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Émile Zola.

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attendant, superbly attired in a red waistcoat and a coat trimmed with
gold lace, who seemed to be awaiting them on the landing, increased
their emotion. It was with great respect, and treading as softly as
possible, that they entered the French Gallery.

Then, without stopping, their eyes occupied with the gilding of the
frames, they followed the string of little rooms, glancing at the
passing pictures too numerous to be seen properly. It would have
required an hour before each, if they had wanted to understand it. What
a number of pictures! There was no end to them. They must be worth a
mint of money. Right at the end, Monsieur Madinier suddenly ordered a
halt opposite the "Raft of the Medusa" and he explained the subject to
them. All deeply impressed and motionless, they uttered not a word. When
they started off again, Boche expressed the general feeling, saying it
was marvellous.

In the Apollo Gallery, the inlaid flooring especially astonished the
party - a shining floor, as clear as a mirror, and which reflected the
legs of the seats. Mademoiselle Remanjou kept her eyes closed, because
she could not help thinking that she was walking on water. They
called to Madame Gaudron to be careful how she trod on account of
her condition. Monsieur Madinier wanted to show them the gilding and
paintings of the ceiling; but it nearly broke their necks to look up
above, and they could distinguish nothing. Then, before entering the
Square Salon, he pointed to a window, saying:

"That's the balcony from which Charles IX. fired on the people."

He looked back to make sure the party was following. In the middle
of the Salon Carre, he held up his hand. "There are only masterpieces
here," he said, in a subdued voice, as though in church. They went all
around the room. Gervaise wanted to know about "The Wedding at Cana."
Coupeau paused to stare at the "Mona Lisa," saying that she reminded him
of one of his aunts. Boche and Bibi-the-Smoker snickered at the nudes,
pointing them out to each other and winking. The Gaudrons looked at the
"Virgin" of Murillo, he with his mouth open, she with her hands folded
on her belly.

When they had been all around the Salon, Monsieur Madinier wished them
to go round it again, it was so worth while. He was very attentive to
Madame Lorilleux, because of her silk dress; and each time that she
questioned him he answered her gravely, with great assurance. She was
curious about "Titian's Mistress" because the yellow hair resembled her
own. He told her it was "La Belle Ferronniere," a mistress of Henry IV.
about whom there had been a play at the Ambigu.

Then the wedding party invaded the long gallery occupied by the Italian
and Flemish schools. More paintings, always paintings, saints, men and
women, with faces which some of them could understand, landscapes that
were all black, animals turned yellow, a medley of people and things,
the great mixture of the colors of which was beginning to give them
all violent headaches. Monsieur Madinier no longer talked as he slowly
headed the procession, which followed him in good order, with stretched
necks and upcast eyes. Centuries of art passed before their bewildered
ignorance, the fine sharpness of the early masters, the splendors of
the Venetians, the vigorous life, beautiful with light, of the Dutch
painters. But what interested them most were the artists who were
copying, with their easels planted amongst the people, painting away
unrestrainedly; an old lady, mounted on a pair of high steps, working a
big brush over the delicate sky of an immense painting, struck them as
something most peculiar.

Slowly the word must have gone around that a wedding party was visiting
the Louvre. Several painters came over with big smiles. Some visitors
were so curious that they went to sit on benches ahead of the group in
order to be comfortable while they watched them pass in review. Museum
guards bit back comments. The wedding party was now quite weary and
beginning to drag their feet.

Monsieur Madinier was reserving himself to give more effect to a
surprise that he had in store. He went straight to the "Kermesse" of
Rubens; but still he said nothing. He contented himself with directing
the others' attention to the picture by a sprightly glance. The ladies
uttered faint cries the moment they brought their noses close to the
painting. Then, blushing deeply they turned away their heads. The men
though kept them there, cracking jokes, and seeking for the coarser
details.

"Just look!" exclaimed Boche, "it's worth the money. There's one
spewing, and another, he's watering the dandelions; and that one - oh!
that one. Ah, well! They're a nice clean lot, they are!"

"Let us be off," said Monsieur Madinier, delighted with his success.
"There is nothing more to see here."

They retraced their steps, passing again through the Salon Carre and
the Apollo Gallery. Madame Lerat and Mademoiselle Remanjou complained,
declaring that their legs could scarcely bear them. But the cardboard
box manufacturer wanted to show Lorilleux the old jewelry. It was close
by in a little room which he could find with his eyes shut. However, he
made a mistake and led the wedding party astray through seven or eight
cold, deserted rooms, only ornamented with severe looking-glass cases,
containing numberless broken pots and hideous little figures.

While looking for an exit they stumbled into the collection of drawings.
It was immense. Through room after room they saw nothing interesting,
just scribblings on paper that filled all the cases and covered the
walls. They thought there was no end to these drawings.

Monsieur Madinier, losing his head, not willing to admit that he did
not know his way, ascended a flight of stairs, making the wedding party
mount to the next floor. This time they traversed the Naval Museum,
among models of instruments and cannons, plans in relief, and vessels as
tiny as playthings. After going a long way, and walking for a quarter
of an hour, the party came upon another staircase; and, having descended
this, found itself once more surrounded by the drawings. Then despair
took possession of them as they wandered at random through long halls,
following Monsieur Madinier, who was furious and mopping the sweat
from his forehead. He accused the government of having moved the doors
around. Museum guards and visitors looked on with astonishment as the
procession, still in a column of couples, passed by. They passed again
through the Salon Carre, the French Gallery and then along the cases
where minor Eastern divinities slumbered peacefully. It seemed they
would never find their way out. They were getting tired and made a lot
of noise.

"Closing time! Closing time!" called out the attendants, in a loud tone
of voice.

And the wedding party was nearly locked in. An attendant was obliged to
place himself at the head of it, and conduct it to a door. Then in the
courtyard of the Louvre, when it had recovered its umbrellas from the
cloakroom, it breathed again. Monsieur Madinier regained his assurance.
He had made a mistake in not turning to the left, now he recollected
that the jewelry was to the left. The whole party pretended to be very
pleased at having seen all they had.

Four o'clock was striking. There were still two hours to be employed
before the dinner time, so it was decided they should take a stroll,
just to occupy the interval. The ladies, who were very tired, would have
preferred to sit down; but, as no one offered any refreshments, they
started off, following the line of quays. There they encountered another
shower and so sharp a one that in spite of the umbrellas, the ladies'
dresses began to get wet. Madame Lorilleux, her heart sinking within
her each time a drop fell upon her black silk, proposed that they should
shelter themselves under the Pont-Royal; besides if the others did not
accompany her, she threatened to go all by herself. And the procession
marched under one of the arches of the bridge. They were very
comfortable there. It was, most decidedly a capital idea! The ladies,
spreading their handkerchiefs over the paving-stones, sat down with
their knees wide apart, and pulled out the blades of grass that grew
between the stones with both hands, whilst they watched the dark flowing
water as though they were in the country. The men amused themselves with
calling out very loud, so as to awaken the echoes of the arch. Boche and
Bibi-the-Smoker shouted insults into the air at the top of their voices,
one after the other. They laughed uproariously when the echo threw the
insults back at them. When their throats were hoarse from shouting, they
made a game of skipping flat stones on the surface of the Seine.

The shower had ceased but the whole party felt so comfortable that no
one thought of moving away. The Seine was flowing by, an oily sheet
carrying bottle corks, vegetable peelings, and other refuse that
sometimes collected in temporary whirlpools moving along with the
turbulent water. Endless traffic rumbled on the bridge overhead, the
noisy bustle of Paris, of which they could glimpse only the rooftops to
the left and right, as though they were in the bottom of a deep pit.

Mademoiselle Remanjou sighed; if the leaves had been out this would have
reminded her of a bend of the Marne where she used to go with a young
man. It still made her cry to think of him.

At last, Monsieur Madinier gave the signal for departure. They passed
through the Tuileries gardens, in the midst of a little community of
children, whose hoops and balls upset the good order of the couples.
Then as the wedding party on arriving at the Place Vendome looked up at
the column, Monsieur Madinier gallantly offered to treat the ladies to a
view from the top. His suggestion was considered extremely amusing. Yes,
yes, they would go up; it would give them something to laugh about for
a long time. Besides, it would be full of interest for those persons who
had never been higher than a cow pasture.

"Do you think Clump-clump will venture inside there with her leg all out
of place?" murmured Madame Lorilleux.

"I'll go up with pleasure," said Madame Lerat, "but I won't have any men
walking behind me."

And the whole party ascended. In the narrow space afforded by the spiral
staircase, the twelve persons crawled up one after the other, stumbling
against the worn steps, and clinging to the walls. Then, when the
obscurity became complete, they almost split their sides with laughing.
The ladies screamed when the gentlemen pinched their legs. But they were
weren't stupid enough to say anything! The proper plan is to think that
it is the mice nibbling at them. It wasn't very serious; the men knew
when to stop.

Boche thought of a joke and everyone took it up. They called down to
Madame Gaudron to ask her if she could squeeze her belly through. Just
think! If she should get stuck there, she would completely block the
passage, and how would they ever get out? They laughed so at the jokes
about her belly that the column itself vibrated. Boche was now quite
carried away and declared that they were growing old climbing up this
chimney pipe. Was it ever coming to an end, or did it go right up to
heaven? He tried to frighten the ladies by telling them the structure
was shaking.

Coupeau, meanwhile, said nothing. He was behind Gervaise, with his arm
around her waist, and felt that she was everything perfect to him. When
they suddenly emerged again into the daylight, he was just in the act of
kissing her on the cheek.

"Well! You're a nice couple; you don't stand on ceremony," said Madame
Lorilleux with a scandalized air.

Bibi-the-Smoker pretended to be furious. He muttered between his teeth.
"You made such a noise together! I wasn't even able to count the steps."

But Monsieur Madinier was already up on the platform, pointing out the
different monuments. Neither Madame Fauconnier nor Mademoiselle Remanjou
would on any consideration leave the staircase. The thought of the
pavement below made their blood curdle, and they contented themselves
with glancing out of the little door. Madame Lerat, who was bolder, went
round the narrow terrace, keeping close to the bronze dome; but, _mon
Dieu_, it gave one a rude emotion to think that one only had to slip
off. The men were a little paler than usual as they stared down at the
square below. You would think you were up in mid-air, detached from
everything. No, it wasn't fun, it froze your very insides.

Monsieur Madinier told them to raise their eyes and look straight
into the distance to avoid feeling dizzy. He went on pointing out the
Invalides, the Pantheon, Notre Dame and the Montmartre hill. Madame
Lorilleux asked if they could see the place where they were to have
dinner, the Silver Windmill on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. For ten
minutes they tried to see it, even arguing about it. Everyone had their
own idea where it was.

"It wasn't worth while coming up here to bite each other's noses off,"
said Boche, angrily as he turned to descend the staircase.

The wedding party went down, unspeaking and sulky, awakening no other
sound beyond that of shoes clanking on the stone steps. When it reached
the bottom, Monsieur Madinier wished to pay; but Coupeau would not
permit him, and hastened to place twenty-four sous into the keeper's
hand, two sous for each person. So they returned by the Boulevards and
the Faubourg du Poissonniers. Coupeau, however, considered that their
outing could not end like that. He bundled them all into a wineshop
where they took some vermouth.

The repast was ordered for six o'clock. At the Silver Windmill, they
had been waiting for the wedding party for a good twenty minutes. Madame
Boche, who had got a lady living in the same house to attend to her
duties for the evening, was conversing with mother Coupeau in the first
floor room, in front of the table, which was all laid out; and the two
youngsters, Claude and Etienne, whom she had brought with her, were
playing about beneath the table and amongst the chairs. When Gervaise,
on entering caught sight of the little ones, whom she had not seen all
the day, she took them on her knees, and caressed and kissed them.

"Have they been good?" asked she of Madame Boche. "I hope they haven't
worried you too much."

And as the latter related the things the little rascals had done during
the afternoon, and which would make one die with laughing, the mother
again took them up and pressed them to her breast, seized with an
overpowering outburst of maternal affection.

"It's not very pleasant for Coupeau, all the same," Madame Lorilleux was
saying to the other ladies, at the end of the room.

Gervaise had kept her smiling peacefulness from the morning, but after
the long walk she appeared almost sad at times as she watched her
husband and the Lorilleuxs in a thoughtful way. She had the feeling that
Coupeau was a little afraid of his sister. The evening before, he had
been talking big, swearing he would put them in their places if they
didn't behave. However, she could see that in their presence he
was hanging on their words, worrying when he thought they might be
displeased. This gave the young bride some cause for worry about the
future.

They were now only waiting for My-Boots, who had not yet put in an
appearance.

"Oh! blow him!" cried Coupeau, "let's begin. You'll see, he'll soon turn
up, he's got a hollow nose, he can scent the grub from afar. I say he
must be amusing himself, if he's still standing like a post on the Route
de Saint-Denis!"

Then the wedding party, feeling very lively, sat down making a great
noise with the chairs. Gervaise was between Lorilleux and Monsieur
Madinier, and Coupeau between Madame Fauconnier and Madame Lorilleux.
The other guests seated themselves where they liked, because it always
ended with jealousies and quarrels, when one settled their places for
them. Boche glided to a seat beside Madame Lerat. Bibi-the-Smoker had
for neighbors Mademoiselle Remanjou and Madame Gaudron. As for Madame
Boche and mother Coupeau, they were right at the end of the table,
looking after the children, cutting up their meat and giving them
something to drink, but not much wine.

"Does nobody say grace?" asked Boche, whilst the ladies arranged their
skirts under the table-cloth, so as not to get them stained.

But Madame Lorilleux paid no attention to such pleasantries. The
vermicelli soup, which was nearly cold, was gulped down very quickly,
their lips making a hissing noise against the spoons. Two waiters served
at table, dressed in little greasy jackets and not over-clean white
aprons. By the four open windows overlooking the acacias of the
courtyard there entered the clear light of the close of a stormy day,
with the atmosphere purified thereby though without sufficiently cooling
it. The light reflected from the humid corner of trees tinged the
haze-filled room with green and made leaf shadows dance along the
table-cloth, from which came a vague aroma of dampness and mildew.

Two large mirrors, one at each end of the room, seemed to stretch out
the table. The heavy crockery with which it was set was beginning to
turn yellow and the cutlery was scratched and grimed with grease. Each
time a waiter came through the swinging doors from the kitchen a whiff
of odorous burnt lard came with him.

"Don't all talk at once," said Boche, as everyone remained silent with
his nose in his plate.

They were drinking the first glass of wine as their eyes followed two
meat pies which the waiters were handing round when My-Boots entered the
room.

"Well, you're a scurvy lot, you people!" said he. "I've been wearing my
pins out for three hours waiting on that road, and a gendarme even came
and asked me for my papers. It isn't right to play such dirty tricks on
a friend! You might at least have sent me word by a commissionaire. Ah!
no, you know, joking apart, it's too bad. And with all that, it rained
so hard that I got my pickets full of water. Honor bright, you might
still catch enough fish in 'em for a meal."

The others wriggled with laughter. That animal My-Boots was just a bit
on; he had certainly already stowed away his two quarts of wine, merely
to prevent his being bothered by all that frog's liquor with which the
storm had deluged his limbs.

"Hallo! Count Leg-of-Mutton!" said Coupeau, "just go and sit yourself
there, beside Madame Gaudron. You see you were expected."

Oh, he did not mind, he would soon catch the others up; and he asked
for three helpings of soup, platefuls of vermicelli, in which he soaked
enormous slices of bread. Then, when they had attacked the meat pies, he
became the profound admiration of everyone at the table. How he stowed
it away! The bewildered waiters helped each other to pass him bread,
thin slices which he swallowed at a mouthful. He ended by losing his
temper; he insisted on having a loaf placed on the table beside him. The
landlord, very anxious, came for a moment and looked in at the door. The
party, which was expecting him, again wriggled with laughter. It seemed
to upset the caterer. What a rum card he was that My-Boots! One day he
had eaten a dozen hard-boiled eggs and drank a dozen glasses of wine
while the clock was striking twelve! There are not many who can do that.
And Mademoiselle Remanjou, deeply moved, watched My-Boots chew whilst
Monsieur Madinier, seeking for a word to express his almost respectful
astonishment, declared that such a capacity was extraordinary.

There was a brief silence. A waiter had just placed on the table a
ragout of rabbits in a vast dish as deep as a salad-bowl. Coupeau, who
liked fun, started another joke.

"I say, waiter, that rabbit's from the housetops. It still mews."

And in fact, a faint mew perfectly imitated seemed to issue from the
dish. It was Coupeau who did that with his throat, without opening his
lips; a talent which at all parties, met with decided success, so much
so that he never ordered a dinner abroad without having a rabbit ragout.
After that he purred. The ladies pressed their napkins to their mouths
to try and stop their laughter. Madame Fauconnier asked for a head,
she only liked that part. Mademoiselle Remanjou had a weakness for the
slices of bacon. And as Boche said he preferred the little onions
when they were nicely broiled, Madame Lerat screwed up her lips, and
murmured:

"I can understand that."

She was a dried up stick, living the cloistered life of a hard-working
woman imprisoned within her daily routine, who had never had a man stick
his nose into her room since the death of her husband; yet she had
an obsession with double meanings and indecent allusions that were
sometimes so far off the mark that only she understood them.

As Boche leaned toward her and, in a whisper, asked for an explanation,
she resumed:

"Little onions, why of course. That's quite enough, I think."

The general conversation was becoming grave. Each one was talking of his
trade. Monsieur Madinier raved about the cardboard business. There were
some real artists. For an example, he mentioned Christmas gift boxes, of
which he'd seen samples that were marvels of splendor.

Lorilleux sneered at this; he was extremely vain because of working with
gold, feeling that it gave a sort of sheen to his fingers and his whole
personality. "In olden times jewelers wore swords like gentlemen." He
often cited the case of Bernard Palissy, even though he really knew
nothing about him.

Coupeau told of a masterpiece of a weather vane made by one of his
fellow workers which included a Greek column, a sheaf of wheat, a basket
of fruit, and a flag, all beautifully worked out of nothing but strips
of zinc shaped and soldered together.

Madame Lerat showed Bibi-the-Smoker how to make a rose by rolling the
handle of her knife between her bony fingers.

All the while, their voices had been rising louder and louder, competing
for attention. Shrill comments by Madame Fauconnier were heard. She
complained about the girls who worked for her, especially a little
apprentice who was nothing but a tart and had badly scorched some sheets
the evening before.

"You may talk," Lorilleux cried, banging his fist down on the table,
"but gold is gold."

And, in the midst of the silence caused by the statement of this
fact, the only sound heard was Mademoiselle Remanjou's shrill voice
continuing:

"Then I turn up the skirt and stitch it inside. I stick a pin in the
head to keep the cap on, and that's all; and they are sold for thirteen
sous a piece."

She was explaining how she dressed her dolls to My-Boots, whose jaws
were working slowly like grindstones. He did not listen, though he kept
nodding his head, but looked after the waiters to prevent them removing
any of the dishes he had not cleaned out. They had now finished a veal
stew with green beans. The roast was brought in, two scrawny chickens
resting on a bed of water cress which was limp from the warming oven.

Outside, only the higher branches of the acacias were touched by the
setting sun. Inside, the greenish reflected light was thickened by wisps
of steam rising from the table, now messy with spilled wine and gravy
and the debris of the dinner. Along the wall were dirty dishes and empty
bottles which the waiters had piled there like a heap of refuse. It was
so hot that the men took off their jackets and continued eating in their
shirt sleeves.

"Madame Boche, please don't spread their butter so thick," said
Gervaise, who spoke but little, and who was watching Claude and Etienne
from a distance.

She got up from her seat, and went and talked for a minute while
standing behind the little ones' chairs. Children did not reason; they
would eat all day long without refusing a single thing; and then she
herself helped them to some chicken, a little of the breast. But mother
Coupeau said they might, just for once in a while, risk an attack of
indigestion. Madame Boche, in a low voice accused Boche of caressing
Madame Lerat's knees. Oh, he was a sly one, but he was getting a little
too gay. She had certainly seen his hand disappear. If he did it again,
drat him! she wouldn't hesitate throwing a pitcher of water over his
head.

In the partial silence, Monsieur Madinier was talking politics. "Their
law of May 31, is an abominable one. Now you must reside in a place for
two years. Three millions of citizens are struck off the voting lists.
I've been told that Bonaparte is, in reality, very much annoyed for he
loves the people; he has given them proofs."

He was a republican; but he admired the prince on account of his uncle,



Online LibraryÉmile ZolaL'Assommoir → online text (page 7 of 36)