L’Assommoir by Emile Zola

Produced by Cam Venezuela, Earle Beach, Eric Eldred, and the Distributed Online Proofing Team L’ASSOMMOIR By Emile Zola CHAPTER I GERVAISE Gervaise had waited and watched for Lantier until two in the morning. Then chilled and shivering, she turned from the window and threw herself across the bed, where she fell into a feverish doze
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Produced by Cam Venezuela, Earle Beach, Eric Eldred, and the Distributed Online Proofing Team


By Emile Zola



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

A fresh, youthful voice caused her to turn around.

“Lantier has not come in then?”

“No, Monsieur Coupeau,” she answered, trying to smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are up early, Madame Lantier!”

Gervaise leaned out.

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

“Is that so? Well, things don’t get done by themselves, that’s sure!”

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

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

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

“Is Monsieur Lantier still asleep?” she asked suddenly.

“Yes, he is asleep,” answered Gervaise with flushing cheeks.

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

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

Then as if moved by sudden compassion, she added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No! No!”

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

“A nice-looking place, this!” he muttered.

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

“So! You have given up washing yourself, it seems!”

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

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

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

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

She did not heed his word but continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You do not know what you have done, Gervaise. You are wrong–as you will soon discover.”

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

“If you were not here, my poor darlings! If you were not here! If you were not here!”

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing? Are you going out?”

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

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

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

“Have you any money?”

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

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

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

“Take them,” he said, “and make haste back from the pawnbroker’s.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No–let that alone.”

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

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

“Confound you!” he muttered. “Will you never learn to obey? When I say a thing I mean it–“

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

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

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

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

“Be very good and keep quiet. Papa is sleeping.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As she brushed they talked.

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

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

“The water is very hard in Paris,” she said.

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

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

Then aloud:

“He is not good to you then?”

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

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

“I must get my scalding water,” she murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I tell you I know nothing whatever, nothing more than I tell you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly Mme Boche cried out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did Papa send you?” asked Gervaise.

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

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

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

“Papa is gone!”

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

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

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

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

“Great God! Great God! Great God!”

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

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

“Was there a lady in the carriage?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

“Come! Come, my child!” muttered Mme Boche.

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

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

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

Then in a maternal tone she added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know very well–you know very well! Your sister–yes, I will strangle your sister!”

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

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

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

“Miserable fool!” cried Gervaise, white with anger.

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

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

“Is that enough? Will that cool you off?” cried Gervaise.

And from Virginie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mme Boche called to the boy in charge:

“Charles! Charles! Where on earth can he be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This will be as good for you as for your dirty linen!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Enough! Enough!” they cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then you say no, do you? Absolutely no?”

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

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

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

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

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

She shrugged her shoulders.

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

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

Coupeau listened quietly, saying only at intervals:

“You are hurting my feelings. Yes, hurting my feelings.”

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

And she stooped to pick up her basket.

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

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

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

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

A group formed around the door of the Assommoir.

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

Five workmen went in, and the same voice said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

She laughed gaily.

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

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

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

“My very lameness–” she continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t be so silly!” returned Coupeau angrily.

But the other gave a knowing wink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It frightens me–that machine! It makes me feel cold to see that constant drip.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gervaise interrupted him suddenly:

“Did I hear your friend call you Cadet-Cassis?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come up,” said Coupeau; “they won’t eat you.”

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

When she had reached this place she again looked up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gervaise was astonished and very grave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You say yes, do you not?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And have they gold in these rooms?” asked Gervaise.

“I should say so! It is on the walls, on the floors–everywhere!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he was not answered immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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