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Émile Zola.

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it was a new one.

"Everything's ready!" cried Gervaise as she reappeared with a smile, her
arms bare and her little fair curls blowing over her temples.

"If the boss would only come," resumed the laundress, "we might begin."

"Ah, well!" said Madame Lorilleux, "the soup will be cold by then.
Coupeau always forgets. You shouldn't have let him go off."

It was already half-past six. Everything was burning now; the goose
would be overdone. Then Gervaise, feeling quite dejected, talked
of sending someone to all the wineshops in the neighborhood to find
Coupeau. And as Goujet offered to go, she decided to accompany him.
Virginie, anxious about her husband went also. The three of them,
bareheaded, quite blocked up the pavement. The blacksmith who wore his
frock-coat, had Gervaise on his left arm and Virginie on his right; he
was doing the two-handled basket as he said; and it seemed to them such
a funny thing to say that they stopped, unable to move their legs for
laughing. They looked at themselves in the pork-butcher's glass and
laughed more than ever. Beside Goujet, all in black, the two women
looked like two speckled hens - the dressmaker in her muslin costume,
sprinkled with pink flowers, the laundress in her white cambric dress
with blue spots, her wrists bare, and wearing round her neck a little
grey silk scarf tied in a bow. People turned round to see them pass,
looking so fresh and lively, dressed in their Sunday best on a week day
and jostling the crowd which hung about the Rue des Poissonniers, on
that warm June evening. But it was not a question of amusing themselves.
They went straight to the door of each wineshop, looked in and sought
amongst the people standing before the counter. Had that animal Coupeau
gone to the Arc de Triomphe to get his dram? They had already done the
upper part of the street, looking in at all the likely places; at
the "Little Civet," renowned for its preserved plums; at old mother
Baquet's, who sold Orleans wine at eight sous; at the "Butterfly," the
coachmen's house of call, gentlemen who were not easy to please. But no
Coupeau. Then as they were going down towards the Boulevard, Gervaise
uttered a faint cry on passing the eating-house at the corner kept by
Francois.

"What's the matter?" asked Goujet.

The laundress no longer laughed. She was very pale, and laboring under
so great an emotion that she had almost fallen. Virginie understood it
all as she caught a sight of Lantier seated at one of Francois's tables
quietly dining. The two women dragged the blacksmith along.

"My ankle twisted," said Gervaise as soon as she was able to speak.

At length they discovered Coupeau and Poisson at the bottom of the
street inside Pere Colombe's l'Assommoir. They were standing up in the
midst of a number of men; Coupeau, in a grey blouse, was shouting with
furious gestures and banging his fists down on the counter. Poisson, not
on duty that day and buttoned up in an old brown coat, was listening
to him in a dull sort of way and without uttering a word, bristling his
carroty moustaches and beard the while. Goujet left the women on the
edge of the pavement, and went and laid his hand on the zinc-worker's
shoulder. But when the latter caught sight of Gervaise and Virginie
outside he grew angry. Why was he badgered with such females as those?
Petticoats had taken to tracking him about now! Well! He declined to
stir, they could go and eat their beastly dinner all by themselves. To
quiet him Goujet was obliged to accept a drop of something; and even
then Coupeau took a fiendish delight in dawdling a good five minutes at
the counter. When he at length came out he said to his wife:

"I don't like this. It's my business where I go. Do you understand?"

She did not answer. She was all in a tremble. She must have said
something about Lantier to Virginie, for the latter pushed her husband
and Goujet ahead, telling them to walk in front. The two women got
on each side of Coupeau to keep him occupied and prevent him seeing
Lantier. He wasn't really drunk, being more intoxicated from shouting
than from drinking. Since they seemed to want to stay on the left side,
to tease them, he crossed over to the other side of the street.
Worried, they ran after him and tried to block his view of the door of
Francois's. But Coupeau must have known that Lantier was there. Gervaise
almost went out of her senses on hearing him grunt:

"Yes, my duck, there's a young fellow of our acquaintance inside there!
You mustn't take me for a ninny. Don't let me catch you gallivanting
about again with your side glances!"

And he made use of some very coarse expressions. It was not him that she
had come to look for with her bare elbows and her mealy mouth; it
was her old beau. Then he was suddenly seized with a mad rage against
Lantier. Ah! the brigand! Ah! the filthy hound! One or the other of
them would have to be left on the pavement, emptied of his guts like a
rabbit. Lantier, however, did not appear to notice what was going on
and continued slowly eating some veal and sorrel. A crowd began to form.
Virginie led Coupeau away and he calmed down at once as soon as he had
turned the corner of the street. All the same they returned to the shop
far less lively than when they left it.

The guests were standing round the table with very long faces. The
zinc-worker shook hands with them, showing himself off before the
ladies. Gervaise, feeling rather depressed, spoke in a low voice as she
directed them to their places. But she suddenly noticed that, as Madame
Goujet had not come, a seat would remain empty - the one next to Madame
Lorilleux.

"We are thirteen!" said she, deeply affected, seeing in that a fresh
omen of the misfortune with which she had felt herself threatened for
some time past.

The ladies already seated rose up looking anxious and annoyed. Madame
Putois offered to retire because according to her it was not a matter to
laugh about; besides she would not touch a thing, the food would do
her no good. As to Boche, he chuckled. He would sooner be thirteen than
fourteen; the portions would be larger, that was all.

"Wait!" resumed Gervaise. "I can manage it."

And going out on to the pavement she called Pere Bru who was just then
crossing the roadway. The old workman entered, stooping and stiff and
his face without expression.

"Seat yourself there, my good fellow," said the laundress. "You won't
mind eating with us, will you?"

He simply nodded his head. He was willing; he did not mind.

"As well him as another," continued she, lowering her voice. "He doesn't
often eat his fill. He will at least enjoy himself once more. We shall
feel no remorse in stuffing ourselves now."

This touched Goujet so deeply that his eyes filled with tears. The
others were also moved by compassion and said that it would bring them
all good luck. However, Madame Lorilleux seemed unhappy at having the
old man next to her. She cast glances of disgust at his work-roughened
hands and his faded, patched smock, and drew away from him.

Pere Bru sat with his head bowed, waiting. He was bothered by the napkin
that was on the plate before him. Finally he lifted it off and placed
it gently on the edge of the table, not thinking to spread it over his
knees.

Now at last Gervaise served the vermicelli soup; the guests were taking
up their spoons when Virginie remarked that Coupeau had disappeared. He
had perhaps returned to Pere Colombe's. This time the company got angry.
So much the worse! One would not run after him; he could stay in the
street if he was not hungry; and as the spoons touched the bottom of the
plates, Coupeau reappeared with two pots of flowers, one under each arm,
a stock and a balsam. They all clapped their hands. He gallantly placed
the pots, one on the right, the other on the left of Gervaise's glass;
then bending over and kissing her, he said:

"I had forgotten you, my lamb. But in spite of that, we love each other
all the same, especially on such a day as this."

"Monsieur Coupeau's very nice this evening," murmured Clemence in
Boche's ear. "He's just got what he required, sufficient to make him
amiable."

The good behavior of the master of the house restored the gaiety of the
proceedings, which at one moment had been compromised. Gervaise, once
more at her ease, was all smiles again. The guests finished their soup.
Then the bottles circulated and they drank their first glass of wine,
just a drop pure, to wash down the vermicelli. One could hear the
children quarrelling in the next room. There were Etienne, Pauline, Nana
and little Victor Fauconnier. It had been decided to lay a table for the
four of them, and they had been told to be very good. That squint-eyed
Augustine who had to look after the stoves was to eat off her knees.

"Mamma! Mamma!" suddenly screamed Nana, "Augustine is dipping her bread
in the Dutch oven!"

The laundress hastened there and caught the squint-eyed one in the act
of burning her throat in her attempts to swallow without loss of time a
slice of bread soaked in boiling goose fat. She boxed her ears when the
young monkey called out that it was not true. When, after the boiled
beef, the stewed veal appeared, served in a salad-bowl, as they did not
have a dish large enough, the party greeted it with a laugh.

"It's becoming serious," declared Poisson, who seldom spoke.

It was half-past seven. They had closed the shop door, so as not to be
spied upon by the whole neighborhood; the little clockmaker opposite
especially was opening his eyes to their full size and seemed to take
the pieces from their mouths with such a gluttonous look that it
almost prevented them from eating. The curtains hung before the windows
admitted a great white uniform light which bathed the entire table with
its symmetrical arrangement of knives and forks and its pots of flowers
enveloped in tall collars of white paper; and this pale fading light,
this slowly approaching dusk, gave to the party somewhat of an air of
distinction. Virginie looked round the closed apartment hung with muslin
and with a happy criticism declared it to be very cozy. Whenever a cart
passed in the street the glasses jingled together on the table cloth and
the ladies were obliged to shout out as loud as the men. But there was
not much conversation; they all behaved very respectably and were very
attentive to each other. Coupeau alone wore a blouse, because as he said
one need not stand on ceremony with friends and besides which the blouse
was the workman's garb of honor. The ladies, laced up in their bodices,
wore their hair in plaits greasy with pomatum in which the daylight was
reflected; whilst the gentlemen, sitting at a distance from the table,
swelled out their chests and kept their elbows wide apart for fear of
staining their frock coats.

Ah! thunder! What a hole they were making in the stewed veal! If they
spoke little, they were chewing in earnest. The salad-bowl was becoming
emptier and emptier with a spoon stuck in the midst of the thick
sauce - a good yellow sauce which quivered like a jelly. They fished
pieces of veal out of it and seemed as though they would never come to
the end; the salad-bowl journeyed from hand to hand and faces bent over
it as forks picked out the mushrooms. The long loaves standing against
the wall behind the guests appeared to melt away. Between the mouthfuls
one could hear the sound of glasses being replaced on the table. The
sauce was a trifle too salty. It required four bottles of wine to
drown that blessed stewed veal, which went down like cream, but which
afterwards lit up a regular conflagration in one's stomach. And before
one had time to take a breath, the pig's back, in the middle of a deep
dish surrounded by big round potatoes, arrived in the midst of a cloud
of smoke. There was one general cry. By Jove! It was just the thing!
Everyone liked it. They would do it justice; and they followed the dish
with a side glance as they wiped their knives on their bread so as to be
in readiness. Then as soon as they were helped they nudged one another
and spoke with their mouths full. It was just like butter! Something
sweet and solid which one could feel run through one's guts right down
into one's boots. The potatoes were like sugar. It was not a bit salty;
only, just on account of the potatoes, it required a wetting every few
minutes. Four more bottles were placed on the table. The plates were
wiped so clean that they also served for the green peas and bacon. Oh!
vegetables were of no consequence. They playfully gulped them down in
spoonfuls. The best part of the dish was the small pieces of bacon
just nicely grilled and smelling like horse's hoof. Two bottles were
sufficient for them.

"Mamma! Mamma!" called out Nana suddenly, "Augustine's putting her
fingers in my plate!"

"Don't bother me! give her a slap!" replied Gervaise, in the act of
stuffing herself with green peas.

At the children's table in the back-room, Nana was playing the role
of lady of the house, sitting next to Victor and putting her brother
Etienne beside Pauline so they could play house, pretending they were
two married couples. Nana had served her guests very politely at first,
but now she had given way to her passion for grilled bacon, trying to
keep every piece for herself. While Augustine was prowling around the
children's table, she would grab the bits of bacon under the pretext
of dividing them amongst the children. Nana was so furious that she bit
Augustine on the wrist.

"Ah! you know," murmured Augustine, "I'll tell your mother that after
the veal you asked Victor to kiss you."

But all became quiet again as Gervaise and mother Coupeau came in to get
the goose. The guests at the big table were leaning back in their chairs
taking a breather. The men had unbuttoned their waistcoats, the ladies
were wiping their faces with their napkins. The repast was, so to say,
interrupted; only one or two persons, unable to keep their jaws still,
continued to swallow large mouthfuls of bread, without even knowing that
they were doing so. The others were waiting and allowing their food to
settle while waiting for the main course. Night was slowly coming on; a
dirty ashy grey light was gathering behind the curtains. When Augustine
brought two lamps and placed one at each end of the table, the general
disorder became apparent in the bright glare - the greasy forks and
plates, the table cloth stained with wine and covered with crumbs. A
strong stifling odor pervaded the room. Certain warm fumes, however,
attracted all the noses in the direction of the kitchen.

"Can I help you?" cried Virginie.

She left her chair and passed into the inner room. All the women
followed one by one. They surrounded the Dutch oven, and watched with
profound interest as Gervaise and mother Coupeau tried to pull the bird
out. Then a clamor arose, in the midst of which one could distinguish
the shrill voices and the joyful leaps of the children. And there was
a triumphal entry. Gervaise carried the goose, her arms stiff, and her
perspiring face expanded in one broad silent laugh; the women walked
behind her, laughing in the same way; whilst Nana, right at the end,
raised herself up to see, her eyes open to their full extent. When the
enormous golden goose, streaming with gravy, was on the table, they did
not attack it at once. It was a wonder, a respectful wonderment, which
for a moment left everyone speechless. They drew one another's attention
to it with winks and nods of the head. Golly! What a bird!

"That one didn't get fat by licking the walls, I'll bet!" said Boche.

Then they entered into details respecting the bird. Gervaise gave the
facts. It was the best she could get at the poulterer's in the Faubourg
Poissonniers; it weighed twelve and a half pounds on the scales at the
charcoal-dealer's; they had burnt nearly half a bushel of charcoal in
cooking it, and it had given three bowls full of drippings.

Virginie interrupted her to boast of having seen it before it was
cooked. "You could have eaten it just as it was," she said, "its skin
was so fine, like the skin of a blonde." All the men laughed at
this, smacking their lips. Lorilleux and Madame Lorilleux sniffed
disdainfully, almost choking with rage to see such a goose on
Clump-clump's table.

"Well! We can't eat it whole," the laundress observed. "Who'll cut it
up? No, no, not me! It's too big; I'm afraid of it."

Coupeau offered his services. _Mon Dieu!_ it was very simple. You caught
hold of the limbs, and pulled them off; the pieces were good all the
same. But the others protested; they forcibly took possession of the
large kitchen knife which the zinc-worker already held in his hand,
saying that whenever he carved he made a regular graveyard of the
platter. Finally, Madame Lerat suggested in a friendly tone:

"Listen, it should be Monsieur Poisson; yes, Monsieur Poisson."

But, as the others did not appear to understand, she added in a more
flattering manner still:

"Why, yes, of course, it should be Monsieur Poisson, who's accustomed to
the use of arms."

And she passed the kitchen knife to the policeman. All round the table
they laughed with pleasure and approval. Poisson bowed his head with
military stiffness, and moved the goose before him. When he thrust
the knife into the goose, which cracked, Lorilleux was seized with an
outburst of patriotism.

"Ah! if it was a Cossack!" he cried.

"Have you ever fought with Cossacks, Monsieur Poisson?" asked Madame
Boche.

"No, but I have with Bedouins," replied the policeman, who was cutting
off a wing. "There are no more Cossacks."

A great silence ensued. Necks were stretched out as every eye followed
the knife. Poisson was preparing a surprise. Suddenly he gave a last
cut; the hind-quarter of the bird came off and stood up on end, rump in
the air, making a bishop's mitre. Then admiration burst forth. None were
so agreeable in company as retired soldiers.

The policeman allowed several minutes for the company to admire the
bishop's mitre and then finished cutting the slices and arranging them
on the platter. The carving of the goose was now complete.

When the ladies complained that they were getting rather warm, Coupeau
opened the door to the street and the gaiety continued against the
background of cabs rattling down the street and pedestrians bustling
along the pavement. The goose was attacked furiously by the rested jaws.
Boche remarked that just having to wait and watch the goose being carved
had been enough to make the veal and pork slide down to his ankles.

Then ensued a famous tuck-in; that is to say, not one of the party
recollected ever having before run the risk of such a stomach-ache.
Gervaise, looking enormous, her elbows on the table, ate great pieces
of breast, without uttering a word, for fear of losing a mouthful, and
merely felt slightly ashamed and annoyed at exhibiting herself thus,
as gluttonous as a cat before Goujet. Goujet, however, was too busy
stuffing himself to notice that she was all red with eating. Besides,
in spite of her greediness, she remained so nice and good! She did not
speak, but she troubled herself every minute to look after Pere Bru,
and place some dainty bit on his plate. It was even touching to see this
glutton take a piece of wing almost from her mouth to give it to the
old fellow, who did not appear to be very particular, and who swallowed
everything with bowed head, almost besotted from having gobbled so much
after he had forgotten the taste of bread. The Lorilleuxs expended their
rage on the roast goose; they ate enough to last them three days; they
would have stowed away the dish, the table, the very shop, if they could
have ruined Clump-clump by doing so. All the ladies had wanted a piece
of the breast, traditionally the ladies' portion. Madame Lerat, Madame
Boche, Madame Putois, were all picking bones; whilst mother Coupeau,
who adored the neck, was tearing off the flesh with her two last teeth.
Virginie liked the skin when it was nicely browned, and the other guests
gallantly passed their skin to her; so much so, that Poisson looked at
his wife severely, and bade her stop, because she had had enough as it
was. Once already, she had been a fortnight in bed, with her stomach
swollen out, through having eaten too much roast goose. But Coupeau got
angry and helped Virginie to the upper part of a leg, saying that, by
Jove's thunder! if she did not pick it, she wasn't a proper woman. Had
roast goose ever done harm to anybody? On the contrary, it cured all
complaints of the spleen. One could eat it without bread, like dessert.
He could go on swallowing it all night without being the least bit
inconvenienced; and, just to show off, he stuffed a whole drum-stick
into his mouth. Meanwhile, Clemence had got to the end of the rump, and
was sucking it with her lips, whilst she wriggled with laughter on her
chair because Boche was whispering all sorts of smutty things to her.
Ah, by Jove! Yes, there was a dinner! When one's at it, one's at it, you
know; and if one only has the chance now and then, one would be precious
stupid not to stuff oneself up to one's ears. Really, one could see
their sides puff out by degrees. They were cracking in their skins, the
blessed gormandizers! With their mouths open, their chins besmeared with
grease, they had such bloated red faces that one would have said they
were bursting with prosperity.

As for the wine, well, that was flowing as freely around the table
as water flows in the Seine. It was like a brook overflowing after a
rainstorm when the soil is parched. Coupeau raised the bottle high when
pouring to see the red jet foam in the glass. Whenever he emptied a
bottle, he would turn it upside down and shake it. One more dead solder!
In a corner of the laundry the pile of dead soldiers grew larger and
larger, a veritable cemetery of bottles onto which other debris from the
table was tossed.

Coupeau became indignant when Madame Putois asked for water. He took all
the water pitchers from the table. Do respectable citizens ever drink
water? Did she want to grow frogs in her stomach?

Many glasses were emptied at one gulp. You could hear the liquid
gurgling its way down the throats like rainwater in a drainpipe after a
storm. One might say it was raining wine. _Mon Dieu!_ the juice of the
grape was a remarkable invention. Surely the workingman couldn't get
along without his wine. Papa Noah must have planted his grapevine for
the benefit of zinc-workers, tailors and blacksmiths. It brightened you
up and refreshed you after a hard day's work.

Coupeau was in a high mood. He proclaimed that all the ladies present
were very cute, and jingled the three sous in his pocket as if they had
been five-franc pieces.

Even Goujet, who was ordinarily very sober, had taken plenty of wine.
Boche's eyes were narrowing, those of Lorilleux were paling, and Poisson
was developing expressions of stern severity on his soldierly face.
All the men were as drunk as lords and the ladies had reached a certain
point also, feeling so warm that they had to loosen their clothes. Only
Clemence carried this a bit too far.

Suddenly Gervaise recollected the six sealed bottles of wine. She had
forgotten to put them on the table with the goose; she fetched them, and
all the glasses were filled. Then Poisson rose, and holding his glass in
the air, said:

"I drink to the health of the missus."

All of them stood up, making a great noise with their chairs as they
moved. Holding out their arms, they clinked glasses in the midst of an
immense uproar.

"Here's to this day fifty years hence!" cried Virginie.

"No, no," replied Gervaise, deeply moved and smiling; "I shall be too
old. Ah! a day comes when one's glad to go."

Through the door, which was wide open, the neighborhood was looking on
and taking part in the festivities. Passers-by stopped in the broad ray
of light which shone over the pavement, and laughed heartily at seeing
all these people stuffing away so jovially.

The aroma from the roasted goose brought joy to the whole street. The
clerks on the sidewalk opposite thought they could almost taste the
bird. Others came out frequently to stand in front of their shops,
sniffing the air and licking their lips. The little jeweler was unable
to work, dizzy from having counted so many bottles. He seemed to have
lost his head among his merry little cuckoo clocks.

Yes, the neighbors were devoured with envy, as Coupeau said. But why
should there be any secret made about the matter? The party, now fairly
launched, was no longer ashamed of being seen at table; on the contrary,



Online LibraryÉmile ZolaL'Assommoir → online text (page 18 of 36)