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Émile Zola.

The Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 online

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he could not possibly tell what it might be. It seemed to him to be
everywhere and yet very far away, to be so vague and so difficult of
accomplishment that he would certainly never be in time or have
sufficient power to do it. However, with heavy feet and tumultuous brain
he descended the steps and, yielding to some obstinate impulse, began to
walk through the flower-market, a late winter market where the first
azaleas were opening with a little shiver. Some women were purchasing
Nice roses and violets; and Pierre looked at them as if he were
interested in all that soft, delicate, perfumed luxury. But suddenly he
felt a horror of it and went off, starting along the Boulevards.

He walked straight before him without knowing why or whither. The falling
darkness surprised him as if it were an unexpected phenomenon. Raising
his eyes to the sky he felt astonished at seeing its azure gently pale
between the slender black streaks of the chimney funnels. And the huge
golden letters by which names or trades were advertised on every balcony
also seemed to him singular in the last gleams of the daylight. Never
before had he paid attention to the motley tints seen on the
house-fronts, the painted mirrors, the blinds, the coats of arms, the
posters of violent hues, the magnificent shops, like drawing-rooms and
boudoirs open to the full light. And then, both in the roadway and along
the foot-pavements, between the blue, red or yellow columns and kiosks,
what mighty traffic there was, what an extraordinary crowd! The vehicles
rolled along in a thundering stream: on all sides billows of cabs were
parted by the ponderous tacking of huge omnibuses, which suggested lofty,
bright-hued battle-ships. And on either hand, and farther and farther,
and even among the wheels, the flood of passengers rushed on incessantly,
with the conquering haste of ants in a state of revolution. Whence came
all those people, and whither were all those vehicles going? How
stupefying and torturing it all was.

Pierre was still walking straight ahead, mechanically, carried on by his
gloomy reverie. Night was coming, the first gas-burners were being
lighted; it was the dusk of Paris, the hour when real darkness has not
yet come, when the electric lights flame in the dying day. Lamps shone
forth on all sides, the shop-fronts were being illumined. Soon, moreover,
right along the Boulevards the vehicles would carry their vivid starry
lights, like a milky way on the march betwixt the foot-pavements all
glowing with lanterns and cordons and girandoles, a dazzling profusion of
radiance akin to sunlight. And the shouts of the drivers and the jostling
of the foot passengers re-echoed the parting haste of the Paris which is
all business or passion, which is absorbed in the merciless struggle for
love and for money. The hard day was over, and now the Paris of Pleasure
was lighting up for its night of _fete_. The cafes, the wine shops, the
restaurants, flared and displayed their bright metal bars, and their
little white tables behind their clear and lofty windows, whilst near
their doors, by way of temptation, were oysters and choice fruits. And
the Paris which was thus awaking with the first flashes of the gas was
already full of the gaiety of enjoyment, already yielding to an unbridled
appetite for whatsoever may be purchased.

However, Pierre had a narrow escape from being knocked down. A flock of
newspaper hawkers came out of a side street, and darted through the crowd
shouting the titles of the evening journals. A fresh edition of the "Voix
du Peuple" gave rise, in particular, to a deafening clamour, which rose
above all the rumbling of wheels. At regular intervals hoarse voices
raised and repeated the cry: "Ask for the 'Voix du Peuple' - the new
scandal of the African Railway Lines, the repulse of the ministry, the
thirty-two bribe-takers of the Chamber and the Senate!" And these
announcements, set in huge type, could be read on the copies of the
paper, which the hawkers flourished like banners. Accustomed as it was to
such filth, saturated with infamy, the crowd continued on its way without
paying much attention. Still a few men paused and bought the paper, while
painted women, who had come down to the Boulevards in search of a dinner,
trailed their skirts and waited for some chance lover, glancing
interrogatively at the outside customers of the cafes. And meantime the
dishonouring shout of the newspaper hawkers, that cry in which there was
both smirch and buffet, seemed like the last knell of the day, ringing
the nation's funeral at the outset of the night of pleasure which was
beginning.

Then Pierre once more remembered his morning and that frightful house in
the Rue des Saules, where so much want and suffering were heaped up. He
again saw the yard filthy like a quagmire, the evil-smelling staircases,
the sordid, bare, icy rooms, the families fighting for messes which even
stray dogs would not have eaten; the mothers, with exhausted breasts,
carrying screaming children to and fro; the old men who fell in corners
like brute beasts, and died of hunger amidst filth. And then came his
other hours with the magnificence or the quietude or the gaiety of the
_salons_ through which he had passed, the whole insolent display of
financial Paris, and political Paris, and society Paris. And at last he
came to the dusk, and to that Paris-Sodom and Paris-Gomorrah before him,
which was lighting itself up for the night, for the abominations of that
accomplice night which, like fine dust, was little by little submerging
the expanse of roofs. And the hateful monstrosity of it all howled aloud
under the pale sky where the first pure, twinkling stars were gleaming.

A great shudder came upon Pierre as he thought of all that mass of
iniquity and suffering, of all that went on below amid want and crime,
and all that went on above amid wealth and vice. The _bourgeoisie_,
wielding power, would relinquish naught of the sovereignty which it had
conquered, wholly stolen, while the people, the eternal dupe, silent so
long, clenched its fists and growled, claiming its legitimate share. And
it was that frightful injustice which filled the growing gloom with
anger. From what dark-breasted cloud would the thunderbolt fall? For
years he had been waiting for that thunderbolt which low rumbles
announced on all points of the horizon. And if he had written a book full
of candour and hope, if he had gone in all innocence to Rome, it was to
avert that thunderbolt and its frightful consequences. But all hope of
the kind was dead within him; he felt that the thunderbolt was
inevitable, that nothing henceforth could stay the catastrophe. And never
before had he felt it to be so near, amidst the happy impudence of some,
and the exasperated distress of others. And it was gathering, and it
would surely fall over that Paris, all lust and bravado, which, when
evening came, thus stirred up its furnace.

Tired out and distracted, Pierre raised his eyes as he reached the Place
de l'Opera. Where was he then? The heart of the great city seemed to beat
on this spot, in that vast expanse where met so many thoroughfares, as if
from every point the blood of distant districts flowed thither along
triumphal avenues. Right away to the horizon stretched the great gaps of
the Avenue de l'Opera, the Rue du Quatre-Septembre, and the Rue de la
Paix, still showing clearly in a final glimpse of daylight, but already
starred with swarming sparks. The torrent of the Boulevard traffic poured
across the Place, where clashed, too, all that from the neighbouring
streets, with a constant turning and eddying which made the spot the most
dangerous of whirlpools. In vain did the police seek to impose some
little prudence, the stream of pedestrians still overflowed, wheels
became entangled and horses reared amidst all the uproar of the human
tide, which was as loud, as incessant, as the tempest voice of an ocean.
Then there was the detached mass of the opera-house, slowly steeped in
gloom, and rising huge and mysterious like a symbol, its lyre-bearing
figure of Apollo, right aloft, showing a last reflection of daylight
amidst the livid sky. And all the windows of the house-fronts began to
shine, gaiety sprang from those thousands of lamps which coruscated one
by one, a universal longing for ease and free gratification of each
desire spread with the increasing darkness; whilst, at long intervals,
the large globes of the electric lights shone as brightly as the moons of
the city's cloudless nights.

But why was he, Pierre, there, he asked himself, irritated and wondering.
Since Laveuve was dead he had but to go home, bury himself in his nook,
and close up door and windows, like one who was henceforth useless, who
had neither belief nor hope, and awaited naught save annihilation. It was
a long journey from the Place de l'Opera to his little house at Neuilly.
Still, however great his weariness, he would not take a cab, but retraced
his steps, turning towards the Madeleine again, and plunging into the
scramble of the pavements, amidst the deafening uproar from the roadway,
with a bitter desire to aggravate his wound and saturate himself with
revolt and anger. Was it not yonder at the corner of that street, at the
end of that Boulevard, that he would find the expected abyss into which
that rotten world, whose old society he could hear rending at each step,
must soon assuredly topple?

However, when Pierre wished to cross the Rue Scribe a block in the
traffic made him halt. In front of a luxurious cafe two tall,
shabbily-clad and very dirty fellows were alternately offering the "Voix
du Peuple" with its account of the scandals and the bribe-takers of the
Chamber and the Senate, in voices so suggestive of cracked brass that
passers-by clustered around them. And here, in a hesitating, wandering
man, who after listening drew near to the large cafe and peered through
its windows, Pierre was once again amazed to recognise Salvat. This time
the meeting struck him forcibly, filled him with suspicion to such a
point that he also stopped and resolved to watch the journeyman engineer.
He did not expect that one of such wretched aspect, with what seemed to
be a hunk of bread distending his old ragged jacket, would enter and seat
himself at one of the cafe's little tables amidst the warm gaiety of the
lamps. However, he waited for a moment, and then saw him wander away with
slow and broken steps as if the cafe, which was nearly empty, did not
suit him. What could he have been seeking, whither had he been going,
since the morning, ever on a wild, solitary chase through the Paris of
wealth and enjoyment while hunger dogged his steps? It was only with
difficulty that he now dragged himself along, his will and energy seemed
to be exhausted. As if quite overcome, he drew near to a kiosk, and for a
moment leant against it. Then, however, he drew himself up again, and
walked on further, still as it were in search of something.

And now came an incident which brought Pierre's emotion to a climax. A
tall sturdy man on turning out of the Rue Caumartin caught sight of
Salvat, and approached him. And just as the new comer without false pride
was shaking the workman's hand, Pierre recognised him as his brother
Guillaume. Yes, it was indeed he, with his thick bushy hair already white
like snow, though he was but seven and forty. However, his heavy
moustaches had remained quite dark without one silver thread, thus
lending an expression of vigorous life to his full face with its lofty
towering brow. It was from his father that he had inherited that brow of
impregnable logic and reason, similar to that which Pierre himself
possessed. But the lower part of the elder brother's countenance was
fuller than that of his junior; his nose was larger, his chin was square,
and his mouth broad and firm of contour. A pale scar, the mark of an old
wound, streaked his left temple. And his physiognomy, though it might at
first seem very grave, rough, and unexpansive, beamed with masculine
kindliness whenever a smile revealed his teeth, which had remained
extremely white.

While looking at his brother, Pierre remembered what Madame Theodore had
told him that morning. Guillaume, touched by Salvat's dire want, had
arranged to give him a few days' employment. And this explained the air
of interest with which he now seemed to be questioning him, while the
engineer, whom the meeting disturbed, stamped about as if eager to resume
his mournful ramble. For a moment Guillaume appeared to notice the
other's perturbation, by the embarrassed answers which he obtained from
him. Still, they at last parted as if each were going his way. Then,
however, almost immediately, Guillaume turned round again and watched the
other, as with harassed stubborn mien he went off through the crowd. And
the thoughts which had come to Guillaume must have been very serious and
very pressing, for he all at once began to retrace his steps and follow
the workman from a distance, as if to ascertain for certain what
direction he would take.

Pierre had watched the scene with growing disquietude. His nervous
apprehension of some great unknown calamity, the suspicions born of his
frequent and inexplicable meetings with Salvat, his surprise at now
seeing his brother mingled with the affair, all helped to fill him with a
pressing desire to know, witness, and perhaps prevent. So he did not
hesitate, but began to follow the others in a prudent way.

Fresh perturbation came upon him when first Salvat and then Guillaume
suddenly turned into the Rue Godot-de-Mauroy. What destiny was thus
bringing him back to that street whither a little time previously he had
wished to return in feverish haste, and whence only the death of Laveuve
had kept him? And his consternation increased yet further when, after
losing sight of Salvat for a moment, he saw him standing in front of the
Duvillard mansion, on the same spot where he had fancied he recognised
him that morning. As it happened the carriage entrance of the mansion was
wide open. Some repairs had been made to the paving of the porch, and
although the workmen had now gone off, the doorway remained gaping, full
of the falling night. The narrow street, running from the glittering
Boulevard, was steeped in bluish gloom, starred at long intervals by a
few gas-lamps. Some women went by, compelling Salvat to step off the
foot-pavement. But he returned to it again, lighted the stump of a cigar,
some remnant which he had found under a table outside a cafe, and then
resumed his watch, patient and motionless, in front of the mansion.

Disturbed by his dim conjectures, Pierre gradually grew frightened, and
asked himself if he ought not to approach that man. The chief thing that
detained him was the presence of his brother, whom he had seen disappear
into a neighbouring doorway, whence he also was observing the engineer,
ready to intervene. And so Pierre contented himself with not losing sight
of Salvat, who was still waiting and watching, merely taking his eyes
from the mansion in order to glance towards the Boulevard as though he
expected someone or something which would come from that direction. And
at last, indeed, the Duvillards' landau appeared, with coachman and
footman in livery of green and gold - a closed landau to which a pair of
tall horses of superb build were harnessed in stylish fashion.

Contrary to custom, however, the carriage, which at that hour usually
brought the father and mother home, was only occupied that evening by the
son and daughter, Hyacinthe and Camille. Returning from the Princess de
Harn's _matinee_, they were chatting freely, with that calm immodesty by
which they sought to astonish one another. Hyacinthe, influenced by his
perverted ideas, was attacking women, whilst Camille openly counselled
him to respond to the Princess's advances. However, she was visibly
irritated and feverish that evening, and, suddenly changing the subject,
she began to speak of their mother and Gerard de Quinsac.

"But what can it matter to you?" quietly retorted Hyacinthe; and, seeing
that she almost bounded from the seat at this remark, he continued: "Are
you still in love with him, then? Do you still want to marry him?"

"Yes, I do, and I will!" she cried with all the jealous rage of an
uncomely girl, who suffered so acutely at seeing herself spurned whilst
her yet beautiful mother stole from her the man she wanted.

"You will, you will!" resumed Hyacinthe, well pleased to have an
opportunity of teasing his sister, whom he somewhat feared. "But you
won't unless _he_ is willing - And he doesn't care for you."

"He does!" retorted Camille in a fury. "He's kind and pleasant with me,
and that's enough."

Her brother felt afraid as he noticed the blackness of her glance, and
the clenching of her weak little hands, whose fingers bent like claws.
And after a pause he asked: "And papa, what does he say about it?"

"Oh, papa! All that he cares about is the other one."

Then Hyacinthe began to laugh.

But the landau, with its tall horses trotting on sonorously, had turned
into the street and was approaching the house, when a slim fair-haired
girl of sixteen or seventeen, a modiste's errand girl with a large
bandbox on her arm, hastily crossed the road in order to enter the arched
doorway before the carriage. She was bringing a bonnet for the Baroness,
and had come all along the Boulevard musing, with her soft blue eyes, her
pinky nose, and her mouth which ever laughed in the most adorable little
face that one could see. And it was at this same moment that Salvat,
after another glance at the landau, sprang forward and entered the
doorway. An instant afterwards he reappeared, flung his lighted cigar
stump into the gutter; and without undue haste went off, slinking into
the depths of the vague gloom of the street.

And then what happened? Pierre, later on, remembered that a dray of the
Western Railway Company in coming up stopped and delayed the landau for a
moment, whilst the young errand girl entered the doorway. And with a
heart-pang beyond description he saw his brother Guillaume in his turn
spring forward and rush into the mansion as though impelled to do so by
some revelation, some sudden certainty. He, Pierre, though he understood
nothing clearly, could divine the approach of some frightful horror. But
when he would have run, when he would have shouted, he found himself as
if nailed to the pavement, and felt his throat clutched as by a hand of
lead. Then suddenly came a thunderous roar, a formidable explosion, as if
the earth was opening, and the lightning-struck mansion was being
annihilated. Every window-pane of the neighbouring houses was shivered,
the glass raining down with the loud clatter of hail. For a moment a
hellish flame fired the street, and the dust and the smoke were such that
the few passers-by were blinded and howled with affright, aghast at
toppling, as they thought, into that fiery furnace.

And that dazzling flare brought Pierre enlightenment. He once more saw
the bomb distending the tool-bag, which lack of work had emptied and
rendered useless. He once more saw it under the ragged jacket, a
protuberance caused, he had fancied, by some hunk of bread, picked up in
a corner and treasured that it might be carried home to wife and child.
After wandering and threatening all happy Paris, it was there that it had
flared, there that it had burst with a thunder-clap, there on the
threshold of the sovereign _bourgeoisie_ to whom all wealth belonged. He,
however, at that moment thought only of his brother Guillaume, and flung
himself into that porch where a volcanic crater seemed to have opened.
And at first he distinguished nothing, the acrid smoke streamed over all.
Then he perceived the walls split, the upper floor rent open, the paving
broken up, strewn with fragments. Outside, the landau which had been on
the point of entering, had escaped all injury; neither of the horses had
been touched, nor was there even a scratch on any panel of the vehicle.
But the young girl, the pretty, slim, fair-haired errand girl, lay there
on her back, her stomach ripped open, whilst her delicate face remained
intact, her eyes clear, her smile full of astonishment, so swiftly and
lightning-like had come the catastrophe. And near her, from the fallen
bandbox, whose lid had merely come unfastened, had rolled the bonnet, a
very fragile pink bonnet, which still looked charming in its flowery
freshness.

By a prodigy Guillaume was alive and already on his legs again. His left
hand alone streamed with blood, a projectile seemed to have broken his
wrist. His moustaches moreover had been burnt, and the explosion by
throwing him to the ground had so shaken and bruised him that he shivered
from head to feet as with intense cold. Nevertheless, he recognised his
brother without even feeling astonished to see him there, as indeed often
happens after great disasters, when the unexplained becomes providential.
That brother, of whom he had so long lost sight, was there, naturally
enough, because it was necessary that he should be there. And Guillaume,
amidst the wild quivers by which he was shaken, at once cried to him
"Take me away! take me away! To your house at Neuilly, oh! take me away!"

Then, for sole explanation, and referring to Salvat, he stammered: "I
suspected that he had stolen a cartridge from me; only one, most
fortunately, for otherwise the whole district would have been blown to
pieces. Ah! the wretched fellow! I wasn't in time to set my foot upon the
match."

With perfect lucidity of mind, such as danger sometimes imparts, Pierre,
neither speaking nor losing a moment, remembered that the mansion had a
back entrance fronting the Rue Vignon. He had just realised in what
serious peril his brother would be if he were found mixed up in that
affair. And with all speed, when he had led him into the gloom of the Rue
Vignon, he tied his handkerchief round his wrist, which he bade him press
to his chest, under his coat, as that would conceal it.

But Guillaume, still shivering and haunted by the horror he had
witnessed, repeated: "Take me away - to your place at Neuilly - not to my
home."

"Of course, of course, be easy. Come, wait here a second, I will stop a
cab."

In his eagerness to procure a conveyance, Pierre had brought his brother
down to the Boulevard again. But the terrible thunderclap of the
explosion had upset the whole neighbourhood, horses were still rearing,
and people were running demented, hither and thither. And numerous
policemen had hastened up, and a rushing crowd was already blocking the
lower part of the Rue Godot-de-Mauroy, which was now as black as a pit,
every light in it having been extinguished; whilst on the Boulevard a
hawker of the "Voix du Peuple" still stubbornly vociferated: "The new
scandal of the African Railway Lines! The thirty-two bribe-takers of the
Chamber and the Senate! The approaching fall of the ministry!"

Pierre was at last managing to stop a cab when he heard a person who ran
by say to another, "The ministry? Ah, well! that bomb will mend it right
enough!"

Then the brothers seated themselves in the cab, which carried them away.
And now, over the whole of rumbling Paris black night had gathered, an
unforgiving night, in which the stars foundered amidst the mist of crime
and anger that had risen from the house-roofs. The great cry of justice
swept by amidst the same terrifying flapping of wings which Sodom and
Gomorrah once heard bearing down upon them from all the black clouds of
the horizon.












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Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 10 of 10)