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Émile Zola.

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sneer at her.

One day, Gervaise went up to see the Lorilleuxs in spite of this. It
was with respect to mother Coupeau who was then sixty-seven years old.
Mother Coupeau's eyesight was almost completely gone. Her legs too were
no longer what they used to be. She had been obliged to give up her last
cleaning job and now threatened to die of hunger if assistance were
not forthcoming. Gervaise thought it shameful that a woman of her age,
having three children should be thus abandoned by heaven and earth. And
as Coupeau refused to speak to the Lorilleuxs on the subject saying that
she, Gervaise, could very well go and do so, the latter went up in a fit
of indignation with which her heart was almost bursting.

When she reached their door she entered without knocking. Nothing had
been changed since the night when the Lorilleuxs, at their first meeting
had received her so ungraciously. The same strip of faded woolen stuff
separated the room from the workshop, a lodging like a gun barrel, and
which looked as though it had been built for an eel. Right at the back
Lorilleux, leaning over his bench, was squeezing together one by one the
links of a piece of chain, whilst Madame Lorilleux, standing in front
of the vise was passing a gold wire through the draw-plate. In the broad
daylight the little forge had a rosy reflection.

"Yes, it's I!" said Gervaise. "I daresay you're surprised to see me as
we're at daggers drawn. But I've come neither for you nor myself you may
be quite sure. It's for mother Coupeau that I've come. Yes, I have
come to see if we're going to let her beg her bread from the charity of
others."

"Ah, well, that's a fine way to burst in upon one!" murmured Madame
Lorilleux. "One must have a rare cheek."

And she turned her back and resumed drawing her gold wire, affecting to
ignore her sister-in-law's presence. But Lorilleux raised his pale face
and cried:

"What's that you say?"

Then, as he had heard perfectly well, he continued:

"More back-bitings, eh? She's nice, mother Coupeau, to go and cry
starvation everywhere! Yet only the day before yesterday she dined here.
We do what we can. We haven't got all the gold of Peru. Only if she goes
about gossiping with others she had better stay with them, for we don't
like spies."

He took up the piece of chain and turned his back also, adding as though
with regret:

"When everyone gives five francs a month, we'll give five francs."

Gervaise had calmed down and felt quite chilled by the wooden looking
faces of the Lorilleux. She had never once set foot in their rooms
without experiencing a certain uneasiness. With her eyes fixed on the
floor, staring at the holes of the wooden grating through which the
waste gold fell she now explained herself in a reasonable manner. Mother
Coupeau had three children; if each one gave five francs it would only
make fifteen francs, and really that was not enough, one could not live
on it; they must at least triple the sum. But Lorilleux cried out.
Where did she think he could steal fifteen francs a month? It was quite
amusing, people thought he was rich simply because he had gold in his
place. He began then to criticize mother Coupeau: she had to have
her morning coffee, she took a sip of brandy now and then, she was as
demanding as if she were rich. _Mon Dieu!_ Sure, everyone liked the
good things of life. But if you've never saved a sou, you had to do what
other folks did and do without. Besides, mother Coupeau wasn't too old
to work. She could see well enough when she was trying to pick a choice
morsel from the platter. She was just an old spendthrift trying to get
others to provide her with comforts. Even had he had the means, he would
have considered it wrong to support any one in idleness.

Gervaise remained conciliatory, and peaceably argued against all this
bad reasoning. She tried to soften the Lorilleuxs. But the husband ended
by no longer answering her. The wife was now at the forge scouring
a piece of chain in the little, long-handled brass saucepan full of
lye-water. She still affectedly turned her back, as though a hundred
leagues away. And Gervaise continued speaking, watching them pretending
to be absorbed in their labor in the midst of the black dust of the
workshop, their bodies distorted, their clothes patched and greasy, both
become stupidly hardened like old tools in the pursuit of their narrow
mechanical task. Then suddenly anger again got the better of her and she
exclaimed:

"Very well, I'd rather it was so; keep your money! I'll give mother
Coupeau a home, do you hear? I picked up a cat the other evening, so I
can at least do the same for your mother. And she shall be in want of
nothing; she shall have her coffee and her drop of brandy! Good heavens!
what a vile family!"

At these words Madame Lorilleux turned round. She brandished the
saucepan as though she was about to throw the lye-water in her
sister-in-law's face. She stammered with rage:

"Be off, or I shall do you an injury! And don't count on the five francs
because I won't give a radish! No, not a radish! Ah well, yes, five
francs! Mother would be your servant and you would enjoy yourself with
my five francs! If she goes to live with you, tell her this, she may
croak, I won't even send her a glass of water. Now off you go! Clear
out!"

"What a monster of a woman!" said Gervaise violently slamming the door.

On the morrow she brought mother Coupeau to live with her, putting her
bed in the inner room where Nana slept. The moving did not take long,
for all the furniture mother Coupeau had was her bed, an ancient walnut
wardrobe which was put in the dirty-clothes room, a table, and two
chairs. They sold the table and had the chairs recaned. From the very
first the old lady took over the sweeping. She washed the dishes and
made herself useful, happy to have settled her problem.

The Lorilleux were furious enough to explode, especially since Madame
Lerat was now back on good terms with the Coupeaus. One day the two
sisters, the flower-maker and the chainmaker came to blows about
Gervaise because Madame Lerat dared to express approval of the way she
was taking care of their mother. When she noticed how this upset the
other, she went on to remark that Gervaise had magnificent eyes, eyes
warm enough to set paper on fire. The two of them commenced slapping
each other and swore they never would see each other again. Nowadays
Madame Lerat often spent her evenings in the shop, laughing to herself
at Clemence's spicy remarks.

Three years passed by. There were frequent quarrels and reconciliations.
Gervaise did not care a straw for the Lorilleux, the Boches and all the
others who were not of her way of thinking. If they did not like it,
they could forget it. She earned what she wished, that was her principal
concern. The people of the neighborhood had ended by greatly esteeming
her, for one did not find many customers so kind as she was, paying
punctually, never caviling or higgling. She bought her bread of Madame
Coudeloup, in the Rue des Poissonniers; her meat of stout Charles, a
butcher in the Rue Polonceau; her groceries at Lehongre's, in the Rue
de la Goutte-d'Or, almost opposite her own shop. Francois, the wine
merchant at the corner of the street, supplied her with wine in baskets
of fifty bottles. Her neighbor Vigouroux, whose wife's hips must have
been black and blue, the men pinched her so much, sold coke to her at
the same price as the gas company. And, in all truth, her tradespeople
served her faithfully, knowing that there was everything to gain by
treating her well.

Besides, whenever she went out around the neighborhood, she was greeted
everywhere. She felt quite at home. Sometimes she put off doing a
laundry job just to enjoy being outdoors among her good friends. On days
when she was too rushed to do her own cooking and had to go out to buy
something already cooked, she would stop to gossip with her arms full
of bowls. The neighbor she respected the most was still the watchmaker.
Often she would cross the street to greet him in his tiny cupboard of
a shop, taking pleasure in the gaiety of the little cuckoo clocks with
their pendulums ticking away the hours in chorus.



CHAPTER VI.

One afternoon in the autumn Gervaise, who had been taking some washing
home to a customer in the Rue des Portes-Blanches, found herself at the
bottom of the Rue des Poissonniers just as the day was declining. It had
rained in the morning, the weather was very mild and an odor rose from
the greasy pavement; and the laundress, burdened with her big basket,
was rather out of breath, slow of step, and inclined to take her ease
as she ascended the street with the vague preoccupation of a longing
increased by her weariness. She would have liked to have had something
to eat. Then, on raising her eyes she beheld the name of the Rue
Marcadet, and she suddenly had the idea of going to see Goujet at
his forge. He had no end of times told her to look in any day she was
curious to see how iron was wrought. Besides in the presence of other
workmen she would ask for Etienne, and make believe that she had merely
called for the youngster.

The factory was somewhere on this end of the Rue Marcadet, but she
didn't know exactly where and street numbers were often lacking on those
ramshackle buildings separated by vacant lots. She wouldn't have lived
on this street for all the gold in the world. It was a wide street, but
dirty, black with soot from factories, with holes in the pavement and
deep ruts filled with stagnant water. On both sides were rows of
sheds, workshops with beams and brickwork exposed so that they seemed
unfinished, a messy collection of masonry. Beside them were dubious
lodging houses and even more dubious taverns. All she could recall was
that the bolt factory was next to a yard full of scrap iron and rags,
a sort of open sewer spread over the ground, storing merchandise worth
hundreds of thousands of francs, according to Goujet.

The street was filled with a noisy racket. Exhaust pipes on roofs
puffed out violent jets of steam; an automatic sawmill added a rhythmic
screeching; a button factory shook the ground with the rumbling of its
machines. She was looking up toward the Montmartre height, hesitant,
uncertain whether to continue, when a gust of wind blew down a mass of
sooty smoke that covered the entire street. She closed her eyes and held
her breath. At that moment she heard the sound of hammers in cadence.
Without realizing it, she had arrived directly in front of the bolt
factory which she now recognized by the vacant lot beside it full of
piles of scrap iron and old rags.

She still hesitated, not knowing where to enter. A broken fence opened
a passage which seemed to lead through the heaps of rubbish from some
buildings recently pulled down. Two planks had been thrown across a
large puddle of muddy water that barred the way. She ended by venturing
along them, turned to the left and found herself lost in the depths of
a strange forest of old carts, standing on end with their shafts in the
air, and of hovels in ruins, the wood-work of which was still standing.
Toward the back, stabbing through the half-light of sundown, a flame
gleamed red. The clamor of the hammers had ceased. She was advancing
carefully when a workman, his face blackened with coal-dust and wearing
a goatee passed near her, casting a side-glance with his pale eyes.

"Sir," asked she, "it's here is it not that a boy named Etienne works?
He's my son."

"Etienne, Etienne," repeated the workman in a hoarse voice as he twisted
himself about. "Etienne; no I don't know him."

An alcoholic reek like that from old brandy casks issued from his mouth.
Meeting a woman in this dark corner seemed to be giving the fellow
ideas, and so Gervaise drew back saying:

"But yet it's here that Monsieur Goujet works, isn't it?"

"Ah! Goujet, yes!" said the workman; "I know Goujet! If you come for
Goujet, go right to the end."

And turning round he called out at the top of his voice, which had a
sound of cracked brass:

"I say Golden-Mug, here's a lady wants you!"

But a clanging of iron drowned the cry! Gervaise went to the end. She
reached a door and stretching out her neck looked in. At first she could
distinguish nothing. The forge had died down, but there was still a
little glow which held back the advancing shadows from its corner. Great
shadows seemed to float in the air. At times black shapes passed before
the fire, shutting off this last bit of brightness, silhouettes of
men so strangely magnified that their arms and legs were indistinct.
Gervaise, not daring to venture in, called from the doorway in a faint
voice:

"Monsieur Goujet! Monsieur Goujet!"

Suddenly all became lighted up. Beneath the puff of the bellows a jet
of white flame had ascended and the whole interior of the shed could be
seen, walled in by wooden planks, with openings roughly plastered over,
and brick walls reinforcing the corners. Coal-ash had painted the whole
expanse a sooty grey. Spider webs hung from the beams like rags hung up
to dry, heavy with the accumulated dust of years. On shelves along the
walls, or hanging from nails, or tossed into corners, she saw rusty
iron, battered implements and huge tools. The white flame flared higher,
like an explosion of dazzling sunlight revealing the trampled dirt
underfoot, where the polished steel of four anvils fixed on blocks took
on a reflection of silver sprinkled with gold.

Then Gervaise recognized Goujet in front of the forge by his beautiful
yellow beard. Etienne was blowing the bellows. Two other workmen were
there, but she only beheld Goujet and walked forward and stood before
him.

"Why it's Madame Gervaise!" he exclaimed with a bright look on his face.
"What a pleasant surprise."

But as his comrades appeared to be rather amused, he pushed Etienne
towards his mother and resumed:

"You've come to see the youngster. He behaves himself well, he's
beginning to get some strength in his wrists."

"Well!" she said, "it isn't easy to find your way here. I thought I was
going to the end of the world."

After telling about her journey, she asked why no one in the shop knew
Etienne's name. Goujet laughed and explained to her that everybody
called him "Little Zouzou" because he had his hair cut short like that
of a Zouave. While they were talking together Etienne stopped working
the bellows and the flame of the forge dwindled to a rosy glow amid the
gathering darkness. Touched by the presence of this smiling young woman,
the blacksmith stood gazing at her.

Then, as neither continued speaking, he seemed to recollect and broke
the silence:

"Excuse me, Madame Gervaise, I've something that has to be finished.
You'll stay, won't you? You're not in anybody's way."

She remained. Etienne returned to the bellows. The forge was soon ablaze
again with a cloud of sparks; the more so as the youngster, wanting to
show his mother what he could do, was making the bellows blow a regular
hurricane. Goujet, standing up watching a bar of iron heating, was
waiting with the tongs in his hand. The bright glare illuminated him
without a shadow - sleeves rolled back, shirt neck open, bare arms and
chest. When the bar was at white heat he seized it with the tongs and
cut it with a hammer on the anvil, in pieces of equal length, as though
he had been gently breaking pieces of glass. Then he put the pieces
back into the fire, from which he took them one by one to work them
into shape. He was forging hexagonal rivets. He placed each piece in a
tool-hole of the anvil, bent down the iron that was to form the head,
flattened the six sides and threw the finished rivet still red-hot on
to the black earth, where its bright light gradually died out; and
this with a continuous hammering, wielding in his right hand a hammer
weighing five pounds, completing a detail at every blow, turning and
working the iron with such dexterity that he was able to talk to and
look at those about him. The anvil had a silvery ring. Without a drop of
perspiration, quite at his ease, he struck in a good-natured sort of a
way, not appearing to exert himself more than on the evenings when he
cut out pictures at home.

"Oh! these are little rivets of twenty millimetres," said he in reply to
Gervaise's questions. "A fellow can do his three hundred a day. But it
requires practice, for one's arm soon grows weary."

And when she asked him if his wrist did not feel stiff at the end of the
day he laughed aloud. Did she think him a young lady? His wrist had had
plenty of drudgery for fifteen years past; it was now as strong as
the iron implements it had been so long in contact with. She was right
though; a gentleman who had never forged a rivet or a bolt, and who
would try to show off with his five pound hammer, would find himself
precious stiff in the course of a couple of hours. It did not seem much,
but a few years of it often did for some very strong fellows. During
this conversation the other workmen were also hammering away all
together. Their tall shadows danced about in the light, the red flashes
of the iron that the fire traversed, the gloomy recesses, clouds of
sparks darted out from beneath the hammers and shone like suns on a
level with the anvils. And Gervaise, feeling happy and interested in the
movement round the forge, did not think of leaving. She was going a long
way round to get nearer to Etienne without having her hands burnt, when
she saw the dirty and bearded workman, whom she had spoken to outside,
enter.

"So you've found him, madame?" asked he in his drunken bantering way.
"You know, Golden-Mug, it's I who told madame where to find you."

He was called Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, the brick of
bricks, a dab hand at bolt forging, who wetted his iron every day with
a pint and a half of brandy. He had gone out to have a drop, because
he felt he wanted greasing to make him last till six o'clock. When he
learnt that Little Zouzou's real name was Etienne, he thought it very
funny; and he showed his black teeth as he laughed. Then he recognized
Gervaise. Only the day before he had had a glass of wine with
Coupeau. You could speak to Coupeau about Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst; he would at once say: "He's a jolly dog!" Ah! that
joker Coupeau! He was one of the right sort; he stood treat oftener than
his turn.

"I'm awfully glad to know you're his missus," added he.

"He deserves to have a pretty wife. Eh, Golden-Mug, madame is a fine
woman, isn't she?"

He was becoming quite gallant, sidling up towards the laundress, who
took hold of her basket and held it in front of her so as to keep him
at a distance. Goujet, annoyed and seeing that his comrade was joking
because of his friendship for Gervaise, called out to him:

"I say, lazybones, what about the forty millimetre bolts? Do you
think you're equal to them now that you've got your gullet full, you
confounded guzzler?"

The blacksmith was alluding to an order for big bolts which necessitated
two beaters at the anvil.

"I'm ready to start at this moment, big baby!" replied Salted-Mouth,
otherwise Drink-without-Thirst. "It sucks it's thumb and thinks itself a
man. In spite of your size I'm equal to you!"

"Yes, that's it, at once. Look sharp and off we go!"

"Right you are, my boy!"

They taunted each other, stimulated by Gervaise's presence. Goujet
placed the pieces of iron that had been cut beforehand in the fire, then
he fixed a tool-hole of large bore on an anvil. His comrade had taken
from against the wall two sledge-hammers weighing twenty pounds each,
the two big sisters of the factory whom the workers called Fifine and
Dedele. And he continued to brag, talking of a half-gross of rivets
which he had forged for the Dunkirk lighthouse, regular jewels, things
to be put in a museum, they were so daintily finished off. Hang it all,
no! he did not fear competition; before meeting with another chap like
him, you might search every factory in the capital. They were going to
have a laugh; they would see what they would see.

"Madame will be judge," said he, turning towards the young woman.

"Enough chattering," cried Goujet. "Now then, Zouzou, show your muscle!
It's not hot enough, my lad."

But Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, asked: "So we strike
together?"

"Not a bit of it! each his own bolt, my friend!"

This statement operated as a damper, and Goujet's comrade, on hearing
it, remained speechless, in spite of his boasting. Bolts of forty
millimetres fashioned by one man had never before been seen; the more so
as the bolts were to be round-headed, a work of great difficulty, a real
masterpiece to achieve.

The three other workmen came over, leaving their jobs, to watch. A tall,
lean one wagered a bottle of wine that Goujet would be beaten. Meanwhile
the two blacksmiths had chosen their sledge hammers with eyes closed,
because Fifine weighed a half pound more than Dedele. Salted-Mouth,
otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, had the good luck to put his hand on
Dedele; Fifine fell to Golden-Mug.

While waiting for the iron to get hot enough, Salted-Mouth, otherwise
Drink-without-Thirst, again showing off, struck a pose before the anvil
while casting side glances toward Gervaise. He planted himself solidly,
tapping his feet impatiently like a man ready for a fight, throwing all
his strength into practice swings with Dedele. _Mon Dieu!_ He was good
at this; he could have flattened the Vendome column like a pancake.

"Now then, off you go!" said Goujet, placing one of the pieces of iron,
as thick as a girl's wrist, in the tool-hole.

Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, leant back, and swung
Dedele round with both hands. Short and lean, with his goatee bristling,
and with his wolf-like eyes glaring beneath his unkempt hair, he seemed
to snap at each swing of the hammer, springing up from the ground as
though carried away by the force he put into the blow. He was a fierce
one, who fought with the iron, annoyed at finding it so hard, and he
even gave a grunt whenever he thought he had planted a fierce stroke.
Perhaps brandy did weaken other people's arms, but he needed brandy in
his veins, instead of blood. The drop he had taken a little while before
had made his carcass as warm as a boiler; he felt he had the power of
a steam-engine within him. And the iron seemed to be afraid of him this
time; he flattened it more easily than if it had been a quid of tobacco.
And it was a sight to see how Dedele waltzed! She cut such capers,
with her tootsies in the air, just like a little dancer at the Elysee
Montmartre, who exhibits her fine underclothes; for it would never do
to dawdle, iron is so deceitful, it cools at once, just to spite the
hammer. With thirty blows, Salted-Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst,
had fashioned the head of his bolt. But he panted, his eyes were half
out of his head, and got into a great rage as he felt his arms growing
tired. Then, carried away by wrath, jumping about and yelling, he gave
two more blows, just out of revenge for his trouble. When he took
the bolt from the hole, it was deformed, its head being askew like a
hunchback's.

"Come now! Isn't that quickly beaten into shape?" said he all the same,
with his self-confidence, as he presented his work to Gervaise.

"I'm no judge, sir," replied the laundress, reservedly.

But she saw plainly enough the marks of Dedele's last two kicks on the
bolt, and she was very pleased. She bit her lips so as not to laugh, for
now Goujet had every chance of winning.

It was now Golden-Mug's turn. Before commencing, he gave the laundress
a look full of confident tenderness. Then he did not hurry himself. He
measured his distance, and swung the hammer from on high with all his
might and at regular intervals. He had the classic style, accurate,
evenly balanced, and supple. Fifine, in his hands, did not cut capers,
like at a dance-hall, but made steady, certain progress; she rose and
fell in cadence, like a lady of quality solemnly leading some ancient
minuet.

There was no brandy in Golden-Mug's veins, only blood, throbbing
powerfully even into Fifine and controlling the job. That stalwart
fellow! What a magnificent man he was at work. The high flame of the
forge shone full on his face. His whole face seemed golden indeed with
his short hair curling over his forehead and his splendid yellow beard.
His neck was as straight as a column and his immense chest was wide
enough for a woman to sleep across it. His shoulders and sculptured arms
seemed to have been copied from a giant's statue in some museum.



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