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L'Assommoir

CHAPTER XII
It must have been the Saturday after quarter day, something like the 12th or 13th of
January—Gervaise didn't quite know. She was losing her wits, for it was centuries since
she had had anything warm in her stomach. Ah! what an infernal week! A complete
clear out. Two loaves of four pounds each on Tuesday, which had lasted till Thursday;
then a dry crust found the night before, and finally not a crumb for thirty-six hours, a real
dance before the cupboard! What did she know, by the way, what she felt on her back,
was the frightful cold, a black cold, the sky as grimy as a frying-pan, thick with snow
which obstinately refused to fall. When winter and hunger are both together in your guts,
you may tighten your belt as much as you like, it hardly feeds you.
Perhaps Coupeau would bring back some money in the evening. He said that he was
working. Anything is possible, isn't it? And Gervaise, although she had been caught
many and many a time, had ended by relying on this coin. After all sorts of incidents,
she herself couldn't find as much as a duster to wash in the whole neighborhood; and
even an old lady, whose rooms she did, had just given her the sack, charging her with
swilling her liqueurs. No one would engage her, she was washed up everywhere; and
this secretly suited her, for she had fallen to that state of indifference when one prefers
to croak rather than move one's fingers. At all events, if Coupeau brought his pay home
they would have something warm to eat. And meanwhile, as it wasn't yet noon, she
remained stretched on the mattress, for one doesn't feel so cold or so hungry when one
is lying down.
The bed was nothing but a pile of straw in a corner. Bed and bedding had gone, piece
by piece, to the second-hand dealers of the neighborhood. First she had ripped open
the mattress to sell handfuls of wool at ten sous a pound. When the mattress was empty
she got thirty sous for the sack so as to be able to have coffee. Everything else had
followed. Well, wasn't the straw good enough for them?
Gervaise bent herself like a gun-trigger on the heap of straw, with her clothes on and
her feet drawn up under her rag of a skirt, so as to keep them warm. And huddled up,
with her eyes wide open, she turned some scarcely amusing ideas over in her mind that
morning. Ah! no, they couldn't continue living without food. She no longer felt her
hunger, only she had a leaden weight on her chest and her brain seemed empty.
Certainly there was nothing gay to look at in the four corners of the hovel. A perfect
kennel now, where greyhounds, who wear wrappers in the streets, would not even have
lived in effigy. Her pale eyes stared at the bare walls. Everything had long since gone to
"uncle's." All that remained were the chest of drawers, the table and a chair. Even the
marble top of the chest of drawers and the drawers themselves, had evaporated in the
same direction as the bedstead. A fire could not have cleaned them out more
completely; the little knick-knacks had melted, beginning with the ticker, a twelve franc
watch, down to the family photos, the frames of which had been bought by a woman
keeping a second-hand store; a very obliging woman, by the way, to whom Gervaise
carried a saucepan, an iron, a comb and who gave her five, three or two sous in
 
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