Part 2 out of 6
Tiny drops bedewed the waxed forehead of Lorilleux himself, while Mme
Lorilleux threw off her sack and stood in bare arms and chemise half
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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
"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
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
"Have you nothing to propose?" he asked, not venturing to add any term
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"Well, good night," cried Mme Boche. "I must not detain you from your
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
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,
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
"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,
"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
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
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
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
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
"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,
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
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
"Madame Gervaise," he said, "will you allow me to lend you the money
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
"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
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
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.
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
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:
LACES AND EMBROIDERIES
DONE UP WITH ESPECIAL CARE
The first word was painted in large yellow letters on a pale blue
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
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
"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
"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
"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