Émile Zola.

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been keeping the best for the last. Well! I'll sing you 'That Piggish

"Yes, yes, 'That Piggish Child,'" cried everyone.

The uproar was beginning again. Lantier was forgotten. The ladies
prepared their glasses and their knives for accompanying the chorus.
They laughed beforehand, as they looked at the zinc-worker, who steadied
himself on his legs as he put on his most vulgar air. Mimicking the
hoarse voice of an old woman, he sang:

"When out of bed each morn I hop,
I'm always precious queer;
I send him for a little drop
To the drinking-den that's near.
A good half hour or more he'll stay,
And that makes me so riled,
He swigs it half upon his way:
What a piggish child!"

And the ladies, striking their glasses, repeated in chorus in the midst
of a formidable gaiety:

"What a piggish child!
What a piggish child!"

Even the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or itself joined in now. The whole
neighborhood was singing "What a piggish child!" The little clockmaker,
the grocery clerks, the tripe woman and the fruit woman all knew the
song and joined in the chorus. The entire street seemed to be getting
drunk on the odors from the Coupeau party. In the reddish haze from the
two lamps, the noise of the party was enough to shut out the rumbling
of the last vehicles in the street. Two policemen rushed over, thinking
there was a riot, but on recognizing Poisson, they saluted him smartly
and went away between the darkened buildings.

Coupeau was now singing this verse:

"On Sundays at Petite Villette,
Whene'er the weather's fine,
We call on uncle, old Tinette,
Who's in the dustman line.
To feast upon some cherry stones
The young un's almost wild,
And rolls amongst the dust and bones,
What a piggish child!
What a piggish child!"

Then the house almost collapsed, such a yell ascended in the calm warm
night air that the shouters applauded themselves, for it was useless
their hoping to be able to bawl any louder.

Not one of the party could ever recollect exactly how the carouse
terminated. It must have been very late, it's quite certain, for not
a cat was to be seen in the street. Possibly too, they had all joined
hands and danced round the table. But all was submerged in a yellow
mist, in which red faces were jumping about, with mouths slit from ear
to ear. They had probably treated themselves to something stronger than
wine towards the end, and there was a vague suspicion that some one had
played them the trick of putting salt into the glasses. The children
must have undressed and put themselves to bed. On the morrow, Madame
Boche boasted of having treated Boche to a couple of clouts in a corner,
where he was conversing a great deal too close to the charcoal-dealer;
but Boche, who recollected nothing, said she must have dreamt it.
Everyone agreed that it wasn't very decent the way Clemence had carried
on. She had ended by showing everything she had and then been so sick
that she had completely ruined one of the muslin curtains. The men
had at least the decency to go into the street; Lorilleux and Poisson,
feeling their stomachs upset, had stumblingly glided as far as the
pork-butcher's shop. It is easy to see when a person has been well
brought up. For instance, the ladies, Madame Putois, Madame Lerat, and
Virginie, indisposed by the heat, had simply gone into the back-room and
taken their stays off; Virginie had even desired to lie on the bed for
a minute, just to obviate any unpleasant effects. Thus the party
had seemed to melt away, some disappearing behind the others, all
accompanying one another, and being lost sight of in the surrounding
darkness, to the accompaniment of a final uproar, a furious quarrel
between the Lorilleuxs, and an obstinate and mournful "trou la la, trou
la la," of old Bru's. Gervaise had an idea that Goujet had burst out
sobbing when bidding her good-bye; Coupeau was still singing; and as
for Lantier, he must have remained till the end. At one moment even, she
could still feel a breath against her hair, but she was unable to say
whether it came from Lantier or if it was the warm night air.

Since Madame Lerat didn't want to return to Les Batignolles at such a
late hour, they took one of the mattresses off the bed and spread it
for her in a corner of the shop, after pushing back the table. She
slept right there amid all the dinner crumbs. All night long, while
the Coupeaus were sleeping, a neighbor's cat took advantage of an open
window and was crunching the bones of the goose with its sharp teeth,
giving the bird its final resting place.


On the following Saturday Coupeau, who had not come home to dinner,
brought Lantier with him towards ten o'clock. They had had some sheep's
trotters at Chez Thomas at Montmartre.

"You mustn't scold, wife," said the zinc-worker. "We're sober, as you
can see. Oh! there's no fear with him; he keeps one on the straight

And he related how they happened to meet in the Rue Rochechouart. After
dinner Lantier had declined to have a drink at the "Black Ball," saying
that when one was married to a pretty and worthy little woman, one ought
not to go liquoring-up at all the wineshops. Gervaise smiled slightly
as she listened. Oh! she was not thinking of scolding, she felt too much
embarrassed for that. She had been expecting to see her former lover
again some day ever since their dinner party; but at such an hour, when
she was about to go to bed, the unexpected arrival of the two men had
startled her. Her hands were quivering as she pinned back the hair which
had slid down her neck.

"You know," resumed Coupeau, "as he was so polite as to decline a drink
outside, you must treat us to one here. Ah! you certainly owe us that!"

The workwomen had left long ago. Mother Coupeau and Nana had just gone
to bed. Gervaise, who had been just about to put up the shutters when
they appeared, left the shop open and brought some glasses which she
placed on a corner of the work-table with what was left of a bottle of

Lantier remained standing and avoided speaking directly to her. However,
when she served him, he exclaimed:

"Only a thimbleful, madame, if you please."

Coupeau looked at them and then spoke his mind very plainly. They were
not going to behave like a couple of geese he hoped! The past was past
was it not? If people nursed grudges for nine and ten years together one
would end by no longer seeing anybody. No, no, he carried his heart
in his hand, he did! First of all, he knew who he had to deal with, a
worthy woman and a worthy man - in short two friends! He felt easy; he
knew he could depend upon them.

"Oh! that's certain, quite certain," repeated Gervaise, looking on the
ground and scarcely understanding what she said.

"She is a sister now - nothing but a sister!" murmured Lantier in his

"_Mon Dieu!_ shake hands," cried Coupeau, "and let those who don't like
it go to blazes! When one has proper feelings one is better off than
millionaires. For myself I prefer friendship before everything because
friendship is friendship and there's nothing to beat it."

He dealt himself heavy blows on the chest, and seemed so moved that
they had to calm him. They all three silently clinked glasses, and drank
their drop of brandy. Gervaise was then able to look at Lantier at her
ease; for on the night of her saint's day, she had only seen him through
a fog. He had grown more stout, his arms and legs seeming too heavy
because of his small stature. His face was still handsome even though it
was a little puffy now due to his life of idleness. He still took great
pains with his narrow moustache. He looked about his actual age. He was
wearing grey trousers, a heavy blue overcoat, and a round hat. He
even had a watch with a silver chain on which a ring was hanging as a
keepsake. He looked quite like a gentleman.

"I'm off," said he. "I live no end of a distance from here."

He was already on the pavement when the zinc-worker called him back to
make him promise never to pass the door without looking in to wish them
good day. Meanwhile Gervaise, who had quietly disappeared, returned
pushing Etienne before her. The child, who was in his shirt-sleeves and
half asleep, smiled as he rubbed his eyes. But when he beheld Lantier
he stood trembling and embarrassed, and casting anxious glances in the
direction of his mother and Coupeau.

"Don't you remember this gentleman?" asked the latter.

The child held down his head without replying. Then he made a slight
sign which meant that he did remember the gentleman.

"Well! Then, don't stand there like a fool; go and kiss him."

Lantier gravely and quietly waited. When Etienne had made up his mind
to approach him, he stooped down, presented both his cheeks, and then
kissed the youngster on the forehead himself. At this the boy ventured
to look at his father; but all on a sudden he burst out sobbing and
scampered away like a mad creature with his clothes half falling off
him, whilst Coupeau angrily called him a young savage.

"The emotion's too much for him," said Gervaise, pale and agitated

"Oh! he's generally very gentle and nice," exclaimed Coupeau. "I've
brought him up properly, as you'll see. He'll get used to you. He must
learn to know people. We can't stay mad. We should have made up a long
time ago for his sake. I'd rather have my head cut off than keep a
father from seeing his own son."

Having thus delivered himself, he talked of finishing the bottle of
brandy. All three clinked glasses again. Lantier showed no surprise, but
remained perfectly calm. By way of repaying the zinc-worker's politeness
he persisted in helping him put up the shutters before taking his
departure. Then rubbing his hands together to get rid of the dust on
them, he wished the couple good-night.

"Sleep well. I shall try and catch the last bus. I promise you I'll look
in again soon."

After that evening Lantier frequently called at the Rue de la
Goutte-d'Or. He came when the zinc-worker was there, inquiring after his
health the moment he passed the door and affecting to have solely called
on his account. Then clean-shaven, his hair nicely combed and always
wearing his overcoat, he would take a seat by the window and converse
politely with the manners of an educated man. It was thus that the
Coupeaus learnt little by little the details of his life. During the
last eight years he had for a while managed a hat factory; and when they
asked him why he had retired from it he merely alluded to the rascality
of a partner, a fellow from his native place, a scoundrel who had
squandered all the takings with women. His former position as an
employer continued to affect his entire personality, like a title of
nobility that he could not abandon. He was always talking of concluding
a magnificent deal with some hatmakers who were going to set him up in
business. While waiting for this he did nothing but stroll around all
day like one of the idle rich. If anyone dared to mention a hat factory
looking for workers, he smiled and said he was not interested in
breaking his back working for others.

A smart fellow like Lantier, according to Coupeau, knew how to take care
of himself. He always looked prosperous and it took money to look thus.
He must have some deal going. One morning Coupeau had seen him having
his shoes shined on the Boulevard Montmartre. Lantier was very talkative
about others, but the truth was that he told lies about himself. He
would not even say where he lived, only that he was staying with a
friend and there was no use in coming to see him because he was never

It was now early November. Lantier would gallantly bring bunches of
violets for Gervaise and the workwomen. He was now coming almost every
day. He won the favor of Clemence and Madame Putois with his little
attentions. At the end of the month they adored him. The Boches, whom he
flattered by going to pay his respects in their concierge's lodge, went
into ecstasies over his politeness.

As soon as the Lorilleuxs knew who he was, they howled at the impudence
of Gervaise in bringing her former lover into her home. However, one
day Lantier went to visit them and made such a good impression when he
ordered a necklace for a lady of his acquaintance that they invited
him to sit down. He stayed an hour and they were so charmed by his
conversation that they wondered how a man of such distinction had ever
lived with Clump-clump. Soon Lantier's visits to the Coupeaus were
accepted as perfectly natural; he was in the good graces of everyone
along the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. Goujet was the only one who remained
cold. If he happened to be there when Lantier arrived, he would leave at
once as he didn't want to be obliged to be friendly to him.

In the midst, however, of all this extraordinary affection for Lantier,
Gervaise lived in a state of great agitation for the first few weeks.
She felt that burning sensation in the pit of her stomach which affected
her on the day when Virginie first alluded to her past life. Her great
fear was that she might find herself without strength, if he came upon
her all alone one night and took it into his head to kiss her. She
thought of him too much; she was for ever thinking of him. But she
gradually became calmer on seeing him behave so well, never looking her
in the face, never even touching her with the tips of his fingers when
no one was watching. Then Virginie, who seemed to read within her, made
her ashamed of all her wicked thoughts. Why did she tremble? Once could
not hope to come across a nicer man. She certainly had nothing to fear
now. And one day the tall brunette maneuvered in such a way as to get
them both into a corner, and to turn the conversation to the subject of
love. Lantier, choosing his words, declared in a grave voice that his
heart was dead, that for the future he wished to consecrate his life
solely for his son's happiness. Every evening he would kiss Etienne on
the forehead, yet he was apt to forget him in teasing back and forth
with Clemence. And he never mentioned Claude who was still in the south.
Gervaise began to feel at ease. Lantier's actual presence overshadowed
her memories, and seeing him all the time, she no longer dreamed about
him. She even felt a certain repugnance at the thought of their former
relationship. Yes, it was over. If he dared to approach her, she'd
box his ears, or even better, she'd tell her husband. Once again her
thoughts turned to Goujet and his affection for her.

One morning Clemence reported that the previous night, at about eleven
o'clock, she had seen Monsieur Lantier with a woman. She told about it
maliciously and in coarse terms to see how Gervaise would react. Yes,
Monsieur Lantier was on the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette with a blonde
and she followed them. They had gone into a shop where the worn-out and
used-up woman had bought some shrimps. Then they went to the Rue de La
Rochefoucauld. Monsieur Lantier had waited on the pavement in front of
the house while his lady friend went in alone. Then she had beckoned to
him from the window to join her.

No matter how Clemence went on with the story Gervaise went on
peacefully ironing a white dress. Sometimes she smiled faintly. These
southerners, she said, are all crazy about women; they have to have them
no matter what, even if they come from a dung heap. When Lantier came
in that evening, Gervaise was amused when Clemence teased him about the
blonde. He seemed to feel flattered that he had been seen. _Mon Dieu!_
she was just an old friend, he explained. He saw her from time to time.
She was quite stylish. He mentioned some of her former lovers, among
them a count, an important merchant and the son of a lawyer. He added
that a bit of playing around didn't mean a thing, his heart was dead. In
the end Clemence had to pay a price for her meanness. She certainly felt
Lantier pinching her hard two or three times without seeming to do so.
She was also jealous because she didn't reek of musk like that boulevard

When spring came, Lantier, who was now quite one of the family, talked
of living in the neighborhood, so as to be nearer his friends. He wanted
a furnished room in a decent house. Madame Boche, and even Gervaise
herself went searching about to find it for him. They explored the
neighboring streets. But he was always too difficult to please; he
required a big courtyard, a room on the ground floor; in fact, every
luxury imaginable. And then every evening, at the Coupeaus', he seemed
to measure the height of the ceilings, study the arrangement of the
rooms, and covet a similar lodging. Oh, he would never have asked for
anything better, he would willingly have made himself a hole in that
warm, quiet corner. Then each time he wound up his inspection with these

"By Jove! you are comfortably situated here."

One evening, when he had dined there, and was making the same remark
during the dessert, Coupeau, who now treated him most familiarly,
suddenly exclaimed:

"You must stay here, old boy, if it suits you. It's easily arranged."

And he explained that the dirty-clothes room, cleaned out, would make
a nice apartment. Etienne could sleep in the shop, on a mattress on the
floor, that was all.

"No, no," said Lantier, "I cannot accept. It would inconvenience you too
much. I know that it's willingly offered, but we should be too warm all
jumbled up together. Besides, you know, each one likes his liberty.
I should have to go through your room, and that wouldn't be exactly

"Ah, the rogue!" resumed the zinc-worker, choking with laughter, banging
his fist down on the table, "he's always thinking of something smutty!
But, you joker, we're of an inventive turn of mind! There're two windows
in the room, aren't there? Well, we'll knock one out and turn it into a
door. Then, you understand you come in by way of the courtyard, and
we can even stop up the other door, if we like. Thus you'll be in your
home, and we in ours."

A pause ensued. At length the hatter murmured:

"Ah, yes, in that manner perhaps we might. And yet no, I should be too
much in your way."

He avoided looking at Gervaise. But he was evidently waiting for a word
from her before accepting. She was very much annoyed at her husband's
idea; not that the thought of seeing Lantier living with them wounded
her feelings, or made her particularly uneasy, but she was wondering
where she would be able to keep the dirty clothes. Coupeau was going
on about the advantages of the arrangement. Their rent, five hundred
francs, had always been a bit steep. Their friend could pay twenty
francs a month for a nicely furnished room and it would help them with
the rent. He would be responsible for fixing up a big box under their
bed that would be large enough to hold all the dirty clothes. Gervaise
still hesitated. She looked toward mother Coupeau for guidance. Lantier
had won over mother Coupeau months ago by bringing her gum drops for her

"You would certainly not be in our way," Gervaise ended by saying. "We
could so arrange things - "

"No, no, thanks," repeated the hatter. "You're too kind; it would be
asking too much."

Coupeau could no longer restrain himself. Was he going to continue
making objections when they told him it was freely offered? He would
be obliging them. There, did he understand? Then in an excited tone of
voice he yelled:

"Etienne! Etienne!"

The youngster had fallen asleep on the table. He raised his head with a

"Listen, tell him that you wish it. Yes, that gentleman there. Tell him
as loud as you can: 'I wish it!'"

"I wish it!" stuttered Etienne, his voice thick with sleep.

Everyone laughed. But Lantier resumed his grave and impressive air. He
squeezed Coupeau's hand across the table as he said:

"I accept. It's in all good fellowship on both sides, is it not? Yes, I
accept for the child's sake."

The next day when the landlord, Monsieur Marescot, came to spend an
hour with the Boches, Gervaise mentioned the matter to him. He refused
angrily at first. Then, after a careful inspection of the premises,
particularly gazing upward to verify that the upper floors would not be
weakened, he finally granted permission on condition there would be
no expense to him. He had the Coupeaus sign a paper saying they would
restore everything to its original state on the expiration of the lease.

Coupeau brought in some friends of his that very evening - a mason, a
carpenter and a painter. They would do this job in the evenings as a
favor to him. Still, installing the door and cleaning up the room cost
over one hundred francs, not counting the wine that kept the work going.
Coupeau told his friends he'd pay them something later, out of the rent
from his tenant.

Then the furniture for the room had to be sorted out. Gervaise left
mother Coupeau's wardrobe where it was, and added a table and two chairs
taken from her own room. She had to buy a washing-stand and a bed with
mattress and bedclothes, costing one hundred and thirty francs, which
she was to pay off at ten francs a month. Although Lantier's twenty
francs would be used to pay off these debts for ten months, there would
be a nice little profit later.

It was during the early days of June that the hatter moved in. The day
before, Coupeau had offered to go with him and fetch his box, to save
him the thirty sous for a cab. But the other became quite embarrassed,
saying that the box was too heavy, as though he wished up to the last
moment to hide the place where he lodged. He arrived in the afternoon
towards three o'clock. Coupeau did not happen to be in. And Gervaise,
standing at the shop door became quite pale on recognizing the box
outside the cab. It was their old box, the one with which they had
journeyed from Plassans, all scratched and broken now and held together
by cords. She saw it return as she had often dreamt it would and it
needed no great stretch of imagination to believe that the same cab,
that cab in which that strumpet of a burnisher had played her such a
foul trick, had brought the box back again. Meanwhile Boche was giving
Lantier a helping hand. The laundress followed them in silence and
feeling rather dazed. When they had deposited their burden in the middle
of the room she said for the sake of saying something:

"Well! That's a good thing finished, isn't it?"

Then pulling herself together, seeing that Lantier, busy in undoing the
cords was not even looking at her, she added:

"Monsieur Boche, you must have a drink."

And she went and fetched a quart of wine and some glasses.

Just then Poisson passed along the pavement in uniform. She signaled to
him, winking her eye and smiling. The policeman understood perfectly.
When he was on duty and anyone winked their eye to him it meant a glass
of wine. He would even walk for hours up and down before the laundry
waiting for a wink. Then so as not to be seen, he would pass through the
courtyard and toss off the liquor in secret.

"Ah! ah!" said Lantier when he saw him enter, "it's you, Badingue."

He called him Badingue for a joke, just to show how little he cared for
the Emperor. Poisson put up with it in his stiff way without one knowing
whether it really annoyed him or not. Besides the two men, though
separated by their political convictions, had become very good friends.

"You know that the Emperor was once a policeman in London," said Boche
in his turn. "Yes, on my word! He used to take the drunken women to the

Gervaise had filled three glasses on the table. She would not drink
herself, she felt too sick at heart, but she stood there longing to
see what the box contained and watching Lantier remove the last cords.
Before raising the lid Lantier took his glass and clinked it with the

"Good health."

"Same to you," replied Boche and Poisson.

The laundress filled the glasses again. The three men wiped their lips
on the backs of their hands. And at last the hatter opened the box. It
was full of a jumble of newspapers, books, old clothes and underlinen,
in bundles. He took out successively a saucepan, a pair of boots, a bust
of Ledru-Rollin with the nose broken, an embroidered shirt and a pair of
working trousers. Gervaise could smell the odor of tobacco and that of a
man whose linen wasn't too clean, one who took care only of the outside,
of what people could see.

The old hat was no longer in the left corner. There was a pincushion
she did not recognize, doubtless a present from some woman. She became

Online LibraryÉmile ZolaL'Assommoir → online text (page 20 of 36)