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Émile Zola.

L'Assommoir online

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he had no time to take breath, other pictures passed with extraordinary
rapidity. A furious desire to speak filled his mouth full of words which
he uttered without any connection, and with a gurgling sound in his
throat. He continued to raise his voice, louder and louder.

"Hallow, it's you? Good-day! No jokes! Don't make me nuzzle your hair."

And he passed his hand before his face, he blew to send the hairs away.
The house surgeon questioned him.

"Who is it you see?"

"My wife, of course!"

He was looking at the wall, with his back to Gervaise. The latter had a
rare fright, and she examined the wall, to see if she also could catch
sight of herself there. He continued talking.

"Now, you know, none of your wheedling - I won't be tied down! You are
pretty, you have got a fine dress. Where did you get the money for it,
you cow? You've been at a party, camel! Wait a bit and I'll do for you!
Ah! you're hiding your boy friend behind your skirts. Who is it? Stoop
down that I may see. Damnation, it's him again!"

With a terrible leap, he went head first against the wall; but the
padding softened the blow. One only heard his body rebounding onto the
matting, where the shock had sent him.

"Who is it you see?" repeated the house surgeon.

"The hatter! The hatter!" yelled Coupeau.

And the house surgeon questioning Gervaise, the latter stuttered without
being able to answer, for this scene stirred up within her all the
worries of her life. The zinc-worker thrust out his fists.

"We'll settle this between us, my lad. It's full time I did for you!
Ah, you coolly come, with that virago on your arm, to make a fool of
me before everyone. Well! I'm going to throttle you - yes, yes, I! And
without putting any gloves on either! I'll stop your swaggering. Take
that! And that! And that!"

He hit about in the air viciously. Then a wild rage took possession of
him. Having bumped against the wall in walking backwards, he thought he
was being attacked from behind. He turned round, and fiercely hammered
away at the padding. He sprang about, jumped from one corner to another,
knocked his stomach, his back, his shoulder, rolled over, and picked
himself up again. His bones seemed softened, his flesh had a sound like
damp oakum. He accompanied this pretty game with atrocious threats, and
wild and guttural cries. However the battle must have been going badly
for him, for his breathing became quicker, his eyes were starting out of
his head, and he seemed little by little to be seized with the cowardice
of a child.

"Murder! Murder! Be off with you both. Oh! you brutes, they're laughing.
There she is on her back, the virago! She must give in, it's settled.
Ah! the brigand, he's murdering her! He's cutting off her leg with his
knife. The other leg's on the ground, the stomach's in two, it's full of
blood. Oh! _Mon Dieu!_ Oh! _Mon Dieu!_"

And, covered with perspiration, his hair standing on end, looking a
frightful object, he retired backwards, violently waving his arms,
as though to send the abominable sight from him. He uttered two
heart-rending wails, and fell flat on his back on the mattress, against
which his heels had caught.

"He's dead, sir, he's dead!" said Gervaise, clasping her hands.

The house surgeon had drawn near, and was pulling Coupeau into the
middle of the mattress. No, he was not dead. They had taken his shoes
off. His bare feet hung off the end of the mattress and they were
dancing all by themselves, one beside the other, in time, a little
hurried and regular dance.

Just then the head doctor entered. He had brought two of his
colleagues - one thin, the other fat, and both decorated like himself.
All three stooped down without saying a word, and examined the man all
over; then they rapidly conversed together in a low voice. They had
uncovered Coupeau from his thighs to his shoulders, and by standing
on tiptoe Gervaise could see the naked trunk spread out. Well! it was
complete. The trembling had descended from the arms and ascended from
the legs, and now the trunk itself was getting lively!

"He's sleeping," murmured the head doctor.

And he called the two others' attention to the man's countenance.
Coupeau, his eyes closed, had little nervous twinges which drew up all
his face. He was more hideous still, thus flattened out, with his jaw
projecting, and his visage deformed like a corpse's that had suffered
from nightmare; but the doctors, having caught sight of his feet, went
and poked their noses over them, with an air of profound interest. The
feet were still dancing. Though Coupeau slept the feet danced. Oh!
their owner might snore, that did not concern them, they continued
their little occupation without either hurrying or slackening. Regular
mechanical feet, feet which took their pleasure wherever they found it.

Gervaise having seen the doctors place their hands on her old man,
wished to feel him also. She approached gently and laid a hand on his
shoulder, and she kept it there a minute. _Mon Dieu!_ whatever was
taking place inside? It danced down into the very depths of the flesh,
the bones themselves must have been jumping. Quiverings, undulations,
coming from afar, flowed like a river beneath the skin. When she pressed
a little she felt she distinguished the suffering cries of the marrow.
What a fearful thing, something was boring away like a mole! It must be
the rotgut from l'Assommoir that was hacking away inside him. Well! his
entire body had been soaked in it.

The doctors had gone away. At the end of an hour Gervaise, who had
remained with the house surgeon, repeated in a low voice:

"He's dead, sir; he's dead!"

But the house surgeon, who was watching the feet, shook his head. The
bare feet, projecting beyond the mattress, still danced on. They were
not particularly clean and the nails were long. Several more hours
passed. All on a sudden they stiffened and became motionless. Then the
house surgeon turned towards Gervaise, saying:

"It's over now."

Death alone had been able to stop those feet.

When Gervaise got back to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or she found at the
Boches' a number of women who were cackling in excited tones. She
thought they were awaiting her to have the latest news, the same as the
other days.

"He's gone," said she, quietly, as she pushed open the door, looking
tired out and dull.

But no one listened to her. The whole building was topsy-turvy. Oh!
a most extraordinary story. Poisson had caught his wife with Lantier.
Exact details were not known, because everyone had a different version.
However, he had appeared just when they were not expecting him. Some
further information was given, which the ladies repeated to one another
as they pursed their lips. A sight like that had naturally brought
Poisson out of his shell. He was a regular tiger. This man, who talked
but little and who always seemed to walk with a stick up his back, had
begun to roar and jump about. Then nothing more had been heard. Lantier
had evidently explained things to the husband. Anyhow, it could not last
much longer, and Boche announced that the girl of the restaurant was for
certain going to take the shop for selling tripe. That rogue of a hatter
adored tripe.

On seeing Madame Lorilleux and Madame Lerat arrive, Gervaise repeated,
faintly:

"He's gone. _Mon Dieu!_ Four days' dancing and yelling - "

Then the two sisters could not do otherwise than pull out their
handkerchiefs. Their brother had had many faults, but after all he was
their brother. Boche shrugged his shoulders and said, loud enough to be
heard by everyone:

"Bah! It's a drunkard the less."

From that day, as Gervaise often got a bit befuddled, one of the
amusements of the house was to see her imitate Coupeau. It was no longer
necessary to press her; she gave the performance gratis, her hands and
feet trembling as she uttered little involuntary shrieks. She must have
caught this habit at Sainte-Anne from watching her husband too long.

Gervaise lasted in this state several months. She fell lower and lower
still, submitting to the grossest outrages and dying of starvation a
little every day. As soon as she had four sous she drank and pounded
on the walls. She was employed on all the dirty errands of the
neighborhood. Once they even bet her she wouldn't eat filth, but she did
it in order to earn ten sous. Monsieur Marescot had decided to turn her
out of her room on the sixth floor. But, as Pere Bru had just been found
dead in his cubbyhole under the staircase, the landlord had allowed her
to turn into it. Now she roosted there in the place of Pere Bru. It
was inside there, on some straw, that her teeth chattered, whilst her
stomach was empty and her bones were frozen. The earth would not have
her apparently. She was becoming idiotic. She did not even think of
making an end of herself by jumping out of the sixth floor window on
to the pavement of the courtyard below. Death had to take her little by
little, bit by bit, dragging her thus to the end through the accursed
existence she had made for herself. It was never even exactly known what
she did die of. There was some talk of a cold, but the truth was she
died of privation and of the filth and hardship of her ruined life.
Overeating and dissoluteness killed her, according to the Lorilleuxs.
One morning, as there was a bad smell in the passage, it was remembered
that she had not been seen for two days, and she was discovered already
green in her hole.

It happened to be old Bazouge who came with the pauper's coffin under
his arm to pack her up. He was again precious drunk that day, but
a jolly fellow all the same, and as lively as a cricket. When he
recognized the customer he had to deal with he uttered several
philosophical reflections, whilst performing his little business.

"Everyone has to go. There's no occasion for jostling, there's room for
everyone. And it's stupid being in a hurry that just slows you up. All
I want to do is to please everybody. Some will, others won't. What's
the result? Here's one who wouldn't, then she would. So she was made to
wait. Anyhow, it's all right now, and faith! She's earned it! Merrily,
just take it easy."

And when he took hold of Gervaise in his big, dirty hands, he was seized
with emotion, and he gently raised this woman who had had so great a
longing for his attentions. Then, as he laid her out with paternal care
at the bottom of the coffin, he stuttered between two hiccoughs:

"You know - now listen - it's me, Bibi-the-Gay, called the ladies'
consoler. There, you're happy now. Go by-by, my beauty!"


THE END








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