Part 4 out of 12
on her trunk behind the curtain, Satin quietly replied:
"Certainly I didn't want to be in your way with all those men
And she added further that she was going now. But Nana held her
back. What a silly girl she was! Now that Bordenave had agreed to
take her on! Why, the bargain was to be struck after the play was
over! Satin hesitated. There were too many bothers; she was out of
her element! Nevertheless, she stayed.
As the prince was coming down the little wooden staircase a strange
sound of smothered oaths and stamping, scuffling feet became audible
on the other side of the theater. The actors waiting for their cues
were being scared by quite a serious episode. For some seconds past
Mignon had been renewing his jokes and smothering Fauchery with
caresses. He had at last invented a little game of a novel kind and
had begun flicking the other's nose in order, as he phrased it, to
keep the flies off him. This kind of game naturally diverted the
actors to any extent.
But success had suddenly thrown Mignon off his balance. He had
launched forth into extravagant courses and had given the journalist
a box on the ear, an actual, a vigorous, box on the ear. This time
he had gone too far: in the presence of so many spectators it was
impossible for Fauchery to pocket such a blow with laughing
equanimity. Whereupon the two men had desisted from their farce,
had sprung at one another's throats, their faces livid with hate,
and were now rolling over and over behind a set of side lights,
pounding away at each other as though they weren't breakable.
"Monsieur Bordenave, Monsieur Bordenave!" said the stage manager,
coming up in a terrible flutter.
Bordenave made his excuses to the prince and followed him. When he
recognized Fauchery and Mignon in the men on the floor he gave vent
to an expression of annoyance. They had chosen a nice time,
certainly, with His Highness on the other side of the scenery and
all that houseful of people who might have overheard the row! To
make matters worse, Rose Mignon arrived out of breath at the very
moment she was due on the stage. Vulcan, indeed, was giving her the
cue, but Rose stood rooted to the ground, marveling at sight of her
husband and her lover as they lay wallowing at her feet, strangling
one another, kicking, tearing their hair out and whitening their
coats with dust. They barred the way. A sceneshifter had even
stopped Fauchery's hat just when the devilish thing was going to
bound onto the stage in the middle of the struggle. Meanwhile
Vulcan, who had been gagging away to amuse the audience, gave Rose
her cue a second time. But she stood motionless, still gazing at
the two men.
"Oh, don't look at THEM!" Bordenave furiously whispered to her. "Go
on the stage; go on, do! It's no business of yours! Why, you're
missing your cue!"
And with a push from the manager, Rose stepped over the prostrate
bodies and found herself in the flare of the footlights and in the
presence of the audience. She had quite failed to understand why
they were fighting on the floor behind her. Trembling from head to
foot and with a humming in her ears, she came down to the
footlights, Diana's sweet, amorous smile on her lips, and attacked
the opening lines of her duet with so feeling a voice that the
public gave her a veritable ovation.
Behind the scenery she could hear the dull thuds caused by the two
men. They had rolled down to the wings, but fortunately the music
covered the noise made by their feet as they kicked against them.
"By God!" yelled Bordenave in exasperation when at last he had
succeeded in separating them. "Why couldn't you fight at home? You
know as well as I do that I don't like this sort of thing. You,
Mignon, you'll do me the pleasure of staying over here on the prompt
side, and you, Fauchery, if you leave the O.P. side I'll chuck you
out of the theater. You understand, eh? Prompt side and O.P. side
or I forbid Rose to bring you here at all."
When he returned to the prince's presence the latter asked what was
"Oh, nothing at all," he murmured quietly.
Nana was standing wrapped in furs, talking to these gentlemen while
awaiting her cue. As Count Muffat was coming up in order to peep
between two of the wings at the stage, he understood from a sign
made him by the stage manager that he was to step softly. Drowsy
warmth was streaming down from the flies, and in the wings, which
were lit by vivid patches of light, only a few people remained,
talking in low voices or making off on tiptoe. The gasman was at
his post amid an intricate arrangement of cocks; a fireman, leaning
against the side lights, was craning forward, trying to catch a
glimpse of things, while on his seat, high up, the curtain man was
watching with resigned expression, careless of the play, constantly
on the alert for the bell to ring him to his duty among the ropes.
And amid the close air and the shuffling of feet and the sound of
whispering, the voices of the actors on the stage sounded strange,
deadened, surprisingly discordant. Farther off again, above the
confused noises of the band, a vast breathing sound was audible. It
was the breath of the house, which sometimes swelled up till it
burst in vague rumors, in laughter, in applause. Though invisible,
the presence of the public could be felt, even in the silences.
"There's something open," said Nana sharply, and with that she
tightened the folds of her fur cloak. "Do look, Barillot. I bet
they've just opened a window. Why, one might catch one's death of
Barillot swore that he had closed every window himself but suggested
that possibly there were broken panes about. The actors were always
complaining of drafts. Through the heavy warmth of that gaslit
region blasts of cold air were constantly passing--it was a regular
influenza trap, as Fontan phrased it.
"I should like to see YOU in a low-cut dress," continued Nana,
"Hush!" murmured Bordenave.
On the stage Rose rendered a phrase in her duet so cleverly that the
stalls burst into universal applause. Nana was silent at this, and
her face grew grave. Meanwhile the count was venturing down a
passage when Barillot stopped him and said he would make a discovery
there. Indeed, he obtained an oblique back view of the scenery and
of the wings which had been strengthened, as it were, by a thick
layer of old posters. Then he caught sight of a corner of the
stage, of the Etna cave hollowed out in a silver mine and of
Vulcan's forge in the background. Battens, lowered from above, lit
up a sparkling substance which had been laid on with large dabs of
the brush. Side lights with red glasses and blue were so placed as
to produce the appearance of a fiery brazier, while on the floor of
the stage, in the far background, long lines of gaslight had been
laid down in order to throw a wall of dark rocks into sharp relief.
Hard by on a gentle, "practicable" incline, amid little points of
light resembling the illumination lamps scattered about in the grass
on the night of a public holiday, old Mme Drouard, who played Juno,
was sitting dazed and sleepy, waiting for her cue.
Presently there was a commotion, for Simonne, while listening to a
story Clarisse was telling her, cried out:
"My! It's the Tricon!"
It was indeed the Tricon, wearing the same old curls and looking as
like a litigious great lady as ever.
When she saw Nana she went straight up to her.
"No," said the latter after some rapid phrases had been exchanged,
"not now." The old lady looked grave. Just then Prulliere passed
by and shook hands with her, while two little chorus girls stood
gazing at her with looks of deep emotion. For a moment she seemed
to hesitate. Then she beckoned to Simonne, and the rapid exchange
of sentences began again.
"Yes," said Simonne at last. "In half an hour."
But as she was going upstairs again to her dressing room, Mme Bron,
who was once more going the rounds with letters, presented one to
her. Bordenave lowered his voice and furiously reproached the
portress for having allowed the Tricon to come in. That woman! And
on such an evening of all others! It made him so angry because His
Highness was there! Mme Bron, who had been thirty years in the
theater, replied quite sourly. How was she to know? she asked. The
Tricon did business with all the ladies--M. le Directeur had met her
a score of times without making remarks. And while Bordenave was
muttering oaths the Tricon stood quietly by, scrutinizing the prince
as became a woman who weighs a man at a glance. A smile lit up her
yellow face. Presently she paced slowly off through the crowd of
deeply deferential little women.
"Immediately, eh?" she queried, turning round again to Simonne.
Simonne seemed much worried. The letter was from a young man to
whom she had engaged herself for that evening. She gave Mme Bron a
scribbled note in which were the words, "Impossible tonight,
darling--I'm booked." But she was still apprehensive; the young man
might possibly wait for her in spite of everything. As she was not
playing in the third act, she had a mind to be off at once and
accordingly begged Clarisse to go and see if the man were there.
Clarisse was only due on the stage toward the end of the act, and so
she went downstairs while Simonne ran up for a minute to their
common dressing room.
In Mme Bron's drinking bar downstairs a super, who was charged with
the part of Pluto, was drinking in solitude amid the folds of a
great red robe diapered with golden flames. The little business
plied by the good portress must have been progressing finely, for
the cellarlike hole under the stairs was wet with emptied heeltaps
and water. Clarisse picked up the tunic of Iris, which was dragging
over the greasy steps behind her, but she halted prudently at the
turn in the stairs and was content simply to crane forward and peer
into the lodge. She certainly had been quick to scent things out!
Just fancy! That idiot La Faloise was still there, sitting on the
same old chair between the table and the stove! He had made
pretense of sneaking off in front of Simonne and had returned after
her departure. For the matter of that, the lodge was still full of
gentlemen who sat there gloved, elegant, submissive and patient as
ever. They were all waiting and viewing each other gravely as they
waited. On the table there were now only some dirty plates, Mme
Bron having recently distributed the last of the bouquets. A single
fallen rose was withering on the floor in the neighborhood of the
black cat, who had lain down and curled herself up while the kittens
ran wild races and danced fierce gallops among the gentlemen's legs.
Clarisse was momentarily inclined to turn La Faloise out. The idiot
wasn't fond of animals, and that put the finishing touch to him! He
was busy drawing in his legs because the cat was there, and he
didn't want to touch her.
"He'll nip you; take care!" said Pluto, who was a joker, as he went
upstairs, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
After that Clarisse gave up the idea of hauling La Faloise over the
coals. She had seen Mme Bron giving the letter to Simonne's young
man, and he had gone out to read it under the gas light in the
lobby. "Impossible tonight, darling--I'm booked." And with that he
had peaceably departed, as one who was doubtless used to the
formula. He, at any rate, knew how to conduct himself! Not so the
others, the fellows who sat there doggedly on Mme Bron's battered
straw-bottomed chairs under the great glazed lantern, where the heat
was enough to roast you and there was an unpleasant odor. What a
lot of men it must have held! Clarisse went upstairs again in
disgust, crossed over behind scenes and nimbly mounted three flights
of steps which led to the dressing rooms, in order to bring Simonne
Downstairs the prince had withdrawn from the rest and stood talking
to Nana. He never left her; he stood brooding over her through
half-shut eyelids. Nana did not look at him but, smiling, nodded
yes. Suddenly, however, Count Muffat obeyed an overmastering
impulse, and leaving Bordenave, who was explaining to him the
working of the rollers and windlasses, he came up in order to
interrupt their confabulations. Nana lifted her eyes and smiled at
him as she smiled at His Highness. But she kept her ears open
notwithstanding, for she was waiting for her cue.
"The third act is the shortest, I believe," the prince began saying,
for the count's presence embarrassed him.
She did not answer; her whole expression altered; she was suddenly
intent on her business. With a rapid movement of the shoulders she
had let her furs slip from her, and Mme Jules, standing behind, had
caught them in her arms. And then after passing her two hands to
her hair as though to make it fast, she went on the stage in all her
"Hush, hush!" whispered Bordenave.
The count and the prince had been taken by surprise. There was
profound silence, and then a deep sigh and the far-off murmur of a
multitude became audible. Every evening when Venus entered in her
godlike nakedness the same effect was produced. Then Muffat was
seized with a desire to see; he put his eye to the peephole. Above
and beyond the glowing arc formed by the footlights the dark body of
the house seemed full of ruddy vapor, and against this neutral-
tinted background, where row upon row of faces struck a pale,
uncertain note, Nana stood forth white and vast, so that the boxes
from the balcony to the flies were blotted from view. He saw her
from behind, noted her swelling hips, her outstretched arms, while
down on the floor, on the same level as her feet, the prompter's
head--an old man's head with a humble, honest face--stood on the
edge of the stage, looking as though it had been severed from the
body. At certain points in her opening number an undulating
movement seemed to run from her neck to her waist and to die out in
the trailing border of her tunic. When amid a tempest of applause
she had sung her last note she bowed, and the gauze floated forth
round about her limbs, and her hair swept over her waist as she bent
sharply backward. And seeing her thus, as with bending form and
with exaggerated hips she came backing toward the count's peephole,
he stood upright again, and his face was very white. The stage had
disappeared, and he now saw only the reverse side of the scenery
with its display of old posters pasted up in every direction. On
the practicable slope, among the lines of gas jets, the whole of
Olympus had rejoined the dozing Mme Drouard. They were waiting for
the close of the act. Bosc and Fontan sat on the floor with their
knees drawn up to their chins, and Prulliere stretched himself and
yawned before going on. Everybody was worn out; their eyes were
red, and they were longing to go home to sleep.
Just then Fauchery, who had been prowling about on the O.P. side
ever since Bordenave had forbidden him the other, came and
buttonholed the count in order to keep himself in countenance and
offered at the same time to show him the dressing rooms. An
increasing sense of languor had left Muffat without any power of
resistance, and after looking round for the Marquis de Chouard, who
had disappeared, he ended by following the journalist. He
experienced a mingled feeling of relief and anxiety as he left the
wings whence he had been listening to Nana's songs.
Fauchery had already preceded him up the staircase, which was closed
on the first and second floors by low-paneled doors. It was one of
those stairways which you find in miserable tenements. Count Muffat
had seen many such during his rounds as member of the Benevolent
Organization. It was bare and dilapidated: there was a wash of
yellow paint on its walls; its steps had been worn by the incessant
passage of feet, and its iron balustrade had grown smooth under the
friction of many hands. On a level with the floor on every
stairhead there was a low window which resembled a deep, square
venthole, while in lanterns fastened to the walls flaring gas jets
crudely illuminatcd the surrounding squalor and gave out a glowing
heat which, as it mounted up the narrow stairwell, grew ever more
When he reached the foot of the stairs the count once more felt the
hot breath upon his neck and shoulders. As of old it was laden with
the odor of women, wafted amid floods of light and sound from the
dressing rooms above, and now with every upward step he took the
musky scent of powders and the tart perfume of toilet vinegars
heated and bewildered him more and more. On the first floor two
corridors ran backward, branching sharply off and presenting a set
of doors to view which were painted yellow and numbered with great
white numerals in such a way as to suggest a hotel with a bad
reputation. The tiles on the floor had been many of them unbedded,
and the old house being in a state of subsidence, they stuck up like
hummocks. The count dashed recklessly forward, glanced through a
half-open door and saw a very dirty room which resembled a barber's
shop in a poor part of the town. In was furnished with two chairs,
a mirror and a small table containing a drawer which had been
blackened by the grease from brushes and combs. A great perspiring
fellow with smoking shoulders was changing his linen there, while in
a similar room next door a woman was drawing on her gloves
preparatory to departure. Her hair was damp and out of curl, as
though she had just had a bath. But Fauchery began calling the
count, and the latter was rushing up without delay when a furious
"damn!" burst from the corridor on the right. Mathilde, a little
drab of a miss, had just broken her washhand basin, the soapy water
from which was flowing out to the stairhead. A dressing room door
banged noisily. Two women in their stays skipped across the
passage, and another, with the hem of her shift in her mouth,
appeared and immediately vanished from view. Then followed a sound
of laughter, a dispute, the snatch of a song which was suddenly
broken off short. All along the passage naked gleams, sudden
visions of white skin and wan underlinen were observable through
chinks in doorways. Two girls were making very merry, showing each
other their birthmarks. One of them, a very young girl, almost a
child, had drawn her skirts up over her knees in order to sew up a
rent in her drawers, and the dressers, catching sight of the two
men, drew some curtains half to for decency's sake. The wild
stampede which follows the end of a play had already begun, the
grand removal of white paint and rouge, the reassumption amid clouds
of rice powder of ordinary attire. The strange animal scent came in
whiffs of redoubled intensity through the lines of banging doors.
On the third story Muffat abandoned himself to the feeling of
intoxication which was overpowering him. For the chorus girls'
dressing room was there, and you saw a crowd of twenty women and a
wild display of soaps and flasks of lavender water. The place
resembled the common room in a slum lodging house. As he passed by
he heard fierce sounds of washing behind a closed door and a perfect
storm raging in a washhand basin. And as he was mounting up to the
topmost story of all, curiosity led him to risk one more little peep
through an open loophole. The room was empty, and under the flare
of the gas a solitary chamber pot stood forgotten among a heap of
petticoats trailing on the floor. This room afforded him his
ultimate impression. Upstairs on the fourth floor he was well-nigh
suffocated. All the scents, all the blasts of heat, had found their
goal there. The yellow ceiling looked as if it had been baked, and
a lamp burned amid fumes of russet-colored fog. For some seconds he
leaned upon the iron balustrade which felt warm and damp and well-
nigh human to the touch. And he shut his eyes and drew a long
breath and drank in the sexual atmosphere of the place. Hitherto he
had been utterly ignorant of it, but now it beat full in his face.
"Do come here," shouted Fauchery, who had vanished some moments ago.
"You're being asked for."
At the end of the corridor was the dressing room belonging to
Clarisse and Simonne. It was a long, ill-built room under the roof
with a garret ceiling and sloping walls. The light penetrated to it
from two deep-set openings high up in the wall, but at that hour of
the night the dressing room was lit by flaring gas. It was papered
with a paper at seven sous a roll with a pattern of roses twining
over green trelliswork. Two boards, placed near one another and
covered with oilcloth, did duty for dressing tables. They were
black with spilled water, and underneath them was a fine medley of
dinted zinc jugs, slop pails and coarse yellow earthenware crocks.
There was an array of fancy articles in the room--a battered, soiled
and well-worn array of chipped basins, of toothless combs, of all
those manifold untidy trifles which, in their hurry and
carelessness, two women will leave scattered about when they undress
and wash together amid purely temporary surroundings, the dirty
aspect of which has ceased to concern them.
"Do come here," Fauchery repeated with the good-humored familiarity
which men adopt among their fallen sisters. "Clarisse is wanting to
Muffat entered the room at last. But what was his surprise when he
found the Marquis de Chouard snugly enscounced on a chair between
the two dressing tables! The marquis had withdrawn thither some
time ago. He was spreading his feet apart because a pail was
leaking and letting a whitish flood spread over the floor. He was
visibly much at his ease, as became a man who knew all the snug
corners, and had grown quite merry in the close dressing room, where
people might have been bathing, and amid those quietly immodest
feminine surroundings which the uncleanness of the little place
rendered at once natural and poignant.
"D'you go with the old boy?" Simonne asked Clarisse in a whisper.
"Rather!" replied the latter aloud.
The dresser, a very ugly and extremely familiar young girl, who was
helping Simonne into her coat, positively writhed with laughter.
The three pushed each other and babbled little phrases which
redoubled their merriment.
"Come, Clarisse, kiss the gentleman," said Fauchery. "You know,
he's got the rhino."
And turning to the count:
"You'll see, she's very nice! She's going to kiss you!"
But Clarisse was disgusted by the men. She spoke in violent terms
of the dirty lot waiting at the porter's lodge down below. Besides,
she was in a hurry to go downstairs again; they were making her miss
her last scene. Then as Fauchery blocked up the doorway, she gave
Muffat a couple of kisses on the whiskers, remarking as she did so:
"It's not for you, at any rate! It's for that nuisance Fauchery!"
And with that she darted off, and the count remained much
embarrassed in his father-in-law's presence. The blood had rushed
to his face. In Nana's dressing room, amid all the luxury of
hangings and mirrors, he had not experienced the sharp physical
sensation which the shameful wretchedness of that sorry garret
excited within him, redolent as it was of these two girls' self-
abandonment. Meanwhile the marquis had hurried in the rear of
Simonne, who was making off at the top of her pace, and he kept
whispering in her ear while she shook her head in token of refusal.
Fauchery followed them, laughing. And with that the count found
himself alone with the dresser, who was washing out the basins.
Accordingly he took his departure, too, his legs almost failing
under him. Once more he put up flights of half-dressed women and
caused doors to bang as he advanced. But amid the disorderly,
disbanded troops of girls to be found on each of the four stories,
he was only distinctly aware of a cat, a great tortoise-shell cat,
which went gliding upstairs through the ovenlike place where the air
was poisoned with musk, rubbing its back against the banisters and
keeping its tail exceedingly erect.
"Yes, to be sure!" said a woman hoarsely. "I thought they'd keep us
back tonight! What a nuisance they are with their calls!"
The end had come; the curtain had just fallen. There was a
veritable stampede on the staircase--its walls rang with
exclamations, and everyone was in a savage hurry to dress and be
off. As Count Muffat came down the last step or two he saw Nana and
the prince passing slowly along the passage. The young woman halted
and lowered her voice as she said with a smile:
"All right then--by and by!"
The prince returned to the stage, where Bordenave was awaiting him.
And left alone with Nana, Muffat gave way to an impulse of anger and
desire. He ran up behind her and, as she was on the point of
entering her dressing room, imprinted a rough kiss on her neck among
little golden hairs curling low down between her shoulders. It was
as though he had returned the kiss that had been given him upstairs.
Nana was in a fury; she lifted her hand, but when she recognized the
count she smiled.
"Oh, you frightened me," she said simply.
And her smile was adorable in its embarrassment and submissiveness,
as though she had despaired of this kiss and were happy to have
received it. But she could do nothing for him either that evening
or the day after. It was a case of waiting. Nay, even if it had
been in her power she would still have let herself be desired. Her
glance said as much. At length she continued:
"I'm a landowner, you know. Yes, I'm buying a country house near
Orleans, in a part of the world to which you sometimes betake
yourself. Baby told me you did--little Georges Hugon, I mean. You
know him? So come and see me down there."
The count was a shy man, and the thought of his roughness had
frightened him; he was ashamed of what he had done and he bowed
ceremoniously, promising at the same time to take advantage of her
invitation. Then he walked off as one who dreams.
He was rejoining the prince when, passing in front of the foyer, he
heard Satin screaming out:
"Oh, the dirty old thing! Just you bloody well leave me alone!"
It was the Marquis de Chouard who was tumbling down over Satin. The
girl had decidedly had enough of the fashionable world! Nana had
certainly introduced her to Bordenave, but the necessity of standing
with sealed lips for fear of allowing some awkward phrase to escape
her had been too much for her feelings, and now she was anxious to
regain her freedom, the more so as she had run against an old flame
of hers in the wings. This was the super, to whom the task of
impersonating Pluto had been entrusted, a pastry cook, who had
already treated her to a whole week of love and flagellation. She
was waiting for him, much irritated at the things the marquis was
saying to her, as though she were one of those theatrical ladies!
And so at last she assumed a highly respectable expression and
jerked out this phrase:
"My husband's coming! You'll see."
Meanwhile the worn-looking artistes were dropping off one after the
other in their outdoor coats. Groups of men and women were coming
down the little winding staircase, and the outlines of battered hats
and worn-out shawls were visible in the shadows. They looked
colorless and unlovely, as became poor play actors who have got rid
of their paint. On the stage, where the side lights and battens
were being extinguished, the prince was listening to an anecdote
Bordenave was telling him. He was waiting for Nana, and when at
length she made her appearance the stage was dark, and the fireman
on duty was finishing his round, lantern in hand. Bordenave, in
order to save His Highness going about by the Passage des Panoramas,
had made them open the corridor which led from the porter's lodge to
the entrance hall of the theater. Along this narrow alley little
women were racing pell-mell, for they were delighted to escape from
the men who were waiting for them in the other passage. They went
jostling and elbowing along, casting apprehensive glances behind
them and only breathing freely when they got outside. Fontan, Bosc
and Prulliere, on the other hand, retired at a leisurely pace,
joking at the figure cut by the serious, paying admirers who were
striding up and down the Galerie des Varietes at a time when the
little dears were escaping along the boulevard with the men of their
hearts. But Clarisse was especially sly. She had her suspicions
about La Faloise, and, as a matter of fact, he was still in his
place in the lodge among the gentlemen obstinately waiting on Mme
Bron's chairs. They all stretched forward, and with that she passed
brazenly by in the wake of a friend. The gentlemen were blinking in
bewilderment over the wild whirl of petticoats eddying at the foot
of the narrow stairs. It made them desperate to think they had
waited so long, only to see them all flying away like this without
being able to recognize a single one. The litter of little black
cats were sleeping on the oilcloth, nestled against their mother's
belly, and the latter was stretching her paws out in a state of
beatitude while the big tortoise-shell cat sat at the other end of
the table, her tail stretched out behind her and her yellow eyes
solemnly following the flight of the women.
"If His Highness will be good enough to come this way," said
Bordenave at the bottom of the stairs, and he pointed to the
Some chorus girls were still crowding along it. The prince began
following Nana while Muffat and the marquis walked behind.
It was a long, narrow passage lying between the theater and the
house next door, a kind of contracted by-lane which had been covered
with a sloping glass roof. Damp oozed from the walls, and the
footfall sounded as hollow on the tiled floor as in an underground
vault. It was crowded with the kind of rubbish usually found in a
garret. There was a workbench on which the porter was wont to plane
such parts of the scenery as required it, besides a pile of wooden
barriers which at night were placed at the doors of the theater for
the purpose of regulating the incoming stream of people. Nana had
to pick up her dress as she passed a hydrant which, through having
been carelessly turned off, was flooding the tiles underfoot. In
the entrance hall the company bowed and said good-by. And when
Bordenave was alone he summed up his opinion of the prince in a
shrug of eminently philosophic disdain.
"He's a bit of a duffer all the same," he said to Fauchery without
entering on further explanations, and with that Rose Mignon carried
the journalist off with her husband in order to effect a
reconciliation between them at home.
Muffat was left alone on the sidewalk. His Highness had handed Nana
quietly into his carriage, and the marquis had slipped off after
Satin and her super. In his excitement he was content to follow
this vicious pair in vague hopes of some stray favor being granted
him. Then with brain on fire Muffat decided to walk home. The
struggle within him had wholly ceased. The ideas and beliefs of the
last forty years were being drowned in a flood of new life. While
he was passing along the boulevards the roll of the last carriages
deafened him with the name of Nana; the gaslights set nude limbs
dancing before his eyes--the nude limbs, the lithe arms, the white
shoulders, of Nana. And he felt that he was hers utterly: he would
have abjured everything, sold everything, to possess her for a
single hour that very night. Youth, a lustful puberty of early
manhood, was stirring within him at last, flaming up suddenly in the
chaste heart of the Catholic and amid the dignified traditions of
Count Muffat, accompanied by his wife and daughter, had arrived
overnight at Les Fondettes, where Mme Hugon, who was staying there
with only her son Georges, had invited them to come and spend a
week. The house, which had been built at the end of the eighteenth
century, stood in the middle of a huge square enclosure. It was
perfectly unadorned, but the garden possessed magnificent shady
trees and a chain of tanks fed by running spring water. It stood at
the side of the road which leads from Orleans to Paris and with its
rich verdure and high-embowered trees broke the monotony of that
flat countryside, where fields stretched to the horizon's verge.
At eleven o'clock, when the second lunch bell had called the whole
household together, Mme Hugon, smiling in her kindly maternal way,
gave Sabine two great kisses, one on each cheek, and said as she did
"You know it's my custom in the country. Oh, seeing you here makes
me feel twenty years younger. Did you sleep well in your old room?"
Then without waiting for her reply she turned to Estelle:
"And this little one, has she had a nap too? Give me a kiss, my
They had taken their seats in the vast dining room, the windows of
which looked out on the park. But they only occupied one end of the
long table, where they sat somewhat crowded together for company's
sake. Sabine, in high good spirits, dwelt on various childish
memories which had been stirred up within her--memories of months
passed at Les Fondettes, of long walks, of a tumble into one of the
tanks on a summer evening, of an old romance of chivalry discovered
by her on the top of a cupboard and read during the winter before
fires made of vine branches. And Georges, who had not seen the
countess for some months, thought there was something curious about
her. Her face seemed changed, somehow, while, on the other hand,
that stick of an Estelle seemed more insignificant and dumb and
awkward than ever.
While such simple fare as cutlets and boiled eggs was being
discussed by the company, Mme Hugon, as became a good housekeeper,
launched out into complaints. The butchers, she said, were becoming
impossible. She bought everything at Orleans, and yet they never
brought her the pieces she asked for. Yet, alas, if her guests had
nothing worth eating it was their own fault: they had come too late
in the season.
"There's no sense in it," she said. "I've been expecting you since
June, and now we're half through September. You see, it doesn't
And with a movement she pointed to the trees on the grass outside,
the leaves of which were beginning to turn yellow. The day was
covered, and the distance was hidden by a bluish haze which was
fraught with a sweet and melancholy peacefulness.
"Oh, I'm expecting company," she continued. "We shall be gayer
then! The first to come will be two gentlemen whom Georges has
invited--Monsieur Fauchery and Monsieur Daguenet; you know them, do
you not? Then we shall have Monsieur de Vandeuvres, who has
promised me a visit these five years past. This time, perhaps,
he'll make up his mind!"
"Oh, well and good!" said the countess, laughing. "If we only can
get Monsieur de Vandeuvres! But he's too much engaged."
"And Philippe?" queried Muffat.
"Philippe has asked for a furlough," replied the old lady, "but
without doubt you won't be at Les Fondettes any longer when he
The coffee was served. Paris was now the subject of conversation,
and Steiner's name was mentioned, at which Mme Hugon gave a little
"Let me see," she said; "Monsieur Steiner is that stout man I met at
your house one evening. He's a banker, is he not? Now there's a
detestable man for you! Why, he's gone and bought an actress an
estate about a league from here, over Gumieres way, beyond the
Choue. The whole countryside's scandalized. Did you know about
that, my friend?"
"I knew nothing about it," replied Muffat. "Ah, then, Steiner's
bought a country place in the neighborhood!"
Hearing his mother broach the subject, Georges looked into his
coffee cup, but in his astonishment at the count's answer he glanced
up at him and stared. Why was he lying so glibly? The count, on
his side, noticed the young fellow's movement and gave him a
suspicious glance. Mme Hugon continued to go into details: the
country place was called La Mignotte. In order to get there one had
to go up the bank of the Choue as far as Gumieres in order to cross
the bridge; otherwise one got one's feet wet and ran the risk of a
"And what is the actress's name?" asked the countess.
"Oh, I wasn't told," murmured the old lady. "Georges, you were
there the morning the gardener spoke to us about it."
Georges appeared to rack his brains. Muffat waited, twirling a
teaspoon between his fingers. Then the countess addressed her
"Isn't Monsieur Steiner with that singer at the Varietes, that
"Nana, that's the name! A horrible woman!" cried Mme Hugon with
growing annoyance. "And they are expecting her at La Mignotte.
I've heard all about it from the gardener. Didn't the gardener say
they were expecting her this evening, Georges?"
The count gave a little start of astonishment, but Georges replied
with much vivacity:
"Oh, Mother, the gardener spoke without knowing anything about it.
Directly afterward the coachman said just the opposite. Nobody's
expected at La Mignotte before the day after tomorrow."
He tried hard to assume a natural expression while he slyly watched
the effect of his remarks on the count. The latter was twirling his
spoon again as though reassured. The countess, her eyes fixed
dreamily on the blue distances of the park, seemed to have lost all
interest in the conversation. The shadow of a smile on her lips,
she seemed to be following up a secret thought which had been
suddenly awakened within her. Estelle, on the other hand, sitting
stiffly on her chair, had heard all that had been said about Nana,
but her white, virginal face had not betrayed a trace of emotion.
"Dear me, dear me! I've got no right to grow angry," murmured Mme
Hugon after a pause, and with a return to her old good humor she
"Everybody's got a right to live. If we meet this said lady on the
road we shall not bow to her--that's all!"
And as they got up from table she once more gently upbraided the
Countess Sabine for having been so long in coming to her that year.
But the countess defended herself and threw the blame of the delays
upon her husband's shoulders. Twice on the eve of departure, when
all the trunks were locked, he counterordered their journey on the
plea of urgent business. Then he had suddenly decided to start just
when the trip seemed shelved. Thereupon the old lady told them how
Georges in the same way had twice announced his arrival without
arriving and had finally cropped up at Les Fondettes the day before
yesterday, when she was no longer expecting him. They had come down
into the garden, and the two men, walking beside the ladies, were
listening to them in consequential silence.
"Never mind," said Mme Hugon, kissing her son's sunny locks, "Zizi
is a very good boy to come and bury himself in the country with his
mother. He's a dear Zizi not to forget me!"
In the afternoon she expressed some anxiety, for Georges, directly
after leaving the table, had complained of a heavy feeling in his
head and now seemed in for an atrocious sick headache. Toward four
o'clock he said he would go upstairs to bed: it was the only remedy.
After sleeping till tomorrow morning he would be perfectly himself
again. His mother was bent on putting him to bed herself, but as
she left the room he ran and locked the door, explaining that he was
shutting himself in so that no one should come and disturb him.
Then caressingly he shouted, "Good night till tomorrow, little
Mother!" and promised to take a nap. But he did not go to bed again
and with flushed cheeks and bright eyes noiselessly put on his
clothes. Then he sat on a chair and waited. When the dinner bell
rang he listened for Count Muffat, who was on his way to the dining
room, and ten minutes later, when he was certain that no one would
see him, he slipped from the window to the ground with the
assistance of a rain pipe. His bedroom was situated on the first
floor and looked out upon the rear of the house. He threw himself
among some bushes and got out of the park and then galloped across
the fields with empty stomach and heart beating with excitement.
Night was closing in, and a small fine rain was beginning to fall.
It was the very evening that Nana was due at La Mignotte. Ever
since in the preceding May Steiner had bought her this country place
she had from time to time been so filled with the desire of taking
possession that she had wept hot tears about, but on each of these
occasions Bordenave had refused to give her even the shortest leave
and had deferred her holiday till September on the plea that he did
not intend putting an understudy in her place, even for one evening,
now that the exhibition was on. Toward the close of August he spoke
of October. Nana was furious and declared that she would be at La
Mignotte in the middle of September. Nay, in order to dare
Bordenave, she even invited a crowd of guests in his very presence.
One afternoon in her rooms, as Muffat, whose advances she still
adroitly resisted, was beseeching her with tremulous emotion to
yield to his entreaties, she at length promised to be kind, but not
in Paris, and to him, too, she named the middle of September. Then
on the twelfth she was seized by a desire to be off forthwith with
Zoe as her sole companion. It might be that Bordenave had got wind
of her intentions and was about to discover some means of detaining
her. She was delighted at the notion of putting him in a fix, and
she sent him a doctor's certificate. When once the idea had entered
her head of being the first to get to La Mignotte and of living
there two days without anybody knowing anything about it, she rushed
Zoe through the operation of packing and finally pushed her into a
cab, where in a sudden burst of extreme contrition she kissed her
and begged her pardon. It was only when they got to the station
refreshment room that she thought of writing Steiner of her
movements. She begged him to wait till the day after tomorrow
before rejoining her if he wanted to find her quite bright and
fresh. And then, suddenly conceiving another project, she wrote a
second letter, in which she besought her aunt to bring little Louis
to her at once. It would do Baby so much good! And how happy they
would be together in the shade of the trees! In the railway
carriage between Paris and Orleans she spoke of nothing else; her
eyes were full of tears; she had an unexpected attack of maternal
tenderness and mingled together flowers, birds and child in her
La Mignotte was more than three leagues away from the station, and
Nana lost a good hour over the hire of a carriage, a huge,
dilapidated calash, which rumbled slowly along to an accompaniment
of rattling old iron. She had at once taken possession of the
coachman, a little taciturn old man whom she overwhelmed with
questions. Had he often passed by La Mignotte? It was behind this
hill then? There ought to be lots of trees there, eh? And the
house could one see it at a distance? The little old man answered
with a succession of grunts. Down in the calash Nana was almost
dancing with impatience, while Zoe, in her annoyance at having left
Paris in such a hurry, sat stiffly sulking beside her. The horse
suddenly stopped short, and the young woman thought they had reached
their destination. She put her head out of the carriage door and
"Are we there, eh?"
By way of answer the driver whipped up his horse, which was in the
act of painfully climbing a hill. Nana gazed ecstatically at the
vast plain beneath the gray sky where great clouds were banked up.
"Oh, do look, Zoe! There's greenery! Now, is that all wheat? Good
lord, how pretty it is!"
"One can quite see that Madame doesn't come from the country," was
the servant's prim and tardy rejoinder. "As for me, I knew the
country only too well when I was with my dentist. He had a house at
Bougival. No, it's cold, too, this evening. It's damp in these
They were driving under the shadow of a wood, and Nana sniffed up
the scent of the leaves as a young dog might. All of a sudden at a
turn of the road she caught sight of the corner of a house among the
trees. Perhaps it was there! And with that she began a
conversation with the driver, who continued shaking his head by way
of saying no. Then as they drove down the other side of the hill he
contented himself by holding out his whip and muttering, "'Tis down
She got up and stretched herself almost bodily out of the carriage
"Where is it? Where is it?" she cried with pale cheeks, but as yet
she saw nothing.
At last she caught sight of a bit of wall. And then followed a
succession of little cries and jumps, the ecstatic behavior of a
woman overcome by a new and vivid sensation.
"I see it! I see it, Zoe! Look out at the other side. Oh, there's
a terrace with brick ornaments on the roof! And there's a hothouse
down there! But the place is immense. Oh, how happy I am! Do
look, Zoe! Now, do look!"
The carriage had by this time pulled up before the park gates. A
side door was opened, and the gardener, a tall, dry fellow, made his
appearance, cap in hand. Nana made an effort to regain her dignity,
for the driver seemed now to be suppressing a laugh behind his dry,
speechless lips. She refrained from setting off at a run and
listened to the gardener, who was a very talkative fellow. He
begged Madame to excuse the disorder in which she found everything,
seeing that he had only received Madame's letter that very morning.
But despite all his efforts, she flew off at a tangent and walked so
quickly that Zoe could scarcely follow her. At the end of the
avenue she paused for a moment in order to take the house in at a
glance. It was a great pavilionlike building in the Italian manner,
and it was flanked by a smaller construction, which a rich
Englishman, after two years' residence in Naples, had caused to be
erected and had forthwith become disgusted with.
"I'll take Madame over the house," said the gardener.
But she had outrun him entirely, and she shouted back that he was
not to put himself out and that she would go over the house by
herself. She preferred doing that, she said. And without removing
her hat she dashed into the different rooms, calling to Zoe as she
did so, shouting her impressions from one end of each corridor to
the other and filling the empty house, which for long months had
been uninhabited, with exclamations and bursts of laughter. In the
first place, there was the hall. It was a little damp, but that
didn't matter; one wasn't going to sleep in it. Then came the
drawing room, quite the thing, the drawing room, with its windows
opening on the lawn. Only the red upholsteries there were hideous;
she would alter all that. As to the dining room-well, it was a
lovely dining room, eh? What big blowouts you might give in Paris
if you had a dining room as large as that! As she was going
upstairs to the first floor it occurred to her that she had not seen
the kitchen, and she went down again and indulged in ecstatic
exclamations. Zoe ought to admire the beautiful dimensions of the
sink and the width of the hearth, where you might have roasted a
sheep! When she had gone upstairs again her bedroom especially
enchanted her. It had been hung with delicate rose-colored Louis
XVI cretonne by an Orleans upholsterer. Dear me, yes! One ought to
sleep jolly sound in such a room as that; why, it was a real best
bedroom! Then came four or five guest chambers and then some
splendid garrets, which would be extremely convenient for trunks and
boxes. Zoe looked very gruff and cast a frigid glance into each of
the rooms as she lingered in Madame's wake. She saw Nana
disappearing up the steep garret ladder and said, "Thanks, I haven't
the least wish to break my legs." But the sound of a voice reached
her from far away; indeed, it seemed to come whistling down a
"Zoe, Zoe, where are you? Come up, do! You've no idea! It's like
Zoe went up, grumbling. On the roof she found her mistress leaning
against the brickwork balustrade and gazing at the valley which
spread out into the silence. The horizon was immeasurably wide, but
it was now covered by masses of gray vapor, and a fierce wind was
driving fine rain before it. Nana had to hold her hat on with both
hands to keep it from being blown away while her petticoats streamed
out behind her, flapping like a flag.
"Not if I know it!" said Zoe, drawing her head in at once. "Madame
will be blown away. What beastly weather!"
Madame did not hear what she said. With her head over the
balustrade she was gazing at the grounds beneath. They consisted of
seven or eight acres of land enclosed within a wall. Then the view
of the kitchen garden entirely engrossed her attention. She darted
back, jostling the lady's maid at the top of the stairs and bursting
"It's full of cabbages! Oh, such woppers! And lettuces and sorrel
and onions and everything! Come along, make haste!"
The rain was falling more heavily now, and she opened her white silk
sunshade and ran down the garden walks.
"Madame will catch cold," cried Zoe, who had stayed quietly behind
under the awning over the garden door.
But Madame wanted to see things, and at each new discovery there was
a burst of wonderment.
"Zoe, here's spinach! Do come. Oh, look at the artichokes! They
are funny. So they grow in the ground, do they? Now, what can that
be? I don't know it. Do come, Zoe, perhaps you know."
The lady's maid never budged an inch. Madame must really be raving
mad. For now the rain was coming down in torrents, and the little
white silk sunshade was already dark with it. Nor did it shelter
Madame, whose skirts were wringing wet. But that didn't put her out
in the smallest degree, and in the pouring rain she visited the
kitchen garden and the orchard, stopping in front of every fruit
tree and bending over every bed of vegetables. Then she ran and
looked down the well and lifted up a frame to see what was
underneath it and was lost in the contemplation of a huge pumpkin.
She wanted to go along every single garden walk and to take
immediate possession of all the things she had been wont to dream of
in the old days, when she was a slipshod work-girl on the Paris
pavements. The rain redoubled, but she never heeded it and was only
miserable at the thought that the daylight was fading. She could
not see clearly now and touched things with her fingers to find out
what they were. Suddenly in the twilight she caught sight of a bed
of strawberries, and all that was childish in her awoke.
"Strawberries! Strawberries! There are some here; I can feel them.
A plate, Zoe! Come and pick strawberries."
And dropping her sunshade, Nana crouched down in the mire under the
full force of the downpour. With drenched hands she began gathering
the fruit among the leaves. But Zoe in the meantime brought no
plate, and when the young woman rose to her feet again she was
frightened. She thought she had seen a shadow close to her.
"It's some beast!" she screamed.
But she stood rooted to the path in utter amazement. It was a man,
and she recognized him.
"Gracious me, it's Baby! What ARE you doing there, baby?"
"'Gad, I've come--that's all!" replied Georges.
Her head swam.
"You knew I'd come through the gardener telling you? Oh, that poor
child! Why, he's soaking!"
"Oh, I'll explain that to you! The rain caught me on my way here,
and then, as I didn't wish to go upstream as far as Gumieres, I
crossed the Choue and fell into a blessed hole."
Nana forgot the strawberries forthwith. She was trembling and full
of pity. That poor dear Zizi in a hole full of water! And she drew
him with her in the direction of the house and spoke of making up a
"You know," he murmured, stopping her among the shadows, "I was in
hiding because I was afraid of being scolded, like in Paris, when I
come and see you and you're not expecting me."
She made no reply but burst out laughing and gave him a kiss on the
forehead. Up till today she had always treated him like a naughty
urchin, never taking his declarations seriously and amusing herself
at his expense as though he were a little man of no consequence
whatever. There was much ado to install him in the house. She
absolutely insisted on the fire being lit in her bedroom, as being
the most comfortable place for his reception. Georges had not
surprised Zoe, who was used to all kinds of encounters, but the
gardener, who brought the wood upstairs, was greatly nonplused at
sight of this dripping gentleman to whom he was certain he had not
opened the front door. He was, however, dismissed, as he was no
A lamp lit up the room, and the fire burned with a great bright
"He'll never get dry, and he'll catch cold," said Nana, seeing
Georges beginning to shiver.
And there were no men's trousers in her house! She was on the point
of calling the gardener back when an idea struck her. Zoe, who was
unpacking the trunks in the dressing room, brought her mistress a
change of underwear, consisting of a shift and some petticoats with
a dressing jacket.
"Oh, that's first rate!" cried the young woman. "Zizi can put 'em
all on. You're not angry with me, eh? When your clothes are dry
you can put them on again, and then off with you, as fast as fast
can be, so as not to have a scolding from your mamma. Make haste!
I'm going to change my things, too, in the dressing room."
Ten minutes afterward, when she reappeared in a tea gown, she
clasped her hands in a perfect ecstasy.
"Oh, the darling! How sweet he looks dressed like a little woman!"
He had simply slipped on a long nightgown with an insertion front, a
pair of worked drawers and the dressing jacket, which was a long
cambric garment trimmed with lace. Thus attired and with his
delicate young arms showing and his bright damp hair falling almost
to his shoulders, he looked just like a girl.
"Why, he's as slim as I am!" said Nana, putting her arm round his
waist. "Zoe, just come here and see how it suits him. It's made
for him, eh? All except the bodice part, which is too large. He
hasn't got as much as I have, poor, dear Zizi!"
"Oh, to be sure, I'm a bit wanting there," murmured Georges with a
All three grew very merry about it. Nana had set to work buttoning
the dressing jacket from top to bottom so as to make him quite
decent. Then she turned him round as though he were a doll, gave
him little thumps, made the skirt stand well out behind. After
which she asked him questions. Was he comfortable? Did he feel
warm? Zounds, yes, he was comfortable! Nothing fitted more closely
and warmly than a woman's shift; had he been able, he would always
have worn one. He moved round and about therein, delighted with the
fine linen and the soft touch of that unmanly garment, in the folds
of which he thought he discovered some of Nana's own warm life.
Meanwhile Zoe had taken the soaked clothes down to the kitchen in
order to dry them as quickly as possible in front of a vine-branch
fire. Then Georges, as he lounged in an easy chair, ventured to
make a confession.
"I say, are you going to feed this evening? I'm dying of hunger. I
Nana was vexed. The great silly thing to go sloping off from
Mamma's with an empty stomach, just to chuck himself into a hole
full of water! But she was as hungry as a hunter too. They
certainly must feed! Only they would have to eat what they could
get. Whereupon a round table was rolled up in front of the fire,
and the queerest of dinners was improvised thereon. Zoe ran down to
the gardener's, he having cooked a mess of cabbage soup in case
Madame should not dine at Orleans before her arrival. Madame,
indeed, had forgotten to tell him what he was to get ready in the
letter she had sent him. Fortunately the cellar was well furnished.
Accordingly they had cabbage soup, followed by a piece of bacon.
Then Nana rummaged in her handbag and found quite a heap of
provisions which she had taken the precaution of stuffing into it.
There was a Strasbourg pate, for instance, and a bag of sweet-meats
and some oranges. So they both ate away like ogres and, while they
satisfied their healthy young appetites, treated one another with
easy good fellowship. Nana kept calling Georges "dear old girl," a
form of address which struck her as at once tender and familiar. At
dessert, in order not to give Zoe any more trouble, they used the
same spoon turn and turn about while demolishing a pot of preserves
they had discovered at the top of a cupboard.
"Oh, you dear old girl!" said Nana, pushing back the round table.
"I haven't made such a good dinner these ten years past!"
Yet it was growing late, and she wanted to send her boy off for fear
he should be suspected of all sorts of things. But he kept
declaring that he had plenty of time to spare. For the matter of
that, his clothes were not drying well, and Zoe averred that it
would take an hour longer at least, and as she was dropping with
sleep after the fatigues of the journey, they sent her off to bed.
After which they were alone in the silent house.
It was a very charming evening. The fire was dying out amid glowing
embers, and in the great blue room, where Zoe had made up the bed
before going upstairs, the air felt a little oppressive. Nana,
overcome by the heavy warmth, got up to open the window for a few
minutes, and as she did so she uttered a little cry.
"Great heavens, how beautiful it is! Look, dear old girl!"
Georges had come up, and as though the window bar had not been
sufficiently wide, he put his arm round Nana's waist and rested his
head against her shoulder. The weather had undergone a brisk
change: the skies were clearing, and a full moon lit up the country
with its golden disk of light. A sovereign quiet reigned over the
valley. It seemed wider and larger as it opened on the immense
distances of the plain, where the trees loomed like little shadowy
islands amid a shining and waveless lake. And Nana grew
tenderhearted, felt herself a child again. Most surely she had
dreamed of nights like this at an epoch which she could not recall.
Since leaving the train every object of sensation--the wide
countryside, the green things with their pungent scents, the house,
the vegetables--had stirred her to such a degree that now it seemed
to her as if she had left Paris twenty years ago. Yesterday's
existence was far, far away, and she was full of sensations of which
she had no previous experience. Georges, meanwhile, was giving her
neck little coaxing kisses, and this again added to her sweet
unrest. With hesitating hand she pushed him from her, as though he
were a child whose affectionate advances were fatiguing, and once
more she told him that he ought to take his departure. He did not
gainsay her. All in good time--he would go all in good time!
But a bird raised its song and again was silent. It was a robin in
an elder tree below the window.
"Wait one moment," whispered Georges; "the lamp's frightening him.
I'll put it out."
And when he came back and took her waist again he added:
"We'll relight it in a minute."
Then as she listened to the robin and the boy pressed against her
side, Nana remembered. Ah yes, it was in novels that she had got to
know all this! In other days she would have given her heart to have
a full moon and robins and a lad dying of love for her. Great God,
she could have cried, so good and charming did it all seem to her!
Beyond a doubt she had been born to live honestly! So she pushed
Georges away again, and he grew yet bolder.
"No, let me be. I don't care about it. It would be very wicked at
your age. Now listen--I'll always be your mamma."
A sudden feeling of shame overcame her. She was blushing
exceedingly, and yet not a soul could see her. The room behind them
was full of black night while the country stretched before them in
silence and lifeless solitude. Never had she known such a sense of
shame before. Little by little she felt her power of resistance
ebbing away, and that despite her embarrassed efforts to the
contrary. That disguise of his, that woman's shift and that
dressing jacket set her laughing again. It was as though a girl
friend were teasing her.
"Oh, it's not right; it's not right!" she stammered after a last
And with that, in face of the lovely night, she sank like a young
virgin into the arms of this mere child. The house slept.
Next morning at Les Fondettes, when the bell rang for lunch, the
dining-room table was no longer too big for the company. Fauchery
and Daguenet had been driven up together in one carriage, and after
them another had arrived with the Count de Vandeuvres, who had
followed by the next train. Georges was the last to come
downstairs. He was looking a little pale, and his eyes were sunken,
but in answer to questions he said that he was much better, though
he was still somewhat shaken by the violence of the attack. Mme
Hugon looked into his eyes with an anxious smile and adjusted his
hair which had been carelessly combed that morning, but he drew back
as though embarrassed by this tender little action. During the meal
she chaffed Vandeuvres very pleasantly and declared that she had
expected him for five years past.
"Well, here you are at last! How have you managed it?"
Vandeuvres took her remarks with equal pleasantry. He told her that
he had lost a fabulous sum of money at the club yesterday and
thereupon had come away with the intention of ending up in the
"'Pon my word, yes, if only you can find me an heiress in these
rustic parts! There must be delightful women hereabouts."
The old lady rendered equal thanks to Daguenet and Fauchery for
having been so good as to accept her son's invitation, and then to
her great and joyful surprise she saw the Marquis de Chouard enter
the room. A third carriage had brought him.
"Dear me, you've made this your trysting place today!" she cried.
"You've passed word round! But what's happening? For years I've
never succeeded in bringing you all together, and now you all drop
in at once. Oh, I certainly don't complain."
Another place was laid. Fauchery found himself next the Countess
Sabine, whose liveliness and gaiety surprised him when he remembered
her drooping, languid state in the austere Rue Miromesnil drawing
room. Daguenet, on the other hand, who was seated on Estelle's
left, seemed slightly put out by his propinquity to that tall,
silent girl. The angularity of her elbows was disagreeable to him.
Muffat and Chouard had exchanged a sly glance while Vandeuvres
continued joking about his coming marriage.
"Talking of ladies," Mme Hugon ended by saying, "I have a new
neighbor whom you probably know."
And she mentioned Nana. Vandeuvres affected the liveliest
"Well, that is strange! Nana's property near here!"
Fauchery and Daguenet indulged in a similar demonstration while the
Marquis de Chouard discussed the breast of a chicken without
appearing to comprehend their meaning. Not one of the men had
"Certainly," continued the old lady, "and the person in question
arrived at La Mignotte yesterday evening, as I was saying she would.
I got my information from the gardener this morning."
At these words the gentlemen could not conceal their very real
surprise. They all looked up. Eh? What? Nana had come down! But
they were only expecting her next day; they were privately under the
impression that they would arrive before her! Georges alone sat
looking at his glass with drooped eyelids and a tired expression.
Ever since the beginning of lunch he had seemed to be sleeping with
open eyes and a vague smile on his lips.
"Are you still in pain, my Zizi?" asked his mother, who had been
gazing at him throughout the meal.
He started and blushed as he said that he was very well now, but the
worn-out insatiate expression of a girl who has danced too much did
not fade from his face.
"What's the matter with your neck?" resumed Mme Hugon in an alarmed
tone. "It's all red."
He was embarrassed and stammered. He did not know--he had nothing
the matter with his neck. Then drawing his shirt collar up:
"Ah yes, some insect stung me there!"
The Marquis de Chouard had cast a sidelong glance at the little red
place. Muffat, too, looked at Georges. The company was finishing
lunch and planning various excursions. Fauchery was growing
increasingly excited with the Countess Sabine's laughter. As he was
passing her a dish of fruit their hands touched, and for one second
she looked at him with eyes so full of dark meaning that he once
more thought of the secret which had been communicated to him one
evening after an uproarious dinner. Then, too, she was no longer
the same woman. Something was more pronounced than of old, and her
gray foulard gown which fitted loosely over her shoulders added a
touch of license to her delicate, high-strung elegance.
When they rose from the table Daguenet remained behind with Fauchery
in order to impart to him the following crude witticism about
Estelle: "A nice broomstick that to shove into a man's hands!"
Nevertheless, he grew serious when the journalist told him the
amount she was worth in the way of dowry.
"Four hundred thousand francs."
"And the mother?" queried Fauchery. "She's all right, eh?"
"Oh, SHE'LL work the oracle! But it's no go, my dear man!"
"Bah! How are we to know? We must wait and see."
It was impossible to go out that day, for the rain was still falling
in heavy showers. Georges had made haste to disappear from the
scene and had double-locked his door. These gentlemen avoided
mutual explanations, though they were none of them deceived as to
the reasons which had brought them together. Vandeuvres, who had
had a very bad time at play, had really conceived the notion of
lying fallow for a season, and he was counting on Nana's presence in
the neighborhood as a safeguard against excessive boredom. Fauchery
had taken advantage of the holidays granted him by Rose, who just
then was extremely busy. He was thinking of discussing a second
notice with Nana, in case country air should render them
reciprocally affectionate. Daguenet, who had been just a little
sulky with her since Steiner had come upon the scene, was dreaming
of resuming the old connection or at least of snatching some
delightful opportunities if occasion offered. As to the Marquis de
Chouard, he was watching for times and seasons. But among all those
men who were busy following in the tracks of Venus--a Venus with the
rouge scarce washed from her cheeks--Muffat was at once the most
ardent and the most tortured by the novel sensations of desire and
fear and anger warring in his anguished members. A formal promise
had been made him; Nana was awaiting him. Why then had she taken
her departure two days sooner than was expected?
He resolved to betake himself to La Mignotte after dinner that same
evening. At night as the count was leaving the park Georges fled
forth after him. He left him to follow the road to Gumieres,
crossed the Choue, rushed into Nana's presence, breathless, furious
and with tears in his eyes. Ah yes, he understood everything! That
old fellow now on his way to her was coming to keep an appointment!
Nana was dumfounded by this ebullition of jealousy, and, greatly
moved by the way things were turning out, she took him in her arms
and comforted him to the best of her ability. Oh no, he was quite
beside the mark; she was expecting no one. If the gentleman came it
would not be her fault. What a great ninny that Zizi was to be
taking on so about nothing at all! By her child's soul she swore
she loved nobody except her own Georges. And with that she kissed
him and wiped away his tears.
"Now just listen! You'll see that it's all for your sake," she went
on when he had grown somewhat calmer. "Steiner has arrived--he's up
above there now. You know, duckie, I can't turn HIM out of doors."
"Yes, I know; I'm not talking of HIM," whispered the boy.
"Very well then, I've stuck him into the room at the end. I said I
was out of sorts. He's unpacking his trunk. Since nobody's seen
you, be quick and run up and hide in my room and wait for me.
Georges sprang at her and threw his arms round her neck. It was
true after all! She loved him a little! So they would put the lamp
out as they did yesterday and be in the dark till daytime! Then as
the front-door bell sounded he quietly slipped away. Upstairs in
the bedroom he at once took off his shoes so as not to make any
noise and straightway crouched down behind a curtain and waited
Nana welcomed Count Muffat, who, though still shaken with passion,
was now somewhat embarrassed. She had pledged her word to him and
would even have liked to keep it since he struck her as a serious,
practicable lover. But truly, who could have foreseen all that
happened yesterday? There was the voyage and the house she had
never set eyes on before and the arrival of the drenched little
lover! How sweet it had all seemed to her, and how delightful it
would be to continue in it! So much the worse for the gentleman!
For three months past she had been keeping him dangling after her
while she affected conventionality in order the further to inflame
him. Well, well! He would have to continue dangling, and if he
didn't like that he could go! She would sooner have thrown up
everything than have played false to Georges.
The count had seated himself with all the ceremonious politeness
becoming a country caller. Only his hands were trembling slightly.
Lust, which Nana's skillful tactics daily exasperated, had at last
wrought terrible havoc in that sanguine, uncontaminated nature. The
grave man, the chamberlain who was wont to tread the state
apartments at the Tuileries with slow and dignified step, was now
nightly driven to plunge his teeth into his bolster, while with sobs
of exasperation he pictured to himself a sensual shape which never
changed. But this time he was determined to make an end of the
torture. Coming along the highroad in the deep quiet of the
gloaming, he had meditated a fierce course of action. And the
moment he had finished his opening remarks he tried to take hold of
Nana with both hands.
"No, no! Take care!" she said simply. She was not vexed; nay, she
He caught her again, clenching his teeth as he did so. Then as she
struggled to get free he coarsely and crudely reminded her that he
had come to stay the night. Though much embarrassed at this, Nana
did not cease to smile. She took his hands and spoke very
familiarly in order to soften her refusal.
"Come now, darling, do be quiet! Honor bright, I can't: Steiner's
But he was beside himself. Never yet had she seen a man in such a
state. She grew frightened and put her hand over his mouth in order
to stifle his cries. Then in lowered tones she besought him to be
quiet and to let her alone. Steiner was coming downstairs. Things
were getting stupid, to be sure! When Steiner entered the room he
heard Nana remarking:
"I adore the country."
She was lounging comfortably back in her deep easy chair, and she
turned round and interrupted herself.
"It's Monsieur le Comte Muffat, darling. He saw a light here while
he was strolling past, and he came in to bid us welcome."
The two men clasped hands. Muffat, with his face in shadow, stood
silent for a moment or two. Steiner seemed sulky. Then they
chatted about Paris: business there was at a standstill; abominable
things had been happening on 'change. When a quarter of an hour had
elapsed Muffat took his departure, and, as the young woman was
seeing him to the door, he tried without success to make an
assignation for the following night. Steiner went up to bed almost
directly afterward, grumbling, as he did so, at the everlasting
little ailments that seemed to afflict the genus courtesan. The two
old boys had been packed off at last! When she was able to rejoin
him Nana found Georges still hiding exemplarily behind the curtain.
The room was dark. He pulled her down onto the floor as she sat
near him, and together they began playfully rolling on the ground,
stopping now and again and smothering their laughter with kisses
whenever they struck their bare feet against some piece of
furniture. Far away, on the road to Gumieres, Count Muffat walked
slowly home and, hat in hand, bathed his burning forehead in the
freshness and silence of the night.
During the days that followed Nana found life adorable. In the
lad's arms she was once more a girl of fifteen, and under the
caressing influence of this renewed childhood love's white flower
once more blossomed forth in a nature which had grown hackneyed and
disgusted in the service of the other sex. She would experience
sudden fits of shame, sudden vivid emotions, which left her
trembling. She wanted to laugh and to cry, and she was beset by
nervous, maidenly feelings, mingled with warm desires that made her
blush again. Never yet had she felt anything comparable to this.
The country filled her with tender thoughts. As a little girl she
had long wished to dwell in a meadow, tending a goat, because one
day on the talus of the fortifications she had seen a goat bleating
at the end of its tether. Now this estate, this stretch of land
belonging to her, simply swelled her heart to bursting, so utterly
had her old ambition been surpassed. Once again she tasted the
novel sensations experienced by chits of girls, and at night when
she went upstairs, dizzy with her day in the open air and
intoxicated by the scent of green leaves, and rejoined her Zizi
behind the curtain, she fancied herself a schoolgirl enjoying a
holiday escapade. It was an amour, she thought, with a young cousin
to whom she was going to be married. And so she trembled at the
slightest noise and dread lest parents should hear her, while making
the delicious experiments and suffering the voluptuous terrors
attendant on a girl's first slip from the path of virtue.
Nana in those days was subject to the fancies a sentimental girl
will indulge in. She would gaze at the moon for hours. One night
she had a mind to go down into the garden with Georges when all the
household was asleep. When there they strolled under the trees,
their arms round each other's waists, and finally went and laid down
in the grass, where the dew soaked them through and through. On
another occasion, after a long silence up in the bedroom, she fell
sobbing on the lad's neck, declaring in broken accents that she was
afraid of dying. She would often croon a favorite ballad of Mme
Lerat's, which was full of flowers and birds. The song would melt
her to tears, and she would break off in order to clasp Georges in a
passionate embrace and to extract from him vows of undying
affection. In short she was extremely silly, as she herself would
admit when they both became jolly good fellows again and sat up
smoking cigarettes on the edge of the bed, dangling their bare legs
over it the while and tapping their heels against its wooden side.
But what utterly melted the young woman's heart was Louiset's
arrival. She had an access of maternal affection which was as
violent as a mad fit. She would carry off her boy into the sunshine
outside to watch him kicking about; she would dress him like a
little prince and roll with him in the grass. The moment he arrived
she decided that he was to sleep near her, in the room next hers,
where Mme Lerat, whom the country greatly affected, used to begin
snoring the moment her head touched the pillow. Louiset did not
hurt Zizi's position in the least. On the contrary, Nana said that
she had now two children, and she treated them with the same wayward
tenderness. At night, more than ten times running, she would leave
Zizi to go and see if Louiset were breathing properly, but on her
return she would re-embrace her Zizi and lavish on him the caresses
that had been destined for the child. She played at being Mamma
while he wickedly enjoyed being dandled in the arms of the great
wench and allowed himself to be rocked to and fro like a baby that
is being sent to sleep. It was all so delightful, and Nana was so
charmed with her present existence, that she seriously proposed to
him never to leave the country. They would send all the other
people away, and he, she and the child would live alone. And with
that they would make a thousand plans till daybreak and never once
hear Mme Lerat as she snored vigorously after the fatigues of a day
spent in picking country flowers.
This charming existence lasted nearly a week. Count Muffat used to
come every evening and go away again with disordered face and
burning hands. One evening he was not even received, as Steiner had
been obliged to run up to Paris. He was told that Madame was not
well. Nana grew daily more disgusted at the notion of deceiving
Georges. He was such an innocent lad, and he had such faith in her!
She would have looked on herself as the lowest of the low had she
played him false. Besides, it would have sickened her to do so!
Zoe, who took her part in this affair in mute disdain, believed that
Madame was growing senseless.
On the sixth day a band of visitors suddenly blundered into Nana's
idyl. She had, indeed, invited a whole swarm of people under the
belief that none of them would come. And so one fine afternoon she
was vastly astonished and annoyed to see an omnibus full of people
pulling up outside the gate of La Mignotte.
"It's us!" cried Mignon, getting down first from the conveyance and
extracting then his sons Henri and Charles.
Labordette thereupon appeared and began handing out an interminable
file of ladies--Lucy Stewart, Caroline Hequet, Tatan Nene, Maria
Blond. Nana was in hopes that they would end there, when La Faloise
sprang from the step in order to receive Gaga and her daughter
Amelie in his trembling arms. That brought the number up to eleven
people. Their installation proved a laborious undertaking. There
were five spare rooms at La Mignotte, one of which was already
occupied by Mme Lerat and Louiset. The largest was devoted to the
Gaga and La Faloise establishment, and it was decided that Amelie
should sleep on a truckle bed in the dressing room at the side.
Mignon and his two sons had the third room. Labordette the fourth.
There thus remained one room which was transformed into a dormitory
with four beds in it for Lucy, Caroline, Tatan and Maria. As to
Steiner, he would sleep on the divan in the drawing room. At the
end of an hour, when everyone was duly settled, Nana, who had begun
by being furious, grew enchanted at the thought of playing hostess
on a grand scale. The ladies complimented her on La Mignotte.
"It's a stunning property, my dear!" And then, too, they brought
her quite a whiff of Parisian air, and talking all together with
bursts of laughter and exclamation and emphatic little gestures,
they gave her all the petty gossip of the week just past. By the
by, and how about Bordenave? What had he said about her prank? Oh,
nothing much! After bawling about having her brought back by the
police, he had simply put somebody else in her place at night.
Little Violaine was the understudy, and she had even obtained a very
pretty success as the Blonde Venus. Which piece of news made Nana
It was only four o'clock in the afternoon, and there was some talk
of taking a stroll around.
"Oh, I haven't told you," said Nana, "I was just off to get up
potatoes when you arrived."
Thereupon they all wanted to go and dig potatoes without even
changing their dresses first. It was quite a party. The gardener
and two helpers were already in the potato field at the end of the
grounds. The ladies knelt down and began fumbling in the mold with
their beringed fingers, shouting gaily whenever they discovered a
potato of exceptional size. It struck them as so amusing! But
Tatan Nene was in a state of triumph! So many were the potatoes she
had gathered in her youth that she forgot herself entirely and gave
the others much good advice, treating them like geese the while.
The gentlemen toiled less strenuously. Mignon looked every inch the
good citizen and father and made his stay in the country an occasion
for completing his boys' education. Indeed, he spoke to them of
Dinner that evening was wildly hilarious. The company ate
ravenously. Nana, in a state of great elevation, had a warm
disagreement with her butler, an individual who had been in service
at the bishop's palace in Orleans. The ladies smoked over their
coffee. An earsplitting noise of merrymaking issued from the open
windows and died out far away under the serene evening sky while
peasants, belated in the lanes, turned and looked at the flaring
"It's most tiresome that you're going back the day after tomorrow,"
said Nana. "But never mind, we'll get up an excursion all the
They decided to go on the morrow, Sunday, and visit the ruins of the
old Abbey of Chamont, which were some seven kilometers distant.
Five carriages would come out from Orleans, take up the company
after lunch and bring them back to dinner at La Mignotte at about
seven. It would be delightful.
That evening, as his wont was, Count Muffat mounted the hill to ring
at the outer gate. But the brightly lit windows and the shouts of
laughter astonished him. When, however, he recognized Mignon's
voice, he understood it all and went off, raging at this new
obstacle, driven to extremities, bent on some violent act. Georges
passed through a little door of which he had the key, slipped along
the staircase walls and went quietly up into Nana's room. Only he
had to wait for her till past midnight. She appeared at last in a
high state of intoxication and more maternal even than on the
previous nights. Whenever she had drunk anything she became so
amorous as to be absurd. Accordingly she now insisted on his
accompanying her to the Abbey of Chamont. But he stood out against
this; he was afraid of being seen. If he were to be seen driving
with her there would be an atrocious scandal. But she burst into
tears and evinced the noisy despair of a slighted woman. And he
thereupon consoled her and formally promised to be one of the party.
"So you do love me very much," she blurted out. "Say you love me
very much. Oh, my darling old bear, if I were to die would you feel
it very much? Confess!"
At Les Fondettes the near neighborhood of Nana had utterly
disorganized the party. Every morning during lunch good Mme Hugon
returned to the subject despite herself, told her guests the news
the gardener had brought her and gave evidence of the absorbing
curiosity with which notorious courtesans are able to inspire even
the worthiest old ladies. Tolerant though she was, she was revolted
and maddened by a vague presentiment of coming ill, which frightened
her in the evenings as thoroughly as if a wild beast had escaped
from a menagerie and were known to be lurking in the countryside.
She began trying to pick a little quarrel with her guests, whom she
each and all accused of prowling round La Mignotte. Count
Vandeuvres had been seen laughing on the highroad with a golden-
haired lady, but he defended himself against the accusation; he
denied that it was Nana, the fact being that Lucy had been with him
and had told him how she had just turned her third prince out of
doors. The Marquis de Chouard used also to go out every day, but
his excuse was doctor's orders. Toward Daguenet and Fauchery Mme
Hugon behaved unjustly too. The former especially never left Les
Fondettes, for he had given up the idea of renewing the old
connection and was busy paying the most respectful attentions to
Estelle. Fauchery also stayed with the Muffat ladies. On one
occasion only he had met Mignon with an armful of flowers, putting
his sons through a course of botanical instruction in a by-path.
The two men had shaken hands and given each other the news about
Rose. She was perfectly well and happy; they had both received a
letter from her that morning in which she besought them to profit by
the fresh country air for some days longer. Among all her guests
the old lady spared only Count Muffat and Georges. The count, who
said he had serious business in Orleans, could certainly not be
running after the bad woman, and as to Georges, the poor child was
at last causing her grave anxiety, seeing that every evening he was
seized with atrocious sick headaches which kept him to his bed in
Meanwhile Fauchery had become the Countess Sabine's faithful
attendant in the absence during each afternoon of Count Muffat.
Whenever they went to the end of the park he carried her campstool
and her sunshade. Besides, he amused her with the original
witticisms peculiar to a second-rate journalist, and in so doing he
prompted her to one of those sudden intimacies which are allowable
in the country. She had apparently consented to it from the first,
for she had grown quite a girl again in the society of a young man
whose noisy humor seemed unlikely to compromize her. But now and
again, when for a second or two they found themselves alone behind
the shrubs, their eyes would meet; they would pause amid their
laughter, grow suddenly serious and view one another darkly, as
though they had fathomed and divined their inmost hearts.
On Friday a fresh place had to be laid at lunch time. M. Theophile
Venot, whom Mme Hugon remembered to have invited at the Muffats'
last winter, had just arrived. He sat stooping humbly forward and
behaved with much good nature, as became a man of no account, nor
did he seem to notice the anxious deference with which he was
treated. When he had succeeded in getting the company to forget his
presence he sat nibbling small lumps of sugar during dessert,
looking sharply up at Daguenet as the latter handed Estelle
strawberries and listening to Fauchery, who was making the countess
very merry over one of his anecdotes. Whenever anyone looked at HIM
he smiled in his quiet way. When the guests rose from table he took
the count's arm and drew him into the park. He was known to have
exercised great influence over the latter ever since the death of
his mother. Indeed, singular stories were told about the kind of
dominion which the ex-lawyer enjoyed in that household. Fauchery,
whom his arrival doubtless embarrassed, began explaining to Georges
and Daguenet the origin of the man's wealth. It was a big lawsuit
with the management of which the Jesuits had entrusted him in days
gone by. In his opinion the worthy man was a terrible fellow
despite his gentle, plump face and at this time of day had his
finger in all the intrigues of the priesthood. The two young men
had begun joking at this, for they thought the little old gentleman
had an idiotic expression. The idea of an unknown Venot, a gigantic
Venot, acting for the whole body of the clergy, struck them in the
light of a comical invention. But they were silenced when, still
leaning on the old man's arm, Count Muffat reappeared with blanched
cheeks and eyes reddened as if by recent weeping.
I bet they've been chatting about hell," muttered Fauchery in a
The Countess Sabine overheard the remark. She turned her head
slowly, and their eyes met in that long gaze with which they were
accustomed to sound one another prudently before venturing once for
After the breakfast it was the guests' custom to betake themselves
to a little flower garden on a terrace overlooking the plain. This
Sunday afternoon was exquisitely mild. There had been signs of rain
toward ten in the morning, but the sky, without ceasing to be
covered, had, as it were, melted into milky fog, which now hung like
a cloud of luminous dust in the golden sunlight. Soon Mme Hugon
proposed that they should step down through a little doorway below
the terrace and take a walk on foot in the direction of Gumieres and
as far as the Choue. She was fond of walking and, considering her
threescore years, was very active. Besides, all her guests declared
that there was no need to drive. So in a somewhat straggling order
they reached the wooden bridge over the river. Fauchery and
Daguenet headed the column with the Muffat ladies and were followed
by the count and the marquis, walking on either side of Mme Hugon,
while Vandeuvres, looking fashionable and out of his element on the
highroad, marched in the rear, smoking a cigar. M. Venot, now
slackening, now hastening his pace, passed smilingly from group to
group, as though bent on losing no scrap of conversation.
"To think of poor dear Georges at Orleans!" said Mme Hugon. "He was
anxious to consult old Doctor Tavernier, who never goes out now, on
the subject of his sick headaches. Yes, you were not up, as he went
off before seven o'clock. But it'll be a change for him all the
She broke off, exclaiming:
"Why, what's making them stop on the bridge?"
The fact was the ladies and Fauchery and Daguenet were standing
stock-still on the crown of the bridge. They seemed to be
hesitating as though some obstacle or other rendered them uneasy and
yet the way lay clear before them.
"Go on!" cried the count.
They never moved and seemed to be watching the approach of something
which the rest had not yet observed. Indeed the road wound
considerably and was bordered by a thick screen of poplar trees.
Nevertheless, a dull sound began to grow momentarily louder, and
soon there was a noise of wheels, mingled with shouts of laughter
and the cracking of whips. Then suddenly five carriages came into
view, driving one behind the other. They were crowded to bursting,
and bright with a galaxy of white, blue and pink costumes.
"What is it?" said Mme Hugon in some surprise.
Then her instinct told her, and she felt indignant at such an
untoward invasion of her road.
"Oh, that woman!" she murmured. "Walk on, pray walk on. Don't
appear to notice."
But it was too late. The five carriages which were taking Nana and
her circle to the ruins of Chamont rolled on to the narrow wooden
bridge. Fauchery, Daguenet and the Muffat ladies were forced to
step backward, while Mme Hugon and the others had also to stop in
Indian file along the roadside. It was a superb ride past! The
laughter in the carriages had ceased, and faces were turned with an
expression of curiosity. The rival parties took stock of each other
amid a silence broken only by the measured trot of the horses. In
the first carriage Maria Blond and Tatan Nene were lolling backward
like a pair of duchesses, their skirts swelling forth over the
wheels, and as they passed they cast disdainful glances at the
honest women who were walking afoot. Then came Gaga, filling up a
whole seat and half smothering La Faloise beside her so that little
but his small anxious face was visible. Next followed Caroline
Hequet with Labordette, Lucy Stewart with Mignon and his boys and at
the close of all Nana in a victoria with Steiner and on a bracket
seat in front of her that poor, darling Zizi, with his knees jammed
against her own.
"It's the last of them, isn't it?" the countess placidly asked
Fauchery, pretending at the same time not to recognize Nana.
The wheel of the victoria came near grazing her, but she did not
step back. The two women had exchanged a deeply significant glance.
It was, in fact, one of those momentary scrutinies which are at once
complete and definite. As to the men, they behaved unexceptionably.
Fauchery and Daguenet looked icy and recognized no one. The
marquis, more nervous than they and afraid of some farcical
ebullition on the part of the ladies, had plucked a blade of grass
and was rolling it between his fingers. Only Vandeuvres, who had
stayed somewhat apart from the rest of the company, winked
imperceptibly at Lucy, who smiled at him as she passed.
"Be careful!" M. Venot had whispered as he stood behind Count
The latter in extreme agitation gazed after this illusive vision of
Nana while his wife turned slowly round and scrutinized him. Then
he cast his eyes on the ground as though to escape the sound of
galloping hoofs which were sweeping away both his senses and his
heart. He could have cried aloud in his agony, for, seeing Georges
among Nana's skirts, he understood it all now. A mere child! He
was brokenhearted at the thought that she should have preferred a
mere child to him! Steiner was his equal, but that child!
Mme Hugon, in the meantime, had not at once recognized Georges.
Crossing the bridge, he was fain to jump into the river, but Nana's
knees restrained him. Then white as a sheet and icy cold, he sat
rigidly up in his place and looked at no one. It was just possible
no one would notice him.
"Oh, my God!" said the old lady suddenly. "Georges is with her!"
The carriages had passed quite through the uncomfortable crowd of
people who recognized and yet gave no sign of recognition. The
short critical encounter seemed to have been going on for ages. And
now the wheels whirled away the carriageloads of girls more gaily
than ever. Toward the fair open country they went, amid the
buffetings of the fresh air of heaven. Bright-colored fabrics
fluttered in the wind, and the merry laughter burst forth anew as
the voyagers began jesting and glancing back at the respectable
folks halting with looks of annoyance at the roadside. Turning
round, Nana could see the walking party hesitating and then
returning the way they had come without crossing the bridge. Mme
Hugon was leaning silently on Count Muffat's arm, and so sad was her
look that no one dared comfort her.
"I say, did you see Fauchery, dear?" Nana shouted to Lucy, who was
leaning out of the carriage in front. "What a brute he was! He
shall pay out for that. And Paul, too, a fellow I've been so kind
to! Not a sign! They're polite, I'm sure."
And with that she gave Steiner a terrible dressing, he having
ventured to suggest that the gentlemen's attitude had been quite as
it should be. So then they weren't even worth a bow? The first
blackguard that came by might insult them? Thanks! He was the
right sort, too, he was! It couldn't be better! One ought always
to bow to a woman.
"Who's the tall one?" asked Lucy at random, shouting through the
noise of the wheels.
"It's the Countess Muffat," answered Steiner.
"There now! I suspected as much," said Nana. "Now, my dear fellow,
it's all very well her being a countess, for she's no better than
she should be. Yes, yes, she's no better that she should be. You
know, I've got an eye for such things, I have! And now I know your
countess as well as if I had been at the making of her! I'll bet
you that she's the mistress of that viper Fauchery! I tell you,
she's his mistress! Between women you guess that sort of thing at
Steiner shrugged his shoulders. Since the previous day his
irritation had been hourly increasing. He had received letters
which necessitated his leaving the following morning, added to which
he did not much appreciate coming down to the country in order to
sleep on the drawing-room divan.
"And this poor baby boy!" Nana continued, melting suddenly at sight
of Georges's pale face as he still sat rigid and breathless in front
"D'you think Mamma recognized me?" he stammered at last.
"Oh, most surely she did! Why, she cried out! But it's my fault.
He didn't want to come with us; I forced him to. Now listen, Zizi,
would you like me to write to your mamma? She looks such a kind,
decent sort of lady! I'll tell her that I never saw you before and
that it was Steiner who brought you with him for the first time
"No, no, don't write," said Georges in great anxiety. "I'll explain
it all myself. Besides, if they bother me about it I shan't go home
But he continued plunged in thought, racking his brains for excuses
against his return home in the evening. The five carriages were
rolling through a flat country along an interminable straight road
bordered by fine trees. The country was bathed in a silvery-gray
atmosphere. The ladies still continued shouting remarks from
carriage to carriage behind the backs of the drivers, who chuckled
over their extraordinary fares. Occasionally one of them would rise
to her feet to look at the landscape and, supporting herself on her
neighbor's shoulder, would grow extremely excited till a sudden jolt
brought her down to the seat again. Caroline Hequet in the meantime
was having a warm discussion with Labordette. Both of them were
agreed that Nana would be selling her country house before three
months were out, and Caroline was urging Labordette to buy it back
for her for as little as it was likely to fetch. In front of them
La Faloise, who was very amorous and could not get at Gaga's
apoplectic neck, was imprinting kisses on her spine through her
dress, the strained fabric of which was nigh splitting, while
Amelie, perching stiffly on the bracket seat, was bidding them be
quiet, for she was horrified to be sitting idly by, watching her
mother being kissed. In the next carriage Mignon, in order to
astonish Lucy, was making his sons recite a fable by La Fontaine.
Henri was prodigious at this exercise; he could spout you one
without pause or hesitation. But Maria Blond, at the head of the
procession, was beginning to feel extremely bored. She was tired of
hoaxing that blockhead of a Tatan Nene with a story to the effect
that the Parisian dairywomen were wont to fabricate eggs with a
mixture of paste and saffron. The distance was too great: were they
never going to get to their destination? And the question was
transmitted from carriage to carriage and finally reached Nana, who,
after questioning her driver, got up and shouted:
"We've not got a quarter of an hour more to go. You see that church
behind the trees down there?"
Then she continued:
"Do you know, it appears the owner of the Chateau de Chamont is an
old lady of Napoleon's time? Oh, SHE was a merry one! At least, so
Joseph told me, and he heard it from the servants at the bishop's
palace. There's no one like it nowadays, and for the matter of
that, she's become goody-goody."
"What's her name?" asked Lucy.
"Irma d'Anglars--I knew her!" cried Gaga.
Admiring exclamations burst from the line of carriages and were
borne down the wind as the horses quickened their trot. Heads were
stretched out in Gaga's direction; Maria Blond and Tatan Nene turned
round and knelt on the seat while they leaned over the carriage
hood, and the air was full of questions and cutting remarks,
tempered by a certain obscure admiration. Gaga had known her! The
idea filled them all with respect for that far-off past.
"Dear me, I was young then," continued Gaga. "But never mind, I
remember it all. I saw her pass. They said she was disgusting in
her own house, but, driving in her carriage, she WAS just smart!
And the stunning tales about her! Dirty doings and money flung
about like one o'clock! I don't wonder at all that she's got a fine
place. Why, she used to clean out a man's pockets as soon as look
at him. Irma d'Anglars still in the land of the living! Why, my
little pets, she must be near ninety."
At this the ladies became suddenly serious. Ninety years old! The
deuce, there wasn't one of them, as Lucy loudly declared, who would
live to that age. They were all done for. Besides, Nana said she
didn't want to make old bones; it wouldn't be amusing. They were
drawing near their destination, and the conversation was interrupted
by the cracking of whips as the drivers put their horses to their
best paces. Yet amid all the noise Lucy continued talking and,
suddenly changing the subject, urged Nana to come to town with them
all to-morrow. The exhibition was soon to close, and the ladies
must really return to Paris, where the season was surpassing their
expectations. But Nana was obstinate. She loathed Paris; she
wouldn't set foot there yet!
"Eh, darling, we'll stay?" she said, giving Georges's knees a
squeeze, as though Steiner were of no account.
The carriages had pulled up abruptly, and in some surprise the
company got out on some waste ground at the bottom of a small hill.
With his whip one of the drivers had to point them out the ruins of
the old Abbey of Chamont where they lay hidden among trees. It was
a great sell! The ladies voted them silly. Why, they were only a
heap of old stones with briers growing over them and part of a
tumble-down tower. It really wasn't worth coming a couple of
leagues to see that! Then the driver pointed out to them the
countryseat, the park of which stretched away from the abbey, and he
advised them to take a little path and follow the walls surrounding
it. They would thus make the tour of the place while the carriages
would go and await them in the village square. It was a delightful
walk, and the company agreed to the proposition.
"Lord love me, Irma knows how to take care of herself!" said Gaga,
halting before a gate at the corner of the park wall abutting on the
All of them stood silently gazing at the enormous bush which stopped
up the gateway. Then following the little path, they skirted the
park wall, looking up from time to time to admire the trees, whose
lofty branches stretched out over them and formed a dense vault of
greenery. After three minutes or so they found themselves in front
of a second gate. Through this a wide lawn was visible, over which
two venerable oaks cast dark masses of shadow. Three minutes
farther on yet another gate afforded them an extensive view of a
great avenue, a perfect corridor of shadow, at the end of which a
bright spot of sunlight gleamed like a star. They stood in silent,
wondering admiration, and then little by little exclamations burst
from their lips. They had been trying hard to joke about it all
with a touch of envy at heart, but this decidedly and immeasurably
impressed them. What a genius that Irma was! A sight like this
gave you a rattling notion of the woman! The trees stretched away
and away, and there were endlessly recurrent patches of ivy along
the wall with glimpses of lofty roofs and screens of poplars
interspersed with dense masses of elms and aspens. Was there no end
to it then? The ladies would have liked to catch sight of the
mansion house, for they were weary of circling on and on, weary of
seeing nothing but leafy recesses through every opening they came
to. They took the rails of the gate in their hands and pressed
their faces against the ironwork. And thus excluded and isolated, a
feeling of respect began to overcome them as they thought of the
castle lost to view in surrounding immensity. Soon, being quite
unused to walking, they grew tired. And the wall did not leave off;
at every turn of the small deserted path the same range of gray
stones stretched ahead of them. Some of them began to despair of
ever getting to the end of it and began talking of returning. But
the more their long walk fatigued them, the more respectful they
became, for at each successive step they were increasingly impressed
by the tranquil, lordly dignity of the domain.
"It's getting silly, this is!" said Caroline Hequet, grinding her
Nana silenced her with a shrug. For some moments past she had been
rather pale and extremely serious and had not spoken a single word.
Suddenly the path gave a final turn; the wall ended, and as they
came out on the village square the mansion house stood before them
on the farther side of its grand outer court. All stopped to admire
the proud sweep of the wide steps, the twenty frontage windows, the
arrangement of the three wings, which were built of brick framed by
courses of stone. Henri IV had erewhile inhabited this historic
mansion, and his room, with its great bed hung with Genoa velvet,
was still preserved there. Breathless with admiration, Nana gave a
little childish sigh.
"Great God!" she whispered very quietly to herself.
But the party were deeply moved when Gaga suddenly announced that
Irma herself was standing yonder in front of the church. She
recognized her perfectly. She was as upright as of old, the hoary
campaigner, and that despite her age, and she still had those eyes
which flashed when she moved in that proud way of hers! Vespers
were just over, and for a second or two Madame stood in the church
porch. She was dressed in a dark brown silk and looked very simple
and very tall, her venerable face reminding one of some old marquise
who had survived the horrors of the Great Revolution. In her right
hand a huge Book of Hours shone in the sunlight, and very slowly she
crossed the square, followed some fifteen paces off by a footman in
livery. The church was emptying, and all the inhabitants of Chamont
bowed before her with extreme respect. An old man even kissed her
hand, and a woman wanted to fall on her knees. Truly this was a
potent queen, full of years and honors. She mounted her flight of
steps and vanished from view.
"That's what one attains to when one has methodical habits!" said
Mignon with an air of conviction, looking at his sons and improving
Then everybody said his say. Labordette thought her extraordinarily
well preserved. Maria Blond let slip a foul expression and vexed
Lucy, who declared that one ought to honor gray hairs. All the
women, to sum up, agreed that she was a perfect marvel. Then the