Part 5 out of 6
But at his voice Gervaise awoke as from a nightmare. What had she
done? Had she really tapped? she asked herself, and she recoiled from
his side of the wall in chill horror. It seemed to her that she felt
the undertaker's hands on her head. No! No! She was not ready. She
told herself that she had not intended to call him. It was her elbow
that had knocked the wall accidentally, and she shivered from head
to foot at the idea of being carried away in this man's arms.
"What is the matter?" repeated Bazonge. "Can I serve you in any way,
"No! No! It is nothing!" answered the laundress in a choked voice.
"I am very much obliged."
While the undertaker slept she lay wide awake, holding her breath and
not daring to move, lest he should think she called him again.
She said to herself that under no circumstances would she ever appeal
to him for assistance, and she said this over and over again with the
vain hope of reassuring herself, for she was by no means at ease in
Gervaise had before her a noble example of courage and fortitude in
the Bijard family. Little Lalie, that tiny child--about as big as
a pinch of salt--swept and kept her room like wax; she watched over
the two younger children with all the care and patience of a mother.
This she had done since her father had kicked her mother to death.
She had entirely assumed that mother's place, even to receiving the
blows which had fallen formerly on that poor woman. It seemed to be a
necessity of his nature that when he came home drunk he must have some
woman to abuse. Lalie was too small, he grumbled; one blow of his fist
covered her whole face, and her skin was so delicate that the marks of
his five fingers would remain on her cheek for days!
He would fly at her like a wolf at a poor little kitten for the merest
trifle. Lalie never answered, never rebelled and never complained.
She merely tried to shield her face and suppressed all shrieks, lest
the neighbors should come; her pride could not endure that. When her
father was tired kicking her about the room she lay where he left her
until she had strength to rise, and then she went steadily about her
work, washing the children and making her soup, sweeping and dusting
until everything was clean. It was a part of her plan of life to be
beaten every day.
Gervaise had conceived a strong affection for this little neighbor.
She treated her like a woman who knew something of life. It must be
admitted that Lalie was large for her years. She was fair and pale,
with solemn eyes for her years and had a delicate mouth. To have heard
her talk one would have thought her thirty. She could make and mend,
and she talked of the children as if she had herself brought them into
the world. She made people laugh sometimes when she talked, but more
often she brought tears to their eyes.
Gervaise did everything she could for her, gave her what she could
and helped the energetic little soul with her work. One day she was
altering a dress of Nana's for her, and when the child tried it on
Gervaise was chilled with horror at seeing her whole back purple and
bruised, the tiny arm bleeding--all the innocent flesh of childhood
martyrized by the brute--her father.
Bazonge might get the coffin ready, she thought, for the little girl
could not bear this long. But Lalie entreated her friend to say
nothing, telling her that her father did not know what he was doing,
that he had been drinking. She forgave him with her whole heart,
for madmen must not be held accountable for their deeds. After that
Gervaise was on the watch whenever she heard Bijard coming up the
stairs. But she never caught him in any act of absolute brutality.
Several times she had found Lalie tied to the foot of the bedstead--an
idea that had entered her father's brain, no one knew why, a whim of
his disordered brain, disordered by liquor, which probably arose from
his wish to tyrannize over the child, even when he was no longer
Lalie sometimes was left there all day and once all night. When
Gervaise insisted on untying her the child entreated her not to touch
the knots, saying that her father would be furious if he found the
knots had been tampered with.
And really, she said with an angelic smile, she needed rest, and the
only thing that troubled her was not to be able to put the room in
order. She could watch the children just as well, and she could think,
so that her time was not entirely lost. When her father let her free,
her sufferings were not over, for it was sometimes more than an hour
before she could stand--before the blood circulated freely in her
Her father had invented another cheerful game. He heated some sous red
hot on the stove and laid them on the chimney piece. He then summoned
Lalie and bade her go buy some bread. The child unsuspiciously took up
the sous, uttered a little shriek and dropped them, shaking her poor
Then he would go off in a rage. What did she mean by such nonsense?
She had thrown away the money and lost it, and he threatened her with
a hiding if she did not find the money instantly. The poor child
hesitated; he gave her a cuff on the side of the head. With silent
tears streaming down her cheeks she would pick up the sous and toss
them from hand to hand to cool them as she went down the long flights
There was no limit to the strange ingenuity of the man. One afternoon,
for example, Lalie had completed playing with the children. The window
was open, and the air shook the door so that it sounded like gentle
"It is Mr Wind," said Lalie; "come in, Mr Wind. How are you today?"
And she made a low curtsy to Mr Wind. The children did the same in
high glee, and she was quite radiant with happiness, which was not
often the case.
"Come in, Mr Wind!" she repeated, but the door was pushed open by
a rough hand and Bijard entered. Then a sudden change came over the
scene. The two children crouched in a corner, while Lalie stood in the
center of the floor, frozen stiff with terror, for Bijard held in his
hand a new whip with a long and wicked-looking lash. He laid this whip
on the bed and did not kick either one of the children but smiled in
the most vicious way, showing his two lines of blackened, irregular
teeth. He was very drunk and very noisy.
"What is the matter with you fools? Have you been struck dumb? I heard
you all talking and laughing merrily enough before I came in. Where
are your tongues now? Here! Take off my shoes!"
Lalie, considerably disheartened at not having received her customary
kick, turned very pale as she obeyed. He was sitting on the side of
the bed. He lay down without undressing and watched the child as she
moved about the room. Troubled by this strange conduct, the child
ended by breaking a cup. Then without disturbing himself he took up
the whip and showed it to her.
"Look here, fool," he said grimly: "I bought this for you, and it cost
me fifty sous, but I expect to get a good deal more than fifty sous'
worth of good out of it. With this long lash I need not run about
after you, for I can reach you in every corner of the room. You will
break the cups, will you? Come, now, jump about a little and say good
morning to Mr Wind again!"
He did not even sit up in the bed but, with his head buried in the
pillow, snapped the whip with a noise like that made by a postilion.
The lash curled round Lalie's slender body; she fell to the floor,
but he lashed her again and compelled her to rise.
"This is a very good thing," he said coolly, "and saves my getting
chilled on cold mornings. Yes, I can reach you in that corner--and
in that! Skip now! Skip!"
A light foam was on his lips, and his suffused eyes were starting
from their sockets. Poor little Lalie darted about the room like a
terrified bird, but the lash tingled over her shoulders, coiled around
her slender legs and stung like a viper. She was like an India-rubber
ball bounding from the floor, while her beast of a father laughed
aloud and asked her if she had had enough.
The door opened and Gervaise entered. She had heard the noise. She
stood aghast at the scene and then was seized with noble rage.
"Let her be!" she cried. "I will go myself and summon the police."
Bijard growled like an animal who is disturbed over his prey.
"Why do you meddle?" he exclaimed. "What business is it of yours?"
And with another adroit movement he cut Lalie across the face. The
blood gushed from her lip. Gervaise snatched a chair and flew at the
brute, but the little girl held her skirts and said it did not hurt
much; it would be over soon, and she washed the blood away, speaking
gently to the frightened children.
When Gervaise thought of Lalie she was ashamed to complain. She wished
she had the courage of this child. She knew that she had lived on dry
bread for weeks and that she was so weak she could hardly stand, and
the tears came to the woman's eyes as she saw the precocious mite who
had known nothing of the innocent happiness of her years. And Gervaise
took this slender creature for example, whose eyes alone told the
story of her misery and hardships, for in the Coupeau family the
vitriol of the Assommoir was doing its work of destruction. Gervaise
had seen a whip. Gervaise had learned to dread it, and this dread
inspired her with tenderest pity for Lalie. Coupeau had lost the
flesh and the bloated look which had been his, and he was thin and
emaciated. His complexion was gradually acquiring a leaden hue. His
appetite was utterly gone. It was with difficulty that he swallowed
a mouthful of bread. His stomach turned against all solid food, but
he took his brandy every day. This was his meat as well as his drink,
and he touched nothing else.
When he crawled out of his bed in the morning he stood for a good
fifteen minutes, coughing and spitting out a bitter liquid that rose
in his throat and choked him.
He did not feel any better until he had taken what he called "a good
drink," and later in the day his strength returned. He felt strange
prickings in the skin of his hands and feet. But lately his limbs
had grown heavy. This pricking sensation gave place to the most
excruciating cramps, which he did not find very amusing. He rarely
laughed now but often stopped short and stood still on the sidewalk,
troubled by a strange buzzing in his ears and by flashes of light
before his eyes. Everything looked yellow to him; the houses seemed to
be moving away from him. At other times, when the sun was full on his
back, he shivered as if a stream of ice water had been poured down
between his shoulders. But the thing he liked the least about himself
was a nervous trembling in his hands, the right hand especially.
Had he become an old woman then? he asked himself with sudden fury.
He tried with all his strength to lift his glass and command his
nerves enough to hold it steady. But the glass had a regular tremulous
movement from right to left and left to right again, in spite of all
Then he emptied it down his throat, saying that when he had swallowed
a dozen more he would be all right and as steady as a monument.
Gervaise told him, on the contrary, that he must leave off drinking
if he wished to leave off trembling.
He grew very angry and drank quarts in his eagerness to test the
question, finally declaring that it was the passing omnibusses that
jarred the house and shook his hand.
In March Coupeau came in one night drenched to the skin. He had been
caught out in a shower. That night he could not sleep for coughing.
In the morning he had a high fever, and the physician who was sent
for advised Gervaise to send him at once to the hospital.
And Gervaise made no objection; once she had refused to trust her
husband to these people, but now she consigned him to their tender
mercies without a regret; in fact, she regarded it as a mercy.
Nevertheless, when the litter came she turned very pale and, if she
had had even ten francs in her pocket, would have kept him at home.
She walked to the hospital by the side of the litter and went into
the ward where he was placed. The room looked to her like a miniature
Pere-Lachaise, with its rows of beds on either side and its path down
the middle. She went slowly away, and in the street she turned and
looked up. How well she remembered when Coupeau was at work on those
gutters, cheerily singing in the morning air! He did not drink in
those days, and she, at her window in the Hotel Boncoeur, had
watched his athletic form against the sky, and both had waved their
handkerchiefs. Yes, Coupeau had worked more than a year on this
hospital, little thinking that he was preparing a place for himself.
Now he was no longer on the roof--he had built a dismal nest within.
Good God, was she and the once-happy wife and mother one and the same?
How long ago those days seemed!
The next day when Gervaise went to make inquiries she found the bed
empty. A sister explained that her husband had been taken to the
asylum of Sainte-Anne, because the night before he had suddenly become
unmanageable from delirium and had uttered such terrible howls that it
disturbed the inmates of all the beds in that ward. It was the alcohol
in his system, she said, which attacked his nerves now, when he was so
reduced by the inflammation on his lungs that he could not resist it.
The clearstarcher went home, but how or by what route she never knew.
Her husband was mad--she heard these words reverberating through her
brain. Life was growing very strange. Nana simply said that he must,
of course, be left at the asylum, for he might murder them both.
On Sunday only could Gervaise go to Sainte-Anne. It was a long
distance off. Fortunately there was an omnibus which went very near.
She got out at La Rue Sante and bought two oranges that she might not
go quite empty-handed.
But when she went in, to her astonishment she found Coupeau sitting
up. He welcomed her gaily.
"You are better!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, nearly well," he replied, and they talked together awhile, and
she gave him the oranges, which pleased and touched him, for he was a
different man now that he drank tisane instead of liquor. She did not
dare allude to his delirium, but he spoke of it himself.
"Yes," he said, "I was in a pretty state! I saw rats running all over
the floor and the walls, and you were calling me, and I saw all sorts
of horrible things! But I am all right now. Once in a while I have a
bad dream, but everybody does, I suppose."
Gervaise remained with him until night. When the house surgeon made
his rounds at six o'clock he told him to hold out his hands. They
scarcely trembled--an almost imperceptible motion of the tips of his
fingers was all. But as the room grew darker Coupeau became restless.
Two or three times he sat up and peered into the remote corners.
Suddenly he stretched out his arms and seemed to crush some creature
on the wall.
"What is it?" asked Gervaise, terribly frightened.
"Rats!" he said quietly. "Only rats!"
After a long silence he seemed to be dropping off to sleep, with
disconnected sentences falling from his lips.
"Dirty beasts! Look out, one is under your skirts!" He pulled the
covering hastily over his head, as if to protect himself against the
creature he saw.
Then starting up in mad terror, he screamed aloud. A nurse ran to the
bed, and Gervaise was sent away, mute with horror at this scene.
But when on the following Sunday she went again to the hospital,
Coupeau was really well. All his dreams had vanished. He slept like
a child, ten hours without lifting a finger. His wife, therefore, was
allowed to take him away. The house surgeon gave him a few words of
advice before he left, assuring him if he continued to drink he would
be a dead man in three months. All depended on himself. He could live
at home just as he had lived at Sainte-Anne's and must forget that
such things as wine and brandy existed.
"He is right," said Gervaise as they took their seats in the omnibus.
"Of course he is right," answered her husband. But after a moment's
silence he added:
"But then, you know, a drop of brandy now and then never hurts a man:
it aids digestion."
That very evening he took a tiny drop and for a week was very
moderate; he had no desire, he said, to end his days at Bicetre.
But he was soon off his guard, and one day his little drop ended in
a full glass, to be followed by a second, and so on. At the end of
a fortnight he had fallen back in the old rut.
Gervaise did her best, but, after all, what can a wife do in such
She had been so startled by the scene at the asylum that she had
fully determined to begin a regular life again and hoped that he would
assist her and do the same himself. But now she saw that there was
no hope, that even the knowledge of the inevitable results could not
restrain her husband now.
Then the hell on earth began again; hopeless and intolerant, Nana
asked indignantly why he had not remained in the asylum. All the money
she made, she said, should be spent in brandy for her father, for the
sooner it was ended, the better for them all.
Gervaise blazed out one day when he lamented his marriage and told him
that it was for her to curse the day when she first saw him. He must
remember that she had refused him over and over again. The scene was
a frightful one and one unexampled in the Coupeau annals.
Gervaise, now utterly discouraged, grew more indolent every day. Her
room was rarely swept. The Lorilleuxs said they could not enter it, it
was so dirty. They talked all day long over their work of the downfall
of Wooden Legs. They gloated over her poverty and her rags.
"Well! Well!" they murmured. "A great change has indeed come to that
beautiful blonde who was so fine in her blue shop."
Gervaise suspected their comments on her and her acts to be most
unkind, but she determined to have no open quarrel. It was for her
interest to speak to them when they met, but that was all the
intercourse between them.
On Saturday Coupeau had told his wife he would take her to the circus;
he had earned a little money and insisted on indulging himself. Nana
was obliged to stay late at the place where she worked and would sleep
with her aunt Mme Lerat.
Seven o'clock came, but no Coupeau. Her husband was drinking with his
comrades probably. She had washed a cap and mended an old gown with
the hope of being presentable. About nine o'clock, in a towering rage,
she sallied forth on an empty stomach to find Coupeau.
"Are you looking for your husband?" said Mme Boche. "He is at the
Assommoir. Boche has just seen him there."
Gervaise muttered her thanks and went with rapid steps to the
A fine rain was falling. The gas in the tavern was blazing brightly,
lighting up the mirrors, the bottles and glasses. She stood at the
window and looked in. He was sitting at a table with his comrades.
The atmosphere was thick with smoke, and he looked stupefied and
She shivered and wondered why she should stay there and, so thinking,
turned away, only to come back twice to look again.
The water lay on the uneven sidewalk in pools, reflecting all the
lights from the Assommoir. Finally she determined on a bold step: she
opened the door and deliberately walked up to her husband. After all,
why should she not ask him why he had not kept his promise of taking
her to the circus? At any rate, she would not stay out there in the
rain and melt away like a cake of soap.
"She is crazy!" said Coupeau when he saw her. "I tell you, she is
He and all his friends shrieked with laughter, but no one condescended
to say what it was that was so very droll. Gervaise stood still, a
little bewildered by this unexpected reception. Coupeau was so amiable
that she said:
"Come, you know it is not too late to see something."
"Sit down a minute," said her husband, not moving from his seat.
Gervaise saw she could not stand there among all those men, so she
accepted the offered chair. She looked at the glasses, whose contents
glittered like gold. She looked at these dirty, shabby men and at the
others crowding around the counter. It was very warm, and the pipe
smoke thickened the air.
Gervaise felt as if she were choking; her eyes smarted, and her head
was heavy with the fumes of alcohol. She turned around and saw the
still, the machine that created drunkards. That evening the copper
was dull and glittered only in one round spot. The shadows of the
apparatus on the wall behind were strange and weird--creatures with
tails, monsters opening gigantic jaws as if to swallow the whole
"What will you take to drink?" said Coupeau.
"Nothing," answered his wife. "You know I have had no dinner!"
"You need it all the more then! Have a drop of something!"
As she hesitated Mes-Bottes said gallantly:
"The lady would like something sweet like herself."
"I like men," she answered angrily, "who do not get tipsy and talk
like fools! I like men who keep their promises!"
Her husband laughed.
"You had better drink your share," he said, "for the devil a bit of
a circus will you see tonight."
She looked at him fixedly. A heavy frown contracted her eyebrows. She
"You are right; it is a good idea. We can drink up the money
Bibi brought her a glass of anisette. As she sipped it she remembered
all at once the brandied fruit she had eaten in the same place with
Coupeau when he was courting her. That day she had left the brandy and
took only the fruit, and now she was sitting there drinking liqueur.
But the anisette was good. When her glass was empty she refused
another, and yet she was not satisfied.
She looked around at the infernal machine behind her--a machine that
should have been buried ten fathoms deep in the sea. Nevertheless, it
had for her a strange fascination, and she longed to quench her thirst
with that liquid fire.
"What is that you have in your glasses?" she asked.
"That, my dear," answered her husband, "is Father Colombe's own
especial brew. Taste it."
And when a glass of the vitriol was brought to her Coupeau bade her
swallow it down, saying it was good for her.
After she had drunk this glass Gervaise was no longer conscious of the
hunger that had tormented her. Coupeau told her they could go to the
circus another time, and she felt she had best stay where she was. It
did not rain in the Assommoir, and she had come to look upon the scene
as rather amusing. She was comfortable and sleepy. She took a third
glass and then put her head on her folded arms, supporting them on the
table, and listened to her husband and his friends as they talked.
Behind her the still was at work with constant drip-drip, and she felt
a mad desire to grapple with it as with some dangerous beast and tear
out its heart. She seemed to feel herself caught in those copper fangs
and fancied that those coils of pipe were wound around her own body,
slowly but surely crushing out her life.
The whole room danced before her eyes, for Gervaise was now in the
condition which had so often excited her pity and indignation with
others. She vaguely heard a quarrel arise and a crash of chairs and
tables, and then Father Colombe promptly turned everyone into the
It was still raining and a cold, sharp wind blowing. Gervaise lost
Coupeau, found him and then lost him again. She wanted to go home,
but she could not find her way. At the corner of the street she took
her seat by the side of the gutter, thinking herself at her washtub.
Finally she got home and endeavored to walk straight past the door
of the concierge, within whose room she was vaguely conscious of
the Poissons and Lorilleuxs holding up their hands in disgust at
She never knew how she got up those six flights of stairs. But when
she turned into her own corridor little Lalie ran toward her with
loving, extended arms.
"Dear Madame Gervaise," she cried, "Papa has not come in; please
come and see my children. They are sleeping so sweetly!"
But when she looked up in the face of the clearstarcher she recoiled,
trembling from head to foot. She knew only too well that alcoholic
smell, those wandering eyes and convulsed lips.
Then as Gervaise staggered past her without speaking the child's arms
fell at her side, and she looked after her friend with sad and solemn
Nana was growing fast--fair, fresh and dimpled--her skin velvety, like
a peach, and eyes so bright that men often asked her if they might not
light their pipes at them. Her mass of blonde hair--the color of ripe
wheat--looked around her temples as if it were powdered with gold.
She had a quaint little trick of sticking out the tip of her tongue
between her white teeth, and this habit, for some reason, exasperated
She was very fond of finery and very coquettish. In this house, where
bread was not always to be got, it was difficult for her to indulge
her caprices in the matter of costume, but she did wonders. She
brought home odds and ends of ribbons from the shop where she worked
and made them up into bows and knots with which she ornamented her
dirty dresses. She was not overparticular in washing her feet, but
she wore her boots so tight that she suffered martyrdom in honor of
St Crispin, and if anyone asked her what the matter was when the pain
flushed her face suddenly, she always and promptly laid it to the
score of the colic.
Summer was the season of her triumphs. In a calico dress that cost
five or six francs she was as fresh and sweet as a spring morning and
made the dull street radiant with her youth and her beauty. She went
by the name of "The Little Chicken." One gown, in particular, suited
her to perfection. It was white with rose-colored dots, without
trimming of any kind. The skirt was short and showed her feet. The
sleeves were very wide and displayed her arms to the elbows. She
turned the neck away and fastened it with pins--in a corner in the
corridor, dreading her father's jests--to exhibit her pretty rounded
throat. A rose-colored ribbon, knotted in the rippling masses of her
hair, completed her toilet. She was a charming combination of child
Sundays at this period of her life were her days for coquetting with
the public. She looked forward to them all the week through with a
longing for liberty and fresh air.
Early in the morning she began her preparations and stood for hours in
her chemise before the bit of broken mirror nailed by the window, and
as everyone could see her, her mother would be very much vexed and ask
how long she intended to show herself in that way.
But she, quite undisturbed, went on fastening down the little curls on
her forehead with a little sugar and water and then sewed the buttons
on her boots or took a stitch or two in her frock, barefooted all this
time and with her chemise slipping off her rounded shoulders.
Her father declared he would exhibit her as the "Wild Girl," at two
sous a head.
She was very lovely in this scanty costume, the color flushing her
cheeks in her indignation at her father's sometimes coarse remarks.
She did not dare answer him, however, but bit off her thread in silent
rage. After breakfast she went down to the courtyard. The house was
wrapped in Sunday quiet; the workshops on the lower floor were closed.
Through some of the open windows the tables were seen laid for
dinners, the families being on the fortifications "getting an
Five or six girls--Nana, Pauline and others--lingered in the courtyard
for a time and then took flight altogether into the streets and thence
to the outer boulevards. They walked in a line, filling up the whole
sidewalk, with ribbons fluttering in their uncovered hair.
They managed to see everybody and everything through their downcast
lids. The streets were their native heath, as it were, for they had
grown up in them.
Nana walked in the center and gave her arm to Pauline, and as they
were the oldest and tallest of the band, they gave the law to the
others and decided where they should go for the day and what they
Nana and Pauline were deep ones. They did nothing without
premeditation. If they ran it was to show their slender ankles, and
when they stopped and panted for breath it was sure to be at the side
of some youths--young workmen of their acquaintance--who smoked in
their faces as they talked. Nana had her favorite, whom she always
saw at a great distance--Victor Fauconnier--and Pauline adored a
young cabinetmaker, who gave her apples.
Toward sunset the great pleasure of the day began. A band of
mountebanks would spread a well-worn carpet, and a circle was formed
to look on. Nana and Pauline were always in the thickest of the
crowd, their pretty fresh dresses crushed between dirty blouses, but
insensible to the mingled odors of dust and alcohol, tobacco and dirt.
They heard vile language; it did not disturb them; it was their own
tongue--they heard little else. They listened to it with a smile,
their delicate cheeks unflushed.
The only thing that disturbed them was the appearance of their
fathers, particularly if these fathers seemed to have been drinking.
They kept a good lookout for this disaster.
"Look!" cried Pauline. "Your father is coming, Nana."
Then the girl would crouch on her knees and bid the others stand
close around her, and when he had passed on after an inquiring look
she would jump up and they would all utter peals of laughter.
But one day Nana was kicked home by her father, and Boche dragged
Pauline away by her ear.
The girls would ordinarily return to the courtyard in the twilight and
establish themselves there with the air of not having been away, and
each invented a story with which to greet their questioning parents.
Nana now received forty sous per day at the place where she had been
apprenticed. The Coupeaus would not allow her to change, because she
was there under the supervision of her aunt, Mme Lerat, who had been
employed for many years in the same establishment.
The girl went off at an early hour in her little black dress, which
was too short and too tight for her, and Mme Lerat was bidden,
whenever she was after her time, to inform Gervaise, who allowed her
just twenty minutes, which was quite long enough. But she was often
seven or eight minutes late, and she spent her whole day coaxing her
aunt not to tell her mother. Mme Lerat, who was fond of the girl and
understood the follies of youth, did not tell, but at the same time
she read Nana many a long sermon on her follies and talked of her own
responsibility and of the dangers a young girl ran in Paris.
"You must tell me everything," she said. "I am too indulgent to you,
and if evil should come of it I should throw myself into the Seine.
Understand me, my little kitten; if a man should speak to you you must
promise to tell me every word he says. Will you swear to do this?"
Nana laughed an equivocal little laugh. Oh yes, she would promise. But
men never spoke to her; she walked too fast for that. What could they
say to her? And she explained her irregularity in coming--her five or
ten minutes delay--with an innocent little air. She had stopped at a
window to look at pictures or she had stopped to talk to Pauline. Her
aunt might follow her if she did not believe her.
"Oh, I will watch her. You need not be afraid!" said the widow to her
brother. "I will answer for her, as I would for myself!"
The place where the aunt and niece worked side by side was a large
room with a long table down the center. Shelves against the wall were
piled with boxes and bundles--all covered with a thick coating of
dust. The gas had blackened the ceiling. The two windows were so large
that the women, seated at the table, could see all that was going on
in the street below.
Mme Lerat was the first to make her appearance in the morning, but in
another fifteen minutes all the others were there. One morning in July
Nana came in last, which, however, was the usual case.
"I shall be glad when I have a carriage!" she said as she ran to the
window without even taking off her hat--a shabby little straw.
"What are you looking at?" asked her aunt suspiciously. "Did your
father come with you?"
"No indeed," answered Nana carelessly; "nor am I looking at anything.
It is awfully warm, and of all things in the world, I hate to be in a
The morning was indeed frightfully hot. The workwomen had closed the
blinds, leaving a crack, however, through which they could inspect the
street, and they took their seats on each side of the table--Mme Lerat
at the farther end. There were eight girls, four on either side, each
with her little pot of glue, her pincers and other tools; heaps of
wires of different lengths and sizes lay on the table, spools of
cotton and of different-colored papers, petals and leaves cut out of
silk, velvet and satin. In the center, in a goblet, one of the girls
had placed a two-sou bouquet,--which was slowly withering in the heat.
"Did you know," said Leonie as she picked up a rose leaf with her
pincers, "how wretched poor Caroline is with that fellow who used
to call for her regularly every night?"
Before anyone could answer Leonie added:
"Hush! Here comes Madame."
And in sailed Mme Titreville, a tall, thin woman, who usually remained
below in the shop. Her employees stood in dread terror of her, as she
was never known to smile. She went from one to another, finding fault
with all; she ordered one woman to pull a marguerite to pieces and
make it over and then went out as stiffly and silently as she had
"Houp! Houp!" said Nana under her breath, and a giggle ran round the
"Really, young ladies," said Mme Lerat, "you will compel me to severe
But no one was listening, and no one feared her. She was very
tolerant. They could say what they pleased, provided they put it
in decent language.
Nana was certainly in a good school! Her instincts, to be sure,
were vicious, but these instincts were fostered and developed in
this place, as is too often the case when a crowd of girls are
herded together. It was the story of a basket of apples, the good
ones spoiled by those that were already rotten. If two girls were
whispering in a corner, ten to one they were telling some story that
could not be told aloud.
Nana was not yet thoroughly perverted, but the curiosity which had
been her distinguishing characteristic as a child had not deserted
her, and she scarcely took her eyes from a girl by the name of Lisa,
about whom strange stories were told.
"How warm it is!" she exclaimed, suddenly rising and pushing open the
blinds. Leonie saw a man standing on the sidewalk opposite.
"Who is that old fellow?" she said. "He has been there a full quarter
of an hour."
"Some fool who has nothing better to do, I suppose," said Mme Lerat.
"Nana, will you come back to your work? I have told you that you
should not go to that window."
Nana took up her violets, and they all began to watch this man. He was
well dressed, about fifty, pale and grave. For a full hour he watched
"Look!" said Leonie. "He has an eyeglass. Oh, he is very chic. He is
waiting for Augustine." But Augustine sharply answered that she did
not like the old man.
"You make a great mistake then," said Mme Lerat with her equivocal
Nana listened to the conversation which followed--reveling in
indecency--as much at home in it as a fish is in water. All the time
her fingers were busy at work. She wound her violet stems and fastened
in the leaves with a slender strip of green paper. A drop of gum--and
then behold a bunch of delicate fresh verdure which would fascinate
any lady. Her fingers were especially deft by nature. No instruction
could have imparted this quality.
The gentleman had gone away, and the workshop settled down into quiet
once more. When the bell rang for twelve Nana started up and said she
would go out and execute any commissions. Leonie sent for two sous'
worth of shrimp, Augustine for some fried potatoes, Sophie for a
sausage and Lisa for a bunch of radishes. As she was going out, her
aunt said quietly:
"I will go with you. I want something."
Lo, in the lane running up by the shop was the mysterious stranger.
Nana turned very red, and her aunt drew her arm within her own and
hurried her along.
So then he had come for her! Was not this pretty behavior for a girl
of her age? And Mme Lerat asked question after question, but Nana knew
nothing of him, she declared, though he had followed her for five
Mme Lerat looked at the man out of the corners of her eyes. "You must
tell me everything," she said.
While they talked they went from shop to shop, and their arms grew
full of small packages, but they hurried back, still talking of the
"It may be a good thing," said Mme Lerat, "if his intentions are only
The workwomen ate their breakfast on their knees; they were in no
hurry, either, to return to their work, when suddenly Leonie uttered
a low hiss, and like magic each girl was busy. Mme Titreville entered
the room and again made her rounds.
Mme Lerat did not allow her niece after this day to set foot on the
street without her. Nana at first was inclined to rebel, but, on the
whole, it rather flattered her vanity to be guarded like a treasure.
They had discovered that the man who followed her with such
persistency was a manufacturer of buttons, and one night the aunt
went directly up to him and told him that he was behaving in a most
improper manner. He bowed and, turning on his heel, departed--not
angrily, by any means--and the next day he did as usual.
One day, however, he deliberately walked between the aunt and the
niece and said something to Nana in a low voice. This frightened Mme
Lerat, who went at once to her brother and told him the whole story,
whereupon he flew into a violent rage, shook the girl until her teeth
chattered and talked to her as if she were the vilest of the vile.
"Let her be!" said Gervaise with all a woman's sense. "Let her be!
Don't you see that you are putting all sorts of things into her head?"
And it was quite true; he had put ideas into her head and had taught
her some things she did not know before, which was very astonishing.
One morning he saw her with something in a paper. It was _poudre de
riz_, which, with a most perverted taste, she was plastering upon
her delicate skin. He rubbed the whole of the powder into her hair
until she looked like a miller's daughter. Another time she came in
with red ribbons to retrim her old hat; he asked her furiously where
she got them.
Whenever he saw her with a bit of finery her father flew at her with
insulting suspicion and angry violence. She defended herself and her
small possessions with equal violence. One day he snatched from her
a little cornelian heart and ground it to dust under his heel.
She stood looking on, white and stern; for two years she had longed
for this heart. She said to herself that she would not bear such
treatment long. Coupeau occasionally realized that he had made a
mistake, but the mischief was done.
He went every morning with Nana to the shop door and waited outside
for five minutes to be sure that she had gone in. But one morning,
having stopped to talk with a friend on the corner for some time, he
saw her come out again and vanish like a flash around the corner. She
had gone up two flights higher than the room where she worked and had
sat down on the stairs until she thought him well out of the way.
When he went to Mme Lerat she told him that she washed her hands of
the whole business; she had done all she could, and now he must take
care of his daughter himself. She advised him to marry the girl at
once or she would do worse.
All the people in the neighborhood knew Nana's admirer by sight. He
had been in the courtyard several times, and once he had been seen
on the stairs.
The Lorilleuxs threatened to move away if this sort of thing went on,
and Mme Boche expressed great pity for this poor gentleman whom this
scamp of a girl was leading by the nose.
At first Nana thought the whole thing a great joke, but at the end of
a month she began to be afraid of him. Often when she stopped before
the jeweler's he would suddenly appear at her side and ask her what
She did not care so much for jewelry or ornaments as she did for many
other things. Sometimes as the mud was spattered over her from the
wheels of a carriage she grew faint and sick with envious longings
to be better dressed, to go to the theater, to have a pretty room all
to herself. She longed to see another side of life, to know something
of its pleasures. The stranger invariably appeared at these moments,
but she always turned and fled, so great was her horror of him.
But when winter came existence became well-nigh intolerable. Each
evening Nana was beaten, and when her father was tired of this
amusement her mother scolded. They rarely had anything to eat and
were always cold. If the girl bought some trifling article of dress
it was taken from her.
No! This life could not last. She no longer cared for her father. He
had thoroughly disgusted her, and now her mother drank too. Gervaise
went to the Assommoir nightly--for her husband, she said--and remained
there. When Nana saw her mother sometimes as she passed the window,
seated among a crowd of men, she turned livid with rage, because youth
has little patience with the vice of intemperance. It was a dreary
life for her--a comfortless home and a drunken father and mother. A
saint on earth could not have remained there; that she knew very well,
and she said she would make her escape some fine day, and then perhaps
her parents would be sorry and would admit that they had pushed her
out of the nest.
One Saturday Nana, coming in, found her mother and father in a
deplorable condition--Coupeau lying across the bed and Gervaise
sitting in a chair, swaying to and fro. She had forgotten the dinner,
and one untrimmed candle lighted the dismal scene.
"Is that you, girl?" stammered Gervaise. "Well, your father will
settle with you!"
Nana did not reply. She looked around the cheerless room, at the
cold stove, at her parents. She did not step across the threshold.
She turned and went away.
And she did not come back! The next day when her father and mother
were sober, they each reproached the other for Nana's flight.
This was really a terrible blow to Gervaise, who had no longer the
smallest motive for self-control, and she abandoned herself at once
to a wild orgy that lasted three days. Coupeau gave his daughter up
and smoked his pipe quietly. Occasionally, however, when eating his
dinner, he would snatch up a knife and wave it wildly in the air,
crying out that he was dishonored and then, laying it down as
suddenly, resumed eating his soup.
In this great house, whence each month a girl or two took flight, this
incident astonished no one. The Lorilleuxs were rather triumphant at
the success of their prophecy. Lantier defended Nana.
"Of course," he said, "she has done wrong, but bless my heart, what
would you have? A girl as pretty as that could not live all her days
in such poverty!"
"You know nothing about it!" cried Mme Lorilleux one evening when they
were all assembled in the room of the concierge. "Wooden Legs sold her
daughter out and out. I know it! I have positive proof of what I say.
The time that the old gentleman was seen on the stairs he was going to
pay the money. Nana and he were seen together at the Ambigu the other
night! I tell you, I know it!"
They finished their coffee. This tale might or might not be true; it
was not improbable, at all events. And after this it was circulated
and generally believed in the _Quartier_ that Gervaise had sold
The clearstarcher, meanwhile, was going from bad to worse. She had
been dismissed from Mme Fauconnier's and in the last few weeks had
worked for eight laundresses, one after the other--dismissed from
all for her untidiness.
As she seemed to have lost all skill in ironing, she went out by the
day to wash and by degrees was entrusted with only the roughest work.
This hard labor did not tend to beautify her either. She continued to
grow stouter and stouter in spite of her scanty food and hard labor.
Her womanly pride and vanity had all departed. Lantier never seemed
to see her when they met by chance, and she hardly noticed that the
liaison which had stretched along for so many years had ended in a
Lantier had done wisely, so far as he was concerned, in counseling
Virginie to open the kind of shop she had. He adored sweets and could
have lived on pralines and gumdrops, sugarplums and chocolate.
Sugared almonds were his especial delight. For a year his principal
food was bonbons. He opened all the jars, boxes and drawers when he
was left alone in the shop; and often, with five or six persons
standing around, he would take off the cover of a jar on the counter
and put in his hand and crunch down an almond. The cover was not put
on again, and the jar was soon empty. It was a habit of his, they all
said; besides, he was subject to a tickling in his throat!
He talked a great deal to Poisson of an invention of his which was
worth a fortune--an umbrella and hat in one; that is to say, a hat
which, at the first drops of a shower, would expand into an umbrella.
Lantier suggested to Virginie that she should have Gervaise come in
once each week to wash the floors, shop and the rooms. This she did
and received thirty sous each time. Gervaise appeared on Saturday
mornings with her bucket and brush, without seeming to suffer a single
pang at doing this menial work in the house where she had lived as
One Saturday Gervaise had hard work. It had rained for three days, and
all the mud of the streets seemed to have been brought into the shop.
Virginie stood behind the counter with collar and cuffs trimmed with
lace. Near her on a low chair lounged Lantier, and he was, as usual,
"Really, Madame Coupeau," cried Virginie, "can't you do better than
that? You have left all the dirt in the corners. Don't you see? Oblige
me by doing that over again."
Gervaise obeyed. She went back to the corner and scrubbed it again.
She was on her hands and knees, with her sleeves rolled up over her
arms. Her old skirt clung close to her stout form, and the sweat
poured down her face.
"The more elbow grease she uses, the more she shines," said Lantier
sententiously with his mouth full.
Virginie, leaning back in her chair with the air of a princess,
followed the progress of the work with half-closed eyes.
"A little more to the right. Remember, those spots must all be taken
out. Last Saturday, you know, I was not pleased."
And then Lantier and Virginie fell into a conversation, while Gervaise
crawled along the floor in the dirt at their feet.
Mme Poisson enjoyed this, for her cat's eyes sparkled with malicious
joy, and she glanced at Lantier with a smile. At last she was avenged
for that mortification at the lavatory, which had for years weighed
heavy on her soul.
"By the way," said Lantier, addressing himself to Gervaise, "I saw
Nana last night."
Gervaise started to her feet with her brush in her hand.
"Yes, I was coming down La Rue des Martyrs. In front of me was a young
girl on the arm of an old gentleman. As I passed I glanced at her face
and assure you that it was Nana. She was well dressed and looked
"Ah!" said Gervaise in a low, dull voice.
Lantier, who had finished one jar, now began another.
"What a girl that is!" he continued. "Imagine that she made me a sign
to follow with the most perfect self-possession. She got rid of her
old gentleman in a cafe and beckoned me to the door. She asked me to
tell her about everybody."
"Ah!" repeated Gervaise.
She stood waiting. Surely this was not all. Her daughter must have
sent her some especial message. Lantier ate his sugarplums.
"I would not have looked at her," said Virginie. "I sincerely trust,
if I should meet her, that she would not speak to me for, really,
it would mortify me beyond expression. I am sorry for you, Madame
Gervaise, but the truth is that Poisson arrests every day a dozen
just such girls."
Gervaise said nothing; her eyes were fixed on vacancy. She shook her
head slowly, as if in reply to her own thoughts.
"Pray make haste," exclaimed Virginie fretfully. "I do not care to
have this scrubbing going on until midnight."
Gervaise returned to her work. With her two hands clasped around the
handle of the brush she pushed the water before her toward the door.
After this she had only to rinse the floor after sweeping the dirty
water into the gutter.
When all was accomplished she stood before the counter waiting for
her money. When Virginie tossed it toward her she did not take it up
"Then she said nothing else?" Gervaise asked.
"She?" Lantier exclaimed. "Who is she? Ah yes, I remember. Nana! No,
she said nothing more."
And Gervaise went away with her thirty sous in her hand, her skirts
dripping and her shoes leaving the mark of their broad soles on the
In the _Quartier_ all the women who drank like her took her part
and declared she had been driven to intemperance by her daughter's
misconduct. She, too, began to believe this herself and assumed at
times a tragic air and wished she were dead. Unquestionably she had
suffered from Nana's departure. A mother does not like to feel that
her daughter will leave her for the first person who asks her to do
But she was too thoroughly demoralized to care long, and soon she had
but one idea: that Nana belonged to her. Had she not a right to her
She roamed the streets day after day, night after night, hoping to
see the girl. That year half the _Quartier_ was being demolished. All
one side of the Rue des Poissonniers lay flat on the ground. Lantier
and Poisson disputed day after day on these demolitions. The one
declared that the emperor wanted to build palaces and drive the lower
classes out of Paris, while Poisson, white with rage, said the emperor
would pull down the whole of Paris merely to give work to the people.
Gervaise did not like the improvements, either, or the changes in
the dingy _Quartier_, to which she was accustomed. It was, in fact,
a little hard for her to see all these embellishments just when she
was going downhill so fast over the piles of brick and mortar, while
she was wandering about in search of Nana.
She heard of her daughter several times. There are always plenty of
people to tell you things you do not care to hear. She was told that
Nana had left her elderly friend for the sake of some young fellow.
She heard, too, that Nana had been seen at a ball in the Grand Salon,
Rue de la Chapelle, and Coupeau and she began to frequent all these
places, one after another, whenever they had the money to spend.
But at the end of a month they had forgotten Nana and went for their
own pleasure. They sat for hours with their elbows on a table, which
shook with the movements of the dancers, amused by the sight.
One November night they entered the Grand Salon, as much to get warm
as anything else. Outside it was hailing, and the rooms were naturally
crowded. They could not find a table, and they stood waiting until
they could establish themselves. Coupeau was directly in the mouth of
the passage, and a young man in a frock coat was thrown against him.
The youth uttered an exclamation of disgust as he began to dust off
his coat with his handkerchief. The blouse worn by Coupeau was
assuredly none of the cleanest.
"Look here, my good fellow," cried Coupeau angrily, "those airs
are very unnecessary. I would have you to know that the blouse of
a workingman can do your coat no harm if it has touched it!"
The young man turned around and looked at Coupeau from head to foot.
"Learn," continued the angry workman, "that the blouse is the only
wear for a man!"
Gervaise endeavored to calm her husband, who, however, tapped his
ragged breast and repeated loudly:
"The only wear for a man, I tell you!"
The youth slipped away and was lost in the crowd.
Coupeau tried to find him, but it was quite impossible; the crowd was
too great. The orchestra was playing a quadrille, and the dancers were
bringing up the dust from the floor in great clouds, which obscured
"Look!" said Gervaise suddenly.
"What is it?"
"Look at that velvet bonnet!"
Quite at the left there was a velvet bonnet, black with plumes,
only too suggestive of a hearse. They watched these nodding plumes
"Do you not know that hair?" murmured Gervaise hoarsely. "I am sure
it is she!"
In one second Coupeau was in the center of the crowd. Yes, it was
Nana, and in what a costume! She wore a ragged silk dress, stained
and torn. She had no shawl over her shoulders to conceal the fact that
half the buttonholes on her dress were burst out. In spite of all her
shabbiness the girl was pretty and fresh. Nana, of course, danced on
unsuspiciously. Her airs and graces were beyond belief. She curtsied
to the very ground and then in a twinkling threw her foot over her
partner's head. A circle was formed, and she was applauded
At this moment Coupeau fell on his daughter.
"Don't try and keep me back," he said, "for have her I will!"
Nana turned and saw her father and mother.
Coupeau discovered that his daughter's partner was the young man for
whom he had been looking. Gervaise pushed him aside and walked up to
Nana and gave her two cuffs on her ears. One sent the plumed hat on
the side; the other left five red marks on that pale cheek. The
orchestra played on. Nana neither wept nor moved.
The dancers began to grow very angry. They ordered the Coupeau party
to leave the room.
"Go," said Gervaise, "and do not attempt to leave us, for so sure
as you do you will be given in charge of a policeman."
The young man had prudently disappeared.
Nana's old life now began again, for after the girl had slept for
twelve hours on a stretch, she was very gentle and sweet for a week.
She wore a plain gown and a simple hat and declared she would like
to work at home. She rose early and took a seat at her table by five
o'clock the first morning and tried to roll her violet stems, but her
fingers had lost their cunning in the six months in which they had
Then the gluepot dried up; the petals and the paper were dusty and
spotted; the mistress of the establishment came for her tools and
materials and made more than one scene. Nana relapsed into utter
indolence, quarreling with her mother from morning until night.
Of course an end must come to this, so one fine evening the girl
The Lorilleuxs, who had been greatly amused by the repentance and
return of their niece, now nearly died laughing. If she returned again
they would advise the Coupeaus to put her in a cage like a canary.
The Coupeaus pretended to be rather pleased, but in their hearts they
raged, particularly as they soon learned that Nana was frequently seen
in the _Quartier_. Gervaise declared this was done by the girl to
Nana adorned all the balls in the vicinity, and the Coupeaus knew that
they could lay their hands on her at any time they chose, but they did
not choose and they avoided meeting her.
But one night, just as they were going to bed, they heard a rap on the
door. It was Nana, who came to ask as coolly as possible if she could
sleep there. What a state she was in! All rags and dirt. She devoured
a crust of dried bread and fell asleep with a part of it in her
hand. This continued for some time, the girl coming and going like a
will-o'-the-wisp. Weeks and months would elapse without a sign from
her, and then she would reappear without a word to say where she
had been, sometimes in rags and sometimes well dressed. Finally her
parents began to take these proceedings as a matter of course. She
might come in, they said, or stay out, just as she pleased, provided
she kept the door shut. Only one thing exasperated Gervaise now, and
that was when her daughter appeared with a bonnet and feathers and
a train. This she would not endure. When Nana came to her it must be
as a simple workingwoman! None of this dearly bought finery should
be exhibited there, for these trained dresses had created a great
excitement in the house.
One day Gervaise reproached her daughter violently for the life she
led and finally, in her rage, took her by the shoulder and shook her.
"Let me be!" cried the girl. "You are the last person to talk to me
in that way. You did as you pleased. Why can't I do the same?"
"What do you mean?" stammered the mother.
"I have never said anything about it because it was none of my
business, but do you think I did not know where you were when my
father lay snoring? Let me alone. It was you who set me the example."
Gervaise turned away pale and trembling, while Nana composed herself
to sleep again.
Coupeau's life was a very regular one--that is to say, he did not
drink for six months and then yielded to temptation, which brought him
up with a round turn and sent him to Sainte-Anne's. When he came out
he did the same thing, so that in three years he was seven times at
Sainte-Anne's, and each time he came out the fellow looked more broken
and less able to stand another orgy.
The poison had penetrated his entire system. He had grown very thin;
his cheeks were hollow and his eyes inflamed. Those who knew his age
shuddered as they saw him pass, bent and decrepit as a man of eighty.
The trembling of his hands had so increased that some days he was
obliged to use them both in raising his glass to his lips. This
annoyed him intensely and seemed to be the only symptom of his failing
health which disturbed him. He sometimes swore violently at these
unruly members and at others sat for hours looking at these fluttering
hands as if trying to discover by what strange mechanism they were
moved. And one night Gervaise found him sitting in this way with great
tears pouring down his withered cheeks.
The last summer of his life was especially trying to Coupeau. His
voice was entirely changed; he was deaf in one ear, and some days he
could not see and was obliged to feel his way up and downstairs as
if he were blind. He suffered from maddening headaches, and sudden
pains would dart through his limbs, causing him to snatch at a chair
for support. Sometimes after one of these attacks his arm would be
paralyzed for twenty-four hours.
He would lie in bed with even his head wrapped up, silent and
moody, like some suffering animal. Then came incipient madness and
fever--tearing everything to pieces that came in his way--or he would
weep and moan, declaring that no one loved him, that he was a burden
to his wife. One evening when his wife and daughter came in he was not
in his bed; in his place lay the bolster carefully tucked in. They
found him at last crouched on the floor under the bed, with his teeth
chattering with cold and fear. He told them he had been attacked by
The two women coaxed him back to bed as if he had been a baby.
Coupeau knew but one remedy for all this, and that was a good stout
morning dram. His memory had long since fled; his brain had softened.
When Nana appeared after an absence of six weeks he thought she had
been on an errand around the corner. She met him in the street, too,
very often now, without fear, for he passed without recognizing her.
One night in the autumn Nana went out, saying she wanted some baked
pears from the fruiterer's. She felt the cold weather coming on, and
she did not care to sit before a cold stove. The winter before she
went out for two sous' worth of tobacco and came back in a month's
time; they thought she would do the same now, but they were mistaken.
Winter came and went, as did the spring, and even when June arrived
they had seen and heard nothing of her.
She was evidently comfortable somewhere, and the Coupeaus, feeling
certain that she would never return, had sold her bed; it was very
much in their way, and they could drink up the six francs it brought.
One morning Virginie called to Gervaise as the latter passed the shop
and begged her to come in and help a little, as Lantier had had two
friends to supper the night before, and Gervaise washed the dishes
while Lantier sat in the shop smoking. Presently he said:
"Oh, Gervaise, I saw Nana the other night."
Virginie, who was behind the counter, opening and shutting drawer
after drawer, with a face that lengthened as she found each empty,
shook her fist at him indignantly.
She had begun to think he saw Nana very often. She did not speak, but
Mme Lerat, who had just come in, said with a significant look:
"And where did you see her?"
"Oh, in a carriage," answered Lantier with a laugh. "And I was on the
sidewalk." He turned toward Gervaise and went on:
"Yes, she was in a carriage, dressed beautifully. I did not recognize
her at first, but she kissed her hand to me. Her friend this time must
be a vicomte at the least. She looked as happy as a queen."
Gervaise wiped the plate in her hands, rubbing it long and carefully,
though it had long since been dry. Virginie, with wrinkled brows,
wondered how she could pay two notes which fell due the next day,
while Lantier, fat and hearty from the sweets he had devoured, asked
himself if these drawers and jars would be filled up again or if the
ruin he anticipated was so near at hand that he would be compelled
to pull up stakes at once. There was not another praline for him to
crunch, not even a gumdrop.
When Gervaise went back to her room she found Coupeau sitting on the
side of the bed, weeping and moaning. She took a chair near by and
looked at him without speaking.
"I have news for you," she said at last. "Your daughter has been seen.
She is happy and comfortable. Would that I were in her place!"
Coupeau was looking down on the floor intently. He raised his head
and said with an idiotic laugh:
"Do as you please, my dear; don't let me be any hindrance to you.
When you are dressed up you are not so bad looking after all."
POVERTY AND DEGRADATION
The weather was intensely cold about the middle of January. Gervaise
had not been able to pay her rent, due on the first. She had little
or no work and consequently no food to speak of. The sky was dark and
gloomy and the air heavy with the coming of a storm. Gervaise thought
it barely possible that her husband might come in with a little money.
After all, everything is possible, and he had said that he would work.
Gervaise after a little, by dint of dwelling on this thought, had come
to consider it a certainty. Yes, Coupeau would bring home some money,
and they would have a good, hot, comfortable dinner. As to herself,
she had given up trying to get work, for no one would have her. This
did not much trouble her, however, for she had arrived at that point
when the mere exertion of moving had become intolerable to her. She
now lay stretched on the bed, for she was warmer there.
Gervaise called it a bed. In reality it was only a pile of straw
in the corner, for she had sold her bed and all her furniture. She
occasionally swept the straw together with a broom, and, after all,
it was neither dustier nor dirtier than everything else in the place.
On this straw, therefore, Gervaise now lay with her eyes wide open.
How long, she wondered, could people live without eating? She was not
hungry, but there was a strange weight at the pit of her stomach. Her
haggard eyes wandered about the room in search of anything she could
sell. She vaguely wished someone would buy the spider webs which hung
in all the corners. She knew them to be very good for cuts, but she
doubted if they had any market value.
Tired of this contemplation, she got up and took her one chair to
the window and looked out into the dingy courtyard.
Her landlord had been there that day and declared he would wait only
one week for his money, and if it were not forthcoming he would turn
them into the street. It drove her wild to see him stand in his heavy
overcoat and tell her so coldly that he would pack her off at once.
She hated him with a vindictive hatred, as she did her fool of a
husband and the Lorilleuxs and Poissons. In fact, she hated everyone
on that especial day.
Unfortunately people can't live without eating, and before the woman's
famished eyes floated visions of food. Not of dainty little dishes.
She had long since ceased to care for those and ate all she could get
without being in the least fastidious in regard to its quality. When
she had a little money she bought a bullock's heart or a bit of cheese
or some beans, and sometimes she begged from a restaurant and made
a sort of panada of the crusts they gave her, which she cooked on a
neighbor's stove. She was quite willing to dispute with a dog for a
bone. Once the thought of such things would have disgusted her, but
at that time she did not--for three days in succession--go without a
morsel of food. She remembered how last week Coupeau had stolen a half
loaf of bread and sold it, or rather exchanged it, for liquor.
She sat at the window, looking at the pale sky, and finally fell
asleep. She dreamed that she was out in a snowstorm and could not find
her way home. She awoke with a start and saw that night was coming on.
How long the days are when one's stomach is empty! She waited for
Coupeau and the relief he would bring.
The clock struck in the next room. Could it be possible? Was it only
three? Then she began to cry. How could she ever wait until seven?
After another half-hour of suspense she started up. Yes, they might
say what they pleased, but she, at least, would try to borrow ten
sous from the Lorilleuxs.
There was a continual borrowing of small sums in this corridor during
the winter, but no matter what was the emergency no one ever dreamed
of applying to the Lorilleuxs. Gervaise summoned all her courage and
rapped at the door.
"Come in!" cried a sharp voice.
How good it was there! Warm and bright with the glow of the forge. And
Gervaise smelled the soup, too, and it made her feel faint and sick.
"Ah, it is you, is it?" said Mme Lorilleux. "What do you want?"
Gervaise hesitated. The application for ten sous stuck in her throat,
because she saw Boche seated by the stove.
"What do you want?" asked Lorilleux, in his turn.
"Have you seen Coupeau?" stammered Gervaise. "I thought he was here."
His sister answered with a sneer that they rarely saw Coupeau. They
were not rich enough to offer him as many glasses of wine as he wanted
in these days.
Gervaise stammered out a disconnected sentence.
He had promised to come home. She needed food; she needed money.
A profound silence followed. Mme Lorilleux fanned her fire, and her
husband bent more closely over his work, while Boche smiled with an
"If I could have ten sous," murmured Gervaise.
The silence continued.
"If you would lend them to me," said Gervaise, "I would give them back
in the morning."
Mme Lorilleux turned and looked her full in the face, thinking to
herself that if she yielded once the next day it would be twenty sous,
and who could tell where it would stop?
"But, my dear," she cried, "you know we have no money and no prospect
of any; otherwise, of course, we would oblige you."
"Certainly," said Lorilleux, "the heart is willing, but the pockets
Gervaise bowed her head, but she did not leave instantly. She looked
at the gold wire on which her sister-in-law was working and at that in
the hands of Lorilleux and thought that it would take a mere scrap to
give her a good dinner. On that day the room was very dirty and filled
with charcoal dust, but she saw it resplendent with riches like the
shop of a money-changer, and she said once more in a low, soft voice:
"I will bring back the ten sous. I will, indeed!" Tears were in her
eyes, but she was determined not to say that she had eaten nothing
for twenty-four hours.
"I can't tell you how much I need it," she continued.
The husband and wife exchanged a look. Wooden Legs begging at their
door! Well! Well! Who would have thought it? Why had they not known it
was she when they rashly called out, "Come in?" Really, they could not
allow such people to cross their threshold; there was too much that
was valuable in the room. They had several times distrusted Gervaise;
she looked about so queerly, and now they would not take their eyes
Gervaise went toward Lorilleux as she spoke.
"Take care!" he said roughly. "You will carry off some of the
particles of gold on the soles of your shoes. It looks really as
if you had greased them!"
Gervaise drew back. She leaned against the _etagere_ for a moment
and, seeing that her sister-in-law's eyes were fixed on her hands,
she opened them and said in a gentle, weary voice--the voice of a
woman who had ceased to struggle:
"I have taken nothing. You can look for yourself."
And she went away; the warmth of the place and the smell of the soup
The Lorilleuxs shrugged their shoulders as the door closed. They
hoped they had seen the last of her face. She had brought all her
misfortunes on her own head, and she had, therefore, no right to
expect any assistance from them. Boche joined in these animadversions,
and all three considered themselves avenged for the blue shop and all
"I know her!" said Mme Lorilleux. "If I had lent her the ten sous she
wanted she would have spent it in liquor."
Gervaise crawled down the corridor with slipshod shoes and slouching
shoulders, but at her door she hesitated; she could not go in: she was
afraid. She would walk up and down a little--that would keep her warm.
As she passed she looked in at Father Bru, but to her surprise he was
not there, and she asked herself with a pang of jealousy if anyone
could possibly have asked him out to dine. When she reached the
Bijards' she heard a groan. She went in.
"What is the matter?" she said.
The room was very clean and in perfect order. Lalie that very morning
had swept and arranged everything. In vain did the cold blast of
poverty blow through that chamber and bring with it dirt and disorder.
Lalie was always there; she cleaned and scrubbed and gave to
everything a look of gentility. There was little money but much
cleanliness within those four walls.
The two children were cutting out pictures in a corner, but Lalie was
in bed, lying very straight and pale, with the sheet pulled over her
"What is the matter?" asked Gervaise anxiously.
Lalie slowly lifted her white lids and tried to speak.
"Nothing," she said faintly; "nothing, I assure you!" Then as her eyes
closed she added:
"I am only a little lazy and am taking my ease."
But her face bore the traces of such frightful agony that Gervaise
fell on her knees by the side of the bed. She knew that the child
had had a cough for a month, and she saw the blood trickling from
the corners of her mouth.
"It is not my fault," Lalie murmured. "I thought I was strong enough,
and I washed the floor. I could not finish the windows though.
Everything but those are clean. But I was so tired that I was obliged
to lie down----"
She interrupted herself to say:
"Please see that my children are not cutting themselves with the
She started at the sound of a heavy step on the stairs. Her father
noisily pushed open the door. As usual he had drunk too much, and
in his eyes blazed the lurid flames kindled by alcohol.
When he saw Lalie lying down he walked to the corner and took up the
long whip, from which he slowly unwound the lash.
"This is a good joke!" he said. "The idea of your daring to go to bed
at this hour. Come, up with you!"
He snapped the whip over the bed, and the child murmured softly:
"Do not strike me, Papa. I am sure you will be sorry if you do. Do not
"Up with you!" he cried. "Up with you!"
Then she answered faintly:
"I cannot, for I am dying."
Gervaise had snatched the whip from Bijard, who stood with his under
jaw dropped, glaring at his daughter. What could the little fool mean?
Whoever heard of a child dying like that when she had not even been
sick? Oh, she was lying!
"You will see that I am telling you the truth," she replied. "I did
not tell you as long as I could help it. Be kind to me now, Papa, and
say good-by as if you loved me."
Bijard passed his hand over his eyes. She did look very strangely--her
face was that of a grown woman. The presence of death in that cramped
room sobered him suddenly. He looked around with the air of a man who
had been suddenly awakened from a dream. He saw the two little ones
clean and happy and the room neat and orderly.
He fell into a chair.
"Dear little mother!" he murmured. "Dear little mother!"
This was all he said, but it was very sweet to Lalie, who had never
been spoiled by overpraise. She comforted him. She told him how
grieved she was to go away and leave him before she had entirely
brought up her children. He would watch over them, would he not? And
in her dying voice she gave him some little details in regard to their
clothes. He--the alcohol having regained its power--listened with
round eyes of wonder.
After a long silence Lalie spoke again:
"We owe four francs and seven sous to the baker. He must be paid.
Madame Goudron has an iron that belongs to us; you must not forget it.
This evening I was not able to make the soup, but there are bread and
As long as she breathed the poor little mite continued to be the
mother of the family. She died because her breast was too small to
contain so great a heart, and that he lost this precious treasure
was entirely her father's fault. He, wretched creature, had kicked
her mother to death and now, just as surely, murdered his daughter.
Gervaise tried to keep back her tears. She held Lalie's hands, and
as the bedclothes slipped away she rearranged them. In doing so she
caught a glimpse of the poor little figure. The sight might have drawn
tears from a stone. Lalie wore only a tiny chemise over her bruised
and bleeding flesh; marks of a lash striped her sides; a livid spot
was on her right arm, and from head to foot she was one bruise.
Gervaise was paralyzed at the sight. She wondered, if there were a God
above, how He could have allowed the child to stagger under so heavy
"Madame Coupeau," murmured the child, trying to draw the sheet over
her. She was ashamed, ashamed for her father.
Gervaise could not stay there. The child was fast sinking. Her eyes
were fixed on her little ones, who sat in the corner, still cutting
out their pictures. The room was growing dark, and Gervaise fled from
it. Ah, what an awful thing life was! And how gladly would she throw
herself under the wheels of an omnibus, if that might end it!
Almost unconsciously Gervaise took her way to the shop where her
husband worked or, rather, pretended to work. She would wait for him
and get the money before he had a chance to spend it.
It was a very cold corner where she stood. The sounds of the carriages
and footsteps were strangely muffled by reason of the fast-falling
snow. Gervaise stamped her feet to keep them from freezing. The people
who passed offered few distractions, for they hurried by with their
coat collars turned up to their ears. But Gervaise saw several women
watching the door of the factory quite as anxiously as herself--they
were wives who, like herself, probably wished to get hold of a portion
of their husbands' wages. She did not know them, but it required no
introduction to understand their business.
The door of the factory remained firmly shut for some time. Then it
opened to allow the egress of one workman; then two, three, followed,
but these were probably those who, well behaved, took their wages home
to their wives, for they neither retreated nor started when they saw
the little crowd. One woman fell on a pale little fellow and, plunging
her hand into his pocket, carried off every sou of her husband's
earnings, while he, left without enough to pay for a pint of wine,
went off down the street almost weeping.
Some other men appeared, and one turned back to warn a comrade, who
came gamely and fearlessly out, having put his silver pieces in his
shoes. In vain did his wife look for them in his pockets; in vain
did she scold and coax--he had no money, he declared.
Then came another noisy group, elbowing each other in their haste to
reach a cabaret, where they could drink away their week's wages. These
fellows were followed by some shabby men who were swearing under their
breath at the trifle they had received, having been tipsy and absent
more than half the week.
But the saddest sight of all was the grief of a meek little woman in
black, whose husband, a tall, good-looking fellow, pushed her roughly
aside and walked off down the street with his boon companions, leaving
her to go home alone, which she did, weeping her very heart out as she
Gervaise still stood watching the entrance. Where was Coupeau? She
asked some of the men, who teased her by declaring that he had just
gone by the back door. She saw by this time that Coupeau had lied to
her, that he had not been at work that day. She also saw that there
was no dinner for her. There was not a shadow of hope--nothing but
hunger and darkness and cold.
She toiled up La Rue des Poissonniers when she suddenly heard
Coupeau's voice and, glancing in at the window of a wineshop, she
saw him drinking with Mes-Bottes, who had had the luck to marry
the previous summer a woman with some money. He was now, therefore,
well clothed and fed and altogether a happy mortal and had Coupeau's
admiration. Gervaise laid her hands on her husband's shoulders as
he left the cabaret.
"I am hungry," she said softly.
"Hungry, are you? Well then, eat your fist and keep the other for
"Shall I steal a loaf of bread?" she asked in a dull, dreary tone.
Mes-Bottes smoothed his chin and said in a conciliatory voice:
"No, no! Don't do that; it is against the law. But if a woman
Coupeau interrupted him with a coarse laugh.
Yes, a woman, if she had any sense, could always get along, and it
was her own fault if she starved.
And the two men walked on toward the outer boulevard. Gervaise
followed them. Again she said:
"I am hungry. You know I have had nothing to eat. You must find me
He did not answer, and she repeated her words in a tone of agony.
"Good God!" he exclaimed, turning upon her furiously. "What can I do?
I have nothing. Be off with you, unless you want to be beaten."
He lifted his fist; she recoiled and said with set teeth:
"Very well then; I will go and find some man who has a sou."
Coupeau pretended to consider this an excellent joke. Yes of course
she could make a conquest; by gaslight she was still passably
goodlooking. If she succeeded he advised her to dine at the Capucin,
where there was very good eating.
She turned away with livid lips; he called after her:
"Bring some dessert with you, for I love cake. And perhaps you can
induce your friend to give me an old coat, for I swear it is cold
Gervaise, with this infernal mirth ringing in her ears, hurried down
the street. She was determined to take this desperate step. She had
only a choice between that and theft, and she considered that she
had a right to dispose of herself as she pleased. The question of
right and wrong did not present itself very clearly to her eyes.
"When one is starving is hardly the time," she said to herself, "to
philosophize." She walked slowly up and down the boulevard. This part
of Paris was crowded now with new buildings, between whose sculptured
facades ran narrow lanes leading to haunts of squalid misery, which
were cheek by jowl with splendor and wealth.
It seemed strange to Gervaise that among this crowd who elbowed her
there was not one good Christian to divine her situation and slip some
sous into her hand. Her head was dizzy, and her limbs would hardly
bear her weight. At this hour ladies with hats and well-dressed
gentlemen who lived in these fine new houses were mingled with the
people--with the men and women whose faces were pale and sickly from
the vitiated air of the workshops in which they passed their lives.
Another day of toil was over, but the days came too often and were
too long. One hardly had time to turn over in one's sleep when the
everlasting grind began again.
Gervaise went with the crowd. No one looked at her, for the men were
all hurrying home to their dinner. Suddenly she looked up and beheld
the Hotel Boncoeur. It was empty, the shutters and doors covered with
placards and the whole facade weather-stained and decaying. It was
there in that hotel that the seeds of her present life had been sown.
She stood still and looked up at the window of the room she had
occupied and recalled her youth passed with Lantier and the manner
in which he had left her. But she was young then and soon recovered
from the blow. That was twenty years ago, and now what was she?
The sight of the place made her sick, and she turned toward
Montmartre. She passed crowds of workwomen with little parcels in
their hands and children who had been sent to the baker's, carrying
four-pound loaves of bread as tall as themselves, which looked like
shining brown dolls.
By degrees the crowd dispersed, and Gervaise was almost alone.
Everyone was at dinner. She thought how delicious it would be to lie
down and never rise again--to feel that all toil was over. And this
was the end of her life! Gervaise, amid the pangs of hunger, thought
of some of the fete days she had known and remembered that she had not
always been miserable. Once she was pretty, fair and fresh. She had
been a kind and admired mistress in her shop. Gentlemen came to it
only to see her, and she vaguely wondered where all this youth and
this beauty had fled.
Again she looked up; she had reached the abattoirs, which were now
being torn down; the fronts were taken away, showing the dark holes
within, the very stones of which reeked with blood. Farther on was
the hospital with its high, gray walls, with two wings opening out
like a huge fan. A door in the wall was the terror of the whole
_Quartier_--the Door of the Dead, it was called--through which
all the bodies were carried.
She hurried past this solid oak door and went down to the railroad
bridge, under which a train had just passed, leaving in its rear
a floating cloud of smoke. She wished she were on that train which
would take her into the country, and she pictured to herself open
spaces and the fresh air and expanse of blue sky; perhaps she could
live a new life there.
As she thought this her weary eyes began to puzzle out in the dim
twilight the words on a printed handbill pasted on one of the pillars
of the arch. She read one--an advertisement offering fifty francs for
a lost dog. Someone must have loved the creature very much.
Gervaise turned back again. The street lamps were being lit and
defined long lines of streets and avenues. The restaurants were all
crowded, and people were eating and drinking. Before the Assommoir
stood a crowd waiting their turn and room within, and as a respectable
tradesman passed he said with a shake of the head that many a man
would be drunk that night in Paris. And over this scene hung the dark
sky, low and clouded.
Gervaise wished she had a few sous: she would, in that case, have gone
into this place and drunk until she ceased to feel hungry, and through
the window she watched the still with an angry consciousness that all
her misery and all her pain came from that. If she had never touched
a drop of liquor all might have been so different.
She started from her reverie; this was the hour of which she must
take advantage. Men had dined and were comparatively amiable. She
looked around her and toward the trees where--under the leafless
branches--she saw more than one female figure. Gervaise watched them,
determined to do what they did. Her heart was in her throat; it seemed
to her that she was dreaming a bad dream.
She stood for some fifteen minutes; none of the men who passed looked
at her. Finally she moved a little and spoke to one who, with his
hands in his pockets, was whistling as he walked.
"Sir," she said in a low voice, "please listen to me."
The man looked at her from head to foot and went on whistling louder
Gervaise grew bolder. She forgot everything except the pangs of
hunger. The women under the trees walked up and down with the
regularity of wild animals in a cage.
"Sir," she said again, "please listen."
But the man went on. She walked toward the Hotel Boncoeur again,
past the hospital, which was now brilliantly lit. There she turned
and went back over the same ground--the dismal ground between the
slaughterhouses and the place where the sick lay dying. With these
two places she seemed to feel bound by some mysterious tie.
"Sir, please listen!"
She saw her shadow on the ground as she stood near a street lamp. It
was a grotesque shadow--grotesque because of her ample proportions.
Her limp had become, with time and her additional weight, a very
decided deformity, and as she moved the lengthening shadow of herself
seemed to be creeping along the sides of the houses with bows and
curtsies of mock reverence. Never before had she realized the change
in herself. She was fascinated by this shadow. It was very droll, she
thought, and she wondered if the men did not think so too.
"Sir, please listen!"
It was growing late. Man after man, in a beastly state of
intoxication, reeled past her; quarrels and disputes filled the air.
Gervaise walked on, half asleep. She was conscious of little except
that she was starving. She wondered where her daughter was and what
she was eating, but it was too much trouble to think, and she shivered
and crawled on. As she lifted her face she felt the cutting wind,
accompanied by the snow, fine and dry, like gravel. The storm had
People were hurrying past her, but she saw one man walking slowly.
She went toward him.
"Sir, please listen!"
The man stopped. He did not seem to notice what she said but extended
his hand and murmured in a low voice:
"Charity, if you please!"
The two looked at each other. Merciful heavens! It was Father Bru
begging and Mme Coupeau doing worse. They stood looking at each
other--equals in misery. The aged workman had been trying to make up
his mind all the evening to beg, and the first person he stopped was
a woman as poor as himself! This was indeed the irony of fate. Was it
not a pity to have toiled for fifty years and then to beg his bread?
To have been one of the most flourishing laundresses in Paris and then
to make her bed in the gutter? They looked at each other once more,
and without a word each went their own way through the fast-falling
snow, which blinded Gervaise as she struggled on, the wind wrapping
her thin skirts around her legs so that she could hardly walk.
Suddenly an absolute whirlwind struck her and bore her breathless
and helpless along--she did not even know in what direction. When at
last she was able to open her eyes she could see nothing through the
blinding snow, but she heard a step and saw the outlines of a man's
figure. She snatched him by the blouse.
"Sir," she said, "please listen."
The man turned. It was Goujet.
Ah, what had she done to be thus tortured and humiliated? Was God in
heaven an angry God always? This was the last dreg of bitterness in
her cup. She saw her shadow: her limp, she felt, made her walk like an
intoxicated woman, which was indeed hard, when she had not swallowed
Goujet looked at her while the snow whitened his yellow beard.
"Come!" he said.
And he walked on, she following him. Neither spoke.
Poor Mme Goujet had died in October of acute rheumatism, and her son
continued to reside in the same apartment. He had this night been
sitting with a sick friend.
He entered, lit a lamp and turned toward Gervaise, who stood humbly
on the threshold.
"Come in!" he said in a low voice, as if his mother could have heard
The first room was that of Mme Goujet, which was unchanged since her
death. Near the window stood her frame, apparently ready for the old
lady. The bed was carefully made, and she could have slept there had
she returned from the cemetery to spend a night with her son. The room
was clean, sweet and orderly.
"Come in," repeated Goujet.
Gervaise entered with the air of a woman who is startled at finding
herself in a respectable place. He was pale and trembling. They
crossed his mother's room softly, and when Gervaise stood within
his own he closed the door.
It was the same room in which he had lived ever since she knew
him--small and almost virginal in its simplicity. Gervaise dared not
Goujet snatched her in his arms, but she pushed him away faintly.
The stove was still hot, and a dish was on the top of it. Gervaise
looked toward it. Goujet understood. He placed the dish on the table,
poured her out some wine and cut a slice of bread.
"Thank you," she said. "How good you are!"
She trembled to that degree that she could hardly hold her fork.
Hunger gave her eyes the fierceness of a famished beast and to her
head the tremulous motion of senility. After eating a potato she burst
into tears but continued to eat, with the tears streaming down her
cheeks and her chin quivering.
"Will you have some more bread?" he asked. She said no; she said yes;
she did not know what she said.
And he stood looking at her in the clear light of the lamp. How old
and shabby she was! The heat was melting the snow on her hair and
clothing, and water was dripping from all her garments. Her hair was
very gray and roughened by the wind. Where was the pretty white throat
he so well remembered? He recalled the days when he first knew her,
when her skin was so delicate and she stood at her table, briskly
moving the hot irons to and fro. He thought of the time when she had
come to the forge and of the joy with which he would have welcomed
her then to his room. And now she was there!
She finished her bread amid great silent tears and then rose to her
Goujet took her hand.
"I love you, Madame Gervaise; I love you still," he cried.
"Do not say that," she exclaimed, "for it is impossible."
He leaned toward her.
"Will you allow me to kiss you?" he asked respectfully.
She did not know what to say, so great was her emotion.
He kissed her gravely and solemnly and then pressed his lips upon
her gray hair. He had never kissed anyone since his mother's death,
and Gervaise was all that remained to him of the past.
He turned away and, throwing himself on his bed, sobbed aloud.
Gervaise could not endure this. She exclaimed:
"I love you, Monsieur Goujet, and I understand. Farewell!"
And she rushed through Mme Goujet's room and then through the street
to her home. The house was all dark, and the arched door into the
courtyard looked like huge, gaping jaws. Could this be the house where
she once desired to reside? Had she been deaf in those days, not to
have heard that wail of despair which pervaded the place from top to
bottom? From the day when she first set her foot within the house she
had steadily gone downhill.
Yes, it was a frightful way to live--so many people herded together,
to become the prey of cholera or vice. She looked at the courtyard
and fancied it a cemetery surrounded by high walls. The snow lay white
within it. She stepped over the usual stream from the dyer's, but
this time the stream was black and opened for itself a path through
the white snow. The stream was the color of her thoughts. But she
remembered when both were rosy.
As she toiled up the six long flights in the darkness she laughed
aloud. She recalled her old dream--to work quietly, have plenty to
eat, a little home to herself, where she could bring up her children,
never to be beaten, and to die in her bed! It was droll how things had
turned out. She worked no more; she had nothing to eat; she lived amid
dirt and disorder. Her daughter had gone to the bad, and her husband
beat her whenever he pleased. As for dying in her bed, she had none.
Should she throw herself out of the window and find one on the
She had not been unreasonable in her wishes, surely. She had not
asked of heaven an income of thirty thousand francs or a carriage
and horses. This was a queer world! And then she laughed again as
she remembered that she had once said that after she had worked for
twenty years she would retire into the country.
Yes, she would go into the country, for she should soon have her
little green corner in Pere-Lachaise.
Her poor brain was disturbed. She had bidden an eternal farewell to
Goujet. They would never see each other again. All was over between
them--love and friendship too.
As she passed the Bijards' she looked in and saw Lalie lying dead,
happy and at peace. It was well with the child.
"She is lucky," muttered Gervaise.
At this moment she saw a gleam of light under the undertaker's door.
She threw it wide open with a wild desire that he should take her as
well as Lalie. Bazonge had come in that night more tipsy than usual
and had thrown his hat and cloak in the corner, while he lay in the
middle of the floor.
He started up and called out:
"Shut that door! And don't stand there--it is too cold. What do you
Then Gervaise, with arms outstretched, not knowing or caring what she
said, began to entreat him with passionate vehemence: