“Now that we are alone, among peaceable men, I propose that we should conceal ourselves so as to avoid certain arrest, and be at liberty as soon as ours again becomes the stronger party.”
Granoux was ready to embrace him. Roudier and Vuillet breathed more easily.
“I shall want you shortly, gentlemen,” the oil-dealer continued, with an important air. “It is to us that the honour of restoring order in Plassans is reserved.”
“You may rely upon us!” cried Vuillet, with an enthusiasm which disturbed Felicite.
Time was pressing. These singular defenders of Plassans, who hid themselves the better to protect the town, hastened away, to bury themselves in some hole or other. Pierre, on being left alone with his wife, advised her not to make the mistake of barricading herself indoors, but to reply, if anybody came to question her, that he, Pierre, had simply gone on a short journey. And as she acted the simpleton, feigning terror and asking what all this was coming to, he replied abruptly: “It’s nothing to do with you. Let me manage our affairs alone. They’ll get on all the better.”
A few minutes later he was rapidly threading his way along the Rue de la Banne. On reaching the Cours Sauvaire, he saw a band of armed workmen coming out of the old quarter and singing the “Marseillaise.”
“The devil!” he thought. “It was quite time, indeed; here’s the town itself in revolt now!”
He quickened his steps in the direction of the Porte de Rome. Cold perspiration came over him while he waited there for the dilatory keeper to open the gate. Almost as soon as he set foot on the high road, he perceived in the moonlight at the other end of the Faubourg the column of insurgents, whose gun barrels gleamed like white flames. So it was at a run that he dived into the Impasse Saint-Mittre, and reached his mother’s house, which he had not visited for many a long year.
Antoine Macquart had returned to Plassans after the fall of the first Napoleon. He had had the incredible good fortune to escape all the final murderous campaigns of the Empire. He had moved from barracks to barracks, dragging on his brutifying military life. This mode of existence brought his natural vices to full development. His idleness became deliberate; his intemperance, which brought him countless punishments, became, to his mind, a veritable religious duty. But that which above all made him the worst of scapegraces was the supercilious disdain which he entertained for the poor devils who had to earn their bread.
“I’ve got money waiting for me at home,” he often said to his comrades; “when I’ve served my time, I shall be able to live like a gentleman.”
This belief, together with his stupid ignorance, prevented him from rising even to the grade of corporal.