On the following Saturday Coupeau, who had not come home to dinner, brought Lantier with him towards ten o’clock. They had had some sheep’s trotters at Chez Thomas at Montmartre.
“You mustn’t scold, wife,” said the zinc-worker. “We’re sober, as you can see. Oh! there’s no fear with him; he keeps one on the straight road.”
And he related how they happened to meet in the Rue Rochechouart. After dinner Lantier had declined to have a drink at the “Black Ball,” saying that when one was married to a pretty and worthy little woman, one ought not to go liquoring-up at all the wineshops. Gervaise smiled slightly as she listened. Oh! she was not thinking of scolding, she felt too much embarrassed for that. She had been expecting to see her former lover again some day ever since their dinner party; but at such an hour, when she was about to go to bed, the unexpected arrival of the two men had startled her. Her hands were quivering as she pinned back the hair which had slid down her neck.
“You know,” resumed Coupeau, “as he was so polite as to decline a drink outside, you must treat us to one here. Ah! you certainly owe us that!”
The workwomen had left long ago. Mother Coupeau and Nana had just gone to bed. Gervaise, who had been just about to put up the shutters when they appeared, left the shop open and brought some glasses which she placed on a corner of the work-table with what was left of a bottle of brandy.
Lantier remained standing and avoided speaking directly to her. However, when she served him, he exclaimed:
“Only a thimbleful, madame, if you please.”
Coupeau looked at them and then spoke his mind very plainly. They were not going to behave like a couple of geese he hoped! The past was past was it not? If people nursed grudges for nine and ten years together one would end by no longer seeing anybody. No, no, he carried his heart in his hand, he did! First of all, he knew who he had to deal with, a worthy woman and a worthy man — in short two friends! He felt easy; he knew he could depend upon them.
“Oh! that’s certain, quite certain,” repeated Gervaise, looking on the ground and scarcely understanding what she said.
“She is a sister now — nothing but a sister!” murmured Lantier in his turn.
“Mon Dieu! shake hands,” cried Coupeau, “and let those who don’t like it go to blazes! When one has proper feelings one is better off than millionaires. For myself I prefer friendship before everything because friendship is friendship and there’s nothing to beat it.”
He dealt himself heavy blows on the chest, and seemed so moved that they had to calm him. They all three silently clinked glasses, and drank their drop of brandy. Gervaise was then able to look at Lantier at her ease; for on the night of her saint’s day, she had only seen him through a fog. He had grown more stout, his arms and legs seeming too heavy because of his small stature. His face was still handsome even though it was a little puffy now due to his life of idleness. He still took great pains with his narrow moustache. He looked about his actual age. He was wearing grey trousers, a heavy blue overcoat, and a round hat. He even had a watch with a silver chain on which a ring was hanging as a keepsake. He looked quite like a gentleman.
“I’m off,” said he. “I live no end of a distance from here.”
He was already on the pavement when the zinc-worker called him back to make him promise never to pass the door without looking in to wish them good day. Meanwhile Gervaise, who had quietly disappeared, returned pushing Etienne before her. The child, who was in his shirt-sleeves and half asleep, smiled as he rubbed his eyes. But when he beheld Lantier he stood trembling and embarrassed, and casting anxious glances in the direction of his mother and Coupeau.
“Don’t you remember this gentleman?” asked the latter.
The child held down his head without replying. Then he made a slight sign which meant that he did remember the gentleman.
“Well! Then, don’t stand there like a fool; go and kiss him.”
Lantier gravely and quietly waited. When Etienne had made up his mind to approach him, he stooped down, presented both his cheeks, and then kissed the youngster on the forehead himself. At this the boy ventured to look at his father; but all on a sudden he burst out sobbing and scampered away like a mad creature with his clothes half falling off him, whilst Coupeau angrily called him a young savage.
“The emotion’s too much for him,” said Gervaise, pale and agitated herself.
“Oh! he’s generally very gentle and nice,” exclaimed Coupeau. “I’ve brought him up properly, as you’ll see. He’ll get used to you. He must learn to know people. We can’t stay mad. We should have made up a long time ago for his sake. I’d rather have my head cut off than keep a father from seeing his own son.”
Having thus delivered himself, he talked of finishing the bottle of brandy. All three clinked glasses again. Lantier showed no surprise, but remained perfectly calm. By way of repaying the zinc-worker’s politeness he persisted in helping him put up the shutters before taking his departure. Then rubbing his hands together to get rid of the dust on them, he wished the couple good-night.
“Sleep well. I shall try and catch the last bus. I promise you I’ll look in again soon.”
After that evening Lantier frequently called at the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or. He came when the zinc-worker was there, inquiring after his health the moment he passed the door and affecting to have solely called on his account. Then clean-shaven, his hair nicely combed and always wearing his overcoat, he would take a seat by the window and converse politely with the manners of an educated man. It was thus that the Coupeaus learnt little by little the details of his life. During the last eight years he had for a while managed a hat factory; and when they asked him why he had retired from it he merely alluded to the rascality of a partner, a fellow from his native place, a scoundrel who had squandered all the takings with women. His former position as an employer continued to affect his entire personality, like a title of nobility that he could not abandon. He was always talking of concluding a magnificent deal with some hatmakers who were going to set him up in business. While waiting for this he did nothing but stroll around all day like one of the idle rich. If anyone dared to mention a hat factory looking for workers, he smiled and said he was not interested in breaking his back working for others.
A smart fellow like Lantier, according to Coupeau, knew how to take care of himself. He always looked prosperous and it took money to look thus. He must have some deal going. One morning Coupeau had seen him having his shoes shined on the Boulevard Montmartre. Lantier was very talkative about others, but the truth was that he told lies about himself. He would not even say where he lived, only that he was staying with a friend and there was no use in coming to see him because he was never in.
It was now early November. Lantier would gallantly bring bunches of violets for Gervaise and the workwomen. He was now coming almost every day. He won the favor of Clemence and Madame Putois with his little attentions. At the end of the month they adored him. The Boches, whom he flattered by going to pay his respects in their concierge’s lodge, went into ecstasies over his politeness.
As soon as the Lorilleuxs knew who he was, they howled at the impudence of Gervaise in bringing her former lover into her home. However, one day Lantier went to visit them and made such a good impression when he ordered a necklace for a lady of his acquaintance that they invited him to sit down. He stayed an hour and they were so charmed by his conversation that they wondered how a man of such distinction had ever lived with Clump–Clump. Soon Lantier’s visits to the Coupeaus were accepted as perfectly natural; he was in the good graces of everyone along the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or. Goujet was the only one who remained cold. If he happened to be there when Lantier arrived, he would leave at once as he didn’t want to be obliged to be friendly to him.
In the midst, however, of all this extraordinary affection for Lantier, Gervaise lived in a state of great agitation for the first few weeks. She felt that burning sensation in the pit of her stomach which affected her on the day when Virginie first alluded to her past life. Her great fear was that she might find herself without strength, if he came upon her all alone one night and took it into his head to kiss her. She thought of him too much; she was for ever thinking of him. But she gradually became calmer on seeing him behave so well, never looking her in the face, never even touching her with the tips of his fingers when no one was watching. Then Virginie, who seemed to read within her, made her ashamed of all her wicked thoughts. Why did she tremble? Once could not hope to come across a nicer man. She certainly had nothing to fear now. And one day the tall brunette maneuvered in such a way as to get them both into a corner, and to turn the conversation to the subject of love. Lantier, choosing his words, declared in a grave voice that his heart was dead, that for the future he wished to consecrate his life solely for his son’s happiness. Every evening he would kiss Etienne on the forehead, yet he was apt to forget him in teasing back and forth with Clemence. And he never mentioned Claude who was still in the south. Gervaise began to feel at ease. Lantier’s actual presence overshadowed her memories, and seeing him all the time, she no longer dreamed about him. She even felt a certain repugnance at the thought of their former relationship. Yes, it was over. If he dared to approach her, she’d box his ears, or even better, she’d tell her husband. Once again her thoughts turned to Goujet and his affection for her.
One morning Clemence reported that the previous night, at about eleven o’clock, she had seen Monsieur Lantier with a woman. She told about it maliciously and in coarse terms to see how Gervaise would react. Yes, Monsieur Lantier was on the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette with a blonde and she followed them. They had gone into a shop where the worn-out and used-up woman had bought some shrimps. Then they went to the Rue de La Rochefoucauld. Monsieur Lantier had waited on the pavement in front of the house while his lady friend went in alone. Then she had beckoned to him from the window to join her.
No matter how Clemence went on with the story Gervaise went on peacefully ironing a white dress. Sometimes she smiled faintly. These southerners, she said, are all crazy about women; they have to have them no matter what, even if they come from a dung heap. When Lantier came in that evening, Gervaise was amused when Clemence teased him about the blonde. He seemed to feel flattered that he had been seen. Mon Dieu! she was just an old friend, he explained. He saw her from time to time. She was quite stylish. He mentioned some of her former lovers, among them a count, an important merchant and the son of a lawyer. He added that a bit of playing around didn’t mean a thing, his heart was dead. In the end Clemence had to pay a price for her meanness. She certainly felt Lantier pinching her hard two or three times without seeming to do so. She was also jealous because she didn’t reek of musk like that boulevard work-horse.
When spring came, Lantier, who was now quite one of the family, talked of living in the neighborhood, so as to be nearer his friends. He wanted a furnished room in a decent house. Madame Boche, and even Gervaise herself went searching about to find it for him. They explored the neighboring streets. But he was always too difficult to please; he required a big courtyard, a room on the ground floor; in fact, every luxury imaginable. And then every evening, at the Coupeaus’, he seemed to measure the height of the ceilings, study the arrangement of the rooms, and covet a similar lodging. Oh, he would never have asked for anything better, he would willingly have made himself a hole in that warm, quiet corner. Then each time he wound up his inspection with these words:
“By Jove! you are comfortably situated here.”
One evening, when he had dined there, and was making the same remark during the dessert, Coupeau, who now treated him most familiarly, suddenly exclaimed:
“You must stay here, old boy, if it suits you. It’s easily arranged.”
And he explained that the dirty-clothes room, cleaned out, would make a nice apartment. Etienne could sleep in the shop, on a mattress on the floor, that was all.
“No, no,” said Lantier, “I cannot accept. It would inconvenience you too much. I know that it’s willingly offered, but we should be too warm all jumbled up together. Besides, you know, each one likes his liberty. I should have to go through your room, and that wouldn’t be exactly funny.”
“Ah, the rogue!” resumed the zinc-worker, choking with laughter, banging his fist down on the table, “he’s always thinking of something smutty! But, you joker, we’re of an inventive turn of mind! There’re two windows in the room, aren’t there? Well, we’ll knock one out and turn it into a door. Then, you understand you come in by way of the courtyard, and we can even stop up the other door, if we like. Thus you’ll be in your home, and we in ours.”
A pause ensued. At length the hatter murmured:
“Ah, yes, in that manner perhaps we might. And yet no, I should be too much in your way.”
He avoided looking at Gervaise. But he was evidently waiting for a word from her before accepting. She was very much annoyed at her husband’s idea; not that the thought of seeing Lantier living with them wounded her feelings, or made her particularly uneasy, but she was wondering where she would be able to keep the dirty clothes. Coupeau was going on about the advantages of the arrangement. Their rent, five hundred francs, had always been a bit steep. Their friend could pay twenty francs a month for a nicely furnished room and it would help them with the rent. He would be responsible for fixing up a big box under their bed that would be large enough to hold all the dirty clothes. Gervaise still hesitated. She looked toward mother Coupeau for guidance. Lantier had won over mother Coupeau months ago by bringing her gum drops for her cough.
“You would certainly not be in our way,” Gervaise ended by saying. “We could so arrange things —”
“No, no, thanks,” repeated the hatter. “You’re too kind; it would be asking too much.”
Coupeau could no longer restrain himself. Was he going to continue making objections when they told him it was freely offered? He would be obliging them. There, did he understand? Then in an excited tone of voice he yelled:
The youngster had fallen asleep on the table. He raised his head with a start.
“Listen, tell him that you wish it. Yes, that gentleman there. Tell him as loud as you can: ‘I wish it!’”
“I wish it!” stuttered Etienne, his voice thick with sleep.
Everyone laughed. But Lantier resumed his grave and impressive air. He squeezed Coupeau’s hand across the table as he said:
“I accept. It’s in all good fellowship on both sides, is it not? Yes, I accept for the child’s sake.”
The next day when the landlord, Monsieur Marescot, came to spend an hour with the Boches, Gervaise mentioned the matter to him. He refused angrily at first. Then, after a careful inspection of the premises, particularly gazing upward to verify that the upper floors would not be weakened, he finally granted permission on condition there would be no expense to him. He had the Coupeaus sign a paper saying they would restore everything to its original state on the expiration of the lease.
Coupeau brought in some friends of his that very evening — a mason, a carpenter and a painter. They would do this job in the evenings as a favor to him. Still, installing the door and cleaning up the room cost over one hundred francs, not counting the wine that kept the work going. Coupeau told his friends he’d pay them something later, out of the rent from his tenant.
Then the furniture for the room had to be sorted out. Gervaise left mother Coupeau’s wardrobe where it was, and added a table and two chairs taken from her own room. She had to buy a washing-stand and a bed with mattress and bedclothes, costing one hundred and thirty francs, which she was to pay off at ten francs a month. Although Lantier’s twenty francs would be used to pay off these debts for ten months, there would be a nice little profit later.
It was during the early days of June that the hatter moved in. The day before, Coupeau had offered to go with him and fetch his box, to save him the thirty sous for a cab. But the other became quite embarrassed, saying that the box was too heavy, as though he wished up to the last moment to hide the place where he lodged. He arrived in the afternoon towards three o’clock. Coupeau did not happen to be in. And Gervaise, standing at the shop door became quite pale on recognizing the box outside the cab. It was their old box, the one with which they had journeyed from Plassans, all scratched and broken now and held together by cords. She saw it return as she had often dreamt it would and it needed no great stretch of imagination to believe that the same cab, that cab in which that strumpet of a burnisher had played her such a foul trick, had brought the box back again. Meanwhile Boche was giving Lantier a helping hand. The laundress followed them in silence and feeling rather dazed. When they had deposited their burden in the middle of the room she said for the sake of saying something:
“Well! That’s a good thing finished, isn’t it?”
Then pulling herself together, seeing that Lantier, busy in undoing the cords was not even looking at her, she added:
“Monsieur Boche, you must have a drink.”
And she went and fetched a quart of wine and some glasses.
Just then Poisson passed along the pavement in uniform. She signaled to him, winking her eye and smiling. The policeman understood perfectly. When he was on duty and anyone winked their eye to him it meant a glass of wine. He would even walk for hours up and down before the laundry waiting for a wink. Then so as not to be seen, he would pass through the courtyard and toss off the liquor in secret.
“Ah! ah!” said Lantier when he saw him enter, “it’s you, Badingue.”
He called him Badingue for a joke, just to show how little he cared for the Emperor. Poisson put up with it in his stiff way without one knowing whether it really annoyed him or not. Besides the two men, though separated by their political convictions, had become very good friends.
“You know that the Emperor was once a policeman in London,” said Boche in his turn. “Yes, on my word! He used to take the drunken women to the station-house.”
Gervaise had filled three glasses on the table. She would not drink herself, she felt too sick at heart, but she stood there longing to see what the box contained and watching Lantier remove the last cords. Before raising the lid Lantier took his glass and clinked it with the others.
“Same to you,” replied Boche and Poisson.
The laundress filled the glasses again. The three men wiped their lips on the backs of their hands. And at last the hatter opened the box. It was full of a jumble of newspapers, books, old clothes and underlinen, in bundles. He took out successively a saucepan, a pair of boots, a bust of Ledru–Rollin with the nose broken, an embroidered shirt and a pair of working trousers. Gervaise could smell the odor of tobacco and that of a man whose linen wasn’t too clean, one who took care only of the outside, of what people could see.
The old hat was no longer in the left corner. There was a pincushion she did not recognize, doubtless a present from some woman. She became calmer, but felt a vague sadness as she continued to watch the objects that appeared, wondering if they were from her time or from the time of others.
“I say, Badingue, do you know this?” resumed Lantier.
He thrust under his nose a little book printed at Brussels. “The Amours of Napoleon III.” Illustrated with engravings. It related, among other anecdotes, how the Emperor had seduced a girl of thirteen, the daughter of a cook; and the picture represented Napoleon III., bare-legged, and also wearing the grand ribbon of the Legion of Honor, pursuing a little girl who was trying to escape his lust.
“Ah! that’s it exactly!” exclaimed Boche, whose slyly ridiculous instincts felt flattered by the sight. “It always happens like that!”
Poisson was seized with consternation, and he could not find a word to say in the Emperor’s defense. It was in a book, so he could not deny it. Then, Lantier, continuing to push the picture under his nose in a jeering way, he extended his arms and exclaimed:
“Well, so what?”
Lantier didn’t reply, He busied himself arranging his books and newspapers on a shelf in the wardrobe. He seemed upset not to have a small bookshelf over his table, so Gervaise promised to get him one. He had “The History of Ten Years” by Louis Blanc (except for the first volume), Lamartine’s “The Girondins” in installments, “The Mysteries of Paris” and “The Wandering Jew” by Eugene Sue, and a quantity of booklets on philosophic and humanitarian subjects picked up from used book dealers.
His newspapers were his prized possessions, a collection made over a number of years. Whenever he read an article in a cafe that seemed to him to agree with his own ideas, he would buy that newspaper and keep it. He had an enormous bundle of them, papers of every date and every title, piled up in no discernable order. He patted them and said to the other two:
“You see that? No one else can boast of having anything to match it. You can’t imagine all that’s in there. I mean, if they put into practice only half the ideas, it would clean up the social order overnight. That would be good medicine for your Emperor and all his stool pigeons.”
The policeman’s red mustache and beard began to bristle on his pale face and he interrupted:
“And the army, tell me, what are you going to do about that?”
Lantier flew into a passion. He banged his fists down on the newspapers as he yelled:
“I require the suppression of militarism, the fraternity of peoples. I require the abolition of privileges, of titles, and of monopolies. I require the equality of salaries, the division of benefits, the glorification of the protectorate. All liberties, do you hear? All of them! And divorce!”
“Yes, yes, divorce for morality!” insisted Boche.
Poisson had assumed a majestic air.
“Yet if I won’t have your liberties, I’m free to refuse them,” he answered.
Lantier was choking with passion.
“If you don’t want them — if you don’t want them —” he replied. “No, you’re not free at all! If you don’t want them, I’ll send you off to Devil’s Island. Yes, Devil’s Island with your Emperor and all the rats of his crew.”
They always quarreled thus every time they met. Gervaise, who did not like arguments, usually interfered. She roused herself from the torpor into which the sight of the box, full of the stale perfume of her past love, had plunged her, and she drew the three men’s attention to the glasses.
“Ah! yes,” said Lantier, becoming suddenly calm and taking his glass. “Good health!”
“Good health!” replied Boche and Poisson, clinking glasses with him.
Boche, however, was moving nervously about, troubled by an anxiety as he looked at the policeman out of the corner of his eye.
“All this between ourselves, eh, Monsieur Poisson?” murmured he at length. “We say and show you things to show off.”
But Poisson did not let him finish. He placed his hand upon his heart, as though to explain that all remained buried there. He certainly did not go spying about on his friends. Coupeau arriving, they emptied a second quart. Then the policeman went off by way of the courtyard and resumed his stiff and measured tread along the pavement.
At the beginning of the new arrangement, the entire routine of the establishment was considerably upset. Lantier had his own separate room, with his own entrance and his own key. However, since they had decided not to close off the door between the rooms, he usually came and went through the shop. Besides, the dirty clothes were an inconvenience to Gervaise because her husband never made the case he had promised and she had to tuck the dirty laundry into any odd corner she could find. They usually ended up under the bed and this was not very pleasant on warm summer nights. She also found it a nuisance having to make up Etienne’s bed every evening in the shop. When her employees worked late, the lad had to sleep in a chair until they finished.
Goujet had mentioned sending Etienne to Lille where a machinist he knew was looking for apprentices. As the boy was unhappy at home and eager to be out on his own, Gervaise seriously considered the proposal. Her only fear was that Lantier would refuse. Since he had come to live with them solely to be near his son, surely he wouldn’t want to lose him only two weeks after he moved in. However he approved whole-heartedly when she timidly broached the matter to him. He said that young men needed to see a bit of the country. The morning that Etienne left Lantier made a speech to him, kissed him and ended by saying:
“Never forget that a workingman is not a slave, and that whoever is not a workingman is a lazy drone.”
The household was now able to get into the new routine. Gervaise became accustomed to having dirty laundry lying all around. Lantier was forever talking of important business deals. Sometimes he went out, wearing fresh linen and neatly combed. He would stay out all night and on his return pretend that he was completely exhausted because he had been discussing very serious matters. Actually he was merely taking life easy. He usually slept until ten. In the afternoons he would take a walk if the weather was nice. If it was raining, he would sit in the shop reading his newspaper. This atmosphere suited him. He always felt at his ease with women and enjoyed listening to them.
Lantier first took his meals at Francois’s, at the corner of the Rue des Poissonniers. But of the seven days in the week he dined with the Coupeaus on three or four; so much so that he ended by offering to board with them and to pay them fifteen francs every Saturday. From that time he scarcely ever left the house, but made himself completely at home there. Morning to night he was in the shop, even giving orders and attending to customers.
Lantier didn’t like the wine from Francois’s, so he persuaded Gervaise to buy her wine from Vigouroux, the coal-dealer. Then he decided that Coudeloup’s bread was not baked to his satisfaction, so he sent Augustine to the Viennese bakery on the Faubourg Poissonniers for their bread. He changed from the grocer Lehongre but kept the butcher, fat Charles, because of his political opinions. After a month he wanted all the cooking done with olive oil. Clemence joked that with a Provencal like him you could never wash out the oil stains. He wanted his omelets fried on both sides, as hard as pancakes. He supervised mother Coupeau’s cooking, wanting his steaks cooked like shoe leather and with garlic on everything. He got angry if she put herbs in the salad.
“They’re just weeds and some of them might be poisonous,” he declared. His favorite soup was made with over-boiled vermicelli. He would pour in half a bottle of olive oil. Only he and Gervaise could eat this soup, the others being too used to Parisian cooking.
Little by little Lantier also came to mixing himself up in the affairs of the family. As the Lorilleuxs always grumbled at having to part with the five francs for mother Coupeau, he explained that an action could be brought against them. They must think that they had a set of fools to deal with! It was ten francs a month which they ought to give! And he would go up himself for the ten francs so boldly and yet so amiably that the chainmaker never dared refuse them. Madame Lerat also gave two five-franc pieces now. Mother Coupeau could have kissed Lantier’s hands. He was, moreover, the grand arbiter in all the quarrels between the old woman and Gervaise. Whenever the laundress, in a moment of impatience, behaved roughly to her mother-in-law and the latter went and cried on her bed, he hustled them about and made them kiss each other, asking them if they thought themselves amusing with their bad tempers.
And Nana, too; she was being brought up badly, according to his idea. In that he was right, for whenever the father spanked the child, the mother took her part, and if the mother, in her turn, boxed her ears, the father made a disturbance. Nana delighted at seeing her parents abuse each other, and knowing that she was forgiven beforehand, was up to all kinds of tricks. Her latest mania was to go and play in the blacksmith shop opposite; she would pass the entire day swinging on the shafts of the carts; she would hide with bands of urchins in the remotest corners of the gray courtyard, lighted up with the red glare of the forge; and suddenly she would reappear, running and shouting, unkempt and dirty and followed by the troop of urchins, as though a sudden clash of the hammers had frightened the ragamuffins away. Lantier alone could scold her; and yet she knew perfectly well how to get over him. This tricky little girl of ten would walk before him like a lady, swinging herself about and casting side glances at him, her eyes already full of vice. He had ended by undertaking her education: he taught her to dance and to talk patois.
A year passed thus. In the neighborhood it was thought that Lantier had a private income, for this was the only way to account for the Coupeaus’ grand style of living. No doubt Gervaise continued to earn money; but now that she had to support two men in doing nothing, the shop certainly could not suffice; more especially as the shop no longer had so good a reputation, customers were leaving and the workwomen were tippling from morning till night. The truth was that Lantier paid nothing, neither for rent nor board. During the first months he had paid sums on account, then he had contented himself with speaking of a large amount he was going to receive, with which later on he would pay off everything in a lump sum. Gervaise no longer dared ask him for a centime. She had the bread, the wine, the meat, all on credit. The bills increased everywhere at the rate of three and four francs a day. She had not paid a sou to the furniture dealer nor to the three comrades, the mason, the carpenter and the painter. All these people commenced to grumble, and she was no longer greeted with the same politeness at the shops.
She was as though intoxicated by a mania for getting into debt; she tried to drown her thoughts, ordered the most expensive things, and gave full freedom to her gluttony now that she no longer paid for anything; she remained withal very honest at heart, dreaming of earning from morning to night hundreds of francs, though she did not exactly know how, to enable her to distribute handfuls of five-franc pieces to her tradespeople. In short, she was sinking, and as she sank lower and lower she talked of extending her business. Instead she went deeper into debt. Clemence left around the middle of the summer because there was no longer enough work for two women and she had not been paid in several weeks.
During this impending ruin, Coupeau and Lantier were, in effect, devouring the shop and growing fat on the ruin of the establishment. At table they would challenge each other to take more helpings and slap their rounded stomachs to make more room for dessert.
The great subject of conversation in the neighborhood was as to whether Lantier had really gone back to his old footing with Gervaise. On this point opinions were divided. According to the Lorilleuxs, Clump–Clump was doing everything she could to hook Lantier again, but he would no longer have anything to do with her because she was getting old and faded and he had plenty of younger girls that were prettier. On the other hand, according to the Boches, Gervaise had gone back to her former mate the very first night, just as soon as poor Coupeau had gone to sleep. The picture was not pretty, but there were a lot of worse things in life, so folks ended by accepting the threesome as altogether natural. In fact, they thought them rather nice since there were never any fights and the outward decencies remained. Certainly if you stuck your nose into some of the other neighborhood households you could smell far worse things. So what if they slept together like a nice little family. It never kept the neighbors awake. Besides, everyone was still very much impressed by Lantier’s good manners. His charm helped greatly to keep tongues from wagging. Indeed, when the fruit dealer insisted to the tripe seller that there had been no intimacies, the latter appeared to feel that this was really too bad, because it made the Coupeaus less interesting.
Gervaise was quite at her ease in this matter, and not much troubled with these thoughts. Things reached the point that she was accused of being heartless. The family did not understand why she continued to bear a grudge against the hatter. Madame Lerat now came over every evening. She considered Lantier as utterly irresistible and said that most ladies would be happy to fall into his arms. Madame Boche declared that her own virtue would not be safe if she were ten years younger. There was a sort of silent conspiracy to push Gervaise into the arms of Lantier, as if all the women around her felt driven to satisfy their own longings by giving her a lover. Gervaise didn’t understand this because she no longer found Lantier seductive. Certainly he had changed for the better. He had gotten a sort of education in the cafes and political meetings but she knew him well. She could pierce to the depths of his soul and she found things there that still gave her the shivers. Well, if the others found him so attractive, why didn’t they try it themselves. In the end she suggested this one day to Virginie who seemed the most eager. Then, to excite Gervaise, Madame Lerat and Virginie told her of the love of Lantier and tall Clemence. Yes, she had not noticed anything herself; but as soon as she went out on an errand, the hatter would bring the workgirl into his room. Now people met them out together; he probably went to see her at her own place.
“Well,” said the laundress, her voice trembling slightly, “what can it matter to me?”
She looked straight into Virginie’s eyes. Did this woman still have it in for her?
Virginie replied with an air of innocence:
“It can’t matter to you, of course. Only, you ought to advise him to break off with that girl, who is sure to cause him some unpleasantness.”
The worst of it was that Lantier, feeling himself supported by public opinion, changed altogether in his behavior towards Gervaise. Now, whenever he shook hands with her, he held her fingers for a minute between his own. He tried her with his glance, fixing a bold look upon her, in which she clearly read that he wanted her. If he passed behind her, he dug his knees into her skirt, or breathed upon her neck. Yet he waited a while before being rough and openly declaring himself. But one evening, finding himself alone with her, he pushed her before him without a word, and viewed her all trembling against the wall at the back of the shop, and tried to kiss her. It so chanced that Goujet entered just at that moment. Then she struggled and escaped. And all three exchanged a few words, as though nothing had happened. Goujet, his face deadly pale, looked on the ground, fancying that he had disturbed them, and that she had merely struggled so as not to be kissed before a third party.
The next day Gervaise moved restlessly about the shop. She was miserable and unable to iron even a single handkerchief. She only wanted to see Goujet and explain to him how Lantier happened to have pinned her against the wall. But since Etienne had gone to Lille, she had hesitated to visit Goujet’s forge where she felt she would be greeted by his fellow workers with secret laughter. This afternoon, however, she yielded to the impulse. She took an empty basket and went out under the pretext of going for the petticoats of her customer on Rue des Portes–Blanches. Then, when she reached Rue Marcadet, she walked very slowly in front of the bolt factory, hoping for a lucky meeting. Goujet must have been hoping to see her, too, for within five minutes he came out as if by chance.
“You have been on an errand,” he said, smiling. “And now you are on your way home.”
Actually Gervaise had her back toward Rue des Poissonniers. He only said that for something to say. They walked together up toward Montmartre, but without her taking his arm. They wanted to get a bit away from the factory so as not to seem to be having a rendezvous in front of it. They turned into a vacant lot between a sawmill and a button factory. It was like a small green meadow. There was even a goat tied to a stake.
“It’s strange,” remarked Gervaise. “You’d think you were in the country.”
The went to sit under a dead tree. Gervaise placed the laundry basket by her feet.
“Yes,” Gervaise said, “I had an errand to do, and so I came out.”
She felt deeply ashamed and was afraid to try to explain. Yet she realized that they had come here to discuss it. It remained a troublesome burden.
Then, all in a rush, with tears in her eyes, she told him of the death that morning of Madame Bijard, her washerwoman. She had suffered horrible agonies.
“Her husband caused it by kicking her in the stomach,” she said in a monotone. “He must have damaged her insides. Mon Dieu! She was in agony for three days with her stomach all swelled up. Plenty of scoundrels have been sent to the galleys for less than that, but the courts won’t concern themselves with a wife-beater. Especially since the woman said she had hurt herself falling. She wanted to save him from the scaffold, but she screamed all night long before she died.”
Goujet clenched his hands and remained silent.
“She weaned her youngest only two weeks ago, little Jules,” Gervaise went on. “That’s lucky for the baby, he won’t have to suffer. Still, there’s the child Lalie and she has two babies to look after. She isn’t eight yet, but she’s already sensible. Her father will beat her now even more than before.”
Goujet gazed at her silently. Then, his lips trembling:
“You hurt me yesterday, yes, you hurt me badly.”
Gervaise turned pale and clasped her hands as he continued.
“I thought it would happen. You should have told me, you should have trusted me enough to confess what was happening, so as not to leave me thinking that —”
Goujet could not finish the sentence. Gervaise stood up, realizing that he thought she had gone back with Lantier as the neighbors asserted. Stretching her arms toward him, she cried:
“No, no, I swear to you. He was pushing against me, trying to kiss me, but his face never even touched mine. It’s true, and that was the first time he tried. Oh, I swear on my life, on the life of my children, oh, believe me!”
Goujet was shaking his head. Gervaise said slowly:
“Monsieur Goujet, you know me well. You know that I do not lie. On my word of honor, it never happened, and it never will, do you understand? Never! I’d be the lowest of the low if it ever happened, and I wouldn’t deserve the friendship of an honest man like you.”
She seemed so sincere that he took her hand and made her sit down again. He could breathe freely; his heart rejoiced. This was the first time he had ever held her hand like this. He pressed it in his own and they both sat quietly for a time.
“I know your mother doesn’t like me,” Gervaise said in a low voice. “Don’t bother to deny it. We owe you so much money.”
He squeezed her hand tightly. He didn’t want to talk of money. Finally he said:
“I’ve been thinking of something for a long time. You are not happy where you are. My mother tells me things are getting worse for you. Well, then, we can go away together.”
She didn’t understand at first and stared at him, startled by this sudden declaration of a love that he had never mentioned.
Finally she asked:
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll get away from here,” he said, looking down at the ground. “We’ll go live somewhere else, in Belgium, if you wish. With both of us working, we would soon be very comfortable.”
Gervaise flushed. She thought she would have felt less shame if he had taken her in his arms and kissed her. Goujet was an odd fellow, proposing to elope, just the way it happens in novels. Well, she had seen plenty of workingmen making up to married women, but they never took them even as far as Saint–Denis.
“Ah, Monsieur Goujet,” she murmured, not knowing what else to say.
“Don’t you see?” he said. “There would only be the two of us. It annoys me having others around.”
Having regained her self-possession, however, she refused his proposal.
“It’s impossible, Monsieur Goujet. It would be very wrong. I’m a married woman and I have children. We’d soon regret it. I know you care for me, and I care for you also, too much to let you do anything foolish. It’s much better to stay just as we are. We have respect for each other and that’s a lot. It’s been a comfort to me many times. When people in our situation stay on the straight, it is better in the end.”
He nodded his head as he listened. He agreed with her and was unable to offer any arguments. Suddenly he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, crushing her. Then he let her go and said nothing more about their love. She wasn’t angry. She felt they had earned that small moment of pleasure.
Goujet now didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he went around picking dandelions and tossing them into her basket. This amused him and gradually soothed him. Gervaise was becoming relaxed and cheerful. When they finally left the vacant lot they walked side by side and talked of how much Etienne liked being at Lille. Her basket was full of yellow dandelions.
Gervaise, at heart, did not feel as courageous when with Lantier as she said. She was, indeed, perfectly resolved not to hear his flattery, even with the slightest interest; but she was afraid, if ever he should touch her, of her old cowardice, of that feebleness and gloominess into which she allowed herself to glide, just to please people. Lantier, however, did not avow his affection. He several times found himself alone with her and kept quiet. He seemed to think of marrying the tripe-seller, a woman of forty-five and very well preserved. Gervaise would talk of the tripe-seller in Goujet’s presence, so as to set his mind at ease. She would say to Virginie and Madame Lerat, whenever they were ringing the hatter’s praises, that he could very well do without her admiration, because all the women of the neighborhood were smitten with him.
Coupeau went braying about everywhere that Lantier was a friend and a true one. People might jabber about them; he knew what he knew and did not care a straw for their gossip, for he had respectability on his side. When they all three went out walking on Sundays, he made his wife and the hatter walk arm-in-arm before him, just by way of swaggering in the street; and he watched the people, quite prepared to administer a drubbing if anyone had ventured on the least joke. It was true that he regarded Lantier as a bit of a high flyer. He accused him of avoiding hard liquor and teased him because he could read and spoke like an educated man. Still, he accepted him as a regular comrade. They were ideally suited to each other and friendship between men is more substantial than love for a woman.
Coupeau and Lantier were forever going out junketing together. Lantier would now borrow money from Gervaise — ten francs, twenty francs at a time, whenever he smelt there was money in the house. Then on those days he would keep Coupeau away from his work, talk of some distant errand and take him with him. Then seated opposite to each other in the corner of some neighboring eating house, they would guzzle fancy dishes which one cannot get at home and wash them down with bottles of expensive wine. The zinc-worker would have preferred to booze in a less pretentious place, but he was impressed by the aristocratic tastes of Lantier, who would discover on the bill of fare dishes with the most extraordinary names.
It was hard to understand a man so hard to please. Maybe it was from being a southerner. Lantier didn’t like anything too rich and argued about every dish, sending back meat that was too salty or too peppery. He hated drafts. If a door was left open, he complained loudly. At the same time, he was very stingy, only giving the waiter a tip of two sous for a meal of seven or eight francs. He was treated with respect in spite of that.
The pair were well known along the exterior boulevards, from Batignolles to Belleville. They would go to the Grand Rue des Batignolles to eat tripe cooked in the Caen style. At the foot of Montmartre they obtained the best oysters in the neighborhood at the “Town of Bar-le-Duc.” When they ventured to the top of the height as far as the “Galette Windmill” they had a stewed rabbit. The “Lilacs,” in the Rue des Martyrs, had a reputation for their calf’s head, whilst the restaurant of the “Golden Lion” and the “Two Chestnut Trees,” in the Chaussee Clignancourt, served them stewed kidneys which made them lick their lips. Usually they went toward Belleville where they had tables reserved for them at some places of such excellent repute that you could order anything with your eyes closed. These eating sprees were always surreptitious and the next day they would refer to them indirectly while playing with the potatoes served by Gervaise. Once Lantier brought a woman with him to the “Galette Windmill” and Coupeau left immediately after dessert.
One naturally cannot both guzzle and work; so that ever since the hatter was made one of the family, the zinc-worker, who was already pretty lazy, had got to the point of never touching a tool. When tired of doing nothing, he sometimes let himself be prevailed upon to take a job. Then his comrade would look him up and chaff him unmercifully when he found him hanging to his knotty cord like a smoked ham, and he would call to him to come down and have a glass of wine. And that settled it. The zinc-worker would send the job to blazes and commence a booze which lasted days and weeks. Oh, it was a famous booze — a general review of all the dram shops of the neighborhood, the intoxication of the morning slept off by midday and renewed in the evening; the goes of “vitriol” succeeded one another, becoming lost in the depths of the night, like the Venetian lanterns of an illumination, until the last candle disappeared with the last glass! That rogue of a hatter never kept on to the end. He let the other get elevated, then gave him the slip and returned home smiling in his pleasant way. He could drink a great deal without people noticing it. When one got to know him well one could only tell it by his half-closed eyes and his overbold behavior to women. The zinc-worker, on the contrary, became quite disgusting, and could no longer drink without putting himself into a beastly state.
Thus, towards the beginning of November, Coupeau went in for a booze which ended in a most dirty manner, both for himself and the others. The day before he had been offered a job. This time Lantier was full of fine sentiments; he lauded work, because work ennobles a man. In the morning he even rose before it was light, for he gravely wished to accompany his friend to the workshop, honoring in him the workman really worthy of the name. But when they arrived before the “Little Civet,” which was just opening, they entered to have a plum in brandy, only one, merely to drink together to the firm observance of a good resolution. On a bench opposite the counter, and with his back against the wall, Bibi-the-Smoker was sitting smoking with a sulky look on his face.
“Hallo! Here’s Bibi having a snooze,” said Coupeau. “Are you down in the dumps, old bloke?”
“No, no,” replied the comrade, stretching his arm. “It’s the employers who disgust me. I sent mine to the right about yesterday. They’re all toads and scoundrels.”
Bibi-the-Smoker accepted a plum. He was, no doubt, waiting there on that bench for someone to stand him a drink. Lantier, however, took the part of the employers; they often had some very hard times, as he who had been in business himself well knew. The workers were a bad lot, forever getting drunk! They didn’t take their work seriously. Sometimes they quit in the middle of a job and only returned when they needed something in their pockets. Then Lantier would switch his attack to the employers. They were nasty exploiters, regular cannibals. But he could sleep with a clear conscience as he had always acted as a friend to his employees. He didn’t want to get rich the way others did.
“Let’s be off, my boy,” he said, speaking to Coupeau. “We must be going or we shall be late.”
Bibi-the-Smoker followed them, swinging his arms. Outside the sun was scarcely rising, the pale daylight seemed dirtied by the muddy reflection of the pavement; it had rained the night before and it was very mild. The gas lamps had just been turned out; the Rue des Poissonniers, in which shreds of night rent by the houses still floated, was gradually filling with the dull tramp of the workmen descending towards Paris. Coupeau, with his zinc-worker’s bag slung over his shoulder, walked along in the imposing manner of a fellow who feels in good form for a change. He turned round and asked:
“Bibi, do you want a job. The boss told me to bring a pal if I could.”
“No thanks,” answered Bibi-the-Smoker; “I’m purging myself. You should ask My–Boots. He was looking for something yesterday. Wait a minute. My–Boots is most likely in there.”
And as they reached the bottom of the street they indeed caught sight of My–Boots inside Pere Colombe’s. In spite of the early hour l’Assommoir was flaring, the shutters down, the gas lighted. Lantier stood at the door, telling Coupeau to make haste, because they had only ten minutes left.
“What! You’re going to work for that rascal Bourguignon?” yelled My–Boots, when the zinc-worker had spoken to him. “You’ll never catch me in his hutch again! No, I’d rather go till next year with my tongue hanging out of my mouth. But, old fellow, you won’t stay three days, and it’s I who tell you so.”
“Really now, is it such a dirty hole?” asked Coupeau anxiously.
“Oh, it’s about the dirtiest. You can’t move there. The ape’s for ever on your back. And such queer ways too — a missus who always says you’re drunk, a shop where you mustn’t spit. I sent them to the right about the first night, you know.”
“Good; now I’m warned. I shan’t stop there for ever. I’ll just go this morning to see what it’s like; but if the boss bothers me, I’ll catch him up and plant him upon his missus, you know, bang together like two fillets of sole!”
Then Coupeau thanked his friend for the useful information and shook his hand. As he was about to leave, My–Boots cursed angrily. Was that lousy Bourguignon going to stop them from having a drink? Weren’t they free any more? He could well wait another five minutes. Lantier came in to share in the round and they stood together at the counter. My–Boots, with his smock black with dirt and his cap flattened on his head had recently been proclaimed king of pigs and drunks after he had eaten a salad of live beetles and chewed a piece of a dead cat.
“Say there, old Borgia,” he called to Pere Colombe, “give us some of your yellow stuff, first class mule’s wine.”
And when Pere Colombe, pale and quiet in his blue-knitted waistcoat, had filled the four glasses, these gentlemen tossed them off, so as not to let the liquor get flat.
“That does some good when it goes down,” murmured Bibi-the-Smoker.
The comic My–Boots had a story to tell. He was so drunk on the Friday that his comrades had stuck his pipe in his mouth with a handful of plaster. Anyone else would have died of it; he merely strutted about and puffed out his chest.
“Do you gentlemen require anything more?” asked Pere Colombe in his oily voice.
“Yes, fill us up again,” said Lantier. “It’s my turn.”
Now they were talking of women. Bibi-the-Smoker had taken his girl to an aunt’s at Montrouge on the previous Sunday. Coupeau asked for the news of the “Indian Mail,” a washerwoman of Chaillot who was known in the establishment. They were about to drink, when My–Boots loudly called to Goujet and Lorilleux who were passing by. They came just to the door, but would not enter. The blacksmith did not care to take anything. The chainmaker, pale and shivering, held in his pocket the gold chains he was going to deliver; and he coughed and asked them to excuse him, saying that the least drop of brandy would nearly make him split his sides.
“There are hypocrites for you!” grunted My–Boots. “I bet they have their drinks on the sly.”
And when he had poked his nose in his glass he attacked Pere Colombe.
“Vile druggist, you’ve changed the bottle! You know it’s no good your trying to palm your cheap stuff off on me.”
The day had advanced; a doubtful sort of light lit up l’Assommoir, where the landlord was turning out the gas. Coupeau found excuses for his brother-in-law who could not stand drink, which after all was no crime. He even approved Goujet’s behavior for it was a real blessing never to be thirsty. And as he talked of going off to his work Lantier, with his grand air of a gentleman, sharply gave him a lesson. One at least stood one’s turn before sneaking off; one should not leave one’s friends like a mean blackguard, even when going to do one’s duty.
“Is he going to badger us much longer about his work?” cried My–Boots.
“So this is your turn, sir?” asked Pere Colombe of Coupeau.
The latter paid. But when it came to Bibi-the-Smoker’s turn he whispered to the landlord who refused with a shake of the head. My–Boots understood, and again set to abusing the old Jew Colombe. What! A rascal like him dared to behave in that way to a comrade! Everywhere else one could get drink on tick! It was only in such low boozing-dens that one was insulted! The landlord remained calm, leaning his big fists on the edge of the counter. He politely said:
“Lend the gentleman some money — that will be far simpler.”
“Mon Dieu! Yes, I’ll lend him some,” yelled My–Boots. “Here! Bibi, throw this money in his face, the limb of Satan!”
Then, excited and annoyed at seeing Coupeau with his bag slung over his shoulder, he continued speaking to the zinc-worker:
“You look like a wet-nurse. Drop your brat. It’ll give you a hump-back.”
Coupeau hesitated an instant; and then, quietly, as though he had only made up his mind after considerable reflection, he laid his bag on the ground saying:
“It’s too late now. I’ll go to Bourguignon’s after lunch. I’ll tell him that the missus was ill. Listen, Pere Colombe, I’ll leave my tools under this seat and I’ll call for them at twelve o’clock.”
Lantier gave his blessing to this arrangement with an approving nod. Labor was necessary, yes, but when you’re with good friends, courtesy comes first. Now the four had five hours of idleness before them. They were full of noisy merriment. Coupeau was especially relieved. They had another round and then went to a small bar that had a billiard table.
At first Lantier turned up his nose at this establishment because it was rather shabby. So much liquor had been spilled on the billiard table that the balls stuck to it. Once the game got started though, Lantier recovered his good humor and began to flaunt his extraordinary knack with a cue.
When lunch time came Coupeau had an idea. He stamped his feet and cried:
“We must go and fetch Salted–Mouth. I know where he’s working. We’ll take him to Mere Louis’ to have some pettitoes.”
The idea was greeted with acclamation. Yes, Salted–Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, was no doubt in want of some pettitoes. They started off. Coupeau took them to the bolt factory in the Rue Marcadet. As they arrived a good half hour before the time the workmen came out, the zinc-worker gave a youngster two sous to go in and tell Salted–Mouth that his wife was ill and wanted him at once. The blacksmith made his appearance, waddling in his walk, looking very calm, and scenting a tuck-out.
“Ah! you jokers!” said he, as soon as he caught sight of them hiding in a doorway. “I guessed it. Well, what are we going to eat?”
At mother Louis’, whilst they sucked the little bones of the pettitoes, they again fell to abusing the employers. Salted–Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, related that they had a most pressing order to execute at the shop. Oh! the ape was pleasant for the time being. One could be late, and he would say nothing; he no doubt considered himself lucky when one turned up at all. At any rate, no boss would dare to throw Salted–Mouth out the door, because you couldn’t find lads of his capacity any more. After the pettitoes they had an omelet. When each of them had emptied his bottle, Mere Louis brought out some Auvergne wine, thick enough to cut with a knife. The party was really warming up.
“What do you think is the ape’s latest idea?” cried Salted–Mouth at dessert. “Why, he’s been and put a bell up in his shed! A bell! That’s good for slaves. Ah, well! It can ring to-day! They won’t catch me again at the anvil! For five days past I’ve been sticking there; I may give myself a rest now. If he deducts anything, I’ll send him to blazes.”
“I,” said Coupeau, with an air of importance, “I’m obliged to leave you; I’m off to work. Yes, I promised my wife. Amuse yourselves; my spirit you know remains with my pals.”
The others chuffed him. But he seemed so decided that they all accompanied him when he talked of going to fetch his tools from Pere Colombe’s. He took his bag from under the seat and laid it on the ground before him whilst they had a final drink. But at one o’clock the party was still standing drinks. Then Coupeau, with a bored gesture placed the tools back again under the seat. They were in his way; he could not get near the counter without stumbling against them. It was too absurd; he would go to Bourguignon’s on the morrow. The other four, who were quarrelling about the question of salaries, were not at all surprised when the zinc-worker, without any explanation, proposed a little stroll on the Boulevard, just to stretch their legs. They didn’t go very far. They seemed to have nothing to say to each other out in the fresh air. Without even consulting each other with so much as a nudge, they slowly and instinctively ascended the Rue des Poissonniers, where they went to Francois’s and had a glass of wine out of the bottle. Lantier pushed his comrades inside the private room at the back; it was a narrow place with only one table in it, and was separated from the shop by a dull glazed partition. He liked to do his drinking in private rooms because it seemed more respectable. Didn’t they like it here? It was as comfortable as being at home. You could even take a nap here without being embarrassed. He called for the newspaper, spread it out open before him, and looked through it, frowning the while. Coupeau and My–Boots had commenced a game of piquet. Two bottles of wine and five glasses were scattered about the table.
They emptied their glasses. Then Lantier read out loud:
“A frightful crime has just spread consternation throughout the Commune of Gaillon, Department of Seine-et-Marne. A son has killed his father with blows from a spade in order to rob him of thirty sous.”
They all uttered a cry of horror. There was a fellow whom they would have taken great pleasure in seeing guillotined! No, the guillotine was not enough; he deserved to be cut into little pieces. The story of an infanticide equally aroused their indignation; but the hatter, highly moral, found excuses for the woman, putting all the wrong on the back of her husband; for after all, if some beast of a man had not put the wretched woman into the way of bleak poverty, she could not have drowned it in a water closet.
They were most delighted though by the exploit of a Marquis who, coming out of a dance hall at two in the morning, had defended himself against an attack by three blackguards on the Boulevard des Invalides. Without taking off his gloves, he had disposed of the first two villains by ramming his head into their stomachs, and then had marched the third one off to the police. What a man! Too bad he was a noble.
“Listen to this now,” continued Lantier. “Here’s some society news: ‘A marriage is arranged between the eldest daughter of the Countess de Bretigny and the young Baron de Valancay, aide-de-camp to His Majesty. The wedding trousseau will contain more than three hundred thousand francs’ worth of lace.”
“What’s that to us?” interrupted Bibi-the-Smoker. “We don’t want to know the color of her mantle. The girl can have no end of lace; nevertheless she’ll see the folly of loving.”
As Lantier seemed about to continue his reading, Salted–Mouth, otherwise Drink-without-Thirst, took the newspaper from him and sat upon it, saying:
“Ah! no, that’s enough! This is all the paper is good for.”
Meanwhile, My–Boots, who had been looking at his hand, triumphantly banged his fist down on the table. He scored ninety-three.
“I’ve got the Revolution!” he exulted.
“You’re out of luck, comrade,” the others told Coupeau.
They ordered two fresh bottles. The glasses were filled up again as fast as they were emptied, the booze increased. Towards five o’clock it began to get disgusting, so much so that Lantier kept very quiet, thinking of how to give the others the slip; brawling and throwing the wine about was no longer his style. Just then Coupeau stood up to make the drunkard’s sign of the cross. Touching his head he pronounced Montpernasse, then Menilmonte as he brought his hand to his right shoulder, Bagnolet giving himself a blow in the chest, and wound up by saying stewed rabbit three times as he hit himself in the pit of the stomach. Then the hatter took advantage of the clamor which greeted the performance of this feat and quietly made for the door. His comrades did not even notice his departure. He had already had a pretty good dose. But once outside he shook himself and regained his self-possession; and he quietly made for the shop, where he told Gervaise that Coupeau was with some friends.
Two days passed by. The zinc-worker had not returned. He was reeling about the neighborhood, but no one knew exactly where. Several persons, however, stated that they had seen him at mother Baquet’s, at the “Butterfly,” and at the “Little Old Man with a Cough.” Only some said that he was alone, whilst others affirmed that he was in the company of seven or eight drunkards like himself. Gervaise shrugged her shoulders in a resigned sort of way. Mon Dieu! She just had to get used to it. She never ran about after her old man; she even went out of her way if she caught sight of him inside a wineshop, so as to not anger him; and she waited at home till he returned, listening at night-time to hear if he was snoring outside the door. He would sleep on a rubbish heap, or on a seat, or in a piece of waste land, or across a gutter. On the morrow, after having only badly slept off his booze of the day before, he would start off again, knocking at the doors of all the consolation dealers, plunging afresh into a furious wandering, in the midst of nips of spirits, glasses of wine, losing his friends and then finding them again, going regular voyages from which he returned in a state of stupor, seeing the streets dance, the night fall and the day break, without any other thought than to drink and sleep off the effects wherever he happened to be. When in the latter state, the world was ended so far as he was concerned. On the second day, however, Gervaise went to Pere Colombe’s l’Assommoir to find out something about him; he had been there another five times, they were unable to tell her anything more. All she could do was to take away his tools which he had left under a seat.
In the evening Lantier, seeing that the laundress seemed very worried, offered to take her to a music-hall, just by way of passing a pleasant hour or two. She refused at first, she was in no mood for laughing. Otherwise she would not have said, “no,” for the hatter made the proposal in too straightforward a manner for her to feel any mistrust. He seemed to feel for her in quite a paternal way. Never before had Coupeau slept out two nights running. So that in spite of herself, she would go every ten minutes to the door, with her iron in her hand, and look up and down the street to see if her old man was coming.
It might be that Coupeau had broken a leg, or fallen under a wagon and been crushed and that might be good riddance to bad rubbish. She saw no reason for cherishing in her heart any affection for a filthy character like him, but it was irritating, all the same, to have to wonder every night whether he would come in or not. When it got dark, Lantier again suggested the music-hall, and this time she accepted. She decided it would be silly to deny herself a little pleasure when her husband had been out on the town for three days. If he wasn’t coming in, then she might as well go out herself. Let the entire dump burn up if it felt like it. She might even put a torch to it herself. She was getting tired of the boring monotony of her present life.
They ate their dinner quickly. Then, when she went off at eight o’clock, arm-in-arm with the hatter, Gervaise told mother Coupeau and Nana to go to bed at once. The shop was shut and the shutters up. She left by the door opening into the courtyard and gave Madame Boche the key, asking her, if her pig of a husband came home, to have the kindness to put him to bed. The hatter was waiting for her under the big doorway, arrayed in his best and whistling a tune. She had on her silk dress. They walked slowly along the pavement, keeping close to each other, lighted up by the glare from the shop windows which showed them smiling and talking together in low voices.
The music-hall was in the Boulevard de Rochechouart. It had originally been a little cafe and had been enlarged by means of a kind of wooden shed erected in the courtyard. At the door a string of glass globes formed a luminous porch. Tall posters pasted on boards stood upon the ground, close to the gutter.
“Here we are,” said Lantier. “To-night, first appearance of Mademoiselle Amanda, serio-comic.”
Then he caught sight of Bibi-the-Smoker, who was also reading the poster. Bibi had a black eye; some punch he had run up against the day before.
“Well! Where’s Coupeau?” inquired the hatter, looking about. “Have you, then, lost Coupeau?”
“Oh! long ago, since yesterday,” replied the other. “There was a bit of a free-for-all on leaving mother Baquet’s. I don’t care for fisticuffs. We had a row, you know, with mother Baquet’s pot-boy, because he wanted to make us pay for a quart twice over. Then I left. I went and had a bit of a snooze.”
He was still yawning; he had slept eighteen hours at a stretch. He was, moreover, quite sobered, with a stupid look on his face, and his jacket smothered with fluff; for he had no doubt tumbled into bed with his clothes on.
“And you don’t know where my husband is, sir?” asked the laundress.
“Well, no, not a bit. It was five o’clock when we left mother Baquet’s. That’s all I know about it. Perhaps he went down the street. Yes, I fancy now that I saw him go to the ‘Butterfly’ with a coachman. Oh! how stupid it is! Really, we deserve to be shot.”
Lantier and Gervaise spent a very pleasant evening at the music-hall. At eleven o’clock when the place closed, they strolled home without hurrying themselves. The cold was quite sharp. People seemed to be in groups. Some of the girls were giggling in the darkness as their men pressed close to them. Lantier was humming one of Mademoiselle Amanda’s songs. Gervaise, with her head spinning from too much drink, hummed the refrain with him. It had been very warm at the music-hall and the two drinks she had had, along with all the smoke, had upset her stomach a bit. She had been quite impressed with Mademoiselle Amanda. She wouldn’t dare to appear in public wearing so little, but she had to admit that the lady had lovely skin.
“Everyone’s asleep,” said Gervaise, after ringing three times without the Boches opening the door.
At length the door opened, but inside the porch it was very dark, and when she knocked at the window of the concierge’s room to ask for her key, the concierge, who was half asleep, pulled out some rigmarole which she could make nothing of at first. She eventually understood that Poisson, the policeman, had brought Coupeau home in a frightful state, and that the key was no doubt in the lock.
“The deuce!” murmured Lantier, when they had entered, “whatever has he been up to here? The stench is abominable.”
There was indeed a most powerful stench. As Gervaise went to look for matches, she stepped into something messy. After she succeeded in lighting a candle, a pretty sight met their eyes. Coupeau appeared to have disgorged his very insides. The bed was splattered all over, so was the carpet, and even the bureau had splashes on its sides. Besides that, he had fallen from the bed where Poisson had probably thrown him, and was snoring on the floor in the midst of the filth like a pig wallowing in the mire, exhaling his foul breath through his open mouth. His grey hair was straggling into the puddle around his head.
“Oh! the pig! the pig!” repeated Gervaise, indignant and exasperated. “He’s dirtied everything. No, a dog wouldn’t have done that, even a dead dog is cleaner.”
They both hesitated to move, not knowing where to place their feet. Coupeau had never before come home and put the bedroom into such a shocking state. This sight was a blow to whatever affection his wife still had for him. Previously she had been forgiving and not seriously offended, even when he had been blind drunk. But this made her sick; it was too much. She wouldn’t have touched Coupeau for the world, and just the thought of this filthy bum touching her caused a repugnance such as she might have felt had she been required to sleep beside the corpse of someone who had died from a terrible disease.
“Oh, I must get into that bed,” murmured she. “I can’t go and sleep in the street. Oh! I’ll crawl into it foot first.”
She tried to step over the drunkard, but had to catch hold of a corner of the chest of drawers to save herself from slipping in the mess. Coupeau completely blocked the way to the bed. Then, Lantier, who laughed to himself on seeing that she certainly could not sleep on her own pillow that night, took hold of her hand, saying, in a low and angry voice:
“Gervaise, he is a pig.”
She understood what he meant and pulled her hand free. She sighed to herself, and, in her bewilderment, addressed him familiarly, as in the old days.
“No, leave me alone, Auguste. Go to your own bed. I’ll manage somehow to lie at the foot of the bed.”
“Come, Gervaise, don’t be foolish,” resumed he. “It’s too abominable; you can’t remain here. Come with me. He won’t hear us. What are you afraid of?”
“No,” she replied firmly, shaking her head vigorously. Then, to show that she would remain where she was, she began to take off her clothes, throwing her silk dress over a chair. She was quickly in only her chemise and petticoat. Well, it was her own bed. She wanted to sleep in her own bed and made two more attempts to reach a clean corner of the bed.
Lantier, having no intention of giving up, whispered things to her.
What a predicament she was in, with a louse of a husband that prevented her from crawling under her own blankets and a low skunk behind her just waiting to take advantage of the situation to possess her again. She begged Lantier to be quiet. Turning toward the small room where Nana and mother Coupeau slept, she listened anxiously. She could hear only steady breathing.
“Leave me alone, Auguste,” she repeated. “You’ll wake them. Be sensible.”
Lantier didn’t answer, but just smiled at her. Then he began to kiss her on the ear just as in the old days.
Gervaise felt like sobbing. Her strength deserted her; she felt a great buzzing in her ears, a violent tremor passed through her. She advanced another step forward. And she was again obliged to draw back. It was not possible, the disgust was too great. She felt on the verge of vomiting herself. Coupeau, overpowered by intoxication, lying as comfortably as though on a bed of down, was sleeping off his booze, without life in his limbs, and with his mouth all on one side. The whole street might have entered and laughed at him, without a hair of his body moving.
“Well, I can’t help it,” she faltered. “It’s his own fault. Mon Dieu! He’s forcing me out of my own bed. I’ve no bed any longer. No, I can’t help it. It’s his own fault.”
She was trembling so she scarcely knew what she was doing. While Lantier was urging her into his room, Nana’s face appeared at one of the glass panes in the door of the little room. The young girl, pale from sleep, had awakened and gotten out of bed quietly. She stared at her father lying in his vomit. Then, she stood watching until her mother disappeared into Lantier’s room. She watched with the intensity and the wide-open eyes of a vicious child aflame with curiosity.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02