Émile Zola.

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a man the like of whom would never be seen again. Bibi-the-Smoker flew
into a passion. He had worked at the Elysee; he had seen Bonaparte
just as he saw My-Boots in front of him over there. Well that muff of a
president was just like a jackass, that was all! It was said that he was
going to travel about in the direction of Lyons; it would be a precious
good riddance of bad rubbish if he fell into some hole and broke his
neck. But, as the discussion was becoming too heated, Coupeau had to

"Ah, well! How simple you all are to quarrel about politics. Politics
are all humbug! Do such things exist for us? Let there be any one as
king, it won't prevent me earning my five francs a day, and eating and
sleeping; isn't that so? No, it's too stupid to argue about!"

Lorilleux shook his head. He was born on the same day as the Count of
Chambord, the 29th of September, 1820. He was greatly struck with this
coincidence, indulging himself in a vague dream, in which he established
a connection between the king's return to France and his own private
fortunes. He never said exactly what he was expecting, but he led
people to suppose that when that time arrived something extraordinarily
agreeable would happen to him. So whenever he had a wish too great to be
gratified, he would put it off to another time, when the king came back.

"Besides," observed he, "I saw the Count de Chambord one evening."

Every face was turned towards him.

"It's quite true. A stout man, in an overcoat, and with a good-natured
air. I was at Pequignot's, one of my friends who deals in furniture in
the Grand Rue de la Chapelle. The Count of Chambord had forgotten his
umbrella there the day before; so he came in, and just simply said, like
this: 'Will you please return me my umbrella?' Well, yes, it was him;
Pequignot gave me his word of honor it was."

Not one of the guests suggested the smallest doubt. They had now arrived
at dessert and the waiters were clearing the table with much clattering
of dishes. Madame Lorilleux, who up to then had been very genteel, very
much the lady, suddenly let fly with a curse. One of the waiters had
spilled something wet down her neck while removing a dish. This time her
silk dress would be stained for sure. Monsieur Madinier had to examine
her back, but he swore there was nothing to be seen.

Two platters of cheese, two dishes of fruit, and a floating island
pudding of frosted eggs in a deep salad-bowl had now been placed along
the middle of the table. The pudding caused a moment of respectful
attention even though the overdone egg whites had flattened on the
yellow custard. It was unexpected and seemed very fancy.

My-Boots was still eating. He had asked for another loaf. He finished
what there was of the cheese; and, as there was some cream left, he had
the salad-bowl passed to him, into which he sliced some large pieces of
bread as though for a soup.

"The gentleman is really remarkable," said Monsieur Madinier, again
giving way to his admiration.

Then the men rose to get their pipes. They stood for a moment behind
My-Boots, patting him on the back, and asking him if he was feeling
better. Bibi-the-Smoker lifted him up in his chair; but _tonnerre de
Dieu!_ the animal had doubled in weight. Coupeau joked that My-Boots was
only getting started, that now he was going to settle down and really
eat for the rest of the night. The waiters were startled and quickly
vanished from sight.

Boche, who had gone downstairs for a moment, came up to report the
proprietor's reaction. He was standing behind his bar, pale as death.
His wife, dreadfully upset, was wondering if any bakeries were still
open. Even the cat seemed deep in despair. This was as funny as could
be, really worth the price of the dinner. It was impossible to have a
proper dinner party without My-Boots, the bottomless pit. The other men
eyed him with a brooding jealousy as they puffed on their pipes. Indeed,
to be able to eat so much, you had to be very solidly built!

"I wouldn't care to be obliged to support you," said Madame Gaudron.
"Ah, no; you may take my word for that!"

"I say, little mother, no jokes," replied My-Boots, casting a side
glance at his neighbor's rotund figure. "You've swallowed more than I

The others applauded, shouting "Bravo!" - it was well answered. It
was now pitch dark outside, three gas-jets were flaring in the room,
diffusing dim rays in the midst of the tobacco-smoke. The waiters, after
serving the coffee and the brandy, had removed the last piles of dirty
plates. Down below, beneath the three acacias, dancing had commenced, a
cornet-a-piston and two fiddles playing very loud, and mingling in the
warm night air with the rather hoarse laughter of women.

"We must have a punch!" cried My-Boots; "two quarts of brandy, lots of
lemon, and a little sugar."

But Coupeau, seeing the anxious look on Gervaise's face in front of him,
got up from the table, declaring that there should be no more drink.
They had emptied twenty-five quarts, a quart and a half to each person,
counting the children as grown-up people; that was already too much.
They had had a feed together in good fellowship, and without ceremony,
because they esteemed each other, and wished to celebrate the event of
the day amongst themselves. Everything had been very nice; they had had
lots of fun. It wouldn't do to get cockeyed drunk now, out of respect to
the ladies. That was all he had to say, they had come together to toast
a marriage and they had done so.

Coupeau delivered the little speech with convincing sincerity and
punctuated each phrase by placing his hand on his heart. He won
whole-hearted approval from Lorilleux and Monsieur Madinier; but the
other four men, especially My-Boots, were already well lit and sneered.
They declared in hoarse drunken voices that they were thirsty and wanted

"Those who're thirsty are thirsty, and those who aren't thirsty aren't
thirsty," remarked My-Boots. "Therefore, we'll order the punch. No one
need take offence. The aristocrats can drink sugar-and-water."

And as the zinc-worker commenced another sermon, the other, who had
risen on his legs, gave himself a slap, exclaiming:

"Come, let's have no more of that, my boy! Waiter, two quarts of your
aged stuff!"

So Coupeau said very well, only they would settle for the dinner at
once. It would prevent any disputes. The well-behaved people did not
want to pay for the drunkards; and it just happened that My-Boots,
after searching in his pockets for a long time, could only produce three
francs and seven sous. Well, why had they made him wait all that time on
the Route de Saint-Denis? He could not let himself be drowned and so he
had broken into his five-franc piece. It was the fault of the others,
that was all! He ended by giving the three francs, keeping the seven
sous for the morrow's tobacco. Coupeau, who was furious, would have
knocked him over had not Gervaise, greatly frightened, pulled him by his
coat, and begged him to keep cool. He decided to borrow the two francs
of Lorilleux, who after refusing them, lent them on the sly, for his
wife would never have consented to his doing so.

Monsieur Madinier went round with a plate. The spinster and the
ladies who were alone - Madame Lerat, Madame Fauconnier, Mademoiselle
Remanjou - discreetly placed their five-franc pieces in it first.
Then the gentlemen went to the other end of the room, and made up the
accounts. They were fifteen; it amounted therefore to seventy-five
francs. When the seventy-five francs were in the plate, each man added
five sous for the waiters. It took a quarter of an hour of laborious
calculations before everything was settled to the general satisfaction.

But when Monsieur Madinier, who wished to deal direct with the landlord,
had got him to step up, the whole party became lost in astonishment on
hearing him say with a smile that there was still something due to him.
There were some extras; and, as the word "extras" was greeted with angry
exclamations, he entered into details: - Twenty-five quarts of wine,
instead of twenty, the number agreed upon beforehand; the frosted eggs,
which he had added, as the dessert was rather scanty; finally, a quarter
of a bottle of rum, served with the coffee, in case any one preferred
rum. Then a formidable quarrel ensued. Coupeau, who was appealed to,
protested against everything; he had never mentioned twenty quarts; as
for the frosted eggs, they were included in the dessert, so much the
worse for the landlord if he choose to add them without being asked to
do so. There remained the rum, a mere nothing, just a mode of increasing
the bill by putting on the table spirits that no one thought anything

"It was on the tray with the coffee," he cried; "therefore it goes with
the coffee. Go to the deuce! Take your money, and never again will we
set foot in your den!"

"It's six francs more," repeated the landlord. "Pay me my six francs;
and with all that I haven't counted the four loaves that gentleman ate!"

The whole party, pressing forward, surrounded him with furious gestures
and a yelping of voices choking with rage. The women especially threw
aside all reserve, and refused to add another centime. This was some
wedding dinner! Mademoiselle Remanjou vowed she would never again
attend such a party. Madame Fauconnier declared she had had a very
disappointing meal; at home she could have had a finger-licking dish for
only two francs. Madame Gaudron bitterly complained that she had been
shoved down to the worst end of the table next to My-Boots who had
ignored her. These parties never turned out well, one should be more
careful whom one invites. Gervaise had taken refuge with mother Coupeau
near one of the windows, feeling shamed as she realized that all these
recriminations would fall back upon her.

Monsieur Madinier ended by going down with the landlord. One could hear
them arguing below. Then, when half an hour had gone by the cardboard
box manufacturer returned; he had settled the matter by giving three
francs. But the party continued annoyed and exasperated, constantly
returning to the question of the extras. And the uproar increased from
an act of vigor on Madame Boche's part. She had kept an eye on Boche,
and at length detected him squeezing Madame Lerat round the waist in a
corner. Then, with all her strength, she flung a water pitcher, which
smashed against the wall.

"One can easily see that your husband's a tailor, madame," said the
tall widow, with a curl of the lip, full of a double meaning. "He's
a petticoat specialist, even though I gave him some pretty hard kicks
under the table."

The harmony of the evening was altogether upset. Everyone became more
and more ill-tempered. Monsieur Madinier suggested some singing, but
Bibi-the-Smoker, who had a fine voice, had disappeared some time before;
and Mademoiselle Remanjou, who was leaning out of the window, caught
sight of him under the acacias, swinging round a big girl who was
bare-headed. The cornet-a-piston and two fiddles were playing "_Le
Marchand de Moutarde_." The party now began to break up. My-Boots and
the Gaudrons went down to the dance with Boche sneaking along after
them. The twirling couples could be seen from the windows. The night
was still as though exhausted from the heat of the day. A serious
conversation started between Lorilleux and Monsieur Madinier. The ladies
examined their dresses carefully to see if they had been stained.

Madame Lerat's fringe looked as though it had been dipped in the
coffee. Madame Fauconnier's chintz dress was spotted with gravy. Mother
Coupeau's green shawl, fallen from off a chair, was discovered in
a corner, rolled up and trodden upon. But it was Madame Lorilleux
especially who became more ill-tempered still. She had a stain on the
back of her dress; it was useless for the others to declare that she
had not - she felt it. And, by twisting herself about in front of a
looking-glass, she ended by catching a glimpse of it.

"What did I say?" cried she. "It's gravy from the fowl. The waiter shall
pay for the dress. I will bring an action against him. Ah! this is a fit
ending to such a day. I should have done better to have stayed in bed.
To begin with, I'm off. I've had enough of their wretched wedding!"

And she left the room in a rage, causing the staircase to shake beneath
her heavy footsteps. Lorilleux ran after her. But all she would consent
to was that she would wait five minutes on the pavement outside, if he
wanted them to go off together. She ought to have left directly after
the storm, as she wished to do. She would make Coupeau sorry for that
day. Coupeau was dismayed when he heard how angry she was. Gervaise
agreed to leave at once to avoid embarrassing him any more.

There was a flurry of quick good-night kisses. Monsieur Madinier was to
escort mother Coupeau home. Madame Boche would take Claude and Etienne
with her for the bridal night. The children were sound asleep on chairs,
stuffed full from the dinner. Just as the bridal couple and Lorilleux
were about to go out the door, a quarrel broke out near the dance floor
between their group and another group. Boche and My-Boots were kissing a
lady and wouldn't give her up to her escorts, two soldiers.

It was scarcely eleven o'clock. On the Boulevard de la Chapelle, and in
the entire neighborhood of the Goutte-d'Or, the fortnight's pay, which
fell due on that Saturday, produced an enormous drunken uproar. Madame
Lorilleux was waiting beneath a gas-lamp about twenty paces from the
Silver Windmill. She took her husband's arm, and walked on in front
without looking round, at such a rate, that Gervaise and Coupeau got
quite out of breath in trying to keep up with them. Now and again they
stepped off the pavement to leave room for some drunkard who had fallen
there. Lorilleux looked back, endeavoring to make things pleasant.

"We will see you as far as your door," said he.

But Madame Lorilleux, raising her voice, thought it a funny thing to
spend one's wedding night in such a filthy hole as the Hotel Boncoeur.
Ought they not to have put their marriage off, and have saved a few
sous to buy some furniture, so as to have had a home of their own on
the first night? Ah! they would be comfortable, right up under the roof,
packed into a little closet, at ten francs a month, where there was not
even the slightest air.

"I've given notice, we're not going to use the room up at the top of
the house," timidly interposed Coupeau. "We are keeping Gervaise's room,
which is larger."

Madame Lorilleux forgot herself. She turned abruptly round.

"That's worse than all!" cried she. "You're going to sleep in
Clump-clump's room."

Gervaise became quite pale. This nickname, which she received full in
the face for the first time, fell on her like a blow. And she fully
understood it, too, her sister-in-law's exclamation: the Clump-clump's
room was the room in which she had lived for a month with Lantier, where
the shreds of her past life still hung about. Coupeau did not understand
this, but merely felt hurt at the harsh nickname.

"You do wrong to christen others," he replied angrily. "You don't know
perhaps, that in the neighborhood they call you Cow's-Tail, because of
your hair. There, that doesn't please you, does it? Why should we not
keep the room on the first floor? To-night the children won't sleep
there, and we shall be very comfortable."

Madame Lorilleux added nothing further, but retired into her dignity,
horribly annoyed at being called Cow's-Tail. To cheer up Gervaise,
Coupeau squeezed her arm softly. He even succeeded in making her smile
by whispering into her ear that they were setting up housekeeping with
the grand sum of seven sous, three big two-sou pieces and one little
sou, which he jingled in his pocket.

When they reached the Hotel Boncoeur, the two couples wished each other
good-night, with an angry air; and as Coupeau pushed the two women into
each other's arms, calling them a couple of ninnies, a drunken fellow,
who seemed to want to go to the right, suddenly slipped to the left and
came tumbling between them.

"Why, it's old Bazouge!" said Lorilleux. "He's had his fill to-day."

Gervaise, frightened, squeezed up against the door of the hotel. Old
Bazouge, an undertaker's helper of some fifty years of age, had his
black trousers all stained with mud, his black cape hooked on to his
shoulder, and his black feather hat knocked in by some tumble he had

"Don't be afraid, he's harmless," continued Lorilleux. "He's a neighbor
of ours - the third room in the passage before us. He would find himself
in a nice mess if his people were to see him like this!"

Old Bazouge, however, felt offended at the young woman's evident terror.

"Well, what!" hiccoughed he, "we ain't going to eat any one. I'm as
good as another any day, my little woman. No doubt I've had a drop!
When work's plentiful one must grease the wheels. It's not you, nor your
friends, who would have carried down the stiff 'un of forty-seven stone
whom I and a pal brought from the fourth floor to the pavement, and
without smashing him too. I like jolly people."

But Gervaise retreated further into the doorway, seized with a longing
to cry, which spoilt her day of sober-minded joy. She no longer thought
of kissing her sister-in-law, she implored Coupeau to get rid of
the drunkard. Then Bazouge, as he stumbled about, made a gesture of
philosophical disdain.

"That won't prevent you passing though our hands, my little woman.
You'll perhaps be glad to do so, one of these days. Yes, I know some
women who'd be much obliged if we did carry them off."

And, as Lorilleux led him away, he turned around, and stuttered out a
last sentence, between two hiccoughs.

"When you're dead - listen to this - when you're dead, it's for a long,
long time."


Then followed four years of hard work. In the neighborhood, Gervaise and
Coupeau had the reputation of being a happy couple, living in retirement
without quarrels, and taking a short walk regularly every Sunday in
the direction of St. Ouen. The wife worked twelve hours a day at Madame
Fauconnier's, and still found means to keep their lodging as clean and
bright as a new coined sou and to prepare the meals for all her little
family, morning and evening. The husband never got drunk, brought his
wages home every fortnight, and smoked a pipe at his window in the
evening, to get a breath of fresh air before going to bed. They were
frequently alluded to on account of their nice, pleasant ways; and as
between them they earned close upon nine francs a day, it was reckoned
that they were able to put by a good deal of money.

However, during their first months together they had to struggle hard to
get by. Their wedding had left them owing two hundred francs. Also, they
detested the Hotel Boncoeur as they didn't like the other occupants.
Their dream was to have a home of their own with their own furniture.
They were always figuring how much they would need and decided three
hundred and fifty francs at least, in order to be able to buy little
items that came up later.

They were in despair at ever being able to collect such a large sum when
a lucky chance came their way. An old gentleman at Plassans offered to
take the older boy, Claude, and send him to an academy down there. The
old man, who loved art, had previously been much impressed by Claude's
sketches. Claude had already begun to cost them quite a bit. Now, with
only Etienne to support, they were able to accumulate the money in a
little over seven months. One day they were finally able to buy their
own furniture from a second-hand dealer on Rue Belhomme. Their hearts
filled with happiness, they celebrated by walking home along the
exterior Boulevards.

They had purchased a bed, a night table, a chest of drawers with a
marble top, a wardrobe, a round table covered with oilcloth, and six
chairs. All were of dark mahogany. They also bought blankets, linen,
and kitchen utensils that were scarcely used. It meant settling down and
giving themselves a status in life as property owners, as persons to be

For two months past they had been busy seeking some new apartments. At
first they wanted above everything to hire these in the big house of the
Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. But there was not a single room to let there; so
that they had to relinquish their old dream. To tell the truth, Gervaise
was rather glad in her heart; the neighborhood of the Lorilleux
almost door to door, frightened her immensely. Then, they looked about
elsewhere. Coupeau, very properly did not wish to be far from Madame
Fauconnier's so that Gervaise could easily run home at any hour of the
day. And at length they met with exactly what suited them, a large room
with a small closet and a kitchen, in the Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d'Or,
almost opposite the laundress's. This was in a small two-story building
with a very steep staircase. There were two apartments on the second
floor, one to the left, the other to the right, The ground floor was
occupied by a man who rented out carriages, which filled the sheds in
the large stable yard by the street.

Gervaise was delighted with this as it made her feel she was back in a
country town. With no close neighbors there would be no gossip to worry
about in this little corner. It reminded her of a small lane outside the
ramparts of Plassans. She could even see her own window while ironing at
the laundry by just tilting her head to the side.

They took possession of their new abode at the April quarter. Gervaise
was then eight months advanced. But she showed great courage, saying
with a laugh that the baby helped her as she worked; she felt its
influence growing within her and giving her strength. Ah, well! She just
laughed at Coupeau whenever he wanted her to lie down and rest herself!
She would take to her bed when the labor pains came. That would be
quite soon enough as with another mouth to feed, they would have to work
harder than ever.

She made their new place bright and shiny before helping her husband
install the furniture. She loved the furniture, polishing it and
becoming almost heart-broken at the slightest scratch. Any time she
knocked into the furniture while cleaning she would stop with a sudden
shock as though she had hurt herself.

The chest of drawers was especially dear to her. She thought it
handsome, sturdy and most respectable-looking. The dream that she hadn't
dared to mention was to get a clock and put it right in the middle of
the marble top. It would make a splendid effect. She probably would have
bought one right away except for the expected baby.

The couple were thoroughly enchanted with their new home. Etienne's bed
occupied the small closet, where there was still room to put another
child's crib. The kitchen was a very tiny affair and as dark as night,
but by leaving the door wide open, one could just manage to see;
besides, Gervaise had not to cook meals for thirty people, all she
wanted was room to make her soup. As for the large room, it was their
pride. The first thing in the morning, they drew the curtains of the
alcove, white calico curtains; and the room was thus transformed into a
dining-room, with the table in the centre, and the wardrobe and chest of
drawers facing each other.

They stopped up the chimney since it burned as much as fifteen sous
of coal a day. A small cast-iron stove on the marble hearth gave them
enough warmth on cold days for only seven sous. Coupeau had also done
his best to decorate the walls. There was a large engraving showing
a marshal of France on horseback with a baton in his hand. Family
photographs were arranged in two rows on top of the chest of drawers on
each side of an old holy-water basin in which they kept matches. Busts
of Pascal and Beranger were on top of the wardrobe. It was really a
handsome room.

"Guess how much we pay here?" Gervaise would ask of every visitor she

And whenever they guessed too high a sum, she triumphed and delighted at
being so well suited for such a little money, cried:

"One hundred and fifty francs, not a sou more! Isn't it almost like
having it for nothing!"

The street, Rue Neuve de la Goutte d'Or, played an important part in
their contentment. Gervaise's whole life was there, as she traveled back
and forth endlessly between her home and Madame Fauconnier's laundry.
Coupeau now went down every evening and stood on the doorstep to smoke
his pipe. The poorly-paved street rose steeply and had no sidewalks.
Toward Rue de la Goutte d'Or there were some gloomy shops with dirty

Online LibraryÉmile ZolaL'Assommoir → online text (page 8 of 36)