Part 3 out of 6
women are here, and--"
But he could say no more; Gervaise quietly laid one hand on his mouth
and the other on his shoulder and pushed him toward his room. He
struggled a little and with a silly laugh asked if Clemence was not
Gervaise undressed her husband and tucked him up in bed as if he had
been a child and then returned to her fluting irons in time to still
a grand dispute that was going on about an iron that had not been
In the profound silence that followed her appearance she could hear
her husband's thick voice:
"What a silly wife I've got! The idea of putting me to bed in broad
Suddenly he began to snore, and Gervaise uttered a sigh of relief.
She used her fluting iron for a minute and then said quietly:
"There is no need of being offended by anything a man does when he
is in this state. He is not an accountable being. He did not intend
to insult you. Clemence, you know what a tipsy man is--he respects
neither father nor mother."
She uttered these words in an indifferent, matter-of-fact way, not in
the least disturbed that he had forgotten the respect due to her and
to her roof and really seeing no harm in his conduct.
The work now went steadily on, and Gervaise calculated they would
be finished by eleven o'clock. The heat was intense; the smell of
charcoal deadened the air, while the branch of white lilies slowly
faded and filled the room with their sweetness.
The day after all this Coupeau had a frightful headache and did not
rise until late, too late to go to his work. About noon he began to
feel better, and toward evening was quite himself. His wife gave him
some silver and told him to go out and take the air, which meant with
him taking some wine.
One glass washed down another, but he came home as gay as a lark and
quite disgusted with the men he had seen who were drinking themselves
"Where is your lover?" he said to his wife as he entered the shop.
This was his favorite joke. "I never see him nowadays and must hunt
He meant Goujet, who came but rarely, lest the gossips in the
neighborhood should take it upon themselves to gabble. Once in about
ten days he made his appearance in the evening and installed himself
in a corner in the back shop with his pipe. He rarely spoke but
laughed at all Gervaise said.
On Saturday evenings the establishment was kept open half the night. A
lamp hung from the ceiling with the light thrown down by a shade. The
shutters were put up at the usual time, but as the nights were very
warm the door was left open, and as the hours wore on the women pulled
their jackets open a little more at the throat, and he sat in his
corner and looked on as if he were at a theater.
The silence of the street was broken by a passing carriage. Two
o'clock struck--no longer a sound from outside. At half-past two a
man hurried past the door, carrying with him a vision of flying arms,
piles of white linen and a glow of yellow light.
Goujet, wishing to save Etienne from Coupeau's rough treatment, had
taken him to the place where he was employed to blow the bellows, with
the prospect of becoming an apprentice as soon as he was old enough,
and Etienne thus became another tie between the clearstarcher and the
All their little world laughed and told Gervaise that her friend
worshiped the very ground she trod upon. She colored and looked like
a girl of sixteen.
"Dear boy," she said to herself, "I know he loves me, but never has
he said or will he say a word of the kind to me!" And she was proud
of being loved in this way. When she was disturbed about anything her
first thought was to go to him. When by chance they were left alone
together they were never disturbed by wondering if their friendship
verged on love. There was no harm in such affection.
Nana was now six years old and a most troublesome little sprite. Her
mother took her every morning to a school in the Rue Polonceau, to
a certain Mlle Josse. Here she did all manner of mischief. She put
ashes into the teacher's snuffbox, pinned the skirts of her companions
together. Twice the young lady was sent home in disgrace and then
taken back again for the sake of the six francs each month. As soon as
school hours were over Nana revenged herself for the hours of enforced
quiet she had passed by making the most frightful din in the courtyard
and the shop.
She found able allies in Pauline and Victor Boche. The whole great
house resounded with the most extraordinary noises--the thumps of
children falling downstairs, little feet tearing up one staircase
and down another and bursting out on the sidewalk like a band of
pilfering, impudent sparrows.
Mme Gaudron alone had nine--dirty, unwashed and unkempt, their
stockings hanging over their shoes and the slits in their garments
showing the white skin beneath. Another woman on the fifth floor had
seven, and they came out in twos and threes from all the rooms. Nana
reigned over this band, among which there were some half grown and
others mere infants. Her prime ministers were Pauline and Victor;
to them she delegated a little of her authority while she played
mamma, undressed the youngest only to dress them again, cuffed them
and punished them at her own sweet will and with the most fantastic
disposition. The band pranced and waded through the gutter that ran
from the dyehouse and emerged with blue or green legs. Nana decorated
herself and the others with shavings from the cabinetmaker's, which
they stole from under the very noses of the workmen.
The courtyard belonged to all of these children, apparently, and
resounded with the clatter of their heels. Sometimes this courtyard,
however, was not enough for them, and they spread in every direction
to the infinite disgust of Mme Boche, who grumbled all in vain. Boche
declared that the children of the poor were as plentiful as mushrooms
on a dung heap, and his wife threatened them with her broom.
One day there was a terrible scene. Nana had invented a beautiful
game. She had stolen a wooden shoe belonging to Mme Boche; she bored
a hole in it and put in a string, by which she could draw it like a
cart. Victor filled it with apple parings, and they started forth in
a procession, Nana drawing the shoe in front, followed by the whole
flock, little and big, an imp about the height of a cigar box at the
end. They all sang a melancholy ditty full of "ahs" and "ohs." Nana
declared this to be always the custom at funerals.
"What on earth are they doing now?" murmured Mme Boche suspiciously,
and then she came to the door and peered out.
"Good heavens!" she cried. "It is my shoe they have got."
She slapped Nana, cuffed Pauline and shook Victor. Gervaise was
filling a bucket at the fountain, and when she saw Nana with her nose
bleeding she rushed toward the concierge and asked how she dared
strike her child.
The concierge replied that anyone who had a child like that had
best keep her under lock and key. The end of this was, of course,
a complete break between the old friends.
But, in fact, the quarrel had been growing for a month. Gervaise,
generous by nature and knowing the tastes of the Boche people, was
in the habit of making them constant presents--oranges, a little
hot soup, a cake or something of the kind. One evening, knowing that
the concierge would sell her soul for a good salad, she took her
the remains of a dish of beets and chicory. The next day she was
dumfounded at hearing from Mlle Remanjon how Mme Boche had thrown the
salad away, saying that she was not yet reduced to eating the leavings
of other people! From that day forth Gervaise sent her nothing more.
The Boches had learned to look on her little offerings as their right,
and they now felt themselves to be robbed by the Coupeaus.
It was not long before Gervaise realized she had made a mistake, for
when she was one day late with her October rent Mme Boche complained
to the proprietor, who came blustering to her shop with his hat on.
Of course, too, the Lorilleuxs extended the right hand of fellowship
at once to the Boche people.
There came a day, however, when Gervaise found it necessary to call on
the Lorilleuxs. It was on Mamma Coupeau's account, who was sixty-seven
years old, nearly blind and helpless. They must all unite in doing
something for her now. Gervaise thought it a burning shame that a
woman of her age, with three well-to-do children, should be allowed
for a moment to regard herself as friendless and forsaken. And as her
husband refused to speak to his sister, Gervaise said she would.
She entered the room like a whirlwind, without knocking. Everything
was just as it was on that night when she had been received by them
in a fashion which she had never forgotten or forgiven. "I have come,"
cried Gervaise, "and I dare say you wish to know why, particularly
as we are at daggers drawn. Well then, I have come on Mamma Coupeau's
account. I have come to ask if we are to allow her to beg her bread
from door to door----"
"Indeed!" said Mme Lorilleux with a sneer, and she turned away.
But Lorilleux lifted his pale face.
"What do you mean?" he asked, and as he had understood perfectly,
he went on:
"What is this cry of poverty about? The old lady ate her dinner with
us yesterday. We do all we can for her, I am sure. We have not the
mines of Peru within our reach, but if she thinks she is to run to
and fro between our houses she is much mistaken. I, for one, have no
liking for spies." He then added as he took up his microscope, "When
the rest of you agree to give five francs per month toward her support
we will do the same." Gervaise was calmer now; these people always
chilled the very marrow in her bones, and she went on to explain her
views. Five francs were not enough for each of the old lady's children
to pay. She could not live on fifteen francs per month.
"And why not?" cried Lorilleux. "She ought to do so. She can see well
enough to find the best bits in a dish before her, and she can do
something toward her own maintenance." If he had the means to indulge
such laziness he should not consider it his duty to do so, he added.
Then Gervaise grew angry again. She looked at her sister-in-law and
saw her face set in vindictive firmness.
"Keep your money," she cried. "I will take care of your mother. I
found a starving cat in the street the other night and took it in. I
can take in your mother too. She shall want for nothing. Good heavens,
Mme Lorilleux snatched up a saucepan.
"Clear out," she said hoarsely. "I will never give one sou--no, not
one sou--toward her keep. I understand you! You will make my mother
work for you like a slave and put my five francs in your pocket! Not
if I know it, madame! And if she goes to live under your roof I will
never see her again. Be off with you, I say!"
"What a monster!" cried Gervaise as she shut the door with a bang. On
the very next day Mme Coupeau came to her. A large bed was put in the
room where Nana slept. The moving did not take long, for the old lady
had only this bed, a wardrobe, table and two chairs. The table was
sold and the chairs new-seated, and the old lady the evening of her
arrival washed the dishes and swept up the room, glad to make herself
useful. Mme Lerat had amused herself by quarreling with her sister,
to whom she had expressed her admiration of the generosity evinced
by Gervaise, and when she saw that Mme Lorilleux was intensely
exasperated she declared she had never seen such eyes in anybody's
head as those of the clearstarcher. She really believed one might
light paper at them. This declaration naturally led to bitter words,
and the sisters parted, swearing they would never see each other
again, and since then Mme Lerat had spent most of her evenings at
Three years passed away. There were reconciliations and new quarrels.
Gervaise continued to be liked by her neighbors; she paid her bills
regularly and was a good customer. When she went out she received
cordial greetings on all sides, and she was more fond of going out in
these days than of yore. She liked to stand at the corners and chat.
She liked to loiter with her arms full of bundles at a neighbor's
window and hear a little gossip.
GOUJET AT HIS FORGE
One autumnal afternoon Gervaise, who had been to carry a basket of
clothes home to a customer who lived a good way off, found herself in
La Rue des Poissonniers just as it was growing dark. It had rained in
the morning, and the air was close and warm. She was tired with her
walk and felt a great desire for something good to eat. Just then she
lifted her eyes and, seeing the name of the street, she took it into
her head that she would call on Goujet at his forge. But she would ask
for Etienne, she said to herself. She did not know the number, but she
could find it, she thought. She wandered along and stood bewildered,
looking toward Montmartre; all at once she heard the measured click of
hammers and concluded that she had stumbled on the place at last. She
did not know where the entrance to the building was, but she caught a
gleam of a red light in the distance; she walked toward it and was met
by a workman.
"Is it here, sir," she said timidly, "that my child--a little boy,
that is to say--works? A little boy by the name of Etienne?"
"Etienne! Etienne!" repeated the man, swaying from side to side. The
wind brought from him to her an intolerable smell of brandy, which
caused Gervaise to draw back and say timidly:
"Is it here that Monsieur Goujet works?"
"Ah, Goujet, yes. If it is Goujet you wish to see go to the left."
Gervaise obeyed his instructions and found herself in a large room
with the forge at the farther end. She spoke to the first man she saw,
when suddenly the whole room was one blaze of light. The bellows had
sent up leaping flames which lit every crevice and corner of the dusty
old building, and Gervaise recognized Goujet before the forge with two
other men. She went toward him.
"Madame Gervaise!" he exclaimed in surprise, his face radiant with
joy, and then seeing his companions laugh and wink, he pushed Etienne
toward his mother. "You came to see your boy," he said; "he does his
duty like a hero.
"I am glad of it," she answered, "but what an awful place this is to
And she described her journey, as she called it, and then asked why
no one seemed to know Etienne there.
"Because," said the blacksmith, "he is called Zou Zou here, as his
hair is cut short as a Zouave's."
This visit paid by Gervaise to the forge was only the first of many
others. She often went on Saturdays when she carried the clean linen
to Mme Goujet, who still resided in the same house as before. The
first year Gervaise had paid them twenty francs each month, or rather
the difference between the amount of their washing, seven or eight
francs, and the twenty which she agreed upon. In this way she had paid
half the money she had borrowed, when one quarter day, not knowing
to whom to turn, as she had not been able to collect her bills
punctually, she ran to the Goujets' and borrowed the amount of her
rent from them. Twice since she had asked a similar favor, so that the
amount of her indebtedness now stood at four hundred and twenty-five
Now she no longer paid any cash but did their washing. It was not that
she worked less hard or that her business was falling off. Quite the
contrary; but money had a way of melting away in her hands, and she
was content nowadays if she could only make both ends meet. What was
the use of fussing, she thought? If she could manage to live that was
all that was necessary. She was growing quite stout withal.
Mme Goujet was always kind to Gervaise, not because of any fear of
losing her money, but because she really loved her and was afraid of
her going wrong in some way.
The Saturday after the first visit paid by Gervaise to the forge was
also the first of the month. When she reached Mme Goujet's her basket
was so heavy that she panted for two good minutes before she could
speak. Every one knows how heavy shirts and such things are.
"Have you brought everything?" asked Mme Goujet, who was very exacting
on this point. She insisted on every piece being returned each week.
Another thing she exacted was that the clothes should be brought back
always on the same day and hour.
"Everything is here," answered Gervaise with a smile. "You know I
never leave anything behind."
"That is true," replied the elder woman. "You have many faults, my
dear, but not that one yet."
And while the laundress emptied her basket, laying the linen on
the bed, Mme Goujet paid her many compliments. She never burned her
clothes or ironed off the buttons or tore them, but she did use a
trifle too much bluing and made her shirts too stiff.
"Feel," she said; "it is like pasteboard. My son never complains,
but I know he does not like them so."
"And they shall not be so again," said Gervaise. "No one ever touches
any of your things but myself, and I would do them over ten times
rather than see you dissatisfied."
She colored as she spoke.
"I have no intention of disparaging your work," answered Mme Goujet.
"I never saw anyone who did up laces and embroideries as you do, and
the fluting is simply perfect; the only trouble is a little too much
starch, my dear. Goujet does not care to look like a fine gentleman."
She took up her book and drew a pen through the pieces as she spoke.
Everything was there. She brought out the bundle of soiled clothes.
Gervaise put them in her basket and hesitated.
"Madame Goujet," she said at last, "if you do not mind I should like
to have the money for this week's wash."
The account this month was larger than usual, ten francs and over.
Mme Goujet looked at her gravely.
"My child," she said slowly, "it shall be as you wish. I do not refuse
to give you the money if you desire it; only this is not the way to
get out of debt. I say this with no unkindness, you understand. Only
you must take care."
Gervaise, with downcast eyes, received the lesson meekly. She needed
the ten francs to complete the amount due the coal merchant, she said.
But her friend heard this with a stern countenance and told her
she should reduce her expenses, but she did not add that she, too,
intended to do the same and that in future she should do her washing
herself, as she had formerly done, if she were to be out of pocket
When Gervaise was on the staircase her heart was light, for she cared
little for the reproof now that she had the ten francs in her hand;
she was becoming accustomed to paying one debt by contracting another.
Midway on the stairs she met a tall woman coming up with a fresh
mackerel in her hand, and behold! it was Virginie, the girl whom she
had whipped in the lavatory. The two looked each other full in the
face. Gervaise instinctively closed her eyes, for she thought the girl
would slap her in the face with the mackerel. But, no; Virginie gave a
constrained smile. Then the laundress, whose huge basket filled up the
stairway and who did not choose to be outdone in politeness, said:
"I beg your pardon--"
"Pray don't apologize," answered Virginie in a stately fashion.
And they stood and talked for a few minutes with not the smallest
allusion, however, to the past.
Virginie, then about twenty-nine, was really a magnificent-looking
woman, head well set on her shoulders and a long, oval face crowned by
bands of glossy black hair. She told her history in a few brief words.
She was married. Had married the previous spring a cabinetmaker who
had given up his trade and was hoping to obtain a position on the
police force. She had just been out to buy this mackerel for him.
"He adores them," she said, "and we women spoil our husbands, I think.
But come up. We are standing in a draft here."
When Gervaise had, in her turn, told her story and added that Virginie
was living in the very rooms where she had lived and where her child
was born, Virginie became still more urgent that she should go up. "It
is always pleasant to see a place where one has been happy," she said.
She herself had been living on the other side of the water but had got
tired of it and had moved into these rooms only two weeks ago. She was
not settled yet. Her name was Mme Poisson.
"And mine," said Gervaise, "is Coupeau."
Gervaise was a little suspicious of all this courtesy. Might not some
terrible revenge be hidden under it all? And she determined to be well
on her guard. But as Virginie was so polite just now she must be
polite in her turn.
Poisson, the husband, was a man of thirty-five with a mustache and
imperial; he was seated at a table near the window, making little
boxes. His only tools were a penknife, a tiny saw and a gluepot; he
was executing the most wonderful and delicate carving, however. He
never sold his work but made presents of it to his friends. It amused
him while he was awaiting his appointment.
Poisson rose and bowed politely to Gervaise, whom his wife called an
old friend. But he did not speak, his conversational powers not being
his strong point. He cast a plaintive glance at the mackerel, however,
from time to time. Gervaise looked around the room and described her
furniture and where it had stood. How strange it was, after losing
sight of each other so long, that they should occupy the same
apartment! Virginie entered into new details. He had a small
inheritance from his aunt, and she herself sewed a little, made a
dress now and then. At the end of a half-hour Gervaise rose to depart;
Virginie went to the head of the stairs with her, and there both
hesitated. Gervaise fancied that Virginie wished to say something
about Lantier and Adele, but they separated without touching on these
This was the beginning of a great friendship. In another week Virginie
could not pass the shop without going in, and sometimes she remained
for two or three hours. At first Gervaise was very uncomfortable;
she thought every time Virginie opened her lips that she would hear
Lantier's name. Lantier was in her mind all the time she was with Mme
Poisson. It was a stupid thing to do, after all, for what on earth
did she care what had become of Lantier or of Adele? But she was,
nonetheless, curious to know something about them.
Winter had come, the fourth winter that the Coupeaus had spent in La
Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. This year December and January were especially
severe, and after New Year's the snow lay three weeks in the street
without melting. There was plenty of work for Gervaise, and her shop
was delightfully warm and singularly quiet, for the carriages made
no noise in the snow-covered streets. The laughs and shouts of the
children were almost the only sounds; they had made a long slide and
enjoyed themselves hugely.
Gervaise took especial pleasure in her coffee at noon. Her apprentices
had no reason to complain, for it was hot and strong and unadulterated
by chicory. On the morning of Twelfth-day the clock had struck twelve
and then half past, and the coffee was not ready. Gervaise was ironing
some muslin curtains. Clemence, with a frightful cold, was, as usual,
at work on a man's shirt. Mme Putois was ironing a skirt on a board,
with a cloth laid on the floor to prevent the skirt from being soiled.
Mamma Coupeau brought in the coffee, and as each one of the women took
a cup with a sigh of enjoyment the street door opened and Virginie
came in with a rush of cold air.
"Heavens!" she cried. "It is awful! My ears are cut off!"
"You have come just in time for a cup of hot coffee," said Gervaise
"And I shall be only too glad to have it!" answered Virginie with a
shiver. She had been waiting at the grocer's, she said, until she was
chilled through and through. The heat of that room was delicious, and
then she stirred her coffee and said she liked the damp, sweet smell
of the freshly ironed linen. She and Mamma Coupeau were the only ones
who had chairs; the others sat on wooden footstools, so low that they
seemed to be on the floor. Virginie suddenly stooped down to her
hostess and said with a smile:
"Do you remember that day at the lavatory?"
Gervaise colored; she could not answer. This was just what she had
been dreading. In a moment she felt sure she would hear Lantier's
name. She knew it was coming. Virginie drew nearer to her. The
apprentices lingered over their coffee and told each other as they
looked stupidly into the street what they would do if they had an
income of ten thousand francs. Virginie changed her seat and took
a footstool by the side of Gervaise, who felt weak and cowardly and
helpless to change the conversation or to stave off what was coming.
She breathlessly awaited the next words, her heart big with an emotion
which she would not acknowledge to herself.
"I do not wish to give you any pain," said Virginie blandly. "Twenty
times the words have been on my lips, but I hesitated. Pray don't
think I bear you any malice."
She tipped up her cup and drank the last drop of her coffee. Gervaise,
with her heart in her mouth, waited in a dull agony of suspense,
asking herself if Virginie could have forgiven the insult in the
lavatory. There was a glitter in the woman's eyes she did not like.
"You had an excuse," Virginie added as she placed her cup on the
table. "You had been abominably treated. I should have killed
someone." And then, dropping her little-affected tone, she continued
"They were not happy, I assure you, not at all happy. They lived in a
dirty street, where the mud was up to their knees. I went to breakfast
with them two days after he left you and found them in the height of
a quarrel. You know that Adele is a wretch. She is my sister, to be
sure, but she is a wretch all the same. As to Lantier--well, you know
him, so I need not describe him. But for a yes or a no he would not
hesitate to thresh any woman that lives. Oh, they had a beautiful
time! Their quarrels were heard all over the neighborhood. One day
the police were sent for, they made such a hubbub."
She talked on and on, telling things that were enough to make the hair
stand up on one's head. Gervaise listened, as pale as death, with a
nervous trembling of her lips which might have been taken for a smile.
For seven years she had never heard Lantier's name, and she would
not have believed that she could have felt any such overwhelming
agitation. She could no longer be jealous of Adele, but she smiled
grimly as she thought of the blows she had received in her turn from
Lantier, and she would have listened for hours to all that Virginia
had to tell, but she did not ask a question for some time. Finally
"And do they still live in that same place?"
"No indeed! But I have not told you all yet. They separated a week
"Separated!" exclaimed the clearstarcher.
"Who is separated?" asked Clemence, interrupting her conversation
with Mamma Coupeau.
"No one," said Virginie, "or at least no one whom you know."
As she spoke she looked at Gervaise and seemed to take a positive
delight in disturbing her still more. She suddenly asked her what
she would do or say if Lantier should suddenly make his appearance,
for men were so strange; no one could ever tell what they would do.
Lantier was quite capable of returning to his old love. Then Gervaise
interrupted her and rose to the occasion. She answered with grave
dignity that she was married now and that if Lantier should appear
she would ask him to leave. There could never be anything more between
them, not even the most distant acquaintance.
"I know very well," she said, "that Etienne belongs to him, and if
Lantier desires to see his son I shall place no obstacle in his way.
But as to myself, Madame Poisson, he shall never touch my little
finger again! It is finished."
As she uttered these last words she traced a cross in the air to seal
her oath, and as if desirous to put an end to the conversation, she
called out to her women:
"Do you think the ironing will be done today if you sit still? To
work! To work!"
The women did not move; they were lulled to apathy by the heat, and
Gervaise herself found it very difficult to resume her labors. Her
curtains had dried in all this time, and some coffee had been spilled
on them, and she must wash out the spots.
"Au revoir!" said Virginie. "I came out to buy a half pound of cheese.
Poisson will think I am frozen to death!"
The better part of the day was now gone, and it was this way every
day, for the shop was the refuge and haunt of all the chilly people
in the neighborhood. Gervaise liked the reputation of having the
most comfortable room in the _Quartier_, and she held her receptions,
as the Lorilleux and Boche clique said, with a sniff of disdain. She
would, in fact, have liked to bring in the very poor whom she saw
shivering outside. She became very friendly toward a journeyman
painter, an old man of seventy, who lived in a loft of the house,
where he shivered with cold and hunger. He had lost his three sons
in the Crimea, and for two years his hand had been so cramped by
rheumatism that he could not hold a brush.
Whenever Gervaise saw Father Bru she called him in, made a place for
him near the stove and gave him some bread and cheese. Father Bru,
with his white beard and his face wrinkled like an old apple, sat
in silent content for hours at a time, enjoying the warmth and the
crackling of the coke.
"What are you thinking about?" Gervaise would say gaily.
"Of nothing--of all sorts of things," he would reply with a dazed air.
The workwomen laughed and thought it a good joke to ask if he were in
love. He paid little heed to them but relapsed into silent thought.
From this time Virginie often spoke to Gervaise of Lantier, and one
day she said she had just met him. But as the clearstarcher made no
reply Virginie then said no more. But on the next day she returned to
the subject and told her that he had talked long and tenderly of her.
Gervaise was much troubled by these whispered conversations in the
corner of her shop. The name of Lantier made her faint and sick at
heart. She believed herself to be an honest woman. She meant, in every
way, to do right and to shun the wrong, because she felt that only in
doing so could she be happy. She did not think much of Coupeau because
she was conscious of no shortcomings toward him. But she thought of
her friend at the forge, and it seemed to her that this return of her
interest in Lantier, faint and undecided as it was, was an infidelity
to Goujet and to that tender friendship which had become so very
precious to her. Her heart was much troubled in these days. She dwelt
on that time when her first lover left her. She imagined another day
when, quitting Adele, he might return to her--with that old familiar
When she went into the street it was with a spasm of terror. She
fancied that every step behind her was Lantier's. She dared not
look around lest his hand should glide about her waist. He might
be watching for her at any time. He might come to her door in the
afternoon, and this idea brought a cold sweat to her forehead, because
he would certainly kiss her on her ear as he had often teased her by
doing in the years gone by. It was this kiss she dreaded. Its dull
reverberation deafened her to all outside sounds, and she could hear
only the beatings of her own heart. When these terrors assailed her
the forge was her only asylum, from whence she returned smiling and
serene, feeling that Goujet, whose sonorous hammer had put all her
bad dreams to flight, would protect her always.
What a happy season this was after all! The clearstarcher always
carried a certain basket of clothes to her customer each week, because
it gave her a pretext for going into the forge, as it was on her
way. As soon as she turned the corner of the street in which it was
situated she felt as lighthearted as if she were going to the country.
The black charcoal dust in the road, the black smoke rising slowly
from the chimneys, interested and pleased her as much as a mossy path
through the woods. Afar off the forge was red even at midday, and
her heart danced in time with the hammers. Goujet was expecting her
and making more noise than usual, that she might hear him at a great
distance. She gave Etienne a light tap on his cheek and sat quietly
watching these two--this man and boy, who were so dear to her--for an
hour without speaking. When the sparks touched her tender skin she
rather enjoyed the sensation. He, in his turn, was fully aware of
the happiness she felt in being there, and he reserved the work which
required skill for the time when she could look on in wonder and
admiration. It was an idyl that they were unconsciously enacting all
that spring, and when Gervaise returned to her home it was in a spirit
of sweet content.
By degrees her unreasonable fears of Lantier were conquered. Coupeau
was behaving very badly at this time, and one evening as she passed
the Assommoir she was certain she saw him drinking with Mes-Bottes.
She hurried on lest she should seem to be watching him. But as she
hastened she looked over her shoulder. Yes, it was Coupeau who was
tossing down a glass of liquor with an air as if it were no new
thing. He had lied to her then; he did drink brandy. She was in utter
despair, and all her old horror of brandy returned. Wine she could
have forgiven--wine was good for a working man--liquor, on the
contrary, was his ruin and took from him all desire for the food that
nourished and gave him strength for his daily toil. Why did not the
government interfere and prevent the manufacture of such pernicious
When she reached her home she found the whole house in confusion. Her
employees had left their work and were in the courtyard. She asked
what the matter was.
"It is Father Bijard beating his wife; he is as drunk as a fool, and
he drove her up the stairs to her room, where he is murdering her.
Gervaise flew up the stairs. She was very fond of Mme Bijard, who was
her laundress and whose courage and industry she greatly admired. On
the sixth floor a little crowd was assembled. Mme Boche stood at an
"Have done!" she cried. "Have done, or the police will be summoned."
No one dared enter the room, because Bijard was well known to be like
a madman when he was tipsy. He was rarely thoroughly sober, and on the
occasional days when he condescended to work he always had a bottle
of brandy at his side. He rarely ate anything, and if a match had been
touched to his mouth he would have taken fire like a torch.
"Would you let her be killed?" exclaimed Gervaise, trembling from head
to foot, and she entered the attic room, which was very clean and very
bare, for the man had sold the very sheets off the bed to satisfy his
mad passion for drink. In this terrible struggle for life the table
had been thrown over, and the two chairs also. On the floor lay the
poor woman with her skirts drenched as she had come from the washtub,
her hair streaming over her bloody face, uttering low groans at each
kick the brute gave her.
The neighbors whispered to each other that she had refused to give
him the money she had earned that day. Boche called up the staircase
to his wife:
"Come down, I say; let him kill her if he will. It will only make one
fool the less in the world!"
Father Bru followed Gervaise into the room, and the two expostulated
with the madman. But he turned toward them, pale and threatening;
a white foam glistened on his lips, and in his faded eyes there was a
murderous expression. He grasped Father Bru by the shoulder and threw
him over the table and shook Gervaise until her teeth chattered and
then returned to his wife, who lay motionless, with her mouth wide
open and her eyes closed; and during this frightful scene little
Lalie, four years old, was in the corner, looking on at the murder
of her mother. The child's arms were round her sister Henriette,
a baby who had just been weaned. She stood with a sad, solemn face
and serious, melancholy eyes but shed no tears.
When Bijard slipped and fell Gervaise and Father Bru helped the poor
creature to her feet, who then burst into sobs. Lalie went to her
side, but she did not cry, for the child was already habituated to
such scenes. And as Gervaise went down the stairs she was haunted by
the strange look of resignation and courage in Lalie's eyes; it was
an expression belonging to maturity and experience rather than to
"Your husband is on the other side of the street," said Clemence
as soon as she saw Gervaise; "he is as tipsy as possible!"
Coupeau reeled in, breaking a square of glass with his shoulder as
he missed the doorway. He was not tipsy but drunk, with his teeth set
firmly together and a pinched expression about the nose. And Gervaise
instantly knew that it was the liquor of the Assommoir which had
vitiated his blood. She tried to smile and coaxed him to go to bed.
But he shook her off and as he passed her gave her a blow.
He was just like the other--the beast upstairs who was now snoring,
tired out by beating his wife. She was chilled to the heart and
desperate. Were all men alike? She thought of Lantier and of her
husband and wondered if there was no happiness in the world.
A BIRTHDAY FETE
The nineteenth of June was the clearstarcher's birthday. There was
always an excuse for a fete in the Coupeau mansion; saints were
invented to serve as a pretext for idleness and festivities. Virginie
highly commended Gervaise for living luxuriously. What was the use
of her husband drinking up everything? Why should she save for her
husband to spend at all the wineshops in the neighborhood? And
Gervaise accepted this excuse. She was growing very indolent and
much stouter, while her lameness had perceptibly increased.
For a whole month they discussed the preparation for this fete; they
talked over dishes and licked their lips. They must have something out
of the common way. Gervaise was much troubled as to whom she should
invite. She wanted exactly twelve at table, not one more or one less.
She, her husband, her mother-in-law and Mme Lerat were four. The
Goujets and Poissons were four more. At first she thought she would
not ask her two women, Mme Putois and Clemence, lest it should make
them too familiar, but as the entertainment was constantly under
discussion before them she ended by inviting them too. Thus there were
ten; she must have two more. She decided on a reconciliation with the
Lorilleuxs, who had extended the olive branch several times lately.
Family quarrels were bad things, she said. When the Boche people heard
of this they showed several little courtesies to Gervaise, who felt
obliged to urge them to come also. This made fourteen without counting
the children. She had never had a dinner like this, and she was both
triumphant and terrified.
The nineteenth fell on a Monday, and Gervaise thought it very
fortunate, as she could begin her cooking on Sunday afternoon. On
Saturday, while the women hurried through their work, there was an
endless discussion as to what the dishes should be. In the last three
weeks only one thing had been definitely decided upon--a roast goose
stuffed with onions. The goose had been purchased, and Mme Coupeau
brought it in that Mme Putois might guess its weight. The thing looked
enormous, and the fat seemed to burst from its yellow skin.
"Soup before that, of course," said Gervaise, "and we must have
Clemence proposed rabbits, but Gervaise wanted something more
distinguished. Mme Putois suggested a _blanquette du veau_.
That was a new idea. Veal was always good too. Then Mme Coupeau made
an allusion to fish, which no one seconded. Evidently fish was not
in favor. Gervaise proposed a sparerib of pork and potatoes, which
brightened all their faces, just as Virginie came in like a whirlwind.
"You are just in season. Mamma Coupeau, show her the goose," cried
Virginie admired it, guessed the weight and laid it down on the
ironing table between an embroidered skirt and a pile of shirts. She
was evidently thinking of something else. She soon led Gervaise into
the back shop.
"I have come to warn you," she said quickly. "I just met Lantier
at the very end of this street, and I am sure he followed me, and
I naturally felt alarmed on your account, my dear."
Gervaise turned very pale. What did he want of her? And why on earth
should he worry her now amid all the busy preparations for the fete?
It seemed as if she never in her life had set her heart on anything
that she was not disappointed. Why was it that she could never have
a minute's peace?
But Virginie declared that she would look out for her. If Lantier
followed her she would certainly give him over to the police. Her
husband had been in office now for a month, and Virginie was very
dictatorial and aggressive and talked of arresting everyone who
displeased her. She raised her voice as she spoke, but Gervaise
implored her to be cautious, because her women could hear every word.
They went back to the front shop, and she was the first to speak.
"We have said nothing of vegetables," she said quietly.
"Peas, with a bit of pork," said Virginie authoritatively.
This was agreed upon with enthusiasm.
The next day at three Mamma Coupeau lighted the two furnaces belonging
to the house and a third one borrowed from Mme Boche, and at half-past
three the soup was gently simmering in a large pot lent by the
restaurant at the corner. They had decided to cook the veal and the
pork the day previous, as those two dishes could be warmed up so well,
and would leave for Monday only the goose to roast and the vegetables.
The back shop was ruddy with the glow from the three furnaces--sauces
were bubbling with a strong smell of browned flour. Mamma Coupeau
and Gervaise, each with large white aprons, were washing celery and
running hither and thither with pepper and salt or hurriedly turning
the veal with flat wooden sticks made for the purpose. They had told
Coupeau pleasantly that his room was better than his company, but they
had plenty of people there that afternoon. The smell of the cooking
found its way out into the street and up through the house, and the
neighbors, impelled by curiosity, came down on all sorts of pretexts,
merely to discover what was going on.
About five Virginie made her appearance. She had seen Lantier twice.
Indeed, it was impossible nowadays to enter the street and not see
him. Mme Boche, too, had spoken to him on the corner below. Then
Gervaise, who was on the point of going for a sou's worth of fried
onions to season her soup, shuddered from head to foot and said she
would not go out ever again. The concierge and Virginie added to her
terror by a succession of stories of men who lay in wait for women,
with knives and pistols hidden in their coats.
Such things were read every day in the papers! When such a scamp as
Lantier found a woman happy and comfortable, he was always wretched
until he had made her so too. Virginie said she would go for the
onions. "Women," she observed sententiously, "should protect each
other, as well as serve each other, in such matters." When she
returned she reported that Lantier was no longer there. The
conversation around the stove that evening never once drifted from
that subject. Mme Boche said that she, under similar circumstances,
should tell her husband, but Gervaise was horror-struck at this and
begged her never to breathe one single word about it. Besides, she
fancied her husband had caught a glimpse of Lantier from something he
had muttered amid a volley of oaths two or three nights before. She
was filled with dread lest these two men should meet. She knew Coupeau
so well that she had long since discovered that he was still jealous
of Lantier, and while the four women discussed the imminent danger of
a terrible tragedy the sauces and the meats hissed and simmered on the
furnaces, and they ended by each taking a cup of soup to discover what
improvement was desirable.
Monday arrived. Now that Gervaise had invited fourteen to dine, she
began to be afraid there would not be room and finally decided to lay
the table in the shop. She was uncertain how to place the table, which
was the ironing table on trestles. In the midst of the hubbub and
confusion a customer arrived and made a scene because her linen had
not come home on the Friday previous. She insisted on having every
piece that moment--clean or dirty, ironed or rough-dry.
Then Gervaise, to excuse herself, told a lie with wonderful
_sang-froid_. It was not her fault. She was cleaning her rooms. Her
women would be at work again the next day, and she got rid of her
customer, who went away soothed by the promise that her wash would
be sent to her early the following morning.
But Gervaise lost her temper, which was not a common thing with
her, and as soon as the woman's back was turned called her by an
opprobrious name and declared that if she did as people wished she
could not take time to eat and vowed she would not have an iron heated
that day or the next in her establishment. No! Not if the Grand Turk
himself should come and entreat her on his knees to do up a collar
for him. She meant to enjoy herself a little occasionally!
The entire morning was consumed in making purchases. Three times did
Gervaise go out and come in, laden with bundles. But when she went the
fourth time for the wine she discovered that she had not money enough.
She could have got the wine on credit, but she could not be without
money in the house, for a thousand little unexpected expenses arise
at such times, and she and her mother-in-law racked their brains
to know what they should do to get the twenty francs they considered
necessary. Mme Coupeau, who had once been housekeeper for an actress,
was the first to speak of the Mont-de-Piete. Gervaise laughed gaily.
"To be sure! Why had she not thought of it before?"
She folded her black silk dress and pinned it in a napkin; then she
hid the bundle under her mother-in-law's apron and bade her keep it
very flat, lest the neighbors, who were so terribly inquisitive,
should find it out, and then she watched the old woman from the door
to see that no one followed her.
But when Mamma Coupeau had gone a few steps Gervaise called her back
into the shop and, taking her wedding ring from her finger, said:
"Take this, too, for we shall need all the money we can get today."
And when the old woman came back with twenty-five francs she clapped
her hands with joy. She ordered six bottles of wine with seals to
drink with the roast. The Lorilleuxs would be green with envy. For a
fortnight this had been her idea, to crush the Lorilleuxs, who were
never known to ask a friend to their table; who, on the contrary,
locked their doors when they had anything special to eat. Gervaise
wanted to give her a lesson and would have liked to offer the
strangers who passed her door a seat at her table. Money was a very
good thing and mighty pretty to look at, but it was good for nothing
but to spend.
Mamma Coupeau and Gervaise began to lay their table at three o'clock.
They had hung curtains before the windows, but as the day was warm the
door into the street was open. The two women did not put on a plate
or salt spoon without the avowed intention of worrying the Lorilleuxs.
They had given them seats where the table could be seen to the best
advantage, and they placed before them the real china plates.
"No, no, Mamma," cried Gervaise, "not those napkins. I have two which
are real damask."
"Well! Well! I declare!" murmured the old woman. "What will they say
to all this?"
And they smiled as they stood at opposite sides of this long table
with its glossy white cloth and its places for fourteen carefully
laid. They worshiped there as if it had been a chapel erected in the
middle of the shop.
"How false they are!" said Gervaise. "Do you remember how she declared
she had lost a piece of one of the chains when she was carrying them
home? That was only to get out of giving you your five francs."
"Which I have never had from them but just twice," muttered the old
"I will wager that next month they will invent another tale. That is
one reason why they lock their doors when they have a rabbit. They
think people might say, 'If you can eat rabbits you can give five
francs to your mother!' How mean they are! What do they think would
have become of you if I had not asked you to come and live here?"
Her mother-in-law shook her head. She was rather severe in her
judgment of the Lorilleuxs that day, inasmuch as she was influenced
by the gorgeous entertainment given by the Coupeaus. She liked the
excitement; she liked to cook. She generally lived pretty well with
Gervaise, but on those days which occur in all households, when the
dinner was scanty and unsatisfactory, she called herself a most
unhappy woman, left to the mercy of a daughter-in-law. In the depths
of her heart she still loved Mme Lorilleux; she was her eldest child.
"You certainly would have weighed some pounds less with her,"
continued Gervaise. "No coffee, no tobacco, no sweets. And do you
imagine that they would have put two mattresses on your bed?"
"No indeed," answered the old woman, "but I wish to see them when
they first come in--just to see how they look!"
At four o'clock the goose was roasted, and Augustine, seated on a
little footstool, was given a long-handled spoon and bidden to watch
and baste it every few minutes. Gervaise was busy with the peas, and
Mamma Coupeau, with her head a little confused, was waiting until it
was time to heat the veal and the pork. At five the guests began to
arrive. Clemence and Mme Putois, gorgeous to behold in their Sunday
rig, were the first.
Clemence wore a blue dress and had some geraniums in her hand; Madame
was in black, with a bunch of heliotrope. Gervaise, whose hands were
covered with flour, put them behind her back, came forward and kissed
After them came Virginie in scarf and hat, though she had only to
cross the street; she wore a printed muslin and was as imposing as
any lady in the land. She brought a pot of red carnations and put
both her arms around her friend and kissed her.
The offering brought by Boche was a pot of pansies, and his wife's was
mignonette; Mme Lerat's, a lemon verbena. The three furnaces filled
the room with an overpowering heat, and the frying potatoes drowned
their voices. Gervaise was very sweet and smiling, thanking everyone
for the flowers, at the same time making the dressing for the salad.
The perfume of the flowers was perceived above all the smell of
"Can't I help you?" said Virginie. "It is a shame to have you work so
hard for three days on all these things that we shall gobble up in no
"No indeed," answered Gervaise; "I am nearly through."
The ladies covered the bed with their shawls and bonnets and then went
into the shop that they might be out of the way and talked through the
open door with much noise and loud laughing.
At this moment Goujet appeared and stood timidly on the threshold with
a tall white rosebush in his arms whose flowers brushed against his
yellow beard. Gervaise ran toward him with her cheeks reddened by her
furnaces. She took the plant, crying:
He dared not kiss her, and she was compelled to offer her cheek to
him, and both were embarrassed. He told her in a confused way that his
mother was ill with sciatica and could not come. Gervaise was greatly
disappointed, but she had no time to say much just then: she was
beginning to be anxious about Coupeau--he ought to be in--then, too,
where were the Lorilleuxs? She called Mme Lerat, who had arranged the
reconciliation, and bade her go and see.
Mme Lerat put on her hat and shawl with excessive care and departed.
A solemn hush of expectation pervaded the room.
Mme Lerat presently reappeared. She had come round by the street to
give a more ceremonious aspect to the affair. She held the door open
while Mme Lorilleux, in a silk dress, stood on the threshold. All the
guests rose, and Gervaise went forward to meet her sister and kissed
her, as had been agreed upon.
"Come in! Come in!" she said. "We are friends again."
"And I hope for always," answered her sister-in-law severely.
After she was ushered in the same program had to be followed out with
her husband. Neither of the two brought any flowers. They had refused
to do so, saying that it would look as if they were bowing down to
Wooden Legs. Gervaise summoned Augustine and bade her bring some wine
and then filled glasses for all the party, and each drank the health
of the family.
"It is a good thing before soup," muttered Boche.
Mamma Coupeau drew Gervaise into the next room.
"Did you see her?" she said eagerly. "I was watching her, and when she
saw the table her face was as long as my arm, and now she is gnawing
her lips; she is so mad!"
It was true the Lorilleuxs could not stand that table with its white
linen, its shining glass and square piece of bread at each place. It
was like a restaurant on the boulevard, and Mme Lorilleux felt of the
cloth stealthily to ascertain if it were new.
"We are all ready," cried Gervaise, reappearing and pulling down her
sleeves over her white arms.
"Where can Coupeau be?" she continued.
"He is always late! He always forgets!" muttered his sister. Gervaise
was in despair. Everything would be spoiled. She proposed that someone
should go out and look for him. Goujet offered to go, and she said she
would accompany him. Virginie followed, all three bareheaded. Everyone
looked at them, so gay and fresh on a week-day. Virginie in her pink
muslin and Gervaise in a white cambric with blue spots and a gray silk
handkerchief knotted round her throat. They went to one wineshop after
another, but no Coupeau. Suddenly, as they went toward the boulevard,
his wife uttered an exclamation.
"What is the matter?" asked Goujet.
The clearstarcher was very pale and so much agitated that she could
hardly stand. Virginie knew at once and, leaning over her, looked in
at the restaurant and saw Lantier quietly dining.
"I turned my foot," said Gervaise when she could speak. Finally at the
Assommoir they found Coupeau and Poisson. They were standing in the
center of an excited crowd. Coupeau, in a gray blouse, was quarreling
with someone, and Poisson, who was not on duty that day, was listening
quietly, his red mustache and imperial giving him, however, quite a
Goujet left the women outside and, going in, placed his hand on
Coupeau's shoulder, who, when he saw his wife and Virginie, fell
into a great rage.
No, he would not move! He would not stand being followed about by
women in this way! They might go home and eat their rubbishy dinner
themselves! He did not want any of it!
To appease him Goujet was compelled to drink with him, and finally
he persuaded him to go with him. But when he was outside he said to
"I am not going home; you need not think it!"
She did not reply. She was trembling from head to foot. She had been
speaking of Lantier to Virginie and begged the other to go on in
front, while the two women walked on either side of Coupeau to prevent
him from seeing Lantier as they passed the open window where he sat
eating his dinner.
But Coupeau knew that Lantier was there, for he said:
"There's a fellow I know, and you know him too!"
He then went on to accuse her, with many a coarse word, of coming out
to look, not for him, but for her old lover, and then all at once he
poured out a torrent of abuse upon Lantier, who, however, never looked
up or appeared to hear it.
Virginie at last coaxed Coupeau on, whose rage disappeared when they
turned the corner of the street. They returned to the shop, however,
in a very different mood from the one in which they had left it and
found the guests, with very long faces, awaiting them.
Coupeau shook hands with the ladies in succession, with difficulty
keeping his feet as he did so, and Gervaise, in a choked voice, begged
them to take their seats. But suddenly she perceived that Mme Goujet
not having come, there was an empty seat next to Mme Lorilleux.
"We are thirteen," she said, much disturbed, as she fancied this to be
an additional proof of the misfortune which for some time she had felt
to be hanging over them.
The ladies, who were seated, started up. Mme Putois offered to leave
because, she said, no one should fly in the face of Destiny; besides,
she was not hungry. As to Boche, he laughed, and said it was all
"Wait!" cried Gervaise. "I will arrange it."
And rushing out on the sidewalk, she called to Father Bru, who was
crossing the street, and the old man followed her into the room.
"Sit there," said the clearstarcher. "You are willing to dine with
us, are you not?"
He nodded acquiescence.
"He will do as well as another," she continued in a low voice. "He
rarely, if ever, had as much as he wanted to eat, and it will be a
pleasure to us to see him enjoy his dinner."
Goujet's eyes were damp, so much was he touched by the kind way in
which Gervaise spoke, and the others felt that it would bring them
good luck. Mme Lorilleux was the only one who seemed displeased. She
drew her skirts away and looked down with disgusted mien upon the
patched blouse at her side.
Gervaise served the soup, and the guests were just lifting their
spoons to their mouths when Virginie noticed that Coupeau had
disappeared. He had probably returned to the more congenial society at
the Assommoir, and someone said he might stay in the street; certainly
no one would go after him, but just as they had swallowed the soup
Coupeau appeared bearing two pots, one under each arm--a balsam and
a wallflower. All the guests clapped their hands. He placed them on
either side of Gervaise and, kissing her, he said:
"I forgot you, my dear, but all the same I loved you very much."
"Monsieur Coupeau is very amiable tonight; he has taken just enough
to make him good natured," whispered one of the guests.
This little act on the part of the host brought back the smiles to the
faces around the table. The wine began to circulate, and the voices of
the children were heard in the next room. Etienne, Nana, Pauline and
little Victor Fauconnier were installed at a small table and were told
to be very good.
When the _blanquette du veau_ was served the guests were moved to
enthusiasm. It was now half-past seven. The door of the shop was shut
to keep out inquisitive eyes, and curtains hung before the windows.
The veal was a great success; the sauce was delicious and the
mushrooms extraordinarily good. Then came the sparerib of pork.
Of course all these good things demanded a large amount of wine.
In the next room at the children's table Nana was playing the mistress
of the household. She was seated at the head of the table and for a
while was quite dignified, but her natural gluttony made her forget
her good manners when she saw Augustine stealing the peas from the
plate, and she slapped the girl vehemently.
"Take care, mademoiselle," said Augustine sulkily, "or I will tell
your mother that I heard you ask Victor to kiss you."
Now was the time for the goose. Two lamps were placed on the table,
one at each end, and the disorder was very apparent: the cloth was
stained and spotted. Gervaise left the table to reappear presently,
bearing the goose in triumph. Lorilleux and his wife exchanged a look
"Who will cut it?" said the clearstarcher. "No, not I. It is too big
for me to manage!"
Coupeau said he could do it. After all, it was a simple thing
enough--he should just tear it to pieces.
There was a cry of dismay.
Mme Lerat had an inspiration.
"Monsieur Poisson is the man," she said; "of course he understands the
use of arms." And she handed the sergeant the carving knife. Poisson
made a stiff inclination of his whole body and drew the dish toward
him and went to work in a slow, methodical fashion. As he thrust his
knife into the breast Lorilleux was seized with momentary patriotism,
and he exclaimed:
"If it were only a Cossack!"
At last the goose was carved and distributed, and the whole party
ate as if they were just beginning their dinner. Presently there was
a grand outcry about the heat, and Coupeau opened the door into the
street. Gervaise devoured large slices of the breast, hardly speaking,
but a little ashamed of her own gluttony in the presence of Goujet.
She never forgot old Bru, however, and gave him the choicest morsels,
which he swallowed unconsciously, his palate having long since lost
the power of distinguishing flavors. Mamma Coupeau picked a bone with
her two remaining teeth.
And the wine! Good heavens, how much they drank! A pile of empty
bottles stood in the corner. When Mme Putois asked for water Coupeau
himself removed the carafes from the table. No one should drink water,
he declared, in his house--did she want to swallow frogs and live
things?--and he filled up all the glasses. Hypocrites might talk as
much as they pleased; the juice of the grape was a mighty good thing
and a famous invention!
The guests all laughed and approved; working people must have their
wine, they said, and Father Noah had planted the vine for them
especially. Wine gave courage and strength for work; and if it chanced
that a man sometimes took a drop too much, in the end it did him no
harm, and life looked brighter to him for a time. Goujet himself, who
was usually so prudent and abstemious, was becoming a little excited.
Boche was growing red, and the Lorilleux pair very pale, while Poisson
assumed a solemn and severe aspect. The men were all more or less
tipsy, and the ladies--well, the less we say of the ladies, the
Suddenly Gervaise remembered the six bottles of sealed wine she had
omitted to serve with the goose as she had intended. She produced them
amid much applause. The glasses were filled anew, and Poisson rose
and proposed the health of their hostess.
"And fifty more birthdays!" cried Virginie.
"No, no," answered Gervaise with a smile that had a touch of sadness
in it. "I do not care to live to be very old. There comes a time when
one is glad to go!"
A little crowd had collected outside and smiled at the scene, and
the smell of the goose pervaded the whole street. The clerks in the
grocery opposite licked their lips and said it was good and curiously
estimated the amount of wine that had been consumed.
None of the guests were annoyed by being the subjects of observation,
although they were fully aware of it and, in fact, rather enjoyed it.
Coupeau, catching sight of a familiar face, held up a bottle, which,
being accepted with a nod, he sent it out with a glass. This
established a sort of fraternity with the street.
In the next room the children were unmanageable. They had taken
possession of a saucepan and were drumming on it with spoons. Mamma
Coupeau and Father Bru were talking earnestly. The old man was
speaking of his two sons who had died in the Crimea. Ah, had they
but lived, he would have had bread to eat in his old age!
Mme Coupeau, whose tongue was a little thick, said:
"Yes, but one has a good deal of unhappiness with children. Many an
hour have I wept on account of mine."
Father Bru hardly heard what she said but talked on, half to himself.
"I can't get any work to do. I am too old. When I ask for any people
laugh and ask if it was I who blacked Henri Quatre's boots. Last year
I earned thirty sous by painting a bridge. I had to lie on my back
all the time, close to the water, and since then I have coughed
incessantly." He looked down at his poor stiff hands and added,
"I know I am good for nothing. I wish I was by the side of my boys.
It is a great pity that one can't kill one's self when one begins
to grow old."
"Really," said Lorilleux, "I cannot see why the government does not
do something for people in your condition. Men who are disabled--"
"But workmen are not soldiers," interrupted Poisson, who considered
it his duty to espouse the cause of the government. "It is foolish
to expect them to do impossibilities."
The dessert was served. In the center was a pyramid of spongecake
in the form of a temple with melonlike sides, and on the top was an
artificial rose with a butterfly of silver paper hovering over it,
held by a gilt wire. Two drops of gum in the heart of the rose stood
for dew. On the left was a deep plate with a bit of cheese, and on the
other side of the pyramid was a dish of strawberries, which had been
sugared and carefully crushed.
In the salad dish there were a few leaves of lettuce left.
"Madame Boche," said Gervaise courteously, "pray eat these. I know
how fond you are of salad."
The concierge shook her head. There were limits even to her
capacities, and she looked at the lettuce with regret. Clemence told
how she had once eaten three quarts of water cresses at her breakfast.
Mme Putois declared that she enjoyed lettuce with a pinch of salt and
no dressing, and as they talked the ladies emptied the salad bowl.
None of the guests were dismayed at the dessert, although they had
eaten so enormously. They had the night before them too; there was no
need of haste. The men lit their pipes and drank more wine while they
watched Gervaise cut the cake. Poisson, who prided himself on his
knowledge of the habits of good society, rose and took the rose from
the top and presented it to the hostess amid the loud applause of the
whole party. She fastened it just over her heart, and the butterfly
fluttered at every movement. A song was proposed--comic songs were a
specialty with Boche--and the whole party joined in the chorus. The
men kept time with their heels and the women with their knives on
their glasses. The windows of the shop jarred with the noise. Virginie
had disappeared twice, and the third time, when she came back, she
said to Gervaise:
"My dear, he is still at the restaurant and pretends to be reading
his paper. I fear he is meditating some mischief."
She spoke of Lantier. She had been out to see if he were anywhere
in the vicinity. Gervaise became very grave.
"Is he tipsy?" she asked.
"No indeed, and that is what troubled me. Why on earth should he stay
there so long if he is not drinking? My heart is in my mouth; I am so
afraid something will happen."
The clearstarcher begged her to say no more. Mme Putois started up
and began a fierce piratical song, standing stiff and erect in her
black dress, her pale face surrounded by her black lace cap, and
gesticulating violently. Poisson nodded approval. He had been to sea,
and he knew all about it.
Gervaise, assisted by her mother-in-law, now poured out the coffee.
Her guests insisted on a song from her, declaring that it was her
turn. She refused. Her face was disturbed and pale, so much so that
she was asked if the goose disagreed with her.
Finally she began to sing a plaintive melody all about dreams and
rest. Her eyelids half closed as she ended, and she peered out into
the darkness. Then followed a barcarole from Mme Boche and a romance
from Lorilleux, in which figured perfumes of Araby, ivory throats,
ebony hair, kisses, moonlight and guitars! Clemence followed with
a song which recalled the country with its descriptions of birds
and flowers. Virginie brought down the house with her imitation of
a vivandiere, standing with her hand on her hip and a wineglass in
her hand, which she emptied down her throat as she finished.
But the grand success of the evening was Goujet, who sang in his
rich bass the _"Adieux d'Abd-et-Kader."_ The words issued from his
yellow beard like the call of a trumpet and thrilled everyone around
Virginie whispered to Gervaise:
"I have just seen Lantier pass the door. Good heavens! There he is
again, standing still and looking in."
Gervaise caught her breath and timidly turned around. The crowd had
increased, attracted by the songs. There were soldiers and shopkeepers
and three little girls, five or six years old, holding each other by
the hand, grave and silent, struck with wonder and admiration.
Lantier was directly in front of the door. Gervaise met his eyes and
felt the very marrow of her bones chilled; she could not move hand
Coupeau called for more wine, and Clemence helped herself to more
strawberries. The singing ceased, and the conversation turned upon
a woman who had hanged herself the day before in the next street.
It was now Mme Lerat's turn to amuse the company, but she needed to
make certain preparations.
She dipped the corner of her napkin into a glass of water and applied
it to her temples because she was too warm. Then she asked for a
teaspoonful of brandy and wiped her lips.
"I will sing _'L'Enfant du Bon Dieu,'_" she said pompously.
She stood up, with her square shoulders like those of a man, and
_"L'Enfant perdu que sa mere abandonne,
Troue toujours un asile au Saint lieu,
Dieu qui le voit, le defend de son trone,
L'Enfant perdu, c'est L'Enfant du bon Dieu."_
She raised her eyes to heaven and placed one hand on her heart; her
voice was not without a certain sympathetic quality, and Gervaise,
already quivering with emotion caused by the knowledge of Lantier's
presence, could no longer restrain her tears. It seemed to her that
she was the deserted child whom _le bon Dieu_ had taken under His
care. Clemence, who was quite tipsy, burst into loud sobs. The ladies
took out their handkerchiefs and pressed them to their eyes, rather
proud of their tenderness of heart.
The men felt it their duty to respect the feeling shown by the women
and were, in fact, somewhat touched themselves. The wine had softened
their hearts apparently.
Gervaise and Virginie watched the shadows outside. Mme Boche, in her
turn, now caught a glimpse of Lantier and uttered an exclamation as
she wiped away her fast-falling tears. The three women exchanged
terrified, anxious glances.
"Good heavens!" muttered Virginie. "Suppose Coupeau should turn
around. There would be a murder, I am convinced." And the earnestness
of their fixed eyes became so apparent that finally he said:
"What are you staring at?"
And leaning forward, he, too, saw Lantier.
"This is too much," he muttered, "the dirty ruffian! It is too much,
and I won't have it!"
As he started to his feet with an oath, Gervaise put her hand on his
"Put down that knife," she said, "and do not go out, I entreat of
Virginie took away the knife that Coupeau had snatched from the table,
but she could not prevent him from going into the street. The other
guests saw nothing, so entirely absorbed were they in the touching
words which Mme Lerat was still singing.
Gervaise sat with her hands clasped convulsively, breathless with
fear, expecting to hear a cry of rage from the street and see one of
the two men fall to the ground. Virginie and Mme Boche had something
of the same feeling. Coupeau had been so overcome by the fresh air
that when he rushed forward to take Lantier by the collar he missed
his footing and found himself seated quietly in the gutter.
Lantier moved aside a little without taking his hands from his
Coupeau staggered to his feet again, and a violent quarrel commenced.
Gervaise pressed her hands over her eyes; suddenly all was quiet, and
she opened her eyes again and looked out.
To her intense astonishment she saw Lantier and her husband talking
in a quiet, friendly manner.
Gervaise exchanged a look with Mme Boche and Virginie. What did this
As the women watched them the two men began to walk up and down in
front of the shop. They were talking earnestly. Coupeau seemed to be
urging something, and Lantier refusing. Finally Coupeau took Lantier's
arm and almost dragged him toward the shop.
"I tell you, you must!" he cried. "You shall drink a glass of wine
with us. Men will be men all the world over. My wife and I know that
Mme Lerat had finished her song and seated herself with the air of
being utterly exhausted. She asked for a glass of wine. When she sang
that song, she said, she was always torn to pieces, and it left her
nerves in a terrible state.
Lantier had been placed at the table by Coupeau and was eating a
piece of cake, leisurely dipping it into his glass of wine. With
the exception of Mme Boche and Virginie, no one knew him.
The Lorilleuxs looked at him with some suspicion, which, however,
was very far from the mark. An awkward silence followed, broken by
Coupeau, who said simply:
"He is a friend of ours!"
And turning to his wife, he added:
"Can't you move round a little? Perhaps there is a cup of hot coffee!"
Gervaise looked from one to the other. She was literally dazed. When
her husband first appeared with her former lover she had clasped her
hands over her forehead with that instinctive gesture with which in
a great storm one waits for the approach of the thunderclap.
It did not seem possible that the walls would not fall and crush them
all. Then seeing the two men calmly seated together, it all at once
seemed perfectly natural to her. She was tired of thinking about it
and preferred to accept it. Why, after all, should she worry? No one
else did. Everyone seemed to be satisfied; why should not she be also?
The children had fallen asleep in the back room, Pauline with her head
on Etienne's shoulder. Gervaise started as her eyes fell on her boy.
She was shocked at the thought of his father sitting there eating cake
without showing the least desire to see his child. She longed to
awaken him and show him to Lantier. And then again she had a feeling
of passing wonder at the manner in which things settled themselves
in this world.
She would not disturb the serenity of matters now, so she brought
in the coffeepot and poured out a cup for Lantier, who received it
without even looking up at her as he murmured his thanks.
"Now it is my turn to sing!" shouted Coupeau.
His song was one familiar to them all and even to the street, for the
little crowd at the door joined in the chorus. The guests within were
all more or less tipsy, and there was so much noise that the policemen
ran to quell a riot, but when they saw Poisson they bowed respectfully
and passed on.
No one of the party ever knew how or at what hour the festivities
terminated. It must have been very late, for there was not a human
being in the street when they departed. They vaguely remembered having
joined hands and danced around the table. Gervaise remembered that
Lantier was the last to leave, that he passed her as she stood in the
doorway. She felt a breath on her cheek, but whether it was his or the
night air she could not tell.
Mme Lerat had refused to return to Batignolles so late, and a mattress
was laid on the floor in the shop near the table. She slept there amid
the debris of the feast, and a neighbor's cat profited by an open
window to establish herself by her side, where she crunched the bones
of the goose all night between her fine, sharp teeth.
AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
The following Saturday Coupeau, who had not been home to dinner, came
in with Lantier about ten o'clock. They had been eating pigs' feet at
a restaurant at Montmarte.
"Don't scold, wife," said Coupeau; "we have not been drinking, you
see; we can walk perfectly straight." And he went on to say how they
had met each other quite by accident in the street and how Lantier had
refused to drink with him, saying that when a man had married a nice
little woman he had no business to throw away his money in that way.
Gervaise listened with a faint smile; she had no idea of scolding. Oh
no, it was not worth the trouble, but she was much agitated at seeing
the two men together so soon again, and with trembling hands she
knotted up her loosened hair.
Her workwomen had been gone some time. Nana and Mamma Coupeau were in
bed, and Gervaise, who was just closing her shutters when her husband
appeared, brought out some glasses and the remains of a bottle of
brandy. Lantier did not sit down and avoided addressing her directly.
When she served him, however, he exclaimed:
"A drop, madame; a mere drop!"
Coupeau looked at them for a moment and then expressed his mind fully.
They were no fools, he said, nor were they children. The past was the
past. If people kept up their enmities for nine or ten years no one
would have a soul to speak to soon. As for himself, he was made
differently. He knew they were honest people, and he was sure he
could trust them.
"Of course," murmured Gervaise, hardly knowing what she said, "of
"I regard her as a sister," said Lantier, "only as a sister."
"Give us your hand on that," cried Coupeau, "and let us be good
friends in the future. After all, a good heart is better than gold,
and I estimate friendship as above all price."
And he gave himself a little tap on his breast and looked about for
applause, as if he had uttered rather a noble sentiment.
Then the three silently drank their brandy. Gervaise looked at Lantier
and saw him for the first time, for on the night of the fete she had
seen him, as it were, through a glass, darkly.
He had grown very stout, and his arms and legs very heavy. But his
face was still handsome, although somewhat bloated by liquor and good
living. He was dressed with care and did not look any older than his
years. He was thirty-five. He wore gray pantaloons and a dark blue
frock coat, like any gentleman, and had a watch and a chain on which
hung a ring--a souvenir, apparently.
"I must go," he said presently.
He was at the door when Coupeau recalled him to say that he must never
pass without coming in to say, "How do you do?"
Meanwhile Gervaise, who had disappeared, returned, pushing Etienne
before her. The boy was half asleep but smiled as he rubbed his eyes.
When he saw Lantier he stared and looked uneasily from him to Coupeau.
"Do you know this gentleman?" said his mother.
The child looked away and did not answer, but when his mother repeated
the question he made a little sign that he remembered him. Lantier,
grave and silent, stood still. When Etienne went toward him he stooped
and kissed the child, who did not look at him but burst into tears,
and when he was violently reproached by Coupeau he rushed away.
"It is excitement," said his mother, who was herself very pale.
"He is usually very good and very obedient," said Coupeau. "I have
brought him up well, as you will find out. He will soon get used to
you. He must learn something of life, you see, and will understand one
of these days that people must forget and forgive, and I would cut off
my head sooner than prevent a father from seeing his child!"
He then proposed to finish the bottle of brandy. They all three drank
together again. Lantier was quite undisturbed, and before he left he
insisted on aiding Coupeau to shut up the shop. Then as he dusted his
hands with his handkerchief he wished them a careless good night.
"Sleep well. I am going to try and catch the omnibus. I will see you
Lantier kept his word and was seen from that time very often in the
shop. He came only when Coupeau was home and asked for him before he
crossed the threshold. Then seated near the window, always wearing
a frock coat, fresh linen and carefully shaved, he kept up a
conversation like a man who had seen something of the world. By
degrees Coupeau learned something of his life. For the last eight
years he had been at the head of a hat manufactory, and when he was
asked why he had given it up he said vaguely that he was not satisfied
with his partner; he was a rascal, and so on.
But his former position still imparted to him a certain air of
importance. He said, also, that he was on the point of concluding
an important matter--that certain business houses were in process of
establishing themselves, the management of which would be virtually
in his hands. In the meantime he had absolutely not one thing to do
but to walk about with his hands in his pockets.
Any day he pleased, however, he could start again. He had only to
decide on some house. Coupeau did not altogether believe this tale
and insisted that he must be doing something which he did not choose
to tell; otherwise how did he live?
The truth was that Lantier, excessively talkative in regard to other
people's affairs, was very reticent about his own. He lied quite as
often as he spoke the truth and would never tell where he resided.
He said he was never at home, so it was of no use for anyone to come
and see him.
"I am very careful," he said, "in making an engagement. I do not
choose to bind myself to a man and find, when it is too late, that
he intends to make a slave of me. I went one Monday to Champion at
Monrouge. That evening Champion began a political discussion. He and I
differed entirely, and on Tuesday I threw up the situation. You can't
blame me, I am sure, for not being willing to sell my soul and my
convictions for seven francs per day!"
It was now November. Lantier occasionally brought a bunch of violets
to Gervaise. By degrees his visits became more frequent. He seemed
determined to fascinate the whole house, even the _Quartier_, and
he began by ingratiating himself with Clemence and Mme Putois, showing
them both the greatest possible attention.
These two women adored him at the end of a month. Mme Boche, whom he
flattered by calling on her in her loge, had all sorts of pleasant
things to say about him.
As to the Lorilleuxs, they were furious when they found out who he was
and declared that it was a sin and a disgrace for Gervaise to bring
him into her house. But one fine day Lantier bearded them in their
den and ordered a chain made for a lady of his acquaintance and made
himself so agreeable that they begged him to sit down and kept him an
hour. After this visit they expressed their astonishment that a man so
distinguished could ever have seen anything in Wooden Legs to admire.
By degrees, therefore, people had become accustomed to seeing him and
no longer expressed their horror or amazement. Goujet was the only one
who was disturbed. If Lantier came in while he was there he at once
departed and avoided all intercourse with him.
Gervaise was very unhappy. She was conscious of a returning
inclination for Lantier, and she was afraid of herself and of him.
She thought of him constantly; he had taken entire possession of her
imagination. But she grew calmer as days passed on, finding that he
never tried to see her alone and that he rarely looked at her and
never laid the tip of his finger on her.
Virginie, who seemed to read her through and through, asked her what
she feared. Was there ever a man more respectful?
But out of mischief or worse, the woman contrived to get the two into
a corner one day and then led the conversation into a most dangerous
direction. Lantier, in reply to some question, said in measured tones
that his heart was dead, that he lived now only for his son. He never
thought of Claude, who was away. He embraced Etienne every night but
soon forgot he was in the room and amused himself with Clemence.
Then Gervaise began to realize that the past was dead. Lantier had
brought back to her the memory of Plassans and the Hotel Boncoeur.
But this faded away again, and, seeing him constantly, the past was
absorbed in the present. She shook off these memories almost with
disgust. Yes, it was all over, and should he ever dare to allude to
former years she would complain to her husband.
She began again to think of Goujet almost unconsciously.
One morning Clemence said that the night before she had seen Lantier
walking with a woman who had his arm. Yes, he was coming up La Rue
Notre-Dame de Lorette; the woman was a blonde and no better than she
should be. Clemence added that she had followed them until the woman
reached a house where she went in. Lantier waited in the street until
there was a window opened, which was evidently a signal, for he went
into the house at once.
Gervaise was ironing a white dress; she smiled slightly and said that
she believed a Provencal was always crazy after women, and at night
when Lantier appeared she was quite amused at Clemence, who at once
attacked him. He seemed to be, on the whole, rather pleased that he
had been seen. The person was an old friend, he said, one whom he had
not seen for some time--a very stylish woman, in fact--and he told
Clemence to smell of his handkerchief on which his friend had put some
of the perfume she used. Just then Etienne came in, and his father
became very grave and said that he was in jest--that his heart was
Gervaise nodded approval of this sentiment, but she did not speak.
When spring came Lantier began to talk of moving into that
neighborhood. He wanted a furnished, clean room. Mme Boche and
Gervaise tried to find one for him. But they did not meet with any
success. He was altogether too fastidious in his requirements. Every
evening at the Coupeaus' he wished he could find people like
themselves who would take a lodger.
"You are very comfortable here, I am sure," he would say regularly.
Finally one night when he had uttered this phrase, as usual, Coupeau
"If you like this place so much why don't you stay here? We can make
room for you."
And he explained that the linen room could be so arranged that it
would be very comfortable, and Etienne could sleep on a mattress in
"No, no," said Lantier; "it would trouble you too much. I know that
you have the most generous heart in the world, but I cannot impose
upon you. Your room would be a passageway to mine, and that would not
be agreeable to any of us."
"Nonsense," said Coupeau. "Have we no invention? There are two
windows; can't one be cut down to the floor and used as a door? In
that case you would enter from the court and not through the shop.
You would be by yourself, and we by ourselves."
There was a long silence, broken finally by Lantier.
"If this could be done," he said, "I should like it, but I am afraid
you would find yourselves too crowded."
He did not look at Gervaise as he spoke, but it was clear that he was
only waiting for a word from her. She did not like the plan at all;
not that the thought of Lantier living under their roof disturbed her,
but she had no idea where she could put the linen as it came in to be
washed and again when it was rough-dry.
But Coupeau was enchanted with the plan. The rent, he said, had always
been heavy to carry, and now they would gain twenty francs per month.
It was not dear for him, and it would help them decidedly. He told his
wife that she could have two great boxes made in which all the linen
of the _Quartier_ could be piled.
Gervaise still hesitated, questioning Mamma Coupeau with her eyes.
Lantier had long since propitiated the old lady by bringing her
gumdrops for her cough.
"If we could arrange it I am sure--" said Gervaise hesitatingly.
"You are too kind," remonstrated Lantier. "I really feel that it would
be an intrusion."
Coupeau flamed out. Why did she not speak up, he should like to know?
Instead of stammering and behaving like a fool?
"Etienne! Etienne!" he shouted.
The boy was asleep with his head on the table. He started up.
"Listen to me. Say to this gentleman, 'I wish it.' Say just those
words and nothing more."
"I wish it!" stammered Etienne, half asleep.
Everybody laughed. But Lantier almost instantly resumed his solemn
air. He pressed Coupeau's hand cordially.
"I accept your proposition," he said. "It is a most friendly one,
and I thank you in my name and in that of my child."
The next morning Marescot, the owner of the house, happening to call,
Gervaise spoke to him of the matter. At first he absolutely refused
and was as disturbed and angry as if she had asked him to build on a
wing for her especial accommodation. Then after a minute examination
of the premises he ended by giving his consent, only on condition,
however, that he should not be required to pay any portion of the
expense, and the Coupeaus signed a paper, agreeing to put everything
into its original condition at the expiration of their lease.
That same evening Coupeau brought in a mason, a painter and a
carpenter, all friends and boon companions of his, who would do this
little job at night, after their day's work was over.
The cutting of the door, the painting and the cleaning would come to
about one hundred francs, and Coupeau agreed to pay them as fast as
his tenant paid him.
The next question was how to furnish the room? Gervaise left Mamma
Coupeau's wardrobe in it. She added a table and two chairs from her
own room. She was compelled to buy a bed and dressing table and divers
other things, which amounted to one hundred and thirty francs. This
she must pay for ten francs each month. So that for nearly a year they
could derive no benefit from their new lodger.
It was early in June that Lantier took possession of his new quarters.
Coupeau had offered the night before to help him with his trunk in
order to avoid the thirty sous for a fiacre. But the other seemed
embarrassed and said his trunk was heavy, and it seemed as if he
preferred to keep it a secret even now where he resided.
He came about three o'clock. Coupeau was not there, and Gervaise,
standing at her shop door, turned white as she recognized the trunk
on the fiacre. It was their old one with which they had traveled from
Plassans. Now it was banged and battered and strapped with cords.
She saw it brought in as she had often seen it in her dreams, and she
vaguely wondered if it were the same fiacre which had taken him and
Adele away. Boche welcomed Lantier cordially. Gervaise stood by in
silent bewilderment, watching them place the trunk in her lodger's
room. Then hardly knowing what she said, she murmured:
"We must take a glass of wine together----"
Lantier, who was busy untying the cords on his trunk, did not look up,
and she added:
"You will join us, Monsieur Boche!"
And she went for some wine and glasses. At that moment she caught
sight of Poisson passing the door. She gave him a nod and a wink which
he perfectly understood: it meant, when he was on duty, that he was
offered a glass of wine. He went round by the courtyard in order not
to be seen. Lantier never saw him without some joke in regard to his
political convictions, which, however, had not prevented the men from
becoming excellent friends.
To one of these jests Boche now replied:
"Did you know," he said, "that when the emperor was in London he was a
policeman, and his special duty was to carry all the intoxicated women
to the station house?"
Gervaise had filled three glasses on the table. She did not care
for any wine; she was sick at heart as she stood looking at Lantier
kneeling on the floor by the side of the trunk. She was wild to know
what it contained. She remembered that in one corner was a pile of
stockings, a shirt or two and an old hat. Were those things still
there? Was she to be confronted with those tattered relics of the
Lantier did not lift the lid, however; he rose and, going to the
table, held his glass high in his hands.
"To your health, madame!" he said.
And Poisson and Boche drank with him.
Gervaise filled their glasses again. The three men wiped their lips
with the backs of their hands.
Then Lantier opened his trunk. It was filled with a hodgepodge of
papers, books, old clothes and bundles of linen. He pulled out a
saucepan, then a pair of boots, followed by a bust of Ledru Rollin
with a broken nose, then an embroidered shirt and a pair of ragged
pantaloons, and Gervaise perceived a mingled and odious smell of
tobacco, leather and dust.
No, the old hat was not in the left corner; in its place was a pin
cushion, the gift of some woman. All at once the strange anxiety with
which she had watched the opening of this trunk disappeared, and in
its place came an intense sadness as she followed each article with
her eyes as Lantier took them out and wondered which belonged to her
time and which to the days when another woman filled his life.
"Look here, Poisson," cried Lantier, pulling out a small book. It
was a scurrilous attack on the emperor, printed at Brussels, entitled
_The Amours of Napoleon III_.
Poisson was aghast. He found no words with which to defend the
emperor. It was in a book--of course, therefore, it was true. Lantier,
with a laugh of triumph, turned away and began to pile up his books
and papers, grumbling a little that there were no shelves on which
to put them. Gervaise promised to buy some for him. He owned Louis
Blanc's _Histoire de Dix Ans_, all but the first volume, which he
had never had, Lamartine's _Les Girondins_, _The Mysteries of
Paris_ and _The Wandering Jew_, by Eugene Sue, without counting
a pile of incendiary volumes which he had picked up at bookstalls.
His old newspapers he regarded with especial respect. He had collected
them with care for years: whenever he had read an article at a cafe
of which he approved, he bought the journal and preserved it. He
consequently had an enormous quantity, of all dates and names, tied
together without order or sequence.
He laid them all in a corner of the room, saying as he did so:
"If people would study those sheets and adopt the ideas therein,
society would be far better organized than it now is. Your emperor
and all his minions would come down a bit on the ladder--"
Here he was interrupted by Poisson, whose red imperial and mustache
irradiated his pale face.
"And the army," he said, "what would you do with that?"
Lantier became very much excited.
"The army!" he cried. "I would scatter it to the four winds of
heaven! I want the military system of the country abolished! I want
the abolition of titles and monopolies! I want salaries equalized!
I want liberty for everyone. Divorces, too--"
"Yes; divorces, of course," interposed Boche. "That is needed in the
cause of morality."
Poisson threw back his head, ready for an argument, but Gervaise,
who did not like discussions, interfered. She had recovered from the
torpor into which she had been plunged by the sight of this trunk, and
she asked the men to take another glass. Lantier was suddenly subdued
and drank his wine, but Boche looked at Poisson uneasily.
"All this talk is between ourselves, is it not?" he said to the
Poisson did not allow him to finish: he laid his hand on his heart
and declared that he was no spy. Their words went in at one ear and
out at another. He had forgotten them already.
Coupeau by this time appeared, and more wine was sent for. But Poisson
dared linger no longer, and, stiff and haughty, he departed through
From the very first Lantier was made thoroughly at home. Lantier had
his separate room, private entrance and key. But he went through the
shop almost always. The accumulation of linen disturbed Gervaise, for
her husband never arranged the boxes he had promised, and she was
obliged to stow it away in all sorts of places, under the bed and in
the corner. She did not like making up Etienne's mattress late at
Goujet had spoken of sending the child to Lille to his own old master,
who wanted apprentices. The plan pleased her, particularly as the
boy, who was not very happy at home, was impatient to become his own
master. But she dared not ask Lantier, who had come there to live
ostensibly to be near his son. She felt, therefore, that it was hardly
a good plan to send the boy away within a couple of weeks after his
When, however, she did make up her mind to approach the subject he
expressed warm approval of the idea, saying that youths were far
better in the country than in Paris.
Finally it was decided that Etienne should go, and when the morning
of his departure arrived Lantier read his son a long lecture and then
sent him off, and the house settled down into new habits.
Gervaise became accustomed to seeing the dirty linen lying about and
to seeing Lantier coming in and going out. He still talked with an
important air of his business operations. He went out daily, dressed
with the utmost care and came home, declaring that he was worn out
with the discussions in which he had been engaged and which involved
the gravest and most important interests.
He rose about ten o'clock, took a walk if the day pleased him, and if
it rained he sat in the shop and read his paper. He liked to be there.
It was his delight to live surrounded by a circle of worshiping women,
and he basked indolently in the warmth and atmosphere of ease and
comfort, which characterized the place.
At first Lantier took his meals at the restaurant at the corner, but
after a while he dined three or four times a week with the Coupeaus
and finally requested permission to board with them and agreed to pay
them fifteen francs each Saturday. Thus he was regularly installed and
was one of the family. He was seen in his shirt sleeves in the shop
every morning, attending to any little matters or receiving orders
from the customers. He induced Gervaise to leave her own wine merchant
and go to a friend of his own. Then he found fault with the bread and
sent Augustine to the Vienna bakery in a distant _faubourg_. He
changed the grocer but kept the butcher on account of his political
At the end of a month he had instituted a change in the cuisine.