Part 4 out of 6
Everything was cooked in oil: being a Provencal, that was what he
adored. He made the omelets himself, which were as tough as leather.
He superintended Mamma Coupeau and insisted that the beefsteaks should
be thoroughly cooked, until they were like the soles of an old shoe.
He watched the salad to see that nothing went in which he did not
like. His favorite dish was vermicelli, into which he poured half
a bottle of oil. This he and Gervaise ate together, for the others,
being Parisians, could not be induced to taste it.
By degrees Lantier attended to all those affairs which fall to the
share of the master of the house and to various details of their
business, in addition. He insisted that if the five francs which the
Lorilleux people had agreed to pay toward the support of Mamma Coupeau
was not forthcoming they should go to law about it. In fact, ten
francs was what they ought to pay. He himself would go and see if he
could not make them agree to that. He went up at once and asked them
in such a way that he returned in triumph with the ten francs. And
Mme Lerat, too, did the same at his representation. Mamma Coupeau
could have kissed Lantier's hands, who played the part, besides, of
an arbiter in the quarrels between the old woman and Gervaise.
The latter, as was natural, sometimes lost patience with the old
woman, who retreated to her bed to weep. He would bluster about and
ask if they were simpletons, to amuse people with their disagreements,
and finally induced them to kiss and be friends once more.
He expressed his mind freely in regard to Nana also. In his opinion
she was brought up very badly, and here he was quite right, for when
her father cuffed her her mother upheld her, and when, in her turn,
the mother reproved, the father made a scene.
Nana was delighted at this and felt herself free to do much as she
She had started a new game at the farriery opposite. She spent entire
days swinging on the shafts of the wagons. She concealed herself, with
her troop of followers, at the back of the dark court, redly lit by
the forge, and then would make sudden rushes with screams and whoops,
followed by every child in the neighborhood, reminding one of a flock
of martins or sparrows.
Lantier was the only one whose scoldings had any effect. She listened
to him graciously. This child of ten years of age, precocious and
vicious, coquetted with him as if she had been a grown woman. He
finally assumed the care of her education. He taught her to dance
and to talk slang!
Thus a year passed away. The whole neighborhood supposed Lantier to
be a man of means--otherwise how did the Coupeaus live as they did?
Gervaise, to be sure, still made money, but she supported two men who
did nothing, and the shop, of course, did not make enough for that.
The truth was that Lantier had never paid one sou, either for board
or lodging. He said he would let it run on, and when it amounted to
a good sum he would pay it all at once.
After that Gervaise never dared to ask him for a centime. She got
bread, wine and meat on credit; bills were running up everywhere, for
their expenditures amounted to three and four francs every day. She
had never paid anything, even a trifle on account, to the man from
whom she had bought her furniture or to Coupeau's three friends who
had done the work in Lantier's room. The tradespeople were beginning
to grumble and treated her with less politeness.
But she seemed to be insensible to this; she chose the most expensive
things, having thrown economy to the winds, since she had given up
paying for things at once. She always intended, however, to pay
eventually and had a vague notion of earning hundreds of francs daily
in some extraordinary way by which she could pay all these people.
About the middle of summer Clemence departed, for there was not enough
work for two women; she had waited for her money for some weeks.
Lantier and Coupeau were quite undisturbed, however. They were in the
best of spirits and seemed to be growing fat over the ruined business.
In the _Quartier_ there was a vast deal of gossip. Everybody
wondered as to the terms on which Lantier and Gervaise now stood. The
Lorilleuxs viciously declared that Gervaise would be glad enough to
resume her old relations with Lantier but that he would have nothing
to do with her, for she had grown old and ugly. The Boche people
took a different view, but while everyone declared that the whole
arrangement was a most improper one, they finally accepted it as
quite a matter of course and altogether natural.
It is quite possible there were other homes which were quite as open
to invidious remarks within a stone's throw, but these Coupeaus, as
their neighbors said, were good, kind people. Lantier was especially
ingratiating. It was decided, therefore, to let things go their own
Gervaise lived quietly indifferent to, and possibly entirely
unsuspicious of, all these scandals. By and by it came to pass that
her husband's own people looked on her as utterly heartless. Mme Lerat
made her appearance every evening, and she treated Lantier as if he
were utterly irresistible, into whose arms any and every woman would
be only too glad to fall. An actual league seemed to be forming
against Gervaise: all the women insisted on giving her a lover.
But she saw none of these fascinations in him. He had changed,
unquestionably, and the external changes were all in his favor. He
wore a frock coat and had acquired a certain polish. But she who knew
him so well looked down into his soul through his eyes and shuddered
at much she saw there. She could not understand what others saw in him
to admire. And she said so one day to Virginie. Then Mme Lerat and
Virginie vied with each other in the stories they told of Clemence and
himself--what they did and said whenever her back was turned--and now
they were sure, since she had left the establishment, that he went
regularly to see her.
"Well, what of it?" asked Gervaise, her voice trembling. "What have
I to do with that?"
But she looked into Virginie's dark brown eyes, which were specked
with gold and emitted sparks as do those of cats. But the woman put
on a stupid look as she answered:
"Why, nothing, of course; only I should think you would advise him
not to have anything to do with such a person."
Lantier was gradually changing his manner to Gervaise. Now when he
shook hands with her he held her fingers longer than was necessary.
He watched her incessantly and fixed his bold eyes upon her. He leaned
over her so closely that she felt his breath on her cheek. But one
evening, being alone with her, he caught her in both arms. At that
moment Goujet entered. Gervaise wrenched herself free, and the three
exchanged a few words as if nothing had happened. Goujet was very pale
and seemed embarrassed, supposing that he had intruded upon them and
that she had pushed Lantier aside only because she did not choose to
be embraced in public.
The next day Gervaise was miserable, unhappy and restless. She could
not iron a handkerchief. She wanted to see Goujet and tell him just
what had happened, but ever since Etienne had gone to Lille she had
given up going to the forge, as she was quite unable to face the
knowing winks with which his comrades received her. But this day she
determined to go, and, taking an empty basket on her arms, she started
off, pretending that she was going with skirts to some customers in
La Rue des Portes-Blanches.
Goujet seemed to be expecting her, for she met him loitering on the
"Ah," he said with a wan smile, "you are going home, I presume?"
He hardly knew what he was saying, and they both turned toward
Montmartre without another word. They merely wished to go away from
the forge. They passed several manufactories and soon found themselves
with an open field before them. A goat was tethered near by and
bleating as it browsed, and a dead tree was crumbling away in the
"One might almost think oneself in the country," murmured Gervaise.
They took a seat under the dead tree. The clearstarcher set the basket
down at her feet. Before them stretched the heights of Montmartre,
with its rows of yellow and gray houses amid clumps of trees, and
when they threw back their heads a little they saw the whole sky
above, clear and cloudless, but the sunlight dazzled them, and they
looked over to the misty outlines of the _faubourg_ and watched the
smoke rising from tall chimneys in regular puffs, indicating the
machinery which impelled it. These great sighs seemed to relieve
their own oppressed breasts.
"Yes," said Gervaise after a long silence. "I have been on a long
walk, and I came out--"
She stopped. After having been so eager for an explanation she found
herself unable to speak and overwhelmed with shame. She knew that he
as well as herself had come to that place with the wish and intention
of speaking on one especial subject, and yet neither of them dared to
allude to it. The occurrence of the previous evening weighed on both
Then with a heart torn with anguish and with tears in her eyes, she
told him of the death of Mme Bijard, who had breathed her last that
morning after suffering unheard-of agonies.
"It was caused by a kick of Bijard's," she said in her low, soft
voice; "some internal injury. For three days she has suffered
frightfully. Why are not such men punished? I suppose, though, if the
law undertook to punish all the wretches who kill their wives that it
would have too much to do. After all, one kick more or less: what does
it matter in the end? And this poor creature, in her desire to save
her husband from the scaffold, declared she had fallen over a tub."
Goujet did not speak. He sat pulling up the tufts of grass.
"It is not a fortnight," continued Gervaise, "since she weaned her
last baby, and here is that child Lalie left to take care of two
mites. She is not eight years old but as quiet and sensible as if
she were a grown woman, and her father kicks and strikes her too.
Poor little soul! There are some persons in this world who seem
born to suffer."
Goujet looked at her and then said suddenly, with trembling lips:
"You made me suffer yesterday."
Gervaise clasped her hands imploringly, and he continued:
"I knew of course how it must end; only you should not have allowed me
He could not finish. She started up, seeing what his convictions were.
She cried out:
"You are wrong! I swear to you that you are wrong! He was going to
kiss me, but his lips did not touch me, and it is the very first time
that he made the attempt. Believe me, for I swear--on all that I hold
most sacred--that I am telling you the truth."
But the blacksmith shook his head. He knew that women did not always
tell the truth on such points. Gervaise then became very grave.
"You know me well," she said; "you know that I am no liar. I again
repeat that Lantier and I are friends. We shall never be anything
more, for if that should ever come to pass I should regard myself
as the vilest of the vile and should be unworthy of the friendship
of a man like yourself." Her face was so honest, her eyes were so
clear and frank, that he could do no less than believe her. Once more
he breathed freely. He held her hand for the first time. Both were
silent. White clouds sailed slowly above their heads with the majesty
of swans. The goat looked at them and bleated piteously, eager to be
released, and they stood hand in hand on that bleak slope with tears
in their eyes.
"Your mother likes me no longer," said Gervaise in a low voice. "Do
not say no; how can it be otherwise? We owe you so much money."
He roughly shook her arm in his eagerness to check the words on her
lips; he would not hear her. He tried to speak, but his throat was
too dry; he choked a little and then he burst out:
"Listen to me," he cried; "I have long wished to say something to you.
You are not happy. My mother says things are all going wrong with you,
and," he hesitated, "we must go away together and at once."
She looked at him, not understanding him but impressed by this abrupt
declaration of a love from him, who had never before opened his lips
in regard to it.
"What do you mean?" she said.
"I mean," he answered without looking in her face, "that we two can
go away and live in Belgium. It is almost the same to me as home, and
both of us could get work and live comfortably."
The color came to her face, which she would have hidden on his
shoulder to hide her shame and confusion. He was a strange fellow to
propose an elopement. It was like a book and like the things she heard
of in high society. She had often seen and known of the workmen about
her making love to married women, but they did not think of running
away with them.
"Ah, Monsieur Goujet!" she murmured, but she could say no more.
"Yes," he said, "we two would live all by ourselves."
But as her self-possession returned she refused with firmness.
"It is impossible," she said, "and it would be very wrong. I am
married and I have children. I know that you are fond of me, and I
love you too much to allow you to commit any such folly as you are
talking of, and this would be an enormous folly. No; we must live on
as we are. We respect each other now. Let us continue to do so. That
is a great deal and will help us over many a roughness in our paths.
And when we try to do right we are sure of a reward."
He shook his head as he listened to her, but he felt she was right.
Suddenly he snatched her in his arms and kissed her furiously once and
then dropped her and turned abruptly away. She was not angry, but the
locksmith trembled from head to foot. He began to gather some of the
wild daisies, not knowing what to do with his hands, and tossed them
into her empty basket. This occupation amused him and tranquillized
him. He broke off the head of the flowers and, when he missed his
mark and they fell short of the basket, laughed aloud.
Gervaise sat with her back against the tree, happy and calm. And when
she set forth on her walk home her basket was full of daisies, and
she was talking of Etienne.
In reality Gervaise was more afraid of Lantier than she was willing
to admit even to herself. She was fully determined never to allow
the smallest familiarity, but she was afraid that she might yield
to his persuasions, for she well knew the weakness and amiability of
her nature and how hard it was for her to persist in any opposition
Lantier, however, did not put this determination on her part to
the test. He was often alone with her now and was always quiet and
respectful. Coupeau declared to everyone that Lantier was a true
friend. There was no nonsense about him; he could be relied upon
always and in all emergencies. And he trusted him thoroughly, he
declared. When they went out together--the three--on Sundays he bade
his wife and Lantier walk arm in arm, while he mounted guard behind,
ready to cuff the ears of anyone who ventured on a disrespectful
glance, a sneer or a wink.
He laughed good-naturedly before Lantier's face, told him he put on
a great many airs with his coats and his books, but he liked him in
spite of them. They understood each other, he said, and a man's liking
for another man is more solid and enduring than his love for a woman.
Coupeau and Lantier made the money fly. Lantier was continually
borrowing money from Gervaise--ten francs, twenty francs--whenever
he knew there was money in the house. It was always because he was in
pressing need for some business matter. But still on those same days
he took Coupeau off with him and at some distant restaurant ordered
and devoured such dishes as they could not obtain at home, and these
dishes were washed down by bottle after bottle of wine.
Coupeau would have preferred to get tipsy without the food, but he
was impressed by the elegance and experience of his friend, who found
on the carte so many extraordinary sauces. He had never seen a man
like him, he declared, so dainty and so difficult. He wondered if all
southerners were the same as he watched him discussing the dishes with
the waiter and sending away a dish that was too salty or had too much
Neither could he endure a draft: his skin was all blue if a door was
left open, and he made no end of a row until it was closed again.
Lantier was not wasteful in certain ways, for he never gave a
_garcon_ more than two sous after he had served a meal that cost
some seven or eight francs.
They never alluded to these dinners the next morning at their simple
breakfast with Gervaise. Naturally people cannot frolic and work, too,
and since Lantier had become a member of his household Coupeau had
never lifted a tool. He knew every drinking shop for miles around and
would sit and guzzle deep into the night, not always pleased to find
himself deserted by Lantier, who never was known to be overcome by
About the first of November Coupeau turned over a new leaf; he
declared he was going to work the next day, and Lantier thereupon
preached a little sermon, declaring that labor ennobled man, and
in the morning arose before it was light to accompany his friend to
the shop, as a mark of the respect he felt. But when they reached a
wineshop on the corner they entered to take a glass merely to cement
Near the counter they beheld Bibi-la-Grillade smoking his pipe with
a sulky air.
"What is the matter, Bibi?" cried Coupeau.
"Nothing," answered his comrade, "except that I got my walking ticket
yesterday. Perdition seize all masters!" he added fiercely.
And Bibi accepted a glass of liquor. Lantier defended the masters.
They were not so bad after all; then, too, how were the men to get
along without them? "To be sure," continued Lantier, "I manage pretty
well, for I don't have much to do with them myself!"
"Come, my boy," he added, turning to Coupeau; "we shall be late if
we don't look out."
Bibi went out with them. Day was just breaking, gray and cloudy. It
had rained the night before and was damp and warm. The street lamps
had just been extinguished. There was one continued tramp of men going
to their work.
Coupeau, with his bag of tools on his shoulder, shuffled along; his
footsteps had long since lost their ring.
"Bibi," he said, "come with me; the master told me to bring a comrade
if I pleased."
"It won't be me then," answered Bibi. "I wash my hands of them all.
No more masters for me, I tell you! But I dare say Mes-Bottes would
be glad of the offer."
And as they reached the Assommoir they saw Mes-Bottes within.
Notwithstanding the fact that it was daylight, the gas was blazing
in the Assommoir. Lantier remained outside and told Coupeau to make
haste, as they had only ten minutes.
"Do you think I will work for your master?" cried Mes-Bottes. "He is
the greatest tyrant in the kingdom. No, I should rather suck my thumbs
for a year. You won't stay there, old man! No, you won't stay there
three days, now I tell you!"
"Are you in earnest?" asked Coupeau uneasily.
"Yes, I am in earnest. You can't speak--you can't move. Your nose
is held close to the grindstone all the time. He watches you every
moment. If you drink a drop he says you are tipsy and makes no end
of a row!"
"Thanks for the warning. I will try this one day, and if the master
bothers me I will just tell him what I think of him and turn on my
heel and walk out."
Coupeau shook his comrade's hand and turned to depart, much to the
disgust of Mes-Bottes, who angrily asked if the master could not wait
five minutes. He could not go until he had taken a drink. Lantier
entered to join in, and Mes-Bottes stood there with his hat on the
back of his head, shabby, dirty and staggering, ordering Father
Colombe to pour out the glasses and not to cheat.
At that moment Goujet and Lorilleux were seen going by. Mes-Bottes
shouted to them to come in, but they both refused--Goujet saying he
wanted nothing, and the other, as he hugged a little box of gold
chains close to his heart, that he was in a hurry.
"Milksops!" muttered Mes-Bottes. "They had best pass their lives in
the corner by the fire!"
Returning to the counter, he renewed his attack on Father Colombe,
whom he accused of adulterating his liquors.
It was now bright daylight, and the proprietor of the Assommoir began
to extinguish the lights. Coupeau made excuses for his brother-in-law,
who, he said, could never drink; it was not his fault, poor fellow!
He approved, too, of Goujet, declaring that it was a good thing never
to be thirsty. Again he made a move to depart and go to his work when
Lantier, with his dictatorial air, reminded him that he had not paid
his score and that he could not go off in that way, even if it were
to his duty.
"I am sick of the words 'work' and 'duty,'" muttered Mes-Bottes.
They all paid for their drinks with the exception of Bibi-la-Grillade,
who stooped toward the ear of Father Colombe and whispered a few
words. The latter shook his head, whereupon Mes-Bottes burst into a
torrent of invectives, but Colombe stood in impassive silence, and
when there was a lull in the storm he said:
"Let your friends pay for you then--that is a very simple thing to
By this time Mes-Bottes was what is properly called howling drunk, and
as he staggered away from the counter he struck the bag of tools which
Coupeau had over his shoulder.
"You look like a peddler with his pack or a humpback. Put it down!"
Coupeau hesitated a moment, and then slowly and deliberately, as if he
had arrived at a decision after mature deliberation, he laid his bag
on the ground.
"It is too late to go this morning. I will wait until after breakfast
now. I will tell him my wife was sick. Listen, Father Colombe, I will
leave my bag of tools under this bench and come for them this
Lantier assented to this arrangement. Of course work was a good thing,
but friends and good company were better; and the four men stood,
first on one foot and then on the other, for more than an hour, and
then they had another drink all round. After that a game of billiards
was proposed, and they went noisily down the street to the nearest
billiard room, which did not happen to please the fastidious Lantier,
who, however, soon recovered his good humor under the effect of the
admiration excited in the minds of his friends by his play, which
was really very extraordinary.
When the hour arrived for breakfast Coupeau had an idea.
"Let us go and find Bec Sali. I know where he works. We will make him
breakfast with us."
The idea was received with applause. The party started forth. A fine
drizzling rain was now falling, but they were too warm within to mind
this light sprinkling on their shoulders.
Coupeau took them to a factory where his friend worked and at the door
gave two sous to a small boy to go up and find Bec Sali and to tell
him that his wife was very sick and had sent for him.
Bec Sali quickly appeared, not in the least disturbed, as he suspected
"Aha!" he said as he saw his friend. "I knew it!" They went to a
restaurant and ordered a famous repast of pigs' feet, and they sat
and sucked the bones and talked about their various employers.
"Will you believe," said Bec Sali, "that mine has had the brass to
hang up a bell? Does he think we are slaves to run when he rings it?
Never was he so mistaken--"
"I am obliged to leave you!" said Coupeau, rising at last with an
important air. "I promised my wife to go to work today, and I leave
you with the greatest reluctance."
The others protested and entreated, but he seemed so decided that they
all accompanied him to the Assommoir to get his tools. He pulled out
the bag from under the bench and laid it at his feet while they all
took another drink. The clock struck one, and Coupeau kicked his bag
under the bench again. He would go tomorrow to the factory; one day
really did not make much difference.
The rain had ceased, and one of the men proposed a little walk on the
boulevards to stretch their legs. The air seemed to stupefy them, and
they loitered along with their arms swinging at their sides, without
exchanging a word. When they reached the wineshop on the corner of La
Rue des Poissonniers they turned in mechanically. Lantier led the way
into a small room divided from the public one by windows only. This
room was much affected by Lantier, who thought it more stylish by far
than the public one. He called for a newspaper, spread it out and
examined it with a heavy frown. Coupeau and Mes-Bottes played a game
of cards, while wine and glasses occupied the center of the table.
"What is the news?" asked Bibi.
Lantier did not reply instantly, but presently, as the others emptied
their glasses, he began to read aloud an account of a frightful
murder, to which they listened with eager interest. Then ensued a hot
discussion and argument as to the probable motives for the murder.
By this time the wine was exhausted, and they called for more. About
five all except Lantier were in a state of beastly intoxication, and
he found them so disgusting that, as usual, he made his escape without
his comrades noticing his defection.
Lantier walked about a little and then, when he felt all right, went
home and told Gervaise that her husband was with his friends. Coupeau
did not make his appearance for two days. Rumors were brought in that
he had been seen in one place and then in another, and always alone.
His comrades had apparently deserted him. Gervaise shrugged her
shoulders with a resigned air.
"Good heavens!" she said. "What a way to live!" She never thought of
hunting him up. Indeed, on the afternoon of the third day, when she
saw him through the window of a wineshop, she turned back and would
not pass the door. She sat up for him, however, and listened for his
step or the sound of his hand fumbling at the lock.
The next morning he came in, only to begin the same thing at night
again. This went on for a week, and at last Gervaise went to the
Assommoir to make inquiries. Yes, he had been there a number of times,
but no one knew where he was just then. Gervaise picked up the bag
of tools and carried them home.
Lantier, seeing that Gervaise was out of spirits, proposed that she
should go with him to a cafe concert. She refused at first, being
in no mood for laughing; otherwise she would have consented, for
Lantier's proposal seemed to be prompted by the purest friendliness.
He seemed really sorry for her trouble and, indeed, assumed an
absolutely paternal air.
Coupeau had never stayed away like this before, and she continually
found herself going to the door and looking up and down the street.
She could not keep to her work but wandered restlessly from place
to place. Had Coupeau broken a limb? Had he fallen into the water?
She did not think she could care so very much if he were killed, if
this uncertainty were over, if she only knew what she had to expect.
But it was very trying to live in this suspense.
Finally when the gas was lit and Lantier renewed his proposition of
the cafe she consented. After all, why should she not go? Why should
she refuse all pleasures because her husband chose to behave in this
disgraceful way? If he would not come in she would go out.
They hurried through their dinner, and as she went out with Lantier
at eight o'clock Gervaise begged Nana and Mamma Coupeau to go to bed
early. The shop was closed, and she gave the key to Mme Boche, telling
her that if Coupeau came in it would be as well to look out for the
Lantier stood whistling while she gave these directions. Gervaise
wore her silk dress, and she smiled as they walked down the street
in alternate shadow and light from the shopwindows.
The cafe concert was on the Boulevard de Rochechoumart. It had once
been a cafe and had had a concert room built on of rough planks.
Over the door was a row of glass globes brilliantly illuminated.
Long placards, nailed on wood, were standing quite out in the street
by the side of the gutter.
"Here we are!" said Lantier. "Mademoiselle Amanda makes her debut
Bibi-la-Grillade was reading the placard. Bibi had a black eye, as if
he had been fighting.
"Hallo!" cried Lantier. "How are you? Where is Coupeau? Have you lost
"Yes, since yesterday. We had a little fight with a waiter at Baquets.
He wanted us to pay twice for what we had, and somehow Coupeau and I
got separated, and I have not seen him since."
And Bibi gave a great yawn. He was in a disgraceful state of
intoxication. He looked as if he had been rolling in the gutter.
"And you know nothing of my husband?" asked Gervaise.
"No, nothing. I think, though, he went off with a coachman."
Lantier and Gervaise passed a very agreeable evening at the cafe
concert, and when the doors were closed at eleven they went home in a
sauntering sort of fashion. They were in no hurry, and the night was
fair, though a little cool. Lantier hummed the air which Amanda had
sung, and Gervaise added the chorus. The room had been excessively
warm, and she had drunk several glasses of wine.
She expressed a great deal of indignation at Mlle Amanda's costume.
How did she dare face all those men, dressed like that? But her skin
was beautiful, certainly, and she listened with considerable curiosity
to all that Lantier could tell her about the woman.
"Everybody is asleep," said Gervaise after she had rung the bell
The door was finally opened, but there was no light. She knocked at
the door of the Boche quarters and asked for her key.
The sleepy concierge muttered some unintelligible words, from which
Gervaise finally gathered that Coupeau had been brought in by Poisson
and that the key was in the door.
Gervaise stood aghast at the disgusting sight that met her eyes as
she entered the room where Coupeau lay wallowing on the floor.
She shuddered and turned away. This sight annihilated every ray of
sentiment remaining in her heart.
"What am I to do?" she said piteously. "I can't stay here!"
Lantier snatched her hand.
"Gervaise," he said, "listen to me."
But she understood him and drew hastily back.
"No, no! Leave me, Auguste. I can manage."
But Lantier would not obey her. He put his arm around her waist and
pointed to her husband as he lay snoring, with his mouth wide open.
"Leave me!" said Gervaise, imploringly, and she pointed to the room
where her mother-in-law and Nana slept.
"You will wake them!" she said. "You would not shame me before my
child? Pray go!"
He said no more but slowly and softly kissed her on her ear, as
he had so often teased her by doing in those old days. Gervaise
shivered, and her blood was stirred to madness in her veins.
"What does that beast care?" she thought. "It is his fault," she
murmured; "all his fault. He sends me from his room!"
And as Lantier drew her toward his door Nana's face appeared for
a moment at the window which lit her little cabinet.
The mother did not see the child, who stood in her nightdress, pale
with sleep. She looked at her father as he lay and then watched her
mother disappear in Lantier's room. She was perfectly grave, but
in her eyes burned the sensual curiosity of premature vice.
CLOUDS IN THE HORIZON
That winter Mamma Coupeau was very ill with an asthmatic attack,
which she always expected in the month of December.
The poor woman suffered much, and the depression of her spirits was
naturally very great. It must be confessed that there was nothing very
gay in the aspect of the room where she slept. Between her bed and
that of the little girl there was just room for a chair. The paper
hung in strips from the wall. Through a round window near the ceiling
came a dreary gray light. There was little ventilation in the room,
which made it especially unfit for the old woman, who at night, when
Nana was there and she could hear her breathe, did not complain, but
when left alone during the day, moaned incessantly, rolling her head
about on her pillow.
"Ah," she said, "how unhappy I am! It is the same as a prison. I wish
I were dead!"
And as soon as a visitor came in--Virginie or Mme Boche--she poured
out her grievances. "I should not suffer so much among strangers.
I should like sometimes a cup of tisane, but I can't get it; and
Nana--that child whom I have raised from the cradle--disappears in the
morning and never shows her face until night, when she sleeps right
through and never once asks me how I am or if she can do anything for
me. It will soon be over, and I really believe this clearstarcher
would smother me herself--if she were not afraid of the law!"
Gervaise, it is true, was not as gentle and sweet as she had been.
Everything seemed to be going wrong with her, and she had lost heart
and patience together. Mamma Coupeau had overheard her saying that
she was really a great burden. This naturally cut her to the heart,
and when she saw her eldest daughter, Mme Lerat, she wept piteously
and declared that she was being starved to death, and when these
complaints drew from her daughter's pocket a little silver, she
expended it in dainties.
She told the most preposterous tales to Mme Lerat about Gervaise--of
her new finery and of cakes and delicacies eaten in the corner and
many other things of infinitely more consequence. Then in a little
while she turned against the Lorilleuxs and talked of them in the most
bitter manner. At the height of her illness it so happened that her
two daughters met one afternoon at her bedside. Their mother made a
motion to them to come closer. Then she went on to tell them, between
paroxysms of coughing, that her son came home dead drunk the night
before and that she was absolutely certain that Gervaise spent the
night in Lantier's room. "It is all the more disgusting," she added,
"because I am certain that Nana heard what was going on quite as well
as I did."
The two women did not appear either shocked or surprised.
"It is none of our business," said Mme Lorilleux. "If Coupeau does not
choose to take any notice of her conduct it is not for us to do so."
All the neighborhood were soon informed of the condition of things by
her two sisters-in-law, who declared they entered her doors only on
their mother's account, who, poor thing, was compelled to live amid
Everyone accused Gervaise now of having perverted poor Lantier. "Men
will be men," they said; "surely you can't expect them to turn a cold
shoulder to women who throw themselves at their heads. She has no
possible excuse; she is a disgrace to the whole street!"
The Lorilleuxs invited Nana to dinner that they might question her,
but as soon as they began the child looked absolutely stupid, and
they could extort nothing from her.
Amid this sudden and fierce indignation Gervaise lived--indifferent,
dull and stupid. At first she loathed herself, and if Coupeau laid
his hand on her she shivered and ran away from him. But by degrees
she became accustomed to it. Her indolence had become excessive,
and she only wished to be quiet and comfortable.
After all, she asked herself, why should she care? If her lover
and her husband were satisfied, why should she not be too? So
the household went on much as usual to all appearance. In reality,
whenever Coupeau came in tipsy, she left and went to Lantier's room
to sleep. She was not led there by passion or affection; it was simply
that it was more comfortable. She was very like a cat in her choice
of soft, clean places.
Mamma Coupeau never dared to speak out openly to the clearstarcher,
but after a dispute she was unsparing in her hints and allusions. The
first time Gervaise fixed her eyes on her and heard all she had to say
in profound silence. Then without seeming to speak of herself, she
took occasion to say not long afterward that when a woman was married
to a man who was drinking himself to death a woman was very much to
be pitied and by no means to blame if she looked for consolation
Another time, when taunted by the old woman, she went still further
and declared that Lantier was as much her husband as was Coupeau--that
he was the father of two of her children. She talked a little twaddle
about the laws of nature, and a shrewd observer would have seen that
she--parrotlike--was repeating the words that some other person had
put into her mouth. Besides, what were her neighbors doing all about
her? They were not so extremely respectable that they had the right
to attack her. And then she took house after house and showed her
mother-in-law that while apparently so deaf to gossip she yet knew
all that was going on about her. Yes, she knew--and now seemed to
gloat over that which once had shocked and revolted her.
"It is none of my business, I admit," she cried; "let each person
live as he pleases, according to his own light, and let everybody
One day when Mamma Coupeau spoke out more clearly she said with
"Now look here, you are flat on your back and you take advantage of
that fact. I have never said a word to you about your own life, but
I know it all the same--and it was atrocious! That is all! I am not
going into particulars, but remember, you had best not sit in
judgment on me!"
The old woman was nearly suffocated with rage and her cough.
The next day Goujet came for his mother's wash while Gervaise was
out. Mamma Coupeau called him into her room and kept him for an hour.
She read the young man's heart; she knew that his suspicions made
him miserable. And in revenge for something that had displeased
her she told him the truth with many sighs and tears, as if her
daughter-in-law's infamous conduct was a bitter blow to her.
When Goujet left her room he was deadly pale and looked ten years
older than when he went in. The old woman had, too, the additional
pleasure of telling Gervaise on her return that Mme Goujet had sent
word that her linen must be returned to her at once, ironed or
unironed. And she was so animated and comparatively amiable that
Gervaise scented the truth and knew instinctively what she had done
and what she was to expect with Goujet. Pale and trembling, she piled
the linen neatly in a basket and set forth to see Mme Goujet. Years
had passed since she had paid her friends one penny. The debt still
stood at four hundred and twenty-five francs. Each time she took the
money for her washing she spoke of being pressed just at that time.
It was a great mortification for her.
Coupeau was, however, less scrupulous and said with a laugh that if
she kissed her friend occasionally in the corner it would keep things
straight and pay him well. Then Gervaise, with eyes blazing with
indignation, would ask if he really meant that. Had he fallen so low?
Nor should he speak of Goujet in that way in her presence.
Every time she took home the linen of these former friends she
ascended the stairs with a sick heart.
"Ah, it is you, is it?" said Mme Goujet coldly as she opened the door.
Gervaise entered with some hesitation; she did not dare attempt to
excuse herself. She was no longer punctual to the hour or the
day--everything about her was becoming perfectly disorderly.
"For one whole week," resumed the lace mender, "you have kept me
waiting. You have told me falsehood after falsehood. You have sent
your apprentice to tell me that there was an accident--something had
been spilled on the shirts, they would come the next day, and so on.
I have been unnecessarily annoyed and worried, besides losing much
time. There is no sense in it! Now what have you brought home? Are
the shirts here which you have had for a month and the skirt which
was missing last week?"
"Yes," said Gervaise, almost inaudibly; "yes, the skirt is here.
Look at it!"
But Mme Goujet cried out in indignation.
That skirt did not belong to her, and she would not have it. This was
the crowning touch, if her things were to be changed in this way. She
did not like other people's things.
"And the shirts? Where are they? Lost, I suppose. Very well, settle it
as you please, but these shirts I must have tomorrow morning!"
There was a long silence. Gervaise was much disturbed by seeing that
the door of Goujet's room was wide open. He was there, she was sure,
and listening to all these reproaches which she knew to be deserved
and to which she could not reply. She was very quiet and submissive
and laid the linen on the bed as quickly as possible.
Mme Goujet began to examine the pieces.
"Well! Well!" she said. "No one can praise your washing nowadays.
There is not a piece here that is not dirtied by the iron. Look at
this shirt: it is scorched, and the buttons are fairly torn off by the
root. Everything comes back--that comes at all, I should say--with the
buttons off. Look at that sack: the dirt is all in it. No, no, I can't
pay for such washing as this!"
She stopped talking--while she counted the pieces. Then she exclaimed:
"Two pairs of stockings, six towels and one napkin are missing from
this week. You are laughing at me, it seems. Now, just understand,
I tell you to bring back all you have, ironed or not ironed. If in
an hour your woman is not here with the rest I have done with you,
At this moment Goujet coughed. Gervaise started. How could she bear
being treated in this way before him? And she stood confused and
silent, waiting for the soiled clothes.
Mme Goujet had taken her place and her work by the window.
"And the linen?" said Gervaise timidly.
"Many thanks," said the old woman. "There is nothing this week."
Gervaise turned pale; it was clear that Mme Goujet meant to take away
her custom from her. She sank into a chair. She made no attempt at
excuses; she only asked a question.
"Is Monsieur Goujet ill?"
"He is not well; at least he has just come in and is lying down to
rest a little."
Mme Goujet spoke very slowly, almost solemnly, her pale face encircled
by her white cap, and wearing, as usual, her plain black dress.
And she explained that they were obliged to economize very closely.
In future she herself would do their washing. Of course Gervaise must
know that this would not be necessary had she and her husband paid
their debt to her son. But of course they would submit; they would
never think of going to law about it. While she spoke of the debt her
needle moved rapidly to and fro in the delicate meshes of her work.
"But," continued Mme Goujet, "if you were to deny yourself a little
and be careful and prudent, you could soon discharge your debt to us;
you live too well; you spend too freely. Were you to give us only ten
francs each month--"
She was interrupted by her son, who called impatiently, "Mother! Come
here, will you?"
When she returned she changed the conversation. Her son had
undoubtedly begged her to say no more about this money to Gervaise. In
spite of her evident determination to avoid this subject, she returned
to it again in about ten minutes. She knew from the beginning just
what would happen. She had said so at the time, and all had turned out
precisely as she had prophesied. The tinworker had drunk up the shop
and had left his wife to bear the load by herself. If her son had
taken her advice he would never have lent the money. His marriage
had fallen through, and he had lost his spirits. She grew very angry
as she spoke and finally accused Gervaise openly of having, with her
husband, deliberately conspired to cheat her simplehearted son.
"Many women," she exclaimed, "played the parts of hypocrites and
prudes for years and were found out at the last!"
"Mother! Mother!" called Goujet peremptorily.
She rose and when she returned said:
"Go in; he wants to see you."
Gervaise obeyed, leaving the door open behind her. She found the room
sweet and fresh looking, like that of a young girl, with its simple
pictures and white curtains.
Goujet, crushed by what he had heard from Mamma Coupeau, lay at full
length on the bed with pale face and haggard eyes.
"Listen!" he said. "You must not mind my mother's words; she does not
understand. You do not owe me anything."
He staggered to his feet and stood leaning against the bed and looking
"Are you ill?" she said nervously.
"No, not ill," he answered, "but sick at heart. Sick when I remember
what you said and see the truth. Leave me. I cannot bear to look at
And he waved her away, not angrily, but with great decision. She went
out without a word, for she had nothing to say. In the next room she
took up her basket and stood still a moment; Mme Goujet did not look
up, but she said:
"Remember, I want my linen at once, and when that is all sent back
to me we will settle the account."
"Yes," answered Gervaise. And she closed the door, leaving behind her
all that sweet odor and cleanliness on which she had once placed so
high a value. She returned to the shop with her head bowed down and
looking neither to the right nor the left.
Mother Coupeau was sitting by the fire, having left her bed for the
first time. Gervaise said nothing to her--not a word of reproach or
congratulation. She felt deadly tired; all her bones ached, as if she
had been beaten. She thought life very hard and wished that it were
over for her.
Gervaise soon grew to care for nothing but her three meals per day.
The shop ran itself; one by one her customers left her. Gervaise
shrugged her shoulders half indifferently, half insolently; everybody
could leave her, she said: she could always get work. But she was
mistaken, and soon it became necessary for her to dismiss Mme Putois,
keeping no assistant except Augustine, who seemed to grow more and
more stupid as time went on. Ruin was fast approaching. Naturally, as
indolence and poverty increased, so did lack of cleanliness. No one
would ever have known that pretty blue shop in which Gervaise had
formerly taken such pride. The windows were unwashed and covered with
the mud scattered by the passing carriages. Within it was still more
forlorn: the dampness of the steaming linen had ruined the paper;
everything was covered with dust; the stove, which once had been kept
so bright, was broken and battered. The long ironing table was covered
with wine stains and grease, looking as if it had served a whole
garrison. The atmosphere was loaded with a smell of cooking and of
sour starch. But Gervaise was unconscious of it. She did not notice
the torn and untidy paper and, having ceased to pay any attention to
personal cleanliness, was hardly likely to spend her time in scrubbing
the greasy floors. She allowed the dust to accumulate over everything
and never lifted a finger to remove it. Her own comfort and
tranquillity were now her first considerations.
Her debts were increasing, but they had ceased to give her any
uneasiness. She was no longer honest or straightforward. She did not
care whether she ever paid or not, so long as she got what she wanted.
When one shop refused her more credit she opened an account next
door. She owed something in every shop in the whole _Quartier_. She
dared not pass the grocer or the baker in her own street and was
compelled to make a lengthy circuit each time she went out. The
tradespeople muttered and grumbled, and some went so far as to call
her a thief and a swindler.
One evening the man who had sold her the furniture for Lantier's room
came in with ugly threats.
Such scenes were unquestionably disagreeable. She trembled for an hour
after them, but they never took away her appetite.
It was very stupid of these people, after all, she said to Lantier.
How could she pay them if she had no money? And where could she get
money? She closed her eyes to the inevitable and would not think of
the future. Mamma Coupeau was well again, but the household had been
disorganized for more than a year. In summer there was more work
brought to the shop--white skirts and cambric dresses. There were
ups and downs, therefore: days when there was nothing in the house
for supper and others when the table was loaded.
Mamma Coupeau was seen almost daily, going out with a bundle under her
apron and returning without it and with a radiant face, for the old
woman liked the excitement of going to the Mont-de-Piete.
Gervaise was gradually emptying the house--linen and clothes, tools
and furniture. In the beginning she took advantage of a good week
to take out what she had pawned the week before, but after a while
she ceased to do that and sold her tickets. There was only one thing
which cost her a pang, and that was selling her clock. She had sworn
she would not touch it, not unless she was dying of hunger, and
when at last she saw her mother-in-law carry it away she dropped
into a chair and wept like a baby. But when the old woman came back
with twenty-five francs and she found she had five francs more than
was demanded by the pressing debt which had caused her to make the
sacrifice, she was consoled and sent out at once for four sous' worth
of brandy. When these two women were on good terms they often drank
a glass together, sitting at the corner of the ironing table.
Mamma Coupeau had a wonderful talent for bringing a glass in the
pocket of her apron without spilling a drop. She did not care to have
the neighbors know, but, in good truth, the neighbors knew very well
and laughed and sneered as the old woman went in and out.
This, as was natural and right, increased the prejudice against
Gervaise. Everyone said that things could not go on much longer;
the end was near.
Amid all this ruin Coupeau thrived surprisingly. Bad liquor seemed
to affect him agreeably. His appetite was good in spite of the amount
he drank, and he was growing stout. Lantier, however, shook his head,
declaring that it was not honest flesh and that he was bloated. But
Coupeau drank all the more after this statement and was rarely or ever
sober. There began to be a strange bluish tone in his complexion. His
spirits never flagged. He laughed at his wife when she told him of
her embarrassments. What did he care, so long as she provided him with
food to eat? And the longer he was idle, the more exacting he became
in regard to this food.
He was ignorant of his wife's infidelity, at least, so all his friends
declared. They believed, moreover, that were he to discover it there
would be great trouble. But Mme Lerat, his own sister, shook her head
doubtfully, averring that she was not so sure of his ignorance.
Lantier was also in good health and spirits, neither too stout nor
too thin. He wished to remain just where he was, for he was thoroughly
well satisfied with himself, and this made him critical in regard to
his food, as he had made a study of the things he should eat and those
he should avoid for the preservation of his figure. Even when there
was not a cent he asked for eggs and cutlets: nourishing and light
things were what he required, he said. He ruled Gervaise with a rod of
iron, grumbled and found fault far more than Coupeau ever did. It was
a house with two masters, one of whom, cleverer by far than the other,
took the best of everything. He skimmed the Coupeaus, as it were, and
kept all the cream for himself. He was fond of Nana because he liked
girls better than boys. He troubled himself little about Etienne.
When people came and asked for Coupeau it was Lantier who appeared
in his shirt sleeves with the air of the man of the house who is
needlessly disturbed. He answered for Coupeau, said it was one and
the same thing.
Gervaise did not find this life always smooth and agreeable. She had
no reason to complain of her health. She had become very stout. But
it was hard work to provide for and please these two men. When they
came in, furious and out of temper, it was on her that they wreaked
their rage. Coupeau abused her frightfully and called her by the
coarsest epithets. Lantier, on the contrary, was more select in his
phraseology, but his words cut her quite as deeply. Fortunately people
become accustomed to almost everything in this world, and Gervaise
soon ceased to care for the reproaches and injustice of these two men.
She even preferred to have them out of temper with her, for then they
let her alone in some degree; but when they were in a good humor they
were all the time at her heels, and she could not find a leisure
moment even to iron a cap, so constant were the demands they made upon
her. They wanted her to do this and do that, to cook little dishes for
them and wait upon them by inches.
One night she dreamed she was at the bottom of a well. Coupeau was
pushing her down with his fists, and Lantier was tickling her to make
her jump out quicker. And this, she thought, was a very fair picture
of her life! She said that the people of the _Quartier_ were very
unjust, after all, when they reproached her for the way of life into
which she had fallen. It was not her fault. It was not she who had
done it, and a little shiver ran over her as she reflected that
perhaps the worst was not yet.
The utter deterioration of her nature was shown by the fact that she
detested neither her husband nor Lantier. In a play at the Gaite she
had seen a woman hate her husband and poison him for the sake of her
lover. This she thought very strange and unnatural. Why could the
three not have lived together peaceably? It would have been much
In spite of her debts, in spite of the shifts to which her increasing
poverty condemned her, Gervaise would have considered herself quite
well off, but for the exacting selfishness of Lantier and Coupeau.
Toward autumn Lantier became more and more disgusted, declared he
had nothing to live on but potato parings and that his health was
suffering. He was enraged at seeing the house so thoroughly cleared
out, and he felt that the day was not far off when he must take his
hat and depart. He had become accustomed to his den, and he hated to
leave it. He was thoroughly provoked that the extravagant habits of
Gervaise necessitated this sacrifice on his part. Why could she not
have shown more sense? He was sure he didn't know what would become
of them. Could they have struggled on six months longer, he could
have concluded an affair which would have enabled him to support
the whole family in comfort.
One day it came to pass that there was not a mouthful in the house,
not even a radish. Lantier sat by the stove in somber discontent.
Finally he started up and went to call on the Poissons, to whom he
suddenly became friendly to a degree. He no longer taunted the police
officer but condescended to admit that the emperor was a good fellow
after all. He showed himself especially civil to Virginie, whom he
considered a clever woman and well able to steer her bark through
Virginie one day happened to say in his presence that she should like
to establish herself in some business. He approved the plan and paid
her a succession of adroit compliments on her capabilities and cited
the example of several women he knew who had made or were making their
fortunes in this way.
Virginie had the money, an inheritance from an aunt, but she
hesitated, for she did not wish to leave the _Quartier_ and she
did not know of any shop she could have. Then Lantier led her into
a corner and whispered to her for ten minutes; he seemed to be
persuading her to something. They continued to talk together in
this way at intervals for several days, seeming to have some secret
Lantier all this time was fretting and scolding at the Coupeaus,
asking Gervaise what on earth she intended to do, begging her to
look things fairly in the face. She owed five or six hundred francs
to the tradespeople about her. She was behindhand with her rent, and
Marescot, the landlord, threatened to turn her out if they did not pay
before the first of January.
The Mont-de-Piete had taken everything; there was literally nothing
but the nails in the walls left. What did she mean to do?
Gervaise listened to all this at first listlessly, but she grew angry
at last and cried out:
"Look here! I will go away tomorrow and leave the key in the door.
I had rather sleep in the gutter than live in this way!"
"And I can't say that it would not be a wise thing for you to do!"
answered Lantier insidiously. "I might possibly assist you to find
someone to take the lease off your hands whenever you really conclude
to leave the shop."
"I am ready to leave it at once!" cried Gervaise violently. "I am
sick and tired of it."
Then Lantier became serious and businesslike. He spoke openly of
Virginie, who, he said, was looking for a shop; in fact, he now
remembered having heard her say that she would like just such a
one as this.
But Gervaise shrank back and grew strangely calm at this name of
She would see, she said; on the whole, she must have time to think.
People said a great many things when they were angry, which on
reflection were found not to be advisable.
Lantier rang the changes on this subject for a week, but Gervaise said
she had decided to employ some woman and go to work again, and if she
were not able to get back her old customers she could try for new
ones. She said this merely to show Lantier that she was not so utterly
downcast and crushed as he had seemed to take for granted was the
He was reckless enough to drop the name of Virginie once more, and she
turned upon him in a rage.
"No, no, never!" She had always distrusted Virginie, and if she wanted
the shop it was only to humiliate her. Any other woman might have it,
but not this hypocrite, who had been waiting for years to gloat over
her downfall. No, she understood now only too well the meaning of the
yellow sparks in her cat's eyes. It was clear to her that Virginie had
never forgotten the scene in the lavatory, and if she did not look out
there would be a repetition of it.
Lantier stood aghast at this anger and this torrent of words, but
presently he plucked up courage and bade her hold her tongue and told
her she should not talk of his friends in that way. As for himself, he
was sick and tired of other people's affairs; in future he would let
them all take care of themselves, without a word of counsel from him.
January arrived, cold and damp. Mamma Coupeau took to her bed with
a violent cold which she expected each year at this time. But those
about her said she would never leave the house again, except feet
Her children had learned to look forward to her death as a happy
deliverance for all. The physician who came once was not sent for
again. A little tisane was given her from time to time that she might
not feel herself utterly neglected. She was just alive; that was all.
It now became a mere question of time with her, but her brain was
clear still, and in the expression of her eyes there were many things
to be read--sorrow at seeing no sorrow in those she left behind her
and anger against Nana, who was utterly indifferent to her.
One Monday evening Coupeau came in as tipsy as usual and threw
himself on the bed, all dressed. Gervaise intended to remain with
her mother-in-law part of the night, but Nana was very brave and
said she would hear if her grandmother moved and wanted anything.
About half-past three Gervaise woke with a start; it seemed to her
that a cold blast had swept through the room. Her candle had burned
down, and she nastily wrapped a shawl around her with trembling hands
and hurried into the next room. Nana was sleeping quietly, and her
grandmother was dead in the bed at her side.
Gervaise went to Lantier and waked him.
"She is dead," she said.
"Well, what of it?" he muttered, half asleep. "Why don't you go to
She turned away in silence while he grumbled at her coming to disturb
him by the intelligence of a death in the house.
Gervaise dressed herself, not without tears, for she really loved the
cross old woman whose son lay in the heavy slumbers of intoxication.
When she went back to the room she found Nana sitting up and rubbing
her eyes. The child realized what had come to pass and trembled
nervously in the face of this death of which she had thought much in
the last two days, as of something which was hidden from children.
"Get up!" said her mother in a low voice. "I do not wish you to stay
The child slipped from her bed slowly and regretfully, with her eyes
fixed on the dead body of her grandmother.
Gervaise did not know what to do with her or where to send her. At
this moment Lantier appeared at the door. He had dressed himself,
impelled by a little shame at his own conduct.
"Let the child go into my room," he said, "and I will help you."
Nana looked first at her mother and then at Lantier and then trotted
with her little bare feet into the next room and slipped into the bed
that was still warm.
She lay there wide awake with blazing cheeks and eyes and seemed to
be absorbed in thought.
While Lantier and Gervaise were silently occupied with the dead
Coupeau lay and snored.
Gervaise hunted in a bureau to find a little crucifix which she had
brought from Plassans, when she suddenly remembered that Mamma Coupeau
had sold it. They each took a glass of wine and sat by the stove until
About seven o'clock Coupeau woke. When he heard what had happened he
declared they were jesting. But when he saw the body he fell on his
knees and wept like a baby. Gervaise was touched by these tears and
found her heart softer toward her husband than it had been for many
a long year.
"Courage, old friend!" said Lantier, pouring out a glass of wine as
Coupeau took some wine, but he continued to weep, and Lantier went off
under pretext of informing the family, but he did not hurry. He walked
along slowly, smoking a cigar, and after he had been to Mme Lerat's he
stopped in at a _cremerie_ to take a cup of coffee, and there he
sat for an hour or more in deep thought.
By nine o'clock the family were assembled in the shop, whose shutters
had not been taken down. Lorilleux only remained for a few moments and
then went back to his shop. Mme Lorilleux shed a few tears and then
sent Nana to buy a pound of candles.
"How like Gervaise!" she murmured. "She can do nothing in a proper
Mme Lerat went about among the neighbors to borrow a crucifix. She
brought one so large that when it was laid on the breast of Mamma
Coupeau the weight seemed to crush her.
Then someone said something about holy water, so Nana was sent to the
church with a bottle. The room assumed a new aspect. On a small table
burned a candle, near it a glass of holy water in which was a branch
"Everything is in order," murmured the sisters; "people can come now
as soon as they please."
Lantier made his appearance about eleven. He had been to make
inquiries in regard to funeral expenses.
"The coffin," he said, "is twelve francs, and if you want a Mass, ten
francs more. A hearse is paid for according to its ornaments."
"You must remember," said Mme Lorilleux with compressed lips, "that
Mamma must be buried according to her purse."
"Precisely!" answered Lantier. "I only tell you this as your guide.
Decide what you want, and after breakfast I will go and attend to
He spoke in a low voice, oppressed by the presence of the dead. The
children were laughing in the courtyard and Nana singing loudly.
Gervaise said gently:
"We are not rich, to be sure, but we wish to do what she would have
liked. If Mamma Coupeau has left us nothing it was not her fault and
no reason why we should bury her as if she were a dog. No, there must
be a Mass and a hearse."
"And who will pay for it?" asked Mme Lorilleux. "We can't, for we
lost much money last week, and I am quite sure you would find it
Coupeau, when he was consulted, shrugged his shoulders with a gesture
of profound indifference. Mme Lerat said she would pay her share.
"There are three of us," said Gervaise after a long calculation; "if
we each pay thirty francs we can do it with decency."
But Mme Lorilleux burst out furiously:
"I will never consent to such folly. It is not that I care for the
money, but I disapprove of the ostentation. You can do as you please."
"Very well," replied Gervaise, "I will. I have taken care of your
mother while she was living; I can bury her now that she is dead."
Then Mme Lorilleux fell to crying, and Lantier had great trouble
in preventing her from going away at once, and the quarrel grew so
violent that Mme Lerat hastily closed the door of the room where
the dead woman lay, as if she feared the noise would waken her.
The children's voices rose shrill in the air with Nana's perpetual
"Tra-la-la" above all the rest.
"Heavens, how wearisome those children are with their songs," said
Lantier. "Tell them to be quiet, and make Nana come in and sit down."
Gervaise obeyed these dictatorial orders while her sisters-in-law went
home to breakfast, while the Coupeaus tried to eat, but they were made
uncomfortable by the presence of death in their crowded quarters. The
details of their daily life were disarranged.
Gervaise went to Goujet and borrowed sixty francs, which, added to
thirty from Mme Lerat, would pay the expenses of the funeral. In
the afternoon several persons came in and looked at the dead woman,
crossing themselves as they did so and shaking holy water over the
body with the branch of box. They then took their seats in the shop
and talked of the poor thing and of her many virtues. One said she
had talked with her only three days before, and another asked if
it were not possible it was a trance.
By evening the Coupeaus felt it was more than they could bear.
It was a mistake to keep a body so long. One has, after all, only
so many tears to shed, and that done, grief turns to worry. Mamma
Coupeau--stiff and cold--was a terrible weight on them all. They
gradually lost the sense of oppression, however, and spoke louder.
After a while M. Marescot appeared. He went to the inner room and
knelt at the side of the corpse. He was very religious, they saw.
He made a sign of the cross in the air and dipped the branch into
the holy water and sprinkled the body. M. Marescot, having finished
his devotions, passed out into the shop and said to Coupeau:
"I came for the two quarters that are due. Have you got the money
"No sir, not entirely," said Gervaise, coming forward, excessively
annoyed at this scene taking place in the presence of her
sisters-in-law. "You see, this trouble came upon us--"
"Undoubtedly," answered her landlord; "but we all of us have our
troubles. I cannot wait any longer. I really must have the money.
If I am not paid by tomorrow I shall most assuredly take immediate
measures to turn you out."
Gervaise clasped her hands imploringly, but he shook his head,
saying that discussion was useless; besides, just then it would
be a disrespect to the dead.
"A thousand pardons!" he said as he went out. "But remember that
I must have the money tomorrow."
And as he passed the open door of the lighted room he saluted the
corpse with another genuflection.
After he had gone the ladies gathered around the stove, where a great
pot of coffee stood, enough to keep them all awake for the whole
night. The Poissons arrived about eight o'clock; then Lantier,
carefully watching Gervaise, began to speak of the disgraceful act
committed by the landlord in coming to a house to collect money at
such a time.
"He is a thorough hypocrite," continued Lantier, "and were I in Madame
Coupeau's place, I would walk off and leave his house on his hands."
Gervaise heard but did not seem to heed.
The Lorilleuxs, delighted at the idea that she would lose her shop,
declared that Lantier's idea was an excellent one. They gave Coupeau
a push and repeated it to him.
Gervaise seemed to be disposed to yield, and then Virginie spoke in
the blandest of tones.
"I will take the lease off your hands," she said, "and will arrange
the back rent with your landlord."
"No, no! Thank you," cried Gervaise, shaking off the lethargy in which
she had been wrapped. "I can manage this matter and I can work. No,
no, I say."
Lantier interposed and said soothingly:
"Never mind! We will talk of it another time--tomorrow, possibly."
The family were to sit up all night. Nana cried vociferously when she
was sent into the Boche quarters to sleep; the Poissons remained until
midnight. Virginia began to talk of the country: she would like to be
buried under a tree with flowers and grass on her grave. Mme Lerat
said that in her wardrobe--folded up in lavender--was the linen sheet
in which her body was to be wrapped.
When the Poissons went away Lantier accompanied them in order,
he said, to leave his bed for the ladies, who could take turns in
sleeping there. But the ladies preferred to remain together about
Mme Lorilleux said she had no black dress, and it was too bad that she
must buy one, for they were sadly pinched just at this time. And she
asked Gervaise if she was sure that her mother had not a black skirt
which would do, one that had been given her on her birthday. Gervaise
went for the skirt. Yes, it would do if it were taken in at the waist.
Then Mme Lorilleux looked at the bed and the wardrobe and asked if
there was nothing else belonging to her mother.
Here Mme Lerat interfered. The Coupeaus, she said, had taken care of
her mother, and they were entitled to all the trifles she had left.
The night seemed endless. They drank coffee and went by turns to look
at the body, lying silent and calm under the flickering light of the
The interment was to take place at half-past ten, but Gervaise would
gladly have given a hundred francs, if she had had them, to anyone who
would have taken Mamma Coupeau away three hours before the time fixed.
"Ah," she said to herself, "it is no use to disguise the fact: people
are very much in the way after they are dead, no matter how much you
have loved them!"
Father Bazonge, who was never known to be sober, appeared with the
coffin and the pall. When he saw Gervaise he stood with his eyes
starting from his head.
"I beg you pardon," he said, "but I thought it was for you," and he
was turning to go away.
"Leave the coffin!" cried Gervaise, growing very pale. Bazonge began
"I heard them talking yesterday, but I did not pay much attention. I
congratulate you that you are still alive. Though why I do, I do not
know, for life is not such a very agreeable thing."
Gervaise listened with a shiver of horror and a morbid dread that he
would take her away and shut her up in his box and bury her. She had
once heard him say that he knew a woman who would be only too thankful
if he would do exactly that.
"He is horribly drunk," she murmured in a tone of mingled disgust and
"It will come for you another time," he said with a laugh; "you have
only to make me a little sign. I am a great consolation to women
sometimes, and you need not sneer at poor Father Bazonge, for he has
held many a fine lady in his arms, and they made no complaint when
he laid them down to sleep in the shade of the evergreens."
"Do hold your tongue," said Lorilleux; "this is no time for such talk.
Be off with you!"
The clock struck ten. The friends and neighbors had assembled in the
shop while the family were in the back room, nervous and feverish with
Four men appeared--the undertaker, Bazonge and his three assistants
placed the body in the coffin. Bazonge held the screws in his mouth
and waited for the family to take their last farewell.
Then Coupeau, his two sisters and Gervaise kissed their mother,
and their tears fell fast on her cold face. The lid was put on and
The hearse was at the door to the great edification of the
tradespeople of the neighborhood, who said under their breath that
the Coupeaus had best pay their debts.
"It is shameful," Gervaise was saying at the same moment, speaking
of the Lorilleuxs. "These people have not even brought a bouquet of
violets for their mother."
It was true they had come empty-handed, while Mme Lerat had brought
a wreath of artificial flowers which was laid on the bier.
Coupeau and Lorilleux, with their hats in their hands, walked at the
head of the procession of men. After them followed the ladies, headed
by Mme Lorilleux in her black skirt, wrenched from the dead, her
sister trying to cover a purple dress with a large black shawl.
Gervaise had lingered behind to close the shop and give Nana into the
charge of Mme Boche and then ran to overtake the procession, while the
little girl stood with the concierge, profoundly interested in seeing
her grandmother carried in that beautiful carriage.
Just as Gervaise joined the procession Goujet came up a side street
and saluted her with a slight bow and with a faint sweet smile. The
tears rushed to her eyes. She did not weep for Mamma Coupeau but
rather for herself, but her sisters-in-law looked at her as if she
were the greatest hypocrite in the world.
At the church the ceremony was of short duration. The Mass dragged
a little because the priest was very old.
The cemetery was not far off, and the cortege soon reached it. A
priest came out of a house near by and shivered as he saw his breath
rise with each _De Profundis_ he uttered.
The coffin was lowered, and as the frozen earth fell upon it more
tears were shed, accompanied, however, by sigh of relief.
The procession dispersed outside the gates of the cemetery, and at
the very first cabaret Coupeau turned in, leaving Gervaise alone on
the sidewalk. She beckoned to Goujet, who was turning the corner.
"I want to speak to you," she said timidly. "I want to tell you how
ashamed I am for coming to you again to borrow money, but I was at
my wit's end."
"I am always glad to be of use to you," answered the blacksmith. "But
pray never allude to the matter before my mother, for I do not wish
to trouble her. She and I think differently on many subjects."
She looked at him sadly and earnestly. Through her mind flitted a
vague regret that she had not done as he desired, that she had not
gone away with him somewhere. Then a vile temptation assailed her.
"You are not angry now?" she said entreatingly.
"No, not angry, but still heartsick. All is over between us now
and forever." And he walked off with long strides, leaving Gervaise
stunned by his words.
"All is over between us!" she kept saying to herself. "And what more
is there for me then in life?"
She sat down in her empty, desolate room and drank a large tumbler
of wine. When the others came in she looked up suddenly and said to
"If you want the shop, take it!"
Virginie and her husband jumped at this and sent for the concierge,
who consented to the arrangement on condition that the new tenants
would become security for the two quarters then due.
This was agreed upon. The Coupeaus would take a room on the sixth
floor near the Lorilleuxs. Lantier said politely that if it would not
be disagreeable to the Poissons he should like much to retain his
The policeman bowed stiffly but with every intention of being cordial
and said he decidedly approved of the idea.
Then Lantier withdrew from the discussion entirely, watching Gervaise
and Virginie out of the corners of his eyes.
That evening when Gervaise was alone again she felt utterly exhausted.
The place looked twice its usual size. It seemed to her that in
leaving Mamma Coupeau in the quiet cemetery she had also left much
that was precious to her, a portion of her own life, her pride in her
shop, her hopes and her energy. These were not all, either, that she
had buried that day. Her heart was as bare and empty as her walls and
her home. She was too weary to try and analyze her sensations but
moved about as if in a dream.
At ten o'clock, when Nana was undressed, she wept, begging that she
might be allowed to sleep in her grandmother's bed. Her mother vaguely
wondered that the child was not afraid and allowed her to do as she
Nana was not timid by nature, and only her curiosity, not her fears,
had been excited by the events of the last three days, and she curled
herself up with delight in the soft, warm feather bed.
DISASTERS AND CHANGES
The new lodging of the Coupeaus was next that of the Bijards. Almost
opposite their door was a closet under the stairs which went up to
the roof--a mere hole without light or ventilation, where Father Bru
A chamber and a small room, about as large as one's hand, were all the
Coupeaus had now. Nana's little bed stood in the small room, the door
of which had to be left open at night, lest the child should stifle.
When it came to the final move Gervaise felt that she could not
separate from the commode which she had spent so much time in
polishing when first married and insisted on its going to their new
quarters, where it was much in the way and stopped up half the window,
and when Gervaise wished to look out into the court she had not room
for her elbows.
The first few days she spent in tears. She felt smothered and cramped;
after having had so much room to move about in it seemed to her that
she was smothering. It was only at the window she could breathe. The
courtyard was not a place calculated to inspire cheerful thoughts.
Opposite her was the window which years before had elicited her
admiration, where every successive summer scarlet beans had grown to
a fabulous height on slender strings. Her room was on the shady side,
and a pot of mignonette would die in a week on her sill.
No, life had not been what she hoped, and it was all very hard to
Instead of flowers to solace her declining years she would have but
thorns. One day as she was looking down into the court she had the
strangest feeling imaginable. She seemed to see herself standing just
near the loge of the concierge, looking up at the house and examining
it for the first time.
This glimpse of the past made her feel faint. It was at least thirteen
years since she had first seen this huge building--this world within
a world. The court had not changed. The facade was simply more dingy.
The same clothes seemed to be hanging at the windows to dry. Below
there were the shavings from the cabinetmaker's shop, and the gutter
glittered with blue water, as blue and soft in tone as the water she
But she--alas, how changed was she! She no longer looked up to the
sky. She was no longer hopeful, courageous and ambitious. She was
living under the very roof in crowded discomfort, where never a ray
of sunshine could reach her, and her tears fell fast in utter
Nevertheless, when Gervaise became accustomed to her new surroundings
she grew more content. The pieces of furniture she had sold to
Virginie had facilitated her installation. When the fine weather came
Coupeau had an opportunity of going into the country to work. He went
and lived three months without drinking--cured for the time being by
the fresh, pure air. It does a man sometimes an infinite deal of good
to be taken away from all his old haunts and from Parisian streets,
which always seem to exhale a smell of brandy and of wine.
He came back as fresh as a rose, and he brought four hundred francs
with which he paid the Poissons the amount for which they had become
security as well as several other small but pressing debts. Gervaise
had now two or three streets open to her again, which for some time
she had not dared to enter.
She now went out to iron by the day and had gone back to her old
mistress, Mme Fauconnier, who was a kindhearted creature and ready
to do anything for anyone who flattered her adroitly.
With diligence and economy Gervaise could have managed to live
comfortably and pay all her debts, but this prospect did not charm her
particularly. She suffered acutely in seeing the Poissons in her old
shop. She was by no means of a jealous or envious disposition, but
it was not agreeable to her to hear the admiration expressed for her
successors by her husband's sisters. To hear them one would suppose
that never had so beautiful a shop been seen before. They spoke of
the filthy condition of the place when Virginie moved in--who had
paid, they declared, thirty francs for cleaning it.
Virginie, after some hesitation, had decided on a small stock of
groceries--sugar, tea and coffee, also bonbons and chocolate. Lantier
had advised these because he said the profit on them was immense. The
shop was repainted, and shelves and cases were put in, and a counter
with scales such as are seen at confectioners'. The little inheritance
that Poisson held in reserve was seriously encroached upon. But
Virginie was triumphant, for she had her way, and the Lorilleuxs
did not spare Gervaise the description of a case or a jar.
It was said in the street that Lantier had deserted Gervaise,
that she gave him no peace running after him, but this was not true,
for he went and came to her apartment as he pleased. Scandal was
connecting his name and Virginie's. They said Virginie had taken the
clearstarcher's lover as well as her shop! The Lorilleuxs talked of
nothing when Gervaise was present but Lantier, Virginie and the shop.
Fortunately Gervaise was not inclined to jealousy, and Lantier's
infidelities had hitherto left her undisturbed, but she did not accept
this new affair with equal tranquillity. She colored or turned pale
as she heard these allusions, but she would not allow a word to pass
her lips, as she was fully determined never to gratify her enemies
by allowing them to see her discomfiture; but a dispute was heard by
the neighbors about this time between herself and Lantier, who went
angrily away and was not seen by anyone in the Coupeau quarters for
more than a fortnight.
Coupeau behaved very oddly. This blind and complacent husband, who
had closed his eyes to all that was going on at home, was filled with
virtuous indignation at Lantier's indifference. Then Coupeau went so
far as to tease Gervaise in regard to this desertion of her lovers.
She had had bad luck, he said, with hatters and blacksmiths--why did
she not try a mason?
He said this as if it were a joke, but Gervaise had a firm conviction
that he was in deadly earnest. A man who is tipsy from one year's end
to the next is not apt to be fastidious, and there are husbands who at
twenty are very jealous and at thirty have grown very complacent under
the influence of constant tippling.
Lantier preserved an attitude of calm indifference. He kept the peace
between the Poissons and the Coupeaus. Thanks to him, Virginie and
Gervaise affected for each other the most tender regard. He ruled the
brunette as he had ruled the blonde, and he would swallow her shop as
he had that of Gervaise.
It was in June of this year that Nana partook of her first Communion.
She was about thirteen, slender and tall as an asparagus plant, and
her air and manner were the height of impertinence and audacity.
She had been sent away from the catechism class the year before on
account of her bad conduct. And if the cure did not make a similar
objection this year it was because he feared she would never come
again and that his refusal would launch on the Parisian _pave_
Nana danced with joy at the mere thought of what the Lorilleuxs--as
her godparents--had promised, while Mme Lerat gave the veil and cup,
Virginie the purse and Lantier a prayer book, so that the Coupeaus
looked forward to the day without anxiety.
The Poissons--probably through Lantier's advice--selected this
occasion for their housewarming. They invited the Coupeaus and the
Boche family, as Pauline made her first Communion on that day, as
well as Nana.
The evening before, while Nana stood in an ecstasy of delight before
her presents, her father came in in an abominable condition. His
virtuous resolutions had yielded to the air of Paris; he had fallen
into evil ways again, and he now assailed his wife and child with the
vilest epithets, which did not seem to shock Nana, for they could fall
from her tongue on occasion with facile glibness.
"I want my soup," cried Coupeau, "and you two fools are chattering
over those fal-lals! I tell you, I will sit on them if I am not waited
upon, and quickly too."
Gervaise answered impatiently, but Nana, who thought it better taste
just then--all things considered--to receive with meekness all her
father's abuse, dropped her eyes and did not reply.
"Take that rubbish away!" he cried with growing impatience. "Put it
out of my sight or I will tear it to bits."
Nana did not seem to hear him. She took up the tulle cap and asked her
mother what it cost, and when Coupeau tried to snatch the cap Gervaise
pushed him away.
"Let the child alone!" she said. "She is doing no harm!"
Then her husband went into a perfect rage:
"Mother and daughter," he cried, "a nice pair they make. I understand
very well what all this row is for: it is merely to show yourself in a
new gown. I will put you in a bag and tie it close round your throat,
and you will see if the cure likes that!"
Nana turned like lightning to protect her treasures. She looked her
father full in the face, and, forgetting the lessons taught her by
her priest, she said in a low, concentrated voice:
"Beast!" That was all.
After Coupeau had eaten his soup he fell asleep and in the morning
woke quite amiable. He admired his daughter and said she looked quite
like a young lady in her white robe. Then he added with a sentimental
air that a father on such days was naturally proud of his child.
When they were ready to go to the church and Nana met Pauline in
the corridor, she examined the latter from head to foot and smiled
condescendingly on seeing that Pauline had not a particle of chic.
The two families started off together, Nana and Pauline in front,
each with her prayer book in one hand and with the other holding down
her veil, which swelled in the wind like a sail. They did not speak
to each other but keenly enjoyed seeing the shopkeepers run to their
doors to see them, keeping their eyes cast down devoutly but their
ears wide open to any compliment they might hear.
Nana's two aunts walked side by side, exchanging their opinions
in regard to Gervaise, whom they stigmatized as an irreligious
ne'er-do-well whose child would never have gone to the Holy
Communion if it had depended on her.
At the church Coupeau wept all the time. It was very silly, he knew,
but he could not help it. The voice of the cure was pathetic; the
little girls looked like white-robed angels; the organ thrilled him,
and the incense gratified his senses. There was one especial anthem
which touched him deeply. He was not the only person who wept, he
was glad to see, and when the ceremony was over he left the church
feeling that it was the happiest day of his life. But an hour later
he quarreled with Lorilleux in a wineshop because the latter was so
The housewarming at the Poissons' that night was very gay. Lantier
sat between Gervaise and Virginie and was equally civil and attentive
to both. Opposite was Poisson with his calm, impassive face, a look
he had cultivated since he began his career as a police officer.
But the queens of the fete were the two little girls, Nana and
Pauline, who sat very erect lest they should crush and deface their
pretty white dresses. At dessert there was a serious discussion in
regard to the future of the children. Mme Boche said that Pauline
would at once enter a certain manufactory, where she would receive
five or six francs per week. Gervaise had not decided yet, for Nana
had shown no especial leaning in any direction. She had a good deal
of taste, but she was butter-fingered and careless.
"I should make a florist of her," said Mme Lerat. "It is clean work
and pretty work too."
Whereupon ensued a warm discussion. The men were especially careful
of their language out of deference to the little girls, but Mme Lerat
would not accept the lesson: she flattered herself she could say what
she pleased in such a way that it could not offend the most fastidious
Women, she declared, who followed her trade were more virtuous than
others. They rarely made a slip.
"I have no objection to your trade," interrupted Gervaise. "If Nana
likes to make flowers let her do so. Say, Nana, would you like it?"
The little girl did not look up from her plate, into which she was
dipping a crust of bread. She smiled faintly as she replied:
"Yes, Mamma; if you desire it I have no objection."
The decision was instantly made, and Coupeau wished his sister to
take her the very next day to the place where she herself worked,
Rue du Caire, and the circle talked gravely of the duties of life.
Boche said that Pauline and Nana were now women, since they had been
to Communion, and they ought to be serious and learn to cook and to
mend. They alluded to their future marriages, their homes and their
children, and the girls touched each other under the table, giggled
and grew very red. Lantier asked them if they did not have little
husbands already, and Nana blushingly confessed that she loved Victor
Fauconnier and never meant to marry anyone else.
Mme Lorilleux said to Mme Boche on their way home:
"Nana is our goddaughter now, but if she goes into that flower
business, in six months she will be on the _pave_, and we will
have nothing to do with her."
Gervaise told Boche that she thought the shop admirably arranged. She
had looked forward to an evening of torture and was surprised that
she had not experienced a pang.
Nana, as she undressed, asked her mother if the girl on the next
floor, who had been married the week before, wore a dress of muslin
But this was the last bright day in that household. Two years passed
away, and their prospects grew darker and their demoralization and
degradation more evident. They went without food and without fire,
but never without brandy.
They found it almost impossible to meet their rent, and a certain
January came when they had not a penny, and Father Boche ordered
them to leave.
It was frightfully cold, with a sharp wind blowing from the north.
M. Marescot appeared in a warm overcoat and his hands encased in warm
woolen gloves and told them they must go, even if they slept in the
gutter. The whole house was oppressed with woe, and a dreary sound of
lamentation arose from most of the rooms, for half the tenants were
behindhand. Gervaise sold her bed and paid the rent. Nana made nothing
as yet, and Gervaise had so fallen off in her work that Mme Fauconnier
had reduced her wages. She was irregular in her hours and often
absented herself from the shop for several days together but was none
the less vexed to discover that her old employee, Mme Putois, had been
placed above her. Naturally at the end of the week Gervaise had little
money coming to her.
As to Coupeau, if he worked he brought no money home, and his wife had
ceased to count upon it. Sometimes he declared he had lost it through
a hole in his pocket or it had been stolen, but after a while he
ceased to make any excuses.
But if he had no cash in his pockets it was because he had spent it
all in drink. Mme Boche advised Gervaise to watch for him at the door
of the place where he was employed and get his wages from him before
he had spent them all, but this did no good, as Coupeau was warned
by his friends and escaped by a rear door.
The Coupeaus were entirely to blame for their misfortunes, but this
is just what people will never admit. It is always ill luck or the
cruelty of God or anything, in short, save the legitimate result
of their own vices.
Gervaise now quarreled with her husband incessantly. The warmth of
affection of husband and wife, of parents for their children and
children for their parents had fled and left them all shivering,
each apart from the other.
All three, Coupeau, Gervaise and Nana, watched each other with eyes
of baleful hate. It seemed as if some spring had broken--the great
mainspring that binds families together.
Gervaise did not shudder when she saw her husband lying drunk in the
gutter. She would not have pushed him in, to be sure, but if he were
out of the way it would be a good thing for everybody. She even went
so far as to say one day in a fit of rage that she would be glad to
see him brought home on a shutter. Of what good was he to any human
being? He ate and he drank and he slept. His child learned to hate
him, and she read the accidents in the papers with the feelings of
an unnatural daughter. What a pity it was that her father had not
been the man who was killed when that omnibus tipped over!
In addition to her own sorrows and privations, Gervaise, whose
heart was not yet altogether hard, was condemned to hear now of the
sufferings of others. The corner of the house in which she lived
seemed to be consecrated to those who were as poor as herself. No
smell of cooking filled the air, which, on the contrary, was laden
with the shrill cries of hungry children, heavy with the sighs of
weary, heartbroken mothers and with the oaths of drunken husbands
Gervaise pitied Father Bru from the bottom of her heart; he lay the
greater part of the time rolled up in the straw in his den under the
staircase leading to the roof. When two or three days elapsed without
his showing himself someone opened the door and looked in to see if
he were still alive.
Yes, he was living; that is, he was not dead. When Gervaise had bread
she always remembered him. If she had learned to hate men because
of her husband her heart was still tender toward animals, and Father
Bru seemed like one to her. She regarded him as a faithful old dog.
Her heart was heavy within her whenever she thought of him, alone,
abandoned by God and man, dying by inches or drying, rather, as an
orange dries on the chimney piece.
Gervaise was also troubled by the vicinity of the undertaker
Bazonge--a wooden partition alone separated their rooms. When he came
in at night she could hear him throw down his glazed hat, which fell
with a dull thud, like a shovelful of clay, on the table. The black
cloak hung against the wall rustled like the wings of some huge
bird of prey. She could hear his every movement, and she spent most
of her time listening to him with morbid horror, while he--all
unconscious--hummed his vulgar songs and tipsily staggered to his
bed, under which the poor woman's sick fancy pictured a dead body
She had read in some paper a dismal tale of some undertaker who took
home with him coffin after coffin--children's coffins--in order to
make one trip to the cemetery suffice. When she heard his step the
whole corridor was pervaded to her senses with the odor of dead
She would as lief have resided at Pere-Lachaise and watched the moles
at their work. The man terrified her; his incessant laughter dismayed
her. She talked of moving but at the same time was reluctant to do
so, for there was a strange fascination about Bazonge after all. Had
he not told her once that he would come for her and lay her down to
sleep in the shadow of waving branches, where she would know neither
hunger nor toil?
She wished she could try it for a month. And she thought how delicious
it would be in midwinter, just at the time her quarter's rent was due.
But, alas, this was not possible! The rest and the sleep must be
eternal; this thought chilled her, and her longing for death faded
away before the unrelenting severity of the bonds exacted by Mother
One night she was sick and feverish, and instead of throwing herself
out of the window as she was tempted to do, she rapped on the
partition and called loudly:
"Father Bazonge! Father Bazonge!"
The undertaker was kicking off his slippers, singing a vulgar song
as he did so.
"What is the matter?" he answered.