At this moment Aristide was observed walking about among the groups. In presence of this formidable rising, the dear fellow had thought it imprudent not to remain on friendly terms with the Republicans; but as, on the other hand, he did not desire to compromise himself too much, he had come to bid them farewell with his arm in a sling, complaining bitterly of the accursed injury which prevented him from carrying a weapon. As he walked through the crowd he came across his brother Pascal, provided with a case of surgical instruments and a little portable medicine chest. The doctor informed him, in his quiet, way, that he intended to follow the insurgents. At this Aristide inwardly pronounced him a great fool. At last he himself slunk away, fearing lest the others should entrust the care of the town to him, a post which he deemed exceptionally perilous.
The insurgents could not think of keeping Plassans in their power. The town was animated by so reactionary a spirit that it seemed impossible even to establish a democratic municipal commission there, as had already been done in other places. So they would simply have gone off without taking any further steps if Macquart, prompted and emboldened by his own private animosities, had not offered to hold Plassans in awe, on condition that they left him twenty determined men. These men were given him, and at their head he marched off triumphantly to take possession of the town-hall. Meantime the column of insurgents was wending its way along the Cours Sauvaire, and making its exit by the Grand’-Porte, leaving the streets, which it had traversed like a tempest, silent and deserted in its rear. The high road, whitened by the moonshine, stretched far into the distance. Miette had refused the support of Silvere’s arm; she marched on bravely, steady and upright, holding the red flag aloft with both hands, without complaining of the cold which was turning her fingers blue.
The high roads stretched far way, white with moonlight.
The insurrectionary army was continuing its heroic march through the cold, clear country. It was like a mighty wave of enthusiasm. The thrill of patriotism, which transported Miette and Silvere, big children that they were, eager for love and liberty, sped, with generous fervour, athwart the sordid intrigues of the Macquarts and the Rougons. At intervals the trumpet-voice of the people rose and drowned the prattle of the yellow drawing-room and the hateful discourses of uncle Antoine. And vulgar, ignoble farce was turned into a great historical drama.