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- The Fortune of the Rougons - 10/66 -


insanity. She seemed desirous of making herself conspicuous, it was thought she was wickedly determined to turn things at home from bad to worse, whereas with great naivete she simply acted according to the impulses of her nature.

Ever since giving birth to her first child she had been subject to nervous fits which brought on terrible convulsions. These fits recurred periodically, every two or three months. The doctors whom she consulted declared they could do nothing for her, that age would weaken the severity of the attacks. They simply prescribed a dietary regimen of underdone meat and quinine wine. However, these repeated shocks led to cerebral disorder. She lived on from day to day like a child, like a fawning animal yielding to its instincts. When Macquart was on his rounds, she passed her time in lazy, pensive idleness. All she did for her children was to kiss and play with them. Then as soon as her lover returned she would disappear.

Behind Macquart's hovel there was a little yard, separated from the Fouques' property by a wall. One morning the neighbours were much astonished to find in this wall a door which had not been there the previous evening. Before an hour had elapsed, the entire Faubourg had flocked to the neighbouring windows. The lovers must have worked the whole night to pierce the opening and place the door there. They could now go freely from one house to the other. The scandal was revived, everyone felt less pity for Adelaide, who was certainly the disgrace of the suburb; she was reproached more wrathfully for that door, that tacit, brutal admission of her union, than even for her two illegitimate children. "People should at least study appearances," the most tolerant women would say. But Adelaide did not understand what was meant by studying appearances. She was very happy, very proud of her door; she had assisted Macquart to knock the stones from the wall and had even mixed the mortar so that the work might proceed the quicker; and she came with childish delight to inspect the work by daylight on the morrow--an act which was deemed a climax of shamelessness by three gossips who observed her contemplating the masonry. From that date, whenever Macquart reappeared, it was thought, as no one then ever saw the young woman, that she was living with him in the hovel of the Impasse Saint-Mittre.

The smuggler would come very irregularly, almost always unexpectedly, to Plassans. Nobody ever knew what life the lovers led during the two or three days he spent there at distant intervals. They used to shut themselves up; the little dwelling seemed uninhabited. Then, as the gossips had declared that Macquart had simply seduced Adelaide in order to spend her money, they were astonished, after a time, to see him still lead his wonted life, ever up hill and down dale and as badly equipped as previously. Perhaps the young woman loved him all the more for seeing him at rare intervals, perhaps he had disregarded her entreaties, feeling an irresistible desire for a life of adventure. The gossips invented a thousand fables, without succeeding in giving any reasonable explanation of a connection which had originated and continued in so strange a manner. The hovel in the Impasse Saint-Mittre remained closed and preserved its secrets. It was merely guessed that Macquart had probably acquired the habit of beating Adelaide, although the sound of a quarrel never issued from the house. However, on several occasions she was seen with her face black and blue, and her hair torn away. At the same time, she did not display the least dejection or grief, nor did she seek in any way to hide her bruises. She smiled, and seemed happy. No doubt she allowed herself to be beaten without breathing a word. This existence lasted for more than fifteen years.

At times when Adelaide returned home she would find her house upside down, but would not take the least notice of it. She was utterly ignorant of the practical meaning of life, of the proper value of things and the necessity for order. She let her children grow up like those plum-trees which sprout along the highways at the pleasure of the rain and sun. They bore their natural fruits like wild stock which has never known grafting or pruning. Never was nature allowed such complete sway, never did such mischievous creatures grow up more freely under the sole influence of instinct. They rolled among the vegetables, passed their days in the open air playing and fighting like good-for-nothing urchins. They stole provisions from the house and pillaged the few fruit-trees in the enclosure; they were the plundering, squalling, familiar demons of this strange abode of lucid insanity. When their mother was absent for days together, they would make such an uproar, and hit upon such diabolical devices for annoying people, that the neighbours had to threaten them with a whipping. Moreover, Adelaide did not inspire them with much fear; if they were less obnoxious to other people when she was at home, it was because they made her their victim, shirking school five or six times a week and doing everything they could to receive some punishment which would allow them to squall to their hearts' content. But she never beat them, nor even lost her temper; she lived on very well, placidly, indolently, in a state of mental abstraction amidst all the uproar. At last, indeed, this uproar became indispensable to her, to fill the void in her brain. She smiled complacently when she heard anyone say, "Her children will beat her some day, and it will serve her right." To all remarks, her utter indifference seemed to reply, "What does it matter?" She troubled even less about her property than about her children. The Fouques' enclosure, during the many years that this singular existence lasted would have become a piece of waste ground if the young woman had not luckily entrusted the cultivation of her vegetables to a clever market-gardener. This man, who was to share the profits with her, robbed her impudently, though she never noticed it. This circumstance had its advantages, however; for, in order to steal the more, the gardener drew as much as possible from the land, which in the result almost doubled in value.

Pierre, the legitimate son, either from secret instinct or from his knowledge of the different manner in which he and the others were regarded by the neighbours, domineered over his brother and sister from an early age. In their quarrels, although he was much weaker than Antoine, he always got the better of the contest, beating the other with all the authority of a master. With regard to Ursule, a poor, puny, wan little creature, she was handled with equal roughness by both the boys. Indeed, until they were fifteen or sixteen, the three children fraternally beat each other without understanding their vague, mutual hatred, without realising how foreign they were to one another. It was only in youth that they found themselves face to face with definite, self-conscious personalities.

At sixteen, Antoine was a tall fellow, a blend of Macquart's and Adelaide's failings. Macquart, however, predominated in him, with his love of vagrancy, his tendency to drunkenness, and his brutish savagery. At the same time, under the influence of Adelaide's nervous nature, the vices which in the father assumed a kind of sanguinary frankness were in the son tinged with an artfulness full of hypocrisy and cowardice. Antoine resembled his mother by his total want of dignified will, by his effeminate voluptuous egotism, which disposed him to accept any bed of infamy provided he could lounge upon it at his ease and sleep warmly in it. People said of him: "Ah! the brigand! He hasn't even the courage of his villainy like Macquart; if ever he commits a murder, it will be with pin pricks." Physically, Antoine inherited Adelaide's thick lips only; his other features resembled those of the smuggler, but they were softer and more prone to change of expression.

In Ursule, on the other hand, physical and moral resemblance to the mother predominated. There was a mixture of certain characteristics in her also; but born the last, at a time when Adelaide's love was warmer than Macquart's, the poor little thing seemed to have received with her sex a deeper impress of her mother's temperament. Moreover, hers was not a fusion of the two natures, but rather a juxtaposition, a remarkably close soldering. Ursule was whimsical, and displayed at times the shyness, the melancholy, and the transports of a pariah; then she would often break out into nervous fits of laughter, and muse lazily, like a woman unsound both in head and heart. Her eyes, which at times had a scared expression like those of Adelaide, were as limpid as crystal, similar to those of kittens doomed to die of consumption.

In presence of those two illegitimate children Pierre seemed a stranger; to one who had not penetrated to the roots of his being he would have appeared profoundly dissimilar. Never did child's nature show a more equal balance of the characteristics of its parents. He was the exact mean between the peasant Rougon and the nervous Adelaide. Paternal grossness was attenuated by the maternal influence. One found in him the first phase of that evolution of temperaments which ultimately brings about the amelioration or deterioration of a race. Although he was still a peasant, his skin was less coarse, his face less heavy, his intellect more capacious and more supple. In him the defects of his father and his mother had advantageously reacted upon each other. If Adelaide's nature, rendered exquisitely sensitive by her rebellious nerves, had combated and lessened Rougon's full- bodied ponderosity, the latter had successfully prevented the young woman's tendency to cerebral disorder from being implanted in the child. Pierre knew neither the passions nor the sickly ravings of Macquart's young whelps. Very badly brought up, unruly and noisy, like all children who are not restrained during their infancy, he nevertheless possessed at bottom such sense and intelligence as would always preserve him from perpetrating any unproductive folly. His vices, his laziness, his appetite for indulgence, lacked the instinctiveness which characterised Antoine's; he meant to cultivate and gratify them honourably and openly. In his plump person of medium height, in his long pale face, in which the features derived from his father had acquired some of the maternal refinement, one could already detect signs of sly and crafty ambition and insatiable desire, with the hardness of heart and envious hatred of a peasant's son whom his mother's means and nervous temperament had turned into a member of the middle classes.

When, at the age of seventeen, Pierre observed and was able to understand Adelaide's disorders and the singular position of Antoine and Ursule, he seemed neither sorry nor indignant, but simply worried as to the course which would best serve his own interests. He was the only one of the three children who had pursued his studies with any industry. When a peasant begins to feel the need of instruction he most frequently becomes a fierce calculator. At school Pierre's playmates roused his first suspicions by the manner in which they treated and hooted his brother. Later on he came to understand the significance of many looks and words. And at last he clearly saw that the house was being pillaged. From that time forward he regarded Antoine and Ursule as shameless parasites, mouths that were devouring his own substance. Like the people of the Faubourg, he thought that his mother was a fit subject for a lunatic asylum, and feared she would end by squandering all her money, if he did not take steps to prevent it. What gave him the finishing stroke was the dishonesty of the gardener who cultivated the land. At this, in one day, the unruly child was transformed into a thrifty, selfish lad, hurriedly matured, as regards his instincts, by the strange improvident life which he could no longer bear to see around him without a feeling of anguish. Those vegetables, from the sale of which the market-gardener derived the largest profits, really belonged to him; the wine which his mother's offspring drank, the bread they ate, also belonged to him. The whole house, the entire fortune, was his by right; according to his boorish logic, he alone, the legitimate son, was the heir. And as his riches were in danger, as everybody was greedily gnawing at his future fortune, he sought a means of turning them all out--mother, brother, sister, servants--and of succeeding immediately to his


The Fortune of the Rougons - 10/66

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