The Drinking Den

The Drinking Den by Émile Zola Read Free Book Online

Book: The Drinking Den by Émile Zola Read Free Book Online
Authors: Émile Zola
in her office for Lantier to come, to avoid sitting down on her own among all those men, eating at nearby tables. The concierge said shewas going a few doors away to the Rue de la Charbonnière to wake up a tailor whom her husband had been trying to persuade to mend a coat for him. Then she talked about one of her tenants who had come back the night before with a woman and kept everybody awake until three in the morning. But even as she chatted away, she kept a keen eye on the young woman, apparently devoured by curiosity and only standing there under the window so that she could satisfy it.
    â€˜Is Monsieur Lantier still in bed, then?’ she asked, suddenly.
    â€˜Yes, he’s asleep,’ Gervaise answered, though she could not help blushing.
    Madame Boche saw the tears welling up again in Gervaise’s eyes and, doubtless having got what she came for, was going on her way, with a remark about what lazy beasts men were, when she came back and shouted:
    â€˜It’s this morning you go to the wash-house, isn’t it? I’ve got some to do myself, so I’ll keep you a place by me and we can have a chat.’ Then, as though suddenly feeling sorry for her, she added: ‘My poor girl, you really didn’t ought to stay there, you’ll catch your death… You’re all blue with cold.’
    Gervaise insisted on staying at the window another two interminable hours, until eight o’clock. The shops had opened, the stream of workmen’s overalls flowing down from the heights dried up, and only a few latecomers were striding quickly past the gates, while in the wine shops the same men still stood, drinking, coughing and spitting. Working girls had taken the place of the men: polishers, stylists, florists, huddled in their flimsy dresses as they trotted along the outer boulevards; they came in clusters of three or four, with lively chatter and little laughs, their shining eyes glancing around them; but occasionally, one, thin, all alone, pale and serious-looking, would hug the perimeter wall, skirting the streams of filth… Then, the office-workers went past, blowing on their fingers or eating their penny rolls as they walked along; lanky young men, in coats one size too small, their eyes bleary and glazed with sleep, and little old men who waddled along, ashen-faced and worn out by long hours at their desks, looking at their watches so as to time their arrival to the second. And the boulevards had resumed their morning calm: those men of more considerable means in theneighbourhood took their walk in the sun; mothers in dirty dresses, wearing no hats, rocked their babies in their arms or changed their nappies on the benches; and a bunch of snotty, scruffy kids scrapped and rolled about on the ground in a welter of whimpering, laughter and tears. At once, Gervaise felt she was suffocating, losing hope, spiralling into a pit of anxiety. It seemed as though everything were over, time had ended, Lantier would never come home. Her eyes wandered distractedly from the old abattoirs, black with their killing and their stench, to the pale new hospital where, through the rows of still gaping holes waiting for window-panes, one could see the naked wards where death would come for its victims. Opposite, beyond the perimeter wall, she was dazzled by the blazing sky in which the rising sun had started to cast its rays over the mighty awakening of the city.
    The young woman was sitting on a chair, her hands dangling at her side, past weeping, when Lantier calmly walked through the door.
    â€˜You’re back, you’re back!’ she shouted, trying to throw her arms round him.
    â€˜Yes, I’m back. So what?’ he replied. ‘You’re not going to start your nonsense again, I hope!’
    He thrust her aside, then, in a gesture of annoyance, threw his black felt hat across the room on to the chest of drawers. Lantier was a young man of twenty-six, short, good-looking, with a dark

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