Infomotions, Inc.Four Short Stories By Emile Zola / Émile, 1840-1902



Author: Émile, 1840-1902
Title: Four Short Stories By Emile Zola
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): nana; muffat; fauchery; count muffat
Contributor(s): Dakyns, Henry Graham, 1838-1911 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 209,959 words (longer than most) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 66 (easy)
Identifier: etext1069
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Nana, The Miller's Daughter, Captain Burle,
Death of Olivier Becaille, by Emile Zola

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Title: Nana, The Miller's Daughter, Captain Burle, Death of Olivier Becaille

Author: Emile Zola

Release Date: May 3, 2006 [EBook #1069]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK NANA AND OTHERS ***




Produced by Donald Lainson





FOUR SHORT STORIES

By Emile Zola


CONTENTS:

     NANA

     THE MILLER'S DAUGHTER

     CAPTAIN BURLE

     THE DEATH OF OLIVIER BACAILLE




NANA

by

Emile Zola



CHAPTER I


At nine o'clock in the evening the body of the house at the Theatres des
Varietes was still all but empty. A few individuals, it is true, were
sitting quietly waiting in the balcony and stalls, but these were lost,
as it were, among the ranges of seats whose coverings of cardinal
velvet loomed in the subdued light of the dimly burning luster. A shadow
enveloped the great red splash of the curtain, and not a sound came from
the stage, the unlit footlights, the scattered desks of the orchestra.
It was only high overhead in the third gallery, round the domed ceiling
where nude females and children flew in heavens which had turned green
in the gaslight, that calls and laughter were audible above a continuous
hubbub of voices, and heads in women's and workmen's caps were ranged,
row above row, under the wide-vaulted bays with their gilt-surrounding
adornments. Every few seconds an attendant would make her appearance,
bustling along with tickets in her hand and piloting in front of her a
gentleman and a lady, who took their seats, he in his evening dress,
she sitting slim and undulant beside him while her eyes wandered slowly
round the house.

Two young men appeared in the stalls; they kept standing and looked
about them.

"Didn't I say so, Hector?" cried the elder of the two, a tall fellow
with little black mustaches. "We're too early! You might quite well have
allowed me to finish my cigar."

An attendant was passing.

"Oh, Monsieur Fauchery," she said familiarly, "it won't begin for half
an hour yet!"

"Then why do they advertise for nine o'clock?" muttered Hector, whose
long thin face assumed an expression of vexation. "Only this morning
Clarisse, who's in the piece, swore that they'd begin at nine o'clock
punctually."

For a moment they remained silent and, looking upward, scanned the
shadowy boxes. But the green paper with which these were hung rendered
them more shadowy still. Down below, under the dress circle, the lower
boxes were buried in utter night. In those on the second tier there was
only one stout lady, who was stranded, as it were, on the velvet-covered
balustrade in front of her. On the right hand and on the left, between
lofty pilasters, the stage boxes, bedraped with long-fringed scalloped
hangings, remained untenanted. The house with its white and gold,
relieved by soft green tones, lay only half disclosed to view, as though
full of a fine dust shed from the little jets of flame in the great
glass luster.

"Did you get your stage box for Lucy?" asked Hector.

"Yes," replied his companion, "but I had some trouble to get it. Oh,
there's no danger of Lucy coming too early!"

He stifled a slight yawn; then after a pause:

"You're in luck's way, you are, since you haven't been at a first night
before. The Blonde Venus will be the event of the year. People have been
talking about it for six months. Oh, such music, my dear boy! Such a
sly dog, Bordenave! He knows his business and has kept this for the
exhibition season." Hector was religiously attentive. He asked a
question.

"And Nana, the new star who's going to play Venus, d'you know her?"

"There you are; you're beginning again!" cried Fauchery, casting up his
arms. "Ever since this morning people have been dreeing me with Nana.
I've met more than twenty people, and it's Nana here and Nana there!
What do I know? Am I acquainted with all the light ladies in Paris? Nana
is an invention of Bordenave's! It must be a fine one!"

He calmed himself, but the emptiness of the house, the dim light of
the luster, the churchlike sense of self-absorption which the place
inspired, full as it was of whispering voices and the sound of doors
banging--all these got on his nerves.

"No, by Jove," he said all of a sudden, "one's hair turns gray here.
I--I'm going out. Perhaps we shall find Bordenave downstairs. He'll give
us information about things."

Downstairs in the great marble-paved entrance hall, where the box office
was, the public were beginning to show themselves. Through the three
open gates might have been observed, passing in, the ardent life of the
boulevards, which were all astir and aflare under the fine April night.
The sound of carriage wheels kept stopping suddenly; carriage doors were
noisily shut again, and people began entering in small groups, taking
their stand before the ticket bureau and climbing the double flight of
stairs at the end of the hall, up which the women loitered with swaying
hips. Under the crude gaslight, round the pale, naked walls of the
entrance hall, which with its scanty First Empire decorations suggested
the peristyle of a toy temple, there was a flaring display of lofty
yellow posters bearing the name of "Nana" in great black letters.
Gentlemen, who seemed to be glued to the entry, were reading them;
others, standing about, were engaged in talk, barring the doors of the
house in so doing, while hard by the box office a thickset man with
an extensive, close-shaven visage was giving rough answers to such as
pressed to engage seats.

"There's Bordenave," said Fauchery as he came down the stairs. But the
manager had already seen him.

"Ah, ah! You're a nice fellow!" he shouted at him from a distance.
"That's the way you give me a notice, is it? Why, I opened my Figaro
this morning--never a word!"

"Wait a bit," replied Fauchery. "I certainly must make the acquaintance
of your Nana before talking about her. Besides, I've made no promises."

Then to put an end to the discussion, he introduced his cousin, M.
Hector de la Faloise, a young man who had come to finish his education
in Paris. The manager took the young man's measure at a glance. But
Hector returned his scrutiny with deep interest. This, then, was that
Bordenave, that showman of the sex who treated women like a convict
overseer, that clever fellow who was always at full steam over some
advertising dodge, that shouting, spitting, thigh-slapping fellow, that
cynic with the soul of a policeman! Hector was under the impression that
he ought to discover some amiable observation for the occasion.

"Your theater--" he began in dulcet tones.

Bordenave interrupted him with a savage phrase, as becomes a man who
dotes on frank situations.

"Call it my brothel!"

At this Fauchery laughed approvingly, while La Faloise stopped with his
pretty speech strangled in his throat, feeling very much shocked and
striving to appear as though he enjoyed the phrase. The manager had
dashed off to shake hands with a dramatic critic whose column had
considerable influence. When he returned La Faloise was recovering. He
was afraid of being treated as a provincial if he showed himself too
much nonplused.

"I have been told," he began again, longing positively to find something
to say, "that Nana has a delicious voice."

"Nana?" cried the manager, shrugging his shoulders. "The voice of a
squirt!"

The young man made haste to add:

"Besides being a first-rate comedian!"

"She? Why she's a lump! She has no notion what to do with her hands and
feet."

La Faloise blushed a little. He had lost his bearings. He stammered:

"I wouldn't have missed this first representation tonight for the world.
I was aware that your theater--"

"Call it my brothel," Bordenave again interpolated with the frigid
obstinacy of a man convinced.

Meanwhile Fauchery, with extreme calmness, was looking at the women as
they came in. He went to his cousin's rescue when he saw him all at sea
and doubtful whether to laugh or to be angry.

"Do be pleasant to Bordenave--call his theater what he wishes you to,
since it amuses him. And you, my dear fellow, don't keep us waiting
about for nothing. If your Nana neither sings nor acts you'll find
you've made a blunder, that's all. It's what I'm afraid of, if the truth
be told."

"A blunder! A blunder!" shouted the manager, and his face grew purple.
"Must a woman know how to act and sing? Oh, my chicken, you're too
STOOPID. Nana has other good points, by heaven!--something which is as
good as all the other things put together. I've smelled it out; it's
deuced pronounced with her, or I've got the scent of an idiot. You'll
see, you'll see! She's only got to come on, and all the house will be
gaping at her."

He had held up his big hands which were trembling under the influence of
his eager enthusiasm, and now, having relieved his feelings, he lowered
his voice and grumbled to himself:

"Yes, she'll go far! Oh yes, s'elp me, she'll go far! A skin--oh, what a
skin she's got!"

Then as Fauchery began questioning him he consented to enter into a
detailed explanation, couched in phraseology so crude that Hector de la
Faloise felt slightly disgusted. He had been thick with Nana, and he was
anxious to start her on the stage. Well, just about that time he was in
search of a Venus. He--he never let a woman encumber him for any
length of time; he preferred to let the public enjoy the benefit of her
forthwith. But there was a deuce of a row going on in his shop, which
had been turned topsy-turvy by that big damsel's advent. Rose Mignon,
his star, a comic actress of much subtlety and an adorable singer, was
daily threatening to leave him in the lurch, for she was furious and
guessed the presence of a rival. And as for the bill, good God! What a
noise there had been about it all! It had ended by his deciding to print
the names of the two actresses in the same-sized type. But it wouldn't
do to bother him. Whenever any of his little women, as he called
them--Simonne or Clarisse, for instance--wouldn't go the way he
wanted her to he just up with his foot and caught her one in the rear.
Otherwise life was impossible. Oh yes, he sold 'em; HE knew what they
fetched, the wenches!

"Tut!" he cried, breaking off short. "Mignon and Steiner. Always
together. You know, Steiner's getting sick of Rose; that's why the
husband dogs his steps now for fear of his slipping away."

On the pavement outside, the row of gas jets flaring on the cornice of
the theater cast a patch of brilliant light. Two small trees, violently
green, stood sharply out against it, and a column gleamed in such vivid
illumination that one could read the notices thereon at a distance, as
though in broad daylight, while the dense night of the boulevard beyond
was dotted with lights above the vague outline of an ever-moving crowd.
Many men did not enter the theater at once but stayed outside to talk
while finishing their cigars under the rays of the line of gas jets,
which shed a sallow pallor on their faces and silhouetted their short
black shadows on the asphalt. Mignon, a very tall, very broad fellow,
with the square-shaped head of a strong man at a fair, was forcing a
passage through the midst of the groups and dragging on his arm the
banker Steiner, an exceedingly small man with a corporation already in
evidence and a round face framed in a setting of beard which was already
growing gray.

"Well," said Bordenave to the banker, "you met her yesterday in my
office."

"Ah! It was she, was it?" ejaculated Steiner. "I suspected as much. Only
I was coming out as she was going in, and I scarcely caught a glimpse of
her."

Mignon was listening with half-closed eyelids and nervously twisting a
great diamond ring round his finger. He had quite understood that Nana
was in question. Then as Bordenave was drawing a portrait of his new
star, which lit a flame in the eyes of the banker, he ended by joining
in the conversation.

"Oh, let her alone, my dear fellow; she's a low lot! The public will
show her the door in quick time. Steiner, my laddie, you know that my
wife is waiting for you in her box."

He wanted to take possession of him again. But Steiner would not quit
Bordenave. In front of them a stream of people was crowding and crushing
against the ticket office, and there was a din of voices, in the midst
of which the name of Nana sounded with all the melodious vivacity of its
two syllables. The men who stood planted in front of the notices kept
spelling it out loudly; others, in an interrogative tone, uttered it as
they passed; while the women, at once restless and smiling, repeated
it softly with an air of surprise. Nobody knew Nana. Whence had Nana
fallen? And stories and jokes, whispered from ear to ear, went the round
of the crowd. The name was a caress in itself; it was a pet name, the
very familiarity of which suited every lip. Merely through enunciating
it thus, the throng worked itself into a state of gaiety and became
highly good natured. A fever of curiosity urged it forward, that kind
of Parisian curiosity which is as violent as an access of positive
unreason. Everybody wanted to see Nana. A lady had the flounce of her
dress torn off; a man lost his hat.

"Oh, you're asking me too many questions about it!" cried Bordenave,
whom a score of men were besieging with their queries. "You're going to
see her, and I'm off; they want me."

He disappeared, enchanted at having fired his public. Mignon shrugged
his shoulders, reminding Steiner that Rose was awaiting him in order to
show him the costume she was about to wear in the first act.

"By Jove! There's Lucy out there, getting down from her carriage," said
La Faloise to Fauchery.

It was, in fact, Lucy Stewart, a plain little woman, some forty years
old, with a disproportionately long neck, a thin, drawn face, a heavy
mouth, but withal of such brightness, such graciousness of manner, that
she was really very charming. She was bringing with her Caroline Hequet
and her mother--Caroline a woman of a cold type of beauty, the mother a
person of a most worthy demeanor, who looked as if she were stuffed with
straw.

"You're coming with us? I've kept a place for you," she said to
Fauchery. "Oh, decidedly not! To see nothing!" he made answer. "I've a
stall; I prefer being in the stalls."

Lucy grew nettled. Did he not dare show himself in her company? Then,
suddenly restraining herself and skipping to another topic:

"Why haven't you told me that you knew Nana?"

"Nana! I've never set eyes on her."

"Honor bright? I've been told that you've been to bed with her."

But Mignon, coming in front of them, his finger to his lips, made them
a sign to be silent. And when Lucy questioned him he pointed out a young
man who was passing and murmured:

"Nana's fancy man."

Everybody looked at him. He was a pretty fellow. Fauchery recognized
him; it was Daguenet, a young man who had run through three hundred
thousand francs in the pursuit of women and who now was dabbling
in stocks, in order from time to time to treat them to bouquets and
dinners. Lucy made the discovery that he had fine eyes.

"Ah, there's Blanche!" she cried. "It's she who told me that you had
been to bed with Nana."

Blanche de Sivry, a great fair girl, whose good-looking face showed
signs of growing fat, made her appearance in the company of a spare,
sedulously well-groomed and extremely distinguished man.

"The Count Xavier de Vandeuvres," Fauchery whispered in his companion's
ear.

The count and the journalist shook hands, while Blanche and Lucy entered
into a brisk, mutual explanation. One of them in blue, the other in
rose-pink, they stood blocking the way with their deeply flounced
skirts, and Nana's name kept repeating itself so shrilly in their
conversation that people began to listen to them. The Count de
Vandeuvres carried Blanche off. But by this time Nana's name was echoing
more loudly than ever round the four walls of the entrance hall amid
yearnings sharpened by delay. Why didn't the play begin? The men pulled
out their watches; late-comers sprang from their conveyances before
these had fairly drawn up; the groups left the sidewalk, where the
passers-by were crossing the now-vacant space of gaslit pavement,
craning their necks, as they did so, in order to get a peep into the
theater. A street boy came up whistling and planted himself before a
notice at the door, then cried out, "Woa, Nana!" in the voice of a tipsy
man and hied on his way with a rolling gait and a shuffling of his old
boots. A laugh had arisen at this. Gentlemen of unimpeachable appearance
repeated: "Nana, woa, Nana!" People were crushing; a dispute arose at
the ticket office, and there was a growing clamor caused by the hum of
voices calling on Nana, demanding Nana in one of those accesses of silly
facetiousness and sheer animalism which pass over mobs.

But above all the din the bell that precedes the rise of the curtain
became audible. "They've rung; they've rung!" The rumor reached the
boulevard, and thereupon followed a stampede, everyone wanting to pass
in, while the servants of the theater increased their forces. Mignon,
with an anxious air, at last got hold of Steiner again, the latter not
having been to see Rose's costume. At the very first tinkle of the bell
La Faloise had cloven a way through the crowd, pulling Fauchery with
him, so as not to miss the opening scene. But all this eagerness on the
part of the public irritated Lucy Stewart. What brutes were these people
to be pushing women like that! She stayed in the rear of them all with
Caroline Hequet and her mother. The entrance hall was now empty, while
beyond it was still heard the long-drawn rumble of the boulevard.

"As though they were always funny, those pieces of theirs!" Lucy kept
repeating as she climbed the stair.

In the house Fauchery and La Faloise, in front of their stalls, were
gazing about them anew. By this time the house was resplendent. High
jets of gas illumined the great glass chandelier with a rustling of
yellow and rosy flames, which rained down a stream of brilliant light
from dome to floor. The cardinal velvets of the seats were shot
with hues of lake, while all the gilding shone again, the soft green
decorations chastening its effect beneath the too-decided paintings of
the ceiling. The footlights were turned up and with a vivid flood of
brilliance lit up the curtain, the heavy purple drapery of which had all
the richness befitting a palace in a fairy tale and contrasted with the
meanness of the proscenium, where cracks showed the plaster under the
gilding. The place was already warm. At their music stands the orchestra
were tuning their instruments amid a delicate trilling of flutes, a
stifled tooting of horns, a singing of violin notes, which floated forth
amid the increasing uproar of voices. All the spectators were talking,
jostling, settling themselves in a general assault upon seats; and the
hustling rush in the side passages was now so violent that every door
into the house was laboriously admitting the inexhaustible flood of
people. There were signals, rustlings of fabrics, a continual march past
of skirts and head dresses, accentuated by the black hue of a dress coat
or a surtout. Notwithstanding this, the rows of seats were little by
little getting filled up, while here and there a light toilet stood out
from its surroundings, a head with a delicate profile bent forward under
its chignon, where flashed the lightning of a jewel. In one of the boxes
the tip of a bare shoulder glimmered like snowy silk. Other ladies,
sitting at ease, languidly fanned themselves, following with their gaze
the pushing movements of the crowd, while young gentlemen, standing
up in the stalls, their waistcoats cut very low, gardenias in their
buttonholes, pointed their opera glasses with gloved finger tips.

It was now that the two cousins began searching for the faces of those
they knew. Mignon and Steiner were together in a lower box, sitting side
by side with their arms leaning for support on the velvet balustrade.
Blanche de Sivry seemed to be in sole possession of a stage box on the
level of the stalls. But La Faloise examined Daguenet before anyone
else, he being in occupation of a stall two rows in front of his own.
Close to him, a very young man, seventeen years old at the outside, some
truant from college, it may be, was straining wide a pair of fine eyes
such as a cherub might have owned. Fauchery smiled when he looked at
him.

"Who is that lady in the balcony?" La Faloise asked suddenly. "The lady
with a young girl in blue beside her."

He pointed out a large woman who was excessively tight-laced, a woman
who had been a blonde and had now become white and yellow of tint, her
broad face, reddened with paint, looking puffy under a rain of little
childish curls.

"It's Gaga," was Fauchery's simple reply, and as this name seemed to
astound his cousin, he added:

"You don't know Gaga? She was the delight of the early years of Louis
Philippe. Nowadays she drags her daughter about with her wherever she
goes."

La Faloise never once glanced at the young girl. The sight of Gaga moved
him; his eyes did not leave her again. He still found her very good
looking but he dared not say so.

Meanwhile the conductor lifted his violin bow and the orchestra attacked
the overture. People still kept coming in; the stir and noise were on
the increase. Among that public, peculiar to first nights and never
subject to change, there were little subsections composed of intimate
friends, who smilingly forgathered again. Old first-nighters, hat on
head, seemed familiar and quite at ease and kept exchanging salutations.
All Paris was there, the Paris of literature, of finance and of
pleasure. There were many journalists, several authors, a number of
stock-exchange people and more courtesans than honest women. It was
a singularly mixed world, composed, as it was, of all the talents and
tarnished by all the vices, a world where the same fatigue and the same
fever played over every face. Fauchery, whom his cousin was questioning,
showed him the boxes devoted to the newspapers and to the clubs and
then named the dramatic critics--a lean, dried-up individual with
thin, spiteful lips and, chief of all, a big fellow with a good-natured
expression, lolling on the shoulder of his neighbor, a young miss over
whom he brooded with tender and paternal eyes.

But he interrupted himself on seeing La Faloise in the act of bowing to
some persons who occupied the box opposite. He appeared surprised.

"What?" he queried. "You know the Count Muffat de Beuville?"

"Oh, for a long time back," replied Hector. "The Muffats had a property
near us. I often go to their house. The count's with his wife and his
father-in-law, the Marquis de Chouard."

And with some vanity--for he was happy in his cousin's astonishment--he
entered into particulars. The marquis was a councilor of state; the
count had recently been appointed chamberlain to the empress. Fauchery,
who had caught up his opera glass, looked at the countess, a plump
brunette with a white skin and fine dark eyes.

"You shall present me to them between the acts," he ended by saying.
"I have already met the count, but I should like to go to them on their
Tuesdays."

Energetic cries of "Hush" came from the upper galleries. The overture
had begun, but people were still coming in. Late arrivals were obliging
whole rows of spectators to rise; the doors of boxes were banging; loud
voices were heard disputing in the passages. And there was no cessation
of the sound of many conversations, a sound similar to the loud
twittering of talkative sparrows at close of day. All was in confusion;
the house was a medley of heads and arms which moved to and fro, their
owners seating themselves or trying to make themselves comfortable or,
on the other hand, excitedly endeavoring to remain standing so as to
take a final look round. The cry of "Sit down, sit down!" came fiercely
from the obscure depths of the pit. A shiver of expectation traversed
the house: at last people were going to make the acquaintance of this
famous Nana with whom Paris had been occupying itself for a whole week!

Little by little, however, the buzz of talk dwindled softly down among
occasional fresh outbursts of rough speech. And amid this swooning
murmur, these perishing sighs of sound, the orchestra struck up the
small, lively notes of a waltz with a vagabond rhythm bubbling with
roguish laughter. The public were titillated; they were already on the
grin. But the gang of clappers in the foremost rows of the pit applauded
furiously. The curtain rose.

"By George!" exclaimed La Faloise, still talking away. "There's a man
with Lucy."

He was looking at the stage box on the second tier to his right, the
front of which Caroline and Lucy were occupying. At the back of this box
were observable the worthy countenance of Caroline's mother and the
side face of a tall young man with a noble head of light hair and an
irreproachable getup.

"Do look!" La Faloise again insisted. "There's a man there."

Fauchery decided to level his opera glass at the stage box. But he
turned round again directly.

"Oh, it's Labordette," he muttered in a careless voice, as though that
gentle man's presence ought to strike all the world as though both
natural and immaterial.

Behind the cousins people shouted "Silence!" They had to cease talking.
A motionless fit now seized the house, and great stretches of heads,
all erect and attentive, sloped away from stalls to topmost gallery.
The first act of the Blonde Venus took place in Olympus, a pasteboard
Olympus, with clouds in the wings and the throne of Jupiter on the
right of the stage. First of all Iris and Ganymede, aided by a troupe of
celestial attendants, sang a chorus while they arranged the seats of
the gods for the council. Once again the prearranged applause of the
clappers alone burst forth; the public, a little out of their depth, sat
waiting. Nevertheless, La Faloise had clapped Clarisse Besnus, one of
Bordenave's little women, who played Iris in a soft blue dress with a
great scarf of the seven colors of the rainbow looped round her waist.

"You know, she draws up her chemise to put that on," he said to
Fauchery, loud enough to be heard by those around him. "We tried the
trick this morning. It was all up under her arms and round the small of
her back."

But a slight rustling movement ran through the house; Rose Mignon had
just come on the stage as Diana. Now though she had neither the face nor
the figure for the part, being thin and dark and of the adorable type of
ugliness peculiar to a Parisian street child, she nonetheless
appeared charming and as though she were a satire on the personage she
represented. Her song at her entrance on the stage was full of lines
quaint enough to make you cry with laughter and of complaints about
Mars, who was getting ready to desert her for the companionship
of Venus. She sang it with a chaste reserve so full of sprightly
suggestiveness that the public warmed amain. The husband and Steiner,
sitting side by side, were laughing complaisantly, and the whole house
broke out in a roar when Prulliere, that great favorite, appeared as a
general, a masquerade Mars, decked with an enormous plume and dragging
along a sword, the hilt of which reached to his shoulder. As for him, he
had had enough of Diana; she had been a great deal too coy with him, he
averred. Thereupon Diana promised to keep a sharp eye on him and to be
revenged. The duet ended with a comic yodel which Prulliere delivered
very amusingly with the yell of an angry tomcat. He had about him all
the entertaining fatuity of a young leading gentleman whose love affairs
prosper, and he rolled around the most swaggering glances, which excited
shrill feminine laughter in the boxes.

Then the public cooled again, for the ensuing scenes were found
tiresome. Old Bosc, an imbecile Jupiter with head crushed beneath the
weight of an immense crown, only just succeeded in raising a smile among
his audience when he had a domestic altercation with Juno on the subject
of the cook's accounts. The march past of the gods, Neptune, Pluto,
Minerva and the rest, was well-nigh spoiling everything. People grew
impatient; there was a restless, slowly growing murmur; the audience
ceased to take an interest in the performance and looked round at the
house. Lucy began laughing with Labordette; the Count de Vandeuvres
was craning his neck in conversation behind Blanche's sturdy shoulders,
while Fauchery, out of the corners of his eyes, took stock of the
Muffats, of whom the count appeared very serious, as though he had not
understood the allusions, and the countess smiled vaguely, her eyes lost
in reverie. But on a sudden, in this uncomfortable state of things, the
applause of the clapping contingent rattled out with the regularity of
platoon firing. People turned toward the stage. Was it Nana at last?
This Nana made one wait with a vengeance.

It was a deputation of mortals whom Ganymede and Iris had introduced,
respectable middle-class persons, deceived husbands, all of them, and
they came before the master of the gods to proffer a complaint against
Venus, who was assuredly inflaming their good ladies with an excess of
ardor. The chorus, in quaint, dolorous tones, broken by silences full
of pantomimic admissions, caused great amusement. A neat phrase went the
round of the house: "The cuckolds' chorus, the cuckolds' chorus," and
it "caught on," for there was an encore. The singers' heads were droll;
their faces were discovered to be in keeping with the phrase, especially
that of a fat man which was as round as the moon. Meanwhile Vulcan
arrived in a towering rage, demanding back his wife who had slipped away
three days ago. The chorus resumed their plaint, calling on Vulcan, the
god of the cuckolds. Vulcan's part was played by Fontan, a comic actor
of talent, at once vulgar and original, and he had a role of the wildest
whimsicality and was got up as a village blacksmith, fiery red wig,
bare arms tattooed with arrow-pierced hearts and all the rest of it. A
woman's voice cried in a very high key, "Oh, isn't he ugly?" and all the
ladies laughed and applauded.

Then followed a scene which seemed interminable. Jupiter in the course
of it seemed never to be going to finish assembling the Council of Gods
in order to submit thereto the deceived husband's requests. And still no
Nana! Was the management keeping Nana for the fall of the curtain then?
So long a period of expectancy had ended by annoying the public. Their
murmurings began again.

"It's going badly," said Mignon radiantly to Steiner. "She'll get a
pretty reception; you'll see!"

At that very moment the clouds at the back of the stage were cloven
apart and Venus appeared. Exceedingly tall, exceedingly strong, for her
eighteen years, Nana, in her goddess's white tunic and with her light
hair simply flowing unfastened over her shoulders, came down to the
footlights with a quiet certainty of movement and a laugh of greeting
for the public and struck up her grand ditty:

"When Venus roams at eventide."

From the second verse onward people looked at each other all over the
house. Was this some jest, some wager on Bordenave's part? Never had a
more tuneless voice been heard or one managed with less art. Her manager
judged of her excellently; she certainly sang like a squirt. Nay, more,
she didn't even know how to deport herself on the stage: she thrust her
arms in front of her while she swayed her whole body to and fro in a
manner which struck the audience as unbecoming and disagreeable. Cries
of "Oh, oh!" were already rising in the pit and the cheap places. There
was a sound of whistling, too, when a voice in the stalls, suggestive of
a molting cockerel, cried out with great conviction:

"That's very smart!"

All the house looked round. It was the cherub, the truant from the
boarding-school, who sat with his fine eyes very wide open and his fair
face glowing very hotly at sight of Nana. When he saw everybody
turning toward him he grew extremely red at the thought of having thus
unconsciously spoken aloud. Daguenet, his neighbor, smilingly examined
him; the public laughed, as though disarmed and no longer anxious to
hiss; while the young gentlemen in white gloves, fascinated in their
turn by Nana's gracious contours, lolled back in their seats and
applauded.

"That's it! Well done! Bravo!"

Nana, in the meantime, seeing the house laughing, began to laugh
herself. The gaiety of all redoubled itself. She was an amusing
creature, all the same, was that fine girl! Her laughter made a love of
a little dimple appear in her chin. She stood there waiting, not bored
in the least, familiar with her audience, falling into step with them at
once, as though she herself were admitting with a wink that she had not
two farthings' worth of talent but that it did not matter at all, that,
in fact, she had other good points. And then after having made a sign
to the conductor which plainly signified, "Go ahead, old boy!" she began
her second verse:

"'Tis Venus who at midnight passes--"

Still the same acidulated voice, only that now it tickled the public in
the right quarter so deftly that momentarily it caused them to give a
little shiver of pleasure. Nana still smiled her smile: it lit up her
little red mouth and shone in her great eyes, which were of the clearest
blue. When she came to certain rather lively verses a delicate sense of
enjoyment made her tilt her nose, the rosy nostrils of which lifted and
fell, while a bright flush suffused her cheeks. She still swung herself
up and down, for she only knew how to do that. And the trick was no
longer voted ugly; on the contrary, the men raised their opera glasses.
When she came to the end of a verse her voice completely failed her, and
she was well aware that she never would get through with it. Thereupon,
rather than fret herself, she kicked up her leg, which forthwith was
roundly outlined under her diaphanous tunic, bent sharply backward, so
that her bosom was thrown upward and forward, and stretched her arms
out. Applause burst forth on all sides. In the twinkling of an eye she
had turned on her heel and was going up the stage, presenting the nape
of her neck to the spectators' gaze, a neck where the red-gold hair
showed like some animal's fell. Then the plaudits became frantic.

The close of the act was not so exciting. Vulcan wanted to slap Venus.
The gods held a consultation and decided to go and hold an inquiry on
earth before granting the deceived husband satisfaction. It was then
that Diana surprised a tender conversation between Venus and Mars and
vowed that she would not take her eyes off them during the whole of
the voyage. There was also a scene where Love, played by a little
twelve-year-old chit, answered every question put to her with "Yes,
Mamma! No, Mamma!" in a winy-piny tone, her fingers in her nose. At last
Jupiter, with the severity of a master who is growing cross, shut Love
up in a dark closet, bidding her conjugate the verb "I love" twenty
times. The finale was more appreciated: it was a chorus which both
troupe and orchestra performed with great brilliancy. But the curtain
once down, the clappers tried in vain to obtain a call, while the whole
house was already up and making for the doors.

The crowd trampled and jostled, jammed, as it were, between the rows
of seats, and in so doing exchanged expressions. One phrase only went
round:

"It's idiotic." A critic was saying that it would be one's duty to do
a pretty bit of slashing. The piece, however, mattered very little, for
people were talking about Nana before everything else. Fauchery and La
Faloise, being among the earliest to emerge, met Steiner and Mignon in
the passage outside the stalls. In this gaslit gut of a place, which was
as narrow and circumscribed as a gallery in a mine, one was well-nigh
suffocated. They stopped a moment at the foot of the stairs on the
right of the house, protected by the final curve of the balusters.
The audience from the cheap places were coming down the steps with
a continuous tramp of heavy boots; a stream of black dress coats was
passing, while an attendant was making every possible effort to protect
a chair, on which she had piled up coats and cloaks, from the onward
pushing of the crowd.

"Surely I know her," cried Steiner, the moment he perceived Fauchery.
"I'm certain I've seen her somewhere--at the casino, I imagine, and she
got herself taken up there--she was so drunk."

"As for me," said the journalist, "I don't quite know where it was. I am
like you; I certainly have come across her."

He lowered his voice and asked, laughing:

"At the Tricons', perhaps."

"Egad, it was in a dirty place," Mignon declared. He seemed exasperated.
"It's disgusting that the public give such a reception to the first
trollop that comes by. There'll soon be no more decent women on the
stage. Yes, I shall end by forbidding Rose to play."

Fauchery could not restrain a smile. Meanwhile the downward shuffle
of the heavy shoes on the steps did not cease, and a little man in a
workman's cap was heard crying in a drawling voice:

"Oh my, she ain't no wopper! There's some pickings there!"

In the passage two young men, delicately curled and formally resplendent
in turndown collars and the rest, were disputing together. One of
them was repeating the words, "Beastly, beastly!" without stating any
reasons; the other was replying with the words, "Stunning, stunning!" as
though he, too, disdained all argument.

La Faloise declared her to be quite the thing; only he ventured to
opine that she would be better still if she were to cultivate her voice.
Steiner, who was no longer listening, seemed to awake with a start.
Whatever happens, one must wait, he thought. Perhaps everything will be
spoiled in the following acts. The public had shown complaisance, but it
was certainly not yet taken by storm. Mignon swore that the piece would
never finish, and when Fauchery and La Faloise left them in order to
go up to the foyer he took Steiner's arm and, leaning hard against his
shoulder, whispered in his ear:

"You're going to see my wife's costume for the second act, old fellow.
It IS just blackguardly."

Upstairs in the foyer three glass chandeliers burned with a brilliant
light. The two cousins hesitated an instant before entering, for the
widely opened glazed doors afforded a view right through the gallery--a
view of a surging sea of heads, which two currents, as it were, kept in
a continuous eddying movement. But they entered after all. Five or six
groups of men, talking very loudly and gesticulating, were obstinately
discussing the play amid these violent interruptions; others were filing
round, their heels, as they turned, sounding sharply on the waxed floor.
To right and left, between columns of variegated imitation marble, women
were sitting on benches covered with red velvet and viewing the passing
movement of the crowd with an air of fatigue as though the heat had
rendered them languid. In the lofty mirrors behind them one saw the
reflection of their chignons. At the end of the room, in front of the
bar, a man with a huge corporation was drinking a glass of fruit syrup.

But Fauchery, in order to breathe more freely, had gone to the balcony.
La Faloise, who was studying the photographs of actresses hung in frames
alternating with the mirrors between the columns, ended by following
him. They had extinguished the line of gas jets on the facade of the
theater, and it was dark and very cool on the balcony, which seemed
to them unoccupied. Solitary and enveloped in shadow, a young man was
standing, leaning his arms on the stone balustrade, in the recess to the
right. He was smoking a cigarette, of which the burning end shone redly.
Fauchery recognized Daguenet. They shook hands warmly.

"What are you after there, my dear fellow?" asked the journalist.
"You're hiding yourself in holes and crannies--you, a man who never
leaves the stalls on a first night!"

"But I'm smoking, you see," replied Daguenet.

Then Fauchery, to put him out of countenance:

"Well, well! What's your opinion of the new actress? She's being roughly
handled enough in the passages."

"Bah!" muttered Daguenet. "They're people whom she'll have had nothing
to do with!"

That was the sum of his criticism of Nana's talent. La Faloise leaned
forward and looked down at the boulevard. Over against them the windows
of a hotel and of a club were brightly lit up, while on the pavement
below a dark mass of customers occupied the tables of the Cafe de
Madrid. Despite the lateness of the hour the crowd were still crushing
and being crushed; people were advancing with shortened step; a throng
was constantly emerging from the Passage Jouffroy; individuals stood
waiting five or six minutes before they could cross the roadway, to such
a distance did the string of carriages extend.

"What a moving mass! And what a noise!" La Faloise kept reiterating, for
Paris still astonished him.

The bell rang for some time; the foyer emptied. There was a hurrying of
people in the passages. The curtain was already up when whole bands of
spectators re-entered the house amid the irritated expressions of those
who were once more in their places. Everyone took his seat again with
an animated look and renewed attention. La Faloise directed his first
glance in Gaga's direction, but he was dumfounded at seeing by her side
the tall fair man who but recently had been in Lucy's stage box.

"What IS that man's name?" he asked.

Fauchery failed to observe him.

"Ah yes, it's Labordette," he said at last with the same careless
movement. The scenery of the second act came as a surprise. It
represented a suburban Shrove Tuesday dance at the Boule Noire.
Masqueraders were trolling a catch, the chorus of which was accompanied
with a tapping of their heels. This 'Arryish departure, which nobody had
in the least expected, caused so much amusement that the house encored
the catch. And it was to this entertainment that the divine band, let
astray by Iris, who falsely bragged that he knew the Earth well,
were now come in order to proceed with their inquiry. They had put on
disguises so as to preserve their incognito. Jupiter came on the stage
as King Dagobert, with his breeches inside out and a huge tin crown on
his head. Phoebus appeared as the Postillion of Lonjumeau and Minerva as
a Norman nursemaid. Loud bursts of merriment greeted Mars, who wore an
outrageous uniform, suggestive of an Alpine admiral. But the shouts of
laughter became uproarious when Neptune came in view, clad in a blouse,
a high, bulging workman's cap on his head, lovelocks glued to his
temples. Shuffling along in slippers, he cried in a thick brogue.

"Well, I'm blessed! When ye're a masher it'll never do not to let 'em
love yer!"

There were some shouts of "Oh! Oh!" while the ladies held their fans
one degree higher. Lucy in her stage box laughed so obstreperously that
Caroline Hequet silenced her with a tap of her fan.

From that moment forth the piece was saved--nay, more, promised a great
success. This carnival of the gods, this dragging in the mud of their
Olympus, this mock at a whole religion, a whole world of poetry,
appeared in the light of a royal entertainment. The fever of irreverence
gained the literary first-night world: legend was trampled underfoot;
ancient images were shattered. Jupiter's make-up was capital. Mars was
a success. Royalty became a farce and the army a thing of folly. When
Jupiter, grown suddenly amorous of a little laundress, began to knock
off a mad cancan, Simonne, who was playing the part of the laundress,
launched a kick at the master of the immortals' nose and addressed him
so drolly as "My big daddy!" that an immoderate fit of laughter shook
the whole house. While they were dancing Phoebus treated Minerva to
salad bowls of negus, and Neptune sat in state among seven or eight
women who regaled him with cakes. Allusions were eagerly caught;
indecent meanings were attached to them; harmless phrases were diverted
from their proper significations in the light of exclamations issuing
from the stalls. For a long time past the theatrical public had not
wallowed in folly more irreverent. It rested them.

Nevertheless, the action of the piece advanced amid these fooleries.
Vulcan, as an elegant young man clad, down to his gloves, entirely in
yellow and with an eyeglass stuck in his eye, was forever running after
Venus, who at last made her appearance as a fishwife, a kerchief on her
head and her bosom, covered with big gold trinkets, in great evidence.
Nana was so white and plump and looked so natural in a part demanding
wide hips and a voluptuous mouth that she straightway won the whole
house. On her account Rose Mignon was forgotten, though she was made up
as a delicious baby, with a wicker-work burlet on her head and a short
muslin frock and had just sighed forth Diana's plaints in a sweetly
pretty voice. The other one, the big wench who slapped her thighs and
clucked like a hen, shed round her an odor of life, a sovereign feminine
charm, with which the public grew intoxicated. From the second act
onward everything was permitted her. She might hold herself awkwardly;
she might fail to sing some note in tune; she might forget her words--it
mattered not: she had only to turn and laugh to raise shouts of
applause. When she gave her famous kick from the hip the stalls were
fired, and a glow of passion rose upward, upward, from gallery to
gallery, till it reached the gods. It was a triumph, too, when she led
the dance. She was at home in that: hand on hip, she enthroned Venus
in the gutter by the pavement side. And the music seemed made for her
plebeian voice--shrill, piping music, with reminiscences of Saint-Cloud
Fair, wheezings of clarinets and playful trills on the part of the
little flutes.

Two numbers were again encored. The opening waltz, that waltz with the
naughty rhythmic beat, had returned and swept the gods with it. Juno,
as a peasant woman, caught Jupiter and his little laundress cleverly
and boxed his ears. Diana, surprising Venus in the act of making an
assignation with Mars, made haste to indicate hour and place to Vulcan,
who cried, "I've hit on a plan!" The rest of the act did not seem
very clear. The inquiry ended in a final galop after which Jupiter,
breathless, streaming with perspiration and minus his crown, declared
that the little women of Earth were delicious and that the men were all
to blame.

The curtain was falling, when certain voices, rising above the storm of
bravos, cried uproariously:

"All! All!"

Thereupon the curtain rose again; the artistes reappeared hand in hand.
In the middle of the line Nana and Rose Mignon stood side by side,
bowing and curtsying. The audience applauded; the clappers shouted
acclamations. Then little by little the house emptied.

"I must go and pay my respects to the Countess Muffat," said La Faloise.
"Exactly so; you'll present me," replied Fauchery; "we'll go down
afterward."

But it was not easy to get to the first-tier boxes. In the passage at
the top of the stairs there was a crush. In order to get forward at all
among the various groups you had to make yourself small and to slide
along, using your elbows in so doing. Leaning under a copper lamp, where
a jet of gas was burning, the bulky critic was sitting in judgment
on the piece in presence of an attentive circle. People in passing
mentioned his name to each other in muttered tones. He had laughed
the whole act through--that was the rumor going the round of the
passages--nevertheless, he was now very severe and spoke of taste and
morals. Farther off the thin-lipped critic was brimming over with a
benevolence which had an unpleasant aftertaste, as of milk turned sour.

Fauchery glanced along, scrutinizing the boxes through the round
openings in each door. But the Count de Vandeuvres stopped him with a
question, and when he was informed that the two cousins were going to
pay their respects to the Muffats, he pointed out to them box seven,
from which he had just emerged. Then bending down and whispering in the
journalist's ear:

"Tell me, my dear fellow," he said, "this Nana--surely she's the girl we
saw one evening at the corner of the Rue de Provence?"

"By Jove, you're right!" cried Fauchery. "I was saying that I had come
across her!"

La Faloise presented his cousin to Count Muffat de Beuville, who
appeared very frigid. But on hearing the name Fauchery the countess
raised her head and with a certain reserve complimented the paragraphist
on his articles in the Figaro. Leaning on the velvet-covered support
in front of her, she turned half round with a pretty movement of the
shoulders. They talked for a short time, and the Universal Exhibition
was mentioned.

"It will be very fine," said the count, whose square-cut,
regular-featured face retained a certain gravity.

"I visited the Champ de Mars today and returned thence truly
astonished."

"They say that things won't be ready in time," La Faloise ventured to
remark. "There's infinite confusion there--"

But the count interrupted him in his severe voice:

"Things will be ready. The emperor desires it."

Fauchery gaily recounted how one day, when he had gone down thither in
search of a subject for an article, he had come near spending all his
time in the aquarium, which was then in course of construction. The
countess smiled. Now and again she glanced down at the body of the
house, raising an arm which a white glove covered to the elbow and
fanning herself with languid hand. The house dozed, almost deserted.
Some gentlemen in the stalls had opened out newspapers, and ladies
received visits quite comfortably, as though they were at their
own homes. Only a well-bred whispering was audible under the great
chandelier, the light of which was softened in the fine cloud of dust
raised by the confused movements of the interval. At the different
entrances men were crowding in order to talk to ladies who remained
seated. They stood there motionless for a few seconds, craning forward
somewhat and displaying the great white bosoms of their shirt fronts.

"We count on you next Tuesday," said the countess to La Faloise, and she
invited Fauchery, who bowed.

Not a word was said of the play; Nana's name was not once mentioned. The
count was so glacially dignified that he might have been supposed to be
taking part at a sitting of the legislature. In order to explain their
presence that evening he remarked simply that his father-in-law was fond
of the theater. The door of the box must have remained open, for the
Marquis de Chouard, who had gone out in order to leave his seat to the
visitors, was back again. He was straightening up his tall, old figure.
His face looked soft and white under a broad-brimmed hat, and with his
restless eyes he followed the movements of the women who passed.

The moment the countess had given her invitation Fauchery took his
leave, feeling that to talk about the play would not be quite the
thing. La Faloise was the last to quit the box. He had just noticed
the fair-haired Labordette, comfortably installed in the Count de
Vandeuvres's stage box and chatting at very close quarters with Blanche
de Sivry.

"Gad," he said after rejoining his cousin, "that Labordette knows all
the girls then! He's with Blanche now."

"Doubtless he knows them all," replied Fauchery quietly. "What d'you
want to be taken for, my friend?"

The passage was somewhat cleared of people, and Fauchery was just about
to go downstairs when Lucy Stewart called him. She was quite at the
other end of the corridor, at the door of her stage box. They were
getting cooked in there, she said, and she took up the whole corridor
in company with Caroline Hequet and her mother, all three nibbling burnt
almonds. A box opener was chatting maternally with them. Lucy fell out
with the journalist. He was a pretty fellow; to be sure! He went up to
see other women and didn't even come and ask if they were thirsty! Then,
changing the subject:

"You know, dear boy, I think Nana very nice."

She wanted him to stay in the stage box for the last act, but he made
his escape, promising to catch them at the door afterward. Downstairs
in front of the theater Fauchery and La Faloise lit cigarettes. A great
gathering blocked the sidewalk, a stream of men who had come down
from the theater steps and were inhaling the fresh night air in the
boulevards, where the roar and battle had diminished.

Meanwhile Mignon had drawn Steiner away to the Cafe des Varietes. Seeing
Nana's success, he had set to work to talk enthusiastically about her,
all the while observing the banker out of the corners of his eyes. He
knew him well; twice he had helped him to deceive Rose and then, the
caprice being over, had brought him back to her, faithful and repentant.
In the cafe the too numerous crowd of customers were squeezing
themselves round the marble-topped tables. Several were standing up,
drinking in a great hurry. The tall mirrors reflected this thronging
world of heads to infinity and magnified the narrow room beyond measure
with its three chandeliers, its moleskin-covered seats and its winding
staircase draped with red. Steiner went and seated himself at a table in
the first saloon, which opened full on the boulevard, its doors having
been removed rather early for the time of year. As Fauchery and La
Faloise were passing the banker stopped them.

"Come and take a bock with us, eh?" they said.

But he was too preoccupied by an idea; he wanted to have a bouquet
thrown to Nana. At last he called a waiter belonging to the cafe, whom
he familiarly addressed as Auguste. Mignon, who was listening, looked at
him so sharply that he lost countenance and stammered out:

"Two bouquets, Auguste, and deliver them to the attendant. A bouquet for
each of these ladies! Happy thought, eh?"

At the other end of the saloon, her shoulders resting against the frame
of a mirror, a girl, some eighteen years of age at the outside, was
leaning motionless in front of her empty glass as though she had been
benumbed by long and fruitless waiting. Under the natural curls of her
beautiful gray-gold hair a virginal face looked out at you with velvety
eyes, which were at once soft and candid.

She wore a dress of faded green silk and a round hat which blows had
dinted. The cool air of the night made her look very pale.

"Egad, there's Satin," murmured Fauchery when his eye lit upon her.

La Faloise questioned him. Oh dear, yes, she was a streetwalker--she
didn't count. But she was such a scandalous sort that people amused
themselves by making her talk. And the journalist, raising his voice:

"What are you doing there, Satin?"

"I'm bogging," replied Satin quietly without changing position.

The four men were charmed and fell a-laughing. Mignon assured them that
there was no need to hurry; it would take twenty minutes to set up the
scenery for the third act. But the two cousins, having drunk their beer,
wanted to go up into the theater again; the cold was making itself felt.
Then Mignon remained alone with Steiner, put his elbows on the table and
spoke to him at close quarters.

"It's an understood thing, eh? We are to go to her house, and I'm to
introduce you. You know the thing's quite between ourselves--my wife
needn't know."

Once more in their places, Fauchery and La Faloise noticed a pretty,
quietly dressed woman in the second tier of boxes. She was with a
serious-looking gentleman, a chief clerk at the office of the Ministry
of the Interior, whom La Faloise knew, having met him at the Muffats'.
As to Fauchery, he was under the impression that her name was Madame
Robert, a lady of honorable repute who had a lover, only one, and that
always a person of respectability.

But they had to turn round, for Daguenet was smiling at them. Now that
Nana had had a success he no longer hid himself: indeed, he had just
been scoring triumphs in the passages. By his side was the young truant
schoolboy, who had not quitted his seat, so stupefying was the state
of admiration into which Nana had plunged him. That was it, he thought;
that was the woman! And he blushed as he thought so and dragged his
gloves on and off mechanically. Then since his neighbor had spoken of
Nana, he ventured to question him.

"Will you pardon me for asking you, sir, but that lady who is acting--do
you know her?"

"Yes, I do a little," murmured Daguenet with some surprise and
hesitation.

"Then you know her address?"

The question, addressed as it was to him, came so abruptly that he felt
inclined to respond with a box on the ear.

"No," he said in a dry tone of voice.

And with that he turned his back. The fair lad knew that he had just
been guilty of some breach of good manners. He blushed more hotly than
ever and looked scared.

The traditional three knocks were given, and among the returning throng,
attendants, laden with pelisses and overcoats, bustled about at a great
rate in order to put away people's things. The clappers applauded the
scenery, which represented a grotto on Mount Etna, hollowed out in a
silver mine and with sides glittering like new money. In the background
Vulcan's forge glowed like a setting star. Diana, since the second act,
had come to a good understanding with the god, who was to pretend that
he was on a journey, so as to leave the way clear for Venus and Mars.
Then scarcely was Diana alone than Venus made her appearance. A shiver
of delight ran round the house. Nana was nude. With quiet audacity she
appeared in her nakedness, certain of the sovereign power of her flesh.
Some gauze enveloped her, but her rounded shoulders, her Amazonian
bosom, her wide hips, which swayed to and fro voluptuously, her whole
body, in fact, could be divined, nay discerned, in all its foamlike
whiteness of tint beneath the slight fabric she wore. It was Venus
rising from the waves with no veil save her tresses. And when Nana
lifted her arms the golden hairs in her armpits were observable in the
glare of the footlights. There was no applause. Nobody laughed any more.
The men strained forward with serious faces, sharp features, mouths
irritated and parched. A wind seemed to have passed, a soft, soft wind,
laden with a secret menace. Suddenly in the bouncing child the woman
stood discovered, a woman full of restless suggestion, who brought with
her the delirium of sex and opened the gates of the unknown world of
desire. Nana was smiling still, but her smile was now bitter, as of a
devourer of men.

"By God," said Fauchery quite simply to La Faloise.

Mars in the meantime, with his plume of feathers, came hurrying to the
trysting place and found himself between the two goddesses. Then ensued
a passage which Prulliere played with great delicacy. Petted by Diana,
who wanted to make a final attack upon his feelings before delivering
him up to Vulcan, wheedled by Venus, whom the presence of her rival
excited, he gave himself up to these tender delights with the beatified
expression of a man in clover. Finally a grand trio brought the scene
to a close, and it was then that an attendant appeared in Lucy Stewart's
box and threw on the stage two immense bouquets of white lilacs. There
was applause; Nana and Rose Mignon bowed, while Prulliere picked up the
bouquets. Many of the occupants of the stalls turned smilingly toward
the ground-floor occupied by Steiner and Mignon. The banker, his face
blood-red, was suffering from little convulsive twitchings of the chin,
as though he had a stoppage in his throat.

What followed took the house by storm completely. Diana had gone off
in a rage, and directly afterward, Venus, sitting on a moss-clad seat,
called Mars to her. Never yet had a more glowing scene of seduction
been ventured on. Nana, her arms round Prulliere's neck, was drawing
him toward her when Fontan, with comically furious mimicry and an
exaggerated imitation of the face of an outraged husband who surprises
his wife in FLAGRANTE DELICTO, appeared at the back of the grotto. He
was holding the famous net with iron meshes. For an instant he poised
and swung it, as a fisherman does when he is going to make a cast, and
by an ingenious twist Venus and Mars were caught in the snare; the net
wrapped itself round them and held them motionless in the attitude of
happy lovers.

A murmur of applause swelled and swelled like a growing sigh. There was
some hand clapping, and every opera glass was fixed on Venus. Little by
little Nana had taken possession of the public, and now every man was
her slave.

A wave of lust had flowed from her as from an excited animal, and its
influence had spread and spread and spread till the whole house was
possessed by it. At that moment her slightest movement blew the flame of
desire: with her little finger she ruled men's flesh. Backs were arched
and quivered as though unseen violin bows had been drawn across their
muscles; upon men's shoulders appeared fugitive hairs, which flew in
air, blown by warm and wandering breaths, breathed one knew not from
what feminine mouth. In front of him Fauchery saw the truant schoolboy
half lifted from his seat by passion. Curiosity led him to look at
the Count de Vandeuvres--he was extremely pale, and his lips looked
pinched--at fat Steiner, whose face was purple to the verge of apoplexy;
at Labordette, ogling away with the highly astonished air of a horse
dealer admiring a perfectly shaped mare; at Daguenet, whose ears were
blood-red and twitching with enjoyment. Then a sudden idea made him
glance behind, and he marveled at what he saw in the Muffats' box.
Behind the countess, who was white and serious as usual, the count was
sitting straight upright, with mouth agape and face mottled with red,
while close by him, in the shadow, the restless eyes of the Marquis de
Chouard had become catlike phosphorescent, full of golden sparkles. The
house was suffocating; people's very hair grew heavy on their perspiring
heads. For three hours back the breath of the multitude had filled
and heated the atmosphere with a scent of crowded humanity. Under the
swaying glare of the gas the dust clouds in mid-air had grown constantly
denser as they hung motionless beneath the chandelier. The whole house
seemed to be oscillating, to be lapsing toward dizziness in its fatigue
and excitement, full, as it was, of those drowsy midnight desires which
flutter in the recesses of the bed of passion. And Nana, in front of
this languorous public, these fifteen hundred human beings thronged and
smothered in the exhaustion and nervous exasperation which belong to the
close of a spectacle, Nana still triumphed by right of her marble flesh
and that sexual nature of hers, which was strong enough to destroy the
whole crowd of her adorers and yet sustain no injury.

The piece drew to a close. In answer to Vulcan's triumphant summons all
the Olympians defiled before the lovers with ohs and ahs of stupefaction
and gaiety. Jupiter said, "I think it is light conduct on your part,
my son, to summon us to see such a sight as this." Then a reaction took
place in favor of Venus. The chorus of cuckolds was again ushered in
by Iris and besought the master of the gods not to give effect to its
petition, for since women had lived at home, domestic life was becoming
impossible for the men: the latter preferred being deceived and happy.
That was the moral of the play. Then Venus was set at liberty, and
Vulcan obtained a partial divorce from her. Mars was reconciled with
Diana, and Jove, for the sake of domestic peace, packed his little
laundress off into a constellation. And finally they extricated Love
from his black hole, where instead of conjugating the verb AMO he
had been busy in the manufacture of "dollies." The curtain fell on
an apotheosis, wherein the cuckolds' chorus knelt and sang a hymn of
gratitude to Venus, who stood there with smiling lips, her stature
enhanced by her sovereign nudity.

The audience, already on their feet, were making for the exits. The
authors were mentioned, and amid a thunder of applause there were two
calls before the curtain. The shout of "Nana! Nana!" rang wildly forth.
Then no sooner was the house empty than it grew dark: the footlights
went out; the chandelier was turned down; long strips of gray canvas
slipped from the stage boxes and swathed the gilt ornamentation of
the galleries, and the house, lately so full of heat and noise, lapsed
suddenly into a heavy sleep, while a musty, dusty odor began to pervade
it. In the front of her box stood the Countess Muffat. Very erect and
closely wrapped up in her furs, she stared at the gathering shadows and
waited for the crowd to pass away.

In the passages the people were jostling the attendants, who hardly knew
what to do among the tumbled heaps of outdoor raiment. Fauchery and La
Faloise had hurried in order to see the crowd pass out. All along the
entrance hall men formed a living hedge, while down the double staircase
came slowly and in regular, complete formation two interminable throngs
of human beings. Steiner, in tow of Mignon, had left the house among
the foremost. The Count de Vandeuvres took his departure with Blanche
de Sivry on his arm. For a moment or two Gaga and her daughter seemed
doubtful how to proceed, but Labordette made haste to go and fetch them
a conveyance, the door whereof he gallantly shut after them. Nobody saw
Daguenet go by. As the truant schoolboy, registering a mental vow to
wait at the stage door, was running with burning cheeks toward the
Passage des Panoramas, of which he found the gate closed, Satin,
standing on the edge of the pavement, moved forward and brushed him with
her skirts, but he in his despair gave her a savage refusal and vanished
amid the crowd, tears of impotent desire in his eyes. Members of the
audience were lighting their cigars and walking off, humming:

When Venus roams at eventide.

Satin had gone back in front of the Cafe des Varietes, where Auguste let
her eat the sugar that remained over from the customers' orders. A stout
man, who came out in a very heated condition, finally carried her off in
the shadow of the boulevard, which was now gradually going to sleep.

Still people kept coming downstairs. La Faloise was waiting for
Clarisse; Fauchery had promised to catch up Lucy Stewart with Caroline
Hequet and her mother. They came; they took up a whole corner of the
entrance hall and were laughing very loudly when the Muffats passed by
them with an icy expression. Bordenave had just then opened a little
door and, peeping out, had obtained from Fauchery the formal promise
of an article. He was dripping with perspiration, his face blazed, as
though he were drunk with success.

"You're good for two hundred nights," La Faloise said to him with
civility. "The whole of Paris will visit your theater."

But Bordenave grew annoyed and, indicating with a jerk of his chin the
public who filled the entrance hall--a herd of men with parched lips
and ardent eyes, still burning with the enjoyment of Nana--he cried out
violently:

"Say 'my brothel,' you obstinate devil!"



CHAPTER II


At ten o'clock the next morning Nana was still asleep. She occupied
the second floor of a large new house in the Boulevard Haussmann, the
landlord of which let flats to single ladies in order by their means
to dry the paint. A rich merchant from Moscow, who had come to pass a
winter in Paris, had installed her there after paying six months' rent
in advance. The rooms were too big for her and had never been completely
furnished. The vulgar sumptuosity of gilded consoles and gilded chairs
formed a crude contrast therein to the bric-a-brac of a secondhand
furniture shop--to mahogany round tables, that is to say, and zinc
candelabras, which sought to imitate Florentine bronze. All of which
smacked of the courtesan too early deserted by her first serious
protector and fallen back on shabby lovers, of a precarious first
appearance of a bad start, handicapped by refusals of credit and threats
of eviction.

Nana was sleeping on her face, hugging in her bare arms a pillow in
which she was burying cheeks grown pale in sleep. The bedroom and the
dressing room were the only two apartments which had been properly
furnished by a neighboring upholsterer. A ray of light, gliding in
under a curtain, rendered visible rosewood furniture and hangings and
chairbacks of figured damask with a pattern of big blue flowers on a
gray ground. But in the soft atmosphere of that slumbering chamber Nana
suddenly awoke with a start, as though surprised to find an empty place
at her side. She looked at the other pillow lying next to hers; there
was the dint of a human head among its flounces: it was still warm. And
groping with one hand, she pressed the knob of an electric bell by her
bed's head.

"He's gone then?" she asked the maid who presented herself.

"Yes, madame, Monsieur Paul went away not ten minutes back. As Madame
was tired, he did not wish to wake her. But he ordered me to tell Madame
that he would come tomorrow."

As she spoke Zoe, the lady's maid, opened the outer shutter. A flood of
daylight entered. Zoe, a dark brunette with hair in little plaits, had
a long canine face, at once livid and full of seams, a snub nose, thick
lips and two black eyes in continual movement.

"Tomorrow, tomorrow," repeated Nana, who was not yet wide awake, "is
tomorrow the day?"

"Yes, madame, Monsieur Paul has always come on the Wednesday."

"No, now I remember," said the young woman, sitting up. "It's all
changed. I wanted to tell him so this morning. He would run against the
nigger! We should have a nice to-do!"

"Madame did not warn me; I couldn't be aware of it," murmured Zoe. "When
Madame changes her days she will do well to tell me so that I may know.
Then the old miser is no longer due on the Tuesday?"

Between themselves they were wont thus gravely to nickname as "old
miser" and "nigger" their two paying visitors, one of whom was a
tradesman of economical tendencies from the Faubourg Saint-Denis, while
the other was a Walachian, a mock count, whose money, paid always at the
most irregular intervals, never looked as though it had been honestly
come by. Daguenet had made Nana give him the days subsequent to the old
miser's visits, and as the trader had to be at home by eight o'clock
in the morning, the young man would watch for his departure from Zoes
kitchen and would take his place, which was still quite warm, till ten
o'clock. Then he, too, would go about his business. Nana and he were
wont to think it a very comfortable arrangement.

"So much the worse," said Nana; "I'll write to him this afternoon. And
if he doesn't receive my letter, then tomorrow you will stop him coming
in."

In the meantime Zoe was walking softly about the room. She spoke of
yesterday's great hit. Madame had shown such talent; she sang so well!
Ah! Madame need not fret at all now!

Nana, her elbow dug into her pillow, only tossed her head in reply. Her
nightdress had slipped down on her shoulders, and her hair, unfastened
and entangled, flowed over them in masses.

"Without doubt," she murmured, becoming thoughtful; "but what's to be
done to gain time? I'm going to have all sorts of bothers today. Now
let's see, has the porter come upstairs yet this morning?"

Then both the women talked together seriously. Nana owed three quarters'
rent; the landlord was talking of seizing the furniture. Then, too,
there was a perfect downpour of creditors; there was a livery-stable
man, a needlewoman, a ladies' tailor, a charcoal dealer and others
besides, who came every day and settled themselves on a bench in the
little hall. The charcoal dealer especially was a dreadful fellow--he
shouted on the staircase. But Nana's greatest cause of distress was her
little Louis, a child she had given birth to when she was sixteen
and now left in charge of a nurse in a village in the neighborhood
of Rambouillet. This woman was clamoring for the sum of three hundred
francs before she would consent to give the little Louis back to her.
Nana, since her last visit to the child, had been seized with a fit
of maternal love and was desperate at the thought that she could not
realize a project, which had now become a hobby with her. This was to
pay off the nurse and to place the little man with his aunt, Mme Lerat,
at the Batignolles, whither she could go and see him as often as she
liked.

Meanwhile the lady's maid kept hinting that her mistress ought to have
confided her necessities to the old miser.

"To be sure, I told him everything," cried Nana, "and he told me in
answer that he had too many big liabilities. He won't go beyond his
thousand francs a month. The nigger's beggared just at present; I expect
he's lost at play. As to that poor Mimi, he stands in great need of a
loan himself; a fall in stocks has cleaned him out--he can't even bring
me flowers now."

She was speaking of Daguenet. In the self-abandonment of her awakening
she had no secrets from Zoe, and the latter, inured to such confidences,
received them with respectful sympathy. Since Madame condescended to
speak to her of her affairs she would permit herself to say what she
thought. Besides, she was very fond of Madame; she had left Mme Blanche
for the express purpose of taking service with her, and heaven knew Mme
Blanche was straining every nerve to have her again! Situations weren't
lacking; she was pretty well known, but she would have stayed with
Madame even in narrow circumstances, because she believed in Madame's
future. And she concluded by stating her advice with precision. When one
was young one often did silly things. But this time it was one's duty to
look alive, for the men only thought of having their fun. Oh dear, yes!
Things would right themselves. Madame had only to say one word in order
to quiet her creditors and find the money she stood in need of.

"All that doesn't help me to three hundred francs," Nana kept repeating
as she plunged her fingers into the vagrant convolutions of her back
hair. "I must have three hundred francs today, at once! It's stupid not
to know anyone who'll give you three hundred francs."

She racked her brains. She would have sent Mme Lerat, whom she was
expecting that very morning, to Rambouillet. The counteraction of her
sudden fancy spoiled for her the triumph of last night. Among all those
men who had cheered her, to think that there wasn't one to bring her
fifteen louis! And then one couldn't accept money in that way! Dear
heaven, how unfortunate she was! And she kept harking back again to the
subject of her baby--he had blue eyes like a cherub's; he could lisp
"Mamma" in such a funny voice that you were ready to die of laughing!

But at this moment the electric bell at the outer door was heard to ring
with its quick and tremulous vibration. Zoe returned, murmuring with a
confidential air:

"It's a woman."

She had seen this woman a score of times, only she made believe never
to recognize her and to be quite ignorant of the nature of her relations
with ladies in difficulties.

"She has told me her name--Madame Tricon."

"The Tricon," cried Nana. "Dear me! That's true. I'd forgotten her. Show
her in."

Zoe ushered in a tall old lady who wore ringlets and looked like
a countess who haunts lawyers' offices. Then she effaced herself,
disappearing noiselessly with the lithe, serpentine movement wherewith
she was wont to withdraw from a room on the arrival of a gentleman.
However, she might have stayed. The Tricon did not even sit down. Only a
brief exchange of words took place.

"I have someone for you today. Do you care about it?"

"Yes. How much?"

"Twenty louis."

"At what o'clock?"

"At three. It's settled then?"

"It's settled."

Straightway the Tricon talked of the state of the weather. It was dry
weather, pleasant for walking. She had still four or five persons to
see. And she took her departure after consulting a small memorandum
book. When she was once more alone Nana appeared comforted. A slight
shiver agitated her shoulders, and she wrapped herself softly up
again in her warm bedclothes with the lazy movements of a cat who is
susceptible to cold. Little by little her eyes closed, and she lay
smiling at the thought of dressing Louiset prettily on the following
day, while in the slumber into which she once more sank last night's
long, feverish dream of endlessly rolling applause returned like a
sustained accompaniment to music and gently soothed her lassitude.

At eleven o'clock, when Zoe showed Mme Lerat into the room, Nana was
still asleep. But she woke at the noise and cried out at once:

"It's you. You'll go to Rambouillet today?"

"That's what I've come for," said the aunt. "There's a train at twenty
past twelve. I've got time to catch it."

"No, I shall only have the money by and by," replied the young woman,
stretching herself and throwing out her bosom. "You'll have lunch, and
then we'll see."

Zoe brought a dressing jacket.

"The hairdresser's here, madame," she murmured.

But Nana did not wish to go into the dressing room. And she herself
cried out:

"Come in, Francis."

A well-dressed man pushed open the door and bowed. Just at that moment
Nana was getting out of bed, her bare legs in full view. But she did not
hurry and stretched her hands out so as to let Zoe draw on the sleeves
of the dressing jacket. Francis, on his part, was quite at his ease and
without turning away waited with a sober expression on his face.

"Perhaps Madame has not seen the papers. There's a very nice article in
the Figaro."

He had brought the journal. Mme Lerat put on her spectacles and read the
article aloud, standing in front of the window as she did so. She had
the build of a policeman, and she drew herself up to her full height,
while her nostrils seemed to compress themselves whenever she uttered
a gallant epithet. It was a notice by Fauchery, written just after the
performance, and it consisted of a couple of very glowing columns, full
of witty sarcasm about the artist and of broad admiration for the woman.

"Excellent!" Francis kept repeating.

Nana laughed good-humoredly at his chaffing her about her voice! He
was a nice fellow, was that Fauchery, and she would repay him for his
charming style of writing. Mme Lerat, after having reread the notice,
roundly declared that the men all had the devil in their shanks, and she
refused to explain her self further, being fully satisfied with a brisk
allusion of which she alone knew the meaning. Francis finished turning
up and fastening Nana's hair. He bowed and said:

"I'll keep my eye on the evening papers. At half-past five as usual,
eh?"

"Bring me a pot of pomade and a pound of burnt almonds from Boissier's,"
Nana cried to him across the drawing room just as he was shutting the
door after him.

Then the two women, once more alone, recollected that they had not
embraced, and they planted big kisses on each other's cheeks. The notice
warmed their hearts. Nana, who up till now had been half asleep, was
again seized with the fever of her triumph. Dear, dear, 'twas Rose
Mignon that would be spending a pleasant morning! Her aunt having been
unwilling to go to the theater because, as she averred, sudden emotions
ruined her stomach, Nana set herself to describe the events of the
evening and grew intoxicated at her own recital, as though all Paris had
been shaken to the ground by the applause. Then suddenly interrupting
herself, she asked with a laugh if one would ever have imagined it all
when she used to go traipsing about the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. Mme Lerat
shook her head. No, no, one never could have foreseen it! And she began
talking in her turn, assuming a serious air as she did so and calling
Nana "daughter." Wasn't she a second mother to her since the first had
gone to rejoin Papa and Grandmamma? Nana was greatly softened and on the
verge of tears. But Mme Lerat declared that the past was the past--oh
yes, to be sure, a dirty past with things in it which it was as well not
to stir up every day. She had left off seeing her niece for a long time
because among the family she was accused of ruining herself along with
the little thing. Good God, as though that were possible! She didn't ask
for confidences; she believed that Nana had always lived decently, and
now it was enough for her to have found her again in a fine position and
to observe her kind feelings toward her son. Virtue and hard work were
still the only things worth anything in this world.

"Who is the baby's father?" she said, interrupting herself, her eyes lit
up with an expression of acute curiosity.

Nana was taken by surprise and hesitated a moment.

"A gentleman," she replied.

"There now!" rejoined the aunt. "They declared that you had him by a
stonemason who was in the habit of beating you. Indeed, you shall tell
me all about it someday; you know I'm discreet! Tut, tut, I'll look
after him as though he were a prince's son."

She had retired from business as a florist and was living on her
savings, which she had got together sou by sou, till now they brought
her in an income of six hundred francs a year. Nana promised to rent
some pretty little lodgings for her and to give her a hundred francs a
month besides. At the mention of this sum the aunt forgot herself and
shrieked to her niece, bidding her squeeze their throats, since she had
them in her grasp. She was meaning the men, of course. Then they both
embraced again, but in the midst of her rejoicing Nana's face, as she
led the talk back to the subject of Louiset, seemed to be overshadowed
by a sudden recollection.

"Isn't it a bore I've got to go out at three o'clock?" she muttered. "It
IS a nuisance!"

Just then Zoe came in to say that lunch was on the table. They went into
the dining room, where an old lady was already seated at table. She had
not taken her hat off, and she wore a dark dress of an indecisive color
midway between puce and goose dripping. Nana did not seem surprised at
sight of her. She simply asked her why she hadn't come into the bedroom.

"I heard voices," replied the old lady. "I thought you had company."

Mme Maloir, a respectable-looking and mannerly woman, was Nana's old
friend, chaperon and companion. Mme Lerat's presence seemed to fidget
her at first. Afterward, when she became aware that it was Nana's aunt,
she looked at her with a sweet expression and a die-away smile. In
the meantime Nana, who averred that she was as hungry as a wolf, threw
herself on the radishes and gobbled them up without bread. Mme Lerat had
become ceremonious; she refused the radishes as provocative of phlegm.
By and by when Zoe had brought in the cutlets Nana just chipped the
meat and contented herself with sucking the bones. Now and again she
scrutinized her old friend's hat out of the corners of her eyes.

"It's the new hat I gave you?" she ended by saying.

"Yes, I made it up," murmured Mme Maloir, her mouth full of meat.

The hat was smart to distraction. In front it was greatly exaggerated,
and it was adorned with a lofty feather. Mme Maloir had a mania for
doing up all her hats afresh; she alone knew what really became her,
and with a few stitches she could manufacture a toque out of the most
elegant headgear. Nana, who had bought her this very hat in order not to
be ashamed of her when in her company out of doors, was very near being
vexed.

"Push it up, at any rate," she cried.

"No, thank you," replied the old lady with dignity. "It doesn't get in
my way; I can eat very comfortably as it is."

After the cutlets came cauliflowers and the remains of a cold chicken.
But at the arrival of each successive dish Nana made a little face,
hesitated, sniffed and left her plateful untouched. She finished her
lunch with the help of preserve.

Dessert took a long time. Zoe did not remove the cloth before serving
the coffee. Indeed, the ladies simply pushed back their plates before
taking it. They talked continually of yesterday's charming evening. Nana
kept rolling cigarettes, which she smoked, swinging up and down on her
backward-tilted chair. And as Zoe had remained behind and was lounging
idly against the sideboard, it came about that the company were favored
with her history. She said she was the daughter of a midwife at Bercy
who had failed in business. First of all she had taken service with a
dentist and after that with an insurance agent, but neither place suited
her, and she thereupon enumerated, not without a certain amount of
pride, the names of the ladies with whom she had served as lady's
maid. Zoe spoke of these ladies as one who had had the making of their
fortunes. It was very certain that without her more than one would have
had some queer tales to tell. Thus one day, when Mme Blanche was with M.
Octave, in came the old gentleman. What did Zoe do? She made believe
to tumble as she crossed the drawing room; the old boy rushed up to her
assistance, flew to the kitchen to fetch her a glass of water, and M.
Octave slipped away.

"Oh, she's a good girl, you bet!" said Nana, who was listening to her
with tender interest and a sort of submissive admiration.

"Now I've had my troubles," began Mme Lerat. And edging up to Mme
Maloir, she imparted to her certain confidential confessions. Both
ladies took lumps of sugar dipped in cognac and sucked them. But
Mme Maloir was wont to listen to other people's secrets without even
confessing anything concerning herself. People said that she lived on a
mysterious allowance in a room whither no one ever penetrated.

All of a sudden Nana grew excited.

"Don't play with the knives, Aunt. You know it gives me a turn!"

Without thinking about it Mme Lerat had crossed two knives on the table
in front of her. Notwithstanding this, the young woman defended herself
from the charge of superstition. Thus, if the salt were upset, it meant
nothing, even on a Friday; but when it came to knives, that was too much
of a good thing; that had never proved fallacious. There could be no
doubt that something unpleasant was going to happen to her. She yawned,
and then with an air, of profound boredom:

"Two o'clock already. I must go out. What a nuisance!"

The two old ladies looked at one another. The three women shook their
heads without speaking. To be sure, life was not always amusing. Nana
had tilted her chair back anew and lit a cigarette, while the others sat
pursing up their lips discreetly, thinking deeply philosophic thoughts.

"While waiting for you to return we'll play a game of bezique," said Mme
Maloir after a short silence. "Does Madame play bezique?"

Certainly Mme Lerat played it, and that to perfection. It was no good
troubling Zoe, who had vanished--a corner of the table would do quite
well. And they pushed back the tablecloth over the dirty plates. But as
Mme Maloir was herself going to take the cards out of a drawer in the
sideboard, Nana remarked that before she sat down to her game it would
be very nice of her if she would write her a letter. It bored Nana to
write letters; besides, she was not sure of her spelling, while her old
friend could turn out the most feeling epistles. She ran to fetch some
good note paper in her bedroom. An inkstand consisting of a bottle
of ink worth about three sous stood untidily on one of the pieces
of furniture, with a pen deep in rust beside it. The letter was for
Daguenet. Mme Maloir herself wrote in her bold English hand, "My darling
little man," and then she told him not to come tomorrow because "that
could not be" but hastened to add that "she was with him in thought at
every moment of the day, whether she were near or far away."

"And I end with 'a thousand kisses,'" she murmured.

Mme Lerat had shown her approval of each phrase with an emphatic nod.
Her eyes were sparkling; she loved to find herself in the midst of love
affairs. Nay, she was seized with a desire to add some words of her own
and, assuming a tender look and cooing like a dove, she suggested:

"A thousand kisses on thy beautiful eyes."

"That's the thing: 'a thousand kisses on thy beautiful eyes'!" Nana
repeated, while the two old ladies assumed a beatified expression.

Zoe was rung for and told to take the letter down to a commissionaire.
She had just been talking with the theater messenger, who had brought
her mistress the day's playbill and rehearsal arrangements, which he had
forgotten in the morning. Nana had this individual ushered in and got
him to take the latter to Daguenet on his return. Then she put questions
to him. Oh yes! M. Bordenave was very pleased; people had already taken
seats for a week to come; Madame had no idea of the number of people who
had been asking her address since morning. When the man had taken his
departure Nana announced that at most she would only be out half an
hour. If there were any visitors Zoe would make them wait. As she spoke
the electric bell sounded. It was a creditor in the shape of the man of
whom she jobbed her carriages. He had settled himself on the bench
in the anteroom, and the fellow was free to twiddle his thumbs till
night--there wasn't the least hurry now.

"Come, buck up!" said Nana, still torpid with laziness and yawning and
stretching afresh. "I ought to be there now!"

Yet she did not budge but kept watching the play of her aunt, who had
just announced four aces. Chin on hand, she grew quite engrossed in it
but gave a violent start on hearing three o'clock strike.

"Good God!" she cried roughly.

Then Mme Maloir, who was counting the tricks she had won with her tens
and aces, said cheeringly to her in her soft voice:

"It would be better, dearie, to give up your expedition at once."

"No, be quick about it," said Mme Lerat, shuffling the cards. "I shall
take the half-past four o'clock train if you're back here with the money
before four o'clock."

"Oh, there'll be no time lost," she murmured.

Ten minutes after Zoe helped her on with a dress and a hat. It didn't
matter much if she were badly turned out. Just as she was about to
go downstairs there was a new ring at the bell. This time it was the
charcoal dealer. Very well, he might keep the livery-stable keeper
company--it would amuse the fellows. Only, as she dreaded a scene, she
crossed the kitchen and made her escape by the back stairs. She often
went that way and in return had only to lift up her flounces.

"When one is a good mother anything's excusable," said Mme Maloir
sententiously when left alone with Mme Lerat.

"Four kings," replied this lady, whom the play greatly excited.

And they both plunged into an interminable game.

The table had not been cleared. The smell of lunch and the cigarette
smoke filled the room with an ambient, steamy vapor. The two ladies had
again set to work dipping lumps of sugar in brandy and sucking the same.
For twenty minutes at least they played and sucked simultaneously when,
the electric bell having rung a third time, Zoe bustled into the room
and roughly disturbed them, just as if they had been her own friends.

"Look here, that's another ring. You can't stay where you are. If many
folks call I must have the whole flat. Now off you go, off you go!"

Mme Maloir was for finishing the game, but Zoe looked as if she was
going to pounce down on the cards, and so she decided to carry them off
without in any way altering their positions, while Mme Lerat undertook
the removal of the brandy bottle, the glasses and the sugar. Then they
both scudded to the kitchen, where they installed themselves at the
table in an empty space between the dishcloths, which were spread out to
dry, and the bowl still full of dishwater.

"We said it was three hundred and forty. It's your turn."

"I play hearts."

When Zoe returned she found them once again absorbed. After a silence,
as Mme Lerat was shuffling, Mme Maloir asked who it was.

"Oh, nobody to speak of," replied the servant carelessly; "a slip of a
lad! I wanted to send him away again, but he's such a pretty boy with
never a hair on his chin and blue eyes and a girl's face! So I told him
to wait after all. He's got an enormous bouquet in his hand, which he
never once consented to put down. One would like to catch him one--a
brat like that who ought to be at school still!"

Mme Lerat went to fetch a water bottle to mix herself some brandy and
water, the lumps of sugar having rendered her thirsty. Zoe muttered
something to the effect that she really didn't mind if she drank
something too. Her mouth, she averred, was as bitter as gall.

"So you put him--?" continued Mme Maloir.

"Oh yes, I put him in the closet at the end of the room, the little
unfurnished one. There's only one of my lady's trunks there and a table.
It's there I stow the lubbers."

And she was putting plenty of sugar in her grog when the electric bell
made her jump. Oh, drat it all! Wouldn't they let her have a drink
in peace? If they were to have a peal of bells things promised well.
Nevertheless, she ran off to open the door. Returning presently, she saw
Mme Maloir questioning her with a glance.

"It's nothing," she said, "only a bouquet."

All three refreshed themselves, nodding to each other in token of
salutation. Then while Zoe was at length busy clearing the table,
bringing the plates out one by one and putting them in the sink, two
other rings followed close upon one another. But they weren't serious,
for while keeping the kitchen informed of what was going on she twice
repeated her disdainful expression:

"Nothing, only a bouquet."

Notwithstanding which, the old ladies laughed between two of their
tricks when they heard her describe the looks of the creditors in the
anteroom after the flowers had arrived. Madame would find her bouquets
on her toilet table. What a pity it was they cost such a lot and that
you could only get ten sous for them! Oh dear, yes, plenty of money was
wasted!

"For my part," said Mme Maloir, "I should be quite content if every
day of my life I got what the men in Paris had spent on flowers for the
women."

"Now, you know, you're not hard to please," murmured Mme Lerat. "Why,
one would have only just enough to buy thread with. Four queens, my
dear."

It was ten minutes to four. Zoe was astonished, could not understand
why her mistress was out so long. Ordinarily when Madame found herself
obliged to go out in the afternoons she got it over in double-quick
time. But Mme Maloir declared that one didn't always manage things as
one wished. Truly, life was beset with obstacles, averred Mme Lerat. The
best course was to wait. If her niece was long in coming it was because
her occupations detained her; wasn't it so? Besides, they weren't
overworked--it was comfortable in the kitchen. And as hearts were out,
Mme Lerat threw down diamonds.

The bell began again, and when Zoe reappeared she was burning with
excitement.

"My children, it's fat Steiner!" she said in the doorway, lowering her
voice as she spoke. "I've put HIM in the little sitting room."

Thereupon Mme Maloir spoke about the banker to Mme Lerat, who knew no
such gentleman. Was he getting ready to give Rose Mignon the go-by? Zoe
shook her head; she knew a thing or two. But once more she had to go and
open the door.

"Here's bothers!" she murmured when she came back. "It's the nigger!
'Twasn't any good telling him that my lady's gone out, and so he's
settled himself in the bedroom. We only expected him this evening."

At a quarter past four Nana was not in yet. What could she be after?
It was silly of her! Two other bouquets were brought round, and Zoe,
growing bored looked to see if there were any coffee left. Yes, the
ladies would willingly finish off the coffee; it would waken them up.
Sitting hunched up on their chairs, they were beginning to fall asleep
through dint of constantly taking their cards between their fingers with
the accustomed movement. The half-hour sounded. Something must decidedly
have happened to Madame. And they began whispering to each other.

Suddenly Mme Maloir forgot herself and in a ringing voice announced:
"I've the five hundred! Trumps, Major Quint!"

"Oh, do be quiet!" said Zoe angrily. "What will all those gentlemen
think?" And in the silence which ensued and amid the whispered muttering
of the two old women at strife over their game, the sound of rapid
footsteps ascended from the back stairs. It was Nana at last. Before
she had opened the door her breathlessness became audible. She bounced
abruptly in, looking very red in the face. Her skirt, the string of
which must have been broken, was trailing over the stairs, and her
flounces had just been dipped in a puddle of something unpleasant which
had oozed out on the landing of the first floor, where the servant girl
was a regular slut.

"Here you are! It's lucky!" said Mme Lerat, pursing up her lips, for
she was still vexed at Mme Maloir's "five hundred." "You may flatter
yourself at the way you keep folks waiting."

"Madame isn't reasonable; indeed, she isn't!" added Zoe.

Nana was already harassed, and these reproaches exasperated her. Was
that the way people received her after the worry she had gone through?

"Will you blooming well leave me alone, eh?" she cried.

"Hush, ma'am, there are people in there," said the maid.

Then in lower tones the young Woman stuttered breathlessly:

"D'you suppose I've been having a good time? Why, there was no end to
it. I should have liked to see you there! I was boiling with rage!
I felt inclined to smack somebody. And never a cab to come home in!
Luckily it's only a step from here, but never mind that; I did just run
home."

"You have the money?" asked the aunt.

"Dear, dear! That question!" rejoined Nana.

She had sat herself down on a chair close up against the stove, for her
legs had failed her after so much running, and without stopping to take
breath she drew from behind her stays an envelope in which there were
four hundred-franc notes. They were visible through a large rent she had
torn with savage fingers in order to be sure of the contents. The three
women round about her stared fixedly at the envelope, a big, crumpled,
dirty receptacle, as it lay clasped in her small gloved hands.

It was too late now--Mme Lerat would not go to Rambouillet till
tomorrow, and Nana entered into long explanations.

"There's company waiting for you," the lady's maid repeated.

But Nana grew excited again. The company might wait: she'd go to them
all in good time when she'd finished. And as her aunt began putting her
hand out for the money:

"Ah no! Not all of it," she said. "Three hundred francs for the nurse,
fifty for your journey and expenses, that's three hundred and fifty.
Fifty francs I keep."

The big difficulty was how to find change. There were not ten francs in
the house. But they did not even address themselves to Mme Maloir who,
never having more than a six-sou omnibus fair upon her, was listening
in quite a disinterested manner. At length Zoe went out of the room,
remarking that she would go and look in her box, and she brought back a
hundred francs in hundred-sou pieces. They were counted out on a corner
of the table, and Mme Lerat took her departure at once after having
promised to bring Louiset back with her the following day.

"You say there's company there?" continued Nana, still sitting on the
chair and resting herself.

"Yes, madame, three people."

And Zoe mentioned the banker first. Nana made a face. Did that man
Steiner think she was going to let herself be bored because he had
thrown her a bouquet yesterday evening?

"Besides, I've had enough of it," she declared. "I shan't receive today.
Go and say you don't expect me now."

"Madame will think the matter over; Madame will receive Monsieur
Steiner," murmured Zoe gravely, without budging from her place. She was
annoyed to see her mistress on the verge of committing another foolish
mistake.

Then she mentioned the Walachian, who ought by now to find time hanging
heavy on his hands in the bedroom. Whereupon Nana grew furious and more
obstinate than ever. No, she would see nobody, nobody! Who'd sent her
such a blooming leech of a man?

"Chuck 'em all out! I--I'm going to play a game of bezique with Madame
Maloir. I prefer doing that."

The bell interrupted her remarks. That was the last straw. Another of
the beggars yet! She forbade Zoe to go and open the door, but the latter
had left the kitchen without listening to her, and when she reappeared
she brought back a couple of cards and said authoritatively:

"I told them that Madame was receiving visitors. The gentlemen are in
the drawing room."

Nana had sprung up, raging, but the names of the Marquis de Chouard and
of Count Muffat de Beuville, which were inscribed on the cards, calmed
her down. For a moment or two she remained silent.

"Who are they?" she asked at last. "You know them?"

"I know the old fellow," replied Zoe, discreetly pursing up her lips.

And her mistress continuing to question her with her eyes, she added
simply:

"I've seen him somewhere."

This remark seemed to decide the young woman. Regretfully she left the
kitchen, that asylum of steaming warmth, where you could talk and take
your ease amid the pleasant fumes of the coffeepot which was being kept
warm over a handful of glowing embers. She left Mme Maloir behind her.
That lady was now busy reading her fortune by the cards; she had never
yet taken her hat off, but now in order to be more at her ease she undid
the strings and threw them back over her shoulders.

In the dressing room, where Zoe rapidly helped her on with a tea gown,
Nana revenged herself for the way in which they were all boring her by
muttering quiet curses upon the male sex. These big words caused the
lady's maid not a little distress, for she saw with pain that her
mistress was not rising superior to her origin as quickly as she could
have desired. She even made bold to beg Madame to calm herself.

"You bet," was Nana's crude answer; "they're swine; they glory in that
sort of thing."

Nevertheless, she assumed her princesslike manner, as she was wont to
call it. But just when she was turning to go into the drawing room Zoe
held her back and herself introduced the Marquis de Chouard and the
Count Muffat into the dressing room. It was much better so.

"I regret having kept you waiting, gentlemen," said the young woman with
studied politeness.

The two men bowed and seated themselves. A blind of embroidered tulle
kept the little room in twilight. It was the most elegant chamber in
the flat, for it was hung with some light-colored fabric and contained a
cheval glass framed in inlaid wood, a lounge chair and some others
with arms and blue satin upholsteries. On the toilet table the
bouquets--roses, lilacs and hyacinths--appeared like a very ruin of
flowers. Their perfume was strong and penetrating, while through the
dampish air of the place, which was full of the spoiled exhalations of
the washstand, came occasional whiffs of a more pungent scent, the scent
of some grains or dry patchouli ground to fine powder at the bottom of
a cup. And as she gathered herself together and drew up her dressing
jacket, which had been ill fastened, Nana had all the appearance of
having been surprised at her toilet: her skin was still damp; she smiled
and looked quite startled amid her frills and laces.

"Madame, you will pardon our insistence," said the Count Muffat gravely.
"We come on a quest. Monsieur and I are members of the Benevolent
Organization of the district."

The Marquis de Chouard hastened gallantly to add:

"When we learned that a great artiste lived in this house we promised
ourselves that we would put the claims of our poor people before her in
a very special manner. Talent is never without a heart."

Nana pretended to be modest. She answered them with little assenting
movements of her head, making rapid reflections at the same time. It
must be the old man that had brought the other one: he had such wicked
eyes. And yet the other was not to be trusted either: the veins near
his temples were so queerly puffed up. He might quite well have come by
himself. Ah, now that she thought of it, it was this way: the porter had
given them her name, and they had egged one another on, each with his
own ends in view.

"Most certainly, gentlemen, you were quite right to come up," she said
with a very good grace.

But the electric bell made her tremble again. Another call, and that Zoe
always opening the door! She went on:

"One is only too happy to be able to give."

At bottom she was flattered.

"Ah, madame," rejoined the marquis, "if only you knew about it! there's
such misery! Our district has more than three thousand poor people in
it, and yet it's one of the richest. You cannot picture to yourself
anything like the present distress--children with no bread, women ill,
utterly without assistance, perishing of the cold!"

"The poor souls!" cried Nana, very much moved.

Such was her feeling of compassion that tears flooded her fine eyes. No
longer studying deportment, she leaned forward with a quick movement,
and under her open dressing jacket her neck became visible, while the
bent position of her knees served to outline the rounded contour of
the thigh under the thin fabric of her skirt. A little flush of blood
appeared in the marquis's cadaverous cheeks. Count Muffat, who was on
the point of speaking, lowered his eyes. The air of that little room was
too hot: it had the close, heavy warmth of a greenhouse. The roses were
withering, and intoxicating odors floated up from the patchouli in the
cup.

"One would like to be very rich on occasions like this," added Nana.
"Well, well, we each do what we can. Believe me, gentlemen, if I had
known--"

She was on the point of being guilty of a silly speech, so melted was
she at heart. But she did not end her sentence and for a moment was
worried at not being able to remember where she had put her fifty francs
on changing her dress. But she recollected at last: they must be on the
corner of her toilet table under an inverted pomatum pot. As she was
in the act of rising the bell sounded for quite a long time. Capital!
Another of them still! It would never end. The count and the marquis had
both risen, too, and the ears of the latter seemed to be pricked up and,
as it were, pointing toward the door; doubtless he knew that kind of
ring. Muffat looked at him; then they averted their gaze mutually. They
felt awkward and once more assumed their frigid bearing, the one looking
square-set and solid with his thick head of hair, the other drawing back
his lean shoulders, over which fell his fringe of thin white locks.

"My faith," said Nana, bringing the ten big silver pieces and quite
determined to laugh about it, "I am going to entrust you with this,
gentlemen. It is for the poor."

And the adorable little dimple in her chin became apparent. She assumed
her favorite pose, her amiable baby expression, as she held the pile of
five-franc pieces on her open palm and offered it to the men, as though
she were saying to them, "Now then, who wants some?" The count was the
sharper of the two. He took fifty francs but left one piece behind and,
in order to gain possession of it, had to pick it off the young woman's
very skin, a moist, supple skin, the touch of which sent a thrill
through him. She was thoroughly merry and did not cease laughing.

"Come, gentlemen," she continued. "Another time I hope to give more."

The gentlemen no longer had any pretext for staying, and they bowed and
went toward the door. But just as they were about to go out the bell
rang anew. The marquis could not conceal a faint smile, while a frown
made the count look more grave than before. Nana detained them some
seconds so as to give Zoe time to find yet another corner for the
newcomers. She did not relish meetings at her house. Only this time the
whole place must be packed! She was therefore much relieved when she saw
the drawing room empty and asked herself whether Zoe had really stuffed
them into the cupboards.

"Au revoir, gentlemen," she said, pausing on the threshold of the
drawing room.

It was as though she lapped them in her laughing smile and clear,
unclouded glance. The Count Muffat bowed slightly. Despite his great
social experience he felt that he had lost his equilibrium. He needed
air; he was overcome with the dizzy feeling engendered in that dressing
room with a scent of flowers, with a feminine essence which choked him.
And behind his back, the Marquis de Chouard, who was sure that he could
not be seen, made so bold as to wink at Nana, his whole face suddenly
altering its expression as he did so, and his tongue nigh lolling from
his mouth.

When the young woman re-entered the little room, where Zoe was awaiting
her with letters and visiting cards, she cried out, laughing more
heartily than ever:

"There are a pair of beggars for you! Why, they've got away with my
fifty francs!"

She wasn't vexed. It struck her as a joke that MEN should have got money
out of her. All the same, they were swine, for she hadn't a sou left.
But at sight of the cards and the letters her bad temper returned. As to
the letters, why, she said "pass" to them. They were from fellows who,
after applauding her last night, were now making their declarations. And
as to the callers, they might go about their business!

Zoe had stowed them all over the place, and she called attention to
the great capabilities of the flat, every room in which opened on the
corridor. That wasn't the case at Mme Blanche's, where people had all
to go through the drawing room. Oh yes, Mme Blanche had had plenty of
bothers over it!

"You will send them all away," continued Nana in pursuance of her idea.
"Begin with the nigger."

"Oh, as to him, madame, I gave him his marching orders a while ago,"
said Zoe with a grin. "He only wanted to tell Madame that he couldn't
come to-night."

There was vast joy at this announcement, and Nana clapped her hands. He
wasn't coming, what good luck! She would be free then! And she emitted
sighs of relief, as though she had been let off the most abominable of
tortures. Her first thought was for Daguenet. Poor duck, why, she had
just written to tell him to wait till Thursday! Quick, quick, Mme Maloir
should write a second letter! But Zoe announced that Mme Maloir had
slipped away unnoticed, according to her wont. Whereupon Nana, after
talking of sending someone to him, began to hesitate. She was very
tired. A long night's sleep--oh, it would be so jolly! The thought of
such a treat overcame her at last. For once in a way she could allow
herself that!

"I shall go to bed when I come back from the theater," she murmured
greedily, "and you won't wake me before noon."

Then raising her voice:

"Now then, gee up! Shove the others downstairs!"

Zoe did not move. She would never have dreamed of giving her mistress
overt advice, only now she made shift to give Madame the benefit of her
experience when Madame seemed to be running her hot head against a wall.

"Monsieur Steiner as well?" she queried curtly.

"Why, certainly!" replied Nana. "Before all the rest."

The maid still waited, in order to give her mistress time for
reflection. Would not Madame be proud to get such a rich gentleman away
from her rival Rose Mignon--a man, moreover, who was known in all the
theaters?

"Now make haste, my dear," rejoined Nana, who perfectly understood the
situation, "and tell him he pesters me."

But suddenly there was a reversion of feeling. Tomorrow she might want
him. Whereupon she laughed, winked once or twice and with a naughty
little gesture cried out:

"After all's said and done, if I want him the best way even now is to
kick him out of doors."

Zoe seemed much impressed. Struck with a sudden admiration, she gazed
at her mistress and then went and chucked Steiner out of doors without
further deliberation.

Meanwhile Nana waited patiently for a second or two in order to give her
time to sweep the place out, as she phrased it. No one would ever have
expected such a siege! She craned her head into the drawing room and
found it empty. The dining room was empty too. But as she continued
her visitation in a calmer frame of mind, feeling certain that nobody
remained behind, she opened the door of a closet and came suddenly upon
a very young man. He was sitting on the top of a trunk, holding a huge
bouquet on his knees and looking exceedingly quiet and extremely well
behaved.

"Goodness gracious me!" she cried. "There's one of 'em in there even
now!" The very young man had jumped down at sight of her and was
blushing as red as a poppy. He did not know what to do with his bouquet,
which he kept shifting from one hand to the other, while his looks
betrayed the extreme of emotion. His youth, his embarrassment and the
funny figure he cut in his struggles with his flowers melted Nana's
heart, and she burst into a pretty peal of laughter. Well, now, the very
children were coming, were they? Men were arriving in long clothes. So
she gave up all airs and graces, became familiar and maternal, tapped
her leg and asked for fun:

"You want me to wipe your nose; do you, baby?"

"Yes," replied the lad in a low, supplicating tone.

This answer made her merrier than ever. He was seventeen years old, he
said. His name was Georges Hugon. He was at the Varietes last night and
now he had come to see her.

"These flowers are for me?"

"Yes."

"Then give 'em to me, booby!"

But as she took the bouquet from him he sprang upon her hands and kissed
them with all the gluttonous eagerness peculiar to his charming time
of life. She had to beat him to make him let go. There was a dreadful
little dribbling customer for you! But as she scolded him she flushed
rosy-red and began smiling. And with that she sent him about his
business, telling him that he might call again. He staggered away; he
could not find the doors.

Nana went back into her dressing room, where Francis made his appearance
almost simultaneously in order to dress her hair for the evening. Seated
in front of her mirror and bending her head beneath the hairdresser's
nimble hands, she stayed silently meditative. Presently, however, Zoe
entered, remarking:

"There's one of them, madame, who refuses to go."

"Very well, he must be left alone," she answered quietly.

"If that comes to that they still keep arriving."

"Bah! Tell 'em to wait. When they begin to feel too hungry they'll be
off." Her humor had changed, and she was now delighted to make people
wait about for nothing. A happy thought struck her as very amusing; she
escaped from beneath Francis' hands and ran and bolted the doors. They
might now crowd in there as much as they liked; they would probably
refrain from making a hole through the wall. Zoe could come in and out
through the little doorway leading to the kitchen. However, the electric
bell rang more lustily than ever. Every five minutes a clear, lively
little ting-ting recurred as regularly as if it had been produced by
some well-adjusted piece of mechanism. And Nana counted these rings to
while the time away withal. But suddenly she remembered something.

"I say, where are my burnt almonds?"

Francis, too, was forgetting about the burnt almonds. But now he drew a
paper bag from one of the pockets of his frock coat and presented it to
her with the discreet gesture of a man who is offering a lady a present.
Nevertheless, whenever his accounts came to be settled, he always put
the burnt almonds down on his bill. Nana put the bag between her knees
and set to work munching her sweetmeats, turning her head from time to
time under the hairdresser's gently compelling touch.

"The deuce," she murmured after a silence, "there's a troop for you!"

Thrice, in quick succession, the bell had sounded. Its summonses became
fast and furious. There were modest tintinnabulations which seemed to
stutter and tremble like a first avowal; there were bold rings which
vibrated under some rough touch and hasty rings which sounded through
the house with shivering rapidity. It was a regular peal, as Zoe said,
a peal loud enough to upset the neighborhood, seeing that a whole mob
of men were jabbing at the ivory button, one after the other. That old
joker Bordenave had really been far too lavish with her address. Why,
the whole of yesterday's house was coming!

"By the by, Francis, have you five louis?" said Nana.

He drew back, looked carefully at her headdress and then quietly
remarked:

"Five louis, that's according!"

"Ah, you know if you want securities . . ." she continued.

And without finishing her sentence, she indicated the adjoining rooms
with a sweeping gesture. Francis lent the five louis. Zoe, during each
momentary respite, kept coming in to get Madame's things ready. Soon she
came to dress her while the hairdresser lingered with the intention
of giving some finishing touches to the headdress. But the bell kept
continually disturbing the lady's maid, who left Madame with her stays
half laced and only one shoe on. Despite her long experience, the
maid was losing her head. After bringing every nook and corner into
requisition and putting men pretty well everywhere, she had been driven
to stow them away in threes and fours, which was a course of procedure
entirely opposed to her principles. So much the worse for them if they
ate each other up! It would afford more room! And Nana, sheltering
behind her carefully bolted door, began laughing at them, declaring that
she could hear them pant. They ought to be looking lovely in there with
their tongues hanging out like a lot of bowwows sitting round on their
behinds. Yesterday's success was not yet over, and this pack of men had
followed up her scent.

"Provided they don't break anything," she murmured.

She began to feel some anxiety, for she fancied she felt their hot
breath coming through chinks in the door. But Zoe ushered Labordette
in, and the young woman gave a little shout of relief. He was anxious
to tell her about an account he had settled for her at the justice of
peace's court. But she did not attend and said:

"I'll take you along with me. We'll have dinner together, and afterward
you shall escort me to the Varietes. I don't go on before half-past
nine."

Good old Labordette, how lucky it was he had come! He was a fellow who
never asked for any favors. He was only the friend of the women, whose
little bits of business he arranged for them. Thus on his way in he had
dismissed the creditors in the anteroom. Indeed, those good folks really
didn't want to be paid. On the contrary, if they HAD been pressing
for payment it was only for the sake of complimenting Madame and of
personally renewing their offers of service after her grand success of
yesterday.

"Let's be off, let's be off," said Nana, who was dressed by now.

But at that moment Zoe came in again, shouting:

"I refuse to open the door any more. They're waiting in a crowd all down
the stairs."

A crowd all down the stairs! Francis himself, despite the English
stolidity of manner which he was wont to affect, began laughing as he
put up his combs. Nana, who had already taken Labordette's arm, pushed
him into the kitchen and effected her escape. At last she was delivered
from the men and felt happily conscious that she might now enjoy his
society anywhere without fear of stupid interruptions.

"You shall see me back to my door," she said as they went down the
kitchen stairs. "I shall feel safe, in that case. Just fancy, I want to
sleep a whole night quite by myself--yes, a whole night! It's sort of
infatuation, dear boy!"



CHAPTER III


The countess Sabine, as it had become customary to call Mme Muffat de
Beuville in order to distinguish her from the count's mother, who had
died the year before, was wont to receive every Tuesday in her house in
the Rue Miromesnil at the corner of the Rue de Pentievre. It was a great
square building, and the Muffats had lived in it for a hundred years or
more. On the side of the street its frontage seemed to slumber, so lofty
was it and dark, so sad and convent-like, with its great outer shutters,
which were nearly always closed. And at the back in a little dark garden
some trees had grown up and were straining toward the sunlight with such
long slender branches that their tips were visible above the roof.

This particular Tuesday, toward ten o'clock in the evening, there were
scarcely a dozen people in the drawing room. When she was only expecting
intimate friends the countess opened neither the little drawing room
nor the dining room. One felt more at home on such occasions and chatted
round the fire. The drawing room was very large and very lofty; its four
windows looked out upon the garden, from which, on this rainy evening
of the close of April, issued a sensation of damp despite the great logs
burning on the hearth. The sun never shone down into the room; in the
daytime it was dimly lit up by a faint greenish light, but at night,
when the lamps and the chandelier were burning, it looked merely a
serious old chamber with its massive mahogany First Empire furniture,
its hangings and chair coverings of yellow velvet, stamped with a
large design. Entering it, one was in an atmosphere of cold dignity, of
ancient manners, of a vanished age, the air of which seemed devotional.

Opposite the armchair, however, in which the count's mother had died--a
square armchair of formal design and inhospitable padding, which stood
by the hearthside--the Countess Sabine was seated in a deep and cozy
lounge, the red silk upholsteries of which were soft as eider down. It
was the only piece of modern furniture there, a fanciful item introduced
amid the prevailing severity and clashing with it.

"So we shall have the shah of Persia," the young woman was saying.

They were talking of the crowned heads who were coming to Paris for the
exhibition. Several ladies had formed a circle round the hearth, and Mme
du Joncquoy, whose brother, a diplomat, had just fulfilled a mission in
the East, was giving some details about the court of Nazr-ed-Din.

"Are you out of sorts, my dear?" asked Mme Chantereau, the wife of an
ironmaster, seeing the countess shivering slightly and growing pale as
she did so.

"Oh no, not at all," replied the latter, smiling. "I felt a little cold.
This drawing room takes so long to warm."

And with that she raised her melancholy eyes and scanned the walls from
floor to ceiling. Her daughter Estelle, a slight, insignificant-looking
girl of sixteen, the thankless period of life, quitted the large
footstool on which she was sitting and silently came and propped up one
of the logs which had rolled from its place. But Mme de Chezelles, a
convent friend of Sabine's and her junior by five years, exclaimed:

"Dear me, I would gladly be possessed of a drawing room such as yours!
At any rate, you are able to receive visitors. They only build boxes
nowadays. Oh, if I were in your place!"

She ran giddily on and with lively gestures explained how she would
alter the hangings, the seats--everything, in fact. Then she would give
balls to which all Paris should run. Behind her seat her husband, a
magistrate, stood listening with serious air. It was rumored that she
deceived him quite openly, but people pardoned her offense and received
her just the same, because, they said, "she's not answerable for her
actions."

"Oh that Leonide!" the Countess Sabine contented herself by murmuring,
smiling her faint smile the while.

With a languid movement she eked out the thought that was in her. After
having lived there seventeen years she certainly would not alter
her drawing room now. It would henceforth remain just such as her
mother-in-law had wished to preserve it during her lifetime. Then
returning to the subject of conversation:

"I have been assured," she said, "that we shall also have the king of
Prussia and the emperor of Russia."

"Yes, some very fine fetes are promised," said Mme du Joncquoy.

The banker Steiner, not long since introduced into this circle by
Leonide de Chezelles, who was acquainted with the whole of Parisian
society, was sitting chatting on a sofa between two of the windows.
He was questioning a deputy, from whom he was endeavoring with much
adroitness to elicit news about a movement on the stock exchange of
which he had his suspicions, while the Count Muffat, standing in front
of them, was silently listening to their talk, looking, as he did so,
even grayer than was his wont.

Four or five young men formed another group near the door round the
Count Xavier de Vandeuvres, who in a low tone was telling them an
anecdote. It was doubtless a very risky one, for they were choking with
laughter. Companionless in the center of the room, a stout man, a chief
clerk at the Ministry of the Interior, sat heavily in an armchair,
dozing with his eyes open. But when one of the young men appeared to
doubt the truth of the anecdote Vandeuvres raised his voice.

"You are too much of a skeptic, Foucarmont; you'll spoil all your
pleasures that way."

And he returned to the ladies with a laugh. Last scion of a great
family, of feminine manners and witty tongue, he was at that time
running through a fortune with a rage of life and appetite which nothing
could appease. His racing stable, which was one of the best known in
Paris, cost him a fabulous amount of money; his betting losses at the
Imperial Club amounted monthly to an alarming number of pounds, while
taking one year with another, his mistresses would be always devouring
now a farm, now some acres of arable land or forest, which amounted, in
fact, to quite a respectable slice of his vast estates in Picardy.

"I advise you to call other people skeptics! Why, you don't believe a
thing yourself," said Leonide, making shift to find him a little space
in which to sit down at her side.

"It's you who spoil your own pleasures."

"Exactly," he replied. "I wish to make others benefit by my experience."

But the company imposed silence on him: he was scandalizing M. Venot.
And, the ladies having changed their positions, a little old man of
sixty, with bad teeth and a subtle smile, became visible in the depths
of an easy chair. There he sat as comfortably as in his own house,
listening to everybody's remarks and making none himself. With a slight
gesture he announced himself by no means scandalized. Vandeuvres once
more assumed his dignified bearing and added gravely:

"Monsieur Venot is fully aware that I believe what it is one's duty to
believe."

It was an act of faith, and even Leonide appeared satisfied. The young
men at the end of the room no longer laughed; the company were old
fogies, and amusement was not to be found there. A cold breath of wind
had passed over them, and amid the ensuing silence Steiner's nasal voice
became audible. The deputy's discreet answers were at last driving him
to desperation. For a second or two the Countess Sabine looked at the
fire; then she resumed the conversation.

"I saw the king of Prussia at Baden-Baden last year. He's still full of
vigor for his age."

"Count Bismarck is to accompany him," said Mme du Joncquoy. "Do you
know the count? I lunched with him at my brother's ages ago, when he
was representative of Prussia in Paris. There's a man now whose latest
successes I cannot in the least understand."

"But why?" asked Mme Chantereau.

"Good gracious, how am I to explain? He doesn't please me. His
appearance is boorish and underbred. Besides, so far as I am concerned,
I find him stupid."

With that the whole room spoke of Count Bismarck, and opinions differed
considerably. Vandeuvres knew him and assured the company that he was
great in his cups and at play. But when the discussion was at its
height the door was opened, and Hector de la Falois made his appearance.
Fauchery, who followed in his wake, approached the countess and, bowing:

"Madame," he said, "I have not forgotten your extremely kind
invitation."

She smiled and made a pretty little speech. The journalist, after bowing
to the count, stood for some moments in the middle of the drawing room.
He only recognized Steiner and accordingly looked rather out of his
element. But Vandeuvres turned and came and shook hands with him. And
forthwith, in his delight at the meeting and with a sudden desire to be
confidential, Fauchery buttonholed him and said in a low voice:

"It's tomorrow. Are you going?"

"Egad, yes."

"At midnight, at her house.

"I know, I know. I'm going with Blanche."

He wanted to escape and return to the ladies in order to urge yet
another reason in M. de Bismarck's favor. But Fauchery detained him.

"You never will guess whom she has charged me to invite."

And with a slight nod he indicated Count Muffat, who was just then
discussing a knotty point in the budget with Steiner and the deputy.

"It's impossible," said Vandeuvres, stupefaction and merriment in his
tones. "My word on it! I had to swear that I would bring him to her.
Indeed, that's one of my reasons for coming here."

Both laughed silently, and Vandeuvres, hurriedly rejoining the circle of
ladies, cried out:

"I declare that on the contrary Monsieur de Bismarck is exceedingly
witty. For instance, one evening he said a charmingly epigrammatic thing
in my presence."

La Faloise meanwhile had heard the few rapid sentences thus whisperingly
interchanged, and he gazed at Fauchery in hopes of an explanation which
was not vouchsafed him. Of whom were they talking, and what were they
going to do at midnight tomorrow? He did not leave his cousin's side
again. The latter had gone and seated himself. He was especially
interested by the Countess Sabine. Her name had often been mentioned
in his presence, and he knew that, having been married at the age of
seventeen, she must now be thirty-four and that since her marriage
she had passed a cloistered existence with her husband and her
mother-in-law. In society some spoke of her as a woman of religious
chastity, while others pitied her and recalled to memory her charming
bursts of laughter and the burning glances of her great eyes in the days
prior to her imprisonment in this old town house. Fauchery scrutinized
her and yet hesitated. One of his friends, a captain who had recently
died in Mexico, had, on the very eve of his departure, made him one of
those gross postprandial confessions, of which even the most prudent
among men are occasionally guilty. But of this he only retained a vague
recollection; they had dined not wisely but too well that evening, and
when he saw the countess, in her black dress and with her quiet smile,
seated in that Old World drawing room, he certainly had his doubts. A
lamp which had been placed behind her threw into clear relief her dark,
delicate, plump side face, wherein a certain heaviness in the contours
of the mouth alone indicated a species of imperious sensuality.

"What do they want with their Bismarck?" muttered La Faloise, whose
constant pretense it was to be bored in good society. "One's ready to
kick the bucket here. A pretty idea of yours it was to want to come!"

Fauchery questioned him abruptly.

"Now tell me, does the countess admit someone to her embraces?"

"Oh dear, no, no! My dear fellow!" he stammered, manifestly taken aback
and quite forgetting his pose. "Where d'you think we are?"

After which he was conscious of a want of up-to-dateness in this
outburst of indignation and, throwing himself back on a great sofa, he
added:

"Gad! I say no! But I don't know much about it. There's a little chap
out there, Foucarmont they call him, who's to be met with everywhere
and at every turn. One's seen faster men than that, though, you bet.
However, it doesn't concern me, and indeed, all I know is that if the
countess indulges in high jinks she's still pretty sly about it, for the
thing never gets about--nobody talks."

Then although Fauchery did not take the trouble to question him, he told
him all he knew about the Muffats. Amid the conversation of the ladies,
which still continued in front of the hearth, they both spoke in subdued
tones, and, seeing them there with their white cravats and gloves, one
might have supposed them to be discussing in chosen phraseology some
really serious topic. Old Mme Muffat then, whom La Faloise had been well
acquainted with, was an insufferable old lady, always hand in glove with
the priests. She had the grand manner, besides, and an authoritative way
of comporting herself, which bent everybody to her will. As to Muffat,
he was an old man's child; his father, a general, had been created count
by Napoleon I, and naturally he had found himself in favor after the
second of December. He hadn't much gaiety of manner either, but
he passed for a very honest man of straightforward intentions and
understanding. Add to these a code of old aristocratic ideas and such
a lofty conception of his duties at court, of his dignities and of his
virtues, that he behaved like a god on wheels. It was the Mamma Muffat
who had given him this precious education with its daily visits to the
confessional, its complete absence of escapades and of all that is meant
by youth. He was a practicing Christian and had attacks of faith of such
fiery violence that they might be likened to accesses of burning
fever. Finally, in order to add a last touch to the picture, La Faloise
whispered something in his cousin's ear.

"You don't say so!" said the latter.

"On my word of honor, they swore it was true! He was still like that
when he married."

Fauchery chuckled as he looked at the count, whose face, with its fringe
of whiskers and absence of mustaches, seemed to have grown squarer and
harder now that he was busy quoting figures to the writhing, struggling
Steiner.

"My word, he's got a phiz for it!" murmured Fauchery. "A pretty present
he made his wife! Poor little thing, how he must have bored her! She
knows nothing about anything, I'll wager!"

Just then the Countess Sabine was saying something to him. But he did
not hear her, so amusing and extraordinary did he esteem the Muffats'
case. She repeated the question.

"Monsieur Fauchery, have you not published a sketch of Monsieur de
Bismarck? You spoke with him once?"

He got up briskly and approached the circle of ladies, endeavoring to
collect himself and soon with perfect ease of manner finding an answer:

"Dear me, madame, I assure you I wrote that 'portrait' with the help
of biographies which had been published in Germany. I have never seen
Monsieur de Bismarck."

He remained beside the countess and, while talking with her, continued
his meditations. She did not look her age; one would have set her down
as being twenty-eight at most, for her eyes, above all, which were
filled with the dark blue shadow of her long eyelashes, retained the
glowing light of youth. Bred in a divided family, so that she used to
spend one month with the Marquis de Chouard, another with the marquise,
she had been married very young, urged on, doubtless, by her father,
whom she embarrassed after her mother's death. A terrible man was the
marquis, a man about whom strange tales were beginning to be told, and
that despite his lofty piety! Fauchery asked if he should have the honor
of meeting him. Certainly her father was coming, but only very late; he
had so much work on hand! The journalist thought he knew where the old
gentleman passed his evenings and looked grave. But a mole, which he
noticed close to her mouth on the countess's left cheek, surprised him.
Nana had precisely the same mole. It was curious. Tiny hairs curled up
on it, only they were golden in Nana's case, black as jet in this. Ah
well, never mind! This woman enjoyed nobody's embraces.

"I have always felt a wish to know Queen Augusta," she said. "They say
she is so good, so devout. Do you think she will accompany the king?"

"It is not thought that she will, madame," he replied.

She had no lovers: the thing was only too apparent. One had only to
look at her there by the side of that daughter of hers, sitting so
insignificant and constrained on her footstool. That sepulchral drawing
room of hers, which exhaled odors suggestive of being in a church,
spoke as plainly as words could of the iron hand, the austere mode of
existence, that weighed her down. There was nothing suggestive of her
own personality in that ancient abode, black with the damps of years. It
was Muffat who made himself felt there, who dominated his surroundings
with his devotional training, his penances and his fasts. But the sight
of the little old gentleman with the black teeth and subtle smile
whom he suddenly discovered in his armchair behind the group of ladies
afforded him a yet more decisive argument. He knew the personage. It
was Theophile Venot, a retired lawyer who had made a specialty of church
cases. He had left off practice with a handsome fortune and was now
leading a sufficiently mysterious existence, for he was received
everywhere, treated with great deference and even somewhat feared,
as though he had been the representative of a mighty force, an occult
power, which was felt to be at his back. Nevertheless, his behavior was
very humble. He was churchwarden at the Madeleine Church and had
simply accepted the post of deputy mayor at the town house of the Ninth
Arrondissement in order, as he said, to have something to do in his
leisure time. Deuce take it, the countess was well guarded; there was
nothing to be done in that quarter.

"You're right, it's enough to make one kick the bucket here," said
Fauchery to his cousin when he had made good his escape from the circle
of ladies. "We'll hook it!"

But Steiner, deserted at last by the Count Muffat and the deputy,
came up in a fury. Drops of perspiration stood on his forehead, and he
grumbled huskily:

"Gad! Let 'em tell me nothing, if nothing they want to tell me. I shall
find people who will talk."

Then he pushed the journalist into a corner and, altering his tone, said
in accents of victory:

"It's tomorrow, eh? I'm of the party, my bully!"

"Indeed!" muttered Fauchery with some astonishment.

"You didn't know about it. Oh, I had lots of bother to find her at home.
Besides, Mignon never would leave me alone."

"But they're to be there, are the Mignons."

"Yes, she told me so. In fact, she did receive my visit, and she invited
me. Midnight punctually, after the play."

The banker was beaming. He winked and added with a peculiar emphasis on
the words:

"You've worked it, eh?"

"Eh, what?" said Fauchery, pretending not to understand him. "She wanted
to thank me for my article, so she came and called on me."

"Yes, yes. You fellows are fortunate. You get rewarded. By the by, who
pays the piper tomorrow?"

The journalist made a slight outward movement with his arms, as though
he would intimate that no one had ever been able to find out. But
Vandeuvres called to Steiner, who knew M. de Bismarck. Mme du Joncquoy
had almost convinced herself of the truth of her suppositions; she
concluded with these words:

"He gave me an unpleasant impression. I think his face is evil. But I am
quite willing to believe that he has a deal of wit. It would account for
his successes."

"Without doubt," said the banker with a faint smile. He was a Jew from
Frankfort.

Meanwhile La Faloise at last made bold to question his cousin. He
followed him up and got inside his guard:

"There's supper at a woman's tomorrow evening? With which of them, eh?
With which of them?"

Fauchery motioned to him that they were overheard and must respect the
conventions here. The door had just been opened anew, and an old lady
had come in, followed by a young man in whom the journalist recognized
the truant schoolboy, perpetrator of the famous and as yet unforgotten
"tres chic" of the Blonde Venus first night. This lady's arrival caused
a stir among the company. The Countess Sabine had risen briskly from her
seat in order to go and greet her, and she had taken both her hands
in hers and addressed her as her "dear Madame Hugon." Seeing that his
cousin viewed this little episode with some curiosity, La Faloise
sought to arouse his interest and in a few brief phrases explained
the position. Mme Hugon, widow of a notary, lived in retirement at Les
Fondettes, an old estate of her family's in the neighborhood of Orleans,
but she also kept up a small establishment in Paris in a house belonging
to her in the Rue de Richelieu and was now passing some weeks there in
order to settle her youngest son, who was reading the law and in his
"first year." In old times she had been a dear friend of the Marquise de
Chouard and had assisted at the birth of the countess, who, prior to her
marriage, used to stay at her house for months at a time and even now
was quite familiarly treated by her.

"I have brought Georges to see you," said Mme Hugon to Sabine. "He's
grown, I trust."

The young man with his clear eyes and the fair curls which suggested a
girl dressed up as a boy bowed easily to the countess and reminded her
of a bout of battledore and shuttlecock they had had together two years
ago at Les Fondettes.

"Philippe is not in Paris?" asked Count Muffat.

"Dear me, no!" replied the old lady. "He is always in garrison at
Bourges." She had seated herself and began talking with considerable
pride of her eldest son, a great big fellow who, after enlisting in
a fit of waywardness, had of late very rapidly attained the rank of
lieutenant. All the ladies behaved to her with respectful sympathy,
and conversation was resumed in a tone at once more amiable and more
refined. Fauchery, at sight of that respectable Mme Hugon, that motherly
face lit up with such a kindly smile beneath its broad tresses of white
hair, thought how foolish he had been to suspect the Countess Sabine
even for an instant.

Nevertheless, the big chair with the red silk upholsteries in which the
countess sat had attracted his attention. Its style struck him as crude,
not to say fantastically suggestive, in that dim old drawing room.
Certainly it was not the count who had inveigled thither that nest
of voluptuous idleness. One might have described it as an experiment,
marking the birth of an appetite and of an enjoyment. Then he forgot
where he was, fell into brown study and in thought even harked back to
that vague confidential announcement imparted to him one evening in the
dining room of a restaurant. Impelled by a sort of sensuous curiosity,
he had always wanted an introduction into the Muffats' circle, and now
that his friend was in Mexico through all eternity, who could tell what
might happen? "We shall see," he thought. It was a folly, doubtless, but
the idea kept tormenting him; he felt himself drawn on and his animal
nature aroused. The big chair had a rumpled look--its nether cushions
had been tumbled, a fact which now amused him.

"Well, shall we be off?" asked La Faloise, mentally vowing that once
outside he would find out the name of the woman with whom people were
going to sup.

"All in good time," replied Fauchery.

But he was no longer in any hurry and excused himself on the score of
the invitation he had been commissioned to give and had as yet not found
a convenient opportunity to mention. The ladies were chatting about an
assumption of the veil, a very touching ceremony by which the whole of
Parisian society had for the last three days been greatly moved. It was
the eldest daughter of the Baronne de Fougeray, who, under stress of
an irresistible vocation, had just entered the Carmelite Convent. Mme
Chantereau, a distant cousin of the Fougerays, told how the baroness had
been obliged to take to her bed the day after the ceremony, so overdone
was she with weeping.

"I had a very good place," declared Leonide. "I found it interesting."

Nevertheless, Mme Hugon pitied the poor mother. How sad to lose a
daughter in such a way!

"I am accused of being overreligious," she said in her quiet, frank
manner, "but that does not prevent me thinking the children very cruel
who obstinately commit such suicide."

"Yes, it's a terrible thing," murmured the countess, shivering a little,
as became a chilly person, and huddling herself anew in the depths of
her big chair in front of the fire.

Then the ladies fell into a discussion. But their voices were discreetly
attuned, while light trills of laughter now and again interrupted the
gravity of their talk. The two lamps on the chimney piece, which had
shades of rose-colored lace, cast a feeble light over them while on
scattered pieces of furniture there burned but three other lamps, so
that the great drawing room remained in soft shadow.

Steiner was getting bored. He was describing to Fauchery an escapade of
that little Mme de Chezelles, whom he simply referred to as Leonide.
"A blackguard woman," he said, lowering his voice behind the ladies'
armchairs. Fauchery looked at her as she sat quaintly perched, in her
voluminous ball dress of pale blue satin, on the corner of her armchair.
She looked as slight and impudent as a boy, and he ended by feeling
astonished at seeing her there. People comported themselves better
at Caroline Hequet's, whose mother had arranged her house on serious
principles. Here was a perfect subject for an article. What a strange
world was this world of Paris! The most rigid circles found themselves
invaded. Evidently that silent Theophile Venot, who contented himself
by smiling and showing his ugly teeth, must have been a legacy from the
late countess. So, too, must have been such ladies of mature age as Mme
Chantereau and Mme du Joncquoy, besides four or five old gentlemen who
sat motionless in corners. The Count Muffat attracted to the house
a series of functionaries, distinguished by the immaculate personal
appearance which was at that time required of the men at the Tuileries.
Among others there was the chief clerk, who still sat solitary in the
middle of the room with his closely shorn cheeks, his vacant glance and
his coat so tight of fit that he could scarce venture to move.
Almost all the young men and certain individuals with distinguished,
aristocratic manners were the Marquis de Chouard's contribution to the
circle, he having kept touch with the Legitimist party after making his
peace with the empire on his entrance into the Council of State. There
remained Leonide de Chezelles and Steiner, an ugly little knot against
which Mme Hugon's elderly and amiable serenity stood out in strange
contrast. And Fauchery, having sketched out his article, named this last
group "Countess Sabine's little clique."

"On another occasion," continued Steiner in still lower tones, "Leonide
got her tenor down to Montauban. She was living in the Chateau de
Beaurecueil, two leagues farther off, and she used to come in daily in
a carriage and pair in order to visit him at the Lion d'Or, where he had
put up. The carriage used to wait at the door, and Leonide would stay
for hours in the house, while a crowd gathered round and looked at the
horses."

There was a pause in the talk, and some solemn moments passed silently
by in the lofty room. Two young men were whispering, but they ceased in
their turn, and the hushed step of Count Muffat was alone audible as he
crossed the floor. The lamps seemed to have paled; the fire was going
out; a stern shadow fell athwart the old friends of the house where they
sat in the chairs they had occupied there for forty years back. It was
as though in a momentary pause of conversation the invited guests
had become suddenly aware that the count's mother, in all her glacial
stateliness, had returned among them.

But the Countess Sabine had once more resumed:

"Well, at last the news of it got about. The young man was likely to
die, and that would explain the poor child's adoption of the religious
life. Besides, they say that Monsieur de Fougeray would never have given
his consent to the marriage."

"They say heaps of other things too," cried Leonide giddily.

She fell a-laughing; she refused to talk. Sabine was won over by this
gaiety and put her handkerchief up to her lips. And in the vast
and solemn room their laughter sounded a note which struck Fauchery
strangely, the note of delicate glass breaking. Assuredly here was the
first beginning of the "little rift." Everyone began talking again. Mme
du Joncquoy demurred; Mme Chantereau knew for certain that a marriage
had been projected but that matters had gone no further; the men even
ventured to give their opinions. For some minutes the conversation was
a babel of opinions, in which the divers elements of the circle, whether
Bonapartist or Legitimist or merely worldly and skeptical, appeared to
jostle one another simultaneously. Estelle had rung to order wood to
be put on the fire; the footman turned up the lamps; the room seemed
to wake from sleep. Fauchery began smiling, as though once more at his
ease.

"Egad, they become the brides of God when they couldn't be their
cousin's," said Vandeuvres between his teeth.

The subject bored him, and he had rejoined Fauchery.

"My dear fellow, have you ever seen a woman who was really loved become
a nun?"

He did not wait for an answer, for he had had enough of the topic, and
in a hushed voice:

"Tell me," he said, "how many of us will there be tomorrow? There'll be
the Mignons, Steiner, yourself, Blanche and I; who else?"

"Caroline, I believe, and Simonne and Gaga without doubt. One never
knows exactly, does one? On such occasions one expects the party will
number twenty, and you're really thirty."

Vandeuvres, who was looking at the ladies, passed abruptly to another
subject:

"She must have been very nice-looking, that Du Joncquoy woman, some
fifteen years ago. Poor Estelle has grown lankier than ever. What a nice
lath to put into a bed!"

But interrupting himself, he returned to the subject of tomorrow's
supper.

"What's so tiresome of those shows is that it's always the same set of
women. One wants a novelty. Do try and invent a new girl. By Jove, happy
thought! I'll go and beseech that stout man to bring the woman he was
trotting about the other evening at the Varietes."

He referred to the chief clerk, sound asleep in the middle of the
drawing room. Fauchery, afar off, amused himself by following this
delicate negotiation. Vandeuvres had sat himself down by the stout man,
who still looked very sedate. For some moments they both appeared to be
discussing with much propriety the question before the house, which was,
"How can one discover the exact state of feeling that urges a young
girl to enter into the religious life?" Then the count returned with the
remark:

"It's impossible. He swears she's straight. She'd refuse, and yet I
would have wagered that I once saw her at Laure's."

"Eh, what? You go to Laure's?" murmured Fauchery with a chuckle. "You
venture your reputation in places like that? I was under the impression
that it was only we poor devils of outsiders who--"

"Ah, dear boy, one ought to see every side of life."

Then they sneered and with sparkling eyes they compared notes about
the table d'hote in the Rue des Martyrs, where big Laure Piedefer ran a
dinner at three francs a head for little women in difficulties. A nice
hole, where all the little women used to kiss Laure on the lips! And
as the Countess Sabine, who had overheard a stray word or two, turned
toward them, they started back, rubbing shoulders in excited merriment.
They had not noticed that Georges Hugon was close by and that he was
listening to them, blushing so hotly the while that a rosy flush had
spread from his ears to his girlish throat. The infant was full of shame
and of ecstasy. From the moment his mother had turned him loose in the
room he had been hovering in the wake of Mme de Chezelles, the only
woman present who struck him as being the thing. But after all is said
and done, Nana licked her to fits!

"Yesterday evening," Mme Hugon was saying, "Georges took me to the play.
Yes, we went to the Varietes, where I certainly had not set foot for the
last ten years. That child adores music. As to me, I wasn't in the least
amused, but he was so happy! They put extraordinary pieces on the stage
nowadays. Besides, music delights me very little, I confess."

"What! You don't love music, madame?" cried Mme du Joncquoy, lifting her
eyes to heaven. "Is it possible there should be people who don't love
music?"

The exclamation of surprise was general. No one had dropped a single
word concerning the performance at the Varietes, at which the good Mme
Hugon had not understood any of the allusions. The ladies knew the piece
but said nothing about it, and with that they plunged into the realm
of sentiment and began discussing the masters in a tone of refined and
ecstatical admiration. Mme du Joncquoy was not fond of any of them
save Weber, while Mme Chantereau stood up for the Italians. The ladies'
voices had turned soft and languishing, and in front of the hearth
one might have fancied one's self listening in meditative, religious
retirement to the faint, discreet music of a little chapel.

"Now let's see," murmured Vandeuvres, bringing Fauchery back into the
middle of the drawing room, "notwithstanding it all, we must invent a
woman for tomorrow. Shall we ask Steiner about it?"

"Oh, when Steiner's got hold of a woman," said the journalist, "it's
because Paris has done with her."

Vandeuvres, however, was searching about on every side.

"Wait a bit," he continued, "the other day I met Foucarmont with a
charming blonde. I'll go and tell him to bring her."

And he called to Foucarmont. They exchanged a few words rapidly. There
must have been some sort of complication, for both of them, moving
carefully forward and stepping over the dresses of the ladies, went off
in quest of another young man with whom they continued the discussion
in the embrasure of a window. Fauchery was left to himself and had just
decided to proceed to the hearth, where Mme du Joncquoy was announcing
that she never heard Weber played without at the same time seeing lakes,
forests and sunrises over landscapes steeped in dew, when a hand touched
his shoulder and a voice behind him remarked:

"It's not civil of you."

"What d'you mean?" he asked, turning round and recognizing La Faloise.

"Why, about that supper tomorrow. You might easily have got me invited."

Fauchery was at length about to state his reasons when Vandeuvres came
back to tell him:

"It appears it isn't a girl of Foucarmont's. It's that man's flame out
there. She won't be able to come. What a piece of bad luck! But all the
same I've pressed Foucarmont into the service, and he's going to try to
get Louise from the Palais-Royal."

"Is it not true, Monsieur de Vandeuvres," asked Mme Chantereau, raising
her voice, "that Wagner's music was hissed last Sunday?"

"Oh, frightfully, madame," he made answer, coming forward with his usual
exquisite politeness.

Then, as they did not detain him, he moved off and continued whispering
in the journalist's ear:

"I'm going to press some more of them. These young fellows must know
some little ladies."

With that he was observed to accost men and to engage them in
conversation in his usual amiable and smiling way in every corner of
the drawing room. He mixed with the various groups, said something
confidently to everyone and walked away again with a sly wink and a
secret signal or two. It looked as though he were giving out a watchword
in that easy way of his. The news went round; the place of meeting was
announced, while the ladies' sentimental dissertations on music served
to conceal the small, feverish rumor of these recruiting operations.

"No, do not speak of your Germans," Mme Chantereau was saying. "Song is
gaiety; song is light. Have you heard Patti in the Barber of Seville?"

"She was delicious!" murmured Leonide, who strummed none but operatic
airs on her piano.

Meanwhile the Countess Sabine had rung. When on Tuesdays the number of
visitors was small, tea was handed round the drawing room itself. While
directing a footman to clear a round table the countess followed the
Count de Vandeuvres with her eyes. She still smiled that vague smile
which slightly disclosed her white teeth, and as the count passed she
questioned him.

"What ARE you plotting, Monsieur de Vandeuvres?"

"What am I plotting, madame?" he answered quietly. "Nothing at all."

"Really! I saw you so busy. Pray, wait, you shall make yourself useful!"

She placed an album in his hands and asked him to put it on the piano.
But he found means to inform Fauchery in a low whisper that they would
have Tatan Nene, the most finely developed girl that winter, and
Maria Blond, the same who had just made her first appearance at the
Folies-Dramatiques. Meanwhile La Faloise stopped him at every step in
hopes of receiving an invitation. He ended by offering himself, and
Vandeuvres engaged him in the plot at once; only he made him promise to
bring Clarisse with him, and when La Faloise pretended to scruple about
certain points he quieted him by the remark:

"Since I invite you that's enough!"

Nevertheless, La Faloise would have much liked to know the name of the
hostess. But the countess had recalled Vandeuvres and was questioning
him as to the manner in which the English made tea. He often betook
himself to England, where his horses ran. Then as though he had been
inwardly following up quite a laborious train of thought during his
remarks, he broke in with the question:

"And the marquis, by the by? Are we not to see him?"

"Oh, certainly you will! My father made me a formal promise that he
would come," replied the countess. "But I'm beginning to be anxious. His
duties will have kept him."

Vandeuvres smiled a discreet smile. He, too, seemed to have his doubts
as to the exact nature of the Marquis de Chouard's duties. Indeed, he
had been thinking of a pretty woman whom the marquis occasionally took
into the country with him. Perhaps they could get her too.

In the meantime Fauchery decided that the moment had come in which to
risk giving Count Muff his invitation. The evening, in fact, was drawing
to a close.

"Are you serious?" asked Vandeuvres, who thought a joke was intended.

"Extremely serious. If I don't execute my commission she'll tear my eyes
out. It's a case of landing her fish, you know."

"Well then, I'll help you, dear boy."

Eleven o'clock struck. Assisted by her daughter, the countess was
pouring out the tea, and as hardly any guests save intimate friends had
come, the cups and the platefuls of little cakes were being circulated
without ceremony. Even the ladies did not leave their armchairs in front
of the fire and sat sipping their tea and nibbling cakes which they
held between their finger tips. From music the talk had declined to
purveyors. Boissier was the only person for sweetmeats and Catherine for
ices. Mme Chantereau, however, was all for Latinville. Speech grew more
and more indolent, and a sense of lassitude was lulling the room to
sleep. Steiner had once more set himself secretly to undermine the
deputy, whom he held in a state of blockade in the corner of a settee.
M. Venot, whose teeth must have been ruined by sweet things, was eating
little dry cakes, one after the other, with a small nibbling sound
suggestive of a mouse, while the chief clerk, his nose in a teacup,
seemed never to be going to finish its contents. As to the countess, she
went in a leisurely way from one guest to another, never pressing them,
indeed, only pausing a second or two before the gentlemen whom she
viewed with an air of dumb interrogation before she smiled and passed
on. The great fire had flushed all her face, and she looked as if she
were the sister of her daughter, who appeared so withered and ungainly
at her side. When she drew near Fauchery, who was chatting with her
husband and Vandeuvres, she noticed that they grew suddenly silent;
accordingly she did not stop but handed the cup of tea she was offering
to Georges Hugon beyond them.

"It's a lady who desires your company at supper," the journalist gaily
continued, addressing Count Muffat.

The last-named, whose face had worn its gray look all the evening,
seemed very much surprised. What lady was it?

"Oh, Nana!" said Vandeuvres, by way of forcing the invitation.

The count became more grave than before. His eyelids trembled just
perceptibly, while a look of discomfort, such as headache produces,
hovered for a moment athwart his forehead.

"But I'm not acquainted with that lady," he murmured.

"Come, come, you went to her house," remarked Vandeuvres.

"What d'you say? I went to her house? Oh yes, the other day, in behalf
of the Benevolent Organization. I had forgotten about it. But, no
matter, I am not acquainted with her, and I cannot accept."

He had adopted an icy expression in order to make them understand
that this jest did not appear to him to be in good taste. A man of his
position did not sit down at tables of such women as that. Vandeuvres
protested: it was to be a supper party of dramatic and artistic people,
and talent excused everything. But without listening further to the
arguments urged by Fauchery, who spoke of a dinner where the Prince of
Scots, the son of a queen, had sat down beside an ex-music-hall singer,
the count only emphasized his refusal. In so doing, he allowed himself,
despite his great politeness, to be guilty of an irritated gesture.

Georges and La Faloise, standing in front of each other drinking their
tea, had overheard the two or three phrases exchanged in their immediate
neighborhood.

"Jove, it's at Nana's then," murmured La Faloise. "I might have expected
as much!"

Georges said nothing, but he was all aflame. His fair hair was in
disorder; his blue eyes shone like tapers, so fiercely had the vice,
which for some days past had surrounded him, inflamed and stirred his
blood. At last he was going to plunge into all that he had dreamed of!

"I don't know the address," La Faloise resumed.

"She lives on a third floor in the Boulevard Haussmann, between the Rue
de l'Arcade and the Rue Pesquier," said Georges all in a breath.

And when the other looked at him in much astonishment, he added, turning
very red and fit to sink into the ground with embarrassment and conceit:

"I'm of the party. She invited me this morning."

But there was a great stir in the drawing room, and Vandeuvres and
Fauchery could not continue pressing the count. The Marquis de Chouard
had just come in, and everyone was anxious to greet him. He had moved
painfully forward, his legs failing under him, and he now stood in the
middle of the room with pallid face and eyes blinking, as though he had
just come out of some dark alley and were blinded by the brightness of
the lamps.

"I scarcely hoped to see you tonight, Father," said the countess. "I
should have been anxious till the morning."

He looked at her without answering, as a man might who fails to
understand. His nose, which loomed immense on his shorn face, looked
like a swollen pimple, while his lower lip hung down. Seeing him such a
wreck, Mme Hugon, full of kind compassion, said pitying things to him.

"You work too hard. You ought to rest yourself. At our age we ought to
leave work to the young people."

"Work! Ah yes, to be sure, work!" he stammered at last. "Always plenty
of work."

He began to pull himself together, straightening up his bent figure and
passing his hand, as was his wont, over his scant gray hair, of which a
few locks strayed behind his ears.

"At what are you working as late as this?" asked Mme du Joncquoy. "I
thought you were at the financial minister's reception?"

But the countess intervened with:

"My father had to study the question of a projected law."

"Yes, a projected law," he said; "exactly so, a projected law. I shut
myself up for that reason. It refers to work in factories, and I was
anxious for a proper observance of the Lord's day of rest. It is really
shameful that the government is unwilling to act with vigor in the
matter. Churches are growing empty; we are running headlong to ruin."

Vandeuvres had exchanged glances with Fauchery. They both happened to
be behind the marquis, and they were scanning him suspiciously. When
Vandeuvres found an opportunity to take him aside and to speak to him
about the good-looking creature he was in the habit of taking down into
the country, the old man affected extreme surprise. Perhaps someone
had seen him with the Baroness Decker, at whose house at Viroflay he
sometimes spent a day or so. Vandeuvres's sole vengeance was an abrupt
question:

"Tell me, where have you been straying to? Your elbow is covered with
cobwebs and plaster."

"My elbow," he muttered, slightly disturbed. "Yes indeed, it's true.
A speck or two, I must have come in for them on my way down from my
office."

Several people were taking their departure. It was close on midnight.
Two footmen were noiselessly removing the empty cups and the plates with
cakes. In front of the hearth the ladies had re-formed and, at the
same time, narrowed their circle and were chatting more carelessly than
before in the languid atmosphere peculiar to the close of a party. The
very room was going to sleep, and slowly creeping shadows were cast by
its walls. It was then Fauchery spoke of departure. Yet he once more
forgot his intention at sight of the Countess Sabine. She was resting
from her cares as hostess, and as she sat in her wonted seat, silent,
her eyes fixed on a log which was turning into embers, her face appeared
so white and so impassable that doubt again possessed him. In the glow
of the fire the small black hairs on the mole at the corner of her lip
became white. It was Nana's very mole, down to the color of the hair.
He could not refrain from whispering something about it in Vandeuvres's
ear. Gad, it was true; the other had never noticed it before. And both
men continued this comparison of Nana and the countess. They discovered
a vague resemblance about the chin and the mouth, but the eyes were not
at all alike. Then, too, Nana had a good-natured expression, while with
the countess it was hard to decide--she might have been a cat, sleeping
with claws withdrawn and paws stirred by a scarce-perceptible nervous
quiver.

"All the same, one could have her," declared Fauchery.

Vandeuvres stripped her at a glance.

"Yes, one could, all the same," he said. "But I think nothing of the
thighs, you know. Will you bet she has no thighs?"

He stopped, for Fauchery touched him briskly on the arm and showed him
Estelle, sitting close to them on her footstool. They had raised
their voices without noticing her, and she must have overheard them.
Nevertheless, she continued sitting there stiff and motionless, not a
hair having lifted on her thin neck, which was that of a girl who has
shot up all too quickly. Thereupon they retired three or four paces, and
Vandeuvres vowed that the countess was a very honest woman. Just then
voices were raised in front of the hearth. Mme du Joncquoy was saying:

"I was willing to grant you that Monsieur de Bismarck was perhaps a
witty man. Only, if you go as far as to talk of genius--"

The ladies had come round again to their earliest topic of conversation.

"What the deuce! Still Monsieur de Bismarck!" muttered Fauchery. "This
time I make my escape for good and all."

"Wait a bit," said Vandeuvres, "we must have a definite no from the
count."

The Count Muffat was talking to his father-in-law and a certain
serious-looking gentleman. Vandeuvres drew him away and renewed the
invitation, backing it up with the information that he was to be at
the supper himself. A man might go anywhere; no one could think of
suspecting evil where at most there could only be curiosity. The count
listened to these arguments with downcast eyes and expressionless
face. Vandeuvres felt him to be hesitating when the Marquis de Chouard
approached with a look of interrogation. And when the latter was
informed of the question in hand and Fauchery had invited him in his
turn, he looked at his son-in-law furtively. There ensued an embarrassed
silence, but both men encouraged one another and would doubtless have
ended by accepting had not Count Muffat perceived M. Venot's gaze
fixed upon him. The little old man was no longer smiling; his face was
cadaverous, his eyes bright and keen as steel.

"No," replied the count directly, in so decisive a tone that further
insistence became impossible.

Then the marquis refused with even greater severity of expression. He
talked morality. The aristocratic classes ought to set a good example.
Fauchery smiled and shook hands with Vandeuvres. He did not wait for
him and took his departure immediately, for he was due at his newspaper
office.

"At Nana's at midnight, eh?"

La Faloise retired too. Steiner had made his bow to the countess. Other
men followed them, and the same phrase went round--"At midnight, at
Nana's"--as they went to get their overcoats in the anteroom. Georges,
who could not leave without his mother, had stationed himself at the
door, where he gave the exact address. "Third floor, door on your left."
Yet before going out Fauchery gave a final glance. Vandeuvres had again
resumed his position among the ladies and was laughing with Leonide de
Chezelles. Count Muffat and the Marquis de Chouard were joining in the
conversation, while the good Mme Hugon was falling asleep open-eyed.
Lost among the petticoats, M. Venot was his own small self again and
smiled as of old. Twelve struck slowly in the great solemn room.

"What--what do you mean?" Mme du Joncquoy resumed. "You imagine that
Monsieur de Bismarck will make war on us and beat us! Oh, that's
unbearable!"

Indeed, they were laughing round Mme Chantereau, who had just repeated
an assertion she had heard made in Alsace, where her husband owned a
foundry.

"We have the emperor, fortunately," said Count Muffat in his grave,
official way.

It was the last phrase Fauchery was able to catch. He closed the door
after casting one more glance in the direction of the Countess
Sabine. She was talking sedately with the chief clerk and seemed to be
interested in that stout individual's conversation. Assuredly he must
have been deceiving himself. There was no "little rift" there at all. It
was a pity.

"You're not coming down then?" La Faloise shouted up to him from the
entrance hall.

And out on the pavement, as they separated, they once more repeated:

"Tomorrow, at Nana's."



CHAPTER IV


Since morning Zoe had delivered up the flat to a managing man who had
come from Brebant's with a staff of helpers and waiters. Brebant was to
supply everything, from the supper, the plates and dishes, the glass,
the linen, the flowers, down to the seats and footstools. Nana could not
have mustered a dozen napkins out of all her cupboards, and not having
had time to get a proper outfit after her new start in life and scorning
to go to the restaurant, she had decided to make the restaurant come to
her. It struck her as being more the thing. She wanted to celebrate
her great success as an actress with a supper which should set people
talking. As her dining room was too small, the manager had arranged
the table in the drawing room, a table with twenty-five covers, placed
somewhat close together.

"Is everything ready?" asked Nana when she returned at midnight.

"Oh! I don't know," replied Zoe roughly, looking beside herself with
worry. "The Lord be thanked, I don't bother about anything. They're
making a fearful mess in the kitchen and all over the flat! I've had to
fight my battles too. The other two came again. My eye! I did just chuck
'em out!"

She referred, of course, to her employer's old admirers, the tradesman
and the Walachian, to whom Nana, sure of her future and longing to shed
her skin, as she phrased it, had decided to give the go-by.

"There are a couple of leeches for you!" she muttered.

"If they come back threaten to go to the police."

Then she called Daguenet and Georges, who had remained behind in the
anteroom, where they were hanging up their overcoats. They had both met
at the stage door in the Passage des Panoramas, and she had brought them
home with her in a cab. As there was nobody there yet, she shouted
to them to come into the dressing room while Zoe was touching up her
toilet. Hurriedly and without changing her dress she had her hair done
up and stuck white roses in her chignon and at her bosom. The little
room was littered with the drawing-room furniture, which the workmen had
been compelled to roll in there, and it was full of a motley assemblage
of round tables, sofas and armchairs, with their legs in air for the
most part. Nana was quite ready when her dress caught on a castor and
tore upward. At this she swore furiously; such things only happened
to her! Ragingly she took off her dress, a very simple affair of white
foulard, of so thin and supple a texture that it clung about her like
a long shift. But she put it on again directly, for she could not find
another to her taste, and with tears in her eyes declared that she was
dressed like a ragpicker. Daguenet and Georges had to patch up the rent
with pins, while Zoe once more arranged her hair. All three hurried
round her, especially the boy, who knelt on the floor with his hands
among her skirts. And at last she calmed down again when Daguenet
assured her it could not be later than a quarter past twelve, seeing
that by dint of scamping her words and skipping her lines she had
effectually shortened the third act of the Blonde Venus.

"The play's still far too good for that crowd of idiots," she said. "Did
you see? There were thousands there tonight. Zoe, my girl, you will
wait in here. Don't go to bed, I shall want you. By gum, it is time they
came. Here's company!"

She ran off while Georges stayed where he was with the skirts of his
coat brushing the floor. He blushed, seeing Daguenet looking at him.
Notwithstanding which, they had conceived a tender regard the one for
the other. They rearranged the bows of their cravats in front of the big
dressing glass and gave each other a mutual dose of the clothesbrush,
for they were all white from their close contact with Nana.

"One would think it was sugar," murmured Georges, giggling like a greedy
little child.

A footman hired for the evening was ushering the guests into the small
drawing room, a narrow slip of a place in which only four armchairs had
been left in order the better to pack in the company. From the large
drawing room beyond came a sound as of the moving of plates and silver,
while a clear and brilliant ray of light shone from under the door. At
her entrance Nana found Clarisse Besnus, whom La Faloise had brought,
already installed in one of the armchairs.

"Dear me, you're the first of 'em!" said Nana, who, now that she was
successful, treated her familiarly.

"Oh, it's his doing," replied Clarisse. "He's always afraid of not
getting anywhere in time. If I'd taken him at his word I shouldn't have
waited to take off my paint and my wig."

The young man, who now saw Nana for the first time, bowed, paid her
a compliment and spoke of his cousin, hiding his agitation behind an
exaggeration of politeness. But Nana, neither listening to him nor
recognizing his face, shook hands with him and then went briskly toward
Rose Mignon, with whom she at once assumed a most distinguished manner.

"Ah, how nice of you, my dear madame! I was so anxious to have you
here!"

"It's I who am charmed, I assure you," said Rose with equal amiability.

"Pray, sit down. Do you require anything?"

"Thank you, no! Ah yes, I've left my fan in my pelisse, Steiner; just
look in the right-hand pocket."

Steiner and Mignon had come in behind Rose. The banker turned back
and reappeared with the fan while Mignon embraced Nana fraternally and
forced Rose to do so also. Did they not all belong to the same family in
the theatrical world? Then he winked as though to encourage Steiner, but
the latter was disconcerted by Rose's clear gaze and contented himself
by kissing Nana's hand.

Just then the Count de Vandeuvres made his appearance with Blanche de
Sivry. There was an interchange of profound bows, and Nana with the
utmost ceremony conducted Blanche to an armchair. Meanwhile Vandeuvres
told them laughingly that Fauchery was engaged in a dispute at the foot
of the stairs because the porter had refused to allow Lucy Stewart's
carriage to come in at the gate. They could hear Lucy telling the porter
he was a dirty blackguard in the anteroom. But when the footman had
opened the door she came forward with her laughing grace of manner,
announced her name herself, took both Nana's hands in hers and told her
that she had liked her from the very first and considered her talent
splendid. Nana, puffed up by her novel role of hostess, thanked her
and was veritably confused. Nevertheless, from the moment of Fauchery's
arrival she appeared preoccupied, and directly she could get near him
she asked him in a low voice:

"Will he come?"

"No, he did not want to," was the journalist's abrupt reply, for he was
taken by surprise, though he had got ready some sort of tale to explain
Count Muffat's refusal.

Seeing the young woman's sudden pallor, he became conscious of his folly
and tried to retract his words.

"He was unable to; he is taking the countess to the ball at the Ministry
of the Interior tonight."

"All right," murmured Nana, who suspected him of ill will, "you'll pay
me out for that, my pippin."

She turned on her heel, and so did he; they were angry. Just then Mignon
was pushing Steiner up against Nana, and when Fauchery had left her
he said to her in a low voice and with the good-natured cynicism of a
comrade in arms who wishes his friends to be happy:

"He's dying of it, you know, only he's afraid of my wife. Won't you
protect him?"

Nana did not appear to understand. She smiled and looked at Rose, the
husband and the banker and finally said to the latter:

"Monsieur Steiner, you will sit next to me."

With that there came from the anteroom a sound of laughter and
whispering and a burst of merry, chattering voices, which sounded as if
a runaway convent were on the premises. And Labordette appeared, towing
five women in his rear, his boarding school, as Lucy Stewart cruelly
phrased it. There was Gaga, majestic in a blue velvet dress which was
too tight for her, and Caroline Hequet, clad as usual in ribbed black
silk, trimmed with Chantilly lace. Lea de Horn came next, terribly
dressed up, as her wont was, and after her the big Tatan Nene, a
good-humored fair girl with the bosom of a wet nurse, at which people
laughed, and finally little Maria Blond, a young damsel of fifteen, as
thin and vicious as a street child, yet on the high road to success,
owing to her recent first appearance at the Folies. Labordette had
brought the whole collection in a single fly, and they were still
laughing at the way they had been squeezed with Maria Blond on her
knees. But on entering the room they pursed up their lips, and all grew
very conventional as they shook hands and exchanged salutations.
Gaga even affected the infantile and lisped through excess of genteel
deportment. Tatan Nene alone transgressed. They had been telling her as
they came along that six absolutely naked Negroes would serve up Nana's
supper, and she now grew anxious about them and asked to see them.
Labordette called her a goose and besought her to be silent.

"And Bordenave?" asked Fauchery.

"Oh, you may imagine how miserable I am," cried Nana; "he won't be able
to join us."

"Yes," said Rose Mignon, "his foot caught in a trap door, and he's got
a fearful sprain. If only you could hear him swearing, with his leg tied
up and laid out on a chair!"

Thereupon everybody mourned over Bordenave's absence. No one ever gave
a good supper without Bordenave. Ah well, they would try and do without
him, and they were already talking about other matters when a burly
voice was heard:

"What, eh, what? Is that the way they're going to write my obituary
notice?"

There was a shout, and all heads were turned round, for it was indeed
Bordenave. Huge and fiery-faced, he was standing with his stiff leg
in the doorway, leaning for support on Simonne Cabiroche's shoulder.
Simonne was for the time being his mistress. This little creature had
had a certain amount of education and could play the piano and talk
English. She was a blonde on a tiny, pretty scale and so delicately
formed that she seemed to bend under Bordenave's rude weight. Yet she
was smilingly submissive withal. He postured there for some moments, for
he felt that together they formed a tableau.

"One can't help liking ye, eh?" he continued. "Zounds, I was afraid I
should get bored, and I said to myself, 'Here goes.'"

But he interrupted himself with an oath.

"Oh, damn!"

Simonne had taken a step too quickly forward, and his foot had just felt
his full weight. He gave her a rough push, but she, still smiling away
and ducking her pretty head as some animal might that is afraid of a
beating, held him up with all the strength a little plump blonde can
command. Amid all these exclamations there was a rush to his assistance.
Nana and Rose Mignon rolled up an armchair, into which Bordenave let
himself sink, while the other women slid a second one under his leg. And
with that all the actresses present kissed him as a matter of course. He
kept grumbling and gasping.

"Oh, damn! Oh, damn! Ah well, the stomach's unhurt, you'll see."

Other guests had arrived by this time, and motion became impossible in
the room. The noise of clinking plates and silver had ceased, and now a
dispute was heard going on in the big drawing room, where the voice
of the manager grumbled angrily. Nana was growing impatient, for she
expected no more invited guests and wondered why they did not bring in
supper. She had just sent Georges to find out what was going on when,
to her great surprise, she noticed the arrival of more guests, both
male and female. She did not know them in the least. Whereupon with
some embarrassment she questioned Bordenave, Mignon and Labordette about
them. They did not know them any more than she did, but when she turned
to the Count de Vandeuvres he seemed suddenly to recollect himself. They
were the young men he had pressed into her service at Count Muffat's.
Nana thanked him. That was capital, capital! Only they would all be
terribly crowded, and she begged Labordette to go and have seven more
covers set. Scarcely had he left the room than the footman ushered in
three newcomers. Nay, this time the thing was becoming ridiculous; one
certainly could never take them all in. Nana was beginning to grow angry
and in her haughtiest manner announced that such conduct was scarcely
in good taste. But seeing two more arrive, she began laughing; it was
really too funny. So much the worse. People would have to fit in anyhow!
The company were all on their feet save Gaga and Rose and Bordenave, who
alone took up two armchairs. There was a buzz of voices, people talking
in low tones and stifling slight yawns the while.

"Now what d'you say, my lass," asked Bordenave, "to our sitting down at
table as if nothing had happened? We are all here, don't you think?"

"Oh yes, we're all here, I promise you!" she answered laughingly.

She looked round her but grew suddenly serious, as though she were
surprised at not finding someone. Doubtless there was a guest missing
whom she did not mention. It was a case of waiting. But a minute or two
later the company noticed in their midst a tall gentleman with a fine
face and a beautiful white beard. The most astonishing thing about it
was that nobody had seen him come in; indeed, he must have slipped into
the little drawing room through the bedroom door, which had remained
ajar. Silence reigned, broken only by a sound of whispering. The Count
de Vandeuvres certainly knew who the gentleman was, for they both
exchanged a discreet handgrip, but to the questions which the women
asked him he replied by a smile only. Thereupon Caroline Hequet wagered
in a low voice that it was an English lord who was on the eve of
returning to London to be married. She knew him quite well--she had
had him. And this account of the matter went the round of the ladies
present, Maria Blond alone asserting that, for her part, she recognized
a German ambassador. She could prove it, because he often passed the
night with one of her friends. Among the men his measure was taken in a
few rapid phrases. A real swell, to judge by his looks! Perhaps he would
pay for the supper! Most likely. It looked like it. Bah! Provided only
the supper was a good one! In the end the company remained undecided.
Nay, they were already beginning to forget the old white-bearded
gentleman when the manager opened the door of the large drawing room.

"Supper is on the table, madame."

Nana had already accepted Steiner's proffered arm without noticing a
movement on the part of the old gentleman, who started to walk behind
her in solitary state. Thus the march past could not be organized, and
men and women entered anyhow, joking with homely good humor over this
absence of ceremony. A long table stretched from one end to the other of
the great room, which had been entirely cleared of furniture, and this
same table was not long enough, for the plates thereon were touching one
another. Four candelabra, with ten candles apiece, lit up the supper,
and of these one was gorgeous in silver plate with sheaves of flowers
to right and left of it. Everything was luxurious after the restaurant
fashion; the china was ornamented with a gold line and lacked the
customary monogram; the silver had become worn and tarnished through
dint of continual washings; the glass was of the kind that you can
complete an odd set of in any cheap emporium.

The scene suggested a premature housewarming in an establishment newly
smiled on by fortune and as yet lacking the necessary conveniences.
There was no central luster, and the candelabra, whose tall tapers had
scarcely burned up properly, cast a pale yellow light among the dishes
and stands on which fruit, cakes and preserves alternated symmetrically.

"You sit where you like, you know," said Nana. "It's more amusing that
way."

She remained standing midway down the side of the table. The old
gentleman whom nobody knew had placed himself on her right, while she
kept Steiner on her left hand. Some guests were already sitting down
when the sound of oaths came from the little drawing room. It was
Bordenave. The company had forgotten him, and he was having all the
trouble in the world to raise himself out of his two armchairs, for he
was howling amain and calling for that cat of a Simonne, who had slipped
off with the rest. The women ran in to him, full of pity for his woes,
and Bordenave appeared, supported, nay, almost carried, by Caroline,
Clarisse, Tatan Nene and Maria Blond. And there was much to-do over his
installation at the table.

"In the middle, facing Nana!" was the cry. "Bordenave in the middle!
He'll be our president!"

Thereupon the ladies seated him in the middle. But he needed a second
chair for his leg, and two girls lifted it up and stretched it carefully
out. It wouldn't matter; he would eat sideways.

"God blast it all!" he grumbled. "We're squashed all the same! Ah, my
kittens, Papa recommends himself to your tender care!"

He had Rose Mignon on his right and Lucy Stewart on his left hand,
and they promised to take good care of him. Everybody was now getting
settled. Count de Vandeuvres placed himself between Lucy and Clarisse;
Fauchery between Rose Mignon and Caroline Hequet. On the other side of
the table Hector de la Faloise had rushed to get next Gaga, and that
despite the calls of Clarisse opposite, while Mignon, who never deserted
Steiner, was only separated from him by Blanche and had Tatan Nene on
his left. Then came Labordette and, finally, at the two ends of the
table were irregular crowding groups of young men and of women, such
as Simonne, Lea de Horn and Maria Blond. It was in this region that
Daguenet and Georges forgathered more warmly than ever while smilingly
gazing at Nana.

Nevertheless, two people remained standing, and there was much joking
about it. The men offered seats on their knees. Clarisse, who could not
move her elbows, told Vandeuvres that she counted on him to feed her.
And then that Bordenave did just take up space with his chairs! There
was a final effort, and at last everybody was seated, but, as Mignon
loudly remarked, they were confoundedly like herrings in a barrel.

"Thick asparagus soup a la comtesse, clear soup a la Deslignac,"
murmured the waiters, carrying about platefuls in rear of the guests.

Bordenave was loudly recommending the thick soup when a shout arose,
followed by protests and indignant exclamations. The door had just
opened, and three late arrivals, a woman and two men, had just come in.
Oh dear, no! There was no space for them! Nana, however, without leaving
her chair, began screwing up her eyes in the effort to find out whether
she knew them. The woman was Louise Violaine, but she had never seen the
men before.

"This gentleman, my dear," said Vandeuvres, "is a friend of mine, a
naval officer, Monsieur de Foucarmont by name. I invited him."

Foucarmont bowed and seemed very much at ease, for he added:

"And I took leave to bring one of my friends with me."

"Oh, it's quite right, quite right!" said Nana. "Sit down, pray. Let's
see, you--Clarisse--push up a little. You're a good deal spread out down
there. That's it--where there's a will--"

They crowded more tightly than ever, and Foucarmont and Louise were
given a little stretch of table, but the friend had to sit at some
distance from his plate and ate his supper through dint of making a long
arm between his neighbors' shoulders. The waiters took away the soup
plates and circulated rissoles of young rabbit with truffles and
"niokys" and powdered cheese. Bordenave agitated the whole table with
the announcement that at one moment he had had the idea of bringing
with him Prulliere, Fontan and old Bosc. At this Nana looked sedate and
remarked dryly that she would have given them a pretty reception. Had
she wanted colleagues, she would certainly have undertaken to ask them
herself. No, no, she wouldn't have third-rate play actors. Old Bosc was
always drunk; Prulliere was fond of spitting too much, and as to Fontan,
he made himself unbearable in society with his loud voice and his stupid
doings. Then, you know, third-rate play actors were always out of place
when they found themselves in the society of gentlemen such as those
around her.

"Yes, yes, it's true," Mignon declared.

All round the table the gentlemen in question looked unimpeachable in
the extreme, what with their evening dress and their pale features, the
natural distinction of which was still further refined by fatigue. The
old gentleman was as deliberate in his movements and wore as subtle
a smile as though he were presiding over a diplomatic congress, and
Vandeuvres, with his exquisite politeness toward the ladies next to
him, seemed to be at one of the Countess Muffat's receptions. That very
morning Nana had been remarking to her aunt that in the matter of
men one could not have done better--they were all either wellborn or
wealthy, in fact, quite the thing. And as to the ladies, they were
behaving admirably. Some of them, such as Blanche, Lea and Louise, had
come in low dresses, but Gaga's only was perhaps a little too low, the
more so because at her age she would have done well not to show her neck
at all. Now that the company were finally settled the laughter and the
light jests began to fail. Georges was under the impression that he
had assisted at merrier dinner parties among the good folks of Orleans.
There was scarcely any conversation. The men, not being mutually
acquainted, stared at one another, while the women sat quite quiet,
and it was this which especially surprised Georges. He thought them
all smugs--he had been under the impression that everybody would begin
kissing at once.

The third course, consisting of a Rhine carp a la Chambord and a saddle
of venison a l'anglaise, was being served when Blanche remarked aloud:

"Lucy, my dear, I met your Ollivier on Sunday. How he's grown!"

"Dear me, yes! He's eighteen," replied Lucy. "It doesn't make me feel
any younger. He went back to his school yesterday."

Her son Ollivier, whom she was wont to speak of with pride, was a pupil
at the Ecole de Marine. Then ensued a conversation about the young
people, during which all the ladies waxed very tender. Nana described
her own great happiness. Her baby, the little Louis, she said, was now
at the house of her aunt, who brought him round to her every morning at
eleven o'clock, when she would take him into her bed, where he played
with her griffon dog Lulu. It was enough to make one die of laughing to
see them both burying themselves under the clothes at the bottom of the
bed. The company had no idea how cunning Louiset had already become.

"Oh, yesterday I did just pass a day!" said Rose Mignon in her turn.
"Just imagine, I went to fetch Charles and Henry at their boarding
school, and I had positively to take them to the theater at night. They
jumped; they clapped their little hands: 'We shall see Mamma act! We
shall see Mamma act!' Oh, it was a to-do!"

Mignon smiled complaisantly, his eyes moist with paternal tenderness.

"And at the play itself," he continued, "they were so funny! They
behaved as seriously as grown men, devoured Rose with their eyes and
asked me why Mamma had her legs bare like that."

The whole table began laughing, and Mignon looked radiant, for his pride
as a father was flattered. He adored his children and had but one object
in life, which was to increase their fortunes by administering the
money gained by Rose at the theater and elsewhere with the businesslike
severity of a faithful steward. When as first fiddle in the music hall
where she used to sing he had married her, they had been passionately
fond of one another. Now they were good friends. There was an
understanding between them: she labored hard to the full extent of her
talent and of her beauty; he had given up his violin in order the better
to watch over her successes as an actress and as a woman. One could not
have found a more homely and united household anywhere!

"What age is your eldest?" asked Vandeuvres.

"Henry's nine," replied Mignon, "but such a big chap for his years!"

Then he chaffed Steiner, who was not fond of children, and with quiet
audacity informed him that were he a father, he would make a less stupid
hash of his fortune. While talking he watched the banker over Blanche's
shoulders to see if it was coming off with Nana. But for some minutes
Rose and Fauchery, who were talking very near him, had been getting on
his nerves. Was Rose going to waste time over such a folly as that? In
that sort of case, by Jove, he blocked the way. And diamond on finger
and with his fine hands in great evidence, he finished discussing a
fillet of venison.

Elsewhere the conversation about children continued. La Faloise,
rendered very restless by the immediate proximity of Gaga, asked news of
her daughter, whom he had had the pleasure of noticing in her company at
the Varietes. Lili was quite well, but she was still such a tomboy! He
was astonished to learn that Lili was entering on her nineteenth year.
Gaga became even more imposing in his eyes, and when he endeavored to
find out why she had not brought Lili with her:

"Oh no, no, never!" she said stiffly. "Not three months ago she
positively insisted on leaving her boarding school. I was thinking of
marrying her off at once, but she loves me so that I had to take her
home--oh, so much against my will!"

Her blue eyelids with their blackened lashes blinked and wavered while
she spoke of the business of settling her young lady. If at her time of
life she hadn't laid by a sou but was still always working to minister
to men's pleasures, especially those very young men, whose grandmother
she might well be, it was truly because she considered a good match of
far greater importance than mere savings. And with that she leaned over
La Faloise, who reddened under the huge, naked, plastered shoulder with
which she well-nigh crushed him.

"You know," she murmured, "if she fails it won't be my fault. But
they're so strange when they're young!"

There was a considerable bustle round the table, and the waiters
became very active. After the third course the entrees had made their
appearance; they consisted of pullets a la marechale, fillets of sole
with shallot sauce and escalopes of Strasbourg pate. The manager, who
till then had been having Meursault served, now offered Chambertin and
Leoville. Amid the slight hubbub which the change of plates involved
Georges, who was growing momentarily more astonished, asked Daguenet if
all the ladies present were similarly provided with children, and the
other, who was amused by this question, gave him some further details.
Lucy Stewart was the daughter of a man of English origin who greased the
wheels of the trains at the Gare du Nord; she was thirty-nine years
old and had the face of a horse but was adorable withal and, though
consumptive, never died. In fact, she was the smartest woman there and
represented three princes and a duke. Caroline Hequet, born at Bordeaux,
daughter of a little clerk long since dead of shame, was lucky enough to
be possessed of a mother with a head on her shoulders, who, after having
cursed her, had made it up again at the end of a year of reflection,
being minded, at any rate, to save a fortune for her daughter. The
latter was twenty-five years old and very passionless and was held to be
one of the finest women it is possible to enjoy. Her price never varied.
The mother, a model of orderliness, kept the accounts and noted down
receipts and expenditures with severe precision. She managed the whole
household from some small lodging two stories above her daughter's,
where, moreover, she had established a workroom for dressmaking and
plain sewing. As to Blanche de Sivry, whose real name was Jacqueline
Bandu, she hailed from a village near Amiens. Magnificent in person,
stupid and untruthful in character, she gave herself out as the
granddaughter of a general and never owned to her thirty-two summers.
The Russians had a great taste for her, owing to her embonpoint. Then
Daguenet added a rapid word or two about the rest. There was Clarisse
Besnus, whom a lady had brought up from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer in the
capacity of maid while the lady's husband had started her in quite
another line. There was Simonne Cabiroche, the daughter of a furniture
dealer in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, who had been educated in a large
boarding school with a view to becoming a governess. Finally there were
Maria Blond and Louise Violaine and Lea de Horn, who had all shot up to
woman's estate on the pavements of Paris, not to mention Tatan Nene, who
had herded cows in Champagne till she was twenty.

Georges listened and looked at these ladies, feeling dizzy and excited
by the coarse recital thus crudely whispered in his ear, while behind
his chair the waiters kept repeating in respectful tones:

"Pullets a la marechale; fillets of sole with ravigote sauce."

"My dear fellow," said Daguenet, giving him the benefit of his
experience, "don't take any fish; it'll do you no good at this time of
night. And be content with Leoville: it's less treacherous."

A heavy warmth floated upward from the candelabras, from the dishes
which were being handed round, from the whole table where thirty-eight
human beings were suffocating. And the waiters forgot themselves and
ran when crossing the carpet, so that it was spotted with grease.
Nevertheless, the supper grew scarce any merrier. The ladies trifled
with their meat, left half of it uneaten. Tatan Nene alone partook
gluttonously of every dish. At that advanced hour of the night hunger
was of the nervous order only, a mere whimsical craving born of an
exasperated stomach.

At Nana's side the old gentleman refused every dish offered him; he
had only taken a spoonful of soup, and he now sat in front of his
empty plate, gazing silently about. There was some subdued yawning, and
occasionally eyelids closed and faces became haggard and white. It was
unutterably slow, as it always was, according to Vandeuvres's dictum.
This sort of supper should be served anyhow if it was to be funny, he
opined. Otherwise when elegantly and conventionally done you might as
well feed in good society, where you were not more bored than here. Had
it not been for Bordenave, who was still bawling away, everybody would
have fallen asleep. That rum old buffer Bordenave, with his leg duly
stretched on its chair, was letting his neighbors, Lucy and Rose, wait
on him as though he were a sultan. They were entirely taken up with him,
and they helped him and pampered him and watched over his glass and his
plate, and yet that did not prevent his complaining.

"Who's going to cut up my meat for me? I can't; the table's a league
away."

Every few seconds Simonne rose and took up a position behind his back in
order to cut his meat and his bread. All the women took a great interest
in the things he ate. The waiters were recalled, and he was stuffed to
suffocation. Simonne having wiped his mouth for him while Rose and Lucy
were changing his plate, her act struck him as very pretty and, deigning
at length to show contentment:

"There, there, my daughter," he said, "that's as it should be. Women are
made for that!"

There was a slight reawakening, and conversation became general as they
finished discussing some orange sherbet. The hot roast was a fillet with
truffles, and the cold roast a galantine of guinea fowl in jelly. Nana,
annoyed by the want of go displayed by her guests, had begun talking
with the greatest distinctness.

"You know the Prince of Scots has already had a stage box reserved so as
to see the Blonde Venus when he comes to visit the exhibition."

"I very much hope that all the princes will come and see it," declared
Bordenave with his mouth full.

"They are expecting the shah of Persia next Sunday," said Lucy Stewart.
Whereupon Rose Mignon spoke of the shah's diamonds. He wore a tunic
entirely covered with gems; it was a marvel, a flaming star; it
represented millions. And the ladies, with pale faces and eyes
glittering with covetousness, craned forward and ran over the names of
the other kings, the other emperors, who were shortly expected. All of
them were dreaming of some royal caprice, some night to be paid for by a
fortune.

"Now tell me, dear boy," Caroline Hequet asked Vandeuvres, leaning
forward as she did so, "how old's the emperor of Russia?"

"Oh, he's 'present time,'" replied the count, laughing. "Nothing to be
done in that quarter, I warn you."

Nana made pretense of being hurt. The witticism appeared somewhat
too stinging, and there was a murmur of protest. But Blanche gave a
description of the king of Italy, whom she had once seen at Milan. He
was scarcely good looking, and yet that did not prevent him enjoying
all the women. She was put out somewhat when Fauchery assured her that
Victor Emmanuel could not come to the exhibition. Louise Violaine and
Lea favored the emperor of Austria, and all of a sudden little Maria
Blond was heard saying:

"What an old stick the king of Prussia is! I was at Baden last year, and
one was always meeting him about with Count Bismarck."

"Dear me, Bismarck!" Simonne interrupted. "I knew him once, I did. A
charming man."

"That's what I was saying yesterday," cried Vandeuvres, "but nobody
would believe me."

And just as at Countess Sabine's, there ensued a long discussion about
Bismarck. Vandeuvres repeated the same phrases, and for a moment or two
one was again in the Muffats' drawing room, the only difference being
that the ladies were changed. Then, just as last night, they passed on
to a discussion on music, after which, Foucarmont having let slip some
mention of the assumption of the veil of which Paris was still talking,
Nana grew quite interested and insisted on details about Mlle de
Fougeray. Oh, the poor child, fancy her burying herself alive like that!
Ah well, when it was a question of vocation! All round the table the
women expressed themselves much touched, and Georges, wearied at hearing
these things a second time discussed, was beginning to ask Daguenet
about Nana's ways in private life, when the conversation veered
fatefully back to Count Bismarck. Tatan Nene bent toward Labordette to
ask him privily who this Bismarck might be, for she did not know him.
Whereupon Labordette, in cold blood, told her some portentous anecdotes.
This Bismarck, he said, was in the habit of eating raw meat and when
he met a woman near his den would carry her off thither on his back;
at forty years of age he had already had as many as thirty-two children
that way.

"Thirty-two children at forty!" cried Tatan Nene, stupefied and yet
convinced. "He must be jolly well worn out for his age."

There was a burst of merriment, and it dawned on her that she was being
made game of.

"You sillies! How am I to know if you're joking?"

Gaga, meanwhile, had stopped at the exhibition. Like all these ladies,
she was delightedly preparing for the fray. A good season, provincials
and foreigners rushing into Paris! In the long run, perhaps, after the
close of the exhibition she would, if her business had flourished, be
able to retire to a little house at Jouvisy, which she had long had her
eye on.

"What's to be done?" she said to La Faloise. "One never gets what one
wants! Oh, if only one were still really loved!"

Gaga behaved meltingly because she had felt the young man's knee gently
placed against her own. He was blushing hotly and lisping as elegantly
as ever. She weighed him at a glance. Not a very heavy little gentleman,
to be sure, but then she wasn't hard to please. La Faloise obtained her
address.

"Just look there," murmured Vandeuvres to Clarisse. "I think Gaga's
doing you out of your Hector."

"A good riddance, so far as I'm concerned," replied the actress. "That
fellow's an idiot. I've already chucked him downstairs three times. You
know, I'm disgusted when dirty little boys run after old women."

She broke off and with a little gesture indicated Blanche, who from the
commencement of dinner had remained in a most uncomfortable attitude,
sitting up very markedly, with the intention of displaying her shoulders
to the old distinguished-looking gentleman three seats beyond her.

"You're being left too," she resumed.

Vandeuvres smiled his thin smile and made a little movement to signify
he did not care. Assuredly 'twas not he who would ever have prevented
poor, dear Blanche scoring a success. He was more interested by the
spectacle which Steiner was presenting to the table at large. The banker
was noted for his sudden flames. That terrible German Jew who brewed
money, whose hands forged millions, was wont to turn imbecile whenever
he became enamored of a woman. He wanted them all too! Not one could
make her appearance on the stage but he bought her, however expensive
she might be. Vast sums were quoted. Twice had his furious appetite
for courtesans ruined him. The courtesans, as Vandeuvres used to say,
avenged public morality by emptying his moneybags. A big operation in
the saltworks of the Landes had rendered him powerful on 'change, and
so for six weeks past the Mignons had been getting a pretty slice out of
those same saltworks. But people were beginning to lay wagers that the
Mignons would not finish their slice, for Nana was showing her white
teeth. Once again Steiner was in the toils, and so deeply this time that
as he sat by Nana's side he seemed stunned; he ate without appetite;
his lip hung down; his face was mottled. She had only to name a
figure. Nevertheless, she did not hurry but continued playing with him,
breathing her merry laughter into his hairy ear and enjoying the little
convulsive movements which kept traversing his heavy face. There would
always be time enough to patch all that up if that ninny of a Count
Muffat were really to treat her as Joseph did Potiphar's wife.

"Leoville or Chambertin?" murmured a waiter, who came craning forward
between Nana and Steiner just as the latter was addressing her in a low
voice.

"Eh, what?" he stammered, losing his head. "Whatever you like--I don't
care."

Vandeuvres gently nudged Lucy Stewart, who had a very spiteful tongue
and a very fierce invention when once she was set going. That evening
Mignon was driving her to exasperation.

"He would gladly be bottleholder, you know," she remarked to the count.
"He's in hopes of repeating what he did with little Jonquier. You
remember: Jonquier was Rose's man, but he was sweet on big Laure. Now
Mignon procured Laure for Jonquier and then came back arm in arm with
him to Rose, as if he were a husband who had been allowed a little
peccadillo. But this time the thing's going to fail. Nana doesn't give
up the men who are lent her."

"What ails Mignon that he should be looking at his wife in that severe
way?" asked Vandeuvres.

He leaned forward and saw Rose growing exceedingly amorous toward
Fauchery. This was the explanation of his neighbor's wrath. He resumed
laughingly:

"The devil, are you jealous?"

"Jealous!" said Lucy in a fury. "Good gracious, if Rose is wanting
Leon I give him up willingly--for what he's worth! That's to say, for
a bouquet a week and the rest to match! Look here, my dear boy, these
theatrical trollops are all made the same way. Why, Rose cried with
rage when she read Leon's article on Nana; I know she did. So now, you
understand, she must have an article, too, and she's gaining it. As for
me, I'm going to chuck Leon downstairs--you'll see!"

She paused to say "Leoville" to the waiter standing behind her with his
two bottles and then resumed in lowered tones:

"I don't want to shout; it isn't my style. But she's a cocky slut all
the same. If I were in her husband's place I should lead her a lovely
dance. Oh, she won't be very happy over it. She doesn't know my
Fauchery: a dirty gent he is, too, palling up with women like that so as
to get on in the world. Oh, a nice lot they are!"

Vandeuvres did his best to calm her down, but Bordenave, deserted by
Rose and by Lucy, grew angry and cried out that they were letting Papa
perish of hunger and thirst. This produced a fortunate diversion. Yet
the supper was flagging; no one was eating now, though platefuls of
cepes a' l'italienne and pineapple fritters a la Pompadour were being
mangled. The champagne, however, which had been drunk ever since the
soup course, was beginning little by little to warm the guests into
a state of nervous exaltation. They ended by paying less attention to
decorum than before. The women began leaning on their elbows amid the
disordered table arrangements, while the men, in order to breathe more
easily, pushed their chairs back, and soon the black coats appeared
buried between the light-colored bodices, and bare shoulders, half
turned toward the table, began to gleam as soft as silk. It was too
hot, and the glare of the candles above the table grew ever yellower and
duller. Now and again, when a women bent forward, the back of her neck
glowed golden under a rain of curls, and the glitter of a diamond clasp
lit up a lofty chignon. There was a touch of fire in the passing
jests, in the laughing eyes, in the sudden gleam of white teeth, in the
reflection of the candelabra on the surface of a glass of champagne. The
company joked at the tops of their voices, gesticulated, asked questions
which no one answered and called to one another across the whole length
of the room. But the loudest din was made by the waiters; they fancied
themselves at home in the corridors of their parent restaurant;
they jostled one another and served the ices and the dessert to an
accompaniment of guttural exclamations.

"My children," shouted Bordenave, "you know we're playing tomorrow. Be
careful! Not too much champagne!"

"As far as I'm concerned," said Foucarmont, "I've drunk every imaginable
kind of wine in all the four quarters of the globe. Extraordinary
liquors some of 'em, containing alcohol enough to kill a corpse! Well,
and what d'you think? Why, it never hurt me a bit. I can't make myself
drunk. I've tried and I can't."

He was very pale, very calm and collected, and he lolled back in his
chair, drinking without cessation.

"Never mind that," murmured Louise Violaine. "Leave off; you've had
enough. It would be a funny business if I had to look after you the rest
of the night."

Such was her state of exaltation that Lucy Stewart's cheeks were
assuming a red, consumptive flush, while Rose Mignon with moist eyelids
was growing excessively melting. Tatan Nene, greatly astonished at the
thought that she had overeaten herself, was laughing vaguely over her
own stupidity. The others, such as Blanche, Caroline, Simonne and Maria,
were all talking at once and telling each other about their private
affairs--about a dispute with a coachman, a projected picnic and
innumerable complex stories of lovers stolen or restored. Meanwhile a
young man near Georges, having evinced a desire to kiss Lea de Horn,
received a sharp rap, accompanied by a "Look here, you, let me go!"
which was spoken in a tone of fine indignation; and Georges, who was
now very tipsy and greatly excited by the sight of Nana, hesitated about
carrying out a project which he had been gravely maturing. He had been
planning, indeed, to get under the table on all fours and to go and
crouch at Nana's feet like a little dog. Nobody would have seen him, and
he would have stayed there in the quietest way. But when at Lea's urgent
request Daguenet had told the young man to sit still, Georges all at
once felt grievously chagrined, as though the reproof had just been
leveled at him. Oh, it was all silly and slow, and there was nothing
worth living for! Daguenet, nevertheless, began chaffing and obliged him
to swallow a big glassful of water, asking him at the same time what
he would do if he were to find himself alone with a woman, seeing that
three glasses of champagne were able to bowl him over.

"Why, in Havana," resumed Foucarmont, "they make a spirit with a certain
wild berry; you think you're swallowing fire! Well now, one evening I
drank more than a liter of it, and it didn't hurt me one bit. Better
than that, another time when we were on the coast of Coromandel some
savages gave us I don't know what sort of a mixture of pepper and
vitriol, and that didn't hurt me one bit. I can't make myself drunk."

For some moments past La Faloise's face opposite had excited his
displeasure. He began sneering and giving vent to disagreeable
witticisms. La Faloise, whose brain was in a whirl, was behaving very
restlessly and squeezing up against Gaga. But at length he became the
victim of anxiety; somebody had just taken his handkerchief, and with
drunken obstinacy he demanded it back again, asked his neighbors about
it, stooped down in order to look under the chairs and the guests' feet.
And when Gaga did her best to quiet him:

"It's a nuisance," he murmured, "my initials and my coronet are worked
in the corner. They may compromise me."

"I say, Monsieur Falamoise, Lamafoise, Mafaloise!" shouted Foucarmont,
who thought it exceedingly witty thus to disfigure the young man's name
ad infinitum.

But La Faloise grew wroth and talked with a stutter about his ancestry.
He threatened to send a water bottle at Foucarmont's head, and Count de
Vandeuvres had to interfere in order to assure him that Foucarmont was
a great joker. Indeed, everybody was laughing. This did for the already
flurried young man, who was very glad to resume his seat and to begin
eating with childlike submissiveness when in a loud voice his cousin
ordered him to feed. Gaga had taken him back to her ample side; only
from time to time he cast sly and anxious glances at the guests, for he
ceased not to search for his handkerchief.

Then Foucarmont, being now in his witty vein, attacked Labordette right
at the other end of the table. Louise Violaine strove to make him hold
his tongue, for, she said, "when he goes nagging at other people like
that it always ends in mischief for me." He had discovered a witticism
which consisted in addressing Labordette as "Madame," and it must
have amused him greatly, for he kept on repeating it while Labordette
tranquilly shrugged his shoulders and as constantly replied:

"Pray hold your tongue, my dear fellow; it's stupid."

But as Foucarmont failed to desist and even became insulting without his
neighbors knowing why, he left off answering him and appealed to Count
Vandeuvres.

"Make your friend hold his tongue, monsieur. I don't wish to become
angry."

Foucarmont had twice fought duels, and he was in consequence most
politely treated and admitted into every circle. But there was now a
general uprising against him. The table grew merry at his sallies, for
they thought him very witty, but that was no reason why the evening
should be spoiled. Vandeuvres, whose subtle countenance was darkening
visibly, insisted on his restoring Labordette his sex. The other
men--Mignon, Steiner and Bordenave--who were by this time much exalted,
also intervened with shouts which drowned his voice. Only the old
gentleman sitting forgotten next to Nana retained his stately demeanor
and, still smiling in his tired, silent way, watched with lackluster
eyes the untoward finish of the dessert.

"What do you say to our taking coffee in here, duckie?" said Bordenave.
"We're very comfortable."

Nana did not give an immediate reply. Since the beginning of supper she
had seemed no longer in her own house. All this company had overwhelmed
and bewildered her with their shouts to the waiters, the loudness of
their voices and the way in which they put themselves at their ease,
just as though they were in a restaurant. Forgetting her role of
hostess, she busied herself exclusively with bulky Steiner, who was
verging on apoplexy beside her. She was listening to his proposals and
continually refusing them with shakes of the head and that temptress's
laughter which is peculiar to a voluptuous blonde. The champagne she had
been drinking had flushed her a rosy-red; her lips were moist; her eyes
sparkled, and the banker's offers rose with every kittenish movement of
her shoulders, with every little voluptuous lift and fall of her throat,
which occurred when she turned her head. Close by her ear he kept
espying a sweet little satiny corner which drove him crazy. Occasionally
Nana was interrupted, and then, remembering her guests, she would try
and be as pleased as possible in order to show that she knew how to
receive. Toward the end of the supper she was very tipsy. It made her
miserable to think of it, but champagne had a way of intoxicating her
almost directly! Then an exasperating notion struck her. In behaving
thus improperly at her table, these ladies were showing themselves
anxious to do her an ugly turn. Oh yes, she could see it all distinctly.
Lucy had given Foucarmont a wink in order to egg him on against
Labordette, while Rose, Caroline and the others were doing all they
could to stir up the men. Now there was such a din you couldn't hear
your neighbor speak, and so the story would get about that you might
allow yourself every kind of liberty when you supped at Nana's. Very
well then! They should see! She might be tipsy, if you like, but she was
still the smartest and most ladylike woman there.

"Do tell them to serve the coffee here, duckie," resumed Bordenave. "I
prefer it here because of my leg."

But Nana had sprung savagely to her feet after whispering into the
astonished ears of Steiner and the old gentleman:

"It's quite right; it'll teach me to go and invite a dirty lot like
that."

Then she pointed to the door of the dining room and added at the top of
her voice:

"If you want coffee it's there, you know."

The company left the table and crowded toward the dining room without
noticing Nana's indignant outburst. And soon no one was left in the
drawing room save Bordenave, who advanced cautiously, supporting himself
against the wall and cursing away at the confounded women who chucked
Papa the moment they were chock-full. The waiters behind him were
already busy removing the plates and dishes in obedience to the loudly
voiced orders of the manager. They rushed to and fro, jostled one
another, caused the whole table to vanish, as a pantomime property
might at the sound of the chief scene-shifter's whistle. The ladies
and gentlemen were to return to the drawing room after drinking their
coffee.

"By gum, it's less hot here," said Gaga with a slight shiver as she
entered the dining room.

The window here had remained open. Two lamps illuminated the table,
where coffee and liqueurs were set out. There were no chairs, and the
guests drank their coffee standing, while the hubbub the waiters were
making in the next room grew louder and louder. Nana had disappeared,
but nobody fretted about her absence. They did without her excellently
well, and everybody helped himself and rummaged in the drawers of the
sideboard in search of teaspoons, which were lacking. Several groups
were formed; people separated during supper rejoined each other, and
there was an interchange of glances, of meaning laughter and of phrases
which summed up recent situations.

"Ought not Monsieur Fauchery to come and lunch with us one of these
days, Auguste?" said Rose Mignon.

Mignon, who was toying with his watch chain, eyed the journalist for
a second or two with his severe glance. Rose was out of her senses. As
became a good manager, he would put a stop to such spendthrift courses.
In return for a notice, well and good, but afterward, decidedly not.
Nevertheless, as he was fully aware of his wife's wrongheadedness and as
he made it a rule to wink paternally at a folly now and again, when such
was necessary, he answered amiably enough:

"Certainly, I shall be most happy. Pray come tomorrow, Monsieur
Fauchery."

Lucy Stewart heard this invitation given while she was talking with
Steiner and Blanche and, raising her voice, she remarked to the banker:

"It's a mania they've all of them got. One of them even went so far as
to steal my dog. Now, dear boy, am I to blame if you chuck her?"

Rose turned round. She was very pale and gazed fixedly at Steiner as she
sipped her coffee. And then all the concentrated anger she felt at his
abandonment of her flamed out in her eyes. She saw more clearly than
Mignon; it was stupid in him to have wished to begin the Jonquier ruse a
second time--those dodgers never succeeded twice running. Well, so
much the worse for him! She would have Fauchery! She had been getting
enamored of him since the beginning of supper, and if Mignon was not
pleased it would teach him greater wisdom!

"You are not going to fight?" said Vandeuvres, coming over to Lucy
Stewart.

"No, don't be afraid of that! Only she must mind and keep quiet, or I
let the cat out of the bag!"

Then signing imperiously to Fauchery:

"I've got your slippers at home, my little man. I'll get them taken to
your porter's lodge for you tomorrow."

He wanted to joke about it, but she swept off, looking like a queen.
Clarisse, who had propped herself against a wall in order to drink
a quiet glass of kirsch, was seen to shrug her shoulders. A pleasant
business for a man! Wasn't it true that the moment two women were
together in the presence of their lovers their first idea was to do
one another out of them? It was a law of nature! As to herself, why, in
heaven's name, if she had wanted to she would have torn out Gaga's eyes
on Hector's account! But la, she despised him! Then as La Faloise passed
by, she contented herself by remarking to him:

"Listen, my friend, you like 'em well advanced, you do! You don't want
'em ripe; you want 'em mildewed!"

La Faloise seemed much annoyed and not a little anxious. Seeing Clarisse
making game of him, he grew suspicious of her.

"No humbug, I say," he muttered. "You've taken my handkerchief. Well
then, give it back!"

"He's dreeing us with that handkerchief of his!" she cried. "Why, you
ass, why should I have taken it from you?"

"Why should you?" he said suspiciously. "Why, that you may send it to my
people and compromise me."

In the meantime Foucarmont was diligently attacking the liqueurs. He
continued to gaze sneeringly at Labordette, who was drinking his coffee
in the midst of the ladies. And occasionally he gave vent to fragmentary
assertions, as thus: "He's the son of a horse dealer; some say the
illegitimate child of a countess. Never a penny of income, yet always
got twenty-five louis in his pocket! Footboy to the ladies of the town!
A big lubber, who never goes with any of 'em! Never, never, never!" he
repeated, growing furious. "No, by Jove! I must box his ears."

He drained a glass of chartreuse. The chartreuse had not the slightest
effect upon him; it didn't affect him "even to that extent," and he
clicked his thumbnail against the edge of his teeth. But suddenly, just
as he was advancing upon Labordette, he grew ashy white and fell down in
a heap in front of the sideboard. He was dead drunk. Louise Violaine was
beside herself. She had been quite right to prophesy that matters would
end badly, and now she would have her work cut out for the remainder of
the night. Gaga reassured her. She examined the officer with the eye
of a woman of experience and declared that there was nothing much the
matter and that the gentleman would sleep like that for at least a
dozen or fifteen hours without any serious consequences. Foucarmont was
carried off.

"Well, where's Nana gone to?" asked Vandeuvres.

Yes, she had certainly flown away somewhere on leaving the table. The
company suddenly recollected her, and everybody asked for her. Steiner,
who for some seconds had been uneasy on her account, asked Vandeuvres
about the old gentleman, for he, too, had disappeared. But the count
reassured him--he had just brought the old gentleman back. He was a
stranger, whose name it was useless to mention. Suffice it to say that
he was a very rich man who was quite pleased to pay for suppers! Then as
Nana was once more being forgotten, Vandeuvres saw Daguenet looking out
of an open door and beckoning to him. And in the bedroom he found the
mistress of the house sitting up, white-lipped and rigid, while Daguenet
and Georges stood gazing at her with an alarmed expression.

"What IS the matter with you?" he asked in some surprise.

She neither answered nor turned her head, and he repeated his question.

"Why, this is what's the matter with me," she cried out at length; "I
won't let them make bloody sport of me!"

Thereupon she gave vent to any expression that occurred to her. Yes,
oh yes, SHE wasn't a ninny--she could see clearly enough. They had
been making devilish light of her during supper and saying all sorts
of frightful things to show that they thought nothing of her! A pack of
sluts who weren't fit to black her boots! Catch her bothering herself
again just to be badgered for it after! She really didn't know what kept
her from chucking all that dirty lot out of the house! And with this,
rage choked her and her voice broke down in sobs.

"Come, come, my lass, you're drunk," said Vandeuvres, growing familiar.
"You must be reasonable."

No, she would give her refusal now; she would stay where she was.

"I am drunk--it's quite likely! But I want people to respect me!"

For a quarter of an hour past Daguenet and Georges had been vainly
beseeching her to return to the drawing room. She was obstinate,
however; her guests might do what they liked; she despised them too much
to come back among them.

No, she never would, never. They might tear her in pieces before she
would leave her room!

"I ought to have had my suspicions," she resumed.

"It's that cat of a Rose who's got the plot up! I'm certain Rose'll have
stopped that respectable woman coming whom I was expecting tonight."

She referred to Mme Robert. Vandeuvres gave her his word of honor that
Mme Robert had given a spontaneous refusal. He listened and he argued
with much gravity, for he was well accustomed to similar scenes and knew
how women in such a state ought to be treated. But the moment he tried
to take hold of her hands in order to lift her up from her chair and
draw her away with him she struggled free of his clasp, and her wrath
redoubled. Now, just look at that! They would never get her to believe
that Fauchery had not put the Count Muffat off coming! A regular snake
was that Fauchery, an envious sort, a fellow capable of growing mad
against a woman and of destroying her whole happiness. For she knew
this--the count had become madly devoted to her! She could have had him!

"Him, my dear, never!" cried Vandeuvres, forgetting himself and laughing
loud.

"Why not?" she asked, looking serious and slightly sobered.

"Because he's thoroughly in the hands of the priests, and if he were
only to touch you with the tips of his fingers he would go and confess
it the day after. Now listen to a bit of good advice. Don't let the
other man escape you!"

She was silent and thoughtful for a moment or two. Then she got up and
went and bathed her eyes. Yet when they wanted to take her into the
dining room she still shouted "No!" furiously. Vandeuvres left the
bedroom, smiling and without further pressing her, and the moment he
was gone she had an access of melting tenderness, threw herself into
Daguenet's arms and cried out:

"Ah, my sweetie, there's only you in the world. I love you! YES, I love
you from the bottom of my heart! Oh, it would be too nice if we could
always live together. My God! How unfortunate women are!"

Then her eye fell upon Georges, who, seeing them kiss, was growing very
red, and she kissed him too. Sweetie could not be jealous of a baby! She
wanted Paul and Georges always to agree, because it would be so nice for
them all three to stay like that, knowing all the time that they loved
one another very much. But an extraordinary noise disturbed them:
someone was snoring in the room. Whereupon after some searching they
perceived Bordenave, who, since taking his coffee, must have comfortably
installed himself there. He was sleeping on two chairs, his head propped
on the edge of the bed and his leg stretched out in front. Nana
thought him so funny with his open mouth and his nose moving with each
successive snore that she was shaken with a mad fit of laughter. She
left the room, followed by Daguenet and Georges, crossed the dining
room, entered the drawing room, her merriment increasing at every step.

"Oh, my dear, you've no idea!" she cried, almost throwing herself into
Rose's arms. "Come and see it."

All the women had to follow her. She took their hands coaxingly and drew
them along with her willy-nilly, accompanying her action with so frank
an outburst of mirth that they all of them began laughing on trust. The
band vanished and returned after standing breathlessly for a second or
two round Bordenave's lordly, outstretched form. And then there was
a burst of laughter, and when one of them told the rest to be quiet
Bordenave's distant snorings became audible.

It was close on four o'clock. In the dining room a card table had just
been set out, at which Vandeuvres, Steiner, Mignon and Labordette had
taken their seats. Behind them Lucy and Caroline stood making bets,
while Blanche, nodding with sleep and dissatisfied about her night, kept
asking Vandeuvres at intervals of five minutes if they weren't going
soon. In the drawing room there was an attempt at dancing. Daguenet was
at the piano or "chest of drawers," as Nana called it. She did not
want a "thumper," for Mimi would play as many waltzes and polkas as
the company desired. But the dance was languishing, and the ladies were
chatting drowsily together in the corners of sofas. Suddenly, however,
there was an outburst of noise. A band of eleven young men had arrived
and were laughing loudly in the anteroom and crowding to the drawing
room. They had just come from the ball at the Ministry of the Interior
and were in evening dress and wore various unknown orders. Nana was
annoyed at this riotous entry, called to the waiters who still remained
in the kitchen and ordered them to throw these individuals out of
doors. She vowed that she had never seen any of them before. Fauchery,
Labordette, Daguenet and the rest of the men had all come forward in
order to enforce respectful behavior toward their hostess. Big words
flew about; arms were outstretched, and for some seconds a general
exchange of fisticuffs was imminent. Notwithstanding this, however, a
little sickly looking light-haired man kept insistently repeating:

"Come, come, Nana, you saw us the other evening at Peters' in the great
red saloon! Pray remember, you invited us."

The other evening at Peters'? She did not remember it all. To begin
with, what evening?

And when the little light-haired man had mentioned the day, which was
Wednesday, she distinctly remembered having supped at Peters' on the
Wednesday, but she had given no invitation to anyone; she was almost
sure of that.

"However, suppose you HAVE invited them, my good girl," murmured
Labordette, who was beginning to have his doubts. "Perhaps you were a
little elevated."

Then Nana fell a-laughing. It was quite possible; she really didn't
know. So then, since these gentlemen were on the spot, they had her
leave to come in. Everything was quietly arranged; several of the
newcomers found friends in the drawing room, and the scene ended in
handshakings. The little sickly looking light-haired man bore one of the
greatest names in France. Furthermore, the eleven announced that others
were to follow them, and, in fact, the door opened every few moments,
and men in white gloves and official garb presented themselves. They
were still coming from the ball at the Ministry. Fauchery jestingly
inquired whether the minister was not coming, too, but Nana answered in
a huff that the minister went to the houses of people she didn't care a
pin for. What she did not say was that she was possessed with a hope of
seeing Count Muffat enter her room among all that stream of people. He
might quite have reconsidered his decision, and so while talking to Rose
she kept a sharp eye on the door.

Five o'clock struck. The dancing had ceased, and the cardplayers alone
persisted in their game. Labordette had vacated his seat, and the women
had returned into the drawing room. The air there was heavy with the
somnolence which accompanies a long vigil, and the lamps cast a wavering
light while their burned-out wicks glowed red within their globes.
The ladies had reached that vaguely melancholy hour when they felt it
necessary to tell each other their histories. Blanche de Sivry spoke of
her grandfather, the general, while Clarisse invented a romantic story
about a duke seducing her at her uncle's house, whither he used to come
for the boar hunting. Both women, looking different ways, kept shrugging
their shoulders and asking themselves how the deuce the other could tell
such whoppers! As to Lucy Stewart, she quietly confessed to her origin
and of her own accord spoke of her childhood and of the days when her
father, the wheel greaser at the Northern Railway Terminus, used to
treat her to an apple puff on Sundays.

"Oh, I must tell you about it!" cried the little Maria Blond abruptly.
"Opposite to me there lives a gentleman, a Russian, an awfully rich man!
Well, just fancy, yesterday I received a basket of fruit--oh, it just
was a basket! Enormous peaches, grapes as big as that, simply wonderful
for the time of year! And in the middle of them six thousand-franc
notes! It was the Russian's doing. Of course I sent the whole thing back
again, but I must say my heart ached a little--when I thought of the
fruit!"

The ladies looked at one another and pursed up their lips. At her age
little Maria Blond had a pretty cheek! Besides, to think that such
things should happen to trollops like her! Infinite was their contempt
for her among themselves. It was Lucy of whom they were particularly
jealous, for they were beside themselves at the thought of her three
princes. Since Lucy had begun taking a daily morning ride in the Bois
they all had become Amazons, as though a mania possessed them.

Day was about to dawn, and Nana turned her eyes away from the door, for
she was relinquishing all hope. The company were bored to distraction.
Rose Mignon had refused to sing the "Slipper" and sat huddled up on a
sofa, chatting in a low voice with Fauchery and waiting for Mignon, who
had by now won some fifty louis from Vandeuvres. A fat gentleman with
a decoration and a serious cast of countenance had certainly given a
recitation in Alsatian accents of "Abraham's Sacrifice," a piece in
which the Almighty says, "By My blasted Name" when He swears, and Isaac
always answers with a "Yes, Papa!" Nobody, however, understood what it
was all about, and the piece had been voted stupid. People were at
their wits' end how to make merry and to finish the night with
fitting hilarity. For a moment or two Labordette conceived the idea of
denouncing different women in a whisper to La Faloise, who still went
prowling round each individual lady, looking to see if she were hiding
his handkerchief in her bosom. Soon, as there were still some bottles of
champagne on the sideboard, the young men again fell to drinking. They
shouted to one another; they stirred each other up, but a dreary species
of intoxication, which was stupid enough to drive one to despair,
began to overcome the company beyond hope of recovery. Then the little
fair-haired fellow, the man who bore one of the greatest names in France
and had reached his wit's end and was desperate at the thought that he
could not hit upon something really funny, conceived a brilliant notion:
he snatched up his bottle of champagne and poured its contents into the
piano. His allies were convulsed with laughter.

"La now! Why's he putting champagne into the piano?" asked Tatan Nene in
great astonishment as she caught sight of him.

"What, my lass, you don't know why he's doing that?" replied Labordette
solemnly. "There's nothing so good as champagne for pianos. It gives 'em
tone."

"Ah," murmured Tatan Nene with conviction.

And when the rest began laughing at her she grew angry. How should she
know? They were always confusing her.

Decidedly the evening was becoming a big failure. The night threatened
to end in the unloveliest way. In a corner by themselves Maria Blond and
Lea de Horn had begun squabbling at close quarters, the former accusing
the latter of consorting with people of insufficient wealth. They were
getting vastly abusive over it, their chief stumbling block being the
good looks of the men in question. Lucy, who was plain, got them to hold
their tongues. Good looks were nothing, according to her; good figures
were what was wanted. Farther off, on a sofa, an attache had slipped his
arm round Simonne's waist and was trying to kiss her neck, but Simonne,
sullen and thoroughly out of sorts, pushed him away at every fresh
attempt with cries of "You're pestering me!" and sound slaps of the fan
across his face. For the matter of that, not one of the ladies allowed
herself to be touched. Did people take them for light women? Gaga, in
the meantime, had once more caught La Faloise and had almost hoisted
him upon her knees while Clarisse was disappearing from view between
two gentlemen, shaking with nervous laughter as women will when they are
tickled. Round about the piano they were still busy with their little
game, for they were suffering from a fit of stupid imbecility, which
caused each man to jostle his fellow in his frantic desire to empty his
bottle into the instrument. It was a simple process and a charming one.

"Now then, old boy, drink a glass! Devil take it, he's a thirsty piano!
Hi! 'Tenshun! Here's another bottle! You mustn't lose a drop!"

Nana's back was turned, and she did not see them. Emphatically she was
now falling back on the bulky Steiner, who was seated next to her. So
much the worse! It was all on account of that Muffat, who had refused
what was offered him. Sitting there in her white foulard dress, which
was as light and full of folds as a shift, sitting there with drooped
eyelids and cheeks pale with the touch of intoxication from which she
was suffering, she offered herself to him with that quiet expression
which is peculiar to a good-natured courtesan. The roses in her hair and
at her throat had lost their leaves, and their stalks alone remained.
Presently Steiner withdrew his hand quickly from the folds of her skirt,
where he had come in contact with the pins that Georges had stuck there.
Some drops of blood appeared on his fingers, and one fell on Nana's
dress and stained it.

"Now the bargain's struck," said Nana gravely.

The day was breaking apace. An uncertain glimmer of light, fraught with
a poignant melancholy, came stealing through the windows. And with
that the guests began to take their departure. It was a most sour and
uncomfortable retreat. Caroline Hequet, annoyed at the loss of her
night, announced that it was high time to be off unless you were anxious
to assist at some pretty scenes. Rose pouted as if her womanly character
had been compromised. It was always so with these girls; they didn't
know how to behave and were guilty of disgusting conduct when they made
their first appearance in society! And Mignon having cleaned Vandeuvres
out completely, the family took their departure. They did not trouble
about Steiner but renewed their invitation for tomorrow to Fauchery.
Lucy thereupon refused the journalist's escort home and sent him
back shrilly to his "strolling actress." At this Rose turned round
immediately and hissed out a "Dirty sow" by way of answer. But Mignon,
who in feminine quarrels was always paternal, for his experience was a
long one and rendered him superior to them, had already pushed her
out of the house, telling her at the same time to have done. Lucy came
downstairs in solitary state behind them. After which Gaga had to carry
off La Faloise, ill, sobbing like a child, calling after Clarisse,
who had long since gone off with her two gentlemen. Simonne, too,
had vanished. Indeed, none remained save Tatan, Lea and Maria, whom
Labordette complaisantly took under his charge.

"Oh, but I don't the least bit want to go to bed!" said Nana. "One ought
to find something to do."

She looked at the sky through the windowpanes. It was a livid sky, and
sooty clouds were scudding across it. It was six o'clock in the morning.
Over the way, on the opposite side of the Boulevard Haussmann, the
glistening roofs of the still-slumbering houses were sharply outlined
against the twilight sky while along the deserted roadway a gang of
street sweepers passed with a clatter of wooden shoes. As she viewed
Paris thus grimly awakening, she was overcome by tender, girlish
feelings, by a yearning for the country, for idyllic scenes, for things
soft and white.

"Now guess what you're to do," she said, coming back to Steiner. "You're
going to take me to the Bois de Boulogne, and we'll drink milk there."

She clapped her hands in childish glee. Without waiting for the banker's
reply--he naturally consented, though he was really rather bored and
inclined to think of other things--she ran off to throw a pelisse over
her shoulders. In the drawing room there was now no one with Steiner
save the band of young men. These had by this time dropped the very
dregs of their glasses into the piano and were talking of going, when
one of their number ran in triumphantly. He held in his hands a last
remaining bottle, which he had brought back with him from the pantry.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute!" he shouted. "Here's a bottle of
chartreuse; that'll pick him up! And now, my young friends, let's hook
it. We're blooming idiots."

In the dressing room Nana was compelled to wake up Zoe, who had dozed
off on a chair. The gas was still alight, and Zoe shivered as she helped
her mistress on with her hat and pelisse.

"Well, it's over; I've done what you wanted me to," said Nana, speaking
familiarly to the maid in a sudden burst of expansive confidence and
much relieved at the thought that she had at last made her election.
"You were quite right; the banker's as good as another."

The maid was cross, for she was still heavy with sleep. She grumbled
something to the effect that Madame ought to have come to a decision the
first evening. Then following her into the bedroom, she asked what she
was going to do with "those two," meaning Bordenave, who was snoring
away as usual, and Georges, who had slipped in slyly, buried his head in
a pillow and, finally falling asleep there, was now breathing as lightly
and regularly as a cherub. Nana in reply told her that she was to let
them sleep on. But seeing Daguenet come into the room, she again grew
tender. He had been watching her from the kitchen and was looking very
wretched.

"Come, my sweetie, be reasonable," she said, taking him in her arms
and kissing him with all sorts of little wheedling caresses. "Nothing's
changed; you know that it's sweetie whom I always adore! Eh, dear? I had
to do it. Why, I swear to you we shall have even nicer times now. Come
tomorrow, and we'll arrange about hours. Now be quick, kiss and hug me
as you love me. Oh, tighter, tighter than that!"

And she escaped and rejoined Steiner, feeling happy and once more
possessed with the idea of drinking milk. In the empty room the Count
de Vandeuvres was left alone with the "decorated" man who had recited
"Abraham's Sacrifice." Both seemed glued to the card table; they had
lost count of their whereabouts and never once noticed the broad light
of day without, while Blanche had made bold to put her feet up on a sofa
in order to try and get a little sleep.

"Oh, Blanche is with them!" cried Nana. "We are going to drink milk,
dear. Do come; you'll find Vandeuvres here when we return."

Blanche got up lazily. This time the banker's fiery face grew white with
annoyance at the idea of having to take that big wench with him too. She
was certain to bore him. But the two women had already got him by the
arms and were reiterating:

"We want them to milk the cow before our eyes, you know."



CHAPTER V


At the Varietes they were giving the thirty-fourth performance of the
Blonde Venus. The first act had just finished, and in the greenroom
Simonne, dressed as the little laundress, was standing in front of a
console table, surmounted by a looking glass and situated between the
two corner doors which opened obliquely on the end of the dressing-room
passage. No one was with her, and she was scrutinizing her face and
rubbing her finger up and down below her eyes with a view to putting
the finishing touches to her make-up. The gas jets on either side of the
mirror flooded her with warm, crude light.

"Has he arrived?" asked Prulliere, entering the room in his Alpine
admiral's costume, which was set off by a big sword, enormous top boots
and a vast tuft of plumes.

"Who d'you mean?" said Simonne, taking no notice of him and laughing
into the mirror in order to see how her lips looked.

"The prince."

"I don't know; I've just come down. Oh, he's certainly due here tonight;
he comes every time!"

Prulliere had drawn near the hearth opposite the console table, where
a coke fire was blazing and two more gas jets were flaring brightly. He
lifted his eyes and looked at the clock and the barometer on his right
hand and on his left. They had gilded sphinxes by way of adornment in
the style of the First Empire. Then he stretched himself out in a huge
armchair with ears, the green velvet of which had been so worn by four
generations of comedians that it looked yellow in places, and there he
stayed, with moveless limbs and vacant eyes, in that weary and resigned
attitude peculiar to actors who are used to long waits before their turn
for going on the stage.

Old Bosc, too, had just made his appearance. He came in dragging one
foot behind the other and coughing. He was wrapped in an old box coat,
part of which had slipped from his shoulder in such a way as to uncover
the gold-laced cloak of King Dagobert. He put his crown on the piano
and for a moment or two stood moodily stamping his feet. His hands
were trembling slightly with the first beginnings of alcoholism, but he
looked a sterling old fellow for all that, and a long white beard lent
that fiery tippler's face of his a truly venerable appearance. Then in
the silence of the room, while the shower of hail was whipping the panes
of the great window that looked out on the courtyard, he shook himself
disgustedly.

"What filthy weather!" he growled.

Simonne and Prulliere did not move. Four or five pictures--a landscape,
a portrait of the actor Vernet--hung yellowing in the hot glare of the
gas, and a bust of Potier, one of the bygone glories of the Varietes,
stood gazing vacant-eyed from its pedestal. But just then there was a
burst of voices outside. It was Fontan, dressed for the second act.
He was a young dandy, and his habiliments, even to his gloves, were
entirely yellow.

"Now say you don't know!" he shouted, gesticulating. "Today's my patron
saint's day!"

"What?" asked Simonne, coming up smilingly, as though attracted by the
huge nose and the vast, comic mouth of the man. "D'you answer to the
name of Achille?"

"Exactly so! And I'm going to get 'em to tell Madame Bron to send up
champagne after the second act."

For some seconds a bell had been ringing in the distance. The long-drawn
sound grew fainter, then louder, and when the bell ceased a shout ran up
the stair and down it till it was lost along the passages. "All on the
stage for the second act! All on the stage for the second act!" The
sound drew near, and a little pale-faced man passed by the greenroom
doors, outside each of which he yelled at the top of his shrill voice,
"On the stage for the second act!"

"The deuce, it's champagne!" said Prulliere without appearing to hear
the din. "You're prospering!"

"If I were you I should have it in from the cafe," old Bosc slowly
announced. He was sitting on a bench covered with green velvet, with his
head against the wall.

But Simonne said that it was one's duty to consider Mme Bron's small
perquisites. She clapped her hands excitedly and devoured Fontan with
her gaze while his long goatlike visage kept up a continuous twitching
of eyes and nose and mouth.

"Oh, that Fontan!" she murmured. "There's no one like him, no one like
him!"

The two greenroom doors stood wide open to the corridor leading to the
wings. And along the yellow wall, which was brightly lit up by a gas
lamp out of view, passed a string of rapidly moving shadows--men in
costume, women with shawls over their scant attire, in a word, the
whole of the characters in the second act, who would shortly make their
appearance as masqeuraders in the ball at the Boule Noire. And at the
end of the corridor became audible a shuffling of feet as these people
clattered down the five wooden steps which led to the stage. As the big
Clarisse went running by Simonne called to her, but she said she would
be back directly. And, indeed, she reappeared almost at once, shivering
in the thin tunic and scarf which she wore as Iris.

"God bless me!" she said. "It isn't warm, and I've left my furs in my
dressing room!"

Then as she stood toasting her legs in their warm rose-colored tights in
front of the fireplace she resumed:

"The prince has arrived."

"Oh!" cried the rest with the utmost curiosity.

"Yes, that's why I ran down: I wanted to see. He's in the first stage
box to the right, the same he was in on Thursday. It's the third time
he's been this week, eh? That's Nana; well, she's in luck's way! I was
willing to wager he wouldn't come again."

Simonne opened her lips to speak, but her remarks were drowned by a
fresh shout which arose close to the greenroom. In the passage the
callboy was yelling at the top of his shrill voice, "They've knocked!"

"Three times!" said Simonne when she was again able to speak. "It's
getting exciting. You know, he won't go to her place; he takes her to
his. And it seems that he has to pay for it too!"

"Egad! It's a case of when one 'has to go out,'" muttered Prulliere
wickedly, and he got up to have a last look at the mirror as became a
handsome fellow whom the boxes adored.

"They've knocked! They've knocked!" the callboy kept repeating in
tones that died gradually away in the distance as he passed through the
various stories and corridors.

Fontan thereupon, knowing how it had all gone off on the first occasion
the prince and Nana met, told the two women the whole story while they
in their turn crowded against him and laughed at the tops of their
voices whenever he stooped to whisper certain details in their ears. Old
Bosc had never budged an inch--he was totally indifferent. That sort
of thing no longer interested him now. He was stroking a great
tortoise-shell cat which was lying curled up on the bench. He did so
quite beautifully and ended by taking her in his arms with the tender
good nature becoming a worn-out monarch. The cat arched its back and
then, after a prolonged sniff at the big white beard, the gluey odor of
which doubtless disgusted her, she turned and, curling herself up,
went to sleep again on the bench beside him. Bosc remained grave and
absorbed.

"That's all right, but if I were you I should drink the champagne at the
restaurant--its better there," he said, suddenly addressing Fontan when
he had finished his recital.

"The curtain's up!" cried the callboy in cracked and long-drawn accents
"The curtain's up! The curtain's up!"

The shout sounded for some moments, during which there had been a noise
of rapid footsteps. Through the suddenly opened door of the passage came
a burst of music and a far-off murmur of voices, and then the door
shut to again and you could hear its dull thud as it wedged itself into
position once more.

A heavy, peaceful, atmosphere again pervaded the greenroom, as though
the place were situated a hundred leagues from the house where crowds
were applauding. Simonne and Clarisse were still on the topic of Nana.
There was a girl who never hurried herself! Why, yesterday she had again
come on too late! But there was a silence, for a tall damsel had just
craned her head in at the door and, seeing that she had made a mistake,
had departed to the other end of the passage. It was Satin. Wearing a
hat and a small veil for the nonce she was affecting the manner of a
lady about to pay a call.

"A pretty trollop!" muttered Prulliere, who had been coming across her
for a year past at the Cafe des Varietes. And at this Simonne told them
how Nana had recognized in Satin an old schoolmate, had taken a vast
fancy to her and was now plaguing Bordenave to let her make a first
appearance on the stage.

"How d'ye do?" said Fontan, shaking hands with Mignon and Fauchery, who
now came into the room.

Old Bosc himself gave them the tips of his fingers while the two women
kissed Mignon.

"A good house this evening?" queried Fauchery.

"Oh, a splendid one!" replied Prulliere. "You should see 'em gaping."

"I say, my little dears," remarked Mignon, "it must be your turn!"

Oh, all in good time! They were only at the fourth scene as yet, but
Bosc got up in obedience to instinct, as became a rattling old actor
who felt that his cue was coming. At that very moment the callboy was
opening the door.

"Monsieur Bosc!" he called. "Mademoiselle Simonne!"

Simonne flung a fur-lined pelisse briskly over her shoulders and went
out. Bosc, without hurrying at all, went and got his crown, which he
settled on his brow with a rap. Then dragging himself unsteadily along
in his greatcoat, he took his departure, grumbling and looking as
annoyed as a man who has been rudely disturbed.

"You were very amiable in your last notice," continued Fontan,
addressing Fauchery. "Only why do you say that comedians are vain?"

"Yes, my little man, why d'you say that?" shouted Mignon, bringing down
his huge hands on the journalist's slender shoulders with such force as
almost to double him up.

Prulliere and Clarisse refrained from laughing aloud. For some time past
the whole company had been deriving amusement from a comedy which was
going on in the wings. Mignon, rendered frantic by his wife's caprice
and annoyed at the thought that this man Fauchery brought nothing but a
certain doubtful notoriety to his household, had conceived the idea of
revenging himself on the journalist by overwhelming him with tokens of
friendship. Every evening, therefore, when he met him behind scenes he
would shower friendly slaps on his back and shoulders, as though fairly
carried away by an outburst of tenderness, and Fauchery, who was a
frail, small man in comparison with such a giant, was fain to take the
raps with a strained smile in order not to quarrel with Rose's husband.

"Aha, my buck, you've insulted Fontan," resumed Mignon, who was doing
his best to force the joke. "Stand on guard! One--two--got him right in
the middle of his chest!"

He lunged and struck the young man with such force that the latter grew
very pale and could not speak for some seconds. With a wink Clarisse
showed the others where Rose Mignon was standing on the threshold of the
greenroom. Rose had witnessed the scene, and she marched straight up
to the journalist, as though she had failed to notice her husband and,
standing on tiptoe, bare-armed and in baby costume, she held her face up
to him with a caressing, infantine pout.

"Good evening, baby," said Fauchery, kissing her familiarly.

Thus he indemnified himself. Mignon, however, did not seem to have
observed this kiss, for everybody kissed his wife at the theater. But
he laughed and gave the journalist a keen little look. The latter would
assurely have to pay for Rose's bravado.

In the passage the tightly shutting door opened and closed again, and a
tempest of applause was blown as far as the greenroom. Simonne came in
after her scene.

"Oh, Father Bosc HAS just scored!" she cried. "The prince was writhing
with laughter and applauded with the rest as though he had been paid to.
I say, do you know the big man sitting beside the prince in the
stage box? A handsome man, with a very sedate expression and splendid
whiskers!"

"It's Count Muffat," replied Fauchery. "I know that the prince, when he
was at the empress's the day before yesterday, invited him to dinner for
tonight. He'll have corrupted him afterward!"

"So that's Count Muffat! We know his father-in-law, eh, Auguste?" said
Rose, addressing her remark to Mignon. "You know the Marquis de Chouard,
at whose place I went to sing? Well, he's in the house too. I noticed
him at the back of a box. There's an old boy for you!"

Prulliere, who had just put on his huge plume of feathers, turned round
and called her.

"Hi, Rose! Let's go now!"

She ran after him, leaving her sentence unfinished. At that moment Mme
Bron, the portress of the theater, passed by the door with an immense
bouquet in her arms. Simonne asked cheerfully if it was for her, but
the porter woman did not vouchsafe an answer and only pointed her chin
toward Nana's dressing room at the end of the passage. Oh, that Nana!
They were loading her with flowers! Then when Mme Bron returned she
handed a letter to Clarisse, who allowed a smothered oath to escape her.
That beggar La Faloise again! There was a fellow who wouldn't let her
alone! And when she learned the gentleman in question was waiting for
her at the porter's lodge she shrieked:

"Tell him I'm coming down after this act. I'm going to catch him one on
the face."

Fontan had rushed forward, shouting:

"Madame Bron, just listen. Please listen, Madame Bron. I want you to
send up six bottles of champagne between the acts."

But the callboy had again made his appearance. He was out of breath, and
in a singsong voice he called out:

"All to go on the stage! It's your turn, Monsieur Fontan. Make haste,
make haste!"

"Yes, yes, I'm going, Father Barillot," replied Fontan in a flurry.

And he ran after Mme Bron and continued:

"You understand, eh? Six bottles of champagne in the greenroom between
the acts. It's my patron saint's day, and I'm standing the racket."

Simonne and Clarisse had gone off with a great rustling of skirts.
Everybody was swallowed up in the distance, and when the passage door
had banged with its usual hollow sound a fresh hail shower was heard
beating against the windows in the now-silent greenroom. Barillot, a
small, pale-faced ancient, who for thirty years had been a servant in
the theater, had advanced familiarly toward Mignon and had presented his
open snuffbox to him. This proffer of a pinch and its acceptance allowed
him a minute's rest in his interminable career up and down stairs and
along the dressing-room passage. He certainly had still to look up Mme
Nana, as he called her, but she was one of those who followed her own
sweet will and didn't care a pin for penalties. Why, if she chose to be
too late she was too late! But he stopped short and murmured in great
surprise:

"Well, I never! She's ready; here she is! She must know that the prince
is here."

Indeed, Nana appeared in the corridor. She was dressed as a fish hag:
her arms and face were plastered with white paint, and she had a couple
of red dabs under her eyes. Without entering the greenroom she contented
herself by nodding to Mignon and Fauchery.

"How do? You're all right?"

Only Mignon shook her outstretched hand, and she hied royally on
her way, followed by her dresser, who almost trod on her heels while
stooping to adjust the folds of her skirt. In the rear of the dresser
came Satin, closing the procession and trying to look quite the lady,
though she was already bored to death.

"And Steiner?" asked Mignon sharply.

"Monsieur Steiner has gone away to the Loiret," said Barillot, preparing
to return to the neighborhood of the stage. "I expect he's gone to buy a
country place in those parts."

"Ah yes, I know, Nana's country place."

Mignon had grown suddenly serious. Oh, that Steiner! He had promised
Rose a fine house in the old days! Well, well, it wouldn't do to grow
angry with anybody. Here was a position that would have to be won again.
From fireplace to console table Mignon paced, sunk in thought yet still
unconquered by circumstances. There was no one in the greenroom now save
Fauchery and himself. The journalist was tired and had flung himself
back into the recesses of the big armchair. There he stayed with
half-closed eyes and as quiet as quiet could be, while the other glanced
down at him as he passed. When they were alone Mignon scorned to slap
him at every turn. What good would it have done, since nobody would have
enjoyed the spectacle? He was far too disinterested to be personally
entertained by the farcical scenes in which he figured as a bantering
husband. Glad of this short-lived respite, Fauchery stretched his feet
out languidly toward the fire and let his upturned eyes wander from
the barometer to the clock. In the course of his march Mignon planted
himself in front of Potier's bust, looked at it without seeming to see
it and then turned back to the window, outside which yawned the darkling
gulf of the courtyard. The rain had ceased, and there was now a deep
silence in the room, which the fierce heat of the coke fire and the
flare of the gas jets rendered still more oppressive. Not a sound came
from the wings: the staircase and the passages were deadly still.

That choking sensation of quiet, which behind the scenes immediately
precedes the end of an act, had begun to pervade the empty greenroom.
Indeed, the place seemed to be drowsing off through very breathlessness
amid that faint murmur which the stage gives forth when the whole troupe
are raising the deafening uproar of some grand finale.

"Oh, the cows!" Bordenave suddenly shouted in his hoarse voice.

He had only just come up, and he was already howling complaints about
two chorus girls who had nearly fallen flat on the stage because they
were playing the fool together. When his eye lit on Mignon and Fauchery
he called them; he wanted to show them something. The prince had just
notified a desire to compliment Nana in her dressing room during the
next interval. But as he was leading them into the wings the stage
manager passed.

"Just you find those hags Fernande and Maria!" cried Bordenave savagely.

Then calming down and endeavoring to assume the dignified expression
worn by "heavy fathers," he wiped his face with his pocket handkerchief
and added:

"I am now going to receive His Highness."

The curtain fell amid a long-drawn salvo of applause. Then across the
twilight stage, which was no longer lit up by the footlights, there
followed a disorderly retreat. Actors and supers and chorus made haste
to get back to their dressing rooms while the sceneshifters rapidly
changed the scenery. Simonne and Clarisse, however, had remained "at the
top," talking together in whispers. On the stage, in an interval between
their lines, they had just settled a little matter. Clarisse, after
viewing the thing in every light, found she preferred not to see La
Faloise, who could never decide to leave her for Gaga, and so Simonne
was simply to go and explain that a woman ought not to be palled up to
in that fashion! At last she agreed to undertake the mission.

Then Simonne, in her theatrical laundress's attire but with furs over
her shoulders, ran down the greasy steps of the narrow, winding stairs
which led between damp walls to the porter's lodge. This lodge, situated
between the actors' staircase and that of the management, was shut in
to right and left by large glass partitions and resembled a huge
transparent lantern in which two gas jets were flaring.

There was a set of pigeonholes in the place in which were piled letters
and newspapers, while on the table various bouquets lay awaiting their
recipients in close proximity to neglected heaps of dirty plates and
to an old pair of stays, the eyelets of which the portress was busy
mending. And in the middle of this untidy, ill-kept storeroom sat four
fashionable, white-gloved society men. They occupied as many ancient
straw-bottomed chairs and, with an expression at once patient and
submissive, kept sharply turning their heads in Mme Bron's direction
every time she came down from the theater overhead, for on such
occasions she was the bearer of replies. Indeed, she had but now
handed a note to a young man who had hurried out to open it beneath the
gaslight in the vestibule, where he had grown slightly pale on
reading the classic phrase--how often had others read it in that very
place!--"Impossible tonight, my dearie! I'm booked!" La Faloise sat on
one of these chairs at the back of the room, between the table and the
stove. He seemed bent on passing the evening there, and yet he was not
quite happy. Indeed, he kept tucking up his long legs in his endeavors
to escape from a whole litter of black kittens who were gamboling wildly
round them while the mother cat sat bolt upright, staring at him with
yellow eyes.

"Ah, it's you, Mademoiselle Simonne! What can I do for you?" asked the
portress.

Simonne begged her to send La Faloise out to her. But Mme Bron was
unable to comply with her wishes all at once. Under the stairs in a sort
of deep cupboard she kept a little bar, whither the supers were wont to
descend for drinks between the acts, and seeing that just at that moment
there were five or six tall lubbers there who, still dressed as Boule
Noire masqueraders, were dying of thirst and in a great hurry, she lost
her head a bit. A gas jet was flaring in the cupboard, within which it
was possible to descry a tin-covered table and some shelves garnished
with half-emptied bottles. Whenever the door of this coalhole was opened
a violent whiff of alcohol mingled with the scent of stale cooking in
the lodge, as well as with the penetrating scent of the flowers upon the
table.

"Well now," continued the portress when she had served the supers, "is
it the little dark chap out there you want?"

"No, no; don't be silly!" said Simonne. "It's the lanky one by the side
of the stove. Your cat's sniffing at his trouser legs!"

And with that she carried La Faloise off into the lobby, while the
other gentlemen once more resigned themselves to their fate and to
semisuffocation and the masqueraders drank on the stairs and indulged in
rough horseplay and guttural drunken jests.

On the stage above Bordenave was wild with the sceneshifters, who seemed
never to have done changing scenes. They appeared to be acting of
set purpose--the prince would certainly have some set piece or other
tumbling on his head.

"Up with it! Up with it!" shouted the foreman.

At length the canvas at the back of the stage was raised into position,
and the stage was clear. Mignon, who had kept his eye on Fauchery,
seized this opportunity in order to start his pummeling matches again.
He hugged him in his long arms and cried:

"Oh, take care! That mast just missed crushing you!"

And he carried him off and shook him before setting him down again. In
view of the sceneshifters' exaggerated mirth, Fauchery grew white.
His lips trembled, and he was ready to flare up in anger while Mignon,
shamming good nature, was clapping him on the shoulder with such
affectionate violence as nearly to pulverize him.

"I value your health, I do!" he kept repeating. "Egad! I should be in a
pretty pickle if anything serious happened to you!"

But just then a whisper ran through their midst: "The prince! The
prince!" And everybody turned and looked at the little door which opened
out of the main body of the house. At first nothing was visible save
Bordenave's round back and beefy neck, which bobbed down and arched
up in a series of obsequious obeisances. Then the prince made his
appearance. Largely and strongly built, light of beard and rosy of hue,
he was not lacking in the kind of distinction peculiar to a sturdy man
of pleasure, the square contours of whose limbs are clearly defined by
the irreproachable cut of a frock coat. Behind him walked Count Muffat
and the Marquis de Chouard, but this particular corner of the theater
being dark, the group were lost to view amid huge moving shadows.

In order fittingly to address the son of a queen, who would someday
occupy a throne, Bordenave had assumed the tone of a man exhibiting
a bear in the street. In a voice tremulous with false emotion he kept
repeating:

"If His Highness will have the goodness to follow me--would His Highness
deign to come this way? His Highness will take care!"

The prince did not hurry in the least. On the contrary, he was greatly
interested and kept pausing in order to look at the sceneshifters'
maneuvers. A batten had just been lowered, and the group of gaslights
high up among its iron crossbars illuminated the stage with a wide beam
of light. Muffat, who had never yet been behind scenes at a theater, was
even more astonished than the rest. An uneasy feeling of mingled fear
and vague repugnance took possession of him. He looked up into the
heights above him, where more battens, the gas jets on which were
burning low, gleamed like galaxies of little bluish stars amid a chaos
of iron rods, connecting lines of all sizes, hanging stages and canvases
spread out in space, like huge cloths hung out to dry.

"Lower away!" shouted the foreman unexpectedly.

And the prince himself had to warn the count, for a canvas was
descending. They were setting the scenery for the third act, which was
the grotto on Mount Etna. Men were busy planting masts in the sockets,
while others went and took frames which were leaning against the walls
of the stage and proceeded to lash them with strong cords to the poles
already in position. At the back of the stage, with a view to producing
the bright rays thrown by Vulcan's glowing forge, a stand had been
fixed by a limelight man, who was now lighting various burners under red
glasses. The scene was one of confusion, verging to all appearances on
absolute chaos, but every little move had been prearranged. Nay, amid
all the scurry the whistle blower even took a few turns, stepping short
as he did so, in order to rest his legs.

"His Highness overwhelms me," said Bordenave, still bowing low. "The
theater is not large, but we do what we can. Now if His Highness deigns
to follow me--"

Count Muffat was already making for the dressing-room passage. The
really sharp downward slope of the stage had surprised him disagreeably,
and he owed no small part of his present anxiety to a feeling that its
boards were moving under his feet. Through the open sockets gas was
descried burning in the "dock." Human voices and blasts of air, as from
a vault, came up thence, and, looking down into the depths of gloom, one
became aware of a whole subterranean existence. But just as the count
was going up the stage a small incident occurred to stop him. Two little
women, dressed for the third act, were chatting by the peephole in the
curtain. One of them, straining forward and widening the hole with her
fingers in order the better to observe things, was scanning the house
beyond.

"I see him," said she sharply. "Oh, what a mug!"

Horrified, Bordenave had much ado not to give her a kick. But the prince
smiled and looked pleased and excited by the remark. He gazed warmly at
the little woman who did not care a button for His Highness, and she, on
her part, laughed unblushingly. Bordenave, however, persuaded the prince
to follow him. Muffat was beginning to perspire; he had taken his hat
off. What inconvenienced him most was the stuffy, dense, overheated air
of the place with its strong, haunting smell, a smell peculiar to this
part of a theater, and, as such, compact of the reek of gas, of the glue
used in the manufacture of the scenery, of dirty dark nooks and corners
and of questionably clean chorus girls. In the passage the air was still
more suffocating, and one seemed to breathe a poisoned atmosphere, which
was occasionally relieved by the acid scents of toilet waters and the
perfumes of various soaps emanating from the dressing rooms. The count
lifted his eyes as he passed and glanced up the staircase, for he was
well-nigh startled by the keen flood of light and warmth which flowed
down upon his back and shoulders. High up above him there was a clicking
of ewers and basins, a sound of laughter and of people calling to
one another, a banging of doors, which in their continual opening and
shutting allowed an odor of womankind to escape--a musky scent of oils
and essences mingling with the natural pungency exhaled from human
tresses. He did not stop. Nay, he hastened his walk: he almost ran, his
skin tingling with the breath of that fiery approach to a world he knew
nothing of.

"A theater's a curious sight, eh?" said the Marquis de Chouard with the
enchanted expression of a man who once more finds himself amid familiar
surroundings.

But Bordenave had at length reached Nana's dressing room at the end of
the passage. He quietly turned the door handle; then, cringing again:

"If His Highness will have the goodness to enter--"

They heard the cry of a startled woman and caught sight of Nana as,
stripped to the waist, she slipped behind a curtain while her dresser,
who had been in the act of drying her, stood, towel in air, before them.

"Oh, it IS silly to come in that way!" cried Nana from her hiding place.
"Don't come in; you see you mustn't come in!"

Bordenave did not seem to relish this sudden flight.

"Do stay where you were, my dear. Why, it doesn't matter," he said.
"It's His Highness. Come, come, don't be childish."

And when she still refused to make her appearance--for she was startled
as yet, though she had begun to laugh--he added in peevish, paternal
tones:

"Good heavens, these gentlemen know perfectly well what a woman looks
like. They won't eat you."

"I'm not so sure of that," said the prince wittily.

With that the whole company began laughing in an exaggerated manner in
order to pay him proper court.

"An exquisitely witty speech--an altogether Parisian speech," as
Bordenave remarked.

Nana vouchsafed no further reply, but the curtain began moving.
Doubtless she was making up her mind. Then Count Muffat, with glowing
cheeks, began to take stock of the dressing room. It was a square room
with a very low ceiling, and it was entirely hung with a light-colored
Havana stuff. A curtain of the same material depended from a copper
rod and formed a sort of recess at the end of the room, while two large
windows opened on the courtyard of the theater and were faced, at a
distance of three yards at most, by a leprous-looking wall against which
the panes cast squares of yellow light amid the surrounding darkness.
A large dressing glass faced a white marble toilet table, which was
garnished with a disorderly array of flasks and glass boxes containing
oils, essences and powders. The count went up to the dressing glass
and discovered that he was looking very flushed and had small drops of
perspiration on his forehead. He dropped his eyes and came and took up
a position in front of the toilet table, where the basin, full of soapy
water, the small, scattered, ivory toilet utensils and the damp sponges,
appeared for some moments to absorb his attention. The feeling of
dizziness which he had experienced when he first visited Nana in the
Boulevard Haussmann once more overcame him. He felt the thick carpet
soften under foot, and the gasjets burning by the dressing table and by
the glass seemed to shoot whistling flames about his temples. For one
moment, being afraid of fainting away under the influence of those
feminine odors which he now re-encountered, intensified by the heat
under the low-pitched ceiling, he sat down on the edge of a softly
padded divan between the two windows. But he got up again almost
directly and, returning to the dressing table, seemed to gaze with
vacant eyes into space, for he was thinking of a bouquet of tuberoses
which had once faded in his bedroom and had nearly killed him in their
death. When tuberoses are turning brown they have a human smell.

"Make haste!" Bordenave whispered, putting his head in behind the
curtain.

The prince, however, was listening complaisantly to the Marquis de
Chouard, who had taken up a hare's-foot on the dressing table and had
begun explaining the way grease paint is put on. In a corner of the room
Satin, with her pure, virginal face, was scanning the gentlemen keenly,
while the dresser, Mme Jules by name, was getting ready Venus' tights
and tunic. Mme Jules was a woman of no age. She had the parchment skin
and changeless features peculiar to old maids whom no one ever knew
in their younger years. She had indeed shriveled up in the burning
atmosphere of the dressing rooms and amid the most famous thighs and
bosoms in all Paris. She wore everlastingly a faded black dress, and on
her flat and sexless chest a perfect forest of pins clustered above the
spot where her heart should have been.

"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," said Nana, drawing aside the curtain,
"but you took me by surprise."

They all turned round. She had not clothed herself at all, had, in fact,
only buttoned on a little pair of linen stays which half revealed her
bosom. When the gentlemen had put her to flight she had scarcely begun
undressing and was rapidly taking off her fishwife's costume. Through
the opening in her drawers behind a corner of her shift was even now
visible. There she stood, bare-armed, bare-shouldered, bare-breasted,
in all the adorable glory of her youth and plump, fair beauty, but she
still held the curtain with one hand, as though ready to draw it to
again upon the slightest provocation.

"Yes, you took me by surprise! I never shall dare--" she stammered
in pretty, mock confusion, while rosy blushes crossed her neck and
shoulders and smiles of embarrassment played about her lips.

"Oh, don't apologize," cried Bordenave, "since these gentlemen approve
of your good looks!"

But she still tried the hesitating, innocent, girlish game, and,
shivering as though someone were tickling her, she continued:

"His Highness does me too great an honor. I beg His Highness will excuse
my receiving him thus--"

"It is I who am importunate," said the prince, "but, madame, I could not
resist the desire of complimenting you."

Thereupon, in order to reach her dressing table, she walked very quietly
and just as she was through the midst of the gentlemen, who made way for
her to pass.

She had strongly marked hips, which filled her drawers out roundly,
while with swelling bosom she still continued bowing and smiling her
delicate little smile. Suddenly she seemed to recognize Count Muffat,
and she extended her hand to him as an old friend. Then she scolded him
for not having come to her supper party. His Highness deigned to chaff
Muffat about this, and the latter stammered and thrilled again at the
thought that for one second he had held in his own feverish clasp a
little fresh and perfumed hand. The count had dined excellently at the
prince's, who, indeed, was a heroic eater and drinker. Both of them were
even a little intoxicated, but they behaved very creditably. To hide the
commotion within him Muffat could only remark about the heat.

"Good heavens, how hot it is here!" he said. "How do you manage to live
in such a temperature, madame?"

And conversation was about to ensue on this topic when noisy voices were
heard at the dressing-room door. Bordenave drew back the slide over a
grated peephole of the kind used in convents. Fontan was outside with
Prulliere and Bosc, and all three had bottles under their arms and their
hands full of glasses. He began knocking and shouting out that it was
his patron saint's day and that he was standing champagne round. Nana
consulted the prince with a glance. Eh! Oh dear, yes! His Highness did
not want to be in anyone's way; he would be only too happy! But without
waiting for permission Fontan came in, repeating in baby accents:

"Me not a cad, me pay for champagne!"

Then all of a sudden he became aware of the prince's presence of which
he had been totally ignorant. He stopped short and, assuming an air of
farcical solemnity, announced:

"King Dagobert is in the corridor and is desirous of drinking the health
of His Royal Highness."

The prince having made answer with a smile, Fontan's sally was voted
charming. But the dressing room was too small to accommodate everybody,
and it became necessary to crowd up anyhow, Satin and Mme Jules standing
back against the curtain at the end and the men clustering closely round
the half-naked Nana. The three actors still had on the costumes they had
been wearing in the second act, and while Prulliere took off his Alpine
admiral's cocked hat, the huge plume of which would have knocked the
ceiling, Bosc, in his purple cloak and tinware crown, steadied himself
on his tipsy old legs and greeted the prince as became a monarch
receiving the son of a powerful neighbor. The glasses were filled, and
the company began clinking them together.

"I drink to Your Highness!" said ancient Bosc royally.

"To the army!" added Prulliere.

"To Venus!" cried Fontan.

The prince complaisantly poised his glass, waited quietly, bowed thrice
and murmured:

"Madame! Admiral! Your Majesty!"

Then he drank it off. Count Muffat and the Marquis de Chouard had
followed his example. There was no more jesting now--the company were at
court. Actual life was prolonged in the life of the theater, and a sort
of solemn farce was enacted under the hot flare of the gas. Nana, quite
forgetting that she was in her drawers and that a corner of her shift
stuck out behind, became the great lady, the queen of love, in act to
open her most private palace chambers to state dignitaries. In every
sentence she used the words "Royal Highness" and, bowing with the utmost
conviction, treated the masqueraders, Bosc and Prulliere, as if the
one were a sovereign and the other his attendant minister. And no one
dreamed of smiling at this strange contrast, this real prince, this heir
to a throne, drinking a petty actor's champagne and taking his ease amid
a carnival of gods, a masquerade of royalty, in the society of dressers
and courtesans, shabby players and showmen of venal beauty. Bordenave
was simply ravished by the dramatic aspects of the scene and began
dreaming of the receipts which would have accrued had His Highness only
consented thus to appear in the second act of the Blonde Venus.

"I say, shall we have our little women down?" he cried, becoming
familiar.

Nana would not hear of it. But notwithstanding this, she was giving
way herself. Fontan attracted her with his comic make-up. She brushed
against him and, eying him as a woman in the family way might do when
she fancies some unpleasant kind of food, she suddenly became extremely
familiar:

"Now then, fill up again, ye great brute!"

Fontan charged the glasses afresh, and the company drank, repeating the
same toasts.

"To His Highness!"

"To the army!"

"To Venus!"

But with that Nana made a sign and obtained silence. She raised her
glass and cried:

"No, no! To Fontan! It's Fontan's day; to Fontan! To Fontan!"

Then they clinked glasses a third time and drank Fontan with all the
honors. The prince, who had noticed the young woman devouring the actor
with her eyes, saluted him with a "Monsieur Fontan, I drink to your
success!" This he said with his customary courtesy.

But meanwhile the tail of his highness's frock coat was sweeping the
marble of the dressing table. The place, indeed, was like an alcove or
narrow bathroom, full as it was of the steam of hot water and sponges
and of the strong scent of essences which mingled with the tartish,
intoxicating fumes of the champagne. The prince and Count Muffat,
between whom Nana was wedged, had to lift up their hands so as not to
brush against her hips or her breast with every little movement. And
there stood Mme Jules, waiting, cool and rigid as ever, while Satin,
marveling in the depths of her vicious soul to see a prince and two
gentlemen in black coats going after a naked woman in the society of
dressed-up actors, secretly concluded that fashionable people were not
so very particular after all.

But Father Barillot's tinkling bell approached along the passage. At the
door of the dressing room he stood amazed when he caught sight of the
three actors still clad in the costumes which they had worn in the
second act.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," he stammered, "do please make haste. They've
just rung the bell in the public foyer."

"Bah, the public will have to wait!" said Bordenave placidly.

However, as the bottles were now empty, the comedians went upstairs to
dress after yet another interchange of civilities. Bosc, having dipped
his beard in the champagne, had taken it off, and under his venerable
disguise the drunkard had suddenly reappeared. His was the haggard,
empurpled face of the old actor who has taken to drink. At the foot of
the stairs he was heard remarking to Fontan in his boozy voice:

"I pulverized him, eh?"

He was alluding to the prince.

In Nana's dressing room none now remained save His Highness, the count
and the marquis. Bordenave had withdrawn with Barillot, whom he advised
not to knock without first letting Madame know.

"You will excuse me, gentlemen?" asked Nana, again setting to work to
make up her arms and face, of which she was now particularly careful,
owing to her nude appearance in the third act.

The prince seated himself by the Marquis de Chouard on the divan, and
Count Muffat alone remained standing. In that suffocating heat the two
glasses of champagne they had drunk had increased their intoxication.
Satin, when she saw the gentlemen thus closeting themselves with her
friend, had deemed it discreet to vanish behind the curtain, where
she sat waiting on a trunk, much annoyed at being compelled to remain
motionless, while Mme Jules came and went quietly without word or look.

"You sang your numbers marvelously," said the prince.

And with that they began a conversation, but their sentences were short
and their pauses frequent. Nana, indeed, was not always able to reply.
After rubbing cold cream over her arms and face with the palm of her
hand she laid on the grease paint with the corner of a towel. For one
second only she ceased looking in the glass and smilingly stole a glance
at the prince.

"His Highness is spoiling me," she murmured without putting down the
grease paint.

Her task was a complicated one, and the Marquis de Chouard followed it
with an expression of devout enjoyment. He spoke in his turn.

"Could not the band accompany you more softly?" he said. "It drowns your
voice, and that's an unpardonable crime."

This time Nana did not turn round. She had taken up the hare's-foot and
was lightly manipulating it. All her attention was concentrated on this
action, and she bent forward over her toilet table so very far that the
white round contour of her drawers and the little patch of chemise stood
out with the unwonted tension. But she was anxious to prove that
she appreciated the old man's compliment and therefore made a little
swinging movement with her hips.

Silence reigned. Mme Jules had noticed a tear in the right leg of her
drawers. She took a pin from over her heart and for a second or so knelt
on the ground, busily at work about Nana's leg, while the young woman,
without seeming to notice her presence, applied the rice powder, taking
extreme pains as she did so, to avoid putting any on the upper part of
her cheeks. But when the prince remarked that if she were to come
and sing in London all England would want to applaud her, she laughed
amiably and turned round for a moment with her left cheek looking very
white amid a perfect cloud of powder. Then she became suddenly serious,
for she had come to the operation of rouging. And with her face once
more close to the mirror, she dipped her finger in a jar and began
applying the rouge below her eyes and gently spreading it back toward
her temples. The gentlemen maintained a respectful silence.

Count Muffat, indeed, had not yet opened his lips. He was thinking
perforce of his own youth. The bedroom of his childish days had been
quite cold, and later, when he had reached the age of sixteen and would
give his mother a good-night kiss every evening, he used to carry the
icy feeling of the embrace into the world of dreams. One day in passing
a half-open door he had caught sight of a maidservant washing herself,
and that was the solitary recollection which had in any way troubled
his peace of mind from the days of puberty till the time of marriage.
Afterward he had found his wife strictly obedient to her conjugal duties
but had himself felt a species of religious dislike to them. He had
grown to man's estate and was now aging, in ignorance of the flesh, in
the humble observance of rigid devotional practices and in obedience to
a rule of life full of precepts and moral laws. And now suddenly he was
dropped down in this actress's dressing room in the presence of this
undraped courtesan.

He, who had never seen the Countess Muffat putting on her garters, was
witnessing, amid that wild disarray of jars and basins and that strong,
sweet perfume, the intimate details of a woman's toilet. His whole
being was in turmoil; he was terrified by the stealthy, all-pervading
influence which for some time past Nana's presence had been exercising
over him, and he recalled to mind the pious accounts of diabolic
possession which had amused his early years. He was a believer in the
devil, and, in a confused kind of way, Nana was he, with her laughter
and her bosom and her hips, which seemed swollen with many vices. But
he promised himself that he would be strong--nay, he would know how to
defend himself.

"Well then, it's agreed," said the prince, lounging quite comfortably on
the divan. "You will come to London next year, and we shall receive you
so cordially that you will never return to France again. Ah, my dear
Count, you don't value your pretty women enough. We shall take them all
from you!"

"That won't make much odds to him," murmured the Marquis de Chouard
wickedly, for he occasionally said a risky thing among friends. "The
count is virtue itself."

Hearing his virtue mentioned, Nana looked at him so comically that
Muffat felt a keen twinge of annoyance. But directly afterward he
was surprised and angry with himself. Why, in the presence of this
courtesan, should the idea of being virtuous embarrass him? He could
have struck her. But in attempting to take up a brush Nana had just
let it drop on the ground, and as she stooped to pick it up he rushed
forward. Their breath mingled for one moment, and the loosened tresses
of Venus flowed over his hands. But remorse mingled with his enjoyment,
a kind of enjoyment, moreover, peculiar to good Catholics, whom the fear
of hell torments in the midst of their sin.

At this moment Father Barillot's voice was heard outside the door.

"May I give the knocks, madame? The house is growing impatient."

"All in good time," answered Nana quietly.

She had dipped her paint brush in a pot of kohl, and with the point
of her nose close to the glass and her left eye closed she passed it
delicately along between her eyelashes. Muffat stood behind her, looking
on. He saw her reflection in the mirror, with her rounded shoulders and
her bosom half hidden by a rosy shadow. And despite all his endeavors he
could not turn away his gaze from that face so merry with dimples and so
worn with desire, which the closed eye rendered more seductive. When she
shut her right eye and passed the brush along it he understood that he
belonged to her.

"They are stamping their feet, madame," the callboy once more cried.
"They'll end by smashing the seats. May I give the knocks?"

"Oh, bother!" said Nana impatiently. "Knock away; I don't care! If I'm
not ready, well, they'll have to wait for me!"

She grew calm again and, turning to the gentlemen, added with a smile:

"It's true: we've only got a minute left for our talk."

Her face and arms were now finished, and with her fingers she put two
large dabs of carmine on her lips. Count Muffat felt more excited than
ever. He was ravished by the perverse transformation wrought by powders
and paints and filled by a lawless yearning for those young painted
charms, for the too-red mouth and the too-white face and the exaggerated
eyes, ringed round with black and burning and dying for very love.
Meanwhile Nana went behind the curtain for a second or two in order
to take off her drawers and slip on Venus' tights. After which, with
tranquil immodesty, she came out and undid her little linen stays and
held out her arms to Mme Jules, who drew the short-sleeved tunic over
them.

"Make haste; they're growing angry!" she muttered.

The prince with half-closed eyes marked the swelling lines of her bosom
with an air of connoisseurship, while the Marquis de Chouard wagged his
head involuntarily. Muffat gazed at the carpet in order not to see any
more. At length Venus, with only her gauze veil over her shoulders, was
ready to go on the stage. Mme Jules, with vacant, unconcerned eyes and
an expression suggestive of a little elderly wooden doll, still kept
circling round her. With brisk movements she took pins out of the
inexhaustible pincushion over her heart and pinned up Venus' tunic, but
as she ran over all those plump nude charms with her shriveled hands,
nothing was suggested to her. She was as one whom her sex does not
concern.

"There!" said the young woman, taking a final look at herself in the
mirror.

Bordenave was back again. He was anxious and said the third act had
begun.

"Very well! I'm coming," replied Nana. "Here's a pretty fuss! Why, it's
usually I that waits for the others."

The gentlemen left the dressing room, but they did not say good-by, for
the prince had expressed a desire to assist behind the scenes at the
performance of the third act. Left alone, Nana seemed greatly surprised
and looked round her in all directions.

"Where can she be?" she queried.

She was searching for Satin. When she had found her again, waiting on
her trunk behind the curtain, Satin quietly replied:

"Certainly I didn't want to be in your way with all those men there!"

And she added further that she was going now. But Nana held her back.
What a silly girl she was! Now that Bordenave had agreed to take her
on! Why, the bargain was to be struck after the play was over! Satin
hesitated. There were too many bothers; she was out of her element!
Nevertheless, she stayed.

As the prince was coming down the little wooden staircase a strange
sound of smothered oaths and stamping, scuffling feet became audible on
the other side of the theater. The actors waiting for their cues were
being scared by quite a serious episode. For some seconds past Mignon
had been renewing his jokes and smothering Fauchery with caresses.
He had at last invented a little game of a novel kind and had begun
flicking the other's nose in order, as he phrased it, to keep the flies
off him. This kind of game naturally diverted the actors to any extent.

But success had suddenly thrown Mignon off his balance. He had launched
forth into extravagant courses and had given the journalist a box on the
ear, an actual, a vigorous, box on the ear. This time he had gone
too far: in the presence of so many spectators it was impossible for
Fauchery to pocket such a blow with laughing equanimity. Whereupon
the two men had desisted from their farce, had sprung at one another's
throats, their faces livid with hate, and were now rolling over and over
behind a set of side lights, pounding away at each other as though they
weren't breakable.

"Monsieur Bordenave, Monsieur Bordenave!" said the stage manager, coming
up in a terrible flutter.

Bordenave made his excuses to the prince and followed him. When he
recognized Fauchery and Mignon in the men on the floor he gave vent to
an expression of annoyance. They had chosen a nice time, certainly, with
His Highness on the other side of the scenery and all that houseful of
people who might have overheard the row! To make matters worse, Rose
Mignon arrived out of breath at the very moment she was due on the
stage. Vulcan, indeed, was giving her the cue, but Rose stood rooted to
the ground, marveling at sight of her husband and her lover as they lay
wallowing at her feet, strangling one another, kicking, tearing their
hair out and whitening their coats with dust. They barred the way. A
sceneshifter had even stopped Fauchery's hat just when the devilish
thing was going to bound onto the stage in the middle of the struggle.
Meanwhile Vulcan, who had been gagging away to amuse the audience, gave
Rose her cue a second time. But she stood motionless, still gazing at
the two men.

"Oh, don't look at THEM!" Bordenave furiously whispered to her. "Go on
the stage; go on, do! It's no business of yours! Why, you're missing
your cue!"

And with a push from the manager, Rose stepped over the prostrate bodies
and found herself in the flare of the footlights and in the presence of
the audience. She had quite failed to understand why they were fighting
on the floor behind her. Trembling from head to foot and with a humming
in her ears, she came down to the footlights, Diana's sweet, amorous
smile on her lips, and attacked the opening lines of her duet with so
feeling a voice that the public gave her a veritable ovation.

Behind the scenery she could hear the dull thuds caused by the two men.
They had rolled down to the wings, but fortunately the music covered the
noise made by their feet as they kicked against them.

"By God!" yelled Bordenave in exasperation when at last he had succeeded
in separating them. "Why couldn't you fight at home? You know as well as
I do that I don't like this sort of thing. You, Mignon, you'll do me the
pleasure of staying over here on the prompt side, and you, Fauchery,
if you leave the O.P. side I'll chuck you out of the theater. You
understand, eh? Prompt side and O.P. side or I forbid Rose to bring you
here at all."

When he returned to the prince's presence the latter asked what was the
matter.

"Oh, nothing at all," he murmured quietly.

Nana was standing wrapped in furs, talking to these gentlemen while
awaiting her cue. As Count Muffat was coming up in order to peep between
two of the wings at the stage, he understood from a sign made him by the
stage manager that he was to step softly. Drowsy warmth was streaming
down from the flies, and in the wings, which were lit by vivid patches
of light, only a few people remained, talking in low voices or making
off on tiptoe. The gasman was at his post amid an intricate arrangement
of cocks; a fireman, leaning against the side lights, was craning
forward, trying to catch a glimpse of things, while on his seat, high
up, the curtain man was watching with resigned expression, careless of
the play, constantly on the alert for the bell to ring him to his duty
among the ropes. And amid the close air and the shuffling of feet and
the sound of whispering, the voices of the actors on the stage sounded
strange, deadened, surprisingly discordant. Farther off again, above the
confused noises of the band, a vast breathing sound was audible. It was
the breath of the house, which sometimes swelled up till it burst in
vague rumors, in laughter, in applause. Though invisible, the presence
of the public could be felt, even in the silences.

"There's something open," said Nana sharply, and with that she tightened
the folds of her fur cloak. "Do look, Barillot. I bet they've just
opened a window. Why, one might catch one's death of cold here!"

Barillot swore that he had closed every window himself but suggested
that possibly there were broken panes about. The actors were always
complaining of drafts. Through the heavy warmth of that gaslit region
blasts of cold air were constantly passing--it was a regular influenza
trap, as Fontan phrased it.

"I should like to see YOU in a low-cut dress," continued Nana, growing
annoyed.

"Hush!" murmured Bordenave.

On the stage Rose rendered a phrase in her duet so cleverly that the
stalls burst into universal applause. Nana was silent at this, and her
face grew grave. Meanwhile the count was venturing down a passage when
Barillot stopped him and said he would make a discovery there. Indeed,
he obtained an oblique back view of the scenery and of the wings which
had been strengthened, as it were, by a thick layer of old posters. Then
he caught sight of a corner of the stage, of the Etna cave hollowed
out in a silver mine and of Vulcan's forge in the background. Battens,
lowered from above, lit up a sparkling substance which had been laid on
with large dabs of the brush. Side lights with red glasses and blue were
so placed as to produce the appearance of a fiery brazier, while on the
floor of the stage, in the far background, long lines of gaslight had
been laid down in order to throw a wall of dark rocks into sharp relief.
Hard by on a gentle, "practicable" incline, amid little points of light
resembling the illumination lamps scattered about in the grass on the
night of a public holiday, old Mme Drouard, who played Juno, was sitting
dazed and sleepy, waiting for her cue.

Presently there was a commotion, for Simonne, while listening to a story
Clarisse was telling her, cried out:

"My! It's the Tricon!"

It was indeed the Tricon, wearing the same old curls and looking as like
a litigious great lady as ever.

When she saw Nana she went straight up to her.

"No," said the latter after some rapid phrases had been exchanged, "not
now." The old lady looked grave. Just then Prulliere passed by and shook
hands with her, while two little chorus girls stood gazing at her with
looks of deep emotion. For a moment she seemed to hesitate. Then she
beckoned to Simonne, and the rapid exchange of sentences began again.

"Yes," said Simonne at last. "In half an hour."

But as she was going upstairs again to her dressing room, Mme Bron,
who was once more going the rounds with letters, presented one to her.
Bordenave lowered his voice and furiously reproached the portress for
having allowed the Tricon to come in. That woman! And on such an evening
of all others! It made him so angry because His Highness was there! Mme
Bron, who had been thirty years in the theater, replied quite sourly.
How was she to know? she asked. The Tricon did business with all the
ladies--M. le Directeur had met her a score of times without making
remarks. And while Bordenave was muttering oaths the Tricon stood
quietly by, scrutinizing the prince as became a woman who weighs a man
at a glance. A smile lit up her yellow face. Presently she paced slowly
off through the crowd of deeply deferential little women.

"Immediately, eh?" she queried, turning round again to Simonne.

Simonne seemed much worried. The letter was from a young man to whom she
had engaged herself for that evening. She gave Mme Bron a scribbled note
in which were the words, "Impossible tonight, darling--I'm booked." But
she was still apprehensive; the young man might possibly wait for her in
spite of everything. As she was not playing in the third act, she had a
mind to be off at once and accordingly begged Clarisse to go and see if
the man were there. Clarisse was only due on the stage toward the end of
the act, and so she went downstairs while Simonne ran up for a minute to
their common dressing room.

In Mme Bron's drinking bar downstairs a super, who was charged with the
part of Pluto, was drinking in solitude amid the folds of a great red
robe diapered with golden flames. The little business plied by the good
portress must have been progressing finely, for the cellarlike hole
under the stairs was wet with emptied heeltaps and water. Clarisse
picked up the tunic of Iris, which was dragging over the greasy steps
behind her, but she halted prudently at the turn in the stairs and was
content simply to crane forward and peer into the lodge. She certainly
had been quick to scent things out! Just fancy! That idiot La Faloise
was still there, sitting on the same old chair between the table and the
stove! He had made pretense of sneaking off in front of Simonne and
had returned after her departure. For the matter of that, the lodge was
still full of gentlemen who sat there gloved, elegant, submissive and
patient as ever. They were all waiting and viewing each other gravely
as they waited. On the table there were now only some dirty plates,
Mme Bron having recently distributed the last of the bouquets. A single
fallen rose was withering on the floor in the neighborhood of the black
cat, who had lain down and curled herself up while the kittens ran wild
races and danced fierce gallops among the gentlemen's legs. Clarisse was
momentarily inclined to turn La Faloise out. The idiot wasn't fond of
animals, and that put the finishing touch to him! He was busy drawing in
his legs because the cat was there, and he didn't want to touch her.

"He'll nip you; take care!" said Pluto, who was a joker, as he went
upstairs, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

After that Clarisse gave up the idea of hauling La Faloise over the
coals. She had seen Mme Bron giving the letter to Simonne's young
man, and he had gone out to read it under the gas light in the lobby.
"Impossible tonight, darling--I'm booked." And with that he had
peaceably departed, as one who was doubtless used to the formula. He,
at any rate, knew how to conduct himself! Not so the others, the fellows
who sat there doggedly on Mme Bron's battered straw-bottomed chairs
under the great glazed lantern, where the heat was enough to roast you
and there was an unpleasant odor. What a lot of men it must have held!
Clarisse went upstairs again in disgust, crossed over behind scenes and
nimbly mounted three flights of steps which led to the dressing rooms,
in order to bring Simonne her reply.

Downstairs the prince had withdrawn from the rest and stood talking to
Nana. He never left her; he stood brooding over her through half-shut
eyelids. Nana did not look at him but, smiling, nodded yes. Suddenly,
however, Count Muffat obeyed an overmastering impulse, and leaving
Bordenave, who was explaining to him the working of the rollers and
windlasses, he came up in order to interrupt their confabulations. Nana
lifted her eyes and smiled at him as she smiled at His Highness. But she
kept her ears open notwithstanding, for she was waiting for her cue.

"The third act is the shortest, I believe," the prince began saying, for
the count's presence embarrassed him.

She did not answer; her whole expression altered; she was suddenly
intent on her business. With a rapid movement of the shoulders she had
let her furs slip from her, and Mme Jules, standing behind, had caught
them in her arms. And then after passing her two hands to her hair as
though to make it fast, she went on the stage in all her nudity.

"Hush, hush!" whispered Bordenave.

The count and the prince had been taken by surprise. There was profound
silence, and then a deep sigh and the far-off murmur of a multitude
became audible. Every evening when Venus entered in her godlike
nakedness the same effect was produced. Then Muffat was seized with
a desire to see; he put his eye to the peephole. Above and beyond the
glowing arc formed by the footlights the dark body of the house seemed
full of ruddy vapor, and against this neutral-tinted background, where
row upon row of faces struck a pale, uncertain note, Nana stood forth
white and vast, so that the boxes from the balcony to the flies were
blotted from view. He saw her from behind, noted her swelling hips, her
outstretched arms, while down on the floor, on the same level as her
feet, the prompter's head--an old man's head with a humble, honest
face--stood on the edge of the stage, looking as though it had been
severed from the body. At certain points in her opening number an
undulating movement seemed to run from her neck to her waist and to die
out in the trailing border of her tunic. When amid a tempest of applause
she had sung her last note she bowed, and the gauze floated forth round
about her limbs, and her hair swept over her waist as she bent sharply
backward. And seeing her thus, as with bending form and with exaggerated
hips she came backing toward the count's peephole, he stood upright
again, and his face was very white. The stage had disappeared, and he
now saw only the reverse side of the scenery with its display of old
posters pasted up in every direction. On the practicable slope, among
the lines of gas jets, the whole of Olympus had rejoined the dozing Mme
Drouard. They were waiting for the close of the act. Bosc and Fontan
sat on the floor with their knees drawn up to their chins, and Prulliere
stretched himself and yawned before going on. Everybody was worn out;
their eyes were red, and they were longing to go home to sleep.

Just then Fauchery, who had been prowling about on the O.P. side ever
since Bordenave had forbidden him the other, came and buttonholed the
count in order to keep himself in countenance and offered at the same
time to show him the dressing rooms. An increasing sense of languor had
left Muffat without any power of resistance, and after looking round for
the Marquis de Chouard, who had disappeared, he ended by following the
journalist. He experienced a mingled feeling of relief and anxiety as he
left the wings whence he had been listening to Nana's songs.

Fauchery had already preceded him up the staircase, which was closed on
the first and second floors by low-paneled doors. It was one of those
stairways which you find in miserable tenements. Count Muffat had seen
many such during his rounds as member of the Benevolent Organization. It
was bare and dilapidated: there was a wash of yellow paint on its walls;
its steps had been worn by the incessant passage of feet, and its iron
balustrade had grown smooth under the friction of many hands. On a level
with the floor on every stairhead there was a low window which resembled
a deep, square venthole, while in lanterns fastened to the walls flaring
gas jets crudely illuminated the surrounding squalor and gave out a
glowing heat which, as it mounted up the narrow stairwell, grew ever
more intense.

When he reached the foot of the stairs the count once more felt the hot
breath upon his neck and shoulders. As of old it was laden with the odor
of women, wafted amid floods of light and sound from the dressing rooms
above, and now with every upward step he took the musky scent of powders
and the tart perfume of toilet vinegars heated and bewildered him more
and more. On the first floor two corridors ran backward, branching
sharply off and presenting a set of doors to view which were painted
yellow and numbered with great white numerals in such a way as to
suggest a hotel with a bad reputation. The tiles on the floor had been
many of them unbedded, and the old house being in a state of subsidence,
they stuck up like hummocks. The count dashed recklessly forward,
glanced through a half-open door and saw a very dirty room which
resembled a barber's shop in a poor part of the town. In was furnished
with two chairs, a mirror and a small table containing a drawer which
had been blackened by the grease from brushes and combs. A great
perspiring fellow with smoking shoulders was changing his linen there,
while in a similar room next door a woman was drawing on her gloves
preparatory to departure. Her hair was damp and out of curl, as though
she had just had a bath. But Fauchery began calling the count, and the
latter was rushing up without delay when a furious "damn!" burst from
the corridor on the right. Mathilde, a little drab of a miss, had just
broken her washhand basin, the soapy water from which was flowing out to
the stairhead. A dressing room door banged noisily. Two women in their
stays skipped across the passage, and another, with the hem of her shift
in her mouth, appeared and immediately vanished from view. Then followed
a sound of laughter, a dispute, the snatch of a song which was suddenly
broken off short. All along the passage naked gleams, sudden visions
of white skin and wan underlinen were observable through chinks in
doorways. Two girls were making very merry, showing each other their
birthmarks. One of them, a very young girl, almost a child, had drawn
her skirts up over her knees in order to sew up a rent in her drawers,
and the dressers, catching sight of the two men, drew some curtains half
to for decency's sake. The wild stampede which follows the end of a
play had already begun, the grand removal of white paint and rouge, the
reassumption amid clouds of rice powder of ordinary attire. The strange
animal scent came in whiffs of redoubled intensity through the lines
of banging doors. On the third story Muffat abandoned himself to the
feeling of intoxication which was overpowering him. For the chorus
girls' dressing room was there, and you saw a crowd of twenty women
and a wild display of soaps and flasks of lavender water. The place
resembled the common room in a slum lodging house. As he passed by he
heard fierce sounds of washing behind a closed door and a perfect storm
raging in a washhand basin. And as he was mounting up to the topmost
story of all, curiosity led him to risk one more little peep through
an open loophole. The room was empty, and under the flare of the gas a
solitary chamber pot stood forgotten among a heap of petticoats trailing
on the floor. This room afforded him his ultimate impression. Upstairs
on the fourth floor he was well-nigh suffocated. All the scents, all the
blasts of heat, had found their goal there. The yellow ceiling looked
as if it had been baked, and a lamp burned amid fumes of russet-colored
fog. For some seconds he leaned upon the iron balustrade which felt warm
and damp and well-nigh human to the touch. And he shut his eyes and drew
a long breath and drank in the sexual atmosphere of the place. Hitherto
he had been utterly ignorant of it, but now it beat full in his face.

"Do come here," shouted Fauchery, who had vanished some moments ago.
"You're being asked for."

At the end of the corridor was the dressing room belonging to Clarisse
and Simonne. It was a long, ill-built room under the roof with a garret
ceiling and sloping walls. The light penetrated to it from two deep-set
openings high up in the wall, but at that hour of the night the dressing
room was lit by flaring gas. It was papered with a paper at seven sous a
roll with a pattern of roses twining over green trelliswork. Two boards,
placed near one another and covered with oilcloth, did duty for dressing
tables. They were black with spilled water, and underneath them was
a fine medley of dinted zinc jugs, slop pails and coarse yellow
earthenware crocks. There was an array of fancy articles in the room--a
battered, soiled and well-worn array of chipped basins, of toothless
combs, of all those manifold untidy trifles which, in their hurry and
carelessness, two women will leave scattered about when they undress and
wash together amid purely temporary surroundings, the dirty aspect of
which has ceased to concern them.

"Do come here," Fauchery repeated with the good-humored familiarity
which men adopt among their fallen sisters. "Clarisse is wanting to kiss
you."

Muffat entered the room at last. But what was his surprise when he found
the Marquis de Chouard snugly enscounced on a chair between the two
dressing tables! The marquis had withdrawn thither some time ago. He
was spreading his feet apart because a pail was leaking and letting a
whitish flood spread over the floor. He was visibly much at his ease, as
became a man who knew all the snug corners, and had grown quite merry in
the close dressing room, where people might have been bathing, and amid
those quietly immodest feminine surroundings which the uncleanness of
the little place rendered at once natural and poignant.

"D'you go with the old boy?" Simonne asked Clarisse in a whisper.

"Rather!" replied the latter aloud.

The dresser, a very ugly and extremely familiar young girl, who was
helping Simonne into her coat, positively writhed with laughter. The
three pushed each other and babbled little phrases which redoubled their
merriment.

"Come, Clarisse, kiss the gentleman," said Fauchery. "You know, he's got
the rhino."

And turning to the count:

"You'll see, she's very nice! She's going to kiss you!"

But Clarisse was disgusted by the men. She spoke in violent terms of the
dirty lot waiting at the porter's lodge down below. Besides, she was
in a hurry to go downstairs again; they were making her miss her last
scene. Then as Fauchery blocked up the doorway, she gave Muffat a couple
of kisses on the whiskers, remarking as she did so:

"It's not for you, at any rate! It's for that nuisance Fauchery!"

And with that she darted off, and the count remained much embarrassed
in his father-in-law's presence. The blood had rushed to his face. In
Nana's dressing room, amid all the luxury of hangings and mirrors, he
had not experienced the sharp physical sensation which the shameful
wretchedness of that sorry garret excited within him, redolent as it was
of these two girls' self-abandonment. Meanwhile the marquis had hurried
in the rear of Simonne, who was making off at the top of her pace,
and he kept whispering in her ear while she shook her head in token of
refusal. Fauchery followed them, laughing. And with that the count
found himself alone with the dresser, who was washing out the basins.
Accordingly he took his departure, too, his legs almost failing under
him. Once more he put up flights of half-dressed women and caused doors
to bang as he advanced. But amid the disorderly, disbanded troops of
girls to be found on each of the four stories, he was only distinctly
aware of a cat, a great tortoise-shell cat, which went gliding upstairs
through the ovenlike place where the air was poisoned with musk, rubbing
its back against the banisters and keeping its tail exceedingly erect.

"Yes, to be sure!" said a woman hoarsely. "I thought they'd keep us back
tonight! What a nuisance they are with their calls!"

The end had come; the curtain had just fallen. There was a veritable
stampede on the staircase--its walls rang with exclamations, and
everyone was in a savage hurry to dress and be off. As Count Muffat
came down the last step or two he saw Nana and the prince passing slowly
along the passage. The young woman halted and lowered her voice as she
said with a smile:

"All right then--by and by!"

The prince returned to the stage, where Bordenave was awaiting him. And
left alone with Nana, Muffat gave way to an impulse of anger and desire.
He ran up behind her and, as she was on the point of entering her
dressing room, imprinted a rough kiss on her neck among little golden
hairs curling low down between her shoulders. It was as though he had
returned the kiss that had been given him upstairs. Nana was in a fury;
she lifted her hand, but when she recognized the count she smiled.

"Oh, you frightened me," she said simply.

And her smile was adorable in its embarrassment and submissiveness, as
though she had despaired of this kiss and were happy to have received
it. But she could do nothing for him either that evening or the day
after. It was a case of waiting. Nay, even if it had been in her power
she would still have let herself be desired. Her glance said as much. At
length she continued:

"I'm a landowner, you know. Yes, I'm buying a country house near
Orleans, in a part of the world to which you sometimes betake yourself.
Baby told me you did--little Georges Hugon, I mean. You know him? So
come and see me down there."

The count was a shy man, and the thought of his roughness had frightened
him; he was ashamed of what he had done and he bowed ceremoniously,
promising at the same time to take advantage of her invitation. Then he
walked off as one who dreams.

He was rejoining the prince when, passing in front of the foyer, he
heard Satin screaming out:

"Oh, the dirty old thing! Just you bloody well leave me alone!"

It was the Marquis de Chouard who was tumbling down over Satin. The girl
had decidedly had enough of the fashionable world! Nana had certainly
introduced her to Bordenave, but the necessity of standing with sealed
lips for fear of allowing some awkward phrase to escape her had been too
much for her feelings, and now she was anxious to regain her freedom,
the more so as she had run against an old flame of hers in the wings.
This was the super, to whom the task of impersonating Pluto had been
entrusted, a pastry cook, who had already treated her to a whole week
of love and flagellation. She was waiting for him, much irritated at the
things the marquis was saying to her, as though she were one of those
theatrical ladies! And so at last she assumed a highly respectable
expression and jerked out this phrase:

"My husband's coming! You'll see."

Meanwhile the worn-looking artistes were dropping off one after the
other in their outdoor coats. Groups of men and women were coming down
the little winding staircase, and the outlines of battered hats and
worn-out shawls were visible in the shadows. They looked colorless and
unlovely, as became poor play actors who have got rid of their paint.
On the stage, where the side lights and battens were being extinguished,
the prince was listening to an anecdote Bordenave was telling him. He
was waiting for Nana, and when at length she made her appearance the
stage was dark, and the fireman on duty was finishing his round, lantern
in hand. Bordenave, in order to save His Highness going about by the
Passage des Panoramas, had made them open the corridor which led from
the porter's lodge to the entrance hall of the theater. Along this
narrow alley little women were racing pell-mell, for they were delighted
to escape from the men who were waiting for them in the other passage.
They went jostling and elbowing along, casting apprehensive glances
behind them and only breathing freely when they got outside. Fontan,
Bosc and Prulliere, on the other hand, retired at a leisurely pace,
joking at the figure cut by the serious, paying admirers who were
striding up and down the Galerie des Varietes at a time when the little
dears were escaping along the boulevard with the men of their hearts.
But Clarisse was especially sly. She had her suspicions about La
Faloise, and, as a matter of fact, he was still in his place in the
lodge among the gentlemen obstinately waiting on Mme Bron's chairs. They
all stretched forward, and with that she passed brazenly by in the wake
of a friend. The gentlemen were blinking in bewilderment over the wild
whirl of petticoats eddying at the foot of the narrow stairs. It made
them desperate to think they had waited so long, only to see them all
flying away like this without being able to recognize a single one.
The litter of little black cats were sleeping on the oilcloth, nestled
against their mother's belly, and the latter was stretching her paws
out in a state of beatitude while the big tortoise-shell cat sat at the
other end of the table, her tail stretched out behind her and her yellow
eyes solemnly following the flight of the women.

"If His Highness will be good enough to come this way," said Bordenave
at the bottom of the stairs, and he pointed to the passage.

Some chorus girls were still crowding along it. The prince began
following Nana while Muffat and the marquis walked behind.

It was a long, narrow passage lying between the theater and the house
next door, a kind of contracted by-lane which had been covered with a
sloping glass roof. Damp oozed from the walls, and the footfall sounded
as hollow on the tiled floor as in an underground vault. It was
crowded with the kind of rubbish usually found in a garret. There was
a workbench on which the porter was wont to plane such parts of the
scenery as required it, besides a pile of wooden barriers which at night
were placed at the doors of the theater for the purpose of regulating
the incoming stream of people. Nana had to pick up her dress as she
passed a hydrant which, through having been carelessly turned off, was
flooding the tiles underfoot. In the entrance hall the company bowed and
said good-by. And when Bordenave was alone he summed up his opinion of
the prince in a shrug of eminently philosophic disdain.

"He's a bit of a duffer all the same," he said to Fauchery without
entering on further explanations, and with that Rose Mignon carried
the journalist off with her husband in order to effect a reconciliation
between them at home.

Muffat was left alone on the sidewalk. His Highness had handed Nana
quietly into his carriage, and the marquis had slipped off after Satin
and her super. In his excitement he was content to follow this vicious
pair in vague hopes of some stray favor being granted him. Then with
brain on fire Muffat decided to walk home. The struggle within him had
wholly ceased. The ideas and beliefs of the last forty years were
being drowned in a flood of new life. While he was passing along the
boulevards the roll of the last carriages deafened him with the name
of Nana; the gaslights set nude limbs dancing before his eyes--the nude
limbs, the lithe arms, the white shoulders, of Nana. And he felt that he
was hers utterly: he would have abjured everything, sold everything, to
possess her for a single hour that very night. Youth, a lustful puberty
of early manhood, was stirring within him at last, flaming up suddenly
in the chaste heart of the Catholic and amid the dignified traditions of
middle age.



CHAPTER VI


Count Muffat, accompanied by his wife and daughter, had arrived
overnight at Les Fondettes, where Mme Hugon, who was staying there with
only her son Georges, had invited them to come and spend a week. The
house, which had been built at the end of the eighteenth century, stood
in the middle of a huge square enclosure. It was perfectly unadorned,
but the garden possessed magnificent shady trees and a chain of tanks
fed by running spring water. It stood at the side of the road which
leads from Orleans to Paris and with its rich verdure and high-embowered
trees broke the monotony of that flat countryside, where fields
stretched to the horizon's verge.

At eleven o'clock, when the second lunch bell had called the whole
household together, Mme Hugon, smiling in her kindly maternal way, gave
Sabine two great kisses, one on each cheek, and said as she did so:

"You know it's my custom in the country. Oh, seeing you here makes me
feel twenty years younger. Did you sleep well in your old room?"

Then without waiting for her reply she turned to Estelle:

"And this little one, has she had a nap too? Give me a kiss, my child."

They had taken their seats in the vast dining room, the windows of
which looked out on the park. But they only occupied one end of the
long table, where they sat somewhat crowded together for company's sake.
Sabine, in high good spirits, dwelt on various childish memories
which had been stirred up within her--memories of months passed at Les
Fondettes, of long walks, of a tumble into one of the tanks on a summer
evening, of an old romance of chivalry discovered by her on the top of a
cupboard and read during the winter before fires made of vine branches.
And Georges, who had not seen the countess for some months, thought
there was something curious about her. Her face seemed changed,
somehow, while, on the other hand, that stick of an Estelle seemed more
insignificant and dumb and awkward than ever.

While such simple fare as cutlets and boiled eggs was being discussed by
the company, Mme Hugon, as became a good housekeeper, launched out into
complaints. The butchers, she said, were becoming impossible. She bought
everything at Orleans, and yet they never brought her the pieces she
asked for. Yet, alas, if her guests had nothing worth eating it was
their own fault: they had come too late in the season.

"There's no sense in it," she said. "I've been expecting you since June,
and now we're half through September. You see, it doesn't look pretty."

And with a movement she pointed to the trees on the grass outside, the
leaves of which were beginning to turn yellow. The day was covered, and
the distance was hidden by a bluish haze which was fraught with a sweet
and melancholy peacefulness.

"Oh, I'm expecting company," she continued. "We shall be gayer then! The
first to come will be two gentlemen whom Georges has invited--Monsieur
Fauchery and Monsieur Daguenet; you know them, do you not? Then we shall
have Monsieur de Vandeuvres, who has promised me a visit these five
years past. This time, perhaps, he'll make up his mind!"

"Oh, well and good!" said the countess, laughing. "If we only can get
Monsieur de Vandeuvres! But he's too much engaged."

"And Philippe?" queried Muffat.

"Philippe has asked for a furlough," replied the old lady, "but without
doubt you won't be at Les Fondettes any longer when he arrives."

The coffee was served. Paris was now the subject of conversation, and
Steiner's name was mentioned, at which Mme Hugon gave a little cry.

"Let me see," she said; "Monsieur Steiner is that stout man I met
at your house one evening. He's a banker, is he not? Now there's a
detestable man for you! Why, he's gone and bought an actress an estate
about a league from here, over Gumieres way, beyond the Choue. The whole
countryside's scandalized. Did you know about that, my friend?"

"I knew nothing about it," replied Muffat. "Ah, then, Steiner's bought a
country place in the neighborhood!"

Hearing his mother broach the subject, Georges looked into his coffee
cup, but in his astonishment at the count's answer he glanced up at him
and stared. Why was he lying so glibly? The count, on his side, noticed
the young fellow's movement and gave him a suspicious glance. Mme Hugon
continued to go into details: the country place was called La Mignotte.
In order to get there one had to go up the bank of the Choue as far as
Gumieres in order to cross the bridge; otherwise one got one's feet wet
and ran the risk of a ducking.

"And what is the actress's name?" asked the countess.

"Oh, I wasn't told," murmured the old lady. "Georges, you were there the
morning the gardener spoke to us about it."

Georges appeared to rack his brains. Muffat waited, twirling a teaspoon
between his fingers. Then the countess addressed her husband:

"Isn't Monsieur Steiner with that singer at the Varietes, that Nana?"

"Nana, that's the name! A horrible woman!" cried Mme Hugon with growing
annoyance. "And they are expecting her at La Mignotte. I've heard all
about it from the gardener. Didn't the gardener say they were expecting
her this evening, Georges?"

The count gave a little start of astonishment, but Georges replied with
much vivacity:

"Oh, Mother, the gardener spoke without knowing anything about it.
Directly afterward the coachman said just the opposite. Nobody's
expected at La Mignotte before the day after tomorrow."

He tried hard to assume a natural expression while he slyly watched the
effect of his remarks on the count. The latter was twirling his spoon
again as though reassured. The countess, her eyes fixed dreamily on
the blue distances of the park, seemed to have lost all interest in
the conversation. The shadow of a smile on her lips, she seemed to be
following up a secret thought which had been suddenly awakened within
her. Estelle, on the other hand, sitting stiffly on her chair, had heard
all that had been said about Nana, but her white, virginal face had not
betrayed a trace of emotion.

"Dear me, dear me! I've got no right to grow angry," murmured Mme Hugon
after a pause, and with a return to her old good humor she added:

"Everybody's got a right to live. If we meet this said lady on the road
we shall not bow to her--that's all!"

And as they got up from table she once more gently upbraided the
Countess Sabine for having been so long in coming to her that year. But
the countess defended herself and threw the blame of the delays upon her
husband's shoulders. Twice on the eve of departure, when all the trunks
were locked, he counterordered their journey on the plea of urgent
business. Then he had suddenly decided to start just when the trip
seemed shelved. Thereupon the old lady told them how Georges in the same
way had twice announced his arrival without arriving and had finally
cropped up at Les Fondettes the day before yesterday, when she was no
longer expecting him. They had come down into the garden, and the two
men, walking beside the ladies, were listening to them in consequential
silence.

"Never mind," said Mme Hugon, kissing her son's sunny locks, "Zizi is a
very good boy to come and bury himself in the country with his mother.
He's a dear Zizi not to forget me!"

In the afternoon she expressed some anxiety, for Georges, directly after
leaving the table, had complained of a heavy feeling in his head and now
seemed in for an atrocious sick headache. Toward four o'clock he said
he would go upstairs to bed: it was the only remedy. After sleeping till
tomorrow morning he would be perfectly himself again. His mother was
bent on putting him to bed herself, but as she left the room he ran and
locked the door, explaining that he was shutting himself in so that
no one should come and disturb him. Then caressingly he shouted, "Good
night till tomorrow, little Mother!" and promised to take a nap. But
he did not go to bed again and with flushed cheeks and bright eyes
noiselessly put on his clothes. Then he sat on a chair and waited. When
the dinner bell rang he listened for Count Muffat, who was on his way to
the dining room, and ten minutes later, when he was certain that no
one would see him, he slipped from the window to the ground with the
assistance of a rain pipe. His bedroom was situated on the first floor
and looked out upon the rear of the house. He threw himself among some
bushes and got out of the park and then galloped across the fields with
empty stomach and heart beating with excitement. Night was closing in,
and a small fine rain was beginning to fall.

It was the very evening that Nana was due at La Mignotte. Ever since in
the preceding May Steiner had bought her this country place she had from
time to time been so filled with the desire of taking possession that
she had wept hot tears about, but on each of these occasions Bordenave
had refused to give her even the shortest leave and had deferred her
holiday till September on the plea that he did not intend putting an
understudy in her place, even for one evening, now that the exhibition
was on. Toward the close of August he spoke of October. Nana was
furious and declared that she would be at La Mignotte in the middle of
September. Nay, in order to dare Bordenave, she even invited a crowd
of guests in his very presence. One afternoon in her rooms, as Muffat,
whose advances she still adroitly resisted, was beseeching her with
tremulous emotion to yield to his entreaties, she at length promised
to be kind, but not in Paris, and to him, too, she named the middle
of September. Then on the twelfth she was seized by a desire to be off
forthwith with Zoe as her sole companion. It might be that Bordenave
had got wind of her intentions and was about to discover some means of
detaining her. She was delighted at the notion of putting him in a fix,
and she sent him a doctor's certificate. When once the idea had entered
her head of being the first to get to La Mignotte and of living there
two days without anybody knowing anything about it, she rushed Zoe
through the operation of packing and finally pushed her into a cab,
where in a sudden burst of extreme contrition she kissed her and begged
her pardon. It was only when they got to the station refreshment room
that she thought of writing Steiner of her movements. She begged him to
wait till the day after tomorrow before rejoining her if he wanted to
find her quite bright and fresh. And then, suddenly conceiving another
project, she wrote a second letter, in which she besought her aunt to
bring little Louis to her at once. It would do Baby so much good! And
how happy they would be together in the shade of the trees! In the
railway carriage between Paris and Orleans she spoke of nothing else;
her eyes were full of tears; she had an unexpected attack of maternal
tenderness and mingled together flowers, birds and child in her every
sentence.

La Mignotte was more than three leagues away from the station, and
Nana lost a good hour over the hire of a carriage, a huge, dilapidated
calash, which rumbled slowly along to an accompaniment of rattling
old iron. She had at once taken possession of the coachman, a little
taciturn old man whom she overwhelmed with questions. Had he often
passed by La Mignotte? It was behind this hill then? There ought to be
lots of trees there, eh? And the house could one see it at a distance?
The little old man answered with a succession of grunts. Down in the
calash Nana was almost dancing with impatience, while Zoe, in her
annoyance at having left Paris in such a hurry, sat stiffly sulking
beside her. The horse suddenly stopped short, and the young woman
thought they had reached their destination. She put her head out of the
carriage door and asked:

"Are we there, eh?"

By way of answer the driver whipped up his horse, which was in the act
of painfully climbing a hill. Nana gazed ecstatically at the vast plain
beneath the gray sky where great clouds were banked up.

"Oh, do look, Zoe! There's greenery! Now, is that all wheat? Good lord,
how pretty it is!"

"One can quite see that Madame doesn't come from the country," was the
servant's prim and tardy rejoinder. "As for me, I knew the country only
too well when I was with my dentist. He had a house at Bougival. No,
it's cold, too, this evening. It's damp in these parts."

They were driving under the shadow of a wood, and Nana sniffed up the
scent of the leaves as a young dog might. All of a sudden at a turn
of the road she caught sight of the corner of a house among the trees.
Perhaps it was there! And with that she began a conversation with the
driver, who continued shaking his head by way of saying no. Then as they
drove down the other side of the hill he contented himself by holding
out his whip and muttering, "'Tis down there."

She got up and stretched herself almost bodily out of the carriage door.

"Where is it? Where is it?" she cried with pale cheeks, but as yet she
saw nothing.

At last she caught sight of a bit of wall. And then followed a
succession of little cries and jumps, the ecstatic behavior of a woman
overcome by a new and vivid sensation.

"I see it! I see it, Zoe! Look out at the other side. Oh, there's a
terrace with brick ornaments on the roof! And there's a hothouse down
there! But the place is immense. Oh, how happy I am! Do look, Zoe! Now,
do look!"

The carriage had by this time pulled up before the park gates. A
side door was opened, and the gardener, a tall, dry fellow, made his
appearance, cap in hand. Nana made an effort to regain her dignity,
for the driver seemed now to be suppressing a laugh behind his dry,
speechless lips. She refrained from setting off at a run and listened
to the gardener, who was a very talkative fellow. He begged Madame to
excuse the disorder in which she found everything, seeing that he had
only received Madame's letter that very morning. But despite all his
efforts, she flew off at a tangent and walked so quickly that Zoe could
scarcely follow her. At the end of the avenue she paused for a moment
in order to take the house in at a glance. It was a great pavilion-like
building in the Italian manner, and it was flanked by a smaller
construction, which a rich Englishman, after two years' residence in
Naples, had caused to be erected and had forthwith become disgusted
with.

"I'll take Madame over the house," said the gardener.

But she had outrun him entirely, and she shouted back that he was not
to put himself out and that she would go over the house by herself. She
preferred doing that, she said. And without removing her hat she dashed
into the different rooms, calling to Zoe as she did so, shouting her
impressions from one end of each corridor to the other and filling
the empty house, which for long months had been uninhabited, with
exclamations and bursts of laughter. In the first place, there was the
hall. It was a little damp, but that didn't matter; one wasn't going to
sleep in it. Then came the drawing room, quite the thing, the drawing
room, with its windows opening on the lawn. Only the red upholsteries
there were hideous; she would alter all that. As to the dining
room-well, it was a lovely dining room, eh? What big blowouts you might
give in Paris if you had a dining room as large as that! As she was
going upstairs to the first floor it occurred to her that she had not
seen the kitchen, and she went down again and indulged in ecstatic
exclamations. Zoe ought to admire the beautiful dimensions of the sink
and the width of the hearth, where you might have roasted a sheep! When
she had gone upstairs again her bedroom especially enchanted her. It had
been hung with delicate rose-colored Louis XVI cretonne by an Orleans
upholsterer. Dear me, yes! One ought to sleep jolly sound in such a room
as that; why, it was a real best bedroom! Then came four or five guest
chambers and then some splendid garrets, which would be extremely
convenient for trunks and boxes. Zoe looked very gruff and cast a frigid
glance into each of the rooms as she lingered in Madame's wake. She
saw Nana disappearing up the steep garret ladder and said, "Thanks,
I haven't the least wish to break my legs." But the sound of a voice
reached her from far away; indeed, it seemed to come whistling down a
chimney.

"Zoe, Zoe, where are you? Come up, do! You've no idea! It's like
fairyland!"

Zoe went up, grumbling. On the roof she found her mistress leaning
against the brickwork balustrade and gazing at the valley which spread
out into the silence. The horizon was immeasurably wide, but it was now
covered by masses of gray vapor, and a fierce wind was driving fine rain
before it. Nana had to hold her hat on with both hands to keep it from
being blown away while her petticoats streamed out behind her, flapping
like a flag.

"Not if I know it!" said Zoe, drawing her head in at once. "Madame will
be blown away. What beastly weather!"

Madame did not hear what she said. With her head over the balustrade
she was gazing at the grounds beneath. They consisted of seven or eight
acres of land enclosed within a wall. Then the view of the kitchen
garden entirely engrossed her attention. She darted back, jostling the
lady's maid at the top of the stairs and bursting out:

"It's full of cabbages! Oh, such woppers! And lettuces and sorrel and
onions and everything! Come along, make haste!"

The rain was falling more heavily now, and she opened her white silk
sunshade and ran down the garden walks.

"Madame will catch cold," cried Zoe, who had stayed quietly behind under
the awning over the garden door.

But Madame wanted to see things, and at each new discovery there was a
burst of wonderment.

"Zoe, here's spinach! Do come. Oh, look at the artichokes! They are
funny. So they grow in the ground, do they? Now, what can that be? I
don't know it. Do come, Zoe, perhaps you know."

The lady's maid never budged an inch. Madame must really be raving mad.
For now the rain was coming down in torrents, and the little white silk
sunshade was already dark with it. Nor did it shelter Madame, whose
skirts were wringing wet. But that didn't put her out in the smallest
degree, and in the pouring rain she visited the kitchen garden and the
orchard, stopping in front of every fruit tree and bending over every
bed of vegetables. Then she ran and looked down the well and lifted up a
frame to see what was underneath it and was lost in the contemplation of
a huge pumpkin. She wanted to go along every single garden walk and to
take immediate possession of all the things she had been wont to dream
of in the old days, when she was a slipshod work-girl on the Paris
pavements. The rain redoubled, but she never heeded it and was only
miserable at the thought that the daylight was fading. She could not see
clearly now and touched things with her fingers to find out what
they were. Suddenly in the twilight she caught sight of a bed of
strawberries, and all that was childish in her awoke.

"Strawberries! Strawberries! There are some here; I can feel them. A
plate, Zoe! Come and pick strawberries."

And dropping her sunshade, Nana crouched down in the mire under the full
force of the downpour. With drenched hands she began gathering the fruit
among the leaves. But Zoe in the meantime brought no plate, and when the
young woman rose to her feet again she was frightened. She thought she
had seen a shadow close to her.

"It's some beast!" she screamed.

But she stood rooted to the path in utter amazement. It was a man, and
she recognized him.

"Gracious me, it's Baby! What ARE you doing there, baby?"

"'Gad, I've come--that's all!" replied Georges.

Her head swam.

"You knew I'd come through the gardener telling you? Oh, that poor
child! Why, he's soaking!"

"Oh, I'll explain that to you! The rain caught me on my way here, and
then, as I didn't wish to go upstream as far as Gumieres, I crossed the
Choue and fell into a blessed hole."

Nana forgot the strawberries forthwith. She was trembling and full of
pity. That poor dear Zizi in a hole full of water! And she drew him with
her in the direction of the house and spoke of making up a roaring fire.

"You know," he murmured, stopping her among the shadows, "I was in
hiding because I was afraid of being scolded, like in Paris, when I come
and see you and you're not expecting me."

She made no reply but burst out laughing and gave him a kiss on the
forehead. Up till today she had always treated him like a naughty
urchin, never taking his declarations seriously and amusing herself at
his expense as though he were a little man of no consequence whatever.
There was much ado to install him in the house. She absolutely insisted
on the fire being lit in her bedroom, as being the most comfortable
place for his reception. Georges had not surprised Zoe, who was used
to all kinds of encounters, but the gardener, who brought the wood
upstairs, was greatly nonplused at sight of this dripping gentleman to
whom he was certain he had not opened the front door. He was, however,
dismissed, as he was no longer wanted.

A lamp lit up the room, and the fire burned with a great bright flame.

"He'll never get dry, and he'll catch cold," said Nana, seeing Georges
beginning to shiver.

And there were no men's trousers in her house! She was on the point
of calling the gardener back when an idea struck her. Zoe, who was
unpacking the trunks in the dressing room, brought her mistress a change
of underwear, consisting of a shift and some petticoats with a dressing
jacket.

"Oh, that's first rate!" cried the young woman. "Zizi can put 'em all
on. You're not angry with me, eh? When your clothes are dry you can put
them on again, and then off with you, as fast as fast can be, so as not
to have a scolding from your mamma. Make haste! I'm going to change my
things, too, in the dressing room."

Ten minutes afterward, when she reappeared in a tea gown, she clasped
her hands in a perfect ecstasy.

"Oh, the darling! How sweet he looks dressed like a little woman!"

He had simply slipped on a long nightgown with an insertion front, a
pair of worked drawers and the dressing jacket, which was a long cambric
garment trimmed with lace. Thus attired and with his delicate young arms
showing and his bright damp hair falling almost to his shoulders, he
looked just like a girl.

"Why, he's as slim as I am!" said Nana, putting her arm round his waist.
"Zoe, just come here and see how it suits him. It's made for him, eh?
All except the bodice part, which is too large. He hasn't got as much as
I have, poor, dear Zizi!"

"Oh, to be sure, I'm a bit wanting there," murmured Georges with a
smile.

All three grew very merry about it. Nana had set to work buttoning the
dressing jacket from top to bottom so as to make him quite decent. Then
she turned him round as though he were a doll, gave him little thumps,
made the skirt stand well out behind. After which she asked him
questions. Was he comfortable? Did he feel warm? Zounds, yes, he was
comfortable! Nothing fitted more closely and warmly than a woman's
shift; had he been able, he would always have worn one. He moved round
and about therein, delighted with the fine linen and the soft touch of
that unmanly garment, in the folds of which he thought he discovered
some of Nana's own warm life.

Meanwhile Zoe had taken the soaked clothes down to the kitchen in order
to dry them as quickly as possible in front of a vine-branch fire. Then
Georges, as he lounged in an easy chair, ventured to make a confession.

"I say, are you going to feed this evening? I'm dying of hunger. I
haven't dined."

Nana was vexed. The great silly thing to go sloping off from Mamma's
with an empty stomach, just to chuck himself into a hole full of water!
But she was as hungry as a hunter too. They certainly must feed! Only
they would have to eat what they could get. Whereupon a round table
was rolled up in front of the fire, and the queerest of dinners was
improvised thereon. Zoe ran down to the gardener's, he having cooked a
mess of cabbage soup in case Madame should not dine at Orleans before
her arrival. Madame, indeed, had forgotten to tell him what he was to
get ready in the letter she had sent him. Fortunately the cellar was
well furnished. Accordingly they had cabbage soup, followed by a piece
of bacon. Then Nana rummaged in her handbag and found quite a heap of
provisions which she had taken the precaution of stuffing into it. There
was a Strasbourg pate, for instance, and a bag of sweet-meats and some
oranges. So they both ate away like ogres and, while they satisfied
their healthy young appetites, treated one another with easy good
fellowship. Nana kept calling Georges "dear old girl," a form of address
which struck her as at once tender and familiar. At dessert, in order
not to give Zoe any more trouble, they used the same spoon turn and turn
about while demolishing a pot of preserves they had discovered at the
top of a cupboard.

"Oh, you dear old girl!" said Nana, pushing back the round table. "I
haven't made such a good dinner these ten years past!"

Yet it was growing late, and she wanted to send her boy off for fear he
should be suspected of all sorts of things. But he kept declaring that
he had plenty of time to spare. For the matter of that, his clothes were
not drying well, and Zoe averred that it would take an hour longer at
least, and as she was dropping with sleep after the fatigues of the
journey, they sent her off to bed. After which they were alone in the
silent house.

It was a very charming evening. The fire was dying out amid glowing
embers, and in the great blue room, where Zoe had made up the bed before
going upstairs, the air felt a little oppressive. Nana, overcome by the
heavy warmth, got up to open the window for a few minutes, and as she
did so she uttered a little cry.

"Great heavens, how beautiful it is! Look, dear old girl!"

Georges had come up, and as though the window bar had not been
sufficiently wide, he put his arm round Nana's waist and rested his
head against her shoulder. The weather had undergone a brisk change: the
skies were clearing, and a full moon lit up the country with its golden
disk of light. A sovereign quiet reigned over the valley. It seemed
wider and larger as it opened on the immense distances of the plain,
where the trees loomed like little shadowy islands amid a shining and
waveless lake. And Nana grew tenderhearted, felt herself a child again.
Most surely she had dreamed of nights like this at an epoch which she
could not recall. Since leaving the train every object of sensation--the
wide countryside, the green things with their pungent scents, the house,
the vegetables--had stirred her to such a degree that now it seemed to
her as if she had left Paris twenty years ago. Yesterday's existence
was far, far away, and she was full of sensations of which she had no
previous experience. Georges, meanwhile, was giving her neck little
coaxing kisses, and this again added to her sweet unrest. With
hesitating hand she pushed him from her, as though he were a child whose
affectionate advances were fatiguing, and once more she told him that
he ought to take his departure. He did not gainsay her. All in good
time--he would go all in good time!

But a bird raised its song and again was silent. It was a robin in an
elder tree below the window.

"Wait one moment," whispered Georges; "the lamp's frightening him. I'll
put it out."

And when he came back and took her waist again he added:

"We'll relight it in a minute."

Then as she listened to the robin and the boy pressed against her side,
Nana remembered. Ah yes, it was in novels that she had got to know all
this! In other days she would have given her heart to have a full moon
and robins and a lad dying of love for her. Great God, she could have
cried, so good and charming did it all seem to her! Beyond a doubt she
had been born to live honestly! So she pushed Georges away again, and he
grew yet bolder.

"No, let me be. I don't care about it. It would be very wicked at your
age. Now listen--I'll always be your mamma."

A sudden feeling of shame overcame her. She was blushing exceedingly,
and yet not a soul could see her. The room behind them was full of black
night while the country stretched before them in silence and lifeless
solitude. Never had she known such a sense of shame before. Little by
little she felt her power of resistance ebbing away, and that despite
her embarrassed efforts to the contrary. That disguise of his, that
woman's shift and that dressing jacket set her laughing again. It was as
though a girl friend were teasing her.

"Oh, it's not right; it's not right!" she stammered after a last effort.

And with that, in face of the lovely night, she sank like a young virgin
into the arms of this mere child. The house slept.

Next morning at Les Fondettes, when the bell rang for lunch, the
dining-room table was no longer too big for the company. Fauchery and
Daguenet had been driven up together in one carriage, and after them
another had arrived with the Count de Vandeuvres, who had followed by
the next train. Georges was the last to come downstairs. He was looking
a little pale, and his eyes were sunken, but in answer to questions he
said that he was much better, though he was still somewhat shaken by the
violence of the attack. Mme Hugon looked into his eyes with an anxious
smile and adjusted his hair which had been carelessly combed that
morning, but he drew back as though embarrassed by this tender little
action. During the meal she chaffed Vandeuvres very pleasantly and
declared that she had expected him for five years past.

"Well, here you are at last! How have you managed it?"

Vandeuvres took her remarks with equal pleasantry. He told her that he
had lost a fabulous sum of money at the club yesterday and thereupon had
come away with the intention of ending up in the country.

"'Pon my word, yes, if only you can find me an heiress in these rustic
parts! There must be delightful women hereabouts."

The old lady rendered equal thanks to Daguenet and Fauchery for having
been so good as to accept her son's invitation, and then to her great
and joyful surprise she saw the Marquis de Chouard enter the room. A
third carriage had brought him.

"Dear me, you've made this your trysting place today!" she cried.
"You've passed word round! But what's happening? For years I've never
succeeded in bringing you all together, and now you all drop in at once.
Oh, I certainly don't complain."

Another place was laid. Fauchery found himself next the Countess
Sabine, whose liveliness and gaiety surprised him when he remembered
her drooping, languid state in the austere Rue Miromesnil drawing room.
Daguenet, on the other hand, who was seated on Estelle's left, seemed
slightly put out by his propinquity to that tall, silent girl. The
angularity of her elbows was disagreeable to him. Muffat and Chouard
had exchanged a sly glance while Vandeuvres continued joking about his
coming marriage.

"Talking of ladies," Mme Hugon ended by saying, "I have a new neighbor
whom you probably know."

And she mentioned Nana. Vandeuvres affected the liveliest astonishment.

"Well, that is strange! Nana's property near here!"

Fauchery and Daguenet indulged in a similar demonstration while the
Marquis de Chouard discussed the breast of a chicken without appearing
to comprehend their meaning. Not one of the men had smiled.

"Certainly," continued the old lady, "and the person in question arrived
at La Mignotte yesterday evening, as I was saying she would. I got my
information from the gardener this morning."

At these words the gentlemen could not conceal their very real surprise.
They all looked up. Eh? What? Nana had come down! But they were only
expecting her next day; they were privately under the impression that
they would arrive before her! Georges alone sat looking at his glass
with drooped eyelids and a tired expression. Ever since the beginning of
lunch he had seemed to be sleeping with open eyes and a vague smile on
his lips.

"Are you still in pain, my Zizi?" asked his mother, who had been gazing
at him throughout the meal.

He started and blushed as he said that he was very well now, but the
worn-out insatiate expression of a girl who has danced too much did not
fade from his face.

"What's the matter with your neck?" resumed Mme Hugon in an alarmed
tone. "It's all red."

He was embarrassed and stammered. He did not know--he had nothing the
matter with his neck. Then drawing his shirt collar up:

"Ah yes, some insect stung me there!"

The Marquis de Chouard had cast a sidelong glance at the little red
place. Muffat, too, looked at Georges. The company was finishing lunch
and planning various excursions. Fauchery was growing increasingly
excited with the Countess Sabine's laughter. As he was passing her a
dish of fruit their hands touched, and for one second she looked at
him with eyes so full of dark meaning that he once more thought of
the secret which had been communicated to him one evening after
an uproarious dinner. Then, too, she was no longer the same woman.
Something was more pronounced than of old, and her gray foulard gown
which fitted loosely over her shoulders added a touch of license to her
delicate, high-strung elegance.

When they rose from the table Daguenet remained behind with Fauchery in
order to impart to him the following crude witticism about Estelle: "A
nice broomstick that to shove into a man's hands!" Nevertheless, he grew
serious when the journalist told him the amount she was worth in the way
of dowry.

"Four hundred thousand francs."

"And the mother?" queried Fauchery. "She's all right, eh?"

"Oh, SHE'LL work the oracle! But it's no go, my dear man!"

"Bah! How are we to know? We must wait and see."

It was impossible to go out that day, for the rain was still falling in
heavy showers. Georges had made haste to disappear from the scene and
had double-locked his door. These gentlemen avoided mutual explanations,
though they were none of them deceived as to the reasons which had
brought them together. Vandeuvres, who had had a very bad time at play,
had really conceived the notion of lying fallow for a season, and he was
counting on Nana's presence in the neighborhood as a safeguard against
excessive boredom. Fauchery had taken advantage of the holidays granted
him by Rose, who just then was extremely busy. He was thinking of
discussing a second notice with Nana, in case country air should render
them reciprocally affectionate. Daguenet, who had been just a little
sulky with her since Steiner had come upon the scene, was dreaming of
resuming the old connection or at least of snatching some delightful
opportunities if occasion offered. As to the Marquis de Chouard, he was
watching for times and seasons. But among all those men who were busy
following in the tracks of Venus--a Venus with the rouge scarce washed
from her cheeks--Muffat was at once the most ardent and the most
tortured by the novel sensations of desire and fear and anger warring
in his anguished members. A formal promise had been made him; Nana was
awaiting him. Why then had she taken her departure two days sooner than
was expected?

He resolved to betake himself to La Mignotte after dinner that same
evening. At night as the count was leaving the park Georges fled forth
after him. He left him to follow the road to Gumieres, crossed the
Choue, rushed into Nana's presence, breathless, furious and with tears
in his eyes. Ah yes, he understood everything! That old fellow now on
his way to her was coming to keep an appointment! Nana was dumfounded by
this ebullition of jealousy, and, greatly moved by the way things were
turning out, she took him in her arms and comforted him to the best of
her ability. Oh no, he was quite beside the mark; she was expecting no
one. If the gentleman came it would not be her fault. What a great ninny
that Zizi was to be taking on so about nothing at all! By her child's
soul she swore she loved nobody except her own Georges. And with that
she kissed him and wiped away his tears.

"Now just listen! You'll see that it's all for your sake," she went on
when he had grown somewhat calmer. "Steiner has arrived--he's up above
there now. You know, duckie, I can't turn HIM out of doors."

"Yes, I know; I'm not talking of HIM," whispered the boy.

"Very well then, I've stuck him into the room at the end. I said I was
out of sorts. He's unpacking his trunk. Since nobody's seen you, be
quick and run up and hide in my room and wait for me."

Georges sprang at her and threw his arms round her neck. It was true
after all! She loved him a little! So they would put the lamp out
as they did yesterday and be in the dark till daytime! Then as the
front-door bell sounded he quietly slipped away. Upstairs in the
bedroom he at once took off his shoes so as not to make any noise and
straightway crouched down behind a curtain and waited soberly.

Nana welcomed Count Muffat, who, though still shaken with passion, was
now somewhat embarrassed. She had pledged her word to him and would
even have liked to keep it since he struck her as a serious, practicable
lover. But truly, who could have foreseen all that happened yesterday?
There was the voyage and the house she had never set eyes on before and
the arrival of the drenched little lover! How sweet it had all seemed to
her, and how delightful it would be to continue in it! So much the
worse for the gentleman! For three months past she had been keeping
him dangling after her while she affected conventionality in order the
further to inflame him. Well, well! He would have to continue dangling,
and if he didn't like that he could go! She would sooner have thrown up
everything than have played false to Georges.

The count had seated himself with all the ceremonious politeness
becoming a country caller. Only his hands were trembling slightly. Lust,
which Nana's skillful tactics daily exasperated, had at last wrought
terrible havoc in that sanguine, uncontaminated nature. The grave
man, the chamberlain who was wont to tread the state apartments at the
Tuileries with slow and dignified step, was now nightly driven to plunge
his teeth into his bolster, while with sobs of exasperation he pictured
to himself a sensual shape which never changed. But this time he was
determined to make an end of the torture. Coming along the highroad
in the deep quiet of the gloaming, he had meditated a fierce course of
action. And the moment he had finished his opening remarks he tried to
take hold of Nana with both hands.

"No, no! Take care!" she said simply. She was not vexed; nay, she even
smiled.

He caught her again, clenching his teeth as he did so. Then as she
struggled to get free he coarsely and crudely reminded her that he had
come to stay the night. Though much embarrassed at this, Nana did not
cease to smile. She took his hands and spoke very familiarly in order to
soften her refusal.

"Come now, darling, do be quiet! Honor bright, I can't: Steiner's
upstairs."

But he was beside himself. Never yet had she seen a man in such a state.
She grew frightened and put her hand over his mouth in order to stifle
his cries. Then in lowered tones she besought him to be quiet and to let
her alone. Steiner was coming downstairs. Things were getting stupid, to
be sure! When Steiner entered the room he heard Nana remarking:

"I adore the country."

She was lounging comfortably back in her deep easy chair, and she turned
round and interrupted herself.

"It's Monsieur le Comte Muffat, darling. He saw a light here while he
was strolling past, and he came in to bid us welcome."

The two men clasped hands. Muffat, with his face in shadow, stood silent
for a moment or two. Steiner seemed sulky. Then they chatted about
Paris: business there was at a standstill; abominable things had been
happening on 'change. When a quarter of an hour had elapsed Muffat took
his departure, and, as the young woman was seeing him to the door, he
tried without success to make an assignation for the following night.
Steiner went up to bed almost directly afterward, grumbling, as he did
so, at the everlasting little ailments that seemed to afflict the genus
courtesan. The two old boys had been packed off at last! When she was
able to rejoin him Nana found Georges still hiding exemplarily behind
the curtain. The room was dark. He pulled her down onto the floor as she
sat near him, and together they began playfully rolling on the ground,
stopping now and again and smothering their laughter with kisses
whenever they struck their bare feet against some piece of furniture.
Far away, on the road to Gumieres, Count Muffat walked slowly home and,
hat in hand, bathed his burning forehead in the freshness and silence of
the night.

During the days that followed Nana found life adorable. In the lad's
arms she was once more a girl of fifteen, and under the caressing
influence of this renewed childhood love's white flower once more
blossomed forth in a nature which had grown hackneyed and disgusted in
the service of the other sex. She would experience sudden fits of shame,
sudden vivid emotions, which left her trembling. She wanted to laugh and
to cry, and she was beset by nervous, maidenly feelings, mingled with
warm desires that made her blush again. Never yet had she felt anything
comparable to this. The country filled her with tender thoughts. As a
little girl she had long wished to dwell in a meadow, tending a goat,
because one day on the talus of the fortifications she had seen a goat
bleating at the end of its tether. Now this estate, this stretch of land
belonging to her, simply swelled her heart to bursting, so utterly
had her old ambition been surpassed. Once again she tasted the novel
sensations experienced by chits of girls, and at night when she went
upstairs, dizzy with her day in the open air and intoxicated by the
scent of green leaves, and rejoined her Zizi behind the curtain, she
fancied herself a schoolgirl enjoying a holiday escapade. It was an
amour, she thought, with a young cousin to whom she was going to be
married. And so she trembled at the slightest noise and dread lest
parents should hear her, while making the delicious experiments and
suffering the voluptuous terrors attendant on a girl's first slip from
the path of virtue.

Nana in those days was subject to the fancies a sentimental girl will
indulge in. She would gaze at the moon for hours. One night she had a
mind to go down into the garden with Georges when all the household was
asleep. When there they strolled under the trees, their arms round each
other's waists, and finally went and laid down in the grass, where the
dew soaked them through and through. On another occasion, after a long
silence up in the bedroom, she fell sobbing on the lad's neck, declaring
in broken accents that she was afraid of dying. She would often croon a
favorite ballad of Mme Lerat's, which was full of flowers and birds. The
song would melt her to tears, and she would break off in order to clasp
Georges in a passionate embrace and to extract from him vows of undying
affection. In short she was extremely silly, as she herself would
admit when they both became jolly good fellows again and sat up smoking
cigarettes on the edge of the bed, dangling their bare legs over it the
while and tapping their heels against its wooden side.

But what utterly melted the young woman's heart was Louiset's arrival.
She had an access of maternal affection which was as violent as a mad
fit. She would carry off her boy into the sunshine outside to watch him
kicking about; she would dress him like a little prince and roll with
him in the grass. The moment he arrived she decided that he was to
sleep near her, in the room next hers, where Mme Lerat, whom the country
greatly affected, used to begin snoring the moment her head touched
the pillow. Louiset did not hurt Zizi's position in the least. On the
contrary, Nana said that she had now two children, and she treated them
with the same wayward tenderness. At night, more than ten times running,
she would leave Zizi to go and see if Louiset were breathing properly,
but on her return she would re-embrace her Zizi and lavish on him the
caresses that had been destined for the child. She played at being Mamma
while he wickedly enjoyed being dandled in the arms of the great wench
and allowed himself to be rocked to and fro like a baby that is being
sent to sleep. It was all so delightful, and Nana was so charmed with
her present existence, that she seriously proposed to him never to leave
the country. They would send all the other people away, and he, she and
the child would live alone. And with that they would make a thousand
plans till daybreak and never once hear Mme Lerat as she snored
vigorously after the fatigues of a day spent in picking country flowers.

This charming existence lasted nearly a week. Count Muffat used to come
every evening and go away again with disordered face and burning hands.
One evening he was not even received, as Steiner had been obliged to run
up to Paris. He was told that Madame was not well. Nana grew daily more
disgusted at the notion of deceiving Georges. He was such an innocent
lad, and he had such faith in her! She would have looked on herself as
the lowest of the low had she played him false. Besides, it would have
sickened her to do so! Zoe, who took her part in this affair in mute
disdain, believed that Madame was growing senseless.

On the sixth day a band of visitors suddenly blundered into Nana's idyl.
She had, indeed, invited a whole swarm of people under the belief
that none of them would come. And so one fine afternoon she was vastly
astonished and annoyed to see an omnibus full of people pulling up
outside the gate of La Mignotte.

"It's us!" cried Mignon, getting down first from the conveyance and
extracting then his sons Henri and Charles.

Labordette thereupon appeared and began handing out an interminable file
of ladies--Lucy Stewart, Caroline Hequet, Tatan Nene, Maria Blond. Nana
was in hopes that they would end there, when La Faloise sprang from the
step in order to receive Gaga and her daughter Amelie in his trembling
arms. That brought the number up to eleven people. Their installation
proved a laborious undertaking. There were five spare rooms at La
Mignotte, one of which was already occupied by Mme Lerat and Louiset.
The largest was devoted to the Gaga and La Faloise establishment, and
it was decided that Amelie should sleep on a truckle bed in the dressing
room at the side. Mignon and his two sons had the third room. Labordette
the fourth. There thus remained one room which was transformed into a
dormitory with four beds in it for Lucy, Caroline, Tatan and Maria. As
to Steiner, he would sleep on the divan in the drawing room. At the end
of an hour, when everyone was duly settled, Nana, who had begun by being
furious, grew enchanted at the thought of playing hostess on a grand
scale. The ladies complimented her on La Mignotte. "It's a stunning
property, my dear!" And then, too, they brought her quite a whiff of
Parisian air, and talking all together with bursts of laughter and
exclamation and emphatic little gestures, they gave her all the petty
gossip of the week just past. By the by, and how about Bordenave? What
had he said about her prank? Oh, nothing much! After bawling about
having her brought back by the police, he had simply put somebody else
in her place at night. Little Violaine was the understudy, and she had
even obtained a very pretty success as the Blonde Venus. Which piece of
news made Nana rather serious.

It was only four o'clock in the afternoon, and there was some talk of
taking a stroll around.

"Oh, I haven't told you," said Nana, "I was just off to get up potatoes
when you arrived."

Thereupon they all wanted to go and dig potatoes without even changing
their dresses first. It was quite a party. The gardener and two helpers
were already in the potato field at the end of the grounds. The ladies
knelt down and began fumbling in the mold with their beringed fingers,
shouting gaily whenever they discovered a potato of exceptional size. It
struck them as so amusing! But Tatan Nene was in a state of triumph!
So many were the potatoes she had gathered in her youth that she forgot
herself entirely and gave the others much good advice, treating them
like geese the while. The gentlemen toiled less strenuously. Mignon
looked every inch the good citizen and father and made his stay in the
country an occasion for completing his boys' education. Indeed, he spoke
to them of Parmentier!

Dinner that evening was wildly hilarious. The company ate ravenously.
Nana, in a state of great elevation, had a warm disagreement with her
butler, an individual who had been in service at the bishop's palace in
Orleans. The ladies smoked over their coffee. An earsplitting noise of
merrymaking issued from the open windows and died out far away under
the serene evening sky while peasants, belated in the lanes, turned and
looked at the flaring rooms.

"It's most tiresome that you're going back the day after tomorrow," said
Nana. "But never mind, we'll get up an excursion all the same!"

They decided to go on the morrow, Sunday, and visit the ruins of the
old Abbey of Chamont, which were some seven kilometers distant. Five
carriages would come out from Orleans, take up the company after lunch
and bring them back to dinner at La Mignotte at about seven. It would be
delightful.

That evening, as his wont was, Count Muffat mounted the hill to ring at
the outer gate. But the brightly lit windows and the shouts of laughter
astonished him. When, however, he recognized Mignon's voice, he
understood it all and went off, raging at this new obstacle, driven to
extremities, bent on some violent act. Georges passed through a little
door of which he had the key, slipped along the staircase walls and
went quietly up into Nana's room. Only he had to wait for her till past
midnight. She appeared at last in a high state of intoxication and
more maternal even than on the previous nights. Whenever she had drunk
anything she became so amorous as to be absurd. Accordingly she now
insisted on his accompanying her to the Abbey of Chamont. But he stood
out against this; he was afraid of being seen. If he were to be seen
driving with her there would be an atrocious scandal. But she burst
into tears and evinced the noisy despair of a slighted woman. And he
thereupon consoled her and formally promised to be one of the party.

"So you do love me very much," she blurted out. "Say you love me very
much. Oh, my darling old bear, if I were to die would you feel it very
much? Confess!"

At Les Fondettes the near neighborhood of Nana had utterly disorganized
the party. Every morning during lunch good Mme Hugon returned to the
subject despite herself, told her guests the news the gardener had
brought her and gave evidence of the absorbing curiosity with which
notorious courtesans are able to inspire even the worthiest old ladies.
Tolerant though she was, she was revolted and maddened by a vague
presentiment of coming ill, which frightened her in the evenings as
thoroughly as if a wild beast had escaped from a menagerie and were
known to be lurking in the countryside.

She began trying to pick a little quarrel with her guests, whom she each
and all accused of prowling round La Mignotte. Count Vandeuvres had been
seen laughing on the highroad with a golden-haired lady, but he defended
himself against the accusation; he denied that it was Nana, the fact
being that Lucy had been with him and had told him how she had just
turned her third prince out of doors. The Marquis de Chouard used also
to go out every day, but his excuse was doctor's orders. Toward Daguenet
and Fauchery Mme Hugon behaved unjustly too. The former especially never
left Les Fondettes, for he had given up the idea of renewing the
old connection and was busy paying the most respectful attentions to
Estelle. Fauchery also stayed with the Muffat ladies. On one occasion
only he had met Mignon with an armful of flowers, putting his sons
through a course of botanical instruction in a by-path. The two men had
shaken hands and given each other the news about Rose. She was perfectly
well and happy; they had both received a letter from her that morning in
which she besought them to profit by the fresh country air for some days
longer. Among all her guests the old lady spared only Count Muffat and
Georges. The count, who said he had serious business in Orleans, could
certainly not be running after the bad woman, and as to Georges, the
poor child was at last causing her grave anxiety, seeing that every
evening he was seized with atrocious sick headaches which kept him to
his bed in broad daylight.

Meanwhile Fauchery had become the Countess Sabine's faithful attendant
in the absence during each afternoon of Count Muffat. Whenever they
went to the end of the park he carried her campstool and her sunshade.
Besides, he amused her with the original witticisms peculiar to a
second-rate journalist, and in so doing he prompted her to one of those
sudden intimacies which are allowable in the country. She had apparently
consented to it from the first, for she had grown quite a girl again
in the society of a young man whose noisy humor seemed unlikely to
compromise her. But now and again, when for a second or two they found
themselves alone behind the shrubs, their eyes would meet; they would
pause amid their laughter, grow suddenly serious and view one another
darkly, as though they had fathomed and divined their inmost hearts.

On Friday a fresh place had to be laid at lunch time. M. Theophile
Venot, whom Mme Hugon remembered to have invited at the Muffats' last
winter, had just arrived. He sat stooping humbly forward and behaved
with much good nature, as became a man of no account, nor did he seem
to notice the anxious deference with which he was treated. When he had
succeeded in getting the company to forget his presence he sat nibbling
small lumps of sugar during dessert, looking sharply up at Daguenet as
the latter handed Estelle strawberries and listening to Fauchery, who
was making the countess very merry over one of his anecdotes. Whenever
anyone looked at HIM he smiled in his quiet way. When the guests rose
from table he took the count's arm and drew him into the park. He was
known to have exercised great influence over the latter ever since the
death of his mother. Indeed, singular stories were told about the kind
of dominion which the ex-lawyer enjoyed in that household. Fauchery,
whom his arrival doubtless embarrassed, began explaining to Georges and
Daguenet the origin of the man's wealth. It was a big lawsuit with the
management of which the Jesuits had entrusted him in days gone by. In
his opinion the worthy man was a terrible fellow despite his gentle,
plump face and at this time of day had his finger in all the intrigues
of the priesthood. The two young men had begun joking at this, for they
thought the little old gentleman had an idiotic expression. The idea
of an unknown Venot, a gigantic Venot, acting for the whole body of the
clergy, struck them in the light of a comical invention. But they
were silenced when, still leaning on the old man's arm, Count Muffat
reappeared with blanched cheeks and eyes reddened as if by recent
weeping.

"I bet they've been chatting about hell," muttered Fauchery in a
bantering tone.

The Countess Sabine overheard the remark. She turned her head slowly,
and their eyes met in that long gaze with which they were accustomed to
sound one another prudently before venturing once for all.

After the breakfast it was the guests' custom to betake themselves to
a little flower garden on a terrace overlooking the plain. This Sunday
afternoon was exquisitely mild. There had been signs of rain toward ten
in the morning, but the sky, without ceasing to be covered, had, as it
were, melted into milky fog, which now hung like a cloud of luminous
dust in the golden sunlight. Soon Mme Hugon proposed that they should
step down through a little doorway below the terrace and take a walk on
foot in the direction of Gumieres and as far as the Choue. She was
fond of walking and, considering her threescore years, was very active.
Besides, all her guests declared that there was no need to drive. So
in a somewhat straggling order they reached the wooden bridge over the
river. Fauchery and Daguenet headed the column with the Muffat ladies
and were followed by the count and the marquis, walking on either side
of Mme Hugon, while Vandeuvres, looking fashionable and out of his
element on the highroad, marched in the rear, smoking a cigar. M. Venot,
now slackening, now hastening his pace, passed smilingly from group to
group, as though bent on losing no scrap of conversation.

"To think of poor dear Georges at Orleans!" said Mme Hugon. "He was
anxious to consult old Doctor Tavernier, who never goes out now, on
the subject of his sick headaches. Yes, you were not up, as he went off
before seven o'clock. But it'll be a change for him all the same."

She broke off, exclaiming:

"Why, what's making them stop on the bridge?"

The fact was the ladies and Fauchery and Daguenet were standing
stock-still on the crown of the bridge. They seemed to be hesitating as
though some obstacle or other rendered them uneasy and yet the way lay
clear before them.

"Go on!" cried the count.

They never moved and seemed to be watching the approach of something
which the rest had not yet observed. Indeed the road wound considerably
and was bordered by a thick screen of poplar trees. Nevertheless, a dull
sound began to grow momentarily louder, and soon there was a noise of
wheels, mingled with shouts of laughter and the cracking of whips. Then
suddenly five carriages came into view, driving one behind the other.
They were crowded to bursting, and bright with a galaxy of white, blue
and pink costumes.

"What is it?" said Mme Hugon in some surprise.

Then her instinct told her, and she felt indignant at such an untoward
invasion of her road.

"Oh, that woman!" she murmured. "Walk on, pray walk on. Don't appear to
notice."

But it was too late. The five carriages which were taking Nana and her
circle to the ruins of Chamont rolled on to the narrow wooden bridge.
Fauchery, Daguenet and the Muffat ladies were forced to step backward,
while Mme Hugon and the others had also to stop in Indian file along the
roadside. It was a superb ride past! The laughter in the carriages had
ceased, and faces were turned with an expression of curiosity. The
rival parties took stock of each other amid a silence broken only by the
measured trot of the horses. In the first carriage Maria Blond and
Tatan Nene were lolling backward like a pair of duchesses, their skirts
swelling forth over the wheels, and as they passed they cast disdainful
glances at the honest women who were walking afoot. Then came Gaga,
filling up a whole seat and half smothering La Faloise beside her
so that little but his small anxious face was visible. Next followed
Caroline Hequet with Labordette, Lucy Stewart with Mignon and his boys
and at the close of all Nana in a victoria with Steiner and on a bracket
seat in front of her that poor, darling Zizi, with his knees jammed
against her own.

"It's the last of them, isn't it?" the countess placidly asked Fauchery,
pretending at the same time not to recognize Nana.

The wheel of the victoria came near grazing her, but she did not step
back. The two women had exchanged a deeply significant glance. It was,
in fact, one of those momentary scrutinies which are at once complete
and definite. As to the men, they behaved unexceptionably. Fauchery and
Daguenet looked icy and recognized no one. The marquis, more nervous
than they and afraid of some farcical ebullition on the part of the
ladies, had plucked a blade of grass and was rolling it between his
fingers. Only Vandeuvres, who had stayed somewhat apart from the rest
of the company, winked imperceptibly at Lucy, who smiled at him as she
passed.

"Be careful!" M. Venot had whispered as he stood behind Count Muffat.

The latter in extreme agitation gazed after this illusive vision of Nana
while his wife turned slowly round and scrutinized him. Then he cast
his eyes on the ground as though to escape the sound of galloping hoofs
which were sweeping away both his senses and his heart. He could have
cried aloud in his agony, for, seeing Georges among Nana's skirts, he
understood it all now. A mere child! He was brokenhearted at the thought
that she should have preferred a mere child to him! Steiner was his
equal, but that child!

Mme Hugon, in the meantime, had not at once recognized Georges. Crossing
the bridge, he was fain to jump into the river, but Nana's knees
restrained him. Then white as a sheet and icy cold, he sat rigidly up in
his place and looked at no one. It was just possible no one would notice
him.

"Oh, my God!" said the old lady suddenly. "Georges is with her!"

The carriages had passed quite through the uncomfortable crowd of people
who recognized and yet gave no sign of recognition. The short critical
encounter seemed to have been going on for ages. And now the wheels
whirled away the carriageloads of girls more gaily than ever. Toward
the fair open country they went, amid the buffetings of the fresh air
of heaven. Bright-colored fabrics fluttered in the wind, and the merry
laughter burst forth anew as the voyagers began jesting and glancing
back at the respectable folks halting with looks of annoyance at the
roadside. Turning round, Nana could see the walking party hesitating and
then returning the way they had come without crossing the bridge. Mme
Hugon was leaning silently on Count Muffat's arm, and so sad was her
look that no one dared comfort her.

"I say, did you see Fauchery, dear?" Nana shouted to Lucy, who was
leaning out of the carriage in front. "What a brute he was! He shall pay
out for that. And Paul, too, a fellow I've been so kind to! Not a sign!
They're polite, I'm sure."

And with that she gave Steiner a terrible dressing, he having ventured
to suggest that the gentlemen's attitude had been quite as it should be.
So then they weren't even worth a bow? The first blackguard that came
by might insult them? Thanks! He was the right sort, too, he was! It
couldn't be better! One ought always to bow to a woman.

"Who's the tall one?" asked Lucy at random, shouting through the noise
of the wheels.

"It's the Countess Muffat," answered Steiner.

"There now! I suspected as much," said Nana. "Now, my dear fellow, it's
all very well her being a countess, for she's no better than she should
be. Yes, yes, she's no better that she should be. You know, I've got an
eye for such things, I have! And now I know your countess as well as if
I had been at the making of her! I'll bet you that she's the mistress of
that viper Fauchery! I tell you, she's his mistress! Between women you
guess that sort of thing at once!"

Steiner shrugged his shoulders. Since the previous day his irritation
had been hourly increasing. He had received letters which necessitated
his leaving the following morning, added to which he did not much
appreciate coming down to the country in order to sleep on the
drawing-room divan.

"And this poor baby boy!" Nana continued, melting suddenly at sight of
Georges's pale face as he still sat rigid and breathless in front of
her.

"D'you think Mamma recognized me?" he stammered at last.

"Oh, most surely she did! Why, she cried out! But it's my fault. He
didn't want to come with us; I forced him to. Now listen, Zizi, would
you like me to write to your mamma? She looks such a kind, decent sort
of lady! I'll tell her that I never saw you before and that it was
Steiner who brought you with him for the first time today."

"No, no, don't write," said Georges in great anxiety. "I'll explain it
all myself. Besides, if they bother me about it I shan't go home again."

But he continued plunged in thought, racking his brains for excuses
against his return home in the evening. The five carriages were rolling
through a flat country along an interminable straight road bordered by
fine trees. The country was bathed in a silvery-gray atmosphere. The
ladies still continued shouting remarks from carriage to carriage behind
the backs of the drivers, who chuckled over their extraordinary fares.
Occasionally one of them would rise to her feet to look at the landscape
and, supporting herself on her neighbor's shoulder, would grow extremely
excited till a sudden jolt brought her down to the seat again. Caroline
Hequet in the meantime was having a warm discussion with Labordette.
Both of them were agreed that Nana would be selling her country house
before three months were out, and Caroline was urging Labordette to buy
it back for her for as little as it was likely to fetch. In front
of them La Faloise, who was very amorous and could not get at Gaga's
apoplectic neck, was imprinting kisses on her spine through her dress,
the strained fabric of which was nigh splitting, while Amelie, perching
stiffly on the bracket seat, was bidding them be quiet, for she was
horrified to be sitting idly by, watching her mother being kissed. In
the next carriage Mignon, in order to astonish Lucy, was making his sons
recite a fable by La Fontaine. Henri was prodigious at this exercise; he
could spout you one without pause or hesitation. But Maria Blond, at the
head of the procession, was beginning to feel extremely bored. She was
tired of hoaxing that blockhead of a Tatan Nene with a story to the
effect that the Parisian dairywomen were wont to fabricate eggs with
a mixture of paste and saffron. The distance was too great: were
they never going to get to their destination? And the question was
transmitted from carriage to carriage and finally reached Nana, who,
after questioning her driver, got up and shouted:

"We've not got a quarter of an hour more to go. You see that church
behind the trees down there?"

Then she continued:

"Do you know, it appears the owner of the Chateau de Chamont is an old
lady of Napoleon's time? Oh, SHE was a merry one! At least, so Joseph
told me, and he heard it from the servants at the bishop's palace.
There's no one like it nowadays, and for the matter of that, she's
become goody-goody."

"What's her name?" asked Lucy.

"Madame d'Anglars."

"Irma d'Anglars--I knew her!" cried Gaga.

Admiring exclamations burst from the line of carriages and were borne
down the wind as the horses quickened their trot. Heads were stretched
out in Gaga's direction; Maria Blond and Tatan Nene turned round and
knelt on the seat while they leaned over the carriage hood, and the air
was full of questions and cutting remarks, tempered by a certain obscure
admiration. Gaga had known her! The idea filled them all with respect
for that far-off past.

"Dear me, I was young then," continued Gaga. "But never mind, I remember
it all. I saw her pass. They said she was disgusting in her own house,
but, driving in her carriage, she WAS just smart! And the stunning tales
about her! Dirty doings and money flung about like one o'clock! I don't
wonder at all that she's got a fine place. Why, she used to clean out a
man's pockets as soon as look at him. Irma d'Anglars still in the land
of the living! Why, my little pets, she must be near ninety."

At this the ladies became suddenly serious. Ninety years old! The deuce,
there wasn't one of them, as Lucy loudly declared, who would live to
that age. They were all done for. Besides, Nana said she didn't want
to make old bones; it wouldn't be amusing. They were drawing near their
destination, and the conversation was interrupted by the cracking of
whips as the drivers put their horses to their best paces. Yet amid all
the noise Lucy continued talking and, suddenly changing the subject,
urged Nana to come to town with them all to-morrow. The exhibition was
soon to close, and the ladies must really return to Paris, where the
season was surpassing their expectations. But Nana was obstinate. She
loathed Paris; she wouldn't set foot there yet!

"Eh, darling, we'll stay?" she said, giving Georges's knees a squeeze,
as though Steiner were of no account.

The carriages had pulled up abruptly, and in some surprise the company
got out on some waste ground at the bottom of a small hill. With his
whip one of the drivers had to point them out the ruins of the old Abbey
of Chamont where they lay hidden among trees. It was a great sell! The
ladies voted them silly. Why, they were only a heap of old stones with
briers growing over them and part of a tumble-down tower. It really
wasn't worth coming a couple of leagues to see that! Then the driver
pointed out to them the countryseat, the park of which stretched away
from the abbey, and he advised them to take a little path and follow the
walls surrounding it. They would thus make the tour of the place while
the carriages would go and await them in the village square. It was a
delightful walk, and the company agreed to the proposition.

"Lord love me, Irma knows how to take care of herself!" said Gaga,
halting before a gate at the corner of the park wall abutting on the
highroad.

All of them stood silently gazing at the enormous bush which stopped up
the gateway. Then following the little path, they skirted the park wall,
looking up from time to time to admire the trees, whose lofty branches
stretched out over them and formed a dense vault of greenery. After
three minutes or so they found themselves in front of a second gate.
Through this a wide lawn was visible, over which two venerable oaks
cast dark masses of shadow. Three minutes farther on yet another gate
afforded them an extensive view of a great avenue, a perfect corridor
of shadow, at the end of which a bright spot of sunlight gleamed like
a star. They stood in silent, wondering admiration, and then little by
little exclamations burst from their lips. They had been trying hard to
joke about it all with a touch of envy at heart, but this decidedly and
immeasurably impressed them. What a genius that Irma was! A sight like
this gave you a rattling notion of the woman! The trees stretched away
and away, and there were endlessly recurrent patches of ivy along the
wall with glimpses of lofty roofs and screens of poplars interspersed
with dense masses of elms and aspens. Was there no end to it then? The
ladies would have liked to catch sight of the mansion house, for they
were weary of circling on and on, weary of seeing nothing but leafy
recesses through every opening they came to. They took the rails of the
gate in their hands and pressed their faces against the ironwork. And
thus excluded and isolated, a feeling of respect began to overcome them
as they thought of the castle lost to view in surrounding immensity.
Soon, being quite unused to walking, they grew tired. And the wall did
not leave off; at every turn of the small deserted path the same range
of gray stones stretched ahead of them. Some of them began to despair
of ever getting to the end of it and began talking of returning. But the
more their long walk fatigued them, the more respectful they became,
for at each successive step they were increasingly impressed by the
tranquil, lordly dignity of the domain.

"It's getting silly, this is!" said Caroline Hequet, grinding her teeth.

Nana silenced her with a shrug. For some moments past she had been
rather pale and extremely serious and had not spoken a single word.
Suddenly the path gave a final turn; the wall ended, and as they came
out on the village square the mansion house stood before them on the
farther side of its grand outer court. All stopped to admire the proud
sweep of the wide steps, the twenty frontage windows, the arrangement of
the three wings, which were built of brick framed by courses of stone.
Henri IV had erewhile inhabited this historic mansion, and his room,
with its great bed hung with Genoa velvet, was still preserved there.
Breathless with admiration, Nana gave a little childish sigh.

"Great God!" she whispered very quietly to herself.

But the party were deeply moved when Gaga suddenly announced that Irma
herself was standing yonder in front of the church. She recognized her
perfectly. She was as upright as of old, the hoary campaigner, and that
despite her age, and she still had those eyes which flashed when she
moved in that proud way of hers! Vespers were just over, and for a
second or two Madame stood in the church porch. She was dressed in a
dark brown silk and looked very simple and very tall, her venerable face
reminding one of some old marquise who had survived the horrors of the
Great Revolution. In her right hand a huge Book of Hours shone in the
sunlight, and very slowly she crossed the square, followed some fifteen
paces off by a footman in livery. The church was emptying, and all the
inhabitants of Chamont bowed before her with extreme respect. An old
man even kissed her hand, and a woman wanted to fall on her knees.
Truly this was a potent queen, full of years and honors. She mounted her
flight of steps and vanished from view.

"That's what one attains to when one has methodical habits!" said
Mignon with an air of conviction, looking at his sons and improving the
occasion.

Then everybody said his say. Labordette thought her extraordinarily well
preserved. Maria Blond let slip a foul expression and vexed Lucy, who
declared that one ought to honor gray hairs. All the women, to sum up,
agreed that she was a perfect marvel. Then the company got into their
conveyances again. From Chamont all the way to La Mignotte Nana remained
silent. She had twice turned round to look back at the house, and now,
lulled by the sound of the wheels, she forgot that Steiner was at her
side and that Georges was in front of her. A vision had come up out of
the twilight, and the great lady seemed still to be sweeping by with all
the majesty of a potent queen, full of years and of honors.

That evening Georges re-entered Les Fondettes in time for dinner.
Nana, who had grown increasingly absent-minded and singular in point of
manner, had sent him to ask his mamma's forgiveness. It was his plain
duty, she remarked severely, growing suddenly solicitous for the
decencies of family life. She even made him swear not to return for the
night; she was tired, and in showing proper obedience he was doing no
more than his duty. Much bored by this moral discourse, Georges appeared
in his mother's presence with heavy heart and downcast head.

Fortunately for him his brother Philippe, a great merry devil of a
military man, had arrived during the day, a fact which greatly curtailed
the scene he was dreading. Mme Hugon was content to look at him with
eyes full of tears while Philippe, who had been put in possession of the
facts, threatened to go and drag him home by the scruff of the neck if
ever he went back into that woman's society. Somewhat comforted, Georges
began slyly planning how to make his escape toward two o'clock next day
in order to arrange about future meetings with Nana.

Nevertheless, at dinnertime the house party at Les Fondettes seemed not
a little embarrassed. Vandeuvres had given notice of departure, for he
was anxious to take Lucy back to Paris with him. He was amused at the
idea of carrying off this girl whom he had known for ten years yet never
desired. The Marquis de Chouard bent over his plate and meditated on
Gaga's young lady. He could well remember dandling Lili on his knee.
What a way children had of shooting up! This little thing was becoming
extremely plump! But Count Muffat especially was silent and absorbed.
His cheeks glowed, and he had given Georges one long look. Dinner over,
he went upstairs, intending to shut himself in his bedroom, his pretext
being a slight feverish attack. M. Venot had rushed after him, and
upstairs in the bedroom a scene ensued. The count threw himself upon the
bed and strove to stifle a fit of nervous sobbing in the folds of the
pillow while M. Venot, in a soft voice, called him brother and advised
him to implore heaven for mercy. But he heard nothing: there was a
rattle in his throat. Suddenly he sprang off the bed and stammered:

"I am going there. I can't resist any longer."

"Very well," said the old man, "I go with you."

As they left the house two shadows were vanishing into the dark depths
of a garden walk, for every evening now Fauchery and the Countess Sabine
left Daguenet to help Estelle make tea. Once on the highroad the count
walked so rapidly that his companion had to run in order to follow him.
Though utterly out of breath, the latter never ceased showering on him
the most conclusive arguments against the temptations of the flesh.
But the other never opened his mouth as he hurried away into the night.
Arrived in front of La Mignotte, he said simply:

"I can't resist any longer. Go!"

"God's will be done then!" muttered M. Venot. "He uses every method to
assure His final triumph. Your sin will become His weapon."

At La Mignotte there was much wrangling during the evening meal. Nana
had found a letter from Bordenave awaiting her, in which he advised
rest, just as though he were anxious to be rid of her. Little Violaine,
he said, was being encored twice nightly. But when Mignon continued
urging her to come away with them on the morrow Nana grew exasperated
and declared that she did not intend taking advice from anybody. In
other ways, too, her behavior at table was ridiculously stuck up.
Mme Lerat having made some sharp little speech or other, she loudly
announced that, God willing, she wasn't going to let anyone--no, not
even her own aunt--make improper remarks in her presence. After which
she dreed her guests with honorable sentiments. She seemed to be
suffering from a fit of stupid right-mindedness, and she treated them
all to projects of religious education for Louiset and to a complete
scheme of regeneration for herself. When the company began laughing she
gave vent to profound opinions, nodding her head like a grocer's wife
who knows what she is saying. Nothing but order could lead to fortune!
And so far as she was concerned, she had no wish to die like a beggar!
She set the ladies' teeth on edge. They burst out in protest. Could
anyone have been converting Nana? No, it was impossible! But she sat
quite still and with absent looks once more plunged into dreamland,
where the vision of an extremely wealthy and greatly courted Nana rose
up before her.

The household were going upstairs to bed when Muffat put in an
appearance. It was Labordette who caught sight of him in the garden. He
understood it all at once and did him a service, for he got Steiner out
of the way and, taking his hand, led him along the dark corridor as
far as Nana's bedroom. In affairs of this kind Labordette was wont
to display the most perfect tact and cleverness. Indeed, he seemed
delighted to be making other people happy. Nana showed no surprise; she
was only somewhat annoyed by the excessive heat of Muffat's pursuit.
Life was a serious affair, was it not? Love was too silly: it led to
nothing. Besides, she had her scruples in view of Zizi's tender age.
Indeed, she had scarcely behaved quite fairly toward him. Dear me,
yes, she was choosing the proper course again in taking up with an old
fellow.

"Zoe," she said to the lady's maid, who was enchanted at the thought of
leaving the country, "pack the trunks when you get up tomorrow. We are
going back to Paris."

And she went to bed with Muffat but experienced no pleasure.



CHAPTER VII


One December evening three months afterward Count Muffat was strolling
in the Passage des Panoramas. The evening was very mild, and owing to a
passing shower, the passage had just become crowded with people. There
was a perfect mob of them, and they thronged slowly and laboriously
along between the shops on either side. Under the windows, white with
reflected light, the pavement was violently illuminated. A perfect
stream of brilliancy emanated from white globes, red lanterns, blue
transparencies, lines of gas jets, gigantic watches and fans, outlined
in flame and burning in the open. And the motley displays in the
shops, the gold ornaments of the jeweler's, the glass ornaments of the
confectioner's, the light-colored silks of the modiste's, seemed to
shine again in the crude light of the reflectors behind the clear
plate-glass windows, while among the bright-colored, disorderly array
of shop signs a huge purple glove loomed in the distance like a bleeding
hand which had been severed from an arm and fastened to a yellow cuff.

Count Muffat had slowly returned as far as the boulevard. He glanced out
at the roadway and then came sauntering back along the shopwindows.
The damp and heated atmosphere filled the narrow passage with a slight
luminous mist. Along the flagstones, which had been wet by the drip-drop
of umbrellas, the footsteps of the crowd rang continually, but there
was no sound of voices. Passers-by elbowed him at every turn and cast
inquiring looks at his silent face, which the gaslight rendered pale.
And to escape these curious manifestations the count posted himself in
front of a stationer's, where with profound attention contemplated an
array of paperweights in the form of glass bowls containing floating
landscapes and flowers.

He was conscious of nothing: he was thinking of Nana. Why had she lied
to him again? That morning she had written and told him not to trouble
about her in the evening, her excuse being that Louiset was ill and that
she was going to pass the night at her aunt's in order to nurse him.
But he had felt suspicious and had called at her house, where he learned
from the porter that Madame had just gone off to her theater. He was
astonished at this, for she was not playing in the new piece. Why then
should she have told him this falsehood, and what could she be doing
at the Varietes that evening? Hustled by a passer-by, the count
unconsciously left the paperweights and found himself in front of
a glass case full of toys, where he grew absorbed over an array of
pocketbooks and cigar cases, all of which had the same blue swallow
stamped on one corner. Nana was most certainly not the same woman! In
the early days after his return from the country she used to drive him
wild with delight, as with pussycat caresses she kissed him all round
his face and whiskers and vowed that he was her own dear pet and the
only little man she adored. He was no longer afraid of Georges, whom his
mother kept down at Les Fondettes. There was only fat Steiner to reckon
with, and he believed he was really ousting him, but he did not dare
provoke an explanation on his score. He knew he was once more in an
extraordinary financial scrape and on the verge of being declared
bankrupt on 'change, so much so that he was clinging fiercely to the
shareholders in the Landes Salt Pits and striving to sweat a final
subscription out of them. Whenever he met him at Nana's she would
explain reasonably enough that she did not wish to turn him out of doors
like a dog after all he had spent on her. Besides, for the last three
months he had been living in such a whirl of sensual excitement
that, beyond the need of possessing her, he had felt no very distinct
impressions. His was a tardy awakening of the fleshly instinct, a
childish greed of enjoyment, which left no room for either vanity or
jealousy. Only one definite feeling could affect him now, and that was
Nana's decreasing kindness. She no longer kissed him on the beard! It
made him anxious, and as became a man quite ignorant of womankind, he
began asking himself what possible cause of offense he could have given
her. Besides, he was under the impression that he was satisfying all
her desires. And so he harked back again and again to the letter he had
received that morning with its tissue of falsehoods, invented for the
extremely simple purpose of passing an evening at her own theater. The
crowd had pushed him forward again, and he had crossed the passage and
was puzzling his brain in front of the entrance to a restaurant, his
eyes fixed on some plucked larks and on a huge salmon laid out inside
the window.

At length he seemed to tear himself away from this spectacle. He shook
himself, looked up and noticed that it was close on nine o'clock. Nana
would soon be coming out, and he would make her tell the truth. And with
that he walked on and recalled to memory the evenings he once passed
in that region in the days when he used to meet her at the door of the
theater.

He knew all the shops, and in the gas-laden air he recognized their
different scents, such, for instance, as the strong savor of Russia
leather, the perfume of vanilla emanating from a chocolate dealer's
basement, the savor of musk blown in whiffs from the open doors of
the perfumers. But he did not dare linger under the gaze of the pale
shopwomen, who looked placidly at him as though they knew him by sight.
For one instant he seemed to be studying the line of little round
windows above the shops, as though he had never noticed them before
among the medley of signs. Then once again he went up to the boulevard
and stood still a minute or two. A fine rain was now falling, and the
cold feel of it on his hands calmed him. He thought of his wife who was
staying in a country house near Macon, where her friend Mme de Chezelles
had been ailing a good deal since the autumn. The carriages in the
roadway were rolling through a stream of mud. The country, he thought,
must be detestable in such vile weather. But suddenly he became anxious
and re-entered the hot, close passage down which he strode among the
strolling people. A thought struck him: if Nana were suspicious of his
presence there she would be off along the Galerie Montmartre.

After that the count kept a sharp lookout at the very door of the
theater, though he did not like this passage end, where he was afraid of
being recognized. It was at the corner between the Galerie des Varietes
and the Galerie Saint-Marc, an equivocal corner full of obscure little
shops. Of these last one was a shoemaker's, where customers never seemed
to enter. Then there were two or three upholsterers', deep in dust, and
a smoky, sleepy reading room and library, the shaded lamps in which cast
a green and slumberous light all the evening through. There was never
anyone in this corner save well-dressed, patient gentlemen, who prowled
about the wreckage peculiar to a stage door, where drunken sceneshifters
and ragged chorus girls congregate. In front of the theater a single
gas jet in a ground-glass globe lit up the doorway. For a moment or two
Muffat thought of questioning Mme Bron; then he grew afraid lest Nana
should get wind of his presence and escape by way of the boulevard. So
he went on the march again and determined to wait till he was turned out
at the closing of the gates, an event which had happened on two previous
occasions. The thought of returning home to his solitary bed simply
wrung his heart with anguish. Every time that golden-haired girls and
men in dirty linen came out and stared at him he returned to his post in
front of the reading room, where, looking in between two advertisements
posted on a windowpane, he was always greeted by the same sight. It
was a little old man, sitting stiff and solitary at the vast table and
holding a green newspaper in his green hands under the green light of
one of the lamps. But shortly before ten o'clock another gentleman, a
tall, good-looking, fair man with well-fitting gloves, was also walking
up and down in front of the stage door. Thereupon at each successive
turn the pair treated each other to a suspicious sidelong glance. The
count walked to the corner of the two galleries, which was adorned
with a high mirror, and when he saw himself therein, looking grave and
elegant, he was both ashamed and nervous.

Ten o'clock struck, and suddenly it occurred to Muffat that it would be
very easy to find out whether Nana were in her dressing room or not.
He went up the three steps, crossed the little yellow-painted lobby and
slipped into the court by a door which simply shut with a latch. At that
hour of the night the narrow, damp well of a court, with its pestiferous
water closets, its fountain, its back view of the kitchen stove and the
collection of plants with which the portress used to litter the place,
was drenched in dark mist; but the two walls, rising pierced with
windows on either hand, were flaming with light, since the property room
and the firemen's office were situated on the ground floor, with
the managerial bureau on the left, and on the right and upstairs the
dressing rooms of the company. The mouths of furnaces seemed to be
opening on the outer darkness from top to bottom of this well. The count
had at once marked the light in the windows of the dressing room on the
first floor, and as a man who is comforted and happy, he forgot where he
was and stood gazing upward amid the foul mud and faint decaying smell
peculiar to the premises of this antiquated Parisian building. Big drops
were dripping from a broken waterspout, and a ray of gaslight slipped
from Mme Bron's window and cast a yellow glare over a patch of moss-clad
pavement, over the base of a wall which had been rotted by water from a
sink, over a whole cornerful of nameless filth amid which old pails
and broken crocks lay in fine confusion round a spindling tree growing
mildewed in its pot. A window fastening creaked, and the count fled.

Nana was certainly going to come down. He returned to his post in front
of the reading room; among its slumbering shadows, which seemed only
broken by the glimmer of a night light, the little old man still sat
motionless, his side face sharply outlined against his newspaper.
Then Muffat walked again and this time took a more prolonged turn and,
crossing the large gallery, followed the Galerie des Varietes as far as
that of Feydeau. The last mentioned was cold and deserted and buried in
melancholy shadow. He returned from it, passed by the theater, turned
the corner of the Galerie Saint-Marc and ventured as far as the Galerie
Montmartre, where a sugar-chopping machine in front of a grocer's
interested him awhile. But when he was taking his third turn he was
seized with such dread lest Nana should escape behind his back that he
lost all self-respect. Thereupon he stationed himself beside the fair
gentleman in front of the very theater. Both exchanged a glance of
fraternal humility with which was mingled a touch of distrust, for it
was possible they might yet turn out to be rivals. Some sceneshifters
who came out smoking their pipes between the acts brushed rudely against
them, but neither one nor the other ventured to complain. Three big
wenches with untidy hair and dirty gowns appeared on the doorstep. They
were munching apples and spitting out the cores, but the two men
bowed their heads and patiently braved their impudent looks and rough
speeches, though they were hustled and, as it were, soiled by these
trollops, who amused themselves by pushing each other down upon them.

At that very moment Nana descended the three steps. She grew very pale
when she noticed Muffat.

"Oh, it's you!" she stammered.

The sniggering extra ladies were quite frightened when they recognized
her, and they formed in line and stood up, looking as stiff and serious
as servants whom their mistress has caught behaving badly. The tall fair
gentleman had moved away; he was at once reassured and sad at heart.

"Well, give me your arm," Nana continued impatiently.

They walked quietly off. The count had been getting ready to question
her and now found nothing to say.

It was she who in rapid tones told a story to the effect that she had
been at her aunt's as late as eight o'clock, when, seeing Louiset very
much better, she had conceived the idea of going down to the theater for
a few minutes.

"On some important business?" he queried.

"Yes, a new piece," she replied after some slight hesitation. "They
wanted my advice."

He knew that she was not speaking the truth, but the warm touch of her
arm as it leaned firmly on his own, left him powerless. He felt neither
anger nor rancor after his long, long wait; his one thought was to keep
her where she was now that he had got hold of her. Tomorrow, and not
before, he would try and find out what she had come to her dressing room
after. But Nana still appeared to hesitate; she was manifestly a prey
to the sort of secret anguish that besets people when they are trying
to regain lost ground and to initiate a plan of action. Accordingly, as
they turned the corner of the Galerie des Varietes, she stopped in front
of the show in a fan seller's window.

"I say, that's pretty," she whispered; "I mean that mother-of-pearl
mount with the feathers."

Then, indifferently:

"So you're seeing me home?"

"Of course," he said, with some surprise, "since your child's better."

She was sorry she had told him that story. Perhaps Louiset was passing
through another crisis! She talked of returning to the Batignolles.
But when he offered to accompany her she did not insist on going. For a
second or two she was possessed with the kind of white-hot fury which
a woman experiences when she feels herself entrapped and must,
nevertheless, behave prettily. But in the end she grew resigned and
determined to gain time. If only she could get rid of the count toward
midnight everything would happen as she wished.

"Yes, it's true; you're a bachelor tonight," she murmured. "Your wife
doesn't return till tomorrow, eh?"

"Yes," replied Muffat. It embarrassed him somewhat to hear her talking
familiarly about the countess.

But she pressed him further, asking at what time the train was due and
wanting to know whether he were going to the station to meet her. She
had begun to walk more slowly than ever, as though the shops interested
her very much.

"Now do look!" she said, pausing anew before a jeweler's window, "what a
funny bracelet!"

She adored the Passage des Panoramas. The tinsel of the ARTICLE DE
PARIS, the false jewelry, the gilded zinc, the cardboard made to look
like leather, had been the passion of her early youth. It remained, and
when she passed the shop-windows she could not tear herself away from
them. It was the same with her today as when she was a ragged,
slouching child who fell into reveries in front of the chocolate maker's
sweet-stuff shows or stood listening to a musical box in a neighboring
shop or fell into supreme ecstasies over cheap, vulgarly designed
knickknacks, such as nutshell workboxes, ragpickers' baskets for holding
toothpicks, Vendome columns and Luxor obelisks on which thermometers
were mounted. But that evening she was too much agitated and looked at
things without seeing them. When all was said and done, it bored her to
think she was not free. An obscure revolt raged within her, and amid it
all she felt a wild desire to do something foolish. It was a great
thing gained, forsooth, to be mistress of men of position! She had been
devouring the prince's substance and Steiner's, too, with her childish
caprices, and yet she had no notion where her money went. Even at
this time of day her flat in the Boulevard Haussmann was not entirely
furnished. The drawing room alone was finished, and with its red satin
upholsteries and excess of ornamentation and furniture it struck
a decidedly false note. Her creditors, moreover, would now take to
tormenting her more than ever before whenever she had no money on hand,
a fact which caused her constant surprise, seeing that she was wont
to quote her self as a model of economy. For a month past that thief
Steiner had been scarcely able to pay up his thousand francs on the
occasions when she threatened to kick him out of doors in case he failed
to bring them. As to Muffat, he was an idiot: he had no notion as to
what it was usual to give, and she could not, therefore, grow angry with
him on the score of miserliness. Oh, how gladly she would have turned
all these folks off had she not repeated to herself a score of times
daily a whole string of economical maxims!

One ought to be sensible, Zoe kept saying every morning, and Nana
herself was constantly haunted by the queenly vision seen at Chamont. It
had now become an almost religious memory with her, and through dint of
being ceaselessly recalled it grew even more grandiose. And for these
reasons, though trembling with repressed indignation, she now hung
submissively on the count's arm as they went from window to window among
the fast-diminishing crowd. The pavement was drying outside, and a cool
wind blew along the gallery, swept the close hot air up beneath the
glass that imprisoned it and shook the colored lanterns and the lines of
gas jets and the giant fan which was flaring away like a set piece in an
illumination. At the door of the restaurant a waiter was putting out the
gas, while the motionless attendants in the empty, glaring shops looked
as though they had dropped off to sleep with their eyes open.

"Oh, what a duck!" continued Nana, retracing her steps as far as
the last of the shops in order to go into ecstasies over a porcelain
greyhound standing with raised forepaw in front of a nest hidden among
roses.

At length they quitted the passage, but she refused the offer of a cab.
It was very pleasant out she said; besides, they were in no hurry, and
it would be charming to return home on foot. When they were in front of
the Cafe Anglais she had a sudden longing to eat oysters. Indeed,
she said that owing to Louiset's illness she had tasted nothing since
morning. Muffat dared not oppose her. Yet as he did not in those days
wish to be seen about with her he asked for a private supper room and
hurried to it along the corridors. She followed him with the air of a
woman familiar with the house, and they were on the point of entering
a private room, the door of which a waiter held open, when from a
neighboring saloon, whence issued a perfect tempest of shouts and
laughter, a man rapidly emerged. It was Daguenet.

"By Jove, it's Nana!" he cried.

The count had briskly disappeared into the private room, leaving the
door ajar behind him. But Daguenet winked behind his round shoulders and
added in chaffing tones:

"The deuce, but you're doing nicely! You catch 'em in the Tuileries
nowadays!"

Nana smiled and laid a finger on her lips to beg him to be silent. She
could see he was very much exalted, and yet she was glad to have met
him, for she still felt tenderly toward him, and that despite the nasty
way he had cut her when in the company of fashionable ladies.

"What are you doing now?" she asked amicably.

"Becoming respectable. Yes indeed, I'm thinking of getting married."

She shrugged her shoulders with a pitying air. But he jokingly continued
to the effect that to be only just gaining enough on 'change to buy
ladies bouquets could scarcely be called an income, provided you wanted
to look respectable too! His three hundred thousand francs had only
lasted him eighteen months! He wanted to be practical, and he was going
to marry a girl with a huge dowry and end off as a PREFET, like his
father before him! Nana still smiled incredulously. She nodded in the
direction of the saloon: "Who are you with in there?"

"Oh, a whole gang," he said, forgetting all about his projects under
the influence of returning intoxication. "Just think! Lea is telling us
about her trip in Egypt. Oh, it's screaming! There's a bathing story--"

And he told the story while Nana lingered complaisantly. They had ended
by leaning up against the wall in the corridor, facing one another. Gas
jets were flaring under the low ceiling, and a vague smell of cookery
hung about the folds of the hangings. Now and again, in order to hear
each other's voices when the din in the saloon became louder than ever,
they had to lean well forward. Every few seconds, however, a waiter with
an armful of dishes found his passage barred and disturbed them. But
they did not cease their talk for that; on the contrary, they stood
close up to the walls and, amid the uproar of the supper party and the
jostlings of the waiters, chatted as quietly as if they were by their
own firesides.

"Just look at that," whispered the young man, pointing to the door of
the private room through which Muffat had vanished.

Both looked. The door was quivering slightly; a breath of air seemed to
be disturbing it, and at last, very, very slowly and without the least
sound, it was shut to. They exchanged a silent chuckle. The count must
be looking charmingly happy all alone in there!

"By the by," she asked, "have you read Fauchery's article about me?"

"Yes, 'The Golden Fly,'" replied Daguenet; "I didn't mention it to you
as I was afraid of paining you."

"Paining me--why? His article's a very long one."

She was flattered to think that the Figaro should concern itself about
her person. But failing the explanations of her hairdresser Francis, who
had brought her the paper, she would not have understood that it was
she who was in question. Daguenet scrutinized her slyly, sneering in his
chaffing way. Well, well, since she was pleased, everybody else ought to
be.

"By your leave!" shouted a waiter, holding a dish of iced cheese in both
hands as he separated them.

Nana had stepped toward the little saloon where Muffat was waiting.

"Well, good-by!" continued Daguenet. "Go and find your cuckold again."

But she halted afresh.

"Why d'you call him cuckold?"

"Because he is a cuckold, by Jove!"

She came and leaned against the wall again; she was profoundly
interested.

"Ah!" she said simply.

"What, d'you mean to say you didn't know that? Why, my dear girl, his
wife's Fauchery's mistress. It probably began in the country. Some time
ago, when I was coming here, Fauchery left me, and I suspect he's got an
assignation with her at his place tonight. They've made up a story about
a journey, I fancy."

Overcome with surprise, Nana remained voiceless.

"I suspected it," she said at last, slapping her leg. "I guessed it by
merely looking at her on the highroad that day. To think of its being
possible for an honest woman to deceive her husband, and with that
blackguard Fauchery too! He'll teach her some pretty things!"

"Oh, it isn't her trial trip," muttered Daguenet wickedly. "Perhaps she
knows as much about it as he does."

At this Nana gave vent to an indignant exclamation.

"Indeed she does! What a nice world! It's too foul!"

"By your leave!" shouted a waiter, laden with bottles, as he separated
them.

Daguenet drew her forward again and held her hand for a second or two.
He adopted his crystalline tone of voice, the voice with notes as sweet
as those of a harmonica, which had gained him his success among the
ladies of Nana's type.

"Good-by, darling! You know I love you always."

She disengaged her hand from his, and while a thunder of shouts and
bravos, which made the door in the saloon tremble again, almost drowned
her words she smilingly remarked:

"It's over between us, stupid! But that doesn't matter. Do come up one
of these days, and we'll have a chat."

Then she became serious again and in the outraged tones of a respectable
woman:

"So he's a cuckold, is he?" she cried. "Well, that IS a nuisance, dear
boy. They've always sickened me, cuckolds have."

When at length she went into the private room she noticed that Muffat
was sitting resignedly on a narrow divan with pale face and twitching
hands. He did not reproach her at all, and she, greatly moved, was
divided between feelings of pity and of contempt. The poor man! To think
of his being so unworthily cheated by a vile wife! She had a good mind
to throw her arms round his neck and comfort him. But it was only fair
all the same! He was a fool with women, and this would teach him a
lesson! Nevertheless, pity overcame her. She did not get rid of him
as she had determined to do after the oysters had been discussed. They
scarcely stayed a quarter of an hour in the Cafe Anglais, and together
they went into the house in the Boulevard Haussmann. It was then eleven.
Before midnight she would have easily have discovered some means of
getting rid of him kindly.

In the anteroom, however, she took the precaution of giving Zoe an
order. "You'll look out for him, and you'll tell him not to make a noise
if the other man's still with me."

"But where shall I put him, madame?"

"Keep him in the kitchen. It's more safe."

In the room inside Muffat was already taking off his overcoat. A big
fire was burning on the hearth. It was the same room as of old, with
its rosewood furniture and its hangings and chair coverings of figured
damask with the large blue flowers on a gray background. On two
occasions Nana had thought of having it redone, the first in black
velvet, the second in white satin with bows, but directly Steiner
consented she demanded the money that these changes would cost simply
with a view to pillaging him. She had, indeed, only indulged in a tiger
skin rug for the hearth and a cut-glass hanging lamp.

"I'm not sleepy; I'm not going to bed," she said the moment they were
shut in together.

The count obeyed her submissively, as became a man no longer afraid of
being seen. His one care now was to avoid vexing her.

"As you will," he murmured.

Nevertheless, he took his boots off, too, before seating himself in
front of the fire. One of Nana's pleasures consisted in undressing
herself in front of the mirror on her wardrobe door, which reflected
her whole height. She would let everything slip off her in turn and then
would stand perfectly naked and gaze and gaze in complete oblivion of
all around her. Passion for her own body, ecstasy over her satin skin
and the supple contours of her shape, would keep her serious, attentive
and absorbed in the love of herself. The hairdresser frequently found
her standing thus and would enter without her once turning to look
at him. Muffat used to grow angry then, but he only succeeded in
astonishing her. What was coming over the man? She was doing it to
please herself, not other people.

That particular evening she wanted to have a better view of herself, and
she lit the six candles attached to the frame of the mirror. But while
letting her shift slip down she paused. She had been preoccupied for
some moments past, and a question was on her lips.

"You haven't read the Figaro article, have you? The paper's on the
table." Daguenet's laugh had recurred to her recollections, and she was
harassed by a doubt. If that Fauchery had slandered her she would be
revenged.

"They say that it's about me," she continued, affecting indifference.
"What's your notion, eh, darling?"

And letting go her shift and waiting till Muffat should have done
reading, she stood naked. Muffat was reading slowly Fauchery's article
entitled "The Golden Fly," describing the life of a harlot descended
from four or five generations of drunkards and tainted in her blood by a
cumulative inheritance of misery and drink, which in her case has taken
the form of a nervous exaggeration of the sexual instinct. She has shot
up to womanhood in the slums and on the pavements of Paris, and tall,
handsome and as superbly grown as a dunghill plant, she avenges the
beggars and outcasts of whom she is the ultimate product. With her the
rottenness that is allowed to ferment among the populace is carried
upward and rots the aristocracy. She becomes a blind power of nature, a
leaven of destruction, and unwittingly she corrupts and disorganizes
all Paris, churning it between her snow-white thighs as milk is monthly
churned by housewives. And it was at the end of this article that the
comparison with a fly occurred, a fly of sunny hue which has flown up
out of the dung, a fly which sucks in death on the carrion tolerated by
the roadside and then buzzing, dancing and glittering like a precious
stone enters the windows of palaces and poisons the men within by merely
settling on them in her flight.

Muffat lifted his head; his eyes stared fixedly; he gazed at the fire.

"Well?" asked Nana.

But he did not answer. It seemed as though he wanted to read the article
again. A cold, shivering feeling was creeping from his scalp to his
shoulders. This article had been written anyhow. The phrases were wildly
extravagant; the unexpected epigrams and quaint collocations of words
went beyond all bounds. Yet notwithstanding this, he was struck by what
he had read, for it had rudely awakened within him much that for months
past he had not cared to think about.

He looked up. Nana had grown absorbed in her ecstatic
self-contemplation. She was bending her neck and was looking attentively
in the mirror at a little brown mark above her right haunch. She was
touching it with the tip of her finger and by dint of bending backward
was making it stand out more clearly than ever. Situated where it
was, it doubtless struck her as both quaint and pretty. After that she
studied other parts of her body with an amused expression and much of
the vicious curiosity of a child. The sight of herself always astonished
her, and she would look as surprised and ecstatic as a young girl who
has discovered her puberty. Slowly, slowly, she spread out her arms in
order to give full value to her figure, which suggested the torso of
a plump Venus. She bent herself this way and that and examined herself
before and behind, stooping to look at the side view of her bosom and
at the sweeping contours of her thighs. And she ended with a strange
amusement which consisted of swinging to right and left, her knees
apart and her body swaying from the waist with the perpetual jogging,
twitching movements peculiar to an oriental dancer in the danse du
ventre.

Muffat sat looking at her. She frightened him. The newspaper had dropped
from his hand. For a moment he saw her as she was, and he despised
himself. Yes, it was just that; she had corrupted his life; he already
felt himself tainted to his very marrow by impurities hitherto undreamed
of. Everything was now destined to rot within him, and in the twinkling
of an eye he understood what this evil entailed. He saw the ruin brought
about by this kind of "leaven"--himself poisoned, his family destroyed,
a bit of the social fabric cracking and crumbling. And unable to take
his eyes from the sight, he sat looking fixedly at her, striving to
inspire himself with loathing for her nakedness.

Nana no longer moved. With an arm behind her neck, one hand clasped in
the other, and her elbows far apart, she was throwing back her head so
that he could see a foreshortened reflection of her half-closed eyes,
her parted lips, her face clothed with amorous laughter. Her masses of
yellow hair were unknotted behind, and they covered her back with the
fell of a lioness.

Bending back thus, she displayed her solid Amazonian waist and firm
bosom, where strong muscles moved under the satin texture of the skin.
A delicate line, to which the shoulder and the thigh added their slight
undulations, ran from one of her elbows to her foot, and Muffat's eyes
followed this tender profile and marked how the outlines of the fair
flesh vanished in golden gleams and how its rounded contours shone like
silk in the candlelight. He thought of his old dread of Woman, of the
Beast of the Scriptures, at once lewd and wild. Nana was all covered
with fine hair; a russet made her body velvety, while the Beast was
apparent in the almost equine development of her flanks, in the fleshy
exuberances and deep hollows of her body, which lent her sex the mystery
and suggestiveness lurking in their shadows. She was, indeed, that
Golden Creature, blind as brute force, whose very odor ruined the world.
Muffat gazed and gazed as a man possessed, till at last, when he
had shut his eyes in order to escape it, the Brute reappeared in the
darkness of the brain, larger, more terrible, more suggestive in its
attitude. Now, he understood, it would remain before his eyes, in his
very flesh, forever.

But Nana was gathering herself together. A little thrill of tenderness
seemed to have traversed her members. Her eyes were moist; she tried, as
it were, to make herself small, as though she could feel herself better
thus. Then she threw her head and bosom back and, melting, as it were,
in one great bodily caress, she rubbed her cheeks coaxingly, first
against one shoulder, then against the other. Her lustful mouth breathed
desire over her limbs. She put out her lips, kissed herself long in the
neighborhood of her armpit and laughed at the other Nana who also was
kissing herself in the mirror.

Then Muffat gave a long sigh. This solitary pleasure exasperated him.
Suddenly all his resolutions were swept away as though by a mighty wind.
In a fit of brutal passion he caught Nana to his breast and threw her
down on the carpet.

"Leave me alone!" she cried. "You're hurting me!"

He was conscious of his undoing; he recognized in her stupidity,
vileness and falsehood, and he longed to possess her, poisoned though
she was.

"Oh, you're a fool!" she said savagely when he let her get up.

Nevertheless, she grew calm. He would go now. She slipped on a nightgown
trimmed with lace and came and sat down on the floor in front of the
fire. It was her favorite position. When she again questioned him about
Fauchery's article Muffat replied vaguely, for he wanted to avoid a
scene. Besides, she declared that she had found a weak spot in Fauchery.
And with that she relapsed into a long silence and reflected on how to
dismiss the count. She would have liked to do it in an agreeable way,
for she was still a good-natured wench, and it bored her to cause others
pain, especially in the present instance where the man was a cuckold.
The mere thought of his being that had ended by rousing her sympathies!

"So you expect your wife tomorrow morning?" she said at last.

Muffat had stretched himself in an armchair. He looked drowsy, and his
limbs were tired. He gave a sign of assent. Nana sat gazing seriously
at him with a dull tumult in her brain. Propped on one leg, among her
slightly rumpled laces she was holding one of her bare feet between her
hands and was turning it mechanically about and about.

"Have you been married long?" she asked.

"Nineteen years," replied the count

"Ah! And is your wife amiable? Do you get on comfortably together?"

He was silent. Then with some embarrassment:

"You know I've begged you never to talk of those matters."

"Dear me, why's that?" she cried, beginning to grow vexed directly. "I'm
sure I won't eat your wife if I DO talk about her. Dear boy, why, every
woman's worth--"

But she stopped for fear of saying too much. She contented herself by
assuming a superior expression, since she considered herself extremely
kind. The poor fellow, he needed delicate handling! Besides, she had
been struck by a laughable notion, and she smiled as she looked him
carefully over.

"I say," she continued, "I haven't told you the story about you that
Fauchery's circulating. There's a viper, if you like! I don't bear him
any ill will, because his article may be all right, but he's a regular
viper all the same."

And laughing more gaily than ever, she let go her foot and, crawling
along the floor, came and propped herself against the count's knees.

"Now just fancy, he swears you were still like a babe when you married
your wife. You were still like that, eh? Is it true, eh?"

Her eyes pressed for an answer, and she raised her hands to his
shoulders and began shaking him in order to extract the desired
confession.

"Without doubt," he at last made answer gravely.

Thereupon she again sank down at his feet. She was shaking with
uproarious laughter, and she stuttered and dealt him little slaps.

"No, it's too funny! There's no one like you; you're a marvel. But, my
poor pet, you must just have been stupid! When a man doesn't know--oh,
it is so comical! Good heavens, I should have liked to have seen you!
And it came off well, did it? Now tell me something about it! Oh, do, do
tell me!"

She overwhelmed him with questions, forgetting nothing and requiring the
veriest details. And she laughed such sudden merry peals which doubled
her up with mirth, and her chemise slipped and got turned down to such
an extent, and her skin looked so golden in the light of the big fire,
that little by little the count described to her his bridal night. He no
longer felt at all awkward. He himself began to be amused at last as
he spoke. Only he kept choosing his phrases, for he still had a certain
sense of modesty. The young woman, now thoroughly interested, asked him
about the countess. According to his account, she had a marvelous figure
but was a regular iceberg for all that.

"Oh, get along with you!" he muttered indolently. "You have no cause to
be jealous."

Nana had ceased laughing, and she now resumed her former position and,
with her back to the fire, brought her knees up under her chin with her
clasped hands. Then in a serious tone she declared:

"It doesn't pay, dear boy, to look like a ninny with one's wife the
first night."

"Why?" queried the astonished count.

"Because," she replied slowly, assuming a doctorial expression.

And with that she looked as if she were delivering a lecture and shook
her head at him. In the end, however, she condescended to explain
herself more lucidly.

"Well, look here! I know how it all happens. Yes, dearie, women don't
like a man to be foolish. They don't say anything because there's such a
thing as modesty, you know, but you may be sure they think about it for
a jolly long time to come. And sooner or later, when a man's been an
ignoramus, they go and make other arrangements. That's it, my pet."

He did not seem to understand. Whereupon she grew more definite still.
She became maternal and taught him his lesson out of sheer goodness
of heart, as a friend might do. Since she had discovered him to be
a cuckold the information had weighed on her spirits; she was madly
anxious to discuss his position with him.

"Good heavens! I'm talking of things that don't concern me. I've said
what I have because everybody ought to be happy. We're having a chat,
eh? Well then, you're to answer me as straight as you can."

But she stopped to change her position, for she was burning herself.
"It's jolly hot, eh? My back's roasted. Wait a second. I'll cook my
tummy a bit. That's what's good for the aches!"

And when she had turned round with her breast to the fire and her feet
tucked under her:

"Let me see," she said; "you don't sleep with your wife any longer?"

"No, I swear to you I don't," said Muffat, dreading a scene.

"And you believe she's really a stick?"

He bowed his head in the affirmative.

"And that's why you love me? Answer me! I shan't be angry."

He repeated the same movement.

"Very well then," she concluded. "I suspected as much! Oh, the poor pet.
Do you know my aunt Lerat? When she comes get her to tell you the story
about the fruiterer who lives opposite her. Just fancy that man--Damn
it, how hot this fire is! I must turn round. I'm going to roast my
left side now." And as she presented her side to the blaze a droll idea
struck her, and like a good-tempered thing, she made fun of herself for
she was delighted to see that she was looking so plump and pink in the
light of the coal fire.

"I look like a goose, eh? Yes, that's it! I'm a goose on the spit, and
I'm turning, turning and cooking in my own juice, eh?"

And she was once more indulging in a merry fit of laughter when a sound
of voices and slamming doors became audible. Muffat was surprised,
and he questioned her with a look. She grew serious, and an anxious
expression came over her face. It must be Zoe's cat, a cursed beast
that broke everything. It was half-past twelve o'clock. How long was she
going to bother herself in her cuckold's behalf? Now that the other man
had come she ought to get him out of the way, and that quickly.

"What were you saying?" asked the count complaisantly, for he was
charmed to see her so kind to him.

But in her desire to be rid of him she suddenly changed her mood, became
brutal and did not take care what she was saying.

"Oh yes! The fruiterer and his wife. Well, my dear fellow, they never
once touched one another! Not the least bit! She was very keen on it,
you understand, but he, the ninny, didn't know it. He was so green
that he thought her a stick, and so he went elsewhere and took up with
streetwalkers, who treated him to all sorts of nastiness, while she, on
her part, made up for it beautifully with fellows who were a lot slyer
than her greenhorn of a husband. And things always turn out that way
through people not understanding one another. I know it, I do!"

Muffat was growing pale. At last he was beginning to understand her
allusions, and he wanted to make her keep silence. But she was in full
swing.

"No, hold your tongue, will you? If you weren't brutes you would be as
nice with your wives as you are with us, and if your wives weren't geese
they would take as much pains to keep you as we do to get you. That's
the way to behave. Yes, my duck, you can put that in your pipe and smoke
it."

"Do not talk of honest women," he said in a hard voice. "You do not know
them."

At that Nana rose to her knees.

"I don't know them! Why, they aren't even clean, your honest women
aren't! They aren't even clean! I defy you to find me one who would
dare show herself as I am doing. Oh, you make me laugh with your honest
women. Don't drive me to it; don't oblige me to tell you things I may
regret afterward."

The count, by way of answer, mumbled something insulting. Nana became
quite pale in her turn. For some seconds she looked at him without
speaking. Then in her decisive way:

"What would you do if your wife were deceiving you?"

He made a threatening gesture.

"Well, and if I were to?"

"Oh, you," he muttered with a shrug of his shoulders.

Nana was certainly not spiteful. Since the beginning of the conversation
she had been strongly tempted to throw his cuckold's reputation in his
teeth, but she had resisted. She would have liked to confess him quietly
on the subject, but he had begun to exasperate her at last. The matter
ought to stop now.

"Well, then, my dearie," she continued, "I don't know what you're
getting at with me. For two hours past you've been worrying my life out.
Now do just go and find your wife, for she's at it with Fauchery. Yes,
it's quite correct; they're in the Rue Taitbout, at the corner of the
Rue de Provence. You see, I'm giving you the address."

Then triumphantly, as she saw Muffat stagger to his feet like an ox
under the hammer:

"If honest women must meddle in our affairs and take our sweethearts
from us--Oh, you bet they're a nice lot, those honest women!"

But she was unable to proceed. With a terrible push he had cast her full
length on the floor and, lifting his heel, he seemed on the point of
crushing in her head in order to silence her. For the twinkling of an
eye she felt sickening dread. Blinded with rage, he had begun beating
about the room like a maniac. Then his choking silence and the struggle
with which he was shaken melted her to tears. She felt a mortal regret
and, rolling herself up in front of the fire so as to roast her right
side, she undertook the task of comforting him.

"I take my oath, darling, I thought you knew it all. Otherwise I
shouldn't have spoken; you may be sure. But perhaps it isn't true.
I don't say anything for certain. I've been told it, and people are
talking about it, but what does that prove? Oh, get along! You're very
silly to grow riled about it. If I were a man I shouldn't care a rush
for the women! All the women are alike, you see, high or low; they're
all rowdy and the rest of it."

In a fit of self-abnegation she was severe on womankind, for she wished
thus to lessen the cruelty of her blow. But he did not listen to her or
hear what she said. With fumbling movements he had put on his boots and
his overcoat. For a moment longer he raved round, and then in a final
outburst, finding himself near the door, he rushed from the room. Nana
was very much annoyed.

"Well, well! A prosperous trip to you!" she continued aloud, though she
was now alone. "He's polite, too, that fellow is, when he's spoken to!
And I had to defend myself at that! Well, I was the first to get back my
temper and I made plenty of excuses, I'm thinking! Besides, he had been
getting on my nerves!"

Nevertheless, she was not happy and sat scratching her legs with both
hands. Then she took high ground:

"Tut, tut, it isn't my fault if he is a cuckold!"

And toasted on every side and as hot as a roast bird, she went and
buried herself under the bedclothes after ringing for Zoe to usher in
the other man, who was waiting in the kitchen.

Once outside, Muffat began walking at a furious pace. A fresh shower had
just fallen, and he kept slipping on the greasy pavement. When he looked
mechanically up into the sky he saw ragged, soot-colored clouds scudding
in front of the moon. At this hour of the night passers-by were
becoming few and far between in the Boulevard Haussmann. He skirted the
enclosures round the opera house in his search for darkness, and as he
went along he kept mumbling inconsequent phrases. That girl had been
lying. She had invented her story out of sheer stupidity and cruelty. He
ought to have crushed her head when he had it under his heel. After all
was said and done, the business was too shameful. Never would he see
her; never would he touch her again, or if he did he would be miserably
weak. And with that he breathed hard, as though he were free once
more. Oh, that naked, cruel monster, roasting away like any goose and
slavering over everything that he had respected for forty years back.
The moon had come out, and the empty street was bathed in white light.
He felt afraid, and he burst into a great fit of sobbing, for he had
grown suddenly hopeless and maddened as though he had sunk into a
fathomless void.

"My God!" he stuttered out. "It's finished! There's nothing left now!"

Along the boulevards belated people were hurrying. He tried hard to be
calm, and as the story told him by that courtesan kept recurring to his
burning consciousness, he wanted to reason the matter out. The countess
was coming up from Mme de Chezelles's country house tomorrow morning.
Yet nothing, in fact, could have prevented her from returning to Paris
the night before and passing it with that man. He now began recalling
to mind certain details of their stay at Les Fondettes. One evening, for
instance, he had surprised Sabine in the shade of some trees, when she
was so much agitated as to be unable to answer his questions. The
man had been present; why should she not be with him now? The more he
thought about it the more possible the whole story became, and he ended
by thinking it natural and even inevitable. While he was in his shirt
sleeves in the house of a harlot his wife was undressing in her lover's
room. Nothing could be simpler or more logical! Reasoning in this
way, he forced himself to keep cool. He felt as if there were a great
downward movement in the direction of fleshly madness, a movement which,
as it grew, was overcoming the whole world round about him. Warm images
pursued him in imagination. A naked Nana suddenly evoked a naked
Sabine. At this vision, which seemed to bring them together in shameless
relationship and under the influence of the same lusts, he literally
stumbled, and in the road a cab nearly ran over him. Some women who had
come out of a cafe jostled him amid loud laughter. Then a fit of weeping
once more overcame him, despite all his efforts to the contrary, and,
not wishing to shed tears in the presence of others, he plunged into
a dark and empty street. It was the Rue Rossini, and along its silent
length he wept like a child.

"It's over with us," he said in hollow tones. "There's nothing left us
now, nothing left us now!"

He wept so violently that he had to lean up against a door as he buried
his face in his wet hands. A noise of footsteps drove him away. He felt
a shame and a fear which made him fly before people's faces with the
restless step of a bird of darkness. When passers-by met him on the
pavement he did his best to look and walk in a leisurely way, for he
fancied they were reading his secret in the very swing of his shoulders.
He had followed the Rue de la Grange Bateliere as far as the Rue du
Faubourg Montmartre, where the brilliant lamplight surprised him, and he
retraced his steps. For nearly an hour he traversed the district thus,
choosing always the darkest corners. Doubtless there was some goal
whither his steps were patiently, instinctively, leading him through
a labyrinth of endless turnings. At length he lifted his eyes up it a
street corner. He had reached his destination, the point where the Rue
Taitbout and the Rue de la Provence met. He had taken an hour amid his
painful mental sufferings to arrive at a place he could have reached
in five minutes. One morning a month ago he remembered going up to
Fauchery's rooms to thank him for a notice of a ball at the Tuileries,
in which the journalist had mentioned him. The flat was between the
ground floor and the first story and had a row of small square windows
which were half hidden by the colossal signboard belonging to a
shop. The last window on the left was bisected by a brilliant band of
lamplight coming from between the half-closed curtains. And he remained
absorbed and expectant, with his gaze fixed on this shining streak.

The moon had disappeared in an inky sky, whence an icy drizzle was
falling. Two o'clock struck at the Trinite. The Rue de Provence and the
Rue Taitbout lay in shadow, bestarred at intervals by bright splashes
of light from the gas lamps, which in the distance were merged in yellow
mist. Muffat did not move from where he was standing. That was the room.
He remembered it now: it had hangings of red "andrinople," and a Louis
XIII bed stood at one end of it. The lamp must be standing on the
chimney piece to the right. Without doubt they had gone to bed, for
no shadows passed across the window, and the bright streak gleamed as
motionless as the light of a night lamp. With his eyes still uplifted
he began forming a plan; he would ring the bell, go upstairs despite the
porter's remonstrances, break the doors in with a push of his shoulder
and fall upon them in the very bed without giving them time to unlace
their arms. For one moment the thought that he had no weapon upon him
gave him pause, but directly afterward he decided to throttle them. He
returned to the consideration of his project, and he perfected it while
waiting for some sign, some indication, which should bring certainty
with it.

Had a woman's shadow only shown itself at that moment he would have
rung. But the thought that perhaps he was deceiving himself froze him.
How could he be certain? Doubts began to return. His wife could not be
with that man. It was monstrous and impossible. Nevertheless, he stayed
where he was and was gradually overcome by a species of torpor which
merged into sheer feebleness while he waited long, and the fixity of his
gaze induced hallucinations.

A shower was falling. Two policemen were approaching, and he was forced
to leave the doorway where he had taken shelter. When these were lost to
view in the Rue de Provence he returned to his post, wet and shivering.
The luminous streak still traversed the window, and this time he was
going away for good when a shadow crossed it. It moved so quickly that
he thought he had deceived himself. But first one and then another black
thing followed quickly after it, and there was a regular commotion in
the room. Riveted anew to the pavement, he experienced an intolerable
burning sensation in his inside as he waited to find out the meaning
of it all. Outlines of arms and legs flitted after one another, and
an enormous hand traveled about with the silhouette of a water jug. He
distinguished nothing clearly, but he thought he recognized a woman's
headdress. And he disputed the point with himself; it might well have
been Sabine's hair, only the neck did not seem sufficiently slim. At
that hour of the night he had lost the power of recognition and of
action. In this terrible agony of uncertainty his inside caused him
such acute suffering that he pressed against the door in order to calm
himself, shivering like a man in rags, as he did so. Then seeing that
despite everything he could not turn his eyes away from the window, his
anger changed into a fit of moralizing. He fancied himself a deputy; he
was haranguing an assembly, loudly denouncing debauchery, prophesying
national ruin. And he reconstructed Fauchery's article on the poisoned
fly, and he came before the house and declared that morals such as
these, which could only be paralleled in the days of the later Roman
Empire, rendered society an impossibility; that did him good. But the
shadows had meanwhile disappeared. Doubtless they had gone to bed again,
and, still watching, he continued waiting where he was.

Three o'clock struck, then four, but he could not take his departure.
When showers fell he buried himself in a corner of the doorway, his legs
splashed with wet. Nobody passed by now, and occasionally his eyes would
close, as though scorched by the streak of light, which he kept watching
obstinately, fixedly, with idiotic persistence. On two subsequent
occasions the shadows flitted about, repeating the same gestures and
agitating the silhouette of the same gigantic jug, and twice quiet was
re-established, and the night lamp again glowed discreetly out. These
shadows only increased his uncertainty. Then, too, a sudden idea soothed
his brain while it postponed the decisive moment. After all, he had only
to wait for the woman when she left the house. He could quite easily
recognize Sabine. Nothing could be simpler, and there would be no
scandal, and he would be sure of things one way or the other. It was
only necessary to stay where he was. Among all the confused feelings
which had been agitating him he now merely felt a dull need of certain
knowledge. But sheer weariness and vacancy began lulling him to sleep
under his doorway, and by way of distraction he tried to reckon up how
long he would have to wait. Sabine was to be at the station toward
nine o'clock; that meant about four hours and a half more. He was very
patient; he would even have been content not to move again, and he found
a certain charm in fancying that his night vigil would last through
eternity.

Suddenly the streak of light was gone. This extremely simple event was
to him an unforeseen catastrophe, at once troublesome and disagreeable.
Evidently they had just put the lamp out and were going to sleep. It was
reasonable enough at that hour, but he was irritated thereat, for now
the darkened window ceased to interest him. He watched it for a quarter
of an hour longer and then grew tired and, leaving the doorway, took a
turn upon the pavement. Until five o'clock he walked to and fro, looking
upward from time to time. The window seemed a dead thing, and now
and then he asked himself if he had not dreamed that shadows had been
dancing up there behind the panes. An intolerable sense of fatigue
weighed him down, a dull, heavy feeling, under the influence of which he
forgot what he was waiting for at that particular street corner. He kept
stumbling on the pavement and starting into wakefulness with the icy
shudder of a man who does not know where he is. Nothing seemed to
justify the painful anxiety he was inflicting on himself. Since those
people were asleep--well then, let them sleep! What good could it
do mixing in their affairs? It was very dark; no one would ever know
anything about this night's doings. And with that every sentiment within
him, down to curiosity itself, took flight before the longing to have
done with it all and to find relief somewhere. The cold was increasing,
and the street was becoming insufferable. Twice he walked away and
slowly returned, dragging one foot behind the other, only to walk
farther away next time. It was all over; nothing was left him now, and
so he went down the whole length of the boulevard and did not return.

His was a melancholy progress through the streets. He walked slowly,
never changing his pace and simply keeping along the walls of the
houses.

His boot heels re-echoed, and he saw nothing but his shadow moving
at his side. As he neared each successive gaslight it grew taller and
immediately afterward diminished. But this lulled him and occupied him
mechanically. He never knew afterward where he had been; it seemed as
if he had dragged himself round and round in a circle for hours. One
reminiscence only was very distinctly retained by him. Without his being
able to explain how it came about he found himself with his face pressed
close against the gate at the end of the Passage des Panoramas and his
two hands grasping the bars. He did not shake them but, his whole heart
swelling with emotion, he simply tried to look into the passage. But he
could make nothing out clearly, for shadows flooded the whole length
of the deserted gallery, and the wind, blowing hard down the Rue
Saint-Marc, puffed in his face with the damp breath of a cellar. For a
time he tried doggedly to see into the place, and then, awakening from
his dream, he was filled with astonishment and asked himself what he
could possibly be seeking for at that hour and in that position, for he
had pressed against the railings so fiercely that they had left their
mark on his face. Then he went on tramp once more. He was hopeless,
and his heart was full of infinite sorrow, for he felt, amid all those
shadows, that he was evermore betrayed and alone.

Day broke at last. It was the murky dawn that follows winter nights and
looks so melancholy from muddy Paris pavements. Muffat had returned into
the wide streets, which were then in course of construction on either
side of the new opera house. Soaked by the rain and cut up by cart
wheels, the chalky soil had become a lake of liquid mire. But he never
looked to see where he was stepping and walked on and on, slipping and
regaining his footing as he went. The awakening of Paris, with its gangs
of sweepers and early workmen trooping to their destinations, added to
his troubles as day brightened. People stared at him in surprise as he
went by with scared look and soaked hat and muddy clothes. For a long
while he sought refuge against palings and among scaffoldings, his
desolate brain haunted by the single remaining thought that he was very
miserable.

Then he thought of God. The sudden idea of divine help, of superhuman
consolation, surprised him, as though it were something unforeseen and
extraordinary. The image of M. Venot was evoked thereby, and he saw his
little plump face and ruined teeth. Assuredly M. Venot, whom for months
he had been avoiding and thereby rendering miserable, would be delighted
were he to go and knock at his door and fall weeping into his arms. In
the old days God had been always so merciful toward him. At the least
sorrow, the slightest obstacle on the path of life, he had been wont to
enter a church, where, kneeling down, he would humble his littleness in
the presence of Omnipotence. And he had been used to go forth thence,
fortified by prayer, fully prepared to give up the good things of this
world, possessed by the single yearning for eternal salvation. But at
present he only practiced by fits and starts, when the terror of hell
came upon him. All kinds of weak inclinations had overcome him, and
the thought of Nana disturbed his devotions. And now the thought of God
astonished him. Why had he not thought of God before, in the hour of
that terrible agony when his feeble humanity was breaking up in ruin?

Meanwhile with slow and painful steps he sought for a church. But he had
lost his bearings; the early hour had changed the face of the
streets. Soon, however, as he turned the corner of the Rue de la
Chaussee-d'Antin, he noticed a tower looming vaguely in the fog at the
end of the Trinite Church. The white statues overlooking the bare garden
seemed like so many chilly Venuses among the yellow foliage of a park.
Under the porch he stood and panted a little, for the ascent of the wide
steps had tired him. Then he went in. The church was very cold, for its
heating apparatus had been fireless since the previous evening, and
its lofty, vaulted aisles were full of a fine damp vapor which had come
filtering through the windows. The aisles were deep in shadow; not a
soul was in the church, and the only sound audible amid the unlovely
darkness was that made by the old shoes of some verger or other who was
dragging himself about in sulky semiwakefulness. Muffat, however, after
knocking forlornly against an untidy collection of chairs, sank on his
knees with bursting heart and propped himself against the rails in
front of a little chapel close by a font. He clasped his hands and began
searching within himself for suitable prayers, while his whole being
yearned toward a transport. But only his lips kept stammering empty
words; his heart and brain were far away, and with them he returned to
the outer world and began his long, unresting march through the streets,
as though lashed forward by implacable necessity. And he kept repeating,
"O my God, come to my assistance! O my God, abandon not Thy creature,
who delivers himself up to Thy justice! O my God, I adore Thee: Thou
wilt not leave me to perish under the buffetings of mine enemies!"
Nothing answered: the shadows and the cold weighed upon him, and the
noise of the old shoes continued in the distance and prevented him
praying. Nothing, indeed, save that tiresome noise was audible in the
deserted church, where the matutinal sweeping was unknown before the
early masses had somewhat warmed the air of the place. After that he
rose to his feet with the help of a chair, his knees cracking under
him as he did so. God was not yet there. And why should he weep in M.
Venot's arms? The man could do nothing.

And then mechanically he returned to Nana's house. Outside he slipped,
and he felt the tears welling to his eyes again, but he was not angry
with his lot--he was only feeble and ill. Yes, he was too tired; the
rain had wet him too much; he was nipped with cold, but the idea of
going back to his great dark house in the Rue Miromesnil froze his
heart. The house door at Nana's was not open as yet, and he had to wait
till the porter made his appearance. He smiled as he went upstairs,
for he already felt penetrated by the soft warmth of that cozy retreat,
where he would be able to stretch his limbs and go to sleep.

When Zoe opened the door to him she gave a start of most uneasy
astonishment. Madame had been taken ill with an atrocious sick headache,
and she hadn't closed her eyes all night. Still, she could quite go and
see whether Madame had gone to sleep for good. And with that she slipped
into the bedroom while he sank back into one of the armchairs in the
drawing room. But almost at that very moment Nana appeared. She had
jumped out of bed and had scarce had time to slip on a petticoat. Her
feet were bare, her hair in wild disorder, her nightgown all crumpled.

"What! You here again?" she cried with a red flush on her cheeks.

Up she rushed, stung by sudden indignation, in order herself to thrust
him out of doors. But when she saw him in such sorry plight--nay, so
utterly done for--she felt infinite pity.

"Well, you are a pretty sight, my dear fellow!" she continued more
gently. "But what's the matter? You've spotted them, eh? And it's given
you the hump?"

He did not answer; he looked like a broken-down animal. Nevertheless,
she came to the conclusion that he still lacked proofs, and to hearten
him up the said:

"You see now? I was on the wrong tack. Your wife's an honest woman, on
my word of honor! And now, my little friend, you must go home to bed.
You want it badly."

He did not stir.

"Now then, be off! I can't keep you here. But perhaps you won't presume
to stay at such a time as this?"

"Yes, let's go to bed," he stammered.

She repressed a violent gesture, for her patience was deserting her. Was
the man going crazy?

"Come, be off!" she repeated.

"No."

But she flared up in exasperation, in utter rebellion.

"It's sickening! Don't you understand I'm jolly tired of your company?
Go and find your wife, who's making a cuckold of you. Yes, she's making
a cuckold of you. I say so--yes, I do now. There, you've got the sack!
Will you leave me or will you not?"

Muffat's eyes filled with tears. He clasped his hands together.

"Oh, let's go to bed!"

At this Nana suddenly lost all control over herself and was choked by
nervous sobs. She was being taken advantage of when all was said and
done! What had these stories to do with her? She certainly had used all
manner of delicate methods in order to teach him his lesson gently.
And now he was for making her pay the damages! No, thank you! She was
kindhearted, but not to that extent.

"The devil, but I've had enough of this!" she swore, bringing her fist
down on the furniture. "Yes, yes, I wanted to be faithful--it was all I
could do to be that! Yet if I spoke the word I could be rich tomorrow,
my dear fellow!"

He looked up in surprise. Never once had he thought of the monetary
question. If she only expressed a desire he would realize it at once;
his whole fortune was at her service.

"No, it's too late now," she replied furiously. "I like men who give
without being asked. No, if you were to offer me a million for a single
interview I should say no! It's over between us; I've got other fish to
fry there! So be off or I shan't answer for the consequences. I shall do
something dreadful!"

She advanced threateningly toward him, and while she was raving, as
became a good courtesan who, though driven to desperation, was yet
firmly convinced of her rights and her superiority over tiresome, honest
folks, the door opened suddenly and Steiner presented himself. That
proved the finishing touch. She shrieked aloud:

"Well, I never. Here's the other one!"

Bewildered by her piercing outcry, Steiner stopped short. Muffat's
unexpected presence annoyed him, for he feared an explanation and had
been doing his best to avoid it these three months past. With blinking
eyes he stood first on one leg, then on the other, looking embarrassed
the while and avoiding the count's gaze. He was out of breath, and as
became a man who had rushed across Paris with good news, only to
find himself involved in unforeseen trouble, his face was flushed and
distorted.

"Que veux-tu, toi?" asked Nana roughly, using the second person singular
in open mockery of the count.

"What--what do I--" he stammered. "I've got it for you--you know what."

"Eh?"

He hesitated. The day before yesterday she had given him to understand
that if he could not find her a thousand francs to pay a bill with she
would not receive him any more. For two days he had been loafing about
the town in quest of the money and had at last made the sum up that very
morning.

"The thousand francs!" he ended by declaring as he drew an envelope from
his pocket.

Nana had not remembered.

"The thousand francs!" she cried. "D'you think I'm begging alms? Now
look here, that's what I value your thousand francs at!"

And snatching the envelope, she threw it full in his face. As became a
prudent Hebrew, he picked it up slowly and painfully and then looked at
the young woman with a dull expression of face. Muffat and he exchanged
a despairing glance, while she put her arms akimbo in order to shout
more loudly than before.

"Come now, will you soon have done insulting me? I'm glad you've come,
too, dear boy, because now you see the clearance'll be quite complete.
Now then, gee up! Out you go!"

Then as they did not hurry in the least, for they were paralyzed:

"D'you mean to say I'm acting like a fool, eh? It's likely enough! But
you've bored me too much! And, hang it all, I've had enough of swelldom!
If I die of what I'm doing--well, it's my fancy!"

They sought to calm her; they begged her to listen to reason.

"Now then, once, twice, thrice! Won't you go? Very well! Look there!
I've got company."

And with a brisk movement she flung wide the bedroom door. Whereupon in
the middle of the tumbled bed the two men caught sight of Fontan. He had
not expected to be shown off in this situation; nevertheless, he took
things very easily, for he was used to sudden surprises on the stage.
Indeed, after the first shock he even hit upon a grimace calculated
to tide him honorably over his difficulty; he "turned rabbit," as he
phrased it, and stuck out his lips and wrinkled up his nose, so as
completely to transform the lower half of his face. His base, satyrlike
head seemed to exude incontinence. It was this man Fontan then whom Nana
had been to fetch at the Varieties every day for a week past, for
she was smitten with that fierce sort of passion which the grimacing
ugliness of a low comedian is wont to inspire in the genus courtesan.

"There!" she said, pointing him out with tragic gesture.

Muffat, who hitherto had pocketed everything, rebelled at this affront.

"Bitch!" he stammered.

But Nana, who was once more in the bedroom, came back in order to have
the last word.

"How am I a bitch? What about your wife?"

And she was off and, slamming the door with a bang, she noisily pushed
to the bolt. Left alone, the two men gazed at one another in silence.
Zoe had just come into the room, but she did not drive them out. Nay,
she spoke to them in the most sensible manner. As became a woman with a
head on her shoulders, she decided that Madame's conduct was rather too
much of a good thing. But she defended her, nonetheless: this union with
the play actor couldn't last; the madness must be allowed to pass off!
The two men retired without uttering a sound. On the pavement outside
they shook hands silently, as though swayed by a mutual sense of
fraternity. Then they turned their backs on one another and went
crawling off in opposite directions.

When at last Muffat entered his town house in the Rue Miromesnil his
wife was just arriving. The two met on the great staircase, whose walls
exhaled an icy chill. They lifted up their eyes and beheld one another.
The count still wore his muddy clothes, and his pale, bewildered face
betrayed the prodigal returning from his debauch. The countess looked
as though she were utterly fagged out by a night in the train. She was
dropping with sleep, but her hair had been brushed anyhow, and her eyes
were deeply sunken.



CHAPTER VIII


We are in a little set of lodgings on the fourth floor in the Rue Veron
at Montmartre. Nana and Fontan have invited a few friends to cut their
Twelfth-Night cake with them. They are giving their housewarming, though
they have been only three days settled.

They had no fixed intention of keeping house together, but the whole
thing had come about suddenly in the first glow of the honeymoon.
After her grand blowup, when she had turned the count and the banker so
vigorously out of doors, Nana felt the world crumbling about her feet.
She estimated the situation at a glance; the creditors would swoop
down on her anteroom, would mix themselves up with her love affairs and
threaten to sell her little all unless she continued to act sensibly.
Then, too, there would be no end of disputes and carking anxieties if
she attempted to save her furniture from their clutches. And so she
preferred giving up everything. Besides, the flat in the Boulevard
Haussmann was plaguing her to death. It was so stupid with its great
gilded rooms! In her access of tenderness for Fontan she began dreaming
of a pretty little bright chamber. Indeed, she returned to the old
ideals of the florist days, when her highest ambition was to have a
rosewood cupboard with a plate-glass door and a bed hung with blue
"reps." In the course of two days she sold what she could smuggle out
of the house in the way of knickknacks and jewelry and then disappeared,
taking with her ten thousand francs and never even warning the porter's
wife. It was a plunge into the dark, a merry spree; never a trace was
left behind. In this way she would prevent the men from coming dangling
after her. Fontain was very nice. He did not say no to anything but just
let her do as she liked. Nay, he even displayed an admirable spirit
of comradeship. He had, on his part, nearly seven thousand francs, and
despite the fact that people accused him of stinginess, he consented
to add them to the young woman's ten thousand. The sum struck them as
a solid foundation on which to begin housekeeping. And so they started
away, drawing from their common hoard, in order to hire and furnish the
two rooms in the Rue Veron, and sharing everything together like old
friends. In the early days it was really delicious.

On Twelfth Night Mme Lerat and Louiset were the first to arrive. As
Fontan had not yet come home, the old lady ventured to give expression
to her fears, for she trembled to see her niece renouncing the chance of
wealth.

"Oh, Aunt, I love him so dearly!" cried Nana, pressing her hands to her
heart with the prettiest of gestures.

This phrase produced an extraordinary effect on Mme Lerat, and tears
came into her eyes.

"That's true," she said with an air of conviction. "Love before all
things!"

And with that she went into raptures over the prettiness of the rooms.
Nana took her to see the bedroom, the parlor and the very kitchen.
Gracious goodness, it wasn't a vast place, but then, they had painted it
afresh and put up new wallpapers. Besides, the sun shone merrily into it
during the daytime.

Thereupon Mme Lerat detained the young woman in the bedroom, while
Louiset installed himself behind the charwoman in the kitchen in order
to watch a chicken being roasted. If, said Mme Lerat, she permitted
herself to say what was in her mind, it was because Zoe had just been
at her house. Zoe had stayed courageously in the breach because she was
devoted to her mistress. Madame would pay her later on; she was in no
anxiety about that! And amid the breakup of the Boulevard Haussmann
establishment it was she who showed the creditors a bold front; it was
she who conducted a dignified retreat, saving what she could from the
wreck and telling everyone that her mistress was traveling. She never
once gave them her address. Nay, through fear of being followed,
she even deprived herself of the pleasure of calling on Madame.
Nevertheless, that same morning she had run round to Mme Lerat's because
matters were taking a new turn. The evening before creditors in the
persons of the upholsterer, the charcoal merchant and the laundress
had put in an appearance and had offered to give Madame an extension of
time. Nay, they had even proposed to advance Madame a very considerable
amount if only Madame would return to her flat and conduct herself like
a sensible person. The aunt repeated Zoe's words. Without doubt there
was a gentleman behind it all.

"I'll never consent!" declared Nana in great disgust. "Ah, they're a
pretty lot those tradesmen! Do they think I'm to be sold so that they
can get their bills paid? Why, look here, I'd rather die of hunger than
deceive Fontan."

"That's what I said," averred Mme Lerat. "'My niece,' I said, 'is too
noble-hearted!'"

Nana, however, was much vexed to learn that La Mignotte was being sold
and that Labordette was buying it for Caroline Hequet at an absurdly low
price. It made her angry with that clique. Oh, they were a regular cheap
lot, in spite of their airs and graces! Yes, by Jove, she was worth more
than the whole lot of them!

"They can have their little joke out," she concluded, "but money will
never give them true happiness! Besides, you know, Aunt, I don't even
know now whether all that set are alive or not. I'm much too happy."

At that very moment Mme Maloir entered, wearing one of those hats of
which she alone understood the shape. It was delightful meeting again.
Mme Maloir explained that magnificence frightened her and that NOW,
from time to time, she would come back for her game of bezique. A
second visit was paid to the different rooms in the lodgings, and in the
kitchen Nana talked of economy in the presence of the charwoman, who was
basting the fowl, and said that a servant would have cost too much
and that she was herself desirous of looking after things. Louiset was
gazing beatifically at the roasting process.

But presently there was a loud outburst of voices. Fontan had come in
with Bosc and Prulliere, and the company could now sit down to table.
The soup had been already served when Nana for the third time showed off
the lodgings.

"Ah, dear children, how comfortable you are here!" Bosc kept repeating,
simply for the sake of pleasing the chums who were standing the dinner.
At bottom the subject of the "nook," as he called it, nowise touched
him.

In the bedroom he harped still more vigorously on the amiable note.
Ordinarily he was wont to treat women like cattle, and the idea of a man
bothering himself about one of the dirty brutes excited within him the
only angry feelings of which, in his comprehensive, drunken disdain of
the universe, he was still capable.

"Ah, ah, the villains," he continued with a wink, "they've done this on
the sly. Well, you were certainly right. It will be charming, and, by
heaven, we'll come and see you!"

But when Louiset arrived on the scene astride upon a broomstick,
Prulliere chuckled spitefully and remarked:

"Well, I never! You've got a baby already?"

This struck everybody as very droll, and Mme Lerat and Mme Maloir shook
with laughter. Nana, far from being vexed, laughed tenderly and said
that unfortunately this was not the case. She would very much have liked
it, both for the little one's sake and for her own, but perhaps one
would arrive all the same. Fontan, in his role of honest citizen, took
Louiset in his arms and began playing with him and lisping.

"Never mind! It loves its daddy! Call me 'Papa,' you little blackguard!"

"Papa, Papa!" stammered the child.

The company overwhelmed him with caresses, but Bosc was bored and talked
of sitting down to table. That was the only serious business in life.
Nana asked her guests' permission to put Louiset's chair next her own.
The dinner was very merry, but Bosc suffered from the near neighborhood
of the child, from whom he had to defend his plate. Mme Lerat bored him
too. She was in a melting mood and kept whispering to him all sorts of
mysterious things about gentlemen of the first fashion who were still
running after Nana. Twice he had to push away her knee, for she was
positively invading him in her gushing, tearful mood. Prulliere behaved
with great incivility toward Mme Maloir and did not once help her to
anything. He was entirely taken up with Nana and looked annoyed at
seeing her with Fontan. Besides, the turtle doves were kissing so
excessively as to be becoming positive bores. Contrary to all known
rules, they had elected to sit side by side.

"Devil take it! Why don't you eat? You've got plenty of time ahead of
you!" Bosc kept repeating with his mouth full. "Wait till we are gone!"

But Nana could not restrain herself. She was in a perfect ecstasy of
love. Her face was as full of blushes as an innocent young girl's, and
her looks and her laughter seemed to overflow with tenderness. Gazing on
Fontan, she overwhelmed him with pet names--"my doggie, my old bear,
my kitten"--and whenever he passed her the water or the salt she bent
forward and kissed him at random on lips, eyes, nose or ear. Then if
she met with reproof she would return to the attack with the cleverest
maneuvers and with infinite submissiveness and the supple cunning of
a beaten cat would catch hold of his hand when no one was looking,
in order to kiss it again. It seemed she must be touching something
belonging to him. As to Fontan, he gave himself airs and let himself
be adored with the utmost condescension. His great nose sniffed with
entirely sensual content; his goat face, with its quaint, monstrous
ugliness, positively glowed in the sunlight of devoted adoration
lavished upon him by that superb woman who was so fair and so plump
of limb. Occasionally he gave a kiss in return, as became a man who is
having all the enjoyment and is yet willing to behave prettily.

"Well, you're growing maddening!" cried Prulliere. "Get away from her,
you fellow there!"

And he dismissed Fontan and changed covers, in order to take his place
at Nana's side. The company shouted and applauded at this and gave vent
to some stiffish epigrammatic witticisms. Fontan counterfeited
despair and assumed the quaint expression of Vulcan crying for Venus.
Straightway Prulliere became very gallant, but Nana, whose foot he was
groping for under the table, caught him a slap to make him keep quiet.
No, no, she was certainly not going to become his mistress. A month ago
she had begun to take a fancy to him because of his good looks, but now
she detested him. If he pinched her again under pretense of picking up
her napkin, she would throw her glass in his face!

Nevertheless, the evening passed off well. The company had naturally
begun talking about the Varietes. Wasn't that cad of a Bordenave going
to go off the hooks after all? His nasty diseases kept reappearing and
causing him such suffering that you couldn't come within six yards of
him nowadays. The day before during rehearsal he had been incessantly
yelling at Simonne. There was a fellow whom the theatrical people
wouldn't shed many tears over. Nana announced that if he were to ask her
to take another part she would jolly well send him to the rightabout.
Moreover, she began talking of leaving the stage; the theater was not
to compare with her home. Fontan, who was not in the present piece or
in that which was then being rehearsed, also talked big about the joy of
being entirely at liberty and of passing his evenings with his feet
on the fender in the society of his little pet. And at this the rest
exclaimed delightedly, treating their entertainers as lucky people and
pretending to envy their felicity.

The Twelfth-Night cake had been cut and handed round. The bean had
fallen to the lot of Mme Lerat, who popped it into Bosc's glass.
Whereupon there were shouts of "The king drinks! The king drinks!" Nana
took advantage of this outburst of merriment and went and put her arms
round Fontan's neck again, kissing him and whispering in his ear. But
Prulliere, laughing angrily, as became a pretty man, declared that they
were not playing the game. Louiset, meanwhile, slept soundly on two
chairs. It was nearing one o'clock when the company separated, shouting
au revoir as they went downstairs.

For three weeks the existence of the pair of lovers was really charming.
Nana fancied she was returning to those early days when her first silk
dress had caused her infinite delight. She went out little and affected
a life of solitude and simplicity. One morning early, when she had gone
down to buy fish IN PROPRIA PERSONA in La Rouchefoucauld Market, she was
vastly surprised to meet her old hair dresser Francis face to face. His
getup was as scrupulously careful as ever: he wore the finest linen, and
his frock coat was beyond reproach; in fact, Nana felt ashamed that he
should see her in the street with a dressing jacket and disordered hair
and down-at-heel shoes. But he had the tact, if possible, to intensify
his politeness toward her. He did not permit himself a single inquiry
and affected to believe that Madame was at present on her travels. Ah,
but Madame had rendered many persons unhappy when she decided to travel!
All the world had suffered loss. The young woman, however, ended by
asking him questions, for a sudden fit of curiosity had made her forget
her previous embarrassment. Seeing that the crowd was jostling them, she
pushed him into a doorway and, still holding her little basket in one
hand, stood chatting in front of him. What were people saying about her
high jinks? Good heavens! The ladies to whom he went said this and that
and all sorts of things. In fact, she had made a great noise and was
enjoying a real boom: And Steiner? M. Steiner was in a very bad way,
would make an ugly finish if he couldn't hit on some new commercial
operation. And Daguenet? Oh, HE was getting on swimmingly. M. Daguenet
was settling down. Nana, under the exciting influence of various
recollections, was just opening her mouth with a view to a further
examination when she felt it would be awkward to utter Muffat's name.
Thereupon Francis smiled and spoke instead of her. As to Monsieur le
Comte, it was all a great pity, so sad had been his sufferings since
Madame's departure.

He had been like a soul in pain--you might have met him wherever Madame
was likely to be found. At last M. Mignon had come across him and had
taken him home to his own place. This piece of news caused Nana to laugh
a good deal. But her laughter was not of the easiest kind.

"Ah, he's with Rose now," she said. "Well then, you must know, Francis,
I've done with him! Oh, the canting thing! It's learned some pretty
habits--can't even go fasting for a week now! And to think that he used
to swear he wouldn't have any woman after me!"

She was raging inwardly.

"My leavings, if you please!" she continued. "A pretty Johnnie for Rose
to go and treat herself to! Oh, I understand it all now: she wanted to
have her revenge because I got that brute of a Steiner away from her.
Ain't it sly to get a man to come to her when I've chucked him out of
doors?"

"M. Mignon doesn't tell that tale," said the hairdresser. "According to
his account, it was Monsieur le Comte who chucked you out. Yes, and in a
pretty disgusting way too--with a kick on the bottom!"

Nana became suddenly very pale.

"Eh, what?" she cried. "With a kick on my bottom? He's going too far, he
is! Look here, my little friend, it was I who threw him downstairs, the
cuckold, for he is a cuckold, I must inform you. His countess is making
him one with every man she meets--yes, even with that good-for-nothing
of a Fauchery. And that Mignon, who goes loafing about the pavement in
behalf of his harridan of a wife, whom nobody wants because she's so
lean! What a foul lot! What a foul lot!"

She was choking, and she paused for breath

"Oh, that's what they say, is it? Very well, my little Francis, I'll go
and look 'em up, I will. Shall you and I go to them at once? Yes, I'll
go, and we'll see whether they will have the cheek to go telling about
kicks on the bottom. Kick's! I never took one from anybody! And nobody's
ever going to strike me--d'ye see?--for I'd smash the man who laid a
finger on me!"

Nevertheless, the storm subsided at last. After all, they might jolly
well what they liked! She looked upon them as so much filth underfoot!
It would have soiled her to bother about people like that. She had a
conscience of her own, she had! And Francis, seeing her thus giving
herself away, what with her housewife's costume and all, became familiar
and, at parting, made so bold as to give her some good advice. It
was wrong of her to be sacrificing everything for the sake of an
infatuation; such infatuations ruined existence. She listened to him
with bowed head while he spoke to her with a pained expression, as
became a connoisseur who could not bear to see so fine a girl making
such a hash of things.

"Well, that's my affair," she said at last "Thanks all the same, dear
boy." She shook his hand, which despite his perfect dress was always a
little greasy, and then went off to buy her fish. During the day that
story about the kick on the bottom occupied her thoughts. She even spoke
about it to Fontan and again posed as a sturdy woman who was not
going to stand the slightest flick from anybody. Fontan, as became a
philosophic spirit, declared that all men of fashion were beasts whom it
was one's duty to despise. And from that moment forth Nana was full of
very real disdain.

That same evening they went to the Bouffes-Parisiens Theatre to see a
little woman of Fontan's acquaintance make her debut in a part of some
ten lines. It was close on one o'clock when they once more trudged up
the heights of Montmartre. They had purchased a cake, a "mocha," in
the Rue de la Chaussee-d'Antin, and they ate it in bed, seeing that the
night was not warm and it was not worth while lighting a fire. Sitting
up side by side, with the bedclothes pulled up in front and the pillows
piled up behind, they supped and talked about the little woman. Nana
thought her plain and lacking in style. Fontan, lying on his stomach,
passed up the pieces of cake which had been put between the candle
and the matches on the edge of the night table. But they ended by
quarreling.

"Oh, just to think of it!" cried Nana. "She's got eyes like gimlet
holes, and her hair's the color of tow."

"Hold your tongue, do!" said Fontan. "She has a superb head of hair and
such fire in her looks! It's lovely the way you women always tear each
other to pieces!"

He looked annoyed.

"Come now, we've had enough of it!" he said at last in savage tones.
"You know I don't like being bored. Let's go to sleep, or things'll take
a nasty turn."

And he blew out the candle, but Nana was furious and went on talking.
She was not going to be spoken to in that voice; she was accustomed to
being treated with respect! As he did not vouchsafe any further answer,
she was silenced, but she could not go to sleep and lay tossing to and
fro.

"Great God, have you done moving about?" cried he suddenly, giving a
brisk jump upward.

"It isn't my fault if there are crumbs in the bed," she said curtly.

In fact, there were crumbs in the bed. She felt them down to her middle;
she was everywhere devoured by them. One single crumb was scorching her
and making her scratch herself till she bled. Besides, when one eats a
cake isn't it usual to shake out the bedclothes afterward? Fontan, white
with rage, had relit the candle, and they both got up and, barefooted
and in their night dresses, they turned down the clothes and swept up
the crumbs on the sheet with their hands. Fontan went to bed again,
shivering, and told her to go to the devil when she advised him to wipe
the soles of his feet carefully. And in the end she came back to her
old position, but scarce had she stretched herself out than she danced
again. There were fresh crumbs in the bed!

"By Jove, it was sure to happen!" she cried. "You've brought them back
again under your feet. I can't go on like this! No, I tell you, I can't
go on like this!"

And with that she was on the point of stepping over him in order to jump
out of bed again, when Fontan in his longing for sleep grew desperate
and dealt her a ringing box on the ear. The blow was so smart that Nana
suddenly found herself lying down again with her head on the pillow.

She lay half stunned.

"Oh!" she ejaculated simply, sighing a child's big sigh.

For a second or two he threatened her with a second slap, asking her
at the same time if she meant to move again. Then he put out the light,
settled himself squarely on his back and in a trice was snoring. But she
buried her face in the pillow and began sobbing quietly to herself. It
was cowardly of him to take advantage of his superior strength! She had
experienced very real terror all the same, so terrible had that quaint
mask of Fontan's become. And her anger began dwindling down as though
the blow had calmed her. She began to feel respect toward him and
accordingly squeezed herself against the wall in order to leave him
as much room as possible. She even ended by going to sleep, her cheek
tingling, her eyes full of tears and feeling so deliciously depressed
and wearied and submissive that she no longer noticed the crumbs. When
she woke up in the morning she was holding Fontain in her naked arms and
pressing him tightly against her breast. He would never begin it again,
eh? Never again? She loved him too dearly. Why, it was even nice to be
beaten if he struck the blow!

After that night a new life began. For a mere trifle--a yes, a
no--Fontan would deal her a blow. She grew accustomed to it and pocketed
everything. Sometimes she shed tears and threatened him, but he would
pin her up against the wall and talk of strangling her, which had the
effect of rendering her extremely obedient. As often as not, she sank
down on a chair and sobbed for five minutes on end. But afterward she
would forget all about it, grow very merry, fill the little lodgings
with the sound of song and laughter and the rapid rustle of skirts. The
worst of it was that Fontan was now in the habit of disappearing for the
whole day and never returning home before midnight, for he was going to
cafes and meeting his old friends again. Nana bore with everything. She
was tremulous and caressing, her only fear being that she might never
see him again if she reproached him. But on certain days, when she had
neither Mme Maloir nor her aunt and Louiset with her, she grew mortally
dull. Thus one Sunday, when she was bargaining for some pigeons at La
Rochefoucauld Market, she was delighted to meet Satin, who, in her turn,
was busy purchasing a bunch of radishes. Since the evening when the
prince had drunk Fontan's champagne they had lost sight of one another.

"What? It's you! D'you live in our parts?" said Satin, astounded at
seeing her in the street at that hour of the morning and in slippers
too. "Oh, my poor, dear girl, you're really ruined then!"

Nana knitted her brows as a sign that she was to hold her tongue, for
they were surrounded by other women who wore dressing gowns and were
without linen, while their disheveled tresses were white with fluff. In
the morning, when the man picked up overnight had been newly dismissed,
all the courtesans of the quarter were wont to come marketing here,
their eyes heavy with sleep, their feet in old down-at-heel shoes and
themselves full of the weariness and ill humor entailed by a night
of boredom. From the four converging streets they came down into the
market, looking still rather young in some cases and very pale and
charming in their utter unconstraint; in others, hideous and old with
bloated faces and peeling skin. The latter did not the least mind being
seen thus outside working hours, and not one of them deigned to smile
when the passers-by on the sidewalk turned round to look at them.
Indeed, they were all very full of business and wore a disdainful
expression, as became good housewives for whom men had ceased to exist.
Just as Satin, for instance, was paying for her bunch of radishes a
young man, who might have been a shop-boy going late to his work, threw
her a passing greeting:

"Good morning, duckie."

She straightened herself up at once and with the dignified manner
becoming an offended queen remarked:

"What's up with that swine there?"

Then she fancied she recognized him. Three days ago toward midnight, as
the was coming back alone from the boulevards, she had talked to him at
the corner of the Rue Labruyere for nearly half an hour, with a view to
persuading him to come home with her. But this recollection only angered
her the more.

"Fancy they're brutes enough to shout things to you in broad daylight!"
she continued. "When one's out on business one ought to be respectfully
treated, eh?"

Nana had ended by buying her pigeons, although she certainly had her
doubts of their freshness. After which Satin wanted to show her where
she lived in the Rue Rochefoucauld close by. And the moment they were
alone Nana told her of her passion for Fontan. Arrived in front of the
house, the girl stopped with her bundle of radishes under her arm and
listened eagerly to a final detail which the other imparted to her. Nana
fibbed away and vowed that it was she who had turned Count Muffat out of
doors with a perfect hail of kicks on the posterior.

"Oh how smart!" Satin repeated. "How very smart! Kicks, eh? And he never
said a word, did he? What a blooming coward! I wish I'd been there to
see his ugly mug! My dear girl, you were quite right. A pin for the
coin! When I'M on with a mash I starve for it! You'll come and see
me, eh? You promise? It's the left-hand door. Knock three knocks, for
there's a whole heap of damned squints about."

After that whenever Nana grew too weary of life she went down and saw
Satin. She was always sure of finding her, for the girl never went out
before six in the evening. Satin occupied a couple of rooms which a
chemist had furnished for her in order to save her from the clutches
of the police, but in little more than a twelvemonth she had broken the
furniture, knocked in the chairs, dirtied the curtains, and that in a
manner so furiously filthy and untidy that the lodgings seemed as though
inhabited by a pack of mad cats. On the mornings when she grew disgusted
with herself and thought about cleaning up a bit, chair rails and
strips of curtain would come off in her hands during her struggle with
superincumbent dirt. On such days the place was fouler than ever, and
it was impossible to enter it, owing to the things which had fallen down
across the doorway. At length she ended by leaving her house severely
alone. When the lamp was lit the cupboard with plate-glass doors, the
clock and what remained of the curtains still served to impose on the
men. Besides, for six months past her landlord had been threatening to
evict her. Well then, for whom should she be keeping the furniture nice?
For him more than anyone else, perhaps! And so whenever she got up in a
merry mood she would shout "Gee up!" and give the sides of the cupboard
and the chest of drawers such a tremendous kick that they cracked again.

Nana nearly always found her in bed. Even on the days when Satin went
out to do her marketing she felt so tired on her return upstairs that
she flung herself down on the bed and went to sleep again. During the
day she dragged herself about and dozed off on chairs. Indeed, she did
not emerge from this languid condition till the evening drew on and
the gas was lit outside. Nana felt very comfortable at Satin's, sitting
doing nothing on the untidy bed, while basins stood about on the floor
at her feet and petticoats which had been bemired last night hung over
the backs of armchairs and stained them with mud. They had long gossips
together and were endlessly confidential, while Satin lay on her stomach
in her nightgown, waving her legs above her head and smoking cigarettes
as she listened. Sometimes on such afternoons as they had troubles to
retail they treated themselves to absinthe in order, as they termed
it, "to forget." Satin did not go downstairs or put on a petticoat but
simply went and leaned over the banisters and shouted her order to
the portress's little girl, a chit of ten, who when she brought up the
absinthe in a glass would look furtively at the lady's bare legs. Every
conversation led up to one subject--the beastliness of the men. Nana was
overpowering on the subject of Fontan. She could not say a dozen words
without lapsing into endless repetitions of his sayings and his doings.
But Satin, like a good-natured girl, would listen unwearyingly to
everlasting accounts of how Nana had watched for him at the window, how
they had fallen out over a burnt dish of hash and how they had made
it up in bed after hours of silent sulking. In her desire to be always
talking about these things Nana had got to tell of every slap that he
dealt her. Last week he had given her a swollen eye; nay, the night
before he had given her such a box on the ear as to throw her across
the night table, and all because he could not find his slippers. And the
other woman did not evince any astonishment but blew out cigarette smoke
and only paused a moment to remark that, for her part, she always ducked
under, which sent the gentleman pretty nearly sprawling. Both of them
settled down with a will to these anecdotes about blows; they grew
supremely happy and excited over these same idiotic doings about
which they told one another a hundred times or more, while they gave
themselves up to the soft and pleasing sense of weariness which was
sure to follow the drubbings they talked of. It was the delight of
rediscussing Fontan's blows and of explaining his works and his ways,
down to the very manner in which he took off his boots, which brought
Nana back daily to Satin's place. The latter, moreover, used to end by
growing sympathetic in her turn and would cite even more violent cases,
as, for instance, that of a pastry cook who had left her for dead on
the floor. Yet she loved him, in spite of it all! Then came the days on
which Nana cried and declared that things could not go on as they were
doing. Satin would escort her back to her own door and would linger an
hour out in the street to see that he did not murder her. And the
next day the two women would rejoice over the reconciliation the whole
afternoon through. Yet though they did not say so, they preferred the
days when threshings were, so to speak, in the air, for then their
comfortable indignation was all the stronger.

They became inseparable. Yet Satin never went to Nana's, Fontan having
announced that he would have no trollops in his house. They used to go
out together, and thus it was that Satin one day took her friend to see
another woman. This woman turned out to be that very Mme Robert who had
interested Nana and inspired her with a certain respect ever since she
had refused to come to her supper. Mme Robert lived in the Rue Mosnier,
a silent, new street in the Quartier de l'Europe, where there were no
shops, and the handsome houses with their small, limited flats were
peopled by ladies. It was five o'clock, and along the silent pavements
in the quiet, aristocratic shelter of the tall white houses were drawn
up the broughams of stock-exchange people and merchants, while men
walked hastily about, looking up at the windows, where women in dressing
jackets seemed to be awaiting them. At first Nana refused to go up,
remarking with some constraint that she had not the pleasure of the
lady's acquaintance. But Satin would take no refusal. She was only
desirous of paying a civil call, for Mme Robert, whom she had met in a
restaurant the day before, had made herself extremely agreeable and had
got her to promise to come and see her. And at last Nana consented. At
the top of the stairs a little drowsy maid informed them that Madame
had not come home yet, but she ushered them into the drawing room
notwithstanding and left them there.

"The deuce, it's a smart show!" whispered Satin. It was a stiff,
middle-class room, hung with dark-colored fabrics, and suggested the
conventional taste of a Parisian shopkeeper who has retired on his
fortune. Nana was struck and did her best to make merry about it. But
Satin showed annoyance and spoke up for Mme Robert's strict adherence
to the proprieties. She was always to be met in the society of elderly,
grave-looking men, on whose arms she leaned. At present she had a
retired chocolate seller in tow, a serious soul. Whenever he came to see
her he was so charmed by the solid, handsome way in which the house was
arranged that he had himself announced and addressed its mistress as
"dear child."

"Look, here she is!" continued Satin, pointing to a photograph which
stood in front of the clock. Nana scrutinized the portrait for a second
or so. It represented a very dark brunette with a longish face and lips
pursed up in a discreet smile. "A thoroughly fashionable lady," one
might have said of the likeness, "but one who is rather more reserved
than the rest."

"It's strange," murmured Nana at length, "but I've certainly seen that
face somewhere. Where, I don't remember. But it can't have been in a
pretty place--oh no, I'm sure it wasn't in a pretty place."

And turning toward her friend, she added, "So she's made you promise to
come and see her? What does she want with you?"

"What does she want with me? 'Gad! To talk, I expect--to be with me a
bit. It's her politeness."

Nana looked steadily at Satin. "Tut, tut," she said softly. After all,
it didn't matter to her! Yet seeing that the lady was keeping them
waiting, she declared that she would not stay longer, and accordingly
they both took their departure.

The next day Fontan informed Nana that he was not coming home to dinner,
and she went down early to find Satin with a view to treating her at a
restaurant. The choice of the restaurant involved infinite debate. Satin
proposed various brewery bars, which Nana thought detestable, and at
last persuaded her to dine at Laure's. This was a table d'hote in the
Rue des Martyrs, where the dinner cost three francs.

Tired of waiting for the dinner hour and not knowing what to do out in
the street, the pair went up to Laure's twenty minutes too early. The
three dining rooms there were still empty, and they sat down at a table
in the very saloon where Laure Piedefer was enthroned on a high bench
behind a bar. This Laure was a lady of some fifty summers, whose
swelling contours were tightly laced by belts and corsets. Women kept
entering in quick procession, and each, in passing, craned upward so
as to overtop the saucers raised on the counter and kissed Laure on the
mouth with tender familiarity, while the monstrous creature tried, with
tears in her eyes, to divide her attentions among them in such a way as
to make no one jealous. On the other hand, the servant who waited on the
ladies was a tall, lean woman. She seemed wasted with disease, and
her eyes were ringed with dark lines and glowed with somber fire. Very
rapidly the three saloons filled up. There were some hundred customers,
and they had seated themselves wherever they could find vacant places.
The majority were nearing the age of forty: their flesh was puffy and so
bloated by vice as almost to hide the outlines of their flaccid mouths.
But amid all these gross bosoms and figures some slim, pretty girls were
observable. These still wore a modest expression despite their impudent
gestures, for they were only beginners in their art, who had started
life in the ballrooms of the slums and had been brought to Laure's by
some customer or other. Here the tribe of bloated women, excited by the
sweet scent of their youth, jostled one another and, while treating
them to dainties, formed a perfect court round them, much as old amorous
bachelors might have done. As to the men, they were not numerous. There
were ten or fifteen of them at the outside, and if we except four tall
fellows who had come to see the sight and were cracking jokes and taking
things easy, they behaved humbly enough amid this whelming flood of
petticoats.

"I say, their stew's very good, ain't it?" said Satin.

Nana nodded with much satisfaction. It was the old substantial dinner
you get in a country hotel and consisted of vol-au-vent a la financiere,
fowl boiled in rice, beans with a sauce and vanilla creams, iced and
flavored with burnt sugar. The ladies made an especial onslaught on
the boiled fowl and rice: their stays seemed about to burst; they wiped
their lips with slow, luxurious movements. At first Nana had been afraid
of meeting old friends who might have asked her silly questions, but
she grew calm at last, for she recognized no one she knew among that
extremely motley throng, where faded dresses and lamentable hats
contrasted strangely with handsome costumes, the wearers of which
fraternized in vice with their shabbier neighbors. She was momentarily
interested, however, at the sight of a young man with short curly
hair and insolent face who kept a whole tableful of vastly fat women
breathlessly attentive to his slightest caprice. But when the young man
began to laugh his bosom swelled.

"Good lack, it's a woman!"

She let a little cry escape as she spoke, and Satin, who was stuffing
herself with boiled fowl, lifted up her head and whispered:

"Oh yes! I know her. A smart lot, eh? They do just fight for her."

Nana pouted disgustingly. She could not understand the thing as yet.
Nevertheless, she remarked in her sensible tone that there was no
disputing about tastes or colors, for you never could tell what you
yourself might one day have a liking for. So she ate her cream with an
air of philosophy, though she was perfectly well aware that Satin with
her great blue virginal eyes was throwing the neighboring tables into
a state of great excitement. There was one woman in particular, a
powerful, fair-haired person who sat close to her and made herself
extremely agreeable. She seemed all aglow with affection and pushed
toward the girl so eagerly that Nana was on the point of interfering.

But at that very moment a woman who was entering the room gave her a
shock of surprise. Indeed, she had recognized Mme Robert. The latter,
looking, as was her wont, like a pretty brown mouse, nodded familiarly
to the tall, lean serving maid and came and leaned upon Laure's counter.
Then both women exchanged a long kiss. Nana thought such an attention on
the part of a woman so distinguished looking very amusing, the more so
because Mme Robert had quite altered her usual modest expression. On
the contrary, her eye roved about the saloon as she kept up a whispered
conversation. Laure had resumed her seat and once more settled herself
down with all the majesty of an old image of Vice, whose face has been
worn and polished by the kisses of the faithful. Above the range of
loaded plates she sat enthroned in all the opulence which a hotelkeeper
enjoys after forty years of activity, and as she sat there she swayed
her bloated following of large women, in comparison with the biggest of
whom she seemed monstrous.

But Mme Robert had caught sight of Satin, and leaving Laure, she ran up
and behaved charmingly, telling her how much she regretted not having
been at home the day before. When Satin, however, who was ravished at
this treatment, insisted on finding room for her at the table, she vowed
she had already dined. She had simply come up to look about her. As she
stood talking behind her new friend's chair she leaned lightly on her
shoulders and in a smiling, coaxing manner remarked:

"Now when shall I see you? If you were free--"

Nana unluckily failed to hear more. The conversation vexed her, and she
was dying to tell this honest lady a few home truths. But the sight of
a troop of new arrivals paralyzed her. It was composed of smart,
fashionably dressed women who were wearing their diamonds. Under the
influence of perverse impulse they had made up a party to come to
Laure's--whom, by the by, they all treated with great familiarity--to
eat the three-franc dinner while flashing their jewels of great price
in the jealous and astonished eyes of poor, bedraggled prostitutes. The
moment they entered, talking and laughing in their shrill, clear tones
and seeming to bring sunshine with them from the outside world, Nana
turned her head rapidly away. Much to her annoyance she had recognized
Lucy Stewart and Maria Blond among them, and for nearly five minutes,
during which the ladies chatted with Laure before passing into the
saloon beyond, she kept her head down and seemed deeply occupied in
rolling bread pills on the cloth in front of her. But when at length she
was able to look round, what was her astonishment to observe the chair
next to hers vacant! Satin had vanished.

"Gracious, where can she be?" she loudly ejaculated.

The sturdy, fair woman who had been overwhelming Satin with civil
attentions laughed ill-temperedly, and when Nana, whom the laugh
irritated, looked threatening she remarked in a soft, drawling way:

"It's certainly not me that's done you this turn; it's the other one!"

Thereupon Nana understood that they would most likely make game of her
and so said nothing more. She even kept her seat for some moments, as
she did not wish to show how angry she felt. She could hear Lucy Stewart
laughing at the end of the next saloon, where she was treating a whole
table of little women who had come from the public balls at Montmartre
and La Chapelle. It was very hot; the servant was carrying away piles of
dirty plates with a strong scent of boiled fowl and rice, while the four
gentlemen had ended by regaling quite half a dozen couples with capital
wine in the hope of making them tipsy and hearing some pretty stiffish
things. What at present most exasperated Nana was the thought of paying
for Satin's dinner. There was a wench for you, who allowed herself to
be amused and then made off with never a thank-you in company with the
first petticoat that came by! Without doubt it was only a matter of
three francs, but she felt it was hard lines all the same--her way of
doing it was too disgusting. Nevertheless, she paid up, throwing the six
francs at Laure, whom at the moment she despised more than the mud in
the street. In the Rue des Martyrs Nana felt her bitterness increasing.
She was certainly not going to run after Satin! It was a nice filthy
business for one to be poking one's nose into! But her evening was
spoiled, and she walked slowly up again toward Montmartre, raging
against Mme Robert in particular. Gracious goodness, that woman had a
fine cheek to go playing the lady--yes, the lady in the dustbin! She now
felt sure she had met her at the Papillon, a wretched public-house ball
in the Rue des Poissonniers, where men conquered her scruples for thirty
sous. And to think a thing like that got hold of important functionaries
with her modest looks! And to think she refused suppers to which one
did her the honor of inviting her because, forsooth, she was playing the
virtuous game! Oh yes, she'd get virtued! It was always those conceited
prudes who went the most fearful lengths in low corners nobody knew
anything about.

Revolving these matters, Nana at length reached her home in the Rue
Veron and was taken aback on observing a light in the window. Fontan had
come home in a sulk, for he, too, had been deserted by the friend who
had been dining with him. He listened coldly to her explanations while
she trembled lest he should strike her. It scared her to find him at
home, seeing that she had not expected him before one in the morning,
and she told him a fib and confessed that she had certainly spent six
francs, but in Mme Maloir's society. He was not ruffled, however, and
he handed her a letter which, though addressed to her, he had quietly
opened. It was a letter from Georges, who was still a prisoner at Les
Fondettes and comforted himself weekly with the composition of glowing
pages. Nana loved to be written to, especially when the letters were
full of grand, loverlike expressions with a sprinkling of vows. She used
to read them to everybody. Fontan was familiar with the style employed
by Georges and appreciated it. But that evening she was so afraid of
a scene that she affected complete indifference, skimming through the
letter with a sulky expression and flinging it aside as soon as read.
Fontan had begun beating a tattoo on a windowpane; the thought of going
to bed so early bored him, and yet he did not know how to employ his
evening. He turned briskly round:

"Suppose we answer that young vagabond at once," he said.

It was the custom for him to write the letters in reply. He was wont to
vie with the other in point of style. Then, too, he used to be delighted
when Nana, grown enthusiastic after the letter had been read over aloud,
would kiss him with the announcement that nobody but he could "say
things like that." Thus their latent affections would be stirred, and
they would end with mutual adoration.

"As you will," she replied. "I'll make tea, and we'll go to bed after."

Thereupon Fontan installed himself at the table on which pen, ink and
paper were at the same time grandly displayed. He curved his arm; he
drew a long face.

"My heart's own," he began aloud.

And for more than an hour he applied himself to his task, polishing
here, weighing a phrase there, while he sat with his head between his
hands and laughed inwardly whenever he hit upon a peculiarly tender
expression. Nana had already consumed two cups of tea in silence, when
at last he read out the letter in the level voice and with the two or
three emphatic gestures peculiar to such performances on the stage. It
was five pages long, and he spoke therein of "the delicious hours passed
at La Mignotte, those hours of which the memory lingered like subtle
perfume." He vowed "eternal fidelity to that springtide of love" and
ended by declaring that his sole wish was to "recommence that happy time
if, indeed, happiness can recommence."

"I say that out of politeness, y'know," he explained. "The moment it
becomes laughable--eh, what! I think she's felt it, she has!"

He glowed with triumph. But Nana was unskillful; she still suspected
an outbreak and now was mistaken enough not to fling her arms round
his neck in a burst of admiration. She thought the letter a respectable
performance, nothing more. Thereupon he was much annoyed. If his letter
did not please her she might write another! And so instead of bursting
out in loverlike speeches and exchanging kisses, as their wont was, they
sat coldly facing one another at the table. Nevertheless, she poured him
out a cup of tea.

"Here's a filthy mess," he cried after dipping his lips in the mixture.
"You've put salt in it, you have!"

Nana was unlucky enough to shrug her shoulders, and at that he grew
furious.

"Aha! Things are taking a wrong turn tonight!"

And with that the quarrel began. It was only ten by the clock, and this
was a way of killing time. So he lashed himself into a rage and threw
in Nana's teeth a whole string of insults and all kinds of accusations
which followed one another so closely that she had no time to defend
herself. She was dirty; she was stupid; she had knocked about in
all sorts of low places! After that he waxed frantic over the money
question. Did he spend six francs when he dined out? No, somebody was
treating him to a dinner; otherwise he would have eaten his ordinary
meal at home. And to think of spending them on that old procuress of a
Maloir, a jade he would chuck out of the house tomorrow! Yes, by jingo,
they would get into a nice mess if he and she were to go throwing six
francs out of the window every day!

"Now to begin with, I want your accounts," he shouted. "Let's see; hand
over the money! Now where do we stand?"

All his sordid avaricious instincts came to the surface. Nana was cowed
and scared, and she made haste to fetch their remaining cash out of
the desk and to bring it him. Up to that time the key had lain on this
common treasury, from which they had drawn as freely as they wished.

"How's this?" he said when he had counted up the money. "There are
scarcely seven thousand francs remaining out of seventeen thousand, and
we've only been together three months. The thing's impossible."

He rushed forward, gave the desk a savage shake and brought the drawer
forward in order to ransack it in the light of the lamp. But it actually
contained only six thousand eight hundred and odd francs. Thereupon the
tempest burst forth.

"Ten thousand francs in three months!" he yelled. "By God! What have you
done with it all? Eh? Answer! It all goes to your jade of an aunt, eh?
Or you're keeping men; that's plain! Will you answer?"

"Oh well, if you must get in a rage!" said Nana. "Why, the calculation's
easily made! You haven't allowed for the furniture; besides, I've had to
buy linen. Money goes quickly when one's settling in a new place."

But while requiring explanations he refused to listen to them.

"Yes, it goes a deal too quickly!" he rejoined more calmly. "And look
here, little girl, I've had enough of this mutual housekeeping. You know
those seven thousand francs are mine. Yes, and as I've got 'em, I shall
keep 'em! Hang it, the moment you become wasteful I get anxious not to
be ruined. To each man his own."

And he pocketed the money in a lordly way while Nana gazed at him,
dumfounded. He continued speaking complaisantly:

"You must understand I'm not such a fool as to keep aunts and likewise
children who don't belong to me. You were pleased to spend your own
money--well, that's your affair! But my money--no, that's sacred! When
in the future you cook a leg of mutton I'll pay for half of it. We'll
settle up tonight--there!"

Straightway Nana rebelled. She could not help shouting:

"Come, I say, it's you who've run through my ten thousand francs. It's a
dirty trick, I tell you!"

But he did not stop to discuss matters further, for he dealt her a
random box on the ear across the table, remarking as he did so:

"Let's have that again!"

She let him have it again despite his blow. Whereupon he fell upon her
and kicked and cuffed her heartily. Soon he had reduced her to such a
state that she ended, as her wont was, by undressing and going to bed in
a flood of tears.

He was out of breath and was going to bed, in his turn, when he noticed
the letter he had written to Georges lying on the table. Whereupon
he folded it up carefully and, turning toward the bed, remarked in
threatening accents:

"It's very well written, and I'm going to post it myself because I don't
like women's fancies. Now don't go moaning any more; it puts my teeth on
edge."

Nana, who was crying and gasping, thereupon held her breath. When he was
in bed she choked with emotion and threw herself upon his breast with a
wild burst of sobs. Their scuffles always ended thus, for she trembled
at the thought of losing him and, like a coward, wanted always to feel
that he belonged entirely to her, despite everything. Twice he pushed
her magnificently away, but the warm embrace of this woman who was
begging for mercy with great, tearful eyes, as some faithful brute might
do, finally aroused desire. And he became royally condescending without,
however, lowering his dignity before any of her advances. In fact,
he let himself be caressed and taken by force, as became a man whose
forgiveness is worth the trouble of winning. Then he was seized with
anxiety, fearing that Nana was playing a part with a view to regaining
possession of the treasury key. The light had been extinguished when he
felt it necessary to reaffirm his will and pleasure.

"You must know, my girl, that this is really very serious and that I
keep the money."

Nana, who was falling asleep with her arms round his neck, uttered a
sublime sentiment.

"Yes, you need fear nothing! I'll work for both of us!"

But from that evening onward their life in common became more and more
difficult. From one week's end to the other the noise of slaps filled
the air and resembled the ticking of a clock by which they regulated
their existence. Through dint of being much beaten Nana became as
pliable as fine linen; her skin grew delicate and pink and white and
so soft to the touch and clear to the view that she may be said to have
grown more good looking than ever. Prulliere, moreover, began running
after her like a madman, coming in when Fontan was away and pushing her
into corners in order to snatch an embrace. But she used to struggle out
of his grasp, full of indignation and blushing with shame. It disgusted
her to think of him wanting to deceive a friend. Prulliere would
thereupon begin sneering with a wrathful expression. Why, she was
growing jolly stupid nowadays! How could she take up with such an ape?
For, indeed, Fontan was a regular ape with that great swingeing nose of
his. Oh, he had an ugly mug! Besides, the man knocked her about too!

"It's possible I like him as he is," she one day made answer in the
quiet voice peculiar to a woman who confesses to an abominable taste.

Bosc contented himself by dining with them as often as possible. He
shrugged his shoulders behind Prulliere's back--a pretty fellow, to be
sure, but a frivolous! Bosc had on more than one occasion assisted at
domestic scenes, and at dessert, when Fontan slapped Nana, he went on
chewing solemnly, for the thing struck him as being quite in the course
of nature. In order to give some return for his dinner he used always
to go into ecstasies over their happiness. He declared himself a
philosopher who had given up everything, glory included. At times
Prulliere and Fontan lolled back in their chairs, losing count of
time in front of the empty table, while with theatrical gestures
and intonation they discussed their former successes till two in the
morning. But he would sit by, lost in thought, finishing the brandy
bottle in silence and only occasionally emitting a little contemptuous
sniff. Where was Talma's tradition? Nowhere. Very well, let them leave
him jolly well alone! It was too stupid to go on as they were doing!

One evening he found Nana in tears. She took off her dressing jacket in
order to show him her back and her arms, which were black and blue. He
looked at her skin without being tempted to abuse the opportunity, as
that ass of a Prulliere would have been. Then, sententiously:

"My dear girl, where there are women there are sure to be ructions. It
was Napoleon who said that, I think. Wash yourself with salt water. Salt
water's the very thing for those little knocks. Tut, tut, you'll get
others as bad, but don't complain so long as no bones are broken. I'm
inviting myself to dinner, you know; I've spotted a leg of mutton."

But Mme Lerat had less philosophy. Every time Nana showed her a fresh
bruise on the white skin she screamed aloud. They were killing her
niece; things couldn't go on as they were doing. As a matter of fact,
Fontan had turned Mme Lerat out of doors and had declared that he would
not have her at his house in the future, and ever since that day, when
he returned home and she happened to be there, she had to make
off through the kitchen, which was a horrible humiliation to her.
Accordingly she never ceased inveighing against that brutal individual.
She especially blamed his ill breeding, pursing up her lips, as she
did so, like a highly respectable lady whom nobody could possibly
remonstrate with on the subject of good manners.

"Oh, you notice it at once," she used to tell Nana; "he hasn't the
barest notion of the very smallest proprieties. His mother must have
been common! Don't deny it--the thing's obvious! I don't speak on my
own account, though a person of my years has a right to respectful
treatment, but YOU--how do YOU manage to put up with his bad manners?
For though I don't want to flatter myself, I've always taught you how
to behave, and among our own people you always enjoyed the best possible
advice. We were all very well bred in our family, weren't we now?"

Nana used never to protest but would listen with bowed head.

"Then, too," continued the aunt, "you've only known perfect gentlemen
hitherto. We were talking of that very topic with Zoe at my place
yesterday evening. She can't understand it any more than I can. 'How is
it,' she said, 'that Madame, who used to have that perfect gentleman,
Monsieur le Comte, at her beck and call'--for between you and me, it
seems you drove him silly--'how is it that Madame lets herself be made
into mincemeat by that clown of a fellow?' I remarked at the time that
you might put up with the beatings but that I would never have allowed
him to be lacking in proper respect. In fact, there isn't a word to be
said for him. I wouldn't have his portrait in my room even! And you ruin
yourself for such a bird as that; yes, you ruin yourself, my darling;
you toil and you moil, when there are so many others and such rich men,
too, some of them even connected with the government! Ah well, it's not
I who ought to be telling you this, of course! But all the same, when
next he tries any of his dirty tricks on I should cut him short with a
'Monsieur, what d'you take me for?' You know how to say it in that grand
way of yours! It would downright cripple him."

Thereupon Nana burst into sobs and stammered out:

"Oh, Aunt, I love him!"

The fact of the matter was that Mme Lerat was beginning to feel anxious
at the painful way her niece doled out the sparse, occasional francs
destined to pay for little Louis's board and lodging. Doubtless she was
willing to make sacrifices and to keep the child by her whatever might
happen while waiting for more prosperous times, but the thought that
Fontan was preventing her and the brat and its mother from swimming in
a sea of gold made her so savage that she was ready to deny the very
existence of true love. Accordingly she ended up with the following
severe remarks:

"Now listen, some fine day when he's taken the skin off your back,
you'll come and knock at my door, and I'll open it to you."

Soon money began to engross Nana's whole attention. Fontan had caused
the seven thousand francs to vanish away. Without doubt they were quite
safe; indeed, she would never have dared ask him questions about them,
for she was wont to be blushingly diffident with that bird, as Mme Lerat
called him. She trembled lest he should think her capable of quarreling
with him about halfpence. He had certainly promised to subscribe toward
their common household expenses, and in the early days he had given
out three francs every morning. But he was as exacting as a boarder; he
wanted everything for his three francs--butter, meat, early fruit and
early vegetables--and if she ventured to make an observation, if she
hinted that you could not have everything in the market for three
francs, he flew into a temper and treated her as a useless, wasteful
woman, a confounded donkey whom the tradespeople were robbing. Moreover,
he was always ready to threaten that he would take lodgings somewhere
else. At the end of a month on certain mornings he had forgotten to
deposit the three francs on the chest of drawers, and she had ventured
to ask for them in a timid, roundabout way. Whereupon there had been
such bitter disputes and he had seized every pretext to render her life
so miserable that she had found it best no longer to count upon him.
Whenever, however, he had omitted to leave behind the three one-franc
pieces and found a dinner awaiting him all the same, he grew as merry
as a sandboy, kissed Nana gallantly and waltzed with the chairs. And
she was so charmed by this conduct that she at length got to hope that
nothing would be found on the chest of drawers, despite the difficulty
she experienced in making both ends meet. One day she even returned him
his three francs, telling him a tale to the effect that she still had
yesterday's money. As he had given her nothing then, he hesitated for
some moments, as though he dreaded a lecture. But she gazed at him with
her loving eyes and hugged him in such utter self-surrender that he
pocketed the money again with that little convulsive twitch or the
fingers peculiar to a miser when he regains possession of that which has
been well-nigh lost. From that day forth he never troubled himself about
money again or inquired whence it came. But when there were potatoes on
the table he looked intoxicated with delight and would laugh and smack
his lips before her turkeys and legs of mutton, though of course this
did not prevent his dealing Nana sundry sharp smacks, as though to keep
his hand in amid all his happiness.

Nana had indeed found means to provide for all needs, and the place on
certain days overflowed with good things. Twice a week, regularly, Bosc
had indigestion. One evening as Mme Lerat was withdrawing from the scene
in high dudgeon because she had noticed a copious dinner she was not
destined to eat in process of preparation, she could not prevent herself
asking brutally who paid for it all. Nana was taken by surprise; she
grew foolish and began crying.

"Ah, that's a pretty business," said the aunt, who had divined her
meaning.

Nana had resigned herself to it for the sake of enjoying peace in her
own home. Then, too, the Tricon was to blame. She had come across her
in the Rue de Laval one fine day when Fontan had gone out raging about a
dish of cod. She had accordingly consented to the proposals made her by
the Tricon, who happened just then to be in difficulty. As Fontan never
came in before six o'clock, she made arrangements for her afternoons and
used to bring back forty francs, sixty francs, sometimes more. She might
have made it a matter of ten and fifteen louis had she been able to
maintain her former position, but as matters stood she was very glad
thus to earn enough to keep the pot boiling. At night she used to forget
all her sorrows when Bosc sat there bursting with dinner and Fontan
leaned on his elbows and with an expression of lofty superiority
becoming a man who is loved for his own sake allowed her to kiss him on
the eyelids.

In due course Nana's very adoration of her darling, her dear old duck,
which was all the more passionately blind, seeing that now she paid for
everything, plunged her back into the muddiest depths of her calling.
She roamed the streets and loitered on the pavement in quest of a
five-franc piece, just as when she was a slipshod baggage years ago.
One Sunday at La Rochefoucauld Market she had made her peace with Satin
after having flown at her with furious reproaches about Mme Robert. But
Satin had been content to answer that when one didn't like a thing there
was no reason why one should want to disgust others with it. And Nana,
who was by way of being wide-minded, had accepted the philosophic view
that you never can tell where your tastes will lead you and had forgiven
her. Her curiosity was even excited, and she began questioning her about
obscure vices and was astounded to be adding to her information at her
time of life and with her knowledge. She burst out laughing and gave
vent to various expressions of surprise. It struck her as so queer,
and yet she was a little shocked by it, for she was really quite the
philistine outside the pale of her own habits. So she went back to
Laure's and fed there when Fontan was dining out. She derived much
amusement from the stories and the amours and the jealousies which
inflamed the female customers without hindering their appetites in the
slightest degree. Nevertheless, she still was not quite in it, as she
herself phrased it. The vast Laure, meltingly maternal as ever, used
often to invite her to pass a day or two at her Asnieries Villa, a
country house containing seven spare bedrooms. But she used to refuse;
she was afraid. Satin, however, swore she was mistaken about it, that
gentlemen from Paris swung you in swings and played tonneau with
you, and so she promised to come at some future time when it would be
possible for her to leave town.

At that time Nana was much tormented by circumstances and not at all
festively inclined. She needed money, and when the Tricon did not want
her, which too often happened, she had no notion where to bestow her
charms. Then began a series of wild descents upon the Parisian pavement,
plunges into the baser sort of vice, whose votaries prowl in muddy
bystreets under the restless flicker of gas lamps. Nana went back to the
public-house balls in the suburbs, where she had kicked up her heels
in the early ill-shod days. She revisited the dark corners on the outer
boulevards, where when she was fifteen years old men used to hug her
while her father was looking for her in order to give her a hiding. Both
the women would speed along, visiting all the ballrooms and restaurants
in a quarter and climbing innumerable staircases which were wet with
spittle and spilled beer, or they would stroll quietly about, going up
streets and planting themselves in front of carriage gates. Satin, who
had served her apprenticeship in the Quartier Latin, used to take Nana
to Bullier's and the public houses in the Boulevard Saint-Michel. But
the vacations were drawing on, and the Quarter looked too starved.
Eventually they always returned to the principal boulevards, for it was
there they ran the best chance of getting what they wanted. From the
heights of Montmartre to the observatory plateau they scoured the
whole town in the way we have been describing. They were out on rainy
evenings, when their boots got worn down, and on hot evenings, when
their linen clung to their skins. There were long periods of waiting and
endless periods of walking; there were jostlings and disputes and the
nameless, brutal caresses of the stray passer-by who was taken by them
to some miserable furnished room and came swearing down the greasy
stairs afterward.

The summer was drawing to a close, a stormy summer of burning nights.
The pair used to start out together after dinner, toward nine o'clock.
On the pavements of the Rue Notre Dame de la Lorette two long files of
women scudded along with tucked-up skirts and bent heads, keeping close
to the shops but never once glancing at the displays in the shopwindows
as they hurried busily down toward the boulevards. This was the hungry
exodus from the Quartier Breda which took place nightly when the street
lamps had just been lit. Nana and Satin used to skirt the church and
then march off along the Rue le Peletier. When they were some hundred
yards from the Cafe Riche and had fairly reached their scene of
operations they would shake out the skirts of their dresses, which up
till that moment they had been holding carefully up, and begin sweeping
the pavements, regardless of dust. With much swaying of the hips they
strolled delicately along, slackening their pace when they crossed the
bright light thrown from one of the great cafes. With shoulders thrown
back, shrill and noisy laughter and many backward glances at the men who
turned to look at them, they marched about and were completely in their
element. In the shadow of night their artificially whitened faces, their
rouged lips and their darkened eyelids became as charming and suggestive
as if the inmates of a make-believe trumpery oriental bazaar had been
sent forth into the open street. Till eleven at night they sauntered
gaily along among the rudely jostling crowds, contenting themselves with
an occasional "dirty ass!" hurled after the clumsy people whose boot
heels had torn a flounce or two from their dresses. Little familiar
salutations would pass between them and the cafe waiters, and at times
they would stop and chat in front of a small table and accept of drinks,
which they consumed with much deliberation, as became people not sorry
to sit down for a bit while waiting for the theaters to empty. But as
night advanced, if they had not made one or two trips in the direction
of the Rue la Rochefoucauld, they became abject strumpets, and their
hunt for men grew more ferocious than ever. Beneath the trees in the
darkening and fast-emptying boulevards fierce bargainings took place,
accompanied by oaths and blows. Respectable family parties--fathers,
mothers and daughters--who were used to such scenes, would pass quietly
by the while without quickening their pace. Afterward, when they had
walked from the opera to the GYMNASE some half-score times and in the
deepening night men were rapidly dropping off homeward for good and all,
Nana and Satin kept to the sidewalk in the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre.
There up till two o'clock in the morning restaurants, bars and
ham-and-beef shops were brightly lit up, while a noisy mob of women
hung obstinately round the doors of the cafes. This suburb was the only
corner of night Paris which was still alight and still alive, the only
market still open to nocturnal bargains. These last were openly struck
between group and group and from one end of the street to the other,
just as in the wide and open corridor of a disorderly house. On such
evenings as the pair came home without having had any success they used
to wrangle together. The Rue Notre Dame de la Lorette stretched dark and
deserted in front of them. Here and there the crawling shadow of a woman
was discernible, for the Quarter was going home and going home late,
and poor creatures, exasperated at a night of fruitless loitering,
were unwilling to give up the chase and would still stand, disputing in
hoarse voices with any strayed reveler they could catch at the corner of
the Rue Breda or the Rue Fontaine.

Nevertheless, some windfalls came in their way now and then in the shape
of louis picked up in the society of elegant gentlemen, who slipped
their decorations into their pockets as they went upstairs with them.
Satin had an especially keen scent for these. On rainy evenings, when
the dripping city exhaled an unpleasant odor suggestive of a great
untidy bed, she knew that the soft weather and the fetid reek of the
town's holes and corners were sure to send the men mad. And so she
watched the best dressed among them, for she knew by their pale eyes
what their state was. On such nights it was as though a fit of fleshly
madness were passing over Paris. The girl was rather nervous certainly,
for the most modish gentlemen were always the most obscene. All the
varnish would crack off a man, and the brute beast would show itself,
exacting, monstrous in lust, a past master in corruption. But besides
being nervous, that trollop of a Satin was lacking in respect. She would
blurt out awful things in front of dignified gentlemen in carriages and
assure them that their coachmen were better bred than they because they
behaved respectfully toward the women and did not half kill them with
their diabolical tricks and suggestions. The way in which smart people
sprawled head over heels into all the cesspools of vice still caused
Nana some surprise, for she had a few prejudices remaining, though Satin
was rapidly destroying them.

"Well then," she used to say when talking seriously about the matter,
"there's no such thing as virtue left, is there?"

From one end of the social ladder to the other everybody was on the
loose! Good gracious! Some nice things ought to be going on in Paris
between nine o'clock in the evening and three in the morning! And with
that she began making very merry and declaring that if one could only
have looked into every room one would have seen some funny sights--the
little people going it head over ears and a good lot of swells, too,
playing the swine rather harder than the rest. Oh, she was finishing her
education!

One evening when she came to call for Satin she recognized the Marquis
de Chouard. He was coming downstairs with quaking legs; his face was
ashen white, and he leaned heavily on the banisters. She pretended to be
blowing her nose. Upstairs she found Satin amid indescribable filth.
No household work had been done for a week; her bed was disgusting, and
ewers and basins were standing about in all directions. Nana expressed
surprise at her knowing the marquis. Oh yes, she knew him! He had jolly
well bored her confectioner and her when they were together. At present
he used to come back now and then, but he nearly bothered her life out,
going sniffing into all the dirty corners--yes, even into her slippers!

"Yes, dear girl, my slippers! Oh, he's the dirtiest old beast, always
wanting one to do things!"

The sincerity of these low debauches rendered Nana especially uneasy.
Seeing the courtesans around her slowly dying of it every day, she
recalled to mind the comedy of pleasure she had taken part in when she
was in the heyday of success. Moreover, Satin inspired her with an awful
fear of the police. She was full of anecdotes about them. Formerly she
had been the mistress of a plain-clothes man, had consented to this in
order to be left in peace, and on two occasions he had prevented her
from being put "on the lists." But at present she was in a great fright,
for if she were to be nabbed again there was a clear case against her.
You had only to listen to her! For the sake of perquisites the police
used to take up as many women as possible. They laid hold of everybody
and quieted you with a slap if you shouted, for they were sure of being
defended in their actions and rewarded, even when they had taken a
virtuous girl among the rest. In the summer they would swoop upon the
boulevard in parties of twelve or fifteen, surround a whole long reach
of sidewalk and fish up as many as thirty women in an evening. Satin,
however, knew the likely places, and the moment she saw a plain-clothes
man heaving in sight she took to her heels, while the long lines of
women on the pavements scattered in consternation and fled through the
surrounding crowd. The dread of the law and of the magistracy was such
that certain women would stand as though paralyzed in the doorways of
the cafes while the raid was sweeping the avenue without. But Satin
was even more afraid of being denounced, for her pastry cook had proved
blackguard enough to threaten to sell her when she had left him. Yes,
that was a fake by which men lived on their mistresses! Then, too, there
were the dirty women who delivered you up out of sheer treachery if you
were prettier than they! Nana listened to these recitals and felt her
terrors growing upon her. She had always trembled before the law, that
unknown power, that form of revenge practiced by men able and willing
to crush her in the certain absence of all defenders. Saint-Lazare she
pictured as a grave, a dark hole, in which they buried live women after
they had cut off their hair. She admitted that it was only necessary to
leave Fontan and seek powerful protectors. But as matters stood it was
in vain that Satin talked to her of certain lists of women's names,
which it was the duty of the plainclothes men to consult, and of certain
photographs accompanying the lists, the originals of which were on no
account to be touched. The reassurance did not make her tremble the
less, and she still saw herself hustled and dragged along and finally
subjected to the official medical inspection. The thought of the
official armchair filled her with shame and anguish, for had she not
bade it defiance a score of times?

Now it so happened that one evening toward the close of September, as
she was walking with Satin in the Boulevard Poissonniere, the latter
suddenly began tearing along at a terrible pace. And when Nana asked her
what she meant thereby:

"It's the plain-clothes men!" whispered Satin. "Off with you! Off with
you!" A wild stampede took place amid the surging crowd. Skirts streamed
out behind and were torn. There were blows and shrieks. A woman fell
down. The crowd of bystanders stood hilariously watching this rough
police raid while the plain-clothes men rapidly narrowed their circle.
Meanwhile Nana had lost Satin. Her legs were failing her, and she would
have been taken up for a certainty had not a man caught her by the arm
and led her away in front of the angry police. It was Prulliere, and he
had just recognized her. Without saying a word he turned down the Rue
Rougemont with her. It was just then quite deserted, and she was able to
regain breath there, but at first her faintness and exhaustion were such
that he had to support her. She did not even thank him.

"Look here," he said, "you must recover a bit. Come up to my rooms."

He lodged in the Rue Bergere close by. But she straightened herself up
at once.

"No, I don't want to."

Thereupon he waxed coarse and rejoined:

"Why don't you want to, eh? Why, everybody visits my rooms."

"Because I don't."

In her opinion that explained everything. She was too fond of Fontan to
betray him with one of his friends. The other people ceased to count the
moment there was no pleasure in the business, and necessity compelled
her to it. In view of her idiotic obstinacy Prulliere, as became a
pretty fellow whose vanity had been wounded, did a cowardly thing.

"Very well, do as you like!" he cried. "Only I don't side with you, my
dear. You must get out of the scrape by yourself."

And with that he left her. Terrors got hold of her again, and scurrying
past shops and turning white whenever a man drew nigh, she fetched an
immense compass before reaching Montmartre.

On the morrow, while still suffering from the shock of last night's
terrors, Nana went to her aunt's and at the foot of a small empty street
in the Batignolles found herself face to face with Labordette. At first
they both appeared embarrassed, for with his usual complaisance he was
busy on a secret errand. Nevertheless, he was the first to regain his
self-possession and to announce himself fortunate in meeting her. Yes,
certainly, everybody was still wondering at Nana's total eclipse. People
were asking for her, and old friends were pining. And with that he grew
quite paternal and ended by sermonizing.

"Frankly speaking, between you and me, my dear, the thing's getting
stupid. One can understand a mash, but to go to that extent, to be
trampled on like that and to get nothing but knocks! Are you playing up
for the 'Virtue Prizes' then?"

She listened to him with an embarrassed expression. But when he told her
about Rose, who was triumphantly enjoying her conquest of Count Muffat,
a flame came into her eyes.

"Oh, if I wanted to--" she muttered.

As became an obliging friend, he at once offered to act as intercessor.
But she refused his help, and he thereupon attacked her in an opposite
quarter.

He informed her that Bordenave was busy mounting a play of Fauchery's
containing a splendid part for her.

"What, a play with a part!" she cried in amazement. "But he's in it and
he's told me nothing about it!"

She did not mention Fontan by name. However, she grew calm again
directly and declared that she would never go on the stage again.
Labordette doubtless remained unconvinced, for he continued with smiling
insistence.

"You know, you need fear nothing with me. I get your Muffat ready for
you, and you go on the stage again, and I bring him to you like a little
dog!"

"No!" she cried decisively.

And she left him. Her heroic conduct made her tenderly pitiful toward
herself. No blackguard of a man would ever have sacrificed himself like
that without trumpeting the fact abroad. Nevertheless, she was struck by
one thing: Labordette had given her exactly the same advice as Francis
had given her. That evening when Fontan came home she questioned him
about Fauchery's piece. The former had been back at the Varietes for two
months past. Why then had he not told her about the part?

"What part?" he said in his ill-humored tone. "The grand lady's part,
maybe? The deuce, you believe you've got talent then! Why, such a
part would utterly do for you, my girl! You're meant for comic
business--there's no denying it!"

She was dreadfully wounded. All that evening he kept chaffing her,
calling her Mlle Mars. But the harder he hit the more bravely she
suffered, for she derived a certain bitter satisfaction from this heroic
devotion of hers, which rendered her very great and very loving in her
own eyes. Ever since she had gone with other men in order to supply
his wants her love for him had increased, and the fatigues and disgusts
encountered outside only added to the flame. He was fast becoming a
sort of pet vice for which she paid, a necessity of existence it was
impossible to do without, seeing that blows only stimulated her desires.
He, on his part, seeing what a good tame thing she had become, ended by
abusing his privileges. She was getting on his nerves, and he began to
conceive so fierce a loathing for her that he forgot to keep count of
his real interests. When Bosc made his customary remarks to him he cried
out in exasperation, for which there was no apparent cause, that he
had had enough of her and of her good dinners and that he would shortly
chuck her out of doors if only for the sake of making another woman a
present of his seven thousand francs. Indeed, that was how their liaison
ended.

One evening Nana came in toward eleven o'clock and found the door
bolted. She tapped once--there was no answer; twice--still no answer.
Meanwhile she saw light under the door, and Fontan inside did not
trouble to move. She rapped again unwearyingly; she called him and began
to get annoyed. At length Fontan's voice became audible; he spoke slowly
and rather unctuously and uttered but this one word.

"MERDE!"

She beat on the door with her fists.

"MERDE!"

She banged hard enough to smash in the woodwork.

"MERDE!"

And for upward of a quarter of an hour the same foul expression buffeted
her, answering like a jeering echo to every blow wherewith she shook
the door. At length, seeing that she was not growing tired, he opened
sharply, planted himself on the threshold, folded his arms and said in
the same cold, brutal voice:

"By God, have you done yet? What d'you want? Are you going to let us
sleep in peace, eh? You can quite see I've got company tonight."

He was certainly not alone, for Nana perceived the little woman from
the Bouffes with the untidy tow hair and the gimlet-hole eyes, standing
enjoying herself in her shift among the furniture she had paid for. But
Fontan stepped out on the landing. He looked terrible, and he spread out
and crooked his great fingers as if they were pincers.

"Hook it or I'll strangle you!"

Whereupon Nana burst into a nervous fit of sobbing. She was frightened
and she made off. This time it was she that was being kicked out of
doors. And in her fury the thought of Muffat suddenly occurred to her.
Ah, to be sure, Fontan, of all men, ought never to have done her such a
turn!

When she was out in the street her first thought was to go and sleep
with Satin, provided the girl had no one with her. She met her in
front of her house, for she, too, had been turned out of doors by
her landlord. He had just had a padlock affixed to her door--quite
illegally, of course, seeing that she had her own furniture. She swore
and talked of having him up before the commissary of police. In the
meantime, as midnight was striking, they had to begin thinking of
finding a bed. And Satin, deeming it unwise to let the plain-clothes
men into her secrets, ended by taking Nana to a woman who kept a little
hotel in the Rue de Laval. Here they were assigned a narrow room on
the first floor, the window of which opened on the courtyard. Satin
remarked:

"I should gladly have gone to Mme Robert's. There's always a corner
there for me. But with you it's out of the question. She's getting
absurdly jealous; she beat me the other night."

When they had shut themselves in, Nana, who had not yet relieved her
feelings, burst into tears and again and again recounted Fontan's dirty
behavior. Satin listened complaisantly, comforted her, grew even more
angry than she in denunciation of the male sex.

"Oh, the pigs, the pigs! Look here, we'll have nothing more to do with
them!"

Then she helped Nana to undress with all the small, busy attentions,
becoming a humble little friend. She kept saying coaxingly:

"Let's go to bed as fast as we can, pet. We shall be better off there!
Oh, how silly you are to get crusty about things! I tell you, they're
dirty brutes. Don't think any more about 'em. I--I love you very much.
Don't cry, and oblige your own little darling girl."

And once in bed, she forthwith took Nana in her arms and soothed and
comforted her. She refused to hear Fontan's name mentioned again, and
each time it recurred to her friend's lips she stopped it with a kiss.
Her lips pouted in pretty indignation; her hair lay loose about her, and
her face glowed with tenderness and childlike beauty. Little by little
her soft embrace compelled Nana to dry her tears. She was touched and
replied to Satin's caresses. When two o'clock struck the candle was
still burning, and a sound of soft, smothered laughter and lovers' talk
was audible in the room.

But suddenly a loud noise came up from the lower floors of the hotel,
and Satin, with next to nothing on, got up and listened intently.

"The police!" she said, growing very pale.

"Oh, blast our bad luck! We're bloody well done for!"

Often had she told stories about the raids on hotel made by the
plainclothes men. But that particular night neither of them had
suspected anything when they took shelter in the Rue de Laval. At the
sound of the word "police" Nana lost her head. She jumped out of bed and
ran across the room with the scared look of a madwoman about to jump out
of the window. Luckily, however, the little courtyard was roofed with
glass, which was covered with an iron-wire grating at the level of the
girls' bedroom. At sight of this she ceased to hesitate; she stepped
over the window prop, and with her chemise flying and her legs bared to
the night air she vanished in the gloom.

"Stop! Stop!" said Satin in a great fright. "You'll kill yourself."

Then as they began hammering at the door, she shut the window like a
good-natured girl and threw her friend's clothes down into a cupboard.
She was already resigned to her fate and comforted herself with the
thought that, after all, if she were to be put on the official list she
would no longer be so "beastly frightened" as of yore. So she pretended
to be heavy with sleep. She yawned; she palavered and ended by opening
the door to a tall, burly fellow with an unkempt beard, who said to her:

"Show your hands! You've got no needle pricks on them: you don't work.
Now then, dress!"

"But I'm not a dressmaker; I'm a burnisher," Satin brazenly declared.

Nevertheless, she dressed with much docility, knowing that argument was
out of the question. Cries were ringing through the hotel; a girl was
clinging to doorposts and refusing to budge an inch. Another girl, in
bed with a lover, who was answering for her legality, was acting the
honest woman who had been grossly insulted and spoke of bringing an
action against the prefect of police. For close on an hour there was
a noise of heavy shoes on the stairs, of fists hammering on doors, of
shrill disputes terminating in sobs, of petticoats rustling along the
walls, of all the sounds, in fact, attendant on the sudden awakening and
scared departure of a flock of women as they were roughly packed off by
three plain-clothes men, headed by a little oily-mannered, fair-haired
commissary of police. After they had gone the hotel relapsed into deep
silence.

Nobody had betrayed her; Nana was saved. Shivering and half dead with
fear, she came groping back into the room. Her bare feet were cut and
bleeding, for they had been torn by the grating. For a long while she
remained sitting on the edge of the bed, listening and listening. Toward
morning, however, she went to sleep again, and at eight o'clock, when
she woke up, she escaped from the hotel and ran to her aunt's. When Mme
Lerat, who happened just then to be drinking her morning coffee with
Zoe, beheld her bedraggled plight and haggard face, she took note of the
hour and at once understood the state of the case.

"It's come to it, eh?" she cried. "I certainly told you that he would
take the skin off your back one of these days. Well, well, come in;
you'll always find a kind welcome here."

Zoe had risen from her chair and was muttering with respectful
familiarity:

"Madame is restored to us at last. I was waiting for Madame."

But Mme Lerat insisted on Nana's going and kissing Louiset at once,
because, she said, the child took delight in his mother's nice ways.
Louiset, a sickly child with poor blood, was still asleep, and when
Nana bent over his white, scrofulous face, the memory of all she had
undergone during the last few months brought a choking lump into her
throat.

"Oh, my poor little one, my poor little one!" she gasped, bursting into
a final fit of sobbing.



CHAPTER IX


The Petite Duchesse was being rehearsed at the Varietes. The first act
had just been carefully gone through, and the second was about to begin.
Seated in old armchairs in front of the stage, Fauchery and Bordenave
were discussing various points while the prompter, Father Cossard, a
little humpbacked man perched on a straw-bottomed chair, was turning
over the pages of the manuscript, a pencil between his lips.

"Well, what are they waiting for?" cried Bordenave on a sudden, tapping
the floor savagely with his heavy cane. "Barillot, why don't they
begin?"

"It's Monsieur Bosc that has disappeared," replied Barillot, who was
acting as second stage manager.'

Then there arose a tempest, and everybody shouted for Bosc while
Bordenave swore.

"Always the same thing, by God! It's all very well ringing for 'em:
they're always where they've no business to be. And then they grumble
when they're kept till after four o'clock."

But Bosc just then came in with supreme tranquillity.

"Eh? What? What do they want me for? Oh, it's my turn! You ought to have
said so. All right! Simonne gives the cue: 'Here are the guests,' and I
come in. Which way must I come in?"

"Through the door, of course," cried Fauchery in great exasperation.

"Yes, but where is the door?"

At this Bordenave fell upon Barillot and once more set to work swearing
and hammering the boards with his cane.

"By God! I said a chair was to be put there to stand for the door, and
every day we have to get it done again. Barillot! Where's Barillot?
Another of 'em! Why, they're all going!"

Nevertheless, Barillot came and planted the chair down in person,
mutely weathering the storm as he did so. And the rehearsal began again.
Simonne, in her hat and furs, began moving about like a maidservant busy
arranging furniture. She paused to say:

"I'm not warm, you know, so I keep my hands in my muff."

Then changing her voice, she greeted Bosc with a little cry:

"La, it's Monsieur le Comte. You're the first to come, Monsieur le
Comte, and Madame will be delighted."

Bosc had muddy trousers and a huge yellow overcoat, round the collar of
which a tremendous comforter was wound. On his head he wore an old hat,
and he kept his hands in his pockets. He did not act but dragged himself
along, remarking in a hollow voice:

"Don't disturb your mistress, Isabelle; I want to take her by surprise."

The rehearsal took its course. Bordenave knitted his brows. He had
slipped down low in his armchair and was listening with an air of
fatigue. Fauchery was nervous and kept shifting about in his seat. Every
few minutes he itched with the desire to interrupt, but he restrained
himself. He heard a whispering in the dark and empty house behind him.

"Is she there?" he asked, leaning over toward Bordenave.

The latter nodded affirmatively. Before accepting the part of Geraldine,
which he was offering her, Nana had been anxious to see the piece, for
she hesitated to play a courtesan's part a second time. She, in fact,
aspired to an honest woman's part. Accordingly she was hiding in the
shadows of a corner box in company with Labordette, who was managing
matters for her with Bordenave. Fauchery glanced in her direction and
then once more set himself to follow the rehearsal.

Only the front of the stage was lit up. A flaring gas burner on a
support, which was fed by a pipe from the footlights, burned in front of
a reflector and cast its full brightness over the immediate foreground.
It looked like a big yellow eye glaring through the surrounding
semiobscurity, where it flamed in a doubtful, melancholy way. Cossard
was holding up his manuscript against the slender stem of this
arrangement. He wanted to see more clearly, and in the flood of light
his hump was sharply outlined. As to Bordenave and Fauchery, they were
already drowned in shadow. It was only in the heart of this enormous
structure, on a few square yards of stage, that a faint glow suggested
the light cast by some lantern nailed up in a railway station. It made
the actors look like eccentric phantoms and set their shadows dancing
after them. The remainder of the stage was full of mist and suggested a
house in process of being pulled down, a church nave in utter ruin. It
was littered with ladders, with set pieces and with scenery, of which
the faded painting suggested heaped-up rubbish. Hanging high in air,
the scenes had the appearance of great ragged clouts suspended from the
rafters of some vast old-clothes shop, while above these again a ray of
bright sunlight fell from a window and clove the shadow round the flies
with a bar of gold.

Meanwhile actors were chatting at the back of the stage while awaiting
their cues. Little by little they had raised their voices.

"Confound it, will you be silent?" howled Bordenave, raging up and down
in his chair. "I can't hear a word. Go outside if you want to talk; WE
are at work. Barillot, if there's any more talking I clap on fines all
round!"

They were silent for a second or two. They were sitting in a little
group on a bench and some rustic chairs in the corner of a scenic
garden, which was standing ready to be put in position as it would be
used in the opening act the same evening. In the middle of this group
Fontan and Prulliere were listening to Rose Mignon, to whom the manager
of the Folies-Dramatique Theatre had been making magnificent offers. But
a voice was heard shouting:

"The duchess! Saint-Firmin! The duchess and Saint-Firmin are wanted!"

Only when the call was repeated did Prulliere remember that he was
Saint-Firmin! Rose, who was playing the Duchess Helene, was already
waiting to go on with him while old Bosc slowly returned to his seat,
dragging one foot after the other over the sonorous and deserted boards.
Clarisse offered him a place on the bench beside her.

"What's he bawling like that for?" she said in allusion to Bordenave.
"Things will be getting rosy soon! A piece can't be put on nowadays
without its getting on his nerves."

Bosc shrugged his shoulders; he was above such storms. Fontan whispered:

"He's afraid of a fiasco. The piece strikes me as idiotic."

Then he turned to Clarisse and again referred to what Rose had been
telling them:

"D'you believe in the offers of the Folies people, eh? Three hundred
francs an evening for a hundred nights! Why not a country house into the
bargain? If his wife were to be given three hundred francs Mignon would
chuck my friend Bordenave and do it jolly sharp too!"

Clarisse was a believer in the three hundred francs. That man Fontan
was always picking holes in his friends' successes! Just then Simonne
interrupted her. She was shivering with cold. Indeed, they were all
buttoned up to the ears and had comforters on, and they looked up at the
ray of sunlight which shone brightly above them but did not penetrate
the cold gloom of the theater. In the streets outside there was a frost
under a November sky.

"And there's no fire in the greenroom!" said Simonne. "It's disgusting;
he IS just becoming a skinflint! I want to be off; I don't want to get
seedy."

"Silence, I say!" Bordenave once more thundered.

Then for a minute or so a confused murmur alone was audible as the
actors went on repeating their parts. There was scarcely any appropriate
action, and they spoke in even tones so as not to tire themselves.
Nevertheless, when they did emphasize a particular shade of meaning they
cast a glance at the house, which lay before them like a yawning gulf.
It was suffused with vague, ambient shadow, which resembled the fine
dust floating pent in some high, windowless loft. The deserted house,
whose sole illumination was the twilight radiance of the stage, seemed
to slumber in melancholy and mysterious effacement. Near the ceiling
dense night smothered the frescoes, while from the several tiers of
stage boxes on either hand huge widths of gray canvas stretched down
to protect the neighboring hangings. In fact, there was no end to these
coverings; bands of canvas had been thrown over the velvet-covered
ledges in front of the various galleries which they shrouded thickly.
Their pale hue stained the surrounding shadows, and of the general
decorations of the house only the dark recesses of the boxes were
distinguishable. These served to outline the framework of the several
stories, where the seats were so many stains of red velvet turned black.
The chandelier had been let down as far as it would go, and it so filled
the region of the stalls with its pendants as to suggest a flitting and
to set one thinking that the public had started on a journey from which
they would never return.

Just about then Rose, as the little duchess who has been misled into the
society of a courtesan, came to the footlights, lifted up her hands and
pouted adorably at the dark and empty theater, which was as sad as a
house of mourning.

"Good heavens, what queer people!" she said, emphasizing the phrase and
confident that it would have its effect.

Far back in the corner box in which she was hiding Nana sat enveloped in
a great shawl. She was listening to the play and devouring Rose with her
eyes. Turning toward Labordette, she asked him in a low tone:

"You are sure he'll come?"

"Quite sure. Without doubt he'll come with Mignon, so as to have an
excuse for coming. As soon as he makes his appearance you'll go up into
Mathilde's dressing room, and I'll bring him to you there."

They were talking of Count Muffat. Labordette had arranged this
interview with him on neutral ground. He had had a serious talk with
Bordenave, whose affairs had been gravely damaged by two successive
failures. Accordingly Bordenave had hastened to lend him his theater and
to offer Nana a part, for he was anxious to win the count's favor and
hoped to be able to borrow from him.

"And this part of Geraldine, what d'you thing of it?" continued
Labordette.

But Nana sat motionless and vouchsafed no reply. After the first act, in
which the author showed how the Duc de Beaurivage played his wife false
with the blonde Geraldine, a comic-opera celebrity, the second act
witnessed the Duchess Helene's arrival at the house of the actress on
the occasion of a masked ball being given by the latter. The duchess has
come to find out by what magical process ladies of that sort conquer
and retain their husbands' affections. A cousin, the handsome Oscar de
Saint-Firmin, introduces her and hopes to be able to debauch her. And
her first lesson causes her great surprise, for she hears Geraldine
swearing like a hodman at the duke, who suffers with most ecstatic
submissiveness. The episode causes her to cry out, "Dear me, if that's
the way one ought to talk to the men!" Geraldine had scarce any other
scene in the act save this one. As to the duchess, she is very soon
punished for her curiosity, for an old buck, the Baron de Tardiveau,
takes her for a courtesan and becomes very gallant, while on her other
side Beaurivage sits on a lounging chair and makes his peace with
Geraldine by dint of kisses and caresses. As this last lady's part had
not yet been assigned to anyone, Father Cossard had got up to read it,
and he was now figuring away in Bosc's arms and emphasizing it despite
himself. At this point, while the rehearsal was dragging monotonously
on, Fauchery suddenly jumped from his chair. He had restrained himself
up to that moment, but now his nerves got the better of him.

"That's not it!" he cried.

The actors paused awkwardly enough while Fontan sneered and asked in his
most contemptuous voice:

"Eh? What's not it? Who's not doing it right?"

"Nobody is! You're quite wrong, quite wrong!" continued Fauchery, and,
gesticulating wildly, he came striding over the stage and began himself
to act the scene.

"Now look here, you Fontan, do please comprehend the way Tardiveau gets
packed off. You must lean forward like this in order to catch hold of
the duchess. And then you, Rose, must change your position like that but
not too soon--only when you hear the kiss."

He broke off and in the heat of explanation shouted to Cossard:

"Geraldine, give the kiss! Loudly, so that it may be heard!"

Father Cossard turned toward Bosc and smacked his lips vigorously.

"Good! That's the kiss," said Fauchery triumphantly. "Once more; let's
have it once more. Now you see, Rose, I've had time to move, and then
I give a little cry--so: 'Oh, she's given him a kiss.' But before I do
that, Tardiveau must go up the stage. D'you hear, Fontan? You go up.
Come, let's try it again, all together."

The actors continued the scene again, but Fontan played his part with
such an ill grace that they made no sort of progress. Twice Fauchery had
to repeat his explanation, each time acting it out with more warmth
than before. The actors listened to him with melancholy faces, gazed
momentarily at one another, as though he had asked them to walk on their
heads, and then awkwardly essayed the passage, only to pull up short
directly afterward, looking as stiff as puppets whose strings have just
been snapped.

"No, it beats me; I can't understand it," said Fontan at length,
speaking in the insolent manner peculiar to him.

Bordenave had never once opened his lips. He had slipped quite down in
his armchair, so that only the top of his hat was now visible in the
doubtful flicker of the gaslight on the stand. His cane had fallen from
his grasp and lay slantwise across his waistcoat. Indeed, he seemed to
be asleep. But suddenly he sat bolt upright.

"It's idiotic, my boy," he announced quietly to Fauchery.

"What d'you mean, idiotic?" cried the author, growing very pale. "It's
you that are the idiot, my dear boy!"

Bordenave began to get angry at once. He repeated the word "idiotic"
and, seeking a more forcible expression, hit upon "imbecile" and "damned
foolish." The public would hiss, and the act would never be finished!
And when Fauchery, without, indeed, being very deeply wounded by these
big phrases, which always recurred when a new piece was being put on,
grew savage and called the other a brute, Bordenave went beyond all
bounds, brandished his cane in the air, snorted like a bull and shouted:

"Good God! Why the hell can't you shut up? We've lost a quarter of an
hour over this folly. Yes, folly! There's no sense in it. And it's so
simple, after all's said and done! You, Fontan, mustn't move. You, Rose,
must make your little movement, just that, no more; d'ye see? And then
you come down. Now then, let's get it done this journey. Give the kiss,
Cossard."

Then ensued confusion. The scene went no better than before. Bordenave,
in his turn, showed them how to act it about as gracefully as an
elephant might have done, while Fauchery sneered and shrugged pityingly.
After that Fontan put his word in, and even Bosc made so bold as to give
advice. Rose, thoroughly tired out, had ended by sitting down on the
chair which indicated the door. No one knew where they had got to, and
by way of finish to it all Simonne made a premature entry, under
the impression that her cue had been given her, and arrived amid the
confusion. This so enraged Bordenave that he whirled his stick round in
a terrific manner and caught her a sounding thwack to the rearward. At
rehearsal he used frequently to drub his former mistress. Simonne ran
away, and this furious outcry followed her:

"Take that, and, by God, if I'm annoyed again I shut the whole shop up
at once!"

Fauchery pushed his hat down over his forehead and pretended to be going
to leave the theater. But he stopped at the top of the stage and came
down again when he saw Bordenave perspiringly resuming his seat. Then
he, too, took up his old position in the other armchair. For some
seconds they sat motionless side by side while oppressive silence
reigned in the shadowy house. The actors waited for nearly two minutes.
They were all heavy with exhaustion and felt as though they had
performed an overwhelming task.

"Well, let's go on," said Bordenave at last. He spoke in his usual voice
and was perfectly calm.

"Yes, let's go on," Fauchery repeated. "We'll arrange the scene
tomorrow."

And with that they dragged on again and rehearsed their parts with
as much listlessness and as fine an indifference as ever. During the
dispute between manager and author Fontan and the rest had been taking
things very comfortably on the rustic bench and seats at the back of
the stage, where they had been chuckling, grumbling and saying fiercely
cutting things. But when Simonne came back, still smarting from her blow
and choking with sobs, they grew melodramatic and declared that had they
been in her place they would have strangled the swine. She began wiping
her eyes and nodding approval. It was all over between them, she said.
She was leaving him, especially as Steiner had offered to give her a
grand start in life only the day before. Clarisse was much astonished at
this, for the banker was quite ruined, but Prulliere began laughing and
reminded them of the neat manner in which that confounded Israelite had
puffed himself alongside of Rose in order to get his Landes saltworks
afloat on 'change. Just at that time he was airing a new project,
namely, a tunnel under the Bosporus. Simonne listened with the greatest
interest to this fresh piece of information.

As to Clarisse, she had been raging for a week past. Just fancy,
that beast La Faloise, whom she had succeeded in chucking into Gaga's
venerable embrace, was coming into the fortune of a very rich uncle! It
was just her luck; she had always been destined to make things cozy for
other people. Then, too, that pig Bordenave had once more given her a
mere scrap of a part, a paltry fifty lines, just as if she could not
have played Geraldine! She was yearning for that role and hoping that
Nana would refuse it.

"Well, and what about me?" said Prulliere with much bitterness. "I
haven't got more than two hundred lines. I wanted to give the part
up. It's too bad to make me play that fellow Saint-Firmin; why, it's a
regular failure! And then what a style it's written in, my dears! It'll
fall dead flat, you may be sure."

But just then Simonne, who had been chatting with Father Barillot, came
back breathless and announced:

"By the by, talking of Nana, she's in the house."

"Where, where?" asked Clarisse briskly, getting up to look for her.

The news spread at once, and everyone craned forward. The rehearsal
was, as it were, momentarily interrupted. But Bordenave emerged from his
quiescent condition, shouting:

"What's up, eh? Finish the act, I say. And be quiet out there; it's
unbearable!"

Nana was still following the piece from the corner box. Twice Labordette
showed an inclination to chat, but she grew impatient and nudged him to
make him keep silent. The second act was drawing to a close, when two
shadows loomed at the back of the theater. They were creeping softly
down, avoiding all noise, and Nana recognized Mignon and Count Muffat.
They came forward and silently shook hands with Bordenave.

"Ah, there they are," she murmured with a sigh of relief.

Rose Mignon delivered the last sentences of the act. Thereupon Bordenave
said that it was necessary to go through the second again before
beginning the third. With that he left off attending to the rehearsal
and greeted the count with looks of exaggerated politeness, while
Fauchery pretended to be entirely engrossed with his actors, who now
grouped themselves round him. Mignon stood whistling carelessly, with
his hands behind his back and his eyes fixed complacently on his wife,
who seemed rather nervous.

"Well, shall we go upstairs?" Labordette asked Nana. "I'll install you
in the dressing room and come down again and fetch him."

Nana forthwith left the corner box. She had to grope her way along the
passage outside the stalls, but Bordenave guessed where she was as she
passed along in the dark and caught her up at the end of the corridor
passing behind the scenes, a narrow tunnel where the gas burned day and
night. Here, in order to bluff her into a bargain, he plunged into a
discussion of the courtesan's part.

"What a part it is, eh? What a wicked little part! It's made for you.
Come and rehearse tomorrow."

Nana was frigid. She wanted to know what the third act was like.

"Oh, it's superb, the third act is! The duchess plays the courtesan in
her own house and this disgusts Beaurivage and makes him amend his way.
Then there's an awfully funny QUID PRO QUO, when Tardiveau arrives and
is under the impression that he's at an opera dancer's house."

"And what does Geraldine do in it all?" interrupted Nana.

"Geraldine?" repeated Bordenave in some embarrassment. "She has a
scene--not a very long one, but a great success. It's made for you, I
assure you! Will you sign?"

She looked steadily at him and at length made answer:

"We'll see about that all in good time."

And she rejoined Labordette, who was waiting for her on the stairs.
Everybody in the theater had recognized her, and there was now much
whispering, especially between Prulliere, who was scandalized at her
return, and Clarisse who was very desirous of the part. As to Fontan, he
looked coldly on, pretending unconcern, for he did not think it becoming
to round on a woman he had loved. Deep down in his heart, though, his
old love had turned to hate, and he nursed the fiercest rancor against
her in return for the constant devotion, the personal beauty, the life
in common, of which his perverse and monstrous tastes had made him tire.

In the meantime, when Labordette reappeared and went up to the count,
Rose Mignon, whose suspicions Nana's presence had excited, understood
it all forthwith. Muffat was bothering her to death, but she was beside
herself at the thought of being left like this. She broke the silence
which she usually maintained on such subjects in her husband's society
and said bluntly:

"You see what's going on? My word, if she tries the Steiner trick on
again I'll tear her eyes out!"

Tranquilly and haughtily Mignon shrugged his shoulders, as became a man
from whom nothing could be hidden.

"Do be quiet," he muttered. "Do me the favor of being quiet, won't you?"

He knew what to rely on now. He had drained his Muffat dry, and he knew
that at a sign from Nana he was ready to lie down and be a carpet
under her feet. There is no fighting against passions such as that.
Accordingly, as he knew what men were, he thought of nothing but how to
turn the situation to the best possible account.

It would be necessary to wait on the course of events. And he waited on
them.

"Rose, it's your turn!" shouted Bordenave. "The second act's being begun
again."

"Off with you then," continued Mignon, "and let me arrange matters."

Then he began bantering, despite all his troubles, and was pleased to
congratulate Fauchery on his piece. A very strong piece! Only why was
his great lady so chaste? It wasn't natural! With that he sneered
and asked who had sat for the portrait of the Duke of Beaurivage,
Geraldine's wornout roue. Fauchery smiled; he was far from annoyed. But
Bordenave glanced in Muffat's direction and looked vexed, and Mignon was
struck at this and became serious again.

"Let's begin, for God's sake!" yelled the manager. "Now then, Barillot!
Eh? What? Isn't Bosc there? Is he bloody well making game of me now?"

Bosc, however, made his appearance quietly enough, and the rehearsal
began again just as Labordette was taking the count away with him. The
latter was tremulous at the thought of seeing Nana once more. After the
rupture had taken place between them there had been a great void in his
life. He was idle and fancied himself about to suffer through the sudden
change his habits had undergone, and accordingly he had let them take
him to see Rose. Besides, his brain had been in such a whirl that he had
striven to forget everything and had strenuously kept from seeking
out Nana while avoiding an explanation with the countess. He thought,
indeed, that he owed his dignity such a measure of forgetfulness.
But mysterious forces were at work within, and Nana began slowly to
reconquer him. First came thoughts of her, then fleshly cravings and
finally a new set of exclusive, tender, well-nigh paternal feelings.

The abominable events attendant on their last interview were gradually
effacing themselves. He no longer saw Fontan; he no longer heard the
stinging taunt about his wife's adultery with which Nana cast him out of
doors. These things were as words whose memory vanished. Yet deep
down in his heart there was a poignant smart which wrung him with such
increasing pain that it nigh choked him. Childish ideas would occur to
him; he imagined that she would never have betrayed him if he had really
loved her, and he blamed himself for this. His anguish was becoming
unbearable; he was really very wretched. His was the pain of an
old wound rather than the blind, present desire which puts up with
everything for the sake of immediate possession. He felt a jealous
passion for the woman and was haunted by longings for her and her alone,
her hair, her mouth, her body. When he remembered the sound of her voice
a shiver ran through him; he longed for her as a miser might have done,
with refinements of desire beggaring description. He was, in fact, so
dolorously possessed by his passion that when Labordette had begun to
broach the subject of an assignation he had thrown himself into his
arms in obedience to irresistible impulse. Directly afterward he had, of
course, been ashamed of an act of self-abandonment which could not but
seem very ridiculous in a man of his position; but Labordette was one who
knew when to see and when not to see things, and he gave a further proof
of his tact when he left the count at the foot of the stairs and without
effort let slip only these simple words:

"The right-hand passage on the second floor. The door's not shut."

Muffat was alone in that silent corner of the house. As he passed before
the players' waiting room, he had peeped through the open doors and
noticed the utter dilapidation of the vast chamber, which looked
shamefully stained and worn in broad daylight. But what surprised him
most as he emerged from the darkness and confusion of the stage was
the pure, clear light and deep quiet at present pervading the lofty
staircase, which one evening when he had seen it before had been bathed
in gas fumes and loud with the footsteps of women scampering over
the different floors. He felt that the dressing rooms were empty,
the corridors deserted; not a soul was there; not a sound broke the
stillness, while through the square windows on the level of the stairs
the pale November sunlight filtered and cast yellow patches of light,
full of dancing dust, amid the dead, peaceful air which seemed to
descend from the regions above.

He was glad of this calm and the silence, and he went slowly up, trying
to regain breath as he went, for his heart was thumping, and he was
afraid lest he might behave childishly and give way to sighs and tears.
Accordingly on the first-floor landing he leaned up against a wall--for
he was sure of not being observed--and pressed his handkerchief to his
mouth and gazed at the warped steps, the iron balustrade bright with the
friction of many hands, the scraped paint on the walls--all the squalor,
in fact, which that house of tolerance so crudely displayed at the pale
afternoon hour when courtesans are asleep. When he reached the second
floor he had to step over a big yellow cat which was lying curled up on
a step. With half-closed eyes this cat was keeping solitary watch over
the house, where the close and now frozen odors which the women nightly
left behind them had rendered him somnolent.

In the right-hand corridor the door of the dressing room had, indeed,
not been closed entirely. Nana was waiting. That little Mathilde, a drab
of a young girl, kept her dressing room in a filthy state. Chipped jugs
stood about anyhow; the dressing table was greasy, and there was a chair
covered with red stains, which looked as if someone had bled over the
straw. The paper pasted on walls and ceiling was splashed from top to
bottom with spots of soapy water and this smelled so disagreeably of
lavender scent turned sour that Nana opened the window and for some
moments stayed leaning on the sill, breathing the fresh air and craning
forward to catch sight of Mme Bron underneath. She could hear her broom
wildly at work on the mildewed pantiles of the narrow court which was
buried in shadow. A canary, whose cage hung on a shutter, was trilling
away piercingly. The sound of carriages in the boulevard and neighboring
streets was no longer audible, and the quiet and the wide expanse of
sleeping sunlight suggested the country. Looking farther afield, her
eye fell on the small buildings and glass roofs of the galleries in the
passage and, beyond these, on the tall houses in the Rue Vivienne, the
backs of which rose silent and apparently deserted over against her.
There was a succession of terrace roofs close by, and on one of these a
photographer had perched a big cagelike construction of blue glass. It
was all very gay, and Nana was becoming absorbed in contemplation, when
it struck her someone had knocked at the door.

She turned round and shouted:

"Come in!"

At sight of the count she shut the window, for it was not warm, and
there was no need for the eavesdropping Mme Bron to listen. The pair
gazed at one another gravely. Then as the count still kept standing
stiffly in front of her, looking ready to choke with emotion, she burst
out laughing and said:

"Well! So you're here again, you silly big beast!"

The tumult going on within him was so great that he seemed a man frozen
to ice. He addressed Nana as "madame" and esteemed himself happy to
see her again. Thereupon she became more familiar than ever in order to
bounce matters through.

"Don't do it in the dignified way! You wanted to see me, didn't you? But
you didn't intend us to stand looking at one another like a couple of
chinaware dogs. We've both been in the wrong--Oh, I certainly forgive
you!"

And herewith they agreed not to talk of that affair again, Muffat
nodding his assent as Nana spoke. He was calmer now but as yet could
find nothing to say, though a thousand things rose tumultuously to his
lips. Surprised at his apparent coldness, she began acting a part with
much vigor.

"Come," she continued with a faint smile, "you're a sensible man! Now
that we've made our peace let's shake hands and be good friends in
future."

"What? Good friends?" he murmured in sudden anxiety.

"Yes; it's idiotic, perhaps, but I should like you to think well of me.
We've had our little explanation out, and if we meet again we shan't, at
any rate look like a pair of boobies."

He tried to interrupt her with a movement of the hand.

"Let me finish! There's not a man, you understand, able to accuse me of
doing him a blackguardly turn; well, and it struck me as horrid to begin
in your case. We all have our sense of honor, dear boy."

"But that's not my meaning!" he shouted violently. "Sit down--listen to
me!" And as though he were afraid of seeing her take her departure, he
pushed her down on the solitary chair in the room. Then he paced about
in growing agitation. The little dressing room was airless and full of
sunlight, and no sound from the outside world disturbed its pleasant,
peaceful, dampish atmosphere. In the pauses of conversation the
shrillings of the canary were alone audible and suggested the distant
piping of a flute.

"Listen," he said, planting himself in front of her, "I've come to
possess myself of you again. Yes, I want to begin again. You know that
well; then why do you talk to me as you do? Answer me; tell me you
consent."

Her head was bent, and she was scratching the blood-red straw of the
seat underneath her. Seeing him so anxious, she did not hurry to answer.
But at last she lifted up her face. It had assumed a grave expression,
and into the beautiful eyes she had succeeded in infusing a look of
sadness.

"Oh, it's impossible, little man. Never, never, will I live with you
again."

"Why?" he stuttered, and his face seemed contracted in unspeakable
suffering.

"Why? Hang it all, because--It's impossible; that's about it. I don't
want to."

He looked ardently at her for some seconds longer. Then his legs curved
under him and he fell on the floor. In a bored voice she added this
simple advice:

"Ah, don't be a baby!"

But he was one already. Dropping at her feet, he had put his arms round
her waist and was hugging her closely, pressing his face hard against
her knees. When he felt her thus--when he once more divined the presence
of her velvety limbs beneath the thin fabric of her dress--he was
suddenly convulsed and trembled, as it were, with fever, while madly,
savagely, he pressed his face against her knees as though he had been
anxious to force through her flesh. The old chair creaked, and beneath
the low ceiling, where the air was pungent with stale perfumes,
smothered sobs of desire were audible.

"Well, and after?" Nana began saying, letting him do as he would. "All
this doesn't help you a bit, seeing that the thing's impossible. Good
God, what a child you are!"

His energy subsided, but he still stayed on the floor, nor did he relax
his hold of her as he said in a broken voice:

"Do at least listen to what I came to offer you. I've already seen
a town house close to the Parc Monceau--I would gladly realize your
smallest wish. In order to have you all to myself, I would give my whole
fortune. Yes, that would be my only condition, that I should have you
all to myself! Do you understand? And if you were to consent to be mine
only, oh, then I should want you to be the loveliest, the richest, woman
on earth. I should give you carriages and diamonds and dresses!"

At each successive offer Nana shook her head proudly. Then seeing
that he still continued them, that he even spoke of settling money on
her--for he was at loss what to lay at her feet--she apparently lost
patience.

"Come, come, have you done bargaining with me? I'm a good sort, and I
don't mind giving in to you for a minute or two, as your feelings are
making you so ill, but I've had enough of it now, haven't I? So let me
get up. You're tiring me."

She extricated herself from his clasp, and once on her feet:

"No, no, no!" she said. "I don't want to!"

With that he gathered himself up painfully and feebly dropped into a
chair, in which he leaned back with his face in his hands. Nana began
pacing up and down in her turn. For a second or two she looked at the
stained wallpaper, the greasy toilet table, the whole dirty little room
as it basked in the pale sunlight. Then she paused in front of the count
and spoke with quiet directness.

"It's strange how rich men fancy they can have everything for their
money. Well, and if I don't want to consent--what then? I don't care a
pin for your presents! You might give me Paris, and yet I should say
no! Always no! Look here, it's scarcely clean in this room, yet I should
think it very nice if I wanted to live in it with you. But one's fit to
kick the bucket in your palaces if one isn't in love. Ah, as to money,
my poor pet, I can lay my hands on that if I want to, but I tell you, I
trample on it; I spit on it!"

And with that she assumed a disgusted expression. Then she became
sentimental and added in a melancholy tone:

"I know of something worth more than money. Oh, if only someone were to
give me what I long for!"

He slowly lifted his head, and there was a gleam of hope in his eyes.

"Oh, you can't give it me," she continued; "it doesn't depend on you,
and that's the reason I'm talking to you about it. Yes, we're having
a chat, so I may as well mention to you that I should like to play the
part of the respectable woman in that show of theirs."

"What respectable woman?" he muttered in astonishment.

"Why, their Duchess Helene! If they think I'm going to play Geraldine,
a part with nothing in it, a scene and nothing besides--if they think
that! Besides, that isn't the reason. The fact is I've had enough of
courtesans. Why, there's no end to 'em! They'll be fancying I've got 'em
on the brain; to be sure they will! Besides, when all's said and done,
it's annoying, for I can quite see they seem to think me uneducated.
Well, my boy, they're jolly well in the dark about it, I can tell you!
When I want to be a perfect lady, why then I am a swell, and no mistake!
Just look at this."

And she withdrew as far as the window and then came swelling back with
the mincing gait and circumspect air of a portly hen that fears to dirty
her claws. As to Muffat, he followed her movements with eyes still wet
with tears. He was stupefied by this sudden transition from anguish
to comedy. She walked about for a moment or two in order the more
thoroughly to show off her paces, and as she walked she smiled subtlely,
closed her eyes demurely and managed her skirts with great dexterity.
Then she posted herself in front of him again.

"I guess I've hit it, eh?"

"Oh, thoroughly," he stammered with a broken voice and a troubled
expression.

"I tell you I've got hold of the honest woman! I've tried at my own
place. Nobody's got my little knack of looking like a duchess who don't
care a damn for the men. Did you notice it when I passed in front of
you? Why, the thing's in my blood! Besides, I want to play the part of
an honest woman. I dream about it day and night--I'm miserable about it.
I must have the part, d'you hear?"

And with that she grew serious, speaking in a hard voice and looking
deeply moved, for she was really tortured by her stupid, tiresome wish.
Muffat, still smarting from her late refusals, sat on without appearing
to grasp her meaning. There was a silence during which the very flies
abstained from buzzing through the quiet, empty place.

"Now, look here," she resumed bluntly, "you're to get them to give me
the part."

He was dumfounded, and with a despairing gesture:

"Oh, it's impossible! You yourself were saying just now that it didn't
depend on me."

She interrupted him with a shrug of the shoulders.

"You'll just go down, and you'll tell Bordenave you want the part. Now
don't be such a silly! Bordenave wants money--well, you'll lend him
some, since you can afford to make ducks and drakes of it."

And as he still struggled to refuse her, she grew angry.

"Very well, I understand; you're afraid of making Rose angry. I didn't
mention the woman when you were crying down on the floor--I should have
had too much to say about it all. Yes, to be sure, when one has sworn to
love a woman forever one doesn't usually take up with the first creature
that comes by directly after. Oh, that's where the shoe pinches, I
remember! Well, dear boy, there's nothing very savory in the Mignon's
leavings! Oughtn't you to have broken it off with that dirty lot before
coming and squirming on my knees?"

He protested vaguely and at last was able to get out a phrase.

"Oh, I don't care a jot for Rose; I'll give her up at once."

Nana seemed satisfied on this point. She continued:

"Well then, what's bothering you? Bordenave's master here. You'll tell
me there's Fauchery after Bordenave--"

She had sunk her voice, for she was coming to the delicate part of the
matter. Muffat sat silent, his eyes fixed on the ground. He had remained
voluntarily ignorant of Fauchery's assiduous attentions to the countess,
and time had lulled his suspicions and set him hoping that he had been
deceiving himself during that fearful night passed in a doorway of the
Rue Taitbout. But he still felt a dull, angry repugnance to the man.

"Well, what then? Fauchery isn't the devil!" Nana repeated, feeling her
way cautiously and trying to find out how matters stood between husband
and lover. "One can get over his soft side. I promise you, he's a good
sort at bottom! So it's a bargain, eh? You'll tell him that it's for my
sake?"

The idea of taking such a step disgusted the count.

"No, no! Never!" he cried.

She paused, and this sentence was on the verge of utterance:

"Fauchery can refuse you nothing."

But she felt that by way of argument it was rather too much of a good
thing. So she only smiled a queer smile which spoke as plainly as
words. Muffat had raised his eyes to her and now once more lowered them,
looking pale and full of embarrassment.

"Ah, you're not good natured," she muttered at last.

"I cannot," he said with a voice and a look of the utmost anguish. "I'll
do whatever you like, but not that, dear love! Oh, I beg you not to
insist on that!"

Thereupon she wasted no more time in discussion but took his head
between her small hands, pushed it back a little, bent down and glued
her mouth to his in a long, long kiss. He shivered violently; he
trembled beneath her touch; his eyes were closed, and he was beside
himself. She lifted him to his feet.

"Go," said she simply.

He walked off, making toward the door. But as he passed out she took him
in her arms again, became meek and coaxing, lifted her face to his and
rubbed her cheek against his waistcoat, much as a cat might have done.

"Where's the fine house?" she whispered in laughing embarrassment, like
a little girl who returns to the pleasant things she has previously
refused.

"In the Avenue de Villiers."

"And there are carriages there?"

"Yes."

"Lace? Diamonds?"

"Yes."

"Oh, how good you are, my old pet! You know it was all jealousy just
now! And this time I solemnly promise you it won't be like the first,
for now you understand what's due to a woman. You give all, don't you?
Well then, I don't want anybody but you! Why, look here, there's some
more for you! There and there AND there!"

When she had pushed him from the room after firing his blood with a rain
of kisses on hands and on face, she panted awhile. Good heavens, what an
unpleasant smell there was in that slut Mathilde's dressing room! It
was warm, if you will, with the tranquil warmth peculiar to rooms in the
south when the winter sun shines into them, but really, it smelled far
too strong of stale lavender water, not to mention other less cleanly
things! She opened the window and, again leaning on the window sill,
began watching the glass roof of the passage below in order to kill
time.

Muffat went staggering downstairs. His head was swimming. What should
he say? How should he broach the matter which, moreover, did not concern
him? He heard sounds of quarreling as he reached the stage. The second
act was being finished, and Prulliere was beside himself with wrath,
owing to an attempt on Fauchery's part to cut short one of his speeches.

"Cut it all out then," he was shouting. "I should prefer that! Just
fancy, I haven't two hundred lines, and they're still cutting me down.
No, by Jove, I've had enough of it; I give the part up."

He took a little crumpled manuscript book out of his pocket and fingered
its leaves feverishly, as though he were just about to throw it on
Cossard's lap. His pale face was convulsed by outraged vanity; his lips
were drawn and thin, his eyes flamed; he was quite unable to conceal the
struggle that was going on inside him. To think that he, Prulliere, the
idol of the public, should play a part of only two hundred lines!

"Why not make me bring in letters on a tray?" he continued bitterly.

"Come, come, Prulliere, behave decently," said Bordenave, who was
anxious to treat him tenderly because of his influence over the boxes.
"Don't begin making a fuss. We'll find some points. Eh, Fauchery, you'll
add some points? In the third act it would even be possible to lengthen
a scene out."

"Well then, I want the last speech of all," the comedian declared. "I
certainly deserve to have it."

Fauchery's silence seemed to give consent, and Prulliere, still greatly
agitated and discontented despite everything, put his part back into his
pocket. Bosc and Fontan had appeared profoundly indifferent during the
course of this explanation. Let each man fight for his own hand, they
reflected; the present dispute had nothing to do with them; they had
no interest therein! All the actors clustered round Fauchery and began
questioning him and fishing for praise, while Mignon listened to the
last of Prulliere's complaints without, however, losing sight of Count
Muffat, whose return he had been on the watch for.

Entering in the half-light, the count had paused at the back of the
stage, for he hesitated to interrupt the quarrel. But Bordenave caught
sight of him and ran forward.

"Aren't they a pretty lot?" he muttered. "You can have no idea what I've
got to undergo with that lot, Monsieur le Comte. Each man's vainer than
his neighbor, and they're wretched players all the same, a scabby lot,
always mixed up in some dirty business or other! Oh, they'd be delighted
if I were to come to smash. But I beg pardon--I'm getting beside
myself."

He ceased speaking, and silence reigned while Muffat sought how to
broach his announcement gently. But he failed and, in order to get out
of his difficulty the more quickly, ended by an abrupt announcement:

"Nana wants the duchess's part."

Bordenave gave a start and shouted:

"Come now, it's sheer madness!"

Then looking at the count and finding him so pale and so shaken, he was
calm at once.

"Devil take it!" he said simply.

And with that there ensued a fresh silence. At bottom he didn't care a
pin about it. That great thing Nana playing the duchess might possibly
prove amusing! Besides, now that this had happened he had Muffat well in
his grasp. Accordingly he was not long in coming to a decision, and so
he turned round and called out:

"Fauchery!"

The count had been on the point of stopping him. But Fauchery did not
hear him, for he had been pinned against the curtain by Fontan and was
being compelled to listen patiently to the comedian's reading of
the part of Tardiveau. Fontan imagined Tardiveau to be a native of
Marseilles with a dialect, and he imitated the dialect. He was repeating
whole speeches. Was that right? Was this the thing? Apparently he was
only submitting ideas to Fauchery of which he was himself uncertain, but
as the author seemed cold and raised various objections, he grew angry
at once.

Oh, very well, the moment the spirit of the part escaped him it would be
better for all concerned that he shouldn't act it at all!

"Fauchery!" shouted Bordenave once more.

Thereupon the young man ran off, delighted to escape from the actor, who
was wounded not a little by his prompt retreat.

"Don't let's stay here," continued Bordenave. "Come this way,
gentlemen."

In order to escape from curious listeners he led them into the property
room behind the scenes, while Mignon watched their disappearance in some
surprise. They went down a few steps and entered a square room, whose
two windows opened upon the courtyard. A faint light stole through the
dirty panes and hung wanly under the low ceiling. In pigeonholes and
shelves, which filled the whole place up, lay a collection of the most
varied kind of bric-a-brac. Indeed, it suggested an old-clothes shop
in the Rue de Lappe in process of selling off, so indescribable was the
hotchpotch of plates, gilt pasteboard cups, old red umbrellas, Italian
jars, clocks in all styles, platters and inkpots, firearms and squirts,
which lay chipped and broken and in unrecognizable heaps under a layer
of dust an inch deep. An unendurable odor of old iron, rags and damp
cardboard emanated from the various piles, where the debris of forgotten
dramas had been collecting for half a century.

"Come in," Bordenave repeated. "We shall be alone, at any rate."

The count was extremely embarrassed, and he contrived to let the manager
risk his proposal for him. Fauchery was astonished.

"Eh? What?" he asked.

"Just this," said Bordenave finally. "An idea has occurred to us. Now
whatever you do, don't jump! It's most serious. What do you think of
Nana for the duchess's part?"

The author was bewildered; then he burst out with:

"Ah no, no! You're joking, aren't you? People would laugh far too much."

"Well, and it's a point gained already if they do laugh! Just reflect,
my dear boy. The idea pleases Monsieur le Comte very much."

In order to keep himself in countenance Muffat had just picked out
of the dust on a neighboring shelf an object which he did not seem to
recognize. It was an eggcup, and its stem had been mended with plaster.
He kept hold of it unconsciously and came forward, muttering:

"Yes, yes, it would be capital."

Fauchery turned toward him with a brisk, impatient gesture. The count
had nothing to do with his piece, and he said decisively:

"Never! Let Nana play the courtesan as much as she likes, but a
lady--No, by Jove!"

"You are mistaken, I assure you," rejoined the count, growing bolder.
"This very minute she has been playing the part of a pure woman for my
benefit."

"Where?" queried Fauchery with growing surprise.

"Upstairs in a dressing room. Yes, she has, indeed, and with such
distinction! She's got a way of glancing at you as she goes by
you--something like this, you know!"

And eggcup in hand, he endeavored to imitate Nana, quite forgetting his
dignity in his frantic desire to convince the others. Fauchery gazed at
him in a state of stupefaction. He understood it all now, and his anger
had ceased. The count felt that he was looking at him mockingly and
pityingly, and he paused with a slight blush on his face.

"Egad, it's quite possible!" muttered the author complaisantly. "Perhaps
she would do very well, only the part's been assigned. We can't take it
away from Rose."

"Oh, if that's all the trouble," said Bordenave, "I'll undertake to
arrange matters."

But presently, seeing them both against him and guessing that Bordenave
had some secret interest at stake, the young man thought to avoid
aquiescence by redoubling the violence of his refusal. The consultation
was on the verge of being broken up.

"Oh, dear! No, no! Even if the part were unassigned I should never give
it her! There, is that plain? Do let me alone; I have no wish to ruin my
play!"

He lapsed into silent embarrassment. Bordenave, deeming himself DE TROP,
went away, but the count remained with bowed head. He raised it with an
effort and said in a breaking voice:

"Supposing, my dear fellow, I were to ask this of you as a favor?"

"I cannot, I cannot," Fauchery kept repeating as he writhed to get free.

Muffat's voice became harder.

"I pray and beseech you for it! I want it!"

And with that he fixed his eyes on him. The young man read menaces in
that darkling gaze and suddenly gave way with a splutter of confused
phrases:

"Do what you like--I don't care a pin about it. Yes, yes, you're abusing
your power, but you'll see, you'll see!"

At this the embarrassment of both increased. Fauchery was leaning up
against a set of shelves and was tapping nervously on the ground with
his foot. Muffat seemed busy examining the eggcup, which he was still
turning round and about.

"It's an eggcup," Bordenave obligingly came and remarked.

"Yes, to be sure! It's an eggeup," the count repeated.

"Excuse me, you're covered with dust," continued the manager, putting
the thing back on a shelf. "If one had to dust every day there'd be no
end to it, you understand. But it's hardly clean here--a filthy mess,
eh? Yet you may believe me or not when I tell you there's money in it.
Now look, just look at all that!"

He walked Muffat round in front of the pigeonholes and shelves and in
the greenish light which filtered through the courtyard, told him the
names of different properties, for he was anxious to interest him in his
marine-stores inventory, as he jocosely termed it.

Presently, when they had returned into Fauchery's neighborhood, he said
carelessly enough:

"Listen, since we're all of one mind, we'll finish the matter at once.
Here's Mignon, just when he's wanted."

For some little time past Mignon had been prowling in the adjoining
passage, and the very moment Bordenave began talking of a modification
of their agreement he burst into wrathful protest. It was infamous--they
wanted to spoil his wife's career--he'd go to law about it! Bordenave,
meanwhile, was extremely calm and full of reasons. He did not think the
part worthy of Rose, and he preferred to reserve her for an operetta,
which was to be put on after the Petite Duchesse. But when her husband
still continued shouting he suddenly offered to cancel their arrangement
in view of the offers which the Folies-Dramatiques had been making the
singer. At this Mignon was momentarily put out, so without denying the
truth of these offers he loudly professed a vast disdain for money.
His wife, he said, had been engaged to play the Duchess Helene, and she
would play the part even if he, Mignon, were to be ruined over it.
His dignity, his honor, were at stake! Starting from this basis, the
discussion grew interminable. The manager, however, always returned to
the following argument: since the Folies had offered Rose three hundred
francs a night during a hundred performances, and since she only made a
hundred and fifty with him, she would be the gainer by fifteen thousand
francs the moment he let her depart. The husband, on his part, did not
desert the artist's position. What would people say if they saw his wife
deprived of her part? Why, that she was not equal to it; that it had
been deemed necessary to find a substitute for her! And this would do
great harm to Rose's reputation as an artist; nay, it would diminish it.
Oh no, no! Glory before gain! Then without a word of warning he
pointed out a possible arrangement: Rose, according to the terms of her
agreement, was pledged to pay a forfeit of ten thousand francs in case
she gave up the part. Very well then, let them give her ten thousand
francs, and she would go to the Folies-Dramatiques. Bordenave was
utterly dumfounded while Mignon, who had never once taken his eyes off
the count, tranquilly awaited results.

"Then everything can be settled," murmured Muffat in tones of relief;
"we can come to an understanding."

"The deuce, no! That would be too stupid!" cried Bordenave, mastered
by his commercial instincts. "Ten thousand francs to let Rose go! Why,
people would make game of me!"

But the count, with a multiplicity of nods, bade him accept. He
hesitated, and at last with much grumbling and infinite regret over the
ten thousand francs which, by the by, were not destined to come out of
his own pocket he bluntly continued:

"After all, I consent. At any rate, I shall have you off my hands."

For a quarter of an hour past Fontan had been listening in the
courtyard. Such had been his curiosity that he had come down and posted
himself there, but the moment he understood the state of the case he
went upstairs again and enjoyed the treat of telling Rose. Dear me! They
were just haggling in her behalf! He dinned his words into her ears;
she ran off to the property room. They were silent as she entered. She
looked at the four men. Muffat hung his head; Fauchery answered her
questioning glance with a despairing shrug of the shoulders; as
to Mignon, he was busy discussing the terms of the agreement with
Bordenave.

"What's up?" she demanded curtly.

"Nothing," said her husband. "Bordenave here is giving ten thousand
francs in order to get you to give up your part."

She grew tremulous with anger and very pale, and she clenched her little
fists. For some moments she stared at him, her whole nature in revolt.
Ordinarily in matters of business she was wont to trust everything
obediently to her husband, leaving him to sign agreements with managers
and lovers. Now she could but cry:

"Oh, come, you're too base for anything!"

The words fell like a lash. Then she sped away, and Mignon, in utter
astonishment, ran after her. What next? Was she going mad? He began
explaining to her in low tones that ten thousand francs from one party
and fifteen thousand from the other came to twenty-five thousand. A
splendid deal! Muffat was getting rid of her in every sense of the word;
it was a pretty trick to have plucked him of this last feather! But Rose
in her anger vouchsafed no answer. Whereupon Mignon in disdain left her
to her feminine spite and, turning to Bordenave, who was once more on
the stage with Fauchery and Muffat, said:

"We'll sign tomorrow morning. Have the money in readiness."

At this moment Nana, to whom Labordette had brought the news, came down
to the stage in triumph. She was quite the honest woman now and wore
a most distinguished expression in order to overwhelm her friends and
prove to the idiots that when she chose she could give them all points
in the matter of smartness. But she nearly got into trouble, for at the
sight of her Rose darted forward, choking with rage and stuttering:

"Yes, you, I'll pay you out! Things can't go on like this; d'you
understand?" Nana forgot herself in face of this brisk attack and was
going to put her arms akimbo and give her what for. But she controlled
herself and, looking like a marquise who is afraid of treading on an
orange peel, fluted in still more silvery tones.

"Eh, what?" said she. "You're mad, my dear!"

And with that she continued in her graceful affectation while Rose took
her departure, followed by Mignon, who now refused to recognize her.
Clarisse was enraptured, having just obtained the part of Geraldine from
Bordenave. Fauchery, on the other hand, was gloomy; he shifted from one
foot to the other; he could not decide whether to leave the theater or
no. His piece was bedeviled, and he was seeking how best to save it. But
Nana came up, took him by both hands and, drawing him toward her, asked
whether he thought her so very atrocious after all. She wasn't going
to eat his play--not she! Then she made him laugh and gave him to
understand that he would be foolish to be angry with her, in view of
his relationship to the Muffats. If, she said, her memory failed her she
would take her lines from the prompter. The house, too, would be packed
in such a way as to ensure applause. Besides, he was mistaken about her,
and he would soon see how she would rattle through her part. By and by
it was arranged that the author should make a few changes in the role of
the duchess so as to extend that of Prulliere. The last-named personage
was enraptured. Indeed, amid all the joy which Nana now quite naturally
diffused, Fontan alone remained unmoved. In the middle of the yellow
lamplight, against which the sharp outline of his goatlike profile
shone out with great distinctness, he stood showing off his figure and
affecting the pose of one who has been cruelly abandoned. Nana went
quietly up and shook hands with him.

"How are you getting on?"

"Oh, pretty fairly. And how are you?"

"Very well, thank you."

That was all. They seemed to have only parted at the doors of the
theater the day before. Meanwhile the players were waiting about, but
Bordenave said that the third act would not be rehearsed. And so it
chanced that old Bosc went grumbling away at the proper time, whereas
usually the company were needlessly detained and lost whole afternoons
in consequence. Everyone went off. Down on the pavement they were
blinded by the broad daylight and stood blinking their eyes in a dazed
sort of way, as became people who had passed three hours squabbling with
tight-strung nerves in the depths of a cellar. The count, with
racked limbs and vacant brain, got into a conveyance with Nana, while
Labordette took Fauchery off and comforted him.

A month later the first night of the Petite Duchesse proved supremely
disastrous to Nana. She was atrociously bad and displayed such
pretentions toward high comedy that the public grew mirthful. They
did not hiss--they were too amused. From a stage box Rose Mignon kept
greeting her rival's successive entrances with a shrill laugh, which set
the whole house off. It was the beginning of her revenge. Accordingly,
when at night Nana, greatly chagrined, found herself alone with Muffat,
she said furiously:

"What a conspiracy, eh? It's all owing to jealousy. Oh, if they only
knew how I despise 'em! What do I want them for nowadays? Look here!
I'll bet a hundred louis that I'll bring all those who made fun today
and make 'em lick the ground at my feet! Yes, I'll fine-lady your Paris
for you, I will!"



CHAPTER X


Thereupon Nana became a smart woman, mistress of all that is foolish and
filthy in man, marquise in the ranks of her calling. It was a sudden but
decisive start, a plunge into the garish day of gallant notoriety and
mad expenditure and that daredevil wastefulness peculiar to beauty.
She at once became queen among the most expensive of her kind. Her
photographs were displayed in shopwindows, and she was mentioned in the
papers. When she drove in her carriage along the boulevards the people
would turn and tell one another who that was with all the unction of
a nation saluting its sovereign, while the object of their adoration
lolled easily back in her diaphanous dresses and smiled gaily under the
rain of little golden curls which ran riot above the blue of her made-up
eyes and the red of her painted lips. And the wonder of wonders was that
the great creature, who was so awkward on the stage, so very absurd the
moment she sought to act the chaste woman, was able without effort to
assume the role of an enchantress in the outer world. Her movements
were lithe as a serpent's, and the studied and yet seemingly involuntary
carelessness with which she dressed was really exquisite in its
elegance. There was a nervous distinction in all she did which suggested
a wellborn Persian cat; she was an aristocrat in vice and proudly and
rebelliously trampled upon a prostrate Paris like a sovereign whom none
dare disobey. She set the fashion, and great ladies imitated her.

Nana's fine house was situated at the corner of the Rue Cardinet, in the
Avenue de Villiers. The avenue was part of the luxurious quarter at that
time springing up in the vague district which had once been the
Plaine Monceau. The house had been built by a young painter, who was
intoxicated by a first success, and had been perforce resold almost as
soon as it was habitable. It was in the palatial Renaissance manner
and had fantastic interior arrangements which consisted of modern
conveniences framed in a setting of somewhat artificial originality.
Count Muffat had bought the house ready furnished and full of hosts of
beautiful objects--lovely Eastern hangings, old credences, huge
chairs of the Louis XIII epoch. And thus Nana had come into artistic
surroundings of the choicest kind and of the most extravagantly various
dates. But since the studio, which occupied the central portion of
the house, could not be of any use to her, she had upset existing
arrangements, establishing a small drawing room on the first floor, next
to her bedroom and dressing room, and leaving a conservatory, a large
drawing room and a dining room to look after themselves underneath.
She astonished the architect with her ideas, for, as became a Parisian
workgirl who understands the elegancies of life by instinct, she had
suddenly developed a very pretty taste for every species of luxurious
refinement. Indeed, she did not spoil her house overmuch; nay, she
even added to the richness of the furniture, save here and there, where
certain traces of tender foolishness and vulgar magnificence betrayed
the ex-flower seller who had been wont to dream in front of shopwindows
in the arcades.

A carpet was spread on the steps beneath the great awning over the front
door in the court, and the moment you entered the hall you were greeted
by a perfume as of violets and a soft, warm atmosphere which thick
hangings helped to produce. A window, whose yellow-and rose-colored
panes suggested the warm pallor of human flesh, gave light to the wide
staircase, at the foot of which a Negro in carved wood held out a silver
tray full of visiting cards and four white marble women, with bosoms
displayed, raised lamps in their uplifted hands. Bronzes and Chinese
vases full of flowers, divans covered with old Persian rugs, armchairs
upholstered in old tapestry, furnished the entrance hall, adorned
the stairheads and gave the first-floor landing the appearance of an
anteroom. Here men's overcoats and hats were always in evidence, and
there were thick hangings which deadened every sound. It seemed a place
apart: on entering it you might have fancied yourself in a chapel, whose
very air was thrilling with devotion, whose very silence and seclusion
were fraught with mystery.

Nana only opened the large and somewhat too-sumptuous Louis XVI drawing
room on those gala nights when she received society from the Tuileries
or strangers of distinction. Ordinarily she only came downstairs at
mealtimes, and she would feel rather lost on such days as she lunched
by herself in the lofty dining room with its Gobelin tapestry and its
monumental sideboard, adorned with old porcelain and marvelous pieces of
ancient plate. She used to go upstairs again as quickly as possible, for
her home was on the first floor, in the three rooms, the bed, dressing
and small drawing room above described. Twice already she had done the
bedchamber up anew: on the first occasion in mauve satin, on the second
in blue silk under lace. But she had not been satisfied with this; it
had struck her as "nohowish," and she was still unsuccessfully seeking
for new colors and designs. On the elaborately upholstered bed, which
was as low as a sofa, there were twenty thousand francs' worth of POINT
DE VENISE lace. The furniture was lacquered blue and white under designs
in silver filigree, and everywhere lay such numbers of white bearskins
that they hid the carpet. This was a luxurious caprice on Nana's part,
she having never been able to break herself of the habit of sitting on
the floor to take her stockings off. Next door to the bedroom the little
saloon was full of an amusing medley of exquisitely artistic objects.
Against the hangings of pale rose-colored silk--a faded Turkish rose
color, embroidered with gold thread--a whole world of them stood sharply
outlined. They were from every land and in every possible style. There
were Italian cabinets, Spanish and Portuguese coffers, models of Chinese
pagodas, a Japanese screen of precious workmanship, besides china,
bronzes, embroidered silks, hangings of the finest needlework. Armchairs
wide as beds and sofas deep as alcoves suggested voluptuous idleness and
the somnolent life of the seraglio. The prevailing tone of the room
was old gold blended with green and red, and nothing it contained too
forcibly indicated the presence of the courtesan save the luxuriousness
of the seats. Only two "biscuit" statuettes, a woman in her shift,
hunting for fleas, and another with nothing at all on, walking on her
hands and waving her feet in the air, sufficed to sully the room with a
note of stupid originality.

Through a door, which was nearly always ajar, the dressing room was
visible. It was all in marble and glass with a white bath, silver jugs
and basins and crystal and ivory appointments. A drawn curtain filled
the place with a clear twilight which seemed to slumber in the warm
scent of violets, that suggestive perfume peculiar to Nana wherewith the
whole house, from the roof to the very courtyard, was penetrated.

The furnishing of the house was a most important undertaking. Nana
certainly had Zoe with her, that girl so devoted to her fortunes. For
months she had been tranquilly awaiting this abrupt, new departure, as
became a woman who was certain of her powers of prescience, and now she
was triumphant; she was mistress of the house and was putting by a round
sum while serving Madame as honestly as possible. But a solitary lady's
maid was no longer sufficient. A butler, a coachman, a porter and a cook
were wanted. Besides, it was necessary to fill the stables. It was then
that Labordette made himself most useful. He undertook to perform all
sorts of errands which bored the count; he made a comfortable job of the
purchase of horses; he visited the coachbuilders; he guided the young
woman in her choice of things. She was to be met with at the shops,
leaning on his arm. Labordette even got in the servants--Charles, a
great, tall coachman, who had been in service with the Duc de Corbreuse;
Julien, a little, smiling, much-becurled butler, and a married couple,
of whom the wife Victorine became cook while the husband Francois
was taken on as porter and footman. The last mentioned in powder and
breeches wore Nana's livery, which was a sky-blue one adorned with
silver lace, and he received visitors in the hall. The whole thing was
princely in the correctness of its style.

At the end of two months the house was set going. The cost had been
more than three hundred thousand francs. There were eight horses in the
stables, and five carriages in the coach houses, and of these five one
was a landau with silver embellishments, which for the moment occupied
the attention of all Paris. And amid this great wealth Nana began
settling down and making her nest. After the third representation of
the Petite Duchesse she had quitted the theater, leaving Bordenave to
struggle on against a bankruptcy which, despite the count's money, was
imminent. Nevertheless, she was still bitter about her failure. It added
to that other bitterness, the lesson Fontan had given her, a shameful
lesson for which she held all men responsible. Accordingly she now
declared herself very firm and quite proof against sudden infatuations,
but thoughts of vengeance took no hold of her volatile brain. What did
maintain a hold on it in the hours when she was not indignant was an
ever-wakeful lust of expenditure, added to a natural contempt for the
man who paid and to a perpetual passion for consumption and waste, which
took pride in the ruin of her lovers.

At starting Nana put the count on a proper footing and clearly mapped
out the conditions of their relationship. The count gave twelve thousand
francs monthly, presents excepted, and demanded nothing in return save
absolute fidelity. She swore fidelity but insisted also on being treated
with the utmost consideration, on enjoying complete liberty as mistress
of the house and on having her every wish respected. For instance, she
was to receive her friends every day, and he was to come only at
stated times. In a word, he was to repose a blind confidence in her in
everything. And when he was seized with jealous anxiety and hesitated to
grant what she wanted, she stood on her dignity and threatened to give
him back all he had given or even swore by little Louiset to perform
what she promised. This was to suffice him. There was no love where
mutual esteem was wanting. At the end of the first month Muffat
respected her.

But she desired and obtained still more. Soon she began to influence
him, as became a good-natured courtesan. When he came to her in a moody
condition she cheered him up, confessed him and then gave him good
advice. Little by little she interested herself in the annoyances of
his home life, in his wife, in his daughter, in his love affairs
and financial difficulties; she was very sensible, very fair and
right-minded. On one occasion only did she let anger get the better of
her, and that was when he confided to her that doubtless Daguenet was
going to ask for his daughter Estelle in marriage. When the count began
making himself notorious Daguenet had thought it a wise move to break
off with Nana. He had treated her like a base hussy and had sworn to
snatch his future father-in-law out of the creature's clutches. In
return Nana abused her old Mimi in a charming fashion. He was a renegade
who had devoured his fortune in the company of vile women; he had no
moral sense. True, he did not let them pay him money, but he profited by
that of others and only repaid them at rare intervals with a bouquet or
a dinner. And when the count seemed inclined to find excuses for these
failings she bluntly informed him that Daguenet had enjoyed her favors,
and she added disgusting particulars. Muffat had grown ashen-pale. There
was no question of the young man now. This would teach him to be lacking
in gratitude!

Meanwhile the house had not been entirely furnished, when one evening
after she had lavished the most energetic promises of fidelity on Muffat
Nana kept the Count Xavier de Vandeuvres for the night. For the last
fortnight he had been paying her assiduous court, visiting her and
sending presents of flowers, and now she gave way not so much out of
sudden infatuation as to prove that she was a free woman. The idea of
gain followed later when, the day after, Vandeuvres helped her to pay a
bill which she did not wish to mention to the other man. From Vandeuvres
she would certainly derive from eight to ten thousand francs a month,
and this would prove very useful as pocket money. In those days he was
finishing the last of his fortune in an access of burning, feverish
folly. His horses and Lucy had devoured three of his farms, and at one
gulp Nana was going to swallow his last chateau, near Amiens. He seemed
in a hurry to sweep everything away, down to the ruins of the old tower
built by a Vandeuvres under Philip Augustus. He was mad for ruin and
thought it a great thing to leave the last golden bezants of his coat
of arms in the grasp of this courtesan, whom the world of Paris desired.
He, too, accepted Nana's conditions, leaving her entire freedom of
action and claiming her caresses only on certain days. He was not even
naively impassioned enough to require her to make vows. Muffat suspected
nothing. As to Vandeuvres, he knew things would take place for a
certainty, but he never made the least allusion to them and pretended
total ignorance, while his lips wore the subtle smile of the skeptical
man of pleasure who does not seek the impossible, provided he can have
his day and that Paris is aware of it.

From that time forth Nana's house was really properly appointed. The
staff of servants was complete in the stable, in the kitchen and in my
lady's chamber. Zoe organized everything and passed successfully through
the most unforeseen difficulties. The household moved as easily as
the scenery in a theater and was regulated like a grand administrative
concern. Indeed, it worked with such precision that during the early
months there were no jars and no derangements. Madame, however, pained
Zoe extremely with her imprudent acts, her sudden fits of unwisdom, her
mad bravado. Still the lady's maid grew gradually lenient, for she had
noticed that she made increased profits in seasons of wanton waste when
Madame had committed a folly which must be made up for. It was then that
the presents began raining on her, and she fished up many a louis out of
the troubled waters.

One morning when Muffat had not yet left the bedroom Zoe ushered a
gentleman into the dressing room, where Nana was changing her underwear.
He was trembling violently.

"Good gracious! It's Zizi!" said the young woman in great astonishment.

It was, indeed, Georges. But when he saw her in her shift, with her
golden hair over her bare shoulders, he threw his arms round her
neck and round her waist and kissed her in all directions. She began
struggling to get free, for she was frightened, and in smothered tones
she stammered:

"Do leave off! He's there! Oh, it's silly of you! And you, Zoe, are you
out of your senses? Take him away and keep him downstairs; I'll try and
come down."

Zoe had to push him in front of her. When Nana was able to rejoin them
in the drawing room downstairs she scolded them both, and Zoe pursed up
her lips and took her departure with a vexed expression, remarking that
she had only been anxious to give Madame a pleasure. Georges was so glad
to see Nana again and gazed at her with such delight that his fine eyes
began filling with tears. The miserable days were over now; his mother
believed him to have grown reasonable and had allowed him to leave Les
Fondettes. Accordingly, the moment he had reached the terminus, he had
got a conveyance in order the more quickly to come and kiss his sweet
darling. He spoke of living at her side in future, as he used to do down
in the country when he waited for her, barefooted, in the bedroom at
La Mignotte. And as he told her about himself, he let his fingers creep
forward, for he longed to touch her after that cruel year of separation.
Then he got possession of her hands, felt about the wide sleeves of her
dressing jacket, traveled up as far as her shoulders.

"You still love your baby?" he asked in his child voice.

"Oh, I certainly love him!" answered Nana, briskly getting out of his
clutches. "But you come popping in without warning. You know, my little
man, I'm not my own mistress; you must be good!"

Georges, when he got out of his cab, had been so dizzy with the feeling
that his long desire was at last about to be satisfied that he had
not even noticed what sort of house he was entering. But now he
became conscious of a change in the things around him. He examined the
sumptuous dining room with its lofty decorated ceiling, its Gobelin
hangings, its buffet blazing with plate.

"Yes, yes!" he remarked sadly.

And with that she made him understand that he was never to come in the
mornings but between four and six in the afternoon, if he cared to.
That was her reception time. Then as he looked at her with suppliant,
questioning eyes and craved no boon at all, she, in her turn, kissed him
on the forehead in the most amiable way.

"Be very good," she whispered. "I'll do all I can."

But the truth was that this remark now meant nothing. She thought
Georges very nice and would have liked him as a companion, but as
nothing else. Nevertheless, when he arrived daily at four o'clock he
seemed so wretched that she was often fain to be as compliant as of old
and would hide him in cupboards and constantly allow him to pick up the
crumbs from Beauty's table. He hardly ever left the house now and
became as much one of its inmates as the little dog Bijou. Together they
nestled among Mistress's skirts and enjoyed a little of her at a time,
even when she was with another man, while doles of sugar and stray
caresses not seldom fell to their share in her hours of loneliness and
boredom.

Doubtless Mme Hugon found out that the lad had again returned to that
wicked woman's arms, for she hurried up to Paris and came and sought aid
from her other son, the Lieutenant Philippe, who was then in garrison
at Vincennes. Georges, who was hiding from his elder brother, was seized
with despairing apprehension, for he feared the latter might adopt
violent tactics, and as his tenderness for Nana was so nervously
expansive that he could not keep anything from her, he soon began
talking of nothing but his big brother, a great, strong fellow, who was
capable of all kinds of things.

"You know," he explained, "Mamma won't come to you while she can send my
brother. Oh, she'll certainly send Philippe to fetch me."

The first time he said this Nana was deeply wounded. She said frigidly:

"Gracious me, I should like to see him come! For all that he's a
lieutenant in the army, Francois will chuck him out in double-quick
time!"

Soon, as the lad kept returning to the subject of his brother, she ended
by taking a certain interest in Philippe, and in a week's time she knew
him from head to foot--knew him as very tall and very strong and merry
and somewhat rough. She learned intimate details, too, and found
out that he had hair on his arms and a birthmark on his shoulder. So
thoroughly did she learn her lesson that one day, when she was full of
the image of the man who was to be turned out of doors by her orders,
she cried out:

"I say, Zizi, your brother's not coming. He's a base deserter!"

The next day, when Georges and Nana were alone together, Francois came
upstairs to ask whether Madame would receive Lieutenant Philippe Hugon.
Georges grew extremely white and murmured:

"I suspected it; Mamma was talking about it this morning."

And he besought the young woman to send down word that she could not see
visitors. But she was already on her feet and seemed all aflame as she
said:

"Why should I not see him? He would think me afraid. Dear me, we'll have
a good laugh! Just leave the gentleman in the drawing room for a quarter
of an hour, Francois; afterward bring him up to me."

She did not sit down again but began pacing feverishly to and fro
between the fireplace and a Venetian mirror hanging above an Italian
chest. And each time she reached the latter she glanced at the glass
and tried the effect of a smile, while Georges sat nervously on a sofa,
trembling at the thought of the coming scene. As she walked up and down
she kept jerking out such little phrases as:

"It will calm the fellow down if he has to wait a quarter of an hour.
Besides, if he thinks he's calling on a tottie the drawing room will
stun him! Yes, yes, have a good look at everything, my fine fellow! It
isn't imitation, and it'll teach you to respect the lady who owns it.
Respect's what men need to feel! The quarter of an hour's gone by, eh?
No? Only ten minutes? Oh, we've got plenty of time."

She did not stay where she was, however. At the end of the quarter of
an hour she sent Georges away after making him solemnly promise not to
listen at the door, as such conduct would scarcely look proper in case
the servants saw him. As he went into her bedroom Zizi ventured in a
choking sort of way to remark:

"It's my brother, you know--"

"Don't you fear," she said with much dignity; "if he's polite I'll be
polite."

Francois ushered in Philippe Hugon, who wore morning dress. Georges
began crossing on tiptoe on the other side of the room, for he was
anxious to obey the young woman. But the sound of voices retained him,
and he hesitated in such anguish of mind that his knees gave way under
him. He began imagining that a dread catastrophe would befall, that
blows would be struck, that something abominable would happen, which
would make Nana everlastingly odious to him. And so he could not
withstand the temptation to come back and put his ear against the door.
He heard very ill, for the thick portieres deadened every sound, but
he managed to catch certain words spoken by Philippe, stern phrases in
which such terms as "mere child," "family," "honor," were distinctly
audible. He was so anxious about his darling's possible answers that his
heart beat violently and filled his head with a confused, buzzing noise.
She was sure to give vent to a "Dirty blackguard!" or to a "Leave me
bloody well alone! I'm in my own house!" But nothing happened--not a
breath came from her direction. Nana seemed dead in there! Soon even his
brother's voice grew gentler, and he could not make it out at all, when
a strange murmuring sound finally stupefied him. Nana was sobbing! For
a moment or two he was the prey of contending feelings and knew not
whether to run away or to fall upon Philippe. But just then Zoe came
into the room, and he withdrew from the door, ashamed at being thus
surprised.

She began quietly to put some linen away in a cupboard while he stood
mute and motionless, pressing his forehead against a windowpane. He was
tortured by uncertainty. After a short silence the woman asked:

"It's your brother that's with Madame?"

"Yes," replied the lad in a choking voice.

There was a fresh silence.

"And it makes you anxious, doesn't it, Monsieur Georges?"

"Yes," he rejoined in the same painful, suffering tone.

Zoe was in no hurry. She folded up some lace and said slowly:

"You're wrong; Madame will manage it all."

And then the conversation ended; they said not another word. Still she
did not leave the room. A long quarter of an hour passed, and she
turned round again without seeming to notice the look of exasperation
overspreading the lad's face, which was already white with the effects
of uncertainty and constraint. He was casting sidelong glances in the
direction of the drawing room.

Maybe Nana was still crying. The other must have grown savage and have
dealt her blows. Thus when Zoe finally took her departure he ran to the
door and once more pressed his ear against it. He was thunderstruck; his
head swam, for he heard a brisk outburst of gaiety, tender, whispering
voices and the smothered giggles of a woman who is being tickled.
Besides, almost directly afterward, Nana conducted Philippe to the
head of the stairs, and there was an exchange of cordial and familiar
phrases.

When Georges again ventured into the drawing room the young woman was
standing before the mirror, looking at herself.

"Well?" he asked in utter bewilderment.

"Well, what?" she said without turning round. Then negligently:

"What did you mean? He's very nice, is your brother!"

"So it's all right, is it?"

"Oh, certainly it's all right! Goodness me, what's come over you? One
would have thought we were going to fight!"

Georges still failed to understand.

"I thought I heard--that is, you didn't cry?" he stammered out.

"Me cry!" she exclaimed, looking fixedly at him. "Why, you're dreaming!
What makes you think I cried?"

Thereupon the lad was treated to a distressing scene for having
disobeyed and played Paul Pry behind the door. She sulked, and he
returned with coaxing submissiveness to the old subject, for he wished
to know all about it.

"And my brother then?"

"Your brother saw where he was at once. You know, I might have been a
tottie, in which case his interference would have been accounted for
by your age and the family honor! Oh yes, I understand those kinds of
feelings! But a single glance was enough for him, and he behaved like
a well-bred man at once. So don't be anxious any longer. It's all
over--he's gone to quiet your mamma!"

And she went on laughingly:

"For that matter, you'll see your brother here. I've invited him, and
he's going to return."

"Oh, he's going to return," said the lad, growing white. He added
nothing, and they ceased talking of Philippe. She began dressing to go
out, and he watched her with his great, sad eyes. Doubtless he was very
glad that matters had got settled, for he would have preferred death to
a rupture of their connection, but deep down in his heart there was a
silent anguish, a profound sense of pain, which he had no experience of
and dared not talk about. How Philippe quieted their mother's fears
he never knew, but three days later she returned to Les Fondettes,
apparently satisfied. On the evening of her return, at Nana's house, he
trembled when Francois announced the lieutenant, but the latter jested
gaily and treated him like a young rascal, whose escapade he had favored
as something not likely to have any consequences. The lad's heart was
sore within him; he scarcely dared move and blushed girlishly at the
least word that was spoken to him. He had not lived much in Philippe's
society; he was ten years his junior, and he feared him as he would
a father, from whom stories about women are concealed. Accordingly he
experienced an uneasy sense of shame when he saw him so free in Nana's
company and heard him laugh uproariously, as became a man who was
plunging into a life of pleasure with the gusto born of magnificent
health. Nevertheless, when his brother shortly began to present himself
every day, Georges ended by getting somewhat used to it all. Nana was
radiant.

This, her latest installation, had been involving all the riotous waste
attendant on the life of gallantry, and now her housewarming was being
defiantly celebrated in a grand mansion positively overflowing with
males and with furniture.

One afternoon when the Hugons were there Count Muffat arrived out of
hours. But when Zoe told him that Madame was with friends he refused
to come in and took his departure discreetly, as became a gallant
gentleman. When he made his appearance again in the evening Nana
received him with the frigid indignation of a grossly affronted woman.

"Sir," she said, "I have given you no cause why you should insult me.
You must understand this: when I am at home to visitors, I beg you to
make your appearance just like other people."

The count simply gaped in astonishment. "But, my dear--" he endeavored
to explain.

"Perhaps it was because I had visitors! Yes, there were men here, but
what d'you suppose I was doing with those men? You only advertise a
woman's affairs when you act the discreet lover, and I don't want to be
advertised; I don't!"

He obtained his pardon with difficulty, but at bottom he was enchanted.
It was with scenes such as these that she kept him in unquestioning and
docile submission. She had long since succeeded in imposing Georges on
him as a young vagabond who, she declared, amused her. She made him dine
with Philippe, and the count behaved with great amiability. When they
rose from table he took the young man on one side and asked news of his
mother. From that time forth the young Hugons, Vandeuvres and Muffat
were openly about the house and shook hands as guests and intimates
might have done. It was a more convenient arrangement than the previous
one. Muffat alone still abstained discreetly from too-frequent visits,
thus adhering to the ceremonious policy of an ordinary strange caller.
At night when Nana was sitting on her bearskins drawing off her
stockings, he would talk amicably about the other three gentlemen and
lay especial stress on Philippe, who was loyalty itself.

"It's very true; they're nice," Nana would say as she lingered on the
floor to change her shift. "Only, you know, they see what I am. One word
about it and I should chuck 'em all out of doors for you!"

Nevertheless, despite her luxurious life and her group of courtiers,
Nana was nearly bored to death. She had men for every minute of the
night, and money overflowed even among the brushes and combs in the
drawers of her dressing table. But all this had ceased to satisfy
her; she felt that there was a void somewhere or other, an empty place
provocative of yawns. Her life dragged on, devoid of occupation, and
successive days only brought back the same monotonous hours. Tomorrow
had ceased to be; she lived like a bird: sure of her food and ready to
perch and roost on any branch which she came to. This certainty of food
and drink left her lolling effortless for whole days, lulled her to
sleep in conventual idleness and submission as though she were the
prisoner of her trade. Never going out except to drive, she was losing
her walking powers. She reverted to low childish tastes, would kiss
Bijou from morning to night and kill time with stupid pleasures while
waiting for the man whose caresses she tolerated with an appearance of
complaisant lassitude. Amid this species of self-abandonment she now
took no thought about anything save her personal beauty; her sole care
was to look after herself, to wash and to perfume her limbs, as became
one who was proud of being able to undress at any moment and in face of
anybody without having to blush for her imperfections.

At ten in the morning Nana would get up. Bijou, the Scotch griffon dog,
used to lick her face and wake her, and then would ensue a game of play
lasting some five minutes, during which the dog would race about over
her arms and legs and cause Count Muffat much distress. Bijou was the
first little male he had ever been jealous of. It was not at all
proper, he thought, that an animal should go poking its nose under the
bedclothes like that! After this Nana would proceed to her dressing
room, where she took a bath. Toward eleven o'clock Francois would come
and do up her hair before beginning the elaborate manipulations of the
afternoon.

At breakfast, as she hated feeding alone, she nearly always had Mme
Maloir at table with her. This lady would arrive from unknown regions in
the morning, wearing her extravagantly quaint hats, and would return
at night to that mysterious existence of hers, about which no one ever
troubled. But the hardest to bear were the two or three hours between
lunch and the toilet. On ordinary occasions she proposed a game of
bezique to her old friend; on others she would read the Figaro, in which
the theatrical echoes and the fashionable news interested her. Sometimes
she even opened a book, for she fancied herself in literary matters. Her
toilet kept her till close on five o'clock, and then only she would wake
from her daylong drowse and drive out or receive a whole mob of men at
her own house. She would often dine abroad and always go to bed very
late, only to rise again on the morrow with the same languor as before
and to begin another day, differing in nothing from its predecessor.

The great distraction was to go to the Batignolles and see her little
Louis at her aunt's. For a fortnight at a time she forgot all about him,
and then would follow an access of maternal love, and she would hurry
off on foot with all the modesty and tenderness becoming a good mother.
On such occasions she would be the bearer of snuff for her aunt and of
oranges and biscuits for the child, the kind of presents one takes to a
hospital. Or again she would drive up in her landau on her return from
the Bois, decked in costumes, the resplendence of which greatly excited
the dwellers in the solitary street. Since her niece's magnificent
elevation Mme Lerat had been puffed up with vanity. She rarely presented
herself in the Avenue de Villiers, for she was pleased to remark that it
wasn't her place to do so, but she enjoyed triumphs in her own street.
She was delighted when the young woman arrived in dresses that had cost
four or five thousand francs and would be occupied during the whole
of the next day in showing off her presents and in citing prices which
quite stupefied the neighbors. As often as not, Nana kept Sunday free
for the sake of "her family," and on such occasions, if Muffat invited
her, she would refuse with the smile of a good little shopwoman. It
was impossible, she would answer; she was dining at her aunt's; she was
going to see Baby. Moreover, that poor little man Louiset was always
ill. He was almost three years old, growing quite a great boy! But he
had had an eczema on the back of his neck, and now concretions were
forming in his ears, which pointed, it was feared, to decay of the bones
of the skull. When she saw how pale he looked, with his spoiled blood
and his flabby flesh all out in yellow patches, she would become
serious, but her principal feeling would be one of astonishment. What
could be the matter with the little love that he should grow so weakly?
She, his mother, was so strong and well!

On the days when her child did not engross attention Nana would again
sink back into the noisy monotony of her existence, with its drives
in the Bois, first nights at the theater, dinners and suppers at the
Maison-d'Or or the Cafe Anglais, not to mention all the places of public
resort, all the spectacles to which crowds rushed--Mabille, the reviews,
the races. But whatever happened she still felt that stupid, idle void,
which caused her, as it were, to suffer internal cramps. Despite the
incessant infatuations that possessed her heart, she would stretch out
her arms with a gesture of immense weariness the moment she was left
alone. Solitude rendered her low spirited at once, for it brought her
face to face with the emptiness and boredom within her. Extremely gay
by nature and profession, she became dismal in solitude and would sum
up her life in the following ejaculation, which recurred incessantly
between her yawns:

"Oh, how the men bother me!"

One afternoon as she was returning home from a concert, Nana, on the
sidewalk in the Rue Montmartre, noticed a woman trotting along in
down-at-the-heel boots, dirty petticoats and a hat utterly ruined by the
rain. She recognized her suddenly.

"Stop, Charles!" she shouted to the coachman and began calling: "Satin,
Satin!"

Passers-by turned their heads; the whole street stared. Satin had drawn
near and was still further soiling herself against the carriage wheels.

"Do get in, my dear girl," said Nana tranquilly, disdaining the
onlookers.

And with that she picked her up and carried her off, though she was in
disgusting contrast to her light blue landau and her dress of pearl-gray
silk trimmed with Chantilly, while the street smiled at the coachman's
loftily dignified demeanor.

From that day forth Nana had a passion to occupy her thoughts. Satin
became her vicious foible. Washed and dressed and duly installed in the
house in the Avenue de Villiers, during three days the girl talked of
Saint-Lazare and the annoyances the sisters had caused her and how those
dirty police people had put her down on the official list. Nana grew
indignant and comforted her and vowed she would get her name taken off,
even though she herself should have to go and find out the minister of
the interior. Meanwhile there was no sort of hurry: nobody would come
and search for her at Nana's--that was certain. And thereupon the
two women began to pass tender afternoons together, making numberless
endearing little speeches and mingling their kisses with laughter.
The same little sport, which the arrival of the plainclothes men had
interrupted in the Rue de Laval, was beginning again in a jocular sort
of spirit. One fine evening, however, it became serious, and Nana, who
had been so disgusted at Laure's, now understood what it meant. She was
upset and enraged by it, the more so because Satin disappeared on the
morning of the fourth day. No one had seen her go out. She had, indeed,
slipped away in her new dress, seized by a longing for air, full of
sentimental regret for her old street existence.

That day there was such a terrible storm in the house that all the
servants hung their heads in sheepish silence. Nana had come near
beating Francois for not throwing himself across the door through which
Satin escaped. She did her best, however, to control herself, and talked
of Satin as a dirty swine. Oh, it would teach her to pick filthy things
like that out of the gutter!

When Madame shut herself up in her room in the afternoon Zoe heard her
sobbing. In the evening she suddenly asked for her carriage and had
herself driven to Laure's. It had occurred to her that she would find
Satin at the table d'hote in the Rue des Martyrs. She was not going
there for the sake of seeing her again but in order to catch her one in
the face! As a matter of fact Satin was dining at a little table with
Mme Robert. Seeing Nana, she began to laugh, but the former, though
wounded to the quick, did not make a scene. On the contrary, she was
very sweet and very compliant. She paid for champagne made five or six
tablefuls tipsy and then carried off Satin when Mme Robert was in the
closets. Not till they were in the carriage did she make a mordant
attack on her, threatening to kill her if she did it again.

After that day the same little business began again continually. On
twenty different occasions Nana, tragically furious, as only a jilted
woman can be ran off in pursuit of this sluttish creature, whose flights
were prompted by the boredom she suffered amid the comforts of her new
home. Nana began to talk of boxing Mme Robert's ears; one day she even
meditated a duel; there was one woman too many, she said.

In these latter times, whenever she dined at Laure's, she donned her
diamonds and occasionally brought with her Louise Violaine, Maria Blond
and Tatan Nene, all of them ablaze with finery; and while the sordid
feast was progressing in the three saloons and the yellow gaslight
flared overhead, these four resplendent ladies would demean themselves
with a vengeance, for it was their delight to dazzle the little local
courtesans and to carry them off when dinner was over. On days such as
these Laure, sleek and tight-laced as ever would kiss everyone with an
air of expanded maternity. Yet notwithstanding all these circumstances
Satin's blue eyes and pure virginal face remained as calm as heretofore;
torn, beaten and pestered by the two women, she would simply remark that
it was a funny business, and they would have done far better to make it
up at once. It did no good to slap her; she couldn't cut herself in two,
however much she wanted to be nice to everybody. It was Nana who finally
carried her off in triumph, so assiduously had she loaded Satin with
kindnesses and presents. In order to be revenged, however, Mme Robert
wrote abominable, anonymous letters to her rival's lovers.

For some time past Count Muffat had appeared suspicious, and one
morning, with considerable show of feeling, he laid before Nana an
anonymous letter, where in the very first sentences she read that she
was accused of deceiving the count with Vandeuvres and the young Hugons.

"It's false! It's false!" she loudly exclaimed in accents of
extraordinary candor.

"You swear?" asked Muffat, already willing to be comforted.

"I'll swear by whatever you like--yes, by the head of my child!"

But the letter was long. Soon her connection with Satin was described
in the broadest and most ignoble terms. When she had done reading she
smiled.

"Now I know who it comes from," she remarked simply.

And as Muffat wanted her denial to the charges therein contained, she
resumed quietly enough:

"That's a matter which doesn't concern you, dear old pet. How can it
hurt you?"

She did not deny anything. He used some horrified expressions. Thereupon
she shrugged her shoulders. Where had he been all this time? Why, it
was done everywhere! And she mentioned her friends and swore that
fashionable ladies went in for it. In fact, to hear her speak, nothing
could be commoner or more natural. But a lie was a lie, and so a moment
ago he had seen how angry she grew in the matter of Vandeuvres and the
young Hugons! Oh, if that had been true he would have been justified in
throttling her! But what was the good of lying to him about a matter of
no consequence? And with that she repeated her previous expression:

"Come now, how can it hurt you?"

Then as the scene still continued, she closed it with a rough speech:

"Besides, dear boy, if the thing doesn't suit you it's very simple: the
house door's open! There now, you must take me as you find me!"

He hung his head, for the young woman's vows of fidelity made him happy
at bottom. She, however, now knew her power over him and ceased to
consider his feelings. And from that time forth Satin was openly
installed in the house on the same footing as the gentlemen. Vandeuvres
had not needed anonymous letters in order to understand how matters
stood, and accordingly he joked and tried to pick jealous quarrels with
Satin. Philippe and Georges, on their parts, treated her like a jolly
good fellow, shaking hands with her and cracking the riskiest jokes
imaginable.

Nana had an adventure one evening when this slut of a girl had given her
the go-by and she had gone to dine in the Rue des Martyrs without being
able to catch her. While she was dining by herself Daguenet had appeared
on the scene, for although he had reformed, he still occasionally
dropped in under the influence of his old vicious inclinations. He hoped
of course that no one would meet him in these black recesses, dedicated
to the town's lowest depravity. Accordingly even Nana's presence seemed
to embarrass him at the outset. But he was not the man to run away and,
coming forward with a smile, he asked if Madame would be so kind as to
allow him to dine at her table. Noticing his jocular tone, Nana assumed
her magnificently frigid demeanor and icily replied:

"Sit down where you please, sir. We are in a public place."

Thus begun, the conversation proved amusing. But at dessert Nana, bored
and burning for a triumph, put her elbows on the table and began in the
old familiar way:

"Well, what about your marriage, my lad? Is it getting on all right?"

"Not much," Daguenet averred.

As a matter of fact, just when he was about to venture on his request at
the Muffats', he had met with such a cold reception from the count that
he had prudently refrained. The business struck him as a failure. Nana
fixed her clear eyes on him; she was sitting, leaning her chin on her
hand, and there was an ironical curve about her lips.

"Oh yes! I'm a baggage," she resumed slowly. "Oh yes, the future
father-in-law will have to be dragged from between my claws! Dear me,
dear me, for a fellow with NOUS, you're jolly stupid! What! D'you mean
to say you're going to tell your tales to a man who adores me and tells
me everything? Now just listen: you shall marry if I wish it, my little
man!"

For a minute or two he had felt the truth of this, and now he began
scheming out a method of submission. Nevertheless, he still talked
jokingly, not wishing the matter to grow serious, and after he had put
on his gloves he demanded the hand of Mlle Estelle de Beuville in the
strict regulation manner. Nana ended by laughing, as though she had
been tickled. Oh, that Mimi! It was impossible to bear him a grudge!
Daguenet's great successes with ladies of her class were due to the
sweetness of his voice, a voice of such musical purity and pliancy as
to have won him among courtesans the sobriquet of "Velvet-Mouth."
Every woman would give way to him when he lulled her with his sonorous
caresses. He knew this power and rocked Nana to sleep with endless
words, telling her all kinds of idiotic anecdotes. When they left the
table d'hote she was blushing rosy-red; she trembled as she hung on his
arm; he had reconquered her. As it was very fine, she sent her carriage
away and walked with him as far as his own place, where she went
upstairs with him naturally enough. Two hours later, as she was dressing
again, she said:

"So you hold to this marriage of yours, Mimi?"

"Egad," he muttered, "it's the best thing I could possibly do after all!
You know I'm stony broke."

She summoned him to button her boots, and after a pause:

"Good heavens! I've no objection. I'll shove you on! She's as dry as
a lath, is that little thing, but since it suits your game--oh, I'm
agreeable: I'll run the thing through for you."

Then with bosom still uncovered, she began laughing:

"Only what will you give me?"

He had caught her in his arms and was kissing her on the shoulders in
a perfect access of gratitude while she quivered with excitement and
struggled merrily and threw herself backward in her efforts to be free.

"Oh, I know," she cried, excited by the contest. "Listen to what I
want in the way of commission. On your wedding day you shall make me a
present of your innocence. Before your wife, d'you understand?"

"That's it! That's it!" he said, laughing even louder than Nana.

The bargain amused them--they thought the whole business very good,
indeed.

Now as it happened, there was a dinner at Nana's next day. For the
matter of that, it was the customary Thursday dinner, and Muffat,
Vandeuvres, the young Hugons and Satin were present. The count arrived
early. He stood in need of eighty thousand francs wherewith to free the
young woman from two or three debts and to give her a set of sapphires
she was dying to possess. As he had already seriously lessened his
capital, he was in search of a lender, for he did not dare to sell
another property. With the advice of Nana herself he had addressed
himself to Labordette, but the latter, deeming it too heavy an
undertaking, had mentioned it to the hairdresser Francis, who willingly
busied himself in such affairs in order to oblige his lady clients.
The count put himself into the hands of these gentlemen but expressed
a formal desire not to appear in the matter, and they both undertook
to keep in hand the bill for a hundred thousand francs which he was
to sign, excusing themselves at the same time for charging a matter of
twenty thousand francs interest and loudly denouncing the blackguard
usurers to whom, they declared, it had been necessary to have recourse.
When Muffat had himself announced, Francis was putting the last touches
to Nana's coiffure. Labordette also was sitting familiarly in the
dressing room, as became a friend of no consequence. Seeing the count,
he discreetly placed a thick bundle of bank notes among the powders and
pomades, and the bill was signed on the marble-topped dressing table.
Nana was anxious to keep Labordette to dinner, but he declined--he was
taking a rich foreigner about Paris. Muffat, however, led him aside and
begged him to go to Becker, the jeweler, and bring him back thence the
set of sapphires, which he wanted to present the young woman by way
of surprise that very evening. Labordette willingly undertook the
commission, and half an hour later Julien handed the jewel case
mysteriously to the count.

During dinnertime Nana was nervous. The sight of the eighty thousand
francs had excited her. To think all that money was to go to
tradespeople! It was a disgusting thought. After soup had been served
she grew sentimental, and in the splendid dining room, glittering with
plate and glass, she talked of the bliss of poverty. The men were in
evening dress, Nana in a gown of white embroidered satin, while Satin
made a more modest appearance in black silk with a simple gold heart
at her throat, which was a present from her kind friend. Julien and
Francois waited behind the guests and were assisted in this by Zoe. All
three looked most dignified.

"It's certain I had far greater fun when I hadn't a cent!" Nana
repeated.

She had placed Muffat on her right hand and Vandeuvres on her left, but
she scarcely looked at them, so taken up was she with Satin, who sat in
state between Philippe and Georges on the opposite side of the table.

"Eh, duckie?" she kept saying at every turn. "How we did use to laugh in
those days when we went to Mother Josse's school in the Rue Polonceau!"

When the roast was being served the two women plunged into a world of
reminiscences. They used to have regular chattering fits of this kind
when a sudden desire to stir the muddy depths of their childhood would
possess them. These fits always occurred when men were present: it was
as though they had given way to a burning desire to treat them to the
dunghill on which they had grown to woman's estate. The gentlemen paled
visibly and looked embarrassed. The young Hugons did their best to
laugh, while Vandeuvres nervously toyed with his beard and Muffat
redoubled his gravity.

"You remember Victor?" said Nana. "There was a wicked little fellow for
you! Why, he used to take the little girls into cellars!"

"I remember him perfectly," replied Satin. "I recollect the big
courtyard at your place very well. There was a portress there with a
broom!"

"Mother Boche--she's dead."

"And I can still picture your shop. Your mother was a great fatty. One
evening when we were playing your father came in drunk. Oh, so drunk!"

At this point Vandeuvres tried to intercept the ladies' reminiscences
and to effect a diversion,

"I say, my dear, I should be very glad to have some more truffles.
They're simply perfect. Yesterday I had some at the house of the Duc de
Corbreuse, which did not come up to them at all."

"The truffles, Julien!" said Nana roughly.

Then returning to the subject:

"By Jove, yes, Dad hadn't any sense! And then what a smash there was!
You should have seen it--down, down, down we went, starving away all the
time. I can tell you I've had to bear pretty well everything and it's a
miracle I didn't kick the bucket over it, like Daddy and Mamma."

This time Muffat, who was playing with his knife in a state of infinite
exasperation, made so bold as to intervene.

"What you're telling us isn't very cheerful."

"Eh, what? Not cheerful!" she cried with a withering glance. "I believe
you; it isn't cheerful! Somebody had to earn a living for us dear boy.
Oh yes, you know, I'm the right sort; I don't mince matters. Mamma was
a laundress; Daddy used to get drunk, and he died of it! There! If it
doesn't suit you--if you're ashamed of my family--"

They all protested. What was she after now? They had every sort of
respect for her family! But she went on:

"If you're ashamed of my family you'll please leave me, because I'm not
one of those women who deny their father and mother. You must take me
and them together, d'you understand?"

They took her as required; they accepted the dad, the mamma, the past;
in fact, whatever she chose. With their eyes fixed on the tablecloth,
the four now sat shrinking and insignificant while Nana, in a transport
of omnipotence, trampled on them in the old muddy boots worn long since
in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. She was determined not to lay down the
cudgels just yet. It was all very fine to bring her fortunes, to build
her palaces; she would never leave off regretting the time when she
munched apples! Oh, what bosh that stupid thing money was! It was made
for the tradespeople! Finally her outburst ended in a sentimentally
expressed desire for a simple, openhearted existence, to be passed in an
atmosphere of universal benevolence.

When she got to this point she noticed Julien waiting idly by.

"Well, what's the matter? Hand the champagne then!" she said. "Why d'you
stand staring at me like a goose?"

During this scene the servants had never once smiled. They apparently
heard nothing, and the more their mistress let herself down, the more
majestic they became. Julien set to work to pour out the champagne and
did so without mishap, but Francois, who was handing round the fruit,
was so unfortunate as to tilt the fruit dish too low, and the apples,
the pears and the grapes rolled on the table.

"You bloody clumsy lot!" cried Nana.

The footman was mistaken enough to try and explain that the fruit had
not been firmly piled up. Zoe had disarranged it by taking out some
oranges.

"Then it's Zoe that's the goose!" said Nana.

"Madame--" murmured the lady's maid in an injured tone.

Straightway Madame rose to her feet, and in a sharp voice and with
royally authoritative gesture:

"We've had enough of this, haven't we? Leave the room, all of you! We
don't want you any longer!"

This summary procedure calmed her down, and she was forthwith all
sweetness and amiability. The dessert proved charming, and the gentlemen
grew quite merry waiting on themselves. But Satin, having peeled a pear,
came and ate it behind her darling, leaning on her shoulder the while
and whispering sundry little remarks in her ear, at which they both
laughed very loudly. By and by she wanted to share her last piece of
pear with Nana and presented it to her between her teeth. Whereupon
there was a great nibbling of lips, and the pear was finished amid
kisses. At this there was a burst of comic protest from the gentlemen,
Philippe shouting to them to take it easy and Vandeuvres asking if one
ought to leave the room. Georges, meanwhile, had come and put his arm
round Satin's waist and had brought her back to her seat.

"How silly of you!" said Nana. "You're making her blush, the poor,
darling duck. Never mind, dear girl, let them chaff. It's our own little
private affair."

And turning to Muffat, who was watching them with his serious
expression:

"Isn't it, my friend?"

"Yes, certainly," he murmured with a slow nod of approval.

He no longer protested now. And so amid that company of gentlemen with
the great names and the old, upright traditions, the two women sat face
to face, exchanging tender glances, conquering, reigning, in tranquil
defiance of the laws of sex, in open contempt for the male portion of
the community. The gentlemen burst into applause.

The company went upstairs to take coffee in the little drawing room,
where a couple of lamps cast a soft glow over the rosy hangings and the
lacquer and old gold of the knickknacks. At that hour of the evening
the light played discreetly over coffers, bronzes and china, lighting up
silver or ivory inlaid work, bringing into view the polished contours of
a carved stick and gleaming over a panel with glossy silky reflections.
The fire, which had been burning since the afternoon, was dying out
in glowing embers. It was very warm--the air behind the curtains and
hangings was languid with warmth. The room was full of Nana's intimate
existence: a pair of gloves, a fallen handkerchief, an open book, lay
scattered about, and their owner seemed present in careless attire with
that well-known odor of violets and that species of untidiness which
became her in her character of good-natured courtesan and had such a
charming effect among all those rich surroundings. The very armchairs,
which were as wide as beds, and the sofas, which were as deep as
alcoves, invited to slumber oblivious of the flight of time and to
tender whispers in shadowy corners.

Satin went and lolled back in the depths of a sofa near the fireplace.
She had lit a cigarette, but Vandeuvres began amusing himself by
pretending to be ferociously jealous. Nay, he even threatened to send
her his seconds if she still persisted in keeping Nana from her duty.
Philippe and Georges joined him and teased her and badgered her so
mercilessly that at last she shouted out:

"Darling! Darling! Do make 'em keep quiet! They're still after me!"

"Now then, let her be," said Nana seriously. "I won't have her
tormented; you know that quite well. And you, my pet, why d'you always
go mixing yourself up with them when they've got so little sense?"

Satin, blushing all over and putting out her tongue, went into the
dressing room, through the widely open door of which you caught a
glimpse of pale marbles gleaming in the milky light of a gas flame in
a globe of rough glass. After that Nana talked to the four men as
charmingly as hostess could. During the day she had read a novel which
was at that time making a good deal of noise. It was the history of a
courtesan, and Nana was very indignant, declaring the whole thing to be
untrue and expressing angry dislike to that kind of monstrous literature
which pretends to paint from nature. "Just as though one could describe
everything," she said. Just as though a novel ought not to be written
so that the reader may while away an hour pleasantly! In the matter of
books and of plays Nana had very decided opinions: she wanted tender and
noble productions, things that would set her dreaming and would elevate
her soul. Then allusion being made in the course of conversation to the
troubles agitating Paris, the incendiary articles in the papers, the
incipient popular disturbances which followed the calls to arms nightly
raised at public meetings, she waxed wroth with the Republicans. What
on earth did those dirty people who never washed really want? Were folks
not happy? Had not the emperor done everything for the people? A nice
filthy lot of people! She knew 'em; she could talk about 'em, and,
quite forgetting the respect which at dinner she had just been insisting
should be paid to her humble circle in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or,
she began blackguarding her own class with all the terror and disgust
peculiar to a woman who had risen successfully above it. That very
afternoon she had read in the Figaro an account of the proceedings at a
public meeting which had verged on the comic. Owing to the slang words
that had been used and to the piggish behavior of a drunken man who had
got himself chucked, she was laughing at those proceedings still.

"Oh, those drunkards!" she said with a disgusted air. "No, look you
here, their republic would be a great misfortune for everybody! Oh, may
God preserve us the emperor as long as possible!"

"God will hear your prayer, my dear," Muffat replied gravely. "To be
sure, the emperor stands firm."

He liked her to express such excellent views. Both, indeed, understood
one another in political matters. Vandeuvres and Philippe Hugon likewise
indulged in endless jokes against the "cads," the quarrelsome set who
scuttled off the moment they clapped eyes on a bayonet. But Georges that
evening remained pale and somber.

"What can be the matter with that baby?" asked Nana, noticing his
troubled appearance.

"With me? Nothing--I am listening," he muttered.

But he was really suffering. On rising from table he had heard Philippe
joking with the young woman, and now it was Philippe, and not himself,
who sat beside her. His heart, he knew not why, swelled to bursting.
He could not bear to see them so close together; such vile thoughts
oppressed him that shame mingled with his anguish. He who laughed
at Satin, who had accepted Steiner and Muffat and all the rest, felt
outraged and murderous at the thought that Philippe might someday touch
that woman.

"Here, take Bijou," she said to comfort him, and she passed him the
little dog which had gone to sleep on her dress.

And with that Georges grew happy again, for with the beast still warm
from her lap in his arms, he held, as it were, part of her.

Allusion had been made to a considerable loss which Vandeuvres had
last night sustained at the Imperial Club. Muffat, who did not play,
expressed great astonishment, but Vandeuvres smilingly alluded to his
imminent ruin, about which Paris was already talking. The kind of death
you chose did not much matter, he averred; the great thing was to die
handsomely. For some time past Nana had noticed that he was nervous and
had a sharp downward droop of the mouth and a fitful gleam in the depths
of his clear eyes. But he retained his haughty aristocratic manner and
the delicate elegance of his impoverished race, and as yet these
strange manifestations were only, so to speak, momentary fits of vertigo
overcoming a brain already sapped by play and by debauchery. One night
as he lay beside her he had frightened her with a dreadful story. He had
told her he contemplated shutting himself up in his stable and setting
fire to himself and his horses at such time as he should have devoured
all his substance. His only hope at that period was a horse, Lusignan by
name, which he was training for the Prix de Paris. He was living on this
horse, which was the sole stay of his shaken credit, and whenever Nana
grew exacting he would put her off till June and to the probability of
Lusignan's winning.

"Bah! He may very likely lose," she said merrily, "since he's going to
clear them all out at the races."

By way of reply he contented himself by smiling a thin, mysterious
smile. Then carelessly:

"By the by, I've taken the liberty of giving your name to my outsider,
the filly. Nana, Nana--that sounds well. You're not vexed?"

"Vexed, why?" she said in a state of inward ecstasy.

The conversation continued, and same mention was made of an execution
shortly to take place. The young woman said she was burning to go to it
when Satin appeared at the dressing-room door and called her in tones
of entreaty. She got up at once and left the gentlemen lolling lazily
about, while they finished their cigars and discussed the grave question
as to how far a murderer subject to chronic alcoholism is responsible
for his act. In the dressing room Zoe sat helpless on a chair, crying
her heart out, while Satin vainly endeavored to console her.

"What's the matter?" said Nana in surprise.

"Oh, darling, do speak to her!" said Satin. "I've been trying to make
her listen to reason for the last twenty minutes. She's crying because
you called her a goose."

"Yes, madame, it's very hard--very hard," stuttered Zoe, choked by a
fresh fit of sobbing.

This sad sight melted the young woman's heart at once. She spoke kindly,
and when the other woman still refused to grow calm she sank down
in front of her and took her round the waist with truly cordial
familiarity:

"But, you silly, I said 'goose' just as I might have said anything else.
How shall I explain? I was in a passion--it was wrong of me; now calm
down."

"I who love Madame so," stuttered Zoe; "after all I've done for Madame."

Thereupon Nana kissed the lady's maid and, wishing to show her she
wasn't vexed, gave her a dress she had worn three times. Their quarrels
always ended up in the giving of presents! Zoe plugged her handkerchief
into her eyes. She carried the dress off over her arm and added before
leaving that they were very sad in the kitchen and that Julien and
Francois had been unable to eat, so entirely had Madame's anger taken
away their appetites. Thereupon Madame sent them a louis as a pledge
of reconciliation. She suffered too much if people around her were
sorrowful.

Nana was returning to the drawing room, happy in the thought that
she had patched up a disagreement which was rendering her quietly
apprehensive of the morrow, when Satin came and whispered vehemently in
her ear. She was full of complaint, threatened to be off if those men
still went on teasing her and kept insisting that her darling should
turn them all out of doors for that night, at any rate. It would be a
lesson to them. And then it would be so nice to be alone, both of them!
Nana, with a return of anxiety, declared it to be impossible. Thereupon
the other shouted at her like a violent child and tried hard to overrule
her.

"I wish it, d'you see? Send 'em away or I'm off!"

And she went back into the drawing room, stretched herself out in the
recesses of a divan, which stood in the background near the window, and
lay waiting, silent and deathlike, with her great eyes fixed upon Nana.

The gentlemen were deciding against the new criminological theories.
Granted that lovely invention of irresponsibility in certain
pathological cases, and criminals ceased to exist and sick people alone
remained. The young woman, expressing approval with an occasional nod,
was busy considering how best to dismiss the count. The others would
soon be going, but he would assuredly prove obstinate. In fact, when
Philippe got up to withdraw, Georges followed him at once--he seemed
only anxious not to leave his brother behind. Vandeuvres lingered some
minutes longer, feeling his way, as it were, and waiting to find out if,
by any chance, some important business would oblige Muffat to cede him
his place. Soon, however, when he saw the count deliberately taking
up his quarters for the night, he desisted from his purpose and said
good-by, as became a man of tact. But on his way to the door, he noticed
Satin staring fixedly at Nana, as usual. Doubtless he understood what
this meant, for he seemed amused and came and shook hands with her.

"We're not angry, eh?" he whispered. "Pray pardon me. You're the nicer
attraction of the two, on my honor!"

Satin deigned no reply. Nor did she take her eyes off Nana and the
count, who were now alone. Muffat, ceasing to be ceremonious, had come
to sit beside the young woman. He took her fingers and began kissing
them. Whereupon Nana, seeking to change the current of his thoughts,
asked him if his daughter Estelle were better. The previous night he had
been complaining of the child's melancholy behavior--he could not even
spend a day happily at his own house, with his wife always out and his
daughter icily silent.

In family matters of this kind Nana was always full of good advice, and
when Muffat abandoned all his usual self-control under the influence
of mental and physical relaxation and once more launched out into his
former plaints, she remembered the promise she had made.

"Suppose you were to marry her?" she said. And with that she ventured to
talk of Daguenet. At the mere mention of the name the count was filled
with disgust. "Never," he said after what she had told him!

She pretended great surprise and then burst out laughing and put her arm
round his neck.

"Oh, the jealous man! To think of it! Just argue it out a little. Why,
they slandered me to you--I was furious. At present I should be ever so
sorry if--"

But over Muffat's shoulder she met Satin's gaze. And she left him
anxiously and in a grave voice continued:

"This marriage must come off, my friend; I don't want to prevent your
daughter's happiness. The young man's most charming; you could not
possibly find a better sort."

And she launched into extraordinary praise of Daguenet. The count had
again taken her hands; he no longer refused now; he would see about it,
he said, they would talk the matter over. By and by, when he spoke of
going to bed, she sank her voice and excused herself. It was impossible;
she was not well. If he loved her at all he would not insist!
Nevertheless, he was obstinate; he refused to go away, and she was
beginning to give in when she met Satin's eyes once more. Then she grew
inflexible. No, the thing was out of the question! The count, deeply
moved and with a look of suffering, had risen and was going in quest of
his hat. But in the doorway he remembered the set of sapphires; he
could feel the case in his pocket. He had been wanting to hide it at the
bottom of the bed so that when she entered it before him she should feel
it against her legs. Since dinnertime he had been meditating this little
surprise like a schoolboy, and now, in trouble and anguish of heart at
being thus dismissed, he gave her the case without further ceremony.

"What is it?" she queried. "Sapphires? Dear me! Oh yes, it's that set.
How sweet you are! But I say, my darling, d'you believe it's the same
one? In the shopwindow it made a much greater show."

That was all the thanks he got, and she let him go away. He noticed
Satin stretched out silent and expectant, and with that he gazed at
both women and without further insistence submitted to his fate and
went downstairs. The hall door had not yet closed when Satin caught Nana
round the waist and danced and sang. Then she ran to the window.

"Oh, just look at the figure he cuts down in the street!" The two women
leaned upon the wrought-iron window rail in the shadow of the curtains.
One o'clock struck. The Avenue de Villiers was deserted, and its double
file of gas lamps stretched away into the darkness of the damp March
night through which great gusts of wind kept sweeping, laden with rain.
There were vague stretches of land on either side of the road which
looked like gulfs of shadow, while scaffoldings round mansions in
process of construction loomed upward under the dark sky. They laughed
uncontrollably as they watched Muffat's rounded back and glistening
shadow disappearing along the wet sidewalk into the glacial, desolate
plains of new Paris. But Nana silenced Satin.

"Take care; there are the police!"

Thereupon they smothered their laughter and gazed in secret fear at two
dark figures walking with measured tread on the opposite side of
the avenue. Amid all her luxurious surroundings, amid all the royal
splendors of the woman whom all must obey, Nana still stood in horror
of the police and did not like to hear them mentioned any oftener than
death. She felt distinctly unwell when a policeman looked up at her
house. One never knew what such people might do! They might easily take
them for loose women if they heard them laughing at that hour of the
night. Satin, with a little shudder, had squeezed herself up against
Nana. Nevertheless, the pair stayed where they were and were soon
interested in the approach of a lantern, the light of which danced over
the puddles in the road. It was an old ragpicker woman who was busy
raking in the gutters. Satin recognized her.

"Dear me," she exclaimed, "it's Queen Pomare with her wickerwork shawl!"

And while a gust of wind lashed the fine rain in their faces she told
her beloved the story of Queen Pomare. Oh, she had been a splendid girl
once upon a time: all Paris had talked of her beauty. And such devilish
go and such cheek! Why, she led the men about like dogs, and great
people stood blubbering on her stairs! Now she was in the habit of
getting tipsy, and the women round about would make her drink absinthe
for the sake of a laugh, after which the street boys would throw stones
at her and chase her. In fact, it was a regular smashup; the queen had
tumbled into the mud! Nana listened, feeling cold all over.

"You shall see," added Satin.

She whistled a man's whistle, and the ragpicker, who was then below the
window, lifted her head and showed herself by the yellow flare of her
lantern. Framed among rags, a perfect bundle of them, a face looked out
from under a tattered kerchief--a blue, seamed face with a toothless,
cavernous mouth and fiery bruises where the eyes should be. And Nana,
seeing the frightful old woman, the wanton drowned in drink, had
a sudden fit of recollection and saw far back amid the shadows of
consciousness the vision of Chamont--Irma d'Anglars, the old harlot
crowned with years and honors, ascending the steps in front of her
chateau amid abjectly reverential villagers. Then as Satin whistled
again, making game of the old hag, who could not see her:

"Do leave off; there are the police!" she murmured in changed tones. "In
with us, quick, my pet!"

The measured steps were returning, and they shut the window. Turning
round again, shivering, and with the damp of night on her hair, Nana was
momentarily astounded at sight of her drawing room. It seemed as though
she had forgotten it and were entering an unknown chamber. So warm,
so full of perfume, was the air she encountered that she experienced a
sense of delighted surprise. The heaped-up wealth of the place, the Old
World furniture, the fabrics of silk and gold, the ivory, the bronzes,
were slumbering in the rosy light of the lamps, while from the whole of
the silent house a rich feeling of great luxury ascended, the luxury of
the solemn reception rooms, of the comfortable, ample dining room,
of the vast retired staircase, with their soft carpets and seats. Her
individuality, with its longing for domination and enjoyment and its
desire to possess everything that she might destroy everything,
was suddenly increased. Never before had she felt so profoundly the
puissance of her sex. She gazed slowly round and remarked with an
expression of grave philosophy:

"Ah well, all the same, one's jolly well right to profit by things when
one's young!"

But now Satin was rolling on the bearskins in the bedroom and calling
her.

"Oh, do come! Do come!"

Nana undressed in the dressing room, and in order to be quicker about it
she took her thick fell of blonde hair in both hands and began shaking
it above the silver wash hand basin, while a downward hail of long
hairpins rang a little chime on the shining metal.



CHAPTER XI


One Sunday the race for the Grand Prix de Paris was being run in the
Bois de Boulogne beneath skies rendered sultry by the first heats of
June. The sun that morning had risen amid a mist of dun-colored dust,
but toward eleven o'clock, just when the carriages were reaching the
Longchamps course, a southerly wind had swept away the clouds; long
streamers of gray vapor were disappearing across the sky, and gaps
showing an intense blue beyond were spreading from one end of the
horizon to the other. In the bright bursts of sunlight which alternated
with the clouds the whole scene shone again, from the field which was
gradually filling with a crowd of carriages, horsemen and pedestrians,
to the still-vacant course, where the judge's box stood, together with
the posts and the masts for signaling numbers, and thence on to the five
symmetrical stands of brickwork and timber, rising gallery upon gallery
in the middle of the weighing enclosure opposite. Beyond these, bathed
in the light of noon, lay the vast level plain, bordered with little
trees and shut in to the westward by the wooded heights of Saint-Cloud
and the Suresnes, which, in their turn, were dominated by the severe
outlines of Mont-Valerien.

Nana, as excited as if the Grand Prix were going to make her fortune,
wanted to take up a position by the railing next the winning post. She
had arrived very early--she was, in fact, one of the first to come--in
a landau adorned with silver and drawn, a la Daumont, by four splendid
white horses. This landau was a present from Count Muffat. When she had
made her appearance at the entrance to the field with two postilions
jogging blithely on the near horses and two footmen perching motionless
behind the carriage, the people had rushed to look as though a queen
were passing. She sported the blue and white colors of the Vandeuvres
stable, and her dress was remarkable. It consisted of a little blue
silk bodice and tunic, which fitted closely to the body and bulged out
enormously behind her waist, thereby bringing her lower limbs into bold
relief in such a manner as to be extremely noticeable in that epoch of
voluminous skirts. Then there was a white satin dress with white
satin sleeves and a sash worn crosswise over the shoulders, the whole
ornamented with silver guipure which shone in the sun. In addition to
this, in order to be still more like a jockey, she had stuck a blue
toque with a white feather jauntily upon her chignon, the fair tresses
from which flowed down beyond her shoulders and resembled an enormous
russet pigtail.

Twelve struck. The public would have to wait more than three hours
for the Grand Prix to be run. When the landau had drawn up beside the
barriers Nana settled herself comfortably down as though she were in her
own house. A whim had prompted her to bring Bijou and Louiset with her,
and the dog crouched among her skirts, shivering with cold despite
the heat of the day, while amid a bedizenment of ribbons and laces the
child's poor little face looked waxen and dumb and white in the open
air. Meanwhile the young woman, without troubling about the people near
her, talked at the top of her voice with Georges and Philippe Hugon, who
were seated opposite on the front seat among such a mountain of bouquets
of white roses and blue myosotis that they were buried up to their
shoulders.

"Well then," she was saying, "as he bored me to death, I showed him the
door. And now it's two days that he's been sulking."

She was talking of Muffat, but she took care not to confess to the young
men the real reason for this first quarrel, which was that one evening
he had found a man's hat in her bedroom. She had indeed brought home a
passer-by out of sheer ennui--a silly infatuation.

"You have no idea how funny he is," she continued, growing merry over
the particulars she was giving. "He's a regular bigot at bottom, so he
says his prayers every evening. Yes, he does. He's under the impression
I notice nothing because I go to bed first so as not to be in his way,
but I watch him out of the corner of my eye. Oh, he jaws away, and then
he crosses himself when he turns round to step over me and get to the
inside of the bed."

"Jove, it's sly," muttered Philippe. "That's what happens before, but
afterward, what then?"

She laughed merrily.

"Yes, just so, before and after! When I'm going to sleep I hear him
jawing away again. But the biggest bore of all is that we can't argue
about anything now without his growing 'pi.' I've always been religious.
Yes, chaff as much as you like; that won't prevent me believing what
I do believe! Only he's too much of a nuisance: he blubbers; he talks
about remorse. The day before yesterday, for instance, he had a regular
fit of it after our usual row, and I wasn't the least bit reassured when
all was over."

But she broke off, crying out:

"Just look at the Mignons arriving. Dear me, they've brought the
children! Oh, how those little chaps are dressed up!"

The Mignons were in a landau of severe hue; there was something
substantially luxurious about their turnout, suggesting rich retired
tradespeople. Rose was in a gray silk gown trimmed with red knots and
with puffs; she was smiling happily at the joyous behavior of Henri and
Charles, who sat on the front seat, looking awkward in their ill-fitting
collegians' tunics. But when the landau had drawn up by the rails and
she perceived Nana sitting in triumph among her bouquets, with her four
horses and her liveries, she pursed up her lips, sat bolt upright and
turned her head away. Mignon, on the other hand, looking the picture
of freshness and gaiety, waved her a salutation. He made it a matter of
principle to keep out of feminine disagreements.

"By the by," Nana resumed, "d'you know a little old man who's very clean
and neat and has bad teeth--a Monsieur Venot? He came to see me this
morning."

"Monsieur Venot?" said Georges in great astonishment. "It's impossible!
Why, the man's a Jesuit!"

"Precisely; I spotted that. Oh, you have no idea what our conversation
was like! It was just funny! He spoke to me about the count, about his
divided house, and begged me to restore a family its happiness. He was
very polite and very smiling for the matter of that. Then I answered to
the effect that I wanted nothing better, and I undertook to reconcile
the count and his wife. You know it's not humbug. I should be delighted
to see them all happy again, the poor things! Besides, it would be a
relief to me for there are days--yes, there are days--when he bores me
to death."

The weariness of the last months escaped her in this heartfelt outburst.
Moreover, the count appeared to be in big money difficulties; he was
anxious and it seemed likely that the bill which Labordette had put his
name to would not be met.

"Dear me, the countess is down yonder," said Georges, letting his gaze
wander over the stands.

"Where, where?" cried Nana. "What eyes that baby's got! Hold my
sunshade, Philippe."

But with a quick forward dart Georges had outstripped his brother.
It enchanted him to be holding the blue silk sunshade with its silver
fringe. Nana was scanning the scene through a huge pair of field
glasses.

"Ah yes! I see her," she said at length. "In the right-hand stand, near
a pillar, eh? She's in mauve, and her daughter in white by her side.
Dear me, there's Daguenet going to bow to them."

Thereupon Philippe talked of Daguenet's approaching marriage with
that lath of an Estelle. It was a settled matter--the banns were being
published. At first the countess had opposed it, but the count, they
said, had insisted. Nana smiled.

"I know, I know," she murmured. "So much the better for Paul. He's a
nice boy--he deserves it."

And leaning toward Louiset:

"You're enjoying yourself, eh? What a grave face!"

The child never smiled. With a very old expression he was gazing at all
those crowds, as though the sight of them filled him with melancholy
reflections. Bijou, chased from the skirts of the young woman who was
moving about a great deal, had come to nestle, shivering, against the
little fellow.

Meanwhile the field was filling up. Carriages, a compact, interminable
file of them, were continually arriving through the Porte de la Cascade.
There were big omnibuses such as the Pauline, which had started from the
Boulevard des Italiens, freighted with its fifty passengers, and was now
going to draw up to the right of the stands. Then there were dogcarts,
victorias, landaus, all superbly well turned out, mingled with
lamentable cabs which jolted along behind sorry old hacks, and
four-in-hands, sending along their four horses, and mail coaches, where
the masters sat on the seats above and left the servants to take care
of the hampers of champagne inside, and "spiders," the immense wheels of
which were a flash of glittering steel, and light tandems, which looked
as delicately formed as the works of a clock and slipped along amid a
peal of little bells. Every few seconds an equestrian rode by, and a
swarm of people on foot rushed in a scared way among the carriages. On
the green the far-off rolling sound which issued from the avenues in the
Bois died out suddenly in dull rustlings, and now nothing was audible
save the hubbub of the ever-increasing crowds and cries and calls and
the crackings of whips in the open. When the sun, amid bursts of wind,
reappeared at the edge of a cloud, a long ray of golden light ran across
the field, lit up the harness and the varnished coach panels and
touched the ladies' dresses with fire, while amid the dusty radiance the
coachmen, high up on their boxes, flamed beside their great whips.

Labordette was getting out of an open carriage where Gaga, Clarisse and
Blanche de Sivry had kept a place for him. As he was hurrying to cross
the course and enter the weighing enclosure Nana got Georges to call
him. Then when he came up:

"What's the betting on me?" she asked laughingly.

She referred to the filly Nana, the Nana who had let herself be
shamefully beaten in the race for the Prix de Diane and had not even
been placed in April and May last when she ran for the Prix des Cars
and the Grande Poule des Produits, both of which had been gained by
Lusignan, the other horse in the Vandeuvres stable. Lusignan had all at
once become prime favorite, and since yesterday he had been currently
taken at two to one.

"Always fifty to one against," replied Labordette.

"The deuce! I'm not worth much," rejoined Nana, amused by the jest.
"I don't back myself then; no, by jingo! I don't put a single louis on
myself."

Labordette went off again in a great hurry, but she recalled him. She
wanted some advice. Since he kept in touch with the world of trainers
and jockeys he had special information about various stables. His
prognostications had come true a score of times already, and people
called him the "King of Tipsters."

"Let's see, what horses ought I to choose?" said the young woman.
"What's the betting on the Englishman?"

"Spirit? Three to one against. Valerio II, the same. As to the others,
they're laying twenty-five to one against Cosinus, forty to one
against Hazard, thirty to one against Bourn, thirty-five to one against
Pichenette, ten to one against Frangipane."

"No, I don't bet on the Englishman, I don't. I'm a patriot. Perhaps
Valerio II would do, eh? The Duc de Corbreuse was beaming a little while
ago. Well, no, after all! Fifty louis on Lusignan; what do you say to
that?"

Labordette looked at her with a singular expression. She leaned
forward and asked him questions in a low voice, for she was aware that
Vandeuvres commissioned him to arrange matters with the bookmakers so
as to be able to bet the more easily. Supposing him to have got to know
something, he might quite well tell it her. But without entering into
explanations Labordette persuaded her to trust to his sagacity. He would
put on her fifty louis for her as he might think best, and she would not
repent of his arrangement.

"All the horses you like!" she cried gaily, letting him take his
departure, "but no Nana; she's a jade!"

There was a burst of uproarious laughter in the carriage. The young men
thought her sally very amusing, while Louiset in his ignorance lifted
his pale eyes to his mother's face, for her loud exclamations surprised
him. However, there was no escape for Labordette as yet. Rose Mignon had
made a sign to him and was now giving him her commands while he wrote
figures in a notebook. Then Clarisse and Gaga called him back in order
to change their bets, for they had heard things said in the crowd, and
now they didn't want to have anything more to do with Valerio II and
were choosing Lusignan. He wrote down their wishes with an impassible
expression and at length managed to escape. He could be seen
disappearing between two of the stands on the other side of the course.

Carriages were still arriving. They were by this time drawn up five rows
deep, and a dense mass of them spread along the barriers, checkered by
the light coats of white horses. Beyond them other carriages stood about
in comparative isolation, looking as though they had stuck fast in the
grass. Wheels and harness were here, there and everywhere, according as
the conveyances to which they belonged were side by side, at an angle,
across and across or head to head. Over such spaces of turf as still
remained unoccupied cavaliers kept trotting, and black groups of
pedestrians moved continually. The scene resembled the field where a
fair is being held, and above it all, amid the confused motley of the
crowd, the drinking booths raised their gray canvas roofs which gleamed
white in the sunshine. But a veritable tumult, a mob, an eddy of
hats, surged round the several bookmakers, who stood in open carriages
gesticulating like itinerant dentists while their odds were pasted up on
tall boards beside them.

"All the same, it's stupid not to know on what horse one's betting,"
Nana was remarking. "I really must risk some louis in person."

She had stood up to select a bookmaker with a decent expression of
face but forgot what she wanted on perceiving a perfect crowd of her
acquaintance. Besides the Mignons, besides Gaga, Clarisse and Blanche,
there were present, to the right and left, behind and in the middle of
the mass of carriages now hemming in her landau, the following ladies:
Tatan Nene and Maria Blond in a victoria, Caroline Hequet with her
mother and two gentlemen in an open carriage, Louise Violaine quite
alone, driving a little basket chaise decked with orange and green
ribbons, the colors of the Mechain stables, and finally, Lea de Horn on
the lofty seat of a mail coach, where a band of young men were making a
great din. Farther off, in a HUIT RESSORTS of aristocratic appearance,
Lucy Stewart, in a very simple black silk dress, sat, looking
distinguished beside a tall young man in the uniform of a naval cadet.
But what most astounded Nana was the arrival of Simonne in a tandem
which Steiner was driving, while a footman sat motionless, with folded
arms, behind them. She looked dazzling in white satin striped with
yellow and was covered with diamonds from waist to hat. The banker,
on his part, was handling a tremendous whip and sending along his two
horses, which were harnessed tandemwise, the leader being a little
warm-colored chestnut with a mouselike trot, the shaft horse a big brown
bay, a stepper, with a fine action.

"Deuce take it!" said Nana. "So that thief Steiner has cleared the
Bourse again, has he? I say, isn't Simonne a swell! It's too much of a
good thing; he'll get into the clutches of the law!"

Nevertheless, she exchanged greetings at a distance. Indeed, she kept
waving her hand and smiling, turning round and forgetting no one in her
desire to be seen by everybody. At the same time she continued chatting.

"It's her son Lucy's got in tow! He's charming in his uniform. That's
why she's looking so grand, of course! You know she's afraid of him and
that she passes herself off as an actress. Poor young man, I pity him
all the same! He seems quite unsuspicious."

"Bah," muttered Philippe, laughing, "she'll be able to find him an
heiress in the country when she likes."

Nana was silent, for she had just noticed the Tricon amid the thick
of the carriages. Having arrived in a cab, whence she could not see
anything, the Tricon had quietly mounted the coach box. And there,
straightening up her tall figure, with her noble face enshrined in
its long curls, she dominated the crowd as though enthroned amid her
feminine subjects. All the latter smiled discreetly at her while she,
in her superiority, pretended not to know them. She wasn't there for
business purposes: she was watching the races for the love of the thing,
as became a frantic gambler with a passion for horseflesh.

"Dear me, there's that idiot La Faloise!" said Georges suddenly.

It was a surprise to them all. Nana did not recognize her La Faloise,
for since he had come into his inheritance he had grown extraordinarily
up to date. He wore a low collar and was clad in a cloth of delicate
hue which fitted close to his meager shoulders. His hair was in little
bandeaux, and he affected a weary kind of swagger, a soft tone of voice
and slang words and phrases which he did not take the trouble to finish.

"But he's quite the thing!" declared Nana in perfect enchantment.

Gaga and Clarisse had called La Faloise and were throwing themselves
at him in their efforts to regain his allegiance, but he left them
immediately, rolling off in a chaffing, disdainful manner. Nana dazzled
him. He rushed up to her and stood on the carriage step, and when she
twitted him about Gaga he murmured:

"Oh dear, no! We've seen the last of the old lot! Mustn't play her off
on me any more. And then, you know, it's you now, Juliet mine!"

He had put his hand to his heart. Nana laughed a good deal at this
exceedingly sudden out-of-door declaration. She continued:

"I say, that's not what I'm after. You're making me forget that I want
to lay wagers. Georges, you see that bookmaker down there, a great
red-faced man with curly hair? He's got a dirty blackguard expression
which I like. You're to go and choose--Oh, I say, what can one choose?"

"I'm not a patriotic soul--oh dear, no!" La Faloise blurted out. "I'm
all for the Englishman. It will be ripping if the Englishman gains! The
French may go to Jericho!"

Nana was scandalized. Presently the merits of the several horses began
to be discussed, and La Faloise, wishing to be thought very much in
the swim, spoke of them all as sorry jades. Frangipane, Baron Verdier's
horse, was by The Truth out of Lenore. A big bay horse he was, who
would certainly have stood a chance if they hadn't let him get foundered
during training. As to Valerio II from the Corbreuse stable, he wasn't
ready yet; he'd had the colic in April. Oh yes, they were keeping that
dark, but he was sure of it, on his honor! In the end he advised Nana to
choose Hazard, the most defective of the lot, a horse nobody would have
anything to do with. Hazard, by jingo--such superb lines and such an
action! That horse was going to astonish the people.

"No," said Nana, "I'm going to put ten louis on Lusignan and five on
Boum."

La Faloise burst forth at once:

"But, my dear girl, Boum's all rot! Don't choose him! Gasc himself is
chucking up backing his own horse. And your Lusignan--never! Why, it's
all humbug! By Lamb and Princess--just think! By Lamb and Princess--no,
by Jove! All too short in the legs!"

He was choking. Philippe pointed out that, notwithstanding this,
Lusignan had won the Prix des Cars and the Grande Poule des Produits.
But the other ran on again. What did that prove? Nothing at all. On the
contrary, one ought to distrust him. And besides, Gresham rode Lusignan;
well then, let them jolly well dry up! Gresham had bad luck; he would
never get to the post.

And from one end of the field to the other the discussion raging in
Nana's landau seemed to spread and increase. Voices were raised in a
scream; the passion for gambling filled the air, set faces glowing
and arms waving excitedly, while the bookmakers, perched on their
conveyances, shouted odds and jotted down amounts right furiously. Yet
these were only the small fry of the betting world; the big bets were
made in the weighing enclosure. Here, then, raged the keen contest
of people with light purses who risked their five-franc pieces and
displayed infinite covetousness for the sake of a possible gain of a
few louis. In a word, the battle would be between Spirit and Lusignan.
Englishmen, plainly recognizable as such, were strolling about among
the various groups. They were quite at home; their faces were fiery with
excitement; they were afready triumphant. Bramah, a horse belonging to
Lord Reading, had gained the Grand Prix the previous year, and this had
been a defeat over which hearts were still bleeding. This year it would
be terrible if France were beaten anew. Accordingly all the ladies were
wild with national pride. The Vandeuvres stable became the rampart
of their honor, and Lusignan was pushed and defended and applauded
exceedingly. Gaga, Blanche, Caroline and the rest betted on Lusignan.
Lucy Stewart abstained from this on account of her son, but it was
bruited abroad that Rose Mignon had commissioned Labordette to risk two
hundred louis for her. The Tricon, as she sat alone next her driver,
waited till the last moment. Very cool, indeed, amid all these disputes,
very far above the ever-increasing uproar in which horses' names kept
recurring and lively Parisian phrases mingled with guttural English
exclamations, she sat listening and taking notes majestically.

"And Nana?" said Georges. "Does no one want her?"

Indeed, nobody was asking for the filly; she was not even being
mentioned. The outsider of the Vandeuvres's stud was swamped by
Lusignan's popularity. But La Faloise flung his arms up, crying:

"I've an inspiration. I'll bet a louis on Nana."

"Bravo! I bet a couple," said Georges.

"And I three," added Philippe.

And they mounted up and up, bidding against one another good-humoredly
and naming prices as though they had been haggling over Nana at
an auction. La Faloise said he would cover her with gold. Besides,
everybody was to be made to back her; they would go and pick up backers.
But as the three young men were darting off to propagandize, Nana
shouted after them:

"You know I don't want to have anything to do with her; I don't for the
world! Georges, ten louis on Lusignan and five on Valerio II."

Meanwhile they had started fairly off, and she watched them gaily as
they slipped between wheels, ducked under horses' heads and scoured the
whole field. The moment they recognized anyone in a carriage they rushed
up and urged Nana's claims. And there were great bursts of laughter
among the crowd when sometimes they turned back, triumphantly signaling
amounts with their fingers, while the young woman stood and waved her
sunshade. Nevertheless, they made poor enough work of it. Some men let
themselves be persuaded; Steiner, for instance, ventured three louis,
for the sight of Nana stirred him. But the women refused point-blank.
"Thanks," they said; "to lose for a certainty!" Besides, they were in no
hurry to work for the benefit of a dirty wench who was overwhelming
them all with her four white horses, her postilions and her outrageous
assumption of side. Gaga and Clarisse looked exceedingly prim and asked
La Faloise whether he was jolly well making fun of them. When Georges
boldly presented himself before the Mignons' carriage Rose turned her
head away in the most marked manner and did not answer him. One must be
a pretty foul sort to let one's name be given to a horse! Mignon, on the
contrary, followed the young man's movements with a look of amusement
and declared that the women always brought luck.

"Well?" queried Nana when the young men returned after a prolonged visit
to the bookmakers.

"The odds are forty to one against you," said La Faloise.

"What's that? Forty to one!" she cried, astounded. "They were fifty to
one against me. What's happened?"

Labordette had just then reappeared. The course was being cleared,
and the pealing of a bell announced the first race. Amid the expectant
murmur of the bystanders she questioned him about this sudden rise in
her value. But he replied evasively; doubtless a demand for her had
arisen. She had to content herself with this explanation. Moreover,
Labordette announced with a preoccupied expression that Vandeuvres was
coming if he could get away.

The race was ending unnoticed; people were all waiting for the Grand
Prix to be run--when a storm burst over the Hippodrome. For some minutes
past the sun had disappeared, and a wan twilight had darkened over the
multitude. Then the wind rose, and there ensued a sudden deluge. Huge
drops, perfect sheets of water, fell. There was a momentary confusion,
and people shouted and joked and swore, while those on foot scampered
madly off to find refuge under the canvas of the drinking booths. In the
carriages the women did their best to shelter themselves, grasping
their sunshades with both hands, while the bewildered footmen ran to the
hoods. But the shower was already nearly over, and the sun began shining
brilliantly through escaping clouds of fine rain. A blue cleft opened in
the stormy mass, which was blown off over the Bois, and the skies seemed
to smile again and to set the women laughing in a reassured manner,
while amid the snorting of horses and the disarray and agitation of the
drenched multitude that was shaking itself dry a broad flush of golden
light lit up the field, still dripping and glittering with crystal
drops.

"Oh, that poor, dear Louiset!" said Nana. "Are you very drenched, my
darling?"

The little thing silently allowed his hands to be wiped. The young woman
had taken out her handkerchief. Then she dabbed it over Bijou, who was
trembling more violently than ever. It would not matter in the least;
there were a few drops on the white satin of her dress, but she didn't
care a pin for them. The bouquets, refreshed by the rain, glowed like
snow, and she smelled one ecstatically, drenching her lips in it as
though it were wet with dew.

Meanwhile the burst of rain had suddenly filled the stands. Nana looked
at them through her field glasses. At that distance you could only
distinguish a compact, confused mass of people, heaped up, as it were,
on the ascending ranges of steps, a dark background relieved by light
dots which were human faces. The sunlight filtered in through openings
near the roof at each end of the stand and detached and illumined
portions of the seated multitude, where the ladies' dresses seemed to
lose their distinguishing colors. But Nana was especially amused by the
ladies whom the shower had driven from the rows of chairs ranged on the
sand at the base of the stands. As courtesans were absolutely forbidden
to enter the enclosure, she began making exceedingly bitter remarks
about all the fashionable women therein assembled. She thought them
fearfully dressed up, and such guys!

There was a rumor that the empress was entering the little central
stand, a pavilion built like a chalet, with a wide balcony furnished
with red armchairs.

"Why, there he is!" said Georges. "I didn't think he was on duty this
week."

The stiff and solemn form of the Count Muffat had appeared behind the
empress. Thereupon the young men jested and were sorry that Satin wasn't
there to go and dig him in the ribs. But Nana's field glass focused the
head of the Prince of Scots in the imperial stand.

"Gracious, it's Charles!" she cried.

She thought him stouter than formerly. In eighteen months he had
broadened, and with that she entered into particulars. Oh yes, he was a
big, solidly built fellow!

All round her in the ladies' carriages they were whispering that the
count had given her up. It was quite a long story. Since he had been
making himself noticeable, the Tuileries had grown scandalized at the
chamberlain's conduct. Whereupon, in order to retain his position, he
had recently broken it off with Nana. La Faloise bluntly reported this
account of matters to the young woman and, addressing her as his Juliet,
again offered himself. But she laughed merrily and remarked:

"It's idiotic! You won't know him; I've only to say, 'Come here,' for
him to chuck up everything."

For some seconds past she had been examining the Countess Sabine and
Estelle. Daguenet was still at their side. Fauchery had just arrived
and was disturbing the people round him in his desire to make his bow
to them. He, too, stayed smilingly beside them. After that Nana pointed
with disdainful action at the stands and continued:

"Then, you know, those people don't fetch me any longer now! I know 'em
too well. You should see 'em behind scenes. No more honor! It's all
up with honor! Filth belowstairs, filth abovestairs, filth everywhere.
That's why I won't be bothered about 'em!"

And with a comprehensive gesture she took in everybody, from the grooms
leading the horses on to the course to the sovereign lady busy chatting
with with Charles, a prince and a dirty fellow to boot.

"Bravo, Nana! Awfully smart, Nana!" cried La Faloise enthusiastically.

The tolling of a bell was lost in the wind; the races continued. The
Prix d'Ispahan had just been run for and Berlingot, a horse belonging to
the Mechain stable, had won. Nana recalled Labordette in order to obtain
news of the hundred louis, but he burst out laughing and refused to
let her know the horses he had chosen for her, so as not to disturb the
luck, as he phrased it. Her money was well placed; she would see that
all in good time. And when she confessed her bets to him and told
him how she had put ten louis on Lusignan and five on Valerio II, he
shrugged his shoulders, as who should say that women did stupid things
whatever happened. His action surprised her; she was quite at sea.

Just then the field grew more animated than before. Open-air lunches
were arranged in the interval before the Grand Prix. There was much
eating and more drinking in all directions, on the grass, on the high
seats of the four-in-hands and mail coaches, in the victorias, the
broughams, the landaus. There was a universal spread of cold viands
and a fine disorderly display of champagne baskets which footmen kept
handing down out of the coach boots. Corks came out with feeble pops,
which the wind drowned. There was an interchange of jests, and the sound
of breaking glasses imparted a note of discord to the high-strung gaiety
of the scene. Gaga and Clarisse, together with Blanche, were making a
serious repast, for they were eating sandwiches on the carriage rug with
which they had been covering their knees. Louise Violaine had got down
from her basket carriage and had joined Caroline Hequet. On the turf at
their feet some gentlemen had instituted a drinking bar, whither Tatan,
Maria, Simonne and the rest came to refresh themselves, while high in
air and close at hand bottles were being emptied on Lea de Horn's mail
coach, and, with infinite bravado and gesticulation, a whole band were
making themselves tipsy in the sunshine, above the heads of the crowd.
Soon, however, there was an especially large crowd by Nana's landau.
She had risen to her feet and had set herself to pour out glasses of
champagne for the men who came to pay her their respects. Francois, one
of the footmen, was passing up the bottles while La Faloise, trying hard
to imitate a coster's accents, kept pattering away:

"'Ere y're, given away, given away! There's some for everybody!"

"Do be still, dear boy," Nana ended by saying. "We look like a set of
tumblers."

She thought him very droll and was greatly entertained. At one moment
she conceived the idea of sending Georges with a glass of champagne to
Rose Mignon, who was affecting temperance. Henri and Charles were bored
to distraction; they would have been glad of some champagne, the
poor little fellows. But Georges drank the glassful, for he feared an
argument. Then Nana remembered Louiset, who was sitting forgotten behind
her. Maybe he was thirsty, and she forced him to take a drop or two of
wine, which made him cough dreadfully.

"'Ere y'are, 'ere y'are, gemmen!" La Faloise reiterated. "It don't cost
two sous; it don't cost one. We give it away."

But Nana broke in with an exclamation:

"Gracious, there's Bordenave down there! Call him. Oh, run, please,
please do!"

It was indeed Bordenave. He was strolling about with his hands behind
his back, wearing a hat that looked rusty in the sunlight and a greasy
frock coat that was glossy at the seams. It was Bordenave shattered by
bankruptcy, yet furious despite all reverses, a Bordenave who flaunted
his misery among all the fine folks with the hardihood becoming a man
ever ready to take Dame Fortune by storm.

"The deuce, how smart we are!" he said when Nana extended her hand to
him like the good-natured wench she was.

Presently, after emptying a glass of champagne, he gave vent to the
following profoundly regretful phrase:

"Ah, if only I were a woman! But, by God, that's nothing! Would you like
to go on the stage again? I've a notion: I'll hire the Gaite, and we'll
gobble up Paris between us. You certainly owe it me, eh?"

And he lingered, grumbling, beside her, though glad to see her again;
for, he said, that confounded Nana was balm to his feelings. Yes, it was
balm to them merely to exist in her presence! She was his daughter; she
was blood of his blood!

The circle increased, for now La Faloise was filling glasses, and
Georges and Philippe were picking up friends. A stealthy impulse was
gradually bringing in the whole field. Nana would fling everyone a
laughing smile or an amusing phrase. The groups of tipplers were drawing
near, and all the champagne scattered over the place was moving in her
direction. Soon there was only one noisy crowd, and that was round her
landau, where she queened it among outstretched glasses, her yellow hair
floating on the breeze and her snowy face bathed in the sunshine. Then
by way of a finishing touch and to make the other women, who were mad at
her triumph, simply perish of envy, she lifted a brimming glass on high
and assumed her old pose as Venus Victrix.

But somebody touched her shoulder, and she was surprised, on turning
round, to see Mignon on the seat. She vanished from view an instant and
sat herself down beside him, for he had come to communicate a matter of
importance. Mignon had everywhere declared that it was ridiculous of his
wife to bear Nana a grudge; he thought her attitude stupid and useless.

"Look here, my dear," he whispered. "Be careful: don't madden Rose too
much. You understand, I think it best to warn you. Yes, she's got a
weapon in store, and as she's never forgiven you the Petite Duchesse
business--"

"A weapon," said Nana; "what's that blooming well got to do with me?"

"Just listen: it's a letter she must have found in Fauchery's pocket,
a letter written to that screw Fauchery by the Countess Muffat. And, by
Jove, it's clear the whole story's in it. Well then, Rose wants to send
the letter to the count so as to be revenged on him and on you."

"What the deuce has that got to do with me?" Nana repeated. "It's a
funny business. So the whole story about Fauchery's in it! Very well,
so much the better; the woman has been exasperating me! We shall have a
good laugh!"

"No, I don't wish it," Mignon briskly rejoined. "There'll be a pretty
scandal! Besides, we've got nothing to gain."

He paused, fearing lest he should say too much, while she loudly
averred that she was most certainly not going to get a chaste woman into
trouble.

But when he still insisted on his refusal she looked steadily at him.
Doubtless he was afraid of seeing Fauchery again introduced into his
family in case he broke with the countess. While avenging her own
wrongs, Rose was anxious for that to happen, since she still felt a
kindness toward the journalist. And Nana waxed meditative and thought
of M. Venot's call, and a plan began to take shape in her brain, while
Mignon was doing his best to talk her over.

"Let's suppose that Rose sends the letter, eh? There's food for scandal:
you're mixed up in the business, and people say you're the cause of it
all. Then to begin with, the count separates from his wife."

"Why should he?" she said. "On the contrary--"

She broke off, in her turn. There was no need for her to think aloud. So
in order to be rid of Mignon she looked as though she entered into his
view of the case, and when he advised her to give Rose some proof of her
submission--to pay her a short visit on the racecourse, for instance,
where everybody would see her--she replied that she would see about it,
that she would think the matter over.

A commotion caused her to stand up again. On the course the horses were
coming in amid a sudden blast of wind. The prize given by the city of
Paris had just been run for, and Cornemuse had gained it. Now the Grand
Prix was about to be run, and the fever of the crowd increased, and they
were tortured by anxiety and stamped and swayed as though they wanted to
make the minutes fly faster. At this ultimate moment the betting world
was surprised and startled by the continued shortening of the odds
against Nana, the outsider of the Vandeuvres stables. Gentlemen kept
returning every few moments with a new quotation: the betting was thirty
to one against Nana; it was twenty-five to one against Nana, then twenty
to one, then fifteen to one. No one could understand it. A filly beaten
on all the racecourses! A filly which that same morning no single
sportsman would take at fifty to one against! What did this sudden
madness betoken? Some laughed at it and spoke of the pretty doing
awaiting the duffers who were being taken in by the joke. Others looked
serious and uneasy and sniffed out something ugly under it all. Perhaps
there was a "deal" in the offing. Allusion was made to well-known
stories about the robberies which are winked at on racecourses, but
on this occasion the great name of Vandeuvres put a stop to all such
accusations, and the skeptics in the end prevailed when they prophesied
that Nana would come in last of all.

"Who's riding Nana?" queried La Faloise.

Just then the real Nana reappeared, whereat the gentlemen lent his
question an indecent meaning and burst into an uproarious fit of
laughter. Nana bowed.

"Price is up," she replied.

And with that the discussion began again. Price was an English
celebrity. Why had Vandeuvres got this jockey to come over, seeing that
Gresham ordinarily rode Nana? Besides, they were astonished to see him
confiding Lusignan to this man Gresham, who, according to La Faloise,
never got a place. But all these remarks were swallowed up in jokes,
contradictions and an extraordinarily noisy confusion of opinions. In
order to kill time the company once more set themselves to drain bottles
of champagne. Presently a whisper ran round, and the different groups
opened outward. It was Vandeuvres. Nana affected vexation.

"Dear me, you're a nice fellow to come at this time of day! Why, I'm
burning to see the enclosure."

"Well, come along then," he said; "there's still time. You'll take a
stroll round with me. I just happen to have a permit for a lady about
me."

And he led her off on his arm while she enjoyed the jealous glances with
which Lucy, Caroline and the others followed her. The young Hugons
and La Faloise remained in the landau behind her retreating figure and
continued to do the honors of her champagne. She shouted to them that
she would return immediately.

But Vandeuvres caught sight of Labordette and called him, and there was
an interchange of brief sentences.

"You've scraped everything up?"

"Yes."

"To what amount?"

"Fifteen hundred louis--pretty well all over the place."

As Nana was visibly listening, and that with much curiosity, they held
their tongues. Vandeuvres was very nervous, and he had those same clear
eyes, shot with little flames, which so frightened her the night he
spoke of burning himself and his horses together. As they crossed over
the course she spoke low and familiarly.

"I say, do explain this to me. Why are the odds on your filly changing?"

He trembled, and this sentence escaped him:

"Ah, they're talking, are they? What a set those betting men are! When
I've got the favorite they all throw themselves upon him, and there's
no chance for me. After that, when an outsider's asked for, they give
tongue and yell as though they were being skinned."

"You ought to tell me what's going to happen--I've made my bets," she
rejoined. "Has Nana a chance?"

A sudden, unreasonable burst of anger overpowered him.

"Won't you deuced well let me be, eh? Every horse has a chance. The odds
are shortening because, by Jove, people have taken the horse. Who, I
don't know. I should prefer leaving you if you must needs badger me with
your idiotic questions."

Such a tone was not germane either to his temperament or his habits,
and Nana was rather surprised than wounded. Besides, he was ashamed of
himself directly afterward, and when she begged him in a dry voice to
behave politely he apologized. For some time past he had suffered from
such sudden changes of temper. No one in the Paris of pleasure or of
society was ignorant of the fact that he was playing his last trump
card today. If his horses did not win, if, moreover, they lost him the
considerable sums wagered upon them, it would mean utter disaster and
collapse for him, and the bulwark of his credit and the lofty appearance
which, though undermined, he still kept up, would come ruining noisily
down. Moreover, no one was ignorant of the fact that Nana was the
devouring siren who had finished him off, who had been the last to
attack his crumbling fortunes and to sweep up what remained of them.
Stories were told of wild whims and fancies, of gold scattered to the
four winds, of a visit to Baden-Baden, where she had not left him enough
to pay the hotel bill, of a handful of diamonds cast on the fire during
an evening of drunkenness in order to see whether they would burn like
coal. Little by little her great limbs and her coarse, plebeian way of
laughing had gained complete mastery over this elegant, degenerate son
of an ancient race. At that time he was risking his all, for he had been
so utterly overpowered by his taste for ordure and stupidity as to have
even lost the vigor of his skepticism. A week before Nana had made him
promise her a chateau on the Norman coast between Havre and Trouville,
and now he was staking the very foundations of his honor on the
fulfillment of his word. Only she was getting on his nerves, and he
could have beaten her, so stupid did he feel her to be.

The man at the gate, not daring to stop the woman hanging on the count's
arm, had allowed them to enter the enclosure. Nana, greatly puffed up at
the thought that at last she was setting foot on the forbidden ground,
put on her best behavior and walked slowly by the ladies seated at
the foot of the stands. On ten rows of chairs the toilets were
densely massed, and in the blithe open air their bright colors mingled
harmoniously. Chairs were scattered about, and as people met one another
friendly circles were formed, just as though the company had been
sitting under the trees in a public garden. Children had been allowed to
go free and were running from group to group, while over head the stands
rose tier above crowded tier and the light-colored dresses therein faded
into the delicate shadows of the timberwork. Nana stared at all these
ladies. She stared steadily and markedly at the Countess Sabine. After
which, as she was passing in front of the imperial stand, the sight
of Muffat, looming in all his official stiffness by the side of the
empress, made her very merry.

"Oh, how silly he looks!" she said at the top of her voice to
Vandeuvres. She was anxious to pay everything a visit. This small
parklike region, with its green lawns and groups of trees, rather
charmed her than otherwise. A vendor of ices had set up a large buffet
near the entrance gates, and beneath a rustic thatched roof a dense
throng of people were shouting and gesticulating. This was the
ring. Close by were some empty stalls, and Nana was disappointed at
discovering only a gendarme's horse there. Then there was the paddock,
a small course some hundred meters in circumference, where a stable help
was walking about Valerio II in his horsecloths. And, oh, what a lot of
men on the graveled sidewalks, all of them with their tickets forming an
orange-colored patch in their bottonholes! And what a continual parade
of people in the open galleries of the grandstands! The scene interested
her for a moment or two, but truly, it was not worth while getting the
spleen because they didn't admit you inside here.

Daguenet and Fauchery passed by and bowed to her. She made them a sign,
and they had to come up. Thereupon she made hay of the weighing-in
enclosure. But she broke off abruptly:

"Dear me, there's the Marquis de Chouard! How old he's growing! That old
man's killing himself! Is he still as mad about it as ever?"

Thereupon Daguenet described the old man's last brilliant stroke. The
story dated from the day before yesterday, and no one knew it as yet.
After dangling about for months he had bought her daughter Amelie from
Gaga for thirty thousand francs, they said.

"Good gracious! That's a nice business!" cried Nana in disgust. "Go in
for the regular thing, please! But now that I come to think of it,
that must be Lili down there on the grass with a lady in a brougham. I
recognized the face. The old boy will have brought her out."

Vandeuvres was not listening; he was impatient and longed to get rid of
her. But Fauchery having remarked at parting that if she had not seen
the bookmakers she had seen nothing, the count was obliged to take her
to them in spite of his obvious repugnance. And she was perfectly happy
at once; that truly was a curious sight, she said!

Amid lawns bordered by young horse-chestnut trees there was a round open
enclosure, where, forming a vast circle under the shadow of the tender
green leaves, a dense line of bookmakers was waiting for betting men,
as though they had been hucksters at a fair. In order to overtop and
command the surrounding crowd they had taken up positions on wooden
benches, and they were advertising their prices on the trees beside
them. They had an ever-vigilant glance, and they booked wagers in answer
to a single sign, a mere wink, so rapidly that certain curious onlookers
watched them openmouthed, without being able to understand it all.
Confusion reigned; prices were shouted, and any unexpected change in a
quotation was received with something like tumult. Occasionally scouts
entered the place at a run and redoubled the uproar as they stopped at
the entrance to the rotunda and, at the tops of their voices, announced
departures and arrivals. In this place, where the gambling fever
was pulsing in the sunshine, such announcements were sure to raise a
prolonged muttering sound.

"They ARE funny!" murmured Nana, greatly entertained.

"Their features look as if they had been put on the wrong way. Just you
see that big fellow there; I shouldn't care to meet him all alone in the
middle of a wood."

But Vandeuvres pointed her out a bookmaker, once a shopman in a fancy
repository, who had made three million francs in two years. He was
slight of build, delicate and fair, and people all round him treated him
with great respect. They smiled when they addressed him, while others
took up positions close by in order to catch a glimpse of him.

They were at length leaving the ring when Vandeuvres nodded slightly to
another bookmaker, who thereupon ventured to call him. It was one of his
former coachmen, an enormous fellow with the shoulders of an ox and a
high color. Now that he was trying his fortunes at race meetings on the
strength of some mysteriously obtained capital, the count was doing his
utmost to push him, confiding to him his secret bets and treating him on
all occasions as a servant to whom one shows one's true character. Yet
despite this protection, the man had in rapid succession lost very heavy
sums, and today he, too, was playing his last card. There was blood in
his eyes; he looked fit to drop with apoplexy.

"Well, Marechal," queried the count in the lowest of voices, "to what
amount have you laid odds?"

"To five thousand louis, Monsieur le Comte," replied the bookmaker,
likewise lowering his voice. "A pretty job, eh? I'll confess to you that
I've increased the odds; I've made it three to one."

Vandeuvres looked very much put out.

"No, no, I don't want you to do that. Put it at two to one again
directly. I shan't tell you any more, Marechal."

"Oh, how can it hurt, Monsieur le Comte, at this time o' day?" rejoined
the other with the humble smile befitting an accomplice. "I had to
attract the people so as to lay your two thousand louis."

At this Vandeuvres silenced him. But as he was going off Marechal
remembered something and was sorry he had not questioned him about the
shortening of the odds on the filly. It would be a nice business for him
if the filly stood a chance, seeing that he had just laid fifty to one
about her in two hundreds.

Nana, though she did not understand a word of what the count was
whispering, dared not, however, ask for new explanations. He seemed more
nervous than before and abruptly handed her over to Labordette, whom
they came upon in front of the weighing-in room.

"You'll take her back," he said. "I've got something on hand. Au
revoir!"

And he entered the room, which was narrow and low-pitched and half
filled with a great pair of scales. It was like a waiting room in a
suburban station, and Nana was again hugely disillusioned, for she had
been picturing to herself something on a very vast scale, a monumental
machine, in fact, for weighing horses. Dear me, they only weighed
the jockeys! Then it wasn't worth while making such a fuss with their
weighing! In the scale a jockey with an idiotic expression was waiting,
harness on knee, till a stout man in a frock coat should have done
verifying his weight. At the door a stable help was holding a horse,
Cosinus, round which a silent and deeply interested throng was
clustering.

The course was about to be cleared. Labordette hurried Nana but retraced
his steps in order to show her a little man talking with Vandeuvres at
some distance from the rest.

"Dear me, there's Price!" he said.

"Ah yes, the man who's mounting me," she murmured laughingly.

And she declared him to be exquisitely ugly. All jockeys struck her as
looking idiotic, doubtless, she said, because they were prevented from
growing bigger. This particular jockey was a man of forty, and with his
long, thin, deeply furrowed, hard, dead countenance, he looked like an
old shriveled-up child. His body was knotty and so reduced in size that
his blue jacket with its white sleeves looked as if it had been thrown
over a lay figure.

"No," she resumed as she walked away, "he would never make me very
happy, you know."

A mob of people were still crowding the course, the turf of which had
been wet and trampled on till it had grown black. In front of the two
telegraphs, which hung very high up on their cast-iron pillars, the
crowd were jostling together with upturned faces, uproariously greeting
the numbers of the different horses as an electric wire in connection
with the weighing room made them appear. Gentlemen were pointing at
programs: Pichenette had been scratched by his owner, and this caused
some noise. However, Nana did not do more than cross over the course
on Labordette's arm. The bell hanging on the flagstaff was ringing
persistently to warn people to leave the course.

"Ah, my little dears," she said as she got up into her landau again,
"their enclosure's all humbug!"

She was welcomed with acclamation; people around her clapped their
hands.

"Bravo, Nana! Nana's ours again!"

What idiots they were, to be sure! Did they think she was the sort to
cut old friends? She had come back just at the auspicious moment.
Now then, 'tenshun! The race was beginning! And the champagne was
accordingly forgotten, and everyone left off drinking.

But Nana was astonished to find Gaga in her carriage, sitting with Bijou
and Louiset on her knees. Gaga had indeed decided on this course of
action in order to be near La Faloise, but she told Nana that she had
been anxious to kiss Baby. She adored children.

"By the by, what about Lili?" asked Nana. "That's certainly she over
there in that old fellow's brougham. They've just told me something very
nice!"

Gaga had adopted a lachrymose expression.

"My dear, it's made me ill," she said dolorously. "Yesterday I had to
keep my bed, I cried so, and today I didn't think I should be able to
come. You know what my opinions were, don't you? I didn't desire that
kind of thing at all. I had her educated in a convent with a view to a
good marriage. And then to think of the strict advice she had and the
constant watching! Well, my dear, it was she who wished it. We had such
a scene--tears--disagreeable speeches! It even got to such a point that
I caught her a box on the ear. She was too much bored by existence, she
said; she wanted to get out of it. By and by, when she began to say,
''Tisn't you, after all, who've got the right to prevent me,' I said
to her: 'you're a miserable wretch; you're bringing dishonor upon us.
Begone!' And it was done. I consented to arrange about it. But my last
hope's blooming well blasted, and, oh, I used to dream about such nice
things!"

The noise of a quarrel caused them to rise. It was Georges in the act of
defending Vandeuvres against certain vague rumors which were circulating
among the various groups.

"Why should you say that he's laying off his own horse?" the young man
was exclaiming. "Yesterday in the Salon des Courses he took the odds on
Lusignan for a thousand louis."

"Yes, I was there," said Philippe in affirmation of this. "And he didn't
put a single louis on Nana. If the betting's ten to one against Nana
he's got nothing to win there. It's absurd to imagine people are so
calculating. Where would his interest come in?"

Labordette was listening with a quiet expression. Shrugging his
shoulders, he said:

"Oh, leave them alone; they must have their say. The count has again
laid at least as much as five hundred louis on Lusignan, and if he's
wanted Nana to run to a hundred louis it's because an owner ought always
to look as if he believes in his horses."

"Oh, bosh! What the deuce does that matter to us?" shouted La
Faloise with a wave of his arms. "Spirit's going to win! Down with
France--bravo, England!"

A long shiver ran through the crowd, while a fresh peal from the bell
announced the arrival of the horses upon the racecourse. At this Nana
got up and stood on one of the seats of her carriage so as to obtain
a better view, and in so doing she trampled the bouquets of roses and
myosotis underfoot. With a sweeping glance she took in the wide, vast
horizon. At this last feverish moment the course was empty and closed by
gray barriers, between the posts of which stood a line of policemen.
The strip of grass which lay muddy in front of her grew brighter as it
stretched away and turned into a tender green carpet in the distance.
In the middle landscape, as she lowered her eyes, she saw the field
swarming with vast numbers of people, some on tiptoe, others perched on
carriages, and all heaving and jostling in sudden passionate excitement.

Horses were neighing; tent canvases flapped, while equestrians urged
their hacks forward amid a crowd of pedestrians rushing to get places
along the barriers. When Nana turned in the direction of the stands
on the other side the faces seemed diminished, and the dense masses of
heads were only a confused and motley array, filling gangways, steps and
terraces and looming in deep, dark, serried lines against the sky. And
beyond these again she over looked the plain surrounding the course.
Behind the ivy-clad mill to the right, meadows, dotted over with great
patches of umbrageous wood, stretched away into the distance, while
opposite to her, as far as the Seine flowing at the foot of a hill, the
avenues of the park intersected one another, filled at that moment with
long, motionless files of waiting carriages; and in the direction of
Boulogne, on the left, the landscape widened anew and opened out toward
the blue distances of Meudon through an avenue of paulownias, whose
rosy, leafless tops were one stain of brilliant lake color. People were
still arriving, and a long procession of human ants kept coming along
the narrow ribbon of road which crossed the distance, while very far
away, on the Paris side, the nonpaying public, herding like sheep among
the wood, loomed in a moving line of little dark spots under the trees
on the skirts of the Bois.

Suddenly a cheering influence warmed the hundred thousand souls who
covered this part of the plain like insects swarming madly under the
vast expanse of heaven. The sun, which had been hidden for about a
quarter of an hour, made his appearance again and shone out amid
a perfect sea of light. And everything flamed afresh: the women's
sunshades turned into countless golden targets above the heads of the
crowd. The sun was applauded, saluted with bursts of laughter. And
people stretched their arms out as though to brush apart the clouds.

Meanwhile a solitary police officer advanced down the middle of the
deserted racecourse, while higher up, on the left, a man appeared with a
red flag in his hand.

"It's the starter, the Baron de Mauriac," said Labordette in reply to a
question from Nana. All round the young woman exclamations were bursting
from the men who were pressing to her very carriage step. They kept up
a disconnected conversation, jerking out phrases under the immediate
influence of passing impressions. Indeed, Philippe and Georges,
Bordenave and La Faloise, could not be quiet.

"Don't shove! Let me see! Ah, the judge is getting into his box. D'you
say it's Monsieur de Souvigny? You must have good eyesight--eh?--to be
able to tell what half a head is out of a fakement like that! Do hold
your tongue--the banner's going up. Here they are--'tenshun! Cosinus is
the first!"

A red and yellow banner was flapping in mid-air at the top of a mast.
The horses came on the course one by one; they were led by stableboys,
and the jockeys were sitting idle-handed in the saddles, the sunlight
making them look like bright dabs of color. After Cosinus appeared
Hazard and Boum. Presently a murmur of approval greeted Spirit, a
magnificent big brown bay, the harsh citron color and black of whose
jockey were cheerlessly Britannic. Valerio II scored a success as he
came in; he was small and very lively, and his colors were soft green
bordered with pink. The two Vandeuvres horses were slow to make their
appearance, but at last, in Frangipane's rear, the blue and white showed
themselves. But Lusignan, a very dark bay of irreproachable shape, was
almost forgotten amid the astonishment caused by Nana. People had not
seen her looking like this before, for now the sudden sunlight was
dyeing the chestnut filly the brilliant color of a girl's red-gold hair.
She was shining in the light like a new gold coin; her chest was deep;
her head and neck tapered lightly from the delicate, high-strung line of
her long back.

"Gracious, she's got my hair!" cried Nana in an ecstasy. "You bet you
know I'm proud of it!"

The men clambered up on the landau, and Bordenave narrowly escaped
putting his foot on Louiset, whom his mother had forgotten. He took
him up with an outburst of paternal grumbling and hoisted him on his
shoulder, muttering at the same time:

"The poor little brat, he must be in it too! Wait a bit, I'll show you
Mamma. Eh? Look at Mummy out there."

And as Bijou was scratching his legs, he took charge of him, too, while
Nana, rejoicing in the brute that bore her name, glanced round at the
other women to see how they took it. They were all raging madly. Just
then on the summit of her cab the Tricon, who had not moved till that
moment, began waving her hand and giving her bookmaker her orders above
the heads of the crowd. Her instinct had at last prompted her; she was
backing Nana.

La Faloise meanwhile was making an insufferable noise. He was getting
wild over Frangipane.

"I've an inspiration," he kept shouting. "Just look at Frangipane. What
an action, eh? I back Frangipane at eight to one. Who'll take me?"

"Do keep quiet now," said Labordette at last. "You'll be sorry for it if
you do."

"Frangipane's a screw," Philippe declared. "He's been utterly blown upon
already. You'll see the canter."

The horses had gone up to the right, and they now started for the
preliminary canter, passing in loose order before the stands. Thereupon
there was a passionate fresh burst of talk, and people all spoke at
once.

"Lusignan's too long in the back, but he's very fit. Not a cent, I tell
you, on Valerio II; he's nervous--gallops with his head up--it's a bad
sign. Jove! Burne's riding Spirit. I tell you, he's got no shoulders. A
well-made shoulder--that's the whole secret. No, decidedly, Spirit's too
quiet. Now listen, Nana, I saw her after the Grande Poule des Produits,
and she was dripping and draggled, and her sides were trembling like one
o'clock. I lay twenty louis she isn't placed! Oh, shut up! He's boring
us with his Frangipane. There's no time to make a bet now; there,
they're off!"

Almost in tears, La Faloise was struggling to find a bookmaker. He had
to be reasoned with. Everyone craned forward, but the first go-off
was bad, the starter, who looked in the distance like a slim dash of
blackness, not having lowered his flag. The horses came back to their
places after galloping a moment or two. There were two more false
starts. At length the starter got the horses together and sent them away
with such address as to elicit shouts of applause.

"Splendid! No, it was mere chance! Never mind--it's done it!"

The outcries were smothered by the anxiety which tortured every breast.
The betting stopped now, and the game was being played on the vast
course itself. Silence reigned at the outset, as though everyone were
holding his breath. White faces and trembling forms were stretched
forward in all directions. At first Hazard and Cosinus made the running
at the head of the rest; Valerio II followed close by, and the field
came on in a confused mass behind. When they passed in front of the
stands, thundering over the ground in their course like a sudden
stormwind, the mass was already some fourteen lengths in extent.
Frangipane was last, and Nana was slightly behind Lusignan and Spirit.

"Egad!" muttered Labordette, "how the Englishman is pulling it off out
there!"

The whole carriageload again burst out with phrases and exclamations.
Everyone rose on tiptoe and followed the bright splashes of color which
were the jockeys as they rushed through the sunlight.

At the rise Valerio II took the lead, while Cosinus and Hazard lost
ground, and Lusignan and Spirit were running neck and neck with Nana
still behind them.

"By jingo, the Englishman's gained! It's palpable!" said Bordenave.
"Lusignan's in difficulties, and Valerio II can't stay."

"Well, it will be a pretty biz if the Englishman wins!" cried Philippe
in an access of patriotic grief.

A feeling of anguish was beginning to choke all that crowded multitude.
Another defeat! And with that a strange ardent prayer, which was almost
religious, went up for Lusignan, while people heaped abuse on Spirit and
his dismal mute of a jockey. Among the crowd scattered over the grass
the wind of excitement put up whole groups of people and set their
boot soles flashing in air as they ran. Horsemen crossed the green at a
furious gallop. And Nana, who was slowly revolving on her own axis, saw
beneath her a surging waste of beasts and men, a sea of heads swayed and
stirred all round the course by the whirlwind of the race, which clove
the horizon with the bright lightning flash of the jockeys. She had been
following their movement from behind while the cruppers sped away and
the legs seemed to grow longer as they raced and then diminished till
they looked slender as strands of hair. Now the horses were running at
the end of the course, and she caught a side view of them looking minute
and delicate of outline against the green distances of the Bois. Then
suddenly they vanished behind a great clump of trees growing in the
middle of the Hippodrome.

"Don't talk about it!" cried Georges, who was still full of hope. "It
isn't over yet. The Englishman's touched."

But La Faloise was again seized with contempt for his country and grew
positively outrageous in his applause of Spirit. Bravo! That was right!
France needed it! Spirit first and Frangipane second--that would be a
nasty one for his native land! He exasperated Labordette, who threatened
seriously to throw him off the carriage.

"Let's see how many minutes they'll be about it," said Bordenave
peaceably, for though holding up Louiset, he had taken out his watch.

One after the other the horses reappeared from behind the clump of
trees. There was stupefaction; a long murmur arose among the crowd.
Valerio II was still leading, but Spirit was gaining on him, and behind
him Lusignan had slackened while another horse was taking his place.
People could not make this out all at once; they were confused about the
colors. Then there was a burst of exclamations.

"But it's Nana! Nana? Get along! I tell you Lusignan hasn't budged. Dear
me, yes, it's Nana. You can certainly recognize her by her golden color.
D'you see her now? She's blazing away. Bravo, Nana! What a ripper
she is! Bah, it doesn't matter a bit: she's making the running for
Lusignan!"

For some seconds this was everybody's opinion. But little by little the
filly kept gaining and gaining, spurting hard all the while. Thereupon
a vast wave of feeling passed over the crowd, and the tail of horses in
the rear ceased to interest. A supreme struggle was beginning between
Spirit, Nana, Lusignan and Valerio II. They were pointed out; people
estimated what ground they had gained or lost in disconnected, gasping
phrases. And Nana, who had mounted up on the coach box, as though some
power had lifted her thither, stood white and trembling and so deeply
moved as not to be able to speak. At her side Labordette smiled as of
old.

"The Englishman's in trouble, eh?" said Philippe joyously. "He's going
badly."

"In any case, it's all up with Lusignan," shouted La Faloise. "Valerio
II is coming forward. Look, there they are all four together."

The same phrase was in every mouth.

"What a rush, my dears! By God, what a rush!"

The squad of horses was now passing in front of them like a flash of
lightning. Their approach was perceptible--the breath of it was as a
distant muttering which increased at every second. The whole crowd had
thrown themselves impetuously against the barriers, and a deep clamor
issued from innumerable chests before the advance of the horses and
drew nearer and nearer like the sound of a foaming tide. It was the last
fierce outburst of colossal partisanship; a hundred thousand spectators
were possessed by a single passion, burning with the same gambler's
lust, as they gazed after the beasts, whose galloping feet were sweeping
millions with them. The crowd pushed and crushed--fists were clenched;
people gaped, openmouthed; every man was fighting for himself; every man
with voice and gesture was madly speeding the horse of his choice. And
the cry of all this multitude, a wild beast's cry despite the garb of
civilization, grew ever more distinct:

"Here they come! Here they come! Here they come!"

But Nana was still gaining ground, and now Valerio II was distanced,
and she was heading the race, with Spirit two or three necks behind. The
rolling thunder of voices had increased. They were coming in; a storm of
oaths greeted them from the landau.

"Gee up, Lusignan, you great coward! The Englishman's stunning! Do it
again, old boy; do it again! Oh, that Valerio! It's sickening! Oh, the
carcass! My ten louis damned well lost! Nana's the only one! Bravo,
Nana! Bravo!"

And without being aware of it Nana, upon her seat, had begun jerking her
hips and waist as though she were racing herself. She kept striking
her side--she fancied it was a help to the filly. With each stroke she
sighed with fatigue and said in low, anguished tones:

"Go it, go it!"

Then a splendid sight was witnessed. Price, rising in his stirrups
and brandishing his whip, flogged Nana with an arm of iron. The old
shriveled-up child with his long, hard, dead face seemed to breath
flame. And in a fit of furious audacity and triumphant will he put his
heart into the filly, held her up, lifted her forward, drenched in
foam, with eyes of blood. The whole rush of horses passed with a roar of
thunder: it took away people's breaths; it swept the air with it while
the judge sat frigidly waiting, his eye adjusted to its task. Then there
was an immense re-echoing burst of acclamation. With a supreme effort
Price had just flung Nana past the post, thus beating Spirit by a head.

There was an uproar as of a rising tide. "Nana! Nana! Nana!" The cry
rolled up and swelled with the violence of a tempest, till little by
little it filled the distance, the depths of the Bois as far as Mont
Valerien, the meadows of Longchamps and the Plaine de Boulogne. In all
parts of the field the wildest enthusiasm declared itself. "Vive Nana!
Vive la France! Down with England!" The women waved their sunshades; men
leaped and spun round, vociferating as they did so, while others with
shouts of nervous laughter threw their hats in the air. And from the
other side of the course the enclosure made answer; the people on
the stands were stirred, though nothing was distinctly visible save a
tremulous motion of the air, as though an invisible flame were burning
in a brazier above the living mass of gesticulating arms and little
wildly moving faces, where the eyes and gaping mouths looked like black
dots. The noise did not cease but swelled up and recommenced in the
recesses of faraway avenues and among the people encamped under the
trees, till it spread on and on and attained its climax in the imperial
stand, where the empress herself had applauded. "Nana! Nana! Nana!" The
cry rose heavenward in the glorious sunlight, whose golden rain beat
fiercely on the dizzy heads of the multitude.

Then Nana, looming large on the seat of her landau, fancied that it was
she whom they were applauding. For a moment or two she had stood devoid
of motion, stupefied by her triumph, gazing at the course as it was
invaded by so dense a flood of people that the turf became invisible
beneath the sea of black hats. By and by, when this crowd had become
somewhat less disorderly and a lane had been formed as far as the
exit and Nana was again applauded as she went off with Price
hanging lifelessly and vacantly over her neck, she smacked her thigh
energetically, lost all self-possession, triumphed in crude phrases:

"Oh, by God, it's me; it's me. Oh, by God, what luck!"

And, scarce knowing how to give expression to her overwhelming joy, she
hugged and kissed Louiset, whom she now discovered high in the air on
Bordenave's shoulder.

"Three minutes and fourteen seconds," said the latter as he put his
watch back in his pocket.

Nana kept hearing her name; the whole plain was echoing it back to
her. Her people were applauding her while she towered above them in
the sunlight, in the splendor of her starry hair and white-and-sky-blue
dress. Labordette, as he made off, had just announced to her a gain of
two thousand louis, for he had put her fifty on Nana at forty to one.
But the money stirred her less than this unforeseen victory, the fame of
which made her queen of Paris. All the other ladies were losers. With
a raging movement Rose Mignon had snapped her sunshade, and Caroline
Hequet and Clarisse and Simonne--nay, Lucy Stewart herself, despite the
presence of her son--were swearing low in their exasperation at that
great wench's luck, while the Tricon, who had made the sign of the cross
at both start and finish, straightened up her tall form above them, went
into an ecstasy over her intuition and damned Nana admiringly as became
an experienced matron.

Meanwhile round the landau the crush of men increased. The band of
Nana's immediate followers had made a fierce uproar, and now Georges,
choking with emotion, continued shouting all by himself in breaking
tones. As the champagne had given out, Philippe, taking the footmen with
him, had run to the wine bars. Nana's court was growing and growing,
and her present triumph caused many loiterers to join her. Indeed, that
movement which had made her carriage a center of attraction to the whole
field was now ending in an apotheosis, and Queen Venus was enthroned
amid suddenly maddened subjects. Bordenave, behind her, was muttering
oaths, for he yearned to her as a father. Steiner himself had been
reconquered--he had deserted Simonne and had hoisted himself upon one of
Nana's carriage steps. When the champagne had arrived, when she lifted
her brimming glass, such applause burst forth, and "Nana! Nana! Nana!"
was so loudly repeated that the crowd looked round in astonishment for
the filly, nor could any tell whether it was the horse or the woman that
filled all hearts.

While this was going on Mignon came hastening up in defiance of Rose's
terrible frown. That confounded girl simply maddened him, and he wanted
to kiss her. Then after imprinting a paternal salute on both her cheeks:

"What bothers me," he said, "is that now Rose is certainly going to send
the letter. She's raging, too, fearfully."

"So much the better! It'll do my business for me!" Nana let slip.

But noting his utter astonishment, she hastily continued:

"No, no, what am I saying? Indeed, I don't rightly know what I'm saying
now! I'm drunk."

And drunk, indeed, drunk with joy, drunk with sunshine, she still raised
her glass on high and applauded herself.

"To Nana! To Nana!" she cried amid a redoubled uproar of laughter and
bravoes, which little by little overspread the whole Hippodrome.

The races were ending, and the Prix Vaublanc was run for. Carriages
began driving off one by one. Meanwhile, amid much disputing, the name
of Vandeuvres was again mentioned. It was quite evident now: for two
years past Vandeuvres had been preparing his final stroke and had
accordingly told Gresham to hold Nana in, while he had only brought
Lusignan forward in order to make play for the filly. The losers were
vexed; the winners shrugged their shoulders. After all, wasn't the thing
permissible? An owner was free to run his stud in his own way. Many
others had done as he had! In fact, the majority thought Vandeuvres had
displayed great skill in raking in all he could get about Nana through
the agency of friends, a course of action which explained the sudden
shortening of the odds. People spoke of his having laid two thousand
louis on the horse, which, supposing the odds to be thirty to one
against, gave him twelve hundred thousand francs, an amount so vast as
to inspire respect and to excuse everything.

But other rumors of a very serious nature were being whispered about:
they issued in the first instance from the enclosure, and the men who
returned thence were full of exact particulars. Voices were raised;
an atrocious scandal began to be openly canvassed. That poor fellow
Vandeuvres was done for; he had spoiled his splendid hit with a piece of
flat stupidity, an idiotic robbery, for he had commissioned Marechal,
a shady bookmaker, to lay two thousand louis on his account against
Lusignan, in order thereby to get back his thousand and odd openly
wagered louis. It was a miserable business, and it proved to be the last
rift necessary to the utter breakup of his fortune. The bookmaker being
thus warned that the favorite would not win, had realized some sixty
thousand francs over the horse. Only Labordette, for lack of exact and
detailed instructions, had just then gone to him to put two hundred
louis on Nana, which the bookmaker, in his ignorance of the stroke
actually intended, was still quoting at fifty to one against. Cleared
of one hundred thousand francs over the filly and a loser to the tune of
forty thousand, Marechal, who felt the world crumbling under his feet,
had suddenly divined the situation when he saw the count and Labordette
talking together in front of the enclosure just after the race was over.
Furious, as became an ex-coachman of the count's, and brutally frank as
only a cheated man can be, he had just made a frightful scene in public,
had told the whole story in atrocious terms and had thrown everyone into
angry excitement. It was further stated that the stewards were about to
meet.

Nana, whom Philippe and Georges were whisperingly putting in possession
of the facts, gave vent to a series of reflections and yet ceased not
to laugh and drink. After all, it was quite likely; she remembered such
things, and then that Marechal had a dirty, hangdog look. Nevertheless,
she was still rather doubtful when Labordette appeared. He was very
white.

"Well?" she asked in a low voice.

"Bloody well smashed up!" he replied simply.

And he shrugged his shoulders. That Vandeuvres was a mere child! She
made a bored little gesture.

That evening at the Bal Mabille Nana obtained a colossal success. When
toward ten o'clock she made her appearance, the uproar was afready
formidable. That classic night of madness had brought together all that
was young and pleasure loving, and now this smart world was wallowing in
the coarseness and imbecility of the servants' hall. There was a fierce
crush under the festoons of gas lamps, and men in evening coats and
women in outrageous low-necked old toilets, which they did not mind
soiling, were howling and surging to and fro under the maddening
influence of a vast drunken fit. At a distance of thirty paces the brass
instruments of the orchestra were inaudible. Nobody was dancing. Stupid
witticisms, repeated no one knew why, were going the round of the
various groups. People were straining after wit without succeeding in
being funny. Seven women, imprisoned in the cloakroom, were crying to be
set free. A shallot had been found, put up to auction and knocked down
at two louis. Just then Nana arrived, still wearing her blue-and-white
racecourse costume, and amid a thunder of applause the shallot was
presented to her. People caught hold of her in her own despite, and
three gentlemen bore her triumphantly into the garden, across ruined
grassplots and ravaged masses of greenery. As the bandstand presented
an obstacle to her advance, it was taken by storm, and chairs and music
stands were smashed. A paternal police organized the disorder.

It was only on Tuesday that Nana recovered from the excitements of
victory. That morning she was chatting with Mme Lerat, the old lady
having come in to bring her news of Louiset, whom the open air had
upset. A long story, which was occupying the attention of all Paris,
interested her beyond measure. Vandeuvres, after being warned off all
racecourses and posted at the Cercle Imperial on the very evening after
the disaster, had set fire to his stable on the morrow and had burned
himself and his horses to death.

"He certainly told me he was going to," the young woman kept saying.
"That man was a regular maniac! Oh, how they did frighten me when
they told me about it yesterday evening! You see, he might easily have
murdered me some fine night. And besides, oughtn't he to have given me a
hint about his horse? I should at any rate have made my fortune! He said
to Labordette that if I knew about the matter I would immediately inform
my hairdresser and a whole lot of other men. How polite, eh? Oh dear,
no, I certainly can't grieve much for him."

After some reflection she had grown very angry. Just then Labordette
came in; he had seen about her bets and was now the bearer of some forty
thousand francs. This only added to her bad temper, for she ought to
have gained a million. Labordette, who during the whole of this episode
had been pretending entire innocence, abandoned Vandeuvres in decisive
terms. Those old families, he opined, were worn out and apt to make a
stupid ending.

"Oh dear no!" said Nana. "It isn't stupid to burn oneself in one's
stable as he did. For my part, I think he made a dashing finish; but,
oh, you know, I'm not defending that story about him and Marechal. It's
too silly. Just to think that Blanche has had the cheek to want to lay
the blame of it on me! I said to her: 'Did I tell him to steal?' Don't
you think one can ask a man for money without urging him to commit
crime? If he had said to me, 'I've got nothing left,' I should have
said to him, 'All right, let's part.' And the matter wouldn't have gone
further."

"Just so," said the aunt gravely "When men are obstinate about a thing,
so much the worse for them!"

"But as to the merry little finish up, oh, that was awfully smart!"
continued Nana. "It appears to have been terrible enough to give you the
shudders! He sent everybody away and boxed himself up in the place with
a lot of petroleum. And it blazed! You should have seen it! Just think,
a great big affair, almost all made of wood and stuffed with hay and
straw! The flames simply towered up, and the finest part of the business
was that the horses didn't want to be roasted. They could be heard
plunging, throwing themselves against the doors, crying aloud just like
human beings. Yes, people haven't got rid of the horror of it yet."

Labordette let a low, incredulous whistle escape him. For his part, he
did not believe in the death of Vandeuvres. Somebody had sworn he had
seen him escaping through a window. He had set fire to his stable in a
fit of aberration, but when it had begun to grow too warm it must have
sobered him. A man so besotted about the women and so utterly worn out
could not possibly die so pluckily.

Nana listened in her disillusionment and could only remark:

"Oh, the poor wretch, it was so beautiful!"



CHAPTER XII


Toward one in the morning, in the great bed of the Venice point
draperies, Nana and the count lay still awake. He had returned to her
that evening after a three days sulking fit. The room, which was dimly
illumined by a lamp, seemed to slumber amid a warm, damp odor of love,
while the furniture, with its white lacquer and silver incrustations,
loomed vague and wan through the gloom. A curtain had been drawn to, so
that the bed lay flooded with shadow. A sigh became audible; then a kiss
broke the silence, and Nana, slipping off the coverlet, sat for a moment
or two, barelegged, on the edge of the bed. The count let his head fall
back on the pillow and remained in darkness.

"Dearest, you believe in the good God, don't you?" she queried after
some moments' reflection. Her face was serious; she had been overcome by
pious terrors on quitting her lover's arms.

Since morning, indeed, she had been complaining of feeling
uncomfortable, and all her stupid notions, as she phrased it, notions
about death and hell, were secretly torturing her. From time to time
she had nights such as these, during which childish fears and atrocious
fancies would thrill her with waking nightmares. She continued:

"I say, d'you think I shall go to heaven?"

And with that she shivered, while the count, in his surprise at her
putting such singular questions at such a moment, felt his old religious
remorse returning upon him. Then with her chemise slipping from her
shoulders and her hair unpinned, she again threw herself upon his
breast, sobbing and clinging to him as she did so.

"I'm afraid of dying! I'm afraid of dying!" He had all the trouble in
the world to disengage himself. Indeed, he was himself afraid of giving
in to the sudden madness of this woman clinging to his body in her dread
of the Invisible. Such dread is contagious, and he reasoned with her.
Her conduct was perfect--she had only to conduct herself well in order
one day to merit pardon. But she shook her head. Doubtless she was doing
no one any harm; nay, she was even in the constant habit of wearing a
medal of the Virgin, which she showed to him as it hung by a red thread
between her breasts. Only it had been foreordained that all unmarried
women who held conversation with men would go to hell. Scraps of her
catechism recurred to her remembrance. Ah, if one only knew for certain,
but, alas, one was sure of nothing; nobody ever brought back any
information, and then, truly, it would be stupid to bother oneself
about things if the priests were talking foolishness all the time.
Nevertheless, she religiously kissed her medal, which was still warm
from contact with her skin, as though by way of charm against death,
the idea of which filled her with icy horror. Muffat was obliged to
accompany her into the dressing room, for she shook at the idea of being
alone there for one moment, even though she had left the door open. When
he had lain down again she still roamed about the room, visiting its
several corners and starting and shivering at the slightest noise. A
mirror stopped her, and as of old she lapsed into obvious contemplation
of her nakedness. But the sight of her breast, her waist and her thighs
only doubled her terror, and she ended by feeling with both hands very
slowly over the bones of her face.

"You're ugly when you're dead," she said in deliberate tones.

And she pressed her cheeks, enlarging her eyes and pushing down her jaw,
in order to see how she would look. Thus disfigured, she turned toward
the count.

"Do look! My head'll be quite small, it will!"

At this he grew vexed.

"You're mad; come to bed!"

He fancied he saw her in a grave, emaciated by a century of sleep, and
he joined his hands and stammered a prayer. It was some time ago that
the religious sense had reconquered him, and now his daily access of
faith had again assumed the apoplectic intensity which was wont to leave
him well-nigh stunned. The joints of his fingers used to crack, and he
would repeat without cease these words only: "My God, my God, my God!"
It was the cry of his impotence, the cry of that sin against which,
though his damnation was certain, he felt powerless to strive. When Nana
returned she found him hidden beneath the bedclothes; he was haggard; he
had dug his nails into his bosom, and his eyes stared upward as though
in search of heaven. And with that she started to weep again. Then they
both embraced, and their teeth chattered they knew not why, as the same
imbecile obsession over-mastered them. They had already passed a similar
night, but on this occasion the thing was utterly idiotic, as Nana
declared when she ceased to be frightened. She suspected something, and
this caused her to question the count in a prudent sort of way. It might
be that Rose Mignon had sent the famous letter! But that was not the
case; it was sheer fright, nothing more, for he was still ignorant
whether he was a cuckold or no.

Two days later, after a fresh disappearance, Muffat presented himself
in the morning, a time of day at which he never came. He was livid;
his eyes were red and his whole man still shaken by a great internal
struggle. But Zoe, being scared herself, did not notice his troubled
state. She had run to meet him and now began crying:

"Oh, monsieur, do come in! Madame nearly died yesterday evening!"

And when he asked for particulars:

"Something it's impossible to believe has happened--a miscarriage,
monsieur."

Nana had been in the family way for the past three months. For long she
had simply thought herself out of sorts, and Dr Boutarel had himself
been in doubt. But when afterward he made her a decisive announcement,
she felt so bored thereby that she did all she possibly could to
disguise her condition. Her nervous terrors, her dark humors, sprang to
some extent from this unfortunate state of things, the secret of which
she kept very shamefacedly, as became a courtesan mother who is obliged
to conceal her plight. The thing struck her as a ridiculous accident,
which made her appear small in her own eyes and would, had it been
known, have led people to chaff her.

"A poor joke, eh?" she said. "Bad luck, too, certainly."

She was necessarily very sharp set when she thought her last hour had
come. There was no end to her surprise, too; her sexual economy seemed
to her to have got out of order; it produced children then even when
one did not want them and when one employed it for quite other purposes!
Nature drove her to exasperation; this appearance of serious motherhood
in a career of pleasure, this gift of life amid all the deaths she was
spreading around, exasperated her. Why could one not dispose of oneself
as fancy dictated, without all this fuss? And whence had this brat come?
She could not even suggest a father. Ah, dear heaven, the man who made
him would have a splendid notion had he kept him in his own hands, for
nobody asked for him; he was in everybody's way, and he would certainly
not have much happiness in life!

Meanwhile Zoe described the catastrophe.

"Madame was seized with colic toward four o'clock. When she didn't come
back out of the dressing room I went in and found her lying stretched on
the floor in a faint. Yes, monsieur, on the floor in a pool of blood, as
though she had been murdered. Then I understood, you see. I was furious;
Madame might quite well have confided her trouble to me. As it happened,
Monsieur Georges was there, and he helped me to lift her up, and
directly a miscarriage was mentioned he felt ill in his turn! Oh, it's
true I've had the hump since yesterday!"

In fact, the house seemed utterly upset. All the servants were galloping
upstairs, downstairs and through the rooms. Georges had passed the night
on an armchair in the drawing room. It was he who had announced the news
to Madame's friends at that hour of the evening when Madame was in the
habit of receiving. He had still been very pale, and he had told his
story very feelingly, and as though stupefied. Steiner, La Faloise,
Philippe and others, besides, had presented themselves, and at the end
of the lad's first phrase they burst into exclamations. The thing was
impossible! It must be a farce! After which they grew serious and gazed
with an embarrassed expression at her bedroom door. They shook their
heads; it was no laughing matter.

Till midnight a dozen gentlemen had stood talking in low voices in front
of the fireplace. All were friends; all were deeply exercised by the
same idea of paternity. They seemed to be mutually excusing themselves,
and they looked as confused as if they had done something clumsy.
Eventually, however, they put a bold face on the matter. It had nothing
to do with them: the fault was hers! What a stunner that Nana was, eh?
One would never have believed her capable of such a fake! And with that
they departed one by one, walking on tiptoe, as though in a chamber of
death where you cannot laugh.

"Come up all the same, monsieur," said Zoe to Muffat. "Madame is much
better and will see you. We are expecting the doctor, who promised to
come back this morning."

The lady's maid had persuaded Georges to go back home to sleep, and
upstairs in the drawing room only Satin remained. She lay stretched on a
divan, smoking a cigarette and scanning the ceiling. Amid the household
scare which had followed the accident she had been white with rage,
had shrugged her shoulders violently and had made ferocious remarks.
Accordingly, when Zoe was passing in front of her and telling Monsieur
that poor, dear Madame had suffered a great deal:

"That's right; it'll teach him!" said Satin curtly.

They turned round in surprise, but she had not moved a muscle; her eyes
were still turned toward the ceiling, and her cigarette was still wedged
tightly between her lips.

"Dear me, you're charming, you are!" said Zoe.

But Satin sat up, looked savagely at the count and once more hurled her
remark at him.

"That's right; it'll teach him!"

And she lay down again and blew forth a thin jet of smoke, as though she
had no interest in present events and were resolved not to meddle in any
of them. No, it was all too silly!

Zoe, however, introduced Muffat into the bedroom, where a scent of ether
lingered amid warm, heavy silence, scarce broken by the dull roll of
occasional carriages in the Avenue de Villiers. Nana, looking very white
on her pillow, was lying awake with wide-open, meditative eyes. She
smiled when she saw the count but did not move.

"Ah, dear pet!" she slowly murmured. "I really thought I should never
see you again."

Then as he leaned forward to kiss her on the hair, she grew tender
toward him and spoke frankly about the child, as though he were its
father.

"I never dared tell you; I felt so happy about it! Oh, I used to dream
about it; I should have liked to be worthy of you! And now there's
nothing left. Ah well, perhaps that's best. I don't want to bring a
stumbling block into your life."

Astounded by this story of paternity, he began stammering vague phrases.
He had taken a chair and had sat down by the bed, leaning one arm on the
coverlet. Then the young woman noticed his wild expression, the blood
reddening his eyes, the fever that set his lips aquiver.

"What's the matter then?" she asked. "You're ill too."

"No," he answered with extreme difficulty.

She gazed at him with a profound expression. Then she signed to Zoe
to retire, for the latter was lingering round arranging the medicine
bottles. And when they were alone she drew him down to her and again
asked:

"What's the matter with you, darling? The tears are ready to burst from
your eyes--I can see that quite well. Well now, speak out; you've come
to tell me something."

"No, no, I swear I haven't," he blurted out. But he was choking with
suffering, and this sickroom, into which he had suddenly entered
unawares, so worked on his feelings that he burst out sobbing and buried
his face in the bedclothes to smother the violence of his grief. Nana
understood. Rose Mignon had most assuredly decided to send the letter.
She let him weep for some moments, and he was shaken by convulsions so
fierce that the bed trembled under her. At length in accents of motherly
compassion she queried:

"You've had bothers at your home?"

He nodded affirmatively. She paused anew, and then very low:

"Then you know all?"

He nodded assent. And a heavy silence fell over the chamber of
suffering. The night before, on his return from a party given by the
empress, he had received the letter Sabine had written her lover. After
an atrocious night passed in the meditation of vengeance he had gone out
in the morning in order to resist a longing which prompted him to
kill his wife. Outside, under a sudden, sweet influence of a fine June
morning, he had lost the thread of his thoughts and had come to Nana's,
as he always came at terrible moments in his life. There only he gave
way to his misery, for he felt a cowardly joy at the thought that she
would console him.

"Now look here, be calm!" the young woman continued, becoming at
the same time extremely kind. "I've known it a long time, but it was
certainly not I that would have opened your eyes. You remember you had
your doubts last year, but then things arranged themselves, owing to my
prudence. In fact, you wanted proofs. The deuce, you've got one today,
and I know it's hard lines. Nevertheless, you must look at the matter
quietly: you're not dishonored because it's happened."

He had left off weeping. A sense of shame restrained him from saying
what he wanted to, although he had long ago slipped into the most
intimate confessions about his household. She had to encourage him. Dear
me, she was a woman; she could understand everything. When in a dull
voice he exclaimed:

"You're ill. What's the good of tiring you? It was stupid of me to have
come. I'm going--"

"No," she answered briskly enough. "Stay! Perhaps I shall be able to
give you some good advice. Only don't make me talk too much; the medical
man's forbidden it."

He had ended by rising, and he was now walking up and down the room.
Then she questioned him:

"Now what are you going to do?

"I'm going to box the man's ears--by heavens, yes!"

She pursed up her lips disapprovingly.

"That's not very wise. And about your wife?"

"I shall go to law; I've proofs."

"Not at all wise, my dear boy. It's stupid even. You know I shall never
let you do that!"

And in her feeble voice she showed him decisively how useless and
scandalous a duel and a trial would be. He would be a nine days'
newspaper sensation; his whole existence would be at stake, his peace
of mind, his high situation at court, the honor of his name, and all for
what? That he might have the laughers against him.

"What will it matter?" he cried. "I shall have had my revenge."

"My pet," she said, "in a business of that kind one never has one's
revenge if one doesn't take it directly."

He paused and stammered. He was certainly no poltroon, but he felt that
she was right. An uneasy feeling was growing momentarily stronger within
him, a poor, shameful feeling which softened his anger now that it was
at its hottest. Moreover, in her frank desire to tell him everything,
she dealt him a fresh blow.

"And d'you want to know what's annoying you, dearest? Why, that you
are deceiving your wife yourself. You don't sleep away from home for
nothing, eh? Your wife must have her suspicions. Well then, how can you
blame her? She'll tell you that you've set her the example, and that'll
shut you up. There, now, that's why you're stamping about here instead
of being at home murdering both of 'em."

Muffat had again sunk down on the chair; he was overwhelmed by these
home thrusts. She broke off and took breath, and then in a low voice:

"Oh, I'm a wreck! Do help me sit up a bit. I keep slipping down, and my
head's too low."

When he had helped her she sighed and felt more comfortable. And with
that she harked back to the subject. What a pretty sight a divorce suit
would be! Couldn't he imagine the advocate of the countess amusing Paris
with his remarks about Nana? Everything would have come out--her fiasco
at the Varietes, her house, her manner of life. Oh dear, no! She had
no wish for all that amount of advertising. Some dirty women might,
perhaps, have driven him to it for the sake of getting a thundering big
advertisement, but she--she desired his happiness before all else. She
had drawn him down toward her and, after passing her arm around his
neck, was nursing his head close to hers on the edge of the pillow. And
with that she whispered softly:

"Listen, my pet, you shall make it up with your wife."

But he rebelled at this. It could never be! His heart was nigh breaking
at the thought; it was too shameful. Nevertheless, she kept tenderly
insisting.

"You shall make it up with your wife. Come, come, you don't want to hear
all the world saying that I've tempted you away from your home? I should
have too vile a reputation! What would people think of me? Only swear
that you'll always love me, because the moment you go with another
woman--"

Tears choked her utterance, and he intervened with kisses and said:

"You're beside yourself; it's impossible!"

"Yes, yes," she rejoined, "you must. But I'll be reasonable. After all,
she's your wife, and it isn't as if you were to play me false with the
firstcomer."

And she continued in this strain, giving him the most excellent advice.
She even spoke of God, and the count thought he was listening to M.
Venot, when that old gentleman endeavored to sermonize him out of the
grasp of sin. Nana, however, did not speak of breaking it off entirely:
she preached indulgent good nature and suggested that, as became a dear,
nice old fellow, he should divide his attentions between his wife and
his mistress, so that they would all enjoy a quiet life, devoid of any
kind of annoyance, something, in fact, in the nature of a happy slumber
amid the inevitable miseries of existence. Their life would be nowise
changed: he would still be the little man of her heart. Only he would
come to her a bit less often and would give the countess the nights not
passed with her. She had got to the end of her strength and left off,
speaking under her breath:

"After that I shall feel I've done a good action, and you'll love me all
the more."

Silence reigned. She had closed her eyes and lay wan upon her pillow.
The count was patiently listening to her, not wishing her to tire
herself. A whole minute went by before she reopened her eyes and
murmured:

"Besides, how about the money? Where would you get the money from if you
must grow angry and go to law? Labordette came for the bill yesterday.
As for me, I'm out of everything; I have nothing to put on now."

Then she shut her eyes again and looked like one dead. A shadow of deep
anguish had passed over Muffat's brow. Under the present stroke he had
since yesterday forgotten the money troubles from which he knew not
how to escape. Despite formal promises to the contrary, the bill for
a hundred thousand francs had been put in circulation after being once
renewed, and Labordette, pretending to be very miserable about it,
threw all the blame on Francis, declaring that he would never again mix
himself up in such a matter with an uneducated man. It was necessary
to pay, for the count would never have allowed his signature to be
protested. Then in addition to Nana's novel demands, his home expenses
were extraordinarily confused. On their return from Les Fondettes the
countess had suddenly manifested a taste for luxury, a longing for
worldly pleasures, which was devouring their fortune. Her ruinous
caprices began to be talked about. Their whole household management was
altered, and five hundred thousand francs were squandered in utterly
transforming the old house in the Rue Miromesnil. Then there were
extravagantly magnificent gowns and large sums disappeared, squandered
or perhaps given away, without her ever dreaming of accounting for them.
Twice Muffat ventured to mention this, for he was anxious to know how
the money went, but on these occasions she had smiled and gazed at him
with so singular an expression that he dared not interrogate her further
for fear of a too-unmistakable answer. If he were taking Daguenet as
son-in-law as a gift from Nana it was chiefly with the hope of being
able to reduce Estelle's dower to two hundred thousand francs and of
then being free to make any arrangements he chose about the remainder
with a young man who was still rejoicing in this unexpected match.

Nevertheless, for the last week, under the immediate necessity of
finding Labordette's hundred thousand francs, Muffat had been able
to hit on but one expedient, from which he recoiled. This was that he
should sell the Bordes, a magnificent property valued at half a million,
which an uncle had recently left the countess. However, her signature
was necessary, and she herself, according to the terms of the deed,
could not alienate the property without the count's authorization.
The day before he had indeed resolved to talk to his wife about this
signature. And now everything was ruined; at such a moment he would
never accept of such a compromise. This reflection added bitterness to
the frightful disgrace of the adultery. He fully understood what Nana
was asking for, since in that ever-growing self-abandonment which
prompted him to put her in possession of all his secrets, he had
complained to her of his position and had confided to her the tiresome
difficulty he was in with regard to the signature of the countess.

Nana, however, did not seem to insist. She did not open her eyes again,
and, seeing her so pale, he grew frightened and made her inhale a little
ether. She gave a sigh and without mentioning Daguenet asked him some
questions.

"When is the marriage?"

"We sign the contract on Tuesday, in five days' time," he replied.

Then still keeping her eyelids closed, as though she were speaking from
the darkness and silence of her brain:

"Well then, pet, see to what you've got to do. As far as I'm concerned,
I want everybody to be happy and comfortable."

He took her hand and soothed her. Yes, he would see about it; the
important thing now was for her to rest. And the revolt within him
ceased, for this warm and slumberous sickroom, with its all-pervading
scent of ether, had ended by lulling him into a mere longing for
happiness and peace. All his manhood, erewhile maddened by wrong,
had departed out of him in the neighborhood of that warm bed and that
suffering woman, whom he was nursing under the influence of her feverish
heat and of remembered delights. He leaned over her and pressed her in
a close embrace, while despite her unmoved features her lips wore a
delicate, victorious smile. But Dr Boutarel made his appearance.

"Well, and how's this dear child?" he said familiarly to Muffat, whom he
treated as her husband. "The deuce, but we've made her talk!"

The doctor was a good-looking man and still young. He had a superb
practice among the gay world, and being very merry by nature and ready
to laugh and joke in the friendliest way with the demimonde ladies with
whom, however, he never went farther, he charged very high fees and got
them paid with the greatest punctuality. Moreover, he would put himself
out to visit them on the most trivial occasions, and Nana, who was
always trembling at the fear of death, would send and fetch him two or
three times a week and would anxiously confide to him little infantile
ills which he would cure to an accompaniment of amusing gossip and
harebrained anecdotes. The ladies all adored him. But this time the
little ill was serious.

Muffat withdrew, deeply moved. Seeing his poor Nana so very weak, his
sole feeling was now one of tenderness. As he was leaving the room she
motioned him back and gave him her forehead to kiss. In a low voice and
with a playfully threatening look she said:

"You know what I've allowed you to do. Go back to your wife, or it's all
over and I shall grow angry!"

The Countess Sabine had been anxious that her daughter's wedding
contract should be signed on a Tuesday in order that the renovated
house, where the paint was still scarcely dry, might be reopened with a
grand entertainment. Five hundred invitations had been issued to people
in all kinds of sets. On the morning of the great day the upholsterers
were still nailing up hangings, and toward nine at night, just when the
lusters were going to be lit, the architect, accompanied by the eager
and interested countess, was given his final orders.

It was one of those spring festivities which have a delicate charm
of their own. Owing to the warmth of the June nights, it had become
possible to open the two doors of the great drawing room and to extend
the dancing floor to the sanded paths of the garden. When the first
guests arrived and were welcomed at the door by the count and the
countess they were positively dazzled. One had only to recall to mind
the drawing room of the past, through which flitted the icy, ghostly
presence of the Countess Muffat, that antique room full of an atmosphere
of religious austerity with its massive First Empire mahogany furniture,
its yellow velvet hangings, its moldy ceiling through which the damp had
soaked. Now from the very threshold of the entrance hall mosaics set off
with gold were glittering under the lights of lofty candelabras,
while the marble staircase unfurled, as it were, a delicately chiseled
balustrade. Then, too, the drawing room looked splendid; it was hung
with Genoa velvet, and a huge decorative design by Boucher covered the
ceiling, a design for which the architect had paid a hundred thousand
francs at the sale of the Chateau de Dampierre. The lusters and the
crystal ornaments lit up a luxurious display of mirrors and precious
furniture. It seemed as though Sabine's long chair, that solitary red
silk chair, whose soft contours were so marked in the old days, had
grown and spread till it filled the whole great house with voluptuous
idleness and a sense of tense enjoyment not less fierce and hot than a
fire which has been long in burning up.

People were already dancing. The band, which had been located in the
garden, in front of one of the open windows, was playing a waltz,
the supple rhythm of which came softly into the house through the
intervening night air. And the garden seemed to spread away and away,
bathed in transparent shadow and lit by Venetian lamps, while in a
purple tent pitched on the edge of a lawn a table for refreshments
had been established. The waltz, which was none other than the quaint,
vulgar one in the Blonde Venus, with its laughing, blackguard lilt,
penetrated the old hotel with sonorous waves of sound and sent a
feverish thrill along its walls. It was as though some fleshly wind
had come up out of the common street and were sweeping the relics of a
vanished epoch out of the proud old dwelling, bearing away the Muffats'
past, the age of honor and religious faith which had long slumbered
beneath the lofty ceilings.

Meanwhile near the hearth, in their accustomed places, the old friends
of the count's mother were taking refuge. They felt out of their
element--they were dazzled and they formed a little group amid the
slowly invading mob. Mme du Joncquoy, unable to recognize the various
rooms, had come in through the dining saloon. Mme Chantereau was gazing
with a stupefied expression at the garden, which struck her as immense.
Presently there was a sound of low voices, and the corner gave vent to
all sorts of bitter reflections.

"I declare," murmured Mme Chantereau, "just fancy if the countess were
to return to life. Why, can you not imagine her coming in among all
these crowds of people! And then there's all this gilding and this
uproar! It's scandalous!"

"Sabine's out of her senses," replied Mme du Joncquoy. "Did you see her
at the door? Look, you can catch sight of her here; she's wearing all
her diamonds."

For a moment or two they stood up in order to take a distant view of the
count and countess. Sabine was in a white dress trimmed with marvelous
English point lace. She was triumphant in beauty; she looked young
and gay, and there was a touch of intoxication in her continual smile.
Beside her stood Muffat, looking aged and a little pale, but he, too,
was smiling in his calm and worthy fashion.

"And just to think that he was once master," continued Mme Chantereau,
"and that not a single rout seat would have come in without his
permission! Ah well, she's changed all that; it's her house now. D'you
remember when she did not want to do her drawing room up again? She's
done up the entire house."

But the ladies grew silent, for Mme de Chezelles was entering the
room, followed by a band of young men. She was going into ecstasies and
marking her approval with a succession of little exclamations.

"Oh, it's delicious, exquisite! What taste!" And she shouted back to her
followers:

"Didn't I say so? There's nothing equal to these old places when one
takes them in hand. They become dazzling! It's quite in the grand
seventeenth-century style. Well, NOW she can receive."

The two old ladies had again sat down and with lowered tones began
talking about the marriage, which was causing astonishment to a good
many people. Estelle had just passed by them. She was in a pink silk
gown and was as pale, flat, silent and virginal as ever. She had
accepted Daguenet very quietly and now evinced neither joy nor sadness,
for she was still as cold and white as on those winter evenings when she
used to put logs on the fire. This whole fete given in her honor, these
lights and flowers and tunes, left her quite unmoved.

"An adventurer," Mme du Joncquoy was saying. "For my part, I've never
seen him."

"Take care, here he is," whispered Mme Chantereau.

Daguenet, who had caught sight of Mme Hugon and her sons, had eagerly
offered her his arm. He laughed and was effusively affectionate toward
her, as though she had had a hand in his sudden good fortune.

"Thank you," she said, sitting down near the fireplace. "You see, it's
my old corner."

"You know him?" queried Mme du Joncquoy, when Daguenet had gone.
"Certainly I do--a charming young man. Georges is very fond of him. Oh,
they're a most respected family."

And the good lady defended him against the mute hostility which was
apparent to her. His father, held in high esteem by Louis Philippe, had
been a PREFET up to the time of his death. The son had been a little
dissipated, perhaps; they said he was ruined, but in any case, one
of his uncles, who was a great landowner, was bound to leave him his
fortune. The ladies, however, shook their heads, while Mme Hugon,
herself somewhat embarrassed, kept harking back to the extreme
respectability of his family. She was very much fatigued and complained
of her feet. For some months she had been occupying her house in the Rue
Richelieu, having, as she said, a whole lot of things on hand. A look of
sorrow overshadowed her smiling, motherly face.

"Never mind," Mme Chantereau concluded. "Estelle could have aimed at
something much better."

There was a flourish. A quadrille was about to begin, and the crowd
flowed back to the sides of the drawing room in order to leave the floor
clear. Bright dresses flitted by and mingled together amid the dark
evening coats, while the intense light set jewels flashing and white
plumes quivering and lilacs and roses gleaming and flowering amid the
sea of many heads. It was already very warm, and a penetrating perfume
was exhaled from light tulles and crumpled silks and satins, from which
bare shoulders glimmered white, while the orchestra played its lively
airs. Through open doors ranges of seated ladies were visible in the
background of adjoining rooms; they flashed a discreet smile; their eyes
glowed, and they made pretty mouths as the breath of their fans caressed
their faces. And guests still kept arriving, and a footman announced
their names while gentlemen advanced slowly amid the surrounding groups,
striving to find places for ladies, who hung with difficulty on their
arms, and stretching forward in quest of some far-off vacant armchair.
The house kept filling, and crinolined skirts got jammed together with
a little rustling sound. There were corners where an amalgam of laces,
bunches and puffs would completely bar the way, while all the other
ladies stood waiting, politely resigned and imperturbably graceful,
as became people who were made to take part in these dazzling crushes.
Meanwhile across the garden couples, who had been glad to escape from
the close air of the great drawing room, were wandering away under the
roseate gleam of the Venetian lamps, and shadowy dresses kept flitting
along the edge of the lawn, as though in rhythmic time to the music of
the quadrille, which sounded sweet and distant behind the trees.

Steiner had just met with Foucarmont and La Faloise, who were drinking a
glass of champagne in front of the buffet.

"It's beastly smart," said La Faloise as he took a survey of the purple
tent, which was supported by gilded lances. "You might fancy yourself at
the Gingerbread Fair. That's it--the Gingerbread Fair!"

In these days he continually affected a bantering tone, posing as the
young man who has abused every mortal thing and now finds nothing worth
taking seriously.

"How surprised poor Vandeuvres would be if he were to come back,"
murmured Foucarmont. "You remember how he simply nearly died of boredom
in front of the fire in there. Egad, it was no laughing matter."

"Vandeuvres--oh, let him be. He's a gone coon!" La Faloise disdainfully
rejoined. "He jolly well choused himself, he did, if he thought he could
make us sit up with his roast-meat story! Not a soul mentions it now.
Blotted out, done for, buried--that's what's the matter with Vandeuvres!
Here's to the next man!"

Then as Steiner shook hands with him:

"You know Nana's just arrived. Oh, my boys, it was a state entry. It was
too brilliant for anything! First of all she kissed the countess.
Then when the children came up she gave them her blessing and said to
Daguenet, 'Listen, Paul, if you go running after the girls you'll have
to answer for it to me.' What, d'you mean to say you didn't see that?
Oh, it WAS smart. A success, if you like!"

The other two listened to him, openmouthed, and at last burst out
laughing. He was enchanted and thought himself in his best vein.

"You thought it had really happened, eh? Confound it, since Nana's made
the match! Anyway, she's one of the family."

The young Hugons were passing, and Philippe silenced him. And with that
they chatted about the marriage from the male point of view. Georges was
vexed with La Faloise for telling an anecdote. Certainly Nana had fubbed
off on Muffat one of her old flames as son-in-law; only it was not
true that she had been to bed with Daguenet as lately as yesterday.
Foucarmont made bold to shrug his shoulders. Could anyone ever tell when
Nana was in bed with anyone? But Georges grew excited and answered with
an "I can tell, sir!" which set them all laughing. In a word, as Steiner
put it, it was all a very funny kettle of fish!

The buffet was gradually invaded by the crowd, and, still keeping
together, they vacated their positions there. La Faloise stared brazenly
at the women as though he believed himself to be Mabille. At the end
of a garden walk the little band was surprised to find M. Venot busily
conferring with Daguenet, and with that they indulged in some facile
pleasantries which made them very merry. He was confessing him, giving
him advice about the bridal night! Presently they returned in front
of one of the drawing-room doors, within which a polka was sending the
couples whirling to and fro till they seemed to leave a wake behind them
among the crowd of men who remained standing about. In the slight puffs
of air which came from outside the tapers flared up brilliantly, and
when a dress floated by in time to the rat-tat of the measure, a little
gust of wind cooled the sparkling heat which streamed down from the
lusters.

"Egad, they're not cold in there!" muttered La Faloise.

They blinked after emerging from the mysterious shadows of the garden.
Then they pointed out to one another the Marquis de Chouard where he
stood apart, his tall figure towering over the bare shoulders which
surrounded him. His face was pale and very stern, and beneath its crown
of scant white hair it wore an expression of lofty dignity. Scandalized
by Count Muffat's conduct, he had publicly broken off all intercourse
with him and was by way of never again setting foot in the house. If he
had consented to put in an appearance that evening it was because his
granddaughter had begged him to. But he disapproved of her marriage
and had inveighed indignantly against the way in which the government
classes were being disorganized by the shameful compromises engendered
by modern debauchery.

"Ah, it's the end of all things," Mme du Joncquoy whispered in Mme
Chantereau's ear as she sat near the fireplace. "That bad woman has
bewitched the unfortunate man. And to think we once knew him such a true
believer, such a noblehearted gentleman!"

"It appears he is ruining himself," continued Mme Chantereau. "My
husband has had a bill of his in his hands. At present he's living in
that house in the Avenue de Villiers; all Paris is talking about it.
Good heavens! I don't make excuses for Sabine, but you must admit that
he gives her infinite cause of complaint, and, dear me, if she throws
money out of the window, too--"

"She does not only throw money," interrupted the other. "In fact,
between them, there's no knowing where they'll stop; they'll end in the
mire, my dear."

But just then a soft voice interrupted them. It was M. Venot, and he had
come and seated himself behind them, as though anxious to disappear from
view. Bending forward, he murmured:

"Why despair? God manifests Himself when all seems lost."

He was assisting peacefully at the downfall of the house which he
erewhile governed. Since his stay at Les Fondettes he had been allowing
the madness to increase, for he was very clearly aware of his own
powerlessness. He had, indeed, accepted the whole position--the count's
wild passion for Nana, Fauchery's presence, even Estelle's marriage with
Daguenet. What did these things matter? He even became more supple and
mysterious, for he nursed a hope of being able to gain the same mastery
over the young as over the disunited couple, and he knew that great
disorders lead to great conversions. Providence would have its
opportunity.

"Our friend," he continued in a low voice, "is always animated by the
best religious sentiments. He has given me the sweetest proofs of this."

"Well," said Mme du Joncquoy, "he ought first to have made it up with
his wife."

"Doubtless. At this moment I have hopes that the reconciliation will be
shortly effected."

Whereupon the two old ladies questioned him.

But he grew very humble again. "Heaven," he said, "must be left to act."
His whole desire in bringing the count and the countess together again
was to avoid a public scandal, for religion tolerated many faults when
the proprieties were respected.

"In fact," resumed Mme du Joncquoy, "you ought to have prevented this
union with an adventurer."

The little old gentleman assumed an expression of profound astonishment.
"You deceive yourself. Monsieur Daguenet is a young man of the greatest
merit. I am acquainted with his thoughts; he is anxious to live down the
errors of his youth. Estelle will bring him back to the path of virtue,
be sure of that."

"Oh, Estelle!" Mme Chantereau murmured disdainfully. "I believe the
dear young thing to be incapable of willing anything; she is so
insignificant!"

This opinion caused M. Venot to smile. However, he went into no
explanations about the young bride and, shutting his eyes, as though to
avoid seeming to take any further interest in the matter, he once more
lost himself in his corner behind the petticoats. Mme Hugon, though
weary and absent-minded, had caught some phrases of the conversation,
and she now intervened and summed up in her tolerant way by remarking to
the Marquis de Chouard, who just then bowed to her:

"These ladies are too severe. Existence is so bitter for every one of
us! Ought we not to forgive others much, my friend, if we wish to merit
forgiveness ourselves?"

For some seconds the marquis appeared embarrassed, for he was afraid
of allusions. But the good lady wore so sad a smile that he recovered
almost at once and remarked:

"No, there is no forgiveness for certain faults. It is by reason of
this kind of accommodating spirit that a society sinks into the abyss of
ruin."

The ball had grown still more animated. A fresh quadrille was imparting
a slight swaying motion to the drawing-room floor, as though the old
dwelling had been shaken by the impulse of the dance. Now and again amid
the wan confusion of heads a woman's face with shining eyes and parted
lips stood sharply out as it was whirled away by the dance, the light
of the lusters gleaming on the white skin. Mme du Joncquoy declared that
the present proceedings were senseless. It was madness to crowd five
hundred people into a room which would scarcely contain two hundred. In
fact, why not sign the wedding contract on the Place du Carrousel? This
was the outcome of the new code of manners, said Mme Chantereau. In old
times these solemnities took place in the bosom of the family, but today
one must have a mob of people; the whole street must be allowed to enter
quite freely, and there must be a great crush, or else the evening seems
a chilly affair. People now advertised their luxury and introduced
the mere foam on the wave of Parisian society into their houses, and
accordingly it was only too natural if illicit proceedings such as they
had been discussing afterward polluted the hearth. The ladies complained
that they could not recognize more than fifty people. Where did all
this crowd spring from? Young girls with low necks were making a great
display of their shoulders. A woman had a golden dagger stuck in her
chignon, while a bodice thickly embroidered with jet beads clothed her
in what looked like a coat of mail. People's eyes kept following another
lady smilingly, so singularly marked were her clinging skirts. All the
luxuriant splendor of the departing winter was there--the overtolerant
world of pleasure, the scratch gathering a hostess can get together
after a first introduction, the sort of society, in fact, in which
great names and great shames jostle together in the same fierce quest of
enjoyment. The heat was increasing, and amid the overcrowded rooms the
quadrille unrolled the cadenced symmetry of its figures.

"Very smart--the countess!" La Faloise continued at the garden door.
"She's ten years younger than her daughter. By the by, Foucarmont, you
must decide on a point. Vandeuvres once bet that she had no thighs."

This affectation of cynicism bored the other gentlemen, and Foucarmont
contented himself by saying:

"Ask your cousin, dear boy. Here he is."

"Jove, it's a happy thought!" cried La Faloise. "I bet ten louis she has
thighs."

Fauchery did indeed come up. As became a constant inmate of the house,
he had gone round by the dining room in order to avoid the crowded
doors. Rose had taken him up again at the beginning of the winter, and
he was now dividing himself between the singer and the countess, but he
was extremely fatigued and did not know how to get rid of one of them.
Sabine flattered his vanity, but Rose amused him more than she. Besides,
the passion Rose felt was a real one: her tenderness for him was marked
by a conjugal fidelity which drove Mignon to despair.

"Listen, we want some information," said La Faloise as he squeezed his
cousin's arm. "You see that lady in white silk?"

Ever since his inheritance had given him a kind of insolent dash of
manner he had affected to chaff Fauchery, for he had an old grudge to
satisfy and wanted to be revenged for much bygone raillery, dating from
the days when he was just fresh from his native province.

"Yes, that lady with the lace."

The journalist stood on tiptoe, for as yet he did not understand.

"The countess?" he said at last.

"Exactly, my good friend. I've bet ten louis--now, has she thighs?"

And he fell a-laughing, for he was delighted to have succeeded in
snubbing a fellow who had once come heavily down on him for asking
whether the countess slept with anyone. But Fauchery, without showing
the very slightest astonishment, looked fixedly at him.

"Get along, you idiot!" he said finally as he shrugged his shoulders.

Then he shook hands with the other gentlemen, while La Faloise, in his
discomfiture, felt rather uncertain whether he had said something funny.
The men chatted. Since the races the banker and Foucarmont had formed
part of the set in the Avenue de Villiers. Nana was going on much
better, and every evening the count came and asked how she did.
Meanwhile Fauchery, though he listened, seemed preoccupied, for during
a quarrel that morning Rose had roundly confessed to the sending of the
letter. Oh yes, he might present himself at his great lady's house;
he would be well received! After long hesitation he had come despite
everything--out of sheer courage. But La Faloise's imbecile pleasantry
had upset him in spite of his apparent tranquillity.

"What's the matter?" asked Philippe. "You seem in trouble."

"I do? Not at all. I've been working: that's why I came so late."

Then coldly, in one of those heroic moods which, although unnoticed, are
wont to solve the vulgar tragedies of existence:

"All the same, I haven't made my bow to our hosts. One must be civil."

He even ventured on a joke, for he turned to La Faloise and said:

"Eh, you idiot?"

And with that he pushed his way through the crowd. The valet's full
voice was no longer shouting out names, but close to the door the count
and countess were still talking, for they were detained by ladies coming
in. At length he joined them, while the gentlemen who were still on
the garden steps stood on tiptoe so as to watch the scene. Nana, they
thought, must have been chattering.

"The count hasn't noticed him," muttered Georges. "Look out! He's
turning round; there, it's done!"

The band had again taken up the waltz in the Blonde Venus. Fauchery
had begun by bowing to the countess, who was still smiling in ecstatic
serenity. After which he had stood motionless a moment, waiting very
calmly behind the count's back. That evening the count's deportment was
one of lofty gravity: he held his head high, as became the official
and the great dignitary. And when at last he lowered his gaze in the
direction of the journalist he seemed still further to emphasize the
majesty of his attitude. For some seconds the two men looked at one
another. It was Fauchery who first stretched out his hand. Muffat gave
him his. Their hands remained clasped, and the Countess Sabine with
downcast eyes stood smiling before them, while the waltz continually
beat out its mocking, vagabond rhythm.

"But the thing's going on wheels!" said Steiner.

"Are their hands glued together?" asked Foucarmont, surprised at this
prolonged clasp. A memory he could not forget brought a faint glow to
Fanchery's pale cheeks, and in his mind's eye he saw the property room
bathed in greenish twilight and filled with dusty bric-a-brac. And
Muffat was there, eggcup in hand, making a clever use of his suspicions.
At this moment Muffat was no longer suspicious, and the last vestige of
his dignity was crumbling in ruin. Fauchery's fears were assuaged, and
when he saw the frank gaiety of the countess he was seized with a desire
to laugh. The thing struck him as comic.

"Aha, here she is at last!" cried La Faloise, who did not abandon a jest
when he thought it a good one. "D'you see Nana coming in over there?"

"Hold your tongue, do, you idiot!" muttered Philippe.

"But I tell you, it is Nana! They're playing her waltz for her, by Jove!
She's making her entry. And she takes part in the reconciliation, the
devil she does! What? You don't see her? She's squeezing all three of
'em to her heart--my cousin Fauchery, my lady cousin and her husband,
and she's calling 'em her dear kitties. Oh, those family scenes give me
a turn!"

Estelle had come up, and Fauchery complimented her while she stood
stiffly up in her rose-colored dress, gazing at him with the astonished
look of a silent child and constantly glancing aside at her father and
mother. Daguenet, too, exchanged a hearty shake of the hand with the
journalist. Together they made up a smiling group, while M. Venot came
gliding in behind them. He gloated over them with a beatified expression
and seemed to envelop them in his pious sweetness, for he rejoiced in
these last instances of self-abandonment which were preparing the means
of grace.

But the waltz still beat out its swinging, laughing, voluptuous measure;
it was like a shrill continuation of the life of pleasure which was
beating against the old house like a rising tide. The band blew louder
trills from their little flutes; their violins sent forth more swooning
notes. Beneath the Genoa velvet hangings, the gilding and the paintings,
the lusters exhaled a living heat and a great glow of sunlight, while
the crowd of guests, multiplied in the surrounding mirrors, seemed to
grow and increase as the murmur of many voices rose ever louder. The
couples who whirled round the drawing room, arm about waist, amid the
smiles of the seated ladies, still further accentuated the quaking of
the floors. In the garden a dull, fiery glow fell from the Venetian
lanterns and threw a distant reflection of flame over the dark shadows
moving in search of a breath of air about the walks at its farther end.
And this trembling of walls and this red glow of light seemed to betoken
a great ultimate conflagration in which the fabric of an ancient honor
was cracking and burning on every side. The shy early beginnings
of gaiety, of which Fauchery one April evening had heard the vocal
expression in the sound of breaking glass, had little by little grown
bolder, wilder, till they had burst forth in this festival. Now the
rift was growing; it was crannying the house and announcing approaching
downfall. Among drunkards in the slums it is black misery, an empty
cupboard, which put an end to ruined families; it is the madness of
drink which empties the wretched beds. Here the waltz tune was sounding
the knell of an old race amid the suddenly ignited ruins of accumulated
wealth, while Nana, although unseen, stretched her lithe limbs above the
dancers' heads and sent corruption through their caste, drenching the
hot air with the ferment of her exhalations and the vagabond lilt of the
music.

On the evening after the celebration of the church marriage Count Muffat
made his appearance in his wife's bedroom, where he had not entered for
the last two years. At first, in her great surprise, the countess drew
back from him. But she was still smiling the intoxicated smile which she
now always wore. He began stammering in extreme embarrassment; whereupon
she gave him a short moral lecture. However, neither of them risked a
decisive explanation. It was religion, they pretended, which required
this process of mutual forgiveness, and they agreed by a tacit
understanding to retain their freedom. Before going to bed, seeing
that the countess still appeared to hesitate, they had a business
conversation, and the count was the first to speak of selling the
Bordes. She consented at once. They both stood in great want of money,
and they would share and share alike. This completed the reconciliation,
and Muffat, remorseful though he was, felt veritably relieved.

That very day, as Nana was dozing toward two in the afternoon, Zoe made
so bold as to knock at her bedroom door. The curtains were drawn to,
and a hot breath of wind kept blowing through a window into the fresh
twilight stillness within. During these last days the young woman had
been getting up and about again, but she was still somewhat weak. She
opened her eyes and asked:

"Who is it?"

Zoe was about to reply, but Daguenet pushed by her and announced
himself in person. Nana forthwith propped herself up on her pillow and,
dismissing the lady's maid:

"What! Is that you?" she cried. "On the day of your marriage? What can
be the matter?"

Taken aback by the darkness, he stood still in the middle of the room.
However, he grew used to it and came forward at last. He was in evening
dress and wore a white cravat and gloves.

"Yes, to be sure, it's me!" he said. "You don't remember?"

No, she remembered nothing, and in his chaffing way he had to offer
himself frankly to her.

"Come now, here's your commission. I've brought you the handsel of my
innocence!"

And with that, as he was now by the bedside, she caught him in her bare
arms and shook with merry laughter and almost cried, she thought it so
pretty of him.

"Oh, that Mimi, how funny he is! He's thought of it after all! And to
think I didn't remember it any longer! So you've slipped off; you're
just out of church. Yes, certainly, you've got a scent of incense about
you. But kiss me, kiss me! Oh, harder than that, Mimi dear! Bah! Perhaps
it's for the last time."

In the dim room, where a vague odor of ether still lingered, their
tender laughter died away suddenly. The heavy, warm breeze swelled
the window curtains, and children's voices were audible in the avenue
without. Then the lateness of the hour tore them asunder and set them
joking again. Daguenet took his departure with his wife directly after
the breakfast.



CHAPTER XIII


Toward the end of September Count Muffat, who was to dine at Nana's that
evening, came at nightfall to inform her of a summons to the Tuileries.
The lamps in the house had not been lit yet, and the servants were
laughing uproariously in the kitchen regions as he softly mounted the
stairs, where the tall windows gleamed in warm shadow. The door of the
drawing room up-stairs opened noiselessly. A faint pink glow was dying
out on the ceiling of the room, and the red hangings, the deep divans,
the lacquered furniture, with their medley of embroidered fabrics and
bronzes and china, were already sleeping under a slowly creeping flood
of shadows, which drowned nooks and corners and blotted out the gleam
of ivory and the glint of gold. And there in the darkness, on the white
surface of a wide, outspread petticoat, which alone remained clearly
visible, he saw Nana lying stretched in the arms of Georges. Denial in
any shape or form was impossible. He gave a choking cry and stood gaping
at them.

Nana had bounded up, and now she pushed him into the bedroom in order to
give the lad time to escape.

"Come in," she murmured with reeling senses, "I'll explain."

She was exasperated at being thus surprised. Never before had she given
way like this in her own house, in her own drawing room, when the doors
were open. It was a long story: Georges and she had had a disagreement;
he had been mad with jealousy of Philippe, and he had sobbed so bitterly
on her bosom that she had yielded to him, not knowing how else to calm
him and really very full of pity for him at heart. And on this solitary
occasion, when she had been stupid enough to forget herself thus with a
little rascal who could not even now bring her bouquets of violets,
so short did his mother keep him--on this solitary occasion the count
turned up and came straight down on them. 'Gad, she had very bad luck!
That was what one got if one was a good-natured wench!

Meanwhile in the bedroom, into which she had pushed Muffat, the darkness
was complete. Whereupon after some groping she rang furiously and asked
for a lamp. It was Julien's fault too! If there had been a lamp in the
drawing room the whole affair would not have happened. It was the stupid
nightfall which had got the better of her heart.

"I beseech you to be reasonable, my pet," she said when Zoe had brought
in the lights.

The count, with his hands on his knees, was sitting gazing at the floor.
He was stupefied by what he had just seen. He did not cry out in anger.
He only trembled, as though overtaken by some horror which was freezing
him. This dumb misery touched the young woman, and she tried to comfort
him.

"Well, yes, I've done wrong. It's very bad what I did. You see I'm sorry
for my fault. It makes me grieve very much because it annoys you. Come
now, be nice, too, and forgive me."

She had crouched down at his feet and was striving to catch his eye with
a look of tender submission. She was fain to know whether he was very
vexed with her. Presently, as he gave a long sigh and seemed to recover
himself, she grew more coaxing and with grave kindness of manner added a
final reason:

"You see, dearie, you must try and understand how it is: I can't refuse
it to my poor friends."

The count consented to give way and only insisted that Georges should
be dismissed once for all. But all his illusions had vanished, and he no
longer believed in her sworn fidelity. Next day Nana would deceive him
anew, and he only remained her miserable possessor in obedience to a
cowardly necessity and to terror at the thought of living without her.

This was the epoch in her existence when Nana flared upon Paris with
redoubled splendor. She loomed larger than heretofore on the horizon of
vice and swayed the town with her impudently flaunted splendor and that
contempt of money which made her openly squander fortunes. Her house had
become a sort of glowing smithy, where her continual desires were the
flames and the slightest breath from her lips changed gold into fine
ashes, which the wind hourly swept away. Never had eye beheld such a
rage of expenditure. The great house seemed to have been built over a
gulf in which men--their worldly possessions, their fortunes, their very
names--were swallowed up without leaving even a handful of dust behind
them. This courtesan, who had the tastes of a parrot and gobbled up
radishes and burnt almonds and pecked at the meat upon her plate, had
monthly table bills amounting to five thousand francs. The wildest waste
went on in the kitchen: the place, metaphorically speaking was one great
river which stove in cask upon cask of wine and swept great bills with
it, swollen by three or four successive manipulators. Victorine and
Francois reigned supreme in the kitchen, whither they invited friends.
In addition to these there was quite a little tribe of cousins, who were
cockered up in their homes with cold meats and strong soup. Julien made
the trades-people give him commissions, and the glaziers never put up
a pane of glass at a cost of a franc and a half but he had a franc
put down to himself. Charles devoured the horses' oats and doubled the
amount of their provender, reselling at the back door what came in at
the carriage gate, while amid the general pillage, the sack of the
town after the storm, Zoe, by dint of cleverness, succeeded in saving
appearances and covering the thefts of all in order the better to slur
over and make good her own. But the household waste was worse than the
household dishonesty. Yesterday's food was thrown into the gutter, and
the collection of provisions in the house was such that the servants
grew disgusted with it. The glass was all sticky with sugar, and the gas
burners flared and flared till the rooms seemed ready to explode.
Then, too, there were instances of negligence and mischief and sheer
accident--of everything, in fact, which can hasten the ruin of a house
devoured by so many mouths. Upstairs in Madame's quarters destruction
raged more fiercely still. Dresses, which cost ten thousand francs and
had been twice worn, were sold by Zoe; jewels vanished as though they
had crumbled deep down in their drawers; stupid purchases were made;
every novelty of the day was brought and left to lie forgotten in some
corner the morning after or swept up by ragpickers in the street. She
could not see any very expensive object without wanting to possess it,
and so she constantly surrounded herself with the wrecks of bouquets and
costly knickknacks and was the happier the more her passing fancy cost.
Nothing remained intact in her hands; she broke everything, and this
object withered, and that grew dirty in the clasp of her lithe white
fingers. A perfect heap of nameless debris, of twisted shreds and
muddy rags, followed her and marked her passage. Then amid this utter
squandering of pocket money cropped up a question about the big bills
and their settlement. Twenty thousand francs were due to the modiste,
thirty thousand to the linen draper, twelve thousand to the bootmaker.
Her stable devoured fifty thousand for her, and in six months she ran
up a bill of a hundred and twenty thousand francs at her ladies' tailor.
Though she had not enlarged her scheme of expenditure, which Labordette
reckoned at four hundred thousand francs on an average, she ran up that
same year to a million. She was herself stupefied by the amount and was
unable to tell whither such a sum could have gone. Heaps upon heaps of
men, barrowfuls of gold, failed to stop up the hole, which, amid this
ruinous luxury, continually gaped under the floor of her house.

Meanwhile Nana had cherished her latest caprice. Once more exercised
by the notion that her room needed redoing, she fancied she had hit on
something at last. The room should be done in velvet of the color of tea
roses, with silver buttons and golden cords, tassels and fringes, and
the hangings should be caught up to the ceiling after the manner of a
tent. This arrangement ought to be both rich and tender, she thought,
and would form a splendid background to her blonde vermeil-tinted skin.
However, the bedroom was only designed to serve as a setting to the bed,
which was to be a dazzling affair, a prodigy. Nana meditated a bed such
as had never before existed; it was to be a throne, an altar, whither
Paris was to come in order to adore her sovereign nudity. It was to be
all in gold and silver beaten work--it should suggest a great piece of
jewelry with its golden roses climbing on a trelliswork of silver. On
the headboard a band of Loves should peep forth laughing from amid the
flowers, as though they were watching the voluptuous dalliance within
the shadow of the bed curtains. Nana had applied to Labordette who
had brought two goldsmiths to see her. They were already busy with the
designs. The bed would cost fifty thousand francs, and Muffat was to
give it her as a New Year's present.

What most astonished the young woman was that she was endlessly short of
money amid a river of gold, the tide of which almost enveloped her. On
certain days she was at her wit's end for want of ridiculously small
sums--sums of only a few louis. She was driven to borrow from Zoe, or
she scraped up cash as well as she could on her own account. But before
resignedly adopting extreme measures she tried her friends and in a
joking sort of way got the men to give her all they had about them, even
down to their coppers. For the last three months she had been emptying
Philippe's pockets especially, and now on days of passionate enjoyment
he never came away but he left his purse behind him. Soon she grew
bolder and asked him for loans of two hundred francs, three hundred
francs--never more than that--wherewith to pay the interest of bills
or to stave off outrageous debts. And Philippe, who in July had been
appointed paymaster to his regiment, would bring the money the day
after, apologizing at the same time for not being rich, seeing that good
Mamma Hugon now treated her sons with singular financial severity. At
the close of three months these little oft-renewed loans mounted up to
a sum of ten thousand francs. The captain still laughed his
hearty-sounding laugh, but he was growing visibly thinner, and sometimes
he seemed absent-minded, and a shade of suffering would pass over his
face. But one look from Nana's eyes would transfigure him in a sort
of sensual ecstasy. She had a very coaxing way with him and would
intoxicate him with furtive kisses and yield herself to him in sudden
fits of self-abandonment, which tied him to her apron strings the moment
he was able to escape from his military duties.

One evening, Nana having announced that her name, too, was Therese and
that her fete day was the fifteenth of October, the gentlemen all sent
her presents. Captain Philippe brought his himself; it was an old comfit
dish in Dresden china, and it had a gold mount. He found her alone in
her dressing room. She had just emerged from the bath, had nothing
on save a great red-and-white flannel bathing wrap and was very busy
examining her presents, which were ranged on a table. She had already
broken a rock-crystal flask in her attempts to unstopper it.

"Oh, you're too nice!" she said. "What is it? Let's have a peep! What a
baby you are to spend your pennies in little fakements like that!"

She scolded him, seeing that he was not rich, but at heart she was
delighted to see him spending his whole substance for her. Indeed, this
was the only proof of love which had power to touch her. Meanwhile she
was fiddling away at the comfit dish, opening it and shutting it in her
desire to see how it was made.

"Take care," he murmured, "it's brittle."

But she shrugged her shoulders. Did he think her as clumsy as a street
porter? And all of a sudden the hinge came off between her fingers and
the lid fell and was broken. She was stupefied and remained gazing at
the fragments as she cried:

"Oh, it's smashed!"

Then she burst out laughing. The fragments lying on the floor tickled
her fancy. Her merriment was of the nervous kind, the stupid, spiteful
laughter of a child who delights in destruction. Philippe had a little
fit of disgust, for the wretched girl did not know what anguish this
curio had cost him. Seeing him thoroughly upset, she tried to contain
herself.

"Gracious me, it isn't my fault! It was cracked; those old things barely
hold together. Besides, it was the cover! Didn't you see the bound it
gave?"

And she once more burst into uproarious mirth.

But though he made an effort to the contrary, tears appeared in the
young man's eyes, and with that she flung her arms tenderly round his
neck.

"How silly you are! You know I love you all the same. If one never
broke anything the tradesmen would never sell anything. All that sort of
thing's made to be broken. Now look at this fan; it's only held together
with glue!"

She had snatched up a fan and was dragging at the blades so that the
silk was torn in two. This seemed to excite her, and in order to show
that she scorned the other presents, the moment she had ruined his she
treated herself to a general massacre, rapping each successive object
and proving clearly that not one was solid in that she had broken them
all. There was a lurid glow in her vacant eyes, and her lips, slightly
drawn back, displayed her white teeth. Soon, when everything was in
fragments, she laughed cheerily again and with flushed cheeks beat on
the table with the flat of her hands, lisping like a naughty little
girl:

"All over! Got no more! Got no more!"

Then Philippe was overcome by the same mad excitement, and, pushing
her down, he merrily kissed her bosom. She abandoned herself to him
and clung to his shoulders with such gleeful energy that she could not
remember having enjoyed herself so much for an age past. Without letting
go of him she said caressingly:

"I say, dearie, you ought certainly to bring me ten louis tomorrow. It's
a bore, but there's the baker's bill worrying me awfully."

He had grown pale. Then imprinting a final kiss on her forehead, he said
simply:

"I'll try."

Silence reigned. She was dressing, and he stood pressing his forehead
against the windowpanes. A minute passed, and he returned to her and
deliberately continued:

"Nana, you ought to marry me."

This notion straightway so tickled the young woman that she was unable
to finish tying on her petticoats.

"My poor pet, you're ill! D'you offer me your hand because I ask you for
ten louis? No, never! I'm too fond of you. Good gracious, what a silly
question!"

And as Zoe entered in order to put her boots on, they ceased talking of
the matter. The lady's maid at once espied the presents lying broken in
pieces on the table. She asked if she should put these things away,
and, Madame having bidden her get rid of them, she carried the whole
collection off in the folds of her dress. In the kitchen a sorting-out
process began, and Madame's debris were shared among the servants.

That day Georges had slipped into the house despite Nana's orders to the
contrary. Francois had certainly seen him pass, but the servants had
now got to laugh among themselves at their good lady's embarrassing
situations. He had just slipped as far as the little drawing room when
his brother's voice stopped him, and, as one powerless to tear himself
from the door, he overheard everything that went on within, the kisses,
the offer of marriage. A feeling of horror froze him, and he went away
in a state bordering on imbecility, feeling as though there were a great
void in his brain. It was only in his own room above his mother's flat
in the Rue Richelieu that his heart broke in a storm of furious sobs.
This time there could be no doubt about the state of things; a horrible
picture of Nana in Philippe's arms kept rising before his mind's eye. It
struck him in the light of an incest. When he fancied himself calm again
the remembrance of it all would return, and in fresh access of raging
jealousy he would throw himself on the bed, biting the coverlet,
shouting infamous accusations which maddened him the more. Thus the day
passed. In order to stay shut up in his room he spoke of having a sick
headache. But the night proved more terrible still; a murder fever shook
him amid continual nightmares. Had his brother lived in the house,
he would have gone and killed him with the stab of a knife. When day
returned he tried to reason things out. It was he who ought to die, and
he determined to throw himself out of the window when an omnibus was
passing. Nevertheless, he went out toward ten o'clock and traversed
Paris, wandered up and down on the bridges and at the last moment felt
an unconquerable desire to see Nana once more. With one word, perhaps,
she would save him. And three o'clock was striking when he entered the
house in the Avenue de Villiers.

Toward noon a frightful piece of news had simply crushed Mme Hugon.
Philippe had been in prison since the evening of the previous day,
accused of having stolen twelve thousand francs from the chest of his
regiment. For the last three months he had been withdrawing small sums
therefrom in the hope of being able to repay them, while he had
covered the deficit with false money. Thanks to the negligence of the
administrative committee, this fraud had been constantly successful. The
old lady, humbled utterly by her child's crime, had at once cried out
in anger against Nana. She knew Philippe's connection with her, and her
melancholy had been the result of this miserable state of things which
kept her in Paris in constant dread of some final catastrophe. But
she had never looked forward to such shame as this, and now she blamed
herself for refusing him money, as though such refusal had made her
accessory to his act. She sank down on an armchair; her legs were seized
with paralysis, and she felt herself to be useless, incapable of action
and destined to stay where she was till she died. But the sudden thought
of Georges comforted her. Georges was still left her; he would be able
to act, perhaps to save them. Thereupon, without seeking aid of anyone
else--for she wished to keep these matters shrouded in the bosom of her
family--she dragged herself up to the next story, her mind possessed by
the idea that she still had someone to love about her. But upstairs she
found an empty room. The porter told her that M. Georges had gone out
at an early hour. The room was haunted by the ghost of yet another
calamity; the bed with its gnawed bedclothes bore witness to someone's
anguish, and a chair which lay amid a heap of clothes on the ground
looked like something dead. Georges must be at that woman's house, and
so with dry eyes and feet that had regained their strength Mme Hugon
went downstairs. She wanted her sons; she was starting to reclaim them.

Since morning Nana had been much worried. First of all it was the baker,
who at nine o'clock had turned up, bill in hand. It was a wretched
story. He had supplied her with bread to the amount of a hundred and
thirty-three francs, and despite her royal housekeeping she could not
pay it. In his irritation at being put off he had presented himself
a score of times since the day he had refused further credit, and the
servants were now espousing his cause. Francois kept saying that Madame
would never pay him unless he made a fine scene; Charles talked of going
upstairs, too, in order to get an old unpaid straw bill settled, while
Victorine advised them to wait till some gentleman was with her, when
they would get the money out of her by suddenly asking for it in the
middle of conversation. The kitchen was in a savage mood: the tradesmen
were all kept posted in the course events were taking, and there were
gossiping consultations, lasting three or four hours on a stretch,
during which Madame was stripped, plucked and talked over with the
wrathful eagerness peculiar to an idle, overprosperous servants' hall.
Julien, the house steward, alone pretended to defend his mistress.
She was quite the thing, whatever they might say! And when the others
accused him of sleeping with her he laughed fatuously, thereby driving
the cook to distraction, for she would have liked to be a man in
order to "spit on such women's backsides," so utterly would they have
disgusted her. Francois, without informing Madame of it, had wickedly
posted the baker in the hall, and when she came downstairs at lunch time
she found herself face to face with him. Taking the bill, she told him
to return toward three o'clock, whereupon, with many foul expressions,
he departed, vowing that he would have things properly settled and get
his money by hook or by crook.

Nana made a very bad lunch, for the scene had annoyed her. Next time the
man would have to be definitely got rid of. A dozen times she had put
his money aside for him, but it had as constantly melted away, sometimes
in the purchase of flowers, at others in the shape of a subscription
got up for the benefit of an old gendarme. Besides, she was counting on
Philippe and was astonished not to see him make his appearance with his
two hundred francs. It was regular bad luck, seeing that the day before
yesterday she had again given Satin an outfit, a perfect trousseau this
time, some twelve hundred francs' worth of dresses and linen, and now
she had not a louis remaining.

Toward two o'clock, when Nana was beginning to be anxious, Labordette
presented himself. He brought with him the designs for the bed, and this
caused a diversion, a joyful interlude which made the young woman forget
all her troubles. She clapped her hands and danced about. After which,
her heart bursting wish curiosity, she leaned over a table in the
drawing room and examined the designs, which Labordette proceeded to
explain to her.

"You see," he said, "this is the body of the bed. In the middle here
there's a bunch of roses in full bloom, and then comes a garland of buds
and flowers. The leaves are to be in yellow and the roses in red-gold.
And here's the grand design for the bed's head; Cupids dancing in a ring
on a silver trelliswork."

But Nana interrupted him, for she was beside herself with ecstasy.

"Oh, how funny that little one is, that one in the corner, with his
behind in the air! Isn't he now? And what a sly laugh! They've all got
such dirty, wicked eyes! You know, dear boy, I shall never dare play any
silly tricks before THEM!"

Her pride was flattered beyond measure. The goldsmiths had declared that
no queen anywhere slept in such a bed. However, a difficulty presented
itself. Labordette showed her two designs for the footboard, one of
which reproduced the pattern on the sides, while the other, a subject by
itself, represented Night wrapped in her veil and discovered by a faun
in all her splendid nudity. He added that if she chose this last subject
the goldsmiths intended making Night in her own likeness. This idea, the
taste of which was rather risky, made her grow white with pleasure,
and she pictured herself as a silver statuette, symbolic of the warm,
voluptuous delights of darkness.

"Of course you will only sit for the head and shoulders," said
Labordette.

She looked quietly at him.

"Why? The moment a work of art's in question I don't mind the sculptor
that takes my likeness a blooming bit!"

Of course it must be understood that she was choosing the subject. But
at this he interposed.

"Wait a moment; it's six thousand francs extra."

"It's all the same to me, by Jove!" she cried, bursting into a laugh.
"Hasn't my little rough got the rhino?"

Nowadays among her intimates she always spoke thus of Count Muffat, and
the gentlemen had ceased to inquire after him otherwise.

"Did you see your little rough last night?" they used to say.

"Dear me, I expected to find the little rough here!"

It was a simple familiarity enough, which, nevertheless, she did not as
yet venture on in his presence.

Labordette began rolling up the designs as he gave the final
explanations. The goldsmiths, he said, were undertaking to deliver the
bed in two months' time, toward the twenty-fifth of December, and
next week a sculptor would come to make a model for the Night. As
she accompanied him to the door Nana remembered the baker and briskly
inquired:

"By the by, you wouldn't be having ten louis about you?"

Labordette made it a solemn rule, which stood him in good stead, never
to lend women money. He used always to make the same reply.

"No, my girl, I'm short. But would you like me to go to your little
rough?"

She refused; it was useless. Two days before she had succeeded in
getting five thousand francs out of the count. However, she soon
regretted her discreet conduct, for the moment Labordette had gone the
baker reappeared, though it was barely half-past two, and with many loud
oaths roughly settled himself on a bench in the hall. The young woman
listened to him from the first floor. She was pale, and it caused her
especial pain to hear the servants' secret rejoicings swelling up louder
and louder till they even reached her ears. Down in the kitchen they
were dying of laughter. The coachman was staring across from the other
side of the court; Francois was crossing the hall without any apparent
reason. Then he hurried off to report progress, after sneering knowingly
at the baker. They didn't care a damn for Madame; the walls were echoing
to their laughter, and she felt that she was deserted on all hands and
despised by the servants' hall, the inmates of which were watching her
every movement and liberally bespattering her with the filthiest of
chaff. Thereupon she abandoned the intention of borrowing the hundred
and thirty-three francs from Zoe; she already owed the maid money, and
she was too proud to risk a refusal now. Such a burst of feeling stirred
her that she went back into her room, loudly remarking:

"Come, come, my girl, don't count on anyone but yourself. Your body's
your own property, and it's better to make use of it than to let
yourself be insulted."

And without even summoning Zoe she dressed herself with feverish haste
in order to run round to the Tricon's. In hours of great embarrassment
this was her last resource. Much sought after and constantly solicited
by the old lady, she would refuse or resign herself according to her
needs, and on these increasingly frequent occasions when both ends would
not meet in her royally conducted establishment, she was sure to find
twenty-five louis awaiting her at the other's house. She used to betake
herself to the Tricon's with the ease born of use, just as the poor go
to the pawnshop.

But as she left her own chamber Nana came suddenly upon Georges standing
in the middle of the drawing room. Not noticing his waxen pallor and the
somber fire in his wide eyes, she gave a sigh of relief.

"Ah, you've come from your brother."

"No," said the lad, growing yet paler.

At this she gave a despairing shrug. What did he want? Why was he
barring her way? She was in a hurry--yes, she was. Then returning to
where he stood:

"You've no money, have you?"

"No."

"That's true. How silly of me! Never a stiver; not even their omnibus
fares Mamma doesn't wish it! Oh, what a set of men!"

And she escaped. But he held her back; he wanted to speak to her. She
was fairly under way and again declared she had no time, but he stopped
her with a word.

"Listen, I know you're going to marry my brother."

Gracious! The thing was too funny! And she let herself down into a chair
in order to laugh at her ease.

"Yes," continued the lad, "and I don't wish it. It's I you're going to
marry. That's why I've come."

"Eh, what? You too?" she cried. "Why, it's a family disease, is it? No,
never! What a fancy, to be sure! Have I ever asked you to do anything so
nasty? Neither one nor t'other of you! No, never!"

The lad's face brightened. Perhaps he had been deceiving himself! He
continued:

"Then swear to me that you don't go to bed with my brother."

"Oh, you're beginning to bore me now!" said Nana, who had risen with
renewed impatience. "It's amusing for a little while, but when I tell
you I'm in a hurry--I go to bed with your brother if it pleases me. Are
you keeping me--are you paymaster here that you insist on my making a
report? Yes, I go to bed with your brother."

He had caught hold of her arm and squeezed it hard enough to break it as
he stuttered:

"Don't say that! Don't say that!"

With a slight blow she disengaged herself from his grasp.

"He's maltreating me now! Here's a young ruffian for you! My chicken,
you'll leave this jolly sharp. I used to keep you about out of niceness.
Yes, I did! You may stare! Did you think I was going to be your mamma
till I died? I've got better things to do than to bring up brats."

He listened to her stark with anguish, yet in utter submission. Her
every word cut him to the heart so sharply that he felt he should die.
She did not so much as notice his suffering and continued delightedly to
revenge herself on him for the annoyance of the morning.

"It's like your brother; he's another pretty Johnny, he is! He promised
me two hundred francs. Oh, dear me; yes, I can wait for 'em. It isn't
his money I care for! I've not got enough to pay for hair oil. Yes, he's
leaving me in a jolly fix! Look here, d'you want to know how matters
stand? Here goes then: it's all owing to your brother that I'm going out
to earn twenty-five louis with another man."

At these words his head spun, and he barred her egress. He cried; he
besought her not to go, clasping his hands together and blurting out:

"Oh no! Oh no!"

"I want to, I do," she said. "Have you the money?"

No, he had not got the money. He would have given his life to have
the money! Never before had he felt so miserable, so useless, so very
childish. All his wretched being was shaken with weeping and gave proof
of such heavy suffering that at last she noticed it and grew kind. She
pushed him away softly.

"Come, my pet, let me pass; I must. Be reasonable. You're a baby boy,
and it was very nice for a week, but nowadays I must look after my own
affairs. Just think it over a bit. Now your brother's a man; what I'm
saying doesn't apply to him. Oh, please do me a favor; it's no good
telling him all this. He needn't know where I'm going. I always let out
too much when I'm in a rage."

She began laughing. Then taking him in her arms and kissing him on the
forehead:

"Good-by, baby," she said; "it's over, quite over between us; d'you
understand? And now I'm off!"

And she left him, and he stood in the middle of the drawing room. Her
last words rang like the knell of a tocsin in his ears: "It's over,
quite over!" And he thought the ground was opening beneath his feet.
There was a void in his brain from which the man awaiting Nana had
disappeared. Philippe alone remained there in the young woman's bare
embrace forever and ever. She did not deny it: she loved him, since she
wanted to spare him the pain of her infidelity. It was over, quite over.
He breathed heavily and gazed round the room, suffocating beneath
a crushing weight. Memories kept recurring to him one after the
other--memories of merry nights at La Mignotte, of amorous hours during
which he had fancied himself her child, of pleasures stolen in this very
room. And now these things would never, never recur! He was too small;
he had not grown up quickly enough; Philippe was supplanting him because
he was a bearded man. So then this was the end; he could not go on
living. His vicious passion had become transformed into an infinite
tenderness, a sensual adoration, in which his whole being was merged.
Then, too, how was he to forget it all if his brother remained--his
brother, blood of his blood, a second self, whose enjoyment drove him
mad with jealousy? It was the end of all things; he wanted to die.

All the doors remained open, as the servants noisily scattered over the
house after seeing Madame make her exit on foot. Downstairs on the bench
in the hall the baker was laughing with Charles and Francois. Zoe
came running across the drawing room and seemed surprised at sight
of Georges. She asked him if he were waiting for Madame. Yes, he was
waiting for her; he had for-gotten to give her an answer to a question.
And when he was alone he set to work and searched. Finding nothing else
to suit his purpose, he took up in the dressing room a pair of very
sharply pointed scissors with which Nana had a mania for ceaselessly
trimming herself, either by polishing her skin or cutting off little
hairs. Then for a whole hour he waited patiently, his hand in his pocket
and his fingers tightly clasped round the scissors.

"Here's Madame," said Zoe, returning. She must have espied her through
the bedroom window.

There was a sound of people racing through the house, and laughter
died away and doors were shut. Georges heard Nana paying the baker and
speaking in the curtest way. Then she came upstairs.

"What, you're here still!" she said as she noticed him. "Aha! We're
going to grow angry, my good man!"

He followed her as she walked toward her bedroom.

"Nana, will you marry me?"

She shrugged her shoulders. It was too stupid; she refused to answer any
more and conceived the idea of slamming the door in his face.

"Nana, will you marry me?"

She slammed the door. He opened it with one hand while he brought the
other and the scissors out of his pocket. And with one great stab he
simply buried them in his breast.

Nana, meanwhile, had felt conscious that something dreadful would
happen, and she had turned round. When she saw him stab himself she was
seized with indignation.

"Oh, what a fool he is! What a fool! And with my scissors! Will you
leave off, you naughty little rogue? Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

She was scared. Sinking on his knees, the boy had just given himself
a second stab, which sent him down at full length on the carpet. He
blocked the threshold of the bedroom. With that Nana lost her head
utterly and screamed with all her might, for she dared not step over
his body, which shut her in and prevented her from running to seek
assistance.

"Zoe! Zoe! Come at once. Make him leave off. It's getting stupid--a
child like that! He's killing himself now! And in my place too! Did you
ever see the like of it?"

He was frightening her. He was all white, and his eyes were shut. There
was scarcely any bleeding--only a little blood, a tiny stain which was
oozing down into his waistcoat. She was making up her mind to step over
the body when an apparition sent her starting back. An old lady was
advancing through the drawing-room door, which remained wide open
opposite. And in her terror she recognized Mme Hugon but could not
explain her presence. Still wearing her gloves and hat, Nana kept
edging backward, and her terror grew so great that she sought to defend
herself, and in a shaky voice:

"Madame," she cried, "it isn't I; I swear to you it isn't. He wanted to
marry me, and I said no, and he's killed himself!"

Slowly Mme Hugon drew near--she was in black, and her face showed pale
under her white hair. In the carriage, as she drove thither, the thought
of Georges had vanished and that of Philippe's misdoing had again taken
complete possession of her. It might be that this woman could afford
explanations to the judges which would touch them, and so she conceived
the project of begging her to bear witness in her son's favor.
Downstairs the doors of the house stood open, but as she mounted to the
first floor her sick feet failed her, and she was hesitating as to
which way to go when suddenly horror-stricken cries directed her. Then
upstairs she found a man lying on the floor with bloodstained shirt. It
was Georges--it was her other child.

Nana, in idiotic tones, kept saying:

"He wanted to marry me, and I said no, and he's killed himself."

Uttering no cry, Mme Hugon stooped down. Yes, it was the other one; it
was Georges. The one was brought to dishonor, the other murdered! It
caused her no surprise, for her whole life was ruined. Kneeling on the
carpet, utterly forgetting where she was, noticing no one else, she
gazed fixedly at her boy's face and listened with her hand on his heart.
Then she gave a feeble sigh--she had felt the heart beating. And with
that she lifted her head and scrutinized the room and the woman and
seemed to remember. A fire glowed forth in her vacant eyes, and she
looked so great and terrible in her silence that Nana trembled as she
continued to defend herself above the body that divided them.

"I swear it, madame! If his brother were here he could explain it to
you."

"His brother has robbed--he is in prison," said the mother in a hard
voice.

Nana felt a choking sensation. Why, what was the reason of it all? The
other had turned thief now! They were mad in that family! She ceased
struggling in self-defense; she seemed no longer mistress in her own
house and allowed Mme Hugon to give what orders she liked. The servants
had at last hurried up, and the old lady insisted on their carrying the
fainting Georges down to her carriage. She preferred killing him rather
than letting him remain in that house. With an air of stupefaction Nana
watched the retreating servants as they supported poor, dear Zizi by
his legs and shoulders. The mother walked behind them in a state of
collapse; she supported herself against the furniture; she felt as if
all she held dear had vanished in the void. On the landing a sob escaped
her; she turned and twice ejaculated:

"Oh, but you've done us infinite harm! You've done us infinite harm!"

That was all. In her stupefaction Nana had sat down; she still wore her
gloves and her hat. The house once more lapsed into heavy silence; the
carriage had driven away, and she sat motionless, not knowing what to do
next, her head swimming after all she had gone through. A quarter of an
hour later Count Muffat found her thus, but at sight of him she relieved
her feelings in an overflowing current of talk. She told him all about
the sad incident, repeated the same details twenty times over, picked
up the bloodstained scissors in order to imitate Zizi's gesture when he
stabbed himself. And above all she nursed the idea of proving her own
innocence.

"Look you here, dearie, is it my fault? If you were the judge would you
condemn me? I certainly didn't tell Philippe to meddle with the till
any more than I urged that wretched boy to kill himself. I've been most
unfortunate throughout it all. They come and do stupid things in my
place; they make me miserable; they treat me like a hussy."

And she burst into tears. A fit of nervous expansiveness rendered her
soft and doleful, and her immense distress melted her utterly.

"And you, too, look as if you weren't satisfied. Now do just ask Zoe if
I'm at all mixed up in it. Zoe, do speak: explain to Monsieur--"

The lady's maid, having brought a towel and a basin of water out of
the dressing room, had for some moments past been rubbing the carpet in
order to remove the bloodstains before they dried.

"Oh, monsieur," she declared, "Madame is utterly miserable!"

Muffat was still stupefied; the tragedy had frozen him, and his
imagination was full of the mother weeping for her sons. He knew her
greatness of heart and pictured her in her widow's weeds, withering
solitarily away at Les Fondettes. But Nana grew ever more despondent,
for now the memory of Zizi lying stretched on the floor, with a red hole
in his shirt, almost drove her senseless.

"He used to be such a darling, so sweet and caressing. Oh, you know, my
pet--I'm sorry if it vexes you--I loved that baby! I can't help saying
so; the words must out. Besides, now it ought not to hurt you at all.
He's gone. You've got what you wanted; you're quite certain never to
surprise us again."

And this last reflection tortured her with such regret that he ended by
turning comforter. Well, well, he said, she ought to be brave; she was
quite right; it wasn't her fault! But she checked her lamentations of
her own accord in order to say:

"Listen, you must run round and bring me news of him. At once! I wish
it!"

He took his hat and went to get news of Georges. When he returned after
some three quarters of an hour he saw Nana leaning anxiously out of a
window, and he shouted up to her from the pavement that the lad was
not dead and that they even hoped to bring him through. At this she
immediately exchanged grief for excess of joy and began to sing
and dance and vote existence delightful. Zoe, meanwhile, was still
dissatisfied with her washing. She kept looking at the stain, and every
time she passed it she repeated:

"You know it's not gone yet, madame."

As a matter of fact, the pale red stain kept reappearing on one of
the white roses in the carpet pattern. It was as though, on the very
threshold of the room, a splash of blood were barring the doorway.

"Bah!" said the joyous Nana. "That'll be rubbed out under people's feet."

After the following day Count Muffat had likewise forgotten the
incident. For a moment or two, when in the cab which drove him to the
Rue Richelieu, he had busily sworn never to return to that woman's
house. Heaven was warning him; the misfortunes of Philippe and Georges
were, he opined, prophetic of his proper ruin. But neither the sight
of Mme Hugon in tears nor that of the boy burning with fever had been
strong enough to make him keep his vow, and the short-lived horror of
the situation had only left behind it a sense of secret delight at the
thought that he was now well quit of a rival, the charm of whose
youth had always exasperated him. His passion had by this time grown
exclusive; it was, indeed, the passion of a man who has had no youth.
He loved Nana as one who yearned to be her sole possessor, to listen to
her, to touch her, to be breathed on by her. His was now a supersensual
tenderness, verging on pure sentiment; it was an anxious affection and
as such was jealous of the past and apt at times to dream of a day of
redemption and pardon received, when both should kneel before God the
Father. Every day religion kept regaining its influence over him.
He again became a practicing Christian; he confessed himself and
communicated, while a ceaseless struggle raged within him, and remorse
redoubled the joys of sin and of repentance. Afterward, when his
director gave him leave to spend his passion, he had made a habit of
this daily perdition and would redeem the same by ecstasies of faith,
which were full of pious humility. Very naively he offered heaven,
by way of expiatory anguish, the abominable torment from which he was
suffering. This torment grew and increased, and he would climb his
Calvary with the deep and solemn feelings of a believer, though steeped
in a harlot's fierce sensuality. That which made his agony most poignant
was this woman's continued faithlessness. He could not share her with
others, nor did he understand her imbecile caprices. Undying, unchanging
love was what he wished for. However, she had sworn, and he paid her as
having done so. But he felt that she was untruthful, incapable of
common fidelity, apt to yield to friends, to stray passers-by, like a
good-natured animal, born to live minus a shift.

One morning when he saw Foucarmont emerging from her bedroom at an
unusual hour, he made a scene about it. But in her weariness of his
jealousy she grew angry directly. On several occasions ere that she had
behaved rather prettily. Thus the evening when he surprised her with
Georges she was the first to regain her temper and to confess herself
in the wrong. She had loaded him with caresses and dosed him with soft
speeches in order to make him swallow the business. But he had ended
by boring her to death with his obstinate refusals to understand the
feminine nature, and now she was brutal.

"Very well, yes! I've slept with Foucarmont. What then? That's flattened
you out a bit, my little rough, hasn't it?"

It was the first time she had thrown "my little rough" in his teeth. The
frank directness of her avowal took his breath away, and when he began
clenching his fists she marched up to him and looked him full in the
face.

"We've had enough of this, eh? If it doesn't suit you you'll do me the
pleasure of leaving the house. I don't want you to go yelling in my
place. Just you get it into your noodle that I mean to be quite free.
When a man pleases me I go to bed with him. Yes, I do--that's my way!
And you must make up your mind directly. Yes or no! If it's no, out you
may walk!"

She had gone and opened the door, but he did not leave. That was her way
now of binding him more closely to her. For no reason whatever, at the
slightest approach to a quarrel she would tell him he might stop or
go as he liked, and she would accompany her permission with a flood of
odious reflections. She said she could always find better than he; she
had only too many from whom to choose; men in any quantity could be
picked up in the street, and men a good deal smarter, too, whose blood
boiled in their veins. At this he would hang his head and wait for those
gentler moods when she wanted money. She would then become affectionate,
and he would forget it all, one night of tender dalliance making up
for the tortures of a whole week. His reconciliation with his wife had
rendered his home unbearable. Fauchery, having again fallen under Rose's
dominion, the countess was running madly after other loves. She was
entering on the forties, that restless, feverish time in the life of
women, and ever hysterically nervous, she now filled her mansion
with the maddening whirl of her fashionable life. Estelle, since her
marriage, had seen nothing of her father; the undeveloped, insignificant
girl had suddenly become a woman of iron will, so imperious withal that
Daguenet trembled in her presence. In these days he accompanied her
to mass: he was converted, and he raged against his father-in-law for
ruining them with a courtesan. M. Venot alone still remained kindly
inclined toward the count, for he was biding his time. He had even
succeeded in getting into Nana's immediate circle. In fact, he
frequented both houses, where you encountered his continual smile behind
doors. So Muffat, wretched at home, driven out by ennui and shame, still
preferred to live in the Avenue de Villiers, even though he was abused
there.

Soon there was but one question between Nana and the count, and that was
"money." One day after having formally promised her ten thousand francs
he had dared keep his appointment empty handed. For two days past she
had been surfeiting him with love, and such a breach of faith, such a
waste of caresses, made her ragingly abusive. She was white with fury.

"So you've not got the money, eh? Then go back where you came from, my
little rough, and look sharp about it! There's a bloody fool for you! He
wanted to kiss me again! Mark my words--no money, no nothing!"

He explained matters; he would be sure to have the money the day after
tomorrow. But she interrupted him violently:

"And my bills! They'll sell me up while Monsieur's playing the fool.
Now then, look at yourself. D'ye think I love you for your figure? A man
with a mug like yours has to pay the women who are kind enough to put up
with him. By God, if you don't bring me that ten thousand francs tonight
you shan't even have the tip of my little finger to suck. I mean it! I
shall send you back to your wife!"

At night he brought the ten thousand francs. Nana put up her lips, and
he took a long kiss which consoled him for the whole day of anguish.
What annoyed the young woman was to have him continually tied to her
apron strings. She complained to M. Venot, begging him to take her
little rough off to the countess. Was their reconciliation good for
nothing then? She was sorry she had mixed herself up in it, since
despite everything he was always at her heels. On the days when, out of
anger, she forgot her own interest, she swore to play him such a dirty
trick that he would never again be able to set foot in her place. But
when she slapped her leg and yelled at him she might quite as well have
spat in his face too: he would still have stayed and even thanked
her. Then the rows about money matters kept continually recurring. She
demanded money savagely; she rowed him over wretched little amounts;
she was odiously stingy with every minute of her time; she kept fiercely
informing him that she slept with him for his money, not for any other
reasons, and that she did not enjoy it a bit, that, in fact, she loved
another and was awfully unfortunate in needing an idiot of his sort!
They did not even want him at court now, and there was some talk of
requiring him to send in his resignation. The empress had said, "He is
too disgusting." It was true enough. So Nana repeated the phrase by way
of closure to all their quarrels.

"Look here! You disgust me!"

Nowadays she no longer minded her ps and qs; she had regained the most
perfect freedom.

Every day she did her round of the lake, beginning acquaintanceships
which ended elsewhere. Here was the happy hunting ground par excellence,
where courtesans of the first water spread their nets in open daylight
and flaunted themselves amid the tolerating smiles and brilliant luxury
of Paris. Duchesses pointed her out to one another with a passing
look--rich shopkeepers' wives copied the fashion of her hats. Sometimes
her landau, in its haste to get by, stopped a file of puissant turnouts,
wherein sat plutocrats able to buy up all Europe or Cabinet ministers
with plump fingers tight-pressed to the throat of France. She belonged
to this Bois society, occupied a prominent place in it, was known in
every capital and asked about by every foreigner. The splendors of this
crowd were enhanced by the madness of her profligacy as though it were
the very crown, the darling passion, of the nation. Then there were
unions of a night, continual passages of desire, which she lost count
of the morning after, and these sent her touring through the grand
restaurants and on fine days, as often as not, to "Madrid." The staffs
of all the embassies visited her, and she, Lucy Stewart, Caroline Hequet
and Maria Blond would dine in the society of gentlemen who murdered the
French language and paid to be amused, engaging them by the evening with
orders to be funny and yet proving so blase and so worn out that they
never even touched them. This the ladies called "going on a spree," and
they would return home happy at having been despised and would finish
the night in the arms of the lovers of their choice.

When she did not actually throw the men at his head Count Muffat
pretended not to know about all this. However, he suffered not a little
from the lesser indignities of their daily life. The mansion in the
Avenue de Villiers was becoming a hell, a house full of mad people, in
which every hour of the day wild disorders led to hateful complications.
Nana even fought with her servants. One moment she would be very nice
with Charles, the coachman. When she stopped at a restaurant she would
send him out beer by the waiter and would talk with him from the inside
of her carriage when he slanged the cabbies at a block in the traffic,
for then he struck her as funny and cheered her up. Then the next moment
she called him a fool for no earthly reason. She was always squabbling
over the straw, the bran or the oats; in spite of her love for animals
she thought her horses ate too much. Accordingly one day when she was
settling up she accused the man of robbing her. At this Charles got in
a rage and called her a whore right out; his horses, he said, were
distinctly better than she was, for they did not sleep with everybody.
She answered him in the same strain, and the count had to separate them
and give the coachman the sack. This was the beginning of a rebellion
among the servants. When her diamonds had been stolen Victorine and
Francois left. Julien himself disappeared, and the tale ran that the
master had given him a big bribe and had begged him to go, because
he slept with the mistress. Every week there were new faces in the
servants' hall. Never was there such a mess; the house was like a
passage down which the scum of the registry offices galloped, destroying
everything in their path. Zoe alone kept her place; she always looked
clean, and her only anxiety was how to organize this riot until she had
got enough together to set up on her own account in fulfillment of a
plan she had been hatching for some time past.

These, again, were only the anxieties he could own to. The count put up
with the stupidity of Mme Maloir, playing bezique with her in spite of
her musty smell. He put up with Mme Lerat and her encumbrances, with
Louiset and the mournful complaints peculiar to a child who is being
eaten up with the rottenness inherited from some unknown father. But
he spent hours worse than these. One evening he had heard Nana angrily
telling her maid that a man pretending to be rich had just swindled
her--a handsome man calling himself an American and owning gold mines in
his own country, a beast who had gone off while she was asleep without
giving her a copper and had even taken a packet of cigarette papers with
him. The count had turned very pale and had gone downstairs again on
tiptoe so as not to hear more. But later he had to hear all. Nana,
having been smitten with a baritone in a music hall and having been
thrown over by him, wanted to commit suicide during a fit of sentimental
melancholia. She swallowed a glass of water in which she had soaked a
box of matches. This made her terribly sick but did not kill her. The
count had to nurse her and to listen to the whole story of her passion,
her tearful protests and her oaths never to take to any man again.
In her contempt for those swine, as she called them, she could not,
however, keep her heart free, for she always had some sweetheart round
her, and her exhausted body inclined to incomprehensible fancies and
perverse tastes. As Zoe designedly relaxed her efforts the service of
the house had got to such a pitch that Muffat did not dare to push open
a door, to pull a curtain or to unclose a cupboard. The bells did
not ring; men lounged about everywhere and at every moment knocked up
against one another. He had now to cough before entering a room, having
almost caught the girl hanging round Francis' neck one evening that
he had just gone out of the dressing room for two minutes to tell the
coachman to put the horses to, while her hairdresser was finishing
her hair. She gave herself up suddenly behind his back; she took her
pleasure in every corner, quickly, with the first man she met. Whether
she was in her chemise or in full dress did not matter. She would come
back to the count red all over, happy at having cheated him. As for him,
he was plagued to death; it was an abominable infliction!

In his jealous anguish the unhappy man was comparatively at peace when
he left Nana and Satin alone together. He would have willingly urged her
on to this vice, to keep the men off her. But all was spoiled in this
direction too. Nana deceived Satin as she deceived the count, going mad
over some monstrous fancy or other and picking up girls at the street
corners. Coming back in her carriage, she would suddenly be taken with
a little slut that she saw on the pavement; her senses would be
captivated, her imagination excited. She would take the little slut in
with her, pay her and send her away again. Then, disguised as a man, she
would go to infamous houses and look on at scenes of debauch to while
away hours of boredom. And Satin, angry at being thrown over every
moment, would turn the house topsy-turvy with the most awful scenes. She
had at last acquired a complete ascendancy over Nana, who now respected
her. Muffat even thought of an alliance between them. When he dared not
say anything he let Satin loose. Twice she had compelled her darling
to take up with him again, while he showed himself obliging and effaced
himself in her favor at the least sign. But this good understanding
lasted no time, for Satin, too, was a little cracked. On certain days
she would very nearly go mad and would smash everything, wearing herself
out in tempest of love and anger, but pretty all the time. Zoe must have
excited her, for the maid took her into corners as if she wanted to tell
her about her great design of which she as yet spoke to no one.

At times, however, Count Muffat was still singularly revolted. He who
had tolerated Satin for months, who had at last shut his eyes to the
unknown herd of men that scampered so quickly through Nana's bedroom,
became terribly enraged at being deceived by one of his own set or even
by an acquaintance. When she confessed her relations with Foucarmont he
suffered so acutely, he thought the treachery of the young man so base,
that he wished to insult him and fight a duel. As he did not know where
to find seconds for such an affair, he went to Labordette. The latter,
astonished, could not help laughing.

"A duel about Nana? But, my dear sir, all Paris would be laughing at
you. Men do not fight for Nana; it would be ridiculous."

The count grew very pale and made a violent gesture.

"Then I shall slap his face in the open street."

For an hour Labordette had to argue with him. A blow would make the
affair odious; that evening everyone would know the real reason of the
meeting; it would be in all the papers. And Labordette always finished
with the same expression:

"It is impossible; it would be ridiculous."

Each time Muffat heard these words they seemed sharp and keen as a stab.
He could not even fight for the woman he loved; people would have burst
out laughing. Never before had he felt more bitterly the misery of his
love, the contrast between his heavy heart and the absurdity of this
life of pleasure in which it was now lost. This was his last rebellion;
he allowed Labordette to convince him, and he was present afterward at
the procession of his friends, who lived there as if at home.

Nana in a few months finished them up greedily, one after the other. The
growing needs entailed by her luxurious way of life only added fuel to
her desires, and she finished a man up at one mouthful. First she had
Foucarmont, who did not last a fortnight. He was thinking of leaving
the navy, having saved about thirty thousand francs in his ten years of
service, which he wished to invest in the United States. His instincts,
which were prudential, even miserly, were conquered; he gave her
everything, even his signature to notes of hand, which pledged his
future. When Nana had done with him he was penniless. But then she
proved very kind; she advised him to return to his ship. What was the
good of getting angry? Since he had no money their relations were no
longer possible. He ought to understand that and to be reasonable. A
ruined man fell from her hands like a ripe fruit, to rot on the ground
by himself.

Then Nana took up with Steiner without disgust but without love. She
called him a dirty Jew; she seemed to be paying back an old grudge, of
which she had no distinct recollection. He was fat; he was stupid, and
she got him down and took two bites at a time in order the quicker to
do for this Prussian. As for him, he had thrown Simonne over. His
Bosphorous scheme was getting shaky, and Nana hastened the downfall by
wild expenses. For a month he struggled on, doing miracles of finance.
He filled Europe with posters, advertisements and prospectuses of a
colossal scheme and obtained money from the most distant climes. All
these savings, the pounds of speculators and the pence of the poor,
were swallowed up in the Avenue de Villiers. Again he was partner in an
ironworks in Alsace, where in a small provincial town workmen, blackened
with coal dust and soaked with sweat, day and night strained their
sinews and heard their bones crack to satisfy Nana's pleasures. Like a
huge fire she devoured all the fruits of stock-exchange swindling and
the profits of labor. This time she did for Steiner; she brought him to
the ground, sucked him dry to the core, left him so cleaned out that he
was unable to invent a new roguery. When his bank failed he stammered
and trembled at the idea of prosecution. His bankruptcy had just been
published, and the simple mention of money flurried him and threw him
into a childish embarrassment. And this was he who had played with
millions. One evening at Nana's he began to cry and asked her for a loan
of a hundred francs wherewith to pay his maidservant. And Nana, much
affected and amused at the end of this terrible old man who had squeezed
Paris for twenty years, brought it to him and said:

"I say, I'm giving it you because it seems so funny! But listen to me,
my boy, you are too old for me to keep. You must find something else to
do."

Then Nana started on La Faloise at once. He had for some time been
longing for the honor of being ruined by her in order to put the
finishing stroke on his smartness. He needed a woman to launch him
properly; it was the one thing still lacking. In two months all Paris
would be talking of him, and he would see his name in the papers. Six
weeks were enough. His inheritance was in landed estate, houses, fields,
woods and farms. He had to sell all, one after the other, as quickly
as he could. At every mouthful Nana swallowed an acre. The foliage
trembling in the sunshine, the wide fields of ripe grain, the vineyards
so golden in September, the tall grass in which the cows stood
knee-deep, all passed through her hands as if engulfed by an abyss. Even
fishing rights, a stone quarry and three mills disappeared. Nana passed
over them like an invading army or one of those swarms of locusts whose
flight scours a whole province. The ground was burned up where her
little foot had rested. Farm by farm, field by field, she ate up the
man's patrimony very prettily and quite inattentively, just as she would
have eaten a box of sweet-meats flung into her lap between mealtimes.
There was no harm in it all; they were only sweets! But at last one
evening there only remained a single little wood. She swallowed it up
disdainfully, as it was hardly worth the trouble opening one's mouth
for. La Faloise laughed idiotically and sucked the top of his stick. His
debts were crushing him; he was not worth a hundred francs a year, and
he saw that he would be compelled to go back into the country and
live with his maniacal uncle. But that did not matter; he had achieved
smartness; the Figaro had printed his name twice. And with his meager
neck sticking up between the turndown points of his collar and his
figure squeezed into all too short a coat, he would swagger about,
uttering his parrotlike exclamations and affecting a solemn listlessness
suggestive of an emotionless marionette. He so annoyed Nana that she
ended by beating him.

Meanwhile Fauchery had returned, his cousin having brought him. Poor
Fauchery had now set up housekeeping. After having thrown over the
countess he had fallen into Rose's hands, and she treated him as a
lawful wife would have done. Mignon was simply Madame's major-domo.
Installed as master of the house, the journalist lied to Rose and took
all sorts of precautions when he deceived her. He was as scrupulous as
a good husband, for he really wanted to settle down at last. Nana's
triumph consisted in possessing and in ruining a newspaper that he had
started with a friend's capital. She did not proclaim her triumph;
on the contrary, she delighted in treating him as a man who had to
be circumspect, and when she spoke of Rose it was as "poor Rose."
The newspaper kept her in flowers for two months. She took all the
provincial subscriptions; in fact, she took everything, from the column
of news and gossip down to the dramatic notes. Then the editorial
staff having been turned topsy-turvy and the management completely
disorganized, she satisfied a fanciful caprice and had a winter garden
constructed in a corner of her house: that carried off all the type. But
then it was no joke after all! When in his delight at the whole business
Mignon came to see if he could not saddle Fauchery on her altogether,
she asked him if he took her for a fool. A penniless fellow living by
his articles and his plays--not if she knew it! That sort of foolishness
might be all very well for a clever woman like her poor, dear Rose! She
grew distrustful: she feared some treachery on Mignon's part, for he
was quite capable of preaching to his wife, and so she gave Fauchery his
CONGE as he now only paid her in fame.

But she always recollected him kindly. They had both enjoyed themselves
so much at the expense of that fool of a La Faloise! They would never
have thought of seeing each other again if the delight of fooling such
a perfect idiot had not egged them on! It seemed an awfully good joke
to kiss each other under his very nose. They cut a regular dash with his
coin; they would send him off full speed to the other end of Paris in
order to be alone and then when he came back, they would crack jokes
and make allusions he could not understand. One day, urged by the
journalist, she bet that she would smack his face, and that she did the
very same evening and went on to harder blows, for she thought it a good
joke and was glad of the opportunity of showing how cowardly men were.
She called him her "slapjack" and would tell him to come and have his
smack! The smacks made her hands red, for as yet she was not up to the
trick. La Faloise laughed in his idiotic, languid way, though his eyes
were full of tears. He was delighted at such familiarity; he thought it
simply stunning.

One night when he had received sundry cuffs and was greatly excited:

"Now, d'you know," he said, "you ought to marry me. We should be as
jolly as grigs together, eh?"

This was no empty suggestion. Seized with a desire to astonish Paris, he
had been slyly projecting this marriage. "Nana's husband! Wouldn't that
sound smart, eh?" Rather a stunning apotheosis that! But Nana gave him a
fine snubbing.

"Me marry you! Lovely! If such an idea had been tormenting me I should
have found a husband a long time ago! And he'd have been a man worth
twenty of you, my pippin! I've had a heap of proposals. Why, look here,
just reckon 'em up with me: Philippe, Georges, Foucarmont, Steiner--that
makes four, without counting the others you don't know. It's a chorus
they all sing. I can't be nice, but they forthwith begin yelling, 'Will
you marry me? Will you marry me?'"

She lashed herself up and then burst out in fine indignation:

"Oh dear, no! I don't want to! D'you think I'm built that way? Just look
at me a bit! Why, I shouldn't be Nana any longer if I fastened a man on
behind! And, besides, it's too foul!"

And she spat and hiccuped with disgust, as though she had seen all the
dirt in the world spread out beneath her.

One evening La Faloise vanished, and a week later it became known that
he was in the country with an uncle whose mania was botany. He was
pasting his specimens for him and stood a chance of marrying a very
plain, pious cousin. Nana shed no tears for him. She simply said to the
count:

"Eh, little rough, another rival less! You're chortling today. But he
was becoming serious! He wanted to marry me."

He waxed pale, and she flung her arms round his neck and hung there,
laughing, while she emphasized every little cruel speech with a caress.

"You can't marry Nana! Isn't that what's fetching you, eh? When they're
all bothering me with their marriages you're raging in your corner. It
isn't possible; you must wait till your wife kicks the bucket. Oh, if
she were only to do that, how you'd come rushing round! How you'd
fling yourself on the ground and make your offer with all the grand
accompaniments--sighs and tears and vows! Wouldn't it be nice, darling,
eh?"

Her voice had become soft, and she was chaffing him in a ferociously
wheedling manner. He was deeply moved and began blushing as he paid her
back her kisses. Then she cried:

"By God, to think I should have guessed! He's thought about it; he's
waiting for his wife to go off the hooks! Well, well, that's the
finishing touch! Why, he's even a bigger rascal than the others!"

Muffat had resigned himself to "the others." Nowadays he was trusting
to the last relics of his personal dignity in order to remain "Monsieur"
among the servants and intimates of the house, the man, in fact, who
because he gave most was the official lover. And his passion grew
fiercer. He kept his position because he paid for it, buying even smiles
at a high price. He was even robbed and he never got his money's worth,
but a disease seemed to be gnawing his vitals from which he could not
prevent himself suffering. Whenever he entered Nana's bedroom he was
simply content to open the windows for a second or two in order to get
rid of the odors the others left behind them, the essential smells of
fair-haired men and dark, the smoke of cigars, of which the pungency
choked him. This bedroom was becoming a veritable thoroughfare, so
continually were boots wiped on its threshold. Yet never a man among
them was stopped by the bloodstain barring the door. Zoe was still
preoccupied by this stain; it was a simple mania with her, for she was
a clean girl, and it horrified her to see it always there. Despite
everything her eyes would wander in its direction, and she now never
entered Madame's room without remarking:

"It's strange that don't go. All the same, plenty of folk come in this
way."

Nana kept receiving the best news from Georges, who was by that time
already convalescent in his mother's keeping at Les Fondettes, and she
used always to make the same reply.

"Oh, hang it, time's all that's wanted. It's apt to grow paler as feet
cross it."

As a matter of fact, each of the gentlemen, whether Foucarmont, Steiner,
La Faloise or Fauchery, had borne away some of it on their bootsoles.
And Muffat, whom the bloodstain preoccupied as much as it did Zoe,
kept studying it in his own despite, as though in its gradual rosy
disappearance he would read the number of men that passed. He secretly
dreaded it and always stepped over it out of a vivid fear of crushing
some live thing, some naked limb lying on the floor.

But in the bedroom within he would grow dizzy and intoxicated and would
forget everything--the mob of men which constantly crossed it, the
sign of mourning which barred its door. Outside, in the open air of the
street, he would weep occasionally out of sheer shame and disgust and
would vow never to enter the room again. And the moment the portiere had
closed behind him he was under the old influence once more and felt his
whole being melting in the damp warm air of the place, felt his flesh
penetrated by a perfume, felt himself overborne by a voluptuous yearning
for self-annihilation. Pious and habituated to ecstatic experiences in
sumptuous chapels, he there re-encountered precisely the same mystical
sensations as when he knelt under some painted window and gave way
to the intoxication of organ music and incense. Woman swayed him as
jealously and despotically as the God of wrath, terrifying him, granting
him moments of delight, which were like spasms in their keenness, in
return for hours filled with frightful, tormenting visions of hell and
eternal tortures. In Nana's presence, as in church, the same stammering
accents were his, the same prayers and the same fits of despair--nay,
the same paroxysms of humility peculiar to an accursed creature who is
crushed down in the mire from whence he has sprung. His fleshly desires,
his spiritual needs, were confounded together and seemed to spring from
the obscure depths of his being and to bear but one blossom on the
tree of his existence. He abandoned himself to the power of love and
of faith, those twin levers which move the world. And despite all the
struggles of his reason this bedroom of Nana's always filled him with
madness, and he would sink shuddering under the almighty dominion of
sex, just as he would swoon before the vast unknown of heaven.

Then when she felt how humble he was Nana grew tyrannously triumphant.
The rage for debasing things was inborn in her. It did not suffice
her to destroy them; she must soil them too. Her delicate hands left
abominable traces and themselves decomposed whatever they had broken.
And he in his imbecile condition lent himself to this sort of sport,
for he was possessed by vaguely remembered stories of saints who were
devoured by vermin and in turn devoured their own excrements. When
once she had him fast in her room and the doors were shut, she treated
herself to a man's infamy. At first they joked together, and she would
deal him light blows and impose quaint tasks on him, making him lisp
like a child and repeat tags of sentences.

"Say as I do: 'tonfound it! Ickle man damn vell don't tare about it!"

He would prove so docile as to reproduce her very accent.

"'Tonfound it! Ickle man damn vell don't tare about it!"

Or again she would play bear, walking on all fours on her rugs when she
had only her chemise on and turning round with a growl as though she
wanted to eat him. She would even nibble his calves for the fun of the
thing. Then, getting up again:

"It's your turn now; try it a bit. I bet you don't play bear like me."

It was still charming enough. As bear she amused him with her white skin
and her fell of ruddy hair. He used to laugh and go down on all fours,
too, and growl and bite her calves, while she ran from him with an
affectation of terror.

"Are we beasts, eh?" she would end by saying. "You've no notion how ugly
you are, my pet! Just think if they were to see you like that at the
Tuileries!"

But ere long these little games were spoiled. It was not cruelty in her
case, for she was still a good-natured girl; it was as though a passing
wind of madness were blowing ever more strongly in the shut-up bedroom.
A storm of lust disordered their brains, plunged them into the delirious
imaginations of the flesh. The old pious terrors of their sleepless
nights were now transforming themselves into a thirst for bestiality, a
furious longing to walk on all fours, to growl and to bite. One day when
he was playing bear she pushed him so roughly that he fell against a
piece of furniture, and when she saw the lump on his forehead she burst
into involuntary laughter. After that her experiments on La Faloise
having whetted her appetite, she treated him like an animal, threshing
him and chasing him to an accompaniment of kicks.

"Gee up! Gee up! You're a horse. Hoi! Gee up! Won't you hurry up, you
dirty screw?"

At other times he was a dog. She would throw her scented handkerchief
to the far end of the room, and he had to run and pick it up with his
teeth, dragging himself along on hands and knees.

"Fetch it, Caesar! Look here, I'll give you what for if you don't look
sharp! Well done, Caesar! Good dog! Nice old fellow! Now behave pretty!"

And he loved his abasement and delighted in being a brute beast. He
longed to sink still further and would cry:

"Hit harder. On, on! I'm wild! Hit away!"

She was seized with a whim and insisted on his coming to her one night
clad in his magnificent chamberlain's costume. Then how she did laugh
and make fun of him when she had him there in all his glory, with the
sword and the cocked hat and the white breeches and the full-bottomed
coat of red cloth laced with gold and the symbolic key hanging on its
left-hand skirt. This key made her especially merry and urged her to a
wildly fanciful and extremely filthy discussion of it. Laughing without
cease and carried away by her irreverence for pomp and by the joy of
debasing him in the official dignity of his costume, she shook him,
pinched him, shouted, "Oh, get along with ye, Chamberlain!" and ended by
an accompaniment of swinging kicks behind. Oh, those kicks! How heartily
she rained them on the Tuileries and the majesty of the imperial court,
throning on high above an abject and trembling people. That's what
she thought of society! That was her revenge! It was an affair of
unconscious hereditary spite; it had come to her in her blood. Then when
once the chamberlain was undressed and his coat lay spread on the ground
she shrieked, "Jump!" And he jumped. She shrieked, "Spit!" And he spat.
With a shriek she bade him walk on the gold, on the eagles, on the
decorations, and he walked on them. Hi tiddly hi ti! Nothing was left;
everything was going to pieces. She smashed a chamberlain just as she
smashed a flask or a comfit box, and she made filth of him, reduced him
to a heap of mud at a street corner.

Meanwhile the goldsmiths had failed to keep their promise, and the bed
was not delivered till one day about the middle of January. Muffat was
just then in Normandy, whither he had gone to sell a last stray shred of
property, but Nana demanded four thousand francs forthwith. He was not
due in Paris till the day after tomorrow, but when his business was once
finished he hastened his return and without even paying a flying visit
in the Rue Miromesnil came direct to the Avenue de Villiers. Ten o'clock
was striking. As he had a key of a little door opening on the Rue
Cardinet, he went up unhindered. In the drawing room upstairs Zoe, who
was polishing the bronzes, stood dumfounded at sight of him, and not
knowing how to stop him, she began with much circumlocution, informing
him that M. Venot, looking utterly beside himself, had been searching
for him since yesterday and that he had already come twice to beg her to
send Monsieur to his house if Monsieur arrived at Madame's before going
home. Muffat listened to her without in the least understanding the
meaning of her recital; then he noticed her agitation and was seized by
a sudden fit of jealousy of which he no longer believed himself capable.
He threw himself against the bedroom door, for he heard the sound of
laughter within. The door gave; its two flaps flew asunder, while Zoe
withdrew, shrugging her shoulders. So much the worse for Madame! As
Madame was bidding good-by to her wits, she might arrange matters for
herself.

And on the threshold Muffat uttered a cry at the sight that was
presented to his view.

"My God! My God!"

The renovated bedroom was resplendent in all its royal luxury. Silver
buttons gleamed like bright stars on the tea-rose velvet of the
hangings. These last were of that pink flesh tint which the skies assume
on fine evenings, when Venus lights her fires on the horizon against
the clear background of fading daylight. The golden cords and tassels
hanging in corners and the gold lace-work surrounding the panels were
like little flames of ruddy strands of loosened hair, and they half
covered the wide nakedness of the room while they emphasized its pale,
voluptuous tone. Then over against him there was the gold and silver
bed, which shone in all the fresh splendor of its chiseled workmanship,
a throne this of sufficient extent for Nana to display the outstretched
glory of her naked limbs, an altar of Byzantine sumptuousness, worthy of
the almighty puissance of Nana's sex, which at this very hour lay nudely
displayed there in the religious immodesty befitting an idol of all
men's worship. And close by, beneath the snowy reflections of her bosom
and amid the triumph of the goddess, lay wallowing a shameful, decrepit
thing, a comic and lamentable ruin, the Marquis de Chouard in his
nightshirt.

The count had clasped his hands together and, shaken by a paroxysmal
shuddering, he kept crying:

"My God! My God!"

It was for the Marquis de Chouard, then, that the golden roses
flourished on the side panels, those bunches of golden roses blooming
among the golden leaves; it was for him that the Cupids leaned forth
with amorous, roguish laughter from their tumbling ring on the silver
trelliswork. And it was for him that the faun at his feet discovered the
nymph sleeping, tired with dalliance, the figure of Night copied down to
the exaggerated thighs--which caused her to be recognizable of all--from
Nana's renowned nudity. Cast there like the rag of something human
which has been spoiled and dissolved by sixty years of debauchery,
he suggested the charnelhouse amid the glory of the woman's dazzling
contours. Seeing the door open, he had risen up, smitten with sudden
terror as became an infirm old man. This last night of passion had
rendered him imbecile; he was entering on his second childhood; and,
his speech failing him, he remained in an attitude of flight,
half-paralyzed, stammering, shivering, his nightshirt half up his
skeleton shape, and one leg outside the clothes, a livid leg, covered
with gray hair. Despite her vexation Nana could not keep from laughing.

"Do lie down! Stuff yourself into the bed," she said, pulling him back
and burying him under the coverlet, as though he were some filthy thing
she could not show anyone.

Then she sprang up to shut the door again. She was decidedly never lucky
with her little rough. He was always coming when least wanted. And why
had he gone to fetch money in Normandy? The old man had brought her
the four thousand francs, and she had let him have his will of her. She
pushed back the two flaps of the door and shouted:

"So much the worse for you! It's your fault. Is that the way to come
into a room? I've had enough of this sort of thing. Ta ta!"

Muffat remained standing before the closed door, thunderstruck by what
he had just seen. His shuddering fit increased. It mounted from his feet
to his heart and brain. Then like a tree shaken by a mighty wind, he
swayed to and fro and dropped on his knees, all his muscles giving way
under him. And with hands despairingly outstretched he stammered:

"This is more than I can bear, my God! More than I can bear!"

He had accepted every situation but he could do so no longer. He had
come to the end of his strength and was plunged in the dark void where
man and his reason are together overthrown. In an extravagant access of
faith he raised his hands ever higher and higher, searching for heaven,
calling on God.

"Oh no, I do not desire it! Oh, come to me, my God! Succor me; nay, let
me die sooner! Oh no, not that man, my God! It is over; take me, carry
me away, that I may not see, that I may not feel any longer! Oh, I
belong to you, my God! Our Father which art in heaven--"

And burning with faith, he continued his supplication, and an ardent
prayer escaped from his lips. But someone touched him on the shoulder.
He lifted his eyes; it was M. Venot. He was surprised to find him
praying before that closed door. Then as though God Himself had
responded to his appeal, the count flung his arms round the little old
gentleman's neck. At last he could weep, and he burst out sobbing and
repeated:

"My brother, my brother."

All his suffering humanity found comfort in that cry. He drenched
M. Venot's face with tears; he kissed him, uttering fragmentary
ejaculations.

"Oh, my brother, how I am suffering! You only are left me, my brother.
Take me away forever--oh, for mercy's sake, take me away!"

Then M. Venot pressed him to his bosom and called him "brother" also.
But he had a fresh blow in store for him. Since yesterday he had been
searching for him in order to inform him that the Countess Sabine, in
a supreme fit of moral aberration, had but now taken flight with the
manager of one of the departments in a large, fancy emporium. It was a
fearful scandal, and all Paris was already talking about it. Seeing
him under the influence of such religious exaltation, Venot felt the
opportunity to be favorable and at once told him of the meanly tragic
shipwreck of his house. The count was not touched thereby. His wife had
gone? That meant nothing to him; they would see what would happen later
on. And again he was seized with anguish, and gazing with a look of
terror at the door, the walls, the ceiling, he continued pouring forth
his single supplication:

"Take me away! I cannot bear it any longer! Take me away!"

M. Venot took him away as though he had been a child. From that
day forth Muffat belonged to him entirely; he again became strictly
attentive to the duties of religion; his life was utterly blasted. He
had resigned his position as chamberlain out of respect for the outraged
modesty of the Tuileries, and soon Estelle, his daughter, brought an
action against him for the recovery of a sum of sixty thousand francs,
a legacy left her by an aunt to which she ought to have succeeded at the
time of her marriage. Ruined and living narrowly on the remains of his
great fortune, he let himself be gradually devoured by the countess,
who ate up the husks Nana had rejected. Sabine was indeed ruined by the
example of promiscuity set her by her husband's intercourse with the
wanton. She was prone to every excess and proved the ultimate ruin and
destruction of his very hearth. After sundry adventures she had returned
home, and he had taken her back in a spirit of Christian resignation and
forgiveness. She haunted him as his living disgrace, but he grew more
and more indifferent and at last ceased suffering from these distresses.
Heaven took him out of his wife's hands in order to restore him to the
arms of God, and so the voluptuous pleasures he had enjoyed with Nana
were prolonged in religious ecstasies, accompanied by the old stammering
utterances, the old prayers and despairs, the old fits of humility which
befit an accursed creature who is crushed beneath the mire whence he
sprang. In the recesses of churches, his knees chilled by the pavement,
he would once more experience the delights of the past, and his
muscles would twitch, and his brain would whirl deliciously, and the
satisfaction of the obscure necessities of his existence would be the
same as of old.

On the evening of the final rupture Mignon presented himself at the
house in the Avenue de Villiers. He was growing accustomed to Fauchery
and was beginning at last to find the presence of his wife's husband
infinitely advantageous to him. He would leave all the little
household cares to the journalist and would trust him in the active
superintendence of all their affairs. Nay, he devoted the money gained
by his dramatic successes to the daily expenditure of the family, and
as, on his part, Fauchery behaved sensibly, avoiding ridiculous jealousy
and proving not less pliant than Mignon himself whenever Rose found her
opportunity, the mutual understanding between the two men constantly
improved. In fact, they were happy in a partnership which was so fertile
in all kinds of amenities, and they settled down side by side and
adopted a family arrangement which no longer proved a stumbling block.
The whole thing was conducted according to rule; it suited admirably,
and each man vied with the other in his efforts for the common
happiness. That very evening Mignon had come by Fauchery's advice to see
if he could not steal Nana's lady's maid from her, the journalist having
formed a high opinion of the woman's extraordinary intelligence. Rose
was in despair; for a month past she had been falling into the hands of
inexperienced girls who were causing her continual embarrassment. When
Zoe received him at the door he forthwith pushed her into the dining
room. But at his opening sentence she smiled. The thing was impossible,
she said, for she was leaving Madame and establishing herself on her own
account. And she added with an expression of discreet vanity that she
was daily receiving offers, that the ladies were fighting for her and
that Mme Blanche would give a pile of gold to have her back.

Zoe was taking the Tricon's establishment. It was an old project and had
been long brooded over. It was her ambition to make her fortune thereby,
and she was investing all her savings in it. She was full of great ideas
and meditated increasing the business and hiring a house and combining
all the delights within its walls. It was with this in view that she had
tried to entice Satin, a little pig at that moment dying in hospital, so
terribly had she done for herself.

Mignon still insisted with his offer and spoke of the risks run in the
commercial life, but Zoe, without entering into explanations about the
exact nature of her establishment, smiled a pinched smile, as though she
had just put a sweetmeat in her mouth, and was content to remark:

"Oh, luxuries always pay. You see, I've been with others quite long
enough, and now I want others to be with me."

And a fierce look set her lip curling. At last she would be "Madame,"
and for the sake of earning a few louis all those women whose slops she
had emptied during the last fifteen years would prostrate themselves
before her.

Mignon wished to be announced, and Zoe left him for a moment after
remarking that Madame had passed a miserable day. He had only been at
the house once before, and he did not know it at all. The dining room
with its Gobelin tapestry, its sideboard and its plate filled him with
astonishment. He opened the doors familiarly and visited the drawing
room and the winter garden, returning thence into the hall. This
overwhelming luxury, this gilded furniture, these silks and velvets,
gradually filled him with such a feeling of admiration that it set his
heart beating. When Zoe came down to fetch him she offered to show him
the other rooms, the dressing room, that is to say, and the bedroom. In
the latter Mignon's feelings overcame him; he was carried away by them;
they filled him with tender enthusiasm.

That damned Nana was simply stupefying him, and yet he thought he knew
a thing or two. Amid the downfall of the house and the servants' wild,
wasteful race to destruction, massed-up riches still filled every gaping
hole and overtopped every ruined wall. And Mignon, as he viewed this
lordly monument of wealth, began recalling to mind the various great
works he had seen. Near Marseilles they had shown him an aqueduct, the
stone arches of which bestrode an abyss, a Cyclopean work which cost
millions of money and ten years of intense labor. At Cherbourg he had
seen the new harbor with its enormous works, where hundreds of men
sweated in the sun while cranes filled the sea with huge squares of rock
and built up a wall where a workman now and again remained crushed into
bloody pulp. But all that now struck him as insignificant. Nana excited
him far more. Viewing the fruit of her labors, he once more experienced
the feelings of respect that had overcome him one festal evening in a
sugar refiner's chateau. This chateau had been erected for the refiner,
and its palatial proportions and royal splendor had been paid for by a
single material--sugar. It was with something quite different, with
a little laughable folly, a little delicate nudity--it was with this
shameful trifle, which is so powerful as to move the universe, that she
alone, without workmen, without the inventions of engineers, had shaken
Paris to its foundations and had built up a fortune on the bodies of
dead men.

"Oh, by God, what an implement!"

Mignon let the words escape him in his ecstasy, for he felt a return of
personal gratitude.

Nana had gradually lapsed into a most mournful condition. To begin with,
the meeting of the marquis and the count had given her a severe fit
of feverish nervousness, which verged at times on laughter. Then the
thought of this old man going away half dead in a cab and of her poor
rough, whom she would never set eyes on again now that she had driven
him so wild, brought on what looked like the beginnings of melancholia.
After that she grew vexed to hear about Satin's illness. The girl
had disappeared about a fortnight ago and was now ready to die at
Lariboisiere, to such a damnable state had Mme Robert reduced her. When
she ordered the horses to be put to in order that she might have a last
sight of this vile little wretch Zoe had just quietly given her a week's
notice. The announcement drove her to desperation at once! It seemed to
her she was losing a member of her own family. Great heavens! What was
to become of her when left alone? And she besought Zoe to stay, and the
latter, much flattered by Madame's despair, ended by kissing her to show
that she was not going away in anger. No, she had positively to go: the
heart could have no voice in matters of business.

But that day was one of annoyances. Nana was thoroughly disgusted and
gave up the idea of going out. She was dragging herself wearily about
the little drawing room when Labordette came up to tell her of a
splendid chance of buying magnificent lace and in the course of his
remarks casually let slip the information that Georges was dead. The
announcement froze her.

"Zizi dead!" she cried.

And involuntarily her eyes sought the pink stain on the carpet, but
it had vanished at last; passing footsteps had worn it away. Meanwhile
Labordette entered into particulars. It was not exactly known how he
died. Some spoke of a wound reopening, others of suicide. The lad had
plunged, they said, into a tank at Les Fondettes. Nana kept repeating:

"Dead! Dead!"

She had been choking with grief since morning, and now she burst
out sobbing and thus sought relief. Hers was an infinite sorrow: it
overwhelmed her with its depth and immensity. Labordette wanted to
comfort her as touching Georges, but she silenced him with a gesture and
blurted out:

"It isn't only he; it's everything, everything. I'm very wretched. Oh
yes, I know! They'll again be saying I'm a hussy. To think of the mother
mourning down there and of the poor man who was groaning in front of my
door this morning and of all the other people that are now ruined after
running through all they had with me! That's it; punish Nana; punish the
beastly thing! Oh, I've got a broad back! I can hear them as if I were
actually there! 'That dirty wench who lies with everybody and cleans
out some and drives others to death and causes a whole heap of people
pain!'"

She was obliged to pause, for tears choked her utterance, and in her
anguish she flung herself athwart a divan and buried her face in a
cushion. The miseries she felt to be around her, miseries of which
she was the cause, overwhelmed her with a warm, continuous stream of
self-pitying tears, and her voice failed as she uttered a little girl's
broken plaint:

"Oh, I'm wretched! Oh, I'm wretched! I can't go on like this: it's
choking me. It's too hard to be misunderstood and to see them all siding
against you because they're stronger. However, when you've got nothing
to reproach yourself with and your conscious is clear, why, then I say,
'I won't have it! I won't have it!'"

In her anger she began rebeling against circumstances, and getting up,
she dried her eyes, and walked about in much agitation.

"I won't have it! They can say what they like, but it's not my fault! Am
I a bad lot, eh? I give away all I've got; I wouldn't crush a fly! It's
they who are bad! Yes, it's they! I never wanted to be horrid to them.
And they came dangling after me, and today they're kicking the bucket
and begging and going to ruin on purpose."

Then she paused in front of Labordette and tapped his shoulders.

"Look here," she said, "you were there all along; now speak the truth:
did I urge them on? Weren't there always a dozen of 'em squabbling who
could invent the dirtiest trick? They used to disgust me, they did! I
did all I knew not to copy them: I was afraid to. Look here, I'll give
you a single instance: they all wanted to marry me! A pretty notion, eh?
Yes, dear boy, I could have been countess or baroness a dozen times
over and more, if I'd consented. Well now, I refused because I was
reasonable. Oh yes, I saved 'em some crimes and other foul acts! They'd
have stolen, murdered, killed father and mother. I had only to say one
word, and I didn't say it. You see what I've got for it today. There's
Daguenet, for instance; I married that chap off! I made a position for
the beggarly fellow after keeping him gratis for weeks! And I met him
yesterday, and he looks the other way! Oh, get along, you swine! I'm
less dirty than you!"

She had begun pacing about again, and now she brought her fist violently
down on a round table.

"By God it isn't fair! Society's all wrong. They come down on the women
when it's the men who want you to do things. Yes, I can tell you this
now: when I used to go with them--see? I didn't enjoy it; no, I didn't
enjoy it one bit. It bored me, on my honor. Well then, I ask you whether
I've got anything to do with it! Yes, they bored me to death! If it
hadn't been for them and what they made of me, dear boy, I should be
in a convent saying my prayers to the good God, for I've always had my
share of religion. Dash it, after all, if they have dropped their money
and their lives over it, what do I care? It's their fault. I've had
nothing to do with it!"

"Certainly not," said Labordette with conviction.

Zoe ushered in Mignon, and Nana received him smilingly. She had cried
a good deal, but it was all over now. Still glowing with enthusiasm, he
complimented her on her installation, but she let him see that she had
had enough of her mansion and that now she had other projects and would
sell everything up one of these days. Then as he excused himself for
calling on the ground that he had come about a benefit performance
in aid of old Bose, who was tied to his armchair by paralysis, she
expressed extreme pity and took two boxes. Meanwhile Zoe announced that
the carriage was waiting for Madame, and she asked for her hat and as
she tied the strings told them about poor, dear Satin's mishap, adding:

"I'm going to the hospital. Nobody ever loved me as she did. Oh, they're
quite right when they accuse the men of heartlessness! Who knows?
Perhaps I shan't see her alive. Never mind, I shall ask to see her: I
want to give her a kiss."

Labordette and Mignon smiled, and as Nana was no longer melancholy she
smiled too. Those two fellows didn't count; they could enter into her
feelings. And they both stood and admired her in silent abstraction
while she finished buttoning her gloves. She alone kept her feet amid
the heaped-up riches of her mansion, while a whole generation of men lay
stricken down before her. Like those antique monsters whose redoubtable
domains were covered with skeletons, she rested her feet on human
skulls. She was ringed round with catastrophes. There was the furious
immolation of Vandeuvres; the melancholy state of Foucarmont, who was
lost in the China seas; the smashup of Steiner, who now had to live
like an honest man; the satisfied idiocy of La Faloise, and the tragic
shipwreck of the Muffats. Finally there was the white corpse of Georges,
over which Philippe was now watching, for he had come out of prison but
yesterday. She had finished her labor of ruin and death. The fly that
had flown up from the ordure of the slums, bringing with it the leaven
of social rottenness, had poisoned all these men by merely alighting on
them. It was well done--it was just. She had avenged the beggars and
the wastrels from whose caste she issued. And while, metaphorically
speaking, her sex rose in a halo of glory and beamed over prostrate
victims like a mounting sun shining brightly over a field of carnage,
the actual woman remained as unconscious as a splendid animal, and in
her ignorance of her mission was the good-natured courtesan to the last.
She was still big; she was still plump; her health was excellent, her
spirits capital. But this went for nothing now, for her house struck her
as ridiculous. It was too small; it was full of furniture which got in
her way. It was a wretched business, and the long and the short of
the matter was she would have to make a fresh start. In fact, she was
meditating something much better, and so she went off to kiss Satin for
the last time. She was in all her finery and looked clean and solid and
as brand new as if she had never seen service before.



CHAPTER XIV


Nana suddenly disappeared. It was a fresh plunge, an escapade, a flight
into barbarous regions. Before her departure she had treated herself
to a new sensation: she had held a sale and had made a clean sweep of
everything--house, furniture, jewelry, nay, even dresses and linen.
Prices were cited--the five days' sale produced more than six hundred
thousand francs. For the last time Paris had seen her in a fairy piece.
It was called Melusine, and it played at the Theatre de la Gaite, which
the penniless Bordenave had taken out of sheer audacity. Here she again
found herself in company with Prulliere and Fontan. Her part was simply
spectacular, but it was the great attraction of the piece, consisting,
as it did, of three POSES PLASTIQUES, each of which represented the same
dumb and puissant fairy. Then one fine morning amid his grand success,
when Bordenave, who was mad after advertisement, kept firing the
Parisian imagination with colossal posters, it became known that she
must have started for Cairo the previous day. She had simply had a few
words with her manager. Something had been said which did not please
her; the whole thing was the caprice of a woman who is too rich to let
herself be annoyed. Besides, she had indulged an old infatuation, for
she had long meditated visiting the Turks.

Months passed--she began to be forgotten. When her name was mentioned
among the ladies and gentlemen, the strangest stories were told, and
everybody gave the most contradictory and at the same time prodigious
information. She had made a conquest of the viceroy; she was reigning,
in the recesses of a palace, over two hundred slaves whose heads she now
and then cut off for the sake of a little amusement. No, not at all! She
had ruined herself with a great big nigger! A filthy passion this, which
had left her wallowing without a chemise to her back in the crapulous
debauchery of Cairo. A fortnight later much astonishment was produced
when someone swore to having met her in Russia. A legend began to
be formed: she was the mistress of a prince, and her diamonds were
mentioned. All the women were soon acquainted with them from the current
descriptions, but nobody could cite the precise source of all this
information. There were finger rings, earrings, bracelets, a REVIERE of
phenomenal width, a queenly diadem surmounted by a central brilliant the
size of one's thumb. In the retirement of those faraway countries she
began to gleam forth as mysteriously as a gem-laden idol. People now
mentioned her without laughing, for they were full of meditative respect
for this fortune acquired among the barbarians.

One evening in July toward eight o'clock, Lucy, while getting out of her
carriage in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, noticed Caroline
Hequet, who had come out on foot to order something at a neighboring
tradesman's. Lucy called her and at once burst out with:

"Have you dined? Are you disengaged? Oh, then come with me, my dear.
Nana's back."

The other got in at once, and Lucy continued:

"And you know, my dear, she may be dead while we're gossiping."

"Dead! What an idea!" cried Caroline in stupefaction. "And where is she?
And what's it of?"

"At the Grand Hotel, of smallpox. Oh, it's a long story!"

Lucy had bidden her coachman drive fast, and while the horses trotted
rapidly along the Rue Royale and the boulevards, she told what had
happened to Nana in jerky, breathless sentences.

"You can't imagine it. Nana plumps down out of Russia. I don't know
why--some dispute with her prince. She leaves her traps at the station;
she lands at her aunt's--you remember the old thing. Well, and then she
finds her baby dying of smallpox. The baby dies next day, and she has a
row with the aunt about some money she ought to have sent, of which the
other one has never seen a sou. Seems the child died of that: in fact,
it was neglected and badly cared for. Very well; Nana slopes, goes to a
hotel, then meets Mignon just as she was thinking of her traps. She has
all sorts of queer feelings, shivers, wants to be sick, and Mignon takes
her back to her place and promises to look after her affairs. Isn't it
odd, eh? Doesn't it all happen pat? But this is the best part of the
story: Rose finds out about Nana's illness and gets indignant at the
idea of her being alone in furnished apartments. So she rushes off,
crying, to look after her. You remember how they used to detest one
another--like regular furies! Well then, my dear, Rose has had Nana
transported to the Grand Hotel, so that she should, at any rate, die in
a smart place, and now she's already passed three nights there and
is free to die of it after. It's Labordette who told me all about it.
Accordingly I wanted to see for myself--"

"Yes, yes," interrupted Caroline in great excitement "We'll go up to
her."

They had arrived at their destination. On the boulevard the coachman had
had to rein in his horses amid a block of carriages and people on foot.
During the day the Corps Legislatif had voted for war, and now a crowd
was streaming down all the streets, flowing along all the pavements,
invading the middle of the roadway. Beyond the Madeleine the sun had set
behind a blood-red cloud, which cast a reflection as of a great fire and
set the lofty windows flaming. Twilight was falling, and the hour was
oppressively melancholy, for now the avenues were darkening away into
the distance but were not as yet dotted over by the bright sparks of the
gas lamps. And among the marching crowds distant voices swelled and grew
ever louder, and eyes gleamed from pale faces, while a great spreading
wind of anguish and stupor set every head whirling.

"Here's Mignon," said Lucy. "He'll give us news."

Mignon was standing under the vast porch of the Grand Hotel. He looked
nervous and was gazing at the crowd. After Lucy's first few questions he
grew impatient and cried out:

"How should I know? These last two days I haven't been able to tear Rose
away from up there. It's getting stupid, when all's said, for her to be
risking her life like that! She'll be charming if she gets over it, with
holes in her face! It'll suit us to a tee!"

The idea that Rose might lose her beauty was exasperating him. He was
giving up Nana in the most downright fashion, and he could not in the
least understand these stupid feminine devotions. But Fauchery was
crossing the boulevard, and he, too, came up anxiously and asked for
news. The two men egged each other on. They addressed one another
familiarly in these days.

"Always the same business, my sonny," declared Mignon. "You ought to go
upstairs; you would force her to follow you."

"Come now, you're kind, you are!" said the journalist. "Why don't you go
upstairs yourself?"

Then as Lucy began asking for Nana's number, they besought her to make
Rose come down; otherwise they would end by getting angry.

Nevertheless, Lucy and Caroline did not go up at once. They had caught
sight of Fontan strolling about with his hands in his pockets and
greatly amused by the quaint expressions of the mob. When he became
aware that Nana was lying ill upstairs he affected sentiment and
remarked:

"The poor girl! I'll go and shake her by the hand. What's the matter
with her, eh?"

"Smallpox," replied Mignon.

The actor had already taken a step or two in the direction of the court,
but he came back and simply murmured with a shiver:

"Oh, damn it!"

The smallpox was no joke. Fontan had been near having it when he was
five years old, while Mignon gave them an account of one of his nieces
who had died of it. As to Fauchery, he could speak of it from personal
experience, for he still bore marks of it in the shape of three little
lumps at the base of his nose, which he showed them. And when Mignon
again egged him on to the ascent, on the pretext that you never had it
twice, he violently combated this theory and with infinite abuse of the
doctors instanced various cases. But Lucy and Caroline interrupted them,
for the growing multitude filled them with astonishment.

"Just look! Just look what a lot of people!" The night was deepening,
and in the distance the gas lamps were being lit one by one. Meanwhile
interested spectators became visible at windows, while under the
trees the human flood grew every minute more dense, till it ran in one
enormous stream from the Madeleine to the Bastille. Carriages rolled
slowly along. A roaring sound went up from this compact and as yet
inarticulate mass. Each member of it had come out, impelled by the
desire to form a crowd, and was now trampling along, steeping himself
in the pervading fever. But a great movement caused the mob to flow
asunder. Among the jostling, scattering groups a band of men in
workmen's caps and white blouses had come in sight, uttering a
rhythmical cry which suggested the beat of hammers upon an anvil.

"To Ber-lin! To Ber-lin! To Ber-lin!" And the crowd stared in gloomy
distrust yet felt themselves already possessed and inspired by heroic
imaginings, as though a military band were passing.

"Oh yes, go and get your throats cut!" muttered Mignon, overcome by an
access of philosophy.

But Fontan thought it very fine, indeed, and spoke of enlisting. When
the enemy was on the frontier all citizens ought to rise up in defense
of the fatherland! And with that he assumed an attitude suggestive of
Bonaparte at Austerlitz.

"Look here, are you coming up with us?" Lucy asked him.

"Oh dear, no! To catch something horrid?" he said.

On a bench in front of the Grand Hotel a man sat hiding his face in a
handkerchief. On arriving Fauchery had indicated him to Mignon with a
wink of the eye. Well, he was still there; yes, he was always there. And
the journalist detained the two women also in order to point him out to
them. When the man lifted his head they recognized him; an exclamation
escaped them. It was the Count Muffat, and he was giving an upward
glance at one of the windows.

"You know, he's been waiting there since this morning," Mignon informed
them. "I saw him at six o'clock, and he hasn't moved since. Directly
Labordette spoke about it he came there with his handkerchief up to his
face. Every half-hour he comes dragging himself to where we're standing
to ask if the person upstairs is doing better, and then he goes back and
sits down. Hang it, that room isn't healthy! It's all very well being
fond of people, but one doesn't want to kick the bucket."

The count sat with uplifted eyes and did not seem conscious of what was
going on around him. Doubtless he was ignorant of the declaration of
war, and he neither felt nor saw the crowd.

"Look, here he comes!" said Fauchery. "Now you'll see."

The count had, in fact, quitted his bench and was entering the lofty
porch. But the porter, who was getting to know his face at last, did not
give him time to put his question. He said sharply:

"She's dead, monsieur, this very minute."

Nana dead! It was a blow to them all. Without a word Muffat had gone
back to the bench, his face still buried in his handkerchief. The others
burst into exclamations, but they were cut short, for a fresh band
passed by, howling, "A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!" Nana dead! Hang it,
and such a fine girl too! Mignon sighed and looked relieved, for at last
Rose would come down. A chill fell on the company. Fontan, meditating a
tragic role, had assumed a look of woe and was drawing down the corners
of his mouth and rolling his eyes askance, while Fauchery chewed his
cigar nervously, for despite his cheap journalistic chaff he was really
touched. Nevertheless, the two women continued to give vent to their
feelings of surprise. The last time Lucy had seen her was at the Gaite;
Blanche, too, had seen her in Melusine. Oh, how stunning it was, my
dear, when she appeared in the depths of the crystal grot! The gentlemen
remembered the occasion perfectly. Fontan had played the Prince
Cocorico. And their memories once stirred up, they launched into
interminable particulars. How ripping she looked with that rich coloring
of hers in the crystal grot! Didn't she, now? She didn't say a word:
the authors had even deprived her of a line or two, because it was
superfluous. No, never a word! It was grander that way, and she drove
her public wild by simply showing herself. You wouldn't find another
body like hers! Such shoulders as she had, and such legs and such a
figure! Strange that she should be dead! You know, above her tights she
had nothing on but a golden girdle which hardly concealed her behind and
in front. All round her the grotto, which was entirely of glass, shone
like day. Cascades of diamonds were flowing down; strings of brilliant
pearls glistened among the stalactites in the vault overhead, and amid
the transparent atmosphere and flowing fountain water, which was crossed
by a wide ray of electric light, she gleamed like the sun with that
flamelike skin and hair of hers. Paris would always picture her
thus--would see her shining high up among crystal glass like the
good God Himself. No, it was too stupid to let herself die under such
conditions! She must be looking pretty by this time in that room up
there!

"And what a lot of pleasures bloody well wasted!" said Mignon in
melancholy tones, as became a man who did not like to see good and
useful things lost.

He sounded Lucy and Caroline in order to find out if they were going up
after all. Of course they were going up; their curiosity had increased.
Just then Blanche arrived, out of breath and much exasperated at the way
the crowds were blocking the pavement, and when she heard the news
there was a fresh outburst of exclamations, and with a great rustling
of skirts the ladies moved toward the staircase. Mignon followed them,
crying out:

"Tell Rose that I'm waiting for her. She'll come at once, eh?"

"They do not exactly know whether the contagion is to be feared at
the beginning or near the end," Fontan was explaining to Fauchery. "A
medical I know was assuring me that the hours immediately following
death are particularly dangerous. There are miasmatic exhalations then.
Ah, but I do regret this sudden ending; I should have been so glad to
shake hands with her for the last time.

"What good would it do you now?" said the journalist.

"Yes, what good?" the two others repeated.

The crowd was still on the increase. In the bright light thrown from
shop-windows and beneath the wavering glare of the gas two living
streams were distinguishable as they flowed along the pavement,
innumerable hats apparently drifting on their surface. At that hour
the popular fever was gaining ground rapidly, and people were flinging
themselves in the wake of the bands of men in blouses. A constant
forward movement seemed to sweep the roadway, and the cry kept
recurring; obstinately, abruptly, there rang from thousands of throats:

"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"

The room on the fourth floor upstairs cost twelve francs a day,
since Rose had wanted something decent and yet not luxurious, for
sumptuousness is not necessary when one is suffering. Hung with Louis
XIII cretonne, which was adorned with a pattern of large flowers, the
room was furnished with the mahogany commonly found in hotels. On
the floor there was a red carpet variegated with black foliage. Heavy
silence reigned save for an occasional whispering sound caused by voices
in the corridor.

"I assure you we're lost. The waiter told us to turn to the right. What
a barrack of a house!"

"Wait a bit; we must have a look. Room number 401; room number 401!"

"Oh, it's this way: 405, 403. We ought to be there. Ah, at last, 401!
This way! Hush now, hush!"

The voices were silent. Then there was a slight coughing and a moment or
so of mental preparation. Then the door opened slowly, and Lucy entered,
followed by Caroline and Blanche. But they stopped directly; there were
already five women in the room; Gaga was lying back in the solitary
armchair, which was a red velvet Voltaire. In front of the fireplace
Simonne and Clarisse were now standing talking to Lea de Horn, who was
seated, while by the bed, to the left of the door, Rose Mignon, perched
on the edge of a chest, sat gazing fixedly at the body where it lay
hidden in the shadow of the curtains. All the others had their hats and
gloves on and looked as if they were paying a call: she alone sat there
with bare hands and untidy hair and cheeks rendered pale by three nights
of watching. She felt stupid in the face of this sudden death, and her
eyes were swollen with weeping. A shaded lamp standing on the corner of
the chest of drawers threw a bright flood of light over Gaga.

"What a sad misfortune, is it not?" whispered Lucy as she shook hands
with Rose. "We wanted to bid her good-by."

And she turned round and tried to catch sight of her, but the lamp
was too far off, and she did not dare bring it nearer. On the bed lay
stretched a gray mass, but only the ruddy chignon was distinguishable
and a pale blotch which might be the face. Lucy added:

"I never saw her since that time at the Gaite, when she was at the end
of the grotto."

At this Rose awoke from her stupor and smiled as she said:

"Ah, she's changed; she's changed."

Then she once more lapsed into contemplation and neither moved nor
spoke. Perhaps they would be able to look at her presently! And with
that the three women joined the others in front of the fireplace.
Simonne and Clarisse were discussing the dead woman's diamonds in low
tones. Well, did they really exist--those diamonds? Nobody had seen
them; it must be a bit of humbug. But Lea de Horn knew someone who knew
all about them. Oh, they were monster stones! Besides, they weren't
all; she had brought back lots of other precious property from
Russia--embroidered stuffs, for instance, valuable knickknacks, a gold
dinner service, nay, even furniture. "Yes, my dear, fifty-two boxes,
enormous cases some of them, three truckloads of them!" They were all
lying at the station. "Wasn't it hard lines, eh?--to die without
even having time to unpack one's traps?" Then she had a lot of tin,
besides--something like a million! Lucy asked who was going to inherit
it all. Oh, distant relations--the aunt, without doubt! It would be a
pretty surprise for that old body. She knew nothing about it yet, for
the sick woman had obstinately refused to let them warn her, for she
still owed her a grudge over her little boy's death. Thereupon they were
all moved to pity about the little boy, and they remembered seeing him
at the races. Oh, it was a wretchedly sickly baby; it looked so old and
so sad. In fact, it was one of those poor brats who never asked to be
born!

"He's happier under the ground," said Blanche.

"Bah, and so's she!" added Caroline. "Life isn't so funny!"

In that gloomy room melancholy ideas began to take possession of their
imaginations. They felt frightened. It was silly to stand talking so
long, but a longing to see her kept them rooted to the spot. It was
very hot--the lamp glass threw a round, moonlike patch of light upon the
ceiling, but the rest of the room was drowned in steamy darkness. Under
the bed a deep plate full of phenol exhaled an insipid smell. And every
few moments tiny gusts of wind swelled the window curtains. The window
opened on the boulevard, whence rose a dull roaring sound.

"Did she suffer much?" asked Lucy, who was absorbed in contemplation
of the clock, the design of which represented the three Graces as nude
young women, smiling like opera dancers.

Gaga seemed to wake up.

"My word, yes! I was present when she died. I promise you it was not at
all pleasant to see. Why, she was taken with a shuddering fit--"

But she was unable to proceed with her explanation, for a cry arose
outside:

"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"

And Lucy, who felt suffocated, flung wide the window and leaned upon
the sill. It was pleasant there; the air came fresh from the starry sky.
Opposite her the windows were all aglow with light, and the gas sent
dancing reflections over the gilt lettering of the shop signs.

Beneath these, again, a most amusing scene presented itself. The streams
of people were discernible rolling torrentwise along the sidewalks and
in the roadway, where there was a confused procession of carriages.
Everywhere there were vast moving shadows in which lanterns and
lampposts gleamed like sparks. But the band which now came roaring by
carried torches, and a red glow streamed down from the direction of the
Madeleine, crossed the mob like a trail of fire and spread out over the
heads in the distance like a vivid reflection of a burning house. Lucy
called Blanche and Caroline, forgetting where she was and shouting:

"Do come! You get a capital view from this window!"

They all three leaned out, greatly interested. The trees got in their
way, and occasionally the torches disappeared under the foliage. They
tried to catch a glimpse of the men of their own party below, but a
protruding balcony hid the door, and they could only make out Count
Muffat, who looked like a dark parcel thrown down on the bench where he
sat. He was still burying his face in his handkerchief. A carriage
had stopped in front, and yet another woman hurried up, in whom Lucy
recognized Maria Blond. She was not alone; a stout man got down after
her.

"It's that thief of a Steiner," said Caroline. "How is it they haven't
sent him back to Cologne yet? I want to see how he looks when he comes
in."

They turned round, but when after the lapse of ten minutes Maria Blond
appeared, she was alone. She had twice mistaken the staircase. And when
Lucy, in some astonishment, questioned her:

"What, he?" she said. "My dear, don't you go fancying that he'll come
upstairs! It's a great wonder he's escorted me as far as the door. There
are nearly a dozen of them smoking cigars."

As a matter of fact, all the gentlemen were meeting downstairs. They had
come strolling thither in order to have a look at the boulevards, and
they hailed one another and commented loudly on that poor girl's death.
Then they began discussing politics and strategy. Bordenave, Daguenet,
Labordette, Prulliere and others, besides, had swollen the group, and
now they were all listening to Fontan, who was explaining his plan for
taking Berlin within a week.

Meanwhile Maria Blond was touched as she stood by the bedside and
murmured, as the others had done before her:

"Poor pet! The last time I saw her was in the grotto at the Gaite."

"Ah, she's changed; she's changed!" Rose Mignon repeated with a smile of
gloomiest dejection.

Two more women arrived. These were Tatan Nene and Louise Violaine.
They had been wandering about the Grand Hotel for twenty minutes past,
bandied from waiter to waiter, and had ascended and descended more than
thirty flights of stairs amid a perfect stampede of travelers who
were hurrying to leave Paris amid the panic caused by the war and the
excitement on the boulevards. Accordingly they just dropped down on
chairs when they came in, for they were too tired to think about the
dead. At that moment a loud noise came from the room next door, where
people were pushing trunks about and striking against furniture to an
accompaniment of strident, outlandish syllables. It was a young Austrian
couple, and Gaga told how during her agony the neighbors had played a
game of catch as catch can and how, as only an unused door divided the
two rooms, they had heard them laughing and kissing when one or the
other was caught.

"Come, it's time we were off," said Clarisse. "We shan't bring her to
life again. Are you coming, Simonne?"

They all looked at the bed out of the corners of their eyes, but they
did not budge an inch. Nevertheless, they began getting ready and gave
their skirts various little pats. Lucy was again leaning out of window.
She was alone now, and a sorrowful feeling began little by little to
overpower her, as though an intense wave of melancholy had mounted up
from the howling mob. Torches still kept passing, shaking out clouds of
sparks, and far away in the distance the various bands stretched into
the shadows, surging unquietly to and fro like flocks being driven
to the slaughterhouse at night. A dizzy feeling emanated from these
confused masses as the human flood rolled them along--a dizzy feeling,
a sense of terror and all the pity of the massacres to come. The people
were going wild; their voices broke; they were drunk with a fever of
excitement which sent them rushing toward the unknown "out there" beyond
the dark wall of the horizon.

"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"

Lucy turned round. She leaned her back against the window, and her face
was very pale.

"Good God! What's to become of us?"

The ladies shook their heads. They were serious and very anxious about
the turn events were taking.

"For my part," said Caroline Hequet in her decisive way, "I start for
London the day after tomorrow. Mamma's already over there getting a
house ready for me. I'm certainly not going to let myself be massacred
in Paris."

Her mother, as became a prudent woman, had invested all her daughters'
money in foreign lands. One never knows how a war may end! But Maria
Blond grew vexed at this. She was a patriot and spoke of following the
army.

"There's a coward for you! Yes, if they wanted me I should put on man's
clothes just to have a good shot at those pigs of Prussians! And if we
all die after? What of that? Our wretched skins aren't so valuable!"

Blanche de Sivry was exasperated.

"Please don't speak ill of the Prussians! They are just like other men,
and they're not always running after the women, like your Frenchmen.
They've just expelled the little Prussian who was with me. He was an
awfully rich fellow and so gentle: he couldn't have hurt a soul. It's
disgraceful; I'm ruined by it. And, you know, you mustn't say a word or
I go and find him out in Germany!"

After that, while the two were at loggerheads, Gaga began murmuring in
dolorous tones:

"It's all over with me; my luck's always bad. It's only a week ago that
I finished paying for my little house at Juvisy. Ah, God knows what
trouble it cost me! I had to go to Lili for help! And now here's the war
declared, and the Prussians'll come and they'll burn everything. How am
I to begin again at my time of life, I should like to know?"

"Bah!" said Clarisse. "I don't care a damn about it. I shall always find
what I want."

"Certainly you will," added Simonne. "It'll be a joke. Perhaps, after
all, it'll be good biz."

And her smile hinted what she thought. Tatan Nene and Louise Violaine
were of her opinion. The former told them that she had enjoyed the most
roaring jolly good times with soldiers. Oh, they were good fellows and
would have done any mortal thing for the girls. But as the ladies had
raised their voices unduly Rose Mignon, still sitting on the chest by
the bed, silenced them with a softly whispered "Hush!" They stood quite
still at this and glanced obliquely toward the dead woman, as though
this request for silence had emanated from the very shadows of the
curtains. In the heavy, peaceful stillness which ensued, a void,
deathly stillness which made them conscious of the stiff dead body lying
stretched close by them, the cries of the mob burst forth:

"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"

But soon they forgot. Lea de Horn, who had a political salon where
former ministers of Louis Philippe were wont to indulge in delicate
epigrams, shrugged her shoulders and continued the conversation in a low
tone:

"What a mistake this war is! What a bloodthirsty piece of stupidity!"

At this Lucy forthwith took up the cudgels for the empire. She had been
the mistress of a prince of the imperial house, and its defense became a
point of family honor with her.

"Do leave them alone, my dear. We couldn't let ourselves be further
insulted! Why, this war concerns the honor of France. Oh, you know I
don't say that because of the prince. He WAS just mean! Just imagine, at
night when he was going to bed he hid his gold in his boots, and when we
played at bezique he used beans, because one day I pounced down on the
stakes for fun. But that doesn't prevent my being fair. The emperor was
right."

Lea shook her head with an air of superiority, as became a woman who was
repeating the opinions of important personages. Then raising her voice:

"This is the end of all things. They're out of their minds at the
Tuileries. France ought to have driven them out yesterday. Don't you
see?"

They all violently interrupted her. What was up with her? Was she mad
about the emperor? Were people not happy? Was business doing badly?
Paris would never enjoy itself so thoroughly again.

Gaga was beside herself; she woke up and was very indignant.

"Be quiet! It's idiotic! You don't know what you're saying. I--I've seen
Louis Philippe's reign: it was full of beggars and misers, my dear.
And then came '48! Oh, it was a pretty disgusting business was their
republic! After February I was simply dying of starvation--yes, I, Gaga.
Oh, if only you'd been through it all you would go down on your knees
before the emperor, for he's been a father to us; yes, a father to us."

She had to be soothed but continued with pious fervor:

"O my God, do Thy best to give the emperor the victory. Preserve the
empire to us!"

They all repeated this aspiration, and Blanche confessed that she burned
candles for the emperor. Caroline had been smitten by him and for two
whole months had walked where he was likely to pass but had failed to
attract his attention. And with that the others burst forth into furious
denunciations of the Republicans and talked of exterminating them on
the frontiers so that Napoleon III, after having beaten the enemy, might
reign peacefully amid universal enjoyment.

"That dirty Bismarck--there's another cad for you!" Maria Blond
remarked.

"To think that I should have known him!" cried Simonne. "If only I
could have foreseen, I'm the one that would have put some poison in his
glass."

But Blanche, on whose heart the expulsion of her Prussian still weighed,
ventured to defend Bismarck. Perhaps he wasn't such a bad sort. To every
man his trade!

"You know," she added, "he adores women."

"What the hell has that got to do with us?" said Clarisse. "We don't
want to cuddle him, eh?"

"There's always too many men of that sort!" declared Louise Violaine
gravely. "It's better to do without 'em than to mix oneself up with such
monsters!"

And the discussion continued, and they stripped Bismarck, and, in her
Bonapartist zeal, each of them gave him a sounding kick, while Tatan
Nene kept saying:

"Bismarck! Why, they've simply driven me crazy with the chap! Oh, I hate
him! I didn't know that there Bismarck! One can't know everybody."

"Never mind," said Lea de Horn by way of conclusion, "that Bismarck will
give us a jolly good threshing."

But she could not continue. The ladies were all down on her at once. Eh,
what? A threshing? It was Bismarck they were going to escort home with
blows from the butt ends of their muskets. What was this bad Frenchwoman
going to say next?

"Hush," whispered Rose, for so much noise hurt her.

The cold influence of the corpse once more overcame them, and they all
paused together. They were embarrassed; the dead woman was before them
again; a dull thread of coming ill possessed them. On the boulevard the
cry was passing, hoarse and wild:

"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"

Presently, when they were making up their minds to go, a voice was heard
calling from the passage:

"Rose! Rose!"

Gaga opened the door in astonishment and disappeared for a moment. When
she returned:

"My dear," she said, "it's Fauchery. He's out there at the end of the
corridor. He won't come any further, and he's beside himself because you
still stay near that body."

Mignon had at last succeeded in urging the journalist upstairs.
Lucy, who was still at the window, leaned out and caught sight of the
gentlemen out on the pavement. They were looking up, making energetic
signals to her. Mignon was shaking his fists in exasperation, and
Steiner, Fontan, Bordenave and the rest were stretching out their arms
with looks of anxious reproach, while Daguenet simply stood smoking a
cigar with his hands behind his back, so as not to compromise himself.

"It's true, dear," said Lucy, leaving the window open; "I promised to
make you come down. They're all calling us now."

Rose slowly and painfully left the chest.

"I'm coming down; I'm coming down," she whispered. "It's very certain
she no longer needs me. They're going to send in a Sister of Mercy."

And she turned round, searching for her hat and shawl. Mechanically she
filled a basin of water on the toilet table and while washing her hands
and face continued:

"I don't know! It's been a great blow to me. We used scarcely to be nice
to one another. Ah well! You see I'm quite silly over it now. Oh! I've
got all sorts of strange ideas--I want to die myself--I feel the end of
the world's coming. Yes, I need air."

The corpse was beginning to poison the atmosphere of the room. And after
long heedlessness there ensued a panic.

"Let's be off; let's be off, my little pets!" Gaga kept saying. "It
isn't wholesome here."

They went briskly out, casting a last glance at the bed as they passed
it. But while Lucy, Blanche and Caroline still remained behind, Rose
gave a final look round, for she wanted to leave the room in order. She
drew a curtain across the window, and then it occurred to her that the
lamp was not the proper thing and that a taper should take its place. So
she lit one of the copper candelabra on the chimney piece and placed
it on the night table beside the corpse. A brilliant light suddenly
illumined the dead woman's face. The women were horror-struck. They
shuddered and escaped.

"Ah, she's changed; she's changed!" murmured Rose Mignon, who was the
last to remain.

She went away; she shut the door. Nana was left alone with upturned face
in the light cast by the candle. She was fruit of the charnel house, a
heap of matter and blood, a shovelful of corrupted flesh thrown down on
the pillow. The pustules had invaded the whole of the face, so that each
touched its neighbor. Fading and sunken, they had assumed the grayish
hue of mud; and on that formless pulp, where the features had ceased to
be traceable, they already resembled some decaying damp from the
grave. One eye, the left eye, had completely foundered among bubbling
purulence, and the other, which remained half open, looked like a deep,
black, ruinous hole. The nose was still suppurating. Quite a reddish
crush was peeling from one of the cheeks and invading the mouth, which
it distorted into a horrible grin. And over this loathsome and grotesque
mask of death the hair, the beautiful hair, still blazed like sunlight
and flowed downward in rippling gold. Venus was rotting. It seemed as
though the poison she had assimilated in the gutters and on the carrion
tolerated by the roadside, the leaven with which she had poisoned
a whole people, had but now remounted to her face and turned it to
corruption.

The room was empty. A great despairing breath came up from the boulevard
and swelled the curtain.

"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"






THE MILLER'S DAUGHTER



CHAPTER I

THE BETROTHAL


Pere Merlier's mill, one beautiful summer evening, was arranged for a
grand fete. In the courtyard were three tables, placed end to end, which
awaited the guests. Everyone knew that Francoise, Merlier's daughter,
was that night to be betrothed to Dominique, a young man who was accused
of idleness but whom the fair sex for three leagues around gazed at with
sparkling eyes, such a fine appearance had he.

Pere Merlier's mill was pleasing to look upon. It stood exactly in the
center of Rocreuse, where the highway made an elbow. The village had but
one street, with two rows of huts, a row on each side of the road; but
at the elbow meadows spread out, and huge trees which lined the banks of
the Morelle covered the extremity of the valley with lordly shade. There
was not, in all Lorraine, a corner of nature more adorable. To the right
and to the left thick woods, centenarian forests, towered up from gentle
slopes, filling the horizon with a sea of verdure, while toward the
south the plain stretched away, of marvelous fertility, displaying as
far as the eye could reach patches of ground divided by green hedges.
But what constituted the special charm of Rocreuse was the coolness
of that cut of verdure in the most sultry days of July and August. The
Morelle descended from the forests of Gagny and seemed to have gathered
the cold from the foliage beneath which it flowed for leagues; it
brought with it the murmuring sounds, the icy and concentrated shade
of the woods. And it was not the sole source of coolness: all sorts of
flowing streams gurgled through the forest; at each step springs bubbled
up; one felt, on following the narrow pathways, that there must exist
subterranean lakes which pierced through beneath the moss and availed
themselves of the smallest crevices at the feet of trees or between the
rocks to burst forth in crystalline fountains. The whispering voices of
these brooks were so numerous and so loud that they drowned the song of
the bullfinches. It was like some enchanted park with cascades falling
from every portion.

Below the meadows were damp. Gigantic chestnut trees cast dark shadows.
On the borders of the meadows long hedges of poplars exhibited in lines
their rustling branches. Two avenues of enormous plane trees stretched
across the fields toward the ancient Chateau de Gagny, then a mass
of ruins. In this constantly watered district the grass grew to an
extraordinary height. It resembled a garden between two wooded hills,
a natural garden, of which the meadows were the lawns, the giant trees
marking the colossal flower beds. When the sun's rays at noon poured
straight downward the shadows assumed a bluish tint; scorched grass
slept in the heat, while an icy shiver passed beneath the foliage.

And there it was that Pere Merlier's mill enlivened with its ticktack
a corner of wild verdure. The structure, built of plaster and planks,
seemed as old as the world. It dipped partially in the Morelle, which
rounded at that point into a transparent basin. A sluice had been made,
and the water fell from a height of several meters upon the mill wheel,
which cracked as it turned, with the asthmatic cough of a faithful
servant grown old in the house. When Pere Merlier was advised to change
it he shook his head, saying that a new wheel would be lazier and would
not so well understand the work, and he mended the old one with whatever
he could put his hands on: cask staves, rusty iron, zinc and lead. The
wheel appeared gayer than ever for it, with its profile grown odd, all
plumed with grass and moss. When the water beat upon it with its silvery
flood it was covered with pearls; its strange carcass wore a sparkling
attire of necklaces of mother-of-pearl.

The part of the mill which dipped in the Morelle had the air of a
barbaric arch stranded there. A full half of the structure was built on
piles. The water flowed beneath the floor, and deep places were there,
renowned throughout the district for the enormous eels and crayfish
caught in them. Below the fall the basin was as clear as a mirror, and
when the wheel did not cover it with foam schools of huge fish could be
seen swimming with the slowness of a squadron. Broken steps led down
to the river near a stake to which a boat was moored. A wooden gallery
passed above the wheel. Windows opened, pierced irregularly. It was a
pell-mell of corners, of little walls, of constructions added too
late, of beams and of roofs, which gave the mill the aspect of an old,
dismantled citadel. But ivy had grown; all sorts of clinging plants
stopped the too-wide chinks and threw a green cloak over the ancient
building. The young ladies who passed by sketched Pere Merlier's mill in
their albums.

On the side facing the highway the structure was more solid. A stone
gateway opened upon the wide courtyard, which was bordered to the right
and to the left by sheds and stables. Beside a well an immense elm
covered half the courtyard with its shadow. In the background the
building displayed the four windows of its second story, surmounted by
a pigeon house. Pere Merlier's sole vanity was to have this front
plastered every ten years. It had just received a new coating and
dazzled the village when the sun shone on it at noon.

For twenty years Pere Merlier had been mayor of Rocreuse. He was
esteemed for the fortune he had acquired. His wealth was estimated
at something like eighty thousand francs, amassed sou by sou. When he
married Madeleine Guillard, who brought him the mill as her dowry, he
possessed only his two arms. But Madeleine never repented of her choice,
so briskly did he manage the business. Now his wife was dead, and he
remained a widower with his daughter Francoise. Certainly he might have
rested, allowed the mill wheel to slumber in the moss, but that would
have been too dull for him, and in his eyes the building would have
seemed dead. He toiled on for pleasure.

Pere Merlier was a tall old man with a long, still face, who never
laughed but who possessed, notwithstanding, a very gay heart. He had
been chosen mayor because of his money and also on account of the
imposing air he could assume during a marriage ceremony.

Francoise Merlier was just eighteen. She did not pass for one of
the handsome girls of the district, as she was not robust. Up to her
fifteenth year she had been even ugly.

The Rocreuse people had not been able to understand why the daughter of
Pere and Mere Merlier, both of whom had always enjoyed excellent health,
grew ill and with an air of regret. But at fifteen, though yet delicate,
her little face became one of the prettiest in the world. She had black
hair, black eyes, and was as rosy as a peach; her lips constantly wore
a smile; there were dimples in her cheeks, and her fair forehead seemed
crowned with sunlight. Although not considered robust in the district,
she was far from thin; the idea was simply that she could not lift a
sack of grain, but she would become plump as she grew older--she would
eventually be as round and dainty as a quail. Her father's long periods
of silence had made her thoughtful very young. If she smiled constantly
it was to please others. By nature she was serious.

Of course all the young men of the district paid court to her, more
on account of her ecus than her pretty ways. At last she made a choice
which scandalized the community.

On the opposite bank of the Morelle lived a tall youth named Dominique
Penquer. He did not belong to Rocreuse. Ten years before he had arrived
from Belgium as the heir of his uncle, who had left him a small property
upon the very border of the forest of Gagny, just opposite the mill, a
few gunshots distant. He had come to sell this property, he said, and
return home. But the district charmed him, it appeared, for he did
not quit it. He was seen cultivating his little field, gathering a few
vegetables upon which he subsisted. He fished and hunted; many times
the forest guards nearly caught him and were on the point of drawing up
proces-verbaux against him. This free existence, the resources of
which the peasants could not clearly discover, at length gave him a bad
reputation. He was vaguely styled a poacher. At any rate, he was lazy,
for he was often found asleep on the grass when he should have been at
work. The hut he inhabited beneath the last trees on the edge of the
forest did not seem at all like the dwelling of an honest young fellow.
If he had had dealings with the wolves of the ruins of Gagny the old
women would not have been the least bit surprised. Nevertheless, the
young girls sometimes risked defending him, for this doubtful man was
superb; supple and tall as a poplar, he had a very white skin, with
flaxen hair and beard which gleamed like gold in the sun.

One fine morning Francoise declared to Pere Merlier that she loved
Dominique and would never wed any other man.

It may well be imagined what a blow this was to Pere Merlier. He said
nothing, according to his custom, but his face grew thoughtful and his
internal gaiety no longer sparkled in his eyes. He looked gruff for a
week. Francoise also was exceedingly grave. What tormented Pere Merlier
was to find out how this rogue of a poacher had managed to fascinate his
daughter. Dominique had never visited the mill. The miller watched and
saw the gallant on the other side of the Morelle, stretched out upon
the grass and feigning to be asleep. Francoise could see him from her
chamber window. Everything was plain: they had fallen in love by casting
sheep's eyes at each other over the mill wheel.

Another week went by. Francoise became more and more grave. Pere Merlier
still said nothing. Then one evening he himself silently brought in
Dominique. Francoise at that moment was setting the table. She did not
seem astonished; she contented herself with putting on an additional
plate, knife and fork, but the little dimples were again seen in her
cheeks, and her smile reappeared. That morning Pere Merlier had sought
out Dominique in his hut on the border of the wood.

There the two men had talked for three hours with doors and windows
closed. What was the purport of their conversation no one ever knew.
Certain it was, however, that Pere Merlier, on taking his departure,
already called Dominique his son-in-law. Without doubt the old man had
found the youth he had gone to seek a worthy youth in the lazy fellow
who stretched himself out upon the grass to make the girls fall in love
with him.

All Rocreuse clamored. The women at the doors had plenty to say on
the subject of the folly of Pere Merlier, who had thus introduced a
reprobate into his house. The miller let people talk on. Perhaps
he remembered his own marriage. He was without a sou when he wedded
Madeleine and her mill; this, however, had not prevented him from making
a good husband. Besides, Dominique cut short the gossip by going so
vigorously to work that all the district was amazed. The miller's
assistant had just been drawn to serve as a soldier, and Dominique would
not suffer another to be engaged. He carried the sacks, drove the cart,
fought with the old mill wheel when it refused to turn, and all this
with such good will that people came to see him out of curiosity. Pere
Merlier had his silent laugh. He was excessively proud of having formed
a correct estimate of this youth. There is nothing like love to give
courage to young folks. Amid all these heavy labors Francoise and
Dominique adored each other. They did not indulge in lovers' talks, but
there was a smiling gentleness in their glances.

Up to that time Pere Merlier had not spoken a single word on the subject
of marriage, and they respected this silence, awaiting the old man's
will. Finally one day toward the middle of July he caused three tables
to be placed in the courtyard, beneath the great elm, and invited his
friends of Rocreuse to come in the evening and drink a glass of wine
with him.

When the courtyard was full and all had their glasses in their hands,
Pere Merlier raised his very high and said:

"I have the pleasure to announce to you that Francoise will wed this
young fellow here in a month, on Saint Louis's Day."

Then they drank noisily. Everybody smiled. But Pere Merlier, again
lifting his voice, exclaimed:

"Dominique, embrace your fiancee. It is your right."

They embraced, blushing to the tips of their ears, while all the guests
laughed joyously. It was a genuine fete. They emptied a small cask of
wine. Then when all were gone but intimate friends the conversation was
carried on without noise. The night had fallen, a starry and cloudless
night. Dominique and Francoise, seated side by side on a bench, said
nothing.

An old peasant spoke of the war the emperor had declared against
Prussia. All the village lads had already departed. On the preceding day
troops had again passed through the place. There was going to be hard
fighting.

"Bah!" said Pere Merlier with the selfishness of a happy man. "Dominique
is a foreigner; he will not go to the war. And if the Prussians come
here he will be on hand to defend his wife!"

The idea that the Prussians might come there seemed a good joke. They
were going to receive a sound whipping, and the affair would soon be
over.

"I have afready seen them; I have already seen them," repeated the old
peasant in a hollow voice.

There was silence. Then they drank again. Francoise and Dominique had
heard nothing; they had gently taken each other by the hand behind the
bench, so that nobody could see them, and it seemed so delightful that
they remained where they were, their eyes plunged into the depths of the
shadows.

What a warm and superb night it was! The village slumbered on both edges
of the white highway in infantile quietude. From time to time was heard
the crowing of some chanticleer aroused too soon. From the huge wood
near by came long breaths, which passed over the roofs like caresses.
The meadows, with their dark shadows, assumed a mysterious and dreamy
majesty, while all the springs, all the flowing waters which gurgled in
the darkness, seemed to be the cool and rhythmical respiration of the
sleeping country. Occasionally the ancient mill wheel, lost in a doze,
appeared to dream like those old watchdogs that bark while snoring; it
cracked; it talked to itself, rocked by the fall of the Morelle, the
surface of which gave forth the musical and continuous sound of an organ
pipe. Never had more profound peace descended upon a happier corner of
nature.



CHAPTER II

THE ATTACK ON THE MILL


A month later, on the day preceding that of Saint Louis, Rocreuse was
in a state of terror. The Prussians had beaten the emperor and were
advancing by forced marches toward the village. For a week past people
who hurried along the highway had been announcing them thus: "They
are at Lormiere--they are at Novelles!" And on hearing that they were
drawing near so rapidly, Rocreuse every morning expected to see them
descend from the wood of Gagny. They did not come, however, and that
increased the fright. They would surely fall upon the village during the
night and slaughter everybody.

That morning, a little before sunrise, there was an alarm. The
inhabitants were awakened by the loud tramp of men on the highway. The
women were already on their knees, making the sign of the cross, when
some of the people, peering cautiously through the partially opened
windows, recognized the red pantaloons. It was a French detachment. The
captain immediately asked for the mayor of the district and remained at
the mill after having talked with Pere Merlier.

The sun rose gaily that morning. It would be hot at noon. Over the wood
floated a golden brightness, while in the distance white vapors arose
from the meadows. The neat and pretty village awoke amid the fresh air,
and the country, with its river and its springs, had the moist sweetness
of a bouquet. But that beautiful day caused nobody to smile. The captain
was seen to take a turn around the mill, examine the neighboring houses,
pass to the other side of the Morelle and from there study the district
with a field glass; Pere Merlier, who accompanied him, seemed to be
giving him explanations. Then the captain posted soldiers behind
the walls, behind the trees and in the ditches. The main body of the
detachment encamped in the courtyard of the mill. Was there going to be
a battle? When Pere Merlier returned he was questioned. He nodded his
head without speaking. Yes, there was going to be a battle!

Francoise and Dominique were in the courtyard; they looked at him. At
last he took his pipe from his mouth and said:

"Ah, my poor young ones, you cannot get married tomorrow!"

Dominique, his lips pressed together, with an angry frown on his
forehead, at times raised himself on tiptoe and fixed his eyes upon the
wood of Gagny, as if he wished to see the Prussians arrive. Francoise,
very pale and serious, came and went, furnishing the soldiers with what
they needed. The troops were making soup in a corner of the courtyard;
they joked while waiting for it to get ready.

The captain was delighted. He had visited the chambers and the huge
hall of the mill which looked out upon the river. Now, seated beside the
well, he was conversing with Pere Merlier.

"Your mill is a real fortress," he said. "We can hold it without
difficulty until evening. The bandits are late. They ought to be here."

The miller was grave. He saw his mill burning like a torch, but he
uttered no complaint, thinking such a course useless. He merely said:

"You had better hide the boat behind the wheel; there is a place there
just fit for that purpose. Perhaps it will be useful to have the boat."

The captain gave the requisite order. This officer was a handsome man
of forty; he was tall and had an amiable countenance. The sight of
Francoise and Dominique seemed to please him. He contemplated them as
if he had forgotten the coming struggle. He followed Francoise with
his eyes, and his look told plainly that he thought her charming. Then
turning toward Dominique, he asked suddenly:

"Why are you not in the army, my good fellow?"

"I am a foreigner," answered the young man.

The captain evidently did not attach much weight to this reason. He
winked his eye and smiled. Francoise was more agreeable company than a
cannon. On seeing him smile, Dominique added:

"I am a foreigner, but I can put a ball in an apple at five hundred
meters. There is my hunting gun behind you."

"You may have use for it," responded the captain dryly.

Francoise had approached, somewhat agitated. Without heeding the
strangers present Dominique took and grasped in his the two hands she
extended to him, as if to put herself under his protection. The captain
smiled again but said not a word. He remained seated, his sword across
his knees and his eyes plunged into space, lost in a reverie.

It was already ten o'clock. The heat had become very great. A heavy
silence prevailed. In the courtyard, in the shadows of the sheds, the
soldiers had begun to eat their soup. Not a sound came from the village;
all its inhabitants had barricaded the doors and windows of their
houses. A dog, alone upon the highway, howled. From the neighboring
forests and meadows, swooning in the heat, came a prolonged and distant
voice made up of all the scattered breaths. A cuckoo sang. Then the
silence grew more intense.

Suddenly in that slumbering air a shot was heard. The captain leaped
briskly to his feet; the soldiers left their plates of soup, yet half
full. In a few seconds everybody was at the post of duty; from bottom to
top the mill was occupied. Meanwhile the captain, who had gone out
upon the road, had discovered nothing; to the right and to the left the
highway stretched out, empty and white. A second shot was heard, and
still nothing visible, not even a shadow. But as he was returning the
captain perceived in the direction of Gagny, between two trees, a light
puff of smoke whirling away like thistledown. The wood was calm and
peaceful.

"The bandits have thrown themselves into the forest," he muttered. "They
know we are here."

Then the firing continued, growing more and more vigorous, between the
French soldiers posted around the mill and the Prussians hidden behind
the trees. The balls whistled above the Morelle without damaging either
side. The fusillade was irregular, the shots coming from every bush, and
still only the little puffs of smoke, tossed gently by the breeze, were
seen. This lasted nearly two hours. The officer hummed a tune with an
air of indifference. Francoise and Dominique, who had remained in the
courtyard, raised themselves on tiptoe and looked over a low wall. They
were particularly interested in a little soldier posted on the shore of
the Morelle, behind the remains of an old bateau; he stretched himself
out flat on the ground, watched, fired and then glided into a ditch a
trifle farther back to reload his gun; and his movements were so droll,
so tricky and so supple, that they smiled as they looked at him. He must
have perceived the head of a Prussian, for he arose quickly and brought
his weapon to his shoulder, but before he could fire he uttered a cry,
fell and rolled into the ditch, where for an instant his legs twitched
convulsively like the claws of a chicken just killed. The little soldier
had received a ball full in the breast. He was the first man slain.
Instinctively Francoise seized Dominique's hand and clasped it with a
nervous contraction.

"Move away," said the captain. "You are within range of the balls."

At that moment a sharp little thud was heard in the old elm, and a
fragment of a branch came whirling down. But the two young folks did not
stir; they were nailed to the spot by anxiety to see what was going on.
On the edge of the wood a Prussian had suddenly come out from behind a
tree as from a theater stage entrance, beating the air with his hands
and falling backward. Nothing further moved; the two corpses seemed
asleep in the broad sunlight; not a living soul was seen in the
scorching country. Even the crack of the fusillade had ceased. The
Morelle alone whispered in its clear tones.

Pere Merlier looked at the captain with an air of surprise, as if to ask
him if the struggle was over.

"They are getting ready for something worse," muttered the officer.
"Don't trust appearances. Move away from there."

He had not finished speaking when there was a terrible discharge of
musketry. The great elm was riddled, and a host of leaves shot into the
air. The Prussians had happily fired too high. Dominique dragged, almost
carried, Francoise away, while Pere Merlier followed them, shouting:

"Go down into the cellar; the walls are solid!"

But they did not heed him; they entered the huge hall where ten soldiers
were waiting in silence, watching through the chinks in the closed
window shutters. The captain was alone in the courtyard, crouching
behind the little wall, while the furious discharges continued. Without,
the soldiers he had posted gave ground only foot by foot. However, they
re-entered one by one, crawling, when the enemy had dislodged them
from their hiding places. Their orders were to gain time and not show
themselves, that the Prussians might remain in ignorance as to what
force was before them. Another hour went by. As a sergeant arrived,
saying that but two or three more men remained without, the captain
glanced at his watch, muttering:

"Half-past two o'clock. We must hold the position four hours longer."

He caused the great gate of the courtyard to be closed, and every
preparation was made for an energetic resistance. As the Prussians were
on the opposite side of the Morelle, an immediate assault was not to be
feared. There was a bridge two kilometers away, but they evidently were
not aware of its existence, and it was hardly likely that they would
attempt to ford the river. The officer, therefore, simply ordered the
highway to be watched. Every effort would be made in the direction of
the country.

Again the fusillade had ceased. The mill seemed dead beneath the glowing
sun. Not a shutter was open; no sound came from the interior. At length,
little by little, the Prussians showed themselves at the edge of the
forest of Gagny. They stretched their necks and grew bold. In the mill
several soldiers had already raised their guns to their shoulders, but
the captain cried:

"No, no; wait. Let them come nearer."

They were exceedingly prudent, gazing at the mill with a suspicious air.
The silent and somber old structure with its curtains of ivy filled them
with uneasiness. Nevertheless, they advanced. When fifty of them were in
the opposite meadow the officer uttered the single word:

"Fire!"

A crash was heard; isolated shots followed. Francoise, all of a tremble,
had mechanically put her hands to her ears. Dominique, behind the
soldiers, looked on; when the smoke had somewhat lifted he saw three
Prussians stretched upon their backs in the center of the meadow. The
others had thrown themselves behind the willows and poplars. Then the
siege began.

For more than an hour the mill was riddled with balls. They dashed
against the old walls like hail. When they struck the stones they were
heard to flatten and fall into the water. They buried themselves in the
wood with a hollow sound. Occasionally a sharp crack announced that the
mill wheel had been hit. The soldiers in the interior were careful of
their shots; they fired only when they could take aim. From time to time
the captain consulted his watch. As a ball broke a shutter and plowed
into the ceiling he said to himself:

"Four o'clock. We shall never be able to hold out!"

Little by little the terrible fusillade weakened the old mill. A shutter
fell into the water, pierced like a bit of lace, and it was necessary to
replace it with a mattress. Pere Merlier constantly exposed himself to
ascertain the extent of the damage done to his poor wheel, the cracking
of which made his heart ache. All would be over with it this time; never
could he repair it. Dominique had implored Francoise to withdraw,
but she refused to leave him; she was seated behind a huge oaken
clothespress, which protected her. A ball, however, struck the
clothespress, the sides of which gave forth a hollow sound. Then
Dominique placed himself in front of Francoise. He had not yet fired
a shot; he held his gun in his hand but was unable to approach the
windows, which were altogether occupied by the soldiers. At each
discharge the floor shook.

"Attention! Attention!" suddenly cried the captain.

He had just seen a great dark mass emerge from the wood. Immediately a
formidable platoon fire opened. It was like a waterspout passing over
the mill. Another shutter was shattered, and through the gaping opening
of the window the balls entered. Two soldiers rolled upon the floor. One
of them lay like a stone; they pushed the body against the wall because
it was in the way. The other twisted in agony, begging his comrades to
finish him, but they paid no attention to him. The balls entered in
a constant stream; each man took care of himself and strove to find a
loophole through which to return the fire. A third soldier was hit; he
uttered not a word; he fell on the edge of a table, with eyes fixed and
haggard. Opposite these dead men Francoise, stricken with horror, had
mechanically pushed away her chair to sit on the floor against the wall;
she thought she would take up less room there and not be in so much
danger. Meanwhile the soldiers had collected all the mattresses of the
household and partially stopped up the windows with them. The hall was
filled with wrecks, with broken weapons and demolished furniture.

"Five o'clock," said the captain. "Keep up your courige! They are about
to try to cross the river!"

At that moment Francoise uttered a cry. A ball which had ricocheted had
grazed her forehead. Several drops of blood appeared. Dominique stared
at her; then, approaching the window, he fired his first shot. Once
started, he did not stop. He loaded and fired without heeding what was
passing around him, but from time to time he glanced at Francoise. He
was very deliberate and aimed with care. The Prussians, keeping beside
the poplars, attempted the passage of the Morelle, as the captain had
predicted, but as soon as a man strove to cross he fell, shot in the
head by Dominique. The captain, who had his eyes on the young man, was
amazed. He complimented him, saying that he should be glad to have
many such skillful marksmen. Dominique did not hear him. A ball cut his
shoulder; another wounded his arm, but he continued to fire.

There were two more dead men. The mangled mattresses no longer stopped
the windows. The last discharge seemed as if it would have carried
away the mill. The position had ceased to be tenable. Nevertheless, the
captain said firmly:

"Hold your ground for half an hour more!"

Now he counted the minutes. He had promised his chiefs to hold the enemy
in check there until evening, and he would not give an inch before the
hour he had fixed on for the retreat. He preserved his amiable air and
smiled upon Francoise to reassure her. He had picked up the gun of a
dead soldier and himself was firing.

Only four soldiers remained in the hall. The Prussians appeared in
a body on the other side of the Morelle, and it was clear that they
intended speedily to cross the river. A few minutes more elapsed. The
stubborn captain would not order the retreat. Just then a sergeant
hastened to him and said:

"They are upon the highway; they will take us in the rear!"

The Prussians must have found the bridge. The captain pulled out his
watch and looked at it.

"Five minutes longer," he said. "They cannot get here before that time!"

Then at six o'clock exactly he at last consented to lead his men out
through a little door which opened into a lane. From there they threw
themselves into a ditch; they gained the forest of Sauval. Before taking
his departure the captain bowed very politely to Pere Merlier and made
his excuses, adding:

"Amuse them! We will return!"

Dominique was now alone in the hall. He was still firing, hearing
nothing, understanding nothing. He felt only the need of defending
Francoise. He had not the least suspicion in the world that the soldiers
had retreated. He aimed and killed his man at every shot. Suddenly there
was a loud noise. The Prussians had entered the courtyard from behind.
Dominique fired a last; shot, and they fell upon him while his gun was
yet smoking.

Four men held him. Others vociferated around him in a frightful
language. They were ready to slaughter him on the spot. Francoise, with
a supplicating look, had cast herself before him. But an officer entered
and ordered the prisoner to be delivered up to him. After exchanging
a few words in German with the soldiers he turned toward Dominique and
said to him roughly in very good French:

"You will be shot in two hours!"



CHAPTER III

THE FLIGHT


It was a settled rule of the German staff that every Frenchman, not
belonging to the regular army, taken with arms in his hands should
be shot. The militia companies themselves were not recognized as
belligerents. By thus making terrible examples of the peasants who
defended their homes, the Germans hoped to prevent the levy en masse,
which they feared.

The officer, a tall, lean man of fifty, briefly questioned Dominique.
Although he spoke remarkably pure French he had a stiffness altogether
Prussian.

"Do you belong to this district?" he asked.

"No; I am a Belgian," answered the young man.

"Why then did you take up arms? The fighting did not concern you!"

Dominique made no reply. At that moment the officer saw Francoise who
was standing by, very pale, listening; upon her white forehead her
slight wound had put a red bar. He looked at the young folks, one after
the other, seemed to understand matters and contented himself with
adding:

"You do not deny having fired, do you?"

"I fired as often as I could!" responded Dominique tranquilly.

This confession was useless, for he was black with powder, covered with
sweat and stained with a few drops of blood which had flowed from the
scratch on his shoulder.

"Very well," said the officer. "You will be shot in two hours!"

Francoise did not cry out. She clasped her hands and raised them with a
gesture of mute despair. The officer noticed this gesture. Two soldiers
had taken Dominique to a neighboring apartment, where they were to
keep watch over him. The young girl had fallen upon a chair, totally
overcome; she could not weep; she was suffocating. The officer had
continued to examine her. At last he spoke to her.

"Is that young man your brother?" he demanded.

She shook her head negatively. The German stood stiffly on his feet with
out a smile. Then after a short silence he again asked:

"Has he lived long in the district?"

She nodded affirmatively.

"In that case, he ought to be thoroughly acquainted with the neighboring
forests."

This time she spoke.

"He is thoroughly acquainted with them, monsieur," she said, looking at
him with considerable surprise.

He said nothing further to her but turned upon his heel, demanding that
the mayor of the village should be brought to him. But Francoise had
arisen with a slight blush on her countenance; thinking that she had
seized the aim of the officer's questions, she had recovered hope. She
herself ran to find her father.

Pere Merlier, as soon as the firing had ceased, had quickly descended to
the wooden gallery to examine his wheel. He adored his daughter; he had
a solid friendship for Dominique, his future son-in-law, but his wheel
also held a large place in his heart. Since the two young ones, as he
called them, had come safe and sound out of the fight, he thought of his
other tenderness, which had suffered greatly. Bent over the huge wooden
carcass, he was studying its wounds with a sad air. Five buckets were
shattered to pieces; the central framework was riddled. He thrust his
fingers in the bullet holes to measure their depth; he thought how he
could repair all these injuries. Francoise found him already stopping up
the clefts with rubbish and moss.

"Father," she said, "you are wanted."

And she wept at last as she told him what she had just heard. Pere
Merlier tossed his head. People were not shot in such a summary fashion.
The matter must be looked after. He re-entered the mill with his silent
and tranquil air. When the officer demanded of him provisions for his
men he replied that the inhabitants of Rocreuse were not accustomed
to be treated roughly and that nothing would be obtained from them if
violence were employed. He would see to everything but on condition that
he was not interfered with. The officer at first seemed irritated by his
calm tone; then he gave way before the old man's short and clear words.
He even called him back and asked him:

"What is the name of that wood opposite?"

"The forest of Sauval."

"What is its extent?"

The miller looked at him fixedly.

"I do not know," he answered.

And he went away. An hour later the contribution of war in provisions
and money, demanded by the officer, was in the courtyard of the mill.
Night came on. Francoise watched with anxiety the movements of the
soldiers. She hung about the room in which Dominique was imprisoned.
Toward seven o'clock she experienced a poignant emotion. She saw the
officer enter the prisoner's apartment and for a quarter of an hour
heard their voices in loud conversation. For an instant the officer
reappeared upon the threshold to give an order in German, which she did
not understand, but when twelve men ranged themselves in the courtyard,
their guns on their shoulders, she trembled and felt as if about to
faint. All then was over: the execution was going to take place. The
twelve men stood there ten minutes, Dominique's voice continuing to
be raised in a tone of violent refusal. Finally the officer came out,
saying, as he roughly shut the door:

"Very well; reflect. I give you until tomorrow morning."

And with a gesture he ordered the twelve men to break ranks. Francoise
was stupefied. Pere Merlier, who had been smoking his pipe and looking
at the platoon simply with an air of curiosity, took her by the arm with
paternal gentleness. He led her to her chamber.

"Be calm," he said, "and try to sleep. Tomorrow, when it is light, we
will see what can be done."

As he withdrew he prudently locked her in. It was his opinion that women
were good for nothing and that they spoiled everything when they took
a hand in a serious affair. But Francoise did not retire. She sat for
a long while upon the side of her bed, listening to the noises of the
house. The German soldiers encamped in the courtyard sang and laughed;
they must have been eating and drinking until eleven o'clock, for the
racket did not cease an instant. In the mill itself heavy footsteps
resounded from time to time, without doubt those of the sentinels who
were being relieved. But she was interested most by the sounds she
could distinguish in the apartment beneath her chamber. Many times she
stretched herself out at full length and put her ear to the floor. That
apartment was the one in which Dominique was confined. He must have been
walking back and forth from the window to the wall, for she long heard
the regular cadence of his steps. Then deep silence ensued; he had
doubtless seated himself. Finally every noise ceased and all was as if
asleep. When slumber appeared to her to have settled on the house she
opened her window as gently as possible and leaned her elbows on the
sill.

Without, the night had a warm serenity. The slender crescent of the
moon, which was sinking behind the forest of Sauval, lit up the country
with the glimmer of a night lamp. The lengthened shadows of the tall
trees barred the meadows with black, while the grass in uncovered spots
assumed the softness of greenish velvet. But Francoise did not pause
to admire the mysterious charms of the night. She examined the country,
searching for the sentinels whom the Germans had posted obliquely. She
clearly saw their shadows extending like the rounds of a ladder along
the Morelle. Only one was before the mill, on the other shore of the
river, beside a willow, the branches of which dipped in the water.
Francoise saw him plainly. He was a tall man and was standing
motionless, his face turned toward the sky with the dreamy air of a
shepherd.

When she had carefully inspected the locality she again seated herself
on her bed. She remained there an hour, deeply absorbed. Then she
listened once more: there was not a sound in the mill. She returned to
the window and glanced out, but doubtless one of the horns of the moon,
which was still visible behind the trees, made her uneasy, for she
resumed her waiting attitude. At last she thought the proper time
had come. The night was as black as jet; she could no longer see the
sentinel opposite; the country spread out like a pool of ink. She
strained her ear for an instant and made her decision. Passing near the
window was an iron ladder, the bars fastened to the wall, which mounted
from the wheel to the garret and formerly enabled the millers to reach
certain machinery; afterward the mechanism had been altered, and for a
long while the ladder had been hidden under the thick ivy which covered
that side of the mill.

Francoise bravely climbed out of her window and grasped one of the bars
of the ladder. She began to descend. Her skirts embarrassed her greatly.
Suddenly a stone was detached from the wall and fell into the Morelle
with a loud splash. She stopped with an icy shiver of fear. Then she
realized that the waterfall with its continuous roar would drown every
noise she might make, and she descended more courageously, feeling the
ivy with her foot, assuring herself that the rounds were firm. When she
was at the height of the chamber which served as Dominique's prison
she paused. An unforeseen difficulty nearly caused her to lose all her
courage: the window of the chamber was not directly below that of her
apartment. She hung off from the ladder, but when she stretched out her
arm her hand encountered only the wall. Must she, then, ascend without
pushing her plan to completion? Her arms were fatigued; the murmur of
the Morelle beneath her commenced to make her dizzy. Then she tore from
the wall little fragments of plaster and threw them against Dominique's
window. He did not hear; he was doubtless asleep. She crumbled more
plaster from the wall, scraping the skin off her fingers. She was
utterly exhausted; she felt herself falling backward, when Dominique at
last softly opened the window.

"It is I!" she murmured. "Catch me quickly; I'm falling!"

It was the first time that she had addressed him familiarly. Leaning
out, he seized her and drew her into the chamber. There she gave vent to
a flood of tears, stifling her sobs that she might not be heard. Then by
a supreme effort she calmed herself.

"Are you guarded?" she asked in a low voice.

Dominique, still stupefied at seeing her thus, nodded his head
affirmatively, pointing to the door. On the other side they heard
someone snoring; the sentinel, yielding to sleep, had thrown himself on
the floor against the door, arguing that by disposing himself thus the
prisoner could not escape.

"You must fly," resumed Francoise excitedly. "I have come to beg you to
do so and to bid you farewell."

But he did not seem to hear her. He repeated:

"What? Is it you; is it you? Oh, what fear you caused me! You might have
killed yourself!"

He seized her hands; he kissed them.

"How I love you, Francoise!" he murmured. "You are as courageous as
good. I had only one dread: that I should die without seeing you again.
But you are here, and now they can shoot me. When I have passed a
quarter of an hour with you I shall be ready."

Little by little he had drawn her to him, and she leaned her head upon
his shoulder. The danger made them dearer to each other. They forgot
everything in that warm clasp.

"Ah, Francoise," resumed Dominique in a caressing voice, "this is Saint
Louis's Day, the day, so long awaited, of our marriage. Nothing has
been able to separate us, since we are both here alone, faithful to the
appointment. Is not this our wedding morning?"

"Yes, yes," she repeated, "it is our wedding morning."

They tremblingly exchanged a kiss. But all at once she disengaged
herself from Dominique's arms; she remembered the terrible reality.

"You must fly; you must fly," she whispered. "There is not a minute to
be lost!"

And as he stretched out his arms in the darkness to clasp her again, she
said tenderly:

"Oh, I implore you to listen to me! If you die I shall die also! In an
hour it will be light. I want you to go at once."

Then rapidly she explained her plan. The iron ladder descended to the
mill wheel; there he could climb down the buckets and get into the boat
which was hidden away in a nook. Afterward it would be easy for him to
reach the other bank of the river and escape.

"But what of the sentinels?" he asked.

"There is only one, opposite, at the foot of the first willow."

"What if he should see me and attempt to give an alarm?"

Francoise shivered. She placed in his hand a knife she had brought with
her. There was a brief silence.

"What is to become of your father and yourself?" resumed Dominique.
"No, I cannot fly! When I am gone those soldiers will, perhaps, massacre
you both! You do not know them. They offered me my life if I would
consent to guide them through the forest of Sauval. When they discover
my escape they will be capable of anything!"

The young girl did not stop to argue. She said simply in reply to all
the reasons he advanced:

"Out of love for me, fly! If you love me, Dominique, do not remain here
another moment!"

Then she promised to climb back to her chamber. No one would know that
she had helped him. She finally threw her arms around him to convince
him with an embrace, with a burst of extraordinary love. He was
vanquished. He asked but one more question:

"Can you swear to me that your father knows what you have done and that
he advises me to fly?"

"My father sent me!" answered Francoise boldly.

She told a falsehood. At that moment she had only one immense need: to
know that he was safe, to escape from the abominable thought that
the sun would be the signal for his death. When he was far away every
misfortune might fall upon her; that would seem delightful to her from
the moment he was secure. The selfishness of her tenderness desired that
he should live before everything.

"Very well," said Dominique; "I will do what you wish."

They said nothing more. Dominique reopened the window. But suddenly
a sound froze them. The door was shaken, and they thought that it was
about to be opened. Evidently a patrol had heard their voices. Standing
locked in each other's arms, they waited in unspeakable anguish. The
door was shaken a second time, but it did not open. They uttered low
sighs of relief; they comprehended that the soldier who was asleep
against the door must have turned over. In fact, silence succeeded; the
snoring was resumed.

Dominique exacted that Francoise should ascend to her chamber before he
departed. He clasped her in his arms and bade her a mute adieu. Then
he aided her to seize the ladder and clung to it in his turn. But he
refused to descend a single round until convinced that she was in her
apartment. When Francoise had entered her window she let fall in a voice
as light as a breath:

"Au revoir, my love!"

She leaned her elbows on the sill and strove to follow Dominique with
her eyes. The night was yet very dark. She searched for the sentinel but
could not see him; the willow alone made a pale stain in the midst of
the gloom. For an instant she heard the sound produced by Dominique's
body in passing along the ivy. Then the wheel cracked, and there was
a slight agitation in the water which told her that the young man
had found the boat. A moment afterward she distinguished the somber
silhouette of the bateau on the gray surface of the Morelle. Terrible
anguish seized upon her. Each instant she thought she heard the
sentinel's cry of alarm; the smallest sounds scattered through the gloom
seemed to her the hurried tread of soldiers, the clatter of weapons,
the charging of guns. Nevertheless, the seconds elapsed and the country
maintained its profound peace. Dominique must have reached the other
side of the river. Francoise saw nothing more. The silence was majestic.
She heard a shuffling of feet, a hoarse cry and the hollow fall of a
body. Afterward the silence grew deeper. Then as if she had felt Death
pass by, she stood, chilled through and through, staring into the thick
night.



CHAPTER IV

A TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE


At dawn a clamor of voices shook the mill. Pere Merlier opened the door
of Francoise's chamber. She went down into the courtyard, pale and very
calm. But there she could not repress a shiver as she saw the corpse of
a Prussian soldier stretched out on a cloak beside the well.

Around the body troops gesticulated, uttering cries of fury. Many
of them shook their fists at the village. Meanwhile the officer had
summoned Pere Merlier as the mayor of the commune.

"Look!" he said to him in a voice almost choking with anger. "There lies
one of our men who was found assassinated upon the bank of the river.
We must make a terrible example, and I count on you to aid us in
discovering the murderer."

"As you choose," answered the miller with his usual stoicism, "but you
will find it no easy task."

The officer stooped and drew aside a part of the cloak which hid the
face of the dead man. Then appeared a horrible wound. The sentinel had
been struck in the throat, and the weapon had remained in the cut. It
was a kitchen knife with a black handle.

"Examine that knife," said the officer to Pere Merlier; "perhaps it will
help us in our search."

The old man gave a start but recovered control of himself immediately.
He replied without moving a muscle of his face:

"Everybody in the district has similar knives. Doubtless your man was
weary of fighting and put an end to his own life. It looks like it!"

"Mind what you say!" cried the officer furiously. "I do not know what
prevents me from setting fire to the four corners of the village!"

Happily in his rage he did not notice the deep trouble pictured on
Francoise's countenance. She had been forced to sit down on a stone
bench near the well. Despite herself her eyes were fixed upon the corpse
stretched our on the ground almost at her feet. It was that of a tall
and handsome man who resembled Dominique, with flaxen hair and blue
eyes. This resemblance made her heart ache. She thought that perhaps the
dead soldier had left behind him in Germany a sweetheart who would weep
her eyes out for him. She recognized her knife in the throat of the
murdered man. She had killed him.

The officer was talking of striking Rocreuse with terrible measures,
when soldiers came running to him. Dominique's escape had just been
discovered. It caused an extreme agitation. The officer went to the
apartment in which the prisoner had been confined, looked out of the
window which had remained open, understood everything and returned,
exasperated.

Pere Merlier seemed greatly vexed by Dominique's flight.

"The imbecile!" he muttered. "He has ruined all!"

Francoise heard him and was overcome with anguish. But the miller did
not suspect her of complicity in the affair. He tossed his head, saying
to her in an undertone:

"We are in a nice scrape!"

"It was that wretch who assassinated the soldier! I am sure of it!"
cried the officer. "He has undoubtedly reached the forest. But he must
be found for us or the village shall pay for him!"

Turning to the miller, he said:

"See here, you ought to know where he is hidden!"

Pere Merlier laughed silently, pointing to the wide stretch of wooden
hills.

"Do you expect to find a man in there?" he said.

"Oh, there must be nooks there with which you are acquainted. I will
give you ten men. You must guide them."

"As you please. But it will take a week to search all the wood in the
vicinity."

The old man's tranquillity enraged the officer. In fact, the latter
comprehended the asburdity of this search. At that moment he saw
Francoise, pale and trembling, on the bench. The anxious attitude of the
young girl struck him. He was silent for an instant, during which he in
turn examined the miller and his daughter.

At length he demanded roughly of the old man:

"Is not that fellow your child's lover?"

Pere Merlier grew livid and seemed about to hurl himself upon the
officer to strangle him. He stiffened himself but made no answer.
Francoise buried her face in her hands.

"Yes, that's it!" continued the Prussian. "And you or your daughter
helped him to escape! One of you is his accomplice! For the last time,
will you give him up to us?"

The miller uttered not a word. He turned away and looked into space with
an air of indifference, as if the officer had not addressed him. This
brought the latter's rage to a head.

"Very well!" he shouted. "You shall be shot in his place!"

And he again ordered out the platoon of execution. Pere Merlier remained
as stoical as ever. He hardly even shrugged his shoulders; all this
drama appeared to him in bad taste. Without doubt he did not believe
that they would shoot a man so lightly. But when the platoon drew up
before him he said gravely:

"So it is serious, is it? Go on with your bloody work then! If you must
have a victim I will do as well as another!"

But Francoise started up, terrified, stammering:

"In pity, monsieur, do no harm to my father! Kill me in his stead! I
aided Dominique to fly! I alone am guilty!"

"Hush, my child!" cried Pere Merlier. "Why do you tell an untruth? She
passed the night locked in her chamber, monsieur. She tells a falsehood,
I assure you!"

"No, I do not tell a falsehood!" resumed the young girl ardently.
"I climbed out of my window and went down the iron ladder; I urged
Dominique to fly. This is the truth, the whole truth!"

The old man became very pale. He saw clearly in her eyes that she did
not lie, and her story terrified him. Ah, these children with their
hearts, how they spoil everything! Then he grew angry and exclaimed:

"She is mad; do not heed her. She tells you stupid tales. Come, finish
your work!"

She still protested. She knelt, clasping her hands. The officer
tranquilly watched this dolorous struggle.

"MON DIEU!" he said at last. "I take your father because I have not the
other. Find the fugitive and the old man shall be set at liberty!"

She gazed at him with staring eyes, astonished at the atrocity of the
proposition.

"How horrible!" she murmured. "Where do you think I can find Dominique
at this hour? He has departed; I know no more about him."

"Come, make your choice--him or your father."

"Oh, MON DIEU! How can I choose? If I knew where Dominique was I could
not choose! You are cutting my heart. I would rather die at once. Yes,
it would be the sooner over. Kill me, I implore you, kill me!"

This scene of despair and tears finally made the officer impatient. He
cried out:

"Enough! I will be merciful. I consent to give you two hours. If in that
time your lover is not here your father will be shot in his place!"

He caused Pere Merlier to be taken to the chamber which had served as
Dominique's prison. The old man demanded tobacco and began to smoke.
Upon his impassible face not the slightest emotion was visible. But when
alone, as he smoked, he shed two big tears which ran slowly down his
cheeks. His poor, dear child, how she was suffering!

Francoise remained in the middle of the courtyard. Prussian soldiers
passed, laughing. Some of them spoke to her, uttered jokes she could
not understand. She stared at the door through which her father had
disappeared. With a slow movement she put her hand to her forehead, as
if to prevent it from bursting.

The officer turned upon his heel, saying:

"You have two hours. Try to utilize them."

She had two hours. This phrase buzzed in her ears. Then mechanically
she quitted the courtyard; she walked straight ahead. Where should she
go?--what should she do? She did not even try to make a decision because
she well understood the inutility of her efforts. However, she wished
to see Dominique. They could have an understanding together; they might,
perhaps, find an expedient. And amid the confusion of her thoughts
she went down to the shore of the Morelle, which she crossed below the
sluice at a spot where there were huge stones. Her feet led her beneath
the first willow, in the corner of the meadow. As she stooped she saw a
pool of blood which made her turn pale. It was there the murder had been
committed. She followed the track of Dominique in the trodden grass; he
must have run, for she perceived a line of long footprints stretching
across the meadow. Then farther on she lost these traces. But in a
neighboring field she thought she found them again. The new trail
conducted her to the edge of the forest, where every indication was
effaced.

Francoise, nevertheless, plunged beneath the trees. It solaced her to
be alone. She sat down for an instant, but at the thought that time was
passing she leaped to her feet. How long had it been since she left the
mill? Five minutes?--half an hour? She had lost all conception of time.
Perhaps Dominique had concealed himself in a copse she knew of, where
they had one afternoon eaten filberts together. She hastened to the
copse, searched it. Only a blackbird flew away, uttering its soft, sad
note. Then she thought he might have taken refuge in a hollow of the
rocks, where it had sometimes been his custom to lie in wait for game,
but the hollow of the rocks was empty. What good was it to hunt for him?
She would never find him, but little by little the desire to discover
him took entire possession of her, and she hastened her steps. The idea
that he might have climbed a tree suddenly occurred to her. She advanced
with uplifted eyes, and that he might be made aware of her presence she
called him every fifteen or twenty steps. Cuckoos answered; a breath
of wind which passed through the branches made her believe that he
was there and was descending. Once she even imagined she saw him; she
stopped, almost choked, and wished to fly. What was she to say to him?
Had she come to take him back to be shot? Oh no, she would not tell him
what had happened. She would cry out to him to escape, not to remain in
the neighborhood. Then the thought that her father was waiting for her
gave her a sharp pain. She fell upon the turf, weeping, crying aloud:

"MON DIEU! MON DIEU! Why am I here?"

She was mad to have come. And as if seized with fear, she ran; she
sought to leave the forest. Three times she deceived herself; she
thought she never again would find the mill, when she entered a meadow
just opposite Rocreuse. As soon as she saw the village she paused. Was
she going to return alone? She was still hesitating when a voice softly
called:

"Francoise! Francoise!"

And she saw Dominique, who had raised his head above the edge of a
ditch. Just God! She had found him! Did heaven wish his death? She
restrained a cry; she let herself glide into the ditch.

"Are you searching for me?" asked the young man.

"Yes," she answered, her brain in a whirl, not knowing what she said.

"What has happened?"

She lowered her eyes, stammered:

"Nothing. I was uneasy; I wanted to see you."

Then, reassured, he explained to her that he had resolved not to go
away. He was doubtful about the safety of herself and her father. Those
Prussian wretches were fully capable of taking vengeance upon women and
old men. But everything was getting on well. He added with a laugh:

"Our wedding will take place in a week--I am sure of it."

Then as she remained overwhelmed, he grew grave again and said:

"But what ails you? You are concealing something from me!"

"No; I swear it to you. I am out of breath from running."

He embraced her, saying that it was imprudent for them to be talking,
and he wished to climb out of the ditch to return to the forest. She
restrained him. She trembled.

"Listen," she said: "it would, perhaps, be wise for you to remain where
you are. No one is searching for you; you have nothing to fear."

"Francoise, you are concealing something from me," he repeated.

Again she swore that she was hiding nothing. She had simply wished
to know that he was near her. And she stammered forth still further
reasons. She seemed so strange to him that he now could not be induced
to flee. Besides, he had faith in the return of the French. Troops had
been seen in the direction of Sauval.

"Ah, let them hurry; let them get here as soon as possible," she
murmured fervently.

At that moment eleven o'clock sounded from the belfry of Rocreuse. The
strokes were clear and distinct. She arose with a terrified look; two
hours had passed since she quitted the mill.

"Hear me," she said rapidly: "if we have need of you I will wave my
handkerchief from my chamber window."

And she departed on a run, while Dominique, very uneasy, stretched
himself out upon the edge of the ditch to watch the mill. As she was
about to enter Rocreuse, Francoise met an old beggar, Pere Bontemps, who
knew everybody in the district. He bowed to her; he had just seen the
miller in the midst of the Prussians; then, making the sign of the cross
and muttering broken words, he went on his way.

"The two hours have passed," said the officer when Francoise appeared.

Pere Merlier was there, seated upon the bench beside the well. He was
smoking. The young girl again begged, wept, sank on her knees. She
wished to gain time. The hope of seeing the French return had increased
in her, and while lamenting she thought she heard in the distance, the
measured tramp of an army. Oh, if they would come, if they would deliver
them all?

"Listen, monsieur," she said: "an hour, another hour; you can grant us
another hour!"

But the officer remained inflexible. He even ordered two men to
seize her and take her away, that they might quietly proceed with
the execution of the old man. Then a frightful struggle took place
in Francoise's heart. She could not allow her father to be thus
assassinated. No, no; she would die rather with Dominique. She was
running toward her chamber when Dominique himself entered the courtyard.

The officer and the soldiers uttered a shout of triumph. But the young
man, calmly, with a somewhat severe look, went up to Francoise, as if
she had been the only person present.

"You did wrong," he said. "Why did you not bring me back? It remained
for Pere Bontemps to tell me everything. But I am here!"



CHAPTER V

THE RETURN OF THE FRENCH


It was three o'clock in the afternoon. Great black clouds, the trail of
some neighboring storm, had slowly filled the sky. The yellow heavens,
the brass covered uniforms, had changed the valley of Rocreuse, so gay
in the sunlight, into a den of cutthroats full of sinister gloom. The
Prussian officer had contented himself with causing Dominique to be
imprisoned without announcing what fate he reserved for him. Since
noon Francoise had been torn by terrible anguish. Despite her father's
entreaties she would not quit the courtyard. She was awaiting the
French. But the hours sped on; night was approaching, and she suffered
the more as all the time gained did not seem to be likely to change the
frightful denouement.

About three o'clock the Prussians made their preparations for departure.
For an instant past the officer had, as on the previous day, shut
himself up with Dominique. Francoise realized that the young man's life
was in balance. She clasped her hands; she prayed. Pere Merlier, beside
her, maintained silence and the rigid attitude of an old peasant who
does not struggle against fate.

"Oh, MON DIEU! Oh, MON DIEU!" murmured Francoise. "They are going to
kill him!"

The miller drew her to him and took her on his knees as if she had been
a child.

At that moment the officer came out, while behind him two men brought
Dominique.

"Never! Never!" cried the latter. "I am ready to die!"

"Think well," resumed the officer. "The service you refuse me another
will render us. I am generous: I offer you your life. I want you simply
to guide us through the forest to Montredon. There must be pathways
leading there."

Dominique was silent.

"So you persist in your infatuation, do you?"

"Kill me and end all this!" replied the young man.

Francoise, her hands clasped, supplicated him from afar. She had
forgotten everything; she would have advised him to commit an act of
cowardice. But Pere Merlier seized her hands that the Prussians might
not see her wild gestures.

"He is right," he whispered: "it is better to die!"

The platoon of execution was there. The officer awaited a sign of
weakness on Dominique's part. He still expected to conquer him. No one
spoke. In the distance violent crashes of thunder were heard. Oppressive
heat weighed upon the country. But suddenly, amid the silence, a cry
broke forth:

"The French! The French!"

Yes, the French were at hand. Upon the Sauval highway, at the edge of
the wood, the line of red pantaloons could be distinguished. In the mill
there was an extraordinary agitation. The Prussian soldiers ran hither
and thither with guttural exclamations. Not a shot had yet been fired.

"The French! The French!" cried Francoise, clapping her hands.

She was wild with joy. She escaped from her father's grasp; she laughed
and tossed her arms in the air. At last they had come and come in time,
since Dominique was still alive!

A terrible platoon fire, which burst upon her ears like a clap of
thunder, caused her to turn. The officer muttered between his teeth:

"Before everything, let us settle this affair!"

And with his own hand pushing Dominique against the wall of a shed he
ordered his men to fire. When Francoise looked Dominique lay upon the
ground with blood streaming from his neck and shoulders.

She did not weep; she stood stupefied. Her eyes grew fixed, and she
sat down under the shed, a few paces from the body. She stared at it,
wringing her hands. The Prussians had seized Pere Merlier as a hostage.

It was a stirring combat. The officer had rapidly posted his men,
comprehending that he could not beat a retreat without being cut to
pieces. Hence he would fight to the last. Now the Prussians defended
the mill, and the French attacked it. The fusillade began with unusual
violence. For half an hour it did not cease. Then a hollow sound was
heard, and a ball broke a main branch of the old elm. The French had
cannon. A battery, stationed just above the ditch in which Dominique had
hidden himself, swept the wide street of Rocreuse. The struggle could
not last long.

Ah, the poor mill! Balls pierced it in every part. Half of the roof was
carried away. Two walls were battered down. But it was on the side of
the Morelle that the destruction was most lamentable. The ivy, torn from
the tottering edifice, hung like rags; the river was encumbered with
wrecks of all kinds, and through a breach was visible Francoise's
chamber with its bed, the white curtains of which were carefully closed.
Shot followed shot; the old wheel received two balls and gave vent to
an agonizing groan; the buckets were borne off by the current; the
framework was crushed. The soul of the gay mill had left it!

Then the French began the assault. There was a furious fight with swords
and bayonets. Beneath the rust-colored sky the valley was choked with
the dead. The broad meadows had a wild look with their tall, isolated
trees and their hedges of poplars which stained them with shade. To
the right and to the left the forests were like the walls of an ancient
ampitheater which enclosed the fighting gladiators, while the springs,
the fountains and the flowing brooks seemed to sob amid the panic of the
country.

Beneath the shed Francoise still sat near Dominique's body; she had
not moved. Pere Merlier had received a slight wound. The Prussians were
exterminated, but the ruined mill was on fire in a dozen places. The
French rushed into the courtyard, headed by their captain. It was his
first success of the war. His face beamed with triumph. He waved his
sword, shouting:

"Victory! Victory!"

On seeing the wounded miller, who was endeavoring to comfort Francoise,
and noticing the body of Dominique, his joyous look changed to one
of sadness. Then he knelt beside the young man and, tearing open his
blouse, put his hand to his heart.

"Thank God!" he cried. "It is yet beating! Send for the surgeon!"

At the captain's words Francoise leaped to her feet.

"There is hope!" she cried. "Oh, tell me there is hope!"

At that moment the surgeon appeared. He made a hasty examination and
said:

"The young man is severely hurt, but life is not extinct; he can
be saved!" By the surgeon's orders Dominique was transported to a
neighboring cottage, where he was placed in bed. His wounds were
dressed; restoratives were administered, and he soon recovered
consciousness. When he opened his eyes he saw Francoise sitting beside
him and through the open window caught sight of Pere Merlier talking
with the French captain. He passed his hand over his forehead with a
bewildered air and said:

"They did not kill me after all!"

"No," replied Francoise. "The French came, and their surgeon saved you."

Pere Merlier turned and said through the window:

"No talking yet, my young ones!"

In due time Dominique was entirely restored, and when peace again
blessed the land he wedded his beloved Francoise.

The mill was rebuilt, and Pere Merlier had a new wheel upon which to
bestow whatever tenderness was not engrossed by his daughter and her
husband.





CAPTAIN BURLE



CHAPTER I

THE SWINDLE


It was nine o'clock. The little town of Vauchamp, dark and silent,
had just retired to bed amid a chilly November rain. In the Rue des
Recollets, one of the narrowest and most deserted streets of the
district of Saint-Jean, a single window was still alight on the third
floor of an old house, from whose damaged gutters torrents of water were
falling into the street. Mme Burle was sitting up before a meager fire
of vine stocks, while her little grandson Charles pored over his lessons
by the pale light of a lamp.

The apartment, rented at one hundred and sixty francs per annum,
consisted of four large rooms which it was absolutely impossible to keep
warm during the winter. Mme Burle slept in the largest chamber, her
son Captain and Qu