The July afternoon is extremely hot, but the room is well protected from the heat by heavy wooden shutters. In front of a huge carved oak armoire, Dr. Pascal patiently looks for a particular sheet of paper. The search is not easy. For about thirty years, the doctor was amassing manuscripts for his work on heredity. A smile comes over his face when he finds the paper, and he hands it to his niece and asks her to copy it for their friend, Dr. Ramond. Clotilde takes it without interrupting her work on a pastel drawing of flowers that is intended for an illustration plate in the doctor’s book.
Martine, the housekeeper, comes in to repair the tapestry on an armchair. She has been with the doctor for thirty years, ever since he came to Plassans as a young doctor. Thirteen years later, following the death of his wife, Dr. Pascal’s brother sent Clotilde, then seven years old, to live with him. Martine cared for the child according to her own zealous religious convictions.
Dr. Pascal completes Clotilde’s instruction by trying to give her clear and healthy ideas on everything. The three live in peaceful happiness, although a certain uneasiness is now beginning to grow out of their religious conflicts. Martine considers it a pity that such a kind man as her master refuses to go to church; the two women agree that they will force him to attend services.
Later that afternoon, old Madame Rougon comes by, ostensibly for a visit but actually to inspect everything. Hearing her son in the next room, she expresses displeasure that he is again doing what she calls his “devilish cooking.” She tells Clotilde of the unpleasant rumors about the doctor’s new drug. If only he could try spectacular cures on the famous people of the town, she declares, instead of always treating the poor. She wants him to be a success, like his two brothers, but Dr. Pascal is most unlike the rest of his family. He practiced medicine for only twelve years; after that, he invested his money with a private broker and now lives on its returns. Martine receives the money every three months and uses it to the best advantage. When his patients pay him, Dr. Pascal throws the money in a drawer. When he visits a poor patient, he often leaves money there instead of receiving payment. He is completely absorbed in his research and his fight against suffering.
Madame Rougon is upset most by the fact that the big oak armoire contains detailed information on each member of the family. Afraid that the doctor’s papers might fall into the hands of a stranger, she asks Clotilde to give her the key. She opens the cupboard, but as she reaches for the files, Dr. Pascal enters; she leaves demurely as if nothing happened. It is Clotilde who receives the brunt of the doctor’s anger. From that time on, Dr. Pascal feels that he is being betrayed by the two human beings who are dearest to him, and to whom he is dearest. He keeps all the drawers of his desk tightly locked.
One day, Maxime comes for a visit. Still young, he is already worn out by his dissolute way of life. Having ascertained that his sister is not planning to get married, he asks her to come to Paris with him. Clotilde is frightened at the idea of leaving Dr. Pascal’s home, but she promises to go to her brother if someday he really...
(The entire section is 1349 words.)