Émile Zola.

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On beholding him Gervaise uttered such a deep wailing that he awoke.

"_Mon Dieu!_ shut the door! It's so cold! Ah! it's you! What's the
matter? What do you want?"

Then, Gervaise, stretching out her arms, no longer knowing what she
stuttered, began passionately to implore him:

"Oh! take me away! I've had enough; I want to go off. You mustn't bear
me any grudge. I didn't know. One never knows until one's ready. Oh,
yes; one's glad to go one day! Take me away! Take me away and I shall
thank you!"

She fell on her knees, all shaken with a desire which caused her to turn
ghastly pale. Never before had she thus dragged herself at a man's feet.
Old Bazouge's ugly mug, with his mouth all on one side and his hide
begrimed with the dust of funerals, seemed to her as beautiful and
resplendent as a sun. The old fellow, who was scarcely awake thought,
however, that it was some sort of bad joke.

"Look here," murmured he, "no jokes!"

"Take me away," repeated Gervaise more ardently still. "You remember,
I knocked one evening against the partition; then I said that it wasn't
true, because I was still a fool. But see! Give me your hands. I'm no
longer frightened. Take me away to by-by; you'll see how still I'll be.
Oh! sleep, that's all I care for. Oh! I'll love you so much!"

Bazouge, ever gallant, thought that he ought not to be hasty with a
lady who appeared to have taken such a fancy to him. She was falling to
pieces, but all the same, what remained was very fine, especially when
she was excited.

"What you say is very true," said he in a convinced manner. "I packed
up three more to-day who would only have been too glad to have given
me something for myself, could they but have got their hands to their
pockets. But, little woman, it's not so easily settled as all that - "

"Take me away, take me away," continued Gervaise, "I want to die."

"Ah! but there's a little operation to be gone through beforehand - you
know, glug!"

And he made a noise in his throat, as though swallowing his tongue.
Then, thinking it a good joke, he chuckled.

Gervaise slowly rose to her feet. So he too could do nothing for her.
She went to her room and threw herself on her straw, feeling stupid,
and regretting she had eaten. Ah! no indeed, misery did not kill quickly


That night Coupeau went on a spree. Next day, Gervaise received ten
francs from her son Etienne, who was a mechanic on some railway. The
youngster sent her a few francs from time to time, knowing that they
were not very well off at home. She made some soup, and ate it all
alone, for that scoundrel Coupeau did not return on the morrow. On
Monday he was still absent, and on Tuesday also. The whole week went by.
Ah, it would be good luck if some woman took him in.

On Sunday Gervaise received a printed document. It was to inform her
that her husband was dying at the Sainte-Anne asylum.

Gervaise did not disturb herself. He knew the way; he could very well
get home from the asylum by himself. They had cured him there so often
that they could once more do him the sorry service of putting him on his
pins again. Had she not heard that very morning that for the week before
Coupeau had been seen as round as a ball, rolling about Belleville from
one dram shop to another in the company of My-Boots. Exactly so; and
it was My-Boots, too, who stood treat. He must have hooked his missus's
stocking with all the savings gained at very hard work. It wasn't clean
money they had used, but money that could infect them with any manner
of vile diseases. Well, anyway, they hadn't thought to invite her for a
drink. If you wanted to drink by yourself, you could croak by yourself.

However, on Monday, as Gervaise had a nice little meal planned for the
evening, the remains of some beans and a pint of wine, she pretended
to herself that a walk would give her an appetite. The letter from the
asylum which she had left lying on the bureau bothered her. The snow
had melted, the day was mild and grey and on the whole fine, with just a
slight keenness in the air which was invigorating. She started at noon,
for her walk was a long one. She had to cross Paris and her bad leg
always slowed her. With that the streets were crowded; but the people
amused her; she reached her destination very pleasantly. When she had
given her name, she was told a most astounding story to the effect that
Coupeau had been fished out of the Seine close to the Pont-Neuf. He had
jumped over the parapet, under the impression that a bearded man was
barring his way. A fine jump, was it not? And as for finding out how
Coupeau got to be on the Pont-Neuf, that was a matter he could not even
explain himself.

One of the keepers escorted Gervaise. She was ascending a staircase,
when she heard howlings which made her shiver to her very bones.

"He's playing a nice music, isn't he?" observed the keeper.

"Who is?" asked she.

"Why, your old man! He's been yelling like that ever since the day
before yesterday; and he dances, you'll just see."

_Mon Dieu!_ what a sight! She stood as one transfixed. The cell was
padded from the floor to the ceiling. On the floor there were two straw
mats, one piled on top of the other; and in a corner were spread a
mattress and a bolster, nothing more. Inside there Coupeau was dancing
and yelling, his blouse in tatters and his limbs beating the air.
He wore the mask of one about to die. What a breakdown! He bumped up
against the window, then retired backwards, beating time with his arms
and shaking his hands as though he were trying to wrench them off and
fling them in somebody's face. One meets with buffoons in low dancing
places who imitate the delirium tremens, only they imitate it badly.
One must see this drunkard's dance if one wishes to know what it is like
when gone through in earnest. The song also has its merits, a continuous
yell worthy of carnival-time, a mouth wide open uttering the same hoarse
trombone notes for hours together. Coupeau had the howl of a beast with
a crushed paw. Strike up, music! Gentlemen, choose your partners!

"_Mon Dieu!_ what is the matter with him? What is the matter with him?"
repeated Gervaise, seized with fear.

A house surgeon, a big fair fellow with a rosy countenance, and wearing
a white apron, was quietly sitting taking notes. The case was a curious
one; the doctor did not leave the patient.

"Stay a while if you like," said he to the laundress; "but keep quiet.
Try and speak to him, he will not recognise you."

Coupeau indeed did not even appear to see his wife. She had only had a
bad view of him on entering, he was wriggling about so much. When
she looked him full in the face, she stood aghast. _Mon Dieu!_ was it
possible he had a countenance like that, his eyes full of blood and his
lips covered with scabs? She would certainly never have known him. To
begin with, he was making too many grimaces, without saying why, his
mouth suddenly out of all shape, his nose curled up, his cheeks drawn
in, a perfect animal's muzzle. His skin was so hot the air steamed
around him; and his hide was as though varnished, covered with a heavy
sweat which trickled off him. In his mad dance, one could see all the
same that he was not at his ease, his head was heavy and his limbs

Gervaise drew near to the house surgeon, who was strumming a tune with
the tips of his fingers on the back of his chair.

"Tell me, sir, it's serious then this time?"

The house surgeon nodded his head without answering.

"Isn't he jabbering to himself? Eh! don't you hear? What's it about?

"About things he sees," murmured the young man. "Keep quiet, let me

Coupeau was speaking in a jerky voice. A glimmer of amusement lit up
his eyes. He looked on the floor, to the right, to the left, and
turned about as though he had been strolling in the Bois de Vincennes,
conversing with himself.

"Ah! that's nice, that's grand! There're cottages, a regular fair. And
some jolly fine music! What a Balthazar's feast! They're smashing the
crockery in there. Awfully swell! Now it's being lit up; red balls in
the air, and it jumps, and it flies! Oh! oh! what a lot of lanterns in
the trees! It's confoundedly pleasant! There's water flowing everywhere,
fountains, cascades, water which sings, oh! with the voice of a
chorister. The cascades are grand!"

And he drew himself up, as though the better to hear the delicious song
of the water; he sucked in forcibly, fancying he was drinking the fresh
spray blown from the fountains. But, little by little, his face resumed
an agonized expression. Then he crouched down and flew quicker than ever
around the walls of the cell, uttering vague threats.

"More traps, all that! I thought as much. Silence, you set of swindlers!
Yes, you're making a fool of me. It's for that that you're drinking and
bawling inside there with your viragoes. I'll demolish you, you and your
cottage! Damnation! Will you leave me in peace?"

He clinched his fists; then he uttered a hoarse cry, stooping as he ran.
And he stuttered, his teeth chattering with fright.

"It's so that I may kill myself. No, I won't throw myself in! All that
water means that I've no heart. No, I won't throw myself in!"

The cascades, which fled at his approach, advanced when he retired. And
all of a sudden, he looked stupidly around him, mumbling, in a voice
which was scarcely audible:

"It isn't possible, they set conjurers against me!"

"I'm off, sir. I've got to go. Good-night!" said Gervaise to the house
surgeon. "It upsets me too much; I'll come again."

She was quite white. Coupeau was continuing his breakdown from the
window to the mattress and from the mattress to the window, perspiring,
toiling, always beating the same rhythm. Then she hurried away. But
though she scrambled down the stairs, she still heard her husband's
confounded jig until she reached the bottom. Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ how
pleasant it was out of doors, one could breathe there!

That evening everyone in the tenement was discussing Coupeau's strange
malady. The Boches invited Gervaise to have a drink with them, even
though they now considered Clump-clump beneath them, in order to hear
all the details. Madame Lorilleux and Madame Poisson were there also.
Boche told of a carpenter he had known who had been a drinker of
absinthe. The man shed his clothes, went out in the street and danced
the polka until he died. That rather struck the ladies as comic, even
though it was very sad.

Gervaise got up in the middle of the room and did an imitation of
Coupeau. Yes, that's just how it was. Can anyone feature a man doing
that for hours on end? If they didn't believe they could go see for

On getting up the next morning, Gervaise promised herself she would not
return to the Sainte-Anne again. What use would it be? She did not want
to go off her head also. However, every ten minutes, she fell to musing
and became absent-minded. It would be curious though, if he were still
throwing his legs about. When twelve o'clock struck, she could no longer
resist; she started off and did not notice how long the walk was, her
brain was so full of her desire to go and the dread of what awaited her.

Oh! there was no need for her to ask for news. She heard Coupeau's song
the moment she reached the foot of the staircase. Just the same tune,
just the same dance. She might have thought herself going up again after
having only been down for a minute. The attendant of the day before, who
was carrying some jugs of tisane along the corridor, winked his eye as
he met her, by way of being amiable.

"Still the same, then?" said she.

"Oh! still the same!" he replied without stopping.

She entered the room, but she remained near the door, because there were
some people with Coupeau. The fair, rosy house surgeon was standing up,
having given his chair to a bald old gentleman who was decorated and had
a pointed face like a weasel. He was no doubt the head doctor, for his
glance was as sharp and piercing as a gimlet. All the dealers in sudden
death have a glance like that.

No, really, it was not a pretty sight; and Gervaise, all in a tremble,
asked herself why she had returned. To think that the evening before
they accused her at the Boches' of exaggerating the picture! Now she saw
better how Coupeau set about it, his eyes wide open looking into space,
and she would never forget it. She overheard a few words between the
house surgeon and the head doctor. The former was giving some details
of the night: her husband had talked and thrown himself about, that was
what it amounted to. Then the bald-headed old gentleman, who was not
very polite by the way, at length appeared to become aware of her
presence; and when the house surgeon had informed him that she was
the patient's wife, he began to question her in the harsh manner of a
commissary of the police.

"Did this man's father drink?"

"Yes, sir; just a little like everyone. He killed himself by falling
from a roof one day when he was tipsy."

"Did his mother drink?"

"Well! sir, like everyone else, you know; a drop here, a drop there. Oh!
the family is very respectable! There was a brother who died very young
in convulsions."

The doctor looked at her with his piercing eye. He resumed in his rough

"And you, you drink too, don't you?"

Gervaise stammered, protested, and placed her hand upon her heart, as
though to take her solemn oath.

"You drink! Take care; see where drink leads to. One day or other you
will die thus."

Then she remained close to the wall. The doctor had turned his back
to her. He squatted down, without troubling himself as to whether his
overcoat trailed in the dust of the matting; for a long while he studied
Coupeau's trembling, waiting for its reappearance, following it with his
glance. That day the legs were going in their turn, the trembling had
descended from the hands to the feet; a regular puppet with his strings
being pulled, throwing his limbs about, whilst the trunk of his body
remained as stiff as a piece of wood. The disease progressed little by
little. It was like a musical box beneath the skin; it started off every
three or four seconds and rolled along for an instant; then it stopped
and then it started off again, just the same as the little shiver which
shakes stray dogs in winter, when cold and standing in some doorway for
protection. Already the middle of the body and the shoulders quivered
like water on the point of boiling. It was a funny demolition all the
same, going off wriggling like a girl being tickled.

Coupeau, meanwhile, was complaining in a hollow voice. He seemed
to suffer a great deal more than the day before. His broken murmurs
disclosed all sorts of ailments. Thousands of pins were pricking him.
He felt something heavy all about his body; some cold, wet animal was
crawling over his thighs and digging its fangs into his flesh. Then
there were other animals sticking to his shoulders, tearing his back
with their claws.

"I'm thirsty, oh! I'm thirsty!" groaned he continually.

The house surgeon handed him a little lemonade from a small shelf;
Coupeau seized the mug in both hands and greedily took a mouthful,
spilling half the liquid over himself; but he spat it out at once with
furious disgust, exclaiming:

"Damnation! It's brandy!"

Then, on a sign from the doctor, the house surgeon tried to make
him drink some water without leaving go of the bottle. This time he
swallowed the mouthful, yelling as though he had swallowed fire.

"It's brandy; damnation! It's brandy!"

Since the night before, everything he had had to drink was brandy. It
redoubled his thirst and he could no longer drink, because everything
burnt him. They had brought him some broth, but they were evidently
trying to poison him, for the broth smelt of vitriol. The bread was sour
and moldy. There was nothing but poison around him. The cell stank of
sulphur. He even accused persons of rubbing matches under his nose to
infect him.

All on a sudden he exclaimed:

"Oh! the rats, there're the rats now!"

There were black balls that were changing into rats. These filthy
animals got fatter and fatter, then they jumped onto the mattress and
disappeared. There was also a monkey which came out of the wall, and
went back into the wall, and which approached so near him each time,
that he drew back through fear of having his nose bitten off. Suddenly
there was another change, the walls were probably cutting capers, for he
yelled out, choking with terror and rage:

"That's it, gee up! Shake me, I don't care! Gee up! Tumble down! Yes,
ring the bells, you black crows! Play the organ to prevent my calling
the police. They've put a bomb behind the wall, the lousy scoundrels!
I can hear it, it snorts, they're going to blow us up! Fire! Damnation,
fire! There's a cry of fire! There it blazes. Oh, it's getting lighter,
lighter! All the sky's burning, red fires, green fires, yellow fires.
Hi! Help! Fire!"

His cries became lost in a rattle. He now only mumbled disconnected
words, foaming at the mouth, his chin wet with saliva. The doctor rubbed
his nose with his finger, a movement no doubt habitual with him in the
presence of serious cases. He turned to the house surgeon, and asked him
in a low voice:

"And the temperature, still the hundred degrees, is it not?"

"Yes, sir."

The doctor pursed his lips. He continued there another two minutes, his
eyes fixed on Coupeau. Then he shrugged his shoulders, adding:

"The same treatment, broth, milk, lemonade, and the potion of extract of
quinine. Do not leave him, and call me if necessary."

He went out and Gervaise followed him, to ask him if there was any
hope. But he walked so stiffly along the corridor, that she did not dare
approach him. She stood rooted there a minute, hesitating whether to
return and look at her husband. The time she had already passed had been
far from pleasant. As she again heard him calling out that the lemonade
smelt of brandy, she hurried away, having had enough of the performance.
In the streets, the galloping of the horses and the noise of the
vehicles made her fancy that all the inmates of Saint-Anne were at
her heels. And that the doctor had threatened her! Really, she already
thought she had the complaint.

In the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or the Boches and the others were naturally
awaiting her. The moment she appeared they called her into the
concierge's room. Well! was old Coupeau still in the land of the living?
_Mon Dieu!_ yes, he still lived. Boche seemed amazed and confounded; he
had bet a bottle that old Coupeau would not last till the evening. What!
He still lived! And they all exhibited their astonishment, and slapped
their thighs. There was a fellow who lasted! Madame Lorilleux reckoned
up the hours; thirty-six hours and twenty-four hours, sixty hours.
_Sacre Dieu!_ already sixty hours that he had been doing the jig and
screaming! Such a feat of strength had never been seen before. But
Boche, who was upset that he had lost the bet, questioned Gervaise with
an air of doubt, asking her if she was quite sure he had not filed off
behind her back. Oh! no, he had no desire to, he jumped about too much.
Then Boche, still doubting, begged her to show them again a little how
he was acting, just so they could see. Yes, yes, a little more! The
request was general! The company told her she would be very kind if she
would oblige, for just then two neighbors happened to be there who had
not been present the day before, and who had come down purposely to see
the performance. The concierge called to everybody to make room, they
cleared the centre of the apartment, pushing one another with their
elbows, and quivering with curiosity. Gervaise, however, hung down her
head. Really, she was afraid it might upset her. Desirous though of
showing that she did not refuse for the sake of being pressed, she tried
two or three little leaps; but she became quite queer, and stopped;
on her word of honor, she was not equal to it! There was a murmur of
disappointment; it was a pity, she imitated it perfectly. However, she
could not do it, it was no use insisting! And when Virginie left to
return to her shop, they forgot all about old Coupeau and began to
gossip about the Poissons and their home, a real mess now. The day
before, the bailiffs had been; the policeman was about to lose his
place; as for Lantier, he was now making up to the daughter of the
restaurant keeper next door, a fine woman, who talked of setting up as a
tripe-seller. Ah! it was amusing, everyone already beheld a tripe-seller
occupying the shop; after the sweets should come something substantial.
And that blind Poisson! How could a man whose profession required him to
be so smart fail to see what was going on in his own home? They stopped
talking suddenly when they noticed that Gervaise was off in a corner by
herself imitating Coupeau. Her hands and feet were jerking. Yes, they
couldn't ask for a better performance! Then Gervaise started as if
waking from a dream and hurried away calling out good-night to everyone.

On the morrow, the Boches saw her start off at twelve, the same as on
the two previous days. They wished her a pleasant afternoon. That day
the corridor at Sainte-Anne positively shook with Coupeau's yells and
kicks. She had not left the stairs when she heard him yelling:

"What a lot of bugs! - Come this way again that I may squash you! - Ah!
they want to kill me! ah! the bugs! - I'm a bigger swell than the lot of
you! Clear out, damnation! Clear out."

For a moment she stood panting before the door. Was he then fighting
against an army? When she entered, the performance had increased and was
embellished even more than on previous occasions. Coupeau was a raving
madman, the same as one sees at the Charenton mad-house! He was throwing
himself about in the center of the cell, slamming his fists everywhere,
on himself, on the walls, on the floor, and stumbling about punching
empty space. He wanted to open the window, and he hid himself, defended
himself, called, answered, produced all this uproar without the least
assistance, in the exasperated way of a man beset by a mob of people.
Then Gervaise understood that he fancied he was on a roof, laying down
sheets of zinc. He imitated the bellows with his mouth, he moved the
iron about in the fire and knelt down so as to pass his thumb along the
edges of the mat, thinking that he was soldering it. Yes, his handicraft
returned to him at the moment of croaking; and if he yelled so loud, if
he fought on his roof, it was because ugly scoundrels were preventing
him doing his work properly. On all the neighboring roofs were villains
mocking and tormenting him. Besides that, the jokers were letting troops
of rats loose about his legs. Ah! the filthy beasts, he saw them always!
Though he kept crushing them, bringing his foot down with all his
strength, fresh hordes of them continued passing, until they quite
covered the roof. And there were spiders there too! He roughly pressed
his trousers against his thigh to squash some big spiders which had
crept up his leg. _Mon Dieu!_ he would never finish his day's work,
they wanted to destroy him, his employer would send him to prison. Then,
whilst making haste, he suddenly imagined he had a steam-engine in his
stomach; with his mouth wide open, he puffed out the smoke, a dense
smoke which filled the cell and found an outlet by the window; and,
bending forward, still puffing, he looked outside of the cloud of smoke
as it unrolled and ascended to the sky, where it hid the sun.

"Look!" cried he, "there's the band of the Chaussee Clignancourt,
disguised as bears with drums, putting on a show."

He remained crouching before the window, as though he had been watching
a procession in a street, from some rooftop.

"There's the cavalcade, lions and panthers making grimaces - there's
brats dressed up as dogs and cats - there's tall Clemence, with her wig
full of feathers. Ah! _Mon Dieu!_ she's turning head over heels; she's
showed everything - you'd better run, Duckie. Hey, the cops, leave her
alone! - just you leave her alone - don't shoot! Don't shoot - "

His voice rose, hoarse and terrified and he stooped down quickly, saying
that the police and the military were below, men who were aiming at him
with rifles. In the wall he saw the barrel of a pistol emerging, pointed
at his breast. They had dragged the girl away.

"Don't shoot! _Mon Dieu!_ Don't shoot!"

Then, the buildings were tumbling down, he imitated the cracking of a
whole neighborhood collapsing; and all disappeared, all flew off. But

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