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Émile Zola.

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Going to the church himself, he bargained for a whole hour with a little
old priest in a dirty cassock who was as sharp at dealing as a push-cart
peddler. Coupeau felt like boxing his ears. For a joke, he asked the
priest if he didn't have a second-hand mass that would do for a modest
young couple. The priest, mumbling that God would take small pleasure
in blessing their union, finally let him have his mass for five francs.
Well after all, that meant twenty sous saved.

Gervaise also wanted to look decent. As soon as the marriage was
settled, she made her arrangements, worked extra time in the evenings,
and managed to put thirty francs on one side. She had a great longing
for a little silk mantle marked thirteen francs in the Rue du Faubourg
Poissonniere. She treated herself to it, and then bought for ten francs
of the husband of a washerwoman who had died in Madame Fauconnier's
house a blue woolen dress, which she altered to fit herself. With the
seven francs remaining she procured a pair of cotton gloves, a rose
for her cap, and some shoes for Claude, her eldest boy. Fortunately
the youngsters' blouses were passable. She spent four nights cleaning
everything, and mending the smallest holes in her stockings and chemise.

On Friday night, the eve of the great day, Gervaise and Coupeau had
still a good deal of running about to do up till eleven o'clock, after
returning home from work. Then before separating for the night they
spent an hour together in the young woman's room, happy at being about
to be released from their awkward position. In spite of the fact that
they had originally resolved not to put themselves out to impress the
neighbors, they had ended by taking it seriously and working themselves
till they were weary. By the time they said "Good-night," they were
almost asleep on their feet. They breathed a great sigh of relief now
that everything was ready.

Coupeau's witnesses were to be Monsieur Madinier and Bibi-the-Smoker.
They were counting on Lorilleux and Boche for Gervaise's witnesses. They
were to go quietly to the mayor's office and the church, just the six
of them, without a whole procession of people trailing behind them. The
bridegroom's two sisters had even declared that they would stay home,
their presence not being necessary. Coupeau's mother, however, had
sobbed and wailed, threatening to go ahead of them and hide herself in
some corner of the church, until they had promised to take her along.
The meeting of the guests was set for one o'clock at the Silver
Windmill. From there, they would go to Saint-Denis, going out by
railroad and returning on foot along the highway in order to work up an
appetite. The party promised to be quite all right.

Saturday morning, while getting dressed, Coupeau felt a qualm of
uneasiness in view of the single franc in his pocket. He began to think
that it was a matter of ordinary courtesy to offer a glass of wine and
a slice of ham to the witnesses while awaiting dinner. Also, there might
be unforeseen expenses. So, after taking Claude and Etienne to stay with
Madame Boche, who was to bring them to the dinner later that afternoon,
he hurried over to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or to borrow ten francs from
Lorilleux. Having to do that griped him immensely as he could guess the
attitude his brother-in-law would take. The latter did grumble a
bit, but ended by lending him two five-franc pieces. However, Coupeau
overheard his sister muttering under her breath, "This is a fine
beginning."

The ceremony at the mayor's was to take place at half-past ten. It was
beautiful weather - a magnificent sun seemed to roast the streets. So as
not to be stared at the bride and bridegroom, the old mother, and the
four witnesses separated into two bands. Gervaise walked in front with
Lorilleux, who gave her his arm; whilst Monsieur Madinier followed with
mother Coupeau. Then, twenty steps behind on the opposite side of the
way, came Coupeau, Boche, and Bibi-the-Smoker. These three were in black
frock coats, walking erect and swinging their arms. Boche's trousers
were bright yellow. Bibi-the-Smoker didn't have a waistcoat so he was
buttoned up to the neck with only a bit of his cravat showing. The only
one in a full dress suit was Monsieur Madinier and passers-by gazed at
this well-dressed gentleman escorting the huge bulk of mother Coupeau in
her green shawl and black bonnet with red ribbons.

Gervaise looked very gay and sweet in her dress of vivid blue and
with her new silk mantle fitted tightly to her shoulders. She listened
politely to the sneering remarks of Lorilleux, who seemed buried in
the depths of the immense overcoat he was wearing. From time to time,
Gervaise would turn her head a little to smile brightly at Coupeau, who
was rather uncomfortable under the hot sun in his new clothes.

Though they walked very slowly, they arrived at the mayor's quite half
an hour too soon. And as the mayor was late, their turn was not reached
till close upon eleven o'clock. They sat down on some chairs and waited
in a corner of the apartment, looking by turns at the high ceiling and
bare walls, talking low, and over-politely pushing back their chairs
each time that one of the attendants passed. Yet among themselves they
called the mayor a sluggard, saying he must be visiting his blonde to
get a massage for his gout, or that maybe he'd swallowed his official
sash.

However, when the mayor did put in his appearance, they rose
respectfully in his honor. They were asked to sit down again and they
had to wait through three other marriages. The hall was crowded with the
three bourgeois wedding parties: brides all in white, little girls
with carefully curled hair, bridesmaids wearing wide sashes, an endless
procession of ladies and gentlemen dressed in their best and looking
very stylish.

When at length they were called, they almost missed being married
altogether, Bibi-the-Smoker having disappeared. Boche discovered him
outside smoking his pipe. Well! They were a nice lot inside there to
humbug people about like that, just because one hadn't yellow kid gloves
to shove under their noses! And the various formalities - the reading
of the Code, the different questions to be put, the signing of all the
documents - were all got through so rapidly that they looked at each
other with an idea that they had been robbed of a good half of the
ceremony. Gervaise, dizzy, her heart full, pressed her handkerchief to
her lips. Mother Coupeau wept bitterly. All had signed the register,
writing their names in big struggling letters with the exception of the
bridegroom, who not being able to write, had put his cross. They each
gave four sous for the poor. When an attendant handed Coupeau the
marriage certificate, the latter, prompted by Gervaise who nudged his
elbow, handed him another five sous.

It was a fair walk from the mayor's office in the town hall to the
church. The men stopped along the way to have a beer. Mother Coupeau and
Gervaise took cassis with water. Then they had to trudge along the long
street where the sun glared straight down without the relief of shade.

When they arrived at the church they were hurried along and asked if
they came so late in order to make a mockery of religion. A priest came
forward, his face pale and resentful from having to delay his lunch. An
altar boy in a soiled surplice ran before him.

The mass went very fast, with the priest turning, bowing his head,
spreading out his arms, making all the ritual gestures in haste while
casting sidelong glances at the group. Gervaise and Coupeau, before the
altar, were embarrassed, not knowing when they should kneel or rise
or seat themselves, expecting some indication from the attendant. The
witnesses, not knowing what was proper, remained standing during the
ceremony. Mother Coupeau was weeping again and shedding her tears into
the missal she had borrowed from a neighbor.

Meanwhile, the noon chimes had sounded and the church began to fill with
noise from the shuffling feet of sacristans and the clatter of chairs
being put back in place. The high altar was apparently being prepared
for some special ceremony.

Thus, in the depths of this obscure chapel, amid the floating dust, the
surly priest placed his withered hands on the bared heads of Gervaise
and Coupeau, blessing their union amid a hubbub like that of moving day.
The wedding party signed another registry, this time in the sacristy,
and then found themselves out in the bright sunlight before the church
doors where they stood for a moment, breathless and confused from having
been carried along at such a break-neck speed.

"Voila!" said Coupeau with an embarrassed laugh. "Well, it sure didn't
take long. They shove it at you so; it's like being at the painless
dentist's who doesn't give you time to cry out. Here you get a painless
wedding!"

"Yes, it's a quick job," Lorilleux smirked. "In five minutes you're tied
together for the rest of your life. You poor Young Cassis, you've had
it."

The four witnesses whacked Coupeau on the shoulders as he arched his
back against the friendly blows. Meanwhile Gervaise was hugging and
kissing mother Coupeau, her eyes moist, a smile lighting her face. She
replied reassuringly to the old woman's sobbing: "Don't worry, I'll do
my best. I want so much to have a happy life. If it doesn't work out
it won't be my fault. Anyhow, it's done now. It's up to us to get along
together and do the best we can for each other."

After that they went straight to the Silver Windmill. Coupeau had taken
his wife's arm. They walked quickly, laughing as though carried away,
quite two hundred steps ahead of the others, without noticing the houses
or the passers-by, or the vehicles. The deafening noises of the faubourg
sounded like bells in their ears. When they reached the wineshop,
Coupeau at once ordered two bottles of wine, some bread and some slices
of ham, to be served in the little glazed closet on the ground floor,
without plates or table cloth, simply to have a snack. Then, noticing
that Boche and Bibi-the-Smoker seemed to be very hungry, he had a third
bottle brought, as well as a slab of brie cheese. Mother Coupeau was not
hungry, being too choked up to be able to eat. Gervaise found herself
very thirsty, and drank several large glasses of water with a small
amount of wine added.

"I'll settle for this," said Coupeau, going at once to the bar, where he
paid four francs and five sous.

It was now one o'clock and the other guests began to arrive. Madame
Fauconnier, a fat woman, still good looking, first put in an appearance;
she wore a chintz dress with a flowery pattern, a pink tie and a cap
over-trimmed with flowers. Next came Mademoiselle Remanjou, looking very
thin in the eternal black dress which she seemed to keep on even when
she went to bed; and the two Gaudrons - the husband, like some heavy
animal and almost bursting his brown jacket at the slightest movement,
the wife, an enormous woman, whose figure indicated evident signs of an
approaching maternity and whose stiff violet colored skirt still more
increased her rotundity. Coupeau explained that they were not to
wait for My-Boots; his comrade would join the party on the Route de
Saint-Denis.

"Well!" exclaimed Madame Lerat as she entered, "it'll pour in torrents
soon! That'll be pleasant!"

And she called everyone to the door of the wineshop to see the clouds
as black as ink which were rising rapidly to the south of Paris. Madame
Lerat, eldest of the Coupeaus, was a tall, gaunt woman who talked
through her nose. She was unattractively dressed in a puce-colored robe
that hung loosely on her and had such long dangling fringes that
they made her look like a skinny poodle coming out of the water. She
brandished her umbrella like a club. After greeting Gervaise, she said,
"You've no idea. The heat in the street is like a slap on the face.
You'd think someone was throwing fire at you."

Everyone agreed that they knew the storm was coming. It was in the air.
Monsieur Madinier said that he had seen it as they were coming out of
the church. Lorilleux mentioned that his corns were aching and he hadn't
been able to sleep since three in the morning. A storm was due. It had
been much too hot for three days in a row.

"Well, maybe it will just be a little mist," Coupeau said several times,
standing at the door and anxiously studying the sky. "Now we have to
wait only for my sister. We'll start as soon as she arrives."

Madame Lorilleux was late. Madame Lerat had stopped by so they could
come together, but found her only beginning to get dressed. The two
sisters had argued. The widow whispered in her brother's ear, "I left
her flat! She's in a dreadful mood. You'll see."

And the wedding party had to wait another quarter of an hour, walking
about the wineshop, elbowed and jostled in the midst of the men who
entered to drink a glass of wine at the bar. Now and again Boche, or
Madame Fauconnier, or Bibi-the-Smoker left the others and went to the
edge of the pavement, looking up at the sky. The storm was not passing
over at all; a darkness was coming on and puffs of wind, sweeping along
the ground, raised little clouds of white dust. At the first clap of
thunder, Mademoiselle Remanjou made the sign of the cross. All the
glances were anxiously directed to the clock over the looking-glass; it
was twenty minutes to two.

"Here it goes!" cried Coupeau. "It's the angels who're weeping."

A gush of rain swept the pavement, along which some women flew, holding
down their skirts with both hands. And it was in the midst of this
first shower that Madame Lorilleux at length arrived, furious and out of
breath, and struggling on the threshold with her umbrella that would not
close.

"Did any one ever see such a thing?" she exclaimed. "It caught me just
at the door. I felt inclined to go upstairs again and take my things
off. I should have been wise had I done so. Ah! it's a pretty wedding! I
said how it would be. I wanted to put it off till next Saturday; and it
rains because they wouldn't listen to me! So much the better, so much
the better! I wish the sky would burst!"

Coupeau tried to pacify her without success. He wouldn't have to pay for
her dress if it was spoilt! She had on a black silk dress in which she
was nearly choking, the bodice, too tight fitting, was almost bursting
the button-holes, and was cutting her across the shoulders; while the
skirt only allowed her to take very short steps in walking. However, the
ladies present were all staring at her, quite overcome by her costume.

She appeared not to notice Gervaise, who was sitting beside mother
Coupeau. She asked her husband for his handkerchief. Then she went into
a corner and very carefully wiped off the raindrops that had fallen on
her silk dress.

The shower had abruptly ceased. The darkness increased, it was almost
like night - a livid night rent at times by large flashes of lightning.
Bibi-the-Smoker said laughingly that it would certainly rain priests.
Then the storm burst forth with extreme violence. For half an hour the
rain came down in bucketsful, and the thunder rumbled unceasingly.
The men standing up before the door contemplated the grey veil of the
downpour, the swollen gutters, the splashes of water caused by the rain
beating into the puddles. The women, feeling frightened, had sat down
again, holding their hands before their eyes. They no longer conversed,
they were too upset. A jest Boche made about the thunder, saying that
St. Peter was sneezing up there, failed to raise a smile. But, when
the thunder-claps became less frequent and gradually died away in the
distance, the wedding guests began to get impatient, enraged against
the storm, cursing and shaking their fists at the clouds. A fine and
interminable rain now poured down from the sky which had become an ashy
grey.

"It's past two o'clock," cried Madame Lorilleux. "We can't stop here for
ever."

Mademoiselle Remanjou, having suggested going into the country all
the same, even though they went no farther than the moat of the
fortifications, the others scouted the idea: the roads would be in
a nice state, one would not even be able to sit down on the grass;
besides, it did not seem to be all over yet, there might perhaps be
another downpour. Coupeau, who had been watching a workman, completely
soaked, yet quietly walking along in the rain, murmured:

"If that animal My-Boots is waiting for us on the Route de Saint-Denis,
he won't catch a sunstroke."

That made some of them laugh; but the general ill-humor increased.
It was becoming ludicrous. They must decide on something unless they
planned to sit there, staring at each other, until time for dinner. So
for the next quarter of an hour, while the persistent rain continued,
they tried to think of what to do. Bibi-the-Smoker suggested that they
play cards. Boche slyly suggesting a most amusing game, the game of true
confessions. Madame Gaudron thought of going to eat onion tarts on the
Chaussee Clignancourt. Madame Lerat wanted to hear some stories. Gaudron
said he wasn't a bit put out and thought they were quite well off where
they were, out of the downpour. He suggested sitting down to dinner
immediately.

There was a discussion after each proposal. Some said that this would
put everybody to sleep or that that would make people think they were
stupid. Lorilleux had to get his word in. He finally suggested a walk
along the outer Boulevards to Pere Lachaise cemetery. They could visit
the tomb of Heloise and Abelard. Madame Lorilleux exploded, no longer
able to control herself. She was leaving, she was. Were they trying to
make fun of her? She got all dressed up and came out in the rain. And
for what? To be wasting time in a wineshop. No, she had had enough
of this wedding party. She'd rather be in her own home. Coupeau and
Lorilleux had to get between her and the door to keep her from leaving.
She kept telling them, "Get out of my way! I am leaving, I tell you!"

Lorilleux finally succeeded in calming her down. Coupeau went over to
Gervaise, who had been sitting quietly in a corner with mother Coupeau
and Madame Fauconnier.

"You haven't suggested anything," he said to her.

"Oh! Whatever they want," she replied, laughing. "I don't mind. We can
go out or stay here."

She seemed aglow with contentment. She had spoken to each guest as they
arrived. She spoke sensibly, in her soft voice, not getting into any
disagreements. During the downpour, she had sat with her eyes wide open,
watching the lightning as though she could see the future in the sudden
flashes.

Monsieur Madinier had up to this time not proposed anything. He was
leaning against the bar, with the tails of his dress coat thrust apart,
while he fully maintained the important air of an employer. He kept on
expectorating, and rolled his big eyes about.

"_Mon Dieu_!" said he, "we might go to the Museum."

And he stroked his chin, as he blinkingly consulted the other members of
the party.

"There are antiquities, pictures, paintings, a whole heap of things. It
is very instructive. Perhaps you have never been there. Oh! it is quite
worth seeing at least once in a while."

They looked at each other interrogatively. No, Gervaise had never been;
Madame Fauconnier neither, nor Boche, nor the others. Coupeau thought he
had been one Sunday, but he was not sure. They hesitated, however, when
Madame Lorilleux, greatly impressed by Monsieur Madinier's importance,
thought the suggestion a very worthy and respectable one. As they
were wasting the day, and were all dressed up, they might as well go
somewhere for their own instruction. Everyone approved. Then, as it
still rained a little, they borrowed some umbrellas from the proprietor
of the wineshop, old blue, green, and brown umbrellas, forgotten by
different customers, and started off to the Museum.

The wedding party turned to the right, and descended into Paris along
the Faubourg Saint-Denis. Coupeau and Gervaise again took the lead,
almost running and keeping a good distance in front of the others.
Monsieur Madinier now gave his arm to Madame Lorilleux, mother Coupeau
having remained behind in the wineshop on account of her old legs.
Then came Lorilleux and Madame Lerat, Boche and Madame Fauconnier,
Bibi-the-Smoker and Mademoiselle Remanjou, and finally the two Gaudrons.
They were twelve and made a pretty long procession on the pavement.

"I swear to you, we had nothing to do with it," Madame Lorilleux
explained to Monsieur Madinier. "We don't even know how they met, or,
we know only too well, but that's not for us to discuss. My husband even
had to buy the wedding ring. We were scarcely out of bed this morning
when he had to lend them ten francs. And, not a member of her family at
her wedding, what kind of bride is that? She says she has a sister in
Paris who works for a pork butcher. Why didn't she invite her?" She
stopped to point at Gervaise, who was limping awkwardly because of the
slope of the pavement. "Just look at her. Clump-clump."

"Clump-clump" ran through the wedding procession. Lorilleux laughed
under his breath, and said they ought to call her that, but Madame
Fauconnier stood up for Gervaise. They shouldn't make fun of her; she
was neat as a pin and did a good job when there was washing to be done.

When the wedding procession came out of the Faubourg Saint-Denis, they
had to cross the boulevard. The street had been transformed into a
morass of sticky mud by the storm. It had started to pour again and they
had opened the assorted umbrellas. The women picked their way carefully
through the mud, holding their skirts high as the men held the
sorry-looking umbrellas over their heads. The procession stretched out
the width of the street.

"It's a masquerade!" yelled two street urchins.

People turned to stare. These couples parading across the boulevard
added a splash of vivid color against the damp background. It was a
parade of a strange medley of styles showing fancy used clothing such as
constitute the luxury of the poor. The gentlemen's hats caused the most
merriment, old hats preserved for years in dark and dusty cupboards, in
a variety of comical forms: tall ones, flattened ones, sharply peaked
ones, hats with extraordinary brims, curled back or flat, too narrow
or too wide. Then at the very end, Madame Gaudron came along with
her bright dress over her bulging belly and caused the smiles of the
audience to grow even wider. The procession made no effort to hasten
its progress. They were, in fact, rather pleased to attract so much
attention and admiration.

"Look! Here comes the bride!" one of the urchins shouted, pointing
to Madame Gaudron. "Oh! Isn't it too bad! She must have swallowed
something!"

The entire wedding procession burst into laughter. Bibi-the-Smoker
turned around and laughed. Madame Gaudron laughed the most of all. She
wasn't ashamed as she thought more than one of the women watching had
looked at her with envy.

They turned into the Rue de Clery. Then they took the Rue du Mail. On
reaching the Place des Victoires, there was a halt. The bride's left
shoe lace had come undone, and as she tied it up again at the foot of
the statue of Louis XIV., the couples pressed behind her waiting, and
joking about the bit of calf of her leg that she displayed. At length,
after passing down the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, they reached the
Louvre.

Monsieur Madinier politely asked to be their cicerone. It was a big
place, and they might lose themselves; besides, he knew the best parts,
because he had often come there with an artist, a very intelligent
fellow from whom a large dealer bought designs to put on his cardboard
boxes. Down below, when the wedding party entered the Assyrian Museum,
a slight shiver passed through it. The deuce! It was not at all warm
there; the hall would have made a capital cellar. And the couples slowly
advanced, their chins raised, their eyes blinking, between the gigantic
stone figures, the black marble gods, dumb in their hieratic rigidity,
and the monstrous beasts, half cats and half women, with death-like
faces, attenuated noses, and swollen lips. They thought all these things
very ugly. The stone carvings of the present day were a great deal
better. An inscription in Phoenician characters amazed them. No one
could possibly have ever read that scrawl. But Monsieur Madinier,
already up on the first landing with Madame Lorilleux, called to them,
shouting beneath the vaulted ceiling:

"Come along! They're nothing, all those things! The things to see are on
the first floor!"

The severe barrenness of the staircase made them very grave. An



Online LibraryÉmile ZolaL'Assommoir → online text (page 6 of 36)