On beholding him Gervaise uttered such a deep wailing that he awoke.
"Mon Dieu! shut the door! It's so cold! Ah! it's you! What's the matter? What do you want?"
Then, Gervaise, stretching out her arms, no longer knowing what she stuttered, began passionately to implore him:
"Oh! take me away! I've had enough; I want to go off. You mustn't bear me any grudge. I didn't know. One never knows until one's ready. Oh, yes; one's glad to go one day! Take me away! Take me away and I shall thank you!"
She fell on her knees, all shaken with a desire which caused her to turn ghastly pale. Never before had she thus dragged herself at a man's feet. Old Bazouge's ugly mug, with his mouth all on one side and his hide begrimed with the dust of funerals, seemed to her as beautiful and resplendent as a sun. The old fellow, who was scarcely awake thought, however, that it was some sort of bad joke.
"Look here," murmured he, "no jokes!"
"Take me away," repeated Gervaise more ardently still. "You remember, I knocked one evening against the partition; then I said that it wasn't true, because I was still a fool. But see! Give me your hands. I'm no longer frightened. Take me away to by-by; you'll see how still I'll be. Oh! sleep, that's all I care for. Oh! I'll love you so much!"
Bazouge, ever gallant, thought that he ought not to be hasty with a lady who appeared to have taken such a fancy to him. She was falling to pieces, but all the same, what remained was very fine, especially when she was excited.
"What you say is very true," said he in a convinced manner. "I packed up three more to-day who would only have been too glad to have given me something for myself, could they but have got their hands to their pockets. But, little woman, it's not so easily settled as all that—"
"Take me away, take me away," continued Gervaise, "I want to die."
"Ah! but there's a little operation to be gone through beforehand—you know, glug!"
And he made a noise in his throat, as though swallowing his tongue. Then, thinking it a good joke, he chuckled.
Gervaise slowly rose to her feet. So he too could do nothing for her. She went to her room and threw herself on her straw, feeling stupid, and regretting she had eaten. Ah! no indeed, misery did not kill quickly enough.
That night Coupeau went on a spree. Next day, Gervaise received ten francs from her son Etienne, who was a mechanic on some railway. The youngster sent her a few francs from time to time, knowing that they were not very well off at home. She made some soup, and ate it all alone, for that scoundrel Coupeau did not return on the morrow. On Monday he was still absent, and on Tuesday also. The whole week went by. Ah, it would be good luck if some woman took him in.
On Sunday Gervaise received a printed document. It was to inform her that her husband was dying at the Sainte-Anne asylum.
Gervaise did not disturb herself. He knew the way; he could very well get home from the asylum by himself. They had cured him there so often that they could once more do him the sorry service of putting him on his pins again. Had she not heard that very morning that for the week before Coupeau had been seen as round as a ball, rolling about Belleville from one dram shop to another in the company of My-Boots. Exactly so; and it was My-Boots, too, who stood treat. He must have hooked his missus's stocking with all the savings gained at very hard work. It wasn't clean money they had used, but money that could infect them with any manner of vile diseases. Well, anyway, they hadn't thought to invite her for a drink. If you wanted to drink by yourself, you could croak by yourself.
However, on Monday, as Gervaise had a nice little meal planned for the evening, the remains of some beans and a pint of wine, she pretended to herself that a walk would give her an appetite. The letter from the asylum which she had left lying on the bureau bothered her. The snow had melted, the day was mild and grey and on the whole fine, with just a slight keenness in the air which was invigorating. She started at noon, for her walk was a long one. She had to cross Paris and her bad leg always slowed her. With that the streets were crowded; but the people amused her; she reached her destination very pleasantly. When she had given her name, she was told a most astounding story to the effect that Coupeau had been fished out of the Seine close to the Pont-Neuf. He had jumped over the parapet, under the impression that a bearded man was barring his way. A fine jump, was it not? And as for finding out how Coupeau got to be on the Pont-Neuf, that was a matter he could not even explain himself.
One of the keepers escorted Gervaise. She was ascending a staircase, when she heard howlings which made her shiver to her very bones.
"He's playing a nice music, isn't he?" observed the keeper.
"Who is?" asked she.
"Why, your old man! He's been yelling like that ever since the day before yesterday; and he dances, you'll just see."
Mon Dieu! what a sight! She stood as one transfixed. The cell was padded from the floor to the ceiling. On the floor there were two straw mats, one piled on top of the other; and in a corner were spread a mattress and a bolster, nothing more. Inside there Coupeau was dancing and yelling, his blouse in tatters and his limbs beating the air. He wore the mask of one about to die. What a breakdown! He bumped up against the window, then retired backwards, beating time with his arms and shaking his hands as though he were trying to wrench them off and fling them in somebody's face. One meets with buffoons in low dancing places who imitate the delirium tremens, only they imitate it badly. One must see this drunkard's dance if one wishes to know what it is like when gone through in earnest. The song also has its merits, a continuous yell worthy of carnival-time, a mouth wide open uttering the same hoarse trombone notes for hours together. Coupeau had the howl of a beast with a crushed paw. Strike up, music! Gentlemen, choose your partners!
"Mon Dieu! what is the matter with him? What is the matter with him?" repeated Gervaise, seized with fear.
A house surgeon, a big fair fellow with a rosy countenance, and wearing a white apron, was quietly sitting taking notes. The case was a curious one; the doctor did not leave the patient.
"Stay a while if you like," said he to the laundress; "but keep quiet. Try and speak to him, he will not recognise you."
Coupeau indeed did not even appear to see his wife. She had only had a bad view of him on entering, he was wriggling about so much. When she looked him full in the face, she stood aghast. Mon Dieu! was it possible he had a countenance like that, his eyes full of blood and his lips covered with scabs? She would certainly never have known him. To begin with, he was making too many grimaces, without saying why, his mouth suddenly out of all shape, his nose curled up, his cheeks drawn in, a perfect animal's muzzle. His skin was so hot the air steamed around him; and his hide was as though varnished, covered with a heavy sweat which trickled off him. In his mad dance, one could see all the same that he was not at his ease, his head was heavy and his limbs ached.
Gervaise drew near to the house surgeon, who was strumming a tune with the tips of his fingers on the back of his chair.
"Tell me, sir, it's serious then this time?"
The house surgeon nodded his head without answering.
"Isn't he jabbering to himself? Eh! don't you hear? What's it about?
"About things he sees," murmured the young man. "Keep quiet, let me listen."
Coupeau was speaking in a jerky voice. A glimmer of amusement lit up his eyes. He looked on the floor, to the right, to the left, and turned about as though he had been strolling in the Bois de Vincennes, conversing with himself.
"Ah! that's nice, that's grand! There're cottages, a regular fair. And some jolly fine music! What a Balthazar's feast! They're smashing the crockery in there. Awfully swell! Now it's being lit up; red balls in the air, and it jumps, and it flies! Oh! oh! what a lot of lanterns in the trees! It's confoundedly pleasant! There's water flowing everywhere, fountains, cascades, water which sings, oh! with the voice of a chorister. The cascades are grand!"
And he drew himself up, as though the better to hear the delicious song of the water; he sucked in forcibly, fancying he was drinking the fresh spray blown from the fountains. But, little by little, his face resumed an agonized expression. Then he crouched down and flew quicker than ever around the walls of the cell, uttering vague threats.
"More traps, all that! I thought as much. Silence, you set of swindlers! Yes, you're making a fool of me. It's for that that you're drinking and bawling inside there with your viragoes. I'll demolish you, you and your cottage! Damnation! Will you leave me in peace?"
He clinched his fists; then he uttered a hoarse cry, stooping as he ran. And he stuttered, his teeth chattering with fright.
"It's so that I may kill myself. No, I won't throw myself in! All that water means that I've no heart. No, I won't throw myself in!"
The cascades, which fled at his approach, advanced when he retired. And all of a sudden, he looked stupidly around him, mumbling, in a voice which was scarcely audible:
"It isn't possible, they set conjurers against me!"
"I'm off, sir. I've got to go. Good-night!" said Gervaise to the house surgeon. "It upsets me too much; I'll come again."
She was quite white. Coupeau was continuing his breakdown from the window to the mattress and from the mattress to the window, perspiring, toiling, always beating the same rhythm. Then she hurried away. But though she scrambled down the stairs, she still heard her husband's confounded jig until she reached the bottom. Ah! Mon Dieu! how pleasant it was out of doors, one could breathe there!
That evening everyone in the tenement was discussing Coupeau's strange malady. The Boches invited Gervaise to have a drink with them, even though they now considered Clump-clump beneath them, in order to hear all the details. Madame Lorilleux and Madame Poisson were there also. Boche told of a carpenter he had known who had been a drinker of absinthe. The man shed his clothes, went out in the street and danced the polka until he died. That rather struck the ladies as comic, even though it was very sad.
Gervaise got up in the middle of the room and did an imitation of Coupeau. Yes, that's just how it was. Can anyone feature a man doing that for hours on end? If they didn't believe they could go see for themselves.
On getting up the next morning, Gervaise promised herself she would not return to the Sainte-Anne again. What use would it be? She did not want to go off her head also. However, every ten minutes, she fell to musing and became absent-minded. It would be curious though, if he were still throwing his legs about. When twelve o'clock struck, she could no longer resist; she started off and did not notice how long the walk was, her brain was so full of her desire to go and the dread of what awaited her.
Oh! there was no need for her to ask for news. She heard Coupeau's song the moment she reached the foot of the staircase. Just the same tune, just the same dance. She might have thought herself going up again after having only been down for a minute. The attendant of the day before, who was carrying some jugs of tisane along the corridor, winked his eye as he met her, by way of being amiable.
"Still the same, then?" said she.
"Oh! still the same!" he replied without stopping.
She entered the room, but she remained near the door, because there were some people with Coupeau. The fair, rosy house surgeon was standing up, having given his chair to a bald old gentleman who was decorated and had a pointed face like a weasel. He was no doubt the head doctor, for his glance was as sharp and piercing as a gimlet. All the dealers in sudden death have a glance like that.
No, really, it was not a pretty sight; and Gervaise, all in a tremble, asked herself why she had returned. To think that the evening before they accused her at the Boches' of exaggerating the picture! Now she saw better how Coupeau set about it, his eyes wide open looking into space, and she would never forget it. She overheard a few words between the house surgeon and the head doctor. The former was giving some details of the night: her husband had talked and thrown himself about, that was what it amounted to. Then the bald-headed old gentleman, who was not very polite by the way, at length appeared to become aware of her presence; and when the house surgeon had informed him that she was the patient's wife, he began to question her in the harsh manner of a commissary of the police.
"Did this man's father drink?"
"Yes, sir; just a little like everyone. He killed himself by falling from a roof one day when he was tipsy."
"Did his mother drink?"
"Well! sir, like everyone else, you know; a drop here, a drop there. Oh! the family is very respectable! There was a brother who died very young in convulsions."
The doctor looked at her with his piercing eye. He resumed in his rough voice:
"And you, you drink too, don't you?"
Gervaise stammered, protested, and placed her hand upon her heart, as though to take her solemn oath.
"You drink! Take care; see where drink leads to. One day or other you will die thus."
Then she remained close to the wall. The doctor had turned his back to her. He squatted down, without troubling himself as to whether his overcoat trailed in the dust of the matting; for a long while he studied Coupeau's trembling, waiting for its reappearance, following it with his glance. That day the legs were going in their turn, the trembling had descended from the hands to the feet; a regular puppet with his strings being pulled, throwing his limbs about, whilst the trunk of his body remained as stiff as a piece of wood. The disease progressed little by little. It was like a musical box beneath the skin; it started off every three or four seconds and rolled along for an instant; then it stopped and then it started off again, just the same as the little shiver which shakes stray dogs in winter, when cold and standing in some doorway for protection. Already the middle of the body and the shoulders quivered like water on the point of boiling. It was a funny demolition all the same, going off wriggling like a girl being tickled.
Coupeau, meanwhile, was complaining in a hollow voice. He seemed to suffer a great deal more than the day before. His broken murmurs disclosed all sorts of ailments. Thousands of pins were pricking him. He felt something heavy all about his body; some cold, wet animal was crawling over his thighs and digging its fangs into his flesh. Then there were other animals sticking to his shoulders, tearing his back with their claws.
"I'm thirsty, oh! I'm thirsty!" groaned he continually.
The house surgeon handed him a little lemonade from a small shelf; Coupeau seized the mug in both hands and greedily took a mouthful, spilling half the liquid over himself; but he spat it out at once with furious disgust, exclaiming:
"Damnation! It's brandy!"
Then, on a sign from the doctor, the house surgeon tried to make him drink some water without leaving go of the bottle. This time he swallowed the mouthful, yelling as though he had swallowed fire.
"It's brandy; damnation! It's brandy!"
Since the night before, everything he had had to drink was brandy. It redoubled his thirst and he could no longer drink, because everything burnt him. They had brought him some broth, but they were evidently trying to poison him, for the broth smelt of vitriol. The bread was sour and moldy. There was nothing but poison around him. The cell stank of sulphur. He even accused persons of rubbing matches under his nose to infect him.
All on a sudden he exclaimed:
"Oh! the rats, there're the rats now!"
There were black balls that were changing into rats. These filthy animals got fatter and fatter, then they jumped onto the mattress and disappeared. There was also a monkey which came out of the wall, and went back into the wall, and which approached so near him each time, that he drew back through fear of having his nose bitten off. Suddenly there was another change, the walls were probably cutting capers, for he yelled out, choking with terror and rage:
"That's it, gee up! Shake me, I don't care! Gee up! Tumble down! Yes, ring the bells, you black crows! Play the organ to prevent my calling the police. They've put a bomb behind the wall, the lousy scoundrels! I can hear it, it snorts, they're going to blow us up! Fire! Damnation, fire! There's a cry of fire! There it blazes. Oh, it's getting lighter, lighter! All the sky's burning, red fires, green fires, yellow fires. Hi! Help! Fire!"
His cries became lost in a rattle. He now only mumbled disconnected words, foaming at the mouth, his chin wet with saliva. The doctor rubbed his nose with his finger, a movement no doubt habitual with him in the presence of serious cases. He turned to the house surgeon, and asked him in a low voice:
"And the temperature, still the hundred degrees, is it not?"
The doctor pursed his lips. He continued there another two minutes, his eyes fixed on Coupeau. Then he shrugged his shoulders, adding:
"The same treatment, broth, milk, lemonade, and the potion of extract of quinine. Do not leave him, and call me if necessary."
He went out and Gervaise followed him, to ask him if there was any hope. But he walked so stiffly along the corridor, that she did not dare approach him. She stood rooted there a minute, hesitating whether to return and look at her husband. The time she had already passed had been far from pleasant. As she again heard him calling out that the lemonade smelt of brandy, she hurried away, having had enough of the performance. In the streets, the galloping of the horses and the noise of the vehicles made her fancy that all the inmates of Saint-Anne were at her heels. And that the doctor had threatened her! Really, she already thought she had the complaint.
In the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or the Boches and the others were naturally awaiting her. The moment she appeared they called her into the concierge's room. Well! was old Coupeau still in the land of the living? Mon Dieu! yes, he still lived. Boche seemed amazed and confounded; he had bet a bottle that old Coupeau would not last till the evening. What! He still lived! And they all exhibited their astonishment, and slapped their thighs. There was a fellow who lasted! Madame Lorilleux reckoned up the hours; thirty-six hours and twenty-four hours, sixty hours. Sacre Dieu! already sixty hours that he had been doing the jig and screaming! Such a feat of strength had never been seen before. But Boche, who was upset that he had lost the bet, questioned Gervaise with an air of doubt, asking her if she was quite sure he had not filed off behind her back. Oh! no, he had no desire to, he jumped about too much. Then Boche, still doubting, begged her to show them again a little how he was acting, just so they could see. Yes, yes, a little more! The request was general! The company told her she would be very kind if she would oblige, for just then two neighbors happened to be there who had not been present the day before, and who had come down purposely to see the performance. The concierge called to everybody to make room, they cleared the centre of the apartment, pushing one another with their elbows, and quivering with curiosity. Gervaise, however, hung down her head. Really, she was afraid it might upset her. Desirous though of showing that she did not refuse for the sake of being pressed, she tried two or three little leaps; but she became quite queer, and stopped; on her word of honor, she was not equal to it! There was a murmur of disappointment; it was a pity, she imitated it perfectly. However, she could not do it, it was no use insisting! And when Virginie left to return to her shop, they forgot all about old Coupeau and began to gossip about the Poissons and their home, a real mess now. The day before, the bailiffs had been; the policeman was about to lose his place; as for Lantier, he was now making up to the daughter of the restaurant keeper next door, a fine woman, who talked of setting up as a tripe-seller. Ah! it was amusing, everyone already beheld a tripe-seller occupying the shop; after the sweets should come something substantial. And that blind Poisson! How could a man whose profession required him to be so smart fail to see what was going on in his own home? They stopped talking suddenly when they noticed that Gervaise was off in a corner by herself imitating Coupeau. Her hands and feet were jerking. Yes, they couldn't ask for a better performance! Then Gervaise started as if waking from a dream and hurried away calling out good-night to everyone.
On the morrow, the Boches saw her start off at twelve, the same as on the two previous days. They wished her a pleasant afternoon. That day the corridor at Sainte-Anne positively shook with Coupeau's yells and kicks. She had not left the stairs when she heard him yelling:
"What a lot of bugs!—Come this way again that I may squash you!—Ah! they want to kill me! ah! the bugs!—I'm a bigger swell than the lot of you! Clear out, damnation! Clear out."
For a moment she stood panting before the door. Was he then fighting against an army? When she entered, the performance had increased and was embellished even more than on previous occasions. Coupeau was a raving madman, the same as one sees at the Charenton mad-house! He was throwing himself about in the center of the cell, slamming his fists everywhere, on himself, on the walls, on the floor, and stumbling about punching empty space. He wanted to open the window, and he hid himself, defended himself, called, answered, produced all this uproar without the least assistance, in the exasperated way of a man beset by a mob of people. Then Gervaise understood that he fancied he was on a roof, laying down sheets of zinc. He imitated the bellows with his mouth, he moved the iron about in the fire and knelt down so as to pass his thumb along the edges of the mat, thinking that he was soldering it. Yes, his handicraft returned to him at the moment of croaking; and if he yelled so loud, if he fought on his roof, it was because ugly scoundrels were preventing him doing his work properly. On all the neighboring roofs were villains mocking and tormenting him. Besides that, the jokers were letting troops of rats loose about his legs. Ah! the filthy beasts, he saw them always! Though he kept crushing them, bringing his foot down with all his strength, fresh hordes of them continued passing, until they quite covered the roof. And there were spiders there too! He roughly pressed his trousers against his thigh to squash some big spiders which had crept up his leg. Mon Dieu! he would never finish his day's work, they wanted to destroy him, his employer would send him to prison. Then, whilst making haste, he suddenly imagined he had a steam-engine in his stomach; with his mouth wide open, he puffed out the smoke, a dense smoke which filled the cell and found an outlet by the window; and, bending forward, still puffing, he looked outside of the cloud of smoke as it unrolled and ascended to the sky, where it hid the sun.
"Look!" cried he, "there's the band of the Chaussee Clignancourt, disguised as bears with drums, putting on a show."
He remained crouching before the window, as though he had been watching a procession in a street, from some rooftop.
"There's the cavalcade, lions and panthers making grimaces—there's brats dressed up as dogs and cats—there's tall Clemence, with her wig full of feathers. Ah! Mon Dieu! she's turning head over heels; she's showed everything—you'd better run, Duckie. Hey, the cops, leave her alone!—just you leave her alone—don't shoot! Don't shoot—"
His voice rose, hoarse and terrified and he stooped down quickly, saying that the police and the military were below, men who were aiming at him with rifles. In the wall he saw the barrel of a pistol emerging, pointed at his breast. They had dragged the girl away.
"Don't shoot! Mon Dieu! Don't shoot!"
Then, the buildings were tumbling down, he imitated the cracking of a whole neighborhood collapsing; and all disappeared, all flew off. But he had no time to take breath, other pictures passed with extraordinary rapidity. A furious desire to speak filled his mouth full of words which he uttered without any connection, and with a gurgling sound in his throat. He continued to raise his voice, louder and louder.
"Hallow, it's you? Good-day! No jokes! Don't make me nuzzle your hair."
And he passed his hand before his face, he blew to send the hairs away. The house surgeon questioned him.
"Who is it you see?"
"My wife, of course!"
He was looking at the wall, with his back to Gervaise. The latter had a rare fright, and she examined the wall, to see if she also could catch sight of herself there. He continued talking.
"Now, you know, none of your wheedling—I won't be tied down! You are pretty, you have got a fine dress. Where did you get the money for it, you cow? You've been at a party, camel! Wait a bit and I'll do for you! Ah! you're hiding your boy friend behind your skirts. Who is it? Stoop down that I may see. Damnation, it's him again!"
With a terrible leap, he went head first against the wall; but the padding softened the blow. One only heard his body rebounding onto the matting, where the shock had sent him.
"Who is it you see?" repeated the house surgeon.
"The hatter! The hatter!" yelled Coupeau.
And the house surgeon questioning Gervaise, the latter stuttered without being able to answer, for this scene stirred up within her all the worries of her life. The zinc-worker thrust out his fists.
"We'll settle this between us, my lad. It's full time I did for you! Ah, you coolly come, with that virago on your arm, to make a fool of me before everyone. Well! I'm going to throttle you—yes, yes, I! And without putting any gloves on either! I'll stop your swaggering. Take that! And that! And that!"
He hit about in the air viciously. Then a wild rage took possession of him. Having bumped against the wall in walking backwards, he thought he was being attacked from behind. He turned round, and fiercely hammered away at the padding. He sprang about, jumped from one corner to another, knocked his stomach, his back, his shoulder, rolled over, and picked himself up again. His bones seemed softened, his flesh had a sound like damp oakum. He accompanied this pretty game with atrocious threats, and wild and guttural cries. However the battle must have been going badly for him, for his breathing became quicker, his eyes were starting out of his head, and he seemed little by little to be seized with the cowardice of a child.
"Murder! Murder! Be off with you both. Oh! you brutes, they're laughing. There she is on her back, the virago! She must give in, it's settled. Ah! the brigand, he's murdering her! He's cutting off her leg with his knife. The other leg's on the ground, the stomach's in two, it's full of blood. Oh! Mon Dieu! Oh! Mon Dieu!"
And, covered with perspiration, his hair standing on end, looking a frightful object, he retired backwards, violently waving his arms, as though to send the abominable sight from him. He uttered two heart-rending wails, and fell flat on his back on the mattress, against which his heels had caught.
"He's dead, sir, he's dead!" said Gervaise, clasping her hands.
The house surgeon had drawn near, and was pulling Coupeau into the middle of the mattress. No, he was not dead. They had taken his shoes off. His bare feet hung off the end of the mattress and they were dancing all by themselves, one beside the other, in time, a little hurried and regular dance.
Just then the head doctor entered. He had brought two of his colleagues—one thin, the other fat, and both decorated like himself. All three stooped down without saying a word, and examined the man all over; then they rapidly conversed together in a low voice. They had uncovered Coupeau from his thighs to his shoulders, and by standing on tiptoe Gervaise could see the naked trunk spread out. Well! it was complete. The trembling had descended from the arms and ascended from the legs, and now the trunk itself was getting lively!
"He's sleeping," murmured the head doctor.
And he called the two others' attention to the man's countenance. Coupeau, his eyes closed, had little nervous twinges which drew up all his face. He was more hideous still, thus flattened out, with his jaw projecting, and his visage deformed like a corpse's that had suffered from nightmare; but the doctors, having caught sight of his feet, went and poked their noses over them, with an air of profound interest. The feet were still dancing. Though Coupeau slept the feet danced. Oh! their owner might snore, that did not concern them, they continued their little occupation without either hurrying or slackening. Regular mechanical feet, feet which took their pleasure wherever they found it.
Gervaise having seen the doctors place their hands on her old man, wished to feel him also. She approached gently and laid a hand on his shoulder, and she kept it there a minute. Mon Dieu! whatever was taking place inside? It danced down into the very depths of the flesh, the bones themselves must have been jumping. Quiverings, undulations, coming from afar, flowed like a river beneath the skin. When she pressed a little she felt she distinguished the suffering cries of the marrow. What a fearful thing, something was boring away like a mole! It must be the rotgut from l'Assommoir that was hacking away inside him. Well! his entire body had been soaked in it.
The doctors had gone away. At the end of an hour Gervaise, who had remained with the house surgeon, repeated in a low voice:
"He's dead, sir; he's dead!"
But the house surgeon, who was watching the feet, shook his head. The bare feet, projecting beyond the mattress, still danced on. They were not particularly clean and the nails were long. Several more hours passed. All on a sudden they stiffened and became motionless. Then the house surgeon turned towards Gervaise, saying:
"It's over now."
Death alone had been able to stop those feet.
When Gervaise got back to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or she found at the Boches' a number of women who were cackling in excited tones. She thought they were awaiting her to have the latest news, the same as the other days.
"He's gone," said she, quietly, as she pushed open the door, looking tired out and dull.
But no one listened to her. The whole building was topsy-turvy. Oh! a most extraordinary story. Poisson had caught his wife with Lantier. Exact details were not known, because everyone had a different version. However, he had appeared just when they were not expecting him. Some further information was given, which the ladies repeated to one another as they pursed their lips. A sight like that had naturally brought Poisson out of his shell. He was a regular tiger. This man, who talked but little and who always seemed to walk with a stick up his back, had begun to roar and jump about. Then nothing more had been heard. Lantier had evidently explained things to the husband. Anyhow, it could not last much longer, and Boche announced that the girl of the restaurant was for certain going to take the shop for selling tripe. That rogue of a hatter adored tripe.
On seeing Madame Lorilleux and Madame Lerat arrive, Gervaise repeated, faintly:
"He's gone. Mon Dieu! Four days' dancing and yelling—"
Then the two sisters could not do otherwise than pull out their handkerchiefs. Their brother had had many faults, but after all he was their brother. Boche shrugged his shoulders and said, loud enough to be heard by everyone:
"Bah! It's a drunkard the less."
From that day, as Gervaise often got a bit befuddled, one of the amusements of the house was to see her imitate Coupeau. It was no longer necessary to press her; she gave the performance gratis, her hands and feet trembling as she uttered little involuntary shrieks. She must have caught this habit at Sainte-Anne from watching her husband too long.
Gervaise lasted in this state several months. She fell lower and lower still, submitting to the grossest outrages and dying of starvation a little every day. As soon as she had four sous she drank and pounded on the walls. She was employed on all the dirty errands of the neighborhood. Once they even bet her she wouldn't eat filth, but she did it in order to earn ten sous. Monsieur Marescot had decided to turn her out of her room on the sixth floor. But, as Pere Bru had just been found dead in his cubbyhole under the staircase, the landlord had allowed her to turn into it. Now she roosted there in the place of Pere Bru. It was inside there, on some straw, that her teeth chattered, whilst her stomach was empty and her bones were frozen. The earth would not have her apparently. She was becoming idiotic. She did not even think of making an end of herself by jumping out of the sixth floor window on to the pavement of the courtyard below. Death had to take her little by little, bit by bit, dragging her thus to the end through the accursed existence she had made for herself. It was never even exactly known what she did die of. There was some talk of a cold, but the truth was she died of privation and of the filth and hardship of her ruined life. Overeating and dissoluteness killed her, according to the Lorilleuxs. One morning, as there was a bad smell in the passage, it was remembered that she had not been seen for two days, and she was discovered already green in her hole.
It happened to be old Bazouge who came with the pauper's coffin under his arm to pack her up. He was again precious drunk that day, but a jolly fellow all the same, and as lively as a cricket. When he recognized the customer he had to deal with he uttered several philosophical reflections, whilst performing his little business.
"Everyone has to go. There's no occasion for jostling, there's room for everyone. And it's stupid being in a hurry that just slows you up. All I want to do is to please everybody. Some will, others won't. What's the result? Here's one who wouldn't, then she would. So she was made to wait. Anyhow, it's all right now, and faith! She's earned it! Merrily, just take it easy."
And when he took hold of Gervaise in his big, dirty hands, he was seized with emotion, and he gently raised this woman who had had so great a longing for his attentions. Then, as he laid her out with paternal care at the bottom of the coffin, he stuttered between two hiccoughs:
"You know—now listen—it's me, Bibi-the-Gay, called the ladies' consoler. There, you're happy now. Go by-by, my beauty!"