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- The Fortune of the Rougons - 60/66 -
that I removed the clapper of the bell, by his Reverence's order, precisely to prevent the tocsin from being sounded. But Monsieur Granoux wouldn't listen to reason. He climbed up, and I've no idea what he can be making that noise with."
Thereupon Rougon hastily ascended the staircase which led to the bells, shouting: "That will do! That will do! For goodness' sake leave off!"
When he had reached the top he caught sight of Granoux, by the light of the moon which glided through an embrasure; the ex almond dealer was standing there hatless, and dealing furious blows with a heavy hammer. He did so with a right good will. He first threw himself back, then took a spring, and finally fell upon the sonorous bronze as if he wanted to crack it. One might have thought he was a blacksmith striking hot iron--but a frock-coated blacksmith, short and bald, working in a wild and awkward way.
Surprise kept Rougon motionless for a moment at the sight of this frantic bourgeois thus belabouring the bell in the moonlight. Then he understood the kettle-like clang which this strange ringer had disseminated over the town. He shouted to him to stop, but Granoux did not hear. Rougon was obliged to take hold of his frock-coat, and then the other recognising him, exclaimed in a triumphant voice: "Ah! you've heard it. At first I tried to knock the bell with my fists, but that hurt me. Fortunately I found this hammer. Just a few more blows, eh?"
However, Rougon dragged him away. Granoux was radiant. He wiped his forehead, and made his companion promise to let everybody know in the morning that he had produced all that noise with a mere hammer. What an achievement, and what a position of importance that furious ringing would confer upon him!
Towards morning, Rougon bethought himself of reassuring Felicite. In accordance with his orders, the national guards had shut themselves up in the town-hall. He had forbidden them to remove the corpses, under the pretext that it was necessary to give the populace of the old quarter a lesson. And as, while hastening to the Rue de la Banne, he passed over the square, on which the moon was no longer shining, he inadvertently stepped on the clenched hand of a corpse that lay beside the footpath. At this he almost fell. That soft hand, which yielded beneath his heel, brought him an indefinable sensation of disgust and horror. And thereupon he hastened at full speed along the deserted streets, fancying that a bloody fist was pursuing him.
"There are four of them on the ground," he said, as he entered his house.
He and his wife looked at one another as though they were astonished at their crime.
The lamplight imparted the hue of yellow wax to their pale faces.
"Have you left them there?" asked Felicite; "they must be found there."
"Of course! I didn't pick them up. They are lying on their backs. I stepped on something soft----"
Then he looked at his boot; its heel was covered with blood. While he was putting on a pair of shoes, Felicite resumed:
"Well! so much the better! It's over now. People won't be inclined to repeat that you only fire at mirrors."
The fusillade which the Rougons had planned in order that they might be finally recognised as the saviours of Plassans, brought the whole terrified and grateful town to their feet. The day broke mournfully with the grey melancholy of a winter-morning. The inhabitants, hearing nothing further, ventured forth, weary of trembling beneath their sheets. At first some ten or fifteen appeared. Later on, when a rumour spread that the insurgents had taken flight, leaving their dead in every gutter, Plassans rose in a body and descended upon the town- hall. Throughout the morning people strolled inquisitively round the four corpses. They were horribly mutilated, particularly one, which had three bullets in the head. But the most horrible to look upon was the body of a national guard, who had fallen under the porch; he had received a charge of the small shot, used by the Republicans in lieu of bullets, full in the face; and blood oozed from his torn and riddled countenance. The crowd feasted their eyes upon this horror, with the avidity for revolting spectacles which is so characteristic of cowards. The national guard was freely recognised; he was the pork- butcher Dubruel, the man whom Roudier had accused on the Monday morning of having fired with culpable eagerness. Of the three other corpses, two were journeymen hatters; the third was not identified. For a long while gaping groups remained shuddering in front of the red pools which stained the pavement, often looking behind them with an air of mistrust, as though that summary justice which had restored order during the night by force of arms, were, even now, watching and listening to them, ready to shoot them down in their turn, unless they kissed with enthusiasm the hand that had just rescued them from the demagogy.
The panic of the night further augmented the terrible effect produced in the morning by the sight of the four corpses. The true history of the fusillade was never known. The firing of the combatants, Granoux's hammering, the helter-skelter rush of the national guards through the streets, had filled people's ears with such terrifying sounds that most of them dreamed of a gigantic battle waged against countless enemies. When the victors, magnifying the number of their adversaries with instinctive braggardism, spoke of about five hundred men, everybody protested against such a low estimate. Some citizens asserted that they had looked out of their windows and seen an immense stream of fugitives passing by for more than an hour. Moreover everybody had heard the bandits running about. Five hundred men would never have been able to rouse a whole town. It must have been an army, and a fine big army too, which the brave militia of Plassans had "driven back into the ground." This phrase of their having been "driven back into the ground," first used by Rougon, struck people as being singularly appropriate, for the guards who were charged with the defence of the ramparts swore by all that was holy that not a single man had entered or quitted the town, a circumstance which tinged what had happened with mystery, even suggesting the idea of horned demons who had vanished amidst flames, and thus fairly upsetting the minds of the multitude. It is true the guards avoided all mention of their mad gallops; and so the more rational citizens were inclined to believe that a band of insurgents had really entered the town either by a breach in the wall or some other channel. Later on, rumours of treachery were spread abroad, and people talked of an ambush. The cruel truth could no longer be concealed by the men whom Macquart had led to slaughter, but so much terror still prevailed, and the sight of blood had thrown so many cowards into the arms of the reactionary party, that these rumours were attributed to the rage of the vanquished Republicans. It was asserted, on the other hand, that Macquart had been made prisoner by Rougon, who kept him in a damp cell, where he was letting him slowly die of starvation. This horrible tale made people bow to the very ground whenever they encountered Rougon.
Thus it was that this grotesque personage, this pale, flabby, tun- bellied citizen became, in one night, a terrible captain, whom nobody dared to ridicule any more. He had steeped his foot in blood. The inhabitants of the old quarter stood dumb with fright before the corpses. But towards ten o'clock, when the respectable people of the new town arrived, the whole square hummed with subdued chatter. People spoke of the other attack, of the seizure of the mayor's office, in which a mirror only had been wounded; but this time they no longer pooh-poohed Rougon, they spoke of him with respectful dismay; he was indeed a hero, a deliverer. The corpses, with open eyes, stared at those gentlemen, the lawyers and householders, who shuddered as they murmured that civil war had many cruel necessities. The notary, the chief of the deputation sent to the town-hall on the previous evening, went from group to group, recalling the proud words "I am prepared!" then used by the energetic man to whom the town owed its safety. There was a general feeling of humiliation. Those who had railed most cruelly against the forty-one, those, especially, who had referred to the Rougons as intriguers and cowards who merely fired shots in the air, were the first to speak of granting a crown of laurels "to the noble citizen of whom Plassans would be for ever proud." For the pools of blood were drying on the pavement, and the corpses proclaimed to what a degree of audacity the party of disorder, pillage, and murder had gone, and what an iron hand had been required to put down the insurrection.
Moreover, the whole crowd was eager to congratulate Granoux, and shake hands with him. The story of the hammer had become known. By an innocent falsehood, however, of which he himself soon became unconscious, he asserted that, having been the first to see the insurgents, he had set about striking the bell, in order to sound the alarm, so that, but for him, the national guards would have been massacred. This doubled his importance. His achievement was declared prodigious. People spoke of him now as "Monsieur Isidore, don't you know? the gentleman who sounded the tocsin with a hammer!" Although the sentence was somewhat lengthy, Granoux would willingly have accepted it as a title of nobility; and from that day forward he never heard the word "hammer" pronounced without imagining it to be some delicate flattery.
While the corpses were being removed, Aristide came to look at them. He examined them on all sides, sniffing and looking inquisitively at their faces. His eyes were bright, and he had a sharp expression of countenance. In order to see some wound the better he even lifted up the blouse of one corpse with the very hand which on the previous day had been suspended in a sling. This examination seemed to convince him and remove all doubt from his mind. He bit his lips, remained there for a moment in silence, and then went off for the purpose of hastening the issue of the "Independant," for which he had written a most important article. And as he hurried along beside the houses he recalled his mother's words: "You will see to-morrow!" Well, he had seen now; it was very clever; it even frightened him somewhat.
In the meantime, Rougon's triumph was beginning to embarrass him. Alone in Monsieur Garconnet's office, hearing the buzzing of the crowd, he became conscious of a strange feeling, which prevented him from showing himself on the balcony. That blood, in which he had stepped, seemed to have numbed his legs. He wondered what he should do until the evening. His poor empty brain, upset by the events of the night, sought desperately for some occupation, some order to give, or some measure to be taken, which might afford him some distraction. But he could think about nothing clearly. Whither was Felicite leading him? Was it really all finished now, or would he still have to kill somebody else? Then fear again assailed him, terrible doubts arose in his mind, and he already saw the ramparts broken down on all sides by an avenging army of the Republicans, when a loud shout: "The insurgents! The insurgents!" burst forth under the very windows of his room. At this he jumped up, and raising a curtain, saw the crowd rushing about the square in a state of terror. What a thunderbolt! In less than a second he pictured himself ruined, plundered, and murdered; he cursed his wife, he cursed the whole town. Then, as he
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