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L'ASSOMMOIR

By Emile Zola



CHAPTER I

GERVAISE

Gervaise had waited and watched for Lantier until two in the morning.
Then chilled and shivering, she turned from the window and threw
herself across the bed, where she fell into a feverish doze with her
cheeks wet with tears. For the last week when they came out of the
Veau a Deux Tetes, where they ate, he had sent her off to bed with the
children and had not appeared until late into the night and always
with a story that he had been looking for work.

This very night, while she was watching for his return, she fancied
she saw him enter the ballroom of the Grand-Balcon, whose ten windows
blazing with lights illuminated, as with a sheet of fire, the black
lines of the outer boulevards. She caught a glimpse of Adele, a pretty
brunette who dined at their restaurant and who was walking a few steps
behind him, with her hands swinging as if she had just dropped his
arm, rather than pass before the bright light of the globes over the
door in his company.

When Gervaise awoke about five o'clock, stiff and sore, she burst into
wild sobs, for Lantier had not come in. For the first time he had
slept out. She sat on the edge of the bed, half shrouded in the canopy
of faded chintz that hung from the arrow fastened to the ceiling by a
string. Slowly, with her eyes suffused with tears, she looked around
this miserable _chambre garnie_, whose furniture consisted of a
chestnut bureau of which one drawer was absent, three straw chairs
and a greasy table on which was a broken-handled pitcher.

Another bedstead--an iron one--had been brought in for the children.
This stood in front of the bureau and filled up two thirds of the
room.

A trunk belonging to Gervaise and Lantier stood in the corner wide
open, showing its empty sides, while at the bottom a man's old hat lay
among soiled shirts and hose. Along the walls and on the backs of the
chairs hung a ragged shawl, a pair of muddy pantaloons and a dress or
two--all too bad for the old-clothes man to buy. In the middle of the
mantel between two mismated tin candlesticks was a bundle of pawn
tickets from the Mont-de-Piete. These tickets were of a delicate shade
of rose.

The room was the best in the hotel--the first floor looking out on the
boulevard.

Meanwhile side by side on the same pillow the two children lay calmly
sleeping. Claude, who was eight years old, was breathing calmly and
regularly with his little hands outside of the coverings, while
Etienne, only four, smiled with one arm under his brother's neck.

When their mother's eyes fell on them she had a new paroxysm of sobs
and pressed her handkerchief to her mouth to stifle them. Then with
bare feet, not stopping to put on her slippers which had fallen off,
she ran to the window out of which she leaned as she had done half the
night and inspected the sidewalks as far as she could see.

The hotel was on the Boulevard de la Chapelle, at the left of the
Barriere Poissonniers. It was a two-story building, painted a deep red
up to the first floor, and had disjointed weather-stained blinds.

Above a lantern with glass sides was a sign between the two windows:

HOTEL BONCOEUR

KEPT BY

MARSOULLIER

in large yellow letters, partially obliterated by the dampness.
Gervaise, who was prevented by the lantern from seeing as she desired,
leaned out still farther, with her handkerchief on her lips. She
looked to the right toward the Boulevard de Rochechoumart, where
groups of butchers stood with their bloody frocks before their
establishments, and the fresh breeze brought in whiffs, a strong
animal smell--the smell of slaughtered cattle.

She looked to the left, following the ribbonlike avenue, past the
Hospital de Lariboisiere, then building. Slowly, from one end to the
other of the horizon, did she follow the wall, from behind which in
the nightime she had heard strange groans and cries, as if some fell
murder were being perpetrated. She looked at it with horror, as if in
some dark corner--dark with dampness and filth--she should distinguish
Lantier--Lantier lying dead with his throat cut.

When she gazed beyond this gray and interminable wall she saw a great
light, a golden mist waving and shimmering with the dawn of a new
Parisian day. But it was to the Barriere Poissonniers that her eyes
persistently returned, watching dully the uninterrupted flow of men
and cattle, wagons and sheep, which came down from Montmartre and
from La Chapelle. There were scattered flocks dashed like waves on
the sidewalk by some sudden detention and an endless succession of
laborers going to their work with their tools over their shoulders
and their loaves of bread under their arms.

Suddenly Gervaise thought she distinguished Lantier amid this crowd,
and she leaned eagerly forward at the risk of falling from the window.
With a fresh pang of disappointment she pressed her handkerchief to
her lips to restrain her sobs.

A fresh, youthful voice caused her to turn around.

"Lantier has not come in then?"

"No, Monsieur Coupeau," she answered, trying to smile.

The speaker was a tinsmith who occupied a tiny room at the top of the
house. His bag of tools was over his shoulder; he had seen the key in
the door and entered with the familiarity of a friend.

"You know," he continued, "that I am working nowadays at the hospital.
What a May this is! The air positively stings one this morning."

As he spoke he looked closely at Gervaise; he saw her eyes were red
with tears and then, glancing at the bed, discovered that it had not
been disturbed. He shook his head and, going toward the couch where
the children lay with their rosy cherub faces, he said in a lower
voice:

"You think your husband ought to have been with you, madame. But don't
be troubled; he is busy with politics. He went on like a mad man the
other day when they were voting for Eugene Sue. Perhaps he passed the
night with his friends abusing that reprobate Bonaparte."

"No, no," she murmured with an effort. "You think nothing of that kind.
I know where Lantier is only too well. We have our sorrows like the
rest of the world!"

Coupeau gave a knowing wink and departed, having offered to bring her
some milk if she did not care to go out; she was a good woman, he told
her and might count on him any time when she was in trouble.

As soon as Gervaise was alone she returned to the window.

From the Barriere the lowing of the cattle and the bleating of the
sheep still came on the keen, fresh morning air. Among the crowd she
recognized the locksmiths by their blue frocks, the masons by their
white overalls, the painters by their coats, from under which hung
their blouses. This crowd was cheerless. All of neutral tints--grays
and blues predominating, with never a dash of color. Occasionally a
workman stopped and lighted his pipe, while his companions passed on.
There was no laughing, no talking, but they strode on steadily with
cadaverous faces toward that Paris which quickly swallowed them up.

At the two corners of La Rue des Poissonniers were two wineshops,
where the shutters had just been taken down. Here some of the workmen
lingered, crowding into the shop, spitting, coughing and drinking
glasses of brandy and water. Gervaise was watching the place on the
left of the street, where she thought she had seen Lantier go in, when
a stout woman, bareheaded and wearing a large apron, called to her
from the pavement,

"You are up early, Madame Lantier!"

Gervaise leaned out.

"Ah, is it you, Madame Boche! Yes, I am up early, for I have much to
do today."

"Is that so? Well, things don't get done by themselves, that's sure!"

And a conversation ensued between the window and the sidewalk. Mme
Boche was the concierge of the house wherein the restaurant Veau a
Deux Tetes occupied the _rez-de-chaussee_.

Many times Gervaise had waited for Lantier in the room of this woman
rather than face the men who were eating. The concierge said she had
just been round the corner to arouse a lazy fellow who had promised to
do some work and then went on to speak of one of her lodgers who had
come in the night before with some woman and had made such a noise
that every one was disturbed until after three o'clock.

As she gabbled, however, she examined Gervaise with considerable
curiosity and seemed, in fact, to have come out under the window for
that express purpose.

"Is Monsieur Lantier still asleep?" she asked suddenly.

"Yes, he is asleep," answered Gervaise with flushing cheeks.

Madame saw the tears come to her eyes and, satisfied with her
discovery, was turning away when she suddenly stopped and called out:

"You are going to the lavatory this morning, are you not? All right
then, I have some things to wash, and I will keep a place for you next
to me, and we can have a little talk!"

Then as if moved by sudden compassion, she added:

"Poor child, don't stay at that window any longer. You are purple with
cold and will surely make yourself sick!"

But Gervaise did not move. She remained in the same spot for two
mortal hours, until the clock struck eight. The shops were now
all open. The procession in blouses had long ceased, and only an
occasional one hurried along. At the wineshops, however, there was
the same crowd of men drinking, spitting and coughing. The workmen in
the street had given place to the workwomen. Milliners' apprentices,
florists, burnishers, who with thin shawls drawn closely around them
came in bands of three or four, talking eagerly, with gay laughs
and quick glances. Occasionally one solitary figure was seen, a
pale-faced, serious woman, who walked rapidly, neither looking to
the right nor to the left.

Then came the clerks, blowing on their fingers to warm them, eating a
roll as they walked; young men, lean and tall, with clothing they had
outgrown and with eyes heavy with sleep; old men, who moved along with
measured steps, occasionally pulling out their watches, but able, from
many years' practice, to time their movements almost to a second.

The boulevards at last were comparatively quiet.



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