L’Assommoir

Produced by Cam Venezuela, Earle Beach, Eric Eldred, and
the Distributed Online Proofing Team

L’ASSOMMOIR

CHAPTER I
GERVAISE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HÔTEL BONCOEUR
KEPT BY
MARSOULLIER

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

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

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

A fresh, youthful voice caused her to turn around.

“Lantier has not come in then?”

“No, Monsieur Coupeau,” she answered, trying to smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are up early, Madame Lantier!”

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