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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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L'ASSOMMOIR

By Emile Zola



CHAPTER I

GERVAISE

Gervaise had waited and watched for Lantier until two in the morning.
Then chilled and shivering, she turned from the window and threw
herself across the bed, where she fell into a feverish doze with her
cheeks wet with tears. For the last week when they came out of the
Veau a Deux Tetes, where they ate, he had sent her off to bed with the
children and had not appeared until late into the night and always
with a story that he had been looking for work.

This very night, while she was watching for his return, she fancied
she saw him enter the ballroom of the Grand-Balcon, whose ten windows
blazing with lights illuminated, as with a sheet of fire, the black
lines of the outer boulevards. She caught a glimpse of Adele, a pretty
brunette who dined at their restaurant and who was walking a few steps
behind him, with her hands swinging as if she had just dropped his
arm, rather than pass before the bright light of the globes over the
door in his company.

When Gervaise awoke about five o'clock, stiff and sore, she burst into
wild sobs, for Lantier had not come in. For the first time he had
slept out. She sat on the edge of the bed, half shrouded in the canopy
of faded chintz that hung from the arrow fastened to the ceiling by a
string. Slowly, with her eyes suffused with tears, she looked around
this miserable _chambre garnie_, whose furniture consisted of a
chestnut bureau of which one drawer was absent, three straw chairs
and a greasy table on which was a broken-handled pitcher.

Another bedstead--an iron one--had been brought in for the children.
This stood in front of the bureau and filled up two thirds of the
room.

A trunk belonging to Gervaise and Lantier stood in the corner wide
open, showing its empty sides, while at the bottom a man's old hat lay
among soiled shirts and hose. Along the walls and on the backs of the
chairs hung a ragged shawl, a pair of muddy pantaloons and a dress or
two--all too bad for the old-clothes man to buy. In the middle of the
mantel between two mismated tin candlesticks was a bundle of pawn
tickets from the Mont-de-Piete. These tickets were of a delicate shade
of rose.

The room was the best in the hotel--the first floor looking out on the
boulevard.

Meanwhile side by side on the same pillow the two children lay calmly
sleeping. Claude, who was eight years old, was breathing calmly and
regularly with his little hands outside of the coverings, while
Etienne, only four, smiled with one arm under his brother's neck.

When their mother's eyes fell on them she had a new paroxysm of sobs
and pressed her handkerchief to her mouth to stifle them. Then with
bare feet, not stopping to put on her slippers which had fallen off,
she ran to the window out of which she leaned as she had done half the
night and inspected the sidewalks as far as she could see.

The hotel was on the Boulevard de la Chapelle, at the left of the
Barriere Poissonniers. It was a two-story building, painted a deep red
up to the first floor, and had disjointed weather-stained blinds.

Above a lantern with glass sides was a sign between the two windows:

HOTEL BONCOEUR

KEPT BY

MARSOULLIER

in large yellow letters, partially obliterated by the dampness.
Gervaise, who was prevented by the lantern from seeing as she desired,
leaned out still farther, with her handkerchief on her lips. She
looked to the right toward the Boulevard de Rochechoumart, where
groups of butchers stood with their bloody frocks before their
establishments, and the fresh breeze brought in whiffs, a strong
animal smell--the smell of slaughtered cattle.

She looked to the left, following the ribbonlike avenue, past the
Hospital de Lariboisiere, then building. Slowly, from one end to the
other of the horizon, did she follow the wall, from behind which in
the nightime she had heard strange groans and cries, as if some fell
murder were being perpetrated. She looked at it with horror, as if in
some dark corner--dark with dampness and filth--she should distinguish
Lantier--Lantier lying dead with his throat cut.

When she gazed beyond this gray and interminable wall she saw a great
light, a golden mist waving and shimmering with the dawn of a new
Parisian day. But it was to the Barriere Poissonniers that her eyes
persistently returned, watching dully the uninterrupted flow of men
and cattle, wagons and sheep, which came down from Montmartre and
from La Chapelle. There were scattered flocks dashed like waves on
the sidewalk by some sudden detention and an endless succession of
laborers going to their work with their tools over their shoulders
and their loaves of bread under their arms.

Suddenly Gervaise thought she distinguished Lantier amid this crowd,
and she leaned eagerly forward at the risk of falling from the window.
With a fresh pang of disappointment she pressed her handkerchief to
her lips to restrain her sobs.

A fresh, youthful voice caused her to turn around.

"Lantier has not come in then?"

"No, Monsieur Coupeau," she answered, trying to smile.

The speaker was a tinsmith who occupied a tiny room at the top of the
house. His bag of tools was over his shoulder; he had seen the key in
the door and entered with the familiarity of a friend.

"You know," he continued, "that I am working nowadays at the hospital.
What a May this is! The air positively stings one this morning."

As he spoke he looked closely at Gervaise; he saw her eyes were red
with tears and then, glancing at the bed, discovered that it had not
been disturbed. He shook his head and, going toward the couch where
the children lay with their rosy cherub faces, he said in a lower
voice:

"You think your husband ought to have been with you, madame. But don't
be troubled; he is busy with politics. He went on like a mad man the
other day when they were voting for Eugene Sue. Perhaps he passed the
night with his friends abusing that reprobate Bonaparte."

"No, no," she murmured with an effort. "You think nothing of that kind.
I know where Lantier is only too well. We have our sorrows like the
rest of the world!"

Coupeau gave a knowing wink and departed, having offered to bring her
some milk if she did not care to go out; she was a good woman, he told
her and might count on him any time when she was in trouble.

As soon as Gervaise was alone she returned to the window.

From the Barriere the lowing of the cattle and the bleating of the
sheep still came on the keen, fresh morning air. Among the crowd she
recognized the locksmiths by their blue frocks, the masons by their
white overalls, the painters by their coats, from under which hung
their blouses. This crowd was cheerless. All of neutral tints--grays
and blues predominating, with never a dash of color. Occasionally a
workman stopped and lighted his pipe, while his companions passed on.
There was no laughing, no talking, but they strode on steadily with
cadaverous faces toward that Paris which quickly swallowed them up.

At the two corners of La Rue des Poissonniers were two wineshops,
where the shutters had just been taken down. Here some of the workmen
lingered, crowding into the shop, spitting, coughing and drinking
glasses of brandy and water. Gervaise was watching the place on the
left of the street, where she thought she had seen Lantier go in, when
a stout woman, bareheaded and wearing a large apron, called to her
from the pavement,

"You are up early, Madame Lantier!"

Gervaise leaned out.

"Ah, is it you, Madame Boche! Yes, I am up early, for I have much to
do today."

"Is that so? Well, things don't get done by themselves, that's sure!"

And a conversation ensued between the window and the sidewalk. Mme
Boche was the concierge of the house wherein the restaurant Veau a
Deux Tetes occupied the _rez-de-chaussee_.

Many times Gervaise had waited for Lantier in the room of this woman
rather than face the men who were eating. The concierge said she had
just been round the corner to arouse a lazy fellow who had promised to
do some work and then went on to speak of one of her lodgers who had
come in the night before with some woman and had made such a noise
that every one was disturbed until after three o'clock.

As she gabbled, however, she examined Gervaise with considerable
curiosity and seemed, in fact, to have come out under the window for
that express purpose.

"Is Monsieur Lantier still asleep?" she asked suddenly.

"Yes, he is asleep," answered Gervaise with flushing cheeks.

Madame saw the tears come to her eyes and, satisfied with her
discovery, was turning away when she suddenly stopped and called out:

"You are going to the lavatory this morning, are you not? All right
then, I have some things to wash, and I will keep a place for you next
to me, and we can have a little talk!"

Then as if moved by sudden compassion, she added:

"Poor child, don't stay at that window any longer. You are purple with
cold and will surely make yourself sick!"

But Gervaise did not move. She remained in the same spot for two
mortal hours, until the clock struck eight. The shops were now
all open. The procession in blouses had long ceased, and only an
occasional one hurried along. At the wineshops, however, there was
the same crowd of men drinking, spitting and coughing. The workmen in
the street had given place to the workwomen. Milliners' apprentices,
florists, burnishers, who with thin shawls drawn closely around them
came in bands of three or four, talking eagerly, with gay laughs
and quick glances. Occasionally one solitary figure was seen, a
pale-faced, serious woman, who walked rapidly, neither looking to
the right nor to the left.

Then came the clerks, blowing on their fingers to warm them, eating a
roll as they walked; young men, lean and tall, with clothing they had
outgrown and with eyes heavy with sleep; old men, who moved along with
measured steps, occasionally pulling out their watches, but able, from
many years' practice, to time their movements almost to a second.

The boulevards at last were comparatively quiet. The inhabitants were
sunning themselves. Women with untidy hair and soiled petticoats were
nursing their babies in the open air, and an occasional dirty-faced
brat fell into the gutter or rolled over with shrieks of pain or joy.

Gervaise felt faint and ill; all hope was gone. It seemed to her that
all was over and that Lantier would come no more. She looked from the
dingy slaughterhouses, black with their dirt and loathsome odor, on to
the new and staring hospital and into the rooms consecrated to disease
and death. As yet the windows were not in, and there was nothing to
impede her view of the large, empty wards. The sun shone directly in
her face and blinded her.

She was sitting on a chair with her arms dropping drearily at her side
but not weeping, when Lantier quietly opened the door and walked in.

"You have come!" she cried, ready to throw herself on his neck.

"Yes, I have come," he answered, "and what of it? Don't begin any
of your nonsense now!" And he pushed her aside. Then with an angry
gesture he tossed his felt hat on the bureau.

He was a small, dark fellow, handsome and well made, with a delicate
mustache which he twisted in his fingers mechanically as he spoke.
He wore an old coat, buttoned tightly at the waist, and spoke with
a strongly marked Provencal accent.

Gervaise had dropped upon her chair again and uttered disjointed
phrases of lamentation.

"I have not closed my eyes--I thought you were killed! Where have you
been all night? I feel as if I were going mad! Tell me, Auguste, where
have you been?"

"Oh, I had business," he answered with an indifferent shrug of his
shoulders. "At eight o'clock I had an engagement with that friend,
you know, who is thinking of starting a manufactory of hats. I was
detained, and I preferred stopping there. But you know I don't like
to be watched and catechized. Just let me alone, will you?"

His wife began to sob. Their voices and Lantier's noisy movements as
he pushed the chairs about woke the children. They started up, half
naked with tumbled hair, and hearing their mother cry, they followed
her example, rending the air with their shrieks.

"Well, this is lovely music!" cried Lantier furiously. "I warn you,
if you don't all stop, that out of this door I go, and you won't see
me again in a hurry! Will you hold your tongue? Good-by then; I'll
go back where I came from."

He snatched up his hat, but Gervaise rushed toward him, crying:

"No! No!"

And she soothed the children and stifled their cries with kisses and
laid them tenderly back in their bed, and they were soon happy and
merrily playing together. Meanwhile the father, not even taking off
his boots, threw himself on the bed with a weary air. His face was
white from exhaustion and a sleepless night; he did not close his
eyes but looked around the room.

"A nice-looking place, this!" he muttered.

Then examining Gervaise, he said half aloud and half to himself:

"So! You have given up washing yourself, it seems!"

Gervaise was only twenty-two. She was tall and slender with delicate
features, already worn by hardships and anxieties. With her hair
uncombed and shoes down at the heel, shivering in her white sack, on
which was much dust and many stains from the furniture and wall where
it had hung, she looked at least ten years older from the hours of
suspense and tears she had passed.

Lantier's word startled her from her resignation and timidity.

"Are you not ashamed?" she said with considerable animation. "You know
very well that I do all I can. It is not my fault that we came here.
I should like to see you with two children in a place where you can't
get a drop of hot water. We ought as soon as we reached Paris to have
settled ourselves at once in a home; that was what you promised."

"Pshaw," he muttered; "You had as much good as I had out of our
savings. You ate the fatted calf with me--and it is not worth while
to make a row about it now!"

She did not heed his word but continued:

"There is no need of giving up either. I saw Madame Fauconnier, the
laundress in La Rue Neuve. She will take me Monday. If you go in with
your friend we shall be afloat again in six months. We must find some
kind of a hole where we can live cheaply while we work. That is the
thing to do now. Work! Work!"

Lantier turned his face to the wall with a shrug of disgust which
enraged his wife, who resumed:

"Yes, I know very well that you don't like to work. You would like to
wear fine clothes and walk about the streets all day. You don't like
my looks since you took all my dresses to the pawnbrokers. No, no,
Auguste, I did not intend to speak to you about it, but I know very
well where you spent the night. I saw you go into the Grand-Balcon
with that streetwalker Adele. You have made a charming choice. She
wears fine clothes and is clean. Yes, and she has reason to be,
certainly; there is not a man in that restaurant who does not know
her far better than an honest girl should be known!"

Lantier leaped from the bed. His eyes were as black as night and his
face deadly pale.

"Yes," repeated his wife, "I mean what I say. Madame Boche will not
keep her or her sister in the house any longer, because there are
always a crowd of men hanging on the staircase."

Lantier lifted both fists, and then conquering a violent desire to
beat her, he seized her in his arms, shook her violently and threw her
on the bed where the children were. They at once began to cry again
while he stood for a moment, and then, with the air of a man who
finally takes a resolution in regard to which he has hesitated, he
said:

"You do not know what you have done, Gervaise. You are wrong--as you
will soon discover."

For a moment the voices of the children filled the room. Their mother,
lying on their narrow couch, held them both in her arms and said over
and over again in a monotonous voice:

"If you were not here, my poor darlings! If you were not here! If you
were not here!"

Lantier was lying flat on his back with his eyes fixed on the ceiling.
He was not listening; his attention was concentrated on some fixed
idea. He remained in this way for an hour and more, not sleeping, in
spite of his evident and intense fatigue. When he turned and, leaning
on his elbow, looked about the room again, he found that Gervaise had
arranged the chamber and made the children's bed. They were washed
and dressed. He watched her as she swept the room and dusted the
furniture.

The room was very dreary still, however, with its smoke-stained
ceiling and paper discolored by dampness and three chairs and
dilapidated bureau, whose greasy surface no dusting could clean.
Then while she washed herself and arranged her hair before the small
mirror, he seemed to examine her arms and shoulders, as if instituting
a comparison between herself and someone else. And he smiled a
disdainful little smile.

Gervaise was slightly, very slightly, lame, but her lameness was
perceptible, only on such days as she was very tired. This morning,
so weary was she from the watches of the night, that she could hardly
walk without support.

A profound silence reigned in the room; they did not speak to each
other. He seemed to be waiting for something. She, adopting an
unconcerned air, seemed to be in haste.

She made up a bundle of soiled linen that had been thrown into a
corner behind the trunk, and then he spoke:

"What are you doing? Are you going out?"

At first she did not reply. Then when he angrily repeated the question
she answered:

"Certainly I am. I am going to wash all these things. The children
cannot live in dirt."

He threw two or three handkerchiefs toward her, and after another long
silence he said:

"Have you any money?"

She quickly rose to her feet and turned toward him; in her hand she
held some of the soiled clothes.

"Money! Where should I get money unless I had stolen it? You know very
well that day before yesterday you got three francs on my black skirt.
We have breakfasted twice on that, and money goes fast. No, I have no
money. I have four sous for the lavatory. I cannot make money like
other women we know."

He did not reply to this allusion but rose from the bed and passed in
review the ragged garments hung around the room. He ended by taking
down the pantaloons and the shawl and, opening the bureau, took out a
sack and two chemises. All these he made into a bundle, which he threw
at Gervaise.

"Take them," he said, "and make haste back from the pawnbroker's."

"Would you not like me to take the children?" she asked. "Heavens! If
pawnbrokers would only make loans on children, what a good thing it
would be!"

She went to the Mont-de-Piete, and when she returned a half-hour later
she laid a silver five-franc piece on the mantelshelf and placed the
ticket with the others between the two candlesticks.

"This is what they gave me," she said coldly. "I wanted six francs,
but they would not give them. They always keep on the safe side there,
and yet there is always a crowd."

Lantier did not at once take up the money. He had sent her to the
Mont-de-Piete that he might not leave her without food or money, but
when he caught sight of part of a ham wrapped in paper on the table
with half a loaf of bread he slipped the silver piece into his vest
pocket.

"I did not dare go to the milk woman," explained Gervaise, "because
we owe her for eight days. But I shall be back early. You can get some
bread and some chops and have them ready. Don't forget the wine too."

He made no reply. Peace seemed to be made, but when Gervaise went to
the trunk to take out some of Lantier's clothing he called out:

"No--let that alone."

"What do you mean?" she said, turning round in surprise. "You can't
wear these things again until they are washed! Why shall I not take
them?"

And she looked at him with some anxiety. He angrily tore the things
from her hands and threw them back into the trunk.

"Confound you!" he muttered. "Will you never learn to obey? When I say
a thing I mean it--"

"But why?" she repeated, turning very pale and seized with a terrible
suspicion. "You do not need these shirts; you are not going away. Why
should I not take them?"

He hesitated a moment, uneasy under the earnest gaze she fixed upon
him. "Why? Why? Because," he said, "I am sick of hearing you say that
you wash and mend for me. Attend to your own affairs, and I will
attend to mine."

She entreated him, defended herself from the charge of ever having
complained, but he shut the trunk with a loud bang and then sat down
upon it, repeating that he was master at least of his own clothing.
Then to escape from her eyes, he threw himself again on the bed,
saying he was sleepy and that she made his head ache, and finally
slept or pretended to do so.

Gervaise hesitated; she was tempted to give up her plan of going to
the lavatory and thought she would sit down to her sewing. But at last
she was reassured by Lantier's regular breathing; she took her soap
and her ball of bluing and, going to the children, who were playing
on the floor with some old corks, she said in a low voice:

"Be very good and keep quiet. Papa is sleeping."

When she left the room there was not a sound except the stifled
laughter of the little ones. It was then after ten, and the sun was
shining brightly in at the window.

Gervaise, on reaching the boulevard, turned to the left and followed
the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. As she passed Mme Fauconnier's shop she
nodded to the woman. The lavatory, whither she went, was in the middle
of this street, just where it begins to ascend. Over a large low
building towered three enormous reservoirs for water, huge cylinders
of zinc strongly made, and in the rear was the drying room, an
apartment with a very high ceiling and surrounded by blinds through
which the air passed. On the right of the reservoirs a steam engine
let off regular puffs of white smoke. Gervaise, habituated apparently
to puddles, did not lift her skirts but threaded her way through the
part of _eau de Javelle_ which encumbered the doorway. She knew
the mistress of the establishment, a delicate woman who sat in a
cabinet with glass doors, surrounded by soap and bluing and packages
of bicarbonate of soda.

As Gervaise passed the desk she asked for her brush and beater, which
she had left to be taken care of after her last wash. Then having
taken her number, she went in. It was an immense shed, as it were,
with a low ceiling--the beams and rafters unconcealed--and lighted by
large windows, through which the daylight streamed. A light gray mist
or steam pervaded the room, which was filled with a smell of soapsuds
and _eau de Javelle_ combined. Along the central aisle were tubs
on either side, and two rows of women with their arms bare to the
shoulders and their skirts tucked up stood showing their colored
stockings and stout laced shoes.

They rubbed and pounded furiously, straightening themselves
occasionally to utter a sentence and then applying themselves again
to their task, with the steam and perspiration pouring down their red
faces. There was a constant rush of water from the faucets, a great
splashing as the clothes were rinsed and pounding and banging of the
beaters, while amid all this noise the steam engine in the corner kept
up its regular puffing.

Gervaise went slowly up the aisle, looking to the right and the left.
She carried her bundle under her arm and limped more than usual, as
she was pushed and jarred by the energy of the women about her.

"Here! This way, my dear," cried Mme Boche, and when the young woman
had joined her at the very end where she stood, the concierge, without
stopping her furious rubbing, began to talk in a steady fashion.

"Yes, this is your place. I have kept it for you. I have not much to
do. Boche is never hard on his linen, and you, too, do not seem to
have much. Your package is quite small. We shall finish by noon, and
then we can get something to eat. I used to give my clothes to a woman
in La Rue Pelat, but bless my heart, she washed and pounded them all
away, and I made up my mind to wash myself. It is clear gain, you see,
and costs only the soap."

Gervaise opened her bundle and sorted the clothes, laying aside all
the colored pieces, and when Mme Boche advised her to try a little
soda she shook her head.

"No, no!" she said. "I know all about it!"

"You know?" answered Boche curiously. "You have washed then in your
own place before you came here?"

Gervaise, with her sleeves rolled up, showing her pretty, fair arms,
was soaping a child's shirt. She rubbed it and turned it, soaped and
rubbed it again. Before she answered she took up her beater and began
to use it, accenting each phrase or rather punctuating them with her
regular blows.

"Yes, yes, washed--I should think I had! Ever since I was ten years
old. We went to the riverside, where I came from. It was much nicer
than here. I wish you could see it--a pretty corner under the trees
by the running water. Do you know Plassans? Near Marseilles?"

"You are a strong one, anyhow!" cried Mme Boche, astonished at the
rapidity and strength of the woman. "Your arms are slender, but they
are like iron."

The conversation continued until all the linen was well beaten and
yet whole! Gervaise then took each piece separately, rinsed it, then
rubbed it with soap and brushed it. That is to say, she held the cloth
firmly with one hand and with the other moved the short brush from
her, pushing along a dirty foam which fell off into the water below.

As she brushed they talked.

"No, we are not married," said Gervaise. "I do not intend to lie about
it. Lantier is not so nice that a woman need be very anxious to be
his wife. If it were not for the children! I was fourteen and he was
eighteen when the first one was born. The other child did not come for
four years. I was not happy at home. Papa Macquart, for the merest
trifle, would beat me. I might have married, I suppose."

She dried her hands, which were red under the white soapsuds.

"The water is very hard in Paris," she said.

Mme Boche had finished her work long before, but she continued to
dabble in the water merely as an excuse to hear this story, which for
two weeks had excited her curiosity. Her mouth was open, and her eyes
were shining with satisfaction at having guessed so well.

"Oh yes, just as I knew," she said to herself, "but the little woman
talks too much! I was sure, though, there had been a quarrel."

Then aloud:

"He is not good to you then?"

"He was very good to me once," answered Gervaise, "but since we came
to Paris he has changed. His mother died last year and left him about
seventeen hundred francs. He wished to come to Paris, and as Father
Macquart was in the habit of hitting me in the face without any
warning, I said I would come, too, which we did, with the two
children. I meant to be a fine laundress, and he was to continue with
his trade as a hatter. We might have been very happy. But, you see,
Lantier is extravagant; he likes expensive things and thinks of his
amusement before anything else. He is not good for much, anyhow!

"We arrived at the Hotel Montmartre. We had dinners and carriages,
suppers and theaters, a watch for him, a silk dress for me--for he is
not selfish when he has money. You can easily imagine, therefore, at
the end of two months we were cleaned out. Then it was that we came
to Hotel Boncoeur and that this life began." She checked herself with
a strange choking in the throat. Tears gathered in her eyes. She
finished brushing her linen.

"I must get my scalding water," she murmured.

But Mme Boche, much annoyed at this sudden interruption to the
long-desired confidence, called the boy.

"Charles," she said, "it would be very good of you if you would bring
a pail of hot water to Madame Lantier, as she is in a great hurry."
The boy brought a bucketful, and Gervaise paid him a sou. It was a sou
for each bucket. She turned the hot water into her tub and soaked her
linen once more and rubbed it with her hands while the steam hovered
round her blonde head like a cloud.

"Here, take some of this," said the concierge as she emptied into the
water that Gervaise was using the remains of a package of bicarbonate
of soda. She offered her also some _eau de Javelle_, but the
young woman refused. It was only good, she said, for grease spots
and wine stains.

"I thought him somewhat dissipated," said Mme Boche, referring to
Lantier without naming him.

Gervaise, leaning over her tub and her arms up to the elbows in the
soapsuds, nodded in acquiescence.

"Yes," continued the concierge, "I have seen many little things."
But she started back as Gervaise turned round with a pale face and
quivering lips.

"Oh, I know nothing," she continued. "He likes to laugh--that is
all--and those two girls who are with us, you know, Adele and
Virginie, like to laugh too, so they have their little jokes together,
but that is all there is of it, I am sure."

The young woman, with the perspiration standing on her brow and
her arms still dripping, looked her full in the face with earnest,
inquiring eyes.

Then the concierge became excited and struck her breast, exclaiming:

"I tell you I know nothing whatever, nothing more than I tell you!"

Then she added in a gentle voice, "But he has honest eyes, my dear.
He will marry you, child; I promise that he will marry you!"

Gervaise dried her forehead with her damp hand and shook her head.
The two women were silent for a moment; around them, too, it was very
quiet. The clock struck eleven. Many of the women were seated swinging
their feet, drinking their wine and eating their sausages, sandwiched
between slices of bread. An occasional economical housewife hurried
in with a small bundle under her arm, and a few sounds of the pounder
were still heard at intervals; sentences were smothered in the full
mouths, or a laugh was uttered, ending in a gurgling sound as the wine
was swallowed, while the great machine puffed steadily on. Not one
of the women, however, heard it; it was like the very respiration of
the lavatory--the eager breath that drove up among the rafters the
floating vapor that filled the room.

The heat gradually became intolerable. The sun shone in on the left
through the high windows, imparting to the vapor opaline tints--the
palest rose and tender blue, fading into soft grays. When the women
began to grumble the boy Charles went from one window to the other,
drawing down the heavy linen shades. Then he crossed to the other
side, the shady side, and opened the blinds. There was a general
exclamation of joy--a formidable explosion of gaiety.

All this time Gervaise was going on with her task and had just
completed the washing of her colored pieces, which she threw over a
trestle to drip; soon small pools of blue water stood on the floor.
Then she began to rinse the garments in cold water which ran from a
spigot near by.

"You have nearly finished," said Mme Boche. "I am waiting to help you
wring them."

"Oh, you are very good! It is not necessary though!" answered the
young woman as she swashed the garments through the clear water. "If
I had sheets I would not refuse your offer, however."

Nevertheless, she accepted the aid of the concierge. They took up a
brown woolen skirt, badly faded, from which poured out a yellow stream
as the two women wrung it together.

Suddenly Mme Boche cried out:

"Look! There comes big Virginie! She is actually coming here to wash
her rags tied up in a handkerchief."

Gervaise looked up quickly. Virginie was a woman about her own age,
larger and taller than herself, a brunette and pretty in spite of the
elongated oval of her face. She wore an old black dress with flounces
and a red ribbon at her throat. Her hair was carefully arranged and
massed in a blue chenille net.

She hesitated a moment in the center aisle and half shut her eyes,
as if looking for something or somebody, but when she distinguished
Gervaise she went toward her with a haughty, insolent air and
supercilious smile and finally established herself only a short
distance from her.

"That is a new notion!" muttered Mme Boche in a low voice. "She was
never known before to rub out even a pair of cuffs. She is a lazy
creature, I do assure you. She never sews the buttons on her boots.
She is just like her sister, that minx of an Adele, who stays away
from the shop two days out of three. What is she rubbing now? A skirt,
is it? It is dirty enough, I am sure!"

It was clear that Mme Boche wished to please Gervaise. The truth was
she often took coffee with Adele and Virginie when the two sisters
were in funds. Gervaise did not reply but worked faster than before.
She was now preparing her bluing water in a small tub standing on
three legs. She dipped in her pieces, shook them about in the colored
water, which was almost a lake in hue, and then, wringing them, she
shook them out and threw them lightly over the high wooden bars.

While she did this she kept her back well turned on big Virginie. But
she felt that the girl was looking at her, and she heard an occasional
derisive sniff. Virginie, in fact, seemed to have come there to
provoke her, and when Gervaise turned around the two women fixed their
eyes on each other.

"Let her be," murmured Mme Boche. "She is not the one, now I tell
you!"

At this moment, as Gervaise was shaking her last piece of linen, she
heard laughing and talking at the door of the lavatory.

"Two children are here asking for their mother!" cried Charles.

All the women looked around, and Gervaise recognized Claude and
Etienne. As soon as they saw her they ran toward her, splashing
through the puddle's, their untied shoes half off and Claude, the
eldest, dragging his little brother by the hand.

The women as they passed uttered kindly exclamations of pity, for
the children were evidently frightened. They clutched their mother's
skirts and buried their pretty blond heads.

"Did Papa send you?" asked Gervaise.

But as she stooped to tie Etienne's shoes she saw on Claude's finger
the key of her room with its copper tag and number.

"Did you bring the key?" she exclaimed in great surprise. "And why,
pray?"

The child looked down on the key hanging on his finger, which he had
apparently forgotten. This seemed to remind him of something, and he
said in a clear, shrill voice:

"Papa is gone!"

"He went to buy your breakfast, did he not? And he told you to come
and look for me here, I suppose?"

Claude looked at his brother and hesitated. Then he exclaimed:

"Papa has gone, I say. He jumped from the bed, put his things in
his trunk, and then he carried his trunk downstairs and put it on
a carriage. We saw him--he has gone!"

Gervaise was kneeling, tying the boy's shoe. She rose slowly with a
very white face and with her hands pressed to either temple, as if she
were afraid of her head cracking open. She could say nothing but the
same words over and over again:

"Great God! Great God! Great God!"

Mme Boche, in her turn, interrogated the child eagerly, for she was
charmed at finding herself an actor, as it were, in this drama.

"Tell us all about it, my dear. He locked the door, did he? And then
he told you to bring the key here?" And then, lowering her voice, she
whispered in the child's ear:

"Was there a lady in the carriage?" she asked.

The child looked troubled for a moment but speedily began his story
again with a triumphant air.

"He jumped off the bed, put his things in the trunk, and he went
away."

Then as Mme Boche made no attempt to detain him, he drew his brother
to the faucet, where the two amused themselves in making the water
run.

Gervaise could not weep. She felt as if she were stifling. She covered
her face with her hands and turned toward the wall. A sharp, nervous
trembling shook her from head to foot. An occasional sobbing sigh or,
rather, gasp escaped from her lips, while she pressed her clenched
hands more tightly on her eyes, as if to increase the darkness of the
abyss in which she felt herself to have fallen.

"Come! Come, my child!" muttered Mme Boche.

"If you knew! If you only knew all!" answered Gervaise. "Only this
very morning he made me carry my shawl and my chemises to the
Mont-de-Piete, and that was the money he had for the carriage."

And the tears rushed to her eyes. The recollection of her visit to the
pawnbroker's, of her hasty return with the money in her hand, seemed
to let loose the sobs that strangled her and was the one drop too
much. Tears streamed from her eyes and poured down her face. She did
not think of wiping them away.

"Be reasonable, child! Be quiet," whispered Mme Boche. "They are all
looking at you. Is it possible you can care so much for any man? You
love him still, although such a little while ago you pretended you did
not care for him, and you cry as if your heart would break! Oh lord,
what fools we women are!"

Then in a maternal tone she added:

"And such a pretty little woman as you are too. But now I may as
well tell you the whole, I suppose? Well then, you remember when
I was talking to you from the sidewalk and you were at your window?
I knew then that it was Lantier who came in with Adele. I did not see
his face, but I knew his coat, and Boche watched and saw him come
downstairs this morning. But he was with Adele, you understand. There
is another person who comes to see Virginie twice a week."

She stopped for a moment to take breath and then went on in a lower
tone still.

"Take care! She is laughing at you--the heartless little cat! I bet
all her washing is a sham. She has seen her sister and Lantier well
off and then came here to find out how you would take it."

Gervaise took her hands down from her face and looked around. When
she saw Virginie talking and laughing with two or three women a wild
tempest of rage shook her from head to foot. She stooped with her arms
extended, as if feeling for something, and moved along slowly for a
step or two, then snatched up a bucket of soapsuds and threw it at
Virginie.

"You devil! Be off with you!" cried Virginie, starting back. Only her
feet were wet.

All the women in the lavatory hurried to the scene of action. They
jumped up on the benches, some with a piece of bread in their hands,
others with a bit of soap, and a circle of spectators was soon formed.

"Yes, she is a devil!" repeated Virginie. "What has got into the
fool?" Gervaise stood motionless, her face convulsed and lips apart.
The other continued:

"She got tired of the country, it seems, but she left one leg behind
her, at all events."

The women laughed, and big Virginie, elated at her success, went on
in a louder and more triumphant tone:

"Come a little nearer, and I will soon settle you. You had better have
remained in the country. It is lucky for you that your dirty soapsuds
only went on my feet, for I would have taken you over my knees and
given you a good spanking if one drop had gone in my face. What is
the matter with her, anyway?" And big Virginie addressed her audience:
"Make her tell what I have done to her! Say! Fool, what harm have I
ever done to you?"

"You had best not talk so much," answered Gervaise almost inaudibly;
"you know very well where my husband was seen yesterday. Now be quiet
or harm will come to you. I will strangle you--quick as a wink."

"Her husband, she says! Her husband! The lady's husband! As if a
looking thing like that had a husband! Is it my fault if he has
deserted her? Does she think I have stolen him? Anyway, he was much
too good for her. But tell me, some of you, was his name on his
collar? Madame has lost her husband! She will pay a good reward,
I am sure, to anyone who will carry him back!"

The women all laughed. Gervaise, in a low, concentrated voice,
repeated:

"You know very well--you know very well! Your sister--yes, I will
strangle your sister!"

"Oh yes, I understand," answered Virginie. "Strangle her if you
choose. What do I care? And what are you staring at me for? Can't
I wash my clothes in peace? Come, I am sick of this stuff. Let me
alone!"

Big Virginie turned away, and after five or six angry blows with her
beater she began again:

"Yes, it is my sister, and the two adore each other. You should see
them bill and coo together. He has left you with these dirty-faced
imps, and you left three others behind you with three fathers! It was
your dear Lantier who told us all that. Ah, he had had quite enough
of you--he said so!"

"Miserable fool!" cried Gervaise, white with anger.

She turned and mechanically looked around on the floor; seeing
nothing, however, but the small tub of bluing water, she threw that
in Virginie's face.

"She has spoiled my dress!" cried Virginie, whose shoulder and one
hand were dyed a deep blue. "You just wait a moment!" she added as
she, in her turn, snatched up a tub and dashed its contents at
Gervaise. Then ensued a most formidable battle. The two women ran up
and down the room in eager haste, looking for full tubs, which they
quickly flung in the faces of each other, and each deluge was heralded
and accompanied by a shout.

"Is that enough? Will that cool you off?" cried Gervaise.

And from Virginie:

"Take that! It is good to have a bath once in your life!"

Finally the tubs and pails were all empty, and the two women began to
draw water from the faucets. They continued their mutual abuse while
the water was running, and presently it was Virginie who received
a bucketful in her face. The water ran down her back and over her
skirts. She was stunned and bewildered, when suddenly there came
another in her left ear, knocking her head nearly off her shoulders;
her comb fell and with it her abundant hair.

Gervaise was attacked about her legs. Her shoes were filled with
water, and she was drenched above her knees. Presently the two women
were deluged from head to foot; their garments stuck to them, and they
dripped like umbrellas which had been out in a heavy shower.

"What fun!" said one of the laundresses as she looked on at a safe
distance.

The whole lavatory were immensely amused, and the women applauded
as if at a theater. The floor was covered an inch deep with water,
through which the termagants splashed. Suddenly Virginie discovered
a bucket of scalding water standing a little apart; she caught it and
threw it upon Gervaise. There was an exclamation of horror from the
lookers-on. Gervaise escaped with only one foot slightly burned, but
exasperated by the pain, she threw a tub with all her strength at the
legs of her opponent. Virginie fell to the ground.

"She has broken her leg!" cried one of the spectators.

"She deserved it," answered another, "for the tall one tried to scald
her!"

"She was right, after all, if the blonde had taken away her man!"

Mme Boche rent the air with her exclamations, waving her arms
frantically high above her head. She had taken the precaution to place
herself behind a rampart of tubs, with Claude and Etienne clinging to
her skirts, weeping and sobbing in a paroxysm of terror and keeping up
a cry of "Mamma! Mamma!" When she saw Virginie prostrate on the ground
she rushed to Gervaise and tried to pull her away.

"Come with me!" she urged. "Do be sensible. You are growing so angry
that the Lord only knows what the end of all this will be!"

But Gervaise pushed her aside, and the old woman again took refuge
behind the tubs with the children. Virginie made a spring at the
throat of her adversary and actually tried to strangle her. Gervaise
shook her off and snatched at the long braid hanging from the girl's
head and pulled it as if she hoped to wrench it off, and the head
with it.

The battle began again, this time silent and wordless and literally
tooth and nail. Their extended hands with fingers stiffly crooked,
caught wildly at all in their way, scratching and tearing. The red
ribbon and the chenille net worn by the brunette were torn off; the
waist of her dress was ripped from throat to belt and showed the
white skin on the shoulder.

Gervaise had lost a sleeve, and her chemise was torn to her waist.
Strips of clothing lay in every direction. It was Gervaise who was
first wounded. Three long scratches from her mouth to her throat
bled profusely, and she fought with her eyes shut lest she should be
blinded. As yet Virginia showed no wound. Suddenly Gervaise seized
one of her earrings--pear-shaped, of yellow glass--she tore it out
and brought blood.

"They will kill each other! Separate them," cried several voices.

The women gathered around the combatants; the spectators were divided
into two parties--some exciting and encouraging Gervaise and Virginie
as if they had been dogs fighting, while others, more timid, trembled,
turned away their heads and said they were faint and sick. A general
battle threatened to take place, such was the excitement.

Mme Boche called to the boy in charge:

"Charles! Charles! Where on earth can he be?"

Finally she discovered him, calmly looking on with his arms folded. He
was a tall youth with a big neck. He was laughing and hugely enjoying
the scene. It would be a capital joke, he thought, if the women tore
each other's clothes to rags and if they should be compelled to finish
their fight in a state of nudity.

"Are you there then?" cried Mme Boche when she saw him. "Come and help
us separate them, or you can do it yourself."

"No, thank you," he answered quietly. "I don't propose to have my own
eyes scratched out! I am not here for that. Let them alone! It will do
them no harm to let a little of their hot blood out!"

Mme Boche declared she would summon the police, but to this the
mistress of the lavatory, the delicate-looking woman with weak eyes,
strenuously objected.

"No, no, I will not. It would injure my house!" she said over and over
again.

Both women lay on the ground. Suddenly Virginie struggled up to her
knees. She had got possession of one of the beaters, which she
brandished. Her voice was hoarse and low as she muttered:

"This will be as good for you as for your dirty linen!"

Gervaise, in her turn, snatched another beater, which she held like a
club. Her voice also was hoarse and low.

"I will beat your skin," she muttered, "as I would my coarse towels."

They knelt in front of each other in utter silence for at least a
minute, with hair streaming, eyes glaring and distended nostrils. They
each drew a long breath.

Gervaise struck the first blow with her beater full on the shoulders
of her adversary and then threw herself over on the side to escape
Virginie's weapon, which touched her on the hip.

Thus started, they struck each other as laundresses strike their
linen, in measured cadence.

The women about them ceased to laugh; many went away, saying they were
faint. Those who remained watched the scene with a cruel light in
their eyes. Mme Boche had taken Claude and Etienne to the other end of
the room, whence came the dreary sound of their sobs which were heard
through the dull blows of the beaters.

Suddenly Gervaise uttered a shriek. Virginie had struck her just above
the elbow on her bare arm, and the flesh began to swell at once. She
rushed at Virginie; her face was so terrible that the spectators
thought she meant to kill her.

"Enough! Enough!" they cried.

With almost superhuman strength she seized Virginie by the waist, bent
her forward with her face to the brick floor and, notwithstanding her
struggles, lifted her skirts and showed the white and naked skin. Then
she brought her beater down as she had formerly done at Plassans under
the trees on the riverside, where her employer had washed the linen of
the garrison.

Each blow of the beater fell on the soft flesh with a dull thud,
leaving a scarlet mark.

"Oh! Oh!" murmured Charles with his eyes nearly starting from his
head.

The women were laughing again by this time, but soon the cry began
again of "Enough! Enough!"

Gervaise did not even hear. She seemed entirely absorbed, as if she
were fulfilling an appointed task, and she talked with strange, wild
gaiety, recalling one of the rhymes of her childhood:

 _"Pan! Pan! Margot au lavoir,
   Pan! Pan! a coups de battoir;
   Pan! Pan! va laver son coeur,
   Pan! Pan! tout noir de douleur_

"Take that for yourself and that for your sister and this for Lantier.
And now I shall begin all over again. That is for Lantier--that for
your sister--and this for yourself!

 _"Pan! Pan! Margot au lavoir!
   Pan! Pan! a coups de battoir."_

They tore Virginie from her hands. The tall brunette, weeping and
sobbing, scarlet with shame, rushed out of the room, leaving Gervaise
mistress of the field, who calmly arranged her dress somewhat and,
as her arm was stiff, begged Mme Boche to lift her bundle of linen
on her shoulder.

While the old woman obeyed she dilated on her emotions during the
scene that had just taken place.

"You ought to go to a doctor and see if something is not broken.
I heard a queer sound," she said.

But Gervaise did not seem to hear her and paid no attention either to
the women who crowded around her with congratulations. She hastened
to the door where her children awaited her.

"Two hours!" said the mistress of the establishment, already installed
in her glass cabinet. "Two hours and two sous!"

Gervaise mechanically laid down the two sous, and then, limping
painfully under the weight of the wet linen which was slung over her
shoulder and dripped as she moved, with her injured arm and bleeding
cheek, she went away, dragging after her with her naked arm the
still-sobbing and tear-stained Etienne and Claude.

Behind her the lavatory resumed its wonted busy air, a little gayer
than usual from the excitement of the morning. The women had eaten
their bread and drunk their wine, and they splashed the water and used
their beaters with more energy than usual as they recalled the blows
dealt by Gervaise. They talked from alley to alley, leaning over their
tubs. Words and laughs were lost in the sound of running water. The
steam and mist were golden in the sun that came in through holes in
the curtain. The odor of soapsuds grew stronger and stronger.

When Gervaise entered the alley which led to the Hotel Boncoeur her
tears choked her. It was a long, dark, narrow alley, with a gutter
on one side close to the wall, and the loathsome smell brought to her
mind the recollection of having passed through there with Lantier
a fortnight previous.

And what had that fortnight been? A succession of quarrels and
dissensions, the remembrance of which would be forevermore a regret
and bitterness.

Her room was empty, filled with the glowing sunlight from the open
window. This golden light rendered more apparent the blackened ceiling
and the walls with the shabby, dilapidated paper. There was not an
article beyond the furniture left in the room, except a woman's fichu
that seemed to have caught on a nail near the chimney. The children's
bed was pulled out into the center of the room; the bureau drawers
were wide open, displaying their emptiness. Lantier had washed and had
used the last of the pomade--two cents' worth on the back of a playing
card--the dirty water in which he had washed still stood in the basin.
He had forgotten nothing; the corner hitherto occupied by his trunk
now seemed to Gervaise a vast desert. Even the small mirror was gone.
With a presentiment of evil she turned hastily to the chimney. Yes,
she was right, Lantier had carried away the tickets. The pink papers
were no longer between the candlesticks!

She threw her bundle of linen into a chair and stood looking first at
one thing and then at another in a dull agony that no tears came to
relieve.

She had but one sou in the world. She heard a merry laugh from her
boys who, already consoled, were at the window. She went toward them
and, laying a hand on each of their heads, looked out on that scene
on which her weary eyes had dwelt so long that same morning.

Yes, it was on that street that she and her children would soon be
thrown, and she turned her hopeless, despairing eyes toward the outer
boulevards--looking from right to left, lingering at the two
extremities, seized by a feeling of terror, as if her life
thenceforward was to be spent between a slaughterhouse and a hospital.



CHAPTER II

GERVAISE AND COUPEAU

Three weeks later, about half-past eleven one fine sunny morning,
Gervaise and Coupeau, the tinworker, were eating some brandied fruit
at the Assommoir.

Coupeau, who was smoking outside, had seen her as she crossed the
street with her linen and compelled her to enter. Her huge basket
was on the floor, back of the little table where they sat.

Father Colombe's Tavern, known as the Assommoir, was on the corners
of the Rue des Poissonniers and of the Boulevard de Rochechouart.
The sign bore the one single word in long, blue letters:

DISTILLATION

And this word stretched from one end to the other. On either side of
the door stood tall oleanders in small casks, their leaves covered
thick with dust. The enormous counter with its rows of glasses, its
fountain and its pewter measures was on the left of the door, and the
huge room was ornamented by gigantic casks painted bright yellow and
highly varnished, hooped with shining copper. On high shelves were
bottles of liquors and jars of fruits; all sorts of flasks standing in
order concealed the wall and repeated their pale green or deep crimson
tints in the great mirror behind the counter.

The great feature of the house, however, was the distilling apparatus
which stood at the back of the room behind an oak railing on which the
tipsy workmen leaned as they stupidly watched the still with its long
neck and serpentine tubes descending to subterranean regions--a very
devil's kitchen.

At this early hour the Assommoir was nearly empty. A stout man in his
shirt sleeves--Father Colombe himself--was serving a little girl not
more than twelve years old with four cents' worth of liquor in a cup.

The sun streamed in at the door and lay on the floor, which was black
where the men had spat as they smoked. And from the counter, from the
casks, from all the room, rose an alcoholic emanation which seemed to
intoxicate the very particles of dust floating in the sunshine.

In the meantime Coupeau rolled a new cigarette. He was very neat and
clean, wearing a blouse and a little blue cloth cap and showing his
white teeth as he smiled.

The lower jaw was somewhat prominent and the nose slightly flat; he
had fine brown eyes and the face of a happy child and good-natured
animal. His hair was thick and curly. His complexion was delicate
still, for he was only twenty-six. Opposite him sat Gervaise in a
black gown, leaning slightly forward, finishing her fruit, which she
held by the stem.

They were near the street, at the first of the four tables arranged
in front of the counter. When Coupeau had lighted his cigar he placed
both elbows on the table and looked at the woman without speaking.
Her pretty face had that day something of the delicate transparency
of fine porcelain.

Then continuing something which they apparently had been previously
discussing, he said in a low voice:

"Then you say no, do you? Absolutely no?"

"Of course. No it must be, Monsieur Coupeau," answered Gervaise with
a smile. "Surely you do not intend to begin that again here! You
promised to be reasonable too. Had I known, I should certainly have
refused your treat."

He did not speak but gazed at her more intently than before with
tender boldness. He looked at her soft eyes and dewy lips, pale at the
corners but half parted, allowing one to see the rich crimson within.

She returned his look with a kind and affectionate smile. Finally she
said:

"You should not think of such a thing. It is folly! I am an old woman.
I have a boy eight years old. What should we do together?"

"Much as other people do, I suppose!" answered Coupeau with a wink.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"You know nothing about it, Monsieur Coupeau, but I have had some
experience. I have two mouths in the house, and they have excellent
appetites. How am I to bring up my children if I trifle away my time?
Then, too, my misfortune has taught me one great lesson, which is that
the less I have to do with men, the better!"

She then proceeded to explain all her reasons, calmly and without
anger. It was easy to see that her words were the result of grave
consideration.

Coupeau listened quietly, saying only at intervals:

"You are hurting my feelings. Yes, hurting my feelings."

"Yes, I see that," she answered, "and I am really very sorry for you.
If I had any idea of leading a different life from that which I follow
today it might as well be with you as with another. You have the look
of a good-natured man. But what is the use? I have now been with
Madame Fauconnier for a fortnight. The children are going to school,
and I am very happy, for I have plenty to do. Don't you see,
therefore, that it is best for us to remain as we are?"

And she stooped to pick up her basket.

"You are keeping me here to talk," she said, "and they are waiting for
me at my employer's. You will find some other woman, Monsieur Coupeau,
far prettier than I, who will not have two children to bring up!"

He looked at the clock and made her sit down again.

"Wait!" he cried. "It is still thirty-five minutes of eleven. I have
twenty-five minutes still, and don't be afraid of my familiarity, for
the table is between us! Do you dislike me so very much that you can't
stay and talk with me for five minutes?"

She put down her basket, unwilling to seem disobliging, and they
talked for some time in a friendly sort of way. She had breakfasted
before she left home, and he had swallowed his soup in the greatest
haste and laid in wait for her as she came out. Gervaise, as she
listened to him, watched from the windows--between the bottles of
brandied fruit--the movement of the crowd in the street, which at
this hour--that of the Parisian breakfast--was unusually lively.
Workmen hurried into the baker's and, coming out with a loaf under
their arms, they went into the Veau a Deux Tetes, three doors higher
up, to breakfast at six sous. Next the baker's was a shop where fried
potatoes and mussels with parsley were sold. A constant succession of
shopgirls carried off paper parcels of fried potatoes and cups filled
with mussels, and others bought bunches of radishes. When Gervaise
leaned a little more toward the window she saw still another shop,
also crowded, from which issued a steady stream of children holding
in their hands, wrapped in paper, a breaded cutlet or a sausage,
still warm.

A group formed around the door of the Assommoir.

"Say, Bibi-la-Grillade," asked a voice, "will you stand a drink all
around?"

Five workmen went in, and the same voice said:

"Father Colombe, be honest now. Give us honest glasses, and no
nutshells, if you please."

Presently three more workmen entered together, and finally a crowd
of blouses passed in between the dusty oleanders.

"You have no business to ask such questions," said Gervaise to
Coupeau; "of course I loved him. But after the manner in which he
deserted me--"

They were speaking of Lantier. Gervaise had never seen him again;
she supposed him to be living with Virginie's sister, with a friend
who was about to start a manufactory for hats.

At first she thought of committing suicide, of drowning herself,
but she had grown more reasonable and had really begun to trust that
things were all for the best. With Lantier she felt sure she never
could have done justice to the children, so extravagant were his
habits.

He might come, of course, and see Claude and Etienne. She would not
show him the door; only so far as she herself was concerned, he had
best not lay his finger on her. And she uttered these words in a tone
of determination, like a woman whose plan of life is clearly defined,
while Coupeau, who was by no means inclined to give her up lightly,
teased and questioned her in regard to Lantier with none too much
delicacy, it is true, but his teeth were so white and his face so
merry that the woman could not take offense. "Did you beat him?"
he asked finally. "Oh, you are none too amiable. You beat people
sometimes, I have heard."

She laughed gaily.

Yes, it was true she had whipped that great Virginie. That day she
could have strangled someone with a glad heart. And she laughed again,
because Coupeau told her that Virginie, in her humiliation, had left
the _Quartier_.

Gervaise's face, as she laughed, however, had a certain childish
sweetness. She extended her slender, dimpled hands, declaring she
would not hurt a fly. All she knew of blows was that she had received
a good many in her life. Then she began to talk of Plassans and of her
youth. She had never been indiscreet, nor was she fond of men. When
she had fallen in with Lantier she was only fourteen, and she regarded
him as her husband. Her only fault, she declared, was that she was too
amiable and allowed people to impose on her and that she got fond of
people too easily; were she to love another man, she should wish and
expect to live quietly and comfortably with him always, without any
nonsense.

And when Coupeau slyly asked her if she called her dear children
nonsense she gave him a little slap and said that she, of course,
was much like other women. But women were not like men, after all;
they had their homes to take care of and keep clean; she was like
her mother, who had been a slave to her brutal father for more than
twenty years!

"My very lameness--" she continued.

"Your lameness?" interrupted Coupeau gallantly. "Why, it is almost
nothing. No one would ever notice it!"

She shook her head. She knew very well that it was very evident, and
at forty it would be far worse, but she said softly, with a faint
smile, "You have a strange taste, to fall in love with a lame woman!"

He, with his elbows on the table, still coaxed and entreated, but she
continued to shake her head in the negative. She listened with her
eyes fixed on the street, seemingly fascinated by the surging crowd.

The shops were being swept; the last frying pan of potatoes was taken
from the stove; the pork merchant washed the plates his customers had
used and put his place in order. Groups of mechanics were hurrying out
from all the workshops, laughing and pushing each other like so many
schoolboys, making a great scuffling on the sidewalk with their
hobnailed shoes; while some, with their hands in their pockets,
smoked in a meditative fashion, looking up at the sun and winking
prodigiously. The sidewalks were crowded and the crowd constantly
added to by men who poured from the open door--men in blouses and
frocks, old jackets and coats, which showed all their defects in
the clear morning light.

The bells of the various manufactories were ringing loudly, but the
workmen did not hurry. They deliberately lighted their pipes and then
with rounded shoulders slouched along, dragging their feet after them.

Gervaise mechanically watched a group of three, one man much taller
than the other two, who seemed to be hesitating as to what they should
do next. Finally they came directly to the Assommoir.

"I know them," said Coupeau, "or rather I know the tall one. It is
Mes-Bottes, a comrade of mine."

The Assommoir was now crowded with boisterous men. Two glasses rang
with the energy with which they brought down their fists on the
counter. They stood in rows, with their hands crossed over their
stomachs or folded behind their backs, waiting their turn to be
served by Father Colombe.

"Hallo!" cried Mes-Bottes, giving Coupeau a rough slap on the
shoulders. "How fine you have got to be with your cigarettes and
your linen shirt bosom! Who is your friend that pays for all this?
I should like to make her acquaintance."

"Don't be so silly!" returned Coupeau angrily.

But the other gave a knowing wink.

"Ah, I understand. 'A word to the wise--'" And he turned round with
a fearful lurch to look at Gervaise, who shuddered and recoiled. The
tobacco smoke, the odor of humanity added to this air heavy with
alcohol, was oppressive, and she choked a little and coughed.

"Ah, what an awful thing it is to drink!" she said in a whisper to her
friend, to whom she then went on to say how years before she had drunk
anisette with her mother at Plassans and how it had made her so very
sick that ever since that day she had never been able to endure even
the smell of liquors.

"You see," she added as she held up her glass, "I have eaten, the
fruit, but I left the brandy, for it would make me ill."

Coupeau also failed to understand how a man could swallow glasses of
brandy and water, one after the other. Brandied fruit, now and again,
was not bad. As to absinthe and similar abominations, he never touched
them--not he, indeed. His comrades might laugh at him as much as they
pleased; he always remained on the other side of the door when they
came in to swallow perdition like that.

His father, who was a tinworker like himself, had fallen one day from
the roof of No. 25, in La Rue Coquenaud, and this recollection had
made him very prudent ever since. As for himself, when he passed
through that street and saw the place he would sooner drink the water
in the gutter than swallow a drop at the wineshop. He concluded with
the sentence:

"You see, in my trade a man needs a clear head and steady legs."

Gervaise had taken up her basket; she had not risen from her chair,
however, but held it on her knees with a dreary look in her eyes, as
if the words of the young mechanic had awakened in her mind strange
thoughts of a possible future.

She answered in a low, hesitating tone, without any apparent
connection:

"Heaven knows I am not ambitious. I do not ask for much in this world.
My idea would be to live a quiet life and always have enough to eat--a
clean place to live in--with a comfortable bed, a table and a chair or
two. Yes, I would like to bring my children up in that way and see
them good and industrious. I should not like to run the risk of being
beaten--no, that would not please me at all!"

She hesitated, as if to find something else to say, and then resumed:

"Yes, and at the end I should wish to die in my bed in my own home!"

She pushed back her chair and rose. Coupeau argued with her vehemently
and then gave an uneasy glance at the clock. They did not, however,
depart at once. She wished to look at the still and stood for some
minutes gazing with curiosity at the great copper machine. The
tinworker, who had followed her, explained to her how the thing
worked, pointing out with his finger the various parts of the machine,
and showed the enormous retort whence fell the clear stream of
alcohol. The still, with its intricate and endless coils of wire and
pipes, had a dreary aspect. Not a breath escaped from it, and hardly
a sound was heard. It was like some night task performed in daylight
by a melancholy, silent workman.

In the meantime Mes-Bottes, accompanied by his two comrades, had
lounged to the oak railing and leaned there until there was a corner
of the counter free. He laughed a tipsy laugh as he stood with his
eyes fixed on the machine.

"By thunder!" he muttered. "That is a jolly little thing!"

He went on to say that it held enough to keep their throats fresh for
a week. As for himself, he would like to hold the end of that pipe
between his teeth, and he would like to feel that liquor run down his
throat in a steady stream until it reached his heels.

The still did its work slowly but surely. There was not a glimmer on
its surface--no firelight reflected in its clean-colored sides. The
liquor dropped steadily and suggested a persevering stream which would
gradually invade the room, spread over the streets and boulevard and
finally deluge and inundate Paris itself.

Gervaise shuddered and drew back. She tried to smile, but her lips
quivered as she murmured:

"It frightens me--that machine! It makes me feel cold to see that
constant drip."

Then returning to the idea which had struck her as the acme of human
happiness, she said:

"Say, do you not think that would be very nice? To work and have
plenty to eat, to have a little home all to oneself, to bring up
children and then die in one's bed?"

"And not be beaten," added Coupeau gaily. "But I will promise never
to beat you, Madame Gervaise, if you will agree to what I ask. I will
promise also never to drink, because I love you too much! Come now,
say yes."

He lowered his voice and spoke with his lips close to her throat,
while she, holding her basket in front of her, was making a path
through the crowd of men.

But she did not say no or shake her head as she had done. She glanced
up at him with a half-tender smile and seemed to rejoice in the
assurance he gave that he did not drink.

It was clear that she would have said yes if she had not sworn never
to have anything more to do with men.

Finally they reached the door and went out of the place, leaving it
crowded to overflowing. The fumes of alcohol and the tipsy voices of
the men carousing went out into the street with them.

Mes-Bottes was heard accusing Father Colombe of cheating by not
filling his glasses more than half full, and he proposed to his
comrades to go in future to another place, where they could do
much better and get more for their money.

"Ah," said Gervaise, drawing a long breath when they stood on the
sidewalk, "here one can breathe again. Good-by, Monsieur Coupeau,
and many thanks for your politeness. I must hasten now!"

She moved on, but he took her hand and held it fast.

"Go a little way with me. It will not be much farther for you.
I must stop at my sister's before I go back to the shop."

She yielded to his entreaties, and they walked slowly on together.
He told her about his family. His mother, a tailoress, was the
housekeeper. Twice she had been obliged to give up her work on account
of trouble with her eyes. She was sixty-two on the third of the last
month. He was the youngest child. One of his sisters, Mme Lerat,
a widow, thirty-six years old, was a flower maker and lived at
Batignolles, in La Rue Des Moines. The other, who was thirty, had
married a chainmaker--a man by the name of Lorilleux. It was to their
rooms that he was now going. They lived in that great house on the
left. He ate his dinner every night with them; it was an economy for
them all. But he wanted to tell them now not to expect him that night,
as he was invited to dine with a friend.

Gervaise interrupted him suddenly:

"Did I hear your friend call you Cadet-Cassis?"

"Yes. That is a name they have given me, because when they drag me
into a wineshop it is cassis I always take. I had as lief be called
Cadet-Cassis as Mes-Bottes, any time."

"I do not think Cadet-Cassis so very bad," answered Gervaise, and she
asked him about his work. How long should he be employed on the new
hospital?

"Oh," he answered, "there was never any lack of work." He had always
more than he could do. He should remain in that shop at least a year,
for he had yards and yards of gutters to make.

"Do you know," he said, "when I am up there I can see the Hotel
Boncoeur. Yesterday you were at the window, and I waved my hand,
but you did not see me."

They by this time had turned into La Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. He stopped
and looked up.

"There is the house," he said, "and I was born only a few doors
farther off. It is an enormous place."

Gervaise looked up and down the façade. It was indeed enormous. The
house was of five stories, with fifteen windows on each floor. The
blinds were black and with many of the slats broken, which gave an
indescribable air of ruin and desolation to the place. Four shops
occupied the _rez-de-chaussee_. On the right of the door was a
large room, occupied as a cookshop. On the left was a charcoal vender,
a thread-and-needle shop and an establishment for the manufacture of
umbrellas.

The house appeared all the higher for the reason that on either side
were two low buildings, squeezed close to it, and stood square, like
a block of granite roughly hewn, against the blue sky. Totally without
ornament, the house grimly suggested a prison.

Gervaise looked at the entrance, an immense doorway which rose to the
height of the second story and made a deep passage, at the end of
which was a large courtyard. In the center of this doorway, which was
paved like the street, ran a gutter full of pale rose-colored water.

"Come up," said Coupeau; "they won't eat you."

Gervaise preferred to wait for him in the street, but she consented
to go as far as the room of the concierge, which was within the porch,
on the left.

When she had reached this place she again looked up.

Within there were six floors, instead of five, and four regular
facades surrounded the vast square of the courtyard. The walls were
gray, covered with patches of leprous yellow, stained by the dripping
from the slate-covered roof. The wall had not even a molding to break
its dull uniformity--only the gutters ran across it. The windows had
neither shutters nor blinds but showed the panes of glass which were
greenish and full of bubbles. Some were open, and from them hung
checked mattresses and sheets to air. Lines were stretched in front
of others, on which the family wash was hung to dry--men's shirts,
women's chemises and children's breeches! There was a look as if the
dwellers under that roof found their quarters too small and were
oozing out at every crack and aperture.

For the convenience of each facade there was a narrow, high doorway,
from which a damp passage led to the rear, where were four staircases
with iron railings. These each had one of the first four letters of
the alphabet painted at the side.

The _rez-de-chaussee_ was divided into enormous workshops and lit
by windows black with dust. The forge of a locksmith blazed in one;
from another came the sound of a carpenter's plane, while near the
doorway a pink stream from a dyeing establishment poured into the
gutter. Pools of stagnant water stood in the courtyard, all littered
with shavings and fragments of charcoal. A few pale tufts of grass
struggled up between the flat stones, and the whole courtyard was
lit but dimly.

In the shade near the water faucet three small hens were pecking
with the vain hope of finding a worm, and Gervaise looked about her,
amazed at the enormous place which seemed like a little world and as
interested in the house as if it were a living creature.

"Are you looking for anyone?" asked the concierge, coming to her door
considerably puzzled.

But the young woman explained that she was waiting for a friend and
then turned back toward the street. As Coupeau still delayed, she
returned to the courtyard, finding in it a strange fascination.

The house did not strike her as especially ugly. At some of the
windows were plants--a wallflower blooming in a pot--a caged canary,
who uttered an occasional warble, and several shaving mirrors caught
the light and shone like stars.

A cabinetmaker sang, accompanied by the regular whistling sounds
of his plane, while from the locksmith's quarters came a clatter
of hammers struck in cadence.

At almost all the open windows the laughing, dirty faces of merry
children were seen, and women sat with their calm faces in profile,
bending over their work. It was the quiet time--after the morning
labors were over and the men were gone to their work and the house
was comparatively quiet, disturbed only by the sounds of the various
trades. The same refrain repeated hour after hour has a soothing
effect, Gervaise thought.

To be sure, the courtyard was a little damp. Were she to live there,
she should certainly prefer a room on the sunny side.

She went in several steps and breathed that heavy odor of the homes of
the poor--an odor of old dust, of rancid dirt and grease--but as the
acridity of the smells from the dyehouse predominated, she decided it
to be far better than the Hotel Boncoeur.

She selected a window--a window in the corner on the left, where there
was a small box planted with scarlet beans, whose slender tendrils
were beginning to wind round a little arbor of strings.

"I have made you wait too long, I am afraid," said Coupeau, whom she
suddenly heard at her side. "They make a great fuss when I do not dine
there, and she did not like it today, especially as my sister had
bought veal. You are looking at this house," he continued. "Think of
it--it is always lit from top to bottom. There are a hundred lodgers
in it. If I had any furniture I would have had a room in it long ago.
It would be very nice here, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," murmured Gervaise, "very nice indeed. At Plassans there were
not so many people in one whole street. Look up at that window on the
fifth floor--the window, I mean, where those beans are growing. See
how pretty that is!"

He, with his usual recklessness, declared he would hire that room
for her, and they would live there together.

She turned away with a laugh and begged him not to talk any more
nonsense. The house might stand or fall--they would never have a room
in it together.

But Coupeau, all the same, was not reproved when he held her hand
longer than was necessary in bidding her farewell when they reached
Mme Fauconnier's laundry.

For another month the kindly intercourse between Gervaise and Coupeau
continued on much the same footing. He thought her wonderfully
courageous, declared she was killing herself with hard work all day
and sitting up half the night to sew for the children. She was not
like the women he had known; she took life too seriously, by far!

She laughed and defended herself modestly. Unfortunately, she said,
she had not always been discreet. She alluded to her first confinement
when she was not more than fourteen and to the bottles of anisette she
had emptied with her mother, but she had learned much from experience,
she said. He was mistaken, however, in thinking she was persevering
and strong. She was, on the contrary, very weak and too easily
influenced, as she had discovered to her cost. Her dream had always
been to live in a respectable way among respectable people, because
bad company knocks the life out of a woman. She trembled when she
thought of the future and said she was like a sou thrown up in the
air, falling, heads up or down, according to chance, on the muddy
pavement. All she had seen, the bad example spread before her childish
eyes, had given her valuable lessons. But Coupeau laughed at these
gloomy notions and brought back her courage by attempting to put his
arm around her waist. She slapped his hands, and he cried out that
"for a weak woman, she managed to hurt a fellow considerably!"

As for himself, he was always as merry as a grig, and no fool, either.
He parted his hair carefully on one side, wore pretty cravats and
patent-leather shoes on Sunday and was as saucy as only a fine
Parisian workman can be.

They were of mutual use to each other at the Hotel Boncoeur. Coupeau
went for her milk, did many little errands for her and carried home
her linen to her customers and often took the children out to walk.
Gervaise, to return these courtesies, went up to the tiny room where
he slept and in his absence looked over his clothes, sewed on buttons
and mended his garments. They grew to be very good and cordial
friends. He was to her a constant source of amusement. She listened
to the songs he sang and to their slang and nonsense, which as yet
had for her much of the charm of novelty. But he began to grow uneasy,
and his smiles were less frequent. He asked her whenever they met the
same question, "When shall it be?"

She answered invariably with a jest but passed her days in a fire
of indelicate allusions, however, which did not bring a flush to
her cheek. So long as he was not rough and brutal, she objected to
nothing, but one day she was very angry when he, in trying to steal
a kiss, tore out a lock of her hair.

About the last of June Coupeau became absolutely morose, and Gervaise
was so much disturbed by certain glances he gave her that she fairly
barricaded her door at night. Finally one Tuesday evening, when he had
sulked from the previous Sunday, he came to her door at eleven in the
evening. At first she refused to open it, but his voice was so gentle,
so sad even, that she pulled away the barrier she had pushed against
the door for her better protection. When he came in she was startled
and thought him ill; he was so deadly pale and his eyes were so
bright. No, he was not ill, he said, but things could not go on
like this; he could not sleep.

"Listen, Madame Gervaise," he exclaimed with tears in his eyes and a
strange choking sensation in his throat. "We must be married at once.
That is all there is to be said about it."

Gervaise was astonished and very grave.

"Oh, Monsieur Coupeau, I never dreamed of this, as you know very well,
and you must not take such a step lightly."

But he continued to insist; he was certainly fully determined. He had
come down to her then, without waiting until morning, merely because
he needed a good sleep. As soon as she said yes he would leave her.
But he would not go until he heard that word.

"I cannot say yes in such a hurry," remonstrated Gervaise. "I do not
choose to run the risk of your telling me at some future day that
I led you into this. You are making a great mistake, I assure you.
Suppose you should not see me for a week--you would forget me
entirely. Men sometimes marry for a fancy and in twenty-four hours
would gladly take it all back. Sit down here and let us talk a
little."

They sat in that dingy room lit only by one candle, which they forgot
to snuff, and discussed the expediency of their marriage until after
midnight, speaking very low, lest they should disturb the children,
who were asleep with weir heads on the same pillow.

And Gervaise pointed them out to Coupeau. That was an odd sort of
dowry to carry a man, surely! How could she venture to go to him with
such encumbrances? Then, too, she was troubled about another thing.
People would laugh at him. Her story was known; her lover had been
seen, and there would be no end of talk if she should marry now.

To all these good and excellent reasons Coupeau answered with a shrug
of his shoulders. What did he care for talk and gossip? He never
meddled with the affairs of others; why should they meddle with his?

Yes, she had children, to be sure, and he would look out for them with
her. He had never seen a woman in his life who was so good and so
courageous and patient. Besides, that had nothing to do with it! Had
she been ugly and lazy, with a dozen dirty children, he would have
wanted her and only her.

"Yes," he continued, tapping her on the knee, "you are the woman I
want, and none other. You have nothing to say against that, I
suppose?"

Gervaise melted by degrees. Her resolution forsook her, and a weakness
of her heart and her senses overwhelmed her in the face of this brutal
passion. She ventured only a timid objection or two. Her hands lay
loosely folded on her knees, while her face was very gentle and sweet.

Through the open window came the soft air of a fair June night; the
candle flickered in the wind; from the street came the sobs of a
child, the child of a drunken man who was lying just in front of the
door in the street. From a long distance the breeze brought the notes
of a violin playing at a restaurant for some late marriage festival--a
delicate strain it was, too, clear and sweet as musical glasses.

Coupeau, seeing that the young woman had exhausted all her arguments,
snatched her hands and drew her toward him. She was in one of those
moods which she so much distrusted, when she could refuse no one
anything. But the young man did not understand this, and he contented
himself with simply holding her hands closely in his.

"You say yes, do you not?" he asked.

"How you tease," she replied. "You wish it--well then, yes. Heaven
grant that the day will not come when you will be sorry for it."

He started up, lifting her from her feet, and kissed her loudly. He
glanced at the children.

"Hush!" he said. "We must not wake the boys. Good night."

And he went out of the room. Gervaise, trembling from head to foot,
sat for a full hour on the side of her bed without undressing. She was
profoundly touched and thought Coupeau very honest and very kind. The
tipsy man in the street uttered a groan like that of a wild beast, and
the notes of the violin had ceased.

The next evening Coupeau urged Gervaise to go with him to call on his
sister. But the young woman shrank with ardent fear from this visit to
the Lorilleuxs'. She saw perfectly well that her lover stood in dread
of these people.

He was in no way dependent on this sister, who was not the eldest
either. Mother Coupeau would gladly give her consent, for she had
never been known to contradict her son. In the family, however, the
Lorilleuxs were supposed to earn ten francs per day, and this gave
them great weight. Coupeau would never venture to marry unless they
agreed to accept his wife.

"I have told them about you," he said. "Gervaise--good heavens, what
a baby you are! Come there tonight with me; you will find my sister
a little stiff, and Lorilleux is none too amiable. The truth is they
are much vexed, because, you see, if I marry I shall no longer dine
with them--and that is their great economy. But that makes no odds;
they won't put you out of doors. Do what I ask, for it is absolutely
necessary."

These words frightened Gervaise nearly out of her wits. One Saturday
evening, however, she consented. Coupeau came for her at half-past
eight. She was all ready, wearing a black dress, a shawl with printed
palm leaves in yellow and a white cap with fluted ruffles. She had
saved seven francs for the shawl and two francs fifty centimes for
the cap; the dress was an old one, cleaned and made over.

"They expect you," said Coupeau as they walked along the street, "and
they have become accustomed to the idea of seeing me married. They are
really quite amiable tonight. Then, too, if you have never seen a gold
chain made you will be much amused in watching it. They have an order
for Monday."

"And have they gold in these rooms?" asked Gervaise.

"I should say so! It is on the walls, on the floors--everywhere!"

By this time they had reached the door and had entered the courtyard.
The Lorilleuxs lived on the sixth floor--staircase B. Coupeau told her
with a laugh to keep tight hold of the iron railing and not let it go.

She looked up, half shutting her eyes, and gasped as she saw the
height to which the staircase wound. The last gas burner, higher up,
looked like a star trembling in a black sky, while two others on
alternate floors cast long, slanting rays down the interminable
stairs.

"Aha!" cried the young man as they stopped a moment on the second
landing. "I smell onion soup; somebody has evidently been eating onion
soup about here, and it smells good too."

It is true. Staircase B, dirty and greasy, both steps and railing with
plastering knocked off and showing the laths beneath, was permeated
with the smell of cooking. From each landing ran narrow corridors,
and on either side were half-open doors painted yellow and black, with
finger marks about the lock and handles, and through the open window
came the damp, disgusting smell of sinks and sewers mingling with the
odor of onions.

Up to the sixth floor came the noises from the
_rez-de-chaussee_--the rattling of dishes being washed, the
scraping of saucepans, and all that sort of thing. On one floor
Gervaise saw through an open door on which were the words DESIGNER AND
DRAUGHTSMAN in large letters two men seated at a table covered with a
varnished cloth; they were disputing violently amid thick clouds of
smoke from their pipes. The second and third floors were the quietest.
Here through the open doors came the sound of a cradle rocking, the
wail of a baby, a woman's voice, the rattle of a spoon against a cup.
On one door she read a placard, MME GAUDRON, CARDER; on the next, M.
MADINIER, MANUFACTURER OF BOXES.

On the fourth there was a great quarrel going on--blows and
oaths--which did not prevent the neighbors opposite from playing cards
with their door wide open for the benefit of the air. When Gervaise
reached the fifth floor she was out of breath. Such innumerable stairs
were a novelty to her. These winding railings made her dizzy. One
family had taken possession of the landing; the father was washing
plates in a small earthen pan near the sink, while the mother was
scrubbing the baby before putting it to sleep. Coupeau laughingly bade
Gervaise keep up her courage, and at last they reached the top, and
she looked around to see whence came the clear, shrill voice which
she had heard above all other sounds ever since her foot touched the
first stair. It was a little old woman who sang as she worked, and her
work was dressing dolls at three cents apiece. Gervaise clung to the
railing, all out of breath, and looked down into the depths below--the
gas burner now looked like a star at the bottom of a deep well. The
smells, the turbulent life of this great house, seemed to rush over
her in one tremendous gust. She gasped and turned pale.

"We have not got there yet," said Coupeau; "we have much farther
to go." And he turned to the left and then to the right again. The
corridor stretched out before them, faintly lit by an occasional gas
burner; a succession of doors, like those of a prison or a convent,
continued to appear, nearly all wide open, showing the sordid
interiors. Finally they reached a corridor that was entirely dark.

"Here we are," said the tinworker. "Isn't it a journey? Look out
for three steps. Hold onto the wall."

And Gervaise moved cautiously for ten paces or more. She counted the
three steps, and then Coupeau pushed open a door without knocking.
A bright light streamed forth. They went in.

It was a long, narrow apartment, almost like a prolongation of the
corridor; a woolen curtain, faded and spotted, drawn on one side,
divided the room in two.

One compartment, the first, contained a bed pushed under the corner
of the mansard roof; a stove, still warm from the cooking of the
dinner; two chairs, a table and a wardrobe. To place this last piece
of furniture where it stood, between the bed and the door, had
necessitated sawing away a portion of the ceiling.

The second compartment was the workshop. At the back, a tiny forge
with bellows; on the right, a vice screwed against the wall under
an _etagere_, where were iron tools piled up; on the left, in front
of the window, was a small table covered with pincers, magnifying
glasses, tiny scales and shears--all dirty and greasy.

"We have come!" cried Coupeau, going as far as the woolen curtain.

But he was not answered immediately.

Gervaise, much agitated by the idea that she was entering a place
filled with gold, stood behind her friend and did not know whether
to speak or retreat.

The bright light which came from a lamp and also from a brazier of
charcoal in the forge added to her trouble. She saw Mme Lorilleux,
a small, dark woman, agile and strong, drawing with all the vigor
of her arms--assisted by a pair of pincers--a thread of black metal,
which she passed through the holes of a drawplate held by the vice.
Before the desk or table in front of the window sat Lorilleux, as
short as his wife, but with broader shoulders. He was managing a tiny
pair of pincers and doing some work so delicate that it was almost
imperceptible. It was he who first looked up and lifted his head with
its scanty yellow hair. His face was the color of old wax, was long
and had an expression of physical suffering.

"Ah, it is you, is it? Well! Well! But we are in a hurry, you
understand. We have an order to fill. Don't come into the workroom.
Remain in the chamber." And he returned to his work; his face was
reflected in a ball filled with water, through which the lamp sent
on his work a circle of the brightest possible light.

"Find chairs for yourselves," cried Mme Lorilleux. "This is the lady,
I suppose. Very well! Very well!"

She rolled up her wire and carried it to the forge, and then she
fanned the coals a little to quicken the heat.

Coupeau found two chairs and made Gervaise seat herself near the
curtain. The room was so narrow that he could not sit beside her, so
he placed his chair a little behind and leaned over her to give her
the information he deemed desirable.

Gervaise, astonished by the strange reception given her by these
people and uncomfortable under their sidelong glances, had a buzzing
in her ears which prevented her from hearing what was said.

She thought the woman very old looking for her thirty years and also
extremely untidy, with her hair tumbling over her shoulders and her
dirty camisole.

The husband, not more than a year older, seemed to Gervaise really
an old man with thin, compressed lips and bowed figure. He was in his
shirt sleeves, and his naked feet were thrust into slippers down at
the heel.

She was infinitely astonished at the smallness of the atelier, at the
blackened walls and at the terrible heat.

Tiny drops bedewed the waxed forehead of Lorilleux himself, while Mme
Lorilleux threw off her sack and stood in bare arms and chemise half
slipped off.

"And the gold?" asked Gervaise softly.

Her eager eyes searched the corners, hoping to discover amid all the
dirt something of the splendor of which she had dreamed.

But Coupeau laughed.

"Gold?" he said. "Look! Here it is--and here--and here again, at your
feet."

He pointed in succession to the fine thread with which his sister was
busy and at another package of wire hung against the wall near the
vice; then falling down on his hands and knees, he gathered up from
the floor, on the tip of his moistened finger, several tiny specks
which looked like needle points.

Gervaise cried out, "That surely is not gold! That black metal which
looks precisely like iron!"

Her lover laughed and explained to her the details of the manufacture
in which his brother-in-law was engaged. The wire was furnished them
in coils, just as it hung against the wall, and then they were obliged
to heat and reheat it half a dozen times during their manipulations,
lest it should break. Considerable strength and a vast deal of skill
were needed, and his sister had both. He had seen her draw out the
gold until it was like a hair. She would never let her husband do it
because he always had a cough.

All this time Lorilleux was watching Gervaise stealthily, and after
a violent fit of coughing he said with an air as if he were speaking
to himself:

"I make columns."

"Yes," said Coupeau in an explanatory voice, "there are four different
kinds of chains, and his style is called a column."

Lorilleux uttered a little grunt of satisfaction, all the time at
work, with the tiny pincers held between very dirty nails.

"Look here, Cadet-Cassis," he said. "This very morning I made a little
calculation. I began my work when I was only twelve years old. How
many yards do you think I have made up to this day?"

He lifted his pale face.

"Eight thousand! Do you understand? Eight thousand! Enough to twist
around the necks of all the women in this _Quartier_."

Gervaise returned to her chair, entirely disenchanted. She thought it
was all very ugly and uninteresting. She smiled in order to gratify
the Lorilleuxs, but she was annoyed and troubled at the profound
silence they preserved in regard to her marriage, on account of which
she had called there that evening. These people treated her as if she
were simply a spectator whose curiosity had induced Coupeau to bring
her to see their work.

They began to talk; it was about the lodgers in the house. Mme
Lorilleux asked her brother if he had not heard those Benard people
quarreling as he came upstairs. She said the husband always came home
tipsy. Then she spoke of the designer, who was overwhelmed with debts,
always smoking and always quarreling. The landlord was going to turn
out the Coquets, who owed three quarters now and who would put their
furnace out on the landing, which was very dangerous. Mlle Remanjon,
as she was going downstairs with a bundle of dolls, was just in time
to rescue one of the children from being burned alive.

Gervaise was beginning to find the place unendurable. The heat was
suffocating; the door could not be opened, because the slightest draft
gave Lorilleux a cold. As they ignored the marriage question utterly,
she pulled her lover's sleeve to signify her wish to depart. He
understood and was himself annoyed at this affectation of silence.

"We are going," he said coldly, "We do not care to interrupt your
work any longer."

He lingered a moment, hoping for a word or an allusion. Suddenly he
decided to begin the subject himself.

"We rely on you, Lorilleux. You will be my wife's witness," he said.

The man lifted his head in affected surprise, while his wife stood
still in the center of the workshop.

"Are you in earnest?" he murmured, and then continued as if
soliloquizing, "It is hard to know when this confounded Cadet-Cassis
is in earnest."

"We have no advice to give," interrupted his wife. "It is a foolish
notion, this marrying, and it never succeeds. Never--no--never."

She drawled out these last words, examining Gervaise from head to foot
as she spoke.

"My brother is free to do as he pleases, of course," she continued.
"Of course his family would have liked--But then people always plan,
and things turn out so different. Of course it is none of my business.
Had he brought me the lowest of the low, I should have said, 'Marry
her and let us live in peace!' He was very comfortable with us,
nevertheless. He has considerable flesh on his bones and does not look
as if he had been starved. His soup was always ready to the minute.
Tell me, Lorilleux, don't you think that my brother's friend looks
like Therese--you know whom I mean--that woman opposite, who died of
consumption?"

"She certainly does," answered the chainmaker contemplatively.

"And you have two children, madame? I said to my brother I could not
understand how he could marry a woman with two children. You must not
be angry if I think of his interests; it is only natural. You do not
look very strong. Say, Lorilleux, don't you think that Madame looks
delicate?"

This courteous pair made no allusion to her lameness, but Gervaise
felt it to be in their minds. She sat stiff and still before them, her
thin shawl with its yellow palm leaves wrapped closely about her, and
answered in monosyllables, as if before her judges. Coupeau, realizing
her sufferings, cried out:

"This is all nonsense you are talking! What I want to know is if the
day will suit you, July twenty-ninth."

"One day is the same as another to us," answered his sister severely.
"Lorilleux can do as he pleases in regard to being your witness. I
only ask for peace."

Gervaise, in her embarrassment, had been pushing about with her feet
some of the rubbish on the floor; then fearing she had done some harm,
she stooped to ascertain. Lorilleux hastily approached her with a lamp
and looked at her fingers with evident suspicion.

"Take care," he said. "Those small bits of gold stick to the shoes
sometimes and are carried off without your knowing it."

This was a matter of some importance, of course, for his employers
weighed what they entrusted to him. He showed the hare's-foot with
which he brushed the particles of gold from the table and the skin
spread on his knees to receive them. Twice each week the shop was
carefully brushed; all the rubbish was kept and burned, and the ashes
were examined, where were found each month twenty-five or thirty
francs of gold.

Mme Lorilleux did not take her eyes from the shoes of her guest.

"If Mademoiselle would be so kind," she murmured with an amiable
smile, "and would just look at her soles herself. There is no cause
for offense, I am sure!"

Gervaise, indignant and scarlet, reseated herself and held up her
shoes for examination. Coupeau opened the door with a gay good night,
and she followed him into the corridor after a word or two of polite
farewell.

The Lorilleuxs turned to their work at the end of their room where
the tiny forge still glittered. The woman with her chemise slipped off
her shoulder which was red with the reflection from the brazier, was
drawing out another wire, the muscles in her throat swelling with her
exertions.

The husband, stooping under the green light of the ball of water, was
again busy with his pincers, not stopping even to wipe the sweat from
his brow.

When Gervaise emerged from the narrow corridors on the sixth landing
she said with tears in her eyes:

"This certainly does not promise very well!"

Coupeau shook his head angrily. Lorilleux should pay for this evening!
Was there ever such a miser? To care if one carried off three grains
of gold in the dust on one's shoes. All the stories his sister told
were pure fictions and malice. His sister never meant him to marry;
his eating with them saved her at least four sous daily. But he did
not care whether they appeared on the twenty-ninth of July or not;
he could get along without them perfectly well.

But Gervaise, as she descended the staircase, felt her heart swell
with pain and fear. She did not like the strange shadows on the dimly
lit stairs. From behind the doors, now closed, came the heavy
breathing of sleepers who had gone to their beds on rising from the
table. A faint laugh was heard from one room, while a slender thread
of light filtered through the keyhole of the old lady who was still
busy with her dolls, cutting out the gauze dresses with squeaking
scissors. A child was crying on the next floor, and the smell from
the sinks was worse than ever and seemed something tangible amid this
silent darkness. Then in the courtyard, while Coupeau pulled the cord,
Gervaise turned and examined the house once more. It seemed enormous
as it stood black against the moonless sky. The gray facades rose tall
and spectral; the windows were all shut. No clothes fluttered in the
breeze; there was literally not the smallest look of life, except in
the few windows that were still lighted. From the damp corner of the
courtyard came the drip-drip of the fountain. Suddenly it seemed to
Gervaise as if the house were striding toward her and would crush her
to the earth. A moment later she smiled at her foolish fancy.

"Take care!" cried Coupeau.

And as she passed out of the courtyard she was compelled to jump over
a little sea which had run from the dyer's. This time the water was
blue, as blue as the summer sky, and the reflection of the lamps
carried by the concierge was like the stars themselves.



CHAPTER III

A MARRIAGE OF THE PEOPLE

Gervaise did not care for any great wedding. Why should they spend
their money so foolishly? Then, too, she felt a little ashamed and
did not care to parade their marriage before the whole _Quartier_.
But Coupeau objected. It would never do not to have some
festivities--a little drive and a supper, perhaps, at a restaurant;
he would ask for nothing more. He vowed that no one should drink too
much and finally obtained the young woman's consent and organized a
picnic at five francs per head at the Moulin d'Argent, Boulevard de
la Chapelle. He was a small wine merchant who had a garden back of
his restaurant. He made out a list. Among others appeared the names of
two of his comrades, Bibi-la-Grillade and Mes-Bottes. It was true that
Mes-Bottes crooked his elbow, but he was so deliciously funny that he
was always invited to picnics. Gervaise said she, in her turn, would
bring her employer, Mme Fauconnier--all told, there would be fifteen
at the table. That was quite enough.

Now as Coupeau was literally penniless, he borrowed fifty francs from
his employer. He first bought his wedding ring; it cost twelve francs
out of the shop, but his brother-in-law purchased it for him for nine
at the factory. He then ordered an overcoat, pantaloons and vest
from a tailor to whom he paid twenty-five francs on account. His
patent-leather shoes and his bolivar could last awhile longer. Then
he put aside his ten francs for the picnic, which was what he and
Gervaise must pay, and they had precisely six francs remaining, the
price of a Mass at the altar of the poor. He had no liking for those
black frocks, and it broke his heart to give these beloved francs
to them. But a marriage without a Mass, he had heard, was really
no marriage at all.

He went to the church to see if he could not drive a better bargain,
and for an hour he fought with a stout little priest in a dirty
soutane who, finally declaring that God could never bless such a
union, agreed that the Mass should cost only five francs. Thus Coupeau
had twenty sous in hand with which to begin the world!

Gervaise, in her turn, had made her preparations, had worked late
into the night and laid aside thirty francs. She had set her heart
on a silk mantelet marked thirteen francs, which she had seen in a
shopwindow. She paid for it and bought for ten francs from the husband
of a laundress who had died in Mme Fauconnier's house a delaine dress
of a deep blue, which she made over entirely. With the seven francs
that remained she bought a rose for her cap, a pair of white cotton
gloves and shoes for Claude. Fortunately both the boys had nice
blouses. She worked for four days mending and making; there was not
a hole or a rip in anything. At last the evening before the important
day arrived; Gervaise and Coupeau sat together and talked, happy that
matters were so nearly concluded. Their arrangements were all made.
They were to go to the mayor's office--the two sisters of Coupeau
declared they would remain at home, their presence not being necessary
there. Then Mother Coupeau began to weep, saying she wished to go
early and hide in a corner, and they promised to take her.

The hour fixed for the party to assemble at the Moulin d'Argent was
one o'clock sharp. From then they were to seek an appetite on the
Plaine-St-Denis and return by rail. Saturday morning, as he dressed,
Coupeau thought with some anxiety of his scanty funds; he supposed
he ought to offer a glass of wine and a slice of ham to his witnesses
while waiting for dinner; unexpected expenses might arise; no, it was
clear that twenty sous was not enough. He consequently, after taking
Claude and Etienne to Mlle Boche, who promised to appear with them at
dinner, ran to his brother-in-law and borrowed ten francs; he did it
with reluctance, and the words stuck in his throat, for he half
expected a refusal. Lorilleux grumbled and growled but finally lent
the money. But Coupeau heard his sister mutter under her breath,
"That is a good beginning."

The civil marriage was fixed for half-past ten. The day was clear and
the sun intensely hot. In order not to excite observation the bridal
pair, the mother and the four witnesses, separated--Gervaise walked
in front, having the arm of Lorilleux, while M. Madinier gave his
to Mamma Coupeau; on the opposite sidewalk were Coupeau, Boche and
Bibi-la-Grillade. These three wore black frock coats and walked with
their arms dangling from their rounded shoulders. Boche wore yellow
pantaloons. Bibi-la-Grillade's coat was buttoned to the chin, as he
had no vest, and a wisp of a cravat was tied around his neck.

M. Madinier was the only one who wore a dress coat, a superb coat
with square tails, and people stared as he passed with the stout Mamma
Coupeau in a green shawl and black bonnet with black ribbons. Gervaise
was very sweet and gentle, wearing her blue dress and her trim little
silk mantle. She listened graciously to Lorilleux, who, in spite of
the warmth of the day, was nearly lost in the ample folds of a loose
overcoat. Occasionally she would turn her head and glance across the
street with a little smile at Coupeau, who was none too comfortable
in his new clothes. They reached the mayor's office a half-hour too
early, and their turn was not reached until nearly eleven. They sat in
the corner of the office, stiff and uneasy, pushing back their chairs
a little out of politeness each time one of the clerks passed them,
and when the magistrate appeared they all rose respectfully. They were
bidden to sit down again, which they did, and were the spectators of
three marriages--the brides in white and the bridesmaids in pink and
blue, quite fine and stylish.

When their own turn came Bibi-la-Grillade had disappeared, and Boche
hunted him up in the square, where he had gone to smoke a pipe. All
the forms were so quickly completed that the party looked at each
other in dismay, feeling as if they had been defrauded of half the
ceremony. Gervaise listened with tears in her eyes, and the old lady
wept audibly.

Then they turned to the register and wrote their names in big, crooked
letters--all but the newly made husband, who, not being able to write,
contented himself with making a cross.

Then the clerk handed the certificate to Coupeau. He, admonished by
a touch of his wife's elbow, presented him with five sous.

It was quite a long walk from the mayor's office to the church. The
men stopped midway to take a glass of beer, and Gervaise and Mamma
Coupeau drank some cassis with water. There was not a particle of
shade, for the sun was directly above their heads. The beadle awaited
them in the empty church; he hurried them toward a small chapel,
asking them indignantly if they were not ashamed to mock at religion
by coming so late. A priest came toward them with an ashen face, faint
with hunger, preceded by a boy in a dirty surplice. He hurried through
the service, gabbling the Latin phrases with sidelong glances at the
bridal party. The bride and bridegroom knelt before the altar in
considerable embarrassment, not knowing when it was necessary to kneel
and when to stand and not always understanding the gestures made by
the clerk.

The witnesses thought it more convenient to stand all the time, while
Mamma Coupeau, overcome by her tears again, shed them on a prayer book
which she had borrowed from a neighbor.

It was high noon. The last Mass was said, and the church was noisy
with the movements of the sacristans, who were putting the chairs in
their places. The center altar was being prepared for some fete, for
the hammers were heard as the decorations were being nailed up. And in
the choking dust raised by the broom of the man who was sweeping the
corner of the small altar the priest laid his cold and withered hand
on the heads of Gervaise and Coupeau with a sulky air, as if he were
uniting them as a mere matter of business or to occupy the time
between the two Masses.

When the signatures were again affixed to the register in the vestry
and the party stood outside in the sunshine, they had a sensation as
if they had been driven at full speed and were glad to rest.

"I feel as if I had been at the dentist's. We had no time to cry out
before it was all over!"

"Yes," muttered Lorilleux, "they take less than five minutes to do
what can't be undone in all one's life! Poor Cadet-Cassis!"

Gervaise kissed her new mother with tears in her eyes but with smiling
lips. She answered the old woman gently:

"Do not be afraid. I will do my best to make him happy. If things turn
out ill it shall not be my fault."

The party went at once to the Moulin d'Argent. Coupeau now walked with
his wife some little distance in advance of the others. They whispered
and laughed together and seemed to see neither the people nor the
houses nor anything that was going on about them.

At the restaurant Coupeau ordered at once some bread and ham; then
seeing that Boche and Bibi-la-Grillade were really hungry, he ordered
more wine and more meat. His mother could eat nothing, and Gervaise,
who was dying of thirst, drank glass after glass of water barely
reddened with wine.

"This is my affair," said Coupeau, going to the counter where he paid
four francs, five sous.

The guests began to arrive. Mme Fauconnier, stout and handsome, was
the first. She wore a percale gown, ecru ground with bright figures,
a rose-colored cravat and a bonnet laden with flowers. Then came Mlle
Remanjon in her scanty black dress, which seemed so entirely a part
of herself that it was doubtful if she laid it aside at night. The
Gaudron household followed. The husband, enormously stout, looked as
if his vest would burst at the least movement, and his wife, who was
nearly as huge as himself, was dressed in a delicate shade of violet
which added to her apparent size.

"Ah," cried Mme Lerat as she entered, "we are going to have a
tremendous shower!" And she bade them all look out the window
to see how black the clouds were.

Mme Lerat, Coupeau's eldest sister, was a tall, thin woman, very
masculine in appearance and talking through her nose, wearing a
puce-colored dress that was much too loose for her. It was profusely
trimmed with fringe, which made her look like a lean dog just coming
out of the water. She brandished an umbrella as she talked, as if it
had been a walking stick. As she kissed Gervaise she said:

"You have no idea how the wind blows, and it is as hot as a blast
from a furnace!"

Everybody at once declared they had felt the storm coming all the
morning. Three days of extreme heat, someone said, always ended in
a gust.

"It will blow over," said Coupeau with an air of confidence, "but
I wish my sister would come, all the same."

Mme Lorilleux, in fact, was very late. Mme Lerat had called for her,
but she had not then begun to dress. "And," said the widow in her
brother's ear, "you never saw anything like the temper she was in!"

They waited another half-hour. The sky was growing blacker and
blacker. Clouds of dust were rising along the street, and down came
the rain. And it was in the first shower that Mme Lorilleux arrived,
out of temper and out of breath, struggling with her umbrella, which
she could not close.

"I had ten minds," she exclaimed, "to turn back. I wanted you to wait
until next Saturday. I knew it would rain today--I was certain of it!"

Coupeau tried to calm her, but she quickly snubbed him. Was it he, she
would like to know, who was to pay for her dress if it were spoiled?

She wore black silk, so tight that the buttonholes were burst out, and
it showed white on the shoulders,--while the skirt was so scant that
she could not take a long step.

The other women, however, looked at her silk with envy.

She took no notice of Gervaise, who sat by the side of her
mother-in-law. She called to Lorilleux and with his aid carefully
wiped every drop of rain from her dress with her handkerchief.

Meanwhile the shower ceased abruptly, but the storm was evidently not
over, for sharp flashes of lightning darted through the black clouds.

Suddenly the rain poured down again. The men stood in front of the
door with their hands in their pockets, dismally contemplating the
scene. The women crouched together with their hands over their eyes.
They were in such terror they could not talk; when the thunder was
heard farther off they all plucked up their spirits and became
impatient, but a fine rain was falling that looked interminable.

"What are we to do?" cried Mme Lorilleux crossly.

Then Mlle Remanjon timidly observed that the sun perhaps would soon
be out, and they might yet go into the country; upon this there was
one general shout of derision.

"Nice walking it would be! And how pleasant the grass would be to sit
upon!"

Something must be done, however, to get rid of the time until dinner.
Bibi-la-Grillade proposed cards; Mme Lerat suggested storytelling.
To each proposition a thousand objections were offered. Finally when
Lorilleux proposed that the party should visit the tomb of Abelard
and Heloise his wife's indignation burst forth.

She had dressed in her best only to be drenched in the rain and to
spend the day in a wineshop, it seemed! She had had enough of the
whole thing and she would go home. Coupeau and Lorilleux held the
door, she exclaiming violently:

"Let me go; I tell you I will go!"

Her husband having induced her to listen to reason, Coupeau went to
Gervaise, who was calmly conversing with her mother-in-law and Mme
Fauconnier.

"Have you nothing to propose?" he asked, not venturing to add any term
of endearment.

"No," she said with a smile, "but I am ready to do anything you wish.
I am very well suited as I am."

Her face was indeed as sunny as a morning in May. She spoke to
everyone kindly and sympathetically. During the storm she had sat
with her eyes riveted on the clouds, as if by the light of those
lurid flashes she was reading the solemn book of the future.

M. Madinier had proposed nothing; he stood leaning against the counter
with a pompous air; he spat upon the ground, wiped his mouth with the
back of his hand and rolled his eyes about.

"We could go to the Musee du Louvre, I suppose," and he smoothed his
chin while awaiting the effect of this proposition.

"There are antiquities there--statues, pictures, lots of things. It
is very instructive. Have any of you been there?" he asked.

They all looked at each other. Gervaise had never even heard of the
place, nor had Mme Fauconnier nor Boche. Coupeau thought he had been
there one Sunday, but he was not sure, but Mme Lorilleux, on whom
Madinier's air of importance had produced a profound impression,
approved of the idea. The day was wasted anyway; therefore, if a
little instruction could be got it would be well to try it. As
the rain was still falling, they borrowed old umbrellas of every
imaginable hue from the establishment and started forth for the
Musee du Louvre.

There were twelve of them, and they walked in couples, Mme Lorilleux
with Madinier, to whom she grumbled all the way.

"We know nothing about her," she said, "not even where he picked her
up. My husband has already lent them ten francs, and whoever heard of
a bride without a single relation? She said she had a sister in Paris.
Where is she today, I should like to know!"

She checked herself and pointed to Gervaise, whose lameness was very
perceptible as she descended the hill.

"Just look at her!" she muttered. "Wooden legs!"

This epithet was heard by Mme Fauconnier, who took up the cudgels for
Gervaise who, she said, was as neat as a pin and worked like a tiger.

The wedding party, coming out of La Rue St-Denis, crossed the
boulevard under their umbrellas amid the pouring rain, driving here
and there among the carriages. The drivers, as they pulled up their
horses, shouted to them to look out, with an oath. On the gray and
muddy sidewalk the procession was very conspicuous--the blue dress of
the bride, the canary-colored breeches of one of the men, Madinier's
square-tailed coat--all gave a carnivallike air to the group. But it
was the hats of the party that were the most amusing, for they were
of all heights, sizes and styles. The shopkeepers on the boulevard
crowded to their windows to enjoy the drollery of the sight.
The wedding procession, quite undisturbed by the observation it
excited, went gaily on. They stopped for a moment on the Place des
Victoire--the bride's shoestring was untied--she fastened it at the
foot of the statue of Louis XIV, her friends waiting as she did so.

Finally they reached the Louvre. Here Madinier politely asked
permission to take the head of the party; the place was so large,
he said, that it was a very easy thing to lose oneself; he knew the
prettiest rooms and the things best worth seeing, because he had
often been there with an artist, a very intelligent fellow, from
whom a great manufacturer of pasteboard boxes bought pictures.

The party entered the museum of Assyrian antiquities. They shivered
and walked about, examining the colossal statues, the gods in black
marble, strange beasts and monstrosities, half cats and half women.
This was not amusing, and an inscription in Phoenician characters
appalled them. Who on earth had ever read such stuff as that? It
was meaningless nonsense!

But Madinier shouted to them from the stairs, "Come on! That is
nothing! Much more interesting things up here, I assure you!"

The severe nudity of the great staircase cast a gloom over their
spirits; an usher in livery added to their awe, and it was with great
respect and on the tips of their toes they entered the French gallery.

How many statues! How many pictures! They wished they had all the
money they had cost.

In the Gallerie d'Apollon the floor excited their admiration; it was
smooth as glass; even the feet of the sofas were reflected in it.
Madinier bade them look at the ceiling and at its many beauties of
decoration, but they said they dared not look up. Then before entering
the Salon Carre he pointed to the window and said:

"That is the balcony where Charles IX fired on the people!"

With a magnificent gesture he ordered his party to stand still in the
center of the Salon Carre.

"There are only chefs-d'oeuvres here," he whispered as solemnly as if
he had been in a church.

They walked around the salon. Gervaise asked the meaning of one of
the pictures, the _Noces de Cana_; Coupeau stopped before _La
Joconde_, declaring that it was like one of his aunts.

Boche and Bibi-la-Grillade snickered and pushed each other at the
sight of the nude female figures, and the Gaudrons, husband and wife,
stood open-mouthed and deeply touched before Murillo's Virgin.

When they had been once around the room Madinier, who was quite
attentive to Mme Lorilleux on account of her silk gown, proposed
they should do it over again; it was well worth it, he said.

He never hesitated in replying to any question which she addressed
to him in her thirst for information, and when she stopped before
Titian's Mistress, whose yellow hair struck her as like her own, he
told her it was a mistress of Henri IV, who was the heroine of a play
then running at the Ambigu.

The wedding party finally entered the long gallery devoted to the
Italian and Flemish schools of art. The pictures were all meaningless
to them, and their heads were beginning to ache. They felt a thrill
of interest, however, in the copyists with their easels, who painted
without being disturbed by spectators. The artists scattered through
the rooms had heard that a primitive wedding party was making a tour
of the Louvre and hurried with laughing faces to enjoy the scene,
while the weary bride and bridegroom, accompanied by their friends,
clumsily moved about over the shining, resounding floors much like
cattle let loose and with quite as keen an appreciation of the
marvelous beauties about them.

The women vowed their backs were broken standing so long, and
Madinier, declaring he knew the way, said they would leave after he
had shown them a certain room to which he could go with his eyes shut.
But he was very much mistaken. Salon succeeded to salon, and finally
the party went up a flight of stairs and found themselves among
cannons and other instruments of war. Madinier, unwilling to confess
that he had lost himself, wandered distractedly about, declaring that
the doors had been changed. The party began to feel that they were
there for life, when suddenly to their great joy they heard the cry
of the janitors resounding from room to room.

"Time to close the doors!"

They meekly followed one of them, and when they were outside they
uttered a sigh of relief as they put up their umbrellas once more,
but one and all affected great pleasure at having been to the Louvre.

The clock struck four. There were two hours to dispose of before
dinner. The women would have liked to rest, but the men were more
energetic and proposed another walk, during which so tremendous a
shower fell that umbrellas were useless and dresses were irretrievably
ruined. Then M. Madinier suggested that they should ascend the column
on the Place Vendome.

"It is not a bad idea," cried the men. And the procession began the
ascent of the spiral staircase, which Boche said was so old that he
could feel it shake. This terrified the ladies, who uttered little
shrieks, but Coupeau said nothing; his arm was around his wife's
waist, and just as they emerged upon the platform he kissed her.

"Upon my word!" cried Mme Lorilleux, much scandalized.

Madinier again constituted himself master of ceremonies and pointed
out all the monuments, but Mme Fauconnier would not put her foot
outside the little door; she would not look down on that pavement for
all the world, she said, and the party soon tired of this amusement
and descended the stairs. At the foot Madinier wished to pay, but
Coupeau interfered and put into the hand of the guard twenty-four
sous--two for each person. It was now half-past five; they had just
time to get to the restaurant, but Coupeau proposed a glass of
vermouth first, and they entered a cabaret for that purpose.

When they returned to the Moulin d'Argent they found Mme Boche with
the two children, talking to Mamma Coupeau near the table, already
spread and waiting. When Gervaise saw Claude and Etienne she took
them both on her knees and kissed them lovingly.

"Have they been good?" she asked.

"I should think Coupeau would feel rather queer!" said Mme Lorilleux
as she looked on grimly.

Gervaise had been calm and smiling all day, but she had quietly
watched her husband with the Lorilleuxs. She thought Coupeau was
afraid of his sister--cowardly, in fact. The evening previous he had
said he did not care a sou for their opinion on any subject and that
they had the tongues of vipers, but now he was with them, he was like
a whipped hound, hung on their words and anticipated their wishes.
This troubled his wife, for it augured ill, she thought, for their
future happiness.

"We won't wait any longer for Mes-Bottes," cried Coupeau. "We are all
here but him, and his scent is good! Surely he can't be waiting for us
still at St-Denis!"

The guests, in good spirits once more, took their seats with a great
clatter of chairs.

Gervaise was between Lorilleux and Madinier, and Coupeau between Mme
Fauconnier and his sister Mme Lorilleux. The others seated themselves.

"No one has asked a blessing," said Boche as the ladies pulled the
tablecloth well over their skirts to protect them from spots.

But Mme Lorilleux frowned at this poor jest. The vermicelli soup,
which was cold and greasy, was eaten with noisy haste. Two
_garcons_ served them, wearing aprons of a very doubtful white
and greasy vests.

Through the four windows, open on the courtyard and its acacias,
streamed the light, soft and warm, after the storm. The trees, bathed
in the setting sun, imparted a cool, green tinge to the dingy room,
and the shadows of the waving branches and quivering leaves danced
over the cloth.

There were two fly-specked mirrors at either end of the room, which
indefinitely lengthened the table spread with thick china. Every time
the _garcons_ opened the door into the kitchen there came a strong
smell of burning fat.

"Don't let us all talk at once!" said Boche as a dead silence fell on
the room, broken by the abrupt entrance of Mes-Bottes.

"You are nice people!" he exclaimed. "I have been waiting for you
until I am wet through and have a fishpond in each pocket."

This struck the circle as the height of wit, and they all laughed
while he ordered the _garcon_ to and fro. He devoured three plates of
soup and enormous slices of bread. The head of the establishment came
and looked in in considerable anxiety; a laugh ran around the room.
Mes-Bottes recalled to their memories a day when he had eaten twelve
hard-boiled eggs and drunk twelve glasses of wine while the clock was
striking twelve.

There was a brief silence. A waiter placed on the table a rabbit stew
in a deep dish. Coupeau turned round.

"Say, boy, is that a gutter rabbit? It mews still."

And the low mewing of a cat seemed, indeed, to come from the dish.
This delicate joke was perpetrated by Coupeau in the throat, without
the smallest movement of his lips. This feat always met with such
success that he never ordered a meal anywhere without a rabbit stew.
The ladies wiped their eyes with their napkins because they laughed
so much.

Mme Fauconnier begged for the head--she adored the head--and Boche
asked especially for onions.

Mme Lerat compressed her lips and said morosely:

"Of course. I might have known that!"

Mme Lerat was a hard-working woman. No man had ever put his nose
within her door since her widowhood, and yet her instincts were
thoroughly bad; every word uttered by others bore to her ears a double
meaning, a coarse allusion sometimes so deeply veiled that no one but
herself could grasp its meaning.

Boche leaned over her with a sensual smile and entreated an
explanation. She shook her head.

"Of course," she repeated. "Onions! I knew it!"

Everybody was talking now, each of his own trade. Madinier declared
that boxmaking was an art, and he cited the New Year bonbon boxes as
wonders of luxury. Lorilleux talked of his chains, of their delicacy
and beauty. He said that in former times jewelers wore swords at their
sides. Coupeau described a weathercock made by one of his comrades out
of tin. Mme Lerat showed Bibi-la-Grillade how a rose stem was made by
rolling the handle of her knife between her bony fingers, and Mme
Fauconnier complained loudly of one of her apprentices who the night
before had badly scorched a pair of linen sheets.

"It is no use to talk!" cried Lorilleux, striking his fist on the
table. "Gold is gold!"

A profound silence followed the utterance of this truism, amid which
arose from the other end of the table the piping tones of Mlle
Remanjon's voice as she said:

"And then I sew on the skirt. I stick a pin in the head to hold on
the cap, and it is done. They sell for three cents."

She was describing her dolls to Mes-Bottes, whose jaws worked
steadily, like machinery.

He did not listen, but he nodded at intervals, with his eyes fixed
on the _garcons_ to see that they carried away no dishes that were
not emptied.

There had been veal cutlets and string beans served. As a _roti,_
two lean chickens on a bed of water cresses were brought in. The room
was growing very warm; the sun was lingering on the tops of the
acacias, but the room was growing dark. The men threw off their coats
and ate in their shirt sleeves.

"Mme Boche," cried Gervaise, "please don't let those children eat
so much."

But Mme Coupeau interposed and declared that for once in a while a
little fit of indigestion would do them no harm.

Mme Boche accused her husband of holding Mme Lerat's hand under the
table.

Madinier talked politics. He was a Republican, and Bibi-la-Grillade
and himself were soon in a hot discussion.

"Who cares," cried Coupeau, "whether we have a king, an emperor or
a president, so long as we earn our five francs per day!"

Lorilleux shook his head. He was born on the same day as the Comte de
Chambord, September 29, 1820, and this coincidence dwelt in his mind.
He seemed to feel that there was a certain connection between the
return of the king to France and his own personal fortunes. He did
not say distinctly what he expected, but it was clear that it was
something very agreeable.

The dessert was now on the table--a floating island flanked by two
plates of cheese and two of fruit. The floating island was a great
success. Mes-Bottes ate all the cheese and called for more bread. And
then as some of the custard was left in the dish, he pulled it toward
him and ate it as if it had been soup.

"How extraordinary!" said Madinier, filled with admiration.

The men rose to light their pipes and, as they passed Mes-Bottes,
asked him how he felt.

Bibi-la-Grillade lifted him from the floor, chair and all.

"Zounds!" he cried. "The fellow's weight has doubled!"

Coupeau declared his friend had only just begun his night's work,
that he would eat bread until dawn. The waiters, pale with fright,
disappeared. Boche went downstairs on a tour of inspection and
stated that the establishment was in a state of confusion, that the
proprietor, in consternation, had sent out to all the bakers in the
neighborhood, that the house, in fact, had an utterly ruined aspect.

"I should not like to take you to board," said Mme Gaudron.

"Let us have a punch," cried Mes-Bottes.

But Coupeau, seeing his wife's troubled face, interfered and said no
one should drink anything more. They had all had enough.

This declaration met with the approval of some of the party, but the
others sided with Mes-Bottes.

"Those who are thirsty are thirsty," he said. "No one need drink that
does not wish to do so, I am sure." And he added with a wink, "There
will be all the more for those who do!"

Then Coupeau said they would settle the account, and his friend could
do as he pleased afterward.

Alas! Mes-Bottes could produce only three francs; he had changed his
five-franc piece, and the remainder had melted away somehow on the
road from St-Denis. He handed over the three francs, and Coupeau,
greatly indignant, borrowed the other two from his brother-in-law,
who gave the money secretly, being afraid of his wife.

M. Madinier had taken a plate. The ladies each laid down their five
francs quietly and timidly, and then the men retreated to the other
end of the room and counted up the amount, and each man added to his
subscription five sous for the _garcon_.

But when M. Madinier sent for the proprietor the little assembly were
shocked at hearing him say that this was not all; there were "extras."

As this was received with exclamations of rage, he went into
explanations. He had furnished twenty-five liters of wine instead of
twenty, as he agreed. The floating island was an addition, on seeing
that the dessert was somewhat scanty, whereupon ensued a formidable
quarrel. Coupeau declared he would not pay a sou of the extras.

"There is your money," he said; "take it, and never again will one
of us step a foot under your roof!"

"I want six francs more," muttered the man.

The women gathered about in great indignation; not a centime would
they give, they declared.

Mme Fauconnier had had a wretched dinner; she said she could have had
a better one at home for forty sous. Such arrangements always turned
out badly, and Mme Gaudron declared aloud that if people wanted their
friends at their weddings they usually invited them out and out.

Gervaise took refuge with her mother-in-law in a distant window,
feeling heartily ashamed of the whole scene.

M. Madinier went downstairs with the man, and low mutterings of the
storm reached the party. At the end of a half-hour he reappeared,
having yielded to the extent of paying three francs, but no one was
satisfied, and they all began a discussion in regard to the extras.

The evening was spoiled, as was Mme Lerat's dress; there was no end
to the chapter of accidents.

"I know," cried Mme Lorilleux, "that the _garcon_ spilled gravy
from the chickens down my back." She twisted and turned herself
before the mirror until she succeeded in finding the spot.

"Yes, I knew it," she cried, "and he shall pay for it, as true as
I live. I wish I had remained at home!"

She left in a rage, and Lorilleux at her heels.

When Coupeau saw her go he was in actual consternation, and Gervaise
saw that it was best to make a move at once. Mme Boche had agreed to
keep the children with her for a day or two.

Coupeau and his wife hurried out in the hope of overtaking Mme
Lorilleux which they soon did. Lorilleux, with the kindly desire
of making all smooth said:

"We will go to your door with you."

"Your door, indeed!" cried his wife, and then pleasantly went on to
express her surprise that they did not postpone their marriage until
they had saved enough to buy a little furniture and move away from
that hole up under the roof.

"But I have given up that room," said her brother. "We shall have
the one Gervaise occupies; it is larger."

Mme Lorilleux forgot herself; she wheeled around suddenly.

"What!" she exclaimed. "You are going to live in Wooden Legs' room?"

Gervaise turned pale. This name she now heard for the first time,
and it was like a slap in the face. She heard much more in her
sister-in-law's exclamation than met the ear. That room to which
allusion was made was the one where she had lived with Lantier for a
whole month, where she had wept such bitter tears, but Coupeau did not
understand that; he was only wounded by the name applied to his wife.

"It is hardly wise of you," he said sullenly, "to nickname people
after that fashion, as perhaps you are not aware of what you are
called in your _Quartier_. Cow's-Tail is not a very nice name,
but they have given it to you on account of your hair. Why should
we not keep that room? It is a very good one."

Mme Lorilleux would not answer. Her dignity was sadly disturbed at
being called Cow's-Tail.

They walked on in silence until they reached the Hotel Boncoeur, and
just as Coupeau gave the two women a push toward each other and bade
them kiss and be friends, a man who wished to pass them on the right
gave a violent lurch to the left and came between them.

"Look out!" cried Lorilleux. "It is Father Bazonge. He is pretty full
tonight."

Gervaise, in great terror, flew toward the door. Father Bazonge was
a man of fifty; his clothes were covered with mud where he had fallen
in the street.

"You need not be afraid," continued Lorilleux; "he will do you no
harm. He is a neighbor of ours--the third room on the left in our
corridor."

But Father Bazonge was talking to Gervaise. "I am not going to eat
you, little one," he said. "I have drunk too much, I know very well,
but when the work is done the machinery should be greased a little
now and then."

Gervaise retreated farther into the doorway and with difficulty kept
back a sob. She nervously entreated Coupeau to take the man away.

Bazonge staggered off, muttering as he did so:

"You won't mind it so much one of these days, my dear. I know
something about women. They make a great fuss, but they get used
to it all the same."



CHAPTER IV

A HAPPY HOME

Four years of hard and incessant toil followed this day. Gervaise and
Coupeau were wise and prudent. They worked hard and took a little
relaxation on Sundays. The wife worked twelve hours of the twenty-four
with Mme Fauconnier and yet found time to keep her own home like
waxwork. The husband was never known to be tipsy but brought home his
wages and smoked his pipe at his own window at night before going to
bed. They were the bright and shining lights, the good example of the
whole _Quartier_, and as they made jointly about nine francs per
day, it was easy to see they were putting by money.

But in the first few months of their married life they were obliged to
trim their sails closely and had some trouble to make both ends meet.
They took a great dislike to the Hotel Boncoeur. They longed for a
home of their own with their own furniture. They estimated the cost
over and over again and decided that for three hundred and fifty
francs they could venture, but they had little hope of saving such a
sum in less than two years, when a stroke of good luck befell them.

An old gentleman in Plassans sent for Claude to place him at school.
He was a very eccentric old gentleman, fond of pictures and art.
Claude was a great expense to his mother, and when Etienne alone was
at home they saved the three hundred and fifty francs in seven months.
The day they purchased their furniture they took a long and happy walk
together, for it was an important step they had taken--important not
only in their own eyes but in those of the people around them.

For two months they had been looking for an apartment. They wished,
of all things, to take one in the old house where Mme Lorilleux
lived, but there was not one single room to be rented, and they were
compelled to relinquish the idea. Gervaise was reconciled to this more
easily, since she did not care to be thrown in any closer contact with
the Lorilleuxs. They looked further. It was essential that Gervaise
should be near her friend and employer Mme Fauconnier, and they
finally succeeded in their search and were indeed in wonderful luck,
for they obtained a large room with a kitchen and tiny bedroom just
opposite the establishment of the laundress. It was a small house,
two stories, with one steep staircase, and was divided into two
lodgings--the one on the right, the other on the left, while the
lower floor was occupied by a carriage maker.

Gervaise was delighted. It seemed to her that she was once more in the
country--no neighbors, no gossip, no interference--and from the place
where she stood and ironed all day at Mme Fauconnier's she could see
the windows of her own room.

They moved in the month of April. Gervaise was then near her
confinement, but it was she who cleaned and put in order her new home.
Every penny as of consequence, she said with pride, now that they
would soon have another other mouth to feed. She rubbed her furniture,
which was of old mahogany, good, but secondhand, until it shone like
glass and was quite brokenhearted when she discovered a scratch. She
held her breath if she knocked it when sweeping. The commode was her
especial pride; it was so dignified and stately. Her pet dream, which,
however, she kept to herself, was someday to have a clock to put
in the center of the marble slab. If there had not been a baby in
prospect she would have purchased this much-coveted article at once,
but she sighed and dismissed the thought.

Etienne's bed was placed in the tiny room, almost a closet, and there
was room for the cradle by its side. The kitchen was about as big as
one's hand and very dark, but by leaving the door open one could see
pretty well, and as Gervaise had no big dinners to get she managed
comfortably. The large room was her pride. In the morning the white
curtains of the alcove were drawn, and the bedroom was transformed
into a lovely dining room, with its table in the middle, the commode
and a wardrobe opposite each other. A tiny stove kept them warm in
cold weather for seven sous per day.

Coupeau ornamented the walls with several engravings--one of a marshal
of France on a spirited steed, with his baton in his hand. Above the
commode were the photographs of the family, arranged in two lines,
with an antique china _benitier_ between. On the corners of the
commode a bust of Pascal faced another of Beranger--one grave, the
other smiling. It was, indeed, a fair and pleasant home.

"How much do you think we pay here?" Gervaise would ask of each new
visitor.

And when too high an estimate was given she was charmed.

"One hundred and fifty francs--not a penny more," she would exclaim.
"Is it not wonderful?"

No small portion of the woman's satisfaction arose from an acacia
which grew in her courtyard, one of whose branches crossed her window,
and the scanty foliage was a whole wilderness to her.

Her baby was born one afternoon. She would not allow her husband to be
sent for, and when he came gaily into the room he was welcomed by his
pale wife, who whispered to him as he stooped over her:

"My dear, it is a girl."

"All right!" said the tinworker, jesting to hide his real emotion.
"I ordered a girl. You always do just what I want!"

He took up the child.

"Let us have a good look at you, young lady! The down on the top of
your head is pretty black, I think. Now you must never squall but be
as good and reasonable always as your papa and mamma."

Gervaise, with a faint smile and sad eyes, looked at her daughter. She
shook her head. She would have preferred a boy, because boys run less
risks in a place like Paris. The nurse took the baby from the father's
hands and told Gervaise she must not talk. Coupeau said he must go and
tell his mother and sister the news, but he was famished and must eat
something first. His wife was greatly disturbed at seeing him wait
upon himself, and she tossed about a little and complained that she
could not make him comfortable.

"You must be quiet," said the nurse again.

"It is lucky you are here, or she would be up and cutting my bread
for me," said Coupeau.

He finally set forth to announce the news to his family and returned
in an hour with them all.

The Lorilleuxs, under the influence of the prosperity of their brother
and his wife, had become extremely amiable toward them and only lifted
their eyebrows in a significant sort of way, as much as to say that
they could tell something if they pleased.

"You must not talk, you understand," said Coupeau, "but they would
come and take a peep at you, and I am going to make them some coffee."

He disappeared into the kitchen, and the women discussed the size of
the baby and whom it resembled. Meanwhile Coupeau was heard banging
round in the kitchen, and his wife nervously called out to him and
told him where the things were that he wanted, but her husband rose
superior to all difficulties and soon appeared with the smoking
coffeepot, and they all seated themselves around the table, except the
nurse, who drank a cup standing and then departed; all was going well,
and she was not needed. If she was wanted in the morning they could
send for her.

Gervaise lay with a faint smile on her lips. She only half heard what
was said by those about her. She had no strength to speak; it seemed
to her that she was dead. She heard the word baptism. Coupeau saw no
necessity for the ceremony and was quite sure, too, that the child
would take cold. In his opinion, the less one had to do with priests,
the better. His mother was horrified and called him a heathen, while
the Lorilleuxs claimed to be religious people also.

"It had better be on Sunday," said his sister in a decided tone, and
Gervaise consented with a little nod. Everybody kissed her and then
the baby, addressing it with tender epithets, as if it could
understand, and departed.

When Coupeau was alone with his wife he took her hand and held it
while he finished his pipe.

"I could not help their coming," he said, "but I am sure they have
given you the headache." And the rough, clumsy man kissed his wife
tenderly, moved by a great pity for all she had borne for his sake.

And Gervaise was very happy. She told him so and said her only anxiety
now was to be on her feet again as soon as possible, for they had
another mouth to feed. He soothed her and asked if she could not trust
him to look out for their little one.

In the morning when he went to his work he sent Mme Boche to spend the
day with his wife, who at night told him she never could consent to
lie still any longer and see a stranger going about her room, and the
next day she was up and would not be taken care of again. She had no
time for such nonsense! She said it would do for rich women but not
for her, and in another week she was at Mme Fauconnier's again at
work.

Mme Lorilleux, who was the baby's godmother, appeared on Saturday
evening with a cap and baptismal robe, which she had bought cheap
because they had lost their first freshness. The next day Lorilleux,
as godfather, gave Gervaise six pounds of sugar. They flattered
themselves they knew how to do things properly and that evening, at
the supper given by Coupeau, did not appear empty-handed. Lorilleux
came with a couple of bottles of wine under each arm, and his wife
brought a large custard which was a specialty of a certain restaurant.

Yes, they knew how to do things, these people, but they also liked
to tell of what they did, and they told everyone they saw in the next
month that they had spent twenty francs, which came to the ears of
Gervaise, who was none too well pleased.

It was at this supper that Gervaise became acquainted with her
neighbors on the other side of the house. These were Mme Goujet, a
widow, and her son. Up to this time they had exchanged a good morning
when they met on the stairs or in the street, but as Mme Goujet had
rendered some small services on the first day of her illness, Gervaise
invited them on the occasion of the baptism.

These people were from the _Department du Nond_. The mother
repaired laces, while the son, a blacksmith by trade, worked in
a factory.

They had lived in their present apartment for five years. Beneath the
peaceful calm of their lives lay a great sorrow. Goujet, the husband
and father, had killed a man in a fit of furious intoxication
and then, while in prison, had choked himself with his pocket
handkerchief. His widow and child left Lille after this and came to
Paris, with the weight of this tragedy on their hearts and heads, and
faced the future with indomitable courage and sweet patience. Perhaps
they were overproud and reserved, for they held themselves aloof
from those about them. Mme Goujet always wore mourning, and her pale,
serene face was encircled with nunlike bands of white. Goujet was a
colossus of twenty-three with a clear, fresh complexion and honest
eyes. At the manufactory he went by the name of the Gueule-d'Or on
account of his beautiful blond beard.

Gervaise took a great fancy to these people and when she first entered
their apartment and was charmed with the exquisite cleanliness of all
she saw. Mme Goujet opened the door into her son's room to show it
to her. It was as pretty and white as the chamber of a young girl.
A narrow iron bed, white curtains and quilt, a dressing table and
bookshelves made up the furniture. A few colored engravings were
pinned against the wall, and Mme Goujet said that her son was a good
deal of a boy still--he liked to look at pictures rather than read.
Gervaise sat for an hour with her neighbor, watching her at work with
her cushion, its numberless pins and the pretty lace.

The more she saw of her new friends the better Gervaise liked them.
They were frugal but not parsimonious. They were the admiration of
the neighborhood. Goujet was never seen with a hole or a spot on his
garments. He was very polite to all but a little diffident, in spite
of his height and broad shoulders. The girls in the street were much
amused to see him look away when they met him; he did not fancy their
ways--their forward boldness and loud laughs. One day he came home
tipsy. His mother uttered no word of reproach but brought out a
picture of his father which was piously preserved in her wardrobe. And
after that lesson Goujet drank no more liquor, though he conceived no
hatred for wine.

On Sunday he went out with his mother, who was his idol. He went to
her with all his troubles and with all his joys, as he had done when
little.

At first he took no interest in Gervaise, but after a while he began
to like her and treated her like a sister, with abrupt familiarity.

Cadet-Cassis, who was a thorough Parisian, thought Gueule-d'Or very
stupid. What was the sense of turning away from all the pretty girls
he met in the street? But this did not prevent the two young fellows
from liking each other very heartily.

For three years the lives of these people flowed tranquilly on
without an event. Gervaise had been elevated in the laundry where
she worked, had higher wages and decided to place Etienne at school.
Notwithstanding all her expenses of the household, they were able to
save twenty and thirty francs each month. When these savings amounted
to six hundred francs Gervaise could not rest, so tormented was she by
ambitious dreams. She wished to open a small establishment herself and
hire apprentices in her turn. She hesitated, naturally, to take the
definite steps and said they would look around for a shop that would
answer their purpose; their money in the savings bank was quietly
rolling up. She had bought her clock, the object of her ambition; it
was to be paid for in a year--so much each month. It was a wonderful
clock, rosewood with fluted columns and gilt moldings and pendulum.
She kept her bankbook under the glass shade, and often when she was
thinking of her shop she stood with her eyes fixed on the clock, as
if she were waiting for some especial and solemn moment.

The Coupeaus and the Goujets now went out on Sundays together. It was
an orderly party with a dinner at some quiet restaurant. The men drank
a glass or two of wine and came home with the ladies and counted up
and settled the expenditures of the day before they separated.
The Lorilleuxs were bitterly jealous of these new friends of their
brother's. They declared it had a very queer look to see him and his
wife always with strangers rather than with his own family, and Mme
Lorilleux began to say hateful things again of Gervaise. Mme Lerat,
on the contrary, took her part, while Mamma Coupeau tried to please
everyone.

The day that Nana--which was the pet name given to the little
girl--was three years old Coupeau, on coming in, found his wife in
a state of great excitement. She refused to give any explanation,
saying, in fact, there really was nothing the matter, but she finally
became so abstracted that she stood still with the plates in her hand
as she laid the table for dinner, and her husband insisted on an
explanation.

"If you must know," she said, "that little shop in La Rue de la
Goutte-d'Or is vacant. I heard so only an hour ago, and it struck
me all of a heap!"

It was a very nice shop in the very house of which they had so often
thought. There was the shop itself--a back room--and two others. They
were small, to be sure, but convenient and well arranged; only she
thought it dear--five hundred francs.

"You asked the price then?"

"Yes, I asked it just out of curiosity," she answered with an air of
indifference, "but it is too dear, decidedly too dear. It would be
unwise, I think, to take it."

But she could talk of nothing else the whole evening. She drew the
plan of the rooms on the margin of a newspaper, and as she talked she
measured the furniture, as if they were to move the next day. Then
Coupeau, seeing her great desire to have the place, declared he would
see the owner the next morning, for it was possible he would take less
than five hundred francs, but how would she like to live so near his
sister, whom she detested?

Gervaise was displeased at this and said she detested no one and even
defended the Lorilleuxs, declaring they were not so bad, after all.
And when Coupeau was asleep her busy brain was at work arranging the
rooms which as yet they had not decided to hire.

The next day when she was alone she lifted the shade from the clock
and opened her bankbook. Just to think that her shop and future
prosperity lay between those dirty leaves!

Before going to her work she consulted Mme Goujet, who approved of the
plan. With a husband like hers, who never drank, she could not fail
of success. At noon she called on her sister-in-law to ask her advice,
for she did not wish to have the air of concealing anything from the
family.

Mme Lorilleux was confounded. What, did Wooden Legs think of having
an establishment of her own? And with an envious heart she stammered
out that it would be very well, certainly, but when she had recovered
herself a little she began to talk of the dampness of the courtyard
and of the darkness of the _rez-de-chaussee_. Oh yes, it was a
capital place for rheumatism, but of course if her mind was made up
anything she could say would make no difference.

That night Gervaise told her husband that if he had thrown any
obstacles in the way of her taking the shop she believed she should
have fallen sick and died, so great was her longing. But before they
came to any decision they must see if a diminution of the rent could
be obtained.

"We can go tomorrow if you say so," was her husband's reply; "you can
call for me at six o'clock."

Coupeau was then completing the roof of a three-storied house and
was laying the very last sheets of zinc. It was May and a cloudless
evening. The sun was low in the horizon, and against the blue sky the
figure of Coupeau was clearly defined as he cut his zinc as quietly
as a tailor might have cut out a pair of breeches in his workshop. His
assistant, a lad of seventeen, was blowing up the furnace with a pair
of bellows, and at each puff a great cloud of sparks arose.

"Put in the irons, Zidore!" shouted Coupeau.

The boy thrust the irons among the coals which showed only a dull pink
in the sunlight and then went to work again with his bellows. Coupeau
took up his last sheet of zinc. It was to be placed on the edge of the
roof, near the gutter. Just at that spot the roof was very steep. The
man walked along in his list slippers much as if he had been at home,
whistling a popular melody. He allowed himself to slip a little and
caught at the chimney, calling to Zidore as he did so:

"Why in thunder don't you bring the irons? What are you staring at?"

But Zidore, quite undisturbed, continued to stare at a cloud of heavy
black smoke that was rising in the direction of Grenelle. He wondered
if it were a fire, but he crawled with the irons toward Coupeau, who
began to solder the zinc, supporting himself on the point of one foot
or by one finger, not rashly, but with calm deliberation and perfect
coolness. He knew what he could do and never lost his head. His pipe
was in his mouth, and he would occasionally turn to spit down into
the street below.

"Hallo, Madame Boche!" he cried as he suddenly caught sight of his
old friend crossing the street. "How are you today?"

She looked up, laughed, and a brisk conversation ensued between the
roof and the street. She stood with her hands under her apron and her
face turned up, while he, with one arm round a flue, leaned over the
side of the house.

"Have you seen my wife?" he asked.

"No indeed; is she anywhere round?"

"She is coming for me. Is everyone well with you?"

"Yes, all well, thanks. I am going to a butcher near here who sells
cheaper than up our way."

They raised their voices because a carriage was passing, and this
brought to a neighboring window a little old woman, who stood in
breathless horror, expecting to see the man fall from the roof in
another minute.

"Well, good night," cried Mme Boche. "I must not detain you from your
work."

Coupeau turned and took the iron Zidore held out to him. At the same
moment Mme Boche saw Gervaise coming toward her with little Nana
trotting at her side. She looked up to the roof to tell Coupeau, but
Gervaise closed her lips with an energetic signal, and then as she
reached the old concierge she said in a low voice that she was always
in deadly terror that her husband would fall. She never dared look at
him when he was in such places.

"It is not very agreeable, I admit," answered Mme Boche. "My man is
a tailor, and I am spared all this."

"At first," continued Gervaise, "I had not a moment's peace. I saw
him in my dreams on a litter, but now I have got accustomed to it
somewhat."

She looked up, keeping Nana behind her skirts, lest the child should
call out and startle her father, who was at that moment on the extreme
edge. She saw the soldering iron and the tiny flame that rose as he
carefully passed it along the edges of the zinc. Gervaise, pale with
suspense and fear, raised her hands mechanically with a gesture of
supplication. Coupeau ascended the steep roof with a slow step, then
glancing down, he beheld his wife.

"You are watching me, are you?" he cried gaily. "Ah, Madame Boche, is
she not a silly one? She was afraid to speak to me. Wait ten minutes,
will you?"

The two women stood on the sidewalk, having as much as they could do
to restrain Nana, who insisted on fishing in the gutter.

The old woman still stood at the window, looking up at the roof and
waiting.

"Just see her," said Mme Boche. "What is she looking at?"

Coupeau was heard lustily singing; with the aid of a pair of compasses
he had drawn some lines and now proceeded to cut a large fan; this he
adroitly, with his tools, folded into the shape of a pointed mushroom.
Zidore was again heating the irons. The sun was setting just behind
the house, and the whole western sky was flushed with rose, fading
to a soft violet, and against this sky the figures of the two men,
immeasurably exaggerated, stood clearly out, as well as the strange
form of the zinc which Coupeau was then manipulating.

"Zidore! The irons!"

But Zidore was not to be seen. His master, with an oath, shouted down
the scuttle window which was open near by and finally discovered him
two houses off. The boy was taking a walk, apparently, with his scanty
blond hair blowing all about his head.

"Do you think you are in the country?" cried Coupeau in a fury. "You
are another Beranger, perhaps--composing verses! Will you have the
kindness to give me my irons? Whoever heard the like? Give me my
irons, I say!"

The irons hissed as he applied them, and he called to Gervaise:

"I am coming!"

The chimney to which he had fitted this cap was in the center of the
roof. Gervaise stood watching him, soothed by his calm self-possession.
Nana clapped her little hands.

"Papa! Papa!" she cried. "Look!"

The father turned; his foot slipped; he rolled down the roof slowly,
unable to catch at anything.

"Good God!" he said in a choked voice, and he fell; his body turned
over twice and crashed into the middle of the street with the dull
thud of a bundle of wet linen.

Gervaise stood still. A shriek was frozen on her lips. Mme Boche
snatched Nana in her arms and hid her head that she might not see,
and the little old woman opposite, who seemed to have waited for this
scene in the drama, quietly closed her windows.

Four men bore Coupeau to a druggist's at the corner, where he lay for
an hour while a litter was sent for from the Hospital Lariboisiere.
He was breathing still, but that was all. Gervaise knelt at his side,
hysterically sobbing. Every minute or two, in spite of the prohibition
of the druggist, she touched him to see if he were still warm. When
the litter arrived and they spoke of the hospital, she started up,
saying violently:

"No--no! Not to the hospital--to our own home."

In vain did they tell her that the expenses would be very great if
she nursed him at home.

"No--no!" she said. "I will show them the way. He is my husband,
is he not? And I will take care of him myself."

And Coupeau was carried home, and as the litter was borne through the
_Quartier_ the women crowded together and extolled Gervaise. She
was a little lame, to be sure, but she was very energetic, and she
would save her man.

Mme Boche took Nana home and then went about among her friends to tell
the story with interminable details.

"I saw him fall," she said. "It was all because of the child; he was
going to speak to her, when down he went. Good lord! I trust I may
never see such another sight."

For a week Coupeau's life hung on a thread. His family and his friends
expected to see him die from one hour to another. The physician, an
experienced physician whose every visit cost five francs, talked of
a lesion, and that word was in itself very terrifying to all but
Gervaise, who, pale from her vigils but calm and resolute, shrugged
her shoulders and would not allow herself to be discouraged. Her man's
leg was broken; that she knew very well, "but he need not die for
that!" And she watched at his side night and day, forgetting her
children and her home and everything but him.

On the ninth day, when the physician told her he would recover,
she dropped, half fainting, on a chair, and at night she slept for
a couple of hours with her head on the foot of his bed.

This accident to Coupeau brought all his family about him. His mother
spent the nights there, but she slept in her chair quite comfortably.
Mme Lerat came in every evening after work was over to make inquiries.

The Lorilleuxs at first came three or four times each day and brought
an armchair for Gervaise, but soon quarrels and discussions arose as
to the proper way of nursing the invalid, and Mme Lorilleux lost her
temper and declared that had Gervaise stayed at home and not gone to
pester her husband when he was at work the accident would not have
happened.

When she saw Coupeau out of danger Gervaise allowed his family to
approach him as they saw fit. His convalescence would be a matter of
months. This again was a ground of indignation for Mme Lorilleux.

"What nonsense it was," she said, "for Gervaise to take him home! Had
he gone to the hospital he would have recovered as quickly again."

And then she made a calculation of what these four months would cost:
First, there was the time lost, then the physician, the medicines,
the wines and finally the meat for beef tea. Yes, it would be a pretty
sum, to be sure! If they got through it on their savings they would
do well, but she believed that the end would be that they would find
themselves head over heels in debt, and they need expect no assistance
from his family, for none of them was rich enough to pay for sickness
at home!

One evening Mme Lorilleux was malicious enough to say:

"And your shop, when do you take it? The concierge is waiting to know
what you mean to do."

Gervaise gasped. She had utterly forgotten the shop. She saw the
delight of these people when they believed that this plan was given
up, and from that day they never lost an occasion of twitting her on
her dream that had toppled over like a house of cards, and she grew
morbid and fancied they were pleased at the accident to their brother
which had prevented the realization of their plans.

She tried to laugh and to show them she did not grudge the money that
had been expended in the restoration of her husband's health. She did
not withdraw all her savings from the bank at once, for she had a
vague hope that some miracle would intervene which would render the
sacrifice unnecessary.

Was it not a great comfort, she said to herself and to her enemies,
for as such she had begun to regard the Lorilleuxs, that she had this
money now to turn to in this emergency?

Her neighbors next door had been very kind and thoughtful to Gervaise
all through her trouble and the illness of her husband.

Mme Goujet never went out without coming to inquire if there was
anything she could do, any commission she could execute. She brought
innumerable bowls of soup and, even when Gervaise was particularly
busy, washed her dishes for her. Goujet filled her buckets every
morning with fresh water, and this was an economy of at least two
sous, and in the evening came to sit with Coupeau. He did not say
much, but his companionship cheered and comforted the invalid. He
was tender and compassionate and was thrilled by the sweetness of
Gervaise's voice when she spoke to her husband. Never had he seen such
a brave, good woman; he did not believe she sat in her chair fifteen
minutes in the whole day. She was never tired, never out of temper,
and the young man grew very fond of the poor woman as he watched her.

His mother had found a wife for him. A girl whose trade was the same
as her own, a lace mender, and as he did not wish to go contrary to
her desires he consented that the marriage should take place in
September.

But when Gervaise spoke of his future he shook his head.

"All women are not like you, Madame Coupeau," he said. "If they were
I should like ten wives."

At the end of two months Coupeau was on his feet again and could
move--with difficulty, of course--as far as the window, where he sat
with his leg on a chair. The poor fellow was sadly shaken by his
accident. He was no philosopher, and he swore from morning until
night. He said he knew every crack in the ceiling. When he was
installed in his armchair it was little better. How long, he asked
impatiently, was he expected to sit there swathed like a mummy? And
he cursed his ill luck. His accident was a cursed shame. If his head
had been disturbed by drink it would have been different, but he was
always sober, and this was the result. He saw no sense in the whole
thing!

"My father," he said, "broke his neck. I don't say he deserved it,
but I do say there was a reason for it. But I had not drunk a drop,
and yet over I went, just because I spoke to my child! If there be
a Father in heaven, as they say, who watches over us all, I must say
He manages things strangely enough sometimes!"

And as his strength returned his trade grew strangely distasteful to
him. It was a miserable business, he said, roaming along gutters like
a cat. In his opinion there should be a law which should compel every
houseowner to tin his own roof. He wished he knew some other trade he
could follow, something that was less dangerous.

For two months more Coupeau walked with a crutch and after a while
was able to get into the street and then to the outer boulevard, where
he sat on a bench in the sun. His gaiety returned; he laughed again
and enjoyed doing nothing. For the first time in his life he felt
thoroughly lazy, and indolence seemed to have taken possession of his
whole being. When he got rid of his crutches he sauntered about and
watched the buildings which were in the process of construction in the
vicinity, and he jested with the men and indulged himself in a general
abuse of work. Of course he intended to begin again as soon as he
was quite well, but at present the mere thought made him feel ill,
he said.

In the afternoons Coupeau often went to his sister's apartment;
she expressed a great deal of compassion for him and showed every
attention. When he was first married he had escaped from her
influence, thanks to his affection for his wife and hers for him.
Now he fell under her thumb again; they brought him back by declaring
that he lived in mortal terror of his wife. But the Lorilleuxs were
too wise to disparage her openly; on the contrary, they praised her
extravagantly, and he told his wife that they adored her and begged
her, in her turn, to be just to them.

The first quarrel in their home arose on the subject of Etienne.
Coupeau had been with his sister. He came in late and found the
children fretting for their dinner. He cuffed Etienne's ears, bade him
hold his tongue and scolded for an hour. He was sure he did not know
why he let that boy stay in the house; he was none of his; until that
day he had accepted the child as a matter of course.

Three days after this he gave the boy a kick, and it was not long
before the child, when he heard him coming, ran into the Goujets',
where there was always a corner at the table for him.

Gervaise had long since resumed her work. She no longer lifted the
globe of her clock to take out her bankbook; her savings were all
gone, and it was necessary to count the sous pretty closely, for there
were four mouths to feed, and they were all dependent on the work of
her two hands. When anyone found fault with Coupeau and blamed him
she always took his part.

"Think how much he has suffered," she said with tears in her eyes.
"Think of the shock to his nerves! Who can wonder that he is a little
sour? Wait awhile, though, until he is perfectly well, and you will
see that his temper will be as sweet as it ever was."

And if anyone ventured to observe that he seemed quite well and that
he ought to go to work she would exclaim:

"No indeed, not yet. It would never do." She did not want him down in
his bed again. She knew what the doctor had said, and she every day
begged him to take his own time. She even slipped a little silver,
into his vest pocket. All this Coupeau accepted as a matter of course.
He complained of all sorts of pains and aches to gain a little longer
period of indolence and at the end of six months had begun to look
upon himself as a confirmed invalid.

He almost daily dropped into a wineshop with a friend; it was a place
where he could chat a little, and where was the harm? Besides, whoever
heard of a glass of wine killing a man? But he swore to himself that
he would never touch anything but wine--not a drop of brandy should
pass his lips. Wine was good for one--prolonged one's life, aided
digestion--but brandy was a very different matter. Notwithstanding all
these wise resolutions, it came to pass more than once that he came
in, after visiting a dozen different cabarets, decidedly tipsy. On
these occasions Gervaise locked her doors and declared she was ill,
to prevent the Goujets from seeing her husband.

The poor woman was growing very sad. Every night and morning she
passed the shop for which she had so ardently longed. She made her
calculations over and over again until her brain was dizzy. Two
hundred and fifty francs for rent, one hundred and fifty for moving
and the apparatus she needed, one hundred francs to keep things going
until business began to come in. No, it could not be done under five
hundred francs.

She said nothing of this to anyone, deterred only by the fear of
seeming to regret the money she had spent for her husband during his
illness. She was pale and dispirited at the thought that she must work
five years at least before she could save that much money.

One evening Gervaise was alone. Goujet entered, took a chair in
silence and looked at her as he smoked his pipe. He seemed to be
revolving something in his mind. Suddenly he took his pipe from his
mouth.

"Madame Gervaise," he said, "will you allow me to lend you the money
you require?"

She was kneeling at a drawer, laying some towels in a neat pile. She
started up, red with surprise. He had seen her standing that very
morning for a good ten minutes, looking at the shop, so absorbed that
she had not seen him pass.

She refused his offer, however. No, she could never borrow money when
she did not know how she could return it, and when he insisted she
replied:

"But your marriage? This is the money you have saved for that."

"Don't worry on that account," he said with a heightened color. "I
shall not marry. It was an idea of my mother's, and I prefer to lend
you the money."

They looked away from each other. Their friendship had a certain
element of tenderness which each silently recognized.

Gervaise accepted finally and went with Goujet to see his mother, whom
he had informed of his intentions. They found her somewhat sad, with
her serene, pale face bent over her work. She did not wish to thwart
her son, but she no longer approved of the plan, and she told Gervaise
why. With kind frankness she pointed out to her that Coupeau had
fallen into evil habits and was living on her labors and would in
all probability continue to do so. The truth was that Mme Goujet
had not forgiven Coupeau for refusing to read during all his long
convalescence; this and many other things had alienated her and her
son from him, but they had in no degree lost their interest in
Gervaise.

Finally it was agreed she should have five hundred francs and should
return the money by paying each month twenty francs on account.

"Well, well!" cried Coupeau as he heard of this financial transaction.
"We are in luck. There is no danger with us, to be sure, but if he
were dealing with knaves he might never see hide or hair of his cash
again!"

The next day the shop was taken, and Gervaise ran about with such
a light heart that there was a rumor that she had been cured of her
lameness by an operation.



CHAPTER V

AMBITIOUS DREAMS

The Boche couple, on the first of April, moved also and took the loge
of the great house in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. Things had turned out
very nicely for Gervaise who, having always got on very comfortably
with the concierge in the house in Rue Neuve, dreaded lest she should
fall into the power of some tyrant who would quarrel over every drop
of water that was spilled and a thousand other trifles like that. But
with Mme Boche all would go smoothly.

The day the lease was to be signed and Gervaise stood in her new home
her heart swelled with joy. She was finally to live in that house like
a small town, with its intersecting corridors instead of streets.

She felt a strange timidity--a dread of failure--when she found
herself face to face with her enterprise. The struggle for bread was a
terrible and an increasing one, and it seemed to her for a moment that
she had been guilty of a wild, foolhardy act, like throwing herself
into the jaws of a machine, for the planes in the cabinetmaker's shop
and the hammers in the locksmith's were dimly grasped by her as a part
of a great whole.

The water that ran past the door that day from the dyer's was pale
green. She smiled as she stepped over it, accepting this color as a
happy augury. She, with her husband, entered the loge, where Mme Boche
and the owner of the building, M. Marescot, were talking on business.

Gervaise, with a thrill of pain, heard Boche advise the landlord to
turn out the dressmaker on the third floor who was behindhand with her
rent. She wondered if she would ever be turned out and then wondered
again at the attitude assumed by these Boche people, who did not seem
to have ever seen her before. They had eyes and ears only for the
landlord, who shook hands with his new tenants but, when they spoke
of repairs, professed to be in such haste that morning that it would
be necessary to postpone the discussion. They reminded him of certain
verbal promises he had made, and finally he consented to examine the
premises.

The shop stood with its four bare walls and blackened ceiling. The
tenant who had been there had taken away his own counters and cases.
A furious discussion took place. M. Marescot said it was for them
to embellish the shop.

"That may be," said Gervaise gently, "but surely you cannot call
putting on a fresh paper, instead of this that hangs in strips, an
embellishment. Whitening the curbing, too, comes under, the head of
necessary repairs." She only required these two things.

Finally Marescot, with a desperate air, plunged his hands deep in his
pockets, shrugged his shoulders and gave his consent to the repairs on
the ceiling and to the paper, on condition that she would pay for half
the paper, and then he hurried away.

When he had departed Boche clapped Coupeau on the shoulder. "You may
thank me for that!" he cried and then went on to say that he was the
real master of the house, that he settled the whole business of the
establishment, and it was a nod and look from him that had influenced
M. Marescot. That evening Gervaise, considering themselves in debt to
Boche, sent him some wine.

In four days the shop should have been ready for them, but the repairs
hung on for three weeks. At first they intended simply to have the
paint scrubbed, but it was so shabby and worn that Gervaise repainted
at her own expense. Coupeau went every morning, not to work, but to
inspect operations, and Boche dropped the vest or pantaloons on which
he was working and gave the benefit of his advice, and the two men
spent the whole day smoking and spitting and arguing over each stroke
of the brush. Some days the painters did not appear at all; on others
they came and walked off in an hour's time, not to return again.

Poor Gervaise wrung her hands in despair. But finally, after two days
of energetic labor, the whole thing was done, and the men walked off
with their ladders, singing lustily.

Then came the moving, and finally Gervaise called herself settled in
her new home and was pleased as a child. As she came up the street
she could see her sign afar off:

  CLEARSTARCHER

  LACES AND EMBROIDERIES
  DONE UP WITH ESPECIAL CARE

The first word was painted in large yellow letters on a pale blue
ground.

In the recessed window shut in at the back by muslin curtains lay
men's shirts, delicate handkerchiefs and cuffs; all these were on
blue paper, and Gervaise was charmed. When she entered the door all
was blue there; the paper represented a golden trellis and blue
morning-glories. In the center was a huge table draped with
blue-bordered cretonne to hide the trestles.

Gervaise seated herself and looked round, happy in the cleanliness of
all about her. Her first glance, however, was directed to her stove,
a sort of furnace whereon ten irons could be heated at once. It was a
source of constant anxiety lest her little apprentice should fill it
too full of coal and so injure it.

Behind the shop was her bedroom and her kitchen, from which a door
opened into the court. Nana's bed stood in a little room at the right,
and Etienne was compelled to share his with the baskets of soiled
clothes. It was all very well, except that the place was very damp
and that it was dark by three o'clock in the afternoon in winter.

The new shop created a great excitement in the neighborhood. Some
people declared that the Coupeaus were on the road to ruin; they
had, in fact, spent the whole five hundred francs and were penniless,
contrary to their intentions. The morning that Gervaise first took
down her shutters she had only six francs in the world, but she was
not troubled, and at the end of a week she told her husband after two
hours of abstruse calculations that they had taken in enough to cover
their expenses.

The Lorilleuxs were in a state of rage, and one morning when the
apprentice was emptying, on the sly, a bowl of starch which she had
burned in making, just as Mme Lorilleux was passing, she rushed in and
accused her sister-in-law of insulting her. After this all friendly
relations were at an end.

"It all looks very strange to me," sniffed Mme Lorilleux. "I can't
tell where the money comes from, but I have my suspicions." And she
went on to intimate that Gervaise and Goujet were altogether too
intimate. This was the groundwork of many fables; she said Wooden Legs
was so mild and sweet that she had deceived her to the extent that
she had consented to become Nana's godmother, which had been no small
expense, but now things were very different. If Gervaise were dying
and asked her for a glass of water she would not give it. She could
not stand such people. As to Nana, it was different; they would
always receive her. The child, of course, was not responsible for her
mother's crimes. Coupeau should take a more decided stand and not put
up with his wife's vile conduct.

Boche and his wife sat in judgment on the quarrel and gave as their
opinion that the Lorilleuxs were much to blame. They were good
tenants, of course. They paid regularly. "But," added Mme Boche, "I
never could abide jealousy. They are mean people and were never known
to offer a glass of wine to a friend."

Mother Coupeau visited her son and daughter successive days, listened
to the tales of each and said never a word in reply.

Gervaise lived a busy life and took no notice of all this foolish
gossip and strife. She greeted her friends with a smile from the door
of her shop, where she went for a breath of fresh air. All the people
in the neighborhood liked her and would have called her a great beauty
but for her lameness. She was twenty-eight and had grown plump. She
moved more slowly, and when she took a chair to wait for her irons
to heat she rose with reluctance. She was growing fond of good
living--that she herself admitted--but she did not regard it as a
fault. She worked hard and had a right to good food. Why should she
live on potato parings? Sometimes she worked all night when she had
a great deal of work on hand.

She did the washing for the whole house and for some Parisian ladies
and had several apprentices, besides two laundresses. She was making
money hand over fist, and her good luck would have turned a wiser head
than her own. But hers was not turned; she was gentle and sweet and
hated no one except her sister-in-law. She judged everybody kindly,
particularly after she had eaten a good breakfast. When people called
her good she laughed. Why should she not be good? She had seen all her
dreams realized. She remembered what she once said--that she wanted to
work hard, have plenty to eat, a home to herself, where she could
bring up her children, not be beaten and die in her bed! As to dying
in her bed, she added she wanted that still, but she would put it off
as long as possible, "if you please!" It was to Coupeau himself that
Gervaise was especially sweet. Never a cross or an impatient word had
he heard from her lips, and no one had ever known her complain of him
behind his back. He had finally resumed his trade, and as the shop
where he worked was at the other end of Paris, she gave him every
morning forty sous for his breakfast, his wine and tobacco. Two days
out of six, however, Coupeau would meet a friend, drink up his forty
sous and return to breakfast. Once, indeed, he sent a note, saying
that his account at the cabaret exceeded his forty sous. He was in
pledge, as it were; would his wife send the money? She laughed and
shrugged her shoulders. Where was the harm in her husband's amusing
himself a little? A woman must give a man a long rope if she wished
to live in peace and comfort. It was not far from words to blows--she
knew that very well.

The hot weather had come. One afternoon in June the ten irons were
heating on the stove; the door was open into the street, but not a
breath of air came in.

"What a melting day!" said Gervaise, who was stooping over a great
bowl of starch. She had rolled up her sleeves and taken off her sack
and stood in her chemise and white skirt; the soft hair in her neck
was curling on her white throat. She dipped each cuff in the starch,
the fronts of the shirts and the whole of the skirts. Then she rolled
up the pieces tightly and placed them neatly in a square basket after
having sprinkled with clear water all those portions which were not
starched.

"This basket is for you, Madame Putois," she said, "and you will have
to hurry, for they dry so fast in this weather."

Mine Putois was a thin little woman who looked cool and comfortable
in her tightly buttoned dress. She had not taken her cap off but stood
at the table, moving her irons to and fro with the regularity of an
automaton. Suddenly she exclaimed:

"Put on your sack, Clemence; there are three men looking in, and I
don't like such things."

Clemence grumbled and growled. What did she care what she liked? She
could not and would not roast to suit anybody.

"Clemence, put on your sack," said Gervaise. "Madame Putois is
right--it is not proper."

Clemence muttered but obeyed and consoled herself by giving the
apprentice, who was ironing hose and towels by her side, a little
push. Gervaise had a cap belonging to Mme Boche in her hand and was
ironing the crown with a round ball, when a tall, bony woman came in.
She was a laundress.

"You have come too soon, Madame Bijard!" cried Gervaise. "I said
tonight. It is very inconvenient for me to attend to you at this
hour." At the same time, however, Gervaise amiably laid down her work
and went for the dirty clothes, which she piled up in the back shop.
It took the two women nearly an hour to sort them and mark them with
a stitch of colored cotton.

At this moment Coupeau entered.

"By Jove!" he said. "The sun beats down on one's head like a hammer."
He caught at the table to sustain himself; he had been drinking; a
spider web had caught in his dark hair, where many a white thread
was apparent. His under jaw dropped a little, and his smile was good
natured but silly.

Gervaise asked her husband if he had seen the Lorilleuxs in rather
a severe tone; when he said no she smiled at him without a word of
reproach.

"You had best go and lie down," she said pleasantly. "We are very
busy, and you are in our way. Did I say thirty-two handkerchiefs,
Madame Bijard? Here are two more; that makes thirty-four."

But Coupeau was not sleepy, and he preferred to remain where he was.
Gervaise called Clemence and bade her to count the linen while she
made out the list. She glanced at each piece as she wrote. She knew
many of them by the color. That pillow slip belonged to Mme Boche
because it was stained with the pomade she always used, and so on
through the whole. Gervaise was seated with these piles of soiled
linen about her. Augustine, whose great delight was to fill up the
stove, had done so now, and it was red hot. Coupeau leaned toward
Gervaise.

"Kiss me," he said. "You are a good woman."

As he spoke he gave a sudden lurch and fell among the skirts.

"Do take care," said Gervaise impatiently. "You will get them all
mixed again." And she gave him a little push with her foot, whereat
all the other women cried out.

"He is not like most men," said Mme Putois; "they generally wish to
beat you when they come in like this."

Gervaise already regretted her momentary vexation and assisted her
husband to his feet and then turned her cheek to him with a smile,
but he put his arm round her and kissed her neck. She pushed him
aside with a laugh.

"You ought to be ashamed!" she said but yielded to his embrace, and
the long kiss they exchanged before these people, amid the sickening
odor of the soiled linen and the alcoholic fumes of his breath, was
the first downward step in the slow descent of their degradation.

Mme Bijard tied up the linen and staggered off under their weight
while Gervaise turned back to finish her cap. Alas! The stove and the
irons were alike red hot; she must wait a quarter of an hour before
she could touch the irons, and Gervaise covered the fire with a couple
of shovelfuls of cinders. She then hung a sheet before the window to
keep out the sun. Coupeau took a place in the corner, refusing to
budge an inch, and his wife and all her assistants went to work on
each side of the square table. Each woman had at her right a flat
brick on which to set her iron. In the center of the table a dish of
water with a rag and a brush in it and also a bunch of tall lilies
in a broken jar.

Mme Putois had attacked the basket of linen prepared by Gervaise, and
Augustine was ironing her towels, with her nose in the air, deeply
interested in a fly that was buzzing about. As to Clemence, she was
polishing off her thirty-fifth shirt; as she boasted of this great
feat Coupeau staggered toward her.

"Madame," she called, "please keep him away; he will bother me, and
I shall scorch my shirt."

"Let her be," said Gervaise without any especial energy. "We are in
a great hurry today!"

Well, that was not his fault; he did not mean to touch the girl;
he only wanted to see what she was about.

"Really," said his wife, looking up from her fluting iron, "I think
you had best go to bed."

He began to talk again.

"You need not make such a fuss, Clemence; it is only because these
women are here, and--"

But he could say no more; Gervaise quietly laid one hand on his mouth
and the other on his shoulder and pushed him toward his room. He
struggled a little and with a silly laugh asked if Clemence was not
coming too.

Gervaise undressed her husband and tucked him up in bed as if he had
been a child and then returned to her fluting irons in time to still
a grand dispute that was going on about an iron that had not been
properly cleaned.

In the profound silence that followed her appearance she could hear
her husband's thick voice:

"What a silly wife I've got! The idea of putting me to bed in broad
daylight!"

Suddenly he began to snore, and Gervaise uttered a sigh of relief.
She used her fluting iron for a minute and then said quietly:

"There is no need of being offended by anything a man does when he
is in this state. He is not an accountable being. He did not intend
to insult you. Clemence, you know what a tipsy man is--he respects
neither father nor mother."

She uttered these words in an indifferent, matter-of-fact way, not in
the least disturbed that he had forgotten the respect due to her and
to her roof and really seeing no harm in his conduct.

The work now went steadily on, and Gervaise calculated they would
be finished by eleven o'clock. The heat was intense; the smell of
charcoal deadened the air, while the branch of white lilies slowly
faded and filled the room with their sweetness.

The day after all this Coupeau had a frightful headache and did not
rise until late, too late to go to his work. About noon he began to
feel better, and toward evening was quite himself. His wife gave him
some silver and told him to go out and take the air, which meant with
him taking some wine.

One glass washed down another, but he came home as gay as a lark and
quite disgusted with the men he had seen who were drinking themselves
to death.

"Where is your lover?" he said to his wife as he entered the shop.
This was his favorite joke. "I never see him nowadays and must hunt
him up."

He meant Goujet, who came but rarely, lest the gossips in the
neighborhood should take it upon themselves to gabble. Once in about
ten days he made his appearance in the evening and installed himself
in a corner in the back shop with his pipe. He rarely spoke but
laughed at all Gervaise said.

On Saturday evenings the establishment was kept open half the night. A
lamp hung from the ceiling with the light thrown down by a shade. The
shutters were put up at the usual time, but as the nights were very
warm the door was left open, and as the hours wore on the women pulled
their jackets open a little more at the throat, and he sat in his
corner and looked on as if he were at a theater.

The silence of the street was broken by a passing carriage. Two
o'clock struck--no longer a sound from outside. At half-past two a
man hurried past the door, carrying with him a vision of flying arms,
piles of white linen and a glow of yellow light.

Goujet, wishing to save Etienne from Coupeau's rough treatment, had
taken him to the place where he was employed to blow the bellows, with
the prospect of becoming an apprentice as soon as he was old enough,
and Etienne thus became another tie between the clearstarcher and the
blacksmith.

All their little world laughed and told Gervaise that her friend
worshiped the very ground she trod upon. She colored and looked like
a girl of sixteen.

"Dear boy," she said to herself, "I know he loves me, but never has
he said or will he say a word of the kind to me!" And she was proud
of being loved in this way. When she was disturbed about anything her
first thought was to go to him. When by chance they were left alone
together they were never disturbed by wondering if their friendship
verged on love. There was no harm in such affection.

Nana was now six years old and a most troublesome little sprite. Her
mother took her every morning to a school in the Rue Polonceau, to
a certain Mlle Josse. Here she did all manner of mischief. She put
ashes into the teacher's snuffbox, pinned the skirts of her companions
together. Twice the young lady was sent home in disgrace and then
taken back again for the sake of the six francs each month. As soon as
school hours were over Nana revenged herself for the hours of enforced
quiet she had passed by making the most frightful din in the courtyard
and the shop.

She found able allies in Pauline and Victor Boche. The whole great
house resounded with the most extraordinary noises--the thumps of
children falling downstairs, little feet tearing up one staircase
and down another and bursting out on the sidewalk like a band of
pilfering, impudent sparrows.

Mme Gaudron alone had nine--dirty, unwashed and unkempt, their
stockings hanging over their shoes and the slits in their garments
showing the white skin beneath. Another woman on the fifth floor had
seven, and they came out in twos and threes from all the rooms. Nana
reigned over this band, among which there were some half grown and
others mere infants. Her prime ministers were Pauline and Victor;
to them she delegated a little of her authority while she played
mamma, undressed the youngest only to dress them again, cuffed them
and punished them at her own sweet will and with the most fantastic
disposition. The band pranced and waded through the gutter that ran
from the dyehouse and emerged with blue or green legs. Nana decorated
herself and the others with shavings from the cabinetmaker's, which
they stole from under the very noses of the workmen.

The courtyard belonged to all of these children, apparently, and
resounded with the clatter of their heels. Sometimes this courtyard,
however, was not enough for them, and they spread in every direction
to the infinite disgust of Mme Boche, who grumbled all in vain. Boche
declared that the children of the poor were as plentiful as mushrooms
on a dung heap, and his wife threatened them with her broom.

One day there was a terrible scene. Nana had invented a beautiful
game. She had stolen a wooden shoe belonging to Mme Boche; she bored
a hole in it and put in a string, by which she could draw it like a
cart. Victor filled it with apple parings, and they started forth in
a procession, Nana drawing the shoe in front, followed by the whole
flock, little and big, an imp about the height of a cigar box at the
end. They all sang a melancholy ditty full of "ahs" and "ohs." Nana
declared this to be always the custom at funerals.

"What on earth are they doing now?" murmured Mme Boche suspiciously,
and then she came to the door and peered out.

"Good heavens!" she cried. "It is my shoe they have got."

She slapped Nana, cuffed Pauline and shook Victor. Gervaise was
filling a bucket at the fountain, and when she saw Nana with her nose
bleeding she rushed toward the concierge and asked how she dared
strike her child.

The concierge replied that anyone who had a child like that had
best keep her under lock and key. The end of this was, of course,
a complete break between the old friends.

But, in fact, the quarrel had been growing for a month. Gervaise,
generous by nature and knowing the tastes of the Boche people, was
in the habit of making them constant presents--oranges, a little
hot soup, a cake or something of the kind. One evening, knowing that
the concierge would sell her soul for a good salad, she took her
the remains of a dish of beets and chicory. The next day she was
dumfounded at hearing from Mlle Remanjon how Mme Boche had thrown the
salad away, saying that she was not yet reduced to eating the leavings
of other people! From that day forth Gervaise sent her nothing more.
The Boches had learned to look on her little offerings as their right,
and they now felt themselves to be robbed by the Coupeaus.

It was not long before Gervaise realized she had made a mistake, for
when she was one day late with her October rent Mme Boche complained
to the proprietor, who came blustering to her shop with his hat on.
Of course, too, the Lorilleuxs extended the right hand of fellowship
at once to the Boche people.

There came a day, however, when Gervaise found it necessary to call on
the Lorilleuxs. It was on Mamma Coupeau's account, who was sixty-seven
years old, nearly blind and helpless. They must all unite in doing
something for her now. Gervaise thought it a burning shame that a
woman of her age, with three well-to-do children, should be allowed
for a moment to regard herself as friendless and forsaken. And as her
husband refused to speak to his sister, Gervaise said she would.

She entered the room like a whirlwind, without knocking. Everything
was just as it was on that night when she had been received by them
in a fashion which she had never forgotten or forgiven. "I have come,"
cried Gervaise, "and I dare say you wish to know why, particularly
as we are at daggers drawn. Well then, I have come on Mamma Coupeau's
account. I have come to ask if we are to allow her to beg her bread
from door to door----"

"Indeed!" said Mme Lorilleux with a sneer, and she turned away.

But Lorilleux lifted his pale face.

"What do you mean?" he asked, and as he had understood perfectly,
he went on:

"What is this cry of poverty about? The old lady ate her dinner with
us yesterday. We do all we can for her, I am sure. We have not the
mines of Peru within our reach, but if she thinks she is to run to
and fro between our houses she is much mistaken. I, for one, have no
liking for spies." He then added as he took up his microscope, "When
the rest of you agree to give five francs per month toward her support
we will do the same." Gervaise was calmer now; these people always
chilled the very marrow in her bones, and she went on to explain her
views. Five francs were not enough for each of the old lady's children
to pay. She could not live on fifteen francs per month.

"And why not?" cried Lorilleux. "She ought to do so. She can see well
enough to find the best bits in a dish before her, and she can do
something toward her own maintenance." If he had the means to indulge
such laziness he should not consider it his duty to do so, he added.

Then Gervaise grew angry again. She looked at her sister-in-law and
saw her face set in vindictive firmness.

"Keep your money," she cried. "I will take care of your mother. I
found a starving cat in the street the other night and took it in. I
can take in your mother too. She shall want for nothing. Good heavens,
what people!"

Mme Lorilleux snatched up a saucepan.

"Clear out," she said hoarsely. "I will never give one sou--no, not
one sou--toward her keep. I understand you! You will make my mother
work for you like a slave and put my five francs in your pocket! Not
if I know it, madame! And if she goes to live under your roof I will
never see her again. Be off with you, I say!"

"What a monster!" cried Gervaise as she shut the door with a bang. On
the very next day Mme Coupeau came to her. A large bed was put in the
room where Nana slept. The moving did not take long, for the old lady
had only this bed, a wardrobe, table and two chairs. The table was
sold and the chairs new-seated, and the old lady the evening of her
arrival washed the dishes and swept up the room, glad to make herself
useful. Mme Lerat had amused herself by quarreling with her sister,
to whom she had expressed her admiration of the generosity evinced
by Gervaise, and when she saw that Mme Lorilleux was intensely
exasperated she declared she had never seen such eyes in anybody's
head as those of the clearstarcher. She really believed one might
light paper at them. This declaration naturally led to bitter words,
and the sisters parted, swearing they would never see each other
again, and since then Mme Lerat had spent most of her evenings at
her brother's.

Three years passed away. There were reconciliations and new quarrels.
Gervaise continued to be liked by her neighbors; she paid her bills
regularly and was a good customer. When she went out she received
cordial greetings on all sides, and she was more fond of going out in
these days than of yore. She liked to stand at the corners and chat.
She liked to loiter with her arms full of bundles at a neighbor's
window and hear a little gossip.



CHAPTER VI

GOUJET AT HIS FORGE

One autumnal afternoon Gervaise, who had been to carry a basket of
clothes home to a customer who lived a good way off, found herself in
La Rue des Poissonniers just as it was growing dark. It had rained in
the morning, and the air was close and warm. She was tired with her
walk and felt a great desire for something good to eat. Just then she
lifted her eyes and, seeing the name of the street, she took it into
her head that she would call on Goujet at his forge. But she would ask
for Etienne, she said to herself. She did not know the number, but she
could find it, she thought. She wandered along and stood bewildered,
looking toward Montmartre; all at once she heard the measured click of
hammers and concluded that she had stumbled on the place at last. She
did not know where the entrance to the building was, but she caught a
gleam of a red light in the distance; she walked toward it and was met
by a workman.

"Is it here, sir," she said timidly, "that my child--a little boy,
that is to say--works? A little boy by the name of Etienne?"

"Etienne! Etienne!" repeated the man, swaying from side to side. The
wind brought from him to her an intolerable smell of brandy, which
caused Gervaise to draw back and say timidly:

"Is it here that Monsieur Goujet works?"

"Ah, Goujet, yes. If it is Goujet you wish to see go to the left."

Gervaise obeyed his instructions and found herself in a large room
with the forge at the farther end. She spoke to the first man she saw,
when suddenly the whole room was one blaze of light. The bellows had
sent up leaping flames which lit every crevice and corner of the dusty
old building, and Gervaise recognized Goujet before the forge with two
other men. She went toward him.

"Madame Gervaise!" he exclaimed in surprise, his face radiant with
joy, and then seeing his companions laugh and wink, he pushed Etienne
toward his mother. "You came to see your boy," he said; "he does his
duty like a hero.

"I am glad of it," she answered, "but what an awful place this is to
get at!"

And she described her journey, as she called it, and then asked why
no one seemed to know Etienne there.

"Because," said the blacksmith, "he is called Zou Zou here, as his
hair is cut short as a Zouave's."

This visit paid by Gervaise to the forge was only the first of many
others. She often went on Saturdays when she carried the clean linen
to Mme Goujet, who still resided in the same house as before. The
first year Gervaise had paid them twenty francs each month, or rather
the difference between the amount of their washing, seven or eight
francs, and the twenty which she agreed upon. In this way she had paid
half the money she had borrowed, when one quarter day, not knowing
to whom to turn, as she had not been able to collect her bills
punctually, she ran to the Goujets' and borrowed the amount of her
rent from them. Twice since she had asked a similar favor, so that the
amount of her indebtedness now stood at four hundred and twenty-five
francs.

Now she no longer paid any cash but did their washing. It was not that
she worked less hard or that her business was falling off. Quite the
contrary; but money had a way of melting away in her hands, and she
was content nowadays if she could only make both ends meet. What was
the use of fussing, she thought? If she could manage to live that was
all that was necessary. She was growing quite stout withal.

Mme Goujet was always kind to Gervaise, not because of any fear of
losing her money, but because she really loved her and was afraid of
her going wrong in some way.

The Saturday after the first visit paid by Gervaise to the forge was
also the first of the month. When she reached Mme Goujet's her basket
was so heavy that she panted for two good minutes before she could
speak. Every one knows how heavy shirts and such things are.

"Have you brought everything?" asked Mme Goujet, who was very exacting
on this point. She insisted on every piece being returned each week.
Another thing she exacted was that the clothes should be brought back
always on the same day and hour.

"Everything is here," answered Gervaise with a smile. "You know I
never leave anything behind."

"That is true," replied the elder woman. "You have many faults, my
dear, but not that one yet."

And while the laundress emptied her basket, laying the linen on
the bed, Mme Goujet paid her many compliments. She never burned her
clothes or ironed off the buttons or tore them, but she did use a
trifle too much bluing and made her shirts too stiff.

"Feel," she said; "it is like pasteboard. My son never complains,
but I know he does not like them so."

"And they shall not be so again," said Gervaise. "No one ever touches
any of your things but myself, and I would do them over ten times
rather than see you dissatisfied."

She colored as she spoke.

"I have no intention of disparaging your work," answered Mme Goujet.
"I never saw anyone who did up laces and embroideries as you do, and
the fluting is simply perfect; the only trouble is a little too much
starch, my dear. Goujet does not care to look like a fine gentleman."

She took up her book and drew a pen through the pieces as she spoke.
Everything was there. She brought out the bundle of soiled clothes.
Gervaise put them in her basket and hesitated.

"Madame Goujet," she said at last, "if you do not mind I should like
to have the money for this week's wash."

The account this month was larger than usual, ten francs and over.
Mme Goujet looked at her gravely.

"My child," she said slowly, "it shall be as you wish. I do not refuse
to give you the money if you desire it; only this is not the way to
get out of debt. I say this with no unkindness, you understand. Only
you must take care."

Gervaise, with downcast eyes, received the lesson meekly. She needed
the ten francs to complete the amount due the coal merchant, she said.

But her friend heard this with a stern countenance and told her
she should reduce her expenses, but she did not add that she, too,
intended to do the same and that in future she should do her washing
herself, as she had formerly done, if she were to be out of pocket
thus.

When Gervaise was on the staircase her heart was light, for she cared
little for the reproof now that she had the ten francs in her hand;
she was becoming accustomed to paying one debt by contracting another.

Midway on the stairs she met a tall woman coming up with a fresh
mackerel in her hand, and behold! it was Virginie, the girl whom she
had whipped in the lavatory. The two looked each other full in the
face. Gervaise instinctively closed her eyes, for she thought the girl
would slap her in the face with the mackerel. But, no; Virginie gave a
constrained smile. Then the laundress, whose huge basket filled up the
stairway and who did not choose to be outdone in politeness, said:

"I beg your pardon--"

"Pray don't apologize," answered Virginie in a stately fashion.

And they stood and talked for a few minutes with not the smallest
allusion, however, to the past.

Virginie, then about twenty-nine, was really a magnificent-looking
woman, head well set on her shoulders and a long, oval face crowned by
bands of glossy black hair. She told her history in a few brief words.
She was married. Had married the previous spring a cabinetmaker who
had given up his trade and was hoping to obtain a position on the
police force. She had just been out to buy this mackerel for him.

"He adores them," she said, "and we women spoil our husbands, I think.
But come up. We are standing in a draft here."

When Gervaise had, in her turn, told her story and added that Virginie
was living in the very rooms where she had lived and where her child
was born, Virginie became still more urgent that she should go up. "It
is always pleasant to see a place where one has been happy," she said.
She herself had been living on the other side of the water but had got
tired of it and had moved into these rooms only two weeks ago. She was
not settled yet. Her name was Mme Poisson.

"And mine," said Gervaise, "is Coupeau."

Gervaise was a little suspicious of all this courtesy. Might not some
terrible revenge be hidden under it all? And she determined to be well
on her guard. But as Virginie was so polite just now she must be
polite in her turn.

Poisson, the husband, was a man of thirty-five with a mustache and
imperial; he was seated at a table near the window, making little
boxes. His only tools were a penknife, a tiny saw and a gluepot; he
was executing the most wonderful and delicate carving, however. He
never sold his work but made presents of it to his friends. It amused
him while he was awaiting his appointment.

Poisson rose and bowed politely to Gervaise, whom his wife called an
old friend. But he did not speak, his conversational powers not being
his strong point. He cast a plaintive glance at the mackerel, however,
from time to time. Gervaise looked around the room and described her
furniture and where it had stood. How strange it was, after losing
sight of each other so long, that they should occupy the same
apartment! Virginie entered into new details. He had a small
inheritance from his aunt, and she herself sewed a little, made a
dress now and then. At the end of a half-hour Gervaise rose to depart;
Virginie went to the head of the stairs with her, and there both
hesitated. Gervaise fancied that Virginie wished to say something
about Lantier and Adele, but they separated without touching on these
disagreeable topics.

This was the beginning of a great friendship. In another week Virginie
could not pass the shop without going in, and sometimes she remained
for two or three hours. At first Gervaise was very uncomfortable;
she thought every time Virginie opened her lips that she would hear
Lantier's name. Lantier was in her mind all the time she was with Mme
Poisson. It was a stupid thing to do, after all, for what on earth
did she care what had become of Lantier or of Adele? But she was,
nonetheless, curious to know something about them.

Winter had come, the fourth winter that the Coupeaus had spent in La
Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. This year December and January were especially
severe, and after New Year's the snow lay three weeks in the street
without melting. There was plenty of work for Gervaise, and her shop
was delightfully warm and singularly quiet, for the carriages made
no noise in the snow-covered streets. The laughs and shouts of the
children were almost the only sounds; they had made a long slide and
enjoyed themselves hugely.

Gervaise took especial pleasure in her coffee at noon. Her apprentices
had no reason to complain, for it was hot and strong and unadulterated
by chicory. On the morning of Twelfth-day the clock had struck twelve
and then half past, and the coffee was not ready. Gervaise was ironing
some muslin curtains. Clemence, with a frightful cold, was, as usual,
at work on a man's shirt. Mme Putois was ironing a skirt on a board,
with a cloth laid on the floor to prevent the skirt from being soiled.
Mamma Coupeau brought in the coffee, and as each one of the women took
a cup with a sigh of enjoyment the street door opened and Virginie
came in with a rush of cold air.

"Heavens!" she cried. "It is awful! My ears are cut off!"

"You have come just in time for a cup of hot coffee," said Gervaise
cordially.

"And I shall be only too glad to have it!" answered Virginie with a
shiver. She had been waiting at the grocer's, she said, until she was
chilled through and through. The heat of that room was delicious, and
then she stirred her coffee and said she liked the damp, sweet smell
of the freshly ironed linen. She and Mamma Coupeau were the only ones
who had chairs; the others sat on wooden footstools, so low that they
seemed to be on the floor. Virginie suddenly stooped down to her
hostess and said with a smile:

"Do you remember that day at the lavatory?"

Gervaise colored; she could not answer. This was just what she had
been dreading. In a moment she felt sure she would hear Lantier's
name. She knew it was coming. Virginie drew nearer to her. The
apprentices lingered over their coffee and told each other as they
looked stupidly into the street what they would do if they had an
income of ten thousand francs. Virginie changed her seat and took
a footstool by the side of Gervaise, who felt weak and cowardly and
helpless to change the conversation or to stave off what was coming.
She breathlessly awaited the next words, her heart big with an emotion
which she would not acknowledge to herself.

"I do not wish to give you any pain," said Virginie blandly. "Twenty
times the words have been on my lips, but I hesitated. Pray don't
think I bear you any malice."

She tipped up her cup and drank the last drop of her coffee. Gervaise,
with her heart in her mouth, waited in a dull agony of suspense,
asking herself if Virginie could have forgiven the insult in the
lavatory. There was a glitter in the woman's eyes she did not like.

"You had an excuse," Virginie added as she placed her cup on the
table. "You had been abominably treated. I should have killed
someone." And then, dropping her little-affected tone, she continued
more rapidly:

"They were not happy, I assure you, not at all happy. They lived in a
dirty street, where the mud was up to their knees. I went to breakfast
with them two days after he left you and found them in the height of
a quarrel. You know that Adele is a wretch. She is my sister, to be
sure, but she is a wretch all the same. As to Lantier--well, you know
him, so I need not describe him. But for a yes or a no he would not
hesitate to thresh any woman that lives. Oh, they had a beautiful
time! Their quarrels were heard all over the neighborhood. One day
the police were sent for, they made such a hubbub."

She talked on and on, telling things that were enough to make the hair
stand up on one's head. Gervaise listened, as pale as death, with a
nervous trembling of her lips which might have been taken for a smile.
For seven years she had never heard Lantier's name, and she would
not have believed that she could have felt any such overwhelming
agitation. She could no longer be jealous of Adele, but she smiled
grimly as she thought of the blows she had received in her turn from
Lantier, and she would have listened for hours to all that Virginia
had to tell, but she did not ask a question for some time. Finally
she said:

"And do they still live in that same place?"

"No indeed! But I have not told you all yet. They separated a week
ago."

"Separated!" exclaimed the clearstarcher.

"Who is separated?" asked Clemence, interrupting her conversation
with Mamma Coupeau.

"No one," said Virginie, "or at least no one whom you know."

As she spoke she looked at Gervaise and seemed to take a positive
delight in disturbing her still more. She suddenly asked her what
she would do or say if Lantier should suddenly make his appearance,
for men were so strange; no one could ever tell what they would do.
Lantier was quite capable of returning to his old love. Then Gervaise
interrupted her and rose to the occasion. She answered with grave
dignity that she was married now and that if Lantier should appear
she would ask him to leave. There could never be anything more between
them, not even the most distant acquaintance.

"I know very well," she said, "that Etienne belongs to him, and if
Lantier desires to see his son I shall place no obstacle in his way.
But as to myself, Madame Poisson, he shall never touch my little
finger again! It is finished."

As she uttered these last words she traced a cross in the air to seal
her oath, and as if desirous to put an end to the conversation, she
called out to her women:

"Do you think the ironing will be done today if you sit still? To
work! To work!"

The women did not move; they were lulled to apathy by the heat, and
Gervaise herself found it very difficult to resume her labors. Her
curtains had dried in all this time, and some coffee had been spilled
on them, and she must wash out the spots.

"Au revoir!" said Virginie. "I came out to buy a half pound of cheese.
Poisson will think I am frozen to death!"

The better part of the day was now gone, and it was this way every
day, for the shop was the refuge and haunt of all the chilly people
in the neighborhood. Gervaise liked the reputation of having the
most comfortable room in the _Quartier_, and she held her receptions,
as the Lorilleux and Boche clique said, with a sniff of disdain. She
would, in fact, have liked to bring in the very poor whom she saw
shivering outside. She became very friendly toward a journeyman
painter, an old man of seventy, who lived in a loft of the house,
where he shivered with cold and hunger. He had lost his three sons
in the Crimea, and for two years his hand had been so cramped by
rheumatism that he could not hold a brush.

Whenever Gervaise saw Father Bru she called him in, made a place for
him near the stove and gave him some bread and cheese. Father Bru,
with his white beard and his face wrinkled like an old apple, sat
in silent content for hours at a time, enjoying the warmth and the
crackling of the coke.

"What are you thinking about?" Gervaise would say gaily.

"Of nothing--of all sorts of things," he would reply with a dazed air.

The workwomen laughed and thought it a good joke to ask if he were in
love. He paid little heed to them but relapsed into silent thought.

From this time Virginie often spoke to Gervaise of Lantier, and one
day she said she had just met him. But as the clearstarcher made no
reply Virginie then said no more. But on the next day she returned to
the subject and told her that he had talked long and tenderly of her.
Gervaise was much troubled by these whispered conversations in the
corner of her shop. The name of Lantier made her faint and sick at
heart. She believed herself to be an honest woman. She meant, in every
way, to do right and to shun the wrong, because she felt that only in
doing so could she be happy. She did not think much of Coupeau because
she was conscious of no shortcomings toward him. But she thought of
her friend at the forge, and it seemed to her that this return of her
interest in Lantier, faint and undecided as it was, was an infidelity
to Goujet and to that tender friendship which had become so very
precious to her. Her heart was much troubled in these days. She dwelt
on that time when her first lover left her. She imagined another day
when, quitting Adele, he might return to her--with that old familiar
trunk.

When she went into the street it was with a spasm of terror. She
fancied that every step behind her was Lantier's. She dared not
look around lest his hand should glide about her waist. He might
be watching for her at any time. He might come to her door in the
afternoon, and this idea brought a cold sweat to her forehead, because
he would certainly kiss her on her ear as he had often teased her by
doing in the years gone by. It was this kiss she dreaded. Its dull
reverberation deafened her to all outside sounds, and she could hear
only the beatings of her own heart. When these terrors assailed her
the forge was her only asylum, from whence she returned smiling and
serene, feeling that Goujet, whose sonorous hammer had put all her
bad dreams to flight, would protect her always.

What a happy season this was after all! The clearstarcher always
carried a certain basket of clothes to her customer each week, because
it gave her a pretext for going into the forge, as it was on her
way. As soon as she turned the corner of the street in which it was
situated she felt as lighthearted as if she were going to the country.
The black charcoal dust in the road, the black smoke rising slowly
from the chimneys, interested and pleased her as much as a mossy path
through the woods. Afar off the forge was red even at midday, and
her heart danced in time with the hammers. Goujet was expecting her
and making more noise than usual, that she might hear him at a great
distance. She gave Etienne a light tap on his cheek and sat quietly
watching these two--this man and boy, who were so dear to her--for an
hour without speaking. When the sparks touched her tender skin she
rather enjoyed the sensation. He, in his turn, was fully aware of
the happiness she felt in being there, and he reserved the work which
required skill for the time when she could look on in wonder and
admiration. It was an idyl that they were unconsciously enacting all
that spring, and when Gervaise returned to her home it was in a spirit
of sweet content.

By degrees her unreasonable fears of Lantier were conquered. Coupeau
was behaving very badly at this time, and one evening as she passed
the Assommoir she was certain she saw him drinking with Mes-Bottes.
She hurried on lest she should seem to be watching him. But as she
hastened she looked over her shoulder. Yes, it was Coupeau who was
tossing down a glass of liquor with an air as if it were no new
thing. He had lied to her then; he did drink brandy. She was in utter
despair, and all her old horror of brandy returned. Wine she could
have forgiven--wine was good for a working man--liquor, on the
contrary, was his ruin and took from him all desire for the food that
nourished and gave him strength for his daily toil. Why did not the
government interfere and prevent the manufacture of such pernicious
things?

When she reached her home she found the whole house in confusion. Her
employees had left their work and were in the courtyard. She asked
what the matter was.

"It is Father Bijard beating his wife; he is as drunk as a fool, and
he drove her up the stairs to her room, where he is murdering her.
Just listen!"

Gervaise flew up the stairs. She was very fond of Mme Bijard, who was
her laundress and whose courage and industry she greatly admired. On
the sixth floor a little crowd was assembled. Mme Boche stood at an
open door.

"Have done!" she cried. "Have done, or the police will be summoned."

No one dared enter the room, because Bijard was well known to be like
a madman when he was tipsy. He was rarely thoroughly sober, and on the
occasional days when he condescended to work he always had a bottle
of brandy at his side. He rarely ate anything, and if a match had been
touched to his mouth he would have taken fire like a torch.

"Would you let her be killed?" exclaimed Gervaise, trembling from head
to foot, and she entered the attic room, which was very clean and very
bare, for the man had sold the very sheets off the bed to satisfy his
mad passion for drink. In this terrible struggle for life the table
had been thrown over, and the two chairs also. On the floor lay the
poor woman with her skirts drenched as she had come from the washtub,
her hair streaming over her bloody face, uttering low groans at each
kick the brute gave her.

The neighbors whispered to each other that she had refused to give
him the money she had earned that day. Boche called up the staircase
to his wife:

"Come down, I say; let him kill her if he will. It will only make one
fool the less in the world!"

Father Bru followed Gervaise into the room, and the two expostulated
with the madman. But he turned toward them, pale and threatening;
a white foam glistened on his lips, and in his faded eyes there was a
murderous expression. He grasped Father Bru by the shoulder and threw
him over the table and shook Gervaise until her teeth chattered and
then returned to his wife, who lay motionless, with her mouth wide
open and her eyes closed; and during this frightful scene little
Lalie, four years old, was in the corner, looking on at the murder
of her mother. The child's arms were round her sister Henriette,
a baby who had just been weaned. She stood with a sad, solemn face
and serious, melancholy eyes but shed no tears.

When Bijard slipped and fell Gervaise and Father Bru helped the poor
creature to her feet, who then burst into sobs. Lalie went to her
side, but she did not cry, for the child was already habituated to
such scenes. And as Gervaise went down the stairs she was haunted by
the strange look of resignation and courage in Lalie's eyes; it was
an expression belonging to maturity and experience rather than to
childhood.

"Your husband is on the other side of the street," said Clemence
as soon as she saw Gervaise; "he is as tipsy as possible!"

Coupeau reeled in, breaking a square of glass with his shoulder as
he missed the doorway. He was not tipsy but drunk, with his teeth set
firmly together and a pinched expression about the nose. And Gervaise
instantly knew that it was the liquor of the Assommoir which had
vitiated his blood. She tried to smile and coaxed him to go to bed.
But he shook her off and as he passed her gave her a blow.

He was just like the other--the beast upstairs who was now snoring,
tired out by beating his wife. She was chilled to the heart and
desperate. Were all men alike? She thought of Lantier and of her
husband and wondered if there was no happiness in the world.



CHAPTER VII

A BIRTHDAY FETE

The nineteenth of June was the clearstarcher's birthday. There was
always an excuse for a fete in the Coupeau mansion; saints were
invented to serve as a pretext for idleness and festivities. Virginie
highly commended Gervaise for living luxuriously. What was the use
of her husband drinking up everything? Why should she save for her
husband to spend at all the wineshops in the neighborhood? And
Gervaise accepted this excuse. She was growing very indolent and
much stouter, while her lameness had perceptibly increased.

For a whole month they discussed the preparation for this fete; they
talked over dishes and licked their lips. They must have something out
of the common way. Gervaise was much troubled as to whom she should
invite. She wanted exactly twelve at table, not one more or one less.
She, her husband, her mother-in-law and Mme Lerat were four. The
Goujets and Poissons were four more. At first she thought she would
not ask her two women, Mme Putois and Clemence, lest it should make
them too familiar, but as the entertainment was constantly under
discussion before them she ended by inviting them too. Thus there were
ten; she must have two more. She decided on a reconciliation with the
Lorilleuxs, who had extended the olive branch several times lately.
Family quarrels were bad things, she said. When the Boche people heard
of this they showed several little courtesies to Gervaise, who felt
obliged to urge them to come also. This made fourteen without counting
the children. She had never had a dinner like this, and she was both
triumphant and terrified.

The nineteenth fell on a Monday, and Gervaise thought it very
fortunate, as she could begin her cooking on Sunday afternoon. On
Saturday, while the women hurried through their work, there was an
endless discussion as to what the dishes should be. In the last three
weeks only one thing had been definitely decided upon--a roast goose
stuffed with onions. The goose had been purchased, and Mme Coupeau
brought it in that Mme Putois might guess its weight. The thing looked
enormous, and the fat seemed to burst from its yellow skin.

"Soup before that, of course," said Gervaise, "and we must have
another dish."

Clemence proposed rabbits, but Gervaise wanted something more
distinguished. Mme Putois suggested a _blanquette du veau_.

That was a new idea. Veal was always good too. Then Mme Coupeau made
an allusion to fish, which no one seconded. Evidently fish was not
in favor. Gervaise proposed a sparerib of pork and potatoes, which
brightened all their faces, just as Virginie came in like a whirlwind.

"You are just in season. Mamma Coupeau, show her the goose," cried
Gervaise.

Virginie admired it, guessed the weight and laid it down on the
ironing table between an embroidered skirt and a pile of shirts. She
was evidently thinking of something else. She soon led Gervaise into
the back shop.

"I have come to warn you," she said quickly. "I just met Lantier
at the very end of this street, and I am sure he followed me, and
I naturally felt alarmed on your account, my dear."

Gervaise turned very pale. What did he want of her? And why on earth
should he worry her now amid all the busy preparations for the fete?
It seemed as if she never in her life had set her heart on anything
that she was not disappointed. Why was it that she could never have
a minute's peace?

But Virginie declared that she would look out for her. If Lantier
followed her she would certainly give him over to the police. Her
husband had been in office now for a month, and Virginie was very
dictatorial and aggressive and talked of arresting everyone who
displeased her. She raised her voice as she spoke, but Gervaise
implored her to be cautious, because her women could hear every word.
They went back to the front shop, and she was the first to speak.

"We have said nothing of vegetables," she said quietly.

"Peas, with a bit of pork," said Virginie authoritatively.

This was agreed upon with enthusiasm.

The next day at three Mamma Coupeau lighted the two furnaces belonging
to the house and a third one borrowed from Mme Boche, and at half-past
three the soup was gently simmering in a large pot lent by the
restaurant at the corner. They had decided to cook the veal and the
pork the day previous, as those two dishes could be warmed up so well,
and would leave for Monday only the goose to roast and the vegetables.
The back shop was ruddy with the glow from the three furnaces--sauces
were bubbling with a strong smell of browned flour. Mamma Coupeau
and Gervaise, each with large white aprons, were washing celery and
running hither and thither with pepper and salt or hurriedly turning
the veal with flat wooden sticks made for the purpose. They had told
Coupeau pleasantly that his room was better than his company, but they
had plenty of people there that afternoon. The smell of the cooking
found its way out into the street and up through the house, and the
neighbors, impelled by curiosity, came down on all sorts of pretexts,
merely to discover what was going on.

About five Virginie made her appearance. She had seen Lantier twice.
Indeed, it was impossible nowadays to enter the street and not see
him. Mme Boche, too, had spoken to him on the corner below. Then
Gervaise, who was on the point of going for a sou's worth of fried
onions to season her soup, shuddered from head to foot and said she
would not go out ever again. The concierge and Virginie added to her
terror by a succession of stories of men who lay in wait for women,
with knives and pistols hidden in their coats.

Such things were read every day in the papers! When such a scamp as
Lantier found a woman happy and comfortable, he was always wretched
until he had made her so too. Virginie said she would go for the
onions. "Women," she observed sententiously, "should protect each
other, as well as serve each other, in such matters." When she
returned she reported that Lantier was no longer there. The
conversation around the stove that evening never once drifted from
that subject. Mme Boche said that she, under similar circumstances,
should tell her husband, but Gervaise was horror-struck at this and
begged her never to breathe one single word about it. Besides, she
fancied her husband had caught a glimpse of Lantier from something he
had muttered amid a volley of oaths two or three nights before. She
was filled with dread lest these two men should meet. She knew Coupeau
so well that she had long since discovered that he was still jealous
of Lantier, and while the four women discussed the imminent danger of
a terrible tragedy the sauces and the meats hissed and simmered on the
furnaces, and they ended by each taking a cup of soup to discover what
improvement was desirable.

Monday arrived. Now that Gervaise had invited fourteen to dine, she
began to be afraid there would not be room and finally decided to lay
the table in the shop. She was uncertain how to place the table, which
was the ironing table on trestles. In the midst of the hubbub and
confusion a customer arrived and made a scene because her linen had
not come home on the Friday previous. She insisted on having every
piece that moment--clean or dirty, ironed or rough-dry.

Then Gervaise, to excuse herself, told a lie with wonderful
_sang-froid_. It was not her fault. She was cleaning her rooms. Her
women would be at work again the next day, and she got rid of her
customer, who went away soothed by the promise that her wash would
be sent to her early the following morning.

But Gervaise lost her temper, which was not a common thing with
her, and as soon as the woman's back was turned called her by an
opprobrious name and declared that if she did as people wished she
could not take time to eat and vowed she would not have an iron heated
that day or the next in her establishment. No! Not if the Grand Turk
himself should come and entreat her on his knees to do up a collar
for him. She meant to enjoy herself a little occasionally!

The entire morning was consumed in making purchases. Three times did
Gervaise go out and come in, laden with bundles. But when she went the
fourth time for the wine she discovered that she had not money enough.
She could have got the wine on credit, but she could not be without
money in the house, for a thousand little unexpected expenses arise
at such times, and she and her mother-in-law racked their brains
to know what they should do to get the twenty francs they considered
necessary. Mme Coupeau, who had once been housekeeper for an actress,
was the first to speak of the Mont-de-Piete. Gervaise laughed gaily.

"To be sure! Why had she not thought of it before?"

She folded her black silk dress and pinned it in a napkin; then she
hid the bundle under her mother-in-law's apron and bade her keep it
very flat, lest the neighbors, who were so terribly inquisitive,
should find it out, and then she watched the old woman from the door
to see that no one followed her.

But when Mamma Coupeau had gone a few steps Gervaise called her back
into the shop and, taking her wedding ring from her finger, said:

"Take this, too, for we shall need all the money we can get today."

And when the old woman came back with twenty-five francs she clapped
her hands with joy. She ordered six bottles of wine with seals to
drink with the roast. The Lorilleuxs would be green with envy. For a
fortnight this had been her idea, to crush the Lorilleuxs, who were
never known to ask a friend to their table; who, on the contrary,
locked their doors when they had anything special to eat. Gervaise
wanted to give her a lesson and would have liked to offer the
strangers who passed her door a seat at her table. Money was a very
good thing and mighty pretty to look at, but it was good for nothing
but to spend.

Mamma Coupeau and Gervaise began to lay their table at three o'clock.
They had hung curtains before the windows, but as the day was warm the
door into the street was open. The two women did not put on a plate
or salt spoon without the avowed intention of worrying the Lorilleuxs.
They had given them seats where the table could be seen to the best
advantage, and they placed before them the real china plates.

"No, no, Mamma," cried Gervaise, "not those napkins. I have two which
are real damask."

"Well! Well! I declare!" murmured the old woman. "What will they say
to all this?"

And they smiled as they stood at opposite sides of this long table
with its glossy white cloth and its places for fourteen carefully
laid. They worshiped there as if it had been a chapel erected in the
middle of the shop.

"How false they are!" said Gervaise. "Do you remember how she declared
she had lost a piece of one of the chains when she was carrying them
home? That was only to get out of giving you your five francs."

"Which I have never had from them but just twice," muttered the old
woman.

"I will wager that next month they will invent another tale. That is
one reason why they lock their doors when they have a rabbit. They
think people might say, 'If you can eat rabbits you can give five
francs to your mother!' How mean they are! What do they think would
have become of you if I had not asked you to come and live here?"

Her mother-in-law shook her head. She was rather severe in her
judgment of the Lorilleuxs that day, inasmuch as she was influenced
by the gorgeous entertainment given by the Coupeaus. She liked the
excitement; she liked to cook. She generally lived pretty well with
Gervaise, but on those days which occur in all households, when the
dinner was scanty and unsatisfactory, she called herself a most
unhappy woman, left to the mercy of a daughter-in-law. In the depths
of her heart she still loved Mme Lorilleux; she was her eldest child.

"You certainly would have weighed some pounds less with her,"
continued Gervaise. "No coffee, no tobacco, no sweets. And do you
imagine that they would have put two mattresses on your bed?"

"No indeed," answered the old woman, "but I wish to see them when
they first come in--just to see how they look!"

At four o'clock the goose was roasted, and Augustine, seated on a
little footstool, was given a long-handled spoon and bidden to watch
and baste it every few minutes. Gervaise was busy with the peas, and
Mamma Coupeau, with her head a little confused, was waiting until it
was time to heat the veal and the pork. At five the guests began to
arrive. Clemence and Mme Putois, gorgeous to behold in their Sunday
rig, were the first.

Clemence wore a blue dress and had some geraniums in her hand; Madame
was in black, with a bunch of heliotrope. Gervaise, whose hands were
covered with flour, put them behind her back, came forward and kissed
them cordially.

After them came Virginie in scarf and hat, though she had only to
cross the street; she wore a printed muslin and was as imposing as
any lady in the land. She brought a pot of red carnations and put
both her arms around her friend and kissed her.

The offering brought by Boche was a pot of pansies, and his wife's was
mignonette; Mme Lerat's, a lemon verbena. The three furnaces filled
the room with an overpowering heat, and the frying potatoes drowned
their voices. Gervaise was very sweet and smiling, thanking everyone
for the flowers, at the same time making the dressing for the salad.
The perfume of the flowers was perceived above all the smell of
cooking.

"Can't I help you?" said Virginie. "It is a shame to have you work so
hard for three days on all these things that we shall gobble up in no
time."

"No indeed," answered Gervaise; "I am nearly through."

The ladies covered the bed with their shawls and bonnets and then went
into the shop that they might be out of the way and talked through the
open door with much noise and loud laughing.

At this moment Goujet appeared and stood timidly on the threshold with
a tall white rosebush in his arms whose flowers brushed against his
yellow beard. Gervaise ran toward him with her cheeks reddened by her
furnaces. She took the plant, crying:

"How beautiful!"

He dared not kiss her, and she was compelled to offer her cheek to
him, and both were embarrassed. He told her in a confused way that his
mother was ill with sciatica and could not come. Gervaise was greatly
disappointed, but she had no time to say much just then: she was
beginning to be anxious about Coupeau--he ought to be in--then, too,
where were the Lorilleuxs? She called Mme Lerat, who had arranged the
reconciliation, and bade her go and see.

Mme Lerat put on her hat and shawl with excessive care and departed.
A solemn hush of expectation pervaded the room.

Mme Lerat presently reappeared. She had come round by the street to
give a more ceremonious aspect to the affair. She held the door open
while Mme Lorilleux, in a silk dress, stood on the threshold. All the
guests rose, and Gervaise went forward to meet her sister and kissed
her, as had been agreed upon.

"Come in! Come in!" she said. "We are friends again."

"And I hope for always," answered her sister-in-law severely.

After she was ushered in the same program had to be followed out with
her husband. Neither of the two brought any flowers. They had refused
to do so, saying that it would look as if they were bowing down to
Wooden Legs. Gervaise summoned Augustine and bade her bring some wine
and then filled glasses for all the party, and each drank the health
of the family.

"It is a good thing before soup," muttered Boche.

Mamma Coupeau drew Gervaise into the next room.

"Did you see her?" she said eagerly. "I was watching her, and when she
saw the table her face was as long as my arm, and now she is gnawing
her lips; she is so mad!"

It was true the Lorilleuxs could not stand that table with its white
linen, its shining glass and square piece of bread at each place. It
was like a restaurant on the boulevard, and Mme Lorilleux felt of the
cloth stealthily to ascertain if it were new.

"We are all ready," cried Gervaise, reappearing and pulling down her
sleeves over her white arms.

"Where can Coupeau be?" she continued.

"He is always late! He always forgets!" muttered his sister. Gervaise
was in despair. Everything would be spoiled. She proposed that someone
should go out and look for him. Goujet offered to go, and she said she
would accompany him. Virginie followed, all three bareheaded. Everyone
looked at them, so gay and fresh on a week-day. Virginie in her pink
muslin and Gervaise in a white cambric with blue spots and a gray silk
handkerchief knotted round her throat. They went to one wineshop after
another, but no Coupeau. Suddenly, as they went toward the boulevard,
his wife uttered an exclamation.

"What is the matter?" asked Goujet.

The clearstarcher was very pale and so much agitated that she could
hardly stand. Virginie knew at once and, leaning over her, looked in
at the restaurant and saw Lantier quietly dining.

"I turned my foot," said Gervaise when she could speak. Finally at the
Assommoir they found Coupeau and Poisson. They were standing in the
center of an excited crowd. Coupeau, in a gray blouse, was quarreling
with someone, and Poisson, who was not on duty that day, was listening
quietly, his red mustache and imperial giving him, however, quite a
formidable aspect.

Goujet left the women outside and, going in, placed his hand on
Coupeau's shoulder, who, when he saw his wife and Virginie, fell
into a great rage.

No, he would not move! He would not stand being followed about by
women in this way! They might go home and eat their rubbishy dinner
themselves! He did not want any of it!

To appease him Goujet was compelled to drink with him, and finally
he persuaded him to go with him. But when he was outside he said to
Gervaise:

"I am not going home; you need not think it!"

She did not reply. She was trembling from head to foot. She had been
speaking of Lantier to Virginie and begged the other to go on in
front, while the two women walked on either side of Coupeau to prevent
him from seeing Lantier as they passed the open window where he sat
eating his dinner.

But Coupeau knew that Lantier was there, for he said:

"There's a fellow I know, and you know him too!"

He then went on to accuse her, with many a coarse word, of coming out
to look, not for him, but for her old lover, and then all at once he
poured out a torrent of abuse upon Lantier, who, however, never looked
up or appeared to hear it.

Virginie at last coaxed Coupeau on, whose rage disappeared when they
turned the corner of the street. They returned to the shop, however,
in a very different mood from the one in which they had left it and
found the guests, with very long faces, awaiting them.

Coupeau shook hands with the ladies in succession, with difficulty
keeping his feet as he did so, and Gervaise, in a choked voice, begged
them to take their seats. But suddenly she perceived that Mme Goujet
not having come, there was an empty seat next to Mme Lorilleux.

"We are thirteen," she said, much disturbed, as she fancied this to be
an additional proof of the misfortune which for some time she had felt
to be hanging over them.

The ladies, who were seated, started up. Mme Putois offered to leave
because, she said, no one should fly in the face of Destiny; besides,
she was not hungry. As to Boche, he laughed, and said it was all
nonsense.

"Wait!" cried Gervaise. "I will arrange it."

And rushing out on the sidewalk, she called to Father Bru, who was
crossing the street, and the old man followed her into the room.

"Sit there," said the clearstarcher. "You are willing to dine with
us, are you not?"

He nodded acquiescence.

"He will do as well as another," she continued in a low voice. "He
rarely, if ever, had as much as he wanted to eat, and it will be a
pleasure to us to see him enjoy his dinner."

Goujet's eyes were damp, so much was he touched by the kind way in
which Gervaise spoke, and the others felt that it would bring them
good luck. Mme Lorilleux was the only one who seemed displeased. She
drew her skirts away and looked down with disgusted mien upon the
patched blouse at her side.

Gervaise served the soup, and the guests were just lifting their
spoons to their mouths when Virginie noticed that Coupeau had
disappeared. He had probably returned to the more congenial society at
the Assommoir, and someone said he might stay in the street; certainly
no one would go after him, but just as they had swallowed the soup
Coupeau appeared bearing two pots, one under each arm--a balsam and
a wallflower. All the guests clapped their hands. He placed them on
either side of Gervaise and, kissing her, he said:

"I forgot you, my dear, but all the same I loved you very much."

"Monsieur Coupeau is very amiable tonight; he has taken just enough
to make him good natured," whispered one of the guests.

This little act on the part of the host brought back the smiles to the
faces around the table. The wine began to circulate, and the voices of
the children were heard in the next room. Etienne, Nana, Pauline and
little Victor Fauconnier were installed at a small table and were told
to be very good.

When the _blanquette du veau_ was served the guests were moved to
enthusiasm. It was now half-past seven. The door of the shop was shut
to keep out inquisitive eyes, and curtains hung before the windows.
The veal was a great success; the sauce was delicious and the
mushrooms extraordinarily good. Then came the sparerib of pork.
Of course all these good things demanded a large amount of wine.

In the next room at the children's table Nana was playing the mistress
of the household. She was seated at the head of the table and for a
while was quite dignified, but her natural gluttony made her forget
her good manners when she saw Augustine stealing the peas from the
plate, and she slapped the girl vehemently.

"Take care, mademoiselle," said Augustine sulkily, "or I will tell
your mother that I heard you ask Victor to kiss you."

Now was the time for the goose. Two lamps were placed on the table,
one at each end, and the disorder was very apparent: the cloth was
stained and spotted. Gervaise left the table to reappear presently,
bearing the goose in triumph. Lorilleux and his wife exchanged a look
of dismay.

"Who will cut it?" said the clearstarcher. "No, not I. It is too big
for me to manage!"

Coupeau said he could do it. After all, it was a simple thing
enough--he should just tear it to pieces.

There was a cry of dismay.

Mme Lerat had an inspiration.

"Monsieur Poisson is the man," she said; "of course he understands the
use of arms." And she handed the sergeant the carving knife. Poisson
made a stiff inclination of his whole body and drew the dish toward
him and went to work in a slow, methodical fashion. As he thrust his
knife into the breast Lorilleux was seized with momentary patriotism,
and he exclaimed:

"If it were only a Cossack!"

At last the goose was carved and distributed, and the whole party
ate as if they were just beginning their dinner. Presently there was
a grand outcry about the heat, and Coupeau opened the door into the
street. Gervaise devoured large slices of the breast, hardly speaking,
but a little ashamed of her own gluttony in the presence of Goujet.
She never forgot old Bru, however, and gave him the choicest morsels,
which he swallowed unconsciously, his palate having long since lost
the power of distinguishing flavors. Mamma Coupeau picked a bone with
her two remaining teeth.

And the wine! Good heavens, how much they drank! A pile of empty
bottles stood in the corner. When Mme Putois asked for water Coupeau
himself removed the carafes from the table. No one should drink water,
he declared, in his house--did she want to swallow frogs and live
things?--and he filled up all the glasses. Hypocrites might talk as
much as they pleased; the juice of the grape was a mighty good thing
and a famous invention!

The guests all laughed and approved; working people must have their
wine, they said, and Father Noah had planted the vine for them
especially. Wine gave courage and strength for work; and if it chanced
that a man sometimes took a drop too much, in the end it did him no
harm, and life looked brighter to him for a time. Goujet himself, who
was usually so prudent and abstemious, was becoming a little excited.
Boche was growing red, and the Lorilleux pair very pale, while Poisson
assumed a solemn and severe aspect. The men were all more or less
tipsy, and the ladies--well, the less we say of the ladies, the
better.

Suddenly Gervaise remembered the six bottles of sealed wine she had
omitted to serve with the goose as she had intended. She produced them
amid much applause. The glasses were filled anew, and Poisson rose
and proposed the health of their hostess.

"And fifty more birthdays!" cried Virginie.

"No, no," answered Gervaise with a smile that had a touch of sadness
in it. "I do not care to live to be very old. There comes a time when
one is glad to go!"

A little crowd had collected outside and smiled at the scene, and
the smell of the goose pervaded the whole street. The clerks in the
grocery opposite licked their lips and said it was good and curiously
estimated the amount of wine that had been consumed.

None of the guests were annoyed by being the subjects of observation,
although they were fully aware of it and, in fact, rather enjoyed it.
Coupeau, catching sight of a familiar face, held up a bottle, which,
being accepted with a nod, he sent it out with a glass. This
established a sort of fraternity with the street.

In the next room the children were unmanageable. They had taken
possession of a saucepan and were drumming on it with spoons. Mamma
Coupeau and Father Bru were talking earnestly. The old man was
speaking of his two sons who had died in the Crimea. Ah, had they
but lived, he would have had bread to eat in his old age!

Mme Coupeau, whose tongue was a little thick, said:

"Yes, but one has a good deal of unhappiness with children. Many an
hour have I wept on account of mine."

Father Bru hardly heard what she said but talked on, half to himself.

"I can't get any work to do. I am too old. When I ask for any people
laugh and ask if it was I who blacked Henri Quatre's boots. Last year
I earned thirty sous by painting a bridge. I had to lie on my back
all the time, close to the water, and since then I have coughed
incessantly." He looked down at his poor stiff hands and added,
"I know I am good for nothing. I wish I was by the side of my boys.
It is a great pity that one can't kill one's self when one begins
to grow old."

"Really," said Lorilleux, "I cannot see why the government does not
do something for people in your condition. Men who are disabled--"

"But workmen are not soldiers," interrupted Poisson, who considered
it his duty to espouse the cause of the government. "It is foolish
to expect them to do impossibilities."

The dessert was served. In the center was a pyramid of spongecake
in the form of a temple with melonlike sides, and on the top was an
artificial rose with a butterfly of silver paper hovering over it,
held by a gilt wire. Two drops of gum in the heart of the rose stood
for dew. On the left was a deep plate with a bit of cheese, and on the
other side of the pyramid was a dish of strawberries, which had been
sugared and carefully crushed.

In the salad dish there were a few leaves of lettuce left.

"Madame Boche," said Gervaise courteously, "pray eat these. I know
how fond you are of salad."

The concierge shook her head. There were limits even to her
capacities, and she looked at the lettuce with regret. Clemence told
how she had once eaten three quarts of water cresses at her breakfast.
Mme Putois declared that she enjoyed lettuce with a pinch of salt and
no dressing, and as they talked the ladies emptied the salad bowl.

None of the guests were dismayed at the dessert, although they had
eaten so enormously. They had the night before them too; there was no
need of haste. The men lit their pipes and drank more wine while they
watched Gervaise cut the cake. Poisson, who prided himself on his
knowledge of the habits of good society, rose and took the rose from
the top and presented it to the hostess amid the loud applause of the
whole party. She fastened it just over her heart, and the butterfly
fluttered at every movement. A song was proposed--comic songs were a
specialty with Boche--and the whole party joined in the chorus. The
men kept time with their heels and the women with their knives on
their glasses. The windows of the shop jarred with the noise. Virginie
had disappeared twice, and the third time, when she came back, she
said to Gervaise:

"My dear, he is still at the restaurant and pretends to be reading
his paper. I fear he is meditating some mischief."

She spoke of Lantier. She had been out to see if he were anywhere
in the vicinity. Gervaise became very grave.

"Is he tipsy?" she asked.

"No indeed, and that is what troubled me. Why on earth should he stay
there so long if he is not drinking? My heart is in my mouth; I am so
afraid something will happen."

The clearstarcher begged her to say no more. Mme Putois started up
and began a fierce piratical song, standing stiff and erect in her
black dress, her pale face surrounded by her black lace cap, and
gesticulating violently. Poisson nodded approval. He had been to sea,
and he knew all about it.

Gervaise, assisted by her mother-in-law, now poured out the coffee.
Her guests insisted on a song from her, declaring that it was her
turn. She refused. Her face was disturbed and pale, so much so that
she was asked if the goose disagreed with her.

Finally she began to sing a plaintive melody all about dreams and
rest. Her eyelids half closed as she ended, and she peered out into
the darkness. Then followed a barcarole from Mme Boche and a romance
from Lorilleux, in which figured perfumes of Araby, ivory throats,
ebony hair, kisses, moonlight and guitars! Clemence followed with
a song which recalled the country with its descriptions of birds
and flowers. Virginie brought down the house with her imitation of
a vivandiere, standing with her hand on her hip and a wineglass in
her hand, which she emptied down her throat as she finished.

But the grand success of the evening was Goujet, who sang in his
rich bass the _"Adieux d'Abd-et-Kader."_ The words issued from his
yellow beard like the call of a trumpet and thrilled everyone around
the table.

Virginie whispered to Gervaise:

"I have just seen Lantier pass the door. Good heavens! There he is
again, standing still and looking in."

Gervaise caught her breath and timidly turned around. The crowd had
increased, attracted by the songs. There were soldiers and shopkeepers
and three little girls, five or six years old, holding each other by
the hand, grave and silent, struck with wonder and admiration.

Lantier was directly in front of the door. Gervaise met his eyes and
felt the very marrow of her bones chilled; she could not move hand
or foot.

Coupeau called for more wine, and Clemence helped herself to more
strawberries. The singing ceased, and the conversation turned upon
a woman who had hanged herself the day before in the next street.

It was now Mme Lerat's turn to amuse the company, but she needed to
make certain preparations.

She dipped the corner of her napkin into a glass of water and applied
it to her temples because she was too warm. Then she asked for a
teaspoonful of brandy and wiped her lips.

"I will sing _'L'Enfant du Bon Dieu,'_" she said pompously.

She stood up, with her square shoulders like those of a man, and
began:

 _"L'Enfant perdu que sa mere abandonne,
   Troue toujours un asile au Saint lieu,
   Dieu qui le voit, le defend de son trone,
   L'Enfant perdu, c'est L'Enfant du bon Dieu."_

She raised her eyes to heaven and placed one hand on her heart; her
voice was not without a certain sympathetic quality, and Gervaise,
already quivering with emotion caused by the knowledge of Lantier's
presence, could no longer restrain her tears. It seemed to her that
she was the deserted child whom _le bon Dieu_ had taken under His
care. Clemence, who was quite tipsy, burst into loud sobs. The ladies
took out their handkerchiefs and pressed them to their eyes, rather
proud of their tenderness of heart.

The men felt it their duty to respect the feeling shown by the women
and were, in fact, somewhat touched themselves. The wine had softened
their hearts apparently.

Gervaise and Virginie watched the shadows outside. Mme Boche, in her
turn, now caught a glimpse of Lantier and uttered an exclamation as
she wiped away her fast-falling tears. The three women exchanged
terrified, anxious glances.

"Good heavens!" muttered Virginie. "Suppose Coupeau should turn
around. There would be a murder, I am convinced." And the earnestness
of their fixed eyes became so apparent that finally he said:

"What are you staring at?"

And leaning forward, he, too, saw Lantier.

"This is too much," he muttered, "the dirty ruffian! It is too much,
and I won't have it!"

As he started to his feet with an oath, Gervaise put her hand on his
arm imploringly.

"Put down that knife," she said, "and do not go out, I entreat of
you."

Virginie took away the knife that Coupeau had snatched from the table,
but she could not prevent him from going into the street. The other
guests saw nothing, so entirely absorbed were they in the touching
words which Mme Lerat was still singing.

Gervaise sat with her hands clasped convulsively, breathless with
fear, expecting to hear a cry of rage from the street and see one of
the two men fall to the ground. Virginie and Mme Boche had something
of the same feeling. Coupeau had been so overcome by the fresh air
that when he rushed forward to take Lantier by the collar he missed
his footing and found himself seated quietly in the gutter.

Lantier moved aside a little without taking his hands from his
pockets.

Coupeau staggered to his feet again, and a violent quarrel commenced.
Gervaise pressed her hands over her eyes; suddenly all was quiet, and
she opened her eyes again and looked out.

To her intense astonishment she saw Lantier and her husband talking
in a quiet, friendly manner.

Gervaise exchanged a look with Mme Boche and Virginie. What did this
mean?

As the women watched them the two men began to walk up and down in
front of the shop. They were talking earnestly. Coupeau seemed to be
urging something, and Lantier refusing. Finally Coupeau took Lantier's
arm and almost dragged him toward the shop.

"I tell you, you must!" he cried. "You shall drink a glass of wine
with us. Men will be men all the world over. My wife and I know that
perfectly well."

Mme Lerat had finished her song and seated herself with the air of
being utterly exhausted. She asked for a glass of wine. When she sang
that song, she said, she was always torn to pieces, and it left her
nerves in a terrible state.

Lantier had been placed at the table by Coupeau and was eating a
piece of cake, leisurely dipping it into his glass of wine. With
the exception of Mme Boche and Virginie, no one knew him.

The Lorilleuxs looked at him with some suspicion, which, however,
was very far from the mark. An awkward silence followed, broken by
Coupeau, who said simply:

"He is a friend of ours!"

And turning to his wife, he added:

"Can't you move round a little? Perhaps there is a cup of hot coffee!"

Gervaise looked from one to the other. She was literally dazed. When
her husband first appeared with her former lover she had clasped her
hands over her forehead with that instinctive gesture with which in
a great storm one waits for the approach of the thunderclap.

It did not seem possible that the walls would not fall and crush them
all. Then seeing the two men calmly seated together, it all at once
seemed perfectly natural to her. She was tired of thinking about it
and preferred to accept it. Why, after all, should she worry? No one
else did. Everyone seemed to be satisfied; why should not she be also?

The children had fallen asleep in the back room, Pauline with her head
on Etienne's shoulder. Gervaise started as her eyes fell on her boy.
She was shocked at the thought of his father sitting there eating cake
without showing the least desire to see his child. She longed to
awaken him and show him to Lantier. And then again she had a feeling
of passing wonder at the manner in which things settled themselves
in this world.

She would not disturb the serenity of matters now, so she brought
in the coffeepot and poured out a cup for Lantier, who received it
without even looking up at her as he murmured his thanks.

"Now it is my turn to sing!" shouted Coupeau.

His song was one familiar to them all and even to the street, for the
little crowd at the door joined in the chorus. The guests within were
all more or less tipsy, and there was so much noise that the policemen
ran to quell a riot, but when they saw Poisson they bowed respectfully
and passed on.

No one of the party ever knew how or at what hour the festivities
terminated. It must have been very late, for there was not a human
being in the street when they departed. They vaguely remembered having
joined hands and danced around the table. Gervaise remembered that
Lantier was the last to leave, that he passed her as she stood in the
doorway. She felt a breath on her cheek, but whether it was his or the
night air she could not tell.

Mme Lerat had refused to return to Batignolles so late, and a mattress
was laid on the floor in the shop near the table. She slept there amid
the debris of the feast, and a neighbor's cat profited by an open
window to establish herself by her side, where she crunched the bones
of the goose all night between her fine, sharp teeth.



CHAPTER VIII

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE

The following Saturday Coupeau, who had not been home to dinner, came
in with Lantier about ten o'clock. They had been eating pigs' feet at
a restaurant at Montmarte.

"Don't scold, wife," said Coupeau; "we have not been drinking, you
see; we can walk perfectly straight." And he went on to say how they
had met each other quite by accident in the street and how Lantier had
refused to drink with him, saying that when a man had married a nice
little woman he had no business to throw away his money in that way.
Gervaise listened with a faint smile; she had no idea of scolding. Oh
no, it was not worth the trouble, but she was much agitated at seeing
the two men together so soon again, and with trembling hands she
knotted up her loosened hair.

Her workwomen had been gone some time. Nana and Mamma Coupeau were in
bed, and Gervaise, who was just closing her shutters when her husband
appeared, brought out some glasses and the remains of a bottle of
brandy. Lantier did not sit down and avoided addressing her directly.

When she served him, however, he exclaimed:

"A drop, madame; a mere drop!"

Coupeau looked at them for a moment and then expressed his mind fully.
They were no fools, he said, nor were they children. The past was the
past. If people kept up their enmities for nine or ten years no one
would have a soul to speak to soon. As for himself, he was made
differently. He knew they were honest people, and he was sure he
could trust them.

"Of course," murmured Gervaise, hardly knowing what she said, "of
course."

"I regard her as a sister," said Lantier, "only as a sister."

"Give us your hand on that," cried Coupeau, "and let us be good
friends in the future. After all, a good heart is better than gold,
and I estimate friendship as above all price."

And he gave himself a little tap on his breast and looked about for
applause, as if he had uttered rather a noble sentiment.

Then the three silently drank their brandy. Gervaise looked at Lantier
and saw him for the first time, for on the night of the fete she had
seen him, as it were, through a glass, darkly.

He had grown very stout, and his arms and legs very heavy. But his
face was still handsome, although somewhat bloated by liquor and good
living. He was dressed with care and did not look any older than his
years. He was thirty-five. He wore gray pantaloons and a dark blue
frock coat, like any gentleman, and had a watch and a chain on which
hung a ring--a souvenir, apparently.

"I must go," he said presently.

He was at the door when Coupeau recalled him to say that he must never
pass without coming in to say, "How do you do?"

Meanwhile Gervaise, who had disappeared, returned, pushing Etienne
before her. The boy was half asleep but smiled as he rubbed his eyes.
When he saw Lantier he stared and looked uneasily from him to Coupeau.

"Do you know this gentleman?" said his mother.

The child looked away and did not answer, but when his mother repeated
the question he made a little sign that he remembered him. Lantier,
grave and silent, stood still. When Etienne went toward him he stooped
and kissed the child, who did not look at him but burst into tears,
and when he was violently reproached by Coupeau he rushed away.

"It is excitement," said his mother, who was herself very pale.

"He is usually very good and very obedient," said Coupeau. "I have
brought him up well, as you will find out. He will soon get used to
you. He must learn something of life, you see, and will understand one
of these days that people must forget and forgive, and I would cut off
my head sooner than prevent a father from seeing his child!"

He then proposed to finish the bottle of brandy. They all three drank
together again. Lantier was quite undisturbed, and before he left he
insisted on aiding Coupeau to shut up the shop. Then as he dusted his
hands with his handkerchief he wished them a careless good night.

"Sleep well. I am going to try and catch the omnibus. I will see you
soon again."

Lantier kept his word and was seen from that time very often in the
shop. He came only when Coupeau was home and asked for him before he
crossed the threshold. Then seated near the window, always wearing
a frock coat, fresh linen and carefully shaved, he kept up a
conversation like a man who had seen something of the world. By
degrees Coupeau learned something of his life. For the last eight
years he had been at the head of a hat manufactory, and when he was
asked why he had given it up he said vaguely that he was not satisfied
with his partner; he was a rascal, and so on.

But his former position still imparted to him a certain air of
importance. He said, also, that he was on the point of concluding
an important matter--that certain business houses were in process of
establishing themselves, the management of which would be virtually
in his hands. In the meantime he had absolutely not one thing to do
but to walk about with his hands in his pockets.

Any day he pleased, however, he could start again. He had only to
decide on some house. Coupeau did not altogether believe this tale
and insisted that he must be doing something which he did not choose
to tell; otherwise how did he live?

The truth was that Lantier, excessively talkative in regard to other
people's affairs, was very reticent about his own. He lied quite as
often as he spoke the truth and would never tell where he resided.
He said he was never at home, so it was of no use for anyone to come
and see him.

"I am very careful," he said, "in making an engagement. I do not
choose to bind myself to a man and find, when it is too late, that
he intends to make a slave of me. I went one Monday to Champion at
Monrouge. That evening Champion began a political discussion. He and I
differed entirely, and on Tuesday I threw up the situation. You can't
blame me, I am sure, for not being willing to sell my soul and my
convictions for seven francs per day!"

It was now November. Lantier occasionally brought a bunch of violets
to Gervaise. By degrees his visits became more frequent. He seemed
determined to fascinate the whole house, even the _Quartier_, and
he began by ingratiating himself with Clemence and Mme Putois, showing
them both the greatest possible attention.

These two women adored him at the end of a month. Mme Boche, whom he
flattered by calling on her in her loge, had all sorts of pleasant
things to say about him.

As to the Lorilleuxs, they were furious when they found out who he was
and declared that it was a sin and a disgrace for Gervaise to bring
him into her house. But one fine day Lantier bearded them in their
den and ordered a chain made for a lady of his acquaintance and made
himself so agreeable that they begged him to sit down and kept him an
hour. After this visit they expressed their astonishment that a man so
distinguished could ever have seen anything in Wooden Legs to admire.
By degrees, therefore, people had become accustomed to seeing him and
no longer expressed their horror or amazement. Goujet was the only one
who was disturbed. If Lantier came in while he was there he at once
departed and avoided all intercourse with him.

Gervaise was very unhappy. She was conscious of a returning
inclination for Lantier, and she was afraid of herself and of him.
She thought of him constantly; he had taken entire possession of her
imagination. But she grew calmer as days passed on, finding that he
never tried to see her alone and that he rarely looked at her and
never laid the tip of his finger on her.

Virginie, who seemed to read her through and through, asked her what
she feared. Was there ever a man more respectful?

But out of mischief or worse, the woman contrived to get the two into
a corner one day and then led the conversation into a most dangerous
direction. Lantier, in reply to some question, said in measured tones
that his heart was dead, that he lived now only for his son. He never
thought of Claude, who was away. He embraced Etienne every night but
soon forgot he was in the room and amused himself with Clemence.

Then Gervaise began to realize that the past was dead. Lantier had
brought back to her the memory of Plassans and the Hotel Boncoeur.
But this faded away again, and, seeing him constantly, the past was
absorbed in the present. She shook off these memories almost with
disgust. Yes, it was all over, and should he ever dare to allude to
former years she would complain to her husband.

She began again to think of Goujet almost unconsciously.

One morning Clemence said that the night before she had seen Lantier
walking with a woman who had his arm. Yes, he was coming up La Rue
Notre-Dame de Lorette; the woman was a blonde and no better than she
should be. Clemence added that she had followed them until the woman
reached a house where she went in. Lantier waited in the street until
there was a window opened, which was evidently a signal, for he went
into the house at once.

Gervaise was ironing a white dress; she smiled slightly and said that
she believed a Provencal was always crazy after women, and at night
when Lantier appeared she was quite amused at Clemence, who at once
attacked him. He seemed to be, on the whole, rather pleased that he
had been seen. The person was an old friend, he said, one whom he had
not seen for some time--a very stylish woman, in fact--and he told
Clemence to smell of his handkerchief on which his friend had put some
of the perfume she used. Just then Etienne came in, and his father
became very grave and said that he was in jest--that his heart was
dead.

Gervaise nodded approval of this sentiment, but she did not speak.

When spring came Lantier began to talk of moving into that
neighborhood. He wanted a furnished, clean room. Mme Boche and
Gervaise tried to find one for him. But they did not meet with any
success. He was altogether too fastidious in his requirements. Every
evening at the Coupeaus' he wished he could find people like
themselves who would take a lodger.

"You are very comfortable here, I am sure," he would say regularly.

Finally one night when he had uttered this phrase, as usual, Coupeau
cried out:

"If you like this place so much why don't you stay here? We can make
room for you."

And he explained that the linen room could be so arranged that it
would be very comfortable, and Etienne could sleep on a mattress in
the corner.

"No, no," said Lantier; "it would trouble you too much. I know that
you have the most generous heart in the world, but I cannot impose
upon you. Your room would be a passageway to mine, and that would not
be agreeable to any of us."

"Nonsense," said Coupeau. "Have we no invention? There are two
windows; can't one be cut down to the floor and used as a door? In
that case you would enter from the court and not through the shop.
You would be by yourself, and we by ourselves."

There was a long silence, broken finally by Lantier.

"If this could be done," he said, "I should like it, but I am afraid
you would find yourselves too crowded."

He did not look at Gervaise as he spoke, but it was clear that he was
only waiting for a word from her. She did not like the plan at all;
not that the thought of Lantier living under their roof disturbed her,
but she had no idea where she could put the linen as it came in to be
washed and again when it was rough-dry.

But Coupeau was enchanted with the plan. The rent, he said, had always
been heavy to carry, and now they would gain twenty francs per month.
It was not dear for him, and it would help them decidedly. He told his
wife that she could have two great boxes made in which all the linen
of the _Quartier_ could be piled.

Gervaise still hesitated, questioning Mamma Coupeau with her eyes.
Lantier had long since propitiated the old lady by bringing her
gumdrops for her cough.

"If we could arrange it I am sure--" said Gervaise hesitatingly.

"You are too kind," remonstrated Lantier. "I really feel that it would
be an intrusion."

Coupeau flamed out. Why did she not speak up, he should like to know?
Instead of stammering and behaving like a fool?

"Etienne! Etienne!" he shouted.

The boy was asleep with his head on the table. He started up.

"Listen to me. Say to this gentleman, 'I wish it.' Say just those
words and nothing more."

"I wish it!" stammered Etienne, half asleep.

Everybody laughed. But Lantier almost instantly resumed his solemn
air. He pressed Coupeau's hand cordially.

"I accept your proposition," he said. "It is a most friendly one,
and I thank you in my name and in that of my child."

The next morning Marescot, the owner of the house, happening to call,
Gervaise spoke to him of the matter. At first he absolutely refused
and was as disturbed and angry as if she had asked him to build on a
wing for her especial accommodation. Then after a minute examination
of the premises he ended by giving his consent, only on condition,
however, that he should not be required to pay any portion of the
expense, and the Coupeaus signed a paper, agreeing to put everything
into its original condition at the expiration of their lease.

That same evening Coupeau brought in a mason, a painter and a
carpenter, all friends and boon companions of his, who would do this
little job at night, after their day's work was over.

The cutting of the door, the painting and the cleaning would come to
about one hundred francs, and Coupeau agreed to pay them as fast as
his tenant paid him.

The next question was how to furnish the room? Gervaise left Mamma
Coupeau's wardrobe in it. She added a table and two chairs from her
own room. She was compelled to buy a bed and dressing table and divers
other things, which amounted to one hundred and thirty francs. This
she must pay for ten francs each month. So that for nearly a year they
could derive no benefit from their new lodger.

It was early in June that Lantier took possession of his new quarters.
Coupeau had offered the night before to help him with his trunk in
order to avoid the thirty sous for a fiacre. But the other seemed
embarrassed and said his trunk was heavy, and it seemed as if he
preferred to keep it a secret even now where he resided.

He came about three o'clock. Coupeau was not there, and Gervaise,
standing at her shop door, turned white as she recognized the trunk
on the fiacre. It was their old one with which they had traveled from
Plassans. Now it was banged and battered and strapped with cords.

She saw it brought in as she had often seen it in her dreams, and she
vaguely wondered if it were the same fiacre which had taken him and
Adele away. Boche welcomed Lantier cordially. Gervaise stood by in
silent bewilderment, watching them place the trunk in her lodger's
room. Then hardly knowing what she said, she murmured:

"We must take a glass of wine together----"

Lantier, who was busy untying the cords on his trunk, did not look up,
and she added:

"You will join us, Monsieur Boche!"

And she went for some wine and glasses. At that moment she caught
sight of Poisson passing the door. She gave him a nod and a wink which
he perfectly understood: it meant, when he was on duty, that he was
offered a glass of wine. He went round by the courtyard in order not
to be seen. Lantier never saw him without some joke in regard to his
political convictions, which, however, had not prevented the men from
becoming excellent friends.

To one of these jests Boche now replied:

"Did you know," he said, "that when the emperor was in London he was a
policeman, and his special duty was to carry all the intoxicated women
to the station house?"

Gervaise had filled three glasses on the table. She did not care
for any wine; she was sick at heart as she stood looking at Lantier
kneeling on the floor by the side of the trunk. She was wild to know
what it contained. She remembered that in one corner was a pile of
stockings, a shirt or two and an old hat. Were those things still
there? Was she to be confronted with those tattered relics of the
past?

Lantier did not lift the lid, however; he rose and, going to the
table, held his glass high in his hands.

"To your health, madame!" he said.

And Poisson and Boche drank with him.

Gervaise filled their glasses again. The three men wiped their lips
with the backs of their hands.

Then Lantier opened his trunk. It was filled with a hodgepodge of
papers, books, old clothes and bundles of linen. He pulled out a
saucepan, then a pair of boots, followed by a bust of Ledru Rollin
with a broken nose, then an embroidered shirt and a pair of ragged
pantaloons, and Gervaise perceived a mingled and odious smell of
tobacco, leather and dust.

No, the old hat was not in the left corner; in its place was a pin
cushion, the gift of some woman. All at once the strange anxiety with
which she had watched the opening of this trunk disappeared, and in
its place came an intense sadness as she followed each article with
her eyes as Lantier took them out and wondered which belonged to her
time and which to the days when another woman filled his life.

"Look here, Poisson," cried Lantier, pulling out a small book. It
was a scurrilous attack on the emperor, printed at Brussels, entitled
_The Amours of Napoleon III_.

Poisson was aghast. He found no words with which to defend the
emperor. It was in a book--of course, therefore, it was true. Lantier,
with a laugh of triumph, turned away and began to pile up his books
and papers, grumbling a little that there were no shelves on which
to put them. Gervaise promised to buy some for him. He owned Louis
Blanc's _Histoire de Dix Ans_, all but the first volume, which he
had never had, Lamartine's _Les Girondins_, _The Mysteries of
Paris_ and _The Wandering Jew_, by Eugene Sue, without counting
a pile of incendiary volumes which he had picked up at bookstalls.
His old newspapers he regarded with especial respect. He had collected
them with care for years: whenever he had read an article at a cafe
of which he approved, he bought the journal and preserved it. He
consequently had an enormous quantity, of all dates and names, tied
together without order or sequence.

He laid them all in a corner of the room, saying as he did so:

"If people would study those sheets and adopt the ideas therein,
society would be far better organized than it now is. Your emperor
and all his minions would come down a bit on the ladder--"

Here he was interrupted by Poisson, whose red imperial and mustache
irradiated his pale face.

"And the army," he said, "what would you do with that?"

Lantier became very much excited.

"The army!" he cried. "I would scatter it to the four winds of
heaven! I want the military system of the country abolished! I want
the abolition of titles and monopolies! I want salaries equalized!
I want liberty for everyone. Divorces, too--"

"Yes; divorces, of course," interposed Boche. "That is needed in the
cause of morality."

Poisson threw back his head, ready for an argument, but Gervaise,
who did not like discussions, interfered. She had recovered from the
torpor into which she had been plunged by the sight of this trunk, and
she asked the men to take another glass. Lantier was suddenly subdued
and drank his wine, but Boche looked at Poisson uneasily.

"All this talk is between ourselves, is it not?" he said to the
policeman.

Poisson did not allow him to finish: he laid his hand on his heart
and declared that he was no spy. Their words went in at one ear and
out at another. He had forgotten them already.

Coupeau by this time appeared, and more wine was sent for. But Poisson
dared linger no longer, and, stiff and haughty, he departed through
the courtyard.

From the very first Lantier was made thoroughly at home. Lantier had
his separate room, private entrance and key. But he went through the
shop almost always. The accumulation of linen disturbed Gervaise, for
her husband never arranged the boxes he had promised, and she was
obliged to stow it away in all sorts of places, under the bed and in
the corner. She did not like making up Etienne's mattress late at
night either.

Goujet had spoken of sending the child to Lille to his own old master,
who wanted apprentices. The plan pleased her, particularly as the
boy, who was not very happy at home, was impatient to become his own
master. But she dared not ask Lantier, who had come there to live
ostensibly to be near his son. She felt, therefore, that it was hardly
a good plan to send the boy away within a couple of weeks after his
father's arrival.

When, however, she did make up her mind to approach the subject he
expressed warm approval of the idea, saying that youths were far
better in the country than in Paris.

Finally it was decided that Etienne should go, and when the morning
of his departure arrived Lantier read his son a long lecture and then
sent him off, and the house settled down into new habits.

Gervaise became accustomed to seeing the dirty linen lying about and
to seeing Lantier coming in and going out. He still talked with an
important air of his business operations. He went out daily, dressed
with the utmost care and came home, declaring that he was worn out
with the discussions in which he had been engaged and which involved
the gravest and most important interests.

He rose about ten o'clock, took a walk if the day pleased him, and if
it rained he sat in the shop and read his paper. He liked to be there.
It was his delight to live surrounded by a circle of worshiping women,
and he basked indolently in the warmth and atmosphere of ease and
comfort, which characterized the place.

At first Lantier took his meals at the restaurant at the corner, but
after a while he dined three or four times a week with the Coupeaus
and finally requested permission to board with them and agreed to pay
them fifteen francs each Saturday. Thus he was regularly installed and
was one of the family. He was seen in his shirt sleeves in the shop
every morning, attending to any little matters or receiving orders
from the customers. He induced Gervaise to leave her own wine merchant
and go to a friend of his own. Then he found fault with the bread and
sent Augustine to the Vienna bakery in a distant _faubourg_. He
changed the grocer but kept the butcher on account of his political
opinions.

At the end of a month he had instituted a change in the cuisine.
Everything was cooked in oil: being a Provencal, that was what he
adored. He made the omelets himself, which were as tough as leather.
He superintended Mamma Coupeau and insisted that the beefsteaks should
be thoroughly cooked, until they were like the soles of an old shoe.
He watched the salad to see that nothing went in which he did not
like. His favorite dish was vermicelli, into which he poured half
a bottle of oil. This he and Gervaise ate together, for the others,
being Parisians, could not be induced to taste it.

By degrees Lantier attended to all those affairs which fall to the
share of the master of the house and to various details of their
business, in addition. He insisted that if the five francs which the
Lorilleux people had agreed to pay toward the support of Mamma Coupeau
was not forthcoming they should go to law about it. In fact, ten
francs was what they ought to pay. He himself would go and see if he
could not make them agree to that. He went up at once and asked them
in such a way that he returned in triumph with the ten francs. And
Mme Lerat, too, did the same at his representation. Mamma Coupeau
could have kissed Lantier's hands, who played the part, besides, of
an arbiter in the quarrels between the old woman and Gervaise.

The latter, as was natural, sometimes lost patience with the old
woman, who retreated to her bed to weep. He would bluster about and
ask if they were simpletons, to amuse people with their disagreements,
and finally induced them to kiss and be friends once more.

He expressed his mind freely in regard to Nana also. In his opinion
she was brought up very badly, and here he was quite right, for when
her father cuffed her her mother upheld her, and when, in her turn,
the mother reproved, the father made a scene.

Nana was delighted at this and felt herself free to do much as she
pleased.

She had started a new game at the farriery opposite. She spent entire
days swinging on the shafts of the wagons. She concealed herself, with
her troop of followers, at the back of the dark court, redly lit by
the forge, and then would make sudden rushes with screams and whoops,
followed by every child in the neighborhood, reminding one of a flock
of martins or sparrows.

Lantier was the only one whose scoldings had any effect. She listened
to him graciously. This child of ten years of age, precocious and
vicious, coquetted with him as if she had been a grown woman. He
finally assumed the care of her education. He taught her to dance
and to talk slang!

Thus a year passed away. The whole neighborhood supposed Lantier to
be a man of means--otherwise how did the Coupeaus live as they did?
Gervaise, to be sure, still made money, but she supported two men who
did nothing, and the shop, of course, did not make enough for that.
The truth was that Lantier had never paid one sou, either for board
or lodging. He said he would let it run on, and when it amounted to
a good sum he would pay it all at once.

After that Gervaise never dared to ask him for a centime. She got
bread, wine and meat on credit; bills were running up everywhere, for
their expenditures amounted to three and four francs every day. She
had never paid anything, even a trifle on account, to the man from
whom she had bought her furniture or to Coupeau's three friends who
had done the work in Lantier's room. The tradespeople were beginning
to grumble and treated her with less politeness.

But she seemed to be insensible to this; she chose the most expensive
things, having thrown economy to the winds, since she had given up
paying for things at once. She always intended, however, to pay
eventually and had a vague notion of earning hundreds of francs daily
in some extraordinary way by which she could pay all these people.

About the middle of summer Clemence departed, for there was not enough
work for two women; she had waited for her money for some weeks.
Lantier and Coupeau were quite undisturbed, however. They were in the
best of spirits and seemed to be growing fat over the ruined business.

In the _Quartier_ there was a vast deal of gossip. Everybody
wondered as to the terms on which Lantier and Gervaise now stood. The
Lorilleuxs viciously declared that Gervaise would be glad enough to
resume her old relations with Lantier but that he would have nothing
to do with her, for she had grown old and ugly. The Boche people
took a different view, but while everyone declared that the whole
arrangement was a most improper one, they finally accepted it as
quite a matter of course and altogether natural.

It is quite possible there were other homes which were quite as open
to invidious remarks within a stone's throw, but these Coupeaus, as
their neighbors said, were good, kind people. Lantier was especially
ingratiating. It was decided, therefore, to let things go their own
way undisturbed.

Gervaise lived quietly indifferent to, and possibly entirely
unsuspicious of, all these scandals. By and by it came to pass that
her husband's own people looked on her as utterly heartless. Mme Lerat
made her appearance every evening, and she treated Lantier as if he
were utterly irresistible, into whose arms any and every woman would
be only too glad to fall. An actual league seemed to be forming
against Gervaise: all the women insisted on giving her a lover.

But she saw none of these fascinations in him. He had changed,
unquestionably, and the external changes were all in his favor. He
wore a frock coat and had acquired a certain polish. But she who knew
him so well looked down into his soul through his eyes and shuddered
at much she saw there. She could not understand what others saw in him
to admire. And she said so one day to Virginie. Then Mme Lerat and
Virginie vied with each other in the stories they told of Clemence and
himself--what they did and said whenever her back was turned--and now
they were sure, since she had left the establishment, that he went
regularly to see her.

"Well, what of it?" asked Gervaise, her voice trembling. "What have
I to do with that?"

But she looked into Virginie's dark brown eyes, which were specked
with gold and emitted sparks as do those of cats. But the woman put
on a stupid look as she answered:

"Why, nothing, of course; only I should think you would advise him
not to have anything to do with such a person."

Lantier was gradually changing his manner to Gervaise. Now when he
shook hands with her he held her fingers longer than was necessary.
He watched her incessantly and fixed his bold eyes upon her. He leaned
over her so closely that she felt his breath on her cheek. But one
evening, being alone with her, he caught her in both arms. At that
moment Goujet entered. Gervaise wrenched herself free, and the three
exchanged a few words as if nothing had happened. Goujet was very pale
and seemed embarrassed, supposing that he had intruded upon them and
that she had pushed Lantier aside only because she did not choose to
be embraced in public.

The next day Gervaise was miserable, unhappy and restless. She could
not iron a handkerchief. She wanted to see Goujet and tell him just
what had happened, but ever since Etienne had gone to Lille she had
given up going to the forge, as she was quite unable to face the
knowing winks with which his comrades received her. But this day she
determined to go, and, taking an empty basket on her arms, she started
off, pretending that she was going with skirts to some customers in
La Rue des Portes-Blanches.

Goujet seemed to be expecting her, for she met him loitering on the
corner.

"Ah," he said with a wan smile, "you are going home, I presume?"

He hardly knew what he was saying, and they both turned toward
Montmartre without another word. They merely wished to go away from
the forge. They passed several manufactories and soon found themselves
with an open field before them. A goat was tethered near by and
bleating as it browsed, and a dead tree was crumbling away in the
hot sun.

"One might almost think oneself in the country," murmured Gervaise.

They took a seat under the dead tree. The clearstarcher set the basket
down at her feet. Before them stretched the heights of Montmartre,
with its rows of yellow and gray houses amid clumps of trees, and
when they threw back their heads a little they saw the whole sky
above, clear and cloudless, but the sunlight dazzled them, and they
looked over to the misty outlines of the _faubourg_ and watched the
smoke rising from tall chimneys in regular puffs, indicating the
machinery which impelled it. These great sighs seemed to relieve
their own oppressed breasts.

"Yes," said Gervaise after a long silence. "I have been on a long
walk, and I came out--"

She stopped. After having been so eager for an explanation she found
herself unable to speak and overwhelmed with shame. She knew that he
as well as herself had come to that place with the wish and intention
of speaking on one especial subject, and yet neither of them dared to
allude to it. The occurrence of the previous evening weighed on both
their souls.

Then with a heart torn with anguish and with tears in her eyes, she
told him of the death of Mme Bijard, who had breathed her last that
morning after suffering unheard-of agonies.

"It was caused by a kick of Bijard's," she said in her low, soft
voice; "some internal injury. For three days she has suffered
frightfully. Why are not such men punished? I suppose, though, if the
law undertook to punish all the wretches who kill their wives that it
would have too much to do. After all, one kick more or less: what does
it matter in the end? And this poor creature, in her desire to save
her husband from the scaffold, declared she had fallen over a tub."

Goujet did not speak. He sat pulling up the tufts of grass.

"It is not a fortnight," continued Gervaise, "since she weaned her
last baby, and here is that child Lalie left to take care of two
mites. She is not eight years old but as quiet and sensible as if
she were a grown woman, and her father kicks and strikes her too.
Poor little soul! There are some persons in this world who seem
born to suffer."

Goujet looked at her and then said suddenly, with trembling lips:

"You made me suffer yesterday."

Gervaise clasped her hands imploringly, and he continued:

"I knew of course how it must end; only you should not have allowed me
to think--"

He could not finish. She started up, seeing what his convictions were.
She cried out:

"You are wrong! I swear to you that you are wrong! He was going to
kiss me, but his lips did not touch me, and it is the very first time
that he made the attempt. Believe me, for I swear--on all that I hold
most sacred--that I am telling you the truth."

But the blacksmith shook his head. He knew that women did not always
tell the truth on such points. Gervaise then became very grave.

"You know me well," she said; "you know that I am no liar. I again
repeat that Lantier and I are friends. We shall never be anything
more, for if that should ever come to pass I should regard myself
as the vilest of the vile and should be unworthy of the friendship
of a man like yourself." Her face was so honest, her eyes were so
clear and frank, that he could do no less than believe her. Once more
he breathed freely. He held her hand for the first time. Both were
silent. White clouds sailed slowly above their heads with the majesty
of swans. The goat looked at them and bleated piteously, eager to be
released, and they stood hand in hand on that bleak slope with tears
in their eyes.

"Your mother likes me no longer," said Gervaise in a low voice. "Do
not say no; how can it be otherwise? We owe you so much money."

He roughly shook her arm in his eagerness to check the words on her
lips; he would not hear her. He tried to speak, but his throat was
too dry; he choked a little and then he burst out:

"Listen to me," he cried; "I have long wished to say something to you.
You are not happy. My mother says things are all going wrong with you,
and," he hesitated, "we must go away together and at once."

She looked at him, not understanding him but impressed by this abrupt
declaration of a love from him, who had never before opened his lips
in regard to it.

"What do you mean?" she said.

"I mean," he answered without looking in her face, "that we two can
go away and live in Belgium. It is almost the same to me as home, and
both of us could get work and live comfortably."

The color came to her face, which she would have hidden on his
shoulder to hide her shame and confusion. He was a strange fellow to
propose an elopement. It was like a book and like the things she heard
of in high society. She had often seen and known of the workmen about
her making love to married women, but they did not think of running
away with them.

"Ah, Monsieur Goujet!" she murmured, but she could say no more.

"Yes," he said, "we two would live all by ourselves."

But as her self-possession returned she refused with firmness.

"It is impossible," she said, "and it would be very wrong. I am
married and I have children. I know that you are fond of me, and I
love you too much to allow you to commit any such folly as you are
talking of, and this would be an enormous folly. No; we must live on
as we are. We respect each other now. Let us continue to do so. That
is a great deal and will help us over many a roughness in our paths.
And when we try to do right we are sure of a reward."

He shook his head as he listened to her, but he felt she was right.
Suddenly he snatched her in his arms and kissed her furiously once and
then dropped her and turned abruptly away. She was not angry, but the
locksmith trembled from head to foot. He began to gather some of the
wild daisies, not knowing what to do with his hands, and tossed them
into her empty basket. This occupation amused him and tranquillized
him. He broke off the head of the flowers and, when he missed his
mark and they fell short of the basket, laughed aloud.

Gervaise sat with her back against the tree, happy and calm. And when
she set forth on her walk home her basket was full of daisies, and
she was talking of Etienne.

In reality Gervaise was more afraid of Lantier than she was willing
to admit even to herself. She was fully determined never to allow
the smallest familiarity, but she was afraid that she might yield
to his persuasions, for she well knew the weakness and amiability of
her nature and how hard it was for her to persist in any opposition
to anyone.

Lantier, however, did not put this determination on her part to
the test. He was often alone with her now and was always quiet and
respectful. Coupeau declared to everyone that Lantier was a true
friend. There was no nonsense about him; he could be relied upon
always and in all emergencies. And he trusted him thoroughly, he
declared. When they went out together--the three--on Sundays he bade
his wife and Lantier walk arm in arm, while he mounted guard behind,
ready to cuff the ears of anyone who ventured on a disrespectful
glance, a sneer or a wink.

He laughed good-naturedly before Lantier's face, told him he put on
a great many airs with his coats and his books, but he liked him in
spite of them. They understood each other, he said, and a man's liking
for another man is more solid and enduring than his love for a woman.

Coupeau and Lantier made the money fly. Lantier was continually
borrowing money from Gervaise--ten francs, twenty francs--whenever
he knew there was money in the house. It was always because he was in
pressing need for some business matter. But still on those same days
he took Coupeau off with him and at some distant restaurant ordered
and devoured such dishes as they could not obtain at home, and these
dishes were washed down by bottle after bottle of wine.

Coupeau would have preferred to get tipsy without the food, but he
was impressed by the elegance and experience of his friend, who found
on the carte so many extraordinary sauces. He had never seen a man
like him, he declared, so dainty and so difficult. He wondered if all
southerners were the same as he watched him discussing the dishes with
the waiter and sending away a dish that was too salty or had too much
pepper.

Neither could he endure a draft: his skin was all blue if a door was
left open, and he made no end of a row until it was closed again.

Lantier was not wasteful in certain ways, for he never gave a
_garcon_ more than two sous after he had served a meal that cost
some seven or eight francs.

They never alluded to these dinners the next morning at their simple
breakfast with Gervaise. Naturally people cannot frolic and work, too,
and since Lantier had become a member of his household Coupeau had
never lifted a tool. He knew every drinking shop for miles around and
would sit and guzzle deep into the night, not always pleased to find
himself deserted by Lantier, who never was known to be overcome by
liquor.

About the first of November Coupeau turned over a new leaf; he
declared he was going to work the next day, and Lantier thereupon
preached a little sermon, declaring that labor ennobled man, and
in the morning arose before it was light to accompany his friend to
the shop, as a mark of the respect he felt. But when they reached a
wineshop on the corner they entered to take a glass merely to cement
good resolutions.

Near the counter they beheld Bibi-la-Grillade smoking his pipe with
a sulky air.

"What is the matter, Bibi?" cried Coupeau.

"Nothing," answered his comrade, "except that I got my walking ticket
yesterday. Perdition seize all masters!" he added fiercely.

And Bibi accepted a glass of liquor. Lantier defended the masters.
They were not so bad after all; then, too, how were the men to get
along without them? "To be sure," continued Lantier, "I manage pretty
well, for I don't have much to do with them myself!"

"Come, my boy," he added, turning to Coupeau; "we shall be late if
we don't look out."

Bibi went out with them. Day was just breaking, gray and cloudy. It
had rained the night before and was damp and warm. The street lamps
had just been extinguished. There was one continued tramp of men going
to their work.

Coupeau, with his bag of tools on his shoulder, shuffled along; his
footsteps had long since lost their ring.

"Bibi," he said, "come with me; the master told me to bring a comrade
if I pleased."

"It won't be me then," answered Bibi. "I wash my hands of them all.
No more masters for me, I tell you! But I dare say Mes-Bottes would
be glad of the offer."

And as they reached the Assommoir they saw Mes-Bottes within.
Notwithstanding the fact that it was daylight, the gas was blazing
in the Assommoir. Lantier remained outside and told Coupeau to make
haste, as they had only ten minutes.

"Do you think I will work for your master?" cried Mes-Bottes. "He is
the greatest tyrant in the kingdom. No, I should rather suck my thumbs
for a year. You won't stay there, old man! No, you won't stay there
three days, now I tell you!"

"Are you in earnest?" asked Coupeau uneasily.

"Yes, I am in earnest. You can't speak--you can't move. Your nose
is held close to the grindstone all the time. He watches you every
moment. If you drink a drop he says you are tipsy and makes no end
of a row!"

"Thanks for the warning. I will try this one day, and if the master
bothers me I will just tell him what I think of him and turn on my
heel and walk out."

Coupeau shook his comrade's hand and turned to depart, much to the
disgust of Mes-Bottes, who angrily asked if the master could not wait
five minutes. He could not go until he had taken a drink. Lantier
entered to join in, and Mes-Bottes stood there with his hat on the
back of his head, shabby, dirty and staggering, ordering Father
Colombe to pour out the glasses and not to cheat.

At that moment Goujet and Lorilleux were seen going by. Mes-Bottes
shouted to them to come in, but they both refused--Goujet saying he
wanted nothing, and the other, as he hugged a little box of gold
chains close to his heart, that he was in a hurry.

"Milksops!" muttered Mes-Bottes. "They had best pass their lives in
the corner by the fire!"

Returning to the counter, he renewed his attack on Father Colombe,
whom he accused of adulterating his liquors.

It was now bright daylight, and the proprietor of the Assommoir began
to extinguish the lights. Coupeau made excuses for his brother-in-law,
who, he said, could never drink; it was not his fault, poor fellow!
He approved, too, of Goujet, declaring that it was a good thing never
to be thirsty. Again he made a move to depart and go to his work when
Lantier, with his dictatorial air, reminded him that he had not paid
his score and that he could not go off in that way, even if it were
to his duty.

"I am sick of the words 'work' and 'duty,'" muttered Mes-Bottes.

They all paid for their drinks with the exception of Bibi-la-Grillade,
who stooped toward the ear of Father Colombe and whispered a few
words. The latter shook his head, whereupon Mes-Bottes burst into a
torrent of invectives, but Colombe stood in impassive silence, and
when there was a lull in the storm he said:

"Let your friends pay for you then--that is a very simple thing to
do."

By this time Mes-Bottes was what is properly called howling drunk, and
as he staggered away from the counter he struck the bag of tools which
Coupeau had over his shoulder.

"You look like a peddler with his pack or a humpback. Put it down!"

Coupeau hesitated a moment, and then slowly and deliberately, as if he
had arrived at a decision after mature deliberation, he laid his bag
on the ground.

"It is too late to go this morning. I will wait until after breakfast
now. I will tell him my wife was sick. Listen, Father Colombe, I will
leave my bag of tools under this bench and come for them this
afternoon."

Lantier assented to this arrangement. Of course work was a good thing,
but friends and good company were better; and the four men stood,
first on one foot and then on the other, for more than an hour, and
then they had another drink all round. After that a game of billiards
was proposed, and they went noisily down the street to the nearest
billiard room, which did not happen to please the fastidious Lantier,
who, however, soon recovered his good humor under the effect of the
admiration excited in the minds of his friends by his play, which
was really very extraordinary.

When the hour arrived for breakfast Coupeau had an idea.

"Let us go and find Bec Sali. I know where he works. We will make him
breakfast with us."

The idea was received with applause. The party started forth. A fine
drizzling rain was now falling, but they were too warm within to mind
this light sprinkling on their shoulders.

Coupeau took them to a factory where his friend worked and at the door
gave two sous to a small boy to go up and find Bec Sali and to tell
him that his wife was very sick and had sent for him.

Bec Sali quickly appeared, not in the least disturbed, as he suspected
a joke.

"Aha!" he said as he saw his friend. "I knew it!" They went to a
restaurant and ordered a famous repast of pigs' feet, and they sat
and sucked the bones and talked about their various employers.

"Will you believe," said Bec Sali, "that mine has had the brass to
hang up a bell? Does he think we are slaves to run when he rings it?
Never was he so mistaken--"

"I am obliged to leave you!" said Coupeau, rising at last with an
important air. "I promised my wife to go to work today, and I leave
you with the greatest reluctance."

The others protested and entreated, but he seemed so decided that they
all accompanied him to the Assommoir to get his tools. He pulled out
the bag from under the bench and laid it at his feet while they all
took another drink. The clock struck one, and Coupeau kicked his bag
under the bench again. He would go tomorrow to the factory; one day
really did not make much difference.

The rain had ceased, and one of the men proposed a little walk on the
boulevards to stretch their legs. The air seemed to stupefy them, and
they loitered along with their arms swinging at their sides, without
exchanging a word. When they reached the wineshop on the corner of La
Rue des Poissonniers they turned in mechanically. Lantier led the way
into a small room divided from the public one by windows only. This
room was much affected by Lantier, who thought it more stylish by far
than the public one. He called for a newspaper, spread it out and
examined it with a heavy frown. Coupeau and Mes-Bottes played a game
of cards, while wine and glasses occupied the center of the table.

"What is the news?" asked Bibi.

Lantier did not reply instantly, but presently, as the others emptied
their glasses, he began to read aloud an account of a frightful
murder, to which they listened with eager interest. Then ensued a hot
discussion and argument as to the probable motives for the murder.

By this time the wine was exhausted, and they called for more. About
five all except Lantier were in a state of beastly intoxication, and
he found them so disgusting that, as usual, he made his escape without
his comrades noticing his defection.

Lantier walked about a little and then, when he felt all right, went
home and told Gervaise that her husband was with his friends. Coupeau
did not make his appearance for two days. Rumors were brought in that
he had been seen in one place and then in another, and always alone.
His comrades had apparently deserted him. Gervaise shrugged her
shoulders with a resigned air.

"Good heavens!" she said. "What a way to live!" She never thought of
hunting him up. Indeed, on the afternoon of the third day, when she
saw him through the window of a wineshop, she turned back and would
not pass the door. She sat up for him, however, and listened for his
step or the sound of his hand fumbling at the lock.

The next morning he came in, only to begin the same thing at night
again. This went on for a week, and at last Gervaise went to the
Assommoir to make inquiries. Yes, he had been there a number of times,
but no one knew where he was just then. Gervaise picked up the bag
of tools and carried them home.

Lantier, seeing that Gervaise was out of spirits, proposed that she
should go with him to a cafe concert. She refused at first, being
in no mood for laughing; otherwise she would have consented, for
Lantier's proposal seemed to be prompted by the purest friendliness.
He seemed really sorry for her trouble and, indeed, assumed an
absolutely paternal air.

Coupeau had never stayed away like this before, and she continually
found herself going to the door and looking up and down the street.
She could not keep to her work but wandered restlessly from place
to place. Had Coupeau broken a limb? Had he fallen into the water?
She did not think she could care so very much if he were killed, if
this uncertainty were over, if she only knew what she had to expect.
But it was very trying to live in this suspense.

Finally when the gas was lit and Lantier renewed his proposition of
the cafe she consented. After all, why should she not go? Why should
she refuse all pleasures because her husband chose to behave in this
disgraceful way? If he would not come in she would go out.

They hurried through their dinner, and as she went out with Lantier
at eight o'clock Gervaise begged Nana and Mamma Coupeau to go to bed
early. The shop was closed, and she gave the key to Mme Boche, telling
her that if Coupeau came in it would be as well to look out for the
lights.

Lantier stood whistling while she gave these directions. Gervaise
wore her silk dress, and she smiled as they walked down the street
in alternate shadow and light from the shopwindows.

The cafe concert was on the Boulevard de Rochechoumart. It had once
been a cafe and had had a concert room built on of rough planks.

Over the door was a row of glass globes brilliantly illuminated.
Long placards, nailed on wood, were standing quite out in the street
by the side of the gutter.

"Here we are!" said Lantier. "Mademoiselle Amanda makes her debut
tonight."

Bibi-la-Grillade was reading the placard. Bibi had a black eye, as if
he had been fighting.

"Hallo!" cried Lantier. "How are you? Where is Coupeau? Have you lost
him?"

"Yes, since yesterday. We had a little fight with a waiter at Baquets.
He wanted us to pay twice for what we had, and somehow Coupeau and I
got separated, and I have not seen him since."

And Bibi gave a great yawn. He was in a disgraceful state of
intoxication. He looked as if he had been rolling in the gutter.

"And you know nothing of my husband?" asked Gervaise.

"No, nothing. I think, though, he went off with a coachman."

Lantier and Gervaise passed a very agreeable evening at the cafe
concert, and when the doors were closed at eleven they went home in a
sauntering sort of fashion. They were in no hurry, and the night was
fair, though a little cool. Lantier hummed the air which Amanda had
sung, and Gervaise added the chorus. The room had been excessively
warm, and she had drunk several glasses of wine.

She expressed a great deal of indignation at Mlle Amanda's costume.
How did she dare face all those men, dressed like that? But her skin
was beautiful, certainly, and she listened with considerable curiosity
to all that Lantier could tell her about the woman.

"Everybody is asleep," said Gervaise after she had rung the bell
three times.

The door was finally opened, but there was no light. She knocked at
the door of the Boche quarters and asked for her key.

The sleepy concierge muttered some unintelligible words, from which
Gervaise finally gathered that Coupeau had been brought in by Poisson
and that the key was in the door.

Gervaise stood aghast at the disgusting sight that met her eyes as
she entered the room where Coupeau lay wallowing on the floor.

She shuddered and turned away. This sight annihilated every ray of
sentiment remaining in her heart.

"What am I to do?" she said piteously. "I can't stay here!"

Lantier snatched her hand.

"Gervaise," he said, "listen to me."

But she understood him and drew hastily back.

"No, no! Leave me, Auguste. I can manage."

But Lantier would not obey her. He put his arm around her waist and
pointed to her husband as he lay snoring, with his mouth wide open.

"Leave me!" said Gervaise, imploringly, and she pointed to the room
where her mother-in-law and Nana slept.

"You will wake them!" she said. "You would not shame me before my
child? Pray go!"

He said no more but slowly and softly kissed her on her ear, as
he had so often teased her by doing in those old days. Gervaise
shivered, and her blood was stirred to madness in her veins.

"What does that beast care?" she thought. "It is his fault," she
murmured; "all his fault. He sends me from his room!"

And as Lantier drew her toward his door Nana's face appeared for
a moment at the window which lit her little cabinet.

The mother did not see the child, who stood in her nightdress, pale
with sleep. She looked at her father as he lay and then watched her
mother disappear in Lantier's room. She was perfectly grave, but
in her eyes burned the sensual curiosity of premature vice.



CHAPTER IX

CLOUDS IN THE HORIZON

That winter Mamma Coupeau was very ill with an asthmatic attack,
which she always expected in the month of December.

The poor woman suffered much, and the depression of her spirits was
naturally very great. It must be confessed that there was nothing very
gay in the aspect of the room where she slept. Between her bed and
that of the little girl there was just room for a chair. The paper
hung in strips from the wall. Through a round window near the ceiling
came a dreary gray light. There was little ventilation in the room,
which made it especially unfit for the old woman, who at night, when
Nana was there and she could hear her breathe, did not complain, but
when left alone during the day, moaned incessantly, rolling her head
about on her pillow.

"Ah," she said, "how unhappy I am! It is the same as a prison. I wish
I were dead!"

And as soon as a visitor came in--Virginie or Mme Boche--she poured
out her grievances. "I should not suffer so much among strangers.
I should like sometimes a cup of tisane, but I can't get it; and
Nana--that child whom I have raised from the cradle--disappears in the
morning and never shows her face until night, when she sleeps right
through and never once asks me how I am or if she can do anything for
me. It will soon be over, and I really believe this clearstarcher
would smother me herself--if she were not afraid of the law!"

Gervaise, it is true, was not as gentle and sweet as she had been.
Everything seemed to be going wrong with her, and she had lost heart
and patience together. Mamma Coupeau had overheard her saying that
she was really a great burden. This naturally cut her to the heart,
and when she saw her eldest daughter, Mme Lerat, she wept piteously
and declared that she was being starved to death, and when these
complaints drew from her daughter's pocket a little silver, she
expended it in dainties.

She told the most preposterous tales to Mme Lerat about Gervaise--of
her new finery and of cakes and delicacies eaten in the corner and
many other things of infinitely more consequence. Then in a little
while she turned against the Lorilleuxs and talked of them in the most
bitter manner. At the height of her illness it so happened that her
two daughters met one afternoon at her bedside. Their mother made a
motion to them to come closer. Then she went on to tell them, between
paroxysms of coughing, that her son came home dead drunk the night
before and that she was absolutely certain that Gervaise spent the
night in Lantier's room. "It is all the more disgusting," she added,
"because I am certain that Nana heard what was going on quite as well
as I did."

The two women did not appear either shocked or surprised.

"It is none of our business," said Mme Lorilleux. "If Coupeau does not
choose to take any notice of her conduct it is not for us to do so."

All the neighborhood were soon informed of the condition of things by
her two sisters-in-law, who declared they entered her doors only on
their mother's account, who, poor thing, was compelled to live amid
these abominations.

Everyone accused Gervaise now of having perverted poor Lantier. "Men
will be men," they said; "surely you can't expect them to turn a cold
shoulder to women who throw themselves at their heads. She has no
possible excuse; she is a disgrace to the whole street!"

The Lorilleuxs invited Nana to dinner that they might question her,
but as soon as they began the child looked absolutely stupid, and
they could extort nothing from her.

Amid this sudden and fierce indignation Gervaise lived--indifferent,
dull and stupid. At first she loathed herself, and if Coupeau laid
his hand on her she shivered and ran away from him. But by degrees
she became accustomed to it. Her indolence had become excessive,
and she only wished to be quiet and comfortable.

After all, she asked herself, why should she care? If her lover
and her husband were satisfied, why should she not be too? So
the household went on much as usual to all appearance. In reality,
whenever Coupeau came in tipsy, she left and went to Lantier's room
to sleep. She was not led there by passion or affection; it was simply
that it was more comfortable. She was very like a cat in her choice
of soft, clean places.

Mamma Coupeau never dared to speak out openly to the clearstarcher,
but after a dispute she was unsparing in her hints and allusions. The
first time Gervaise fixed her eyes on her and heard all she had to say
in profound silence. Then without seeming to speak of herself, she
took occasion to say not long afterward that when a woman was married
to a man who was drinking himself to death a woman was very much to
be pitied and by no means to blame if she looked for consolation
elsewhere.

Another time, when taunted by the old woman, she went still further
and declared that Lantier was as much her husband as was Coupeau--that
he was the father of two of her children. She talked a little twaddle
about the laws of nature, and a shrewd observer would have seen that
she--parrotlike--was repeating the words that some other person had
put into her mouth. Besides, what were her neighbors doing all about
her? They were not so extremely respectable that they had the right
to attack her. And then she took house after house and showed her
mother-in-law that while apparently so deaf to gossip she yet knew
all that was going on about her. Yes, she knew--and now seemed to
gloat over that which once had shocked and revolted her.

"It is none of my business, I admit," she cried; "let each person
live as he pleases, according to his own light, and let everybody
else alone."

One day when Mamma Coupeau spoke out more clearly she said with
compressed lips:

"Now look here, you are flat on your back and you take advantage of
that fact. I have never said a word to you about your own life, but
I know it all the same--and it was atrocious! That is all! I am not
going into particulars, but remember, you had best not sit in
judgment on me!"

The old woman was nearly suffocated with rage and her cough.

The next day Goujet came for his mother's wash while Gervaise was
out. Mamma Coupeau called him into her room and kept him for an hour.
She read the young man's heart; she knew that his suspicions made
him miserable. And in revenge for something that had displeased
her she told him the truth with many sighs and tears, as if her
daughter-in-law's infamous conduct was a bitter blow to her.

When Goujet left her room he was deadly pale and looked ten years
older than when he went in. The old woman had, too, the additional
pleasure of telling Gervaise on her return that Mme Goujet had sent
word that her linen must be returned to her at once, ironed or
unironed. And she was so animated and comparatively amiable that
Gervaise scented the truth and knew instinctively what she had done
and what she was to expect with Goujet. Pale and trembling, she piled
the linen neatly in a basket and set forth to see Mme Goujet. Years
had passed since she had paid her friends one penny. The debt still
stood at four hundred and twenty-five francs. Each time she took the
money for her washing she spoke of being pressed just at that time.
It was a great mortification for her.

Coupeau was, however, less scrupulous and said with a laugh that if
she kissed her friend occasionally in the corner it would keep things
straight and pay him well. Then Gervaise, with eyes blazing with
indignation, would ask if he really meant that. Had he fallen so low?
Nor should he speak of Goujet in that way in her presence.

Every time she took home the linen of these former friends she
ascended the stairs with a sick heart.

"Ah, it is you, is it?" said Mme Goujet coldly as she opened the door.
Gervaise entered with some hesitation; she did not dare attempt to
excuse herself. She was no longer punctual to the hour or the
day--everything about her was becoming perfectly disorderly.

"For one whole week," resumed the lace mender, "you have kept me
waiting. You have told me falsehood after falsehood. You have sent
your apprentice to tell me that there was an accident--something had
been spilled on the shirts, they would come the next day, and so on.
I have been unnecessarily annoyed and worried, besides losing much
time. There is no sense in it! Now what have you brought home? Are
the shirts here which you have had for a month and the skirt which
was missing last week?"

"Yes," said Gervaise, almost inaudibly; "yes, the skirt is here.
Look at it!"

But Mme Goujet cried out in indignation.

That skirt did not belong to her, and she would not have it. This was
the crowning touch, if her things were to be changed in this way. She
did not like other people's things.

"And the shirts? Where are they? Lost, I suppose. Very well, settle it
as you please, but these shirts I must have tomorrow morning!"

There was a long silence. Gervaise was much disturbed by seeing that
the door of Goujet's room was wide open. He was there, she was sure,
and listening to all these reproaches which she knew to be deserved
and to which she could not reply. She was very quiet and submissive
and laid the linen on the bed as quickly as possible.

Mme Goujet began to examine the pieces.

"Well! Well!" she said. "No one can praise your washing nowadays.
There is not a piece here that is not dirtied by the iron. Look at
this shirt: it is scorched, and the buttons are fairly torn off by the
root. Everything comes back--that comes at all, I should say--with the
buttons off. Look at that sack: the dirt is all in it. No, no, I can't
pay for such washing as this!"

She stopped talking--while she counted the pieces. Then she exclaimed:

"Two pairs of stockings, six towels and one napkin are missing from
this week. You are laughing at me, it seems. Now, just understand,
I tell you to bring back all you have, ironed or not ironed. If in
an hour your woman is not here with the rest I have done with you,
Madame Coupeau!"

At this moment Goujet coughed. Gervaise started. How could she bear
being treated in this way before him? And she stood confused and
silent, waiting for the soiled clothes.

Mme Goujet had taken her place and her work by the window.

"And the linen?" said Gervaise timidly.

"Many thanks," said the old woman. "There is nothing this week."

Gervaise turned pale; it was clear that Mme Goujet meant to take away
her custom from her. She sank into a chair. She made no attempt at
excuses; she only asked a question.

"Is Monsieur Goujet ill?"

"He is not well; at least he has just come in and is lying down to
rest a little."

Mme Goujet spoke very slowly, almost solemnly, her pale face encircled
by her white cap, and wearing, as usual, her plain black dress.

And she explained that they were obliged to economize very closely.
In future she herself would do their washing. Of course Gervaise must
know that this would not be necessary had she and her husband paid
their debt to her son. But of course they would submit; they would
never think of going to law about it. While she spoke of the debt her
needle moved rapidly to and fro in the delicate meshes of her work.

"But," continued Mme Goujet, "if you were to deny yourself a little
and be careful and prudent, you could soon discharge your debt to us;
you live too well; you spend too freely. Were you to give us only ten
francs each month--"

She was interrupted by her son, who called impatiently, "Mother! Come
here, will you?"

When she returned she changed the conversation. Her son had
undoubtedly begged her to say no more about this money to Gervaise. In
spite of her evident determination to avoid this subject, she returned
to it again in about ten minutes. She knew from the beginning just
what would happen. She had said so at the time, and all had turned out
precisely as she had prophesied. The tinworker had drunk up the shop
and had left his wife to bear the load by herself. If her son had
taken her advice he would never have lent the money. His marriage
had fallen through, and he had lost his spirits. She grew very angry
as she spoke and finally accused Gervaise openly of having, with her
husband, deliberately conspired to cheat her simplehearted son.

"Many women," she exclaimed, "played the parts of hypocrites and
prudes for years and were found out at the last!"

"Mother! Mother!" called Goujet peremptorily.

She rose and when she returned said:

"Go in; he wants to see you."

Gervaise obeyed, leaving the door open behind her. She found the room
sweet and fresh looking, like that of a young girl, with its simple
pictures and white curtains.

Goujet, crushed by what he had heard from Mamma Coupeau, lay at full
length on the bed with pale face and haggard eyes.

"Listen!" he said. "You must not mind my mother's words; she does not
understand. You do not owe me anything."

He staggered to his feet and stood leaning against the bed and looking
at her.

"Are you ill?" she said nervously.

"No, not ill," he answered, "but sick at heart. Sick when I remember
what you said and see the truth. Leave me. I cannot bear to look at
you."

And he waved her away, not angrily, but with great decision. She went
out without a word, for she had nothing to say. In the next room she
took up her basket and stood still a moment; Mme Goujet did not look
up, but she said:

"Remember, I want my linen at once, and when that is all sent back
to me we will settle the account."

"Yes," answered Gervaise. And she closed the door, leaving behind her
all that sweet odor and cleanliness on which she had once placed so
high a value. She returned to the shop with her head bowed down and
looking neither to the right nor the left.

Mother Coupeau was sitting by the fire, having left her bed for the
first time. Gervaise said nothing to her--not a word of reproach or
congratulation. She felt deadly tired; all her bones ached, as if she
had been beaten. She thought life very hard and wished that it were
over for her.

Gervaise soon grew to care for nothing but her three meals per day.
The shop ran itself; one by one her customers left her. Gervaise
shrugged her shoulders half indifferently, half insolently; everybody
could leave her, she said: she could always get work. But she was
mistaken, and soon it became necessary for her to dismiss Mme Putois,
keeping no assistant except Augustine, who seemed to grow more and
more stupid as time went on. Ruin was fast approaching. Naturally, as
indolence and poverty increased, so did lack of cleanliness. No one
would ever have known that pretty blue shop in which Gervaise had
formerly taken such pride. The windows were unwashed and covered with
the mud scattered by the passing carriages. Within it was still more
forlorn: the dampness of the steaming linen had ruined the paper;
everything was covered with dust; the stove, which once had been kept
so bright, was broken and battered. The long ironing table was covered
with wine stains and grease, looking as if it had served a whole
garrison. The atmosphere was loaded with a smell of cooking and of
sour starch. But Gervaise was unconscious of it. She did not notice
the torn and untidy paper and, having ceased to pay any attention to
personal cleanliness, was hardly likely to spend her time in scrubbing
the greasy floors. She allowed the dust to accumulate over everything
and never lifted a finger to remove it. Her own comfort and
tranquillity were now her first considerations.

Her debts were increasing, but they had ceased to give her any
uneasiness. She was no longer honest or straightforward. She did not
care whether she ever paid or not, so long as she got what she wanted.
When one shop refused her more credit she opened an account next
door. She owed something in every shop in the whole _Quartier_. She
dared not pass the grocer or the baker in her own street and was
compelled to make a lengthy circuit each time she went out. The
tradespeople muttered and grumbled, and some went so far as to call
her a thief and a swindler.

One evening the man who had sold her the furniture for Lantier's room
came in with ugly threats.

Such scenes were unquestionably disagreeable. She trembled for an hour
after them, but they never took away her appetite.

It was very stupid of these people, after all, she said to Lantier.
How could she pay them if she had no money? And where could she get
money? She closed her eyes to the inevitable and would not think of
the future. Mamma Coupeau was well again, but the household had been
disorganized for more than a year. In summer there was more work
brought to the shop--white skirts and cambric dresses. There were
ups and downs, therefore: days when there was nothing in the house
for supper and others when the table was loaded.

Mamma Coupeau was seen almost daily, going out with a bundle under her
apron and returning without it and with a radiant face, for the old
woman liked the excitement of going to the Mont-de-Piete.

Gervaise was gradually emptying the house--linen and clothes, tools
and furniture. In the beginning she took advantage of a good week
to take out what she had pawned the week before, but after a while
she ceased to do that and sold her tickets. There was only one thing
which cost her a pang, and that was selling her clock. She had sworn
she would not touch it, not unless she was dying of hunger, and
when at last she saw her mother-in-law carry it away she dropped
into a chair and wept like a baby. But when the old woman came back
with twenty-five francs and she found she had five francs more than
was demanded by the pressing debt which had caused her to make the
sacrifice, she was consoled and sent out at once for four sous' worth
of brandy. When these two women were on good terms they often drank
a glass together, sitting at the corner of the ironing table.

Mamma Coupeau had a wonderful talent for bringing a glass in the
pocket of her apron without spilling a drop. She did not care to have
the neighbors know, but, in good truth, the neighbors knew very well
and laughed and sneered as the old woman went in and out.

This, as was natural and right, increased the prejudice against
Gervaise. Everyone said that things could not go on much longer;
the end was near.

Amid all this ruin Coupeau thrived surprisingly. Bad liquor seemed
to affect him agreeably. His appetite was good in spite of the amount
he drank, and he was growing stout. Lantier, however, shook his head,
declaring that it was not honest flesh and that he was bloated. But
Coupeau drank all the more after this statement and was rarely or ever
sober. There began to be a strange bluish tone in his complexion. His
spirits never flagged. He laughed at his wife when she told him of
her embarrassments. What did he care, so long as she provided him with
food to eat? And the longer he was idle, the more exacting he became
in regard to this food.

He was ignorant of his wife's infidelity, at least, so all his friends
declared. They believed, moreover, that were he to discover it there
would be great trouble. But Mme Lerat, his own sister, shook her head
doubtfully, averring that she was not so sure of his ignorance.

Lantier was also in good health and spirits, neither too stout nor
too thin. He wished to remain just where he was, for he was thoroughly
well satisfied with himself, and this made him critical in regard to
his food, as he had made a study of the things he should eat and those
he should avoid for the preservation of his figure. Even when there
was not a cent he asked for eggs and cutlets: nourishing and light
things were what he required, he said. He ruled Gervaise with a rod of
iron, grumbled and found fault far more than Coupeau ever did. It was
a house with two masters, one of whom, cleverer by far than the other,
took the best of everything. He skimmed the Coupeaus, as it were, and
kept all the cream for himself. He was fond of Nana because he liked
girls better than boys. He troubled himself little about Etienne.

When people came and asked for Coupeau it was Lantier who appeared
in his shirt sleeves with the air of the man of the house who is
needlessly disturbed. He answered for Coupeau, said it was one and
the same thing.

Gervaise did not find this life always smooth and agreeable. She had
no reason to complain of her health. She had become very stout. But
it was hard work to provide for and please these two men. When they
came in, furious and out of temper, it was on her that they wreaked
their rage. Coupeau abused her frightfully and called her by the
coarsest epithets. Lantier, on the contrary, was more select in his
phraseology, but his words cut her quite as deeply. Fortunately people
become accustomed to almost everything in this world, and Gervaise
soon ceased to care for the reproaches and injustice of these two men.
She even preferred to have them out of temper with her, for then they
let her alone in some degree; but when they were in a good humor they
were all the time at her heels, and she could not find a leisure
moment even to iron a cap, so constant were the demands they made upon
her. They wanted her to do this and do that, to cook little dishes for
them and wait upon them by inches.

One night she dreamed she was at the bottom of a well. Coupeau was
pushing her down with his fists, and Lantier was tickling her to make
her jump out quicker. And this, she thought, was a very fair picture
of her life! She said that the people of the _Quartier_ were very
unjust, after all, when they reproached her for the way of life into
which she had fallen. It was not her fault. It was not she who had
done it, and a little shiver ran over her as she reflected that
perhaps the worst was not yet.

The utter deterioration of her nature was shown by the fact that she
detested neither her husband nor Lantier. In a play at the Gaite she
had seen a woman hate her husband and poison him for the sake of her
lover. This she thought very strange and unnatural. Why could the
three not have lived together peaceably? It would have been much
more reasonable!

In spite of her debts, in spite of the shifts to which her increasing
poverty condemned her, Gervaise would have considered herself quite
well off, but for the exacting selfishness of Lantier and Coupeau.

Toward autumn Lantier became more and more disgusted, declared he
had nothing to live on but potato parings and that his health was
suffering. He was enraged at seeing the house so thoroughly cleared
out, and he felt that the day was not far off when he must take his
hat and depart. He had become accustomed to his den, and he hated to
leave it. He was thoroughly provoked that the extravagant habits of
Gervaise necessitated this sacrifice on his part. Why could she not
have shown more sense? He was sure he didn't know what would become
of them. Could they have struggled on six months longer, he could
have concluded an affair which would have enabled him to support
the whole family in comfort.

One day it came to pass that there was not a mouthful in the house,
not even a radish. Lantier sat by the stove in somber discontent.
Finally he started up and went to call on the Poissons, to whom he
suddenly became friendly to a degree. He no longer taunted the police
officer but condescended to admit that the emperor was a good fellow
after all. He showed himself especially civil to Virginie, whom he
considered a clever woman and well able to steer her bark through
stormy seas.

Virginie one day happened to say in his presence that she should like
to establish herself in some business. He approved the plan and paid
her a succession of adroit compliments on her capabilities and cited
the example of several women he knew who had made or were making their
fortunes in this way.

Virginie had the money, an inheritance from an aunt, but she
hesitated, for she did not wish to leave the _Quartier_ and she
did not know of any shop she could have. Then Lantier led her into
a corner and whispered to her for ten minutes; he seemed to be
persuading her to something. They continued to talk together in
this way at intervals for several days, seeming to have some secret
understanding.

Lantier all this time was fretting and scolding at the Coupeaus,
asking Gervaise what on earth she intended to do, begging her to
look things fairly in the face. She owed five or six hundred francs
to the tradespeople about her. She was behindhand with her rent, and
Marescot, the landlord, threatened to turn her out if they did not pay
before the first of January.

The Mont-de-Piete had taken everything; there was literally nothing
but the nails in the walls left. What did she mean to do?

Gervaise listened to all this at first listlessly, but she grew angry
at last and cried out:

"Look here! I will go away tomorrow and leave the key in the door.
I had rather sleep in the gutter than live in this way!"

"And I can't say that it would not be a wise thing for you to do!"
answered Lantier insidiously. "I might possibly assist you to find
someone to take the lease off your hands whenever you really conclude
to leave the shop."

"I am ready to leave it at once!" cried Gervaise violently. "I am
sick and tired of it."

Then Lantier became serious and businesslike. He spoke openly of
Virginie, who, he said, was looking for a shop; in fact, he now
remembered having heard her say that she would like just such a
one as this.

But Gervaise shrank back and grew strangely calm at this name of
Virginie.

She would see, she said; on the whole, she must have time to think.
People said a great many things when they were angry, which on
reflection were found not to be advisable.

Lantier rang the changes on this subject for a week, but Gervaise said
she had decided to employ some woman and go to work again, and if she
were not able to get back her old customers she could try for new
ones. She said this merely to show Lantier that she was not so utterly
downcast and crushed as he had seemed to take for granted was the
case.

He was reckless enough to drop the name of Virginie once more, and she
turned upon him in a rage.

"No, no, never!" She had always distrusted Virginie, and if she wanted
the shop it was only to humiliate her. Any other woman might have it,
but not this hypocrite, who had been waiting for years to gloat over
her downfall. No, she understood now only too well the meaning of the
yellow sparks in her cat's eyes. It was clear to her that Virginie had
never forgotten the scene in the lavatory, and if she did not look out
there would be a repetition of it.

Lantier stood aghast at this anger and this torrent of words, but
presently he plucked up courage and bade her hold her tongue and told
her she should not talk of his friends in that way. As for himself, he
was sick and tired of other people's affairs; in future he would let
them all take care of themselves, without a word of counsel from him.

January arrived, cold and damp. Mamma Coupeau took to her bed with
a violent cold which she expected each year at this time. But those
about her said she would never leave the house again, except feet
first.

Her children had learned to look forward to her death as a happy
deliverance for all. The physician who came once was not sent for
again. A little tisane was given her from time to time that she might
not feel herself utterly neglected. She was just alive; that was all.
It now became a mere question of time with her, but her brain was
clear still, and in the expression of her eyes there were many things
to be read--sorrow at seeing no sorrow in those she left behind her
and anger against Nana, who was utterly indifferent to her.

One Monday evening Coupeau came in as tipsy as usual and threw
himself on the bed, all dressed. Gervaise intended to remain with
her mother-in-law part of the night, but Nana was very brave and
said she would hear if her grandmother moved and wanted anything.

About half-past three Gervaise woke with a start; it seemed to her
that a cold blast had swept through the room. Her candle had burned
down, and she nastily wrapped a shawl around her with trembling hands
and hurried into the next room. Nana was sleeping quietly, and her
grandmother was dead in the bed at her side.

Gervaise went to Lantier and waked him.

"She is dead," she said.

"Well, what of it?" he muttered, half asleep. "Why don't you go to
sleep?"

She turned away in silence while he grumbled at her coming to disturb
him by the intelligence of a death in the house.

Gervaise dressed herself, not without tears, for she really loved the
cross old woman whose son lay in the heavy slumbers of intoxication.

When she went back to the room she found Nana sitting up and rubbing
her eyes. The child realized what had come to pass and trembled
nervously in the face of this death of which she had thought much in
the last two days, as of something which was hidden from children.

"Get up!" said her mother in a low voice. "I do not wish you to stay
here."

The child slipped from her bed slowly and regretfully, with her eyes
fixed on the dead body of her grandmother.

Gervaise did not know what to do with her or where to send her. At
this moment Lantier appeared at the door. He had dressed himself,
impelled by a little shame at his own conduct.

"Let the child go into my room," he said, "and I will help you."

Nana looked first at her mother and then at Lantier and then trotted
with her little bare feet into the next room and slipped into the bed
that was still warm.

She lay there wide awake with blazing cheeks and eyes and seemed to
be absorbed in thought.

While Lantier and Gervaise were silently occupied with the dead
Coupeau lay and snored.

Gervaise hunted in a bureau to find a little crucifix which she had
brought from Plassans, when she suddenly remembered that Mamma Coupeau
had sold it. They each took a glass of wine and sat by the stove until
daybreak.

About seven o'clock Coupeau woke. When he heard what had happened he
declared they were jesting. But when he saw the body he fell on his
knees and wept like a baby. Gervaise was touched by these tears and
found her heart softer toward her husband than it had been for many
a long year.

"Courage, old friend!" said Lantier, pouring out a glass of wine as
he spoke.

Coupeau took some wine, but he continued to weep, and Lantier went off
under pretext of informing the family, but he did not hurry. He walked
along slowly, smoking a cigar, and after he had been to Mme Lerat's he
stopped in at a _cremerie_ to take a cup of coffee, and there he
sat for an hour or more in deep thought.

By nine o'clock the family were assembled in the shop, whose shutters
had not been taken down. Lorilleux only remained for a few moments and
then went back to his shop. Mme Lorilleux shed a few tears and then
sent Nana to buy a pound of candles.

"How like Gervaise!" she murmured. "She can do nothing in a proper
way!"

Mme Lerat went about among the neighbors to borrow a crucifix. She
brought one so large that when it was laid on the breast of Mamma
Coupeau the weight seemed to crush her.

Then someone said something about holy water, so Nana was sent to the
church with a bottle. The room assumed a new aspect. On a small table
burned a candle, near it a glass of holy water in which was a branch
of box.

"Everything is in order," murmured the sisters; "people can come now
as soon as they please."

Lantier made his appearance about eleven. He had been to make
inquiries in regard to funeral expenses.

"The coffin," he said, "is twelve francs, and if you want a Mass, ten
francs more. A hearse is paid for according to its ornaments."

"You must remember," said Mme Lorilleux with compressed lips, "that
Mamma must be buried according to her purse."

"Precisely!" answered Lantier. "I only tell you this as your guide.
Decide what you want, and after breakfast I will go and attend to
it all."

He spoke in a low voice, oppressed by the presence of the dead. The
children were laughing in the courtyard and Nana singing loudly.

Gervaise said gently:

"We are not rich, to be sure, but we wish to do what she would have
liked. If Mamma Coupeau has left us nothing it was not her fault and
no reason why we should bury her as if she were a dog. No, there must
be a Mass and a hearse."

"And who will pay for it?" asked Mme Lorilleux. "We can't, for we
lost much money last week, and I am quite sure you would find it
hard work!"

Coupeau, when he was consulted, shrugged his shoulders with a gesture
of profound indifference. Mme Lerat said she would pay her share.

"There are three of us," said Gervaise after a long calculation; "if
we each pay thirty francs we can do it with decency."

But Mme Lorilleux burst out furiously:

"I will never consent to such folly. It is not that I care for the
money, but I disapprove of the ostentation. You can do as you please."

"Very well," replied Gervaise, "I will. I have taken care of your
mother while she was living; I can bury her now that she is dead."

Then Mme Lorilleux fell to crying, and Lantier had great trouble
in preventing her from going away at once, and the quarrel grew so
violent that Mme Lerat hastily closed the door of the room where
the dead woman lay, as if she feared the noise would waken her.
The children's voices rose shrill in the air with Nana's perpetual
"Tra-la-la" above all the rest.

"Heavens, how wearisome those children are with their songs," said
Lantier. "Tell them to be quiet, and make Nana come in and sit down."

Gervaise obeyed these dictatorial orders while her sisters-in-law went
home to breakfast, while the Coupeaus tried to eat, but they were made
uncomfortable by the presence of death in their crowded quarters. The
details of their daily life were disarranged.

Gervaise went to Goujet and borrowed sixty francs, which, added to
thirty from Mme Lerat, would pay the expenses of the funeral. In
the afternoon several persons came in and looked at the dead woman,
crossing themselves as they did so and shaking holy water over the
body with the branch of box. They then took their seats in the shop
and talked of the poor thing and of her many virtues. One said she
had talked with her only three days before, and another asked if
it were not possible it was a trance.

By evening the Coupeaus felt it was more than they could bear.
It was a mistake to keep a body so long. One has, after all, only
so many tears to shed, and that done, grief turns to worry. Mamma
Coupeau--stiff and cold--was a terrible weight on them all. They
gradually lost the sense of oppression, however, and spoke louder.

After a while M. Marescot appeared. He went to the inner room and
knelt at the side of the corpse. He was very religious, they saw.
He made a sign of the cross in the air and dipped the branch into
the holy water and sprinkled the body. M. Marescot, having finished
his devotions, passed out into the shop and said to Coupeau:

"I came for the two quarters that are due. Have you got the money
for me?"

"No sir, not entirely," said Gervaise, coming forward, excessively
annoyed at this scene taking place in the presence of her
sisters-in-law. "You see, this trouble came upon us--"

"Undoubtedly," answered her landlord; "but we all of us have our
troubles. I cannot wait any longer. I really must have the money.
If I am not paid by tomorrow I shall most assuredly take immediate
measures to turn you out."

Gervaise clasped her hands imploringly, but he shook his head,
saying that discussion was useless; besides, just then it would
be a disrespect to the dead.

"A thousand pardons!" he said as he went out. "But remember that
I must have the money tomorrow."

And as he passed the open door of the lighted room he saluted the
corpse with another genuflection.

After he had gone the ladies gathered around the stove, where a great
pot of coffee stood, enough to keep them all awake for the whole
night. The Poissons arrived about eight o'clock; then Lantier,
carefully watching Gervaise, began to speak of the disgraceful act
committed by the landlord in coming to a house to collect money at
such a time.

"He is a thorough hypocrite," continued Lantier, "and were I in Madame
Coupeau's place, I would walk off and leave his house on his hands."

Gervaise heard but did not seem to heed.

The Lorilleuxs, delighted at the idea that she would lose her shop,
declared that Lantier's idea was an excellent one. They gave Coupeau
a push and repeated it to him.

Gervaise seemed to be disposed to yield, and then Virginie spoke in
the blandest of tones.

"I will take the lease off your hands," she said, "and will arrange
the back rent with your landlord."

"No, no! Thank you," cried Gervaise, shaking off the lethargy in which
she had been wrapped. "I can manage this matter and I can work. No,
no, I say."

Lantier interposed and said soothingly:

"Never mind! We will talk of it another time--tomorrow, possibly."

The family were to sit up all night. Nana cried vociferously when she
was sent into the Boche quarters to sleep; the Poissons remained until
midnight. Virginia began to talk of the country: she would like to be
buried under a tree with flowers and grass on her grave. Mme Lerat
said that in her wardrobe--folded up in lavender--was the linen sheet
in which her body was to be wrapped.

When the Poissons went away Lantier accompanied them in order,
he said, to leave his bed for the ladies, who could take turns in
sleeping there. But the ladies preferred to remain together about
the stove.

Mme Lorilleux said she had no black dress, and it was too bad that she
must buy one, for they were sadly pinched just at this time. And she
asked Gervaise if she was sure that her mother had not a black skirt
which would do, one that had been given her on her birthday. Gervaise
went for the skirt. Yes, it would do if it were taken in at the waist.

Then Mme Lorilleux looked at the bed and the wardrobe and asked if
there was nothing else belonging to her mother.

Here Mme Lerat interfered. The Coupeaus, she said, had taken care of
her mother, and they were entitled to all the trifles she had left.
The night seemed endless. They drank coffee and went by turns to look
at the body, lying silent and calm under the flickering light of the
candle.

The interment was to take place at half-past ten, but Gervaise would
gladly have given a hundred francs, if she had had them, to anyone who
would have taken Mamma Coupeau away three hours before the time fixed.

"Ah," she said to herself, "it is no use to disguise the fact: people
are very much in the way after they are dead, no matter how much you
have loved them!"

Father Bazonge, who was never known to be sober, appeared with the
coffin and the pall. When he saw Gervaise he stood with his eyes
starting from his head.

"I beg you pardon," he said, "but I thought it was for you," and he
was turning to go away.

"Leave the coffin!" cried Gervaise, growing very pale. Bazonge began
to apologize:

"I heard them talking yesterday, but I did not pay much attention. I
congratulate you that you are still alive. Though why I do, I do not
know, for life is not such a very agreeable thing."

Gervaise listened with a shiver of horror and a morbid dread that he
would take her away and shut her up in his box and bury her. She had
once heard him say that he knew a woman who would be only too thankful
if he would do exactly that.

"He is horribly drunk," she murmured in a tone of mingled disgust and
terror.

"It will come for you another time," he said with a laugh; "you have
only to make me a little sign. I am a great consolation to women
sometimes, and you need not sneer at poor Father Bazonge, for he has
held many a fine lady in his arms, and they made no complaint when
he laid them down to sleep in the shade of the evergreens."

"Do hold your tongue," said Lorilleux; "this is no time for such talk.
Be off with you!"

The clock struck ten. The friends and neighbors had assembled in the
shop while the family were in the back room, nervous and feverish with
suspense.

Four men appeared--the undertaker, Bazonge and his three assistants
placed the body in the coffin. Bazonge held the screws in his mouth
and waited for the family to take their last farewell.

Then Coupeau, his two sisters and Gervaise kissed their mother,
and their tears fell fast on her cold face. The lid was put on and
fastened down.

The hearse was at the door to the great edification of the
tradespeople of the neighborhood, who said under their breath that
the Coupeaus had best pay their debts.

"It is shameful," Gervaise was saying at the same moment, speaking
of the Lorilleuxs. "These people have not even brought a bouquet of
violets for their mother."

It was true they had come empty-handed, while Mme Lerat had brought
a wreath of artificial flowers which was laid on the bier.

Coupeau and Lorilleux, with their hats in their hands, walked at the
head of the procession of men. After them followed the ladies, headed
by Mme Lorilleux in her black skirt, wrenched from the dead, her
sister trying to cover a purple dress with a large black shawl.

Gervaise had lingered behind to close the shop and give Nana into the
charge of Mme Boche and then ran to overtake the procession, while the
little girl stood with the concierge, profoundly interested in seeing
her grandmother carried in that beautiful carriage.

Just as Gervaise joined the procession Goujet came up a side street
and saluted her with a slight bow and with a faint sweet smile. The
tears rushed to her eyes. She did not weep for Mamma Coupeau but
rather for herself, but her sisters-in-law looked at her as if she
were the greatest hypocrite in the world.

At the church the ceremony was of short duration. The Mass dragged
a little because the priest was very old.

The cemetery was not far off, and the cortege soon reached it. A
priest came out of a house near by and shivered as he saw his breath
rise with each _De Profundis_ he uttered.

The coffin was lowered, and as the frozen earth fell upon it more
tears were shed, accompanied, however, by sigh of relief.

The procession dispersed outside the gates of the cemetery, and at
the very first cabaret Coupeau turned in, leaving Gervaise alone on
the sidewalk. She beckoned to Goujet, who was turning the corner.

"I want to speak to you," she said timidly. "I want to tell you how
ashamed I am for coming to you again to borrow money, but I was at
my wit's end."

"I am always glad to be of use to you," answered the blacksmith. "But
pray never allude to the matter before my mother, for I do not wish
to trouble her. She and I think differently on many subjects."

She looked at him sadly and earnestly. Through her mind flitted a
vague regret that she had not done as he desired, that she had not
gone away with him somewhere. Then a vile temptation assailed her.
She trembled.

"You are not angry now?" she said entreatingly.

"No, not angry, but still heartsick. All is over between us now
and forever." And he walked off with long strides, leaving Gervaise
stunned by his words.

"All is over between us!" she kept saying to herself. "And what more
is there for me then in life?"

She sat down in her empty, desolate room and drank a large tumbler
of wine. When the others came in she looked up suddenly and said to
Virginie gently:

"If you want the shop, take it!"

Virginie and her husband jumped at this and sent for the concierge,
who consented to the arrangement on condition that the new tenants
would become security for the two quarters then due.

This was agreed upon. The Coupeaus would take a room on the sixth
floor near the Lorilleuxs. Lantier said politely that if it would not
be disagreeable to the Poissons he should like much to retain his
present quarters.

The policeman bowed stiffly but with every intention of being cordial
and said he decidedly approved of the idea.

Then Lantier withdrew from the discussion entirely, watching Gervaise
and Virginie out of the corners of his eyes.

That evening when Gervaise was alone again she felt utterly exhausted.
The place looked twice its usual size. It seemed to her that in
leaving Mamma Coupeau in the quiet cemetery she had also left much
that was precious to her, a portion of her own life, her pride in her
shop, her hopes and her energy. These were not all, either, that she
had buried that day. Her heart was as bare and empty as her walls and
her home. She was too weary to try and analyze her sensations but
moved about as if in a dream.

At ten o'clock, when Nana was undressed, she wept, begging that she
might be allowed to sleep in her grandmother's bed. Her mother vaguely
wondered that the child was not afraid and allowed her to do as she
pleased.

Nana was not timid by nature, and only her curiosity, not her fears,
had been excited by the events of the last three days, and she curled
herself up with delight in the soft, warm feather bed.



CHAPTER X

DISASTERS AND CHANGES

The new lodging of the Coupeaus was next that of the Bijards. Almost
opposite their door was a closet under the stairs which went up to
the roof--a mere hole without light or ventilation, where Father Bru
slept.

A chamber and a small room, about as large as one's hand, were all the
Coupeaus had now. Nana's little bed stood in the small room, the door
of which had to be left open at night, lest the child should stifle.

When it came to the final move Gervaise felt that she could not
separate from the commode which she had spent so much time in
polishing when first married and insisted on its going to their new
quarters, where it was much in the way and stopped up half the window,
and when Gervaise wished to look out into the court she had not room
for her elbows.

The first few days she spent in tears. She felt smothered and cramped;
after having had so much room to move about in it seemed to her that
she was smothering. It was only at the window she could breathe. The
courtyard was not a place calculated to inspire cheerful thoughts.
Opposite her was the window which years before had elicited her
admiration, where every successive summer scarlet beans had grown to
a fabulous height on slender strings. Her room was on the shady side,
and a pot of mignonette would die in a week on her sill.

No, life had not been what she hoped, and it was all very hard to
bear.

Instead of flowers to solace her declining years she would have but
thorns. One day as she was looking down into the court she had the
strangest feeling imaginable. She seemed to see herself standing just
near the loge of the concierge, looking up at the house and examining
it for the first time.

This glimpse of the past made her feel faint. It was at least thirteen
years since she had first seen this huge building--this world within
a world. The court had not changed. The facade was simply more dingy.
The same clothes seemed to be hanging at the windows to dry. Below
there were the shavings from the cabinetmaker's shop, and the gutter
glittered with blue water, as blue and soft in tone as the water she
remembered.

But she--alas, how changed was she! She no longer looked up to the
sky. She was no longer hopeful, courageous and ambitious. She was
living under the very roof in crowded discomfort, where never a ray
of sunshine could reach her, and her tears fell fast in utter
discouragement.

Nevertheless, when Gervaise became accustomed to her new surroundings
she grew more content. The pieces of furniture she had sold to
Virginie had facilitated her installation. When the fine weather came
Coupeau had an opportunity of going into the country to work. He went
and lived three months without drinking--cured for the time being by
the fresh, pure air. It does a man sometimes an infinite deal of good
to be taken away from all his old haunts and from Parisian streets,
which always seem to exhale a smell of brandy and of wine.

He came back as fresh as a rose, and he brought four hundred francs
with which he paid the Poissons the amount for which they had become
security as well as several other small but pressing debts. Gervaise
had now two or three streets open to her again, which for some time
she had not dared to enter.

She now went out to iron by the day and had gone back to her old
mistress, Mme Fauconnier, who was a kindhearted creature and ready
to do anything for anyone who flattered her adroitly.

With diligence and economy Gervaise could have managed to live
comfortably and pay all her debts, but this prospect did not charm her
particularly. She suffered acutely in seeing the Poissons in her old
shop. She was by no means of a jealous or envious disposition, but
it was not agreeable to her to hear the admiration expressed for her
successors by her husband's sisters. To hear them one would suppose
that never had so beautiful a shop been seen before. They spoke of
the filthy condition of the place when Virginie moved in--who had
paid, they declared, thirty francs for cleaning it.

Virginie, after some hesitation, had decided on a small stock of
groceries--sugar, tea and coffee, also bonbons and chocolate. Lantier
had advised these because he said the profit on them was immense. The
shop was repainted, and shelves and cases were put in, and a counter
with scales such as are seen at confectioners'. The little inheritance
that Poisson held in reserve was seriously encroached upon. But
Virginie was triumphant, for she had her way, and the Lorilleuxs
did not spare Gervaise the description of a case or a jar.

It was said in the street that Lantier had deserted Gervaise,
that she gave him no peace running after him, but this was not true,
for he went and came to her apartment as he pleased. Scandal was
connecting his name and Virginie's. They said Virginie had taken the
clearstarcher's lover as well as her shop! The Lorilleuxs talked of
nothing when Gervaise was present but Lantier, Virginie and the shop.
Fortunately Gervaise was not inclined to jealousy, and Lantier's
infidelities had hitherto left her undisturbed, but she did not accept
this new affair with equal tranquillity. She colored or turned pale
as she heard these allusions, but she would not allow a word to pass
her lips, as she was fully determined never to gratify her enemies
by allowing them to see her discomfiture; but a dispute was heard by
the neighbors about this time between herself and Lantier, who went
angrily away and was not seen by anyone in the Coupeau quarters for
more than a fortnight.

Coupeau behaved very oddly. This blind and complacent husband, who
had closed his eyes to all that was going on at home, was filled with
virtuous indignation at Lantier's indifference. Then Coupeau went so
far as to tease Gervaise in regard to this desertion of her lovers.
She had had bad luck, he said, with hatters and blacksmiths--why did
she not try a mason?

He said this as if it were a joke, but Gervaise had a firm conviction
that he was in deadly earnest. A man who is tipsy from one year's end
to the next is not apt to be fastidious, and there are husbands who at
twenty are very jealous and at thirty have grown very complacent under
the influence of constant tippling.

Lantier preserved an attitude of calm indifference. He kept the peace
between the Poissons and the Coupeaus. Thanks to him, Virginie and
Gervaise affected for each other the most tender regard. He ruled the
brunette as he had ruled the blonde, and he would swallow her shop as
he had that of Gervaise.

It was in June of this year that Nana partook of her first Communion.
She was about thirteen, slender and tall as an asparagus plant, and
her air and manner were the height of impertinence and audacity.

She had been sent away from the catechism class the year before on
account of her bad conduct. And if the cure did not make a similar
objection this year it was because he feared she would never come
again and that his refusal would launch on the Parisian _pave_
another castaway.

Nana danced with joy at the mere thought of what the Lorilleuxs--as
her godparents--had promised, while Mme Lerat gave the veil and cup,
Virginie the purse and Lantier a prayer book, so that the Coupeaus
looked forward to the day without anxiety.

The Poissons--probably through Lantier's advice--selected this
occasion for their housewarming. They invited the Coupeaus and the
Boche family, as Pauline made her first Communion on that day, as
well as Nana.

The evening before, while Nana stood in an ecstasy of delight before
her presents, her father came in in an abominable condition. His
virtuous resolutions had yielded to the air of Paris; he had fallen
into evil ways again, and he now assailed his wife and child with the
vilest epithets, which did not seem to shock Nana, for they could fall
from her tongue on occasion with facile glibness.

"I want my soup," cried Coupeau, "and you two fools are chattering
over those fal-lals! I tell you, I will sit on them if I am not waited
upon, and quickly too."

Gervaise answered impatiently, but Nana, who thought it better taste
just then--all things considered--to receive with meekness all her
father's abuse, dropped her eyes and did not reply.

"Take that rubbish away!" he cried with growing impatience. "Put it
out of my sight or I will tear it to bits."

Nana did not seem to hear him. She took up the tulle cap and asked her
mother what it cost, and when Coupeau tried to snatch the cap Gervaise
pushed him away.

"Let the child alone!" she said. "She is doing no harm!"

Then her husband went into a perfect rage:

"Mother and daughter," he cried, "a nice pair they make. I understand
very well what all this row is for: it is merely to show yourself in a
new gown. I will put you in a bag and tie it close round your throat,
and you will see if the cure likes that!"

Nana turned like lightning to protect her treasures. She looked her
father full in the face, and, forgetting the lessons taught her by
her priest, she said in a low, concentrated voice:

"Beast!" That was all.

After Coupeau had eaten his soup he fell asleep and in the morning
woke quite amiable. He admired his daughter and said she looked quite
like a young lady in her white robe. Then he added with a sentimental
air that a father on such days was naturally proud of his child.
When they were ready to go to the church and Nana met Pauline in
the corridor, she examined the latter from head to foot and smiled
condescendingly on seeing that Pauline had not a particle of chic.

The two families started off together, Nana and Pauline in front,
each with her prayer book in one hand and with the other holding down
her veil, which swelled in the wind like a sail. They did not speak
to each other but keenly enjoyed seeing the shopkeepers run to their
doors to see them, keeping their eyes cast down devoutly but their
ears wide open to any compliment they might hear.

Nana's two aunts walked side by side, exchanging their opinions
in regard to Gervaise, whom they stigmatized as an irreligious
ne'er-do-well whose child would never have gone to the Holy
Communion if it had depended on her.

At the church Coupeau wept all the time. It was very silly, he knew,
but he could not help it. The voice of the cure was pathetic; the
little girls looked like white-robed angels; the organ thrilled him,
and the incense gratified his senses. There was one especial anthem
which touched him deeply. He was not the only person who wept, he
was glad to see, and when the ceremony was over he left the church
feeling that it was the happiest day of his life. But an hour later
he quarreled with Lorilleux in a wineshop because the latter was so
hardhearted.

The housewarming at the Poissons' that night was very gay. Lantier
sat between Gervaise and Virginie and was equally civil and attentive
to both. Opposite was Poisson with his calm, impassive face, a look
he had cultivated since he began his career as a police officer.

But the queens of the fete were the two little girls, Nana and
Pauline, who sat very erect lest they should crush and deface their
pretty white dresses. At dessert there was a serious discussion in
regard to the future of the children. Mme Boche said that Pauline
would at once enter a certain manufactory, where she would receive
five or six francs per week. Gervaise had not decided yet, for Nana
had shown no especial leaning in any direction. She had a good deal
of taste, but she was butter-fingered and careless.

"I should make a florist of her," said Mme Lerat. "It is clean work
and pretty work too."

Whereupon ensued a warm discussion. The men were especially careful
of their language out of deference to the little girls, but Mme Lerat
would not accept the lesson: she flattered herself she could say what
she pleased in such a way that it could not offend the most fastidious
ears.

Women, she declared, who followed her trade were more virtuous than
others. They rarely made a slip.

"I have no objection to your trade," interrupted Gervaise. "If Nana
likes to make flowers let her do so. Say, Nana, would you like it?"

The little girl did not look up from her plate, into which she was
dipping a crust of bread. She smiled faintly as she replied:

"Yes, Mamma; if you desire it I have no objection."

The decision was instantly made, and Coupeau wished his sister to
take her the very next day to the place where she herself worked,
Rue du Caire, and the circle talked gravely of the duties of life.
Boche said that Pauline and Nana were now women, since they had been
to Communion, and they ought to be serious and learn to cook and to
mend. They alluded to their future marriages, their homes and their
children, and the girls touched each other under the table, giggled
and grew very red. Lantier asked them if they did not have little
husbands already, and Nana blushingly confessed that she loved Victor
Fauconnier and never meant to marry anyone else.

Mme Lorilleux said to Mme Boche on their way home:

"Nana is our goddaughter now, but if she goes into that flower
business, in six months she will be on the _pave_, and we will
have nothing to do with her."

Gervaise told Boche that she thought the shop admirably arranged. She
had looked forward to an evening of torture and was surprised that
she had not experienced a pang.

Nana, as she undressed, asked her mother if the girl on the next
floor, who had been married the week before, wore a dress of muslin
like hers.

But this was the last bright day in that household. Two years passed
away, and their prospects grew darker and their demoralization and
degradation more evident. They went without food and without fire,
but never without brandy.

They found it almost impossible to meet their rent, and a certain
January came when they had not a penny, and Father Boche ordered
them to leave.

It was frightfully cold, with a sharp wind blowing from the north.

M. Marescot appeared in a warm overcoat and his hands encased in warm
woolen gloves and told them they must go, even if they slept in the
gutter. The whole house was oppressed with woe, and a dreary sound of
lamentation arose from most of the rooms, for half the tenants were
behindhand. Gervaise sold her bed and paid the rent. Nana made nothing
as yet, and Gervaise had so fallen off in her work that Mme Fauconnier
had reduced her wages. She was irregular in her hours and often
absented herself from the shop for several days together but was none
the less vexed to discover that her old employee, Mme Putois, had been
placed above her. Naturally at the end of the week Gervaise had little
money coming to her.

As to Coupeau, if he worked he brought no money home, and his wife had
ceased to count upon it. Sometimes he declared he had lost it through
a hole in his pocket or it had been stolen, but after a while he
ceased to make any excuses.

But if he had no cash in his pockets it was because he had spent it
all in drink. Mme Boche advised Gervaise to watch for him at the door
of the place where he was employed and get his wages from him before
he had spent them all, but this did no good, as Coupeau was warned
by his friends and escaped by a rear door.

The Coupeaus were entirely to blame for their misfortunes, but this
is just what people will never admit. It is always ill luck or the
cruelty of God or anything, in short, save the legitimate result
of their own vices.

Gervaise now quarreled with her husband incessantly. The warmth of
affection of husband and wife, of parents for their children and
children for their parents had fled and left them all shivering,
each apart from the other.

All three, Coupeau, Gervaise and Nana, watched each other with eyes
of baleful hate. It seemed as if some spring had broken--the great
mainspring that binds families together.

Gervaise did not shudder when she saw her husband lying drunk in the
gutter. She would not have pushed him in, to be sure, but if he were
out of the way it would be a good thing for everybody. She even went
so far as to say one day in a fit of rage that she would be glad to
see him brought home on a shutter. Of what good was he to any human
being? He ate and he drank and he slept. His child learned to hate
him, and she read the accidents in the papers with the feelings of
an unnatural daughter. What a pity it was that her father had not
been the man who was killed when that omnibus tipped over!

In addition to her own sorrows and privations, Gervaise, whose
heart was not yet altogether hard, was condemned to hear now of the
sufferings of others. The corner of the house in which she lived
seemed to be consecrated to those who were as poor as herself. No
smell of cooking filled the air, which, on the contrary, was laden
with the shrill cries of hungry children, heavy with the sighs of
weary, heartbroken mothers and with the oaths of drunken husbands
and fathers.

Gervaise pitied Father Bru from the bottom of her heart; he lay the
greater part of the time rolled up in the straw in his den under the
staircase leading to the roof. When two or three days elapsed without
his showing himself someone opened the door and looked in to see if
he were still alive.

Yes, he was living; that is, he was not dead. When Gervaise had bread
she always remembered him. If she had learned to hate men because
of her husband her heart was still tender toward animals, and Father
Bru seemed like one to her. She regarded him as a faithful old dog.
Her heart was heavy within her whenever she thought of him, alone,
abandoned by God and man, dying by inches or drying, rather, as an
orange dries on the chimney piece.

Gervaise was also troubled by the vicinity of the undertaker
Bazonge--a wooden partition alone separated their rooms. When he came
in at night she could hear him throw down his glazed hat, which fell
with a dull thud, like a shovelful of clay, on the table. The black
cloak hung against the wall rustled like the wings of some huge
bird of prey. She could hear his every movement, and she spent most
of her time listening to him with morbid horror, while he--all
unconscious--hummed his vulgar songs and tipsily staggered to his
bed, under which the poor woman's sick fancy pictured a dead body
concealed.

She had read in some paper a dismal tale of some undertaker who took
home with him coffin after coffin--children's coffins--in order to
make one trip to the cemetery suffice. When she heard his step the
whole corridor was pervaded to her senses with the odor of dead
humanity.

She would as lief have resided at Pere-Lachaise and watched the moles
at their work. The man terrified her; his incessant laughter dismayed
her. She talked of moving but at the same time was reluctant to do
so, for there was a strange fascination about Bazonge after all. Had
he not told her once that he would come for her and lay her down to
sleep in the shadow of waving branches, where she would know neither
hunger nor toil?

She wished she could try it for a month. And she thought how delicious
it would be in midwinter, just at the time her quarter's rent was due.
But, alas, this was not possible! The rest and the sleep must be
eternal; this thought chilled her, and her longing for death faded
away before the unrelenting severity of the bonds exacted by Mother
Earth.

One night she was sick and feverish, and instead of throwing herself
out of the window as she was tempted to do, she rapped on the
partition and called loudly:

"Father Bazonge! Father Bazonge!"

The undertaker was kicking off his slippers, singing a vulgar song
as he did so.

"What is the matter?" he answered.

But at his voice Gervaise awoke as from a nightmare. What had she
done? Had she really tapped? she asked herself, and she recoiled from
his side of the wall in chill horror. It seemed to her that she felt
the undertaker's hands on her head. No! No! She was not ready. She
told herself that she had not intended to call him. It was her elbow
that had knocked the wall accidentally, and she shivered from head
to foot at the idea of being carried away in this man's arms.

"What is the matter?" repeated Bazonge. "Can I serve you in any way,
madame?"

"No! No! It is nothing!" answered the laundress in a choked voice.
"I am very much obliged."

While the undertaker slept she lay wide awake, holding her breath and
not daring to move, lest he should think she called him again.

She said to herself that under no circumstances would she ever appeal
to him for assistance, and she said this over and over again with the
vain hope of reassuring herself, for she was by no means at ease in
her mind.

Gervaise had before her a noble example of courage and fortitude in
the Bijard family. Little Lalie, that tiny child--about as big as
a pinch of salt--swept and kept her room like wax; she watched over
the two younger children with all the care and patience of a mother.
This she had done since her father had kicked her mother to death.
She had entirely assumed that mother's place, even to receiving the
blows which had fallen formerly on that poor woman. It seemed to be a
necessity of his nature that when he came home drunk he must have some
woman to abuse. Lalie was too small, he grumbled; one blow of his fist
covered her whole face, and her skin was so delicate that the marks of
his five fingers would remain on her cheek for days!

He would fly at her like a wolf at a poor little kitten for the merest
trifle. Lalie never answered, never rebelled and never complained.
She merely tried to shield her face and suppressed all shrieks, lest
the neighbors should come; her pride could not endure that. When her
father was tired kicking her about the room she lay where he left her
until she had strength to rise, and then she went steadily about her
work, washing the children and making her soup, sweeping and dusting
until everything was clean. It was a part of her plan of life to be
beaten every day.

Gervaise had conceived a strong affection for this little neighbor.
She treated her like a woman who knew something of life. It must be
admitted that Lalie was large for her years. She was fair and pale,
with solemn eyes for her years and had a delicate mouth. To have heard
her talk one would have thought her thirty. She could make and mend,
and she talked of the children as if she had herself brought them into
the world. She made people laugh sometimes when she talked, but more
often she brought tears to their eyes.

Gervaise did everything she could for her, gave her what she could
and helped the energetic little soul with her work. One day she was
altering a dress of Nana's for her, and when the child tried it on
Gervaise was chilled with horror at seeing her whole back purple and
bruised, the tiny arm bleeding--all the innocent flesh of childhood
martyrized by the brute--her father.

Bazonge might get the coffin ready, she thought, for the little girl
could not bear this long. But Lalie entreated her friend to say
nothing, telling her that her father did not know what he was doing,
that he had been drinking. She forgave him with her whole heart,
for madmen must not be held accountable for their deeds. After that
Gervaise was on the watch whenever she heard Bijard coming up the
stairs. But she never caught him in any act of absolute brutality.
Several times she had found Lalie tied to the foot of the bedstead--an
idea that had entered her father's brain, no one knew why, a whim of
his disordered brain, disordered by liquor, which probably arose from
his wish to tyrannize over the child, even when he was no longer
there.

Lalie sometimes was left there all day and once all night. When
Gervaise insisted on untying her the child entreated her not to touch
the knots, saying that her father would be furious if he found the
knots had been tampered with.

And really, she said with an angelic smile, she needed rest, and the
only thing that troubled her was not to be able to put the room in
order. She could watch the children just as well, and she could think,
so that her time was not entirely lost. When her father let her free,
her sufferings were not over, for it was sometimes more than an hour
before she could stand--before the blood circulated freely in her
stiffened limbs.

Her father had invented another cheerful game. He heated some sous red
hot on the stove and laid them on the chimney piece. He then summoned
Lalie and bade her go buy some bread. The child unsuspiciously took up
the sous, uttered a little shriek and dropped them, shaking her poor
burned fingers.

Then he would go off in a rage. What did she mean by such nonsense?
She had thrown away the money and lost it, and he threatened her with
a hiding if she did not find the money instantly. The poor child
hesitated; he gave her a cuff on the side of the head. With silent
tears streaming down her cheeks she would pick up the sous and toss
them from hand to hand to cool them as she went down the long flights
of stairs.

There was no limit to the strange ingenuity of the man. One afternoon,
for example, Lalie had completed playing with the children. The window
was open, and the air shook the door so that it sounded like gentle
raps.

"It is Mr Wind," said Lalie; "come in, Mr Wind. How are you today?"

And she made a low curtsy to Mr Wind. The children did the same in
high glee, and she was quite radiant with happiness, which was not
often the case.

"Come in, Mr Wind!" she repeated, but the door was pushed open by
a rough hand and Bijard entered. Then a sudden change came over the
scene. The two children crouched in a corner, while Lalie stood in the
center of the floor, frozen stiff with terror, for Bijard held in his
hand a new whip with a long and wicked-looking lash. He laid this whip
on the bed and did not kick either one of the children but smiled in
the most vicious way, showing his two lines of blackened, irregular
teeth. He was very drunk and very noisy.

"What is the matter with you fools? Have you been struck dumb? I heard
you all talking and laughing merrily enough before I came in. Where
are your tongues now? Here! Take off my shoes!"

Lalie, considerably disheartened at not having received her customary
kick, turned very pale as she obeyed. He was sitting on the side of
the bed. He lay down without undressing and watched the child as she
moved about the room. Troubled by this strange conduct, the child
ended by breaking a cup. Then without disturbing himself he took up
the whip and showed it to her.

"Look here, fool," he said grimly: "I bought this for you, and it cost
me fifty sous, but I expect to get a good deal more than fifty sous'
worth of good out of it. With this long lash I need not run about
after you, for I can reach you in every corner of the room. You will
break the cups, will you? Come, now, jump about a little and say good
morning to Mr Wind again!"

He did not even sit up in the bed but, with his head buried in the
pillow, snapped the whip with a noise like that made by a postilion.
The lash curled round Lalie's slender body; she fell to the floor,
but he lashed her again and compelled her to rise.

"This is a very good thing," he said coolly, "and saves my getting
chilled on cold mornings. Yes, I can reach you in that corner--and
in that! Skip now! Skip!"

A light foam was on his lips, and his suffused eyes were starting
from their sockets. Poor little Lalie darted about the room like a
terrified bird, but the lash tingled over her shoulders, coiled around
her slender legs and stung like a viper. She was like an India-rubber
ball bounding from the floor, while her beast of a father laughed
aloud and asked her if she had had enough.

The door opened and Gervaise entered. She had heard the noise. She
stood aghast at the scene and then was seized with noble rage.

"Let her be!" she cried. "I will go myself and summon the police."

Bijard growled like an animal who is disturbed over his prey.

"Why do you meddle?" he exclaimed. "What business is it of yours?"

And with another adroit movement he cut Lalie across the face. The
blood gushed from her lip. Gervaise snatched a chair and flew at the
brute, but the little girl held her skirts and said it did not hurt
much; it would be over soon, and she washed the blood away, speaking
gently to the frightened children.

When Gervaise thought of Lalie she was ashamed to complain. She wished
she had the courage of this child. She knew that she had lived on dry
bread for weeks and that she was so weak she could hardly stand, and
the tears came to the woman's eyes as she saw the precocious mite who
had known nothing of the innocent happiness of her years. And Gervaise
took this slender creature for example, whose eyes alone told the
story of her misery and hardships, for in the Coupeau family the
vitriol of the Assommoir was doing its work of destruction. Gervaise
had seen a whip. Gervaise had learned to dread it, and this dread
inspired her with tenderest pity for Lalie. Coupeau had lost the
flesh and the bloated look which had been his, and he was thin and
emaciated. His complexion was gradually acquiring a leaden hue. His
appetite was utterly gone. It was with difficulty that he swallowed
a mouthful of bread. His stomach turned against all solid food, but
he took his brandy every day. This was his meat as well as his drink,
and he touched nothing else.

When he crawled out of his bed in the morning he stood for a good
fifteen minutes, coughing and spitting out a bitter liquid that rose
in his throat and choked him.

He did not feel any better until he had taken what he called "a good
drink," and later in the day his strength returned. He felt strange
prickings in the skin of his hands and feet. But lately his limbs
had grown heavy. This pricking sensation gave place to the most
excruciating cramps, which he did not find very amusing. He rarely
laughed now but often stopped short and stood still on the sidewalk,
troubled by a strange buzzing in his ears and by flashes of light
before his eyes. Everything looked yellow to him; the houses seemed to
be moving away from him. At other times, when the sun was full on his
back, he shivered as if a stream of ice water had been poured down
between his shoulders. But the thing he liked the least about himself
was a nervous trembling in his hands, the right hand especially.

Had he become an old woman then? he asked himself with sudden fury.
He tried with all his strength to lift his glass and command his
nerves enough to hold it steady. But the glass had a regular tremulous
movement from right to left and left to right again, in spite of all
his efforts.

Then he emptied it down his throat, saying that when he had swallowed
a dozen more he would be all right and as steady as a monument.
Gervaise told him, on the contrary, that he must leave off drinking
if he wished to leave off trembling.

He grew very angry and drank quarts in his eagerness to test the
question, finally declaring that it was the passing omnibusses that
jarred the house and shook his hand.

In March Coupeau came in one night drenched to the skin. He had been
caught out in a shower. That night he could not sleep for coughing.
In the morning he had a high fever, and the physician who was sent
for advised Gervaise to send him at once to the hospital.

And Gervaise made no objection; once she had refused to trust her
husband to these people, but now she consigned him to their tender
mercies without a regret; in fact, she regarded it as a mercy.

Nevertheless, when the litter came she turned very pale and, if she
had had even ten francs in her pocket, would have kept him at home.
She walked to the hospital by the side of the litter and went into
the ward where he was placed. The room looked to her like a miniature
Pere-Lachaise, with its rows of beds on either side and its path down
the middle. She went slowly away, and in the street she turned and
looked up. How well she remembered when Coupeau was at work on those
gutters, cheerily singing in the morning air! He did not drink in
those days, and she, at her window in the Hotel Boncoeur, had
watched his athletic form against the sky, and both had waved their
handkerchiefs. Yes, Coupeau had worked more than a year on this
hospital, little thinking that he was preparing a place for himself.
Now he was no longer on the roof--he had built a dismal nest within.
Good God, was she and the once-happy wife and mother one and the same?
How long ago those days seemed!

The next day when Gervaise went to make inquiries she found the bed
empty. A sister explained that her husband had been taken to the
asylum of Sainte-Anne, because the night before he had suddenly become
unmanageable from delirium and had uttered such terrible howls that it
disturbed the inmates of all the beds in that ward. It was the alcohol
in his system, she said, which attacked his nerves now, when he was so
reduced by the inflammation on his lungs that he could not resist it.

The clearstarcher went home, but how or by what route she never knew.
Her husband was mad--she heard these words reverberating through her
brain. Life was growing very strange. Nana simply said that he must,
of course, be left at the asylum, for he might murder them both.

On Sunday only could Gervaise go to Sainte-Anne. It was a long
distance off. Fortunately there was an omnibus which went very near.
She got out at La Rue Sante and bought two oranges that she might not
go quite empty-handed.

But when she went in, to her astonishment she found Coupeau sitting
up. He welcomed her gaily.

"You are better!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, nearly well," he replied, and they talked together awhile, and
she gave him the oranges, which pleased and touched him, for he was a
different man now that he drank tisane instead of liquor. She did not
dare allude to his delirium, but he spoke of it himself.

"Yes," he said, "I was in a pretty state! I saw rats running all over
the floor and the walls, and you were calling me, and I saw all sorts
of horrible things! But I am all right now. Once in a while I have a
bad dream, but everybody does, I suppose."

Gervaise remained with him until night. When the house surgeon made
his rounds at six o'clock he told him to hold out his hands. They
scarcely trembled--an almost imperceptible motion of the tips of his
fingers was all. But as the room grew darker Coupeau became restless.
Two or three times he sat up and peered into the remote corners.

Suddenly he stretched out his arms and seemed to crush some creature
on the wall.

"What is it?" asked Gervaise, terribly frightened.

"Rats!" he said quietly. "Only rats!"

After a long silence he seemed to be dropping off to sleep, with
disconnected sentences falling from his lips.

"Dirty beasts! Look out, one is under your skirts!" He pulled the
covering hastily over his head, as if to protect himself against the
creature he saw.

Then starting up in mad terror, he screamed aloud. A nurse ran to the
bed, and Gervaise was sent away, mute with horror at this scene.

But when on the following Sunday she went again to the hospital,
Coupeau was really well. All his dreams had vanished. He slept like
a child, ten hours without lifting a finger. His wife, therefore, was
allowed to take him away. The house surgeon gave him a few words of
advice before he left, assuring him if he continued to drink he would
be a dead man in three months. All depended on himself. He could live
at home just as he had lived at Sainte-Anne's and must forget that
such things as wine and brandy existed.

"He is right," said Gervaise as they took their seats in the omnibus.

"Of course he is right," answered her husband. But after a moment's
silence he added:

"But then, you know, a drop of brandy now and then never hurts a man:
it aids digestion."

That very evening he took a tiny drop and for a week was very
moderate; he had no desire, he said, to end his days at Bicetre.
But he was soon off his guard, and one day his little drop ended in
a full glass, to be followed by a second, and so on. At the end of
a fortnight he had fallen back in the old rut.

Gervaise did her best, but, after all, what can a wife do in such
circumstances?

She had been so startled by the scene at the asylum that she had
fully determined to begin a regular life again and hoped that he would
assist her and do the same himself. But now she saw that there was
no hope, that even the knowledge of the inevitable results could not
restrain her husband now.

Then the hell on earth began again; hopeless and intolerant, Nana
asked indignantly why he had not remained in the asylum. All the money
she made, she said, should be spent in brandy for her father, for the
sooner it was ended, the better for them all.

Gervaise blazed out one day when he lamented his marriage and told him
that it was for her to curse the day when she first saw him. He must
remember that she had refused him over and over again. The scene was
a frightful one and one unexampled in the Coupeau annals.

Gervaise, now utterly discouraged, grew more indolent every day. Her
room was rarely swept. The Lorilleuxs said they could not enter it, it
was so dirty. They talked all day long over their work of the downfall
of Wooden Legs. They gloated over her poverty and her rags.

"Well! Well!" they murmured. "A great change has indeed come to that
beautiful blonde who was so fine in her blue shop."

Gervaise suspected their comments on her and her acts to be most
unkind, but she determined to have no open quarrel. It was for her
interest to speak to them when they met, but that was all the
intercourse between them.

On Saturday Coupeau had told his wife he would take her to the circus;
he had earned a little money and insisted on indulging himself. Nana
was obliged to stay late at the place where she worked and would sleep
with her aunt Mme Lerat.

Seven o'clock came, but no Coupeau. Her husband was drinking with his
comrades probably. She had washed a cap and mended an old gown with
the hope of being presentable. About nine o'clock, in a towering rage,
she sallied forth on an empty stomach to find Coupeau.

"Are you looking for your husband?" said Mme Boche. "He is at the
Assommoir. Boche has just seen him there."

Gervaise muttered her thanks and went with rapid steps to the
Assommoir.

A fine rain was falling. The gas in the tavern was blazing brightly,
lighting up the mirrors, the bottles and glasses. She stood at the
window and looked in. He was sitting at a table with his comrades.
The atmosphere was thick with smoke, and he looked stupefied and
half asleep.

She shivered and wondered why she should stay there and, so thinking,
turned away, only to come back twice to look again.

The water lay on the uneven sidewalk in pools, reflecting all the
lights from the Assommoir. Finally she determined on a bold step: she
opened the door and deliberately walked up to her husband. After all,
why should she not ask him why he had not kept his promise of taking
her to the circus? At any rate, she would not stay out there in the
rain and melt away like a cake of soap.

"She is crazy!" said Coupeau when he saw her. "I tell you, she is
crazy!"

He and all his friends shrieked with laughter, but no one condescended
to say what it was that was so very droll. Gervaise stood still, a
little bewildered by this unexpected reception. Coupeau was so amiable
that she said:

"Come, you know it is not too late to see something."

"Sit down a minute," said her husband, not moving from his seat.

Gervaise saw she could not stand there among all those men, so she
accepted the offered chair. She looked at the glasses, whose contents
glittered like gold. She looked at these dirty, shabby men and at the
others crowding around the counter. It was very warm, and the pipe
smoke thickened the air.

Gervaise felt as if she were choking; her eyes smarted, and her head
was heavy with the fumes of alcohol. She turned around and saw the
still, the machine that created drunkards. That evening the copper
was dull and glittered only in one round spot. The shadows of the
apparatus on the wall behind were strange and weird--creatures with
tails, monsters opening gigantic jaws as if to swallow the whole
world.

"What will you take to drink?" said Coupeau.

"Nothing," answered his wife. "You know I have had no dinner!"

"You need it all the more then! Have a drop of something!"

As she hesitated Mes-Bottes said gallantly:

"The lady would like something sweet like herself."

"I like men," she answered angrily, "who do not get tipsy and talk
like fools! I like men who keep their promises!"

Her husband laughed.

"You had better drink your share," he said, "for the devil a bit of
a circus will you see tonight."

She looked at him fixedly. A heavy frown contracted her eyebrows. She
answered slowly:

"You are right; it is a good idea. We can drink up the money
together."

Bibi brought her a glass of anisette. As she sipped it she remembered
all at once the brandied fruit she had eaten in the same place with
Coupeau when he was courting her. That day she had left the brandy and
took only the fruit, and now she was sitting there drinking liqueur.

But the anisette was good. When her glass was empty she refused
another, and yet she was not satisfied.

She looked around at the infernal machine behind her--a machine that
should have been buried ten fathoms deep in the sea. Nevertheless, it
had for her a strange fascination, and she longed to quench her thirst
with that liquid fire.

"What is that you have in your glasses?" she asked.

"That, my dear," answered her husband, "is Father Colombe's own
especial brew. Taste it."

And when a glass of the vitriol was brought to her Coupeau bade her
swallow it down, saying it was good for her.

After she had drunk this glass Gervaise was no longer conscious of the
hunger that had tormented her. Coupeau told her they could go to the
circus another time, and she felt she had best stay where she was. It
did not rain in the Assommoir, and she had come to look upon the scene
as rather amusing. She was comfortable and sleepy. She took a third
glass and then put her head on her folded arms, supporting them on the
table, and listened to her husband and his friends as they talked.

Behind her the still was at work with constant drip-drip, and she felt
a mad desire to grapple with it as with some dangerous beast and tear
out its heart. She seemed to feel herself caught in those copper fangs
and fancied that those coils of pipe were wound around her own body,
slowly but surely crushing out her life.

The whole room danced before her eyes, for Gervaise was now in the
condition which had so often excited her pity and indignation with
others. She vaguely heard a quarrel arise and a crash of chairs and
tables, and then Father Colombe promptly turned everyone into the
street.

It was still raining and a cold, sharp wind blowing. Gervaise lost
Coupeau, found him and then lost him again. She wanted to go home,
but she could not find her way. At the corner of the street she took
her seat by the side of the gutter, thinking herself at her washtub.
Finally she got home and endeavored to walk straight past the door
of the concierge, within whose room she was vaguely conscious of
the Poissons and Lorilleuxs holding up their hands in disgust at
her condition.

She never knew how she got up those six flights of stairs. But when
she turned into her own corridor little Lalie ran toward her with
loving, extended arms.

"Dear Madame Gervaise," she cried, "Papa has not come in; please
come and see my children. They are sleeping so sweetly!"

But when she looked up in the face of the clearstarcher she recoiled,
trembling from head to foot. She knew only too well that alcoholic
smell, those wandering eyes and convulsed lips.

Then as Gervaise staggered past her without speaking the child's arms
fell at her side, and she looked after her friend with sad and solemn
eyes.



CHAPTER XI

LITTLE NANA

Nana was growing fast--fair, fresh and dimpled--her skin velvety, like
a peach, and eyes so bright that men often asked her if they might not
light their pipes at them. Her mass of blonde hair--the color of ripe
wheat--looked around her temples as if it were powdered with gold.
She had a quaint little trick of sticking out the tip of her tongue
between her white teeth, and this habit, for some reason, exasperated
her mother.

She was very fond of finery and very coquettish. In this house, where
bread was not always to be got, it was difficult for her to indulge
her caprices in the matter of costume, but she did wonders. She
brought home odds and ends of ribbons from the shop where she worked
and made them up into bows and knots with which she ornamented her
dirty dresses. She was not overparticular in washing her feet, but
she wore her boots so tight that she suffered martyrdom in honor of
St Crispin, and if anyone asked her what the matter was when the pain
flushed her face suddenly, she always and promptly laid it to the
score of the colic.

Summer was the season of her triumphs. In a calico dress that cost
five or six francs she was as fresh and sweet as a spring morning and
made the dull street radiant with her youth and her beauty. She went
by the name of "The Little Chicken." One gown, in particular, suited
her to perfection. It was white with rose-colored dots, without
trimming of any kind. The skirt was short and showed her feet. The
sleeves were very wide and displayed her arms to the elbows. She
turned the neck away and fastened it with pins--in a corner in the
corridor, dreading her father's jests--to exhibit her pretty rounded
throat. A rose-colored ribbon, knotted in the rippling masses of her
hair, completed her toilet. She was a charming combination of child
and woman.

Sundays at this period of her life were her days for coquetting with
the public. She looked forward to them all the week through with a
longing for liberty and fresh air.

Early in the morning she began her preparations and stood for hours in
her chemise before the bit of broken mirror nailed by the window, and
as everyone could see her, her mother would be very much vexed and ask
how long she intended to show herself in that way.

But she, quite undisturbed, went on fastening down the little curls on
her forehead with a little sugar and water and then sewed the buttons
on her boots or took a stitch or two in her frock, barefooted all this
time and with her chemise slipping off her rounded shoulders.

Her father declared he would exhibit her as the "Wild Girl," at two
sous a head.

She was very lovely in this scanty costume, the color flushing her
cheeks in her indignation at her father's sometimes coarse remarks.
She did not dare answer him, however, but bit off her thread in silent
rage. After breakfast she went down to the courtyard. The house was
wrapped in Sunday quiet; the workshops on the lower floor were closed.
Through some of the open windows the tables were seen laid for
dinners, the families being on the fortifications "getting an
appetite."

Five or six girls--Nana, Pauline and others--lingered in the courtyard
for a time and then took flight altogether into the streets and thence
to the outer boulevards. They walked in a line, filling up the whole
sidewalk, with ribbons fluttering in their uncovered hair.

They managed to see everybody and everything through their downcast
lids. The streets were their native heath, as it were, for they had
grown up in them.

Nana walked in the center and gave her arm to Pauline, and as they
were the oldest and tallest of the band, they gave the law to the
others and decided where they should go for the day and what they
should do.

Nana and Pauline were deep ones. They did nothing without
premeditation. If they ran it was to show their slender ankles, and
when they stopped and panted for breath it was sure to be at the side
of some youths--young workmen of their acquaintance--who smoked in
their faces as they talked. Nana had her favorite, whom she always
saw at a great distance--Victor Fauconnier--and Pauline adored a
young cabinetmaker, who gave her apples.

Toward sunset the great pleasure of the day began. A band of
mountebanks would spread a well-worn carpet, and a circle was formed
to look on. Nana and Pauline were always in the thickest of the
crowd, their pretty fresh dresses crushed between dirty blouses, but
insensible to the mingled odors of dust and alcohol, tobacco and dirt.
They heard vile language; it did not disturb them; it was their own
tongue--they heard little else. They listened to it with a smile,
their delicate cheeks unflushed.

The only thing that disturbed them was the appearance of their
fathers, particularly if these fathers seemed to have been drinking.
They kept a good lookout for this disaster.

"Look!" cried Pauline. "Your father is coming, Nana."

Then the girl would crouch on her knees and bid the others stand
close around her, and when he had passed on after an inquiring look
she would jump up and they would all utter peals of laughter.

But one day Nana was kicked home by her father, and Boche dragged
Pauline away by her ear.

The girls would ordinarily return to the courtyard in the twilight and
establish themselves there with the air of not having been away, and
each invented a story with which to greet their questioning parents.
Nana now received forty sous per day at the place where she had been
apprenticed. The Coupeaus would not allow her to change, because she
was there under the supervision of her aunt, Mme Lerat, who had been
employed for many years in the same establishment.

The girl went off at an early hour in her little black dress, which
was too short and too tight for her, and Mme Lerat was bidden,
whenever she was after her time, to inform Gervaise, who allowed her
just twenty minutes, which was quite long enough. But she was often
seven or eight minutes late, and she spent her whole day coaxing her
aunt not to tell her mother. Mme Lerat, who was fond of the girl and
understood the follies of youth, did not tell, but at the same time
she read Nana many a long sermon on her follies and talked of her own
responsibility and of the dangers a young girl ran in Paris.

"You must tell me everything," she said. "I am too indulgent to you,
and if evil should come of it I should throw myself into the Seine.
Understand me, my little kitten; if a man should speak to you you must
promise to tell me every word he says. Will you swear to do this?"

Nana laughed an equivocal little laugh. Oh yes, she would promise. But
men never spoke to her; she walked too fast for that. What could they
say to her? And she explained her irregularity in coming--her five or
ten minutes delay--with an innocent little air. She had stopped at a
window to look at pictures or she had stopped to talk to Pauline. Her
aunt might follow her if she did not believe her.

"Oh, I will watch her. You need not be afraid!" said the widow to her
brother. "I will answer for her, as I would for myself!"

The place where the aunt and niece worked side by side was a large
room with a long table down the center. Shelves against the wall were
piled with boxes and bundles--all covered with a thick coating of
dust. The gas had blackened the ceiling. The two windows were so large
that the women, seated at the table, could see all that was going on
in the street below.

Mme Lerat was the first to make her appearance in the morning, but in
another fifteen minutes all the others were there. One morning in July
Nana came in last, which, however, was the usual case.

"I shall be glad when I have a carriage!" she said as she ran to the
window without even taking off her hat--a shabby little straw.

"What are you looking at?" asked her aunt suspiciously. "Did your
father come with you?"

"No indeed," answered Nana carelessly; "nor am I looking at anything.
It is awfully warm, and of all things in the world, I hate to be in a
hurry."

The morning was indeed frightfully hot. The workwomen had closed the
blinds, leaving a crack, however, through which they could inspect the
street, and they took their seats on each side of the table--Mme Lerat
at the farther end. There were eight girls, four on either side, each
with her little pot of glue, her pincers and other tools; heaps of
wires of different lengths and sizes lay on the table, spools of
cotton and of different-colored papers, petals and leaves cut out of
silk, velvet and satin. In the center, in a goblet, one of the girls
had placed a two-sou bouquet,--which was slowly withering in the heat.

"Did you know," said Leonie as she picked up a rose leaf with her
pincers, "how wretched poor Caroline is with that fellow who used
to call for her regularly every night?"

Before anyone could answer Leonie added:

"Hush! Here comes Madame."

And in sailed Mme Titreville, a tall, thin woman, who usually remained
below in the shop. Her employees stood in dread terror of her, as she
was never known to smile. She went from one to another, finding fault
with all; she ordered one woman to pull a marguerite to pieces and
make it over and then went out as stiffly and silently as she had
come in.

"Houp! Houp!" said Nana under her breath, and a giggle ran round the
table.

"Really, young ladies," said Mme Lerat, "you will compel me to severe
measures."

But no one was listening, and no one feared her. She was very
tolerant. They could say what they pleased, provided they put it
in decent language.

Nana was certainly in a good school! Her instincts, to be sure,
were vicious, but these instincts were fostered and developed in
this place, as is too often the case when a crowd of girls are
herded together. It was the story of a basket of apples, the good
ones spoiled by those that were already rotten. If two girls were
whispering in a corner, ten to one they were telling some story that
could not be told aloud.

Nana was not yet thoroughly perverted, but the curiosity which had
been her distinguishing characteristic as a child had not deserted
her, and she scarcely took her eyes from a girl by the name of Lisa,
about whom strange stories were told.

"How warm it is!" she exclaimed, suddenly rising and pushing open the
blinds. Leonie saw a man standing on the sidewalk opposite.

"Who is that old fellow?" she said. "He has been there a full quarter
of an hour."

"Some fool who has nothing better to do, I suppose," said Mme Lerat.
"Nana, will you come back to your work? I have told you that you
should not go to that window."

Nana took up her violets, and they all began to watch this man. He was
well dressed, about fifty, pale and grave. For a full hour he watched
the windows.

"Look!" said Leonie. "He has an eyeglass. Oh, he is very chic. He is
waiting for Augustine." But Augustine sharply answered that she did
not like the old man.

"You make a great mistake then," said Mme Lerat with her equivocal
smile.

Nana listened to the conversation which followed--reveling in
indecency--as much at home in it as a fish is in water. All the time
her fingers were busy at work. She wound her violet stems and fastened
in the leaves with a slender strip of green paper. A drop of gum--and
then behold a bunch of delicate fresh verdure which would fascinate
any lady. Her fingers were especially deft by nature. No instruction
could have imparted this quality.

The gentleman had gone away, and the workshop settled down into quiet
once more. When the bell rang for twelve Nana started up and said she
would go out and execute any commissions. Leonie sent for two sous'
worth of shrimp, Augustine for some fried potatoes, Sophie for a
sausage and Lisa for a bunch of radishes. As she was going out, her
aunt said quietly:

"I will go with you. I want something."

Lo, in the lane running up by the shop was the mysterious stranger.
Nana turned very red, and her aunt drew her arm within her own and
hurried her along.

So then he had come for her! Was not this pretty behavior for a girl
of her age? And Mme Lerat asked question after question, but Nana knew
nothing of him, she declared, though he had followed her for five
days.

Mme Lerat looked at the man out of the corners of her eyes. "You must
tell me everything," she said.

While they talked they went from shop to shop, and their arms grew
full of small packages, but they hurried back, still talking of the
gentleman.

"It may be a good thing," said Mme Lerat, "if his intentions are only
honorable."

The workwomen ate their breakfast on their knees; they were in no
hurry, either, to return to their work, when suddenly Leonie uttered
a low hiss, and like magic each girl was busy. Mme Titreville entered
the room and again made her rounds.

Mme Lerat did not allow her niece after this day to set foot on the
street without her. Nana at first was inclined to rebel, but, on the
whole, it rather flattered her vanity to be guarded like a treasure.
They had discovered that the man who followed her with such
persistency was a manufacturer of buttons, and one night the aunt
went directly up to him and told him that he was behaving in a most
improper manner. He bowed and, turning on his heel, departed--not
angrily, by any means--and the next day he did as usual.

One day, however, he deliberately walked between the aunt and the
niece and said something to Nana in a low voice. This frightened Mme
Lerat, who went at once to her brother and told him the whole story,
whereupon he flew into a violent rage, shook the girl until her teeth
chattered and talked to her as if she were the vilest of the vile.

"Let her be!" said Gervaise with all a woman's sense. "Let her be!
Don't you see that you are putting all sorts of things into her head?"

And it was quite true; he had put ideas into her head and had taught
her some things she did not know before, which was very astonishing.
One morning he saw her with something in a paper. It was _poudre de
riz_, which, with a most perverted taste, she was plastering upon
her delicate skin. He rubbed the whole of the powder into her hair
until she looked like a miller's daughter. Another time she came in
with red ribbons to retrim her old hat; he asked her furiously where
she got them.

Whenever he saw her with a bit of finery her father flew at her with
insulting suspicion and angry violence. She defended herself and her
small possessions with equal violence. One day he snatched from her
a little cornelian heart and ground it to dust under his heel.

She stood looking on, white and stern; for two years she had longed
for this heart. She said to herself that she would not bear such
treatment long. Coupeau occasionally realized that he had made a
mistake, but the mischief was done.

He went every morning with Nana to the shop door and waited outside
for five minutes to be sure that she had gone in. But one morning,
having stopped to talk with a friend on the corner for some time, he
saw her come out again and vanish like a flash around the corner. She
had gone up two flights higher than the room where she worked and had
sat down on the stairs until she thought him well out of the way.

When he went to Mme Lerat she told him that she washed her hands of
the whole business; she had done all she could, and now he must take
care of his daughter himself. She advised him to marry the girl at
once or she would do worse.

All the people in the neighborhood knew Nana's admirer by sight. He
had been in the courtyard several times, and once he had been seen
on the stairs.

The Lorilleuxs threatened to move away if this sort of thing went on,
and Mme Boche expressed great pity for this poor gentleman whom this
scamp of a girl was leading by the nose.

At first Nana thought the whole thing a great joke, but at the end of
a month she began to be afraid of him. Often when she stopped before
the jeweler's he would suddenly appear at her side and ask her what
she wanted.

She did not care so much for jewelry or ornaments as she did for many
other things. Sometimes as the mud was spattered over her from the
wheels of a carriage she grew faint and sick with envious longings
to be better dressed, to go to the theater, to have a pretty room all
to herself. She longed to see another side of life, to know something
of its pleasures. The stranger invariably appeared at these moments,
but she always turned and fled, so great was her horror of him.

But when winter came existence became well-nigh intolerable. Each
evening Nana was beaten, and when her father was tired of this
amusement her mother scolded. They rarely had anything to eat and
were always cold. If the girl bought some trifling article of dress
it was taken from her.

No! This life could not last. She no longer cared for her father. He
had thoroughly disgusted her, and now her mother drank too. Gervaise
went to the Assommoir nightly--for her husband, she said--and remained
there. When Nana saw her mother sometimes as she passed the window,
seated among a crowd of men, she turned livid with rage, because youth
has little patience with the vice of intemperance. It was a dreary
life for her--a comfortless home and a drunken father and mother. A
saint on earth could not have remained there; that she knew very well,
and she said she would make her escape some fine day, and then perhaps
her parents would be sorry and would admit that they had pushed her
out of the nest.

One Saturday Nana, coming in, found her mother and father in a
deplorable condition--Coupeau lying across the bed and Gervaise
sitting in a chair, swaying to and fro. She had forgotten the dinner,
and one untrimmed candle lighted the dismal scene.

"Is that you, girl?" stammered Gervaise. "Well, your father will
settle with you!"

Nana did not reply. She looked around the cheerless room, at the
cold stove, at her parents. She did not step across the threshold.
She turned and went away.

And she did not come back! The next day when her father and mother
were sober, they each reproached the other for Nana's flight.

This was really a terrible blow to Gervaise, who had no longer the
smallest motive for self-control, and she abandoned herself at once
to a wild orgy that lasted three days. Coupeau gave his daughter up
and smoked his pipe quietly. Occasionally, however, when eating his
dinner, he would snatch up a knife and wave it wildly in the air,
crying out that he was dishonored and then, laying it down as
suddenly, resumed eating his soup.

In this great house, whence each month a girl or two took flight, this
incident astonished no one. The Lorilleuxs were rather triumphant at
the success of their prophecy. Lantier defended Nana.

"Of course," he said, "she has done wrong, but bless my heart, what
would you have? A girl as pretty as that could not live all her days
in such poverty!"

"You know nothing about it!" cried Mme Lorilleux one evening when they
were all assembled in the room of the concierge. "Wooden Legs sold her
daughter out and out. I know it! I have positive proof of what I say.
The time that the old gentleman was seen on the stairs he was going to
pay the money. Nana and he were seen together at the Ambigu the other
night! I tell you, I know it!"

They finished their coffee. This tale might or might not be true; it
was not improbable, at all events. And after this it was circulated
and generally believed in the _Quartier_ that Gervaise had sold
her daughter.

The clearstarcher, meanwhile, was going from bad to worse. She had
been dismissed from Mme Fauconnier's and in the last few weeks had
worked for eight laundresses, one after the other--dismissed from
all for her untidiness.

As she seemed to have lost all skill in ironing, she went out by the
day to wash and by degrees was entrusted with only the roughest work.
This hard labor did not tend to beautify her either. She continued to
grow stouter and stouter in spite of her scanty food and hard labor.

Her womanly pride and vanity had all departed. Lantier never seemed
to see her when they met by chance, and she hardly noticed that the
liaison which had stretched along for so many years had ended in a
mutual disenchantment.

Lantier had done wisely, so far as he was concerned, in counseling
Virginie to open the kind of shop she had. He adored sweets and could
have lived on pralines and gumdrops, sugarplums and chocolate.

Sugared almonds were his especial delight. For a year his principal
food was bonbons. He opened all the jars, boxes and drawers when he
was left alone in the shop; and often, with five or six persons
standing around, he would take off the cover of a jar on the counter
and put in his hand and crunch down an almond. The cover was not put
on again, and the jar was soon empty. It was a habit of his, they all
said; besides, he was subject to a tickling in his throat!

He talked a great deal to Poisson of an invention of his which was
worth a fortune--an umbrella and hat in one; that is to say, a hat
which, at the first drops of a shower, would expand into an umbrella.

Lantier suggested to Virginie that she should have Gervaise come in
once each week to wash the floors, shop and the rooms. This she did
and received thirty sous each time. Gervaise appeared on Saturday
mornings with her bucket and brush, without seeming to suffer a single
pang at doing this menial work in the house where she had lived as
mistress.

One Saturday Gervaise had hard work. It had rained for three days, and
all the mud of the streets seemed to have been brought into the shop.
Virginie stood behind the counter with collar and cuffs trimmed with
lace. Near her on a low chair lounged Lantier, and he was, as usual,
eating candy.

"Really, Madame Coupeau," cried Virginie, "can't you do better than
that? You have left all the dirt in the corners. Don't you see? Oblige
me by doing that over again."

Gervaise obeyed. She went back to the corner and scrubbed it again.
She was on her hands and knees, with her sleeves rolled up over her
arms. Her old skirt clung close to her stout form, and the sweat
poured down her face.

"The more elbow grease she uses, the more she shines," said Lantier
sententiously with his mouth full.

Virginie, leaning back in her chair with the air of a princess,
followed the progress of the work with half-closed eyes.

"A little more to the right. Remember, those spots must all be taken
out. Last Saturday, you know, I was not pleased."

And then Lantier and Virginie fell into a conversation, while Gervaise
crawled along the floor in the dirt at their feet.

Mme Poisson enjoyed this, for her cat's eyes sparkled with malicious
joy, and she glanced at Lantier with a smile. At last she was avenged
for that mortification at the lavatory, which had for years weighed
heavy on her soul.

"By the way," said Lantier, addressing himself to Gervaise, "I saw
Nana last night."

Gervaise started to her feet with her brush in her hand.

"Yes, I was coming down La Rue des Martyrs. In front of me was a young
girl on the arm of an old gentleman. As I passed I glanced at her face
and assure you that it was Nana. She was well dressed and looked
happy."

"Ah!" said Gervaise in a low, dull voice.

Lantier, who had finished one jar, now began another.

"What a girl that is!" he continued. "Imagine that she made me a sign
to follow with the most perfect self-possession. She got rid of her
old gentleman in a cafe and beckoned me to the door. She asked me to
tell her about everybody."

"Ah!" repeated Gervaise.

She stood waiting. Surely this was not all. Her daughter must have
sent her some especial message. Lantier ate his sugarplums.

"I would not have looked at her," said Virginie. "I sincerely trust,
if I should meet her, that she would not speak to me for, really,
it would mortify me beyond expression. I am sorry for you, Madame
Gervaise, but the truth is that Poisson arrests every day a dozen
just such girls."

Gervaise said nothing; her eyes were fixed on vacancy. She shook her
head slowly, as if in reply to her own thoughts.

"Pray make haste," exclaimed Virginie fretfully. "I do not care to
have this scrubbing going on until midnight."

Gervaise returned to her work. With her two hands clasped around the
handle of the brush she pushed the water before her toward the door.
After this she had only to rinse the floor after sweeping the dirty
water into the gutter.

When all was accomplished she stood before the counter waiting for
her money. When Virginie tossed it toward her she did not take it up
instantly.

"Then she said nothing else?" Gervaise asked.

"She?" Lantier exclaimed. "Who is she? Ah yes, I remember. Nana! No,
she said nothing more."

And Gervaise went away with her thirty sous in her hand, her skirts
dripping and her shoes leaving the mark of their broad soles on the
sidewalk.

In the _Quartier_ all the women who drank like her took her part
and declared she had been driven to intemperance by her daughter's
misconduct. She, too, began to believe this herself and assumed at
times a tragic air and wished she were dead. Unquestionably she had
suffered from Nana's departure. A mother does not like to feel that
her daughter will leave her for the first person who asks her to do
so.

But she was too thoroughly demoralized to care long, and soon she had
but one idea: that Nana belonged to her. Had she not a right to her
own property?

She roamed the streets day after day, night after night, hoping to
see the girl. That year half the _Quartier_ was being demolished. All
one side of the Rue des Poissonniers lay flat on the ground. Lantier
and Poisson disputed day after day on these demolitions. The one
declared that the emperor wanted to build palaces and drive the lower
classes out of Paris, while Poisson, white with rage, said the emperor
would pull down the whole of Paris merely to give work to the people.

Gervaise did not like the improvements, either, or the changes in
the dingy _Quartier_, to which she was accustomed. It was, in fact,
a little hard for her to see all these embellishments just when she
was going downhill so fast over the piles of brick and mortar, while
she was wandering about in search of Nana.

She heard of her daughter several times. There are always plenty of
people to tell you things you do not care to hear. She was told that
Nana had left her elderly friend for the sake of some young fellow.

She heard, too, that Nana had been seen at a ball in the Grand Salon,
Rue de la Chapelle, and Coupeau and she began to frequent all these
places, one after another, whenever they had the money to spend.

But at the end of a month they had forgotten Nana and went for their
own pleasure. They sat for hours with their elbows on a table, which
shook with the movements of the dancers, amused by the sight.

One November night they entered the Grand Salon, as much to get warm
as anything else. Outside it was hailing, and the rooms were naturally
crowded. They could not find a table, and they stood waiting until
they could establish themselves. Coupeau was directly in the mouth of
the passage, and a young man in a frock coat was thrown against him.
The youth uttered an exclamation of disgust as he began to dust off
his coat with his handkerchief. The blouse worn by Coupeau was
assuredly none of the cleanest.

"Look here, my good fellow," cried Coupeau angrily, "those airs
are very unnecessary. I would have you to know that the blouse of
a workingman can do your coat no harm if it has touched it!"

The young man turned around and looked at Coupeau from head to foot.

"Learn," continued the angry workman, "that the blouse is the only
wear for a man!"

Gervaise endeavored to calm her husband, who, however, tapped his
ragged breast and repeated loudly:

"The only wear for a man, I tell you!"

The youth slipped away and was lost in the crowd.

Coupeau tried to find him, but it was quite impossible; the crowd was
too great. The orchestra was playing a quadrille, and the dancers were
bringing up the dust from the floor in great clouds, which obscured
the gas.

"Look!" said Gervaise suddenly.

"What is it?"

"Look at that velvet bonnet!"

Quite at the left there was a velvet bonnet, black with plumes,
only too suggestive of a hearse. They watched these nodding plumes
breathlessly.

"Do you not know that hair?" murmured Gervaise hoarsely. "I am sure
it is she!"

In one second Coupeau was in the center of the crowd. Yes, it was
Nana, and in what a costume! She wore a ragged silk dress, stained
and torn. She had no shawl over her shoulders to conceal the fact that
half the buttonholes on her dress were burst out. In spite of all her
shabbiness the girl was pretty and fresh. Nana, of course, danced on
unsuspiciously. Her airs and graces were beyond belief. She curtsied
to the very ground and then in a twinkling threw her foot over her
partner's head. A circle was formed, and she was applauded
vociferously.

At this moment Coupeau fell on his daughter.

"Don't try and keep me back," he said, "for have her I will!"

Nana turned and saw her father and mother.

Coupeau discovered that his daughter's partner was the young man for
whom he had been looking. Gervaise pushed him aside and walked up to
Nana and gave her two cuffs on her ears. One sent the plumed hat on
the side; the other left five red marks on that pale cheek. The
orchestra played on. Nana neither wept nor moved.

The dancers began to grow very angry. They ordered the Coupeau party
to leave the room.

"Go," said Gervaise, "and do not attempt to leave us, for so sure
as you do you will be given in charge of a policeman."

The young man had prudently disappeared.

Nana's old life now began again, for after the girl had slept for
twelve hours on a stretch, she was very gentle and sweet for a week.
She wore a plain gown and a simple hat and declared she would like
to work at home. She rose early and took a seat at her table by five
o'clock the first morning and tried to roll her violet stems, but her
fingers had lost their cunning in the six months in which they had
been idle.

Then the gluepot dried up; the petals and the paper were dusty and
spotted; the mistress of the establishment came for her tools and
materials and made more than one scene. Nana relapsed into utter
indolence, quarreling with her mother from morning until night.
Of course an end must come to this, so one fine evening the girl
disappeared.

The Lorilleuxs, who had been greatly amused by the repentance and
return of their niece, now nearly died laughing. If she returned again
they would advise the Coupeaus to put her in a cage like a canary.

The Coupeaus pretended to be rather pleased, but in their hearts they
raged, particularly as they soon learned that Nana was frequently seen
in the _Quartier_. Gervaise declared this was done by the girl to
annoy them.

Nana adorned all the balls in the vicinity, and the Coupeaus knew that
they could lay their hands on her at any time they chose, but they did
not choose and they avoided meeting her.

But one night, just as they were going to bed, they heard a rap on the
door. It was Nana, who came to ask as coolly as possible if she could
sleep there. What a state she was in! All rags and dirt. She devoured
a crust of dried bread and fell asleep with a part of it in her
hand. This continued for some time, the girl coming and going like a
will-o'-the-wisp. Weeks and months would elapse without a sign from
her, and then she would reappear without a word to say where she
had been, sometimes in rags and sometimes well dressed. Finally her
parents began to take these proceedings as a matter of course. She
might come in, they said, or stay out, just as she pleased, provided
she kept the door shut. Only one thing exasperated Gervaise now, and
that was when her daughter appeared with a bonnet and feathers and
a train. This she would not endure. When Nana came to her it must be
as a simple workingwoman! None of this dearly bought finery should
be exhibited there, for these trained dresses had created a great
excitement in the house.

One day Gervaise reproached her daughter violently for the life she
led and finally, in her rage, took her by the shoulder and shook her.

"Let me be!" cried the girl. "You are the last person to talk to me
in that way. You did as you pleased. Why can't I do the same?"

"What do you mean?" stammered the mother.

"I have never said anything about it because it was none of my
business, but do you think I did not know where you were when my
father lay snoring? Let me alone. It was you who set me the example."

Gervaise turned away pale and trembling, while Nana composed herself
to sleep again.

Coupeau's life was a very regular one--that is to say, he did not
drink for six months and then yielded to temptation, which brought him
up with a round turn and sent him to Sainte-Anne's. When he came out
he did the same thing, so that in three years he was seven times at
Sainte-Anne's, and each time he came out the fellow looked more broken
and less able to stand another orgy.

The poison had penetrated his entire system. He had grown very thin;
his cheeks were hollow and his eyes inflamed. Those who knew his age
shuddered as they saw him pass, bent and decrepit as a man of eighty.
The trembling of his hands had so increased that some days he was
obliged to use them both in raising his glass to his lips. This
annoyed him intensely and seemed to be the only symptom of his failing
health which disturbed him. He sometimes swore violently at these
unruly members and at others sat for hours looking at these fluttering
hands as if trying to discover by what strange mechanism they were
moved. And one night Gervaise found him sitting in this way with great
tears pouring down his withered cheeks.

The last summer of his life was especially trying to Coupeau. His
voice was entirely changed; he was deaf in one ear, and some days he
could not see and was obliged to feel his way up and downstairs as
if he were blind. He suffered from maddening headaches, and sudden
pains would dart through his limbs, causing him to snatch at a chair
for support. Sometimes after one of these attacks his arm would be
paralyzed for twenty-four hours.

He would lie in bed with even his head wrapped up, silent and
moody, like some suffering animal. Then came incipient madness and
fever--tearing everything to pieces that came in his way--or he would
weep and moan, declaring that no one loved him, that he was a burden
to his wife. One evening when his wife and daughter came in he was not
in his bed; in his place lay the bolster carefully tucked in. They
found him at last crouched on the floor under the bed, with his teeth
chattering with cold and fear. He told them he had been attacked by
assassins.

The two women coaxed him back to bed as if he had been a baby.

Coupeau knew but one remedy for all this, and that was a good stout
morning dram. His memory had long since fled; his brain had softened.
When Nana appeared after an absence of six weeks he thought she had
been on an errand around the corner. She met him in the street, too,
very often now, without fear, for he passed without recognizing her.
One night in the autumn Nana went out, saying she wanted some baked
pears from the fruiterer's. She felt the cold weather coming on, and
she did not care to sit before a cold stove. The winter before she
went out for two sous' worth of tobacco and came back in a month's
time; they thought she would do the same now, but they were mistaken.
Winter came and went, as did the spring, and even when June arrived
they had seen and heard nothing of her.

She was evidently comfortable somewhere, and the Coupeaus, feeling
certain that she would never return, had sold her bed; it was very
much in their way, and they could drink up the six francs it brought.

One morning Virginie called to Gervaise as the latter passed the shop
and begged her to come in and help a little, as Lantier had had two
friends to supper the night before, and Gervaise washed the dishes
while Lantier sat in the shop smoking. Presently he said:

"Oh, Gervaise, I saw Nana the other night."

Virginie, who was behind the counter, opening and shutting drawer
after drawer, with a face that lengthened as she found each empty,
shook her fist at him indignantly.

She had begun to think he saw Nana very often. She did not speak, but
Mme Lerat, who had just come in, said with a significant look:

"And where did you see her?"

"Oh, in a carriage," answered Lantier with a laugh. "And I was on the
sidewalk." He turned toward Gervaise and went on:

"Yes, she was in a carriage, dressed beautifully. I did not recognize
her at first, but she kissed her hand to me. Her friend this time must
be a vicomte at the least. She looked as happy as a queen."

Gervaise wiped the plate in her hands, rubbing it long and carefully,
though it had long since been dry. Virginie, with wrinkled brows,
wondered how she could pay two notes which fell due the next day,
while Lantier, fat and hearty from the sweets he had devoured, asked
himself if these drawers and jars would be filled up again or if the
ruin he anticipated was so near at hand that he would be compelled
to pull up stakes at once. There was not another praline for him to
crunch, not even a gumdrop.

When Gervaise went back to her room she found Coupeau sitting on the
side of the bed, weeping and moaning. She took a chair near by and
looked at him without speaking.

"I have news for you," she said at last. "Your daughter has been seen.
She is happy and comfortable. Would that I were in her place!"

Coupeau was looking down on the floor intently. He raised his head
and said with an idiotic laugh:

"Do as you please, my dear; don't let me be any hindrance to you.
When you are dressed up you are not so bad looking after all."



CHAPTER XII

POVERTY AND DEGRADATION

The weather was intensely cold about the middle of January. Gervaise
had not been able to pay her rent, due on the first. She had little
or no work and consequently no food to speak of. The sky was dark and
gloomy and the air heavy with the coming of a storm. Gervaise thought
it barely possible that her husband might come in with a little money.
After all, everything is possible, and he had said that he would work.
Gervaise after a little, by dint of dwelling on this thought, had come
to consider it a certainty. Yes, Coupeau would bring home some money,
and they would have a good, hot, comfortable dinner. As to herself,
she had given up trying to get work, for no one would have her. This
did not much trouble her, however, for she had arrived at that point
when the mere exertion of moving had become intolerable to her. She
now lay stretched on the bed, for she was warmer there.

Gervaise called it a bed. In reality it was only a pile of straw
in the corner, for she had sold her bed and all her furniture. She
occasionally swept the straw together with a broom, and, after all,
it was neither dustier nor dirtier than everything else in the place.
On this straw, therefore, Gervaise now lay with her eyes wide open.
How long, she wondered, could people live without eating? She was not
hungry, but there was a strange weight at the pit of her stomach. Her
haggard eyes wandered about the room in search of anything she could
sell. She vaguely wished someone would buy the spider webs which hung
in all the corners. She knew them to be very good for cuts, but she
doubted if they had any market value.

Tired of this contemplation, she got up and took her one chair to
the window and looked out into the dingy courtyard.

Her landlord had been there that day and declared he would wait only
one week for his money, and if it were not forthcoming he would turn
them into the street. It drove her wild to see him stand in his heavy
overcoat and tell her so coldly that he would pack her off at once.
She hated him with a vindictive hatred, as she did her fool of a
husband and the Lorilleuxs and Poissons. In fact, she hated everyone
on that especial day.

Unfortunately people can't live without eating, and before the woman's
famished eyes floated visions of food. Not of dainty little dishes.
She had long since ceased to care for those and ate all she could get
without being in the least fastidious in regard to its quality. When
she had a little money she bought a bullock's heart or a bit of cheese
or some beans, and sometimes she begged from a restaurant and made
a sort of panada of the crusts they gave her, which she cooked on a
neighbor's stove. She was quite willing to dispute with a dog for a
bone. Once the thought of such things would have disgusted her, but
at that time she did not--for three days in succession--go without a
morsel of food. She remembered how last week Coupeau had stolen a half
loaf of bread and sold it, or rather exchanged it, for liquor.

She sat at the window, looking at the pale sky, and finally fell
asleep. She dreamed that she was out in a snowstorm and could not find
her way home. She awoke with a start and saw that night was coming on.
How long the days are when one's stomach is empty! She waited for
Coupeau and the relief he would bring.

The clock struck in the next room. Could it be possible? Was it only
three? Then she began to cry. How could she ever wait until seven?
After another half-hour of suspense she started up. Yes, they might
say what they pleased, but she, at least, would try to borrow ten
sous from the Lorilleuxs.

There was a continual borrowing of small sums in this corridor during
the winter, but no matter what was the emergency no one ever dreamed
of applying to the Lorilleuxs. Gervaise summoned all her courage and
rapped at the door.

"Come in!" cried a sharp voice.

How good it was there! Warm and bright with the glow of the forge. And
Gervaise smelled the soup, too, and it made her feel faint and sick.

"Ah, it is you, is it?" said Mme Lorilleux. "What do you want?"

Gervaise hesitated. The application for ten sous stuck in her throat,
because she saw Boche seated by the stove.

"What do you want?" asked Lorilleux, in his turn.

"Have you seen Coupeau?" stammered Gervaise. "I thought he was here."

His sister answered with a sneer that they rarely saw Coupeau. They
were not rich enough to offer him as many glasses of wine as he wanted
in these days.

Gervaise stammered out a disconnected sentence.

He had promised to come home. She needed food; she needed money.

A profound silence followed. Mme Lorilleux fanned her fire, and her
husband bent more closely over his work, while Boche smiled with an
expectant air.

"If I could have ten sous," murmured Gervaise.

The silence continued.

"If you would lend them to me," said Gervaise, "I would give them back
in the morning."

Mme Lorilleux turned and looked her full in the face, thinking to
herself that if she yielded once the next day it would be twenty sous,
and who could tell where it would stop?

"But, my dear," she cried, "you know we have no money and no prospect
of any; otherwise, of course, we would oblige you."

"Certainly," said Lorilleux, "the heart is willing, but the pockets
are empty."

Gervaise bowed her head, but she did not leave instantly. She looked
at the gold wire on which her sister-in-law was working and at that in
the hands of Lorilleux and thought that it would take a mere scrap to
give her a good dinner. On that day the room was very dirty and filled
with charcoal dust, but she saw it resplendent with riches like the
shop of a money-changer, and she said once more in a low, soft voice:

"I will bring back the ten sous. I will, indeed!" Tears were in her
eyes, but she was determined not to say that she had eaten nothing
for twenty-four hours.

"I can't tell you how much I need it," she continued.

The husband and wife exchanged a look. Wooden Legs begging at their
door! Well! Well! Who would have thought it? Why had they not known it
was she when they rashly called out, "Come in?" Really, they could not
allow such people to cross their threshold; there was too much that
was valuable in the room. They had several times distrusted Gervaise;
she looked about so queerly, and now they would not take their eyes
off her.

Gervaise went toward Lorilleux as she spoke.

"Take care!" he said roughly. "You will carry off some of the
particles of gold on the soles of your shoes. It looks really as
if you had greased them!"

Gervaise drew back. She leaned against the _etagere_ for a moment
and, seeing that her sister-in-law's eyes were fixed on her hands,
she opened them and said in a gentle, weary voice--the voice of a
woman who had ceased to struggle:

"I have taken nothing. You can look for yourself."

And she went away; the warmth of the place and the smell of the soup
were unbearable.

The Lorilleuxs shrugged their shoulders as the door closed. They
hoped they had seen the last of her face. She had brought all her
misfortunes on her own head, and she had, therefore, no right to
expect any assistance from them. Boche joined in these animadversions,
and all three considered themselves avenged for the blue shop and all
the rest.

"I know her!" said Mme Lorilleux. "If I had lent her the ten sous she
wanted she would have spent it in liquor."

Gervaise crawled down the corridor with slipshod shoes and slouching
shoulders, but at her door she hesitated; she could not go in: she was
afraid. She would walk up and down a little--that would keep her warm.
As she passed she looked in at Father Bru, but to her surprise he was
not there, and she asked herself with a pang of jealousy if anyone
could possibly have asked him out to dine. When she reached the
Bijards' she heard a groan. She went in.

"What is the matter?" she said.

The room was very clean and in perfect order. Lalie that very morning
had swept and arranged everything. In vain did the cold blast of
poverty blow through that chamber and bring with it dirt and disorder.
Lalie was always there; she cleaned and scrubbed and gave to
everything a look of gentility. There was little money but much
cleanliness within those four walls.

The two children were cutting out pictures in a corner, but Lalie was
in bed, lying very straight and pale, with the sheet pulled over her
chin.

"What is the matter?" asked Gervaise anxiously.

Lalie slowly lifted her white lids and tried to speak.

"Nothing," she said faintly; "nothing, I assure you!" Then as her eyes
closed she added:

"I am only a little lazy and am taking my ease."

But her face bore the traces of such frightful agony that Gervaise
fell on her knees by the side of the bed. She knew that the child
had had a cough for a month, and she saw the blood trickling from
the corners of her mouth.

"It is not my fault," Lalie murmured. "I thought I was strong enough,
and I washed the floor. I could not finish the windows though.
Everything but those are clean. But I was so tired that I was obliged
to lie down----"

She interrupted herself to say:

"Please see that my children are not cutting themselves with the
scissors."

She started at the sound of a heavy step on the stairs. Her father
noisily pushed open the door. As usual he had drunk too much, and
in his eyes blazed the lurid flames kindled by alcohol.

When he saw Lalie lying down he walked to the corner and took up the
long whip, from which he slowly unwound the lash.

"This is a good joke!" he said. "The idea of your daring to go to bed
at this hour. Come, up with you!"

He snapped the whip over the bed, and the child murmured softly:

"Do not strike me, Papa. I am sure you will be sorry if you do. Do not
strike me!"

"Up with you!" he cried. "Up with you!"

Then she answered faintly:

"I cannot, for I am dying."

Gervaise had snatched the whip from Bijard, who stood with his under
jaw dropped, glaring at his daughter. What could the little fool mean?
Whoever heard of a child dying like that when she had not even been
sick? Oh, she was lying!

"You will see that I am telling you the truth," she replied. "I did
not tell you as long as I could help it. Be kind to me now, Papa, and
say good-by as if you loved me."

Bijard passed his hand over his eyes. She did look very strangely--her
face was that of a grown woman. The presence of death in that cramped
room sobered him suddenly. He looked around with the air of a man who
had been suddenly awakened from a dream. He saw the two little ones
clean and happy and the room neat and orderly.

He fell into a chair.

"Dear little mother!" he murmured. "Dear little mother!"

This was all he said, but it was very sweet to Lalie, who had never
been spoiled by overpraise. She comforted him. She told him how
grieved she was to go away and leave him before she had entirely
brought up her children. He would watch over them, would he not? And
in her dying voice she gave him some little details in regard to their
clothes. He--the alcohol having regained its power--listened with
round eyes of wonder.

After a long silence Lalie spoke again:

"We owe four francs and seven sous to the baker. He must be paid.
Madame Goudron has an iron that belongs to us; you must not forget it.
This evening I was not able to make the soup, but there are bread and
cold potatoes."

As long as she breathed the poor little mite continued to be the
mother of the family. She died because her breast was too small to
contain so great a heart, and that he lost this precious treasure
was entirely her father's fault. He, wretched creature, had kicked
her mother to death and now, just as surely, murdered his daughter.

Gervaise tried to keep back her tears. She held Lalie's hands, and
as the bedclothes slipped away she rearranged them. In doing so she
caught a glimpse of the poor little figure. The sight might have drawn
tears from a stone. Lalie wore only a tiny chemise over her bruised
and bleeding flesh; marks of a lash striped her sides; a livid spot
was on her right arm, and from head to foot she was one bruise.

Gervaise was paralyzed at the sight. She wondered, if there were a God
above, how He could have allowed the child to stagger under so heavy
a cross.

"Madame Coupeau," murmured the child, trying to draw the sheet over
her. She was ashamed, ashamed for her father.

Gervaise could not stay there. The child was fast sinking. Her eyes
were fixed on her little ones, who sat in the corner, still cutting
out their pictures. The room was growing dark, and Gervaise fled from
it. Ah, what an awful thing life was! And how gladly would she throw
herself under the wheels of an omnibus, if that might end it!

Almost unconsciously Gervaise took her way to the shop where her
husband worked or, rather, pretended to work. She would wait for him
and get the money before he had a chance to spend it.

It was a very cold corner where she stood. The sounds of the carriages
and footsteps were strangely muffled by reason of the fast-falling
snow. Gervaise stamped her feet to keep them from freezing. The people
who passed offered few distractions, for they hurried by with their
coat collars turned up to their ears. But Gervaise saw several women
watching the door of the factory quite as anxiously as herself--they
were wives who, like herself, probably wished to get hold of a portion
of their husbands' wages. She did not know them, but it required no
introduction to understand their business.

The door of the factory remained firmly shut for some time. Then it
opened to allow the egress of one workman; then two, three, followed,
but these were probably those who, well behaved, took their wages home
to their wives, for they neither retreated nor started when they saw
the little crowd. One woman fell on a pale little fellow and, plunging
her hand into his pocket, carried off every sou of her husband's
earnings, while he, left without enough to pay for a pint of wine,
went off down the street almost weeping.

Some other men appeared, and one turned back to warn a comrade, who
came gamely and fearlessly out, having put his silver pieces in his
shoes. In vain did his wife look for them in his pockets; in vain
did she scold and coax--he had no money, he declared.

Then came another noisy group, elbowing each other in their haste to
reach a cabaret, where they could drink away their week's wages. These
fellows were followed by some shabby men who were swearing under their
breath at the trifle they had received, having been tipsy and absent
more than half the week.

But the saddest sight of all was the grief of a meek little woman in
black, whose husband, a tall, good-looking fellow, pushed her roughly
aside and walked off down the street with his boon companions, leaving
her to go home alone, which she did, weeping her very heart out as she
went.

Gervaise still stood watching the entrance. Where was Coupeau? She
asked some of the men, who teased her by declaring that he had just
gone by the back door. She saw by this time that Coupeau had lied to
her, that he had not been at work that day. She also saw that there
was no dinner for her. There was not a shadow of hope--nothing but
hunger and darkness and cold.

She toiled up La Rue des Poissonniers when she suddenly heard
Coupeau's voice and, glancing in at the window of a wineshop, she
saw him drinking with Mes-Bottes, who had had the luck to marry
the previous summer a woman with some money. He was now, therefore,
well clothed and fed and altogether a happy mortal and had Coupeau's
admiration. Gervaise laid her hands on her husband's shoulders as
he left the cabaret.

"I am hungry," she said softly.

"Hungry, are you? Well then, eat your fist and keep the other for
tomorrow."

"Shall I steal a loaf of bread?" she asked in a dull, dreary tone.

Mes-Bottes smoothed his chin and said in a conciliatory voice:

"No, no! Don't do that; it is against the law. But if a woman
manages----"

Coupeau interrupted him with a coarse laugh.

Yes, a woman, if she had any sense, could always get along, and it
was her own fault if she starved.

And the two men walked on toward the outer boulevard. Gervaise
followed them. Again she said:

"I am hungry. You know I have had nothing to eat. You must find me
something."

He did not answer, and she repeated her words in a tone of agony.

"Good God!" he exclaimed, turning upon her furiously. "What can I do?
I have nothing. Be off with you, unless you want to be beaten."

He lifted his fist; she recoiled and said with set teeth:

"Very well then; I will go and find some man who has a sou."

Coupeau pretended to consider this an excellent joke. Yes of course
she could make a conquest; by gaslight she was still passably
goodlooking. If she succeeded he advised her to dine at the Capucin,
where there was very good eating.

She turned away with livid lips; he called after her:

"Bring some dessert with you, for I love cake. And perhaps you can
induce your friend to give me an old coat, for I swear it is cold
tonight."

Gervaise, with this infernal mirth ringing in her ears, hurried down
the street. She was determined to take this desperate step. She had
only a choice between that and theft, and she considered that she
had a right to dispose of herself as she pleased. The question of
right and wrong did not present itself very clearly to her eyes.
"When one is starving is hardly the time," she said to herself, "to
philosophize." She walked slowly up and down the boulevard. This part
of Paris was crowded now with new buildings, between whose sculptured
facades ran narrow lanes leading to haunts of squalid misery, which
were cheek by jowl with splendor and wealth.

It seemed strange to Gervaise that among this crowd who elbowed her
there was not one good Christian to divine her situation and slip some
sous into her hand. Her head was dizzy, and her limbs would hardly
bear her weight. At this hour ladies with hats and well-dressed
gentlemen who lived in these fine new houses were mingled with the
people--with the men and women whose faces were pale and sickly from
the vitiated air of the workshops in which they passed their lives.
Another day of toil was over, but the days came too often and were
too long. One hardly had time to turn over in one's sleep when the
everlasting grind began again.

Gervaise went with the crowd. No one looked at her, for the men were
all hurrying home to their dinner. Suddenly she looked up and beheld
the Hotel Boncoeur. It was empty, the shutters and doors covered with
placards and the whole facade weather-stained and decaying. It was
there in that hotel that the seeds of her present life had been sown.
She stood still and looked up at the window of the room she had
occupied and recalled her youth passed with Lantier and the manner
in which he had left her. But she was young then and soon recovered
from the blow. That was twenty years ago, and now what was she?

The sight of the place made her sick, and she turned toward
Montmartre. She passed crowds of workwomen with little parcels in
their hands and children who had been sent to the baker's, carrying
four-pound loaves of bread as tall as themselves, which looked like
shining brown dolls.

By degrees the crowd dispersed, and Gervaise was almost alone.
Everyone was at dinner. She thought how delicious it would be to lie
down and never rise again--to feel that all toil was over. And this
was the end of her life! Gervaise, amid the pangs of hunger, thought
of some of the fete days she had known and remembered that she had not
always been miserable. Once she was pretty, fair and fresh. She had
been a kind and admired mistress in her shop. Gentlemen came to it
only to see her, and she vaguely wondered where all this youth and
this beauty had fled.

Again she looked up; she had reached the abattoirs, which were now
being torn down; the fronts were taken away, showing the dark holes
within, the very stones of which reeked with blood. Farther on was
the hospital with its high, gray walls, with two wings opening out
like a huge fan. A door in the wall was the terror of the whole
_Quartier_--the Door of the Dead, it was called--through which
all the bodies were carried.

She hurried past this solid oak door and went down to the railroad
bridge, under which a train had just passed, leaving in its rear
a floating cloud of smoke. She wished she were on that train which
would take her into the country, and she pictured to herself open
spaces and the fresh air and expanse of blue sky; perhaps she could
live a new life there.

As she thought this her weary eyes began to puzzle out in the dim
twilight the words on a printed handbill pasted on one of the pillars
of the arch. She read one--an advertisement offering fifty francs for
a lost dog. Someone must have loved the creature very much.

Gervaise turned back again. The street lamps were being lit and
defined long lines of streets and avenues. The restaurants were all
crowded, and people were eating and drinking. Before the Assommoir
stood a crowd waiting their turn and room within, and as a respectable
tradesman passed he said with a shake of the head that many a man
would be drunk that night in Paris. And over this scene hung the dark
sky, low and clouded.

Gervaise wished she had a few sous: she would, in that case, have gone
into this place and drunk until she ceased to feel hungry, and through
the window she watched the still with an angry consciousness that all
her misery and all her pain came from that. If she had never touched
a drop of liquor all might have been so different.

She started from her reverie; this was the hour of which she must
take advantage. Men had dined and were comparatively amiable. She
looked around her and toward the trees where--under the leafless
branches--she saw more than one female figure. Gervaise watched them,
determined to do what they did. Her heart was in her throat; it seemed
to her that she was dreaming a bad dream.

She stood for some fifteen minutes; none of the men who passed looked
at her. Finally she moved a little and spoke to one who, with his
hands in his pockets, was whistling as he walked.

"Sir," she said in a low voice, "please listen to me."

The man looked at her from head to foot and went on whistling louder
than before.

Gervaise grew bolder. She forgot everything except the pangs of
hunger. The women under the trees walked up and down with the
regularity of wild animals in a cage.

"Sir," she said again, "please listen."

But the man went on. She walked toward the Hotel Boncoeur again,
past the hospital, which was now brilliantly lit. There she turned
and went back over the same ground--the dismal ground between the
slaughterhouses and the place where the sick lay dying. With these
two places she seemed to feel bound by some mysterious tie.

"Sir, please listen!"

She saw her shadow on the ground as she stood near a street lamp. It
was a grotesque shadow--grotesque because of her ample proportions.
Her limp had become, with time and her additional weight, a very
decided deformity, and as she moved the lengthening shadow of herself
seemed to be creeping along the sides of the houses with bows and
curtsies of mock reverence. Never before had she realized the change
in herself. She was fascinated by this shadow. It was very droll, she
thought, and she wondered if the men did not think so too.

"Sir, please listen!"

It was growing late. Man after man, in a beastly state of
intoxication, reeled past her; quarrels and disputes filled the air.

Gervaise walked on, half asleep. She was conscious of little except
that she was starving. She wondered where her daughter was and what
she was eating, but it was too much trouble to think, and she shivered
and crawled on. As she lifted her face she felt the cutting wind,
accompanied by the snow, fine and dry, like gravel. The storm had
come.

People were hurrying past her, but she saw one man walking slowly.
She went toward him.

"Sir, please listen!"

The man stopped. He did not seem to notice what she said but extended
his hand and murmured in a low voice:

"Charity, if you please!"

The two looked at each other. Merciful heavens! It was Father Bru
begging and Mme Coupeau doing worse. They stood looking at each
other--equals in misery. The aged workman had been trying to make up
his mind all the evening to beg, and the first person he stopped was
a woman as poor as himself! This was indeed the irony of fate. Was it
not a pity to have toiled for fifty years and then to beg his bread?
To have been one of the most flourishing laundresses in Paris and then
to make her bed in the gutter? They looked at each other once more,
and without a word each went their own way through the fast-falling
snow, which blinded Gervaise as she struggled on, the wind wrapping
her thin skirts around her legs so that she could hardly walk.

Suddenly an absolute whirlwind struck her and bore her breathless
and helpless along--she did not even know in what direction. When at
last she was able to open her eyes she could see nothing through the
blinding snow, but she heard a step and saw the outlines of a man's
figure. She snatched him by the blouse.

"Sir," she said, "please listen."

The man turned. It was Goujet.

Ah, what had she done to be thus tortured and humiliated? Was God in
heaven an angry God always? This was the last dreg of bitterness in
her cup. She saw her shadow: her limp, she felt, made her walk like an
intoxicated woman, which was indeed hard, when she had not swallowed
a drop.

Goujet looked at her while the snow whitened his yellow beard.

"Come!" he said.

And he walked on, she following him. Neither spoke.

Poor Mme Goujet had died in October of acute rheumatism, and her son
continued to reside in the same apartment. He had this night been
sitting with a sick friend.

He entered, lit a lamp and turned toward Gervaise, who stood humbly
on the threshold.

"Come in!" he said in a low voice, as if his mother could have heard
him.

The first room was that of Mme Goujet, which was unchanged since her
death. Near the window stood her frame, apparently ready for the old
lady. The bed was carefully made, and she could have slept there had
she returned from the cemetery to spend a night with her son. The room
was clean, sweet and orderly.

"Come in," repeated Goujet.

Gervaise entered with the air of a woman who is startled at finding
herself in a respectable place. He was pale and trembling. They
crossed his mother's room softly, and when Gervaise stood within
his own he closed the door.

It was the same room in which he had lived ever since she knew
him--small and almost virginal in its simplicity. Gervaise dared not
move.

Goujet snatched her in his arms, but she pushed him away faintly.

The stove was still hot, and a dish was on the top of it. Gervaise
looked toward it. Goujet understood. He placed the dish on the table,
poured her out some wine and cut a slice of bread.

"Thank you," she said. "How good you are!"

She trembled to that degree that she could hardly hold her fork.
Hunger gave her eyes the fierceness of a famished beast and to her
head the tremulous motion of senility. After eating a potato she burst
into tears but continued to eat, with the tears streaming down her
cheeks and her chin quivering.

"Will you have some more bread?" he asked. She said no; she said yes;
she did not know what she said.

And he stood looking at her in the clear light of the lamp. How old
and shabby she was! The heat was melting the snow on her hair and
clothing, and water was dripping from all her garments. Her hair was
very gray and roughened by the wind. Where was the pretty white throat
he so well remembered? He recalled the days when he first knew her,
when her skin was so delicate and she stood at her table, briskly
moving the hot irons to and fro. He thought of the time when she had
come to the forge and of the joy with which he would have welcomed
her then to his room. And now she was there!

She finished her bread amid great silent tears and then rose to her
feet.

Goujet took her hand.

"I love you, Madame Gervaise; I love you still," he cried.

"Do not say that," she exclaimed, "for it is impossible."

He leaned toward her.

"Will you allow me to kiss you?" he asked respectfully.

She did not know what to say, so great was her emotion.

He kissed her gravely and solemnly and then pressed his lips upon
her gray hair. He had never kissed anyone since his mother's death,
and Gervaise was all that remained to him of the past.

He turned away and, throwing himself on his bed, sobbed aloud.
Gervaise could not endure this. She exclaimed:

"I love you, Monsieur Goujet, and I understand. Farewell!"

And she rushed through Mme Goujet's room and then through the street
to her home. The house was all dark, and the arched door into the
courtyard looked like huge, gaping jaws. Could this be the house where
she once desired to reside? Had she been deaf in those days, not to
have heard that wail of despair which pervaded the place from top to
bottom? From the day when she first set her foot within the house she
had steadily gone downhill.

Yes, it was a frightful way to live--so many people herded together,
to become the prey of cholera or vice. She looked at the courtyard
and fancied it a cemetery surrounded by high walls. The snow lay white
within it. She stepped over the usual stream from the dyer's, but
this time the stream was black and opened for itself a path through
the white snow. The stream was the color of her thoughts. But she
remembered when both were rosy.

As she toiled up the six long flights in the darkness she laughed
aloud. She recalled her old dream--to work quietly, have plenty to
eat, a little home to herself, where she could bring up her children,
never to be beaten, and to die in her bed! It was droll how things had
turned out. She worked no more; she had nothing to eat; she lived amid
dirt and disorder. Her daughter had gone to the bad, and her husband
beat her whenever he pleased. As for dying in her bed, she had none.
Should she throw herself out of the window and find one on the
pavement below?

She had not been unreasonable in her wishes, surely. She had not
asked of heaven an income of thirty thousand francs or a carriage
and horses. This was a queer world! And then she laughed again as
she remembered that she had once said that after she had worked for
twenty years she would retire into the country.

Yes, she would go into the country, for she should soon have her
little green corner in Pere-Lachaise.

Her poor brain was disturbed. She had bidden an eternal farewell to
Goujet. They would never see each other again. All was over between
them--love and friendship too.

As she passed the Bijards' she looked in and saw Lalie lying dead,
happy and at peace. It was well with the child.

"She is lucky," muttered Gervaise.

At this moment she saw a gleam of light under the undertaker's door.
She threw it wide open with a wild desire that he should take her as
well as Lalie. Bazonge had come in that night more tipsy than usual
and had thrown his hat and cloak in the corner, while he lay in the
middle of the floor.

He started up and called out:

"Shut that door! And don't stand there--it is too cold. What do you
want?"

Then Gervaise, with arms outstretched, not knowing or caring what she
said, began to entreat him with passionate vehemence:

"Oh, take me!" she cried. "I can bear it no longer. Take me, I implore
you!"

And she knelt before him, a lurid light blazing in her haggard eyes.

Father Bazonge, with garments stained by the dust of the cemetery,
seemed to her as glorious as the sun. But the old man, yet half
asleep, rubbed his eyes and could not understand her.

"What are you talking about?" he muttered.

"Take me," repeated Gervaise, more earnestly than before. "Do you
remember one night when I rapped on the partition? Afterward I said
I did not, but I was stupid then and afraid. But I am not afraid now.
Here, take my hands--they are not cold with terror. Take me and put
me to sleep, for I have but this one wish now."

Bazonge, feeling that it was not proper to argue with a lady, said:

"You are right. I have buried three women today, who would each have
given me a jolly little sum out of gratitude, if they could have put
their hands in their pockets. But you see, my dear woman, it is not
such an easy thing you are asking of me."

"Take me!" cried Gervaise. "Take me! I want to go away!"

"But there is a certain little operation first, you know----" And he
pretended to choke and rolled up his eyes.

Gervaise staggered to her feet. He, too, rejected her and would have
nothing to do with her. She crawled into her room and threw herself on
her straw. She was sorry she had eaten anything and delayed the work
of starvation.



CHAPTER XIII

THE HOSPITAL

The next day Gervaise received ten francs from her son Etienne, who
had steady work. He occasionally sent her a little money, knowing that
there was none too much of that commodity in his poor mother's pocket.

She cooked her dinner and ate it alone, for Coupeau did not appear,
nor did she hear a word of his whereabouts for nearly a week. Finally
a printed paper was given her which frightened her at first, but
she was soon relieved to find that it simply conveyed to her the
information that her husband was at Sainte-Anne's again.

Gervaise was in no way disturbed. Coupeau knew the way back well
enough; he would return in due season. She soon heard that he and
Mes-Bottes had spent the whole week in dissipation, and she even felt
a little angry that they had not seen fit to offer her a glass of wine
with all their feasting and carousing.

On Sunday, as Gervaise had a nice little repast ready for the evening,
she decided that an excursion would give her an appetite. The letter
from the asylum stared her in the face and worried her. The snow had
melted; the sky was gray and soft, and the air was fresh. She started
at noon, as the days were now short and Sainte-Anne's was a long
distance off, but as there were a great many people in the street,
she was amused.

When she reached the hospital she heard a strange story. It seems that
Coupeau--how, no one could say--had escaped from the hospital and had
been found under the bridge. He had thrown himself over the parapet,
declaring that armed men were driving him with the point of their
bayonets.

One of the nurses took Gervaise up the stairs. At the head she heard
terrific howls which froze the marrow in her bones.

"It is he!" said the nurse.

"He? Whom do you mean?"

"I mean your husband. He has gone on like that ever since day before
yesterday, and he dances all the time too. You will see!"

Ah, what a sight it was! The cell was cushioned from the floor to the
ceiling, and on the floor were mattresses on which Coupeau danced and
howled in his ragged blouse. The sight was terrific. He threw himself
wildly against the window and then to the other side of the cell,
shaking hands as if he wished to break them off and fling them
in defiance at the whole world. These wild motions are sometimes
imitated, but no one who has not seen the real and terrible sight
can imagine its horror.

"What is it? What is it?" gasped Gervaise.

A house surgeon, a fair and rosy youth, was sitting, calmly taking
notes. The case was a peculiar one and had excited a great deal of
attention among the physicians attached to the hospital.

"You can stay awhile," he said, "but keep very quiet. He will not
recognize you, however."

Coupeau, in fact, did not seem to notice his wife, who had not yet
seen his face. She went nearer. Was that really he? She never would
have known him with his bloodshot eyes and distorted features. His
skin was so hot that the air was heated around him and was as if it
were varnished--shining and damp with perspiration. He was dancing,
it is true, but as if on burning plowshares; not a motion seemed to
be voluntary.

Gervaise went to the young surgeon, who was beating a tune on the
back of his chair.

"Will he get well, sir?" she said.

The surgeon shook his head.

"What is he saying? Hark! He is talking now."

"Just be quiet, will you?" said the young man. "I wish to listen."

Coupeau was speaking fast and looking all about, as if he were
examining the underbrush in the Bois de Vincennes.

"Where is it now?" he exclaimed and then, straightening himself,
he looked off into the distance.

"It is a fair," he exclaimed, "and lanterns in the trees, and the
water is running everywhere: fountains, cascades and all sorts of
things."

He drew a long breath, as if enjoying the delicious freshness of
the air.

By degrees, however, his features contracted again with pain, and
he ran quickly around the wall of his cell.

"More trickery," he howled. "I knew it!"

He started back with a hoarse cry; his teeth chattered with terror.

"No, I will not throw myself over! All that water would drown me!
No, I will not!"

"I am going," said Gervaise to the surgeon. "I cannot stay another
moment."

She was very pale. Coupeau kept up his infernal dance while she
tottered down the stairs, followed by his hoarse voice.

How good it was to breathe the fresh air outside!

That evening everyone in the huge house in which Coupeau had lived
talked of his strange disease. The concierge, crazy to hear the
details, condescended to invite Gervaise to take a glass of cordial,
forgetting that he had turned a cold shoulder upon her for many weeks.

Mme Lorilleux and Mme Poisson were both there also. Boche had heard
of a cabinetmaker who had danced the polka until he died. He had drunk
absinthe.

Gervaise finally, not being able to make them understand her
description, asked for the table to be moved and there, in the center
of the loge, imitated her husband, making frightful leaps and horrible
contortions.

"Yes, that was what he did!"

And then everybody said it was not possible that man could keep up
such violent exercise for even three hours.

Gervaise told them to go and see if they did not believe her. But
Mme Lorilleux declared that nothing would induce her to set foot
within Sainte-Anne's, and Virginie, whose face had grown longer and
longer with each successive week that the shop got deeper into debt,
contented herself with murmuring that life was not always gay--in
fact, in her opinion, it was a pretty dismal thing. As the wine was
finished, Gervaise bade them all good night. When she was not speaking
she had sat with fixed, distended eyes. Coupeau was before them all
the time.

The next day she said to herself when she rose that she would never go
to the hospital again; she could do no good. But as midday arrived she
could stay away no longer and started forth, without a thought of the
length of the walk, so great were her mingled curiosity and anxiety.

She was not obliged to ask a question; she heard the frightful sounds
at the very foot of the stairs. The keeper, who was carrying a cup of
tisane across the corridor, stopped when he saw her.

"He keeps it up well!" he said.

She went in but stood at the door, as she saw there were people there.
The young surgeon had surrendered his chair to an elderly gentleman
wearing several decorations. He was the chief physician of the
hospital, and his eyes were like gimlets.

Gervaise tried to see Coupeau over the bald head of that gentleman.
Her husband was leaping and dancing with undiminished strength. The
perspiration poured more constantly from his brow now; that was all.
His feet had worn holes in the mattress with his steady tramp from
window to wall.

Gervaise asked herself why she had come back. She had been accused the
evening before of exaggerating the picture, but she had not made it
strong enough. The next time she imitated him she could do it better.
She listened to what the physicians were saying: the house surgeon
was giving the details of the night with many words which she did not
understand, but she gathered that Coupeau had gone on in the same way
all night. Finally he said this was the wife of the patient. Wherefore
the surgeon in chief turned and interrogated her with the air of a
police judge.

"Did this man's father drink?"

"A little, sir. Just as everybody does. He fell from a roof when he
had been drinking and was killed."

"Did his mother drink?"

"Yes sir--that is, a little now and then. He had a brother who died
in convulsions, but the others are very healthy."

The surgeon looked at her and said coldly:

"You drink too?"

Gervaise attempted to defend herself and deny the accusation.

"You drink," he repeated, "and see to what it leads. Someday you
will be here, and like this."

She leaned against the wall, utterly overcome. The physician turned
away. He knelt on the mattress and carefully watched Coupeau; he
wished to see if his feet trembled as much as his hands. His
extremities vibrated as if on wires. The disease was creeping on,
and the peculiar shivering seemed to be under the skin--it would
ease for a minute or two and then begin again. The belly and the
shoulders trembled like water just on the point of boiling.

Coupeau seemed to suffer more than the evening before. His complaints
were curious and contradictory. A million pins were pricking him.
There was a weight under the skin; a cold, wet animal was crawling
over him. Then there were other creatures on his shoulder.

"I am thirsty," he groaned; "so thirsty."

The house surgeon took a glass of lemonade from a tray and gave it to
him. He seized the glass in both hands, drank one swallow, spilling
the whole of it at the same time. He at once spat it out in disgust.

"It is brandy!" he exclaimed.

Then the surgeon, on a sign from his chief, gave him some water, and
Coupeau did the same thing.

"It is brandy!" he cried. "Brandy! Oh, my God!"

For twenty-four hours he had declared that everything he touched to
his lips was brandy, and with tears begged for something else, for it
burned his throat, he said. Beef tea was brought to him; he refused
it, saying it smelled of alcohol. He seemed to suffer intense and
constant agony from the poison which he vowed was in the air. He asked
why people were allowed to rub matches all the time under his nose,
to choke him with their vile fumes.

The physicians watched Coupeau with care and interest. The phantoms
which had hitherto haunted him by night now appeared before him at
midday. He saw spiders' webs hanging from the wall as large as the
sails of a man-of-war. Then these webs changed to nets, whose meshes
were constantly contracting only to enlarge again. These nets held
black balls, and they, too, swelled and shrank. Suddenly he cried out:

"The rats! Oh, the rats!"

The balls had been transformed to rats. The vile beasts found their
way through the meshes of the nets and swarmed over the mattress and
then disappeared as suddenly as they came.

The rats were followed by a monkey, who went in and came out from the
wall, each time so near his face that Coupeau started back in disgust.
All this vanished in the twinkling of an eye. He apparently thought
the walls were unsteady and about to fall, for he uttered shriek after
shriek of agony.

"Fire! Fire!" he screamed. "They can't stand long. They are shaking!
Fire! Fire! The whole heavens are bright with the light! Help! Help!"

His shrieks ended in a convulsed murmur. He foamed at the mouth. The
surgeon in chief turned to the assistant.

"You keep the temperature at forty degrees?" he asked.

"Yes sir."

A dead silence ensued. Then the surgeon shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, continue the same treatment--beef tea, milk, lemonade and
quinine as directed. Do not leave him, and send for me if there is
any change."

And he left the room, Gervaise following close at his heels, seeking
an opportunity of asking him if there was no hope. But he stalked down
the corridor with so much dignity that she dared not approach him.

She stood for a moment, undecided whether she should go back to
Coupeau or not, but hearing him begin again the lamentable cry for
water:

"Water, not brandy!"

She hurried on, feeling that she could endure no more that day. In the
streets the galloping horses made her start with a strange fear that
all the inmates of Sainte-Anne's were at her heels. She remembered
what the physician had said, with what terrors he had threatened her,
and she wondered if she already had the disease.

When she reached the house the concierge and all the others were
waiting and called her into the loge.

Was Coupeau still alive? they asked.

Boche seemed quite disturbed at her answer, as he had made a bet
that he would not live twenty-four hours. Everyone was astonished.
Mme Lorilleux made a mental calculation:

"Sixty hours," she said. "His strength is extraordinary."

Then Boche begged Gervaise to show them once more what Coupeau did.

The demand became general, and it was pointed out to her that she
ought not to refuse, for there were two neighbors there who had not
seen her representation the night previous and who had come in
expressly to witness it.

They made a space in the center of the room, and a shiver of
expectation ran through the little crowd.

Gervaise was very reluctant. She was really afraid--afraid of making
herself ill. She finally made the attempt but drew back again hastily.

No, she could not; it was quite impossible. Everyone was disappointed,
and Virginie went away.

Then everyone began to talk of the Poissons. A warrant had been
served on them the night before. Poisson was to lose his place. As to
Lantier, he was hovering around a woman who thought of taking the shop
and meant to sell hot tripe. Lantier was in luck, as usual.

As they talked someone caught sight of Gervaise and pointed her out to
the others. She was at the very back of the loge, her feet and hands
trembling, imitating Coupeau, in fact. They spoke to her. She stared
wildly about, as if awaking from a dream, and then left the room.

The next day she left the house at noon, as she had done before. And
as she entered Sainte-Anne's she heard the same terrific sounds.

When she reached the cell she found Coupeau raving mad! He was
fighting in the middle of the cell with invisible enemies. He tried
to hide himself; he talked and he answered, as if there were twenty
persons. Gervaise watched him with distended eyes. He fancied himself
on a roof, laying down the sheets of zinc. He blew the furnace with
his mouth, and he went down on his knees and made a motion as if he
had soldering irons in his hand. He was troubled by his shoes: it
seemed as if he thought they were dangerous. On the next roofs stood
persons who insulted him by letting quantities of rats loose. He
stamped here and there in his desire to kill them and the spiders
too! He pulled away his clothing to catch the creatures who, he said,
intended to burrow under his skin. In another minute he believed
himself to be a locomotive and puffed and panted. He darted toward
the window and looked down into the street as if he were on a roof.

"Look!" he said. "There is a traveling circus. I see the lions and
the panthers making faces at me. And there is Clemence. Good God,
man, don't fire!"

And he gesticulated to the men who, he said, were pointing their guns
at him.

He talked incessantly, his voice growing louder and louder, higher
and higher.

"Ah, it is you, is it? But please keep your hair out of my mouth."

And he passed his hand over his face as if to take away the hair.

"Who is it?" said the keeper.

"My wife, of course."

He looked at the wall, turning his back to Gervaise, who felt very
strange, and looked at the wall to see if she were there! He talked
on.

"You look very fine. Where did you get that dress? Come here and let
me arrange it for you a little. You devil! There he is again!"

And he leaped at the wall, but the soft cushions threw him back.

"Whom do you see?" asked the young doctor.

"Lantier! Lantier!"

Gervaise could not endure the eyes of the young man, for the scene
brought back to her so much of her former life.

Coupeau fancied, as he had been thrown back from the wall in front,
that he was now attacked in the rear, and he leaped over the mattress
with the agility of a cat. His respiration grew shorter and shorter,
his eyes starting from their sockets.

"He is killing her!" he shrieked. "Killing her! Just see the blood!"

He fell back against the wall with his hands wide open before him,
as if he were repelling the approach of some frightful object. He
uttered two long, low groans and then fell flat on the mattress.

"He is dead! He is dead!" moaned Gervaise.

The keeper lifted Coupeau. No, he was not dead; his bare feet quivered
with a regular motion. The surgeon in chief came in, bringing two
colleagues. The three men stood in grave silence, watching the man
for some time. They uncovered him, and Gervaise saw his shoulders
and back.

The tremulous motion had now taken complete possession of the body as
well as the limbs, and a strange ripple ran just under the skin.

"He is asleep," said the surgeon in chief, turning to his colleagues.

Coupeau's eyes were closed, and his face twitched convulsively.
Coupeau might sleep, but his feet did nothing of the kind.

Gervaise, seeing the doctors lay their hands on Coupeau's body,
wished to do the same. She approached softly and placed her hand
on his shoulder and left it there for a minute.

What was going on there? A river seemed hurrying on under that skin.
It was the liquor of the Assommoir, working like a mole through
muscle, nerves, bone and marrow.

The doctors went away, and Gervaise, at the end of another hour,
said to the young surgeon:

"He is dead, sir."

But the surgeon, looking at the feet, said: "No," for those poor feet
were still dancing.

Another hour, and yet another passed. Suddenly the feet were stiff
and motionless, and the young surgeon turned to Gervaise.

"He is dead," he said.

Death alone had stopped those feet.

When Gervaise went back she was met at the door by a crowd of people
who wished to ask her questions, she thought.

"He is dead," she said quietly as she moved on.

But no one heard her. They had their own tale to tell then. How
Poisson had nearly murdered Lantier. Poisson was a tiger, and he ought
to have seen what was going on long before. And Boche said the woman
had taken the shop and that Lantier was, as usual, in luck again, for
he adored tripe.

In the meantime Gervaise went directly to Mme Lerat and Mme Lorilleux
and said faintly:

"He is dead--after four days of horror."

Then the two sisters were in duty bound to pull out their
handkerchiefs. Their brother had lived a most dissolute life,
but then he was their brother.

Boche shrugged his shoulders and said in an audible voice:

"Pshaw! It is only one drunkard the less!"

After this day Gervaise was not always quite right in her mind, and
it was one of the attractions of the house to see her act Coupeau.

But her representations were often involuntary. She trembled at times
from head to foot and uttered little spasmodic cries. She had taken
the disease in a modified form at Sainte-Anne's from looking so long
at her husband. But she never became altogether like him in the few
remaining months of her existence.

She sank lower day by day. As soon as she got a little money from
any source whatever she drank it away at once. Her landlord decided
to turn her out of the room she occupied, and as Father Bru was
discovered dead one day in his den under the stairs, M. Marescot
allowed her to take possession of his quarters. It was there,
therefore, on the old straw bed, that she lay waiting for death to
come. Apparently even Mother Earth would have none of her. She tried
several times to throw herself out of the window, but death took her
by bits, as it were. In fact, no one knew exactly when she died or
exactly what she died of. They spoke of cold and hunger.

But the truth was she died of utter weariness of life, and Father
Bazonge came the day she was found dead in her den.

Under his arm he carried a coffin, and he was very tipsy and as gay
as a lark.

"It is foolish to be in a hurry, because one always gets what one
wants finally. I am ready to give you all your good pleasure when your
time comes. Some want to go, and some want to stay. And here is one
who wanted to go and was kept waiting."

And when he lifted Gervaise in his great, coarse hands he did it
tenderly. And as he laid her gently in her coffin he murmured between
two hiccups:

"It is I--my dear, it is I," said this rough consoler of women. "It is
I. Be happy now and sleep quietly, my dear!"

THE END.





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