Poverty and Degradation
The weather was intensely cold about the middle of January. Gervaise had not been able to pay her rent, due on the first. She had little or no work and consequently no food to speak of. The sky was dark and gloomy and the air heavy with the coming of a storm. Gervaise thought it barely possible that her husband might come in with a little money. After all, everything is possible, and he had said that he would work. Gervaise after a little, by dint of dwelling on this thought, had come to consider it a certainty. Yes, Coupeau would bring home some money, and they would have a good, hot, comfortable dinner. As to herself, she had given up trying to get work, for no one would have her. This did not much trouble her, however, for she had arrived at that point when the mere exertion of moving had become intolerable to her. She now lay stretched on the bed, for she was warmer there.
Gervaise called it a bed. In reality it was only a pile of straw in the corner, for she had sold her bed and all her furniture. She occasionally swept the straw together with a broom, and, after all, it was neither dustier nor dirtier than everything else in the place. On this straw, therefore, Gervaise now lay with her eyes wide open. How long, she wondered, could people live without eating? She was not hungry, but there was a strange weight at the pit of her stomach. Her haggard eyes wandered about the room in search of anything she could sell. She vaguely wished someone would buy the spider webs which hung in all the corners. She knew them to be very good for cuts, but she doubted if they had any market value.
Tired of this contemplation, she got up and took her one chair to the window and looked out into the dingy courtyard.
Her landlord had been there that day and declared he would wait only one week for his money, and if it were not forthcoming he would turn them into the street. It drove her wild to see him stand in his heavy overcoat and tell her so coldly that he would pack her off at once. She hated him with a vindictive hatred, as she did her fool of a husband and the Lorilleuxs and Poissons. In fact, she hated everyone on that especial day.
Unfortunately people can’t live without eating, and before the woman’s famished eyes floated visions of food. Not of dainty little dishes. She had long since ceased to care for those and ate all she could get without being in the least fastidious in regard to its quality. When she had a little money she bought a bullock’s heart or a bit of cheese or some beans, and sometimes she begged from a restaurant and made a sort of panada of the crusts they gave her, which she cooked on a neighbor’s stove. She was quite willing to dispute with a dog for a bone. Once the thought of such things would have disgusted her, but at that time she did not–for three days in succession–go without a morsel of food. She remembered how last week Coupeau had stolen a half loaf of bread and sold it, or rather exchanged it, for liquor.
She sat at the window, looking at the pale sky, and finally fell asleep. She dreamed that she was out in a snowstorm and could not find her way home. She awoke with a start and saw that night was coming on. How long the days are when one’s stomach is empty! She waited for Coupeau and the relief he would bring.
The clock struck in the next room. Could it be possible? Was it only three? Then she began to cry. How could she ever wait until seven? After another half-hour of suspense she started up. Yes, they might say what they pleased, but she, at least, would try to borrow ten sous from the Lorilleuxs.
There was a continual borrowing of small sums in this corridor during the winter, but no matter what was the emergency no one ever dreamed of applying to the Lorilleuxs. Gervaise summoned all her courage and rapped at the door.
“Come in!” cried a sharp voice.
How good it was there! Warm and bright with the glow of the forge. And Gervaise smelled the soup, too, and it made her feel faint and sick.
“Ah, it is you, is it?” said Mme Lorilleux. “What do you want?”
Gervaise hesitated. The application for ten sous stuck in her throat, because she saw Boche seated by the stove.
“What do you want?” asked Lorilleux, in his turn.
“Have you seen Coupeau?” stammered Gervaise. “I thought he was here.”
His sister answered with a sneer that they rarely saw Coupeau. They were not rich enough to offer him as many glasses of wine as he wanted in these days.
Gervaise stammered out a disconnected sentence.
He had promised to come home. She needed food; she needed money.
A profound silence followed. Mme Lorilleux fanned her fire, and her husband bent more closely over his work, while Boche smiled with an expectant air.
“If I could have ten sous,” murmured Gervaise.
The silence continued.
“If you would lend them to me,” said Gervaise, “I would give them back in the morning.”
Mme Lorilleux turned and looked her full in the face, thinking to herself that if she yielded once the next day it would be twenty sous, and who could tell where it would stop?
“But, my dear,” she cried, “you know we have no money and no prospect of any; otherwise, of course, we would oblige you.”
“Certainly,” said Lorilleux, “the heart is willing, but the pockets are empty.”
Gervaise bowed her head, but she did not leave instantly. She looked at the gold wire on which her sister-in-law was working and at that in the hands of Lorilleux and thought that it would take a mere scrap to give her a good dinner. On that day the room was very dirty and filled with charcoal dust, but she saw it resplendent with riches like the shop of a money-changer, and she said once more in a low, soft voice:
“I will bring back the ten sous. I will, indeed!” Tears were in her eyes, but she was determined not to say that she had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours.
“I can’t tell you how much I need it,” she continued.
The husband and wife exchanged a look. Wooden Legs begging at their door! Well! Well! Who would have thought it? Why had they not known it was she when they rashly called out, “Come in?” Really, they could not allow such people to cross their threshold; there was too much that was valuable in the room. They had several times distrusted Gervaise; she looked about so queerly, and now they would not take their eyes off her.
Gervaise went toward Lorilleux as she spoke.
“Take care!” he said roughly. “You will carry off some of the particles of gold on the soles of your shoes. It looks really as if you had greased them!”
Gervaise drew back. She leaned against the _etagere_ for a moment and, seeing that her sister-in-law’s eyes were fixed on her hands, she opened them and said in a gentle, weary voice–the voice of a woman who had ceased to struggle:
“I have taken nothing. You can look for yourself.”
And she went away; the warmth of the place and the smell of the soup were unbearable.
The Lorilleuxs shrugged their shoulders as the door closed. They hoped they had seen the last of her face. She had brought all her misfortunes on her own head, and she had, therefore, no right to expect any assistance from them. Boche joined in these animadversions, and all three considered themselves avenged for the blue shop and all the rest.
“I know her!” said Mme Lorilleux. “If I had lent her the ten sous she wanted she would have spent it in liquor.”
Gervaise crawled down the corridor with slipshod shoes and slouching shoulders, but at her door she hesitated; she could not go in: she was afraid. She would walk up and down a little–that would keep her warm. As she passed she looked in at Father Bru, but to her surprise he was not there, and she asked herself with a pang of jealousy if anyone could possibly have asked him out to dine. When she reached the Bijards’ she heard a groan. She went in.
“What is the matter?” she said.
The room was very clean and in perfect order. Lalie that very morning had swept and arranged everything. In vain did the cold blast of poverty blow through that chamber and bring with it dirt and disorder. Lalie was always there; she cleaned and scrubbed and gave to everything a look of gentility. There was little money but much cleanliness within those four walls.
The two children were cutting out pictures in a corner, but Lalie was in bed, lying very straight and pale, with the sheet pulled over her chin.
“What is the matter?” asked Gervaise anxiously.
Lalie slowly lifted her white lids and tried to speak.
“Nothing,” she said faintly; “nothing, I assure you!” Then as her eyes closed she added:
“I am only a little lazy and am taking my ease.”
But her face bore the traces of such frightful agony that Gervaise fell on her knees by the side of the bed. She knew that the child had had a cough for a month, and she saw the blood trickling from the corners of her mouth.
“It is not my fault,” Lalie murmured. “I thought I was strong enough, and I washed the floor. I could not finish the windows though. Everything but those are clean. But I was so tired that I was obliged to lie down––”
She interrupted herself to say:
“Please see that my children are not cutting themselves with the scissors.”
She started at the sound of a heavy step on the stairs. Her father noisily pushed open the door. As usual he had drunk too much, and in his eyes blazed the lurid flames kindled by alcohol.
When he saw Lalie lying down he walked to the corner and took up the long whip, from which he slowly unwound the lash.
“This is a good joke!” he said. “The idea of your daring to go to bed at this hour. Come, up with you!”
He snapped the whip over the bed, and the child murmured softly:
“Do not strike me, Papa. I am sure you will be sorry if you do. Do not strike me!”
“Up with you!” he cried. “Up with you!”
Then she answered faintly:
“I cannot, for I am dying.”
Gervaise had snatched the whip from Bijard, who stood with his under jaw dropped, glaring at his daughter. What could the little fool mean? Whoever heard of a child dying like that when she had not even been sick? Oh, she was lying!
“You will see that I am telling you the truth,” she replied. “I did not tell you as long as I could help it. Be kind to me now, Papa, and say good-by as if you loved me.”
Bijard passed his hand over his eyes. She did look very strangely–her face was that of a grown woman. The presence of death in that cramped room sobered him suddenly. He looked around with the air of a man who had been suddenly awakened from a dream. He saw the two little ones clean and happy and the room neat and orderly.
He fell into a chair.
“Dear little mother!” he murmured. “Dear little mother!”
This was all he said, but it was very sweet to Lalie, who had never been spoiled by overpraise. She comforted him. She told him how grieved she was to go away and leave him before she had entirely brought up her children. He would watch over them, would he not? And in her dying voice she gave him some little details in regard to their clothes. He–the alcohol having regained its power–listened with round eyes of wonder.
After a long silence Lalie spoke again:
“We owe four francs and seven sous to the baker. He must be paid. Madame Goudron has an iron that belongs to us; you must not forget it. This evening I was not able to make the soup, but there are bread and cold potatoes.”
As long as she breathed the poor little mite continued to be the mother of the family. She died because her breast was too small to contain so great a heart, and that he lost this precious treasure was entirely her father’s fault. He, wretched creature, had kicked her mother to death and now, just as surely, murdered his daughter.
Gervaise tried to keep back her tears. She held Lalie’s hands, and as the bedclothes slipped away she rearranged them. In doing so she caught a glimpse of the poor little figure. The sight might have drawn tears from a stone. Lalie wore only a tiny chemise over her bruised and bleeding flesh; marks of a lash striped her sides; a livid spot was on her right arm, and from head to foot she was one bruise.
Gervaise was paralyzed at the sight. She wondered, if there were a God above, how He could have allowed the child to stagger under so heavy a cross.
“Madame Coupeau,” murmured the child, trying to draw the sheet over her. She was ashamed, ashamed for her father.
Gervaise could not stay there. The child was fast sinking. Her eyes were fixed on her little ones, who sat in the corner, still cutting out their pictures. The room was growing dark, and Gervaise fled from it. Ah, what an awful thing life was! And how gladly would she throw herself under the wheels of an omnibus, if that might end it!
Almost unconsciously Gervaise took her way to the shop where her husband worked or, rather, pretended to work. She would wait for him and get the money before he had a chance to spend it.
It was a very cold corner where she stood. The sounds of the carriages and footsteps were strangely muffled by reason of the fast-falling snow. Gervaise stamped her feet to keep them from freezing. The people who passed offered few distractions, for they hurried by with their coat collars turned up to their ears. But Gervaise saw several women watching the door of the factory quite as anxiously as herself–they were wives who, like herself, probably wished to get hold of a portion of their husbands’ wages. She did not know them, but it required no introduction to understand their business.
The door of the factory remained firmly shut for some time. Then it opened to allow the egress of one workman; then two, three, followed, but these were probably those who, well behaved, took their wages home to their wives, for they neither retreated nor started when they saw the little crowd. One woman fell on a pale little fellow and, plunging her hand into his pocket, carried off every sou of her husband’s earnings, while he, left without enough to pay for a pint of wine, went off down the street almost weeping.
Some other men appeared, and one turned back to warn a comrade, who came gamely and fearlessly out, having put his silver pieces in his shoes. In vain did his wife look for them in his pockets; in vain did she scold and coax–he had no money, he declared.
Then came another noisy group, elbowing each other in their haste to reach a cabaret, where they could drink away their week’s wages. These fellows were followed by some shabby men who were swearing under their breath at the trifle they had received, having been tipsy and absent more than half the week.
But the saddest sight of all was the grief of a meek little woman in black, whose husband, a tall, good-looking fellow, pushed her roughly aside and walked off down the street with his boon companions, leaving her to go home alone, which she did, weeping her very heart out as she went.
Gervaise still stood watching the entrance. Where was Coupeau? She asked some of the men, who teased her by declaring that he had just gone by the back door. She saw by this time that Coupeau had lied to her, that he had not been at work that day. She also saw that there was no dinner for her. There was not a shadow of hope–nothing but hunger and darkness and cold.
She toiled up La Rue des Poissonniers when she suddenly heard Coupeau’s voice and, glancing in at the window of a wineshop, she saw him drinking with Mes-Bottes, who had had the luck to marry the previous summer a woman with some money. He was now, therefore, well clothed and fed and altogether a happy mortal and had Coupeau’s admiration. Gervaise laid her hands on her husband’s shoulders as he left the cabaret.
“I am hungry,” she said softly.
“Hungry, are you? Well then, eat your fist and keep the other for tomorrow.”
“Shall I steal a loaf of bread?” she asked in a dull, dreary tone.
Mes-Bottes smoothed his chin and said in a conciliatory voice:
“No, no! Don’t do that; it is against the law. But if a woman manages––”
Coupeau interrupted him with a coarse laugh.
Yes, a woman, if she had any sense, could always get along, and it was her own fault if she starved.
And the two men walked on toward the outer boulevard. Gervaise followed them. Again she said:
“I am hungry. You know I have had nothing to eat. You must find me something.”
He did not answer, and she repeated her words in a tone of agony.
“Good God!” he exclaimed, turning upon her furiously. “What can I do? I have nothing. Be off with you, unless you want to be beaten.”
He lifted his fist; she recoiled and said with set teeth:
“Very well then; I will go and find some man who has a sou.”
Coupeau pretended to consider this an excellent joke. Yes of course she could make a conquest; by gaslight she was still passably goodlooking. If she succeeded he advised her to dine at the Capucin, where there was very good eating.
She turned away with livid lips; he called after her:
“Bring some dessert with you, for I love cake. And perhaps you can induce your friend to give me an old coat, for I swear it is cold tonight.”
Gervaise, with this infernal mirth ringing in her ears, hurried down the street. She was determined to take this desperate step. She had only a choice between that and theft, and she considered that she had a right to dispose of herself as she pleased. The question of right and wrong did not present itself very clearly to her eyes. "When one is starving is hardly the time,” she said to herself, “to philosophize.” She walked slowly up and down the boulevard. This part of Paris was crowded now with new buildings, between whose sculptured facades ran narrow lanes leading to haunts of squalid misery, which were cheek by jowl with splendor and wealth.
It seemed strange to Gervaise that among this crowd who elbowed her there was not one good Christian to divine her situation and slip some sous into her hand. Her head was dizzy, and her limbs would hardly bear her weight. At this hour ladies with hats and well-dressed gentlemen who lived in these fine new houses were mingled with the people–with the men and women whose faces were pale and sickly from the vitiated air of the workshops in which they passed their lives. Another day of toil was over, but the days came too often and were too long. One hardly had time to turn over in one’s sleep when the everlasting grind began again.
Gervaise went with the crowd. No one looked at her, for the men were all hurrying home to their dinner. Suddenly she looked up and beheld the Hotel Boncoeur. It was empty, the shutters and doors covered with placards and the whole facade weather-stained and decaying. It was there in that hotel that the seeds of her present life had been sown. She stood still and looked up at the window of the room she had occupied and recalled her youth passed with Lantier and the manner in which he had left her. But she was young then and soon recovered from the blow. That was twenty years ago, and now what was she?
The sight of the place made her sick, and she turned toward Montmartre. She passed crowds of workwomen with little parcels in their hands and children who had been sent to the baker’s, carrying four-pound loaves of bread as tall as themselves, which looked like shining brown dolls.
By degrees the crowd dispersed, and Gervaise was almost alone. Everyone was at dinner. She thought how delicious it would be to lie down and never rise again–to feel that all toil was over. And this was the end of her life! Gervaise, amid the pangs of hunger, thought of some of the fete days she had known and remembered that she had not always been miserable. Once she was pretty, fair and fresh. She had been a kind and admired mistress in her shop. Gentlemen came to it only to see her, and she vaguely wondered where all this youth and this beauty had fled.
Again she looked up; she had reached the abattoirs, which were now being torn down; the fronts were taken away, showing the dark holes within, the very stones of which reeked with blood. Farther on was the hospital with its high, gray walls, with two wings opening out like a huge fan. A door in the wall was the terror of the whole _Quartier_–the Door of the Dead, it was called–through which all the bodies were carried.
She hurried past this solid oak door and went down to the railroad bridge, under which a train had just passed, leaving in its rear a floating cloud of smoke. She wished she were on that train which would take her into the country, and she pictured to herself open spaces and the fresh air and expanse of blue sky; perhaps she could live a new life there.
As she thought this her weary eyes began to puzzle out in the dim twilight the words on a printed handbill pasted on one of the pillars of the arch. She read one–an advertisement offering fifty francs for a lost dog. Someone must have loved the creature very much.
Gervaise turned back again. The street lamps were being lit and defined long lines of streets and avenues. The restaurants were all crowded, and people were eating and drinking. Before the Assommoir stood a crowd waiting their turn and room within, and as a respectable tradesman passed he said with a shake of the head that many a man would be drunk that night in Paris. And over this scene hung the dark sky, low and clouded.
Gervaise wished she had a few sous: she would, in that case, have gone into this place and drunk until she ceased to feel hungry, and through the window she watched the still with an angry consciousness that all her misery and all her pain came from that. If she had never touched a drop of liquor all might have been so different.
She started from her reverie; this was the hour of which she must take advantage. Men had dined and were comparatively amiable. She looked around her and toward the trees where–under the leafless branches–she saw more than one female figure. Gervaise watched them, determined to do what they did. Her heart was in her throat; it seemed to her that she was dreaming a bad dream.
She stood for some fifteen minutes; none of the men who passed looked at her. Finally she moved a little and spoke to one who, with his hands in his pockets, was whistling as he walked.
“Sir,” she said in a low voice, “please listen to me.”
The man looked at her from head to foot and went on whistling louder than before.
Gervaise grew bolder. She forgot everything except the pangs of hunger. The women under the trees walked up and down with the regularity of wild animals in a cage.
“Sir,” she said again, “please listen.”
But the man went on. She walked toward the Hotel Boncoeur again, past the hospital, which was now brilliantly lit. There she turned and went back over the same ground–the dismal ground between the slaughterhouses and the place where the sick lay dying. With these two places she seemed to feel bound by some mysterious tie.
“Sir, please listen!”
She saw her shadow on the ground as she stood near a street lamp. It was a grotesque shadow–grotesque because of her ample proportions. Her limp had become, with time and her additional weight, a very decided deformity, and as she moved the lengthening shadow of herself seemed to be creeping along the sides of the houses with bows and curtsies of mock reverence. Never before had she realized the change in herself. She was fascinated by this shadow. It was very droll, she thought, and she wondered if the men did not think so too.
“Sir, please listen!”
It was growing late. Man after man, in a beastly state of intoxication, reeled past her; quarrels and disputes filled the air.
Gervaise walked on, half asleep. She was conscious of little except that she was starving. She wondered where her daughter was and what she was eating, but it was too much trouble to think, and she shivered and crawled on. As she lifted her face she felt the cutting wind, accompanied by the snow, fine and dry, like gravel. The storm had come.
People were hurrying past her, but she saw one man walking slowly. She went toward him.
“Sir, please listen!”
The man stopped. He did not seem to notice what she said but extended his hand and murmured in a low voice:
“Charity, if you please!”
The two looked at each other. Merciful heavens! It was Father Bru begging and Mme Coupeau doing worse. They stood looking at each other–equals in misery. The aged workman had been trying to make up his mind all the evening to beg, and the first person he stopped was a woman as poor as himself! This was indeed the irony of fate. Was it not a pity to have toiled for fifty years and then to beg his bread? To have been one of the most flourishing laundresses in Paris and then to make her bed in the gutter? They looked at each other once more, and without a word each went their own way through the fast-falling snow, which blinded Gervaise as she struggled on, the wind wrapping her thin skirts around her legs so that she could hardly walk.
Suddenly an absolute whirlwind struck her and bore her breathless and helpless along–she did not even know in what direction. When at last she was able to open her eyes she could see nothing through the blinding snow, but she heard a step and saw the outlines of a man’s figure. She snatched him by the blouse.
“Sir,” she said, “please listen.”
The man turned. It was Goujet.
Ah, what had she done to be thus tortured and humiliated? Was God in heaven an angry God always? This was the last dreg of bitterness in her cup. She saw her shadow: her limp, she felt, made her walk like an intoxicated woman, which was indeed hard, when she had not swallowed a drop.
Goujet looked at her while the snow whitened his yellow beard.
“Come!” he said.
And he walked on, she following him. Neither spoke.
Poor Mme Goujet had died in October of acute rheumatism, and her son continued to reside in the same apartment. He had this night been sitting with a sick friend.
He entered, lit a lamp and turned toward Gervaise, who stood humbly on the threshold.
“Come in!” he said in a low voice, as if his mother could have heard him.
The first room was that of Mme Goujet, which was unchanged since her death. Near the window stood her frame, apparently ready for the old lady. The bed was carefully made, and she could have slept there had she returned from the cemetery to spend a night with her son. The room was clean, sweet and orderly.
“Come in,” repeated Goujet.
Gervaise entered with the air of a woman who is startled at finding herself in a respectable place. He was pale and trembling. They crossed his mother’s room softly, and when Gervaise stood within his own he closed the door.
It was the same room in which he had lived ever since she knew him–small and almost virginal in its simplicity. Gervaise dared not move.
Goujet snatched her in his arms, but she pushed him away faintly.
The stove was still hot, and a dish was on the top of it. Gervaise looked toward it. Goujet understood. He placed the dish on the table, poured her out some wine and cut a slice of bread.
“Thank you,” she said. “How good you are!”
She trembled to that degree that she could hardly hold her fork. Hunger gave her eyes the fierceness of a famished beast and to her head the tremulous motion of senility. After eating a potato she burst into tears but continued to eat, with the tears streaming down her cheeks and her chin quivering.
“Will you have some more bread?” he asked. She said no; she said yes; she did not know what she said.
And he stood looking at her in the clear light of the lamp. How old and shabby she was! The heat was melting the snow on her hair and clothing, and water was dripping from all her garments. Her hair was very gray and roughened by the wind. Where was the pretty white throat he so well remembered? He recalled the days when he first knew her, when her skin was so delicate and she stood at her table, briskly moving the hot irons to and fro. He thought of the time when she had come to the forge and of the joy with which he would have welcomed her then to his room. And now she was there!
She finished her bread amid great silent tears and then rose to her feet.
Goujet took her hand.
“I love you, Madame Gervaise; I love you still,” he cried.
“Do not say that,” she exclaimed, “for it is impossible.”
He leaned toward her.
“Will you allow me to kiss you?” he asked respectfully.
She did not know what to say, so great was her emotion.
He kissed her gravely and solemnly and then pressed his lips upon her gray hair. He had never kissed anyone since his mother’s death, and Gervaise was all that remained to him of the past.
He turned away and, throwing himself on his bed, sobbed aloud. Gervaise could not endure this. She exclaimed:
“I love you, Monsieur Goujet, and I understand. Farewell!”
And she rushed through Mme Goujet’s room and then through the street to her home. The house was all dark, and the arched door into the courtyard looked like huge, gaping jaws. Could this be the house where she once desired to reside? Had she been deaf in those days, not to have heard that wail of despair which pervaded the place from top to bottom? From the day when she first set her foot within the house she had steadily gone downhill.
Yes, it was a frightful way to live–so many people herded together, to become the prey of cholera or vice. She looked at the courtyard and fancied it a cemetery surrounded by high walls. The snow lay white within it. She stepped over the usual stream from the dyer’s, but this time the stream was black and opened for itself a path through the white snow. The stream was the color of her thoughts. But she remembered when both were rosy.
As she toiled up the six long flights in the darkness she laughed aloud. She recalled her old dream–to work quietly, have plenty to eat, a little home to herself, where she could bring up her children, never to be beaten, and to die in her bed! It was droll how things had turned out. She worked no more; she had nothing to eat; she lived amid dirt and disorder. Her daughter had gone to the bad, and her husband beat her whenever he pleased. As for dying in her bed, she had none. Should she throw herself out of the window and find one on the pavement below?
She had not been unreasonable in her wishes, surely. She had not asked of heaven an income of thirty thousand francs or a carriage and horses. This was a queer world! And then she laughed again as she remembered that she had once said that after she had worked for twenty years she would retire into the country.
Yes, she would go into the country, for she should soon have her little green corner in Pere-Lachaise.
Her poor brain was disturbed. She had bidden an eternal farewell to Goujet. They would never see each other again. All was over between them–love and friendship too.
As she passed the Bijards’ she looked in and saw Lalie lying dead, happy and at peace. It was well with the child.
“She is lucky,” muttered Gervaise.
At this moment she saw a gleam of light under the undertaker’s door. She threw it wide open with a wild desire that he should take her as well as Lalie. Bazonge had come in that night more tipsy than usual and had thrown his hat and cloak in the corner, while he lay in the middle of the floor.
He started up and called out:
“Shut that door! And don’t stand there–it is too cold. What do you want?”
Then Gervaise, with arms outstretched, not knowing or caring what she said, began to entreat him with passionate vehemence:
“Oh, take me!” she cried. “I can bear it no longer. Take me, I implore you!”
And she knelt before him, a lurid light blazing in her haggard eyes.
Father Bazonge, with garments stained by the dust of the cemetery, seemed to her as glorious as the sun. But the old man, yet half asleep, rubbed his eyes and could not understand her.
“What are you talking about?” he muttered.
“Take me,” repeated Gervaise, more earnestly than before. “Do you remember one night when I rapped on the partition? Afterward I said I did not, but I was stupid then and afraid. But I am not afraid now. Here, take my hands–they are not cold with terror. Take me and put me to sleep, for I have but this one wish now.”
Bazonge, feeling that it was not proper to argue with a lady, said:
“You are right. I have buried three women today, who would each have given me a jolly little sum out of gratitude, if they could have put their hands in their pockets. But you see, my dear woman, it is not such an easy thing you are asking of me.”
“Take me!” cried Gervaise. “Take me! I want to go away!”
“But there is a certain little operation first, you know––” And he pretended to choke and rolled up his eyes.
Gervaise staggered to her feet. He, too, rejected her and would have nothing to do with her. She crawled into her room and threw herself on her straw. She was sorry she had eaten anything and delayed the work of starvation.