A Happy Home

Four years of hard and incessant toil followed this day. Gervaise and Coupeau were wise and prudent. They worked hard and took a little relaxation on Sundays. The wife worked twelve hours of the twenty-four with Mme Fauconnier and yet found time to keep her own home like waxwork. The husband was never known to be tipsy but brought home his wages and smoked his pipe at his own window at night before going to bed. They were the bright and shining lights, the good example of the whole _Quartier_, and as they made jointly about nine francs per day, it was easy to see they were putting by money.

But in the first few months of their married life they were obliged to trim their sails closely and had some trouble to make both ends meet. They took a great dislike to the Hotel Boncoeur. They longed for a home of their own with their own furniture. They estimated the cost over and over again and decided that for three hundred and fifty francs they could venture, but they had little hope of saving such a sum in less than two years, when a stroke of good luck befell them.

An old gentleman in Plassans sent for Claude to place him at school. He was a very eccentric old gentleman, fond of pictures and art. Claude was a great expense to his mother, and when Etienne alone was at home they saved the three hundred and fifty francs in seven months. The day they purchased their furniture they took a long and happy walk together, for it was an important step they had taken–important not only in their own eyes but in those of the people around them.

For two months they had been looking for an apartment. They wished, of all things, to take one in the old house where Mme Lorilleux lived, but there was not one single room to be rented, and they were compelled to relinquish the idea. Gervaise was reconciled to this more easily, since she did not care to be thrown in any closer contact with the Lorilleuxs. They looked further. It was essential that Gervaise should be near her friend and employer Mme Fauconnier, and they finally succeeded in their search and were indeed in wonderful luck, for they obtained a large room with a kitchen and tiny bedroom just opposite the establishment of the laundress. It was a small house, two stories, with one steep staircase, and was divided into two lodgings–the one on the right, the other on the left, while the lower floor was occupied by a carriage maker.

Gervaise was delighted. It seemed to her that she was once more in the country–no neighbors, no gossip, no interference–and from the place where she stood and ironed all day at Mme Fauconnier’s she could see the windows of her own room.

They moved in the month of April. Gervaise was then near her confinement, but it was she who cleaned and put in order her new home. Every penny as of consequence, she said with pride, now that they would soon have another other mouth to feed. She rubbed her furniture, which was of old mahogany, good, but secondhand, until it shone like glass and was quite brokenhearted when she discovered a scratch. She held her breath if she knocked it when sweeping. The commode was her especial pride; it was so dignified and stately. Her pet dream, which, however, she kept to herself, was someday to have a clock to put in the center of the marble slab. If there had not been a baby in prospect she would have purchased this much-coveted article at once, but she sighed and dismissed the thought.

Etienne’s bed was placed in the tiny room, almost a closet, and there was room for the cradle by its side. The kitchen was about as big as one’s hand and very dark, but by leaving the door open one could see pretty well, and as Gervaise had no big dinners to get she managed comfortably. The large room was her pride. In the morning the white curtains of the alcove were drawn, and the bedroom was transformed into a lovely dining room, with its table in the middle, the commode and a wardrobe opposite each other. A tiny stove kept them warm in cold weather for seven sous per day.

Coupeau ornamented the walls with several engravings–one of a marshal of France on a spirited steed, with his baton in his hand. Above the commode were the photographs of the family, arranged in two lines, with an antique china _benitier_ between. On the corners of the commode a bust of Pascal faced another of Beranger–one grave, the other smiling. It was, indeed, a fair and pleasant home.

“How much do you think we pay here?” Gervaise would ask of each new visitor.

And when too high an estimate was given she was charmed.

“One hundred and fifty francs–not a penny more,” she would exclaim. "Is it not wonderful?”

No small portion of the woman’s satisfaction arose from an acacia which grew in her courtyard, one of whose branches crossed her window, and the scanty foliage was a whole wilderness to her.

Her baby was born one afternoon. She would not allow her husband to be sent for, and when he came gaily into the room he was welcomed by his pale wife, who whispered to him as he stooped over her:

“My dear, it is a girl.”

“All right!” said the tinworker, jesting to hide his real emotion. "I ordered a girl. You always do just what I want!”

He took up the child.

“Let us have a good look at you, young lady! The down on the top of your head is pretty black, I think. Now you must never squall but be as good and reasonable always as your papa and mamma.”

Gervaise, with a faint smile and sad eyes, looked at her daughter. She shook her head. She would have preferred a boy, because boys run less risks in a place like Paris. The nurse took the baby from the father’s hands and told Gervaise she must not talk. Coupeau said he must go and tell his mother and sister the news, but he was famished and must eat something first. His wife was greatly disturbed at seeing him wait upon himself, and she tossed about a little and complained that she could not make him comfortable.

“You must be quiet,” said the nurse again.

“It is lucky you are here, or she would be up and cutting my bread for me,” said Coupeau.

He finally set forth to announce the news to his family and returned in an hour with them all.

The Lorilleuxs, under the influence of the prosperity of their brother and his wife, had become extremely amiable toward them and only lifted their eyebrows in a significant sort of way, as much as to say that they could tell something if they pleased.

“You must not talk, you understand,” said Coupeau, “but they would come and take a peep at you, and I am going to make them some coffee.”

He disappeared into the kitchen, and the women discussed the size of the baby and whom it resembled. Meanwhile Coupeau was heard banging round in the kitchen, and his wife nervously called out to him and told him where the things were that he wanted, but her husband rose superior to all difficulties and soon appeared with the smoking coffeepot, and they all seated themselves around the table, except the nurse, who drank a cup standing and then departed; all was going well, and she was not needed. If she was wanted in the morning they could send for her.

Gervaise lay with a faint smile on her lips. She only half heard what was said by those about her. She had no strength to speak; it seemed to her that she was dead. She heard the word baptism. Coupeau saw no necessity for the ceremony and was quite sure, too, that the child would take cold. In his opinion, the less one had to do with priests, the better. His mother was horrified and called him a heathen, while the Lorilleuxs claimed to be religious people also.

“It had better be on Sunday,” said his sister in a decided tone, and Gervaise consented with a little nod. Everybody kissed her and then the baby, addressing it with tender epithets, as if it could understand, and departed.

When Coupeau was alone with his wife he took her hand and held it while he finished his pipe.

“I could not help their coming,” he said, “but I am sure they have given you the headache.” And the rough, clumsy man kissed his wife tenderly, moved by a great pity for all she had borne for his sake.

And Gervaise was very happy. She told him so and said her only anxiety now was to be on her feet again as soon as possible, for they had another mouth to feed. He soothed her and asked if she could not trust him to look out for their little one.

In the morning when he went to his work he sent Mme Boche to spend the day with his wife, who at night told him she never could consent to lie still any longer and see a stranger going about her room, and the next day she was up and would not be taken care of again. She had no time for such nonsense! She said it would do for rich women but not for her, and in another week she was at Mme Fauconnier’s again at work.

Mme Lorilleux, who was the baby’s godmother, appeared on Saturday evening with a cap and baptismal robe, which she had bought cheap because they had lost their first freshness. The next day Lorilleux, as godfather, gave Gervaise six pounds of sugar. They flattered themselves they knew how to do things properly and that evening, at the supper given by Coupeau, did not appear empty-handed. Lorilleux came with a couple of bottles of wine under each arm, and his wife brought a large custard which was a specialty of a certain restaurant.

Yes, they knew how to do things, these people, but they also liked to tell of what they did, and they told everyone they saw in the next month that they had spent twenty francs, which came to the ears of Gervaise, who was none too well pleased.

It was at this supper that Gervaise became acquainted with her neighbors on the other side of the house. These were Mme Goujet, a widow, and her son. Up to this time they had exchanged a good morning when they met on the stairs or in the street, but as Mme Goujet had rendered some small services on the first day of her illness, Gervaise invited them on the occasion of the baptism.

These people were from the _Department du Nond_. The mother repaired laces, while the son, a blacksmith by trade, worked in a factory.

They had lived in their present apartment for five years. Beneath the peaceful calm of their lives lay a great sorrow. Goujet, the husband and father, had killed a man in a fit of furious intoxication and then, while in prison, had choked himself with his pocket handkerchief. His widow and child left Lille after this and came to Paris, with the weight of this tragedy on their hearts and heads, and faced the future with indomitable courage and sweet patience. Perhaps they were overproud and reserved, for they held themselves aloof from those about them. Mme Goujet always wore mourning, and her pale, serene face was encircled with nunlike bands of white. Goujet was a colossus of twenty-three with a clear, fresh complexion and honest eyes. At the manufactory he went by the name of the Gueule-d’Or on account of his beautiful blond beard.

Gervaise took a great fancy to these people and when she first entered their apartment and was charmed with the exquisite cleanliness of all she saw. Mme Goujet opened the door into her son’s room to show it to her. It was as pretty and white as the chamber of a young girl. A narrow iron bed, white curtains and quilt, a dressing table and bookshelves made up the furniture. A few colored engravings were pinned against the wall, and Mme Goujet said that her son was a good deal of a boy still–he liked to look at pictures rather than read. Gervaise sat for an hour with her neighbor, watching her at work with her cushion, its numberless pins and the pretty lace.

The more she saw of her new friends the better Gervaise liked them. They were frugal but not parsimonious. They were the admiration of the neighborhood. Goujet was never seen with a hole or a spot on his garments. He was very polite to all but a little diffident, in spite of his height and broad shoulders. The girls in the street were much amused to see him look away when they met him; he did not fancy their ways–their forward boldness and loud laughs. One day he came home tipsy. His mother uttered no word of reproach but brought out a picture of his father which was piously preserved in her wardrobe. And after that lesson Goujet drank no more liquor, though he conceived no hatred for wine.

On Sunday he went out with his mother, who was his idol. He went to her with all his troubles and with all his joys, as he had done when little.

At first he took no interest in Gervaise, but after a while he began to like her and treated her like a sister, with abrupt familiarity.

Cadet-Cassis, who was a thorough Parisian, thought Gueule-d’Or very stupid. What was the sense of turning away from all the pretty girls he met in the street? But this did not prevent the two young fellows from liking each other very heartily.

For three years the lives of these people flowed tranquilly on without an event. Gervaise had been elevated in the laundry where she worked, had higher wages and decided to place Etienne at school. Notwithstanding all her expenses of the household, they were able to save twenty and thirty francs each month. When these savings amounted to six hundred francs Gervaise could not rest, so tormented was she by ambitious dreams. She wished to open a small establishment herself and hire apprentices in her turn. She hesitated, naturally, to take the definite steps and said they would look around for a shop that would answer their purpose; their money in the savings bank was quietly rolling up. She had bought her clock, the object of her ambition; it was to be paid for in a year–so much each month. It was a wonderful clock, rosewood with fluted columns and gilt moldings and pendulum. She kept her bankbook under the glass shade, and often when she was thinking of her shop she stood with her eyes fixed on the clock, as if she were waiting for some especial and solemn moment.

The Coupeaus and the Goujets now went out on Sundays together. It was an orderly party with a dinner at some quiet restaurant. The men drank a glass or two of wine and came home with the ladies and counted up and settled the expenditures of the day before they separated. The Lorilleuxs were bitterly jealous of these new friends of their brother’s. They declared it had a very queer look to see him and his wife always with strangers rather than with his own family, and Mme Lorilleux began to say hateful things again of Gervaise. Mme Lerat, on the contrary, took her part, while Mamma Coupeau tried to please everyone.

The day that Nana–which was the pet name given to the little girl–was three years old Coupeau, on coming in, found his wife in a state of great excitement. She refused to give any explanation, saying, in fact, there really was nothing the matter, but she finally became so abstracted that she stood still with the plates in her hand as she laid the table for dinner, and her husband insisted on an explanation.

“If you must know,” she said, “that little shop in La Rue de la Goutte-d’Or is vacant. I heard so only an hour ago, and it struck me all of a heap!”

It was a very nice shop in the very house of which they had so often thought. There was the shop itself–a back room–and two others. They were small, to be sure, but convenient and well arranged; only she thought it dear–five hundred francs.

“You asked the price then?”

“Yes, I asked it just out of curiosity,” she answered with an air of indifference, “but it is too dear, decidedly too dear. It would be unwise, I think, to take it.”

But she could talk of nothing else the whole evening. She drew the plan of the rooms on the margin of a newspaper, and as she talked she measured the furniture, as if they were to move the next day. Then Coupeau, seeing her great desire to have the place, declared he would see the owner the next morning, for it was possible he would take less than five hundred francs, but how would she like to live so near his sister, whom she detested?

Gervaise was displeased at this and said she detested no one and even defended the Lorilleuxs, declaring they were not so bad, after all. And when Coupeau was asleep her busy brain was at work arranging the rooms which as yet they had not decided to hire.

The next day when she was alone she lifted the shade from the clock and opened her bankbook. Just to think that her shop and future prosperity lay between those dirty leaves!

Before going to her work she consulted Mme Goujet, who approved of the plan. With a husband like hers, who never drank, she could not fail of success. At noon she called on her sister-in-law to ask her advice, for she did not wish to have the air of concealing anything from the family.

Mme Lorilleux was confounded. What, did Wooden Legs think of having an establishment of her own? And with an envious heart she stammered out that it would be very well, certainly, but when she had recovered herself a little she began to talk of the dampness of the courtyard and of the darkness of the _rez-de-chaussee_. Oh yes, it was a capital place for rheumatism, but of course if her mind was made up anything she could say would make no difference.

That night Gervaise told her husband that if he had thrown any obstacles in the way of her taking the shop she believed she should have fallen sick and died, so great was her longing. But before they came to any decision they must see if a diminution of the rent could be obtained.

“We can go tomorrow if you say so,” was her husband’s reply; “you can call for me at six o’clock.”

Coupeau was then completing the roof of a three-storied house and was laying the very last sheets of zinc. It was May and a cloudless evening. The sun was low in the horizon, and against the blue sky the figure of Coupeau was clearly defined as he cut his zinc as quietly as a tailor might have cut out a pair of breeches in his workshop. His assistant, a lad of seventeen, was blowing up the furnace with a pair of bellows, and at each puff a great cloud of sparks arose.

“Put in the irons, Zidore!” shouted Coupeau.

The boy thrust the irons among the coals which showed only a dull pink in the sunlight and then went to work again with his bellows. Coupeau took up his last sheet of zinc. It was to be placed on the edge of the roof, near the gutter. Just at that spot the roof was very steep. The man walked along in his list slippers much as if he had been at home, whistling a popular melody. He allowed himself to slip a little and caught at the chimney, calling to Zidore as he did so:

“Why in thunder don’t you bring the irons? What are you staring at?”

But Zidore, quite undisturbed, continued to stare at a cloud of heavy black smoke that was rising in the direction of Grenelle. He wondered if it were a fire, but he crawled with the irons toward Coupeau, who began to solder the zinc, supporting himself on the point of one foot or by one finger, not rashly, but with calm deliberation and perfect coolness. He knew what he could do and never lost his head. His pipe was in his mouth, and he would occasionally turn to spit down into the street below.

“Hallo, Madame Boche!” he cried as he suddenly caught sight of his old friend crossing the street. “How are you today?”

She looked up, laughed, and a brisk conversation ensued between the roof and the street. She stood with her hands under her apron and her face turned up, while he, with one arm round a flue, leaned over the side of the house.

“Have you seen my wife?” he asked.

“No indeed; is she anywhere round?”

“She is coming for me. Is everyone well with you?”

“Yes, all well, thanks. I am going to a butcher near here who sells cheaper than up our way.”

They raised their voices because a carriage was passing, and this brought to a neighboring window a little old woman, who stood in breathless horror, expecting to see the man fall from the roof in another minute.

“Well, good night,” cried Mme Boche. “I must not detain you from your work.”

Coupeau turned and took the iron Zidore held out to him. At the same moment Mme Boche saw Gervaise coming toward her with little Nana trotting at her side. She looked up to the roof to tell Coupeau, but Gervaise closed her lips with an energetic signal, and then as she reached the old concierge she said in a low voice that she was always in deadly terror that her husband would fall. She never dared look at him when he was in such places.

“It is not very agreeable, I admit,” answered Mme Boche. “My man is a tailor, and I am spared all this.”

“At first,” continued Gervaise, “I had not a moment’s peace. I saw him in my dreams on a litter, but now I have got accustomed to it somewhat.”

She looked up, keeping Nana behind her skirts, lest the child should call out and startle her father, who was at that moment on the extreme edge. She saw the soldering iron and the tiny flame that rose as he carefully passed it along the edges of the zinc. Gervaise, pale with suspense and fear, raised her hands mechanically with a gesture of supplication. Coupeau ascended the steep roof with a slow step, then glancing down, he beheld his wife.

“You are watching me, are you?” he cried gaily. “Ah, Madame Boche, is she not a silly one? She was afraid to speak to me. Wait ten minutes, will you?”

The two women stood on the sidewalk, having as much as they could do to restrain Nana, who insisted on fishing in the gutter.

The old woman still stood at the window, looking up at the roof and waiting.

“Just see her,” said Mme Boche. “What is she looking at?”

Coupeau was heard lustily singing; with the aid of a pair of compasses he had drawn some lines and now proceeded to cut a large fan; this he adroitly, with his tools, folded into the shape of a pointed mushroom. Zidore was again heating the irons. The sun was setting just behind the house, and the whole western sky was flushed with rose, fading to a soft violet, and against this sky the figures of the two men, immeasurably exaggerated, stood clearly out, as well as the strange form of the zinc which Coupeau was then manipulating.

“Zidore! The irons!”

But Zidore was not to be seen. His master, with an oath, shouted down the scuttle window which was open near by and finally discovered him two houses off. The boy was taking a walk, apparently, with his scanty blond hair blowing all about his head.

“Do you think you are in the country?” cried Coupeau in a fury. “You are another Beranger, perhaps–composing verses! Will you have the kindness to give me my irons? Whoever heard the like? Give me my irons, I say!”

The irons hissed as he applied them, and he called to Gervaise:

“I am coming!”

The chimney to which he had fitted this cap was in the center of the roof. Gervaise stood watching him, soothed by his calm self-possession. Nana clapped her little hands.

“Papa! Papa!” she cried. “Look!”

The father turned; his foot slipped; he rolled down the roof slowly, unable to catch at anything.

“Good God!” he said in a choked voice, and he fell; his body turned over twice and crashed into the middle of the street with the dull thud of a bundle of wet linen.

Gervaise stood still. A shriek was frozen on her lips. Mme Boche snatched Nana in her arms and hid her head that she might not see, and the little old woman opposite, who seemed to have waited for this scene in the drama, quietly closed her windows.

Four men bore Coupeau to a druggist’s at the corner, where he lay for an hour while a litter was sent for from the Hospital Lariboisiere. He was breathing still, but that was all. Gervaise knelt at his side, hysterically sobbing. Every minute or two, in spite of the prohibition of the druggist, she touched him to see if he were still warm. When the litter arrived and they spoke of the hospital, she started up, saying violently:

“No–no! Not to the hospital–to our own home.”

In vain did they tell her that the expenses would be very great if she nursed him at home.

“No–no!” she said. “I will show them the way. He is my husband, is he not? And I will take care of him myself.”

And Coupeau was carried home, and as the litter was borne through the _Quartier_ the women crowded together and extolled Gervaise. She was a little lame, to be sure, but she was very energetic, and she would save her man.

Mme Boche took Nana home and then went about among her friends to tell the story with interminable details.

“I saw him fall,” she said. “It was all because of the child; he was going to speak to her, when down he went. Good lord! I trust I may never see such another sight.”

For a week Coupeau’s life hung on a thread. His family and his friends expected to see him die from one hour to another. The physician, an experienced physician whose every visit cost five francs, talked of a lesion, and that word was in itself very terrifying to all but Gervaise, who, pale from her vigils but calm and resolute, shrugged her shoulders and would not allow herself to be discouraged. Her man’s leg was broken; that she knew very well, “but he need not die for that!” And she watched at his side night and day, forgetting her children and her home and everything but him.

On the ninth day, when the physician told her he would recover, she dropped, half fainting, on a chair, and at night she slept for a couple of hours with her head on the foot of his bed.

This accident to Coupeau brought all his family about him. His mother spent the nights there, but she slept in her chair quite comfortably. Mme Lerat came in every evening after work was over to make inquiries.

The Lorilleuxs at first came three or four times each day and brought an armchair for Gervaise, but soon quarrels and discussions arose as to the proper way of nursing the invalid, and Mme Lorilleux lost her temper and declared that had Gervaise stayed at home and not gone to pester her husband when he was at work the accident would not have happened.

When she saw Coupeau out of danger Gervaise allowed his family to approach him as they saw fit. His convalescence would be a matter of months. This again was a ground of indignation for Mme Lorilleux.

“What nonsense it was,” she said, “for Gervaise to take him home! Had he gone to the hospital he would have recovered as quickly again.”

And then she made a calculation of what these four months would cost: First, there was the time lost, then the physician, the medicines, the wines and finally the meat for beef tea. Yes, it would be a pretty sum, to be sure! If they got through it on their savings they would do well, but she believed that the end would be that they would find themselves head over heels in debt, and they need expect no assistance from his family, for none of them was rich enough to pay for sickness at home!

One evening Mme Lorilleux was malicious enough to say:

“And your shop, when do you take it? The concierge is waiting to know what you mean to do.”

Gervaise gasped. She had utterly forgotten the shop. She saw the delight of these people when they believed that this plan was given up, and from that day they never lost an occasion of twitting her on her dream that had toppled over like a house of cards, and she grew morbid and fancied they were pleased at the accident to their brother which had prevented the realization of their plans.

She tried to laugh and to show them she did not grudge the money that had been expended in the restoration of her husband’s health. She did not withdraw all her savings from the bank at once, for she had a vague hope that some miracle would intervene which would render the sacrifice unnecessary.

Was it not a great comfort, she said to herself and to her enemies, for as such she had begun to regard the Lorilleuxs, that she had this money now to turn to in this emergency?

Her neighbors next door had been very kind and thoughtful to Gervaise all through her trouble and the illness of her husband.

Mme Goujet never went out without coming to inquire if there was anything she could do, any commission she could execute. She brought innumerable bowls of soup and, even when Gervaise was particularly busy, washed her dishes for her. Goujet filled her buckets every morning with fresh water, and this was an economy of at least two sous, and in the evening came to sit with Coupeau. He did not say much, but his companionship cheered and comforted the invalid. He was tender and compassionate and was thrilled by the sweetness of Gervaise’s voice when she spoke to her husband. Never had he seen such a brave, good woman; he did not believe she sat in her chair fifteen minutes in the whole day. She was never tired, never out of temper, and the young man grew very fond of the poor woman as he watched her.

His mother had found a wife for him. A girl whose trade was the same as her own, a lace mender, and as he did not wish to go contrary to her desires he consented that the marriage should take place in September.

But when Gervaise spoke of his future he shook his head.

“All women are not like you, Madame Coupeau,” he said. “If they were I should like ten wives.”

At the end of two months Coupeau was on his feet again and could move–with difficulty, of course–as far as the window, where he sat with his leg on a chair. The poor fellow was sadly shaken by his accident. He was no philosopher, and he swore from morning until night. He said he knew every crack in the ceiling. When he was installed in his armchair it was little better. How long, he asked impatiently, was he expected to sit there swathed like a mummy? And he cursed his ill luck. His accident was a cursed shame. If his head had been disturbed by drink it would have been different, but he was always sober, and this was the result. He saw no sense in the whole thing!

“My father,” he said, “broke his neck. I don’t say he deserved it, but I do say there was a reason for it. But I had not drunk a drop, and yet over I went, just because I spoke to my child! If there be a Father in heaven, as they say, who watches over us all, I must say He manages things strangely enough sometimes!”

And as his strength returned his trade grew strangely distasteful to him. It was a miserable business, he said, roaming along gutters like a cat. In his opinion there should be a law which should compel every houseowner to tin his own roof. He wished he knew some other trade he could follow, something that was less dangerous.

For two months more Coupeau walked with a crutch and after a while was able to get into the street and then to the outer boulevard, where he sat on a bench in the sun. His gaiety returned; he laughed again and enjoyed doing nothing. For the first time in his life he felt thoroughly lazy, and indolence seemed to have taken possession of his whole being. When he got rid of his crutches he sauntered about and watched the buildings which were in the process of construction in the vicinity, and he jested with the men and indulged himself in a general abuse of work. Of course he intended to begin again as soon as he was quite well, but at present the mere thought made him feel ill, he said.

In the afternoons Coupeau often went to his sister’s apartment; she expressed a great deal of compassion for him and showed every attention. When he was first married he had escaped from her influence, thanks to his affection for his wife and hers for him. Now he fell under her thumb again; they brought him back by declaring that he lived in mortal terror of his wife. But the Lorilleuxs were too wise to disparage her openly; on the contrary, they praised her extravagantly, and he told his wife that they adored her and begged her, in her turn, to be just to them.

The first quarrel in their home arose on the subject of Etienne. Coupeau had been with his sister. He came in late and found the children fretting for their dinner. He cuffed Etienne’s ears, bade him hold his tongue and scolded for an hour. He was sure he did not know why he let that boy stay in the house; he was none of his; until that day he had accepted the child as a matter of course.

Three days after this he gave the boy a kick, and it was not long before the child, when he heard him coming, ran into the Goujets’, where there was always a corner at the table for him.

Gervaise had long since resumed her work. She no longer lifted the globe of her clock to take out her bankbook; her savings were all gone, and it was necessary to count the sous pretty closely, for there were four mouths to feed, and they were all dependent on the work of her two hands. When anyone found fault with Coupeau and blamed him she always took his part.

“Think how much he has suffered,” she said with tears in her eyes. "Think of the shock to his nerves! Who can wonder that he is a little sour? Wait awhile, though, until he is perfectly well, and you will see that his temper will be as sweet as it ever was.”

And if anyone ventured to observe that he seemed quite well and that he ought to go to work she would exclaim:

“No indeed, not yet. It would never do.” She did not want him down in his bed again. She knew what the doctor had said, and she every day begged him to take his own time. She even slipped a little silver, into his vest pocket. All this Coupeau accepted as a matter of course. He complained of all sorts of pains and aches to gain a little longer period of indolence and at the end of six months had begun to look upon himself as a confirmed invalid.

He almost daily dropped into a wineshop with a friend; it was a place where he could chat a little, and where was the harm? Besides, whoever heard of a glass of wine killing a man? But he swore to himself that he would never touch anything but wine–not a drop of brandy should pass his lips. Wine was good for one–prolonged one’s life, aided digestion–but brandy was a very different matter. Notwithstanding all these wise resolutions, it came to pass more than once that he came in, after visiting a dozen different cabarets, decidedly tipsy. On these occasions Gervaise locked her doors and declared she was ill, to prevent the Goujets from seeing her husband.

The poor woman was growing very sad. Every night and morning she passed the shop for which she had so ardently longed. She made her calculations over and over again until her brain was dizzy. Two hundred and fifty francs for rent, one hundred and fifty for moving and the apparatus she needed, one hundred francs to keep things going until business began to come in. No, it could not be done under five hundred francs.

She said nothing of this to anyone, deterred only by the fear of seeming to regret the money she had spent for her husband during his illness. She was pale and dispirited at the thought that she must work five years at least before she could save that much money.

One evening Gervaise was alone. Goujet entered, took a chair in silence and looked at her as he smoked his pipe. He seemed to be revolving something in his mind. Suddenly he took his pipe from his mouth.

“Madame Gervaise,” he said, “will you allow me to lend you the money you require?”

She was kneeling at a drawer, laying some towels in a neat pile. She started up, red with surprise. He had seen her standing that very morning for a good ten minutes, looking at the shop, so absorbed that she had not seen him pass.

She refused his offer, however. No, she could never borrow money when she did not know how she could return it, and when he insisted she replied:

“But your marriage? This is the money you have saved for that.”

“Don’t worry on that account,” he said with a heightened color. “I shall not marry. It was an idea of my mother’s, and I prefer to lend you the money.”

They looked away from each other. Their friendship had a certain element of tenderness which each silently recognized.

Gervaise accepted finally and went with Goujet to see his mother, whom he had informed of his intentions. They found her somewhat sad, with her serene, pale face bent over her work. She did not wish to thwart her son, but she no longer approved of the plan, and she told Gervaise why. With kind frankness she pointed out to her that Coupeau had fallen into evil habits and was living on her labors and would in all probability continue to do so. The truth was that Mme Goujet had not forgiven Coupeau for refusing to read during all his long convalescence; this and many other things had alienated her and her son from him, but they had in no degree lost their interest in Gervaise.

Finally it was agreed she should have five hundred francs and should return the money by paying each month twenty francs on account.

“Well, well!” cried Coupeau as he heard of this financial transaction. "We are in luck. There is no danger with us, to be sure, but if he were dealing with knaves he might never see hide or hair of his cash again!”

The next day the shop was taken, and Gervaise ran about with such a light heart that there was a rumor that she had been cured of her lameness by an operation.

Back | Next | Contents