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 respected.
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 had.
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 windows. There were shoemakers, coopers, a run-down grocery, and a bankrupt cafe whose closed shutters were covered with posters. In the opposite direction, toward Paris, four-story buildings blocked the sky. Their ground floor shops were all occupied by laundries with one exception — a green-painted store front typical of a small-town hair-dresser. Its shop windows were full of variously colored flasks. It lighted up this drab corner with the gay brightness of its copper bowls which were always shining.
The most pleasant part of the street was in between, where the buildings were fewer and lower, letting in more sunlight. The carriage sheds, the plant which manufactured soda water, and the wash-house opposite made a wide expanse of quietness. The muffled voices of the washerwomen and the rhythmic puffing of the steam engine seemed to deepen the almost religious silence. Open fields and narrow lanes vanishing between dark walls gave it the air of a country village. Coupeau, always amused by the infrequent pedestrians having to jump over the continuous streams of soapy water, said it reminded him of a country town where his uncle had taken him when he was five years old. Gervaise’s greatest joy was a tree growing in the courtyard to the left of their window, an acacia that stretched out a single branch and yet, with its meager foliage, lent charm to the entire street.
It was on the last day of April that Gervaise was confined. The pains came on in the afternoon, towards four o’clock, as she was ironing a pair of curtains at Madame Fauconnier’s. She would not go home at once, but remained there wriggling about on a chair, and continuing her ironing every time the pain allowed her to do so; the curtains were wanted quickly and she obstinately made a point of finishing them. Besides, perhaps after all it was only a colic; it would never do to be frightened by a bit of a stomach-ache. But as she was talking of starting on some shirts, she became quite pale. She was obliged to leave the work-shop, and cross the street doubled in two, holding on to the walls. One of the workwomen offered to accompany her; she declined, but begged her to go instead for the midwife, close by, in the Rue de la Charbonniere. This was only a false alarm; there was no need to make a fuss. She would be like that no doubt all through the night. It was not going to prevent her getting Coupeau’s dinner ready as soon as she was indoors; then she might perhaps lie down on the bed a little, but without undressing. On the staircase she was seized with such a violent pain, that she was obliged to sit down on one of the stairs; and she pressed her two fists against her mouth to prevent herself from crying out, for she would have been ashamed to have been found there by any man, had one come up. The pain passed away; she was able to open her door, feeling relieved, and thinking that she had decidedly been mistaken. That evening she was going to make a stew with some neck chops. All went well while she peeled the potatoes. The chops were cooking in a saucepan when the pains returned. She mixed the gravy as she stamped about in front of the stove, almost blinded with her tears. If she was going to give birth, that was no reason why Coupeau should be kept without his dinner. At length the stew began to simmer on a fire covered with cinders. She went into the other room, and thought she would have time to lay the cloth at one end of the table. But she was obliged to put down the bottle of wine very quickly; she no longer had strength to reach the bed; she fell prostrate, and she had more pains on a mat on the floor. When the midwife arrived, a quarter of an hour later, she found mother and baby lying there on the floor.
The zinc-worker was still employed at the hospital. Gervaise would not have him disturbed. When he came home at seven o’clock, he found her in bed, well covered up, looking very pale on the pillow, and the child crying, swathed in a shawl at it’s mother’s feet.
“Ah, my poor wife!” said Coupeau, kissing Gervaise. “And I was joking only an hour ago, whilst you were crying with pain! I say, you don’t make much fuss about it — the time to sneeze and it’s all over.”
She smiled faintly; then she murmured: “It’s a girl.”
“Right!” the zinc-worker replied, joking so as to enliven her, “I ordered a girl! Well, now I’ve got what I wanted! You do everything I wish!” And, taking the child up in his arms, he continued: “Let’s have a look at you, miss! You’ve got a very black little mug. It’ll get whiter, never fear. You must be good, never run about the streets, and grow up sensible like your papa and mamma.”
Gervaise looked at her daughter very seriously, with wide open eyes, slowly overshadowed with sadness, for she would rather have had a boy. Boys can talk care of themselves and don’t have to run such risks on the streets of Paris as girls do. The midwife took the infant from Coupeau. She forbade Gervaise to do any talking; it was bad enough there was so much noise around her.
Then the zinc-worker said that he must tell the news to mother Coupeau and the Lorilleuxs, but he was dying with hunger, he must first of all have his dinner. It was a great worry to the invalid to see him have to wait on himself, run to the kitchen for the stew, eat it out of a soup plate, and not be able to find the bread. In spite of being told not to do so, she bewailed her condition, and fidgeted about in her bed. It was stupid of her not to have managed to set the cloth, the pains had laid her on her back like a blow from a bludgeon. Her poor old man would not think it kind of her to be nursing herself up there whilst he was dining so badly. At least were the potatoes cooked enough? She no longer remembered whether she had put salt in them.
“Keep quiet!” cried the midwife.
“Ah! if only you could stop her from wearing herself out!” said Coupeau with his mouth full. “If you were not here, I’d bet she’d get up to cut my bread. Keep on your back, you big goose! You mustn’t move about, otherwise it’ll be a fortnight before you’ll be able to stand on your legs. Your stew’s very good. Madame will eat some with me, won’t you, Madame?”
The midwife declined; but she was willing to accept a glass of wine, because it had upset her, said she to find the poor woman with the baby on the mat. Coupeau at length went off to tell the news to his relations. Half an hour later he returned with all of them, mother Coupeau, the Lorilleuxs, and Madame Lerat, whom he had met at the latter’s.
“I’ve brought you the whole gang!” cried Coupeau. “It can’t be helped! They wanted to see you. Don’t open your mouth, it’s forbidden. They’ll stop here and look at you without ceremony, you know. As for me, I’m going to make them some coffee, and of the right sort!”
He disappeared into the kitchen. Mother Coupeau after kissing Gervaise, became amazed at the child’s size. The two other women also kissed the invalid on her cheeks. And all three, standing before the bed, commented with divers exclamations on the details of the confinement — a most remarkable confinement, just like having a tooth pulled, nothing more.
Madame Lerat examined the baby all over, declared she was well formed, even added that she could grow up into an attractive woman. Noticing that the head had been squeezed into a point on top, she kneaded it gently despite the infant’s cries, trying to round it a bit. Madame Lorilleux grabbed the baby from her; that could be enough to give the poor little thing all sorts of vicious tendencies, meddling with it like that while her skull was still soft. She then tried to figure out who the baby resembled. This almost led to a quarrel. Lorilleux, peering over the women’s shoulders, insisted that the little girl didn’t look the least bit like Coupeau. Well, maybe a little around the nose, nothing more. She was her mother all over again, with big eyes like hers. Certainly there were no eyes like that in the Coupeau family.
Coupeau, however, had failed to reappear. One could hear him in the kitchen struggling with the grate and the coffee-pot. Gervaise was worrying herself frightfully; it was not the proper thing for a man to make coffee; and she called and told him what to do, without listening to the midwife’s energetic “hush!”
“Here we are!” said Coupeau, entering with the coffee-pot in his hand. “Didn’t I just have a bother with it! It all went wrong on purpose! Now we’ll drink out of glasses, won’t we? Because you know, the cups are still at the shop.”
They seated themselves around the table, and the zinc-worker insisted on pouring out the coffee himself. It smelt very strong, it was none of that weak stuff. When the midwife had sipped hers up, she went off; everything was going on nicely, she was not required. If the young woman did not pass a good night they were to send for her on the morrow. She was scarcely down the staircase, when Madame Lorilleux called her a glutton and a good-for-nothing. She put four lumps of sugar in her coffee, and charged fifteen francs for leaving you with your baby all by yourself. But Coupeau took her part; he would willingly fork out the fifteen francs. After all those sort of women spent their youth in studying, they were right to charge a good price.
It was then Lorilleux who got into a quarrel with Madame Lerat by maintaining that, in order to have a son, the head of the bed should be turned to the north. She shrugged her shoulders at such nonsense, offering another formula which consisted in hiding under the mattress, without letting your wife know, a handful of fresh nettles picked in bright sunlight.
The table had been pushed over close to the bed. Until ten o’clock Gervaise lay there, smiling although she was only half awake. She was becoming more and more weary, her head turned sideways on the pillow. She no longer had the energy to venture a remark or a gesture. It seemed to her that she was dead, a very sweet death, from the depths of which she was happy to observe the others still in the land of the living. The thin cries of her baby daughter rose above the hum of heavy voices that were discussing a recent murder on Rue du Bon Puits, at the other end of La Chapelle.
Then, as the visitors were thinking of leaving, they spoke of the christening. The Lorilleux had promised to be godfather and godmother; they looked very glum over the matter. However, if they had not been asked to stand they would have felt rather peculiar. Coupeau did not see any need for christening the little one; it certainly would not procure her an income of ten thousand francs, and besides she might catch a cold from it. The less one had to do with priests the better. But mother Coupeau called him a heathen. The Lorilleux, without going and eating consecrated bread in church, plumed themselves on their religious sentiments.
“It shall be next Sunday, if you like,” said the chainmaker.
And Gervaise having consented by a nod, everyone kissed her and told her to take good care of herself. They also wished the baby good-bye. Each one went and leant over the little trembling body with smiles and loving words as though she were able to understand. They called her Nana, the pet name for Anna, which was her godmother’s name.
“Good night, Nana. Come be a good girl, Nana.”
When they had at length gone off, Coupeau drew his chair close up to the bed and finished his pipe, holding Gervaise’s hand in his. He smoked slowly, deeply affected and uttering sentences between the puffs.
“Well, old woman, they’ve made your head ache, haven’t they? You see I couldn’t prevent them coming. After all, it shows their friendship. But we’re better alone, aren’t we? I wanted to be alone like this with you. It has seemed such a long evening to me! Poor little thing, she’s had a lot to go through! Those shrimps, when they come out into the world, have no idea of the pain they cause. It must really almost be like being split in two. Where is does it hurt the most, that I may kiss it and make it well?”
He had carefully slid one of his big hands under her back, and now he drew her toward him, bending over to kiss her stomach through the covers, touched by a rough man’s compassion for the suffering of a woman in childbirth. He inquired if he was hurting her. Gervaise felt very happy, and answered him that it didn’t hurt any more at all. She was only worried about getting up as soon as possible, because there was no time to lie about now. He assured her that he’d be responsible for earning the money for the new little one. He would be a real bum if he abandoned her and the little rascal. The way he figured it, what really counted was bringing her up properly. Wasn’t that so?
Coupeau did not sleep much that night. He covered up the fire in the stove. Every hour he had to get up to give the baby spoonfuls of lukewarm sugar and water. That did not prevent his going off to his work in the morning as usual. He even took advantage of his lunch-hour to make a declaration of the birth at the mayor’s. During this time Madame Boche, who had been informed of the event, had hastened to go and pass the day with Gervaise. But the latter, after ten hours of sleep, bewailed her position, saying that she already felt pains all over her through having been so long in bed. She would become quite ill if they did not let her get up. In the evening, when Coupeau returned home, she told him all her worries; no doubt she had confidence in Madame Boche, only it put her beside herself to see a stranger installed in her room, opening the drawers, and touching her things.
On the morrow the concierge, on returning from some errand, found her up, dressed, sweeping and getting her husband’s dinner ready; and it was impossible to persuade her to go to bed again. They were trying to make a fool of her perhaps! It was all very well for ladies to pretend to be unable to move. When one was not rich one had no time for that sort of thing. Three days after her confinement she was ironing petticoats at Madame Fauconnier’s, banging her irons and all in a perspiration from the great heat of the stove.
On the Saturday evening, Madame Lorilleux brought her presents for her godchild — a cup that cost thirty-five sous, and a christening dress, plaited and trimmed with some cheap lace, which she had got for six francs, because it was slightly soiled. On the morrow, Lorilleux, as godfather, gave the mother six pounds of sugar. They certainly did things properly! At the baptism supper which took place at the Coupeaus that evening, they did not come empty-handed. Lorilleux carried a bottle of fine wine under each arm and his wife brought a large custard pie from a famous pastry shop on Chaussee Clignancourt. But the Lorilleuxs made sure that the entire neighborhood knew they had spent twenty francs. As soon as Gervaise learned of their gossiping, furious, she stopped giving them credit for generosity.
It was at the christening feast that the Coupeaus ended by becoming intimately acquainted with their neighbors on the opposite side of the landing. The other lodging in the little house was occupied by two persons, mother and son, the Goujets as they were called. Until then the two families had merely nodded to each other on the stairs and in the street, nothing more; the Coupeaus thought their neighbors seemed rather bearish. Then the mother, having carried up a pail of water for Gervaise on the morrow of her confinement, the latter had thought it the proper thing to invite them to the feast, more especially as she considered them very respectable people. And naturally, they there became well acquainted with each other.
The Goujets came from the Departement du Nord. The mother mended lace; the son, a blacksmith, worked at an iron bolt factory. They had lived in their lodging for five years. Behind the quiet peacefulness of their life, a long standing sorrow was hidden. Goujet the father, one day when furiously drunk at Lille, had beaten a comrade to death with an iron bar and had afterwards strangled himself in prison with his handkerchief. The widow and child, who had come to Paris after their misfortune, always felt the tragedy hanging over their heads, and atoned for it by a strict honesty and an unvarying gentleness and courage. They had a certain amount of pride in their attitude and regarded themselves as better than other people.
Madame Goujet, dressed in black as usual, her forehead framed in a nun’s hood, had a pale, calm, matronly face, as if the whiteness of the lace and the delicate work of her fingers had cast a glow of serenity over her. Goujet was twenty-three years old, huge, magnificently built, with deep blue eyes and rosy cheeks, and the strength of Hercules. His comrades at the shop called him “Golden Mouth” because of his handsome blonde beard.
Gervaise at once felt a great friendship for these people. When she entered their home for the first time, she was amazed at the cleanliness of the lodging. There was no denying it, one might blow about the place without raising a grain of dust; and the tiled floor shone like a mirror. Madame Goujet made her enter her son’s room, just to see it. It was pretty and white like the room of a young girl; an iron bedstead with muslin curtains, a table, a washstand, and a narrow bookcase hanging against the wall. Then there were pictures all over the place, figures cut out, colored engravings nailed up with four tacks, and portraits of all kinds of persons taken from the illustrated papers.
Madame Goujet said with a smile that her son was a big baby. He found that reading in the evening put him to sleep, so he amused himself looking at pictures. Gervaise spent an hour with her neighbor without noticing the passing of time. Madame Goujet had gone to sit by the window and work on her lace. Gervaise was fascinated by the hundreds of pins that held the lace, and she felt happy to be there, breathing in the good clean atmosphere of this home where such a delicate task enforced a sort of meditative silence.
The Goujets were worth visiting. They worked long hours, and placed more than a quarter of their fortnight’s earnings in the savings-bank. In the neighborhood everyone nodded to them, everyone talked of their savings. Goujet never had a hole in his clothes, always went out in a clean short blue blouse, without a stain. He was very polite, and even a trifle timid, in spite of his broad shoulders. The washerwomen at the end of the street laughed to see him hold down his head when he passed them. He did not like their oaths, and thought it disgusting that women should be constantly uttering foul words. One day, however, he came home tipsy. Then Madame Goujet, for sole reproach, held his father’s portrait before him, a daub of a painting hidden away at the bottom of a drawer; and, ever since that lesson, Goujet never drank more than was good for him, without however, any hatred of wine, for wine is necessary to the workman. On Sundays he walked out with his mother, who took hold of his arm. He would generally conduct her to Vincennes; at other times they would go to the theatre. His mother remained his passion. He still spoke to her as though he were a little child. Square-headed, his skin toughened by the wielding of the heavy hammer, he somewhat resembled the larger animals: dull of intellect, though good-natured all the same.
In the early days of their acquaintance, Gervaise embarrassed him immensely. Then in a few weeks he became accustomed to her. He watched for her that he might carry up her parcels, treated her as a sister, with an abrupt familiarity, and cut out pictures for her. One morning, however, having opened her door without knocking, he beheld her half undressed, washing her neck; and, for a week, he did not dare to look her in the face, so much so that he ended by making her blush herself.
Young Cassis, with the casual wit of a born Parisian, called Golden Mouth a dolt. It was all right not to get drunk all the time or chase women, but still, a man must be a man, or else he might as well wear skirts. Coupeau teased him in front of Gervaise, accusing him of making up to all the women in the neighborhood. Goujet vigorously defended himself against the charge.
But this didn’t prevent the two workingmen from becoming best of friends. They went off to work together in the mornings and sometimes had a glass of beer together on the way home.
It eventually came about that Golden Mouth could render a service to Young Cassis, one of those favors that is remembered forever.
It was the second of December. The zinc-worker decided, just for the fun of it, to go into the city and watch the rioting. He didn’t really care about the Republic, or Napoleon or anything like that, but he liked the smell of gunpowder and the sound of the rifles firing. He would have been arrested as a rioter if the blacksmith hadn’t turned up at the barricade at just that moment and helped him escape. Goujet was very serious as they walked back up the Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere. He was interested in politics and believed in the Republic. But he had never fired a gun because the common people were getting tired of fighting battles for the middle classes who always seemed to get the benefit of them.
As they reached the top of the slope of the Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere, Goujet turned to look back at Paris and the mobs. After all, some day people would be sorry that they just stood by and did nothing. Coupeau laughed at this, saying you would be pretty stupid to risk your neck just to preserve the twenty-five francs a day for the lazybones in the Legislative Assembly. That evening the Coupeaus invited the Goujets to dinner. After desert Young Cassis and Golden Mouth kissed each other on the cheek. Their lives were joined till death.
For three years the existence of the two families went on, on either side of the landing, without an event. Gervaise was able to take care of her daughter and still work most of the week. She was now a skilled worker on fine laundry and earned up to three francs a day. She decided to put Etienne, now nearly eight, into a small boarding-school on Rue de Chartres for five francs a week. Despite the expenses for the two children, they were able to save twenty or thirty francs each month. Once they had six hundred francs saved, Gervaise often lay awake thinking of her ambitious dream: she wanted to rent a small shop, hire workers, and go into the laundry business herself. If this effort worked, they would have a steady income from savings in twenty years. They could retire and live in the country.
Yet she hesitated, saying she was looking for the right shop. She was giving herself time to think it over. Their savings were safe in the bank, and growing larger. So, in three years’ time she had only fulfilled one of her dreams — she had bought a clock. But even this clock, made of rosewood with twined columns and a pendulum of gilded brass, was being paid for in installments of twenty-two sous each Monday for a year. She got upset if Coupeau tried to wind it; she liked to be the only one to lift off the glass dome. It was under the glass dome, behind the clock, that she hid her bank book. Sometimes, when she was dreaming of her shop, she would stare fixedly at the clock, lost in thought.
The Coupeaus went out nearly every Sunday with the Goujets. They were pleasant little excursions, sometimes to have some fried fish at Saint–Ouen, at others a rabbit at Vincennes, in the garden of some eating-house keeper without any grand display. The men drank sufficient to quench their thirst, and returned home as right as nine-pins, giving their arms to the ladies. In the evening before going to bed, the two families made up accounts and each paid half the expenses; and there was never the least quarrel about a sou more or less.
The Lorilleuxs became jealous of the Goujets. It seemed strange to them to see Young Cassis and Clump-clump going places all the time with strangers instead of their own relations. But, that’s the way it was; some folks didn’t care a bit about their family. Now that they had saved a few sous, they thought they were really somebody. Madame Lorilleux was much annoyed to see her brother getting away from her influence and begin to continually run down Gervaise to everyone. On the other hand, Madame Lerat took the young wife’s side. Mother Coupeau tried to get along with everybody. She only wanted to be welcomed by all three of her children. Now that her eyesight was getting dimmer and dimmer she only had one regular house cleaning job but she was able to pick up some small jobs now and again.
On the day on which Nana was three years old, Coupeau, on returning home in the evening, found Gervaise quite upset. She refused to talk about it; there was nothing at all the matter with her, she said. But, as she had the table all wrong, standing still with the plates in her hands, absorbed in deep reflection, her husband insisted upon knowing what was the matter.
“Well, it is this,” she ended by saying, “the little draper’s shop in the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or, is to let. I saw it only an hour ago, when going to buy some cotton. It gave me quite a turn.”
It was a very decent shop, and in that big house where they dreamed of living in former days. There was the shop, a back room, and two other rooms to the right and left; in short, just what they required. The rooms were rather small, but well placed. Only, she considered they wanted too much; the landlord talked of five hundred francs.
“So you’ve been over the place, and asked the price?” said Coupeau.
“Oh! you know, only out of curiosity!” replied she, affecting an air of indifference. “One looks about, and goes in wherever there’s a bill up — that doesn’t bind one to anything. But that shop is altogether too dear. Besides, it would perhaps be foolish of me to set up in business.”
However, after dinner, she again referred to the draper’s shop. She drew a plan of the place on the margin of a newspaper. And, little by little, she talked it over, measuring the corners, and arranging the rooms, as though she were going to move all her furniture in there on the morrow. Then Coupeau advised her to take it, seeing how she wanted to do so; she would certainly never find anything decent under five hundred francs; besides they might perhaps get a reduction. He knew only one objection to it and that was living in the same house as the Lorilleux, whom she could not bear.
Gervaise declared that she wasn’t mad at anybody. So much did she want her own shop that she even spoke up for the Lorilleuxs, saying that they weren’t mean at heart and that she would be able to get along just fine with them. When they went to bed, Coupeau fell asleep immediately, but she stayed awake, planning how she could arrange the new place even though she hadn’t yet made up her mind completely.
On the morrow, when she was alone, she could not resist removing the glass cover from the clock, and taking a peep at the savings-bank book. To think that her shop was there, in those dirty pages, covered with ugly writing! Before going off to her work, she consulted Madame Goujet, who highly approved her project of setting up in business for herself; with a husband like hers, a good fellow who did not drink, she was certain of getting on, and of not having her earnings squandered. At the luncheon hour Gervaise even called on the Lorilleuxs to ask their advice; she did not wish to appear to be doing anything unknown to the family. Madame Lorilleux was struck all of a heap. What! Clump-clump was going in for a shop now! And her heart bursting with envy, she stammered, and tried to pretend to be pleased: no doubt the shop was a convenient one — Gervaise was right in taking it. However, when she had somewhat recovered, she and her husband talked of the dampness of the courtyard, of the poor light of the rooms on the ground floor. Oh! it was a good place for rheumatism. Yet, if she had made up her mind to take it, their observations, of course, would not make her alter her decision.
That evening Gervaise frankly owned with a laugh that she would have fallen ill if she had been prevented from having the shop. Nevertheless, before saying “it’s done!” she wished to take Coupeau to see the place, and try and obtain a reduction in the rent.
“Very well, then, to-morrow, if you like,” said her husband. “You can come and fetch me towards six o’clock at the house where I’m working, in the Rue de la Nation, and we’ll call in at the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or on our way home.”
Coupeau was then finishing the roofing of a new three-storied house. It so happened that on that day he was to fix the last sheets of zinc. As the roof was almost flat, he had set up his bench on it, a wide shutter supported on two trestles. A beautiful May sun was setting, giving a golden hue to the chimney-pots. And, right up at the top, against the clear sky, the workman was quietly cutting up his zinc with a big pair of shears, leaning over the bench, and looking like a tailor in his shop cutting out a pair of trousers. Close to the wall of the next house, his boy, a youngster of seventeen, thin and fair, was keeping the fire of the chafing dish blazing by the aid of an enormous pair of bellows, each puff of which raised a cloud of sparks.
“Hi! Zidore, put in the irons!” cried Coupeau.
The boy stuck the soldering irons into the midst of the charcoal, which looked a pale rose color in the daylight. Then he resumed blowing. Coupeau held the last sheet of zinc. It had to be placed at the edge of the roof, close to the gutter-pipe; there was an abrupt slant there, and the gaping void of the street opened beneath. The zinc-worker, just as though in his own home, wearing his list-shoes, advanced, dragging his feet, and whistling the air, “Oh! the little lambs.” Arrived in front of the opening, he let himself down, and then, supporting himself with one knee against the masonry of a chimney-stack, remained half-way out over the pavement below. One of his legs dangled. When he leant back to call that young viper, Zidore, he held on to a corner of the masonry, on account of the street beneath him.
“You confounded dawdler! Give me the irons! It’s no use looking up in the air, you skinny beggar! The larks won’t tumble into your mouth already cooked!”
But Zidore did not hurry himself. He was interested in the neighboring roofs, and in a cloud of smoke which rose from the other side of Paris, close to Grenelle; it was very likely a fire. However, he came and laid down on his stomach, his head over the opening, and he passed the irons to Coupeau. Then the latter commenced to solder the sheet. He squatted, he stretched, always managing to balance himself, sometimes seated on one side, at other times standing on the tip of one foot, often only holding on by a finger. He had a confounded assurance, the devil’s own cheek, familiar with danger, and braving it. It knew him. It was the street that was afraid, not he. As he kept his pipe in his mouth, he turned round every now and then to spit onto the pavement.
“Look, there’s Madame Boche,” he suddenly exclaimed and called down to her. “Hi! Madame Boche.”
He had just caught sight of the concierge crossing the road. She raised her head and recognised him, and a conversation ensured between them. She hid her hands under her apron, her nose elevated in the air. He, standing up now, his left arm passed round a chimney-pot, leant over.
“Have you seen my wife?” asked he.
“No, I haven’t,” replied the concierge. “Is she around here?”
“She’s coming to fetch me. And are they all well at home?”
“Why, yes, thanks; I’m the most ill, as you see. I’m going to the Chaussee Clignancourt to buy a small leg of mutton. The butcher near the Moulin–Rouge only charges sixteen sous.”
They raised their voices, because a vehicle was passing. In the wide, deserted Rue de la Nation, their words, shouted out with all their might, had only caused a little old woman to come to her window; and this little old woman remained there leaning out, giving herself the treat of a grand emotion by watching that man on the roof over the way, as though she expected to see him fall, from one minute to another.
“Well! Good evening,” cried Madame Boche. “I won’t disturb you.”
Coupeau turned round, and took back the iron that Zidore was holding for him. But just as the concierge was moving off, she caught sight of Gervaise on the other side of the way, holding Nana by the hand. She was already raising her head to tell the zinc-worker, when the young woman closed her mouth by an energetic gesture, and, in a low voice, so as not to be heard up there, she told her of her fear: she was afraid, by showing herself suddenly, of giving her husband a shock which might make him lose his balance. During the four years, she had only been once to fetch him at his work. That day was the second time. She could not witness it, her blood turned cold when she beheld her old man between heaven and earth, in places where even the sparrows would not venture.
“No doubt, it’s not pleasant,” murmured Madame Boche. “My husband’s a tailor, so I have none of these terrors.”
“If you only knew, in the early days,” said Gervaise again, “I had frights from morning till night. I was always seeing him on a stretcher, with his head smashed. Now, I don’t think of it so much. One gets used to everything. Bread must be earned. All the same, it’s a precious dear loaf, for one risks one’s bones more than is fair.”
And she left off speaking, hiding Nana in her skirt, fearing a cry from the little one. Very pale, she looked up in spite of herself. At that moment Coupeau was soldering the extreme edge of the sheet close to the gutter; he slid down as far as possible, but without being able to reach the edge. Then, he risked himself with those slow movements peculiar to workmen. For an instant he was immediately over the pavement, no long holding on, all absorbed in his work; and, from below, one could see the little white flame of the solder frizzling up beneath the carefully wielded iron. Gervaise, speechless, her throat contracted with anguish, had clasped her hands together, and held them up in mechanical gesture of prayer. But she breathed freely as Coupeau got up and returned back along the roof, without hurrying himself, and taking the time to spit once more into the street.
“Ah! ah! so you’ve been playing the spy on me!” cried he, gaily, on beholding her. “She’s been making a stupid of herself, eh, Madame Boche? She wouldn’t call to me. Wait a bit, I shall have finished in ten minutes.”
All that remained to do was to fix the top of the chimney — a mere nothing. The laundress and the concierge waited on the pavement, discussing the neighborhood, and giving an eye to Nana, to prevent her from dabbling in the gutter, where she wanted to look for little fishes; and the two women kept glancing up at the roof, smiling and nodding their heads, as though to imply that they were not losing patience. The old woman opposite had not left her window, had continued watching the man, and waiting.
“Whatever can she have to look at, that old she-goat?” said Madame Boche. “What a mug she has!”
One could hear the loud voice of the zinc-worker up above singing, “Ah! it’s nice to gather strawberries!” Bending over his bench, he was now artistically cutting out his zinc. With his compasses he traced a line, and he detached a large fan-shaped piece with the aid of a pair of curved shears; then he lightly bent this fan with his hammer into the form of a pointed mushroom. Zidore was again blowing the charcoal in the chafing-dish. The sun was setting behind the house in a brilliant rosy light, which was gradually becoming paler, and turning to a delicate lilac. And, at this quiet hour of the day, right up against the sky, the silhouettes of the two workmen, looking inordinately large, with the dark line of the bench, and the strange profile of the bellows, stood out from the limpid back-ground of the atmosphere.
When the chimney-top was got into shape, Coupeau called out: “Zidore! The irons!”
But Zidore had disappeared. The zinc-worker swore, and looked about for him, even calling him through the open skylight of the loft. At length he discovered him on a neighboring roof, two houses off. The young rogue was taking a walk, exploring the environs, his fair scanty locks blowing in the breeze, his eyes blinking as they beheld the immensity of Paris.
“I say, lazy bones! Do you think you’re having a day in the country?” asked Coupeau, in a rage. “You’re like Monsieur Beranger, composing verses, perhaps! Will you give me those irons! Did any one ever see such a thing! Strolling about on the house-tops! Why not bring your sweetheart at once, and tell her of your love? Will you give me those irons? You confounded little shirker!”
He finished his soldering, and called to Gervaise: “There, it’s done. I’m coming down.”
The chimney-pot to which he had to fix the flue was in the middle of the roof. Gervaise, who was no longer uneasy, continued to smile as she followed his movements. Nana, amused all on a sudden by the view of her father, clapped her little hands. She had seated herself on the pavement to see the better up there.
“Papa! Papa!” called she with all her might. “Papa! Just look!”
The zinc-worker wished to lean forward, but his foot slipped. Then suddenly, stupidly, like a cat with its legs entangled, he rolled and descended the slight slope of the roof without being able to grab hold of anything.
“Mon Dieu,” he cried in a choked voice.
And he fell. His body described a gentle curve, turned twice over on itself, and came smashing into the middle of the street with the dull thud of a bundle of clothes thrown from on high.
Gervaise, stupefied, her throat rent by one great cry, stood holding up her arms. Some passers-by hastened to the spot; a crowd soon formed. Madame Boche, utterly upset, her knees bending under her, took Nana in her arms, to hide her head and prevent her seeing. Meanwhile, the little old woman opposite quietly closed her window, as though satisfied.
Four men ended by carrying Coupeau into a chemist’s, at the corner of the Rue des Poissonniers; and he remained there on a blanket, in the middle of the shop, whist they sent to the Lariboisiere Hospital for a stretcher. He was still breathing.
Gervaise, sobbing, was kneeling on the floor beside him, her face smudged with tears, stunned and unseeing. Her hands would reach to feel her husband’s limbs with the utmost gentleness. Then she would draw back as she had been warned not to touch him. But a few seconds later she would touch him to assure herself that he was still warm, feeling somehow that she was helping him.
When the stretcher at length arrived, and they talked of starting for the hospital, she got up, saying violently:
“No, no, not to the hospital! We live in the Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d’Or.”
It was useless for them to explain to her that the illness would cost her a great deal of money, if she took her husband home. She obstinately repeated:
“Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d’Or; I will show you the house. What can it matter to you? I’ve got money. He’s my husband, isn’t he? He’s mine, and I want him at home.”
And they had to take Coupeau to his own home. When the stretcher was carried through the crowd which was crushing up against the chemist’s shop, the women of the neighborhood were excitedly talking of Gervaise. She limped, the dolt, but all the same she had some pluck. She would be sure to save her old man; whilst at the hospital the doctors let the patients die who were very bad, so as not to have the bother of trying to cure them. Madame Boche, after taking Nana home with her, returned, and gave her account of the accident, with interminable details, and still feeling agitated with the emotion she had passed through.
“I was going to buy a leg of mutton; I was there, I saw him fall,” repeated she. “It was all through the little one; he turned to look at her, and bang! Ah! good heavens! I never want to see such a sight again. However, I must be off to get my leg of mutton.”
For a week Coupeau was very bad. The family, the neighbors, everyone, expected to see him turn for the worse at any moment. The doctor — a very expensive doctor, who charged five francs for each visit — apprehended internal injuries, and these words filled everyone with fear. It was said in the neighborhood that the zinc-worker’s heart had been injured by the shock. Gervaise alone, looking pale through her nights of watching, serious and resolute, shrugged her shoulders. Her old man’s right leg was broken, everyone knew that; it would be set for him, and that was all. As for the rest, the injured heart, that was nothing. She knew how to restore a heart with ceaseless care. She was certain of getting him well and displayed magnificent faith. She stayed close by him and caressed him gently during the long bouts of fever without a moment of doubt. She was on her feet continuously for a whole week, completely absorbed by her determination to save him. She forgot the street outside, the entire city, and even her own children. On the ninth day, the doctor finally said that Coupeau would live. Gervaise collapsed into a chair, her body limp from fatigue. That night she consented to sleep for two hours with her head against the foot of the bed.
Coupeau’s accident had created quite a commotion in the family. Mother Coupeau passed the nights with Gervaise; but as early as nine o’clock she fell asleep on a chair. Every evening, on returning from work, Madame Lerat went a long round out of her way to inquire how her brother was getting on. At first the Lorilleuxs had called two or three times a day, offering to sit up and watch, and even bringing an easy-chair for Gervaise. Then it was not long before there were disputes as to the proper way to nurse invalids. Madame Lorilleux said that she had saved enough people’s lives to know how to go about it. She accused the young wife of pushing her aside, of driving her away from her own brother’s bed. Certainly that Clump-clump ought to be concerned about Coupeau’s getting well, for if she hadn’t gone to Rue de la Nation to disturb him at his job, he would never had fallen. Only, the way she was taking care of him, she would certainly finish him.
When Gervaise saw that Coupeau was out of danger, she ceased guarding his bedside with so much jealous fierceness. Now, they could no longer kill him, and she let people approach without mistrust. The family invaded the room. The convalescence would be a very long one; the doctor had talked of four months. Then, during the long hours the zinc-worker slept, the Lorilleux talked of Gervaise as of a fool. She hadn’t done any good by having her husband at home. At the hospital they would have cured him twice as quickly. Lorilleux would have liked to have been ill, to have caught no matter what, just to show her that he did not hesitate for a moment to go to Lariboisiere. Madame Lorilleux knew a lady who had just come from there. Well! She had had chicken to eat morning and night.
Again and again the two of them went over their estimate of how much four months of convalescence would cost; workdays lost, the doctor and the medicines, and afterward good wine and fresh meat. If the Coupeaus only used up their small savings, they would be very lucky indeed. They would probably have to do into debt. Well, that was to be expected and it was their business. They had no right to expect any help from the family, which couldn’t afford the luxury of keeping an invalid at home. It was just Clump-clump’s bad luck, wasn’t it? Why couldn’t she have done as others did and let her man be taken to hospital? This just showed how stuck up she was.
One evening Madame Lorilleux had the spitefulness to ask Gervaise suddenly:
“Well! And your shop, when are you going to take it?”
“Yes,” chuckled Lorilleux, “the landlord’s still waiting for you.”
Gervaise was astonished. She had completely forgotten the shop; but she saw the wicked joy of those people, at the thought that she would no longer be able to take it, and she was bursting with anger. From that evening, in fact, they watched for every opportunity to twit her about her hopeless dream. When any one spoke of some impossible wish, they would say that it might be realized on the day that Gervaise started in business, in a beautiful shop opening onto the street. And behind her back they would laugh fit to split their sides. She did not like to think such an unkind thing, but, really, the Lorilleuxs now seemed to be very pleased at Coupeau’s accident, as it prevented her setting up as a laundress in the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or.
Then she also wished to laugh, and show them how willingly she parted with the money for the sake of curing her husband. Each time she took the savings-bank book from beneath the glass clock-tower in their presence, she would say gaily:
“I’m going out; I’m going to rent my shop.”
She had not been willing to withdraw the money all at once. She took it out a hundred francs at a time, so as not to keep such a pile of gold and silver in her drawer; then, too, she vaguely hoped for some miracle, some sudden recovery, which would enable them not to part with the entire sum. At each journey to the savings-bank, on her return home, she added up on a piece of paper the money they had still left there. It was merely for the sake of order. Their bank account might be getting smaller all the time, yet she went on with her quiet smile and common-sense attitude, keeping the account straight. It was a consolation to be able to use this money for such a good purpose, to have had it when faced with their misfortune.
While Coupeau was bed-ridden the Goujets were very kind to Gervaise. Madame Goujet was always ready to assist. She never went to shop without stopping to ask Gervaise if there was anything she needed, sugar or butter or salt. She always brought over hot bouillon on the evenings she cooked pot au feu. Sometimes, when Gervaise seemed to have too much to do, Madame Goujet helped her do the dishes, or cleaned the kitchen herself. Goujet took her water pails every morning and filled them at the tap on Rue des Poissonniers, saving her two sous a day. After dinner, if no family came to visit, the Goujets would come over to visit with the Coupeaus.
Until ten o’clock, the blacksmith would smoke his pipe and watch Gervaise busy with her invalid. He would not speak ten words the entire evening. He was moved to pity by the sight of her pouring Coupeau’s tea and medicine into a cup, or stirring the sugar in it very carefully so as to make no sound with the spoon. It stirred him deeply when she would lean over Coupeau and speak in her soft voice. Never before had he known such a fine woman. Her limp increased the credit due her for wearing herself out doing things for her husband all day long. She never sat down for ten minutes, not even to eat. She was always running to the chemist’s. And then she would still keep the house clean, not even a speck of dust. She never complained, no matter how exhausted she became. Goujet developed a very deep affection for Gervaise in this atmosphere of unselfish devotion.
One day he said to the invalid, “Well, old man, now you’re patched up again! I wasn’t worried about you. Your wife works miracles.”
Goujet was supposed to be getting married. His mother had found a suitable girl, a lace-mender like herself, whom she was urging him to marry. He had agreed so as not to hurt her feelings and the wedding had been set for early September. Money had long since been saved to set them up in housekeeping. However, when Gervaise referred to his coming marriage, he shook his head, saying, “Not every woman is like you, Madame Coupeau. If all women were like you, I’d marry ten of them.”
At the end of two months, Coupeau was able to get up. He did not go far, only from the bed to the window, and even then Gervaise had to support him. There he would sit down in the easy-chair the Lorilleuxs had brought, with his right leg stretched out on a stool. This joker, who used to laugh at the people who slipped down on frosty days, felt greatly put out by his accident. He had no philosophy. He had spent those two months in bed, in cursing, and in worrying the people about him. It was not an existence, really, to pass one’s life on one’s back, with a pin all tied up and as stiff as a sausage. Ah, he certainly knew the ceiling by heart; there was a crack, at the corner of the alcove, that he could have drawn with his eyes shut. Then, when he was made comfortable in the easy-chair, it was another grievance. Would he be fixed there for long, just like a mummy?
Nobody ever passed along the street, so it was no fun to watch. Besides, it stank of bleach water all day. No, he was just growing old; he’d have given ten years of his life just to go see how the fortifications were getting along. He kept going on about his fate. It wasn’t right, what had happened to him. A good worker like him, not a loafer or a drunkard, he could have understood in that case.
“Papa Coupeau,” said he, “broke his neck one day that he’d been boozing. I can’t say that it was deserved, but anyhow it was explainable. I had had nothing since my lunch, was perfectly quiet, and without a drop of liquor in my body; and yet I came to grief just because I wanted to turn round to smile at Nana! Don’t you think that’s too much? If there is a providence, it certainly arranges things in a very peculiar manner. I, for one, shall never believe in it.”
And when at last he was able to use his legs, he retained a secret grudge against work. It was a handicraft full of misfortunes to pass one’s days, like the cats, on the roofs of the houses. The employers were no fools! They sent you to your death — being far too cowardly to venture themselves on a ladder — and stopped at home in safety at their fire-sides without caring a hang for the poorer classes; and he got to the point of saying that everyone ought to fix the zinc himself on his own house. Mon Dieu! It was the only fair way to do it! If you don’t want the rain to come in, do the work yourself. He regretted he hadn’t learned another trade, something more pleasant, something less dangerous, maybe cabinetmaking. It was really his father’s fault. Lots of fathers have the foolish habit of shoving their sons into their own line of work.
For another two months Coupeau hobbled about on crutches. He had first of all managed to get as far as the street, and smoke his pipe in front of the door. Then he had managed to reach the exterior Boulevard, dragging himself along in the sunshine, and remaining for hours on one of the seats. Gaiety returned to him; his infernal tongue got sharper in these long hours of idleness. And with the pleasure of living, he gained there a delight in doing nothing, an indolent feeling took possession of his limbs, and his muscles gradually glided into a very sweet slumber. It was the slow victory of laziness, which took advantage of his convalescence to obtain possession of his body and unnerve him with its tickling. He regained his health, as thorough a banterer as before, thinking life beautiful, and not seeing why it should not last for ever.
As soon as he could get about without the crutches, he made longer walks, often visiting construction jobs to see old comrades. He would stand with his arms folded, sneering and shaking his head, ridiculing the workers slaving at the job, stretching out his leg to show them what you got for wearing yourself out. Being able to stand about and mock others while they were working satisfied his spite against hard work. No doubt he’d have to go back to it, but he’d put it off as long as possible. He had a reason now to be lazy. Besides, it seemed good to him to loaf around like a bum!
On the afternoons when Coupeau felt dull, he would call on the Lorilleuxs. The latter would pity him immensely, and attract him with all sorts of amiable attentions. During the first years following his marriage, he had avoided them, thanks to Gervaise’s influence. Now they regained their sway over him by twitting him about being afraid of his wife. He was no man, that was evident! The Lorilleuxs, however, showed great discretion, and were loud in their praise of the laundress’s good qualities. Coupeau, without as yet coming to wrangling, swore to the latter that his sister adored her, and requested that she would behave more amiably to her. The first quarrel which the couple had occurred one evening on account of Etienne. The zinc-worker had passed the afternoon with the Lorilleuxs. On arriving home, as the dinner was not quite ready, and the children were whining for their soup, he suddenly turned upon Etienne, and boxed his ears soundly. And during an hour he did not cease to grumble; the brat was not his; he did not know why he allowed him to be in the place; he would end by turning him out into the street. Up till then he had tolerated the youngster without all that fuss. On the morrow he talked of his dignity. Three days after, he kept kicking the little fellow, morning and evening, so much so that the child, whenever he heard him coming, bolted into the Goujets’ where the old lace-mender kept a corner of the table clear for him to do his lessons.
Gervaise had for some time past, returned to work. She no longer had the trouble of looking under the glass cover of the clock; all the savings were gone; and she had to work hard, work for four, for there were four to feed now. She alone maintained them. Whenever she heard people pitying her, she at once found excuses for Coupeau. Recollect! He had suffered so much; it was not surprising if his disposition had soured! But it would pass off when his health returned. And if any one hinted that Coupeau seemed all right again, that he could very well return to work, she protested: No, no; not yet! She did not want to see him take to his bed again. They would allow her to know best what the doctor said, perhaps! It was she who prevented him returning to work, telling him every morning to take his time and not to force himself. She even slipped twenty sou pieces into his waistcoat pocket. Coupeau accepted this as something perfectly natural. He was always complaining of aches and pains so that she would coddle him. At the end of six months he was still convalescing.
Now, whenever he went to watch others working, he was always ready to join his comrades in downing a shot. It wasn’t so bad, after all. They had their fun, and they never stayed more than five minutes. That couldn’t hurt anybody. Only a hypocrite would say he went in because he wanted a drink. No wonder they had laughed at him in the past. A glass of wine never hurt anybody. He only drank wine though, never brandy. Wine never made you sick, didn’t get you drunk, and helped you to live longer. Soon though, several times, after a day of idleness in going from one building job to another, he came home half drunk. On those occasions Gervaise pretended to have a terrible headache and kept their door closed so that the Goujets wouldn’t hear Coupeau’s drunken babblings.
Little by little, the young woman lost her cheerfulness. Morning and evening she went to the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or to look at the shop, which was still to be let; and she would hide herself as though she were committing some childish prank unworthy of a grown-up person. This shop was beginning to turn her brain. At night-time, when the light was out she experienced the charm of some forbidden pleasure by thinking of it with her eyes open. She again made her calculations; two hundred and fifty francs for the rent, one hundred and fifty francs for utensils and moving, one hundred francs in hand to keep them going for a fortnight — in all five hundred francs at the very lowest figure. If she was not continually thinking of it aloud, it was for fear she should be suspected of regretting the savings swallowed up by Coupeau’s illness. She often became quite pale, having almost allowed her desire to escape her and catching back her words, quite confused as though she had been thinking of something wicked. Now they would have to work for four or five years before they would succeed in saving such a sum. Her regret was at not being able to start in business at once; she would have earned all the home required, without counting on Coupeau, letting him take months to get into the way of work again; she would no longer have been uneasy, but certain of the future and free from the secret fears which sometimes seized her when he returned home very gay and singing, and relating some joke of that animal My–Boots, whom he had treated to a drink.
One evening, Gervaise being at home alone, Goujet entered, and did not hurry off again, according to his habit. He seated himself, and smoked as he watched her. He probably had something very serious to say; he thought it over, let it ripen without being able to put it into suitable words. At length, after a long silence, he appeared to make up his mind, and took his pipe out of his mouth to say all in a breath:
“Madame Gervaise, will you allow me to lend you some money?”
She was leaning over an open drawer, looking for some dish-cloths. She got up, her face very red. He must have seen her then, in the morning, standing in ecstacy before the shop for close upon ten minutes. He was smiling in an embarrassed way, as though he had made some insulting proposal. But she hastily refused. Never would she accept money from any one without knowing when she would be able to return it. Then also it was a question of too large an amount. And as he insisted, in a frightened manner, she ended by exclaiming:
“But your marriage? I certainly can’t take the money you’ve been saving for your marriage!”
“Oh, don’t let that bother you,” he replied, turning red in his turn. “I’m not going to be married now. That was just an idea, you know. Really, I would much sooner lend you the money.”
Then they both held down their heads. There was something very pleasant between them to which they did not give expression. And Gervaise accepted. Goujet had told his mother. They crossed the landing, and went to see her at once. The lace-mender was very grave, and looked rather sad as she bent her face over her tambour-frame. She would not thwart her son, but she no longer approved Gervaise’s project; and she plainly told her why. Coupeau was going to the bad; Coupeau would swallow up her shop. She especially could not forgive the zinc-worker for having refused to learn to read during his convalescence. The blacksmith had offered to teach him, but the other had sent him to the right about, saying that learning made people get thin. This had almost caused a quarrel between the two workmen; each went his own way. Madame Goujet, however, seeing her big boy’s beseeching glances, behaved very kindly to Gervaise. It was settled that they would lend their neighbors five hundred francs; the latter were to repay the amount by installments of twenty francs a month; it would last as long as it lasted.
“I say, the blacksmith’s sweet on you,” exclaimed Coupeau, laughing, when he heard what had taken place. “Oh, I’m quite easy; he’s too big a muff. We’ll pay him back his money. But, really, if he had to deal with some people, he’d find himself pretty well duped.”
On the morrow the Coupeaus took the shop. All day long, Gervaise was running from Rue Neuve de la Goutte-d’Or. When the neighbors beheld her pass thus, nimble and delighted to the extent that she no longer limped, they said she must have undergone some operation.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15