"They've got gold in their room?" asked Gervaise.
"I should think so; there's some on the walls, on the floor, in fact everywhere."
They had passed the arched doorway and crossed the courtyard. The Lorilleuxs lived on the sixth floor, staircase B. Coupeau laughingly told her to hold the hand-rail tight and not to leave go of it. She looked up, and blinked her eyes, as she perceived the tall hollow tower of the staircase, lighted by three gas jets, one on every second landing; the last one, right up at the top looked like a star twinkling in a black sky, whilst the other two cast long flashes of light, of fantastic shapes, among the interminable windings of the stairs.
"By Jove!" said the zinc-worker as he reached the first floor, smiling, "there's a strong smell of onion soup. Someone's having onion soup, I'm sure."
Staircase B, with its gray, dirty steps and hand-rail, its scratched walls and chipped plaster, was full of strong kitchen odors. Long corridors, echoing with noise, led away from each landing. Doors, painted yellow, gaped open, smeared black around the latch from dirty hands. A sink on each landing gave forth a fetid humidity, adding its stench to the sharp flavor of the cooking of onions. From the basement, all the way to the sixth floor, you could hear dishes clattering, saucepans being rinsed, pots being scraped and scoured.
On the first floor Gervaise saw a half-opened door with the word "Designer" written on it in large letters. Inside were two men sitting by a table, the dishes cleared away from its oilcloth cover, arguing furiously amid a cloud of pipe smoke. The second and third floors were quieter, and through cracks in the woodwork only such sounds filtered as the rhythm of a cradle rocking, the stifled crying of a child, a woman's voice sounding like the dull murmur of running water with no words distinct. Gervaise read the various signs on the doors giving the names of the occupants: "Madame Gaudron, wool-carder" and "Monsieur Madinier, cardboard boxes." There was a fight in progress on the fourth floor: a stomping of feet that shook the floor, furniture banged around, a racket of curses and blows; but this did not bother the neighbors opposite, who were playing cards with their door opened wide to admit more air.
When Gervaise reached the fifth floor, she had to stop to take a breath; she was not used to going up so high; that wall for ever turning, the glimpses she had of the lodgings following each other, made her head ache. Anyway, there was a family almost blocking the landing: the father washing the dishes over a small earthenware stove near the sink and the mother sitting with her back to the stair-rail and cleaning the baby before putting it to bed.
Coupeau kept urging Gervaise along, and they finally reached the sixth floor. He encouraged her with a smile; they had arrived! She had been hearing a voice all the way up from the bottom and she was gazing upward, wondering where it could be coming from, a voice so clear and piercing that it had dominated all the other sounds. It came from a little old woman in an attic room who sang while putting dresses on cheap dolls. When a tall girl came by with a pail of water and entered a nearby apartment, Gervaise saw a tumbled bed on which a man was sprawled, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. As the door closed behind her, Gervaise saw the hand-written card: "Mademoiselle Clemence, ironing."
Now that she had finally made it to the top, her legs weary and her breath short, Gervaise leaned over the railing to look down. Now it was the gaslight on the first floor which seemed a distant star at the bottom of a narrow well six stories deep. All the odors and all the murmurings of the immense variety of life within the tenement came up to her in one stifling breath that flushed her face as she hazarded a worried glance down into the gulf below.
"We're not there yet," said Coupeau. "Oh! It's quite a journey!"
He had gone down a long corridor on the left. He turned twice, the first time also to the left, the second time to the right. The corridor still continued branching off, narrowing between walls full of crevices, with plaster peeling off, and lighted at distant intervals by a slender gas-jet; and the doors all alike, succeeded each other the same as the doors of a prison or a convent, and nearly all open, continued to display homes of misery and work, which the hot June evening filled with a reddish mist. At length they reached a small passage in complete darkness.
"We're here," resumed the zinc-worker. "Be careful, keep to the wall; there are three steps."
And Gervaise carefully took another ten steps in the obscurity. She stumbled and then counted the three steps. But at the end of the passage Coupeau had opened a door, without knocking. A brilliant light spread over the tiled floor. They entered.
It was a narrow apartment, and seemed as if it were the continuation of the corridor. A faded woolen curtain, raised up just then by a string, divided the place in two. The first part contained a bedstead pushed beneath an angle of the attic ceiling, a cast-iron stove still warm from the cooking of the dinner, two chairs, a table and a wardrobe, the cornice of which had had to be sawn off to make it fit in between the door and the bedstead. The second part was fitted up as a work-shop; at the end, a narrow forge with its bellows; to the right, a vise fixed to the wall beneath some shelves on which pieces of old iron lay scattered; to the left near the window, a small workman's bench, encumbered with greasy and very dirty pliers, shears and microscopical saws, all very dirty and grimy.
"It's us!" cried Coupeau advancing as far as the woolen curtain.
But no one answered at first. Gervaise, deeply affected, moved especially by the thought that she was about to enter a place full of gold, stood behind the zinc-worker, stammering and venturing upon nods of her head by way of bowing. The brilliant light, a lamp burning on the bench, a brazier full of coals flaring in the forge, increased her confusion still more. She ended however, by distinguishing Madame Lorilleux—little, red-haired and tolerably strong, pulling with all the strength of her short arms, and with the assistance of a big pair of pincers, a thread of black metal which she passed through the holes of a draw-plate fixed to the vise. Seated in front of the bench, Lorilleux, quite as small of stature, but more slender in the shoulders, worked with the tips of his pliers, with the vivacity of a monkey, at a labor so minute, that it was impossible to follow it between his scraggy fingers. It was the husband who first raised his head—a head with scanty locks, the face of the yellow tinge of old wax, long, and with an ailing expression.
"Ah! it's you; well, well!" murmured he. "We're in a hurry you know. Don't come into the work-room, you'd be in our way. Stay in the bedroom."
And he resumed his minute task, his face again in the reflection of a glass globe full of green-colored water, through which the lamp shed a circle of bright light over his work.
"Take the chairs!" called out Madame Lorilleux in her turn. "It's that lady, isn't it? Very well, very well!"
She had rolled the wire and she carried it to the forge, and then, reviving the fire of the brazier with a large wooden fan, she proceeded to temper the wire before passing it through the last holes of the draw-plate.
Coupeau moved the chairs forward and seated Gervaise by the curtain. The room was so narrow that he could not sit beside her, so he sat behind her, leaning over her shoulder to explain the work in progress. Gervaise was intimidated by this strange reception and felt uneasy. She had a buzzing in her ears and couldn't hear clearly. She thought the wife looked older than her thirty years and not very neat with her hair in a pigtail dangling down the back of her loosely worn wrapper. The husband, who was only a year older, appeared already an old man with mean, thin lips, as he sat there working in his shirt sleeves with his bare feet thrust into down at the heel slippers. Gervaise was dismayed by the smallness of the shop, the grimy walls, the rustiness of the tools, and the black soot spread all over what looked like the odds and ends of a scrap-iron peddler's wares.
"And the gold?" asked Gervaise in a low voice.
Her anxious glances searched the corners and sought amongst all that filth for the resplendence she had dreamt of. But Coupeau burst out laughing.
"Gold?" said he; "why there's some; there's some more, and there's some at your feet!"
He pointed successively to the fine wire at which his sister was working, and to another roll of wire, similar to the ordinary iron wire, hanging against the wall close to the vise; then going down on all fours, he picked up, beneath the wooden screen which covered the tiled floor of the work-room, a piece of waste, a tiny fragment resembling the point of a rusty needle. But Gervaise protested; that couldn't be gold, that blackish piece of metal as ugly as iron! He had to bite into the piece and show her the gleaming notch made by his teeth. Then he continued his explanations: the employers provided the gold wire, already alloyed; the craftsmen first pulled it through the draw-plate to obtain the correct size, being careful to anneal it five or six times to keep it from breaking. It required a steady, strong hand, and plenty of practice. His sister would not let her husband touch the wire-drawing since he was subject to coughing spells. She had strong arms for it; he had seen her draw gold to the fineness of a hair.
Lorilleux, seized with a fit of coughing, almost doubled up on his stool. In the midst of the paroxysm, he spoke, and said in a choking voice, still without looking at Gervaise, as though he was merely mentioning the thing to himself:
"I'm making the herring-bone chain."
Coupeau urged Gervaise to get up. She might draw nearer and see. The chainmaker consented with a grunt. He wound the wire prepared by his wife round a mandrel, a very thin steel rod. Then he sawed gently, cutting the wire the whole length of the mandrel, each turn forming a link, which he soldered. The links were laid on a large piece of charcoal. He wetted them with a drop of borax, taken from the bottom of a broken glass beside him; and he made them red-hot at the lamp beneath the horizontal flame produced by the blow-pipe. Then, when he had soldered about a hundred links he returned once more to his minute work, propping his hands against the edge of the cheville, a small piece of board which the friction of his hands had polished. He bent each link almost double with the pliers, squeezed one end close, inserted it in the last link already in place and then, with the aid of a point opened out again the end he had squeezed; and he did this with a continuous regularity, the links joining each other so rapidly that the chain gradually grew beneath Gervaise's gaze, without her being able to follow, or well understand how it was done.
"That's the herring-bone chain," said Coupeau. "There's also the long link, the cable, the plain ring, and the spiral. But that's the herring-bone. Lorilleux only makes the herring-bone chain."
The latter chuckled with satisfaction. He exclaimed, as he continued squeezing the links, invisible between his black finger-nails.
"Listen to me, Young Cassis! I was making a calculation this morning. I commenced work when I was twelve years old, you know. Well! Can you guess how long a herring-bone chain I must have made up till to-day?"
He raised his pale face, and blinked his red eye-lids.
"Twenty-six thousand feet, do you hear? Two leagues! That's something! A herring-bone chain two leagues long! It's enough to twist round the necks of all the women of the neighborhood. And you know, it's still increasing. I hope to make it long enough to reach from Paris to Versailles."
Gervaise had returned to her seat, disenchanted and thinking everything very ugly. She smiled to be polite to the Lorilleuxs. The complete silence about her marriage bothered her. It was the sole reason for her having come. The Lorilleuxs were treating her as some stranger brought in by Coupeau. When a conversation finally did get started, it concerned the building's tenants. Madame Lorilleux asked her husband if he had heard the people on the fourth floor having a fight. They fought every day. The husband usually came home drunk and the wife had her faults too, yelling in the filthiest language. Then they spoke of the designer on the first floor, an uppity show-off with a mound of debts, always smoking, always arguing loudly with his friends. Monsieur Madinier's cardboard business was barely surviving. He had let two girl workers go yesterday. The business ate up all his money, leaving his children to run around in rags. And that Madame Gaudron was pregnant again; this was almost indecent at her age. The landlord was going to evict the Coquets on the fifth floor. They owed nine months' rent, and besides, they insisted on lighting their stove out on the landing. Last Saturday the old lady on the sixth floor, Mademoiselle Remanjou, had arrived just in time to save the Linguerlot child from being badly burned. Mademoiselle Clemence, one who took in ironing, well, she lived life as she pleased. She was so kind to animals though and had such a good heart that you couldn't say anything against her. It was a pity, a fine girl like her, the company she kept. She'd be walking the streets before long.
"Look, here's one," said Lorilleux to his wife, giving her the piece of chain he had been working on since his lunch. "You can trim it." And he added, with the persistence of a man who does not easily relinquish a joke: "Another four feet and a half. That brings me nearer to Versailles."
Madame Lorilleux, after tempering it again, trimmed it by passing it through the regulating draw-plate. Then she put it in a little copper saucepan with a long handle, full of lye-water, and placed it over the fire of the forge. Gervaise, again pushed forward by Coupeau, had to follow this last operation. When the chain was thoroughly cleansed, it appeared a dull red color. It was finished, and ready to be delivered.
"They're always delivered like that, in their rough state," the zinc-worker explained. "The polishers rub them afterwards with cloths."
Gervaise felt her courage failing her. The heat, more and more intense, was suffocating her. They kept the door shut, because Lorilleux caught cold from the least draught. Then as they still did not speak of the marriage, she wanted to go away and gently pulled Coupeau's jacket. He understood. Besides, he also was beginning to feel ill at ease and vexed at their affectation of silence.
"Well, we're off," said he. "We mustn't keep you from your work."
He moved about for a moment, waiting, hoping for a word or some allusion or other. At length he decided to broach the subject himself.
"I say, Lorilleux, we're counting on you to be my wife's witness."
The chainmaker pretended, with a chuckle, to be greatly surprised; whilst his wife, leaving her draw-plates, placed herself in the middle of the work-room.
"So it's serious then?" murmured he. "That confounded Young Cassis, one never knows whether he is joking or not."
"Ah! yes, madame's the person involved," said the wife in her turn, as she stared rudely at Gervaise. "Mon Dieu! We've no advice to give you, we haven't. It's a funny idea to go and get married, all the same. Anyhow, it's your own wish. When it doesn't succeed, one's only got oneself to blame, that's all. And it doesn't often succeed, not often, not often."
She uttered these last words slower and slower, and shaking her head, she looked from the young woman's face to her hands, and then to her feet as though she had wished to undress her and see the very pores of her skin. She must have found her better than she expected.
"My brother is perfectly free," she continued more stiffly. "No doubt the family might have wished—one always makes projects. But things take such funny turns. For myself, I don't want to have any unpleasantness. Had he brought us the lowest of the low, I should merely have said: 'Marry her and go to blazes!' He was not badly off though, here with us. He's fat enough; one can very well see he didn't fast much; and he always found his soup hot right on time. I say, Lorilleux, don't you think madame's like Therese—you know who I mean, that woman who used to live opposite, and who died of consumption?"
"Yes, there's a certain resemblance," replied the chainmaker.
"And you've got two children, madame? Now, I must admit I said to my brother: 'I can't understand how you can want to marry a woman who's got two children.' You mustn't be offended if I consult his interests; its only natural. You don't look strong either. Don't you think, Lorilleux, that madame doesn't look very strong?"
"No, no, she's not strong."
They did not mention her leg; but Gervaise understood by their side glances, and the curling of their lips, that they were alluding to it. She stood before them, wrapped in her thin shawl with the yellow palms, replying in monosyllables, as though in the presence of her judges. Coupeau, seeing she was suffering, ended by exclaiming:
"All that's nothing to do with it. What you are talking about isn't important. The wedding will take place on Saturday, July 29. I calculated by the almanac. Is it settled? Does it suit you?"
"Oh, it's all the same to us," said his sister. "There was no necessity to consult us. I shan't prevent Lorilleux being witness. I only want peace and quiet."
Gervaise, hanging her head, not knowing what to do with herself had put the toe of her boot through one of the openings in the wooden screen which covered the tiled floor of the work-room; then afraid of having disturbed something when she had withdrawn it, she stooped down and felt about with her hand. Lorilleux hastily brought the lamp, and he examined her fingers suspiciously.
"You must be careful," said he, "the tiny bits of gold stick to the shoes, and get carried away without one knowing it."
It was all to do with business. The employers didn't allow a single speck for waste. He showed her the rabbit's foot he used to brush off any flecks of gold left on the cheville and the leather he kept on his lap to catch any gold that fell. Twice weekly the shop was swept out carefully, the sweepings collected and burned and the ashes sifted. This recovered up to twenty-five or thirty francs' worth of gold a month.
Madame Lorilleux could not take her eyes from Gervaise's shoes.
"There's no reason to get angry," murmured she with an amiable smile. "But, perhaps madame would not mind looking at the soles of her shoes."
And Gervaise, turning very red, sat down again, and holding up her feet showed that there was nothing clinging to them. Coupeau had opened the door, exclaiming: "Good-night!" in an abrupt tone of voice. He called to her from the corridor. Then she in her turn went off, after stammering a few polite words: she hoped to see them again, and that they would all agree well together. Both of the Lorilleux had already gone back to their work at the far end of their dark hole of a work-room. Madame Lorilleux, her skin reflecting the red glow from the bed of coals, was drawing on another wire. Each effort swelling her neck and making the strained muscles stand out like taut cords. Her husband, hunched over beneath the greenish gleam of the globe was starting another length of chain, twisting each link with his pliers, pressing it on one side, inserting it into the next link above, opening it again with the pointed tool, continuously, mechanically, not wasting a motion, even to wipe the sweat from his face.
When Gervaise emerged from the corridor on to the landing, she could not help saying, with tears in her eyes:
"That doesn't promise much happiness."
Coupeau shook his head furiously. He would get even with Lorilleux for that evening. Had anyone ever seen such a miserly fellow? To think that they were going to walk off with two or three grains of his gold dust! All the fuss they made was from pure avarice. His sister thought perhaps that he would never marry, so as to enable her to economize four sous on her dinner every day. However, it would take place all the same on July 29. He did not care a hang for them!
Nevertheless, Gervaise still felt depressed. Tormented by a foolish fearfulness, she peered anxiously into every dark shadow along the stair-rail as she descended. It was dark and deserted at this hour, lit only by a single gas jet on the second floor. In the shadowy depths of the dark pit, it gave a spot of brightness, even with its flamed turned so low. It was now silent behind the closed doors; the weary laborers had gone to sleep after eating. However, there was a soft laugh from Mademoiselle Clemence's room and a ray of light shone through the keyhole of Mademoiselle Remanjou's door. She was still busy cutting out dresses for the dolls. Downstairs at Madame Gaudron's, a child was crying. The sinks on the landings smelled more offensive than ever in the midst of the darkness and stillness.
In the courtyard, Gervaise turned back for a last look at the tenement as Coupeau called out to the concierge. The building seemed to have grown larger under the moonless sky. The drip-drip of water from the faucet sounded loud in the quiet. Gervaise felt that the building was threatening to suffocate her and a chill went through her body. It was a childish fear and she smiled at it a moment later.
"Watch your step," warned Coupeau.
To get to the entrance, Gervaise had to jump over a wide puddle that had drained from the dye shop. The puddle was blue now, the deep blue of a summer sky. The reflections from the night light of the concierge sparkled in it like stars.
Gervaise did not want to have a wedding-party! What was the use of spending money? Besides, she still felt somewhat ashamed; it seemed to her quite unnecessary to parade the marriage before the whole neighborhood. But Coupeau cried out at that. One could not be married without having a feed. He did not care a button for the people of the neighborhood! Nothing elaborate, just a short walk and a rabbit ragout in the first eating-house they fancied. No music with dessert. Just a glass or two and then back home.
The zinc-worker, chaffing and joking, at length got the young woman to consent by promising her that there should be no larks. He would keep his eye on the glasses, to prevent sunstrokes. Then he organized a sort of picnic at five francs a head, at the "Silver Windmill," kept by Auguste, on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. It was a small cafe with moderate charges and had a dancing place in the rear, beneath the three acacias in the courtyard. They would be very comfortable on the first floor. During the next ten days, he got hold of guests in the house where his sister lived in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or—Monsieur Madinier, Mademoiselle Remanjou, Madame Gaudron and her husband. He even ended by getting Gervaise to consent to the presence of two of his comrades—Bibi-the-Smoker and My-Boots. No doubt My-Boots was a boozer; but then he had such a fantastic appetite that he was always asked to join those sort of gatherings, just for the sight of the caterer's mug when he beheld that bottomless pit swallowing his twelve pounds of bread. The young woman on her side, promised to bring her employer Madame Fauconnier and the Boches, some very agreeable people. On counting, they found there would be fifteen to sit down to table, which was quite enough. When there are too many, they always wind up by quarrelling.
Coupeau however, had no money. Without wishing to show off, he intended to behave handsomely. He borrowed fifty francs of his employer. Out of that, he first of all purchased the wedding-ring—a twelve franc gold wedding-ring, which Lorilleux procured for him at the wholesale price of nine francs. He then bought himself a frock coat, a pair of trousers and a waistcoat at a tailor's in the Rue Myrrha, to whom he gave merely twenty-five francs on account; his patent leather shoes and his hat were still good enough. When he had put by the ten francs for his and Gervaise's share of the feast—the two children not being charged for—he had exactly six francs left—the price of a low mass at the altar of the poor. He had no liking for those black crows, the priests. It would gripe him to pay his last six francs to keep their whistles wet; however, a marriage without a mass wasn't a real marriage at all.
Going to the church himself, he bargained for a whole hour with a little old priest in a dirty cassock who was as sharp at dealing as a push-cart peddler. Coupeau felt like boxing his ears. For a joke, he asked the priest if he didn't have a second-hand mass that would do for a modest young couple. The priest, mumbling that God would take small pleasure in blessing their union, finally let his have his mass for five francs. Well after all, that meant twenty sous saved.
Gervaise also wanted to look decent. As soon as the marriage was settled, she made her arrangements, worked extra time in the evenings, and managed to put thirty francs on one side. She had a great longing for a little silk mantle marked thirteen francs in the Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere. She treated herself to it, and then bought for ten francs of the husband of a washerwoman who had died in Madame Fauconnier's house a blue woolen dress, which she altered to fit herself. With the seven francs remaining she procured a pair of cotton gloves, a rose for her cap, and some shoes for Claude, her eldest boy. Fortunately the youngsters' blouses were passable. She spent four nights cleaning everything, and mending the smallest holes in her stockings and chemise.
On Friday night, the eve of the great day, Gervaise and Coupeau had still a good deal of running about to do up till eleven o'clock, after returning home from work. Then before separating for the night they spent an hour together in the young woman's room, happy at being about to be released from their awkward position. In spite of the fact that they had originally resolved not to put themselves out to impress the neighbors, they had ended by taking it seriously and working themselves till they were weary. By the time they said "Good-night," they were almost asleep on their feet. They breathed a great sigh of relief now that everything was ready.
Coupeau's witnesses were to be Monsieur Madinier and Bibi-the-Smoker. They were counting on Lorilleux and Boche for Gervaise's witnesses. They were to go quietly to the mayor's office and the church, just the six of them, without a whole procession of people trailing behind them. The bridegroom's two sisters had even declared that they would stay home, their presence not being necessary. Coupeau's mother, however, had sobbed and wailed, threatening to go ahead of them and hide herself in some corner of the church, until they had promised to take her along. The meeting of the guests was set for one o'clock at the Silver Windmill. From there, they would go to Saint-Denis, going out by railroad and returning on foot along the highway in order to work up an appetite. The party promised to be quite all right.
Saturday morning, while getting dressed, Coupeau felt a qualm of uneasiness in view of the single franc in his pocket. He began to think that it was a matter of ordinary courtesy to offer a glass of wine and a slice of ham to the witnesses while awaiting dinner. Also, there might be unforeseen expenses. So, after taking Claude and Etienne to stay with Madame Boche, who was to bring them to the dinner later that afternoon, he hurried over to the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or to borrow ten francs from Lorilleux. Having to do that griped him immensely as he could guess the attitude his brother-in-law would take. The latter did grumble a bit, but ended by lending him two five-franc pieces. However, Coupeau overheard his sister muttering under her breath, "This is a fine beginning."
The ceremony at the mayor's was to take place at half-past ten. It was beautiful weather—a magnificent sun seemed to roast the streets. So as not to be stared at the bride and bridegroom, the old mother, and the four witnesses separated into two bands. Gervaise walked in front with Lorilleux, who gave her his arm; whilst Monsieur Madinier followed with mother Coupeau. Then, twenty steps behind on the opposite side of the way, came Coupeau, Boche, and Bibi-the-Smoker. These three were in black frock coats, walking erect and swinging their arms. Boche's trousers were bright yellow. Bibi-the-Smoker didn't have a waistcoat so he was buttoned up to the neck with only a bit of his cravat showing. The only one in a full dress suit was Monsieur Madinier and passers-by gazed at this well-dressed gentleman escorting the huge bulk of mother Coupeau in her green shawl and black bonnet with red ribbons.
Gervaise looked very gay and sweet in her dress of vivid blue and with her new silk mantle fitted tightly to her shoulders. She listened politely to the sneering remarks of Lorilleux, who seemed buried in the depths of the immense overcoat he was wearing. From time to time, Gervaise would turn her head a little to smile brightly at Coupeau, who was rather uncomfortable under the hot sun in his new clothes.
Though they walked very slowly, they arrived at the mayor's quite half an hour too soon. And as the mayor was late, their turn was not reached till close upon eleven o'clock. They sat down on some chairs and waited in a corner of the apartment, looking by turns at the high ceiling and bare walls, talking low, and over-politely pushing back their chairs each time that one of the attendants passed. Yet among themselves they called the mayor a sluggard, saying he must be visiting his blonde to get a massage for his gout, or that maybe he'd swallowed his official sash.
However, when the mayor did put in his appearance, they rose respectfully in his honor. They were asked to sit down again and they had to wait through three other marriages. The hall was crowded with the three bourgeois wedding parties: brides all in white, little girls with carefully curled hair, bridesmaids wearing wide sashes, an endless procession of ladies and gentlemen dressed in their best and looking very stylish.
When at length they were called, they almost missed being married altogether. Bibi-the-Smoker having disappeared. Boche discovered him outside smoking his pipe. Well! They were a nice lot inside there to humbug people about like that, just because one hadn't yellow kid gloves to shove under their noses! And the various formalities—the reading of the Code, the different questions to be put, the signing of all the documents—were all got through so rapidly that they looked at each other with an idea that they had been robbed of a good half of the ceremony. Gervaise, dizzy, her heart full, pressed her handkerchief to her lips. Mother Coupeau wept bitterly. All had signed the register, writing their names in big struggling letters with the exception of the bridegroom, who not being able to write, had put his cross. They each gave four sous for the poor. When an attendant handed Coupeau the marriage certificate, the latter, prompted by Gervaise who nudged his elbow, handed him another five sous.
It was a fair walk from the mayor's office in the town hall to the church. The men stopped along the way to have a beer. Mother Coupeau and Gervaise took cassis with water. Then they had to trudge along the long street where the sun glared straight down without the relief of shade.
When they arrived at the church they were hurried along and asked if they came so late in order to make a mockery of religion. A priest came forward, his face pale and resentful from having to delay his lunch. An altar boy in a soiled surplice ran before him.
The mass went very fast, with the priest turning, bowing his head, spreading out his arms, making all the ritual gestures in haste while casting sidelong glances at the group. Gervaise and Coupeau, before the altar, were embarrassed, not knowing when they should kneel or rise or seat themselves, expecting some indication from the attendant. The witnesses, not knowing what was proper, remained standing during the ceremony. Mother Coupeau was weeping again and shedding her tears into the missal she had borrowed from a neighbor.
Meanwhile, the noon chimes had sounded and the church began to fill with noise from the shuffling feet of sacristans and the clatter of chairs being put back in place. The high altar was apparently being prepared for some special ceremony.
Thus, in the depths of this obscure chapel, amid the floating dust, the surly priest placed his withered hands on the bared heads of Gervaise and Coupeau, blessing their union amid a hubbub like that of moving day. The wedding party signed another registry, this time in the sacristy, and then found themselves out in the bright sunlight before the church doors where they stood for a moment, breathless and confused from having been carried along at such a break-neck speed.
"Voila!" said Coupeau with an embarrassed laugh. "Well, it sure didn't take long. They shove it at you so; it's like being at the painless dentist's who doesn't give you time to cry out. Here you get a painless wedding!"
"Yes, it's a quick job," Lorilleux smirked. "In five minutes you're tied together for the rest of your life. You poor Young Cassis, you've had it."
The four witnesses whacked Coupeau on the shoulders as he arched his back against the friendly blows. Meanwhile Gervaise was hugging and kissing mother Coupeau, her eyes moist, a smile lighting her face. She replied reassuringly to the old woman's sobbing: "Don't worry, I'll do my best. I want so much to have a happy life. If it doesn't work out it won't be my fault. Anyhow, it's done now. It's up to us to get along together and do the best we can for each other."
After that they went straight to the Silver Windmill. Coupeau had taken his wife's arm. They walked quickly, laughing as though carried away, quite two hundred steps ahead of the others, without noticing the houses or the passers-by, or the vehicles. The deafening noises of the faubourg sounded like bells in their ears. When they reached the wineshop, Coupeau at once ordered two bottles of wine, some bread and some slices of ham, to be served in the little glazed closet on the ground floor, without plates or table cloth, simply to have a snack. Then, noticing that Boche and Bibi-the-Smoker seemed to be very hungry, he had a third bottle brought, as well as a slab of brie cheese. Mother Coupeau was not hungry, being too choked up to be able to eat. Gervaise found herself very thirsty, and drank several large glasses of water with a small amount of wine added.
"I'll settle for this," said Coupeau, going at once to the bar, where he paid four francs and five sous.
It was now one o'clock and the other guests began to arrive. Madame Fauconnier, a fat woman, still good looking, first put in an appearance; she wore a chintz dress with a flowery pattern, a pink tie and a cap over-trimmed with flowers. Next came Mademoiselle Remanjou, looking very thin in the eternal black dress which she seemed to keep on even when she went to bed; and the two Gaudrons—the husband, like some heavy animal and almost bursting his brown jacket at the slightest movement, the wife, an enormous woman, whose figure indicated evident signs of an approaching maternity and whose stiff violet colored skirt still more increased her rotundity. Coupeau explained that they were not to wait for My-Boots; his comrade would join the party on the Route de Saint-Denis.
"Well!" exclaimed Madame Lerat as she entered, "it'll pour in torrents soon! That'll be pleasant!"
And she called everyone to the door of the wineshop to see the clouds as black as ink which were rising rapidly to the south of Paris. Madame Lerat, eldest of the Coupeaus, was a tall, gaunt woman who talked through her nose. She was unattractively dressed in a puce-colored robe that hung loosely on her and had such long dangling fringes that they made her look like a skinny poodle coming out of the water. She brandished her umbrella like a club. After greeting Gervaise, she said, "You've no idea. The heat in the street is like a slap on the face. You'd think someone was throwing fire at you."
Everyone agreed that they knew the storm was coming. It was in the air. Monsieur Madinier said that he had seen it as they were coming out of the church. Lorilleux mentioned that his corns were aching and he hadn't been able to sleep since three in the morning. A storm was due. It had been much too hot for three days in a row.
"Well, maybe it will just be a little mist," Coupeau said several times, standing at the door and anxiously studying the sky. "Now we have to wait only for my sister. We'll start as soon as she arrives."
Madame Lorilleux was late. Madame Lerat had stopped by so they could come together, but found her only beginning to get dressed. The two sisters had argued. The widow whispered in her brother's ear, "I left her flat! She's in a dreadful mood. You'll see."
And the wedding party had to wait another quarter of an hour, walking about the wineshop, elbowed and jostled in the midst of the men who entered to drink a glass of wine at the bar. Now and again Boche, or Madame Fauconnier, or Bibi-the-Smoker left the others and went to the edge of the pavement, looking up at the sky. The storm was not passing over at all; a darkness was coming on and puffs of wind, sweeping along the ground, raised little clouds of white dust. At the first clap of thunder, Mademoiselle Remanjou made the sign of the cross. All the glances were anxiously directed to the clock over the looking-glass; it was twenty minutes to two.
"Here it goes!" cried Coupeau. "It's the angels who're weeping."
A gush of rain swept the pavement, along which some women flew, holding down their skirts with both hands. And it was in the midst of this first shower that Madame Lorilleux at length arrived, furious and out of breath, and struggling on the threshold with her umbrella that would not close.
"Did any one ever see such a thing?" she exclaimed. "It caught me just at the door. I felt inclined to go upstairs again and take my things off. I should have been wise had I done so. Ah! it's a pretty wedding! I said how it would be. I wanted to put it off till next Saturday; and it rains because they wouldn't listen to me! So much the better, so much the better! I wish the sky would burst!"
Coupeau tried to pacify her without success. He wouldn't have to pay for her dress if it was spoilt! She had on a black silk dress in which she was nearly choking, the bodice, too tight fitting, was almost bursting the button-holes, and was cutting her across the shoulders; while the skirt only allowed her to take very short steps in walking. However, the ladies present were all staring at her, quite overcome by her costume.
She appeared not to notice Gervaise, who was sitting beside mother Coupeau. She asked her husband for his handkerchief. Then she went into a corner and very carefully wiped off the raindrops that had fallen on her silk dress.
The shower had abruptly ceased. The darkness increased, it was almost like night—a livid night rent at times by large flashes of lightning. Bibi-the-Smoker said laughingly that it would certainly rain priests. Then the storm burst forth with extreme violence. For half an hour the rain came down in bucketsful, and the thunder rumbled unceasingly. The men standing up before the door contemplated the grey veil of the downpour, the swollen gutters, the splashes of water caused by the rain beating into the puddles. The women, feeling frightened, had sat down again, holding their hands before their eyes. They no longer conversed, they were too upset. A jest Boche made about the thunder, saying that St. Peter was sneezing up there, failed to raise a smile. But, when the thunder-claps became less frequent and gradually died away in the distance, the wedding guests began to get impatient, enraged against the storm, cursing and shaking their fists at the clouds. A fine and interminable rain now poured down from the sky which had become an ashy grey.
"It's past two o'clock," cried Madame Lorilleux. "We can't stop here for ever."
Mademoiselle Remanjou, having suggested going into the country all the same, even though they went no farther than the moat of the fortifications, the others scouted the idea: the roads would be in a nice state, one would not even be able to sit down on the grass; besides, it did not seem to be all over yet, there might perhaps be another downpour. Coupeau, who had been watching a workman, completely soaked, yet quietly walking along in the rain, murmured:
"If that animal My-Boots is waiting for us on the Route de Saint-Denis, he won't catch a sunstroke."
That made some of them laugh; but the general ill-humor increased. It was becoming ludicrous. They must decide on something unless they planned to sit there, staring at each other, until time for dinner. So for the next quarter of an hour, while the persistent rain continued, they tried to think of what to do. Bibi-the-Smoker suggested that they play cards. Boche slyly suggesting a most amusing game, the game of true confessions. Madame Gaudron thought of going to eat onion tarts on the Chaussee Clignancourt. Madame Lerat wanted to hear some stories. Gaudron said he wasn't a bit put out and thought they were quite well off where they were, out of the downpour. He suggested sitting down to dinner immediately.
There was a discussion after each proposal. Some said that this would put everybody to sleep or that that would make people think they were stupid. Lorilleux had to get his word in. He finally suggested a walk along the outer Boulevards to Pere Lachaise cemetery. They could visit the tomb of Heloise and Abelard. Madame Lorilleux exploded, no longer able to control herself. She was leaving, she was. Were they trying to make fun of her? She got all dressed up and came out in the rain. And for what? To be wasting time in a wineshop. No, she had had enough of this wedding party. She'd rather be in her own home. Coupeau and Lorilleux had to get between her and the door to keep her from leaving. She kept telling them, "Get out of my way! I am leaving, I tell you!"
Lorilleux finally succeeded in calming her down. Coupeau went over to Gervaise, who had been sitting quietly in a corner with mother Coupeau and Madame Fauconnier.
"You haven't suggested anything," he said to her.
"Oh! Whatever they want," she replied, laughing. "I don't mind. We can go out or stay here."
She seemed aglow with contentment. She had spoken to each guest as they arrived. She spoke sensibly, in her soft voice, not getting into any disagreements. During the downpour, she had sat with her eyes wide open, watching the lightning as though she could see the future in the sudden flashes.
Monsieur Madinier had up to this time not proposed anything. He was leaning against the bar, with the tails of his dress coat thrust apart, while he fully maintained the important air of an employer. He kept on expectorating, and rolled his big eyes about.
"Mon Dieu!" said he, "we might go to the Museum."
And he stroked his chin, as he blinkingly consulted the other members of the party.
"There are antiquities, pictures, paintings, a whole heap of things. It is very instructive. Perhaps you have never been there. Oh! it is quite worth seeing at least once in a while."
They looked at each other interrogatively. No, Gervaise had never been; Madame Fauconnier neither, nor Boche, nor the others. Coupeau thought he had been one Sunday, but he was not sure. They hesitated, however, when Madame Lorilleux, greatly impressed by Monsieur Madinier's importance, thought the suggestion a very worthy and respectable one. As they were wasting the day, and were all dressed up, they might as well go somewhere for their own instruction. Everyone approved. Then, as it still rained a little, they borrowed some umbrellas from the proprietor of the wineshop, old blue, green, and brown umbrellas, forgotten by different customers, and started off to the Museum.
The wedding party turned to the right, and descended into Paris along the Faubourg Saint-Denis. Coupeau and Gervaise again took the lead, almost running and keeping a good distance in front of the others. Monsieur Madinier now gave his arm to Madame Lorilleux, mother Coupeau having remained behind in the wineshop on account of her old legs. Then came Lorilleux and Madame Lerat, Boche and Madame Fauconnier, Bibi-the-Smoker and Mademoiselle Remanjou, and finally the two Gaudrons. They were twelve and made a pretty long procession on the pavement.
"I swear to you, we had nothing to do with it," Madame Lorilleux explained to Monsieur Madinier. "We don't even know how they met, or, we know only too well, but that's not for us to discuss. My husband even had to buy the wedding ring. We were scarcely out of bed this morning when he had to lend them ten francs. And, not a member of her family at her wedding, what kind of bride is that? She says she has a sister in Paris who works for a pork butcher. Why didn't she invite her?" She stopped to point at Gervaise, who was limping awkwardly because of the slope of the pavement. "Just look at her. Clump-clump."
"Clump-clump" ran through the wedding procession. Lorilleux laughed under his breath, and said they ought to call her that, but Madame Fauconnier stood up for Gervaise. They shouldn't make fun of her; she was neat as a pin and did a good job when there was washing to be done.
When the wedding procession came out of the Faubourg Saint-Denis, they had to cross the boulevard. The street had been transformed into a morass of sticky mud by the storm. It had started to pour again and they had opened the assorted umbrellas. The women picked their way carefully through the mud, holding their skirts high as the men held the sorry-looking umbrellas over their heads. The procession stretched out the width of the street.
"It's a masquerade!" yelled two street urchins.
People turned to stare. These couples parading across the boulevard added a splash of vivid color against the damp background. It was a parade of a strange medley of styles showing fancy used clothing such as constitute the luxury of the poor. The gentlemen's hats caused the most merriment, old hats preserved for years in dark and dusty cupboards, in a variety of comical forms: tall ones, flattened ones, sharply peaked ones, hats with extraordinary brims, curled back or flat, too narrow or too wide. Then at the very end, Madame Gaudron came along with her bright dress over her bulging belly and caused the smiles of the audience to grow even wider. The procession made no effort to hasten its progress. They were, in fact, rather pleased to attract so much attention and admiration.
"Look! Here comes the bride!" one of the urchins shouted, pointing to Madame Gaudron. "Oh! Isn't it too bad! She must have swallowed something!"
The entire wedding procession burst into laughter. Bibi-the-Smoker turned around and laughed. Madame Gaudron laughed the most of all. She wasn't ashamed as she thought more than one of the women watching had looked at her with envy.
They turned into the Rue de Clery. Then they took the Rue du Mail. On reaching the Place des Victoires, there was a halt. The bride's left shoe lace had come undone, and as she tied it up again at the foot of the statue of Louis XIV., the couples pressed behind her waiting, and joking about the bit of calf of her leg that she displayed. At length, after passing down the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, they reached the Louvre.
Monsieur Madinier politely asked to be their cicerone. It was a big place, and they might lose themselves; besides, he knew the best parts, because he had often come there with an artist, a very intelligent fellow from whom a large dealer bought designs to put on his cardboard boxes. Down below, when the wedding party entered the Assyrian Museum, a slight shiver passed through it. The deuce! It was not at all warm there; the hall would have made a capital cellar. And the couples slowly advanced, their chins raised, their eyes blinking, between the gigantic stone figures, the black marble gods, dumb in their hieratic rigidity, and the monstrous beasts, half cats and half women, with death-like faces, attenuated noses, and swollen lips. They thought all these things very ugly. The stone carvings of the present day were a great deal better. An inscription in Phoenician characters amazed them. No one could possibly have ever read that scrawl. But Monsieur Madinier, already up on the first landing with Madame Lorilleux, called to them, shouting beneath the vaulted ceiling:
"Come along! They're nothing, all those things! The things to see are on the first floor!"
The severe barrenness of the staircase made them very grave. An attendant, superbly attired in a red waistcoat and a coat trimmed with gold lace, who seemed to be awaiting them on the landing, increased their emotion. It was with great respect, and treading as softly as possible, that they entered the French Gallery.
Then, without stopping, their eyes occupied with the gilding of the frames, they followed the string of little rooms, glancing at the passing pictures too numerous to be seen properly. It would have required an hour before each, if they had wanted to understand it. What a number of pictures! There was no end to them. They must be worth a mint of money. Right at the end, Monsieur Madinier suddenly ordered a halt opposite the "Raft of the Medusa" and he explained the subject to them. All deeply impressed and motionless, they uttered not a word. When they started off again, Boche expressed the general feeling, saying it was marvellous.
In the Apollo Gallery, the inlaid flooring especially astonished the party—a shining floor, as clear as a mirror, and which reflected the legs of the seats. Mademoiselle Remanjou kept her eyes closed, because she could not help thinking that she was walking on water. They called to Madame Gaudron to be careful how she trod on account of her condition. Monsieur Madinier wanted to show them the gilding and paintings of the ceiling; but it nearly broke their necks to look up above, and they could distinguish nothing. Then, before entering the Square Salon, he pointed to a window, saying:
"That's the balcony from which Charles IX. fired on the people."
He looked back to make sure the party was following. In the middle of the Salon Carre, he held up his hand. "There are only masterpieces here," he said, in a subdued voice, as though in church. They went all around the room. Gervaise wanted to know about "The Wedding at Cana." Coupeau paused to stare at the "Mona Lisa," saying that she reminded him of one of his aunts. Boche and Bibi-the-Smoker snickered at the nudes, pointing them out to each other and winking. The Gaudrons looked at the "Virgin" of Murillo, he with his mouth open, she with her hands folded on her belly.
When they had been all around the Salon, Monsieur Madinier wished them to go round it again, it was so worth while. He was very attentive to Madame Lorilleux, because of her silk dress; and each time that she questioned him he answered her gravely, with great assurance. She was curious about "Titian's Mistress" because the yellow hair resembled her own. He told her it was "La Belle Ferronniere," a mistress of Henry IV. about whom there had been a play at the Ambigu.
Then the wedding party invaded the long gallery occupied by the Italian and Flemish schools. More paintings, always paintings, saints, men and women, with faces which some of them could understand, landscapes that were all black, animals turned yellow, a medley of people and things, the great mixture of the colors of which was beginning to give them all violent headaches. Monsieur Madinier no longer talked as he slowly headed the procession, which followed him in good order, with stretched necks and upcast eyes. Centuries of art passed before their bewildered ignorance, the fine sharpness of the early masters, the splendors of the Venetians, the vigorous life, beautiful with light, of the Dutch painters. But what interested them most were the artists who were copying, with their easels planted amongst the people, painting away unrestrainedly, an old lady, mounted on a pair of high steps, working a big brush over the delicate sky of an immense painting, struck them as something most peculiar.
Slowly the word must have gone around that a wedding party was visiting the Louvre. Several painters came over with big smiles. Some visitors were so curious that they went to sit on benches ahead of the group in order to be comfortable while they watched them pass in review. Museum guards bit back comments. The wedding party was now quite weary and beginning to drag their feet.
Monsieur Madinier was reserving himself to give more effect to a surprise that he had in store. He went straight to the "Kermesse" of Rubens; but still he said nothing. He contented himself with directing the others' attention to the picture by a sprightly glance. The ladies uttered faint cries the moment they brought their noses close to the painting. Then, blushing deeply they turned away their heads. The men though kept them there, cracking jokes, and seeking for the coarser details.
"Just look!" exclaimed Boche, "it's worth the money. There's one spewing, and another, he's watering the dandelions; and that one—oh! that one. Ah, well! They're a nice clean lot, they are!"
"Let us be off," said Monsieur Madinier, delighted with his success. "There is nothing more to see here."
They retraced their steps, passing again through the Salon Carre and the Apollo Gallery. Madame Lerat and Mademoiselle Remanjou complained, declaring that their legs could scarcely bear them. But the cardboard box manufacturer wanted to show Lorilleux the old jewelry. It was close by in a little room which he could find with his eyes shut. However, he made a mistake and led the wedding party astray through seven or eight cold, deserted rooms, only ornamented with severe looking-glass cases, containing numberless broken pots and hideous little figures.
While looking for an exit they stumbled into the collection of drawings. It was immense. Through room after room they saw nothing interesting, just scribblings on paper that filled all the cases and covered the walls. They thought there was no end to these drawings.
Monsieur Madinier, losing his head, not willing to admit that he did not know his way, ascended a flight of stairs, making the wedding party mount to the next floor. This time they traversed the Naval Museum, among models of instruments and cannons, plans in relief, and vessels as tiny as playthings. After going a long way, and walking for a quarter of an hour, the party came upon another staircase; and, having descended this, found itself once more surrounded by the drawings. Then despair took possession of them as they wandered at random through long halls, following Monsieur Madinier, who was furious and mopping the sweat from his forehead. He accused the government of having moved the doors around. Museum guards and visitors looked on with astonishment as the procession, still in a column of couples, passed by. They passed again through the Salon Carre, the French Gallery and then along the cases where minor Eastern divinities slumbered peacefully. It seemed they would never find their way out. They were getting tired and made a lot of noise.
"Closing time! Closing time!" called out the attendants, in a loud tone of voice.
And the wedding party was nearly locked in. An attendant was obliged to place himself at the head of it, and conduct it to a door. Then in the courtyard of the Louvre, when it had recovered its umbrellas from the cloakroom, it breathed again. Monsieur Madinier regained his assurance. He had made a mistake in not turning to the left, now he recollected that the jewelry was to the left. The whole party pretended to be very pleased at having seen all they had.
Four o'clock was striking. There were still two hours to be employed before the dinner time, so it was decided they should take a stroll, just to occupy the interval. The ladies, who were very tired, would have preferred to sit down; but, as no one offered any refreshments, they started off, following the line of quays. There they encountered another shower and so sharp a one that in spite of the umbrellas, the ladies' dresses began to get wet. Madame Lorilleux, her heart sinking within her each time a drop fell upon her black silk, proposed that they should shelter themselves under the Pont-Royal; besides if the others did not accompany her, she threatened to go all by herself. And the procession marched under one of the arches of the bridge. They were very comfortable there. It was, most decidedly a capital idea! The ladies, spreading their handkerchiefs over the paving-stones, sat down with their knees wide apart, and pulled out the blades of grass that grew between the stones with both hands, whilst they watched the dark flowing water as though they were in the country. The men amused themselves with calling out very loud, so as to awaken the echoes of the arch. Boche and Bibi-the-Smoker shouted insults into the air at the top of their voices, one after the other. They laughed uproariously when the echo threw the insults back at them. When their throats were hoarse from shouting, they made a game of skipping flat stones on the surface of the Seine.
The shower had ceased but the whole party felt so comfortable that no one thought of moving away. The Seine was flowing by, an oily sheet carrying bottle corks, vegetable peelings, and other refuse that sometimes collected in temporary whirlpools moving along with the turbulent water. Endless traffic rumbled on the bridge overhead, the noisy bustle of Paris, of which they could glimpse only the rooftops to the left and right, as though they were in the bottom of a deep pit.
Mademoiselle Remanjou sighed; if the leaves had been out this would have reminded her of a bend of the Marne where she used to go with a young man. It still made her cry to think of him.
At last, Monsieur Madinier gave the signal for departure. They passed through the Tuileries gardens, in the midst of a little community of children, whose hoops and balls upset the good order of the couples. Then as the wedding party on arriving at the Place Vendome looked up at the column, Monsieur Madinier gallantly offered to treat the ladies to a view from the top. His suggestion was considered extremely amusing. Yes, yes, they would go up; it would give them something to laugh about for a long time. Besides, it would be full of interest for those persons who had never been higher than a cow pasture.
"Do you think Clump-clump will venture inside there with her leg all out of place?" murmured Madame Lorilleux.
"I'll go up with pleasure," said Madame Lerat, "but I won't have any men walking behind me."
And the whole party ascended. In the narrow space afforded by the spiral staircase, the twelve persons crawled up one after the other, stumbling against the worn steps, and clinging to the walls. Then, when the obscurity became complete, they almost split their sides with laughing. The ladies screamed when the gentlemen pinched their legs. But they were weren't stupid enough to say anything! The proper plan is to think that it is the mice nibbling at them. It wasn't very serious; the men knew when to stop.
Boche thought of a joke and everyone took it up. They called down to Madame Gaudron to ask her if she could squeeze her belly through. Just think! If she should get stuck there, she would completely block the passage, and how would they ever get out? They laughed so at the jokes about her belly that the column itself vibrated. Boche was now quite carried away and declared that they were growing old climbing up this chimney pipe. Was it ever coming to an end, or did it go right up to heaven? He tried to frighten the ladies by telling them the structure was shaking.
Coupeau, meanwhile, said nothing. He was behind Gervaise, with his arm around her waist, and felt that she was everything perfect to him. When they suddenly emerged again into the daylight, he was just in the act of kissing her on the cheek.
"Well! You're a nice couple; you don't stand on ceremony," said Madame Lorilleux with a scandalized air.
Bibi-the-Smoker pretended to be furious. He muttered between his teeth. "You made such a noise together! I wasn't even able to count the steps."
But Monsieur Madinier was already up on the platform, pointing out the different monuments. Neither Madame Fauconnier nor Mademoiselle Remanjou would on any consideration leave the staircase. The thought of the pavement below made their blood curdle, and they contented themselves with glancing out of the little door. Madame Lerat, who was bolder, went round the narrow terrace, keeping close to the bronze dome; but, mon Dieu, it gave one a rude emotion to think that one only had to slip off. The men were a little paler than usual as they stared down at the square below. You would think you were up in mid-air, detached from everything. No, it wasn't fun, it froze your very insides.
Monsieur Madinier told them to raise their eyes and look straight into the distance to avoid feeling dizzy. He went on pointing out the Invalides, the Pantheon, Notre Dame and the Montmartre hill. Madame Lorilleux asked if they could see the place where they were to have dinner, the Silver Windmill on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. For ten minutes they tried to see it, even arguing about it. Everyone had their own idea where it was.
"It wasn't worth while coming up here to bite each other's noses off," said Boche, angrily as he turned to descend the staircase.
The wedding party went down, unspeaking and sulky, awakening no other sound beyond that of shoes clanking on the stone steps. When it reached the bottom, Monsieur Madinier wished to pay; but Coupeau would not permit him, and hastened to place twenty-four sous into the keeper's hand, two sous for each person. So they returned by the Boulevards and the Faubourg du Poissonniers. Coupeau, however, considered that their outing could not end like that. He bundled them all into a wineshop where they took some vermouth.
The repast was ordered for six o'clock. At the Silver Windmill, they had been waiting for the wedding party for a good twenty minutes. Madame Boche, who had got a lady living in the same house to attend to her duties for the evening, was conversing with mother Coupeau in the first floor room, in front of the table, which was all laid out; and the two youngsters, Claude and Etienne, whom she had brought with her, were playing about beneath the table and amongst the chairs. When Gervaise, on entering caught sight of the little ones, whom she had not seen all the day, she took them on her knees, and caressed and kissed them.
"Have they been good?" asked she of Madame Boche. "I hope they haven't worried you too much."
And as the latter related the things the little rascals had done during the afternoon, and which would make one die with laughing, the mother again took them up and pressed them to her breast, seized with an overpowering outburst of maternal affection.
"It's not very pleasant for Coupeau, all the same," Madame Lorilleux was saying to the other ladies, at the end of the room.
Gervaise had kept her smiling peacefulness from the morning, but after the long walk she appeared almost sad at times as she watched her husband and the Lorilleuxs in a thoughtful way. She had the feeling that Coupeau was a little afraid of his sister. The evening before, he had been talking big, swearing he would put them in their places if they didn't behave. However, she could see that in their presence he was hanging on their words, worrying when he thought they might be displeased. This gave the young bride some cause for worry about the future.
They were now only waiting for My-Boots, who had not yet put in an appearance.
"Oh! blow him!" cried Coupeau, "let's begin. You'll see, he'll soon turn up, he's got a hollow nose, he can scent the grub from afar. I say he must be amusing himself, if he's still standing like a post on the Route de Saint-Denis!"
Then the wedding party, feeling very lively, sat down making a great noise with the chairs. Gervaise was between Lorilleux and Monsieur Madinier, and Coupeau between Madame Fauconnier and Madame Lorilleux. The other guests seated themselves where they liked, because it always ended with jealousies and quarrels, when one settled their places for them. Boche glided to a seat beside Madame Lerat. Bibi-the-Smoker had for neighbors Mademoiselle Remanjou and Madame Gaudron. As for Madame Boche and mother Coupeau, they were right at the end of the table, looking after the children, cutting up their meat and giving them something to drink, but not much wine.
"Does nobody say grace?" asked Boche, whilst the ladies arranged their skirts under the table-cloth, so as not to get them stained.
But Madame Lorilleux paid no attention to such pleasantries. The vermicelli soup, which was nearly cold, was gulped down very quickly, their lips making a hissing noise against the spoons. Two waiters served at table, dressed in little greasy jackets and not over-clean white aprons. By the four open windows overlooking the acacias of the courtyard there entered the clear light of the close of a stormy day, with the atmosphere purified thereby though without sufficiently cooling it. The light reflected from the humid corner of trees tinged the haze-filled room with green and made leaf shadows dance along the table-cloth, from which came a vague aroma of dampness and mildew.
Two large mirrors, one at each end of the room, seemed to stretch out the table. The heavy crockery with which it was set was beginning to turn yellow and the cutlery was scratched and grimed with grease. Each time a waiter came through the swinging doors from the kitchen a whiff of odorous burnt lard came with him.
"Don't all talk at once," said Boche, as everyone remained silent with his nose in his plate.
They were drinking the first glass of wine as their eyes followed two meat pies which the waiters were handing round when My-Boots entered the room.
"Well, you're a scurvy lot, you people!" said he. "I've been wearing my pins out for three hours waiting on that road, and a gendarme even came and asked me for my papers. It isn't right to play such dirty tricks on a friend! You might at least have sent me word by a commissionaire. Ah! no, you know, joking apart, it's too bad. And with all that, it rained so hard that I got my pickets full of water. Honor bright, you might still catch enough fish in 'em for a meal."
The others wriggled with laughter. That animal My-Boots was just a bit on; he had certainly already stowed away his two quarts of wine, merely to prevent his being bothered by all that frog's liquor with which the storm had deluged his limbs.
"Hallo! Count Leg-of-Mutton!" said Coupeau, "just go and sit yourself there, beside Madame Gaudron. You see you were expected."
Oh, he did not mind, he would soon catch the others up; and he asked for three helpings of soup, platefuls of vermicelli, in which he soaked enormous slices of bread. Then, when they had attacked the meat pies, he became the profound admiration of everyone at the table. How he stowed it away! The bewildered waiters helped each other to pass him bread, thin slices which he swallowed at a mouthful. He ended by losing his temper; he insisted on having a loaf placed on the table beside him. The landlord, very anxious, came for a moment and looked in at the door. The party, which was expecting him, again wriggled with laughter. It seemed to upset the caterer. What a rum card he was that My-Boots! One day he had eaten a dozen hard-boiled eggs and drank a dozen glasses of wine while the clock was striking twelve! There are not many who can do that. And Mademoiselle Remanjou, deeply moved, watched My-Boots chew whilst Monsieur Madinier, seeking for a word to express his almost respectful astonishment, declared that such a capacity was extraordinary.
There was a brief silence. A waiter had just placed on the table a ragout of rabbits in a vast dish as deep as a salad-bowl. Coupeau, who liked fun, started another joke.
"I say, waiter, that rabbit's from the housetops. It still mews."
And in fact, a faint mew perfectly imitated seemed to issue from the dish. It was Coupeau who did that with his throat, without opening his lips; a talent which at all parties, met with decided success, so much so that he never ordered a dinner abroad without having a rabbit ragout. After that he purred. The ladies pressed their napkins to their mouths to try and stop their laughter. Madame Fauconnier asked for a head, she only liked that part. Mademoiselle Remanjou had a weakness for the slices of bacon. And as Boche said he preferred the little onions when they were nicely broiled, Madame Lerat screwed up her lips, and murmured:
"I can understand that."
She was a dried up stick, living the cloistered life of a hard-working woman imprisoned within her daily routine, who had never had a man stick his nose into her room since the death of her husband; yet she had an obsession with double meanings and indecent allusions that were sometimes so far off the mark that only she understood them.
As Boche leaned toward her and, in a whisper, asked for an explanation, she resumed:
"Little onions, why of course. That's quite enough, I think."
The general conversation was becoming grave. Each one was talking of his trade. Monsieur Madinier raved about the cardboard business. There were some real artists. For an example, he mentioned Christmas gift boxes, of which he'd seen samples that were marvels of splendor.
Lorilleux sneered at this; he was extremely vain because of working with gold, feeling that it gave a sort of sheen to his fingers and his whole personality. "In olden times jewelers wore swords like gentlemen." He often cited the case of Bernard Palissy, even though he really knew nothing about him.
Coupeau told of a masterpiece of a weather vane made by one of his fellow workers which included a Greek column, a sheaf of wheat, a basket of fruit, and a flag, all beautifully worked out of nothing but strips of zinc shaped and soldered together.
Madame Lerat showed Bibi-the-Smoker how to make a rose by rolling the handle of her knife between her bony fingers.
All the while, their voices had been rising louder and louder, competing for attention. Shrill comments by Madame Fauconnier were heard. She complained about the girls who worked for her, especially a little apprentice who was nothing but a tart and had badly scorched some sheets the evening before.
"You may talk," Lorilleux cried, banging his fist down on the table, "but gold is gold."
And, in the midst of the silence caused by the statement of this fact, the only sound heard was Mademoiselle Remanjou's shrill voice continuing:
"Then I turn up the skirt and stitch it inside. I stick a pin in the head to keep the cap on, and that's all; and they are sold for thirteen sous a piece."
She was explaining how she dressed her dolls to My-Boots, whose jaws were working slowly like grindstones. He did not listen, though he kept nodding his head, but looked after the waiters to prevent them removing any of the dishes he had not cleaned out. They had now finished a veal stew with green beans. The roast was brought in, two scrawny chickens resting on a bed of water cress which was limp from the warming oven.
Outside, only the higher branches of the acacias were touched by the setting sun. Inside, the greenish reflected light was thickened by wisps of steam rising from the table, now messy with spilled wine and gravy and the debris of the dinner. Along the wall were dirty dishes and empty bottles which the waiters had piled there like a heap of refuse. It was so hot that the men took off their jackets and continued eating in their shirt sleeves.
"Madame Boche, please don't spread their butter so thick," said Gervaise, who spoke but little, and who was watching Claude and Etienne from a distance.
She got up from her seat, and went and talked for a minute while standing behind the little ones' chairs. Children did not reason; they would eat all day long without refusing a single thing; and then she herself helped them to some chicken, a little of the breast. But mother Coupeau said they might, just for once in a while, risk an attack of indigestion. Madame Boche, in a low voice accused Boche of caressing Madame Lerat's knees. Oh, he was a sly one, but he was getting a little too gay. She had certainly seen his hand disappear. If he did it again, drat him! She wouldn't hesitate throwing a pitcher of water over his head.
In the partial silence, Monsieur Madinier was talking politics. "Their law of May 31, is an abominable one. Now you must reside in a place for two years. Three millions of citizens are struck off the voting lists. I've been told that Bonaparte is, in reality, very much annoyed for he loves the people; he has given them proofs."
He was a republican; but he admired the prince on account of his uncle, a man the like of whom would never be seen again. Bibi-the-Smoker flew into a passion. He had worked at the Elysee; he had seen Bonaparte just as he saw My-Boots in front of him over there. Well that muff of a president was just like a jackass, that was all! It was said that he was going to travel about in the direction of Lyons; it would be a precious good riddance of bad rubbish if he fell into some hole and broke his neck. But, as the discussion was becoming too heated, Coupeau had to interfere.
"Ah, well! How simple you all are to quarrel about politics. Politics are all humbug! Do such things exist for us? Let there be any one as king, it won't prevent me earning my five francs a day, and eating and sleeping; isn't that so? No, it's too stupid to argue about!"
Lorilleux shook his head. He was born on the same day as the Count of Chambord, the 29th of September, 1820. He was greatly struck with this coincidence, indulging himself in a vague dream, in which he established a connection between the king's return to France and his own private fortunes. He never said exactly what he was expecting, but he led people to suppose that when that time arrived something extraordinarily agreeable would happen to him. So whenever he had a wish too great to be gratified, he would put it off to another time, when the king came back.
"Besides," observed he, "I saw the Count de Chambord one evening."
Every face was turned towards him.
"It's quite true. A stout man, in an overcoat, and with a good-natured air. I was at Pequignot's, one of my friends who deals in furniture in the Grand Rue de la Chapelle. The Count of Chambord had forgotten his umbrella there the day before; so he came in, and just simply said, like this: 'Will you please return me my umbrella?' Well, yes, it was him; Pequignot gave me his word of honor it was."
Not one of the guests suggested the smallest doubt. They had now arrived at dessert and the waiters were clearing the table with much clattering of dishes. Madame Lorilleux, who up to then had been very genteel, very much the lady, suddenly let fly with a curse. One of the waiters had spilled something wet down her neck while removing a dish. This time her silk dress would be stained for sure. Monsieur Madinier had to examine her back, but he swore there was nothing to be seen.
Two platters of cheese, two dishes of fruit, and a floating island pudding of frosted eggs in a deep salad-bowl had now been placed along the middle of the table. The pudding caused a moment of respectful attention even though the overdone egg whites had flattened on the yellow custard. It was unexpected and seemed very fancy.
My-Boots was still eating. He had asked for another loaf. He finished what there was of the cheese; and, as there was some cream left, he had the salad-bowl passed to him, into which he sliced some large pieces of bread as though for a soup.
"The gentleman is really remarkable," said Monsieur Madinier, again giving way to his admiration.
Then the men rose to get their pipes. They stood for a moment behind My-Boots, patting him on the back, and asking him if he was feeling better. Bibi-the-Smoker lifted him up in his chair; but tonnerre de Dieu! the animal had doubled in weight. Coupeau joked that My-Boots was only getting started, that now he was going to settle down and really eat for the rest of the night. The waiters were startled and quickly vanished from sight.
Boche, who had gone downstairs for a moment, came up to report the proprietor's reaction. He was standing behind his bar, pale as death. His wife, dreadfully upset, was wondering if any bakeries were still open. Even the cat seemed deep in despair. This was as funny as could be, really worth the price of the dinner. It was impossible to have a proper dinner party without My-Boots, the bottomless pit. The other men eyed him with a brooding jealousy as they puffed on their pipes. Indeed, to be able to eat so much, you had to be very solidly built!
"I wouldn't care to be obliged to support you," said Madame Gaudron. "Ah, no; you may take my word for that!"
"I say, little mother, no jokes," replied My-Boots, casting a side glance at his neighbor's rotund figure. "You've swallowed more than I have."
The others applauded, shouting "Bravo!"—it was well answered. It was now pitch dark outside, three gas-jets were flaring in the room, diffusing dim rays in the midst of the tobacco-smoke. The waiters, after serving the coffee and the brandy, had removed the last piles of dirty plates. Down below, beneath the three acacias, dancing had commenced, a cornet-a-piston and two fiddles playing very loud, and mingling in the warm night air with the rather hoarse laughter of women.
"We must have a punch!" cried My-Boots; "two quarts of brandy, lots of lemon, and a little sugar."
But Coupeau, seeing the anxious look on Gervaise's face in front of him, got up from the table, declaring that there should be no more drink. They had emptied twenty-five quarts, a quart and a half to each person, counting the children as grown-up people; that was already too much. They had had a feed together in good fellowship, and without ceremony, because they esteemed each other, and wished to celebrate the event of the day amongst themselves. Everything had been very nice; they had had lots of fun. It wouldn't do to get cockeyed drunk now, out of respect to the ladies. That was all he had to say, they had come together to toast a marriage and they had done so.
Coupeau delivered the little speech with convincing sincerity and punctuated each phrase by placing his hand on his heart. He won whole-hearted approval from Lorilleux and Monsieur Madinier; but the other four men, especially My-Boots, were already well lit and sneered. They declared in hoarse drunken voices that they were thirsty and wanted drinks.
"Those who're thirsty are thirsty, and those who aren't thirsty aren't thirsty," remarked My-Boots. "Therefore, we'll order the punch. No one need take offence. The aristocrats can drink sugar-and-water."
And as the zinc-worker commenced another sermon, the other, who had risen on his legs, gave himself a slap, exclaiming:
"Come, let's have no more of that, my boy! Waiter, two quarts of your aged stuff!"
So Coupeau said very well, only they would settle for the dinner at once. It would prevent any disputes. The well-behaved people did not want to pay for the drunkards; and it just happened that My-Boots, after searching in his pockets for a long time, could only produce three francs and seven sous. Well, why had they made him wait all that time on the Route de Saint-Denis? He could not let himself be drowned and so he had broken into his five-franc piece. It was the fault of the others, that was all! He ended by giving the three francs, keeping the seven sous for the morrow's tobacco. Coupeau, who was furious, would have knocked him over had not Gervaise, greatly frightened, pulled him by his coat, and begged him to keep cool. He decided to borrow the two francs of Lorilleux, who after refusing them, lent them on the sly, for his wife would never have consented to his doing so.
Monsieur Madinier went round with a plate. The spinster and the ladies who were alone—Madame Lerat, Madame Fauconnier, Mademoiselle Remanjou—discreetly placed their five-franc pieces in it first. Then the gentlemen went to the other end of the room, and made up the accounts. They were fifteen; it amounted therefore to seventy-five francs. When the seventy-five francs were in the plate, each man added five sous for the waiters. It took a quarter of an hour of laborious calculations before everything was settled to the general satisfaction.
But when Monsieur Madinier, who wished to deal direct with the landlord, had got him to step up, the whole party became lost in astonishment on hearing him say with a smile that there was still something due to him. There were some extras; and, as the word "extras" was greeted with angry exclamations, he entered into details:—Twenty-five quarts of wine, instead of twenty, the number agreed upon beforehand; the frosted eggs, which he had added, as the dessert was rather scanty; finally, a quarter of a bottle of rum, served with the coffee, in case any one preferred rum. Then a formidable quarrel ensued. Coupeau, who was appealed to, protested against everything; he had never mentioned twenty quarts; as for the frosted eggs, they were included in the dessert, so much the worse for the landlord if he choose to add them without being asked to do so. There remained the rum, a mere nothing, just a mode of increasing the bill by putting on the table spirits that no one thought anything about.