Part 2 out of 12
today. Go and say you don't expect me now."
"Madame will think the matter over; Madame will receive Monsieur
Steiner," murmured Zoe gravely, without budging from her place. She
was annoyed to see her mistress on the verge of committing another
Then she mentioned the Walachian, who ought by now to find time
hanging heavy on his hands in the bedroom. Whereupon Nana grew
furious and more obstinate than ever. No, she would see nobody,
nobody! Who'd sent her such a blooming leech of a man?
"Chuck 'em all out! I--I'm going to play a game of bezique with
Madame Maloir. I prefer doing that."
The bell interrupted her remarks. That was the last straw. Another
of the beggars yet! She forbade Zoe to go and open the door, but
the latter had left the kitchen without listening to her, and when
she reappeared she brought back a couple of cards and said
"I told them that Madame was receiving visitors. The gentlemen are
in the drawing room."
Nana had sprung up, raging, but the names of the Marquis de Chouard
and of Count Muffat de Beuville, which were inscribed on the cards,
calmed her down. For a moment or two she remained silent.
"Who are they?" she asked at last. "You know them?"
"I know the old fellow," replied Zoe, discreetly pursing up her
And her mistress continuing to question her with her eyes, she added
"I've seen him somewhere."
This remark seemed to decide the young woman. Regretfully she left
the kitchen, that asylum of steaming warmth, where you could talk
and take your ease amid the pleasant fumes of the coffeepot which
was being kept warm over a handful of glowing embers. She left Mme
Maloir behind her. That lady was now busy reading her fortune by
the cards; she had never yet taken her hat off, but now in order to
be more at her ease she undid the strings and threw them back over
In the dressing room, where Zoe rapidly helped her on with a tea
gown, Nana revenged herself for the way in which they were all
boring her by muttering quiet curses upon the male sex. These big
words caused the lady's maid not a little distress, for she saw with
pain that her mistress was not rising superior to her origin as
quickly as she could have desired. She even made bold to beg Madame
to calm herself.
"You bet," was Nana's crude answer; "they're swine; they glory in
that sort of thing."
Nevertheless, she assumed her princesslike manner, as she was wont
to call it. But just when she was turning to go into the drawing
room Zoe held her back and herself introduced the Marquis de Chouard
and the Count Muffat into the dressing room. It was much better so.
"I regret having kept you waiting, gentlemen," said the young woman
with studied politeness.
The two men bowed and seated themselves. A blind of embroidered
tulle kept the little room in twilight. It was the most elegant
chamber in the flat, for it was hung with some light-colored fabric
and contained a cheval glass framed in inlaid wood, a lounge chair
and some others with arms and blue satin upholsteries. On the
toilet table the bouquets--roses, lilacs and hyacinths--appeared
like a very ruin of flowers. Their perfume was strong and
penetrating, while through the dampish air of the place, which was
full of the spoiled exhalations of the washstand, came occasional
whiffs of a more pungent scent, the scent of some grains or dry
patchouli ground to fine powder at the bottom of a cup. And as she
gathered herself together and drew up her dressing jacket, which had
been ill fastened, Nana had all the appearance of having been
surprised at her toilet: her skin was still damp; she smiled and
looked quite startled amid her frills and laces.
"Madame, you will pardon our insistence," said the Count Muffat
gravely. "We come on a quest. Monsieur and I are members of the
Benevolent Organization of the district."
The Marquis de Chouard hastened gallantly to add:
"When we learned that a great artiste lived in this house we
promised ourselves that we would put the claims of our poor people
before her in a very special manner. Talent is never without a
Nana pretended to be modest. She answered them with little
assenting movements of her head, making rapid reflections at the
same time. It must be the old man that had brought the other one:
he had such wicked eyes. And yet the other was not to be trusted
either: the veins near his temples were so queerly puffed up. He
might quite well have come by himself. Ah, now that she thought of
it, it was this way: the porter had given them her name, and they
had egged one another on, each with his own ends in view.
"Most certainly, gentlemen, you were quite right to come up," she
said with a very good grace.
But the electric bell made her tremble again. Another call, and
that Zoe always opening the door! She went on:
"One is only too happy to be able to give."
At bottom she was flattered.
"Ah, madame," rejoined the marquis, "if only you knew about it!
there's such misery! Our district has more than three thousand poor
people in it, and yet it's one of the richest. You cannot picture
to yourself anything like the present distress--children with no
bread, women ill, utterly without assistance, perishing of the
"The poor souls!" cried Nana, very much moved.
Such was her feeling of compassion that tears flooded her fine eyes.
No longer studying deportment, she leaned forward with a quick
movement, and under her open dressing jacket her neck became
visible, while the bent position of her knees served to outline the
rounded contour of the thigh under the thin fabric of her skirt. A
little flush of blood appeared in the marquis's cadaverous cheeks.
Count Muffat, who was on the point of speaking, lowered his eyes.
The air of that little room was too hot: it had the close, heavy
warmth of a greenhouse. The roses were withering, and intoxicating
odors floated up from the patchouli in the cup.
"One would like to be very rich on occasions like this," added Nana.
"Well, well, we each do what we can. Believe me, gentlemen, if I
She was on the point of being guilty of a silly speech, so melted
was she at heart. But she did not end her sentence and for a moment
was worried at not being able to remember where she had put her
fifty francs on changing her dress. But she recollected at last:
they must be on the corner of her toilet table under an inverted
pomatum pot. As she was in the act of rising the bell sounded for
quite a long time. Capital! Another of them still! It would never
end. The count and the marquis had both risen, too, and the ears of
the latter seemed to be pricked up and, as it were, pointing toward
the door; doubtless he knew that kind of ring. Muffat looked at
him; then they averted their gaze mutually. They felt awkward and
once more assumed their frigid bearing, the one looking square-set
and solid with his thick head of hair, the other drawing back his
lean shoulders, over which fell his fringe of thin white locks.
"My faith," said Nana, bringing the ten big silver pieces and quite
determined to laugh about it, "I am going to entrust you with this,
gentlemen. It is for the poor."
And the adorable little dimple in her chin became apparent. She
assumed her favorite pose, her amiable baby expression, as she held
the pile of five-franc pieces on her open palm and offered it to the
men, as though she were saying to them, "Now then, who wants some?"
The count was the sharper of the two. He took fifty francs but left
one piece behind and, in order to gain possession of it, had to pick
it off the young woman's very skin, a moist, supple skin, the touch
of which sent a thrill through him. She was thoroughly merry and
did not cease laughing.
"Come, gentlemen," she continued. "Another time I hope to give
The gentlemen no longer had any pretext for staying, and they bowed
and went toward the door. But just as they were about to go out the
bell rang anew. The marquis could not conceal a faint smile, while
a frown made the count look more grave than before. Nana detained
them some seconds so as to give Zoe time to find yet another corner
for the newcomers. She did not relish meetings at her house. Only
this time the whole place must be packed! She was therefore much
relieved when she saw the drawing room empty and asked herself
whether Zoe had really stuffed them into the cupboards.
"Au revoir, gentlemen," she said, pausing on the threshold of the
It was as though she lapped them in her laughing smile and clear,
unclouded glance. The Count Muffat bowed slightly. Despite his
great social experience he felt that he had lost his equilibrium.
He needed air; he was overcome with the dizzy feeling engendered in
that dressing room with a scent of flowers, with a feminine essence
which choked him. And behind his back, the Marquis de Chouard, who
was sure that he could not be seen, made so bold as to wink at Nana,
his whole face suddenly altering its expression as he did so, and
his tongue nigh lolling from his mouth.
When the young woman re-entered the little room, where Zoe was
awaiting her with letters and visiting cards, she cried out,
laughing more heartily than ever:
"There are a pair of beggars for you! Why, they've got away with my
She wasn't vexed. It struck her as a joke that MEN should have got
money out of her. All the same, they were swine, for she hadn't a
sou left. But at sight of the cards and the letters her bad temper
returned. As to the letters, why, she said "pass" to them. They
were from fellows who, after applauding her last night, were now
making their declarations. And as to the callers, they might go
about their business!
Zoe had stowed them all over the place, and she called attention to
the great capabilities of the flat, every room in which opened on
the corridor. That wasn't the case at Mme Blanche's, where people
had all to go through the drawing room. Oh yes, Mme Blanche had had
plenty of bothers over it!
"You will send them all away," continued Nana in pursuance of her
idea. "Begin with the nigger."
"Oh, as to him, madame, I gave him his marching orders a while ago,"
said Zoe with a grin. "He only wanted to tell Madame that he
couldn't come to-night."
There was vast joy at this announcement, and Nana clapped her hands.
He wasn't coming, what good luck! She would be free then! And she
emitted sighs of relief, as though she had been let off the most
abominable of tortures. Her first thought was for Daguenet. Poor
duck, why, she had just written to tell him to wait till Thursday!
Quick, quick, Mme Maloir should write a second letter! But Zoe
announced that Mme Maloir had slipped away unnoticed, according to
her wont. Whereupon Nana, after talking of sending someone to him,
began to hesitate. She was very tired. A long night's sleep--oh,
it would be so jolly! The thought of such a treat overcame her at
last. For once in a way she could allow herself that!
"I shall go to bed when I come back from the theater," she murmured
greedily, "and you won't wake me before noon."
Then raising her voice:
"Now then, gee up! Shove the others downstairs!"
Zoe did not move. She would never have dreamed of giving her
mistress overt advice, only now she made shift to give Madame the
benefit of her experience when Madame seemed to be running her hot
head against a wall.
"Monsieur Steiner as well?" she queried curtly.
"Why, certainly!" replied Nana. "Before all the rest."
The maid still waited, in order to give her mistress time for
reflection. Would not Madame be proud to get such a rich gentleman
away from her rival Rose Mignon--a man, moreover, who was known in
all the theaters?
"Now make haste, my dear," rejoined Nana, who perfectly understood
the situation, "and tell him he pesters me."
But suddenly there was a reversion of feeling. Tomorrow she might
want him. Whereupon she laughed, winked once or twice and with a
naughty little gesture cried out:
"After all's said and done, if I want him the best way even now is
to kick him out of doors."
Zoe seemed much impressed. Struck with a sudden admiration, she
gazed at her mistress and then went and chucked Steiner out of doors
without further deliberation.
Meanwhile Nana waited patiently for a second or two in order to give
her time to sweep the place out, as she phrased it. No one would
ever have expected such a siege! She craned her head into the
drawing room and found it empty. The dining room was empty too.
But as she continued her visitation in a calmer frame of mind,
feeling certain that nobody remained behind, she opened the door of
a closet and came suddenly upon a very young man. He was sitting on
the top of a trunk, holding a huge bouquet on his knees and looking
exceedingly quiet and extremely well behaved.
"Goodness gracious me!" she cried. "There's one of 'em in there
even now!" The very young man had jumped down at sight of her and
was blushing as red as a poppy. He did not know what to do with his
bouquet, which he kept shifting from one hand to the other, while
his looks betrayed the extreme of emotion. His youth, his
embarrassment and the funny figure he cut in his struggles with his
flowers melted Nana's heart, and she burst into a pretty peal of
laughter. Well, now, the very children were coming, were they? Men
were arriving in long clothes. So she gave up all airs and graces,
became familiar and maternal, tapped her leg and asked for fun:
"You want me to wipe your nose; do you, baby?"
"Yes," replied the lad in a low, supplicating tone.
This answer made her merrier than ever. He was seventeen years old,
he said. His name was Georges Hugon. He was at the Varietes last
night and now he had come to see her.
"These flowers are for me?"
"Then give 'em to me, booby!"
But as she took the bouquet from him he sprang upon her hands and
kissed them with all the gluttonous eagerness peculiar to his
charming time of life. She had to beat him to make him let go.
There was a dreadful little dribbling customer for you! But as she
scolded him she flushed rosy-red and began smiling. And with that
she sent him about his business, telling him that he might call
again. He staggered away; he could not find the doors.
Nana went back into her dressing room, where Francis made his
appearance almost simultaneously in order to dress her hair for the
evening. Seated in front of her mirror and bending her head beneath
the hairdresser's nimble hands, she stayed silently meditative.
Presently, however, Zoe entered, remarking:
"There's one of them, madame, who refuses to go."
"Very well, he must be left alone," she answered quietly.
"If that comes to that they still keep arriving."
"Bah! Tell 'em to wait. When they begin to feel too hungry they'll
be off." Her humor had changed, and she was now delighted to make
people wait about for nothing. A happy thought struck her as very
amusing; she escaped from beneath Francis' hands and ran and bolted
the doors. They might now crowd in there as much as they liked;
they would probably refrain from making a hole through the wall.
Zoe could come in and out through the little doorway leading to the
kitchen. However, the electric bell rang more lustily than ever.
Every five minutes a clear, lively little ting-ting recurred as
regularly as if it had been produced by some well-adjusted piece of
mechanism. And Nana counted these rings to while the time away
withal. But suddenly she remembered something.
"I say, where are my burnt almonds?"
Francis, too, was forgetting about the burnt almonds. But now he
drew a paper bag from one of the pockets of his frock coat and
presented it to her with the discreet gesture of a man who is
offering a lady a present. Nevertheless, whenever his accounts came
to be settled, he always put the burnt almonds down on his bill.
Nana put the bag between her knees and set to work munching her
sweetmeats, turning her head from time to time under the
hairdresser's gently compelling touch.
"The deuce," she murmured after a silence, "there's a troop for
Thrice, in quick succession, the bell had sounded. Its summonses
became fast and furious. There were modest tintinnabulations which
seemed to stutter and tremble like a first avowal; there were bold
rings which vibrated under some rough touch and hasty rings which
sounded through the house with shivering rapidity. It was a regular
peal, as Zoe said, a peal loud enough to upset the neighborhood,
seeing that a whole mob of men were jabbing at the ivory button, one
after the other. That old joker Bordenave had really been far too
lavish with her address. Why, the whole of yesterday's house was
"By the by, Francis, have you five louis?" said Nana.
He drew back, looked carefully at her headdress and then quietly
"Five louis, that's according!"
"Ah, you know if you want securities. . ." she continued.
And without finishing her sentence, she indicated the adjoining
rooms with a sweeping gesture. Francis lent the five louis. Zoe,
during each momentary respite, kept coming in to get Madame's things
ready. Soon she came to dress her while the hairdresser lingered
with the intention of giving some finishing touches to the
headdress. But the bell kept continually disturbing the lady's
maid, who left Madame with her stays half laced and only one shoe
on. Despite her long experience, the maid was losing her head.
After bringing every nook and corner into requisition and putting
men pretty well everywhere, she had been driven to stow them away in
threes and fours, which was a course of procedure entirely opposed
to her principles. So much the worse for them if they ate each
other up! It would afford more room! And Nana, sheltering behind
her carefully bolted door, began laughing at them, declaring that
she could hear them pant. They ought to be looking lovely in there
with their tongues hanging out like a lot of bowwows sitting round
on their behinds. Yesterday's success was not yet over, and this
pack of men had followed up her scent.
"Provided they don't break anything," she murmured.
She began to feel some anxiety, for she fancied she felt their hot
breath coming through chinks in the door. But Zoe ushered
Labordette in, and the young woman gave a little shout of relief.
He was anxious to tell her about an account he had settled for her
at the justice of peace's court. But she did not attend and said:
"I'll take you along with me. We'll have dinner together, and
afterward you shall escort me to the Varietes. I don't go on before
Good old Labordette, how lucky it was he had come! He was a fellow
who never asked for any favors. He was only the friend of the
women, whose little bits of business he arranged for them. Thus on
his way in he had dismissed the creditors in the anteroom. Indeed,
those good folks really didn't want to be paid. On the contrary, if
they HAD been pressing for payment it was only for the sake of
complimenting Madame and of personally renewing their offers of
service after her grand success of yesterday.
"Let's be off, let's be off," said Nana, who was dressed by now.
But at that moment Zoe came in again, shouting:
"I refuse to open the door any more. They're waiting in a crowd all
down the stairs."
A crowd all down the stairs! Francis himself, despite the English
stolidity of manner which he was wont to affect, began laughing as
he put up his combs. Nana, who had already taken Labordette's arm,
pushed him into the kitchen and effected her escape. At last she
was delivered from the men and felt happily conscious that she might
now enjoy his society anywhere without fear of stupid interruptions.
"You shall see me back to my door," she said as they went down the
kitchen stairs. "I shall feel safe, in that case. Just fancy, I
want to sleep a whole night quite by myself--yes, a whole night!
It's sort of infatuation, dear boy!"
The countess Sabine, as it had become customary to call Mme Muffat
de Beuville in order to distinguish her from the count's mother, who
had died the year before, was wont to receive every Tuesday in her
house in the Rue Miromesnil at the corner of the Rue de Pentievre.
It was a great square building, and the Muffats had lived in it for
a hundred years or more. On the side of the street its frontage
seemed to slumber, so lofty was it and dark, so sad and conventlike,
with its great outer shutters, which were nearly always closed. And
at the back in a little dark garden some trees had grown up and were
straining toward the sunlight with such long slender branches that
their tips were visible above the roof.
This particular Tuesday, toward ten o'clock in the evening, there
were scarcely a dozen people in the drawing room. When she was only
expecting intimate friends the countess opened neither the little
drawing room nor the dining room. One felt more at home on such
occasions and chatted round the fire. The drawing room was very
large and very lofty; its four windows looked out upon the garden,
from which, on this rainy evening of the close of April, issued a
sensation of damp despite the great logs burning on the hearth. The
sun never shone down into the room; in the daytime it was dimly lit
up by a faint greenish light, but at night, when the lamps and the
chandelier were burning, it looked merely a serious old chamber with
its massive mahogany First Empire furniture, its hangings and chair
coverings of yellow velvet, stamped with a large design. Entering
it, one was in an atmosphere of cold dignity, of ancient manners, of
a vanished age, the air of which seemed devotional.
Opposite the armchair, however, in which the count's mother had
died--a square armchair of formal design and inhospitable padding,
which stood by the hearthside--the Countess Sabine was seated in a
deep and cozy lounge, the red silk upholsteries of which were soft
as eider down. It was the only piece of modern furniture there, a
fanciful item introduced amid the prevailing severity and clashing
"So we shall have the shah of Persia," the young woman was saying.
They were talking of the crowned heads who were coming to Paris for
the exhibition. Several ladies had formed a circle round the
hearth, and Mme du Joncquoy, whose brother, a diplomat, had just
fulfilled a mission in the East, was giving some details about the
court of Nazr-ed-Din.
"Are you out of sorts, my dear?" asked Mme Chantereau, the wife of
an ironmaster, seeing the countess shivering slightly and growing
pale as she did so.
"Oh no, not at all," replied the latter, smiling. "I felt a little
cold. This drawing room takes so long to warm."
And with that she raised her melancholy eyes and scanned the walls
from floor to ceiling. Her daughter Estelle, a slight, insignificant-
looking girl of sixteen, the thankless period of life, quitted
the large footstool on which she was sitting and silently came
and propped up one of the logs which had rolled from its place.
But Mme de Chezelles, a convent friend of Sabine's and her junior by
five years, exclaimed:
"Dear me, I would gladly be possessed of a drawing room such as
yours! At any rate, you are able to receive visitors. They only
build boxes nowadays. Oh, if I were in your place!"
She ran giddily on and with lively gestures explained how she would
alter the hangings, the seats--everything, in fact. Then she would
give balls to which all Paris should run. Behind her seat her
husband, a magistrate, stood listening with serious air. It was
rumored that she deceived him quite openly, but people pardoned her
offense and received her just the same, because, they said, "she's
not answerable for her actions."
"Oh that Leonide!" the Countess Sabine contented herself by
murmuring, smiling her faint smile the while.
With a languid movement she eked out the thought that was in her.
After having lived there seventeen years she certainly would not
alter her drawing room now. It would henceforth remain just such as
her mother-in-law had wished to preserve it during her lifetime.
Then returning to the subject of conversation:
"I have been assured," she said, "that we shall also have the king
of Prussia and the emperor of Russia."
'Yes, some very fine fetes are promised," said Mme du Joncquoy.
The banker Steiner, not long since introduced into this circle by
Leonide de Chezelles, who was acquainted with the whole of Parisian
society, was sitting chatting on a sofa between two of the windows.
He was questioning a deputy, from whom he was endeavoring with much
adroitness to elicit news about a movement on the stock exchange of
which he had his suspicions, while the Count Muffat, standing in
front of them, was silently listening to their talk, looking, as he
did so, even grayer than was his wont.
Four or five young men formed another group near the door round the
Count Xavier de Vandeuvres, who in a low tone was telling them an
anecdote. It was doubtless a very risky one, for they were choking
with laughter. Companionless in the center of the room, a stout
man, a chief clerk at the Ministry of the Interior, sat heavily in
an armchair, dozing with his eyes open. But when one of the young
men appeared to doubt the truth of the anecdote Vandeuvres raised
"You are too much of a skeptic, Foucarmont; you'll spoil all your
pleasures that way."
And he returned to the ladies with a laugh. Last scion of a great
family, of feminine manners and witty tongue, he was at that time
running through a fortune with a rage of life and appetite which
nothing could appease. His racing stable, which was one of the best
known in Paris, cost him a fabulous amount of money; his betting
losses at the Imperial Club amounted monthly to an alarming number
of pounds, while taking one year with another, his mistresses would
be always devouring now a farm, now some acres of arable land or
forest, which amounted, in fact, to quite a respectable slice of his
vast estates in Picardy.
"I advise you to call other people skeptics! Why, you don't believe
a thing yourself," said Leonide, making shift to find him a little
space in which to sit down at her side.
"It's you who spoil your own pleasures."
"Exactly," he replied. "I wish to make others benefit by my
But the company imposed silence on him: he was scandalizing M.
Venot. And, the ladies having changed their positions, a little old
man of sixty, with bad teeth and a subtle smile, became visible in
the depths of an easy chair. There he sat as comfortably as in his
own house, listening to everybody's remarks and making none himself.
With a slight gesture he announced himself by no means scandalized.
Vandeuvres once more assumed his dignified bearing and added
"Monsieur Venot is fully aware that I believe what it is one's duty
It was an act of faith, and even Leonide appeared satisfied. The
young men at the end of the room no longer laughed; the company were
old fogies, and amusement was not to be found there. A cold breath
of wind had passed over them, and amid the ensuing silence Steiner's
nasal voice became audible. The deputy's discreet answers were at
last driving him to desperation. For a second or two the Countess
Sabine looked at the fire; then she resumed the conversation.
"I saw the king of Prussia at Baden-Baden last year. He's still
full of vigor for his age."
"Count Bismarck is to accompany him," said Mme du Joncquoy. "Do you
know the count? I lunched with him at my brother's ages ago, when
he was representative of Prussia in Paris. There's a man now whose
latest successes I cannot in the least understand."
"But why?" asked Mme Chantereau.
"Good gracious, how am I to explain? He doesn't please me. His
appearance is boorish and underbred. Besides, so far as I am
concerned, I find him stupid."
With that the whole room spoke of Count Bismarck, and opinions
differed considerably. Vandeuvres knew him and assured the company
that he was great in his cups and at play. But when the discussion
was at its height the door was opened, and Hector de la Falois made
his appearance. Fauchery, who followed in his wake, approached the
countess and, bowing:
"Madame," he said, "I have not forgotten your extremely kind
She smiled and made a pretty little speech. The journalist, after
bowing to the count, stood for some moments in the middle of the
drawing room. He only recognized Steiner and accordingly looked
rather out of his element. But Vandeuvres turned and came and shook
hands with him. And forthwith, in his delight at the meeting and
with a sudden desire to be confidential, Fauchery buttonholed him
and said in a low voice:
"It's tomorrow. Are you going?"
"At midnight, at her house.
"I know, I know. I'm going with Blanche."
He wanted to escape and return to the ladies in order to urge yet
another reason in M. de Bismarck's favor. But Fauchery detained
"You never will guess whom she has charged me to invite."
And with a slight nod he indicated Count Muffat, who was just then
discussing a knotty point in the budget with Steiner and the deputy.
"It's impossible," said Vandeuvres, stupefaction and merriment in
his tones. "My word on it! I had to swear that I would bring him
to her. Indeed, that's one of my reasons for coming here."
Both laughed silently, and Vandeuvres, hurriedly rejoining the
circle of ladies, cried out:
"I declare that on the contrary Monsieur de Bismarck is exceedingly
witty. For instance, one evening he said a charmingly epigrammatic
thing in my presence."
La Faloise meanwhile had heard the few rapid sentences thus
whisperingly interchanged, and he gazed at Fauchery in hopes of an
explanation which was not vouchsafed him. Of whom were they
talking, and what were they going to do at midnight tomorrow? He
did not leave his cousin's side again. The latter had gone and
seated himself. He was especially interested by the Countess
Sabine. Her name had often been mentioned in his presence, and he
knew that, having been married at the age of seventeen, she must now
be thirty-four and that since her marriage she had passed a
cloistered existence with her husband and her mother-in-law. In
society some spoke of her as a woman of religious chastity, while
others pitied her and recalled to memory her charming bursts of
laughter and the burning glances of her great eyes in the days prior
to her imprisonment in this old town house. Fauchery scrutinized
her and yet hesitated. One of his friends, a captain who had
recently died in Mexico, had, on the very eve of his departure, made
him one of those gross postprandial confessions, of which even the
most prudent among men are occasionally guilty. But of this he only
retained a vague recollection; they had dined not wisely but too
well that evening, and when he saw the countess, in her black dress
and with her quiet smile, seated in that Old World drawing room, he
certainly had his doubts. A lamp which had been placed behind her
threw into clear relief her dark, delicate, plump side face, wherein
a certain heaviness in the contours of the mouth alone indicated a
species of imperious sensuality.
"What do they want with their Bismarck?" muttered La Faloise, whose
constant pretense it was to be bored in good society. "One's ready
to kick the bucket here. A pretty idea of yours it was to want to
Fauchery questioned him abruptly.
"Now tell me, does the countess admit someone to her embraces?"
"Oh dear, no, no! My dear fellow!" he stammered, manifestly taken
aback and quite forgetting his pose. "Where d'you think we are?"
After which he was conscious of a want of up-to-dateness in this
outburst of indignation and, throwing himself back on a great sofa,
"Gad! I say no! But I don't know much about it. There's a little
chap out there, Foucarmont they call him, who's to be met with
everywhere and at every turn. One's seen faster men than that,
though, you bet. However, it doesn't concern me, and indeed, all I
know is that if the countess indulges in high jinks she's still
pretty sly about it, for the thing never gets about--nobody talks."
Then although Fauchery did not take the trouble to question him, he
told him all he knew about the Muffats. Amid the conversation of
the ladies, which still continued in front of the hearth, they both
spoke in subdued tones, and, seeing them there with their white
cravats and gloves, one might have supposed them to be discussing in
chosen phraseology some really serious topic. Old Mme Muffat then,
whom La Faloise had been well acquainted with, was an insufferable
old lady, always hand in glove with the priests. She had the grand
manner, besides, and an authoritative way of comporting herself,
which bent everybody to her will. As to Muffat, he was an old man's
child; his father, a general, had been created count by Napoleon I,
and naturally he had found himself in favor after the second of
December. He hadn't much gaiety of manner either, but he passed for
a very honest man of straightforward intentions and understanding.
Add to these a code of old aristocratic ideas and such a lofty
conception of his duties at court, of his dignities and of his
virtues, that he behaved like a god on wheels. It was the Mamma
Muffat who had given him this precious education with its daily
visits to the confessional, its complete absence of escapades and of
all that is meant by youth. He was a practicing Christian and had
attacks of faith of such fiery violence that they might be likened
to accesses of burning fever. Finally, in order to add a last touch
to the picture, La Faloise whispered something in his cousin's ear.
"You don't say so!" said the latter.
"On my word of honor, they swore it was true! He was still like
that when he married."
Fauchery chuckled as he looked at the count, whose face, with its
fringe of whiskers and absence of mustaches, seemed to have grown
squarer and harder now that he was busy quoting figures to the
writhing, struggling Steiner.
"My word, he's got a phiz for it!" murmured Fauchery. "A pretty
present he made his wife! Poor little thing, how he must have bored
her! She knows nothing about anything, I'll wager!"
Just then the Countess Sabine was saying something to him. But he
did not hear her, so amusing and extraordinary did he esteem the
Muffats' case. She repeated the question.
"Monsieur Fauchery, have you not published a sketch of Monsieur de
Bismarck? You spoke with him once?"
He got up briskly and approached the circle of ladies, endeavoring
to collect himself and soon with perfect ease of manner finding an
"Dear me, madame, I assure you I wrote that 'portrait' with the help
of biographies which had been published in Germany. I have never
seen Monsieur de Bismarck."
He remained beside the countess and, while talking with her,
continued his meditations. She did not look her age; one would have
set her down as being twenty-eight at most, for her eyes, above all,
which were filled with the dark blue shadow of her long eyelashes,
retained the glowing light of youth. Bred in a divided family, so
that she used to spend one month with the Marquis de Chouard,
another with the marquise, she had been married very young, urged
on, doubtless, by her father, whom she embarrassed after her
mother's death. A terrible man was the marquis, a man about whom
strange tales were beginning to be told, and that despite his lofty
piety! Fauchery asked if he should have the honor of meeting him.
Certainly her father was coming, but only very late; he had so much
work on hand! The journalist thought he knew where the old
gentleman passed his evenings and looked grave. But a mole, which
he noticed close to her mouth on the countess's left cheek,
surprised him. Nana had precisely the same mole. It was curious.
Tiny hairs curled up on it, only they were golden in Nana's case,
black as jet in this. Ah well, never mind! This woman enjoyed
"I have always felt a wish to know Queen Augusta," she said. "They
say she is so good, so devout. Do you think she will accompany the
"It is not thought that she will, madame," he replied.
She had no lovers: the thing was only too apparent. One had only to
look at her there by the side of that daughter of hers, sitting so
insignificant and constrained on her footstool. That sepulchral
drawing room of hers, which exhaled odors suggestive of being in a
church, spoke as plainly as words could of the iron hand, the
austere mode of existence, that weighed her down. There was nothing
suggestive of her own personality in that ancient abode, black with
the damps of years. It was Muffat who made himself felt there, who
dominated his surroundings with his devotional training, his
penances and his fasts. But the sight of the little old gentleman
with the black teeth and subtle smile whom he suddenly discovered in
his armchair behind the group of ladies afforded him a yet more
decisive argument. He knew the personage. It was Theophile Venot,
a retired lawyer who had made a specialty of church cases. He had
left off practice with a handsome fortune and was now leading a
sufficiently mysterious existence, for he was received everywhere,
treated with great deference and even somewhat feared, as though he
had been the representative of a mighty force, an occult power,
which was felt to be at his back. Nevertheless, his behavior was
very humble. He was churchwarden at the Madeleine Church and had
simply accepted the post of deputy mayor at the town house of the
Ninth Arrondissement in order, as he said, to have something to do
in his leisure time. Deuce take it, the countess was well guarded;
there was nothing to be done in that quarter.
"You're right, it's enough to make one kick the bucket here," said
Fauchery to his cousin when he had made good his escape from the
circle of ladies. "We'll hook it!"
But Steiner, deserted at last by the Count Muffat and the deputy,
came up in a fury. Drops of perspiration stood on his forehead, and
he grumbled huskily:
"Gad! Let 'em tell me nothing, if nothing they want to tell me. I
shall find people who will talk."
Then he pushed the journalist into a corner and, altering his tone,
said in accents of victory:
"It's tomorrow, eh? I'm of the party, my bully!"
"Indeed!" muttered Fauchery with some astonishment.
"You didn't know about it. Oh, I had lots of bother to find her at
home. Besides, Mignon never would leave me alone."
"But they're to be there, are the Mignons."
"Yes, she told me so. In fact, she did receive my visit, and she
invited me. Midnight punctually, after the play."
The banker was beaming. He winked and added with a peculiar
emphasis on the words:
"You've worked it, eh?"
"Eh, what?" said Fauchery, pretending not to understand him. "She
wanted to thank me for my article, so she came and called on me."
"Yes, yes. You fellows are fortunate. You get rewarded. By the
by, who pays the piper tomorrow?"
The journalist made a slight outward movement with his arms, as
though he would intimate that no one had ever been able to find out.
But Vandeuvres called to Steiner, who knew M. de Bismarck. Mme du
Joncquoy had almost convinced herself of the truth of her
suppositions; she concluded with these words:
"He gave me an unpleasant impression. I think his face is evil.
But I am quite willing to believe that he has a deal of wit. It
would account for his successes."
"Without doubt," said the banker with a faint smile. He was a Jew
Meanwhile La Faloise at last made bold to question his cousin. He
followed him up and got inside his guard:
"There's supper at a woman's tomorrow evening? With which of them,
eh? With which of them?"
Fauchery motioned to him that they were overheard and must respect
the conventions here. The door had just been opened anew, and an
old lady had come in, followed by a young man in whom the journalist
recognized the truant schoolboy, perpetrator of the famous and as
yet unforgotten "tres chic" of the Blonde Venus first night. This
lady's arrival caused a stir among the company. The Countess Sabine
had risen briskly from her seat in order to go and greet her, and
she had taken both her hands in hers and addressed her as her "dear
Madame Hugon." Seeing that his cousin viewed this little episode
with some curiosity, La Faloise sought to arouse his interest and in
a few brief phrases explained the position. Mme Hugon, widow of a
notary, lived in retirement at Les Fondettes, an old estate of her
family's in the neighborhood of Orleans, but she also kept up a
small establishment in Paris in a house belonging to her in the Rue
de Richelieu and was now passing some weeks there in order to settle
her youngest son, who was reading the law and in his "first year."
In old times she had been a dear friend of the Marquise de Chouard
and had assisted at the birth of the countess, who, prior to her
marriage, used to stay at her house for months at a time and even
now was quite familiarly treated by her.
"I have brought Georges to see you," said Mme Hugon to Sabine.
"He's grown, I trust."
The young man with his clear eyes and the fair curls which suggested
a girl dressed up as a boy bowed easily to the countess and reminded
her of a bout of battledore and shuttlecock they had had together
two years ago at Les Fondettes.
"Philippe is not in Paris?" asked Count Muffat.
"Dear me, no!" replied the old lady. "He is always in garrison at
Bourges." She had seated herself and began talking with
considerable pride of her eldest son, a great big fellow who, after
enlisting in a fit of waywardness, had of late very rapidly attained
the rank of lieutenant. All the ladies behaved to her with
respectful sympathy, and conversation was resumed in a tone at once
more amiable and more refined. Fauchery, at sight of that
respectable Mme Hugon, that motherly face lit up with such a kindly
smile beneath its broad tresses of white hair, thought how foolish
he had been to suspect the Countess Sabine even for an instant.
Nevertheless, the big chair with the red silk upholsteries in which
the countess sat had attracted his attention. Its style struck him
as crude, not to say fantastically suggestive, in that dim old
drawing room. Certainly it was not the count who had inveigled
thither that nest of voluptuous idleness. One might have described
it as an experiment, marking the birth of an appetite and of an
enjoyment. Then he forgot where he was, fell into brown study and
in thought even harked back to that vague confidential announcement
imparted to him one evening in the dining room of a restaurant.
Impelled by a sort of sensuous curiosity, he had always wanted an
introduction into the Muffats' circle, and now that his friend was
in Mexico through all eternity, who could tell what might happen?
"We shall see," he thought. It was a folly, doubtless, but the idea
kept tormenting him; he felt himself drawn on and his animal nature
aroused. The big chair had a rumpled look--its nether cushions had
been tumbled, a fact which now amused him.
"Well, shall we be off?" asked La Faloise, mentally vowing that once
outside he would find out the name of the woman with whom people
were going to sup.
"All in good time," replied Fauchery.
But he was no longer in any hurry and excused himself on the score
of the invitation he had been commissioned to give and had as yet
not found a convenient opportunity to mention. The ladies were
chatting about an assumption of the veil, a very touching ceremony
by which the whole of Parisian society had for the last three days
been greatly moved. It was the eldest daughter of the Baronne de
Fougeray, who, under stress of an irresistible vocation, had just
entered the Carmelite Convent. Mme Chantereau, a distant cousin of
the Fougerays, told how the baroness had been obliged to take to her
bed the day after the ceremony, so overdone was she with weeping.
"I had a very good place," declared Leonide. "I found it
Nevertheless, Mme Hugon pitied the poor mother. How sad to lose a
daughter in such a way!
"I am accused of being overreligious," she said in her quiet, frank
manner, "but that does not prevent me thinking the children very
cruel who obstinately commit such suicide."
"Yes, it's a terrible thing," murmured the countess, shivering a
little, as became a chilly person, and huddling herself anew in the
depths of her big chair in front of the fire.
Then the ladies fell into a discussion. But their voices were
discreetly attuned, while light trills of laughter now and again
interrupted the gravity of their talk. The two lamps on the chimney
piece, which had shades of rose-colored lace, cast a feeble light
over them while on scattered pieces of furniture there burned but
three other lamps, so that the great drawing room remained in soft
Steiner was getting bored. He was describing to Fauchery an
escapade of that little Mme de Chezelles, whom he simply referred to
as Leonide. "A blackguard woman," he said, lowering his voice
behind the ladies' armchairs. Fauchery looked at her as she sat
quaintly perched, in her voluminous ball dress of pale blue satin,
on the corner of her armchair. She looked as slight and impudent as
a boy, and he ended by feeling astonished at seeing her there.
People comported themselves better at Caroline Hequet's, whose
mother had arranged her house on serious principles. Here was a
perfect subject for an article. What a strange world was this world
of Paris! The most rigid circles found themselves invaded.
Evidently that silent Theophile Venot, who contented himself by
smiling and showing his ugly teeth, must have been a legacy from the
late countess. So, too, must have been such ladies of mature age as
Mme Chantereau and Mme du Joncquoy, besides four or five old
gentlemen who sat motionless in corners. The Count Muffat attracted
to the house a series of functionaries, distinguished by the
immaculate personal appearance which was at that time required of
the men at the Tuileries. Among others there was the chief clerk,
who still sat solitary in the middle of the room with his closely
shorn cheeks, his vacant glance and his coat so tight of fit that he
could scarce venture to move. Almost all the young men and certain
individuals with distinguished, aristocratic manners were the
Marquis de Chouard's contribution to the circle, he having kept
touch with the Legitimist party after making his peace with the
empire on his entrance into the Council of State. There remained
Leonide de Chezelles and Steiner, an ugly little knot against which
Mme Hugon's elderly and amiable serenity stood out in strange
contrast. And Fauchery, having sketched out his article, named this
last group "Countess Sabine's little clique."
"On another occasion," continued Steiner in still lower tones,
"Leonide got her tenor down to Montauban. She was living in the
Chateau de Beaurecueil, two leagues farther off, and she used to
come in daily in a carriage and pair in order to visit him at the
Lion d'Or, where he had put up. The carriage used to wait at the
door, and Leonide would stay for hours in the house, while a crowd
gathered round and looked at the horses."
There was a pause in the talk, and some solemn moments passed
silently by in the lofty room. Two young men were whispering, but
they ceased in their turn, and the hushed step of Count Muffat was
alone audible as he crossed the floor. The lamps seemed to have
paled; the fire was going out; a stern shadow fell athwart the old
friends of the house where they sat in the chairs they had occupied
there for forty years back. It was as though in a momentary pause
of conversation the invited guests had become suddenly aware that
the count's mother, in all her glacial stateliness, had returned
But the Countess Sabine had once more resumed:
"Well, at last the news of it got about. The young man was likely
to die, and that would explain the poor child's adoption of the
religious life. Besides, they say that Monsieur de Fougeray would
never have given his consent to the marriage."
"They say heaps of other things too," cried Leonide giddily.
She fell a-laughing; she refused to talk. Sabine was won over by
this gaiety and put her handkerchief up to her lips. And in the
vast and solemn room their laughter sounded a note which struck
Fauchery strangely, the note of delicate glass breaking. Assuredly
here was the first beginning of the "little rift." Everyone began
talking again. Mme du Joncquoy demurred; Mme Chantereau knew for
certain that a marriage had been projected but that matters had gone
no further; the men even ventured to give their opinions. For some
minutes the conversation was a babel of opinions, in which the
divers elements of the circle, whether Bonapartist or Legitimist or
merely worldly and skeptical, appeared to jostle one another
simultaneously. Estelle had rung to order wood to be put on the
fire; the footman turned up the lamps; the room seemed to wake from
sleep. Fauchery began smiling, as though once more at his ease.
"Egad, they become the brides of God when they couldn't be their
cousin's," said Vandeuvres between his teeth.
The subject bored him, and he had rejoined Fauchery.
"My dear fellow, have you ever seen a woman who was really loved
become a nun?"
He did not wait for an answer, for he had had enough of the topic,
and in a hushed voice:
"Tell me," he said, "how many of us will there be tomorrow?
There'll be the Mignons, Steiner, yourself, Blanche and I; who
"Caroline, I believe, and Simonne and Gaga without doubt. One never
knows exactly, does one? On such occasions one expects the party
will number twenty, and you're really thirty."
Vandeuvres, who was looking at the ladies, passed abruptly to
"She must have been very nice-looking, that Du Joncquoy woman, some
fifteen years ago. Poor Estelle has grown lankier than ever. What
a nice lath to put into a bed!"
But interrupting himself, he returned to the subject of tomorrow's
"What's so tiresome of those shows is that it's always the same set
of women. One wants a novelty. Do try and invent a new girl. By
Jove, happy thought! I'll go and beseech that stout man to bring
the woman he was trotting about the other evening at the Varietes."
He referred to the chief clerk, sound asleep in the middle of the
drawing room. Fauchery, afar off, amused himself by following this
delicate negotiation. Vandeuvres had sat himself down by the stout
man, who still looked very sedate. For some moments they both
appeared to be discussing with much propriety the question before
the house, which was, "How can one discover the exact state of
feeling that urges a young girl to enter into the religious life?"
Then the count returned with the remark:
"It's impossible. He swears she's straight. She'd refuse, and yet
I would have wagered that I once saw her at Laure's."
"Eh, what? You go to Laure's?" murmured Fauchery with a chuckle.
"You venture your reputation in places like that? I was under the
impression that it was only we poor devils of outsiders who--"
"Ah, dear boy, one ought to see every side of life."
Then they sneered and with sparkling eyes they compared notes about
the table d'hote in the Rue des Martyrs, where big Laure Piedefer
ran a dinner at three francs a head for little women in
difficulties. A nice hole, where all the little women used to kiss
Laure on the lips! And as the Countess Sabine, who had overheard a
stray word or two, turned toward them, they started back, rubbing
shoulders in excited merriment. They had not noticed that Georges
Hugon was close by and that he was listening to them, blushing so
hotly the while that a rosy flush had spread from his ears to his
girlish throat. The infant was full of shame and of ecstasy. From
the moment his mother had turned him loose in the room he had been
hovering in the wake of Mme de Chezelles, the only woman present who
struck him as being the thing. But after all is said and done, Nana
licked her to fits!
"Yesterday evening," Mme Hugon was saying, "Georges took me to the
play. Yes, we went to the Varietes, where I certainly had not set
foot for the last ten years. That child adores music. As to me, I
wasn't in the least amused, but he was so happy! They put
extraordinary pieces on the stage nowadays. Besides, music delights
me very little, I confess."
"What! You don't love music, madame?" cried Mme du Joncquoy,
lifting her eyes to heaven. "Is it possible there should be people
who don't love music?"
The exclamation of surprise was general. No one had dropped a
single word concerning the performance at the Varietes, at which the
good Mme Hugon had not understood any of the allusions. The ladies
knew the piece but said nothing about it, and with that they plunged
into the realm of sentiment and began discussing the masters in a
tone of refined and ecstatical admiration. Mme du Joncquoy was not
fond of any of them save Weber, while Mme Chantereau stood up for
the Italians. The ladies' voices had turned soft and languishing,
and in front of the hearth one might have fancied one's self
listening in meditative, religious retirement to the faint, discreet
music of a little chapel.
"Now let's see," murmured Vandeuvres, bringing Fauchery back into
the middle of the drawing room, "notwithstanding it all, we must
invent a woman for tomorrow. Shall we ask Steiner about it?"
"Oh, when Steiner's got hold of a woman," said the journalist, "it's
because Paris has done with her."
Vandeuvres, however, was searching about on every side.
"Wait a bit," he continued, "the other day I met Foucarmont with a
charming blonde. I'll go and tell him to bring her."
And he called to Foucarmont. They exchanged a few words rapidly.
There must have been some sort of complication, for both of them,
moving carefully forward and stepping over the dresses of the
ladies, went off in quest of another young man with whom they
continued the discussion in the embrasure of a window. Fauchery was
left to himself and had just decided to proceed to the hearth, where
Mme du Joncquoy was announcing that she never heard Weber played
without at the same time seeing lakes, forests and sunrises over
landscapes steeped in dew, when a hand touched his shoulder and a
voice behind him remarked:
"It's not civil of you."
"What d'you mean?" he asked, turning round and recognizing La
"Why, about that supper tomorrow. You might easily have got me
Fauchery was at length about to state his reasons when Vandeuvres
came back to tell him:
"It appears it isn't a girl of Foucarmont's. It's that man's flame
out there. She won't be able to come. What a piece of bad luck!
But all the same I've pressed Foucarmont into the service, and he's
going to try to get Louise from the Palais-Royal."
"Is it not true, Monsieur de Vandeuvres," asked Mme Chantereau,
raising her voice, "that Wagner's music was hissed last Sunday?"
"Oh, frightfully, madame," he made answer, coming forward with his
usual exquisite politeness.
Then, as they did not detain him, he moved off and continued
whispering in the journalist's ear:
"I'm going to press some more of them. These young fellows must
know some little ladies."
With that he was observed to accost men and to engage them in
conversation in his usual amiable and smiling way in every corner of
the drawing room. He mixed with the various groups, said something
confidently to everyone and walked away again with a sly wink and a
secret signal or two. It looked as though he were giving out a
watchword in that easy way of his. The news went round; the place
of meeting was announced, while the ladies' sentimental
dissertations on music served to conceal the small, feverish rumor
of these recruiting operations.
"No, do not speak of your Germans," Mme Chantereau was saying.
"Song is gaiety; song is light. Have you heard Patti in the Barber
"She was delicious!" murmured Leonide, who strummed none but
operatic airs on her piano.
Meanwhile the Countess Sabine had rung. When on Tuesdays the number
of visitors was small, tea was handed round the drawing room itself.
While directing a footman to clear a round table the countess
followed the Count de Vandeuvres with her eyes. She still smiled
that vague smile which slightly disclosed her white teeth, and as
the count passed she questioned him.
"What ARE you plotting, Monsieur de Vandeuvres?"
"What am I plotting, madame?" he answered quietly. "Nothing at
"Really! I saw you so busy. Pray, wait, you shall make yourself
She placed an album in his hands and asked him to put it on the
piano. But he found means to inform Fauchery in a low whisper that
they would have Tatan Nene, the most finely developed girl that
winter, and Maria Blond, the same who had just made her first
appearance at the Folies-Dramatiques. Meanwhile La Faloise stopped
him at every step in hopes of receiving an invitation. He ended by
offering himself, and Vandeuvres engaged him in the plot at once;
only he made him promise to bring Clarisse with him, and when La
Faloise pretended to scruple about certain points he quieted him by
"Since I invite you that's enough!"
Nevertheless, La Faloise would have much liked to know the name of
the hostess. But the countess had recalled Vandeuvres and was
questioning him as to the manner in which the English made tea. He
often betook himself to England, where his horses ran. Then as
though he had been inwardly following up quite a laborious train of
thought during his remarks, he broke in with the question:
"And the marquis, by the by? Are we not to see him?"
"Oh, certainly you will! My father made me a formal promise that he
would come," replied the countess. "But I'm beginning to be
anxious. His duties will have kept him."
Vandeuvres smiled a discreet smile. He, too, seemed to have his
doubts as to the exact nature of the Marquis de Chouard's duties.
Indeed, he had been thinking of a pretty woman whom the marquis
occasionally took into the country with him. Perhaps they could get
In the meantime Fauchery decided that the moment had come in which
to risk giving Count Muff his invitation. The evening, in fact,
was drawing to a close.
"Are you serious?" asked Vandeuvres, who thought a joke was
"Extremely serious. If I don't execute my commission she'll tear my
eyes out. It's a case of landing her fish, you know."
"Well then, I'll help you, dear boy."
Eleven o'clock struck. Assisted by her daughter, the countess was
pouring out the tea, and as hardly any guests save intimate friends
had come, the cups and the platefuls of little cakes were being
circulated without ceremony. Even the ladies did not leave their
armchairs in front of the fire and sat sipping their tea and
nibbling cakes which they held between their finger tips. From
music the talk had declined to purveyors. Boissier was the only
person for sweetmeats and Catherine for ices. Mme Chantereau,
however, was all for Latinville. Speech grew more and more
indolent, and a sense of lassitude was lulling the room to sleep.
Steiner had once more set himself secretly to undermine the deputy,
whom he held in a state of blockade in the corner of a settee. M.
Venot, whose teeth must have been ruined by sweet things, was eating
little dry cakes, one after the other, with a small nibbling sound
suggestive of a mouse, while the chief clerk, his nose in a teacup,
seemed never to be going to finish its contents. As to the
countess, she went in a leisurely way from one guest to another,
never pressing them, indeed, only pausing a second or two before the
gentlemen whom she viewed with an air of dumb interrogation before
she smiled and passed on. The great fire had flushed all her face,
and she looked as if she were the sister of her daughter, who
appeared so withered and ungainly at her side. When she drew near
Fauchery, who was chatting with her husband and Vandeuvres, she
noticed that they grew suddenly silent; accordingly she did not stop
but handed the cup of tea she was offering to Georges Hugon beyond
"It's a lady who desires your company at supper," the journalist
gaily continued, addressing Count Muffat.
The last-named, whose face had worn its gray look all the evening,
seemed very much surprised. What lady was it?
"Oh, Nana!" said Vandeuvres, by way of forcing the invitation.
The count became more grave than before. His eyelids trembled just
perceptibly, while a look of discomfort, such as headache produces,
hovered for a moment athwart his forehead.
"But I'm not acquainted with that lady," he murmured.
"Come, come, you went to her house," remarked Vandeuvres.
"What d'you say? I went to her house? Oh yes, the other day, in
behalf of the Benevolent Organization. I had forgotten about it.
But, no matter, I am not acquainted with her, and I cannot accept."
He had adopted an icy expression in order to make them understand
that this jest did not appear to him to be in good taste. A man of
his position did not sit down at tables of such women as that.
Vandeuvres protested: it was to be a supper party of dramatic and
artistic people, and talent excused everything. But without
listening further to the arguments urged by Fauchery, who spoke of a
dinner where the Prince of Scots, the son of a queen, had sat down
beside an ex-music-hall singer, the count only emphasized his
refusal. In so doing, he allowed himself, despite his great
politeness, to be guilty of an irritated gesture.
Georges and La Faloise, standing in front of each other drinking
their tea, had overheard the two or three phrases exchanged in their
"Jove, it's at Nana's then," murmured La Faloise. "I might have
expected as much!"
Georges said nothing, but he was all aflame. His fair hair was in
disorder; his blue eyes shone like tapers, so fiercely had the vice,
which for some days past had surrounded him, inflamed and stirred
his blood. At last he was going to plunge into all that he had
"I don't know the address," La Faloise resumed.
"She lives on a third floor in the Boulevard Haussmann, between the
Rue de l'Arcade and the Rue Pesquier," said Georges all in a breath.
And when the other looked at him in much astonishment, he added,
turning very red and fit to sink into the ground with embarrassment
"I'm of the party. She invited me this morning."
But there was a great stir in the drawing room, and Vandeuvres and
Fauchery could not continue pressing the count. The Marquis de
Chouard had just come in, and everyone was anxious to greet him. He
had moved painfully forward, his legs failing under him, and he now
stood in the middle of the room with pallid face and eyes blinking,
as though he had just come out of some dark alley and were blinded
by the brightness of the lamps.
"I scarcely hoped to see you tonight, Father," said the countess.
"I should have been anxious till the morning."
He looked at her without answering, as a man might who fails to
understand. His nose, which loomed immense on his shorn face,
looked like a swollen pimple, while his lower lip hung down. Seeing
him such a wreck, Mme Hugon, full of kind compassion, said pitying
things to him.
"You work too hard. You ought to rest yourself. At our age we
ought to leave work to the young people."
"Work! Ah yes, to be sure, work!" he stammered at last. "Always
plenty of work."
He began to pull himself together, straightening up his bent figure
and passing his hand, as was his wont, over his scant gray hair, of
which a few locks strayed behind his ears.
"At what are you working as late as this?" asked Mme du Joncquoy.
"I thought you were at the financial minister's reception?"
But the countess intervened with:
"My father had to study the question of a projected law."
"Yes, a projected law," he said; "exactly so, a projected law. I
shut myself up for that reason. It refers to work in factories, and
I was anxious for a proper observance of the Lord's day of rest. It
is really shameful that the government is unwilling to act with
vigor in the matter. Churches are growing empty; we are running
headlong to ruin."
Vandeuvres had exchanged glances with Fauchery. They both happened
to be behind the marquis, and they were scanning him suspiciously.
When Vandeuvres found an opportunity to take him aside and to speak
to him about the good-looking creature he was in the habit of taking
down into the country, the old man affected extreme surprise.
Perhaps someone had seen him with the Baroness Decker, at whose
house at Viroflay he sometimes spent a day or so. Vandeuvres's sole
vengeance was an abrupt question:
"Tell me, where have you been straying to? Your elbow is covered
with cobwebs and plaster."
"My elbow," he muttered, slightly disturbed. "Yes indeed, it's
true. A speck or two, I must have come in for them on my way down
from my office."
Several people were taking their departure. It was close on
midnight. Two footmen were noiselessly removing the empty cups and
the plates with cakes. In front of the hearth the ladies had re-
formed and, at the same time, narrowed their circle and were
chatting more carelessly than before in the languid atmosphere
peculiar to the close of a party. The very room was going to sleep,
and slowly creeping shadows were cast by its walls. It was then
Fauchery spoke of departure. Yet he once more forgot his intention
at sight of the Countess Sabine. She was resting from her cares as
hostess, and as she sat in her wonted seat, silent, her eyes fixed
on a log which was turning into embers, her face appeared so white
and so impassable that doubt again possessed him. In the glow of
the fire the small black hairs on the mole at the corner of her lip
became white. It was Nana's very mole, down to the color of the
hair. He could not refrain from whispering something about it in
Vandeuvres's ear. Gad, it was true; the other had never noticed it
before. And both men continued this comparison of Nana and the
countess. They discovered a vague resemblance about the chin and
the mouth, but the eyes were not at all alike. Then, too, Nana had
a good-natured expression, while with the countess it was hard to
decide--she might have been a cat, sleeping with claws withdrawn and
paws stirred by a scarce-perceptible nervous quiver.
"All the same, one could have her," declared Fauchery.
Vandeuvres stripped her at a glance.
"Yes, one could, all the same," he said. "But I think nothing of
the thighs, you know. Will you bet she has no thighs?"
He stopped, for Fauchery touched him briskly on the arm and showed
him Estelle, sitting close to them on her footstool. They had
raised their voices without noticing her, and she must have
overheard them. Nevertheless, she continued sitting there stiff and
motionless, not a hair having lifted on her thin neck, which was
that of a girl who has shot up all too quickly. Thereupon they
retired three or four paces, and Vandeuvres vowed that the countess
was a very honest woman. Just then voices were raised in front of
the hearth. Mme du Joncquoy was saying:
"I was willing to grant you that Monsieur de Bismarck was perhaps a
witty man. Only, if you go as far as to talk of genius--"
The ladies had come round again to their earliest topic of
"What the deuce! Still Monsieur de Bismarck!" muttered Fauchery.
"This time I make my escape for good and all."
"Wait a bit," said Vandeuvres, "we must have a definite no from the
The Count Muffat was talking to his father-in-law and a certain
serious-looking gentleman. Vandeuvres drew him away and renewed the
invitation, backing it up with the information that he was to be at
the supper himself. A man might go anywhere; no one could think of
suspecting evil where at most there could only be curiosity. The
count listened to these arguments with downcast eyes and
expressionless face. Vandeuvres felt him to be hesitating when the
Marquis de Chouard approached with a look of interrogation. And
when the latter was informed of the question in hand and Fauchery
had invited him in his turn, he looked at his son-in-law furtively.
There ensued an embarrassed silence, but both men encouraged one
another and would doubtless have ended by accepting had not Count
Muffat perceived M. Venot's gaze fixed upon him. The little old man
was no longer smiling; his face was cadaverous, his eyes bright and
keen as steel.
'No," replied the count directly, in so decisive a tone that further
insistence became impossible.
Then the marquis refused with even greater severity of expression.
He talked morality. The aristocratic classes ought to set a good
example. Fauchery smiled and shook hands with Vandeuvres. He did
not wait for him and took his departure immediately, for he was due
at his newspaper office.
"At Nana's at midnight, eh?"
La Faloise retired too. Steiner had made his bow to the countess.
Other men followed them, and the same phrase went round--"At
midnight, at Nana's"--as they went to get their overcoats in the
anteroom. Georges, who could not leave without his mother, had
stationed himself at the door, where he gave the exact address.
"Third floor, door on your left." Yet before going out Fauchery
gave a final glance. Vandeuvres had again resumed his position
among the ladies and was laughing with Leonide de Chezelles. Count
Muffat and the Marquis de Chouard were joining in the conversation,
while the good Mme Hugon was falling asleep open-eyed. Lost among
the petticoats, M. Venot was his own small self again and smiled as
of old. Twelve struck slowly in the great solemn room.
"What--what do you mean?" Mme du Joncquoy resumed. "You imagine
that Monsieur de Bismarck will make war on us and beat us! Oh,
Indeed, they were laughing round Mme Chantereau, who had just
repeated an assertion she had heard made in Alsace, where her
husband owned a foundry.
"We have the emperor, fortunately," said Count Muffat in his grave,
It was the last phrase Fauchery was able to catch. He closed the
door after casting one more glance in the direction of the Countess
Sabine. She was talking sedately with the chief clerk and seemed to
be interested in that stout individual's conversation. Assuredly he
must have been deceiving himself. There was no "little rift" there
at all. It was a pity.
"You're not coming down then?" La Faloise shouted up to him from the
And out on the pavement, as they separated, they once more repeated:
"Tomorrow, at Nana's."
Since morning Zoe had delivered up the flat to a managing man who
had come from Brebant's with a staff of helpers and waiters.
Brebant was to supply everything, from the supper, the plates and
dishes, the glass, the linen, the flowers, down to the seats and
footstools. Nana could not have mustered a dozen napkins out of all
her cupboards, and not having had time to get a proper outfit after
her new start in life and scorning to go to the restaurant, she had
decided to make the restaurant come to her. It struck her as being
more the thing. She wanted to celebrate her great success as an
actress with a supper which should set people talking. As her
dining room was too small, the manager had arranged the table in the
drawing room, a table with twenty-five covers, placed somewhat close
"Is everything ready?" asked Nana when she returned at midnight.
"Oh! I don't know," replied Zoe roughly, looking beside herself with
worry. "The Lord be thanked, I don't bother about anything.
They're making a fearful mess in the kitchen and all over the flat!
I've had to fight my battles too. The other two came again. My
eye! I did just chuck 'em out!"
She referred, of course, to her employer's old admirers, the
tradesman and the Walachian, to whom Nana, sure of her future and
longing to shed her skin, as she phrased it, had decided to give the
"There are a couple of leeches for you!" she muttered.
"If they come back threaten to go to the police."
Then she called Daguenet and Georges, who had remained behind in the
anteroom, where they were hanging up their overcoats. They had both
met at the stage door in the Passage des Panoramas, and she had
brought them home with her in a cab. As there was nobody there yet,
she shouted to them to come into the dressing room while Zoe was
touching up her toilet. Hurriedly and without changing her dress
she had her hair done up and stuck white roses in her chignon and at
her bosom. The little room was littered with the drawing-room
furniture, which the workmen had been compelled to roll in there,
and it was full of a motley assemblage of round tables, sofas and
armchairs, with their legs in air for the most part. Nana was quite
ready when her dress caught on a castor and tore upward. At this
she swore furiously; such things only happened to her! Ragingly she
took off her dress, a very simple affair of white foulard, of so
thin and supple a texture that it clung about her like a long shift.
But she put it on again directly, for she could not find another to
her taste, and with tears in her eyes declared that she was dressed
like a ragpicker. Daguenet and Georges had to patch up the rent
with pins, while Zoe once more arranged her hair. All three hurried
round her, especially the boy, who knelt on the floor with his hands
among her skirts. And at last she calmed down again when Daguenet
assured her it could not be later than a quarter past twelve, seeing
that by dint of scamping her words and skipping her lines she had
effectually shortened the third act of the Blonde Venus.
"The play's still far too good for that crowd of idiots," she said.
"Did you see? There were thousands there tonight. Zoe, my girl,
you will wait in here. Don't go to bed, I shall want you. By gum,
it is time they came. Here's company!"
She ran off while Georges stayed where he was with the skirts of his
coat brushing the floor. He blushed, seeing Daguenet looking at
him. Notwithstanding which, they had conceived a tender regard the
one for the other. They rearranged the bows of their cravats in
front of the big dressing glass and gave each other a mutual dose of
the clothesbrush, for they were all white from their close contact
"One would think it was sugar," murmured Georges, giggling like a
greedy little child.
A footman hired for the evening was ushering the guests into the
small drawing room, a narrow slip of a place in which only four
armchairs had been left in order the better to pack in the company.
From the large drawing room beyond came a sound as of the moving of
plates and silver, while a clear and brilliant ray of light shone
from under the door. At her entrance Nana found Clarisse Besnus,
whom La Faloise had brought, already installed in one of the
"Dear me, you're the first of 'em!" said Nana, who, now that she was
successful, treated her familiarly.
"Oh, it's his doing," replied Clarisse. "He's always afraid of not
getting anywhere in time. If I'd taken him at his word I shouldn't
have waited to take off my paint and my wig."
The young man, who now saw Nana for the first time, bowed, paid her
a compliment and spoke of his cousin, hiding his agitation behind an
exaggeration of politeness. But Nana, neither listening to him nor
recognizing his face, shook hands with him and then went briskly
toward Rose Mignon, with whom she at once assumed a most
"Ah, how nice of you, my dear madame! I was so anxious to have you
"It's I who am charmed, I assure you," said Rose with equal
"Pray, sit down. Do you require anything?"
"Thank you, no! Ah yes, I've left my fan in my pelisse, Steiner;
just look in the right-hand pocket."
Steiner and Mignon had come in behind Rose. The banker turned back
and reappeared with the fan while Mignon embraced Nana fraternally
and forced Rose to do so also. Did they not all belong to the same
family in the theatrical world? Then he winked as though to
encourage Steiner, but the latter was disconcerted by Rose's clear
gaze and contented himself by kissing Nana's hand.
Just then the Count de Vandeuvres made his appearance with Blanche
de Sivry. There was an interchange of profound bows, and Nana with
the utmost ceremony conducted Blanche to an armchair. Meanwhile
Vandeuvres told them laughingly that Fauchery was engaged in a
dispute at the foot of the stairs because the porter had refused to
allow Lucy Stewart's carriage to come in at the gate. They could
hear Lucy telling the porter he was a dirty blackguard in the
anteroom. But when the footman had opened the door she came forward
with her laughing grace of manner, announced her name herself, took
both Nana's hands in hers and told her that she had liked her from
the very first and considered her talent splendid. Nana, puffed up
by her novel role of hostess, thanked her and was veritably
confused. Nevertheless, from the moment of Fauchery's arrival she
appeared preoccupied, and directly she could get near him she asked
him in a low voice:
"Will he come?"
"No, he did not want to," was the journalist's abrupt reply, for he
was taken by surprise, though he had got ready some sort of tale to
explain Count Muffat's refusal.
Seeing the young woman's sudden pallor, he became conscious of his
folly and tried to retract his words.
"He was unable to; he is taking the countess to the ball at the
Ministry of the Interior tonight."
"All right," murmured Nana, who suspected him of ill will, "you'll
pay me out for that, my pippin."
She turned on her heel, and so did he; they were angry. Just then
Mignon was pushing Steiner up against Nana, and when Fauchery had
left her he said to her in a low voice and with the good-natured
cynicism of a comrade in arms who wishes his friends to be happy:
"He's dying of it, you know, only he's afraid of my wife. Won't you
Nana did not appear to understand. She smiled and looked at Rose,
the husband and the banker and finally said to the latter:
"Monsieur Steiner, you will sit next to me."
With that there came from the anteroom a sound of laughter and
whispering and a burst of merry, chattering voices, which sounded as
if a runaway convent were on the premises. And Labordette appeared,
towing five women in his rear, his boarding school, as Lucy Stewart
cruelly phrased it. There was Gaga, majestic in a blue velvet dress
which was too tight for her, and Caroline Hequet, clad as usual in
ribbed black silk, trimmed with Chantilly lace. Lea de Horn came
next, terribly dressed up, as her wont was, and after her the big
Tatan Nene, a good-humored fair girl with the bosom of a wet nurse,
at which people laughed, and finally little Maria Blond, a young
damsel of fifteen, as thin and vicious as a street child, yet on the
high road to success, owing to her recent first appearance at the
Folies. Labordette had brought the whole collection in a single
fly, and they were stlll laughing at the way they had been squeezed
with Maria Blond on her knees. But on entering the room they pursed
up their lips, and all grew very conventional as they shook hands
and exchanged salutations. Gaga even affected the infantile and
lisped through excess of genteel deportment. Tatan Nene alone
transgressed. They had been telling her as they came along that six
absolutely naked Negroes would serve up Nana's supper, and she now
grew anxious about them and asked to see them. Labordette called
her a goose and besought her to be silent.
"And Bordenave?" asked Fauchery.
"Oh, you may imagine how miserable I am," cried Nana; "he won't be
able to join us."
"Yes," said Rose Mignon, "his foot caught in a trap door, and he's
got a fearful sprain. If only you could hear him swearing, with his
leg tied up and laid out on a chair!"
Thereupon everybody mourned over Bordenave's absence. No one ever
gave a good supper without Bordenave. Ah well, they would try and
do without him, and they were already talking about other matters
when a burly voice was heard:
"What, eh, what? Is that the way they're going to write my obituary
There was a shout, and all heads were turned round, for it was
indeed Bordenave. Huge and fiery-faced, he was standing with his
stiff leg in the doorway, leaning for support on Simonne Cabiroche's
shoulder. Simonne was for the time being his mistress. This little
creature had had a certain amount of education and could play the
piano and talk English. She was a blonde on a tiny, pretty scale
and so delicately formed that she seemed to bend under Bordenave's
rude weight. Yet she was smilingly submissive withal. He postured
there for some moments, for he felt that together they formed a
"One can't help liking ye, eh?" he continued. "Zounds, I was afraid
I should get bored, and I said to myself, 'Here goes.'"
But he interrupted himself with an oath.
Simonne had taken a step too quickly forward, and his foot had just
felt his full weight. He gave her a rough push, but she, still
smiling away and ducking her pretty head as some animal might that
is afraid of a beating, held him up with all the strength a little
plump blonde can command. Amid all these exclamations there was a
rush to his assistance. Nana and Rose Mignon rolled up an armchair,
into which Bordenave let himself sink, while the other women slid a
second one under his leg. And with that all the actresses present
kissed him as a matter of course. He kept grumbling and gasping.
"Oh, damn! Oh, damn! Ah well, the stomach's unhurt, you'll see."
Other guests had arrived by this time, and motion became impossible
in the room. The noise of clinking plates and silver had ceased,
and now a dispute was heard going on in the big drawing room, where
the voice of the manager grumbled angrily. Nana was growing
impatient, for she expected no more invited guests and wondered why
they did not bring in supper. She had just sent Georges to find out
what was going on when, to her great surprise, she noticed the
arrival of more guests, both male and female. She did not know them
in the least. Whereupon with some embarrassment she questioned
Bordenave, Mignon and Labordette about them. They did not know them
any more than she did, but when she turned to the Count de
Vandeuvres he seemed suddenly to recollect himself. They were the
young men he had pressed into her service at Count Muffat's. Nana
thanked him. That was capital, capital! Only they would all be
terribly crowded, and she begged Labordette to go and have seven
more covers set. Scarcely had he left the room than the footman
ushered in three newcomers. Nay, this time the thing was becoming
ridiculous; one certainly could never take them all in. Nana was
beginning to grow angry and in her haughtiest manner announced that
such conduct was scarcely in good taste. But seeing two more
arrive, she began laughing; it was really too funny. So much the
worse. People would have to fit in anyhow! The company were all on
their feet save Gaga and Rose and Bordenave, who alone took up two
armchairs. There was a buzz of voices, people talking in low tones
and stifling slight yawns the while.
"Now what d'you say, my lass," asked Bordenave, "to our sitting down
at table as if nothing had happened? We are all here, don't you
"Oh yes, we're all here, I promise you!" she answered laughingly.
She looked round her but grew suddenly serious, as though she were
surprised at not finding someone. Doubtless there was a guest
missing whom she did not mention. It was a case of waiting. But a
minute or two later the company noticed in their midst a tall
gentleman with a fine face and a beautiful white beard. The most
astonishing thing about it was that nobody had seen him come in;
indeed, he must have slipped into the little drawing room through
the bedroom door, which had remained ajar. Silence reigned, broken
only by a sound of whispering. The Count de Vandeuvres certainly
knew who the gentleman was, for they both exchanged a discreet
handgrip, but to the questions which the women asked him he replied
by a smile only. Thereupon Caroline Hequet wagered in a low voice
that it was an English lord who was on the eve of returning to
London to be married. She knew him quite well--she had had him.
And this account of the matter went the round of the ladies present,
Maria Blond alone asserting that, for her part, she recognized a
German ambassador. She could prove it, because he often passed the
night with one of her friends. Among the men his measure was taken
in a few rapid phrases. A real swell, to judge by his looks!
Perhaps he would pay for the supper! Most likely. It looked like
it. Bah! Provided only the supper was a good one! In the end the
company remained undecided. Nay, they were already beginning to
forget the old white-bearded gentleman when the manager opened the
door of the large drawing room.
"Supper is on the table, madame."
Nana had already accepted Steiner's proffered arm without noticing a
movement on the part of the old gentleman, who started to walk
behind her in solitary state. Thus the march past could not be
organized, and men and women entered anyhow, joking with homely good
humor over this absence of ceremony. A long table stretched from
one end to the other of the great room, which had been entirely
cleared of furniture, and this same table was not long enough, for
the plates thereon were touching one another. Four candelabra, with
ten candles apiece, lit up the supper, and of these one was gorgeous
in silver plate with sheaves of flowers to right and left of it.
Everything was luxurious after the restaurant fashion; the china was
ornamented with a gold line and lacked the customary monogram; the
silver had become worn and tarnished through dint of continual
washings; the glass was of the kind that you can complete an odd set
of in any cheap emporium.
The scene suggested a premature housewarming in an establishment
newly smiled on by fortune and as yet lacking the necessary
conveniences. There was no central luster, and the candelabra,
whose tall tapers had scarcely burned up properly, cast a pale
yellow light among the dishes and stands on which fruit, cakes and
preserves alternated symmetrically.
"You sit where you like, you know," said Nana. "It's more amusing
She remained standing midway down the side of the table. The old
gentleman whom nobody knew had placed himself on her right, while
she kept Steiner on her left hand. Some guests were already sitting
down when the sound of oaths came from the little drawing room. It
was Bordenave. The company had forgotten him, and he was having all
the trouble in the world to raise himself out of his two armchairs,
for he was howling amain and calling for that cat of a Simonne, who
had slipped off with the rest. The women ran in to him, full of
pity for his woes, and Bordenave appeared, supported, nay, almost
carried, by Caroline, Clarisse, Tatan Nene and Maria Blond. And
there was much to-do over his installation at the table.
"In the middle, facing Nana!" was the cry. "Bordenave in the
middle! He'll be our president!"
Thereupon the ladies seated him in the middle. But he needed a
second chair for his leg, and two girls lifted it up and stretched
it carefully out. It wouldn't matter; he would eat sideways.
"God blast it all!" he grumbled. "We're squashed all the same! Ah,
my kittens, Papa recommends himself to your tender care!"
He had Rose Mignon on his right and Lucy Stewart on his left hand,
and they promised to take good care of him. Everybody was now
getting settled. Count de Vandeuvres placed himself between Lucy
and Clarisse; Fauchery between Rose Mignon and Caroline Hequet. On
the other side of the table Hector de la Faloise had rushed to get
next Gaga, and that despite the calls of Clarisse opposite, while
Mignon, who never deserted Steiner, was only separated from him by
Blanche and had Tatan Nene on his left. Then came Labordette and,
finally, at the two ends of the table were irregular crowding groups
of young men and of women, such as Simonne, Lea de Horn and Maria
Blond. It was in this region that Daguenet and Georges forgathered
more warmly than ever while smilingly gazing at Nana.
Nevertheless, two people remained standing, and there was much
joking about it. The men offered seats on their knees. Clarisse,
who could not move her elbows, told Vandeuvres that she counted on
him to feed her. And then that Bordenave did just take up space
with his chairs! There was a final effort, and at last everybody
was seated, but, as Mignon loudly remarked, they were confoundedly
like herrings in a barrel.
"Thick asparagus soup a la comtesse, clear soup a la Deslignac,"
murmured the waiters, carrying about platefuls in rear of the
Bordenave was loudly recommending the thick soup when a shout arose,
followed by protests and indignant exclamations. The door had just
opened, and three late arrivals, a woman and two men, had just come
in. Oh dear, no! There was no space for them! Nana, however,
without leaving her chair, began screwing up her eyes in the effort
to find out whether she knew them. The woman was Louise Violaine,
but she had never seen the men before.
"This gentleman, my dear," said Vandeuvres, "is a friend of mine, a
naval officer, Monsieur de Foucarmont by name. I invited him."
Foucarmont bowed and seemed very much at ease, for he added:
"And I took leave to bring one of my friends with me."
"Oh, it's quite right, quite right!" said Nana. "Sit down, pray.
Let's see, you--Clarisse--push up a little. You're a good deal
spread out down there. That's it--where there's a will--"
They crowded more tightly than ever, and Foucarmont and Louise were
given a little stretch of table, but the friend had to sit at some
distance from his plate and ate his supper through dint of making a
long arm between his neighbors' shoulders. The waiters took away
the soup plates and circulated rissoles of young rabbit with
truffles and "niokys" and powdered cheese. Bordenave agitated the
whole table with the announcement that at one moment he had had the
idea of bringing with him Prulliere, Fontan and old Bosc. At this
Nana looked sedate and remarked dryly that she would have given them
a pretty reception. Had she wanted colleagues, she would certainly
have undertaken to ask them herself. No, no, she wouldn't have
third-rate play actors. Old Bosc was always drunk; Prulliere was
fond of spitting too much, and as to Fontan, he made himself
unbearable in society with his loud voice and his stupid doings.
Then, you know, third-rate play actors were always out of place when
they found themselves in the society of gentlemen such as those
"Yes, yes, it's true," Mignon declared.
All round the table the gentlemen in question looked unimpeachable
in the extreme, what with their evening dress and their pale
features, the natural distinction of which was still further refined
by fatigue. The old gentleman was as deliberate in his movements
and wore as subtle a smile as though he were presiding over a
diplomatic congress, and Vandeuvres, with his exquisite politeness
toward the ladies next to him, seemed to be at one of the Countess
Muffat's receptions. That very morning Nana had been remarking to
her aunt that in the matter of men one could not have done better--
they were all either wellborn or wealthy, in fact, quite the thing.
And as to the ladies, they were behaving admirably. Some of them,
such as Blanche, Lea and Louise, had come in low dresses, but Gaga's
only was perhaps a little too low, the more so because at her age
she would have done well not to show her neck at all. Now that the
company were finally settled the laughter and the light jests began
to fail. Georges was under the impression that he had assisted at
merrier dinner parties among the good folks of Orleans. There was
scarcely any conversation. The men, not being mutually acquainted,
stared at one another, while the women sat quite quiet, and it was
this which especially surprised Georges. He thought them all smugs--
he had been under the impression that everybody would begin kissing
The third course, consisting of a Rhine carp a la Chambord and a
saddle of venison a l'anglaise, was being served when Blanche
"Lucy, my dear, I met your Ollivier on Sunday. How he's grown!"
"Dear me, yes! He's eighteen," replied Lucy. "It doesn't make me
feel any younger. He went back to his school yesterday."
Her son Ollivier, whom she was wont to speak of with pride, was a
pupil at the Ecole de Marine. Then ensued a conversation about the
young people, during which all the ladies waxed very tender. Nana
described her own great happiness. Her baby, the little Louis, she
said, was now at the house of her aunt, who brought him round to her
every morning at eleven o'clock, when she would take him into her
bed, where he played with her griffon dog Lulu. It was enough to
make one die of laughing to see them both burying themselves under
the clothes at the bottom of the bed. The company had no idea how
cunning Louiset had already become.
"Oh, yesterday I did just pass a day!" said Rose Mignon in her turn.
"Just imagine, I went to fetch Charles and Henry at their boarding
school, and I had positively to take them to the theater at night.
They jumped; they clapped their little hands: 'We shall see Mamma
act! We shall see Mamma act!' Oh, it was a to-do!"
Mignon smiled complaisantly, his eyes moist with paternal
"And at the play itself," he continued, "they were so funny! They
behaved as seriously as grown men, devoured Rose with their eyes and
asked me why Mamma had her legs bare like that."
The whole table began laughing, and Mignon looked radiant, for his
pride as a father was flattered. He adored his children and had but
one object in life, which was to increase their fortunes by
administering the money gained by Rose at the theater and elsewhere
with the businesslike severity of a faithful steward. When as first
fiddle in the music hall where she used to sing he had married her,
they had been passionately fond of one another. Now they were good
friends. There was an understanding between them: she labored hard
to the full extent of her talent and of her beauty; he had given up
his violin in order the better to watch over her successes as an
actress and as a woman. One could not have found a more homely and
united household anywhere!
"What age is your eldest?" asked Vandeuvres.
"Henry's nine," replied Mignon, "but such a big chap for his years!"
Then he chaffed Steiner, who was not fond of children, and with
quiet audacity informed him that were he a father, he would make a
less stupid hash of his fortune. While talking he watched the
banker over Blanche's shoulders to see if it was coming off with
Nana. But for some minutes Rose and Fauchery, who were talking very
near him, had been getting on his nerves. Was Rose going to waste
time over such a folly as that? In that sort of case, by Jove, he
blocked the way. And diamond on finger and with his fine hands in
great evidence, he finished discussing a fillet of venison.
Elsewhere the conversation about children continued. La Faloise,
rendered very restless by the immediate proximity of Gaga, asked
news of her daughter, whom he had had the pleasure of noticing in
her company at the Varietes. Lili was quite well, but she was still
such a tomboy! He was astonished to learn that Lili was entering on
her nineteenth year. Gaga became even more imposing in his eyes,
and when he endeavored to find out why she had not brought Lili with
"Oh no, no, never!" she said stiffly. "Not three months ago she
positively insisted on leaving her boarding school. I was thinking
of marrying her off at once, but she loves me so that I had to take
her home--oh, so much against my will!"
Her blue eyelids with their blackened lashes blinked and wavered
while she spoke of the business of settling her young lady. If at
her time of life she hadn't laid by a sou but was still always
working to minister to men's pleasures, especially those very young
men, whose grandmother she might well be, it was truly because she
considered a good match of far greater importance than mere savings.
And with that she leaned over La Faloise, who reddened under the
huge, naked, plastered shoulder with which she well-nigh crushed