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- The Fortune of the Rougons - 30/66 -


"Everyone earns what he can," the young man replied. "Twenty sous are twenty sous; and it all helps in a home. Besides, you're an old soldier, why don't you seek some employment?"

Fine would then interpose, with a thoughtlessness of which she soon repented.

"That's what I'm always telling him," said she. "The market inspector wants an assistant; I mentioned my husband to him, and he seems well disposed towards us."

But Macquart interrupted her with a fulminating glance. "Eh! hold your tongue," he growled with suppressed anger. "Women never know what they're talking about! Nobody would have me; my opinions are too well- known."

Every time he was offered employment he displayed similar irritation. He did not cease, however, to ask for situations, though he always refused such as were found for him, assigning the most extraordinary reasons. When pressed upon the point he became terrible.

If Jean were to take up a newspaper after dinner he would at once exclaim: "You'd better go to bed. You'll be getting up late to-morrow, and that'll be another day lost. To think of that young rascal coming home with eight francs short last week! However, I've requested his master not give him his money in future; I'll call for it myself."

Jean would go to bed to avoid his father's recriminations. He had but little sympathy with Silvere; politics bored him, and he thought his cousin "cracked." When only the women remained, if they unfortunately started some whispered converse after clearing the table, Macquart would cry: "Now, you idlers! Is there nothing that requires mending? we're all in rags. Look here, Gervaise, I was at your mistress's to-day, and I learnt some fine things. You're a good-for-nothing, a gad-about."

Gervaise, now a grown girl of more than twenty, coloured up at thus being scolded in the presence of Silvere, who himself felt uncomfortable. One evening, having come rather late, when his uncle was not at home, he had found the mother and daughter intoxicated before an empty bottle. From that time he could never see his cousin without recalling the disgraceful spectacle she had presented, with the maudlin grin and large red patches on her poor, pale, puny face. He was not less shocked by the nasty stories that circulated with regard to her. He sometimes looked at her stealthily, with the timid surprise of a schoolboy in the presence of a disreputable character.

When the two women had taken up their needles, and were ruining their eyesight in order to mend his old shirts, Macquart, taking the best seat, would throw himself back with an air of delicious comfort, and sip and smoke like a man who relishes his laziness. This was the time when the old rogue generally railed against the wealthy for living on the sweat of the poor man's brow. He was superbly indignant with the gentlemen of the new town, who lived so idly, and compelled the poor to keep them in luxury. The fragments of communistic notions which he culled from the newspapers in the morning became grotesque and monstrous on falling from his lips. He would talk of a time near at hand when no one would be obliged to work. He always, however, kept his fiercest animosity for the Rougons. He never could digest the potatoes he had eaten.

"I saw that vile creature Felicite buying a chicken in the market this morning," he would say. "Those robbers of inheritances must eat chicken, forsooth!"

"Aunt Dide," interposed Silvere, "says that uncle Pierre was very kind to you when you left the army. Didn't he spend a large sum of money in lodging and clothing you?"

"A large sum of money!" roared Macquart in exasperation; "your grandmother is mad. It was those thieves who spread those reports themselves, so as to close my mouth. I never had anything."

Fine again foolishly interfered, reminding him that he had received two hundred francs, besides a suit of clothes and a year's rent. Antoine thereupon shouted to her to hold her tongue, and continued, with increasing fury: "Two hundred francs! A fine thing! I want my due, ten thousand francs. Ah! yes, talk of the hole they shoved me into like a dog, and the old frock-coat which Pierre gave me because he was ashamed to wear it any longer himself, it was so dirty and ragged!"

He was not speaking the truth; but, seeing the rage that he was in, nobody ventured to protest any further. Then, turning towards Silvere: "It's very stupid of you to defend them!" he added. "They robbed your mother, who, good woman, would be alive now if she had had the means of taking care of herself."

"Oh! you're not just, uncle," the young man said; "my mother did not die for want of attention, and I'm certain my father would never have accepted a sou from his wife's family!"

"Pooh! don't talk to me! your father would have taken the money just like anybody else. We were disgracefully plundered, and it's high time we had our rights."

Then Macquart, for the hundredth time, began to recount the story of the fifty thousand francs. His nephew, who knew it by heart, and all the variations with which he embellished it, listened to him rather impatiently.

"If you were a man," Antoine would say in conclusion, "you would come some day with me, and we would kick up a nice row at the Rougons. We would not leave without having some money given us."

Silvere, however, grew serious, and frankly replied: "If those wretches robbed us, so much the worse for them. I don't want their money. You see, uncle, it's not for us to fall on our relatives. If they've done wrong, well, one of these days they'll be severely punished for it."

"Ah! what a big simpleton you are!" the uncle cried. "When we have the upper hand, you'll see whether I sha'n't settle my own little affairs myself. God cares a lot about us indeed! What a foul family ours is! Even if I were starving to death, not one of those scoundrels would throw me a dry crust."

Whenever Macquart touched upon this subject, he proved inexhaustible. He bared all his bleeding wounds of envy and covetousness. He grew mad with rage when he came to think that he was the only unlucky one in the family, and was forced to eat potatoes, while the others had meat to their heart's content. He would pass all his relations in review, even his grand-nephews, and find some grievance and reason for threatening every one of them.

"Yes, yes," he repeated bitterly, "they'd leave me to die like a dog."

Gervaise, without raising her head or ceasing to ply her needle, would sometimes say timidly: "Still, father, cousin Pascal was very kind to us, last year, when you were ill."

"He attended you without charging a sou," continued Fine, coming to her daughter's aid, "and he often slipped a five-franc piece into my hand to make you some broth."

"He! he'd have killed me if I hadn't had a strong constitution!" Macquart retorted. "Hold your tongues, you fools! You'd let yourselves be twisted about like children. They'd all like to see me dead. When I'm ill again, I beg you not to go and fetch my nephew, for I didn't feel at all comfortable in his hands. He's only a twopenny-halfpenny doctor, and hasn't got a decent patient in all his practice."

When once Macquart was fully launched, he could not stop. "It's like that little viper, Aristide," he would say, "a false brother, a traitor. Are you taken in by his articles in the 'Independant,' Silvere? You would be a fine fool if you were. They're not even written in good French; I've always maintained that this contraband Republican is in league with his worthy father to humbug us. You'll see how he'll turn his coat. And his brother, the illustrious Eugene, that big blockhead of whom the Rougons make such a fuss! Why, they've got the impudence to assert that he occupies a good position in Paris! I know something about his position; he's employed at the Rue de Jerusalem; he's a police spy."

"Who told you so? You know nothing about it," interrupted Silvere, whose upright spirit at last felt hurt by his uncle's lying accusations.

"Ah! I know nothing about it? Do you think so? I tell you he is a police spy. You'll be shorn like a lamb one of these days, with your benevolence. You're not manly enough. I don't want to say anything against your brother Francois; but, if I were in your place, I shouldn't like the scurvy manner in which he treats you. He earns a heap of money at Marseilles, and yet he never sends you a paltry twenty-franc pierce for pocket money. If ever you become poor, I shouldn't advise you to look to him for anything."

"I've no need of anybody," the young man replied in a proud and slightly injured tone of voice. "My own work suffices for aunt Dide and myself. You're cruel, uncle."

"I only say what's true, that's all. I should like to open your eyes. Our family is a disreputable lot; it's sad but true. Even that little Maxime, Aristide's son, that little nine-year-old brat, pokes his tongue out at me when me meets me. That child will some day beat his own mother, and a good job too! Say what you like, all those folks don't deserve their luck; but it's always like this in families, the good ones suffer while the bad ones make their fortunes."

All this dirty linen, which Macquart washed with such complacency before his nephew, profoundly disgusted the young man. He would have liked to soar back into his dream. As soon as he began to show unmistakable signs of impatience, Antoine would employ strong expedients to exasperate him against their relatives.

"Defend them! Defend them!" he would say, appearing to calm down. "I, for my part, have arranged to have nothing more to do with them. I only mention the matter out of pity for my poor mother, whom all that gang treat in a most revolting manner."

"They are wretches!" Silvere murmured.

"Oh! you don't know, you don't understand. These Rougons pour all sorts of insults and abuse on the good woman. Aristide has forbidden his son even to recognise her. Felicite talks of having her placed in a lunatic asylum."

The young man, as white as a sheet, abruptly interrupted his uncle: "Enough!" he cried. "I don't want to know any more about it. There


The Fortune of the Rougons - 30/66

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