Part 3 out of 12
"You know," she murmured, "if she fails it won't be my fault. But
they're so strange when they're young!"
There was a considerable bustle round the table, and the waiters
became very active. After the third course the entrees had made
their appearance; they consisted of pullets a la marechale, fillets
of sole with shallot sauce and escalopes of Strasbourg pate. The
manager, who till then had been having Meursault served, now offered
Chambertin and Leoville. Amid the slight hubbub which the change of
plates involved Georges, who was growing momentarily more
astonished, asked Daguenet if all the ladies present were similarly
provided with children, and the other, who was amused by this
question, gave him some further details. Lucy Stewart was the
daughter of a man of English origin who greased the wheels of the
trains at the Gare du Nord; she was thirty-nine years old and had
the face of a horse but was adorable withal and, though consumptive,
never died. In fact, she was the smartest woman there and
represented three princes and a duke. Caroline Hequet, born at
Bordeaux, daughter of a little clerk long since dead of shame, was
lucky enough to be possessed of a mother with a head on her
shoulders, who, after having cursed her, had made it up again at the
end of a year of reflection, being minded, at any rate, to save a
fortune for her daughter. The latter was twenty-five years old and
very passionless and was held to be one of the finest women it is
possible to enjoy. Her price never varied. The mother, a model of
orderliness, kept the accounts and noted down receipts and
expenditures with severe precision. She managed the whole household
from some small lodging two stories above her daughter's, where,
moreover, she had established a workroom for dressmaking and plain
sewing. As to Blanche de Sivry, whose real name was Jacqueline
Bandu, she hailed from a village near Amiens. Magnificent in
person, stupid and untruthful in character, she gave herself out as
the granddaughter of a general and never owned to her thirty-two
summers. The Russians had a great taste for her, owing to her
embonpoint. Then Daguenet added a rapid word or two about the rest.
There was Clarisse Besnus, whom a lady had brought up from Saint-
Aubin-sur-Mer in the capacity of maid while the lady's husband had
started her in quite another line. There was Simonne Cabiroche, the
daughter of a furniture dealer in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, who
had been educated in a large boarding school with a view to becoming
a governess. Finally there were Maria Blond and Louise Violaine and
Lea de Horn, who had all shot up to woman's estate on the pavements
of Paris, not to mention Tatan Nene, who had herded cows in
Champagne till she was twenty.
Georges listened and looked at these ladies, feeling dizzy and
excited by the coarse recital thus crudely whispered in his ear,
while behind his chair the waiters kept repeating in respectful
"Pullets a la marechale; fillets of sole with ravigote sauce."
"My dear fellow," said Daguenet, giving him the benefit of his
experience, "don't take any fish; it'll do you no good at this time
of night. And be content with Leoville: it's less treacherous."
A heavy warmth floated upward from the candelabras, from the dishes
which were being handed round, from the whole table where thirty-
eight human beings were suffocating. And the waiters forgot
themselves and ran when crossing the carpet, so that it was spotted
with grease. Nevertheless, the supper grew scarce any merrier. The
ladies trifled with their meat, left half of it uneaten. Tatan Nene
alone partook gluttonously of every dish. At that advanced hour of
the night hunger was of the nervous order only, a mere whimsical
craving born of an exasperated stomach.
At Nana's side the old gentleman refused every dish offered him; he
had only taken a spoonful of soup, and he now sat in front of his
empty plate, gazing silently about. There was some subdued yawning,
and occasionally eyelids closed and faces became haggard and white.
It was unutterably slow, as it always was, according to Vandeuvres's
dictum. This sort of supper should be served anyhow if it was to be
funny, he opined. Otherwise when elegantly and conventionally done
you might as well feed in good society, where you were not more
bored than here. Had it not been for Bordenave, who was still
bawling away, everybody would have fallen asleep. That rum old
buffer Bordenave, with his leg duly stretched on its chair, was
letting his neighbors, Lucy and Rose, wait on him as though he were
a sultan. They were entirely taken up with him, and they helped him
and pampered him and watched over his glass and his plate, and yet
that did not prevent his complaining.
"Who's going to cut up my meat for me? I can't; the table's a
Every few seconds Simonne rose and took up a position behind his
back in order to cut his meat and his bread. All the women took a
great interest in the things he ate. The waiters were recalled, and
he was stuffed to suffocation. Simonne having wiped his mouth for
him while Rose and Lucy were changing his plate, her act struck him
as very pretty and, deigning at length to show contentment:
"There, there, my daughter," he said, "that's as it should be.
Women are made for that!"
There was a slight reawakening, and conversation became general as
they finished discussing some orange sherbet. The hot roast was a
fillet with truffles, and the cold roast a galantine of guinea fowl
in jelly. Nana, annoyed by the want of go displayed by her guests,
had begun talking with the greatest distinctness.
"You know the Prince of Scots has already had a stage box reserved
so as to see the Blonde Venus when he comes to visit the
"I very much hope that all the princes will come and see it,"
declared Bordenave with his mouth full.
"They are expecting the shah of Persia next Sunday," said Lucy
Stewart. Whereupon Rose Mignon spoke of the shah's diamonds. He
wore a tunic entirely covered with gems; it was a marvel, a flaming
star; it represented millions. And the ladies, with pale faces and
eyes glittering with covetousness, craned forward and ran over the
names of the other kings, the other emperors, who were shortly
expected. All of them were dreaming of some royal caprice, some
night to be paid for by a fortune.
"Now tell me, dear boy," Caroline Hequet asked Vandeuvres, leaning
forward as she did so, "how old's the emperor of Russia?"
"Oh, he's 'present time,'" replied the count, laughing. "Nothing to
be done in that quarter, I warn you."
Nana made pretense of being hurt. The witticism appeared somewhat
too stinging, and there was a murmur of protest. But Blanche gave a
description of the king of Italy, whom she had once seen at Milan.
He was scarcely good looking, and yet that did not prevent him
enjoying all the women. She was put out somewhat when Fauchery
assured her that Victor Emmanuel could not come to the exhibition.
Louise Violaine and Lea favored the emperor of Austria, and all of a
sudden little Maria Blond was heard saying:
"What an old stick the king of Prussia is! I was at Baden last
year, and one was always meeting him about with Count Bismarck."
"Dear me, Bismarck!" Simonne interrupted. "I knew him once, I did.
A charming man."
"That's what I was saying yesterday," cried Vandeuvres, "but nobody
would believe me."
And just as at Countess Sabine's, there ensued a long discussion
about Bismarck. Vandeuvres repeated the same phrases, and for a
moment or two one was again in the Muffats' drawing room, the only
difference being that the ladies were changed. Then, just as last
night, they passed on to a discussion on music, after which,
Foucarmont having let slip some mention of the assumption of the
veil of which Paris was still talking, Nana grew quite interested
and insisted on details about Mlle de Fougeray. Oh, the poor child,
fancy her burying herself alive like that! Ah well, when it was a
question of vocation! All round the table the women expressed
themselves much touched, and Georges, wearied at hearing these
things a second time discussed, was beginning to ask Daguenet about
Nana's ways in private life, when the conversation veered fatefully
back to Count Bismarck. Tatan Nene bent toward Labordette to ask
him privily who this Bismarck might be, for she did not know him.
Whereupon Labordette, in cold blood, told her some portentous
anecdotes. This Bismarck, he said, was in the habit of eating raw
meat and when he met a woman near his den would carry her off
thither on his back; at forty years of age he had already had as
many as thirty-two children that way.
"Thirty-two children at forty!" cried Tatan Nene, stupefied and yet
convinced. "He must be jolly well worn out for his age."
There was a burst of merriment, and it dawned on her that she was
being made game of.
"You sillies! How am I to know if you're joking?"
Gaga, meanwhile, had stopped at the exhibition. Like all these
ladies, she was delightedly preparing for the fray. A good season,
provincials and foreigners rushing into Paris! In the long run,
perhaps, after the close of the exhibition she would, if her
business had flourished, be able to retire to a little house at
Jouvisy, which she had long had her eye on.
"What's to be done?" she said to La Faloise. "One never gets what
one wants! Oh, if only one were still really loved!"
Gaga behaved meltingly because she had felt the young man's knee
gently placed against her own. He was blushing hotly and lisping as
elegantly as ever. She weighed him at a glance. Not a very heavy
little gentleman, to be sure, but then she wasn't hard to please.
La Faloise obtained her address.
"Just look there," murmured Vandeuvres to Clarisse. "I think Gaga's
doing you out of your Hector."
"A good riddance, so far as I'm concerned," replied the actress.
"That fellow's an idiot. I've already chucked him downstairs three
times. You know, I'm disgusted when dirty little boys run after old
She broke off and with a little gesture indicated Blanche, who from
the commencement of dinner had remained in a most uncomfortable
attitude, sitting up very markedly, with the intention of displaying
her shoulders to the old distinguished-looking gentleman three seats
"You're being left too," she resumed.
Vandeuvres smiled his thin smile and made a little movement to
signify he did not care. Assuredly 'twas not he who would ever have
prevented poor, dear Blanche scoring a success. He was more
interested by the spectacle which Steiner was presenting to the
table at large. The banker was noted for his sudden flames. That
terrible German Jew who brewed money, whose hands forged millions,
was wont to turn imbecile whenever he became enamored of a woman.
He wanted them all too! Not one could make her appearance on the
stage but he bought her, however expensive she might be. Vast sums
were quoted. Twice had his furious appetite for courtesans ruined
him. The courtesans, as Vandeuvres used to say, avenged public
morality by emptying his moneybags. A big operation in the
saltworks of the Landes had rendered him powerful on 'change, and so
for six weeks past the Mignons had been getting a pretty slice out
of those same saltworks. But people were beginning to lay wagers
that the Mignons would not finish their slice, for Nana was showing
her white teeth. Once again Steiner was in the toils, and so deeply
this time that as he sat by Nana's side he seemed stunned; he ate
without appetite; his lip hung down; his face was mottled. She had
only to name a figure. Nevertheless, she did not hurry but
continued playing with him, breathing her merry laughter into his
hairy ear and enjoying the little convulsive movements which kept
traversing his heavy face. There would always be time enough to
patch all that up if that ninny of a Count Muffat were really to
treat her as Joseph did Potiphar's wife.
"Leoville or Chambertin?" murmured a waiter, who came craning
forward between Nana and Steiner just as the latter was addressing
her in a low voice.
"Eh, what?" he stammered, losing his head. "Whatever you like--I
Vandeuvres gently nudged Lucy Stewart, who had a very spiteful
tongue and a very fierce invention when once she was set going.
That evening Mignon was driving her to exasperation.
"He would gladly be bottleholder, you know," she remarked to the
count. "He's in hopes of repeating what he did with little
Jonquier. You remember: Jonquier was Rose's man, but he was sweet
on big Laure. Now Mignon procured Laure for Jonquier and then came
back arm in arm with him to Rose, as if he were a husband who had
been allowed a little peccadillo. But this time the thing's going
to fail. Nana doesn't give up the men who are lent her."
"What ails Mignon that he should be looking at his wife in that
severe way?" asked Vandeuvres.
He leaned forward and saw Rose growing exceedingly amorous toward
Fauchery. This was the explanation of his neighbor's wrath. He
"The devil, are you jealous?"
"Jealous!" said Lucy in a fury. "Good gracious, if Rose is wanting
Leon I give him up willingly--for what he's worth! That's to say,
for a bouquet a week and the rest to match! Look here, my dear boy,
these theatrical trollops are all made the same way. Why, Rose
cried with rage when she read Leon's article on Nana; I know she
did. So now, you understand, she must have an article, too, and
she's gaining it. As for me, I'm going to chuck Leon downstairs--
She paused to say "Leoville" to the waiter standing behind her with
his two bottles and then resumed in lowered tones:
"I don't want to shout; it isn't my style. But she's a cocky slut
all the same. If I were in her husband's place I should lead her a
lovely dance. Oh, she won't be very happy over it. She doesn't
know my Fauchery: a dirty gent he is, too, palling up with women
like that so as to get on in the world. Oh, a nice lot they are!"
Vandeuvres did his best to calm her down, but Bordenave, deserted by
Rose and by Lucy, grew angry and cried out that they were letting
Papa perish of hunger and thirst. This produced a fortunate
diversion. Yet the supper was flagging; no one was eating now,
though platefuls of cepes a' l'italienne and pineapple fritters a la
Pompadour were being mangled. The champagne, however, which had
been drunk ever since the soup course, was beginning little by
little to warm the guests into a state of nervous exaltation. They
ended by paying less attention to decorum than before. The women
began leaning on their elbows amid the disordered table
arrangements, while the men, in order to breathe more easily, pushed
their chairs back, and soon the black coats appeared buried between
the light-colored bodices, and bare shoulders, half turned toward
the table, began to gleam as soft as silk. It was too hot, and the
glare of the candles above the table grew ever yellower and duller.
Now and again, when a women bent forward, the back of her neck
glowed golden under a rain of curls, and the glitter of a diamond
clasp lit up a lofty chignon. There was a touch of fire in the
passing jests, in the laughing eyes, in the sudden gleam of white
teeth, in the reflection of the candelabra on the surface of a glass
of champagne. The company joked at the tops of their voices,
gesticulated, asked questions which no one answered and called to
one another across the whole length of the room. But the loudest
din was made by the waiters; they fancied themselves at home in the
corridors of their parent restaurant; they jostled one another and
served the ices and the dessert to an accompaniment of guttural
"My children," shouted Bordenave, "you know we're playing tomorrow.
Be careful! Not too much champagne!"
"As far as I'm concerned," said Foucarmont, "I've drunk every
imaginable kind of wine in all the four quarters of the globe.
Extraordinary liquors some of 'em, containing alcohol enough to kill
a corpse! Well, and what d'you think? Why, it never hurt me a bit.
I can't make myself drunk. I've tried and I can't."
He was very pale, very calm and collected, and he lolled back in his
chair, drinking without cessation.
"Never mind that," murmured Louise Violaine. "Leave off; you've had
enough. It would be a funny business if I had to look after you the
rest of the night."
Such was her state of exaltation that Lucy Stewart's cheeks were
assuming a red, consumptive flush, while Rose Mignon with moist
eyelids was growing excessively melting. Tatan Nene, greatly
astonished at the thought that she had overeaten herself, was
laughing vaguely over her own stupidity. The others, such as
Blanche, Caroline, Simonne and Maria, were all talking at once and
telling each other about their private affairs--about a dispute with
a coachman, a projected picnic and innumerable complex stories of
lovers stolen or restored. Meanwhile a young man near Georges,
having evinced a desire to kiss Lea de Horn, received a sharp rap,
accompanied by a "Look here, you, let me go!" which was spoken in a
tone of fine indignation; and Georges, who was now very tipsy and
greatly excited by the sight of Nana, hesitated about carrying out a
project which he had been gravely maturing. He had been planning,
indeed, to get under the table on all fours and to go and crouch at
Nana's feet like a little dog. Nobody would have seen him, and he
would have stayed there in the quietest way. But when at Lea's
urgent request Daguenet had told the young man to sit still, Georges
all at once felt grievously chagrined, as though the reproof had
just been leveled at him. Oh, it was all silly and slow, and there
was nothing worth living for! Daguenet, nevertheless, began
chaffing and obliged him to swallow a big glassful of water, asking
him at the same time what he would do if he were to find himself
alone with a woman, seeing that three glasses of champagne were able
to bowl him over.
"Why, in Havana," resumed Foucarmont, "they make a spirit with a
certain wild berry; you think you're swallowing fire! Well now, one
evening I drank more than a liter of it, and it didn't hurt me one
bit. Better than that, another time when we were on the coast of
Coromandel some savages gave us I don't know what sort of a mixture
of pepper and vitriol, and that didn't hurt me one bit. I can't
make myself drunk."
For some moments past La Faloise's face opposite had excited his
displeasure. He began sneering and giving vent to disagreeable
witticisms. La Faloise, whose brain was in a whirl, was behaving
very restlessly and squeezing up against Gaga. But at length he
became the victim of anxiety; somebody had just taken his
handkerchief, and with drunken obstinacy he demanded it back again,
asked his neighbors about it, stooped down in order to look under
the chairs and the guests' feet. And when Gaga did her best to
"It's a nuisance," he murmured, "my initials and my coronet are
worked in the corner. They may compromise me."
"I say, Monsieur Falamoise, Lamafoise, Mafaloise!" shouted
Foucarmont, who thought it exceedingly witty thus to disfigure the
young man's name ad infinitum.
But La Faloise grew wroth and talked with a stutter about his
ancestry. He threatened to send a water bottle at Foucarmont's
head, and Count de Vandeuvres had to interfere in order to assure
him that Foucarmont was a great joker. Indeed, everybody was
laughing. This did for the already flurried young man, who was very
glad to resume his seat and to begin eating with childlike
submissiveness when in a loud voice his cousin ordered him to feed.
Gaga had taken him back to her ample side; only from time to time he
cast sly and anxious glances at the guests, for he ceased not to
search for his handkerchief.
Then Foucarmont, being now in his witty vein, attacked Labordette
right at the other end of the table. Louise Violaine strove to make
him hold his tongue, for, she said, "when he goes nagging at other
people like that it always ends in mischief for me." He had
discovered a witticism which consisted in addressing Labordette as
"Madame," and it must have amused him greatly, for he kept on
repeating it while Labordette tranquilly shrugged his shoulders and
as constantly replied:
"Pray hold your tongue, my dear fellow; it's stupid."
But as Foucarmont failed to desist and even became insulting without
his neighbors knowing why, he left off answering him and appealed to
"Make your friend hold his tongue, monsieur. I don't wish to become
Foucarmont had twice fought duels, and he was in consequence most
politely treated and admitted into every circle. But there was now
a general uprising against him. The table grew merry at his
sallies, for they thought him very witty, but that was no reason why
the evening should be spoiled. Vandeuvres, whose subtle countenance
was darkening visibly, insisted on his restoring Labordette his sex.
The other men--Mignon, Steiner and Bordenave--who were by this time
much exalted, also intervened with shouts which drowned his voice.
Only the old gentleman sitting forgotten next to Nana retained his
stately demeanor and, still smiling in his tired, silent way,
watched with lackluster eyes the untoward finish of the dessert.
"What do you say to our taking coffee in here, duckie?" said
Bordenave. "We're very comfortable."
Nana did not give an immediate reply. Since the beginning of supper
she had seemed no longer in her own house. All this company had
overwhelmed and bewildered her with their shouts to the waiters, the
loudness of their voices and the way in which they put themselves at
their ease, just as though they were in a restaurant. Forgetting
her role of hostess, she busied herself exclusively with bulky
Steiner, who was verging on apoplexy beside her. She was listening
to his proposals and continually refusing them with shakes of the
head and that temptress's laughter which is peculiar to a voluptuous
blonde. The champagne she had been drinking had flushed her a rosy-
red; her lips were moist; her eyes sparkled, and the banker's offers
rose with every kittenish movement of her shoulders, with every
little voluptuous lift and fall of her throat, which occurred when
she turned her head. Close by her ear he kept espying a sweet
little satiny corner which drove him crazy. Occasionally Nana was
interrupted, and then, remembering her guests, she would try and be
as pleased as possible in order to show that she knew how to
receive. Toward the end of the supper she was very tipsy. It made
her miserable to think of it, but champagne had a way of
intoxicating her almost directly! Then an exasperating notion
struck her. In behaving thus improperly at her table, these ladies
were showing themselves anxious to do her an ugly turn. Oh yes, she
could see it all distinctly. Lucy had given Foucarmont a wink in
order to egg him on against Labordette, while Rose, Caroline and the
others were doing all they could to stir up the men. Now there was
such a din you couldn't hear your neighbor speak, and so the story
would get about that you might allow yourself every kind of liberty
when you supped at Nana's. Very well then! They should see! She
might be tipsy, if you like, but she was still the smartest and most
ladylike woman there.
"Do tell them to serve the coffee here, duckie," resumed Bordenave.
"I prefer it here because of my leg."
But Nana had sprung savagely to her feet after whispering into the
astonished ears of Steiner and the old gentleman:
"It's quite right; it'll teach me to go and invite a dirty lot like
Then she pointed to the door of the dining room and added at the top
of her voice:
"If you want coffee it's there, you know."
The company left the table and crowded toward the dining room
without noticing Nana's indignant outburst. And soon no one was
left in the drawing room save Bordenave, who advanced cautiously,
supporting himself against the wall and cursing away at the
confounded women who chucked Papa the moment they were chock-full.
The waiters behind him were already busy removing the plates and
dishes in obedience to the loudly voiced orders of the manager.
They rushed to and fro, jostled one another, caused the whole table
to vanish, as a pantomime property might at the sound of the chief
scene-shifter's whistle. The ladies and gentlemen were to return to
the drawing room after drinking their coffee.
"By gum, it's less hot here," said Gaga with a slight shiver as she
entered the dining room.
The window here had remained open. Two lamps illuminated the table,
where coffee and liqueurs were set out. There were no chairs, and
the guests drank their coffee standing, while the hubbub the waiters
were making in the next room grew louder and louder. Nana had
disappeared, but nobody fretted about her absence. They did without
her excellently well, and everybody helped himself and rummaged in
the drawers of the sideboard in search of teaspoons, which were
lacking. Several groups were formed; people separated during supper
rejoined each other, and there was an interchange of glances, of
meaning laughter and of phrases which summed up recent situations.
"Ought not Monsieur Fauchery to come and lunch with us one of these
days, Auguste?" said Rose Mignon.
Mignon, who was toying with his watch chain, eyed the journalist for
a second or two with his severe glance. Rose was out of her senses.
As became a good manager, he would put a stop to such spendthrift
courses. In return for a notice, well and good, but afterward,
decidedly not. Nevertheless, as he was fully aware of his wife's
wrongheadedness and as he made it a rule to wink paternally at a
folly now and again, when such was necessary, he answered amiably
"Certainly, I shall be most happy. Pray come tomorrow, Monsieur
Lucy Stewart heard this invitation given while she was talking with
Steiner and Blanche and, raising her voice, she remarked to the
"It's a mania they've all of them got. One of them even went so far
as to steal my dog. Now, dear boy, am I to blame if you chuck her?"
Rose turned round. She was very pale and gazed fixedly at Steiner
as she sipped her coffee. And then all the concentrated anger she
felt at his abandonment of her flamed out in her eyes. She saw more
clearly than Mignon; it was stupid in him to have wished to begin
the Jonquier ruse a second time--those dodgers never succeeded twice
running. Well, so much the worse for him! She would have Fauchery!
She had been getting enamored of him since the beginning of supper,
and if Mignon was not pleased it would teach him greater wisdom!
"You are not going to fight?" said Vandeuvres, coming over to Lucy
"No, don't be afraid of that! Only she must mind and keep quiet, or
I let the cat out of the bag!"
Then signing imperiously to Fauchery:
"I've got your slippers at home, my little man. I'll get them taken
to your porter's lodge for you tomorrow."
He wanted to joke about it, but she swept off, looking like a queen.
Clarisse, who had propped herself against a wall in order to drink a
quiet glass of kirsch, was seen to shrug her shoulders. A pleasant
business for a man! Wasn't it true that the moment two women were
together in the presence of their lovers their first idea was to do
one another out of them? It was a law of nature! As to herself,
why, in heaven's name, if she had wanted to she would have torn out
Gaga's eyes on Hector's account! But la, she despised him! Then as
La Faloise passed by, she contented herself by remarking to him:
"Listen, my friend, you like 'em well advanced, you do! You don't
want 'em ripe; you want 'em mildewed!"
La Faloise seemed much annoyed and not a little anxious. Seeing
Clarisse making game of him, he grew suspicious of her.
"No humbug, I say," he muttered. "You've taken my handkerchief.
Well then, give it back!"
"He's dreeing us with that handkerchief of his!" she cried. "Why,
you ass, why should I have taken it from you?"
"Why should you?" he said suspiciously. "Why, that you may send it
to my people and compromise me."
In the meantime Foucarmont was diligently attacking the liqueurs.
He continued to gaze sneeringly at Labordette, who was drinking his
coffee in the midst of the ladies. And occasionally he gave vent to
fragmentary assertions, as thus: "He's the son of a horse dealer;
some say the illegitimate child of a countess. Never a penny of
income, yet always got twenty-five louis in his pocket! Footboy to
the ladies of the town! A big lubber, who never goes with any of
'em! Never, never, never!" he repeated, growing furious. "No, by
Jove! I must box his ears."
He drained a glass of chartreuse. The chartreuse had not the
slightest effect upon him; it didn't affect him "even to that
extent," and he clicked his thumbnail against the edge of his teeth.
But suddenly, just as he was advancing upon Labordette, he grew ashy
white and fell down in a heap in front of the sideboard. He was
dead drunk. Louise Violaine was beside herself. She had been quite
right to prophesy that matters would end badly, and now she would
have her work cut out for the remainder of the night. Gaga
reassured her. She examined the officer with the eye of a woman of
experience and declared that there was nothing much the matter and
that the gentleman would sleep like that for at least a dozen or
fifteen hours without any serious consequences. Foucarmont was
"Well, where's Nana gone to?" asked Vandeuvres.
Yes, she had certainly flown away somewhere on leaving the table.
The company suddenly recollected her, and everybody asked for her.
Steiner, who for some seconds had been uneasy on her account, asked
Vandeuvres about the old gentleman, for he, too, had disappeared.
But the count reassured him--he had just brought the old gentleman
back. He was a stranger, whose name it was useless to mention.
Suffice it to say that he was a very rich man who was quite pleased
to pay for suppers! Then as Nana was once more being forgotten,
Vandeuvres saw Daguenet looking out of an open door and beckoning to
him. And in the bedroom he found the mistress of the house sitting
up, white-lipped and rigid, while Daguenet and Georges stood gazing
at her with an alarmed expression.
"What IS the matter with you?" he asked in some surprise.
She neither answered nor turned her head, and he repeated his
"Why, this is what's the matter with me," she cried out at length;
"I won't let them make bloody sport of me!"
Thereupon she gave vent to any expression that occurred to her.
Yes, oh yes, SHE wasn't a ninny--she could see clearly enough. They
had been making devilish light of her during supper and saying all
sorts of frightful things to show that they thought nothing of her!
A pack of sluts who weren't fit to black her boots! Catch her
bothering herself again just to be badgered for it after! She
really didn't know what kept her from chucking all that dirty lot
out of the house! And with this, rage choked her and her voice
broke down in sobs.
"Come, come, my lass, you're drunk," said Vandeuvres, growing
familiar. "You must be reasonable."
No, she would give her refusal now; she would stay where she was.
"I am drunk--it's quite likely! But I want people to respect me!"
For a quarter of an hour past Daguenet and Georges had been vainly
beseeching her to return to the drawing room. She was obstinate,
however; her guests might do what they liked; she despised them too
much to come back among them.
No, she never would, never. They might tear her in pieces before
she would leave her room!
"I ought to have had my suspicions," she resumed.
"It's that cat of a Rose who's got the plot up! I'm certain Rose'll
have stopped that respectable woman coming whom I was expecting
She referred to Mme Robert. Vandeuvres gave her his word of honor
that Mme Robert had given a spontaneous refusal. He listened and he
argued with much gravity, for he was well accustomed to similar
scenes and knew how women in such a state ought to be treated. But
the moment he tried to take hold of her hands in order to lift her
up from her chair and draw her away with him she struggled free of
his clasp, and her wrath redoubled. Now, just look at that! They
would never get her to believe that Fauchery had not put the Count
Muffat off coming! A regular snake was that Fauchery, an envious
sort, a fellow capable of growing mad against a woman and of
destroying her whole happiness. For she knew this--the count had
become madly devoted to her! She could have had him!
"Him, my dear, never!" cried Vandeuvres, forgetting himself and
"Why not?" she asked, looking serious and slightly sobered.
"Because he's thoroughly in the hands of the priests, and if he were
only to touch you with the tips of his fingers he would go and
confess it the day after. Now listen to a bit of good advice.
Don't let the other man escape you!"
She was silent and thoughtful for a moment or two. Then she got up
and went and bathed her eyes. Yet when they wanted to take her into
the dining room she still shouted "No!" furiously. Vandeuvres left
the bedroom, smiling and without further pressing her, and the
moment he was gone she had an access of melting tenderness, threw
herself into Daguenet's arms and cried out:
"Ah, my sweetie, there's only you in the world. I love you! YES, I
love you from the bottom of my heart! Oh, it would be too nice if
we could always live together. My God! How unfortunate women are!"
Then her eye fell upon Georges, who, seeing them kiss, was growing
very red, and she kissed him too. Sweetie could not be jealous of a
baby! She wanted Paul and Georges always to agree, because it would
be so nice for them all three to stay like that, knowing all the
time that they loved one another very much. But an extraordinary
noise disturbed them: someone was snoring in the room. Whereupon
after some searching they perceived Bordenave, who, since taking his
coffee, must have comfortably installed himself there. He was
sleeping on two chairs, his head propped on the edge of the bed and
his leg stretched out in front. Nana thought him so funny with his
open mouth and his nose moving with each successive snore that she
was shaken with a mad fit of laughter. She left the room, followed
by Daguenet and Georges, crossed the dining room, entered the
drawing room, her merriment increasing at every step.
"Oh, my dear, you've no idea!" she cried, almost throwing herself
into Rose's arms. "Come and see it."
All the women had to follow her. She took their hands coaxingly and
drew them along with her willy-nilly, accompanying her action with
so frank an outburst of mirth that they all of them began laughing
on trust. The band vanished and returned after standing
breathlessly for a second or two round Bordenave's lordly,
outstretched form. And then there was a burst of laughter, and when
one of them told the rest to be quiet Bordenave's distant snorings
It was close on four o'clock. In the dining room a card table had
just been set out, at which Vandeuvres, Steiner, Mignon and
Labordette had taken their seats. Behind them Lucy and Caroline
stood making bets, while Blanche, nodding with sleep and
dissatisfied about her night, kept asking Vandeuvres at intervals of
five minutes if they weren't going soon. In the drawing room there
was an attempt at dancing. Daguenet was at the piano or "chest of
drawers," as Nana called it. She did not want a "thumper," for Mimi
would play as many waltzes and polkas as the company desired. But
the dance was languishing, and the ladies were chatting drowsily
together in the corners of sofas. Suddenly, however, there was an
outburst of noise. A band of eleven young men had arrived and were
laughing loudly in the anteroom and crowding to the drawing room.
They had just come from the ball at the Ministry of the Interior and
were in evening dress and wore various unknown orders. Nana was
annoyed at this riotous entry, called to the waiters who still
remained in the kitchen and ordered them to throw these individuals
out of doors. She vowed that she had never seen any of them before.
Fauchery, Labordette, Daguenet and the rest of the men had all come
forward in order to enforce respectful behavior toward their
hostess. Big words flew about; arms were outstretched, and for some
seconds a general exchange of fisticuffs was imminent.
Notwithstanding this, however, a little sickly looking light-haired
man kept insistently repeating:
"Come, come, Nana, you saw us the other evening at Peters' in the
great red saloon! Pray remember, you invited us."
The other evening at Peters'? She did not remember it all. To
begin with, what evening?
And when the little light-haired man had mentioned the day, which
was Wednesday, she distinctly remembered having supped at Peters' on
the Wednesday, but she had given no invitation to anyone; she was
almost sure of that.
"However, suppose you HAVE invited them, my good girl," murmured
Labordette, who was beginning to have his doubts. "Perhaps you were
a little elevated."
Then Nana fell a-laughing. It was quite possible; she really didn't
know. So then, since these gentlemen were on the spot, they had her
leave to come in. Everything was quietly arranged; several of the
newcomers found friends in the drawing room, and the scene ended in
handshakings. The little sickly looking light-haired man bore one
of the greatest names in France. Furthermore, the eleven announced
that others were to follow them, and, in fact, the door opened every
few moments, and men in white gloves and official garb presented
themselves. They were still coming from the ball at the Ministry.
Fauchery jestingly inquired whether the minister was not coming,
too, but Nana answered in a huff that the minister went to the
houses of people she didn't care a pin for. What she did not say
was that she was possessed with a hope of seeing Count Muffat enter
her room among all that stream of people. He might quite have
reconsidered his decision, and so while talking to Rose she kept a
sharp eye on the door.
Five o'clock struck. The dancing had ceased, and the cardplayers
alone persisted in their game. Labordette had vacated his seat, and
the women had returned into the drawing room. The air there was
heavy with the somnolence which accompanies a long vigil, and the
lamps cast a wavering light while their burned-out wicks glowed red
within their globes. The ladies had reached that vaguely melancholy
hour when they felt it necessary to tell each other their histories.
Blanche de Sivry spoke of her grandfather, the general, while
Clarisse invented a romantic story about a duke seducing her at her
uncle's house, whither he used to come for the boar hunting. Both
women, looking different ways, kept shrugging their shoulders and
asking themselves how the deuce the other could tell such whoppers!
As to Lucy Stewart, she quietly confessed to her origin and of her
own accord spoke of her childhood and of the days when her father,
the wheel greaser at the Northern Railway Terminus, used to treat
her to an apple puff on Sundays.
"Oh, I must tell you about it!" cried the little Maria Blond
abruptly. "Opposite to me there lives a gentleman, a Russian, an
awfully rich man! Well, just fancy, yesterday I received a basket
of fruit--oh, it just was a basket! Enormous peaches, grapes as big
as that, simply wonderful for the time of year! And in the middle
of them six thousand-franc notes! It was the Russian's doing. Of
course I sent the whole thing back again, but I must say my heart
ached a little--when I thought of the fruit!"
The ladies looked at one another and pursed up their lips. At her
age little Maria Blond had a pretty cheek! Besides, to think that
such things should happen to trollops like her! Infinite was their
contempt for her among themselves. It was Lucy of whom they were
particularly jealous, for they were beside themselves at the thought
of her three princes. Since Lucy had begnn taking a daily morning
ride in the Bois they all had become Amazons, as though a mania
Day was about to dawn, and Nana turned her eyes away from the door,
for she was relinquishing all hope. The company were bored to
distraction. Rose Mignon had refused to sing the "Slipper" and sat
huddled up on a sofa, chatting in a low voice with Fauchery and
waiting for Mignon, who had by now won some fifty louis from
Vandeuvres. A fat gentleman with a decoration and a serious cast of
countenance had certainly given a recitation in Alsatian accents of
"Abraham's Sacrifice," a piece in which the Almighty says, "By My
blasted Name" when He swears, and Isaac always answers with a "Yes,
Papa!" Nobody, however, understood what it was all about, and the
piece had been voted stupid. People were at their wits' end how to
make merry and to finish the night with fitting hilarity. For a
moment or two Labordette conceived the idea of denouncing different
women in a whisper to La Faloise, who still went prowling round each
individual lady, looking to see if she were hiding his handkerchief
in her bosom. Soon, as there were still some bottles of champagne
on the sideboard, the young men again fell to drinking. They
shouted to one another; they stirred each other up, but a dreary
species of intoxication, which was stupid enough to drive one to
despair, began to overcome the company beyond hope of recovery.
Then the little fair-haired fellow, the man who bore one of the
greatest names in France and had reached his wit's end and was
desperate at the thought that he could not hit upon something really
funny, conceived a brilliant notion: he snatched up his bottle of
champagne and poured its contents into the piano. His allies were
convulsed with laughter.
"La now! Why's he putting champagne into the piano?" asked Tatan
Nene in great astonishment as she caught sight of him.
"What, my lass, you don't know why he's doing that?" replied
Labordette solemnly. "There's nothing so good as champagne for
pianos. It gives 'em tone."
"Ah," murmured Tatan Nene with conviction.
And when the rest began laughing at her she grew angry. How should
she know? They were always confusing her.
Decidedly the evening was becoming a big failure. The night
threatened to end in the unloveliest way. In a corner by themselves
Maria Blond and Lea de Horn had begun squabbling at close quarters,
the former accusing the latter of consorting with people of
insufficient wealth. They were getting vastly abusive over it,
their chief stumbling block being the good looks of the men in
question. Lucy, who was plain, got them to hold their tongues.
Good looks were nothing, according to her; good figures were what
was wanted. Farther off, on a sofa, an attache had slipped his arm
round Simonne's waist and was trying to kiss her neck, but Simonne,
sullen and thoroughly out of sorts, pushed him away at every fresh
attempt with cries of "You're pestering me!" and sound slaps of the
fan across his face. For the matter of that, not one of the ladies
allowed herself to be touched. Did people take them for light
women? Gaga, in the meantime, had once more caught La Faloise and
had almost hoisted him upon her knees while Clarisse was
disappearing from view between two gentlemen, shaking with nervous
laughter as women will when they are tickled. Round about the piano
they were still busy with their little game, for they were suffering
from a fit of stupid imbecillty, which caused each man to jostle his
fellow in his frantic desire to empty his bottle into the
instrument. It was a simple process and a charming one.
"Now then, old boy, drink a glass! Devil take it, he's a thirsty
piano! Hi! 'Tenshun! Here's another bottle! You mustn't lose a
Nana's back was turned, and she did not see them. Emphatically she
was now falling back on the bulky Steiner, who was seated next to
her. So much the worse! It was all on account of that Muffat, who
had refused what was offered him. Sitting there in her white
foulard dress, which was as light and full of folds as a shift,
sitting there with drooped eyelids and cheeks pale with the touch of
intoxication from which she was suffering, she offered herself to
him with that quiet expression which is peculiar to a good-natured
courtesan. The roses in her hair and at her throat had lost their
leaves, and their stalks alone remained. Presently Steiner withdrew
his hand quickly from the folds of her skirt, where he had come in
contact with the pins that Georges had stuck there. Some drops of
blood appeared on his fingers, and one fell on Nana's dress and
"Now the bargain's struck," said Nana gravely.
The day was breaking apace. An uncertain glimmer of light, fraught
with a poignant melancholy, came stealing through the windows. And
with that the guests began to take their departure. It was a most
sour and uncomfortable retreat. Caroline Hequet, annoyed at the
loss of her night, announced that it was high time to be off unless
you were anxious to assist at some pretty scenes. Rose pouted as if
her womanly character had been compromised. It was always so with
these girls; they didn't know how to behave and were guilty of
disgusting conduct when they made their first appearance in society!
And Mignon having cleaned Vandeuvres out completely, the family took
their departure. They did not trouble about Steiner but renewed
their invitation for tomorrow to Fauchery. Lucy thereupon refused
the journalist's escort home and sent him back shrilly to his
"strolling actress." At this Rose turned round immediately and
hissed out a "Dirty sow" by way of answer. But Mignon, who in
feminine quarrels was always paternal, for his experience was a long
one and rendered him superior to them, had already pushed her out of
the house, telling her at the same time to have done. Lucy came
downstairs in solitary state behind them. After which Gaga had to
carry off La Faloise, ill, sobbing like a child, calling after
Clarisse, who had long since gone off with her two gentlemen.
Simonne, too, had vanished. Indeed, none remained save Tatan, Lea
and Maria, whom Labordette complaisantly took under his charge.
"Oh, but I don't the least bit want to go to bed!" said Nana. "One
ought to find something to do."
She looked at the sky through the windowpanes. It was a livid sky,
and sooty clouds were scudding across it. It was six o'clock in the
morning. Over the way, on the opposite side of the Boulevard
Haussmann, the glistening roofs of the still-slumbering houses were
sharply outlined against the twilight sky while along the deserted
roadway a gang of street sweepers passed with a clatter of wooden
shoes. As she viewed Paris thus grimly awakening, she was overcome
by tender, girlish feelings, by a yearning for the country, for
idyllic scenes, for things soft and white.
"Now guess what you're to do," she said, coming back to Steiner.
"You're going to take me to the Bois de Boulogne, and we'll drink
She clapped her hands in childish glee. Without waiting for the
banker's reply--he naturally consented, though he was really rather
bored and inclined to think of other things--she ran off to throw a
pelisse over her shoulders. In the drawing room there was now no
one with Steiner save the band of young men. These had by this time
dropped the very dregs of their glasses into the piano and were
talking of going, when one of their number ran in triumphantly. He
held in his hands a last remaining bottle, which he had brought back
with him from the pantry.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute!" he shouted. "Here's a bottle of
chartreuse; that'll pick him up! And now, my young friends, let's
hook it. We're blooming idiots."
In the dressing room Nana was compelled to wake up Zoe, who had
dozed off on a chair. The gas was still alight, and Zoe shivered as
she helped her mistress on with her hat and pelisse.
"Well, it's over; I've done what you wanted me to," said Nana,
speaking familiarly to the maid in a sudden burst of expansive
confidence and much relieved at the thought that she had at last
made her election. "You were quite right; the banker's as good as
The maid was cross, for she was still heavy with sleep. She
grumbled something to the effect that Madame ought to have come to a
decision the first evening. Then following her into the bedroom,
she asked what she was going to do with "those two," meaning
Bordenave, who was snoring away as usual, and Georges, who had
slipped in slyly, buried his head in a pillow and, finally falling
asleep there, was now breathing as lightly and regularly as a
cherub. Nana in reply told her that she was to let them sleep on.
But seeing Daguenet come into the room, she again grew tender. He
had been watching her from the kitchen and was looking very
"Come, my sweetie, be reasonable," she said, taking him in her arms
and kissing him with all sorts of little wheedling caresses.
"Nothing's changed; you know that it's sweetie whom I always adore!
Eh, dear? I had to do it. Why, I swear to you we shall have even
nicer times now. Come tomorrow, and we'll arrange about hours. Now
be quick, kiss and hug me as you love me. Oh, tighter, tighter than
And she escaped and rejoined Steiner, feeling happy and once more
possessed with the idea of drinking milk. In the empty room the
Count de Vandeuvres was left alone with the "decorated" man who had
recited "Abraham's Sacrifice." Both seemed glued to the card table;
they had lost count of their whereabouts and never once noticed the
broad light of day without, while Blanche had made bold to put her
feet up on a sofa in order to try and get a little sleep.
"Oh, Blanche is with them!" cried Nana. "We are going to drink
milk, dear. Do come; you'll find Vandeuvres here when we return."
Blanche got up lazily. This time the banker's fiery face grew white
with annoyance at the idea of having to take that big wench with him
too. She was certain to bore him. But the two women had already
got him by the arms and were reiterating:
"We want them to milk the cow before our eyes, you know."
At the Varietes they were giving the thirty-fourth performance of
the Blonde Venus. The first act had just finished, and in the
greenroom Simonne, dressed as the little laundress, was standing in
front of a console table, surmounted by a looking glass and situated
between the two corner doors which opened obliquely on the end of
the dressing-room passage. No one was with her, and she was
scrutinizing her face and rubbing her finger up and down below her
eyes with a view to putting the finishing touches to her make-up.
The gas jets on either side of the mirror flooded her with warm,
"Has he arrived?" asked Prulliere, entering the room in his Alpine
admiral's costume, which was set off by a big sword, enormous top
boots and a vast tuft of plumes.
"Who d'you mean?" said Simonne, taking no notice of him and laughing
into the mirror in order to see how her lips looked.
"I don't know; I've just come down. Oh, he's certainly due here
tonight; he comes every time!"
Prulliere had drawn near the hearth opposite the console table,
where a coke fire was blazing and two more gas jets were flaring
brightly. He lifted his eyes and looked at the clock and the
barometer on his right hand and on his left. They had gilded
sphinxes by way of adornment in the style of the First Empire. Then
he stretched himself out in a huge armchair with ears, the green
velvet of which had been so worn by four generations of comedians
that it looked yellow in places, and there he stayed, with moveless
limbs and vacant eyes, in that weary and resigned attitude peculiar
to actors who are used to long waits before their turn for going on
Old Bosc, too, had just made his appearance. He came in dragging
one foot behind the other and coughing. He was wrapped in an old
box coat, part of which had slipped from his shoulder in such a way
as to uncover the gold-laced cloak of King Dagobert. He put his
crown on the piano and for a moment or two stood moodily stamping
his feet. His hands were trembling slightly with the first
beginnings of alcoholism, but he looked a sterling old fellow for
all that, and a long white beard lent that fiery tippler's face of
his a truly venerable appearance. Then in the silence of the room,
while the shower of hail was whipping the panes of the great window
that looked out on the courtyard, he shook himself disgustedly.
"What filthy weather!" he growled.
Simonne and Prulliere did not move. Four or five pictures--a
landscape, a portrait of the actor Vernet--hung yellowing in the hot
glare of the gas, and a bust of Potier, one of the bygone glories of
the Varietes, stood gazing vacant-eyed from its pedestal. But just
then there was a burst of voices outside. It was Fontan, dressed
for the second act. He was a young dandy, and his habiliments, even
to his gloves, were entirely yellow.
"Now say you don't know!" he shouted, gesticulating. "Today's my
patron saint's day!"
"What?" asked Simonne, coming up smilingly, as though attracted by
the huge nose and the vast, comic mouth of the man. "D'you answer
to the name of Achille?"
"Exactly so! And I'm going to get 'em to tell Madame Bron to send
up champagne after the second act."
For some seconds a bell had been ringing in the distance. The long-
drawn sound grew fainter, then louder, and when the bell ceased a
shout ran up the stair and down it till it was lost along the
passages. "All on the stage for the second act! All on the stage
for the second act!" The sound drew near, and a little pale-faced
man passed by the greenroom doors, outside each of which he yelled
at the top of his shrill voice, "On the stage for the second act!"
"The deuce, it's champagne!" said Prulliere without appearing to
hear the din. "You're prospering!"
"If I were you I should have it in from the cafe," old Bosc slowly
announced. He was sitting on a bench covered with green velvet,
with his head against the wall.
But Simonne said that it was one's duty to consider Mme Bron's small
perquisites. She clapped her hands excitedly and devoured Fontan
with her gaze while his long goatlike visage kept up a continuous
twitching of eyes and nose and mouth.
"Oh, that Fontan!" she murmured. "There's no one like him, no one
The two greenroom doors stood wide open to the corridor leading to
the wings. And along the yellow wall, which was brightly lit up by
a gas lamp out of view, passed a string of rapidly moving shadows--
men in costume, women with shawls over their scant attire, in a
word, the whole of the characters in the second act, who would
shortly make their appearance as masqeuraders in the ball at the
Boule Noire. And at the end of the corridor became audible a
shuffling of feet as these people clattered down the five wooden
steps which led to the stage. As the big Clarisse went running by
Simonne called to her, but she said she would be back directly.
And, indeed, she reappeared almost at once, shivering in the thin
tunic and scarf which she wore as Iris.
"God bless me!" she said. "It isn't warm, and I've left my furs in
my dressing room!"
Then as she stood toasting her legs in their warm rose-colored
tights in front of the fireplace she resumed:
"The prince has arrived."
"Oh!" cried the rest with the utmost curiosity.
"Yes, that's why I ran down: I wanted to see. He's in the first
stage box to the right, the same he was in on Thursday. It's the
third time he's been this week, eh? That's Nana; well, she's in
luck's way! I was willing to wager he wouldn't come again."
Simonne opened her lips to speak, but her remarks were drowned by a
fresh shout which arose close to the greenroom. In the passage the
callboy was yelling at the top of his shrill voice, "They've
"Three times!" said Simonne when she was again able to speak. "It's
getting exciting. You know, he won't go to her place; he takes her
to his. And it seems that he has to pay for it too!"
"Egad! It's a case of when one 'has to go out,'" muttered Prulliere
wickedly, and he got up to have a last look at the mirror as became
a handsome fellow whom the boxes adored.
"They've knocked! They've knocked!" the callboy kept repeating in
tones that died gradually away in the distance as he passed through
the various stories and corridors.
Fontan thereupon, knowing how it had all gone off on the first
occasion the prince and Nana met, told the two women the whole story
while they in their turn crowded against him and laughed at the tops
of their voices whenever he stooped to whisper certain details in
their ears. Old Bosc had never budged an inch--he was totally
indifferent. That sort of thing no longer interested him now. He
was stroking a great tortoise-shell cat which was lying curled up on
the bench. He did so quite beautifully and ended by taking her in
his arms with the tender good nature becoming a worn-out monarch.
The cat arched its back and then, after a prolonged sniff at the big
white beard, the gluey odor of which doubtless disgusted her, she
turned and, curling herself up, went to sleep again on the bench
beside him. Bosc remained grave and absorbed.
"That's all right, but if I were you I should drink the champagne at
the restaurant--its better there," he said, suddenly addressing
Fontan when he had finished his recital.
"The curtain's up!" cried the callboy in cracked and long-drawn
accents "The curtain's up! The curtain's up!"
The shout sounded for some moments, during which there had been a
noise of rapid footsteps. Through the suddenly opened door of the
passage came a burst of music and a far-off murmur of voices, and
then the door shut to again and you could hear its dull thud as it
wedged itself into position once more.
A heavy, peaceful, atmosphere again pervaded the greenroom, as
though the place were situated a hundred leagues from the house
where crowds were applauding. Simonne and Clarisse were still on
the topic of Nana. There was a girl who never hurried herself!
Why, yesterday she had again come on too late! But there was a
silence, for a tall damsel had just craned her head in at the door
and, seeing that she had made a mistake, had departed to the other
end of the passage. It was Satin. Wearing a hat and a small veil
for the nonce she was affecting the manner of a lady about to pay a
"A pretty trollop!" muttered Prulliere, who had been coming across
her for a year past at the Cafe des Varietes. And at this Simonne
told them how Nana had recognized in Satin an old schoolmate, had
taken a vast fancy to her and was now plaguing Bordenave to let her
make a first appearance on the stage.
"How d'ye do?" said Fontan, shaking hands with Mignon and Fauchery,
who now came into the room.
Old Bosc himself gave them the tips of his fingers while the two
women kissed Mignon.
"A good house this evening?" queried Fauchery.
"Oh, a splendid one!" replied Prulliere. "You should see 'em
"I say, my little dears," remarked Mignon, "it must be your turn!"
Oh, all in good time! They were only at the fourth scene as yet,
but Bosc got up in obedience to instinct, as became a rattling old
actor who felt that his cue was coming. At that very moment the
callboy was opening the door.
"Monsieur Bosc!" he called. "Mademoiselle Simonne!"
Simonne flung a fur-lined pelisse briskly over her shoulders and
went out. Bosc, without hurrying at all, went and got his crown,
which he settled on his brow with a rap. Then dragging himself
unsteadily along in his greatcoat, he took his departure, grumbling
and looking as annoyed as a man who has been rudely disturbed.
"You were very amiable in your last notice," continued Fontan,
addressing Fauchery. "Only why do you say that comedians are vain?"
"Yes, my little man, why d'you say that?" shouted Mignon, bringing
down his huge hands on the journalist's slender shoulders with such
force as almost to double him up.
Prulliere and Clarisse refrained from laughing aloud. For some time
past the whole company had been deriving amusement from a comedy
which was going on in the wings. Mignon, rendered frantic by his
wife's caprice and annoyed at the thought that this man Fauchery
brought nothing but a certain doubiful notoriety to his household,
had conceived the idea of revenging himself on the journalist by
overwhelming him with tokens of friendship. Every evening,
therefore, when he met him behind scenes he would shower friendly
slaps on his back and shoulders, as though fairly carried away by an
outburst of tenderness, and Fauchery, who was a frail, small man in
comparison with such a giant, was fain to take the raps with a
strained smile in order not to quarrel with Rose's husband.
"Aha, my buck, you've insulted Fontan," resumed Mignon, who was
doing his best to force the joke. "Stand on guard! One--two--got
him right in the middle of his chest!"
He lunged and struck the young man with such force that the latter
grew very pale and could not speak for some seconds. With a wink
Clarisse showed the others where Rose Mignon was standing on the
threshold of the greenroom. Rose had witnessed the scene, and she
marched straight up to the journalist, as though she had failed to
notice her husband and, standing on tiptoe, bare-armed and in baby
costume, she held her face up to him with a caressing, infantine
"Good evening, baby," said Fauchery, kissing her familiarly.
Thus he indemnified himself. Mignon, however, did not seem to have
observed this kiss, for everybody kissed his wife at the theater.
But he laughed and gave the journalist a keen little look. The
latter would assurely have to pay for Rose's bravado.
In the passage the tightly shutting door opened and closed again,
and a tempest of applause was blown as far as the greenroom.
Simonne came in after her scene.
"Oh, Father Bosc HAS just scored!" she cried. "The prince was
writhing with laughter and applauded with the rest as though he had
been paid to. I say, do you know the big man sitting beside the
prince in the stage box? A handsome man, with a very sedate
expression and splendid whiskers!"
"It's Count Muffat," replied Fauchery. "I know that the prince,
when he was at the empress's the day before yesterday, invited him
to dinner for tonight. He'll have corrupted him afterward!"
"So that's Count Muffat! We know his father-in-law, eh, Auguste?"
said Rose, addressing her remark to Mignon. "You know the Marquis
de Chouard, at whose place I went to sing? Well, he's in the house
too. I noticed him at the back of a box. There's an old boy for
Prulliere, who had just put on his huge plume of feathers, turned
round and called her.
"Hi, Rose! Let's go now!"
She ran after him, leaving her sentence unfinished. At that moment
Mme Bron, the portress of the theater, passed by the door with an
immense bouquet in her arms. Simonne asked cheerfully if it was for
her, but the porter woman did not vouchsafe an answer and only
pointed her chin toward Nana's dressing room at the end of the
passage. Oh, that Nana! They were loading her with flowers! Then
when Mme Bron returned she handed a letter to Clarisse, who allowed
a smothered oath to escape her. That beggar La Faloise again!
There was a fellow who wouldn't let her alone! And when she learned
the gentleman in question was waiting for her at the porter's lodge
"Tell him I'm coming down after this act. I'm going to catch him
one on the face."
Fontan had rushed forward, shouting:
"Madame Bron, just listen. Please listen, Madame Bron. I want you
to send up six bottles of champagne between the acts."
But the callboy had again made his appearance. He was out of
breath, and in a singsong voice he called out:
"All to go on the stage! It's your turn, Monsieur Fontan. Make
haste, make haste!"
"Yes, yes, I'm going, Father Barillot," replied Fontan in a flurry.
And he ran after Mme Bron and continued:
"You understand, eh? Six bottles of champagne in the greenroom
between the acts. It's my patron saint's day, and I'm standing the
Simonne and Clarisse had gone off with a great rustling of skirts.
Everybody was swallowed up in the distance, and when the passage
door had banged with its usual hollow sound a fresh hail shower was
heard beating against the windows in the now-silent greenroom.
Barillot, a small, pale-faced ancient, who for thirty years had been
a servant in the theater, had advanced familiarly toward Mignon and
had presented his open snuffbox to him. This proffer of a pinch and
its acceptance allowed him a minute's rest in his interminable
career up and down stairs and along the dressing-room passage. He
certainly had still to look up Mme Nana, as he called her, but she
was one of those who followed her own sweet will and didn't care a
pin for penalties. Why, if she chose to be too late she was too
late! But he stopped short and murmured in great surprise:
"Well, I never! She's ready; here she is! She must know that the
prince is here."
Indeed, Nana appeared in the corridor. She was dressed as a fish
hag: her arms and face were plastered with white paint, and she had
a couple of red dabs under her eyes. Without entering the greenroom
she contented herself by nodding to Mignon and Fauchery.
"How do? You're all right?"
Only Mignon shook her outstretched hand, and she hied royally on her
way, followed by her dresser, who almost trod on her heels while
stooping to adjust the folds of her skirt. In the rear of the
dresser came Satin, closing the procession and trying to look quite
the lady, though she was already bored to death.
"And Steiner?" asked Mignon sharply.
"Monsieur Steiner has gone away to the Loiret," said Barillot,
preparing to return to the neighborhood of the stage. "I expect
he's gone to buy a country place in those parts."
"Ah yes, I know, Nana's country place."
Mignon had grown suddenly serious. Oh, that Steiner! He had
promised Rose a fine house in the old days! Well, well, it wouldn't
do to grow angry with anybody. Here was a position that would have
to be won again. From fireplace to console table Mignon paced, sunk
in thought yet still unconquered by circumstances. There was no one
in the greenroom now save Fauchery and himself. The journalist was
tired and had flung himself back into the recesses of the big
armchair. There he stayed with half-closed eyes and as quiet as
quiet could be, while the other glanced down at him as he passed.
When they were alone Mignon scorned to slap him at every turn. What
good would it have done, since nobody would have enjoyed the
spectacle? He was far too disinterested to be personally
entertained by the farcical scenes in which he figured as a
bantering husband. Glad of this short-lived respite, Fauchery
stretched his feet out languidly toward the fire and let his
upturned eyes wander from the barometer to the clock. In the course
of his march Mignon planted himself in front of Potier's bust,
looked at it without seeming to see it and then turned back to the
window, outside which yawned the darkling gulf of the courtyard.
The rain had ceased, and there was now a deep silence in the room,
which the fierce heat of the coke fire and the flare of the gas jets
rendered still more oppressive. Not a sound came from the wings:
the staircase and the passages were deadly still.
That choking sensation of quiet, which behind the scenes immediately
precedes the end of an act, had begun to pervade the empty
greenroom. Indeed, the place seemed to be drowsing off through very
breathlessness amid that faint murmur which the stage gives forth
when the whole troupe are raising the deafening uproar of some grand
"Oh, the cows!" Bordenave suddeniy shouted in his hoarse voice.
He had only just come up, and he was already howling complaints
about two chorus girls who had nearly fallen flat on the stage
because they were playing the fool together. When his eye lit on
Mignon and Fauchery he called them; he wanted to show them
something. The prince had just notified a desire to compliment Nana
in her dressing room during the next interval. But as he was
leading them into the wings the stage manager passed.
"Just you find those hags Fernande and Maria!" cried Bordenave
Then calming down and endeavoring to assume the dignified expression
worn by "heavy fathers," he wiped his face with his pocket
handkerchief and added:
"I am now going to receive His Highness."
The curtain fell amid a long-drawn salvo of applause. Then across
the twilight stage, which was no longer lit up by the footlights,
there followed a disorderly retreat. Actors and supers and chorus
made haste to get back to their dressing rooms while the
sceneshifters rapidly changed the scenery. Simonne and Clarisse,
however, had remained "at the top," talking together in whispers.
On the stage, in an interval between their lines, they had just
settled a little matter. Clarisse, after viewing the thing in every
light, found she preferred not to see La Faloise, who could never
decide to leave her for Gaga, and so Simonne was simply to go and
explain that a woman ought not to be palled up to in that fashion!
At last she agreed to undertake the mission.
Then Simonne, in her theatrical laundress's attire but with furs
over her shoulders, ran down the greasy steps of the narrow, winding
stairs which led between damp walls to the porter's lodge. This
lodge, situated between the actors' staircase and that of the
management, was shut in to right and left by large glass partitions
and resembled a huge transparent lantern in which two gas jets were
There was a set of pigeonholes in the place in which were piled
letters and newspapers, while on the table various bouquets lay
awaiting their recipients in close proximity to neglected heaps of
dirty plates and to an old pair of stays, the eyelets of which the
portress was busy mending. And in the middle of this untidy, ill-
kept storeroom sat four fashionable, white-gloved society men. They
occupied as many ancient straw-bottomed chairs and, with an
expression at once patient and submissive, kept sharply turning
their heads in Mme Bron's direction every time she came down from
the theater overhead, for on such occasions she was the bearer of
replies. Indeed, she had but now handed a note to a young man who
had hurried out to open it beneath the gaslight in the vestibule,
where he had grown slightly pale on reading the classic phrase--how
often had others read it in that very place!--"Impossible tonight,
my dearie! I'm booked!" La Faloise sat on one of these chairs at
the back of the room, between the table and the stove. He seemed
bent on passing the evening there, and yet he was not quite happy.
Indeed, he kept tucking up his long legs in his endeavors to escape
from a whole litter of black kittens who were gamboling wildly round
them while the mother cat sat bolt upright, staring at him with
"Ah, it's you, Mademoiselle Simonne! What can I do for you?" asked
Simonne begged her to send La Faloise out to her. But Mme Bron was
unable to comply with her wishes all at once. Under the stairs in a
sort of deep cupboard she kept a little bar, whither the supers were
wont to descend for drinks between the acts, and seeing that just at
that moment there were five or six tall lubbers there who, still
dressed as Boule Noire masqueraders, were dying of thirst and in a
great hurry, she lost her head a bit. A gas jet was flaring in the
cupboard, within which it was possible to descry a tin-covered table
and some shelves garnished with half-emptied bottles. Whenever the
door of this coalhole was opened a violent whiff of alcohol mingled
with the scent of stale cooking in the lodge, as well as with the
penetrating scent of the flowers upon the table.
"Well now," continued the portress when she had served the supers,
"is it the little dark chap out there you want?"
"No, no; don't be silly!" said Simonne. "It's the lanky one by the
side of the stove. Your cat's sniffing at his trouser legs!"
And with that she carried La Faloise off into the lobby, while the
other gentlemen once more resigned themselves to their fate and to
semisuffocation and the masqueraders drank on the stairs and
indulged in rough horseplay and guttural drunken jests.
On the stage above Bordenave was wild with the sceneshifters, who
seemed never to have done changing scenes. They appeared to be
acting of set purpose--the prince would certainly have some set
piece or other tumbling on his head.
"Up with it! Up with it!" shouted the foreman.
At length the canvas at the back of the stage was raised into
position, and the stage was clear. Mignon, who had kept his eye on
Fauchery, seized this opportunity in order to start his pummeling
matches again. He hugged him in his long arms and cried:
"Oh, take care! That mast just missed crushing you!"
And he carried him off and shook him before setting him down again.
In view of the sceneshifters' exaggerated mirth, Fauchery grew
white. His lips trembled, and he was ready to flare up in anger
while Mignon, shamming good nature, was clapping him on the shoulder
with such affectionate violence as nearly to pulverize him.
"I value your health, I do!" he kept repeating. "Egad! I should be
in a pretty pickle if anything serious happened to you!"
But just then a whisper ran through their midst: "The prince! The
prince! And everybody turned and looked at the little door which
opened out of the main body of the house. At first nothing was
visible save Bordenave's round back and beefy neck, which bobbed
down and arched up in a series of obsequious obeisances. Then the
prince made his appearance. Largely and strongly built, light of
beard and rosy of hue, he was not lacking in the kind of distinction
peculiar to a sturdy man of pleasure, the square contours of whose
limbs are clearly defined by the irreproachable cut of a frock coat.
Behind him walked Count Muffat and the Marquis de Chouard, but this
particular corner of the theater being dark, the group were lost to
view amid huge moving shadows.
In order fittingly to address the son of a queen, who would someday
occupy a throne, Bordenave had assumed the tone of a man exhibiting
a bear in the street. In a voice tremulous with false emotion he
"If His Highness will have the goodness to follow me--would His
Highness deign to come this way? His Highness will take care!"
The prince did not hurry in the least. On the contrary, he was
greatly interested and kept pausing in order to look at the
sceneshifters' maneuvers. A batten had just been lowered, and the
group of gaslights high up among its iron crossbars illuminated the
stage with a wide beam of light. Muffat, who had never yet been
behind scenes at a theater, was even more astonished than the rest.
An uneasy feeling of mingled fear and vague repugnance took
possession of him. He looked up into the heights above him, where
more battens, the gas jets on which were burning low, gleamed like
galaxies of little bluish stars amid a chaos of iron rods,
connecting lines of all sizes, hanging stages and canvases spread
out in space, like huge cloths hung out to dry.
"Lower away!" shouted the foreman unexpectedly.
And the prince himself had to warn the count, for a canvas was
descending. They were setting the scenery for the third act, which
was the grotto on Mount Etna. Men were busy planting masts in the
sockets, while others went and took frames which were leaning
against the walls of the stage and proceeded to lash them with
strong cords to the poles already in position. At the back of the
stage, with a view to producing the bright rays thrown by Vulcan's
glowing forge, a stand had been fixed by a limelight man, who was
now lighting various burners under red glasses. The scene was one
of confusion, verging to all appearances on absolute chaos, but
every little move had been prearranged. Nay, amid all the scurry
the whistle blower even took a few turns, stepping short as he did
so, in order to rest his legs.
"His Highness overwhelms me," said Bordenave, still bowing low.
"The theater is not large, but we do what we can. Now if His
Highness deigns to follow me--"
Count Muffat was already making for the dressing-room passage. The
really sharp downward slope of the stage had surprised him
disagreeably, and he owed no small part of his present anxiety to a
feeling that its boards were moving under his feet. Through the
open sockets gas was descried burning in the "dock." Human voices
and blasts of air, as from a vault, came up thence, and, looking
down into the depths of gloom, one became aware of a whole
subterranean existence. But just as the count was going up the
stage a small incident occurred to stop him. Two little women,
dressed for the third act, were chatting by the peephole in the
curtain. One of them, straining forward and widening the hole with
her fingers in order the better to observe things, was scanning the
"I see him," said she sharply. "Oh, what a mug!"
Horrified, Bordenave had much ado not to give her a kick. But the
prince smiled and looked pleased and excited by the remark. He
gazed warmly at the little woman who did not care a button for His
Highness, and she, on her part, laughed unblushingly. Bordenave,
however, persuaded the prince to follow him. Muffat was beginning
to perspire; he had taken his hat off. What inconvenienced him most
was the stuffy, dense, overheated air of the place with its strong,
haunting smell, a smell peculiar to this part of a theater, and, as
such, compact of the reek of gas, of the glue used in the
manufacture of the scenery, of dirty dark nooks and corners and of
questionably clean chorus girls. In the passage the air was still
more suffocating, and one seemed to breathe a poisoned atmosphere,
which was occasionally relieved by the acid scents of toilet waters
and the perfumes of various soaps emanating from the dressing rooms.
The count lifted his eyes as he passed and glanced up the staircase,
for he was well-nigh startled by the keen flood of light and warmth
which flowed down upon his back and shoulders. High up above him
there was a clicking of ewers and basins, a sound of laughter and of
people calling to one another, a banging of doors, which in their
continual opening and shutting allowed an odor of womankind to
escape--a musky scent of oils and essences mingling with the natural
pungency exhaled from human tresses. He did not stop. Nay, he
hastened his walk: he almost ran, his skin tingling with the breath
of that fiery approach to a world he knew nothing of.
"A theater's a curious sight, eh?" said the Marquis de Chouard with
the enchanted expression of a man who once more finds himself amid
But Bordenave had at length reached Nana's dressing room at the end
of the passage. He quietly turned the door handle; then, cringing
"If His Highness will have the goodness to enter--"
They heard the cry of a startled woman and caught sight of Nana as,
stripped to the waist, she slipped behind a curtain while her
dresser, who had been in the act of drying her, stood, towel in air,
"Oh, it IS silly to come in that way!" cried Nana from her hiding
place. "Don't come in; you see you mustn't come in!"
Bordenave did not seem to relish this sudden flight.
"Do stay where you were, my dear. Why, it doesn't matter," he said.
"It's His Highness. Come, come, don't be childish."
And when she still refused to make her appearance--for she was
startled as yet, though she had begun to laugh--he added in peevish,
"Good heavens, these gentlemen know perfectly well what a woman
looks like. They won't eat you."
"I'm not so sure of that," said the prince wittily.
With that the whole company began laughing in an exaggerated manner
in order to pay him proper court.
"An exquisitely witty speech--an altogether Parisian speech," as
Nana vouchsafed no further reply, but the curtain began moving.
Doubtless she was making up her mind. Then Count Muffat, with
glowing cheeks, began to take stock of the dressing room. It was a
square room with a very low ceiling, and it was entirely hung with a
light-colored Havana stuff. A curtain of the same material depended
from a copper rod and formed a sort of recess at the end of the
room, while two large windows opened on the courtyard of the theater
and were faced, at a distance of three yards at most, by a leprous-
looking wall against which the panes cast squares of yellow light
amid the surrounding darkness. A large dressing glass faced a white
marble toilet table, which was garnished with a disorderly array of
flasks and glass boxes containing oils, essences and powders. The
count went up to the dressing glass and discovered that he was
looking very flushed and had small drops of perspiration on his
forehead. He dropped his eyes and came and took up a position in
front of the toilet table, where the basin, full of soapy water, the
small, scattered, ivory toilet utensils and the damp sponges,
appeared for some moments to absorb his attention. The feeling of
dizziness which he had experienced when he first visited Nana in the
Boulevard Haussmann once more overcame him. He felt the thick
carpet soften under foot, and the gasjets burning by the dressing
table and by the glass seemed to shoot whistling flames about his
temples. For one moment, being afraid of fainting away under the
influence of those feminine odors which he now re-encountered,
intensified by the heat under the low-pitched ceiling, he sat down
on the edge of a softly padded divan between the two windows. But
he got up again almost directly and, returning to the dressing
table, seemed to gaze with vacant eyes into space, for he was
thinking of a bouquet of tuberoses which had once faded in his
bedroom and had nearly killed him in their death. When tuberoses
are turning brown they have a human smell.
"Make haste!" Bordenave whispered, putting his head in behind the
The prince, however, was listening complaisantly to the Marquis de
Chouard, who had taken up a hare's-foot on the dressing table and
had begun explaining the way grease paint is put on. In a corner of
the room Satin, with her pure, virginal face, was scanning the
gentlemen keenly, while the dresser, Mme Jules by name, was getting
ready Venus' tights and tunic. Mme Jules was a woman of no age.
She had the parchment skin and changeless features peculiar to old
maids whom no one ever knew in their younger years. She had indeed
shriveled up in the burning atmosphere of the dressing rooms and
amid the most famous thighs and bosoms in all Paris. She wore
everlastingly a faded black dress, and on her flat and sexless chest
a perfect forest of pins clustered above the spot where her heart
should have been.
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," said Nana, drawing aside the
curtain, "but you took me by surprise."
They all turned round. She had not clothed herself at all, had, in
fact, only buttoned on a little pair of linen stays which half
revealed her bosom. When the gentlemen had put her to flight she
had scarcely begun undressing and was rapidly taking off her
fishwife's costume. Through the opening in her drawers behind a
corner of her shift was even now visible. There she stood, bare-
armed, bare-shouldered, bare-breasted, in all the adorable glory of
her youth and plump, fair beauty, but she still held the curtain
with one hand, as though ready to draw it to again upon the
"Yes, you took me by surprise! I never shall dare--" she stammered
in pretty, mock confusion, while rosy blushes crossed her neck and
shoulders and smiles of embarrassment played about her lips.
"Oh, don't apologize," cried Bordenave, "since these gentlemen
approve of your good looks!"
But she still tried the hesitating, innocent, girlish game, and,
shivering as though someone were tickling her, she continued:
"His Highness does me too great an honor. I beg His Highness will
excuse my receiving him thus--"
"It is I who am importunate," said the prince, "but, madame, I could
not resist the desire of complimenting you."
Thereupon, in order to reach her dressing table, she walked very
quietly and just as she was through the midst of the gentlemen, who
made way for her to pass.
She had strongly marked hips, which filled her drawers out roundly,
while with swelling bosom she still continued bowing and smiling her
delicate little smile. Suddenly she seemed to recognize Count
Muffat, and she extended her hand to him as an old friend. Then she
scolded him for not having come to her supper party. His Highness
deigned to chaff Muffat about this, and the latter stammered and
thrilled again at the thought that for one second he had held in his
own feverish clasp a little fresh and perfumed hand. The count had
dined excellently at the prince's, who, indeed, was a heroic eater
and drinker. Both of them were even a little intoxicated, but they
behaved very creditably. To hide the commotion within him Muffat
could only remark about the heat.
"Good heavens, how hot it is here!" he said. "How do you manage to
live in such a temperature, madame?"
And conversation was about to ensue on this topic when noisy voices
were heard at the dressing-room door. Bordenave drew back the slide
over a grated peephole of the kind used in convents. Fontan was
outside with Prulliere and Bosc, and all three had bottles under
their arms and their hands full of glasses. He began knocking and
shouting out that it was his patron saint's day and that he was
standing champagne round. Nana consulted the prince with a glance.
Eh! Oh dear, yes! His Highness did not want to be in anyone's way;
he would be only too happy! But without waiting for permission
Fontan came in, repeating in baby accents:
"Me not a cad, me pay for champagne!"
Then all of a sudden he became aware of the prince's presence of
which he had been totally ignorant. He stopped short and, assuming
an air of farcical solemnity, announced:
"King Dagobert is in the corridor and is desirous of drinking the
health of His Royal Highness."
The prince having made answer with a smile, Fontan's sally was voted
charming. But the dressing room was too small to accommodate
everybody, and it became necessary to crowd up anyhow, Satin and Mme
Jules standing back against the curtain at the end and the men
clustering closely round the half-naked Nana. The three actors
still had on the costumes they had been wearing in the second act,
and while Prulliere took off his Alpine admiral's cocked hat, the
huge plume of which would have knocked the ceiling, Bosc, in his
purple cloak and tinware crown, steadied himself on his tipsy old
legs and greeted the prince as became a monarch receiving the son of
a powerful neighbor. The glasses were filled, and the company began
clinking them together.
"I drink to Your Highness!" said ancient Bosc royally.
"To the army!" added Prulliere.
"To Venus!" cried Fontan.
The prince complaisantly poised his glass, waited quietly, bowed
thrice and murmured:
"Madame! Admiral! Your Majesty!"
Then he drank it off. Count Muffat and the Marquis de Chouard had
followed his example. There was no more jesting now--the company
were at court. Actual life was prolonged in the life of the
theater, and a sort of solemn farce was enacted under the hot flare
of the gas. Nana, quite forgetting that she was in her drawers and
that a corner of her shift stuck out behind, became the great lady,
the queen of love, in act to open her most private palace chambers
to state dignitaries. In every sentence she used the words "Royal
Highness" and, bowing with the utmost conviction, treated the
masqueraders, Bosc and Prulliere, as if the one were a sovereign and
the other his attendant minister. And no one dreamed of smiling at
this strange contrast, this real prince, this heir to a throne,
drinking a petty actor's champagne and taking his ease amid a
carnival of gods, a masquerade of royalty, in the society of
dressers and courtesans, shabby players and showmen of venal beauty.
Bordenave was simply ravished by the dramatic aspects of the scene
and began dreaming of the receipts which would have accrued had His
Highness only consented thus to appear in the second act of the
"I say, shall we have our little women down?" he cried, becoming
Nana would not hear of it. But notwithstanding this, she was giving
way herself. Fontan attracted her with his comic make-up. She
brushed against him and, eying him as a woman in the family way
might do when she fancies some unpleasant kind of food, she suddenly
became extremely familiar:
"Now then, fill up again, ye great brute!"
Fontan charged the glasses afresh, and the company drank, repeating
the same toasts.
"To His Highness!"
"To the army!"
But with that Nana made a sign and obtained silence. She raised her
glass and cried:
"No, no! To Fontan! It's Fontan's day; to Fontan! To Fontan!"
Then they clinked glasses a third time and drank Fontan with all the
honors. The prince, who had noticed the young woman devouring the
actor with her eyes, saluted him with a "Monsieur Fontan, I drink to
your success!" This he said with his customary courtesy.
But meanwhile the tail of his highness's frock coat was sweeping the
marble of the dressing table. The place, indeed, was like an alcove
or narrow bathroom, full as it was of the steam of hot water and
sponges and of the strong scent of essences which mingled with the
tartish, intoxicating fumes of the champagne. The prince and Count
Muffat, between whom Nana was wedged, had to lift up their hands so
as not to brush against her hips or her breast with every little
movement. And there stood Mme Jules, waiting, cool and rigid as
ever, while Satin, marveling in the depths of her vicious soul to
see a prince and two gentlemen in black coats going after a naked
woman in the society of dressed-up actors, secretly concluded that
fashionable people were not so very particular after all.
But Father Barillot's tinkling bell approached along the passage.
At the door of the dressing room he stood amazed when he caught
sight of the three actors still clad in the costumes which they had
worn in the second act.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," he stammered, "do please make haste.
They've just rung the bell in the public foyer."
"Bah, the public will have to wait!" said Bordenave placidly.
However, as the bottles were now empty, the comedians went upstairs
to dress after yet another interchange of civilities. Bosc, having
dipped his beard in the champagne, had taken it off, and under his
venerable disguise the drunkard had suddenly reappeared. His was
the haggard, empurpled face of the old actor who has taken to drink.
At the foot of the stairs he was heard remarking to Fontan in his
"I pulverized him, eh?"
He was alluding to the prince.
In Nana's dressing room none now remained save His Highness, the
count and the marquis. Bordenave had withdrawn with Barillot, whom
he advised not to knock without first letting Madame know.
"You will excuse me, gentlemen?" asked Nana, again setting to work
to make up her arms and face, of which she was now particularly
careful, owing to her nude appearance in the third act.
The prince seated himself by the Marquis de Chouard on the divan,
and Count Muffat alone remained standing. In that suffocating heat
the two glasses of champagne they had drunk had increased their
intoxication. Satin, when she saw the gentlemen thus closeting
themselves with her friend, had deemed it discreet to vanish behind
the curtain, where she sat waiting on a trunk, much annoyed at being
compelled to remain motionless, while Mme Jules came and went
quietly without word or look.
"You sang your numbers marvelously," said the prince.
And with that they began a conversation, but their sentences were
short and their pauses frequent. Nana, indeed, was not always able
to reply. After rubbing cold cream over her arms and face with the
palm of her hand she laid on the grease paint with the corner of a
towel. For one second only she ceased looking in the glass and
smilingly stole a glance at the prince.
"His Highness is spoiling me," she murmured without putting down the
Her task was a complicated one, and the Marquis de Chouard followed
it with an expression of devout enjoyment. He spoke in his turn.
"Could not the band accompany you more softly?" he said. "It drowns
your voice, and that's an unpardonable crime."
This time Nana did not turn round. She had taken up the hare's-foot
and was lightly manipulating it. All her attention was concentrated
on this action, and she bent forward over her toilet table so very
far that the white round contour of her drawers and the little patch
of chemise stood out with the unwonted tension. But she was anxious
to prove that she appreciated the old man's compliment and therefore
made a little swinging movement with her hips.
Silence reigned. Mme Jules had noticed a tear in the right leg of
her drawers. She took a pin from over her heart and for a second or
so knelt on the ground, busily at work about Nana's leg, while the
young woman, without seeming to notice her presence, applied the
rice powder, taking extreme pains as she did so, to avoid putting
any on the upper part of her cheeks. But when the prince remarked
that if she were to come and sing in London all England would want
to applaud her, she laughed amiably and turned round for a moment
with her left cheek looking very white amid a perfect cloud of
powder. Then she became suddenly serious, for she had come to the
operation of rouging. And with her face once more close to the
mirror, she dipped her finger in a jar and began applying the rouge
below her eyes and gently spreading it back toward her temples. The
gentlemen maintained a respectful silence.
Count Muffat, indeed, had not yet opened his lips. He was thinking
perforce of his own youth. The bedroom of his childish days had
been quite cold, and later, when he had reached the age of sixteen
and would give his mother a good-night kiss every evening, he used
to carry the icy feeling of the embrace into the world of dreams.
One day in passing a half-open door he had caught sight of a
maidservant washing herself, and that was the solitary recollection
which had in any way troubled his peace of mind from the days of
puberty till the time of marriage. Afterward he had found his wife
strictly obedient to her conjugal duties but had himself felt a
species of religious dislike to them. He had grown to man's estate
and was now aging, in ignorance of the flesh, in the humble
observance of rigid devotional practices and in obedience to a rule
of life full of precepts and moral laws. And now suddenly he was
dropped down in this actress's dressing room in the presence of this
He, who had never seen the Countess Muffat putting on her garters,
was witnessing, amid that wild disarray of jars and basins and that
strong, sweet perfume, the intimate details of a woman's toilet.
His whole being was in turmoil; he was terrified by the stealthy,
all-pervading influence which for some time past Nana's presence had
been exercising over him, and he recalled to mind the pious accounts
of diabolic possession which had amused his early years. He was a
believer in the devil, and, in a confused kind of way, Nana was he,
with her laughter and her bosom and her hips, which seemed swollen
with many vices. But he promised himself that he would be strong--
nay, he would know how to defend himself.
"Well then, it's agreed," said the prince, lounging quite
comfortably on the divan. "You will come to London next year, and
we shall receive you so cordially that you will never return to
France again. Ah, my dear Count, you don't value your pretty women
enough. We shall take them all from you!"
"That won't make much odds to him," murmured the Marquis de Chouard
wickedly, for he occasionally said a risky thing among friends.
"The count is virtue itself."
Hearing his virtue mentioned, Nana looked at him so comically that
Muffat felt a keen twinge of annoyance. But directly afterward he
was surprised and angry with himself. Why, in the presence of this
courtesan, should the idea of being virtuous embarrass him? He
could have struck her. But in attempting to take up a brush Nana
had just let it drop on the ground, and as she stooped to pick it up
he rushed forward. Their breath mingled for one moment, and the
loosened tresses of Venus flowed over his hands. But remorse
mingled with his enjoyment, a kind of enjoyment, moreover, peculiar
to good Catholics, whom the fear of hell torments in the midst of
At this moment Father Barillot's voice was heard outside the door.
"May I give the knocks, madame? The house is growing impatient."
"All in good time," answered Nana quietly.
She had dipped her paint brush in a pot of kohl, and with the point
of her nose close to the glass and her left eye closed she passed it
delicately along between her eyelashes. Muffat stood behind her,
looking on. He saw her reflection in the mirror, with her rounded
shoulders and her bosom half hidden by a rosy shadow. And despite
all his endeavors he could not turn away his gaze from that face so
merry with dimples and so worn with desire, which the closed eye
rendered more seductive. When she shut her right eye and passed the
brush along it he understood that he belonged to her.
"They are stamping their feet, madame," the callboy once more cried.
"They'll end by smashing the seats. May I give the knocks?"
"Oh, bother!" said Nana impatiently. "Knock away; I don't care! If
I'm not ready, well, they'll have to wait for me!"
She grew calm again and, turning to the gentlemen, added with a
"It's true: we've only got a minute left for our talk."
Her face and arms were now finished, and with her fingers she put
two large dabs of carmine on her lips. Count Muffat felt more
excited than ever. He was ravished by the perverse transformation
wrought by powders and paints and filled by a lawless yearning for
those young painted charms, for the too-red mouth and the too-white
face and the exaggerated eyes, ringed round with black and burning
and dying for very love. Meanwhile Nana went behind the curtain for
a second or two in order to take off her drawers and slip on Venus'
tights. After which, with tranquil immodesty, she came out and
undid her little linen stays and held out her arms to Mme Jules, who
drew the short-sleeved tunic over them.
"Make haste; they're growing angry!" she muttered.
The prince with half-closed eyes marked the swelling lines of her
bosom with an air of connoisseurship, while the Marquis de Chouard
wagged his head involuntarily. Muffat gazed at the carpet in order
not to see any more. At length Venus, with only her gauze veil over
her shoulders, was ready to go on the stage. Mme Jules, with
vacant, unconcerned eyes and an expression suggestive of a little
elderly wooden doll, still kept circling round her. With brisk
movements she took pins out of the inexhaustible pincushion over her
heart and pinned up Venus' tunic, but as she ran over all those
plump nude charms with her shriveled hands, nothing was suggested to
her. She was as one whom her sex does not concern.
"There!" said the young woman, taking a final look at herself in the
Bordenave was back again. He was anxious and said the third act had
"Very well! I'm coming," replied Nana. "Here's a pretty fuss!
Why, it's usually I that waits for the others."
The gentlemen left the dressing room, but they did not say good-by,
for the prince had expressed a desire to assist behind the scenes at
the performance of the third act. Left alone, Nana seemed greatly
surprised and looked round her in all directions.
"Where can she be?" she queried.
She was searching for Satin. When she had found her again, waiting