Part 1 out of 12
Nana, Miller's Daughter, Captain Burle, Death of Olivier Bacailler
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, Toronto, Canada.
THE MILLER'S DAUGHTER
THE DEATH OF OLIVIER BACAILLE
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"Well," said Bordenave to the banker, "you met her yesterday in my
"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
"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
"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
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 shonc
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
"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
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
boardingschool, 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 be 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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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:
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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!"
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
"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
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 respeciful 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
"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
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?"
"At what o'clock?"
"At three. It's settled then?"
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
"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
"I'll keep my eye on the evening papers. At half-past five as
"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
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
"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
"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 foiks call I must have the whole flat. Now off you go, off you
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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