and that she was thirty-seven, and that you
lived very happily together; in fact, I told her all about you. She
seemed to be very much interested, and kept saying, "Yes, yes," in her
deliberate way; and, when I stopped for a moment, she nodded her head
as though to tell me she was listening and that I might go on. So we
went on talking in this way, with our backs against the wall, like a
couple of old friends, till it was quite dark.'

Mouret bounced from his chair in angry indignation.

'What!' he cried, 'is that all? She led you on to gossip to her for an
hour, and she herself told you nothing!'

'When it got dark, she said to me: "The air is becoming quite chilly."
And then she took up her pail and went back upstairs.'

'You are nothing but an idiot! That old woman up there is more than a
match for half a score such as you. Ah! they'll be laughing finely now
that they have wormed out of you all that they wanted to know about us.
Do you hear me, Rose? I tell you that you are nothing but an idiot!'

The old cook waxed very indignant, and began to bounce excitedly up
and down the kitchen, knocking the pots and pans about noisily, and
crumpling up the dusters and flinging them down.

'It was scarcely worth your while, sir,' she hissed, 'to come into
my kitchen to call me insulting names. You had better take yourself
off. What I did, I did to please you. If madame finds us here
together talking about those people, she will be angry with me, and
quite rightly, because it is wrong for us to be doing so. And after
all, I couldn't drag words from the old lady's lips if she wasn't
willing to talk. I did as any one else would have done under the same
circumstances. I talked and told her about your affairs, and it was no
fault of mine that she didn't tell me about hers. Go and ask her about
them yourself, since you are anxious to know about them. Perhaps you
won't make such an idiot of yourself as I have done.'

She had raised her voice, and was talking so loudly that Mouret thought
it would be more prudent to retire, and he did so, closing the kitchen
door after him, in order to prevent his wife from hearing the servant.
But Rose immediately pulled it open again, and cried after him down the
passage:

'I shall bother myself about it no longer; do you hear? You may get
somebody else to do your underhand business for you!'

Mouret was quite vanquished. He showed some irritation at his defeat,
and tried to console himself by saying that those second-floor tenants
of his were mere nobodies. Gradually he succeeded in making this
opinion of his that of his acquaintances, and then that of the whole
town. Abbé Faujas came to be looked upon as a priest without means and
without ambition, who was completely outside the pale of the intrigues
of the diocese. People imagined that he was ashamed of his poverty,
that he was glad to perform any unpleasant duties in connection with
the cathedral, and tried to keep himself in obscurity as much as
possible. There was only one matter of curiosity left in connection
with him, and that was the reason of his having come to Plassans
from Besançon. Queer stories were circulated about him, but they all
seemed very improbable. Mouret himself, who had played the spy over
his tenants simply for amusement and in order to pass the time, just
as he would have played a game at cards or bowls, was even beginning
to forget that he had a priest living in his house, when an incident
occurred which revived all his curiosity.

One afternoon as he was returning home, he saw Abbé Faujas going up the
Rue Balande in front of him. Mouret slackened his pace and examined the
priest at his leisure. Although Abbé Faujas had been lodging in his
house for a month, this was the first time that he had thus seen him
in broad daylight. The Abbé still wore his old cassock, and he walked
slowly, with his hat in his hand and his head bare in spite of the
chilly air. The street, which was a very steep one, with the shutters
of its big, bare houses always closed, was quite deserted. Mouret, who
quickened his pace, was at last obliged to walk on tip-toes for fear
lest the priest should hear him and make his escape. But as they neared
Monsieur Rastoil's house, a group of people turning out of the Place
of the Sub-Prefecture entered it. Abbé Faujas made a slight détour to
avoid these persons. He watched the door close, and then, suddenly
stopping, he turned round towards his landlord, who was now close up to
him.

'I am very glad to have met you,' said he, with all his wonted
politeness, 'otherwise I should have ventured to disturb you this
evening. The last time it rained, the wet came through the ceiling of
my room, and I should much like to show it you.'

Mouret remained standing in front of him, and stammered in confusion
that he was entirely at the Abbé's service. Then, as they went indoors
together, he asked him at what time he should go to look at the ceiling.

'Well, I should like you to come at once,' the Abbé replied, 'if it
wouldn't be troubling you too much.'

Mouret went up the stairs after him so excited that he almost choked,
while Rose followed them with her eyes from the kitchen doorway quite
dazed with astonishment.



IV


When Mouret reached the second floor he was more perturbed than a youth
at his first assignation. The unexpected satisfaction of his long
thwarted desires, and the hope of seeing something quite extraordinary,
almost prevented him from breathing. Abbé Faujas slipped the key which
he carried, and which he quite concealed in his big fingers, into the
lock without making the faintest noise, and the door opened as silently
as if it had been hung upon velvet hinges. Then the Abbé, stepping
back, mutely motioned to Mouret to enter.

The cotton curtains at the two windows were so thick that the room
lay in a pale, chalky dimness like the half-light of a convent cell.
It was a very large room, with a lofty ceiling, and a quiet, neat
wall-paper of a faded yellow. Mouret ventured forward, advancing with
short steps over the tiled floor, which was as smooth and shiny as a
mirror, and so cold that he seemed to feel a chill through the soles of
his boots. He glanced furtively around him and examined the curtainless
iron bedstead, the sheets of which were so straightly stretched that
it looked like a block of white stone lying in the corner. The chest
of drawers, stowed away at the other end of the room, a little table
in the middle, and two chairs, one before each window, completed the
furniture. There was not a single paper on the table, not an article
of any kind on the chest of drawers, not a garment hanging against the
walls. Everything was perfectly bare except that over the chest of
drawers there was suspended a big black wooden crucifix, looking like a
dark splotch amidst the bare greyness of the room.

'Come this way, sir, will you?' said the Abbé. 'It is in this corner
that the ceiling is stained.'

But Mouret did not hurry, he was enjoying himself. Although he saw
none of the extraordinary things that he had vaguely expected to see,
there seemed to him to be a peculiar odour about the room. It smelt
of a priest, he thought; of a man with different ways from other men.
But it vexed him that he could see nothing on which he might base some
hypothesis carelessly left on any of the pieces of furniture or in any
corner of the apartment. The room was just like its provoking occupant,
silent, cold, and inscrutable. He was extremely surprised, too, not to
find any appearance of poverty as he had expected. On the contrary, the
room produced upon him much the same impression as he had felt when he
had once entered the richly furnished drawing-room of the prefect of
Marseilles. The big crucifix seemed to fill it with its black arms.

Mouret felt, however, that he must go and look at the corner which Abbé
Faujas was inviting him to inspect.

'You see the stain, don't you?' asked the priest. 'It has faded a
little since yesterday.'

Mouret rose upon tip-toes and strained his eyes, but at first he could
see nothing. When the Abbé had drawn back the curtains, he was able to
distinguish a slight damp-stain.

'It's nothing very serious,' he said.

'Oh, no! but I thought it would be better to tell you of it. The wet
must have soaked through near the edge of the roof.'

'Yes, you are right; near the edge of the roof.'

Mouret made no further remark; he was again examining the room, now
clear and distinct in the full daylight. It looked less solemn than
before, but it remained as taciturn as ever. There was not even a speck
of dust lying about to tell aught of the Abbé's life.

'Perhaps,' continued the priest, 'we may be able to discover the place
from the window. Just wait a moment.'

He proceeded to open the window, but Mouret protested against him
troubling himself any further, saying that the workmen would easily be
able to find the leak.

'It is no trouble at all, I assure you,' replied the Abbé with polite
insistence. 'I know that landlords like to know how matters are going
on. Inspect everything, I beg of you. The house is yours.'

As he spoke these last words he smiled, a thing he did but rarely;
and then as Mouret and himself leaned over the rail that crossed the
window, and turned their eyes towards the guttering, he launched out
into various technical details, trying to account for the appearance of
the stain.

'I think there has been a slight depression of the tiles, perhaps even
a breakage; unless, indeed, that crack which you can see up there in
the cornice extends into the retaining-wall.'

'Yes, yes, that is very possible,' Mouret replied; 'but I must confess,
Monsieur l'Abbé, that I really don't understand anything about these
matters. However, the masons will see to it.'

The priest said nothing further on the subject, but quietly remained
where he was, gazing out upon the garden beneath him. Mouret, who was
leaning by his side, thought it would be impolite to hurry away. He was
quite won over when his tenant, after an interval of silence, said to
him in his soft voice:

'You have a very pretty garden, sir.'

'Oh! it's nothing out of the common,' replied Mouret. 'There used to
be some fine trees which I was obliged to cut down, for nothing would
grow in their shade, and we have to pay attention to utility, you know.
This plot is quite large enough for us and keeps us in vegetables all
through the season.'

The Abbé seemed surprised, and asked Mouret for details. The garden was
an old-fashioned country garden, surrounded with arbours, and divided
into four regular square plots by tall borders of box. In the middle
was a shallow basin, but there was no fountain. Only one of the squares
was devoted to flowers. In the other three, which were planted at their
edges with fruit-trees, one saw some magnificent cabbages, lettuces,
and other vegetables. The paths of yellow gravel were kept extremely
neat.

'It is a little paradise,' said Abbé Faujas.

'There are several disadvantages, all the same,' replied Mouret, who
felt extremely delighted at hearing his ground so highly praised. 'You
will have noticed, for instance, that we are on a slope, and that the
gardens hereabouts are on different levels. Monsieur Rastoil's is lower
than mine, which, again, is lower than that of the Sub-Prefecture.
The consequence is that the rain often does a great deal of damage.
Then, too, a still greater disadvantage is that the people in the
Sub-Prefecture overlook me, and the more so now that they have made
that terrace which commands my wall. It is true that I overlook
Monsieur Rastoil's garden, but that is very poor compensation I can
assure you, for a man who never troubles himself about his neighbour's
doings.'

The priest seemed to be listening out of mere complaisance, just
nodding his head occasionally but making no remarks. He followed with
his eyes the motions of his landlord's hand.

'And there is still another inconvenience,' continued Mouret, pointing
to a path that skirted the bottom of the garden. 'You see that little
lane between the two walls? It is called the Impasse des Chevillottes,
and leads to a cart-entrance to the grounds of the Sub-Prefecture.
Well, all the neighbouring properties have little doors giving access
to the lane, and there are all sorts of mysterious comings and goings.
For my part, being a family man with children, I fastened my door up
with a couple of stout nails.'

He looked at the Abbé and winked, hoping that the priest would question
him about the mysterious comings and goings to which he had just
alluded. But Abbé Faujas seemed quite unconcerned; he merely glanced at
the alley without showing any curiosity on the subject. Then he again
gazed placidly upon the Mourets' garden. Marthe was in her customary
place near the edge of the terrace, hemming napkins. She had raised
her head on first hearing voices, and then had resumed her work again,
full of surprise at seeing her husband at one of the second-floor
windows in the company of the priest. She now appeared to be quite
unconscious of their presence. Mouret, however, had raised his voice
from a sort of instinctive braggartism, proud of being able to show
his wife that he had at last made his way into that room which had so
persistently been kept private. The Abbé, on his side, every now and
then let his calm eyes rest upon the woman, though all that he could
see of her was the back of her bent neck and her black coil of hair.

They were both silent again, and Abbé Faujas still seemed disinclined
to leave the window. He now appeared to be examining their neighbour's
flower beds. Monsieur Rastoil's garden was arranged in the English
fashion, with little walks and grass plots broken by small flower-beds.
At the bottom there was a circular cluster of trees, underneath which a
table and some rustic chairs were set.

'Monsieur Rastoil is very wealthy,' resumed Mouret, who had followed
the direction of the Abbé's eyes. 'His garden costs him a large sum of
money. The waterfall--you can't see it from here, it is behind those
trees--ran away with more than three hundred francs. There isn't a
vegetable about the place, nothing but flowers. At one time the ladies
even talked of cutting down the fruit-trees; but that would have really
been wicked, for the pear-trees are magnificent specimens. Well, I
suppose a man has a right to lay out his ground so as to please his own
fancy, if he can afford to do so.'

Then, as the Abbé still continued silent, he continued: 'You know
Monsieur Rastoil, don't you? Every morning, from eight o'clock till
nine, he walks about under his trees. He is a heavy man, rather short,
bald, and clean shaven, with a head as round as a ball. He completed
his sixtieth year at the beginning of last August, I believe. He has
been president of our civil tribunal for nearly twenty years. Folks say
he is a very good fellow, but I see very little of him. "Good-morning,"
and "Good-evening," that's about all that ever passes between us.'

He stopped speaking as he saw several people coming down the steps of
the neighbouring house and making their way towards the clump of trees.

'Ah, yes!' he resumed, lowering his voice, 'to-day's Tuesday. There is
a dinner party at the Rastoils'.

The Abbé had not been able to restrain a slight start, and had then
bent forward to see better. Two priests who were walking beside a
couple of tall girls seemed particularly to interest him.

'Do you know who those gentlemen are?' Mouret inquired.

And, when the priest only replied by a vague gesture, he added:

'They were crossing the Rue Balande just as we met each other. The
taller and younger one, the one who is walking between Monsieur
Rastoil's two daughters, is Abbé Surin, our bishop's secretary. He is
said to be a very amiable young man. The old one, who is walking a
little behind, is one of our grand-vicars, Abbé Fenil. He is at the
head of the seminary. He is a terrible man, flat and sharp, like a
sabre. I wish he would turn round so that you might see his eyes. I am
quite surprised that you don't know those gentlemen.'

'I go out very little,' said the Abbé, 'and there is no house in the
town that I visit.'

'Ah! that isn't right. You must often feel very dull. To do you
justice, Monsieur l'Abbé, you are certainly not of an inquisitive
disposition. Just fancy! you've been here a month now, and you didn't
even know that Monsieur Rastoil had a dinner-party every Tuesday! Why,
it's right before your eyes there from this window!'

Mouret laughed slightly. He was forming a rather contemptuous opinion
of the Abbé. Then in confidential tones he went on:

'You see that tall old man who is with Madame Rastoil--the thin one I
mean, with broad brims to his hat? Well, that is Monsieur de Bourdeu,
the former prefect of the Drôme, a prefect who was turned out of office
by the revolution of 1848. He's another one that you don't know, I'll
be bound. But Monsieur Maffre there, the justice of the peace, that
white-headed old gentleman who is coming last, with Monsieur Rastoil,
don't you know him? Well, that is really inexcusable. He is an honorary
canon of Saint-Saturnin's! Between ourselves, he is accused of having
killed his wife by his harshness and miserliness.'

Mouret stopped short, looked the Abbé in the face and said abruptly,
with a smile:

'I beg your pardon, but I am not a very devout person, you know.'

The Abbé again waved his hand with that vague gesture which did duty as
an answer and saved him the necessity of making a more explicit reply.

'No, I am not a very devout person,' Mouret repeated smilingly. 'But
everyone should be left free, is it not so? The Rastoils, now, are
a religious family. You must have seen the mother and daughters at
Saint-Saturnin's. They are parishioners of yours. Ah! those poor girls!
The elder, Angéline, is fully twenty-six years old, and the other,
Aurélie, is getting on for twenty-four. And they're no beauties either,
quite yellow and shrewish-looking. The parents won't let the younger
one marry before her sister; but I dare say they'll both end by finding
husbands somewhere, if only for the sake of their dowries. Their mother
there, that fat little woman who looks as innocent and mild as a sheep,
has given poor Rastoil some pretty experiences.'

He winked his left eye, a common habit of his whenever he indulged in
any pleasantry approaching broadness. The Abbé lowered his eyes, as if
waiting for Mouret to go on, but, as the latter remained silent, he
raised them again and watched the people in the garden as they seated
themselves round the table under the trees.

At last Mouret resumed his explanatory remarks.

'They will stay out there, enjoying the fresh air, till dinner-time,'
said he. 'It is just the same every Tuesday. That Abbé Surin is a great
favourite. Look how he is laughing there with Mademoiselle Aurélie. Ah!
Abbé Fenil has observed us. What eyes he has! He isn't very fond of me,
you know, as I've had a dispute with a relation of his. But where has
Abbé Bourrette got to? We haven't seen anything of him, have we? It is
very extraordinary. He never misses Monsieur Rastoil's Tuesdays. He
must be ill. You know him, don't you? What a worthy man he is! A most
devoted servant of God!'

Abbé Faujas was no longer listening. His eyes were constantly meeting
those of Abbé Fenil, whose scrutiny he bore with perfect calmness,
never once diverting his glance. He was even leaning more fully against
the iron rail, and his eyes seemed to have grown bigger.

'Ah! here come the young people!' resumed Mouret as three young men
arrived on the scene. 'The oldest one is Rastoil's son; he has just
been called to the Bar. The two others are the sons of Monsieur Maffre;
they are still at college. By-the-by, I wonder why those young scamps
of mine haven't come back yet.'

At that very moment Octave and Serge made their appearance on the
terrace. Leaning against the balustrade they began to tease Désirée,
who had just sat down by her mother's side. However, when the young
folks caught sight of their father at the second-floor window, they
lowered their voices and quietly laughed.

'There you see all my little family!' said Mouret complacently. 'We
stay at home, we do; and we have no visitors. Our garden is a closed
paradise, which the devil can't enter to tempt us.'

He smiled as he spoke, for he was really amusing himself at the Abbé's
expense. The latter had slowly brought his eyes to bear upon the group
formed by his landlord's family under the window. He gazed down there
for a moment; then looked round upon the old-fashioned garden with its
beds of vegetables edged with borders of box; then again turned his
eyes towards Monsieur Rastoil's pretentious grounds; and last of all,
as though he wanted to get the plan of the whole surroundings into
his head, directed his attention to the garden of the Sub-Prefecture.
There was nothing to be seen here but a large central lawn, a gently
undulating carpet of grass, with clusters of evergreen shrubs, and some
tall thickly-foliaged chestnut trees which gave a park-like appearance
to this patch of ground hemmed in by the neighbouring houses.

Abbé Faujas glanced under the chestnut-trees, and at last remarked:

'These gardens are quite lively. There are some people, too, in the one
on the left.' Mouret raised his eyes.

'Oh, yes!' he said unconcernedly, 'it's like that every afternoon. They
are the friends of Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, our sub-prefect.
In the summer-time they meet in the evenings in the same way round
the basin on the left, which you can't see from here. Ah! so Monsieur
de Condamin has got back! That fine old man there, who is so well
preserved and has such a bright colour; he is our conservator of rivers
and forests; a jovial old fellow, who is constantly to be seen, gloved
and tightly breeched, on horseback. And the tales he can tell, too! He
doesn't belong to this neighbourhood, and he has lately married a very
young woman. However, that's fortunately no business of mine!'

He bent his head again as he heard Désirée, who was playing with Serge,
break out into one of her childish laughs. But the Abbé, whose face was
now slightly flushed, recalled his attention by asking:

'Is that the sub-prefect, that fat gentleman with the white tie?'

This question seemed to amuse Mouret exceedingly.

'Oh, no!' he replied, with a laugh. 'It is very evident that you don't
know Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies. He isn't forty yet; he's a tall,
handsome, very distinguished-looking young man. That fat gentleman is
Doctor Porquier, the fashionable medical man of Plassans. He is a very
well-to-do man, I can assure you, and he has only one trouble, his son
Guillaume. Do you see those two people sitting on the bench with their
backs towards us? They are Monsieur Paloque, the assistant judge, and
his wife. They are the ugliest couple in the town. It is difficult to
say which is the worse-looking, the husband or the wife. Fortunately
they have no children.'

Mouret began to laugh more loudly; he was growing excited, and kept on
striking the window-rail.

'I can never look at the assemblies in those grounds,' he continued,
motioning with his head, first towards Monsieur Rastoil's garden and
then towards the sub-prefect's, 'without being highly amused. You
don't take any interest in politics, Monsieur l'Abbé, or I could tell
you some things which would tickle you immensely. Rightly or wrongly,
I myself pass for a republican. Business matters take me a good deal
about the country; I am a friend of the peasantry, and people have even
talked about proposing me for the Council-General--in short, I am a
well-known man. Well, on my right here, at Monsieur Rastoil's, we have
the cream of the Legitimists, and on the left, at the Sub-Prefecture,
we have the big-wigs of the Empire. And so, you see, my poor
old-fashioned garden, my little happy nook, lies between two hostile
camps. I am continually afraid lest they should begin throwing stones
at each other, for the stones, you see, might very well fall into my
garden.'

Mouret appeared to be quite delighted with this witticism and drew
closer to the Abbé, like some old gossip who is just going to launch
out into a long story.

'Plassans is a very curious place from a political point of view.
The Coup d'État succeeded here because the town is conservative. But
first of all it is Legitimist and Orleanist; so much so, indeed, that
at the outset of the Empire it wanted to dictate conditions. As its
claims were disregarded, the town grew annoyed and went over to the
opposition; yes, Monsieur l'Abbé, to the opposition. Last year we
elected for our deputy the Marquis de Lagrifoul, an old nobleman of
mediocre abilities, but one whose election was a very bitter pill for
the Sub-Prefecture.--Ah, look! there is Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies!
He is with the mayor, Monsieur Delangre.'

The Abbé glanced keenly in the direction indicated by Mouret. The
sub-prefect, a very dark man, was smiling beneath his waxed moustaches.
He was irreproachably dressed, and preserved a demeanour which
suggested both that of a fashionable officer and that of a good-natured
diplomatist. The mayor was by his side, talking and gesticulating
rapidly. He was a short man, with square shoulders, and a sunken face
that was rather Punch-like in appearance. He seemed to be garrulously
inclined.

'Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies,' continued Mouret, 'had felt so
confident of the return of the official candidate that the result of
the election nearly made him ill. It was very amusing. On the evening
of the election, the garden of the Sub-Prefecture remained as dark and
gloomy as a cemetery, while in the Rastoils' grounds there were lamps
and candles burning under the trees, and joyous laughter and a perfect
uproar of triumph. Our people don't let things be seen from the street,
but they throw off all restraint and give full vent to their feelings
in their gardens. Oh, yes! I see singular things sometimes, though I
don't say anything about them.'

He checked himself for a moment, as though he was unwilling to say
more, but his gossiping propensities were too strong for him.

'I wonder what course they will now take at the Sub-Prefecture?' he
continued. 'They will never get their candidate elected again. They
don't understand the people about here, and besides they are very
weak. I was told that Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies was to have had a
prefecture if the election had gone off all right. Ah! he will remain
a sub-prefect for a long time yet, I imagine! What stratagem will they
devise, I wonder, to overthrow the Marquis? They will certainly have
recourse to one of some kind or other; they will do their best somehow
to effect the conquest of Plassans.'

He turned his eyes upon the Abbé, at whom he had ceased to look for the
last few moments, and he suddenly checked himself as he caught sight of
the priest's eager face, his glistening eyes, and his ears that seemed
to have grown bigger. All Mouret's _bourgeois_ prudence then reasserted
itself, and he felt that he had said too much. So he hastily added:

'But, after all, I really know nothing about it. People tell so many
ridiculous stories. All I care about is to be allowed to live quietly
in my own house.'

He would then have liked to leave the window, but he dared not go
away so suddenly after gossiping in such an unrestrained and familiar
fashion. He was beginning to think that if one of them had been having
his laugh at the other, it certainly was not he.

The Abbé, for his part, was again glancing alternately at the two
gardens in a calm, unconcerned manner, and did not make the slightest
attempt to induce Mouret to continue talking. Mouret was already
wishing, somewhat impatiently, that his wife or one of his children
would call to him to come down, when he was greatly relieved by seeing
Rose appear on the steps outside the house. She raised her head towards
him.

'Well, sir!' she cried, 'aren't you coming at all to-day? The soup has
been on the table for the last quarter of an hour!'

'All right, Rose! I'll be down directly,' he replied.

Then he made his apologies to the Abbé, and left the window. The chilly
aspect of the room, which he had forgotten while his back had been
turned to it, added to the confusion he felt. It seemed to him like a
huge confessional-box, with its awful black crucifix, which must have
heard everything he had said. When the Abbé took leave of him with a
silent bow, this sudden finish of their conversation so disturbed him,
that he again stepped back and, raising his eyes to the ceiling, said:

'It is in that corner, then?'

'What is?' asked the Abbé in surprise.

'The damp stain that you spoke to me about.'

The priest could not restrain a smile, but he again pointed out the
stain to Mouret.

'Ah! I can see it quite plainly now,' said the latter. 'Well, I'll send
the workmen up to-morrow.'

Then he at last left the room, and before he had reached the end of the
landing, the door was noiselessly closed behind him. The silence of the
staircase irritated him extremely, and as he went down, he muttered:

'The confounded fellow! He gets everything out of one without asking a
single question!'



V


The next morning old Madame Rougon, Marthe's mother,[4] came to pay a
visit to the Mourets. It was quite an event, for there was a coolness
between Mouret and his wife's relations which had increased since
the election of the Marquis de Lagrifoul, whose success the Rougons
attributed to Mouret's influence in the rural districts. Marthe used
to go alone when she went to see her parents. Her mother, 'that black
Félicité,' as she was called, had retained at sixty-six years of age
all the slimness and vivacity of a girl. She always wore silk dresses,
covered with flounces, and was particularly partial to yellows and
browns.

When she arrived, only Marthe and Mouret were in the dining-room.

'Hallo!' cried the latter in great surprise, as he saw her coming,
'here's your mother! I wonder what she wants! She was here less than a
month ago. She's scheming after something or other, I know.'

The Rougons, whose assistant Mouret had been prior to his marriage,
when their shabby little shop in the old quarter of the town had ever
suggested bankruptcy, were the objects of his constant suspicions.
They returned the feeling with bitter and deep-seated animosity, their
rancour being especially aroused by the speedy success which had
attended him in business. When their son-in-law said, 'I simply owe
my fortune to my own exertions,' they bit their lips and understood
quite well that he was accusing them of having gained theirs by less
honourable means. Notwithstanding the fine house she now had on the
Place of the Sub-Prefecture, Félicité silently envied the peaceful
little home of the Mourets, with all the bitter jealousy of a retired
shopkeeper who owed her fortune to something else than the profits of
her business.

Félicité kissed Marthe on the forehead and then gave her hand to
Mouret. She and her son-in-law generally affected a mocking tone in
their conversations together.

'Well,' she said to him with a smile, 'the gendarmes haven't been for
you yet then, you revolutionist?'

'No, not yet,' he replied with a responsive smile; 'they are waiting
till your husband gives them the order.'

'It's very nice and polite of you to say that!' exclaimed Félicité,
whose eyes were beginning to glisten.

Marthe turned a beseeching glance upon Mouret. He had gone too far; but
his feelings were roused and he added:

'Good gracious! What are we thinking of to receive you in the
dining-room? Let us go into the drawing-room, I beg you.'

This was one of his usual pleasantries. He affected all Félicité's
fine airs whenever he received a visit from her. It was to no purpose
that Marthe protested that they were very comfortable where they were;
her husband insisted that she and her mother should follow him into
the drawing-room. When they got there, he bustled about, opening the
shutters and drawing out the chairs. The drawing-room, which was seldom
entered, and the shutters of which were generally kept closed, was a
great wilderness of a room, with furniture swathed in white dust-covers
which were turning yellow from the proximity of the damp garden.

'It is really disgraceful!' muttered Mouret, wiping the dust from a
small console; 'that wretched Rose neglects everything abominably.'

Then, turning towards his mother-in-law, he said with ill-concealed
irony:

'You will excuse us for receiving you in this way in our poor dwelling.
We cannot all be wealthy.'

Félicité was choking with rage. She scanned Mouret for a moment, and
almost indulged in a burst of anger; but she made an effort to restrain
herself and slowly dropped her eyes. When she again raised them she
spoke in a pleasant tone.

'I have just been calling upon Madame de Condamin,' she said, 'and I
thought I would look in here and see how you all were. The children
are well, I hope, and you, too, my dear Mouret?'

'Yes, we are all wonderfully well,' he replied, quite astonished by
this amiability.

But the old lady gave him no time to import any fresh unpleasantness
into the conversation, for she began to question Marthe affectionately
about all sorts of trifles, playing the part of a fond grandmother and
scolding Mouret for not sending the dear children to see her oftener,
for she was always so delighted to have them with her, said she.

'Well, here we are in October again,' she remarked carelessly, after
awhile, 'and I shall be having my day again, Thursdays, as in former
seasons. I shall count upon seeing you, my dear Marthe, of course; and
you too, Mouret, you will look in occasionally, won't you, and not go
on sulking with us for ever?'

Mouret, who was growing a little suspicious of all his mother-in-law's
affectionate chatter, was at a loss how to reply. He had not expected
such a thrust, but there was nothing in it to which he could take
exception; so he merely said:

'You know very well that I can't go to your house; you receive a lot
of people who would be delighted to have an opportunity of making
themselves disagreeable to me. And, besides, I don't want to mix myself
up with politics.'

'You are quite mistaken, Mouret, quite mistaken!' Félicité replied.
'My drawing-room is not a club; I would never allow it to become one.
All the town knows that I do all I can to make my house as pleasant
as possible; and if political matters ever are discussed there, it is
only in corners, I assure you. Ah! believe me, I had quite enough of
politics long ago. What makes you say such a thing?'

'Why, you receive all the Sub-Prefecture set,' Mouret said shortly.

'The Sub-Prefecture set!' she repeated, 'the Sub-Prefecture set!
Certainly I receive those gentlemen. But I don't think that Monsieur
Péqueur des Saulaies will be found very often in my house this winter.
My husband has told him pretty plainly what he thought of his conduct
in connection with the last elections. He allowed himself to be tricked
like a mere nincompoop. But his friends are very pleasant men. Monsieur
Delangre and Monsieur de Condamin are extremely amiable, and that
worthy Paloque is kindness itself, while I'm sure you can have nothing
to say against Doctor Porquier.'

Mouret shrugged his shoulders.

'Besides,' she continued, with ironic emphasis, 'I also receive
Monsieur Rastoil's circle, worthy Monsieur Maffre and our clever
friend Monsieur de Bourdeu, the former prefect. So you see we are
not at all bigoted or exclusive, the representatives of all opinions
find a welcome among us. Of course when I am inviting a party of
people, I don't ask those to meet each other who would be likely to
quarrel. But wit and cleverness are welcome in whomsoever they are
found, and we pride ourselves upon having at our gatherings all the
most distinguished persons in Plassans. My drawing-room is neutral
ground, remember that, Mouret; yes, neutral ground that is the right
expression.'

She had grown quite animated whilst talking. Her drawing-room was her
great glory, and it was her desire to reign there, not as a chief of
a party, but as a queen of society. It is true that her friends said
that she was adopting conciliatory tactics merely in conformity with
the advice of her son Eugène, the minister,[5] who had charged her to
personify at Plassans the gentleness and amiability of the Empire.

'You may say what you like,' Mouret growled, 'but that Maffre of yours
is a bigot, and your Bourdeu is a fool, and most of all the others are
a pack of rascals. That's my opinion of them. I am much obliged to you
for your invitation, but it would disturb my habits too much to accept
it. I like to go to bed in good time, and I prefer stopping at home.'

Félicité rose from her seat, and turning her back upon Mouret, she said
to her daughter:

'Well, at any rate I may expect you, mayn't I, my dear?'

'Of course you may,' replied Marthe, who wished to soften the bluntness
of her husband's blunt refusal.

The old lady was just going to leave, when a thought seemed to strike
her, and she asked if she might kiss Désirée, whom she had seen playing
in the garden. She would not let them call the girl into the house,
but insisted on going herself to the terrace, which was still damp
from a slight shower which had fallen in the morning. When she found
Désirée, she was profuse in her caresses of the girl, who seemed rather
frightened of her. Then she raised her head as if by chance and looked
at the curtains at the second-floor windows.

'Ah! you have let the rooms, then? Oh, yes! I remember now; to a
priest, isn't it? I've heard it spoken of. What sort of a person is he,
this priest of yours?'

Mouret looked at her keenly. A sudden suspicion flashed through his
mind, and he began to guess that it was entirely on account of Abbé
Faujas that his mother-in-law had favoured them with this visit.

'Upon my word,' he replied, without taking his eyes off her, 'I really
know nothing about him. But perhaps you are able to give me some
information concerning him yourself?'

'I!' she cried, with an appearance of great surprise. 'Why, I've
never even seen him! Stay, though, I know he is one of the curates
at Saint-Saturnin; Father Bourrette told me that. By the way, that
reminds me that I ought to ask him to my Thursdays. The director of the
seminary and the bishop's secretary are already amongst my circle of
visitors.'

And, turning to Marthe, she added:

'When you see your lodger you might sound him, so as to be able to tell
me whether an invitation from me would be acceptable.'

'We scarcely ever see him,' Mouret hastily interposed. 'He comes in and
goes out without ever opening his mouth. And, besides, it is really no
business of ours.'

He still kept his eyes fixed suspiciously upon her. He felt quite sure
that she knew much more about Abbé Faujas than she was willing to
admit. However, she did not once flinch beneath his searching gaze.

'Very well, it's all the same to me,' she said, with an appearance of
unconcern. 'I shall be able to find out some other way of inviting him,
if he's the right sort of person, I've no doubt. Good-bye, my children.'

As she was mounting the steps again, a tall old man appeared on the
hall threshold. He was dressed very neatly in blue cloth, and had a fur
cap pressed over his eyes. In his hand he carried a whip.

'Hallo! why there's Uncle Macquart!' cried Mouret, casting a curious
glance at his mother-in-law.

An expression of extreme annoyance passed over Félicité's face.
Macquart, Rougon's illegitimate brother, had, by the latter's aid,
returned to France after he had compromised himself in the rising of
1851. Since arriving from Piedmont he had been leading the life of
a sleek and well-to-do citizen. He had purchased, though where the
money had come from no one knew, a small house at the village of Les
Tulettes, about three leagues from Plassans. And by degrees he had
fitted up an establishment there, and had now even become possessed
of a horse and trap, and was constantly to be met on the high roads,
smoking his pipe, enjoying the sunshine, and sniggering like a tamed
wolf. Rougon's enemies whispered that the two brothers had perpetrated
some black business together, and that Pierre Rougon was keeping
Antoine Macquart.

'Good day, Uncle!' said Mouret affectedly; 'have you come to pay us a
little visit?'

'Yes, indeed,' Macquart replied, in a voice as guileless as a child's.
'You know that whenever I come to Plassans----Hallo, Félicité! I didn't
expect to find you here! I came over to see Rougon. There was something
I wanted to talk to him about.'

'He was at home, wasn't he?' she exclaimed with uneasy haste.

'Yes, he was at home,' Uncle Macquart replied tranquilly. 'I saw him,
and we had a talk together. He is a good fellow, is Rougon.'

He laughed slightly, and while Félicité stamped her feet with restless
anxiety, he went on talking in his drawling voice, which made it seem
as if he was always laughing at those whom he addressed.

'Mouret, my boy, I have brought you a couple of rabbits,' he said.
'They are in a basket over there. I have given them to Rose. I brought
another couple with me for Rougon. You will find them at home,
Félicité, and you must tell me how they turn out. They are beautifully
plump; I fattened them up for you. Ah, my dears! it pleases me very
much to be able to make you these little presents.'

Félicité turned quite pale, and pressed her lips tightly, while Mouret
continued to look at her with a quiet smile. She would have been glad
to get away, if she had not been afraid of Macquart gossiping as soon
as her back should be turned.

'Thank you, Uncle,' said Mouret. 'The plums that you brought us the
last time you came were very good. Won't you have something to drink?'

'Well, that's an offer I really can't refuse.'

When Rose had brought him out a glass of wine, he sat down on the
balustrade of the terrace and slowly sipped the beverage, smacking his
tongue and holding up the glass to the light.

'This comes from the district of Saint-Eutrope,' he said. 'I'm not to
be deceived in matters of this kind. I know the different districts
thoroughly.'

He wagged his head and again sniggered.

Then Mouret, with an intonation that was full of meaning, suddenly
asked him:

'And how are things getting on at Les Tulettes?'

Macquart raised his eyes and looked at them all. Then giving a final
cluck of his tongue and putting down the glass on the stone-work by his
side, he said, quite unconcernedly:

'Oh! very well. I heard of her the day before yesterday. She is still
just the same.'

Félicité had turned her head away. For a moment no one spoke. Mouret
had just put his finger upon one of the family's sore places, by
alluding to old Adelaide, the mother of Rougon and Macquart, who for
several years now had been shut up as a mad woman in the asylum at Les
Tulettes. Macquart's little property was near the mad-house, and it
seemed as though Rougon had posted the old scamp there to keep watch
over their mother.

'It is getting late,' Macquart said at last, rising from his seat on
the balustrade, 'and I want to get back again before night. I shall
expect to see you over at my house one of these days, Mouret, my boy.
You have promised me several times to come, you know.'

'Oh, yes! I'll come, Uncle, I'll come.'

'Ah! but that isn't enough. I want you all to come; all of you, do you
hear? I am very dull out there all by myself. I will give you some
dinner.'

Then, turning to Félicité, he added:

'Tell Rougon that I shall expect him and you, too. You needn't stop
from coming just because the old mother happens to be near there. She
is going on very well, I tell you, and is properly looked after. You
may safely trust yourselves to me, and I will give you some wine from
one of the slopes of La Seille, a light wine that will warm you up
famously.'

He began to walk towards the gate as he spoke. Félicité followed
him so closely that it almost seemed as if she were pushing him out
of the garden. They all accompanied him to the street. While he was
untethering his horse, which he had fastened by the reins to one of
the house shutters, Abbé Faujas, who was just returning home, passed
the group with a slight bow. He glided on as noiselessly as a black
shadow, but Félicité quickly turned and watched him till he reached the
staircase. Unfortunately she had not had time to catch sight of his
face. Macquart on perceiving the priest had shaken his head in utter
surprise.

'What! my boy,' said he, 'have you really got priests lodging with you
now? That man has very strange eyes. Take care! take care! cassocks
bring ill luck with them!'

Then he took his seat in his trap and clucked his horse on, going
down the Rue Balande at a gentle trot. His round back and fur cap
disappeared at the corner of the Rue Taravelle. As Mouret turned round
again, he heard his mother-in-law speaking to Marthe.

'I would rather you do it,' she was saying; 'the invitation would seem
less formal. I should be very glad if you could find some opportunity
of speaking to him.'

She checked herself when she saw that she was overheard; and having
kissed Désirée effusively, she went away, giving a last look round to
make quite sure that Macquart was not likely to come back to gossip
about her.

'I forbid you to mix yourself up in your mother's affairs, you know,'
Mouret said to his wife as they returned into the house. 'She has
always got some business or other on hand that no body can understand.
What in the world can she want with the Abbé? She wouldn't invite him
for his own sake, I'm sure. She must have some secret reason for doing
so. That priest hasn't come from Besançon to Plassans for nothing.
There is some mystery or other at the bottom of it all!'

Marthe had again set to work at the everlasting repairs of the
family-linen which kept her busy for days together. But her husband
went on chattering:

'Old Macquart and your mother amuse me very much. How they hate
each other! Did you notice how angry she was when she saw him come?
She always seems to be in a state of fear lest he should make some
unpleasant revelation----I dare say that he'd willingly do so. But
they'll never catch me in his house. I've sworn to keep clear of all
that business. My father was quite right when he said that my mother's
family, those Rougons and Macquarts, were not worth a rope to hang
them with----They are my relations as well as yours, so you needn't
feel hurt at what I am saying. I say it because it is true. They are
wealthy people now, but their money hasn't made them any better--rather
the contrary.'

Then he set off to take a turn along the Cours Sauvaire, where he met
his friends and talked to them about the weather and the crops and the
events of the previous day. An extensive transaction in almonds, which
he undertook on the morrow, kept him busy for more than a week and made
him almost forget all about Abbé Faujas. He was beginning, besides,
to feel a little weary of the Abbé, who did not talk enough and was
far too secretive. On two separate occasions he purposely avoided him,
imagining that the priest only wanted to see him in order to make him
relate the stories of the remainder of the Sub-Prefecture circle and
Monsieur Rastoil's friends. Rose had informed him that Madame Faujas
had tried to get her to talk, and this had made him vow that he would
in future keep his mouth shut. This resolve furnished fresh amusement
for his idle hours, and now, as he looked up at the closely drawn
curtains of the second-floor windows, he would mutter:

'All right, my good fellow! Hide yourself as much as you like! I know
very well that you're watching me from behind those curtains, but you
won't be much the wiser for your trouble, and you'll find yourself much
mistaken if you expect to get any more information out of me about our
neighbours!'

He derived great pleasure from the thought that the Abbé Faujas was
secretly watching, and he took every precaution to avoid falling into
any trap that might be laid for him. One evening as he was coming
home he saw Abbé Bourrette and Abbé Faujas standing before Monsieur
Rastoil's gate. So he concealed himself behind the corner of a house
and spied on them. The two priests kept him waiting there for more
than a quarter of an hour. They talked with great animation, parted
for a moment, and then joined each other again, and resumed their
conversation. Mouret thought he could detect that Abbé Bourrette was
trying to persuade Abbé Faujas to accompany him to the judge's; and
that Faujas was making excuses for not going, and at last refusing to
do so with some show of impatience. It was a Tuesday, the day of the
weekly dinner. Finally Bourrette entered Monsieur Rastoil's house, and
Faujas went off in his quiet fashion to his own rooms. Mouret stood for
awhile thinking. What could be Abbé Faujas's reason for refusing to go
to Monsieur Rastoil's? All the clergy of Saint-Saturnin's dined there,
Abbé Fenil, Abbé Surin, and all the others. There was not a single
priest in Plassans who had not enjoyed the fresh air by the fountain
in the garden there. The new curate's refusal to go seemed a very
extraordinary thing.

When Mouret got home again, he hurried to the bottom of his own garden
to reconnoitre the second-floor windows. And after a moment or two he
saw the curtain of the second window move to the right. He felt quite
sure that Abbé Faujas was behind it, spying upon what might be going on
at Monsieur Rastoil's. Then Mouret thought that he could discover by
certain movements of the curtain that the Abbé was in turn inspecting
the gardens of the Sub-Prefecture.

The next day, a Wednesday, Rose told him just as he was going out that
Abbé Bourrette had been with the second-floor people for at least an
hour. Upon this he came back into the house and began to rummage about
in the dining-room. When Marthe asked him what he was looking for, he
replied sharply that he was trying to find a paper without which he
could not go out. He even went upstairs, as if to see whether he had
left it there. After waiting for a long time behind his bedroom door,
he thought he could hear some chairs moving on the second floor, and
thereupon he slowly went downstairs, stopping for a moment or two in
the hall to give Abbé Bourrette time to catch him up.

'Ah! is that you, Monsieur l'Abbé? This is a fortunate meeting! You are
going to Saint-Saturnin's, I suppose, and I am going that way too. We
will keep each other company, if you have no objection.'

Abbé Bourrette replied that he would be delighted, and they both walked
slowly up the Rue Balande towards the Place of the Sub-Prefecture. The
Abbé was a stout man, with an honest, open face, and big, child-like
blue eyes. His wide silk girdle which was drawn tightly round him threw
his well-rounded stomach into relief. His arms were unduly short and
his legs heavy and clumsy, and he walked with his head thrown slightly
back.

'So you've just been to see our good Monsieur Faujas?' said Mouret,
going to the point at once. 'I must really thank you for having
procured me such a lodger as is rarely to be found.'

'Yes, yes,' said the priest, 'he is a very good and worthy man.'

'He never makes the slightest noise, and we can't really tell that
there is anyone in the house. And he is so polite and courteous,
too. I've heard it said, do you know, that he is a man of unusual
attainments, and that he has been sent here as a sort of compliment to
the diocese.'

They had now reached the middle of the Place of the Sub-Prefecture.
Mouret stopped short and looked at Abbé Bourrette keenly.

'Ah, indeed!' the priest merely replied, with an air of astonishment.

'So I've been told. The Bishop, it is said, intends to do something for
him later on. In the meantime, the new curate has to keep himself in
the background for fear of exciting jealousy.'

Abbé Bourrette went on walking again, and turned the corner of the Rue
de la Banne.

'You surprise me very much,' he quietly remarked. 'Faujas is a very
unassuming man; in fact, he is far too humble. For instance, at the
church he has taken upon himself the petty duties which are generally
left to the ordinary staff. He is a saint, but he is not very sharp. I
scarcely ever see him at the Bishop's, and from the first he has always
been very cold with Abbé Fenil, though I strongly impressed upon him
that it was necessary he should be on good terms with the Grand-Vicar
if he wished to be well received at the Bishop's. But he didn't seem to
see it, and I'm afraid that he's deficient in judgment. He shows the
same failing, too, by his continual visits to Abbé Compan, who has been
confined to his bed for the last fortnight, and whom I'm afraid we are
going to lose. Abbé Faujas's visits are most ill-advised, and will do
him a deal of harm. Compan has always been on bad terms with Fenil, and
it's only a stranger from Besançon who could be ignorant of a fact that
is known to the whole diocese.'

Bourrette was growing animated, and in his turn he stopped short as
they reached the Rue Canquoin and took his stand in front of Mouret.

'No, no, my dear sir,' he said, 'you have been misinformed: Faujas is
as simple as a new-born babe. I'm not an ambitious man myself, and
God knows how fond I am of Compan, who has a heart of gold, but, all
the same, I keep my visits to him private. He said to me himself:
"Bourrette, my old friend, I am not much longer for this world. If you
want to succeed me, don't be seen too often knocking at my door. Come
after dark and knock three times, and my sister will let you in." So
now, you understand, I wait till night before I go to see him. One has
plenty of troubles as it is, without incurring unnecessary ones!'

His voice quavered, and he clasped his hands across his stomach as he
resumed his walk, moved by a naïve egotism which made him commiserate
himself, while he murmured:

'Poor Compan! poor Compan!'

Mouret was feeling quite perplexed. All his theories about Abbé Faujas
were being upset.

'I had such very precise details furnished to me,' he ventured to say.
'I was told that he was to be promoted to some important office.'

'Oh dear, no!' cried the priest. 'I can assure you that there is no
truth in anything of the kind. Faujas has no expectations of any sort.
I'll tell you something that proves it. You know that I dine at the
Presiding Judge's every Tuesday. Well, last week he particularly asked
me to bring Faujas with me. He wanted to see him, and find out what
sort of a person he was, I suppose. Now, you would scarcely guess what
Faujas did. He refused the invitation, my dear sir, bluntly refused
it. It was all to no purpose that I told him he would make his life at
Plassans quite intolerable, and would certainly embroil himself with
Fenil by acting so rudely to Monsieur Rastoil. He persisted in having
his own way, and wouldn't be persuaded by anything that I said. I
believe that he even exclaimed, in a moment of anger, that he wasn't
reduced to accepting dinners of that kind.'

Abbé Bourrette began to smile. They had now reached Saint-Saturnin's,
and he detained Mouret for a moment near the little side door of the
church.

'He is a child, a big child,' he continued. 'I ask you, now, could a
dinner at Monsieur Rastoil's possibly compromise him in any way? When
your mother-in-law, that good Madame Rougon, entrusted me yesterday
with an invitation for Faujas, I did not conceal from her my fear that
it would be badly received.'

Mouret pricked up his ears.

'Ah! my mother-in-law gave you an invitation for him, did she?'

'Yes, she came to the sacristy yesterday. As I make a point of doing
what I can to oblige her, I promised her that I would go and see the
obstinate man this morning. I felt quite certain, however, that he
would refuse.'

'And did he?'

'No, indeed; much to my surprise, he accepted.'

Mouret opened his lips and then closed them again without speaking. The
priest winked with an appearance of extreme satisfaction.

'I had to manage the matter very skilfully, you know. For more than an
hour I went on explaining your mother-in-law's position to him. He kept
shaking his head, however; he could not make up his mind to go, and he
was ever dwelling upon his desire for privacy. I had exhausted my stock
of arguments when I recalled one point of the instructions which the
dear lady gave me. She had told me to tell him that her drawing-room
was entirely neutral ground, and that this was a fact well known to the
whole town. When I pressed this upon his notice he seemed to waver, and
at last he consented to accept the invitation, and even promised to go
to-morrow. I shall send a few lines to that excellent Madame Rougon to
inform her of my success.'

He lingered for a moment longer, rolling his big blue eyes, and
saying--more to himself than to Mouret:

'Monsieur Rastoil will be very much vexed, but it's no fault of mine.'

Then he added: 'Good-morning, dear Monsieur Mouret; remember me very
kindly to all your family.'

He entered the church, letting the padded doors close softly behind
him. Mouret gazed at the doors and lightly shrugged his shoulders.

'There's a fine old chatterbox!' he muttered; 'one of those men who
never give one a chance of getting in a word, but go on chattering
away for hours without ever telling one anything worth listening to.
So Faujas is going to Félicité's to-morrow! It's really very provoking
that I am not on good terms with that fool Rougon!'

All the afternoon he was occupied with business matters, but at night,
just as he and his wife were going to bed, he said to Marthe carelessly:

'Are you going to your mother's to-morrow evening?'

'No, not to-morrow,' Marthe replied, 'I have too many things to do. But
I dare say I shall go next week.'

He made no immediate reply, but just before he blew out the candle, he
resumed:

'It is wrong not to go out oftener than you do. Go to your mother's
to-morrow evening; it will enliven you a little. I will stay at home
and look after the children.'

Marthe looked at him in astonishment. He generally kept her at home
with him, requiring all kinds of little services from her, and
grumbling if she went out even for an hour.

'Very well,' she replied, 'I will go if you wish me to.'

Then he blew out the candle, laid his head upon the pillow, and
muttered:

'That's right; and you can tell us all about it when you come back. It
will amuse the children.'



VI


About nine o'clock on the following evening, Abbé Bourrette called
for Abbé Faujas. He had promised to go with him to the Rougons' and
introduce him there. He found him ready, standing in the middle of his
big bare room, and putting on a pair of black gloves that were sadly
whitened at the finger-tips. Bourrette could not restrain a slight
grimace as he looked at him.

'Haven't you got another cassock?' he asked.

'No,' quietly replied Abbé Faujas. 'This one is still very decent, I
think.'

'Oh, certainly! certainly!' stammered the old priest; 'but it's very
cold outside. Hadn't you better put something round your shoulders?
Well! well! come along then!'

The nights had just commenced to be frosty. Abbé Bourrette, who was
warmly wrapped in a padded silk overcoat, got quite out of breath as
he panted along after Abbé Faujas, who wore nothing over his shoulders
but his thin, threadbare cassock. They stopped at the corner of the Rue
de la Banne and the Place of the Sub-Prefecture, in front of a house
built entirely of white stone, one of the handsome mansions of the
new part of the town. A servant in blue livery received them at the
door and ushered them into the hall. He smiled at Abbé Bourrette as he
helped him to take off his overcoat, and seemed greatly surprised at
the appearance of the other priest, that tall, rough-hewn man, who had
ventured out on such a bitter night without a cloak.

The drawing-room was on the first floor, and Abbé Faujas entered
it with head erect, and grave, though perfectly easy, demeanour,
while Abbé Bourrette, who was always very nervous when he went to
the Rougons' house, although he never missed a single one of their
receptions, made his escape into an adjoining apartment, thus cowardly
leaving his companion in the lurch. Faujas, however, slowly traversed
the whole drawing-room in order to pay his respects to the mistress of
the house, whom he felt sure he could recognise among a group of five
or six ladies. He was obliged to introduce himself, and he did so in
two or three words. Félicité had immediately risen from her seat, and
she closely if quickly scanned him from head to foot. Then her eyes
sought his own, as she smilingly said:

'I am delighted, Monsieur l'Abbé; I am delighted indeed.'

The priest's passage through the drawing-room had created considerable
sensation. One young lady who had suddenly raised her head, had quite
trembled with alarm at the sight of that great black mass in front of
her. The impression created by the Abbé was, indeed, an unfavourable
one. He was too tall, too square-shouldered, his face was too hard and
his hands were too big. His cassock, moreover, looked so frightfully
shabby beneath the bright light of the chandelier that the ladies felt
a kind of shame at seeing a priest so shockingly dressed. They spread
out their fans, and began to giggle behind them, while pretending to be
quite unconscious of the Abbé's presence. The men, meantime, exchanged
very significant glances.

Félicité saw what a very churlish welcome the priest was receiving;
she seemed annoyed at it, and remained standing, raising her voice in
order to force her guests to hear the compliments which she addressed
to Faujas.

'That dear Bourrette,' said she, in her most winning tone, 'has told
me what difficulty he had in persuading you to come. I am really quite
cross with you, sir. You have no right to deprive society of the
pleasure of your company.'

The priest bowed without making any reply, and the old lady laughed as
she began to speak again, laying a meaning emphasis on certain of her
words.

'I know more about you than you imagine, in spite of all the care you
have taken to hide your light under a bushel. I have been told about
you; you are a very holy man, and I want to be your friend. We shall
have an opportunity to talk about this, for I hope that you will now
consider yourself as one of our circle.'

Abbé Faujas looked at her fixedly, as though he had recognised some
masonic sign in the movements of her fan. He lowered his voice as he
replied:

'Madame, I am entirely at your service.'

'I am delighted to hear you say so,' said Madame Rougon with another
laugh. 'You will find that we do our best here to make everyone happy.
But come with me and let me present you to my husband.'

She crossed the room, disturbing several of her guests in her progress
to make way for Abbé Faujas, thus giving him an importance which put
the finishing touch to the prejudice against him. In the adjoining room
some card-tables were set out. She went straight up to her husband, who
was gravely playing whist. He seemed rather impatient as she stooped
down to whisper in his ear, but the few words she said to him made him
spring briskly from his seat.

'Very good! very good!' he murmured.

Then, having first apologised to those with whom he was playing, he
went and shook hands with Abbé Faujas.

At that time Rougon was a stout, pale man of seventy, and had acquired
all a millionaire's gravity of expression. He was generally considered
by the Plassans people to have a fine head, the white, uncommunicative
head of a man of political importance. After he had exchanged a few
courtesies with the priest he resumed his seat at the card-table.
Félicité had just gone back into the drawing-room, her face still
wreathed with smiles.

When Abbé Faujas at last found himself alone he did not manifest the
slightest sign of embarrassment. He remained for a moment watching the
whist-players, or appearing to do so, for he was, in reality, examining
the curtains, and carpet, and furniture. It was a small wainscotted
room, and book-cases of dark pear-tree wood, ornamented with brass
beadings, occupied three of its sides. It looked like a magistrate's
private sanctum. At last the priest, who was apparently desirous of
making a complete inspection, returned to the drawing-room and crossed
it. It was hung with green, and was in keeping with the smaller
_salon_, but there was more gilding about it, so that it suggested the
soberness of a minister's private room combined with the brightness
of a great restaurant. On the other side of it was a sort of boudoir
where Félicité received her friends during the day. This was hung in
straw colour, and was so full of easy-chairs and ottomans and couches,
covered with brocade with a pattern of violet scroll-work, that there
was scarcely room to move about in it.

Abbé Faujas took a seat near the fireplace and pretended to be warming
his feet. He had placed himself in such a position that through the
open doorway he could command a view of the greater part of the large
drawing-room. He reflected upon Madame Rougon's gracious reception, and
half closed his eyes, as though he were thinking out some problem which
it was rather difficult to solve. A moment or two afterwards, while he
was still absorbed in his reverie, he heard someone speaking behind
him. His large-backed easy-chair concealed him from sight, and he kept
his eyes still more tightly closed than before, as he remained there
listening, looking for all the world as though the warmth of the fire
had sent him to sleep.

'I went to their house just once at that time,' an unctuous voice was
saying. 'They were then living opposite this place, on the other side
of the Rue de la Banne. You were at Paris then; but all Plassans at
that period knew of the Rougons' yellow drawing-room. A wretched room
it was, hung with lemon-coloured paper at fifteen sous the piece, and
containing some rickety furniture covered with cheap velvet. But look
at black Félicité now, dressed in plum-coloured satin and seated on
yonder couch! Do you see how she gives her hand to little Delangre?
Upon my word, she is giving it to him to kiss!'

Then a younger voice said with something of a sneer: 'They must have
managed to lay their hands on a pretty big share of plunder to be able
to have such a beautiful drawing-room; it is the handsomest, you know,
in the whole town.'

'The lady,' the other voice resumed, 'has always had a passion for
receptions. When she was hard up she drank water herself so that she
might be able to provide lemonade for her guests. Oh! I know all about
the Rougons. I have watched their whole career. They are very clever
people, and the Coup d'État has enabled them to satisfy the dreams of
luxury and pleasure which had been tormenting them for forty years.
Now you see what a magnificent style they keep up, how lavishly they
live! This house which they now occupy formerly belonged to a Monsieur
Peirotte, one of the receivers of taxes, who was killed in the affair
at Sainte-Roure in the insurrection of '51. Upon my word, they've had
the most extraordinary luck: a stray bullet removed the man who was
standing in their way, and they stepped into his place and house. If
it had been a choice between the receivership and the house, Félicité
would certainly have chosen the house. She had been hankering after it
for half a score years nearly, making herself quite ill by her covetous
glances at the magnificent curtains that hung at the windows. It was
her Tuileries, as the Plassans people used to say, after the 2nd of
December.'

'But where did they get the money to buy this house?'

'Ah! no one knows that, my dear fellow. Their son Eugène, who has had
such amazing political success in Paris, and has become a deputy, a
minister and a confidential adviser at the Tuileries, had no difficulty
in obtaining the receivership and the cross of the Legion of Honour
for his father, who had played his cards very cleverly here. As for
the house, they probably paid for it by borrowing the money from some
banker. Anyhow, they are wealthy people to-day, and are fast making up
for lost time. I fancy their son keeps up a constant correspondence
with them, for they have not made a single false step as yet.'

The person who was speaking paused for a moment, then resumed with a
low laugh:

'Ah! I really can't help laughing when I see that precious grasshopper
of a Félicité putting on all her fine duchess's airs! I always think
of the old yellow drawing-room with its threadbare carpet and shabby
furniture and little fly-specked chandelier. And now, to-day, she
receives the Rastoil young ladies. Just look how she is manœuvring the
train of her dress! Some day, my dear fellow, that old woman will burst
of sheer triumph in the middle of her green drawing-room!'

Abbé Faujas had gently let his head turn so that he might peep at what
was going on in the drawing-room. There he observed Madame Rougon
standing in all her majesty in the centre of a group of guests. She
seemed to have increased in stature, and every back around bent before
her glance, which was like that of some victorious queen.

'Ah! here's your father!' said the person with the unctuous voice; 'the
good doctor is just arriving. I'm quite surprised that he has never
told you of all these matters. He knows far more about them than I do.'

'Oh! my father is always afraid lest I should compromise him,' replied
the other gaily. 'You know how he rails at me and swears that I shall
make him lose all his patients. Ah! excuse me, please; I see the young
Maffres over there, I must go and shake hands with them.'

There was a sound of chairs being moved, and Abbé Faujas saw a tall
young man, whose face already bore signs of physical weariness, cross
the small room. The other person, the one who had given such a lively
account of the Rougons, also rose from his seat. A lady who happened to
pass near him allowed him to pay her some pretty compliments; and she
smiled at him and called him 'dear Monsieur de Condamin.' Thereupon the
priest recognised him as the fine man of sixty whom Mouret had pointed
out to him in the garden of the Sub-Prefecture. Monsieur de Condamin
came and sat down on the other side of the fireplace. He was startled
to see Abbé Faujas, who had been quite concealed by the back of his
chair, but he appeared in no way disconcerted. He smiled and, with
amicable self-possession, exclaimed:

'I think, Monsieur l'Abbé, that we have just been unintentionally
confessing ourselves. It's a great sin, isn't it, to backbite one's
neighbour? Fortunately you were there to give us absolution.'

The Abbé, in spite of the control which he usually had over his
features, could not restrain a slight blush. He perfectly understood
that Monsieur de Condamin was reproaching him for having kept so quiet
in order to listen to what was being said. Monsieur de Condamin,
however, was not a man to preserve a grudge against anyone for their
curiosity, but quite the contrary. He was delighted at the complicity
which the matter seemed to have established between himself and the
Abbé. It put him at liberty to talk freely and to while away the
evening in relating scandalous stories about the persons present.
There was nothing that he enjoyed so much, and this Abbé, who had only
recently arrived at Plassans, seemed likely to prove a good listener,
the more especially as he had an ugly face, the face of a man who would
listen to anything, and wore such a shabby cassock that it would be
preposterous to think that any confidence to which he might be treated
would lead to unpleasantness.

By the end of a quarter of an hour Monsieur de Condamin became quite at
his ease, and gave Abbé Faujas a detailed account of Plassans with all
the suave politeness of a man of the world.

'You are a stranger amongst us, Monsieur l'Abbé,' said he, 'and I shall
be delighted if I can be of any assistance to you. Plassans is a little
hole of a place, but one gets reconciled to it in time. I myself come
from the neighbourhood of Dijon, and when I was appointed conservator
of woods and rivers in this district, I found the place detestable,
and thought I should be bored to death here. That was just before the
Empire. After '51, the provinces were by no means cheerful places to
live in, I assure you. In this department the folks were alarmed if
they heard a dog bark, and they were ready to sink into the ground at
the sight of a gendarme. But they calmed down by degrees, and resumed
their old, monotonous, uneventful existences, and in the end I grew
quite resigned to my life here. I live chiefly in the open air, I take
long rides on horseback, and I have made a few pleasant friendships.'

He lowered his voice, and continued confidentially:

'If you will take my advice, Monsieur l'Abbé, you will be careful
what you do. You can't imagine what a scrape I once nearly fell
into. Plassans, you know, is divided into three absolutely distinct
divisions: the old district, where your duties will be confined to
administering consolation and alms; the district of Saint-Marc,
where our aristocrats live, a district that is full of boredom and
ill-feeling, and where you can't be too much upon your guard; and,
lastly, the new town, the district which is now springing up round the
Sub-Prefecture, and which is the only one where it is possible to live
with any degree of comfort. At first I was foolish enough to take up my
quarters in the Saint-Marc district, where I thought that my position
required me to reside. There, alack! I found myself surrounded by a
lot of withered old dowagers and mummified marquises. There wasn't an
atom of sociability, not a scrap of gaiety, nothing but sulky mutiny
against the prosperous peace that the country was enjoying. I only just
missed compromising myself, upon my word I did. Péqueur used to chaff
me, Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, our sub-prefect; you know him, don't
you? Well, then I crossed the Cours Sauvaire, and took rooms on the
Place. At Plassans, you must know, the people have no existence, and
the aristocracy are a dreadful lot that it's quite impossible to get
on with; the only tolerable folks are a few parvenus, some delightful
persons who are ready to incur any expense in entertaining their
official acquaintances. Our little circle of functionaries is a very
delightful one. We live amongst ourselves after our own inclinations,
without caring a rap about the townspeople, just as if we had pitched
our camp in some conquered country.'

He laughed complacently, stretched himself further back in his chair,
and turned up his feet to the fire; then he took a glass of punch from
a tray which one of the servants handed to him, and sipped it slowly
while still watching Abbé Faujas out of the corner of his eye. The
latter felt that politeness required him to say something.

'This house seems a very pleasant one,' he remarked, turning slightly
towards the green drawing-room, whence the sound of animated
conversation was proceeding.

'Yes, yes,' resumed Monsieur de Condamin, who checked his remarks
every now and then to take a little sip of punch. 'The Rougons almost
make us forget Paris. You would scarcely fancy here that you were in
Plassans. It is the only pleasant and amusing drawing-room in the whole
place, because it is the only one where all shades of opinion elbow one
another. Péqueur, too, has very pleasant assemblies. It must cost the
Rougons a lot of money, and they haven't the public purse behind them
like Péqueur has; though they have something better still, the pockets
of the taxpayers.'

He seemed quite pleased with this witticism of his. He set his empty
glass, which he had been holding in his hand, upon the mantelpiece, and
then, drawing his chair near to Abbé Faujas and leaning towards him, he
began to speak again:

'The most amusing comedies are continually being played here. But you
ought to know the actors to appreciate them. You see Madame Rastoil
over yonder between her two daughters--that lady of about forty-five
with a head like a sheep's? Well, have you noticed how her eyelids
trembled and blinked when Delangre came and sat down in front of her?
Delangre is the man there on the left, with a likeness to Punch. They
were acquainted intimately some ten years ago, and he is said to be the
father of one of the girls, but it isn't known which. The funniest part
of the business is that Delangre himself didn't get on very well with
his wife about the same time; and people say that the father of his
daughter is an artist very well known in Plassans.'

Abbé Faujas had considered it his duty to assume a very serious
expression on being made the recipient of such confidences as these,
and he even closed his eyes and seemed to hear nothing; while Monsieur
de Condamin went on, as though in justification of himself:

'I allow myself to speak in this way of Delangre, as I know him so
well. He is a wonderfully clever, pushing fellow. His father was a
bricklayer, I believe. Fifteen years ago he used to take up the petty
suits that other lawyers wouldn't be bothered with. Madame Rastoil
extricated him from a condition of absolute penury; she supplied
him even with wood in the winter-time to enable him to keep himself
warm. It was through her influence that he won his first cases. It's
worth mentioning that at that time Delangre had been shrewd enough to
manifest no particular political proclivities; and so, in 1852, when
people were looking out for a mayor, his name was at once thought of.
He was the only man who could have been chosen without alarming one or
other of the three divisions of the town. From that time everything
has prospered with him, and he has a fine future before him. The only
unfortunate part of the matter is that he doesn't get on very well with
Péqueur; they are always wrangling about some silly trifles or other.'

He broke off as he saw the tall young man, with whom he had been
chatting previously, come up to him again.

'Monsieur Guillaume Porquier,' he said, introducing him to the Abbé,
'the son of Doctor Porquier.'

Then, as Guillaume seated himself, he asked him with a touch of irony:

'Well! what did you see to admire over yonder?'

'Nothing at all, indeed!' replied the young man with a smile. 'I saw
the Paloques. Madame Rougon always tries to hide them behind a curtain
to prevent anything unpleasant happening. Paloque never takes his eyes
off Monsieur Rastoil, hoping, no doubt, to kill him with suppressed
terror. You know, of course, that the hideous fellow hopes to die
presiding judge.'

They both laughed. The ugliness of the Paloques was a perpetual source
of amusement amongst the little circle of officials. Porquier's son
lowered his voice as he continued:

'I saw Monsieur Bourdeu, too. Doesn't it strike you that he's ever so
much thinner since the Marquis de Lagrifoul's election? Bourdeu will
never get over the loss of his prefecture; he had put all his Orleanist
rancour at the service of the Legitimists in the hope that that course
would lead him straight to the Chamber, where he would be able to win
back that deeply-deplored prefecture. So he was horribly disgusted and
hurt to find that instead of himself they chose the marquis, who is a
perfect ass and hasn't the faintest notion of politics, whereas he,
Bourdeu, is a very shrewd fellow.'

'That Bourdeu, with his tightly-buttoned frock-coat and broad-brimmed
hat, is a most overbearing person,' said Monsieur de Condamin,
shrugging his shoulders. 'If such people as he were allowed to have
their own way they would turn France into a mere Sorbonne of lawyers
and diplomatists, and would bore us all to death----Oh! by the way,
Guillaume, I have been hearing about you. You seem to be leading a
merry sort of life.'

'I?' exclaimed the young man with a smile.

'Yes, you, my fine fellow! and observe that I get my information from
your father. He is much distressed about it: he accuses you of gambling
and of staying out all night at the club and other places. Is it true
that you have discovered a low café behind the gaol where you go with
a company of scamps and play the devil's own game? I have even been
told----'

Here Monsieur de Condamin, observing two ladies enter the room, began
to whisper in Guillaume's ear, while the young man replied with
affirmative signs and shook with suppressed laughter. Then he bent
forward in turn and whispered to Monsieur de Condamin, and the pair of
them, drawing close together with brightly glistening eyes, seemed to
derive a prolonged enjoyment from this private story, which could not
be told in the presence of ladies.

Abbé Faujas had remained where he was. He no longer listened to what
was being said, but watched the many movements of Monsieur Delangre,
who bustled about the green drawing-room trying to make himself
extremely agreeable. The priest was so absorbed in his observations
that he did not see Abbé Bourrette beckoning to him, so that the other
had to come and touch his shoulder and ask him to follow. He then led
him into the card-room with all the precaution of a man who has some
very delicate communication to make.

'My dear friend,' he whispered, when they were alone in a quiet
corner, 'it is excusable in you, as this is the first time you have
been here, but I must warn you that you have compromised yourself very
considerably by talking so long with the persons you have just left.'

Then, as Abbé Faujas looked at him with great surprise, he added:

'Those persons are not looked upon favourably. I myself am not passing
any judgment upon them, and I don't want to repeat any scandal. I am
simply warning you out of pure friendship, that's all.'

He was going away, but Abbé Faujas detained him, exclaiming hastily:

'You disquiet me, my dear Monsieur Bourrette; I beg of you to explain
yourself. Without speaking any ill of anyone, you can surely be a
little clearer.'

'Well then,' replied the old priest, after a momentary hesitation,
'Doctor Porquier's son causes his worthy father the greatest distress,
and sets the worst example to all the studious youth of Plassans. He
left nothing but debts behind him in Paris, and here he is turning the
whole town upside down. As for Monsieur de Condamin----'

Here he hesitated again, feeling embarrassed by the enormity of what he
had to relate; then, lowering his eyes, he resumed:

'Monsieur de Condamin is very free in his conversation, and I fear
that he is deficient in a sense of morality. He spares no one, and he
scandalises every honourable person. Then--I really hardly know how
to tell you--but he has contracted, it is said, a scarcely creditable
marriage. You see that young woman there, who is not thirty years old,
and who has such a crowd around her? Well, he brought her to Plassans
one day from no one knows where. From the time of her arrival she has
been all-powerful here. It is she who has got her husband and Doctor
Porquier decorated. She has influential friends in Paris. But I beg
of you not to repeat any of this. Madame de Condamin is very amiable
and charitable. I go to her house sometimes, and I should be extremely
distressed if I thought that she considered me an enemy of hers. If she
has committed faults, it is our duty--is it not?--to help her to return
to a better way of life. As for her husband, he is, between ourselves,
a perfect scamp. Have as little as possible to do with him.'

Abbé Faujas gazed into the worthy Bourrette's eyes. He had just noticed
that Madame Rougon was following their conversation from the distance
with a thoughtful air.

'Wasn't it Madame Rougon who told you to come and give me this good
advice?' he suddenly asked the old priest.

'How did you know that?' the latter exclaimed in great astonishment.
'She asked me not to mention her name, but since you have guessed
it--Ah! she is a good, kind-hearted lady who would be much distressed
to see a priest compromising himself in her house. She is unfortunately
compelled to receive all sorts of persons.'

Abbé Faujas expressed his thanks, and promised to be more prudent
in the future. The card-players had not taken any notice of the two
priests, who returned into the big drawing-room, where Faujas was again
conscious of hostile surroundings. He even experienced greater coldness
and more silent contempt than before. The ladies pulled their dresses
out of his way as though his touch would have soiled them, and the
men turned away from him with sneering titters. He himself maintained
haughty calmness and indifference. Fancying that he heard the word
Besançon meaningly pronounced in a corner of the room where Madame de
Condamin was holding her court, he walked straight up to the folks by
whom she was surrounded; but, at his approach, there was a dead silence
amongst them, and they all stared him in the face with eyes that
gleamed with uncharitable curiosity. He felt quite sure that they had
been talking about him, and repeating some disgraceful story. While he
was still standing there, behind the Rastoil young ladies, who had not
observed him, he heard the younger one ask her sister:

'What was it that this priest, of whom everyone is talking, did at
Besançon?'

'I don't quite know,' the elder sister replied. 'I believe he nearly
murdered his vicar in a quarrel they had. Papa also said that he had
been mixed up in some great business speculation which turned out
badly.'

'He's in the small room over there, isn't he? Somebody saw him just now
laughing with Monsieur de Condamin.'

'Oh! then people do quite right to distrust him if he laughs with
Monsieur de Condamin.'

This gossip of the two girls made perspiration start from Abbé Faujas's
brows. He did not frown, but his lips tightened one upon the other,
and his cheeks took an ashy tint. He seemed to hear the whole room
talking of the priest whom he had tried to murder, and of the shady
transactions in which he had been concerned.

Opposite him were Monsieur Delangre and Doctor Porquier, still looking
very severe; Monsieur de Bourdeu's mouth pouted scornfully as he said
something in a low voice to a lady; Monsieur Maffre, the justice of
the peace, was casting furtive glances at him, as if he had piously
resolved to examine him from a distance before condemning him; and at
the other end of the room the two hideous Paloques craned out their
malice-warped faces, in which shone a wicked joy at all the cruel
stories that were being whispered about. Abbé Faujas slowly retired as
he saw Madame Rastoil, who had been standing a few paces away, come
up and seat herself between her two daughters, as though to keep them
under the protection of her wing and shield them from his touch. He
rested his elbow on the piano which he saw behind him, and there he
stood with his head erect and his face as hard and silent as a face of
stone. He felt that they were all in a plot to treat him as an outcast.

As he stood thus gazing at the company from under his partially lowered
eyelids he suddenly gave a slight start, which he quickly suppressed.
He had just caught sight of Abbé Fenil, leaning back in an easy-chair
and smiling quietly behind a perfect wall of petticoats. The eyes of
the two men met, and they gazed at each other for some moments with the
fierce expression of duellists about to engage in mortal combat. Then
there was a rustling of silk, and Abbé Fenil was hidden from sight by
the ladies' gowns.

However, Félicité had contrived to reach the neighbourhood of the
piano, and when she had succeeded in installing at it the elder of the
Rastoil girls, who had a pleasant voice, and was able to speak to Abbé
Faujas without being heard, she drew him towards one of the windows and
asked:

'What have you done to Abbé Fenil?'

They talked together in very low tones. The priest at first feigned
surprise, but when Madame Rougon had murmured a few words, accompanied
by sundry shruggings of her shoulders, he seemed to become more open
with her. They both smiled, and made a pretence of merely exchanging
ordinary courtesies, but the glistening of their eyes spoke of
something much more serious. The piano was silent for a moment, and
then the elder Mademoiselle Rastoil began to sing 'La Colombe du
Soldat,' which was a favourite song at that time.

'Your _début_ has been most unfortunate,' Félicité continued. 'You have
quite set people against you, and I should advise you not to come here
again for a considerable time. You must make yourself popular and a
favourite, you understand. Any rash act would be fatal.'

Abbé Faujas seemed absorbed in thought.

'You say that it was Abbé Fenil who circulated these abominable
stories?' he asked.

'Oh, he is much too wily to commit himself in such a way. He must
just have faintly suggested them to his penitents. I don't know
whether he has found you out, but he is certainly afraid of you. I am
sure of that. And he will attack you in every possible way. The most
unfortunate part of the matter is that he confesses the most important
people in the town. It was he who secured the election of the Marquis
de Lagrifoul.'

'I did wrong to come this evening,' the priest murmured.

Félicité bit her lips, then continued with animation:

'You did wrong to compromise yourself with such a man as that Condamin.
I did what I thought was best. When the person whom you know of wrote
to me from Paris I thought that I should be doing you a service by
inviting you here. I imagined that you would be able to make it an
opportunity for gaining friends. But, instead of doing what you could
to make yourself popular, you have set everyone against you. Please
excuse my freedom, but you really seem to be doing all you can to
ensure your failure. You have committed nothing but mistakes: in
going to lodge with my son-in-law, in persistently keeping yourself
aloof from others, and in walking about in a cassock which makes the
street-lads jeer at you.'

Abbé Faujas could not repress a movement of impatience. However, he
merely replied:

'I will profit by your kind advice. Only, don't try to assist me; that
would mar everything.'

'Yes, what you say is prudent,' replied the old lady. 'Only return
here in triumph. One last word, my dear sir. The person in Paris is
most anxious for your success, and it is for that reason that I am
interesting myself in you. Well, then, don't make people frightened of
you--shun you; be pleasant, and make yourself agreeable to the ladies.
Remember that particularly. You must make yourself agreeable to the
ladies if you want to get Plassans on your side.'

The elder Mademoiselle Rastoil had just finished her song with a final
flourish, and the guests were softly applauding her. Madame Rougon
left the Abbé to go and congratulate the singer. Then she took up a
position in the middle of the room, and shook hands with the visitors
who were beginning to retire. It was eleven o'clock. The Abbé was
much vexed to find that the worthy Bourrette had taken advantage of
the music to effect his escape. He had thought of leaving with him--a
course which would have enabled him to make a respectable exit. Now,
however, he would have to go away alone, which would be extremely
prejudicial to him. It would be reported through the town in the
morning that he had been turned out of the house. So he retired into
a window-recess, whence he watched for an opportunity to effect an
honourable retreat.

The room was emptying fast, however, and there were only a few ladies
left. At last he noticed one who was very simply dressed; it was Madame
Mouret, whose slightly waved hair made her look younger than usual.
He looked with surprise at her tranquil face and her large, peaceful
black eyes. He had not noticed her during the evening; she had quietly
remained in the same corner without moving, vexed at wasting her time
in this way, with her hands in her lap, doing nothing. While he was
looking at her she rose to take leave of her mother.

It was one of Félicité's greatest delights to see the high society of
Plassans leave her with profuse bows and thanks for her punch, her
green drawing-room, and the pleasant evening they had spent there;
and she thought how, formerly, these same fine folks had trampled her
underfoot, whereas now the richest amongst them could not find sweet
enough smiles for 'dear Madame Rougon.'

'Ah, madame!' murmured Maffre, the justice of the peace, 'one quite
forgets the passage of time here.'

'You are the only pleasant hostess in all this uncivilised place,'
whispered pretty Madame de Condamin.

'We shall expect you to dinner to-morrow,' said Monsieur Delangre; 'but
you must take pot-luck, for we don't pretend to do as you do.'

Marthe was obliged to make her way through all this incense-offering
crowd in order to reach her mother. She kissed her, and was about to
retire, when Félicité detained her and looked around as if to trying to
find someone. Then on catching sight of Abbé Faujas, she inquired, with
a smile:

'Is your reverence a gallant man?'

The Abbé bowed.

'Well, then, I should be much obliged to you if you would escort my
daughter home. You both live in the same house, and so it will not put
you to any inconvenience. On the road there is a little bit of dark
lane which is not very pleasant for a lady by herself.'

Marthe assured her mother, in her quiet way, that she was not a little
girl, and in no wise felt afraid; but as Félicité insisted, saying
that she should feel easier if her daughter had someone with her,
she at last accepted the Abbé's escort. As the latter retired with
her, Félicité, who accompanied them to the landing, whispered in the
priest's ear, with a smile:

'Don't forget what I told you. You must make yourself agreeable to the
ladies if you want Plassans to belong to you.'



VII


That same night Mouret, who was still awake when his wife returned
home, plied her with questions in his desire to find out what had taken
place at Madame Rougon's. She told him that everything had gone off as
usual, and that she had noticed nothing out of the common. She just
added that Abbé Faujas had walked home with her, but had merely spoken
of commonplace matters. Mouret was very much vexed at what he called
his wife's indolence.

'If anyone had committed suicide at your mother's,' he growled, as he
angrily buried his head in his pillow, 'you would know nothing about
it!'

When he came home to dinner the next day, he called to Marthe as soon
as he caught sight of her:
'I was sure of it! I knew you had never troubled yourself to use your
eyes! It's just like you! Sitting the whole evening in a room and never
having the faintest notion of what was being said or done around you!
Why, the whole town is talking about it! The whole town, do you hear? I
couldn't go anywhere without somebody speaking to me about----'

'About what, my dear?' asked Marthe, in astonishment.

'About the fine success of Abbé Faujas, forsooth! He was turned out of
the green drawing-room!'

'Indeed he wasn't! I saw nothing of the kind.'

'Haven't I told you that you never see anything? Do you know what the
Abbé did at Besançon? He either murdered a priest or committed forgery!
They are not quite certain which it was. However, they seem to have
given him a nice reception! He turned quite green. Well, it's all up
with him now!'

Marthe bent her head and allowed her husband to revel in the priest's
discomfiture. Mouret was delighted.

'I still stick to my first idea,' he said; 'your mother and he have got
some underhand plot together. I hear that she showed him the greatest
civility. It was she, wasn't it, who asked him to accompany you home?
Why didn't you tell me so?'

Marthe shrugged her shoulders without replying.

'You are the most provoking woman in the world!' her husband cried.
'All these little details are of the greatest importance. Madame
Paloque, whom I have just met, told me that she and several other
ladies had lingered behind to see how the Abbé would effect his
departure, and that your mother availed herself of you to cover the
parson's retreat. Just try to remember, now, what he said to you as he
walked home with you.'

He sat down by his wife's side with his keen, questioning little eyes
fixed upon her.

'Really,' said she quietly, 'he only talked to me about the trifling
commonplace matters such as anyone might have talked of. He spoke about
the cold, which was very sharp, and about the quietness of the town
at night-time, and I think he mentioned the pleasant evening he had
passed.'

'Ah, the hypocrite! Didn't he ask you any questions about your mother
or her guests?'

'No. The Rue de la Banne is only a very short distance, you know, and
it didn't take us three minutes. He walked by my side without offering
me his arm, and he took such long strides that I was almost obliged to
run. I don't know why folks should all be so bitter against him. He
doesn't seem very well off, and he was shivering, poor man, in that
threadbare old cassock of his.'

Mouret was not without pity and sympathy.

'Ah! he must have done,' he said; 'he can't feel very warm now that the
frost has come.'

'I'm sure we have nothing to complain of in his conduct,' Marthe
continued. 'He is very punctual in his payments, and he makes no noise
and gives no trouble. Where could you find a more desirable tenant?'

'Nowhere, I grant you. What I was saying just now was to show you what
little attention you pay, wherever you go, to what takes place around
you. I know the set your mother receives too well to attach much weight
to anything that happens in the green drawing-room: it's a perpetual
source of lies and the most ridiculous stories. I don't suppose for a
moment that the Abbé ever murdered anyone any more than that he was
ever a bankrupt; and I told Madame Paloque that people ought to see
that their own linen was clean before they found fault with that of
others. I hope she took the hint to herself.'

This was a fib on Mouret's part, for he had said nothing of the kind
to Madame Paloque; but Marthe's pity had made him feel rather ashamed
of the delight which he had manifested at the Abbé's troubles. On
the following days he went entirely over to the priest's side, and
whenever he happened to meet any people whom he detested, Monsieur
de Bourdeu, Monsieur Delangre, and Doctor Porquier, he launched out
into warm praises of the Abbé just for the pleasure of astonishing
and annoying them. The Abbé, said he, was a man of great courage and
perfect guilelessness, but extremely poor, and some very base-minded
person must have originated the calumnies about him. Then he went on to
have a rap at the Rougons' guests, whom he called hypocrites, canting
humbugs and stuck-up idiots, who were afraid of a man of real virtue.
In a short time he had quite made the Abbé's quarrel his own, and
availed himself of it to attack both the Rastoil gang and the gang of
the Sub-Prefecture as well.

'Isn't it pitiable?' he sometimes said to his wife, forgetting that she
had heard him tell a very different story, 'isn't it pitiable to see
a lot of people who stole their money no one knows where, leaguing so
bitterly against a poor man just because he hasn't got twenty francs to
spare to buy a cart-load of firewood? Such conduct quite disgusts me!
I'm quite willing to be surety for him. I ought to know what he does
and what sort of a man he is, since he lives in my house; and so I'm
not slack in telling them the truth, I give them all they deserve when
I meet them. And I won't content myself with that, either. I want the
Abbé to be my friend, and I mean to walk out with him arm-in-arm along
the promenade to let people know that I'm not afraid of being seen with
him, rich and well thought of as I am! I hope, too, that you will show
all the kindness and consideration to these poor people that you can.'

Marthe smiled quietly. She was delighted at the friendly disposition
her husband was now manifesting towards their lodgers. Rose was ordered
to show them every civility; she was even told that she might volunteer
to do Madame Faujas' shopping for her on wet mornings. The latter,
however, always declined the cook's services, though she no longer
manifested that silent stiffness of demeanour which she had shown
during the earlier days of her residence in the house. One morning, as
she met Marthe, who was coming down from an attic which was used as a
store-room for the fruit, she stopped and talked to her for a moment,
and even unbent so far as to accept a couple of magnificent pears.
Those pears were the beginning of a closer intimacy between them.

Abbé Faujas, too, did not now glide so hurriedly up and down the stairs
as he had been wont to do. Almost every day, when Mouret heard the
rustling of the priest's cassock as he came down, he hastened to the
foot of the staircase and told the Abbé that it would give him great
pleasure to walk part of the way with him. He had also thanked him for
the little service he had done his wife, skilfully questioning him
at the time to find out if he intended again calling on the Rougons.
The Abbé had smiled and freely confessed that he was not fitted for
society. This had delighted Mouret, who felt quite certain that he had
had some influence in bringing about his lodger's decision. He even
began to dream of preventing all future intercourse with the green
drawing-room and of keeping him altogether to himself. So, when Marthe
told him one evening that Madame Faujas had accepted a couple of pears,
he looked upon this as a fortunate circumstance which would facilitate
the execution of his designs.

'Haven't they really got a fire on the second floor this bitterly cold
weather?' he asked, in Rose's presence.

'No, indeed, sir,' replied the cook, who understood that the question
was meant for herself; 'they couldn't very well have one, for I've
never seen the least bit of wood taken upstairs, unless indeed they're
burning their four chairs or Madame Faujas manages to carry up the wood
in her basket.'

'It is not right of you to talk in that way, Rose,' said Marthe. 'The
poor things must be shivering with cold in those big rooms.'

'I should think so, indeed,' exclaimed Mouret; 'there were several
degrees of frost last night and there was considerable fear felt about
the olive-trees. The water in our jug upstairs was frozen. This room of
ours here is a small one, however, and very warm.'

The doors and windows of the dining-room were provided with pads, so
that no draught could find its way through any crevice, and a big
earthenware stove made the place as warm as a bakehouse. During the
winter evenings the young people read or played round the table, while
Mouret made his wife play piquet till bed-time, which, by the way, was
perfect torture to her. For a long time she had refused to touch the
cards, saying that she did not know a single game, but at last he had
taught her piquet, and she had then been forced to resign herself to
her fate.

'Don't you think,' Mouret continued, 'that we really ought to ask the
Faujases to come and spend the evenings here? They would at any rate be
warm for two or three hours; and they would be company for us, too, and
make us feel more lively. Ask them, and I don't think they'll refuse.'

The next day Marthe met Madame Faujas in the hall and gave the
invitation, which the old lady at once accepted, both for herself and
her son.

'I'm surprised she didn't make some little demur about coming,' said
Mouret. 'I fancied that they would have required more pressing. But the
Abbé is beginning to understand that he does wrong in living like a
wild beast.'

In the evening Mouret took care that the table was cleared in good
time, and he set out a bottle of sweet wine and a plateful of little
cakes. Although he was not given to being lavish, he was anxious to
show that the Rougons were not the only people who knew how things
ought to be done. The tenants of the second floor came downstairs about
eight o'clock. Abbé Faujas was wearing a new cassock, at the sight of
which Mouret was so much surprised that he could only stammer a few
words in answer to the priest's courtesies.

'Indeed, Monsieur l'Abbé, all the honour is for us. Come, children, put
some chairs here.'

They all took their seats round the table. The room was uncomfortably
warm, for Mouret had crammed the stove as full as possible in order to
let his guests see that he made no account of a log more or less. Abbé
Faujas made himself very pleasant, fondling Désirée and questioning the
two lads about their studies. Marthe, who was knitting some stockings,
raised her eyes every now and then in surprise at the flexible tones
of that strange voice which she was not accustomed to hear sounding in
the monotonous quietness of the dining-room. She looked at the priest's
powerful face and square-cut features, and then bent her head again,
without trying to hide the interest she took in this man who was so
strong and kindly and whom she knew to be so poor. As for Mouret, he
uncouthly stared at the new cassock, and could not restrain himself
from saying, with a sly smile:

'You needn't have troubled to dress to come here, Monsieur l'Abbé. We
don't go in for ceremony, as you know very well.'

Marthe blushed, while the priest gaily related that he had bought
the cassock that very day. He had kept it on, he said, to please his
mother, who thought that he looked finer than a king in it.

'Don't you, mother?' he asked the old lady.

Madame Faujas nodded without taking her eyes off her son. She was
sitting opposite to him, gazing at him in the bright lamplight with an
air of ecstasy.

They began to talk of various matters, and Abbé Faujas seemed to throw
off his gloomy coldness. He still remained grave, but it was with a
pleasant, good-natured gravity. He listened attentively to Mouret,
replied to his most insignificant remarks, and seemed to take an
interest in his gossip. His landlord explained to him the manner in
which the family lived, and finished his account by saying:

'We spend our evenings in the way you see, always as quietly as this.
We never invite anyone, as we are always more comfortable by ourselves.
Every evening I have a game at piquet with my wife. It is a very old
habit of ours, and I could scarcely go to sleep without it.'

'Pray don't let us interfere with it!' cried Abbé Faujas. 'I beg that
you won't in any way depart from your usual habits on our account.'

'Oh dear no! I am not a monomaniac about it, and it won't kill me to go
without it for once.'

The priest insisted for a time, but, when he saw that Marthe declined
to play with even greater determination than her husband, he turned
towards his mother, who had been sitting silent with her hands folded
in front of her, and said:

'Mother, you have a game with Monsieur Mouret.'

She looked keenly into her son's eyes, while Mouret still continued
to refuse, and declared that he did not want to break up the party.
However, when the priest told him that his mother was a good player he
gave way.

'Is she, indeed?' he said. 'Then, if madame really wishes it, and no
one objects----'

'Come along, mother, and have a game!' said Abbé Faujas in a more
decided tone.

'Certainly,' she replied, 'I shall be delighted; but I shall have to
change my place.'

'Oh! there will be no difficulty about that,' said Mouret, who was
quite charmed. 'You had better take your son's seat, and perhaps
Monsieur l'Abbé will be good enough to sit next to my wife. Madame can
sit next to me. There! that will do capitally.'

The priest, who had at first been opposite to Marthe on the other side
of the table, was thus placed next to her. They sat quite apart by
themselves, the two players having drawn their chairs close together
to engage in their struggle. Octave and Serge had just gone up to
their room. Désirée was sleeping with her head on the table after her
usual custom. When ten o'clock struck, Mouret, who had lost the first
game, did not feel inclined to go to bed but asked for his revenge.
Madame Faujas consulted her son with a glance, and then in her tranquil
fashion began to shuffle the cards. The Abbé had merely exchanged a
few words with Marthe. On this the first evening that he spent in the
dining-room he only spoke of commonplace topics; the household, the
price of victuals at Plassans, and the anxieties which children caused.
Marthe replied with a show of interest, looking up every now and then
with her bright glance, and importing into the conversation some of her
own sedate good sense.

It was nearly eleven o'clock when Mouret threw down the cards with some
slight irritation.

'I have lost again!' he said. 'I haven't had a single good card all the
evening. Perhaps I shall have better luck to-morrow. We shall see you
again, I hope, madame?'

And when Abbé Faujas began to protest that they could not think of
abusing the Mourets' kindness by disturbing them in this way every
evening, he continued:

'But you are not disturbing us at all, you are giving us pleasure.
Besides, I have been defeated, and I'm sure that madame can't refuse me
another game.'

When the priest and his mother had accepted the invitation and had
gone upstairs again, Mouret showed some ill-temper and began to excuse
himself for having lost. He seemed quite annoyed about it.

'The old woman isn't as good a player as I am, I'm sure,' he said to
his wife; 'but she has got such eyes! I could really almost fancy she
was cheating, upon my word I could! Well! we shall see what happens
to-morrow.'

From that time the Faujases came down regularly every day to spend the
evening with the Mourets. There were tremendous battles between the old
lady and her landlord. She seemed to play with him, to let him win just
frequently enough to prevent him from being altogether discouraged,
and this made him fume with suppressed anger, for he prided himself
on his skill at piquet. He used to indulge in dreams of beating her
night after night for weeks in succession without ever letting her win
a single game; while she ever preserved wonderful coolness, her square
peasant-like face remaining quite expressionless as with her big hands
she threw down the cards with all the regularity of a machine. From
eight o'clock till bed-time they would remain seated at their end of
the table, quite absorbed in their game and never moving.

At the other end, near the stove, Abbé Faujas and Marthe were left
entirely to themselves. The Abbé felt a masculine and priestly disdain
for woman, and in spite of himself this disdain often made itself
manifest in some slightly harsh expression. On these occasions Marthe
was affected by a strange feeling of anxiety. She raised her eyes
with one of those sudden thrills of alarm which cause people to cast
a hurried glance behind them, half expecting to see some concealed
enemy raising his hand to strike. At other times, on catching sight of
the Abbé's cassock, she would check herself suddenly in the midst of
a laugh, and would relapse into silence, quite confused, astonished
at finding herself talking so freely to a man who was so different
from other men. It was a long time before there was any real intimacy
between them.

Abbé Faujas never directly questioned Marthe about her husband, or her
children, or her house; but, nevertheless, he gradually made himself
acquainted with every detail of their history and manner of life. Every
evening, while Mouret and Madame Faujas were contending furiously one
against the other, he contrived to learn some new fact. Upon one
occasion he remarked that the husband and wife were surprisingly alike.

'Yes,' Marthe answered with a smile, 'when we were twenty years old we
used to be taken for brother and sister; and, indeed, it was a little
owing to that circumstance that we got married. People used to joke
us about it, and were continually making us stand side by side, and
saying what a fine couple we should make. The likeness was so striking
that worthy Monsieur Compan, though he knew us quite well, hesitated to
marry us.'

'But you are cousins, are you not?' the priest asked.

'Yes,' she replied, with a slight blush, 'my husband is a Macquart, and
I am a Rougon.'

Then she kept silence for a moment or two, feeling ill at ease, for she
was sure that the priest knew the history of her family which was so
notorious at Plassans. The Macquarts were an illegitimate branch of the
Rougons.

'The most singular part of it,' she resumed, to conceal her
embarrassment, 'is, that we both resemble our grandmother. My husband's
mother transmitted the likeness to him, while in me it has sprung up
again after a break, passing my father by.'

Then the Abbé cited a similar instance in his own family. He had a
sister, he said, who was the living image of her mother's grandfather.
The likeness in this case had leapt over two generations. His sister,
too, closely resembled the old man in her character and habits, even in
her gestures and the tone of her voice.

'It was just the same with me when I was a little girl; I often heard
people say of me,' remarked Marthe, '"She's Aunt Dide all over again!"
The poor woman is now at Les Tulettes. She never had a strong head. For
my part, in growing older, I have become less excitable and stronger,
but I remember that when I was a child I hadn't good health at all.
I used to have attacks of giddiness, and my head was filled with the
strangest fancies. I often laugh now when I think of the extraordinary
things I used to do.'

'And your husband?'

'Oh! he takes after his father, a journeyman hatter, a careful, prudent
man. I should say that when we were young, though we were so much
alike in face, it was quite a different matter as to our dispositions;
however, as time has gone on, we have grown to resemble each other
very much. We were so quiet and happy in our business at Marseilles!
The fifteen years I spent there taught me to find happiness in my own
home, in the midst of my children.'

Abbé Faujas noticed a touch of bitterness in her tone every time that
he led her to speak on this subject. She was certainly happy, as she
said; but he fancied that he could detect traces of old rebellion in
her nervous nature, that was now calmed by the approach of her fortieth
year. He imagined a little drama for himself, in which this husband and
wife, who were so much alike, were considered by their relations to
be made for each other, and were thus forced into marriage, whereas,
in reality, they were of different and antagonistic temperaments.
Then his mind dwelt upon the fatal outcome of a monotonous life, the
wearing away of character by the daily cares of business, the soporific
effect of fifteen years' fortune-making upon this couple, who were now
living upon that fortune in a sleepy corner of a little town. To-day,
though they were both still young, there seemed to be nothing but the
ashes left of their former selves. The Abbé cleverly tried to discover
whether Marthe was resigned to her existence, and he found her full of
common sense.

'I am quite contented with my home,' she said; 'my children are all
that I want. I was never much given to gaiety; I only felt a little
dull at times. I dare say I should have been better if I had had some
mental occupation, but I was never able to find one. And perhaps, after
all, it's as well I didn't, for I should very likely have split my
head. I could never even read a novel without giving myself a frightful
headache, and for nights afterwards all the characters would dance
about in my brain. Needlework is the only thing which never fatigues
me, so I stay at home and keep out of the way of noise and chatter, and
all the frivolous follies which weary me.'

She paused every now and then to glance at Désirée, who was still
sleeping with her head upon the table, and smiling in her innocent way.

'Poor child!' she murmured. 'She can't even do any needlework. She gets
dizzy directly. She is fond of animals, and that's all she's capable
of. When she goes to stay with her nurse, as she does every now and
then, she spends all her time in the poultry-yard, and she comes back
to me with rosy cheeks and as strong and well as possible.'

Marthe often spoke of Les Tulettes, manifesting as she did so a lurking
fear of insanity, and Abbé Faujas thus became aware of a strange dread
haunting this peaceful home. Marthe loved her husband with a sober,
unimpassioned love, but there was mingled with her affection for him
considerable fear of his jokes and pleasantries, his perpetual teasing.
She was hurt, too, by his selfishness, and the loneliness in which he
left her; she felt a vague grudge against him for the quietude in which
she lived--that very manner of life which she said made her happy. When
she spoke of him, she said:

'He is very good to us. You've heard him, I dare say, get angry
sometimes, but that arises from his passion for seeing everything
in order, which he often carries to an almost ridiculous extent. He
gets quite vexed if he sees a flower-pot a little out of place in the
garden, or a plaything lying about on the floor; but in other matters
he does quite right in pleasing himself. I know he is not very popular,
because he has managed to accumulate some money, and still continues
to do a good stroke of business every now and then; but he only laughs
at what people say about him. They say nasty things, too, of him in
connexion with me. They say that he is a miser, and won't let me go out
anywhere, and even deprives me of boots. But all that is quite untrue.
I am entirely free. He certainly prefers to see me here when he comes
home, instead of finding that I am always off somewhere, paying calls
and walking on the promenade. But he knows quite well what my tastes
are. What, indeed, should I go out for?'

As she defended Mouret against the gossip of Plassans, Marthe's voice
assumed a sudden animation, as though she felt the need of defending
him quite as much from the secret accusations which arose within
her own mind; and she kept reverting with nervous uneasiness to the
subject of society life. She seemed to seek a refuge within the little
dining-room and the old-fashioned garden with its box borders, as if
everything else filled her with vague alarm, and made her doubtful of
her strength, apprehensive of some possible catastrophe. Then she would
smile at her fears, and shrug her shoulders as she resumed her knitting
or the mending of some old skirt; and Abbé Faujas would see before him
only a cold, reserved housewife, with listless face and inanimate eyes,
who filled the house with a scent as of clean linen, and of blossoms
gathered in the shade.

Two months passed away in this manner. Abbé Faujas and his mother had
become quite a part of the Mourets' family life. They all had their
recognised places every evening at the table, just as the lamp had its
place; and the same intervals of silence were broken night after night
by the same remarks from the card-players and the same subdued converse
of the priest and Marthe. When Madame Faujas had not given him too
tremendous a beating Mouret found his lodgers 'extremely nice people.'

All that curiosity of his, born of idleness, waned before the interest
and occupation that the nightly parties afforded him, and he no longer
played the spy upon the Abbé, whom he declared to be a very good
fellow, now that he knew him better.

'Oh, don't bother me with your stories!' he used to exclaim to those
who attacked Abbé Faujas. 'You get hold of a pack of nonsense and
put absurd interpretations upon facts that admit of the simplest
explanation. I know all about him. He very kindly comes and spends his
evenings with us; but he's not a man to make himself cheap, and I can
quite understand that people don't like him for it and accuse him of
pride.'

Mouret greatly enjoyed being the only person in Plassans who could
boast of knowing Abbé Faujas, and he even somewhat abused this
advantage. Every time he met Madame Rougon he put on an air of triumph
and made her understand that he had stolen her guest from her, while
the old lady contented herself with smiling quietly. With his intimate
acquaintances Mouret extended his confidences further, and remarked
that those blessed priests could do nothing like other people. Then he
gave them a string of little details, and told them in what manner the
Abbé drank, how he talked to women, and how he always kept his knees
apart without ever crossing his legs, and other trifling matters which
the vague alarm that his free-thinking mind experienced in the presence
of his guest's long, mystic-looking cassock made him notice.

The evenings passed away one after another, and at last the first days
of February came round. In all the conversations between himself and
Marthe Abbé Faujas had to all appearance carefully avoided the subject
of religion. She had once remarked to him, almost lightly:

'No, Monsieur l'Abbé, I am not a very religious woman, and I seldom
go to church. At Marseilles I was always too busy, and now I am too
indolent to go out. And then I must confess to you that I wasn't
brought up with religious ideas. My mother used to tell me that God
would come to us quite as well at home.'

The priest bowed his head without making any reply, and seemed to
signify that he would rather not discuss religious matters under
such circumstances. One evening, however, he drew a picture of the
unexpected comfort which suffering souls find in religion. They were
talking of a poor woman whom troubles of every sort had driven to
suicide.

'She did wrong to despair,' said the priest in his deep voice. 'She
was ignorant of the comfort and consolation to be found in prayer. I
have often seen heart-broken, weeping women come to us, and they have
gone away again filled with a resignation that they had vainly sought
elsewhere, and glad to live; and this had come from their falling upon
their knees and tasting the blessedness of humiliating themselves
before God in some quiet corner of the church. They came back there,
they forgot their troubles, and became God's entirely.'

Marthe listened with a thoughtful expression to these remarks of the
priest, whose last words fell in a gradually softening voice that
seemed to breathe of superhuman felicity.

'Yes, it must be a blessed thing,' she murmured, as though she were
speaking to herself. 'I have thought about it sometimes, but I have
always felt afraid.'

If the Abbé seldom referred to such matters as this, he frequently
spoke on the subject of charity. Marthe was very tender-hearted, and
tears rose to her eyes at the slightest tale of trouble. It seemed to
please the priest to see her so moved to pity; and every evening he
told her some fresh story of sorrow, and kept her constantly excited
with compassion. She would let her work fall, and clasp her hands as,
with a sad, pitying face, she gazed into his eyes and listened to him
as he recounted heart-rending details of how some poor persons had died
of starvation, or how others had been goaded by misery into committing
base crimes. At these times she fell completely under his influence,
and he might have done what he willed with her.

About the middle of February a deplorable occurrence threw Plassans
into dismay. It was discovered that a number of young girls, scarcely
more than children, had fallen into evil courses while loafing about
the streets, and it was even rumoured that some persons of high
position in the town would be compromised. For a week Marthe was
very painfully affected by this discovery, which caused the greatest
sensation. She was acquainted with one of the unfortunate girls, who
was the niece of her cook, Rose; and she could not think of the poor
little creature without shuddering.

'It is a great pity,' said Abbé Faujas to her one evening, 'that there
isn't a Home at Plassans on the model of the one at Besançon.'

Then, in reply to Marthe's pressing questions, the Abbé explained to
her the constitution of this Home. It was a sort of refuge for girls
from eight to fifteen years of age, the daughters of working men, whose
parents were obliged to leave them alone during the day while they
themselves went to their employment. During the day-time these girls
were set to do needlework, and in the evening they were sent back to
their parents, the latter having then returned home from their work.
By this system the children were brought up out of the reach of vice
and in the midst of good examples. Marthe thought the idea an admirable
one, and she gradually became so prepossessed in its favour that she
could talk of nothing else than the necessity of founding a similar
institution at Plassans.

'We might put it under the patronage of the Virgin,' Abbé Faujas
suggested. 'But there are such difficulties in the way! You have no
idea of the trouble there is in effecting the least good work! What is
quite essential to the success of such a scheme as this is some woman
with a motherly heart, full of zeal and absolutely devoted to the work.'

Marthe lowered her head and looked at Désirée, who was asleep by her
side, and she felt tears welling from beneath her eyelids. She made
inquiries as to the steps that it would be necessary to take for
founding such a Home, the cost of erecting it, and the annual expenses.

'Will you help me?' she suddenly asked the priest one evening.

Abbé Faujas gravely took her hand and held it within his own for a
moment, telling her that she had one of the fairest souls he had ever
known. He would willingly do what he could, he assured her, but he
should rely altogether upon her, for the assistance that he himself
would be able to give would be small. It would be for her to form a
committee of the ladies of the town, to collect subscriptions, and
to take upon herself, in a word, all the delicate and onerous duties
which are connected with an appeal to the charity of the public. He
appointed a meeting with her for the following day at Saint-Saturnin's
to introduce her to the diocesan architect, who would be able to tell
her much better than he himself could do about the expenses that would
have to be incurred.

Mouret was very gay that evening when they went to bed. He had not
allowed Madame Faujas to win a single game.

'You seem quite pleased about something to-night, my dear,' he said to
his wife. 'Did you see what a beating I gave the old lady downstairs?'

Then as he observed Marthe taking a silk dress out of her wardrobe, he
asked her with some surprise if she intended to go out in the morning.
He had not heard anything of the conversation in the dining-room
between his wife and the priest.

'Yes,' she replied, 'I have to go out. I have to meet Abbé Faujas at
the church about a matter which I will tell you of.'

He stood motionless in front of her, and gazed at her with an
expression of stupefaction, wondering if she were not really jesting
with him. Then, without any appearance of displeasure, he said in his
bantering fashion:

'Hallo! hallo! well I never expected that! So you've gone over to the
priests now!'



VIII


The next morning Marthe began by calling on her mother, to whom she
explained the pious undertaking which she was contemplating. She became
almost angry when the old lady smilingly shook her head, and she gave
her to understand that she considered her lacking in charity.

'It is one of Abbé Faujas's ideas, isn't it?' Félicité suddenly
inquired.

'Yes,' Marthe replied in surprise: 'we have talked a good deal about it
together. But how did you know?'

Madame Rougon shrugged her shoulders without vouchsafing any definite
reply. Then she continued with a show of animation:

'Well, my dear, I think you are quite right. You ought to have some
kind of occupation, and you have found a very good one. It has always
distressed me very much to see you perpetually shut up in that lonely,
death-like house of yours. But you mustn't count upon my assistance.
I would rather not appear in the matter, for people would say that
it was I who was really doing everything, and that we had come to an
understanding together to try to force our ideas upon the town. I
should prefer that you yourself should have all the credit of your
charitable inspiration. I will help you with my advice, if you will let
me, but with nothing more.'

'I was hoping that you would join the committee,' said Marthe, who felt
a little alarmed at the thought of finding herself alone in such an
onerous undertaking.

'No! no! my presence on it would only do harm, I can assure you. Make
it well known, on the contrary, that I am not going to be on the
committee, that I have been asked, and have refused, excusing myself
on the ground that I am too much occupied. Let it be understood, even,
that I have no faith in your scheme; and that, you will see, will
influence the ladies at once. They will be delighted to take part in
charitable work in which I have no share. Go and see Madame Rastoil,
Madame de Condamin, Madame Delangre, and Madame Paloque. Be sure to see
Madame Paloque; she will feel flattered, and will help you more than
all the others. If you find any difficulty about anything, come here
again and tell me.'

She accompanied her daughter to the head of the stairs; then she
stopped and looked her in the face, saying with her sharp smile:

'I hope the dear Abbé keeps well.'

'Yes, he is quite well,' replied Marthe. 'I am going to
Saint-Saturnin's, where I am to meet the diocesan architect.'

Marthe and the priest had considered that matters were still in too
indefinite a stage for them to disturb the architect, and so they had
planned just to meet him at Saint-Saturnin's, where he came every
day to inspect a chapel that happened to be under repair at the
time. It would seem like a chance meeting. When Marthe walked up the
church, she caught sight of Abbé Faujas and Monsieur Lieutaud--the
architect--talking together on some scaffolding, from which they
descended as soon as they saw her. One of the Abbé's shoulders was
quite white with plaster, and he seemed to be taking a great interest
in the operations.

At this hour of the afternoon, there were no worshippers or penitents
in the church, and the nave and aisles were quite deserted, encumbered
only by a litter of chairs, which two vergers were noisily setting in
order. Workmen were calling to each other from the tops of ladders, and
trowels were scraping against the walls. There was so little appearance
of devotion about Saint-Saturnin's that Marthe had not even crossed
herself on entering. She took a seat opposite to the chapel that was
being repaired, between Abbé Faujas and Monsieur Lieutaud, just as she
would have done if she had gone to consult the latter in his office.

The conversation lasted for a good half-hour. The architect showed
much kindly interest in the scheme. But he advised them not to erect
a special building for the Home of the Virgin, as the Abbé called the
projected refuge. It would cost too much money, he thought; and it
would be better to buy some building already in existence, and adapt
it to suit the requirements of their scheme. He suggested a house in
the Faubourg which, after being used as a boarding-school, had passed
into the hands of a forage dealer, and was now for sale. A few thousand
francs would enable one to entirely transform the place and restore
it from its present ruinous condition; and he promised them all kinds
of wonderful things: a handsome entrance, spacious rooms, and a court
planted with trees. By degrees, Marthe and the priest raised their
voices, and they discussed details beneath the echoing vaults of the
nave, while Monsieur Lieutaud scratched the flag-stones with the tip of
his stick to give them an idea of the façade he suggested.

'It is settled, then,' said Marthe, as she took leave of the architect.
'You will make a little estimate, won't you, so that we may know what
we are about? And please keep our secret, will you?'

Abbé Faujas wished to escort her as far as the door of the church. As
they passed together before the high-altar, however, while she was
still briskly talking to him, she was suddenly surprised to miss him
from her side. She turned round and saw him bent almost double before
the great cross, veiled with muslin. The sight of him, covered as
he was with plaster, bent in this way before the cross, gave her a
singular feeling. She recollected where she was, glanced round her
with an uneasy expression and trod as silently as she could. When they
reached the door, the Abbé, who had become very grave and serious,
silently reached out his finger, which he had dipped in the holy water,
and she crossed herself in great disquietude of mind. Then the muffled
doors softly fell back behind her with a sound like a sigh.

From the church Marthe repaired to Madame de Condamin's. She felt
quite happy as she walked through the streets in the fresh air;
the few visits that she had now to make seemed to her almost like
pleasure-parties. Madame de Condamin welcomed her with an air of
friendly surprise. That dear Madame Mouret came so seldom! When she
learned the business on hand, she declared herself charmed with it, and
was quite ready to further it in every possible way. She was wearing
a lovely mauve dress, with knots of pearl-grey ribbon, in that pretty
boudoir of hers where she played the part of an exiled Parisienne.

'You did quite right to count upon me,' she exclaimed as she pressed
Marthe's hands. 'Who ought to help those poor girls if it isn't we
whom people accuse of setting them a bad example by our luxury? It
is frightful to think of those children being exposed to all those
horrible dangers. It has made me feel quite ill. I am entirely at your
service.'

When Marthe told her that her mother could not join the committee she
displayed still greater enthusiasm for the scheme.

'It is a pity Madame Rougon has so many things to do,' she said with a
touch of irony; 'she would have been of great assistance to us. But it
can't be helped. No one can do more than they are able. I have plenty
of friends. I will go and see the Bishop; and move heaven and earth if
it's necessary. I'll promise you that we shall succeed.'

She would not listen to any of the particulars about the expenses.
She was quite sure, she said, that whatever money was wanted would
be found, and she meant the Home to be a credit to the committee, as
handsome and as comfortable as possible. She added with a laugh that
she quite lost her head when she began to dabble in figures; but she
undertook to charge herself with the preliminary steps and the general
furtherance of the scheme. Dear Madame Mouret, said she, was not
accustomed to begging, and she would accompany her on her visits and
would even take several of them off her hands altogether. By the end of
a quarter of an hour she had made the business entirely her own, and it
was now she who gave instructions to Marthe. The latter was just about
to take her leave when Monsieur de Condamin came into the room; so she
lingered on, feeling very ill at ease, however, and not daring to say
any more on the subject of her visit in the presence of a man who was
rumoured to be compromised in that matter of the poor girls with whose
shameful story the town was ringing.

But Madame de Condamin explained the great scheme to her husband, who
listened with an appearance of perfect ease, and gave utterance to the
most moral sentiments. He considered the scheme an extremely proper one.

'It is an idea which could only have occurred to a mother,' he said
gravely, in a tone which made it impossible to tell whether he was
serious or not. 'Plassans will be indebted to you, madame, for a purer
morality.'

'But I must tell you that the idea is not my own! I have merely adopted
it,' replied Marthe, made uneasy by these praises. 'It was suggested to
me by a person whom I esteem very highly.'

'Who was that?' asked Madame de Condamin, with a show of curiosity.

'Abbé Faujas.'

Then Marthe, with great frankness, told them what a high opinion she
had of the priest. She made no allusion to the unpleasant stories that
had been circulated about him, but she represented him as a man worthy
of the highest respect, whom she was very happy to receive in her home.
Madame de Condamin nodded approvingly as she listened.

'I always said so!' she exclaimed. 'Abbé Faujas is a very distinguished
priest. But there are such a lot of malicious people about! Now,
however, that you receive him in your home, they don't venture to say
anything more against him; all that calumnious talk has been cut short.
The idea, you say, is his. We shall have to persuade him, then, to take
a prominent part in putting it into execution. For the present we will
keep the matter very quiet. I can assure you that I always liked and
defended the Abbé.'

'I recollect talking with him, and I thought him a very good fellow,'
remarked the conservator of rivers and forests.

His wife silenced him with a gesture. She occasionally treated him in
a very cavalier style. Truth to tell, Monsieur de Condamin alone bore
the shame attaching to the equivocal marriage which he was charged with
having made; the young woman, whom he had brought from no one knew
where, had got herself forgiven and liked by the whole town, thanks to
her pleasant ways and taking looks, to which provincial folks are more
susceptible than might be imagined.

Monsieur de Condamin understood that he was in the way in this virtuous
consultation.

'I will leave you to your good designs,' he said with a slight touch
of irony. 'I am going to smoke a cigar. Octavie, don't forget to be
dressed in good time. We are going to the Sub-Prefecture this evening,
you know.'

When he had left the room, the two women resumed their conversation
for a few moments longer, returning to what they had previously been
saying, expressing pity for the poor girls who yielded to temptation,
and manifesting much anxiety to shelter them from danger. Madame de
Condamin inveighed eloquently against vice.

'Well, then!' she said, as she pressed Marthe's hand for the last time,
'it is all settled, and I shall be entirely at your service as soon
as you call for my help. If you go to see Madame Rastoil and Madame
Delangre, tell them that I will undertake to do everything, and that
all we want from them is their names. My idea is a good one, don't you
think? We won't depart a hair's breadth from it. Give my compliments to
Abbé Faujas.'

Marthe at once proceeded to call upon Madame Delangre, and then upon
Madame Rastoil. She found them very polite, but less enthusiastic than
Madame de Condamin. They discussed the pecuniary side of the scheme.
A large sum of money would be required, they said; the charity of the
public would certainly never provide it, and there was a great risk of
the whole business coming to a ridiculous termination. Marthe tried to
reassure them, and plied them with figures. Then they asked her what
ladies had consented to join the committee. The mention of Madame de
Condamin's name left them silent, but when they learned that Madame
Rougon had excused herself from joining, they became more amiable.

Madame Delangre had received Marthe in her husband's private room. She
was a pale little woman whose dissoluteness had remained a matter of
legend in Plassans.

'Indeed,' she ended by saying, 'there is nothing I should like to
see better. It would be a school of virtue for the youth of the
working-classes, and it would be the means of saving many weak souls.
I cannot refuse my assistance, for I feel that I could be of much use
to you through my husband, who as mayor of the town is brought into
continual contact with all the influential people. But I must ask you
to allow me till to-morrow before I give a definite reply. Our position
requires us to exercise circumspection, and I should like to consult
Monsieur Delangre.'

In Madame Rastoil Marthe encountered a woman who was equally listless
but more prudish, and who sought for irreproachable words when
referring to the unfortunate girls who had fallen. She was a sleek,
plump person, and Marthe found her embroidering a very gorgeous alb,
between her two daughters, whom she sent away at her visitor's first
words.

'I am much obliged to you for having thought of me,' she said; 'but
really I am very much occupied. I am already on several committees and
I don't know whether I should have the time. I have had some such idea
as your own myself, but my scheme was a larger one and, perhaps, more
complete and comprehensive. For a whole month I have been intending
to talk to the Bishop about it, but I have never been able to find
the time. Well! we will unite our efforts, and I will tell you my own
views, for I think you are making a mistake in some points. Since it
seems necessary, I will surrender still more of my time. But it was
only yesterday that my husband said to me: "Really, you never attend to
your own affairs; you are always looking after other people's."'

Marthe glanced at her curiously, thinking of her old entanglement
with Monsieur Delangre, which folks still chuckled over in the cafés
of the Cours Sauvaire. The wives of the mayor and the presiding judge
had received the mention of Abbé Faujas's name very suspiciously, the
latter especially so. Marthe was a little vexed at this distrust of
a person for whom she vouched; so she made a point of dwelling upon
the Abbé's good qualities, and eventually forced the two women to
acknowledge the merit of this priest, who lived a life of retirement
and supported his mother.

On leaving Madame Rastoil's Marthe merely had to cross the road to
reach Madame Paloque's, which was on the other side of the Rue Balande.
It was seven o'clock, but she was anxious to make this last call, even
if she were to keep Mouret waiting for dinner and get herself scolded
in consequence. The Paloques were just about to sit down to table in
a chilly dining-room, whose prim coldness spoke of provincial penury.
Madame Paloque hastened to cover up the soup-tureen, vexed at being
thus found at table. She was very polite, humble almost, anxious as she
really felt about this visit which she had not expected. Her husband,
the judge, sat before his empty plate with his hands upon his knees.

'The hussies!' he exclaimed, when Marthe spoke of the girls of the old
quarter of the town. 'I heard some nice accounts of them to-day at
court. It was they who led some of our most respectable townspeople
astray. You do wrong, madame, to interest yourself about such vermin.'

'I am very much afraid,' said Madame Paloque in her turn, 'that I
cannot be of much assistance to you. I know no one, and my husband
would cut his hand off rather than beg for the smallest trifle. We have
held ourselves quite aloof from everyone, disgusted as we are with
all the injustices we have witnessed. We live here very quietly and
modestly, happy in being forgotten and let alone. Even if promotion
were offered to my husband now, he would refuse it. Wouldn't you, my
dear?'

The judge nodded his head in assent and they exchanged a slight smile,
while Marthe sat ill at ease in the presence of that hideous wrinkled
couple, livid with gall and bitterness, who played so well the little
comedy of feigned resignation. Fortunately she recalled her mother's
counsels.

'I had quite counted upon you,' she said, making herself very pleasant.
'We shall have Madame Delangre, Madame Rastoil, and Madame de Condamin;
but, between ourselves, those ladies will only give us their names.
I should have liked to find some lady of good status and kindly,
charitable disposition, who would have taken a stronger interest and
shown more energy in the matter, and I thought that you would be the
very person. Think what gratitude Plassans would owe us if we could
only bring such an undertaking to a successful issue!'

'Of course, of course!' Madame Paloque murmured, quite delighted at
Marthe's insinuating words.

'I am sure you are wrong in fancying that you are without power to
assist us. It is very well known that Monsieur Paloque is a favourite
at the Sub-Prefecture; and between ourselves I may say that he is
intended to succeed Monsieur Rastoil. Ah, now! don't try to depreciate
yourselves; your merits are known, and it is no use your trying to
hide them. This would be a very good opportunity for Madame Paloque
to emerge a little from the obscurity and privacy in which she keeps
herself, and to let the world see what a head and what a heart she has!'

The judge seemed very restless. He looked at his wife with blinking
eyes.

'Madame Paloque has not refused,' said he.

'No, certainly not,' interposed the latter. 'If you really stand in
need of me, that settles the matter. I dare say I am only committing
another piece of folly, and shall give myself a lot of trouble without
ever getting a word of thanks for it. Monsieur Paloque can tell you of
all the good works we've done without ever saying a word about them;
and you can see for yourself what they've brought us to. Well, well, we
can't change our natures, and I suppose we shall continue being dupes
to the end! You may count upon me, dear madame.'

The Paloques rose and Marthe took leave of them, thanking them for
their kindly interest. As she stopped for a moment on the landing to
liberate a flounce of her dress which had caught between the banisters
and the steps, she heard them talking with animation on the other side
of the door.

'They want to enlist you because they want to make use of you!' the
judge was saying in a bitter voice. 'You will be their beast of burden.'

'Of course!' replied his wife, 'but you may be sure that I'll make them
pay for it with the rest!'

When Marthe at last got back home, it was nearly eight o'clock. Mouret
had been waiting a whole half-hour for his dinner, and she was afraid
that there would be a terrible scene. But, when she had undressed and
come downstairs, she found her husband seated astride an overturned
chair, tranquilly beating a tattoo on the tablecloth with his fingers.
He was in a very teasing, bantering mood.

'Well,' said he, 'I had quite made up my mind that you were going to
spend the night in a confessional-box. Now that you have taken to going
to church, you had better give me notice when the priests invite you,
so that I can dine out.'

All through the dinner he indulged in witticisms of this kind, and
Marthe was more distressed by them than if he had openly stormed at
her. Two or three times she cast a glance at him as if beseeching him
to leave her in peace. But her looks only appeared to stimulate his
wit. Octave and Désirée laughed at it all, but Serge remained silent
and mentally took his mother's side. During dessert Rose came into the
room, looking quite scared, with the news that Monsieur Delangre had
called and wished to see madame.

'Hallo! have you begun to associate with the authorities as well?'
exclaimed Mouret in his sneering fashion.

Marthe went into the drawing-room to receive the mayor. With much
politeness the latter told her that he had felt unwilling to wait
until the morrow to congratulate her upon her charitable idea. Madame
Delangre was a little timid; she had done wrong in not immediately
promising her co-operation, and he had now come to say in her name that
she would be delighted to serve on the committee of lady patronesses
of the Home of the Virgin. As for himself, he would do all he could to
further the success of a scheme that would be so useful, so conducive
to morality.

Marthe accompanied him to the street-door; and there, as Rose held up
the lamp to light the footpath, the mayor added:

'Will you tell Abbé Faujas that I shall be glad to have a little
conversation with him, if he will kindly call on me? As he has had
experience of an establishment of this kind at Besançon, he will be
able to give me valuable information. I mean the town to pay for the
building, at any rate. Good-bye, dear madame. Give my best compliments
to Monsieur Mouret, whom I won't disturb.'

When Abbé Faujas came down with his mother at eight o'clock Mouret
merely said to him, with a laugh:

'So you walked my wife off to-day, eh? Well, don't spoil her for me too
much, and don't make a saint of her.'

Then he turned to his card-play. He was anxious to revenge himself on
Madame Faujas, who had defeated him three evenings in succession; and
so Marthe was left free to tell the Abbé of all she had done during
the day. She seemed full of child-like pleasure, and was still quite
excited with her afternoon. The priest made her repeat certain details,
and then promised to call on Monsieur Delangre, although he would have
preferred remaining altogether in the background.

'You did wrong to mention my name at all,' he said, when he saw her so
moved and yielding. 'But you are like all other women; the best causes
would be spoilt in your hands.'

She looked at him in surprise at this harsh exclamation, recoiling and
feeling that thrill of fear which she still occasionally experienced
in the presence of his cassock. It was as though iron hands were being
laid upon her shoulders and were forcing her into compliance with their
will. Every priest looks upon woman as an enemy; but when the Abbé saw
that she was hurt by his stern reproof he softened his voice and said:

'I think only of the success of your noble design. I am afraid that I
should compromise it if I myself were to appear in it. You know very
well that I am not a favourite in the town.'

Marthe, seeing him so humble, assured him that he was mistaken, and
that all the ladies had spoken of him in the highest terms. They knew
that he was supporting his mother, and that he led a quiet, retired
life worthy of the greatest praise. Then they talked over the great
scheme, dwelling on the smallest details of it, till eleven o'clock
struck. It was a delightful evening.

Mouret had caught a word or two of the talk every now and then between
the deals.

'And so,' he said, as they were going to bed, 'so you two are going to
stamp out vice? It's a fine invention.'

Three days later the committee of patronesses was formally constituted.
The ladies having elected Marthe as president, she, upon her mother's
advice which she had privately sought, immediately named Madame Paloque
treasurer. They both gave themselves a great deal of trouble in
directing circulars and looking after a host of other petty details.
In the meantime Madame de Condamin went from the Sub-Prefecture to
the Bishop's, and from the Bishop's to the houses of various other
influential persons, exhibiting some lovely toilettes, explaining
in her pretty fashion 'the happy idea that had occurred to her,'
and carrying off subscriptions and promises of assistance. Madame
Rastoil, on the other hand, told the priests who came to her house on
the Tuesday how she had formed a plan for rescuing unfortunate girls
from vice, and then contented herself with charging Abbé Bourrette to
inquire of the Sisters of Saint-Joseph if they would come and serve
in the projected refuge; while Madame Delangre confided to a little
company of functionaries that the town was indebted for the Home to her
husband, who had also kindly given the committee the use of a room
at the town-hall, where they could meet and deliberate at their ease.
Plassans was speedily excited by this pious turmoil, and soon nothing
but the Home of the Virgin was spoken of. A chorus of praise went up,
and the friends of each lady patroness made up little parties and
worked strenuously for the success of the undertaking. Within a week
subscriptions were opened in all three quarters of the town, and as
the 'Plassans Gazette' published lists of the subscriptions, a feeling
of pride was awakened, and the most notable families vied as to which
should be the most generous.

Amidst all the talk on the subject Abbé Faujas's name frequently
cropped up. Although each of the lady patronesses claimed the idea of
the refuge as her own, there was a prevailing belief that it was the
Abbé who had brought it with him from Besançon. Monsieur Delangre,
indeed, made an express statement to that effect at the meeting of
the municipal council when it was decided to purchase the building
which the diocesan architect had suggested as being best suited to the
requirements of the Home. On the previous evening the mayor had had
a lengthy conversation with the priest. They had shaken hands most
cordially on parting, and the mayor's secretary had even heard them
call each other 'my dear sir.' This brought about quite a revolution
in the Abbé's favour. From that time he had a group of partisans who
defended him against the attacks of his enemies.

Besides, the Mourets vouched for Abbé Faujas's respectability.
Supported by Marthe's friendship, recognised as the originator of a
good work, which he modestly refused to acknowledge as his own, he no
longer manifested in the streets that appearance of humility which had
led him to withdraw as much as possible from observation by keeping in
the shadow of the houses. He bravely showed his new cassock in the sun
and walked in the middle of the road. On his way from the Rue Balande
to Saint-Saturnin's he now had to return a great number of bows. One
Sunday Madame de Condamin stopped him after Vespers on the Place in
front of the Bishop's house and kept him talking with her there for a
good half-hour.

'Well, your reverence,' Mouret said to him with a laugh, 'you are quite
in the odour of sanctity now. One would scarcely have anticipated that
six months ago when I was the only one to say a good word for you! But
if I were you I shouldn't trust too much to it all; you still have the
Bishop's set against you.'

The priest lightly shrugged his shoulders. He knew quite well that
what hostility he still met with came from the clergy. Abbé Fenil kept
Monseigneur Rousselot trembling beneath his rough, hard will. However,
when the grand-vicar, about the end of March, left Plassans on a short
holiday, Abbé Faujas profited by his absence to make several calls
upon the Bishop. Abbé Surin, the prelate's private secretary, reported
that the 'wretched man' had been closeted for hours with his lordship,
who had manifested an atrocious temper after each interview. When Abbé
Fenil returned, Abbé Faujas discontinued his visits, and again drew
into the background. But the Bishop still showed himself very much
disturbed, and it was quite evident that something had occurred to
upset his careless mind. At a dinner which he gave to his clergy he
showed himself particularly friendly to Abbé Faujas, who was still only
a humble curate at Saint-Saturnin's. Abbé Fenil then kept his thin lips
more tightly closed than ever, but inwardly cursed his penitents when
they politely asked him how he was in health.

And now at last Abbé Faujas manifested complete serenity. He still led
a self-denying life, but he seemed permeated by a pleasant ease of
mind. One Tuesday evening he triumphed definitively. He was looking out
of the window of his room, enjoying the early warmth of springtide,
when Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies's guests came into the garden of the
Sub-Prefecture and bowed to him from a distance. Madame de Condamin was
there, and carried her familiarity so far as to wave her handkerchief
to him. Just at the same time, on the other side, some guests came to
sit on the rustic seats in front of the waterfall in Monsieur Rastoil's
grounds. Monsieur Delangre, who was leaning over the terrace of the
Sub-Prefecture, could see across Mouret's garden into the judge's
place, owing to the sloping character of the ground.

'You will see,' he said, 'they won't deign even to notice him.'

But he was wrong. For Abbé Fenil, having turned his head as though by
chance, took off his hat, whereupon all the other priests who happened
to be present did the same, and Abbé Faujas returned their salute.
Then, after slowly glancing over the two sets of guests on his right
and his left, he quitted his window, carefully drawing his white and
conventual-looking curtains.



IX


The month of April was very mild and warm, and in the evenings, after
dinner, the young Mourets went to amuse themselves in the garden.
Marthe and the priest, too, as they found the dining-room become very
close, also went out on to the terrace. They sat a few steps from the
open window, just outside the stream of light which the lamp cast upon
the tall box hedges. Hid there in the deepening dusk, they discussed
all the little details connected with the Home of the Virgin. This
constant discussion of charitable matters seemed to give a tone of
additional softness to their conversation. In front of them, between
Monsieur Rastoil's huge pear-trees and the dusky chestnuts of the
Sub-Prefecture, there was a large patch of open sky. The young people
sported about under the arbours, while every now and then the voices of
Mouret and Madame Faujas, who remained alone in the dining-room, deeply
absorbed in their game, could be heard raised in passing altercations.

Sometimes Marthe, full of tender emotion, a gentle languor that made
her words fall slowly from her lips, would check her speech as she
caught sight of the golden train of some shooting star, and smile as
she threw back her head a little and looked up at the heavens.

'There's another soul leaving purgatory and entering paradise!' she
murmured, while, as the priest kept silent, she added: 'How pretty they
are, those little beliefs! One ought to be able to remain a little
girl, your reverence.'

She no longer now mended the family linen in the evening. She would
have had to light a lamp on the terrace to see to do it, and she
preferred the gloom of the warm night, which seemed to thrill her with
peaceful happiness. Besides, she now went out every day, which fatigued
her, and when dinner was over she had not energy enough to take up her
needle. Rose had been obliged to undertake the mending, as Mouret was
beginning to complain that his socks were all in holes.

To tell the truth Marthe was really very much occupied. Besides the
committee meetings over which she presided, she had numerous other
things to attend to, visits to make, and superintendence duties to
exercise. She deputed much necessary writing and other little matters
to Madame Paloque; but she was so eager to see the Home actually
established, that she went off to the Faubourg, where the building
stood, three times a week, to make sure that the workmen were not
wasting their time. Whenever she thought that satisfactory progress was
not being made, she hurried to Saint-Saturnin's to find the architect,
and grumbled to him and begged him not to leave the men without his
supervision, growing quite jealous, indeed, of the work which was
being executed in the church, and saying that the chapel repairs were
being much too quickly pushed forward. Monsieur Lieutaud smiled at all
this, and assured her that everything would be completed within the
stipulated time. But Abbé Faujas likewise protested that sufficient
progress was not being made, and urged Marthe to give the architect no
peace, so she ended by going to Saint-Saturnin's every day.

She went thither with her brain full of figures, or absorbed in
thinking of walls that had to be pulled down and rebuilt. The
chilliness of the church cooled her excitement a little. She dipped
her fingers in the holy water and crossed herself, by way of doing
as others did. The vergers grew to know her and bow to her, and she
herself became quite familiar with the different chapels and the
sacristy, whither she sometimes had to go in search of Abbé Faujas,
and the wide corridor and low cloisters through which she had to pass.
At the end of a month there was not a corner in Saint-Saturnin's which
she did not know. Sometimes she had to wait for the architect, and
then she would sit down in some retired chapel and rest after her
hurried walk, recapitulating in her mind the host of things which
she wanted to impress upon Monsieur Lieutaud. The deep, palpitating
silence which surrounded her, and the dim religious light falling from
the stained-glass windows, gradually plunged her into a vague, soft
reverie. She began to love the lofty arches and the solemn bareness of
the walls, the altars draped in protecting covers, and the chairs all
arranged in order. As soon, indeed, as the padded doors swung to behind
her, she began to experience a feeling of supreme restfulness, she
forgot all the weary cares of the world, and perfect peace permeated
her being.

'Saint-Saturnin's is such a pleasant place,' she said in an unguarded
moment one evening before her husband, after a close, sultry day.

'Would you like us to go and sleep there?' Mouret asked, with a laugh.

Marthe felt hurt. The feeling of purely physical happiness which
she experienced in the church began to distress her as being
something wrong; and it was with a slight feeling of trouble that she
thenceforward entered Saint-Saturnin's, trying to force herself to
remain indifferent and uninfluenced by her surroundings, just as she
would have been in the big rooms at the town hall. But in spite of
herself she was deeply, distressfully affected. It was, however, a
distress to which she willingly returned.

Abbé Faujas manifested no consciousness of the slow awakening which
every day went on within her. He still retained with her the demeanour
of a busy, obliging man, putting heaven on one side. He never showed
anything of the priest. Sometimes, however, she would disturb him as
he was going to read the burial office; and he would then speak to
her for a moment between a couple of pillars in his surplice which
exhaled a vague odour of incense and wax tapers. It was frequently a
mere bricklayer's bill or some carpenter's claim that they spoke about,
and the priest would just tell her the exact figures and then hurry
away to attend to the funeral; she remaining there, lingering in the
empty nave, while one of the vergers was extinguishing the candles.
As Faujas, when he crossed the church with her, bowed before the high
altar, she had acquired the habit of doing likewise, at first out of
a feeling of mere propriety. But afterwards the action had become
mechanical, and she now bowed when she was quite alone. Hitherto this
act of reverence had been her only sign of devotion. Two or three times
she had come to the church on days of high ceremonial of which she
had not previously been aware: but when she saw the church was full
of worshippers and heard the pealing of the organ, she hurried off,
thrilled with sudden fear and not daring to cross the threshold.

'Well!' Mouret would frequently ask her with his sniggering laugh,
'when do you mean to take your first communion?'

He was perpetually teasing her, but she never replied, simply fixing
upon him the gaze of her eyes, in which a passing brightness glistened
when he went too far. By degrees he became more bitter, he was tired of
mocking at her; and at the end of a month he quite lost his temper.

'What sense is there in going and mixing yourself up with a lot of
priests?' he would growl at times when his dinner was not ready when
he wanted it. 'You are always away from home now, there's no keeping
you in the house for an hour at a time! I shouldn't mind it myself, if
everything weren't going to pieces here. I never get any of my things
mended, the table is not even laid by seven o'clock, there's no making
anything out of Rose, and the whole place is left to rack and ruin.'

He picked up a house-cloth that was lying about, locked up a bottle
of wine that had been left out, and began to wipe the dust off the
furniture with his fingers, working himself up to a higher pitch of
anger as he cried: 'There'll soon be nothing left for me to do but to
take up a broom and put an apron on! You would see me do it without
disturbing yourself, I know! I might do all the work of the house
without your being any the wiser for it indeed! Do you know that I
spent a couple of hours this morning in putting this cupboard in order?
No, no, things can't go on any longer in this way!'

At other times there was a disturbance about the children. Once when
Mouret came home he found Désirée 'wallowing like a young pig' in the
garden, lying on her stomach before an ant-hole, and trying to find out
what the ants might be doing in the ground.

'We may be very thankful, I'm sure, that you don't sleep away from the
house as well!' he cried as soon as he caught sight of his wife. 'Come
and look at your daughter! I wouldn't let her change her dress because
I wished that you might see what a pretty sight she is.'

The girl cried bitterly while her father kept turning her round.

'Look at her now! Isn't she a nice spectacle? This is the way children
go on when they are left to themselves! It isn't her fault, poor little
innocent! At one time you couldn't leave her alone for five minutes:
she would be getting into the fire, you said! Well, I expect she will
be getting into the fire now, and everything will be burnt up, and then
there'll be an end of it all!'

When Rose had taken Désirée away, he continued: 'You live now simply
for other people's children. You don't give a moment to your own! What
a goose you must be to go knocking yourself up for a parcel of hussies
who only laugh at you! Go and walk about the ramparts any evening and
you will see something of the conduct of those impudent creatures whom
you talk of putting under the protection of the Virgin!'

He stopped to take breath and then went on again:

'At all events see that Désirée is properly taken care of before you go
picking up girls from the gutter! There are holes as big as my fist in
her dress. One of these days we shall be finding her in the garden with
a leg or an arm broken. I don't say anything about Octave or Serge,
though I should much prefer your being at home when they come back from
college. They are up to all kinds of diabolical tricks. Only yesterday
they split a couple of flag-stones on the terrace by letting off
crackers. I tell you that if you don't keep yourself at home we shall
find the whole house blown to bits one of these days!'

Marthe said a few words in self-defence. She had been obliged to
go out, she urged. There was no doubt that Mouret, who possessed
an ample fund of common sense, in spite of his proclivities for
teasing and jeering, was right. The house was getting into a most
unsatisfactory state. That once quiet spot indeed, where the sun had
set so peacefully, was becoming uproarious, left to look after itself,
suffering from the children's noisiness, the father's bursts of temper,
and the mother's careless, indifferent lassitude. In the evening, at
table, they dined badly and quarrelled amongst themselves. Rose did
just what she liked, and she, by the way, was of opinion that her
mistress was quite in the right.

Matters came to such a pass at last that Mouret, happening to meet
his mother-in-law, complained to her bitterly of Marthe's conduct,
although he was quite aware of the pleasure he afforded the old lady by
revealing to her the troubles of his home.

'You astonish me extremely!' Félicité replied with a smile. 'Marthe
always seemed to me to be afraid of you, and I considered her even too
yielding and obedient. A woman ought not to tremble before her husband.'

'Ah, yes, indeed!' cried Mouret, with a hopeless look, 'once upon
a time she would have sunk into the ground to avoid a quarrel; a
mere glance was sufficient to make her do everything I desired. But
that's all quite altered now. I may remonstrate and shout as much as
I like, she still goes her own way. She doesn't reply, she hasn't as
yet got to flying out at me, but that will come as well, I dare say,
by-and-by.'

Félicité then answered with some hypocrisy:

'I will speak to Marthe if you like. But it might, perhaps, hurt her if
I did. Matters of this kind are better kept between husband and wife. I
don't feel very uneasy about them; I've no doubt that you'll soon get
back again all the quiet peacefulness which you used to be so proud of.'

Mouret shook his head with downcast eyes.

'No! no!' he said; 'I know myself too well. I can make a noise, but
it does no good. In reality I am as weak as a child. People are quite
wrong in supposing that I gained my own way with my wife by force.
She has generally done what I wanted her to do, because she was quite
indifferent about everything, and would as soon do one thing as
another. Mild as she looks, she is very obstinate, I can tell you.
Well, I must try to make the best of it.'

Then, raising his eyes, he added:

'It would have been better if I had said nothing about all this to you;
but you won't mention it to anyone, will you?'

When Marthe went to see her mother the next day, the latter received
her with some show of coldness, and exclaimed:

'It is wrong of you, my dear, to show yourself so neglectful of your
husband. I saw him yesterday and he is quite angry about it. I am well
aware that he often behaves in a very ridiculous manner, but that does
not justify you in neglecting your home.'

Marthe fixed her eyes upon her mother.

'Ah! he has been complaining about me!' she said curtly. 'The least he
could do would be to keep silent, for I never complain about him.'

Then she began to talk of other matters, but Madame Rougon brought her
back to the subject of her husband by inquiring after Abbé Faujas.

'Perhaps Mouret isn't very fond of the Abbé, and finds fault with you
in consequence. Is that the case, do you think?'

Marthe showed great surprise.

'What an idea!' she exclaimed. 'What makes you think that my husband
does not like Abbé Faujas? He has certainly never said anything to me
which would lead me to imagine such a thing. He hasn't said anything to
you, has he? Oh no! you are quite mistaken. He would go up to their
rooms to fetch them if the mother didn't come down to have her game of
cards with him.'

Mouret, indeed, never complained in any way about Abbé Faujas. He joked
with him a little bluntly sometimes, and occasionally brought his name
into the teasing banter with which he tormented his wife, but that was
all.

One morning, as he was shaving, he said to Marthe:

'I'll tell you what, my dear; if ever you go to confession, take the
Abbé for your director, and then your sins will, at any rate, be kept
amongst ourselves.'

Abbé Faujas heard confessions on Tuesdays and Fridays, on which days
Marthe used to avoid going to Saint-Saturnin's. She alleged that she
did not want to disturb him; but she was really under the influence of
that timid uneasiness which disquieted her whenever she saw him in his
surplice redolent of the mysterious odours of the sacristy. One Friday,
she went with Madame de Condamin to see how the works at the Home of
the Virgin were getting on. The men were just finishing the frontage.
Madame de Condamin found fault with the ornamentation, which, said she,
was extremely mean and characterless. At the entrance there ought to
have been two slender columns with a pointed arch, something at once
light and suggestive of religion, something that would be a credit to
the committee of lady patronesses. Marthe hesitated for a time, but she
gradually admitted that the place looked very mean as it was. Then as
the other pressed her, she promised to speak to Monsieur Lieutaud on
the subject that very day. In order that she might keep her promise,
she went to the cathedral before returning home. It was four o'clock
when she got there, and the architect had just left. When she asked for
Abbé Faujas, a verger told her that he was confessing in the chapel
of Saint Aurelia. Then for the first time she recollected what day it
was, and replied that she could not wait. But as she passed the chapel
of Saint Aurelia on her way out, she thought that the Abbé might,
perhaps, have already caught sight of her. The truth was that she felt
singularly faint, and so she sat down outside the chapel, near the
railing. And there she remained.

The sky was grey, and the church was steeped in twilight. Here and
there in the aisles, already shrouded in darkness, gleamed a lamp, or
some gilt candelabrum, or some Virgin's silver robe; and a pale ray
filtered through the great nave and died away on the polished oak of
the stalls and benches. Marthe had never before felt so completely
overcome. Her legs seemed to have lost all their strength, and her
hands were so heavy that she clasped them across her knees to save
herself from having to support their weight. She allowed herself to
drift into drowsiness, in which she still continued to hear and see,
but in a very soft subdued fashion. The slight sounds wafted along
beneath the vaulted roof, the falling of a chair, the slow step of some
worshipper, all filled her with emotion, assumed a musical tone which
thrilled her to the heart; while the last glimmers of daylight and the
dusky shadows that crept up the pillars like covers of crape, assumed
in her eyes all the delicate tints of shot silk. She gradually fell
into a state of exquisite languor, in which she seemed to melt away and
die. Everything around her then vanished, and she was thrilled with
perfect happiness in her strange, trance-like condition.

The sound of a voice awoke her from this state of ecstasy.

'I am very sorry,' said Abbé Faujas; 'I saw you, but I could not get
away.'

She then appeared to wake up with a start. She looked at him. He was
standing before her in the dying light, in his surplice. His last
penitent had just left, and the empty church seemed to be growing still
more solemn.

'You want to speak to me?' he asked.

Marthe made an effort to recall her thoughts.

'Yes,' she murmured; 'but I can't remember now. Ah yes! it is about the
frontage, which Madame de Condamin thinks too mean. There ought to be
two columns instead of that characterless flat door. And up above one
might put a pointed arch filled with stained glass. It would look very
pretty. You understand what I mean, don't you?'

He gazed at her very gravely with his hands crossed over his surplice,
and his head inclined towards her; and she, still seated, without
strength to rise to her feet, went on stammering confusedly, as though
she had been taken unawares in a sleep which she could not shake off.

'It would entail additional expense, of course; but we might have
columns of soft stone with a very simple moulding. We might speak about
it to the master mason, and he will tell us how much it would cost. But
we had better pay him his last account first. It is two thousand one
hundred and odd francs, I think. We have the money in hand; Madame
Paloque told me so this morning. There will be no difficulty about
that, Monsieur l'Abbé.'

She lowered her head, as though she felt oppressed by the gaze that
was bent upon her. When she raised it again and met the priest's eyes,
she clasped her hands together, after the manner of a child seeking
forgiveness, and she burst into sobs. The priest allowed her to weep,
still standing in silence in front of her. Then she fell on her knees
before him, weeping behind her hands, with which she covered her face.

'Get up, I pray you,' said Abbé Faujas gently. 'It is before God that
you should go and kneel.'

He helped her to rise and he sat down beside her. They talked together
for a long time in low tones. The night had now fully fallen, and
the lamps set golden specks gleaming through the black depths of the
church. The murmur of their voices alone disturbed the silence in front
of the chapel of Saint Aurelia. From the priest streamed a flood of
words after each of Marthe's weak broken answers. When at last they
rose, he seemed to be refusing her some favour which she was seeking
with persistence. And leading her towards the door, he raised his voice
as he said:

'No! I cannot, I assure you I cannot. It would be better for you to
take Abbé Bourrette.'

'I am in great need of your advice,' Marthe murmured, beseechingly. 'I
think that with your help everything would be easy to me.'

'You are mistaken,' he replied, in a sterner voice. 'On the contrary, I
fear that my direction would be prejudicial to you to begin with. Abbé
Bourrette is the priest you want, I assure you. Later on, I may perhaps
give you a different reply.'

Marthe obeyed the priest's injunctions, and on the morrow the
worshippers at Saint-Saturnin's were surprised to see Madame Mouret
kneel before Abbé Bourrette's confessional. Two days later nothing
but this conversion was spoken of in Plassans. Abbé Faujas's name was
pronounced with subtle smiles by certain people, but on the whole the
impression was a good one and in favour of the Abbé. Madame Rastoil
complimented Madame Mouret in full committee, and Madame Delangre
professed to see in the matter a first blessing vouchsafed by God who
rewarded the lady patronesses for their good work by touching the
heart of the only one amongst them who had not conformed with the
requirements of religion. Madame de Condamin, taking Marthe aside,
said to her:

'You have done right, my dear. What you have done is a necessity for a
woman; and, besides, as soon as one begins to go about a little, it is
necessary to go to church.'

The only matter of astonishment was her choice of Abbé Bourrette. That
worthy man almost entirely confined himself to hearing the confessions
of young girls. The ladies found him 'so very uninteresting.' On the
Thursday at the Rougons' reception, before Marthe's arrival, the matter
was talked over in a corner of the green drawing-room, and it was
Madame Paloque with her waspish tongue who summed up the matter.

'Abbé Faujas has done quite right in not keeping her himself,' said
she, with a twist of her mouth that made her still more hideous
than usual; 'Abbé Bourrette is very successful in saving souls and
appearances also.'

When Marthe came that evening her mother stepped forward to welcome
her, and kissed her affectionately with some ostentation before the
company. She herself had made her peace with God on the morrow of the
Coup d'État. She was of opinion that Abbé Faujas might now venture to
return to the green drawing-room; but he excused himself, making a
pretext of his work and his love of privacy. Madame Rougon then fancied
that he was planning a triumphal return for the following winter. The
Abbé's success was certainly on the increase. For the first few months
his only penitents had come from the vegetable-market held behind the
cathedral, poor hawkers, to whose dialect he had quietly listened
without always being able to understand it; but now, especially since
all the talk there had been in connection with the Home of the Virgin,
he had a crowd of well-to-do citizens' wives and daughters dressed
in silk kneeling before his confessional-box. When Marthe quietly
mentioned that he would not receive her amongst his penitents, Madame
de Condamin was seized with a sudden whim, and deserted her director,
the senior curate of Saint-Saturnin's, who was greatly distressed
thereby, to transfer the guardianship of her soul to Abbé Faujas. Such
a distinction as this gave the latter a firm position in Plassans
society.

When Mouret learned that his wife now went to confession, he merely
said to her:

'You have been doing something wrong lately, I suppose, since you find
it necessary to go and tell all your affairs to a parson?'

In the midst of all this pious excitement he seemed to isolate himself
and shut himself up in his own narrow and monotonous life still
further. When his wife reproached him for complaining to her mother, he
answered:

'Yes, you are right; it was wrong of me. It is foolish to give people
any pleasure by telling them of one's troubles. However, I promise you
that I won't give your mother this satisfaction a second time. I have
been thinking matters over, and the house may topple down on our heads
before I'll go whimpering to anyone again.'

From that time he never made any disparaging remarks about the
management of the house or scolded his wife in the presence of
strangers, but professed himself, as formerly, the happiest of men.
This effort of sound sense cost him little, for he saw that it would
tend to his comfort, which was the object of his constant thoughts. He
even exaggerated his assumption of the part of a contented methodical
citizen who took pleasure in living. Marthe only became aware of his
impatience by his restless pacing up and down. For whole weeks he
refrained from teasing or fault-finding as far as she was concerned,
while upon Rose and his children he constantly poured forth his
jeers, scolding them too from morning till night for the slightest
shortcomings.

Previously he had only been economical, now he became miserly.

'There is no sense in spending money in the way we are doing,' he
grumbled to Marthe. 'I'll be bound you are giving it all to those
young hussies of yours. But it's quite sufficient for you to waste
your time over them. Listen to me, my dear. I will give you a hundred
francs a month for housekeeping, and if you will persist in giving
money to girls who don't deserve it, you must save it out of your dress
allowance.'

He kept firmly to his word, and the very next month he refused to let
Marthe buy a pair of boots on the pretext that it would disarrange
his accounts, and that he had given her full notice and warning. One
evening his wife found him weeping bitterly in their bedroom. All her
kindness of heart was aroused, and she clasped him in her arms and
besought him to tell her what distressed him. But he roughly tore
himself away from her and told her that he was not crying at all, but
simply had a bad headache. It was that, said he, which made his eyes
red.

'Do you think,' he exclaimed, 'that I am such a simpleton as you are to
cry?'

She felt much hurt. The next day Mouret affected great gaiety; but
some days afterwards, when Abbé Faujas and his mother came downstairs
after dinner, he refused to play his usual game of piquet. He did not
feel clear-headed enough for it, he said. On the next few nights he
made other excuses, and so the games were broken off, and everyone
went out on the terrace. Mouret seated himself in front of his wife
and the Abbé, doing all he could to speak as much and as frequently as
possible; while Madame Faujas sat a few yards away in the gloom, quite
silent and still, with her hands upon her knees, like one of those
legendary figures keeping guard over a treasure with the stern fidelity
of a crouching dog.

'Fine evening!' Mouret used to say every night. 'It is much pleasanter
here than in the dining-room. It is very wise of you to come out and
enjoy the fresh air. Ah! there's a shooting-star! Did your reverence
see it? I've heard say that it's Saint Peter lighting his pipe up
yonder.'

He laughed, but Marthe kept quite grave, vexed by his attempts at
pleasantry, which spoilt her enjoyment of the expanse of sky that
spread between Monsieur Rastoil's pear-trees and the chestnuts of the
Sub-Prefecture. Sometimes he would pretend to be unaware that she
conformed with the requirements of religion, and he would take the Abbé
aside and tell him that he relied on him to effect the salvation of the
whole house. At other times he could never begin a sentence without
saying in a bantering tone, 'Now that my wife goes to confession--'
Then having grown tired of this subject, he began to listen to what
was being said in the neighbouring gardens, trying to catch the faint
sounds of voices which rose in the calm night air, as the distant
noises of Plassans were hushed.

'Ah! those are the voices of Monsieur de Condamin and Doctor Porquier!'
he said, straining his ear towards the Sub-Prefecture. 'They are making
fun of the Paloques. Did you hear Monsieur Delangre saying in his
falsetto, "Ladies, you had better come in, the air is growing cool"?
Don't you think that little Delangre always talks as though he had
swallowed a reed-pipe?'

Then he turned his head towards the Rastoils' garden.

'They haven't anyone there to-night,' he said; 'I can't hear anything.
Ah, yes! those big geese the daughters are by the waterfall. The elder
one talks just as though she were gobbling pebbles. Every evening they
sit there jabbering for a good hour. They can't want all that time to
tell each other about the matrimonial offers they have had. Ah! they
are all there! There's Abbé Surin, with a voice like a flute; and Abbé
Fenil, who would do for a rattle on Good Friday. There are sometimes
a score of them huddled together, without stirring a finger, in that
garden. I believe they all go there to listen to what we say.'

While he went chattering on in this manner Abbé Faujas and Marthe
merely spoke a few words, chiefly in reply to his questions. Generally
they sat apart from him with their faces raised to the sky and their
eyes gazing into space. One evening Mouret fell asleep. Then, inclining
their heads towards each other, they began to talk in subdued tones;
while some few yards away, Madame Faujas, with her hands upon her
knees, her eyes wide open and her ears on the strain, yet never seeing
or hearing anything, seemed to be keeping watch for them.



X


The summer passed away, and Abbé Faujas seemed in no hurry to derive
any advantage from his increasing popularity. He still kept himself in
seclusion at the Mourets', delighting in the solitude of the garden,
to which he now came down during the day-time. He read his breviary as
he slowly walked with bent head up and down the green arbour at the
far end. Sometimes he would close his book, still further slacken his
steps, and seem to be buried in deep reverie. Mouret, who used to watch
him, at last became impatient and irritated at seeing that black figure
walking to and fro for hours together behind his fruit-trees.

'One has no privacy left,' he muttered. 'I can't lift my eyes now
without catching sight of that cassock. He is like a crow, that fellow
there, with his round eyes that always seem to be on the look-out for
something. I don't believe in his fine disinterested airs.'

It was not till early in September that the Home of the Virgin was
completed. In the provinces workmen are painfully slow; though it
must be stated that the lady patronesses had twice upset Monsieur
Lieutaud's designs in favour of ideas of their own. When the committee
took possession of the building they rewarded the architect for the
complaisance he had manifested by lavishing the highest praises upon
him. Everything seemed to them perfectly satisfactory. The rooms were
large, the communications were excellent, and there was a courtyard
planted with trees and embellished with two small fountains. Madame de
Condamin was particularly charmed with the façade, which was one of her
own ideas. Over the door, the words 'Home of the Virgin' were carved in
gold letters on a slab of black marble.

On the occasion of the opening of the Home there was a very affecting
ceremony. The Bishop, attended by the Chapter, came in person to
install the Sisters of Saint Joseph, who had been authorised to work
the institution. A troop of some fifty girls of from eight to fifteen
years of age had been collected together from the streets of the old
quarter of the town, and all that had been required from the parents to
obtain admission for their children had been a declaration that their
avocations necessitated their absence from home during the entire day.
Monsieur Delangre made a speech which was much applauded. He explained
at considerable length, and in a magnificent style, the details and
arrangements of this new refuge, which he called 'the school of virtue
and labour, where young and interesting creatures would be kept safe
from wicked temptations.' A delicate allusion, towards the end of the
speech, to the real promoter of the Home, Abbé Faujas, attracted much
notice. The Abbé was present amongst the other priests, and his fine,
grave face remained perfectly calm and tranquil when all eyes were
turned upon him. Marthe blushed on the platform, where she was sitting
in the midst of the lady patronesses.

When the ceremony was over, the Bishop expressed a desire to inspect
the building in every detail; and, notwithstanding the evident
annoyance of Abbé Fenil, he sent for Abbé Faujas, whose big black eyes
had never for a moment quitted him, and requested him to be good enough
to act as his guide, adding aloud with a smile, that he was sure he
could not find a better one. This little speech was circulated amongst
the departing spectators, and in the evening all Plassans commented
upon the Bishop's favourable demeanour towards Abbé Faujas.

The lady patronesses had reserved for themselves one of the rooms
in the Home. Here they provided a collation for the Bishop, who ate
a biscuit and drank two sips of Malaga, while saying a polite word
or two to each of them. This brought the pious festival to a happy
conclusion, for both before and during the ceremony there had been
heart-burnings and rivalries among the ladies, whom the delicate
praises of Monseigneur Rousselot quite restored to good humour. When
they were left to themselves, they declared that everything had gone
off exceedingly well, and they profusely praised the Bishop. Madame
Paloque alone looked sour. The prelate had somehow forgotten her when
he was distributing his compliments.

'You were quite right,' she said in a fury to her husband, when she got
home again; 'I have just been made a convenience in that silly nonsense
of theirs. It's a fine idea, indeed, to bring all those corrupt hussies
together. I have given up all my time to them, and that big simpleton
of a Bishop, who trembles before his own clergy, can't even say thank
you. Just as if that Madame de Condamin had done anything, indeed.
She is far too much occupied in showing off her dresses! Ah! we know
quite enough about her, don't we? The world will hear something about
her one of these days that will surprise it a little! Thank goodness,
we've nothing to conceal. And that Madame Delangre and Madame Rastoil,
too--well, it wouldn't be difficult to tell tales about them that
would cover them with blushes! And they never stirred out of their
drawing-rooms, they haven't taken half the trouble about the matter
that I have! Then there's that Madame Mouret, with her pretence of
managing the whole business, though she really did nothing but hang on
to the cassock of her Abbé Faujas! She's another hypocrite of whom we
shall hear some pretty things one of these days! And yet they could all
get a polite speech, while there wasn't a word for me! I'm nothing but
a mere convenience, they treat me like a dog! But things sha'n't go on
like this, Paloque, I tell you. The dog will turn and bite them before
long!'

From that time forward Madame Paloque showed herself much less
accommodating. She became very irregular in her secretarial work, and
declined to perform any duties that she did not fancy, till at last
the lady patronesses began to talk of employing a paid secretary.
Marthe mentioned these worries to Abbé Faujas and asked him if he could
recommend a suitable man.

'Don't trouble yourself to look for anyone,' he said, 'I dare say I can
find you a fit person. Give me two or three days.'

For some time past he had been frequently receiving letters bearing the
Besançon postmark, They were all in the same handwriting, a large, ugly
hand. Rose, who took them up to him, remarked that he seemed vexed at
the mere sight of the envelopes.

'He looks quite put out,' she said. 'You may depend upon it that it's
no great favourite of his who writes to him so often.'

Mouret's old curiosity was roused by this correspondence. One day he
took up one of the letters himself with a pleasant smile, telling the
Abbé, as an excuse for his own appearance, that Rose was not in the
house. The Abbé probably saw through Mouret's cunning, for he assumed
an expression of great pleasure, as though he had been impatiently
expecting the letter. But Mouret did not allow himself to be deceived
by this piece of acting, he stayed outside the door on the landing and
glued his ear to the key-hole.

'From your sister again, isn't it?' asked Madame Faujas, in her hard
voice. 'Why does she worry you in that way?'

There was a short silence, after which came a sound of paper being
roughly crumpled, and the Abbé said, with evident displeasure:

'It's always the same old story. She wants to come to us and bring her
husband with her, so that we may get him a situation somewhere. She
seems to think that we are wallowing in gold. I'm afraid they will be
doing something rash--perhaps taking us by surprise some fine morning.'

'No, no! we can't do with them here, Ovide!' his mother replied. 'They
have never liked you; they have always been jealous of you. Trouche is
a scamp and Olympe is quite heartless. They would want everything for
themselves, and they would compromise you and interfere with your work.'

Mouret was too much excited by the meanness of the act he was
committing to be able to hear well, and, besides, he thought that one
of them was coming to the door, so he hurried away. He took care
not to mention what he had done. A few days later Abbé Faujas, in
his presence, while they were all out on the terrace, gave Marthe a
definite reply respecting the Secretaryship at the Home.

'I think I can recommend you a suitable person,' he said, in his calm
way. 'It is a connection of my own, my brother-in-law, who is coming
here from Besançon in a few days.'

Mouret became very attentive, while Marthe appeared delighted.

'Oh, that is excellent!' she exclaimed. 'I was feeling very much
bothered about finding a suitable person. You see, with all those young
girls, we must have a person of unexceptionable morality, but of course
a connection of yours--'

'Yes, yes,' interrupted the priest; 'my sister had a little hosiery
business at Besançon, which she has been obliged to give up on account
of her health; and now she is anxious to join us again, as the doctors
have ordered her to live in the south. My mother is very much pleased.'

'I'm sure she must be,' said Marthe. 'I dare say it grieved you very
much to have to separate, and you will be very glad to be together
again. I'll tell you what you must do. There are a couple of rooms
upstairs that you don't use; why shouldn't your sister and her husband
have them? They have no children, have they?'

'No, there are only their two selves. I had, indeed, thought for a
moment of giving them those two rooms; but I was afraid of displeasing
you by bringing other people into your house.'

'Not at all, I assure you. You are very quiet people.'

She checked herself suddenly, for her husband was tugging at her dress.
He did not want to have the Abbé's relations in the house, for he
remembered in what terms Madame Faujas had spoken of her daughter and
son-in-law.

'The rooms are very small,' he began; 'and Monsieur l'Abbé would be
inconvenienced. It would be better for all parties that his sister
should take lodgings somewhere else; there happen to be some rooms
vacant just now at the Paloques' house, over the way.'

There was a dead pause in the conversation. The priest said nothing,
but gazed up into the sky. Marthe thought he was offended, and she felt
much distressed at her husband's bluntness. After a moment she could
no longer endure the embarrassing silence. 'Well, it's settled then,'
she said, without any attempt at skill in knitting the broken threads
of the conversation together again, 'Rose shall help your mother to
clean the rooms. My husband was only thinking about your own personal
convenience; but, of course, if you wish it, it is not for us to
prevent you from disposing of the rooms in any way you like.'

Mouret was quite angry when he again found himself alone with his wife.

'I can't understand you at all!' he cried. 'When first I let the rooms
to the Abbé, you were quite displeased, and seemed to hate the thought
of having even so much as a cat brought into the house; and now I
believe you would be perfectly willing for the Abbé to bring the whole
of his relations, down to his third and fourth cousins. Didn't you feel
me tugging at your dress? You might have known that I didn't want those
people. They are not very respectable folks.'

'How do you know that?' cried Marthe, annoyed by this accusation. 'Who
told you so?'

'Who, indeed? It was Abbé Faujas himself. I overheard him one day while
he was talking to his mother.'

She looked at him keenly; and he blushed slightly beneath her gaze as
he stammered:

'Well, it is sufficient that I do know. The sister is a heartless
creature and her husband is a scamp. It's of no use your putting
on that air of insulted majesty; those were their own words, and
I'm inventing nothing. I don't want to have those people here, do
you understand? The old lady herself was the first to object to her
daughter coming here. The Abbé now seems to have changed his mind.
I don't know what has led him to alter his opinion. It's some fresh
mystery of his. He's going to make use of them somehow.'

Marthe shrugged her shoulders and allowed her husband to rail on.
He told Rose not to clean the rooms, but Rose now only obeyed her
mistress's orders. For five days his anger vented itself in bitter
words and furious recriminations. In Abbé Faujas's presence he confined
himself to sulking, for he did not dare to attack the priest openly.
Then, as usual, he ended by submitting, and ceased to rail at the
people who were coming. But he drew his purse-strings still tighter,
isolated himself, shut himself up more and more in his own selfish
existence. When the Trouches arrived one October evening, he merely
exclaimed:

'The deuce! they don't look a nice couple. What faces they have!'

Abbé Faujas did not appear very desirous that his sister and
brother-in-law should be seen on that occasion. His mother took up a
position by the street-door, and as soon as she caught sight of them
turning out of the Place of the Sub-Prefecture, she glanced uneasily
behind her into the hall and the kitchen. Luck was, however, against
her, for just as the Trouches arrived, Marthe, who was going out, came
up from the garden, followed by her children.

'Ah! there you all are!' she said, with a pleasant smile.

Madame Faujas, who was generally so completely mistress of herself,
could not suppress a slight show of confusion as she stammered a
word or two of reply. For some moments they stood confronting and
scrutinising each other in the hall. Mouret had hurriedly mounted the
steps and Rose had taken up her position at the kitchen door.

'You must be very glad to be together again,' said Marthe, addressing
Madame Faujas.

Then, noticing the feeling of embarrassment which was keeping them all
silent, she turned towards Trouche and added:

'You arrived by the five o'clock train, I suppose? How long were you in
getting here from Besançon?'

'Seventeen hours in the train,' Trouche replied, opening a toothless
mouth. 'It is no joke that, in a third-class carriage, I can tell you.
One gets pretty well shaken up inside.'

Then he laughed with a peculiar clattering of his jaws. Madame Faujas
cast a very angry glance at him, and he began to fumble mechanically
at his greasy overcoat, trying to fasten a button that was no longer
there, and pressing to his thighs (doubtless in order to hide some
stains) a couple of cardboard bonnet-boxes which he was carrying, one
green and the other yellow. His red throat was perpetually gurgling
beneath a twisted, ragged black neckcloth, over which appeared the edge
of a dirty shirt. In his wrinkled face, which seemed to reek with vice,
there glistened two little black eyes that rolled about incessantly,
examining everybody and everything with an expression of astonishment
and covetousness. They looked like the eyes of a thief studying a house
to which he means to return in order to plunder it some night.

Mouret fancied that Trouche was examining the fastenings.

'That fellow,' he thought to himself, 'looks as though he were getting
the patterns of the locks into his head!'

Olympe was conscious that her husband had made a vulgar remark. She
was a tall, slight woman, fair and faded, with a flat plain face. She
carried a little deal box and a big bundle tied up in a tablecloth.

'We have brought some pillows with us,' she said, glancing at the
bundle. 'Pillows come in very usefully in a third-class carriage; they
make one quite as comfortable as if one were travelling first-class.
It is a great saving, going third, and it is of no use throwing money
away, is it?'

'Certainly not,' Marthe replied, somewhat surprised by the appearance
and language of the new-comers.

Olympe now came forward and went on talking in an ingratiating way.

'It's the same thing with clothes,' said she; 'when I set off on a
journey I put on my shabbiest things. I told Honoré that his old
overcoat was quite good enough. And he has got his old work-day
trousers on too, trousers that he's quite tired of wearing. You see I
selected my worse dress; it is actually in holes, I believe. This shawl
was mother's; I used to iron on it at home; and this bonnet I'm wearing
is an old one that I only put on when I go to the wash-house; but it's
quite good enough to get spoilt with the dust, isn't it, madame?'

'Certainly, certainly,' replied Marthe, trying to force a smile.

Just at this moment a stern voice was heard from the top of the stairs,
calling sharply: 'Well! now, mother!'

Mouret raised his head and saw Abbé Faujas leaning against the
second-floor banisters, looking very angry, and bending over, at the
risk of falling, to get a better view of what was going on in the
passage. He had heard a sound of talking and had been waiting there for
a moment or two in great impatience.

'Come, mother, come!' he cried again.

'Yes, yes, we are coming up,' answered Madame Faujas, trembling at the
sound of her son's angry voice.

Then turning to the Trouches, she said:

'Come along, my children, we must go upstairs. Let us leave madame to
attend to her business.'

But the Trouches did not seem to hear; they appeared quite satisfied to
remain in the passage, and they looked about them with a well-pleased
air, as though the house had just been presented to them.

'It is very nice, very nice indeed, isn't it, Honoré?' Olympe said.
'After what Ovide wrote in his letters we scarcely expected to find it
so nice as this, did we? But I told you that we ought to come here, and
that we should do better here, and I am right, you see.'

'Yes, yes, we ought to be very comfortable here,' Trouche murmured.
'The garden, too, seems a pretty big one.'

Then addressing Mouret, he inquired:

'Do you allow your lodgers to walk in the garden, sir?'

Before Mouret had time to reply, Abbé Faujas, who had come downstairs,
cried out in thundering tones:

'Come, Trouche! Come, Olympe!'

They turned round; and when they saw him standing on the steps looking
terribly angry, they fairly quailed and meekly followed him. The Abbé
went up the stairs in front of them without saying another word,
without even seeming to observe the presence of Mouret, who stood
gazing after the singular procession. Madame Faujas smiled at Marthe to
take away the awkwardness of the situation as she brought up the rear.

Marthe then went out, and Mouret, left to himself, lingered a moment
or two in the passage. Upstairs, on the second floor, doors were being
noisily banged. Then loud voices were heard, and presently there came
dead silence.

'Has he locked them up separately, I wonder?' said Mouret to himself,
with a laugh. 'Well, anyhow, they are not a nice family.'

On the very next day, Trouche, respectably dressed, entirely in black,
shaven, and with his scanty hair carefully brushed over his temples,
was presented by Abbé Faujas to Marthe and the lady patronesses. He
was forty-five years of age, wrote a first-rate hand, and was said to
have kept the books of a mercantile house for a long time. The ladies
at once installed him as secretary. His duties were to represent the
committee, and employ himself in certain routine work from ten till
four in an office on the first floor of the Home. His salary was to be
fifteen hundred francs.

'Those good people are very quiet, you see,' Marthe remarked to her
husband a few days afterwards.

Indeed the Trouches made no more noise than the Faujases. Two or three
times Rose asserted that she had heard quarrels between the mother and
daughter, but the Abbé's grave voice had immediately restored peace.
Trouche went out every morning punctually at a quarter to ten, and came
back again at a quarter past four. He never went out in the evening.
Olympe occasionally went shopping with Madame Faujas, but she was never
seen to come down the stairs by herself.

The window of the room in which the Trouches slept overlooked the
garden. It was the last one on the right, in front of the trees of
the Sub-Prefecture. Big curtains of red calico, with a yellow border,
hung behind the glass panes, making a strong contrast, when seen from
outside, with the priest's white ones. The window was invariably kept
closed. One evening when Abbé Faujas and his mother were out on the
terrace with the Mourets, a slight involuntary cough was heard, and
as the priest raised his head with an expression of annoyance, he
caught sight of Olympe and her husband leaning out of the window. For
a moment or two he kept his eyes turned upwards, thus interrupting his
conversation with Marthe. At this the Trouches disappeared; and those
below heard the window-catch being fastened.

'You had better go upstairs, I think, mother,' said the priest. 'I am
afraid you may be catching cold out here.'

Madame Faujas wished them all good-night; and, when she had retired,
Marthe resumed the conversation by asking in her kindly way:

'Is your sister worse? I have not seen her for a week.'

'She has great need of rest,' the priest curtly answered.

However, Marthe's sympathetic interest made her continue the subject.

'She shuts herself up too much,' said she; 'the fresh air would do her
good. These October evenings are still quite warm. Why doesn't she ever
come out into the garden? She has never set foot in it. You know that
it is entirely at your disposal.'

The priest muttered a few vague words of excuse, and then Mouret, to
increase his embarrassment, manifested still greater amiability than
his wife's.

'That's just what I was saying this morning,' he began. 'Monsieur
l'Abbé's sister might very well bring her sewing out here in the sun
in the afternoons, instead of keeping herself shut in upstairs. Anyone
would think that she daren't even show herself at the window. She isn't
frightened of us, I hope! We are not such terrible people as all that!
And Monsieur Trouche, too, he hurries up the stairs, four steps at a
time. Tell them to come and spend an evening with us now and then. They
must be frightfully dull up in that room of theirs, all alone.'

The Abbé did not seem to be in the humour that evening to submit to his
landlord's pleasantry. He looked him straight in the face, and said
very bluntly:

'I am much obliged to you, but there is little probability of their
accepting your invitation. They are tired in the evening, and they go
to bed. And, besides, that is the best thing they can do.'

'Just as they like, my dear sir,' replied Mouret, vexed by the Abbé's
rough manner.

When he was alone again with Marthe, he said to her: 'Does the Abbé, I
wonder, think he can persuade us that the moon is made of green cheese?
It's quite clear that he is afraid that those scamps he has taken in
will play him some bad trick or other. Didn't you see how sharply he
kept his eye on them this evening when he caught sight of them at the
window? They were spying out at us up there. There will be a bad end to
all this!'

Marthe was now living in a state of blessed calm. She no longer felt
troubled by Mouret's raillery; the gradual growth of faith within her
filled her with exquisite joy, she glided softly and slowly into a life
of pious devotion, which seemed to lull her with a sweet restfulness.
Abbé Faujas still avoided speaking to her of God. He remained merely
a friend, simply exercising influence over her by his grave demeanour
and the vague odour of incense exhaled by his cassock. On two or three
occasions when she was alone with him she had again broken out into
fits of nervous sobbing, without knowing why, but finding a happiness
in thus allowing herself to weep. On each of these occasions the Abbé
had merely taken her hands in silence, calming her with his serene and
authoritative gaze. When she wanted to tell him of her strange attacks
of sadness, or her secret joys, or her need of guidance, he smiled
and hushed her, telling her that these matters were not his concern,
and that she must speak of them to Abbé Bourrette. Then she retired
completely within herself and remained trembling; while the priest
seemed to assume still colder reserve than before, and strode away from
her like some unheeding god at whose feet she wished to pour out her
soul in humiliation.

Marthe's chief occupation now was attending the various religious
services and works in which she took part. In the vast nave of
Saint-Saturnin's she felt perfectly happy; it was there that she
experienced the full sweetness of that purely physical restfulness
which she sought. She there forgot everything: it was like an immense
window open upon another life, a life that was wide and infinite, and
full of an emotion which thrilled and satisfied her. But she still felt
some fear of the church, and she went there with a feeling of uneasy
bashfulness, and a touch of nervous shame, that made her glance behind
her as she passed through the doorway, to see if anyone was watching
her. Then, once inside, she abandoned herself, everything around her
seemed to assume a melting softness, even the unctuous voice of Abbé
Bourrette, who, after he had confessed her, sometimes kept her on her
knees for a few minutes longer, while he spoke to her about Madame
Rastoil's dinners or the Rougons' last reception.

Marthe often returned home in a condition of complete prostration.
Religion seemed to break her down. Rose had become all-powerful in the
house. She scolded Mouret, found fault with him because he dirtied too
much linen, and let him have his dinner at her own hours. She even
tried to convert him.

'Madame does quite right to live a Christian life,' said she. 'You will
be damned, sir, you will, and it will only be right, for you are not a
good man at heart, no, you are not! You ought to go with your wife to
mass next Sunday morning.'

Mouret shrugged his shoulders. He let things take their own course, and
sometimes even did a bit of house-work himself, taking a turn or two
with the broom when he thought that the dining-room looked particularly
dusty. The children gave him most trouble. It was vacation-time, and,
as their mother was scarcely ever at home, Désirée and Octave--who had
again failed in his examination for his degree--turned the place upside
down. Serge was poorly, kept his bed, and spent whole days in reading
in his room. He had become Abbé Faujas's favourite, and the priest lent
him books. Mouret thus spent two dreadful months, at his wits' end how
to manage his young folks. Octave was a special trouble to him, and
as he did not feel inclined to keep him at home till the end of the
vacation, he determined that he should not again return to college, but
should be sent to some business-house at Marseilles.

'Since you won't look after them at all,' he said to Marthe, 'I must
find some place or other to put them in. I am quite worn out with them
all, and I won't have them at home any longer. It's your own fault if
it causes you any grief. Octave is quite unbearable. He will never pass
his examination, and it will be much better to teach him at once how to
gain his own living instead of letting him idle his time away with a
lot of good-for-nothings. One meets him roaming all over the town.'

Marthe was very much distressed. She seemed to awake from a dream on
hearing that one of her children was about to leave her. She succeeded
in getting the departure postponed for a week, during which she
remained more at home, and resumed her active life. But she quickly
dropped back again into her previous state of listless languor; and on
the day that Octave came to kiss her, telling her that he was to leave
for Marseilles in the evening, she had lost all strength and energy,
and contented herself with giving him some good advice.

Mouret came back from the railway station with a very heavy heart. He
looked about him for his wife, and found her in the garden, crying
under the arbour. Then he gave vent to his feelings.

'There! that's one the less!' he exclaimed. 'You ought to feel glad of
it. You will be able to go prowling about the church now as much as you
like. Make your mind easy, the other two won't be here long. I shall
keep Serge with me as he is a very quiet lad and is rather young as yet
to go and read for the bar; but if he's at all in your way, just let me
know, and I will free you of him at once. As for Désirée, I shall send
her to her nurse.'

Marthe went on weeping in silence.

'But what would you have?' he continued. 'You can't be both in and
out. Since you have taken to keeping away from home, your children
have become indifferent to you. That's logic, isn't it? Besides it is
necessary to find room for all the people who are now living in our
house. It isn't nearly big enough, and we shall be lucky if we don't
get turned out of doors ourselves.'

He had raised his eyes as he spoke, and was looking at the windows of
the second-floor. Then, lowering his voice, he added:

'Don't go on crying in that ridiculous way! They are watching you.
Don't you see those eyes peeping between the red curtains? They are
the eyes of the Abbé's sister; I know them well enough. You may depend
on seeing them there all day long. The Abbé himself may be a decent
fellow, but as for those Trouches, I know they are always crouching
behind their curtains like wolves waiting to spring on one. I feel
quite certain that if the Abbé didn't prevent them, they would come
down in the night to steal my pears. Dry your tears, my dear; you may
be quite sure that they are enjoying our disagreement. Even though they
have been the cause of the boy's going away, that is no reason why we
should let them see what a trouble his departure has been to us both.'

His voice broke, and he himself seemed on the point of sobbing. Marthe,
quite heart-broken, deeply touched by his last words, was prompted to
throw herself into his arms. But they were afraid of being observed;
and besides they felt as if there were some obstacle between them that
prevented them from coming together. So they separated, while Olympe's
eyes still glistened between the red curtains upstairs.



XI


One morning Abbé Bourrette made his appearance, his face betokening the
greatest distress. As soon as he caught sight of Marthe on the steps,
he hurried up to her and, seizing her hands and pressing them, he
stammered:

'Poor Compan! it is all over with him! he is dying! I am going
upstairs, I must see Faujas at once.'

When Marthe showed him his fellow priest, who, according to his wont,
was walking to and fro at the bottom of the garden, reading his
breviary, he ran up to him, tottering on his short legs. He tried to
speak and tell the other the sad news, but his grief choked him, and
he could only throw his arms round Abbé Faujas's neck, while sobbing
bitterly.

'Hullo! what's the matter with the two parsons?' cried Mouret, who had
hastily rushed out of the dining-room.

'The Curé of Saint-Saturnin's is dying,' Marthe replied, showing much
distress.

Mouret assumed an expression of surprise, and, as he went back into the
house, he murmured:

'Pooh! that worthy Bourrette will manage to console himself to-morrow
when he is appointed Curé in the other's place. He counts on getting
the post; he told me so.'

Abbé Faujas disengaged himself from the old priest's embrace, quietly
closed his breviary, and listened to the sad news with a grave face.

'Compan wants to see you,' said Abbé Bourrette in a broken voice; 'he
will not last the morning out. Oh! he has been a dear friend to me! We
studied together. He is anxious to say good-bye to you. He has been
telling me all through the night that you were the only man of courage
in the diocese. For more than a year now he has been getting weaker and
weaker, and not a single Plassans priest has dared to go and grasp his
hand; while you, a stranger, who scarcely knew him, you have spent an
afternoon with him every week. The tears came into his eyes just now as
he was speaking of you; you must lose no time, my friend.'

Abbé Faujas went up to his room for a moment, while Abbé Bourrette
paced impatiently and hopelessly about the passage; and then at last
they set off together. The old priest wiped his brow and swayed about
on the road as he talked in disconnected fashion:

'He would have died like a dog without a single prayer being said
for him if his sister had not come and told me about him at eleven
o'clock last night. She did quite right, the dear lady, though he did
not want to compromise any of us, and even would have foregone the
last sacraments. Yes, my friend, he was dying all alone, abandoned and
deserted, he who had so high a mind, and who has only lived to do good!'

Then Bourrette became silent; but after a few moments he resumed again
in a different voice:

'Do you think that Fenil will ever forgive me for this? Never, I
expect! When Compan saw me bringing the viaticum, he was unwilling
to let me anoint him and told me to go away. Well, well! it's all
over with me now, and I shall never be Curé! But I am glad that I did
it, and that I haven't let Compan die like a dog. He has been at war
with Fenil for thirty years, you know. When he took to his bed he
said to me, "Ah! it's Fenil who is going to carry the day! Now that
I am stricken down he will get the better of me!" So think of it!
That poor Compan, whom I have seen so high-spirited and energetic at
Saint-Saturnin's! Little Eusèbe, the choir-boy, whom I took to ring the
viaticum bell, was quite embarrassed when he found where we were going.
He kept looking behind him at each tinkle, as if he was afraid that
Fenil would hear it.'

Abbé Faujas, who was stepping along quickly with bent head and a
preoccupied air, kept perfectly silent, and did not even seem to hear
what his companion was saying.

'Has the Bishop been informed?' he suddenly asked.

But Abbé Bourrette in his turn now appeared to be buried in thought and
made no reply; however, just as they reached Abbé Compan's door he said
to his companion:

'Tell him that we met Fenil and that he bowed to us. It will please
him, for he will then think that I shall be appointed Curé.'

They went up the stairs in silence. The Curé's sister came to the
landing, and on seeing them burst into tears. Then she stammered
between her sobs:

'It is all over! He has just passed away in my arms. I was quite alone
with him. As he was dying, he looked round him and murmured, "I must
have the plague since they have all deserted me." Ah! gentlemen he died
with his eyes full of tears.'

They went into the little room where Abbé Compan, with his head resting
on his pillow, seemed to be asleep. His eyes had remained open, and
tears yet trickled down his white sad face. Then Abbé Bourrette fell
upon his knees, sobbing and praying, with his face pressed to the
counterpane. Abbé Faujas at first remained standing, gazing at the dead
man; and after having knelt for a moment, he quietly went away. Abbé
Bourrette was so absorbed in his grief that he did not even hear his
colleague close the door.

Abbé Faujas went straight to the Bishop's. In Monseigneur Rousselot's
ante-chamber he met Abbé Surin, carrying a bundle of papers.

'Do you want to speak to his lordship?' asked the secretary, with
his never-failing smile. 'You have come at an unfortunate time. His
lordship is so busy that he has given orders that no one is to be
admitted.'

'But I want to see him on a very urgent matter,' quietly said Abbé
Faujas. 'You can at any rate let him know that I am here; and I will
wait, if it is necessary.'

'I am afraid that it would be useless for you to wait. His lordship
has several people with him. It would be better if you came again
to-morrow.'

But the Abbé took a chair, and just as he was doing so the Bishop
opened the door of his study. He appeared much vexed on seeing his
visitor, whom at first he pretended not to recognise.

'My son,' he said to Surin, 'when you have arranged those papers, come
to me immediately; there is a letter I want to dictate to you.'

Then turning to the priest, who remained respectfully standing, he said:

'Ah! is it you, Monsieur Faujas? I am very glad to see you. Perhaps you
want to say something to me? Come into my study; you are never in the
way.'

Monseigneur Rousselot's study was a very large and rather gloomy room,
in which a great wood fire was kept burning in the summer as well as
the winter. The heavy carpet and curtains kept out all the air, and
the room was like a warm bath. The Bishop, like some dowager shutting
herself up from the world, detesting all noise and excitement, lived a
chilly life there in his armchair, committing to Abbé Fenil the care
of his diocese. He delighted in the classics, and it was said that he
was secretly making a translation of Horace. He was equally fond of
the little verses of the Anthology, and broad quotations occasionally
escaped from his lips, quotations which he enjoyed with the naïveté of
a learned man who cares nothing for the modesty of the vulgar.

'There is no one here, you see,' said he, sitting down before the fire;
'but I don't feel very well to-day, and I gave orders that nobody was
to be admitted. Now you can tell me what you have to say; I am quite at
your service.'

His general expression of amiability was tinged with a kind of vague
uneasiness, a sort of resigned submission. When Abbé Faujas had
informed him of the death of Abbé Compan, he rose from his chair,
apparently both distressed and alarmed.

'What!' he cried, 'my good Compan dead! and I was not able to bid him
farewell! No one gave me any warning! Ah, my friend, you were right
when you gave me to understand that I was no longer master here. They
abuse my kindness.'

'Your lordship knows,' said Abbé Faujas, 'how devoted I am to you. I am
only waiting for a sign from you.'

The Bishop shook his head as he murmured:

'Yes, yes; I remember the offer you made to me. You have an excellent
heart; but what an uproar there would be, if I were to break with Abbé
Fenil! I should have my ears deafened for a whole week! And yet if I
could feel quite sure that you could really rid me of him, if I was
not afraid that at a week's end he would come back and crush your neck
under his heel----'

Abbé Faujas could not repress a smile. Tears were welling from the
Bishop's eyes.

'Yes, I am afraid, I am afraid,' the prelate resumed, as he again
sank down into his chair. 'I don't feel equal to it yet. It is that
miserable man who has killed Compan and has kept his death agony
a secret from me so that I might not go and close his eyes. He is
capable of the most terrible things. But, you see, I like to live in
peace. Fenil is very energetic and he renders me great services in
the diocese. When I am no longer here, matters will perhaps be better
ordered.'

He grew calmer again and his smile returned.

'Besides, everything is going on satisfactorily at present, and I don't
see any immediate difficulty. We can wait.'

Abbé Faujas sat down, and calmly resumed:

'No doubt: but still you will have to appoint a Curé for
Saint-Saturnin's in succession to the Abbé Compan.'

Monseigneur Rousselot lifted his hands to his temples with an
expression of hopelessness.

'Indeed, you are right!' he ejaculated. 'I had forgotten that. Poor
Compan doesn't know in what a hole he has put me, by dying so suddenly
without my having had any warning. I promised you that place, didn't I?'

The Abbé bowed.

'Well, my friend, you will save me by letting me take back my word. You
know how Fenil detests you. The success of the Home of the Virgin has
made him quite furious, and he swears that he will prevent you from
making the conquest of Plassans. I am talking to you quite openly, you
see. Recently, when reference was made to the appointment of a Curé for
Saint-Saturnin's, I let your name fall. But Fenil flew into a frightful
rage and I was obliged to promise that I would give the place to a
friend of his, Abbé Chardon, whom you know, and who is really a very
worthy man. Now, my friend, do this much for me, and give up that idea.
I will make you whatever recompense you like to name.'

The priest's face wore a grave expression. After a short interval of
silence during which he seemed to be taking counsel of himself, he
spoke:

'You know very well, my lord,' he said, 'that I am quite without
personal ambition. I should much prefer to lead a life of privacy, and
it would be a great relief to me to give up this appointment. But I
am not my own master, I feel bound to satisfy those patrons of mine
who take an interest in me. I trust that your lordship will reflect
very seriously before taking a step which you would probably regret
afterwards.'

Although Abbé Faujas spoke very humbly, the Bishop was not unconscious
of the menace which his words veiled. He rose from his chair and took a
few steps about the room, a prey to the painful perplexity.

'Well, well,' he said, lifting his hands, 'here's trouble and no
mistake, for a long time. I should much have preferred to avoid all
these explanations, but, since you insist, I must speak frankly. Well,
my dear sir, Abbé Fenil brings many charges against you. As I think
I told you before, he must have written to Besançon and learnt all
the vexatious stories you know of. You have certainly explained those
matters to me, and I am quite aware of your merits and of your life of
penitence and solitude; but what can I do? Fenil has weapons against
you and he uses them ruthlessly. I often don't know what to say in your
defence. When the Minister requested me to receive you into my diocese,
I did not conceal from him that your position would be a difficult one;
but he continued to press me and said that that was your affair, and so
in the end I consented. But you must not come to-day and ask me to do
what is impossible.'

Abbé Faujas had not lowered his head during the Bishop's remarks. He
now raised it still higher as he looked the prelate straight in the
face and said in his sharp voice:

'You have given me your promise, my lord.'

'Certainly, certainly,' the Bishop replied. 'That poor Compan was
getting weaker every day and you came and confided certain matters to
me, and I then made the promise to you. I don't deny it. Listen to me,
I will tell you everything, so that you may not accuse me of wheeling
round like a weathercock. You asserted that the Minister was extremely
desirous for you to be appointed Curé of Saint-Saturnin's. Well, I
wrote for information on the subject, and a friend of mine went to the
Ministry in Paris. They almost laughed in his face there, and they told
him that they didn't even know you. The Minister absolutely denies that
he is your supporter, do you hear? If you wish it, I will read you a
letter in which he makes some very stern remarks about you.'

He stretched his arm towards a drawer, but Abbé Faujas rose to his feet
without taking his eyes off him, and smiled with mingled irony and pity.

'Ah, my lord! my lord!' said he.

Then, after a moment's silence, as though he were unwilling to enter
into further explanations, he said:

'I give your lordship back your promise; but believe that in all this I
was working more for your own advantage than for mine. By-and-by, when
it will be too late, you will call my warnings to mind.'

He stepped towards the door, but the Bishop laid his hand upon him and
brought him back, saying with an expression of uneasiness:

'What do you mean? Explain yourself, my dear Monsieur Faujas. I know
very well that I have not been in favour at Paris since the election
of the Marquis de Lagrifoul. But people know me very little if they
suppose that I had any hand in the matter. I don't go out of my study
twice a month. Do you imagine that they accuse me of having brought
about the marquis's return?'

'Yes, I am afraid so,' the priest curtly replied.

'But it is quite absurd! I have never interfered in politics; I live
amongst my beloved books. It was Fenil who did it all. I told him a
score of times that he would end by compromising me in Paris.'

He checked himself and blushed slightly at having allowed these last
words to escape him. Abbé Faujas sat down again and said in a deep
voice:

'My lord, by those words you have condemned your vicar-general. I have
never said otherwise than you have just said. Do not continue to make
common cause with him or he will lead you into serious trouble. I have
friends in Paris, whatever you may believe. I know that the Marquis de
Lagrifoul's election has strongly predisposed the Government against
you. Rightly or wrongly, they believe that you are the sole cause of
the opposition movement which has manifested itself in Plassans, where
the Minister, for special reasons, is most anxious to have a majority.
If the Legitimist candidate should again succeed at the next election,
it would be very awkward, and I should be considerably alarmed for your
comfort.'

'But this is abominable!' cried the unhappy Bishop, rocking himself
in his chair; 'I can't prevent the Legitimist candidate from being
returned! I haven't got the least influence, and I never mix myself
up in these matters at all. Really, there are times when I feel that
I should like to shut myself up in a monastery. I could take my books
with me, and lead a quiet, peaceful life there. It is Fenil who ought
to be Bishop instead of me. If I were to listen to Fenil, I should get
on the very worst terms with the Government. I should hearken only
to Rome, and tell Paris to mind its own business. But that is not my
nature, and I want to die in peace. The Minister, then, you say, is
enraged with me?'

The priest made no reply. Two creases which appeared at the corners of
his mouth gave his face an expression of silent scorn.

'Really,' continued the Bishop, 'if I thought it would please him if I
were to appoint you Curé of Saint-Saturnin's, I would try to manage it.
But I can assure you that you are mistaken. You are but little in the
odour of sanctity.'

Abbé Faujas made a hasty movement of his hands, as he broke out
impatiently:

'Have you forgotten that calumnies are circulated about me, and that I
came to Plassans in a threadbare cassock? When they send a compromised
man to a post of danger, they deny all knowledge of him till the day of
triumph. Help me to succeed, my lord, and then you will see that I have
friends in Paris.'

Then, as the Bishop, surprised to find in a priest such a bold
adventurer, continued to gaze at him in silence, Faujas lapsed into a
less assertive manner and continued:

'These, however, are suppositions, and what I mean is, that I have much
to be pardoned. My friends are waiting to thank you till my position is
completely established.'

Monseigneur Rousselot kept silence for a moment longer. He was a man of
sharp understanding, and he had gained a knowledge of human failings
from books. He was conscious of his own yielding character, and he was
even a little ashamed of it; but he consoled himself for it by judging
men for what they were worth. In the life of a learned epicurean,
which he led, there were times when he felt supreme disdain for the
ambitious men about him, who fought amongst themselves for a few stray
shreds of his power.

'Well,' he said, with a smile, 'you are a pertinacious man, my dear
Monsieur Faujas, and since I have made you a promise I will keep it.
Six months ago, I confess, I should have been afraid of stirring up
all Plassans against me, but you have succeeded in making yourself
liked, and the ladies of the town often speak to me about you in very
eulogistic terms. In appointing you Curé of Saint-Saturnin's, I am only
paying the debt which we owe you for the Home of the Virgin.'

The Bishop had recovered his usual pleasant amiability and charming
manner. Just at this moment Abbé Surin put his handsome head through
the doorway.

'No, my child,' said the Bishop to him, 'I shall not dictate that
letter to you. I have no further need of you, and you can go.'

'Abbé Fenil is here,' muttered the young priest.

'Oh, very well, let him wait!'

Monseigneur Rousselot winced slightly; but he spoke to his secretary
with an almost ludicrous expression of decision, and looked at Abbé
Faujas with a glance of intelligence.

'See! go out this way,' he said to him, as he opened a door that was
hidden behind a curtain.

He kept the priest standing on the threshold for a moment, and
continued to look at him with a smile on his face.

'Fenil will be furious,' said he; 'but you will promise to defend me
against him if he is too hard upon me! I am making him your enemy,
I warn you of that. I am counting upon you, too, to prevent the
re-election of the Marquis de Lagrifoul. Ah! it is upon you that I am
leaning now, my dear Monsieur Faujas.'

He waved his white hand to the Abbé, and then returned with an
appearance of perfect unconcern to the warmth of his study. The priest
had remained bowing, feeling surprised at the quite feminine ease with
which the Bishop changed his master and yielded to the stronger side.
And only now did he begin to feel that Monseigneur Rousselot had been
secretly laughing at him, even as he laughed at Abbé Fenil in that
downy armchair of his where he read his Horace.

About ten o'clock on the following Thursday, just when the fashionable
folks of Plassans were treading on each other's toes in the Rougons'
green drawing-room, Abbé Faujas appeared at the door. He looked tall
and majestic, there was a bright colour on his cheeks, and he wore a
delicate cassock that glistened like satin. His face was still grave,
though there was a slight smile upon it, just the pleasant turn of the
lips that was necessary to light up his stern countenance with a ray of
cheerfulness.

'Ah! here is the dear Curé!' Madame de Condamin gaily exclaimed.

The mistress of the house eagerly hastened up to him; she grasped one
of his hands within both her own, and drew him into the middle of the
room, with wheedling glances and a gentle swaying of her head.

'This is a surprise! a very pleasant surprise!' she cried. 'It's an age
since we have seen you! Is it only when good fortune visits you that
you can remember your friends?'

Abbé Faujas bowed with easy composure. All around him there was a
flattering ovation, a buzzing of enthusiastic women. Madame Delangre
and Madame Rastoil did not wait till he came up to them, but hastened
to congratulate him upon his appointment, which had been officially
announced that morning. The mayor, the justice of the peace, and even
Monsieur de Bourdeu, all stepped up to him and shook his hand heartily.

'Ah, he's a fine fellow and will go a long way!' Monsieur de Condamin
murmured into Doctor Porquier's ear. 'I scented him from the first day
I saw him. That grimacing old Madame Rougon and he tell no end of lies.
I have seen him slipping in here at dusk half a score of times. They
must be mixed up in some queer things together.'

Doctor Porquier was terribly afraid of being compromised by Monsieur
de Condamin, so he hurried away from him, and came like the others to
grasp Abbé Faujas's hand, although he had never previously spoken to
him.

The priest's triumphal entry was the great event of the evening. He had
now seated himself and was hemmed in by a triple circle of petticoats.
He talked with charming good nature on all sorts of subjects, but
avoided replying to any hints or allusions. When Félicité directly
questioned him, he merely said that he should not occupy the parsonage,
as he preferred remaining in the lodgings where he had found himself
so comfortable for nearly three years. Marthe was present among the
other ladies, and was, as usual, extremely reserved. She had only just
smiled at the Abbé, watching him from a distance, and looking the
while a little pale and rather weary and uneasy. When he signified his
intention of not quitting the Rue Balande, she blushed and rose to go
into the small drawing-room as if she felt incommoded by the heat.
Madame Paloque, beside whom Monsieur de Condamin had seated himself,
said to him quite loud enough to be heard:

'It's very decorous, isn't it? She certainly might refrain from
making assignations with him here, since they have the whole day to
themselves!'

Only Monsieur de Condamin laughed; everyone else received the sally
very coldly. Then Madame Paloque, recognising that she had made a
mistake, tried to turn the matter off as a joke. Meantime in the
corners of the room the guests were discussing Abbé Fenil. Great
curiosity was manifested as to whether he would put in an appearance.
Monsieur de Bourdeu, who was one of his friends, said with an air of
authority that he was indisposed--a statement which was received by
the company with discreet smiles. Everyone was quite aware of the
revolution that had taken place at the Bishop's. Abbé Surin gave the
ladies some very interesting details of the terrible scene that had
taken place between his lordship and the grand-vicar. The latter, on
getting the worst of the struggle, had caused it to be reported that
he was confined to his room by an attack of gout. But the fight was
not over, and Abbé Surin hinted that a good deal more would happen
yet, a remark which was whispered about the room with many little
exclamations, shakings of heads and expressions of surprise and doubt.
For the moment, at any rate, Abbé Faujas was carrying everything before
him and so the fair devotees sunned themselves pleasantly in the rays
of the rising luminary.

About the middle of the evening Abbé Bourrette arrived. Conversation
ceased and people looked at him with curiosity. They all knew that he
had expected to be appointed Curé of Saint-Saturnin's himself. He had
taken over the Abbé Compan's duties during the latter's long illness,
and he had a lien upon the appointment. He lingered for a moment by
the door, a little out of breath and with blinking eyes, without being
aware of the interest which his appearance excited. Then, catching
sight of Abbé Faujas, he eagerly hastened up to him, and seizing both
his hands with a show of much pleasure exclaimed:

'Ah! my dear friend, let me congratulate you! I have just come from
your rooms, where your mother told me that you were here. I am
delighted to see you.'

Abbé Faujas had risen from his seat, and notwithstanding his great
self-control, he seemed annoyed, taken by surprise, as it were, by this
unexpected display of affection.

'Yes,' he murmured, 'I felt bound to accept his lordship's offer in
spite of my lack of merit. I refused it, indeed, at first, mentioning
the names of several more deserving priests than myself. I mentioned
your own name.'

Abbé Bourrette blinked, and taking Abbé Faujas aside he said to him in
low tones:

'His lordship has told me all about it. Fenil, it seems, would not
hear of me. He would have set the whole diocese in a blaze if I had
been appointed. Those were his very words. My crime is having closed
poor Compan's eyes. He demanded, as you know, the appointment of Abbé
Chardon, a pious man, no doubt, but not of sufficient reputation. Fenil
counted on reigning at Saint-Saturnin's in his name. It was then that
his lordship determined to give you the place and checkmate him. I am
quite avenged, and I am delighted, my dear friend. Did you know the
full story?'

'No, not in all its details.'

'Well, it is all just as I have told you, I can assure you. I have the
facts from his lordship's own lips. Between ourselves, he has hinted
to me of a very sufficient recompense. The deputy vicar-general, Abbé
Vial, has for a long time been desirous of settling in Rome, and his
place will be vacant, you understand. But don't say anything about
this. I wouldn't take a big sum of money for my day's work.'

He continued pressing both Abbé Faujas's hands, while his broad
face beamed with satisfaction. The ladies around them were smiling
and looking at them in surprise. But the worthy man's joy was so
frank and unreserved that it communicated itself to all in the green
drawing-room, where the ovation in the new Curé's honour took a more
familiar and affectionate turn. The ladies grouped themselves together
and spoke of the cathedral organ which wanted repairing, and Madame
de Condamin promised a magnificent altar for the procession on the
approaching festival of Corpus Christi.

Abbé Bourrette was sharing in the general triumph when Madame Paloque,
craning out her hideous face, touched him on the shoulder and murmured
in his ear:

'Your reverence won't, I suppose, hear confessions to-morrow in
Saint-Michael's chapel?'

The priest, while taking Abbé Compan's duty, had occupied the
confessional in Saint-Michael's chapel, which was the largest and most
convenient in the church and was specially reserved for the Curé. He
did not at first understand the force of Madame Paloque's remark, and
he looked at her, again blinking his eyes.

'I ask you,' she continued, 'if you will resume your old confessional
in the chapel of the Holy Angels, to-morrow.'

He turned rather pale and remained silent for a moment longer. Then he
bent his gaze to the floor, and a slight shiver coursed down his neck,
as though he had received a blow from behind. And, seeing that Madame
Paloque was still there staring at him, he stammered out:

'Certainly; I shall go back to my old confessional. Come to the chapel
of the Holy Angels, the last one on the left, on the same side as the
cloisters. It is very damp, so wrap yourself up well, dear madame, wrap
yourself up well.'

Tears rose to his eyes. He was filled with regretful longing for that
handsome confessional in the chapel of Saint-Michael, into which the
warm sun streamed in the afternoon just at the time when he heard
confessions. Until now he had felt no sorrow at relinquishing the
cathedral to Abbé Faujas; but this little matter, this removal from one
chapel to another, affected him very painfully; and it seemed to him
that he had missed the goal of his life. Madame Paloque told him in
her loud voice that he appeared to have grown melancholy all at once,
but he protested against this assertion and tried to smile and look
cheerful again. However he left the drawing-room early in the evening.

Abbé Faujas was one of the last to go. Rougon came up to him to offer
his congratulations and they remained talking earnestly together on a
couch. They spoke of the necessity of religious feeling in a wisely
ordered state. Each lady, on retiring from the room, made a low bow as
she passed in front of them.

'You know, Monsieur le Curé,' said Félicité graciously, 'that you are
my daughter's cavalier.'

The priest rose from his seat. Marthe was waiting for him at the
door. When they got out into the street, they seemed as if blinded
by the darkness, and crossed the Place of the Sub-Prefecture without
exchanging a word; but in the Rue Balande, as they stood in front of
the house, Marthe touched the priest's arm at the moment when he was
about to insert the key in the lock.

'I am so very pleased at your success,' she said to him, in a tone of
great emotion. 'Be kind to me to-day, and grant me the favour which
you have hitherto refused. I assure you that Abbé Bourrette does not
understand me. It is only you who can direct and save me.'

He motioned her away from him, and, when he had opened the door
and lighted the little lamp which Rose had left at the foot of the
staircase, he went upstairs, saying to her gently as he did so:

'You promised me to be reasonable--well, I will think over what you
have asked. We will talk about it.'

Marthe did not retire to her own room until she had heard the priest
close his door on the upper floor. While she was undressing and getting
into bed she paid no attention whatever to Mouret, who, half asleep,
was retailing to her at great length some gossip that was being
circulated in the town. He had been to his club, the Commercial Club, a
place where he rarely set foot.

'Abbé Faujas has got the better of Abbé Bourrette,' he repeated for
the tenth time as he slowly rolled his head upon the pillow. 'Poor
Abbé Bourrette! Well, never mind! it's good fun to see those parsons
devouring one another. The other day when they were hugging each other
in the garden--you remember it, don't you?--anyone would have thought
that they were brothers. Ah! they rob each other even of their very
penitents. But why don't you say anything, my dear? You don't agree
with me, eh? Or is it because you are going to sleep? Well, well,
good-night then, my dear.'

He fell asleep, still muttering disjointed words, while Marthe, with
widely opened eyes, stared up into the air and followed over the
ceiling, faintly illumined by the night-light, the pattering of the
Abbé's slippers while he was retiring to rest.



XII

At the return of summer Abbé Faujas and his mother again came
downstairs to enjoy the fresh air on the terrace. Mouret had become
very cross-grained. He declined the old lady's invitations to play
piquet and sat swaying himself about on a chair. Seeing him yawn,
without making any attempt to conceal how bored he was feeling, Marthe
said to him:

'Why don't you go to your club, my dear?'

He now went there more frequently than he had been used to do. When he
returned he found his wife and the Abbé still in the same place on the
terrace, while Madame Faujas, a few yards away from them, preserved the
demeanour of a blind and dumb guardian.

When anyone in the town spoke to Mouret of the new Curé he still
continued to sound his praises. Faujas, said he, was decidedly a
superior sort of man, and he himself had never felt any doubt of his
great abilities. Madame Paloque could never succeed in drawing a
hostile word from him on the subject of the priest, in spite of the
malicious way in which she would ask him after his wife in the midst of
his remarks about Abbé Faujas. Old Madame Rougon had no better success
in her attempts to unveil the secret troubles which she thought she
could detect beneath Mouret's outward show of cheerfulness. She laid
all sorts of traps for him as she watched his face with her sharp
shrewd smile; but that inveterate chatterer, whose tongue was a regular
town-crier's bell, now showed the greatest reserve when any reference
was made to his household.

'So your husband has become reasonable at last?' Félicité remarked to
her daughter one day. 'He leaves you free.'

Marthe looked at her mother with an air of surprise.

'I have always been free,' she said.

'Ah! my dear child, I see that you don't want to say anything against
him. You told me once that he looked very unfavourably upon Abbé
Faujas.'

'Nothing of the kind, I assure you! You must have imagined it. My
husband is upon the best terms with Abbé Faujas. There is nothing
whatever to make them otherwise.'

Marthe was much astonished at the persistence with which everybody
seemed to imagine that her husband and the Abbé were not good friends.
Frequently at the committee-meetings at the Home of the Virgin the
ladies put questions to her which made her quite impatient. She was
really very happy and contented, and the house in the Rue Balande had
never seemed pleasanter to her than it did now. Abbé Faujas had given
her to understand that he would undertake her spiritual direction
as soon as he should be of opinion that Abbé Bourrette was no longer
sufficient, and she lived in this hope, her mind full of simple joy,
like a girl who is promised some pretty religious pictures if she
keeps good. Every now and then indeed she felt as though she were
becoming a child again; she experienced a freshness of feeling and
child-like impulses that filled her with gentle emotion. One day, in
the spring-time, as Mouret was pruning his tall box plants, he found
her sitting at the bottom of the garden beneath the young shoots of the
arbour with her eyes streaming with tears.

'What is the matter, my dear?' he asked anxiously.

'Nothing,' she said, with a smile, 'nothing at all, really; I am very
happy, very.'

He shrugged his shoulders, and went on delicately cutting the box
plants into an even line. He took considerable pride in having the
neatest trimmed hedges in the neighbourhood. Marthe had wiped her eyes,
but she soon began to weep again, feeling a choking heart-rending
sensation at the scent of the severed verdure. She was forty years old
now, and it was for her past-away youth that she was weeping.

Since his appointment as Curé of Saint-Saturnin's, Abbé Faujas had
shown a dignity which seemed to increase his stature. He carried his
breviary and his hat with an air of authority, which he had exhibited
at the cathedral in such wise as to ensure himself the respect of the
clergy. Abbé Fenil, having sustained another defeat on two or three
matters of detail, now seemed to have left his adversary free to do as
he pleased. Abbé Faujas, however, was not foolish enough to make any
indiscreet use of his triumph, but showed himself extremely supple.
He was quite conscious that Plassans was still far from being his;
and so, though he stopped every now and then in the street to shake
hands with Monsieur Delangre, he merely exchanged passing salutations
with Monsieur de Bourdeu, Monsieur Maffre, and the other guests of
Monsieur Rastoil. A large section of society in the town still looked
upon him with suspicion. They found fault with him for the want of
frankness in his political opinions. In their estimation he ought to
explain himself, declare himself in favour of one party or another. But
the Abbé only smiled and said that he belonged to 'the honest men's
party,' a reply which spared him a more explicit declaration. Moreover
he showed no haste or anxiety, but continued to keep aloof till the
drawing-rooms should open their doors to him of their own accord.

'No, my friend, not now; later on we will see about it,' he said to
Abbé Bourrette, who had been pressing him to pay a visit to Monsieur
Rastoil.

He was known to have refused two invitations to the Sub-Prefecture, and
the Mourets were still the only people with whom he continued intimate.
There he was, as it were, occupying a post of observation between two
hostile camps. On Tuesdays, when the two sets of guests assembled in
the gardens on his right and left, he took up his position at his
window and watched the sunset in the distance behind the forests of the
Seille, and then, before withdrawing, he lowered his eyes and replied
with as much amiability to the bows of Monsieur Rastoil's guests as to
those of the Sub-Prefect's. His intercourse with his neighbours as yet
went no further than this.

On Tuesday, however, he went down into the garden. He was quite at
home now in Mouret's grounds and no longer confined himself to pacing
up and down beneath the arbour as he read his breviary. All the walks
and beds seemed to belong to him; his cassock glided blackly past all
the greenery. On that particular Tuesday, as he made a tour of the
garden, he caught sight of Monsieur Maffre and Madame Rastoil below
him and bowed to them; and then as he passed below the terrace of the
Sub-Prefecture, he saw Monsieur de Condamin leaning there in company
with Doctor Porquier. After an exchange of salutations, the priest was
turning along the path, when the doctor called to him.

'Just a word, your reverence, I beg.'

Then he asked him at what time he could see him the following day. This
was the first occasion on which any one of the two sets of guests had
spoken to the priest from one garden to the other. The doctor was in
great trouble however. His scamp of a son had been caught in a gambling
den behind the gaol in company with other worthless characters. The
most distressing part of the matter was that Guillaume was accused of
being the leader of the band, and of having led Monsieur Maffre's sons,
much younger than himself, astray.

'Pooh!' said Monsieur de Condamin with his sceptical laugh; 'young men
must sow their wild oats. What a fuss about nothing! Here's the whole
town in a state of perturbation because some young fellows have been
caught playing baccarat and there happened to be a lady with them!'

The doctor seemed very much shocked at this.

'I want to ask your advice,' he said, addressing himself to the
priest. 'Monsieur Maffre came to my house boiling over with anger, and
assailed me with the bitterest reproaches, crying out that it was all
my fault, as I had brought my son up badly. I am extremely distressed
and troubled about it. Monsieur Maffre ought to know me better. I have
sixty years of stainless life behind me.'

He went on wailing, dwelling upon the sacrifices that he had made for
his son and expressing his fears that he would lose his practice in
consequence of the young man's misconduct. Abbé Faujas, standing in the
middle of the path, raised his head and gravely listened.

'I shall be only too glad if I can be of any service to you,' he said
kindly. 'I will see Monsieur Maffre and will let him understand that
his natural indignation has carried him too far. I will go at once and
ask him to appoint a meeting with me for to-morrow. He is over there,
on the other side.'

The Abbé crossed the garden and went towards Monsieur Maffre, who was
still there with Madame Rastoil. When the justice of the peace found
that the priest desired an interview with him, he would not hear of his
taking any trouble about it, but put himself at his disposition, saying
that he would do himself the honour of calling upon him the next day.

'Ah! Monsieur le Curé,' Madame Rastoil then remarked, 'let me
compliment you upon your sermon last Sunday. All the ladies were much
affected by it, I assure you.'

The Abbé bowed and crossed the garden again in order to reassure
Doctor Porquier. Then he continued slowly pacing about the walks till
nightfall, without taking part in any further conversations, but ever
hearing the merriment of the groups of guests on his right hand and his
left.

When Monsieur Maffre appeared the next day, Abbé Faujas was watching a
couple of men who were at work repairing the fountain in the garden. He
had expressed a desire to see the fountain play again, for the empty
basin, said he, had such a melancholy appearance. At first Mouret had
not seemed very willing to have anything done, alleging the probability
of accidents with Désirée, but Marthe had prevailed upon him to let the
repairs be executed upon the understanding that the basin should be
protected by a railing.

'Monsieur le Curé,' said Rose, 'the justice of the peace wishes to see
you.'

Abbé Faujas hastened indoors. He wanted to take Monsieur Maffre up
to his own room on the second floor, but Rose had already opened the
drawing-room door.

'Go in,' she said; 'aren't you at home here? It is useless to make
the justice go up two flights of stairs. If you had only told me this
morning, I would have given the room a dusting.'

As she closed the door upon the Abbé and the magistrate, after opening
the shutters, Mouret called her into the dining-room.

'That's right, Rose,' he cried, 'you had better give my dinner to your
priest this evening, and if he hasn't got sufficient blankets of his
own upstairs you can take mine off my bed.'

The cook exchanged a meaning glance with Marthe, who was working by
the window, waiting till the sunshine should leave the terrace. Then,
shrugging her shoulders, she said:

'Ah! sir, you have never had a charitable heart!'

She took herself off, while Marthe continued sewing without raising
her head. For the last few days she had, with feverish energy,
again applied herself to her needlework. She was embroidering an
altar-frontal as a gift for the cathedral. The ladies were desirous of
giving a complete set of altar furniture. Madame Rastoil and Madame
Delangre had undertaken to present the candlesticks, and Madame de
Condamin had ordered a magnificent silver crucifix from Paris.

Meantime, in the drawing-room, Abbé Faujas was gently remonstrating
with Monsieur Maffre, telling him that Doctor Porquier was a religious
man and a person of the highest integrity, and that no one could be
more pained than he by his son's deplorable conduct. The magistrate
listened with a sanctimonious air, and his heavy features and big
prominent eyes assumed quite an ecstatic expression at certain pious
remarks which the priest uttered in a very moving manner. He allowed
that he had been rather too hasty, and declared that he was willing to
make every apology as his reverence thought he had been in the wrong.

'You must send your own sons to me,' said the priest, 'and I will talk
to them.'

Monsieur Maffre shook his head with a slight sneering laugh.

'Oh! you needn't be afraid about them, Monsieur le Curé. The young
scamps won't play any more tricks. They have been locked up in their
rooms for the last three days with nothing but bread and water. If I
had had a stick in my hand when I found out what they had been doing, I
should have broken it across their backs.'

The Abbé looked at him and recollected how Mouret had accused him of
having killed his wife by harshness and avarice; then, with a gesture
of protest, he added:

'No, no; that is not the way to treat young men. Your elder son,
Ambroise, is twenty years old and the younger is nearly eighteen, isn't
he? They are no longer children, remember. You must allow them some
amusements.'

The magistrate remained silent with surprise.

'Then you would let them go on smoking and allow them to frequent
cafés?' he said, presently.

'Well,' replied the priest, with a smile. 'I think that young men
should be allowed to meet together to talk and smoke their cigarettes
and even to play a game of billiards or chess. They will give
themselves every license if you show no tolerance. Only remember that
it is not to every café that I should be willing for them to go. I
should like to see a special one provided for them, a sort of club, as
I have seen done in several towns.'

Then he unfolded a complete scheme for such a club. Monsieur Maffre
gradually seemed to appreciate it. He nodded his head as he said:

'Capital, capital! It would be a worthy pendant to the Home of the
Virgin. Really, Monsieur le Curé, we must put such a splendid idea as
this into execution.'

'Well, then,' the priest concluded, as he accompanied Monsieur Maffre
to the door, 'since you approve of the plan, just advocate it among
your friends. I will see Monsieur Delangre, and speak to him about it.
We might meet in the cathedral on Sunday after vespers and come to some
decision.'

On the Sunday, Monsieur Maffre brought Monsieur Rastoil with him. They
found Abbé Faujas and Monsieur Delangre in a little room adjoining the
sacristy. The gentlemen displayed great enthusiasm in favour of the
priest's idea, and the institution of a young men's club was agreed
upon in principle. There was considerable discussion, however, as to
what it should be called. Monsieur Maffre was strongly desirous that it
should be known as the Guild of Jesus.

'Oh, no! no!' the priest impatiently cried at last. 'You would get
scarcely anyone to join, and the few members would only be jeered at.
There must be no attempt to tack religion on to the business; indeed, I
intend that we should leave religion outside its doors altogether. All
we want to do is to win the young people over to our side by providing
them with some innocent recreation; that is all.'

The justice of the peace gazed at the priest with such an expression of
astonishment and anxiety that Monsieur Delangre was obliged to bend his
head to conceal a smile, while he slyly pulled the Abbé's cassock. Then
the priest went on in a calmer voice:

'I am sure, gentlemen, that you do not feel any distrust of me, and I
ask you to leave the management of the matter in my hands. I propose
to adopt some very simple name, such a one, for instance, as the Young
Men's Club, which fully expresses all that is required.'

Monsieur Rastoil and Monsieur Maffre bowed, although this title seemed
to them a little weak. They next spoke of nominating the Curé as
president of a provisional committee.

'I fancy,' said Monsieur Delangre, glancing at the priest, 'that this
suggestion will scarcely meet with his reverence's approbation.'

'Oh dear, no!' the Abbé exclaimed, slightly shrugging his shoulders.
'My cassock would frighten the timid and lukewarm away. We should only
get the pious young people, and it is not for them that we are going
to found our club. What we want is to gather in the wanderers; to win
converts, in a word; isn't that so?'

'Clearly,' replied the presiding judge.

'Very well, then, it will be better for us to keep ourselves in the
background, myself especially. What I propose is this: your son,
Monsieur Rastoil, and yours, Monsieur Delangre, will alone come
forward. It must appear as if they themselves had formed the idea of
this club. Send them to me in the morning, and I will talk the matter
over at length with them. I already have a suitable building in my mind
and a code of rules quite prepared. Your two sons, Monsieur Maffre,
will naturally be enrolled at the head of the list of members.'

The presiding judge seemed flattered at the part assigned to his
son; and so matters were arranged in this way, notwithstanding the
resistance of the justice of the peace, who had hoped to win some
personal distinction from the founding of the club. The next day
Séverin Rastoil and Lucien Delangre put themselves in communication
with Abbé Faujas. Séverin was a tall young man of five-and-twenty,
with a badly shaped skull and a dull brain, who had just been called
to the bar, thanks to the position which his father held. The latter
was anxiously dreaming of making him a public prosecutor's assessor,
despairing of his ever succeeding in winning any practice for himself.
Lucien, on the other hand, was short and sharp-eyed, had a crafty mind,
and pleaded with all the coolness of an old practitioner, although he
was a year younger than Séverin. The 'Plassans Gazette' spoke of him
as a future light of the bar. It was more particularly to him that the
Abbé gave the minutest instructions as to his scheme. As for young
Rastoil he simply went fussing about, bursting with importance. In
three weeks the Young Men's Club was founded and opened.

There was at that time beneath the church of the Minimes, situated at
the end of the Cours Sauvaire, a number of very large rooms and an
old monastery refectory, which were no longer put to any use. This
was the place that Abbé Faujas had thought of for the club, and the
clergy of the parish very willingly allowed him to use the rooms. One
morning, when the provisional committee of the Young Men's Club had
set workmen going in this cellar-like place, the citizens of Plassans
were quite astounded to see what appeared to be a café being fitted
up under the church. Five days afterwards there was no longer any
room for doubt on the point. The place was certainly going to be a
café. Divans were being brought thither, with marble-topped tables,
chairs, two billiard-tables, and even three crates of crockery and
glass. An entrance was contrived at the end of the building, as far as
possible from the doorway of the church, and great crimson curtains,
genuine restaurant-curtains, were hung behind the glass panes. You
descended five stone steps, and on opening the door found yourself
in a large hall; to the right of which there was a smaller one and a
reading-room, while in a square room at the far end were placed the two
billiard-tables. They were exactly beneath the high altar.

'Well, my poor boys,' said Guillaume Porquier one day to Monsieur
Maffre's two sons, whom he had met on the Cours, 'so they are going to
make you serve at mass between your games at bézique.'

However, Ambroise and Alphonse besought him not to speak to them in
public, as their father had threatened to send them to sea if they
continued to associate with him.

When the first astonishment was over, the Young Men's Club proved a
great success. Monseigneur Rousselot accepted the honorary presidency,
and even visited it in person one evening, attended by his secretary,
Abbé Surin. Each of them drank a glass of currant-syrup in the smaller
room, and the glass which his lordship used was preserved with great
respect upon a sideboard. The Bishop's visit is still talked of with
much emotion at Plassans, and it brought about the adherence of all
the fashionable young men of the town. It was soon considered very bad
style not to belong to the Young Men's Club.

Guillaume Porquier, however, used to prowl about the entrance,
sniggering like a young wolf who dreams of making his way into a
sheep-fold. Notwithstanding all the fear they had of their father,
Monsieur Maffre's sons quite worshipped this shameless young man who
regaled them with stories of Paris, and entertained them at secret
little parties in the suburbs. They had got into the habit of meeting
him regularly every Saturday evening at nine o'clock near a certain
seat on the Mall. They slipped away from the club and sat gossiping
till eleven, concealed beneath the dark shade of the plane-trees. On
these occasions Guillaume always twitted them about the evenings they
spent underneath the church of the Minimes.

'It is very kind of you,' he, would say, 'to let yourselves be led by
the nose. The verger gives you glasses of sugar and water as though he
were administering the communion to you, doesn't he?'

'Nothing of the sort! you are quite mistaken, I assure you,' Ambroise
exclaimed. 'You might fancy you were in the Café du Cours, or the Café
de France, or the Café des Voyageurs. We drink beer, or punch, or
madeira, whatever we like, whatever is drunk in other places.'

Guillaume continued jeering however.

'Well, I shouldn't like to go drinking their dirty stuff,' he said. 'I
should be afraid that they had mixed some drug with it to make me go to
confession. I suppose you amuse yourselves by playing at hot-cockles
and puss-in-the-corner!'

The young Maffres gaily laughed at his pleasantries, but they took care
to undeceive him. They told him that even cards were allowed, and that
there was no flavour of a church about the place at all. The club was
extremely pleasant, there were very comfortable couches, and mirrors
all over.

'Well,' said Guillaume, 'you'll never make me believe that you can't
hear the organ when there is an evening service at the church. It would
make me swallow my coffee the wrong way only to know that there was a
baptism, or a marriage, or a funeral going on over my cup.'

'Well, there's something in that,' Alphonse allowed. 'Only the other
day, while I was playing at billiards with Séverin in the day-time,
we could distinctly hear a funeral going on. It was the funeral of
the butcher's little girl, the butcher at the corner of the Rue de la
Banne. That fellow Séverin is a big jackass, he tried to frighten me by
telling me that the whole funeral would fall through on our heads.'

'Ah well! it must be a very pleasant place, that club of yours!' cried
Guillaume. 'I wouldn't set foot in it for all the money in the world!
I'd as soon go and drink my coffee in a sacristy.'

The truth of the matter was that Guillaume felt very much vexed that he
did not belong to the Young Men's Club. His father had forbidden him to
offer himself for election, fearing that he would be rejected. At last,
however, the young man grew so annoyed about the matter that he sent in
an application to be allowed to join the club, without mentioning what
he had done to his people. The question was a very serious one. The
committee which elected the members then comprised the young Maffres
amongst its number, and Lucien Delangre was its president and Séverin
Rastoil its secretary. These young men felt terribly embarrassed. While
they did not dare to grant Guillaume's application, they were unwilling
to do anything to hurt the feelings of Doctor Porquier, so worthy and
irreproachable a person, one, too, who was so completely trusted by all
the fashionable ladies. At last Ambroise and Alphonse begged Guillaume
not to press his application, giving him to understand that he had no
chance of being admitted.

'You are a couple of pitiful poltroons!' he replied to them. 'Do you
suppose that I care a fig about joining your brotherhood? I was only
amusing myself. I wanted to see if you would have the courage to vote
against me. I shall have a good laugh when those hypocrites bang the
door in my face. As for you, my good little boys, you can go and amuse
yourselves where you like; I shall never speak to you again.'

The young Maffres, in great consternation, then besought Lucien
Delangre to try to arrange matters in such a way as would prevent
any unpleasantness. Lucien submitted the difficulty to his usual
adviser, Abbé Faujas, for whom he had conceived a genuine disciple's
admiration. The Abbé came to the Young Men's Club every afternoon from
five o'clock till six. He walked through the big room with a pleasant
smile, nodding and sometimes stopping for a few minutes at one of the
tables to chat with some of the young men. However, he never accepted
anything to drink, not even a glass of water. Afterwards he passed
into the reading-room, and, taking a seat at the long table covered
with a green cloth, he attentively pored over the newspapers which the
club received, the Legitimist organs of Paris and the neighbouring
departments. Occasionally he made a rapid note in a little pocket-book.
Then he went quietly away, again smiling at the members who were
present, and shaking hands with them. On some occasions, however, he
remained for a longer time to watch a game at chess, or chat merrily
about all kinds of matters. The young men, who were extremely fond of
him, used to say that when he talked no one would take him for a priest.

When the mayor's son told him of the embarrassment which Guillaume's
application had caused the committee, Abbé Faujas promised to arrange
the affair; and next morning he went to see Doctor Porquier, to whom
he related everything. The doctor was aghast. His son, he cried, was
determined to kill him with distress by dishonouring his grey hairs.
What could be done now? Even if the application were withdrawn, the
shame and disgrace would be none the less. The priest then advised him
to send Guillaume away for two or three months to an estate which he
possessed a few leagues from Plassans, and undertook to charge himself
with the further conduct of the affair. As soon as Guillaume had left
the town, the committee postponed the consideration of his application,
saying that there was no occasion for haste in the matter, as the
applicant was absent and that a decision could be taken later on.

Doctor Porquier heard of this solution from Lucien Delangre one
afternoon when he was in the garden of the Sub-Prefecture. He
immediately hastened to the terrace. It was the hour when Abbé Faujas
read his breviary. Doctor Porquier caught sight of him under the
Mourets' arbour.

'Ah, Monsieur le Curé!' he cried, 'how can I thank you? I should like
very much to shake hands with you.'

'The wall is rather high,' said the priest, looking at it with a smile.

But Doctor Porquier was an effusive individual who did not allow
himself to be discouraged by obstacles.

'Wait a moment!' he cried. 'If you will allow me, Monsieur le Curé, I
will come round.'

Then he disappeared. The Abbé, still smiling, slowly bent his steps
towards the little door which opened into the Impasse des Chevillottes.
The doctor was already gently knocking at it.

'Ah! this door is nailed up,' said the priest. 'One of the nails
is broken though. If I had any sort of a tool, there would be no
difficulty in getting the other one out.'

He glanced round him and caught sight of a spade. Then, after he had
drawn back the bolts with a slight effort, he opened the door, and
stepped out into the alley, where Doctor Porquier overwhelmed him
with thanks and compliments. As they walked along, talking, Monsieur
Maffre, who happened at the time to be in Monsieur Rastoil's garden,
opened a little door that was hidden away behind the presiding judge's
waterfall. The gentlemen were much amused to find themselves all three
in this deserted little lane.

They remained there for a few moments, and, as they took leave of
the Abbé, the magistrate and the doctor poked their heads inside the
Mourets' garden, looking about them with curiosity.

Mouret, however, who was putting stakes to his tomatoes, raised his
head and caught sight of them. He was fairly lost in astonishment.

'Hallo! so they've made their way in here!' he muttered. 'The Curé now
only has to bring in both gangs!'



XIII


Serge was now nineteen years of age. He occupied a small room on the
second floor, opposite the priest's, and there led an almost cloistered
life, spending much time in reading.

'I shall have to throw those old books of yours into the fire,' Mouret
said to him angrily. 'You'll end by making yourself ill and having to
take to your bed.'

The young man was, indeed, of such a nervous temperament, that the
slightest imprudence made him poorly, as though he were a young girl,
and thus he was frequently confined to his room for two or three days
together. At these times Rose inundated him with herb tea, and whenever
Mouret went upstairs to shake him up a little, as he called it, the
cook, if she happened to be there, would turn her master out of the
room, crying out at him:

'Leave the poor dear alone! Can't you see that you are killing him with
your rough ways? It isn't after you that he takes: he is the very image
of his mother; and you'll never be able to understand either the one or
the other of them.'

Serge smiled. After he had left college his father, seeing him so
delicate, had hesitated to send him to Paris to read for the bar there.
He would not hear, however, of a provincial faculty; Paris, he felt
sure, was necessary for a young man who wanted to climb to a high
position. He tried, indeed, to instil ambitious ideas into the lad,
telling him that many with much weaker wits than his own, his cousins,
the Rougons, for instance, had attained to great distinction. Every
time that the young man seemed to grow more robust, his father settled
that he should leave home early the following month; but his trunk was
never packed, for Serge was always catching a fresh cold, and then his
departure would be again postponed.

On each of these occasions Marthe contented herself with saying in her
gentle, indifferent way:

'He isn't twenty yet. It's really not prudent to send so young a lad
to Paris; and, besides, he isn't wasting his time here; you even think
that he studies too much.'

Serge used to accompany his mother to mass. He was very piously
minded, very gentle and grave. Doctor Porquier had recommended him
to take a good deal of exercise, and he had become enthusiastically
fond of botany, going off on long rambles to collect specimens which
he spent his afternoons in drying, mounting, classifying and naming.
It was about this time that he struck up a great friendship with Abbé
Faujas. The Abbé himself had botanised in earlier days, and he gave
Serge much practical advice for which the young man was very grateful.
They also lent each other books, and one day they went off together
to try to discover a certain plant which the priest said he thought
would be found in the neighbourhood. When Serge was ill, his neighbour
came to see him every morning, and sat and talked for a long while at
his bedside. At other times, when the young man was well, it was he
who went and knocked at Abbé Faujas's door, as soon as he heard him
stirring in his room. They were only separated by a narrow landing, and
they ended by almost living together.

In spite of Marthe's unruffled tranquillity and Rose's angry glances,
Mouret still often indulged in bursts of anger.

'What can the young scamp be after up there?' he would growl. 'Whole
days pass without my catching more than a glimpse of him. He never
seems to stir from the Abbé; they are always talking together in some
corner or other. He shall be off to Paris at once. He's as strong as a
Turk. All those ailments of his are mere shams, excuses to get himself
petted and coddled. You needn't both of you look at me in that way; I
don't mean to let the priest make a hypocrite of the boy.'

Then he began to keep a watch over his son, and when he thought that he
was in Faujas's room he called for him angrily.

'I would rather he went to the bad!' he cried one day in a fit of rage.

'Oh, sir!' said Rose, 'it is abominable to say such things.'

'Well, indeed I would! And I'll put him in the way myself one of these
days, if you irritate me much more with these parsons of yours!'

Serge naturally joined the Young Men's Club, though he went there but
little, preferring the solitude of his own room. If it had not been
for Abbé Faujas, whom he sometimes met there, he would probably never
have set foot in the place. The Abbé taught him to play chess in the
reading-room. Mouret, on learning that the lad met the priest at the
café, swore that he would pack him off by the train on the following
Monday. His luggage was indeed got ready, and quite seriously this
time, but Serge, who had gone out to spend a last day in the open
country, returned home drenched to the skin by a sudden downpour of
rain. He was obliged to go to bed, shivering with fever. For three
weeks he hung between life and death; and then his convalescence lasted
for two long months. At the beginning of it he was so weak that he lay
with his head on the pillow and his arms stretched over the sheets, as
motionless as if he were simply a wax figure.

'It is your fault, sir!' cried the cook to Mouret. 'You will have it on
your conscience if the boy dies.'

While his son continued in danger, Mouret wandered silently about the
house, plunged in gloomy melancholy, his eyes red with crying. He
seldom went upstairs, but paced up and down the passage to intercept
the doctor as he went away. When he was told that Serge was at length
out of danger, he glided quietly into the lad's room and offered his
help. But Rose turned him away. They had no occasion for him, she said,
and the boy was not yet strong enough to bear his roughness. He had
much better go and attend to his business instead of getting in the
way there. Mouret then remained in complete loneliness downstairs,
more melancholy and unoccupied than ever. He felt no inclination for
anything, said he. As he went along the passage, he often heard on the
second floor the voice of Abbé Faujas, who spent whole afternoons by
Serge's bedside, now that he was growing better.

'How is he to-day, Monsieur l'Abbé?' Mouret asked the priest timidly,
as he met the latter going down into the garden.

'Oh, fairly well; but it will be a long convalescence, and very great
care will be required.'

The priest tranquilly read his breviary, while the father, with a pair
of shears in his hand, followed him up and down the garden walks,
trying to renew the conversation and to get more detailed information
about his boy. As his son's convalescence progressed, he remarked
that the priest scarcely ever left Serge's room. He had gone upstairs
several times in the women's absence, and he had always found the Abbé
at the young man's bedside, talking softly to him, and rendering him
all kinds of little services, sweetening his drink, straightening his
bed-clothes, or getting him anything he happened to want. There was
a hushed murmur throughout the house, a solemn calm which gave quite
a conventual character to the second floor. Mouret seemed to smell
incense, and could almost fancy sometimes, as he heard a muttering of
voices, that they were saying mass upstairs.

'What can they be doing?' he wondered. 'The youngster is out of danger
now; they can't be giving him extreme unction.'

Serge himself caused him much disquiet. He looked like a girl as he lay
in bed in his white night-dress. His eyes seemed to have grown larger;
there was a soft ecstatic smile upon his lips, which still played there
even amidst his keenest pangs of suffering. Mouret no longer ventured
to say anything about Paris; his dear sick boy seemed too girlish and
tender for such a journey.

One afternoon he went upstairs, carefully hushing the sound of his
steps. The door was ajar, and he saw Serge sitting in an easy chair in
the sunshine. The young fellow was weeping with his eyes turned upward,
and his mother stood sobbing in front of him. They both turned as they
heard the door open, but they did not wipe away their tears. As soon as
Mouret entered the room, the invalid said to him in his feeble voice:

'I have a favour to ask you, father. Mother says that you will be angry
and will refuse me permission, though it would fill me with joy--I want
to enter the Seminary.'

He clasped his hands together with a sort of feverish devotion.

'You! you!' exclaimed Mouret.

He looked at Marthe, who turned away her head. Then saying nothing
further, he walked to the window, returned, and sat down mechanically
by the bedside, as though overwhelmed by the blow.

'Father,' resumed Serge, after a long silence, 'in my nearness to death
I have seen God, and I have sworn to be His. I assure you that all my
happiness is centred in that. Believe me that it is so, and do not
cause me grief.'

Mouret, looking very mournful, with his eyes lowered, still kept
silence. At last, with an expression of utter hopelessness, he murmured:

'If I had the least particle of courage, I should wrap a couple of
shirts in a handkerchief and go away.'

Then he rose from his seat, went to the window and drummed on the panes
with his fingers; and when Serge again began to implore him, he said
very quietly:

'Very well, my boy; be a priest.'

Immediately afterwards he left the room.

The next day, without the least warning to anyone, he set off for
Marseilles, where he spent a week with his son Octave. But he came
back looking careworn and aged. Octave had afforded him very little
consolation. He had found the young man leading a fast life,
overwhelmed with debts and in all sorts of scrapes. However, Mouret
did not say a word about these matters. He began to lead a perfectly
sedentary existence, and no longer made any of those good strokes of
business, those fortunate purchases of standing crops, in which he
had formerly taken such pride. Rose noticed that he maintained almost
unbroken silence, and that he even avoided saluting Abbé Faujas.

'Do you know that you are not very polite?' she boldly said to him one
day. 'His reverence the Curé has just gone past, and you turned your
back upon him. If you behave in this way because of the boy, you are
under a great mistake. The Curé was quite against his going to the
Seminary, and I often heard him talking to him against it. This house
is getting a very cheerful place, indeed, now! You never speak a word,
even to madame, and when you have your meals, anyone would think that
it was a funeral that was going on. For my part, sir, I'm beginning to
feel that I've had quite enough of it.'

Mouret went out of the room, but the cook followed him into the garden.

'Haven't you every reason to be happy, now that your son is on his feet
again? He ate a cutlet yesterday, the darling, and with such a good
appetite too. But you care nothing about that, do you? What you want is
to make a pagan of him like yourself. Ah! you stand in great need of
some one to pray for you. But God Almighty wishes to save us all. If I
were you I should weep with joy, to think that that poor little dear
was going to pray for me. But you are made of stone, sir! And how sweet
he will look too, the darling, in his cassock!'

Mouret thereupon went up to the first floor, and shut himself up in a
room which he called his study, a big bare room, furnished only with a
table and a couple of chairs. This room became his refuge whenever the
cook worried him. When he grew weary of staying there, he went down
again into the garden, upon which he expended greater care than ever.
Marthe no longer seemed to be conscious of her husband's displeasure.
Sometimes he kept silent for a week, but she was in no way disquieted
or distressed by it. Every day she withdrew more and more from her
surroundings, and she even began to fancy, now that the house seemed so
quiet and peaceable and she had ceased to hear Mouret scolding, that
he had grown more reasonable and had discovered for himself, as she had
done, some little nook of happiness. This thought tranquillised her
and induced her to plunge more deeply into her dreamy life. When her
husband looked at her with his blurred eyes, scarcely recognising in
her the wife of other days, she only smiled at him and did not notice
the tears which were welling beneath his eyelids.

On the day when Serge, now completely restored to health, entered the
Seminary, Mouret remained at home alone with Désirée. He now frequently
looked after her; for this big 'innocent' girl, who was nearly sixteen,
might have fallen into the basin of the fountain or have set the house
on fire with matches just like a child of six. When Marthe returned
home, she found the doors open and the rooms empty. The house seemed
quite deserted. She went on to the terrace, and there, at the end of
one of the walks, she saw her husband playing with his daughter. He
was sitting on the gravel, and with a little wooden scoop was gravely
filling a cart which Désirée was pulling along with a piece of string.

'Gee up! gee up!' cried the girl.

'Wait a little,' said her father patiently, 'it is not full yet. As you
are the horse, you must wait till the cart is full.'

Then she stamped her feet like an impatient horse, and, at last, not
being able to stand still any longer, she set off with a loud burst of
laughter. The cart fell over and lost its load. When she had dragged it
round the garden, she came back to her father crying:

'Fill it again! Fill it again!'

Mouret loaded it again with the little scoop. For a moment Marthe
remained upon the terrace watching them, full of uneasy emotion. The
open doors, the sight of the man playing with the child, the empty
deserted house all touched her with sadness, though she was not clearly
conscious of the feelings at work in her. She went upstairs to take off
her things, on hearing Rose, who also had just returned, exclaim from
the terrace steps:

'Good gracious! how silly the master is!'

His friends, the retired traders with whom he took a turn or two every
day on the promenade in the Cours Sauvaire, declared that he was a
little 'touched.' During the last few months his hair had grizzled,
he had begun to get shaky on his legs, and was no longer the biting
jeerer, feared by the whole town. For a little time it was thought
that he had been venturing upon some risky speculations and had been
overcome by a heavy loss of money.

Madame Paloque, as she leaned over the window-rail of her dining-room
which overlooked the Rue Balande, said every time she saw him, that
he was certainly going to the bad. And if, a few moments later, she
happened to catch sight of Abbé Faujas passing along the street, she
took a delight in exclaiming--the more especially if she had visitors
with her:

'Just look at his reverence the Curé! Isn't he growing sleek? If he
eats out of the same dish as Mouret, he can leave him nothing but the
bones.'

Then she laughed, as did those who heard her. Abbé Faujas was, indeed,
becoming quite an imposing object; he now always wore black gloves and
a shimmering cassock. A peculiar smile played about his face, a sort of
ironical twist of his lips, when Madame de Condamin complimented him
upon his appearance. The ladies liked to see him nicely and comfortably
dressed; though the priest himself would probably have preferred
fighting his way with bare arms and clenched fists, and never a thought
about what he wore. Whenever he appeared to grow neglectful of his
appearance, the slightest hint of reproach from old Madame Rougon
sufficed to cure him, and he hurried off to buy silk stockings and a
new hat and girdle. He was frequently requiring new clothes, for his
big frame seemed to wear out his garments very quickly.

Since the foundation of the Home of the Virgin, all the women had been
on his side; and defended him against the malicious stories which were
still occasionally repeated, though no one was able to get at their
origin. Now and then they found him a little blunt, but this roughness
of his by no means offended them, least of all in the confessional,
where they rather liked to feel his iron hand pressing down their necks.

'He gave me such a scolding yesterday, my dear,' said Madame de
Condamin to Marthe one day. 'I believe he would have struck me if there
had not been the partition between us. He is not always very easy to
get on with!'

She laughed gently and seemed to enjoy the recollection of this scene
with her spiritual director. Madame de Condamin had observed Marthe
turn pale whenever she made her certain confidences as to Abbé
Faujas's manner of hearing confessions; and divining her jealousy, she
took a mischievous delight in tormenting her, with which object she
gave her many further private details.

When Abbé Faujas had founded the Young Men's Club, he there became
quite sociable and gay; in fact he seemed to have undergone a
transformation. Thanks to his will power he moulded his stern nature
like wax. He allowed the part which he had taken in the founding of
the club to be made public, and he became the friend of all the young
men in the town, keeping a strict watch over his manners, for he well
knew that young men just fresh from college had not the same taste
for roughness of speech and demeanour as the women had. He one day
narrowly escaped losing his temper with young Rastoil, whose ears he
threatened to pull, over a disagreement about the club management;
but with surprising command over himself, he put out his hand to him
almost immediately afterwards, humbling himself and winning over to his
side all who were present by his gracious apologies to 'that big fool
Séverin,' as the other was called.

However, although the Abbé had conquered the women and the young men,
he still remained on a footing of mere formal politeness with the
fathers and husbands. The grave gentlemen continued to distrust him
as they saw that he still refrained from identifying himself with any
political party. At the Sub-Prefecture Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies
discussed him with much animation, while Monsieur Delangre, without
definitely defending him, said with a sharp smile that they ought to
wait before judging him. At the Rastoils' he had become a source of
much tribulation to the Presiding Judge, whom Séverin and his mother
never ceased wearying with their constant eulogies of the priest.

'Well! well! let him have every good quality under the sun!' cried the
unhappy man. 'I won't dispute one of them, only leave me at peace. I
asked him to dinner, but he wouldn't come. I can't go and drag him here
by force!'

'No, but, my dear,' said Madame Rastoil, 'when you meet him you
scarcely bow to him. It's that, I dare say, that has made him rather
cold.'

'Of course it is,' interposed Séverin; 'he sees very well that you are
not as polite to him as you ought to be.'

Monsieur Rastoil shrugged his shoulders. When Monsieur de Bourdeu was
there, the pair of them accused Abbé Faujas of leanings towards the
Sub-Prefecture, though Madame Rastoil directed their attention to the
fact that he never dined there, and had never even set foot in the
house.

'Oh, don't imagine that I accuse him of being a Bonapartist,' said the
president. 'I only remarked that he had leanings that way; that was
all. He has had communications with Monsieur Delangre.'

'Well! and so have you!' cried Séverin; 'you have had communications
with the mayor! They are absolutely necessary under certain
circumstances. Tell the truth and say you detest Abbé Faujas; it would
be much more straightforward.'

For whole days at a time the Rastoils sulked with one another. Abbé
Fenil came to see them very rarely now, excusing himself upon the
ground that he was kept at home by his gout; but twice, when he had
been forced to express an opinion on the Curé of Saint-Saturnin's, he
had said a few words in his praise. Abbé Surin and Abbé Bourrette,
as well as Monsieur Maffre, held the same views as the mistress of
the house concerning the Curé, and the opposition to him came only
from Monsieur Rastoil, backed up by Monsieur de Bourdeu, both of
whom gravely declared that they could not compromise their political
positions by receiving a man who concealed his views.

Séverin, however, now began to knock at the door in the Impasse des
Chevillottes whenever he wanted to say anything to the priest, and
gradually the little lane became a sort of neutral ground. Doctor
Porquier, who had been the first to avail himself of it, young
Delangre, and the magistrate, all came thither to talk to Abbé
Faujas. Sometimes the little doors of both the gardens, as well as
the cart-entrance to the Sub-Prefecture, were kept open for a whole
afternoon, while the Abbé leant against the wall, smiling and shaking
hands with those members of the two groups who wished to have a word
with him. Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, however, carefully refrained
from leaving the garden of the Sub-Prefecture; and Monsieur Rastoil
and Monsieur de Bourdeu, equally persistent, remained seated beneath
the trees in front of the former's waterfall. It was very seldom that
the priest's little court invaded the Mourets' arbour. Now and then a
head just peeped inside, took a hasty glance around, and then quickly
disappeared.

Abbé Faujas now seemed to trouble about nothing. At the most he
glanced with an expression of disquietude at the Tronches' windows,
through which Olympe's eyes were constantly glistening. The Trouches
kept themselves in ambush there behind the red curtains, full of an
envious desire to come down like the Abbé and eat the fruit, and talk
to the fashionable folks. They tapped on the shutters, leant out of the
window for a moment, and then withdrew, infuriated by the authoritative
glances of the priest. Soon afterwards, however, they would return with
stealthy steps, press their pale faces to one of the panes, and keep
watch over his every movement, quite tortured to see him enjoying that
paradise which was forbidden to them.

'It is really abominable!' Olympe exclaimed one day to her husband. 'He
would lock us up in a cupboard, if he could, so as to deprive us of
every atom of enjoyment. We'll go down if you like, and we'll see what
he says.'

Trouche had just returned from his office. He put on a clean collar and
dusted his boots, anxious to make himself as neat as possible. Olympe
put on a light dress, and then they both boldly came downstairs into
the garden, walking slowly alongside the tall box plants, and stopping
in front of the flower-beds.

At that moment Abbé Faujas happened to have his back turned towards
them. He was standing at the little door that opened into the lane
talking to Monsieur Maffre. When he heard the Trouches' steps grating
upon the gravel, they were close behind him under the arbour. He turned
round, and stopped short in the middle of a sentence, quite astounded
at seeing them there. Monsieur Maffre, who did not know them, was
looking at them with curiosity.

'A beautiful day, isn't it, gentlemen?' said Olympe, who had turned
pale beneath her brother's gaze.

The Abbé abruptly dragged the justice of the peace into the lane; where
he quickly got rid of him.

'He is furious!' murmured Olympe. 'Well, so much the worse; we had
better stay where we are now. If we go back upstairs, he will think we
are afraid of him. I've had quite enough of this kind of thing, and you
will see what I will say to him.'

She made Trouche seat himself on one of the chairs which Rose had
brought out a short time previously, and when the Abbé returned
he found them tranquilly settled there. He fastened the bolts of
the little door, glanced quickly around to assure himself that the
trees screened them from observation, and then came up close to the
Trouches, saying in a muffled voice:

'You forget our agreement. You undertook to remain in your own rooms.'

'It was too hot up there,' Olympe replied. 'We are not committing any
crime by coming down here to get a little fresh air.'

The priest was on the point of exploding, but his sister, still quite
pale from the effort she had made in resisting him, added in a peculiar
tone:

'Don't make a noise, now! There are some people over there, and you
might do yourself harm.'

Then both the Trouches laughed slightly. The Abbé fixed his eyes upon
them with a terrible expression, but without speaking.

'Sit down,' said Olympe. 'You want an explanation, don't you? Well, you
shall have one. We are tired of imprisoning ourselves. You are living
here in clover; the house seems to belong to you, and so does the
garden. So much the better, indeed; we are delighted to see how well
things appear to be going with you, but you mustn't treat us as dirt
beneath your feet. You have never thought of bringing me up a single
bunch of grapes; you have given us the most wretched of the rooms; you
hide us away and are ashamed of us; you shut us up as though we had the
plague. You must understand that it can't go on any longer!'

'I am not the master here,' replied Abbé Faujas. 'You must address
yourselves to Monsieur Mouret if you want to strip his garden.'

The Trouches exchanged a fresh smile.

'We don't want to pry into your affairs,' Olympe continued. 'We know
what we know, and that is sufficient for us. But all this proves what
a bad heart you have. Do you think that if we were in your position we
shouldn't invite you to come and take your share in the good things
that were going?'

'What is it that you want me to do?' demanded the Abbé. 'Do you suppose
that I am rolling in wealth? You know what sort of a room I occupy
myself; it is more scantily furnished than your own. The house isn't
mine, and I can't give it you.'

Olympe shrugged her shoulders. She silenced her husband who was
beginning to speak, and then calmly continued:

'Everyone has his own ideas of life. If you had millions you wouldn't
buy a strip of carpet for your bedside; you would spend them all
in some foolish scheme or other. We, on the other hand, like to be
comfortable. Dare you say that if you had a fancy for the handsomest
furniture in the house and for the linen and food and anything else
it contains, you couldn't have them this very evening? Well, in such
circumstances a good brother would think of his relations, and wouldn't
leave them in wretchedness and squalor as you leave us!'

Abbé Faujas looked keenly at the Trouches. They were both swaying
backwards and forwards on their chairs.

'You are a pair of ungrateful people,' he said after a moment's
silence. 'I have already done a great deal for you. You have me to
thank for the food that you eat now. I still have letters of yours,
Olympe, letters in which you beseech me to rescue you from your misery
by bringing you over to Plassans. Now that you are here and your
livelihood is assured, you break out into fresh demands.'

'Stuff!' Trouche impudently interrupted. 'You sent for us here because
you wanted us. I have learned to my cost not to believe in anyone's
fine talk. I have allowed my wife to speak, but women can never come to
the point. In two words, my good friend, you are making a mistake in
keeping us cooped up like dogs, who are only brought out in the hour of
danger. We are getting weary of it, and we shall perhaps end by doing
something foolish. Confound it all! give us a little liberty. Since the
house isn't yours and you despise all luxury, what harm can it do you
if we make ourselves comfortable? We shan't eat the walls!'

'Of course!' exclaimed Olympe, 'it's only natural that we should rebel
against being constantly locked up. We will take care to do nothing to
prejudice you. You know that my husband only requires the least sign
from you. Go your own way, and you may depend upon us; but let us go
ours. Is that understood, eh?'

Abbé Faujas had bent his head; he remained silent for a moment, and
then, raising his eyes, and avoiding a direct reply, he said:

'Listen to what I say. If ever you do anything to hamper me, I swear to
you that I will send you away to starve in a garret on the straw.'

Then he went back into the house, leaving them under the arbour. From
that time the Trouches went down into the garden almost every day, but
they conducted themselves with considerable discretion, and refrained
from going there at the times when the priest was talking with the
guests from the neighbouring gardens.

The following week Olympe complained so much of the room she was
occupying that Marthe kindly offered her Serge's, which was now at
liberty. The Trouches then kept both rooms. They slept in the young
man's old bedchamber, from which not a single article of furniture
had been removed, and turned the other apartment into a sort of
drawing-room, for which Rose found them some old velvet-covered
furniture in the lumber-room. Olympe, in great delight, ordered a
rose-coloured dressing-gown from the best maker in Plassans.

Mouret, who had forgotten that Marthe had asked his permission to let
the Trouches have Serge's room, was quite surprised to find them there
one evening. He had gone up to look for a knife which he thought his
son must have left in one of the drawers, and, as he entered the room,
he saw Trouche trimming with this very knife a switch which he had just
cut from one of the pear-trees in the garden. Thereupon he apologised
and went downstairs.



XIV


During the public procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi, when
Monseigneur Rousselot came down the steps of the magnificent altar, set
up through the generosity of Madame de Condamin on the Place of the
Sub-Prefecture, close to the very door of the small house she occupied,
it was noticed with much surprise by the spectators that the Bishop
abruptly turned his back upon Abbé Faujas.

'Ah! has there been some disagreement between them!' exclaimed Madame
Rougon, who was looking out of her drawing-room window.

'Didn't you know about it?' asked Madame Paloque, who was leaning
over by the old lady's side. 'It has been the talk of the town since
yesterday. Abbé Fenil has been restored to favour.'

Monsieur de Condamin, who was standing behind the ladies, began to
laugh. He had made his escape from his own house, saying that it smelt
like a church.

'Do you attach any importance to such trifles?' said he. 'The Bishop is
merely an old weathercock, turning one way or the other according as
Faujas or Fenil blows against him; to-day it is one of them, to-morrow
it will be the other. They have quarrelled and made it up again half
a score times already. Before three days are over, you will see that
Faujas will be the pet again.'

'I don't believe it,' exclaimed Madame Paloque; 'it is serious this
time. It seems that Abbé Faujas has caused his lordship a great deal of
worry. It appears that he formerly preached some sermons which excited
great displeasure at Rome. I can't explain the matter quite clearly,
but I know that the Bishop has received reproachful letters from Rome,
in which he is recommended to be on his guard. It is said that Abbé
Faujas is simply a political agent.'

'Who says so?' asked Madame Rougon, blinking her eyes as though to see
the procession, which was then passing through the Rue de la Banne,
more distinctly.

'I heard it said, but I really don't remember by whom,' the judge's
wife replied carelessly.

Then she retired, saying that one would be able to get a better view
from the side-window. Monsieur de Condamin, however, took the vacant
place by Madame Rougon, and whispered in the old lady's ear:

'I have already twice seen her going to Abbé Fenil's. They have some
plot or other in hand, I'm sure. Abbé Faujas must have trodden somehow
or other on that viper of a woman, and she's trying to bite him. If she
were not so ugly I would do her the service of telling her that her
husband will never be presiding judge.'

'Why? I don't understand,' murmured the old lady, with a guileless
expression.

Monsieur de Condamin looked at her curiously, and then began to smile.

The last two gendarmes in the procession had just disappeared round
the corner of the Cours Sauvaire, and the few guests whom Madame
Rougon had invited to witness the blessing of the altar returned into
the drawing-room, where they chatted for a moment about the Bishop's
graciousness and the new banners of the different congregations, and
especially the one belonging to the girls of the Home of the Virgin,
which had attracted much attention. The ladies were loud in their
praises, and Abbé Faujas's name was mentioned every moment in the most
eulogistic terms.

'He is clearly a saint!' sniggered Madame Paloque to Monsieur de
Condamin, who had taken a seat near her.

Then, bending forward towards him, she added:

'I could not speak openly before Madame Rougon, you know, but there is
a great deal of talk about Abbé Faujas and Madame Mouret. I dare say
those unpleasant reports have reached the Bishop's ears.'

'Madame Mouret is a charming woman, and extremely winning
notwithstanding her forty years,' was all that Monsieur de Condamin
said in reply.

'Oh, yes! she is very charming, very charming, indeed,' murmured Madame
Paloque, whose face turned quite green with spleen.

'Extremely charming,' persisted the conservator of rivers and forests.
'She is at the age of genuine passion and great happiness. You ladies
are given to judging each other unfavourably.'

Thereupon he left the drawing-room, chuckling over Madame Paloque's
suppressed rage.

The town was now indeed taking an absorbing interest in the continual
struggle that went on between Abbé Faujas and Abbé Fenil for influence
over the Bishop. It was a ceaseless combat, like the struggles of a
couple of buxom housekeepers for the affection of an old dotard. The
Bishop smiled knowingly; he had discovered how to maintain a kind of
equilibrium between these opposing forces which he pitted one against
the other, amused at seeing them overthrown in turn, and securing peace
for himself by accepting the services of the one who temporarily gained
the upper hand. To the dreadful stories which were told him to the
detriment of his favourites, he paid but little attention, for he knew
that the rival Abbés were capable of accusing each other of murder.

'They are getting worse, my child,' the Bishop said, in one of his
expansive moments to Abbé Surin. 'I fancy that in the end Paris will
carry the day, and Rome will get the worst of it; but I am not quite
sure, and I shall leave them to wear each other out. When one has made
an end of the other, things will be settled----By the way, just read
me the third Ode of Horace; I'm afraid I've translated one of the
lines rather badly.'

On the Tuesday after the public procession the weather was lovely.
Laughter was heard both in the garden of the Rastoils and in that of
the Sub-Prefect, and numerous guests were sitting under the trees.
Abbé Faujas read his breviary in the Mourets' garden after his usual
custom, while slowly walking up and down beside the tall hedges of box.
For some days past he had kept the little door that led to the lane
bolted; he was indeed coquetting with his neighbours and keeping aloof,
in order that he might make them more anxious to see him. Possibly
too he had noticed a slight coldness in their manner after his last
misunderstanding with the Bishop, and the abominable reports that his
enemies had circulated against him.

About five o'clock, just as the sun was sinking, Abbé Surin proposed a
game of shuttlecock to Monsieur Rastoil's daughters. He was very clever
at it himself; and, notwithstanding the approach of their thirtieth
year, both Angéline and Aurélie were immensely fond of games. When the
servant brought the battledores, Abbé Surin, looking about him for
a shady spot, for the garden was still bright with the last rays of
the sun, was struck with an idea of which the young ladies cordially
approved.

'Shall we go and play in the Impasse des Chevillottes?' he asked. 'We
shall be shaded by the chestnut-trees there, and have more room.'

They left the garden and started a most delightful game in the lane.
The two girls began, and Angéline was the first who failed to keep
the shuttlecock going. Abbé Surin, who took her place, handed his
battledore with professional skill and ease. Having tucked his cassock
between his legs, he sprang backwards and forwards and sideways without
cessation. His battledore caught the shuttlecock as it reached the
ground and sent it flying, now to a surprising height, and now straight
ahead like a bullet; and at times made it describe the most graceful
curves. As a rule he preferred to be pitted against poor players, who,
as they struck the shuttlecock at random, or, to use his own phrase,
without any rhythm, brought all the skilful agility of his own play
into exercise. Mademoiselle Aurélie, however, played a fair game. She
vented a little cry like a swallow's every time she struck a blow with
the battledore, and she laughed distractedly when the shuttlecock
alighted on the young Abbé's nose. Gathering up her skirts, she waited
for its return, or leaped backward with a great rustling of petticoats
when he vengefully gave it a smarter blow than usual. At last the
shuttlecock fell into her hair, and she almost toppled over upon her
back. This greatly amused them all. Angéline now took her sister's
place; and every time that Abbé Faujas raised his eyes from his
breviary as he paced the Mourets' garden, he saw the white feathers of
the shuttlecock skimming above the wall like a big butterfly.

'Are you there, your reverence?' all at once cried Angéline, at the
little door. 'Our shuttlecock has fallen into your garden.'

The Abbé picked up the shuttlecock, which had dropped at his feet, and
made up his mind to open the door.

'Oh, thank you! your reverence,' said Aurélie, who had already taken
the battledore. 'Only Angéline would ever make such a stroke. The other
day when papa was watching us she sent the shuttlecock right against
his ear with such a bang that he was quite deaf till the next day.'

There was more laughter at this; and Abbé Surin, as rosy as a girl,
delicately dabbed his brow with a handkerchief of fine texture. He
pushed his fair hair behind his ears, and stood there with glistening
eyes and flexible figure, using his battledore as a fan. In the
excitement of the game his bands had got slightly displaced.

'Monsieur le Curé,' said he, as he took up his position again, 'you
shall be umpire.'

Abbé Faujas, holding his breviary under his arm and smiling paternally,
stood on the threshold of the little doorway. Through the cart-entrance
of the Sub-Prefecture, which was half open, he could see Monsieur
Péqueur des Saulaies seated in front of the cascade amidst his friends.
The priest looked straight in front of him, however, and counted the
points of the game, while complimenting Abbé Surin and consoling the
young ladies.

'I tell you what, Péqueur,' said Monsieur de Condamin, in a whisper, in
the sub-prefect's ear, 'you make a mistake in not inviting that little
Abbé to your parties. He is a great favourite with the ladies, and he
looks as though he could waltz to perfection.'

Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, who was talking to Monsieur Delangre
with much animation, did not however appear to hear the other, but
went on with his conversation with the mayor.

'Really, my dear sir,' he said, 'I don't know where you see all the
merits that you profess to find in him. On the contrary, indeed,
Abbé Faujas appears to me to be of very doubtful character. There is
considerable suspicion attached to his past career, and strange things
are said about him here. I really don't see why I should go down on my
knees to this priest, especially as the clergy of Plassans are hostile
to us. I should gain no advantage by doing so.'

Monsieur Delangre and Monsieur de Condamin exchanged glances of
intelligence, and then, by way of reply, nodded their heads.

'None, whatever,' continued the sub-prefect. 'It is no use pretending
to look mysterious; I may tell you that I have myself written to Paris.
I was a good deal bothered, and I wanted to be quite certain about this
Faujas, whom you seem to look upon as a sort of prince in disguise.
Well! do you know what reply I got? They told me that they did not know
him and could tell me nothing about him, and that I must carefully
avoid mixing myself up with clerical matters. They are grumpy enough
in Paris as it is, since the election of that jackass Lagrifoul, and I
have to be prudent, you understand.'

The mayor exchanged another glance with the conservator of rivers and
forests. He even slightly shrugged his shoulders before the correctly
twirled moustaches of Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies.

'Just listen to me,' he said to him after a moment's silence; 'you
would like to be a prefect, wouldn't you?'

The sub-prefect smiled as he rocked himself in his chair.

'Well, then, go at once, and shake hands with Abbé Faujas, who
is waiting for you down there, while he is watching them play at
shuttlecock.'

Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies was silent with astonishment. He seemed
quite puzzled, turned towards Monsieur de Condamin, and asked, with
some show of uneasiness:

'Is that your advice also?'

'Certainly; go and offer him your hand,' replied the conservator of
rivers and forests.

Then, with a slight touch of irony, he added:

'Consult my wife, if you like; I know you have perfect confidence in
her.'

Madame de Condamin was just approaching them. She was wearing a lovely
pink and pearl-grey dress. When they spoke to her of the Abbé she said
graciously to the sub-prefect:

'It is very wrong of you to neglect your religious duties; one never
sees you at church except perhaps when there is some official ceremony.
It really distresses me very much, and I must try to convert you. What
sort of opinion do you expect people will have of the government you
represent, if they see you are not on the side of religion?--Leave us,
gentlemen; I am going to confess Monsieur Péqueur.'

She took a seat, smiling playfully.

'Octavie,' said the sub-prefect, in an undertone, when they were alone
together, 'don't make fun of me. You weren't a very pious person in the
Rue du Helder in Paris. It's all I can do to keep from laughing when I
see you worshipping in Saint-Saturnin's.'

'You are too flippant, my friend,' she replied, 'and your flippancy
will play you a bad turn one of these days. Seriously, you quite
distress me. I gave you credit for having more intelligence. Are you so
blind that you cannot see that you are tottering in your position? Let
me tell you that it is only from fear of alarming the Legitimists at
Plassans that you haven't already been recalled. If the Legitimists saw
a new sub-prefect arriving here, they would take alarm, whereas so long
as you remain here they will continue quietly sleeping, feeling certain
of victory at the next election. All this is not very flattering for
you; I am aware of that, and the more so as I know positively that the
authorities are acting without taking you into their confidence. Listen
to me, my friend; I tell you that you are ruined if you don't divine
certain things.'

He looked at her with unfeigned alarm.

'Has "the great man" been writing to you?' he asked, referring to a
personage whom they thus designated between themselves.

'No; he has broken entirely with me. I am not a fool, and I saw, before
he did, the necessity of the separation. And I have nothing at all
to complain of. He has shown me the greatest kindness. He found me a
husband and gave me some excellent advice, which has proved extremely
useful to me. But I have retained friends in Paris; and I swear to you
that you have only just got time left to cling on to the branches if
you don't want to fall. Don't be a pagan any longer, but go and offer
your hand to Abbé Faujas. You will understand why later on, even if you
can't guess it to-day.'

Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies lowered his eyes and seemed a little
humiliated by the lesson he was receiving. He was very conceited, and,
showing his white teeth, he tried to re-assert himself by murmuring
tenderly:

'Ah! if you had only been willing, Octavie, we might have governed
Plassans between us. I asked you to resume that delightful life--'

'Really now, you are a great idiot!' she interrupted in a tone of
vexation. 'You annoy me with your "Octavie." I am Madame de Condamin to
everyone, my friend. Can't you understand anything? I have an income
of thirty thousand francs; I am queen of a whole Sub-Prefecture; I go
everywhere; I am respected everywhere, bowed to and liked. What in the
world should I do with you? You would only inconvenience me. I am a
respectable woman, my friend.'

She rose from her seat and walked towards Doctor Porquier, who,
according to his custom, had come to spend an hour in the garden
chatting to his fair patients, after a round of visits.

'Oh, doctor!' she exclaimed, with one of her pretty grimaces, 'I have
got such a headache. It pains me just here, under the left eyebrow.'

'That is the side of the heart, madame,' said the doctor, gallantly.

Madame de Condamin smiled and did not carry the consultation any
further. Madame Paloque, who was present, bent, however, towards her
husband, whom she brought with her every time she came, in order that
she might recommend him to the sub-prefect's influence, and whispered
in his ear:

'That's the only way Porquier has of curing them.'

When Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies had joined Monsieur de Condamin and
Monsieur Delangre he manœuvred cleverly in such wise as to draw them
towards the gateway. When he was within a few yards of it, he stopped
and appeared to be interested in the game of shuttlecock which was
still going on in the lane. Abbé Surin, with his hair blown about by
the wind, the sleeves of his cassock rolled up, and his slender, white,
womanly wrists displayed, had just stepped backwards, putting some
twenty yards between himself and Mademoiselle Aurélie. He felt that
he was being watched, and he quite surpassed himself. Mademoiselle
Aurélie was also playing extremely well, spurred on, as it were, by the
skill of her partner. Thus the shuttlecock described long gentle curves
with such regularity that it seemed to light of its own accord upon
the battledores, going from one to the other player without either of
them having to stir from their places. Abbé Surin, inclined slightly
backwards, displayed his well-shaped bust to advantage.

'Excellent! excellent!' cried the sub-prefect. 'Ah! Monsieur l'Abbé, I
must compliment you upon your skill.'

Then, turning towards Madame de Condamin, Doctor Porquier and the
Paloques, he exclaimed:

'I've really never seen anything like it before. You will allow us to
admire your play, I hope, Monsieur l'Abbé?'

The whole set of the Sub-Prefecture now formed into a group at the far
end of the lane. Abbé Faujas had not moved from the position he had
taken up. Having acknowledged with a nod the salutations of Monsieur
Delangre and Monsieur de Condamin, he went on counting the points
of the game. When Aurélie at last missed the shuttlecock, he said
good-naturedly:

'That makes you three hundred and ten points, for the distance was
altered; your sister has only forty-seven.'

However, while he appeared to follow the flight of the shuttlecock with
all-absorbing interest, he every now and then glanced at the door of
the Rastoils' garden, which still remained open. Monsieur Maffre was as
yet the only person who had shown himself there; but at last a voice
called from inside the garden:

'What is amusing them so much out there?' It was Monsieur Rastoil, who
was chatting with Monsieur de Bourdeu beside the rustic table, that
asked the question.

'His lordship's secretary is playing at shuttlecock,' Monsieur Maffre
replied. 'He is making some wonderful strokes and everybody is watching
him. His reverence the Curé is there, and seems quite amazed.'

Monsieur de Bourdeu took a big pinch of snuff as he exclaimed:

'Ah! Monsieur l'Abbé Faujas is there, is he?'

He glanced at Monsieur Rastoil, and they both seemed ill at ease.

'I have heard,' remarked the presiding judge, 'that the Curé has been
restored to the Bishop's favour.'

'Yes, indeed; this very morning,' said Monsieur Maffre. 'There
has been a complete reconciliation, and I have heard some touching
particulars about it. His lordship shed tears. Ah, there can be no
doubt that Abbé Fenil has cause for self-reproach.'

'I thought that you were the grand-vicar's friend,' observed Monsieur
de Bourdeu.

'So I am, but I am also the Curé's friend,' replied the justice of the
peace. 'Thank goodness! he is a man of sufficient piety to be able to
despise all the calumnies of his enemies. They haven't even hesitated
to question his morality! It is disgraceful!'

The ex-prefect again glanced at the presiding judge with a singular
expression.

'And they've tried to compromise him in political matters,' continued
Monsieur Maffre. 'They said that he had come here to overturn
everything, to bestow places right and left and bring about the triumph
of the Paris clique. Why, if he had been the chief of a band of
brigands folks couldn't have said worse things about him than they have
done. A pack of lies, all of them!'

Monsieur de Bourdeu was drawing a face on the gravel of the walk with
the tip of his walking-stick.

'Yes,' he said, carelessly, 'I have heard these things mentioned. But
it is very unlikely that a minister of religion would allow himself to
play such a part; and besides, to the honour of Plassans, I think it
may be said that he would have failed completely. There is no one here
who could be bought.'

'Oh! it's all stuff and nonsense, that!' cried the presiding judge,
shrugging his shoulders. 'A town can't be turned inside out like an
old coat. Paris may send us as many spies and agents as she likes, but
Plassans will always keep Legitimist. Look at that little Péqueur now!
We've only made a single mouthful of him! Folks must be very stupid to
believe in mysterious personages running about the provinces offering
places and appointments. I should be very curious to see one of those
gentlemen.'

He seemed to be getting a little angry, and Monsieur Maffre, with some
show of uneasiness, appeared to think it necessary to defend himself.

'Pardon me,' he exclaimed. 'I have never asserted that Abbé Faujas was
a Bonapartist agent; on the contrary, I have always considered the
accusation a most absurd one.'

'Oh! it's not a question of Abbé Faujas. My remarks are quite general.
People don't sell themselves in that way! Abbé Faujas is above all
suspicion.'

There was an interval of silence. Monsieur de Bourdeu finished the face
he was drawing on the gravel by adding a long pointed beard to it.

'Abbé Faujas has no political views,' he at last said in his dry voice.

'Evidently,' replied Monsieur Rastoil; 'we found fault with him for his
indifference, but now I approve of it. With all this gossip in the air,
it would have had a prejudicial effect upon religion. You know as well
as I do, Bourdeu, that he can't be accused of the slightest suspicious
step. He has never been seen at the Sub-Prefecture, has he? He kept
with great propriety in his fitting place. If he were a Bonapartist, he
wouldn't be likely to conceal it, would he?'

'Certainly not.'

'Then, too, he leads a most exemplary life. My wife and my son have
told me things about him which have affected me very much.'

The merriment in the little lane was now louder than ever. Abbé Faujas
could be heard complimenting Mademoiselle Aurélie on some wonderful
stroke of her battledore. Monsieur Rastoil, who had checked himself for
a moment, continued, with a smile:

'Just listen to them! What can they find in it to amuse them so much?
It makes one quite long to be young again!'

Then, in a more serious tone, he added:

'Yes, my wife and my son have made me feel a strong liking for Abbé
Faujas; and we are very sorry that his discreet reserve keeps him from
joining our circle.'

As Monsieur Bourdeu nodded his head approvingly, shouts of applause
were heard in the alley. There was a perfect uproar of hand-clapping,
laughter and shouts, as though some troop of school-boys had just
rushed out to play. Monsieur Rastoil rose from his rustic chair.

'Good gracious!' he said, with a smile; 'let us go and see what they
are up to. My legs are beginning to feel a little cramped.'

The others followed him, and they all three went and stood by the
little door. It was the first time that the presiding judge and the
ex-prefect had ventured so far. When they saw the group formed by the
sub-prefect's guests at the end of the lane, their faces assumed a
serious expression. Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, for his part, drew
himself up and put on an official attitude. Madame de Condamin went
flitting to and fro along the lane laughing and smiling and filling
the place with the rustle of her pink and grey dress. The two sets of
guests kept glancing at one another, neither being willing to retire,
while Abbé Faujas still maintained his position between them at
Mouret's door, quietly enjoying himself without seeming in the least
degree conscious of the delicacy of the situation.

All the spectators held their breath; for Abbé Surin, seeing that their
number had increased, was desirous of winning their applause by a last
exhibition of skill. He brought all his science into play, created
difficulties for himself on purpose to overcome them, turned round and
struck at the shuttlecock without looking at it, but seemingly divining
its position, and thus sending it back over his head to Mademoiselle
Aurélie with mathematical precision. He was very much flushed and was
perspiring freely. He had thrown his hat off, and his bands were now
hanging over his right shoulder. But he was the victor, and he looked
as he always did, amiable and charming. The two groups of guests
lingered there admiring him, and Madame de Condamin had to repress the
applause, which burst out prematurely and inopportunely, by shaking
her lace handkerchief. Then the young Abbé, introducing still further
refinements into his play, began to skip about first to right and then
to left, each time receiving the shuttlecock in a fresh position. This
was the grand final flourish. He accelerated the rapidity of his play,
and at last, just as he was jumping aside, his foot slipped and he
nearly fell upon the bosom of Madame de Condamin, who had stretched
out her arms with a little cry. The spectators, thinking he was hurt,
rushed up, but the Abbé, who was pressing the ground with his hands and
knees, sprang up again by a strong effort, and sent the shuttlecock,
which had not yet fallen, spinning back to Mademoiselle Aurélie. Then,
flourishing his battledore, he triumphed.

'Bravo! bravo!' cried Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, stepping up to him.

'Bravo! it was a magnificent stroke!' exclaimed Monsieur Rastoil, who
also came up.

The game was interrupted, for the two sets of guests had now invaded
the lane, and were mingled with each other, crowding around Abbé Surin,
who leant, quite out of breath, against the wall by Abbé Faujas's
side. Everybody began talking at once.

'I was afraid that he had split his skull,' said Doctor Porquier to
Monsieur Maffre, in a voice full of emotion.

'Yes, these games generally have a bad ending,' remarked Monsieur de
Bourdeu, addressing himself to Monsieur Delangre and the Paloques,
while he received a shake of the hand from Monsieur de Condamin, whom
he always tried to avoid in the streets, so that he might not have to
bow to him.

Madame de Condamin went from the sub-prefect to the presiding judge,
bringing them face to face, and exclaiming:

'But really, I am more upset than he is! I thought that we were going
to fall together. There is a big stone there; did you notice it?'

'Yes, I see it there,' said Monsieur Rastoil; 'it must have caught
against his heel.'

'Was it this round stone, do you think?' asked Monsieur Péqueur des
Saulaies, picking up a pebble.

They had never spoken to each other before, except at official
ceremonies. Now, however, they began to examine the stone, and passed
it from one to the other, remarking that it was very sharp, and must
have cut the Abbé's shoe. Madame de Condamin stood smiling between
them, and assured them that she was beginning to feel better.

'Oh! the Abbé is feeling ill!' suddenly cried Monsieur Rastoil's
daughters.

Abbé Surin had, indeed, turned very pale at hearing of the danger he
had run. He was reeling with faintness, when Abbé Faujas, who had kept
aloof, took him in his powerful arms, and carried him into Mouret's
garden, where he seated him upon a chair. The two sets of guests soon
swarmed into the arbour, where the young Abbé completely fainted away.

'Get some water and some vinegar, Rose!' cried Abbé Faujas, running
towards the steps.

Mouret, who was in the dining-room, came to the window, but, on seeing
all those people in his garden, he recoiled as though he were struck
with fear, and kept himself out of sight. Rose soon came up with a
collection of drugs, muttering, as she hastened along:

'If only madame were here! But she has gone to the Seminary to see the
lad. I am all alone, and I can't do impossibilities, can I? The master
won't stir an inch; anybody might die for all he cared. There he is in
the dining-room, hiding himself! He would let you die, before he would
get you even a glass of water.'

By the time she had got through this grumble, she had reached Abbé
Surin, who was lying in a swoon. 'Oh! the cherub!' she exclaimed,
overcome with womanly pity.

The young Abbé, with his closed eyes and his pale brow wreathed with
long, fair hair, looked like one of the sweet-faced martyrs that one
sees expiring in sacred pictures. The elder of the Rastoil girls was
supporting his head, which lay back, allowing his delicate, white neck
to be seen. They were all in great excitement over him. Madame de
Condamin gently dabbed his brow with a rag soaked in vinegar and water,
and the others stood anxiously looking at her. At last the young Abbé
opened his eyes, but closed them again immediately. He had two more
swoons before he recovered.

'You have given me a terrible fright!' at last said Doctor Porquier,
who had kept his hand fast in his own.

Abbé Surin, still sitting on the chair, stammered out confused thanks,
and assured them all that it was a mere nothing. Then he saw that
his cassock had been unbuttoned, and he smiled as he buttoned it and
readjusted his bands. To prove that he was all right again, when the
company advised him to keep quiet, he went back to the lane with the
Rastoil girls in order to finish the game.

'You have a very nice place here,' said Monsieur Rastoil to Abbé
Faujas, whose side he had not quitted.

'The air on this slope is delightful,' added Monsieur Péqueur des
Saulaies, in his charming manner.

Then both sets of guests began looking with curiosity at Mouret's house.

'Perhaps the ladies and gentlemen would like to stay in the garden a
little while,' exclaimed Rose; 'I will go and get some chairs.'

She made three journeys in quest of them, in spite of the protestations
of the company. Then, after glancing at each other for a moment, the
two sets of guests felt constrained by courtesy to seat themselves. The
sub-prefect installed himself on Abbé Faujas's right hand, while the
presiding judge took a chair on his left, and a friendly conversation
at once began.

'You are a very quiet neighbour, Monsieur le Curé,' said Monsieur
Péqueur des Saulaies very graciously; 'you can't imagine what pleasure
it gives me to see you every day at the same hour in this little
paradise. It seems to bring me a feeling of restfulness, after all the
noise and worry I have.'

'A pleasant neighbour is a very rare thing,' observed Monsieur Rastoil.

'Quite true,' said Monsieur de Bourdeu. 'But his reverence seems to
have filled this spot with the peaceful tranquillity of a cloister.'

While the Abbé was smiling and acknowledging these complimentary
remarks, Monsieur de Condamin, who had not yet seated himself, stooped
and whispered in Monsieur Delangre's ear:

'There's Rastoil, hoping to get that lout of a son of his made assessor
to the public prosecutor.'

Monsieur Delangre, however, gave him an angry glance, trembling at the
thought that this incorrigible chatterer might spoil everything. But
this did not prevent the conservator of rivers and forests from adding:

'And Bourdeu, too, is flattering himself that he has already won back
his prefecture.'

Meantime, Madame de Condamin had caused a great sensation by saying, in
a meaning way:

'What I like about this garden is the tender charm it seems to possess,
which makes it a nook apart from all the cares and wretchedness of
the world. It is a spot where even Cain and Abel might have become
reconciled.'

She emphasized her last words and gave two glances, one to the right
and the other to the left, towards the neighbouring gardens. Monsieur
Maffre and Doctor Porquier nodded approvingly; while the Paloques
looked at each other inquisitively, feeling uneasy and fearing to
compromise themselves should they open their mouths.

At the end of a quarter of an hour Monsieur Rastoil rose from his seat.

'My wife will be wondering where we have got to,' said he.

And thereupon the whole company rose, feeling somewhat embarrassed as
to the manner of their leave-taking. But Abbé Faujas spread out his
hands and said, with the pleasantest possible smile:

'My paradise is always open to you.'

The presiding judge then promised to come and see the Curé every now
and then, and the sub-prefect, with more effusiveness, declared that he
would do the same. For another five minutes they all lingered there,
exchanging compliments, while, out in the lane, the laughter of the
Rastoil girls and Abbé Surin was again heard. A fresh game was going on
with all the animation of the previous one, and the shuttlecock could
be seen passing backwards and forwards in its regular flight above the
garden wall.



XV


One Friday, as Madame Paloque was entering Saint-Saturnin's, she was
greatly surprised to see Marthe kneeling in front of Saint-Michael's
chapel. The Abbé Faujas was hearing confessions.

'Ah!' she muttered, 'has she succeeded in touching the Abbé's heart? I
must wait a little while and watch. It would be very fine if Madame de
Condamin were to come.'

She took a chair a little in the rear, and, half kneeling, covered
her face with her hands as though she was absorbed in earnest prayer;
but she held her fingers apart so that she might glance between
them. The church was very gloomy. Marthe, with her head bent over
her prayer-book, looked as though she were asleep. Her figure snowed
blackly against a white pillar. Only her shoulders, heaving with
deep-drawn sighs, seemed to be alive. She was, indeed, so profoundly
overcome with emotion that she was constantly allowing her turn to be
taken by some other of Abbé Faujas's penitents. The Abbé waited for a
few moments, and then, seemingly a little impatient, he began tapping
the woodwork of the confessional. Thereupon one of the women who were
waiting, seeing that Marthe showed no sign of moving, decided to take
her place. The chapel gradually grew empty, and Marthe still remained
motionless as if in ecstasy.

'She seems in a terrible state,' thought Madame Paloque. 'It is really
quite indecent to make such an exhibition of one's self in church. Ah!
here comes Madame de Condamin!'

Madame de Condamin was indeed just entering the church. She stopped for
a moment before the holy-water basin, removed her glove, and crossed
herself with a pretty gesture. Her silk dress made a murmuring sound
as she passed along the narrow space between the chairs. As she knelt
down, she filled the lofty vault with a rustling of skirts. She had
her usual affable expression, and smiled through the gloom. Soon she
and Marthe were the only two penitents left. The priest grew more and
more impatient, and tapped yet more loudly upon the woodwork of the
confessional.

'It is your turn, madame; I am the last,' Madame de Condamin whispered
politely, bending towards Marthe, whom she had not recognised.

Marthe raised her face, pinched and pale from her extreme emotion, and
did not appear to understand. It was as though she were awakening from
some ecstatic trance, and her eyelids trembled.

'Come, ladies, come!' exclaimed Abbé Faujas, who had now half-opened
the door of the confessional.

Madame de Condamin smilingly rose to obey the priest's summons; but
Marthe, recognising her, hastened into the chapel, to fall again upon
her knees, however, a few paces away from the confessional-box.

Madame Paloque felt much amused. She hoped that the two ladies would
seize each other by the hair. Marthe could hear all that was said,
for Madame de Condamin had a clear flute-like voice. She dallied over
the recital of her sins, and quite animated the confessional with her
pretty gossiping ways. Once she even vented a little muffled laugh, at
the sound of which Marthe raised her pain-racked face. Soon afterwards
Madame de Condamin finished her confession, and rose as if to retire,
but she quickly stepped back and commenced talking afresh, this time
merely bending her head without kneeling down.

'That she-devil is making sport of Madame Mouret and the Abbé,' thought
the judge's wife to herself. 'It's all put on, is this.'

At last Madame de Condamin really withdrew. Marthe watched her as if
waiting till she disappeared. Then she went forward, leant against the
confessional-box, and fell heavily on her knees. Madame Paloque had
slipped a little nearer and was craning out her head, but she could
only see the penitent's dark dress spread out around her. For nearly
half an hour there was not the slightest movement. Now and then she
thought she could detect some smothered sobs in the throbbing silence,
which was also broken at times by a creak from the confessional-box.
She began to feel a little weary of her watching, for all she would be
able to do now would be to stare at Marthe as she left the chapel.

Abbé Faujas was the first to leave, closing the door of the
confessional-box with an appearance of annoyance. Madame Mouret
lingered there for a long time, bent and motionless. When she at last
went away, her face covered with her veil, she seemed quite broken
down, and even forgot to cross herself.

'There has been a row; the Abbé hasn't made himself pleasant,' thought
Madame Paloque. Then she followed Marthe as far as the Place de
l'Archevêché, where she stopped and seemed to hesitate for a moment.
At last, having glanced cautiously around to make sure that nobody was
watching her, she stealthily slipped into the house where Abbé Fenil
resided, at one of the corners of the Place.

Marthe now almost lived at Saint-Saturnin's. She carried out her
religious duties with the greatest fervour. Even Abbé Faujas often had
to remonstrate with her about her excessive zeal. He only allowed her
to communicate once a month, fixed the hours which she should devote
to pious exercises, and insisted that she should not entirely shut
herself up in religious practices. She for a long time requested him to
let her attend a low mass every morning before he would accede to her
desire. One day, when she told him that she had lain for a whole hour
on the cold floor of her room to punish herself for some fault she had
committed, he was very angry with her, and declared that her confessor
alone had the right to inflict penance. He treated her throughout very
sternly, and threatened to send her back to Abbé Bourrette if she did
not absolutely follow his directions.

'I was wrong to take you at all,' he often said; 'I do not like
disobedient souls.'

She felt a pleasure in his harshness. That iron hand which bent her,
and which held her back upon the edge of the adoration in the depths
of which she would have liked to annihilate herself, thrilled her with
ever-renewed desire. She remained like a neophyte, making but little
advance in her journey of love, being constantly pulled up, and vaguely
divining some yet greater bliss beyond. The sense of deep restfulness
which she had first experienced in the church, that forgetfulness of
herself and the outside world, now changed, however, into positive
actual happiness. It was the happiness for which she had been vaguely
longing since her girlhood, and which she was now, at forty years of
age, at last finding; a happiness which sufficed her, which compensated
her for all the past-away years, and made her egotistical, absorbed in
the new sensations that she felt within her like sweet caresses.

'Be kind to me,' she murmured to Abbé Faujas, 'be kind to me, for I
stand in need of great kindness.'

And when he did show her kindness, she could have gone down upon her
knees and thanked him. At these times he unbent, spoke to her in a
fatherly way, and pointed out to her that her imagination was too
excited and feverish. God, said he, did not like to be worshipped in
that way, in wild impulses. She smiled, looking quite pretty and young
again with her blushing face, and promised to restrain herself in the
future. But sometimes she experienced paroxysms of devotion, which cast
her upon the flag-stones in some dark corner, where, almost grovelling,
she stammered out burning words. Even her power of speech then died
away, and she continued her prayers in feeling only, with a yearning
of her whole being, an appeal for that divine kiss which seemed ever
hovering about her brow without pressing it.

At home Marthe became querulous, she who till now had been indifferent
and listless, quite happy so long as her husband left her at peace.
Now, however, that he had begun to spend all his time in the house, had
lost his old spirit of raillery, and had grown mopish and melancholy,
she grew impatient with him.

'He is always hanging about us,' she said to the cook one day.

'Oh, he does it out of pure maliciousness,' replied Rose. 'He isn't a
good man at heart. I haven't found that out to-day for the first time.
He has only put on that woebegone look, he who is so fond of hearing
his tongue wag, in order to try to make us pity him. He's really
bursting with anger, but he won't show it, because he thinks that if he
looks wretched we shall be sorry for him and do just what he wants. You
are quite right, madame, not to let yourself be influenced by all those
grimaces and pretences.'

Mouret kept a hold upon the women with his purse. He did not care to
wrangle and argue with them, for fear of making his life still less
comfortable than it already was; but, though he no longer grumbled
and meddled and interfered, he showed his displeasure by refusing a
single extra crown piece to either Marthe or Rose. He gave the latter
a hundred francs a month for the purchase of provisions; wine, oil,
and preserves were in the house. The cook was obliged to make the sum
stated last her till the end of the month, even if she had to pay for
something out of her own pocket. As for Marthe, she had absolutely
nothing; her husband never even gave her a sou, and she was compelled
to appeal to Rose, and ask her to try to save ten francs out of the
monthly allowance. She often found herself without a pair of boots to
put on, and was obliged to borrow from her mother the money she needed
to buy either a dress or a hat.

'But Mouret must surely be going mad!' Madame Rougon cried. 'You can't
go naked! I will speak to him about it.'

'I beg you to do nothing of the kind, mother,' Marthe said. 'He detests
you, and he would treat me even worse than he does already if he knew
that I talked of these matters to you.'

She began to cry as she added:

'I have shielded him for a long time, but I really can't keep silent
any longer. You remember that he was once most unwilling for me even to
set foot in the street; he kept me shut up, and treated me like a mere
chattel. Now he behaves so unkindly because he sees that I have escaped
from him, and that I won't submit any longer to be a mere servant. He
is a man utterly without religion, selfish and bad-hearted.'

'He doesn't strike you, does he?'

'No; but it will come to that. At present he contents himself with
refusing me everything. I have not bought any chemises for the last
five years, and yesterday I showed him those I have. They are quite
worn out, so patched and mended that I am ashamed of wearing them. He
looked at them and examined them and said that they would do perfectly
well till next year. I haven't a single centime of my own. The other
day I had to borrow two sous from Rose to buy some thread to sew up my
gloves, which were splitting all over.'

She gave her mother many other details of the straits to which she
was reduced--how she had to make laces for her boots out of blackened
string, how she had to wash her ribbons in tea to make her hat look a
little fresher, and how she had to smear the threadbare folds of her
only silk dress with ink to conceal the signs of wear. Madame Rougon
expressed great pity for her, and advised her to rebel. Mouret was a
monster, said she. Rose asserted that he carried his avarice so far
as to count the pears in the store-room and the lumps of sugar in the
cupboard, while he also kept a close eye on the preserves, and ate
himself all the remnants of the loaves.

It was a source of especial distress to Marthe that she was not able
to contribute to the offertories at Saint-Saturnin's. She used to
conceal ten-sou pieces in scraps of paper and carefully preserve them
for high mass on Sundays. When the lady patronesses of the Home of the
Virgin made some offering to the cathedral, such as a pyx, or a silver
cross, or a banner, she felt quite ashamed, and kept out of the way,
affecting ignorance of their intentions. The ladies felt much pity for
her. She would have robbed her husband if she could have found the key
of his desk, so keenly was she tortured at being able to do nothing for
the honour of the church to which she was so passionately attached.
She felt all the jealousy of a deceived woman when Abbé Faujas used a
chalice which had been presented by Madame de Condamin; whereas on the
days when he said mass in front of the altar cloth which she herself
had embroidered she was filled with fervent joy, and said her prayers
with ecstatic thrills, as though some part of herself lay beneath the
priest's extended hands. She would have liked to have had a whole
chapel of her own; and even dreamt of expending a fortune upon one, and
of shutting herself up in it and receiving the Deity alone by herself
at her own altar.

Rose, of whom she made a confidant, had recourse to all sorts of plans
to obtain money for her. That year she secretly gathered the finest
fruit in the garden and sold it, and she also disposed of a lot of old
furniture that was stowed away in an attic, managing her sales so well
that she succeeded in getting together a sum of three hundred francs,
which she handed to Marthe with great triumph. The latter kissed the
old cook.

'Oh! how good you are!' she said to her, affectionately. 'Are you quite
sure that he knows nothing about what you have done? I saw the other
day, in the Rue des Orfèvres, two little cruets of chased silver, such
dear little things; they are marked two hundred francs. Now, you'll do
me a little favour, won't you? I don't want to go and buy them myself,
because someone would certainly see me going into the shop. Tell your
sister to go and get them. She can bring them here after dark, and can
give them to you through the kitchen window.'

This purchase of the cruets seemed like a clandestine intrigue to
Marthe, and thrilled her with the sweetest pleasure. For three days she
kept the cruets at the bottom of a chest, hidden away beneath layers
of linen; and when she gave them to Abbé Faujas in the sacristy of
Saint-Saturnin's she trembled so much that she could scarcely speak.
The Abbé scolded her in a kindly fashion. He was not fond of presents,
and spoke of money with the disdain of a strong-minded man who only
cares for power and authority. During his earlier years of poverty,
even at times when he and his mother had no food beyond bread and
water, he had never thought of borrowing even a ten-franc piece from
the Mourets.

Marthe found a safe hiding-place for the hundred francs which were
still left her. She also was becoming a little miserly; and she schemed
how she should best expend this money, making some fresh plan every
morning. While she was still in a state of hesitation, Rose told her
that Madame Trouche wished to see her privately. Olympe, who used to
spend hours in the kitchen, had become Rose's intimate friend, and
often borrowed a couple of francs of her to save herself from going
upstairs at times when she said that she had forgotten to bring down
her purse.

'Go upstairs and see her there,' said the cook; 'you will be better
able to talk there. They are good sort of people, and they are very
fond of his reverence. They have had a lot of trouble. Madame Olympe
has quite made my heart ache with all the things she has told me.'

When Marthe went upstairs she found Olympe in tears. They, the
Trouches, were too soft-hearted, said she, and their kindness was
always being abused. Then she entered upon an explanation of their
affairs at Besançon, where the rascality of a partner had saddled them
with a heavy burden of debt. To make matters worse, their creditors
were getting angry, and she had just received an insulting letter, the
writer of which threatened to communicate with the Mayor and the Bishop
of Plassans.

'I don't mind what happens to me,' she sobbed, 'but I would give my
head to save my brother from being compromised. He has already done
too much for us, and I don't want to speak to him on the matter, for
he is not rich, and he would only distress himself to no purpose. Good
heavens! what can I do to keep that man from writing? My brother would
die of shame if such a letter were sent to the Mayor and the Bishop.
Yes, I know him well; he would die of shame!'

Tears rushed to Marthe's eyes. She was quite pale, and fervently
pressed Olympe's hands. Then, without the latter having preferred any
request, she offered her the hundred francs she had.

'It is very little, I know; but perhaps it might be sufficient to avert
the danger,' she said with an expression of great anxiety.

'A hundred francs, a hundred francs!' exclaimed Olympe. 'Oh, no! he
would never be satisfied with a hundred francs.'

Marthe lost all hope. She swore that she had not a centime more. She
so far forgot herself as to speak of the cruets. If she had not bought
them she would have been able to give three hundred francs. Madame
Trouche's eyes sparkled.

'Three hundred francs, that is just what he demands,' she said. 'Ah!
you would have rendered my brother a much greater service by not giving
him that present, which, by the way, will have to remain in the church.
What a number of beautiful things the ladies of Besançon presented to
him! But he isn't a bit the better off for them to-day! Don't give
him anything more; it is really nothing but robbery! Consult me about
what you do; there is so much hidden misery--No! a hundred francs will
certainly not be sufficient!'

At the end of half an hour spent in lamentation, however, she accepted
the hundred francs when she saw that Marthe really had no more.

'I will send them so as to pacify the man a little,' she said, 'but
he won't leave us at peace long. Whatever you do, I beg of you not to
mention anything about it to my brother. It would nearly kill him. And
I think it would be better, too, if my husband knew nothing of what has
passed between us; he is so proud that he would be sure to be doing
something rash to be able to acquit himself of our obligation to you.
We women can understand each other, you know.'

This loan was a source of much pleasure to Marthe, who henceforth had
a fresh care, that of warding off from Abbé Faujas the danger that
threatened him without his being aware of it. She frequently went
upstairs to the Trouches' rooms and stayed there for hours, discussing
with Olympe the best means of discharging the debts. The latter had
told her that a good many promissory notes had been endorsed by the
priest, and that there would be a terrible scandal if they should ever
be sent to any bailiff in Plassans to be protested. The sum total of
their liabilities was so great, she said, that for a long time she
refused to disclose it, only weeping the more bitterly when Marthe
pressed her. One day, however, she mentioned the sum of twenty thousand
francs. Marthe was quite frozen upon hearing this. She would never be
able to procure anything like twenty thousand francs, and thought that
she would certainly have to wait for Mouret's death before she could
hope to have any such sum at her disposal.

'I say twenty thousand francs in all,' Olympe hastily added, disquieted
by Marthe's grave appearance: 'but we should be quite satisfied if
we were able to pay by small instalments spread over half a score of
years. The creditors would wait for any length of time, if they were
only sure of getting their instalments regularly. It is a great pity
that we can't find anyone who has sufficient confidence in us to make
the small necessary advances.'

This matter became an habitual topic of conversation. Olympe also
frequently spoke of Abbé Faujas, whom she seemed almost to worship. She
gave Marthe all kinds of private details about the priest: such as,
for instance, that he could not bear anything that tickled him, that
he could sleep on his left side, and that he had a strawberry-mark on
his right shoulder, which turned red in May like the natural fruit.
Marthe smiled and never tired of hearing of these little matters; and
she questioned the young woman about her childhood and that of her
brother. When the subject of the money cropped up she seemed painfully
overcome by her inability to do anything, and she even complained
bitterly of Mouret, to whom Olympe, emboldened by Marthe's language,
now always referred in her presence as the 'old miser.' Sometimes when
Trouche returned from his office he found the two women still talking
together, but at his appearance they checked themselves and changed the
subject. Trouche conducted himself in the most satisfactory way, and
the lady patronesses of the Home of the Virgin were highly pleased with
him. He was never seen in any of the cafés in the town.

In order to be able to render some assistance to Olympe, who sometimes
talked about throwing herself out of the window, Marthe made Rose take
all the useless old odds and ends that were lying about the house to a
second-hand dealer at the market. At first the two women were a little
timid about the matter, and only disposed of broken-down chairs and
tables when Mouret was out of the way, but afterwards they began to
lay hands upon more important articles, and sold ornaments, pieces
of china, and anything else they could remove without its absence
appearing too conspicuous. They were slipping down a fatal incline,
and would have ended by carting off all the furniture in the house and
leaving nothing but the bare walls, if Mouret had not one day charged
Rose with thieving and threatened to send for the police.

'What, sir! A thief! I!' she cried. 'Just because you happened to see
me selling one of madame's rings. Be careful of what you are saying!
The ring was mine; madame gave it to me. Madame isn't such a mean
wretch as you are. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for leaving your
wife without a sou! She hasn't even a pair of shoes to put on! The
other day I had to pay the milkman myself! Yes, I did sell the ring,
and what of that? Isn't madame's ring her own? She is obliged to turn
it into money, since you won't give her any. If I were she, I would
sell the whole house! The whole house, do you hear? It distresses me
beyond everything to see her going about as naked as Saint John the
Baptist!'

Mouret now began to keep a close watch at all times. He locked up
the cupboards and drawers, and kept the keys in his own possession.
Whenever Rose went out he would look at her hands distrustfully, and
even feel at her pockets if he saw any suspicious swelling beneath
her skirt. He brought certain articles back from the second-hand
dealer's and restored them to their places, dusting and wiping them
ostentatiously in Marthe's presence in order to remind her of what he
called Rose's thefts. He never directly accused his wife. There was
a cut-glass water-bottle which he turned into a special instrument of
torture. Rose, having sold it for twenty sous, had pretended to Mouret
that it was broken. But now he made her bring it and put it on the
table at every meal. One day, at lunch, she quite lost her temper over
it, and purposely let it fall.

'There, sir, it's really broken this time, isn't it?' she cried,
laughing in his face.

As he threatened to dismiss her, she exclaimed:

'You had better! I've been in your service for five-and-twenty years.
If I went madame would go with me!'

Marthe, reduced to extremities and egged on by Rose and Olympe, at last
rebelled. She was desperately in want of five hundred francs. For the
last week Olympe had been crying and sobbing, asserting that if she
could not get five hundred francs by the end of the month one of the
bills which had been endorsed by Abbé Faujas would be published in one
of the Plassans newspapers. The threatened publication of this bill,
this terrible threat which she did not quite understand, threw Marthe
into a state of dreadful alarm, and she resolved to dare everything.
In the evening, as they were going to bed, she asked Mouret for the
five hundred francs, and when he looked at her in amazement she began
to speak of the fifteen years which she had spent behind a counter at
Marseilles, with a pen behind her ear like a clerk.

'We made the money together,' she said; 'and it belongs to us both. I
want five hundred francs.'

Mouret thereupon broke his long maintained silence in the most violent
fashion, and all his old raillery burst forth again.

'Five hundred francs!' he cried. 'Do you want them for your priest?
I play the simpleton now and keep my peace for fear I might say too
much; but you must not imagine that you can go on for ever making a
fool of me! Five hundred francs! Why not say the whole house? The
whole house certainly does seem to belong to him! He wants some money,
does he? And he has told you to ask me for it? I might be among a
lot of robbers in a wood instead of being in my own home! I shall
have my very handkerchief stolen out of my pocket before long! I'll
be bound that if I were to go and search his room I should find his
drawers full of my property. There are seven pairs of my socks missing,
four or five shirts, and three pairs of pants. I was going over the
things yesterday. Everything I have is disappearing, and I shan't have
anything left very soon! No, not a single sou will I give you, not a
single sou!'

'I want five hundred francs; half of the money belongs to me,' Marthe
tranquilly replied.

For a whole hour Mouret stormed and fumed and repeated the same
reproaches. His wife was no longer the same, he said. He did not know
her now. Before the priest's arrival, she had loved him and obeyed him
and looked after the house. Those who set her to act in opposition to
him must be very wicked persons. Then his voice grew thick, and he let
himself fall into a chair, broken down and as weak as a child.

'Give me the key of your desk!' said Marthe.

He got up from his chair and gathered his strength together for a last
cry of protest.

'You want to strip me of everything, eh? to leave your children with
nothing but straw for a bed? You won't even leave us a loaf of bread?
Well! well! clear out everything, and send for Rose to fill her apron!
There's the key!'

He threw the key at Marthe and she placed it under her pillow. She was
quite pale after this quarrel, the first violent quarrel that she had
ever had with her husband. She got into bed, but Mouret passed the
night in an easy-chair. Towards morning Marthe heard him sobbing. She
would then have given him back the key, if he had not wildly rushed
into the garden, though it was still pitch dark.

Peace again seemed to be re-established between them. The key of the
desk remained hanging upon a nail near the mirror. Marthe, who was
quite unaccustomed to the sight of large sums, felt a sort of fear of
the money. She was very bashful and shamefaced at first whenever she
went to open the drawer in which Mouret always kept some ten thousand
francs in cash to pay for his purchases of wine. She strictly confined
herself to taking only what was necessary. Olympe, too, gave her the
most excellent advice, and told her that now she had the key she
ought to be careful and economical; and, indeed, seeing the trembling
nervousness which she exhibited at the sight of the hoard of money, she
ceased for some time to speak to her of the Besançon debts.

Mouret meantime relapsed into his former moody silence. Serge's
admission to the Seminary had been another severe blow to him. His
friends of the Cours Sauvaire, the retired traders who promenaded
there regularly between four o'clock and six, began to feel very uneasy
about him, when they saw him arrive with his arms swaying about and his
face wearing a stupefied expression. He hardly made any reply to their
remarks and seemed a prey to some incurable disease.

'He's breaking up; he's breaking up,' they murmured to each other; 'and
he's only forty-four; it's scarcely credible. He will end by having
softening of the brain.'

Mouret no longer seemed to hear the malicious allusions which were
made before him. If he was questioned directly about Abbé Faujas, he
coloured slightly as he replied that the priest was an excellent tenant
and paid his rent with great punctuality. When his back was turned, the
retired shopkeepers grinned as they sat and basked in the sun on one of
the seats on the Cours.

'Well, after all, he is only getting what he deserves,' said a retired
almond-dealer. 'You remember how hotly he stood up for the priest, how
he sang his praises in the four corners of Plassans; but when one talks
to him on that subject now rather an odd expression comes over his
face.'

These worthy gentlemen then regaled themselves with certain scandalous
stories which they whispered into each other's ears, passing them on in
this way from one end of the bench to the other.

'Well,' said a master-tanner in a half whisper, 'there isn't much pluck
about Mouret; if I were in his place I would soon show the priest the
door.'

Thereupon they all repeated that Mouret was certainly a very timid
fellow, he who had formerly jeered so much at those husbands who
allowed their wives to lead them by the nose.

These stories, however, in spite of the persistence with which certain
persons kept them afloat, never got beyond a particular set of idle
gossiping people, and the reason which the Curé himself gave for not
taking up his residence at the parsonage, namely, his liking for the
Mourets' beautiful garden, where he could read his breviary in such
perfect peace, was generally accepted as the true one. His great
piety, his ascetic life and his contempt for all the frivolities and
coquetries which other priests allowed themselves placed him beyond
suspicion. The members of the Young Men's Club accused Abbé Fenil of
trying to ruin him. All the new part of the town was on his side,
and it was only the Saint-Marc quarter that was against him, its
aristocratic inhabitants treating him with great reserve whenever they
met him in Monseigneur Rousselot's saloons. However, in spite of his
popularity, he shook his head when old Madame Rougon told him that he
might now dare everything.

'Nothing is quite safe and solid yet,' he said. 'I am not sure of
anyone. The least touch might bring the whole edifice toppling down.'

Marthe had been causing him anxiety for some time past. He felt that
he was incapable of calming the fever of devotion which was raging
within her. She escaped his control and disobeyed him, and advanced
further than he wished her to do. He was afraid lest this woman, this
much-respected patroness, who was so useful, might yet bring about his
ruin. There was a fire burning within her which seemed to discolour
her flesh, and redden her eyes and make them heavy. It was like an
ever-growing disease, an infatuation of her whole being, that was
gradually weakening her heart and brain. She often seemed to lapse into
some ecstatic trance, her hands were shaken by a nervous trembling,
and a dry cough occasionally shook her from head to foot without
consciousness apparently on her part of how it was rending her. The
Curé then showed himself sterner to her than before, tried to crush the
passion which was dawning within her, and even forbade her to come to
Saint-Saturnin's.

'The church is very cold,' he said, 'and you cough so much there. I
don't want you to do anything to make yourself worse.'

She protested that there was nothing the matter with her beyond a
slight irritation of the throat, but at last she yielded and accepted
his prohibition as a well-deserved punishment which closed the doors of
heaven upon her. She wept, believed that she was damned, and dragged
herself listlessly through the blank weary days; and then, in spite of
herself, like a woman returning to some forbidden love, when Friday
came she humbly glided into Saint-Michael's chapel and laid her burning
brow against the woodwork of the confessional-box. She did not speak a
word, but simply knelt there, completely crushed, quite overwhelmed. At
this Abbé Faujas, who was greatly irritated, treated her as harshly as
though she was some unworthy woman, and hastily ordered her away. Then
she left the church, feeling happy and consoled.

The priest was afraid of the effect of the gloomy darkness of
Saint-Michael's chapel. He spoke upon the subject to Doctor Porquier,
who persuaded Marthe to go to confession at the little oratory of the
Home of the Virgin in the suburb. Abbé Faujas promised to be there to
hear her every other Saturday. This oratory, which had been established
in a large whitewashed room with four big windows, was bright and
cheerful, and would, he thought, have a calming effect upon the excited
imagination of his penitent. There, he thought, he would be able to
bring her under control, reduce her to obedience, without possible fear
of any scandal. As a guard against all calumnious gossip, he asked his
mother to accompany Marthe, and while he confessed the latter Madame
Faujas remained outside the door. As the old lady did not like to waste
her time, she used to take her knitting with her and work away at a
stocking.

'My dear child,' she often said to Marthe, as they were returning
together to the Rue Balande, 'I could hear very well what Ovide was
saying to you to-day. You don't seem to be able to please him. You
can't care for him. Ah! I wish I were in your place to be able to kiss
his feet! I shall grow to hate you, if you go on causing him nothing
but annoyance.'

Marthe bent her head. She felt deep shame in Madame Faujas's presence.
She did not like her, she felt jealous of her at finding her always
coming between herself and the priest. The old lady's dark eyes, too,
troubled her when they constantly bent upon her, full as they seemed of
strange and disquieting thoughts.

Marthe's weak state of health sufficed to account for her meetings with
Abbé Faujas at the oratory of the Home of the Virgin. Doctor Porquier
stated that she went there simply in obedience to his orders, and the
promenaders on the Cours were vastly amused by this saying of the
doctor's.

'Well, all the same,' remarked Madame Paloque to her husband one day,
as she watched Marthe going down to the Rue Balande, accompanied by
Madame Faujas, 'I should like to be in some corner and watch the vicar
and his sweetheart. It is very amusing to hear her talk of her bad
cold! As though a bad cold was any reason why one shouldn't make one's
confession in church! I have had colds, but I never made them an excuse
for shutting myself up in a little chapel with a priest.'

'It is very wrong of you to interfere in Abbé Faujas's affairs,' the
judge replied to his wife. 'I have been spoken to about him. He is a
man with whom we must keep on good terms, and you will prevent us from
doing so; you are too spiteful.'

'Stuff!' she retorted angrily; 'they have trampled me under foot and I
will let them know who I am! Your Abbé Faujas is a big imbecile! Don't
you suppose that Abbé Fenil would be very grateful to me if I could
catch the vicar and his sweetheart? Ah! he would give a great deal to
have a scandal like that! Just you leave me alone; you don't understand
anything about such matters.'

A fortnight later, Madame Paloque watched Marthe go out on the
Saturday. She was standing ready dressed, hiding her hideous face
behind her curtains, but keeping watch over the street through a hole
in the muslin. When the two women disappeared round the corner of the
Rue Taravelle, she sniggered, and leisurely drawing on her gloves
went quietly on to the Place of the Sub-Prefecture, and walked slowly
round it. As she passed in front of Madame de Condamin's little house,
she thought for a moment of going in and taking her with her, but she
reflected that the other might, perhaps, have some scruples. And, all
considered, it was better she should be without witnesses, and manage
the business by herself.

'I have given them time,' she thought, after a quarter of an hour's
promenade. 'I think I may present myself now.'

Thereupon she quickened her pace. She frequently went to the Home of
the Virgin to discuss the accounts with Trouche, but that day, instead
of repairing to the secretary's office, she went straight along the
corridor towards the oratory. Madame Faujas was quietly knitting on a
chair in front of the door.

The judge's wife had foreseen that obstacle, and went straight on to
the door with the hasty manner of a person who has important business
on hand. But before she could reach out her hand to turn the handle
the old lady had risen from her chair and pushed her aside with
extraordinary energy.

'Where are you going?' she asked in her blunt peasant-woman's tones.

'I am going where I have business,' Madame Paloque replied, her arm
smarting and her face convulsed with anger. 'You are an insolent,
brutish woman! Let me pass! I am the treasurer of the Home of the
Virgin, and I have a right to go anywhere here I want.'

Madame Faujas, who stood leaning against the door, straightened her
spectacles upon her nose, and with unruffled tranquillity resumed her
knitting.

'Well,' she said bluntly, 'you can't go in there.'

'Can't, indeed! And may I ask why?'

'Because I don't wish that you should.'

The judge's wife felt that her plan was frustrated, and she almost
choked with spleen and anger. She was positively frightful to look at
as she gasped and stammered:

'I don't know who you are, and I don't know what you are doing here. If
I were to call out, I could have you arrested, for you have struck me.
There must be some great wickedness going on at the other side of that
door for you to have been put there to keep people from entering. I
belong to the house, I tell you! Let me pass, or I shall call for help.'

'Call for anyone you like,' replied the old lady, shrugging her
shoulders. 'I have told you that you shall not go in, that I won't let
you. How am I to know that you belong to the house? But it makes no
difference whether you do or you don't. No one can go in. I won't let
them.'

Thereupon Madame Paloque lost all control of herself, raised her voice,
and shrieked out:

'I have no occasion to go in now! I have learnt quite sufficient! You
are Abbé Faujas's mother, are you not? This is a very decent and pretty
part for you to be playing! I wouldn't enter the room now; I wouldn't
mix myself up with all this wickedness!'

Madame Faujas laid her knitting upon the chair, and, bending slightly
forward, gazed with glistening eyes through her spectacles at Madame
Paloque, holding her hands the while a little in front of her, as
though she were about to spring upon the angry woman and silence her.
She was, indeed, going to throw herself forward, when the door suddenly
opened and Abbé Faujas appeared on the threshold. He was in his
surplice and looked very stern.

'Well, mother,' he asked, 'what is going on here?'

The old lady bent her head, and stepped back like a dog that is taking
its place at its master's heels.

'Ah! is it you, dear Madame Paloque?' the Curé continued; 'do you want
to speak to me?'

By a supreme effort of will, the judge's wife forced her face into
a smile. She answered the priest in a tone that was terrible in its
amiability and mingled irony.

'Ah! you were inside were you, your reverence? If I had known that,
I would not have insisted upon entering. But I want to see the
altar-cloth, which must, I think, be getting into a bad condition. I
am a careful superintendent here, you know, and I keep an eye upon
all these little details. But, of course, if you are engaged in the
oratory, I wouldn't think of disturbing you. Pray go on with what you
are doing; the house is yours. If madame had only just dropped me a
word, I would have left her quietly to continue guarding you from being
disturbed.'

Madame Faujas allowed a growl to escape her, but a glance from her son
reduced her to silence.

'Come in, I beg you,' he said; 'you won't disturb me in the least. I
was confessing Madame Mouret, who is not very well. Come in, by all
means. The altar-cloth might very well be changed, I think.'

'Oh, no! I will come some other time,' Madame Paloque replied. 'I am
quite distressed to have interrupted you. Pray go on, your reverence,
pray go on!'

Notwithstanding her protestations, however, she entered the room. While
she was examining the altar-cloth with Marthe, the priest began to
chide his mother in a low voice:

'Why did you prevent her coming in, mother? I never told you to allow
no one to enter.'

She gazed straight in front of her with her obstinate determined
glance. 'She would have had to walk over my body before she got
inside,' she muttered.

'But why?'

'Because----. Listen to me, Ovide; don't be angry; you know that it
pains me to see you angry. You told me to accompany our landlady here,
didn't you? Well, I thought you wanted me to stop inquisitive people's
curiosity. So I took my seat out here, and no one should have entered,
be sure of that.'

But the priest caught hold of his mother's hands and shook her,
exclaiming:

'Why, mother, you couldn't have supposed----'

'I suppose nothing,' she replied, with sublime indifference. 'You are
free to do whatever pleases you. You are my child; I would steal for
you, I would.'

The priest was no longer listening to her. He had let her hands drop,
and, as he gazed at her, he seemed to be lost in reflections, which
made his face look sterner and more austere than ever.

'No, never!' he exclaimed with lofty pride. 'You are greatly mistaken,
mother. It is only the chaste who are powerful.'



XVI


At seventeen years of age, Désirée still retained the child-like
laugh of an 'innocent.' She was now a fine, tall girl, plump and
well-developed, with the arms and shoulders of a full-grown woman. She
grew like a healthy plant, happy in her growth, and quite untouched by
the unhappiness which was wrecking and saddening the house.

'Why do you never laugh?' she cried to her father one day. 'Come and
have a game at skipping! It's such fun!'

She had taken possession of one of the garden-beds, which she dug,
planted with vegetables, and carefully watered. The hard work delighted
her. Then she desired to have some fowls, which devoured her vegetables
and which she scolded with motherly tenderness. With these occupations
of hers, gardening and fowl-keeping, she made herself dreadfully dirty.

'She's perfectly filthy!' cried Rose. 'I won't have her coming into my
kitchen any more; she dirties everything! It is no use your trying to
keep her neatly dressed, madame. If I were you I should just let her
mess about as she likes.'

Marthe, now ever preoccupied, no longer took care even that Désirée
should change her under-linen regularly. The girl sometimes wore the
same chemise for three weeks together; her stockings fell over her
shoes, which were sadly worn down at the heels, and her tattered skirts
hung about her like a beggar's rags. Mouret was one day obliged to take
up a needle himself, for the girl's dress was torn behind from top to
bottom. She, however, laughed gleefully at her nakedness, at her hair
that fell over her shoulders, and at her black hands and dirty face.

Marthe came to feel a sort of disgust of her. When she returned home
from mass, still retaining in her hair the vague perfume of the
church, she quite shuddered at the strong scent of earth which exhaled
from her daughter. She sent her into the garden again immediately
lunch was over. She could not bear to have her near her, distressed,
disquieted as she was by the girl's robust vigour and clear laugh,
which seemed to find amusement in everything.

'Oh, dear! how wearisome the child is!' she murmured sometimes, with an
air of nerveless lassitude.

As Mouret heard her complain, he exclaimed in an impulse of anger:

'If she's in your way, we will turn her out of the house, as we have
done the other two.'

'Indeed, I should be very glad if she were to go away,' Marthe answered
unhesitatingly.

One afternoon, about the end of the summer, Mouret was alarmed at no
longer being able to hear Désirée, who, a few minutes previously, had
been making a tremendous noise at the bottom of the garden. He ran to
see what had happened to her, and found her lying on the ground. She
had fallen from a ladder on to which she had climbed to gather some
figs: fortunately the box-plants had broken the force of her fall.
Mouret, in a great fright, lifted her up in his arms and called for
assistance. He thought she was dead; but she quickly came to herself,
declared that she was none the worse for the accident, and wanted to
climb the ladder again.

Marthe, however, had meantime come into the garden. When she heard
Désirée laugh she seemed quite annoyed.

'That child will kill me one of these days,' she exclaimed. 'She
doesn't know what to invent to alarm me. I'm sure that she threw
herself down on purpose. I can't endure it any longer. I shall shut
myself up in my own room, or go out in the morning and not return till
evening. Yes, you may laugh, you great goose! To think that I am the
mother of such a ninny! You are making me pay for it very dearly!'

'Yes, that she is!' cried Rose, who had run down from the kitchen;
'she's a great burden, and, unfortunately, there's no chance of our
ever being able to get her married.'

Mouret looked at them and listened with a pang at the heart. He said
nothing, but stayed with the girl at the bottom of the garden, and
there they remained chatting affectionately till nightfall. The next
day, Marthe and Rose were away from the house the whole morning. They
went to hear mass at a chapel, a league from Plassans, dedicated
to Saint-Januarius, whither all the pious folks of the town made a
pilgrimage on that particular day. When they returned, the cook hastily
served up a cold lunch. Marthe went on eating for a few minutes before
she noticed that her daughter was not at table.

'Isn't Désirée hungry?' she asked. 'Why hasn't she come to lunch?'

'Désirée is no longer here,' answered Mouret, who left his food almost
untouched upon his plate; 'I took her this morning to her nurse at
Saint-Eutrope.'

Marthe laid down her fork, and turned a little pale, seeming both
surprised and hurt.

'You might have consulted me,' she said.

Her husband, without making any direct reply, continued:

'She is all right with her nurse. The good woman is very fond of her,
and will look well after her, and the child will no longer be in your
way, and everyone will be happy.'

Then, as his wife said nothing, he added:

'If the house is not yet sufficiently quiet for you, just tell me, and
I will go away myself.'

She half rose from her seat, and a light glistened in her eyes.
Mouret had wounded her so cruelly that she stretched out her hand as
though she were going to throw the water-bottle at his head. In her
long-submissive nature angry promptings were now being fanned into
life, and she was growing to hate this man who was ever prowling round
her. She made a show of eating again, but she said nothing further
about her daughter. Mouret had folded his napkin, and remained sitting
in front of her, listening to the sound of her fork, and casting
lingering glances round the dining-room, which had once been so merry
with the chatter of the children, but was now so empty and mournful.
The room seemed to him to be quite chilly, and tears were mounting to
his eyes when Marthe called to Rose to bring in the dessert.

'You must be very hungry, I should think, madame,' said the cook, as
she put a plateful of fruit upon the table. 'We had quite a long walk;
and if the master, instead of playing the pagan, had come with us, he
would not have left you to eat the mutton all by yourself.'

Then she changed the plates, without pausing in her chatter.

'It is very pretty is that chapel of Saint-Januarius, but it is too
small. Did you see that the ladies who came late were obliged to kneel
down outside on the grass, in the open air? I can't understand why
Madame de Condamin came in a carriage. There's no merit in making the
pilgrimage if you come like that. We spent a delightful morning, didn't
we, madame?'

'Yes, a very delightful morning,' Marthe replied. 'Abbé Mousseau, who
preached, was very affecting.'

When Rose in her turn noticed Désirée's absence and learnt of the
girl's departure, she exclaimed:

'Well, really, it was a very good idea of the master's! She was always
walking off with my saucepans to water her plants. We shall be able to
have a little peace now.'

'Yes, indeed,' said Marthe, who was cutting a pear.

Mouret was almost choking. He rose and left the dining-room without
paying any attention to Rose, who cried out to him that the coffee
would be ready directly. Marthe, now left alone in the room, quietly
finished her pear.

Just as the cook was bringing the coffee, Madame Faujas came downstairs.

'Go in,' Rose said to her; 'you will be company for madame, and you can
have the master's coffee, for he has just rushed off like a madman.'

The old lady sat down in Mouret's place.

'I thought you did not take coffee,' she remarked as she put some sugar
into her cup.

'No, indeed, she didn't do so when the master kept the purse,'
interposed Rose. 'But madame would be very silly now to deny herself
what she likes.'

They talked for a good hour together, and Marthe ended by relating all
her troubles to Madame Faujas, telling her how her husband had just
inflicted a most painful scene upon her on account of her daughter,
whom he had removed to her nurse's in a sudden pet. She defended
herself, and told Madame Faujas that she was really very fond of the
girl, and should go to fetch her back before long.

'Well, she was rather noisy,' Madame Faujas remarked. 'I have often
pitied you. My son was thinking about giving up going into the garden
to read his breviary. She almost distracted him with the noise she
made.'

From that day forward Marthe and Mouret took their meals in silence.
The autumn was very damp, and the dining-room looked intensely
melancholy with only two covers laid, one at each end of the big table.
The corners were dark, and a chill seemed to fall from the ceiling. As
Rose would say, it looked as though a funeral were going on.

'Well, indeed,' she often exclaimed, as she brought the plates into the
room, 'you couldn't make much less noise, sir, however you tried! There
isn't much danger of your wearing the skin of your tongue off! Do try
to be a little livelier, sir! You look as though you were following a
corpse to the grave!--You will end by making madame quite ill. It is
bad for the health to eat without speaking.'

When the first frosts came, Rose, who sought in every way to oblige
Madame Faujas, offered her the use of her cooking-stove. The old lady
had begun by bringing down kettles to get her water boiled, as she
had no fire, she said, and the Abbé was in a hurry to shave. Then she
borrowed some flat-irons, begged the use of some saucepans, asked
for the loan of the dutch-oven to cook some mutton, and finally, in
the end, as she had no conveniently arranged fireplace upstairs, she
accepted Rose's repeated offers, and the cook lighted her a fire of
vine branches, big enough to roast a whole sheep, in the kitchen.

'Don't show any diffidence about it,' she said, as she herself turned
the leg of mutton round; 'the kitchener is a large one, isn't it? and
big enough for us both. I don't know how you've been able to do your
cooking upstairs as long as you have, with only that wretched iron
stove there. I should have been afraid of falling down in an apoplectic
fit myself. Monsieur Mouret ought to know better than to let a set of
rooms without any kitchen. You must be very enduring kind of people,
and very easily satisfied.'

Thus Madame Faujas gradually began to cook her lunch and dinner in
the Mourets' kitchen. On the first few occasions she provided her own
coal and oil and spices. But afterwards, when she forgot to bring any
article with her, Rose would not allow her to go upstairs for it, but
insisted upon supplying the deficiency from the house stores.

'Oh, there's some butter there! The little bit which you will take with
the tip of your knife won't ruin us. You know very well that everything
here is at your service. Madame would be quite angry with me if I
didn't make you at home here.'

A close intimacy now sprang up between Rose and Madame Faujas. The
cook was delighted to have some one always at hand who was willing
to listen to her while she stirred her sauces. She got on extremely
well with the priest's mother, whose print dresses and rough face and
unpolished demeanour put her almost on a footing of equality. They sat
chatting together for hours before the fireplace, and Madame Faujas
soon gained complete sway in the kitchen, though she still maintained
her impenetrable attitude, and only said what she chose to say, while
contriving to worm out all that she wanted to know. She settled the
Mourets' dinner, tasted the dishes which she had arranged they should
have, and Rose herself often made savoury little luxuries for the
Abbé's delectation, such as sugared apples or rice-cakes or fritters.
The provisions of the two establishments often got mixed together,
mistakes were made with the different pans, the two dinners being so
intermingled that Rose would cry out with a laugh:

'Tell me, madame, are these poached eggs yours? Really, I don't know.
Upon my word, it would be much better if you were all to dine together!'

It was on All Saints Day that Abbé Faujas lunched for the first time
in the Mourets' dining-room. He was in a great hurry, as he had to
return to Saint-Saturnin's at once, and so, to give him as much time as
possible, Marthe asked him to sit down at their table, saying that it
would save his mother from climbing a couple of flights of stairs. A
week later it had become a regular thing; the Faujases came downstairs
at every meal and took their seats at table, just as if they were
entering a restaurant. For the first few days their provisions were
cooked and served separately, but Rose declared this was a very silly
arrangement, that she could easily cook for four persons, and that she
would arrange it all with Madame Faujas.

'Pray don't thank me,' she said to the Abbé and his mother; 'it is a
kindness on your part to come down and keep madame company. You will
cheer her up a little. I scarcely dare go into the dining-room now; it
is just like going into the chamber of death. It quite frightens me, it
feels so desolate. If the master chooses to go on sulking, he will have
to do so all by himself.'

They kept up a roaring fire, the room was very warm, and the winter
proved a delightful one. Rose had never before taken such pains to
lay the tablecloth nicely. She placed his reverence's chair near the
stove, so that he might have his back to the fire. She paid particular
attention to his glass and his knife and fork, she took care that
whenever the slightest stain made its appearance upon the cloth it
should not be put on his side, and she paid him numberless other
delicate little attentions.

When she had prepared any dish of which he was particularly fond,
she gave him notice so that he might reserve himself for it; though
sometimes, on the other hand, she made a surprise of it for him, and
brought it into the room under a cover, smiling at the inquisitive
glances directed towards it, and exclaiming with an air of triumph:

'This is for his reverence! It is a wild-duck stuffed with olives, just
what he is so fond of. Give his reverence the breast, madame. I cooked
it specially for him.'

Marthe carved the duck, and with beseeching looks pressed the choicest
morsels upon the Abbé. She always helped him the first, and searched
the dish for him, while Rose bent over her and pointed out what she
thought the best parts. They occasionally even had little disputes as
to the superiority of this or that part of a fowl or rabbit. Then, too,
Rose used to push an embroidered hassock under the priest's feet, while
Marthe insisted that he should always have his bottle of Bordeaux and
his roll, specially ordering one of the latter for him from the baker
every day.

'We can never do too much for you,' said Rose, when the Abbé expressed
his thanks. 'Who should be well looked after, if it isn't good kind
hearts like yours? Don't you trouble about it, the Lord will pay your
debt for you.'

Madame Faujas smiled at all these flattering civilities as she sat at
table opposite her son. She was beginning to feel quite fond of Marthe
and Rose. She considered their adoration only natural, and thought
it a great happiness for them to be allowed to cast themselves in
this way at the feet of her idol. It was really she with her square
head and peasant manner who presided over the table, eating slowly
but plentifully, noticing everything that happened without once
setting down her fork, and taking care that Marthe should play the
part of servant to her son, at whom she was constantly gazing with an
expression of content. She never opened her lips except to make known
in as few words as possible the Abbé's various tastes or to over-rule
the polite refusals in which he still occasionally indulged. Sometimes
she shrugged her shoulders and pushed him with her foot. Wasn't
everything on the table at his service? He might eat the whole contents
of the dish, if he liked, and the others would be quite happy to nibble
their dry bread and look at him.

Abbé Faujas himself, however, seemed quite indifferent to all the
tender care which was lavished upon him. Of a very frugal disposition
and a quick eater, his mind always occupied with other matters,
he was frequently quite unconscious of the dainties which were
specially reserved for him. He had yielded to his mother's entreaties
in consenting to join the Mourets, but the only satisfaction he
experienced in the dining-room on the ground-floor was the pleasure of
being set entirely free from the everyday cares of life. He manifested
unruffled serenity, gradually grew accustomed to seeing his least wish
anticipated and fulfilled, and ceased to manifest any surprise or
express any thanks, lording it haughtily between the mistress of the
house and the cook, who kept anxious watch over the slightest motions
of his stern face.

Mouret sat opposite his wife, quite forgotten and unnoticed. He let
his hands rest upon the edge of the table, and waited, like a child,
till Marthe should be willing to attend to him. She helped him the
last, scantily, and to whatever might happen to be left. Rose stood
behind her and warned her whenever by mistake she was going to give her
husband some of the more delicate morsels in the dish.

'No, no; not that. The master likes the head, you know. He enjoys
sucking the little bones.'

Mouret, snubbed and slighted, ate his food with a sort of shame, as
though he was subsisting unworthily on other people's bounty. He could
see Madame Faujas watching him keenly as he cut his bread. He kept
his eyes fixed on the bottle for a whole minute, full of doubtful
hesitation, before he dare venture to help himself to wine. Once he
made a mistake and took a little of the priest's choice Bordeaux. There
was a tremendous fuss made about it, and for a whole month afterwards
Rose reproached him for those few drops of wine. Whenever she made any
sweet dish, she would say:

'I don't want the master to have any of that. He never thinks anything
I make nice. He once told me that an omelet I had made was burnt, and
then I said, "They shall be burnt altogether for you." Don't give any
of it to the master, I beg you, madame.'

She also did all she could to worry and upset him. She gave him cracked
plates, contrived that one of the table legs should come between his
own, left shreds of the glass-cloth clinging to his glass, and placed
the bread and wine and salt as far from him as possible. Mouret was the
only one in the family who liked mustard, and he used to go himself to
the grocers and buy canisters of it, which the cook promptly caused
to disappear, saying that they 'stank so.' The deprivation of mustard
spoilt his enjoyment of his meals. But what made him still more
miserable, and robbed him of all appetite, was his expulsion from his
own seat, which he had always previously occupied, in front of the
window, which was now given to the priest, as being the pleasantest in
the room. Mouret had to sit with his face towards the door, and he felt
as though he were eating amongst strangers, now that he could not at
each mouthful cast a glance at his fruit-trees.

Marthe was not so bitter against him as Rose was. She treated him at
first like a poor relation, whose presence is just tolerated, and
then gradually grew to ignore him, scarcely ever addressing a remark
to him, and acting as though Abbé Faujas alone had the right to give
orders in the house. Mouret, however, showed no inclination to rebel.
He occasionally exchanged a few polite phrases with the priest, though
he generally ate in perfect silence, and only replied to the cook's
attacks by looking at her. He always finished before any of the others,
folded up his napkin tidily, and then left the room, frequently before
the dessert was placed upon the table.

Rose alleged that he was bursting with anger, and when she gossiped in
the kitchen with Madame Faujas she discussed his conduct freely.

'I know him very well; I've never been afraid of him. Before you came
madame used to tremble before him, for he was always scolding and
blustering and trying to appear very terrible. He used to worry our
lives out of us, always poking about, never finding anything right, and
trying to show us that he was master. Now he is as docile as a lamb,
isn't he? It's just because madame has asserted herself. Ah! if he
weren't a coward, and weren't afraid of what might happen, you would
hear a pretty row. But he is afraid of your son; yes, he is afraid of
his reverence the Curé. Anyone would say, to look at him, that he lost
his senses every now and then. But after all, as long as he doesn't
bother us any longer, he is welcome to act as he pleases; isn't he,
madame?'

Madame Faujas replied that Monsieur Mouret seemed to her to be a very
worthy man, and that his only fault was his lack of religion. But he
would certainly adopt a better mode of life in time, she said. The old
lady was gradually making herself mistress of the whole of the ground
floor, going from kitchen to dining-room as she pleased, and ever
bustling about in the hall and passages. When Mouret met her he used
to recall the day when the Faujases first arrived; when, wearing that
shabby black dress of hers, she had tenaciously clung to her basket
with both hands and poked her head inquisitively into each room, with
all the unruffled serenity of a person inspecting some property for
sale.

Since the Faujases had begun to take their meals downstairs the
Trouches were left in possession of the second floor. They made a great
deal of noise, and the constant moving of furniture, the stamping of
feet and the violent banging of doors, were heard by those downstairs.
Madame Faujas would then uneasily raise her head in the midst of her
gossiping in the kitchen. Rose, for the sake of putting her at her
ease, used to say that poor Madame Trouche suffered a great deal of
pain. One night the Abbé, who had not yet gone to bed, heard a strange
commotion on the stairs. He left his room with his candle in his hand,
and saw Trouche, disgracefully drunk, climbing up the stairs on his
knees. He seized the sot in his strong arms and threw him into his
room. Olympe was in bed there, quietly reading a novel and sipping a
glass of spirits and water that stood on a little table at the bedside.

'Listen to me,' said Abbé Faujas, livid with rage; 'you will pack up
your things in the morning and take yourselves off!'

'Why? What for?' asked Olympe, quite calmly; 'we are very comfortable
here.'

The priest sternly interrupted her.

'Hold your tongue! You are a wretched woman! You have never tried to
do anything but injure me. Our mother was right; I ought never to have
rescued you from your state of wretchedness. I've just had to pick your
husband up on the stairs. It is disgraceful. Think of the scandal there
would be if he were to be seen in this state. You will go away in the
morning.'

Olympe sat up to sip her grog.

'No, no, indeed!' she said.

Trouche laughed. He was drunkenly merry, and fell back into an armchair
in a state of happy self-satisfaction.

'Don't let us quarrel,' he stammered. 'It is a mere nothing; only a
little giddiness. The air, which is very cold, made me dizzy, that's
all. And your streets in this confounded town are so very confusing. I
say, Faujas, there are some very nice young fellows about here. There's
Doctor Porquier's son. You know Doctor Porquier, don't you? Well, I
meet the son at a café behind the gaol. It is kept by a woman from
Arles, a fine handsome woman with a dark complexion.'

The priest crossed his arms and looked at him with a terrible
expression.

'No, really, Faujas, I assure you that it is quite wrong of you to be
angry with me. You know that I have been well brought up, and that I
know how to behave myself. Why, in the day-time I wouldn't touch a drop
of syrup for fear of compromising you. Since I have been here I have
gone to my office just like a boy going to school, with slices of bread
and jam in a little basket. It's a very stupid sort of life, I can
assure you, and I only do it to be of service to you. But at night, I'm
not likely to be seen, and I can go about a little. It does me good,
and, in fact, I should die if I always kept myself locked up here.
There is no one in the streets, you know. What funny streets they are,
eh?'

'Sot!' growled the priest between his clenched teeth.

'You won't be friends, then? Well, that's very wrong of you, old chap.
I'm a jolly fellow myself, and I don't like sour looks, and if what I
do doesn't please you, I'll leave you to get on with your pious ladies
by yourself. That little Condamin is the only decent one amongst them,
and even she doesn't come up to the café-keeper from Arles. Oh, yes!
you may roll your eyes about as much as you like. I can get on quite
well without you. See! would you like me to lend you a hundred francs?'

He drew out a bundle of bank-notes and spread them on his knees,
laughing loudly as he did so. Then he swept them under the Abbé's
nose and threw them up in the air. Olympe sprang out of bed, half
naked, picked up the notes and placed them under the bolster with an
expression of vexation. Abbé Faujas glanced around him with great
surprise. He saw bottles of liqueurs ranged all along the top of the
chest of drawers, a scarcely touched patty was on the mantelpiece, and
there were some sweetmeats in an old box. The room was, indeed, full
of recent purchases; dresses thrown over the chairs, an open parcel of
lace, a magnificent new overcoat hanging from the window-catch, and a
bearskin rug spread out in front of the bed. By the side of Olympe's
glass of grog on the little table there also lay a small gold lady's
watch glittering in a porcelain tray.

'Whom have they been plundering, I wonder?' thought the priest.

Then he recollected having seen Olympe kissing Marthe's hands.

'You wretched people!' he cried; 'you have been thieving!'

Trouche sprang up, but his wife pushed him down upon the sofa. 'Keep
quiet!' she said to him, 'go to sleep, you need it.'

Then, turning to her brother, she continued:

'It is one o'clock, and you might let us go to sleep if you have only
disagreeable things to say. It is certainly wrong of my husband to
intoxicate himself, but that's no reason why you should abuse him. We
have already had several explanations; this one must be the last, do
you understand, Ovide? We are brother and sister, are we not? Well,
then, as I have told you before, we must go halves. You gorge yourself
downstairs, you have all kinds of dainty dishes provided for you,
and you live a fat life between the landlady and the cook. Well, you
please yourself about that. We don't go and look into your plate or try
to pull the dainty morsels out of your mouth. We let you manage your
affairs as you like. Very well then, just you leave us alone and allow
us the same liberty. I don't think I am asking anything unreasonable.'

The priest made a gesture of impatience.

'Oh yes, I understand,' she continued; 'you are afraid lest we should
compromise you in your schemes. The best way to ensure our not doing so
is to leave us in peace and cease from worrying us. Ah! in spite of all
your grand airs, you are not so very clever. We have the same interests
as you have, we are all of the same family, and we might very well hunt
together. It would be much the best plan, if you would only see it. But
there, go to bed, now! I'll scold Trouche in the morning, and I'll
send him to you and you can give him your instructions.'

For a moment the priest, who was a little pale, remained thinking;
then, without another word, he left the room, and Olympe resumed the
perusal of her novel, while Trouche lay snoring on the sofa.

The next morning, Trouche, who had recovered his wits, had a long
interview with Abbé Faujas. When he returned to his wife, he informed
her of the conditions upon which peace had again been patched up.

'Listen to me, my dear,' Olympe replied. 'Give way to him and do what
he asks. Above all try to be useful to him, since he gives you the
chance of being so. I put a bold face on the matter when he is here,
but in my own heart I know very well that he would turn us out into the
street like dogs if we pushed him too far, and I don't want to have to
go away. Are you sure that he will let us stay?'

'Oh yes; don't be afraid,' replied the secretary. 'He has need of me,
and he will leave us to feather our nest.'

From this time forward Trouche used to go out every evening about nine
o'clock, when the streets were quiet. He told his wife that he went
into the old quarter of the town to further the Abbé's cause. Olympe
was not at all jealous of his nightly absences, and laughed heartily
whenever he brought her back some broad story. She preferred being left
quietly to herself, to sip her glass and nibble her cakes in privacy,
or to spend her long evenings snugly in bed, devouring the old novels
of a circulating-library which she had discovered in the Rue Canquoin.
Trouche used to come back slightly under the influence of liquor, but
he took off his boots in the hall so as to make no noise as he went
upstairs. When he had drunk too much, and reeked of tobacco and brandy,
his wife would not let him get into bed, but made him sleep on the
sofa. If he became annoying, she caught hold of him, looked him sternly
in the face, and said:

'Ovide will hear you. Ovide is coming.'

At this he was as frightened as a child that is threatened with a wolf,
and went off to sleep, muttering excuses. In the morning he dressed
himself in serious, sedate fashion, wiped from his face all the marks
of the previous night's dissipation, and put on a certain cravat, which
gave him, he said, quite the air of a parson. As he passed the cafés
he bent his head to the ground. At the Home of the Virgin he was held
in great respect. Now and then, when the girls were playing in the
courtyard, he raised a corner of his curtain and glanced at them with
an affectation of fatherliness, though his eyes glistened beneath their
lowered lids.

The Trouches were still kept in check by Madame Faujas. The mother and
the daughter were perpetually quarrelling, Olympe complaining that she
was sacrificed to her brother, and Madame Faujas treating her like
a viper whom she ought to have crushed to death in her cradle. Both
grasping after the same prey, they kept a close watch on one another,
anxious to know which would secure the larger share. Madame Faujas
wanted to obtain everything in the house, and she tried to keep the
very sweepings from Olympe's clutching fingers. On seeing what large
sums her daughter drew from Marthe, she quite burst with anger. When
her son shrugged his shoulders at it like a man who despises such
matters, and is forced to close his eyes to them, she, on her side, had
a stormy explanation with her daughter, whom she branded as a thief, as
though the money had been taken from her own pocket.

'There, mother, that will do!' cried Olympe impatiently. 'It isn't your
purse, you know, that I have been lightening. Besides, I have only been
borrowing a little money; I don't make other people keep me.'

'What do you mean, you wicked hussy?' gasped Madame Faujas with
indignation. 'Do you suppose that we don't pay for our food? Ask the
cook, and she will show you our account book.'

Olympe broke out into a loud laugh.

'Oh, yes, that's very nice!' she cried; 'I know that account book of
yours! You pay for the radishes and butter, don't you? Stay downstairs
by all means, mother; stay downstairs on the ground floor. I don't
want to interfere with your arrangements. But don't come up here and
worry me any more, or I shall make a row, and you know that Ovide has
forbidden any noise up here.'

At this Madame Faujas went downstairs muttering and growling. The
threat of making a disturbance always compelled her to beat a retreat.
Olympe began to sing jeeringly as soon as her mother's back was turned.
But whenever she went down into the garden the other took her revenge,
keeping everlastingly at her heels, watching her hands, never ceasing
to play the spy upon her. She would not allow her in the kitchen or
dining-room for a moment. She embroiled her with Rose about a saucepan
that had been borrowed and never returned; but she did not dare to
attempt to undermine Marthe's friendship for her for fear of causing
some scandal which might prove prejudicial to the priest.

'Since you are so regardless of your own interests,' she said to her
son one day, 'I must look after them for you. Make yourself easy. I
shan't do anything foolish; but if I were not here, your sister would
snatch the very bread out of your hands.'

Marthe had no notion of the drama that was being played around her.
To her the house simply seemed more lively and cheerful, now that
all these people thronged the hall and the stairs and the passages.
The place was as noisy as an hotel, what with all the echoes of
quarrelling, the banging of doors, the free and independent life
of each of the tenants, and the flaming fire in the kitchen, where
Rose seemed to have a whole table d'hôte to provide for. There was a
continual procession of tradesmen to the house. Olympe, who became very
particular about her hands and refused to risk spoiling them by washing
plates and dishes, had everything sent from a confectioner's in the Rue
de la Banne, who catered for the townspeople. Marthe smiled and said
she enjoyed the present bustle of the house. She now greatly disliked
being left alone, and felt the necessity of occupation of some sort to
allay the fever that was consuming her.

Mouret, however, to escape from all the racket, used to shut himself
up in a room on the first floor, which he called his office. He had
overcome his distaste for solitude; he now scarcely ever went down into
the garden, but kept himself locked up from morning till night.

'I should very much like to know what he finds to do in there,' said
Rose to Madame Faujas. 'One can't hear him move, and you might almost
fancy he was dead. If he wants to hide himself in that way, it must be
because he is doing something that's neither right nor proper; don't
you think so, eh?'

When the summer came round once more, the house grew still livelier.
Abbé Faujas received the guests of both the sub-prefect and the
presiding judge beneath the arbour at the bottom of the garden. Rose,
by Marthe's orders, purchased a dozen rustic chairs, so that the
visitors might enjoy the fresh air without it being necessary to carry
the dining-room chairs hither and thither. It was now the regular
thing for the doors communicating with the little lane to remain open
every Tuesday afternoon, and the ladies and gentlemen came to salute
Abbé Faujas like friendly neighbours, the men often in their slippers
and with their coats carelessly unbuttoned, and the ladies in straw
hats and with skirts looped up with pins. The visitors arrived one
by one, and gradually the two sets of guests found themselves mixing
together, gossiping and amusing themselves with perfect familiarity.

'Aren't you afraid,' said Monsieur Bourdeu to Monsieur Rastoil one day,
'that these meetings with the sub-prefect's friends may be ill advised?
The general elections are getting near.'

'Why should they be ill advised?' asked Monsieur Rastoil. 'We don't
go to the Sub-Prefecture; we keep on neutral ground. Besides, my good
friend, there is no ceremony about the matter. I keep my linen jacket
on, and it's a mere private friendly visit. No one has any right to
pass judgment upon what I do at the back of my house. In the front it's
another matter. In the front we belong to the public. When Monsieur
Péqueur and I meet each other in the streets we merely bow.'

'Monsieur Péqueur de Saulaies improves much on acquaintance,' the
ex-prefect ventured to remark after a short pause.

'Certainly, certainly,' replied the presiding judge; 'I am delighted
to have made his acquaintance. And what a worthy man Abbé Faujas is!
No, no; I have no fear of any slander arising from our going to pay our
respects to our excellent neighbour.'

Since the general election had begun to be the subject of conversation,
Monsieur de Bourdeu had felt very uneasy. He declared that it was
the increasing warmth of the weather that affected him; but he was
frequently assailed with doubts and scruples, which he confided to
Monsieur Rastoil in order that the latter might reassure him. However,
politics were never mentioned in the Mourets' garden. One afternoon,
Monsieur de Bourdeu, after vainly trying to devise some means of
bringing political matters forward, exclaimed abruptly, addressing
himself to Doctor Porquier:

'I say, doctor, have you seen the "Moniteur" this morning? I see that
the marquis has at last spoken! He uttered just thirteen words; I
counted them. Poor Lagrifoul! He has made himself very ridiculous!'

Abbé Faujas raised his finger with an arch look. 'No politics,
gentlemen, no politics,' said he.

Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies was chatting with Monsieur Rastoil, and
they both pretended that they had not heard what was said. Madame de
Condamin smiled as she continued her conversation with Abbé Surin.

'Aren't your surplices stiffened with a weak solution of gum?' she
inquired.

'Yes, madame, with a weak solution of gum,' replied the young priest.
'Some laundresses use boiled starch, but it spoils the material and is
worthless.'

'Well,' rejoined the young woman, 'I never can get my laundress to use
gum for my petticoats.'

Thereupon Abbé Surin politely gave her the name and address of his own
laundress upon the back of one of his visiting cards. Then the company
chatted about dress and the weather and the crops and the events of
the week, spending a delightful hour together; and there were also
games of shuttlecock in the alley. Abbé Bourrette frequently made his
appearance, and told in his enthusiastic manner divers pious little
stories to which Monsieur Maffre listened with the greatest attention.
Upon one occasion only had Madame Delangre met Madame Rastoil there;
they had treated each other with the most scrupulous politeness,
but in their faded eyes still flashed the sparks of their old-time
rivalry. Monsieur Delangre for his part did not make himself too cheap,
and though the Paloques were constantly at the Sub-Prefecture, they
contrived to be absent when Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies went to make
one of his neighbourly calls upon Abbé Faujas. The judge's wife had
been much perplexed in mind ever since her unfortunate expedition to
the oratory at the Home of the Virgin. On the other hand, the person
who was oftenest to be seen in the garden was certainly Monsieur de
Condamin, who always wore the most perfect fitting gloves, and came
thither to make fun of the company, telling fibs and indelicate stories
with extraordinary coolness and unconcern, and deriving a perfect fund
of amusement for the whole week from the little intrigues which he
scented out. This tall old buck, whose coat fitted so closely to his
slim figure, was devoted to youth; he scoffed at the 'old ones,' went
off with the young ladies, and laughed gaily in the snug little corners
of the garden.

'This way, youngsters!' he would say, with a smile, 'let us leave the
old ones together.'

One day he almost defeated Abbé Surin in a tremendous battle at
shuttlecock. He was very fond of plaguing young people, and made a
special victim of Monsieur Rastoil's son, a simple young fellow, to
whom he told the most prodigious stories. He ended, indeed, by accusing
him of making love to his wife, and rolled his eyes about in such a
terrible way, that the wretched Séverin broke out into a perspiration
from very fear. The youth did, as it happened, actually fancy that he
was in love with Madame de Condamin, in whose presence he behaved in a
tender, simpering manner that extremely amused her husband.

The Rastoil girls, for whom the conservator of rivers and forests
manifested all the gallantry of a young widower, also supplied subjects
of his raillery. Although they were approaching their thirtieth
birthdays, he spurred them on to indulge in childish games, and spoke
to them as though they were yet schoolgirls. His great amusement was
to gaze at them when Lucien Delangre, the mayor's son, was present. He
would then take Doctor Porquier aside, and whisper in his ear, alluding
to the former entanglement between Monsieur Delangre and Madame Rastoil:

'There's a young man there, Porquier, who is very much embarrassed in
his mind----Is it Angéline or is it Aurélie whom he ought to choose?
Guess, if you can, and name, if you dare.'

Meantime Abbé Faujas was very polite and amiable to all his visitors,
even to the terrible Condamin who caused so much disquietude. He
effaced himself as much as possible, spoke but little, and allowed
the rival sets of guests to coalesce, seemingly experiencing the
quiet satisfaction of a host who is happy to be the means of bringing
together a number of distinguished people intended by nature to be on
good terms with one another. Marthe had upon two occasions made her
appearance, thinking that she would put the visitors more at their ease
by doing so; but it distressed her to find the Abbé in the midst of so
many people; she much preferred to see him walking slowly and seriously
in the quiet of the arbour. The Trouches on their side had resumed
their Tuesday watchings behind their curtains, while Madame Faujas and
Rose craned their heads from the doorway and admired the graceful
manner in which his reverence received the chief people of Plassans.

'Ah, madame!' said the cook, 'it is very easy to see that he is a
distinguished man. Look at him bowing to the sub-prefect. I admire his
reverence the most; though, indeed, the sub-prefect is a fine man. Why
do you never go into the garden to them? If I were you, I would put on
a silk dress and join them. You are his mother, you know, after all.'

But the old peasant woman shrugged her shoulders.

'Oh! he isn't ashamed of me,' she said; 'but I should be afraid of
putting him out. I prefer to watch him from here; and I enjoy it more.'

'Yes, I can understand that. Ah! you must be very proud of him. He
isn't a bit like Monsieur Mouret, who nailed the door up, so that no
one might open it. We never had a visitor, there was never a dinner to
be prepared for anyone, and the garden was so desolate that it made one
feel quite frightened in the evenings. Monsieur Mouret would certainly
never have known how to receive visitors. He always pulled a sour face
if one ever happened to come by chance. Don't you think, now, that he
ought to take an example from his reverence? If I were he, I should
come down and amuse myself in the garden with the others, instead of
shutting myself up all alone. I would take my proper place. But there
he is, shut up in his room, as though he were afraid they would give
him some nasty illness! By the way, shall we go up sometime and try to
find out what he does?'

One Tuesday they did go upstairs together. The visitors were very merry
that afternoon, and the sound of their laughter floated into the house
through the open windows, while a tradesman, who had brought a hamper
of wine for the Trouches, made a clatter on the second floor as he
collected the empty bottles together. Mouret was securely locked up in
his office.

'The key prevents me from seeing,' said Rose, who had applied her eye
to the key-hole.

'Wait a moment,' murmured Madame Faujas, and she carefully turned the
end of the key, which protruded slightly through the lock. Mouret
was sitting in the middle of the room in front of a big empty table,
covered with a thick layer of dust. There was not a single paper
nor book upon it. He was lying back in his chair, his arms hanging
listlessly beside him while he gazed blankly into space. He sat
perfectly still, without the slightest movement.

The two women looked at him in silence, one after the other.

'He has made me feel cold to the very marrow,' exclaimed Rose, as they
went downstairs again. 'Did you notice his eyes? And what a filthy
state the room is in! He hasn't laid a pen on that desk for a couple of
months past, and to think that I fancied he spent all his time there
writing. Fancy him amusing himself like that--shutting himself up all
alone like a corpse, when the house is so bright and cheerful!'



XVII


Marthe's health was causing Doctor Porquier much anxiety. He still
smiled in his pleasant way, and talked to her after the manner of a
fashionable medical man for whom disease never has any existence,
and who grants a consultation just as a dressmaker fits on a new
dress; but there was a certain twist on his lips which indicated
that 'dear madame' had something more seriously wrong with her than
a slight cough and spitting of blood, as he tried to persuade her.
He advised her, now that the warm weather had come, to get a little
change of surroundings and occupation by taking an occasional drive,
without, however, over-fatiguing herself. In obedience to the doctor's
directions, Marthe, who was more and more possessed by a vague
feeling of anguish, and a need of finding some occupation to assuage
her nervous impatience, started on a series of excursions to the
neighbouring villages. Twice a week she drove off, after luncheon,
in an old refurbished carriage, hired from a Plassans coachbuilder.
She generally drove some six or seven miles out, so as to get back
home by six o'clock. Her great desire was to induce Abbé Faujas to
go with her, and it was only in the hope of accomplishing this that
she had conformed with the doctor's directions; but the Abbé, without
distinctly refusing, always excused himself on the ground that he was
too busy to spare the time, and Marthe was obliged to content herself
with the companionship of Olympe or Madame Faujas.

One afternoon as she was driving with Olympe towards the village of
Les Tulettes, past the little estate of her uncle Macquart, the latter
caught sight of her as he stood upon his terrace, which was ornamented
with a couple of mulberry trees.

'Where is Mouret?' he cried. 'Why hasn't Mouret come as well?'

Marthe was obliged to stop for a moment or two to speak to her uncle,
and to explain to him that she was not well, and could not stay to dine
with him. He had expressed his determination to kill a fowl for the
meal.

'Well,' he said at last, 'I'll kill it all the same, and you shall take
it away with you.'

Then he hurried off to kill the fowl at once. When he came back with
it, he laid it on a stone table in front of the house, and exclaimed
with an expression of satisfaction:

'Isn't it a plump, splendid fellow?'

At the moment of Marthe's arrival Macquart had been on the point of
drinking a bottle of wine under the shade of his mulberry trees, in
company with a tall thin young fellow, dressed entirely in grey. He
persuaded the two women to leave the carriage and sit down beside him
for a time, bringing them chairs, and doing the honours of his house
with a snigger of satisfaction.

'I have a very nice little place here, haven't I? My mulberries are
very fine ones. In the summer I smoke my pipe out here in the fresh
air. In the winter I sit down yonder with my back to the wall in the
sun. Do you see my vegetables? The fowl-house is at the bottom of the
garden. I have another strip of ground as well, behind the house, where
I grow potatoes and lucern. I am getting old now, worse luck, and it's
quite time that I should enjoy myself a little.'

He rubbed his hands together and gently wagged his head, as he cast an
affectionate glance over his little estate. Then some thought seemed to
sadden him.

'Have you seen your father lately?' he abruptly asked. 'Rougon isn't
very amiable, you know. That cornfield over yonder to the left is for
sale. If he had been willing we might have bought it. What would it
have been for a man of his means? A paltry three thousand francs is all
that is asked, but he refuses to have anything to do with it. The last
time I went to see him he even made your mother tell me that he wasn't
at home. But, you'll see, it will be all the worse for them in the end.'

He wagged his head and indulged in his unpleasant laugh, as he repeated:

'Yes, yes; it will be all the worse for them.'

Then he went to fetch some glasses, for he insisted upon making the two
women taste his wine. It was some light wine which he had discovered at
Saint-Eutrope, and in which he took great pride. Marthe scarcely wetted
her lips, but Olympe finished the bottle. And afterwards she even
accepted a glass of syrup, saying that the wine was very strong.

'And what have you done with your priest?' Uncle Macquart suddenly
asked his niece.

Marthe looked at him in surprise and displeasure without replying.

'I heard that he was sponging on you tremendously,' Macquart loudly
continued. 'Those priests are fond of good living. When I heard about
him, I said that it served Mouret quite right. I warned him. Well, I
shall be glad to help you to turn him out of the house. Mouret has only
got to come and ask me, and I'll give him a helping hand. I've never
been able to endure those fellows. I know one of them, Abbé Fenil, who
has a house on the other side of the road. He is no better than the
rest of them, but he is as malicious as an ape, and he amuses me. I
fancy that he doesn't get on very well with that priest of yours; isn't
that so, eh?'

Marthe had turned very pale.

'Madame here is the sister of his reverence Abbé Faujas,' she said,
turning to Olympe, who was listening with much curiosity.

'What I said has no reference to madame,' replied Macquart quite
unconcernedly. 'Madame is not offended, I'm sure. She will take another
glass of syrup?'

Olympe accepted another glass of the syrup, but Marthe rose from her
seat and wished to leave. Her uncle, however, insisted upon taking
her over his grounds. At the end of the garden she stopped to look
at a large white building that was on the slope of the hill, at a
few hundred yards from Les Tulettes. Its inner courts looked like
prison-yards, and the narrow symmetrical windows which streaked its
front with black lines gave it the cheerless aspect of a hospital.

'That is the Lunatic Asylum,' exclaimed Macquart, who had followed the
direction of Marthe's eyes. 'The young man here is one of the warders.
We get on very well together, and he comes every now and then to have a
bottle of wine with me.'

Then, turning towards the man in grey, who was finishing his glass
beneath the mulberry tree, he called out:

'Here, Alexandre, come and show my niece our poor old woman's window.'

Alexandre came up to them politely.

'Do you see those three trees?' he said, stretching out his forefinger,
as though he were drawing a plan in the air. 'Well, a little below the
one to the left, you can see a fountain in the corner of a courtyard.
Follow the windows on the ground floor to the right; it is the fifth
one.'

Marthe stood there in silence, her lips white and her gaze fixed, in
spite of herself, on the window pointed out to her. Uncle Macquart was
looking at it as well, but with complaisance manifest in his blinking
eyes.

'I see her sometimes of a morning,' he said, 'when the sun is on the
other side. She keeps very well, doesn't she, Alexandre? I always tell
them so when I go to Plassans. I am very well placed here to keep a
watch on her. I couldn't be anywhere better.'

He again gave a snigger of satisfaction.

'The Rougons, you know, my dear, haven't got any stronger heads than
the Macquarts have, and I often think, as I sit out here in front of
that big house, that the whole lot will, perhaps, join the mother
there some day. Thank Heaven, I've no fear about myself. My noddle is
firmly fixed on. But I know some of them who are a little shaky. Well,
I shall be here to receive them, and I shall see them from my den, and
recommend them to Alexandre's kind attention, though they haven't all
of them always been particularly kind to me.'

Then with that hideous smile of his that was like a captive wolf's, he
added:

'It's very lucky for you all that I am here on the spot at Les
Tulettes.'

Marthe could not help trembling. Though she was well aware of her
uncle's taste for savage pleasantries, and the pleasure he took in
torturing the people to whom he presented his rabbits, she could not
help fancying that he was perhaps speaking the truth, and that the rest
of the family would indeed be quartered eventually in those gloomy
cells. She insisted upon taking her immediate departure in spite of
the pressing entreaties of Macquart, who wanted to open another bottle
of wine.

'Ah! where is the fowl?' he cried, just as she was getting into the
carriage.

He went back for it, and placed it upon her knees.

'It is for Mouret, you understand,' he said, with a malicious
expression; 'for Mouret, and for no one else. When I come to see you, I
shall ask him how he liked it.'

He winked as he glanced at Olympe. Then, just as the coachman was going
to whip his horse forward, he laid hold of the carriage again, and said:

'Go and see your father and talk to him about the cornfield. See, it's
that field just in front of us. Rougon is making a mistake. We are
too old friends to quarrel about the matter; besides, as he very well
knows, it would be worse for him if we did. Let him understand that he
is making a mistake.'

The carriage set off, and as Olympe turned round she saw Macquart
grinning under his mulberry trees with Alexandre, and uncorking that
second bottle of which he had spoken. Marthe gave the coachman strict
orders that he was never to take her to Les Tulettes again. She was
beginning to feel a little tired of these drives into the country, and
she took them less frequently, and at last gave them up altogether,
when she found that she could never prevail upon Abbé Faujas to
accompany her.

Marthe was now undergoing a complete change; she was becoming quite
another woman. She had grown much more refined, through the life of
nervous excitement which she had been leading. The stolid heaviness
and dull lifelessness which she had acquired from having spent fifteen
years behind a counter at Marseilles seemed to melt away in the bright
flame of her new-born piety. She dressed better than she had been used
to do, and joined in the conversation when she now went to the Rougons'
on Thursdays.

'Madame Mouret is becoming quite a young girl again,' exclaimed Madame
de Condamin in amazement.

'Yes, indeed,' replied Doctor Porquier, nodding his head; 'she is going
through life backwards.'

Marthe, who had now grown much slimmer, with rosy cheeks and
magnificent black flashing eyes, burst for some months into singular
beauty. Her face beamed with animation, extraordinary vitality
seemed to flood her being and thrill her with warmth. Her forgotten
and joyless youth appeared to blaze in her now, at forty years of
age. At the same time she was overwhelmed by a perpetual craving for
prayer and devotion, and no longer obeyed Abbé Faujas's injunctions.
She wore out her knees upon the flag-stones at Saint-Saturnin's,
lived in the midst of canticles and offerings of praise and worship,
and took comfort in the presence of the gleaming monstrances and the
brightly lit chapels, and priests and altars that glittered with starry
sheen through the dark gloom of the cathedral nave. She had a sort
of physical craving for those glories, a craving which tortured and
racked her. She was compelled by her very suffering--she would have
died if she had not yielded--to seek sustenance for her passion, to
come and prostrate herself in confession, to bow in lowly awe amidst
the thrilling peals of the organ, and to faint with melting joy in the
ecstasy of communion. Then all consciousness of trouble left her, she
was no longer tortured, she bowed herself to the ground in a painless
trance, etherealised, as it were, becoming a pure, unsullied flame of
self-consuming love.

But Faujas's severity increased, he tried to check her by roughness. He
was amazed at this passionate awakening of Marthe's soul, this ardour
for love and death. He frequently questioned her on the subject of her
childhood; he even went to see Madame Rougon, and remained for a long
time in great perplexity and dissatisfaction.

'Our landlady has been complaining of you,' his mother said to him.
'Why won't you allow her to go to church whenever she likes? It is very
unkind of you to vex her; she is very kindly to us.'

'She is killing herself,' replied the priest.

Madame Faujas shrugged her shoulders after her usual fashion.

'That is her own business. We all have our ways of finding pleasure. It
is better to die of praying than to give one's self indigestion like
that hussy Olympe. Don't be so severe with Madame Mouret. You will end
by making it impossible for us to live here.'

One day when she was advising him in this way, he exclaimed in a gloomy
voice:

'Mother, this woman will be the obstacle!'

'She!' cried the old peasant woman, 'why, she worships you, Ovide! You
may do anything you like with her, if you will only treat her a little
more kindly. She would carry you to the cathedral if it rained, to
prevent you wetting your feet, if you would only let her!'

Abbé Faujas himself at last came to understand the necessity of no
longer treating Marthe so harshly. He began to fear an outburst. So
he gradually allowed her greater liberty, permitted her to seclude
herself, to tell her beads at length, to offer prayers at each of
the Stations of the Cross, and even to come twice a week to his
confessional at Saint-Saturnin's. Marthe, no longer hearing the
terrible voice which had seemed to impute her piety to her as a vice,
believed that God was pouring His grace upon her. Now at last, she
thought, she was entering into all the joys of Paradise. She was
overcome by trances of sweet emotion, inexhaustible floods of tears,
which she shed without being conscious of their flow, and nervous
ecstasies from which she emerged weak and faint as though all her
life-blood had left her veins. At these times, Rose would take her and
lay her upon her bed, where she would lie for hours with pinched lips
and half-closed eyes like a dead woman.

One afternoon the cook, alarmed by her stillness, was really afraid
that she might be dead. She did not think of knocking at the door of
the room in which Mouret had shut himself, but she went straight to the
second floor and besought Abbé Faujas to come down to her mistress.
When he reached Marthe's room, Rose hastened to fetch some ether,
leaving the priest alone with the swooning woman. He merely took her
hands within his own. At last Marthe began to move about and talk
incoherently. When she at last recognised him at her bedside her blood
surged to her face.

'Are you better, my dear child?' he asked her. 'You make me feel very
uneasy.'

She felt too much oppressed at first to be able to reply to him, and
burst into tears, as she let her head slip between his arms.

'I am not ill,' she murmured at last, in so feeble a voice that it
was scarcely more than a breath; 'I am too happy. Let me cry; I feel
delight in my tears. How kind of you to have come! I had been expecting
you and calling you for a long time.'

Then her voice grew weaker and weaker till it was nothing more than a
mere murmur of ardent prayer.

'Oh! who will give me wings to fly towards thee? My soul languishes
without thee, it longs for thee passionately and sighs for thee, O my
God, my only good thing, my consolation, my sweet joy, my treasure, my
happiness, my life, my God, my all----'

Her face broke into a smile as she breathed these passionate words, and
she clasped her hands fancying that she saw Abbé Faujas's grave face
circled by an aureole. The priest, who had hitherto always succeeded in
checking anything of this sort, felt alarmed for a moment and hastily
withdrew his arms. Then he exclaimed authoritatively:

'Be calm and reasonable; I desire you to be so. God will refuse your
homage if you do not offer it to Him in calm reason. What is most
urgent now is to restore your strength.'

Rose returned to the room, quite distracted at not having been able to
find any ether. The priest told her to remain by the bedside, while he
said to Marthe in a more gentle tone:

'Don't distress yourself. God will be touched by your love. When
the proper time comes, He will come down to you and fill you with
everlasting felicity.'

Then he quitted the room, leaving the ailing woman quite radiant,
like one raised from the dead. From that day forward he was able
to mould her like soft wax beneath his touch. She became extremely
useful to him in certain delicate missions to Madame de Condamin,
and she also frequently visited Madame Rastoil when he expressed a
desire that she should do so. She rendered him absolute obedience,
never seeking the reason of anything he told her to do, but saying
just what he instructed her to say and no more. He no longer observed
any precautions with her, but bluntly taught her her lessons and made
use of her as though she were a machine. She would have begged in the
streets if he had ordered her to do so. When she became restless and
stretched out her hands to him, with bursting heart and passion-swollen
lips, he crushed her with a single word beneath the will of Heaven. She
never dared to make any reply. Between her and the priest there was a
wall of anger and scorn. When Abbé Faujas left her after one of the
short struggles which he occasionally had with her, he shrugged his
shoulders with the disdain of a strong wrestler who has been opposed by
a child.

Though Marthe was so pliant in the hands of the priest, she grew more
querulous and sour every day amidst all the little cares of household
life. Rose said that she had never before known her to be so fractious.
It was towards her husband that she specially manifested increasing
bitterness and dislike. The old leaven of the Rougons' rancour was
reviving in presence of this son of a Macquart, this man whom she
accused of being the torture of her life. When Madame Faujas or Olympe
came downstairs to sit with her in the dining-room she no longer
observed any reticence, but gave full vent to her feelings against
Mouret.

'For twenty years he kept me shut up like a mere clerk, with a pen
behind my ear, between his jars of oil and bags of almonds! He never
allowed me a pleasure or gave me a present. He has robbed me of my
children; and he is quite capable of taking himself off any day to
make people believe that I have made his life unendurable. It is very
fortunate that you are here and can tell the truth.'

She fell foul of Mouret in this way without any provocation from him.
Everything that he did, his looks, his gestures, the few words he
spoke, all seemed to infuriate her. She could not even see him without
being carried away by an unreasoning anger. It was at the close of
their meals, when Mouret, without waiting for dessert, folded his
napkin and silently rose from table, that quarrels more especially
occurred.

'You might leave the table at the same time as other people,' Marthe
would bitterly remark; 'it is not very polite of you to behave in that
way.'

'I have finished, and I am going away,' Mouret replied in his drawling
voice.

Marthe began to imagine that her husband's daily retreat from table
was an intentional slight to Abbé Faujas, and thereupon she lost all
control over herself.

'You are a perfect boor, you make me feel quite ashamed!' she cried.
'I should have a nice time of it with you if I had not been fortunate
enough to make some friends who console me for your boorish ways! You
don't even know how to behave yourself at table, you prevent me from
enjoying a single meal. Stay where you are, do you hear? If you don't
want to eat any more, you can look at us.'

He finished folding his napkin as calmly as though he had not heard a
word of what his wife had said, and then, with slow and deliberate
steps, he left the room. They could hear him go upstairs and lock
himself in his office. Thereupon Marthe, choking with anger, burst out:

'Oh, the monster! He is killing me; he is killing me!'

Madame Faujas was obliged to console and soothe her. Rose ran to the
foot of the stairs and called out at the top of her voice, so that
Mouret might hear her through the closed door:

'You are a monster, sir! Madame is quite right to call you a monster!'

Some of their quarrels were particularly violent. Marthe, whose reason
was on the verge of giving way, had got it into her head that her
husband wished to beat her. It was a fixed idea of hers. She asserted
that he was only waiting and watching for an opportunity. He had not
dared to do it yet, she said, because he had never found her alone, and
in the night-time he was afraid lest she should cry out for assistance.
Rose on her side swore that she had seen her master hiding a thick
stick in his office. Madame Faujas and Olympe showed no hesitation
in believing these stories, expressed the greatest pity for their
landlady, and constituted themselves her protectors. 'That brute,' as
they now called Mouret, would not venture, they said, to ill-treat her
in their presence; and they told her to come for them at night if he
should show the least sign of violence. The house was now in a constant
state of alarm.

'He is capable of any wickedness,' exclaimed the cook.

That year Marthe observed all the religious ceremonies of Passion Week
with the greatest fervour. On Good Friday she knelt in agony in the
black-draped church, while the candles were extinguished, one by one,
midst the mournful swell of voices rising through the gloomy nave. It
seemed to her as though her own breath were dying away with the light
of the candles. When the last one went out, and the darkness in front
of her seemed implacable and repelling, she fainted away, remaining
for an hour bent in an attitude of prayer without the women around her
being aware of her condition. When she came to herself, the church
was deserted. She imagined that she was being scourged with rods and
that blood was streaming from her limbs; she experienced too such
excruciating pains in her head that she raised her hands to it, as if
to pull out thorns whose points she seemed to feel piercing her skull.
She was in a strange condition at dinner that evening. She was still
suffering from nervous shock; when she closed her eyes, she saw the
souls of the expiring candles flitting away through the darkness, and
she mechanically examined her hands for the wounds whence her blood had
streamed. All the Passion bled within her.

Madame Faujas, seeing her so unwell, persuaded her to go to rest early,
accompanied her to her room and put her to bed. Mouret, who had a key
of the bedroom, had already retired to his office, where he spent his
evenings. When Marthe, covered up to her chin with the blankets, said
that she was quite warm and felt better, Madame Faujas went to blow out
the candle that she might be better able to sleep; but at this Marthe
sprang up in fear and cried out beseechingly:

'No! no! don't put out the light! Put it on the drawers so that I can
see it. I should die if I were left in the dark.'

Then, with staring eyes, trembling as though at the recollection of
some dreadful tragedy, she murmured in tones of terrified pity: 'Oh, it
is horrible! it is horrible!'

She fell back upon the pillow and seemed to drop asleep, and Madame
Faujas then silently left the room. That evening the whole house was in
bed by ten o'clock. As Rose went upstairs, she noticed that Mouret was
still in his office. She peeped through the key-hole and saw him asleep
there with his head on the table, and a kitchen-candle smoking dismally
by his side.

'Well, I won't wake him,' she said to herself as she continued her
journey upstairs. 'Let him get a stiff neck, if he likes.'

About midnight, when the whole house was wrapped in slumber, cries were
heard proceeding from the first floor. At first they were but wails,
but they soon grew into loud howls, like the hoarse, choking calls of
one who is being murdered. Abbé Faujas, awaking with a start, called
his mother, who scarcely gave herself time to slip on a petticoat
before she went to knock at Rose's door.

'Come down immediately!' she said, 'I'm afraid Madame Mouret is being
murdered.'

The screams became louder than ever. The whole house was soon astir.
Olympe with her shoulders simply hidden by a kerchief, made her
appearance with Trouche, who had only just returned home, slightly
intoxicated. Rose hastened downstairs, followed by the lodgers.

'Open the door, madame, open the door!' she cried excitedly, hammering
with her fist on Madame Mouret's door.

Deep sighs alone answered her; then there was the sound of a body
falling, and a terrible struggle seemed to be taking place on the floor
in the midst of overturned furniture. The walls shook with repeated
heavy blows, and a sound like a death-rattle passed under the door, so
terrible that the Faujases and the Trouches turned pale as they looked
at each other.

'Her husband is murdering her,' murmured Olympe.

'Yes, you are right; the brute is killing her,' said the cook. 'I saw
him pretending to be asleep when I came up to bed. But he was planning
it all then.'

She once more thundered on the door with both her fists, repeating:

'Open the door, sir! We shall go for the police if you don't. Oh, the
scoundrel! he will end his days on the scaffold!'

Then the groans and cries began again. Trouche declared that the
blackguard must be bleeding the poor lady like a fowl.

'We must do something more than knock at the door,' said Abbé Faujas,
coming forward. 'Wait a moment.'

He put one of his broad shoulders to the door and with a slow
persistent effort forced it open. The women then rushed into the room,
where the most extraordinary spectacle met their eyes.

Marthe, her night-dress torn, lay panting on the floor, bruised,
scratched, and bleeding. Her dishevelled hair was twined round the
leg of a chair, and her hands had so firmly gripped hold of the chest
of drawers, that it was pulled from its place and now stood in front
of the door. Mouret was standing in a corner, holding the candle and
gazing at his wife with an expression of stupefaction.

Abbé Faujas had to push the chest of drawers on one side.

'You are a monster!' cried Rose, rushing up to Mouret and shaking her
fist at him. 'To treat a woman like that! He would have killed her, if
we hadn't come in time to prevent him.'

Madame Faujas and Olympe bent down over Marthe. 'Poor dear!' said the
former. 'She had a presentiment of something this evening. She was
quite frightened.'

'Where are you hurt?' asked Olympe. 'There is nothing broken, is there?
Look at her shoulder, it's quite black; and her knee is dreadfully
grazed. Make yourself easy; we are with you, and we will protect you.'

But Marthe was now simply wailing like a child. While the two women
were examining her, forgetting that there were men in the room, the
Abbé quietly put the furniture in order. Then Rose helped Madame Faujas
and Olympe to carry Marthe back to bed, and when they had done so and
had knotted up her hair, they lingered for a moment, looking curiously
round the room and waiting for explanations. Mouret still stood in the
same corner holding the candle, as though petrified by what he had seen.

'I assure you,' he said, 'that I didn't hurt her; I didn't touch her
with the tip of my finger even.'

'You've been waiting for your opportunity this month past,' cried Rose
in a fury; 'we all know that well enough; we have watched you. The dear
lady was quite expecting your brutality. Don't tell lies about it; they
put me quite beside myself!'

The other women cast threatening glances at him, though they did not
feel at liberty to speak to him in the same way as Rose had done.

'I assure you,' repeated Mouret in a gentle voice, 'that I did not
strike her. I was just about to get into bed, but the moment I touched
the candle, which was standing on the drawers, she awoke with a start,
stretched out her arms with a cry, and then began to beat her forehead
with her fists and tear her flesh with her nails.'

The cook shook her head furiously.

'Why didn't you open the door?' she cried; 'we knocked loud enough.'

'I assure you that I have done nothing,' he reiterated still more
gently than before. 'I could not tell what was the matter with her. She
threw herself upon the floor, bit herself and leapt about so violently
as almost to break the furniture. I did not dare to go near her; I was
quite overcome. I twice called to you to come in, but she was screaming
so loudly that she must have prevented you from hearing me. I was in a
terrible fright, but I have done nothing, I assure you.'

'Oh yes! She's been beating herself, hasn't she?' jeered Rose.

Then, addressing herself to Madame Faujas, she added:

'He threw his stick out of the window, no doubt, when he heard us
coming.'

Mouret at last put the candle back upon the chest of drawers and
seated himself on a chair, with his hands upon his knees. He made no
further attempt to defend himself, but gazed with stupefaction at
the women who were shaking their skinny arms in front of the bed.
Trouche had exchanged a glance with Abbé Faujas. That poor fellow,
Mouret, certainly had no very ferocious appearance as he sat there in
his night-gown, with a yellow handkerchief tied round his bald head.
However, the others all closed round the bed and looked at Marthe, who,
with distorted face, seemed to be waking from a dream.

'What is the matter, Rose?' she asked. 'What are all these people doing
here? I am quite exhausted. Ask them to leave me in peace.'

Rose hesitated for a moment.

'Your husband is in the room, madame,' she said at last. 'Aren't you
afraid to remain alone with him?'

Marthe looked at her in astonishment.

'No, no; not at all,' she replied. 'Go away; I am very sleepy.'

Thereupon the five people quitted the room, leaving Mouret seated on
the chair, staring blankly towards the bed.

'He won't be able to fasten the door again,' the cook exclaimed as she
went back upstairs. 'At the very first sound I shall fly down and be at
him. I shall go to bed with my things on. Did you hear what stories the
dear lady told to prevent him from appearing such a brute? She would
let herself be murdered rather than accuse him. What a hypocritical
face he has, hasn't he?'

The three women remained for a few moments on the landing of the second
floor, holding their candlesticks the while. No punishment, said they,
would be severe enough for such a man. Then they separated. The house
fell into its wonted quietness, and the remainder of the night passed
off peacefully. The next morning, when the three women eagerly referred
to the terrible scene, they found Marthe nervous, shamefaced and
confused. She gave them no answer but cut the conversation short. When
she was alone she sent for a workman to come and mend the door. Madame
Faujas and Olympe came to the conclusion that Madame Mouret's reticence
was caused by a desire to avoid scandal.

The next day, Easter Day, Marthe tasted at Saint-Saturnin's all the
sweetness of an awakening of the soul amidst the triumphant joys of the
Resurrection. The gloom of Good Friday was swept away by the brightness
of Easter; the church was decked in white, and was full of perfume
and light, as though for the celebration of some divine nuptials;
the voices of the choir-boys sounded flute-like, and Marthe, amidst
their songs of joyful praise, felt transported by even more thrilling,
overwhelming sensations than during the celebration of the crucifixion.
She returned home with glistening eyes and hot dry tongue, and sat up
late, talking with a gaiety that was unusual in her. Mouret was already
in bed when she at last went upstairs. About midnight, terrible cries
again echoed through the house.

The scene that had taken place two days previously was repeated: only
on this occasion, at the first knock, Mouret came in his night-gown and
with distracted face to open the door. Marthe, still dressed, was lying
on her stomach, sobbing violently and beating her head against the foot
of the bed. The bodice of her dress looked as though it had been torn
open, and there were two big scratches on her throat.

'He has tried to strangle her this time!' exclaimed Rose.

The women undressed her. Mouret, after opening the door, had got back
into bed, trembling all over and as pale as a sheet. He made no attempt
to defend himself; he did not even appear to hear the indignant remarks
that were made about him, but simply covered himself up and lay close
to the wall. Similar scenes now took place at irregular intervals.
The house lived in a state of fear lest a crime should be committed;
and, at the slightest noise, the occupants of the second floor were
astir. Marthe, however, still avoided all allusions to the matter, and
absolutely forbade Rose to prepare a folding bed for Mouret in his
office. When the morning came, it seemed to take away from her the very
recollection of the scene of the night.

However, it was gradually reported about the neighbourhood that
strange things happened at the Mourets'. It was said that the husband
belaboured his wife every night with a bludgeon. Rose had made
Madame Faujas and Olympe swear that they would say nothing on the
subject, as her mistress seemingly wished to keep silence upon it;
but she herself, by her expressions of pity and her allusions and
her reservations, materially contributed to set afloat amongst the
tradesmen the stories that became current. The butcher, who was a
great jester, asserted that Mouret had thrashed his wife on account
of the priest, but the greengrocer's wife defended 'the poor lady,'
who was, she declared, an innocent lamb quite incapable of doing any
wrong. The baker's spouse, on the other hand, considered that Mouret
was one of those men who ill-treat their wives for mere pleasure and
amusement. In the market-place people raised their eyes to heaven when
they spoke of the matter, and referred to Marthe in the same terms of
caressing endearment that they would have used in speaking of a sick
child. Whenever Olympe went to buy a pound of cherries or a basket of
strawberries, the conversation inevitably turned upon the Mourets, and
for a quarter of an hour there was a stream of sympathetic remarks.

'Well, and how are things getting on in your house?'

'Oh, don't speak of it! She is weeping her life away. It is most
pitiable. One could almost wish to see her die.'

'She came to buy some anchovies the other day, and I noticed that one
of her cheeks was scratched.'

'Oh, yes! he nearly kills her! If you could only see her body as I have
seen it! It is nothing but one big sore. When she is down on the ground
he kicks her with his heels. I am in constant fear of finding in the
morning that he has split her head open during the night.'

'It must be very unpleasant for you, living in such a house. I should
go somewhere else, if I were in your place. It would make me quite ill
to be mixed up with such horrors every night.'

'But what would become of the poor woman? She is so refined and gentle!
We stay on for her sake--five sous, isn't it, this pound of cherries?'

'Yes; five sous. Well, it's very good of you; you show a kind heart.'

This story of a husband who waited till midnight to fall upon his wife
with a bludgeon excited the greatest interest amongst the gossips of
the market-place. There were further terrible details every day. One
pious woman asserted that Mouret was possessed by an evil spirit, and
that he seized his wife by the neck with his teeth with such violence
that Abbé Faujas was obliged to make the sign of the cross three
times in the air with his left thumb before the monster could be made
to let go his hold. Then, she added, Mouret fell to the ground like a
great lump, and a huge black rat leapt out of his mouth and vanished,
though not the slightest hole could be discovered in the flooring.
The tripe-seller at the corner of the Rue Taravelle terrified the
neighbourhood by promulgating the theory that 'the scoundrel had
perhaps been bitten by a mad dog.'

The story, however, was not credited among the higher classes of the
inhabitants of Plassans. When it was mooted about the Cours Sauvaire it
afforded the retired traders much amusement, as they sat on the benches
there, basking in the warm May sun.

'Mouret is quite incapable of beating his wife,' said the retired
almond-dealers; 'he looks as though he had had a whipping himself, and
he no longer even comes out for a turn on the promenade. His wife must
be keeping him on dry bread.'

'One can never tell,' said a retired captain. 'I knew an officer in my
regiment whose wife used to box his ears for a mere yes or no. That
went on for ten years. Then one day she took it into her head to kick
him; but that made him quite furious and he nearly strangled her.
Perhaps Mouret has the same dislike to being kicked as my friend had.'

'He probably has a yet greater dislike to priests,' said another of the
company with a sneer.

For some time Madame Rougon appeared quite unconscious of the scandal
which was occupying the attention of the town. She preserved a smiling
face and ignored the allusions which were made before her. One day,
however, after a long visit from Monsieur Delangre, she arrived at her
daughter's house looking greatly distressed, her eyes filled with tears.

'Ah, my dear!' she cried, clasping Marthe in her arms, 'what is this
that I have just heard? Can your husband really have so far forgotten
himself so as to have raised his hand against you? It is all a pack
of falsehoods, isn't it? I have given it the strongest denial. I know
Mouret. He has been badly brought up, but he is not a wicked man.'

Marthe blushed. She was overcome by that embarrassment and shame which
she experienced every time this subject was alluded to in her presence.

'Ah! madame will never complain!' cried Rose with her customary
boldness. 'I should have come and informed you a long time ago if I
had not been afraid of madame being angry with me.'

The old lady let her hands fall with an expression of extreme grief and
surprise.

'It is really true, then,' she exclaimed, 'that he beats you! Oh, the
wretch! the wretch!'

Thereupon she began to weep.

'For me to have lived to my age to see such things! A man whom we have
overwhelmed with kindnesses ever since his father's death, when he was
only a little clerk with us! It was Rougon who desired your marriage.
I told him more than once that Mouret looked like a scoundrel. He has
never treated us well; and he only came to live at Plassans for the
sake of setting us at defiance with the few sous he has got together.
Thank heaven, we stand in no need of him; we are richer than he is, and
it is that which annoys him. He is very mean-spirited, and so jealous
that he has always refused to set foot in my drawing-room. He knows he
would burst with envy there. But I won't leave you in the power of such
a monster, my dear. There are laws, happily.'

'Oh don't be uneasy! There has been much exaggeration, I assure you,'
said Marthe, who was growing more and more ill at ease.

'You see that she is trying to defend him!' cried the cook.

At this moment, Abbé Faujas and Trouche, who had been conferring
together at the bottom of the garden, came up, attracted by the sound
of the conversation.

'I am a most unhappy mother, your reverence,' said Madame Rougon
piteously. 'I have only one daughter near me now, and I hear she is
weeping her eyes out from ill-treatment. But you live in the same
house, and I beg you to protect and console her.'

The Abbé fixed his eyes upon the old woman, as though he were trying to
guess the real meaning of this sudden manifestation of distress.

'I have just seen some one whom I would rather not name,' she
continued, returning the Abbé's glance. 'This person has quite alarmed
me. God knows that I don't want to do anything to injure my son-in-law!
But it is my duty--is it not?--to defend my daughter's interests. Well,
my son-in-law is a wretch; he ill-treats his wife, he scandalises the
whole town, and mixes himself up in all sorts of dirty affairs. You
will see that he will also compromise himself in political matters when
the elections come on. The last time it was he who put himself at the
head of the riff-raff of the suburbs. It will kill me, your reverence!'

'Monsieur Mouret would not allow anybody to make remarks to him about
his conduct,' the Abbé at last ventured to say.

'But I can't abandon my daughter to such a man!' cried Madame Rougon.
'I will not allow it that we should be dishonoured. Justice is not made
for dogs.'

Trouche, who was swaying himself about, took advantage of a momentary
pause to exclaim:

'Monsieur Mouret is mad!'

The words seemed to fall with all the force of a blow from a club, and
everybody looked at the speaker.

'I mean that he has a weak head,' continued Trouche. 'You've only got
to look at his eyes. I may tell you that I don't feel particularly easy
myself. There was a man at Besançon who adored his daughter, but he
murdered her one night without knowing what he was doing.'

'The master has been cracked for a long time past,' said Rose.

'But this is frightful!' cried Madame Rougon. 'Really, I fear you
may be right. The last time I saw him he had a most extraordinary
expression on his face. He never had very sharp wits. Ah! my poor
dear, promise to confide everything to me. I shall not be able to
sleep quietly after this. Listen to me now; at the first sign of any
extravagant conduct on your husband's part, don't hesitate, don't run
any further risk--madmen must be placed in confinement.'

After this speech, she went off. When Trouche was again alone with Abbé
Faujas, he gave one of those unpleasant grins that exposed his black
teeth to view.

'Our landlady will owe me a big taper,' he said. 'She will be able to
kick about at nights as much as she likes.'

The priest, with his face quite ashy and his eyes turned to the ground,
made no reply. Then he shrugged his shoulders and went off to read his
breviary under the arbour at the bottom of the garden.



XVIII


On Sundays Mouret, like many of the other retired traders of Plassans,
used to take a stroll about the town. It was on Sundays only that he
now emerged from that lonely seclusion in which he buried himself,
overcome by a sort of shame. And his Sunday outing was gone through
quite mechanically. In the morning he shaved himself, put on a clean
shirt, and brushed his coat and hat; then, after breakfast, without
quite knowing how, he found himself in the street, walking along
slowly, with his hands behind his back and looking very sedate and neat.

As he was leaving his house one Sunday, he saw Rose talking with much
animation to Monsieur Rastoil's cook on the pathway of the Rue Balande.
The two servants became silent when they caught sight of him. They
looked at him with such a peculiar expression that he felt behind him
to ascertain whether his handkerchief was hanging out of his pocket.
When he reached the Place of the Sub-Prefecture he turned his head,
looked back, and saw them still standing in the same place. Rose was
imitating the reeling of a drunken man, while the president's cook was
laughing loudly.

'I am walking too quickly and they are making fun of me,' thought
Mouret.

He thereupon slackened his pace. As he passed through the Rue de la
Banne towards the market, the shopkeepers ran to their doors and
watched him curiously. He gave a little nod to the butcher, who looked
confused and did not return the salutation. The baker's wife, to whom
he raised his hat, seemed quite alarmed and hastily stepped backwards.
The greengrocer, the pastrycook and the grocer pointed him out to each
other from opposite sides of the street. As he went along there was
ever excitement behind him, people clustered together in groups, and a
great deal of talking, mingled with laughs and grins, ensued.

'Did you notice how quickly he was walking?'

'Yes, indeed, when he wanted to stride across the gutter he almost
jumped.'

'It is said that they are all like that.'

'I felt quite frightened. Why is he allowed to come out? It oughtn't to
be permitted.'

Mouret was beginning to feel timid, and dared not venture to look
round again. He experienced a vague uneasiness, though he could not
feel quite sure that it was about himself that the people were all
talking. He quickened his steps and began to swing his arms about. He
regretted that he had put on his old overcoat, a hazel-coloured one and
no longer of a fashionable cut. When he reached the market-place, he
hesitated for a moment, and then boldly strode into the midst of the
greengrocers' stalls. The mere sight of him caused quite a commotion
there.

All the housewives of Plassans formed in a line about his path, the
market-women stood up by their stalls, with their hands on their
hips, and stared hard at him. People even pushed one another to get a
sight of him, and some of the women mounted on to the benches in the
corn-market. Mouret still further quickened his steps and tried to
disengage himself from the crowd, not as yet able to believe that it
was he who was causing all this excitement.

'Well, anyone would think that his arms were windmill sails,' said a
peasant-woman who was selling fruit.

'He flies on like a shot; he nearly upset my stall,' exclaimed another
woman, a greengrocer.

'Stop him! stop him!' the millers cried facetiously. Then Mouret,
overcome by curiosity, halted and rose on tip-toes to see what was the
matter. He imagined that someone had just been detected thieving. But a
loud burst of laughter broke out from the crowd, and there were shouts
and hisses, all sorts of calls and cries.

'There's no harm in him; don't hurt him.'

'Ah! I'm not so sure of that. I shouldn't like to trust myself too near
him. He gets up in the night and strangles people.'

'He certainly looks a bad one.'

'Has it come upon him suddenly?'

'Yes, indeed, all at once. And he used to be so kind and gentle! I'm
going away; all this distresses me. Here are the three sous for the
turnips.'

Mouret had just recognised Olympe in the midst of a group of women,
and he went towards her. She had been buying some magnificent peaches,
which she carried in a very fashionable-looking handbag. And she was
evidently relating some very moving story, for all the gossips around
her were breaking out into exclamations and clasping their hands with
expressions of pity.

'Then,' said she, 'he caught her by the hair, and he would have cut
her throat with a razor which was lying on the chest of drawers if
we hadn't arrived just in time to prevent the murder. But don't say
anything to her about it; it would only bring her more trouble.'

'What trouble?' asked Mouret in amazement. The listeners hurried away,
and Olympe assumed an expression of careful watchfulness as, in her
turn, she warily slipped off, saying:

'Don't excite yourself, Monsieur Mouret. You had better go back home.'

Mouret took refuge in a little lane that led to the Cours Sauvaire.
Thereupon the shouts increased in violence, and for a few moments he
was pursued by the angry uproar of the market-folk.

'What is the matter with them to-day?' he wondered. 'Could it be
me that they were jeering at? But I never heard my name mentioned.
Something out of the common must have happened.'

He then took off his hat and examined it, imagining that perhaps
some street lad had thrown a handful of mud at it. It was all right,
however, and there was nothing fastened on to his coat-tails. This
examination soothed him a little, and he resumed his sedate walk
through the silent lane, and quietly turned on to the Cours Sauvaire.

The usual groups of friends were sitting on the benches there.

'Hallo! here's Mouret!' cried the retired captain, with an expression
of great astonishment.

The liveliest curiosity became manifest on the sleepy faces of the
others. They stretched out their necks without rising from their seats,
while Mouret stood in front of them. They examined him minutely from
head to foot.

'Ah! you are taking a little stroll?' said the captain, who seemed the
boldest.

'Yes, just a short stroll,' replied Mouret, in a listless fashion.
'It's a very fine day.'

The company exchanged meaning smiles. They were feeling chilly and the
sky had just become overcast.

'Very fine,' said a retired tanner; 'you are easily pleased. It is
true, however, that you are already wearing winter clothes. What a
funny overcoat that is of yours!'

The smiles now grew into grins and titters. A sudden idea seemed to
strike Mouret.

'Just look and tell me,' said he, suddenly turning round, 'have I got a
sun on my back?'

The retired almond-dealers could no longer keep serious, but burst into
loud laughter. The captain, who was the jester of the company, winked.

'A sun?' he asked, 'where? I can only see a moon.'

The others shook with laughter. They thought the captain excessively
witty.

'A moon?' said Mouret; 'be kind enough to remove it. It has caused me
much inconvenience.'

The captain gave him three or four taps on the back, and then exclaimed:

'There, you are rid of it now. But it must, indeed, be extremely
inconvenient to have a moon on one's back. You are not looking very
well.'

'I am not very well,' Mouret replied in his listless indifferent way.

Then, imagining that he heard a titter, he added:

'But I am very well taken care of at home. My wife is very kind and
attentive, and quite spoils me. But I need rest, and that is the reason
why I don't come out now as I used to do. Directly I am better, I shall
look after business again.'

'But they say it is your wife who is not very well,' interrupted the
retired tanner bluntly.

'My wife! There is nothing the matter with her! It is a pack of
falsehoods! There is nothing the matter with her--nothing at all.
People say things against us because--because we keep quietly at home.
Ill, indeed! my wife! She is very strong, and never even has so much
the matter with her as--as a headache.'

He went on speaking in short sentences, stammering and hesitating
in the uneasy way of a man who is telling falsehoods; full too of
the embarrassment of a whilom gossip who has become tongue-tied. The
retired traders shook their heads with pitying looks, and the captain
tapped his forehead with his finger. A former hatter of the suburbs
who had scrutinised Mouret from his cravat to the bottom button of his
overcoat, was now absorbed in the examination of his boots. The lace
of the one on the left foot had come undone, and this seemed to the
hatter a most extraordinary circumstance. He nudged his neighbours'
elbows, and winked as he called their attention to the loosened lace.
Soon the whole bench had eyes for nothing else but the lace. It was the
last proof. The men shrugged their shoulders in a way that seemed to
imply that they had lost their last spark of hope.

'Mouret,' said the captain, in a paternal fashion, 'fasten up your
boot-lace.'

Mouret glanced at his feet, but did not seem to understand; and he
went on talking. Then, as no one replied, he became silent, and after
standing there for a moment or two longer he quietly continued his walk.

'He will fall, I'm sure,' exclaimed the master-tanner, who had risen
from his seat that he might keep Mouret longer in view.

When Mouret got to the end of the Cours Sauvaire, and passed in front
of the Young Men's Club, he was again greeted with the low laughs
which had followed him since he had set foot out of doors. He could
distinctly see Séverin Rastoil, who was standing at the door of the
club, pointing him out to a group of young men. Clearly, he thought,
it was himself who was thus providing sport for the town. He bent his
head and was seized with a kind of fear, which he could not explain to
himself, as he hastily stepped past the houses. Just as he was about to
turn into the Rue Canquoin, he heard a noise behind him, and, turning
his head, he saw three lads following him; two of them were big,
impudent-looking boys, while the third was a very little one, with a
serious face. The latter was holding in his hand a dirty orange which
he had picked out of the gutter. Mouret made his way along the Rue
Canquoin, and then, crossing the Place des Récollets, he reached the
Rue de la Banne. The lads were still following him.

'Do you want your ears pulled?' he called out, suddenly stepping up to
them.

They dashed on one side, shouting and laughing, and made their escape
on their hands and knees. Mouret turned very red, realising that he was
an object of ridicule. He felt a perfect fear of crossing the Place of
the Sub-Prefecture, and passing in front of the Rougons' windows with
a following of street-arabs, whom he could hear, increasing in numbers
and boldness, behind him. As he went on, he was obliged to step out of
his way to avoid his mother-in-law, who was returning from vespers with
Madame de Condamin.

'Wolf! wolf!' cried the lads.

Mouret, with perspiration breaking out on his brow, and his feet
stumbling against the flag-stones, overheard old Madame Rougon say to
the wife of the conservator of rivers and forests:

'See! there he is, the scoundrel! It is disgraceful; we can't tolerate
it much longer.'

Thereupon Mouret could no longer restrain himself from setting off at
a run. With swinging arms and a look of distraction upon his face, he
rushed into the Rue Balande while some ten or a dozen street-arabs
dashed after him. It seemed to him as though all the shopkeepers of the
Rue de la Banne, the market-women, the promenaders of the Cours, the
young men from the club, the Rougons, the Condamins--all the people of
Plassans, in fact--were surging onwards behind his back, breaking out
into laughs and jeers, as he sped up the hilly street. The lads stamped
and slid over the pavement, making indeed as much noise in that usually
quiet neighbourhood as a pack of hounds might have made.

'Catch him!' they screamed.

'Hie! What a scarecrow he looks in that overcoat of his!'

'Some of you go round by the Rue Taravelle, and then you'll nab him!'

'Cut along! cut along as hard as you can go!'

Mouret, now quite frantic, made a desperate rush towards his door, but
his foot slipped and he tumbled upon the foot-pavement, where he lay
for a few moments, utterly overcome. The lads, afraid lest he should
kick out at them, formed a circle around and vented screams of triumph,
while the smallest of them, gravely stepping forward, threw the rotten
orange at Mouret. It flattened itself against his left eye. He rose up
with difficulty, and went in to his house without attempting to wipe
himself. Rose was forced to come out with a broom and drive the young
ragamuffins away.

From that Sunday forward all Plassans was convinced that Mouret was a
lunatic who ought to be placed under restraint. The most surprising
statements were made in support of this belief. It was said, for
instance, that he shut himself up for days together in a perfectly
empty room which had not been touched with a broom for a whole year;
and those who circulated this story vouched for its truth, as they
had it, they said, from Mouret's own cook. The accounts differed as to
what he did in that empty room. The cook said that he pretended to be
dead, a statement which thrilled the whole neighbourhood with horror.
The market-people firmly believed that he kept a coffin concealed in
the room, laid himself at full length in it, with his eyes open and his
hands upon his breast, and remained like that from morning till night.

'The attack had been threatening him for a long time past,' Olympe
remarked in every shop she entered. 'It was brooding in him; he had
for a long time been very melancholy and low-spirited, hiding in
out-of-the-way corners, just like an animal, you know, that feels ill.
The very first day I set foot in the house I said to my husband, "The
landlord seems to be in a bad way." His eyes were quite yellow and he
had such a queer look about him. Afterwards he went on in the strangest
way; he had all sorts of extraordinary whims and crotchets. He used
to count every lump of sugar, and lock everything up, even the bread.
He was so dreadfully miserly that his poor wife hadn't even a pair of
boots to put on. Ah! poor thing, she has a dreadful time of it, and I
pity her from the bottom of my heart. Imagine the life she leads with
a madman who can't even behave decently at table! He throws his napkin
away in the middle of dinner, and stalks off, looking stupefied, after
having made a horrible mess in his plate. And such a temper he has,
too! He used to make the most terrible scenes just because the mustard
pot wasn't in its right place. But now he doesn't speak at all, though
he glares like a wild beast, and springs at people's throats without
uttering a word. Ah! I could tell you some strange stories, if I liked.'

When she had thus excited her listeners' curiosity, and they began to
press her with questions, she added:

'No, no; it is no business of mine. Madame Mouret is a perfect saint,
and bears her suffering like a true Christian. She has her own ideas on
the matter, and one must respect them. But, would you believe it, he
tried to cut her throat with a razor!'

The story she told was always the same, but it never failed to produce
a great effect. Fists were clenched, and women talked of strangling
Mouret. If any incredulous person shook his head, he was put to
confusion by a summons to explain the dreadful scenes which took
place every night. Only a madman, people said, was capable of flying
in that way at his wife's throat the moment she went to bed. There was
a spice of mystery in the affair which helped materially to spread the
story about the town. For nearly a month the rumours went on gaining
strength. Yet, in spite of Olympe's tragical gossipings, peace had been
restored at the Mourets' and the nights now passed in quietness. Marthe
exhibited much nervous impatience when her friends, without openly
speaking on the subject, advised her to be very careful.

'You will only go your own way, I suppose,' said Rose. 'Well, you'll
see, he will begin again, and we shall find you murdered one of these
fine mornings.'

Madame Rougon now ostentatiously called at the house every other day.
She entered it with an air of extreme uneasiness, and, as soon as the
door was opened, she asked Rose:

'Well! has anything happened to-day?'

Then, as soon as she caught sight of her daughter, she kissed her, and
threw her arms round her with a great show of affection, as though
she had been afraid that she might not find her alive. She passed the
most dreadful nights, she said; she trembled at every ring of the
bell, imagining that it was the signal of the tidings of some dreadful
calamity; and she no longer had any pleasure in living. When Marthe
told her that she was in no danger whatever she looked at her with an
expression of admiration, and exclaimed:

'You are a perfect angel! If I were not here to look after you, you
would allow yourself to be murdered without raising even a sigh.
But make yourself easy; I am watching over you, and am taking all
precautions. The first time your husband raises his little finger
against you, he will hear from me.'

She did not explain herself any further. The truth of the matter was
that she had visited every official in Plassans, and had in this way
confidentially related her daughter's troubles to the mayor, the
sub-prefect, and the presiding judge of the tribunal, making them
promise to observe absolute secrecy about the matter.

'It is a mother in despair who tells you this,' she said with tears in
her eyes. 'I am giving the honour and reputation of my poor child into
your keeping. My husband would take to his bed if there were to be a
public scandal, but I can't wait till there is some fatal catastrophe.
Advise me, and tell me what I ought to do.'

The officials showed her the greatest sympathy and kindness. They did
their best to reassure her, they promised to keep a careful watch over
Madame Mouret without in any way letting it be known, and to take some
active step at the slightest sign of danger. In her interviews with
Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies and Monsieur Rastoil, she drew their
especial attention to the fact that, as they were her son-in-law's
immediate neighbours, they would be able to interfere at once in the
event of anything going wrong.

This story of a lunatic in his senses, who awaited the stroke of
midnight to become mad, imparted much interest to the meetings of the
guests in Mouret's garden. They showed great alacrity in going to greet
Abbé Faujas. The priest came downstairs at four o'clock, and did the
honours of the arbour with much urbanity, but in talking he persisted
in keeping in the background, merely nodding in answer to what was said
to him. For the first few days, only indirect allusions were made to
the drama which was being acted in the house, but one Tuesday Monsieur
Maffre, who was gazing at it with an uneasy expression, fixing his eyes
upon one of the windows of the first floor, ventured to ask:

'That is the room, isn't it?'

Then, in low tones, the two parties began to discuss the strange story
which was exciting the neighbourhood. The priest made some vague
remarks: it was very sad, and much to be regretted, said he, and then
he pitied everybody, without venturing to say anything more explicit.

'But you, Doctor,' asked Madame de Condamin of Doctor Porquier, 'you
who are the family doctor, what do you think about it all?'

Doctor Porquier shook his head for some time before making any reply.
He at first affected a discreet reserve.

'It is a very delicate matter,' he muttered. 'Madame Mouret is not
robust, and as for Monsieur Mouret----'

'I have seen Madame Rougon,' said the sub-prefect. 'She is very uneasy.'

'Her son-in-law has always been obnoxious to her,' Monsieur de Condamin
exclaimed bluntly. 'I met Mouret myself at the club the other day, and
he gave me a beating at piquet. He seemed to me to be as sensible as
ever. The good man was never a Solomon, you know.'

'I have not said that he is mad, in the common interpretation of the
word,' said the doctor, thinking that he was being attacked: 'but
neither will I say that I think it prudent to allow him to remain at
large.'

This statement caused considerable emotion, and Monsieur Rastoil
instinctively glanced at the wall which separated the two gardens.
Every face was turned towards the doctor.

'I once knew,' he continued, 'a charming lady, who kept up a large
establishment, giving dinner-parties, receiving the most distinguished
members of society, and showing much sense and wit in her conversation.
Well, when that lady retired to her bedroom, she locked herself in, and
spent a part of the night in crawling round the room on her hands and
knees, barking like a dog. The people in the house long imagined that
she really had a dog in the room with her. This lady was an example of
what we doctors call lucid madness.'

Abbé Surin's face was wreathed with twinkling smiles as he glanced at
Monsieur Rastoil's daughters, who appeared much amused by this story of
a fashionable lady turning herself into a dog. Doctor Porquier blew his
nose very gravely.

'I could give you a score of other similar instances,' he continued,
'of people who appeared to be in full possession of their senses, and
who yet committed the most extravagant actions as soon as they found
themselves alone.'

'For my part,' said Abbé Bourrette, 'I once had a very strange
penitent. She had a mania for killing flies, and could never see one
without feeling an irresistible desire to capture it. She used to keep
them at home strung upon knitting needles. When she came to confess,
she would weep bitterly and accuse herself of the death of the poor
creatures, and believe that she was damned. But I could never correct
her of the habit.'

This story was very well received, and even Monsieur Péqueur des
Saulaies and Monsieur Rastoil themselves condescended to smile.

'There is no great harm done,' said the doctor, 'so long as one
confines one's self to killing flies. But the conduct of all lucid
madmen is not so innocent as that. Some of them torture their families
by some concealed vice, which has reached the degree of a mania; there
are other wretched ones who drink and give themselves up to secret
debauchery, or who steal because they can't help stealing, or who
are mad with pride or jealousy or ambition. They are able to control
themselves in public, to carry out the most complicated schemes and
projects, to converse rationally and without giving any one any reason
to suspect their mental weakness, but as soon as they get back to their
own private life, and are alone with their victims, they surrender
themselves to their delirious ideas and become brutal savages. If they
don't murder straight out, they do it gradually.'

'Well, now, what about Monsieur Mouret?' asked Madame de Condamin.

'Monsieur Mouret has always been a teasing, restless, despotic sort of
man. His cerebral derangement has increased with his years. I should
not hesitate now to class him amongst dangerous madmen. I had a patient
who used to shut herself up, just as he does, in an unoccupied room,
and spend the whole day in contriving the most abominable actions.'

'But, doctor, if that is your opinion, you ought to proffer your
advice,' exclaimed Monsieur Rastoil; 'you ought to warn those who are
concerned.'

Doctor Porquier seemed slightly embarrassed.

'Well, we will see about it,' he said, smiling again with his
fashionable doctor's smile. 'If it should be necessary and matters
should become serious, I will do my duty.'

'Pooh!' cried Monsieur de Condamin satirically; 'the greatest lunatics
are not those who have the reputation of being so. No brain is sound
for a mad-doctor. The doctor here has just been reciting to us a page
out of a book on lucid madness, which I have read, and which is as
interesting as a novel.'

Abbé Faujas had been listening with curiosity, though he had taken
no part in the conversation. Then, as soon as there was a pause, he
remarked that their talk about mad people had a depressing effect
upon the ladies, and suggested that the subject should be changed.
Everybody's curiosity was fully awakened, however, and the two sets of
guests began to keep a sharp watch upon Mouret's behaviour. The latter
now came out into the garden for an hour a day, while the Faujases
remained at table with his wife. Directly he appeared there, he came
under the active surveillance of the Rastoils and the frequenters of
the Sub-Prefecture. He could not stand for a moment in front of a
bed of vegetables or examine a plant, or even make a gesture of any
sort, without exciting in the gardens on his right and left the most
unfavourable comments. Everyone was turning against him. Monsieur de
Condamin was the only person who still defended him. One day the fair
Octavie said to him as they were at luncheon:

'What difference can it make to you whether Mouret is mad or not?'

'To me, my dear? Absolutely none,' he said in astonishment.

'Very well, then, allow that he is mad, since everyone says he is.
I don't know why you always persist in holding a contrary opinion
to your wife's. It won't prove to your advantage, my dear. Have the
intelligence, at Plassans, not to be too intelligent.'

Monsieur de Condamin smiled.

'You are right, my dear, as you always are,' he said gallantly; 'you
know that I have put my fortune in your hands--don't wait dinner for
me. I am going to ride to Saint-Eutrope to have a look at some timber
they are felling.'

Then he left the room, biting the end off a cigar.

Madame de Condamin was well aware that he had a flame for a young girl
in the neighbourhood of Saint-Eutrope; but she was very tolerant and
had even saved him twice from the consequences of scandalous intrigues.
On his side, he felt very easy about his wife; he knew that she was
much too prudent to give cause for scandal at Plassans.

'You would never guess how Mouret spends his time in that room where he
shuts himself up!' the conservator of rivers and forests said the next
morning when he called at the Sub-Prefecture. 'He is counting all the
s's in the Bible. He is afraid of making any mistake about the matter,
and he has already recommenced counting them for the third time. Ah!
you were quite right; he is cracked from top to bottom!'

From this time forward Monsieur de Condamin was very hard upon Mouret.
He even exaggerated matters and used all his skill to invent absurd
stories to scare the Rastoils; but it was Monsieur Maffre whom he
made his special victim. He told him one day that he had seen Mouret
standing at one of the windows overlooking the street in a state of
complete nudity, having only a woman's cap on his head and bowing
to the empty air. Another day he asserted with amazing assurance
that he had seen Mouret dancing like a savage in a little wood three
leagues away; and when the magistrate seemed to doubt this story, he
appeared to be vexed and declared that Mouret might very easily have
got down out of his house by the water-spout without being noticed.
The frequenters of the Sub-Prefecture smiled, but the next morning the
Rastoils' cook spread these extraordinary stories about the town, where
the legend of the man who beat his wife was assuming extraordinary
proportions.

One afternoon Aurélie, the elder of Monsieur Rastoil's two daughters,
related with a blushing face how on the previous night, having gone to
look out of her window about midnight, she had seen their neighbour
promenading about his garden, carrying a big altar candle. Monsieur de
Condamin thought the girl was making fun of him, but she gave the most
minute details.

'He held the candle in his left hand; and he knelt down on the ground
and dragged himself along on his knees, sobbing as he did so.'

'Can it be possible that he has committed a murder and has buried the
body of his victim in his garden?' exclaimed Monsieur Maffre, who had
turned quite pale.

Then the two sets of guests agreed to watch some evening till midnight
if necessary, to clear the matter up. The following night, indeed,
they kept on the alert, in both gardens, but Mouret did not appear.
Three nights were wasted in the same way. The Sub-Prefecture party was
going to abandon the watch, and Madame de Condamin declared that she
could not stay any longer under the chestnut trees, where it was so
dreadfully dark, when all at once a light was seen flickering through
the inky blackness of the ground floor of Mouret's house. When Monsieur
Péqueur des Saulaies' attention was drawn to this, he slipped into
the Impasse des Chevillottes to invite the Rastoils to come on to
his terrace, which overlooked the neighbouring garden. The presiding
judge, who was on the watch with his daughters behind the cascade,
hesitated for a moment, reflecting whether he might not compromise
himself politically by going to the sub-prefect's in this way, but as
the night was very black, and his daughter Aurélie was most anxious to
have the truth of her report manifested, he followed Monsieur Péqueur
des Saulaies with stealthy steps through the darkness. It was in this
manner that a representative of Legitimacy at Plassans for the first
time entered the grounds of a Bonapartist official.

'Don't make a noise,' whispered the sub-prefect. 'Lean over the
terrace.'

There Monsieur Rastoil and his daughters found Doctor Porquier and
Madame de Condamin and her husband. The darkness was so dense that they
exchanged salutations without being able to see one another. Then they
all held their breath. Mouret had just appeared upon the steps, with a
candle, which was stuck in a great kitchen candlestick.

'You see he has got a candle,' whispered Aurélie.

No one dissented. The fact was quite incontrovertible; Mouret certainly
was carrying a candle. He came slowly down the steps, turned to the
left and then stood motionless before a bed of lettuces. Then he raised
his candle to throw a light upon the plants. His face looked quite
yellow amidst the black night.

'What a dreadful face!' exclaimed Madame de Condamin. 'I shall dream of
it, I'm certain. Is he asleep, doctor?'

'No, no,' replied Doctor Porquier, 'he is not a somnambulist; he is
wide awake. Do you notice how fixed his gaze is? Observe, too, the
abruptness of his movements----'

'Hush! hush!' interrupted Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies; 'we don't
require a lecture just now.'

The most complete silence then fell. Mouret had stridden over the
box-edging and was kneeling in the midst of the lettuces. He held his
candle down, and began searching along the trenches underneath the
spreading leaves of the plants. Every now and then he made a slight
examination and seemed to be crushing something and stamping it into
the ground. This went on for nearly half an hour.

'He is crying; it is just as I told you,' Aurélie complacently remarked.

'It is really very terrifying,' Madame de Condamin exclaimed nervously.
'Pray let us go back into the house.'

Mouret dropped his candle and it went out. They could hear him uttering
exclamations of annoyance as he went back up the steps, stumbling
against them in the dark. The Rastoil girls broke out into little cries
of terror, and did not quite recover from their fright till they were
again in the brightly lighted drawing-room, where Monsieur Péqueur des
Saulaies insisted upon the company refreshing themselves with some tea
and biscuits. Madame de Condamin, who was still trembling with alarm,
huddled up on a couch, said, with a touching smile, that she had never
felt so overcome before, not even on the morning when she had had the
reprehensible curiosity to go and see a criminal executed.

'It is strange,' remarked Monsieur Rastoil, who had been buried in
thought for a moment or two; 'but Mouret looked as if he were searching
for slugs amongst his lettuces. The gardens are quite ravaged by them,
and I have been told that they can only be satisfactorily exterminated
in the night-time.'

'Slugs, indeed!' cried Monsieur de Condamin. 'Do you suppose he
troubles himself about slugs? Do people go hunting for slugs with a
candle? No; I agree with Monsieur Maffre in thinking that there is
some crime at the bottom of the matter. Did this man Mouret ever have
a servant who disappeared mysteriously? There ought to be an inquiry
made.'

Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies thought that his friend the conservator
of rivers and forests was theorising a little further than the facts
warranted. He took a sip at his tea and said:

'No, no; my dear sir. He is mad and has extraordinary fancies, but that
is all. It is quite bad enough as it is.'

He then took a plate of biscuits, handed it to Monsieur Rastoil's
daughter with a gallant bow, and after putting it down again continued:

'And to think this wretched man has mixed himself up in politics!
I don't want to insinuate anything against your alliance with the
Republicans, my dear judge, but you must allow that in Mouret the
Marquis de Lagrifoul had a very peculiar supporter.'

Monsieur Rastoil, who had become very grave, made a vague gesture,
without saying anything.

'And he still busies himself with these matters. It is politics,
perhaps, which have turned his brain,' said the fair Octavie, as she
delicately wiped her lips. 'They say he takes the greatest interest in
the approaching elections, don't they, my dear?'

She addressed this question to her husband, casting a glance at him as
she spoke.

'He is quite bursting over the matter!' cried Monsieur de Condamin.
'He declares that he can entirely control the election, and can have a
shoemaker returned if he chooses.'

'You are exaggerating,' said Doctor Porquier. 'He no longer has the
influence he used to have; the whole town jeers at him.'

'Ah! you are mistaken! If he chooses, he can lead the old quarter of
the town and a great number of villages to the poll. He is mad, it is
true, but that is a recommendation. I myself consider him still a very
sensible person, for a Republican.'

This attempt at wit met with distinct success. Monsieur Rastoil's
daughters broke out into school-girl laughs and the presiding judge
himself nodded his head in approval. He threw off his serious
expression, and, without looking at the sub-prefect, he said:

'Lagrifoul has not rendered us, perhaps, the services we had a right to
expect, but a shoemaker would be really too disgraceful for Plassans!'

Then, as though he wanted to prevent any further remarks on the
subject, he added quickly: 'Why, it is half-past one o'clock! This is
quite an orgie we are having, my dear sub-prefect; we are all very much
obliged to you.'

Madame de Condamin wrapped her shawl round her shoulders and contrived
to have the last word.

'Well,' she said, 'we really must not let the election be controlled by
a man who goes and kneels down in the middle of a bed of lettuces after
twelve o'clock at night.'

That night became quite historical, and Monsieur de Condamin derived
much amusement from relating the details of what had occurred to
Monsieur de Bourdeu, Monsieur Maffre, and the priests, who had not seen
Mouret with his candle. Three days later all the neighbourhood was
asserting that the madman who beat his wife had been seen walking about
with his head enveloped in a sheet. Meantime, the afternoon assemblies
under the arbour were much exercised by the possible candidature
of Mouret's radical shoemaker. They laughed as they studied each
other's demeanour. It was a sort of political pulse-feeling. Certain
confidential statements of his friend the presiding judge induced
Monsieur de Bourdeu to believe that a tacit understanding might be
arrived at between the Sub-Prefecture and the moderate opposition to
promote the candidature of himself, and thus inflict a crushing defeat
upon the Republicans. Possessed by this idea, he waxed more and more
sarcastic against the Marquis de Lagrifoul, and made the most of the
latter's blunders in the Chamber. Monsieur Delangre, who only called at
long intervals, alleging the pressure of his municipal duties as an
excuse for his infrequent appearance, smiled softly at each fresh sally
of the ex-prefect.

'You've only got to bury the marquis, now, your reverence,' he said one
day in Abbé Faujas's ear.

Madame de Condamin, who heard him, turned her head and laid her finger
upon her lips with a pretty look of mischief.

Abbé Faujas now allowed politics to be mentioned in his presence. He
even occasionally expressed an opinion in favour of the union of all
honest and religious men. Thereupon all present, Monsieur Péqueur des
Saulaies, Monsieur Rastoil, Monsieur de Bourdeu, and even Monsieur
Maffre, grew quite warm in their expressions of desire for such an
agreement. It would be so very easy, they said, for men with a stake in
the country to come to an understanding together to work for the firm
establishment of the great principles without which no society could
hold together. Then the conversation turned upon property, and family
and religion. Sometimes Mouret's name was mentioned, and Monsieur de
Condamin once said:

'I never let my wife come here without feeling uneasy. I am really
getting alarmed. You will see some strange things happen at the next
elections if that man is still at liberty.'

Trouche did his best to frighten Abbé Faujas during the interviews
which he had with him every morning. He told him the most alarming
stories. The working men of the old quarter of the town, said he, were
showing too much interest in Mouret; they talked of coming to see him,
of judging his condition for themselves, and taking his advice.

As a rule, the priest merely shrugged his shoulders; but one day
Trouche came away from him looking quite delighted. He went off to
Olympe and kissed her, exclaiming:

'This time, my dear, I've managed it!'

'Has he given you leave?' she asked.

'Yes, full leave. We shall be delightfully comfortable when we have got
rid of the old man.'

Olympe was still in bed. She dived under the bed-clothes, and wriggled
about and laughed gleefully.

'We shall have everything to do as we like with, then, sha'n't we? I
shall take another bedroom, and go out into the garden whenever I
like, and do all my cooking in the kitchen. My brother will have to let
us do all that. You must have managed to frighten him very much.'

It was not till about ten o'clock that evening that Trouche made his
appearance at the low café where he was accustomed to meet Guillaume
Porquier and other wild young fellows. They joked him about the
lateness of the hour, and playfully accused him of having been out
on the ramparts courting one of the girls of the Home of the Virgin.
Jests of this kind generally pleased him, but that night he remained
very grave. He declared that he had been engaged with business--very
serious business. It was only about midnight, when he had emptied the
decanters on the counter, that he became more expansive. Then he began
to talk familiarly to Guillaume, leaning the while against the wall,
stammering, and lighting his pipe afresh between every two sentences.

'I saw your father this evening. He is a very good fellow. I wanted a
paper from him. He was very kind, very kind indeed. He gave it to me.
I have it here in my pocket. He didn't want to give it me at first,
though. He said it was only the family's business. But I told him, "I
am the family; I have got the wife's orders." You know her, don't you?
a dear little woman. She seemed quite pleased when I went to talk the
matter over with her beforehand. Then he gave me the paper. You can
feel it here in my pocket.'

Guillaume looked at him, concealing his extreme curiosity with an
incredulous laugh.

'I'm telling you the truth,' continued the drunkard. 'The paper's here
in my pocket. Can't you feel it?'

'Oh, it's only a newspaper!' said Guillaume.

At this, Trouche sniggered, and drew a large envelope from the pocket
of his overcoat, and laid it on the table amidst the cups and glasses.
For a moment, though Guillaume had reached out his hand, he prevented
him from taking it, but then he allowed him to have it, laughing loudly
the while. The paper proved to be a most detailed statement by Doctor
Porquier with respect to the mental condition of François Mouret,
householder, of Plassans.

'Are they going to shut him up, then?' asked Guillaume, handing back
the paper.

'That's no business of yours, my boy,' replied Trouche, who had now
become distrustful again. 'This paper here is for his wife. I am merely
a friend who is glad to do a service. She will act as she pleases.
However, she can't go on letting herself be half murdered, poor lady!'

By the time they were turned out of the café he was so drunk that
Guillaume had to accompany him to the Rue Balande. He wanted to lie
down and go to sleep on every seat on the Cours Sauvaire. When they
reached the Place of the Sub-Prefecture, he began to shed tears and
stutter:

'I've no friends now; everyone despises me just because I'm poor. But
you are a good-hearted young fellow, and you shall come and have coffee
with us when we get into possession. If the Abbé interferes with us,
we'll send him to keep the other one company. He isn't very sharp, the
Abbé, in spite of all his grand airs. I can persuade him into believing
anything. But you are a real friend, aren't you? Mouret is done for,
old chap; we'll drink his wine together.'

When Guillaume had seen Trouche to his door, he walked back through the
sleeping town and went and whistled softly before Monsieur Maffre's
house. It was a signal he was making. The young Maffres, whom their
father locked up in their bedroom, opened a window on the first floor
and descended to the ground by the help of the bars with which the
ground-floor windows were protected. Every night they thus went off to
the haunts of vice in the company of Guillaume Porquier.

'Well,' he said to them, when they had reached the dark paths near the
ramparts, 'we needn't trouble ourselves now. If my father talks any
more about sending me off anywhere, I shall have something serious to
say to him. I'll bet you that I can get elected into the Young Men's
Club whenever I like now.'

The following night Marthe had a dreadful attack. She had been present
in the morning at a long religious ceremony, the whole of which Olympe
had insisted upon seeing. When Rose and the lodgers ran into the room
upon hearing her piercing screams, they found her lying at the foot of
the bed with her forehead gashed open. Mouret was kneeling in the midst
of the bed-clothes, trembling all over.

'He has killed her this time!' cried the cook.

She seized Mouret in her arms, although he was in his night-dress,
pushed him out of the room and into his office--the door of which was
on the other side of the landing--then she went back to get a mattress
and some blankets, which she threw to him. Trouche had set off at a
run for Doctor Porquier. When the doctor arrived he dressed Marthe's
wound. If the cut had been a trifle lower down, he said, it would have
been fatal. Downstairs in the hall, he declared in the presence of them
all that it was necessary to take some active steps, and that Madame
Mouret's life could no longer be left at the mercy of a violent madman.

The next morning Marthe was obliged to keep her bed. She was still
slightly delirious, and fancied that she saw an iron hand driving a
flaming sword into her skull. Rose absolutely declined to allow Mouret
to enter the room. She served him his lunch on a dusty table in his own
office. He was still gazing at his plate with a look of stupefaction
when Rose ushered into the room three men dressed in black.

'Are you the doctors?' he asked. 'How is she getting on?'

'She is better than she was,' replied one of the men.

Mouret began to cut his bread mechanically as though he were going to
eat it.

'I wish the children were here,' he said. 'They would look after her,
and we should be more lively. It is since the children went away that
she has been ill. I am no longer good for anything.'

He raised a piece of bread to his mouth, and heavy tears trickled down
his face. The man who had already spoken to him now said, casting at
the same time a glance at his companions:

'Shall we go and fetch your children?'

'I should like it very much,' replied Mouret, rising from his seat.
'Let us start at once.'

As he went downstairs he saw no one except Trouche and his wife, who
were leaning over the balustrade on the second floor, following each
step he took with gleaming eyes. Olympe hurried down behind him and
rushed into the kitchen, where Rose, in a state of great emotion, was
watching out of the window. When a carriage, which was waiting at the
door, had driven off with Mouret, she sprang up the staircase again,
four steps at a time, and seizing Trouche by his shoulders, made him
dance round the landing in a paroxysm of delight.

'He's packed off!' she cried.

Marthe kept her bed for a week. Her mother came to see her every
afternoon and manifested the greatest affection. The Faujases and the
Trouches succeeded each other in attendance at her bedside; and even
Madame de Condamin called to see her several times. Nothing was said
about Mouret, and Rose told her mistress that she thought he had gone
to Marseilles. When Marthe, however, was able to come downstairs again,
and took her place at table in the dining-room, she began to manifest
some astonishment, and inquired uneasily where her husband was.

'Now, my dear lady, don't distress yourself,' said Madame Faujas,
'or you will make yourself ill again. It was absolutely necessary
that something should be done, and your friends felt bound to consult
together and take steps for your protection.'

'You've no reason to regret him, I'm sure,' cried Rose harshly. 'The
whole neighbourhood breathes more freely now that he's no longer here.
One was always afraid of him setting the place on fire or rushing out
into the street with a knife. I used to hide all the knives in my
kitchen and Monsieur Rastoil's cook did the same. And your poor mother
nearly died of fright. Everybody who has been here while you have been
ill, those ladies and gentlemen, they all said to me as I let them out,
"It is a good riddance for Plassans." A place is always on the alert
when a man like that is free to go about as he likes.'

Marthe listened to this stream of words with dilated eyes and pale
face. She had let her spoon fall from her hand, and she gazed out of
the window in front of her as though some dreadful vision rising from
behind the fruit-trees in the garden was filling her with terror.

'Les Tulettes! Les Tulettes!' she gasped, as she buried her face in her
trembling hands.

She fell backwards and was fainting away, when Abbé Faujas, who had
finished his soup, grasped her hands, pressing them tightly, and saying
in his softest tone:

'Show yourself strong before this trial which God is sending you. He
will afford you consolation if you do not prove rebellious--He will
grant you the happiness you deserve.'

At the pressure of the priest's hands and the tender tone of his voice,
Marthe revived and sat up again with flushing cheeks.

'Oh, yes!' she cried, as she burst into sobs, 'I have great need of
happiness; promise me great happiness, I beg you.'



XIX


The general elections were to take place in October. About the middle
of September, Monseigneur Rousselot suddenly set off to Paris, after
having a long interview with Abbé Faujas. It was said that one of his
sisters, who lived at Versailles, was seriously ill. Five days later
he was back in Plassans again, and he called Abbé Surin into his study
to read to him. Lying back in his easy chair, closely enveloped in a
padded robe of violet silk, although the weather was still quite warm,
he smilingly listened to the young Abbé's womanish voice as he softly
lisped the strophes of Anacreon.

'Good, very good,' he said; 'you express the music of that beautiful
tongue excellently.'

Then, glancing at the timepiece with an expression of uneasiness, he
added:

'Has Abbé Faujas been here yet this morning? Ah, my child, what a
dreadful time I've had! My ears are still buzzing with the abominable
uproar of the railway. It was raining the whole time I was in Paris. I
had to rush all over the place, and saw nothing but mud everywhere.'

Abbé Surin laid his book on the corner of a small table.

'Is your lordship satisfied with the results of your journey?' he
asked, with the familiarity of a petted favourite.

'I have learnt what I wanted to know,' the Bishop replied with his
subtle smile. 'I ought to have taken you with me. You would have learnt
a good many things that it would be useful for you to know at your age,
destined as you are by your birth and connections for the episcopate.'

'I am listening, my lord,' said the young priest with a beseeching
expression.

But the prelate shook his head.

'No, no; these matters are not to be spoken of. Make a friend of Abbé
Faujas. He maybe able to do much for you some day. I have received full
information about him.'

Abbé Surin, however, clasped his hands with such a wheedling look of
curiosity that Monseigneur Rousselot went on to say:

'He had some bother or other at Besançon. Afterwards he was living in
great poverty in furnished apartments in Paris. He went and offered
himself. Just at that time the minister was on the look-out for some
priests devoted to the government. I was told that Faujas at first
quite frightened him with his fierce looks and his old cassock. It was
quite by chance that he was sent here. The minister was most pleasant
and courteous to me.'

The Bishop finished his sentences with a slight wave of his hand, as he
sought for fitting words, fearing, as it were, to say too much. But at
last the affection which he felt for his secretary got the better of
his caution, and he continued with more animation:

'Take my advice and try to be useful to the vicar of Saint-Saturnin's.
He will want all the assistance he can get, and he seems to me to be a
man who never forgets either an injury or a kindness. But don't ally
yourself with him. He will end badly. That is my impression.'

'End badly?' exclaimed the young priest in surprise.

'Oh! just now he is in the full swing of triumph. But his face
disquiets me, my child. He has a terrible face. That man will never die
in his bed. Don't you do anything to compromise me. All I ask is to be
allowed to live tranquilly--quietness is all I want.'

Abbé Surin was just taking up his book again, when Abbé Faujas was
announced. Monseigneur Rousselot advanced to meet him with outstretched
hands and a smiling face, addressing him as his 'dear Curé.'

'Leave us, my child,' he said to his secretary, who thereupon retired.

He spoke of his journey. His sister was better than she had been, he
said, and he had been able to shake hands with some old friends.

'And did you see the minister?' asked Abbé Faujas, fixing his eyes upon
him.

'Yes; I thought it my duty to call upon him,' replied the Bishop, who
felt that he was blushing. 'He spoke to me very favourably indeed of
you.'

'Then you no longer have any doubts--you trust me absolutely?'

'Absolutely, my dear Curé. Besides, I know nothing about politics
myself, and I leave everything in your hands.'

They remained talking together the whole morning. Abbé Faujas persuaded
the Bishop to undertake a visitation of his diocese, and said he
would go with him and prompt him as to what he should say. It would
be necessary to summon all the rural deans so that the priests of
the smallest villages might receive their instructions. There would
be no difficulty in all this, for the clergy would act as they were
told. The most delicate task would be in Plassans itself, in the
district of Saint-Marc. The aristocrats there, shutting themselves
up in the privacy of their houses, were entirely beyond the reach of
Abbé Faujas's influence, and he had so far only been able to work
upon certain ambitious royalists, such men as Rastoil and Maffre and
Bourdeu. The Bishop, however, undertook to sound the feelings of
various drawing-rooms in the district of Saint-Marc where he visited.
But even allowing that the aristocracy should vote adversely, they
would be in a ridiculous minority if they were deserted by those
electors of the middle classes who were amenable to clerical influence.

'Now,' said Monseigneur Rousselot as he rose from his seat, 'it would
perhaps be as well if you told me the name of your candidate, so that I
may recommend him in my letters.'

Abbé Faujas smiled.

'It is dangerous to mention names,' he said. 'There wouldn't be a scrap
of our candidate left in a week's time if we made his name known now.
The Marquis de Lagrifoul has become quite out of the question. Monsieur
de Bourdeu, who reckons upon being a candidate, is still more so. We
shall leave them to destroy each other, and then, at the last moment,
we shall come forward. Just say that an election on purely political
grounds would be very regrettable, and that what is needed for the
interests of Plassans is somebody who is not a party man, but has an
intimate knowledge of the requirements of the town and the department.
And you may let it be understood that such a man has been found; but
don't go any further.'

The Bishop now in his turn smiled. He detained the priest for a moment
as he was about to take leave.

'And Abbé Fenil?' he said, lowering his voice. 'Are you not afraid that
he will do all he can to thwart your plans?'

Abbé Faujas shrugged his shoulders.

'He has made no sign at all,' he said.

'It is precisely that quietness of his that makes me uneasy,' rejoined
the prelate. 'I know Fenil well. He is the most vindictive priest in
my diocese. He may possibly have abandoned the ambition of beating you
in the political arena, but you may be sure he will wreak personal
vengeance upon you. I have no doubt that he is keeping a watch on you
in his retirement.'

'Pooh!' said Abbé Faujas, showing his white teeth. 'I'll take care that
he doesn't eat me up.'

Abbé Surin had just returned into the room, and when the vicar of
Saint-Saturnin's had gone he made the Bishop laugh by exclaiming:

'Ah! if they could only devour each other like a couple of foxes, and
leave nothing but their tails!'

The electoral campaign was on the point of commencing. Plassans, which
generally remained quite calm, unexcited by political questions, was
growing a little feverish and perturbed. From some invisible mouth a
breath of war seemed to sweep through its quiet streets. The Marquis
de Lagrifoul, who lived at La Palud, a large straggling village in the
neighbourhood, had been in Plassans for the last fortnight, staying at
the house of a relative of his, the Count de Valqueyras, whose mansion
was one of the largest in the Saint-Marc district. The Marquis showed
himself about the town, promenaded on the Cours Sauvaire, attended
Saint-Saturnin's, and bowed to sundry influential townspeople, but
without succeeding in throwing aside his haughty ways. His attempts
to acquire popularity seemed to fail. Fresh charges against him,
originating from some unknown source, were bandied about every day.
It was asserted that he was a miserably incompetent man. With any
other representative Plassans would long ago have had a branch line
of railway connecting it with Nice. It was said, too, that if anyone
from the district went to see him in Paris he had to call three or four
times before he could obtain the slightest service. However, although
the candidature of the Marquis was much damaged by gossip of this kind,
no other candidate had openly entered the lists. There was some talk
of Monsieur de Bourdeu coming forward, though it was considered that
it would be extremely difficult to obtain a majority for an ex-prefect
of Louis-Philippe, who had no strong connection with the place. There
seemed also to be some unknown influence at work in Plassans upsetting
all the previous prospects of the election by breaking the alliance
between the Legitimists and the Republicans. The prevailing feeling was
one of general perplexity and confusion, mingled with weariness and a
desire to get the affair over as quickly as possible.

'The majority is shifting,' said the politicians of the Cours Sauvaire.
'The question is which way will it finally incline?'

Amid the excitement and restlessness which this doubtful state of
things was causing in the town, the Republicans became anxious to run
a candidate of their own. Their choice fell upon a master-hatter,
one Maurin, a plain simple man, who was very much liked by the
working-classes. In the cafés, in the evenings, Trouche expressed
an opinion that Maurin was by no means sufficiently advanced in his
views, and proposed in his stead a wheelwright of Les Tulettes, whose
name had appeared in the list of the December proscripts.[6] This man,
however, had the good sense to decline the nomination. It should be
said that Trouche now gave himself out as an extreme Republican. He
would have come forward himself, he said, if his wife's brother had not
been a parson, but as he was--to his great regret, he declared--forced
to eat the bread of the hypocrites, he felt bound to remain in the
background. He was one of the first to circulate reports to the
detriment of the Marquis de Lagrifoul, and he also favoured the rupture
of the Republicans and the Legitimists. Trouche's greatest success
was obtained by accusing the Sub-Prefecture party and the adherents
of Monsieur Rastoil of having brought about the confinement of poor
Mouret, with the view of depriving the democratic party of one of its
worthiest chiefs. On the evening when he first launched this accusation
at a spirit-dealer's in the Rue Canquoin, the company assembled there
looked at one other with a peculiar expression. The gossips of the
old quarter of the town spoke quite feelingly about 'the madman who
beat his wife,' now that he was shut up at Les Tulettes, and told one
another that Abbé Faujas had simply wanted to get an inconvenient
husband out of his way. Trouche repeated his charge every evening,
banging his fists upon the tables of the cafés with such an air of
conviction that he succeeded in persuading his listeners of the truth
of his story, in which, by the way, Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies
was made to play the most extraordinary part imaginable. There was
a complete reaction in Mouret's favour. He was considered to be a
political victim, a man whose influence had been feared so much that he
had been put out of the way in a cell at a mad-house.

'Just leave it all to me,' Trouche said with a confidential air. 'I'll
expose all these precious pious folks, and I'll tell some fine stories
about their Home of the Virgin. It's a nice place is that Home--a place
where the ladies make assignations!'

Meanwhile Abbé Faujas almost seemed to have the power of multiplying
himself. For some time past he was to be seen everywhere. He bestowed
much attention upon his appearance, and was careful always to have a
pleasant smile upon his face; though now and then his eyelids dropped
for an instant to hide the stern fire kindling in his glance. Often
with his patience quite worn out, weary of his wretched struggles, he
returned to his bare room with clenched fists. Old Madame Rougon, whom
he continued to see in secret, proved his good genius. She lectured him
soundly whenever he felt despondent, and kept him bent before her while
she told him that he must strive to please, and that he would ruin
everything if he let the iron hand appear from under the velvet glove.
Afterwards, when he had made himself master, he might seize Plassans by
the throat and strangle it, if he liked. She herself certainly had no
great affection for Plassans, against which she owed a grudge for forty
years' wretchedness, and which had been bursting with jealousy of her
ever since the Coup d'État.

'It is I who wear the cassock,' she said sometimes, with a smile; 'you
carry yourself like a gendarme, my dear Curé.'

The priest showed himself particularly assiduous in his attendance at
the Young Men's Club. He listened with an indulgent air to the young
men talking politics, and told them, with a shake of his head, that
honesty was all that was necessary. His popularity at the Club was
still increasing. One evening he consented to play at billiards, and
showed himself extremely skilful at the game, and sometimes, when they
formed a quiet little party, he would even accept a cigarette. The
club took his advice on every question that arose. His reputation for
tolerance was completely established by the kind, good-natured way in
which he advocated the admission of Guillaume Porquier, who had now
renewed his application.

'I have seen the young man,' he said; 'he came to me to make a general
confession, and I ended by giving him absolution. There is forgiveness
for every sin. We must not treat him as a leper just because he pulled
down a few signboards in Plassans, and ran into debt at Paris.'

When Guillaume was elected, he said to the young Maffres, with a grin:

'Well, you owe me a couple of bottles of champagne now. You see that
the Curé does all that I want. I have a little machine to tickle him
with in a sensitive place, and then he begins to laugh, my boys, and he
can't refuse me anything.'

'Well, it doesn't seem as though he were very fond of you, anyhow,'
said Alphonse; 'he looks very sourly at you.'

'Pooh! that's because I tickled him too hard. You will see that we
shall soon be the best friends in the world.'

Abbé Faujas did, indeed, seem to have an affection for the doctor's
son. He declared that this young man wanted guiding with a very gentle
hand. In a short time Guillaume became the moving spirit of the club.
He invented amusements, showed them how to make kirsch-water punch, and
led young fellows fresh from college into all sorts of dissipation. His
pleasant vices gave him enormous influence. While the organ was pealing
above the billiard-room, he drank away, and gathered round him the sons
of the most respectable people in Plassans, making them almost choke
with laughter at his broad stories. The club now got into a very fast
way, indulging in doubtful topics of conversation in all the corners.
Abbé Faujas, however, appeared quite unconscious of it. Guillaume said
that he had a splendid noddle, teeming with the greatest thoughts.

'The Abbé may be a bishop whenever he likes,' he remarked. 'He has
already refused a living in Paris. He wants to stay at Plassans; he
has taken a liking to the place. I should like to nominate him as
deputy. He's the sort of man we want in the Chamber! But he would never
consent; he is too modest. Still it would be a good thing to take his
advice when the elections are at hand. We may trust anything that he
tells us. He wouldn't deceive anybody.'

Meantime, Lucien Delangre remained the serious man of the club. He
showed great deference to Abbé Faujas, and won the group of studious
young men over to the priest's side. He frequently walked with him
to the club, talking to him with much animation, but subsiding into
silence as soon as they entered the general room.

On leaving the café established beneath the Church of the Minimes, the
Abbé regularly went to the Home of the Virgin. He arrived there during
play-time, and made his appearance with a smiling face upon the steps
of the playground. Thereupon the girls surrounded him, and disputed
with each other for the possession of his pockets, in which some sacred
pictures or chaplets or medals that had been blessed were always to be
found. Those big girls quite worshipped him as he tapped them gently
on their cheeks and told them to be good, at which they broke into sly
smiles. The Sisters often complained to him that the children confided
to their care were utterly unmanageable, that they fought, tore each
other's hair, and did even worse things. The Abbé, however, regarded
their offences as mere peccadilloes, and as a rule simply reproved
the more turbulent girls in the chapel, whence they emerged in a more
submissive frame of mind. Occasionally he made some rather graver piece
of misconduct a pretext for sending for the parents, whom he sent away
again quite touched by his kindness and good-nature. In this wise the
young scapegraces of the Home of the Virgin gained him the hearts of
the poor families of Plassans. When they went home in the evening, they
told the most wonderful things about his reverence the Curé. It was no
uncommon occurrence to find a couple of them in some secluded corner of
the ramparts on the point of coming to blows to decide which of them
his reverence liked the better.

'Those young hussies represent from two to three thousand votes,'
Trouche thought to himself, as from the window he watched Abbé Faujas
showing himself so amiable.

Trouche himself had tried to win over 'the little dears,' as he called
the girls; but the priest, distrusting him, had forbidden him to set
foot in the playground; and so he now confined himself to throwing
sugar-plums there, when the Sisters' backs were turned.

The Abbé's day's work did not end at the Home of the Virgin. From there
he started on a series of short visits to the fashionable ladies of
Plassans. Madame Rastoil and Madame Delangre welcomed him with delight,
and repeated his slightest words everywhere. But his great friend was
Madame de Condamin. She maintained an air of easy familiarity towards
him betokening the superiority of a beautiful woman who is conscious
that she is all-powerful. She spoke now and again in low tones, and
with meaning smiles and glances, which seemed to indicate that there
was some secret understanding between them. When the priest came to see
her, she dismissed her husband. 'The government was going to hold a
cabinet-council,' so the conservator of rivers and forests playfully
said, as he philosophically went off to mount his horse.

It was Madame Rougon who had brought Madame de Condamin to the priest's
notice.

'She has not yet absolutely established her position here,' the old
lady explained to Abbé Faujas. 'But there is a good deal of cleverness
under those pretty, coquettish airs of hers. You can take her into your
confidence, and she will see in your triumph a means of making her own
success and power more complete. She will be of great use to you if
you should find it necessary to give away places or crosses. She has
retained an influential friend in Paris, who sends her as many red
ribbons as she asks for.'

As Madame Rougon kept herself aloof from reasons of diplomacy, the
fair Octavie thus became Abbé Faujas's most active ally. She won over
to his side both her friends and her friends' friends. She resumed
her campaign afresh every morning and exerted an astonishing amount
of influence merely by the pleasant little waves of her delicately
gloved fingers. She had particular success with the _bourgeoises_,
and increased tenfold that feminine influence of which the priest had
felt the absolute necessity as soon as he began to thread the narrow
world of Plassans. She succeeded, too, in closing the mouths of the
Paloques--who were growing very rabid about the state of affairs at the
Mourets' house--by throwing a honied cake to the two monsters.

'What! do you still bear us a grudge, my dear lady?' she said one day,
as she met the judge's wife. 'It is very wrong of you. Your friends
have not forgotten you; they are thinking about you and are preparing a
surprise for you.'

'A fine surprise, I'll be bound!' cried Madame Paloque, bitterly. 'No,
we are not going to allow ourselves to be laughed at again. I have
firmly made up my mind to keep to my own affairs.'

Madame de Condamin smiled.

'What would you say,' she asked, 'if Monsieur Paloque were to be
decorated?'

The judge's wife stared in silence. A rush of blood to her face turned
it quite blue, and made her terrible to behold.

'You are joking,' she stammered. 'This is only another plot against
us--if it isn't true, I'll never forgive you.'

The fair Octavie swore that she had spoken nothing but the truth. The
distinction would certainly be conferred upon Monsieur Paloque, but
it would not be officially notified in the 'Moniteur' until after the
elections, as the government did not wish it to appear as if it were
buying the support of the magistracy. She also hinted that Abbé Faujas
was not unconcerned in the bestowal of this long-desired reward, and
said that he had talked about it to the sub-prefect.

'My husband was right, then,' exclaimed Madame Paloque, in great
surprise. 'For a long time past he has been worrying me dreadfully to
go and apologise to the Abbé. But I am very obstinate, and I would
have let myself be killed sooner. But since the Abbé makes the first
move--well, we ask nothing more than to live at peace with everyone. We
will go to the Sub-Prefecture to-morrow.'

The next day the Paloques were very humble. Madame Paloque accused Abbé
Fenil of the blackest conduct; and related with consummate impudence
how she had gone to see him one day, and how he had spoken in her
presence of turning 'the whole of Abbé Faujas's clique' neck-and-crop
out of Plassans.

'If you like,' she said to the priest, taking him aside, 'I will give
you a note written at the vicar-general's dictation. It concerns you.
He tried, I believe, to get several discreditable stories inserted in
the "Plassans Gazette."'

'How did this note come into your hands?' asked Faujas.

'Well, it's sufficient that it is there,' she replied, without any sign
of embarrassment.

And, with a smile, she continued:

'I found it. I recollect, by the way, that there are two or three words
written in the vicar-general's own hand. I may trust to your honour in
all this, may I not? We are upright, honest people, and we don't want
to compromise ourselves.'

She pretended to be affected by scruples for three days before
bringing him the note; and Madame de Condamin was obliged to assure
her privately that an application to have Monsieur Rastoil pensioned
off would shortly be made, so that her husband could succeed to his
post. Then she gave up the paper. Abbé Faujas did not wish to keep it
himself, but took it to Madame Rougon, and charged her to make use
of it--keeping herself, however, strictly in the background--if the
vicar-general showed the slightest sign of interfering in the elections.

Madame de Condamin also dropped a hint to Monsieur Maffre that
the Emperor was thinking about decorating him, and she made a
formal promise to Doctor Porquier to find a suitable post for his
good-for-nothing son. She showed the most obliging kindliness at the
friendly afternoon meetings in the gardens. The summer was now drawing
to a close, but she still arrived in light toilettes, shivering
slightly and risking a cold, in order to show her arms and overcome the
last scruples of the Rastoil party. It was really under the Mourets'
arbour that the election was decided.

'Well, my dear sub-prefect,' said Abbé Faujas one day with a smile,
when the two sets of guests were mingling together; 'the great battle
is drawing near.'

They had now arrived at discussing the political struggle in a quiet
friendly way. In the gardens at the back of the houses they cordially
grasped each other's hands, while in front of them they still feigned
an appearance of hostility. On hearing Abbé Faujas, Madame de Condamin
cast a quick glance at Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, who bent forward
with his habitual elegance and said all in a breath:

'I shall remain in my tent, Monsieur le Curé. I have been fortunate
enough to make his excellency understand that it is the duty of the
government, in the immediate interests of Plassans, to hold itself
aloof. There will be no official candidate.'

Monsieur de Bourdeu turned pale. His eyelids quivered and his hands
trembled with delight.

'There will be no official candidate?' cried Monsieur Rastoil, greatly
moved by this unexpected news, and departing from the reserve which he
generally maintained.

'No,' replied Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies: 'the town contains a
sufficient number of honourable men to make its own choice of a
representative.'

He bowed slightly towards Monsieur de Bourdeu, who rose from his seat;
and stammered:

'Undoubtedly, undoubtedly.'

While these remarks were being exchanged Abbé Surin had got up
a game of 'hot and cold;' and Monsieur Rastoil's daughters and
Monsieur Maffre's sons and Séverin were busy hunting for the Abbé's
handkerchief, which he had rolled into a ball and hidden. All the young
people were flitting about their elders, while the priest called in his
falsetto voice:

'Hot! Hot!'

Angéline at length found the handkerchief in Doctor Porquier's gaping
pocket, where Abbé Surin had adroitly slipped it. They all laughed and
considered the selection of the hiding-place a very ingenious joke.

'Bourdeu has a chance now,' said Monsieur Rastoil, taking Abbé Faujas
aside. 'It is very annoying. I can't tell him so, but we sha'n't vote
for him: he has compromised himself too much as an Orleanist.'

'Just look at your son Séverin!' cried Madame de Condamin, interrupting
the conversation. 'What a big baby he is! He put the handkerchief under
Abbé Bourrette's hat.'

Then she lowered her voice as she continued:

'By the way, I have to congratulate you, Monsieur Rastoil. I have
received a letter from Paris, from a correspondent who tells me that
he has seen your son's name on an official list. He will be nominated
assessor to the public prosecutor at Faverolles, I believe.'

The presiding judge bowed with a flushed face. The minister had never
forgiven the election of the Marquis de Lagrifoul. Since then a kind of
fatality had seemed to prevent him from finding either a place for his
son or husbands for his daughters. He had never uttered any complaints,
but his compressed lips had often borne witness to his feelings on the
matter.

'I was remarking to you,' he resumed, to conceal his emotion, 'that
Bourdeu is dangerous. But he isn't a Plassans man, and he doesn't know
our requirements. We might just as well re-elect the Marquis.'

'If Monsieur de Bourdeu persists in his candidature,' rejoined Abbé
Faujas, 'the Republicans will poll an imposing minority, which will
have a very bad effect.'

Madame de Condamin smiled. She pretended to understand nothing about
politics, and slipped away while the Abbé drew the presiding judge
aside to the end of the arbour, where they continued the conversation
in subdued tones. As they slowly strolled back again, Monsieur Rastoil
remarked:

'You are quite right. He would be a very suitable candidate. He belongs
to no party, and we could all unite in supporting him. I am no fonder
of the Empire than you are, but it would be childish to go on sending
deputies to the Chamber for no other purpose than to obstruct and rail
at the government. Plassans is suffering from such tactics. What we
want is a man with a good head for business, a local man who can look
after the interests of the place.'

'Hot! Hot!' now cried Aurélie in her fluty voice.

Abbé Surin passed through the arbour at the head of the searchers,
hunting for the handkerchief.

'Cold! Cold!' exclaimed the girl, laughing at their lack of success.
One of the young Maffres, however, lifted up a flower-pot and there
discovered the handkerchief folded in four.

'That big stick Aurélie might have very well crammed it into her
mouth,' said Madame Paloque. 'There is plenty of room for it, and no
one would ever have thought of looking for it there.'

Her husband reduced her to silence with an angry look. He would no
longer allow her to indulge in bitter language. Fearing that Monsieur
de Condamin might have overheard her, he exclaimed:

'What a handsome lot of young people!'

'Your success is certain, my dear sir,' the conservator of rivers and
forests was saying to Monsieur de Bourdeu. 'But be careful what you do
when you get to Paris. I hear from a very trustworthy source that the
government has resolved upon taking strong measures if the opposition
shows itself too provoking.'

The ex-prefect looked at Monsieur de Condamin very uneasily, wondering
if he was making fun of him. Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies merely
smiled, and stroked his moustaches. Then the conversation became
general again, and Monsieur de Bourdeu thought he could detect that
everyone was congratulating him upon his approaching triumph, with a
discretion that was full of tact. He enjoyed the sweets of an hour's
imaginary popularity.

'It is surprising how much more quickly the grapes ripen in the sun,'
remarked Abbé Bourrette, who had never moved from his chair, but now
raised his eyes to the arbour.

'In the north,' Doctor Porquier explained, 'grapes can often only be
got to ripen by freeing them from the surrounding leaves.'

They were beginning to discuss this point, when Séverin in his turn
cried out: 'Hot! Hot!'

But he had hung the handkerchief with such little concealment upon the
garden door that Abbé Surin found it at once. When the Abbé hid it
again, the whole troop vainly scoured the garden for nearly half an
hour, and at last gave it up. Then the Abbé showed it to them lying in
the centre of a flowerbed, rolled up so artistically that it looked
like a white stone. This was the most effective stratagem of the
afternoon.

The news that the government had determined to run no candidate of
its own quickly spread through the town, where it gave rise to great
excitement. This abstention had the natural effect of disquieting the
various political sections, who had each counted upon the diversion of
a certain number of votes in favour of the official candidate to enable
their own man to win. The Marquis de Lagrifoul, Monsieur de Bourdeu
and hatter Maurin appeared to divide the support of the voters pretty
equally amongst them. There would certainly be a second ballot, and
heaven only could tell what name would then appear at the top of the
list. However, there was certainly some talk of a fourth candidate,
whose name nobody quite knew, some moderate equable man who would
possibly bring the different parties into concord and harmony. The
Plassans electors, who had grown a little alarmed since they had felt
the imperial bridle about their necks, would have been only too glad to
come to an understanding, and choose one of their fellow-citizens who
would be acceptable to all parties.

'The government is wrong to treat us like refractory children,' said
the politicians of the Commercial Club, in tones of annoyance. 'Anybody
would suppose that the town was a hot-bed of revolution. If the
authorities had been tactful enough to bring forward the right sort of
candidate, we should all have voted for him. The sub-prefect has talked
about a lesson. Well, we sha'n't receive the lesson. We shall be able
to find a candidate for ourselves, and we will show that Plassans is a
town of sound sense and true liberty.'

They then began to look about for a candidate. But the names which
were proposed by friends or interested parties only served to increase
the confusion. In a week's time there were twenty candidates before
Plassans. Madame Rougon, who had become very uneasy, and quite
unable to understand the position, went to see Abbé Faujas, full of
indignation with the sub-prefect. That Péqueur was an ass, she cried,
a fop, a dummy, of no use except as a pretty ornament to the official
drawing-room. He had already allowed the government to be defeated,
and now he was going to compromise it by an attitude of ridiculous
indifference.

'Make yourself easy,' said the priest, with a smile; 'this time
Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies is confining himself to obeying orders.
Victory is certain.'

'But you've got no candidate!' cried Madame Rougon. 'Where is your
candidate?'

Then the priest unfolded his plans to her. She expressed her approval
of them; but she received the name which he confided to her with the
greatest surprise.

'What!' she exclaimed, 'you have chosen him! No one has ever thought of
him, I assure you.'

'I trust that they haven't,' replied the priest, again smiling. 'We
want a candidate of whom nobody has ever thought, so that all parties
may accept him without fancying that they are compromising themselves.'

Then with the perfect frankness of a shrewd man who has made up his
mind to explain his designs, he continued:

'I have very much to thank you for. You have prevented me from making
many mistakes. I was looking straight towards the goal, and I did not
see the strings that were stretched across the path, and which might,
perhaps, have tripped me up and brought me to grief. Thank heaven! all
this petty childish struggle is over, and I shall soon be able to move
at my ease. As for the choice I have made, it is a good one; you may
feel quite assured of that. Ever since my arrival at Plassans, I have
been looking about for a man, and he is the only one I have found.
He is flexible, very capable, and very energetic. He has been clever
enough not to embroil himself with a single person in the place, which
is no common accomplishment. I know that you are not a very great
friend of his, and that is the reason that I did not confide my plan to
you sooner. But you will see that you are mistaken, and that he will
make his way rapidly as soon as he gets his foot into the stirrup. What
finally determined me in his favour is what I heard about his means.
It is said that he has taken his wife back again three separate times,
after she had been detected in actual unfaithfulness, and after he had
made his good-natured father-in-law pay him a hundred thousand francs
on each occasion. If he has really coined money in that way, he will be
very useful in Paris in certain matters. You may look about as much as
you like; but, putting him aside, there is only a pack of imbeciles in
Plassans.'

'Then it is a present you are making to the government?' said Félicité,
with a laugh.

She allowed herself to be convinced. The next day the name of Delangre
was in everybody's mouth. His friends declared that it was only
after the strongest pressure had been brought to bear upon him that
he had accepted the nomination. He had refused it for a long time,
considering himself unworthy of the position, insisting that he was not
a politician, and that the Marquis de Lagrifoul and Monsieur de Bourdeu
had, on the other hand, had long experience of public affairs. Then,
when it had been impressed upon him that what Plassans urgently needed
was a representative who was unconnected with the political parties,
he had allowed himself to be prevailed upon. He explicitly declared
the principles upon which he should act if he were returned. It must
be thoroughly understood, he said, that he would not go to the Chamber
either to oppose or support the government under all circumstances; he
should look upon himself solely as the representative of the interests
of the town; he would always vote for liberty with order, and order
with liberty, and would still remain mayor of Plassans, so that he
might show what a conciliatory and purely administrative task he had
charged himself with. These views struck people as being singularly
sensible. The knowing politicians of the Commercial Club vied with each
other that same evening in lauding Delangre.

'I told you so; he is the very man we want. I shall be curious to see
what the sub-prefect will say when the mayor's name heads the list.
The authorities can scarcely accuse us of having voted like a lot of
sulking school-boys, any more than they can reproach us with having
gone down on our knees before the government. If the Empire could only
receive a few lessons like this, things would go much better.'

The whole thing was like a train of gunpowder. The mine was laid,
and a spark was sufficient to set it off. In every part of Plassans
simultaneously, in all the three quarters of the town, in every house,
and in every family, Monsieur Delangre's name was pronounced amidst
unanimous eulogies. He had become the expected Messiah, the saviour,
unknown the previous day, revealed in the morning, and worshipped ere
night.

Even in the sacristies and confessionals of Plassans, his name was
buzzed about; it mingled with the echoes in the naves, sounded
from pulpits in the suburbs, was passed on from ear to ear like
a sacrament, and made its way into the most distant homes of the
pious. The priests carried it about with them in the folds of their
cassocks; Abbé Bourrette bestowed on it the respectable cheeriness of
his corporation, Abbé Surin the grace of his smile, and Monseigneur
Rousselot the charm of his pastoral blessing. The fashionable ladies
were never tired of talking of Monsieur Delangre. He had such a kind
disposition, they said, and such a fine sensible face. Madame Rastoil
learned to blush again at mention of him; Madame Paloque grew almost
pretty in her enthusiasm, while as for Madame de Condamin, she was
ready to fight for him, and won all hearts to his side by the tender
way in which she pressed the hands of the electors who promised to vote
for him. The Young Men's Club, too, grew passionately enthusiastic on
his behalf. Séverin made quite a hero of him, and Guillaume and the
young Maffres went canvassing for him through all the disreputable
parts of the town.

On the day of the election his majority was overwhelming. The whole
town seemed to have conspired together to return him. The Marquis de
Lagrifoul and Monsieur de Bourdeu, bursting with indignation and crying
that they had been betrayed, had retired from the contest, and thus
Monsieur Delangre's only opponent was the hatter Maurin. The latter
received the votes of some fifteen hundred intractable Republicans
of the outskirts of the town; while the mayor had the support of the
country districts, the fervent Bonapartists, the townsmen of the new
quarter who were amenable to clerical influence, the timid shopkeepers
of the old town, and even certain simple-minded Royalists of the
district of Saint-Marc, whose aristocratic denizens chiefly abstained
from voting. Monsieur Delangre thus obtained thirty-three thousand
votes. The business was managed so promptly, the victory was won with
such a dash, that Plassans felt quite amazed, on the evening of the
election, to find itself so unanimous. The town half fancied that it
had just had a wonderful dream, that some powerful hand must have
struck the soil and drawn from it those thirty-three thousand electors,
that army, almost alarming in its numbers, whose strength no one had
ever before suspected. The politicians of the Commercial Club looked at
one another in perplexity, like men dazed with victory.

In the evening, Monsieur Rastoil's friends joined those of Monsieur
Péqueur des Saulaies, to congratulate each other, in a little
drawing-room at the Sub-Prefecture, overlooking the gardens. Tea was
served to them. The great victory of the day ended by a coalition of
the two parties. All the usual guests were present.

'I have never systematically opposed any government,' said Monsieur
Rastoil, after a time, as he accepted some little cakes which Monsieur
Péqueur des Saulaies offered him. 'The judicial bench ought to take
no part in political struggles. I willingly admit that the Empire has
already accomplished some great things, and that it has a still nobler
future before it, if it continues to advance in the paths of justice
and liberty.'

The sub-prefect bowed, as though this eulogy was addressed to himself
personally. The previous evening, Monsieur Rastoil had read in the
'Moniteur' a decree appointing his son assistant public prosecutor at
Faverolles. There was also a good deal of talk about a marriage between
his eldest daughter and Lucien Delangre.

'Oh, yes! it is quite settled,' Monsieur de Condamin said in low tones
to Madame Paloque, who had just been questioning him upon the subject.
'He has chosen Angéline. I believe that he would rather have had
Aurélie, but it has probably been hinted to him that it would not be
seemly for the younger sister to be married before the elder one.'

'Angéline! Are you quite sure?' Madame Paloque murmured maliciously. 'I
fancy that Angéline has a likeness--'

The conservator of rivers and forests put his finger to his lips, with
a smile.

'Well, it's just a toss-up, isn't it?' she continued. 'It will
strengthen the ties between the two families. We are all good friends
now. Paloque is expecting his cross, and I am quite satisfied with
everything.'

Monsieur Delangre did not arrive till late. He received, as newspaper
writers say, a perfect ovation. Madame de Condamin had just informed
Doctor Porquier that his son Guillaume had been nominated chief clerk
at the post-office. She was circulating good news through the room,
declaring that Abbé Bourrette would be vicar-general the following
year; that Abbé Surin would be a bishop before he was forty, and that
Monsieur Maffre was to have a cross.

'Poor Bourdeu!' exclaimed Monsieur Rastoil, with a last sigh of regret.

'Oh, there's no occasion to pity him!' cried Madame de Condamin, gaily.
'I will undertake to console him. He is not cut out for the Chamber.
What he wants is a prefecture. Tell him that he shall have one before
long.'

The merriment increased. The fair Octavie's high spirits, and the
desire which she showed to please everybody, delighted the company.
It was really she who was doing the honours of the Sub-Prefecture.
She was the queen of the place. And, while she seemed to be speaking
quite playfully, she gave Monsieur Delangre the most practical advice
in the world about the part he ought to play in the Corps Législatif.
She took him aside and offered to introduce him to several influential
people, an offer which he gratefully accepted. About eleven o'clock,
Monsieur de Condamin suggested that the garden should be illuminated,
but his wife calmed the enthusiasm of the gentlemen, and said that such
a course would be inadvisable, for it would not do to appear to be
exulting over the town.

'Well, what about Abbé Fenil?' she suddenly asked Abbé Faujas, as she
took him aside into one of the window recesses. 'He has not made any
movement, has he?'

'Abbé Fenil is a man of sense,' the priest replied. 'It has been hinted
to him that he would do well not to interfere in political matters for
the future.'

In the midst of all the triumphant joy, Abbé Faujas remained grave. He
had won after a hard fight. Madame de Condamin's chatter wearied him;
and the satisfaction of these people, with their poor vulgar ambitions,
filled him with disdain. As he stood leaning against the mantelpiece,
with a far-off look in his eyes, he seemed to be buried in thought. He
was master now, and no longer compelled to veil and suppress his real
feelings. He could reach out his hand and seize the town, and make
it tremble in his grasp. His tall, black figure seemed to fill the
room. The guests gradually drew their chairs closer to him, and formed
a circle round him. The men awaited some expression of satisfaction
from his lips, the women besought him with their eyes, like submissive
slaves. But he bluntly broke through the circle and went away the
first, saying but a brief word or two as he took his leave.

When he returned to the Mourets' house, going thither by way of the
Impasse des Chevillottes and the garden, he found Marthe alone in the
dining-room, sitting listlessly on a chair against the wall, looking
very pale, and gazing with a blank expression at the lamp, the wick of
which was beginning to char. Upstairs, Trouche was having a party, and
could be heard singing a broad comic song, which Olympe and his guests
accompanied by striking their glasses with the handles of their knives.



XX


Abbé Faujas laid his hand on Marthe's shoulder. 'What are you doing
here?' he asked. 'Why haven't you gone to bed? I told you that you were
not to wait for me.'

She started up and stammered:

'I thought you would be back much earlier than this. I fell asleep. I
dare say Rose will have got some tea ready.'

The priest called for the cook and rated her for not having made her
mistress go to bed. He spoke in authoritative tones that admitted of no
reply.

'Bring the tea for his reverence, Rose,' said Marthe.

'No, I don't want any tea,' the priest said with a show of vexation.
'Go to bed immediately. It is absurd. I can scarcely control myself.
Show me a light, Rose.'

The cook went with him as far as the foot of the staircase.

'Your reverence knows that I am not to blame,' she said. 'Madame is
very strange. Ill as she is, she can't stop for a single hour in her
room. She can't keep from coming and going up and down, and fidgetting
about merely for the sake of being on the move. She puts me out quite
as much as anyone else; she is always in my way, preventing me from
getting on with anything. Then she drops down on a chair and sits
staring in front of her with a terrified look, as though she could
see something horrible. I told her half a score of times at least,
to-night, that you would be very angry with her for not going to bed;
but she didn't even seem to hear what I said.'

The priest went upstairs without replying. As he passed the Trouches'
room he stretched out his arm as though he was going to bang his fist
on the door. But the singing had stopped, and he could tell from the
sounds within that the visitors were about to take their departure, so
he quickly stepped into his own room. Almost immediately afterwards
Trouche went downstairs with a couple of men whom he had picked up in
some low café, crying out on the staircase that he knew how to behave
himself and was going to see them home. Olympe leant over the banisters.

'You can fasten the doors,' she said to Rose. 'He won't be back before
to-morrow morning.'

Rose, from whom she had not been able to conceal her husband's
misconduct, expressed much pity for her, and growled as she fastened
the doors:

'What fools women are to get married! Their husbands either beat them
or go off after hussies. For my part, I'd very much rather keep as I
am.'

When she went back into the dining-room she found her mistress again
in a sort of melancholy stupor, with her eyes fixed upon the lamp.
She shook her and made her go upstairs to bed. Marthe had become very
timid. She said she saw great patches of light on the walls of her room
at night-time, and heard violent blows at the head of her bed. Rose
now slept near her, in a little dressing-room whence she hastened to
calm her at the slightest uneasiness. That night she had not finished
undressing herself before she heard Marthe groaning, and, on rushing
into her room, she found her lying amidst the disordered bed-clothes,
her eyes staring widely in mute horror, and her clenched fists pressed
closely against her mouth to keep herself from shrieking. Rose was
obliged to talk to her and soothe her as though she were a mere child,
and even had to look behind the curtains and under the furniture, and
assure her that she was mistaken, for there was really no one there.
These attacks of terror ended in cataleptic seizures, when the unhappy
woman lay back on her pillow, with her eyelids rigidly opened as though
she were dead.

'It is the thought of the master that torments her,' Rose muttered, as
she at last got into bed.

The next day was one of those when Doctor Porquier called. He came
regularly twice a week to see Madame Mouret. He patted her hands and
said to her with his amiable optimism:

'Oh! nothing serious will come of this, my dear lady. You still cough a
little, don't you? Ah! it's a mere cold which has been neglected, but
which we will cure with some syrups.'

But Marthe complained to him of intolerable pains in her back and
chest, and kept her eyes upon him, as if trying to discover from his
face and manner what he would not say in words.

'I am afraid of going mad!' she suddenly cried, breaking into a sob.

The doctor smilingly reassured her. The sight of him always caused her
keen anxiety, she felt a sort of alarm of this gentle and agreeable
man. She often told Rose not to admit him, saying that she was not ill,
and had no need to have a doctor constantly to see her. Rose shrugged
her shoulders, however, and ushered the doctor into the room. However,
he had almost ceased speaking to Marthe about her ailments, and seemed
to be merely making friendly calls upon her.

As he was going away, he met Abbé Faujas, who was returning from
Saint-Saturnin's. The priest questioned him respecting Madame Mouret's
condition.

'Science is sometimes quite powerless,' said the doctor gravely, 'but
the goodness of Providence is inexhaustible. The poor lady has been
sorely shaken, but I don't altogether give her up. Her chest is only
slightly attacked as yet, and the climate here is favourable.'

Then he started a dissertation upon the treatment of pulmonary diseases
in the neighbourhood of Plassans. He was preparing a pamphlet on the
subject, not for publication, for he was too shrewd to wish to seem a
_savant_, but for the perusal of a few intimate friends.

'I have weighty reasons,' he said in conclusion, 'for believing that
the equable temperature, the aromatic flora, and the salubrious springs
of our hills, are extremely effective for the cure of pulmonary
complaints.'

The priest had listened to him with his usual stern expression.

'You are mistaken,' he said slowly, 'Plassans does not agree with
Madame Mouret. Why not send her to pass the winter at Nice?'

'At Nice?' repeated the doctor, uneasily.

He looked at the priest for a moment, and then continued in his
complacent way:

'Nice certainly would be very suitable for her. In her present
condition of nervous excitement, a change of surroundings would
probably have very beneficial results. I must advise her to make the
journey. It is an excellent idea of yours, Monsieur le Curé.'

He bowed, parted from the Abbé, and made his way to Madame de Condamin,
whose slightest headaches caused him endless trouble and anxiety. At
dinner, the next day, Marthe spoke of the doctor in almost violent
terms. She swore that she would never allow him to visit her again.

'It is he who is making me ill,' she exclaimed. 'This very afternoon he
has been advising me to go off on a journey.'

'And I entirely agree with him in that,' declared Abbé Faujas, folding
his napkin.

She fixed her eyes upon him, and turned very pale as she murmured in a
low voice:

'What! Do you also want to send me away from Plassans? Oh! I should die
in a strange land far away from all my old associations, and far away
from those I love.'

The priest had risen from his seat, and was about to leave the
dining-room. He stepped towards her, and said with a smile:

'Your friends only think of what is good for your health. Why are you
so rebellious?'

'Oh! I don't want to go! I don't want to go!' she cried, stepping back
from him.

There was a short contest between them. The blood rushed to the Abbé's
cheeks, and he crossed his arms, as though to withstand a temptation
to strike Marthe. She was leaning against the wall, in despair at her
weakness. Then, quite vanquished, she stretched out her hands, and
stammered:

'I beseech you to allow me to remain here. I will do whatever you tell
me.'

Then, as she burst into sobs, the Abbé shrugged his shoulders and left
the room, like a husband fearing an outbreak of tears. Madame Faujas,
who was tranquilly finishing her dinner, had witnessed the scene and
continued eating. She let Marthe cry on undisturbed.

'You are extremely unreasonable, my dear child,' she said after a time,
helping herself to some more sweetmeats. 'You will end by making Ovide
quite detest you. You don't know how to treat him. Why do you refuse to
go away from home, if it is necessary for your health? We should look
after the house for you, and you would find everything all right and in
its place when you came back.'

Marthe was still sobbing, and did not seem to hear what Madame Faujas
said.

'Ovide has so much to think about,' the old lady continued. 'Do you
know that he often works till four o'clock in the morning? When you
cough all through the night, it disturbs him very much, and distracts
his thoughts. He can't work any longer, and he suffers more than you
do. Do this for Ovide's sake, my dear child; go away, and come back to
us in good health.'

Then Marthe raised her face, red with weeping, and throwing all her
anguish into one cry, she wailed: 'Oh! Heaven lies!'

During the next few days no further pressure was brought to bear upon
Madame Mouret to induce her to make the journey to Nice. She grew
terribly excited at the least reference to it. She refused to leave
Plassans with such a show of determination that the priest himself
recognised the danger of insisting upon the scheme. In the midst
of his triumph she was beginning to cause him terrible anxiety and
embarrassment. Trouche declared, with his snigger, that it was she who
ought to have been sent the first to Les Tulettes. Ever since Mouret
had been taken off, she had secluded herself in the practice of the
most rigid religious practices, and refrained from ever mentioning her
husband's name, praying indeed that she might be rendered altogether
oblivious of the past. But she still remained restless, and returned
from Saint-Saturnin's with even a keener longing for forgetfulness than
she had had when she went thither.

'Our landlady is going it finely,' Olympe said to her husband when she
came home one evening. 'I went with her to church to-day, and I had to
pick her up from the flag-stones. You would laugh if I told you all
the things that she vomited out against Ovide. She is quite furious
with him; she says that he has no heart, and that he has deceived her
in promising her a heap of consolations. And you should hear her rail,
too, against the Divinity. Ah! it's only your pious people who talk
so badly of religion! Anyone would think, to hear her, that God had
cheated her of a large sum of money. Do you know, I really believe that
her husband comes and haunts her at night.'

Trouche was much amused by this gossip.

'Well, she has herself to blame for that,' he said. 'If that old joker
Mouret was put away, it was her own doing. If I were Faujas, I should
know how to arrange matters, and I would make her as gentle and content
as a sheep. But Faujas is an ass, and you will see that he will make
a mess of the business. Your brother, my dear, hasn't shown himself
sufficiently pleasant to us for me to help him out of the bother. I
shall have a rare laugh the day our landlady makes him take the plunge.'

'Ovide certainly looks down upon women too much,' declared Olympe.

Then Trouche continued in a lower tone:

'I say, you know, if our landlady were to throw herself down some well
with your noodle of a brother, we should be the masters, and the house
would be ours. We should be able to feather our nest nicely then. It
would be a splendid ending to it all, that!'

Since Mouret's departure, the Trouches also had invaded the
ground-floor of the house. Olympe had begun by complaining that the
chimneys upstairs smoked, and she had ended by persuading Marthe
that the drawing-room, which had hitherto been unoccupied, was the
healthiest room in the house. Rose was ordered to light a big fire
there, and the two women spent their days in endless talk, before the
huge blazing logs. It was one of Olympe's dreams to be able to live
like this, handsomely dressed and lolling on a couch in the midst of
an elegantly furnished room. She even persuaded Marthe to have the
drawing-room re-papered, to buy some new furniture and a fresh carpet
for it. Then she felt that she was a lady. She came downstairs in her
slippers and dressing-gown, and talked as though she were the mistress
of the house.

'That poor Madame Mouret,' she would say, 'has so much worry that
she has asked me to help her, and so I devote a little of my time to
assisting her. It is really a kindness to do so.'

She had, indeed, quite succeeded in winning the confidence of Marthe,
who, from sheer lassitude, handed over to her the petty details of the
household management. It was Olympe who kept the keys of the cellar
and the cupboards, and paid the tradesmen's bills as well. She had
been deliberating for a long time as to how she should manage to make
herself equally free in the dining-room. Trouche, however, dissuaded
her from attempting to carry out that design. They would no longer be
able to eat and drink as they liked, he said; they would not even dare
to drink their wine unwatered, or to ask a friend to come and have
coffee. Then Olympe declared that at any rate she would bring their
share of the dessert upstairs. She crammed her pockets with sugar, and
she even carried off candle-ends. For this purpose, she made some big
canvas pockets, which she fastened under her skirt, and which it took
her a good quarter of an hour to empty every evening.

'There! there's something for a rainy day,' she said, as she bundled a
stock of provisions into a box, which she then pushed under the bed.
'If we happen to fall out with our landlady, we shall have something to
keep us going for a time. I must bring up some pots of preserves and
some salt pork.'

'There is no need to make a secret of it,' said Trouche. 'If I were
you, I should make Rose bring them up, as you are the mistress.'

Trouche had made himself master of the garden. For a long time past he
had envied Mouret as he had watched him pruning his trees, gravelling
his walks, and watering his lettuces; and he had indulged in a dream
of one day having a plot of ground of his own, where he might dig and
plant as he liked. So, now that Mouret was no longer there, he took
possession of the garden, planning all kinds of alterations in it. He
began by condemning the vegetables. He had a delicate soul, he said,
and he loved flowers. But the labour of digging tired him out on the
second day, and a gardener was called in, who dug up the beds under
his directions, threw the vegetables on to the dung-heap, and prepared
the soil for the reception of pæonies, roses and lilies, larkspurs and
convolvuli, and cuttings of geraniums and carnations. Then an idea
occurred to Trouche. It struck him that the tall sombre box plants,
which bordered the beds, had a mournful appearance, and he meditated
for a long time about pulling them up.

'You are quite right,' said Olympe, whom he consulted on the matter.
'They make the place look like a cemetery. For my part, I should much
prefer an edging of cast-iron made to resemble rough wood. I will
persuade the landlady to have it done. Anyhow, pull up the box.'

The box was accordingly pulled up. A week later the gardener came
and laid down the cast-iron edging. Trouche also removed several
fruit-trees which interfered with the view, had the arbour painted
afresh a bright green, and ornamented the fountain with rock-work.
Monsieur Rastoil's cascade greatly excited his envy, but he contented
himself for the time by choosing a place where he would construct a
similar one, 'if everything should go on all right.'

'This will make our neighbours open their eyes,' he said in the evening
to his wife. 'They will see that there is a man of taste here now. In
the summer, when we sit at the window, we shall have a delightful view,
and the garden will smell deliciously.'

Marthe let him have his own way and gave her consent to all the plans
that were submitted to her, and in the end he gave over even consulting
her. It was solely Madame Faujas that the Trouches had to contend
against, and she continued to dispute possession of the house with them
very obstinately. It was only after a battle royal with her mother that
Olympe had been able to take possession of the drawing-room. Madame
Faujas had all but won the day on that occasion. It was the priest's
fault if she had not proved victorious.

'That hussy of a sister of yours says everything that is bad of us to
the landlady,' Madame Faujas perpetually complained. 'I can see through
her game. She wants to supplant us and to get everything for herself.
She is trying to settle herself down in the drawing-room like a fine
lady, the slut!'

The priest however paid no attention to what his mother said; he only
broke out into sharp gestures of impatience at her complaints. One day
he got quite angry and exclaimed:

'I beg of you, mother, do leave me in peace. Don't talk to me any more
about Olympe or Trouche. Let them go and hang themselves, if they like.'

'But they are seizing the whole house, Ovide. They are perfect rats.
When you want your share, you will find that they have gnawed it all
away. You are the only one who can keep them in check.'

He looked at his mother with a faint smile.

'You love me very much, mother,' said he, 'and I forgive you. Make your
mind easy; I want something very different from the house. It isn't
mine, and I only keep what I gain. You will be very proud when you see
my share. Trouche has been useful to me, and we must shut our eyes a
little.'

Madame Faujas was then obliged to beat a retreat; but she did so with
very bad grace. The absolute disinterestedness of her son made her,
with her material baser desires and careful economical nature, quite
desperate. She would have liked to lock the house up so that Ovide
might find it ready in perfect order for his occupation whenever he
might want it. The Trouches, with their grasping ways, caused her
all the torment and despair felt by a miser who is being preyed upon
by strangers. It was exactly as though they were wasting her own
substance, fattening upon her own flesh, and reducing herself and
her beloved son to penury and wretchedness. When the Abbé forbade
her to oppose the gradual invasion of the Trouches, she made up her
mind that she would at any rate save all she could from the hands of
the spoilers, and so she began pilfering from the cupboards, just
as Olympe did. She also fastened big pockets underneath her skirts,
and had a chest which she filled with all the things she collected
together--provisions, linen, and miscellaneous articles.

'What is that you are stowing away there, mother?' the Abbé asked one
evening as he went into her room, attracted by the noise which she made
in moving the chest.

She began to stammer out a reply, but the priest understood it all at a
glance, and flew into a violent rage.

'It is too shameful!' he said. 'You have turned yourself into a thief,
now! What would the consequences be if you were to be detected? I
should be the talk of the whole town!'

'It is all for your sake, Ovide,' she murmured.

'A thief! My mother a thief! Perhaps you think that I thieve, too,
that I have come here to plunder, and that my only ambition is to lay
my hands upon whatever I can! Good heavens! what sort of an opinion
have you formed of me? We shall have to separate, mother, if we do not
understand each other better than this.'

This speech quite crushed the old woman. She had remained on her knees
in front of the chest, and she sank into a crouching position upon
the floor, very pale and almost choking, and stretching out her hands
beseechingly. When she was able to speak, she wailed out:

'It is for your benefit, my child, for yours only, I swear. I have
told you before that they are taking everything; your sister crams
everything into her pockets. There will be nothing left for you, not
even a lump of sugar. But I won't take anything more, since it makes
you angry, and you will let me stay with you, won't you? You will keep
me with you, won't you?'

Abbé Faujas refused to make any promises until she had restored
everything she had taken to its place. For nearly a week he himself
superintended the secret restoration of the contents of the chest. He
watched his mother fill her pockets, and waited till she came back
upstairs again to take a fresh load. For prudential reasons he allowed
her to make only two journeys backwards and forwards every evening. The
old woman felt as though her heart was breaking as she restored each
article to its former place. She did not dare to cry, but her eyelids
were swollen with tears of regret, and her hands trembled even more
than they had done when they were ransacking the cupboards. However,
what afflicted her more than anything else was to see that as soon as
she had restored each article to its rightful position, Olympe followed
in her wake and took possession of it. The linen, the provisions, and
the candle-ends, merely passed from one pocket to another.

'I won't take anything more downstairs,' she exclaimed to her son,
growing rebellious at this unforeseen result of her restorations. 'It
isn't the least good, for your sister only walks off with everything
directly I put it back. The hussy! I might just as well give her the
chest at once! She must have got a nice little hoard together! I
beseech you, Ovide, let me keep what still remains. Our landlady will
be none the worse off for it, because she will lose it anyhow.'

'My sister is what she is,' the priest replied tranquilly; 'but I wish
my mother to be an honest woman. You will help me much more by not
committing such actions.'

She was forced to restore everything, and from that time forward she
harboured fierce hatred against the Trouches, Marthe, and the whole
establishment. She often said that the day would come when she should
have to defend Ovide against everybody.

The Trouches were now reigning in all sovereignty. They completed the
conquest of the house, and made their way into every corner of it. The
Abbé's own rooms were the only ones they respected. It was only before
him that they trembled. But even his presence in the house did not
prevent them from inviting their friends, and indulging in debauches
till two o'clock in the morning. Guillaume Porquier came with parties
of mere youths. Olympe, notwithstanding her thirty-seven years, then
simpered and put on girlish airs; and flirted with more than one of
the college lads. The house was becoming a perfect paradise to her.
Trouche sniggered and joked about it when they were alone together.

'Well,' she said, quite tranquilly, 'you do as you like, don't you? We
are both free to do as we please, you know.'

Trouche had, as a matter of fact, all but brought his pleasant life to
an abrupt conclusion. There had been an unpleasant affair at the Home
of the Virgin in connection with one of the girls there. One of the
Sisters of St. Joseph had complained of Trouche to Abbé Faujas. He had
thanked her for telling him, and had impressed upon her that the cause
of religion would suffer by such a scandal. So the affair was hushed
up, and the lady patronesses never had the faintest suspicion of it.
Abbé Faujas, however, had a terrible scene with his brother-in-law,
whom he assailed in Olympe's presence, so that his wife might have a
weapon against him, and be able to keep him in check.

The Trouches had been troubled for a long time past by another matter.
Notwithstanding their life of clover, although they were provided with
so many things out of Marthe's cupboards, they had got terribly into
debt in the neighbourhood. Trouche squandered his salary away in cafés,
and Olympe wasted the money which she drew out of Marthe's pockets by
indulging in all sorts of silly fancies. As for the necessaries of
life, they made a point of getting these upon credit. There was one
account which made them particularly uneasy, that of a pastrycook in
the Rue de la Banne, which amounted to more than a hundred francs, for
the pastrycook was a rough, blunt sort of man, who had threatened to
lay the whole matter before Abbé Faujas. The Trouches thus long lived
in a state of alarm, but when the bill was actually presented to him
Abbé Faujas paid it without a word, and even forgot to address any
reproaches to them on the subject. The priest seemed to be above all
those sordid little matters, and went on living a gloomy and rigid life
in this house that was given up to pillage, without appearing conscious
of the gradual ruin which was falling upon it. Everything, indeed,
was crumbling away around him, while he continued to advance straight
towards the goal of his ambition. He still camped like a soldier in his
big bare room, indulging in no comforts, and showing annoyance when any
were pressed upon him. Since he had become the master of Plassans, he
had dropped back into complete carelessness as to his appearance. His
hat became rusty, his stockings muddy; his cassock, which his mother
mended every morning, looked just like the pitiful, worn-out rag which
he had worn when he first came to Plassans.

'Pooh! it is very good yet,' he used to say, when anyone hazarded a
timid remark about it.

He made a display of it, walked about the streets in it, carrying
his head loftily, and altogether unheeding the curious glances which
were cast at him. There was no bravado in the matter; he was simply
following his natural inclinations. Now that he believed that he need
no longer lay himself out to please, he fell back into all his old
disdain for mere appearance. It was his triumph to sit down just as he
was, with his tall, clumsy body, rough, blunt manner and torn clothes,
in the midst of conquered Plassans.

Madame de Condamin, distressed by the strong smell which emanated from
his cassock, one day gently took him to task about his appearance.

'Do you know,' she said to him, laughing, 'that the ladies are
beginning to detest you? They say that you now never take the least
trouble over your toilet. Once upon a time, when you took your
handkerchief out of your pocket, it was just as though there were a
choir-boy swinging a thurible behind you.'

The priest looked greatly astonished. He was quite unaware of any
change in himself. Then Madame de Condamin, drawing a little nearer to
him, said in a friendly tone:

'Will you let me speak quite frankly to you, my dear Curé? It is
really a mistake on your part to be so negligent of your appearance.
You scarcely shave, and you never comb your hair; it is as rough and
tumbled as though you had been fighting. I can assure you that all
this has a very bad effect. Madame Rastoil and Madame Delangre told
me yesterday that they could scarcely recognise you. You are really
compromising your success.'

The priest gave a laugh of defiance, as he shook his powerful unkempt
head.

'Now that the battle is won,' he merely replied, 'they must put up with
my hair being uncombed.'

Plassans had, indeed, to put up with him with his hair uncombed. The
once seemingly flexible priest was now transformed into a stern,
despotic master who bent all wills to his own. His face, which had
again become cadaverous in hue, shone with eyes like an eagle's, and
he raised his big hands as though they were filled with threats and
chastisements. The town was positively terrified on beholding the
master it had imposed upon itself, with his shabby, dirty clothing and
unkempt hair. The covert alarm of the women only tended, however, to
strengthen his power. He was stern and harsh to his penitents, but not
one of them dared to leave him. They came to him in fear and trembling,
in which they found some touch of painful pleasure.

'I was wrong, my dear,' Madame de Condamin confessed to Marthe, 'in
wanting him to perfume himself. I am growing accustomed to him, and
even prefer him as he is. He is indeed a man!'

Abbé Faujas was supreme at the Bishop's. Since the elections he had
left Monseigneur Rousselot only a show of authority. The Bishop lived
amidst his beloved books in his study, where the Abbé, who administered
the diocese from an adjoining room, virtually kept him prisoner, only
allowing him to see those persons whom he could fully trust. The clergy
trembled before this absolute master. The old white-headed priests
bent before him with all humility and surrender of personal will.
Monseigneur Rousselot, when he was alone with Abbé Surin, often wept
silent tears. He regretted the impetuous mastery of Abbé Fenil, who
had, at any rate, intervals of affectionate softness, whereas now,
under Abbé Faujas's rule, he felt a relentless, ceaseless pressure.
However, he would smile again and resign himself, saying with a sort of
pleasant self-satisfaction:

'Come, my child, let us get to work. I must not complain, for I am now
leading the life which I always dreamed of--a life of perfect solitude
amongst my books.'

Then he sighed, and continued in a lower tone:

'I should be quite happy if I were not afraid of losing you, my dear
Surin. He will end by not tolerating your presence here any longer. I
thought that he looked at you very suspiciously yesterday. Always agree
with him, I beseech you; take his side and don't spare me. Ah me! I
have only you left now.'

Two months after the elections Abbé Vial, one of the Bishop's
grand-vicars, went to settle at Rome. Abbé Faujas stepped into his
place as a matter of course, although it had been promised long ago
to Abbé Bourrette. He did not even promote the latter to the living
of Saint-Saturnin's which he vacated, but preferred to it a young
ambitious priest whom he had made a tool of his own.

'His lordship would not hear of you,' he said curtly to Abbé Bourrette
when he met him.

When the poor old priest stammered out that he would go and see the
Bishop, and ask for an explanation, Abbé Faujas added more gently:

'His lordship is too unwell to see you. Trust yourself in my hands; I
will plead your cause for you.'

From his first appearance in the Chamber in Paris Monsieur Delangre
had voted with the majority. Plassans was conquered for the Empire.
Abbé Faujas almost seemed actuated by a feeling of revenge in the rough
way in which he treated the prudent townspeople. He again closed the
little doors that led into the Impasse des Chevillottes, and compelled
Monsieur Rastoil and his friends to enter the Sub-Prefecture by the
official door facing the Place. When he appeared at the sub-prefect's
friendly gatherings, the guests showed themselves very humble in his
presence. So great was the fascination he exercised, and so great the
fear he inspired, that even when he was not present nobody dared to
make the slightest equivocal remark concerning him.

'He is a man of the greatest merit,' declared Monsieur Péqueur des
Saulaies, who now counted on being promoted to a prefecture.

'A very remarkable man, indeed,' chimed in Doctor Porquier. All the
company nodded their heads approvingly till Monsieur de Condamin, who
began to feel irritated by this eulogistic unanimity, amused himself by
putting them into embarrassment.

'Well, he hasn't a pleasant temper, anyway,' said he.

This remark had a chilling effect upon the company. Each was afraid
that his neighbour might be in the terrible Abbé's pay.

'The grand-vicar has an excellent heart,' Monsieur Rastoil prudently
remarked; 'but, like all great minds, he appears at first sight to be a
little stern.'

'It is just so with me; I am very easy to get on with, but I have
always had the reputation of being a hard, stern man,' exclaimed
Monsieur de Bourdeu, who had become reconciled with the party again
after a long private interview which he had had with Abbé Faujas.

Then, wishing to put everyone at ease again, the presiding judge
exclaimed:

'Have you heard that there is a probability of a bishopric for the
grand-vicar?'

At this they brightened up. Monsieur Maffre expressed the opinion that
it would be of Plassans itself that Abbé Faujas would become bishop,
after the retirement of Monseigneur Rousselot, whose health was very
feeble.

'Everyone would gain by it,' said Abbé Bourrette guilelessly. 'Illness
has embittered his lordship; I know that our excellent Faujas has made
the greatest efforts to persuade him out of certain unjust prejudices
which he entertains.'

'He is very fond of you,' asserted Judge Paloque, who had just received
his decoration; 'my wife has heard him complain of the way in which you
are neglected.'

When Abbé Surin was present, he, too, joined in the general chorus;
but, although he had a mitre in his pocket, to use the expression of
the priests of the diocese, the success of Abbé Faujas made him uneasy.
He looked at him in his pretty way, and, calling to mind the Bishop's
prediction, tried to discover the weak point which would bring that
colossus toppling in the dust.

The gentlemen of the party, it should be said, had had their desires
satisfied; that is, excepting Monsieur de Bourdeu and Monsieur Péqueur
des Saulaies, who were still waiting for the marks of the government's
favour. These two were, consequently, the warmest partisans of Abbé
Faujas. The others, to tell the truth, would have been glad to
rebel, if they had dared. They were growing secretly weary of the
continual gratitude which was exacted from them by their master,
and they ardently wished that some strong, bold hand would effect
their deliverance. One day Madame Paloque, with an affectation of
indifference inquired:

'What has become of Abbé Fenil? I haven't seen or heard of him for an
age.'

There was profound silence. Monsieur de Condamin was the only one
present capable of venturing upon such dangerous ground. They all
looked at him.

'Oh!' he said quietly, 'I believe he shuts himself up at his place at
Les Tulettes.'

Madame de Condamin added with an ironical smile:

'He can sleep quietly now. His career is over; he will take no part
again in the affairs of Plassans.'

There was only Marthe who remained a real obstacle in Abbé Faujas's
path. He felt that she was escaping him more and more each day. He
stiffened his will and called up all his forces as priest and man to
bend her, without succeeding in moderating the flame which he had
fanned into life. She was striving to reach the logical end of her
passionate longings, and insisted upon forcing her way further and
further into the peace and ecstasy and perfect self-forgetfulness
of divine happiness. It was bitter pain and anguish to her to be,
as it were, walled in and prevented from reaching that threshold of
light, of which she fancied she caught a glimpse, though it seemed
to be ever receding from her reach. She shivered and trembled now at
Saint-Saturnin's in the coldness and the gloom amidst which she had
once felt such thrills of delight. The peals of the organ no longer
stirred her with a tremor of voluptuous joy; the white clouds of
incense no longer lulled her into sweet mystic dreams; the gleaming
chapels and the sacred pyxes that flashed like stars, the chasubles
with their sheen of gold and silver, all now seemed pale and wan to her
eyes that were dull and dim with tears. Like a damned soul yearning
after Paradise, she threw up her arms in bitter desperation and
besought the love that denied itself to her, sobbing and wailing:

'My God, my God! why hast Thou forsaken me?'

Bowed down with shame, hurt, as it were, by the cold silence of the
vaulted roof, Marthe left the church, burning with the anger of a
scorned woman. She had wild dreams of pouring out her blood, and she
writhed madly at her impotence to do more than to pray, at being unable
to spring at a single bound into the arms of God. And when she returned
home, she felt that her only hope was in Abbé Faujas. It was he alone
that could make her God's. He had revealed to her the initiatory joys;
he must now tear aside the whole veil. But the priest fell into a
passion with her and treated her roughly, refusing to hear her so long
as she was not on her knees before him, humble and unresisting like a
corpse. She listened to him, standing upright, sustained by an impulse
of revolt that thrilled her whole being, as she vented upon him the
bitterness that came of her deceived yearnings, and accused him of the
base treachery which was torturing her.

Old Madame Rougon often thought it was her duty to intervene between
the Abbé and her daughter, as she had formerly done between the latter
and Mouret. Marthe having told her of her troubles, she spoke to the
priest like a mother-in-law desiring the happiness of her children and
doing her best to restore peace in their home.

'Well,' she said to him with a smile, 'can't you manage to live in
peace? Marthe is constantly complaining and you seem to be perpetually
grieving her. I know very well that women are exacting, but you must
confess that you are a little wanting in consideration. I am extremely
distressed by what occurs; it would be so easy for you to arrange
matters pleasantly! Do, I beg of you, my dear Abbé, be a little more
gentle with her.'

She also scolded him in a friendly fashion for his slovenly appearance.
She could see, with her shrewd feminine intelligence, that he was
abusing his victory. Then she began to make excuses for her daughter.
The dear child, she said, had suffered a great deal, and her nervous
sensitiveness required most careful treatment; but she had an excellent
disposition and an affectionate nature which a clever man might mould
after his own wishes. One day, however, when she was thus showing him
how he might make Marthe what he liked, Abbé Faujas grew weary of her
perpetual advice.

'No, no!' he cried, 'your daughter is mad; she bores me to death. I
won't have anything more to do with her. I would pay the fellow well
who would free me of her.'

Madame Rougon looked him keenly in the face and tightly pressed her
lips.

'Listen to me, my friend,' she said after a short silence; 'you are
wanting in tact, and that will prove your ruin. Overthrow yourself,
if you like; I wash my hands of you. I assisted you, not for your own
sake, but to please our friends in Paris. They wrote to me and asked
me to pilot you, and I did so. But understand this, I will never allow
you to come the master over me. It's all very well for little Péqueur,
and simple Rastoil, but we are not at all afraid of you, and we mean to
remain the masters. My husband conquered Plassans before you did, and I
warn you that we shall keep our conquest.'

From that day forward there was great coldness between the Rougons and
Abbé Faujas. When Marthe again came to complain to her mother, the
latter said to her very plainly:

'Your Abbé is only making a fool of you. If I were in your place I
shouldn't hesitate to tell him a few plain truths. To begin with,
he has been disgustingly dirty for a long time past, and I can't
understand how you can bear to take your meals at the same table with
him.'

Madame Rougon had, in truth, hinted at a very ingenious plan to her
husband, by which the Abbé should be ousted, and they themselves should
reap the reward of his success. Now that the town voted properly,
Rougon, who had not cared to risk the conduct of the campaign, was
quite able to keep it in the proper path. The green drawing-room
would become all the more influential, and Félicité began to await
developments with that crafty patience to which she owed her fortune.

On the day when her mother told her that the Abbé was only making a
fool of her, Marthe again repaired to Saint-Saturnin's resolved upon a
last supreme appeal. She remained in the deserted church for two hours,
pouring out her soul in prayer, waiting longingly for the ecstasy
that came not, and torturing herself with her search for consolation.
Impulses of deep humility stretched her prostrate upon the flag-stones,
momentary thrills of rebellion made her start up again with her teeth
clenched, while her whole being, wildly racked and strained, broke
down at not being able to grasp or kiss aught save the aching void
of her own passion. When she rose and left the church the sky seemed
black to her; she was not conscious of the pavement beneath her feet;
the narrow streets left upon her the impression of some immense lonely
wilderness. She threw her hat and shawl upon the dining-room table and
went straight upstairs to Abbé Faujas's room.

The Abbé sat buried in thought, at his little table. His pen had fallen
from his fingers. He opened the door, still full of his thoughts, but
when he saw Marthe standing before him, very pale, and with the light
of deep resolution burning in her eyes, he made a gesture of anger.

'What do you want?' he asked. 'Why have you come upstairs? Go down
again and wait for me, if you have anything to say to me.'

She pushed him aside and entered the room without speaking a word.

The priest hesitated for a moment, struggling against the influence
which was prompting him to raise his hand against her. He remained
standing in front of her, without closing the door that was wide open.

'What do you want?' he repeated. 'I am busy.'

Then Marthe closed the door, and having done so, drew nearer to the
Abbé and said to him:

'I want to speak to you.'

She sat down and looked about the room, at the narrow bed, the shabby
chest of drawers, and at the big black wooden crucifix, the sight of
which, as it stood out conspicuously on the bare wall, gave her a
passing thrill. A freezing silence seemed to fall from the ceiling. The
grate was quite empty; there was not even a pinch of ashes in it.

'You will take cold,' said the priest in a calmer voice. 'Let us go
downstairs, I beg you.'

'No; I want to speak to you,' said Marthe again.

Then, clasping her hands together like a penitent making her
confession, she continued:

'I owe you much. Before you came, I was without a soul. It was you who
willed that I should be saved. It is through you that I have known the
only joys of my life. You are my saviour and my father. For these last
five years I have only lived through you and for you.'

Her voice broke down and she almost slipped upon her knees. The priest
stopped her with a gesture.

'And now, to-day,' she cried, 'I am suffering and have need of your
help. Listen to me, father. Do not withdraw from me. You cannot abandon
me thus. I tell you that God does not listen to me any longer. I do not
feel His presence any longer. Have pity upon me, I beseech you. Advise
me, lead me to those divine graces whose first joys you made me know;
teach me what I should do to cure myself, and ever advance in the love
of God.'

'You must pray,' said the priest gravely.

'I have prayed; I have prayed for hours with my head buried in my
hands, trying to lose myself in every word of adoration, and yet I have
not received consolation. I have not felt the presence of God.'

'You must pray and pray again, pray continually, pray until God is
moved by your prayers and descends to you.'

She looked at him in anguish.

'Then there is nothing but prayer?' she asked. 'You cannot give me any
help?'

'No; none at all,' he replied roughly.

She threw up her trembling hands in a burst of desperation, her breast
heaving with anger. But she restrained herself, and she stammered:

'Your heaven is fast closed. You have led me on so far only to crush
me against a wall. I was very peaceful, you will remember, when you
came. I was living quietly at home here, without a single desire or
curiosity. It was you who awoke me with words that stirred and roused
my heart. It was you who made me enter upon a fresh youth. Oh! you
cannot tell what joys you brought me at first! It was like sweet
soft warmth thrilling my whole being. My heart woke up within me. I
was filled with mighty hopes. Sometimes, when I reflected that I was
forty years old, it all seemed foolish to me, and I smiled, and then I
defended myself, for I felt so happy in it all. Now I want the promised
happiness. I am growing weary of the desire for it, a desire that burns
me and tortures me. I have no time to lose, now that my health has
broken down, and I don't want to find myself deceived and duped. There
must be something more; tell me that there is something more.'

Abbé Faujas stood quite impassive, letting this flood of words pass
without reply.

'Ah! So there is nothing else! there is nothing else!' she continued,
in a burst of indignation; 'then you have deceived me! Down there on
the terrace, on those star-lit evenings, you promised me heaven, and I
believed your promises. I sold myself, and gave myself up. I was quite
mad during those first transports of prayer. To-day the bargain holds
no longer. I shall return to my old ways, and resume my old peaceful
quiet. I will turn everybody out of the house, and make it as it used
to be; I will again sit in my old corner on the terrace, and mend the
linen. Needlework never wearies me. And I will have Désirée back to
sit beside me on her little stool. She used to sit there, the dear
innocent, and laugh and make dolls----'

Then she burst into a fit of sobbing:

'I want my children! They were my safeguard. Since they left I have
lost my head, I have done things that I ought not to have done. Why
did you take them from me? They went away from me one by one, and the
house became like a strange house to me. My heart was no longer wrapped
up in it, I was glad when I left it for an afternoon; and when I came
back in the evening, I seemed to have fallen amongst strangers. The
very furniture seemed cold and unfriendly. I quite hated the house.
But I will go and fetch them again, the poor darlings. Everything will
become as it used to be directly they return. Oh! if I could only sink
down again into my old sleepy quiet!'

She was growing more and more excited. The priest tried to calm her by
a method which he had often before found efficacious.

'Be calm, my dear lady, be calm,' he said, trying to take her hands,
and hold them between his own.

'Don't touch me!' she cried, recoiling from him. 'I don't want you to
do so. When you hold me I am as weak as a child. The warmth of your
hands takes all my resolution and strength away. The trouble would only
begin again to-morrow; for I cannot go on living like this, and you
only assuage me for an hour.'

A deep shadow passed over her face as she continued:

'No! I am damned now! I shall never love my home again. And if the
children come, they would ask for their father--Oh! it is that which is
killing me! I shall never be forgiven till I have confessed my crime to
a priest.'

Then she fell upon her knees.

'I am a guilty woman. That is why God turns His face from me.'

Abbé Faujas tried to make her rise from her knees.

'Be silent!' he cried loudly. 'I cannot hear your confession here. Come
to Saint-Saturnin's to-morrow.'

'Father,' she said entreatingly, 'have pity upon me. To-morrow I shall
not have the strength for it.'

'I forbid you to speak,' he cried more violently than before. 'I won't
listen to anything; I shall turn my head away and close my ears.'

He stepped backward and crossed his arms, trying to check the
confession that was on Marthe's lips. They looked at each other for
a moment in silence, with the lurking anger that came from their
conscious complicity.

'It is not a priest who listens to you,' said the Abbé in a huskier
voice. 'Here there is only a man to judge and condemn you.'

At this she rose from her knees, and continued feverishly: 'A man!
I prefer it, for I am not confessing; I am simply telling you of my
wrong-doing. After the children had gone, I allowed their father to
be put away too. He had never struck me, the unhappy man. It was I
myself who was mad.... Oh, you cannot guess what frightful nightmares
overwhelmed me and made me hurl myself upon the floor. All hell seemed
to be racking my brain with its torments. He, poor man, with his
chattering teeth, excited my pity. It was he who was afraid of me. When
you had left the room he dared not venture near me; he passed the night
on a chair.'

Again did Abbé Faujas try to stop her.

'You are killing yourself,' he exclaimed. 'Don't stir up these
recollections. God will take count of your sufferings.'

'It was I who sent him to Les Tulettes,' she continued, silencing the
priest with an energetic gesture. 'You all told me that he was mad. Oh,
the unendurable life I have led! I have always been terrified by the
thought of madness. When I was quite young, I used to feel as though
my skull were being opened and my head were being emptied. I seemed
to have a block of ice within my brow. Ah! I felt that awful coldness
again, and I was perpetually in fear of going mad. They took my husband
away. I let them take him. I didn't know what I was doing. But, ever
since that day, I have been unable to close my eyes without seeing
him over yonder. It is that which makes me behave so strangely, which
roots me for hours to the same spot, with my eyes wide open. I know the
place; I can see it. My uncle Macquart showed it to me. It is as gloomy
as a prison, with its black windows.'

She seemed to be choking. She raised her handkerchief to her lips, and
when she took it away again it was spotted with blood. The priest, with
his arms rigidly crossed in front of him, waited till the attack was
over.

'You know it all, don't you?' she resumed, in stammering accents. 'I am
a miserable guilty woman, I sinned for you. But give me life, give me
happiness, I entreat you!'

'You lie,' said the priest slowly. 'I know nothing; I was ignorant that
you were guilty of that wickedness.'

She recoiled, clasping her hands, stammering, and gazing at him with a
look of terror. And at last, utterly unable to restrain herself, she
broke out wildly and recklessly:

'Hear me, Ovide, I love you, and you know that I do, do you not? I have
loved you, Ovide, since the first day you came here. I refrained from
telling you so, for I saw it displeased you; but I knew quite well that
you were gaining my whole heart. Then it was that I emptied the house
for your sake. I dragged myself on my knees, and became your slave.
You surely cannot go on being cruel for ever. Now that I am ill and
abandoned, and my heart is broken and my head seems empty, you surely
cannot reject me. It is true that we have said nothing openly before;
but surely my love spoke to you, and your silence made answer. Oh! I
love you, Ovide, I love you, and it is killing me.'

She burst into another fit of sobbing. Abbé Faujas had braced himself
up to his full height. He stepped towards Marthe and poured out upon
her all his scorn of woman.

'Oh, miserable creature!' he said. 'I hoped that you would be
reasonable, and that you would never lower yourself to the shame of
uttering all that vileness. Ah! it is the eternal struggle of evil
against will. You are the temptation from below that leads men to base
back-sliding and final overthrow. The priest has no worse enemy than
such as you; you ought to be driven from the churches as impure and
accursed!'

'I love you, Ovide,' she again stammered; 'I love you; help me.'

'I have already come too near you,' the priest continued. 'Go away and
depart from me; you are Satan! I will beat you if it be necessary to
force the evil spirit from your body.'

She sank into a crouching posture against the wall, silent with terror
at the priest's threatening fist. Her hair became unloosened, and a
long white lock fell over her brow. As she looked about the room for a
refuge, she espied the big black crucifix, and she still had strength
left to stretch her hands towards it with a passionate gesture.

'Do not implore the Cross!' cried the priest in wild anger. 'Jesus
lived chastely, and it was that which enabled Him to die.'

At that same moment Madame Faujas came into the room, carrying on her
arm a big provision basket. She put it down at once on seeing her son
so wrathful, and threw her arms around him.

'Ovide, my child, calm yourself,' she said, as she caressed him.

Then, turning upon the cowering Marthe an annihilating glance, she
cried:

'Can you never leave him at peace? Are you not ashamed of yourself? Go
downstairs; it is quite impossible for you to remain here. This is no
place for such as you!'

Marthe did not move. Madame Faujas had to lift her up and push her
towards the door. The old woman stormed at her, charging her with
having waited till she had gone out, and making her promise that she
would never again come upstairs to make such scenes. And finally she
banged the door violently behind her.

Marthe went on, reeling down the stairs. She had ceased sobbing, and
kept repeating to herself:

'François will come back again; François will turn them all out into
the street.'



XXI


The Toulon coach, which passed through Les Tulettes, where it changed
horses, left Plassans at three o'clock. Marthe, goaded on by a fixed,
unswerving resolve, was anxious not to lose a moment. She put on her
shawl and hat, and ordered Rose to dress immediately.

'I can't tell what madame's after,' said the cook to Olympe: 'but I
fancy we're going away for some days.'

Marthe left the keys in the cupboard doors; she was in a hurry to be
off. Olympe, who went with her to the front door, vainly tried to
ascertain where she was going and how long she would be away.

'Well, make yourself quite easy,' she said to her in her pleasant way,
as they parted; 'I will look after everything, you will find things all
right when you come back. Don't hurry yourself, take the time to do all
you want. If you go to Marseilles, bring us back some fresh shell-fish.'

Before Marthe had turned the corner of the Rue Taravelle, Olympe had
taken possession of the whole house. When Trouche came home he found
his wife banging the doors and examining the contents of the drawers
and closets, as she hummed and sang and rushed about the rooms.

'She's gone off and taken that beast of a cook with her,' she cried
to him as she lolled into an easy-chair. 'What luck it would be if
they should both get upset into a ditch and stop there! Well, we must
enjoy ourselves for as long as we have the chance. It's very nice being
alone, isn't it, Honoré? Come and give me a kiss! We are quite by
ourselves now, and we can do just as we like.'

Marthe and Rose reached the Cours Sauvaire only just in time to catch
the Toulon coach. The coupé was disengaged. When the cook heard her
mistress tell the conductor to set them down at Les Tulettes, she took
her place with an expression of vexation, and before the coach had got
out of the town she had begun grumbling in her cross-grained fashion.

'Well, I did think that you were at last going to behave sensibly! I
felt sure that we were going to Marseilles to see Monsieur Octave. We
could have brought back a lobster and some oysters. Ah! I shouldn't
have hurried myself so if I had known. But it's just like you. You are
always hunting after troubles, and always doing things that upset you.'

Marthe was lying back in her corner in a semi-conscious condition.
Now that she was no longer stiffening herself against the pains which
oppressed her heart, a death-like faintness was creeping over her. But
the cook did not even look towards her.

'Did anyone ever hear of such an absurd idea as going to see the
master?' she continued. 'A cheerful sort of sight it will be for us. We
sha'n't be able to sleep for a week after it. You may be as frightened
as you like at nights, now; you won't get me to come and look under the
furniture for you. It isn't as though your going to see him could do
the master any good. He's just as likely to fly at your face as not!
I hope to goodness that they won't let you see him. It's against the
rules, I know. I ought not to have got into the coach when I heard you
mention Les Tulettes, for I don't think you would have ventured to go
on such a foolish errand all by yourself.'

A deep sigh from Marthe checked her flow of words. She turned round to
her mistress, saw her pale and suffocating, and grew still angrier than
before as she opened the window to let in some fresh air.

'There now, you'll have to come and lie in my arms! Don't you think
you'd have been ever so much better in bed, taking care of yourself?
To think that you have had the good fortune to be surrounded by pious,
holy people without being the least bit grateful to God Almighty for
it! You know it's only the truth I'm saying. His reverence the Curé
and his mother and sister, and even Monsieur Trouche himself, are all
attention towards you. They would throw themselves into the fire for
you; they are ready to do anything at any hour of the day or night. I
saw Madame Olympe crying--yes, crying--the last time you were ill.
And what sort of gratitude do you show them for all their kindness
and attention? Why, you do all you can to distress them, and set off
on the sly to see the master, although you know quite well that you
will grieve them dreadfully by doing so, for it's impossible that they
should be fond of the master, who treated you so cruelly. I'll tell you
what, madame--marriage has done you no good; you've got infected with
all the master's bad nature. There are times when you are every bit as
bad as he is.'

All the way to Les Tulettes she continued in this strain, eulogising
the Faujases and the Trouches, and accusing her mistress of every kind
of wrong-doing. And she concluded by saying:

'Ah, they are the sort of people who would make excellent masters if
they could only afford to keep servants. But fortune merely comes in
the way of bad-hearted folks!'

Marthe, who was now calmer, made no reply. She gazed out of the window,
watching the scraggy trees and the wide-stretching fields which spread
out like great lengths of brown cloth. Rose's growlings were lost
amidst the noisy jolting of the coach.

When they reached Les Tulettes, Marthe hastened towards the house of
her uncle Macquart, followed by the cook, who had now subsided into
silence, contenting herself by shrugging her shoulders and biting her
lips.

'Hallo! is that you?' cried the uncle in great surprise. 'I thought you
were in your bed. I heard that you were very ill. Well, my little dear,
you really don't look very strong. Have you come to ask me for some
dinner?'

'I should like to see François, uncle,' said Marthe.

'François?' repeated Macquart, looking her in the face. 'You would like
to see François? It is a very kind thought of yours. The poor fellow
has been crying for you a great deal. I have seen him from the end
of my garden knocking his fist against the walls while he called for
you to come to him. And so it is to see him that you have come, eh? I
really thought that you had forgotten all about him over yonder.'

Big tears welled into Marthe's eyes.

'It will not be very easy to see him to-day,' Macquart continued.
'It is getting on for four o'clock, and I'm not at all sure that the
manager will give you leave. Mouret hasn't been very quiet lately.
He smashes everything that he can lay his hands on, and talks about
burning the place down. Those madmen are not in a pleasant humour every
day.'

Marthe trembled as she listened to her uncle; she was going to question
him, but instead of doing so she merely stretched out her hands
supplicatingly.

'I beseech you to help me,' said she. 'I have come on purpose. It is
absolutely necessary that I should speak to François to-day, at once.
You have friends in the asylum, and you can obtain me admission.'

'No doubt, no doubt,' he replied, without committing himself further.

He appeared to be in a state of great perplexity, unable to divine the
real cause of Marthe's sudden journey, and revolving the matter in
his own mind from a point of view known only to himself. He glanced
inquisitively at the cook, who turned her back upon him. At last a
slight smile began to play about his lips.

'Well,' he said, 'since you wish it, I will see what I can do for you.
Only, remember, that if your mother is displeased about it, you must
tell her that I was not able to dissuade you. I am afraid that you may
do yourself harm; it isn't a pleasant place to visit.'

Rose absolutely declined to accompany them to the asylum. She had
seated herself in front of a fire of vine-stocks, which was blazing on
the great hearth.

'I don't want to have my eyes torn out,' she said snappishly. 'The
master isn't over fond of me. I would rather stop here and warm myself.'

'It would be very good of you if you were to get us some mulled wine
ready,' Macquart whispered in her ear. 'The wine and sugar are in the
cupboard yonder. We shall want it when we come back.'

Macquart did not take his niece to the principal gate of the asylum.
He went round to the left and inquired at a little door for warder
Alexandre, with whom, on his appearance, he exchanged a few words
in a low voice. Then they all three silently entered the seemingly
interminable corridors. The warder walked in front.

'I will wait for you here,' said Macquart, coming to a halt in a little
courtyard. 'Alexandre will remain with you.'

'I would rather be left alone,' said Marthe.

'Madame would very quickly have enough of it, if she were,' Alexandre
replied, with a tranquil smile. 'I'm running a good deal of risk as it
is.'

He took Marthe through another court, and stopped in front of a little
door. As he softly turned the key, he said in a low voice:

'Don't be afraid. He has been quieter to-day, and they have been able
to take the strait-waistcoat off. If he shows any violence you must
step out backwards, and leave me alone with him.'

Marthe trembled as she passed through the narrow doorway. At first she
could only see something lying in a heap against the wall in one of the
corners. The daylight was waning, and the cell was merely lighted by a
pale glimmer which fell from a grated window.

'Well, my fine fellow!' Alexandre exclaimed familiarly, as he stepped
up to Mouret and tapped him on the shoulder; 'I am bringing you a
visitor. I hope you will behave properly.'

Then he returned and leant against the door, keeping his eyes fixed
upon the madman. Mouret slowly rose to his feet. He did not show the
slightest sign of surprise.

'Is it you, my dear?' he said in his quiet voice. 'I was expecting you;
I was getting uneasy about the children.'

Marthe's knees trembled under her, and she looked at him anxiously,
rendered quite speechless by his affectionate reception. He did not
appear changed at all. If anything, he looked better than he had done
before. He was sleek and plump, and cleanly shaved. His eyes, too, were
bright; all his former little mannerisms had reappeared, and he rubbed
his hands and winked, and stalked about with his old bantering air.

'I am very well indeed, my dear. We can go back home together. You
have come for me, haven't you? I hope the garden has been well looked
after. The slugs were dreadfully fond of the lettuces, and the beds
were quite eaten up with them, but I know a way of destroying them. I
have some splendid ideas in my head that I'll tell you of. We are very
comfortably off, and we can afford to pay for our fancies. By the way,
have you seen old Gautier of Saint-Eutrope while I've been absent? I
bought thirty hogsheads of common wine from him for blending. I must go
and see him to-morrow. You never recollect anything.'

He spoke in a jesting way, and shook his finger at her playfully.

'I'll be bound that I shall find everything in dreadful disorder,' he
continued. 'You never look after anything. The tools will be all lying
about, the cupboard doors will be open, and Rose will be dirtying the
rooms with her broom. Why hasn't Rose come with you? Ah, what a strange
creature she is! Do you know, she actually wanted to turn me out of the
house one day? Really, she seems to think that the whole place belongs
to her. She goes on in the most amusing way possible. But you don't
tell me anything about the children. Désirée is still with her nurse,
I suppose. We will go and kiss her and see if she is tired of staying
there. And I want to go to Marseilles as well, for I am a little
uneasy about Octave. The last time I was there I found him leading a
wild life. As for Serge, I have no anxiety about him; he is almost too
quiet and steady. He will sanctify the whole family. Ah! I quite enjoy
talking about the house and the children.'

He rattled along at great length, inquiring about every tree in his
garden, going into the minutest details of the household arrangements,
and showing an extraordinary memory of a host of insignificant matters.
Marthe was deeply touched by the gentle affection which he manifested
for her. She thought she could detect a loving delicacy in the care
which he took to say nothing that savoured of reproach, to make no
allusion, however slight, to all that had passed. She felt, indeed,
that she was forgiven, and she vowed that she would atone for her crime
by becoming the submissive servant of this man who was so sublime in
his good nature. Big silent tears rolled down her cheeks, and her knees
bent under her in her gratitude.

'Take care!' the warder whispered in her ear. 'I don't like the look of
his eyes.'

'But he isn't mad!' she stammered; 'I swear to you that he isn't mad! I
must speak to the manager. I want to take him away with me at once.'

'Take care!' the warder repeated sharply, pulling her by her arm.

Mouret had suddenly stopped short in the midst of his chatter, and was
now crouching upon the floor. Then, all at once, he began to crawl
along beside the wall, on his hands and knees.

'Wow! wow!' he barked in hoarse, prolonged notes.

He gave a spring into the air and fell upon his side. Then a dreadful
scene ensued. He began to writhe like a worm, beat his face with his
fist, and tore his flesh with his nails. In a short time he was half
naked, his clothes in rags, and himself bruised and lacerated and
groaning.

'Come away, madame, come away!' cried the warder.

Marthe stood rooted to the floor. She recognised in the scene before
her her own writhings at home. It was in that way that she had thrown
herself upon the floor of her bedroom; it was in that way that she
had beaten and torn herself. She even recognised the very tones of
her voice. Mouret vented the same rattling groan. It was she who had
brought the poor man into this miserable state.

'He is not mad!' she stammered; 'he cannot be mad, it would be too
horrible! I would rather die!'

The warder put his arm round her and pushed her out of the cell, but
she remained leaning against the door on the other side. She could hear
a terrible struggle going on within, screams like those of a pig being
slaughtered; then a dull fall like that of a bundle of damp linen, and
afterwards death-like silence. When the warder came out of the cell,
the night had nearly fallen. Through the partially open doorway, Marthe
could see nothing.

'Well, upon my word, madame,' cried the warder, 'you are a very queer
person to say that he is not mad. I nearly left my thumb behind me; he
got firmly hold of it between his teeth. However, he's quieted now for
a few hours.'

And as he took her back to her uncle, he continued:

'You've no idea how cunning they all are. They are as quiet as can be
for hours together, and talk to you in quite a sensible manner; and
then, without the least warning, they fly at your throat. I could see
very well that he was up to some mischief or other just now when he was
talking to you about the children, for there was such a strange look in
his eyes.'

When Marthe got back to Macquart, in the small courtyard, she exclaimed
feverishly in a weak, broken voice:

'He is mad! he is mad!'

'There's no doubt he's mad,' said her uncle with a snigger. 'Why, what
did you expect to find? People are not brought here for nothing. And
the place isn't healthy either. If I were to be shut up there for a
couple of hours, I should go mad myself.'

He was watching her askance, and he noted her nervous start and
shudder. Then, in his good-natured way, he said:

'Perhaps you would like to go and see the grandmother?'

Marthe made a gesture of terror, and hid her face in her hands.

'It would be no trouble to anyone,' he said. 'Alexandre would be glad
to take us. She is over yonder, on that side, and there is nothing to
be afraid of with her. She is perfectly quiet. She never gives any
trouble, does she, Alexandre? She always remains seated and gazing in
front of her. She hasn't moved for the last dozen years. However, if
you'd rather not see her, we won't go.'[7]

As the warder was taking his leave of them, Macquart invited him to
come and drink a glass of mulled wine, winking the while in a certain
fashion which seemed to induce Alexandre to accept the invitation. They
were obliged to support Marthe, whose legs sank beneath her at each
step. When they reached the house, they were actually carrying her. Her
face was convulsed, her eyes were staring widely, and her whole body
was rigidly stiffened by one of those nervous seizures which kept her
like a dead woman for hours at a time.

'There! what did I tell you?' cried Rose, when she saw them. 'A nice
state she's in! How are we to get home, I should like to know? Good
heavens! how can people take such absurd fancies into their heads? The
master ought to have given her neck a twist, and it would have taught
her a lesson, perhaps.'

'Pooh!' said Macquart; 'I'll lay her down on my bed. It won't kill us
if we have to sit up round the fire all night.'

He drew aside a calico curtain which hung in front of a recess. Rose
proceeded to undress her mistress, growling as she did so. The only
thing they could do, she said, was to put a hot brick at her feet.

'Now that she's all snug, we'll have a drop to drink,' resumed
Macquart, with his wolfish snigger. 'That wine of yours smells awfully
nice, old lady!'

'I found a lemon on the mantelpiece,' Rose said, 'and I used it.'

'You did quite right. There is everything here that is wanted. When I
make a brew, there's nothing missing that ought to be in the place, I
assure you.'

He pulled the table in front of the fire, and then he sat down between
Rose and Alexandre, and poured the hot wine into some big yellow cups.
When he had swallowed a couple of mouthfuls with great gusto, he
smacked his lips and cried:

'Ah! that's first-rate. You understand how to make it. It's really
better than what I make myself. You must leave me your recipe.'

Rose, greatly mollified by these compliments, began to laugh. The
vine-wood fire was now a great mass of glowing embers. The cups were
filled again.

'And so,' said Macquart, leaning on his elbows and looking Rose in the
face, 'it was a sudden whim of my niece to come here?'

'Oh, don't talk about it,' replied the cook; 'it will make me angry
again. Madame is getting as mad as the master. She can no longer tell
who are her friends and who are not. I believe she had a quarrel with
his reverence the Curé before she set off; I heard them shouting.'

Macquart laughed noisily.

'They used, however, to get on very well together,' said he.

'Yes, indeed; but nothing lasts long with such a brain as madame has
got. I'll be bound that she's now regretting the thrashings the master
used to give her at nights. We found his stick in the garden.'

Macquart looked at her more keenly, and, as he drank his hot wine, he
said:

'Perhaps she came to take François back with her.'

'Oh, Heaven forbid!' cried Rose, with an expression of horror. 'The
master would go on finely in the house; he would kill us all. The idea
of his return is one of my greatest dreads; I'm in a constant worry
lest he should make his escape and get back some night and murder
us all. When I think about it when I'm in bed, I can't go to sleep.
I fancy I can see him stealing in through the window with his hair
bristling and his eyes flaming like matches.'

This made Macquart very merry, and he rapped his cup on the table.

'It would be very unpleasant,' he said, 'very unpleasant. I don't
suppose he feels very kindly towards you, least of all towards the
Curé who has stepped into his place. The Curé would only make a
mouthful for him, big as he is, for madmen, they say, are awfully
strong. I say, Alexandre, just imagine poor François suddenly making
his appearance at home! He would make a pretty clean sweep there,
wouldn't he? It would be a fine sight, eh?'

He cast glances at the warder, who went on quietly drinking his mulled
wine and made no reply beyond nodding his head assentingly.

'Oh! it's only a fancy; it's all nonsense,' added Macquart, as he
observed Rose's terrified looks.

Just at that moment, Marthe began to struggle violently behind the
calico curtain; and she had to be held for some minutes in order that
she might not fall upon the floor. When she was again stretched out in
corpse-like rigidity, her uncle came and warmed his legs before the
fire, reflecting and murmuring as if without paying heed to what he
said:

'The little woman isn't very easy to manage, indeed.' Then he suddenly
exclaimed:

'The Rougons, now, what do they say about all this business? They take
the Curé's side, don't they?'

'The master didn't make himself pleasant enough for them to regret
him,' replied Rose. 'There was nothing too bad for him to say against
them.'

'Well, he wasn't far wrong there,' said Macquart. 'The Rougons are
wretched skinflints. Just think that they refused to buy that cornfield
over yonder, a magnificent speculation which I undertook to manage.
Félicité would pull a queer face if she saw François come back!'

He began to snigger again, and took a turn round the table. Then, with
an expression of determination, he lighted his pipe.

'We mustn't forget the time, my boy,' he said to Alexandre, with
another wink. 'I will go back with you; Marthe seems quiet now. Rose
will get the table laid by the time I return. You must be hungry,
Rose, eh? As you are obliged to stay the night here, you shall have a
mouthful with me.'

He went off with the warder, and fully half an hour elapsed. Rose, who
began to tire of being alone, at last opened the door and went out to
the terrace, where she stood watching the deserted road in the clear
night air. As she was going back into the house, she fancied she could
see two dark shadows in the middle of a path behind a hedge.

'It looks just like the uncle,' thought she; 'he seems to be talking to
a priest.'

A few minutes later Macquart returned. That blessed Alexandre, said he,
had been chattering to him interminably.

'Wasn't it you who were over there just now with a priest?' asked Rose.

'I, with a priest!' he cried. 'Why, you must have been dreaming; there
isn't a priest in the neighbourhood.'

He rolled his little glistening eyes. Then, as if rather uneasy about
the lie he had told, he added:

'Well, there is Abbé Fenil, but it's just the same as if he wasn't
here, for he never goes out.'

'Abbé Fenil isn't up to much,' remarked the cook.

This seemed to annoy Macquart.

'Why do you say that? Not up to much, eh? He does a great deal of good
here, and he's a very worthy sort of fellow. He's worth a whole heap of
priests who make a lot of fuss.'

His irritation, however, promptly disappeared, and he began to laugh
upon observing that Rose was looking at him in surprise.

'I was only joking, you know,' he said. 'You are quite right; he's like
all the other priests, they are all a set of hypocrites. I know now who
it was that you saw me with. I met our grocer's wife. She was wearing a
black dress, and you must have mistaken that for a cassock.'

Rose made an omelet, and Macquart placed some cheese upon the table.
They had not finished eating when Marthe sat up in bed with the
astonished look of a person awaking in a strange place. When she had
brushed aside her hair and recollected where she was, she sprang to the
floor and said she must be off at once. Macquart appeared very much
vexed at her awaking.

'It's quite impossible,' said he, 'for you to go back to Plassans
to-night. You are shivering with fever, and you would fall ill on the
road. Rest here, and we will see about it to-morrow. To begin with,
there is no conveyance.'

'But you can drive me in your trap,' said Marthe.

'No, no; I can't.'

Marthe, who was dressing with feverish haste, thereupon declared that
she would walk to Plassans rather than stay the night at Les Tulettes.
Her uncle seemed to be thinking. He had locked the door and slipped
the key into his pocket. He entreated his niece, threatened her, and
invented all kinds of stories to induce her to remain. But she paid no
attention to what he said, and finished by putting on her bonnet.

'You are very much mistaken if you imagine you can persuade her to give
in,' exclaimed Rose, who was quietly finishing her cheese. 'She would
get out through the window first. You had better put your horse to the
trap.'

After a short interval of silence, Macquart, shrugging his shoulders,
angrily exclaimed:

'Well, it makes no difference to me! Let her lay herself up if she
likes! I was only thinking about her own good. Come along; what will
happen will happen. I'll drive you over.'

Marthe had to be carried to the gig; she was trembling violently with
fever. Her uncle threw an old cloak over her shoulders. Then he gave a
cluck with his tongue and set off.

'It's no trouble to me,' he said, 'to go over to Plassans this evening;
on the contrary, indeed, there's always some amusement to be had there.'

It was about ten o'clock. In the sky, heavy with rain clouds, there was
a ruddy glimmer that cast a feeble light upon the road. All the way
as they drove along Macquart kept bending forward and glancing at the
ditches and the hedges. When Rose asked him what he was looking for, he
replied that some wolves had come down from the ravines of La Seille.
He had quite recovered his good humour. However, when they were between
two and three miles from Plassans the rain began to fall. It poured
down, cold and pelting. Then Macquart began to swear, and Rose would
have liked to beat her mistress, who was moaning underneath the cloak.
When at last they reached Plassans the rain had ceased, and the sky was
blue again.

'Are you going to the Rue Balande?' asked Macquart.

'Why, of course,' replied Rose in astonishment.

Macquart thereupon began to explain that as Marthe seemed to him to
be very ill, he had thought it might perhaps be better to take her to
her mother's. After much hesitation, however, he consented to stop his
horse at the Mourets' house. Marthe had not even thought of bringing
a latchkey with her. Rose, however, fortunately had her own in her
pocket, but when she tried to open the door it would not move. The
Trouches had shot the bolts inside. She rapped upon it with her fist,
but without rousing any other answer than a dull echo in the hall.

'It's of no use your giving yourself any further trouble,' said
Macquart with a laugh. 'They won't disturb themselves to come down.
Well, here you are shut out of your own home. Don't you think now
that my first idea was a good one? We must take the poor child to the
Rougons'. She will be better there than in her own room; I assure you
she will.'

Félicité was overwhelmed with alarm when she saw her daughter arrive at
such a late hour, drenched with rain and apparently half dead. She put
her to bed on the second floor, set the house in great commotion, and
called up all the servants. When she grew a little calmer, as she sat
by Marthe's bedside, she asked for an explanation.

'What has happened? How is it that you have brought her to me in such a
state as this?'

Then Macquart, with a great show of kindness, told her about 'the dear
child's' expedition. He defended himself, declared that he had done all
that he could to dissuade her from going to see François, and ended
by calling upon Rose to confirm him, for he saw that Félicité was
scanning him narrowly with her suspicious eyes. Madame Rougon, however,
continued to shake her head.

'It is a very strange story!' she said; 'there is something more in it
than I can understand.'

She knew Macquart, and she guessed that there must be some rascality
in it all from the expression of delight which she could detect in his
eyes.

'You are a strange person,' said he, pretending to get vexed in order
to bring Madame Rougon's scrutiny to an end; 'you are always imagining
something extraordinary. I can only tell you what I know. I love Marthe
more than you do, and I have never done anything that wasn't for her
good. Shall I go for the doctor? I will at once, if you like.'

Madame Rougon watched him closely. She even questioned Rose at great
length, without succeeding, however, in learning anything further.
After all, she seemed glad to have her daughter with her, and spoke
with great bitterness of people who would leave you to die on your own
doorstep without even taking the trouble to open the door. And meantime
Marthe, with her head thrown back upon her pillow, was indeed dying.



XXII


It was perfectly dark in the cell at Les Tulettes. A draught of cold
air awoke Mouret from the cataleptic stupor into which his violence
earlier in the evening had thrown him. He remained lying against the
wall in perfect stillness for a few moments, his eyes staring widely;
then he began to roll his head gently on the cold stone, wailing like a
child just awakened from sleep. But the current of chill damp air swept
against his legs, and he rose and looked around him to see whence it
came. In front of him he saw the door of his cell wide open.

'She has left the door open,' said he aloud; 'she will be expecting me.
I must be off.'

He went out, and then came back and felt his clothes after the manner
of a methodical man who is afraid of forgetting something, and finally
he carefully closed the door behind him. He passed through the first
court with an easy unconcerned gait as though he were merely taking a
stroll. As he was entering the second one, he caught sight of a warder
who seemed to be on the watch. He stopped and deliberated for a moment.
But, the warder having disappeared, he crossed the court and reached
another door, which led to the open country. He closed it behind him
without any appearance of astonishment or haste.

'She is a good woman all the same,' he murmured. 'She must have heard
me calling her. It must be getting late. I will go home at once for
fear they should feel uneasy.'

He struck out along a path. It seemed quite natural to him to find
himself among the open fields. When he had gone a hundred yards he had
altogether forgotten that Les Tulettes was behind him, and imagined
that he had just left a vine-grower from whom he had purchased fifty
hogsheads of wine. When he reached a spot where five roads met, he
recognised where he was, and began to laugh as he said to himself:

'What a goose I am! I was going up the hill towards Saint-Eutrope; it
is to the left I must turn. I shall be at Plassans in a good hour and a
half.'

Then he went merrily along the high-road, looking at each of the
mile-stones as at an old acquaintance. He stopped for a moment before
certain fields and country-houses with an air of interest. The sky was
of an ashy hue, streaked with broad rosy bands that lighted up the
night like dying embers. Heavy drops of rain began to fall; the wind
was blowing from the east and was full of moisture.

'Hallo!' said Mouret, looking up at the sky uneasily, 'I mustn't stop
loitering. The wind is in the east, and there's going to be a pretty
downpour. I shall never be able to reach Plassans before it begins; and
I'm not well wrapped up either.'

He gathered round his breast the thick grey woollen waistcoat which he
had torn at Les Tulettes. He had a bad bruise on his jaw, to which he
raised his hand without heeding the sharp pain which it caused him. The
high-road was quite deserted, and he only met a cart going down a hill
at a leisurely pace. The driver was dozing, and made no response to his
friendly good-night. The rain did not overtake him till he reached the
bridge across the Viorne. It distressed him very much, and he went to
take shelter under the bridge, grumbling that it was quite impossible
to go on through such weather, that nothing ruined clothes so much as
rain, and that if he had known what was coming he would have brought an
umbrella. He waited patiently for a long half-hour, amusing himself by
listening to the streaming of the downpour; then, when it was over, he
returned to the high-road, and at last reached Plassans, ever taking
the greatest care to keep himself from getting splashed with mud.

It was nearly midnight, though Mouret calculated that it could scarcely
yet be eight o'clock. He passed through the deserted streets, feeling
quite distressed that he had kept his wife waiting such a long time.

'She won't be able to understand it,' he thought. 'The dinner will be
quite cold. Ah! I shall get a nice reception from Rose.'

At last he reached the Rue Balande and stood before his own door.

'Ah!' he said, 'I have not got my latchkey.'

He did not knock at the door, however. The kitchen window was quite
dark, and the other windows in the front were equally void of all sign
of life. A sense of deep suspicion then took possession of the madman;
with an instinct that was quite animal-like, he scented danger. He
stepped back into the shadow of the neighbouring houses, and again
examined the house-front; then he seemed to come to a decision, and
went round into the Impasse des Chevillottes. But the little door that
led into the garden was bolted. At this, impelled by sudden rage, he
threw himself against it with tremendous force, and the door, rotted
by damp, broke into two pieces. For a moment the violence of the
shock almost stunned Mouret, and rendered him unconscious of why he
had broken down the door, which he tried to mend again by joining the
broken pieces.

'That's a nice thing to have done, when I might so easily have
knocked,' he said with a sudden pang of regret. 'It will cost me at
least thirty francs to get a new door.'

He was now in the garden. As he raised his head and saw the bedroom
on the first floor brightly lighted, he came to the conclusion that
his wife was going to bed. This caused him great astonishment, and he
muttered that he must certainly have dropped off to sleep under the
bridge while he was waiting for the rain to stop. It must be very late,
he thought. The windows of the neighbouring houses, Monsieur Rastoil's
as well as those of the Sub-Prefecture, were in darkness. Then he again
fixed his eyes upon his own house as he caught sight of the glow of
a lamp on the second floor behind Abbé Faujas's thick curtains. That
glow was like a flaming eye, and seemed to scorch him. He pressed his
brow with his burning hands, and his head grew dizzy, racked by some
horrible recollection like a vague nightmare, in which nothing was
clearly defined, but which seemed to apply to some long-standing danger
to himself and his family--a danger which grew and increased in horror,
and threatened to swallow up the house unless he could do something to
save it.

'Marthe, Marthe, where are you?' he stammered in an undertone. 'Come
and bring away the children.'

He looked about him for Marthe. He could no longer recognise the
garden. It seemed to him to be larger; to be empty and grey and like a
cemetery. The big box-plants had vanished, the lettuces were no longer
there, the fruit-trees had disappeared. He turned round again, came
back, and knelt down to see if the slugs had eaten everything up. The
disappearance of the box-plants, the death of their lofty greenery,
caused him an especial pang, as though some of the actual life of the
house had departed. Who was it that had killed them? What villain had
been there uprooting everything and tearing away even the tufts of
violets which he had planted at the foot of the terrace? Indignation
arose in him as he contemplated all this ruin.

'Marthe, Marthe, where are you?' he called again.

He looked for her in the little conservatory to the right of the
terrace. It was littered with the dead dry corpses of the box-plants.
They were piled up in bundles amidst the stumps of the fruit-trees.
In one corner was Désirée's bird-cage, hanging from a nail, with the
door broken off and the wire-work sadly torn. The madman stepped back,
overwhelmed with fear as though he had opened the door of a vault.
Stammering, his throat on fire, he went back to the terrace and paced
up and down before the door and the shuttered windows. His increasing
rage gave his limbs the suppleness of a wild beast's. He braced himself
up and stepped along noiselessly, trying to find some opening. An
air-hole into the cellar was sufficient for him. He squeezed himself
together and glided inside with the nimbleness of a cat, scraping the
wall with his nails as he went. At last he was in the house.

The cellar door was only latched. He made his way through the darkness
of the hall, groping past the walls with his hands, and pushing the
kitchen door open. Some matches were on a shelf at the left. He went
straight to this shelf, and struck a light to enable him to get a lamp
which stood upon the mantelpiece without breaking anything. Then he
looked about him. There appeared to have been a big meal there that
evening. The kitchen was in a state of festive disorder. The table was
strewn with dirty plates and dishes and glasses. There was a litter
of pans, still warm, on the sink and the chairs and the very floor. A
coffee-pot that had been forgotten was also boiling away beside the
stove, slightly tilted like a tipsy man. Mouret put it straight and
then tidily arranged the pans. He smelt them, sniffed at the drops of
liquor that remained in the glasses, and counted the dishes and plates
with growing irritation. This was no longer his quiet orderly kitchen;
it seemed as if a hotelful of food had been wasted there. All this
guzzling disorder reeked of indigestion.

'Marthe! Marthe!' he again repeated as he returned into the passage,
carrying the lamp as he went; 'answer me, tell me where they have shut
you up. We must be off, we must be off at once.'

He searched for her in the dining-room. The two cupboards to the right
and left of the stove were open. From a burst bag of grey paper on
the edge of a shelf some lumps of sugar had fallen upon the floor.
Higher up Mouret could see a bottle of brandy with the neck broken
and plugged with a piece of rag. Then he got upon a chair to examine
the cupboards. They were half empty. The jars of preserved fruits had
been attacked, the jam-pots had been opened and the jam tasted, the
fruit had been nibbled, the provisions of all kinds had been gnawed and
fouled as though a whole army of rats had been there. Not being able to
find Marthe in the closets, Mouret searched all over the room, looking
behind the curtains and even underneath the furniture. Fragments of
bone and pieces of broken bread lay about the floor; there were marks
on the table that had been left by sticky glasses. Then he crossed the
hall and went to look for Marthe in the drawing-room. But, as soon as
he opened the door, he stopped short. This could not really be his own
drawing-room. The bright mauve paper, the red-flowered carpet, the new
easy-chairs covered with cerise damask, filled him with amazement. He
was afraid to enter a room that did not belong to him, and he closed
the door.

'Marthe! Marthe!' he stammered again in accents of despair.

He went back to the middle of the hall, unable to quiet the hoarse
panting which was swelling in his throat. Where had he got to, that
he could not recognise a single spot? Who had been transforming his
house in such a way? His recollections were quite confused. He could
only recall some shadows gliding along the hall; two shadows, at
first poverty-stricken, soft-spoken, self-suppressing, then tipsy and
disreputable-looking; two shadows that leered and sniggered. He raised
his lamp, the wick of which was burning smokily, and thereupon the
shadows grew bigger, lengthened upon the walls, mounted aloft beside
the staircase and filled and preyed upon the whole house. Some horrid
filth, some fermenting putrescence had found its way into the place and
had rotted the woodwork, rusted the iron and split the walls. Then he
seemed to hear the house crumbling like a ceiling from dampness, and to
see it melting like a handful of salt thrown into a basin of hot water.

But up above there sounded peals of ringing laughter which made his
hair stand on end. He put the lamp down and went upstairs to look for
Marthe. He crept up noiselessly on his hands and knees with all the
nimbleness and stealth of a wolf. When he reached the landing of the
first floor, he knelt down in front of the door of the bedroom. A ray
of light streamed from underneath it. Marthe must be going to bed.

'What a jolly bed this is of theirs!' Olympe was just exclaiming; 'you
can quite bury yourself in it, Honoré; I am right up to my eyes in
feathers.'

She laughed and stretched herself and sprang about amidst the
bed-clothes.

'Ever since I've been here,' she continued, 'I've been longing to sleep
in this bed. It made me almost ill wishing for it. I could never see
that lath of a landlady of ours get into it without feeling a furious
desire to throw her on to the floor and put myself in her place.
One gets quite warm directly. It's just as though I were wrapped in
cotton-wool.'

Trouche, who had not yet gone to bed, was examining the bottles on the
dressing-table.

'She has got all kinds of scents,' he said.

'Well, as she isn't here, we may just as well treat ourselves to the
best room!' continued Olympe. 'There's no danger of her coming back and
disturbing us. I have fastened the doors up. You will be getting cold,
Honoré.'

But Trouche now opened the drawers and began groping about amongst the
linen.

'Put this on, it's smothered with lace,' he said, tossing a night-dress
to Olympe. 'I shall wear this red handkerchief myself.'

Then, as Trouche was at last getting into bed, Olympe said to him:

'Put the grog on the night-table. We need not get up and go to the
other end of the room for it. There, my dear, we are like real
householders now!'

They lay down side by side, with the eider-down quilt drawn up to their
chins.

'I ate a deuced lot this evening,' said Trouche after a short pause.

'And drank a lot, too!' added Olympe with a laugh. 'I feel very cosy
and snug. But the tiresome part is that my mother is always interfering
with us. She has been quite awful to-day. I can't take a single step
about the house without her being at me. There's really no advantage in
our landlady going off if mother means to play the policeman. She has
quite spoilt my day's enjoyment.'

'Hasn't the Abbé some idea of going away?' asked Trouche after another
short interval of silence. 'If he is made a bishop, he will be obliged
to leave the house to us.'

'One can't be sure of that,' Olympe petulantly replied. 'I dare say
mother means to keep it. But how jolly we should be here, all by
ourselves! I would make our landlady sleep upstairs in my brother's
room; I'd persuade her that it was healthier than this. Pass me the
glass, Honoré.'

They both took a drink and then covered themselves up afresh.

'Ah!' said Trouche, 'I'm afraid it won't be so easy to get rid of them,
but we can try, at any rate. I believe the Abbé would have changed his
quarters before if he had not been afraid that the landlady would have
considered herself deserted and have made a rumpus. I think I'll try to
talk the landlady over. I'll tell her a lot of tales to persuade her to
turn them out.'

He took another drink.

'Oh! leave the matter to me,' replied Olympe; 'I'll get mother and
Ovide turned out, as they've treated us so badly.'

'Well, if you don't succeed,' said Trouche, 'I can easily concoct
some scandal about the Abbé and Madame Mouret; and then he will be
absolutely obliged to shift his quarters.'

Olympe sat up in bed.

'That's a splendid idea,' she said, 'that is! We must set about it
to-morrow. Before a month is over, this room will be ours. I must
really give you a kiss for the idea.'

They then both grew very merry, and began to plan how they would
arrange the room. They would change the place of the chest of drawers,
they said; and they would bring up a couple of easy-chairs from the
drawing-room. However, their speech was gradually growing huskier, and
at last they became silent.

'There! you're off now!' murmured Olympe, after a time. 'You're snoring
with your eyes open! Well, let me come to the other side, so that, at
any rate, I can finish my novel. I'm not sleepy, if you are.'

She got up and rolled him like a mere lump towards the wall, and then
began to read. But, before she had finished a page, she turned her head
uneasily towards the door. She fancied she could hear a strange noise
on the landing. At this she cried petulantly to her husband, giving him
a dig in the ribs with her elbow:

'You know very well that I don't like that sort of joke. Don't play the
wolf; anyone would fancy that there was somebody at the door. Well, go
on if it pleases you; you are very irritating.'

Then she angrily absorbed herself in her book again, after sucking a
slice of lemon left in her glass.

With the same stealthy movements as before, Mouret now quitted the door
of the bedroom, where he had remained crouching. He climbed to the
second floor and knelt before Abbé Faujas's door, squeezing himself
close to the key-hole. He choked down Marthe's name, that again rose
in his throat, and examined with glistening eye the corners of the
priest's room, to satisfy himself that nobody was shut up there. The
big bare room was in deep shadow; a small lamp which stood upon the
table cast just a circular patch of light upon the floor, and the Abbé
himself, who was writing, seemed like a big black stain in the midst of
that yellow glare. After he had scrutinised the curtains and the chest
of drawers, Mouret's gaze fell upon the iron bedstead, upon which lay
the priest's hat, looking like the locks of a woman's hair. There was
no doubt that Marthe was there, thought Mouret. Hadn't the Trouches
said that she was to have that room? But as he continued gazing he
saw that the bed was undisturbed, and looked, with its cold, white
coverings, like a tombstone. His eyes were getting accustomed to the
gloom. However, Abbé Faujas appeared to hear some sound, for he glanced
at the door. When the maniac saw the priest's calm face his eyes
reddened, a slight foam appeared at the corner of his lips, and it was
with difficulty that he suppressed a shout. At last he went away on his
hands and knees again, down the stairs and along the passages, still
repeating in low tones:

'Marthe! Marthe!'

He searched for her through the whole house; in Rose's room, which he
found empty; in the Trouches' apartments, which were filled with the
spoils of the other rooms; in the children's old rooms, where he burst
into tears as his hands came across a pair of worn-out boots which had
belonged to Désirée. He went up and down the stairs, clinging on to
the banisters, and gliding along the walls, stealthily exploring every
apartment with the extraordinary dexterity of a scheming maniac. Soon
there was not a single corner of the place from the cellar to the attic
which he had not investigated. Marthe was nowhere in the house; nor
were the children there, nor Rose. The house was empty; the house might
crumble to pieces.

Mouret sat down upon the stairs. He choked down the panting which,
in spite of himself, continued to distend his throat. With his back
against the banisters, and his eyes wide open in the darkness, he sat
waiting, absorbed in a scheme which he was patiently thinking out. His
senses became so acute that he could hear the slightest sounds that
arose in the house. Down below him snored Trouche, while Olympe turned
over the pages of her book with a slight rubbing of her fingers against
the paper. On the second floor Abbé Faujas's pen made a scratching
sound like the crawling of an insect, while, in the adjoining room,
Madame Faujas's heavy breathing seemed like an accompaniment to that
shrill music. Mouret sat for an hour with his ears sharply strained.
Olympe was the first of the wakeful ones to succumb to sleep. He could
hear her novel fall upon the floor. Then Abbé Faujas laid down his pen
and undressed himself, quietly gliding about his room in his slippers.
He slipped off his clothes in silence, and did not even make the bed
creak as he got into it. Ah! the house had gone to rest at last. But
the madman could tell from the sound of the Abbé's breathing that he
was yet awake. Gradually that breathing grew fuller, and at last the
whole house slept.

Mouret waited on for another half-hour. He still listened with
strained ears, as though he could hear the four sleepers descending
into deeper and deeper slumber. The house lay wrapped in darkness and
unconsciousness. Then the maniac rose up and slowly made his way into
the passage.

'Marthe isn't here any longer; the house isn't here; nothing is here,'
he murmured.

He opened the door that led into the garden, and went down to the
little conservatory. When he got there he methodically removed the big
dry box-plants, and carried them upstairs in enormous armfuls, piling
them in front of the doors of the Trouches and the Faujases. He felt,
too, a craving for a bright light, and he went into the kitchen and
lighted all the lamps, which he placed upon the tables in the various
rooms and on the landings, and along the passages. Then he brought
up the rest of the box-plants. They were soon piled higher than the
doors. As he was making his last journey with them he raised his eyes
and noticed the windows. Next he went out into the garden again, took
the trunks of the fruit-trees and stacked them up under the windows,
skilfully arranging for little currents of air which should make them
blaze freely. The stack seemed to him but a small one, however.

'There is nothing left,' he murmured: 'there must be nothing left.'

Then, as a thought struck him, he went down into the cellar, and
recommenced his journeying backwards and forwards. He was now carrying
up the supply of fuel for the winter, the coal, the vine-branches,
and the wood. The pile under the windows gradually grew bigger. As
he carefully arranged each bundle of vine-branches, he was thrilled
with livelier satisfaction. He next proceeded to distribute the fuel
through the rooms on the ground-floor, and left a heap of it in the
entrance-hall, and another heap in the kitchen. Then he piled the
furniture atop of the different heaps. An hour sufficed him to get his
work finished. He had taken his boots off, and had glided about all
over the house, with heavily laden arms, so dexterously that he had not
let a single piece of wood fall roughly to the floor. He seemed endowed
with new life, with extraordinary nimbleness of motion. As far as this
one firmly fixed idea of his went, he was perfectly in possession of
his senses.

When all was ready, he lingered for a moment to enjoy the sight
of his work. He went from pile to pile, took pleasure in viewing
the square-set pyres, and gently rubbed his hands together with an
appearance of extreme satisfaction. As a few fragments of coal had
fallen on the stairs, he ran off to get a brush, and carefully swept
the black dust from the steps. Then he completed his inspection with
the careful precision of a man who means to do things as they ought
to be done. He gradually became quite excited with satisfaction, and
dropped on to his hands and knees again, and began to hop about,
panting more heavily in his savage joy.

At last he took a vine-branch and set fire to the heaps. First of all
he lighted the pile on the terrace underneath the windows. Then he
leapt back into the house and set fire to the heaps in the drawing-room
and dining-room, and then to those in the kitchen and the hall. Next he
sprang up the stairs and flung the remains of his blazing brand upon
the piles that lay against the doors of the Trouches and Faujases. An
ever-increasing rage was thrilling him, and the lurid blaze of the
fire brought his madness to a climax. He twice came down the stairs
with terrific leaps, bounded about through the thick smoke, fanning the
flames with his breath, and casting handfuls of coal upon them. At the
sight of the flames, already mounting to the ceilings of the rooms, he
sat down every now and then and laughed and clapped his hands with all
his strength.

The house was now roaring like an over-crammed stove. The flames burst
out at all points, at once, with a violence that split the floors. But
the maniac made his way upstairs again through the sheets of fire,
singeing his hair and blackening his clothes as he went. And he posted
himself on the second-floor, crouching down on his hands and knees with
his growling, beast-like head thrown forward. He was keeping guard over
the landing, and his eyes never quitted the priest's door.

'Ovide! Ovide!' shrieked a panic-stricken voice.

Madame Faujas's door at the end of the landing was suddenly opened
and the flames swept into her room with the roar of a tempest. The
old woman appeared in the midst of the fire. Stretching out her arms,
she hurled aside the blazing brands and sprang on to the landing,
pulling and pushing away with her hands and feet the burning heap that
blocked up her son's door, and calling all the while to the priest
despairingly. The maniac crouched still lower down, his eyes gleaming
while he continued to growl.

'Wait for me! Don't get out of the window!' cried Madame Faujas,
striking at her son's door.

She threw her weight against it, and the charred door yielded easily.
She reappeared holding her son in her arms. He had taken time to put on
his cassock, and was choking, half suffocated by the smoke.

'I am going to carry you, Ovide,' she cried, with energetic
determination; 'Hold well on to my shoulders, and clutch hold of my
hair if you feel you are slipping. Don't trouble, I'll carry you
through it all.'

She hoisted him upon her shoulders as though he were a child, and
this sublime mother, this old peasant woman, carrying her devotion to
death itself, did not so much as totter beneath the crushing weight
of that big swooning, unresisting body. She extinguished the burning
brands with her naked feet and made a free passage through the flames
by brushing them aside with her open hand so that her son might not
even be touched by them. But just as she was about to go downstairs,
the maniac, whom she had not observed, sprang upon the Abbé Faujas
and tore him from off her shoulders. His muttered growl turned into a
wild shriek, while he writhed in a fit at the head of the stairs. He
belaboured the priest, tore him with his nails and strangled him.

'Marthe! Marthe!' he bellowed.

Then he rolled down the blazing stairs, still with the priest in his
grasp; while Madame Faujas, who had driven her teeth into his throat,
drained his blood. The Trouches perished in their drunken stupor
without a groan; and the house, gutted and undermined, collapsed in the
midst of a cloud of sparks.



XXIII


Macquart did not find Porquier at home, and so the doctor only reached
Madame Rougon's at nearly half-past twelve. The whole house was still
in commotion. Rougon himself was the only one who had not got out of
bed. Emotion had a killing effect upon him, said he. Félicité, who was
still seated in the same armchair by Marthe's bedside, rose to meet the
doctor.

'Oh, my dear doctor, we are so very anxious!' she murmured. 'The poor
child has never stirred since we put her to bed there. Her hands are
already quite cold. I have kept them in my own, but it has done no
good.'

Doctor Porquier scanned Marthe's face, and then, without making any
further examination, he compressed his lips and made a vague gesture
with his hands.

'My dear Madame Rougon,' he said, 'you must summon up your courage.'

Félicité burst into sobs.

'The end is at hand,' the doctor continued in a lower voice. 'I have
been expecting this sad termination for a long time past; I must
confess so much now. Both of poor Madame Mouret's lungs are diseased,
and in her case phthisis has been complicated by nervous derangement.'

He took a seat, and a smile played about his lips, the smile of the
polished doctor who thinks that even in the presence of death itself
suave politeness is demanded of him.

'Don't give way and make yourself ill, my dear lady. The catastrophe
was inevitable and any little accident might have hastened it. I should
imagine that poor Madame Mouret must have been subject to coughing
when she was very young; wasn't she? I should say that the germs of
the disease have been spreading within her for a good many years past.
Latterly, and especially within the last three years, phthisis has been
making frightful strides in her. How pious and devotional she was! I
have been quite touched to see her passing away in such sanctity. Well,
well, the decrees of Providence are inscrutable; science is very often
quite powerless.'

Seeing that Madame Rougon still continued to weep, he poured out upon
her the tenderest consolations, and pressed her to take a cup of
lime-flower water to calm herself.

'Don't distress yourself, I beg you,' he continued. 'I assure you
that she has lost all sense of pain. She will continue sleeping
as tranquilly as she is doing at present, and will only regain
consciousness just before death. I won't leave you; I will remain here,
though my services are quite unavailing. I shall stay, however, as a
friend, my dear lady, as a friend.'

He settled himself comfortably for the night in an easy chair. Félicité
grew a little calmer. When Doctor Porquier gave her to understand that
Marthe had only a few more hours to live, she thought of sending for
Serge from the Seminary, which was near at hand. She asked Rose to go
there for him, but the cook at first refused.

'Do you want to kill the poor little fellow as well?' she exclaimed.
'It would be too great a shock for him to be called up in the middle of
the night to come to see a dead woman. I won't be his murderer!'

Rose still retained bitter feelings against her mistress. Ever since
the latter had been lying there dying she had paced round the bed,
angrily knocking about the cups and the hot-water bottles.

'Was there any sense in doing such a thing as madame did?' she cried.
'She has only herself to blame if she has got her death by going to see
the master. And now everything is turned topsy-turvy and we are all
distracted. No, no; I don't approve at all of the little fellow being
startled out of his sleep in such a way.'

In the end, however, she consented to go to the Seminary. Doctor
Porquier had stretched himself out in front of the fire, and with
half-closed eyes continued to address consolatory words to Madame
Rougon. A slight rattling sound began to be heard in Marthe's chest.
Uncle Macquart, who had not appeared again since he had gone away two
good hours previously, now gently pushed the door open.

'Where have you been?' Félicité asked him, taking him into a corner of
the room.

He told her that he had been to put his horse and trap up at The Three
Pigeons. But his eyes sparkled so vividly, and there was such a look
of diabolical cunning about him, that she was filled with a thousand
suspicions. She forgot her dying daughter for the moment, for she
scented some trickery which it was imperative for her to get to the
bottom of.

'Anyone would imagine that you had been following and playing the spy
upon somebody,' she said, looking at his muddy trousers. 'You are
hiding something from me, Macquart. It is not right of you. We have
always treated you very well.'

'Oh, very well, indeed!' sniggered Macquart. 'I'm glad you've told me
so. Rougon is a skinflint. He treated me like the lowest of the low in
the matter of that cornfield. Where is Rougon? Snoozing comfortably in
his bed, eh? It's little he cares for all the trouble one takes about
the family.'

The smile which accompanied these last words greatly disquieted
Félicité. She looked him keenly in the face.

'What trouble have you taken for the family?' she asked. 'Do you
grudge having brought poor Marthe back from Les Tulettes? I tell you
again that all that business has a very suspicious look. I have been
questioning Rose, and it seems to me that you wanted to come straight
here. It surprises me that you did not knock more loudly in the Rue
Balande; they would have come and opened the door. I'm not saying this
because I don't want my dear child to be here; I am glad to think, on
the contrary, that she will, at any rate, die among her own people, and
will have only loving faces about her.'

Macquart seemed greatly surprised at this speech, and interrupted her
by saying with an uneasy manner:

'I thought that you and Abbé Faujas were the best of friends.'

She made no reply, but stepped up to Marthe, whose breathing was now
becoming more difficult. When she left the bedside again, she saw
Macquart pulling one of the curtains aside and peering out into the
dark night, while rubbing the moist window-pane with his hand.

'Don't go away to-morrow without coming and talking to me,' she said to
him. 'I want to have all this cleared up.'

'Just as you like,' he replied. 'You are very difficult to please.
First you like people, and then you don't like them. I always keep on
in the same regular easy-going way.'

He was evidently very much vexed to find that the Rougons no longer
made common cause with Abbé Faujas. He tapped the window with the tips
of his fingers, and still kept his eyes on the black night. Just at
that moment the sky was reddened by a sudden glow.

'What is that?' asked Félicité.

Macquart opened the window and looked out.

'It looks like a fire,' he said unconcernedly. 'There is something
burning behind the Sub-Prefecture.'

There were sounds of commotion on the Place. A servant came into the
room with a scared look and told them that the house of madame's
daughter was on fire. It was believed, he continued, that madame's
son-in-law, he whom they had been obliged to shut up, had been seen
walking about the garden carrying a burning vine-branch. The most
unfortunate part of the matter was that there seemed no hope of saving
the lodgers. Félicité turned sharply round, and pondered for a minute,
keeping her eyes fixed on Macquart. Then she clearly understood
everything.

'You promised me solemnly,' she said in a low voice, 'that you would
conduct yourself quietly and decently when we set you up in your little
house at Les Tulettes. You have everything that you want, and are quite
independent. This is abominable, disgraceful, I tell you! How much did
Abbé Fenil give you to let François escape?'

Macquart was going to break out angrily, but Madame Rougon made him
keep silent. She seemed much more uneasy about the consequences of the
matter than indignant at the crime itself.

'And what a terrible scandal there will be, if it all comes out,' she
continued. 'Have we ever refused you anything? We will talk together
to-morrow, and we will speak again of that cornfield about which you
are so bitter against us. If Rougon were to hear of such a thing as
this, he would die of grief.'

Macquart could not help smiling. Still he defended himself
energetically, and swore that he knew nothing about the matter, and had
had no hand in it. Then, as the sky grew redder, and Doctor Porquier
had already gone downstairs he left the room, saying, as if he were
anxiously curious about the matter:

'I am going to see what is happening.'

It was Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies who had given the alarm. There
had been an evening party at the Sub-Prefecture, and he was just
going to bed at a few minutes before one o'clock when he perceived a
strange red reflection upon the ceiling of his bedroom. Going to the
window, he was struck with astonishment at seeing a great fire burning
in the Mourets' garden, while a shadowy form, which he did not at
first recognise, danced about in the midst of the smoke, brandishing
a blazing vine-branch. Almost immediately afterwards flames burst out
from all the openings on the ground-floor. The sub-prefect hurriedly
put on his trousers again, called his valet, and sent the porter off to
summon the fire-brigade and the authorities. Then, before going to the
scene of the disaster, he finished dressing himself and consulted his
mirror to make sure that his moustache was quite as it should be. He
was the first to arrive in the Rue Balande. The street was absolutely
deserted, save for a couple of cats which were rushing across it.

'They will let themselves be broiled like cutlets in there!' thought
Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, astonished at the quiet, sleepy
appearance of the house on the street side, where as yet there was no
sign of the conflagration.

He knocked loudly at the door, but could hear nothing except the
roaring of the fire in the well of the staircase. Then he knocked at
Monsieur Rastoil's door. There piercing screams were heard, hurried
rustlings to and fro, banging of doors and stifled calls.

'Aurélie, cover up your shoulders!' cried the presiding judge, who
rushed out on to the pathway, followed by Madame Rastoil and her
younger daughter, the one who was still unmarried. In her hurry,
Aurélie had thrown over her shoulders a cloak of her father's, which
left her arms bare. She turned very red as she caught sight of Monsieur
Péqueur des Saulaies.

'What a terrible disaster!' stammered the presiding judge. 'Everything
will be burnt down. The wall of my bedroom is quite hot already. The
two houses almost join. Ah! my dear sub-prefect, I haven't even stopped
to remove the time-pieces. We must organise assistance. We can't stand
by and let all our belongings be destroyed in an hour or two.'

Madame Rastoil, scantily clothed in a dressing-gown, was bewailing her
drawing-room furniture, which she had only just had newly covered. By
this time, however, several neighbours had appeared at their windows.
The presiding judge summoned them to his assistance, and commenced to
remove his effects from his house. He made the time-pieces his own
particular charge, and brought them out and deposited them on the
pathway opposite. When the easy-chairs from the drawing-room were
carried out, he made his wife and daughter sit down in them, and the
sub-prefect remained by their side to reassure them.

'Make yourselves easy, ladies,' he said. 'The engine will be here
directly, and then a vigorous attack will be made upon the fire. I
think I may undertake to promise that your house will be saved.'

All at once the window-panes of the Mourets' house burst, and the
flames broke out from the first floor. The street was illumined by a
bright glow; it was as light as at midday. A drummer could be heard
passing across the Place of the Sub-Prefecture, some distance off,
sounding the alarm. A number of men ran up, and a chain was formed to
pass on the buckets of water; but there were no buckets; and still
the engine did not arrive. In the midst of the general consternation
Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies, without leaving the two ladies, shouted
out orders in a loud voice.

'Leave a free passage! The chain is too closely formed down there! Keep
yourselves two feet apart!'

Then he turned to Aurélie and said in a low voice:

'I am very much surprised that the engine has not arrived yet. It
is a new engine. This will be the first time it has been used. I
sent the porter off immediately, and I told him also to call at the
police-station.'

However, the gendarmes arrived before the end. They kept back the
inquisitive spectators, whose numbers increased, notwithstanding the
lateness of the hour. The sub-prefect himself went to put the chain
in a better order, as it was bulging out in the middle, through the
pushing of some rough fellows who had run up from the outskirts of
the town. The little bell of Saint-Saturnin's was sounding the alarm
with cracked notes, and a second drum beat faintly at the bottom of the
street near the Mall. At last the engine arrived with a noisy clatter.
The crowd made way for it, and the fifteen panting firemen of Plassans
came up at a run. However, in spite of Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies's
intervention, a quarter of an hour elapsed before the engine was in
working order.

'I tell you that it is the piston that won't work!' cried the captain
angrily to the sub-prefect, who asserted that the nuts were too tightly
screwed.

At last a jet of water shot up, and the crowd gave a sigh of
satisfaction. The house was now blazing from the ground-floor to the
second-floor like a huge torch. The water hissed as it fell into the
burning mass, and the flames, separating into yellow tongues, seemed to
shoot up still higher than before. Some of the firemen had mounted on
to the roof of the presiding judge's house, and were breaking open the
tiles with their picks to limit the progress of the fire.

'It's all up with the place!' muttered Macquart, who stood quietly on
the pathway with his hands in his pockets, watching the conflagration
with lively interest.

Out in the street a perfect open-air drawing-room had now been
established. The easy-chairs were arranged in a semicircle, as though
to allow their occupants to view the spectacle at their ease. Madame
de Condamin and her husband had just arrived. They had scarcely got
back home from the Sub-Prefecture, they said, when they had heard the
drum beating the alarm. Monsieur de Bourdeu, Monsieur Maffre, Doctor
Porquier, and Monsieur Delangre, accompanied by several members of the
municipal council, had also lost no time in hastening to the scene.
They all clustered round poor Madame Rastoil and her daughter, trying
to comfort and console them with sympathetic remarks. After a time most
of them sat down in the easy-chairs, and a general conversation took
place, while the engine snorted away half a score yards off and the
blazing beams crackled.

'Have you got my watch, my dear?' Madame Rastoil inquired. 'It was on
the mantelpiece with the chain.'

'Yes, yes, I have it in my pocket,' replied the president, trembling
with emotion. 'I have got the silver as well. I wanted to bring
everything away, but the firemen wouldn't let me; they said it was
ridiculous.'

Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies still showed the greatest calmness and
kindly attention.

'I assure you that your house is in no danger at all,' he remarked.
'The force of the fire is spent now. You may go and put your silver
back in your dining-room.'

But Monsieur Rastoil would not consent to part with his plate, which he
was carrying under his arm, wrapped up in a newspaper.

'All the doors are open,' he stammered, 'and the house is full of
people that I know nothing about. They have made a hole in my roof that
will cost me a pretty penny to put right again.'

Madame de Condamin now questioned the sub-prefect.

'Oh! how terrible!' she cried. 'I thought that the lodgers had had time
to escape. Has nothing been seen of Abbé Faujas?'

'I knocked at the door myself,' said Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies,
'but I couldn't make anyone hear. When the firemen arrived I had the
door broken open, and I ordered them to place the ladders against the
windows. But nothing was of any use. One of our brave gendarmes who
ventured into the hall narrowly escaped being suffocated by the smoke.'

'As Abbé Faujas has been, I suppose! What a horrible death!' said the
fair Octavie, with a shudder.

The ladies and gentlemen looked into one another's faces, which showed
pale in the flickering light of the conflagration. Doctor Porquier
explained to them, however, that death by fire was probably not so
painful as they imagined.

'When the fire once reaches one,' he said in conclusion, 'it can only
be a matter of few seconds. Of course, it depends, to some extent, upon
the violence of the conflagration.'

Monsieur de Condamin was counting upon his fingers.

'Even if Madame Mouret is with her parents, as is asserted, that
still leaves four--Abbé Faujas, his mother, his sister, and his
brother-in-law. It's a pretty bad business!'

Just then Madame Rastoil inclined her head towards her husband's ear.
'Give me my watch,' she whispered. 'I don't feel easy about it. You are
always fidgetting, and you may sit on it.'

Someone now called out that the wind was carrying the sparks towards
the Sub-Prefecture, and Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies immediately
sprang up, and, apologising for his departure, hastened off to guard
against this new danger. Monsieur Delangre was anxious that a last
attempt should be made to rescue the victims. But the captain of
the fire brigade roughly told him to go up the ladder himself if he
thought such a thing possible; he had never seen such a fire before,
he declared. The devil himself must have lighted it, for the house
was burning like a bundle of chips, at all points at once. The mayor,
followed by some kindly disposed persons, then went round into the
Impasse des Chevillottes. Perhaps, he said, it would be possible to get
to the windows from the garden side.

'It would be very magnificent if it were not so sad,' remarked Madame
de Condamin, who was now calmer.

The fire was certainly becoming a superb spectacle. Showers of sparks
rushed up in the midst of huge blue flames; chasms of glowing red
showed themselves behind each of the gaping windows, while the smoke
rolled gently away in a huge purplish cloud, like the smoke from
Bengal lights set burning at some display of fireworks. The ladies and
gentlemen were comfortably seated in their chairs, leaning on their
elbows and stretching out their legs as they watched the spectacle
before them; and whenever there was a more violent burst of flames
than usual, there came an interval of silence, broken by exclamations.
At some distance off, in the midst of the flickering brilliance which
every now and then lighted up masses of serried heads, there rose the
murmur of the crowd, the sound of gushing water, a general confused
uproar. Ten paces away the engine, with its regular, snorting breath,
continued vomiting streams of water from its metal throat.

'Look at the third window on the second floor!' suddenly cried Monsieur
Maffre. 'You can see a bed burning quite distinctly on the left hand.
It has yellow curtains, and they are blazing like so much paper.'

Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies now returned at a gentle trot to reassure
the ladies and gentlemen. It had been a false alarm.

'The sparks,' he said, 'are certainly being carried by the wind towards
the Sub-Prefecture, but they are extinguished in the air before they
reach it. There is no further danger. They have got the fire well in
hand now.'

'But is it known how the fire originated?' asked Madame de Condamin.

Monsieur de Bourdeu asserted that he had first of all seen a dense
smoke issuing from the kitchen. Monsieur Maffre alleged, on the other
hand, that the flames had first appeared in a room on the first floor.
But the sub-prefect shook his head with an air of official prudence,
and said in a low voice:

'I am much afraid that malice has had something to do with the
disaster. I have ordered an inquiry to be made.'

Then he went on to tell them that he had seen a man lighting the fire
with a vine-branch.

'Yes, I saw him too,' interrupted Aurélie Rastoil. 'It was Monsieur
Mouret.'

This statement created the greatest astonishment. The thing seemed
impossible. Monsieur Mouret escaping and burning down his house--what a
frightful story! They overwhelmed Aurélie with questions. She blushed,
and her mother looked at her severely. It was scarcely proper for a
young girl to be constantly looking out of her window at night-time.

'I assure you that I distinctly recognised Monsieur Mouret,' she
continued. 'I had not gone to sleep, and I got up when I saw a bright
light. Monsieur Mouret was dancing about in the midst of the fire.'

Then the sub-prefect spoke out:

'Mademoiselle is quite correct. I recognise the unhappy man now. He
looked so terrible that I was in doubt as to who it might be, although
his face seemed familiar. Excuse me; this is a very serious matter, and
I must go and give some orders.'

He went away again, while the company began to discuss this terrible
affair of a landlord burning his lodgers to death. Monsieur de Bourdeu
inveighed hotly against lunatic asylums. The surveillance exercised
in them, he said, was most imperfect. The truth was that Monsieur de
Bourdeu was greatly afraid lest the prefecture which Abbé Faujas had
promised him should be burnt away in the fire before his eyes.

'Maniacs are extremely revengeful,' said Monsieur de Condamin, in all
simplicity.

This remark seemed to embarrass everyone, and the conversation dropped.
The ladies shuddered slightly, while the men exchanged peculiar
glances. The burning house had become an object of still greater
interest now that they knew whose hand had set it on fire. They blinked
with a thrill of delicious terror as they gazed upon the glowing pile,
and thought of the drama that had been enacted there.

'If old Mouret is in there, that makes five,' said Monsieur de
Condamin. Then the ladies hushed him and told him that he was a
cold-blooded, unfeeling man.

The Paloques, meanwhile, had been watching the fire since its
commencement from the window of their dining-room. They were just above
the drawing-room that had been improvised upon the pathway. The judge's
wife at last went out, and graciously offered shelter and hospitality
to the Rastoil ladies and the friends surrounding them.

'We can see very well from our windows, I assure you,' she said.

And, as the ladies declined her invitation, she added:

'You will certainly take cold; it is a very sharp night.'

But Madame de Condamin smiled and stretched out her little feet, which
showed from beneath her skirts.

'Oh dear no! we're not at all cold,' she said. 'My feet are quite
toasted. I am very comfortable indeed. Are you cold, mademoiselle?'

'I am really too warm,' Aurélie replied. 'One could imagine that it was
a summer night. This fire keeps one quite warm and cosy.'

Everyone declared that it was very pleasant, and so Madame Paloque
determined to remain there with them and to take a seat in one of the
easy-chairs. Monsieur Maffre had just gone off. He had caught sight,
in the midst of the crowd, of his two sons, accompanied by Guillaume
Porquier, who had all three run up from a house near the ramparts to
see the fire. The magistrate, who was certain that he had locked his
lads up in their bedroom, dragged Alphonse and Ambroise away by the
ears.

'I think we might go off to bed now,' said Monsieur de Bourdeu, who was
gradually growing more cross-grained.

However, Monsieur Péqueur des Saulaies had reappeared again, and showed
himself quite indefatigable, though he never neglected the ladies,
in spite of the duties and anxieties of all kinds with which he was
overwhelmed. He sprang hastily forward to meet Monsieur Delangre, who
was just coming back from the Impasse des Chevillottes. They talked
together in low tones. The mayor had apparently witnessed some terrible
sight, for he kept passing his hand over his face, as though trying to
drive away some awful vision that was pursuing him. The ladies could
only hear him murmuring, 'We arrived too late! It was horrible!' He
would not answer any questions.

'Only Bourdeu and Delangre will regret Abbé Faujas,' Monsieur de
Condamin whispered in Madame Paloque's ear.

'They had business on hand with him,' the latter replied quietly. 'Ah!
here is Abbé Bourrette. He is weeping from genuine sorrow.'

Abbé Bourrette, who had formed part of the chain of men who passed the
buckets on, was sobbing bitterly. The poor man refused all consolation.
He would not sit down, but remained standing, with anxious, troubled
eyes, watching the last beams burn away. Abbé Surin had also been
seen; but he had disappeared after picking up in the crowd all the
information he could.

'Come along; let us be off to bed,' exclaimed Monsieur de Bourdeu. 'It
is foolish of us to stop here.'

The whole party rose. It was settled that Monsieur Rastoil and his
wife and daughter should spend the night at the Paloques'. Madame de
Condamin gently tapped her dress, which had got slightly creased, in
order to straighten it. The easy-chairs were pushed out of the way, and
the company lingered yet a few more moments while bidding each other
good-night. The engine was still snorting, and the fire was dying down
amidst dense black smoke. Nothing was to be heard but the tramping of
the diminishing crowd and the last blows of a fireman's axe striking
down a beam.

'It is all over!' thought Macquart, who still kept his position on the
opposite pathway.

He remained there a few moments longer, listening to the last words
which Monsieur de Condamin exchanged in low tones with Madame Paloque.

'Bah!' said the judge's wife, 'no one will cry for him, unless it's
that big gander Bourrette. He had grown quite unendurable, and we were
nothing but his slaves. His lordship the Bishop, I dare say, has got a
smiling face just now. Plassans is at last delivered!'

'And the Rougons!' exclaimed Monsieur de Condamin. 'They must be quite
delighted.'

'I should think so, indeed. The Rougons must be up in the heavens. They
will inherit the Abbé's conquest. Ah! they would have paid anyone well
who would have run the risk of setting the house on fire.'

Macquart went away feeling extremely dissatisfied. He was beginning to
fear that he had been duped. The joy of the Rougons filled him with
consternation. The Rougons were crafty folks who always played a
double game, and whose opponents were quite certain to end by getting
the worst of the struggle. As Macquart crossed the Place of the
Sub-Prefecture he swore to himself that he would never set to work in
this blind way again.

As he went up to the room where Marthe lay dying he found Rose sitting
on one of the stairs. She was in a fuming rage.

'No, indeed, I will certainly not stop in the room!' she cried. 'I
won't look on and see such things. Let her die without me; let her
die like a dog! I no longer have any love for her; I have no love for
anyone. To send for the poor little fellow to kill him! And I consented
to go for him! I shall hate myself for it all my life! He was as white
as his nightshirt, the angel! I was obliged to carry him here from the
Seminary. I thought he was going to give up the ghost on the way, he
cried so. Oh! it's a cruel shame! And there he has gone into the room
now to kiss her! It quite makes my flesh creep. I wish the whole house
would topple down on our heads and finish us all off at one stroke! I
will shut myself up in some hole somewhere, and live quite alone, and
never see anyone again--never, never! One's whole life seems made up of
things that make one weep and make one angry!'

Macquart entered the room. Madame Rougon was on her knees, burying her
face in her hands, and Serge, with tears streaming down his cheeks, was
standing by the bedside supporting the head of the dying woman. She
had not yet regained consciousness. The last flickering flames of the
conflagration cast a ruddy reflection upon the ceiling of the room.

At last a convulsive tremor shook Marthe's body. She opened her eyes
with an expression of surprise, and sat up in bed to glance around her.
Then she clasped her hands together with a look of unutterable terror,
and died even as she caught sight of Serge's cassock in the crimson
glow.


THE END.



NOTES


[1] See Eugène Tenot's 'La Province en Décembre 1851,' Paris, 1865 (pp.
206 _et seq._, and 260 _et seq._). Also Maquan's 'L'Insurrection du
Var,' p. 127.

[2] A glimpse of François Mouret, and Marthe, his wife, is given in
'The Fortune of the Rougons,' pp. 143-4--ED.

[3] Parish priest.

[4] One of the chief characters of 'The Fortune of the Rougons' and
'Dr. Pascal.'--ED.

[5] The chief character in 'His Excellency.'

[6] Those proscribed by Louis Napoleon at the Coup d'État of 1851.

[7] 'Aunt Dide's' life and death at Les Tulettes are described in 'Dr.
Pascal.'--ED.





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