The Revolution of 1848 found all the Rougons on the lookout, exasperated by their bad luck, and disposed to lay violent hands on fortune if ever they should meet her in a byway. They were a family of bandits lying in wait, ready to rifle and plunder. Eugene kept an eye on Paris; Aristide dreamed of strangling Plassans; the mother and father, perhaps the most eager of the lot, intended to work on their own account, and reap some additional advantage from their sons’ doings. Pascal alone, that discreet wooer of science, led the happy, indifferent life of a lover in his bright little house in the new town.
In that closed, sequestered town of Plassans, where class distinction was so clearly marked in 1848, the commotion caused by political events was very slight. Even at the present day the popular voice sounds very faintly there; the middle classes bring their prudence to bear in the matter, the nobility their mute despair, and the clergy their shrewd cunning. Kings may usurp thrones, or republics may be established, without scarcely any stir in the town. Plassans sleeps while Paris fights. But though on the surface the town may appear calm and indifferent, in the depths hidden work goes on which it is curious to study. If shots are rare in the streets, intrigues consume the drawing-rooms of both the new town and the Saint-Marc quarter. Until the year 1830 the masses were reckoned of no account. Even at the present time they are similarly ignored. Everything is settled between the clergy, the nobility, and the bourgeoisie. The priests, who are very numerous, give the cue to the local politics; they lay subterranean mines, as it were, and deal blows in the dark, following a prudent tactical system, which hardly allows of a step in advance or retreat even in the course of ten years. The secret intrigues of men who desire above all things to avoid noise requires special shrewdness, a special aptitude for dealing with small matters, and a patient endurance such as one only finds in persons callous to all passions. It is thus that provincial dilatoriness, which is so freely ridiculed in Paris, is full of treachery, secret stabs, hidden victories and defeats. These worthy men, particularly when their interests are at stake, kill at home with a snap of the fingers, as we, the Parisians, kill with cannon in the public thoroughfares.
The political history of Plassans, like that of all little towns in Provence, is singularly characteristic. Until 1830, the inhabitants remained observant Catholics and fervent royalists; even the lower classes only swore by God and their legitimate sovereigns. Then there came a sudden change; faith departed, the working and middle classes deserted the cause of legitimacy, and gradually espoused the great democratic movement of our time. When the Revolution of 1848 broke out, the nobility and the clergy were left alone to