Part 5 out of 12
company got into their conveyances again. From Chamont all the way
to La Mignotte Nana remained silent. She had twice turned round to
look back at the house, and now, lulled by the sound of the wheels,
she forgot that Steiner was at her side and that Georges was in
front of her. A vision had come up out of the twilight, and the
great lady seemed still to be sweeping by with all the majesty of a
potent queen, full of years and of honors.
That evening Georges re-entered Les Fondettes in time for dinner.
Nana, who had grown increasingly absent-minded and singular in point
of manner, had sent him to ask his mamma's forgiveness. It was his
plain duty, she remarked severely, growing suddenly solicitous for
the decencies of family life. She even made him swear not to return
for the night; she was tired, and in showing proper obedience he was
doing no more than his duty. Much bored by this moral discourse,
Georges appeared in his mother's presence with heavy heart and
Fortunately for him his brother Philippe, a great merry devil of a
military man, had arrived during the day, a fact which greatly
curtailed the scene he was dreading. Mme Hugon was content to look
at him with eyes full of tears while Philippe, who had been put in
possession of the facts, threatened to go and drag him home by the
scruff of the neck if ever he went back into that woman's society.
Somewhat comforted, Georges began slyly planning how to make his
escape toward two o'clock next day in order to arrange about future
meetings with Nana.
Nevertheless, at dinnertime the house party at Les Fondettes seemed
not a little embarrassed. Vandeuvres had given notice of departure,
for he was anxious to take Lucy back to Paris with him. He was
amused at the idea of carrying off this girl whom he had known for
ten years yet never desired. The Marquis de Chouard bent over his
plate and meditated on Gaga's young lady. He could well remember
dandling Lili on his knee. What a way children had of shooting up!
This little thing was becoming extremely plump! But Count Muffat
especially was silent and absorbed. His cheeks glowed, and he had
given Georges one long look. Dinner over, he went upstairs,
intending to shut himself in his bedroom, his pretext being a slight
feverish attack. M. Venot had rushed after him, and upstairs in the
bedroom a scene ensued. The count threw himself upon the bed and
strove to stifle a fit of nervous sobbing in the folds of the pillow
while M. Venot, in a soft voice, called him brother and advised him
to implore heaven for mercy. But he heard nothing: there was a
rattle in his throat. Suddenly he sprang off the bed and stammered:
"I am going there. I can't resist any longer."
"Very well," said the old man, "I go with you."
As they left the house two shadows were vanishing into the dark
depths of a garden walk, for every evening now Fauchery and the
Countess Sabine left Daguenet to help Estelle make tea. Once on the
highroad the count walked so rapidly that his companion had to run
in order to follow him. Though utterly out of breath, the latter
never ceased showering on him the most conclusive arguments against
the temptations of the flesh. But the other never opened his mouth
as he hurried away into the night. Arrived in front of La Mignotte,
he said simply:
"I can't resist any longer. Go!"
"God's will be done then!" muttered M. Venot. "He uses every method
to assure His final triumph. Your sin will become His weapon."
At La Mignotte there was much wrangling during the evening meal.
Nana had found a letter from Bordenave awaiting her, in which he
advised rest, just as though he were anxious to be rid of her.
Little Violaine, he said, was being encored twice nightly. But when
Mignon continued urging her to come away with them on the morrow
Nana grew exasperated and declared that she did not intend taking
advice from anybody. In other ways, too, her behavior at table was
ridiculously stuck up. Mme Lerat having made some sharp little
speech or other, she loudly announced that, God willing, she wasn't
going to let anyone--no, not even her own aunt--make improper
remarks in her presence. After which she dreed her guests with
honorable sentiments. She seemed to be suffering from a fit of
stupid right-mindedness, and she treated them all to projects of
religious education for Louiset and to a complete scheme of
regeneration for herself. When the company began laughing she gave
vent to profound opinions, nodding her head like a grocer's wife who
knows what she is saying. Nothing but order could lead to fortune!
And so far as she was concerned, she had no wish to die like a
beggar! She set the ladies' teeth on edge. They burst out in
protest. Could anyone have been converting Nana? No, it was
impossible! But she sat quite still and with absent looks once more
plunged into dreamland, where the vision of an extremely wealthy and
greatly courted Nana rose up before her.
The household were going upstairs to bed when Muffat put in an
appearance. It was Labordette who caught sight of him in the
garden. He understood it all at once and did him a service, for he
got Steiner out of the way and, taking his hand, led him along the
dark corridor as far as Nana's bedroom. In affairs of this kind
Labordette was wont to display the most perfect tact and cleverness.
Indeed, he seemed delighted to be making other people happy. Nana
showed no surprise; she was only somewhat annoyed by the excessive
heat of Muffat's pursuit. Life was a serious affair, was it not?
Love was too silly: it led to nothing. Besides, she had her
scruples in view of Zizi's tender age. Indeed, she had scarcely
behaved quite fairly toward him. Dear me, yes, she was choosing the
proper course again in taking up with an old fellow.
"Zoe," she said to the lady's maid, who was enchanted at the thought
of leaving the country, "pack the trunks when you get up tomorrow.
We are going back to Paris."
And she went to bed with Muffat but experienced no pleasure.
One December evening three months afterward Count Muffat was
strolling in the Passage des Panoramas. The evening was very mild,
and owing to a passing shower, the passage had just become crowded
with people. There was a perfect mob of them, and they thronged
slowly and laboriously along between the shops on either side.
Under the windows, white with reflected light, the pavement was
violently illuminated. A perfect stream of brilliancy emanated from
white globes, red lanterns, blue transparencies, lines of gas jets,
gigantic watches and fans, outlined in flame and burning in the
open. And the motley displays in the shops, the gold ornaments of
the jeweler's, the glass ornaments of the confectioner's, the light-
colored silks of the modiste's, seemed to shine again in the crude
light of the reflectors behind the clear plate-glass windows, while
among the bright-colored, disorderly array of shop signs a huge
purple glove loomed in the distance like a bleeding hand which had
been severed from an arm and fastened to a yellow cuff.
Count Muffat had slowly returned as far as the boulevard. He
glanced out at the roadway and then came sauntering back along the
shopwindows. The damp and heated atmosphere filled the narrow
passage with a slight luminous mist. Along the flagstones, which
had been wet by the drip-drop of umbrellas, the footsteps of the
crowd rang continually, but there was no sound of voices. Passers-
by elbowed him at every turn and cast inquiring looks at his silent
face, which the gaslight rendered pale. And to escape these curious
manifestations the count posted himself in front of a stationer's,
where with profound attention contemplated an array of paperweights
in the form of glass bowls containing floating landscapes and
He was conscious of nothing: he was thinking of Nana. Why had she
lied to him again? That morning she had written and told him not to
trouble about her in the evening, her excuse being that Louiset was
ill and that she was going to pass the night at her aunt's in order
to nurse him. But he had felt suspicious and had called at her
house, where he learned from the porter that Madame had just gone
off to her theater. He was astonished at this, for she was not
playing in the new piece. Why then should she have told him this
falsehood, and what could she be doing at the Varietes that evening?
Hustled by a passer-by, the count unconsciously left the
paperweights and found himself in front of a glass case full of
toys, where he grew absorbed over an array of pocketbooks and cigar
cases, all of which had the same blue swallow stamped on one corner.
Nana was most certainly not the same woman! In the early days after
his return from the country she used to drive him wild with delight,
as with pussycat caresses she kissed him all round his face and
whiskers and vowed that he was her own dear pet and the only little
man she adored. He was no longer afraid of Georges, whom his mother
kept down at Les Fondettes. There was only fat Steiner to reckon
with, and he believed he was really ousting him, but he did not dare
provoke an explanation on his score. He knew he was once more in an
extraordinary financial scrape and on the verge of being declared
bankrupt on 'change, so much so that he was clinging fiercely to the
shareholders in the Landes Salt Pits and striving to sweat a final
subscription out of them. Whenever he met him at Nana's she would
explain reasonably enough that she did not wish to turn him out of
doors like a dog after all he had spent on her. Besides, for the
last three months he had been living in such a whirl of sensual
excitement that, beyond the need of possessing her, he had felt no
very distinct impressions. His was a tardy awakening of the fleshly
instinct, a childish greed of enjoyment, which left no room for
either vanity or jealousy. Only one definite feeling could affect
him now, and that was Nana's decreasing kindness. She no longer
kissed him on the beard! It made him anxious, and as became a man
quite ignorant of womankind, he began asking himself what possible
cause of offense he could have given her. Besides, he was under the
impression that he was satisfying all her desires. And so he harked
back again and again to the letter he had received that morning with
its tissue of falsehoods, invented for the extremely simple purpose
of passing an evening at her own theater. The crowd had pushed him
forward again, and he had crossed the passage and was puzzling his
brain in front of the entrance to a restaurant, his eyes fixed on
some plucked larks and on a huge salmon laid out inside the window.
At length he seemed to tear himself away from this spectacle. He
shook himself, looked up and noticed that it was close on nine
o'clock. Nana would soon be coming out, and he would make her tell
the truth. And with that he walked on and recalled to memory the
evenings he once passed in that region in the days when he used to
meet her at the door of the theater.
He knew all the shops, and in the gas-laden air he recognized their
different scents, such, for instance, as the strong savor of Russia
leather, the perfume of vanilla emanating from a chocolate dealer's
basement, the savor of musk blown in whiffs from the open doors of
the perfumers. But he did not dare linger under the gaze of the
pale shopwomen, who looked placidly at him as though they knew him
by sight. For one instant he seemed to be studying the line of
little round windows above the shops, as though he had never noticed
them before among the medley of signs. Then once again he went up
to the boulevard and stood still a minute or two. A fine rain was
now falling, and the cold feel of it on his hands calmed him. He
thought of his wife who was staying in a country house near Macon,
where her friend Mme de Chezelles had been ailing a good deal since
the autumn. The carriages in the roadway were rolling through a
stream of mud. The country, he thought, must be detestable in such
vile weather. But suddenly he became anxious and re-entered the
hot, close passage down which he strode among the strolling people.
A thought struck him: if Nana were suspicious of his presence there
she would be off along the Galerie Montmartre.
After that the count kept a sharp lookout at the very door of the
theater, though he did not like this passage end, where he was
afraid of being recognized. It was at the corner between the
Galerie des Varietes and the Galerie Saint-Marc, an equivocal corner
full of obscure little shops. Of these last one was a shoemaker's,
where customers never seemed to enter. Then there were two or three
upholsterers', deep in dust, and a smoky, sleepy reading room and
library, the shaded lamps in which cast a green and slumberous light
all the evening through. There was never anyone in this corner save
well-dressed, patient gentlemen, who prowled about the wreckage
peculiar to a stage door, where drunken sceneshifters and ragged
chorus girls congregate. In front of the theater a single gas jet
in a ground-glass globe lit up the doorway. For a moment or two
Muffat thought of questioning Mme Bron; then he grew afraid lest
Nana should get wind of his presence and escape by way of the
boulevard. So he went on the march again and determined to wait
till he was turned out at the closing of the gates, an event which
had happened on two previous occasions. The thought of returning
home to his solitary bed simply wrung his heart with anguish. Every
time that golden-haired girls and men in dirty linen came out and
stared at him he returned to his post in front of the reading room,
where, looking in between two advertisements posted on a windowpane,
he was always greeted by the same sight. It was a little old man,
sitting stiff and solitary at the vast table and holding a green
newspaper in his green hands under the green light of one of the
lamps. But shortly before ten o'clock another gentleman, a tall,
good-looking, fair man with well-fitting gloves, was also walking up
and down in front of the stage door. Thereupon at each successive
turn the pair treated each other to a suspicious sidelong glance.
The count walked to the corner of the two galleries, which was
adorned with a high mirror, and when he saw himself therein, looking
grave and elegant, he was both ashamed and nervous.
Ten o'clock struck, and suddenly it occurred to Muffat that it would
be very easy to find out whether Nana were in her dressing room or
not. He went up the three steps, crossed the little yellow-painted
lobby and slipped into the court by a door which simply shut with a
latch. At that hour of the night the narrow, damp well of a court,
with its pestiferous water closets, its fountain, its back view ot
the kitchen stove and the collection of plants with which the
portress used to litter the place, was drenched in dark mist; but
the two walls, rising pierced with windows on either hand, were
flaming with light, since the property room and the firemen's office
were situated on the ground floor, with the managerial bureau on the
left, and on the right and upstairs the dressing rooms of the
company. The mouths of furnaces seemed to be opening on the outer
darkness from top to bottom of this well. The count had at once
marked the light in the windows of the dressing room on the first
floor, and as a man who is comforted and happy, he forgot where he
was and stood gazing upward amid the foul mud and faint decaying
smell peculiar to the premises of this antiquated Parisian building.
Big drops were dripping from a broken waterspout, and a ray of
gaslight slipped from Mme Bron's window and cast a yellow glare over
a patch of moss-clad pavement, over the base of a wall which had
been rotted by water from a sink, over a whole cornerful of nameless
filth amid which old pails and broken crocks lay in fine confusion
round a spindling tree growing mildewed in its pot. A window
fastening creaked, and the count fled.
Nana was certainly going to come down. He returned to his post in
front of the reading room; among its slumbering shadows, which
seemed only broken by the glimmer of a night light, the little old
man still sat motionless, his side face sharply outlined against his
newspaper. Then Muffat walked again and this time took a more
prolonged turn and, crossing the large gallery, followed the Galerie
des Varietes as far as that of Feydeau. The last mentioned was cold
and deserted and buried in melancholy shadow. He returned from it,
passed by the theater, turned the corner of the Galerie Saint-Marc
and ventured as far as the Galerie Montmartre, where a sugar-
chopping machine in front of a grocer's interested him awhile. But
when he was taking his third turn he was seized with such dread lest
Nana should escape behind his back that he lost all self-respect.
Thereupon he stationed himself beside the fair gentleman in front of
the very theater. Both exchanged a glance of fraternal humility
with which was mingled a touch of distrust, for it was possible they
might yet turn out to be rivals. Some sceneshifters who came out
smoking their pipes between the acts brushed rudely against them,
but neither one nor the other ventured to complain. Three big
wenches with untidy hair and dirty gowns appeared on the doorstep.
They were munching apples and spitting out the cores, but the two
men bowed their heads and patiently braved their impudent looks and
rough speeches, though they were hustled and, as it were, soiled by
these trollops, who amused themselves by pushing each other down
At that very moment Nana descended the three steps. She grew very
pale when she noticed Muffat.
"Oh, it's you!" she stammered.
The sniggering extra ladies were quite frightened when they
recognized her, and they formed in line and stood up, looking as
stiff and serious as servants whom their mistress has caught
behaving badly. The tall fair gentleman had moved away; he was at
once reassured and sad at heart.
"Well, give me your arm," Nana continued impatiently.
They walked quietly off. The count had been getting ready to
question her and now found nothing to say.
It was she who in rapid tones told a story to the effect that she
had been at her aunt's as late as eight o'clock, when, seeing
Louiset very much better, she had conceived the idea of going down
to the theater for a few minutes.
"On some important business?" he queried.
'Yes, a new piece," she replied after some slight hesitation. "They
wanted my advice."
He knew that she was not speaking the truth, but the warm touch of
her arm as it leaned firmly on his own, left him powerless. He felt
neither anger nor rancor after his long, long wait; his one thought
was to keep her where she was now that he had got hold of her.
Tomorrow, and not before, he would try and find out what she had
come to her dressing room after. But Nana still appeared to
hesitate; she was manifestly a prey to the sort of secret anguish
that besets people when they are trying to regain lost ground and to
initiate a plan of action. Accordingly, as they turned the corner
of the Galerie des Varietes, she stopped in front of the show in a
fan seller's window.
"I say, that's pretty," she whispered; "I mean that mother-of-pearl
mount with the feathers."
"So you're seeing me home?"
"Of course," he said, with some surprise, "since your child's
She was sorry she had told him that story. Perhaps Louiset was
passing through another crisis! She talked of returning to the
Batignolles. But when he offered to accompany her she did not
insist on going. For a second or two she was possessed with the
kind of white-hot fury which a woman experiences when she feels
herself entrapped and must, nevertheless, behave prettily. But in
the end she grew resigned and determined to gain time. If only she
could get rid of the count toward midnight everything would happen
as she wished.
"Yes, it's true; you're a bachelor tonight," she murmured. "Your
wife doesn't return till tomorrow, eh?"
"Yes," replied Muffat. It embarrassed him somewhat to hear her
talking familiarly about the countess.
But she pressed him further, asking at what time the train was due
and wanting to know whether he were going to the station to meet
her. She had begun to walk more slowly than ever, as though the
shops interested her very much.
"Now do look!" she said, pausing anew before a jeweler's window,
"what a funny bracelet!"
She adored the Passage des Panoramas. The tinsel of the ARTICLE DE
PARIS, the false jewelry, the gilded zinc, the cardboard made to
look like leather, had been the passion of her early youth. It
remained, and when she passed the shop-windows she could not tear
herself away from them. It was the same with her today as when she
was a ragged, slouching child who fell into reveries in front of the
chocolate maker's sweet-stuff shows or stood listening to a musical
box in a neighboring shop or fell into supreme ecstasies over cheap,
vulgarly designed knickknacks, such as nutshell workboxes,
ragpickers' baskets for holding toothpicks, Vendome columns and
Luxor obelisks on which thermometers were mounted. But that evening
she was too much agitated and looked at things without seeing them.
When all was said and done, it bored her to think she was not free.
An obscure revolt raged within her, and amid it all she felt a wild
desire to do something foolish. It was a great thing gained,
forsooth, to be mistress of men of position! She had been devouring
the prince's substance and Steiner's, too, with her childish
caprices, and yet she had no notion where her money went. Even at
this time of day her flat in the Boulevard Haussmann was not
entirely furnished. The drawing room alone was finished, and with
its red satin upholsteries and excess of ornamentation and furnirure
it struck a decidedly false note. Her creditors, moreover, would
now take to tormenting her more than ever before whenever she had no
money on hand, a fact which caused her constant surprise, seeing
that she was wont to quote her self as a model of economy. For a
month past that thief Steiner had been scarcely able to pay up his
thousand francs on the occasions when she threatened to kick him out
of doors in case he failed to bring them. As to Muffat, he was an
idiot: he had no notion as to what it was usual to give, and she
could not, therefore, grow angry with him on the score of
miserliness. Oh, how gladly she would have turned all these folks
off had she not repeated to herself a score of times daily a whole
string of economical maxims!
One ought to be sensible, Zoe kept saying every morning, and Nana
herself was constantly haunted by the queenly vision seen at
Chamont. It had now become an almost religious memory with her, and
through dint of being ceaselessly recalled it grew even more
grandiose. And for these reasons, though trembling with repressed
indignation, she now hung submissively on the count's arm as they
went from window to window among the fast-diminishing crowd. The
pavement was drying outside, and a cool wind blew along the gallery,
swept the close hot air up beneath the glass that imprisoned it and
shook the colored lanterns and the lines of gas jets and the giant
fan which was flaring away like a set piece in an illumination. At
the door of the restaurant a waiter was putting out the gas, while
the motionless attendants in the empty, glaring shops looked as
though they had dropped off to sleep with their eyes open.
"Oh, what a duck!" continued Nana, retracing her steps as far as the
last of the shops in order to go into ecstasies over a porcelain
greyhound standing with raised forepaw in front of a nest hidden
At length they quitted the passage, but she refused the offer of a
cab. It was very pleasant out she said; besides, they were in no
hurry, and it would be charming to return home on foot. When they
were in front of the Cafe Anglais she had a sudden longing to eat
oysters. Indeed, she said that owing to Louiset's illness she had
tasted nothing since morning. Muffat dared not oppose her. Yet as
he did not in those days wish to be seen about with her he asked for
a private supper room and hurried to it along the corridors. She
followed him with the air of a woman familiar with the house, and
they were on the point of entering a private room, the door of which
a waiter held open, when from a neighboring saloon, whence issued a
perfect tempest of shouts and laughter, a man rapidiy emerged. It
"By Jove, it's Nana!" he cried.
The count had briskly disappeared into the private room, leaving the
door ajar behind him. But Daguenet winked behind his round
shoulders and added in chaffing tones:
"The deuce, but you're doing nicely! You catch 'em in the Tuileries
Nana smiled and laid a finger on her lips to beg him to be silent.
She could see he was very much exalted, and yet she was glad to have
met him, for she still felt tenderly toward him, and that despite
the nasty way he had cut her when in the company of fashionable
"What are you doing now?" she asked amicably.
"Becoming respectable. Yes indeed, I'm thinking of getting
She shrugged her shoulders with a pitying air. But he jokingly
continued to the effect that to be only just gaining enough on
'change to buy ladies bouquets could scarcely be called an income,
provided you wanted to look respectable too! His three hundred
thousand francs had only lasted him eighteen months! He wanted to
be practical, and he was going to marry a girl with a huge dowry and
end off as a PREFET, like his father before him! Nana still smiled
incredulously. She nodded in the direction of the saloon: "Who are
you with in there?"
"Oh, a whole gang," he said, forgetting all about his projects under
the influence of returning intoxication. "Just think! Lea is
telling us about her trip in Egypt. Oh, it's screaming! There's a
And he told the story while Nana lingered complaisantly. They had
ended by leaning up against the wall in the corridor, facing one
another. Gas jets were flaring under the low ceiling, and a vague
smell of cookery hung about the folds of the hangings. Now and
again, in order to hear each other's voices when the din in the
saloon became louder than ever, they had to lean well forward.
Every few seconds, however, a waiter with an armful of dishes found
his passage barred and disturbed them. But they did not cease their
talk for that; on the contrary, they stood close up to the walls
and, amid the uproar of the supper party and the jostlings of the
waiters, chatted as quietly as if they were by their own firesides.
"Just look at that," whispered the young man, pointing to the door
of the private room through which Muffat had vanished.
Both looked. The door was quivering slightly; a breath of air
seemed to be disturbing it, and at last, very, very slowly and
without the least sound, it was shut to. They exchanged a silent
chuckle. The count must be looking charmingly happy all alone in
"By the by," she asked, "have you read Fauchery's article about me?"
"Yes, 'The Golden Fly,'" replied Daguenet; "I didn't mention it to
you as I was afraid of paining you."
"Paining me--why? His article's a very long one."
She was flattered to think that the Figaro should concern itself
about her person. But failing the explanations of her hairdresser
Francis, who had brought her the paper, she would not have
understood that it was she who was in question. Daguenet
scrutinized her slyly, sneering in his chaffing way. Well, well,
since she was pleased, everybody else ought to be.
"By your leave!" shouted a waiter, holding a dish of iced cheese in
both hands as he separated them.
Nana had stepped toward the little saloon where Muffat was waiting.
"Well, good-by!" continued Daguenet. "Go and find your cuckold
But she halted afresh.
"Why d'you call him cuckold?"
"Because he is a cuckold, by Jove!"
She came and leaned against the wall again; she was profoundly
"Ah!" she said simply.
"What, d'you mean to say you didn't know that? Why, my dear girl,
his wife's Fauchery's mistress. It probably began in the country.
Some time ago, when I was coming here, Fauchery left me, and I
suspect he's got an assignation with her at his place tonight.
They've made up a story about a journey, I fancy."
Overcome with surprise, Nana remained voiceless.
"I suspected it," she said at last, slapping her leg. "I guessed it
by merely looking at her on the highroad that day. To think of its
being possible for an honest woman to deceive her husband, and with
that blackguard Fauchery too! He'll teach her some pretty things!"
"Oh, it isn't her trial trip," muttered Daguenet wickedly. "Perhaps
she knows as much about it as he does."
At this Nana gave vent to an indignant exclamation.
"Indeed she does! What a nice world! It's too foul!"
"By your leave!" shouted a waiter, laden with bottles, as he
Daguenet drew her forward again and held her hand for a second or
two. He adopted his crystalline tone of voice, the voice with notes
as sweet as those of a harmonica, which had gained him his success
among the ladies of Nana's type.
"Good-by, darling! You know I love you always."
She disengaged her hand from his, and while a thunder of shouts and
bravos, which made the door in the saloon tremble again, almost
drowned her words she smilingly remarked:
"It's over between us, stupid! But that doesn't matter. Do come up
one of these days, and we'll have a chat."
Then she became serious again and in the outraged tones of a
"So he's a cuckold, is he?" she cried. "Well, that IS a nuisance,
dear boy. They've always sickened me, cuckolds have."
When at length she went into the private room she noticed that
Muffat was sitting resignedly on a narrow divan with pale face and
twitching hands. He did not reproach her at all, and she, greatly
moved, was divided between feelings of pity and of contempt. The
poor man! To think of his being so unworthily cheated by a vile
wife! She had a good mind to throw her arms round his neck and
comfort him. But it was only fair all the same! He was a fool with
women, and this would teach him a lesson! Nevertheless, pity
overcame her. She did not get rid of him as she had determined to
do after the oysters had been discussed. They scarcely stayed a
quarter of an hour in the Cafe Anglais, and together they went into
the house in the Boulevard Haussmann. It was then eleven. Before
midnight she would have easily have discovered some means of getting
rid of him kindly.
In the anteroom, however, she took the precaution of giving Zoe an
order. "You'll look out for him, and you'll tell him not to make a
noise if the other man's still with me."
"But where shall I put him, madame?"
"Keep him in the kitchen. It's more safe."
In the room inside Muffat was already taking off his overcoat. A
big fire was burning on the hearth. It was the same room as of old,
with its rosewood furniture and its hangings and chair coverings of
figured damask with the large blue flowers on a gray background. On
two occasions Nana had thought of having it redone, the first in
black velvet, the second in white satin with bows, but directly
Steiner consented she demanded the money that these changes would
cost simply with a view to pillaging him. She had, indeed, only
indulged in a tiger skin rug for the hearth and a cut-glass hanging
"I'm not sleepy; I'm not going to bed," she said the moment they
were shut in together.
The count obeyed her submissively, as became a man no longer afraid
of being seen. His one care now was to avoid vexing her.
"As you will," he murmured.
Nevertheless, he took his boots off, too, before seating himself in
front of the fire. One of Nana's pleasures consisted in undressing
herself in front of the mirror on her wardrobe door, which reflected
her whole height. She would let everything slip off her in turn and
then would stand perfectly naked and gaze and gaze in complete
oblivion of all around her. Passion for her own body, ecstasy over
her satin skin and the supple contours of her shape, would keep her
serious, attentive and absorbed in the love of herself. The
hairdresser frequently found her standing thus and would enter
without her once turning to look at him. Muffat used to grow angry
then, but he only succeeded in astonishing her. What was coming
over the man? She was doing it to please herself, not other people.
That particular evening she wanted to have a better view of herself,
and she lit the six candles attached to the frame of the mirror.
But while letting her shift slip down she paused. She had been
preoccupied for some moments past, and a question was on her lips.
"You haven't read the Figaro article, have you? The paper's on the
table." Daguenet's laugh had recurred to her recollections, and she
was harassed by a doubt. If that Fauchery had slandered her she
would be revenged.
"They say that it's about me," she continued, affecting
indifference. "What's your notion, eh, darling?"
And letting go her shift and waiting till Muffat should have done
reading, she stood naked. Muffat was reading slowly Fauchery's
article entitled "The Golden Fly," describing the life of a harlot
descended from four or five generations of drunkards and tainted in
her blood by a cumulative inheritance of misery and drink, which in
her case has taken the form of a nervous exaggeration of the sexual
instinct. She has shot up to womanhood in the slums and on the
pavements of Paris, and tall, handsome and as superbly grown as a
dunghill plant, she avenges the beggars and outcasts of whom she is
the ultimate product. With her the rottenness that is allowed to
ferment among the populace is carried upward and rots the
aristocracy. She becomes a blind power of nature, a leaven of
destruction, and unwittingly she corrupts and disorganizes all
Paris, churning it between her snow-white thighs as milk is monthly
churned by housewives. And it was at the end of this article that
the comparison with a fly occurred, a fly of sunny hue which has
flown up out of the dung, a fly which sucks in death on the carrion
tolerated by the roadside and then buzzing, dancing and glittering
like a precious stone enters the windows of palaces and poisons the
men within by merely settling on them in her flight.
Muffat lifted his head; his eyes stared fixedly; he gazed at the
"Well?" asked Nana.
But he did not answer. It seemed as though he wanted to read the
article again. A cold, shivering feeling was creeping from his
scalp to his shoulders. This article had been written anyhow. The
phrases were wildly extravagant; the unexpected epigrams and quaint
collocations of words went beyond all bounds. Yet notwithstanding
this, he was struck by what he had read, for it had rudely awakened
within him much that for months past he had not cared to think
He looked up. Nana had grown absorbed in her ecstatic self-
contemplation. She was bending her neck and was looking attentively
in the mirror at a little brown mark above her right haunch. She
was touching it with the tip of her finger and by dint of bending
backward was making it stand out more clearly than ever. Situated
where it was, it doubtless struck her as both quaint and pretty.
After that she studied other parts of her body with an amused
expression and much of the vicious curiosity of a child. The sight
of herself always astonished her, and she would look as surprised
and ecstatic as a young girl who has discovered her puberty.
Slowly, slowly, she spread out her arms in order to give full value
to her figure, which suggested the torso of a plump Venus. She bent
herself this way and that and examined herself before and behind,
stooping to look at the side view of her bosom and at the sweeping
contours of her thighs. And she ended with a strange amusement
which consisted of swinging to right and left, her knees apart and
her body swaying from the waist with the perpetual jogging,
twitching movements peculiar to an oriental dancer in the danse du
Muffat sat looking at her. She frightened him. The newspaper had
dropped from his hand. For a moment he saw her as she was, and he
despised himself. Yes, it was just that; she had corrupted his
life; he already felt himself tainted to his very marrow by
impurities hitherto undreamed of. Everything was now destined to
rot within him, and in the twinkling of an eye he understood what
this evil entailed. He saw the ruin brought about by this kind of
"leaven"--himself poisoned, his family destroyed, a bit of the
social fabric cracking and crumbling. And unable to take his eyes
from the sight, he sat looking fixedly at her, striving to inspire
himself with loathing for her nakedness.
Nana no longer moved. With an arm behind her neck, one hand clasped
in the other, and her elbows far apart, she was throwing back her
head so that he could see a foreshortened reflection of her half-
closed eyes, her parted lips, her face clothed with amorous
laughter. Her masses of yellow hair were unknotted behind, and they
covered her back with the fell of a lioness.
Bending back thus, she displayed her solid Amazonian waist and firm
bosom, where strong muscles moved under the satin texture of the
skin. A delicate line, to which the shoulder and the thigh added
their slight undulations, ran from one of her elbows to her foot,
and Muffat's eyes followed this tender profile and marked how the
outlines of the fair flesh vanished in golden gleams and how its
rounded contours shone like silk in the candlelight. He thought of
his old dread of Woman, of the Beast of the Scriptures, at once lewd
and wild. Nana was all covered with fine hair; a russet made her
body velvety, while the Beast was apparent in the almost equine
development of her flanks, in the fleshy exuberances and deep
hollows of her body, which lent her sex the mystery and
suggestiveness lurking in their shadows. She was, indeed, that
Golden Creature, blind as brute force, whose very odor ruined the
world. Muffat gazed and gazed as a man possessed, till at last,
when he had shut his eyes in order to escape it, the Brute
reappeared in the darkness of the brain, larger, more terrible, more
suggestive in its attitude. Now, he understood, it would remain
before his eyes, in his very flesh, forever.
But Nana was gathering herself together. A little thrill of
tenderness seemed to have traversed her members. Her eyes were
moist; she tried, as it were, to make herself small, as though she
could feel herself better thus. Then she threw her head and bosom
back and, melting, as it were, in one great bodily caress, she
rubbed her cheeks coaxingly, first against one shoulder, then
against the other. Her lustful mouth breathed desire over her
limbs. She put out her lips, kissed herself long in the
neighborhood of her armpit and laughed at the other Nana who also
was kissing herself in the mirror.
Then Muffat gave a long sigh. This solitary pleasure exasperated
him. Suddenly all his resolutions were swept away as though by a
mighty wind. In a fit of brutal passion he caught Nana to his
breast and threw her down on the carpet.
"Leave me alone!" she cried. "You're hurting me!"
He was conscious of his undoing; he recognized in her stupidity,
vileness and falsehood, and he longed to possess her, poisoned
though she was.
"Oh, you're a fool!" she said savagely when he let her get up.
Nevertheless, she grew calm. He would go now. She slipped on a
nightgown trimmed with lace and came and sat down on the floor in
front of the fire. It was her favorite position. When she again
questioned him about Fauchery's article Muffat replied vaguely, for
he wanted to avoid a scene. Besides, she declared that she had
found a weak spot in Fauchery. And with that she relapsed into a
long silence and reflected on how to dismiss the count. She would
have liked to do it in an agreeable way, for she was still a good-
natured wench, and it bored her to cause others pain, especially in
the present instance where the man was a cuckold. The mere thought
of his being that had ended by rousing her sympathies!
"So you expect your wife tomorrow morning?" she said at last.
Muffat had stretched himself in an armchair. He looked drowsy, and
his limbs were tired. He gave a sign of assent. Nana sat gazing
seriously at him with a dull tumult in her brain. Propped on one
leg, among her slightly rumpled laces she was holding one of her
bare feet between her hands and was turning it mechanically about
"Have you been married long?" she asked.
"Nineteen years," replied the count
"Ah! And is your wife amiable? Do you get on comfortably
He was silent. Then with some embarrassment:
"You know I've begged you never to talk of those matters."
"Dear me, why's that?" she cried, beginning to grow vexed directly.
"I'm sure I won't eat your wife if I DO talk about her. Dear boy,
why, every woman's worth--"
But she stopped for fear of saying too much. She contented herself
by assuming a superior expression, since she considered herself
extremely kind. The poor fellow, he needed delicate handling!
Besides, she had been struck by a laughable notion, and she smiled
as she looked him carefully over.
"I say," she continued, "I haven't told you the story about you that
Fauchery's circulating. There's a viper, if you like! I don't bear
him any ill will, because his article may be all right, but he's a
regular viper all the same."
And laughing more gaily than ever, she let go her foot and, crawling
along the floor, came and propped herself against the count's knees.
"Now just fancy, he swears you were still like a babe when you
married your wife. You were still like that, eh? Is it true, eh?"
Her eyes pressed for an answer, and she raised her hands to his
shoulders and began shaking him in order to extract the desired
"Without doubt," he at last made answer gravely.
Thereupon she again sank down at his feet. She was shaking with
uproarious laughter, and she stuttered and dealt him little slaps.
"No, it's too funny! There's no one like you; you're a marvel.
But, my poor pet, you must just have been stupid! When a man
doesn't know--oh, it is so comical! Good heavens, I should have
liked to have seen you! And it came off well, did it? Now tell me
something about it! Oh, do, do tell me!"
She overwhelmed him with questions, forgetting nothing and requiring
the veriest details. And she laughed such sudden merry peals which
doubled her up with mirth, and her chemise slipped and got turned
down to such an extent, and her skin looked so golden in the light
of the big fire, that little by little the count described to her
his bridal night. He no longer felt at all awkward. He himself
began to be amused at last as he spoke. Only he kept choosing his
phrases, for he still had a certain sense of modesty. The young
woman, now thoroughly interested, asked him about the countess.
According to his account, she had a marvelous figure but was a
regular iceberg for all that.
"Oh, get along with you!" he muttered indolently. "You have no
cause to be jealous."
Nana had ceased laughing, and she now resumed her former position
and, with her back to the fire, brought her knees up under her chin
with her clasped hands. Then in a serious tone she declared:
"It doesn't pay, dear boy, to look like a ninny with one's wife the
"Why?" queried the astonished count.
"Because," she replied slowly, assuming a doctorial expression.
And with that she looked as if she were delivering a lecture and
shook her head at him. In the end, however, she condescended to
explain herself more lucidly.
"Well, look here! I know how it all happens. Yes, dearie, women
don't like a man to be foolish. They don't say anything because
there's such a thing as modesty, you know, but you may be sure they
think about it for a jolly long time to come. And sooner or later,
when a man's been an ignoramus, they go and make other arrangements.
That's it, my pet."
He did not seem to understand. Whereupon she grew more definite
still. She became maternal and taught him his lesson out of sheer
goodness of heart, as a friend might do. Since she had discovered
him to be a cuckold the information had weighed on her spirits; she
was madly anxious to discuss his position with him.
"Good heavens! I'm talking of things that don't concern me. I've
said what I have because everybody ought to be happy. We're having
a chat, eh? Well then, you're to answer me as straight as you can."
But she stopped to change her position, for she was burning herself.
"It's jolly hot, eh? My back's roasted. Wait a second. I'll cook
my tummy a bit. That's what's good for the aches!"
And when she had turned round with her breast to the fire and her
feet tucked under her:
"Let me see," she said; "you don't sleep with your wife any longer?"
"No, I swear to you I don't," said Muffat, dreading a scene.
"And you believe she's really a stick?"
He bowed his head in the affirmative.
"And that's why you love me? Answer me! I shan't be angry."
He repeated the same movement.
"Very well then," she concluded. "I suspected as much! Oh, the
poor pet. Do you know my aunt Lerat? When she comes get her to
tell you the story about the fruiterer who lives opposite her. Just
fancy that man--Damn it, how hot this fire is! I must turn round.
I'm going to roast my left side now." And as she presented her side
to the blaze a droll idea struck her, and like a good-tempered
thing, she made fun of herself for she was dellghted to see that she
was looking so plump and pink in the light of the coal fire.
"I look like a goose, eh? Yes, that's it! I'm a goose on the spit,
and I'm turning, turning and cooking in my own juice, eh?"
And she was once more indulging in a merry fit of laughter when a
sound of voices and slamming doors became audible. Muffat was
surprised, and he questioned her with a look. She grew serious, and
an anxious expression came over her face. It must be Zoe's cat, a
cursed beast that broke everything. It was half-past twelve
o'clock. How long was she going to bother herself in her cuckold's
behalf? Now that the other man had come she ought to get him out of
the way, and that quickly.
"What were you saying?" asked the count complaisantly, for he was
charmed to see her so kind to him.
But in her desire to be rid of him she suddenly changed her mood,
became brutal and did not take care what she was saying.
"Oh yes! The fruiterer and his wife. Well, my dear fellow, they
never once touched one another! Not the least bit! She was very
keen on it, you understand, but he, the ninny, didn't know it. He
was so green that he thought her a stick, and so he went elsewhere
and took up with streetwalkers, who treated him to all sorts of
nastiness, while she, on her part, made up for it beautifully with
fellows who were a lot slyer than her greenhorn of a husband. And
things always turn out that way through people not understanding one
another. I know it, I do!"
Muffat was growing pale. At last he was beginning to understand her
allusions, and he wanted to make her keep silence. But she was in
"No, hold your tongue, will you? If you weren't brutes you would be
as nice with your wives as you are with us, and if your wives
weren't geese they would take as much pains to keep you as we do to
get you. That's the way to behave. Yes, my duck, you can put that
in your pipe and smoke it."
"Do not talk of honest women," he said in a hard voice. "You do not
At that Nana rose to her knees.
"I don't know them! Why, they aren't even clean, your honest women
aren't! They aren't even clean! I defy you to find me one who
would dare show herself as I am doing. Oh, you make me laugh with
your honest women. Don't drive me to it; don't oblige me to tell
you things I may regret afterward."
The count, by way of answer, mumbled something insulting. Nana
became quite pale in her turn. For some seconds she looked at him
without speaking. Then in her decisive way:
"What would you do if your wife were deceiving you?"
He made a threatening gesture.
"Well, and if I were to?"
"Oh, you," he muttered with a shrug of his shoulders.
Nana was certainly not spiteful. Since the beginning of the
conversation she had been strongly tempted to throw his cuckold's
reputation in his teeth, but she had resisted. She would have liked
to confess him quietly on the subject, but he had begun to
exasperate her at last. The matter ought to stop now.
"Well, then, my dearie," she continued, "I don't know what you're
getting at with me. For two hours past you've been worrying my life
out. Now do just go and find your wife, for she's at it with
Fauchery. Yes, it's quite correct; they're in the Rue Taitbout, at
the corner of the Rue de Provence. You see, I'm giving you the
Then triumphantly, as she saw Muffat stagger to his feet like an ox
under the hammer:
"If honest women must meddle in our affairs and take our sweethearts
from us--Oh, you bet they're a nice lot, those honest women!"
But she was unable to proceed. With a terrible push he had cast her
full length on the floor and, lifting his heel, he seemed on the
point of crushing in her head in order to silence her. For the
twinkling of an eye she felt sickening dread. Blinded with rage, he
had begun beating about the room like a maniac. Then his choking
silence and the struggle with which he was shaken melted her to
tears. She felt a mortal regret and, rolling herself up in front of
the fire so as to roast her right side, she undertook the task of
"I take my oath, darling, I thought you knew it all. Otherwise I
shouldn't have spoken; you may be sure. But perhaps it isn't true.
I don't say anything for certain. I've been told it, and people are
talking about it, but what does that prove? Oh, get along! You're
very silly to grow riled about it. If I were a man I shouldn't care
a rush for the women! All the women are alike, you see, high or
low; they're all rowdy and the rest of it."
In a fit of self-abnegation she was severe on womankind, for she
wished thus to lessen the cruelty of her blow. But he did not
listen to her or hear what she said. With fumbling movements he had
put on his boots and his overcoat. For a moment longer he raved
round, and then in a final outburst, finding himself near the door,
he rushed from the room. Nana was very much annoyed.
"Well, well! A prosperous trip to you!" she continued aloud, though
she was now alone. "He's polite, too, that fellow is, when he's
spoken to! And I had to defend myself at that! Well, I was the
first to get back my temper and I made plenty of excuses, I'm
thinking! Besides, he had been getting on my nerves!"
Nevertheless, she was not happy and sat scratching her legs with
both hands. Then she took high ground:
"Tut, tut, it isn't my fault if he is a cuckold!"
And toasted on every side and as hot as a roast bird, she went and
buried herself under the bedclothes after ringing for Zoe to usher
in the other man, who was waiting in the kitchen.
Once outside, Muffat began walking at a furious pace. A fresh
shower had just fallen, and he kept slipping on the greasy pavement.
When he looked mechanically up into the sky he saw ragged, soot-
colored clouds scudding in front of the moon. At this hour of the
night passers-by were becoming few and far between in the Boulevard
Haussmann. He skirted the enclosures round the opera house in his
search for darkness, and as he went along he kept mumbling
inconsequent phrases. That girl had been lying. She had invented
her story out of sheer stupidity and cruelty. He ought to have
crushed her head when he had it under his heel. After all was said
and done, the business was too shameful. Never would he see her;
never would he touch her again, or if he did he would be miserably
weak. And with that he breathed hard, as though he were free once
more. Oh, that naked, cruel monster, roasting away like any goose
and slavering over everything that he had respected for forty years
back. The moon had come out, and the empty street was bathed in
white light. He felt afraid, and he burst into a great fit of
sobbing, for he had grown suddenly hopeless and maddened as though
he had sunk into a fathomless void.
"My God!" he stuttered out. "It's finished! There's nothing left
Along the boulevards belated people were hurrying. He tried hard to
be calm, and as the story told him by that courtesan kept recurring
to his burning consciousness, he wanted to reason the matter out.
The countess was coming up from Mme de Chezelles's country house
tomorrow morning. Yet nothing, in fact, could have prevented her
from returning to Paris the night before and passing it with that
man. He now began recalling to mind certain details of their stay
at Les Fondettes. One evening, for instance, he had surprised
Sabine in the shade of some trees, when she was so much agitated as
to be unable to answer his questions. The man had been present; why
should she not be with him now? The more he thought about it the
more possible the whole story became, and he ended by thinking it
natural and even inevitable. While he was in his shirt sleeves in
the house of a harlot his wife was undressing in her lover's room.
Nothing could be simpler or more logical! Reasoning in this way, he
forced himself to keep cool. He felt as if there were a great
downward movement in the direction of fleshly madness, a movement
which, as it grew, was overcoming the whole world round about him.
Warm images pursued him in imagination. A naked Nana suddenly
evoked a naked Sabine. At this vision, which seemed to bring them
together in shameless relationship and under the influence of the
same lusts, he literally stumbled, and in the road a cab nearly ran
over him. Some women who had come out of a cafe jostled him amid
loud laughter. Then a fit of weeping once more overcame him,
despite all his efforts to the contrary, and, not wishing to shed
tears in the presence of others, he plunged into a dark and empty
street. It was the Rue Rossini, and along its silent length he wept
like a child.
"It's over with us," he said in hollow tones. "There's nothing left
us now, nothing left us now!"
He wept so violently that he had to lean up against a door as he
buried his face in his wet hands. A noise of footsteps drove him
away. He felt a shame and a fear which made him fly before people's
faces with the restless step of a bird of darkness. When passers-by
met him on the pavement he did his best to look and walk in a
leisurely way, for he fancied they were reading his secret in the
very swing of his shoulders. He had followed the Rue de la Grange
Bateliere as far as the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, where the
brilliant lamplight surprised him, and he retraced his steps. For
nearly an hour he traversed the district thus, choosing always the
darkest corners. Doubtless there was some goal whither his steps
were patiently, instinctively, leading him through a labyrinth of
endless turnings. At length he lifted his eyes up it a street
corner. He had reached his destination, the point where the Rue
Taitbout and the Rue de la Provence met. He had taken an hour amid
his painful mental sufferings to arrive at a place he could have
reached in five minutes. One morning a month ago he remembered
going up to Fauchery's rooms to thank him for a notice of a ball at
the Tuileries, in which the journalist had mentioned him. The flat
was between the ground floor and the first story and had a row of
small square windows which were half hidden by the colossal
signboard belonging to a shop. The last window on the left was
bisected by a brilliant band of lamplight coming from between the
half-closed curtains. And he remained absorbed and expectant, with
his gaze fixed on this shining streak.
The moon had disappeared in an inky sky, whence an icy drizzle was
falling. Two o'clock struck at the Trinite. The Rue de Provence
and the Rue Taitbout lay in shadow, bestarred at intervals by bright
splashes of light from the gas lamps, which in the distance were
merged in yellow mist. Muffat did not move from where he was
standing. That was the room. He remembered it now: it had hangings
of red "andrinople," and a Louis XIII bed stood at one end of it.
The lamp must be standing on the chimney piece to the right.
Without doubt they had gone to bed, for no shadows passed across the
window, and the bright streak gleamed as motionless as the light of
a night lamp. With his eyes still uplifted he began forming a plan;
he would ring the bell, go upstairs despite the porter's
remonstrances, break the doors in with a push of his shoulder and
fall upon them in the very bed without giving them time to unlace
their arms. For one moment the thought that he had no weapon upon
him gave him pause, but directly afterward he decided to throttle
them. He returned to the consideration of his project, and he
perfected it while waiting for some sign, some indication, which
should bring certainty with it.
Had a woman's shadow only shown itself at that moment he would have
rung. But the thought that perhaps he was deceiving himself froze
him. How could he be certain? Doubts began to return. His wife
could not be with that man. It was monstrous and impossible.
Nevertheless, he stayed where he was and was gradually overcome by a
species of torpor which merged into sheer feebleness while he waited
long, and the fixity of his gaze induced hallucinations.
A shower was falling. Two policemen were approaching, and he was
forced to leave the doorway where he had taken shelter. When these
were lost to view in the Rue de Provence he returned to his post,
wet and shivering. The luminous streak still traversed the window,
and this time he was going away for good when a shadow crossed it.
It moved so quickly that he thought he had deceived himself. But
first one and then another black thing followed quickly after it,
and there was a regular commotion in the room. Riveted anew to the
pavement, he experienced an intolerable burning sensation in his
inside as he waited to find out the meaning of it all. Outlines of
arms and legs flitted after one another, and an enormous hand
traveled about with the silhouette of a water jug. He distinguished
nothing clearly, but he thought he recognized a woman's headdress.
And he disputed the point with himself; it might well have been
Sabine's hair, only the neck did not seem sufficiently slim. At
that hour of the night he had lost the power of recognition and of
action. In this terrible agony of uncertainty his inside caused him
such acute suffering that he pressed against the door in order to
calm himself, shivering like a man in rags, as he did so. Then
seeing that despite everything he could not turn his eyes away from
the window, his anger changed into a fit of moralizing. He fancied
himself a deputy; he was haranguing an assembly, loudly denouncing
debauchery, prophesying national ruin. And he reconstructed
Fauchery's article on the poisoned fly, and he came before the house
and declared that morals such as these, which could only be
paralleled in the days of the later Roman Empire, rendered society
an impossibility; that did him good. But the shadows had meanwhile
disappeared. Doubtless they had gone to bed again, and, still
watching, he continued waiting where he was.
Three o'clock struck, then four, but he could not take his
departure. When showers fell he buried himself in a corner of the
doorway, his legs splashed with wet. Nobody passed by now, and
occasionally his eyes would close, as though scorched by the streak
of light, which he kept watching obstinately, fixedly, with idiotic
persistence. On two subsequent occasions the shadows flitted about,
repeating the same gestures and agitating the silhouette of the same
gigantic jug, and twice quiet was re-established, and the night lamp
again glowed discreetly out. These shadows only increased his
uncertainty. Then, too, a sudden idea soothed his brain while it
postponed the decisive moment. After all, he had only to wait for
the woman when she left the house. He could quite easily recognize
Sabine. Nothing could be simpler, and there would be no scandal,
and he would be sure of things one way or the other. It was only
necessary to stay where he was. Among all the confused feelings
which had been agitating him he now merely felt a dull need of
certain knowledge. But sheer weariness and vacancy began lulling
him to sleep under his doorway, and by way of distraction he tried
to reckon up how long he would have to wait. Sabine was to be at
the station toward nine o'clock; that meant about four hours and a
half more. He was very patient; he would even have been content not
to move again, and he found a certain charm in fancying that his
night vigil would last through eternity.
Suddenly the streak of light was gone. This extremely simple event
was to him an unforeseen catastrophe, at once troublesome and
disagreeable. Evidently they had just put the lamp out and were
going to sleep. lt was reasonable enough at that hour, but he was
irritated thereat, for now the darkened window ceased to interest
him. He watched it for a quarter of an hour longer and then grew
tired and, leaving the doorway, took a turn upon the pavement.
Until five o'clock he walked to and fro, looking upward from time to
time. The window seemed a dead thing, and now and then he asked
himself if he had not dreamed that shadows had been dancing up there
behind the panes. An intolerable sense of fatigue weighed him down,
a dull, heavy feeling, under the influence of which he forgot what
he was waiting for at that particular street corner. He kept
stumbling on the pavement and starting into wakefulness with the icy
shudder of a man who does not know where he is. Nothing seemed to
justify the painful anxiety he was inflicting on himself. Since
those people were asleep--well then, let them sleep! What good
could it do mixing in their affairs? It was very dark; no one would
ever know anything about this night's doings. And with that every
sentiment within him, down to curiosity itself, took flight before
the longing to have done with it all and to find relief somewhere.
The cold was increasing, and the street was becoming insufferable.
Twice he walked away and slowly returned, dragging one foot behind
the other, only to walk farther away next time. It was all over;
nothing was left him now, and so he went down the whole length of
the boulevard and did not return.
His was a melancholy progress through the streets. He walked
slowly, never changing his pace and simply keeping along the walls
of the houses.
His boot heels re-echoed, and he saw nothing but his shadow moving
at his side. As he neared each successive gaslight it grew taller
and immediately afterward diminished. But this lulled him and
occupied him mechanically. He never knew afterward where he had
been; it seemed as if he had dragged himself round and round in a
circle for hours. One reminiscence only was very distinctly
retained by him. Without his being able to explain how it came
about he found himself with his face pressed close against the gate
at the end of the Passage des Panoramas and his two hands grasping
the bars. He did not shake them but, his whole heart swelling with
emotion, he simply tried to look into the passage. But he could
make nothing out clearly, for shadows flooded the whole length of
the deserted gallery, and the wind, blowing hard down the Rue Saint-
Marc, puffed in his face with the damp breath of a cellar. For a
time he tried doggedly to see into the place, and then, awakening
from his dream, he was filled with astonishment and asked himself
what he could possibly be seeking for at that hour and in that
position, for he had pressed against the railings so fiercely that
they had left their mark on his face. Then he went on tramp once
more. He was hopeless, and his heart was full of infinite sorrow,
for he felt, amid all those shadows, that he was evermore betrayed
Day broke at last. It was the murky dawn that follows winter nights
and looks so melancholy from muddy Paris pavements. Muffat had
returned into the wide streets, which were then in course of
construction on either side of the new opera house. Soaked by the
rain and cut up by cart wheels, the chalky soil had become a lake of
liquid mire. But he never looked to see where he was stepping and
walked on and on, slipping and regaining his footing as he went.
The awakening of Paris, with its gangs of sweepers and early workmen
trooping to their destinations, added to his troubles as day
brightened. People stared at him in surprise as he went by with
scared look and soaked hat and muddy clothes. For a long while he
sought refuge against palings and among scaffoldings, his desolate
brain haunted by the single remaining thought that he was very
Then he thought of God. The sudden idea of divine help, of
superhuman consolation, surprised him, as though it were something
unforeseen and extraordinary. The image of M. Venot was evoked
thereby, and he saw his little plump face and ruined teeth.
Assuredly M. Venot, whom for months he had been avoiding and thereby
rendering miserable, would be delighted were he to go and knock at
his door and fall weeping into his arms. In the old days God had
been always so merciful toward him. At the least sorrow, the
slightest obstacle on the path of life, he had been wont to enter a
church, where, kneeling down, he would humble his littleness in the
presence of Omnipotence. And he had been used to go forth thence,
fortified by prayer, fully prepared to give up the good things of
this world, possessed by the single yearning for eternal salvation.
But at present he only practiced by fits and starts, when the terror
of hell came upon him. All kinds of weak inclinations had overcome
him, and the thought of Nana disturbed his devotions. And now the
thought of God astonished him. Why had he not thought of God
before, in the hour of that terrible agony when his feeble humanity
was breaking up in ruin?
Meanwhile with slow and painful steps he sought for a church. But
he had lost his bearings; the early hour had changed the face of the
streets. Soon, however, as he turned the corner of the Rue de la
Chaussee-d'Antin, he noticed a tower looming vaguely in the fog at
the end of the Trinite Church. The white statues overlooking the
bare garden seemed like so many chilly Venuses among the yellow
foliage of a park. Under the porch he stood and panted a little,
for the ascent of the wide steps had tired him. Then he went in.
The church was very cold, for its heating apparatus had been
fireless since the previous evening, and its lofty, vaulted aisles
were full of a fine damp vapor which had come filtering through the
windows. The aisles were deep in shadow; not a soul was in the
church, and the only sound audible amid the unlovely darkness was
that made by the old shoes of some verger or other who was dragging
himself about in sulky semiwakefulness. Muffat, however, after
knocking forlornly against an untidy collection of chairs, sank on
his knees with bursting heart and propped himself against the rails
in front of a little chapel close by a font. He clasped his hands
and began searching within himself for suitable prayers, while his
whole being yearned toward a transport. But only his lips kept
stammering empty words; his heart and brain were far away, and with
them he returned to the outer world and began his long, unresting
march through the streets, as though lashed forward by implacable
necessity. And he kept repeating, "O my God, come to my assistance!
O my God, abandon not Thy creature, who delivers himself up to Thy
justice! O my God, I adore Thee: Thou wilt not leave me to perish
under the buffetings of mine enemies!" Nothing answered: the
shadows and the cold weighed upon him, and the noise of the old
shoes continued in the distance and prevented him praying. Nothing,
indeed, save that tiresome noise was audible in the deserted church,
where the matutinal sweeping was unknown before the early masses had
somewhat warmed the air of the place. After that he rose to his
feet with the help of a chair, his knees cracking under him as he
did so. God was not yet there. And why should he weep in M.
Venot's arms? The man could do nothing.
And then mechanically he returned to Nana's house. Outside he
slipped, and he felt the tears welling to his eyes again, but he was
not angry with his lot--he was only feeble and ill. Yes, he was too
tired; the rain had wet him too much; he was nipped with cold, but
the idea of going back to his great dark house in the Rue Miromesnil
froze his heart. The house door at Nana's was not open as yet, and
he had to wait till the porter made his appearance. He smiled as he
went upstairs, for he already felt penetrated by the soft warmth of
that cozy retreat, where he would be able to stretch his limbs and
go to sleep.
When Zoe opened the door to him she gave a start of most uneasy
astonishment. Madame had been taken ill with an atrocious sick
headache, and she hadn't closed her eyes all night. Still, she
could quite go and see whether Madame had gone to sleep for good.
And with that she slipped into the bedroom while he sank back into
one of the armchairs in the drawing room. But almost at that very
moment Nana appeared. She had jumped out of bed and had scarce had
time to slip on a petticoat. Her feet were bare, her hair in wild
disorder, her nightgown all crumpled.
"What! You here again?" she cried with a red flush on her cheeks.
Up she rushed, stung by sudden indignation, in order herself to
thrust him out of doors. But when she saw him in such sorry plight--
nay, so utterly done for--she felt infinite pity.
"Well, you are a pretty sight, my dear fellow!" she continued more
gently. "But what's the matter? You've spotted them, eh? And it's
given you the hump?"
He did not answer; he looked like a broken-down animal.
Nevertheless, she came to the conclusion that he still lacked
proofs, and to hearten him up the said:
"You see now? I was on the wrong tack. Your wife's an honest
woman, on my word of honor! And now, my little friend, you must go
home to bed. You want it badly."
He did not stir.
"Now then, be off! I can't keep you here. But perhaps you won't
presume to stay at such a time as this?"
"Yes, let's go to bed," he stammered.
She repressed a violent gesture, for her patience was deserting her.
Was the man going crazy?
"Come, be off!" she repeated.
But she flared up in exasperation, in utter rebellion.
"It's sickening! Don't you understand I'm jolly tired of your
company? Go and find your wife, who's making a cuckold of you.
Yes, she's making a cuckold of you. I say so--yes, I do now.
There, you've got the sack! Will you leave me or will you not?"
Muffat's eyes filled with tears. He clasped his hands together.
"Oh, let's go to bed!"
At this Nana suddenly lost all control over herself and was choked
by nervous sobs. She was being taken advaatage of when all was said
and done! What had these stories to do with her? She certainly had
used all manner of delicate methods in order to teach him his lesson
gently. And now he was for making her pay the damages! No, thank
you! She was kindhearted, but not to that extent.
"The devil, but I've had enough of this!" she swore, bringing her
fist down on the furniture. "Yes, yes, I wanted to be faithful--it
was all I could do to be that! Yet if I spoke the word I could be
rich tomorrow, my dear fellow!"
He looked up in surprise. Never once had he thought of the monetary
question. If she only expressed a desire he would realize it at
once; his whole fortune was at her service.
"No, it's too late now," she replied furiously. "I like men who
give without being asked. No, if you were to offer me a million for
a single interview I should say no! It's over between us; I've got
other fish to fry there! So be off or I shan't answer for the
consequences. I shall do something dreadful!"
She advanced threateningly toward him, and while she was raving, as
became a good courtesan who, though driven to desperation, was yet
firmly convinced of her rights and her superiority over tiresome,
honest folks, the door opened suddenly and Steiner presented
himself. That proved the finishing touch. She shrieked aloud:
"Well, I never. Here's the other one!"
Bewildered by her piercing outcry, Steiner stopped short. Muffat's
unexpected presence annoyed him, for he feared an explanation and
had been doing his best to avoid it these three months past. With
blinking eyes he stood first on one leg, then on the other, looking
embarrassed the while and avoiding the count's gaze. He was out of
breath, and as became a man who had rushed across Paris with good
news, only to find himself involved in unforeseen trouble, his face
was flushed and distorted.
"Que veux-tu, toi?" asked Nana roughly, using the second person
singular in open mockery of the count.
"What--what do I--" he stammered. "I've got it for you--you know
He hesitated. The day before yesterday she had given him to
understand that if he could not find her a thousand francs to pay a
bill with she would not receive him any more. For two days he had
been loafing about the town in quest of the money and had at last
made the sum up that very morning.
"The thousand francs!" he ended by declaring as he drew an envelope
from his pocket.
Nana had not remembered.
"The thousand francs!" she cried. "D'you think I'm begging alms?
Now look here, that's what I value your thousand francs at!"
And snatching the envelope, she threw it full in his face. As
became a prudent Hebrew, he picked it up slowly and painfully and
then looked at the young woman with a dull expression of face.
Muffat and he exchanged a despairing glance, while she put her arms
akimbo in order to shout more loudly than before.
"Come now, will you soon have done insulting me? I'm glad you've
come, too, dear boy, because now you see the clearance'll be quite
complete. Now then, gee up! Out you go!"
Then as they did not hurry in the least, for they were paralyzed:
"D'you mean to say I'm acting like a fool, eh? It's likely enough!
But you've bored me too much! And, hang it all, I've had enough of
swelldom! If I die of what I'm doing--well, it's my fancy!"
They sought to calm her; they begged her to listen to reason.
"Now then, once, twice, thrice! Won't you go? Very well! Look
there! I've got company."
And with a brisk movement she flung wide the bedroom door.
Whereupon in the middle of the tumbled bed the two men caught sight
of Fontan. He had not expected to be shown off in this situation;
nevertheless, he took things very easily, for he was used to sudden
surprises on the stage. Indeed, after the first shock he even hit
upon a grimace calculated to tide him honorably over his difficulty;
he "turned rabbit," as he phrased it, and stuck out his lips and
wrinkled up his nose, so as completely to transform the lower half
of his face. His base, satyrlike head seemed to exude incontinence.
It was this man Fontan then whom Nana had been to fetch at the
Varieties every day for a week past, for she was smitten with that
fierce sort of passion which the grimacing ugliness of a low
comedian is wont to inspire in the genus courtesan.
"There!" she said, pointing him out with tragic gesture.
Muffat, who hitherto had pocketed everything, rebelled at this
"Bitch!" he stammered.
But Nana, who was once more in the bedroom, came back in order to
have the last word.
"How am I a bitch? What about your wife?"
And she was off and, slamming the door with a bang, she noisily
pushed to the bolt. Left alone, the two men gazed at one another in
silence. Zoe had just come into the room, but she did not drive
them out. Nay, she spoke to them in the most sensible manner. As
became a woman with a head on her shoulders, she decided that
Madame's conduct was rather too much of a good thing. But she
defended her, nonetheless: this union with the play actor couldn't
last; the madness must be allowed to pass off! The two men retired
without uttering a sound. On the pavement outside they shook hands
silently, as though swayed by a mutual sense of fraternity. Then
they turned their backs on one another and went crawling off in
When at last Muffat entered his town house in the Rue Miromesnil his
wife was just arriving. The two met on the great staircase, whose
walls exhaled an icy chill. They lifted up their eyes and beheld
one another. The count still wore his muddy clothes, and his pale,
bewildered face betrayed the prodigal returning from his debauch.
The countess looked as though she were utterly fagged out by a night
in the train. She was dropping with sleep, but her hair had been
brushed anyhow, and her eyes were deeply sunken.
We are in a little set of lodgings on the fourth floor in the Rue
Veron at Montmartre. Nana and Fontan have invited a few friends to
cut their Twelfth-Night cake with them. They are giving their
housewarming, though they have been only three days settled.
They had no fixed intention of keeping house together, but the whole
thing had come about suddenly in the first glow of the honeymoon.
After her grand blowup, when she had turned the count and the banker
so vigorously out of doors, Nana felt the world crumbling about her
feet. She estimated the situation at a glance; the creditors would
swoop down on her anteroom, would mix themselves up with her love
affairs and threaten to sell her little all unless she continued to
act sensibly. Then, too, there would be no end of disputes and
carking anxieties if she attempted to save her furniture from their
clutches. And so she preferred giving up everything. Besides, the
flat in the Boulevard Haussmann was plaguing her to death. It was
so stupid with its great gilded rooms! In her access of tenderness
for Fontan she began dreaming of a pretty little bright chamber.
Indeed, she returned to the old ideals of the florist days, when her
highest ambition was to have a rosewood cupboard with a plate-glass
door and a bed hung with blue "reps." In the course of two days she
sold what she could smuggle out of the house in the way of
knickknacks and jewelry and then disappeared, taking with her ten
thousand francs and never even warning the porter's wife. It was a
plunge into the dark, a merry spree; never a trace was left behind.
In this way she would prevent the men from coming dangling after
her. Fontain was very nice. He did not say no to anything but just
let her do as she liked. Nay, he even displayed an admirable spirit
of comradeship. He had, on his part, nearly seven thousand francs,
and despite the fact that people accused him of stinginess, he
consented to add them to the young woman's ten thousand. The sum
struck them as a solid foundation on which to begin housekeeping.
And so they started away, drawing from their common hoard, in order
to hire and furnish the two rooms in the Rue Veron, and sharing
everything together like old friends. In the early days it was
On Twelfth Night Mme Lerat and Louiset were the first to arrive. As
Fontan had not yet come home, the old lady ventured to give
expression to her fears, for she trembled to see her niece
renouncing the chance of wealth.
"Oh, Aunt, I love him so dearly!" cried Nana, pressing her hands to
her heart with the prettiest of gestures.
This phrase produced an extraordinary effect on Mme Lerat, and tears
came into her eyes.
"That's true," she said with an air of conviction. "Love before all
And with that she went into raptures over the prettiness of the
rooms. Nana took her to see the bedroom, the parlor and the very
kitchen. Gracious goodness, it wasn't a vast place, but then, they
had painted it afresh and put up new wallpapers. Besides, the sun
shone merrily into it during the daytime.
Thereupon Mme Lerat detained the young woman in the bedroom, while
Louiset installed himself behind the charwoman in the kitchen in
order to watch a chicken being roasted. If, said Mme Lerat, she
permitted herself to say what was in her mind, it was because Zoe
had just been at her house. Zoe had stayed courageously in the
breach because she was devoted to her mistress. Madame would pay
her later on; she was in no anxiety about that! And amid the
breakup of the Boulevard Haussmann establishment it was she who
showed the creditors a bold front; it was she who conducted a
dignified retreat, saving what she could from the wreck and telling
everyone that her mistress was traveling. She never once gave them
her address. Nay, through fear of being followed, she even deprived
herself of the pleasure of calling on Madame. Nevertheless, that
same morning she had run round to Mme Lerat's because matters were
taking a new turn. The evening before creditors in the persons of
the upholsterer, the charcoal merchant and the laundress had put in
an appearance and had offered to give Madame an extension of time.
Nay, they had even proposed to advance Madame a very considerable
amount if only Madame would return to her flat and conduct herself
like a sensible person. The aunt repeated Zoe's words. Without
doubt there was a gentleman behind it all.
"I'll never consent!" declared Nana in great disgust. "Ah, they're
a pretty lot those tradesmen! Do they think I'm to be sold so that
they can get their bills paid? Why, look here, I'd rather die of
hunger than deceive Fontan."
"That's what I said," averred Mme Lerat. "'My niece,' I said, 'is
Nana, however, was much vexed to learn that La Mignotte was being
sold and that Labordette was buying it for Caroline Hequet at an
absurdly low price. It made her angry with that clique. Oh, they
were a regular cheap lot, in spite of their airs and graces! Yes,
by Jove, she was worth more than the whole lot of them!
"They can have their little joke out," she concluded, "but money
will never give them true happiness! Besides, you know, Aunt, I
don't even know now whether all that set are alive or not. I'm much
At that very moment Mme Maloir entered, wearing one of those hats of
which she alone understood the shape. It was delightful meeting
again. Mme Maloir explained that magnificence frightened her and
that NOW, from time to time, she would come back for her game of
bezique. A second visit was paid to the different rooms in the
lodgings, and in the kitchen Nana talked of economy in the presence
of the charwoman, who was basting the fowl, and said that a servant
would have cost too much and that she was herself desirous of
looking after things. Louiset was gazing beatifically at the
But presently there was a loud outburst of voices. Fontan had come
in with Bosc and Prulliere, and the company could now sit down to
table. The soup had been already served when Nana for the third
time showed off the lodgings.
"Ah, dear children, how comfortable you are here!" Bosc kept
repeating, simply for the sake of pleasing the chums who were
standing the dinner. At bottom the subject of the "nook," as he
called it, nowise touched him.
In the bedroom he harped still more vigorously on the amiable note.
Ordinarily he was wont to treat women like cattle, and the idea of a
man bothering himself about one of the dirty brutes excited within
him the only angry feelings of which, in his comprehensive, drunken
disdain of the universe, he was still capable.
"Ah, ah, the villains," he continued with a wink, "they've done this
on the sly. Well, you were certainly right. It will be charming,
and, by heaven, we'll come and see you!"
But when Louiset arrived on the scene astride upon a broomstick,
Prulliere chuckled spitefully and remarked:
"Well, I never! You've got a baby already?"
This struck everybody as very droll, and Mme Lerat and Mme Maloir
shook with laughter. Nana, far from being vexed, laughed tenderly
and said that unfortunately this was not the case. She would very
much have liked it, both for the little one's sake and for her own,
but perhaps one would arrive all the same. Fontan, in his role of
honest citizen, took Louiset in his arms and began playing with him
"Never mind! It loves its daddy! Call me 'Papa,' you little
"Papa, Papa!" stammered the child.
The company overwhelmed him with caresses, but Bosc was bored and
talked of sitting down to table. That was the only serious business
in life. Nana asked her guests' permission to put Louiset's chair
next her own. The dinner was very merry, but Bosc suffered from the
near neighborhood of the child, from whom he had to defend his
plate. Mme Lerat bored him too. She was in a melting mood and kept
whispering to him all sorts of mysterious things about gentlemen of
the first fashion who were still running after Nana. Twice he had
to push away her knee, for she was positively invading him in her
gushing, tearful mood. Prulliere behaved with great incivility
toward Mme Maloir and did not once help her to anything. He was
entirely taken up with Nana and looked annoyed at seeing her with
Fontan. Besides, the turtle doves were kissing so excessively as to
be becoming positive bores. Contrary to all known rules, they had
elected to sit side by side.
"Devil take it! Why don't you eat? You've got plenty of time ahead
of you!" Bosc kept repeating with his mouth full. "Wait till we
But Nana could not restrain herself. She was in a perfect ecstasy
of love. Her face was as full of blushes as an innocent young
girl's, and her looks and her laughter seemed to overflow with
tenderness. Gazing on Fontan, she overwhelmed him with pet names--
"my doggie, my old bear, my kitten"--and whenever he passed her the
water or the salt she bent forward and kissed him at random on lips,
eyes, nose or ear. Then if she met with reproof she would return to
the attack with the cleverest maneuvers and with infinite
submissiveness and the supple cunning of a beaten cat would catch
hold of his hand when no one was looking, in order to kiss it again.
It seemed she must be touching something belonging to him. As to
Fontan, he gave himself airs and let himself be adored with the
utmost condescension. His great nose sniffed with entirely sensual
content; his goat face, with its quaint, monstrous ugliness,
positively glowed in the sunlight of devoted adoration lavished upon
him by that superb woman who was so fair and so plump of limb.
Occasionally he gave a kiss in return, as became a man who is having
all the enjoyment and is yet willing to behave prettily.
"Well, you're growing maddening!" cried Prulliere. "Get away from
her, you fellow there!"
And he dismissed Fontan and changed covers, in order to take his
place at Nana's side. The company shouted and applauded at this and
gave vent to some stiffish epigrammatic witticisms. Fontan
counterfeited despair and assumed the quaint expression of Vulcan
crying for Venus. Straightway Prulliere became very gallant, but
Nana, whose foot he was groping for under the table, caught him a
slap to make him keep quiet. No, no, she was certainly not going to
become his mistress. A month ago she had begun to take a fancy to
him because of his good looks, but now she detested him. If he
pinched her again under pretense of picking up her napkin, she would
throw her glass in his face!
Nevertheless, the evening passed off well. The company had
naturally begun talking about the Varietes. Wasn't that cad of a
Bordenave going to go off the hooks after all? His nasty diseases
kept reappearing and causing him such suffering that you couldn't
come within six yards of him nowadays. The day before during
rehearsal he had been incessantly yelling at Simonne. There was a
fellow whom the theatrical people wouldn't shed many tears over.
Nana announced that if he were to ask her to take another part she
would jolly well send him to the rightabout. Moreover, she began
talking of leaving the stage; the theater was not to compare with
her home. Fontan, who was not in the present piece or in that which
was then being rehearsed, also talked big about the joy of being
entirely at liberty and of passing his evenings with his feet on the
fender in the society of his little pet. And at this the rest
exclaimed delightedly, treating their entertainers as lucky people
and pretending to envy their felicity.
The Twelfth-Night cake had been cut and handed round. The bean had
fallen to the lot of Mme Lerat, who popped it into Bosc's glass.
Whereupon there were shouts of "The king drinks! The king drinks!"
Nana took advantage of this outburst of merriment and went and put
her arms round Fontan's neck again, kissing him and whispering in
his ear. But Prulliere, laughing angrily, as became a pretty man,
declared that they were not playing the game. Louiset, meanwhile,
slept soundly on two chairs. It was nearing one o'clock when the
company separated, shouting au revoir as they went downstairs.
For three weeks the existence of the pair of lovers was really
charming. Nana fancied she was returning to those early days when
her first silk dress had caused her infinite delight. She went out
little and affected a life of solitude and simplicity. One morning
early, when she had gone down to buy fish IN PROPRIA PERSONA in La
Rouchefoucauld Market, she was vastly surprised to meet her old hair
dresser Francis face to face. His getup was as scrupulously careful
as ever: he wore the finest linen, and his frock coat was beyond
reproach; in fact, Nana felt ashamed that he should see her in the
street with a dressing jacket and disordered hair and down-at-heel
shoes. But he had the tact, if possible, to intensify his
politeness toward her. He did not permit himself a single inquiry
and affected to believe that Madame was at present on her travels.
Ah, but Madame had rendered many persons unhappy when she decided to
travel! All the world had suffered loss. The young woman, however,
ended by asking him questions, for a sudden fit of curiosity had
made her forget her previous embarrassment. Seeing that the crowd
was jostling them, she pushed him into a doorway and, still holding
her little basket in one hand, stood chatting in front of him. What
were people saying about her high jinks? Good heavens! The ladies
to whom he went said this and that and all sorts of things. In
fact, she had made a great noise and was enjoying a real boom: And
Steiner? M. Steiner was in a very bad way, would make an ugly
finish if he couldn't hit on some new commercial operation. And
Daguenet? Oh, HE was getting on swimmingly. M. Daguenet was
settling down. Nana, under the exciting influence of various
recollections, was just opening her mouth with a view to a further
examination when she felt it would be awkward to utter Muffat's
name. Thereupon Francis smiled and spoke instead of her. As to
Monsieur le Comte, it was all a great pity, so sad had been his
sufferings since Madame's departure.
He had been like a soul in pain--you might have met him wherever
Madame was likely to be found. At last M. Mignon had come across
him and had taken him home to his own place. This piece of news
caused Nana to laugh a good deal. But her laughter was not of the
"Ah, he's with Rose now," she said. "Well then, you must know,
Francis, I've done with him! Oh, the canting thing! It's learned
some pretty habits--can't even go fasting for a week now! And to
think that he used to swear he wouldn't have any woman after me!"
She was raging inwardly.
"My leavings, if you please!" she continued. "A pretty Johnnie for
Rose to go and treat herself to! Oh, I understand it all now: she
wanted to have her revenge because I got that brute of a Steiner
away from her. Ain't it sly to get a man to come to her when I've
chucked him out of doors?"
"M. Mignon doesn't tell that tale," said the hairdresser.
"According to his account, it was Monsieur le Comte who chucked you
out. Yes, and in a pretty disgusting way too--with a kick on the
Nana became suddenly very pale.
"Eh, what?" she cried. "With a kick on my bottom? He's going too
far, he is! Look here, my little friend, it was I who threw him
downstairs, the cuckold, for he is a cuckold, I must inform you.
His countess is making him one with every man she meets--yes, even
with that good-for-nothing of a Fauchery. And that Mignon, who goes
loafing about the pavement in behalf of his harridan of a wife, whom
nobody wants because she's so lean! What a foul lot! What a foul
She was choking, and she paused for breath
"Oh, that's what they say, is it? Very well, my little Francis,
I'll go and look 'em up, I will. Shall you and I go to them at
once? Yes, I'll go, and we'll see whether they will have the cheek
to go telling about kicks on the bottom. Kick's! I never took one
from anybody! And nobody's ever going to strike me--d'ye see?--for
I'd smash the man who laid a finger on me!"
Nevertheless, the storm subsided at last. After all, they might
jolly well what they liked! She looked upon them as so much filth
underfoot! It would have soiled her to bother about people like
that. She had a conscience of her own, she had! And Francis,
seeing her thus giving herself away, what with her housewife's
costume and all, became familiar and, at parting, made so bold as to
give her some good advice. It was wrong of her to be sacrificing
everything for the sake of an infatuation; such infatuations ruined
existence. She listened to him with bowed head while he spoke to
her with a pained expression, as became a connoisseur who could not
bear to see so fine a girl making such a hash of things.
"Well, that's my affair," she said at last "Thanks all the same,
dear boy." She shook his hand, which despite his perfect dress was
always a little greasy, and then went off to buy her fish. During
the day that story about the kick on the bottom occupied her
thoughts. She even spoke about it to Fontan and again posed as a
sturdy woman who was not going to stand the slightest flick from
anybody. Fontan, as became a philosophic spirit, declared that all
men of fashion were beasts whom it was one's duty to despise. And
from that moment forth Nana was full of very real disdain.
That same evening they went to the Bouffes-Parisiens Theatre to see
a little woman of Fontan's acquaintance make her debut in a part of
some ten lines. It was close on one o'clock when they once more
trudged up the heights of Montmartre. They had purchased a cake, a
"mocha," in the Rue de la Chaussee-d'Antin, and they ate it in bed,
seeing that the night was not warm and it was not worth while
lighting a fire. Sitting up side by side, with the bedclothes
pulled up in front and the pillows piled up behind, they supped and
talked about the little woman. Nana thought her plain and lacking
in style. Fontan, lying on his stomach, passed up the pieces of
cake which had been put between the candle and the matches on the
edge of the night table. But they ended by quarreling.
"Oh, just to think of it!" cried Nana. "She's got eyes like gimlet
holes, and her hair's the color of tow."
"Hold your tongue, do!" said Fontan. "She has a superb head of hair
and such fire in her looks! It's lovely the way you women always
tear each other to pieces!"
He looked annoyed.
"Come now, we've had enough of it!" he said at last in savage tones.
"You know I don't like being bored. Let's go to sleep, or things'll
take a nasty turn."
And he blew out the candle, but Nana was furious and went on
talking. She was not going to be spoken to in that voice; she was
accustomed to being treated with respect! As he did not vouchsafe
any further answer, she was silenced, but she could not go to sleep
and lay tossing to and fro.
"Great God, have you done moving about?" cried he suddenly, giving a
brisk jump upward.
"It isn't my fault if there are crumbs in the bed," she said curtly.
In fact, there were crumbs in the bed. She felt them down to her
middle; she was everywhere devoured by them. One single crumb was
scorching her and making her scratch herself till she bled.
Besides, when one eats a cake isn't it usual to shake out the
bedclothes afterward? Fontan, white with rage, had relit the
candle, and they both got up and, barefooted and in their night
dresses, they turned down the clothes and swept up the crumbs on the
sheet with their hands. Fontan went to bed again, shivering, and
told her to go to the devil when she advised him to wipe the soles
of his feet carefully. And in the end she came back to her old
position, but scarce had she stretched herself out than she danced
again. There were fresh crumbs in the bed!
"By Jove, it was sure to happen!" she cried. "You've brought them
back again under your feet. I can't go on like this! No, I tell
you, I can't go on like this!"
And with that she was on the point of stepping over him in order to
jump out of bed again, when Fontan in his longing for sleep grew
desperate and dealt her a ringing box on the ear. The blow was so
smart that Nana suddenly found herself lying down again with her
head on the pillow.
She lay half stunned.
"Oh!" she ejaculated simply, sighing a child's big sigh.
For a second or two he threatened her with a second slap, asking her
at the same time if she meant to move again. Then he put out the
light, settled himself squarely on his back and in a trice was
snoring. But she buried her face in the pillow and began sobbing
quietly to herself. It was cowardly of him to take advantage of his
superior strength! She had experienced very real terror all the
same, so terrible had that quaint mask of Fontan's become. And her
anger began dwindling down as though the blow had calmed her. She
began to feel respect toward him and accordingly squeezed herself
against the wall in order to leave him as much room as possible.
She even ended by going to sleep, her cheek tingling, her eyes full
of tears and feeling so deliciously depressed and wearied and
submissive that she no longer noticed the crumbs. When she woke up
in the morning she was holding Fontain in her naked arms and
pressing him tightly against her breast. He would never begin it
again, eh? Never again? She loved him too dearly. Why, it was
even nice to be beaten if he struck the blow!
After that night a new life began. For a mere trifle--a yes, a no--
Fontan would deal her a blow. She grew accustomed to it and
pocketed everything. Sometimes she shed tears and threatened him,
but he would pin her up against the wall and talk of strangling her,
which had the effect of rendering her extremely obedient. As often
as not, she sank down on a chair and sobbed for five minutes on end.
But afterward she would forget all about it, grow very merry, fill
the little lodgings with the sound of song and laughter and the
rapid rustle of skirts. The worst of it was that Fontan was now in
the habit of disappearing for the whole day and never returning home
before midnight, for he was going to cafes and meeting his old
friends again. Nana bore with everything. She was tremulous and
caressing, her only fear being that she might never see him again if
she reproached him. But on certain days, when she had neither Mme
Maloir nor her aunt and Louiset with her, she grew mortally dull.
Thus one Sunday, when she was bargaining for some pigeons at La
Rochefoucauld Market, she was delighted to meet Satin, who, in her
turn, was busy purchasing a bunch of radishes. Since the evening
when the prince had drunk Fontan's champagne they had lost sight of
"What? It's you! D'you live in our parts?" said Satin, astounded
at seeing her in the street at that hour of the morning and in
slippers too. "Oh, my poor, dear girl, you're really ruined then!"
Nana knitted her brows as a sign that she was to hold her tongue,
for they were surrounded by other women who wore dressing gowns and
were without linen, while their disheveled tresses were white with
fluff. In the morning, when the man picked up overnight had been
newly dismissed, all the courtesans of the quarter were wont to come
marketing here, their eyes heavy with sleep, their feet in old down-
at-heel shoes and themselves full of the weariness and ill humor
entailed by a night of boredom. From the four converging streets
they came down into the market, looking still rather young in some
cases and very pale and charming in their utter unconstraint; in
others, hideous and old with bloated faces and peeling skin. The
latter did not the least mind being seen thus outside working hours,
and not one of them deigned to smile when the passers-by on the
sidewalk turned round to look at them. Indeed, they were all very
full of business and wore a disdainful expression, as became good
housewives for whom men had ceased to exist. Just as Satin, for
instance, was paying for her bunch of radishes a young man, who
might have been a shop-boy going late to his work, threw her a
"Good morning, duckie."
She straightened herself up at once and with the dignified manner
becoming an offended queen remarked:
"What's up with that swine there?"
Then she fancied she recognized him. Three days ago toward
midnight, as the was coming back alone from the boulevards, she had
talked to him at the corner of the Rue Labruyere for nearly half an
hour, with a view to persuading him to come home with her. But this
recollection only angered her the more.
"Fancy they're brutes enough to shout things to you in broad
daylight!" she continued. "When one's out on business one ought to
be respecifully treated, eh?"
Nana had ended by buying her pigeons, although she certainly had her
doubts of their freshness. After which Satin wanted to show her
where she lived in the Rue Rochefoucauld close by. And the moment
they were alone Nana told her of her passion for Fontan. Arrived in
front of the house, the girl stopped with her bundle of radishes
under her arm and listened eagerly to a final detail which the other
imparted to her. Nana fibbed away and vowed that it was she who had
turned Count Muffat out of doors with a perfect hail of kicks on the
"Oh how smart!" Satin repeated. "How very smart! Kicks, eh? And
he never said a word, did he? What a blooming coward! I wish I'd
been there to see his ugly mug! My dear girl, you were quite right.
A pin for the coin! When I'M on with a mash I starve for it!
You'll come and see me, eh? You promise? It's the left-hand door.
Knock three knocks, for there's a whole heap of damned squints
After that whenever Nana grew too weary of life she went down and
saw Satin. She was always sure of finding her, for the girl never
went out before six in the evening. Satin occupied a couple of
rooms which a chemist had furnished for her in order to save her