Émile Zola.

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They had passed the arched doorway and crossed the courtyard. The
Lorilleuxs lived on the sixth floor, staircase B. Coupeau laughingly
told her to hold the hand-rail tight and not to leave go of it. She
looked up, and blinked her eyes, as she perceived the tall hollow
tower of the staircase, lighted by three gas jets, one on every second
landing; the last one, right up at the top looked like a star twinkling
in a black sky, whilst the other two cast long flashes of light, of
fantastic shapes, among the interminable windings of the stairs.

"By Jove!" said the zinc-worker as he reached the first floor, smiling,
"there's a strong smell of onion soup. Someone's having onion soup, I'm

Staircase B, with its gray, dirty steps and hand-rail, its scratched
walls and chipped plaster, was full of strong kitchen odors. Long
corridors, echoing with noise, led away from each landing. Doors,
painted yellow, gaped open, smeared black around the latch from dirty
hands. A sink on each landing gave forth a fetid humidity, adding its
stench to the sharp flavor of the cooking of onions. From the basement,
all the way to the sixth floor, you could hear dishes clattering,
saucepans being rinsed, pots being scraped and scoured.

On the first floor Gervaise saw a half-opened door with the word
"Designer" written on it in large letters. Inside were two men sitting
by a table, the dishes cleared away from its oilcloth cover, arguing
furiously amid a cloud of pipe smoke. The second and third floors were
quieter, and through cracks in the woodwork only such sounds filtered as
the rhythm of a cradle rocking, the stifled crying of a child, a woman's
voice sounding like the dull murmur of running water with no words
distinct. Gervaise read the various signs on the doors giving the names
of the occupants: "Madame Gaudron, wool-carder" and "Monsieur Madinier,
cardboard boxes." There was a fight in progress on the fourth floor: a
stomping of feet that shook the floor, furniture banged around, a racket
of curses and blows; but this did not bother the neighbors opposite, who
were playing cards with their door opened wide to admit more air.

When Gervaise reached the fifth floor, she had to stop to take a breath;
she was not used to going up so high; that wall for ever turning, the
glimpses she had of the lodgings following each other, made her head
ache. Anyway, there was a family almost blocking the landing: the father
washing the dishes over a small earthenware stove near the sink and the
mother sitting with her back to the stair-rail and cleaning the baby
before putting it to bed.

Coupeau kept urging Gervaise along, and they finally reached the sixth
floor. He encouraged her with a smile; they had arrived! She had been
hearing a voice all the way up from the bottom and she was gazing
upward, wondering where it could be coming from, a voice so clear and
piercing that it had dominated all the other sounds. It came from a
little old woman in an attic room who sang while putting dresses on
cheap dolls. When a tall girl came by with a pail of water and entered
a nearby apartment, Gervaise saw a tumbled bed on which a man was
sprawled, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. As the door closed behind her,
Gervaise saw the hand-written card: "Mademoiselle Clemence, ironing."

Now that she had finally made it to the top, her legs weary and her
breath short, Gervaise leaned over the railing to look down. Now it
was the gaslight on the first floor which seemed a distant star at the
bottom of a narrow well six stories deep. All the odors and all the
murmurings of the immense variety of life within the tenement came up
to her in one stifling breath that flushed her face as she hazarded a
worried glance down into the gulf below.

"We're not there yet," said Coupeau. "Oh! It's quite a journey!"

He had gone down a long corridor on the left. He turned twice, the first
time also to the left, the second time to the right. The corridor still
continued branching off, narrowing between walls full of crevices,
with plaster peeling off, and lighted at distant intervals by a slender
gas-jet; and the doors all alike, succeeded each other the same as
the doors of a prison or a convent, and nearly all open, continued to
display homes of misery and work, which the hot June evening filled
with a reddish mist. At length they reached a small passage in complete

"We're here," resumed the zinc-worker. "Be careful, keep to the wall;
there are three steps."

And Gervaise carefully took another ten steps in the obscurity. She
stumbled and then counted the three steps. But at the end of the passage
Coupeau had opened a door, without knocking. A brilliant light spread
over the tiled floor. They entered.

It was a narrow apartment, and seemed as if it were the continuation of
the corridor. A faded woolen curtain, raised up just then by a string,
divided the place in two. The first part contained a bedstead pushed
beneath an angle of the attic ceiling, a cast-iron stove still warm
from the cooking of the dinner, two chairs, a table and a wardrobe, the
cornice of which had had to be sawn off to make it fit in between the
door and the bedstead. The second part was fitted up as a work-shop; at
the end, a narrow forge with its bellows; to the right, a vise fixed to
the wall beneath some shelves on which pieces of old iron lay scattered;
to the left near the window, a small workman's bench, encumbered with
greasy and very dirty pliers, shears and microscopical saws, all very
dirty and grimy.

"It's us!" cried Coupeau advancing as far as the woolen curtain.

But no one answered at first. Gervaise, deeply affected, moved
especially by the thought that she was about to enter a place full of
gold, stood behind the zinc-worker, stammering and venturing upon nods
of her head by way of bowing. The brilliant light, a lamp burning on
the bench, a brazier full of coals flaring in the forge, increased
her confusion still more. She ended however, by distinguishing Madame
Lorilleux - little, red-haired and tolerably strong, pulling with all
the strength of her short arms, and with the assistance of a big pair of
pincers, a thread of black metal which she passed through the holes of
a draw-plate fixed to the vise. Seated in front of the bench, Lorilleux,
quite as small of stature, but more slender in the shoulders, worked
with the tips of his pliers, with the vivacity of a monkey, at a labor
so minute, that it was impossible to follow it between his scraggy
fingers. It was the husband who first raised his head - a head with
scanty locks, the face of the yellow tinge of old wax, long, and with an
ailing expression.

"Ah! it's you; well, well!" murmured he. "We're in a hurry you know.
Don't come into the work-room, you'd be in our way. Stay in the

And he resumed his minute task, his face again in the reflection of a
glass globe full of green-colored water, through which the lamp shed a
circle of bright light over his work.

"Take the chairs!" called out Madame Lorilleux in her turn. "It's that
lady, isn't it? Very well, very well!"

She had rolled the wire and she carried it to the forge, and then,
reviving the fire of the brazier with a large wooden fan, she proceeded
to temper the wire before passing it through the last holes of the

Coupeau moved the chairs forward and seated Gervaise by the curtain. The
room was so narrow that he could not sit beside her, so he sat behind
her, leaning over her shoulder to explain the work in progress. Gervaise
was intimidated by this strange reception and felt uneasy. She had a
buzzing in her ears and couldn't hear clearly. She thought the wife
looked older than her thirty years and not very neat with her hair in a
pigtail dangling down the back of her loosely worn wrapper. The husband,
who was only a year older, appeared already an old man with mean, thin
lips, as he sat there working in his shirt sleeves with his bare feet
thrust into down at the heel slippers. Gervaise was dismayed by the
smallness of the shop, the grimy walls, the rustiness of the tools, and
the black soot spread all over what looked like the odds and ends of a
scrap-iron peddler's wares.

"And the gold?" asked Gervaise in a low voice.

Her anxious glances searched the corners and sought amongst all that
filth for the resplendence she had dreamt of. But Coupeau burst out

"Gold?" said he; "why there's some; there's some more, and there's some
at your feet!"

He pointed successively to the fine wire at which his sister was
working, and to another roll of wire, similar to the ordinary iron
wire, hanging against the wall close to the vise; then going down on all
fours, he picked up, beneath the wooden screen which covered the tiled
floor of the work-room, a piece of waste, a tiny fragment resembling the
point of a rusty needle. But Gervaise protested; that couldn't be gold,
that blackish piece of metal as ugly as iron! He had to bite into
the piece and show her the gleaming notch made by his teeth. Then
he continued his explanations: the employers provided the gold wire,
already alloyed; the craftsmen first pulled it through the draw-plate to
obtain the correct size, being careful to anneal it five or six times to
keep it from breaking. It required a steady, strong hand, and plenty of
practice. His sister would not let her husband touch the wire-drawing
since he was subject to coughing spells. She had strong arms for it; he
had seen her draw gold to the fineness of a hair.

Lorilleux, seized with a fit of coughing, almost doubled up on his
stool. In the midst of the paroxysm, he spoke, and said in a choking
voice, still without looking at Gervaise, as though he was merely
mentioning the thing to himself:

"I'm making the herring-bone chain."

Coupeau urged Gervaise to get up. She might draw nearer and see. The
chainmaker consented with a grunt. He wound the wire prepared by his
wife round a mandrel, a very thin steel rod. Then he sawed gently,
cutting the wire the whole length of the mandrel, each turn forming
a link, which he soldered. The links were laid on a large piece of
charcoal. He wetted them with a drop of borax, taken from the bottom of
a broken glass beside him; and he made them red-hot at the lamp beneath
the horizontal flame produced by the blow-pipe. Then, when he had
soldered about a hundred links he returned once more to his minute work,
propping his hands against the edge of the _cheville_, a small piece of
board which the friction of his hands had polished. He bent each link
almost double with the pliers, squeezed one end close, inserted it in
the last link already in place and then, with the aid of a point opened
out again the end he had squeezed; and he did this with a continuous
regularity, the links joining each other so rapidly that the chain
gradually grew beneath Gervaise's gaze, without her being able to
follow, or well understand how it was done.

"That's the herring-bone chain," said Coupeau. "There's also the
long link, the cable, the plain ring, and the spiral. But that's the
herring-bone. Lorilleux only makes the herring-bone chain."

The latter chuckled with satisfaction. He exclaimed, as he continued
squeezing the links, invisible between his black finger-nails.

"Listen to me, Young Cassis! I was making a calculation this morning.
I commenced work when I was twelve years old, you know. Well! Can you
guess how long a herring-bone chain I must have made up till to-day?"

He raised his pale face, and blinked his red eye-lids.

"Twenty-six thousand feet, do you hear? Two leagues! That's something!
A herring-bone chain two leagues long! It's enough to twist round the
necks of all the women of the neighborhood. And you know, it's still
increasing. I hope to make it long enough to reach from Paris to

Gervaise had returned to her seat, disenchanted and thinking everything
very ugly. She smiled to be polite to the Lorilleuxs. The complete
silence about her marriage bothered her. It was the sole reason for her
having come. The Lorilleuxs were treating her as some stranger brought
in by Coupeau. When a conversation finally did get started, it concerned
the building's tenants. Madame Lorilleux asked her husband if he had
heard the people on the fourth floor having a fight. They fought every
day. The husband usually came home drunk and the wife had her faults
too, yelling in the filthiest language. Then they spoke of the designer
on the first floor, an uppity show-off with a mound of debts, always
smoking, always arguing loudly with his friends. Monsieur Madinier's
cardboard business was barely surviving. He had let two girl workers go
yesterday. The business ate up all his money, leaving his children to
run around in rags. And that Madame Gaudron was pregnant again; this was
almost indecent at her age. The landlord was going to evict the Coquets
on the fifth floor. They owed nine months' rent, and besides, they
insisted on lighting their stove out on the landing. Last Saturday the
old lady on the sixth floor, Mademoiselle Remanjou, had arrived just in
time to save the Linguerlot child from being badly burned. Mademoiselle
Clemence, one who took in ironing, well, she lived life as she pleased.
She was so kind to animals though and had such a good heart that you
couldn't say anything against her. It was a pity, a fine girl like her,
the company she kept. She'd be walking the streets before long.

"Look, here's one," said Lorilleux to his wife, giving her the piece of
chain he had been working on since his lunch. "You can trim it." And he
added, with the persistence of a man who does not easily relinquish
a joke: "Another four feet and a half. That brings me nearer to

Madame Lorilleux, after tempering it again, trimmed it by passing it
through the regulating draw-plate. Then she put it in a little copper
saucepan with a long handle, full of lye-water, and placed it over the
fire of the forge. Gervaise, again pushed forward by Coupeau, had to
follow this last operation. When the chain was thoroughly cleansed, it
appeared a dull red color. It was finished, and ready to be delivered.

"They're always delivered like that, in their rough state," the
zinc-worker explained. "The polishers rub them afterwards with cloths."

Gervaise felt her courage failing her. The heat, more and more intense,
was suffocating her. They kept the door shut, because Lorilleux caught
cold from the least draught. Then as they still did not speak of the
marriage, she wanted to go away and gently pulled Coupeau's jacket. He
understood. Besides, he also was beginning to feel ill at ease and vexed
at their affectation of silence.

"Well, we're off," said he. "We mustn't keep you from your work."

He moved about for a moment, waiting, hoping for a word or some allusion
or other. At length he decided to broach the subject himself.

"I say, Lorilleux, we're counting on you to be my wife's witness."

The chainmaker pretended, with a chuckle, to be greatly surprised;
whilst his wife, leaving her draw-plates, placed herself in the middle
of the work-room.

"So it's serious then?" murmured he. "That confounded Young Cassis, one
never knows whether he is joking or not."

"Ah! yes, madame's the person involved," said the wife in her turn, as
she stared rudely at Gervaise. "_Mon Dieu!_ We've no advice to give
you, we haven't. It's a funny idea to go and get married, all the same.
Anyhow, it's your own wish. When it doesn't succeed, one's only got
oneself to blame, that's all. And it doesn't often succeed, not often,
not often."

She uttered these last words slower and slower, and shaking her head,
she looked from the young woman's face to her hands, and then to her
feet as though she had wished to undress her and see the very pores of
her skin. She must have found her better than she expected.

"My brother is perfectly free," she continued more stiffly. "No doubt
the family might have wished - one always makes projects. But things take
such funny turns. For myself, I don't want to have any unpleasantness.
Had he brought us the lowest of the low, I should merely have said:
'Marry her and go to blazes!' He was not badly off though, here with
us. He's fat enough; one can very well see he didn't fast much; and he
always found his soup hot right on time. I say, Lorilleux, don't you
think madame's like Therese - you know who I mean, that woman who used to
live opposite, and who died of consumption?"

"Yes, there's a certain resemblance," replied the chainmaker.

"And you've got two children, madame? Now, I must admit I said to my
brother: 'I can't understand how you can want to marry a woman who's got
two children.' You mustn't be offended if I consult his interests; its
only natural. You don't look strong either. Don't you think, Lorilleux,
that madame doesn't look very strong?"

"No, no, she's not strong."

They did not mention her leg; but Gervaise understood by their side
glances, and the curling of their lips, that they were alluding to it.
She stood before them, wrapped in her thin shawl with the yellow palms,
replying in monosyllables, as though in the presence of her judges.
Coupeau, seeing she was suffering, ended by exclaiming:

"All that's nothing to do with it. What you are talking about isn't
important. The wedding will take place on Saturday, July 29. I
calculated by the almanac. Is it settled? Does it suit you?"

"Oh, it's all the same to us," said his sister. "There was no necessity
to consult us. I shan't prevent Lorilleux being witness. I only want
peace and quiet."

Gervaise, hanging her head, not knowing what to do with herself had put
the toe of her boot through one of the openings in the wooden screen
which covered the tiled floor of the work-room; then afraid of having
disturbed something when she had withdrawn it, she stooped down and felt
about with her hand. Lorilleux hastily brought the lamp, and he examined
her fingers suspiciously.

"You must be careful," said he, "the tiny bits of gold stick to the
shoes, and get carried away without one knowing it."

It was all to do with business. The employers didn't allow a single
speck for waste. He showed her the rabbit's foot he used to brush off
any flecks of gold left on the _cheville_ and the leather he kept on
his lap to catch any gold that fell. Twice weekly the shop was swept out
carefully, the sweepings collected and burned and the ashes sifted. This
recovered up to twenty-five or thirty francs' worth of gold a month.

Madame Lorilleux could not take her eyes from Gervaise's shoes.

"There's no reason to get angry," murmured she with an amiable smile.
"But, perhaps madame would not mind looking at the soles of her shoes."

And Gervaise, turning very red, sat down again, and holding up her feet
showed that there was nothing clinging to them. Coupeau had opened the
door, exclaiming: "Good-night!" in an abrupt tone of voice. He called to
her from the corridor. Then she in her turn went off, after stammering
a few polite words: she hoped to see them again, and that they would
all agree well together. Both of the Lorilleux had already gone back
to their work at the far end of their dark hole of a work-room. Madame
Lorilleux, her skin reflecting the red glow from the bed of coals, was
drawing on another wire, each effort swelling her neck and making the
strained muscles stand out like taut cords. Her husband, hunched over
beneath the greenish gleam of the globe was starting another length
of chain, twisting each link with his pliers, pressing it on one side,
inserting it into the next link above, opening it again with the pointed
tool, continuously, mechanically, not wasting a motion, even to wipe the
sweat from his face.

When Gervaise emerged from the corridor on to the landing, she could not
help saying, with tears in her eyes:

"That doesn't promise much happiness."

Coupeau shook his head furiously. He would get even with Lorilleux for
that evening. Had anyone ever seen such a miserly fellow? To think that
they were going to walk off with two or three grains of his gold dust!
All the fuss they made was from pure avarice. His sister thought perhaps
that he would never marry, so as to enable her to economize four sous on
her dinner every day. However, it would take place all the same on July
29. He did not care a hang for them!

Nevertheless, Gervaise still felt depressed. Tormented by a foolish
fearfulness, she peered anxiously into every dark shadow along the
stair-rail as she descended. It was dark and deserted at this hour, lit
only by a single gas jet on the second floor. In the shadowy depths of
the dark pit, it gave a spot of brightness, even with its flame turned
so low. It was now silent behind the closed doors; the weary laborers
had gone to sleep after eating. However, there was a soft laugh from
Mademoiselle Clemence's room and a ray of light shone through the
keyhole of Mademoiselle Remanjou's door. She was still busy cutting
out dresses for the dolls. Downstairs at Madame Gaudron's, a child was
crying. The sinks on the landings smelled more offensive than ever in
the midst of the darkness and stillness.

In the courtyard, Gervaise turned back for a last look at the tenement
as Coupeau called out to the concierge. The building seemed to have
grown larger under the moonless sky. The drip-drip of water from the
faucet sounded loud in the quiet. Gervaise felt that the building was
threatening to suffocate her and a chill went through her body. It was a
childish fear and she smiled at it a moment later.

"Watch your step," warned Coupeau.

To get to the entrance, Gervaise had to jump over a wide puddle that had
drained from the dye shop. The puddle was blue now, the deep blue of
a summer sky. The reflections from the night light of the concierge
sparkled in it like stars.


Gervaise did not want to have a wedding-party! What was the use of
spending money? Besides, she still felt somewhat ashamed; it seemed
to her quite unnecessary to parade the marriage before the whole
neighborhood. But Coupeau cried out at that. One could not be married
without having a feed. He did not care a button for the people of the
neighborhood! Nothing elaborate, just a short walk and a rabbit ragout
in the first eating-house they fancied. No music with dessert. Just a
glass or two and then back home.

The zinc-worker, chaffing and joking, at length got the young woman to
consent by promising her that there should be no larks. He would keep
his eye on the glasses, to prevent sunstrokes. Then he organized a
sort of picnic at five francs a head, at the "Silver Windmill," kept
by Auguste, on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. It was a small cafe with
moderate charges and had a dancing place in the rear, beneath the three
acacias in the courtyard. They would be very comfortable on the first
floor. During the next ten days, he got hold of guests in the house
where his sister lived in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or - Monsieur Madinier,
Mademoiselle Remanjou, Madame Gaudron and her husband. He even ended
by getting Gervaise to consent to the presence of two of his
comrades - Bibi-the-Smoker and My-Boots. No doubt My-Boots was a boozer;
but then he had such a fantastic appetite that he was always asked to
join those sort of gatherings, just for the sight of the caterer's
mug when he beheld that bottomless pit swallowing his twelve pounds
of bread. The young woman on her side, promised to bring her employer
Madame Fauconnier and the Boches, some very agreeable people. On
counting, they found there would be fifteen to sit down to table,
which was quite enough. When there are too many, they always wind up by

Coupeau however, had no money. Without wishing to show off, he intended
to behave handsomely. He borrowed fifty francs off his employer. Out of
that, he first of all purchased the wedding-ring - a twelve franc gold
wedding-ring, which Lorilleux procured for him at the wholesale price of
nine francs. He then bought himself a frock coat, a pair of trousers
and a waistcoat at a tailor's in the Rue Myrrha, to whom he gave merely
twenty-five francs on account; his patent leather shoes and his hat
were still good enough. When he had put by the ten francs for his
and Gervaise's share of the feast - the two children not being charged
for - he had exactly six francs left - the price of a low mass at the
altar of the poor. He had no liking for those black crows, the priests.
It would gripe him to pay his last six francs to keep their whistles
wet; however, a marriage without a mass wasn't a real marriage at all.

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