Émile Zola.

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matches. Finally Madame Bijard took the laundry away a bundle at a time,
her face splotched with purple and her tall form bent under the weight.

"This heat is becoming unbearable, we're roasting," said Gervaise,
wiping her face before returning to Madame Boche's cap.

They talked of boxing Augustine's ears when they saw that the stove was
red-hot. The irons, also, were getting in the same condition. She must
have the very devil in her body! One could not turn one's back a moment
without her being up to some of her tricks. Now they would have to
wait a quarter of an hour before they would be able to use their irons.
Gervaise covered the fire with two shovelfuls of cinders. Then she
thought to hang some sheets on the brass wires near the ceiling to serve
as curtains to keep out the sunlight.

Things were now better in the shop. The temperature was still high, but
you could imagine it was cooler. Footsteps could still be heard outside
but you were free to make yourself comfortable. Clemence removed her
camisole again. Coupeau still refused to go to bed, so they allowed him
to stay, but he had to promise to be quiet in a corner, for they were
very busy.

"Whatever has that vermin done with my little iron?" murmured Gervaise,
speaking of Augustine.

They were for ever seeking the little iron, which they found in the most
out-of-the-way places, where the apprentice, so they said, hid it out of
spite. Gervaise could now finish Madame Boche's cap. First she roughly
smoothed the lace, spreading it out with her hand, and then she
straightened it up by light strokes of the iron. It had a very fancy
border consisting of narrow puffs alternating with insertions of
embroidery. She was working on it silently and conscientiously, ironing
the puffs and insertions.

Silence prevailed for a time. Nothing was to be heard except the soft
thud of irons on the ironing pad. On both sides of the huge rectangular
table Gervaise, her two employees, and the apprentice were bending
over, slaving at their tasks with rounded shoulders, their arms moving
incessantly. Each had a flat brick blackened by hot irons near her. A
soup plate filled with clean water was on the middle of the table with a
moistening rag and a small brush soaking in it.

A bouquet of large white lilies bloomed in what had once been a brandied
cherry jar. Its cluster of snowy flowers suggested a corner of a royal
garden. Madame Putois had begun the basket that Gervaise had brought to
her filled with towels, wrappers, cuffs and underdrawers. Augustine
was dawdling with the stockings and washcloths, gazing into the air,
seemingly fascinated by a large fly that was buzzing around. Clemence
had done thirty-four men's shirts so far that day.

"Always wine, never spirits!" suddenly said the zinc-worker, who felt
the necessity of making this declaration. "Spirits make me drunk, I'll
have none of them."

Clemence took an iron from the stove with her leather holder in which a
piece of sheet iron was inserted, and held it up to her cheek to see
how hot it was. She rubbed it on her brick, wiped it on a piece of rag
hanging from her waist-band and started on her thirty-fifth shirt, first
of all ironing the shoulders and the sleeves.

"Bah! Monsieur Coupeau," said she after a minute or two, "a little glass
of brandy isn't bad. It sets me going. Besides, the sooner you're merry,
the jollier it is. Oh! I don't make any mistake; I know that I shan't
make old bones."

"What a nuisance you are with your funeral ideas!" interrupted Madame
Putois who did not like hearing people talk of anything sad.

Coupeau had arisen and was becoming angry thinking that he had been
accused of drinking brandy. He swore on his own head and on the heads of
his wife and child that there was not a drop of brandy in his veins. And
he went up to Clemence and blew in her face so that she might smell his
breath. Then he began to giggle because her bare shoulders were right
under his nose. He thought maybe he could see more. Clemence, having
folded over the back of the shirt and ironed it on both sides, was now
working on the cuffs and collar. However, as he was shoving against her,
he caused her to make a wrinkle, obliging her to reach for the brush
soaking in the soup plate to smooth it out.

"Madame," said she, "do make him leave off bothering me."

"Leave her alone; it's stupid of you to go on like that," quietly
observed Gervaise. "We're in a hurry, do you hear?"

They were in a hurry, well! What? It was not his fault. He was doing no
harm. He was not touching, he was only looking. Was it no longer allowed
to look at the beautiful things that God had made? All the same, she had
precious fine arms, that artful Clemence! She might exhibit herself for
two sous and nobody would have to regret his money. The girl allowed him
to go on, laughing at these coarse compliments of a drunken man. And she
soon commenced joking with him. He chuffed her about the shirts. So she
was always doing shirts? Why yes, she practically lived in them. _Mon
Dieu!_ She knew them pretty well. Hundreds and hundreds of them had
passed through her hands. Just about every man in the neighborhood
was wearing her handiwork on his body. Her shoulders were shaking with
laughter through all this, but she managed to continue ironing.

"That's the banter!" said she, laughing harder than ever.

That squint-eyed Augustine almost burst, the joke seemed to her so
funny. The others bullied her. There was a brat for you who laughed at
words she ought not to understand! Clemence handed her her iron; the
apprentice finished up the irons on the stockings and the dish-cloths
when they were not hot enough for the starched things. But she took hold
of this one so clumsily that she made herself a cuff in the form of a
long burn on the wrist. And she sobbed and accused Clemence of having
burnt her on purpose. The latter who had gone to fetch a very hot iron
for the shirt-front consoled her at once by threatening to iron her two
ears if she did not leave off. Then she placed a piece of flannel under
the front and slowly passed the iron over it giving the starch time
to show up and dry. The shirt-front became as stiff and as shiny as

"By golly!" swore Coupeau, who was treading behind her with the
obstinacy of a drunkard.

He raised himself up with a shrill laugh that resembled a pulley in want
of grease. Clemence, leaning heavily over the ironing-table, her wrists
bent in, her elbows sticking out and wide apart was bending her neck in
a last effort; and all her muscles swelled, her shoulders rose with
the slow play of the muscles beating beneath the soft skin, her breasts
heaved, wet with perspiration in the rosy shadow of the half open
chemise. Then Coupeau thrust out his hands, trying to touch her bare

"Madame! Madame!" cried Clemence, "do make him leave off! I shall go
away if it continues. I won't be intimated."

Gervaise glanced over just as her husband's hands began to explore
inside the chemise.

"Really, Coupeau, you're too foolish," said she, with a vexed air, as
though she were scolding a child who persisted in eating his jam without
bread. "You must go to bed."

"Yes, go to bed, Monsieur Coupeau; it will be far better," exclaimed
Madame Putois.

"Ah! Well," stuttered he, without ceasing to chuckle, "you're all
precious particular! So one mustn't amuse oneself now? Women, I know how
to handle them; I'll only kiss them, no more. One admires a lady, you
know, and wants to show it. And, besides, when one displays one's goods,
it's that one may make one's choice, isn't it? Why does the tall blonde
show everything she's got? It's not decent."

And turning towards Clemence, he added: "You know, my lovely, you're
wrong to be to very insolent. If it's because there are others here - "

But he was unable to continue. Gervaise very calmly seized hold of him
with one hand, and placed the other on his mouth. He struggled, just by
way of a joke, whilst she pushed him to the back of the shop, towards
the bedroom. He got his mouth free and said that he was willing to go to
bed, but that the tall blonde must come and warm his feet.

Then Gervaise could be heard taking off his shoes. She removed his
clothes too, bullying him in a motherly way. He burst out laughing after
she had removed his trousers and kicked about, pretending that she was
tickling him. At last she tucked him in carefully like a child. Was he
comfortable now? But he did not answer; he called to Clemence:

"I say, my lovely, I'm here, and waiting for you!"

When Gervaise went back into the shop, the squint-eyed Augustine was
being properly chastised by Clemence because of a dirty iron that Madame
Putois had used and which had caused her to soil a camisole. Clemence,
in defending herself for not having cleaned her iron, blamed Augustine,
swearing that it wasn't hers, in spite of the spot of burned starch
still clinging to the bottom. The apprentice, outraged at the injustice,
openly spat on the front of Clemence's dress, earning a slap for her
boldness. Now, as Augustine went about cleaning the iron, she saved up
her spit and each time she passed Clemence spat on her back and laughed
to herself.

Gervaise continued with the lace of Madame Boche's cap. In the sudden
calm which ensued, one could hear Coupeau's husky voice issuing from the
depths of the bedroom. He was still jolly, and was laughing to himself
as he uttered bits of phrases.

"How stupid she is, my wife! How stupid of her to put me to bed! Really,
it's too absurd, in the middle of the day, when one isn't sleepy."

But, all on a sudden, he snored. Then Gervaise gave a sigh of relief,
happy in knowing that he was at length quiet, and sleeping off his
intoxication on two good mattresses. And she spoke out in the silence,
in a slow and continuous voice, without taking her eyes off her work.

"You see, he hasn't his reason, one can't be angry. Were I to be harsh
with him, it would be of no use. I prefer to agree with him and get him
to bed; then, at least, it's over at once and I'm quiet. Besides, he
isn't ill-natured, he loves me very much. You could see that just a
moment ago when he was desperate to give me a kiss. That's quite nice of
him. There are plenty of men, you know, who after drinking a bit don't
come straight home but stay out chasing women. Oh, he may fool around
with the women in the shop, but it doesn't lead to anything. Clemence,
you mustn't feel insulted. You know how it is when a man's had too much
to drink. He could do anything and not even remember it."

She spoke composedly, not at all angry, being quite used to Coupeau's
sprees and not holding them against him. A silence settled down for a
while when she stopped talking. There was a lot of work to get done.
They figured they would have to keep at it until eleven, working as fast
as they could. Now that they were undisturbed, all of them were pounding
away. Bare arms were moving back and forth, showing glimpses of pink
among the whiteness of the laundry.

More coke had been put into the stove and the sunlight slanted in
between the sheets onto the stove. You could see the heat rising up
through the rays of the sun. It became so stifling that Augustine ran
out of spit and was forced to lick her lips. The room smelled of
the heat and of the working women. The white lilies in the jar were
beginning to fade, yet they still exuded a pure and strong perfume.
Coupeau's heavy snores were heard like the regular ticking of a huge
clock, setting the tempo for the heavy labor in the shop.

On the morrow of his carouses, the zinc-worker always had a headache,
a splitting headache which kept him all day with his hair uncombed, his
breath offensive, and his mouth all swollen and askew. He got up late on
those days, not shaking the fleas off till about eight o'clock; and he
would hang about the shop, unable to make up his mind to start off to
his work. It was another day lost. In the morning he would complain that
his legs bent like pieces of thread, and would call himself a great fool
to guzzle to such an extent, as it broke one's constitution. Then, too,
there were a lot of lazy bums who wouldn't let you go and you'd get to
drinking more in spite of yourself. No, no, no more for him.

After lunch he would always begin to perk up and deny that he had been
really drunk the night before. Maybe just a bit lit up. He was rock
solid and able to drink anything he wanted without even blinking an eye.

When he had thoroughly badgered the workwomen, Gervaise would give him
twenty sous to clear out. And off he would go to buy his tobacco at the
"Little Civet," in the Rue des Poissonniers, where he generally took a
plum in brandy whenever he met a friend. Then, he spent the rest of
the twenty sous at old Francois's, at the corner of the Rue de la
Goutte-d'Or, where there was a famous wine, quite young, which tickled
your gullet. This was an old-fashioned place with a low ceiling. There
was a smoky room to one side where soup was served. He would stay there
until evening drinking because there was an understanding that he didn't
have to pay right away and they would never send the bill to his wife.
Besides he was a jolly fellow, who would never do the least harm - a chap
who loved a spree sure enough, and who colored his nose in his turn
but in a nice manner, full of contempt for those pigs of men who have
succumbed to alcohol, and whom one never sees sober! He always went home
as gay and as gallant as a lark.

"Has your lover been?" he would sometimes ask Gervaise by way of teasing
her. "One never sees him now; I must go and rout him out."

The lover was Goujet. He avoided, in fact, calling too often for fear of
being in the way, and also of causing people to talk. Yet he frequently
found a pretext, such as bringing the washing; and he would pass no end
of time on the pavement in front of the shop. There was a corner right
at the back in which he liked to sit, without moving for hours, and
smoke his short pipe. Once every ten days, in the evening after his
dinner, he would venture there and take up his favorite position. And he
was no talker, his mouth almost seemed sewn up, as he sat with his eyes
fixed on Gervaise, and only removed his pipe to laugh at everything she
said. When they were working late on a Saturday he would stay on, and
appeared to amuse himself more than if he had gone to a theatre.

Sometimes the women stayed in the shop ironing until three in the
morning. A lamp hung from the ceiling and spread a brilliant light
making the linen look like fresh snow. The apprentice would put up the
shop shutters, but since these July nights were scorching hot, the door
would be left open. The later the hour the more casual the women became
with their clothes while trying to be comfortable. The lamplight
flecked their rosy skin with gold specks, especially Gervaise who was so
pleasantly rounded.

On these nights Goujet would be overcome by the heat from the stove and
the odor of linen steaming under the hot irons. He would drift into a
sort of giddiness, his thinking slowed and his eyes obsessed by these
hurrying women as their naked arms moved back and forth, working far
into the night to have the neighborhood's best clothes ready for Sunday.

Everything around the laundry was slumbering, settled into sleep for the
night. Midnight rang, then one o'clock, then two o'clock. There were
no vehicles or pedestrians. In the dark and deserted street, only their
shop door let out any light. Once in a while, footsteps would be heard
and a man would pass the shop. As he crossed the path of light he would
stretch his neck to look in, startled by the sound of the thudding
irons, and carry with him the quick glimpse of bare-shouldered
laundresses immersed in a rosy mist.

Goujet, seeing that Gervaise did not know what to do with Etienne, and
wishing to deliver him from Coupeau's kicks, had engaged him to go
and blow the bellows at the factory where he worked. The profession
of bolt-maker, if not one to be proud of on account of the dirt of the
forge and of the monotony of constantly hammering on pieces of iron of
a similar kind, was nevertheless a well paid one, at which ten and even
twelve francs a day could be earned. The youngster, who was then twelve
years old, would soon be able to go in for it, if the calling was to his
liking. And Etienne had thus become another link between the laundress
and the blacksmith. The latter would bring the child home and speak of
his good conduct. Everyone laughingly said that Goujet was smitten
with Gervaise. She knew it, and blushed like a young girl, the flush of
modesty coloring her cheeks with the bright tints of an apple. The poor
fellow, he was never any trouble! He never made a bold gesture or an
indelicate remark. You didn't find many men like him. Gervaise didn't
want to admit it, but she derived a great deal of pleasure from being
adored like this. Whenever a problem arose she thought immediately of
the blacksmith and was consoled. There was never any awkward tension
when they were alone together. They just looked at each other and smiled
happily with no need to talk. It was a very sensible kind of affection.

Towards the end of the summer, Nana quite upset the household. She was
six years old and promised to be a thorough good-for-nothing. So as not
to have her always under her feet her mother took her every morning to
a little school in the Rue Polonceau kept by Mademoiselle Josse. She
fastened her playfellows' dresses together behind, she filled the
school-mistress's snuff-box with ashes, and invented other tricks much
less decent which could not be mentioned. Twice Mademoiselle Josse
expelled her and then took her back again so as not to lose the six
francs a month. Directly lessons were over Nana avenged herself for
having been kept in by making an infernal noise under the porch and in
the courtyard where the ironers, whose ears could not stand the racket,
sent her to play. There she would meet Pauline, the Boches' daughter,
and Victor, the son of Gervaise's old employer - a big booby of ten who
delighted in playing with very little girls. Madame Fauconnier who
had not quarreled with the Coupeaus would herself send her son. In
the house, too, there was an extraordinary swarm of brats, flights of
children who rolled down the four staircases at all hours of the day and
alighted on the pavement of the courtyard like troops of noisy pillaging
sparrows. Madame Gaudron was responsible for nine of them, all with
uncombed hair, runny noses, hand-me-down clothes, saggy stockings and
ripped jackets. Another woman on the sixth floor had seven of them. This
hoard that only got their faces washed when it rained were in all shapes
and sizes, fat, thin, big and barely out of the cradle.

Nana reigned supreme over this host of urchins; she ordered about girls
twice her own size, and only deigned to relinquish a little of her power
in favor of Pauline and Victor, intimate confidants who enforced her
commands. This precious chit was for ever wanting to play at being
mamma, undressing the smallest ones to dress them again, insisting on
examining the others all over, messing them about and exercising the
capricious despotism of a grown-up person with a vicious disposition.
Under her leadership they got up tricks for which they should have been
well spanked. The troop paddled in the colored water from the dyer's and
emerged from it with legs stained blue or red as high as the knees; then
off it flew to the locksmith's where it purloined nails and filings and
started off again to alight in the midst of the carpenter's shavings,
enormous heaps of shavings, which delighted it immensely and in which it
rolled head over heels exposing their behinds.

The courtyard was her kingdom. It echoed with the clatter of little
shoes as they stampeded back and forth with piercing cries. On some days
the courtyard was too small for them and the troop would dash down into
the cellar, race up a staircase, run along a corridor, then dash up
another staircase and follow another corridor for hours. They never got
tired of their yelling and clambering.

"Aren't they abominable, those little toads?" cried Madame Boche.
"Really, people can have but very little to do to have time to get so
many brats. And yet they complain of having no bread."

Boche said that children pushed up out of poverty like mushrooms out
of manure. All day long his wife was screaming at them and chasing them
with her broom. Finally she had to lock the door of the cellar when
she learned from Pauline that Nana was playing doctor down there in the
dark, viciously finding pleasure in applying remedies to the others by
beating them with sticks.

Well, one afternoon there was a frightful scene. It was bound to have
come sooner or later. Nana had thought of a very funny little game.
She had stolen one of Madame Boche's wooden shoes from outside the
concierge's room. She tied a string to it and began dragging it about
like a cart. Victor on his side had had the idea to fill it with potato
parings. Then a procession was formed. Nana came first dragging the
wooden shoe. Pauline and Victor walked on her right and left. Then
the entire crowd of urchins followed in order, the big ones first, the
little ones next, jostling one another; a baby in long skirts about as
tall as a boot with an old tattered bonnet cocked on one side of its
head, brought up the rear. And the procession chanted something sad with
plenty of ohs! and ahs! Nana had said that they were going to play at a
funeral; the potato parings represented the body. When they had gone
the round of the courtyard, they recommenced. They thought it immensely

"What can they be up to?" murmured Madame Boche, who emerged from her
room to see, ever mistrustful and on the alert.

And when she understood: "But it's my shoe!" cried she furiously. "Ah,
the rogues!"

She distributed some smacks, clouted Nana on both cheeks and
administered a kick to Pauline, that great goose who allowed the others
to steal her mother's shoe. It so happened that Gervaise was filling a
bucket at the tap. When she beheld Nana, her nose bleeding and choking
with sobs, she almost sprang at the concierge's chignon. It was not
right to hit a child as though it were an ox. One could have no heart,
one must be the lowest of the low if one did so. Madame Boche naturally
replied in a similar strain. When one had a beast of a girl like that
one should keep her locked up. At length Boche himself appeared in
the doorway to call his wife to come in and not to enter into so many
explanations with a filthy thing like her. There was a regular quarrel.

As a matter of fact things had not gone on very pleasantly between the
Boches and the Coupeaus for a month past. Gervaise, who was of a very
generous nature, was continually bestowing wine, broth, oranges and
slices of cake on the Boches. One night she had taken the remains of
an endive and beetroot salad to the concierge's room, knowing that the
latter would have done anything for such a treat. But on the morrow she
became quite pale with rage on hearing Mademoiselle Remanjou relate
how Madame Boche had thrown the salad away in the presence of several
persons with an air of disgust and under the pretext that she, thank
goodness, was not yet reduced to feeding on things which others had
messed about. From that time Gervaise took no more presents to the
Boches - nothing. Now the Boches seemed to think that Gervaise was
stealing something which was rightfully theirs. Gervaise saw that
she had made a mistake. If she hadn't catered to them so much in the
beginning, they wouldn't have gotten into the habit of expecting it and
might have remained on good terms with her.

Now the concierge began to spread slander about Gervaise. There was a
great fuss with the landlord, Monsieur Marescot, at the October rental
period, because Gervaise was a day late with the rent. Madame Boche
accused her of eating up all her money in fancy dishes. Monsieur
Marescot charged into the laundry demanding to be paid at once. He
didn't even bother to remove his hat. The money was ready and was paid
to him immediately. The Boches had now made up with the Lorilleuxs who
now came and did their guzzling in the concierge's lodge. They assured
each other that they never would have fallen out if it hadn't been for
Clump-clump. She was enough to set mountains to fighting. Ah! the Boches
knew her well now, they could understand how much the Lorilleuxs must
suffer. And whenever she passed beneath the doorway they all affected to

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