Émile Zola.

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had happened to him. A good worker like him, not a loafer or a drunkard,
he could have understood in that case.

"Papa Coupeau," said he, "broke his neck one day that he'd been boozing.
I can't say that it was deserved, but anyhow it was explainable. I had
had nothing since my lunch, was perfectly quiet, and without a drop of
liquor in my body; and yet I came to grief just because I wanted to turn
round to smile at Nana! Don't you think that's too much? If there is a
providence, it certainly arranges things in a very peculiar manner. I,
for one, shall never believe in it."

And when at last he was able to use his legs, he retained a secret
grudge against work. It was a handicraft full of misfortunes to pass
one's days, like the cats, on the roofs of the houses. The employers
were no fools! They sent you to your death - being far too cowardly to
venture themselves on a ladder - and stopped at home in safety at their
fire-sides without caring a hang for the poorer classes; and he got to
the point of saying that everyone ought to fix the zinc himself on his
own house. _Mon Dieu_! It was the only fair way to do it! If you don't
want the rain to come in, do the work yourself. He regretted he
hadn't learned another trade, something more pleasant, something less
dangerous, maybe cabinetmaking. It was really his father's fault. Lots
of fathers have the foolish habit of shoving their sons into their own
line of work.

For another two months Coupeau hobbled about on crutches. He had first
of all managed to get as far as the street, and smoke his pipe in
front of the door. Then he had managed to reach the exterior Boulevard,
dragging himself along in the sunshine, and remaining for hours on one
of the seats. Gaiety returned to him; his infernal tongue got sharper in
these long hours of idleness. And with the pleasure of living, he gained
there a delight in doing nothing, an indolent feeling took possession of
his limbs, and his muscles gradually glided into a very sweet slumber.
It was the slow victory of laziness, which took advantage of his
convalescence to obtain possession of his body and unnerve him with
its tickling. He regained his health, as thorough a banterer as before,
thinking life beautiful, and not seeing why it should not last for ever.

As soon as he could get about without the crutches, he made longer
walks, often visiting construction jobs to see old comrades. He would
stand with his arms folded, sneering and shaking his head, ridiculing
the workers slaving at the job, stretching out his leg to show them what
you got for wearing yourself out. Being able to stand about and mock
others while they were working satisfied his spite against hard work.
No doubt he'd have to go back to it, but he'd put it off as long as
possible. He had a reason now to be lazy. Besides, it seemed good to him
to loaf around like a bum!

On the afternoons when Coupeau felt dull, he would call on the
Lorilleuxs. The latter would pity him immensely, and attract him with
all sorts of amiable attentions. During the first years following his
marriage, he had avoided them, thanks to Gervaise's influence. Now they
regained their sway over him by twitting him about being afraid of his
wife. He was no man, that was evident! The Lorilleuxs, however, showed
great discretion, and were loud in their praise of the laundress's good
qualities. Coupeau, without as yet coming to wrangling, swore to the
latter that his sister adored her, and requested that she would behave
more amiably to her. The first quarrel which the couple had occurred one
evening on account of Etienne. The zinc-worker had passed the afternoon
with the Lorilleuxs. On arriving home, as the dinner was not quite
ready, and the children were whining for their soup, he suddenly turned
upon Etienne, and boxed his ears soundly. And during an hour he did not
cease to grumble; the brat was not his; he did not know why he allowed
him to be in the place; he would end by turning him out into the street.
Up till then he had tolerated the youngster without all that fuss. On
the morrow he talked of his dignity. Three days after, he kept kicking
the little fellow, morning and evening, so much so that the child,
whenever he heard him coming, bolted into the Goujets' where the old
lace-mender kept a corner of the table clear for him to do his lessons.

Gervaise had for some time past, returned to work. She no longer had the
trouble of looking under the glass cover of the clock; all the savings
were gone; and she had to work hard, work for four, for there were
four to feed now. She alone maintained them. Whenever she heard people
pitying her, she at once found excuses for Coupeau. Recollect! He had
suffered so much; it was not surprising if his disposition had soured!
But it would pass off when his health returned. And if any one hinted
that Coupeau seemed all right again, that he could very well return to
work, she protested: No, no; not yet! She did not want to see him take
to his bed again. They would allow her to know best what the doctor
said, perhaps! It was she who prevented him returning to work, telling
him every morning to take his time and not to force himself. She even
slipped twenty sou pieces into his waistcoat pocket. Coupeau accepted
this as something perfectly natural. He was always complaining of aches
and pains so that she would coddle him. At the end of six months he was
still convalescing.

Now, whenever he went to watch others working, he was always ready to
join his comrades in downing a shot. It wasn't so bad, after all.
They had their fun, and they never stayed more than five minutes. That
couldn't hurt anybody. Only a hypocrite would say he went in because he
wanted a drink. No wonder they had laughed at him in the past. A glass
of wine never hurt anybody. He only drank wine though, never brandy.
Wine never made you sick, didn't get you drunk, and helped you to live
longer. Soon though, several times, after a day of idleness in going
from one building job to another, he came home half drunk. On those
occasions Gervaise pretended to have a terrible headache and kept
their door closed so that the Goujets wouldn't hear Coupeau's drunken

Little by little, the young woman lost her cheerfulness. Morning and
evening she went to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or to look at the shop,
which was still to be let; and she would hide herself as though she were
committing some childish prank unworthy of a grown-up person. This shop
was beginning to turn her brain. At night-time, when the light was out
she experienced the charm of some forbidden pleasure by thinking of it
with her eyes open. She again made her calculations; two hundred and
fifty francs for the rent, one hundred and fifty francs for utensils
and moving, one hundred francs in hand to keep them going for a
fortnight - in all five hundred francs at the very lowest figure. If she
was not continually thinking of it aloud, it was for fear she should be
suspected of regretting the savings swallowed up by Coupeau's illness.
She often became quite pale, having almost allowed her desire to escape
her and catching back her words, quite confused as though she had been
thinking of something wicked. Now they would have to work for four or
five years before they would succeed in saving such a sum. Her regret
was at not being able to start in business at once; she would have
earned all the home required, without counting on Coupeau, letting him
take months to get into the way of work again; she would no longer have
been uneasy, but certain of the future and free from the secret fears
which sometimes seized her when he returned home very gay and singing,
and relating some joke of that animal My-Boots, whom he had treated to a

One evening, Gervaise being at home alone, Goujet entered, and did not
hurry off again, according to his habit. He seated himself, and smoked
as he watched her. He probably had something very serious to say; he
thought it over, let it ripen without being able to put it into suitable
words. At length, after a long silence, he appeared to make up his mind,
and took his pipe out of his mouth to say all in a breath:

"Madame Gervaise, will you allow me to lend you some money?"

She was leaning over an open drawer, looking for some dish-cloths. She
got up, her face very red. He must have seen her then, in the morning,
standing in ecstacy before the shop for close upon ten minutes. He was
smiling in an embarrassed way, as though he had made some insulting
proposal. But she hastily refused. Never would she accept money from any
one without knowing when she would be able to return it. Then also
it was a question of too large an amount. And as he insisted, in a
frightened manner, she ended by exclaiming:

"But your marriage? I certainly can't take the money you've been saving
for your marriage!"

"Oh, don't let that bother you," he replied, turning red in his turn.
"I'm not going to be married now. That was just an idea, you know.
Really, I would much sooner lend you the money."

Then they both held down their heads. There was something very pleasant
between them to which they did not give expression. And Gervaise
accepted. Goujet had told his mother. They crossed the landing, and went
to see her at once. The lace-mender was very grave, and looked rather
sad as she bent her face over her tambour-frame. She would not thwart
her son, but she no longer approved Gervaise's project; and she plainly
told her why. Coupeau was going to the bad; Coupeau would swallow up
her shop. She especially could not forgive the zinc-worker for having
refused to learn to read during his convalescence. The blacksmith had
offered to teach him, but the other had sent him to the right about,
saying that learning made people get thin. This had almost caused a
quarrel between the two workmen; each went his own way. Madame Goujet,
however, seeing her big boy's beseeching glances, behaved very kindly
to Gervaise. It was settled that they would lend their neighbors five
hundred francs; the latter were to repay the amount by installments of
twenty francs a month; it would last as long as it lasted.

"I say, the blacksmith's sweet on you," exclaimed Coupeau, laughing,
when he heard what had taken place. "Oh, I'm quite easy; he's too big a
muff. We'll pay him back his money. But, really, if he had to deal with
some people, he'd find himself pretty well duped."

On the morrow the Coupeaus took the shop. All day long, Gervaise was
running from Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d'Or. When the neighbors beheld her
pass thus, nimble and delighted to the extent that she no longer limped,
they said she must have undergone some operation.


It so happened that the Boches had left the Rue des Poissonniers at the
April quarter, and were now taking charge of the great house in the Rue
de la Goutte-d'Or. It was a curious coincidence, all the same! One thing
that worried Gervaise who had lived so quietly in her lodgings in the
Rue Neuve, was the thought of again being under the subjection of some
unpleasant person, with whom she would be continually quarrelling,
either on account of water spilt in the passage or of a door shut too
noisily at night-time. Concierges are such a disagreeable class! But it
would be a pleasure to be with the Boches. They knew one another - they
would always get on well together. It would be just like members of the
same family.

On the day the Coupeaus went to sign their lease, Gervaise felt her
heart swollen with pride as she passed through the high doorway. She
was then at length going to live in that house as vast as a little town,
with its interminable staircases, and passages as long and winding as
streets. She was excited by everything: the gray walls with varicolored
rugs hanging from windows to dry in the sun, the dingy courtyard with
as many holes in its pavement as a public square, the hum of activity
coming through the walls. She felt joy that she was at last about to
realize her ambition. She also felt fear that she would fail and be
crushed in the endless struggle against the poverty and starvation she
could feel breathing down her neck. It seemed to her that she was doing
something very bold, throwing herself into the midst of some machinery
in motion, as she listened to the blacksmith's hammers and the
cabinetmakers' planes, hammering and hissing in the depths of the
work-shops on the ground floor. On that day the water flowing from
the dyer's under the entrance porch was a very pale apple green. She
smilingly stepped over it; to her the color was a pleasant omen.

The meeting with the landlord was to take place in the Boches' room.
Monsieur Marescot, a wealthy cutler of the Rue de la Paix, had at one
time turned a grindstone through the streets. He was now stated to be
worth several millions. He was a man of fifty-five, large and big-boned.
Even though he now wore a decoration in his button-hole, his huge hands
were still those of a former workingman. It was his joy to carry off the
scissors and knives of his tenants, to sharpen them himself, for the fun
of it. He often stayed for hours with his concierges, closed up in the
darkness of their lodges, going over the accounts. That's where he did
all his business. He was now seated by Madame Boche's kitchen table,
listening to her story of how the dressmaker on the third floor,
staircase A, had used a filthy word in refusing to pay her rent. He had
had to work precious hard once upon a time. But work was the high road
to everything. And, after counting the two hundred and fifty francs for
the first two quarters in advance, and dropping them into his capacious
pocket, he related the story of his life, and showed his decoration.

Gervaise, however, felt rather ill at ease on account of the Boches'
behavior. They pretended not to know her. They were most assiduous in
their attentions to the landlord, bowing down before him, watching
for his least words, and nodding their approval of them. Madame Boche
suddenly ran out and dispersed a group of children who were paddling
about in front of the cistern, the tap of which they had turned full
on, causing the water to flow over the pavement; and when she returned,
upright and severe in her skirts, crossing the courtyard and glancing
slowly up at all the windows, as though to assure herself of the good
behavior of the household, she pursed her lips in a way to show with
what authority she was invested, now that she reigned over three hundred
tenants. Boche again spoke of the dressmaker on the second floor; he
advised that she should be turned out; he reckoned up the number of
quarters she owed with the importance of a steward whose management
might be compromised. Monsieur Marescot approved the suggestion of
turning her out, but he wished to wait till the half quarter. It was
hard to turn people out into the street, more especially as it did not
put a sou into the landlord's pocket. And Gervaise asked herself with a
shudder if she too would be turned out into the street the day that some
misfortune rendered her unable to pay.

The concierge's lodge was as dismal as a cellar, black from smoke and
crowded with dark furniture. All the sunlight fell upon the tailor's
workbench by the window. An old frock coat that was being reworked lay
on it. The Boches' only child, a four-year-old redhead named Pauline,
was sitting on the floor, staring quietly at the veal simmering on
the stove, delighted with the sharp odor of cooking that came from the
frying pan.

Monsieur Marescot again held out his hand to the zinc-worker, when the
latter spoke of the repairs, recalling to his mind a promise he had made
to talk the matter over later on. But the landlord grew angry, he had
never promised anything; besides, it was not usual to do any repairs
to a shop. However, he consented to go over the place, followed by the
Coupeaus and Boche. The little linen-draper had carried off all his
shelves and counters; the empty shop displayed its blackened ceiling and
its cracked wall, on which hung strips of an old yellow paper. In the
sonorous emptiness of the place, there ensued a heated discussion.
Monsieur Marescot exclaimed that it was the business of shopkeepers
to embellish their shops, for a shopkeeper might wish to have gold put
about everywhere, and he, the landlord, could not put out gold. Then he
related that he had spent more than twenty thousand francs in fitting
up his premises in the Rue de la Paix. Gervaise, with her woman's
obstinacy, kept repeating an argument which she considered unanswerable.
He would repaper a lodging, would he not? Then, why did he not treat the
shop the same as a lodging? She did not ask him for anything else - only
to whitewash the ceiling, and put some fresh paper on the walls.

Boche, all this while, remained dignified and impenetrable; he turned
about and looked up in the air, without expressing an opinion. Coupeau
winked at him in vain; he affected not to wish to take advantage of his
great influence over the landlord. He ended, however, by making a slight
grimace - a little smile accompanied by a nod of the head. Just then
Monsieur Marescot, exasperated, and seemingly very unhappy, and
clutching his fingers like a miser being despoiled of his gold, was
giving way to Gervaise, promising to do the ceiling and repaper the shop
on condition that she paid for half of the paper. And he hurried away
declining to discuss anything further.

Now that Boche was alone with the Coupeaus, the concierge became quite
talkative and slapped them on the shoulders. Well, well, see what
they had gotten. Without his help, they would never have gotten the
concessions. Didn't they notice how the landlord had looked to him
out of the corner of his eye for advice and how he'd made up his mind
suddenly when he saw Boche smile? He confessed to them confidentially
that he was the real boss of the building. It was he who decided who
got eviction notices and who could become tenants. He collected all the
rents and kept them for a couple of weeks in his bureau drawer.

That evening the Coupeaus, to express their gratitude to the Boches,
sent them two bottles of wine as a present.

The following Monday the workmen started doing up the shop. The
purchasing of the paper turned out especially to be a very big affair.
Gervaise wanted a grey paper with blue flowers, so as to enliven and
brighten the walls. Boche offered to take her to the dealers, so that
she might make her own selection. But the landlord had given him formal
instructions not to go beyond the price of fifteen sous the piece. They
were there an hour. The laundress kept looking in despair at a very
pretty chintz pattern costing eighteen sous the piece, and thought all
the other papers hideous. At length the concierge gave in; he would
arrange the matter, and, if necessary, would make out there was a
piece more used than was really the case. So, on her way home, Gervaise
purchased some tarts for Pauline. She did not like being behindhand - one
always gained by behaving nicely to her.

The shop was to be ready in four days. The workmen were there three
weeks. At first it was arranged that they should merely wash the paint.
But this paint, originally maroon, was so dirty and so sad-looking, that
Gervaise allowed herself to be tempted to have the whole of the frontage
painted a light blue with yellow moldings. Then the repairs seemed as
though they would last for ever. Coupeau, as he was still not working,
arrived early each morning to see how things were going. Boche left the
overcoat or trousers on which he was working to come and supervise.
Both of them would stand and watch with their hands behind their backs,
puffing on their pipes.

The painters were very merry fellows who would often desert their work
to stand in the middle of the shop and join the discussion, shaking
their heads for hours, admiring the work already done. The ceiling had
been whitewashed quickly, but the paint on the walls never seemed to dry
in a hurry.

Around nine o'clock the painters would arrive with their paint pots
which they stuck in a corner. They would look around and then disappear.
Perhaps they went to eat breakfast. Sometimes Coupeau would take
everyone for a drink - Boche, the two painters and any of Coupeau's
friends who were nearby. This meant another afternoon wasted.

Gervaise's patience was thoroughly exhausted, when, suddenly, everything
was finished in two days, the paint varnished, the paper hung, and the
dirt all cleared away. The workmen had finished it off as though they
were playing, whistling away on their ladders, and singing loud enough
to deafen the whole neighborhood.

The moving in took place at once. During the first few days Gervaise
felt as delighted as a child. Whenever she crossed the road on returning
from some errand, she lingered to smile at her home. From a distance her
shop appeared light and gay with its pale blue signboard, on which the
word "Laundress" was painted in big yellow letters, amidst the dark row
of the other frontages. In the window, closed in behind by little
muslin curtains, and hung on either side with blue paper to show off the
whiteness of the linen, some shirts were displayed, with some women's
caps hanging above them on wires. She thought her shop looked pretty,
being the same color as the heavens.

Inside there was more blue; the paper, in imitation of a Pompadour
chintz, represented a trellis overgrown with morning-glories. A huge
table, taking up two-thirds of the room, was her ironing-table. It
was covered with thick blanketing and draped with a strip of cretonne
patterned with blue flower sprays that hid the trestles beneath.

Gervaise was enchanted with her pretty establishment and would often
seat herself on a stool and sigh with contentment, delighted with all
the new equipment. Her first glance always went to the cast-iron stove
where the irons were heated ten at a time, arranged over the heat on
slanting rests. She would kneel down to look into the stove to make sure
the apprentice had not put in too much coke.

The lodging at the back of the shop was quite decent. The Coupeaus slept
in the first room, where they also did the cooking and took their meals;
a door at the back opened on to the courtyard of the house. Nana's bed
was in the right hand room, which was lighted by a little round window
close to the ceiling. As for Etienne, he shared the left hand room with
the dirty clothes, enormous bundles of which lay about on the floor.
However, there was one disadvantage - the Coupeaus would not admit it
at first - but the damp ran down the walls, and it was impossible to see
clearly in the place after three o'clock in the afternoon.

In the neighborhood the new shop produced a great sensation. The
Coupeaus were accused of going too fast, and making too much fuss.
They had, in fact, spent the five hundred francs lent by the Goujets in
fitting up the shop and in moving, without keeping sufficient to live
upon for a fortnight, as they had intended doing. The morning that
Gervaise took down her shutters for the first time, she had just six
francs in her purse. But that did not worry her, customers began to
arrive, and things seemed promising. A week later on the Saturday,
before going to bed, she remained two hours making calculations on a
piece of paper, and she awoke Coupeau to tell him, with a bright look on
her face, that there were hundreds and thousands of francs to be made,
if they were only careful.

"Ah, well!" said Madame Lorilleux all over the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or,
"my fool of a brother is seeing some funny things! All that was wanting
was that Clump-clump should go about so haughty. It becomes her well,
doesn't it?"

The Lorilleuxs had declared a feud to the death against Gervaise. To
begin with, they had almost died of rage during the time while the
repairs were being done to the shop. If they caught sight of the
painters from a distance, they would walk on the other side of the way,
and go up to their rooms with their teeth set. A blue shop for that
"nobody," it was enough to discourage all honest, hard-working people!
Besides, the second day after the shop opened the apprentice happened to
throw out a bowl of starch just at the moment when Madame Lorilleux
was passing. The zinc-worker's sister caused a great commotion in
the street, accusing her sister-in-law of insulting her through her
employees. This broke off all relations. Now they only exchanged
terrible glares when they encountered each other.

"Yes, she leads a pretty life!" Madame Lorilleux kept saying. "We all

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