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Title: L'Assommoir
Author: Zola, Émile, 1840-1902
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "L'Assommoir" ***

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By Emile Zola


Gervaise had waited up for Lantier until two in the morning. Then,
shivering from having remained in a thin loose jacket, exposed to the
fresh air at the window, she had thrown herself across the bed, drowsy,
feverish, and her cheeks bathed in tears.

For a week past, on leaving the "Two-Headed Calf," where they took
their meals, he had sent her home with the children and never reappeared
himself till late at night, alleging that he had been in search of work.
That evening, while watching for his return, she thought she had seen
him enter the dancing-hall of the "Grand-Balcony," the ten blazing
windows of which lighted up with the glare of a conflagration the dark
expanse of the exterior Boulevards; and five or six paces behind him,
she had caught sight of little Adele, a burnisher, who dined at the same
restaurant, swinging her hands, as if she had just quitted his arm so as
not to pass together under the dazzling light of the globes at the door.

When, towards five o'clock, Gervaise awoke, stiff and sore, she broke
forth into sobs. Lantier had not returned. For the first time he had
slept away from home. She remained seated on the edge of the bed, under
the strip of faded chintz, which hung from the rod fastened to the
ceiling by a piece of string. And slowly, with her eyes veiled by tears,
she glanced round the wretched lodging, furnished with a walnut chest
of drawers, minus one drawer, three rush-bottomed chairs, and a little
greasy table, on which stood a broken water-jug. There had been added,
for the children, an iron bedstead, which prevented any one getting to
the chest of drawers, and filled two-thirds of the room. Gervaise's and
Lantier's trunk, wide open, in one corner, displayed its emptiness, and
a man's old hat right at the bottom almost buried beneath some dirty
shirts and socks; whilst, against the walls, above the articles of
furniture, hung a shawl full of holes, and a pair of trousers begrimed
with mud, the last rags which the dealers in second-hand clothes
declined to buy. In the centre of the mantel-piece, lying between two
odd zinc candle-sticks, was a bundle of pink pawn-tickets. It was
the best room of the hotel, the first floor room, looking on to the

The two children were sleeping side by side, with their heads on the
same pillow. Claude, aged eight years, was breathing quietly, with his
little hands thrown outside the coverlet; while Etienne, only four
years old, was smiling, with one arm round his brother's neck! And
bare-footed, without thinking to again put on the old shoes that had
fallen on the floor, she resumed her position at the window, her eyes
searching the pavements in the distance.

The hotel was situated on the Boulevard de la Chapelle, to the left
of the Barriere Poissonniere. It was a building of two stories high,
painted a red, of the color of wine dregs, up to the second floor, and
with shutters all rotted by the rain. Over a lamp with starred panes
of glass, one could manage to read, between the two windows, the words,
"Hotel Boncoeur, kept by Marsoullier," painted in big yellow letters,
several pieces of which the moldering of the plaster had carried away.
The lamp preventing her seeing, Gervaise raised herself on tiptoe, still
holding the handkerchief to her lips. She looked to the right, towards
the Boulevard Rochechouart, where groups of butchers, in aprons smeared
with blood, were hanging about in front of the slaughter-houses; and the
fresh breeze wafted occasionally a stench of slaughtered beasts. Looking
to the left, she scanned a long avenue that ended nearly in front of
her, where the white mass of the Lariboisiere Hospital was then in
course of construction. Slowly, from one end of the horizon to the
other, she followed the octroi wall, behind which she sometimes heard,
during night time, the shrieks of persons being murdered; and she
searchingly looked into the remote angles, the dark corners, black with
humidity and filth, fearing to discern there Lantier's body, stabbed to

She looked at the endless gray wall that surrounded the city with its
belt of desolation. When she raised her eyes higher, she became aware of
a bright burst of sunlight. The dull hum of the city's awakening already
filled the air. Craning her neck to look at the Poissonniere gate, she
remained for a time watching the constant stream of men, horses, and
carts which flooded down from the heights of Montmartre and La Chapelle,
pouring between the two squat octroi lodges. It was like a herd of
plodding cattle, an endless throng widened by sudden stoppages into
eddies that spilled off the sidewalks into the street, a steady
procession of laborers on their way back to work with tools slung over
their back and a loaf of bread under their arm. This human inundation
kept pouring down into Paris to be constantly swallowed up. Gervaise
leaned further out at the risk of falling when she thought she
recognized Lantier among the throng. She pressed the handkerchief
tighter against her mouth, as though to push back the pain within her.

The sound of a young and cheerful voice caused her to leave the window.

"So the old man isn't here, Madame Lantier?"

"Why, no, Monsieur Coupeau," she replied, trying to smile.

Coupeau, a zinc-worker who occupied a ten franc room on the top floor,
having seen the door unlocked, had walked in as friends will do.

"You know," he continued, "I'm now working over there in the hospital.
What beautiful May weather, isn't it? The air is rather sharp this

And he looked at Gervaise's face, red with weeping. When he saw that the
bed had not been slept in, he shook his head gently; then he went to the
children's couch where they were sleeping, looking as rosy as cherubs,
and, lowering his voice, he said,

"Come, the old man's not been home, has he? Don't worry yourself, Madame
Lantier. He's very much occupied with politics. When they were voting
for Eugene Sue the other day, he was acting almost crazy. He has
very likely spent the night with some friends blackguarding crapulous

"No, no," she murmured with an effort. "You don't think that. I know
where Lantier is. You see, we have our little troubles like the rest of
the world!"

Coupeau winked his eye, to indicate he was not a dupe of this falsehood;
and he went off, after offering to fetch her milk, if she did not care
to go out: she was a good and courageous woman, and might count upon him
on any day of trouble.

As soon as he was gone, Gervaise again returned to the window. At the
Barriere, the tramp of the drove still continued in the morning air:
locksmiths in short blue blouses, masons in white jackets, house
painters in overcoats over long smocks. From a distance the crowd looked
like a chalky smear of neutral hue composed chiefly of faded blue and
dingy gray. When one of the workers occasionally stopped to light his
pipe the others kept plodding past him, without sparing a laugh or a
word to a comrade. With cheeks gray as clay, their eyes were continually
drawn toward Paris which was swallowing them one by one.

At both corners of the Rue des Poissonniers however, some of the men
slackened their pace as they neared the doors of the two wine-dealers
who were taking down their shutters; and, before entering, they stood on
the edge of the pavement, looking sideways over Paris, with no strength
in their arms and already inclined for a day of idleness. Inside various
groups were already buying rounds of drinks, or just standing around,
forgetting their troubles, crowding up the place, coughing, spitting,
clearing their throats with sip after sip.

Gervaise was watching Pere Colombe's wineshop to the left of the street,
where she thought she had seen Lantier, when a stout woman, bareheaded
and wearing an apron called to her from the middle of the roadway:

"Hey, Madame Lantier, you're up very early!"

Gervaise leaned out. "Why! It's you, Madame Boche! Oh! I've got a lot of
work to-day!"

"Yes, things don't do themselves, do they?"

The conversation continued between roadway and window. Madame Boche was
concierge of the building where the "Two-Headed Calf" was on the ground
floor. Gervaise had waited for Lantier more than once in the concierge's
lodge, so as not to be alone at table with all the men who ate at the
restaurant. Madame Boche was going to a tailor who was late in mending
an overcoat for her husband. She mentioned one of her tenants who had
come in with a woman the night before and kept everybody awake past
three in the morning. She looked at Gervaise with intense curiosity.

"Is Monsieur Lantier, then, still in bed?" she asked abruptly.

"Yes, he's asleep," replied Gervaise, who could not avoid blushing.

Madame Boche saw the tears come into her eyes; and, satisfied no doubt,
she turned to go, declaring men to be a cursed, lazy set. As she went
off, she called back:

"It's this morning you go to the wash-house, isn't it? I've something to
wash, too. I'll keep you a place next to me, and we can chat together."
Then, as if moved with sudden pity, she added:

"My poor little thing, you had far better not remain there; you'll take
harm. You look quite blue with cold."

Gervaise still obstinately remained at the window during two mortal
hours, till eight o'clock. Now all the shops had opened. Only a few work
men were still hurrying along.

The working girls now filled the boulevard: metal polishers, milliners,
flower sellers, shivering in their thin clothing. In small groups they
chattered gaily, laughing and glancing here and there. Occasionally
there would be one girl by herself, thin, pale, serious-faced, picking
her way along the city wall among the puddles and the filth.

After the working girls, the office clerks came past, breathing upon
their chilled fingers and munching penny rolls. Some of them are gaunt
young fellows in ill-fitting suits, their tired eyes still fogged from
sleep. Others are older men, stooped and tottering, with faces pale and
drawn from long hours of office work and glancing nervously at their
watches for fear of arriving late.

In time the Boulevards settle into their usual morning quiet. Old folks
come out to stroll in the sun. Tired young mothers in bedraggled
skirts cuddle babies in their arms or sit on a bench to change diapers.
Children run, squealing and laughing, pushing and shoving.

Then Gervaise felt herself choking, dizzy with anguish, all hopes gone;
it seemed to her that everything was ended, even time itself, and that
Lantier would return no more. Her eyes vacantly wandered from the old
slaughter-house, foul with butchery and with stench, to the new white
hospital which, through the yawning openings of its ranges of windows,
disclosed the naked wards, where death was preparing to mow. In front of
her on the other side of the octroi wall the bright heavens dazzled her,
with the rising sun which rose higher and higher over the vast awaking

The young woman was seated on a chair, no longer crying, and with her
hands abandoned on her lap, when Lantier quietly entered the room.

"It's you! It's you!" she cried, rising to throw herself upon his neck.

"Yes, it's me. What of it?" he replied. "You are not going to begin any
of your nonsense, I hope!"

He had pushed her aside. Then, with a gesture of ill-humor he threw
his black felt hat to the chest of drawers. He was a young fellow of
twenty-six years of age, short and very dark, with a handsome figure,
and slight moustaches which his hand was always mechanically twirling.
He wore a workman's overalls and an old soiled overcoat, which he
had belted tightly at the waist, and he spoke with a strong Provencal

Gervaise, who had fallen back on her chair, gently complained, in
short sentences: "I've not had a wink of sleep. I feared some harm had
happened to you. Where have you been? Where did you spend the night? For
heaven's sake! Don't do it again, or I shall go crazy. Tell me Auguste,
where have you been?"

"Where I had business, of course," he returned shrugging his shoulders.
"At eight o'clock, I was at La Glaciere, with my friend who is to start
a hat factory. We sat talking late, so I preferred to sleep there. Now,
you know, I don't like being spied upon, so just shut up!"

The young woman recommenced sobbing. The loud voices and the rough
movements of Lantier, who upset the chairs, had awakened the children.
They sat up in bed, half naked, disentangling their hair with their tiny
hands, and, hearing their mother weep, they uttered terrible screams,
crying also with their scarcely open eyes.

"Ah! there's the music!" shouted Lantier furiously. "I warn you, I'll
take my hook! And it will be for good, this time. You won't shut up?
Then, good morning! I'll return to the place I've just come from."

He had already taken his hat from off the chest of drawers. But Gervaise
threw herself before him, stammering: "No, no!"

And she hushed the little ones' tears with her caresses, smoothed their
hair, and soothed them with soft words. The children, suddenly quieted,
laughing on their pillow, amused themselves by punching each other. The
father however, without even taking off his boots, had thrown himself on
the bed looking worn out, his face bearing signs of having been up all
night. He did not go to sleep, he lay with his eyes wide open, looking
round the room.

"It's a mess here!" he muttered. And after observing Gervaise a moment,
he malignantly added: "Don't you even wash yourself now?"

Gervaise was twenty-two, tall and slim with fine features, but she was
already beginning to show the strain of her hard life. She seemed to
have aged ten years from the hours of agonized weeping. Lantier's mean
remark made her mad.

"You're not fair," she said spiritedly. "You well know I do all I can.
It's not my fault we find ourselves here. I would like to see you, with
two children, in a room where there's not even a stove to heat some
water. When we arrived in Paris, instead of squandering your money, you
should have made a home for us at once, as you promised."

"Listen!" Lantier exploded. "You cracked the nut with me; it doesn't
become you to sneer at it now!"

Apparently not listening, Gervaise went on with her own thought. "If we
work hard we can get out of the hole we're in. Madame Fauconnier, the
laundress on Rue Neuve, will start me on Monday. If you work with your
friend from La Glaciere, in six months we will be doing well. We'll have
enough for decent clothes and a place we can call our own. But we'll
have to stick with it and work hard."

Lantier turned over towards the wall, looking greatly bored. Then
Gervaise lost her temper.

"Yes, that's it, I know the love of work doesn't trouble you much.
You're bursting with ambition, you want to be dressed like a gentleman.
You don't think me nice enough, do you, now that you've made me pawn
all my dresses? Listen, Auguste, I didn't intend to speak of it, I would
have waited a bit longer, but I know where you spent the night; I saw
you enter the 'Grand-Balcony' with that trollop Adele. Ah! you choose
them well! She's a nice one, she is! She does well to put on the airs
of a princess! She's been the ridicule of every man who frequents the

At a bound Lantier sprang from the bed. His eyes had become as black as
ink in his pale face. With this little man, rage blew like a tempest.

"Yes, yes, of every man who frequents the restaurant!" repeated the
young woman. "Madame Boche intends to give them notice, she and her long
stick of a sister, because they've always a string of men after them on
the staircase."

Lantier raised his fists; then, resisting the desire of striking her,
he seized hold of her by the arms, shook her violently and sent her
sprawling upon the bed of the children, who recommenced crying. And
he lay down again, mumbling, like a man resolving on something that he
previously hesitated to do:

"You don't know what you've done, Gervaise. You've made a big mistake;
you'll see."

For an instant the children continued sobbing. Their mother, who
remained bending over the bed, held them both in her embrace, and kept
repeating the same words in a monotonous tone of voice.

"Ah! if it weren't for you! My poor little ones! If it weren't for you!
If it weren't for you!"

Stretched out quietly, his eyes raised to the faded strip of chintz,
Lantier no longer listened, but seemed to be buried in a fixed idea. He
remained thus for nearly an hour, without giving way to sleep, in spite
of the fatigue which weighed his eyelids down.

He finally turned toward Gervaise, his face set hard in determination.
She had gotten the children up and dressed and had almost finished
cleaning the room. The room looked, as always, dark and depressing
with its sooty black ceiling and paper peeling from the damp walls. The
dilapidated furniture was always streaked and dirty despite frequent
dustings. Gervaise, devouring her grief, trying to assume a look of
indifference, hurried over her work.

Lantier watched as she tidied her hair in front of the small mirror
hanging near the window. While she washed herself he looked at her bare
arms and shoulders. He seemed to be making comparisons in his mind as
his lips formed a grimace. Gervaise limped with her right leg, though
it was scarcely noticeable except when she was tired. To-day, exhausted
from remaining awake all night, she was supporting herself against the
wall and dragging her leg.

Neither one spoke, they had nothing more to say. Lantier seemed to be
waiting, while Gervaise kept busy and tried to keep her countenance
expressionless. Finally, while she was making a bundle of the dirty
clothes thrown in a corner, behind the trunk, he at length opened his
lips and asked:

"What are you doing there? Where are you going?"

She did not answer at first. Then, when he furiously repeated his
question, she made up her mind, and said:

"I suppose you can see for yourself. I'm going to wash all this. The
children can't live in filth."

He let her pick up two or three handkerchiefs. And, after a fresh pause,
he resumed: "Have you got any money?"

At these words she stood up and looked him full in the face, without
leaving go of the children's dirty clothes, which she held in her hand.

"Money! And where do you think I can have stolen any? You know well
enough that I got three francs the day before yesterday on my black
skirt. We've lunched twice off it, and money goes quick at the
pork-butcher's. No, you may be quite sure I've no money. I've four sous
for the wash-house. I don't have an extra income like some women."

He let this allusion pass. He had moved off the bed, and was passing in
review the few rags hanging about the room. He ended by taking up the
pair of trousers and the shawl, and searching the drawers, he added two
chemises and a woman's loose jacket to the parcel; then, he threw the
whole bundle into Gervaise's arms, saying:

"Here, go and pop this."

"Don't you want me to pop the children as well?" asked she. "Eh! If they
lent on children, it would be a fine riddance!"

She went to the pawn-place, however. When she returned at the end of
half an hour, she laid a hundred sou piece on the mantel-shelf, and
added the ticket to the others, between the two candlesticks.

"That's what they gave me," said she. "I wanted six francs, but I
couldn't manage it. Oh! they'll never ruin themselves. And there's
always such a crowd there!"

Lantier did not pick up the five franc piece directly. He would rather
that she got change, so as to leave her some of it. But he decided to
slip it into his waistcoat pocket, when he noticed a small piece of ham
wrapped up in paper, and the remains of a loaf on the chest of drawers.

"I didn't dare go to the milkwoman's, because we owe her a week,"
explained Gervaise. "But I shall be back early; you can get some bread
and some chops whilst I'm away, and then we'll have lunch. Bring also a
bottle of wine."

He did not say no. Their quarrel seemed to be forgotten. The young woman
was completing her bundle of dirty clothes. But when she went to take
Lantier's shirts and socks from the bottom of the trunk, he called to
her to leave them alone.

"Leave my things, d'ye hear? I don't want 'em touched!"

"What's it you don't want touched?" she asked, rising up. "I suppose
you don't mean to put these filthy things on again, do you? They must be

She studied his boyishly handsome face, now so rigid that it seemed
nothing could ever soften it. He angrily grabbed his things from her and
threw them back into the trunk, saying:

"Just obey me, for once! I tell you I won't have 'em touched!"

"But why?" she asked, turning pale, a terrible suspicion crossing her
mind. "You don't need your shirts now, you're not going away. What can
it matter to you if I take them?"

He hesitated for an instant, embarrassed by the piercing glance she
fixed upon him. "Why--why--" stammered he, "because you go and tell
everyone that you keep me, that you wash and mend. Well! It worries me,
there! Attend to your own business and I'll attend to mine, washerwomen
don't work for dogs."

She supplicated, she protested she had never complained; but he roughly
closed the trunk and sat down upon it, saying, "No!" to her face. He
could surely do as he liked with what belonged to him! Then, to escape
from the inquiring looks she leveled at him, he went and laid down on
the bed again, saying that he was sleepy, and requesting her not to make
his head ache with any more of her row. This time indeed, he seemed to
fall asleep. Gervaise, for a while, remained undecided. She was tempted
to kick the bundle of dirty clothes on one side, and to sit down and
sew. But Lantier's regular breathing ended by reassuring her. She took
the ball of blue and the piece of soap remaining from her last washing,
and going up to the little ones who were quietly playing with some old
corks in front of the window, she kissed them, and said in a low voice:

"Be very good, don't make any noise; papa's asleep."

When she left the room, Claude's and Etienne's gentle laughter alone
disturbed the great silence beneath the blackened ceiling. It was ten
o'clock. A ray of sunshine entered by the half open window.

On the Boulevard, Gervaise turned to the left, and followed the Rue
Neuve de la Goutte-d'Or. As she passed Madame Fauconnier's shop, she
slightly bowed her head. The wash-house she was bound for was situated
towards the middle of the street, at the part where the roadway
commenced to ascend.

The rounded, gray contours of the three large zinc wash tanks, studded
with rivets, rose above the flat-roofed building. Behind them was
the drying room, a high second story, closed in on all sides by
narrow-slatted lattices so that the air could circulate freely, and
through which laundry could be seen hanging on brass wires. The steam
engine's smokestack exhaled puffs of white smoke to the right of the
water tanks.

Gervaise was used to puddles and did not bother to tuck her skirts up
before making her way through the doorway, which was cluttered with jars
of bleaching water. She was already acquainted with the mistress of the
wash-house, a delicate little woman with red, inflamed eyes, who sat in
a small glazed closet with account books in front of her, bars of soap
on shelves, balls of blue in glass bowls, and pounds of soda done up
in packets; and, as she passed, she asked for her beetle and her
scouring-brush, which she had left to be taken care of the last time
she had done her washing there. Then, after obtaining her number, she
entered the wash-house.

It was an immense shed, with large clear windows, and a flat ceiling,
showing the beams supported on cast-iron pillars. Pale rays of light
passed through the hot steam, which remained suspended like a milky
fog. Smoke arose from certain corners, spreading about and covering the
recesses with a bluish veil. A heavy moisture hung around, impregnated
with a soapy odor, a damp insipid smell, continuous though at moments
overpowered by the more potent fumes of the chemicals. Along the
washing-places, on either side of the central alley, were rows of
women, with bare arms and necks, and skirts tucked up, showing colored
stockings and heavy lace-up shoes. They were beating furiously,
laughing, leaning back to call out a word in the midst of the din, or
stooping over their tubs, all of them brutal, ungainly, foul of speech,
and soaked as though by a shower, with their flesh red and reeking.

All around the women continuously flowed a river from hot-water buckets
emptied with a sudden splash, cold-water faucets left dripping, soap
suds spattering, and the dripping from rinsed laundry which was hung up.
It splashed their feet and drained away across the sloping flagstones.
The din of the shouting and the rhythmic beating was joined by
the patter of steady dripping. It was slightly muffled by the
moisture-soaked ceiling. Meanwhile, the steam engine could be heard as
it puffed and snorted ceaselessly while cloaked in its white mist. The
dancing vibration of its flywheel seemed to regulate the volume of the
noisy turbulence.

Gervaise passed slowly along the alley, looking to the right and left,
carrying her laundry bundle under one arm, with one hip thrust high and
limping more than usual. She was jostled by several women in the hubbub.

"This way, my dear!" cried Madame Boche, in her loud voice. Then,
when the young woman had joined her at the very end on the left,
the concierge, who was furiously rubbing a dirty sock, began to talk
incessantly, without leaving off her work. "Put your things there,
I've kept your place. Oh, I sha'n't be long over what I've got. Boche
scarcely dirties his things at all. And you, you won't be long either,
will you? Your bundle's quite a little one. Before twelve o'clock we
shall have finished, and we can go off to lunch. I used to send my
things to a laundress in the Rue Poulet, but she destroyed everything
with her chlorine and her brushes; so now I do the washing myself. It's
so much saved; it only costs the soap. I say, you should have put those
shirts to soak. Those little rascals of children, on my word! One would
think their bodies were covered with soot."

Gervaise, having undone her bundle, was spreading out the little ones'
shirts, and as Madame Boche advised her to take a pailful of lye, she
answered, "Oh, no! warm water will do. I'm used to it." She had sorted
her laundry with several colored pieces to one side. Then, after filling
her tub with four pails of cold water from the tap behind her, she
plunged her pile of whites into it.

"You're used to it?" repeated Madame Boche. "You were a washerwoman in
your native place, weren't you, my dear?"

Gervaise, with her sleeves pushed back, displayed the graceful arms of
a young blonde, as yet scarcely reddened at the elbows, and started
scrubbing her laundry. She spread a shirt out on the narrow rubbing
board which was water-bleached and eroded by years of use. She rubbed
soap into the shirt, turned it over, and soaped the other side. Before
replying to Madame Boche she grasped her beetle and began to pound
away so that her shouted phrases were punctuated with loud and rhythmic

"Yes, yes, a washerwoman--When I was ten--That's twelve years ago--We
used to go to the river--It smelt nicer there than it does here--You
should have seen, there was a nook under the trees, with clear running
water--You know, at Plassans--Don't you know Plassans?--It's near

"How you go at it!" exclaimed Madame Boche, amazed at the strength
of her blows. "You could flatten out a piece of iron with your little
lady-like arms."

The conversation continued in a very high volume. At times, the
concierge, not catching what was said, was obliged to lean forward. All
the linen was beaten, and with a will! Gervaise plunged it into the tub
again, and then took it out once more, each article separately, to rub
it over with soap a second time and brush it. With one hand she held
the article firmly on the plank; with the other, which grasped the short
couch-grass brush, she extracted from the linen a dirty lather, which
fell in long drips. Then, in the slight noise caused by the brush, the
two women drew together, and conversed in a more intimate way.

"No, we're not married," resumed Gervaise. "I don't hide it. Lantier
isn't so nice for any one to care to be his wife. If it weren't for the
children! I was fourteen and he was eighteen when we had our first one.
It happened in the usual way, you know how it is. I wasn't happy at
home. Old man Macquart would kick me in the tail whenever he felt like
it, for no reason at all. I had to have some fun outside. We might have
been married, but--I forget why--our parents wouldn't consent."

She shook her hands, which were growing red in the white suds. "The
water's awfully hard in Paris."

Madame Boche was now washing only very slowly. She kept leaving off,
making her work last as long as she could, so as to remain there, to
listen to that story, which her curiosity had been hankering to know for
a fortnight past. Her mouth was half open in the midst of her big, fat
face; her eyes, which were almost at the top of her head, were gleaming.
She was thinking, with the satisfaction of having guessed right.

"That's it, the little one gossips too much. There's been a row."

Then, she observed out loud, "He isn't nice, then?"

"Don't mention it!" replied Gervaise. "He used to behave very well in
the country; but, since we've been in Paris, he's been unbearable.
I must tell you that his mother died last year and left him some
money--about seventeen hundred francs. He would come to Paris, so, as
old Macquart was forever knocking me about without warning, I consented
to come away with him. We made the journey with two children. He was to
set me up as a laundress, and work himself at his trade of a hatter.
We should have been very happy; but, you see, Lantier's ambitious and a
spendthrift, a fellow who only thinks of amusing himself. In short, he's
not worth much. On arriving, we went to the Hotel Montmartre, in the Rue
Montmartre. And then there were dinners, and cabs, and the theatre; a
watch for himself and a silk dress for me, for he's not unkind when he's
got the money. You understand, he went in for everything, and so well
that at the end of two months we were cleaned out. It was then that we
came to live at the Hotel Boncoeur, and that this horrible life began."

She interrupted herself. A lump had suddenly risen in her throat, and
she could scarcely restrain her tears. She had finished brushing the

"I must go and fetch my hot water," she murmured.

But Madame Boche, greatly disappointed at this break off in the
disclosures, called to the wash-house boy, who was passing, "My little
Charles, kindly get madame a pail of hot water; she's in a hurry."

The youth took the bucket and brought it back filled. Gervaise paid him;
it was a sou the pailful. She poured the hot water into the tub, and
soaped the things a last time with her hands, leaning over them in a
mass of steam, which deposited small beads of grey vapor in her light

"Here put some soda in, I've got some by me," said the concierge,

And she emptied into Gervaise's tub what remained of a bag of soda which
she had brought with her. She also offered her some of the chemical
water, but the young woman declined it; it was only good for grease and
wine stains.

"I think he's rather a loose fellow," resumed Madame Boche, returning to
Lantier, but without naming him.

Gervaise, bent almost double, her hands all shriveled, and thrust in
amongst the clothes, merely tossed her head.

"Yes, yes," continued the other, "I have noticed several little
things--" But she suddenly interrupted herself, as Gervaise jumped up,
with a pale face, and staring wildly at her. Then she exclaimed, "Oh,
no! I don't know anything! He likes to laugh a bit, I think, that's all.
For instance, you know the two girls who lodge at my place, Adele and
Virginie. Well; he larks about with 'em, but he just flirts for sport."

The young woman standing before her, her face covered with perspiration,
the water dripping from her arms, continued to stare at her with a fixed
and penetrating look. Then the concierge got excited, giving herself a
blow on the chest, and pledging her word of honor, she cried:

"I know nothing, I mean it when I say so!"

Then calming herself, she added in a gentle voice, as if speaking to a
person on whom loud protestations would have no effect, "I think he has
a frank look about the eyes. He'll marry you, my dear, I'm sure of it."

Gervaise wiped her forehead with her wet hand. Shaking her head again,
she pulled another garment out of the water. Both of them kept silence
for a moment. The wash-house was quieting down, for eleven o'clock had
struck. Half of the washerwomen were perched on the edge of their tubs,
eating sausages between slices of bread and drinking from open bottles
of wine. Only housewives who had come to launder small bundles of family
linen were hurrying to finish.

Occasional beetle blows could still be heard amid the subdued laughter
and gossip half-choked by the greedy chewing of jawbones. The steam
engine never stopped. Its vibrant, snorting voice seemed to fill the
entire hall, though not one of the women even heard it. It was like the
breathing of the wash-house, its hot breath collecting under the ceiling
rafters in an eternal floating mist.

The heat was becoming intolerable. Through the tall windows on the left
sunlight was streaming in, touching the steamy vapors with opalescent
tints of soft pinks and grayish blues. Charles went from window to
window, letting down the heavy canvas awnings. Then he crossed to the
shady side to open the ventilators. He was applauded by cries and hand
clapping and a rough sort of gaiety spread around. Soon even the last of
the beetle-pounding stopped.

With full mouths, the washerwomen could only make gestures. It became
so quiet that the grating sound of the fireman shoveling coal into the
engine's firebox could be heard at regular intervals from far at the
other end.

Gervaise was washing her colored things in the hot water thick with
lather, which she had kept for the purpose. When she had finished,
she drew a trestle towards her and hung across it all the different
articles; the drippings from which made bluish puddles on the floor; and
she commenced rinsing. Behind her, the cold water tap was set running
into a vast tub fixed to the ground, and across which were two wooden
bars whereon to lay the clothes. High up in the air were two other bars
for the things to finish dripping on.

"We're almost finished, and not a bad job," said Madame Boche. "I'll
wait and help you wring all that."

"Oh! it's not worth while; I'm much obliged though," replied the young
woman, who was kneading with her hands and sousing the colored things in
some clean water. "If I'd any sheets, it would be another thing."

But she had, however, to accept the concierge's assistance. They were
wringing between them, one at each end, a woolen skirt of a washed-out
chestnut color, from which dribbled a yellowish water, when Madame Boche

"Why, there's tall Virginie! What has she come here to wash, when all
her wardrobe that isn't on her would go into a pocket handkerchief?"

Gervaise jerked her head up. Virginie was a girl of her own age, taller
than she was, dark and pretty in spite of her face being rather long and
narrow. She had on an old black dress with flounces, and a red ribbon
round her neck; and her hair was done up carefully, the chignon being
enclosed in a blue silk net. She stood an instant in the middle of the
central alley, screwing up her eyes as though seeking someone; then,
when she caught sight of Gervaise, she passed close to her, erect,
insolent, and with a swinging gait, and took a place in the same row,
five tubs away from her.

"There's a freak for you!" continued Madame Boche in a lower tone
of voice. "She never does any laundry, not even a pair of cuffs. A
seamstress who doesn't even sew on a loose button! She's just like her
sister, the brass burnisher, that hussy Adele, who stays away from her
job two days out of three. Nobody knows who their folks are or how they
make a living. Though, if I wanted to talk . . . What on earth is she
scrubbing there? A filthy petticoat. I'll wager it's seen some lovely
sights, that petticoat!"

Madame Boche was evidently trying to make herself agreeable to Gervaise.
The truth was she often took a cup of coffee with Adele and Virginia,
when the girls had any money. Gervaise did not answer, but hurried over
her work with feverish hands. She had just prepared her blue in a little
tub that stood on three legs. She dipped in the linen things, and shook
them an instant at the bottom of the colored water, the reflection of
which had a pinky tinge; and after wringing them lightly, she spread
them out on the wooden bars up above. During the time she was occupied
with this work, she made a point of turning her back on Virginie. But
she heard her chuckles; she could feel her sidelong glances. Virginie
appeared only to have come there to provoke her. At one moment, Gervaise
having turned around, they both stared into each other's faces.

"Leave her alone," whispered Madame Boche. "You're not going to pull
each other's hair out, I hope. When I tell you there's nothing to it! It
isn't her, anyhow!"

At this moment, as the young woman was hanging up the last article of
clothing, there was a sound of laughter at the door of the wash-house.

"Here are two brats who want their mamma!" cried Charles.

All the women leant forward. Gervaise recognized Claude and Etienne. As
soon as they caught sight of her, they ran to her through the puddles,
the heels of their unlaced shoes resounding on the flagstones. Claude,
the eldest, held his little brother by the hand. The women, as they
passed them, uttered little exclamations of affection as they noticed
their frightened though smiling faces. And they stood there, in front
of their mother, without leaving go of each other's hands, and holding
their fair heads erect.

"Has papa sent you?" asked Gervaise.

But as she stooped to tie the laces of Etienne's shoes, she saw the key
of their room on one of Claude's fingers, with the brass number hanging
from it.

"Why, you've brought the key!" she said, greatly surprised. "What's that

The child, seeing the key which he had forgotten on his finger, appeared
to recollect, and exclaimed in his clear voice:

"Papa's gone away."

"He's gone to buy the lunch, and told you to come here to fetch me?"

Claude looked at his brother, hesitated, no longer recollecting. Then
he resumed all in a breath: "Papa's gone away. He jumped off the bed,
he put all the things in the trunk, he carried the trunk down to a cab.
He's gone away."

Gervaise, who was squatting down, slowly rose to her feet, her face
ghastly pale. She put her hands to her cheeks and temples, as though she
felt her head was breaking; and she could find only these words, which
she repeated twenty times in the same tone of voice:

"Ah! good heavens!--ah! good heavens!--ah! good heavens!"

Madame Boche, however, also questioned the child, quite delighted at the
chance of hearing the whole story.

"Come, little one, you must tell us just what happened. It was he who
locked the door and who told you to bring the key, wasn't it?" And,
lowering her voice, she whispered in Claude's ear: "Was there a lady in
the cab?"

The child again got confused. Then he recommenced his story in a
triumphant manner: "He jumped off the bed, he put all the things in the
trunk. He's gone away."

Then, when Madame Boche let him go, he drew his brother in front of the
tap, and they amused themselves by turning on the water. Gervaise was
unable to cry. She was choking, leaning back against her tub, her face
still buried in her hands. Brief shudders rocked her body and she wailed
out long sighs while pressing her hands tighter against her eyes, as
though abandoning herself to the blackness of desolation, a dark, deep
pit into which she seemed to be falling.

"Come, my dear, pull yourself together!" murmured Madame Boche.

"If you only knew! If you only knew!" said she at length very faintly.
"He sent me this morning to pawn my shawl and my chemises to pay for
that cab."

And she burst out crying. The memory of the events of that morning
and of her trip to the pawn-place tore from her the sobs that had been
choking her throat. That abominable trip to the pawn-place was the thing
that hurt most in all her sorrow and despair. Tears were streaming down
her face but she didn't think of using her handkerchief.

"Be reasonable, do be quiet, everyone's looking at you," Madame Boche,
who hovered round her, kept repeating. "How can you worry yourself so
much on account of a man? You loved him, then, all the same, did you,
my poor darling? A little while ago you were saying all sorts of things
against him; and now you're crying for him, and almost breaking your
heart. Dear me, how silly we all are!"

Then she became quite maternal.

"A pretty little woman like you! Can it be possible? One may tell you
everything now, I suppose. Well! You recollect when I passed under your
window, I already had my suspicions. Just fancy, last night, when Adele
came home, I heard a man's footsteps with hers. So I thought I would
see who it was. I looked up the staircase. The fellow was already on the
second landing; but I certainly recognized Monsieur Lantier's overcoat.
Boche, who was on the watch this morning, saw him tranquilly nod adieu.
He was with Adele, you know. Virginie has a situation now, where she
goes twice a week. Only it's highly imprudent all the same, for they've
only one room and an alcove, and I can't very well say where Virginie
managed to sleep."

She interrupted herself an instant, turned round, and then resumed,
subduing her loud voice:

"She's laughing at seeing you cry, that heartless thing over there. I'd
stake my life that her washing's all a pretence. She's packed off the
other two, and she's come here so as to tell them how you take it."

Gervaise removed her hands from her face and looked. When she beheld
Virginie in front of her, amidst three or four women, speaking low and
staring at her, she was seized with a mad rage. Her arms in front of
her, searching the ground, she stumbled forward a few paces. Trembling
all over, she found a bucket full of water, grabbed it with both hands,
and emptied it at Virginie.

"The virago!" yelled tall Virginie.

She had stepped back, and her boots alone got wet. The other women, who
for some minutes past had all been greatly upset by Gervaise's tears,
jostled each other in their anxiety to see the fight. Some, who were
finishing their lunch, got on the tops of their tubs. Others hastened
forward, their hands smothered with soap. A ring was formed.

"Ah! the virago!" repeated tall Virginie. "What's the matter with her?
She's mad!"

Gervaise, standing on the defensive, her chin thrust out, her features
convulsed, said nothing, not having yet acquired the Paris gift of
street gab. The other continued:

"Get out! This girl's tired of wallowing about in the country; she
wasn't twelve years old when the soldiers were at her. She even lost her
leg serving her country. That leg's rotting off."

The lookers-on burst out laughing. Virginie, seeing her success,
advanced a couple of steps, drawing herself up to her full height, and
yelling louder than ever:

"Here! Come a bit nearer, just to see how I'll settle you! Don't you
come annoying us here. Do I even know her, the hussy? If she'd wetted
me, I'd have pretty soon shown her battle, as you'd have seen. Let her
just say what I've ever done to her. Speak, you vixen; what's been done
to you?"

"Don't talk so much," stammered Gervaise. "You know well enough. Some
one saw my husband last night. And shut up, because if you don't I'll
most certainly strangle you."

"Her husband! That's a good one! As if cripples like her had husbands!
If he's left you it's not my fault. Surely you don't think I've stolen
him, do you? He was much too good for you and you made him sick. Did
you keep him on a leash? Has anyone here seen her husband? There's a

The laughter burst forth again. Gervaise contented herself with
continually murmuring in a low tone of voice:

"You know well enough, you know well enough. It's your sister. I'll
strangle her--your sister."

"Yes, go and try it on with my sister," resumed Virginie sneeringly.
"Ah! it's my sister! That's very likely. My sister looks a trifle
different to you; but what's that to me? Can't one come and wash one's
clothes in peace now? Just dry up, d'ye hear, because I've had enough of

But it was she who returned to the attack, after giving five or six
strokes with her beetle, intoxicated by the insults she had been giving
utterance to, and worked up into a passion. She left off and recommenced
again, speaking in this way three times:

"Well, yes! it's my sister. There now, does that satisfy you? They adore
each other. You should just see them bill and coo! And he's left you
with your children. Those pretty kids with scabs all over their faces!
You got one of them from a gendarme, didn't you? And you let three
others die because you didn't want to pay excess baggage on your
journey. It's your Lantier who told us that. Ah! he's been telling some
fine things; he'd had enough of you!"

"You dirty jade! You dirty jade! You dirty jade!" yelled Gervaise,
beside herself, and again seized with a furious trembling. She turned
round, looking once more about the ground; and only observing the little
tub, she seized hold of it by the legs, and flung the whole of the
bluing at Virginie's face.

"The beast! She's spoilt my dress!" cried the latter, whose shoulder
was sopping wet and whose left hand was dripping blue. "Just wait, you

In her turn she seized a bucket, and emptied it over Gervaise. Then a
formidable battle began. They both ran along the rows of tubs, seized
hold of the pails that were full, and returned to dash the contents
at each other's heads. And each deluge was accompanied by a volley of
words. Gervaise herself answered now:

"There, you scum! You got it that time. It'll help to cool you."

"Ah! the carrion! That's for your filth. Wash yourself for once in your

"Yes, yes, I'll wash the salt out of you, you cod!"

"Another one! Brush your teeth, fix yourself up for your post to-night
at the corner of the Rue Belhomme."

They ended by having to refill the buckets at the water taps, continuing
to insult each other the while. The initial bucketfuls were so poorly
aimed as to scarcely reach their targets, but they soon began to splash
each other in earnest. Virginie was the first to receive a bucketful in
the face. The water ran down, soaking her back and front. She was still
staggering when another caught her from the side, hitting her left
ear and drenching her chignon which then came unwound into a limp,
bedraggled string of hair.

Gervaise was hit first in the legs. One pail filled her shoes full of
water and splashed up to her thighs. Two more wet her even higher. Soon
both of them were soaked from top to bottom and it was impossible to
count the hits. Their clothes were plastered to their bodies and they
looked shrunken. Water was dripping everywhere as from umbrellas in a

"They look jolly funny!" said the hoarse voice of one of the women.

Everyone in the wash-house was highly amused. A good space was left
to the combatants, as nobody cared to get splashed. Applause and jokes
circulated in the midst of the sluice-like noise of the buckets emptied
in rapid succession! On the floor the puddles were running one into
another, and the two women were wading in them up to their ankles.
Virginie, however, who had been meditating a treacherous move, suddenly
seized hold of a pail of lye, which one of her neighbors had left there
and threw it. The same cry arose from all. Everyone thought Gervaise
was scalded; but only her left foot had been slightly touched. And,
exasperated by the pain, she seized a bucket, without troubling herself
to fill it this time, and threw it with all her might at the legs of
Virginie, who fell to the ground. All the women spoke together.

"She's broken one of her limbs!"

"Well, the other tried to cook her!"

"She's right, after all, the blonde one, if her man's been taken from

Madame Boche held up her arms to heaven, uttering all sorts of
exclamations. She had prudently retreated out of the way between two
tubs; and the children, Claude and Etienne, crying, choking, terrified,
clung to her dress with the continuous cry of "Mamma! Mamma!" broken by
their sobs. When she saw Virginie fall she hastened forward, and tried
to pull Gervaise away by her skirt, repeating the while,

"Come now, go home! Be reasonable. On my word, it's quite upset me.
Never was such a butchery seen before."

But she had to draw back and seek refuge again between the two tubs,
with the children. Virginie had just flown at Gervaise's throat. She
squeezed her round the neck, trying to strangle her. The latter freed
herself with a violent jerk, and in her turn hung on to the other's
hair, as though she was trying to pull her head off. The battle was
silently resumed, without a cry, without an insult. They did not seize
each other round the body, they attacked each other's faces with open
hands and clawing fingers, pinching, scratching whatever they caught
hold of. The tall, dark girl's red ribbon and blue silk hair net were
torn off. The body of her dress, giving way at the neck, displayed
a large portion of her shoulder; whilst the blonde, half stripped, a
sleeve gone from her loose white jacket without her knowing how, had
a rent in her underlinen, which exposed to view the naked line of her
waist. Shreds of stuff flew in all directions. It was from Gervaise that
the first blood was drawn, three long scratches from the mouth to the
chin; and she sought to protect her eyes, shutting them at every grab
the other made, for fear of having them torn out. No blood showed on
Virginie as yet. Gervaise aimed at her ears, maddened at not being able
to reach them. At length she succeeded in seizing hold of one of the
earrings--an imitation pear in yellow glass--which she pulled out and
slit the ear, and the blood flowed.

"They're killing each other! Separate them, the vixens!" exclaimed
several voices.

The other women had drawn nearer. They formed themselves into two camps.
Some were cheering the combatants on as the others were trembling and
turning their heads away saying that it was making them sick. A large
fight nearly broke out between the two camps as the women called each
other names and brandished their fists threateningly. Three loud slaps
rang out.

Madame Boche, meanwhile, was trying to discover the wash-house boy.

"Charles! Charles! Wherever has he got to?"

And she found him in the front rank, looking on with his arms folded.
He was a big fellow, with an enormous neck. He was laughing and enjoying
the sight of the skin which the two women displayed. The little blonde
was as fat as a quail. It would be fun if her chemise burst open.

"Why," murmured he, blinking his eye, "she's got a strawberry birthmark
under her arm."

"What! You're there!" cried Madame Boche, as she caught sight of him.
"Just come and help us separate them. You can easily separate them, you

"Oh, no! thank you, not if I know it," said he coolly. "To get my eye
scratched like I did the other day, I suppose! I'm not here for that
sort of thing; I have enough to do without that. Don't be afraid, a
little bleeding does 'em good; it'll soften 'em."

The concierge then talked of fetching the police; but the mistress of
the wash-house, the delicate young woman with the red, inflamed eyes,
would not allow her to do this. She kept saying:

"No, no, I won't; it'll compromise my establishment."

The struggle on the ground continued. All on a sudden, Virginie raised
herself up on her knees. She had just gotten hold of a beetle and held
it on high. She had a rattle in her throat and in an altered voice, she

"Here's something that'll settle you! Get your dirty linen ready!"

Gervaise quickly thrust out her hand, and also seized a beetle, and held
it up like a club; and she too spoke in a choking voice,

"Ah! you want to wash. Let me get hold of your skin that I may beat it
into dish-cloths!"

For a moment they remained there, on their knees, menacing each other.
Their hair all over their faces, their breasts heaving, muddy, swelling
with rage, they watched one another, as they waited and took breath.
Gervaise gave the first blow. Her beetle glided off Virginie's shoulder,
and she at once threw herself on one side to avoid the latter's beetle,
which grazed her hip. Then, warming to their work they struck at each
other like washerwomen beating clothes, roughly, and in time. Whenever
there was a hit, the sound was deadened, so that one might have thought
it a blow in a tub full of water. The other women around them no longer
laughed. Several had gone off saying that it quite upset them; those who
remained stretched out their necks, their eyes lighted up with a gleam
of cruelty, admiring the pluck displayed. Madame Boche had led Claude
and Etienne away, and one could hear at the other end of the building
the sound of their sobs, mingled with the sonorous shocks of the two
beetles. But Gervaise suddenly yelled. Virginie had caught her a whack
with all her might on her bare arm, just above the elbow. A large red
mark appeared, the flesh at once began to swell. Then she threw herself
upon Virginie, and everyone thought she was going to beat her to death.

"Enough! Enough!" was cried on all sides.

Her face bore such a terrible expression, that no one dared approach
her. Her strength seemed to have increased tenfold. She seized Virginie
round the waist, bent her down and pressed her face against the
flagstones. Raising her beetle she commenced beating as she used to beat
at Plassans, on the banks of the Viorne, when her mistress washed the
clothes of the garrison. The wood seemed to yield to the flesh with a
damp sound. At each whack a red weal marked the white skin.

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed the boy Charles, opening his eyes to their full
extent and gloating over the sight.

Laughter again burst forth from the lookers-on, but soon the cry,
"Enough! Enough!" recommenced. Gervaise heard not, neither did she tire.
She examined her work, bent over it, anxious not to leave a dry
place. She wanted to see the whole of that skin beaten, covered with
contusions. And she talked, seized with a ferocious gaiety, recalling a
washerwoman's song,

     "Bang! Bang! Margot at her tub.
     Bang! Bang! Beating rub-a-dub.
     Bang! Bang! Tries to wash her heart.
     Bang! Bang! Black with grief to part."

And then she resumed,

     "That's for you, that's for your sister.
     That's for Lantier.
     When you next see them,
     You can give them that.
     Attention! I'm going to begin again.
     That's for Lantier, that's for your sister.
     That's for you.
     Bang! Bang! Margot at her tub.
     Bang! Bang! Beating rub-a-dub--"

The others were obliged to drag Virginie away from her. The tall, dark
girl, her face bathed in tears and purple with shame, picked up her
things and hastened away. She was vanquished. Gervaise slipped on the
sleeve of her jacket again, and fastened up her petticoats. Her arm
pained her a good deal, and she asked Madame Boche to place her bundle
of clothes on her shoulder. The concierge referred to the battle, spoke
of her emotions, and talked of examining the young woman's person, just
to see.

"You may, perhaps, have something broken. I heard a tremendous blow."

But Gervaise wanted to go home. She made no reply to the pitying remarks
and noisy ovation of the other women who surrounded her, erect in their
aprons. When she was laden she gained the door, where the children
awaited her.

"Two hours, that makes two sous," said the mistress of the wash-house,
already back at her post in the glazed closet.

Why two sous? She no longer understood that she was asked to pay for her
place there. Then she gave the two sous; and limping very much beneath
the weight of the wet clothes on her shoulder, the water dripping from
off her, her elbow black and blue, her cheek covered with blood, she
went off, dragging Claude and Etienne with her bare arms, whilst they
trotted along on either side of her, still trembling, and their faces
besmeared with their tears.

Once she was gone, the wash-house resumed its roaring tumult. The
washerwomen had eaten their bread and drunk their wine. Their faces were
lit up and their spirits enlivened by the fight between Gervaise and

The long lines of tubs were astir again with the fury of thrashing
arms, of craggy profiles, of marionettes with bent backs and slumping
shoulders that twisted and jerked violently as though on hinges.
Conversations went on from one end to the other in loud voices. Laughter
and coarse remarks crackled through the ceaseless gurgling of the water.
Faucets were sputtering, buckets spilling, rivulets flowing underneath
the rows of washboards. Throughout the huge shed rising wisps of steam
reflected a reddish tint, pierced here and there by disks of sunlight,
golden globes that had leaked through holes in the awnings. The air was
stiflingly warm and odorous with soap.

Suddenly the hall was filled with a white mist. The huge copper lid of
the lye-water kettle was rising mechanically along a notched shaft, and
from the gaping copper hollow within its wall of bricks came whirling
clouds of vapor. Meanwhile, at one side the drying machines were hard
at work; within their cast-iron cylinders bundles of laundry were being
wrung dry by the centrifugal force of the steam engine, which was still
puffing, steaming, jolting the wash-house with the ceaseless labor of
its iron limbs.

When Gervaise turned into the entry of the Hotel Boncoeur, her tears
again mastered her. It was a dark, narrow passage, with a gutter for the
dirty water running alongside the wall; and the stench which she again
encountered there caused her to think of the fortnight she had passed
in the place with Lantier--a fortnight of misery and quarrels, the
recollection of which was now a bitter regret. It seemed to bring her
abandonment home to her.

Upstairs the room was bare, in spite of the sunshine which entered
through the open window. That blaze of light, that kind of dancing
golden dust, exposed the lamentable condition of the blackened ceiling,
and of the walls half denuded of paper, all the more. The only thing
left hanging in the room was a woman's small neckerchief, twisted like
a piece of string. The children's bedstead, drawn into the middle of
the apartment, displayed the chest of drawers, the open drawers of which
exposed their emptiness. Lantier had washed himself and had used up the
last of the pomatum--two sous' worth of pomatum in a playing card;
the greasy water from his hands filled the basin. And he had forgotten
nothing. The corner which until then had been filled by the trunk seemed
to Gervaise an immense empty space. Even the little mirror which hung on
the window-fastening was gone. When she made this discovery, she had a
presentiment. She looked on the mantel-piece. Lantier had taken away the
pawn tickets; the pink bundle was no longer there, between the two odd
zinc candlesticks.

She hung her laundry over the back of a chair and just stood there,
gazing around at the furniture. She was so dulled and bewildered that
she could no longer cry. She had only one sou left. Then, hearing Claude
and Etienne laughing merrily by the window, their troubles already
forgotten, she went to them and put her arms about them, losing herself
for a moment in contemplation of that long gray avenue where, that very
morning, she had watched the awakening of the working population, of the
immense work-shop of Paris.

At this hour immense heat was rising from the pavement and from all the
furnaces in the factories, setting alight a reflecting oven over the
city and beyond the octroi wall. Out upon this very pavement, into this
furnace blast, she had been tossed, alone with her little ones. As she
glanced up and down the boulevard, she was seized with a dull dread that
her life would be fixed there forever, between a slaughter-house and a


Three weeks later, towards half-past eleven, one beautiful sunshiny day,
Gervaise and Coupeau, the zinc-worker, were each partaking of a plum
preserved in brandy, at "l'Assommoir" kept by Pere Colombe. Coupeau, who
had been smoking a cigarette on the pavement, had prevailed on her to
go inside as she returned from taking home a customer's washing; and her
big square laundress's basket was on the floor beside her, behind the
little zinc covered table.

Pere Colombe's l'Assommoir was at the corner of Rue des Poissonniers
and Boulevard de Rochechouart. The sign, in tall blue letters stretching
from one end to the other said: Distillery. Two dusty oleanders
planted in half casks stood beside the doorway. A long bar with its
tin measuring cups was on the left as you entered. The large room was
decorated with casks painted a gay yellow, bright with varnish, and
gleaming with copper taps and hoops.

On the shelves above the bar were liquor bottles, jars of fruit
preserved in brandy, and flasks of all shapes. They completely covered
the wall and were reflected in the mirror behind the bar as colorful
spots of apple green, pale gold, and soft brown. The main feature of
the establishment, however, was the distilling apparatus. It was at the
rear, behind an oak railing in a glassed-in area. The customers could
watch its functioning, long-necked still-pots, copper worms disappearing
underground, a devil's kitchen alluring to drink-sodden work men in
search of pleasant dreams.

L'Assommoir was nearly empty at the lunch hour. Pere Colombe, a heavy
man of forty, was serving a ten year old girl who had asked him to
place four sous' worth of brandy into her cup. A shaft of sunlight came
through the entrance to warm the floor which was always damp from the
smokers' spitting. From everything, the casks, the bar, the entire room,
a liquorish odor arose, an alcoholic aroma which seemed to thicken and
befuddle the dust motes dancing in the sunlight.

Coupeau was making another cigarette. He was very neat, in a short blue
linen blouse and cap, and was laughing and showing his white teeth.
With a projecting under jaw and a slightly snub nose, he had handsome
chestnut eyes, and the face of a jolly dog and a thorough good fellow.
His coarse curly hair stood erect. His skin still preserved the softness
of his twenty-six years. Opposite to him, Gervaise, in a thin black
woolen dress, and bareheaded, was finishing her plum which she held
by the stalk between the tips of her fingers. They were close to the
street, at the first of the four tables placed alongside the barrels
facing the bar.

When the zinc-worker had lit his cigarette, he placed his elbows on
the table, thrust his face forward, and for an instant looked without
speaking at the young woman, whose pretty fair face had that day
the milky transparency of china. Then, alluding to a matter known to
themselves alone, and already discussed between them, he simply asked in
a low voice:

"So it's to be 'no'? you say 'no'?"

"Oh! most decidedly 'no' Monsieur Coupeau," quietly replied Gervaise
with a smile. "I hope you're not going to talk to me about that here.
You know you promised me you would be reasonable. Had I known, I
wouldn't have let you treat me."

Coupeau kept silence, looking at her intently with a boldness. She sat
still, at ease and friendly. At the end of a brief silence she added:

"You can't really mean it. I'm an old woman; I've a big boy eight years
old. Whatever could we two do together?"

"Why!" murmured Coupeau, blinking his eyes, "what the others do, of
course, get married!"

She made a gesture of feeling annoyed. "Oh! do you think it's always
pleasant? One can very well see you've never seen much of living. No,
Monsieur Coupeau, I must think of serious things. Burdening oneself
never leads to anything, you know! I've two mouths at home which are
never tired of swallowing, I can tell you! How do you suppose I can
bring up my little ones, if I only sit here talking indolently? And
listen, besides that, my misfortune has been a famous lesson to me. You
know I don't care a bit about men now. They won't catch me again for a
long while."

She spoke with such cool objectivity that it was clear she had resolved
this in her mind, turning it about thoroughly.

Coupeau was deeply moved and kept repeating: "I feel so sorry for you.
It causes me a great deal of pain."

"Yes, I know that," resumed she, "and I am sorry, Monsieur Coupeau. But
you mustn't take it to heart. If I had any idea of enjoying myself, _mon
Dieu!_, I would certainly rather be with you than anyone else. You're
a good boy and gentle. Only, where's the use, as I've no inclination to
wed? I've been for the last fortnight, now, at Madame Fauconnier's.
The children go to school. I've work, I'm contented. So the best is to
remain as we are, isn't it?"

And she stooped down to take her basket.

"You're making me talk; they must be expecting me at the shop. You'll
easily find someone else prettier than I, Monsieur Coupeau, and who
won't have two boys to drag about with her."

He looked at the clock inserted in the frame-work of the mirror, and
made her sit down again, exclaiming:

"Don't be in such a hurry! It's only eleven thirty-five. I've still
twenty-five minutes. You don't have to be afraid that I shall do
anything foolish; there's the table between us. So you detest me so much
that you won't stay and have a little chat with me."

She put her basket down again, so as not to disoblige him; and they
conversed like good friends. She had eaten her lunch before going out
with the laundry. He had gulped down his soup and beef hurriedly to be
able to wait for her. All the while she chatted amiably, Gervaise
kept looking out the window at the activity on the street. It was now
unusually crowded with the lunch time rush.

Everywhere were hurried steps, swinging arms, and pushing elbows. Some
late comers, hungry and angry at being kept extra long at the job,
rushed across the street into the bakery. They emerged with a loaf of
bread and went three doors farther to the Two-Headed Calf to gobble down
a six-sou meat dish.

Next door to the bakery was a grocer who sold fried potatoes and mussels
cooked with parsley. A procession of girls went in to get hot potatoes
wrapped in paper and cups of steaming mussels. Other pretty girls bought
bunches of radishes. By leaning a bit, Gervaise could see into the
sausage shop from which children issued, holding a fried chop, a sausage
or a piece of hot blood pudding wrapped in greasy paper. The street was
always slick with black mud, even in clear weather. A few laborers had
already finished their lunch and were strolling aimlessly about, their
open hands slapping their thighs, heavy from eating, slow and peaceful
amid the hurrying crowd. A group formed in front of the door of

"Say, Bibi-the-Smoker," demanded a hoarse voice, "aren't you going to
buy us a round of _vitriol_?"

Five laborers came in and stood by the bar.

"Ah! Here's that thief, Pere Colombe!" the voice continued. "We want the
real old stuff, you know. And full sized glasses, too."

Pere Colombe served them as three more laborers entered. More blue
smocks gathered on the street corner and some pushed their way into the

"You're foolish! You only think of the present," Gervaise was saying to
Coupeau. "Sure, I loved him, but after the disgusting way in which he
left me--"

They were talking of Lantier. Gervaise had not seen him again; she
thought he was living with Virginie's sister at La Glaciere, in the
house of that friend who was going to start a hat factory. She had no
thought of running after him. She had been so distressed at first that
she had thought of drowning herself in the river. But now that she had
thought about it, everything seemed to be for the best. Lantier went
through money so fast, that she probably never could have raised her
children properly. Oh, she'd let him see his children, all right, if he
bothered to come round. But as far as she was concerned, she didn't want
him to touch her, not even with his finger tips.

She told all this to Coupeau just as if her plan of life was well
settled. Meanwhile, Coupeau never forgot his desire to possess her. He
made a jest of everything she said, turning it into ribaldry and asking
some very direct questions about Lantier. But he proceeded so gaily and
which such a smile that she never thought of being offended.

"So, you're the one who beat him," said he at length. "Oh! you're not
kind. You just go around whipping people."

She interrupted him with a hearty laugh. It was true, though, she had
whipped Virginie's tall carcass. She would have delighted in strangling
someone on that day. She laughed louder than ever when Coupeau told her
that Virginie, ashamed at having shown so much cowardice, had left the
neighborhood. Her face, however, preserved an expression of childish
gentleness as she put out her plump hands, insisting she wouldn't even
harm a fly.

She began to tell Coupeau about her childhood at Plassans. She had never
cared overmuch for men; they had always bored her. She was fourteen when
she got involved with Lantier. She had thought it was nice because he
said he was her husband and she had enjoyed playing a housewife. She
was too soft-hearted and too weak. She always got passionately fond of
people who caused her trouble later. When she loved a man, she wasn't
thinking of having fun in the present; she was dreaming about being
happy and living together forever.

And as Coupeau, with a chuckle, spoke of her two children, saying they
hadn't come from under a bolster, she slapped his fingers; she added
that she was, no doubt made on the model of other women; women thought
of their home, slaved to keep the place clean and tidy, and went to bed
too tired at night not to go to sleep at once. Besides, she resembled
her mother, a stout laboring woman who died at her work and who had
served as beast of burden to old Macquart for more than twenty years.
Her mother's shoulders had been heavy enough to smash through doors, but
that didn't prevent her from being soft-hearted and madly attracted to
people. And if she limped a little, she no doubt owed that to the poor
woman, whom old Macquart used to belabor with blows. Her mother had told
her about the times when Macquart came home drunk and brutally bruised
her. She had probably been born with her lame leg as a result of one of
those times.

"Oh! it's scarcely anything, it's hardly perceptible," said Coupeau

She shook her head; she knew well enough that it could be seen; at
forty she would look broken in two. Then she added gently, with a slight
laugh: "It's a funny fancy of yours to fall in love with a cripple."

With his elbows still on the table, he thrust his face closer to hers
and began complimenting her in rather dubious language as though to
intoxicate her with his words. But she kept shaking her head "no," and
didn't allow herself to be tempted although she was flattered by the
tone of his voice. While listening, she kept looking out the window,
seeming to be fascinated by the interesting crowd of people passing.

The shops were now almost empty. The grocer removed his last panful
of fried potatoes from the stove. The sausage man arranged the dishes
scattered on his counter. Great bearded workmen were as playful as
young boys, clumping along in their hobnailed boots. Other workmen were
smoking, staring up into the sky and blinking their eyes. Factory bells
began to ring in the distance, but the workers, in no hurry, relit their
pipes. Later, after being tempted by one wineshop after another, they
finally decided to return to their jobs, but were still dragging their

Gervaise amused herself by watching three workmen, a tall fellow and
two short ones who turned to look back every few yards; they ended by
descending the street, and came straight to Pere Colombe's l'Assommoir.

"Ah, well," murmured she, "there're three fellows who don't seem
inclined for work!"

"Why!" said Coupeau, "I know the tall one, it's My-Boots, a comrade of

Pere Colombe's l'Assommoir was now full. You had to shout to be heard.
Fists often pounded on the bar, causing the glasses to clink. Everyone
was standing, hands crossed over belly or held behind back. The drinking
groups crowded close to one another. Some groups, by the casks, had to
wait a quarter of an hour before being able to order their drinks of
Pere Colombe.

"Hallo! It's that aristocrat, Young Cassis!" cried My-Boots, bringing
his hand down roughly on Coupeau's shoulder. "A fine gentleman, who
smokes paper, and wears shirts! So we want to do the grand with our
sweetheart; we stand her little treats!"

"Shut up! Don't bother me!" replied Coupeau, greatly annoyed.

But the other added, with a chuckle, "Right you are! We know what's
what, my boy. Muffs are muffs, that's all!"

He turned his back after leering terribly as he looked at Gervaise. The
latter drew back, feeling rather frightened. The smoke from the pipes,
the strong odor of all those men, ascended in the air, already foul with
the fumes of alcohol; and she felt a choking sensation in her throat,
and coughed slightly.

"Oh, what a horrible thing it is to drink!" said she in a low voice.

And she related that formerly at Plassans she used to drink anisette
with her mother. But on one occasion it nearly killed her, and that
disgusted her with it; now, she could never touch any liqueurs.

"You see," added she, pointing to her glass, "I've eaten my plum; only I
must leave the juice, because it would make me ill."

For himself, Coupeau couldn't understand how anyone could drink glass
after glass of cheap brandy. A brandied plum occasionally could not
hurt, but as for cheap brandy, absinthe and the other strong stuff, no,
not for him, no matter how much his comrades teased him about it.
He stayed out on the sidewalk when his friends went into low
establishments. Coupeau's father had smashed his head open one day when
he fell from the eaves of No. 25 on Rue Coquenard. He was drunk. This
memory keep Coupeau's entire family from the drink. Every time Coupeau
passed that spot, he thought he would rather lick up water from the
gutter than accept a free drink in a bar. He would always say: "In our
trade, you have to have steady legs."

Gervaise had taken up her basket again. She did not rise from her seat
however, but held the basket on her knees, with a vacant look in her
eyes and lost in thought, as though the young workman's words had
awakened within her far-off thoughts of existence. And she said again,
slowly, and without any apparent change of manner:

"_Mon Dieu_! I'm not ambitious; I don't ask for much. My desire is to
work in peace, always to have bread to eat and a decent place to sleep
in, you know; with a bed, a table, and two chairs, nothing more. If I
can, I'd like to raise my children to be good citizens. Also, I'd like
not to be beaten up, if I ever again live with a man. It's not my idea
of amusement." She pondered, thinking if there was anything else she
wanted, but there wasn't anything of importance. Then, after a moment
she went on, "Yes, when one reaches the end, one might wish to die in
one's bed. For myself, having trudged through life, I should like to die
in my bed, in my own home."

And she rose from her seat. Coupeau, who cordially approved her wishes,
was already standing up, anxious about the time. But they did not leave
yet. Gervaise was curious enough to go to the far end of the room for
a look at the big still behind the oak railing. It was chugging away in
the little glassed-in courtyard. Coupeau explained its workings to
her, pointing at the different parts of the machinery, showing her the
trickling of the small stream of limpid alcohol. Not a single gay puff
of steam was coming forth from the endless coils. The breathing could
barely be heard. It sounded muffled as if from underground. It was like
a sombre worker, performing dark deeds in the bright daylight, strong
but silent.

My-Boots, accompanied by his two comrades, came to lean on the railing
until they could get a place at the bar. He laughed, looking at the
machine. _Tonnerre de Dieu_, that's clever. There's enough stuff in its
big belly to last for weeks. He wouldn't mind if they just fixed the
end of the tube in his mouth, so he could feel the fiery spirits flowing
down to his heels like a river. It would be better than the tiny sips
doled out by Pere Colombe! His two comrades laughed with him, saying
that My-Boots was quite a guy after all.

The huge still continued to trickle forth its alcoholic sweat.
Eventually it would invade the bar, flow out along the outer Boulevards,
and inundate the immense expanse of Paris.

Gervaise stepped back, shivering. She tried to smile as she said:

"It's foolish, but that still and the liquor gives me the creeps."

Then, returning to the idea she nursed of a perfect happiness, she
resumed: "Now, ain't I right? It's much the nicest isn't it--to have
plenty of work, bread to eat, a home of one's own, and to be able to
bring up one's children and to die in one's bed?"

"And never to be beaten," added Coupeau gaily. "But I would never beat
you, if you would only try me, Madame Gervaise. You've no cause for
fear. I don't drink and then I love you too much. Come, shall it be
marriage? I'll get you divorced and make you my wife."

He was speaking low, whispering at the back of her neck while she made
her way through the crowd of men with her basket held before her. She
kept shaking her head "no." Yet she turned around to smile at him,
apparently happy to know that he never drank. Yes, certainly, she would
say "yes" to him, except she had already sworn to herself never to start
up with another man. Eventually they reached the door and went out.

When they left, l'Assommoir was packed to the door, spilling its hubbub
of rough voices and its heavy smell of vitriol into the street. My-Boots
could be heard railing at Pere Colombe, calling him a scoundrel and
accusing him of only half filling his glass. He didn't have to come in
here. He'd never come back. He suggested to his comrades a place near
the Barriere Saint-Denis where you drank good stuff straight.

"Ah," sighed Gervaise when they reached the sidewalk. "You can breathe
out here. Good-bye, Monsieur Coupeau, and thank you. I must hurry now."

He seized her hand as she started along the boulevard, insisting, "Take
a walk with me along Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. It's not much farther for
you. I've got to see my sister before going back to work. We'll keep
each other company."

In the end, Gervaise agreed and they walked beside each other along the
Rue des Poissonniers, although she did not take his arm. He told
her about his family. His mother, an old vest-maker, now had to do
housekeeping because her eyesight was poor. Her birthday was the third
of last month and she was sixty-two. He was the youngest. One of his
sisters, a widow of thirty-six, worked in a flower shop and lived in
the Batignolles section, on Rue des Moines. The other sister was thirty
years old now. She had married a deadpan chainmaker named Lorilleux.
That's where he was going now. They lived in a big tenement on the left
side. He ate with them in the evenings; it saved a bit for all of them.
But he had been invited out this evening and he was going to tell her
not to expect him.

Gervaise, who was listening to him, suddenly interrupted him to ask,
with a smile: "So you're called 'Young Cassis,' Monsieur Coupeau?"

"Oh!" replied he, "it's a nickname my mates have given me because I
generally drink 'cassis' when they force me to accompany them to the
wineshop. It's no worse to be called Young Cassis than My-Boots, is it?"

"Of course not. Young Cassis isn't an ugly name," observed the young

And she questioned him about his work. He was still working there,
behind the octroi wall at the new hospital. Oh! there was no want of
work, he would not be finished there for a year at least. There were
yards and yards of gutters!

"You know," said he, "I can see the Hotel Boncoeur when I'm up there.
Yesterday you were at the window, and I waved my arms, but you didn't
notice me."

They had already gone about a hundred paces along the Rue de la
Goutte-d'Or, when he stood still and raising his eyes, said:

"That's the house. I was born farther on, at No. 22. But this house is,
all the same, a fine block of masonry! It's as big as a barrack inside!"

Gervaise looked up, examining the facade. On the street side, the
tenement had five stories, each with fifteen windows, whose black
shutters with their broken slats gave an air of desolation to the wide
expanse of wall. Four shops occupied the ground floor. To the right
of the entrance, a large, greasy hash house, and to the left, a coal
dealer, a notions seller, and an umbrella merchant. The building
appeared even larger than it was because it had on each side a small,
low building which seemed to lean against it for support. This immense,
squared-off building was outlined against the sky. Its unplastered side
walls were as bare as prison walls, except for rows of roughly jutting
stones which suggested jaws full of decayed teeth yawning vacantly.

Gervaise was gazing at the entrance with interest. The high, arched
doorway rose to the second floor and opened onto a deep porch, at
the end of which could be seen the pale daylight of a courtyard. This
entranceway was paved like the street, and down the center flowed a
streamlet of pink-stained water.

"Come in," said Coupeau, "no one will eat you."

Gervaise wanted to wait for him in the street. However, she could not
resist going through the porch as far as the concierge's room on the
right. And there, on the threshold, she raised her eyes. Inside, the
building was six stories high, with four identical plain walls enclosing
the broad central court. The drab walls were corroded by yellowish spots
and streaked by drippings from the roof gutters. The walls went straight
up to the eaves with no molding or ornament except the angles on the
drain pipes at each floor. Here the sink drains added their stains. The
glass window panes resembled murky water. Mattresses of checkered
blue ticking were hanging out of several windows to air. Clothes lines
stretched from other windows with family washing hanging to dry. On a
third floor line was a baby's diaper, still implanted with filth. This
crowded tenement was bursting at the seams, spilling out poverty and
misery through every crevice.

Each of the four walls had, at ground level, a narrow entrance,
plastered without a trace of woodwork. This opened into a vestibule
containing a dirt-encrusted staircase which spiraled upward. They were
each labeled with one of the first four letters of the alphabet painted
on the wall.

Several large work-shops with weather-blackened skylights were scattered
about the court. Near the concierge's room was the dyeing establishment
responsible for the pink streamlet. Puddles of water infested the
courtyard, along with wood shavings and coal cinders. Grass and weeds
grew between the paving stones. The unforgiving sunlight seemed to cut
the court into two parts. On the shady side was a dripping water tap
with three small hens scratching for worms with their filth-smeared

Gervaise slowly gazed about, lowering her glance from the sixth floor
to the paving stones, then raising it again, surprised at the vastness,
feeling as it were in the midst of a living organ, in the very heart of
a city, and interested in the house, as though it were a giant before

"Is madame seeking for any one?" called out the inquisitive concierge,
emerging from her room.

The young woman explained that she was waiting for a friend. She
returned to the street; then as Coupeau did not come, she went back to
the courtyard seized with the desire to take another look. She did not
think the house ugly. Amongst the rags hanging from the windows she
discovered various cheerful touches--a wall-flower blooming in a pot, a
cage of chirruping canaries, shaving-glasses shining like stars in
the depth of the shadow. A carpenter was singing in his work-shop,
accompanied by the whining of his plane. The blacksmith's hammers were
ringing rhythmically.

In contrast to the apparent wretched poverty, at nearly every open
window appeared the begrimed faces of laughing children. Women with
peaceful faces could be seen bent over their sewing. The rooms were
empty of men who had gone back to work after lunch. The whole tenement
was tranquil except for the sounds from the work-shops below which
served as a sort of lullaby that went on, unceasingly, always the same.

The only thing she did not like was the courtyard's dampness. She would
want rooms at the rear, on the sunny side. Gervaise took a few more
steps into the courtyard, inhaling the characteristic odor of the slums,
comprised of dust and rotten garbage. But the sharp odor of the waste
water from the dye shop was strong, and Gervaise thought it smelled
better here than at the Hotel Boncoeur. She chose a window for herself,
the one at the far left with a small window box planted with scarlet

"I'm afraid I've kept you waiting rather a long time," said Coupeau,
whom she suddenly heard close beside her. "They always make an awful
fuss whenever I don't dine with them, and it was worse than ever to-day
as my sister had bought some veal."

And as Gervaise had slightly started with surprise, he continued
glancing around in his turn:

"You were looking at the house. It's always all let from the top to
the bottom. There are three hundred lodgers, I think. If I had any
furniture, I would have secured a small room. One would be comfortable
here, don't you think so?"

"Yes, one would be comfortable," murmured Gervaise. "In our street at
Plassans there weren't near so many people. Look, that's pretty--that
window up on the fifth floor, with the scarlet runners."

The zinc-worker's obstinate desire made him ask her once more whether
she would or she wouldn't. They could rent a place here as soon as they
found a bed. She hurried out the arched entranceway, asking him not
to start that subject again. There was as much chance of this building
collapsing as there was of her sleeping under the same blanket with him.
Still, when Coupeau left her in front of Madame Fauconnier's shop, he
was allowed to hold her hand for a moment.

For a month the young woman and the zinc-worker were the best of
friends. He admired her courage, when he beheld her half killing herself
with work, keeping her children tidy and clean, and yet finding time at
night to do a little sewing. Often other women were hopelessly messy,
forever nibbling or gadding about, but she wasn't like them at all. She
was much too serious. Then she would laugh, and modestly defend herself.
It was her misfortune that she had not always been good, having been
with a man when only fourteen. Then too, she had often helped her
mother empty a bottle of anisette. But she had learned a few things
from experience. He was wrong to think of her as strong-willed; her will
power was very weak. She had always let herself be pushed into things
because she didn't want to hurt someone's feelings. Her one hope now was
to live among decent people, for living among bad people was like being
hit over the head. It cracks your skull. Whenever she thought of the
future, she shivered. Everything she had seen in life so far, especially
when a child, had given her lessons to remember.

Coupeau, however, chaffed her about her gloomy thoughts, and brought
back all her courage by trying to pinch her hips. She pushed him away
from her, and slapped his hands, whilst he called out laughingly that,
for a weak woman, she was not a very easy capture. He, who always joked
about everything did not trouble himself regarding the future. One day
followed another, that was all. There would always be somewhere to sleep
and a bite to eat. The neighborhood seemed decent enough to him, except
for a gang of drunkards that ought to be cleaned out of the gutters.

Coupeau was not a bad sort of fellow. He sometimes had really sensible
things to say. He was something of a dandy with his Parisian working
man's gift for banter, a regular gift of gab, and besides, he was

They had ended by rendering each other all sorts of services at the
Hotel Boncoeur. Coupeau fetched her milk, ran her errands, carried her
bundles of clothes; often of an evening, as he got home first from work,
he took the children for a walk on the exterior Boulevard. Gervaise, in
return for his polite attentions, would go up into the narrow room at
the top of the house where he slept, and see to his clothes, sewing
buttons on his blue linen trousers, and mending his linen jackets. A
great familiarity existed between them. She was never bored when he
was around. The gay songs he sang amused her, and so did his continuous
banter of jokes and jibes characteristic of the Paris streets, this
being still new to her.

On Coupeau's side, this continual familiarity inflamed him more and
more until it began to seriously bother him. He began to feel tense and
uneasy. He continued with his foolish talk, never failing to ask her,
"When will it be?" She understood what he meant and teased him. He would
then come to visit her carrying his bedroom slippers, as if he were
moving in. She joked about it and continued calmly without blushing at
the allusions with which he was always surrounding her. She stood for
anything from him as long as he didn't get rough. She only got angry
once when he pulled a strand of her hair while trying to force a kiss
from her.

Towards the end of June, Coupeau lost his liveliness. He became most
peculiar. Gervaise, feeling uneasy at some of his glances, barricaded
herself in at night. Then, after having sulked ever since the Sunday, he
suddenly came on the Tuesday night about eleven o'clock and knocked at
her room. She would not open to him; but his voice was so gentle and so
trembling that she ended by removing the chest of drawers she had pushed
against the door. When he entered, she thought he was ill; he looked so
pale, his eyes were so red, and the veins on his face were all swollen.
And he stood there, stuttering and shaking his head. No, no, he was not
ill. He had been crying for two hours upstairs in his room; he wept like
a child, biting his pillow so as not to be heard by the neighbors. For
three nights past he had been unable to sleep. It could not go on like

"Listen, Madame Gervaise," said he, with a swelling in his throat and on
the point of bursting out crying again; "we must end this, mustn't we?
We'll go and get married. It's what I want. I've quite made up my mind."

Gervaise showed great surprise. She was very grave.

"Oh! Monsieur Coupeau," murmured she, "whatever are you thinking of?
You know I've never asked you for that. I didn't care about it--that was
all. Oh, no, no! it's serious now; think of what you're saying, I beg of

But he continued to shake his head with an air of unalterable
resolution. He had already thought it all over. He had come down because
he wanted to have a good night. She wasn't going to send him back to
weep again he supposed! As soon as she said "yes," he would no longer
bother her, and she could go quietly to bed. He only wanted to hear her
say "yes." They could talk it over on the morrow.

"But I certainly can't say 'yes' just like that," resumed Gervaise. "I
don't want you to be able to accuse me later on of having incited you to
do a foolish thing. You shouldn't be so insistent, Monsieur Coupeau. You
can't really be sure that you're in love with me. If you didn't see
me for a week, it might fade away. Sometimes men get married and then
there's day after day, stretching out into an entire lifetime, and they
get pretty well bored by it all. Sit down there; I'm willing to talk it
over at once."

Then until one in the morning, in the dark room and by the faint light
of a smoky tallow candle which they forgot to snuff, they talked
of their marriage, lowering their voices so as not to wake the two
children, Claude and Etienne, who were sleeping, both heads on the same
pillow. Gervaise kept pointing out the children to Coupeau, what a funny
kind of dowry they were. She really shouldn't burden him with them.
Besides, what would the neighbors say? She'd feel ashamed for him
because everyone knew about the story of her life and her lover. They
wouldn't think it decent if they saw them getting married barely two
months later.

Coupeau replied by shrugging his shoulders. He didn't care about the
neighbors! He never bothered about their affairs. So, there was Lantier
before him, well, so what? What's so bad about that? She hadn't been
constantly bringing men upstairs, as some women did, even rich ladies!
The children would grow up, they'd raise them right. Never had he known
before such a woman, such sound character, so good-hearted. Anyway,
she could have been anything, a streetwalker, ugly, lazy and
good-for-nothing, with a whole gang of dirty kids, and so what? He
wanted her.

"Yes, I want you," he repeated, bringing his hand down on his knee with
a continuos hammering. "You understand, I want you. There's nothing to
be said to that, is there?"

Little by little, Gervaise gave way. Her emotions began to take control
when faced with his encompassing desire. Still, with her hands in her
lap and her face suffused with a soft sweetness, she hesitantly offered
objections. From outside, through the half-open window, a lovely June
night breathed in puffs of sultry air, disturbing the candle with its
long wick gleaming red like a glowing coal. In the deep silence of the
sleeping neighborhood the only sound was the infantile weeping of a
drunkard lying in the middle of the street. Far away, in the back room
of some restaurant, a violin was playing a dance tune for some late

Coupeau was silent. Then, knowing she had no more arguments, he smiled,
took hold of her hands and pulled her toward him. She was in one of
those moments of weakness she so greatly mistrusted, persuaded at last,
too emotionally stirred to refuse anything or to hurt anyone's feelings.
Coupeau didn't realize that she was giving way. He held her wrists so
tightly as to almost crush them. Together they breathed a long sigh that
to both of them meant a partial satisfaction of their desire.

"You'll say 'yes,' won't you," asked he.

"How you worry me!" she murmured. "You wish it? Well then, 'yes.' Ah!
we're perhaps doing a very foolish thing."

He jumped up, and, seizing her round the waist, kissed her roughly on
the face, at random. Then, as this caress caused a noise, he became
anxious, and went softly and looked at Claude and Etienne.

"Hush, we must be careful," said he in a whisper, "and not wake the
children. Good-bye till to-morrow."

And he went back to his room. Gervaise, all in a tremble, remained
seated on the edge of her bed, without thinking of undressing herself
for nearly an hour. She was touched; she felt that Coupeau was very
honorable; for at one moment she had really thought it was all over, and
that he would forget her. The drunkard below, under the window, was now
hoarsely uttering the plaintive cry of some lost animal. The violin in
the distance had left off its saucy tune and was now silent.

During the following days Coupeau sought to get Gervaise to call some
evening on his sister in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or; but the young woman,
who was very timid, showed a great dread of this visit to the Lorilleux.
She knew that Coupeau had a lingering fear of that household, even
though he certainly wasn't dependent on his sister, who wasn't even the
oldest of the family. Mamma Coupeau would certainly give her consent at
once, as she never refused her only son anything. The thing was that the
Lorilleuxs were supposed to be earning ten francs a day or more and that
gave them a certain authority. Coupeau would never dare to get married
unless his wife was acceptable to them.

"I have spoken to them of you, they know our plans," explained he to
Gervaise. "Come now! What a child you are! Let's call on them this
evening. I've warned you, haven't I? You'll find my sister rather stiff.
Lorilleux, too, isn't always very amiable. In reality they are greatly
annoyed, because if I marry, I shall no longer take my meals with them,
and it'll be an economy the less. But that doesn't matter, they won't
turn you out. Do this for me, it's absolutely necessary."

These words only frightened Gervaise the more. One Saturday evening,
however, she gave in. Coupeau came for her at half-past eight. She had
dressed herself in a black dress, a crape shawl with yellow palms, and a
white cap trimmed with a little cheap lace. During the six weeks she had
been working, she had saved the seven francs for the shawl, and the two
and a half francs for the cap; the dress was an old one cleaned and made
up afresh.

"They're expecting you," said Coupeau to her, as they went round by the
Rue des Poissonniers. "Oh! they're beginning to get used to the idea
of my being married. They seem nice indeed, to-night. And you know if
you've never seen gold chains made, it'll amuse you to watch them. They
just happen to have a pressing order for Monday."

"They've got gold in their room?" asked Gervaise.

"I should think so; there's some on the walls, on the floor, in fact

They had passed the arched doorway and crossed the courtyard. The
Lorilleuxs lived on the sixth floor, staircase B. Coupeau laughingly
told her to hold the hand-rail tight and not to leave go of it. She
looked up, and blinked her eyes, as she perceived the tall hollow
tower of the staircase, lighted by three gas jets, one on every second
landing; the last one, right up at the top looked like a star twinkling
in a black sky, whilst the other two cast long flashes of light, of
fantastic shapes, among the interminable windings of the stairs.

"By Jove!" said the zinc-worker as he reached the first floor, smiling,
"there's a strong smell of onion soup. Someone's having onion soup, I'm

Staircase B, with its gray, dirty steps and hand-rail, its scratched
walls and chipped plaster, was full of strong kitchen odors. Long
corridors, echoing with noise, led away from each landing. Doors,
painted yellow, gaped open, smeared black around the latch from dirty
hands. A sink on each landing gave forth a fetid humidity, adding its
stench to the sharp flavor of the cooking of onions. From the basement,
all the way to the sixth floor, you could hear dishes clattering,
saucepans being rinsed, pots being scraped and scoured.

On the first floor Gervaise saw a half-opened door with the word
"Designer" written on it in large letters. Inside were two men sitting
by a table, the dishes cleared away from its oilcloth cover, arguing
furiously amid a cloud of pipe smoke. The second and third floors were
quieter, and through cracks in the woodwork only such sounds filtered as
the rhythm of a cradle rocking, the stifled crying of a child, a woman's
voice sounding like the dull murmur of running water with no words
distinct. Gervaise read the various signs on the doors giving the names
of the occupants: "Madame Gaudron, wool-carder" and "Monsieur Madinier,
cardboard boxes." There was a fight in progress on the fourth floor: a
stomping of feet that shook the floor, furniture banged around, a racket
of curses and blows; but this did not bother the neighbors opposite, who
were playing cards with their door opened wide to admit more air.

When Gervaise reached the fifth floor, she had to stop to take a breath;
she was not used to going up so high; that wall for ever turning, the
glimpses she had of the lodgings following each other, made her head
ache. Anyway, there was a family almost blocking the landing: the father
washing the dishes over a small earthenware stove near the sink and the
mother sitting with her back to the stair-rail and cleaning the baby
before putting it to bed.

Coupeau kept urging Gervaise along, and they finally reached the sixth
floor. He encouraged her with a smile; they had arrived! She had been
hearing a voice all the way up from the bottom and she was gazing
upward, wondering where it could be coming from, a voice so clear and
piercing that it had dominated all the other sounds. It came from a
little old woman in an attic room who sang while putting dresses on
cheap dolls. When a tall girl came by with a pail of water and entered
a nearby apartment, Gervaise saw a tumbled bed on which a man was
sprawled, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. As the door closed behind her,
Gervaise saw the hand-written card: "Mademoiselle Clemence, ironing."

Now that she had finally made it to the top, her legs weary and her
breath short, Gervaise leaned over the railing to look down. Now it
was the gaslight on the first floor which seemed a distant star at the
bottom of a narrow well six stories deep. All the odors and all the
murmurings of the immense variety of life within the tenement came up
to her in one stifling breath that flushed her face as she hazarded a
worried glance down into the gulf below.

"We're not there yet," said Coupeau. "Oh! It's quite a journey!"

He had gone down a long corridor on the left. He turned twice, the first
time also to the left, the second time to the right. The corridor still
continued branching off, narrowing between walls full of crevices,
with plaster peeling off, and lighted at distant intervals by a slender
gas-jet; and the doors all alike, succeeded each other the same as
the doors of a prison or a convent, and nearly all open, continued to
display homes of misery and work, which the hot June evening filled
with a reddish mist. At length they reached a small passage in complete

"We're here," resumed the zinc-worker. "Be careful, keep to the wall;
there are three steps."

And Gervaise carefully took another ten steps in the obscurity. She
stumbled and then counted the three steps. But at the end of the passage
Coupeau had opened a door, without knocking. A brilliant light spread
over the tiled floor. They entered.

It was a narrow apartment, and seemed as if it were the continuation of
the corridor. A faded woolen curtain, raised up just then by a string,
divided the place in two. The first part contained a bedstead pushed
beneath an angle of the attic ceiling, a cast-iron stove still warm
from the cooking of the dinner, two chairs, a table and a wardrobe, the
cornice of which had had to be sawn off to make it fit in between the
door and the bedstead. The second part was fitted up as a work-shop; at
the end, a narrow forge with its bellows; to the right, a vise fixed to
the wall beneath some shelves on which pieces of old iron lay scattered;
to the left near the window, a small workman's bench, encumbered with
greasy and very dirty pliers, shears and microscopical saws, all very
dirty and grimy.

"It's us!" cried Coupeau advancing as far as the woolen curtain.

But no one answered at first. Gervaise, deeply affected, moved
especially by the thought that she was about to enter a place full of
gold, stood behind the zinc-worker, stammering and venturing upon nods
of her head by way of bowing. The brilliant light, a lamp burning on
the bench, a brazier full of coals flaring in the forge, increased
her confusion still more. She ended however, by distinguishing Madame
Lorilleux--little, red-haired and tolerably strong, pulling with all
the strength of her short arms, and with the assistance of a big pair of
pincers, a thread of black metal which she passed through the holes of
a draw-plate fixed to the vise. Seated in front of the bench, Lorilleux,
quite as small of stature, but more slender in the shoulders, worked
with the tips of his pliers, with the vivacity of a monkey, at a labor
so minute, that it was impossible to follow it between his scraggy
fingers. It was the husband who first raised his head--a head with
scanty locks, the face of the yellow tinge of old wax, long, and with an
ailing expression.

"Ah! it's you; well, well!" murmured he. "We're in a hurry you know.
Don't come into the work-room, you'd be in our way. Stay in the

And he resumed his minute task, his face again in the reflection of a
glass globe full of green-colored water, through which the lamp shed a
circle of bright light over his work.

"Take the chairs!" called out Madame Lorilleux in her turn. "It's that
lady, isn't it? Very well, very well!"

She had rolled the wire and she carried it to the forge, and then,
reviving the fire of the brazier with a large wooden fan, she proceeded
to temper the wire before passing it through the last holes of the

Coupeau moved the chairs forward and seated Gervaise by the curtain. The
room was so narrow that he could not sit beside her, so he sat behind
her, leaning over her shoulder to explain the work in progress. Gervaise
was intimidated by this strange reception and felt uneasy. She had a
buzzing in her ears and couldn't hear clearly. She thought the wife
looked older than her thirty years and not very neat with her hair in a
pigtail dangling down the back of her loosely worn wrapper. The husband,
who was only a year older, appeared already an old man with mean, thin
lips, as he sat there working in his shirt sleeves with his bare feet
thrust into down at the heel slippers. Gervaise was dismayed by the
smallness of the shop, the grimy walls, the rustiness of the tools, and
the black soot spread all over what looked like the odds and ends of a
scrap-iron peddler's wares.

"And the gold?" asked Gervaise in a low voice.

Her anxious glances searched the corners and sought amongst all that
filth for the resplendence she had dreamt of. But Coupeau burst out

"Gold?" said he; "why there's some; there's some more, and there's some
at your feet!"

He pointed successively to the fine wire at which his sister was
working, and to another roll of wire, similar to the ordinary iron
wire, hanging against the wall close to the vise; then going down on all
fours, he picked up, beneath the wooden screen which covered the tiled
floor of the work-room, a piece of waste, a tiny fragment resembling the
point of a rusty needle. But Gervaise protested; that couldn't be gold,
that blackish piece of metal as ugly as iron! He had to bite into
the piece and show her the gleaming notch made by his teeth. Then
he continued his explanations: the employers provided the gold wire,
already alloyed; the craftsmen first pulled it through the draw-plate to
obtain the correct size, being careful to anneal it five or six times to
keep it from breaking. It required a steady, strong hand, and plenty of
practice. His sister would not let her husband touch the wire-drawing
since he was subject to coughing spells. She had strong arms for it; he
had seen her draw gold to the fineness of a hair.

Lorilleux, seized with a fit of coughing, almost doubled up on his
stool. In the midst of the paroxysm, he spoke, and said in a choking
voice, still without looking at Gervaise, as though he was merely
mentioning the thing to himself:

"I'm making the herring-bone chain."

Coupeau urged Gervaise to get up. She might draw nearer and see. The
chainmaker consented with a grunt. He wound the wire prepared by his
wife round a mandrel, a very thin steel rod. Then he sawed gently,
cutting the wire the whole length of the mandrel, each turn forming
a link, which he soldered. The links were laid on a large piece of
charcoal. He wetted them with a drop of borax, taken from the bottom of
a broken glass beside him; and he made them red-hot at the lamp beneath
the horizontal flame produced by the blow-pipe. Then, when he had
soldered about a hundred links he returned once more to his minute work,
propping his hands against the edge of the _cheville_, a small piece of
board which the friction of his hands had polished. He bent each link
almost double with the pliers, squeezed one end close, inserted it in
the last link already in place and then, with the aid of a point opened
out again the end he had squeezed; and he did this with a continuous
regularity, the links joining each other so rapidly that the chain
gradually grew beneath Gervaise's gaze, without her being able to
follow, or well understand how it was done.

"That's the herring-bone chain," said Coupeau. "There's also the
long link, the cable, the plain ring, and the spiral. But that's the
herring-bone. Lorilleux only makes the herring-bone chain."

The latter chuckled with satisfaction. He exclaimed, as he continued
squeezing the links, invisible between his black finger-nails.

"Listen to me, Young Cassis! I was making a calculation this morning.
I commenced work when I was twelve years old, you know. Well! Can you
guess how long a herring-bone chain I must have made up till to-day?"

He raised his pale face, and blinked his red eye-lids.

"Twenty-six thousand feet, do you hear? Two leagues! That's something!
A herring-bone chain two leagues long! It's enough to twist round the
necks of all the women of the neighborhood. And you know, it's still
increasing. I hope to make it long enough to reach from Paris to

Gervaise had returned to her seat, disenchanted and thinking everything
very ugly. She smiled to be polite to the Lorilleuxs. The complete
silence about her marriage bothered her. It was the sole reason for her
having come. The Lorilleuxs were treating her as some stranger brought
in by Coupeau. When a conversation finally did get started, it concerned
the building's tenants. Madame Lorilleux asked her husband if he had
heard the people on the fourth floor having a fight. They fought every
day. The husband usually came home drunk and the wife had her faults
too, yelling in the filthiest language. Then they spoke of the designer
on the first floor, an uppity show-off with a mound of debts, always
smoking, always arguing loudly with his friends. Monsieur Madinier's
cardboard business was barely surviving. He had let two girl workers go
yesterday. The business ate up all his money, leaving his children to
run around in rags. And that Madame Gaudron was pregnant again; this was
almost indecent at her age. The landlord was going to evict the Coquets
on the fifth floor. They owed nine months' rent, and besides, they
insisted on lighting their stove out on the landing. Last Saturday the
old lady on the sixth floor, Mademoiselle Remanjou, had arrived just in
time to save the Linguerlot child from being badly burned. Mademoiselle
Clemence, one who took in ironing, well, she lived life as she pleased.
She was so kind to animals though and had such a good heart that you
couldn't say anything against her. It was a pity, a fine girl like her,
the company she kept. She'd be walking the streets before long.

"Look, here's one," said Lorilleux to his wife, giving her the piece of
chain he had been working on since his lunch. "You can trim it." And he
added, with the persistence of a man who does not easily relinquish
a joke: "Another four feet and a half. That brings me nearer to

Madame Lorilleux, after tempering it again, trimmed it by passing it
through the regulating draw-plate. Then she put it in a little copper
saucepan with a long handle, full of lye-water, and placed it over the
fire of the forge. Gervaise, again pushed forward by Coupeau, had to
follow this last operation. When the chain was thoroughly cleansed, it
appeared a dull red color. It was finished, and ready to be delivered.

"They're always delivered like that, in their rough state," the
zinc-worker explained. "The polishers rub them afterwards with cloths."

Gervaise felt her courage failing her. The heat, more and more intense,
was suffocating her. They kept the door shut, because Lorilleux caught
cold from the least draught. Then as they still did not speak of the
marriage, she wanted to go away and gently pulled Coupeau's jacket. He
understood. Besides, he also was beginning to feel ill at ease and vexed
at their affectation of silence.

"Well, we're off," said he. "We mustn't keep you from your work."

He moved about for a moment, waiting, hoping for a word or some allusion
or other. At length he decided to broach the subject himself.

"I say, Lorilleux, we're counting on you to be my wife's witness."

The chainmaker pretended, with a chuckle, to be greatly surprised;
whilst his wife, leaving her draw-plates, placed herself in the middle
of the work-room.

"So it's serious then?" murmured he. "That confounded Young Cassis, one
never knows whether he is joking or not."

"Ah! yes, madame's the person involved," said the wife in her turn, as
she stared rudely at Gervaise. "_Mon Dieu!_ We've no advice to give
you, we haven't. It's a funny idea to go and get married, all the same.
Anyhow, it's your own wish. When it doesn't succeed, one's only got
oneself to blame, that's all. And it doesn't often succeed, not often,
not often."

She uttered these last words slower and slower, and shaking her head,
she looked from the young woman's face to her hands, and then to her
feet as though she had wished to undress her and see the very pores of
her skin. She must have found her better than she expected.

"My brother is perfectly free," she continued more stiffly. "No doubt
the family might have wished--one always makes projects. But things take
such funny turns. For myself, I don't want to have any unpleasantness.
Had he brought us the lowest of the low, I should merely have said:
'Marry her and go to blazes!' He was not badly off though, here with
us. He's fat enough; one can very well see he didn't fast much; and he
always found his soup hot right on time. I say, Lorilleux, don't you
think madame's like Therese--you know who I mean, that woman who used to
live opposite, and who died of consumption?"

"Yes, there's a certain resemblance," replied the chainmaker.

"And you've got two children, madame? Now, I must admit I said to my
brother: 'I can't understand how you can want to marry a woman who's got
two children.' You mustn't be offended if I consult his interests; its
only natural. You don't look strong either. Don't you think, Lorilleux,
that madame doesn't look very strong?"

"No, no, she's not strong."

They did not mention her leg; but Gervaise understood by their side
glances, and the curling of their lips, that they were alluding to it.
She stood before them, wrapped in her thin shawl with the yellow palms,
replying in monosyllables, as though in the presence of her judges.
Coupeau, seeing she was suffering, ended by exclaiming:

"All that's nothing to do with it. What you are talking about isn't
important. The wedding will take place on Saturday, July 29. I
calculated by the almanac. Is it settled? Does it suit you?"

"Oh, it's all the same to us," said his sister. "There was no necessity
to consult us. I shan't prevent Lorilleux being witness. I only want
peace and quiet."

Gervaise, hanging her head, not knowing what to do with herself had put
the toe of her boot through one of the openings in the wooden screen
which covered the tiled floor of the work-room; then afraid of having
disturbed something when she had withdrawn it, she stooped down and felt
about with her hand. Lorilleux hastily brought the lamp, and he examined
her fingers suspiciously.

"You must be careful," said he, "the tiny bits of gold stick to the
shoes, and get carried away without one knowing it."

It was all to do with business. The employers didn't allow a single
speck for waste. He showed her the rabbit's foot he used to brush off
any flecks of gold left on the _cheville_ and the leather he kept on
his lap to catch any gold that fell. Twice weekly the shop was swept out
carefully, the sweepings collected and burned and the ashes sifted. This
recovered up to twenty-five or thirty francs' worth of gold a month.

Madame Lorilleux could not take her eyes from Gervaise's shoes.

"There's no reason to get angry," murmured she with an amiable smile.
"But, perhaps madame would not mind looking at the soles of her shoes."

And Gervaise, turning very red, sat down again, and holding up her feet
showed that there was nothing clinging to them. Coupeau had opened the
door, exclaiming: "Good-night!" in an abrupt tone of voice. He called to
her from the corridor. Then she in her turn went off, after stammering
a few polite words: she hoped to see them again, and that they would
all agree well together. Both of the Lorilleux had already gone back
to their work at the far end of their dark hole of a work-room. Madame
Lorilleux, her skin reflecting the red glow from the bed of coals, was
drawing on another wire. Each effort swelling her neck and making the
strained muscles stand out like taut cords. Her husband, hunched over
beneath the greenish gleam of the globe was starting another length
of chain, twisting each link with his pliers, pressing it on one side,
inserting it into the next link above, opening it again with the pointed
tool, continuously, mechanically, not wasting a motion, even to wipe the
sweat from his face.

When Gervaise emerged from the corridor on to the landing, she could not
help saying, with tears in her eyes:

"That doesn't promise much happiness."

Coupeau shook his head furiously. He would get even with Lorilleux for
that evening. Had anyone ever seen such a miserly fellow? To think that
they were going to walk off with two or three grains of his gold dust!
All the fuss they made was from pure avarice. His sister thought perhaps
that he would never marry, so as to enable her to economize four sous on
her dinner every day. However, it would take place all the same on July
29. He did not care a hang for them!

Nevertheless, Gervaise still felt depressed. Tormented by a foolish
fearfulness, she peered anxiously into every dark shadow along the
stair-rail as she descended. It was dark and deserted at this hour, lit
only by a single gas jet on the second floor. In the shadowy depths of
the dark pit, it gave a spot of brightness, even with its flamed turned
so low. It was now silent behind the closed doors; the weary laborers
had gone to sleep after eating. However, there was a soft laugh from
Mademoiselle Clemence's room and a ray of light shone through the
keyhole of Mademoiselle Remanjou's door. She was still busy cutting
out dresses for the dolls. Downstairs at Madame Gaudron's, a child was
crying. The sinks on the landings smelled more offensive than ever in
the midst of the darkness and stillness.

In the courtyard, Gervaise turned back for a last look at the tenement
as Coupeau called out to the concierge. The building seemed to have
grown larger under the moonless sky. The drip-drip of water from the
faucet sounded loud in the quiet. Gervaise felt that the building was
threatening to suffocate her and a chill went through her body. It was a
childish fear and she smiled at it a moment later.

"Watch your step," warned Coupeau.

To get to the entrance, Gervaise had to jump over a wide puddle that had
drained from the dye shop. The puddle was blue now, the deep blue of
a summer sky. The reflections from the night light of the concierge
sparkled in it like stars.


Gervaise did not want to have a wedding-party! What was the use of
spending money? Besides, she still felt somewhat ashamed; it seemed
to her quite unnecessary to parade the marriage before the whole
neighborhood. But Coupeau cried out at that. One could not be married
without having a feed. He did not care a button for the people of the
neighborhood! Nothing elaborate, just a short walk and a rabbit ragout
in the first eating-house they fancied. No music with dessert. Just a
glass or two and then back home.

The zinc-worker, chaffing and joking, at length got the young woman to
consent by promising her that there should be no larks. He would keep
his eye on the glasses, to prevent sunstrokes. Then he organized a
sort of picnic at five francs a head, at the "Silver Windmill," kept
by Auguste, on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. It was a small cafe with
moderate charges and had a dancing place in the rear, beneath the three
acacias in the courtyard. They would be very comfortable on the first
floor. During the next ten days, he got hold of guests in the house
where his sister lived in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or--Monsieur Madinier,
Mademoiselle Remanjou, Madame Gaudron and her husband. He even ended
by getting Gervaise to consent to the presence of two of his
comrades--Bibi-the-Smoker and My-Boots. No doubt My-Boots was a boozer;
but then he had such a fantastic appetite that he was always asked to
join those sort of gatherings, just for the sight of the caterer's
mug when he beheld that bottomless pit swallowing his twelve pounds
of bread. The young woman on her side, promised to bring her employer
Madame Fauconnier and the Boches, some very agreeable people. On
counting, they found there would be fifteen to sit down to table,
which was quite enough. When there are too many, they always wind up by

Coupeau however, had no money. Without wishing to show off, he intended
to behave handsomely. He borrowed fifty francs of his employer. Out of
that, he first of all purchased the wedding-ring--a twelve franc gold
wedding-ring, which Lorilleux procured for him at the wholesale price of
nine francs. He then bought himself a frock coat, a pair of trousers
and a waistcoat at a tailor's in the Rue Myrrha, to whom he gave merely
twenty-five francs on account; his patent leather shoes and his hat
were still good enough. When he had put by the ten francs for his
and Gervaise's share of the feast--the two children not being charged
for--he had exactly six francs left--the price of a low mass at the
altar of the poor. He had no liking for those black crows, the priests.
It would gripe him to pay his last six francs to keep their whistles
wet; however, a marriage without a mass wasn't a real marriage at all.

Going to the church himself, he bargained for a whole hour with a little
old priest in a dirty cassock who was as sharp at dealing as a push-cart
peddler. Coupeau felt like boxing his ears. For a joke, he asked the
priest if he didn't have a second-hand mass that would do for a modest
young couple. The priest, mumbling that God would take small pleasure
in blessing their union, finally let his have his mass for five francs.
Well after all, that meant twenty sous saved.

Gervaise also wanted to look decent. As soon as the marriage was
settled, she made her arrangements, worked extra time in the evenings,
and managed to put thirty francs on one side. She had a great longing
for a little silk mantle marked thirteen francs in the Rue du Faubourg
Poissonniere. She treated herself to it, and then bought for ten francs
of the husband of a washerwoman who had died in Madame Fauconnier's
house a blue woolen dress, which she altered to fit herself. With the
seven francs remaining she procured a pair of cotton gloves, a rose
for her cap, and some shoes for Claude, her eldest boy. Fortunately
the youngsters' blouses were passable. She spent four nights cleaning
everything, and mending the smallest holes in her stockings and chemise.

On Friday night, the eve of the great day, Gervaise and Coupeau had
still a good deal of running about to do up till eleven o'clock, after
returning home from work. Then before separating for the night they
spent an hour together in the young woman's room, happy at being about
to be released from their awkward position. In spite of the fact that
they had originally resolved not to put themselves out to impress the
neighbors, they had ended by taking it seriously and working themselves
till they were weary. By the time they said "Good-night," they were
almost asleep on their feet. They breathed a great sigh of relief now
that everything was ready.

Coupeau's witnesses were to be Monsieur Madinier and Bibi-the-Smoker.
They were counting on Lorilleux and Boche for Gervaise's witnesses. They
were to go quietly to the mayor's office and the church, just the six
of them, without a whole procession of people trailing behind them. The
bridegroom's two sisters had even declared that they would stay home,
their presence not being necessary. Coupeau's mother, however, had
sobbed and wailed, threatening to go ahead of them and hide herself in
some corner of the church, until they had promised to take her along.
The meeting of the guests was set for one o'clock at the Silver
Windmill. From there, they would go to Saint-Denis, going out by
railroad and returning on foot along the highway in order to work up an
appetite. The party promised to be quite all right.

Saturday morning, while getting dressed, Coupeau felt a qualm of
uneasiness in view of the single franc in his pocket. He began to think
that it was a matter of ordinary courtesy to offer a glass of wine and
a slice of ham to the witnesses while awaiting dinner. Also, there might
be unforeseen expenses. So, after taking Claude and Etienne to stay with
Madame Boche, who was to bring them to the dinner later that afternoon,
he hurried over to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or to borrow ten francs from
Lorilleux. Having to do that griped him immensely as he could guess the
attitude his brother-in-law would take. The latter did grumble a
bit, but ended by lending him two five-franc pieces. However, Coupeau
overheard his sister muttering under her breath, "This is a fine

The ceremony at the mayor's was to take place at half-past ten. It was
beautiful weather--a magnificent sun seemed to roast the streets. So as
not to be stared at the bride and bridegroom, the old mother, and the
four witnesses separated into two bands. Gervaise walked in front with
Lorilleux, who gave her his arm; whilst Monsieur Madinier followed with
mother Coupeau. Then, twenty steps behind on the opposite side of the
way, came Coupeau, Boche, and Bibi-the-Smoker. These three were in black
frock coats, walking erect and swinging their arms. Boche's trousers
were bright yellow. Bibi-the-Smoker didn't have a waistcoat so he was
buttoned up to the neck with only a bit of his cravat showing. The only
one in a full dress suit was Monsieur Madinier and passers-by gazed at
this well-dressed gentleman escorting the huge bulk of mother Coupeau in
her green shawl and black bonnet with red ribbons.

Gervaise looked very gay and sweet in her dress of vivid blue and
with her new silk mantle fitted tightly to her shoulders. She listened
politely to the sneering remarks of Lorilleux, who seemed buried in
the depths of the immense overcoat he was wearing. From time to time,
Gervaise would turn her head a little to smile brightly at Coupeau, who
was rather uncomfortable under the hot sun in his new clothes.

Though they walked very slowly, they arrived at the mayor's quite half
an hour too soon. And as the mayor was late, their turn was not reached
till close upon eleven o'clock. They sat down on some chairs and waited
in a corner of the apartment, looking by turns at the high ceiling and
bare walls, talking low, and over-politely pushing back their chairs
each time that one of the attendants passed. Yet among themselves they
called the mayor a sluggard, saying he must be visiting his blonde to
get a massage for his gout, or that maybe he'd swallowed his official

However, when the mayor did put in his appearance, they rose
respectfully in his honor. They were asked to sit down again and they
had to wait through three other marriages. The hall was crowded with the
three bourgeois wedding parties: brides all in white, little girls
with carefully curled hair, bridesmaids wearing wide sashes, an endless
procession of ladies and gentlemen dressed in their best and looking
very stylish.

When at length they were called, they almost missed being married
altogether. Bibi-the-Smoker having disappeared. Boche discovered him
outside smoking his pipe. Well! They were a nice lot inside there to
humbug people about like that, just because one hadn't yellow kid gloves
to shove under their noses! And the various formalities--the reading
of the Code, the different questions to be put, the signing of all the
documents--were all got through so rapidly that they looked at each
other with an idea that they had been robbed of a good half of the
ceremony. Gervaise, dizzy, her heart full, pressed her handkerchief to
her lips. Mother Coupeau wept bitterly. All had signed the register,
writing their names in big struggling letters with the exception of the
bridegroom, who not being able to write, had put his cross. They each
gave four sous for the poor. When an attendant handed Coupeau the
marriage certificate, the latter, prompted by Gervaise who nudged his
elbow, handed him another five sous.

It was a fair walk from the mayor's office in the town hall to the
church. The men stopped along the way to have a beer. Mother Coupeau and
Gervaise took cassis with water. Then they had to trudge along the long
street where the sun glared straight down without the relief of shade.

When they arrived at the church they were hurried along and asked if
they came so late in order to make a mockery of religion. A priest came
forward, his face pale and resentful from having to delay his lunch. An
altar boy in a soiled surplice ran before him.

The mass went very fast, with the priest turning, bowing his head,
spreading out his arms, making all the ritual gestures in haste while
casting sidelong glances at the group. Gervaise and Coupeau, before the
altar, were embarrassed, not knowing when they should kneel or rise
or seat themselves, expecting some indication from the attendant. The
witnesses, not knowing what was proper, remained standing during the
ceremony. Mother Coupeau was weeping again and shedding her tears into
the missal she had borrowed from a neighbor.

Meanwhile, the noon chimes had sounded and the church began to fill with
noise from the shuffling feet of sacristans and the clatter of chairs
being put back in place. The high altar was apparently being prepared
for some special ceremony.

Thus, in the depths of this obscure chapel, amid the floating dust, the
surly priest placed his withered hands on the bared heads of Gervaise
and Coupeau, blessing their union amid a hubbub like that of moving day.
The wedding party signed another registry, this time in the sacristy,
and then found themselves out in the bright sunlight before the church
doors where they stood for a moment, breathless and confused from having
been carried along at such a break-neck speed.

"Voila!" said Coupeau with an embarrassed laugh. "Well, it sure didn't
take long. They shove it at you so; it's like being at the painless
dentist's who doesn't give you time to cry out. Here you get a painless

"Yes, it's a quick job," Lorilleux smirked. "In five minutes you're tied
together for the rest of your life. You poor Young Cassis, you've had

The four witnesses whacked Coupeau on the shoulders as he arched his
back against the friendly blows. Meanwhile Gervaise was hugging and
kissing mother Coupeau, her eyes moist, a smile lighting her face. She
replied reassuringly to the old woman's sobbing: "Don't worry, I'll do
my best. I want so much to have a happy life. If it doesn't work out
it won't be my fault. Anyhow, it's done now. It's up to us to get along
together and do the best we can for each other."

After that they went straight to the Silver Windmill. Coupeau had taken
his wife's arm. They walked quickly, laughing as though carried away,
quite two hundred steps ahead of the others, without noticing the houses
or the passers-by, or the vehicles. The deafening noises of the faubourg
sounded like bells in their ears. When they reached the wineshop,
Coupeau at once ordered two bottles of wine, some bread and some slices
of ham, to be served in the little glazed closet on the ground floor,
without plates or table cloth, simply to have a snack. Then, noticing
that Boche and Bibi-the-Smoker seemed to be very hungry, he had a third
bottle brought, as well as a slab of brie cheese. Mother Coupeau was not
hungry, being too choked up to be able to eat. Gervaise found herself
very thirsty, and drank several large glasses of water with a small
amount of wine added.

"I'll settle for this," said Coupeau, going at once to the bar, where he
paid four francs and five sous.

It was now one o'clock and the other guests began to arrive. Madame
Fauconnier, a fat woman, still good looking, first put in an appearance;
she wore a chintz dress with a flowery pattern, a pink tie and a cap
over-trimmed with flowers. Next came Mademoiselle Remanjou, looking very
thin in the eternal black dress which she seemed to keep on even when
she went to bed; and the two Gaudrons--the husband, like some heavy
animal and almost bursting his brown jacket at the slightest movement,
the wife, an enormous woman, whose figure indicated evident signs of an
approaching maternity and whose stiff violet colored skirt still more
increased her rotundity. Coupeau explained that they were not to
wait for My-Boots; his comrade would join the party on the Route de

"Well!" exclaimed Madame Lerat as she entered, "it'll pour in torrents
soon! That'll be pleasant!"

And she called everyone to the door of the wineshop to see the clouds
as black as ink which were rising rapidly to the south of Paris. Madame
Lerat, eldest of the Coupeaus, was a tall, gaunt woman who talked
through her nose. She was unattractively dressed in a puce-colored robe
that hung loosely on her and had such long dangling fringes that
they made her look like a skinny poodle coming out of the water. She
brandished her umbrella like a club. After greeting Gervaise, she said,
"You've no idea. The heat in the street is like a slap on the face.
You'd think someone was throwing fire at you."

Everyone agreed that they knew the storm was coming. It was in the air.
Monsieur Madinier said that he had seen it as they were coming out of
the church. Lorilleux mentioned that his corns were aching and he hadn't
been able to sleep since three in the morning. A storm was due. It had
been much too hot for three days in a row.

"Well, maybe it will just be a little mist," Coupeau said several times,
standing at the door and anxiously studying the sky. "Now we have to
wait only for my sister. We'll start as soon as she arrives."

Madame Lorilleux was late. Madame Lerat had stopped by so they could
come together, but found her only beginning to get dressed. The two
sisters had argued. The widow whispered in her brother's ear, "I left
her flat! She's in a dreadful mood. You'll see."

And the wedding party had to wait another quarter of an hour, walking
about the wineshop, elbowed and jostled in the midst of the men who
entered to drink a glass of wine at the bar. Now and again Boche, or
Madame Fauconnier, or Bibi-the-Smoker left the others and went to the
edge of the pavement, looking up at the sky. The storm was not passing
over at all; a darkness was coming on and puffs of wind, sweeping along
the ground, raised little clouds of white dust. At the first clap of
thunder, Mademoiselle Remanjou made the sign of the cross. All the
glances were anxiously directed to the clock over the looking-glass; it
was twenty minutes to two.

"Here it goes!" cried Coupeau. "It's the angels who're weeping."

A gush of rain swept the pavement, along which some women flew, holding
down their skirts with both hands. And it was in the midst of this
first shower that Madame Lorilleux at length arrived, furious and out of
breath, and struggling on the threshold with her umbrella that would not

"Did any one ever see such a thing?" she exclaimed. "It caught me just
at the door. I felt inclined to go upstairs again and take my things
off. I should have been wise had I done so. Ah! it's a pretty wedding! I
said how it would be. I wanted to put it off till next Saturday; and it
rains because they wouldn't listen to me! So much the better, so much
the better! I wish the sky would burst!"

Coupeau tried to pacify her without success. He wouldn't have to pay for
her dress if it was spoilt! She had on a black silk dress in which she
was nearly choking, the bodice, too tight fitting, was almost bursting
the button-holes, and was cutting her across the shoulders; while the
skirt only allowed her to take very short steps in walking. However, the
ladies present were all staring at her, quite overcome by her costume.

She appeared not to notice Gervaise, who was sitting beside mother
Coupeau. She asked her husband for his handkerchief. Then she went into
a corner and very carefully wiped off the raindrops that had fallen on
her silk dress.

The shower had abruptly ceased. The darkness increased, it was almost
like night--a livid night rent at times by large flashes of lightning.
Bibi-the-Smoker said laughingly that it would certainly rain priests.
Then the storm burst forth with extreme violence. For half an hour the
rain came down in bucketsful, and the thunder rumbled unceasingly.
The men standing up before the door contemplated the grey veil of the
downpour, the swollen gutters, the splashes of water caused by the rain
beating into the puddles. The women, feeling frightened, had sat down
again, holding their hands before their eyes. They no longer conversed,
they were too upset. A jest Boche made about the thunder, saying that
St. Peter was sneezing up there, failed to raise a smile. But, when
the thunder-claps became less frequent and gradually died away in the
distance, the wedding guests began to get impatient, enraged against
the storm, cursing and shaking their fists at the clouds. A fine and
interminable rain now poured down from the sky which had become an ashy

"It's past two o'clock," cried Madame Lorilleux. "We can't stop here for

Mademoiselle Remanjou, having suggested going into the country all
the same, even though they went no farther than the moat of the
fortifications, the others scouted the idea: the roads would be in
a nice state, one would not even be able to sit down on the grass;
besides, it did not seem to be all over yet, there might perhaps be
another downpour. Coupeau, who had been watching a workman, completely
soaked, yet quietly walking along in the rain, murmured:

"If that animal My-Boots is waiting for us on the Route de Saint-Denis,
he won't catch a sunstroke."

That made some of them laugh; but the general ill-humor increased.
It was becoming ludicrous. They must decide on something unless they
planned to sit there, staring at each other, until time for dinner. So
for the next quarter of an hour, while the persistent rain continued,
they tried to think of what to do. Bibi-the-Smoker suggested that they
play cards. Boche slyly suggesting a most amusing game, the game of true
confessions. Madame Gaudron thought of going to eat onion tarts on the
Chaussee Clignancourt. Madame Lerat wanted to hear some stories. Gaudron
said he wasn't a bit put out and thought they were quite well off where
they were, out of the downpour. He suggested sitting down to dinner

There was a discussion after each proposal. Some said that this would
put everybody to sleep or that that would make people think they were
stupid. Lorilleux had to get his word in. He finally suggested a walk
along the outer Boulevards to Pere Lachaise cemetery. They could visit
the tomb of Heloise and Abelard. Madame Lorilleux exploded, no longer
able to control herself. She was leaving, she was. Were they trying to
make fun of her? She got all dressed up and came out in the rain. And
for what? To be wasting time in a wineshop. No, she had had enough
of this wedding party. She'd rather be in her own home. Coupeau and
Lorilleux had to get between her and the door to keep her from leaving.
She kept telling them, "Get out of my way! I am leaving, I tell you!"

Lorilleux finally succeeded in calming her down. Coupeau went over to
Gervaise, who had been sitting quietly in a corner with mother Coupeau
and Madame Fauconnier.

"You haven't suggested anything," he said to her.

"Oh! Whatever they want," she replied, laughing. "I don't mind. We can
go out or stay here."

She seemed aglow with contentment. She had spoken to each guest as they
arrived. She spoke sensibly, in her soft voice, not getting into any
disagreements. During the downpour, she had sat with her eyes wide open,
watching the lightning as though she could see the future in the sudden

Monsieur Madinier had up to this time not proposed anything. He was
leaning against the bar, with the tails of his dress coat thrust apart,
while he fully maintained the important air of an employer. He kept on
expectorating, and rolled his big eyes about.

"_Mon Dieu_!" said he, "we might go to the Museum."

And he stroked his chin, as he blinkingly consulted the other members of
the party.

"There are antiquities, pictures, paintings, a whole heap of things. It
is very instructive. Perhaps you have never been there. Oh! it is quite
worth seeing at least once in a while."

They looked at each other interrogatively. No, Gervaise had never been;
Madame Fauconnier neither, nor Boche, nor the others. Coupeau thought he
had been one Sunday, but he was not sure. They hesitated, however, when
Madame Lorilleux, greatly impressed by Monsieur Madinier's importance,
thought the suggestion a very worthy and respectable one. As they
were wasting the day, and were all dressed up, they might as well go
somewhere for their own instruction. Everyone approved. Then, as it
still rained a little, they borrowed some umbrellas from the proprietor
of the wineshop, old blue, green, and brown umbrellas, forgotten by
different customers, and started off to the Museum.

The wedding party turned to the right, and descended into Paris along
the Faubourg Saint-Denis. Coupeau and Gervaise again took the lead,
almost running and keeping a good distance in front of the others.
Monsieur Madinier now gave his arm to Madame Lorilleux, mother Coupeau
having remained behind in the wineshop on account of her old legs.
Then came Lorilleux and Madame Lerat, Boche and Madame Fauconnier,
Bibi-the-Smoker and Mademoiselle Remanjou, and finally the two Gaudrons.
They were twelve and made a pretty long procession on the pavement.

"I swear to you, we had nothing to do with it," Madame Lorilleux
explained to Monsieur Madinier. "We don't even know how they met, or,
we know only too well, but that's not for us to discuss. My husband even
had to buy the wedding ring. We were scarcely out of bed this morning
when he had to lend them ten francs. And, not a member of her family at
her wedding, what kind of bride is that? She says she has a sister in
Paris who works for a pork butcher. Why didn't she invite her?" She
stopped to point at Gervaise, who was limping awkwardly because of the
slope of the pavement. "Just look at her. Clump-clump."

"Clump-clump" ran through the wedding procession. Lorilleux laughed
under his breath, and said they ought to call her that, but Madame
Fauconnier stood up for Gervaise. They shouldn't make fun of her; she
was neat as a pin and did a good job when there was washing to be done.

When the wedding procession came out of the Faubourg Saint-Denis, they
had to cross the boulevard. The street had been transformed into a
morass of sticky mud by the storm. It had started to pour again and they
had opened the assorted umbrellas. The women picked their way carefully
through the mud, holding their skirts high as the men held the
sorry-looking umbrellas over their heads. The procession stretched out
the width of the street.

"It's a masquerade!" yelled two street urchins.

People turned to stare. These couples parading across the boulevard
added a splash of vivid color against the damp background. It was a
parade of a strange medley of styles showing fancy used clothing such as
constitute the luxury of the poor. The gentlemen's hats caused the most
merriment, old hats preserved for years in dark and dusty cupboards, in
a variety of comical forms: tall ones, flattened ones, sharply peaked
ones, hats with extraordinary brims, curled back or flat, too narrow
or too wide. Then at the very end, Madame Gaudron came along with
her bright dress over her bulging belly and caused the smiles of the
audience to grow even wider. The procession made no effort to hasten
its progress. They were, in fact, rather pleased to attract so much
attention and admiration.

"Look! Here comes the bride!" one of the urchins shouted, pointing
to Madame Gaudron. "Oh! Isn't it too bad! She must have swallowed

The entire wedding procession burst into laughter. Bibi-the-Smoker
turned around and laughed. Madame Gaudron laughed the most of all. She
wasn't ashamed as she thought more than one of the women watching had
looked at her with envy.

They turned into the Rue de Clery. Then they took the Rue du Mail. On
reaching the Place des Victoires, there was a halt. The bride's left
shoe lace had come undone, and as she tied it up again at the foot of
the statue of Louis XIV., the couples pressed behind her waiting, and
joking about the bit of calf of her leg that she displayed. At length,
after passing down the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, they reached the

Monsieur Madinier politely asked to be their cicerone. It was a big
place, and they might lose themselves; besides, he knew the best parts,
because he had often come there with an artist, a very intelligent
fellow from whom a large dealer bought designs to put on his cardboard
boxes. Down below, when the wedding party entered the Assyrian Museum,
a slight shiver passed through it. The deuce! It was not at all warm
there; the hall would have made a capital cellar. And the couples slowly
advanced, their chins raised, their eyes blinking, between the gigantic
stone figures, the black marble gods, dumb in their hieratic rigidity,
and the monstrous beasts, half cats and half women, with death-like
faces, attenuated noses, and swollen lips. They thought all these things
very ugly. The stone carvings of the present day were a great deal
better. An inscription in Phoenician characters amazed them. No one
could possibly have ever read that scrawl. But Monsieur Madinier,
already up on the first landing with Madame Lorilleux, called to them,
shouting beneath the vaulted ceiling:

"Come along! They're nothing, all those things! The things to see are on
the first floor!"

The severe barrenness of the staircase made them very grave. An
attendant, superbly attired in a red waistcoat and a coat trimmed with
gold lace, who seemed to be awaiting them on the landing, increased
their emotion. It was with great respect, and treading as softly as
possible, that they entered the French Gallery.

Then, without stopping, their eyes occupied with the gilding of the
frames, they followed the string of little rooms, glancing at the
passing pictures too numerous to be seen properly. It would have
required an hour before each, if they had wanted to understand it. What
a number of pictures! There was no end to them. They must be worth a
mint of money. Right at the end, Monsieur Madinier suddenly ordered a
halt opposite the "Raft of the Medusa" and he explained the subject to
them. All deeply impressed and motionless, they uttered not a word. When
they started off again, Boche expressed the general feeling, saying it
was marvellous.

In the Apollo Gallery, the inlaid flooring especially astonished the
party--a shining floor, as clear as a mirror, and which reflected the
legs of the seats. Mademoiselle Remanjou kept her eyes closed, because
she could not help thinking that she was walking on water. They
called to Madame Gaudron to be careful how she trod on account of
her condition. Monsieur Madinier wanted to show them the gilding and
paintings of the ceiling; but it nearly broke their necks to look up
above, and they could distinguish nothing. Then, before entering the
Square Salon, he pointed to a window, saying:

"That's the balcony from which Charles IX. fired on the people."

He looked back to make sure the party was following. In the middle
of the Salon Carre, he held up his hand. "There are only masterpieces
here," he said, in a subdued voice, as though in church. They went all
around the room. Gervaise wanted to know about "The Wedding at Cana."
Coupeau paused to stare at the "Mona Lisa," saying that she reminded him
of one of his aunts. Boche and Bibi-the-Smoker snickered at the nudes,
pointing them out to each other and winking. The Gaudrons looked at the
"Virgin" of Murillo, he with his mouth open, she with her hands folded
on her belly.

When they had been all around the Salon, Monsieur Madinier wished them
to go round it again, it was so worth while. He was very attentive to
Madame Lorilleux, because of her silk dress; and each time that she
questioned him he answered her gravely, with great assurance. She was
curious about "Titian's Mistress" because the yellow hair resembled her
own. He told her it was "La Belle Ferronniere," a mistress of Henry IV.
about whom there had been a play at the Ambigu.

Then the wedding party invaded the long gallery occupied by the Italian
and Flemish schools. More paintings, always paintings, saints, men and
women, with faces which some of them could understand, landscapes that
were all black, animals turned yellow, a medley of people and things,
the great mixture of the colors of which was beginning to give them
all violent headaches. Monsieur Madinier no longer talked as he slowly
headed the procession, which followed him in good order, with stretched
necks and upcast eyes. Centuries of art passed before their bewildered
ignorance, the fine sharpness of the early masters, the splendors of
the Venetians, the vigorous life, beautiful with light, of the Dutch
painters. But what interested them most were the artists who were
copying, with their easels planted amongst the people, painting away
unrestrainedly, an old lady, mounted on a pair of high steps, working a
big brush over the delicate sky of an immense painting, struck them as
something most peculiar.

Slowly the word must have gone around that a wedding party was visiting
the Louvre. Several painters came over with big smiles. Some visitors
were so curious that they went to sit on benches ahead of the group in
order to be comfortable while they watched them pass in review. Museum
guards bit back comments. The wedding party was now quite weary and
beginning to drag their feet.

Monsieur Madinier was reserving himself to give more effect to a
surprise that he had in store. He went straight to the "Kermesse" of
Rubens; but still he said nothing. He contented himself with directing
the others' attention to the picture by a sprightly glance. The ladies
uttered faint cries the moment they brought their noses close to the
painting. Then, blushing deeply they turned away their heads. The men
though kept them there, cracking jokes, and seeking for the coarser

"Just look!" exclaimed Boche, "it's worth the money. There's one
spewing, and another, he's watering the dandelions; and that one--oh!
that one. Ah, well! They're a nice clean lot, they are!"

"Let us be off," said Monsieur Madinier, delighted with his success.
"There is nothing more to see here."

They retraced their steps, passing again through the Salon Carre and
the Apollo Gallery. Madame Lerat and Mademoiselle Remanjou complained,
declaring that their legs could scarcely bear them. But the cardboard
box manufacturer wanted to show Lorilleux the old jewelry. It was close
by in a little room which he could find with his eyes shut. However, he
made a mistake and led the wedding party astray through seven or eight
cold, deserted rooms, only ornamented with severe looking-glass cases,
containing numberless broken pots and hideous little figures.

While looking for an exit they stumbled into the collection of drawings.
It was immense. Through room after room they saw nothing interesting,
just scribblings on paper that filled all the cases and covered the
walls. They thought there was no end to these drawings.

Monsieur Madinier, losing his head, not willing to admit that he did
not know his way, ascended a flight of stairs, making the wedding party
mount to the next floor. This time they traversed the Naval Museum,
among models of instruments and cannons, plans in relief, and vessels as
tiny as playthings. After going a long way, and walking for a quarter
of an hour, the party came upon another staircase; and, having descended
this, found itself once more surrounded by the drawings. Then despair
took possession of them as they wandered at random through long halls,
following Monsieur Madinier, who was furious and mopping the sweat
from his forehead. He accused the government of having moved the doors
around. Museum guards and visitors looked on with astonishment as the
procession, still in a column of couples, passed by. They passed again
through the Salon Carre, the French Gallery and then along the cases
where minor Eastern divinities slumbered peacefully. It seemed they
would never find their way out. They were getting tired and made a lot
of noise.

"Closing time! Closing time!" called out the attendants, in a loud tone
of voice.

And the wedding party was nearly locked in. An attendant was obliged to
place himself at the head of it, and conduct it to a door. Then in the
courtyard of the Louvre, when it had recovered its umbrellas from the
cloakroom, it breathed again. Monsieur Madinier regained his assurance.
He had made a mistake in not turning to the left, now he recollected
that the jewelry was to the left. The whole party pretended to be very
pleased at having seen all they had.

Four o'clock was striking. There were still two hours to be employed
before the dinner time, so it was decided they should take a stroll,
just to occupy the interval. The ladies, who were very tired, would have
preferred to sit down; but, as no one offered any refreshments, they
started off, following the line of quays. There they encountered another
shower and so sharp a one that in spite of the umbrellas, the ladies'
dresses began to get wet. Madame Lorilleux, her heart sinking within
her each time a drop fell upon her black silk, proposed that they should
shelter themselves under the Pont-Royal; besides if the others did not
accompany her, she threatened to go all by herself. And the procession
marched under one of the arches of the bridge. They were very
comfortable there. It was, most decidedly a capital idea! The ladies,
spreading their handkerchiefs over the paving-stones, sat down with
their knees wide apart, and pulled out the blades of grass that grew
between the stones with both hands, whilst they watched the dark flowing
water as though they were in the country. The men amused themselves with
calling out very loud, so as to awaken the echoes of the arch. Boche and
Bibi-the-Smoker shouted insults into the air at the top of their voices,
one after the other. They laughed uproariously when the echo threw the
insults back at them. When their throats were hoarse from shouting, they
made a game of skipping flat stones on the surface of the Seine.

The shower had ceased but the whole party felt so comfortable that no
one thought of moving away. The Seine was flowing by, an oily sheet
carrying bottle corks, vegetable peelings, and other refuse that
sometimes collected in temporary whirlpools moving along with the
turbulent water. Endless traffic rumbled on the bridge overhead, the
noisy bustle of Paris, of which they could glimpse only the rooftops to
the left and right, as though they were in the bottom of a deep pit.

Mademoiselle Remanjou sighed; if the leaves had been out this would have
reminded her of a bend of the Marne where she used to go with a young
man. It still made her cry to think of him.

At last, Monsieur Madinier gave the signal for departure. They passed
through the Tuileries gardens, in the midst of a little community of
children, whose hoops and balls upset the good order of the couples.
Then as the wedding party on arriving at the Place Vendome looked up at
the column, Monsieur Madinier gallantly offered to treat the ladies to a
view from the top. His suggestion was considered extremely amusing. Yes,
yes, they would go up; it would give them something to laugh about for
a long time. Besides, it would be full of interest for those persons who
had never been higher than a cow pasture.

"Do you think Clump-clump will venture inside there with her leg all out
of place?" murmured Madame Lorilleux.

"I'll go up with pleasure," said Madame Lerat, "but I won't have any men
walking behind me."

And the whole party ascended. In the narrow space afforded by the spiral
staircase, the twelve persons crawled up one after the other, stumbling
against the worn steps, and clinging to the walls. Then, when the
obscurity became complete, they almost split their sides with laughing.
The ladies screamed when the gentlemen pinched their legs. But they were
weren't stupid enough to say anything! The proper plan is to think that
it is the mice nibbling at them. It wasn't very serious; the men knew
when to stop.

Boche thought of a joke and everyone took it up. They called down to
Madame Gaudron to ask her if she could squeeze her belly through. Just
think! If she should get stuck there, she would completely block the
passage, and how would they ever get out? They laughed so at the jokes
about her belly that the column itself vibrated. Boche was now quite
carried away and declared that they were growing old climbing up this
chimney pipe. Was it ever coming to an end, or did it go right up to
heaven? He tried to frighten the ladies by telling them the structure
was shaking.

Coupeau, meanwhile, said nothing. He was behind Gervaise, with his arm
around her waist, and felt that she was everything perfect to him. When
they suddenly emerged again into the daylight, he was just in the act of
kissing her on the cheek.

"Well! You're a nice couple; you don't stand on ceremony," said Madame
Lorilleux with a scandalized air.

Bibi-the-Smoker pretended to be furious. He muttered between his teeth.
"You made such a noise together! I wasn't even able to count the steps."

But Monsieur Madinier was already up on the platform, pointing out the
different monuments. Neither Madame Fauconnier nor Mademoiselle Remanjou
would on any consideration leave the staircase. The thought of the
pavement below made their blood curdle, and they contented themselves
with glancing out of the little door. Madame Lerat, who was bolder, went
round the narrow terrace, keeping close to the bronze dome; but, _mon
Dieu_, it gave one a rude emotion to think that one only had to slip
off. The men were a little paler than usual as they stared down at the
square below. You would think you were up in mid-air, detached from
everything. No, it wasn't fun, it froze your very insides.

Monsieur Madinier told them to raise their eyes and look straight
into the distance to avoid feeling dizzy. He went on pointing out the
Invalides, the Pantheon, Notre Dame and the Montmartre hill. Madame
Lorilleux asked if they could see the place where they were to have
dinner, the Silver Windmill on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. For ten
minutes they tried to see it, even arguing about it. Everyone had their
own idea where it was.

"It wasn't worth while coming up here to bite each other's noses off,"
said Boche, angrily as he turned to descend the staircase.

The wedding party went down, unspeaking and sulky, awakening no other
sound beyond that of shoes clanking on the stone steps. When it reached
the bottom, Monsieur Madinier wished to pay; but Coupeau would not
permit him, and hastened to place twenty-four sous into the keeper's
hand, two sous for each person. So they returned by the Boulevards and
the Faubourg du Poissonniers. Coupeau, however, considered that their
outing could not end like that. He bundled them all into a wineshop
where they took some vermouth.

The repast was ordered for six o'clock. At the Silver Windmill, they
had been waiting for the wedding party for a good twenty minutes. Madame
Boche, who had got a lady living in the same house to attend to her
duties for the evening, was conversing with mother Coupeau in the first
floor room, in front of the table, which was all laid out; and the two
youngsters, Claude and Etienne, whom she had brought with her, were
playing about beneath the table and amongst the chairs. When Gervaise,
on entering caught sight of the little ones, whom she had not seen all
the day, she took them on her knees, and caressed and kissed them.

"Have they been good?" asked she of Madame Boche. "I hope they haven't
worried you too much."

And as the latter related the things the little rascals had done during
the afternoon, and which would make one die with laughing, the mother
again took them up and pressed them to her breast, seized with an
overpowering outburst of maternal affection.

"It's not very pleasant for Coupeau, all the same," Madame Lorilleux was
saying to the other ladies, at the end of the room.

Gervaise had kept her smiling peacefulness from the morning, but after
the long walk she appeared almost sad at times as she watched her
husband and the Lorilleuxs in a thoughtful way. She had the feeling that
Coupeau was a little afraid of his sister. The evening before, he had
been talking big, swearing he would put them in their places if they
didn't behave. However, she could see that in their presence he
was hanging on their words, worrying when he thought they might be
displeased. This gave the young bride some cause for worry about the

They were now only waiting for My-Boots, who had not yet put in an

"Oh! blow him!" cried Coupeau, "let's begin. You'll see, he'll soon turn
up, he's got a hollow nose, he can scent the grub from afar. I say he
must be amusing himself, if he's still standing like a post on the Route
de Saint-Denis!"

Then the wedding party, feeling very lively, sat down making a great
noise with the chairs. Gervaise was between Lorilleux and Monsieur
Madinier, and Coupeau between Madame Fauconnier and Madame Lorilleux.
The other guests seated themselves where they liked, because it always
ended with jealousies and quarrels, when one settled their places for
them. Boche glided to a seat beside Madame Lerat. Bibi-the-Smoker had
for neighbors Mademoiselle Remanjou and Madame Gaudron. As for Madame
Boche and mother Coupeau, they were right at the end of the table,
looking after the children, cutting up their meat and giving them
something to drink, but not much wine.

"Does nobody say grace?" asked Boche, whilst the ladies arranged their
skirts under the table-cloth, so as not to get them stained.

But Madame Lorilleux paid no attention to such pleasantries. The
vermicelli soup, which was nearly cold, was gulped down very quickly,
their lips making a hissing noise against the spoons. Two waiters served
at table, dressed in little greasy jackets and not over-clean white
aprons. By the four open windows overlooking the acacias of the
courtyard there entered the clear light of the close of a stormy day,
with the atmosphere purified thereby though without sufficiently cooling
it. The light reflected from the humid corner of trees tinged the
haze-filled room with green and made leaf shadows dance along the
table-cloth, from which came a vague aroma of dampness and mildew.

Two large mirrors, one at each end of the room, seemed to stretch out
the table. The heavy crockery with which it was set was beginning to
turn yellow and the cutlery was scratched and grimed with grease. Each
time a waiter came through the swinging doors from the kitchen a whiff
of odorous burnt lard came with him.

"Don't all talk at once," said Boche, as everyone remained silent with
his nose in his plate.

They were drinking the first glass of wine as their eyes followed two
meat pies which the waiters were handing round when My-Boots entered the

"Well, you're a scurvy lot, you people!" said he. "I've been wearing my
pins out for three hours waiting on that road, and a gendarme even came
and asked me for my papers. It isn't right to play such dirty tricks on
a friend! You might at least have sent me word by a commissionaire. Ah!
no, you know, joking apart, it's too bad. And with all that, it rained
so hard that I got my pickets full of water. Honor bright, you might
still catch enough fish in 'em for a meal."

The others wriggled with laughter. That animal My-Boots was just a bit
on; he had certainly already stowed away his two quarts of wine, merely
to prevent his being bothered by all that frog's liquor with which the
storm had deluged his limbs.

"Hallo! Count Leg-of-Mutton!" said Coupeau, "just go and sit yourself
there, beside Madame Gaudron. You see you were expected."

Oh, he did not mind, he would soon catch the others up; and he asked
for three helpings of soup, platefuls of vermicelli, in which he soaked
enormous slices of bread. Then, when they had attacked the meat pies, he
became the profound admiration of everyone at the table. How he stowed
it away! The bewildered waiters helped each other to pass him bread,
thin slices which he swallowed at a mouthful. He ended by losing his
temper; he insisted on having a loaf placed on the table beside him. The
landlord, very anxious, came for a moment and looked in at the door. The
party, which was expecting him, again wriggled with laughter. It seemed
to upset the caterer. What a rum card he was that My-Boots! One day he
had eaten a dozen hard-boiled eggs and drank a dozen glasses of wine
while the clock was striking twelve! There are not many who can do that.
And Mademoiselle Remanjou, deeply moved, watched My-Boots chew whilst
Monsieur Madinier, seeking for a word to express his almost respectful
astonishment, declared that such a capacity was extraordinary.

There was a brief silence. A waiter had just placed on the table a
ragout of rabbits in a vast dish as deep as a salad-bowl. Coupeau, who
liked fun, started another joke.

"I say, waiter, that rabbit's from the housetops. It still mews."

And in fact, a faint mew perfectly imitated seemed to issue from the
dish. It was Coupeau who did that with his throat, without opening his
lips; a talent which at all parties, met with decided success, so much
so that he never ordered a dinner abroad without having a rabbit ragout.
After that he purred. The ladies pressed their napkins to their mouths
to try and stop their laughter. Madame Fauconnier asked for a head,
she only liked that part. Mademoiselle Remanjou had a weakness for the
slices of bacon. And as Boche said he preferred the little onions
when they were nicely broiled, Madame Lerat screwed up her lips, and

"I can understand that."

She was a dried up stick, living the cloistered life of a hard-working
woman imprisoned within her daily routine, who had never had a man stick
his nose into her room since the death of her husband; yet she had
an obsession with double meanings and indecent allusions that were
sometimes so far off the mark that only she understood them.

As Boche leaned toward her and, in a whisper, asked for an explanation,
she resumed:

"Little onions, why of course. That's quite enough, I think."

The general conversation was becoming grave. Each one was talking of his
trade. Monsieur Madinier raved about the cardboard business. There were
some real artists. For an example, he mentioned Christmas gift boxes, of
which he'd seen samples that were marvels of splendor.

Lorilleux sneered at this; he was extremely vain because of working with
gold, feeling that it gave a sort of sheen to his fingers and his whole
personality. "In olden times jewelers wore swords like gentlemen." He
often cited the case of Bernard Palissy, even though he really knew
nothing about him.

Coupeau told of a masterpiece of a weather vane made by one of his
fellow workers which included a Greek column, a sheaf of wheat, a basket
of fruit, and a flag, all beautifully worked out of nothing but strips
of zinc shaped and soldered together.

Madame Lerat showed Bibi-the-Smoker how to make a rose by rolling the
handle of her knife between her bony fingers.

All the while, their voices had been rising louder and louder, competing
for attention. Shrill comments by Madame Fauconnier were heard. She
complained about the girls who worked for her, especially a little
apprentice who was nothing but a tart and had badly scorched some sheets
the evening before.

"You may talk," Lorilleux cried, banging his fist down on the table,
"but gold is gold."

And, in the midst of the silence caused by the statement of this
fact, the only sound heard was Mademoiselle Remanjou's shrill voice

"Then I turn up the skirt and stitch it inside. I stick a pin in the
head to keep the cap on, and that's all; and they are sold for thirteen
sous a piece."

She was explaining how she dressed her dolls to My-Boots, whose jaws
were working slowly like grindstones. He did not listen, though he kept
nodding his head, but looked after the waiters to prevent them removing
any of the dishes he had not cleaned out. They had now finished a veal
stew with green beans. The roast was brought in, two scrawny chickens
resting on a bed of water cress which was limp from the warming oven.

Outside, only the higher branches of the acacias were touched by the
setting sun. Inside, the greenish reflected light was thickened by wisps
of steam rising from the table, now messy with spilled wine and gravy
and the debris of the dinner. Along the wall were dirty dishes and empty
bottles which the waiters had piled there like a heap of refuse. It was
so hot that the men took off their jackets and continued eating in their
shirt sleeves.

"Madame Boche, please don't spread their butter so thick," said
Gervaise, who spoke but little, and who was watching Claude and Etienne
from a distance.

She got up from her seat, and went and talked for a minute while
standing behind the little ones' chairs. Children did not reason; they
would eat all day long without refusing a single thing; and then she
herself helped them to some chicken, a little of the breast. But mother
Coupeau said they might, just for once in a while, risk an attack of
indigestion. Madame Boche, in a low voice accused Boche of caressing
Madame Lerat's knees. Oh, he was a sly one, but he was getting a little
too gay. She had certainly seen his hand disappear. If he did it again,
drat him! She wouldn't hesitate throwing a pitcher of water over his

In the partial silence, Monsieur Madinier was talking politics. "Their
law of May 31, is an abominable one. Now you must reside in a place for
two years. Three millions of citizens are struck off the voting lists.
I've been told that Bonaparte is, in reality, very much annoyed for he
loves the people; he has given them proofs."

He was a republican; but he admired the prince on account of his uncle,
a man the like of whom would never be seen again. Bibi-the-Smoker flew
into a passion. He had worked at the Elysee; he had seen Bonaparte
just as he saw My-Boots in front of him over there. Well that muff of a
president was just like a jackass, that was all! It was said that he was
going to travel about in the direction of Lyons; it would be a precious
good riddance of bad rubbish if he fell into some hole and broke his
neck. But, as the discussion was becoming too heated, Coupeau had to

"Ah, well! How simple you all are to quarrel about politics. Politics
are all humbug! Do such things exist for us? Let there be any one as
king, it won't prevent me earning my five francs a day, and eating and
sleeping; isn't that so? No, it's too stupid to argue about!"

Lorilleux shook his head. He was born on the same day as the Count of
Chambord, the 29th of September, 1820. He was greatly struck with this
coincidence, indulging himself in a vague dream, in which he established
a connection between the king's return to France and his own private
fortunes. He never said exactly what he was expecting, but he led
people to suppose that when that time arrived something extraordinarily
agreeable would happen to him. So whenever he had a wish too great to be
gratified, he would put it off to another time, when the king came back.

"Besides," observed he, "I saw the Count de Chambord one evening."

Every face was turned towards him.

"It's quite true. A stout man, in an overcoat, and with a good-natured
air. I was at Pequignot's, one of my friends who deals in furniture in
the Grand Rue de la Chapelle. The Count of Chambord had forgotten his
umbrella there the day before; so he came in, and just simply said, like
this: 'Will you please return me my umbrella?' Well, yes, it was him;
Pequignot gave me his word of honor it was."

Not one of the guests suggested the smallest doubt. They had now arrived
at dessert and the waiters were clearing the table with much clattering
of dishes. Madame Lorilleux, who up to then had been very genteel, very
much the lady, suddenly let fly with a curse. One of the waiters had
spilled something wet down her neck while removing a dish. This time her
silk dress would be stained for sure. Monsieur Madinier had to examine
her back, but he swore there was nothing to be seen.

Two platters of cheese, two dishes of fruit, and a floating island
pudding of frosted eggs in a deep salad-bowl had now been placed along
the middle of the table. The pudding caused a moment of respectful
attention even though the overdone egg whites had flattened on the
yellow custard. It was unexpected and seemed very fancy.

My-Boots was still eating. He had asked for another loaf. He finished
what there was of the cheese; and, as there was some cream left, he had
the salad-bowl passed to him, into which he sliced some large pieces of
bread as though for a soup.

"The gentleman is really remarkable," said Monsieur Madinier, again
giving way to his admiration.

Then the men rose to get their pipes. They stood for a moment behind
My-Boots, patting him on the back, and asking him if he was feeling
better. Bibi-the-Smoker lifted him up in his chair; but _tonnerre de
Dieu!_ the animal had doubled in weight. Coupeau joked that My-Boots was
only getting started, that now he was going to settle down and really
eat for the rest of the night. The waiters were startled and quickly
vanished from sight.

Boche, who had gone downstairs for a moment, came up to report the
proprietor's reaction. He was standing behind his bar, pale as death.
His wife, dreadfully upset, was wondering if any bakeries were still
open. Even the cat seemed deep in despair. This was as funny as could
be, really worth the price of the dinner. It was impossible to have a
proper dinner party without My-Boots, the bottomless pit. The other men
eyed him with a brooding jealousy as they puffed on their pipes. Indeed,
to be able to eat so much, you had to be very solidly built!

"I wouldn't care to be obliged to support you," said Madame Gaudron.
"Ah, no; you may take my word for that!"

"I say, little mother, no jokes," replied My-Boots, casting a side
glance at his neighbor's rotund figure. "You've swallowed more than I

The others applauded, shouting "Bravo!"--it was well answered. It
was now pitch dark outside, three gas-jets were flaring in the room,
diffusing dim rays in the midst of the tobacco-smoke. The waiters, after
serving the coffee and the brandy, had removed the last piles of dirty
plates. Down below, beneath the three acacias, dancing had commenced, a
cornet-a-piston and two fiddles playing very loud, and mingling in the
warm night air with the rather hoarse laughter of women.

"We must have a punch!" cried My-Boots; "two quarts of brandy, lots of
lemon, and a little sugar."

But Coupeau, seeing the anxious look on Gervaise's face in front of him,
got up from the table, declaring that there should be no more drink.
They had emptied twenty-five quarts, a quart and a half to each person,
counting the children as grown-up people; that was already too much.
They had had a feed together in good fellowship, and without ceremony,
because they esteemed each other, and wished to celebrate the event of
the day amongst themselves. Everything had been very nice; they had had
lots of fun. It wouldn't do to get cockeyed drunk now, out of respect to
the ladies. That was all he had to say, they had come together to toast
a marriage and they had done so.

Coupeau delivered the little speech with convincing sincerity and
punctuated each phrase by placing his hand on his heart. He won
whole-hearted approval from Lorilleux and Monsieur Madinier; but the
other four men, especially My-Boots, were already well lit and sneered.
They declared in hoarse drunken voices that they were thirsty and wanted

"Those who're thirsty are thirsty, and those who aren't thirsty aren't
thirsty," remarked My-Boots. "Therefore, we'll order the punch. No one
need take offence. The aristocrats can drink sugar-and-water."

And as the zinc-worker commenced another sermon, the other, who had
risen on his legs, gave himself a slap, exclaiming:

"Come, let's have no more of that, my boy! Waiter, two quarts of your
aged stuff!"

So Coupeau said very well, only they would settle for the dinner at
once. It would prevent any disputes. The well-behaved people did not
want to pay for the drunkards; and it just happened that My-Boots,
after searching in his pockets for a long time, could only produce three
francs and seven sous. Well, why had they made him wait all that time on
the Route de Saint-Denis? He could not let himself be drowned and so he
had broken into his five-franc piece. It was the fault of the others,
that was all! He ended by giving the three francs, keeping the seven
sous for the morrow's tobacco. Coupeau, who was furious, would have
knocked him over had not Gervaise, greatly frightened, pulled him by his
coat, and begged him to keep cool. He decided to borrow the two francs
of Lorilleux, who after refusing them, lent them on the sly, for his
wife would never have consented to his doing so.

Monsieur Madinier went round with a plate. The spinster and the
ladies who were alone--Madame Lerat, Madame Fauconnier, Mademoiselle
Remanjou--discreetly placed their five-franc pieces in it first.
Then the gentlemen went to the other end of the room, and made up the
accounts. They were fifteen; it amounted therefore to seventy-five
francs. When the seventy-five francs were in the plate, each man added
five sous for the waiters. It took a quarter of an hour of laborious
calculations before everything was settled to the general satisfaction.

But when Monsieur Madinier, who wished to deal direct with the landlord,
had got him to step up, the whole party became lost in astonishment on
hearing him say with a smile that there was still something due to him.
There were some extras; and, as the word "extras" was greeted with angry
exclamations, he entered into details:--Twenty-five quarts of wine,
instead of twenty, the number agreed upon beforehand; the frosted eggs,
which he had added, as the dessert was rather scanty; finally, a quarter
of a bottle of rum, served with the coffee, in case any one preferred
rum. Then a formidable quarrel ensued. Coupeau, who was appealed to,
protested against everything; he had never mentioned twenty quarts; as
for the frosted eggs, they were included in the dessert, so much the
worse for the landlord if he choose to add them without being asked to
do so. There remained the rum, a mere nothing, just a mode of increasing
the bill by putting on the table spirits that no one thought anything

"It was on the tray with the coffee," he cried; "therefore it goes with
the coffee. Go to the deuce! Take your money, and never again will we
set foot in your den!"

"It's six francs more," repeated the landlord. "Pay me my six francs;
and with all that I haven't counted the four loaves that gentleman ate!"

The whole party, pressing forward, surrounded him with furious gestures
and a yelping of voices choking with rage. The women especially threw
aside all reserve, and refused to add another centime. This was some
wedding dinner! Mademoiselle Remanjou vowed she would never again
attend such a party. Madame Fauconnier declared she had had a very
disappointing meal; at home she could have had a finger-licking dish for
only two francs. Madame Gaudron bitterly complained that she had been
shoved down to the worst end of the table next to My-Boots who had
ignored her. These parties never turned out well, one should be more
careful whom one invites. Gervaise had taken refuge with mother Coupeau
near one of the windows, feeling shamed as she realized that all these
recriminations would fall back upon her.

Monsieur Madinier ended by going down with the landlord. One could hear
them arguing below. Then, when half an hour had gone by the cardboard
box manufacturer returned; he had settled the matter by giving three
francs. But the party continued annoyed and exasperated, constantly
returning to the question of the extras. And the uproar increased from
an act of vigor on Madame Boche's part. She had kept an eye on Boche,
and at length detected him squeezing Madame Lerat round the waist in a
corner. Then, with all her strength, she flung a water pitcher, which
smashed against the wall.

"One can easily see that your husband's a tailor, madame," said the
tall widow, with a curl of the lip, full of a double meaning. "He's
a petticoat specialist, even though I gave him some pretty hard kicks
under the table."

The harmony of the evening was altogether upset. Everyone became more
and more ill-tempered. Monsieur Madinier suggested some singing, but
Bibi-the-Smoker, who had a fine voice, had disappeared some time before;
and Mademoiselle Remanjou, who was leaning out of the window, caught
sight of him under the acacias, swinging round a big girl who was
bare-headed. The cornet-a-piston and two fiddles were playing "_Le
Marchand de Moutarde_." The party now began to break up. My-Boots and
the Gaudrons went down to the dance with Boche sneaking along after
them. The twirling couples could be seen from the windows. The night
was still as though exhausted from the heat of the day. A serious
conversation started between Lorilleux and Monsieur Madinier. The ladies
examined their dresses carefully to see if they had been stained.

Madame Lerat's fringe looked as though it had been dipped in the
coffee. Madame Fauconnier's chintz dress was spotted with gravy. Mother
Coupeau's green shawl, fallen from off a chair, was discovered in
a corner, rolled up and trodden upon. But it was Madame Lorilleux
especially who became more ill-tempered still. She had a stain on the
back of her dress; it was useless for the others to declare that she
had not--she felt it. And, by twisting herself about in front of a
looking-glass, she ended by catching a glimpse of it.

"What did I say?" cried she. "It's gravy from the fowl. The waiter shall
pay for the dress. I will bring an action against him. Ah! this is a fit
ending to such a day. I should have done better to have stayed in bed.
To begin with, I'm off. I've had enough of their wretched wedding!"

And she left the room in a rage, causing the staircase to shake beneath
her heavy footsteps. Lorilleux ran after her. But all she would consent
to was that she would wait five minutes on the pavement outside, if he
wanted them to go off together. She ought to have left directly after
the storm, as she wished to do. She would make Coupeau sorry for that
day. Coupeau was dismayed when he heard how angry she was. Gervaise
agreed to leave at once to avoid embarrassing him any more.

There was a flurry of quick good-night kisses. Monsieur Madinier was to
escort mother Coupeau home. Madame Boche would take Claude and Etienne
with her for the bridal night. The children were sound asleep on chairs,
stuffed full from the dinner. Just as the bridal couple and Lorilleux
were about to go out the door, a quarrel broke out near the dance floor
between their group and another group. Boche and My-Boots were kissing a
lady and wouldn't give her up to her escorts, two soldiers.

It was scarcely eleven o'clock. On the Boulevard de la Chapelle, and in
the entire neighborhood of the Goutte-d'Or, the fortnight's pay, which
fell due on that Saturday, produced an enormous drunken uproar. Madame
Lorilleux was waiting beneath a gas-lamp about twenty paces from the
Silver Windmill. She took her husband's arm, and walked on in front
without looking round, at such a rate, that Gervaise and Coupeau got
quite out of breath in trying to keep up with them. Now and again they
stepped off the pavement to leave room for some drunkard who had fallen
there. Lorilleux looked back, endeavoring to make things pleasant.

"We will see you as far as your door," said he.

But Madame Lorilleux, raising her voice, thought it a funny thing to
spend one's wedding night in such a filthy hole as the Hotel Boncoeur.
Ought they not to have put their marriage off, and have saved a few
sous to buy some furniture, so as to have had a home of their own on
the first night? Ah! they would be comfortable, right up under the roof,
packed into a little closet, at ten francs a month, where there was not
even the slightest air.

"I've given notice, we're not going to use the room up at the top of
the house," timidly interposed Coupeau. "We are keeping Gervaise's room,
which is larger."

Madame Lorilleux forgot herself. She turned abruptly round.

"That's worse than all!" cried she. "You're going to sleep in
Clump-clump's room."

Gervaise became quite pale. This nickname, which she received full in
the face for the first time, fell on her like a blow. And she fully
understood it, too, her sister-in-law's exclamation: the Clump-clump's
room was the room in which she had lived for a month with Lantier, where
the shreds of her past life still hung about. Coupeau did not understand
this, but merely felt hurt at the harsh nickname.

"You do wrong to christen others," he replied angrily. "You don't know
perhaps, that in the neighborhood they call you Cow's-Tail, because of
your hair. There, that doesn't please you, does it? Why should we not
keep the room on the first floor? To-night the children won't sleep
there, and we shall be very comfortable."

Madame Lorilleux added nothing further, but retired into her dignity,
horribly annoyed at being called Cow's-Tail. To cheer up Gervaise,
Coupeau squeezed her arm softly. He even succeeded in making her smile
by whispering into her ear that they were setting up housekeeping with
the grand sum of seven sous, three big two-sou pieces and one little
sou, which he jingled in his pocket.

When they reached the Hotel Boncoeur, the two couples wished each other
good-night, with an angry air; and as Coupeau pushed the two women into
each other's arms, calling them a couple of ninnies, a drunken fellow,
who seemed to want to go to the right, suddenly slipped to the left and
came tumbling between them.

"Why, it's old Bazouge!" said Lorilleux. "He's had his fill to-day."

Gervaise, frightened, squeezed up against the door of the hotel. Old
Bazouge, an undertaker's helper of some fifty years of age, had his
black trousers all stained with mud, his black cape hooked on to his
shoulder, and his black feather hat knocked in by some tumble he had

"Don't be afraid, he's harmless," continued Lorilleux. "He's a neighbor
of ours--the third room in the passage before us. He would find himself
in a nice mess if his people were to see him like this!"

Old Bazouge, however, felt offended at the young woman's evident terror.

"Well, what!" hiccoughed he, "we ain't going to eat any one. I'm as
good as another any day, my little woman. No doubt I've had a drop!
When work's plentiful one must grease the wheels. It's not you, nor your
friends, who would have carried down the stiff 'un of forty-seven stone
whom I and a pal brought from the fourth floor to the pavement, and
without smashing him too. I like jolly people."

But Gervaise retreated further into the doorway, seized with a longing
to cry, which spoilt her day of sober-minded joy. She no longer thought
of kissing her sister-in-law, she implored Coupeau to get rid of
the drunkard. Then Bazouge, as he stumbled about, made a gesture of
philosophical disdain.

"That won't prevent you passing though our hands, my little woman.
You'll perhaps be glad to do so, one of these days. Yes, I know some
women who'd be much obliged if we did carry them off."

And, as Lorilleux led him away, he turned around, and stuttered out a
last sentence, between two hiccoughs.

"When you're dead--listen to this--when you're dead, it's for a long,
long time."


Then followed four years of hard work. In the neighborhood, Gervaise and
Coupeau had the reputation of being a happy couple, living in retirement
without quarrels, and taking a short walk regularly every Sunday in
the direction of St. Ouen. The wife worked twelve hours a day at Madame
Fauconnier's, and still found means to keep their lodging as clean and
bright as a new coined sou and to prepare the meals for all her little
family, morning and evening. The husband never got drunk, brought his
wages home every fortnight, and smoked a pipe at his window in the
evening, to get a breath of fresh air before going to bed. They were
frequently alluded to on account of their nice, pleasant ways; and as
between them they earned close upon nine francs a day, it was reckoned
that they were able to put by a good deal of money.

However, during their first months together they had to struggle hard to
get by. Their wedding had left them owing two hundred francs. Also, they
detested the Hotel Boncoeur as they didn't like the other occupants.
Their dream was to have a home of their own with their own furniture.
They were always figuring how much they would need and decided three
hundred and fifty francs at least, in order to be able to buy little
items that came up later.

They were in despair at ever being able to collect such a large sum when
a lucky chance came their way. An old gentleman at Plassans offered to
take the older boy, Claude, and send him to an academy down there. The
old man, who loved art, had previously been much impressed by Claude's
sketches. Claude had already begun to cost them quite a bit. Now, with
only Etienne to support, they were able to accumulate the money in a
little over seven months. One day they were finally able to buy their
own furniture from a second-hand dealer on Rue Belhomme. Their hearts
filled with happiness, they celebrated by walking home along the
exterior Boulevards.

They had purchased a bed, a night table, a chest of drawers with a
marble top, a wardrobe, a round table covered with oilcloth, and six
chairs. All were of dark mahogany. They also bought blankets, linen,
and kitchen utensils that were scarcely used. It meant settling down and
giving themselves a status in life as property owners, as persons to be

For two months past they had been busy seeking some new apartments. At
first they wanted above everything to hire these in the big house of the
Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. But there was not a single room to let there; so
that they had to relinquish their old dream. To tell the truth, Gervaise
was rather glad in her heart; the neighborhood of the Lorilleux
almost door to door, frightened her immensely. Then, they looked about
elsewhere. Coupeau, very properly did not wish to be far from Madame
Fauconnier's so that Gervaise could easily run home at any hour of the
day. And at length they met with exactly what suited them, a large room
with a small closet and a kitchen, in the Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d'Or,
almost opposite the laundress's. This was in a small two-story building
with a very steep staircase. There were two apartments on the second
floor, one to the left, the other to the right, The ground floor was
occupied by a man who rented out carriages, which filled the sheds in
the large stable yard by the street.

Gervaise was delighted with this as it made her feel she was back in a
country town. With no close neighbors there would be no gossip to worry
about in this little corner. It reminded her of a small lane outside the
ramparts of Plassans. She could even see her own window while ironing at
the laundry by just tilting her head to the side.

They took possession of their new abode at the April quarter. Gervaise
was then eight months advanced. But she showed great courage, saying
with a laugh that the baby helped her as she worked; she felt its
influence growing within her and giving her strength. Ah, well! She just
laughed at Coupeau whenever he wanted her to lie down and rest herself!
She would take to her bed when the labor pains came. That would be
quite soon enough as with another mouth to feed, they would have to work
harder than ever.

She made their new place bright and shiny before helping her husband
install the furniture. She loved the furniture, polishing it and
becoming almost heart-broken at the slightest scratch. Any time she
knocked into the furniture while cleaning she would stop with a sudden
shock as though she had hurt herself.

The chest of drawers was especially dear to her. She thought it
handsome, sturdy and most respectable-looking. The dream that she hadn't
dared to mention was to get a clock and put it right in the middle of
the marble top. It would make a splendid effect. She probably would have
bought one right away except for the expected baby.

The couple were thoroughly enchanted with their new home. Etienne's bed
occupied the small closet, where there was still room to put another
child's crib. The kitchen was a very tiny affair and as dark as night,
but by leaving the door wide open, one could just manage to see;
besides, Gervaise had not to cook meals for thirty people, all she
wanted was room to make her soup. As for the large room, it was their
pride. The first thing in the morning, they drew the curtains of the
alcove, white calico curtains; and the room was thus transformed into a
dining-room, with the table in the centre, and the wardrobe and chest of
drawers facing each other.

They stopped up the chimney since it burned as much as fifteen sous
of coal a day. A small cast-iron stove on the marble hearth gave them
enough warmth on cold days for only seven sous. Coupeau had also done
his best to decorate the walls. There was a large engraving showing
a marshal of France on horseback with a baton in his hand. Family
photographs were arranged in two rows on top of the chest of drawers on
each side of an old holy-water basin in which they kept matches. Busts
of Pascal and Beranger were on top of the wardrobe. It was really a
handsome room.

"Guess how much we pay here?" Gervaise would ask of every visitor she

And whenever they guessed too high a sum, she triumphed and delighted at
being so well suited for such a little money, cried:

"One hundred and fifty francs, not a sou more! Isn't it almost like
having it for nothing!"

The street, Rue Neuve de la Goutte d'Or, played an important part in
their contentment. Gervaise's whole life was there, as she traveled back
and forth endlessly between her home and Madame Fauconnier's laundry.
Coupeau now went down every evening and stood on the doorstep to smoke
his pipe. The poorly-paved street rose steeply and had no sidewalks.
Toward Rue de la Goutte d'Or there were some gloomy shops with dirty
windows. There were shoemakers, coopers, a run-down grocery, and a
bankrupt cafe whose closed shutters were covered with posters. In the
opposite direction, toward Paris, four-story buildings blocked the
sky. Their ground floor shops were all occupied by laundries with
one exception--a green-painted store front typical of a small-town
hair-dresser. Its shop windows were full of variously colored flasks. It
lighted up this drab corner with the gay brightness of its copper bowls
which were always shining.

The most pleasant part of the street was in between, where the buildings
were fewer and lower, letting in more sunlight. The carriage sheds, the
plant which manufactured soda water, and the wash-house opposite made a
wide expanse of quietness. The muffled voices of the washerwomen and
the rhythmic puffing of the steam engine seemed to deepen the almost
religious silence. Open fields and narrow lanes vanishing between dark
walls gave it the air of a country village. Coupeau, always amused by
the infrequent pedestrians having to jump over the continuous streams of
soapy water, said it reminded him of a country town where his uncle had
taken him when he was five years old. Gervaise's greatest joy was a tree
growing in the courtyard to the left of their window, an acacia that
stretched out a single branch and yet, with its meager foliage, lent
charm to the entire street.

It was on the last day of April that Gervaise was confined. The pains
came on in the afternoon, towards four o'clock, as she was ironing a
pair of curtains at Madame Fauconnier's. She would not go home at
once, but remained there wriggling about on a chair, and continuing
her ironing every time the pain allowed her to do so; the curtains
were wanted quickly and she obstinately made a point of finishing them.
Besides, perhaps after all it was only a colic; it would never do to
be frightened by a bit of a stomach-ache. But as she was talking of
starting on some shirts, she became quite pale. She was obliged to leave
the work-shop, and cross the street doubled in two, holding on to the
walls. One of the workwomen offered to accompany her; she declined, but
begged her to go instead for the midwife, close by, in the Rue de la
Charbonniere. This was only a false alarm; there was no need to make a
fuss. She would be like that no doubt all through the night. It was not
going to prevent her getting Coupeau's dinner ready as soon as she
was indoors; then she might perhaps lie down on the bed a little, but
without undressing. On the staircase she was seized with such a violent
pain, that she was obliged to sit down on one of the stairs; and she
pressed her two fists against her mouth to prevent herself from crying
out, for she would have been ashamed to have been found there by any
man, had one come up. The pain passed away; she was able to open
her door, feeling relieved, and thinking that she had decidedly been
mistaken. That evening she was going to make a stew with some neck
chops. All went well while she peeled the potatoes. The chops were
cooking in a saucepan when the pains returned. She mixed the gravy as
she stamped about in front of the stove, almost blinded with her tears.
If she was going to give birth, that was no reason why Coupeau should
be kept without his dinner. At length the stew began to simmer on a
fire covered with cinders. She went into the other room, and thought she
would have time to lay the cloth at one end of the table. But she was
obliged to put down the bottle of wine very quickly; she no longer had
strength to reach the bed; she fell prostrate, and she had more pains
on a mat on the floor. When the midwife arrived, a quarter of an hour
later, she found mother and baby lying there on the floor.

The zinc-worker was still employed at the hospital. Gervaise would not
have him disturbed. When he came home at seven o'clock, he found her
in bed, well covered up, looking very pale on the pillow, and the child
crying, swathed in a shawl at it's mother's feet.

"Ah, my poor wife!" said Coupeau, kissing Gervaise. "And I was joking
only an hour ago, whilst you were crying with pain! I say, you don't
make much fuss about it--the time to sneeze and it's all over."

She smiled faintly; then she murmured: "It's a girl."

"Right!" the zinc-worker replied, joking so as to enliven her, "I
ordered a girl! Well, now I've got what I wanted! You do everything I
wish!" And, taking the child up in his arms, he continued: "Let's have a
look at you, miss! You've got a very black little mug. It'll get whiter,
never fear. You must be good, never run about the streets, and grow up
sensible like your papa and mamma."

Gervaise looked at her daughter very seriously, with wide open eyes,
slowly overshadowed with sadness, for she would rather have had a boy.
Boys can talk care of themselves and don't have to run such risks on the
streets of Paris as girls do. The midwife took the infant from Coupeau.
She forbade Gervaise to do any talking; it was bad enough there was so
much noise around her.

Then the zinc-worker said that he must tell the news to mother Coupeau
and the Lorilleuxs, but he was dying with hunger, he must first of all
have his dinner. It was a great worry to the invalid to see him have to
wait on himself, run to the kitchen for the stew, eat it out of a soup
plate, and not be able to find the bread. In spite of being told not to
do so, she bewailed her condition, and fidgeted about in her bed. It was
stupid of her not to have managed to set the cloth, the pains had laid
her on her back like a blow from a bludgeon. Her poor old man would not
think it kind of her to be nursing herself up there whilst he was
dining so badly. At least were the potatoes cooked enough? She no longer
remembered whether she had put salt in them.

"Keep quiet!" cried the midwife.

"Ah! if only you could stop her from wearing herself out!" said Coupeau
with his mouth full. "If you were not here, I'd bet she'd get up to
cut my bread. Keep on your back, you big goose! You mustn't move about,
otherwise it'll be a fortnight before you'll be able to stand on your
legs. Your stew's very good. Madame will eat some with me, won't you,

The midwife declined; but she was willing to accept a glass of wine,
because it had upset her, said she to find the poor woman with the
baby on the mat. Coupeau at length went off to tell the news to his
relations. Half an hour later he returned with all of them, mother
Coupeau, the Lorilleuxs, and Madame Lerat, whom he had met at the

"I've brought you the whole gang!" cried Coupeau. "It can't be helped!
They wanted to see you. Don't open your mouth, it's forbidden. They'll
stop here and look at you without ceremony, you know. As for me, I'm
going to make them some coffee, and of the right sort!"

He disappeared into the kitchen. Mother Coupeau after kissing Gervaise,
became amazed at the child's size. The two other women also kissed the
invalid on her cheeks. And all three, standing before the bed, commented
with divers exclamations on the details of the confinement--a most
remarkable confinement, just like having a tooth pulled, nothing more.

Madame Lerat examined the baby all over, declared she was well formed,
even added that she could grow up into an attractive woman. Noticing
that the head had been squeezed into a point on top, she kneaded it
gently despite the infant's cries, trying to round it a bit. Madame
Lorilleux grabbed the baby from her; that could be enough to give the
poor little thing all sorts of vicious tendencies, meddling with it like
that while her skull was still soft. She then tried to figure out who
the baby resembled. This almost led to a quarrel. Lorilleux, peering
over the women's shoulders, insisted that the little girl didn't look
the least bit like Coupeau. Well, maybe a little around the nose,
nothing more. She was her mother all over again, with big eyes like
hers. Certainly there were no eyes like that in the Coupeau family.

Coupeau, however, had failed to reappear. One could hear him in the
kitchen struggling with the grate and the coffee-pot. Gervaise was
worrying herself frightfully; it was not the proper thing for a man to
make coffee; and she called and told him what to do, without listening
to the midwife's energetic "hush!"

"Here we are!" said Coupeau, entering with the coffee-pot in his hand.
"Didn't I just have a bother with it! It all went wrong on purpose! Now
we'll drink out of glasses, won't we? Because you know, the cups are
still at the shop."

They seated themselves around the table, and the zinc-worker insisted
on pouring out the coffee himself. It smelt very strong, it was none
of that weak stuff. When the midwife had sipped hers up, she went off;
everything was going on nicely, she was not required. If the young woman
did not pass a good night they were to send for her on the morrow. She
was scarcely down the staircase, when Madame Lorilleux called her a
glutton and a good-for-nothing. She put four lumps of sugar in her
coffee, and charged fifteen francs for leaving you with your baby all
by yourself. But Coupeau took her part; he would willingly fork out
the fifteen francs. After all those sort of women spent their youth in
studying, they were right to charge a good price.

It was then Lorilleux who got into a quarrel with Madame Lerat by
maintaining that, in order to have a son, the head of the bed should
be turned to the north. She shrugged her shoulders at such nonsense,
offering another formula which consisted in hiding under the mattress,
without letting your wife know, a handful of fresh nettles picked in
bright sunlight.

The table had been pushed over close to the bed. Until ten o'clock
Gervaise lay there, smiling although she was only half awake. She was
becoming more and more weary, her head turned sideways on the pillow.
She no longer had the energy to venture a remark or a gesture. It seemed
to her that she was dead, a very sweet death, from the depths of which
she was happy to observe the others still in the land of the living. The
thin cries of her baby daughter rose above the hum of heavy voices that
were discussing a recent murder on Rue du Bon Puits, at the other end of
La Chapelle.

Then, as the visitors were thinking of leaving, they spoke of the
christening. The Lorilleux had promised to be godfather and godmother;
they looked very glum over the matter. However, if they had not been
asked to stand they would have felt rather peculiar. Coupeau did not see
any need for christening the little one; it certainly would not procure
her an income of ten thousand francs, and besides she might catch a
cold from it. The less one had to do with priests the better. But mother
Coupeau called him a heathen. The Lorilleux, without going and eating
consecrated bread in church, plumed themselves on their religious

"It shall be next Sunday, if you like," said the chainmaker.

And Gervaise having consented by a nod, everyone kissed her and told her
to take good care of herself. They also wished the baby good-bye. Each
one went and leant over the little trembling body with smiles and loving
words as though she were able to understand. They called her Nana, the
pet name for Anna, which was her godmother's name.

"Good night, Nana. Come be a good girl, Nana."

When they had at length gone off, Coupeau drew his chair close up to
the bed and finished his pipe, holding Gervaise's hand in his. He smoked
slowly, deeply affected and uttering sentences between the puffs.

"Well, old woman, they've made your head ache, haven't they? You see I
couldn't prevent them coming. After all, it shows their friendship. But
we're better alone, aren't we? I wanted to be alone like this with you.
It has seemed such a long evening to me! Poor little thing, she's had
a lot to go through! Those shrimps, when they come out into the world,
have no idea of the pain they cause. It must really almost be like being
split in two. Where is does it hurt the most, that I may kiss it and
make it well?"

He had carefully slid one of his big hands under her back, and now
he drew her toward him, bending over to kiss her stomach through the
covers, touched by a rough man's compassion for the suffering of a woman
in childbirth. He inquired if he was hurting her. Gervaise felt very
happy, and answered him that it didn't hurt any more at all. She was
only worried about getting up as soon as possible, because there was
no time to lie about now. He assured her that he'd be responsible for
earning the money for the new little one. He would be a real bum if he
abandoned her and the little rascal. The way he figured it, what really
counted was bringing her up properly. Wasn't that so?

Coupeau did not sleep much that night. He covered up the fire in
the stove. Every hour he had to get up to give the baby spoonfuls of
lukewarm sugar and water. That did not prevent his going off to his work
in the morning as usual. He even took advantage of his lunch-hour to
make a declaration of the birth at the mayor's. During this time Madame
Boche, who had been informed of the event, had hastened to go and
pass the day with Gervaise. But the latter, after ten hours of sleep,
bewailed her position, saying that she already felt pains all over her
through having been so long in bed. She would become quite ill if they
did not let her get up. In the evening, when Coupeau returned home, she
told him all her worries; no doubt she had confidence in Madame Boche,
only it put her beside herself to see a stranger installed in her room,
opening the drawers, and touching her things.

On the morrow the concierge, on returning from some errand, found her
up, dressed, sweeping and getting her husband's dinner ready; and it was
impossible to persuade her to go to bed again. They were trying to make
a fool of her perhaps! It was all very well for ladies to pretend to be
unable to move. When one was not rich one had no time for that sort of
thing. Three days after her confinement she was ironing petticoats at
Madame Fauconnier's, banging her irons and all in a perspiration from
the great heat of the stove.

On the Saturday evening, Madame Lorilleux brought her presents for her
godchild--a cup that cost thirty-five sous, and a christening dress,
plaited and trimmed with some cheap lace, which she had got for six
francs, because it was slightly soiled. On the morrow, Lorilleux, as
godfather, gave the mother six pounds of sugar. They certainly did
things properly! At the baptism supper which took place at the Coupeaus
that evening, they did not come empty-handed. Lorilleux carried a bottle
of fine wine under each arm and his wife brought a large custard pie
from a famous pastry shop on Chaussee Clignancourt. But the Lorilleuxs
made sure that the entire neighborhood knew they had spent twenty
francs. As soon as Gervaise learned of their gossiping, furious, she
stopped giving them credit for generosity.

It was at the christening feast that the Coupeaus ended by becoming
intimately acquainted with their neighbors on the opposite side of
the landing. The other lodging in the little house was occupied by two
persons, mother and son, the Goujets as they were called. Until then the
two families had merely nodded to each other on the stairs and in the
street, nothing more; the Coupeaus thought their neighbors seemed rather
bearish. Then the mother, having carried up a pail of water for Gervaise
on the morrow of her confinement, the latter had thought it the proper
thing to invite them to the feast, more especially as she considered
them very respectable people. And naturally, they there became well
acquainted with each other.

The Goujets came from the Departement du Nord. The mother mended lace;
the son, a blacksmith, worked at an iron bolt factory. They had lived
in their lodging for five years. Behind the quiet peacefulness of their
life, a long standing sorrow was hidden. Goujet the father, one day when
furiously drunk at Lille, had beaten a comrade to death with an iron bar
and had afterwards strangled himself in prison with his handkerchief.
The widow and child, who had come to Paris after their misfortune,
always felt the tragedy hanging over their heads, and atoned for it by
a strict honesty and an unvarying gentleness and courage. They had a
certain amount of pride in their attitude and regarded themselves as
better than other people.

Madame Goujet, dressed in black as usual, her forehead framed in a nun's
hood, had a pale, calm, matronly face, as if the whiteness of the lace
and the delicate work of her fingers had cast a glow of serenity over
her. Goujet was twenty-three years old, huge, magnificently built,
with deep blue eyes and rosy cheeks, and the strength of Hercules. His
comrades at the shop called him "Golden Mouth" because of his handsome
blonde beard.

Gervaise at once felt a great friendship for these people. When she
entered their home for the first time, she was amazed at the cleanliness
of the lodging. There was no denying it, one might blow about the
place without raising a grain of dust; and the tiled floor shone like a
mirror. Madame Goujet made her enter her son's room, just to see it.
It was pretty and white like the room of a young girl; an iron bedstead
with muslin curtains, a table, a washstand, and a narrow bookcase
hanging against the wall. Then there were pictures all over the place,
figures cut out, colored engravings nailed up with four tacks, and
portraits of all kinds of persons taken from the illustrated papers.

Madame Goujet said with a smile that her son was a big baby. He found
that reading in the evening put him to sleep, so he amused himself
looking at pictures. Gervaise spent an hour with her neighbor without
noticing the passing of time. Madame Goujet had gone to sit by the
window and work on her lace. Gervaise was fascinated by the hundreds of
pins that held the lace, and she felt happy to be there, breathing
in the good clean atmosphere of this home where such a delicate task
enforced a sort of meditative silence.

The Goujets were worth visiting. They worked long hours, and placed more
than a quarter of their fortnight's earnings in the savings-bank. In the
neighborhood everyone nodded to them, everyone talked of their savings.
Goujet never had a hole in his clothes, always went out in a clean short
blue blouse, without a stain. He was very polite, and even a trifle
timid, in spite of his broad shoulders. The washerwomen at the end of
the street laughed to see him hold down his head when he passed them. He
did not like their oaths, and thought it disgusting that women should
be constantly uttering foul words. One day, however, he came home tipsy.
Then Madame Goujet, for sole reproach, held his father's portrait before
him, a daub of a painting hidden away at the bottom of a drawer; and,
ever since that lesson, Goujet never drank more than was good for
him, without however, any hatred of wine, for wine is necessary to the
workman. On Sundays he walked out with his mother, who took hold of his
arm. He would generally conduct her to Vincennes; at other times they
would go to the theatre. His mother remained his passion. He still
spoke to her as though he were a little child. Square-headed, his skin
toughened by the wielding of the heavy hammer, he somewhat resembled the
larger animals: dull of intellect, though good-natured all the same.

In the early days of their acquaintance, Gervaise embarrassed him
immensely. Then in a few weeks he became accustomed to her. He watched
for her that he might carry up her parcels, treated her as a sister,
with an abrupt familiarity, and cut out pictures for her. One morning,
however, having opened her door without knocking, he beheld her half
undressed, washing her neck; and, for a week, he did not dare to look
her in the face, so much so that he ended by making her blush herself.

Young Cassis, with the casual wit of a born Parisian, called Golden
Mouth a dolt. It was all right not to get drunk all the time or chase
women, but still, a man must be a man, or else he might as well wear
skirts. Coupeau teased him in front of Gervaise, accusing him of making
up to all the women in the neighborhood. Goujet vigorously defended
himself against the charge.

But this didn't prevent the two workingmen from becoming best of
friends. They went off to work together in the mornings and sometimes
had a glass of beer together on the way home.

It eventually came about that Golden Mouth could render a service to
Young Cassis, one of those favors that is remembered forever.

It was the second of December. The zinc-worker decided, just for the fun
of it, to go into the city and watch the rioting. He didn't really care
about the Republic, or Napoleon or anything like that, but he liked the
smell of gunpowder and the sound of the rifles firing. He would have
been arrested as a rioter if the blacksmith hadn't turned up at the
barricade at just that moment and helped him escape. Goujet was very
serious as they walked back up the Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere. He was
interested in politics and believed in the Republic. But he had never
fired a gun because the common people were getting tired of fighting
battles for the middle classes who always seemed to get the benefit of

As they reached the top of the slope of the Rue du Faubourg
Poissonniere, Goujet turned to look back at Paris and the mobs. After
all, some day people would be sorry that they just stood by and did
nothing. Coupeau laughed at this, saying you would be pretty stupid to
risk your neck just to preserve the twenty-five francs a day for the
lazybones in the Legislative Assembly. That evening the Coupeaus invited
the Goujets to dinner. After desert Young Cassis and Golden Mouth kissed
each other on the cheek. Their lives were joined till death.

For three years the existence of the two families went on, on either
side of the landing, without an event. Gervaise was able to take care
of her daughter and still work most of the week. She was now a skilled
worker on fine laundry and earned up to three francs a day. She decided
to put Etienne, now nearly eight, into a small boarding-school on Rue
de Chartres for five francs a week. Despite the expenses for the two
children, they were able to save twenty or thirty francs each month.
Once they had six hundred francs saved, Gervaise often lay awake
thinking of her ambitious dream: she wanted to rent a small shop,
hire workers, and go into the laundry business herself. If this effort
worked, they would have a steady income from savings in twenty years.
They could retire and live in the country.

Yet she hesitated, saying she was looking for the right shop. She was
giving herself time to think it over. Their savings were safe in
the bank, and growing larger. So, in three years' time she had only
fulfilled one of her dreams--she had bought a clock. But even this
clock, made of rosewood with twined columns and a pendulum of gilded
brass, was being paid for in installments of twenty-two sous each Monday
for a year. She got upset if Coupeau tried to wind it; she liked to be
the only one to lift off the glass dome. It was under the glass dome,
behind the clock, that she hid her bank book. Sometimes, when she was
dreaming of her shop, she would stare fixedly at the clock, lost in

The Coupeaus went out nearly every Sunday with the Goujets. They
were pleasant little excursions, sometimes to have some fried fish
at Saint-Ouen, at others a rabbit at Vincennes, in the garden of some
eating-house keeper without any grand display. The men drank sufficient
to quench their thirst, and returned home as right as nine-pins, giving
their arms to the ladies. In the evening before going to bed, the two
families made up accounts and each paid half the expenses; and there was
never the least quarrel about a sou more or less.

The Lorilleuxs became jealous of the Goujets. It seemed strange to
them to see Young Cassis and Clump-clump going places all the time with
strangers instead of their own relations. But, that's the way it was;
some folks didn't care a bit about their family. Now that they had saved
a few sous, they thought they were really somebody. Madame Lorilleux
was much annoyed to see her brother getting away from her influence and
begin to continually run down Gervaise to everyone. On the other hand,
Madame Lerat took the young wife's side. Mother Coupeau tried to get
along with everybody. She only wanted to be welcomed by all three of her
children. Now that her eyesight was getting dimmer and dimmer she only
had one regular house cleaning job but she was able to pick up some
small jobs now and again.

On the day on which Nana was three years old, Coupeau, on returning home
in the evening, found Gervaise quite upset. She refused to talk about
it; there was nothing at all the matter with her, she said. But, as she
had the table all wrong, standing still with the plates in her hands,
absorbed in deep reflection, her husband insisted upon knowing what was
the matter.

"Well, it is this," she ended by saying, "the little draper's shop in
the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or, is to let. I saw it only an hour ago, when
going to buy some cotton. It gave me quite a turn."

It was a very decent shop, and in that big house where they dreamed of
living in former days. There was the shop, a back room, and two other
rooms to the right and left; in short, just what they required. The
rooms were rather small, but well placed. Only, she considered they
wanted too much; the landlord talked of five hundred francs.

"So you've been over the place, and asked the price?" said Coupeau.

"Oh! you know, only out of curiosity!" replied she, affecting an air
of indifference. "One looks about, and goes in wherever there's a bill
up--that doesn't bind one to anything. But that shop is altogether too
dear. Besides, it would perhaps be foolish of me to set up in business."

However, after dinner, she again referred to the draper's shop. She drew
a plan of the place on the margin of a newspaper. And, little by little,
she talked it over, measuring the corners, and arranging the rooms, as
though she were going to move all her furniture in there on the morrow.
Then Coupeau advised her to take it, seeing how she wanted to do so; she
would certainly never find anything decent under five hundred francs;
besides they might perhaps get a reduction. He knew only one objection
to it and that was living in the same house as the Lorilleux, whom she
could not bear.

Gervaise declared that she wasn't mad at anybody. So much did she want
her own shop that she even spoke up for the Lorilleuxs, saying that they
weren't mean at heart and that she would be able to get along just fine
with them. When they went to bed, Coupeau fell asleep immediately, but
she stayed awake, planning how she could arrange the new place even
though she hadn't yet made up her mind completely.

On the morrow, when she was alone, she could not resist removing the
glass cover from the clock, and taking a peep at the savings-bank book.
To think that her shop was there, in those dirty pages, covered with
ugly writing! Before going off to her work, she consulted Madame Goujet,
who highly approved her project of setting up in business for herself;
with a husband like hers, a good fellow who did not drink, she was
certain of getting on, and of not having her earnings squandered. At
the luncheon hour Gervaise even called on the Lorilleuxs to ask their
advice; she did not wish to appear to be doing anything unknown to the
family. Madame Lorilleux was struck all of a heap. What! Clump-clump
was going in for a shop now! And her heart bursting with envy, she
stammered, and tried to pretend to be pleased: no doubt the shop was a
convenient one--Gervaise was right in taking it. However, when she had
somewhat recovered, she and her husband talked of the dampness of the
courtyard, of the poor light of the rooms on the ground floor. Oh! it
was a good place for rheumatism. Yet, if she had made up her mind to
take it, their observations, of course, would not make her alter her

That evening Gervaise frankly owned with a laugh that she would have
fallen ill if she had been prevented from having the shop. Nevertheless,
before saying "it's done!" she wished to take Coupeau to see the place,
and try and obtain a reduction in the rent.

"Very well, then, to-morrow, if you like," said her husband. "You can
come and fetch me towards six o'clock at the house where I'm working, in
the Rue de la Nation, and we'll call in at the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or on
our way home."

Coupeau was then finishing the roofing of a new three-storied house. It
so happened that on that day he was to fix the last sheets of zinc. As
the roof was almost flat, he had set up his bench on it, a wide shutter
supported on two trestles. A beautiful May sun was setting, giving a
golden hue to the chimney-pots. And, right up at the top, against the
clear sky, the workman was quietly cutting up his zinc with a big pair
of shears, leaning over the bench, and looking like a tailor in his shop
cutting out a pair of trousers. Close to the wall of the next house, his
boy, a youngster of seventeen, thin and fair, was keeping the fire of
the chafing dish blazing by the aid of an enormous pair of bellows, each
puff of which raised a cloud of sparks.

"Hi! Zidore, put in the irons!" cried Coupeau.

The boy stuck the soldering irons into the midst of the charcoal, which
looked a pale rose color in the daylight. Then he resumed blowing.
Coupeau held the last sheet of zinc. It had to be placed at the edge of
the roof, close to the gutter-pipe; there was an abrupt slant there, and
the gaping void of the street opened beneath. The zinc-worker, just as
though in his own home, wearing his list-shoes, advanced, dragging his
feet, and whistling the air, "Oh! the little lambs." Arrived in front of
the opening, he let himself down, and then, supporting himself with one
knee against the masonry of a chimney-stack, remained half-way out over
the pavement below. One of his legs dangled. When he leant back to call
that young viper, Zidore, he held on to a corner of the masonry, on
account of the street beneath him.

"You confounded dawdler! Give me the irons! It's no use looking up
in the air, you skinny beggar! The larks won't tumble into your mouth
already cooked!"

But Zidore did not hurry himself. He was interested in the neighboring
roofs, and in a cloud of smoke which rose from the other side of Paris,
close to Grenelle; it was very likely a fire. However, he came and laid
down on his stomach, his head over the opening, and he passed the irons
to Coupeau. Then the latter commenced to solder the sheet. He squatted,
he stretched, always managing to balance himself, sometimes seated on
one side, at other times standing on the tip of one foot, often only
holding on by a finger. He had a confounded assurance, the devil's own
cheek, familiar with danger, and braving it. It knew him. It was the
street that was afraid, not he. As he kept his pipe in his mouth, he
turned round every now and then to spit onto the pavement.

"Look, there's Madame Boche," he suddenly exclaimed and called down to
her. "Hi! Madame Boche."

He had just caught sight of the concierge crossing the road. She raised
her head and recognised him, and a conversation ensured between them.
She hid her hands under her apron, her nose elevated in the air. He,
standing up now, his left arm passed round a chimney-pot, leant over.

"Have you seen my wife?" asked he.

"No, I haven't," replied the concierge. "Is she around here?"

"She's coming to fetch me. And are they all well at home?"

"Why, yes, thanks; I'm the most ill, as you see. I'm going to the
Chaussee Clignancourt to buy a small leg of mutton. The butcher near the
Moulin-Rouge only charges sixteen sous."

They raised their voices, because a vehicle was passing. In the wide,
deserted Rue de la Nation, their words, shouted out with all their
might, had only caused a little old woman to come to her window; and
this little old woman remained there leaning out, giving herself the
treat of a grand emotion by watching that man on the roof over the way,
as though she expected to see him fall, from one minute to another.

"Well! Good evening," cried Madame Boche. "I won't disturb you."

Coupeau turned round, and took back the iron that Zidore was holding
for him. But just as the concierge was moving off, she caught sight of
Gervaise on the other side of the way, holding Nana by the hand. She was
already raising her head to tell the zinc-worker, when the young woman
closed her mouth by an energetic gesture, and, in a low voice, so as
not to be heard up there, she told her of her fear: she was afraid, by
showing herself suddenly, of giving her husband a shock which might make
him lose his balance. During the four years, she had only been once
to fetch him at his work. That day was the second time. She could not
witness it, her blood turned cold when she beheld her old man between
heaven and earth, in places where even the sparrows would not venture.

"No doubt, it's not pleasant," murmured Madame Boche. "My husband's a
tailor, so I have none of these terrors."

"If you only knew, in the early days," said Gervaise again, "I had
frights from morning till night. I was always seeing him on a stretcher,
with his head smashed. Now, I don't think of it so much. One gets used
to everything. Bread must be earned. All the same, it's a precious dear
loaf, for one risks one's bones more than is fair."

And she left off speaking, hiding Nana in her skirt, fearing a cry from
the little one. Very pale, she looked up in spite of herself. At that
moment Coupeau was soldering the extreme edge of the sheet close to the
gutter; he slid down as far as possible, but without being able to reach
the edge. Then, he risked himself with those slow movements peculiar to
workmen. For an instant he was immediately over the pavement, no long
holding on, all absorbed in his work; and, from below, one could see
the little white flame of the solder frizzling up beneath the carefully
wielded iron. Gervaise, speechless, her throat contracted with anguish,
had clasped her hands together, and held them up in mechanical gesture
of prayer. But she breathed freely as Coupeau got up and returned back
along the roof, without hurrying himself, and taking the time to spit
once more into the street.

"Ah! ah! so you've been playing the spy on me!" cried he, gaily, on
beholding her. "She's been making a stupid of herself, eh, Madame
Boche? She wouldn't call to me. Wait a bit, I shall have finished in ten

All that remained to do was to fix the top of the chimney--a mere
nothing. The laundress and the concierge waited on the pavement,
discussing the neighborhood, and giving an eye to Nana, to prevent her
from dabbling in the gutter, where she wanted to look for little fishes;
and the two women kept glancing up at the roof, smiling and nodding
their heads, as though to imply that they were not losing patience. The
old woman opposite had not left her window, had continued watching the
man, and waiting.

"Whatever can she have to look at, that old she-goat?" said Madame
Boche. "What a mug she has!"

One could hear the loud voice of the zinc-worker up above singing, "Ah!
it's nice to gather strawberries!" Bending over his bench, he was now
artistically cutting out his zinc. With his compasses he traced a line,
and he detached a large fan-shaped piece with the aid of a pair of
curved shears; then he lightly bent this fan with his hammer into the
form of a pointed mushroom. Zidore was again blowing the charcoal in the
chafing-dish. The sun was setting behind the house in a brilliant rosy
light, which was gradually becoming paler, and turning to a delicate
lilac. And, at this quiet hour of the day, right up against the sky,
the silhouettes of the two workmen, looking inordinately large, with the
dark line of the bench, and the strange profile of the bellows, stood
out from the limpid back-ground of the atmosphere.

When the chimney-top was got into shape, Coupeau called out: "Zidore!
The irons!"

But Zidore had disappeared. The zinc-worker swore, and looked about for
him, even calling him through the open skylight of the loft. At length
he discovered him on a neighboring roof, two houses off. The young rogue
was taking a walk, exploring the environs, his fair scanty locks blowing
in the breeze, his eyes blinking as they beheld the immensity of Paris.

"I say, lazy bones! Do you think you're having a day in the country?"
asked Coupeau, in a rage. "You're like Monsieur Beranger, composing
verses, perhaps! Will you give me those irons! Did any one ever see
such a thing! Strolling about on the house-tops! Why not bring your
sweetheart at once, and tell her of your love? Will you give me those
irons? You confounded little shirker!"

He finished his soldering, and called to Gervaise: "There, it's done.
I'm coming down."

The chimney-pot to which he had to fix the flue was in the middle of
the roof. Gervaise, who was no longer uneasy, continued to smile as she
followed his movements. Nana, amused all on a sudden by the view of her
father, clapped her little hands. She had seated herself on the pavement
to see the better up there.

"Papa! Papa!" called she with all her might. "Papa! Just look!"

The zinc-worker wished to lean forward, but his foot slipped. Then
suddenly, stupidly, like a cat with its legs entangled, he rolled and
descended the slight slope of the roof without being able to grab hold
of anything.

"_Mon Dieu_," he cried in a choked voice.

And he fell. His body described a gentle curve, turned twice over on
itself, and came smashing into the middle of the street with the dull
thud of a bundle of clothes thrown from on high.

Gervaise, stupefied, her throat rent by one great cry, stood holding
up her arms. Some passers-by hastened to the spot; a crowd soon formed.
Madame Boche, utterly upset, her knees bending under her, took Nana in
her arms, to hide her head and prevent her seeing. Meanwhile, the little
old woman opposite quietly closed her window, as though satisfied.

Four men ended by carrying Coupeau into a chemist's, at the corner of
the Rue des Poissonniers; and he remained there on a blanket, in the
middle of the shop, whist they sent to the Lariboisiere Hospital for a
stretcher. He was still breathing.

Gervaise, sobbing, was kneeling on the floor beside him, her face
smudged with tears, stunned and unseeing. Her hands would reach to feel
her husband's limbs with the utmost gentleness. Then she would draw back
as she had been warned not to touch him. But a few seconds later she
would touch him to assure herself that he was still warm, feeling
somehow that she was helping him.

When the stretcher at length arrived, and they talked of starting for
the hospital, she got up, saying violently:

"No, no, not to the hospital! We live in the Rue Neuve de la

It was useless for them to explain to her that the illness would cost
her a great deal of money, if she took her husband home. She obstinately

"Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d'Or; I will show you the house. What can it
matter to you? I've got money. He's my husband, isn't he? He's mine, and
I want him at home."

And they had to take Coupeau to his own home. When the stretcher was
carried through the crowd which was crushing up against the chemist's
shop, the women of the neighborhood were excitedly talking of Gervaise.
She limped, the dolt, but all the same she had some pluck. She would
be sure to save her old man; whilst at the hospital the doctors let the
patients die who were very bad, so as not to have the bother of trying
to cure them. Madame Boche, after taking Nana home with her, returned,
and gave her account of the accident, with interminable details, and
still feeling agitated with the emotion she had passed through.

"I was going to buy a leg of mutton; I was there, I saw him fall,"
repeated she. "It was all through the little one; he turned to look at
her, and bang! Ah! good heavens! I never want to see such a sight again.
However, I must be off to get my leg of mutton."

For a week Coupeau was very bad. The family, the neighbors, everyone,
expected to see him turn for the worse at any moment. The doctor--a very
expensive doctor, who charged five francs for each visit--apprehended
internal injuries, and these words filled everyone with fear. It was
said in the neighborhood that the zinc-worker's heart had been injured
by the shock. Gervaise alone, looking pale through her nights of
watching, serious and resolute, shrugged her shoulders. Her old man's
right leg was broken, everyone knew that; it would be set for him, and
that was all. As for the rest, the injured heart, that was nothing.
She knew how to restore a heart with ceaseless care. She was certain of
getting him well and displayed magnificent faith. She stayed close by
him and caressed him gently during the long bouts of fever without a
moment of doubt. She was on her feet continuously for a whole week,
completely absorbed by her determination to save him. She forgot the
street outside, the entire city, and even her own children. On the ninth
day, the doctor finally said that Coupeau would live. Gervaise collapsed
into a chair, her body limp from fatigue. That night she consented to
sleep for two hours with her head against the foot of the bed.

Coupeau's accident had created quite a commotion in the family. Mother
Coupeau passed the nights with Gervaise; but as early as nine o'clock
she fell asleep on a chair. Every evening, on returning from work,
Madame Lerat went a long round out of her way to inquire how her brother
was getting on. At first the Lorilleuxs had called two or three times a
day, offering to sit up and watch, and even bringing an easy-chair for
Gervaise. Then it was not long before there were disputes as to the
proper way to nurse invalids. Madame Lorilleux said that she had saved
enough people's lives to know how to go about it. She accused the young
wife of pushing her aside, of driving her away from her own brother's
bed. Certainly that Clump-clump ought to be concerned about Coupeau's
getting well, for if she hadn't gone to Rue de la Nation to disturb him
at his job, he would never had fallen. Only, the way she was taking care
of him, she would certainly finish him.

When Gervaise saw that Coupeau was out of danger, she ceased guarding
his bedside with so much jealous fierceness. Now, they could no longer
kill him, and she let people approach without mistrust. The family
invaded the room. The convalescence would be a very long one; the doctor
had talked of four months. Then, during the long hours the zinc-worker
slept, the Lorilleux talked of Gervaise as of a fool. She hadn't done
any good by having her husband at home. At the hospital they would have
cured him twice as quickly. Lorilleux would have liked to have been ill,
to have caught no matter what, just to show her that he did not hesitate
for a moment to go to Lariboisiere. Madame Lorilleux knew a lady who
had just come from there. Well! She had had chicken to eat morning and

Again and again the two of them went over their estimate of how much
four months of convalescence would cost; workdays lost, the doctor and
the medicines, and afterward good wine and fresh meat. If the Coupeaus
only used up their small savings, they would be very lucky indeed. They
would probably have to do into debt. Well, that was to be expected and
it was their business. They had no right to expect any help from the
family, which couldn't afford the luxury of keeping an invalid at home.
It was just Clump-clump's bad luck, wasn't it? Why couldn't she have
done as others did and let her man be taken to hospital? This just
showed how stuck up she was.

One evening Madame Lorilleux had the spitefulness to ask Gervaise

"Well! And your shop, when are you going to take it?"

"Yes," chuckled Lorilleux, "the landlord's still waiting for you."

Gervaise was astonished. She had completely forgotten the shop; but she
saw the wicked joy of those people, at the thought that she would no
longer be able to take it, and she was bursting with anger. From that
evening, in fact, they watched for every opportunity to twit her about
her hopeless dream. When any one spoke of some impossible wish, they
would say that it might be realized on the day that Gervaise started in
business, in a beautiful shop opening onto the street. And behind her
back they would laugh fit to split their sides. She did not like to
think such an unkind thing, but, really, the Lorilleuxs now seemed to be
very pleased at Coupeau's accident, as it prevented her setting up as a
laundress in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or.

Then she also wished to laugh, and show them how willingly she parted
with the money for the sake of curing her husband. Each time she took
the savings-bank book from beneath the glass clock-tower in their
presence, she would say gaily:

"I'm going out; I'm going to rent my shop."

She had not been willing to withdraw the money all at once. She took it
out a hundred francs at a time, so as not to keep such a pile of gold
and silver in her drawer; then, too, she vaguely hoped for some miracle,
some sudden recovery, which would enable them not to part with the
entire sum. At each journey to the savings-bank, on her return home, she
added up on a piece of paper the money they had still left there. It
was merely for the sake of order. Their bank account might be getting
smaller all the time, yet she went on with her quiet smile and
common-sense attitude, keeping the account straight. It was a
consolation to be able to use this money for such a good purpose, to
have had it when faced with their misfortune.

While Coupeau was bed-ridden the Goujets were very kind to Gervaise.
Madame Goujet was always ready to assist. She never went to shop without
stopping to ask Gervaise if there was anything she needed, sugar or
butter or salt. She always brought over hot bouillon on the evenings she
cooked _pot au feu_. Sometimes, when Gervaise seemed to have too much
to do, Madame Goujet helped her do the dishes, or cleaned the kitchen
herself. Goujet took her water pails every morning and filled them
at the tap on Rue des Poissonniers, saving her two sous a day. After
dinner, if no family came to visit, the Goujets would come over to visit
with the Coupeaus.

Until ten o'clock, the blacksmith would smoke his pipe and watch
Gervaise busy with her invalid. He would not speak ten words the entire
evening. He was moved to pity by the sight of her pouring Coupeau's tea
and medicine into a cup, or stirring the sugar in it very carefully so
as to make no sound with the spoon. It stirred him deeply when she would
lean over Coupeau and speak in her soft voice. Never before had he known
such a fine woman. Her limp increased the credit due her for wearing
herself out doing things for her husband all day long. She never sat
down for ten minutes, not even to eat. She was always running to the
chemist's. And then she would still keep the house clean, not even a
speck of dust. She never complained, no matter how exhausted she became.
Goujet developed a very deep affection for Gervaise in this atmosphere
of unselfish devotion.

One day he said to the invalid, "Well, old man, now you're patched up
again! I wasn't worried about you. Your wife works miracles."

Goujet was supposed to be getting married. His mother had found a
suitable girl, a lace-mender like herself, whom she was urging him to
marry. He had agreed so as not to hurt her feelings and the wedding had
been set for early September. Money had long since been saved to set
them up in housekeeping. However, when Gervaise referred to his coming
marriage, he shook his head, saying, "Not every woman is like you,
Madame Coupeau. If all women were like you, I'd marry ten of them."

At the end of two months, Coupeau was able to get up. He did not go far,
only from the bed to the window, and even then Gervaise had to support
him. There he would sit down in the easy-chair the Lorilleuxs had
brought, with his right leg stretched out on a stool. This joker,
who used to laugh at the people who slipped down on frosty days, felt
greatly put out by his accident. He had no philosophy. He had spent
those two months in bed, in cursing, and in worrying the people about
him. It was not an existence, really, to pass one's life on one's back,
with a pin all tied up and as stiff as a sausage. Ah, he certainly knew
the ceiling by heart; there was a crack, at the corner of the alcove,
that he could have drawn with his eyes shut. Then, when he was made
comfortable in the easy-chair, it was another grievance. Would he be
fixed there for long, just like a mummy?

Nobody ever passed along the street, so it was no fun to watch. Besides,
it stank of bleach water all day. No, he was just growing old; he'd have
given ten years of his life just to go see how the fortifications were
getting along. He kept going on about his fate. It wasn't right, what
had happened to him. A good worker like him, not a loafer or a drunkard,
he could have understood in that case.

"Papa Coupeau," said he, "broke his neck one day that he'd been boozing.
I can't say that it was deserved, but anyhow it was explainable. I had
had nothing since my lunch, was perfectly quiet, and without a drop of
liquor in my body; and yet I came to grief just because I wanted to turn
round to smile at Nana! Don't you think that's too much? If there is a
providence, it certainly arranges things in a very peculiar manner. I,
for one, shall never believe in it."

And when at last he was able to use his legs, he retained a secret
grudge against work. It was a handicraft full of misfortunes to pass
one's days, like the cats, on the roofs of the houses. The employers
were no fools! They sent you to your death--being far too cowardly to
venture themselves on a ladder--and stopped at home in safety at their
fire-sides without caring a hang for the poorer classes; and he got to
the point of saying that everyone ought to fix the zinc himself on his
own house. _Mon Dieu_! It was the only fair way to do it! If you don't
want the rain to come in, do the work yourself. He regretted he
hadn't learned another trade, something more pleasant, something less
dangerous, maybe cabinetmaking. It was really his father's fault. Lots
of fathers have the foolish habit of shoving their sons into their own
line of work.

For another two months Coupeau hobbled about on crutches. He had first
of all managed to get as far as the street, and smoke his pipe in
front of the door. Then he had managed to reach the exterior Boulevard,
dragging himself along in the sunshine, and remaining for hours on one
of the seats. Gaiety returned to him; his infernal tongue got sharper in
these long hours of idleness. And with the pleasure of living, he gained
there a delight in doing nothing, an indolent feeling took possession of
his limbs, and his muscles gradually glided into a very sweet slumber.
It was the slow victory of laziness, which took advantage of his
convalescence to obtain possession of his body and unnerve him with
its tickling. He regained his health, as thorough a banterer as before,
thinking life beautiful, and not seeing why it should not last for ever.

As soon as he could get about without the crutches, he made longer
walks, often visiting construction jobs to see old comrades. He would
stand with his arms folded, sneering and shaking his head, ridiculing
the workers slaving at the job, stretching out his leg to show them what
you got for wearing yourself out. Being able to stand about and mock
others while they were working satisfied his spite against hard work.
No doubt he'd have to go back to it, but he'd put it off as long as
possible. He had a reason now to be lazy. Besides, it seemed good to him
to loaf around like a bum!

On the afternoons when Coupeau felt dull, he would call on the
Lorilleuxs. The latter would pity him immensely, and attract him with
all sorts of amiable attentions. During the first years following his
marriage, he had avoided them, thanks to Gervaise's influence. Now they
regained their sway over him by twitting him about being afraid of his
wife. He was no man, that was evident! The Lorilleuxs, however, showed
great discretion, and were loud in their praise of the laundress's good
qualities. Coupeau, without as yet coming to wrangling, swore to the
latter that his sister adored her, and requested that she would behave
more amiably to her. The first quarrel which the couple had occurred one
evening on account of Etienne. The zinc-worker had passed the afternoon
with the Lorilleuxs. On arriving home, as the dinner was not quite
ready, and the children were whining for their soup, he suddenly turned
upon Etienne, and boxed his ears soundly. And during an hour he did not
cease to grumble; the brat was not his; he did not know why he allowed
him to be in the place; he would end by turning him out into the street.
Up till then he had tolerated the youngster without all that fuss. On
the morrow he talked of his dignity. Three days after, he kept kicking
the little fellow, morning and evening, so much so that the child,
whenever he heard him coming, bolted into the Goujets' where the old
lace-mender kept a corner of the table clear for him to do his lessons.

Gervaise had for some time past, returned to work. She no longer had the
trouble of looking under the glass cover of the clock; all the savings
were gone; and she had to work hard, work for four, for there were
four to feed now. She alone maintained them. Whenever she heard people
pitying her, she at once found excuses for Coupeau. Recollect! He had
suffered so much; it was not surprising if his disposition had soured!
But it would pass off when his health returned. And if any one hinted
that Coupeau seemed all right again, that he could very well return to
work, she protested: No, no; not yet! She did not want to see him take
to his bed again. They would allow her to know best what the doctor
said, perhaps! It was she who prevented him returning to work, telling
him every morning to take his time and not to force himself. She even
slipped twenty sou pieces into his waistcoat pocket. Coupeau accepted
this as something perfectly natural. He was always complaining of aches
and pains so that she would coddle him. At the end of six months he was
still convalescing.

Now, whenever he went to watch others working, he was always ready to
join his comrades in downing a shot. It wasn't so bad, after all.
They had their fun, and they never stayed more than five minutes. That
couldn't hurt anybody. Only a hypocrite would say he went in because he
wanted a drink. No wonder they had laughed at him in the past. A glass
of wine never hurt anybody. He only drank wine though, never brandy.
Wine never made you sick, didn't get you drunk, and helped you to live
longer. Soon though, several times, after a day of idleness in going
from one building job to another, he came home half drunk. On those
occasions Gervaise pretended to have a terrible headache and kept
their door closed so that the Goujets wouldn't hear Coupeau's drunken

Little by little, the young woman lost her cheerfulness. Morning and
evening she went to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or to look at the shop,
which was still to be let; and she would hide herself as though she were
committing some childish prank unworthy of a grown-up person. This shop
was beginning to turn her brain. At night-time, when the light was out
she experienced the charm of some forbidden pleasure by thinking of it
with her eyes open. She again made her calculations; two hundred and
fifty francs for the rent, one hundred and fifty francs for utensils
and moving, one hundred francs in hand to keep them going for a
fortnight--in all five hundred francs at the very lowest figure. If she
was not continually thinking of it aloud, it was for fear she should be
suspected of regretting the savings swallowed up by Coupeau's illness.
She often became quite pale, having almost allowed her desire to escape
her and catching back her words, quite confused as though she had been
thinking of something wicked. Now they would have to work for four or
five years before they would succeed in saving such a sum. Her regret
was at not being able to start in business at once; she would have
earned all the home required, without counting on Coupeau, letting him
take months to get into the way of work again; she would no longer have
been uneasy, but certain of the future and free from the secret fears
which sometimes seized her when he returned home very gay and singing,
and relating some joke of that animal My-Boots, whom he had treated to a

One evening, Gervaise being at home alone, Goujet entered, and did not
hurry off again, according to his habit. He seated himself, and smoked
as he watched her. He probably had something very serious to say; he
thought it over, let it ripen without being able to put it into suitable
words. At length, after a long silence, he appeared to make up his mind,
and took his pipe out of his mouth to say all in a breath:

"Madame Gervaise, will you allow me to lend you some money?"

She was leaning over an open drawer, looking for some dish-cloths. She
got up, her face very red. He must have seen her then, in the morning,
standing in ecstacy before the shop for close upon ten minutes. He was
smiling in an embarrassed way, as though he had made some insulting
proposal. But she hastily refused. Never would she accept money from any
one without knowing when she would be able to return it. Then also
it was a question of too large an amount. And as he insisted, in a
frightened manner, she ended by exclaiming:

"But your marriage? I certainly can't take the money you've been saving
for your marriage!"

"Oh, don't let that bother you," he replied, turning red in his turn.
"I'm not going to be married now. That was just an idea, you know.
Really, I would much sooner lend you the money."

Then they both held down their heads. There was something very pleasant
between them to which they did not give expression. And Gervaise
accepted. Goujet had told his mother. They crossed the landing, and went
to see her at once. The lace-mender was very grave, and looked rather
sad as she bent her face over her tambour-frame. She would not thwart
her son, but she no longer approved Gervaise's project; and she plainly
told her why. Coupeau was going to the bad; Coupeau would swallow up
her shop. She especially could not forgive the zinc-worker for having
refused to learn to read during his convalescence. The blacksmith had
offered to teach him, but the other had sent him to the right about,
saying that learning made people get thin. This had almost caused a
quarrel between the two workmen; each went his own way. Madame Goujet,
however, seeing her big boy's beseeching glances, behaved very kindly
to Gervaise. It was settled that they would lend their neighbors five
hundred francs; the latter were to repay the amount by installments of
twenty francs a month; it would last as long as it lasted.

"I say, the blacksmith's sweet on you," exclaimed Coupeau, laughing,
when he heard what had taken place. "Oh, I'm quite easy; he's too big a
muff. We'll pay him back his money. But, really, if he had to deal with
some people, he'd find himself pretty well duped."

On the morrow the Coupeaus took the shop. All day long, Gervaise was
running from Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d'Or. When the neighbors beheld her
pass thus, nimble and delighted to the extent that she no longer limped,
they said she must have undergone some operation.


It so happened that the Boches had left the Rue des Poissonniers at the
April quarter, and were now taking charge of the great house in the Rue
de la Goutte-d'Or. It was a curious coincidence, all the same! One thing
that worried Gervaise who had lived so quietly in her lodgings in the
Rue Neuve, was the thought of again being under the subjection of some
unpleasant person, with whom she would be continually quarrelling,
either on account of water spilt in the passage or of a door shut too
noisily at night-time. Concierges are such a disagreeable class! But it
would be a pleasure to be with the Boches. They knew one another--they
would always get on well together. It would be just like members of the
same family.

On the day the Coupeaus went to sign their lease, Gervaise felt her
heart swollen with pride as she passed through the high doorway. She
was then at length going to live in that house as vast as a little town,
with its interminable staircases, and passages as long and winding as
streets. She was excited by everything: the gray walls with varicolored
rugs hanging from windows to dry in the sun, the dingy courtyard with
as many holes in its pavement as a public square, the hum of activity
coming through the walls. She felt joy that she was at last about to
realize her ambition. She also felt fear that she would fail and be
crushed in the endless struggle against the poverty and starvation she
could feel breathing down her neck. It seemed to her that she was doing
something very bold, throwing herself into the midst of some machinery
in motion, as she listened to the blacksmith's hammers and the
cabinetmakers' planes, hammering and hissing in the depths of the
work-shops on the ground floor. On that day the water flowing from
the dyer's under the entrance porch was a very pale apple green. She
smilingly stepped over it; to her the color was a pleasant omen.

The meeting with the landlord was to take place in the Boches' room.
Monsieur Marescot, a wealthy cutler of the Rue de la Paix, had at one
time turned a grindstone through the streets. He was now stated to be
worth several millions. He was a man of fifty-five, large and big-boned.
Even though he now wore a decoration in his button-hole, his huge hands
were still those of a former workingman. It was his joy to carry off the
scissors and knives of his tenants, to sharpen them himself, for the fun
of it. He often stayed for hours with his concierges, closed up in the
darkness of their lodges, going over the accounts. That's where he did
all his business. He was now seated by Madame Boche's kitchen table,
listening to her story of how the dressmaker on the third floor,
staircase A, had used a filthy word in refusing to pay her rent. He had
had to work precious hard once upon a time. But work was the high road
to everything. And, after counting the two hundred and fifty francs for
the first two quarters in advance, and dropping them into his capacious
pocket, he related the story of his life, and showed his decoration.

Gervaise, however, felt rather ill at ease on account of the Boches'
behavior. They pretended not to know her. They were most assiduous in
their attentions to the landlord, bowing down before him, watching
for his least words, and nodding their approval of them. Madame Boche
suddenly ran out and dispersed a group of children who were paddling
about in front of the cistern, the tap of which they had turned full
on, causing the water to flow over the pavement; and when she returned,
upright and severe in her skirts, crossing the courtyard and glancing
slowly up at all the windows, as though to assure herself of the good
behavior of the household, she pursed her lips in a way to show with
what authority she was invested, now that she reigned over three hundred
tenants. Boche again spoke of the dressmaker on the second floor; he
advised that she should be turned out; he reckoned up the number of
quarters she owed with the importance of a steward whose management
might be compromised. Monsieur Marescot approved the suggestion of
turning her out, but he wished to wait till the half quarter. It was
hard to turn people out into the street, more especially as it did not
put a sou into the landlord's pocket. And Gervaise asked herself with a
shudder if she too would be turned out into the street the day that some
misfortune rendered her unable to pay.

The concierge's lodge was as dismal as a cellar, black from smoke and
crowded with dark furniture. All the sunlight fell upon the tailor's
workbench by the window. An old frock coat that was being reworked lay
on it. The Boches' only child, a four-year-old redhead named Pauline,
was sitting on the floor, staring quietly at the veal simmering on
the stove, delighted with the sharp odor of cooking that came from the
frying pan.

Monsieur Marescot again held out his hand to the zinc-worker, when the
latter spoke of the repairs, recalling to his mind a promise he had made
to talk the matter over later on. But the landlord grew angry, he had
never promised anything; besides, it was not usual to do any repairs
to a shop. However, he consented to go over the place, followed by the
Coupeaus and Boche. The little linen-draper had carried off all his
shelves and counters; the empty shop displayed its blackened ceiling and
its cracked wall, on which hung strips of an old yellow paper. In the
sonorous emptiness of the place, there ensued a heated discussion.
Monsieur Marescot exclaimed that it was the business of shopkeepers
to embellish their shops, for a shopkeeper might wish to have gold put
about everywhere, and he, the landlord, could not put out gold. Then he
related that he had spent more than twenty thousand francs in fitting
up his premises in the Rue de la Paix. Gervaise, with her woman's
obstinacy, kept repeating an argument which she considered unanswerable.
He would repaper a lodging, would he not? Then, why did he not treat the
shop the same as a lodging? She did not ask him for anything else--only
to whitewash the ceiling, and put some fresh paper on the walls.

Boche, all this while, remained dignified and impenetrable; he turned
about and looked up in the air, without expressing an opinion. Coupeau
winked at him in vain; he affected not to wish to take advantage of his
great influence over the landlord. He ended, however, by making a slight
grimace--a little smile accompanied by a nod of the head. Just then
Monsieur Marescot, exasperated, and seemingly very unhappy, and
clutching his fingers like a miser being despoiled of his gold, was
giving way to Gervaise, promising to do the ceiling and repaper the shop
on condition that she paid for half of the paper. And he hurried away
declining to discuss anything further.

Now that Boche was alone with the Coupeaus, the concierge became quite
talkative and slapped them on the shoulders. Well, well, see what
they had gotten. Without his help, they would never have gotten the
concessions. Didn't they notice how the landlord had looked to him
out of the corner of his eye for advice and how he'd made up his mind
suddenly when he saw Boche smile? He confessed to them confidentially
that he was the real boss of the building. It was he who decided who
got eviction notices and who could become tenants. He collected all the
rents and kept them for a couple of weeks in his bureau drawer.

That evening the Coupeaus, to express their gratitude to the Boches,
sent them two bottles of wine as a present.

The following Monday the workmen started doing up the shop. The
purchasing of the paper turned out especially to be a very big affair.
Gervaise wanted a grey paper with blue flowers, so as to enliven and
brighten the walls. Boche offered to take her to the dealers, so that
she might make her own selection. But the landlord had given him formal
instructions not to go beyond the price of fifteen sous the piece. They
were there an hour. The laundress kept looking in despair at a very
pretty chintz pattern costing eighteen sous the piece, and thought all
the other papers hideous. At length the concierge gave in; he would
arrange the matter, and, if necessary, would make out there was a
piece more used than was really the case. So, on her way home, Gervaise
purchased some tarts for Pauline. She did not like being behindhand--one
always gained by behaving nicely to her.

The shop was to be ready in four days. The workmen were there three
weeks. At first it was arranged that they should merely wash the paint.
But this paint, originally maroon, was so dirty and so sad-looking, that
Gervaise allowed herself to be tempted to have the whole of the frontage
painted a light blue with yellow moldings. Then the repairs seemed as
though they would last for ever. Coupeau, as he was still not working,
arrived early each morning to see how things were going. Boche left the
overcoat or trousers on which he was working to come and supervise.
Both of them would stand and watch with their hands behind their backs,
puffing on their pipes.

The painters were very merry fellows who would often desert their work
to stand in the middle of the shop and join the discussion, shaking
their heads for hours, admiring the work already done. The ceiling had
been whitewashed quickly, but the paint on the walls never seemed to dry
in a hurry.

Around nine o'clock the painters would arrive with their paint pots
which they stuck in a corner. They would look around and then disappear.
Perhaps they went to eat breakfast. Sometimes Coupeau would take
everyone for a drink--Boche, the two painters and any of Coupeau's
friends who were nearby. This meant another afternoon wasted.

Gervaise's patience was thoroughly exhausted, when, suddenly, everything
was finished in two days, the paint varnished, the paper hung, and the
dirt all cleared away. The workmen had finished it off as though they
were playing, whistling away on their ladders, and singing loud enough
to deafen the whole neighborhood.

The moving in took place at once. During the first few days Gervaise
felt as delighted as a child. Whenever she crossed the road on returning
from some errand, she lingered to smile at her home. From a distance her
shop appeared light and gay with its pale blue signboard, on which the
word "Laundress" was painted in big yellow letters, amidst the dark row
of the other frontages. In the window, closed in behind by little
muslin curtains, and hung on either side with blue paper to show off the
whiteness of the linen, some shirts were displayed, with some women's
caps hanging above them on wires. She thought her shop looked pretty,
being the same color as the heavens.

Inside there was more blue; the paper, in imitation of a Pompadour
chintz, represented a trellis overgrown with morning-glories. A huge
table, taking up two-thirds of the room, was her ironing-table. It
was covered with thick blanketing and draped with a strip of cretonne
patterned with blue flower sprays that hid the trestles beneath.

Gervaise was enchanted with her pretty establishment and would often
seat herself on a stool and sigh with contentment, delighted with all
the new equipment. Her first glance always went to the cast-iron stove
where the irons were heated ten at a time, arranged over the heat on
slanting rests. She would kneel down to look into the stove to make sure
the apprentice had not put in too much coke.

The lodging at the back of the shop was quite decent. The Coupeaus slept
in the first room, where they also did the cooking and took their meals;
a door at the back opened on to the courtyard of the house. Nana's bed
was in the right hand room, which was lighted by a little round window
close to the ceiling. As for Etienne, he shared the left hand room with
the dirty clothes, enormous bundles of which lay about on the floor.
However, there was one disadvantage--the Coupeaus would not admit it
at first--but the damp ran down the walls, and it was impossible to see
clearly in the place after three o'clock in the afternoon.

In the neighborhood the new shop produced a great sensation. The
Coupeaus were accused of going too fast, and making too much fuss.
They had, in fact, spent the five hundred francs lent by the Goujets in
fitting up the shop and in moving, without keeping sufficient to live
upon for a fortnight, as they had intended doing. The morning that
Gervaise took down her shutters for the first time, she had just six
francs in her purse. But that did not worry her, customers began to
arrive, and things seemed promising. A week later on the Saturday,
before going to bed, she remained two hours making calculations on a
piece of paper, and she awoke Coupeau to tell him, with a bright look on
her face, that there were hundreds and thousands of francs to be made,
if they were only careful.

"Ah, well!" said Madame Lorilleux all over the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or,
"my fool of a brother is seeing some funny things! All that was wanting
was that Clump-clump should go about so haughty. It becomes her well,
doesn't it?"

The Lorilleuxs had declared a feud to the death against Gervaise. To
begin with, they had almost died of rage during the time while the
repairs were being done to the shop. If they caught sight of the
painters from a distance, they would walk on the other side of the way,
and go up to their rooms with their teeth set. A blue shop for that
"nobody," it was enough to discourage all honest, hard-working people!
Besides, the second day after the shop opened the apprentice happened to
throw out a bowl of starch just at the moment when Madame Lorilleux
was passing. The zinc-worker's sister caused a great commotion in
the street, accusing her sister-in-law of insulting her through her
employees. This broke off all relations. Now they only exchanged
terrible glares when they encountered each other.

"Yes, she leads a pretty life!" Madame Lorilleux kept saying. "We all
know where the money came from that she paid for her wretched shop! She
borrowed it from the blacksmith; and he springs from a nice family too!
Didn't the father cut his own throat to save the guillotine the trouble
of doing so? Anyhow, there was something disreputable of that sort!"

She bluntly accused Gervaise of flirting with Goujet. She lied--she
pretended she had surprised them together one night on a seat on the
exterior Boulevards. The thought of this liaison, of pleasures that her
sister-in-law was no doubt enjoying, exasperated her still more, because
of her own ugly woman's strict sense of propriety. Every day the same
cry came from her heart to her lips.

"What does she have, that wretched cripple, for people to fall in love
with her? Why doesn't any one want me?"

She busied herself in endless gossiping among the neighbors. She told
them the whole story. The day the Coupeaus got married she turned up her
nose at her. Oh, she had a keen nose, she could smell in advance how
it would turn out. Then, Clump-clump pretended to be so sweet, what a
hypocrite! She and her husband had only agreed to be Nana's godparents
for the sake of her brother. What a bundle it had cost, that fancy
christening. If Clump-clump were on her deathbed she wouldn't give her a
glass of water, no matter how much she begged.

She didn't want anything to do with such a shameless baggage. Little
Nana would always be welcome when she came up to see her godparents.
The child couldn't be blamed for her mother's sins. But there was no
use trying to tell Coupeau anything. Any real man in his situation would
have beaten his wife and put a stop to it all. All they wanted was for
him to insist on respect for his family. _Mon Dieu_! If she, Madame
Lorilleux, had acted like that, Coupeau wouldn't be so complacent. He
would have stabbed her for sure with his shears.

The Boches, however, who sternly disapproved of quarrels in their
building, said that the Lorilleuxs were in the wrong. The Lorilleuxs
were no doubt respectable persons, quiet, working the whole day long,
and paying their rent regularly. But, really, jealousy had driven them
mad. And they were mean enough to skin an egg, real misers. They were so
stingy that they'd hide their bottle when any one came in, so as not to
have to offer a glass of wine--not regular people at all.

Gervaise had brought over cassis and soda water one day to drink with
the Boches. When Madame Lorilleux went by, she acted out spitting before
the concierge's door. Well, after that when Madame Boches swept the
corridors on Saturdays, she always left a pile of trash before the
Lorilleuxs' door.

"It isn't to be wondered at!" Madame Lorilleux would exclaim,
"Clump-clump's always stuffing them, the gluttons! Ah! they're all
alike; but they had better not annoy me! I'll complain to the landlord.
Only yesterday I saw that sly old Boche chasing after Madame Gaudron's
skirts. Just fancy! A woman of that age, and who has half a dozen
children, too; it's positively disgusting! If I catch them at anything
of the sort again, I'll tell Madame Boche, and she'll give them both a
hiding. It'll be something to laugh at."

Mother Coupeau continued to visit the two houses, agreeing with
everybody and even managing to get asked oftener to dinner, by
complaisantly listening one night to her daughter and the next night to
her daughter-in-law.

However, Madame Lerat did not go to visit the Coupeaus because she had
argued with Gervaise about a Zouave who had cut the nose of his mistress
with a razor. She was on the side of the Zouave, saying it was evidence
of a great passion, but without explaining further her thought. Then,
she had made Madame Lorilleux even more angry by telling her that
Clump-clump had called her "Cow Tail" in front of fifteen or twenty
people. Yes, that's what the Boches and all the neighbors called her
now, "Cow Tail."

Gervaise remained calm and cheerful among all these goings-on. She often
stood by the door of her shop greeting friends who passed by with a nod
and a smile. It was her pleasure to take a moment between batches
of ironing to enjoy the street and take pride in her own stretch of

She felt that the Rue de la Goutte d'Or was hers, and the neighboring
streets, and the whole neighborhood. As she stood there, with her blonde
hair slightly damp from the heat of the shop, she would look left and
right, taking in the people, the buildings, and the sky. To the left
Rue de la Goutte d'Or was peaceful and almost empty, like a country town
with women idling in their doorways. While, to the right, only a short
distance away, Rue des Poissonniers had a noisy throng of people and

The stretch of gutter before her own shop became very important in her
mind. It was like a wide river which she longed to see neat and clean.
It was a lively river, colored by the dye shop with the most fanciful of
hues which contrasted with the black mud beside it.

Then there were the shops: a large grocery with a display of dried
fruits protected by mesh nets; a shop selling work clothes which had
white tunics and blue smocks hanging before it with arms that waved at
the slightest breeze. Cats were purring on the counters of the fruit
store and the tripe shop. Madame Vigouroux, the coal dealer next door,
returned her greetings. She was a plump, short woman with bright eyes
in a dark face who was always joking with the men while standing at her
doorway. Her shop was decorated in imitation of a rustic chalet. The
neighbors on the other side were a mother and daughter, the Cudorges.
The umbrella sellers kept their door closed and never came out to visit.

Gervaise always looked across the road, too, through the wide carriage
entrance of the windowless wall opposite her, at the blacksmith's forge.
The courtyard was cluttered with vans and carts. Inscribed on the wall
was the word "Blacksmith."

At the lower end of the wall between the small shops selling scrap iron
and fried potatoes was a watchmaker. He wore a frock coat and was
always very neat. His cuckoo clocks could be heard in chorus against the
background noise of the street and the blacksmith's rhythmic clanging.

The neighborhood in general thought Gervaise very nice. There was, it is
true, a good deal of scandal related regarding her; but everyone admired
her large eyes, small mouth and beautiful white teeth. In short she was
a pretty blonde, and had it not been for her crippled leg she might have
ranked amongst the comeliest. She was now in her twenty-eighth year, and
had grown considerably plumper. Her fine features were becoming puffy,
and her gestures were assuming a pleasant indolence.

At times she occasionally seemed to forget herself on the edge of a
chair, whilst she waited for her iron to heat, smiling vaguely and with
an expression of greedy joy upon her face. She was becoming fond of
good living, everybody said so; but that was not a very grave fault, but
rather the contrary. When one earns sufficient to be able to buy good
food, one would be foolish to eat potato parings. All the more so as she
continued to work very hard, slaving to please her customers, sitting
up late at night after the place was closed, whenever there was anything

She was lucky as all her neighbors said; everything prospered with
her. She did the washing for all the house--M. Madinier, Mademoiselle
Remanjou, the Boches. She even secured some of the customers of her
old employer, Madame Fauconnier, Parisian ladies living in the Rue du
Faubourg-Poissonniere. As early as the third week she was obliged to
engage two workwomen, Madame Putois and tall Clemence, the girl who
used to live on the sixth floor; counting her apprentice, that little
squint-eyed Augustine, who was as ugly as a beggar's behind, that made
three persons in her employ. Others would certainly have lost their
heads at such a piece of good fortune. It was excusable for her to slack
a little on Monday after drudging all through the week. Besides, it was
necessary to her. She would have had no courage left, and would have
expected to see the shirts iron themselves, if she had not been able to
dress up in some pretty thing.

Gervaise was always so amiable, meek as a lamb, sweet as sugar. There
wasn't any one she disliked except Madame Lorilleux. While she was
enjoying a good meal and coffee, she could be indulgent and forgive
everybody saying: "We have to forgive each other--don't we?--unless
we want to live like savages." Hadn't all her dreams come true? She
remembered her old dream: to have a job, enough bread to eat and a
corner in which to sleep, to bring up her children, not to be beaten,
and to die in her own bed. She had everything she wanted now and more
than she had ever expected. She laughed, thinking of delaying dying in
her own bed as long as possible.

It was to Coupeau especially that Gervaise behaved nicely. Never an
angry word, never a complaint behind her husband's back. The zinc-worker
had at length resumed work; and as the job he was engaged on was at
the other side of Paris, she gave him every morning forty sous for his
luncheon, his glass of wine and his tobacco. Only, two days out of every
six, Coupeau would stop on the way, spend the forty sous in drink with
a friend, and return home to lunch, with some cock-and-bull story. Once
even he did not take the trouble to go far; he treated himself, My-Boots
and three others to a regular feast--snails, roast meat, and some sealed
bottles of wine--at the "Capuchin," on the Barriere de la Chapelle.
Then, as his forty sous were not sufficient, he had sent the waiter
to his wife with the bill and the information that he was in pawn. She
laughed and shrugged her shoulders. Where was the harm if her old man
amused himself a bit? You must give men a long rein if you want to live
peaceably at home. From one word to another, one soon arrived at blows.
_Mon Dieu_! It was easy to understand. Coupeau still suffered from his
leg; besides, he was led astray. He was obliged to do as the others did,
or else he would be thought a cheap skate. And it was really a matter of
no consequence. If he came home a bit elevated, he went to bed, and two
hours afterwards he was all right again.

It was now the warm time of the year. One June afternoon, a Saturday
when there was a lot of work to get through, Gervaise herself had piled
the coke into the stove, around which ten irons were heating, whilst a
rumbling sound issued from the chimney. At that hour the sun was shining
full on the shop front, and the pavement reflected the heat waves,
causing all sorts of quaint shadows to dance over the ceiling, and that
blaze of light which assumed a bluish tinge from the color of the
paper on the shelves and against the window, was almost blinding in the
intensity with which it shone over the ironing-table, like a golden dust
shaken among the fine linen. The atmosphere was stifling. The shop door
was thrown wide open, but not a breath of air entered; the clothes
which were hung up on brass wires to dry, steamed and became as stiff as
shavings in less than three quarters of an hour. For some little while
past an oppressive silence had reigned in that furnace-like heat,
interrupted only by the smothered sound of the banging down of the irons
on the thick blanket covered with calico.

"Ah, well!" said Gervaise, "it's enough to melt one! We might have to
take off our chemises."

She was sitting on the floor, in front of a basin, starching some
things. Her sleeves were rolled up and her camisole was slipping down
her shoulders. Little curls of golden hair stuck were stuck to her
skin by perspiration. She carefully dipped caps, shirt-fronts, entire
petticoats, and the trimmings of women's drawers into the milky water.
Then she rolled the things up and placed them at the bottom of a
square basket, after dipping her hand in a pail and shaking it over the
portions of the shirts and drawers which she had not starched.

"This basketful's for you, Madame Putois," she said. "Look sharp, now!
It dries at once, and will want doing all over again in an hour."

Madame Putois, a thin little woman of forty-five, was ironing. Though
she was buttoned up in an old chestnut-colored dress, there was not a
drop of perspiration to be seen. She had not even taken her cap off, a
black cap trimmed with green ribbons turned partly yellow. And she stood
perfectly upright in front of the ironing-table, which was too high
for her, sticking out her elbows, and moving her iron with the jerky
evolutions of a puppet. On a sudden she exclaimed:

"Ah, no! Mademoiselle Clemence, you mustn't take your camisole off. You
know I don't like such indecencies. Whilst you're about it, you'd better
show everything. There's already three men over the way stopping to

Tall Clemence called her an old beast between her teeth. She was
suffocating; she might certainly make herself comfortable; everyone was
not gifted with a skin as dry as touchwood. Besides no one could see
anything; and she held up her arms, whilst her opulent bosom almost
ripped her chemise, and her shoulders were bursting through the straps.
At the rate she was going, Clemence was not likely to have any marrow
left in her bones long before she was thirty years old. Mornings after
big parties she was unable to feel the ground she trod upon, and fell
asleep over her work, whilst her head and her stomach seemed as though
stuffed full of rags. But she was kept on all the same, for no other
workwoman could iron a shirt with her style. Shirts were her specialty.

"This is mine, isn't it?" she declared, tapping her bosom. "And it
doesn't bite; it hurts nobody!"

"Clemence, put your wrapper on again," said Gervaise. "Madame Putois is
right, it isn't decent. People will begin to take my house for what it

So tall Clemence dressed herself again, grumbling the while. "_Mon
Dieu!_ There's prudery for you."

And she vented her rage on the apprentice, that squint-eyed Augustine
who was ironing some stockings and handkerchiefs beside her. She jostled
her and pushed her with her elbow; but Augustine who was of a surly
disposition, and slyly spiteful in the way of an animal and a drudge,
spat on the back of the other's dress just out of revenge, without being
seen. Gervaise, during this incident, had commenced a cap belonging
to Madame Boche, which she intended to take great pains with. She had
prepared some boiled starch to make it look new again. She was gently
passing a little iron rounded at both ends over the inside of the crown
of the cap, when a bony-looking woman entered the shop, her face covered
with red blotches and her skirts sopping wet. It was a washerwoman
who employed three assistants at the wash-house in the Rue de la

"You've come too soon, Madame Bijard!" cried Gervaise. "I told you to
call this evening. I'm too busy to attend to you now!"

But as the washerwoman began lamenting and fearing that she would not be
able to put all the things to soak that day, she consented to give her
the dirty clothes at once. They went to fetch the bundles in the left
hand room where Etienne slept, and returned with enormous armfuls which
they piled up on the floor at the back of the shop. The sorting lasted
a good half hour. Gervaise made heaps all round her, throwing the shirts
in one, the chemises in another, the handkerchiefs, the socks, the
dish-cloths in others. Whenever she came across anything belonging to a
new customer, she marked it with a cross in red cotton thread so as to
know it again. And from all this dirty linen which they were throwing
about there issued an offensive odor in the warm atmosphere.

"Oh! La, la. What a stench!" said Clemence, holding her nose.

"Of course there is! If it were clean they wouldn't send it to us,"
quietly explained Gervaise. "It smells as one would expect it to, that's
all! We said fourteen chemises, didn't we, Madame Bijard? Fifteen,
sixteen, seventeen--"

And she continued counting aloud. Used to this kind of thing she
evinced no disgust. She thrust her bare pink arms deep into the piles of
laundry: shirts yellow with grime, towels stiff from dirty dish water,
socks threadbare and eaten away by sweat. The strong odor which slapped
her in the face as she sorted the piles of clothes made her feel drowsy.
She seemed to be intoxicating herself with this stench of humanity as
she sat on the edge of a stool, bending far over, smiling vaguely, her
eyes slightly misty. It was as if her laziness was started by a kind
of smothering caused by the dirty clothes which poisoned the air in the
shop. Just as she was shaking out a child's dirty diaper, Coupeau came

"By Jove!" he stuttered, "what a sun! It shines full on your head!"

The zinc-worker caught hold of the ironing-table to save himself from
falling. It was the first time he had been so drunk. Until then he
had sometimes come home slightly tipsy, but nothing more. This time,
however, he had a black eye, just a friendly slap he had run up against
in a playful moment. His curly hair, already streaked with grey, must
have dusted a corner in some low wineshop, for a cobweb was hanging to
one of his locks over the back of his neck. He was still as attractive
as ever, though his features were rather drawn and aged, and his under
jaw projected more; but he was always lively, as he would sometimes say,
with a complexion to be envied by a duchess.

"I'll just explain it to you," he resumed, addressing Gervaise.

"It was Celery-Root, you know him, the bloke with a wooden leg. Well,
as he was going back to his native place, he wanted to treat us. Oh! We
were all right, if it hadn't been for that devil of a sun. In the street
everybody looks shaky. Really, all the world's drunk!"

And as tall Clemence laughed at his thinking that the people in the
street were drunk, he was himself seized with an intense fit of gaiety
which almost strangled him.

"Look at them! The blessed tipplers! Aren't they funny?" he cried. "But
it's not their fault. It's the sun that's causing it."

All the shop laughed, even Madame Putois, who did not like drunkards.
That squint-eyed Augustine was cackling like a hen, suffocating with her
mouth wide open. Gervaise, however, suspected Coupeau of not having come
straight home, but of having passed an hour with the Lorilleuxs who were
always filling his head with unpleasant ideas. When he swore he had
not been near them she laughed also, full of indulgence and not even
reproaching him with having wasted another day.

"_Mon Dieu!_ What nonsense he does talk," she murmured. "How does he
manage to say such stupid things?" Then in a maternal tone of voice she
added, "Now go to bed, won't you? You see we're busy; you're in our
way. That makes thirty-two handkerchiefs, Madame Bijard; and two more,

But Coupeau was not sleepy. He stood there wagging his body from side
to side like the pendulum of a clock and chuckling in an obstinate and
teasing manner. Gervaise, wanting to finish with Madame Bijard, called
to Clemence to count the laundry while she made the list. Tall Clemence
made a dirty remark about every item that she touched. She commented
on the customers' misfortunes and their bedroom adventures. She had a
wash-house joke for every rip or stain that passed through her hands.
Augustine pretended that she didn't understand, but her ears were wide
open. Madame Putois compressed her lips, thinking it a disgrace to
say such things in front of Coupeau. It's not a man's business to have
anything to do with dirty linen. It's just not done among decent people.

Gervaise, serious and her mind fully occupied with what she was about,
did not seem to notice. As she wrote she gave a glance to each article
as it passed before her, so as to recognize it; and she never made a
mistake; she guessed the owner's name just by the look or the color.
Those napkins belonged to the Goujets, that was evident; they had not
been used to wipe out frying-pans. That pillow-case certainly came from
the Boches on account of the pomatum with which Madame Boche always
smeared her things. There was no need to put your nose close to the
flannel vests of Monsieur Madinier; his skin was so oily that it clogged
up his woolens.

She knew many peculiarities, the cleanliness of some, the ragged
underclothes of neighborhood ladies who appeared on the streets in silk
dresses; how many items each family soiled weekly; the way some people's
garments were always torn at the same spot. Oh, she had many tales
to tell. For instance, the chemises of Mademoiselle Remanjou provided
material for endless comments: they wore out at the top first because
the old maid had bony, sharp shoulders; and they were never really
dirty, proving that you dry up by her age, like a stick of wood out of
which it's hard to squeeze a drop of anything. It was thus that at
every sorting of the dirty linen in the shop they undressed the whole
neighborhood of the Goutte-d'Or.

"Oh, here's something luscious!" cried Clemence, opening another bundle.

Gervaise, suddenly seized with a great repugnance, drew back.

"Madame Gaudron's bundle?" said she. "I'll no longer wash for her, I'll
find some excuse. No, I'm not more particular than another. I've handled
some most disgusting linen in my time; but really, that lot I can't
stomach. What can the woman do to get her things into such a state?"

And she requested Clemence to look sharp. But the girl continued her
remarks, thrusting the clothes sullenly about her, with complaints on
the soiled caps she waved like triumphal banners of filth. Meanwhile the
heaps around Gervaise had grown higher. Still seated on the edge of the
stool, she was now disappearing between the petticoats and chemises.
In front of her were the sheets, the table cloths, a veritable mass of

She seemed even rosier and more languid than usual within this spreading
sea of soiled laundry. She had regained her composure, forgetting Madame
Gaudron's laundry, stirring the various piles of clothing to make sure
there had been no mistake in sorting. Squint-eyed Augustine had just
stuffed the stove so full of coke that its cast-iron sides were bright
red. The sun was shining obliquely on the window; the shop was in a
blaze. Then, Coupeau, whom the great heat intoxicated all the more, was
seized with a sudden fit of tenderness. He advanced towards Gervaise
with open arms and deeply moved.

"You're a good wife," he stammered. "I must kiss you."

But he caught his foot in the garments which barred the way and nearly

"What a nuisance you are!" said Gervaise without getting angry. "Keep
still, we're nearly done now."

No, he wanted to kiss her. He must do so because he loved her so much.
Whilst he stuttered he tried to get round the heap of petticoats and
stumbled against the pile of chemises; then as he obstinately persisted
his feet caught together and he fell flat, his nose in the midst of the
dish-cloths. Gervaise, beginning to lose her temper pushed him, saying
that he was mixing all the things up. But Clemence and even Madame
Putois maintained that she was wrong. It was very nice of him after all.
He wanted to kiss her. She might very well let herself be kissed.

"You're lucky, you are, Madame Coupeau," said Madame Bijard, whose
drunkard of a husband, a locksmith, was nearly beating her to death each
evening when he came in. "If my old man was like that when he's had a
drop, it would be a real pleasure!"

Gervaise had calmed down and was already regretting her hastiness. She
helped Coupeau up on his legs again. Then she offered her cheek with a
smile. But the zinc-worker, without caring a button for the other people
being present, seized her bosom.

"It's not for the sake of saying so," he murmured; "but your dirty linen
stinks tremendously! Still, I love you all the same, you know."

"Leave off, you're tickling me," cried she, laughing the louder. "What a
great silly you are! How can you be so absurd?"

He had caught hold of her and would not let her go. She gradually
abandoned herself to him, dizzy from the slight faintness caused by the
heap of clothes and not minding Coupeau's foul-smelling breath. The long
kiss they exchanged on each other's mouths in the midst of the filth of
the laundress's trade was perhaps the first tumble in the slow downfall
of their life together.

Madame Bijard had meanwhile been tying the laundry up into bundles and
talking about her daughter, Eulalie, who at two was as smart as a grown
woman. She could be left by herself; she never cried or played with
matches. Finally Madame Bijard took the laundry away a bundle at a time,
her face splotched with purple and her tall form bent under the weight.

"This heat is becoming unbearable, we're roasting," said Gervaise,
wiping her face before returning to Madame Boche's cap.

They talked of boxing Augustine's ears when they saw that the stove was
red-hot. The irons, also, were getting in the same condition. She must
have the very devil in her body! One could not turn one's back a moment
without her being up to some of her tricks. Now they would have to
wait a quarter of an hour before they would be able to use their irons.
Gervaise covered the fire with two shovelfuls of cinders. Then she
thought to hang some sheets on the brass wires near the ceiling to serve
as curtains to keep out the sunlight.

Things were now better in the shop. The temperature was still high, but
you could imagine it was cooler. Footsteps could still be heard outside
but you were free to make yourself comfortable. Clemence removed her
camisole again. Coupeau still refused to go to bed, so they allowed him
to stay, but he had to promise to be quiet in a corner, for they were
very busy.

"Whatever has that vermin done with my little iron?" murmured Gervaise,
speaking of Augustine.

They were for ever seeking the little iron, which they found in the most
out-of-the-way places, where the apprentice, so they said, hid it out of
spite. Gervaise could now finish Madame Boche's cap. First she roughly
smoothed the lace, spreading it out with her hand, and then she
straightened it up by light strokes of the iron. It had a very fancy
border consisting of narrow puffs alternating with insertions of
embroidery. She was working on it silently and conscientiously, ironing
the puffs and insertions.

Silence prevailed for a time. Nothing was to be heard except the soft
thud of irons on the ironing pad. On both sides of the huge rectangular
table Gervaise, her two employees, and the apprentice were bending
over, slaving at their tasks with rounded shoulders, their arms moving
incessantly. Each had a flat brick blackened by hot irons near her. A
soup plate filled with clean water was on the middle of the table with a
moistening rag and a small brush soaking in it.

A bouquet of large white lilies bloomed in what had once been a brandied
cherry jar. Its cluster of snowy flowers suggested a corner of a royal
garden. Madame Putois had begun the basket that Gervaise had brought to
her filled with towels, wrappers, cuffs and underdrawers. Augustine
was dawdling with the stockings and washcloths, gazing into the air,
seemingly fascinated by a large fly that was buzzing around. Clemence
had done thirty-four men's shirts so far that day.

"Always wine, never spirits!" suddenly said the zinc-worker, who felt
the necessity of making this declaration. "Spirits make me drunk, I'll
have none of them."

Clemence took an iron from the stove with her leather holder in which a
piece of sheet iron was inserted, and held it up to her cheek to see
how hot it was. She rubbed it on her brick, wiped it on a piece of rag
hanging from her waist-band and started on her thirty-fifth shirt, first
of all ironing the shoulders and the sleeves.

"Bah! Monsieur Coupeau," said she after a minute or two, "a little glass
of brandy isn't bad. It sets me going. Besides, the sooner you're merry,
the jollier it is. Oh! I don't make any mistake; I know that I shan't
make old bones."

"What a nuisance you are with your funeral ideas!" interrupted Madame
Putois who did not like hearing people talk of anything sad.

Coupeau had arisen and was becoming angry thinking that he had been
accused of drinking brandy. He swore on his own head and on the heads of
his wife and child that there was not a drop of brandy in his veins. And
he went up to Clemence and blew in her face so that she might smell his
breath. Then he began to giggle because her bare shoulders were right
under his nose. He thought maybe he could see more. Clemence, having
folded over the back of the shirt and ironed it on both sides, was now
working on the cuffs and collar. However, as he was shoving against her,
he caused her to make a wrinkle, obliging her to reach for the brush
soaking in the soup plate to smooth it out.

"Madame," said she, "do make him leave off bothering me."

"Leave her alone; it's stupid of you to go on like that," quietly
observed Gervaise. "We're in a hurry, do you hear?"

They were in a hurry, well! What? It was not his fault. He was doing no
harm. He was not touching, he was only looking. Was it no longer allowed
to look at the beautiful things that God had made? All the same, she had
precious fine arms, that artful Clemence! She might exhibit herself for
two sous and nobody would have to regret his money. The girl allowed him
to go on, laughing at these coarse compliments of a drunken man. And she
soon commenced joking with him. He chuffed her about the shirts. So she
was always doing shirts? Why yes, she practically lived in them. _Mon
Dieu!_ She knew them pretty well. Hundreds and hundreds of them had
passed through her hands. Just about every man in the neighborhood
was wearing her handiwork on his body. Her shoulders were shaking with
laughter through all this, but she managed to continue ironing.

"That's the banter!" said she, laughing harder than ever.

That squint-eyed Augustine almost burst, the joke seemed to her so
funny. The others bullied her. There was a brat for you who laughed at
words she ought not to understand! Clemence handed her her iron; the
apprentice finished up the irons on the stockings and the dish-cloths
when they were not hot enough for the starched things. But she took hold
of this one so clumsily that she made herself a cuff in the form of a
long burn on the wrist. And she sobbed and accused Clemence of having
burnt her on purpose. The latter who had gone to fetch a very hot iron
for the shirt-front consoled her at once by threatening to iron her two
ears if she did not leave off. Then she placed a piece of flannel under
the front and slowly passed the iron over it giving the starch time
to show up and dry. The shirt-front became as stiff and as shiny as

"By golly!" swore Coupeau, who was treading behind her with the
obstinacy of a drunkard.

He raised himself up with a shrill laugh that resembled a pulley in want
of grease. Clemence, leaning heavily over the ironing-table, her wrists
bent in, her elbows sticking out and wide apart was bending her neck in
a last effort; and all her muscles swelled, her shoulders rose with
the slow play of the muscles beating beneath the soft skin, her breasts
heaved, wet with perspiration in the rosy shadow of the half open
chemise. Then Coupeau thrust out his hands, trying to touch her bare

"Madame! Madame!" cried Clemence, "do make him leave off! I shall go
away if it continues. I won't be intimated."

Gervaise glanced over just as her husband's hands began to explore
inside the chemise.

"Really, Coupeau, you're too foolish," said she, with a vexed air, as
though she were scolding a child who persisted in eating his jam without
bread. "You must go to bed."

"Yes, go to bed, Monsieur Coupeau; it will be far better," exclaimed
Madame Putois.

"Ah! Well," stuttered he, without ceasing to chuckle, "you're all
precious particular! So one mustn't amuse oneself now? Women, I know how
to handle them; I'll only kiss them, no more. One admires a lady, you
know, and wants to show it. And, besides, when one displays one's goods,
it's that one may make one's choice, isn't it? Why does the tall blonde
show everything she's got? It's not decent."

And turning towards Clemence, he added: "You know, my lovely, you're
wrong to be to very insolent. If it's because there are others here--"

But he was unable to continue. Gervaise very calmly seized hold of him
with one hand, and placed the other on his mouth. He struggled, just by
way of a joke, whilst she pushed him to the back of the shop, towards
the bedroom. He got his mouth free and said that he was willing to go to
bed, but that the tall blonde must come and warm his feet.

Then Gervaise could be heard taking off his shoes. She removed his
clothes too, bullying him in a motherly way. He burst out laughing after
she had removed his trousers and kicked about, pretending that she was
tickling him. At last she tucked him in carefully like a child. Was he
comfortable now? But he did not answer; he called to Clemence:

"I say, my lovely, I'm here, and waiting for you!"

When Gervaise went back into the shop, the squint-eyed Augustine was
being properly chastised by Clemence because of a dirty iron that Madame
Putois had used and which had caused her to soil a camisole. Clemence,
in defending herself for not having cleaned her iron, blamed Augustine,
swearing that it wasn't hers, in spite of the spot of burned starch
still clinging to the bottom. The apprentice, outraged at the injustice,
openly spat on the front of Clemence's dress, earning a slap for her
boldness. Now, as Augustine went about cleaning the iron, she saved up
her spit and each time she passed Clemence spat on her back and laughed
to herself.

Gervaise continued with the lace of Madame Boche's cap. In the sudden
calm which ensued, one could hear Coupeau's husky voice issuing from the
depths of the bedroom. He was still jolly, and was laughing to himself
as he uttered bits of phrases.

"How stupid she is, my wife! How stupid of her to put me to bed! Really,
it's too absurd, in the middle of the day, when one isn't sleepy."

But, all on a sudden, he snored. Then Gervaise gave a sigh of relief,
happy in knowing that he was at length quiet, and sleeping off his
intoxication on two good mattresses. And she spoke out in the silence,
in a slow and continuous voice, without taking her eyes off her work.

"You see, he hasn't his reason, one can't be angry. Were I to be harsh
with him, it would be of no use. I prefer to agree with him and get him
to bed; then, at least, it's over at once and I'm quiet. Besides, he
isn't ill-natured, he loves me very much. You could see that just a
moment ago when he was desperate to give me a kiss. That's quite nice of
him. There are plenty of men, you know, who after drinking a bit don't
come straight home but stay out chasing women. Oh, he may fool around
with the women in the shop, but it doesn't lead to anything. Clemence,
you mustn't feel insulted. You know how it is when a man's had too much
to drink. He could do anything and not even remember it."

She spoke composedly, not at all angry, being quite used to Coupeau's
sprees and not holding them against him. A silence settled down for a
while when she stopped talking. There was a lot of work to get done.
They figured they would have to keep at it until eleven, working as fast
as they could. Now that they were undisturbed, all of them were pounding
away. Bare arms were moving back and forth, showing glimpses of pink
among the whiteness of the laundry.

More coke had been put into the stove and the sunlight slanted in
between the sheets onto the stove. You could see the heat rising up
through the rays of the sun. It became so stifling that Augustine ran
out of spit and was forced to lick her lips. The room smelled of
the heat and of the working women. The white lilies in the jar were
beginning to fade, yet they still exuded a pure and strong perfume.
Coupeau's heavy snores were heard like the regular ticking of a huge
clock, setting the tempo for the heavy labor in the shop.

On the morrow of his carouses, the zinc-worker always had a headache,
a splitting headache which kept him all day with his hair uncombed, his
breath offensive, and his mouth all swollen and askew. He got up late on
those days, not shaking the fleas off till about eight o'clock; and he
would hang about the shop, unable to make up his mind to start off to
his work. It was another day lost. In the morning he would complain that
his legs bent like pieces of thread, and would call himself a great fool
to guzzle to such an extent, as it broke one's constitution. Then, too,
there were a lot of lazy bums who wouldn't let you go and you'd get to
drinking more in spite of yourself. No, no, no more for him.

After lunch he would always begin to perk up and deny that he had been
really drunk the night before. Maybe just a bit lit up. He was rock
solid and able to drink anything he wanted without even blinking an eye.

When he had thoroughly badgered the workwomen, Gervaise would give him
twenty sous to clear out. And off he would go to buy his tobacco at the
"Little Civet," in the Rue des Poissonniers, where he generally took a
plum in brandy whenever he met a friend. Then, he spent the rest of
the twenty sous at old Francois's, at the corner of the Rue de la
Goutte-d'Or, where there was a famous wine, quite young, which tickled
your gullet. This was an old-fashioned place with a low ceiling. There
was a smoky room to one side where soup was served. He would stay there
until evening drinking because there was an understanding that he didn't
have to pay right away and they would never send the bill to his wife.
Besides he was a jolly fellow, who would never do the least harm--a chap
who loved a spree sure enough, and who colored his nose in his turn
but in a nice manner, full of contempt for those pigs of men who have
succumbed to alcohol, and whom one never sees sober! He always went home
as gay and as gallant as a lark.

"Has your lover been?" he would sometimes ask Gervaise by way of teasing
her. "One never sees him now; I must go and rout him out."

The lover was Goujet. He avoided, in fact, calling too often for fear of
being in the way, and also of causing people to talk. Yet he frequently
found a pretext, such as bringing the washing; and he would pass no end
of time on the pavement in front of the shop. There was a corner right
at the back in which he liked to sit, without moving for hours, and
smoke his short pipe. Once every ten days, in the evening after his
dinner, he would venture there and take up his favorite position. And he
was no talker, his mouth almost seemed sewn up, as he sat with his eyes
fixed on Gervaise, and only removed his pipe to laugh at everything she
said. When they were working late on a Saturday he would stay on, and
appeared to amuse himself more than if he had gone to a theatre.

Sometimes the women stayed in the shop ironing until three in the
morning. A lamp hung from the ceiling and spread a brilliant light
making the linen look like fresh snow. The apprentice would put up the
shop shutters, but since these July nights were scorching hot, the door
would be left open. The later the hour the more casual the women became
with their clothes while trying to be comfortable. The lamplight
flecked their rosy skin with gold specks, especially Gervaise who was so
pleasantly rounded.

On these nights Goujet would be overcome by the heat from the stove and
the odor of linen steaming under the hot irons. He would drift into a
sort of giddiness, his thinking slowed and his eyes obsessed by these
hurrying women as their naked arms moved back and forth, working far
into the night to have the neighborhood's best clothes ready for Sunday.

Everything around the laundry was slumbering, settled into sleep for the
night. Midnight rang, then one o'clock, then two o'clock. There were
no vehicles or pedestrians. In the dark and deserted street, only their
shop door let out any light. Once in a while, footsteps would be heard
and a man would pass the shop. As he crossed the path of light he would
stretch his neck to look in, startled by the sound of the thudding
irons, and carry with him the quick glimpse of bare-shouldered
laundresses immersed in a rosy mist.

Goujet, seeing that Gervaise did not know what to do with Etienne, and
wishing to deliver him from Coupeau's kicks, had engaged him to go
and blow the bellows at the factory where he worked. The profession
of bolt-maker, if not one to be proud of on account of the dirt of the
forge and of the monotony of constantly hammering on pieces of iron of
a similar kind, was nevertheless a well paid one, at which ten and even
twelve francs a day could be earned. The youngster, who was then twelve
years old, would soon be able to go in for it, if the calling was to his
liking. And Etienne had thus become another link between the laundress
and the blacksmith. The latter would bring the child home and speak of
his good conduct. Everyone laughingly said that Goujet was smitten
with Gervaise. She knew it, and blushed like a young girl, the flush of
modesty coloring her cheeks with the bright tints of an apple. The poor
fellow, he was never any trouble! He never made a bold gesture or an
indelicate remark. You didn't find many men like him. Gervaise didn't
want to admit it, but she derived a great deal of pleasure from being
adored like this. Whenever a problem arose she thought immediately of
the blacksmith and was consoled. There was never any awkward tension
when they were alone together. They just looked at each other and smiled
happily with no need to talk. It was a very sensible kind of affection.

Towards the end of the summer, Nana quite upset the household. She was
six years old and promised to be a thorough good-for-nothing. So as not
to have her always under her feet her mother took her every morning to
a little school in the Rue Polonceau kept by Mademoiselle Josse. She
fastened her playfellows' dresses together behind, she filled the
school-mistress's snuff-box with ashes, and invented other tricks much
less decent which could not be mentioned. Twice Mademoiselle Josse
expelled her and then took her back again so as not to lose the six
francs a month. Directly lessons were over Nana avenged herself for
having been kept in by making an infernal noise under the porch and in
the courtyard where the ironers, whose ears could not stand the racket,
sent her to play. There she would meet Pauline, the Boches' daughter,
and Victor, the son of Gervaise's old employer--a big booby of ten who
delighted in playing with very little girls. Madame Fauconnier who
had not quarreled with the Coupeaus would herself send her son. In
the house, too, there was an extraordinary swarm of brats, flights of
children who rolled down the four staircases at all hours of the day and
alighted on the pavement of the courtyard like troops of noisy pillaging
sparrows. Madame Gaudron was responsible for nine of them, all with
uncombed hair, runny noses, hand-me-down clothes, saggy stockings and
ripped jackets. Another woman on the sixth floor had seven of them. This
hoard that only got their faces washed when it rained were in all shapes
and sizes, fat, thin, big and barely out of the cradle.

Nana reigned supreme over this host of urchins; she ordered about girls
twice her own size, and only deigned to relinquish a little of her power
in favor of Pauline and Victor, intimate confidants who enforced her
commands. This precious chit was for ever wanting to play at being
mamma, undressing the smallest ones to dress them again, insisting on
examining the others all over, messing them about and exercising the
capricious despotism of a grown-up person with a vicious disposition.
Under her leadership they got up tricks for which they should have been
well spanked. The troop paddled in the colored water from the dyer's and
emerged from it with legs stained blue or red as high as the knees; then
off it flew to the locksmith's where it purloined nails and filings and
started off again to alight in the midst of the carpenter's shavings,
enormous heaps of shavings, which delighted it immensely and in which it
rolled head over heels exposing their behinds.

The courtyard was her kingdom. It echoed with the clatter of little
shoes as they stampeded back and forth with piercing cries. On some days
the courtyard was too small for them and the troop would dash down into
the cellar, race up a staircase, run along a corridor, then dash up
another staircase and follow another corridor for hours. They never got
tired of their yelling and clambering.

"Aren't they abominable, those little toads?" cried Madame Boche.
"Really, people can have but very little to do to have time get so many
brats. And yet they complain of having no bread."

Boche said that children pushed up out of poverty like mushrooms out
of manure. All day long his wife was screaming at them and chasing them
with her broom. Finally she had to lock the door of the cellar when
she learned from Pauline that Nana was playing doctor down there in the
dark, viciously finding pleasure in applying remedies to the others by
beating them with sticks.

Well, one afternoon there was a frightful scene. It was bound to have
come sooner or later. Nana had thought of a very funny little game.
She had stolen one of Madame Boche's wooden shoes from outside the
concierge's room. She tied a string to it and began dragging it about
like a cart. Victor on his side had had the idea to fill it with potato
parings. Then a procession was formed. Nana came first dragging the
wooden shoe. Pauline and Victor walked on her right and left. Then
the entire crowd of urchins followed in order, the big ones first, the
little ones next, jostling one another; a baby in long skirts about as
tall as a boot with an old tattered bonnet cocked on one side of its
head, brought up the rear. And the procession chanted something sad with
plenty of ohs! and ahs! Nana had said that they were going to play at a
funeral; the potato parings represented the body. When they had gone
the round of the courtyard, they recommenced. They thought it immensely

"What can they be up to?" murmured Madame Boche, who emerged from her
room to see, ever mistrustful and on the alert.

And when she understood: "But it's my shoe!" cried she furiously. "Ah,
the rogues!"

She distributed some smacks, clouted Nana on both cheeks and
administered a kick to Pauline, that great goose who allowed the others
to steal her mother's shoe. It so happened that Gervaise was filling a
bucket at the top. When she beheld Nana, her nose bleeding and choking
with sobs, she almost sprang at the concierge's chignon. It was not
right to hit a child as though it were an ox. One could have no heart,
one must be the lowest of the low if one did so. Madame Boche naturally
replied in a similar strain. When one had a beast of a girl like that
one should keep her locked up. At length Boche himself appeared in
the doorway to call his wife to come in and not to enter into so many
explanations with a filthy thing like her. There was a regular quarrel.

As a matter of fact things had not gone on very pleasantly between the
Boches and the Coupeaus for a month past. Gervaise, who was of a very
generous nature, was continually bestowing wine, broth, oranges and
slices of cake on the Boches. One night she had taken the remains of
an endive and beetroot salad to the concierge's room, knowing that the
latter would have done anything for such a treat. But on the morrow she
became quite pale with rage on hearing Mademoiselle Remanjou relate
how Madame Boche had thrown the salad away in the presence of several
persons with an air of disgust and under the pretext that she, thank
goodness, was not yet reduced to feeding on things which others had
messed about. From that time Gervaise took no more presents to the
Boches--nothing. Now the Boches seemed to think that Gervaise was
stealing something which was rightfully theirs. Gervaise saw that
she had made a mistake. If she hadn't catered to them so much in the
beginning, they wouldn't have gotten into the habit of expecting it and
might have remained on good terms with her.

Now the concierge began to spread slander about Gervaise. There was a
great fuss with the landlord, Monsieur Marescot, at the October rental
period, because Gervaise was a day late with the rent. Madame Boche
accused her of eating up all her money in fancy dishes. Monsieur
Marescot charged into the laundry demanding to be paid at once. He
didn't even bother to remove his hat. The money was ready and was paid
to him immediately. The Boches had now made up with the Lorilleuxs who
now came and did their guzzling in the concierge's lodge. They assured
each other that they never would have fallen out if it hadn't been for
Clump-clump. She was enough to set mountains to fighting. Ah! the Boches
knew her well now, they could understand how much the Lorilleuxs must
suffer. And whenever she passed beneath the doorway they all affected to
sneer at her.

One day, Gervaise went up to see the Lorilleuxs in spite of this. It
was with respect to mother Coupeau who was then sixty-seven years old.
Mother Coupeau's eyesight was almost completely gone. Her legs too were
no longer what they used to be. She had been obliged to give up her last
cleaning job and now threatened to die of hunger if assistance were
not forthcoming. Gervaise thought it shameful that a woman of her age,
having three children should be thus abandoned by heaven and earth. And
as Coupeau refused to speak to the Lorilleuxs on the subject saying that
she, Gervaise, could very well go and do so, the latter went up in a fit
of indignation with which her heart was almost bursting.

When she reached their door she entered without knocking. Nothing had
been changed since the night when the Lorilleuxs, at their first meeting
had received her so ungraciously. The same strip of faded woolen stuff
separated the room from the workshop, a lodging like a gun barrel, and
which looked as though it had been built for an eel. Right at the back
Lorilleux, leaning over his bench, was squeezing together one by one the
links of a piece of chain, whilst Madame Lorilleux, standing in front
of the vise was passing a gold wire through the draw-plate. In the broad
daylight the little forge had a rosy reflection.

"Yes, it's I!" said Gervaise. "I daresay you're surprised to see me as
we're at daggers drawn. But I've come neither for you nor myself you may
be quite sure. It's for mother Coupeau that I've come. Yes, I have
come to see if we're going to let her beg her bread from the charity of

"Ah, well, that's a fine way to burst in upon one!" murmured Madame
Lorilleux. "One must have a rare cheek."

And she turned her back and resumed drawing her gold wire, affecting to
ignore her sister-in-law's presence. But Lorilleux raised his pale face
and cried:

"What's that you say?"

Then, as he had heard perfectly well, he continued:

"More back-bitings, eh? She's nice, mother Coupeau, to go and cry
starvation everywhere! Yet only the day before yesterday she dined here.
We do what we can. We haven't got all the gold of Peru. Only if she goes
about gossiping with others she had better stay with them, for we don't
like spies."

He took up the piece of chain and turned his back also, adding as though
with regret:

"When everyone gives five francs a month, we'll give five francs."

Gervaise had calmed down and felt quite chilled by the wooden looking
faces of the Lorilleux. She had never once set foot in their rooms
without experiencing a certain uneasiness. With her eyes fixed on the
floor, staring at the holes of the wooden grating through which the
waste gold fell she now explained herself in a reasonable manner. Mother
Coupeau had three children; if each one gave five francs it would only
make fifteen francs, and really that was not enough, one could not live
on it; they must at least triple the sum. But Lorilleux cried out.
Where did she think he could steal fifteen francs a month? It was quite
amusing, people thought he was rich simply because he had gold in his
place. He began then to criticize mother Coupeau: she had to have
her morning coffee, she took a sip of brandy now and then, she was as
demanding as if she were rich. _Mon Dieu!_ Sure, everyone liked the
good things of life. But if you've never saved a sou, you had to do what
other folks did and do without. Besides, mother Coupeau wasn't too old
to work. She could see well enough when she was trying to pick a choice
morsel from the platter. She was just an old spendthrift trying to get
others to provide her with comforts. Even had he had the means, he would
have considered it wrong to support any one in idleness.

Gervaise remained conciliatory, and peaceably argued against all this
bad reasoning. She tried to soften the Lorilleuxs. But the husband ended
by no longer answering her. The wife was now at the forge scouring
a piece of chain in the little, long-handled brass saucepan full of
lye-water. She still affectedly turned her back, as though a hundred
leagues away. And Gervaise continued speaking, watching them pretending
to be absorbed in their labor in the midst of the black dust of the
workshop, their bodies distorted, their clothes patched and greasy, both
become stupidly hardened like old tools in the pursuit of their narrow
mechanical task. Then suddenly anger again got the better of her and she

"Very well, I'd rather it was so; keep your money! I'll give mother
Coupeau a home, do you hear? I picked up a cat the other evening, so I
can at least do the same for your mother. And she shall be in want of
nothing; she shall have her coffee and her drop of brandy! Good heavens!
what a vile family!"

At these words Madame Lorilleux turned round. She brandished the
saucepan as though she was about to throw the lye-water in her
sister-in-law's face. She stammered with rage:

"Be off, or I shall do you an injury! And don't count on the five francs
because I won't give a radish! No, not a radish! Ah well, yes, five
francs! Mother would be your servant and you would enjoy yourself with
my five francs! If she goes to live with you, tell her this, she may
croak, I won't even send her a glass of water. Now off you go! Clear

"What a monster of a woman!" said Gervaise violently slamming the door.

On the morrow she brought mother Coupeau to live with her, putting her
bed in the inner room where Nana slept. The moving did not take long,
for all the furniture mother Coupeau had was her bed, an ancient walnut
wardrobe which was put in the dirty-clothes room, a table, and two
chairs. They sold the table and had the chairs recaned. From the very
first the old lady took over the sweeping. She washed the dishes and
made herself useful, happy to have settled her problem.

The Lorilleux were furious enough to explode, especially since Madame
Lerat was now back on good terms with the Coupeaus. One day the two
sisters, the flower-maker and the chainmaker came to blows about
Gervaise because Madame Lerat dared to express approval of the way she
was taking care of their mother. When she noticed how this upset the
other, she went on to remark that Gervaise had magnificent eyes, eyes
warm enough to set paper on fire. The two of them commenced slapping
each other and swore they never would see each other again. Nowadays
Madame Lerat often spent her evenings in the shop, laughing to herself
at Clemence's spicy remarks.

Three years passed by. There were frequent quarrels and reconciliations.
Gervaise did not care a straw for the Lorilleux, the Boches and all the
others who were not of her way of thinking. If they did not like it,
they could forget it. She earned what she wished, that was her principal
concern. The people of the neighborhood had ended by greatly esteeming
her, for one did not find many customers so kind as she was, paying
punctually, never caviling or higgling. She bought her bread of Madame
Coudeloup, in the Rue des Poissonniers; her meat of stout Charles, a
butcher in the Rue Polonceau; her groceries at Lehongre's, in the Rue
de la Goutte-d'Or, almost opposite her own shop. Francois, the wine
merchant at the corner of the street, supplied her with wine in baskets
of fifty bottles. Her neighbor Vigouroux, whose wife's hips must have
been black and blue, the men pinched her so much, sold coke to her at
the same price as the gas company. And, in all truth, her tradespeople
served her faithfully, knowing that there was everything to gain by
treating her well.

Besides, whenever she went out around the neighborhood, she was greeted
everywhere. She felt quite at home. Sometimes she put off doing a
laundry job just to enjoy being outdoors among her good friends. On days
when she was too rushed to do her own cooking and had to go out to buy
something already cooked, she would stop to gossip with her arms full
of bowls. The neighbor she respected the most was still the watchmaker.
Often she would cross the street to greet him in his tiny cupboard of
a shop, taking pleasure in the gaiety of the little cuckoo clocks with
their pendulums ticking away the hours in chorus.


One afternoon in the autumn Gervaise, who had been taking some washing
home to a customer in the Rue des Portes-Blanches, found herself at the
bottom of the Rue des Poissonniers just as the day was declining. It had
rained in the morning, the weather was very mild and an odor rose from
the greasy pavement; and the laundress, burdened with her big basket,
was rather out of breath, slow of step, and inclined to take her ease
as she ascended the street with the vague preoccupation of a longing
increased by her weariness. She would have liked to have had something
to eat. Then, on raising her eyes she beheld the name of the Rue
Marcadet, and she suddenly had the idea of going to see Goujet at
his forge. He had no end of times told her to look in any day she was
curious to see how iron was wrought. Besides in the presence of other
workmen she would ask for Etienne, and make believe that she had merely
called for the youngster.

The factory was somewhere on this end of the Rue Marcadet, but she
didn't know exactly where and street numbers were often lacking on those
ramshackle buildings separated by vacant lots. She wouldn't have lived
on this street for all the gold in the world. It was a wide street, but
dirty, black with soot from factories, with holes in the pavement and
deep ruts filled with stagnant water. On both sides were rows of
sheds, workshops with beams and brickwork exposed so that they seemed
unfinished, a messy collection of masonry. Beside them were dubious
lodging houses and even more dubious taverns. All she could recall was
that the bolt factory was next to a yard full of scrap iron and rags,
a sort of open sewer spread over the ground, storing merchandise worth
hundreds of thousands of francs, according to Goujet.

The street was filled with a noisy racket. Exhaust pipes on roofs
puffed out violent jets of steam; an automatic sawmill added a rhythmic
screeching; a button factory shook the ground with the rumbling of its
machines. She was looking up toward the Montmartre height, hesitant,
uncertain whether to continue, when a gust of wind blew down a mass of
sooty smoke that covered the entire street. She closed her eyes and held
her breath. At that moment she heard the sound of hammers in cadence.
Without realizing it, she had arrived directly in front of the bolt
factory which she now recognized by the vacant lot beside it full of
piles of scrap iron and old rags.

She still hesitated, not knowing where to enter. A broken fence opened
a passage which seemed to lead through the heaps of rubbish from some
buildings recently pulled down. Two planks had been thrown across a
large puddle of muddy water that barred the way. She ended by venturing
along them, turned to the left and found herself lost in the depths of
a strange forest of old carts, standing on end with their shafts in the
air, and of hovels in ruins, the wood-work of which was still standing.
Toward the back, stabbing through the half-light of sundown, a flame
gleamed red. The clamor of the hammers had ceased. She was advancing
carefully when a workman, his face blackened with coal-dust and wearing
a goatee passed near her, casting a side-glance with his pale eyes.

"Sir," asked she, "it's here is it not that a boy named Etienne works?
He's my son."

"Etienne, Etienne," repeated the workman in a hoarse voice as he twisted
himself about. "Etienne; no I don't know him."

An alcoholic reek like that from old brandy casks issued from his mouth.
Meeting a woman in this dark corner seemed to be giving the fellow
ideas, and so Gervaise drew back saying:

"But yet it's here that Monsieur Goujet works, isn't it?"

"Ah! Goujet, yes!" said the workman; "I know Goujet! If you come for
Goujet, go right to the end."

And turning round he called out at the top of his voice, which had a
sound of cracked brass:

"I say Golden-Mug, here's a lady wants you!"

But a clanging of iron drowned the cry! Gervaise went to the end. She
reached a door and stretching out her neck looked in. At first she could
distinguish nothing. The forge had died down, but there was still a
little glow which held back the advancing shadows from its corner. Great
shadows seemed to float in the air. At times black shapes passed before
the fire, shutting off this last bit of brightness, silhouettes of
men so strangely magnified that their arms and legs were indistinct.
Gervaise, not daring to venture in, called from the doorway in a faint

"Monsieur Goujet! Monsieur Goujet!"

Suddenly all became lighted up. Beneath the puff of the bellows a jet
of white flame had ascended and the whole interior of the shed could be
seen, walled in by wooden planks, with openings roughly plastered over,
and brick walls reinforcing the corners. Coal-ash had painted the whole
expanse a sooty grey. Spider webs hung from the beams like rags hung up
to dry, heavy with the accumulated dust of years. On shelves along the
walls, or hanging from nails, or tossed into corners, she saw rusty
iron, battered implements and huge tools. The white flame flared higher,
like an explosion of dazzling sunlight revealing the trampled dirt
underfoot, where the polished steel of four anvils fixed on blocks took
on a reflection of silver sprinkled with gold.

Then Gervaise recognized Goujet in front of the forge by his beautiful
yellow beard. Etienne was blowing the bellows. Two other workmen were
there, but she only beheld Goujet and walked forward and stood before

"Why it's Madame Gervaise!" he exclaimed with a bright look on his face.
"What a pleasant surprise."

But as his comrades appeared to be rather amused, he pushed Etienne
towards his mother and resumed:

"You've come to see the youngster. He behaves himself well, he's
beginning to get some strength in his wrists."

"Well!" she said, "it isn't easy to find your way here. I thought I was
going to the end of the world."

After telling about her journey, she asked why no one in the shop knew
Etienne's name. Goujet laughed and explained to her that everybody
called him "Little Zouzou" because he had his hair cut short like that
of a Zouave. While they were talking together Etienne stopped working
the bellows and the flame of the forge dwindled to a rosy glow amid the
gathering darkness. Touched by the presence of this smiling young woman,
the blacksmith stood gazing at her.

Then, as neither continued speaking, he seemed to recollect and broke
the silence:

"Excuse me, Madame Gervaise, I've something that has to be finished.
You'll stay, won't you? You're not in anybody's way."

She remained. Etienne returned to the bellows. The forge was soon ablaze
again with a cloud of sparks; the more so as the youngster, wanting to
show his mother what he could do, was making the bellows blow a regular
hurricane. Goujet, standing up watching a bar of iron heating, was
waiting with the tongs in his hand. The bright glare illuminated him
without a shadow--sleeves rolled back, shirt neck open, bare arms and
chest. When the bar was at white heat he seized it with the tongs and
cut it with a hammer on the anvil, in pieces of equal length, as though
he had been gently breaking pieces of glass. Then he put the pieces
back into the fire, from which he took them one by one to work them
into shape. He was forging hexagonal rivets. He placed each piece in a
tool-hole of the anvil, bent down the iron that was to form the head,
flattened the six sides and threw the finished rivet still red-hot on
to the black earth, where its bright light gradually died out; and
this with a continuous hammering, wielding in his right hand a hammer
weighing five pounds, completing a detail at every blow, turning and
working the iron with such dexterity that he was able to talk to and
look at those about him. The anvil had a silvery ring. Without a drop of
perspiration, quite at his ease, he struck in a good-natured sort of a
way, not appearing to exert himself more than on the evenings when he
cut out pictures at home.

"Oh! these are little rivets of twenty millimetres," said he in reply to
Gervaise's questions. "A fellow can do his three hundred a day. But it
requires practice, for one's arm soon grows weary."

And when she asked him if his wrist did not feel stiff at the end of the
day he laughed aloud. Did she think him a young lady? His wrist had had
plenty of drudgery for fifteen years past; it was now as strong as
the iron implements it had been so long in contact with. She was right
though; a gentleman who had never forged a rivet or a bolt, and who
would try to show off with his five pound hammer, would find himself
precious stiff in the course of a couple of hours. It did not seem much,
but a few years of it often did for some very strong fellows. During
this conversation the other workmen were also hammering away all
together. Their tall shadows danced about in the light, the red flashes
of the iron that the fire traversed, the gloomy recesses, clouds of
sparks darted out from beneath the hammers and shone like suns on a
level with the anvils. And Gervaise, feeling happy and interested in the
movement round the forge, did not think of leaving. She was going a long
way round to get nearer to Etienne without having her hands burnt, when
she saw the dirty and bearded workman, whom she had spoken to outside,

"So you've found him, madame?" asked he in his drunken bantering way.
"You know, Golden-Mug, it's I who told madame where to find you."

He was called Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, the brick of
bricks, a dab hand at bolt forging, who wetted his iron every day with
a pint and a half of brandy. He had gone out to have a drop, because
he felt he wanted greasing to make him last till six o'clock. When he
learnt that Little Zouzou's real name was Etienne, he thought it very
funny; and he showed his black teeth as he laughed. Then he recognized
Gervaise. Only the day before he had had a glass of wine with
Coupeau. You could speak to Coupeau about Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst; he would at once say: "He's a jolly dog!" Ah! that
joker Coupeau! He was one of the right sort; he stood treat oftener than
his turn.

"I'm awfully glad to know you're his missus," added he.

"He deserves to have a pretty wife. Eh, Golden-Mug, madame is a fine
woman, isn't she?"

He was becoming quite gallant, sidling up towards the laundress, who
took hold of her basket and held it in front of her so as to keep him
at a distance. Goujet, annoyed and seeing that his comrade was joking
because of his friendship for Gervaise, called out to him:

"I say, lazybones, what about the forty millimetre bolts? Do you
think you're equal to them now that you've got your gullet full, you
confounded guzzler?"

The blacksmith was alluding to an order for big bolts which necessitated
two beaters at the anvil.

"I'm ready to start at this moment, big baby!" replied Salted-Mouth,
otherwise Drink-without-Thirst. "It sucks it's thumb and thinks itself a
man. In spite of your size I'm equal to you!"

"Yes, that's it, at once. Look sharp and off we go!"

"Right you are, my boy!"

They taunted each other, stimulated by Gervaise's presence. Goujet
placed the pieces of iron that had been cut beforehand in the fire, then
he fixed a tool-hole of large bore on an anvil. His comrade had taken
from against the wall two sledge-hammers weighing twenty pounds each,
the two big sisters of the factory whom the workers called Fifine and
Dedele. And he continued to brag, talking of a half-gross of rivets
which he had forged for the Dunkirk lighthouse, regular jewels, things
to be put in a museum, they were so daintily finished off. Hang it all,
no! he did not fear competition; before meeting with another chap like
him, you might search every factory in the capital. They were going to
have a laugh; they would see what they would see.

"Madame will be judge," said he, turning towards the young woman.

"Enough chattering," cried Goujet. "Now then, Zouzou, show your muscle!
It's not hot enough, my lad."

But Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, asked: "So we strike

"Not a bit of it! each his own bolt, my friend!"

This statement operated as a damper, and Goujet's comrade, on hearing
it, remained speechless, in spite of his boasting. Bolts of forty
millimetres fashioned by one man had never before been seen; the more so
as the bolts were to be round-headed, a work of great difficulty, a real
masterpiece to achieve.

The three other workmen came over, leaving their jobs, to watch. A tall,
lean one wagered a bottle of wine that Goujet would be beaten. Meanwhile
the two blacksmiths had chosen their sledge hammers with eyes closed,
because Fifine weighed a half pound more than Dedele. Salted-Mouth,
otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, had the good luck to put his hand on
Dedele; Fifine fell to Golden-Mug.

While waiting for the iron to get hot enough, Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, again showing off, struck a pose before the anvil
while casting side glances toward Gervaise. He planted himself solidly,
tapping his feet impatiently like a man ready for a fight, throwing all
his strength into practice swings with Dedele. _Mon Dieu!_ He was good
at this; he could have flattened the Vendome column like a pancake.

"Now then, off you go!" said Goujet, placing one of the pieces of iron,
as thick as a girl's wrist, in the tool-hole.

Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, leant back, and swung
Dedele round with both hands. Short and lean, with his goatee bristling,
and with his wolf-like eyes glaring beneath his unkempt hair, he seemed
to snap at each swing of the hammer, springing up from the ground as
though carried away by the force he put into the blow. He was a fierce
one, who fought with the iron, annoyed at finding it so hard, and he
even gave a grunt whenever he thought he had planted a fierce stroke.
Perhaps brandy did weaken other people's arms, but he needed brandy in
his veins, instead of blood. The drop he had taken a little while before
had made his carcass as warm as a boiler; he felt he had the power of
a steam-engine within him. And the iron seemed to be afraid of him this
time; he flattened it more easily than if it had been a quid of tobacco.
And it was a sight to see how Dedele waltzed! She cut such capers,
with her tootsies in the air, just like a little dancer at the Elysee
Montmartre, who exhibits her fine underclothes; for it would never do
to dawdle, iron is so deceitful, it cools at once, just to spite the
hammer. With thirty blows, Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst,
had fashioned the head of his bolt. But he panted, his eyes were half
out of his head, and got into a great rage as he felt his arms growing
tired. Then, carried away by wrath, jumping about and yelling, he gave
two more blows, just out of revenge for his trouble. When he took
the bolt from the hole, it was deformed, its head being askew like a

"Come now! Isn't that quickly beaten into shape?" said he all the same,
with his self-confidence, as he presented his work to Gervaise.

"I'm no judge, sir," replied the laundress, reservedly.

But she saw plainly enough the marks of Dedele's last two kicks on the
bolt, and she was very pleased. She bit her lips so as not to laugh, for
now Goujet had every chance of winning.

It was now Golden-Mug's turn. Before commencing, he gave the laundress
a look full of confident tenderness. Then he did not hurry himself. He
measured his distance, and swung the hammer from on high with all his
might and at regular intervals. He had the classic style, accurate,
evenly balanced, and supple. Fifine, in his hands, did not cut capers,
like at a dance-hall, but made steady, certain progress; she rose and
fell in cadence, like a lady of quality solemnly leading some ancient

There was no brandy in Golden-Mug's veins, only blood, throbbing
powerfully even into Fifine and controlling the job. That stalwart
fellow! What a magnificent man he was at work. The high flame of the
forge shone full on his face. His whole face seemed golden indeed with
his short hair curling over his forehead and his splendid yellow beard.
His neck was as straight as a column and his immense chest was wide
enough for a woman to sleep across it. His shoulders and sculptured arms
seemed to have been copied from a giant's statue in some museum.
You could see his muscles swelling, mountains of flesh rippling and
hardening under the skin; his shoulders, his chest, his neck expanded;
he seemed to shed light about him, becoming beautiful and all-powerful
like a kindly god.

He had now swung Fifine twenty times, his eyes always fixed on the iron,
drawing a deep breath with each blow, yet showing only two great drops
of sweat trickling down from his temples. He counted: "Twenty-one,
twenty-two, twenty-three--" Calmly Fifine continued, like a noble lady

"What a show-off!" jeeringly murmured Salted-Mouth, otherwise

Gervaise, standing opposite Goujet, looked at him with an affectionate
smile. _Mon Dieu!_ What fools men are! Here these two men were, pounding
on their bolts to pay court to her. She understood it. They were
battling with hammer blows, like two big red roosters vying for the
favors of a little white hen. Sometimes the human heart has fantastic
ways of expressing itself. This thundering of Dedele and Fifine upon the
anvil was for her, this forge roaring and overflowing was for her. They
were forging their love before her, battling over her.

To be honest, she rather enjoyed it. All women are happy to receive
compliments. The mighty blows of Golden-Mug found echoes in her heart;
they rang within her, a crystal-clear music in time with the throbbing
of her pulse. She had the feeling that this hammering was driving
something deep inside of her, something solid, something hard as the
iron of the bolt.

She had no doubt Goujet would win. Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, was much too ugly in his dirty tunic, jumping
around like a monkey that had escaped from a zoo. She waited, blushing
red, happy that the heat could explain the blush.

Goujet was still counting.

"And twenty-eight!" cried he at length, laying the hammer on the ground.
"It's finished; you can look."

The head of the bolt was clean, polished, and without a flaw, regular
goldsmith's work, with the roundness of a marble cast in a mold. The
other men looked at it and nodded their heads; there was no denying
it was lovely enough to be worshipped. Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, tried indeed to chuff; but it was no use, and
ended by returning to his anvil, with his nose put out of joint.
Gervaise had squeezed up against Goujet, as though to get a better view.
Etienne having let go the bellows, the forge was once more becoming
enveloped in shadow, like a brilliant red sunset suddenly giving way to
black night. And the blacksmith and the laundress experienced a sweet
pleasure in feeling this gloom surround them in that shed black with
soot and filings, and where an odor of old iron prevailed. They could
not have thought themselves more alone in the Bois de Vincennes had they
met there in the depths of some copse. He took her hand as though he had
conquered her.

Outside, they scarcely exchanged a word. All he could find to say was
that she might have taken Etienne away with her, had it not been that
there was still another half-hour's work to get through. When she
started away he called her back, wanting a few more minutes with her.

"Come along. You haven't seen all the place. It's quite interesting."

He led her to another shed where the owner was installing a new machine.
She hesitated in the doorway, oppressed by an instinctive dread. The
great hall was vibrating from the machines and black shadows filled the
air. He reassured her with a smile, swearing that there was nothing to
fear, only she should be careful not to let her skirts get caught in any
of the gears. He went first and she followed into the deafening hubbub
of whistling, amid clouds of steam peopled by human shadows moving

The passages were very narrow and there were obstacles to step
over, holes to avoid, passing carts to move back from. She couldn't
distinguish anything clearly or hear what Goujet was saying.

Gervaise looked up and stopped to stare at the leather belts hanging
from the roof in a gigantic spider web, each strip ceaselessly
revolving. The steam engine that drove them was hidden behind a low
brick wall so that the belts seemed to be moving by themselves. She
stumbled and almost fell while looking up.

Goujet raised his voice with explanations. There were the tapping
machines operated by women, which put threads on bolts and nuts. Their
steel gears were shining with oil. She could follow the entire process.
She nodded her head and smiled.

She was still a little tense, however, feeling uneasy at being so small
among these rough metalworkers. She jumped back more than once, her
blood suddenly chilled by the dull thud of a machine.

Goujet had stopped before one of the rivet machines. He stood there
brooding, his head lowered, his gaze fixed. This machine forged forty
millimetre rivets with the calm ease of a giant. Nothing could be
simpler. The stoker took the iron shank from the furnace; the striker
put it into the socket, where a continuous stream of water cooled it to
prevent softening of the steel. The press descended and the bolt flew
out onto the ground, its head as round as though cast in a mold. Every
twelve hours this machine made hundreds of kilograms of bolts!

Goujet was not a mean person, but there were moments when he wanted to
take Fifine and smash this machine to bits because he was angry to see
that its arms were stronger than his own. He reasoned with himself,
telling himself that human flesh cannot compete with steel. But he was
still deeply hurt. The day would come when machinery would destroy the
skilled worker. Their day's pay had already fallen from twelve francs
to nine francs. There was talk of cutting it again. He stared at it,
frowning, for three minutes without saying a word. His yellow
beard seemed to bristle defiantly. Then, gradually an expression of
resignation came over his face and he turned toward Gervaise who was
clinging tightly to him and said with a sad smile:

"Well! That machine would certainly win a contest. But perhaps it will
be for the good of mankind in the long run."

Gervaise didn't care a bit about the welfare of mankind. Smiling, she
said to Goujet:

"I like yours better, because they show the hand of an artist."

Hearing this gave him great happiness because he had been afraid that
she might be scornful of him after seeing the machines. _Mon Dieu!_ He
might be stronger than Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, but
the machines were stronger yet. When Gervaise finally took her leave,
Goujet was so happy that he almost crushed her with a hug.

The laundress went every Saturday to the Goujets to deliver their
washing. They still lived in the little house in the Rue Neuve de la
Goutte-d'Or. During the first year she had regularly repaid them twenty
francs a month; so as not to jumble up the accounts, the washing-book
was only made up at the end of each month, and then she added to the
amount whatever sum was necessary to make the twenty francs, for the
Goujets' washing rarely came to more than seven or eight francs during
that time. She had therefore paid off nearly half the sum owing, when
one quarter day, not knowing what to do, some of her customers not
having kept their promises, she had been obliged to go to the Goujets
and borrow from them sufficient for her rent. On two other occasions she
had also applied to them for the money to pay her workwomen, so that the
debt had increased again to four hundred and twenty-five francs. Now,
she no longer gave a halfpenny; she worked off the amount solely by the
washing. It was not that she worked less, or that her business was not
so prosperous. But something was going wrong in her home; the money
seemed to melt away, and she was glad when she was able to make both
ends meet. _Mon Dieu!_ What's the use of complaining as long as one gets
by. She was putting on weight and this caused her to become a bit lazy.
She no longer had the energy that she had in the past. Oh well, there
was always something coming in.

Madame Goujet felt a motherly concern for Gervaise and sometimes
reprimanded her. This wasn't due to the money owed but because she
liked her and didn't want to see her get into difficulties. She never
mentioned the debt. In short, she behaved with the utmost delicacy.

The morrow of Gervaise's visit to the forge happened to be the last
Saturday of the month. When she reached the Goujets, where she made a
point of going herself, her basket had so weighed on her arms that she
was quite two minutes before she could get her breath. One would hardly
believe how heavy clothes are, especially when there are sheets among

"Are you sure you've brought everything?" asked Madame Goujet.

She was very strict on that point. She insisted on having her washing
brought home without a single article being kept back for the sake of
order, as she said. She also required the laundress always to come on
the day arranged and at the same hour; in that way there was no time

"Oh! yes, everything is here," replied Gervaise smiling. "You know I
never leave anything behind."

"That's true," admitted Madame Goujet; "you've got into many bad habits
but you're still free of that one."

And while the laundress emptied her basket, laying the linen on the bed,
the old woman praised her; she never burnt the things nor tore them like
so many others did, neither did she pull the buttons off with the iron;
only she used too much blue and made the shirt-fronts too stiff with

"Just look, it's like cardboard," continued she, making one crackle
between her fingers. "My son does not complain, but it cuts his neck.
To-morrow his neck will be all scratched when we return from Vincennes."

"No, don't say that!" exclaimed Gervaise, quite grieved. "To look nice,
shirts must be rather stiff, otherwise it's as though one had a rag on
one's body. You should just see what the gentlemen wear. I do all your
things myself. The workwomen never touch them and I assure you I take
great pains. I would, if necessary, do everything over a dozen times,
because it's for you, you know."

She slightly blushed as she stammered out the last words. She was afraid
of showing the great pleasure she took in ironing Goujet's shirts. She
certainly had no wicked thoughts, but she was none the less a little bit

"Oh! I'm not complaining of your work; I know it's perfection," said
Madame Goujet. "For instance, you've done this cap splendidly, only you
could bring out the embroidery like that. And the flutings are all so
even. Oh! I recognize your hand at once. When you give even a dish-cloth
to one of your workwomen I detect it at once. In future, use a little
less starch, that's all! Goujet does not care to look like a stylish

She had taken out her notebook and was crossing off the various items.
Everything was in order. She noticed that Gervaise was charging six sous
for each bonnet. She protested, but had to agree that it was in line
with present prices. Men's shirts were five sous, women's underdrawers
four sous, pillow-cases a sou and a half, and aprons one sou. No, the
prices weren't high. Some laundresses charged a sou more for each item.

Gervaise was now calling out the soiled clothes, as she packed them in
her basket, for Madame Goujet to list. Then she lingered on, embarrassed
by a request which she wished to make.

"Madame Goujet," she said at length, "if it does not inconvenience you,
I would like to take the money for the month's washing."

It so happened that that month was a very heavy one, the account they
had made up together amounting to ten francs, seven sous. Madame Goujet
looked at her a moment in a serious manner, then she replied:

"My child, it shall be as you wish. I will not refuse you the money as
you are in need of it. Only it's scarcely the way to pay off your debt;
I say that for your sake, you know. Really now, you should be careful."

Gervaise received the lecture with bowed head and stammering excuses.
The ten francs were to make up the amount of a bill she had given her
coke merchant. But on hearing the word "bill," Madame Goujet became
severer still. She gave herself as an example; she had reduced her
expenditure ever since Goujet's wages had been lowered from twelve to
nine francs a day. When one was wanting in wisdom whilst young, one dies
of hunger in one's old age. But she held back and didn't tell Gervaise
that she gave her their laundry only in order to help her pay off the
debt. Before that she had done all her own washing, and she would have
to do it herself again if the laundry continued taking so much cash out
of her pocket. Gervaise spoke her thanks and left quickly as soon as she
had received the ten francs seven sous. Outside on the landing she was
so relieved she wanted to dance. She was becoming used to the annoying,
unpleasant difficulties caused by a shortage of money and preferred to
remember not the embarrassment but the joy in escaping from them.

It was also on that Saturday that Gervaise met with a rather strange
adventure as she descended the Goujets' staircase. She was obliged to
stand up close against the stair-rail with her basket to make way for
a tall bare-headed woman who was coming up, carrying in her hand a very
fresh mackerel, with bloody gills, in a piece of paper. She recognized
Virginie, the girl whose face she had slapped at the wash-house. They
looked each other full in the face. Gervaise shut her eyes. She thought
for a moment that she was going to be hit in the face with the fish. But
no, Virginie even smiled slightly. Then, as her basket was blocking the
staircase, the laundress wished to show how polite she, too, could be.

"I beg your pardon," she said.

"You are completely excused," replied the tall brunette.

And they remained conversing together on the stairs, reconciled at once
without having ventured on a single allusion to the past. Virginie,
then twenty-nine years old, had become a superb woman of strapping
proportions, her face, however, looking rather long between her two
plaits of jet black hair. She at once began to relate her history just
to show off. She had a husband now; she had married in the spring an
ex-journeyman cabinetmaker, who recently left the army, and who had
applied to be admitted into the police, because a post of that kind is
more to be depended upon and more respectable. She had been out to buy
the mackerel for him.

"He adores mackerel," said she. "We must spoil them, those naughty men,
mustn't we? But come up. You shall see our home. We are standing in a
draught here."

After Gervaise had told of her own marriage and that she had formerly
occupied the very apartment Virginie now had, Virginie urged her even
more strongly to come up since it is always nice to visit a spot where
one had been happy.

Virginie had lived for five years on the Left Bank at Gros-Caillou. That
was where she had met her husband while he was still in the army.
But she got tired of it, and wanted to come back to the Goutte-d'Or
neighborhood where she knew everyone. She had only been living in the
rooms opposite the Goujets for two weeks. Oh! everything was still a
mess, but they were slowly getting it in order.

Then, still on the staircase, they finally told each other their names.

"Madame Coupeau."

"Madame Poisson."

And from that time forth, they called each other on every possible
occasion Madame Poisson and Madame Coupeau, solely for the pleasure of
being madame, they who in former days had been acquainted when occupying
rather questionable positions. However, Gervaise felt rather mistrustful
at heart. Perhaps the tall brunette had made it up the better to avenge
herself for the beating at the wash-house by concocting some plan worthy
of a spiteful hypocritical creature. Gervaise determined to be upon her
guard. For the time being, as Virginie behaved so nicely, she would be
nice also.

In the room upstairs, Poisson, the husband, a man of thirty-five, with
a cadaverous-looking countenance and carroty moustaches and beard, was
seated working at a table near the window. He was making little boxes.
His only tools were a knife, a tiny saw the size of a nail file and
a pot of glue. He was using wood from old cigar boxes, thin boards of
unfinished mahogany upon which he executed fretwork and embellishments
of extraordinary delicacy. All year long he worked at making the same
size boxes, only varying them occasionally by inlay work, new designs
for the cover, or putting compartments inside. He did not sell his work,
he distributed it in presents to persons of his acquaintance. It was
for his own amusement, a way of occupying his time while waiting for his
appointment to the police force. It was all that remained with him from
his former occupation of cabinetmaking.

Poisson rose from his seat and politely bowed to Gervaise, when his
wife introduced her as an old friend. But he was no talker; he at once
returned to his little saw. From time to time he merely glanced in the
direction of the mackerel placed on the corner of the chest of drawers.
Gervaise was very pleased to see her old lodging once more. She told
them whereabouts her own furniture stood, and pointed out the place on
the floor where Nana had been born. How strange it was to meet like
this again, after so many years! They never dreamed of running into each
other like this and even living in the same rooms.

Virginie added some further details. Her husband had inherited a little
money from an aunt and he would probably set her up in a shop before
long. Meanwhile she was still sewing. At length, at the end of a full
half hour, the laundress took her leave. Poisson scarcely seemed to
notice her departure. While seeing her to the door, Virginie promised
to return the visit. And she would have Gervaise do her laundry.
While Virginie was keeping her in further conversation on the landing,
Gervaise had the feeling that she wanted to say something about Lantier
and her sister Adele, and this notion upset her a bit. But not a word
was uttered respecting those unpleasant things; they parted, wishing
each other good-bye in a very amiable manner.

"Good-bye, Madame Coupeau."

"Good-bye, Madame Poisson."

That was the starting point of a great friendship. A week later,
Virginie never passed Gervaise's shop without going in; and she remained
there gossiping for hours together, to such an extent indeed that
Poisson, filled with anxiety, fearing she had been run over, would come
and seek her with his expressionless and death-like countenance. Now
that she was seeing the dressmaker every day Gervaise became aware of
a strange obsession. Every time Virginie began to talk Gervaise had the
feeling Lantier was going to be mentioned. So she had Lantier on her
mind throughout all of Virginie's visits. This was silly because, in
fact, she didn't care a bit about Lantier or Adele at this time. She
was quite certain that she had no curiosity as to what had happened to
either of them. But this obsession got hold of her in spite of herself.
Anyway, she didn't hold it against Virginie, it wasn't her fault,
surely. She enjoyed being with her and looked forward to her visits.

Meanwhile winter had come, the Coupeaus' fourth winter in the Rue de la
Goutte-d'Or. December and January were particularly cold. It froze hard
as it well could. After New Year's day the snow remained three weeks
without melting. It did not interfere with work, but the contrary, for
winter is the best season for the ironers. It was very pleasant inside
the shop! There was never any ice on the window-panes like there was
at the grocer's and the hosier's opposite. The stove was always stuffed
with coke and kept things as hot as a Turkish bath. With the laundry
steaming overhead you could almost imagine it was summer. You were quite
comfortable with the doors closed and so much warmth everywhere that you
were tempted to doze off with your eyes open. Gervaise laughed and said
it reminded her of summer in the country. The street traffic made no
noise in the snow and you could hardly hear the pedestrians who passed
by. Only children's voices were heard in the silence, especially the
noisy band of urchins who had made a long slide in the gutter near the
blacksmith's shop.

Gervaise would sometimes go over to the door, wipe the moisture from one
of the panes with her hand, and look out to see what was happening to
her neighborhood due to this extraordinary cold spell. Not one nose
was being poked out of the adjacent shops. The entire neighborhood was
muffled in snow. The only person she was able to exchange nods with was
the coal-dealer next door, who still walked out bare-headed despite the
severe freeze.

What was especially enjoyable in this awful weather was to have some
nice hot coffee in the middle of the day. The workwomen had no cause
for complaint. The mistress made it very strong and without a grain of
chicory. It was quite different to Madame Fauconnier's coffee, which was
like ditch-water. Only whenever mother Coupeau undertook to make it, it
was always an interminable time before it was ready, because she would
fall asleep over the kettle. On these occasions, when the workwomen had
finished their lunch, they would do a little ironing whilst waiting for
the coffee.

It so happened that on the morrow of Twelfth-day half-past twelve struck
and still the coffee was not ready. It seemed to persist in declining to
pass through the strainer. Mother Coupeau tapped against the pot with a
tea-spoon; and one could hear the drops falling slowly, one by one, and
without hurrying themselves any the more.

"Leave it alone," said tall Clemence; "you'll make it thick. To-day
there'll be as much to eat as to drink."

Tall Clemence was working on a man's shirt, the plaits of which she
separated with her finger-nail. She had caught a cold, her eyes were
frightfully swollen and her chest was shaken with fits of coughing,
which doubled her up beside the work-table. With all that she had not
even a handkerchief round her neck and she was dressed in some cheap
flimsy woolen stuff in which she shivered. Close by, Madame Putois,
wrapped up in flannel muffled up to her ears, was ironing a petticoat
which she turned round the skirt-board, the narrow end of which rested
on the back of a chair; whilst a sheet laid on the floor prevented the
petticoat from getting dirty as it trailed along the tiles. Gervaise
alone occupied half the work-table with some embroidered muslin
curtains, over which she passed her iron in a straight line with her
arms stretched out to avoid making any creases. All on a sudden the
coffee running through noisily caused her to raise her head. It was that
squint-eyed Augustine who had just given it an outlet by thrusting a
spoon through the strainer.

"Leave it alone!" cried Gervaise. "Whatever is the matter with you?
It'll be like drinking mud now."

Mother Coupeau had placed five glasses on a corner of the work-table
that was free. The women now left their work. The mistress always poured
out the coffee herself after putting two lumps of sugar into each glass.
It was the moment that they all looked forward to. On this occasion, as
each one took her glass and squatted down on a little stool in front of
the stove, the shop-door opened. Virginie entered, shivering all over.

"Ah, my children," said she, "it cuts you in two! I can no longer feel
my ears. The cold is something awful!"

"Why, it's Madame Poisson!" exclaimed Gervaise. "Ah, well! You've come
at the right time. You must have some coffee with us."

"On my word, I can't say no. One feels the frost in one's bones merely
by crossing the street."

There was still some coffee left, luckily. Mother Coupeau went and
fetched a sixth glass, and Gervaise let Virginie help herself to sugar
out of politeness. The workwomen moved to give Virginie a small space
close to the stove. Her nose was very red, she shivered a bit, pressing
her hands which were stiff with cold around the glass to warm them. She
had just come from the grocery story where you froze to death waiting
for a quarter-pound of cheese and so she raved about the warmth of the
shop. It felt so good on one's skin. After warming up, she stretched out
her long legs and the six of them relaxed together, supping their coffee
slowly, surround by all the work still to be done. Mother Coupeau and
Virginie were the only ones on chairs, the others, on low benches,
seemed to be sitting on the floor. Squint-eyed Augustine had pulled over
a corner of the cloth below the skirt, stretching herself out on it.

No one spoke at first; all kept their noses in their glasses, enjoying
their coffee.

"It's not bad, all the same," declared Clemence.

But she was seized with a fit of coughing, and almost choked. She leant
her head against the wall to cough with more force.

"That's a bad cough you've got," said Virginie. "Wherever did you catch

"One never knows!" replied Clemence, wiping her face with her sleeve.
"It must have been the other night. There were two girls who were
flaying each other outside the 'Grand-Balcony.' I wanted to see, so I
stood there whilst the snow was falling. Ah, what a drubbing! It was
enough to make one die with laughing. One had her nose almost pulled
off; the blood streamed on the ground. When the other, a great long
stick like me, saw the blood, she slipped away as quick as she could.
And I coughed nearly all night. Besides that too, men are so stupid in
bed, they don't let you have any covers over you half the time."

"Pretty conduct that," murmured Madame Putois. "You're killing yourself,
my girl."

"And if it pleases me to kill myself! Life isn't so very amusing.
Slaving all the blessed day long to earn fifty-five sous, cooking one's
blood from morning to night in front of the stove; no, you know, I've
had enough of it! All the same though, this cough won't do me the
service of making me croak. It'll go off the same way it came."

A short silence ensued. The good-for-nothing Clemence, who led riots
in low dancing establishments, and shrieked like a screech-owl at work,
always saddened everyone with her thoughts of death. Gervaise knew her
well, and so merely said:

"You're never very gay the morning after a night of high living."

The truth was that Gervaise did not like this talk about women fighting.
Because of the flogging at the wash-house it annoyed her whenever anyone
spoke before her and Virginie of kicks with wooden shoes and of slaps
in the face. It so happened, too, that Virginie was looking at her and

"By the way," she said quietly, "yesterday I saw some hair-pulling. They
almost tore each other to pieces."

"Who were they?" Madame Putois inquired.

"The midwife and her maid, you know, a little blonde. What a pest the
girl is! She was yelling at her employer that she had got rid of a child
for the fruit woman and that she was going to tell the police if she
wasn't paid to keep quiet. So the midwife slapped her right in the face
and then the little blonde jumped on her and started scratching her and
pulling her hair, really--by the roots. The sausage-man had to grab her
to put a stop to it."

The workwomen laughed. Then they all took a sip of coffee.

"Do you believe that she really got rid of a child?" Clemence asked.

"Oh, yes! The rumor was all round the neighborhood," Virginie answered.
"I didn't see it myself, you understand, but it's part of the job. All
midwives do it."

"Well!" exclaimed Madame Putois. "You have to be pretty stupid to put
yourself in their hands. No thanks, you could be maimed for life. But
there's a sure way to do it. Drink a glass of holy water every evening
and make the sign of the cross three times over your stomach with your
thumb. Then your troubles will be over."

Everyone thought mother Coupeau was asleep, but she shook her head in
protest. She knew another way and it was infallible. You had to eat a
hard-cooked egg every two hours, and put spinach leaves on your loins.
Squint-eyed Augustine set up a hen-cackling when she heard this. They
had forgotten about her. Gervaise lifted up the petticoat that was being
ironed and found her rolling on the floor with laughter. She jerked
her upright. What was she laughing about? Was it right for her to be
eavesdropping when older people were talking, the little goose? Anyway
it was time for her to deliver the laundry to a friend of Madame Lerat
at Les Batignolles. So Gervaise hung a basket on her arm and pushed her
toward the door. Augustine went off, sobbing and sniveling, dragging her
feet in the snow.

Meanwhile mother Coupeau, Madame Putois and Clemence were discussing the
effectiveness of hard-cooked eggs and spinach leaves. Then Virginie said

"_Mon Dieu!_ you have a fight, and then you make it up, if you have
a generous heart." She leaned toward Gervaise with a smile and added,
"Really, I don't hold any grudge against you for that business at the
wash-house. You remember it, don't you?"

This was what Gervaise had been dreading. She guessed that the subject
of Lantier and Adele would now come up.

Virginie had moved close to Gervaise so as not to be overheard by the
others. Gervaise, lulled by the excessive heat, felt so limp that she
couldn't even summon the willpower to change the subject. She foresaw
what the tall brunette would say and her heart was stirred with an
emotion which she didn't want to admit to herself.

"I hope I'm not hurting your feelings," Virginie continued. "Often I've
had it on the tip of my tongue. But since we are now on the subject,
word of honor, I don't have any grudge against you."

She stirred her remaining coffee and then took a small sip. Gervaise,
with her heart in her throat, wondered if Virginie had really forgiven
her as completely as she said, for she seemed to observe sparks in her
dark eyes.

"You see," Virginie went on, "you had an excuse. They played a really
rotten, dirty trick on you. To be fair about it, if it had been me, I'd
have taken a knife to her."

She drank another small sip, then added rapidly without a pause:

"Anyway, it didn't bring them happiness, _mon Dieu_! Not a bit of it.
They went to live over at La Glaciere, in a filthy street that was
always muddy. I went two days later to have lunch with them. I can tell
you, it was quite a trip by bus. Well, I found them already fighting.
Really, as I came in they were boxing each other's ears. Fine pair of
love birds! Adele isn't worth the rope to hang her. I say that even if
she is my own sister. It would take too long to relate all the nasty
tricks she played on me, and anyhow, it's between the two of us. As
for Lantier--well, he's no good either. He'd beat the hide off you for
anything, and with his fist closed too. They fought all the time. The
police even came once."

Virginie went on about other fights. Oh, she knew of things that would
make your hair stand up. Gervaise listened in silence, her face pale.
It was nearly seven years since she had heard a word about Lantier. She
hadn't realized what a strong curiosity she had as to what had become of
the poor man, even though he had treated her badly. And she never would
have believed that just the mention of his name could put such a glowing
warmth in the pit of her stomach. She certainly had no reason to be
jealous of Adele any more but she rejoiced to think of her body all
bruised from the beatings. She could have listened to Virginie all
night, but she didn't ask any questions, not wanting to appear much

Virginie stopped to sip at her coffee. Gervaise, realizing that she was
expected to say something, asked, with a pretence of indifference:

"Are they still living at La Glaciere?"

"No!" the other replied. "Didn't I tell you? They separated last week.
One morning, Adele moved out and Lantier didn't chase after her."

"So they're separated!" Gervaise exclaimed.

"Who are you talking about?" Clemence asked, interrupting her
conversation with mother Coupeau and Madame Putois.

"Nobody you know," said Virginie.

She was looking at Gervaise carefully and could see that she was upset.
She moved still closer, maliciously finding pleasure in bringing up
these old stories. Of a sudden she asked Gervaise what she would do
if Lantier came round here. Men were really such strange creatures, he
might decide to return to his first love. This caused Gervaise to sit
up very straight and dignified. She was a married woman; she would send
Lantier off immediately. There was no possibility of anything further
between them, not even a handshake. She would not even want to look that
man in the face.

"I know that Etienne is his son, and that's a relationship that
remains," she said. "If Lantier wants to see his son, I'll send the boy
to him because you can't stop a father from seeing his child. But as for
myself, I don't want him to touch me even with the tip of his finger.
That is all finished."

Desiring to break off this conversation, she seemed to awake with a
start and called out to the women:

"You ladies! Do you think all these clothes are going to iron
themselves? Get to work!"

The workwomen, slow from the heat and general laziness, didn't hurry
themselves, but went right on talking, gossiping about other people they
had known.

Gervaise shook herself and got to her feet. Couldn't earn money by
sitting all day. She was the first to return to the ironing, but found
that her curtains had been spotted by the coffee and she had to rub out
the stains with a damp cloth. The other women were now stretching and
getting ready to begin ironing.

Clemence had a terrible attack of coughing as soon as she moved. Finally
she was able to return to the shirt she had been doing. Madame Putois
began to work on the petticoat again.

"Well, good-bye," said Virginie. "I only came out for a quarter-pound of
Swiss cheese. Poisson must think I've frozen to death on the way."

She had only just stepped outside when she turned back to say that
Augustine was at the end of the street, sliding on the ice with some
urchins. The squint-eyed imp rushed in all red-faced and out of breath
with snow all in her hair. She didn't mind the scolding she received,
merely saying that she hadn't been able to walk fast because of the ice
and then some brats threw snow at her.

The afternoons were all the same these winter days. The laundry was the
refuge for anyone in the neighborhood who was cold. There was an endless
procession of gossiping women. Gervaise took pride in the comforting
warmth of her shop and welcomed those who came in, "holding a salon," as
the Lorilleuxs and the Boches remarked meanly.

Gervaise was always thoughtful and generous. Sometimes she even invited
poor people in if she saw them shivering outside. A friendship sprang up
with an elderly house-painter who was seventy. He lived in an attic room
and was slowly dying of cold and hunger. His three sons had been killed
in the war. He survived the best he could, but it had been two years
since he had been able to hold a paint-brush in his hand. Whenever
Gervaise saw Pere Bru walking outside, she would call him in and arrange
a place for him close to the stove. Often she gave him some bread and
cheese. Pere Bru's face was as wrinkled as a withered apple. He would
sit there, with his stooping shoulders and his white beard, without
saying a word, just listening to the coke sputtering in the stove. Maybe
he was thinking of his fifty years of hard work on high ladders, his
fifty years spent painting doors and whitewashing ceilings in every
corner of Paris.

"Well, Pere Bru," Gervaise would say, "what are you thinking of now?"

"Nothing much. All sorts of things," he would answer quietly.

The workwomen tried to joke with him to cheer him up, saying he was
worrying over his love affairs, but he scarcely listened to them before
he fell back into his habitual attitude of meditative melancholy.

Virginie now frequently spoke to Gervaise of Lantier. She seemed to find
amusement in filling her mind with ideas of her old lover just for the
pleasure of embarrassing her by making suggestions. One day she related
that she had met him; then, as the laundress took no notice, she said
nothing further, and it was only on the morrow that she added he had
spoken about her for a long time, and with a great show of affection.
Gervaise was much upset by these reports whispered in her ear in a
corner of the shop. The mention of Lantier's name always caused a
worried sensation in the pit of her stomach. She certainly thought
herself strong; she wished to lead the life of an industrious woman,
because labor is the half of happiness. So she never considered Coupeau
in this matter, having nothing to reproach herself with as regarded her
husband, not even in her thoughts. But with a hesitating and suffering
heart, she would think of the blacksmith. It seemed to her that the
memory of Lantier--that slow possession which she was resuming--rendered
her unfaithful to Goujet, to their unavowed love, sweet as friendship.
She passed sad days whenever she felt herself guilty towards her good
friend. She would have liked to have had no affection for anyone but him
outside of her family. It was a feeling far above all carnal thoughts,
for the signs of which upon her burning face Virginie was ever on the

As soon as spring came Gervaise often went and sought refuge with
Goujet. She could no longer sit musing on a chair without immediately
thinking of her first lover; she pictured him leaving Adele, packing his
clothes in the bottom of their old trunk, and returning to her in a cab.
The days when she went out, she was seized with the most foolish fears
in the street; she was ever thinking she heard Lantier's footsteps
behind her. She did not dare turn round, but tremblingly fancied she
felt his hands seizing her round the waist. He was, no doubt, spying
upon her; he would appear before her some afternoon; and the bare idea
threw her into a cold perspiration, because he would to a certainty kiss
her on the ear, as he used to do in former days solely to tease her. It
was this kiss which frightened her; it rendered her deaf beforehand; it
filled her with a buzzing amidst which she could only distinguish the
sound of her heart beating violently. So, as soon as these fears
seized upon her, the forge was her only shelter; there, under Goujet's
protection, she once more became easy and smiling, as his sonorous
hammer drove away her disagreeable reflections.

What a happy time! The laundress took particular pains with the washing
of her customer in the Rue des Portes-Blanches; she always took it
home herself because that errand, every Friday, was a ready excuse for
passing through the Rue Marcadet and looking in at the forge. The moment
she turned the corner of the street she felt light and gay, as though in
the midst of those plots of waste land surrounded by grey factories, she
were out in the country; the roadway black with coal-dust, the plumage
of steam over the roofs, amused her as much as a moss-covered path
leading through masses of green foliage in a wood in the environs; and
she loved the dull horizon, streaked by the tall factory-chimneys, the
Montmartre heights, which hid the heavens from view, the chalky white
houses pierced with the uniform openings of their windows. She would
slacken her steps as she drew near, jumping over the pools of water, and
finding a pleasure in traversing the deserted ins and outs of the yard
full of old building materials. Right at the further end the forge shone
with a brilliant light, even at mid-day. Her heart leapt with the dance
of the hammers. When she entered, her face turned quite red, the little
fair hairs at the nape of her neck flew about like those of a woman
arriving at some lovers' meeting. Goujet was expecting her, his arms and
chest bare, whilst he hammered harder on the anvil on those days so
as to make himself heard at a distance. He divined her presence, and
greeted her with a good silent laugh in his yellow beard. But she would
not let him leave off his work; she begged him to take up his hammer
again, because she loved him the more when he wielded it with his big
arms swollen with muscles. She would go and give Etienne a gentle tap
on the cheek, as he hung on to the bellows, and then remain for an hour
watching the rivets.

The two did not exchange a dozen words. They could not have more
completely satisfied their love if alone in a room with the
door double-locked. The snickering of Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, did not bother them in the least, for they no
longer even heard him. At the end of a quarter of an hour she would
begin to feel slightly oppressed; the heat, the powerful smell, the
ascending smoke, made her dizzy, whilst the dull thuds of the hammers
shook her from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. Then she
desired nothing more; it was her pleasure. Had Goujet pressed her in his
arms it would not have procured her so sweet an emotion. She drew close
to him that she might feel the wind raised by his hammer beat upon her
cheek, and become, as it were, a part of the blow he struck. When the
sparks made her soft hands smart, she did not withdraw them; on the
contrary, she enjoyed the rain of fire which stung her skin. He for
certain, divined the happiness which she tasted there; he always kept
the most difficult work for the Fridays, so as to pay his court to her
with all his strength and all his skill; he no longer spared himself
at the risk of splitting the anvils in two, as he panted and his loins
vibrated with the joy he was procuring her. All one spring-time their
love thus filled Goujet with the rumbling of a storm. It was an idyll
amongst giant-like labor in the midst of the glare of the coal fire, and
of the shaking of the shed, the cracking carcass of which was black with
soot. All that beaten iron, kneaded like red wax, preserved the rough
marks of their love. When on the Fridays the laundress parted from
Golden-Mug, she slowly reascended the Rue des Poissonniers, contented
and tired, her mind and her body alike tranquil.

Little by little, her fear of Lantier diminished; her good sense got the
better of her. At that time she would still have led a happy life, had
it not been for Coupeau, who was decidedly going to the bad. One day
she just happened to be returning from the forge, when she fancied she
recognized Coupeau inside Pere Colombe's l'Assommoir, in the act of
treating himself to a round of vitriol in the company of My-Boots,
Bibi-the-Smoker, and Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst.
She passed quickly by, so as not to seem to be spying on them. But she
glanced back; it was indeed Coupeau who was tossing his little glass
of bad brandy down his throat with a gesture already familiar. He lied
then; so he went in for brandy now! She returned home in despair; all
her old dread of brandy took possession of her. She forgave the
wine, because wine nourishes the workman; all kinds of spirit, on the
contrary, were filth, poisons which destroyed in the workman the taste
for bread. Ah! the government ought to prevent the manufacture of such
horrid stuff!

On arriving at the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or, she found the whole house
upset. Her workwomen had left the shop, and were in the courtyard
looking up above. She questioned Clemence.

"It's old Bijard who's giving his wife a hiding," replied the ironer.
"He was in the doorway, as drunk as a trooper, watching for her
return from the wash-house. He whacked her up the stairs, and now he's
finishing her off up there in their room. Listen, can't you hear her

Gervaise hastened to the spot. She felt some friendship for her
washer-woman, Madame Bijard, who was a very courageous woman. She had
hoped to put a stop to what was going on. Upstairs, on the sixth floor
the door of the room was wide open, some lodgers were shouting on the
landing, whilst Madame Boche, standing in front of the door, was calling

"Will you leave off? I shall send for the police; do you hear?"

No one dared to venture inside the room, because it was known that
Bijard was like a brute beast when he was drunk. As a matter of fact, he
was scarcely ever sober. The rare days on which he worked, he placed a
bottle of brandy beside his blacksmith's vise, gulping some of it down
every half hour. He could not keep himself going any other way. He would
have blazed away like a torch if anyone had placed a lighted match close
to his mouth.

"But we mustn't let her be murdered!" said Gervaise, all in a tremble.

And she entered. The room, an attic, and very clean, was bare and cold,
almost emptied by the drunken habits of the man, who took the very
sheets from the bed to turn them into liquor. During the struggle the
table had rolled away to the window, the two chairs, knocked over, had
fallen with their legs in the air. In the middle of the room, on the
tile floor, lay Madame Bijard, all bloody, her skirts, still soaked with
the water of the wash-house, clinging to her thighs, her hair straggling
in disorder. She was breathing heavily, with a rattle in her throat, as
she muttered prolonged ohs! each time she received a blow from the heel
of Bijard's boot. He had knocked her down with his fists, and now he
stamped upon her.

"Ah, strumpet! Ah, strumpet! Ah strumpet!" grunted he in a choking
voice, accompanying each blow with the word, taking a delight in
repeating it, and striking all the harder the more he found his voice
failing him.

Then when he could no longer speak, he madly continued to kick with
a dull sound, rigid in his ragged blue blouse and overalls, his face
turned purple beneath his dirty beard, and his bald forehead streaked
with big red blotches. The neighbors on the landing related that he
was beating her because she had refused him twenty sous that morning.
Boche's voice was heard at the foot of the staircase. He was calling
Madame Boche, saying:

"Come down; let them kill each other, it'll be so much scum the less."

Meanwhile, Pere Bru had followed Gervaise into the room. Between them
they were trying to get him towards the door. But he turned round,
speechless and foaming at the lips, and in his pale eyes the alcohol was
blazing with a murderous glare. The laundress had her wrist injured; the
old workman was knocked against the table. On the floor, Madame Bijard
was breathing with greater difficulty, her mouth wide open, her eyes
closed. Now Bijard kept missing her. He had madly returned to the
attack, but blinded by rage, his blows fell on either side, and at
times he almost fell when his kicks went into space. And during all this
onslaught, Gervaise beheld in a corner of the room little Lalie, then
four years old, watching her father murdering her mother. The child
held in her arms, as though to protect her, her sister Henriette, only
recently weaned. She was standing up, her head covered with a cotton
cap, her face very pale and grave. Her large black eyes gazed with a
fixedness full of thought and were without a tear.

When at length Bijard, running against a chair, stumbled onto the tiled
floor, where they left him snoring, Pere Bru helped Gervaise to raise
Madame Bijard. The latter was now sobbing bitterly; and Lalie, drawing
near, watched her crying, being used to such sights and already resigned
to them. As the laundress descended the stairs, in the silence of the
now quieted house, she kept seeing before her that look of this child of
four, as grave and courageous as that of a woman.

"Monsieur Coupeau is on the other side of the street," called out
Clemence as soon as she caught sight of her. "He looks awfully drunk."

Coupeau was just then crossing the street. He almost smashed a pane
of glass with his shoulder as he missed the door. He was in a state of
complete drunkenness, with his teeth clinched and his nose inflamed. And
Gervaise at once recognized the vitriol of l'Assommoir in the poisoned
blood which paled his skin. She tried to joke and get him to bed, the
same as on the days when the wine had made him merry; but he pushed her
aside without opening his lips, and raised his fist in passing as he
went to bed of his own accord. He made Gervaise think of the other--the
drunkard who was snoring upstairs, tired out by the blows he had struck.
A cold shiver passed over her. She thought of the men she knew--of her
husband, of Goujet, of Lantier--her heart breaking, despairing of ever
being happy.


Gervaise's saint's day fell on the 19th of June. On such occasions, the
Coupeaus always made a grand display; they feasted till they were as
round as balls, and their stomachs were filled for the rest of the week.
There was a complete clear out of all the money they had. The moment
there were a few sous in the house they went in gorging. They invented
saints for those days which the almanac had not provided with any, just
for the sake of giving themselves a pretext for gormandizing. Virginie
highly commended Gervaise for stuffing herself with all sorts of savory
dishes. When one has a husband who turns all he can lay hands on into
drink, it's good to line one's stomach well, and not to let everything
go off in liquids. Since the money would disappear anyway, surely it was
better to pay it to the butcher. Gervaise used that excuse to justify
overeating, saying it was Coupeau's fault if they could no longer save a
sou. She had grown considerably fatter, and she limped more than before
because her leg, now swollen with fat, seemed to be getting gradually

That year they talked about her saint's day a good month beforehand.
They thought of dishes and smacked their lips in advance. All the shop
had a confounded longing to junket. They wanted a merry-making of the
right sort--something out of the ordinary and highly successful. One
does not have so many opportunities for enjoyment. What most troubled
the laundress was to decide whom to invite; she wished to have twelve
persons at table, no more, no less. She, her husband, mother Coupeau,
and Madame Lerat, already made four members of the family. She would
also have the Goujets and the Poissons. Originally, she had decided not
to invite her workwomen, Madame Putois and Clemence, so as not to make
them too familiar; but as the projected feast was being constantly
spoken of in their presence, and their mouths watered, she ended by
telling them to come. Four and four, eight, and two are ten. Then,
wishing particularly to have twelve, she became reconciled with the
Lorilleuxs, who for some time past had been hovering around her; at
least it was agreed that the Lorilleuxs should come to dinner, and that
peace should be made with glasses in hand. You really shouldn't
keep family quarrels going forever. When the Boches heard that a
reconciliation was planned, they also sought to make up with Gervaise,
and so they had to be invited to the dinner too. That would make
fourteen, not counting the children. Never before had she given such
a large dinner and the thought frightened and excited her at the same

The saint's day happened to fall on a Monday. It was a piece of luck.
Gervaise counted on the Sunday afternoon to begin the cooking. On the
Saturday, whilst the workwomen hurried with their work, there was a long
discussion in the shop with the view of finally deciding upon what the
feast should consist of. For three weeks past one thing alone had been
chosen--a fat roast goose. There was a gluttonous look on every face
whenever it was mentioned. The goose was even already bought. Mother
Coupeau went and fetched it to let Clemence and Madame Putois feel its
weight. And they uttered all kinds of exclamations; it looked such an
enormous bird, with its rough skin all swelled out with yellow fat.

"Before that there will be the pot-au-feu," said Gervaise, "the soup and
just a small piece of boiled beef, it's always good. Then we must have
something in the way of a stew."

Tall Clemence suggested rabbit, but they were always having that,
everyone was sick of it. Gervaise wanted something more distinguished.
Madame Putois having spoken of stewed veal, they looked at one another
with broad smiles. It was a real idea, nothing would make a better
impression than a veal stew.

"And after that," resumed Gervaise, "we must have some other dish with a

Mother Coupeau proposed fish. But the others made a grimace, as they
banged down their irons. None of them liked fish; it was not a
bit satisfying; and besides that it was full of bones. Squint-eyed
Augustine, having dared to observe that she liked skate, Clemence
shut her mouth for her with a good sound clout. At length the mistress
thought of stewed pig's back and potatoes, which restored the smiles
to every countenance. Then Virginie entered like a puff of wind, with a
strange look on her face.

"You've come just at the right time!" exclaimed Gervaise. "Mother
Coupeau, do show her the bird."

And mother Coupeau went a second time and fetched the goose, which
Virginie had to take in her hands. She uttered no end of exclamations.
By Jove! It was heavy! But she soon laid it down on the work-table,
between a petticoat and a bundle of shirts. Her thoughts were elsewhere.
She dragged Gervaise into the back-room.

"I say, little one," murmured she rapidly, "I've come to warn you.
You'll never guess who I just met at the corner of the street. Lantier,
my dear! He's hovering about on the watch; so I hastened here at once.
It frightened me on your account, you know."

The laundress turned quite pale. What could the wretched man want with
her? Coming, too, like that, just in the midst of the preparations for
the feast. She had never had any luck; she could not even be allowed to
enjoy herself quietly. But Virginie replied that she was very foolish to
put herself out about it like that. Why! If Lantier dared to follow her
about, all she had to do was to call a policeman and have him locked up.
In the month since her husband had been appointed a policeman, Virginie
had assumed rather lordly manners and talked of arresting everybody. She
began to raise her voice, saying that she wished some passer-by would
pinch her bottom so that she could take the fresh fellow to the police
station herself and turn him over to her husband. Gervaise signaled her
to be quiet since the workwomen were listening and led the way back into
the shop, reopening the discussion about the dinner.

"Now, don't we need a vegetable?"

"Why not peas with bacon?" said Virginie. "I like nothing better."

"Yes, peas with bacon." The others approved. Augustine was so
enthusiastic that she jabbed the poker into the stove harder than ever.

By three o'clock on the morrow, Sunday, mother Coupeau had lighted their
two stoves and also a third one of earthenware which they had borrowed
from the Boches. At half-past three the pot-au-feu was boiling away in
an enormous earthenware pot lent by the eating-house keeper next door,
the family pot having been found too small. They had decided to cook the
veal and the pig's back the night before, since both of those dishes
are better when reheated. But the cream sauce for the veal would not be
prepared until just before sitting down for the feast.

There was still plenty of work left for Monday: the soup, the peas with
bacon, the roast goose. The inner room was lit by three fires. Butter
was sizzling in the pans and emitting a sharp odor of burnt flour.

Mother Coupeau and Gervaise, with white aprons tied on, were bustling
all around, cleaning parsley, dashing for salt and pepper, turning the
meat. They had sent Coupeau away so as not to have him underfoot, but
they still had plenty of people looking in throughout the afternoon. The
luscious smells from the kitchen had spread through the entire building
so that neighboring ladies came into the shop on various pretexts, very
curious to see what was being cooked.

Virginie put in an appearance towards five o'clock. She had again seen
Lantier; really, it was impossible to go down the street now without
meeting him. Madame Boche also had just caught sight of him standing at
the corner of the pavement with his head thrust forward in an uncommonly
sly manner. Then Gervaise who had at that moment intended going for a
sou's worth of burnt onions for the pot-au-feu, began to tremble from
head to foot and did not dare leave the house; the more so, as the
concierge and the dressmaker put her into a terrible fright by relating
horrible stories of men waiting for women with knives and pistols hidden
beneath their overcoats. Well, yes! one reads of such things every day
in the newspapers. When one of those scoundrels gets his monkey up
on discovering an old love leading a happy life he becomes capable
of everything. Virginie obligingly offered to run and fetch the burnt
onions. Women should always help one another, they could not let that
little thing be murdered. When she returned she said that Lantier was no
longer there; he had probably gone off on finding he was discovered.
In spite of that thought, he was the subject of conversation around
the saucepans until night-time. When Madame Boche advised her to inform
Coupeau, Gervaise became really terrified, and implored her not to say
a word about it. Oh, yes, wouldn't that be a nice situation! Her husband
must have become suspicious already because for the last few days, at
night, he would swear to himself and bang the wall with his fists. The
mere thought that the two men might destroy each other because of her
made her shudder. She knew that Coupeau was jealous enough to attack
Lantier with his shears.

While the four of them had been deep in contemplating this drama, the
saucepans on the banked coals of the stoves had been quietly simmering.
When mother Coupeau lifted the lids, the veal and the pig's back
were discreetly bubbling. The pot-au-feu was steadily steaming with
snore-like sounds. Eventually each of them dipped a piece of bread into
the soup to taste the bouillon.

At length Monday arrived. Now that Gervaise was going to have fourteen
persons at table, she began to fear that she would not be able to find
room for them all. She decided that they should dine in the shop; and
the first thing in the morning she took measurements so as to settle
which way she should place the table. After that they had to remove all
the clothes and take the ironing-table to pieces; the top of this laid
on to some shorter trestles was to be the dining-table. But just in the
midst of all this moving a customer appeared and made a scene because
she had been waiting for her washing ever since the Friday; they were
humbugging her, she would have her things at once. Then Gervaise
tried to excuse herself and lied boldly; it was not her fault, she was
cleaning out her shop, the workmen would not be there till the morrow;
and she pacified her customer and got rid of her by promising to busy
herself with her things at the earliest possible moment. Then, as soon
as the woman had left, she showed her temper. Really, if you listened
to all your customers, you'd never have time to eat. You could work
yourself to death like a dog on a leash! Well! No matter who came in
to-day, even if they offered one hundred thousand francs, she wouldn't
touch an iron on this Monday, because it was her turn to enjoy herself.

The entire morning was spent in completing the purchases. Three times
Gervaise went out and returned laden like a mule. But just as she was
going to order wine she noticed that she had not sufficient money left.
She could easily have got it on credit; only she could not be without
money in the house, on account of the thousand little expenses that one
is liable to forget. And mother Coupeau and she had lamented together
in the back-room as they reckoned that they required at least twenty
francs. How could they obtain them, those four pieces of a hundred sous
each? Mother Coupeau who had at one time done the charring for a little
actress of the Theatre des Batignolles, was the first to suggest the
pawn-shop. Gervaise laughed with relief. How stupid she was not to have
thought of it! She quickly folded her black silk dress upon a towel
which she then pinned together. Then she hid the bundle under mother
Coupeau's apron, telling her to keep it very flat against her stomach,
on account of the neighbors who had no need to know; and she went and
watched at the door to see that the old woman was not followed. But the
latter had only gone as far as the charcoal dealer's when she called her

"Mamma! Mamma!"

She made her return to the shop, and taking her wedding-ring off her
finger said:

"Here, put this with it. We shall get all the more."

When mother Coupeau brought her twenty-five francs, she danced for joy.
She would order an extra six bottles of wine, sealed wine to drink with
the roast. The Lorilleuxs would be crushed.

For a fortnight past it had been the Coupeaus' dream to crush the
Lorilleuxs. Was it not true that those sly ones, the man and his wife, a
truly pretty couple, shut themselves up whenever they had anything nice
to eat as though they had stolen it? Yes, they covered up the window
with a blanket to hide the light and make believe that they were already
asleep in bed. This stopped anyone from coming up, and so the Lorilleuxs
could stuff everything down, just the two of them. They were even
careful the next day not to throw the bones into the garbage so that no
one would know what they had eaten. Madame Lorilleux would walk to
the end of the street to toss them into a sewer opening. One morning
Gervaise surprised her emptying a basket of oyster shells there.
Oh, those penny-pinchers were never open-handed, and all their mean
contrivances came from their desire to appear to be poor. Well, we'd
show them, we'd prove to them what we weren't mean.

Gervaise would have laid her table in the street, had she been able to,
just for the sake of inviting each passer-by. Money was not invented
that it should be allowed to grow moldy, was it? It is pretty when it
shines all new in the sunshine. She resembled them so little now, that
on the days when she had twenty sous she arranged things to let people
think that she had forty.

Mother Coupeau and Gervaise talked of the Lorilleuxs whilst they laid
the cloth about three o'clock. They had hung some big curtains at the
windows; but as it was very warm the door was left open and the whole
street passed in front of the little table. The two women did not place
a decanter, or a bottle, or a salt-cellar, without trying to arrange
them in such a way as to annoy the Lorilleuxs. They had arranged their
seats so as to give them a full view of the superbly laid cloth, and
they had reserved the best crockery for them, well knowing that the
porcelain plates would create a great effect.

"No, no, mamma," cried Gervaise; "don't give them those napkins! I've
two damask ones."

"Ah, good!" murmured the old woman; "that'll break their hearts, that's

And they smiled to each other as they stood up on either side of that
big white table on which the fourteen knives and forks, placed all
round, caused them to swell with pride. It had the appearance of the
altar of some chapel in the middle of the shop.

"That's because they're so stingy themselves!" resumed Gervaise. "You
know they lied last month when the woman went about everywhere saying
that she had lost a piece of gold chain as she was taking the work home.
The idea! There's no fear of her ever losing anything! It was simply a
way of making themselves out very poor and of not giving you your five

"As yet I've only seen my five francs twice," said mother Coupeau.

"I'll bet next month they'll concoct some other story. That explains
why they cover their window up when they have a rabbit to eat. Don't
you see? One would have the right to say to them: 'As you can afford a
rabbit you can certainly give five francs to your mother!' Oh! they're
just rotten! What would have become of you if I hadn't taken you to live
with us?"

Mother Coupeau slowly shook her head. That day she was all against the
Lorilleuxs, because of the great feast the Coupeaus were giving. She
loved cooking, the little gossipings round the saucepans, the place
turned topsy-turvy by the revels of saints' days. Besides she generally
got on pretty well with Gervaise. On other days when they plagued one
another as happens in all families, the old woman grumbled saying she
was wretchedly unfortunate in thus being at her daughter-in-law's mercy.
In point of fact she probably had some affection for Madame Lorilleux
who after all was her daughter.

"Ah!" continued Gervaise, "you wouldn't be so fat, would you, if you
were living with them? And no coffee, no snuff, no little luxuries of
any sort! Tell me, would they have given you two mattresses to your

"No, that's very certain," replied mother Coupeau. "When they arrive
I shall place myself so as to have a good view of the door to see the
faces they'll make."

Thinking of the faces they would make gave them pleasure ahead of time.
However, they couldn't remain standing there admiring the table. The
Coupeaus had lunched very late on just a bite or two, because the stoves
were already in use, and because they did not want to dirty any dishes
needed for the evening. By four o'clock the two women were working very
hard. The huge goose was being cooked on a spit. Squint-eyed
Augustine was sitting on a low bench solemnly basting the goose with a
long-handled spoon. Gervaise was busy with the peas with bacon. Mother
Coupeau, kept spinning around, a bit confused, waiting for the right
time to begin reheating the pork and the veal.

Towards five o'clock the guests began to arrive. First of all came the
two workwomen, Clemence and Madame Putois, both in their Sunday best,
the former in blue, the latter in black; Clemence carried a geranium,
Madame Putois a heliotrope, and Gervaise, whose hands were just then
smothered with flour, had to kiss each of them on both cheeks with her
arms behind her back. Then following close upon their heels entered
Virginie dressed like a lady in a printed muslin costume with a sash and
a bonnet though she had only a few steps to come. She brought a pot of
red carnations. She took the laundress in her big arms and squeezed her
tight. At length Boche appeared with a pot of pansies and Madame Boche
with a pot of mignonette; then came Madame Lerat with a balm-mint,
the pot of which had dirtied her violet merino dress. All these people
kissed each other and gathered together in the back-room in the midst of
the three stoves and the roasting apparatus, which gave out a stifling
heat. The noise from the saucepans drowned the voices. A dress catching
in the Dutch oven caused quite an emotion. The smell of roast goose
was so strong that it made their mouths water. And Gervaise was very
pleasant, thanking everyone for their flowers without however letting
that interfere with her preparing the thickening for the stewed veal at
the bottom of a soup plate. She had placed the pots in the shop at one
end of the table without removing the white paper that was round them. A
sweet scent of flowers mingled with the odor of cooking.

"Do you want any assistance?" asked Virginie. "Just fancy, you've been
three days preparing all this feast and it will be gobbled up in no

"Well, you know," replied Gervaise, "it wouldn't prepare itself. No,
don't dirty your hands. You see everything's ready. There's only the
soup to warm."

Then they all made themselves comfortable. The ladies laid their shawls
and their caps on the bed and pinned up their skirts so as not to soil
them. Boche sent his wife back to the concierge's lodge until time to
eat and had cornered Clemence in a corner trying to find out if she
was ticklish. She was gasping for breath, as the mere thought of being
tickled sent shivers through her. So as not to bother the cooks, the
other ladies had gone into the shop and were standing against the wall
facing the table. They were talking through the door though, and as they
could not hear very well, they were continually invading the back-room
and crowding around Gervaise, who would forget what she was doing to
answer them.

There were a few stories which brought sly laughter. When Virginie
mentioned that she hadn't eaten for two days in order to have more room
for today's feast, tall Clemence said that she had cleaned herself out
that morning with an enema like the English do. Then Boche suggested
a way of digesting the food quickly by squeezing oneself after each
course, another English custom. After all, when you were invited to
dinner, wasn't it polite to eat as much as you could? Veal and pork and
goose are placed out for the cats to eat. The hostess didn't need to
worry a bit, they were going to clean their plates so thoroughly that
she wouldn't have to wash them.

All of them kept coming to smell the air above the saucepans and the
roaster. The ladies began to act like young girls, scurrying from room
to room and pushing each other.

Just as they were all jumping about and shouting by way of amusement,
Goujet appeared. He was so timid he scarcely dared enter, but stood
still, holding a tall white rose-tree in his arms, a magnificent plant
with a stem that reached to his face and entangled the flowers in his
beard. Gervaise ran to him, her cheeks burning from the heat of the
stoves. But he did not know how to get rid of his pot; and when she had
taken it from his hands he stammered, not daring to kiss her. It was
she who was obliged to stand on tip-toe and place her cheek against his
lips; he was so agitated that even then he kissed her roughly on the eye
almost blinding her. They both stood trembling.

"Oh! Monsieur Goujet, it's too lovely!" said she, placing the rose-tree
beside the other flowers which it overtopped with the whole of its tuft
of foliage.

"Not at all, not at all!" repeated he, unable to say anything else.

Then, after sighing deeply, he slightly recovered himself and stated
that she was not to expect his mother; she was suffering from an attack
of sciatica. Gervaise was greatly grieved; she talked of putting a piece
of the goose on one side as she particularly wished Madame Goujet to
have a taste of the bird. No one else was expected. Coupeau was no doubt
strolling about in the neighborhood with Poisson whom he had called for
directly after his lunch; they would be home directly, they had promised
to be back punctually at six. Then as the soup was almost ready,
Gervaise called to Madame Lerat, saying that she thought it was time to
go and fetch the Lorilleuxs. Madame Lerat became at once very grave; it
was she who had conducted all the negotiations and who had settled how
everything should pass between the two families. She put her cap and
shawl on again and went upstairs very stiffly in her skirts, looking
very stately. Down below the laundress continued to stir her vermicelli
soup without saying a word. The guests suddenly became serious and
solemnly waited.

It was Madame Lerat who appeared first. She had gone round by the street
so as to give more pomp to the reconciliation. She held the shop-door
wide open whilst Madame Lorilleux, wearing a silk dress, stopped at
the threshold. All the guests had risen from their seats; Gervaise went
forward and kissing her sister-in-law as had been agreed, said:

"Come in. It's all over, isn't it? We'll both be nice to each other."

And Madame Lorilleux replied:

"I shall be only too happy if we're so always."

When she had entered Lorilleux also stopped at the threshold and he
likewise waited to be embraced before penetrating into the shop. Neither
the one nor the other had brought a bouquet. They had decided not to do
so as they thought it would look too much like giving way to Clump-Clump
if they carried flowers with them the first time they set foot in her
home. Gervaise called to Augustine to bring two bottles of wine. Then,
filling some glasses on a corner of the table, she called everyone
to her. And each took a glass and drank to the good friendship of the
family. There was a pause whilst the guests were drinking, the ladies
raising their elbows and emptying their glasses to the last drop.

"Nothing is better before soup," declared Boche, smacking his lips.

Mother Coupeau had placed herself opposite the door to see the faces the
Lorilleuxs would make. She pulled Gervaise by the skirt and dragged her
into the back-room. And as they both leant over the soup they conversed
rapidly in a low voice.

"Huh! What a sight!" said the old woman. "You couldn't see them; but I
was watching. When she caught sight of the table her face twisted around
like that, the corners of her mouth almost touched her eyes; and as for
him, it nearly choked him, he coughed and coughed. Now just look at
them over there; they've no saliva left in their mouths, they're chewing
their lips."

"It's quite painful to see people as jealous as that," murmured

Really the Lorilleuxs had a funny look about them. No one of course
likes to be crushed; in families especially when the one succeeds, the
others do not like it; that is only natural. Only one keeps it in, one
does not make an exhibition of oneself. Well! The Lorilleuxs could not
keep it in. It was more than a match for them. They squinted--their
mouths were all on one side. In short it was so apparent that the other
guests looked at them, and asked them if they were unwell. Never would
they be able to stomach this table with its fourteen place-settings, its
white linen table cloth, its slices of bread cut in advance, all in the
style of a first-class restaurant. Mme. Lorilleux went around the table,
surreptitiously fingering the table cloth, tortured by the thought that
it was a new one.

"Everything's ready!" cried Gervaise as she reappeared with a smile, her
arms bare and her little fair curls blowing over her temples.

"If the boss would only come," resumed the laundress, "we might begin."

"Ah, well!" said Madame Lorilleux, "the soup will be cold by then.
Coupeau always forgets. You shouldn't have let him go off."

It was already half-past six. Everything was burning now; the goose
would be overdone. Then Gervaise, feeling quite dejected, talked
of sending someone to all the wineshops in the neighborhood to find
Coupeau. And as Goujet offered to go, she decided to accompany him.
Virginie, anxious about her husband went also. The three of them,
bareheaded, quite blocked up the pavement. The blacksmith who wore his
frock-coat, had Gervaise on his left arm and Virginie on his right; he
was doing the two-handled basket as he said; and it seemed to them such
a funny thing to say that they stopped, unable to move their legs for
laughing. They looked at themselves in the pork-butcher's glass and
laughed more than ever. Beside Goujet, all in black, the two women
looked like two speckled hens--the dressmaker in her muslin costume,
sprinkled with pink flowers, the laundress in her white cambric dress
with blue spots, her wrists bare, and wearing round her neck a little
grey silk scarf tied in a bow. People turned round to see them pass,
looking so fresh and lively, dressed in their Sunday best on a week day
and jostling the crowd which hung about the Rue des Poissonniers, on
that warm June evening. But it was not a question of amusing themselves.
They went straight to the door of each wineshop, looked in and sought
amongst the people standing before the counter. Had that animal Coupeau
gone to the Arc de Triomphe to get his dram? They had already done the
upper part of the street, looking in at all the likely places; at
the "Little Civet," renowned for its preserved plums; at old mother
Baquet's, who sold Orleans wine at eight sous; at the "Butterfly," the
coachmen's house of call, gentlemen who were not easy to please. But no
Coupeau. Then as they were going down towards the Boulevard, Gervaise
uttered a faint cry on passing the eating-house at the corner kept by

"What's the matter?" asked Goujet.

The laundress no longer laughed. She was very pale, and laboring under
so great an emotion that she had almost fallen. Virginie understood it
all as she caught a sight of Lantier seated at one of Francois's tables
quietly dining. The two women dragged the blacksmith along.

"My ankle twisted," said Gervaise as soon as she was able to speak.

At length they discovered Coupeau and Poisson at the bottom of the
street inside Pere Colombe's l'Assommoir. They were standing up in the
midst of a number of men; Coupeau, in a grey blouse, was shouting with
furious gestures and banging his fists down on the counter. Poisson, not
on duty that day and buttoned up in an old brown coat, was listening
to him in a dull sort of way and without uttering a word, bristling his
carroty moustaches and beard the while. Goujet left the women on the
edge of the pavement, and went and laid his hand on the zinc-worker's
shoulder. But when the latter caught sight of Gervaise and Virginie
outside he grew angry. Why was he badgered with such females as those?
Petticoats had taken to tracking him about now! Well! He declined to
stir, they could go and eat their beastly dinner all by themselves. To
quiet him Goujet was obliged to accept a drop of something; and even
then Coupeau took a fiendish delight in dawdling a good five minutes at
the counter. When he at length came out he said to his wife:

"I don't like this. It's my business where I go. Do you understand?"

She did not answer. She was all in a tremble. She must have said
something about Lantier to Virginie, for the latter pushed her husband
and Goujet ahead, telling them to walk in front. The two women got
on each side of Coupeau to keep him occupied and prevent him seeing
Lantier. He wasn't really drunk, being more intoxicated from shouting
than from drinking. Since they seemed to want to stay on the left side,
to tease them, he crossed over to the other side of the street.
Worried, they ran after him and tried to block his view of the door of
Francois's. But Coupeau must have known that Lantier was there. Gervaise
almost went out of her senses on hearing him grunt:

"Yes, my duck, there's a young fellow of our acquaintance inside there!
You mustn't take me for a ninny. Don't let me catch you gallivanting
about again with your side glances!"

And he made use of some very coarse expressions. It was not him that she
had come to look for with her bare elbows and her mealy mouth; it
was her old beau. Then he was suddenly seized with a mad rage against
Lantier. Ah! the brigand! Ah! the filthy hound! One or the other of
them would have to be left on the pavement, emptied of his guts like a
rabbit. Lantier, however, did not appear to notice what was going on
and continued slowly eating some veal and sorrel. A crowd began to form.
Virginie led Coupeau away and he calmed down at once as soon as he had
turned the corner of the street. All the same they returned to the shop
far less lively than when they left it.

The guests were standing round the table with very long faces. The
zinc-worker shook hands with them, showing himself off before the
ladies. Gervaise, feeling rather depressed, spoke in a low voice as she
directed them to their places. But she suddenly noticed that, as Madame
Goujet had not come, a seat would remain empty--the one next to Madame

"We are thirteen!" said she, deeply affected, seeing in that a fresh
omen of the misfortune with which she had felt herself threatened for
some time past.

The ladies already seated rose up looking anxious and annoyed. Madame
Putois offered to retire because according to her it was not a matter to
laugh about; besides she would not touch a thing, the food would do
her no good. As to Boche, he chuckled. He would sooner be thirteen than
fourteen; the portions would be larger, that was all.

"Wait!" resumed Gervaise. "I can manage it."

And going out on to the pavement she called Pere Bru who was just then
crossing the roadway. The old workman entered, stooping and stiff and
his face without expression.

"Seat yourself there, my good fellow," said the laundress. "You won't
mind eating with us, will you?"

He simply nodded his head. He was willing; he did not mind.

"As well him as another," continued she, lowering her voice. "He doesn't
often eat his fill. He will at least enjoy himself once more. We shall
feel no remorse in stuffing ourselves now."

This touched Goujet so deeply that his eyes filled with tears. The
others were also moved by compassion and said that it would bring them
all good luck. However, Madame Lorilleux seemed unhappy at having the
old man next to her. She cast glances of disgust at his work-roughened
hands and his faded, patched smock, and drew away from him.

Pere Bru sat with his head bowed, waiting. He was bothered by the napkin
that was on the plate before him. Finally he lifted it off and placed
it gently on the edge of the table, not thinking to spread it over his

Now at last Gervaise served the vermicelli soup; the guests were taking
up their spoons when Virginie remarked that Coupeau had disappeared. He
had perhaps returned to Pere Colombe's. This time the company got angry.
So much the worse! One would not run after him; he could stay in the
street if he was not hungry; and as the spoons touched the bottom of the
plates, Coupeau reappeared with two pots of flowers, one under each arm,
a stock and a balsam. They all clapped their hands. He gallantly placed
the pots, one on the right, the other on the left of Gervaise's glass;
then bending over and kissing her, he said:

"I had forgotten you, my lamb. But in spite of that, we love each other
all the same, especially on such a day as this."

"Monsieur Coupeau's very nice this evening," murmured Clemence in
Boche's ear. "He's just got what he required, sufficient to make him

The good behavior of the master of the house restored the gaiety of the
proceedings, which at one moment had been compromised. Gervaise, once
more at her ease, was all smiles again. The guests finished their soup.
Then the bottles circulated and they drank their first glass of wine,
just a drop pure, to wash down the vermicelli. One could hear the
children quarrelling in the next room. There were Etienne, Pauline, Nana
and little Victor Fauconnier. It had been decided to lay a table for the
four of them, and they had been told to be very good. That squint-eyed
Augustine who had to look after the stoves was to eat off her knees.

"Mamma! Mamma!" suddenly screamed Nana, "Augustine is dipping her bread
in the Dutch oven!"

The laundress hastened there and caught the squint-eyed one in the act
of burning her throat in her attempts to swallow without loss of time a
slice of bread soaked in boiling goose fat. She boxed her ears when the
young monkey called out that it was not true. When, after the boiled
beef, the stewed veal appeared, served in a salad-bowl, as they did not
have a dish large enough, the party greeted it with a laugh.

"It's becoming serious," declared Poisson, who seldom spoke.

It was half-past seven. They had closed the shop door, so as not to be
spied upon by the whole neighborhood; the little clockmaker opposite
especially was opening his eyes to their full size and seemed to take
the pieces from their mouths with such a gluttonous look that it
almost prevented them from eating. The curtains hung before the windows
admitted a great white uniform light which bathed the entire table with
its symmetrical arrangement of knives and forks and its pots of flowers
enveloped in tall collars of white paper; and this pale fading light,
this slowly approaching dusk, gave to the party somewhat of an air of
distinction. Virginie looked round the closed apartment hung with muslin
and with a happy criticism declared it to be very cozy. Whenever a cart
passed in the street the glasses jingled together on the table cloth and
the ladies were obliged to shout out as loud as the men. But there was
not much conversation; they all behaved very respectably and were very
attentive to each other. Coupeau alone wore a blouse, because as he said
one need not stand on ceremony with friends and besides which the blouse
was the workman's garb of honor. The ladies, laced up in their bodices,
wore their hair in plaits greasy with pomatum in which the daylight was
reflected; whilst the gentlemen, sitting at a distance from the table,
swelled out their chests and kept their elbows wide apart for fear of
staining their frock coats.

Ah! thunder! What a hole they were making in the stewed veal! If they
spoke little, they were chewing in earnest. The salad-bowl was becoming
emptier and emptier with a spoon stuck in the midst of the thick
sauce--a good yellow sauce which quivered like a jelly. They fished
pieces of veal out of it and seemed as though they would never come to
the end; the salad-bowl journeyed from hand to hand and faces bent over
it as forks picked out the mushrooms. The long loaves standing against
the wall behind the guests appeared to melt away. Between the mouthfuls
one could hear the sound of glasses being replaced on the table. The
sauce was a trifle too salty. It required four bottles of wine to
drown that blessed stewed veal, which went down like cream, but which
afterwards lit up a regular conflagration in one's stomach. And before
one had time to take a breath, the pig's back, in the middle of a deep
dish surrounded by big round potatoes, arrived in the midst of a cloud
of smoke. There was one general cry. By Jove! It was just the thing!
Everyone liked it. They would do it justice; and they followed the dish
with a side glance as they wiped their knives on their bread so as to be
in readiness. Then as soon as they were helped they nudged one another
and spoke with their mouths full. It was just like butter! Something
sweet and solid which one could feel run through one's guts right down
into one's boots. The potatoes were like sugar. It was not a bit salty;
only, just on account of the potatoes, it required a wetting every few
minutes. Four more bottles were placed on the table. The plates were
wiped so clean that they also served for the green peas and bacon. Oh!
vegetables were of no consequence. They playfully gulped them down in
spoonfuls. The best part of the dish was the small pieces of bacon
just nicely grilled and smelling like horse's hoof. Two bottles were
sufficient for them.

"Mamma! Mamma!" called out Nana suddenly, "Augustine's putting her
fingers in my plate!"

"Don't bother me! give her a slap!" replied Gervaise, in the act of
stuffing herself with green peas.

At the children's table in the back-room, Nana was playing the role
of lady of the house, sitting next to Victor and putting her brother
Etienne beside Pauline so they could play house, pretending they were
two married couples. Nana had served her guests very politely at first,
but now she had given way to her passion for grilled bacon, trying to
keep every piece for herself. While Augustine was prowling around the
children's table, she would grab the bits of bacon under the pretext
of dividing them amongst the children. Nana was so furious that she bit
Augustine on the wrist.

"Ah! you know," murmured Augustine, "I'll tell your mother that after
the veal you asked Victor to kiss you."

But all became quiet again as Gervaise and mother Coupeau came in to get
the goose. The guests at the big table were leaning back in their chairs
taking a breather. The men had unbuttoned their waistcoats, the ladies
were wiping their faces with their napkins. The repast was, so to say,
interrupted; only one or two persons, unable to keep their jaws still,
continued to swallow large mouthfuls of bread, without even knowing that
they were doing so. The others were waiting and allowing their food to
settle while waiting for the main course. Night was slowly coming on; a
dirty ashy grey light was gathering behind the curtains. When Augustine
brought two lamps and placed one at each end of the table, the general
disorder became apparent in the bright glare--the greasy forks and
plates, the table cloth stained with wine and covered with crumbs. A
strong stifling odor pervaded the room. Certain warm fumes, however,
attracted all the noses in the direction of the kitchen.

"Can I help you?" cried Virginie.

She left her chair and passed into the inner room. All the women
followed one by one. They surrounded the Dutch oven, and watched with
profound interest as Gervaise and mother Coupeau tried to pull the bird
out. Then a clamor arose, in the midst of which one could distinguish
the shrill voices and the joyful leaps of the children. And there was
a triumphal entry. Gervaise carried the goose, her arms stiff, and her
perspiring face expanded in one broad silent laugh; the women walked
behind her, laughing in the same way; whilst Nana, right at the end,
raised herself up to see, her eyes open to their full extent. When the
enormous golden goose, streaming with gravy, was on the table, they did
not attack it at once. It was a wonder, a respectful wonderment, which
for a moment left everyone speechless. They drew one another's attention
to it with winks and nods of the head. Golly! What a bird!

"That one didn't get fat by licking the walls, I'll bet!" said Boche.

Then they entered into details respecting the bird. Gervaise gave the
facts. It was the best she could get at the poulterer's in the Faubourg
Poissonniers; it weighed twelve and a half pounds on the scales at the
charcoal-dealer's; they had burnt nearly half a bushel of charcoal in
cooking it, and it had given three bowls full of drippings.

Virginie interrupted her to boast of having seen it before it was
cooked. "You could have eaten it just as it was," she said, "its skin
was so fine, like the skin of a blonde." All the men laughed at
this, smacking their lips. Lorilleux and Madame Lorilleux sniffed
disdainfully, almost choking with rage to see such a goose on
Clump-Clump's table.

"Well! We can't eat it whole," the laundress observed. "Who'll cut it
up? No, no, not me! It's too big; I'm afraid of it."

Coupeau offered his services. _Mon Dieu!_ it was very simple. You caught
hold of the limbs, and pulled them off; the pieces were good all the
same. But the others protested; they forcibly took possession of the
large kitchen knife which the zinc-worker already held in his hand,
saying that whenever he carved he made a regular graveyard of the
platter. Finally, Madame Lerat suggested in a friendly tone:

"Listen, it should be Monsieur Poisson; yes, Monsieur Poisson."

But, as the others did not appear to understand, she added in a more
flattering manner still:

"Why, yes, of course, it should be Monsieur Poisson, who's accustomed to
the use of arms."

And she passed the kitchen knife to the policeman. All round the table
they laughed with pleasure and approval. Poisson bowed his head with
military stiffness, and moved the goose before him. When he thrust
the knife into the goose, which cracked, Lorilleux was seized with an
outburst of patriotism.

"Ah! if it was a Cossack!" he cried.

"Have you ever fought with Cossacks, Monsieur Poisson?" asked Madame

"No, but I have with Bedouins," replied the policeman, who was cutting
off a wing. "There are no more Cossacks."

A great silence ensued. Necks were stretched out as every eye followed
the knife. Poisson was preparing a surprise. Suddenly he gave a last
cut; the hind-quarter of the bird came off and stood up on end, rump in
the air, making a bishop's mitre. Then admiration burst forth. None were
so agreeable in company as retired soldiers.

The policeman allowed several minutes for the company to admire the
bishop's mitre and then finished cutting the slices and arranging them
on the platter. The carving of the goose was now complete.

When the ladies complained that they were getting rather warm, Coupeau
opened the door to the street and the gaiety continued against the
background of cabs rattling down the street and pedestrians bustling
along the pavement. The goose was attacked furiously by the rested jaws.
Boche remarked that just having to wait and watch the goose being carved
had been enough to make the veal and pork slide down to his ankles.

Then ensued a famous tuck-in; that is to say, not one of the party
recollected ever having before run the risk of such a stomach-ache.
Gervaise, looking enormous, her elbows on the table, ate great pieces
of breast, without uttering a word, for fear of losing a mouthful, and
merely felt slightly ashamed and annoyed at exhibiting herself thus,
as gluttonous as a cat before Goujet. Goujet, however, was too busy
stuffing himself to notice that she was all red with eating. Besides,
in spite of her greediness, she remained so nice and good! She did not
speak, but she troubled herself every minute to look after Pere Bru,
and place some dainty bit on his plate. It was even touching to see this
glutton take a piece of wing almost from her mouth to give it to the
old fellow, who did not appear to be very particular, and who swallowed
everything with bowed head, almost besotted from having gobbled so much
after he had forgotten the taste of bread. The Lorilleuxs expended their
rage on the roast goose; they ate enough to last them three days; they
would have stowed away the dish, the table, the very shop, if they could
have ruined Clump-Clump by doing so. All the ladies had wanted a piece
of the breast, traditionally the ladies' portion. Madame Lerat, Madame
Boche, Madame Putois, were all picking bones; whilst mother Coupeau,
who adored the neck, was tearing off the flesh with her two last teeth.
Virginie liked the skin when it was nicely browned, and the other guests
gallantly passed their skin to her; so much so, that Poisson looked at
his wife severely, and bade her stop, because she had had enough as it
was. Once already, she had been a fortnight in bed, with her stomach
swollen out, through having eaten too much roast goose. But Coupeau got
angry and helped Virginie to the upper part of a leg, saying that, by
Jove's thunder! if she did not pick it, she wasn't a proper woman. Had
roast goose ever done harm to anybody? On the contrary, it cured all
complaints of the spleen. One could eat it without bread, like dessert.
He could go on swallowing it all night without being the least bit
inconvenienced; and, just to show off, he stuffed a whole drum-stick
into his mouth. Meanwhile, Clemence had got to the end of the rump, and
was sucking it with her lips, whilst she wriggled with laughter on her
chair because Boche was whispering all sorts of smutty things to her.
Ah, by Jove! Yes, there was a dinner! When one's at it, one's at it, you
know; and if one only has the chance now and then, one would be precious
stupid not to stuff oneself up to one's ears. Really, one could see
their sides puff out by degrees. They were cracking in their skins, the
blessed gormandizers! With their mouths open, their chins besmeared with
grease, they had such bloated red faces that one would have said they
were bursting with prosperity.

As for the wine, well, that was flowing as freely around the table
as water flows in the Seine. It was like a brook overflowing after a
rainstorm when the soil is parched. Coupeau raised the bottle high when
pouring to see the red jet foam in the glass. Whenever he emptied a
bottle, he would turn it upside down and shake it. One more dead solder!
In a corner of the laundry the pile of dead soldiers grew larger and
larger, a veritable cemetery of bottles onto which other debris from the
table was tossed.

Coupeau became indignant when Madame Putois asked for water. He took all
the water pitchers from the table. Do respectable citizens ever drink
water? Did she want to grow frogs in her stomach?

Many glasses were emptied at one gulp. You could hear the liquid
gurgling its way down the throats like rainwater in a drainpipe after a
storm. One might say it was raining wine. _Mon Dieu!_ the juice of the
grape was a remarkable invention. Surely the workingman couldn't get
along without his wine. Papa Noah must have planted his grapevine for
the benefit of zinc-workers, tailors and blacksmiths. It brightened you
up and refreshed you after a hard day's work.

Coupeau was in a high mood. He proclaimed that all the ladies present
were very cute, and jingled the three sous in his pocket as if they had
been five-franc pieces.

Even Goujet, who was ordinarily very sober, had taken plenty of wine.
Boche's eyes were narrowing, those of Lorilleux were paling, and Poisson
was developing expressions of stern severity on his soldierly face.
All the men were as drunk as lords and the ladies had reached a certain
point also, feeling so warm that they had to loosen their clothes. Only
Clemence carried this a bit too far.

Suddenly Gervaise recollected the six sealed bottles of wine. She had
forgotten to put them on the table with the goose; she fetched them, and
all the glasses were filled. Then Poisson rose, and holding his glass in
the air, said:

"I drink to the health of the missus."

All of them stood up, making a great noise with their chairs as they
moved. Holding out their arms, they clinked glasses in the midst of an
immense uproar.

"Here's to this day fifty years hence!" cried Virginie.

"No, no," replied Gervaise, deeply moved and smiling; "I shall be too
old. Ah! a day comes when one's glad to go."

Through the door, which was wide open, the neighborhood was looking on
and taking part in the festivities. Passers-by stopped in the broad ray
of light which shone over the pavement, and laughed heartily at seeing
all these people stuffing away so jovially.

The aroma from the roasted goose brought joy to the whole street. The
clerks on the sidewalk opposite thought they could almost taste the
bird. Others came out frequently to stand in front of their shops,
sniffing the air and licking their lips. The little jeweler was unable
to work, dizzy from having counted so many bottles. He seemed to have
lost his head among his merry little cuckoo clocks.

Yes, the neighbors were devoured with envy, as Coupeau said. But why
should there be any secret made about the matter? The party, now fairly
launched, was no longer ashamed of being seen at table; on the contrary,
it felt flattered and excited at seeing the crowd gathered there, gaping
with gluttony; it would have liked to have knocked out the shop-front
and dragged the table into the road-way, and there to have enjoyed the
dessert under the very nose of the public, and amidst the commotion of
the thoroughfare. Nothing disgusting was to be seen in them, was there?
Then there was no need to shut themselves in like selfish people.
Coupeau, noticing the little clockmaker looked very thirsty, held up a
bottle; and as the other nodded his head, he carried him the bottle
and a glass. A fraternity was established in the street. They drank to
anyone who passed. They called in any chaps who looked the right sort.
The feast spread, extending from one to another, to the degree that the
entire neighborhood of the Goutte-d'Or sniffed the grub, and held its
stomach, amidst a rumpus worthy of the devil and all his demons. For
some minutes, Madame Vigouroux, the charcoal-dealer, had been passing to
and fro before the door.

"Hi! Madame Vigouroux! Madame Vigouroux!" yelled the party.

She entered with a broad grin on her face, which was washed for once,
and so fat that the body of her dress was bursting. The men liked
pinching her, because they might pinch her all over without ever
encountering a bone. Boche made room for her beside him and reached
slyly under the table to grab her knee. But she, being accustomed to
that sort of thing, quietly tossed off a glass of wine, and related that
all the neighbors were at their windows, and that some of the people of
the house were beginning to get angry.

"Oh, that's our business," said Madame Boche. "We're the concierges,
aren't we? Well, we're answerable for good order. Let them come and
complain to us, we'll receive them in a way they don't expect."

In the back-room there had just been a furious fight between Nana and
Augustine, on account of the Dutch oven, which both wanted to scrape
out. For a quarter of an hour, the Dutch oven had rebounded over the
tile floor with the noise of an old saucepan. Nana was now nursing
little Victor, who had a goose-bone in his throat. She pushed her
fingers under his chin, and made him swallow big lumps of sugar by way
of a remedy. That did not prevent her keeping an eye on the big table.
At every minute she came and asked for wine, bread, or meat, for Etienne
and Pauline, she said.

"Here! Burst!" her mother would say to her. "Perhaps you'll leave us in
peace now!"

The children were scarcely able to swallow any longer, but they
continued to eat all the same, banging their forks down on the table to
the tune of a canticle, in order to excite themselves.

In the midst of the noise, however, a conversation was going on between
Pere Bru and mother Coupeau. The old fellow, who was ghastly pale in
spite of the wine and the food, was talking of his sons who had died in
the Crimea. Ah! if the lads had only lived, he would have had bread to
eat every day. But mother Coupeau, speaking thickly, leant towards him
and said:

"Ah! one has many worries with children! For instance, I appear to be
happy here, don't I? Well! I cry more often than you think. No, don't
wish you still had your children."

Pere Bru shook his head.

"I can't get work anywhere," murmured he. "I'm too old. When I enter a
workshop the young fellows joke, and ask me if I polished Henri IV.'s
boots. To-day it's all over; they won't have me anywhere. Last year I
could still earn thirty sous a day painting a bridge. I had to lie on
my back with the river flowing under me. I've had a bad cough ever since
then. Now, I'm finished."

He looked at his poor stiff hands and added:

"It's easy to understand, I'm no longer good for anything. They're
right; were I in their place I should do the same. You see, the
misfortune is that I'm not dead. Yes, it's my fault. One should lie down
and croak when one's no longer able to work."

"Really," said Lorilleux, who was listening, "I don't understand why
the Government doesn't come to the aid of the invalids of labor. I was
reading that in a newspaper the other day."

But Poisson thought it his duty to defend the Government.

"Workmen are not soldiers," declared he. "The Invalides is for soldiers.
You must not ask for what is impossible."

Dessert was now served. In the centre of the table was a Savoy cake in
the form of a temple, with a dome fluted with melon slices; and this
dome was surmounted by an artificial rose, close to which was a silver
paper butterfly, fluttering at the end of a wire. Two drops of gum in
the centre of the flower imitated dew. Then, to the left, a piece of
cream cheese floated in a deep dish; whilst in another dish to the
right, were piled up some large crushed strawberries, with the juice
running from them. However, there was still some salad left, some large
coss lettuce leaves soaked with oil.

"Come, Madame Boche," said Gervaise, coaxingly, "a little more salad. I
know how fond you are of it."

"No, no, thank you! I've already had as much as I can manage," replied
the concierge.

The laundress turning towards Virginie, the latter put her finger in her
mouth, as though to touch the food she had taken.

"Really, I'm full," murmured she. "There's no room left. I couldn't
swallow a mouthful."

"Oh! but if you tried a little," resumed Gervaise with a smile. "One can
always find a tiny corner empty. Once doesn't need to be hungry to be
able to eat salad. You're surely not going to let this be wasted?"

"You can eat it to-morrow," said Madame Lerat; "it's nicer when its

The ladies sighed as they looked regretfully at the salad-bowl. Clemence
related that she had one day eaten three bunches of watercresses at
her lunch. Madame Putois could do more than that, she would take a coss
lettuce and munch it up with some salt just as it was without separating
the leaves. They could all have lived on salad, would have treated
themselves to tubfuls. And, this conversation aiding, the ladies cleaned
out the salad-bowl.

"I could go on all fours in a meadow," observed the concierge with her
mouth full.

Then they chuckled together as they eyed the dessert. Dessert did not
count. It came rather late but that did not matter; they would nurse
it all the same. When you're that stuffed, you can't let yourself be
stopped by strawberries and cake. There was no hurry. They had
the entire night if they wished. So they piled their plates with
strawberries and cream cheese. Meanwhile the men lit their pipes. They
were drinking the ordinary wine while they smoked since the special wine
had been finished. Now they insisted that Gervaise cut the Savoy cake.
Poisson got up and took the rose from the cake and presented it in
his most gallant manner to the hostess amidst applause from the other
guests. She pinned it over her left breast, near the heart. The silver
butterfly fluttered with her every movement.

"Well, look," exclaimed Lorilleux, who had just made a discovery, "it's
your work-table that we're eating off! Ah, well! I daresay it's never
seen so much work before!"

This malicious joke had a great success. Witty allusions came from all
sides. Clemence could not swallow a spoonful of strawberries without
saying that it was another shirt ironed; Madame Lerat pretended that the
cream cheese smelt of starch; whilst Madame Lorilleux said between her
teeth that it was capital fun to gobble up the money so quickly on the
very boards on which one had had so much trouble to earn it. There was
quite a tempest of shouts and laughter.

But suddenly a loud voice called for silence. It was Boche who, standing
up in an affected and vulgar way, was commencing to sing "The Volcano of
Love, or the Seductive Trooper."

A thunder of applause greeted the first verse. Yes, yes, they would sing
songs! Everyone in turn. It was more amusing than anything else. And
they all put their elbows on the table or leant back in their chairs,
nodding their heads at the best parts and sipping their wine when they
came to the choruses. That rogue Boche had a special gift for comic
songs. He would almost make the water pitchers laugh when he imitated
the raw recruit with his fingers apart and his hat on the back of his
head. Directly after "The Volcano of Love," he burst out into "The
Baroness de Follebiche," one of his greatest successes. When he reached
the third verse he turned towards Clemence and almost murmured it in a
slow and voluptuous tone of voice:

     "The baroness had people there,
          Her sisters four, oh! rare surprise;
     And three were dark, and one was fair;
          Between them, eight bewitching eyes."

Then the whole party, carried away, joined in the chorus. The men beat
time with their heels, whilst the ladies did the same with their knives
against their glasses. All of them singing at the top of their voices:

     "By Jingo! who on earth will pay
          A drink to the pa--to the pa--pa--?
     By Jingo! who on earth will pay
          A drink to the pa--to the pa--tro--o--l?"

The panes of glass of the shop-front resounded, the singers' great
volume of breath agitated the muslin curtains. Whilst all this was going
on, Virginie had already twice disappeared and each time, on returning,
had leant towards Gervaise's ear to whisper a piece of information. When
she returned the third time, in the midst of the uproar, she said to

"My dear, he's still at Francois's; he's pretending to read the
newspaper. He's certainly meditating some evil design."

She was speaking of Lantier. It was him that she had been watching. At
each fresh report Gervaise became more and more grave.

"Is he drunk?" asked she of Virginie.

"No," replied the tall brunette. "He looks as though he had merely had
what he required. It's that especially which makes me anxious. Why does
he remain there if he's had all he wanted? _Mon Dieu!_ I hope nothing is
going to happen!"

The laundress, greatly upset, begged her to leave off. A profound
silence suddenly succeeded the clamor. Madame Putois had just risen and
was about to sing "The Boarding of the Pirate." The guests, silent and
thoughtful, watched her; even Poisson had laid his pipe down on the
edge of the table the better to listen to her. She stood up to the full
height of her little figure, with a fierce expression about her, though
her face looked quite pale beneath her black cap; she thrust out her
left fist with a satisfied pride as she thundered in a voice bigger than

     "If the pirate audacious
     Should o'er the waves chase us,
     The buccaneer slaughter,
     Accord him no quarter.
     To the guns every man,
     And with rum fill each can!
     While these pests of the seas
     Dangle from the cross-trees."

That was something serious. By Jove! it gave one a fine idea of the real
thing. Poisson, who had been on board ship nodded his head in approval
of the description. One could see too that that song was in accordance
with Madame Putois's own feeling. Coupeau then told how Madame Putois,
one evening on Rue Poulet, had slapped the face of four men who sought
to attack her virtue.

With the assistance of mother Coupeau, Gervaise was now serving the
coffee, though some of the guests had not yet finished their Savoy cake.
They would not let her sit down again, but shouted that it was her turn.
With a pale face, and looking very ill at ease, she tried to excuse
herself; she seemed so queer that someone inquired whether the goose
had disagreed with her. She finally gave them "Oh! let me slumber!" in a
sweet and feeble voice. When she reached the chorus with its wish for
a sleep filled with beautiful dreams, her eyelids partly closed and her
rapt gaze lost itself in the darkness of the street.

Poisson stood next and with an abrupt bow to the ladies, sang a drinking
song: "The Wines of France." But his voice wasn't very musical and only
the final verse, a patriotic one mentioning the tricolor flag, was a
success. Then he raised his glass high, juggled it a moment, and poured
the contents into his open mouth.

Then came a string of ballads; Madame Boche's barcarolle was all about
Venice and the gondoliers; Madame Lorilleux sang of Seville and the
Andalusians in her bolero; whilst Lorilleux went so far as to allude to
the perfumes of Arabia, in reference to the loves of Fatima the dancer.

Golden horizons were opening up all around the heavily laden table. The
men were smoking their pipes and the women unconsciously smiling with
pleasure. All were dreaming they were far away.

Clemence began to sing softly "Let's Make a Nest" with a tremolo in
her voice which pleased them greatly for it made them think of the open
country, of songbirds, of dancing beneath an arbor, and of flowers. In
short, it made them think of the Bois de Vincennes when they went there
for a picnic.

But Virginie revived the joking with "My Little Drop of Brandy." She
imitated a camp follower, with one hand on her hip, the elbow arched to
indicate the little barrel; and with the other hand she poured out the
brandy into space by turning her fist round. She did it so well that
the party then begged mother Coupeau to sing "The Mouse." The old woman
refused, vowing that she did not know that naughty song. Yet she started
off with the remnants of her broken voice; and her wrinkled face
with its lively little eyes underlined the allusions, the terrors of
Mademoiselle Lise drawing her skirts around her at the sight of a mouse.
All the table laughed; the women could not keep their countenances, and
continued casting bright glances at their neighbors; it was not indecent
after all, there were no coarse words in it. All during the song Boche
was playing mouse up and down the legs of the lady coal-dealer. Things
might have gotten a bit out of line if Goujet, in response to a glance
from Gervaise, had not brought back the respectful silence with "The
Farewell of Abdul-Kader," which he sang out loudly in his bass voice.
The song rang out from his golden beard as if from a brass trumpet.
All the hearts skipped a beat when he cried, "Ah, my noble comrade!"
referring to the warrior's black mare. They burst into applause even
before the end.

"Now, Pere Bru, it's your turn!" said mother Coupeau. "Sing your song.
The old ones are the best any day!"

And everybody turned towards the old man, pressing him and encouraging
him. He, in a state of torpor, with his immovable mask of tanned skin,
looked at them without appearing to understand. They asked him if he
knew the "Five Vowels." He held down his head; he could not recollect
it; all the songs of the good old days were mixed up in his head. As
they made up their minds to leave him alone, he seemed to remember, and
began to stutter in a cavernous voice:

     "Trou la la, trou la la,
     Trou la, trou la, trou la la!"

His face assumed an animated expression, this chorus seemed to awake
some far-off gaieties within him, enjoyed by himself alone, as he
listened with a childish delight to his voice which became more and more

"Say there, my dear," Virginie came and whispered in Gervaise's ear,
"I've just been there again, you know. It worried me. Well! Lantier has
disappeared from Francois's."

"You didn't meet him outside?" asked the laundress.

"No, I walked quickly, not as if I was looking for him."

But Virginie raised her eyes, interrupted herself and heaved a smothered

"Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ He's there, on the pavement opposite; he's looking this

Gervaise, quite beside herself, ventured to glance in the direction
indicated. Some persons had collected in the street to hear the party
sing. And Lantier was indeed there in the front row, listening and
coolly looking on. It was rare cheek, everything considered. Gervaise
felt a chill ascend from her legs to her heart, and she no longer dared
to move, whilst old Bru continued:

     "Trou la la, trou la la,
     Trou la, trou la, trou la la!"

"Very good. Thank you, my ancient one, that's enough!" said Coupeau. "Do
you know the whole of it? You shall sing it for us another day when we
need something sad."

This raised a few laughs. The old fellow stopped short, glanced round
the table with his pale eyes and resumed his look of a meditative
animal. Coupeau called for more wine as the coffee was finished.
Clemence was eating strawberries again. With the pause in singing, they
began to talk about a woman who had been found hanging that morning in
the building next door. It was Madame Lerat's turn, but she required
to prepare herself. She dipped the corner of her napkin into a glass of
water and applied it to her temples because she was too hot. Then, she
asked for a thimbleful of brandy, drank it, and slowly wiped her lips.

"The 'Child of God,' shall it be?" she murmured, "the 'Child of God.'"

And, tall and masculine-looking, with her bony nose and her shoulders as
square as a grenadier's she began:

     "The lost child left by its mother alone
     Is sure of a home in Heaven above,
     God sees and protects it on earth from His throne,
     The child that is lost is the child of God's love."

Her voice trembled at certain words, and dwelt on them in liquid notes;
she looked out of the corner of her eyes to heaven, whilst her right
hand swung before her chest or pressed against her heart with an
impressive gesture. Then Gervaise, tortured by Lantier's presence, could
not restrain her tears; it seemed to her that the song was relating her
own suffering, that she was the lost child, abandoned by its mother, and
whom God was going to take under his protection. Clemence was now very
drunk and she burst into loud sobbing and placed her head down onto the
table in an effort to smother her gasps. There was a hush vibrant with

The ladies had pulled out their handkerchiefs, and were drying their
eyes, with their heads erect from pride. The men had bowed their heads
and were staring straight before them, blinking back their tears.
Poisson bit off the end of his pipe twice while gulping and gasping.
Boche, with two large tears trickling down his face, wasn't even
bothering to squeeze the coal-dealer's knee any longer. All these drunk
revelers were as soft-hearted as lambs. Wasn't the wine almost coming
out of their eyes? When the refrain began again, they all let themselves
go, blubbering into their plates.

But Gervaise and Virginie could not, in spite of themselves, take their
eyes off the pavement opposite. Madame Boche, in her turn, caught sight
of Lantier and uttered a faint cry without ceasing to besmear her face
with her tears. Then all three had very anxious faces as they exchanged
involuntary signs. _Mon Dieu!_ if Coupeau were to turn round, if Coupeau
caught sight of the other! What a butchery! What carnage! And they went
on to such an extent that the zinc-worker asked them:

"Whatever are you looking at?"

He leant forward and recognized Lantier.

"Damnation! It's too much," muttered he. "Ah! the dirty scoundrel--ah!
the dirty scoundrel. No, it's too much, it must come to an end."

And as he rose from his seat muttering most atrocious threats, Gervaise,
in a low voice, implored him to keep quiet.

"Listen to me, I implore you. Leave the knife alone. Remain where you
are, don't do anything dreadful."

Virginie had to take the knife which he had picked up off the table
from him. But she could not prevent him leaving the shop and going up to

Those around the table saw nothing of this, so involved were they in
weeping over the song as Madame Lerat sang the last verse. It sounded
like a moaning wail of the wind and Madame Putois was so moved that she
spilled her wine over the table. Gervaise remained frozen with fright,
one hand tight against her lips to stifle her sobs. She expected at any
moment to see one of the two men fall unconscious in the street.

As Coupeau rushed toward Lantier, he was so astonished by the fresh air
that he staggered, and Lantier, with his hands in his pockets, merely
took a step to the side. Now the two men were almost shouting at each
other, Coupeau calling the other a lousy pig and threatening to make
sausage of his guts. They were shouting loudly and angrily and waving
their arms violently. Gervaise felt faint and as it continued for a
while, she closed her eyes. Suddenly, she didn't hear any shouting and
opened her eyes. The two men were chatting amiably together.

Madame Lerat's voice rose higher and higher, warbling another verse.

Gervaise exchanged a glance with Madame Boche and Virginie. Was it going
to end amicably then? Coupeau and Lantier continued to converse on
the edge of the pavement. They were still abusing each other, but in a
friendly way. As people were staring at them, they ended by strolling
leisurely side by side past the houses, turning round again every ten
yards or so. A very animated conversation was now taking place. Suddenly
Coupeau appeared to become angry again, whilst the other was refusing
something and required to be pressed. And it was the zinc-worker who
pushed Lantier along and who forced him to cross the street and enter
the shop.

"I tell you, you're quite welcome!" shouted he. "You'll take a glass of
wine. Men are men, you know. We ought to understand each other."

Madame Lerat was finishing the last chorus. The ladies were singing all
together as they twisted their handkerchiefs.

"The child that is lost is the child of God's love."

The singer was greatly complimented and she resumed her seat affecting
to be quite broken down. She asked for something to drink because she
always put too much feeling into that song and she was constantly afraid
of straining her vocal chords. Everyone at the table now had their eyes
fixed on Lantier who, quietly seated beside Coupeau, was devouring the
last piece of Savoy cake which he dipped in his glass of wine. With the
exception of Virginie and Madame Boche none of the guests knew him. The
Lorilleuxs certainly scented some underhand business, but not knowing
what, they merely assumed their most conceited air. Goujet, who had
noticed Gervaise's emotion, gave the newcomer a sour look. As an awkward
pause ensued Coupeau simply said:

"A friend of mine."

And turning to his wife, added:

"Come, stir yourself! Perhaps there's still some hot coffee left."

Gervaise, feeling meek and stupid, looked at them one after the other.
At first, when her husband pushed her old lover into the shop, she
buried her head between her hands, the same as she instinctively did on
stormy days at each clap of thunder. She could not believe it possible;
the walls would fall in and crush them all. Then, when she saw the two
sitting together peacefully, she suddenly accepted it as quite natural.
A happy feeling of languor benumbed her, retained her all in a heap at
the edge of the table, with the sole desire of not being bothered. _Mon
Dieu!_ what is the use of putting oneself out when others do not, and
when things arrange themselves to the satisfaction of everybody? She got
up to see if there was any coffee left.

In the back-room the children had fallen asleep. That squint-eyed
Augustine had tyrannized over them all during the dessert, pilfering
their strawberries and frightening them with the most abominable
threats. Now she felt very ill, and was bent double upon a stool, not
uttering a word, her face ghastly pale. Fat Pauline had let her head
fall against Etienne's shoulder, and he himself was sleeping on the
edge of the table. Nana was seated with Victor on the rug beside the
bedstead, she had passed her arm round his neck and was drawing him
towards her; and, succumbing to drowsiness and with her eyes shut, she
kept repeating in a feeble voice:

"Oh! Mamma, I'm not well; oh! mamma, I'm not well."

"No wonder!" murmured Augustine, whose head was rolling about on her
shoulders, "they're drunk; they've been singing like grown up persons."

Gervaise received another blow on beholding Etienne. She felt as though
she would choke when she thought of the youngster's father being there
in the other room, eating cake, and that he had not even expressed
a desire to kiss the little fellow. She was on the point of rousing
Etienne and of carrying him there in her arms. Then she again felt that
the quiet way in which matters had been arranged was the best. It would
not have been proper to have disturbed the harmony of the end of the
dinner. She returned with the coffee-pot and poured out a glass of
coffee for Lantier, who, by the way, did not appear to take any notice
of her.

"Now, it's my turn," stuttered Coupeau, in a thick voice. "You've
been keeping the best for the last. Well! I'll sing you 'That Piggish

"Yes, yes, 'That Piggish Child,'" cried everyone.

The uproar was beginning again. Lantier was forgotten. The ladies
prepared their glasses and their knives for accompanying the chorus.
They laughed beforehand, as they looked at the zinc-worker, who steadied
himself on his legs as he put on his most vulgar air. Mimicking the
hoarse voice of an old woman, he sang:

     "When out of bed each morn I hop,
     I'm always precious queer;
     I send him for a little drop
     To the drinking-ken that's near.
     A good half hour or more he'll stay,
     And that makes me so riled,
     He swigs it half upon his way:
     What a piggish child!"

And the ladies, striking their glasses, repeated in chorus in the midst
of a formidable gaiety:

     "What a piggish child!
     What a piggish child!"

Even the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or itself joined in now. The whole
neighborhood was singing "What a piggish child!" The little clockmaker,
the grocery clerks, the tripe woman and the fruit woman all knew the
song and joined in the chorus. The entire street seemed to be getting
drunk on the odors from the Coupeau party. In the reddish haze from the
two lamps, the noise of the party was enough to shut out the rumbling
of the last vehicles in the street. Two policemen rushed over, thinking
there was a riot, but on recognizing Poisson, they saluted him smartly
and went away between the darkened buildings.

Coupeau was now singing this verse:

     "On Sundays at Petite Villette,
     Whene'er the weather's fine,
     We call on uncle, old Tinette,
     Who's in the dustman line.
     To feast upon some cherry stones
     The young un's almost wild,
     And rolls amongst the dust and bones,
     What a piggish child!
     What a piggish child!"

Then the house almost collapsed, such a yell ascended in the calm warm
night air that the shouters applauded themselves, for it was useless
their hoping to be able to bawl any louder.

Not one of the party could ever recollect exactly how the carouse
terminated. It must have been very late, it's quite certain, for not
a cat was to be seen in the street. Possibly too, they had all joined
hands and danced round the table. But all was submerged in a yellow
mist, in which red faces were jumping about, with mouths slit from ear
to ear. They had probably treated themselves to something stronger than
wine towards the end, and there was a vague suspicion that some one had
played them the trick of putting salt into the glasses. The children
must have undressed and put themselves to bed. On the morrow, Madame
Boche boasted of having treated Boche to a couple of clouts in a corner,
where he was conversing a great deal too close to the charcoal-dealer;
but Boche, who recollected nothing, said she must have dreamt it.
Everyone agreed that it wasn't very decent the way Clemence had carried
on. She had ended by showing everything she had and then been so sick
that she had completely ruined one of the muslin curtains. The men
had at least the decency to go into the street; Lorilleux and Poisson,
feeling their stomachs upset, had stumblingly glided as far as the
pork-butcher's shop. It is easy to see when a person has been well
brought up. For instance, the ladies, Madame Putois, Madame Lerat, and
Virginie, indisposed by the heat, had simply gone into the back-room and
taken their stays off; Virginie had even desired to lie on the bed for
a minute, just to obviate any unpleasant effects. Thus the party
had seemed to melt away, some disappearing behind the others, all
accompanying one another, and being lost sight of in the surrounding
darkness, to the accompaniment of a final uproar, a furious quarrel
between the Lorilleuxs, and an obstinate and mournful "trou la la, trou
la la," of old Bru's. Gervaise had an idea that Goujet had burst out
sobbing when bidding her good-bye; Coupeau was still singing; and as
for Lantier, he must have remained till the end. At one moment even, she
could still feel a breath against her hair, but she was unable to say
whether it came from Lantier or if it was the warm night air.

Since Madame Lerat didn't want to return to Les Batignolles at such a
late hour, they took one of the mattresses off the bed and spread it
for her in a corner of the shop, after pushing back the table. She
slept right there amid all the dinner crumbs. All night long, while
the Coupeaus were sleeping, a neighbor's cat took advantage of an open
window and was crunching the bones of the goose with its sharp teeth,
giving the bird its final resting place.


On the following Saturday Coupeau, who had not come home to dinner,
brought Lantier with him towards ten o'clock. They had had some sheep's
trotters at Chez Thomas at Montmartre.

"You mustn't scold, wife," said the zinc-worker. "We're sober, as you
can see. Oh! there's no fear with him; he keeps one on the straight

And he related how they happened to meet in the Rue Rochechouart. After
dinner Lantier had declined to have a drink at the "Black Ball," saying
that when one was married to a pretty and worthy little woman, one ought
not to go liquoring-up at all the wineshops. Gervaise smiled slightly
as she listened. Oh! she was not thinking of scolding, she felt too much
embarrassed for that. She had been expecting to see her former lover
again some day ever since their dinner party; but at such an hour, when
she was about to go to bed, the unexpected arrival of the two men had
startled her. Her hands were quivering as she pinned back the hair which
had slid down her neck.

"You know," resumed Coupeau, "as he was so polite as to decline a drink
outside, you must treat us to one here. Ah! you certainly owe us that!"

The workwomen had left long ago. Mother Coupeau and Nana had just gone
to bed. Gervaise, who had been just about to put up the shutters when
they appeared, left the shop open and brought some glasses which she
placed on a corner of the work-table with what was left of a bottle of

Lantier remained standing and avoided speaking directly to her. However,
when she served him, he exclaimed:

"Only a thimbleful, madame, if you please."

Coupeau looked at them and then spoke his mind very plainly. They were
not going to behave like a couple of geese he hoped! The past was past
was it not? If people nursed grudges for nine and ten years together one
would end by no longer seeing anybody. No, no, he carried his heart
in his hand, he did! First of all, he knew who he had to deal with, a
worthy woman and a worthy man--in short two friends! He felt easy; he
knew he could depend upon them.

"Oh! that's certain, quite certain," repeated Gervaise, looking on the
ground and scarcely understanding what she said.

"She is a sister now--nothing but a sister!" murmured Lantier in his

"_Mon Dieu!_ shake hands," cried Coupeau, "and let those who don't like
it go to blazes! When one has proper feelings one is better off than
millionaires. For myself I prefer friendship before everything because
friendship is friendship and there's nothing to beat it."

He dealt himself heavy blows on the chest, and seemed so moved that
they had to calm him. They all three silently clinked glasses, and drank
their drop of brandy. Gervaise was then able to look at Lantier at her
ease; for on the night of her saint's day, she had only seen him through
a fog. He had grown more stout, his arms and legs seeming too heavy
because of his small stature. His face was still handsome even though it
was a little puffy now due to his life of idleness. He still took great
pains with his narrow moustache. He looked about his actual age. He was
wearing grey trousers, a heavy blue overcoat, and a round hat. He
even had a watch with a silver chain on which a ring was hanging as a
keepsake. He looked quite like a gentleman.

"I'm off," said he. "I live no end of a distance from here."

He was already on the pavement when the zinc-worker called him back to
make him promise never to pass the door without looking in to wish them
good day. Meanwhile Gervaise, who had quietly disappeared, returned
pushing Etienne before her. The child, who was in his shirt-sleeves and
half asleep, smiled as he rubbed his eyes. But when he beheld Lantier
he stood trembling and embarrassed, and casting anxious glances in the
direction of his mother and Coupeau.

"Don't you remember this gentleman?" asked the latter.

The child held down his head without replying. Then he made a slight
sign which meant that he did remember the gentleman.

"Well! Then, don't stand there like a fool; go and kiss him."

Lantier gravely and quietly waited. When Etienne had made up his mind
to approach him, he stooped down, presented both his cheeks, and then
kissed the youngster on the forehead himself. At this the boy ventured
to look at his father; but all on a sudden he burst out sobbing and
scampered away like a mad creature with his clothes half falling off
him, whilst Coupeau angrily called him a young savage.

"The emotion's too much for him," said Gervaise, pale and agitated

"Oh! he's generally very gentle and nice," exclaimed Coupeau. "I've
brought him up properly, as you'll see. He'll get used to you. He must
learn to know people. We can't stay mad. We should have made up a long
time ago for his sake. I'd rather have my head cut off than keep a
father from seeing his own son."

Having thus delivered himself, he talked of finishing the bottle of
brandy. All three clinked glasses again. Lantier showed no surprise, but
remained perfectly calm. By way of repaying the zinc-worker's politeness
he persisted in helping him put up the shutters before taking his
departure. Then rubbing his hands together to get rid of the dust on
them, he wished the couple good-night.

"Sleep well. I shall try and catch the last bus. I promise you I'll look
in again soon."

After that evening Lantier frequently called at the Rue de la
Goutte-d'Or. He came when the zinc-worker was there, inquiring after his
health the moment he passed the door and affecting to have solely called
on his account. Then clean-shaven, his hair nicely combed and always
wearing his overcoat, he would take a seat by the window and converse
politely with the manners of an educated man. It was thus that the
Coupeaus learnt little by little the details of his life. During the
last eight years he had for a while managed a hat factory; and when they
asked him why he had retired from it he merely alluded to the rascality
of a partner, a fellow from his native place, a scoundrel who had
squandered all the takings with women. His former position as an
employer continued to affect his entire personality, like a title of
nobility that he could not abandon. He was always talking of concluding
a magnificent deal with some hatmakers who were going to set him up in
business. While waiting for this he did nothing but stroll around all
day like one of the idle rich. If anyone dared to mention a hat factory
looking for workers, he smiled and said he was not interested in
breaking his back working for others.

A smart fellow like Lantier, according to Coupeau, knew how to take care
of himself. He always looked prosperous and it took money to look thus.
He must have some deal going. One morning Coupeau had seen him having
his shoes shined on the Boulevard Montmartre. Lantier was very talkative
about others, but the truth was that he told lies about himself. He
would not even say where he lived, only that he was staying with a
friend and there was no use in coming to see him because he was never

It was now early November. Lantier would gallantly bring bunches of
violets for Gervaise and the workwomen. He was now coming almost every
day. He won the favor of Clemence and Madame Putois with his little
attentions. At the end of the month they adored him. The Boches, whom he
flattered by going to pay his respects in their concierge's lodge, went
into ecstasies over his politeness.

As soon as the Lorilleuxs knew who he was, they howled at the impudence
of Gervaise in bringing her former lover into her home. However, one
day Lantier went to visit them and made such a good impression when he
ordered a necklace for a lady of his acquaintance that they invited
him to sit down. He stayed an hour and they were so charmed by his
conversation that they wondered how a man of such distinction had ever
lived with Clump-Clump. Soon Lantier's visits to the Coupeaus were
accepted as perfectly natural; he was in the good graces of everyone
along the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. Goujet was the only one who remained
cold. If he happened to be there when Lantier arrived, he would leave at
once as he didn't want to be obliged to be friendly to him.

In the midst, however, of all this extraordinary affection for Lantier,
Gervaise lived in a state of great agitation for the first few weeks.
She felt that burning sensation in the pit of her stomach which affected
her on the day when Virginie first alluded to her past life. Her great
fear was that she might find herself without strength, if he came upon
her all alone one night and took it into his head to kiss her. She
thought of him too much; she was for ever thinking of him. But she
gradually became calmer on seeing him behave so well, never looking her
in the face, never even touching her with the tips of his fingers when
no one was watching. Then Virginie, who seemed to read within her, made
her ashamed of all her wicked thoughts. Why did she tremble? Once could
not hope to come across a nicer man. She certainly had nothing to fear
now. And one day the tall brunette maneuvered in such a way as to get
them both into a corner, and to turn the conversation to the subject of
love. Lantier, choosing his words, declared in a grave voice that his
heart was dead, that for the future he wished to consecrate his life
solely for his son's happiness. Every evening he would kiss Etienne on
the forehead, yet he was apt to forget him in teasing back and forth
with Clemence. And he never mentioned Claude who was still in the south.
Gervaise began to feel at ease. Lantier's actual presence overshadowed
her memories, and seeing him all the time, she no longer dreamed about
him. She even felt a certain repugnance at the thought of their former
relationship. Yes, it was over. If he dared to approach her, she'd
box his ears, or even better, she'd tell her husband. Once again her
thoughts turned to Goujet and his affection for her.

One morning Clemence reported that the previous night, at about eleven
o'clock, she had seen Monsieur Lantier with a woman. She told about it
maliciously and in coarse terms to see how Gervaise would react. Yes,
Monsieur Lantier was on the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette with a blonde
and she followed them. They had gone into a shop where the worn-out and
used-up woman had bought some shrimps. Then they went to the Rue de La
Rochefoucauld. Monsieur Lantier had waited on the pavement in front of
the house while his lady friend went in alone. Then she had beckoned to
him from the window to join her.

No matter how Clemence went on with the story Gervaise went on
peacefully ironing a white dress. Sometimes she smiled faintly. These
southerners, she said, are all crazy about women; they have to have them
no matter what, even if they come from a dung heap. When Lantier came
in that evening, Gervaise was amused when Clemence teased him about the
blonde. He seemed to feel flattered that he had been seen. _Mon Dieu!_
she was just an old friend, he explained. He saw her from time to time.
She was quite stylish. He mentioned some of her former lovers, among
them a count, an important merchant and the son of a lawyer. He added
that a bit of playing around didn't mean a thing, his heart was dead. In
the end Clemence had to pay a price for her meanness. She certainly felt
Lantier pinching her hard two or three times without seeming to do so.
She was also jealous because she didn't reek of musk like that boulevard

When spring came, Lantier, who was now quite one of the family, talked
of living in the neighborhood, so as to be nearer his friends. He wanted
a furnished room in a decent house. Madame Boche, and even Gervaise
herself went searching about to find it for him. They explored the
neighboring streets. But he was always too difficult to please; he
required a big courtyard, a room on the ground floor; in fact, every
luxury imaginable. And then every evening, at the Coupeaus', he seemed
to measure the height of the ceilings, study the arrangement of the
rooms, and covet a similar lodging. Oh, he would never have asked for
anything better, he would willingly have made himself a hole in that
warm, quiet corner. Then each time he wound up his inspection with these

"By Jove! you are comfortably situated here."

One evening, when he had dined there, and was making the same remark
during the dessert, Coupeau, who now treated him most familiarly,
suddenly exclaimed:

"You must stay here, old boy, if it suits you. It's easily arranged."

And he explained that the dirty-clothes room, cleaned out, would make
a nice apartment. Etienne could sleep in the shop, on a mattress on the
floor, that was all.

"No, no," said Lantier, "I cannot accept. It would inconvenience you too
much. I know that it's willingly offered, but we should be too warm all
jumbled up together. Besides, you know, each one likes his liberty.
I should have to go through your room, and that wouldn't be exactly

"Ah, the rogue!" resumed the zinc-worker, choking with laughter, banging
his fist down on the table, "he's always thinking of something smutty!
But, you joker, we're of an inventive turn of mind! There're two windows
in the room, aren't there? Well, we'll knock one out and turn it into a
door. Then, you understand you come in by way of the courtyard, and
we can even stop up the other door, if we like. Thus you'll be in your
home, and we in ours."

A pause ensued. At length the hatter murmured:

"Ah, yes, in that manner perhaps we might. And yet no, I should be too
much in your way."

He avoided looking at Gervaise. But he was evidently waiting for a word
from her before accepting. She was very much annoyed at her husband's
idea; not that the thought of seeing Lantier living with them wounded
her feelings, or made her particularly uneasy, but she was wondering
where she would be able to keep the dirty clothes. Coupeau was going
on about the advantages of the arrangement. Their rent, five hundred
francs, had always been a bit steep. Their friend could pay twenty
francs a month for a nicely furnished room and it would help them with
the rent. He would be responsible for fixing up a big box under their
bed that would be large enough to hold all the dirty clothes. Gervaise
still hesitated. She looked toward mother Coupeau for guidance. Lantier
had won over mother Coupeau months ago by bringing her gum drops for her

"You would certainly not be in our way," Gervaise ended by saying. "We
could so arrange things--"

"No, no, thanks," repeated the hatter. "You're too kind; it would be
asking too much."

Coupeau could no longer restrain himself. Was he going to continue
making objections when they told him it was freely offered? He would
be obliging them. There, did he understand? Then in an excited tone of
voice he yelled:

"Etienne! Etienne!"

The youngster had fallen asleep on the table. He raised his head with a

"Listen, tell him that you wish it. Yes, that gentleman there. Tell him
as loud as you can: 'I wish it!'"

"I wish it!" stuttered Etienne, his voice thick with sleep.

Everyone laughed. But Lantier resumed his grave and impressive air. He
squeezed Coupeau's hand across the table as he said:

"I accept. It's in all good fellowship on both sides, is it not? Yes, I
accept for the child's sake."

The next day when the landlord, Monsieur Marescot, came to spend an
hour with the Boches, Gervaise mentioned the matter to him. He refused
angrily at first. Then, after a careful inspection of the premises,
particularly gazing upward to verify that the upper floors would not be
weakened, he finally granted permission on condition there would be
no expense to him. He had the Coupeaus sign a paper saying they would
restore everything to its original state on the expiration of the lease.

Coupeau brought in some friends of his that very evening--a mason, a
carpenter and a painter. They would do this job in the evenings as a
favor to him. Still, installing the door and cleaning up the room cost
over one hundred francs, not counting the wine that kept the work going.
Coupeau told his friends he'd pay them something later, out of the rent
from his tenant.

Then the furniture for the room had to be sorted out. Gervaise left
mother Coupeau's wardrobe where it was, and added a table and two chairs
taken from her own room. She had to buy a washing-stand and a bed with
mattress and bedclothes, costing one hundred and thirty francs, which
she was to pay off at ten francs a month. Although Lantier's twenty
francs would be used to pay off these debts for ten months, there would
be a nice little profit later.

It was during the early days of June that the hatter moved in. The day
before, Coupeau had offered to go with him and fetch his box, to save
him the thirty sous for a cab. But the other became quite embarrassed,
saying that the box was too heavy, as though he wished up to the last
moment to hide the place where he lodged. He arrived in the afternoon
towards three o'clock. Coupeau did not happen to be in. And Gervaise,
standing at the shop door became quite pale on recognizing the box
outside the cab. It was their old box, the one with which they had
journeyed from Plassans, all scratched and broken now and held together
by cords. She saw it return as she had often dreamt it would and it
needed no great stretch of imagination to believe that the same cab,
that cab in which that strumpet of a burnisher had played her such a
foul trick, had brought the box back again. Meanwhile Boche was giving
Lantier a helping hand. The laundress followed them in silence and
feeling rather dazed. When they had deposited their burden in the middle
of the room she said for the sake of saying something:

"Well! That's a good thing finished, isn't it?"

Then pulling herself together, seeing that Lantier, busy in undoing the
cords was not even looking at her, she added:

"Monsieur Boche, you must have a drink."

And she went and fetched a quart of wine and some glasses.

Just then Poisson passed along the pavement in uniform. She signaled to
him, winking her eye and smiling. The policeman understood perfectly.
When he was on duty and anyone winked their eye to him it meant a glass
of wine. He would even walk for hours up and down before the laundry
waiting for a wink. Then so as not to be seen, he would pass through the
courtyard and toss off the liquor in secret.

"Ah! ah!" said Lantier when he saw him enter, "it's you, Badingue."

He called him Badingue for a joke, just to show how little he cared for
the Emperor. Poisson put up with it in his stiff way without one knowing
whether it really annoyed him or not. Besides the two men, though
separated by their political convictions, had become very good friends.

"You know that the Emperor was once a policeman in London," said Boche
in his turn. "Yes, on my word! He used to take the drunken women to the

Gervaise had filled three glasses on the table. She would not drink
herself, she felt too sick at heart, but she stood there longing to
see what the box contained and watching Lantier remove the last cords.
Before raising the lid Lantier took his glass and clinked it with the

"Good health."

"Same to you," replied Boche and Poisson.

The laundress filled the glasses again. The three men wiped their lips
on the backs of their hands. And at last the hatter opened the box. It
was full of a jumble of newspapers, books, old clothes and underlinen,
in bundles. He took out successively a saucepan, a pair of boots, a bust
of Ledru-Rollin with the nose broken, an embroidered shirt and a pair of
working trousers. Gervaise could smell the odor of tobacco and that of a
man whose linen wasn't too clean, one who took care only of the outside,
of what people could see.

The old hat was no longer in the left corner. There was a pincushion
she did not recognize, doubtless a present from some woman. She became
calmer, but felt a vague sadness as she continued to watch the objects
that appeared, wondering if they were from her time or from the time of

"I say, Badingue, do you know this?" resumed Lantier.

He thrust under his nose a little book printed at Brussels. "The Amours
of Napoleon III." Illustrated with engravings. It related, among other
anecdotes, how the Emperor had seduced a girl of thirteen, the daughter
of a cook; and the picture represented Napoleon III., bare-legged, and
also wearing the grand ribbon of the Legion of Honor, pursuing a little
girl who was trying to escape his lust.

"Ah! that's it exactly!" exclaimed Boche, whose slyly ridiculous
instincts felt flattered by the sight. "It always happens like that!"

Poisson was seized with consternation, and he could not find a word to
say in the Emperor's defense. It was in a book, so he could not deny
it. Then, Lantier, continuing to push the picture under his nose in a
jeering way, he extended his arms and exclaimed:

"Well, so what?"

Lantier didn't reply, He busied himself arranging his books and
newspapers on a shelf in the wardrobe. He seemed upset not to have a
small bookshelf over his table, so Gervaise promised to get him one.
He had "The History of Ten Years" by Louis Blanc (except for the first
volume), Lamartine's "The Girondins" in installments, "The Mysteries of
Paris" and "The Wandering Jew" by Eugene Sue, and a quantity of booklets
on philosophic and humanitarian subjects picked up from used book

His newspapers were his prized possessions, a collection made over a
number of years. Whenever he read an article in a cafe that seemed to
him to agree with his own ideas, he would buy that newspaper and keep
it. He had an enormous bundle of them, papers of every date and every
title, piled up in no discernable order. He patted them and said to the
other two:

"You see that? No one else can boast of having anything to match it.
You can't imagine all that's in there. I mean, if they put into practice
only half the ideas, it would clean up the social order overnight. That
would be good medicine for your Emperor and all his stool pigeons."

The policeman's red mustache and beard began to bristle on his pale face
and he interrupted:

"And the army, tell me, what are you going to do about that?"

Lantier flew into a passion. He banged his fists down on the newspapers
as he yelled:

"I require the suppression of militarism, the fraternity of peoples.
I require the abolition of privileges, of titles, and of monopolies.
I require the equality of salaries, the division of benefits, the
glorification of the protectorate. All liberties, do you hear? All of
them! And divorce!"

"Yes, yes, divorce for morality!" insisted Boche.

Poisson had assumed a majestic air.

"Yet if I won't have your liberties, I'm free to refuse them," he

Lantier was choking with passion.

"If you don't want them--if you don't want them--" he replied. "No,
you're not free at all! If you don't want them, I'll send you off to
Devil's Island. Yes, Devil's Island with your Emperor and all the rats
of his crew."

They always quarreled thus every time they met. Gervaise, who did not
like arguments, usually interfered. She roused herself from the torpor
into which the sight of the box, full of the stale perfume of her past
love, had plunged her, and she drew the three men's attention to the

"Ah! yes," said Lantier, becoming suddenly calm and taking his glass.
"Good health!"

"Good health!" replied Boche and Poisson, clinking glasses with him.

Boche, however, was moving nervously about, troubled by an anxiety as he
looked at the policeman out of the corner of his eye.

"All this between ourselves, eh, Monsieur Poisson?" murmured he at
length. "We say and show you things to show off."

But Poisson did not let him finish. He placed his hand upon his heart,
as though to explain that all remained buried there. He certainly did
not go spying about on his friends. Coupeau arriving, they emptied a
second quart. Then the policeman went off by way of the courtyard and
resumed his stiff and measured tread along the pavement.

At the beginning of the new arrangement, the entire routine of the
establishment was considerably upset. Lantier had his own separate room,
with his own entrance and his own key. However, since they had decided
not to close off the door between the rooms, he usually came and went
through the shop. Besides, the dirty clothes were an inconvenience to
Gervaise because her husband never made the case he had promised and she
had to tuck the dirty laundry into any odd corner she could find. They
usually ended up under the bed and this was not very pleasant on warm
summer nights. She also found it a nuisance having to make up Etienne's
bed every evening in the shop. When her employees worked late, the lad
had to sleep in a chair until they finished.

Goujet had mentioned sending Etienne to Lille where a machinist he knew
was looking for apprentices. As the boy was unhappy at home and eager to
be out on his own, Gervaise seriously considered the proposal. Her only
fear was that Lantier would refuse. Since he had come to live with them
solely to be near his son, surely he wouldn't want to lose him only two
weeks after he moved in. However he approved whole-heartedly when she
timidly broached the matter to him. He said that young men needed to
see a bit of the country. The morning that Etienne left Lantier made a
speech to him, kissed him and ended by saying:

"Never forget that a workingman is not a slave, and that whoever is not
a workingman is a lazy drone."

The household was now able to get into the new routine. Gervaise became
accustomed to having dirty laundry lying all around. Lantier was forever
talking of important business deals. Sometimes he went out, wearing
fresh linen and neatly combed. He would stay out all night and on his
return pretend that he was completely exhausted because he had been
discussing very serious matters. Actually he was merely taking life
easy. He usually slept until ten. In the afternoons he would take a walk
if the weather was nice. If it was raining, he would sit in the shop
reading his newspaper. This atmosphere suited him. He always felt at his
ease with women and enjoyed listening to them.

Lantier first took his meals at Francois's, at the corner of the Rue
des Poissonniers. But of the seven days in the week he dined with the
Coupeaus on three or four; so much so that he ended by offering to board
with them and to pay them fifteen francs every Saturday. From that time
he scarcely ever left the house, but made himself completely at home
there. Morning to night he was in the shop, even giving orders and
attending to customers.

Lantier didn't like the wine from Francois's, so he persuaded Gervaise
to buy her wine from Vigouroux, the coal-dealer. Then he decided
that Coudeloup's bread was not baked to his satisfaction, so he sent
Augustine to the Viennese bakery on the Faubourg Poissonniers for their
bread. He changed from the grocer Lehongre but kept the butcher, fat
Charles, because of his political opinions. After a month he wanted all
the cooking done with olive oil. Clemence joked that with a Provencal
like him you could never wash out the oil stains. He wanted his omelets
fried on both sides, as hard as pancakes. He supervised mother Coupeau's
cooking, wanting his steaks cooked like shoe leather and with garlic on
everything. He got angry if she put herbs in the salad.

"They're just weeds and some of them might be poisonous," he declared.
His favorite soup was made with over-boiled vermicelli. He would pour
in half a bottle of olive oil. Only he and Gervaise could eat this soup,
the others being too used to Parisian cooking.

Little by little Lantier also came to mixing himself up in the affairs
of the family. As the Lorilleuxs always grumbled at having to part with
the five francs for mother Coupeau, he explained that an action could
be brought against them. They must think that they had a set of fools
to deal with! It was ten francs a month which they ought to give! And he
would go up himself for the ten francs so boldly and yet so amiably
that the chainmaker never dared refuse them. Madame Lerat also gave two
five-franc pieces now. Mother Coupeau could have kissed Lantier's hands.
He was, moreover, the grand arbiter in all the quarrels between the old
woman and Gervaise. Whenever the laundress, in a moment of impatience,
behaved roughly to her mother-in-law and the latter went and cried on
her bed, he hustled them about and made them kiss each other, asking
them if they thought themselves amusing with their bad tempers.

And Nana, too; she was being brought up badly, according to his idea. In
that he was right, for whenever the father spanked the child, the mother
took her part, and if the mother, in her turn, boxed her ears, the
father made a disturbance. Nana delighted at seeing her parents abuse
each other, and knowing that she was forgiven beforehand, was up to all
kinds of tricks. Her latest mania was to go and play in the blacksmith
shop opposite; she would pass the entire day swinging on the shafts of
the carts; she would hide with bands of urchins in the remotest corners
of the gray courtyard, lighted up with the red glare of the forge; and
suddenly she would reappear, running and shouting, unkempt and dirty
and followed by the troop of urchins, as though a sudden clash of the
hammers had frightened the ragamuffins away. Lantier alone could scold
her; and yet she knew perfectly well how to get over him. This tricky
little girl of ten would walk before him like a lady, swinging herself
about and casting side glances at him, her eyes already full of vice.
He had ended by undertaking her education: he taught her to dance and to
talk patois.

A year passed thus. In the neighborhood it was thought that Lantier had
a private income, for this was the only way to account for the Coupeaus'
grand style of living. No doubt Gervaise continued to earn money; but
now that she had to support two men in doing nothing, the shop certainly
could not suffice; more especially as the shop no longer had so good a
reputation, customers were leaving and the workwomen were tippling from
morning till night. The truth was that Lantier paid nothing, neither
for rent nor board. During the first months he had paid sums on account,
then he had contented himself with speaking of a large amount he was
going to receive, with which later on he would pay off everything in a
lump sum. Gervaise no longer dared ask him for a centime. She had the
bread, the wine, the meat, all on credit. The bills increased everywhere
at the rate of three and four francs a day. She had not paid a sou to
the furniture dealer nor to the three comrades, the mason, the carpenter
and the painter. All these people commenced to grumble, and she was no
longer greeted with the same politeness at the shops.

She was as though intoxicated by a mania for getting into debt; she
tried to drown her thoughts, ordered the most expensive things, and gave
full freedom to her gluttony now that she no longer paid for anything;
she remained withal very honest at heart, dreaming of earning from
morning to night hundreds of francs, though she did not exactly know
how, to enable her to distribute handfuls of five-franc pieces to her
tradespeople. In short, she was sinking, and as she sank lower and lower
she talked of extending her business. Instead she went deeper into
debt. Clemence left around the middle of the summer because there was
no longer enough work for two women and she had not been paid in several

During this impending ruin, Coupeau and Lantier were, in effect,
devouring the shop and growing fat on the ruin of the establishment.
At table they would challenge each other to take more helpings and slap
their rounded stomachs to make more room for dessert.

The great subject of conversation in the neighborhood was as to whether
Lantier had really gone back to his old footing with Gervaise. On this
point opinions were divided. According to the Lorilleuxs, Clump-Clump
was doing everything she could to hook Lantier again, but he would no
longer have anything to do with her because she was getting old and
faded and he had plenty of younger girls that were prettier. On the
other hand, according to the Boches, Gervaise had gone back to her
former mate the very first night, just as soon as poor Coupeau had gone
to sleep. The picture was not pretty, but there were a lot of worse
things in life, so folks ended by accepting the threesome as altogether
natural. In fact, they thought them rather nice since there were never
any fights and the outward decencies remained. Certainly if you stuck
your nose into some of the other neighborhood households you could smell
far worse things. So what if they slept together like a nice little
family. It never kept the neighbors awake. Besides, everyone was still
very much impressed by Lantier's good manners. His charm helped greatly
to keep tongues from wagging. Indeed, when the fruit dealer insisted to
the tripe seller that there had been no intimacies, the latter appeared
to feel that this was really too bad, because it made the Coupeaus less

Gervaise was quite at her ease in this matter, and not much troubled
with these thoughts. Things reached the point that she was accused of
being heartless. The family did not understand why she continued to bear
a grudge against the hatter. Madame Lerat now came over every evening.
She considered Lantier as utterly irresistible and said that most ladies
would be happy to fall into his arms. Madame Boche declared that her own
virtue would not be safe if she were ten years younger. There was a sort
of silent conspiracy to push Gervaise into the arms of Lantier, as if
all the women around her felt driven to satisfy their own longings
by giving her a lover. Gervaise didn't understand this because she no
longer found Lantier seductive. Certainly he had changed for the better.
He had gotten a sort of education in the cafes and political meetings
but she knew him well. She could pierce to the depths of his soul and
she found things there that still gave her the shivers. Well, if the
others found him so attractive, why didn't they try it themselves.
In the end she suggested this one day to Virginie who seemed the most
eager. Then, to excite Gervaise, Madame Lerat and Virginie told her of
the love of Lantier and tall Clemence. Yes, she had not noticed anything
herself; but as soon as she went out on an errand, the hatter would
bring the workgirl into his room. Now people met them out together; he
probably went to see her at her own place.

"Well," said the laundress, her voice trembling slightly, "what can it
matter to me?"

She looked straight into Virginie's eyes. Did this woman still have it
in for her?

Virginie replied with an air of innocence:

"It can't matter to you, of course. Only, you ought to advise him to
break off with that girl, who is sure to cause him some unpleasantness."

The worst of it was that Lantier, feeling himself supported by public
opinion, changed altogether in his behavior towards Gervaise. Now,
whenever he shook hands with her, he held her fingers for a minute
between his own. He tried her with his glance, fixing a bold look upon
her, in which she clearly read that he wanted her. If he passed behind
her, he dug his knees into her skirt, or breathed upon her neck. Yet he
waited a while before being rough and openly declaring himself. But
one evening, finding himself alone with her, he pushed her before him
without a word, and viewed her all trembling against the wall at the
back of the shop, and tried to kiss her. It so chanced that Goujet
entered just at that moment. Then she struggled and escaped. And all
three exchanged a few words, as though nothing had happened. Goujet, his
face deadly pale, looked on the ground, fancying that he had disturbed
them, and that she had merely struggled so as not to be kissed before a
third party.

The next day Gervaise moved restlessly about the shop. She was miserable
and unable to iron even a single handkerchief. She only wanted to
see Goujet and explain to him how Lantier happened to have pinned her
against the wall. But since Etienne had gone to Lille, she had hesitated
to visit Goujet's forge where she felt she would be greeted by his
fellow workers with secret laughter. This afternoon, however, she
yielded to the impulse. She took an empty basket and went out under
the pretext of going for the petticoats of her customer on Rue des
Portes-Blanches. Then, when she reached Rue Marcadet, she walked very
slowly in front of the bolt factory, hoping for a lucky meeting. Goujet
must have been hoping to see her, too, for within five minutes he came
out as if by chance.

"You have been on an errand," he said, smiling. "And now you are on your
way home."

Actually Gervaise had her back toward Rue des Poissonniers. He only said
that for something to say. They walked together up toward Montmartre,
but without her taking his arm. They wanted to get a bit away from the
factory so as not to seem to be having a rendezvous in front of it. They
turned into a vacant lot between a sawmill and a button factory. It was
like a small green meadow. There was even a goat tied to a stake.

"It's strange," remarked Gervaise. "You'd think you were in the

The went to sit under a dead tree. Gervaise placed the laundry basket by
her feet.

"Yes," Gervaise said, "I had an errand to do, and so I came out."

She felt deeply ashamed and was afraid to try to explain. Yet
she realized that they had come here to discuss it. It remained a
troublesome burden.

Then, all in a rush, with tears in her eyes, she told him of the
death that morning of Madame Bijard, her washerwoman. She had suffered
horrible agonies.

"Her husband caused it by kicking her in the stomach," she said in a
monotone. "He must have damaged her insides. _Mon Dieu!_ She was
in agony for three days with her stomach all swelled up. Plenty of
scoundrels have been sent to the galleys for less than that, but the
courts won't concern themselves with a wife-beater. Especially since the
woman said she had hurt herself falling. She wanted to save him from the
scaffold, but she screamed all night long before she died."

Goujet clenched his hands and remained silent.

"She weaned her youngest only two weeks ago, little Jules," Gervaise
went on. "That's lucky for the baby, he won't have to suffer. Still,
there's the child Lalie and she has two babies to look after. She isn't
eight yet, but she's already sensible. Her father will beat her now even
more than before."

Goujet gazed at her silently. Then, his lips trembling:

"You hurt me yesterday, yes, you hurt me badly."

Gervaise turned pale and clasped her hands as he continued.

"I thought it would happen. You should have told me, you should have
trusted me enough to confess what was happening, so as not to leave me
thinking that--"

Goujet could not finish the sentence. Gervaise stood up, realizing that
he thought she had gone back with Lantier as the neighbors asserted.
Stretching her arms toward him, she cried:

"No, no, I swear to you. He was pushing against me, trying to kiss me,
but his face never even touched mine. It's true, and that was the first
time he tried. Oh, I swear on my life, on the life of my children, oh,
believe me!"

Goujet was shaking his head. Gervaise said slowly:

"Monsieur Goujet, you know me well. You know that I do not lie. On my
word of honor, it never happened, and it never will, do you understand?
Never! I'd be the lowest of the low if it ever happened, and I wouldn't
deserve the friendship of an honest man like you."

She seemed so sincere that he took her hand and made her sit down again.
He could breathe freely; his heart rejoiced. This was the first time he
had ever held her hand like this. He pressed it in his own and they both
sat quietly for a time.

"I know your mother doesn't like me," Gervaise said in a low voice.
"Don't bother to deny it. We owe you so much money."

He squeezed her hand tightly. He didn't want to talk of money. Finally
he said:

"I've been thinking of something for a long time. You are not happy
where you are. My mother tells me things are getting worse for you.
Well, then, we can go away together."

She didn't understand at first and stared at him, startled by this
sudden declaration of a love that he had never mentioned.

Finally she asked:

"What do you mean?"

"We'll get away from here," he said, looking down at the ground.
"We'll go live somewhere else, in Belgium, if you wish. With both of us
working, we would soon be very comfortable."

Gervaise flushed. She thought she would have felt less shame if he
had taken her in his arms and kissed her. Goujet was an odd fellow,
proposing to elope, just the way it happens in novels. Well, she had
seen plenty of workingmen making up to married women, but they never
took them even as far as Saint-Denis.

"Ah, Monsieur Goujet," she murmured, not knowing what else to say.

"Don't you see?" he said. "There would only be the two of us. It annoys
me having others around."

Having regained her self-possession, however, she refused his proposal.

"It's impossible, Monsieur Goujet. It would be very wrong. I'm a married
woman and I have children. We'd soon regret it. I know you care for me,
and I care for you also, too much to let you do anything foolish. It's
much better to stay just as we are. We have respect for each other and
that's a lot. It's been a comfort to me many times. When people in our
situation stay on the straight, it is better in the end."

He nodded his head as he listened. He agreed with her and was unable
to offer any arguments. Suddenly he pulled her into his arms and kissed
her, crushing her. Then he let her go and said nothing more about their
love. She wasn't angry. She felt they had earned that small moment of

Goujet now didn't know what to do with his hands, so he went around
picking dandelions and tossing them into her basket. This amused him and
gradually soothed him. Gervaise was becoming relaxed and cheerful. When
they finally left the vacant lot they walked side by side and talked
of how much Etienne liked being at Lille. Her basket was full of yellow

Gervaise, at heart, did not feel as courageous when with Lantier as she
said. She was, indeed, perfectly resolved not to hear his flattery, even
with the slightest interest; but she was afraid, if ever he should touch
her, of her old cowardice, of that feebleness and gloominess into which
she allowed herself to glide, just to please people. Lantier, however,
did not avow his affection. He several times found himself alone with
her and kept quiet. He seemed to think of marrying the tripe-seller, a
woman of forty-five and very well preserved. Gervaise would talk of the
tripe-seller in Goujet's presence, so as to set his mind at ease. She
would say to Virginie and Madame Lerat, whenever they were ringing the
hatter's praises, that he could very well do without her admiration,
because all the women of the neighborhood were smitten with him.

Coupeau went braying about everywhere that Lantier was a friend and a
true one. People might jabber about them; he knew what he knew and did
not care a straw for their gossip, for he had respectability on his
side. When they all three went out walking on Sundays, he made his wife
and the hatter walk arm-in-arm before him, just by way of swaggering in
the street; and he watched the people, quite prepared to administer a
drubbing if anyone had ventured on the least joke. It was true that he
regarded Lantier as a bit of a high flyer. He accused him of avoiding
hard liquor and teased him because he could read and spoke like an
educated man. Still, he accepted him as a regular comrade. They
were ideally suited to each other and friendship between men is more
substantial than love for a woman.

Coupeau and Lantier were forever going out junketing together. Lantier
would now borrow money from Gervaise--ten francs, twenty francs at a
time, whenever he smelt there was money in the house. Then on those days
he would keep Coupeau away from his work, talk of some distant errand
and take him with him. Then seated opposite to each other in the corner
of some neighboring eating house, they would guzzle fancy dishes which
one cannot get at home and wash them down with bottles of expensive
wine. The zinc-worker would have preferred to booze in a less
pretentious place, but he was impressed by the aristocratic tastes of
Lantier, who would discover on the bill of fare dishes with the most
extraordinary names.

It was hard to understand a man so hard to please. Maybe it was from
being a southerner. Lantier didn't like anything too rich and argued
about every dish, sending back meat that was too salty or too peppery.
He hated drafts. If a door was left open, he complained loudly. At the
same time, he was very stingy, only giving the waiter a tip of two sous
for a meal of seven or eight francs. He was treated with respect in
spite of that.

The pair were well known along the exterior boulevards, from Batignolles
to Belleville. They would go to the Grand Rue des Batignolles to eat
tripe cooked in the Caen style. At the foot of Montmartre they obtained
the best oysters in the neighborhood at the "Town of Bar-le-Duc." When
they ventured to the top of the height as far as the "Galette Windmill"
they had a stewed rabbit. The "Lilacs," in the Rue des Martyrs, had a
reputation for their calf's head, whilst the restaurant of the "Golden
Lion" and the "Two Chestnut Trees," in the Chaussee Clignancourt, served
them stewed kidneys which made them lick their lips. Usually they went
toward Belleville where they had tables reserved for them at some places
of such excellent repute that you could order anything with your eyes
closed. These eating sprees were always surreptitious and the next day
they would refer to them indirectly while playing with the potatoes
served by Gervaise. Once Lantier brought a woman with him to the
"Galette Windmill" and Coupeau left immediately after dessert.

One naturally cannot both guzzle and work; so that ever since the hatter
was made one of the family, the zinc-worker, who was already pretty
lazy, had got to the point of never touching a tool. When tired of doing
nothing, he sometimes let himself be prevailed upon to take a job. Then
his comrade would look him up and chaff him unmercifully when he found
him hanging to his knotty cord like a smoked ham, and he would call
to him to come down and have a glass of wine. And that settled it. The
zinc-worker would send the job to blazes and commence a booze which
lasted days and weeks. Oh, it was a famous booze--a general review of
all the dram shops of the neighborhood, the intoxication of the morning
slept off by midday and renewed in the evening; the goes of "vitriol"
succeeded one another, becoming lost in the depths of the night,
like the Venetian lanterns of an illumination, until the last candle
disappeared with the last glass! That rogue of a hatter never kept on
to the end. He let the other get elevated, then gave him the slip and
returned home smiling in his pleasant way. He could drink a great deal
without people noticing it. When one got to know him well one could only
tell it by his half-closed eyes and his overbold behavior to women.
The zinc-worker, on the contrary, became quite disgusting, and could no
longer drink without putting himself into a beastly state.

Thus, towards the beginning of November, Coupeau went in for a booze
which ended in a most dirty manner, both for himself and the others. The
day before he had been offered a job. This time Lantier was full of fine
sentiments; he lauded work, because work ennobles a man. In the morning
he even rose before it was light, for he gravely wished to accompany his
friend to the workshop, honoring in him the workman really worthy of the
name. But when they arrived before the "Little Civet," which was just
opening, they entered to have a plum in brandy, only one, merely to
drink together to the firm observance of a good resolution. On a
bench opposite the counter, and with his back against the wall,
Bibi-the-Smoker was sitting smoking with a sulky look on his face.

"Hallo! Here's Bibi having a snooze," said Coupeau. "Are you down in the
dumps, old bloke?"

"No, no," replied the comrade, stretching his arm. "It's the employers
who disgust me. I sent mine to the right about yesterday. They're all
toads and scoundrels."

Bibi-the-Smoker accepted a plum. He was, no doubt, waiting there on that
bench for someone to stand him a drink. Lantier, however, took the part
of the employers; they often had some very hard times, as he who had
been in business himself well knew. The workers were a bad lot, forever
getting drunk! They didn't take their work seriously. Sometimes they
quit in the middle of a job and only returned when they needed something
in their pockets. Then Lantier would switch his attack to the employers.
They were nasty exploiters, regular cannibals. But he could sleep with a
clear conscience as he had always acted as a friend to his employees. He
didn't want to get rich the way others did.

"Let's be off, my boy," he said, speaking to Coupeau. "We must be going
or we shall be late."

Bibi-the-Smoker followed them, swinging his arms. Outside the sun
was scarcely rising, the pale daylight seemed dirtied by the muddy
reflection of the pavement; it had rained the night before and it
was very mild. The gas lamps had just been turned out; the Rue des
Poissonniers, in which shreds of night rent by the houses still floated,
was gradually filling with the dull tramp of the workmen descending
towards Paris. Coupeau, with his zinc-worker's bag slung over his
shoulder, walked along in the imposing manner of a fellow who feels in
good form for a change. He turned round and asked:

"Bibi, do you want a job. The boss told me to bring a pal if I could."

"No thanks," answered Bibi-the-Smoker; "I'm purging myself. You should
ask My-Boots. He was looking for something yesterday. Wait a minute.
My-Boots is most likely in there."

And as they reached the bottom of the street they indeed caught sight of
My-Boots inside Pere Colombe's. In spite of the early hour l'Assommoir
was flaring, the shutters down, the gas lighted. Lantier stood at the
door, telling Coupeau to make haste, because they had only ten minutes

"What! You're going to work for that rascal Bourguignon?" yelled
My-Boots, when the zinc-worker had spoken to him. "You'll never catch
me in his hutch again! No, I'd rather go till next year with my tongue
hanging out of my mouth. But, old fellow, you won't stay three days, and
it's I who tell you so."

"Really now, is it such a dirty hole?" asked Coupeau anxiously.

"Oh, it's about the dirtiest. You can't move there. The ape's for ever
on your back. And such queer ways too--a missus who always says you're
drunk, a shop where you mustn't spit. I sent them to the right about the
first night, you know."

"Good; now I'm warned. I shan't stop there for ever. I'll just go this
morning to see what it's like; but if the boss bothers me, I'll catch
him up and plant him upon his missus, you know, bang together like two
fillets of sole!"

Then Coupeau thanked his friend for the useful information and shook his
hand. As he was about to leave, My-Boots cursed angrily. Was that lousy
Bourguignon going to stop them from having a drink? Weren't they free
any more? He could well wait another five minutes. Lantier came in to
share in the round and they stood together at the counter. My-Boots,
with his smock black with dirt and his cap flattened on his head had
recently been proclaimed king of pigs and drunks after he had eaten a
salad of live beetles and chewed a piece of a dead cat.

"Say there, old Borgia," he called to Pere Colombe, "give us some of
your yellow stuff, first class mule's wine."

And when Pere Colombe, pale and quiet in his blue-knitted waistcoat, had
filled the four glasses, these gentlemen tossed them off, so as not to
let the liquor get flat.

"That does some good when it goes down," murmured Bibi-the-Smoker.

The comic My-Boots had a story to tell. He was so drunk on the Friday
that his comrades had stuck his pipe in his mouth with a handful of
plaster. Anyone else would have died of it; he merely strutted about and
puffed out his chest.

"Do you gentlemen require anything more?" asked Pere Colombe in his oily

"Yes, fill us up again," said Lantier. "It's my turn."

Now they were talking of women. Bibi-the-Smoker had taken his girl to an
aunt's at Montrouge on the previous Sunday. Coupeau asked for the news
of the "Indian Mail," a washerwoman of Chaillot who was known in the
establishment. They were about to drink, when My-Boots loudly called to
Goujet and Lorilleux who were passing by. They came just to the door,
but would not enter. The blacksmith did not care to take anything. The
chainmaker, pale and shivering, held in his pocket the gold chains
he was going to deliver; and he coughed and asked them to excuse him,
saying that the least drop of brandy would nearly make him split his

"There are hypocrites for you!" grunted My-Boots. "I bet they have their
drinks on the sly."

And when he had poked his nose in his glass he attacked Pere Colombe.

"Vile druggist, you've changed the bottle! You know it's no good your
trying to palm your cheap stuff off on me."

The day had advanced; a doubtful sort of light lit up l'Assommoir, where
the landlord was turning out the gas. Coupeau found excuses for his
brother-in-law who could not stand drink, which after all was no crime.
He even approved Goujet's behavior for it was a real blessing never to
be thirsty. And as he talked of going off to his work Lantier, with his
grand air of a gentleman, sharply gave him a lesson. One at least stood
one's turn before sneaking off; one should not leave one's friends like
a mean blackguard, even when going to do one's duty.

"Is he going to badger us much longer about his work?" cried My-Boots.

"So this is your turn, sir?" asked Pere Colombe of Coupeau.

The latter paid. But when it came to Bibi-the-Smoker's turn he
whispered to the landlord who refused with a shake of the head. My-Boots
understood, and again set to abusing the old Jew Colombe. What! A rascal
like him dared to behave in that way to a comrade! Everywhere else one
could get drink on tick! It was only in such low boozing-dens that one
was insulted! The landlord remained calm, leaning his big fists on the
edge of the counter. He politely said:

"Lend the gentleman some money--that will be far simpler."

"_Mon Dieu!_ Yes, I'll lend him some," yelled My-Boots. "Here! Bibi,
throw this money in his face, the limb of Satan!"

Then, excited and annoyed at seeing Coupeau with his bag slung over his
shoulder, he continued speaking to the zinc-worker:

"You look like a wet-nurse. Drop your brat. It'll give you a hump-back."

Coupeau hesitated an instant; and then, quietly, as though he had only
made up his mind after considerable reflection, he laid his bag on the
ground saying:

"It's too late now. I'll go to Bourguignon's after lunch. I'll tell him
that the missus was ill. Listen, Pere Colombe, I'll leave my tools under
this seat and I'll call for them at twelve o'clock."

Lantier gave his blessing to this arrangement with an approving nod.
Labor was necessary, yes, but when you're with good friends, courtesy
comes first. Now the four had five hours of idleness before them. They
were full of noisy merriment. Coupeau was especially relieved. They had
another round and then went to a small bar that had a billiard table.

At first Lantier turned up his nose at this establishment because it
was rather shabby. So much liquor had been spilled on the billiard table
that the balls stuck to it. Once the game got started though, Lantier
recovered his good humor and began to flaunt his extraordinary knack
with a cue.

When lunch time came Coupeau had an idea. He stamped his feet and cried:

"We must go and fetch Salted-Mouth. I know where he's working. We'll
take him to Mere Louis' to have some pettitoes."

The idea was greeted with acclamation. Yes, Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, was no doubt in want of some pettitoes. They
started off. Coupeau took them to the bolt factory in the Rue Marcadet.
As they arrived a good half hour before the time the workmen came out,
the zinc-worker gave a youngster two sous to go in and tell Salted-Mouth
that his wife was ill and wanted him at once. The blacksmith made his
appearance, waddling in his walk, looking very calm, and scenting a

"Ah! you jokers!" said he, as soon as he caught sight of them hiding in
a doorway. "I guessed it. Well, what are we going to eat?"

At mother Louis', whilst they sucked the little bones of the pettitoes,
they again fell to abusing the employers. Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, related that they had a most pressing order to
execute at the shop. Oh! the ape was pleasant for the time being. One
could be late, and he would say nothing; he no doubt considered himself
lucky when one turned up at all. At any rate, no boss would dare to
throw Salted-Mouth out the door, because you couldn't find lads of his
capacity any more. After the pettitoes they had an omelet. When each of
them had emptied his bottle, Mere Louis brought out some Auvergne wine,
thick enough to cut with a knife. The party was really warming up.

"What do you think is the ape's latest idea?" cried Salted-Mouth at
dessert. "Why, he's been and put a bell up in his shed! A bell! That's
good for slaves. Ah, well! It can ring to-day! They won't catch me again
at the anvil! For five days past I've been sticking there; I may give
myself a rest now. If he deducts anything, I'll send him to blazes."

"I," said Coupeau, with an air of importance, "I'm obliged to leave you;
I'm off to work. Yes, I promised my wife. Amuse yourselves; my spirit
you know remains with my pals."

The others chuffed him. But he seemed so decided that they all
accompanied him when he talked of going to fetch his tools from Pere
Colombe's. He took his bag from under the seat and laid it on the ground
before him whilst they had a final drink. But at one o'clock the party
was still standing drinks. Then Coupeau, with a bored gesture placed the
tools back again under the seat. They were in his way; he could not get
near the counter without stumbling against them. It was too absurd;
he would go to Bourguignon's on the morrow. The other four, who were
quarrelling about the question of salaries, were not at all surprised
when the zinc-worker, without any explanation, proposed a little stroll
on the Boulevard, just to stretch their legs. They didn't go very far.
They seemed to have nothing to say to each other out in the fresh air.
Without even consulting each other with so much as a nudge, they slowly
and instinctively ascended the Rue des Poissonniers, where they went to
Francois's and had a glass of wine out of the bottle. Lantier pushed his
comrades inside the private room at the back; it was a narrow place with
only one table in it, and was separated from the shop by a dull glazed
partition. He liked to do his drinking in private rooms because it
seemed more respectable. Didn't they like it here? It was as comfortable
as being at home. You could even take a nap here without being
embarrassed. He called for the newspaper, spread it out open before
him, and looked through it, frowning the while. Coupeau and My-Boots had
commenced a game of piquet. Two bottles of wine and five glasses were
scattered about the table.

They emptied their glasses. Then Lantier read out loud:

"A frightful crime has just spread consternation throughout the Commune
of Gaillon, Department of Seine-et-Marne. A son has killed his father
with blows from a spade in order to rob him of thirty sous."

They all uttered a cry of horror. There was a fellow whom they would
have taken great pleasure in seeing guillotined! No, the guillotine was
not enough; he deserved to be cut into little pieces. The story of an
infanticide equally aroused their indignation; but the hatter, highly
moral, found excuses for the woman, putting all the wrong on the back
of her husband; for after all, if some beast of a man had not put the
wretched woman into the way of bleak poverty, she could not have drowned
it in a water closet.

They were most delighted though by the exploit of a Marquis who, coming
out of a dance hall at two in the morning, had defended himself against
an attack by three blackguards on the Boulevard des Invalides. Without
taking off his gloves, he had disposed of the first two villains by
ramming his head into their stomachs, and then had marched the third one
off to the police. What a man! Too bad he was a noble.

"Listen to this now," continued Lantier. "Here's some society news:
'A marriage is arranged between the eldest daughter of the Countess de
Bretigny and the young Baron de Valancay, aide-de-camp to His Majesty.
The wedding trousseau will contain more than three hundred thousand
francs' worth of lace."

"What's that to us?" interrupted Bibi-the-Smoker. "We don't want to know
the color of her mantle. The girl can have no end of lace; nevertheless
she'll see the folly of loving."

As Lantier seemed about to continue his reading, Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, took the newspaper from him and sat upon it,

"Ah! no, that's enough! This is all the paper is good for."

Meanwhile, My-Boots, who had been looking at his hand, triumphantly
banged his fist down on the table. He scored ninety-three.

"I've got the Revolution!" he exulted.

"You're out of luck, comrade," the others told Coupeau.

They ordered two fresh bottles. The glasses were filled up again as fast
as they were emptied, the booze increased. Towards five o'clock it began
to get disgusting, so much so that Lantier kept very quiet, thinking of
how to give the others the slip; brawling and throwing the wine
about was no longer his style. Just then Coupeau stood up to make
the drunkard's sign of the cross. Touching his head he pronounced
Montpernasse, then Menilmonte as he brought his hand to his right
shoulder, Bagnolet giving himself a blow in the chest, and wound up by
saying stewed rabbit three times as he hit himself in the pit of the
stomach. Then the hatter took advantage of the clamor which greeted the
performance of this feat and quietly made for the door. His comrades did
not even notice his departure. He had already had a pretty good dose.
But once outside he shook himself and regained his self-possession; and
he quietly made for the shop, where he told Gervaise that Coupeau was
with some friends.

Two days passed by. The zinc-worker had not returned. He was reeling
about the neighborhood, but no one knew exactly where. Several persons,
however, stated that they had seen him at mother Baquet's, at the
"Butterfly," and at the "Little Old Man with a Cough." Only some said
that he was alone, whilst others affirmed that he was in the company of
seven or eight drunkards like himself. Gervaise shrugged her shoulders
in a resigned sort of way. _Mon Dieu!_ She just had to get used to it.
She never ran about after her old man; she even went out of her way if
she caught sight of him inside a wineshop, so as to not anger him; and
she waited at home till he returned, listening at night-time to hear if
he was snoring outside the door. He would sleep on a rubbish heap, or on
a seat, or in a piece of waste land, or across a gutter. On the morrow,
after having only badly slept off his booze of the day before, he would
start off again, knocking at the doors of all the consolation dealers,
plunging afresh into a furious wandering, in the midst of nips of
spirits, glasses of wine, losing his friends and then finding them
again, going regular voyages from which he returned in a state of
stupor, seeing the streets dance, the night fall and the day break,
without any other thought than to drink and sleep off the effects
wherever he happened to be. When in the latter state, the world was
ended so far as he was concerned. On the second day, however, Gervaise
went to Pere Colombe's l'Assommoir to find out something about him; he
had been there another five times, they were unable to tell her anything
more. All she could do was to take away his tools which he had left
under a seat.

In the evening Lantier, seeing that the laundress seemed very worried,
offered to take her to a music-hall, just by way of passing a pleasant
hour or two. She refused at first, she was in no mood for laughing.
Otherwise she would not have said, "no," for the hatter made the
proposal in too straightforward a manner for her to feel any mistrust.
He seemed to feel for her in quite a paternal way. Never before had
Coupeau slept out two nights running. So that in spite of herself, she
would go every ten minutes to the door, with her iron in her hand, and
look up and down the street to see if her old man was coming.

It might be that Coupeau had broken a leg, or fallen under a wagon and
been crushed and that might be good riddance to bad rubbish. She saw no
reason for cherishing in her heart any affection for a filthy character
like him, but it was irritating, all the same, to have to wonder every
night whether he would come in or not. When it got dark, Lantier again
suggested the music-hall, and this time she accepted. She decided it
would be silly to deny herself a little pleasure when her husband had
been out on the town for three days. If he wasn't coming in, then she
might as well go out herself. Let the entire dump burn up if it felt
like it. She might even put a torch to it herself. She was getting tired
of the boring monotony of her present life.

They ate their dinner quickly. Then, when she went off at eight o'clock,
arm-in-arm with the hatter, Gervaise told mother Coupeau and Nana to go
to bed at once. The shop was shut and the shutters up. She left by the
door opening into the courtyard and gave Madame Boche the key, asking
her, if her pig of a husband came home, to have the kindness to put him
to bed. The hatter was waiting for her under the big doorway, arrayed
in his best and whistling a tune. She had on her silk dress. They walked
slowly along the pavement, keeping close to each other, lighted up by
the glare from the shop windows which showed them smiling and talking
together in low voices.

The music-hall was in the Boulevard de Rochechouart. It had originally
been a little cafe and had been enlarged by means of a kind of wooden
shed erected in the courtyard. At the door a string of glass globes
formed a luminous porch. Tall posters pasted on boards stood upon the
ground, close to the gutter.

"Here we are," said Lantier. "To-night, first appearance of Mademoiselle
Amanda, serio-comic."

Then he caught sight of Bibi-the-Smoker, who was also reading the
poster. Bibi had a black eye; some punch he had run up against the day

"Well! Where's Coupeau?" inquired the hatter, looking about. "Have you,
then, lost Coupeau?"

"Oh! long ago, since yesterday," replied the other. "There was a bit of
a free-for-all on leaving mother Baquet's. I don't care for fisticuffs.
We had a row, you know, with mother Baquet's pot-boy, because he wanted
to make us pay for a quart twice over. Then I left. I went and had a bit
of a snooze."

He was still yawning; he had slept eighteen hours at a stretch. He was,
moreover, quite sobered, with a stupid look on his face, and his jacket
smothered with fluff; for he had no doubt tumbled into bed with his
clothes on.

"And you don't know where my husband is, sir?" asked the laundress.

"Well, no, not a bit. It was five o'clock when we left mother Baquet's.
That's all I know about it. Perhaps he went down the street. Yes, I
fancy now that I saw him go to the 'Butterfly' with a coachman. Oh! how
stupid it is! Really, we deserve to be shot."

Lantier and Gervaise spent a very pleasant evening at the music-hall.
At eleven o'clock when the place closed, they strolled home without
hurrying themselves. The cold was quite sharp. People seemed to be in
groups. Some of the girls were giggling in the darkness as their men
pressed close to them. Lantier was humming one of Mademoiselle Amanda's
songs. Gervaise, with her head spinning from too much drink, hummed the
refrain with him. It had been very warm at the music-hall and the two
drinks she had had, along with all the smoke, had upset her stomach a
bit. She had been quite impressed with Mademoiselle Amanda. She wouldn't
dare to appear in public wearing so little, but she had to admit that
the lady had lovely skin.

"Everyone's asleep," said Gervaise, after ringing three times without
the Boches opening the door.

At length the door opened, but inside the porch it was very dark, and
when she knocked at the window of the concierge's room to ask for her
key, the concierge, who was half asleep, pulled out some rigmarole
which she could make nothing of at first. She eventually understood that
Poisson, the policeman, had brought Coupeau home in a frightful state,
and that the key was no doubt in the lock.

"The deuce!" murmured Lantier, when they had entered, "whatever has he
been up to here? The stench is abominable."

There was indeed a most powerful stench. As Gervaise went to look
for matches, she stepped into something messy. After she succeeded in
lighting a candle, a pretty sight met their eyes. Coupeau appeared to
have disgorged his very insides. The bed was splattered all over, so was
the carpet, and even the bureau had splashes on its sides. Besides that,
he had fallen from the bed where Poisson had probably thrown him, and
was snoring on the floor in the midst of the filth like a pig wallowing
in the mire, exhaling his foul breath through his open mouth. His grey
hair was straggling into the puddle around his head.

"Oh! the pig! the pig!" repeated Gervaise, indignant and exasperated.
"He's dirtied everything. No, a dog wouldn't have done that, even a dead
dog is cleaner."

They both hesitated to move, not knowing where to place their feet.
Coupeau had never before come home and put the bedroom into such a
shocking state. This sight was a blow to whatever affection his wife
still had for him. Previously she had been forgiving and not seriously
offended, even when he had been blind drunk. But this made her sick; it
was too much. She wouldn't have touched Coupeau for the world, and just
the thought of this filthy bum touching her caused a repugnance such as
she might have felt had she been required to sleep beside the corpse of
someone who had died from a terrible disease.

"Oh, I must get into that bed," murmured she. "I can't go and sleep in
the street. Oh! I'll crawl into it foot first."

She tried to step over the drunkard, but had to catch hold of a corner
of the chest of drawers to save herself from slipping in the mess.
Coupeau completely blocked the way to the bed. Then, Lantier, who
laughed to himself on seeing that she certainly could not sleep on her
own pillow that night, took hold of her hand, saying, in a low and angry

"Gervaise, he is a pig."

She understood what he meant and pulled her hand free. She sighed to
herself, and, in her bewilderment, addressed him familiarly, as in the
old days.

"No, leave me alone, Auguste. Go to your own bed. I'll manage somehow to
lie at the foot of the bed."

"Come, Gervaise, don't be foolish," resumed he. "It's too abominable;
you can't remain here. Come with me. He won't hear us. What are you
afraid of?"

"No," she replied firmly, shaking her head vigorously. Then, to show
that she would remain where she was, she began to take off her clothes,
throwing her silk dress over a chair. She was quickly in only her
chemise and petticoat. Well, it was her own bed. She wanted to sleep in
her own bed and made two more attempts to reach a clean corner of the

Lantier, having no intention of giving up, whispered things to her.

What a predicament she was in, with a louse of a husband that prevented
her from crawling under her own blankets and a low skunk behind her just
waiting to take advantage of the situation to possess her again. She
begged Lantier to be quiet. Turning toward the small room where Nana and
mother Coupeau slept, she listened anxiously. She could hear only steady

"Leave me alone, Auguste," she repeated. "You'll wake them. Be

Lantier didn't answer, but just smiled at her. Then he began to kiss her
on the ear just as in the old days.

Gervaise felt like sobbing. Her strength deserted her; she felt a great
buzzing in her ears, a violent tremor passed through her. She advanced
another step forward. And she was again obliged to draw back. It was not
possible, the disgust was too great. She felt on the verge of vomiting
herself. Coupeau, overpowered by intoxication, lying as comfortably as
though on a bed of down, was sleeping off his booze, without life in his
limbs, and with his mouth all on one side. The whole street might have
entered and laughed at him, without a hair of his body moving.

"Well, I can't help it," she faltered. "It's his own fault. _Mon Dieu!_
He's forcing me out of my own bed. I've no bed any longer. No, I can't
help it. It's his own fault."

She was trembling so she scarcely knew what she was doing. While Lantier
was urging her into his room, Nana's face appeared at one of the glass
panes in the door of the little room. The young girl, pale from sleep,
had awakened and gotten out of bed quietly. She stared at her
father lying in his vomit. Then, she stood watching until her mother
disappeared into Lantier's room. She watched with the intensity and the
wide-open eyes of a vicious child aflame with curiosity.


That winter mother Coupeau nearly went off in one of her coughing fits.
Each December she could count on her asthma keeping her on her back for
two and three weeks at a time. She was no longer fifteen, she would be
seventy-three on Saint-Anthony's day. With that she was very rickety,
getting a rattling in her throat for nothing at all, though she was
plump and stout. The doctor said she would go off coughing, just time
enough to say: "Good-night, the candle's out!"

When she was in her bed mother Coupeau became positively unbearable. It
is true though that the little room in which she slept with Nana was not
at all gay. There was barely room for two chairs between the beds. The
wallpaper, a faded gray, hung loose in long strips. The small window
near the ceiling let in only a dim light. It was like a cavern. At
night, as she lay awake, she could listen to the breathing of the
sleeping Nana as a sort of distraction; but in the day-time, as there
was no one to keep her company from morning to night, she grumbled and
cried and repeated to herself for hours together, as she rolled her head
on the pillow:

"Good heavens! What a miserable creature I am! Good heavens! What a
miserable creature I am! They'll leave me to die in prison, yes, in

As soon as anyone called, Virginie or Madame Boche, to ask after her
health, she would not reply directly, but immediately started on her
list of complaints: "Oh, I pay dearly for the food I eat here. I'd be
much better off with strangers. I asked for a cup of tisane and they
brought me an entire pot of hot water. It was a way of saying that I
drank too much. I brought Nana up myself and she scurries away in her
bare feet every morning and I never see her again all day. Then at night
she sleeps so soundly that she never wakes up to ask me if I'm in pain.
I'm just a nuisance to them. They're waiting for me to die. That will
happen soon enough. I don't even have a son any more; that laundress has
taken him from me. She'd beat me to death if she wasn't afraid of the

Gervaise was indeed rather hasty at times. The place was going to the
dogs, everyone's temper was getting spoilt and they sent each other to
the right about for the least word. Coupeau, one morning that he had a
hangover, exclaimed: "The old thing's always saying she's going to die,
and yet she never does!" The words struck mother Coupeau to the heart.
They frequently complained of how much she cost them, observing that
they would save a lot of money when she was gone.

When at her worst that winter, one afternoon, when Madame Lorilleux and
Madame Lerat had met at her bedside, mother Coupeau winked her eye as
a signal to them to lean over her. She could scarcely speak. She rather
hissed than said in a low voice:

"It's becoming indecent. I heard them last night. Yes, Clump-clump and
the hatter. And they were kicking up such a row together! Coupeau's too
decent for her."

And she related in short sentences, coughing and choking between each,
that her son had come home dead drunk the night before. Then, as she
was not asleep, she was easily able to account for all the noises, of
Clump-clump's bare feet tripping over the tiled floor, the hissing voice
of the hatter calling her, the door between the two rooms gently closed,
and the rest. It must have lasted till daylight. She could not tell the
exact time, because, in spite of her efforts, she had ended by falling
into a dose.

"What's most disgusting is that Nana might have heard everything,"
continued she. "She was indeed restless all the night, she who usually
sleeps so sound. She tossed about and kept turning over as though there
had been some lighted charcoal in her bed."

The other two women did not seem at all surprised.

"Of course!" murmured Madame Lorilleux, "it probably began the very
first night. But as it pleases Coupeau, we've no business to interfere.
All the same, it's not very respectable."

"As for me," declared Madame Lerat through clenched teeth, "if I'd been
there, I'd have thrown a fright into them. I'd have shouted something,
anything. A doctor's maid told me once that the doctor had told her that
a surprise like that, at a certain moment, could strike a woman dead.
If she had died right there, that would have been well, wouldn't it? She
would have been punished right where she had sinned."

It wasn't long until the entire neighborhood knew that Gervaise visited
Lantier's room every night. Madame Lorilleux was loudly indignant,
calling her brother a poor fool whose wife had shamed him. And her poor
mother, forced to live in the midst of such horrors. As a result, the
neighbors blamed Gervaise. Yes, she must have led Lantier astray; you
could see it in her eyes. In spite of the nasty gossip, Lantier was
still liked because he was always so polite. He always had candy or
flowers to give the ladies. _Mon Dieu!_ Men shouldn't be expected to
push away women who threw themselves at them. There was no excuse for
Gervaise. She was a disgrace. The Lorilleuxs used to bring Nana up
to their apartment in order to find out more details from her, their
godchild. But Nana would put on her expression of innocent stupidity
and lower her long silky eyelashes to hide the fire in her eyes as she

In the midst of this general indignation, Gervaise lived quietly on,
feeling tired out and half asleep. At first she considered herself very
sinful and felt a disgust for herself. When she left Lantier's room she
would wash her hands and scrub herself as if trying to get rid of an
evil stain. If Coupeau then tried to joke with her, she would fly into a
passion, and run and shiveringly dress herself in the farthest corner
of the shop; neither would she allow Lantier near her soon after her
husband had kissed her. She would have liked to have changed her skin as
she changed men. But she gradually became accustomed to it. Soon it was
too much trouble to scrub herself each time. Her thirst for happiness
led her to enjoy as much as she could the difficult situation. She had
always been disposed to make allowances for herself, so why not for
others? She only wanted to avoid causing trouble. As long as the
household went along as usual, there was nothing to complain about.

Then, after all, she could not be doing anything to make Coupeau stop
drinking; matters were arranged so easily to the general satisfaction.
One is generally punished if one does what is not right. His
dissoluteness had gradually become a habit. Now it was as regular an
affair as eating and drinking. Each time Coupeau came home drunk, she
would go to Lantier's room. This was usually on Mondays, Tuesdays
and Wednesdays. Sometimes on other nights, if Coupeau was snoring too
loudly, she would leave in the middle of the night. It was not that she
cared more for Lantier, but just that she slept better in his room.

Mother Coupeau never dared speak openly of it. But after a quarrel,
when the laundress had bullied her, the old woman was not sparing in her
allusions. She would say that she knew men who were precious fools and
women who were precious hussies, and she would mutter words far
more biting, with the sharpness of language pertaining to an old
waistcoat-maker. The first time this had occurred Gervaise looked at her
straight in the face without answering. Then, also avoiding going into
details, she began to defend herself with reasons given in a general
sort of way. When a woman had a drunkard for a husband, a pig who lived
in filth, that woman was to be excused if she sought for cleanliness
elsewhere. Once she pointed out that Lantier was just as much her
husband as Coupeau was. Hadn't she known him since she was fourteen and
didn't she have children by him?

Anyway, she'd like to see anyone make trouble for her. She wasn't
the only one around the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. Madame Vigouroux, the
coal-dealer had a merry dance from morning to night. Then there was the
grocer's wife, Madame Lehongre with her brother-in-law. _Mon Dieu!_ What
a slob of a fellow. He wasn't worth touching with a shovel. Even
the neat little clockmaker was said to have carried on with his own
daughter, a streetwalker. Ah, the entire neighborhood. Oh, she knew
plenty of dirt.

One day when mother Coupeau was more pointed than usual in her
observations, Gervaise had replied to her, clinching her teeth:

"You're confined to your bed and you take advantage of it. Listen!
You're wrong. You see that I behave nicely to you, for I've never thrown
your past life into your teeth. Oh! I know all about it. No, don't
cough. I've finished what I had to say. It's only to request you to mind
your own business, that's all!"

The old woman almost choked. On the morrow, Goujet having called about
his mother's washing when Gervaise happened to be out, mother Coupeau
called him to her and kept him some time seated beside her bed. She knew
all about the blacksmith's friendship, and had noticed that for some
time past he had looked dismal and wretched, from a suspicion of the
melancholy things that were taking place. So, for the sake of gossiping,
and out of revenge for the quarrel of the day before, she bluntly told
him the truth, weeping and complaining as though Gervaise's wicked
behavior did her some special injury. When Goujet quitted the little
room, he leant against the wall, almost stifling with grief. Then, when
the laundress returned home, mother Coupeau called to her that Madame
Goujet required her to go round with her clothes, ironed or not; and she
was so animated that Gervaise, seeing something was wrong, guessed
what had taken place and had a presentiment of the unpleasantness which
awaited her.

Very pale, her limbs already trembling, she placed the things in a
basket and started off. For years past she had not returned the Goujets
a sou of their money. The debt still amounted to four hundred and
twenty-five francs. She always spoke of her embarrassments and received
the money for the washing. It filled her with shame, because she seemed
to be taking advantage of the blacksmith's friendship to make a fool of
him. Coupeau, who had now become less scrupulous, would chuckle and say
that Goujet no doubt had fooled around with her a bit, and had so paid
himself. But she, in spite of the relations she had fallen into with
Coupeau, would indignantly ask her husband if he already wished to eat
of that sort of bread. She would not allow anyone to say a word against
Goujet in her presence; her affection for the blacksmith remained like
a last shred of her honor. Thus, every time she took the washing home to
those worthy people, she felt a spasm of her heart the moment she put a
foot on their stairs.

"Ah! it's you, at last!" said Madame Goujet sharply, on opening the door
to her. "When I'm in want of death, I'll send you to fetch him."

Gervaise entered, greatly embarrassed, not even daring to mutter an
excuse. She was no longer punctual, never came at the time arranged, and
would keep her customers waiting for days on end. Little by little she
was giving way to a system of thorough disorder.

"For a week past I've been expecting you," continued the lace-mender.
"And you tell falsehoods too; you send your apprentice to me with all
sorts of stories; you are then busy with my things, you will deliver
them the same evening, or else you've had an accident, the bundle's
fallen into a pail of water. Whilst all this is going on, I waste my
time, nothing turns up, and it worries me exceedingly. No, you're most
unreasonable. Come, what have you in your basket? Is everything there
now? Have you brought me the pair of sheets you've been keeping back
for a month past, and the chemise which was missing the last time you
brought home the washing?"

"Yes, yes," murmured Gervaise, "I have the chemise. Here it is."

But Madame Goujet cried out. That chemise was not hers, she would have
nothing to do with it. Her things were changed now; it was too bad! Only
the week before, there were two handkerchiefs which hadn't her mark on
them. It was not to her taste to have clothes coming from no one knew
where. Besides that, she liked to have her own things.

"And the sheets?" she resumed. "They're lost, aren't they? Well!
Woman, you must see about them, for I insist upon having them to-morrow
morning, do you hear?"

There was a silence which particularly bothered Gervaise when she
noticed that the door to Goujet's room was open. If he was in there, it
was most annoying that he should hear these just criticisms. She made
no reply, meekly bowing her head, and placing the laundry on the bed as
quickly as possible.

Matters became worse when Madame Goujet began to look over the things,
one by one. She took hold of them and threw them down again saying:

"Ah! you don't get them up nearly so well as you used to do. One
can't compliment you every day now. Yes, you've taken to mucking your
work--doing it in a most slovenly way. Just look at this shirt-front,
it's scorched, there's the mark of the iron on the plaits; and the
buttons have all been torn off. I don't know how you manage it, but
there's never a button left on anything. Oh! now, here's a petticoat
body which I shall certainly not pay you for. Look there! The dirt's
still on it, you've simply smoothed it over. So now the things are not
even clean!"

She stopped whilst she counted the different articles. Then she

"What! This is all you've brought? There are two pairs of stockings, six
towels, a table-cloth, and several dish-cloths short. You're regularly
trifling with me, it seems! I sent word that you were to bring me
everything, ironed or not. If your apprentice isn't here on the hour
with the rest of the things, we shall fall out, Madame Coupeau, I warn

At this moment Goujet coughed in his room. Gervaise slightly started.
_Mon Dieu!_ How she was treated before him. And she remained standing
in the middle of the rooms, embarrassed and confused and waiting for the
dirty clothes; but after making up the account Madame Goujet had quietly
returned to her seat near the window, and resumed the mending of a lace

"And the dirty things?" timidly inquired the laundress.

"No, thank you," replied the old woman, "there will be no laundry this

Gervaise turned pale. She was no longer to have the washing. Then she
quite lost her head; she was obliged to sit down on a chair, for
her legs were giving way under her. She did not attempt to vindicate
herself. All that she would find to say was:

"Is Monsieur Goujet ill?"

Yes, he was not well. He had been obliged to come home instead of
returning to the forge, and he had gone to lie down on his bed to get a
rest. Madame Goujet talked gravely, wearing her black dress as usual
and her white face framed in her nun-like coif. The pay at the forge had
been cut again. It was now only seven francs a day because the machines
did so much of the work. This forced her to save money every way she
could. She would do her own washing from now on. It would naturally have
been very helpful if the Coupeaus had been able to return her the money
lent them by her son; but she was not going to set the lawyers on them,
as they were unable to pay. As she was talking about the debt, Gervaise
lowered her eyes in embarrassment.

"All the same," continued the lace-maker, "by pinching yourselves a
little you could manage to pay it off. For really now, you live very
well; and spend a great deal, I'm sure. If you were only to pay off ten
francs a month--"

She was interrupted by the sound of Goujet's voice as he called:

"Mamma! Mamma!"

And when she returned to her seat, which was almost immediately, she
changed the conversation. The blacksmith had doubtless begged her not to
ask Gervaise for money; but in spite of herself she again spoke of the
debt at the expiration of five minutes. Oh! She had foreseen long
ago what was now happening. Coupeau was drinking all that the laundry
business brought in and dragging his wife down with him. Her son would
never have loaned the money if he had only listened to her. By now he
would have been married, instead of miserably sad with only unhappiness
to look forward to for the rest of his life. She grew quite stern and
angry, even accusing Gervaise of having schemed with Coupeau to take
advantage of her foolish son. Yes, some women were able to play the
hypocrite for years, but eventually the truth came out.

"Mamma! Mamma!" again called Goujet, but louder this time.

She rose from her seat and when she returned she said, as she resumed
her lace mending:

"Go in, he wishes to see you."

Gervaise, all in a tremble left the door open. This scene filled her
with emotion because it was like an avowal of their affection before
Madame Goujet. She again beheld the quiet little chamber, with its
narrow iron bedstead, and papered all over with pictures, the whole
looking like the room of some girl of fifteen. Goujet's big body was
stretched on the bed. Mother Coupeau's disclosures and the things his
mother had been saying seemed to have knocked all the life out of his
limbs. His eyes were red and swollen, his beautiful yellow beard was
still wet. In the first moment of rage he must have punched away at
his pillow with his terrible fists, for the ticking was split and the
feathers were coming out.

"Listen, mamma's wrong," said he to the laundress in a voice that was
scarcely audible. "You owe me nothing. I won't have it mentioned again."

He had raised himself up and was looking at her. Big tears at once
filled his eyes.

"Do you suffer, Monsieur Goujet?" murmured she. "What is the matter with
you? Tell me!"

"Nothing, thanks. I tired myself with too much work yesterday. I will
rest a bit."

Then, his heart breaking, he could not restrain himself and burst out:

"_Mon Dieu!_ Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ It was never to be--never. You swore it.
And now it is--it is! Ah, it pains me too much, leave me!"

And with his hand he gently and imploringly motioned to her to go. She
did not draw nearer to the bed. She went off as he requested her to,
feeling stupid, unable to say anything to soothe him. When in the other
room she took up her basket; but she did not go home. She stood there
trying to find something to say. Madame Goujet continued her mending
without raising her head. It was she who at length said:

"Well! Good-night; send me back my things and we will settle up

"Yes, it will be best so--good-night," stammered Gervaise.

She took a last look around the neatly arranged room and thought as she
shut the door that she seemed to be leaving some part of her better self
behind. She plodded blindly back to the laundry, scarcely knowing where
she was going.

When Gervaise arrived, she found mother Coupeau out of her bed, sitting
on a chair by the stove. Gervaise was too tired to scold her. Her bones
ached as though she had been beaten and she was thinking that her life
was becoming too hard to bear. Surely a quick death was the only escape
from the pain in her heart.

After this, Gervaise became indifferent to everything. With a vague
gesture of her hand she would send everybody about their business. At
each fresh worry she buried herself deeper in her only pleasure, which
was to have her three meals a day. The shop might have collapsed.
So long as she was not beneath it, she would have gone off willingly
without a chemise to her back. And the little shop was collapsing, not
suddenly, but little by little, morning and evening. One by one
the customers got angry, and sent their washing elsewhere. Monsieur
Madinier, Mademoiselle Remanjou, the Boches themselves had returned to
Madame Fauconnier, where they could count on great punctuality. One
ends by getting tired of asking for a pair of stockings for three weeks
straight, and of putting on shirts with grease stains dating from the
previous Sunday. Gervaise, without losing a bite, wished them a pleasant
journey, and spoke her mind about them, saying that she was precious
glad she would no longer have to poke her nose into their filth. The
entire neighborhood could quit her; that would relieve her of the piles
of stinking junk and give her less work to do.

Now her only customers were those who didn't pay regularly, the
street-walkers, and women like Madame Gaudron, whose laundry smelled so
bad that not one of the laundresses on the Rue Neuve would take it. She
had to let Madame Putois go, leaving only her apprentice, squint-eyed
Augustine, who seemed to grow more stupid as time passed. Frequently
there was not even enough work for the two of them and they sat on
stools all afternoon doing nothing.

Whilst idleness and poverty entered, dirtiness naturally entered also.
One would never have recognised that beautiful blue shop, the color
of heaven, which had once been Gervaise's pride. Its window-frames and
panes, which were never washed, were covered from top to bottom with the
splashes of the passing vehicles. On the brass rods in the windows
were displayed three grey rags left by customers who had died in the
hospital. And inside it was more pitiable still; the dampness of the
clothes hung up at the ceiling to dry had loosed all the wallpaper; the
Pompadour chintz hung in strips like cobwebs covered with dust; the big
stove, broken and in holes from the rough use of the poker, looked
in its corner like the stock in trade of a dealer in old iron; the
work-table appeared as though it had been used by a regiment, covered as
it was with wine and coffee stains, sticky with jam, greasy from spilled

Gervaise was so at ease among it all that she never even noticed the
shop was getting filthy. She became used to it all, just as she got
used to wearing torn skirts and no longer washing herself carefully. The
disorder was like a warm nest.

Her own ease was her sole consideration; she did not care a pin for
anything else. The debts, though still increasing, no longer troubled
her. Her honesty gradually deserted her; whether she would be able to
pay or not was altogether uncertain, and she preferred not to think
about it. When her credit was stopped at one shop, she would open
an account at some other shop close by. She was in debt all over the
neighborhood, she owed money every few yards. To take merely the Rue de
la Goutte-d'Or, she no longer dared pass in front of the grocer's, nor
the charcoal-dealer's, nor the greengrocer's; and this obliged her,
whenever she required to be at the wash-house, to go round by the
Rue des Poissonniers, which was quite ten minutes out of her way. The
tradespeople came and treated her as a swindler. One evening the dealer
from whom she had purchased Lantier's furniture made a scene in the
street. Scenes like this upset her at the time, but were soon forgotten
and never spoiled her appetite. What a nerve to bother her like that
when she had no money to pay. They were all robbers anyway and it served
them right to have to wait. Well, she'd have to go bankrupt, but she
didn't intend to fret about it now.

Meanwhile mother Coupeau had recovered. For another year the household
jogged along. During the summer months there was naturally a little more
work--the white petticoats and the cambric dresses of the street-walkers
of the exterior Boulevard. The catastrophe was slowly approaching; the
home sank deeper into the mire every week; there were ups and downs,
however--days when one had to rub one's stomach before the empty
cupboard, and others when one ate veal enough to make one burst. Mother
Coupeau was for ever being seen in the street, hiding bundles under
her apron, and strolling in the direction of the pawn-place in the Rue
Polonceau. She strutted along with the air of a devotee going to mass;
for she did not dislike these errands; haggling about money amused her;
this crying up of her wares like a second-hand dealer tickled the old
woman's fancy for driving hard bargains. The clerks knew her well and
called her "Mamma Four Francs," because she always demanded four francs
when they offered three, on bundles no bigger than two sous' worth of

At the start, Gervaise took advantage of good weeks to get things back
from the pawn-shops, only to put them back again the next week. Later
she let things go altogether, selling her pawn tickets for cash.

One thing alone gave Gervaise a pang--it was having to pawn her clock to
pay an acceptance for twenty francs to a bailiff who came to seize her
goods. Until then, she had sworn rather to die of hunger than to
part with her clock. When mother Coupeau carried it away in a little
bonnet-box, she sunk on to a chair, without a particle of strength left
in her arms, her eyes full of tears, as though a fortune was being torn
from her. But when mother Coupeau reappeared with twenty-five francs,
the unexpected loan, the five francs profit consoled her; she at once
sent the old woman out again for four sous' worth of brandy in a glass,
just to toast the five-franc piece.

The two of them would often have a drop together, when they were on good
terms with each other. Mother Coupeau was very successful at bringing
back a full glass hidden in her apron pocket without spilling a drop.
Well, the neighbors didn't need to know, did they. But the neighbors
knew perfectly well. This turned the neighborhood even more against
Gervaise. She was devouring everything; a few more mouthfuls and the
place would be swept clean.

In the midst of this general demolishment, Coupeau continued to prosper.
The confounded tippler was as well as well could be. The sour wine and
the "vitriol" positively fattened him. He ate a great deal, and laughed
at that stick Lorilleux, who accused drink of killing people, and
answered him by slapping himself on the stomach, the skin of which was
so stretched by the fat that it resembled the skin of a drum. He would
play him a tune on it, the glutton's vespers, with rolls and beats loud
enough to have made a quack's fortune. Lorilleux, annoyed at not having
any fat himself, said that it was soft and unhealthy. Coupeau ignored
him and went on drinking more and more, saying it was for his health's

His hair was beginning to turn grey and his face to take on the
drunkard's hue of purplish wine. He continued to act like a mischievous
child. Well, it wasn't his concern if there was nothing about the
place to eat. When he went for weeks without work he became even more

Still, he was always giving Lantier friendly slaps on the back. People
swore he had no suspicion at all. Surely something terrible would happen
if he ever found out. Madame Lerat shook her head at this. His sister
said she had known of husbands who didn't mind at all.

Lantier wasn't wasting away either. He took great care of himself,
measuring his stomach by the waist-board of his trousers, with the
constant dread of having to loosen the buckle or draw it tighter; for
he considered himself just right, and out of coquetry neither desired to
grow fatter nor thinner. That made him hard to please in the matter of
food, for he regarded every dish from the point of view of keeping his
waist as it was. Even when there was not a sou in the house, he required
eggs, cutlets, light and nourishing things. Since he was sharing the
lady of the house, he considered himself to have a half interest in
everything and would pocket any franc pieces he saw lying about. He kept
Gervaise running here and there and seemed more at home than Coupeau.
Nana was his favorite because he adored pretty little girls, but he paid
less and less attention to Etienne, since boys, according to him, ought
to know how to take care of themselves. If anyone came to see Coupeau
while he was out, Lantier, in shirt sleeves and slippers, would come
out of the back room with the bored expression of a husband who has been
disturbed, saying he would answer for Coupeau as it was all the same.

Between these two gentlemen, Gervaise had nothing to laugh about. She
had nothing to complain of as regards her health, thank goodness! She
was growing too fat. But two men to coddle was often more than she could
manage. Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ one husband is already too much for a woman! The
worst was that they got on very well together, the rogues. They never
quarreled; they would chuckle in each other's faces, as they sat of
an evening after dinner, their elbows on the table; they would rub up
against one another all the live-long day, like cats which seek and
cultivate their pleasure. The days when they came home in a rage, it was
on her that they vented it. Go it! hammer away at the animal! She had
a good back; it made them all the better friends when they yelled
together. And it never did for her to give them tit-for-tat. In the
beginning, whenever one of them yelled at her, she would appeal to the
other, but this seldom worked. Coupeau had a foul mouth and called her
horrible things. Lantier chose his insults carefully, but they often
hurt her even more.

But one can get used to anything. Soon their nasty remarks and all the
wrongs done her by these two men slid off her smooth skin like water off
a duck's back. It was even easier to have them angry, because when they
were in good moods they bothered her too much, never giving her time to
get a bonnet ironed.

Yes, Coupeau and Lantier were wearing her out. The zinc-worker, sure
enough, lacked education; but the hatter had too much, or at least he
had education in the same way that dirty people have a white shirt, with
uncleanliness underneath it. One night, she dreamt that she was on the
edge of a wall; Coupeau was knocking her into it with a blow of his
fist, whilst Lantier was tickling her in the ribs to make her fall
quicker. Well! That resembled her life. It was no surprise if she was
becoming slipshod. The neighbors weren't fair in blaming her for the
frightful habits she had fallen into. Sometimes a cold shiver ran
through her, but things could have been worse, so she tried to make
the best of it. Once she had seen a play in which the wife detested
her husband and poisoned him for the sake of her lover. Wasn't it more
sensible for the three of them to live together in peace? In spite of
her debts and poverty she thought she was quite happy and could live in
peace if only Coupeau and Lantier would stop yelling at her so much.

Towards the autumn, unfortunately, things became worse. Lantier
pretended he was getting thinner, and pulled a longer face over the
matter every day. He grumbled at everything, sniffed at the dishes of
potatoes--a mess he could not eat, he would say, without having the
colic. The least jangling now turned to quarrels, in which they accused
one another of being the cause of all their troubles, and it was a devil
of a job to restore harmony before they all retired for the night.

Lantier sensed a crisis coming and it exasperated him to realise that
this place was already so thoroughly cleaned out that he could see the
day coming when he'd have to take his hat and seek elsewhere for his bed
and board. He had become accustomed to this little paradise where he was
nicely treated by everybody. He should have blamed himself for eating
himself out of house and home, but instead he blamed the Coupeaus for
letting themselves be ruined in less than two years. He thought Gervaise
was too extravagant. What was going to happen to them now?

One evening in December they had no dinner at all. There was not a
radish left. Lantier, who was very glum, went out early, wandering about
in search of some other den where the smell of the kitchen would bring
a smile to one's face. He would now remain for hours beside the stove
wrapt in thought. Then, suddenly, he began to evince a great friendship
for the Poissons. He no longer teased the policeman and even went so far
as to concede that the Emperor might not be such a bad fellow after all.
He seemed to especially admire Virginie. No doubt he was hoping to board
with them. Virginie having acquainted him with her desire to set up in
some sort of business, he agreed with everything she said, and declared
that her idea was a most brilliant one. She was just the person for
trade--tall, engaging and active. Oh! she would make as much as she
liked. The capital had been available for some time, thanks to an
inheritance from an aunt. Lantier told her of all the shopkeepers who
were making fortunes. The time was right for it; you could sell anything
these days. Virginie, however, hesitated; she was looking for a shop
that was to be let, she did not wish to leave the neighborhood.
Then Lantier would take her into corners and converse with her in an
undertone for ten minutes at a time. He seemed to be urging her to do
something in spite of herself; and she no longer said "no," but appeared
to authorize him to act. It was as a secret between them, with winks and
words rapidly exchanged, some mysterious understanding which betrayed
itself even in their handshakings.

From this moment the hatter would covertly watch the Coupeaus whilst
eating their dry bread, and becoming very talkative again, would deafen
them with his continual jeremiads. All day long Gervaise moved in the
midst of that poverty which he so obligingly spread out. _Mon Dieu!_ he
wasn't thinking of himself; he would go on starving with his friends as
long as they liked. But look at it with common sense. They owed at least
five hundred francs in the neighborhood. Besides which, they were two
quarters rent behind with the rent, which meant another two hundred and
fifty francs; the landlord, Monsieur Marescot, even spoke of having them
evicted if they did not pay him by the first of January. Finally the
pawn-place had absorbed everything, one could not have got together
three francs' worth of odds and ends, the clearance had been so
complete; the nails remained in the walls and that was all and perhaps
there were two pounds of them at three sous the pound. Gervaise,
thoroughly entangled in it all, her nerves quite upset by this
calculation, would fly into a passion and bang her fists down upon the
table or else she would end by bursting into tears like a fool. One
night she exclaimed:

"I'll be off to-morrow! I prefer to put the key under the door and to
sleep on the pavement rather than continue to live in such frights."

"It would be wiser," said Lantier slyly, "to get rid of the lease if you
could find someone to take it. When you are both decided to give up the

She interrupted him more violently:

"At once, at once! Ah! it'll be a good riddance!"

Then the hatter became very practical. On giving up the lease one
would no doubt get the new tenant to be responsible for the two overdue
quarters. And he ventured to mention the Poissons, he reminded them
that Virginie was looking for a shop; theirs would perhaps suit her. He
remembered that he had heard her say she longed for one just like it.
But when Virginie's name was mentioned the laundress suddenly regained
her composure. We'll see how things go along. When you're angry you
always talk of quitting, but it isn't so easy when you just stop to
think about it.

During the following days it was in vain that Lantier harped upon the
subject. Gervaise replied that she had seen herself worse off and had
pulled through. How would she be better off when she no longer had her
shop? That would not put bread into their mouths. She would, on the
contrary, engage some fresh workwomen and work up a fresh connection.

Lantier made the mistake of mentioning Virginie again. This stirred
Gervaise into furious obstinacy. No! Never! She had always had her
suspicions of what was in Virginie's heart. Virginie only wanted to
humiliate her. She would rather turn it over to the first woman to come
in from the street than to that hypocrite who had been waiting for
years to see her fail. Yes, Virginie still had in mind that fight in the
wash-house. Well, she'd be wiser to forget about it, unless she wanted
another one now.

In the face of this flow of angry retorts, Lantier began by attacking
Gervaise. He called her stupid and stuck-up. He even went so far as to
abuse Coupeau, accusing him of not knowing how to make his wife respect
his friend. Then, realising that passion would compromise everything, he
swore that he would never again interest himself in the affairs of
other people, for one always got more kicks than thanks; and indeed he
appeared to have given up all idea of talking them into parting with
the lease, but he was really watching for a favorable opportunity of
broaching the subject again and of bringing the laundress round to his

January had now arrived; the weather was wretched, both damp and cold.
Mother Coupeau, who had coughed and choked all through December, was
obliged to take to her bed after Twelfth-night. It was her annuity,
which she expected every winter. This winter though, those around her
said she'd never come out of her bedroom except feet first. Indeed, her
gaspings sounded like a death rattle. She was still fat, but one eye was
blind and one side of her face was twisted. The doctor made one call and
didn't return again. They kept giving her tisanes and going to check on
her every hour. She could no longer speak because her breathing was so

One Monday evening, Coupeau came home totally drunk. Ever since his
mother was in danger, he had lived in a continual state of deep emotion.
When he was in bed, snoring soundly, Gervaise walked about the place for
a while. She was in the habit of watching over mother Coupeau during a
part of the night. Nana had showed herself very brave, always sleeping
beside the old woman, and saying that if she heard her dying, she would
wake everyone. Since the invalid seemed to be sleeping peacefully this
night, Gervaise finally yielded to the appeals of Lantier to come into
his room for a little rest. They only kept a candle alight, standing
on the ground behind the wardrobe. But towards three o'clock Gervaise
abruptly jumped out of bed, shivering and oppressed with anguish. She
thought she had felt a cold breath pass over her body. The morsel
of candle had burnt out; she tied on her petticoats in the dark, all
bewildered, and with feverish hands. It was not till she got into the
little room, after knocking up against the furniture, that she was able
to light a small lamp. In the midst of the oppressive silence of
night, the zinc-worker's snores alone sounded as two grave notes. Nana,
stretched on her back, was breathing gently between her pouting lips.
And Gervaise, holding down the lamp which caused big shadows to dance
about the room, cast the light on mother Coupeau's face, and beheld it
all white, the head lying on the shoulder, the eyes wide open. Mother
Coupeau was dead.

Gently, without uttering a cry, icy cold yet prudent, the laundress
returned to Lantier's room. He had gone to sleep again. She bent over
him and murmured:

"Listen, it's all over, she's dead."

Heavy with sleep, only half awake, he grunted at first:

"Leave me alone, get into bed. We can't do her any good if she's dead."

Then he raised himself on his elbow and asked:

"What's the time?"

"Three o'clock."

"Only three o'clock! Get into bed quick. You'll catch cold. When it's
daylight, we'll see what's to be done."

But she did not listen to him, she dressed herself completely. Bundling
himself in the blankets, Lantier muttered about how stubborn women were.
What was the hurry to announce a death in the house? He was irritated at
having his sleep spoiled by such gloomy matters.

Meanwhile, Gervaise had moved her things back into her own room. Then
she felt free to sit down and cry, no longer fearful of being caught
in Lantier's room. She had been fond of mother Coupeau and felt a deep
sorrow at her loss. She sat, crying by herself, her sobs loud in the
silence, but Coupeau never stirred. She had spoken to him and even
shaken him and finally decided to let him sleep. He would be more of a
nuisance if he woke up.

On returning to the body, she found Nana sitting up in bed rubbing her
eyes. The child understood, and with her vicious urchin's curiosity,
stretched out her neck to get a better view of her grandmother; she
said nothing but she trembled slightly, surprised and satisfied in the
presence of this death which she had been promising herself for two days
past, like some nasty thing hidden away and forbidden to children; and
her young cat-like eyes dilated before that white face all emaciated at
the last gasp by the passion of life, she felt that tingling in her back
which she felt behind the glass door when she crept there to spy on what
was no concern of chits like her.

"Come, get up," said her mother in a low voice. "You can't remain here."

She regretfully slid out of bed, turning her head round and not taking
her eyes off the corpse. Gervaise was much worried about her, not
knowing where to put her till day-time. She was about to tell her to
dress herself, when Lantier, in his trousers and slippers, rejoined her.
He could not get to sleep again, and was rather ashamed of his behavior.
Then everything was arranged.

"She can sleep in my bed," murmured he. "She'll have plenty of room."

Nana looked at her mother and Lantier with her big, clear eyes and put
on her stupid air, the same as on New Year's day when anyone made her a
present of a box of chocolate candy. And there was certainly no need
for them to hurry her. She trotted off in her night-gown, her bare feet
scarcely touching the tiled floor; she glided like a snake into the bed,
which was still quite warm, and she lay stretched out and buried in it,
her slim body scarcely raising the counterpane. Each time her mother
entered the room she beheld her with her eyes sparkling in her
motionless face--not sleeping, not moving, very red with excitement, and
appearing to reflect on her own affairs.

Lantier assisted Gervaise in dressing mother Coupeau--and it was not an
easy matter, for the body was heavy. One would never have thought that
that old woman was so fat and so white. They put on her stockings, a
white petticoat, a short linen jacket and a white cap--in short, the
best of her linen. Coupeau continued snoring, a high note and a low one,
the one sharp, the other flat. One could almost have imagined it to be
church music accompanying the Good Friday ceremonies. When the corpse
was dressed and properly laid out on the bed, Lantier poured himself out
a glass of wine, for he felt quite upset. Gervaise searched the chest
of drawers to find a little brass crucifix which she had brought
from Plassans, but she recollected that mother Coupeau had, in all
probability, sold it herself. They had lighted the stove, and they
passed the rest of the night half asleep on chairs, finishing the bottle
of wine that had been opened, worried and sulking, as though it was
their own fault.

Towards seven o'clock, before daylight, Coupeau at length awoke. When
he learnt his loss he at first stood still with dry eyes, stuttering
and vaguely thinking that they were playing him some joke. Then he threw
himself on the ground and went and knelt beside the corpse. His kissed
it and wept like a child, with such a copious flow of tears that he
quite wetted the sheet with wiping his cheeks. Gervaise had recommenced
sobbing, deeply affected by her husband's grief, and the best of friends
with him again. Yes, he was better at heart than she thought he was.
Coupeau's despair mingled with a violent pain in his head. He passed
his fingers through his hair. His mouth was dry, like on the morrow of
a booze, and he was still a little drunk in spite of his ten hours of
sleep. And, clenching his fist, he complained aloud. _Mon Dieu!_ she was
gone now, his poor mother, whom he loved so much! Ah! what a headache he
had; it would settle him! It was like a wig of fire! And now they were
tearing out his heart! No, it was not just of fate thus to set itself
against one man!

"Come, cheer up, old fellow," said Lantier, raising him from the ground;
"you must pull yourself together."

He poured him out a glass of wine, but Coupeau refused to drink.

"What's the matter with me? I've got copper in my throat. It's mamma.
When I saw her I got a taste of copper in my mouth. Mamma! _Mon Dieu!_
mamma, mamma!"

And he recommenced crying like a child. Then he drank the glass of wine,
hoping to put out the flame searing his breast. Lantier soon left, using
the excuse of informing the family and filing the necessary declaration
at the town hall. Really though, he felt the need of fresh air, and so
he took his time, smoking cigarettes and enjoying the morning air.
When he left Madame Lerat's house, he went into a dairy place on Les
Batignolles for a cup of hot coffee and remained there an hour, thinking
things over.

Towards nine o'clock the family were all united in the shop, the
shutters of which were kept up. Lorilleux did not cry. Moreover he had
some pressing work to attend to, and he returned almost directly to his
room, after having stalked about with a face put on for the occasion.
Madame Lorilleux and Madame Lerat embraced the Coupeaus and wiped their
eyes, from which a few tears were falling. But Madame Lorilleux, after
giving a hasty glance round the death chamber, suddenly raised her voice
to say that it was unheard of, that one never left a lighted lamp beside
a corpse; there should be a candle, and Nana was sent to purchase a
packet of tall ones. Ah, well! It made one long to die at Clump-clump's,
she laid one out in such a fine fashion! What a fool, not even to know
what to do with a corpse! Had she then never buried anyone in her life?
Madame Lerat had to go to the neighbors and borrow a crucifix; she
brought one back which was too big, a cross of black wood with a Christ
in painted cardboard fastened to it, which covered the whole of mother
Coupeau's chest, and seemed to crush her under its weight. Then they
tried to obtain some holy water, but no one had any, and it was again
Nana who was sent to the church to bring some back in a bottle. In
practically no time the tiny room presented quite another appearance;
on a little table a candle was burning beside a glass full of holy water
into which a sprig of boxwood was dipped. Now, if anyone came, it would
at least look decent. And they arranged the chairs in a circle in the
shop for receiving people.

Lantier only returned at eleven o'clock. He had been to the undertaker's
for information.

"The coffin is twelve francs," said he. "If you desire a mass, it
will be ten francs more. Then there's the hearse, which is charged for
according to the ornaments."

"Oh! it's quite unnecessary to be fancy," murmured Madame Lorilleux,
raising her head in a surprised and anxious manner. "We can't bring
mamma to life again, can we? One must do according to one's means."

"Of course, that's just what I think," resumed the hatter. "I merely
asked the prices to guide you. Tell me what you desire; and after lunch
I will give the orders."

They were talking in lowered voices. Only a dim light came into the room
through the cracks in the shutters. The door to the little room stood
half open, and from it came the deep silence of death. Children's
laughter echoed in the courtyard. Suddenly they heard the voice of
Nana, who had escaped from the Boches to whom she had been sent. She was
giving commands in her shrill voice and the children were singing a song
about a donkey.

Gervaise waited until it was quiet to say:

"We're not rich certainly; but all the same we wish to act decently. If
mother Coupeau has left us nothing, it's no reason for pitching her into
the ground like a dog. No; we must have a mass, and a hearse with a few

"And who will pay for them?" violently inquired Madame Lorilleux. "Not
we, who lost some money last week; and you either, as you're stumped.
Ah! you ought, however, to see where it has led you, this trying to
impress people!"

Coupeau, when consulted, mumbled something with a gesture of profound
indifference, and then fell asleep again on his chair. Madame Lerat said
that she would pay her share. She was of Gervaise's opinion, they should
do things decently. Then the two of them fell to making calculations
on a piece of paper: in all, it would amount to about ninety francs,
because they decided, after a long discussion, to have a hearse
ornamented with a narrow scallop.

"We're three," concluded the laundress. "We'll give thirty francs each.
It won't ruin us."

But Madame Lorilleux broke out in a fury.

"Well! I refuse, yes, I refuse! It's not for the thirty francs. I'd give
a hundred thousand, if I had them, and if it would bring mamma to life
again. Only, I don't like vain people. You've got a shop, you only dream
of showing off before the neighborhood. We don't fall in with it, we
don't. We don't try to make ourselves out what we are not. Oh! you can
manage it to please yourself. Put plumes on the hearse if it amuses

"No one asks you for anything," Gervaise ended by answering. "Even
though I should have to sell myself, I'll not have anything to reproach
myself with. I've fed mother Coupeau without your help, and I can
certainly bury her without your help also. I already once before gave
you a bit of my mind; I pick up stray cats, I'm not likely to leave your
mother in the mire."

Then Madame Lorilleux burst into tears and Lantier had to prevent her
from leaving. The argument became so noisy that Madame Lerat felt she
had to go quietly into the little room and glance tearfully at her dead
mother, as though fearing to find her awake and listening. Just at this
moment the girls playing in the courtyard, led by Nana, began singing

"_Mon Dieu!_ how those children grate on one's nerves with their
singing!" said Gervaise, all upset and on the point of sobbing with
impatience and sadness. Turning to the hatter, she said:

"Do please make them leave off, and send Nana back to the concierge's
with a kick."

Madame Lerat and Madame Lorilleux went away to eat lunch, promising
to return. The Coupeaus sat down to eat a bite without much appetite,
feeling hesitant about even raising a fork. After lunch Lantier went
to the undertaker's again with the ninety francs. Thirty had come from
Madame Lerat and Gervaise had run, with her hair all loose, to borrow
sixty francs from Goujet.

Several of the neighbors called in the afternoon, mainly out of
curiosity. They went into the little room to make the sign of the cross
and sprinkle some holy water with the boxwood sprig. Then they sat in
the shop and talked endlessly about the departed. Mademoiselle Remanjou
had noticed that her right eye was still open. Madame Gaudron maintained
that she had a fine complexion for her age. Madame Fauconnier kept
repeating that she had seen her having coffee only three days earlier.

Towards evening the Coupeaus were beginning to have had enough of it.
It was too great an affliction for a family to have to keep a corpse so
long a time. The government ought to have made a new law on the subject.
All through another evening, another night, and another morning--no!
it would never come to an end. When one no longer weeps, grief turns to
irritation; is it not so? One would end by misbehaving oneself. Mother
Coupeau, dumb and stiff in the depths of the narrow chamber, was
spreading more and more over the lodging and becoming heavy enough to
crush the people in it. And the family, in spite of itself, gradually
fell into the ordinary mode of life, and lost some portion of its

"You must have a mouthful with us," said Gervaise to Madame Lerat and
Madame Lorilleux, when they returned. "We're too sad; we must keep

They laid the cloth on the work-table. Each one, on seeing the plates,
thought of the feastings they had had on it. Lantier had returned.
Lorilleux came down. A pastry-cook had just brought a meat pie, for the
laundress was too upset to attend to any cooking. As they were taking
their seats, Boche came to say that Monsieur Marescot asked to be
admitted, and the landlord appeared, looking very grave, and wearing
a broad decoration on his frock-coat. He bowed in silence and went
straight to the little room, where he knelt down. All the family,
leaving the table, stood up, greatly impressed. Monsieur Marescot,
having finished his devotions, passed into the shop and said to the

"I have come for the two quarters' rent that's overdue. Are you prepared
to pay?"

"No, sir, not quite," stammered Gervaise, greatly put out at hearing
this mentioned before the Lorilleuxs. "You see, with the misfortune
which has fallen upon us--"

"No doubt, but everyone has their troubles," resumed the landlord,
spreading out his immense fingers, which indicated the former workman.
"I am very sorry, but I cannot wait any longer. If I am not paid by the
morning after to-morrow, I shall be obliged to have you put out."

Gervaise, struck dumb, imploringly clasped her hands, her eyes full
of tears. With an energetic shake of his big bony head, he gave her to
understand that supplications were useless. Besides, the respect due
to the dead forbade all discussion. He discreetly retired, walking

"A thousand pardons for having disturbed you," murmured he. "The morning
after to-morrow; do not forget."

And as on withdrawing he again passed before the little room, he saluted
the corpse a last time through the wide open door by devoutly bending
his knee.

They began eating and gobbled the food down very quickly, so as not to
seem to be enjoying it, only slowing down when they reached the dessert.
Occasionally Gervaise or one of the sisters would get up, still holding
her napkin, to look into the small room. They made plenty of strong
coffee to keep them awake through the night. The Poissons arrived about
eight and were invited for coffee.

Then Lantier, who had been watching Gervaise's face, seemed to seize
an opportunity that he had been waiting for ever since the morning. In
speaking of the indecency of landlords who entered houses of mourning to
demand their money, he said:

"He's a Jesuit, the beast, with his air of officiating at a mass! But in
your place, I'd just chuck up the shop altogether."

Gervaise, quite worn out and feeling weak and nervous, gave way and

"Yes, I shall certainly not wait for the bailiffs. Ah! it's more than I
can bear--more than I can bear."

The Lorilleuxs, delighted at the idea that Clump-clump would no longer
have a shop, approved the plan immensely. One could hardly conceive
the great cost a shop was. If she only earned three francs working for
others she at least had no expenses; she did not risk losing large sums
of money. They repeated this argument to Coupeau, urging him on; he
drank a great deal and remained in a continuous fit of sensibility,
weeping all day by himself in his plate. As the laundress seemed to be
allowing herself to be convinced, Lantier looked at the Poissons and
winked. And tall Virginie intervened, making herself most amiable.

"You know, we might arrange the matter between us. I would relieve you
of the rest of the lease and settle your matter with the landlord. In
short, you would not be worried nearly so much."

"No thanks," declared Gervaise, shaking herself as though she felt a
shudder pass over her. "I'll work; I've got my two arms, thank heaven!
to help me out of my difficulties."

"We can talk about it some other time," the hatter hastened to put in.
"It's scarcely the thing to do so this evening. Some other time--in the
morning for instance."

At this moment, Madame Lerat, who had gone into the little room, uttered
a faint cry. She had had a fright because she had found the candle burnt
out. They all busied themselves in lighting another; they shook their
heads, saying that it was not a good sign when the light went out beside
a corpse.

The wake commenced. Coupeau had gone to lie down, not to sleep, said he,
but to think; and five minutes afterwards he was snoring. When they sent
Nana off to sleep at the Boches' she cried; she had been looking
forward ever since the morning to being nice and warm in her good friend
Lantier's big bed. The Poissons stayed till midnight. Some hot wine had
been made in a salad-bowl because the coffee affected the ladies' nerves
too much. The conversation became tenderly effusive. Virginie talked of
the country: she would like to be buried at the corner of a wood with
wild flowers on her grave. Madame Lerat had already put by in her
wardrobe the sheet for her shroud, and she kept it perfumed with a bunch
of lavender; she wished always to have a nice smell under her nose when
she would be eating the dandelions by the roots. Then, with no sort of
transition, the policeman related that he had arrested a fine girl that
morning who had been stealing from a pork-butcher's shop; on undressing
her at the commissary of police's they had found ten sausages hanging
round her body. And Madame Lorilleux having remarked, with a look of
disgust, that she would not eat any of those sausages, the party burst
into a gentle laugh. The wake became livelier, though not ceasing to
preserve appearances.

But just as they were finishing the hot wine a peculiar noise, a dull
trickling sound, issued from the little room. All raised their heads and
looked at each other.

"It's nothing," said Lantier quietly, lowering his voice. "She's

The explanation caused the others to nod their heads in a reassured way,
and they replaced their glasses on the table.

When the Poissons left for home, Lantier left also, saying he would
sleep with a friend and leave his bed for the ladies in case they wanted
to take turns napping. Lorilleux went upstairs to bed. Gervaise and the
two sisters arranged themselves by the stove where they huddled together
close to the warmth, talking quietly. Coupeau was still snoring.

Madame Lorilleux was complaining that she didn't have a black dress and
asked Gervaise about the black skirt they had given mother Coupeau on
her saint's day. Gervaise went to look for it. Madame Lorilleux then
wanted some of the old linen and mentioned the bed, the wardrobe, and
the two chairs as she looked around for other odds and ends. Madame
Lerat had to serve as peace maker when a quarrel nearly broke out.
She pointed out that as the Coupeaus had cared for their mother, they
deserved to keep the few things she had left. Soon they were all dozing
around the stove.

The night seemed terribly long to them. Now and again they shook
themselves, drank some coffee and stretched their necks in the direction
of the little room, where the candle, which was not to be snuffed, was
burning with a dull red flame, flickering the more because of the black
soot on the wick. Towards morning, they shivered, in spite of the great
heat of the stove. Anguish, and the fatigue of having talked too much
was stifling them, whilst their mouths were parched, and their eyes
ached. Madame Lerat threw herself on Lantier's bed, and snored as loud
as a man; whilst the other two, their heads falling forward, and almost
touching their knees, slept before the fire. At daybreak, a shudder
awoke them. Mother Coupeau's candle had again gone out; and as, in the
obscurity, the dull trickling sound recommenced, Madame Lorilleux gave
the explanation of it anew in a loud voice, so as to reassure herself:

"She's emptying," repeated she, lighting another candle.

The funeral was to take place at half-past ten. A nice morning to add to
the night and the day before! Gervaise, though without a sou, said she
would have given a hundred francs to anybody who would have come and
taken mother Coupeau away three hours sooner. No, one may love people,
but they are too great a weight when they are dead; and the more one has
loved them, the sooner one would like to be rid of their bodies.

The morning of a funeral is, fortunately, full of diversions. One has
all sorts of preparations to make. To begin with, they lunched. Then it
happened to be old Bazouge, the undertaker's helper, who lived on the
sixth floor, who brought the coffin and the sack of bran. He was never
sober, the worthy fellow. At eight o'clock that day, he was still lively
from the booze of the day before.

"This is for here, isn't it?" asked he.

And he laid down the coffin, which creaked like a new box. But as he was
throwing the sack of bran on one side, he stood with a look of amazement
in his eyes, his mouth opened wide, on beholding Gervaise before him.

"Beg pardon, excuse me. I've made a mistake," stammered he. "I was told
it was for you."

He had already taken up the sack again, and the laundress was obliged to
call to him:

"Leave it alone, it's for here."

"Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ Now I understand!" resumed he, slapping his thigh.
"It's for the old lady."

Gervaise had turned quite pale. Old Bazouge had brought the coffin for
her. By way of apology, he tried to be gallant, and continued:

"I'm not to blame, am I? It was said yesterday that someone on the
ground floor had passed away. Then I thought--you know, in our business,
these things enter by one ear and go out by the other. All the same, my
compliments to you. As late as possible, eh? That's best, though life
isn't always amusing; ah! no, by no means."

As Gervaise listened to him, she draw back, afraid he would grab her and
take her away in the box. She remembered the time before, when he had
told her he knew of women who would thank him to come and get them.
Well, she wasn't ready yet. _Mon Dieu!_ The thought sent chills down her
spine. Her life may have been bitter, but she wasn't ready to give it up
yet. No, she would starve for years first.

"He's abominably drunk," murmured she, with an air of disgust mingled
with dread. "They at least oughtn't to send us tipplers. We pay dear

Then he became insolent, and jeered:

"See here, little woman, it's only put off until another time. I'm
entirely at your service, remember! You've only to make me a sign. I'm
the ladies' consoler. And don't spit on old Bazouge, because he's held
in his arms finer ones than you, who let themselves be tucked in without
a murmur, very pleased to continue their by-by in the dark."

"Hold your tongue, old Bazouge!" said Lorilleux severely, having
hastened to the spot on hearing the noise, "such jokes are highly
improper. If we complained about you, you would get the sack. Come, be
off, as you've no respect for principles."

Bazouge moved away, but one could hear him stuttering as he dragged
along the pavement:

"Well! What? Principles! There's no such thing as principles, there's no
such thing as principles--there's only common decency!"

At length ten o'clock struck. The hearse was late. There were already
several people in the shop, friends and neighbors--Monsieur Madinier,
My-Boots, Madame Gaudron, Mademoiselle Remanjou; and every minute, a
man's or a woman's head was thrust out of the gaping opening of the
door between the closed shutters, to see if that creeping hearse was
in sight. The family, all together in the back room, was shaking hands.
Short pauses occurred interrupted by rapid whisperings, a tiresome and
feverish waiting with sudden rushes of skirts--Madame Lorilleux who
had forgotten her handkerchief, or else Madame Lerat who was trying to
borrow a prayer-book. Everyone, on arriving, beheld the open coffin in
the centre of the little room before the bed; and in spite of oneself,
each stood covertly studying it, calculating that plump mother Coupeau
would never fit into it. They all looked at each other with this thought
in their eyes, though without communicating it. But there was a slight
pushing at the front door. Monsieur Madinier, extending his arms, came
and said in a low grave voice:

"Here they are!"

It was not the hearse though. Four helpers entered hastily in single
file, with their red faces, their hands all lumpy like persons in the
habit of moving heavy things, and their rusty black clothes worn and
frayed from constant rubbing against coffins. Old Bazouge walked first,
very drunk and very proper. As soon as he was at work he found his
equilibrium. They did not utter a word, but slightly bowed their heads,
already weighing mother Coupeau with a glance. And they did not dawdle;
the poor old woman was packed in, in the time one takes to sneeze. A
young fellow with a squint, the smallest of the men, poured the bran
into the coffin and spread it out. The tall and thin one spread the
winding sheet over the bran. Then, two at the feet and two at the head,
all four took hold of the body and lifted it. Mother Coupeau was in the
box, but it was a tight fit. She touched on every side.

The undertaker's helpers were now standing up and waiting; the little
one with the squint took the coffin lid, by way of inviting the family
to bid their last farewell, whilst Bazouge had filled his mouth with
nails and was holding the hammer in readiness. Then Coupeau, his two
sisters and Gervaise threw themselves on their knees and kissed the
mamma who was going away, weeping bitterly, the hot tears falling on
and streaming down the stiff face now cold as ice. There was a prolonged
sound of sobbing. The lid was placed on, and old Bazouge knocked the
nails in with the style of a packer, two blows for each; and they none
of them could hear any longer their own weeping in that din, which
resembled the noise of furniture being repaired. It was over. The time
for starting had arrived.

"What a fuss to make at such a time!" said Madame Lorilleux to her
husband as she caught sight of the hearse before the door.

The hearse was creating quite a revolution in the neighborhood. The
tripe-seller called to the grocer's men, the little clockmaker came out
on to the pavement, the neighbors leant out of their windows; and all
these people talked about the scallop with its white cotton fringe. Ah!
the Coupeaus would have done better to have paid their debts. But as
the Lorilleuxs said, when one is proud it shows itself everywhere and in
spite of everything.

"It's shameful!" Gervaise was saying at the same moment, speaking of the
chainmaker and his wife. "To think that those skinflints have not even
brought a bunch of violets for their mother!"

The Lorilleuxs, true enough, had come empty-handed. Madame Lerat had
given a wreath of artificial flowers. And a wreath of immortelles and
a bouquet bought by the Coupeaus were also placed on the coffin. The
undertaker's helpers had to give a mighty heave to lift the coffin
and carry it to the hearse. It was some time before the procession was
formed. Coupeau and Lorilleux, in frock coats and with their hats in
their hands, were chief mourners. The first, in his emotion which two
glasses of white wine early in the morning had helped to sustain, clung
to his brother-in-law's arm, with no strength in his legs, and a violent
headache. Then followed the other men--Monsieur Madinier, very grave
and all in black; My-Boots, wearing a great-coat over his blouse; Boche,
whose yellow trousers produced the effect of a petard; Lantier, Gaudron,
Bibi-the-Smoker, Poisson and others. The ladies came next--in the first
row Madame Lorilleux, dragging the deceased's skirt, which she had
altered; Madame Lerat, hiding under a shawl her hastily got-up mourning,
a gown with lilac trimmings; and following them, Virginie, Madame
Gaudron, Madame Fauconnier, Mademoiselle Remanjou and the rest. When the
hearse started and slowly descended the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or, amidst
signs of the cross and heads bared, the four helpers took the lead, two
in front, the two others on the right and left. Gervaise had remained
behind to close the shop. She left Nana with Madame Boche and ran to
rejoin the procession, whilst the child, firmly held by the concierge
under the porch, watched with a deeply interested gaze her grandmother
disappear at the end of the street in that beautiful carriage.

At the moment when Gervaise caught up with the procession, Goujet
arrived from another direction. He nodded to her so sympathetically
that she was reminded of how unhappy she was, and began to cry again as
Goujet took his place with the men.

The ceremony at the church was soon got through. The mass dragged
a little, though, because the priest was very old. My-Boots and
Bibi-the-Smoker preferred to remain outside on account of the
collection. Monsieur Madinier studied the priests all the while, and
communicated his observations to Lantier. Those jokers, though so glib
with their Latin, did not even know a word of what they were saying.
They buried a person just in the same way that they would have baptized
or married him, without the least feeling in their heart.

Happily, the cemetery was not far off, the little cemetery of La
Chapelle, a bit of a garden which opened on to the Rue Marcadet. The
procession arrived disbanded, with stampings of feet and everybody
talking of his own affairs. The hard earth resounded, and many would
have liked to have moved about to keep themselves warm. The gaping hole
beside which the coffin was laid was already frozen over, and looked
white and stony, like a plaster quarry; and the followers, grouped
round little heaps of gravel, did not find it pleasant standing in such
piercing cold, whilst looking at the hole likewise bored them. At length
a priest in a surplice came out of a little cottage. He shivered,
and one could see his steaming breath at each _de profundis_ that he
uttered. At the final sign of the cross he bolted off, without the least
desire to go through the service again. The sexton took his shovel,
but on account of the frost, he was only able to detach large lumps of
earth, which beat a fine tune down below, a regular bombardment of the
coffin, an enfilade of artillery sufficient to make one think the wood
was splitting. One may be a cynic; nevertheless that sort of music soon
upsets one's stomach. The weeping recommenced. They moved off, they even
got outside, but they still heard the detonations. My-Boots, blowing on
his fingers, uttered an observation aloud.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ poor mother Coupeau won't feel very warm!"

"Ladies and gentlemen," said the zinc-worker to the few friends who
remained in the street with the family, "will you permit us to offer you
some refreshments?"

He led the way to a wine shop in the Rue Marcadet, the "Arrival at the
Cemetery." Gervaise, remaining outside, called Goujet, who was moving
off, after again nodding to her. Why didn't he accept a glass of wine?
He was in a hurry; he was going back to the workshop. Then they looked
at each other a moment without speaking.

"I must ask your pardon for troubling you about the sixty francs," at
length murmured the laundress. "I was half crazy, I thought of you--"

"Oh! don't mention it; you're fully forgiven," interrupted the
blacksmith. "And you know, I am quite at your service if any misfortune
should overtake you. But don't say anything to mamma, because she has
her ideas, and I don't wish to cause her annoyance."

She gazed at him. He seemed to her such a good man, and sad-looking, and
so handsome. She was on the verge of accepting his former proposal, to
go away with him and find happiness together somewhere else. Then an
evil thought came to her. It was the idea of borrowing the six months'
back rent from him.

She trembled and resumed in a caressing tone of voice:

"We're still friends, aren't we?"

He shook his head as he answered:

"Yes, we'll always be friends. It's just that, you know, all is over
between us."

And he went off with long strides, leaving Gervaise bewildered,
listening to his last words which rang in her ears with the clang of a
big bell. On entering the wine shop, she seemed to hear a hollow voice
within her which said, "All is over, well! All is over; there is
nothing more for me to do if all is over!" Sitting down, she swallowed a
mouthful of bread and cheese, and emptied a glass full of wine which she
found before her.

The wine shop was a single, long room with a low ceiling occupied by two
large tables on which loaves of bread, large chunks of Brie cheese and
bottles of wine were set out. They ate informally, without a tablecloth.
Near the stove at the back the undertaker's helpers were finishing their

"_Mon Dieu!_" exclaimed Monsieur Madinier, "we each have our time. The
old folks make room for the young ones. Your lodging will seem very
empty to you now when you go home."

"Oh! my brother is going to give notice," said Madame Lorilleux quickly.
"That shop's ruined."

They had been working upon Coupeau. Everyone was urging him to give up
the lease. Madame Lerat herself, who had been on very good terms with
Lantier and Virginie for some time past, and who was tickled with
the idea that they were a trifle smitten with each other, talked of
bankruptcy and prison, putting on the most terrified airs. And suddenly,
the zinc-worker, already overdosed with liquor, flew into a passion, his
emotion turned to fury.

"Listen," cried he, poking his nose in his wife's face; "I intend that
you shall listen to me! Your confounded head will always have its own
way. But, this time, I intend to have mine, I warn you!"

"Ah! well," said Lantier, "one never yet brought her to reason by fair
words; it wants a mallet to drive it into her head."

For a time they both went on at her. Meanwhile, the Brie was quickly
disappearing and the wine bottles were pouring like fountains. Gervaise
began to weaken under this persistent pounding. She answered nothing,
but hurried herself, her mouth ever full, as though she had been very
hungry. When they got tired, she gently raised her head and said,

"That's enough, isn't it? I don't care a straw for the shop! I want no
more of it. Do you understand? It can go to the deuce! All is over!"

Then they ordered some more bread and cheese and talked business. The
Poissons took the rest of the lease and agreed to be answerable for the
two quarters' rent overdue. Boche, moreover, pompously agreed to the
arrangement in the landlord's name. He even then and there let a lodging
to the Coupeaus--the vacant one on the sixth floor, in the same passage
as the Lorilleuxs' apartment. As for Lantier, well! He would like to
keep his room, if it did not inconvenience the Poissons. The policeman
bowed; it did not inconvenience him at all; friends always get on
together, in spite of any difference in their political ideas. And
Lantier, without mixing himself up any more in the matter, like a man
who has at length settled his little business, helped himself to an
enormous slice of bread and cheese; he leant back in his chair and ate
devoutly, his blood tingling beneath his skin, his whole body burning
with a sly joy, and he blinked his eyes to peep first at Gervaise, and
then at Virginie.

"Hi! Old Bazouge!" called Coupeau, "come and have a drink. We're not
proud; we're all workers."

The four undertaker's helpers, who had started to leave, came back to
raise glasses with the group. They thought that the lady had weighed
quite a bit and they had certainly earned a glass of wine. Old Bazouge
gazed steadily at Gervaise without saying a word. It made her feel
uneasy though and she got up and left the men who were beginning to show
signs of being drunk. Coupeau began to sob again, saying he was feeling
very sad.

That evening when Gervaise found herself at home again, she remained
in a stupefied state on a chair. It seemed to her that the rooms were
immense and deserted. Really, it would be a good riddance. But it was
certainly not only mother Coupeau that she had left at the bottom of
the hole in the little garden of the Rue Marcadet. She missed too many
things, most likely a part of her life, and her shop, and her pride of
being an employer, and other feelings besides, which she had buried
on that day. Yes, the walls were bare, and her heart also; it was a
complete clear out, a tumble into the pit. And she felt too tired; she
would pick herself up again later on if she could.

At ten o'clock, when undressing, Nana cried and stamped. She wanted to
sleep in mother Coupeau's bed. Her mother tried to frighten her; but
the child was too precocious. Corpses only filled her with a great
curiosity; so that, for the sake of peace, she was allowed to lie down
in mother Coupeau's place. She liked big beds, the chit; she spread
herself out and rolled about. She slept uncommonly well that night in
the warm and pleasant feather bed.


The Coupeaus' new lodging was on the sixth floor, staircase B. After
passing Mademoiselle Remanjou's door, you took the corridor to the
left, and then turned again further along. The first door was for the
apartment of the Bijards. Almost opposite, in an airless corner under a
small staircase leading to the roof, was where Pere Bru slept. Two
doors further was Bazouge's room and the Coupeaus were opposite him,
overlooking the court, with one room and a closet. There were only two
more doors along the corridor before reaching that of the Lorilleuxs at
the far end.

A room and a closet, no more. The Coupeaus perched there now. And the
room was scarcely larger than one's hand. And they had to do everything
in there--eat, sleep, and all the rest. Nana's bed just squeezed into
the closet; she had to dress in her father and mother's room, and her
door was kept open at night-time so that she should not be suffocated.
There was so little space that Gervaise had left many things in the
shop for the Poissons. A bed, a table, and four chairs completely filled
their new apartment but she didn't have the courage to part with her old
bureau and so it blocked off half the window. This made the room dark
and gloomy, especially since one shutter was stuck shut. Gervaise was
now so fat that there wasn't room for her in the limited window space
and she had to lean sideways and crane her neck if she wanted to see the

During the first few days, the laundress would continually sit down
and cry. It seemed to her too hard, not being able to move about in
her home, after having been used to so much room. She felt stifled;
she remained at the window for hours, squeezed between the wall and
the drawers and getting a stiff neck. It was only there that she could
breathe freely. However, the courtyard inspired rather melancholy
thoughts. Opposite her, on the sunny side, she would see that same
window she had dreamed about long ago where the spring brought scarlet
vines. Her own room was on the shady side where pots of mignonette died
within a week. Oh, this wasn't at all the sort of life she had dreamed
of. She had to wallow in filth instead of having flowers all about her.

On leaning out one day, Gervaise experienced a peculiar sensation: she
fancied she beheld herself down below, near the concierge's room under
the porch, her nose in the air, and examining the house for the first
time; and this leap thirteen years backwards caused her heart to throb.
The courtyard was a little dingier and the walls more stained, otherwise
it hadn't changed much. But she herself felt terribly changed and worn.
To begin with, she was no longer below, her face raised to heaven,
feeling content and courageous and aspiring to a handsome lodging. She
was right up under the roof, among the most wretched, in the dirtiest
hole, the part that never received a ray of sunshine. And that explained
her tears; she could scarcely feel enchanted with her fate.

However, when Gervaise had grown somewhat used to it, the early days
of the little family in their new home did not pass off so badly.
The winter was almost over, and the trifle of money received for the
furniture sold to Virginie helped to make things comfortable. Then with
the fine weather came a piece of luck, Coupeau was engaged to work in
the country at Etampes; and he was there for nearly three months without
once getting drunk, cured for a time by the fresh air. One has no idea
what a quench it is to the tippler's thirst to leave Paris where the
very streets are full of the fumes of wine and brandy. On his return he
was as fresh as a rose, and he brought back in his pocket four hundred
francs with which they paid the two overdue quarters' rent at the shop
that the Poissons had become answerable for, and also the most pressing
of their little debts in the neighborhood. Gervaise thus opened two or
three streets through which she had not passed for a long time.

She had naturally become an ironer again. Madame Fauconnier was quite
good-hearted if you flattered her a bit, and she was happy to take
Gervaise back, even paying her the same three francs a day as her best
worker. This was out of respect for her former status as an employer.
The household seemed to be getting on well and Gervaise looked forward
to the day when all the debts would be paid. Hard work and economy would
solve all their money troubles. Unfortunately, she dreamed of this in
the warm satisfaction of the large sum earned by her husband. Soon, she
said that the good things never lasted and took things as they came.

What the Coupeaus most suffered from at that time was seeing the
Poissons installing themselves at their former shop. They were not
naturally of a particularly jealous disposition, but people aggravated
them by purposely expressing amazement in their presence at the
embellishments of their successors. The Boches and the Lorilleuxs
especially, never tired. According to them, no one had ever seen so
beautiful a shop. They were also continually mentioning the filthy state
in which the Poissons had found the premises, saying that it had cost
thirty francs for the cleaning alone.

After much deliberation, Virginie had decided to open a shop
specializing in candies, chocolate, coffee and tea. Lantier had advised
this, saying there was much money to be made from such delicacies. The
shop was stylishly painted black with yellow stripes. Three carpenters
worked for eight days on the interior, putting up shelves, display
cases and counters. Poisson's small inheritance must have been almost
completely used, but Virginie was ecstatic. The Lorilleuxs and the
Boches made sure that Gervaise did not miss a single improvement and
chuckled to themselves while watching her expression.

There was also a question of a man beneath all this. It was reported
that Lantier had broken off with Gervaise. The neighborhood declared
that it was quite right. In short, it gave a moral tone to the street.
And all the honor of the separation was accorded to the crafty hatter
on whom all the ladies continued to dote. Some said that she was still
crazy about him and he had to slap her to make her leave him alone.
Of course, no one told the actual truth. It was too simple and not
interesting enough.

Actually Lantier climbed to the sixth floor to see her whenever he felt
the impulse. Mademoiselle Remanjou had often seen him coming out of the
Coupeaus' at odd hours.

The situation was even more complicated by neighborhood gossip linking
Lantier and Virginie. The neighbors were a bit too hasty in this also;
he had not even reached the stage of buttock-pinching with her. Still,
the Lorilleuxs delighted in talking sympathetically to Gervaise about
the affair between Lantier and Virginie. The Boches maintained they had
never seen a more handsome couple. The odd thing in all this was that
the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or seemed to have no objection to this new
arrangement which everyone thought was progressing nicely. Those who had
been so harsh to Gervaise were now quite lenient toward Virginie.

Gervaise had previously heard numerous reports about Lantier's affairs
with all sorts of girls on the street and they had bothered her so
little that she hadn't even felt enough resentment to break off the
affair. However, this new intrigue with Virginie wasn't quite so easy to
accept because she was sure that the two of them were just out to spite
her. She hid her resentment though to avoid giving any satisfaction to
her enemies. Mademoiselle Remanjou thought that Gervaise had words with
Lantier over this because one afternoon she heard the sound of a slap.
There was certainly a quarrel because Lantier stopped speaking to
Gervaise for a couple of weeks, but then he was the first one to make up
and things seemed to go along the same as before.

Coupeau found all this most amusing. The complacent husband who had been
blind to his own situation laughed heartily at Poisson's predicament.
Then Coupeau even teased Gervaise. Her lovers always dropped her.
First the blacksmith and now the hatmaker. The trouble was that she got
involved with undependable trades. She should take up with a mason, a
good solid man. He said such things as if he were joking, but they upset
Gervaise because his small grey eyes seemed to be boring right into her.

On evenings when Coupeau became bored being alone with his wife up in
their tiny hole under the roof, he would go down for Lantier and invite
him up. He thought their dump was too dreary without Lantier's company
so he patched things up between Gervaise and Lantier whenever they had a
falling out.

In the midst of all this Lantier put on the most consequential airs.
He showed himself both paternal and dignified. On three successive
occasions he had prevented a quarrel between the Coupeaus and the
Poissons. The good understanding between the two families formed a part
of his contentment. Thanks to the tender though firm glances with
which he watched over Gervaise and Virginie, they always pretended to
entertain a great friendship for each other. He reigned over both blonde
and brunette with the tranquillity of a pasha, and fattened on his
cunning. The rogue was still digesting the Coupeaus when he already
began to devour the Poissons. Oh, it did not inconvenience him much! As
soon as one shop was swallowed, he started on a second. It was only men
of his sort who ever have any luck.

It was in June of that year that Nana was confirmed. She was then nearly
thirteen years old, as tall as an asparagus shoot run to seed, and had
a bold, impudent air about her. The year before she had been sent away
from the catechism class on account of her bad behavior; and the priest
had only allowed her to join it this time through fear of losing her
altogether, and of casting one more heathen onto the street. Nana
danced for joy as she thought of the white dress. The Lorilleuxs, being
godfather and godmother, had promised to provide it, and took care to
let everyone in the house know of their present. Madame Lerat was
to give the veil and the cap, Virginie the purse, and Lantier the
prayer-book; so that the Coupeaus looked forward to the ceremony without
any great anxiety. Even the Poissons, wishing to give a house-warming,
chose this occasion, no doubt on the hatter's advice. They invited
the Coupeaus and the Boches, whose little girl was also going to be
confirmed. They provided a leg of mutton and trimmings for the evening
in question.

It so happened that on the evening before, Coupeau returned home in a
most abominable condition, just as Nana was lost in admiration before
the presents spread out on the top of the chest of drawers. The Paris
atmosphere was getting the better of him again; and he fell foul of his
wife and child with drunken arguments and disgusting language which no
one should have uttered at such a time. Nana herself was beginning
to get hold of some very bad expressions in the midst of the filthy
conversations she was continually hearing. On the days when there was a
row, she would often call her mother an old camel and a cow.

"Where's my food?" yelled the zinc-worker. "I want my soup, you couple
of jades! There's females for you, always thinking of finery! I'll sit
on the gee-gaws, you know, if I don't get my soup!"

"He's unbearable when he's drunk," murmured Gervaise, out of patience;
and turning towards him, she exclaimed:

"It's warming up, don't bother us."

Nana was being modest, because she thought it nice on such a day. She
continued to look at the presents on the chest of drawers, affectedly
lowering her eyelids and pretending not to understand her father's
naughty words. But the zinc-worker was an awful plague on the nights
when he had had too much. Poking his face right against her neck, he

"I'll give you white dresses! So the finery tickles your fancy. They
excite your imagination. Just you cut away from there, you ugly little
brat! Move your hands about, bundle them all into a drawer!"

Nana, with bowed head, did not answer a word. She had taken up the
little tulle cap and was asking her mother how much it cost. And as
Coupeau thrust out his hand to seize hold of the cap, it was Gervaise
who pushed him aside exclaiming:

"Do leave the child alone! She's very good, she's doing no harm."

Then the zinc-worker let out in real earnest.

"Ah! the viragos! The mother and daughter, they make the pair. It's a
nice thing to go to church just to leer at the men. Dare to say it isn't
true, little slattern! I'll dress you in a sack, just to disgust you,
you and your priests. I don't want you to be taught anything worse than
you know already. _Mon Dieu!_ Just listen to me, both of you!"

At this Nana turned round in a fury, whilst Gervaise had to spread out
her arms to protect the things which Coupeau talked of tearing. The
child looked her father straight in the face; then, forgetting the
modest bearing inculcated by her confessor, she said, clinching her
teeth: "Pig!"

As soon as the zinc-worker had had his soup he went off to sleep. On
the morrow he awoke in a very good humor. He still felt a little of the
booze of the day before but only just sufficient to make him amiable.
He assisted at the dressing of the child, deeply affected by the white
dress and finding that a mere nothing gave the little vermin quite the
look of a young lady.

The two families started off together for the church. Nana and Pauline
walked first, their prayer-books in their hands and holding down their
veils on account of the wind; they did not speak but were bursting
with delight at seeing people come to their shop-doors, and they smiled
primly and devoutly every time they heard anyone say as they passed that
they looked very nice. Madame Boche and Madame Lorilleux lagged behind,
because they were interchanging their ideas about Clump-clump, a
gobble-all, whose daughter would never have been confirmed if the
relations had not found everything for her; yes, everything, even a new
chemise, out of respect for the holy altar. Madame Lorilleux was rather
concerned about the dress, calling Nana a dirty thing every time the
child got dust on her skirt by brushing against the store fronts.

At church Coupeau wept all the time. It was stupid but he could not help
it. It affected him to see the priest holding out his arms and all
the little girls, looking like angels, pass before him, clasping
their hands; and the music of the organ stirred up his stomach and the
pleasant smell of the incense forced him to sniff, the same as though
someone had thrust a bouquet of flowers into his face. In short he saw
everything cerulean, his heart was touched. Anyway, other sensitive
souls around him were wetting their handkerchiefs. This was a beautiful
day, the most beautiful of his life. After leaving the church, Coupeau
went for a drink with Lorilleux, who had remained dry-eyed.

That evening the Poissons' house-warming was very lively. Friendship
reigned without a hitch from one end of the feast to the other. When bad
times arrive one thus comes in for some pleasant evenings, hours during
which sworn enemies love each other. Lantier, with Gervaise on his left
and Virginie on his right, was most amiable to both of them,
lavishing little tender caresses like a cock who desires peace in his
poultry-yard. But the queens of the feast were the two little ones, Nana
and Pauline, who had been allowed to keep on their things; they sat bolt
upright through fear of spilling anything on their white dresses and at
every mouthful they were told to hold up their chins so as to swallow
cleanly. Nana, greatly bored by all this fuss, ended by slobbering her
wine over the body of her dress, so it was taken off and the stains were
at once washed out in a glass of water.

Then at dessert the children's future careers were gravely discussed.

Madame Boche had decided that Pauline would enter a shop to learn how
to punch designs on gold and silver. That paid five or six francs a
day. Gervaise didn't know yet because Nana had never indicated any

"In your place," said Madame Lerat, "I would bring Nana up as an
artificial flower-maker. It is a pleasant and clean employment."

"Flower-makers?" muttered Lorilleux. "Every one of them might as well
walk the streets."

"Well, what about me?" objected Madame Lerat, pursing her lips. "You're
certainly not very polite. I assure you that I don't lie down for anyone
who whistles."

Then all the rest joined together in hushing her. "Madame Lerat! Oh,
Madame Lerat!" By side glances they reminded her of the two girls, fresh
from communion, who were burying their noses in their glasses to keep
from laughing out loud. The men had been very careful, for propriety's
sake, to use only suitable language, but Madame Lerat refused to follow
their example. She flattered herself on her command of language, as she
had often been complimented on the way she could say anything before
children, without any offence to decency.

"Just you listen, there are some very fine women among the
flower-makers!" she insisted. "They're just like other women and they
show good taste when they choose to commit a sin."

"_Mon Dieu!_" interrupted Gervaise, "I've no dislike for artificial
flower-making. Only it must please Nana, that's all I care about; one
should never thwart children on the question of a vocation. Come Nana,
don't be stupid; tell me now, would you like to make flowers?"

The child was leaning over her plate gathering up the cake crumbs with
her wet finger, which she afterwards sucked. She did not hurry herself.
She grinned in her vicious way.

"Why yes, mamma, I should like to," she ended by declaring.

Then the matter was at once settled. Coupeau was quite willing that
Madame Lerat should take the child with her on the morrow to the place
where she worked in the Rue du Caire. And they all talked very gravely
of the duties of life. Boche said that Nana and Pauline were women now
that they had partaken of communion. Poisson added that for the future
they ought to know how to cook, mend socks and look after a house.
Something was even said of their marrying, and of the children they
would some day have. The youngsters listened, laughing to themselves,
elated by the thought of being women. What pleased them the most was
when Lantier teased them, asking if they didn't already have little
husbands. Nana eventually admitted that she cared a great deal for
Victor Fauconnier, son of her mother's employer.

"Ah well," said Madame Lorilleux to the Boches, as they were all
leaving, "she's our goddaughter, but as they're going to put her into
artificial flower-making, we don't wish to have anything more to do with
her. Just one more for the boulevards. She'll be leading them a merry
chase before six months are over."

On going up to bed, the Coupeaus agreed that everything had passed off
well and that the Poissons were not at all bad people. Gervaise even
considered the shop was nicely got up. She was surprised to discover
that it hadn't pained her at all to spend an evening there. While Nana
was getting ready for bed she contemplated her white dress and asked her
mother if the young lady on the third floor had had one like it when she
was married last month.

This was their last happy day. Two years passed by, during which they
sank deeper and deeper. The winters were especially hard for them. If
they had bread to eat during the fine weather, the rain and cold came
accompanied by famine, by drubbings before the empty cupboard, and by
dinner-hours with nothing to eat in the little Siberia of their larder.
Villainous December brought numbing freezing spells and the black misery
of cold and dampness.

The first winter they occasionally had a fire, choosing to keep warm
rather than to eat. But the second winter, the stove stood mute with
its rust, adding a chill to the room, standing there like a cast-iron
gravestone. And what took the life out of their limbs, what above all
utterly crushed them was the rent. Oh! the January quarter, when there
was not a radish in the house and old Boche came up with the bill! It
was like a bitter storm, a regular tempest from the north. Monsieur
Marescot then arrived the following Saturday, wrapped up in a good warm
overcoat, his big hands hidden in woolen gloves; and he was for ever
talking of turning them out, whilst the snow continued to fall outside,
as though it were preparing a bed for them on the pavement with white
sheets. To have paid the quarter's rent they would have sold their very
flesh. It was the rent which emptied the larder and the stove.

No doubt the Coupeaus had only themselves to blame. Life may be a
hard fight, but one always pulls through when one is orderly and
economical--witness the Lorilleuxs, who paid their rent to the day, the
money folded up in bits of dirty paper. But they, it is true, led a life
of starved spiders, which would disgust one with hard work. Nana as yet
earned nothing at flower-making; she even cost a good deal for her keep.
At Madame Fauconnier's Gervaise was beginning to be looked down upon.
She was no longer so expert. She bungled her work to such an extent that
the mistress had reduced her wages to two francs a day, the price paid
to the clumsiest bungler. But she was still proud, reminding everyone of
her former status as boss of her own shop. When Madame Fauconnier hired
Madame Putois, Gervaise was so annoyed at having to work beside her
former employee that she stayed away for two weeks.

As for Coupeau, he did perhaps work, but in that case he certainly made
a present of his labor to the Government, for since the time he returned
from Etampes Gervaise had never seen the color of his money. She no
longer looked in his hands when he came home on paydays. He
arrived swinging his arms, his pockets empty, and often without his
handkerchief; well, yes, he had lost his rag, or else some rascally
comrade had sneaked it. At first he always fibbed; there was a donation
to charity, or some money slipped through the hole in his pocket, or he
paid off some imaginary debts. Later, he didn't even bother to make up
anything. He had nothing left because it had all gone into his stomach.

Madame Boche suggested to Gervaise that she go to wait for him at the
shop exit. This rarely worked though, because Coupeau's comrades would
warn him and the money would disappear into his shoe or someone else's

Yes, it was their own fault if every season found them lower and lower.
But that's the sort of thing one never tells oneself, especially when
one is down in the mire. They accused their bad luck; they pretended
that fate was against them. Their home had become a regular shambles
where they wrangled the whole day long. However, they had not yet come
to blows, with the exception of a few impulsive smacks, which somehow
flew about at the height of their quarrels. The saddest part of the
business was that they had opened the cage of affection; all their
better feelings had taken flight, like so many canaries. The genial
warmth of father, mother and child, when united together and wrapped up
in each other, deserted them, and left them shivering, each in his or
her own corner. All three--Coupeau, Gervaise and Nana--were always in
the most abominable tempers, biting each other's noses off for nothing
at all, their eyes full of hatred; and it seemed as though something
had broken the mainspring of the family, the mechanism which, with happy
people, causes hearts to beat in unison. Ah! it was certain Gervaise was
no longer moved as she used to be when she saw Coupeau at the edge of a
roof forty or fifty feet above the pavement. She would not have pushed
him off herself, but if he had fallen accidentally, in truth it would
have freed the earth of one who was of but little account. The days when
they were more especially at enmity she would ask him why he didn't come
back on a stretcher. She was awaiting it. It would be her good luck they
were bringing back to her. What use was he--that drunkard? To make her
weep, to devour all she possessed, to drive her to sin. Well! Men so
useless as he should be thrown as quickly as possible into the hole and
the polka of deliverance be danced over them. And when the mother said
"Kill him!" the daughter responded "Knock him on the head!" Nana read
all of the reports of accidents in the newspapers, and made reflections
that were unnatural for a girl. Her father had such good luck an omnibus
had knocked him down without even sobering him. Would the beggar never

In the midst of her own poverty Gervaise suffered even more because
other families around her were also starving to death. Their corner of
the tenement housed the most wretched. There was not a family that ate
every day.

Gervaise felt the most pity for Pere Bru in his cubbyhole under the
staircase where he hibernated. Sometimes he stayed on his bed of straw
without moving for days. Even hunger no longer drove him out since
there was no use taking a walk when no one would invite him to dinner.
Whenever he didn't show his face for several days, the neighbors would
push open his door to see if his troubles were over. No, he was still
alive, just barely. Even Death seemed to have neglected him. Whenever
Gervaise had any bread she gave him the crusts. Even when she hated all
men because of her husband, she still felt sincerely sorry for Pere Bru,
the poor old man. They were letting him starve to death because he could
no longer hold tools in his hand.

The laundress also suffered a great deal from the close neighborhood of
Bazouge, the undertaker's helper. A simple partition, and a very thin
one, separated the two rooms. He could not put his fingers down his
throat without her hearing it. As soon as he came home of an evening she
listened, in spite of herself, to everything he did. His black leather
hat laid with a dull thud on the chest of drawers, like a shovelful of
earth; the black cloak hung up and rustling against the walls like the
wings of some night bird; all the black toggery flung into the middle
of the room and filling it with the trappings of mourning. She heard
him stamping about, felt anxious at the least movement, and was quite
startled if he knocked against the furniture or rattled any of his
crockery. This confounded drunkard was her preoccupation, filling her
with a secret fear mingled with a desire to know. He, jolly, his belly
full every day, his head all upside down, coughed, spat, sang "Mother
Godichon," made use of many dirty expressions and fought with the
four walls before finding his bedstead. And she remained quite pale,
wondering what he could be doing in there. She imagined the most
atrocious things. She got into her head that he must have brought a
corpse home, and was stowing it away under his bedstead. Well! the
newspapers had related something of the kind--an undertaker's helper
who collected the coffins of little children at his home, so as to save
himself trouble and to make only one journey to the cemetery.

For certain, directly Bazouge arrived, a smell of death seemed to
permeate the partition. One might have thought oneself lodging against
the Pere Lachaise cemetery, in the midst of the kingdom of moles. He was
frightful, the animal, continually laughing all by himself, as though
his profession enlivened him. Even when he had finished his rumpus and
had laid himself on his back, he snored in a manner so extraordinary
that it caused the laundress to hold her breath. For hours she listened
attentively, with an idea that funerals were passing through her
neighbor's room.

The worst was that, in spite of her terrors, something incited Gervaise
to put her ear to the wall, the better to find out what was taking
place. Bazouge had the same effect on her as handsome men have on good
women: they would like to touch them. Well! if fear had not kept her
back, Gervaise would have liked to have handled death, to see what it
was like. She became so peculiar at times, holding her breath, listening
attentively, expecting to unravel the secret through one of Bazouge's
movements, that Coupeau would ask her with a chuckle if she had a fancy
for that gravedigger next door. She got angry and talked of moving, the
close proximity of this neighbor was so distasteful to her; and yet,
in spite of herself, as soon as the old chap arrived, smelling like a
cemetery, she became wrapped again in her reflections, with the excited
and timorous air of a wife thinking of passing a knife through the
marriage contract. Had he not twice offered to pack her up and carry
her off with him to some place where the enjoyment of sleep is so great,
that in a moment one forgets all one's wretchedness? Perhaps it was
really very pleasant. Little by little the temptation to taste it became
stronger. She would have liked to have tried it for a fortnight or a
month. Oh! to sleep a month, especially in winter, the month when the
rent became due, when the troubles of life were killing her! But it was
not possible--one must sleep forever, if one commences to sleep for an
hour; and the thought of this froze her, her desire for death departed
before the eternal and stern friendship which the earth demanded.

However, one evening in January she knocked with both her fists against
the partition. She had passed a frightful week, hustled by everyone,
without a sou, and utterly discouraged. That evening she was not at all
well, she shivered with fever, and seemed to see flames dancing about
her. Then, instead of throwing herself out of the window, as she had at
one moment thought of doing, she set to knocking and calling:

"Old Bazouge! Old Bazouge!"

The undertaker's helper was taking off his shoes and singing, "There
were three lovely girls." He had probably had a good day, for he seemed
even more maudlin than usual.

"Old Bazouge! Old Bazouge!" repeated Gervaise, raising her voice.

Did he not hear her then? She was ready to give herself at once; he
might come and take her on his neck, and carry her off to the place
where he carried his other women, the poor and the rich, whom he
consoled. It pained her to hear his song, "There were three lovely
girls," because she discerned in it the disdain of a man with too many

"What is it? what is it?" stuttered Bazouge; "who's unwell? We're
coming, little woman!"

But the sound of this husky voice awoke Gervaise as though from a
nightmare. And a feeling of horror ascended from her knees to her
shoulders at the thought of seeing herself lugged along in the old
fellow's arms, all stiff and her face as white as a china plate.

"Well! is there no one there now?" resumed Bazouge in silence. "Wait a
bit, we're always ready to oblige the ladies."

"It's nothing, nothing," said the laundress at length in a choking
voice. "I don't require anything, thanks."

She remained anxious, listening to old Bazouge grumbling himself to
sleep, afraid to stir for fear he would think he heard her knocking

In her corner of misery, in the midst of her cares and the cares of
others, Gervaise had, however, a beautiful example of courage in the
home of her neighbors, the Bijards. Little Lalie, only eight years old
and no larger than a sparrow, took care of the household as competently
as a grown person. The job was not an easy one because she had two
little tots, her brother Jules and her sister Henriette, aged three and
five, to watch all day long while sweeping and cleaning.

Ever since Bijard had killed his wife with a kick in the stomach, Lalie
had become the little mother of them all. Without saying a word, and of
her own accord, she filled the place of one who had gone, to the extent
that her brute of a father, no doubt to complete the resemblance, now
belabored the daughter as he had formerly belabored the mother. Whenever
he came home drunk, he required a woman to massacre. He did not even
notice that Lalie was quite little; he would not have beaten some old
trollop harder. Little Lalie, so thin it made you cry, took it all
without a word of complaint in her beautiful, patient eyes. Never would
she revolt. She bent her neck to protect her face and stifled her sobs
so as not to alarm the neighbors. When her father got tired of kicking
her, she would rest a bit until she got her strength back and then
resume her work. It was part of her job, being beaten daily.

Gervaise entertained a great friendship for her little neighbor. She
treated her as an equal, as a grown-up woman of experience. It must be
said that Lalie had a pale and serious look, with the expression of an
old girl. One might have thought her thirty on hearing her speak. She
knew very well how to buy things, mend the clothes, attend to the home,
and she spoke of the children as though she had already gone through
two or thee nurseries in her time. It made people smile to hear her talk
thus at eight years old; and then a lump would rise in their throats,
and they would hurry away so as not to burst out crying. Gervaise drew
the child towards her as much as she could, gave her all she could spare
of food and old clothing. One day as she tried one of Nana's old dresses
on her, she almost choked with anger on seeing her back covered with
bruises, the skin off her elbow, which was still bleeding, and all her
innocent flesh martyred and sticking to her bones. Well! Old Bazouge
could get a box ready; she would not last long at that rate! But the
child had begged the laundress not to say a word. She would not have
her father bothered on her account. She took his part, affirming that he
would not have been so wicked if it had not been for the drink. He was
mad, he did not know what he did. Oh! she forgave him, because one ought
to forgive madmen everything.

From that time Gervaise watched and prepared to interfere directly she
heard Bijard coming up the stairs. But on most of the occasions she only
caught some whack for her trouble. When she entered their room in the
day-time, she often found Lalie tied to the foot of the iron bedstead;
it was an idea of the locksmith's, before going out, to tie her legs
and her body with some stout rope, without anyone being able to find
out why--a mere whim of a brain diseased by drink, just for the sake, no
doubt, of maintaining his tyranny over the child when he was no longer
there. Lalie, as stiff as a stake, with pins and needles in her legs,
remained whole days at the post. She once even passed a night there,
Bijard having forgotten to come home. Whenever Gervaise, carried away
by her indignation, talked of unfastening her, she implored her not to
disturb the rope, because her father became furious if he did not find
the knots tied the same way he had left them. Really, it wasn't so bad,
it gave her a rest. She smiled as she said this though her legs were
swollen and bruised. What upset her the most was that she couldn't do
her work while tied to the bed. She could watch the children though, and
even did some knitting, so as not to entirely waste the time.

The locksmith had thought of another little game too. He heated sous in
the frying pan, then placed them on a corner of the mantle-piece; and
he called Lalie, and told her to fetch a couple of pounds of bread. The
child took up the sous unsuspectingly, uttered a cry and threw them on
the ground, shaking her burnt hand. Then he flew into a fury. Who had
saddled him with such a piece of carrion? She lost the money now! And
he threatened to beat her to a jelly if she did not pick the sous up at
once. When the child hesitated she received the first warning, a clout
of such force that it made her see thirty-six candles. Speechless and
with two big tears in the corners of her eyes, she would pick up the
sous and go off, tossing them in the palm of her hand to cool them.

No, one could never imagine the ferocious ideas which may sprout from
the depths of a drunkard's brain. One afternoon, for instance, Lalie
having made everything tidy was playing with the children. The window
was open, there was a draught, and the wind blowing along the passage
gently shook the door.

"It's Monsieur Hardy," the child was saying. "Come in, Monsieur Hardy.
Pray have the kindness to walk in."

And she curtsied before the door, she bowed to the wind. Henriette and
Jules, behind her, also bowed, delighted with the game and splitting
their sides with laughing, as though being tickled. She was quite rosy
at seeing them so heartily amused and even found some pleasure in it
on her own account, which generally only happened to her on the
thirty-sixth day of each month.

"Good day, Monsieur Hardy. How do you do, Monsieur Hardy?"

But a rough hand pushed open the door, and Bijard entered. Then the
scene changed. Henriette and Jules fell down flat against the wall;
whilst Lalie, terrified, remained standing in the very middle of the
curtsey. The locksmith held in his hand a big waggoner's whip, quite
new, with a long white wooden handle, and a leather thong, terminating
with a bit of whip-cord. He placed the whip in the corner against
the bed and did not give the usual kick to the child who was already
preparing herself by presenting her back. A chuckle exposed his
blackened teeth and he was very lively, very drunk, his red face lighted
up by some idea that amused him immensely.

"What's that?" said he. "You're playing the deuce, eh, you confounded
young hussy! I could hear you dancing about from downstairs. Now then,
come here! Nearer and full face. I don't want to sniff you from behind.
Am I touching you that you tremble like a mass of giblets? Take my shoes

Lalie turned quite pale again and, amazed at not receiving her usual
drubbing, took his shoes off. He had seated himself on the edge of the
bed. He lay down with his clothes on and remained with his eyes open,
watching the child move about the room. She busied herself with one
thing and another, gradually becoming bewildered beneath his glance, her
limbs overcome by such a fright that she ended by breaking a cup. Then,
without getting off the bed, he took hold of the whip and showed it to

"See, little chickie, look at this. It's a present for you. Yes, it's
another fifty sous you've cost me. With this plaything I shall no longer
be obliged to run after you, and it'll be no use you getting into the
corners. Will you have a try? Ah! you broke a cup! Now then, gee up!
Dance away, make your curtsies to Monsieur Hardy!"

He did not even raise himself but lay sprawling on his back, his head
buried in his pillow, making the big whip crack about the room with the
noise of a postillion starting his horses. Then, lowering his arm he
lashed Lalie in the middle of the body, encircling her with the whip
and unwinding it again as though she were a top. She fell and tried to
escape on her hands and knees; but lashing her again he jerked her to
her feet.

"Gee up, gee up!" yelled he. "It's the donkey race! Eh, it'll be fine of
a cold morning in winter. I can lie snug without getting cold or hurting
my chilblains and catch the calves from a distance. In that corner
there, a hit, you hussy! And in that other corner, a hit again! And in
that one, another hit. Ah! if you crawl under the bed I'll whack you
with the handle. Gee up, you jade! Gee up! Gee up!"

A slight foam came to his lips, his yellow eyes were starting from their
black orbits. Lalie, maddened, howling, jumped to the four corners of
the room, curled herself up on the floor and clung to the walls; but the
lash at the end of the big whip caught her everywhere, cracking against
her ears with the noise of fireworks, streaking her flesh with burning
weals. A regular dance of the animal being taught its tricks. This poor
kitten waltzed. It was a sight! Her heels in the air like little girls
playing at skipping, and crying "Father!" She was all out of breath,
rebounding like an india-rubber ball, letting herself be beaten,
unable to see or any longer to seek a refuge. And her wolf of a father
triumphed, calling her a virago, asking her if she had had enough and
whether she understood sufficiently that she was in future to give up
all hope of escaping from him.

But Gervaise suddenly entered the room, attracted by the child's howls.
On beholding such a scene she was seized with a furious indignation.

"Ah! you brute of a man!" cried she. "Leave her alone, you brigand! I'll
put the police on to you."

Bijard growled like an animal being disturbed, and stuttered:

"Mind your own business a bit, Limper. Perhaps you'd like me to put
gloves on when I stir her up. It's merely to warm her, as you can
plainly see--simply to show her that I've a long arm."

And he gave a final lash with the whip which caught Lalie across the
face. The upper lip was cut, the blood flowed. Gervaise had seized a
chair, and was about to fall on to the locksmith; but the child held her
hands towards her imploringly, saying that it was nothing and that it
was all over. She wiped away the blood with the corner of her apron
and quieted the babies, who were sobbing bitterly, as though they had
received all the blows.

Whenever Gervaise thought of Lalie, she felt she had no right to
complain for herself. She wished she had as much patient courage as the
little girl who was only eight years old and had to endure more than the
rest of the women on their staircase put together. She had seen Lalie
living on stale bread for months and growing thinner and weaker.
Whenever she smuggled some remnants of meat to Lalie, it almost broke
her heart to see the child weeping silently and nibbling it down only by
little bits because her throat was so shrunken. Gervaise looked on Lalie
as a model of suffering and forgiveness and tried to learn from her how
to suffer in silence.

In the Coupeau household the vitriol of l'Assommoir was also commencing
its ravages. Gervaise could see the day coming when her husband would
get a whip like Bijard's to make her dance.

Yes, Coupeau was spinning an evil thread. The time was past when a drink
would make him feel good. His unhealthy soft fat of earlier years had
melted away and he was beginning to wither and turn a leaden grey. He
seemed to have a greenish tint like a corpse putrefying in a pond. He
no longer had a taste for food, not even the most beautifully prepared
stew. His stomach would turn and his decayed teeth refuse to touch it.
A pint a day was his daily ration, the only nourishment he could digest.
When he awoke in the mornings he sat coughing and spitting up bile for
at least a quarter of an hour. It never failed, you might as well have
the basin ready. He was never steady on his pins till after his first
glass of consolation, a real remedy, the fire of which cauterized his
bowels; but during the day his strength returned. At first he would feel
a tickling sensation, a sort of pins-and-needles in his hands and feet;
and he would joke, relating that someone was having a lark with him,
that he was sure his wife put horse-hair between the sheets. Then his
legs would become heavy, the tickling sensation would end by turning
into the most abominable cramps, which gripped his flesh as though in
a vise. That though did not amuse him so much. He no longer laughed; he
stopped suddenly on the pavement in a bewildered way with a ringing in
his ears and his eyes blinded with sparks. Everything appeared to him to
be yellow; the houses danced and he reeled about for three seconds with
the fear of suddenly finding himself sprawling on the ground. At other
times, while the sun was shining full on his back, he would shiver as
though iced water had been poured down his shoulders. What bothered
him the most was a slight trembling of both his hands; the right hand
especially must have been guilty of some crime, it suffered from so many
nightmares. _Mon Dieu!_ was he then no longer a man? He was becoming
an old woman! He furiously strained his muscles, he seized hold of his
glass and bet that he would hold it perfectly steady as with a hand of
marble; but in spite of his efforts the glass danced about, jumped
to the right, jumped to the left with a hurried and regular trembling
movement. Then in a fury he emptied it into his gullet, yelling that
he would require dozens like it, and afterwards he undertook to carry
a cask without so much as moving a finger. Gervaise, on the other
hand, told him to give up drink if he wished to cease trembling, and
he laughed at her, emptying quarts until he experienced the sensation
again, flying into a rage and accusing the passing omnibuses of shaking
up his liquor.

In the month of March Coupeau returned home one evening soaked through.
He had come with My-Boots from Montrouge, where they had stuffed
themselves full of eel soup, and he had received the full force of
the shower all the way from the Barriere des Fourneaux to the Barriere
Poissonniere, a good distance. During the night he was seized with
a confounded fit of coughing. He was very flushed, suffering from a
violent fever and panting like a broken bellows. When the Boches' doctor
saw him in the morning and listened against his back he shook his head,
and drew Gervaise aside to advise her to have her husband taken to the
hospital. Coupeau was suffering from pneumonia.

Gervaise did not worry herself, you may be sure. At one time she
would have been chopped into pieces before trusting her old man to the
saw-bones. After the accident in the Rue de la Nation she had spent
their savings in nursing him. But those beautiful sentiments don't last
when men take to wallowing in the mire. No, no; she did not intend to
make a fuss like that again. They might take him and never bring him
back; she would thank them heartily. Yet, when the litter arrived and
Coupeau was put into it like an article of furniture, she became all
pale and bit her lips; and if she grumbled and still said it was a good
job, her heart was no longer in her words. Had she but ten francs in her
drawer she would not have let him go.

She accompanied him to the Lariboisiere Hospital, saw the nurses put him
to bed at the end of a long hall, where the patients in a row, looking
like corpses, raised themselves up and followed with their eyes the
comrade who had just been brought in. It was a veritable death chamber.
There was a suffocating, feverish odor and a chorus of coughing. The
long hall gave the impression of a small cemetery with its double row of
white beds looking like an aisle of marble tombs. When Coupeau remained
motionless on his pillow, Gervaise left, having nothing to say, nor
anything in her pocket that could comfort him.

Outside, she turned to look up at the monumental structure of the
hospital and recalled the days when Coupeau was working there, putting
on the zinc roof, perched up high and singing in the sun. He wasn't
drinking in those days. She used to watch for him from her window in the
Hotel Boncoeur and they would both wave their handkerchiefs in greeting.
Now, instead of being on the roof like a cheerful sparrow, he was down
below. He had built his own place in the hospital where he had come to
die. _Mon Dieu!_ It all seemed so far way now, that time of young love.

On the day after the morrow, when Gervaise called to obtain news of him,
she found the bed empty. A Sister of Charity told her that they had been
obliged to remove her husband to the Asylum of Sainte-Anne, because the
day before he had suddenly gone wild. Oh! a total leave-taking of
his senses; attempts to crack his skull against the wall; howls which
prevented the other patients from sleeping. It all came from drink, it
seemed. Gervaise went home very upset. Well, her husband had gone crazy.
What would it be like if he came home? Nana insisted that they should
leave him in the hospital because he might end by killing both of them.

Gervaise was not able to go to Sainte-Anne until Sunday. It was
a tremendous journey. Fortunately, the omnibus from the Boulevard
Rochechouart to La Glaciere passed close to the asylum. She went down
the Rue de la Sante, buying two oranges on her way, so as not to arrive
empty-handed. It was another monumental building, with grey courtyards,
interminable corridors and a smell of rank medicaments, which did not
exactly inspire liveliness. But when they had admitted her into a cell
she was quite surprised to see Coupeau almost jolly. He was just then
seated on the throne, a spotlessly clean wooden case, and they both
laughed at her finding him in this position. Well, one knows what an
invalid is. He squatted there like a pope with his cheek of earlier
days. Oh! he was better, as he could do this.

"And the pneumonia?" inquired the laundress.

"Done for!" replied he. "They cured it in no time. I still cough a
little, but that's all that is left of it."

Then at the moment of leaving the throne to get back into his bed,
he joked once more. "It's lucky you have a strong nose and are not

They laughed louder than ever. At heart they felt joyful. It was by way
of showing their contentment without a host of phrases that they thus
joked together. One must have had to do with patients to know the
pleasure one feels at seeing all their functions at work again.

When he was back in bed she gave him the two oranges and this filled
him with emotion. He was becoming quite nice again ever since he had
had nothing but tisane to drink. She ended by venturing to speak to him
about his violent attack, surprised at hearing him reason like in the
good old times.

"Ah, yes," said he, joking at his own expense; "I talked a precious lot
of nonsense! Just fancy, I saw rats and ran about on all fours to put
a grain of salt under their tails. And you, you called to me, men were
trying to kill you. In short, all sorts of stupid things, ghosts in
broad daylight. Oh! I remember it well, my noodle's still solid.
Now it's over, I dream a bit when I'm asleep. I have nightmares, but
everyone has nightmares."

Gervaise remained with him until the evening. When the house surgeon
came, at the six o'clock inspection, he made him spread his hands; they
hardly trembled at all, scarcely a quiver at the tips of the fingers.
However, as night approached, Coupeau was little by little seized with
uneasiness. He twice sat up in bed looking on the ground and in the dark
corners of the room. Suddenly he thrust out an arm and appeared to crush
some vermin against the wall.

"What is it?" asked Gervaise, frightened.

"The rats! The rats!" murmured he.

Then, after a pause, gliding into sleep, he tossed about, uttering
disconnected phrases.

"_Mon Dieu!_ they're tearing my skin!--Oh! the filthy beasts!--Keep
steady! Hold your skirts right round you! beware of the dirty
bloke behind you!--_Mon Dieu!_ she's down and the scoundrels
laugh!--Scoundrels! Blackguards! Brigands!"

He dealt blows into space, caught hold of his blanket and rolled it into
a bundle against his chest, as though to protect the latter from the
violence of the bearded men whom he beheld. Then, an attendant having
hastened to the spot, Gervaise withdrew, quite frozen by the scene.

But when she returned a few days later, she found Coupeau completely
cured. Even the nightmares had left him; he could sleep his ten hours
right off as peacefully as a child and without stirring a limb. So his
wife was allowed to take him away. The house surgeon gave him the usual
good advice on leaving and advised him to follow it. If he recommenced
drinking, he would again collapse and would end by dying. Yes, it solely
depended upon himself. He had seen how jolly and healthy one could
become when one did not get drunk. Well, he must continue at home the
sensible life he had led at Sainte-Anne, fancy himself under lock and
key and that dram-shops no longer existed.

"The gentleman's right," said Gervaise in the omnibus which was taking
them back to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or.

"Of course he's right," replied Coupeau.

Then, after thinking a minute, he resumed:

"Oh! you know, a little glass now and again can't kill a man; it helps
the digestion."

And that very evening he swallowed a glass of bad spirit, just to keep
his stomach in order. For eight days he was pretty reasonable. He was a
great coward at heart; he had no desire to end his days in the Bicetre
mad-house. But his passion got the better of him; the first little glass
led him, in spite of himself, to a second, to a third and to a fourth,
and at the end of a fortnight, he had got back to his old ration, a pint
of vitriol a day. Gervaise, exasperated, could have beaten him. To think
that she had been stupid enough to dream once more of leading a worthy
life, just because she had seen him at the asylum in full possession of
his good sense! Another joyful hour had flown, the last one no doubt!
Oh! now, as nothing could reclaim him, not even the fear of his near
death, she swore she would no longer put herself out; the home might
be all at sixes and sevens, she did not care any longer; and she talked
also of leaving him.

Then hell upon earth recommenced, a life sinking deeper into the mire,
without a glimmer of hope for something better to follow. Nana, whenever
her father clouted her, furiously asked why the brute was not at the
hospital. She was awaiting the time when she would be earning money, she
would say, to treat him to brandy and make him croak quicker. Gervaise,
on her side, flew into a passion one day that Coupeau was regretting
their marriage. Ah! she had brought him her saucy children; ah! she had
got herself picked up from the pavement, wheedling him with rosy dreams!
_Mon Dieu!_ he had a rare cheek! So many words, so many lies. She hadn't
wished to have anything to do with him, that was the truth. He had
dragged himself at her feet to make her give way, whilst she was
advising him to think well what he was about. And if it was all to come
over again, he would hear how she would just say "no!" She would sooner
have an arm cut off. Yes, she'd had a lover before him; but a woman who
has had a lover, and who is a worker, is worth more than a sluggard of a
man who sullies his honor and that of his family in all the dram-shops.
That day, for the first time, the Coupeaus went in for a general brawl,
and they whacked each other so hard that an old umbrella and the broom
were broken.

Gervaise kept her word. She sank lower and lower; she missed going to
her work oftener, spent whole days in gossiping, and became as soft as a
rag whenever she had a task to perform. If a thing fell from her hands,
it might remain on the floor; it was certainly not she who would have
stooped to pick it up. She took her ease about everything, and never
handled a broom except when the accumulation of filth almost brought her
to the ground. The Lorilleuxs now made a point of holding something to
their noses whenever they passed her room; the stench was poisonous,
said they. Those hypocrites slyly lived at the end of the passage, out
of the way of all these miseries which filled the corner of the house
with whimpering, locking themselves in so as not to have to lend twenty
sou pieces. Oh! kind-hearted folks, neighbors awfully obliging! Yes,
you may be sure! One had only to knock and ask for a light or a pinch
of salt or a jug of water, one was certain of getting the door banged
in one's face. With all that they had vipers' tongues. They protested
everywhere that they never occupied themselves with other people. This
was true whenever it was a question of assisting a neighbor; but they
did so from morning to night, directly they had a chance of pulling
any one to pieces. With the door bolted and a rug hung up to cover
the chinks and the key-hole, they would treat themselves to a spiteful
gossip without leaving their gold wire for a moment.

The fall of Clump-clump in particular kept them purring like pet cats.
Completely ruined! Not a sou remaining. They smiled gleefully at the
small piece of bread she would bring back when she went shopping and
kept count of the days when she had nothing at all to eat. And the
clothes she wore now. Disgusting rags! That's what happened when one
tried to live high.

Gervaise, who had an idea of the way in which they spoke of her, would
take her shoes off, and place her ear against their door; but the rug
over the door prevented her from hearing much. She was heartily sick of
them; she continued to speak to them, to avoid remarks, though expecting
nothing but unpleasantness from such nasty persons, but no longer having
strength even to give them as much as they gave her, passed the insults
off as a lot of nonsense. And besides she only wanted her own pleasure,
to sit in a heap twirling her thumbs, and only moving when it was a
question of amusing herself, nothing more.

One Saturday Coupeau had promised to take her to the circus. It was well
worth while disturbing oneself to see ladies galloping along on horses
and jumping through paper hoops. Coupeau had just finished a fortnight's
work, he could well spare a couple of francs; and they had also arranged
to dine out, just the two of them, Nana having to work very late that
evening at her employer's because of some pressing order. But at seven
o'clock there was no Coupeau; at eight o'clock it was still the same.
Gervaise was furious. Her drunkard was certainly squandering his
earnings with his comrades at the dram-shops of the neighborhood. She
had washed a cap and had been slaving since the morning over the holes
of an old dress, wishing to look decent. At last, towards nine o'clock,
her stomach empty, her face purple with rage, she decided to go down and
look for Coupeau.

"Is it your husband you want?" called Madame Boche, on catching sight of
Gervaise looking very glum. "He's at Pere Colombe's. Boche has just been
having some cherry brandy with him."

Gervaise uttered her thanks and stalked stiffly along the pavement with
the determination of flying at Coupeau's eyes. A fine rain was falling
which made the walk more unpleasant still. But when she reached
l'Assommoir, the fear of receiving the drubbing herself if she badgered
her old man suddenly calmed her and made her prudent. The shop was
ablaze with the lighted gas, the flames of which were as brilliant as
suns, and the bottles and jars illuminated the walls with their colored
glass. She stood there an instant stretching her neck, her eyes close to
the window, looking between two bottle placed there for show, watching
Coupeau who was right at the back; he was sitting with some comrades at
a little zinc table, all looking vague and blue in the tobacco smoke;
and, as one could not hear them yelling, it created a funny effect to
see them gesticulating with their chins thrust forward and their eyes
starting out of their heads. Good heavens! Was it really possible that
men could leave their wives and their homes to shut themselves up thus
in a hole where they were choking?

The rain trickled down her neck; she drew herself up and went off to the
exterior Boulevard, wrapped in thought and not daring to enter. Ah! well
Coupeau would have welcomed her in a pleasant way, he who objected to be
spied upon! Besides, it really scarcely seemed to her the proper place
for a respectable woman. Twice she went back and stood before the shop
window, her eyes again riveted to the glass, annoyed at still beholding
those confounded drunkards out of the rain and yelling and drinking. The
light of l'Assommoir was reflected in the puddles on the pavement,
which simmered with little bubbles caused by the downpour. At length
she thought she was too foolish, and pushing open the door, she walked
straight up to the table where Coupeau was sitting. After all it was her
husband she came for, was it not? And she was authorized in doing so,
because he had promised to take her to the circus that evening. So much
the worse! She had no desire to melt like a cake of soap out on the

"Hullo! It's you, old woman!" exclaimed the zinc-worker, half choking
with a chuckle. "Ah! that's a good joke. Isn't it a good joke now?"

All the company laughed. Gervaise remained standing, feeling rather
bewildered. Coupeau appeared to her to be in a pleasant humor, so she
ventured to say:

"You remember, we've somewhere to go. We must hurry. We shall still be
in time to see something."

"I can't get up, I'm glued, oh! without joking," resumed Coupeau, who
continued laughing. "Try, just to satisfy yourself; pull my arm with all
your strength; try it! harder than that, tug away, up with it! You see
it's that louse Pere Colombe who's screwed me to his seat."

Gervaise had humored him at this game, and when she let go of his arm,
the comrades thought the joke so good that they tumbled up against one
another, braying and rubbing their shoulders like donkeys being groomed.
The zinc-worker's mouth was so wide with laughter that you could see
right down his throat.

"You great noodle!" said he at length, "you can surely sit down a
minute. You're better here than splashing about outside. Well, yes; I
didn't come home as I promised, I had business to attend to. Though you
may pull a long face, it won't alter matters. Make room, you others."

"If madame would accept my knees she would find them softer than the
seat," gallantly said My-Boots.

Gervaise, not wishing to attract attention, took a chair and sat down
at a short distance from the table. She looked at what the men were
drinking, some rotgut brandy which shone like gold in the glasses; a
little of it had dropped upon the table and Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, dipped his finger in it whilst conversing and
wrote a woman's name--"Eulalie"--in big letters. She noticed
that Bibi-the-Smoker looked shockingly jaded and thinner than a
hundred-weight of nails. My-Boot's nose was in full bloom, a regular
purple Burgundy dahlia. They were all quite dirty, their beards stiff,
their smocks ragged and stained, their hands grimy with dirt. Yet they
were still quite polite.

Gervaise noticed a couple of men at the bar. They were so drunk that
they were spilling the drink down their chins when they thought they
were wetting their whistles. Fat Pere Colombe was calmly serving round
after round.

The atmosphere was very warm, the smoke from the pipes ascended in
the blinding glare of the gas, amidst which it rolled about like dust,
drowning the customers in a gradually thickening mist; and from this
cloud there issued a deafening and confused uproar, cracked voices,
clinking of glasses, oaths and blows sounding like detonations. So
Gervaise pulled a very wry face, for such a sight is not funny for a
woman, especially when she is not used to it; she was stifling, with a
smarting sensation in her eyes, and her head already feeling heavy
from the alcoholic fumes exhaled by the whole place. Then she suddenly
experienced the sensation of something more unpleasant still behind
her back. She turned round and beheld the still, the machine which
manufactured drunkards, working away beneath the glass roof of the
narrow courtyard with the profound trepidation of its hellish cookery.
Of an evening, the copper parts looked more mournful than ever, lit up
only on their rounded surface with one big red glint; and the shadow of
the apparatus on the wall at the back formed most abominable figures,
bodies with tails, monsters opening their jaws as though to swallow
everyone up.

"Listen, mother Talk-too-much, don't make any of your grimaces!" cried
Coupeau. "To blazes, you know, with all wet blankets! What'll you

"Nothing, of course," replied the laundress. "I haven't dined yet."

"Well! that's all the more reason for having a glass; a drop of
something sustains one."

But, as she still retained her glum expression, My-Boots again did the

"Madame probably likes sweet things," murmured he.

"I like men who don't get drunk," retorted she, getting angry. "Yes, I
like a fellow who brings home his earnings, and who keeps his word when
he makes a promise."

"Ah! so that's what upsets you?" said the zinc-worker, without ceasing
to chuckle. "Yes, you want your share. Then, big goose, why do you
refuse a drink? Take it, it's so much to the good."

She looked at him fixedly, in a grave manner, a wrinkle marking her
forehead with a black line. And she slowly replied:

"Why, you're right, it's a good idea. That way, we can drink up the coin

Bibi-the-Smoker rose from his seat to fetch her a glass of anisette. She
drew her chair up to the table. Whilst she was sipping her anisette, a
recollection suddenly flashed across her mind, she remembered the plum
she had taken with Coupeau, near the door, in the old days, when he
was courting her. At that time, she used to leave the juice of fruits
preserved in brandy. And now, here was she going back to liqueurs. Oh!
she knew herself well, she had not two thimblefuls of will. One would
only have had to have given her a walloping across the back to have made
her regularly wallow in drink. The anisette even seemed to be very good,
perhaps rather too sweet and slightly sickening. She went on sipping as
she listened to Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, tell of
his affair with fat Eulalie, a fish peddler and very shrewd at locating
him. Even if his comrades tried to hide him, she could usually sniff
him out when he was late. Just the night before she had slapped his
face with a flounder to teach him not to neglect going to work.
Bibi-the-Smoker and My-Boots nearly split their sides laughing. They
slapped Gervaise on the shoulder and she began to laugh also, finding it
amusing in spite of herself. They then advised her to follow Eulalie's
example and bring an iron with her so as to press Coupeau's ears on the
counters of the wineshops.

"Ah, well, no thanks," cried Coupeau as he turned upside down the glass
his wife had emptied. "You pump it out pretty well. Just look, you
fellows, she doesn't take long over it."

"Will madame take another?" asked Salted-Mouth, otherwise

No, she had had enough. Yet she hesitated. The anisette had slightly
bothered her stomach. She should have taken straight brandy to settle
her digestion.

She cast side glances at the drunkard manufacturing machine behind her.
That confounded pot, as round as the stomach of a tinker's fat wife,
with its nose that was so long and twisted, sent a shiver down her back,
a fear mingled with a desire. Yes, one might have thought it the metal
pluck of some big wicked woman, of some witch who was discharging drop
by drop the fire of her entrails. A fine source of poison, an operation
which should have been hidden away in a cellar, it was so brazen and
abominable! But all the same she would have liked to have poked her nose
inside it, to have sniffed the odor, have tasted the filth, though the
skin might have peeled off her burnt tongue like the rind off an orange.

"What's that you're drinking?" asked she slyly of the men, her eyes
lighted up by the beautiful golden color of their glasses.

"That, old woman," answered Coupeau, "is Pere Colombe's camphor. Don't
be silly now and we'll give you a taste."

And when they had brought her a glass of the vitriol, the rotgut, and
her jaws had contracted at the first mouthful, the zinc-worker resumed,
slapping his thighs:

"Ha! It tickles your gullet! Drink it off at one go. Each glassful
cheats the doctor of six francs."

At the second glass Gervaise no longer felt the hunger which had been
tormenting her. Now she had made it up with Coupeau, she no longer felt
angry with him for not having kept his word. They would go to the circus
some other day; it was not so funny to see jugglers galloping about on
houses. There was no rain inside Pere Colombe's and if the money went
in brandy, one at least had it in one's body; one drank it bright and
shining like beautiful liquid gold. Ah! she was ready to send the whole
world to blazes! Life was not so pleasant after all, besides it seemed
some consolation to her to have her share in squandering the cash.
As she was comfortable, why should she not remain? One might have a
discharge of artillery; she did not care to budge once she had settled
in a heap. She nursed herself in a pleasant warmth, her bodice sticking
to her back, overcome by a feeling of comfort which benumbed her limbs.
She laughed all to herself, her elbows on the table, a vacant look in
her eyes, highly amused by two customers, a fat heavy fellow and a tiny
shrimp, seated at a neighboring table, and kissing each other lovingly.
Yes, she laughed at the things to see in l'Assommoir, at Pere Colombe's
full moon face, a regular bladder of lard, at the customers smoking
their short clay pipes, yelling and spitting, and at the big flames of
gas which lighted up the looking-glasses and the bottles of liqueurs.
The smell no longer bothered her, on the contrary it tickled her nose,
and she thought it very pleasant. Her eyes slightly closed, whilst she
breathed very slowly, without the least feeling of suffocation, tasting
the enjoyment of the gentle slumber which was overcoming her. Then,
after her third glass, she let her chin fall on her hands; she now only
saw Coupeau and his comrades, and she remained nose to nose with them,
quite close, her cheeks warmed by their breath, looking at their dirty
beards as though she had been counting the hairs. My-Boots drooled,
his pipe between his teeth, with the dumb and grave air of a dozing ox.
Bibi-the-Smoker was telling a story--the manner in which he emptied a
bottle at a draught, giving it such a kiss that one instantly saw its
bottom. Meanwhile Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, had gone
and fetched the wheel of fortune from the counter, and was playing with
Coupeau for drinks.

"Two hundred! You're lucky; you get high numbers every time!"

The needle of the wheel grated, and the figure of Fortune, a big red
woman placed under glass, turned round and round until it looked like a
mere spot in the centre, similar to a wine stain.

"Three hundred and fifty! You must have been inside it, you confounded
lascar! Ah! I shan't play any more!"

Gervaise amused herself with the wheel of fortune. She was feeling
awfully thirsty, and calling My-Boots "my child." Behind her the machine
for manufacturing drunkards continued working, with its murmur of an
underground stream; and she despaired of ever stopping it, of exhausting
it, filled with a sullen anger against it, feeling a longing to spring
upon the big still as upon some animal, to kick it with her heels and
stave in its belly. Then everything began to seem all mixed up. The
machine seemed to be moving itself and she thought she was being grabbed
by its copper claws, and that the underground stream was now flowing
over her body.

Then the room danced round, the gas-jets seemed to shoot like stars.
Gervaise was drunk. She heard a furious wrangle between Salted-Mouth,
otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, and that rascal Pere Colombe. There was
a thief of a landlord who wanted one to pay for what one had not
had! Yet one was not at a gangster's hang-out. Suddenly there was a
scuffling, yells were heard and tables were upset. It was Pere Colombe
who was turning the party out without the least hesitation, and in the
twinkling of an eye. On the other side of the door they blackguarded him
and called him a scoundrel. It still rained and blew icy cold. Gervaise
lost Coupeau, found him and then lost him again. She wished to go home;
she felt the shops to find her way. This sudden darkness surprised her
immensely. At the corner of the Rue des Poissonniers, she sat down in
the gutter thinking she was at the wash-house. The water which flowed
along caused her head to swim, and made her very ill. At length she
arrived, she passed stiffly before the concierge's room where she
perfectly recognized the Lorilleuxs and the Poissons seated at the table
having dinner, and who made grimaces of disgust on beholding her in that
sorry state.

She never remembered how she had got up all those flights of stairs.
Just as she was turning into the passage at the top, little Lalie, who
heard her footsteps, hastened to meet her, opening her arms caressingly,
and saying, with a smile:

"Madame Gervaise, papa has not returned. Just come and see my little
children sleeping. Oh! they look so pretty!"

But on beholding the laundress' besotted face, she tremblingly drew
back. She was acquainted with that brandy-laden breath, those pale eyes,
that convulsed mouth. Then Gervaise stumbled past without uttering a
word, whilst the child, standing on the threshold of her room, followed
her with her dark eyes, grave and speechless.


Nana was growing up and becoming wayward. At fifteen years old she had
expanded like a calf, white-skinned and very fat; so plump, indeed, you
might have called her a pincushion. Yes, such she was--fifteen years
old, full of figure and no stays. A saucy magpie face, dipped in milk, a
skin as soft as a peach skin, a funny nose, pink lips and eyes sparkling
like tapers, which men would have liked to light their pipes at. Her
pile of fair hair, the color of fresh oats, seemed to have scattered
gold dust over her temples, freckle-like as it were, giving her brow a
sunny crown. Ah! a pretty doll, as the Lorilleuxs say, a dirty nose that
needed wiping, with fat shoulders, which were as fully rounded and as
powerful as those of a full-grown woman. Nana no longer needed to stuff
wads of paper into her bodice, her breasts were grown. She wished they
were larger though, and dreamed of having breasts like a wet-nurse.

What made her particularly tempting was a nasty habit she had of
protruding the tip of her tongue between her white teeth. No doubt on
seeing herself in the looking-glasses she had thought she was pretty
like this; and so, all day long, she poked her tongue out of her mouth,
in view of improving her appearance.

"Hide your lying tongue!" cried her mother.

Coupeau would often get involved, pounding his fist, swearing and

"Make haste and draw that red rag inside again!"

Nana showed herself very coquettish. She did not always wash her feet,
but she bought such tight boots that she suffered martyrdom in St.
Crispin's prison; and if folks questioned her when she turned purple
with pain, she answered that she had the stomach ache, so as to avoid
confessing her coquetry. When bread was lacking at home it was difficult
for her to trick herself out. But she accomplished miracles, brought
ribbons back from the workshop and concocted toilettes--dirty dresses
set off with bows and puffs. The summer was the season of her greatest
triumphs. With a cambric dress which had cost her six francs she filled
the whole neighborhood of the Goutte-d'Or with her fair beauty. Yes, she
was known from the outer Boulevards to the Fortifications, and from the
Chaussee de Clignancourt to the Grand Rue of La Chapelle. Folks called
her "chickie," for she was really as tender and as fresh-looking as a

There was one dress which suited her perfectly, a white one with pink
dots. It was very simple and without a frill. The skirt was rather short
and revealed her ankles. The sleeves were deeply slashed and loose,
showing her arms to the elbow. She pinned the neck back into a wide V as
soon as she reached a dark corner of the staircase to avoid getting her
ears boxed by her father for exposing the snowy whiteness of her throat
and the golden shadow between her breasts. She also tied a pink ribbon
round her blond hair.

Sundays she spent the entire day out with the crowds and loved it when
the men eyed her hungrily as they passed. She waited all week long for
these glances. She would get up early to dress herself and spend hours
before the fragment of mirror that was hung over the bureau. Her mother
would scold her because the entire building could see her through the
window in her chemise as she mended her dress.

Ah! she looked cute like that said father Coupeau, sneering and jeering
at her, a real Magdalene in despair! She might have turned "savage
woman" at a fair, and have shown herself for a penny. Hide your meat, he
used to say, and let me eat my bread! In fact, she was adorable, white
and dainty under her overhanging golden fleece, losing temper to the
point that her skin turned pink, not daring to answer her father, but
cutting her thread with her teeth with a hasty, furious jerk, which
shook her plump but youthful form.

Then immediately after breakfast she tripped down the stairs into the
courtyard. The entire tenement seemed to be resting sleepily in the
peacefulness of a Sunday afternoon. The workshops on the ground floor
were closed. Gaping windows revealed tables in some apartments that were
already set for dinner, awaiting families out working up an appetite by
strolling along the fortifications.

Then, in the midst of the empty, echoing courtyard, Nana, Pauline and
other big girls engaged in games of battledore and shuttlecock. They
had grown up together and were now becoming queens of their building.
Whenever a man crossed the court, flutelike laugher would arise, and
then starched skirts would rustle like the passing of a gust of wind.

The games were only an excuse for them to make their escape. Suddenly
stillness fell upon the tenement. The girls had glided out into the
street and made for the outer Boulevards. Then, linked arm-in-arm across
the full breadth of the pavement, they went off, the whole six of them,
clad in light colors, with ribbons tied around their bare heads. With
bright eyes darting stealthy glances through their partially closed
eyelids, they took note of everything, and constantly threw back their
necks to laugh, displaying the fleshy part of their chins. They would
swing their hips, or group together tightly, or flaunt along with
awkward grace, all for the purpose of calling attention to the fact that
their forms were filling out.

Nana was in the centre with her pink dress all aglow in the sunlight.
She gave her arm to Pauline, whose costume, yellow flowers on a white
ground, glared in similar fashion, dotted as it were with little flames.
As they were the tallest of the band, the most woman-like and most
unblushing, they led the troop and drew themselves up with breasts well
forward whenever they detected glances or heard complimentary remarks.
The others extended right and left, puffing themselves out in order to
attract attention. Nana and Pauline resorted to the complicated devices
of experienced coquettes. If they ran till they were out of breath, it
was in view of showing their white stockings and making the ribbons
of their chignons wave in the breeze. When they stopped, pretending
complete breathlessness, you would certainly spot someone they knew
quite near, one of the young fellows of the neighborhood. This would
make them dawdle along languidly, whispering and laughing among
themselves, but keeping a sharp watch through their downcast eyelids.

They went on these strolls of a Sunday mainly for the sake of these
chance meetings. Tall lads, wearing their Sunday best, would stop them,
joking and trying to catch them round their waists. Pauline was
forever running into one of Madame Gaudron's sons, a seventeen-year-old
carpenter, who would treat her to fried potatoes. Nana could spot Victor
Fauconnier, the laundress's son and they would exchange kisses in dark
corners. It never went farther than that, but they told each other some
tall tales.

Then when the sun set, the great delight of these young hussies was to
stop and look at the mountebanks. Conjurors and strong men turned up and
spread threadbare carpets on the soil of the avenue. Loungers collected
and a circle formed whilst the mountebank in the centre tried his
muscles under his faded tights. Nana and Pauline would stand for hours
in the thickest part of the crowd. Their pretty, fresh frocks would get
crushed between great-coats and dirty work smocks. In this atmosphere of
wine and sweat they would laugh gaily, finding amusement in everything,
blooming naturally like roses growing out of a dunghill. The only thing
that vexed them was to meet their fathers, especially when the hatter
had been drinking. So they watched and warned one another.

"Look, Nana," Pauline would suddenly cry out, "here comes father

"Well, he's drunk too. Oh, dear," said Nana, greatly bothered. "I'm
going to beat it, you know. I don't want him to give me a wallop. Hullo!
How he stumbles! Good Lord, if he could only break his neck!"

At other times, when Coupeau came straight up to her without giving her
time to run off, she crouched down, made herself small and muttered:
"Just you hide me, you others. He's looking for me, and he promised he'd
knock my head off if he caught me hanging about."

Then when the drunkard had passed them she drew herself up again, and
all the others followed her with bursts of laughter. He'll find her--he
will--he won't! It was a true game of hide and seek. One day, however,
Boche had come after Pauline and caught her by both ears, and Coupeau
had driven Nana home with kicks.

Nana was now a flower-maker and earned forty sous a day at Titreville's
place in the Rue du Caire, where she had served as apprentice. The
Coupeaus had kept her there so that she might remain under the eye of
Madame Lerat, who had been forewoman in the workroom for ten years. Of
a morning, when her mother looked at the cuckoo clock, off she went by
herself, looking very pretty with her shoulders tightly confined in her
old black dress, which was both too narrow and too short; and Madame
Lerat had to note the hour of her arrival and tell it to Gervaise. She
was allowed twenty minutes to go from the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or to the
Rue du Caire, and it was enough, for these young hussies have the legs
of racehorses. Sometimes she arrived exactly on time but so breathless
and flushed that she must have covered most of the distance at a run
after dawdling along the way. More often she was a few minutes late.
Then she would fawn on her aunt all day, hoping to soften her and keep
her from telling. Madame Lerat understood what it was to be young and
would lie to the Coupeaus, but she also lectured Nana, stressing the
dangers a young girl runs on the streets of Paris. _Mon Dieu!_ she
herself was followed often enough!

"Oh! I watch, you needn't fear," said the widow to the Coupeaus. "I
will answer to you for her as I would for myself. And rather than let a
blackguard squeeze her, why I'd step between them."

The workroom at Titreville's was a large apartment on the first floor,
with a broad work-table standing on trestles in the centre. Round the
four walls, the plaster of which was visible in parts where the dirty
yellowish-grey paper was torn away, there were several stands covered
with old cardboard boxes, parcels and discarded patterns under a thick
coating of dust. The gas had left what appeared to be like a daub of
soot on the ceiling. The two windows opened so wide that without leaving
the work-table the girls could see the people walking past on the
pavement over the way.

Madame Lerat arrived the first, in view of setting an example. Then for
a quarter of an hour the door swayed to and fro, and all the workgirls
scrambled in, perspiring with tumbled hair. One July morning Nana
arrived the last, as very often happened. "Ah, me!" she said, "it won't
be a pity when I have a carriage of my own." And without even taking
off her hat, one which she was weary of patching up, she approached the
window and leant out, looking to the right and the left to see what was
going on in the street.

"What are you looking at?" asked Madame Lerat, suspiciously. "Did your
father come with you?"

"No, you may be sure of that," answered Nana coolly. "I'm looking at
nothing--I'm seeing how hot it is. It's enough to make anyone, having to
run like that."

It was a stifling hot morning. The workgirls had drawn down the Venetian
blinds, between which they could spy out into the street; and they had
at last begun working on either side of the table, at the upper end of
which sat Madame Lerat. They were eight in number, each with her pot
of glue, pincers, tools and curling stand in front of her. On the
work-table lay a mass of wire, reels, cotton wool, green and brown
paper, leaves and petals cut out of silk, satin or velvet. In the
centre, in the neck of a large decanter, one flower-girl had thrust a
little penny nosegay which had been fading on her breast since the day

"Oh, I have some news," said a pretty brunette named Leonie as she
leaned over her cushion to crimp some rose petals. "Poor Caroline is
very unhappy about that fellow who used to wait for her every evening."

"Ah!" said Nana, who was cutting thin strips of green paper. "A man who
cheats on her every day!"

Madame Lerat had to display severity over the muffled laughter. Then
Leonie whispered suddenly:

"Quiet. The boss!"

It was indeed Madame Titreville who entered. The tall thin woman usually
stayed down in the shop. The girls were quite in awe of her because
she never joked with them. All the heads were now bent over the work in
diligent silence. Madame Titreville slowly circled the work-table. She
told one girl her work was sloppy and made her do the flower over. Then
she stalked out as stiffly as she had come in.

The complaining and low laughter began again.

"Really, young ladies!" said Madame Lerat, trying to look more severe
than ever. "You will force me to take measures."

The workgirls paid no attention to her. They were not afraid of her. She
was too easy-going because she enjoyed being surrounded by these young
girls whose zest for life sparkled in their eyes. She enjoyed taking
them aside to hear their confidences about their lovers. She even told
their fortunes with cards whenever a corner of the work-table was free.
She was only offended by coarse expressions. As long as you avoided
those you could say what you pleased.

To tell the truth, Nana perfected her education in nice style in the
workroom! No doubt she was already inclined to go wrong. But this was
the finishing stroke--associating with a lot of girls who were already
worn out with misery and vice. They all hobnobbed and rotted together,
just the story of the baskets of apples when there are rotten ones among
them. They maintained a certain propriety in public, but the smut flowed
freely when they got to whispering together in a corner.

For inexperienced girls like Nana, there was an undesirable atmosphere
around the workshop, an air of cheap dance halls and unorthodox evenings
brought in by some of the girls. The laziness of mornings after a gay
night, the shadows under the eyes, the lounging, the hoarse voices, all
spread an odor of dark perversion over the work-table which contrasted
sharply with the brilliant fragility of the artificial flowers. Nana
eagerly drank it all in and was dizzy with joy when she found herself
beside a girl who had been around. She always wanted to sit next to big
Lisa, who was said to be pregnant, and she kept glancing curiously at
her neighbor as though expecting her to swell up suddenly.

"It's hot enough to make one stifle," Nana said, approaching a window
as if to draw the blind farther down; but she leant forward and again
looked out both to the right and left.

At the same moment Leonie, who was watching a man stationed at the foot
of the pavement over the way, exclaimed, "What's that old fellow about?
He's been spying here for the last quarter of an hour."

"Some tom cat," said Madame Lerat. "Nana, just come and sit down! I told
you not to stand at the window."

Nana took up the stems of some violets she was rolling, and the
whole workroom turned its attention to the man in question. He was a
well-dressed individual wearing a frock coat and he looked about fifty
years old. He had a pale face, very serous and dignified in expression,
framed round with a well trimmed grey beard. He remained for an hour in
front of a herbalist's shop with his eyes fixed on the Venetian blinds
of the workroom. The flower-girls indulged in little bursts of laughter
which died away amid the noise of the street, and while leaning forward,
to all appearance busy with their work, they glanced askance so as not
to lose sight of the gentleman.

"Ah!" remarked Leonie, "he wears glasses. He's a swell. He's waiting for
Augustine, no doubt."

But Augustine, a tall, ugly, fair-haired girl, sourly answered that she
did not like old men; whereupon Madame Lerat, jerking her head, answered
with a smile full of underhand meaning:

"That is a great mistake on your part, my dear; the old ones are more

At this moment Leonie's neighbor, a plump little body, whispered
something in her ear and Leonie suddenly threw herself back on her
chair, seized with a fit of noisy laughter, wriggling, looking at the
gentleman and then laughing all the louder. "That's it. Oh! that's it,"
she stammered. "How dirty that Sophie is!"

"What did she say? What did she say?" asked the whole workroom, aglow
with curiosity.

Leonie wiped the tears from her eyes without answering. When she became
somewhat calmer, she began curling her flowers again and declared, "It
can't be repeated."

The others insisted, but she shook her head, seized again with a gust
of gaiety. Thereupon Augustine, her left-hand neighbor, besought her to
whisper it to her; and finally Leonie consented to do so with her lips
close to Augustine's ear. Augustine threw herself back and wriggled with
convulsive laughter in her turn. Then she repeated the phrase to a
girl next to her, and from ear to ear it traveled round the room amid
exclamations and stifled laughter. When they were all of them acquainted
with Sophie's disgusting remark they looked at one another and burst out
laughing together although a little flushed and confused. Madame Lerat
alone was not in the secret and she felt extremely vexed.

"That's very impolite behavior on your part, young ladies," said she.
"It is not right to whisper when other people are present. Something
indecent no doubt! Ah! that's becoming!"

She did not dare go so far as to ask them to pass Sophie's remark on to
her although she burned to hear it. So she kept her eyes on her work,
amusing herself by listening to the conversation. Now no one could
make even an innocent remark without the others twisting it around and
connecting it with the gentleman on the sidewalk. Madame Lerat herself
once sent them into convulsions of laughter when she said, "Mademoiselle
Lisa, my fire's gone out. Pass me yours."

"Oh! Madame Lerat's fire's out!" laughed the whole shop.

They refused to listen to any explanation, but maintained they were
going to call in the gentleman outside to rekindle Madame Lerat's fire.

However, the gentleman over the way had gone off. The room grew calmer
and the work was carried on in the sultry heat. When twelve o'clock
struck--meal-time--they all shook themselves. Nana, who had hastened
to the window again, volunteered to do the errands if they liked. And
Leonie ordered two sous worth of shrimps, Augustine a screw of fried
potatoes, Lisa a bunch of radishes, Sophie a sausage. Then as Nana was
doing down the stairs, Madame Lerat, who found her partiality for the
window that morning rather curious, overtook her with her long legs.

"Wait a bit," said she. "I'll go with you. I want to buy something too."

But in the passage below she perceived the gentleman, stuck there like
a candle and exchanging glances with Nana. The girl flushed very red,
whereupon her aunt at once caught her by the arm and made her trot over
the pavement, whilst the individual followed behind. Ah! so the tom cat
had come for Nana. Well, that _was_ nice! At fifteen years and a half to
have men trailing after her! Then Madame Lerat hastily began to question
her. _Mon Dieu!_ Nana didn't know; he had only been following her
for five days, but she could not poke her nose out of doors without
stumbling on men. She believed he was in business; yes, a manufacturer
of bone buttons. Madame Lerat was greatly impressed. She turned round
and glanced at the gentleman out of the corner of her eye.

"One can see he's got a deep purse," she muttered. "Listen to me,
kitten; you must tell me everything. You have nothing more to fear now."

Whilst speaking they hastened from shop to shop--to the pork butcher's,
the fruiterer's, the cook-shop; and the errands in greasy paper were
piled up in their hands. Still they remained amiable, flouncing along
and casting bright glances behind them with gusts of gay laughter.
Madame Lerat herself was acting the young girl, on account of the button
manufacturer who was still following them.

"He is very distinguished looking," she declared as they returned into
the passage. "If he only has honorable views--"

Then, as they were going up the stairs she suddenly seemed to remember
something. "By the way, tell me what the girls were whispering to each
other--you know, what Sophie said?"

Nana did not make any ceremony. Only she caught Madame Lerat by the
hand, and caused her to descend a couple of steps, for, really, it
wouldn't do to say it aloud, not even on the stairs. When she whispered
it to her, it was so obscene that Madame Lerat could only shake her
head, opening her eyes wide, and pursing her lips. Well, at least her
curiosity wasn't troubling her any longer.

From that day forth Madame Lerat regaled herself with her niece's first
love adventure. She no longer left her, but accompanied her morning and
evening, bringing her responsibility well to the fore. This somewhat
annoyed Nana, but all the same she expanded with pride at seeing herself
guarded like a treasure; and the talk she and her aunt indulged in in
the street with the button manufacturer behind them flattered her, and
rather quickened her desire for new flirtations. Oh! her aunt
understood the feelings of the heart; she even compassionated the button
manufacturer, this elderly gentleman, who looked so respectable, for,
after all, sentimental feelings are more deeply rooted among people of a
certain age. Still she watched. And, yes, he would have to pass over her
body before stealing her niece.

One evening she approached the gentleman, and told him, as straight as
a bullet, that his conduct was most improper. He bowed to her politely
without answering, like an old satyr who was accustomed to hear parents
tell him to go about his business. She really could not be cross with
him, he was too well mannered.

Then came lectures on love, allusions to dirty blackguards of men, and
all sorts of stories about hussies who had repented of flirtations,
which left Nana in a state of pouting, with eyes gleaming brightly in
her pale face.

One day, however, in the Rue du Faubourg-Poissonniere the button
manufacturer ventured to poke his nose between the aunt and the niece to
whisper some things which ought not to have been said. Thereupon Madame
Lerat was so frightened that she declared she no longer felt able to
handle the matter and she told the whole business to her brother. Then
came another row. There were some pretty rumpuses in the Coupeaus' room.
To begin with, the zinc-worker gave Nana a hiding. What was that he
learnt? The hussy was flirting with old men. All right. Only let her
be caught philandering out of doors again, she'd be done for; he, her
father, would cut off her head in a jiffy. Had the like ever been seen
before! A dirty nose who thought of beggaring her family! Thereupon he
shook her, declaring in God's name that she'd have to walk straight,
for he'd watch her himself in future. He now looked her over every night
when she came in, even going so far as to sniff at her and make her turn
round before him.

One evening she got another hiding because he discovered a mark on her
neck that he maintained was the mark of a kiss. Nana insisted it was
a bruise that Leonie had given her when they were having a bit of a
rough-house. Yet at other times her father would tease her, saying she
was certainly a choice morsel for men. Nana began to display the sullen
submissiveness of a trapped animal. She was raging inside.

"Why don't you leave her alone?" repeated Gervaise, who was more
reasonable. "You will end by making her wish to do it by talking to her
about it so much."

Ah! yes, indeed, she did wish to do it. She itched all over, longing to
break loose and gad all the time, as father Coupeau said. He insisted so
much on the subject that even an honest girl would have fired up. Even
when he was abusing her, he taught her a few things she did not know as
yet, which, to say the least was astonishing. Then, little by little she
acquired some singular habits. One morning he noticed her rummaging in
a paper bag and rubbing something on her face. It was rice powder, which
she plastered on her delicate satin-like skin with perverse taste. He
caught up the paper bag and rubbed it over her face violently enough to
graze her skin and called her a miller's daughter. On another occasion
she brought some ribbon home, to do up her old black hat which she was
so ashamed of. He asked her in a furious voice where she had got those
ribbons from. Had she earned them by lying on her back or had she bagged
them somewhere? A hussy or a thief, and perhaps both by now?

More than once he found her with some pretty little doodad. She had
found a little interlaced heart in the street on Rue d'Aboukir. Her
father crushed the heart under his foot, driving her to the verge of
throwing herself at him to ruin something of his. For two years she had
been longing for one of those hearts, and now he had smashed it! This
was too much, she was reaching the end of the line with him.

Coupeau was often in the wrong in the manner in which he tried to rule
Nana. His injustice exasperated her. She at last left off attending the
workshop and when the zinc-worker gave her a hiding, she declared she
would not return to Titreville's again, for she was always placed next
to Augustine, who must have swallowed her feet to have such a foul
breath. Then Coupeau took her himself to the Rue du Caire and requested
the mistress of the establishment to place her always next to Augustine,
by way of punishment. Every morning for a fortnight he took the trouble
to come down from the Barriere Poissonniere to escort Nana to the door
of the flower shop. And he remained for five minutes on the footway, to
make sure that she had gone in. But one morning while he was drinking a
glass with a friend in a wineshop in the Rue Saint-Denis, he perceived
the hussy darting down the street. For a fortnight she had been
deceiving him; instead of going into the workroom, she climbed a story
higher, and sat down on the stairs, waiting till he had gone off. When
Coupeau began casting the blame on Madame Lerat, the latter flatly
replied that she would not accept it. She had told her niece all she
ought to tell her, to keep her on her guard against men, and it was not
her fault if the girl still had a liking for the nasty beasts. Now, she
washed her hands of the whole business; she swore she would not mix
up in it, for she knew what she knew about scandalmongers in her own
family, yes, certain persons who had the nerve to accuse her of going
astray with Nana and finding an indecent pleasure in watching her take
her first misstep. Then Coupeau found out from the proprietress that
Nana was being corrupted by that little floozie Leonie, who had given up
flower-making to go on the street. Nana was being tempted by the jingle
of cash and the lure of adventure on the streets.

In the tenement in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or, Nana's old fellow was
talked about as a gentleman everyone was acquainted with. Oh! he
remained very polite, even a little timid, but awfully obstinate
and patient, following her ten paces behind like an obedient poodle.
Sometimes, indeed, he ventured into the courtyard. One evening,
Madame Gaudron met him on the second floor landing, and he glided down
alongside the balusters with his nose lowered and looking as if on fire,
but frightened. The Lorilleuxs threatened to move out if that wayward
niece of theirs brought men trailing in after her. It was disgusting.
The staircase was full of them. The Boches said that they felt sympathy
for the old gentleman because he had fallen for a tramp. He was really
a respectable businessman, they had seen his button factory on the
Boulevard de la Villette. He would be an excellent catch for a decent

For the first month Nana was greatly amused with her old flirt. You
should have seen him always dogging her--a perfect great nuisance, who
followed far behind, in the crowd, without seeming to do so. And his
legs! Regular lucifers. No more moss on his pate, only four straight
hairs falling on his neck, so that she was always tempted to ask him
where his hairdresser lived. Ah! what an old gaffer, he was comical and
no mistake, nothing to get excited over.

Then, on finding him always behind her, she no longer thought him so
funny. She became afraid of him and would have called out if he had
approached her. Often, when she stopped in front of a jeweler's shop,
she heard him stammering something behind her. And what he said was
true; she would have liked to have had a cross with a velvet neck-band,
or a pair of coral earrings, so small you would have thought they were
drops of blood.

More and more, as she plodded through the mire of the streets, getting
splashed by passing vehicles and being dazzled by the magnificence of
the window displays, she felt longings that tortured her like hunger
pangs, yearnings for better clothes, for eating in restaurants, for
going to the theatre, for a room of her own with nice furniture. Right
at those moments, it never failed that her old gentleman would come up
to whisper something in her ear. Oh, if only she wasn't afraid of him,
how readily she would have taken up with him.

When the winter arrived, life became impossible at home. Nana had her
hiding every night. When her father was tired of beating her, her mother
smacked her to teach her how to behave. And there were free-for-alls; as
soon as one of them began to beat her, the other took her part, so that
all three of them ended by rolling on the floor in the midst of the
broken crockery. And with all this, there were short rations and they
shivered with cold. Whenever the girl bought anything pretty, a bow or
a pair of buttons, her parents confiscated the purchase and drank
what they could get for it. She had nothing of her own, excepting her
allowance of blows, before coiling herself up between the rags of
a sheet, where she shivered under her little black skirt, which she
stretched out by way of a blanket. No, that cursed life could not
continue; she was not going to leave her skin in it. Her father had long
since ceased to count for her; when a father gets drunk like hers did,
he isn't a father, but a dirty beast one longs to be rid of. And now,
too, her mother was doing down the hill in her esteem. She drank as
well. She liked to go and fetch her husband at Pere Colombe's, so as to
be treated; and she willingly sat down, with none of the air of disgust
that she had assumed on the first occasion, draining glasses indeed at
one gulp, dragging her elbows over the table for hours and leaving the
place with her eyes starting out of her head.

When Nana passed in front of l'Assommoir and saw her mother inside, with
her nose in her glass, fuddled in the midst of the disputing men,
she was seized with anger; for youth which has other dainty thoughts
uppermost does not understand drink. On these evenings it was a pretty
sight. Father drunk, mother drunk, a hell of a home that stunk with
liquor, and where there was no bread. To tell the truth, a saint would
not have stayed in the place. So much the worse if she flew the coop one
of these days; her parents would have to say their _mea culpa_, and own
that they had driven her out themselves.

One Saturday when Nana came home she found her father and her mother
in a lamentable condition. Coupeau, who had fallen across the bed was
snoring. Gervaise, crouching on a chair was swaying her head, with her
eyes vaguely and threateningly staring into vacancy. She had forgotten
to warm the dinner, the remains of a stew. A tallow dip which she
neglected to snuff revealed the shameful misery of their hovel.

"It's you, shrimp?" stammered Gervaise. "Ah, well, your father will take
care of you."

Nana did not answer, but remained pale, looking at the cold stove, the
table on which no plates were laid, the lugubrious hovel which this pair
of drunkards invested with the pale horror of their callousness. She
did not take off her hat but walked round the room; then with her teeth
tightly set, she opened the door and went out.

"You are doing down again?" asked her mother, who was unable even to
turn her head.

"Yes; I've forgotten something. I shall come up again. Good evening."

And she did not return. On the morrow when the Coupeaus were sobered
they fought together, reproaching each other with being the cause
of Nana's flight. Ah! she was far away if she were running still! As
children are told of sparrows, her parents might set a pinch of salt on
her tail, and then perhaps they would catch her. It was a great blow,
and crushed Gervaise, for despite the impairment of her faculties, she
realized perfectly well that her daughter's misconduct lowered her
still more; she was alone now, with no child to think about, able to
let herself sink as low as she could fall. She drank steadily for three
days. Coupeau prowled along the exterior Boulevards without seeing Nana
and then came home to smoke his pipe peacefully. He was always back in
time for his soup.

In this tenement, where girls flew off every month like canaries whose
cages are left open, no one was astonished to hear of the Coupeaus'
mishap. But the Lorilleuxs were triumphant. Ah! they had predicted that
the girl would reward her parents in this fashion. It was deserved; all
artificial flower-girls went that way. The Boches and the Poissons also
sneered with an extraordinary display and outlay of grief. Lantier alone
covertly defended Nana. _Mon Dieu!_ said he, with his puritanical air,
no doubt a girl who so left her home did offend her parents; but, with
a gleam in the corner of his eyes, he added that, dash it! the girl was,
after all, too pretty to lead such a life of misery at her age.

"Do you know," cried Madame Lorilleux, one day in the Boches' room,
where the party were taking coffee; "well, as sure as daylight,
Clump-clump sold her daughter. Yes she sold her, and I have proof of it!
That old fellow, who was always on the stairs morning and night, went up
to pay something on account. It stares one in the face. They were seen
together at the Ambigu Theatre--the young wench and her old tom cat.
Upon my word of honor, they're living together, it's quite plain."

They discussed the scandal thoroughly while finishing their coffee.
Yes, it was quite possible. Soon most of the neighborhood accepted the
conclusion that Gervaise had actually sold her daughter.

Gervaise now shuffled along in her slippers, without caring a rap for
anyone. You might have called her a thief in the street, she wouldn't
have turned round. For a month past she hadn't looked at Madame
Fauconnier's; the latter had had to turn her out of the place to avoid
disputes. In a few weeks' time she had successively entered the service
of eight washerwomen; she only lasted two or three days in each place
before she got the sack, so badly did she iron the things entrusted to
her, careless and dirty, her mind failing to such a point that she quite
forgot her own craft. At last realizing her own incapacity she abandoned
ironing; and went out washing by the day at the wash-house in the
Rue Neuve, where she still jogged on, floundering about in the water,
fighting with filth, reduced to the roughest but simplest work, a bit
lower on the down-hill slopes. The wash-house scarcely beautified her.
A real mud-splashed dog when she came out of it, soaked and showing her
blue skin. At the same time she grew stouter and stouter, despite
her frequent dances before the empty sideboard, and her leg became so
crooked that she could no longer walk beside anyone without the risk of
knocking him over, so great indeed was her limp.

Naturally enough when a woman falls to this point all her pride leaves
her. Gervaise had divested herself of all her old self-respect, coquetry
and need of sentiment, propriety and politeness. You might have kicked
her, no matter where, she did not feel kicks for she had become too fat
and flabby. Lantier had altogether neglected her; he no longer escorted
her or even bothered to give her a pinch now and again. She did not seem
to notice this finish of a long liaison slowly spun out, and ending
in mutual insolence. It was a chore the less for her. Even Lantier's
intimacy with Virginie left her quite calm, so great was her
indifference now for all that she had been so upset about in the past.
She would even have held a candle for them now.

Everyone was aware that Virginie and Lantier were carrying on. It was
much too convenient, especially with Poisson on duty every other night.
Lantier had thought of himself when he advised Virginie to deal in
dainties. He was too much of a Provincial not to adore sugared things;
and in fact he would have lived off sugar candy, lozenges, pastilles,
sugar plums and chocolate. Sugared almonds especially left a little
froth on his lips so keenly did they tickle his palate. For a year he
had been living only on sweetmeats. He opened the drawers and stuffed
himself whenever Virginie asked him to mind the shop. Often, when he was
talking in the presence of five or six other people, he would take the
lid off a jar on the counter, dip his hand into it and begin to nibble
at something sweet; the glass jar remained open and its contents
diminished. People ceased paying attention to it, it was a mania of
his so he had declared. Besides, he had devised a perpetual cold, an
irritation of the throat, which he always talked of calming.

He still did not work, for he had more and more important schemes than
ever in view. He was contriving a superb invention--the umbrella hat, a
hat which transformed itself into an umbrella on your head as soon as
a shower commenced to fall; and he promised Poisson half shares in the
profit of it, and even borrowed twenty franc pieces of him to defray the
cost of experiments. Meanwhile the shop melted away on his tongue. All
the stock-in-trade followed suit down to the chocolate cigars and pipes
in pink caramel. Whenever he was stuffed with sweetmeats and seized with
a fit of tenderness, he paid himself with a last lick on the groceress
in a corner, who found him all sugar with lips which tasted like burnt
almonds. Such a delightful man to kiss! He was positively becoming all
honey. The Boches said he merely had to dip a finger into his coffee to
sweeten it.

Softened by this perpetual dessert, Lantier showed himself paternal
towards Gervaise. He gave her advice and scolded her because she no
longer liked to work. Indeed! A woman of her age ought to know how to
turn herself round. And he accused her of having always been a glutton.
Nevertheless, as one ought to hold out a helping hand, even to folks
who don't deserve it, he tried to find her a little work. Thus he had
prevailed upon Virginie to let Gervaise come once a week to scrub the
shop and the rooms. That was the sort of thing she understood and
on each occasion she earned her thirty sous. Gervaise arrived on the
Saturday morning with a pail and a scrubbing brush, without seeming
to suffer in the least at having to perform a dirty, humble duty, a
charwoman's work in the dwelling-place where she had reigned as the
beautiful fair-haired mistress. It was a last humiliation, the end of
her pride.

One Saturday she had a hard job of it. It had rained for three days and
the customers seemed to have brought all the mud of the neighborhood
into the shop on the soles of their boots. Virginie was at the counter
doing the grand, with her hair well combed, and wearing a little white
collar and a pair of lace cuffs. Beside her, on the narrow seat covered
with red oil-cloth, Lantier did the dandy, looking for the world as if
he were at home, as if he were the real master of the place, and from
time to time he carelessly dipped his hand into a jar of peppermint
drops, just to nibble something sweet according to his habit.

"Look here, Madame Coupeau!" cried Virginie, who was watching the
scrubbing with compressed lips, "you have left some dirt over there in
the corner. Scrub that rather better please."

Gervaise obeyed. She returned to the corner and began to scrub again.
She bent double on her knees in the midst of the dirty water, with
her shoulders protruding, her arms stiff and purple with cold. Her old
skirt, fairly soaked, stuck to her figure. And there on the floor she
looked a dirty, ill-combed drab, the rents in her jacket showing her
puffy form, her fat, flabby flesh which heaved, swayed and floundered
about as she went about her work; and all the while she perspired to
such a point that from her moist face big drops of sweat fell on to the

"The more elbow grease one uses, the more it shines," said Lantier,
sententiously, with his mouth full of peppermint drops.

Virginie, who sat back with the demeanor of a princess, her eyes partly
open, was still watching the scrubbing, and indulging in remarks. "A
little more on the right there. Take care of the wainscot. You know I
was not very well pleased last Saturday. There were some stains left."

And both together, the hatter and the groceress assumed a more important
air, as if they had been on a throne whilst Gervaise dragged herself
through the black mud at their feet. Virginie must have enjoyed herself,
for a yellowish flame darted from her cat's eyes, and she looked at
Lantier with an insidious smile. At last she was revenged for that
hiding she had received at the wash-house, and which she had never

Whenever Gervaise ceased scrubbing, a sound of sawing could be heard
from the back room. Through the open doorway, Poisson's profile stood
out against the pale light of the courtyard. He was off duty that day
and was profiting by his leisure time to indulge in his mania for making
little boxes. He was seated at a table and was cutting out arabesques in
a cigar box with extraordinary care.

"Say, Badingue!" cried Lantier, who had given him this surname again,
out of friendship. "I shall want that box of yours as a present for a
young lady."

Virginie gave him a pinch and he reached under the counter to run his
fingers like a creeping mouse up her leg.

"Quite so," said the policeman. "I was working for you, Auguste, in view
of presenting you with a token of friendship."

"Ah, if that's the case, I'll keep your little memento!" rejoined
Lantier with a laugh. "I'll hang it round my neck with a ribbon."

Then suddenly, as if this thought brought another one to his memory, "By
the way," he cried, "I met Nana last night."

This news caused Gervaise such emotion that she sunk down in the dirty
water which covered the floor of the shop.

"Ah!" she muttered speechlessly.

"Yes; as I was going down the Rue des Martyrs, I caught sight of a
girl who was on the arm of an old fellow in front of me, and I said to
myself: I know that shape. I stepped faster and sure enough found myself
face to face with Nana. There's no need to pity her, she looked very
happy, with her pretty woolen dress on her back, a gold cross and an
awfully pert expression."

"Ah!" repeated Gervaise in a husky voice.

Lantier, who had finished the pastilles, took some barley-sugar out of
another jar.

"She's sneaky," he resumed. "She made a sign to me to follow her,
with wonderful composure. Then she left her old fellow somewhere in a
cafe--oh a wonderful chap, the old bloke, quite used up!--and she came
and joined me under the doorway. A pretty little serpent, pretty, and
doing the grand, and fawning on you like a little dog. Yes, she kissed
me, and wanted to have news of everyone--I was very pleased to meet

"Ah!" said Gervaise for the third time. She drew herself together,
and still waited. Hadn't her daughter had a word for her then? In the
silence Poisson's saw could be heard again. Lantier, who felt gay, was
sucking his barley-sugar, and smacking his lips.

"Well, if _I_ saw her, I should go over to the other side of the
street," interposed Virginie, who had just pinched the hatter again most
ferociously. "It isn't because you are there, Madame Coupeau, but your
daughter is rotten to the core. Why, every day Poisson arrests girls who
are better than she is."

Gervaise said nothing, nor did she move; her eyes staring into space.
She ended by jerking her head to and fro, as if in answer to her
thoughts, whilst the hatter, with a gluttonous mien, muttered:

"Ah, a man wouldn't mind getting a bit of indigestion from that sort of
rottenness. It's as tender as chicken."

But the grocer gave him such a terrible look that he had to pause and
quiet her with some delicate attention. He watched the policeman, and
perceiving that he had his nose lowered over his little box again, he
profited of the opportunity to shove some barley-sugar into Virginie's
mouth. Thereupon she laughed at him good-naturedly and turned all her
anger against Gervaise.

"Just make haste, eh? The work doesn't do itself while you remain stuck
there like a street post. Come, look alive, I don't want to flounder
about in the water till night time."

And she added hatefully in a lower tone: "It isn't my fault if her
daughter's gone and left her."

No doubt Gervaise did not hear. She had begun to scrub the floor again,
with her back bent and dragging herself along with a frog-like motion.
She still had to sweep the dirty water out into the gutter, and then do
the final rinsing.

After a pause, Lantier, who felt bored, raised his voice again: "Do
you know, Badingue," he cried, "I met your boss yesterday in the Rue de
Rivoli. He looked awfully down in the mouth. He hasn't six months' life
left in his body. Ah! after all, with the life he leads--"

He was talking about the Emperor. The policeman did not raise his eyes,
but curtly answered: "If you were the Government you wouldn't be so

"Oh, my dear fellow, if I were the Government," rejoined the hatter,
suddenly affecting an air of gravity, "things would go on rather better,
I give you my word for it. Thus, their foreign policy--why, for some
time past it has been enough to make a fellow sweat. If I--I who speak
to you--only knew a journalist to inspire him with my ideas."

He was growing animated, and as he had finished crunching his
barley-sugar, he opened a drawer from which he took a number of jujubes,
which he swallowed while gesticulating.

"It's quite simple. Before anything else, I should give Poland her
independence again, and I should establish a great Scandinavian state to
keep the Giant of the North at bay. Then I should make a republic out
of all the little German states. As for England, she's scarcely to be
feared; if she budged ever so little I should send a hundred thousand
men to India. Add to that I should send the Sultan back to Mecca and the
Pope to Jerusalem, belaboring their backs with the butt end of a rifle.
Eh? Europe would soon be clean. Come, Badingue, just look here."

He paused to take five or six jujubes in his hand. "Why, it wouldn't
take longer than to swallow these."

And he threw one jujube after another into his open mouth.

"The Emperor has another plan," said the policeman, after reflecting for
a couple of minutes.

"Oh, forget it," rejoined the hatter. "We know what his plan is. All
Europe is laughing at us. Every day the Tuileries footmen find your boss
under the table between a couple of high society floozies."

Poisson rose to his feet. He came forward and placed his hand on
his heart, saying: "You hurt me, Auguste. Discuss, but don't involve

Thereupon Virginie intervened, bidding them stop their row. She didn't
care a fig for Europe. How could two men, who shared everything else,
always be disputing about politics? For a minute they mumbled some
indistinct words. Then the policeman, in view of showing that he
harbored no spite, produced the cover of his little box, which he had
just finished; it bore the inscription in marquetry: "To Auguste, a
token of friendship." Lantier, feeling exceedingly flattered, lounged
back and spread himself out so that he almost sat upon Virginie. And the
husband viewed the scene with his face the color of an old wall and his
bleared eyes fairly expressionless; but all the same, at moments the red
hairs of his moustaches stood up on end of their own accord in a very
singular fashion, which would have alarmed any man who was less sure of
his business than the hatter.

This beast of a Lantier had the quiet cheek which pleases ladies. As
Poisson turned his back he was seized with the idea of printing a kiss
on Madame Poisson's left eye. As a rule he was stealthily prudent, but
when he had been disputing about politics he risked everything, so as to
show the wife his superiority. These gloating caresses, cheekily stolen
behind the policeman's back, revenged him on the Empire which had turned
France into a house of quarrels. Only on this occasion he had forgotten
Gervaise's presence. She had just finished rinsing and wiping the shop,
and she stood near the counter waiting for her thirty sous. However, the
kiss on Virginie's eye left her perfectly calm, as being quite natural,
and as part of a business she had no right to mix herself up in.
Virginie seemed rather vexed. She threw the thirty sous on to the
counter in front of Gervaise. The latter did not budge but stood there
waiting, still palpitating with the effort she had made in scrubbing,
and looking as soaked and as ugly as a dog fished out of the sewer.

"Then she didn't tell you anything?" she asked the hatter at last.

"Who?" he cried. "Ah, yes; you mean Nana. No, nothing else. What a
tempting mouth she has, the little hussy! Real strawberry jam!"

Gervaise went off with her thirty sous in her hand. The holes in her
shoes spat water forth like pumps; they were real musical shoes, and
played a tune as they left moist traces of their broad soles along the

In the neighborhood the feminine tipplers of her own class now related
that she drank to console herself for her daughter's misconduct. She
herself, when she gulped down her dram of spirits on the counter,
assumed a dramatic air, and tossed the liquor into her mouth, wishing
it would "do" for her. And on the days when she came home boozed she
stammered that it was all through grief. But honest folks shrugged
their shoulders. They knew what that meant: ascribing the effects of the
peppery fire of l'Assommoir to grief, indeed! At all events, she ought
to have called it bottled grief. No doubt at the beginning she couldn't
digest Nana's flight. All the honest feelings remaining in her revolted
at the thought, and besides, as a rule a mother doesn't like to have
to think that her daughter, at that very moment, perhaps, is being
familiarly addressed by the first chance comer. But Gervaise was already
too stultified with a sick head and a crushed heart, to think of the
shame for long. With her it came and went. She remained sometimes for
a week together without thinking of her daughter, and then suddenly a
tender or an angry feeling seized hold of her, sometimes when she had
her stomach empty, at others when it was full, a furious longing to
catch Nana in some corner, where she would perhaps have kissed her or
perhaps have beaten her, according to the fancy of the moment.

Whenever these thoughts came over her, Gervaise looked on all sides in
the streets with the eyes of a detective. Ah! if she had only seen her
little sinner, how quickly she would have brought her home again! The
neighborhood was being turned topsy-turvy that year. The Boulevard
Magenta and the Boulevard Ornano were being pierced; they were doing
away with the old Barriere Poissonniere and cutting right through the
outer Boulevard. The district could not be recognized. The whole of one
side of the Rue des Poissonniers had been pulled down. From the Rue de
la Goutte-d'Or a large clearing could now be seen, a dash of sunlight
and open air; and in place of the gloomy buildings which had hidden the
view in this direction there rose up on the Boulevard Ornano a perfect
monument, a six-storied house, carved all over like a church, with clear
windows, which, with their embroidered curtains, seemed symbolical
of wealth. This white house, standing just in front of the street,
illuminated it with a jet of light, as it were, and every day it caused
discussions between Lantier and Poisson.

Gervaise had several times had tidings of Nana. There are always ready
tongues anxious to pay you a sorry compliment. Yes, she had been told
that the hussy had left her old gentleman, just like the inexperienced
girl she was. She had gotten along famously with him, petted, adored,
and free, too, if she had only known how to manage the situation. But
youth is foolish, and she had no doubt gone off with some young rake, no
one knew exactly where. What seemed certain was that one afternoon she
had left her old fellow on the Place de la Bastille, just for half a
minute, and he was still waiting for her to return. Other persons swore
they had seen her since, dancing on her heels at the "Grand Hall of
Folly," in the Rue de la Chapelle. Then it was that Gervaise took it
into her head to frequent all the dancing places of the neighborhood.
She did not pass in front of a public ball-room without going in.
Coupeau accompanied her. At first they merely made the round of the
room, looking at the drabs who were jumping about. But one evening, as
they had some coin, they sat down and ordered a large bowl of hot wine
in view of regaling themselves and waiting to see if Nana would turn up.
At the end of a month or so they had practically forgotten her, but
they frequented the halls for their own pleasure, liking to look at the
dancers. They would remain for hours without exchanging a word, resting
their elbows on the table, stultified amidst the quaking of the floor,
and yet no doubt amusing themselves as they stared with pale eyes at the
Barriere women in the stifling atmosphere and ruddy glow of the hall.

It happened one November evening that they went into the "Grand Hall of
Folly" to warm themselves. Out of doors a sharp wind cut you across the
face. But the hall was crammed. There was a thundering big swarm inside;
people at all the tables, people in the middle, people up above,
quite an amount of flesh. Yes, those who cared for tripes could enjoy
themselves. When they had made the round twice without finding a vacant
table, they decided to remain standing and wait till somebody went off.
Coupeau was teetering on his legs, in a dirty blouse, with an old
cloth cap which had lost its peak flattened down on his head. And as
he blocked the way, he saw a scraggy young fellow who was wiping his
coat-sleeve after elbowing him.

"Say!" cried Coupeau in a fury, as he took his pipe out of his black
mouth. "Can't you apologize? And you play the disgusted one? Just
because a fellow wears a blouse!"

The young man turned round and looked at the zinc-worker from head to

"I'll just teach you, you scraggy young scamp," continued Coupeau, "that
the blouse is the finest garment out; yes! the garment of work. I'll
wipe you if you like with my fists. Did one ever hear of such a thing--a
ne'er-do-well insulting a workman!"

Gervaise tried to calm him, but in vain. He drew himself up in his rags,
in full view, and struck his blouse, roaring: "There's a man's chest
under that!"

Thereupon the young man dived into the midst of the crowd, muttering:
"What a dirty blackguard!"

Coupeau wanted to follow and catch him. He wasn't going to let himself
be insulted by a fellow with a coat on. Probably it wasn't even paid
for! Some second-hand toggery to impress a girl with, without having to
fork out a centime. If he caught the chap again, he'd bring him down on
his knees and make him bow to the blouse. But the crush was too great;
there was no means of walking. He and Gervaise turned slowly round the
dancers; there were three rows of sightseers packed close together,
whose faces lighted up whenever any of the dancers showed off. As
Coupeau and Gervaise were both short, they raised themselves up on
tiptoe, trying to see something besides the chignons and hats that
were bobbing about. The cracked brass instruments of the orchestra were
furiously thundering a quadrille, a perfect tempest which made the hall
shake; while the dancers, striking the floor with their feet, raised
a cloud of dust which dimmed the brightness of the gas. The heat was

"Look there," said Gervaise suddenly.

"Look at what?"

"Why, at that velvet hat over there."

They raised themselves up on tiptoe. On the left hand there was an old
black velvet hat trimmed with ragged feathers bobbing about--regular
hearse's plumes. It was dancing a devil of a dance, this hat--bouncing
and whirling round, diving down and then springing up again. Coupeau and
Gervaise lost sight of it as the people round about moved their heads,
but then suddenly they saw it again, swaying farther off with such droll
effrontery that folks laughed merely at the sight of this dancing hat,
without knowing what was underneath it.

"Well?" asked Coupeau.

"Don't you recognize that head of hair?" muttered Gervaise in a stifled
voice. "May my head be cut off if it isn't her."

With one shove the zinc-worker made his way through the crowd. _Mon
Dieu!_ yes, it was Nana! And in a nice pickle too! She had nothing on
her back but an old silk dress, all stained and sticky from having wiped
the tables of boozing dens, and with its flounces so torn that they fell
in tatters round about. Not even a bit of a shawl over her shoulders.
And to think that the hussy had had such an attentive, loving gentleman,
and had yet fallen to this condition, merely for the sake of following
some rascal who had beaten her, no doubt! Nevertheless she had remained
fresh and insolent, with her hair as frizzy as a poodle's, and her mouth
bright pink under that rascally hat of hers.

"Just wait a bit, I'll make her dance!" resumed Coupeau.

Naturally enough, Nana was not on her guard. You should have seen how
she wriggled about! She twisted to the right and to the left, bending
double as if she were going to break herself in two, and kicking her
feet as high as her partner's face. A circle had formed about her and
this excited her even more. She raised her skirts to her knees and
really let herself go in a wild dance, whirling and turning, dropping to
the floor in splits, and then jigging and bouncing.

Coupeau was trying to force his way through the dancers and was
disrupting the quadrille.

"I tell you, it's my daughter!" he cried; "let me pass."

Nana was now dancing backwards, sweeping the floor with her flounces,
rounding her figure and wriggling it, so as to look all the more
tempting. She suddenly received a masterly blow just on the right cheek.
She raised herself up and turned quite pale on recognizing her father
and mother. Bad luck and no mistake.

"Turn him out!" howled the dancers.

But Coupeau, who had just recognized his daughter's cavalier as the
scraggy young man in the coat, did not care a fig for what the people

"Yes, it's us," he roared. "Eh? You didn't expect it. So we catch you
here, and with a whipper-snapper, too, who insulted me a little while

Gervaise, whose teeth were tight set, pushed him aside, exclaiming,
"Shut up. There's no need of so much explanation."

And, stepping forward, she dealt Nana a couple of hearty cuffs. The
first knocked the feathered hat on one side, and the second left a red
mark on the girl's white cheek. Nana was too stupefied either to cry
or resist. The orchestra continued playing, the crowd grew angry and
repeated savagely, "Turn them out! Turn them out!"

"Come, make haste!" resumed Gervaise. "Just walk in front, and don't try
to run off. You shall sleep in prison if you do."

The scraggy young man had prudently disappeared. Nana walked ahead, very
stiff and still stupefied by her bad luck. Whenever she showed the lest
unwillingness, a cuff from behind brought her back to the direction of
the door. And thus they went out, all three of them, amid the jeers
and banter of the spectators, whilst the orchestra finished playing
the finale with such thunder that the trombones seemed to be spitting

The old life began again. After sleeping for twelve hours in her closet,
Nana behaved very well for a week or so. She had patched herself a
modest little dress, and wore a cap with the strings tied under her
chignon. Seized indeed with remarkable fervor, she declared she would
work at home, where one could earn what one liked without hearing any
nasty work-room talk; and she procured some work and installed herself
at a table, getting up at five o'clock in the morning on the first few
days to roll her sprigs of violets. But when she had delivered a few
gross, she stretched her arms and yawned over her work, with her hands
cramped, for she had lost her knack of stem-rolling, and suffocated,
shut up like this at home after allowing herself so much open air
freedom during the last six months. Then the glue dried, the petals
and the green paper got stained with grease, and the flower-dealer came
three times in person to make a row and claim his spoiled materials.

Nana idled along, constantly getting a hiding from her father, and
wrangling with her mother morning and night--quarrels in which the two
women flung horrible words at each other's head. It couldn't last; the
twelfth day she took herself off, with no more luggage than her modest
dress on her back and her cap perched over one ear. The Lorilleuxs, who
had pursed their lips on hearing of her return and repentance, nearly
died of laughter now. Second performance, eclipse number two, all aboard
for the train for Saint-Lazare, the prison-hospital for streetwalkers!
No, it was really too comical. Nana took herself off in such an amusing
style. Well, if the Coupeaus wanted to keep her in the future, they must
shut her up in a cage.

In the presence of other people the Coupeaus pretended they were
very glad to be rid of the girl, though in reality they were enraged.
However, rage can't last forever, and soon they heard without even
blinking that Nana was seen in the neighborhood. Gervaise, who accused
her of doing it to enrage them, set herself above the scandal; she might
meet her daughter on the street, she said; she wouldn't even dirty her
hand to cuff her; yes, it was all over; she might have seen her lying in
the gutter, dying on the pavement, and she would have passed by without
even admitting that such a hussy was her own child.

Nana meanwhile was enlivening the dancing halls of the neighborhood. She
was known from the "Ball of Queen Blanche" to the "Great Hall of Folly."
When she entered the "Elysee-Montmartre," folks climbed onto the tables
to see her do the "sniffling crawfish" during the pastourelle. As
she had twice been turned out of the "Chateau Rouge" hall, she walked
outside the door waiting for someone she knew to escort her inside. The
"Black Ball" on the outer Boulevard and the "Grand Turk" in the Rue des
Poissonniers, were respectable places where she only went when she
had some fine dress on. Of all the jumping places of the neighborhood,
however, those she most preferred were the "Hermitage Ball" in a damp
courtyard and "Robert's Ball" in the Impasse du Cadran, two dirty little
halls, lighted up with a half dozen oil lamps, and kept very informally,
everyone pleased and everyone free, so much so that the men and their
girls kissed each other at their ease, in the dances, without being
disturbed. Nana had ups and downs, perfect transformations, now tricked
out like a stylish woman and now all dirt. Ah! she had a fine life.

On several occasions the Coupeaus fancied they saw her in some shady
dive. They turned their backs and decamped in another direction so as
not to be obliged to recognize her. They didn't care to be laughed at
by a whole dancing hall again for the sake of bringing such a dolt home.
One night as they were going to bed, however, someone knocked at the
door. It was Nana who matter-of-factly came to ask for a bed; and in
what a state. _Mon Dieu!_ her head was bare, her dress in tatters, and
her boots full of holes--such a toilet as might have led the police to
run her in, and take her off to the Depot. Naturally enough she received
a hiding, and then she gluttonously fell on a crust of stale bread and
went to sleep, worn out, with the last mouthful between her teeth.

Then this sort of life continued. As soon as she was somewhat recovered
she would go off and not a sight or sound of her. Weeks or months would
pass and she would suddenly appear with no explanation. The Coupeaus got
used to these comings and goings. Well, as long as she didn't leave the
door open. What could you expect?

There was only one thing that really bothered Gervaise. This was to see
her daughter come home in a dress with a train and a hat covered with
feathers. No, she couldn't stomach this display. Nana might indulge in
riotous living if she chose, but when she came home to her mother's she
ought to dress like a workgirl. The dresses with trains caused quite
a sensation in the house; the Lorilleuxs sneered; Lantier, whose mouth
sneered, turned the girl round to sniff at her delicious aroma; the
Boches had forbidden Pauline to associate with this baggage in her
frippery. And Gervaise was also angered by Nana's exhausted slumber,
when after one of her adventures, she slept till noon, with her chignon
undone and still full of hair pins, looking so white and breathing so
feebly that she seemed to be dead. Her mother shook her five or six
times in the course of the morning, threatening to throw a jugful of
water over her. The sight of this handsome lazy girl, half naked
and besotted with wine, exasperated her, as she saw her lying there.
Sometimes Nana opened an eye, closed it again, and then stretched
herself out all the more.

One day after reproaching her with the life she led and asking her
if she had taken on an entire battalion of soldiers, Gervaise put her
threat into execution to the extent of shaking her dripping hand over
Nana's body. Quite infuriated, the girl pulled herself up in the sheet,
and cried out:

"That's enough, mamma. It would be better not to talk of men. You did as
you liked, and now I do the same!"

"What! What!" stammered the mother.

"Yes, I never spoke to you about it, for it didn't concern me; but you
didn't used to be very fussy. I often saw you when we lived at the
shop sneaking off as soon as papa started snoring. So just shut up; you
shouldn't have set me the example."

Gervaise remained pale, with trembling hands, turning round without
knowing what she was about, whilst Nana, flattened on her breast,
embraced her pillow with both arms and subsided into the torpor of her
leaden slumber.

Coupeau growled, no longer sane enough to think of launching out a
whack. He was altogether losing his mind. And really there was no need
to call him an unprincipled father, for liquor had deprived him of all
consciousness of good and evil.

Now it was a settled thing. He wasn't sober once in six months; then he
was laid up and had to go into the Sainte-Anne hospital; a pleasure trip
for him. The Lorilleuxs said that the Duke of Bowel-Twister had gone
to visit his estates. At the end of a few weeks he left the asylum,
repaired and set together again, and then he began to pull himself to
bits once more, till he was down on his back and needed another mending.
In three years he went seven times to Sainte-Anne in this fashion. The
neighborhood said that his cell was kept ready for him. But the worst of
the matter was that this obstinate tippler demolished himself more and
more each time so that from relapse to relapse one could foresee the
final tumble, the last cracking of this shaky cask, all the hoops of
which were breaking away, one after the other.

At the same time, he forgot to improve in appearance; a perfect ghost
to look at! The poison was having terrible effects. By dint of imbibing
alcohol, his body shrunk up like the embryos displayed in glass jars in
chemical laboratories. When he approached a window you could see through
his ribs, so skinny had he become. Those who knew his age, only forty
years just gone, shuddered when he passed by, bent and unsteady,
looking as old as the streets themselves. And the trembling of his hands
increased, the right one danced to such an extent, that sometimes he had
to take his glass between both fists to carry it to his lips. Oh! that
cursed trembling! It was the only thing that worried his addled brains.
You could hear him growling ferocious insults against those hands of

This last summer, during which Nana usually came home to spend her
nights, after she had finished knocking about, was especially bad for
Coupeau. His voice changed entirely as if liquor had set a new music in
his throat. He became deaf in one ear. Then in a few days his sight grew
dim, and he had to clutch hold of the stair railings to prevent himself
from falling. As for his health, he had abominable headaches and
dizziness. All on a sudden he was seized with acute pains in his arms
and legs; he turned pale; was obliged to sit down, and remained on a
chair witless for hours; indeed, after one such attack, his arm remained
paralyzed for the whole day. He took to his bed several times; he
rolled himself up and hid himself under the sheet, breathing hard
and continuously like a suffering animal. Then the strange scenes of
Sainte-Anne began again. Suspicious and nervous, worried with a burning
fever, he rolled about in a mad rage, tearing his blouse and biting the
furniture with his convulsed jaws; or else he sank into a great state of
emotion, complaining like a child, sobbing and lamenting because nobody
loved him. One night when Gervaise and Nana returned home together they
were surprised not to find him in his bed. He had laid the bolster in
his place. And when they discovered him, hiding between the bed and the
wall, his teeth were chattering, and he related that some men had come
to murder him. The two women were obliged to put him to bed again and
quiet him like a child.

Coupeau knew only one remedy, to toss down a pint of spirits; a whack in
his stomach, which set him on his feet again. This was how he doctored
his gripes of a morning. His memory had left him long ago, his brain was
empty; and he no sooner found himself on his feet than he poked fun
at illness. He had never been ill. Yes, he had got to the point when
a fellow kicks the bucket declaring that he's quite well. And his wits
were going a-wool-gathering in other respects too. When Nana came home
after gadding about for six weeks or so he seemed to fancy she had
returned from doing some errand in the neighborhood. Often when she was
hanging on an acquaintance's arm she met him and laughed at him without
his recognizing her. In short, he no longer counted for anything; she
might have sat down on him if she had been at a loss for a chair.

When the first frosts came Nana took herself off once more under the
pretence of going to the fruiterer's to see if there were any baked
pears. She scented winter and didn't care to let her teeth chatter in
front of the fireless stove. The Coupeaus had called her no good because
they had waited for the pears. No doubt she would come back again. The
other winter she had stayed away three weeks to fetch her father two
sous' worth of tobacco. But the months went by and the girl did not show
herself. This time she must have indulged in a hard gallop. When June
arrived she did not even turn up with the sunshine. Evidently it was all
over, she had found a new meal ticket somewhere or other. One day when
the Coupeaus were totally broke they sold Nana's iron bedstead for six
francs, which they drank together at Saint-Ouen. The bedstead had been
in their way.

One morning in July Virginie called to Gervaise, who was passing by, and
asked her to lend a hand in washing up, for Lantier had entertained a
couple of friends on the day before. And while Gervaise was cleaning up
the plates and dishes, greasy with the traces of the spread, the hatter,
who was still digesting in the shop, suddenly called out:

"Say, I saw Nana the other day."

Virginie, who was seated at the counter looking very careworn in front
of the jars and drawers which were already three parts emptied, jerked
her head furiously. She restrained herself so as not to say too much,
but really it was angering her. Lantier was seeing Nana often. Oh! she
was by no means sure of him; he was a man to do much worse than that,
when a fancy for a woman came into his head. Madame Lerat, very intimate
just then with Virginie, who confided in her, had that moment entered
the shop, and hearing Lantier's remark, she pouted ridiculously, and

"What do you mean, you saw her?"

"Oh, in the street here," answered the hatter, who felt highly
flattered, and began to laugh and twirl his moustaches. "She was in
a carriage and I was floundering on the pavement. Really it was so, I
swear it! There's no use denying it, the young fellows of position who
are on friendly terms with her are terribly lucky!"

His eyes had brightened and he turned towards Gervaise who was standing
in the rear of the shop wiping a dish.

"Yes, she was in a carriage, and wore such a stylish dress! I didn't
recognise her, she looked so much like a lady of the upper set, with her
white teeth and her face as fresh as a flower. It was she who waved her
glove to me. She has caught a count, I believe. Oh! she's launched for
good. She can afford to do without any of us; she's head over heels in
happiness, the little beggar! What a love of a little kitten! No, you've
no idea what a little kitten she is!"

Gervaise was still wiping the same plate, although it had long since
been clean and shiny. Virginie was reflecting, anxious about a couple of
bills which fell due on the morrow and which she didn't know how to pay;
whilst Lantier, stout and fat, perspiring the sugar he fed off, ventured
his enthusiasm for well-dressed little hussies. The shop, which was
already three parts eaten up, smelt of ruin. Yes, there were only a few
more burnt almonds to nibble, a little more barley-sugar to suck, to
clean the Poissons' business out. Suddenly, on the pavement over the
way, he perceived the policeman, who was on duty, pass by all buttoned
up with his sword dangling by his side. And this made him all the gayer.
He compelled Virginie to look at her husband.

"Dear me," he muttered, "Badingue looks fine this morning! Just look,
see how stiff he walks. He must have stuck a glass eye in his back to
surprise people."

When Gervaise went back upstairs, she found Coupeau seated on the bed,
in the torpid state induced by one of his attacks. He was looking at the
window-panes with his dim expressionless eyes. She sat herself down on
a chair, tired out, her hands hanging beside her dirty skirt; and for a
quarter of an hour she remained in front of him without saying a word.

"I've had some news," she muttered at last. "Your daughter's been seen.
Yes, your daughter's precious stylish and hasn't any more need of you.
She's awfully happy, she is! Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ I'd give a great deal to be
in her place."

Coupeau was still staring at the window-pane. But suddenly he raised his
ravaged face, and stammered with an idiotic laugh:

"Well, my little lamb, I'm not stopping you. You're not yet so bad
looking when you wash yourself. As folks say, however old a pot may be,
it ends by finding its lid. And, after all, I wouldn't care if it only
buttered our bread."


It must have been the Saturday after quarter day, something like the
12th or 13th of January--Gervaise didn't quite know. She was losing
her wits, for it was centuries since she had had anything warm in her
stomach. Ah! what an infernal week! A complete clear out. Two loaves of
four pounds each on Tuesday, which had lasted till Thursday; then a dry
crust found the night before, and finally not a crumb for thirty-six
hours, a real dance before the cupboard! What did she know, by the way,
what she felt on her back, was the frightful cold, a black cold, the sky
as grimy as a frying-pan, thick with snow which obstinately refused to
fall. When winter and hunger are both together in your guts, you may
tighten your belt as much as you like, it hardly feeds you.

Perhaps Coupeau would bring back some money in the evening. He said that
he was working. Anything is possible, isn't it? And Gervaise, although
she had been caught many and many a time, had ended by relying on this
coin. After all sorts of incidents, she herself couldn't find as much as
a duster to wash in the whole neighborhood; and even an old lady, whose
rooms she did, had just given her the sack, charging her with swilling
her liqueurs. No one would engage her, she was washed up everywhere;
and this secretly suited her, for she had fallen to that state of
indifference when one prefers to croak rather than move one's fingers.
At all events, if Coupeau brought his pay home they would have something
warm to eat. And meanwhile, as it wasn't yet noon, she remained
stretched on the mattress, for one doesn't feel so cold or so hungry
when one is lying down.

The bed was nothing but a pile of straw in a corner. Bed and bedding had
gone, piece by piece, to the second-hand dealers of the neighborhood.
First she had ripped open the mattress to sell handfuls of wool at ten
sous a pound. When the mattress was empty she got thirty sous for the
sack so as to be able to have coffee. Everything else had followed.
Well, wasn't the straw good enough for them?

Gervaise bent herself like a gun-trigger on the heap of straw, with her
clothes on and her feet drawn up under her rag of a skirt, so as to
keep them warm. And huddled up, with her eyes wide open, she turned
some scarcely amusing ideas over in her mind that morning. Ah! no, they
couldn't continue living without food. She no longer felt her hunger,
only she had a leaden weight on her chest and her brain seemed empty.
Certainly there was nothing gay to look at in the four corners of the
hovel. A perfect kennel now, where greyhounds, who wear wrappers in the
streets, would not even have lived in effigy. Her pale eyes stared at
the bare walls. Everything had long since gone to "uncle's." All that
remained were the chest of drawers, the table and a chair. Even the
marble top of the chest of drawers and the drawers themselves, had
evaporated in the same direction as the bedstead. A fire could not have
cleaned them out more completely; the little knick-knacks had melted,
beginning with the ticker, a twelve franc watch, down to the family
photos, the frames of which had been bought by a woman keeping a
second-hand store; a very obliging woman, by the way, to whom Gervaise
carried a saucepan, an iron, a comb and who gave her five, three or two
sous in exchange, according to the article; enough, at all events to go
upstairs again with a bit of bread. But now there only remained a broken
pair of candle snuffers, which the woman refused to give her even a sou

Oh! if she could only have sold the rubbish and refuse, the dust and the
dirt, how speedily she would have opened shop, for the room was filthy
to behold! She only saw cobwebs in the corners and although cobwebs
are good for cuts, there are, so far, no merchants who buy them. Then
turning her head, abandoning the idea of doing a bit of trade, Gervaise
gathered herself together more closely on her straw, preferring to stare
through the window at the snow-laden sky, at the dreary daylight, which
froze the marrow in her bones.

What a lot of worry! Though, after all, what was the use of putting
herself in such a state and puzzling her brains? If she had only been
able to have a snooze. But her hole of a home wouldn't go out of her
mind. Monsieur Marescot, the landlord had come in person the day before
to tell them that he would turn them out into the street if the two
quarters' rent now overdue were not paid during the ensuing week. Well,
so he might, they certainly couldn't be worse off on the pavement! Fancy
this ape, in his overcoat and his woolen gloves, coming upstairs to talk
to them about rent, as if they had had a treasure hidden somewhere!

Just the same with that brute of a Coupeau, who couldn't come home now
without beating her; she wished him in the same place as the landlord.
She sent them all there, wishing to rid herself of everyone, and of life
too. She was becoming a real storehouse for blows. Coupeau had a cudgel,
which he called his ass's fan, and he fanned his old woman. You should
just have seen him giving her abominable thrashings, which made her
perspire all over. She was no better herself, for she bit and scratched
him. Then they stamped about in the empty room and gave each other such
drubbings as were likely to ease them of all taste for bread for good.
But Gervaise ended by not caring a fig for these thwacks, not more than
she did for anything else. Coupeau might celebrate Saint Monday for
weeks altogether, go off on the spree for months at a time, come home
mad with liquor, and seek to sharpen her as he said, she had grown
accustomed to it, she thought him tiresome, but nothing more. It was on
these occasions that she wished him somewhere else. Yes, somewhere, her
beast of a man and the Lorilleuxs, the Boches, and the Poissons too; in
fact, the whole neighborhood, which she had such contempt for. She sent
all Paris there with a gesture of supreme carelessness, and was pleased
to be able to revenge herself in this style.

One could get used to almost anything, but still, it is hard to
break the habit of eating. That was the one thing that really annoyed
Gervaise, the hunger that kept gnawing at her insides. Oh, those
pleasant little snacks she used to have. Now she had fallen low enough
to gobble anything she could find.

On special occasions, she would get waste scraps of meat from the
butcher for four sous a pound. Blacked and dried out meat that couldn't
find a purchaser. She would mix this with potatoes for a stew. On other
occasions, when she had some wine, she treated herself to a sop, a true
parrot's pottage. Two sous' worth of Italian cheese, bushels of white
potatoes, quarts of dry beans, cooked in their own juice, these also
were dainties she was not often able to indulge in now. She came down
to leavings from low eating dens, where for a sou she had a pile of
fish-bones, mixed with the parings of moldy roast meat. She fell even
lower--she begged a charitable eating-house keeper to give her his
customers' dry crusts, and she made herself a bread soup, letting the
crusts simmer as long as possible on a neighbor's fire. On the days when
she was really hungry, she searched about with the dogs, to see what
might be lying outside the tradespeople's doors before the dustmen went
by; and thus at times she came across rich men's food, rotten melons,
stinking mackerel and chops, which she carefully inspected for fear of

Yes, she had come to this. The idea may be a repugnant one to
delicate-minded folks, but if they hadn't chewed anything for three days
running, we should hardly see them quarreling with their stomachs; they
would go down on all fours and eat filth like other people. Ah! the
death of the poor, the empty entrails, howling hunger, the animal
appetite that leads one with chattering teeth to fill one's stomach with
beastly refuse in this great Paris, so bright and golden! And to think
that Gervaise used to fill her belly with fat goose! Now the thought
of it brought tears to her eyes. One day, when Coupeau bagged two bread
tickets from her to go and sell them and get some liquor, she nearly
killed him with the blow of a shovel, so hungered and so enraged was she
by this theft of a bit of bread.

However, after a long contemplation of the pale sky, she had fallen into
a painful doze. She dreamt that the snow-laden sky was falling on her,
so cruelly did the cold pinch. Suddenly she sprang to her feet, awakened
with a start by a shudder of anguish. _Mon Dieu!_ was she going to die?
Shivering and haggard she perceived that it was still daylight. Wouldn't
the night ever come? How long the time seems when the stomach is empty!
Hers was waking up in its turn and beginning to torture her. Sinking
down on the chair, with her head bent and her hands between her legs to
warm them, she began to think what they would have for dinner as soon
as Coupeau brought the money home: a loaf, a quart of wine and two
platefuls of tripe in the Lyonnaise fashion. Three o'clock struck by
father Bazouge's clock. Yes, it was only three o'clock. Then she began
to cry. She would never have strength enough to wait until seven. Her
body swayed backwards and forwards, she oscillated like a child nursing
some sharp pain, bending herself double and crushing her stomach so as
not to feel it. Ah! an accouchement is less painful than hunger! And
unable to ease herself, seized with rage, she rose and stamped about,
hoping to send her hunger to sleep by walking it to and fro like an
infant. For half an hour or so, she knocked against the four corners of
the empty room. Then, suddenly, she paused with a fixed stare. So much
the worse! They might say what they liked; she would lick their feet if
needs be, but she would go and ask the Lorilleuxs to lend her ten sous.

At winter time, up these stairs of the house, the paupers' stairs, there
was a constant borrowing of ten sous and twenty sous, petty services
which these hungry beggars rendered each other. Only they would rather
have died than have applied to the Lorilleuxs, for they knew they were
too tight-fisted. Thus Gervaise displayed remarkable courage in going
to knock at their door. She felt so frightened in the passage that she
experienced the sudden relief of people who ring a dentist's bell.

"Come in!" cried the chainmaker in a sour voice.

How warm and nice it was inside. The forge was blazing, its white flame
lighting up the narrow workroom, whilst Madame Lorilleux set a coil of
gold wire to heat. Lorilleux, in front of his worktable, was perspiring
with the warmth as he soldered the links of a chain together. And it
smelt nice. Some cabbage soup was simmering on the stove, exhaling a
steam which turned Gervaise's heart topsy-turvy, and almost made her

"Ah! it's you," growled Madame Lorilleux, without even asking her to sit
down. "What do you want?"

Gervaise did not answer for a moment. She had recently been on fairly
good terms with the Lorilleuxs, but she saw Boche sitting by the stove.
He seemed very much at home, telling funny stories.

"What do you want?" repeated Lorilleux.

"You haven't seen Coupeau?" Gervaise finally stammered at last. "I
thought he was here."

The chainmakers and the concierge sneered. No, for certain, they hadn't
seen Coupeau. They didn't stand treat often enough to interest Coupeau.
Gervaise made an effort and resumed, stuttering:

"It's because he promised to come home. Yes, he's to bring me some
money. And as I have absolute need of something--"

Silence followed. Madame Lorilleux was roughly fanning the fire of the
stove; Lorilleux had lowered his nose over the bit of chain between his
fingers, while Boche continued laughing, puffing out his face till it
looked like the full moon.

"If I only had ten sous," muttered Gervaise, in a low voice.

The silence persisted.

"Couldn't you lend me ten sous? Oh! I would return them to you this

Madame Lorilleux turned round and stared at her. Here was a wheedler
trying to get round them. To-day she asked them for ten sous, to-morrow
it would be for twenty, and there would be no reason to stop. No,
indeed; it would be a warm day in winter if they lent her anything.

"But, my dear," cried Madame Lorilleux. "You know very well that we
haven't any money! Look! There's the lining of my pocket. You can search
us. If we could, it would be with a willing heart, of course."

"The heart's always there," growled Lorilleux. "Only when one can't, one

Gervaise looked very humble and nodded her head approvingly. However,
she did not take herself off. She squinted at the gold, at the gold tied
together hanging on the walls, at the gold wire the wife was drawing out
with all the strength of her little arms, at the gold links lying in a
heap under the husband's knotty fingers. And she thought that the least
bit of this ugly black metal would suffice to buy her a good dinner. The
workroom was as dirty as ever, full of old iron, coal dust and sticky
oil stains, half wiped away; but now, as Gervaise saw it, it seemed
resplendent with treasure, like a money changer's shop. And so she
ventured to repeat softly: "I would return them to you, return them
without fail. Ten sous wouldn't inconvenience you."

Her heart was swelling with the effort she made not to own that she had
had nothing to eat since the day before. Then she felt her legs give
way. She was frightened that she might burst into tears, and she still

"It would be kind of you! You don't know. Yes, I'm reduced to that, good
Lord--reduced to that!"

Thereupon the Lorilleuxs pursed their lips and exchanged covert glances.
So Clump-clump was begging now! Well, the fall was complete. But they
did not care for that kind of thing by any means. If they had known,
they would have barricaded the door, for people should always be on
their guard against beggars--folks who make their way into apartments
under a pretext and carry precious objects away with them; and
especially so in this place, as there was something worth while
stealing. One might lay one's fingers no matter where, and carry off
thirty or forty francs by merely closing the hands. They had felt
suspicious several times already on noticing how strange Gervaise looked
when she stuck herself in front of the gold. This time, however, they
meant to watch her. And as she approached nearer, with her feet on the
board, the chainmaker roughly called out, without giving any further
answer to her question: "Look out, pest--take care; you'll be carrying
some scraps of gold away on the soles of your shoes. One would think you
had greased them on purpose to make the gold stick to them."

Gervaise slowly drew back. For a moment she leant against a rack, and
seeing that Madame Lorilleux was looking at her hands, she opened them
and showed them, saying softly, without the least anger, like a fallen
women who accepts anything:

"I have taken nothing; you can look."

And then she went off, because the strong smell of the cabbage soup and
the warmth of the workroom made her feel too ill.

Ah! the Lorilleuxs did not detain her. Good riddance; just see if they
opened the door to her again. They had seen enough of her face. They
didn't want other people's misery in their rooms, especially when that
misery was so well deserved. They reveled in their selfish delight at
being seated so cozily in a warm room, with a dainty soup cooking. Boche
also stretched himself, puffing with his cheeks still more and more,
so much, indeed, that his laugh really became indecent. They were all
nicely revenged on Clump-clump, for her former manners, her blue shop,
her spreads, and all the rest. It had all worked out just as it should,
proving where a love of showing-off would get you.

"So that is the style now? Begging for ten sous," cried Madame Lorilleux
as soon as Gervaise had gone. "Wait a bit; I'll lend her ten sous, and
no mistake, to go and get drunk with."

Gervaise shuffled along the passage in her slippers, bending her back
and feeling heavy. On reaching her door she did not open it--her room
frightened her. It would be better to walk about, she would learn
patience. As she passed by she stretched out her neck, peering into Pere
Bru's kennel under the stairs. There, for instance, was another one who
must have a fine appetite, for he had breakfasted and dined by heart
during the last three days. However, he wasn't at home, there was only
his hole, and Gervaise felt somewhat jealous, thinking that perhaps he
had been invited somewhere. Then, as she reached the Bijards' she heard
Lalie moaning, and, as the key was in the lock as usual, she opened the
door and went in.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

The room was very clean. One could see that Lalie had carefully swept
it, and arranged everything during the morning. Misery might blow into
the room as much as it liked, carry off the chattels and spread all
the dirt and refuse about. Lalie, however, came behind and tidied
everything, imparting, at least, some appearance of comfort within. She
might not be rich, but you realized that there was a housewife in the
place. That afternoon her two little ones, Henriette and Jules, had
found some old pictures which they were cutting out in a corner. But
Gervaise was greatly surprised to see Lalie herself in bed, looking very
pale, with the sheet drawn up to her chin. In bed, indeed, then she must
be seriously ill!

"What is the matter with you?" inquired Gervaise, feeling anxious.

Lalie no longer groaned. She slowly raised her white eyelids, and tried
to compel her lips to smile, although they were convulsed by a shudder.

"There's nothing the matter with me," she whispered very softly. "Really
nothing at all."

Then, closing her eyes again, she added with an effort:

"I made myself too tired during the last few days, and so I'm doing the
idle; I'm nursing myself, as you see."

But her childish face, streaked with livid stains, assumed such an
expression of anguish that Gervaise, forgetting her own agony, joined
her hands and fell on her knees near the bed. For the last month she
had seen the girl clinging to the walls for support when she went about,
bent double indeed, by a cough which seemed to presage a coffin. Now the
poor child could not even cough. She had a hiccough and drops of blood
oozed from the corners of her mouth.

"It's not my fault if I hardly feel strong," she murmured, as if
relieved. "I've tired myself to-day, trying to put things to rights.
It's pretty tidy, isn't it? And I wanted to clean the windows as well,
but my legs failed me. How stupid! However, when one has finished one
can go to bed."

She paused, then said, "Pray, see if my little ones are not cutting
themselves with the scissors."

And then she relapsed into silence, trembling and listening to a heavy
footfall which was approaching up the stairs. Suddenly father Bijard
brutally opened the door. As usual he was far gone, and his eyes shone
with the furious madness imparted by the vitriol he had swallowed. When
he perceived Lalie in bed, he tapped on his thighs with a sneer, and
took the whip from where it hung.

"Ah! by blazes, that's too much," he growled, "we'll soon have a laugh.
So the cows lie down on their straw at noon now! Are you poking fun at
me, you lazy beggar? Come, quick now, up you get!"

And he cracked the whip over the bed. But the child beggingly replied:

"Pray, papa, don't--don't strike me. I swear to you you will regret it.
Don't strike!"

"Will you jump up?" he roared still louder, "or else I'll tickle your
ribs! Jump up, you little hound!"

Then she softly said, "I can't--do you understand? I'm going to die."

Gervaise had sprung upon Bijard and torn the whip away from him. He
stood bewildered in front of the bed. What was the dirty brat talking
about? Do girls die so young without even having been ill? Some excuse
to get sugar out of him no doubt. Ah! he'd make inquiries, and if she
lied, let her look out!

"You will see, it's the truth," she continued. "As long as I could I
avoided worrying you; but be kind now, and bid me good-bye, papa."

Bijard wriggled his nose as if he fancied she was deceiving him. And
yet it was true she had a singular look, the serious mien of a grown
up person. The breath of death which passed through the room in some
measure sobered him. He gazed around like a man awakened from a long
sleep, saw the room so tidy, the two children clean, playing and
laughing. And then he sank on to a chair stammering, "Our little mother,
our little mother."

Those were the only words he could find to say, and yet they were very
tender ones to Lalie, who had never been much spoiled. She consoled
her father. What especially worried her was to go off like this without
having completely brought up the little ones. He would take care of
them, would he not? With her dying breath she told him how they ought
to be cared for and kept clean. But stultified, with the fumes of drink
seizing hold of him again, he wagged his head, watching her with an
uncertain stare as she was dying. All kind of things were touched in
him, but he could find no more to say and he was too utterly burnt with
liquor to shed a tear.

"Listen," resumed Lalie, after a pause. "We owe four francs and seven
sous to the baker; you must pay that. Madame Gaudron borrowed an iron of
ours, which you must get from her. I wasn't able to make any soup this
evening, but there's some bread left and you can warm up the potatoes."

Till her last rattle, the poor kitten still remained the little mother.
Surely she could never be replaced! She was dying because she had had,
at her age, a true mother's reason, because her breast was too small and
weak for so much maternity. And if her ferocious beast of a father lost
his treasure, it was his own fault. After kicking the mother to death,
hadn't he murdered the daughter as well? The two good angels would lie
in the pauper's grave and all that could be in store for him was to kick
the bucket like a dog in the gutter.

Gervaise restrained herself not to burst out sobbing. She extended her
hands, desirous of easing the child, and as the shred of a sheet was
falling, she wished to tack it up and arrange the bed. Then the dying
girl's poor little body was seen. Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ what misery! What
woe! Stones would have wept. Lalie was bare, with only the remnants of
a camisole on her shoulders by way of chemise; yes, bare, with the
grievous, bleeding nudity of a martyr. She had no flesh left; her bones
seemed to protrude through the skin. From her ribs to her thighs there
extended a number of violet stripes--the marks of the whip forcibly
imprinted on her. A livid bruise, moreover, encircled her left arm, as
if the tender limb, scarcely larger than a lucifer, had been crushed
in a vise. There was also an imperfectly closed wound on her right
leg, left there by some ugly blow and which opened again and again of
a morning, when she went about doing her errands. From head to foot,
indeed, she was but one bruise! Oh! this murdering of childhood; those
heavy hands crushing this lovely girl; how abominable that such weakness
should have such a weighty cross to bear! Again did Gervaise crouch
down, no longer thinking of tucking in the sheet, but overwhelmed by
the pitiful sight of this martyrdom; and her trembling lips seemed to be
seeking for words of prayer.

"Madame Coupeau," murmured the child, "I beg you--"

With her little arms she tried to draw up the sheet again, ashamed as it
were for her father. Bijard, as stultified as ever, with his eyes on the
corpse which was his own work, still wagged his head, but more slowly,
like a worried animal might do.

When she had covered Lalie up again, Gervaise felt she could not remain
there any longer. The dying girl was growing weaker and ceased speaking;
all that was left to her was her gaze--the dark look she had had as a
resigned and thoughtful child and which she now fixed on her two little
ones who were still cutting out their pictures. The room was growing
gloomy and Bijard was working off his liquor while the poor girl was
in her death agonies. No, no, life was too abominable! How frightful
it was! How frightful! And Gervaise took herself off, and went down the
stairs, not knowing what she was doing, her head wandering and so full
of disgust that she would willingly have thrown herself under the wheels
of an omnibus to have finished with her own existence.

As she hastened on, growling against cursed fate, she suddenly found
herself in front of the place where Coupeau pretended that he worked.
Her legs had taken her there, and now her stomach began singing its song
again, the complaint of hunger in ninety verses--a complaint she knew by
heart. However, if she caught Coupeau as he left, she would be able to
pounce upon the coin at once and buy some grub. A short hour's waiting
at the utmost; she could surely stay that out, though she had sucked her
thumbs since the day before.

She was at the corner of Rue de la Charbonniere and Rue de Chartres.
A chill wind was blowing and the sky was an ugly leaden grey. The
impending snow hung over the city but not a flake had fallen as yet. She
tried stamping her feet to keep warm, but soon stopped as there was no
use working up an appetite.

There was nothing amusing about. The few passers-by strode rapidly
along, wrapped up in comforters; naturally enough one does not care
to tarry when the cold is nipping at your heels. However, Gervaise
perceived four or five women who were mounting guard like herself
outside the door of the zinc-works; unfortunate creatures of
course--wives watching for the pay to prevent it going to the dram-shop.
There was a tall creature as bulky as a gendarme leaning against the
wall, ready to spring on her husband as soon as he showed himself. A
dark little woman with a delicate humble air was walking about on the
other side of the way. Another one, a fat creature, had brought her two
brats with her and was dragging them along, one on either hand, and both
of them shivering and sobbing. And all these women, Gervaise like the
others, passed and repassed, exchanging glances, but without speaking to
one another. A pleasant meeting and no mistake. They didn't need to make
friends to learn what number they lived at. They could all hang out the
same sideboard, "Misery & Co." It seemed to make one feel even colder
to see them walk about in silence, passing each other in this terrible
January weather.

However, nobody as yet left the zinc-works. But presently one workman
appeared, then two, and then three, but these were no doubt decent
fellows who took their pay home regularly, for they jerked their heads
significantly as they saw the shadows wandering up and down. The tall
creature stuck closer than ever to the side of the door, and suddenly
fell upon a pale little man who was prudently poking his head out. Oh!
it was soon settled! She searched him and collared his coin. Caught,
no more money, not even enough to pay for a dram! Then the little man,
looking very vexed and cast down, followed his gendarme, weeping like a
child. The workmen were still coming out; and as the fat mother with the
two brats approached the door, a tall fellow, with a cunning look, who
noticed her, went hastily inside again to warn her husband; and when
the latter arrived he had stuffed a couple of cart wheels away, two
beautiful new five franc pieces, one in each of his shoes. He took one
of the brats on his arm, and went off telling a variety of lies to
his old woman who was complaining. There were other workmen also,
mournful-looking fellows, who carried in their clinched fists the pay
for the three or five days' work they had done during a fortnight,
who reproached themselves with their own laziness, and took drunkards'
oaths. But the saddest thing of all was the grief of the dark little
woman, with the humble, delicate look; her husband, a handsome fellow,
took himself off under her very nose, and so brutally indeed that he
almost knocked her down, and she went home alone, stumbling past the
shops and weeping all the tears in her body.

At last the defile finished. Gervaise, who stood erect in the middle of
the street, was still watching the door. The look-out seemed a bad one.
A couple of workmen who were late appeared on the threshold, but there
were still no signs of Coupeau. And when she asked the workmen if
Coupeau wasn't coming, they answered her, being up to snuff, that he had
gone off by the back-door with Lantimeche. Gervaise understood what
this meant. Another of Coupeau's lies; she could whistle for him if she
liked. Then shuffling along in her worn-out shoes, she went slowly down
the Rue de la Charbonniere. Her dinner was going off in front of her,
and she shuddered as she saw it running away in the yellow twilight.
This time it was all over. Not a copper, not a hope, nothing but night
and hunger. Ah! a fine night to kick the bucket, this dirty night which
was falling over her shoulders!

She was walking heavily up the Rue des Poissonniers when she suddenly
heard Coupeau's voice. Yes, he was there in the Little Civet, letting
My-Boots treat him. That comical chap, My-Boots, had been cunning enough
at the end of last summer to espouse in authentic fashion a lady who,
although rather advanced in years, had still preserved considerable
traces of beauty. She was a lady-of-the-evening of the Rue des Martyrs,
none of your common street hussies. And you should have seen this
fortunate mortal, living like a man of means, with his hands in his
pockets, well clad and well fed. He could hardly be recognised, so fat
had he grown. His comrades said that his wife had as much work as she
liked among the gentlemen of her acquaintance. A wife like that and a
country-house is all one can wish for to embellish one's life. And so
Coupeau squinted admiringly at My-Boots. Why, the lucky dog even had a
gold ring on his little finger!

Gervaise touched Coupeau on the shoulder just as he was coming out of
the little Civet.

"Say, I'm waiting; I'm hungry! I've got an empty stomach which is all I
ever get from you."

But he silenced her in a capital style, "You're hungry, eh? Well, eat
your fist, and keep the other for to-morrow."

He considered it highly improper to do the dramatic in other people's
presence. What, he hadn't worked, and yet the bakers kneaded bread all
the same. Did she take him for a fool, to come and try to frighten him
with her stories?

"Do you want me to turn thief?" she muttered, in a dull voice.

My-Boots stroked his chin in conciliatory fashion. "No, that's
forbidden," said he. "But when a woman knows how to handle herself--"

And Coupeau interrupted him to call out "Bravo!" Yes, a woman always
ought to know how to handle herself, but his wife had always been a
helpless thing. It would be her fault if they died on the straw. Then he
relapsed into his admiration for My-Boots. How awfully fine he looked! A
regular landlord; with clean linen and swell shoes! They were no common
stuff! His wife, at all events, knew how to keep the pot boiling!

The two men walked towards the outer Boulevard, and Gervaise followed
them. After a pause, she resumed, talking behind Coupeau's back:
"I'm hungry; you know, I relied on you. You must find me something to

He did not answer, and she repeated, in a tone of despairing agony: "Is
that all I get from you?"

"_Mon Dieu!_ I've no coin," he roared, turning round in a fury. "Just
leave me alone, eh? Or else I'll hit you."

He was already raising his fist. She drew back, and seemed to make up
her mind. "All right, I'll leave you. I guess I can find a man."

The zinc-worker laughed at this. He pretended to make a joke of the
matter, and strengthened her purpose without seeming to do so. That was
a fine idea of hers, and no mistake! In the evening, by gaslight,
she might still hook a man. He recommended her to try the Capuchin
restaurant where one could dine very pleasantly in a small private room.
And, as she went off along the Boulevard, looking pale and furious he
called out to her: "Listen, bring me back some dessert. I like cakes!
And if your gentleman is well dressed, ask him for an old overcoat. I
could use one."

With these words ringing in her ears, Gervaise walked softly away. But
when she found herself alone in the midst of the crowd, she slackened
her pace. She was quite resolute. Between thieving and the other, well
she preferred the other; for at all events she wouldn't harm any one.
No doubt it wasn't proper. But what was proper and what was improper was
sorely muddled together in her brain. When you are dying of hunger, you
don't philosophize, you eat whatever bread turns up. She had gone along
as far as the Chaussee-Clignancourt. It seemed as if the night would
never come. However, she followed the Boulevards like a lady who is
taking a stroll before dinner. The neighborhood in which she felt so
ashamed, so greatly was it being embellished, was now full of fresh air.

Lost in the crowd on the broad footway, walking past the little plane
trees, Gervaise felt alone and abandoned. The vistas of the avenues
seemed to empty her stomach all the more. And to think that among this
flood of people there were many in easy circumstances, and yet not a
Christian who could guess her position, and slip a ten sous piece into
her hand! Yes, it was too great and too beautiful; her head swam and
her legs tottered under this broad expanse of grey sky stretched over
so vast a space. The twilight had the dirty-yellowish tinge of Parisian
evenings, a tint that gives you a longing to die at once, so ugly
does street life seem. The horizon was growing indistinct, assuming a
mud-colored tinge as it were. Gervaise, who was already weary, met all
the workpeople returning home. At this hour of the day the ladies in
bonnets and the well-dressed gentlemen living in the new houses mingled
with the people, with the files of men and women still pale from
inhaling the tainted atmosphere of workshops and workrooms. From the
Boulevard Magenta and the Rue du Faubourg-Poissonniere, came bands of
people, rendered breathless by their uphill walk. As the omnivans and
the cabs rolled by less noiselessly among the vans and trucks returning
home empty at a gallop, an ever-increasing swarm of blouses and
blue vests covered the pavement. Commissionaires returned with their
crotchets on their backs. Two workmen took long strides side by side,
talking to each other in loud voices, with any amount of gesticulation,
but without looking at one another; others who were alone in overcoats
and caps walked along the curbstones with lowered noses; others again
came in parties of five or six, following each other, with pale eyes and
their hands in their pockets and not exchanging a word. Some still had
their pipes, which had gone out between their teeth. Four masons poked
their white faces out of the windows of a cab which they had hired
between them, and on the roof of which their mortar-troughs rocked to
and fro. House-painters were swinging their pots; a zinc-worker was
returning laden with a long ladder, with which he almost poked people's
eyes out; whilst a belated plumber, with his box on his back, played
the tune of "The Good King Dagobert" on his little trumpet. Ah! the sad
music, a fitting accompaniment to the tread of the flock, the tread of
the weary beasts of burden.

Suddenly on raising her eyes she noticed the old Hotel Boncoeur in front
of her. After being an all-night cafe, which the police had closed
down, the little house was now abandoned; the shutters were covered with
posters, the lantern was broken, and the whole building was rotting and
crumbling away from top to bottom, with its smudgy claret-colored paint,
quite moldy. The stationer's and the tobacconist's were still there. In
the rear, over some low buildings, you could see the leprous facades of
several five-storied houses rearing their tumble-down outlines against
the sky. The "Grand Balcony" dancing hall no longer existed; some
sugar-cutting works, which hissed continually, had been installed in the
hall with the ten flaming windows. And yet it was here, in this dirty
den--the Hotel Boncoeur--that the whole cursed life had commenced.
Gervaise remained looking at the window of the first floor, from which
hung a broken shutter, and recalled to mind her youth with Lantier,
their first rows and the ignoble way in which he had abandoned her.
Never mind, she was young then, and it all seemed gay to her, seen from
a distance. Only twenty years. _Mon Dieu!_ and yet she had fallen to
street-walking. Then the sight of the lodging house oppressed her and
she walked up the Boulevard in the direction of Montmartre.

The night was gathering, but children were still playing on the heaps of
sand between the benches. The march past continued, the workgirls went
by, trotting along and hurrying to make up for the time they had lost in
looking in at the shop windows; one tall girl, who had stopped, left her
hand in that of a big fellow, who accompanied her to within three doors
of her home; others as they parted from each other, made appointments
for the night at the "Great Hall of Folly" or the "Black Ball." In
the midst of the groups, piece-workmen went by, carrying their clothes
folded under their arms. A chimney sweep, harnessed with leather braces,
was drawing a cart along, and nearly got himself crushed by an omnibus.
Among the crowd which was now growing scantier, there were several
women running with bare heads; after lighting the fire, they had come
downstairs again and were hastily making their purchases for dinner;
they jostled the people they met, darted into the bakers' and the pork
butchers', and went off again with all despatch, their provisions in
their hands. There were little girls of eight years old, who had been
sent out on errands, and who went along past the shops, pressing long
loaves of four pounds' weight, as tall as they were themselves, against
their chests, as if these loaves had been beautiful yellow dolls; at
times these little ones forgot themselves for five minutes or so, in
front of some pictures in a shop window, and rested their cheeks against
the bread. Then the flow subsided, the groups became fewer and farther
between, the working classes had gone home; and as the gas blazed now
that the day's toil was over, idleness and amusement seemed to wake up.

Ah! yes; Gervaise had finished her day! She was wearier even than all
this mob of toilers who had jostled her as they went by. She might lie
down there and croak, for work would have nothing more to do with her,
and she had toiled enough during her life to say: "Whose turn now? I've
had enough." At present everyone was eating. It was really the end, the
sun had blown out its candle, the night would be a long one. _Mon Dieu!_
To stretch one's self at one's ease and never get up again; to think one
had put one's tools by for good and that one could ruminate like a cow
forever! That's what is good, after tiring one's self out for twenty
years! And Gervaise, as hunger twisted her stomach, thought in spite of
herself of the fete days, the spreads and the revelry of her life. Of
one occasion especially, an awfully cold day, a mid-Lent Thursday. She
had enjoyed herself wonderfully well. She was very pretty, fair-haired
and fresh looking at that time. Her wash-house in the Rue Neuve had
chosen her as queen in spite of her leg. And then they had had an outing
on the boulevards in carts decked with greenery, in the midst of stylish
people who ogled her. Real gentlemen put up their glasses as if she had
been a true queen. In the evening there was a wonderful spread, and then
they had danced till daylight. Queen; yes Queen! With a crown and a
sash for twenty-four hours--twice round the clock! And now oppressed by
hunger, she looked on the ground, as if she were seeking for the gutter
in which she had let her fallen majesty tumble.

She raised her eyes again. She was in front of the slaughter-houses
which were being pulled down; through the gaps in the facade one could
see the dark, stinking courtyards, still damp with blood. And when
she had gone down the Boulevard again, she also saw the Lariboisiere
Hospital, with its long grey wall, above which she could distinguish the
mournful, fan-like wings, pierced with windows at even distances. A door
in the wall filled the neighborhood with dread; it was the door of the
dead in solid oak, and without a crack, as stern and as silent as a
tombstone. Then to escape her thoughts, she hurried further down till
she reached the railway bridge. The high parapets of riveted sheet-iron
hid the line from view; she could only distinguish a corner of the
station standing out against the luminous horizon of Paris, with a vast
roof black with coal-dust. Through the clear space she could hear the
engines whistling and the cars being shunted, in token of colossal
hidden activity. Then a train passed by, leaving Paris, with puffing
breath and a growing rumble. And all she perceived of this train was
a white plume, a sudden gust of steam which rose above the parapet
and then evaporated. But the bridge had shaken, and she herself seemed
impressed by this departure at full speed. She turned round as if to
follow the invisible engine, the noise of which was dying away.

She caught a glimpse of open country through a gap between tall
buildings. Oh, if only she could have taken a train and gone away, far
away from this poverty and suffering. She might have started an entirely
new life! Then she turned to look at the posters on the bridge sidings.
One was on pretty blue paper and offered a fifty-franc reward for a lost
dog. Someone must have really loved that dog!

Gervaise slowly resumed her walk. In the smoky fog which was falling,
the gas lamps were being lighted up; and the long avenues, which had
grown bleak and indistinct, suddenly showed themselves plainly again,
sparkling to their full length and piercing through the night, even to
the vague darkness of the horizon. A great gust swept by; the widened
spaces were lighted up with girdles of little flames, shining under the
far-stretching moonless sky. It was the hour when, from one end of the
Boulevard to the other, the dram-shops and the dancing-halls flamed
gayly as the first glasses were merrily drunk and the first dance began.
It was the great fortnightly pay-day, and the pavement was crowded with
jostling revelers on the spree. There was a breath of merrymaking in
the air--deuced fine revelry, but not objectionable so far. Fellows were
filling themselves in the eating-houses; through the lighted windows you
could see people feeding, with their mouths full and laughing without
taking the trouble to swallow first. Drunkards were already installed
in the wineshops, squabbling and gesticulating. And there was a cursed
noise on all sides, voices shouting amid the constant clatter of feet on
the pavement.

"Say, are you coming to sip?" "Make haste, old man; I'll pay for a glass
of bottled wine." "Here's Pauline! Shan't we just laugh!" The doors
swung to and fro, letting a smell of wine and a sound of cornet playing
escape into the open air. There was a gathering in front of Pere
Colombe's l'Assommoir, which was lighted up like a cathedral for high
mass. _Mon Dieu!_ you would have said a real ceremony was going on,
for several capital fellows, with rounded paunches and swollen cheeks,
looking for all the world like professional choristers, were singing
inside. They were celebrating Saint-Pay, of course--a very amiable
saint, who no doubt keeps the cash box in Paradise. Only, on seeing how
gaily the evening began, the retired petty tradesmen who had taken their
wives out for a stroll wagged their heads, and repeated that there
would be any number of drunken men in Paris that night. And the night
stretched very dark, dead-like and icy, above this revelry, perforated
only with lines of gas lamps extending to the four corners of heaven.

Gervaise stood in front of l'Assommoir, thinking that if she had had a
couple of sous she could have gone inside and drunk a dram. No doubt a
dram would have quieted her hunger. Ah! what a number of drams she had
drunk in her time! Liquor seemed good stuff to her after all. And
from outside she watched the drunk-making machine, realizing that her
misfortune was due to it, and yet dreaming of finishing herself off with
brandy on the day she had some coin. But a shudder passed through
her hair as she saw it was now almost dark. Well, the night time was
approaching. She must have some pluck and sell herself coaxingly if
she didn't wish to kick the bucket in the midst of the general revelry.
Looking at other people gorging themselves didn't precisely fill her own
stomach. She slackened her pace again and looked around her. There was
a darker shade under the trees. Few people passed along, only folks in
a hurry, who swiftly crossed the Boulevards. And on the broad, dark,
deserted footway, where the sound of the revelry died away, women were
standing and waiting. They remained for long intervals motionless,
patient and as stiff-looking as the scrubby little plane trees; then
they slowly began to move, dragging their slippers over the frozen soil,
taking ten steps or so and then waiting again, rooted as it were to the
ground. There was one of them with a huge body and insect-like arms and
legs, wearing a black silk rag, with a yellow scarf over her head; there
was another one, tall and bony, who was bareheaded and wore a servant's
apron; and others, too--old ones plastered up and young ones so dirty
that a ragpicker would not have picked them up. However, Gervaise tried
to learn what to do by imitating them; girlish-like emotion tightened
her throat; she was hardly aware whether she felt ashamed or not; she
seemed to be living in a horrible dream. For a quarter of an hour she
remained standing erect. Men hurried by without even turning their
heads. Then she moved about in her turn, and venturing to accost a man
who was whistling with his hands in his pockets, she murmured, in a
strangled voice:

"Sir, listen a moment--"

The man gave her a side glance and then went off, whistling all the

Gervaise grew bolder, and, with her stomach empty, she became absorbed
in this chase, fiercely rushing after her dinner, which was still
running away. She walked about for a long while, without thinking of the
flight of time or of the direction she took. Around her the dark, mute
women went to and fro under the trees like wild beasts in a cage. They
stepped out of the shade like apparitions, and passed under the light
of a gas lamp with their pale masks fully apparent; then they grew
vague again as they went off into the darkness, with a white strip of
petticoat swinging to and fro. Men let themselves be stopped at times,
talked jokingly, and then started off again laughing. Others would
quietly follow a woman to her room, discreetly, ten paces behind.
There was a deal of muttering, quarreling in an undertone and furious
bargaining, which suddenly subsided into profound silence. And as far as
Gervaise went she saw these women standing like sentinels in the night.
They seemed to be placed along the whole length of the Boulevard. As
soon as she met one she saw another twenty paces further on, and the
file stretched out unceasingly. Entire Paris was guarded. She grew
enraged on finding herself disdained, and changing her place, she now
perambulated between the Chaussee de Clignancourt and the Grand Rue of
La Chapelle. All were beggars.

"Sir, just listen."

But the men passed by. She started from the slaughter-houses, which
stank of blood. She glanced on her way at the old Hotel Boncoeur,
now closed. She passed in front of the Lariboisiere Hospital, and
mechanically counted the number of windows that were illuminated with
a pale quiet glimmer, like that of night-lights at the bedside of some
agonizing sufferers. She crossed the railway bridge as the trains rushed
by with a noisy rumble, rending the air in twain with their shrill
whistling! Ah! how sad everything seemed at night-time! Then she turned
on her heels again and filled her eyes with the sight of the same
houses, doing this ten and twenty times without pausing, without resting
for a minute on a bench. No; no one wanted her. Her shame seemed to be
increased by this contempt. She went down towards the hospital again,
and then returned towards the slaughter-houses. It was her last
promenade--from the blood-stained courtyards, where animals were
slaughtered, down to the pale hospital wards, where death stiffened
the patients stretched between the sheets. It was between these two
establishments that she had passed her life.

"Sir, just listen."

But suddenly she perceived her shadow on the ground. When she approached
a gas-lamp it gradually became less vague, till it stood out at last in
full force--an enormous shadow it was, positively grotesque, so portly
had she become. Her stomach, breast and hips, all equally flabby jostled
together as it were. She walked with such a limp that the shadow bobbed
almost topsy-turvy at every step she took; it looked like a real Punch!
Then as she left the street lamp behind her, the Punch grew taller,
becoming in fact gigantic, filling the whole Boulevard, bobbing to and
fro in such style that it seemed fated to smash its nose against the
trees or the houses. _Mon Dieu!_ how frightful she was! She had never
realised her disfigurement so thoroughly. And she could not help looking
at her shadow; indeed, she waited for the gas-lamps, still watching the
Punch as it bobbed about. Ah! she had a pretty companion beside her!
What a figure! It ought to attract the men at once! And at the thought
of her unsightliness, she lowered her voice, and only just dared to
stammer behind the passers-by:

"Sir, just listen."

It was now getting quite late. Matters were growing bad in the
neighborhood. The eating-houses had closed and voices, gruff with
drink, could be heard disputing in the wineshops. Revelry was turning to
quarreling and fisticuffs. A big ragged chap roared out, "I'll knock
yer to bits; just count yer bones." A large woman had quarreled with a
fellow outside a dancing place, and was calling him "dirty blackguard"
and "lousy bum," whilst he on his side just muttered under his breath.
Drink seemed to have imparted a fierce desire to indulge in blows, and
the passers-by, who were now less numerous, had pale contracted faces.
There was a battle at last; one drunken fellow came down on his back
with all four limbs raised in the air, whilst his comrade, thinking
he had done for him, ran off with his heavy shoes clattering over the
pavement. Groups of men sang dirty songs and then there would be long
silences broken only by hiccoughs or the thud of a drunk falling down.

Gervaise still hobbled about, going up and down, with the idea of
walking forever. At times, she felt drowsy and almost went to sleep,
rocked, as it were, by her lame leg; then she looked round her with a
start, and noticed she had walked a hundred yards unconsciously. Her
feet were swelling in her ragged shoes. The last clear thought that
occupied her mind was that her hussy of a daughter was perhaps eating
oysters at that very moment. Then everything became cloudy; and, albeit,
she remained with open eyes, it required too great an effort for her
to think. The only sensation that remained to her, in her utter
annihilation, was that it was frightfully cold, so sharply, mortally
cold, she had never known the like before. Why, even dead people could
not feel so cold in their graves. With an effort she raised her head,
and something seemed to lash her face. It was the snow, which had at
last decided to fall from the smoky sky--fine thick snow, which the
breeze swept round and round. For three days it had been expected and
what a splendid moment it chose to appear.

Woken up by the first gusts, Gervaise began to walk faster. Eager to get
home, men were running along, with their shoulders already white. And as
she suddenly saw one who, on the contrary, was coming slowly towards her
under the trees, she approached him and again said: "Sir, just listen--"

The man has stopped. But he did not seem to have heard her. He held out
his hand, and muttered in a low voice: "Charity, if you please!"

They looked at one another. Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ They were reduced to
this--Pere Bru begging, Madame Coupeau walking the streets! They
remained stupefied in front of each other. They could join hands as
equals now. The old workman had prowled about the whole evening, not
daring to stop anyone, and the first person he accosted was as hungry as
himself. Lord, was it not pitiful! To have toiled for fifty years and be
obliged to beg! To have been one of the most prosperous laundresses
in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or and to end beside the gutter! They still
looked at one another. Then, without saying a word, they went off in
different directions under the lashing snow.

It was a perfect tempest. On these heights, in the midst of this open
space, the fine snow revolved round and round as if the wind came from
the four corners of heaven. You could not see ten paces off, everything
was confused in the midst of this flying dust. The surroundings had
disappeared, the Boulevard seemed to be dead, as if the storm had
stretched the silence of its white sheet over the hiccoughs of the last
drunkards. Gervaise still went on, blinded, lost. She felt her way by
touching the trees. As she advanced the gas-lamps shone out amidst the
whiteness like torches. Then, suddenly, whenever she crossed an open
space, these lights failed her; she was enveloped in the whirling snow,
unable to distinguish anything to guide her. Below stretched the
ground, vaguely white; grey walls surrounded her, and when she paused,
hesitating and turning her head, she divined that behind this icy veil
extended the immense avenue with interminable vistas of gas-lamps--the
black and deserted Infinite of Paris asleep.

She was standing where the outer Boulevard meets the Boulevards Magenta
and Ornano, thinking of lying down on the ground, when suddenly she
heard a footfall. She began to run, but the snow blinded her, and the
footsteps went off without her being able to tell whether it was to
the right or to the left. At last, however, she perceived a man's broad
shoulders, a dark form which was disappearing amid the snow. Oh! she
wouldn't let this man get away. And she ran on all the faster, reached
him, and caught him by the blouse: "Sir, sir, just listen."

The man turned round. It was Goujet.

So now she had accosted Golden-Beard. But what had she done on earth
to be tortured like this by Providence? It was the crowning blow--to
stumble against Goujet, and be seen by her blacksmith friend, pale
and begging, like a common street walker. And it happened just under a
gas-lamp; she could see her deformed shadow swaying on the snow like a
real caricature. You would have said she was drunk. _Mon Dieu!_ not to
have a crust of bread, or a drop of wine in her body, and to be taken
for a drunken women! It was her own fault, why did she booze? Goujet no
doubt thought she had been drinking, and that she was up to some nasty

He looked at her while the snow scattered daisies over his beautiful
yellow beard. Then as she lowered her head and stepped back he detained

"Come," said he.

And he walked on first. She followed him. They both crossed the silent
district, gliding noiselessly along the walls. Poor Madame Goujet had
died of rheumatism in the month of October. Goujet still resided in the
little house in the Rue Neuve, living gloomily alone. On this occasion
he was belated because he had sat up nursing a wounded comrade. When he
had opened the door and lighted a lamp, he turned towards Gervaise, who
had remained humbly on the threshold. Then, in a low voice, as if he
were afraid his mother could still hear him, he exclaimed, "Come in."

The first room, Madame Goujet's, was piously preserved in the state she
had left it. On a chair near the window lay the tambour by the side of
the large arm-chair, which seemed to be waiting for the old lace-worker.
The bed was made, and she could have stretched herself beneath the
sheets if she had left the cemetery to come and spend the evening with
her child. There was something solemn, a perfume of honesty and goodness
about the room.

"Come in," repeated the blacksmith in a louder tone.

She went in, half frightened, like a disreputable woman gliding into
a respectable place. He was quite pale, and trembled at the thought of
ushering a woman like this into his dead mother's home. They crossed the
room on tip-toe, as if they were ashamed to be heard. Then when he had
pushed Gervaise into his own room he closed the door. Here he was at
home. It was the narrow closet she was acquainted with; a schoolgirl's
room, with the little iron bedstead hung with white curtains. On the
walls the engravings cut out of illustrated newspapers had gathered and
spread, and they now reached to the ceiling. The room looked so pure
that Gervaise did not dare to advance, but retreated as far as she could
from the lamp. Then without a word, in a transport as it were, he tried
to seize hold of her and press her in his arms. But she felt faint and
murmured: "Oh! _Mon Dieu!_ Oh, _mon Dieu!_"

The fire in the stove, having been covered with coke-dust, was still
alight, and the remains of a stew which Goujet had put to warm, thinking
he should return to dinner, was smoking in front of the cinders.
Gervaise, who felt her numbness leave her in the warmth of this room,
would have gone down on all fours to eat out of the saucepan. Her hunger
was stronger than her will; her stomach seemed rent in two; and she
stooped down with a sigh. Goujet had realized the truth. He placed the
stew on the table, cut some bread, and poured her out a glass of wine.

"Thank you! Thank you!" said she. "Oh, how kind you are! Thank you!"

She stammered; she could hardly articulate. When she caught hold of her
fork she began to tremble so acutely that she let it fall again. The
hunger that possessed her made her wag her head as if senile. She
carried the food to her mouth with her fingers. As she stuffed the first
potato into her mouth, she burst out sobbing. Big tears coursed down her
cheeks and fell onto her bread. She still ate, gluttonously devouring
this bread thus moistened by her tears, and breathing very hard all the
while. Goujet compelled her to drink to prevent her from stifling, and
her glass chinked, as it were, against her teeth.

"Will you have some more bread?" he asked in an undertone.

She cried, she said "no," she said "yes," she didn't know. Ah! how nice
and yet how painful it is to eat when one is starving.

And standing in front of her, Goujet looked at her all the while; under
the bright light cast by the lamp-shade he could see her well. How aged
and altered she seemed! The heat was melting the snow on her hair and
clothes, and she was dripping. Her poor wagging head was quite grey;
there were any number of grey locks which the wind had disarranged.
Her neck sank into her shoulders and she had become so fat and ugly you
might have cried on noticing the change. He recollected their love, when
she was quite rosy, working with her irons, and showing the child-like
crease which set such a charming necklace round her throat. In those
times he had watched her for hours, glad just to look at her. Later on
she had come to the forge, and there they had enjoyed themselves whilst
he beat the iron, and she stood by watching his hammer dance. How often
at night, with his head buried in his pillow, had he dreamed of holding
her in his arms.

Gervaise rose; she had finished. She remained for a moment with her head
lowered, and ill at ease. Then, thinking she detected a gleam in his
eyes, she raised her hand to her jacket and began to unfasten the first
button. But Goujet had fallen on his knees, and taking hold of her
hands, he exclaimed softly:

"I love you, Madame Gervaise; oh! I love you still, and in spite of
everything, I swear it to you!"

"Don't say that, Monsieur Goujet!" she cried, maddened to see him like
this at her feet. "No, don't say that; you grieve me too much."

And as he repeated that he could never love twice in his life, she
became yet more despairing.

"No, no, I am too ashamed. For the love of God get up. It is my place to
be on the ground."

He rose, he trembled all over and stammered: "Will you allow me to kiss

Overcome with surprise and emotion she could not speak, but she assented
with a nod of the head. After all she was his; he could do what he chose
with her. But he merely kissed her.

"That suffices between us, Madame Gervaise," he muttered. "It sums up
all our friendship, does it not?"

He had kissed her on the forehead, on a lock of her grey hair. He had
not kissed anyone since his mother's death. His sweetheart Gervaise
alone remained to him in life. And then, when he had kissed her with
so much respect, he fell back across his bed with sobs rising in his
throat. And Gervaise could not remain there any longer. It was too
sad and too abominable to meet again under such circumstances when one
loved. "I love you, Monsieur Goujet," she exclaimed. "I love you dearly,
also. Oh! it isn't possible you still love me. Good-bye, good-bye; it
would smother us both; it would be more than we could stand."

And she darted through Madame Goujet's room and found herself outside
on the pavement again. When she recovered her senses she had rung at the
door in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or and Boche was pulling the string. The
house was quite dark, and in the black night the yawning, dilapidated
porch looked like an open mouth. To think that she had been ambitious
of having a corner in this barracks! Had her ears been stopped up then,
that she had not heard the cursed music of despair which sounded behind
the walls? Since she had set foot in the place she had begun to go
down hill. Yes, it must bring bad luck to shut oneself up in these big
workmen's houses; the cholera of misery was contagious there. That night
everyone seemed to have kicked the bucket. She only heard the Boches
snoring on the right-hand side, while Lantier and Virginie on the left
were purring like a couple of cats who were not asleep, but have their
eyes closed and feel warm. In the courtyard she fancied she was in
a perfect cemetery; the snow paved the ground with white; the high
frontages, livid grey in tint, rose up unlighted like ruined walls, and
not a sigh could be heard. It seemed as if a whole village, stiffened
with cold and hunger, were buried here. She had to step over a black
gutter--water from the dye-works--which smoked and streaked the
whiteness of the snow with its muddy course. It was the color of her
thoughts. The beautiful light blue and light pink waters had long since
flowed away.

Then, whilst ascending the six flights of stairs in the dark, she could
not prevent herself from laughing; an ugly laugh which hurt her. She
recalled her ideal of former days: to work quietly, always have bread
to eat and a tidy house to sleep in, to bring up her children, not to
be beaten and to die in her bed. No, really, it was comical how all
that was becoming realized! She no longer worked, she no longer ate, she
slept on filth, her husband frequented all sorts of wineshops, and her
husband drubbed her at all hours of the day; all that was left for
her to do was to die on the pavement, and it would not take long if on
getting into her room, she could only pluck up courage to fling herself
out of the window. Was it not enough to make one think that she had
hoped to earn thirty thousand francs a year, and no end of respect? Ah!
really, in this life it is no use being modest; one only gets sat upon.
Not even pap and a nest, that is the common lot.

What increased her ugly laugh was the recollection of her grand hope of
retiring into the country after twenty years passed in ironing. Well!
she was on her way to the country. She was going to have her green
corner in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery.

When she entered the passage she was like a mad-woman. Her poor head
was whirling round. At heart her great grief was at having bid the
blacksmith an eternal farewell. All was ended between them; they would
never see each other more. Then, besides that, all her other thoughts of
misfortune pressed upon her, and almost caused her head to split. As she
passed she poked her nose in at the Bijards' and beheld Lalie dead, with
a look of contentment on her face at having at last been laid out
and slumbering forever. Ah, well! children were luckier than grown-up
people. And, as a glimmer of light passed under old Bazouge's door, she
walked boldly in, seized with a mania for going off on the same journey
as the little one.

That old joker, Bazouge, had come home that night in an extraordinary
state of gaiety. He had had such a booze that he was snoring on the
ground in spite of the temperature, and that no doubt did not prevent
him from dreaming something pleasant, for he seemed to be laughing from
his stomach as he slept. The candle, which he had not put out, lighted
up his old garments, his black cloak, which he had drawn over his knees
as though it had been a blanket.

On beholding him Gervaise uttered such a deep wailing that he awoke.

"_Mon Dieu!_ shut the door! It's so cold! Ah! it's you! What's the
matter? What do you want?"

Then, Gervaise, stretching out her arms, no longer knowing what she
stuttered, began passionately to implore him:

"Oh! take me away! I've had enough; I want to go off. You mustn't bear
me any grudge. I didn't know. One never knows until one's ready. Oh,
yes; one's glad to go one day! Take me away! Take me away and I shall
thank you!"

She fell on her knees, all shaken with a desire which caused her to turn
ghastly pale. Never before had she thus dragged herself at a man's feet.
Old Bazouge's ugly mug, with his mouth all on one side and his hide
begrimed with the dust of funerals, seemed to her as beautiful and
resplendent as a sun. The old fellow, who was scarcely awake thought,
however, that it was some sort of bad joke.

"Look here," murmured he, "no jokes!"

"Take me away," repeated Gervaise more ardently still. "You remember,
I knocked one evening against the partition; then I said that it wasn't
true, because I was still a fool. But see! Give me your hands. I'm no
longer frightened. Take me away to by-by; you'll see how still I'll be.
Oh! sleep, that's all I care for. Oh! I'll love you so much!"

Bazouge, ever gallant, thought that he ought not to be hasty with a
lady who appeared to have taken such a fancy to him. She was falling to
pieces, but all the same, what remained was very fine, especially when
she was excited.

"What you say is very true," said he in a convinced manner. "I packed
up three more to-day who would only have been too glad to have given
me something for myself, could they but have got their hands to their
pockets. But, little woman, it's not so easily settled as all that--"

"Take me away, take me away," continued Gervaise, "I want to die."

"Ah! but there's a little operation to be gone through beforehand--you
know, glug!"

And he made a noise in his throat, as though swallowing his tongue.
Then, thinking it a good joke, he chuckled.

Gervaise slowly rose to her feet. So he too could do nothing for her.
She went to her room and threw herself on her straw, feeling stupid,
and regretting she had eaten. Ah! no indeed, misery did not kill quickly


That night Coupeau went on a spree. Next day, Gervaise received ten
francs from her son Etienne, who was a mechanic on some railway. The
youngster sent her a few francs from time to time, knowing that they
were not very well off at home. She made some soup, and ate it all
alone, for that scoundrel Coupeau did not return on the morrow. On
Monday he was still absent, and on Tuesday also. The whole week went by.
Ah, it would be good luck if some woman took him in.

On Sunday Gervaise received a printed document. It was to inform her
that her husband was dying at the Sainte-Anne asylum.

Gervaise did not disturb herself. He knew the way; he could very well
get home from the asylum by himself. They had cured him there so often
that they could once more do him the sorry service of putting him on his
pins again. Had she not heard that very morning that for the week before
Coupeau had been seen as round as a ball, rolling about Belleville from
one dram shop to another in the company of My-Boots. Exactly so; and
it was My-Boots, too, who stood treat. He must have hooked his missus's
stocking with all the savings gained at very hard work. It wasn't clean
money they had used, but money that could infect them with any manner
of vile diseases. Well, anyway, they hadn't thought to invite her for a
drink. If you wanted to drink by yourself, you could croak by yourself.

However, on Monday, as Gervaise had a nice little meal planned for the
evening, the remains of some beans and a pint of wine, she pretended
to herself that a walk would give her an appetite. The letter from the
asylum which she had left lying on the bureau bothered her. The snow
had melted, the day was mild and grey and on the whole fine, with just a
slight keenness in the air which was invigorating. She started at noon,
for her walk was a long one. She had to cross Paris and her bad leg
always slowed her. With that the streets were crowded; but the people
amused her; she reached her destination very pleasantly. When she had
given her name, she was told a most astounding story to the effect that
Coupeau had been fished out of the Seine close to the Pont-Neuf. He had
jumped over the parapet, under the impression that a bearded man was
barring his way. A fine jump, was it not? And as for finding out how
Coupeau got to be on the Pont-Neuf, that was a matter he could not even
explain himself.

One of the keepers escorted Gervaise. She was ascending a staircase,
when she heard howlings which made her shiver to her very bones.

"He's playing a nice music, isn't he?" observed the keeper.

"Who is?" asked she.

"Why, your old man! He's been yelling like that ever since the day
before yesterday; and he dances, you'll just see."

_Mon Dieu!_ what a sight! She stood as one transfixed. The cell was
padded from the floor to the ceiling. On the floor there were two straw
mats, one piled on top of the other; and in a corner were spread a
mattress and a bolster, nothing more. Inside there Coupeau was dancing
and yelling, his blouse in tatters and his limbs beating the air.
He wore the mask of one about to die. What a breakdown! He bumped up
against the window, then retired backwards, beating time with his arms
and shaking his hands as though he were trying to wrench them off and
fling them in somebody's face. One meets with buffoons in low dancing
places who imitate the delirium tremens, only they imitate it badly.
One must see this drunkard's dance if one wishes to know what it is like
when gone through in earnest. The song also has its merits, a continuous
yell worthy of carnival-time, a mouth wide open uttering the same hoarse
trombone notes for hours together. Coupeau had the howl of a beast with
a crushed paw. Strike up, music! Gentlemen, choose your partners!

"_Mon Dieu!_ what is the matter with him? What is the matter with him?"
repeated Gervaise, seized with fear.

A house surgeon, a big fair fellow with a rosy countenance, and wearing
a white apron, was quietly sitting taking notes. The case was a curious
one; the doctor did not leave the patient.

"Stay a while if you like," said he to the laundress; "but keep quiet.
Try and speak to him, he will not recognise you."

Coupeau indeed did not even appear to see his wife. She had only had a
bad view of him on entering, he was wriggling about so much. When
she looked him full in the face, she stood aghast. _Mon Dieu!_ was it
possible he had a countenance like that, his eyes full of blood and his
lips covered with scabs? She would certainly never have known him. To
begin with, he was making too many grimaces, without saying why, his
mouth suddenly out of all shape, his nose curled up, his cheeks drawn
in, a perfect animal's muzzle. His skin was so hot the air steamed
around him; and his hide was as though varnished, covered with a heavy
sweat which trickled off him. In his mad dance, one could see all the
same that he was not at his ease, his head was heavy and his limbs

Gervaise drew near to the house surgeon, who was strumming a tune with
the tips of his fingers on the back of his chair.

"Tell me, sir, it's serious then this time?"

The house surgeon nodded his head without answering.

"Isn't he jabbering to himself? Eh! don't you hear? What's it about?

"About things he sees," murmured the young man. "Keep quiet, let me

Coupeau was speaking in a jerky voice. A glimmer of amusement lit up
his eyes. He looked on the floor, to the right, to the left, and
turned about as though he had been strolling in the Bois de Vincennes,
conversing with himself.

"Ah! that's nice, that's grand! There're cottages, a regular fair. And
some jolly fine music! What a Balthazar's feast! They're smashing the
crockery in there. Awfully swell! Now it's being lit up; red balls in
the air, and it jumps, and it flies! Oh! oh! what a lot of lanterns in
the trees! It's confoundedly pleasant! There's water flowing everywhere,
fountains, cascades, water which sings, oh! with the voice of a
chorister. The cascades are grand!"

And he drew himself up, as though the better to hear the delicious song
of the water; he sucked in forcibly, fancying he was drinking the fresh
spray blown from the fountains. But, little by little, his face resumed
an agonized expression. Then he crouched down and flew quicker than ever
around the walls of the cell, uttering vague threats.

"More traps, all that! I thought as much. Silence, you set of swindlers!
Yes, you're making a fool of me. It's for that that you're drinking and
bawling inside there with your viragoes. I'll demolish you, you and your
cottage! Damnation! Will you leave me in peace?"

He clinched his fists; then he uttered a hoarse cry, stooping as he ran.
And he stuttered, his teeth chattering with fright.

"It's so that I may kill myself. No, I won't throw myself in! All that
water means that I've no heart. No, I won't throw myself in!"

The cascades, which fled at his approach, advanced when he retired. And
all of a sudden, he looked stupidly around him, mumbling, in a voice
which was scarcely audible:

"It isn't possible, they set conjurers against me!"

"I'm off, sir. I've got to go. Good-night!" said Gervaise to the house
surgeon. "It upsets me too much; I'll come again."

She was quite white. Coupeau was continuing his breakdown from the
window to the mattress and from the mattress to the window, perspiring,
toiling, always beating the same rhythm. Then she hurried away. But
though she scrambled down the stairs, she still heard her husband's
confounded jig until she reached the bottom. Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ how
pleasant it was out of doors, one could breathe there!

That evening everyone in the tenement was discussing Coupeau's strange
malady. The Boches invited Gervaise to have a drink with them, even
though they now considered Clump-clump beneath them, in order to hear
all the details. Madame Lorilleux and Madame Poisson were there also.
Boche told of a carpenter he had known who had been a drinker of
absinthe. The man shed his clothes, went out in the street and danced
the polka until he died. That rather struck the ladies as comic, even
though it was very sad.

Gervaise got up in the middle of the room and did an imitation of
Coupeau. Yes, that's just how it was. Can anyone feature a man doing
that for hours on end? If they didn't believe they could go see for

On getting up the next morning, Gervaise promised herself she would not
return to the Sainte-Anne again. What use would it be? She did not want
to go off her head also. However, every ten minutes, she fell to musing
and became absent-minded. It would be curious though, if he were still
throwing his legs about. When twelve o'clock struck, she could no longer
resist; she started off and did not notice how long the walk was, her
brain was so full of her desire to go and the dread of what awaited her.

Oh! there was no need for her to ask for news. She heard Coupeau's song
the moment she reached the foot of the staircase. Just the same tune,
just the same dance. She might have thought herself going up again after
having only been down for a minute. The attendant of the day before, who
was carrying some jugs of tisane along the corridor, winked his eye as
he met her, by way of being amiable.

"Still the same, then?" said she.

"Oh! still the same!" he replied without stopping.

She entered the room, but she remained near the door, because there were
some people with Coupeau. The fair, rosy house surgeon was standing up,
having given his chair to a bald old gentleman who was decorated and had
a pointed face like a weasel. He was no doubt the head doctor, for his
glance was as sharp and piercing as a gimlet. All the dealers in sudden
death have a glance like that.

No, really, it was not a pretty sight; and Gervaise, all in a tremble,
asked herself why she had returned. To think that the evening before
they accused her at the Boches' of exaggerating the picture! Now she saw
better how Coupeau set about it, his eyes wide open looking into space,
and she would never forget it. She overheard a few words between the
house surgeon and the head doctor. The former was giving some details
of the night: her husband had talked and thrown himself about, that was
what it amounted to. Then the bald-headed old gentleman, who was not
very polite by the way, at length appeared to become aware of her
presence; and when the house surgeon had informed him that she was
the patient's wife, he began to question her in the harsh manner of a
commissary of the police.

"Did this man's father drink?"

"Yes, sir; just a little like everyone. He killed himself by falling
from a roof one day when he was tipsy."

"Did his mother drink?"

"Well! sir, like everyone else, you know; a drop here, a drop there. Oh!
the family is very respectable! There was a brother who died very young
in convulsions."

The doctor looked at her with his piercing eye. He resumed in his rough

"And you, you drink too, don't you?"

Gervaise stammered, protested, and placed her hand upon her heart, as
though to take her solemn oath.

"You drink! Take care; see where drink leads to. One day or other you
will die thus."

Then she remained close to the wall. The doctor had turned his back
to her. He squatted down, without troubling himself as to whether his
overcoat trailed in the dust of the matting; for a long while he studied
Coupeau's trembling, waiting for its reappearance, following it with his
glance. That day the legs were going in their turn, the trembling had
descended from the hands to the feet; a regular puppet with his strings
being pulled, throwing his limbs about, whilst the trunk of his body
remained as stiff as a piece of wood. The disease progressed little by
little. It was like a musical box beneath the skin; it started off every
three or four seconds and rolled along for an instant; then it stopped
and then it started off again, just the same as the little shiver which
shakes stray dogs in winter, when cold and standing in some doorway for
protection. Already the middle of the body and the shoulders quivered
like water on the point of boiling. It was a funny demolition all the
same, going off wriggling like a girl being tickled.

Coupeau, meanwhile, was complaining in a hollow voice. He seemed
to suffer a great deal more than the day before. His broken murmurs
disclosed all sorts of ailments. Thousands of pins were pricking him.
He felt something heavy all about his body; some cold, wet animal was
crawling over his thighs and digging its fangs into his flesh. Then
there were other animals sticking to his shoulders, tearing his back
with their claws.

"I'm thirsty, oh! I'm thirsty!" groaned he continually.

The house surgeon handed him a little lemonade from a small shelf;
Coupeau seized the mug in both hands and greedily took a mouthful,
spilling half the liquid over himself; but he spat it out at once with
furious disgust, exclaiming:

"Damnation! It's brandy!"

Then, on a sign from the doctor, the house surgeon tried to make
him drink some water without leaving go of the bottle. This time he
swallowed the mouthful, yelling as though he had swallowed fire.

"It's brandy; damnation! It's brandy!"

Since the night before, everything he had had to drink was brandy. It
redoubled his thirst and he could no longer drink, because everything
burnt him. They had brought him some broth, but they were evidently
trying to poison him, for the broth smelt of vitriol. The bread was sour
and moldy. There was nothing but poison around him. The cell stank of
sulphur. He even accused persons of rubbing matches under his nose to
infect him.

All on a sudden he exclaimed:

"Oh! the rats, there're the rats now!"

There were black balls that were changing into rats. These filthy
animals got fatter and fatter, then they jumped onto the mattress and
disappeared. There was also a monkey which came out of the wall, and
went back into the wall, and which approached so near him each time,
that he drew back through fear of having his nose bitten off. Suddenly
there was another change, the walls were probably cutting capers, for he
yelled out, choking with terror and rage:

"That's it, gee up! Shake me, I don't care! Gee up! Tumble down! Yes,
ring the bells, you black crows! Play the organ to prevent my calling
the police. They've put a bomb behind the wall, the lousy scoundrels!
I can hear it, it snorts, they're going to blow us up! Fire! Damnation,
fire! There's a cry of fire! There it blazes. Oh, it's getting lighter,
lighter! All the sky's burning, red fires, green fires, yellow fires.
Hi! Help! Fire!"

His cries became lost in a rattle. He now only mumbled disconnected
words, foaming at the mouth, his chin wet with saliva. The doctor rubbed
his nose with his finger, a movement no doubt habitual with him in the
presence of serious cases. He turned to the house surgeon, and asked him
in a low voice:

"And the temperature, still the hundred degrees, is it not?"

"Yes, sir."

The doctor pursed his lips. He continued there another two minutes, his
eyes fixed on Coupeau. Then he shrugged his shoulders, adding:

"The same treatment, broth, milk, lemonade, and the potion of extract of
quinine. Do not leave him, and call me if necessary."

He went out and Gervaise followed him, to ask him if there was any
hope. But he walked so stiffly along the corridor, that she did not dare
approach him. She stood rooted there a minute, hesitating whether to
return and look at her husband. The time she had already passed had been
far from pleasant. As she again heard him calling out that the lemonade
smelt of brandy, she hurried away, having had enough of the performance.
In the streets, the galloping of the horses and the noise of the
vehicles made her fancy that all the inmates of Saint-Anne were at
her heels. And that the doctor had threatened her! Really, she already
thought she had the complaint.

In the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or the Boches and the others were naturally
awaiting her. The moment she appeared they called her into the
concierge's room. Well! was old Coupeau still in the land of the living?
_Mon Dieu!_ yes, he still lived. Boche seemed amazed and confounded; he
had bet a bottle that old Coupeau would not last till the evening. What!
He still lived! And they all exhibited their astonishment, and slapped
their thighs. There was a fellow who lasted! Madame Lorilleux reckoned
up the hours; thirty-six hours and twenty-four hours, sixty hours.
_Sacre Dieu!_ already sixty hours that he had been doing the jig and
screaming! Such a feat of strength had never been seen before. But
Boche, who was upset that he had lost the bet, questioned Gervaise with
an air of doubt, asking her if she was quite sure he had not filed off
behind her back. Oh! no, he had no desire to, he jumped about too much.
Then Boche, still doubting, begged her to show them again a little how
he was acting, just so they could see. Yes, yes, a little more! The
request was general! The company told her she would be very kind if she
would oblige, for just then two neighbors happened to be there who had
not been present the day before, and who had come down purposely to see
the performance. The concierge called to everybody to make room, they
cleared the centre of the apartment, pushing one another with their
elbows, and quivering with curiosity. Gervaise, however, hung down her
head. Really, she was afraid it might upset her. Desirous though of
showing that she did not refuse for the sake of being pressed, she tried
two or three little leaps; but she became quite queer, and stopped;
on her word of honor, she was not equal to it! There was a murmur of
disappointment; it was a pity, she imitated it perfectly. However, she
could not do it, it was no use insisting! And when Virginie left to
return to her shop, they forgot all about old Coupeau and began to
gossip about the Poissons and their home, a real mess now. The day
before, the bailiffs had been; the policeman was about to lose his
place; as for Lantier, he was now making up to the daughter of the
restaurant keeper next door, a fine woman, who talked of setting up as a
tripe-seller. Ah! it was amusing, everyone already beheld a tripe-seller
occupying the shop; after the sweets should come something substantial.
And that blind Poisson! How could a man whose profession required him to
be so smart fail to see what was going on in his own home? They stopped
talking suddenly when they noticed that Gervaise was off in a corner by
herself imitating Coupeau. Her hands and feet were jerking. Yes, they
couldn't ask for a better performance! Then Gervaise started as if
waking from a dream and hurried away calling out good-night to everyone.

On the morrow, the Boches saw her start off at twelve, the same as on
the two previous days. They wished her a pleasant afternoon. That day
the corridor at Sainte-Anne positively shook with Coupeau's yells and
kicks. She had not left the stairs when she heard him yelling:

"What a lot of bugs!--Come this way again that I may squash you!--Ah!
they want to kill me! ah! the bugs!--I'm a bigger swell than the lot of
you! Clear out, damnation! Clear out."

For a moment she stood panting before the door. Was he then fighting
against an army? When she entered, the performance had increased and was
embellished even more than on previous occasions. Coupeau was a raving
madman, the same as one sees at the Charenton mad-house! He was throwing
himself about in the center of the cell, slamming his fists everywhere,
on himself, on the walls, on the floor, and stumbling about punching
empty space. He wanted to open the window, and he hid himself, defended
himself, called, answered, produced all this uproar without the least
assistance, in the exasperated way of a man beset by a mob of people.
Then Gervaise understood that he fancied he was on a roof, laying down
sheets of zinc. He imitated the bellows with his mouth, he moved the
iron about in the fire and knelt down so as to pass his thumb along the
edges of the mat, thinking that he was soldering it. Yes, his handicraft
returned to him at the moment of croaking; and if he yelled so loud, if
he fought on his roof, it was because ugly scoundrels were preventing
him doing his work properly. On all the neighboring roofs were villains
mocking and tormenting him. Besides that, the jokers were letting troops
of rats loose about his legs. Ah! the filthy beasts, he saw them always!
Though he kept crushing them, bringing his foot down with all his
strength, fresh hordes of them continued passing, until they quite
covered the roof. And there were spiders there too! He roughly pressed
his trousers against his thigh to squash some big spiders which had
crept up his leg. _Mon Dieu!_ he would never finish his day's work,
they wanted to destroy him, his employer would send him to prison. Then,
whilst making haste, he suddenly imagined he had a steam-engine in his
stomach; with his mouth wide open, he puffed out the smoke, a dense
smoke which filled the cell and found an outlet by the window; and,
bending forward, still puffing, he looked outside of the cloud of smoke
as it unrolled and ascended to the sky, where it hid the sun.

"Look!" cried he, "there's the band of the Chaussee Clignancourt,
disguised as bears with drums, putting on a show."

He remained crouching before the window, as though he had been watching
a procession in a street, from some rooftop.

"There's the cavalcade, lions and panthers making grimaces--there's
brats dressed up as dogs and cats--there's tall Clemence, with her wig
full of feathers. Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ she's turning head over heels; she's
showed everything--you'd better run, Duckie. Hey, the cops, leave her
alone!--just you leave her alone--don't shoot! Don't shoot--"

His voice rose, hoarse and terrified and he stooped down quickly, saying
that the police and the military were below, men who were aiming at him
with rifles. In the wall he saw the barrel of a pistol emerging, pointed
at his breast. They had dragged the girl away.

"Don't shoot! _Mon Dieu!_ Don't shoot!"

Then, the buildings were tumbling down, he imitated the cracking of a
whole neighborhood collapsing; and all disappeared, all flew off. But
he had no time to take breath, other pictures passed with extraordinary
rapidity. A furious desire to speak filled his mouth full of words which
he uttered without any connection, and with a gurgling sound in his
throat. He continued to raise his voice, louder and louder.

"Hallow, it's you? Good-day! No jokes! Don't make me nuzzle your hair."

And he passed his hand before his face, he blew to send the hairs away.
The house surgeon questioned him.

"Who is it you see?"

"My wife, of course!"

He was looking at the wall, with his back to Gervaise. The latter had a
rare fright, and she examined the wall, to see if she also could catch
sight of herself there. He continued talking.

"Now, you know, none of your wheedling--I won't be tied down! You are
pretty, you have got a fine dress. Where did you get the money for it,
you cow? You've been at a party, camel! Wait a bit and I'll do for you!
Ah! you're hiding your boy friend behind your skirts. Who is it? Stoop
down that I may see. Damnation, it's him again!"

With a terrible leap, he went head first against the wall; but the
padding softened the blow. One only heard his body rebounding onto the
matting, where the shock had sent him.

"Who is it you see?" repeated the house surgeon.

"The hatter! The hatter!" yelled Coupeau.

And the house surgeon questioning Gervaise, the latter stuttered without
being able to answer, for this scene stirred up within her all the
worries of her life. The zinc-worker thrust out his fists.

"We'll settle this between us, my lad. It's full time I did for you!
Ah, you coolly come, with that virago on your arm, to make a fool of
me before everyone. Well! I'm going to throttle you--yes, yes, I! And
without putting any gloves on either! I'll stop your swaggering. Take
that! And that! And that!"

He hit about in the air viciously. Then a wild rage took possession of
him. Having bumped against the wall in walking backwards, he thought he
was being attacked from behind. He turned round, and fiercely hammered
away at the padding. He sprang about, jumped from one corner to another,
knocked his stomach, his back, his shoulder, rolled over, and picked
himself up again. His bones seemed softened, his flesh had a sound like
damp oakum. He accompanied this pretty game with atrocious threats, and
wild and guttural cries. However the battle must have been going badly
for him, for his breathing became quicker, his eyes were starting out of
his head, and he seemed little by little to be seized with the cowardice
of a child.

"Murder! Murder! Be off with you both. Oh! you brutes, they're laughing.
There she is on her back, the virago! She must give in, it's settled.
Ah! the brigand, he's murdering her! He's cutting off her leg with his
knife. The other leg's on the ground, the stomach's in two, it's full of
blood. Oh! _Mon Dieu!_ Oh! _Mon Dieu!_"

And, covered with perspiration, his hair standing on end, looking a
frightful object, he retired backwards, violently waving his arms,
as though to send the abominable sight from him. He uttered two
heart-rending wails, and fell flat on his back on the mattress, against
which his heels had caught.

"He's dead, sir, he's dead!" said Gervaise, clasping her hands.

The house surgeon had drawn near, and was pulling Coupeau into the
middle of the mattress. No, he was not dead. They had taken his shoes
off. His bare feet hung off the end of the mattress and they were
dancing all by themselves, one beside the other, in time, a little
hurried and regular dance.

Just then the head doctor entered. He had brought two of his
colleagues--one thin, the other fat, and both decorated like himself.
All three stooped down without saying a word, and examined the man all
over; then they rapidly conversed together in a low voice. They had
uncovered Coupeau from his thighs to his shoulders, and by standing
on tiptoe Gervaise could see the naked trunk spread out. Well! it was
complete. The trembling had descended from the arms and ascended from
the legs, and now the trunk itself was getting lively!

"He's sleeping," murmured the head doctor.

And he called the two others' attention to the man's countenance.
Coupeau, his eyes closed, had little nervous twinges which drew up all
his face. He was more hideous still, thus flattened out, with his jaw
projecting, and his visage deformed like a corpse's that had suffered
from nightmare; but the doctors, having caught sight of his feet, went
and poked their noses over them, with an air of profound interest. The
feet were still dancing. Though Coupeau slept the feet danced. Oh!
their owner might snore, that did not concern them, they continued
their little occupation without either hurrying or slackening. Regular
mechanical feet, feet which took their pleasure wherever they found it.

Gervaise having seen the doctors place their hands on her old man,
wished to feel him also. She approached gently and laid a hand on his
shoulder, and she kept it there a minute. _Mon Dieu!_ whatever was
taking place inside? It danced down into the very depths of the flesh,
the bones themselves must have been jumping. Quiverings, undulations,
coming from afar, flowed like a river beneath the skin. When she pressed
a little she felt she distinguished the suffering cries of the marrow.
What a fearful thing, something was boring away like a mole! It must be
the rotgut from l'Assommoir that was hacking away inside him. Well! his
entire body had been soaked in it.

The doctors had gone away. At the end of an hour Gervaise, who had
remained with the house surgeon, repeated in a low voice:

"He's dead, sir; he's dead!"

But the house surgeon, who was watching the feet, shook his head. The
bare feet, projecting beyond the mattress, still danced on. They were
not particularly clean and the nails were long. Several more hours
passed. All on a sudden they stiffened and became motionless. Then the
house surgeon turned towards Gervaise, saying:

"It's over now."

Death alone had been able to stop those feet.

When Gervaise got back to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or she found at the
Boches' a number of women who were cackling in excited tones. She
thought they were awaiting her to have the latest news, the same as the
other days.

"He's gone," said she, quietly, as she pushed open the door, looking
tired out and dull.

But no one listened to her. The whole building was topsy-turvy. Oh!
a most extraordinary story. Poisson had caught his wife with Lantier.
Exact details were not known, because everyone had a different version.
However, he had appeared just when they were not expecting him. Some
further information was given, which the ladies repeated to one another
as they pursed their lips. A sight like that had naturally brought
Poisson out of his shell. He was a regular tiger. This man, who talked
but little and who always seemed to walk with a stick up his back, had
begun to roar and jump about. Then nothing more had been heard. Lantier
had evidently explained things to the husband. Anyhow, it could not last
much longer, and Boche announced that the girl of the restaurant was for
certain going to take the shop for selling tripe. That rogue of a hatter
adored tripe.

On seeing Madame Lorilleux and Madame Lerat arrive, Gervaise repeated,

"He's gone. _Mon Dieu!_ Four days' dancing and yelling--"

Then the two sisters could not do otherwise than pull out their
handkerchiefs. Their brother had had many faults, but after all he was
their brother. Boche shrugged his shoulders and said, loud enough to be
heard by everyone:

"Bah! It's a drunkard the less."

From that day, as Gervaise often got a bit befuddled, one of the
amusements of the house was to see her imitate Coupeau. It was no longer
necessary to press her; she gave the performance gratis, her hands and
feet trembling as she uttered little involuntary shrieks. She must have
caught this habit at Sainte-Anne from watching her husband too long.

Gervaise lasted in this state several months. She fell lower and lower
still, submitting to the grossest outrages and dying of starvation a
little every day. As soon as she had four sous she drank and pounded
on the walls. She was employed on all the dirty errands of the
neighborhood. Once they even bet her she wouldn't eat filth, but she did
it in order to earn ten sous. Monsieur Marescot had decided to turn her
out of her room on the sixth floor. But, as Pere Bru had just been found
dead in his cubbyhole under the staircase, the landlord had allowed her
to turn into it. Now she roosted there in the place of Pere Bru. It
was inside there, on some straw, that her teeth chattered, whilst her
stomach was empty and her bones were frozen. The earth would not have
her apparently. She was becoming idiotic. She did not even think of
making an end of herself by jumping out of the sixth floor window on
to the pavement of the courtyard below. Death had to take her little by
little, bit by bit, dragging her thus to the end through the accursed
existence she had made for herself. It was never even exactly known what
she did die of. There was some talk of a cold, but the truth was she
died of privation and of the filth and hardship of her ruined life.
Overeating and dissoluteness killed her, according to the Lorilleuxs.
One morning, as there was a bad smell in the passage, it was remembered
that she had not been seen for two days, and she was discovered already
green in her hole.

It happened to be old Bazouge who came with the pauper's coffin under
his arm to pack her up. He was again precious drunk that day, but
a jolly fellow all the same, and as lively as a cricket. When he
recognized the customer he had to deal with he uttered several
philosophical reflections, whilst performing his little business.

"Everyone has to go. There's no occasion for jostling, there's room for
everyone. And it's stupid being in a hurry that just slows you up. All
I want to do is to please everybody. Some will, others won't. What's
the result? Here's one who wouldn't, then she would. So she was made to
wait. Anyhow, it's all right now, and faith! She's earned it! Merrily,
just take it easy."

And when he took hold of Gervaise in his big, dirty hands, he was seized
with emotion, and he gently raised this woman who had had so great a
longing for his attentions. Then, as he laid her out with paternal care
at the bottom of the coffin, he stuttered between two hiccoughs:

"You know--now listen--it's me, Bibi-the-Gay, called the ladies'
consoler. There, you're happy now. Go by-by, my beauty!"


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "L'Assommoir" ***

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