Émile Zola.

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procession arrived disbanded, with stampings of feet and everybody
talking of his own affairs. The hard earth resounded, and many would
have liked to have moved about to keep themselves warm. The gaping hole
beside which the coffin was laid was already frozen over, and looked
white and stony, like a plaster quarry; and the followers, grouped
round little heaps of gravel, did not find it pleasant standing in such
piercing cold, whilst looking at the hole likewise bored them. At length
a priest in a surplice came out of a little cottage. He shivered,
and one could see his steaming breath at each _de profundis_ that he
uttered. At the final sign of the cross he bolted off, without the least
desire to go through the service again. The sexton took his shovel,
but on account of the frost, he was only able to detach large lumps of
earth, which beat a fine tune down below, a regular bombardment of the
coffin, an enfilade of artillery sufficient to make one think the wood
was splitting. One may be a cynic; nevertheless that sort of music soon
upsets one's stomach. The weeping recommenced. They moved off, they even
got outside, but they still heard the detonations. My-Boots, blowing on
his fingers, uttered an observation aloud.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ poor mother Coupeau won't feel very warm!"

"Ladies and gentlemen," said the zinc-worker to the few friends who
remained in the street with the family, "will you permit us to offer you
some refreshments?"

He led the way to a wine shop in the Rue Marcadet, the "Arrival at the
Cemetery." Gervaise, remaining outside, called Goujet, who was moving
off, after again nodding to her. Why didn't he accept a glass of wine?
He was in a hurry; he was going back to the workshop. Then they looked
at each other a moment without speaking.

"I must ask your pardon for troubling you about the sixty francs," at
length murmured the laundress. "I was half crazy, I thought of you - "

"Oh! don't mention it; you're fully forgiven," interrupted the
blacksmith. "And you know, I am quite at your service if any misfortune
should overtake you. But don't say anything to mamma, because she has
her ideas, and I don't wish to cause her annoyance."

She gazed at him. He seemed to her such a good man, and sad-looking, and
so handsome. She was on the verge of accepting his former proposal, to
go away with him and find happiness together somewhere else. Then an
evil thought came to her. It was the idea of borrowing the six months'
back rent from him.

She trembled and resumed in a caressing tone of voice:

"We're still friends, aren't we?"

He shook his head as he answered:

"Yes, we'll always be friends. It's just that, you know, all is over
between us."

And he went off with long strides, leaving Gervaise bewildered,
listening to his last words which rang in her ears with the clang of a
big bell. On entering the wine shop, she seemed to hear a hollow voice
within her which said, "All is over, well! All is over; there is
nothing more for me to do if all is over!" Sitting down, she swallowed a
mouthful of bread and cheese, and emptied a glass full of wine which she
found before her.

The wine shop was a single, long room with a low ceiling occupied by two
large tables on which loaves of bread, large chunks of Brie cheese and
bottles of wine were set out. They ate informally, without a tablecloth.
Near the stove at the back the undertaker's helpers were finishing their

"_Mon Dieu!_" exclaimed Monsieur Madinier, "we each have our time. The
old folks make room for the young ones. Your lodging will seem very
empty to you now when you go home."

"Oh! my brother is going to give notice," said Madame Lorilleux quickly.
"That shop's ruined."

They had been working upon Coupeau. Everyone was urging him to give up
the lease. Madame Lerat herself, who had been on very good terms with
Lantier and Virginie for some time past, and who was tickled with
the idea that they were a trifle smitten with each other, talked of
bankruptcy and prison, putting on the most terrified airs. And suddenly,
the zinc-worker, already overdosed with liquor, flew into a passion, his
emotion turned to fury.

"Listen," cried he, poking his nose in his wife's face; "I intend that
you shall listen to me! Your confounded head will always have its own
way. But, this time, I intend to have mine, I warn you!"

"Ah! well," said Lantier, "one never yet brought her to reason by fair
words; it wants a mallet to drive it into her head."

For a time they both went on at her. Meanwhile, the Brie was quickly
disappearing and the wine bottles were pouring like fountains. Gervaise
began to weaken under this persistent pounding. She answered nothing,
but hurried herself, her mouth ever full, as though she had been very
hungry. When they got tired, she gently raised her head and said:

"That's enough, isn't it? I don't care a straw for the shop! I want no
more of it. Do you understand? It can go to the deuce! All is over!"

Then they ordered some more bread and cheese and talked business. The
Poissons took the rest of the lease and agreed to be answerable for the
two quarters' rent overdue. Boche, moreover, pompously agreed to the
arrangement in the landlord's name. He even then and there let a lodging
to the Coupeaus - the vacant one on the sixth floor, in the same passage
as the Lorilleuxs' apartment. As for Lantier, well! He would like to
keep his room, if it did not inconvenience the Poissons. The policeman
bowed; it did not inconvenience him at all; friends always get on
together, in spite of any difference in their political ideas. And
Lantier, without mixing himself up any more in the matter, like a man
who has at length settled his little business, helped himself to an
enormous slice of bread and cheese; he leant back in his chair and ate
devoutly, his blood tingling beneath his skin, his whole body burning
with a sly joy, and he blinked his eyes to peep first at Gervaise, and
then at Virginie.

"Hi! Old Bazouge!" called Coupeau, "come and have a drink. We're not
proud; we're all workers."

The four undertaker's helpers, who had started to leave, came back to
raise glasses with the group. They thought that the lady had weighed
quite a bit and they had certainly earned a glass of wine. Old Bazouge
gazed steadily at Gervaise without saying a word. It made her feel
uneasy though and she got up and left the men who were beginning to show
signs of being drunk. Coupeau began to sob again, saying he was feeling
very sad.

That evening when Gervaise found herself at home again, she remained
in a stupefied state on a chair. It seemed to her that the rooms were
immense and deserted. Really, it would be a good riddance. But it was
certainly not only mother Coupeau that she had left at the bottom of
the hole in the little garden of the Rue Marcadet. She missed too many
things, most likely a part of her life, and her shop, and her pride of
being an employer, and other feelings besides, which she had buried
on that day. Yes, the walls were bare, and her heart also; it was a
complete clear out, a tumble into the pit. And she felt too tired; she
would pick herself up again later on if she could.

At ten o'clock, when undressing, Nana cried and stamped. She wanted to
sleep in mother Coupeau's bed. Her mother tried to frighten her; but
the child was too precocious. Corpses only filled her with a great
curiosity; so that, for the sake of peace, she was allowed to lie down
in mother Coupeau's place. She liked big beds, the chit; she spread
herself out and rolled about. She slept uncommonly well that night in
the warm and pleasant feather bed.


The Coupeaus' new lodging was on the sixth floor, staircase B. After
passing Mademoiselle Remanjou's door, you took the corridor to the
left, and then turned again further along. The first door was for the
apartment of the Bijards. Almost opposite, in an airless corner under a
small staircase leading to the roof, was where Pere Bru slept. Two
doors further was Bazouge's room and the Coupeaus were opposite him,
overlooking the court, with one room and a closet. There were only two
more doors along the corridor before reaching that of the Lorilleuxs at
the far end.

A room and a closet, no more. The Coupeaus perched there now. And the
room was scarcely larger than one's hand. And they had to do everything
in there - eat, sleep, and all the rest. Nana's bed just squeezed into
the closet; she had to dress in her father and mother's room, and her
door was kept open at night-time so that she should not be suffocated.
There was so little space that Gervaise had left many things in the
shop for the Poissons. A bed, a table, and four chairs completely filled
their new apartment but she didn't have the courage to part with her old
bureau and so it blocked off half the window. This made the room dark
and gloomy, especially since one shutter was stuck shut. Gervaise was
now so fat that there wasn't room for her in the limited window space
and she had to lean sideways and crane her neck if she wanted to see the

During the first few days, the laundress would continually sit down
and cry. It seemed to her too hard, not being able to move about in
her home, after having been used to so much room. She felt stifled;
she remained at the window for hours, squeezed between the wall and
the drawers and getting a stiff neck. It was only there that she could
breathe freely. However, the courtyard inspired rather melancholy
thoughts. Opposite her, on the sunny side, she would see that same
window she had dreamed about long ago where the spring brought scarlet
vines. Her own room was on the shady side where pots of mignonette died
within a week. Oh, this wasn't at all the sort of life she had dreamed
of. She had to wallow in filth instead of having flowers all about her.

On leaning out one day, Gervaise experienced a peculiar sensation: she
fancied she beheld herself down below, near the concierge's room under
the porch, her nose in the air, and examining the house for the first
time; and this leap thirteen years backwards caused her heart to throb.
The courtyard was a little dingier and the walls more stained, otherwise
it hadn't changed much. But she herself felt terribly changed and worn.
To begin with, she was no longer below, her face raised to heaven,
feeling content and courageous and aspiring to a handsome lodging. She
was right up under the roof, among the most wretched, in the dirtiest
hole, the part that never received a ray of sunshine. And that explained
her tears; she could scarcely feel enchanted with her fate.

However, when Gervaise had grown somewhat used to it, the early days
of the little family in their new home did not pass off so badly.
The winter was almost over, and the trifle of money received for the
furniture sold to Virginie helped to make things comfortable. Then with
the fine weather came a piece of luck, Coupeau was engaged to work in
the country at Etampes; and he was there for nearly three months without
once getting drunk, cured for a time by the fresh air. One has no idea
what a quench it is to the tippler's thirst to leave Paris where the
very streets are full of the fumes of wine and brandy. On his return he
was as fresh as a rose, and he brought back in his pocket four hundred
francs with which they paid the two overdue quarters' rent at the shop
that the Poissons had become answerable for, and also the most pressing
of their little debts in the neighborhood. Gervaise thus opened two or
three streets through which she had not passed for a long time.

She had naturally become an ironer again. Madame Fauconnier was quite
good-hearted if you flattered her a bit, and she was happy to take
Gervaise back, even paying her the same three francs a day as her best
worker. This was out of respect for her former status as an employer.
The household seemed to be getting on well and Gervaise looked forward
to the day when all the debts would be paid. Hard work and economy would
solve all their money troubles. Unfortunately, she dreamed of this in
the warm satisfaction of the large sum earned by her husband. Soon, she
said that the good things never lasted and took things as they came.

What the Coupeaus most suffered from at that time was seeing the
Poissons installing themselves at their former shop. They were not
naturally of a particularly jealous disposition, but people aggravated
them by purposely expressing amazement in their presence at the
embellishments of their successors. The Boches and the Lorilleuxs
especially, never tired. According to them, no one had ever seen so
beautiful a shop. They were also continually mentioning the filthy state
in which the Poissons had found the premises, saying that it had cost
thirty francs for the cleaning alone.

After much deliberation, Virginie had decided to open a shop
specializing in candies, chocolate, coffee and tea. Lantier had advised
this, saying there was much money to be made from such delicacies. The
shop was stylishly painted black with yellow stripes. Three carpenters
worked for eight days on the interior, putting up shelves, display
cases and counters. Poisson's small inheritance must have been almost
completely used, but Virginie was ecstatic. The Lorilleuxs and the
Boches made sure that Gervaise did not miss a single improvement and
chuckled to themselves while watching her expression.

There was also a question of a man beneath all this. It was reported
that Lantier had broken off with Gervaise. The neighborhood declared
that it was quite right. In short, it gave a moral tone to the street.
And all the honor of the separation was accorded to the crafty hatter
on whom all the ladies continued to dote. Some said that she was still
crazy about him and he had to slap her to make her leave him alone.
Of course, no one told the actual truth. It was too simple and not
interesting enough.

Actually Lantier climbed to the sixth floor to see her whenever he felt
the impulse. Mademoiselle Remanjou had often seen him coming out of the
Coupeaus' at odd hours.

The situation was even more complicated by neighborhood gossip linking
Lantier and Virginie. The neighbors were a bit too hasty in this also;
he had not even reached the stage of buttock-pinching with her. Still,
the Lorilleuxs delighted in talking sympathetically to Gervaise about
the affair between Lantier and Virginie. The Boches maintained they had
never seen a more handsome couple. The odd thing in all this was that
the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or seemed to have no objection to this new
arrangement which everyone thought was progressing nicely. Those who had
been so harsh to Gervaise were now quite lenient toward Virginie.

Gervaise had previously heard numerous reports about Lantier's affairs
with all sorts of girls on the street and they had bothered her so
little that she hadn't even felt enough resentment to break off the
affair. However, this new intrigue with Virginie wasn't quite so easy to
accept because she was sure that the two of them were just out to spite
her. She hid her resentment though to avoid giving any satisfaction to
her enemies. Mademoiselle Remanjou thought that Gervaise had words with
Lantier over this because one afternoon she heard the sound of a slap.
There was certainly a quarrel because Lantier stopped speaking to
Gervaise for a couple of weeks, but then he was the first one to make up
and things seemed to go along the same as before.

Coupeau found all this most amusing. The complacent husband who had been
blind to his own situation laughed heartily at Poisson's predicament.
Then Coupeau even teased Gervaise. Her lovers always dropped her.
First the blacksmith and now the hatmaker. The trouble was that she got
involved with undependable trades. She should take up with a mason, a
good solid man. He said such things as if he were joking, but they upset
Gervaise because his small grey eyes seemed to be boring right into her.

On evenings when Coupeau became bored being alone with his wife up in
their tiny hole under the roof, he would go down for Lantier and invite
him up. He thought their dump was too dreary without Lantier's company
so he patched things up between Gervaise and Lantier whenever they had a
falling out.

In the midst of all this Lantier put on the most consequential airs.
He showed himself both paternal and dignified. On three successive
occasions he had prevented a quarrel between the Coupeaus and the
Poissons. The good understanding between the two families formed a part
of his contentment. Thanks to the tender though firm glances with
which he watched over Gervaise and Virginie, they always pretended to
entertain a great friendship for each other. He reigned over both blonde
and brunette with the tranquillity of a pasha, and fattened on his
cunning. The rogue was still digesting the Coupeaus when he already
began to devour the Poissons. Oh, it did not inconvenience him much! As
soon as one shop was swallowed, he started on a second. It was only men
of his sort who ever have any luck.

It was in June of that year that Nana was confirmed. She was then nearly
thirteen years old, as tall as an asparagus shoot run to seed, and had
a bold, impudent air about her. The year before she had been sent away
from the catechism class on account of her bad behavior; and the priest
had only allowed her to join it this time through fear of losing her
altogether, and of casting one more heathen onto the street. Nana
danced for joy as she thought of the white dress. The Lorilleuxs, being
godfather and godmother, had promised to provide it, and took care to
let everyone in the house know of their present. Madame Lerat was
to give the veil and the cap, Virginie the purse, and Lantier the
prayer-book; so that the Coupeaus looked forward to the ceremony without
any great anxiety. Even the Poissons, wishing to give a house-warming,
chose this occasion, no doubt on the hatter's advice. They invited
the Coupeaus and the Boches, whose little girl was also going to be
confirmed. They provided a leg of mutton and trimmings for the evening
in question.

It so happened that on the evening before, Coupeau returned home in a
most abominable condition, just as Nana was lost in admiration before
the presents spread out on the top of the chest of drawers. The Paris
atmosphere was getting the better of him again; and he fell foul of his
wife and child with drunken arguments and disgusting language which no
one should have uttered at such a time. Nana herself was beginning
to get hold of some very bad expressions in the midst of the filthy
conversations she was continually hearing. On the days when there was a
row, she would often call her mother an old camel and a cow.

"Where's my food?" yelled the zinc-worker. "I want my soup, you couple
of jades! There's females for you, always thinking of finery! I'll sit
on the gee-gaws, you know, if I don't get my soup!"

"He's unbearable when he's drunk," murmured Gervaise, out of patience;
and turning towards him, she exclaimed:

"It's warming up, don't bother us."

Nana was being modest, because she thought it nice on such a day. She
continued to look at the presents on the chest of drawers, affectedly
lowering her eyelids and pretending not to understand her father's
naughty words. But the zinc-worker was an awful plague on the nights
when he had had too much. Poking his face right against her neck, he

"I'll give you white dresses! So the finery tickles your fancy. They
excite your imagination. Just you cut away from there, you ugly little
brat! Move your hands about, bundle them all into a drawer!"

Nana, with bowed head, did not answer a word. She had taken up the
little tulle cap and was asking her mother how much it cost. And as
Coupeau thrust out his hand to seize hold of the cap, it was Gervaise
who pushed him aside exclaiming:

"Do leave the child alone! She's very good, she's doing no harm."

Then the zinc-worker let out in real earnest.

"Ah! the viragos! The mother and daughter, they make the pair. It's a
nice thing to go to church just to leer at the men. Dare to say it isn't
true, little slattern! I'll dress you in a sack, just to disgust you,
you and your priests. I don't want you to be taught anything worse than
you know already. _Mon Dieu!_ Just listen to me, both of you!"

At this Nana turned round in a fury, whilst Gervaise had to spread out
her arms to protect the things which Coupeau talked of tearing. The
child looked her father straight in the face; then, forgetting the
modest bearing inculcated by her confessor, she said, clinching her
teeth: "Pig!"

As soon as the zinc-worker had had his soup he went off to sleep. On
the morrow he awoke in a very good humor. He still felt a little of the
booze of the day before but only just sufficient to make him amiable.
He assisted at the dressing of the child, deeply affected by the white
dress and finding that a mere nothing gave the little vermin quite the
look of a young lady.

The two families started off together for the church. Nana and Pauline
walked first, their prayer-books in their hands and holding down their
veils on account of the wind; they did not speak but were bursting
with delight at seeing people come to their shop-doors, and they smiled
primly and devoutly every time they heard anyone say as they passed that
they looked very nice. Madame Boche and Madame Lorilleux lagged behind,
because they were interchanging their ideas about Clump-clump, a
gobble-all, whose daughter would never have been confirmed if the
relations had not found everything for her; yes, everything, even a new
chemise, out of respect for the holy altar. Madame Lorilleux was rather
concerned about the dress, calling Nana a dirty thing every time the
child got dust on her skirt by brushing against the store fronts.

At church Coupeau wept all the time. It was stupid but he could not help
it. It affected him to see the priest holding out his arms and all
the little girls, looking like angels, pass before him, clasping
their hands; and the music of the organ stirred up his stomach and the
pleasant smell of the incense forced him to sniff, the same as though
someone had thrust a bouquet of flowers into his face. In short he saw
everything cerulean, his heart was touched. Anyway, other sensitive
souls around him were wetting their handkerchiefs. This was a beautiful
day, the most beautiful of his life. After leaving the church, Coupeau
went for a drink with Lorilleux, who had remained dry-eyed.

That evening the Poissons' house-warming was very lively. Friendship
reigned without a hitch from one end of the feast to the other. When bad
times arrive one thus comes in for some pleasant evenings, hours during
which sworn enemies love each other. Lantier, with Gervaise on his left
and Virginie on his right, was most amiable to both of them,
lavishing little tender caresses like a cock who desires peace in his
poultry-yard. But the queens of the feast were the two little ones, Nana
and Pauline, who had been allowed to keep on their things; they sat bolt
upright through fear of spilling anything on their white dresses and at
every mouthful they were told to hold up their chins so as to swallow
cleanly. Nana, greatly bored by all this fuss, ended by slobbering her
wine over the body of her dress, so it was taken off and the stains were
at once washed out in a glass of water.

Then at dessert the children's future careers were gravely discussed.

Madame Boche had decided that Pauline would enter a shop to learn how
to punch designs on gold and silver. That paid five or six francs a
day. Gervaise didn't know yet because Nana had never indicated any

"In your place," said Madame Lerat, "I would bring Nana up as an
artificial flower-maker. It is a pleasant and clean employment."

"Flower-makers?" muttered Lorilleux. "Every one of them might as well
walk the streets."

"Well, what about me?" objected Madame Lerat, pursing her lips. "You're
certainly not very polite. I assure you that I don't lie down for anyone
who whistles."

Then all the rest joined together in hushing her. "Madame Lerat! Oh,
Madame Lerat!" By side glances they reminded her of the two girls, fresh
from communion, who were burying their noses in their glasses to keep
from laughing out loud. The men had been very careful, for propriety's
sake, to use only suitable language, but Madame Lerat refused to follow
their example. She flattered herself on her command of language, as she
had often been complimented on the way she could say anything before

Online LibraryÉmile ZolaL'Assommoir → online text (page 26 of 36)