Part 6 out of 12
from the clutches of the police, but in little more than a
twelvemonth she had broken the furniture, knocked in the chairs,
dirtied the curtains, and that in a manner so furiously filthy and
untidy that the lodgings seemed as though inhabited by a pack of mad
cats. On the mornings when she grew disgusted with herself and
thought about cleaning up a bit, chair rails and strips of curtain
would come off in her hands during her struggle with superincumbent
dirt. On such days the place was fouler than ever, and it was
impossible to enter it, owing to the things which had fallen down
across the doorway. At length she ended by leaving her house
severely alone. When the lamp was lit the cupboard with plate-glass
doors, the clock and what remained of the curtains still served to
impose on the men. Besides, for six months past her landlord had
been threatening to evict her. Well then, for whom should she be
keeping the furniture nice? For him more than anyone else, perhaps!
And so whenever she got up in a merry mood she would shout "Gee up!"
and give the sides of the cupboard and the chest of drawers such a
tremendous kick that they cracked again.
Nana nearly always found her in bed. Even on the days when Satin
went out to do her marketing she felt so tired on her return
upstairs that she flung herself down on the bed and went to sleep
again. During the day she dragged herself about and dozed off on
chairs. Indeed, she did not emerge from this languid condition till
the evening drew on and the gas was lit outside. Nana felt very
comfortable at Satin's, sitting doing nothing on the untidy bed,
while basins stood about on the floor at her feet and petticoats
which had been bemired last night hung over the backs of armchairs
and stained them with mud. They had long gossips together and were
endlessly confidential, while Satin lay on her stomach in her
nightgown, waving her legs above her head and smoking cigarettes as
she listened. Sometimes on such afternoons as they had troubles to
retail they treated themselves to absinthe in order, as they termed
it, "to forget." Satin did not go downstairs or put on a petticoat
but simply went and leaned over the banisters and shouted her order
to the portress's little girl, a chit of ten, who when she brought
up the absinthe in a glass would look furtively at the lady's bare
legs. Every conversation led up to one subject--the beastliness of
the men. Nana was overpowering on the subject of Fontan. She could
not say a dozen words without lapsing into endless repetitions of
his sayings and his doings. But Satin, like a good-natured girl,
would listen unwearyingly to everlasting accounts of how Nana had
watched for him at the window, how they had fallen out over a burnt
dish of hash and how they had made it up in bed after hours of
silent sulking. In her desire to be always talking about these
things Nana had got to tell of every slap that he dealt her. Last
week he had given her a swollen eye; nay, the night before he had
given her such a box on the ear as to throw her across the night
table, and all because he could not find his slippers. And the
other woman did not evince any astonishment but blew out cigarette
smoke and only paused a moment to remark that, for her part, she
always ducked under, which sent the gentleman pretty nearly
sprawling. Both of them settled down with a will to these anecdotes
about blows; they grew supremely happy and excited over these same
idiotic doings about which they told one another a hundred times or
more, while they gave themselves up to the soft and pleasing sense
of weariness which was sure to follow the drubbings they talked of.
It was the delight of rediscussing Fontan's blows and of explaining
his works and his ways, down to the very manner in which he took off
his boots, which brought Nana back daily to Satin's place. The
latter, moreover, used to end by growing sympathetic in her turn and
would cite even more violent cases, as, for instance, that of a
pastry cook who had left her for dead on the floor. Yet she loved
him, in spite of it all! Then came the days on which Nana cried and
declared that things could not go on as they were doing. Satin
would escort her back to her own door and would linger an hour out
in the street to see that he did not murder her. And the next day
the two women would rejoice over the reconciliation the whole
afternoon through. Yet though they did not say so, they preferred
the days when threshings were, so to speak, in the air, for then
their comfortable indignation was all the stronger.
They became inseparable. Yet Satin never went to Nana's, Fontan
having announced that he would have no trollops in his house. They
used to go out together, and thus it was that Satin one day took her
friend to see another woman. This woman turned out to be that very
Mme Robert who had interested Nana and inspired her with a certain
respect ever since she had refused to come to her supper. Mme
Robert lived in the Rue Mosnier, a silent, new street in the
Quartier de l'Europe, where there were no shops, and the handsome
houses with their small, limited flats were peopled by ladies. It
was five o'clock, and along the silent pavements in the quiet,
aristocratic shelter of the tall white houses were drawn up the
broughams of stock-exchange people and merchants, while men walked
hastily about, looking up at the windows, where women in dressing
jackets seemed to be awaiting them. At first Nana refused to go up,
remarking with some constraint that she had not the pleasure of the
lady's acquaintance. But Satin would take no refusal. She was only
desirous of paying a civil call, for Mme Robert, whom she had met in
a restaurant the day before, had made herself extremely agreeable
and had got her to promise to come and see her. And at last Nana
consented. At the top of the stairs a little drowsy maid informed
them that Madame had not come home yet, but she ushered them into
the drawing room notwithstanding and left them there.
"The deuce, it's a smart show!" whispered Satin. It was a stiff,
middle-class room, hung with dark-colored fabrics, and suggested the
conventional taste of a Parisian shopkeeper who has retired on his
fortune. Nana was struck and did her best to make merry about it.
But Satin showed annoyance and spoke up for Mme Robert's strict
adherence to the proprieties. She was always to be met in the
society of elderly, grave-looking men, on whose arms she leaned. At
present she had a retired chocolate seller in tow, a serious soul.
Whenever he came to see her he was so charmed by the solid, handsome
way in which the house was arranged that he had himself announced
and addressed its mistress as "dear child."
"Look, here she is!" continued Satin, pointing to a photograph which
stood in front of the clock. Nana scrutinized the portrait for a
second or so. It represented a very dark brunette with a longish
face and lips pursed up in a discreet smile. "A thoroughly
fashionable lady," one might have said of the likeness, "but one who
is rather more reserved than the rest."
"It's strange," murmured Nana at length, "but I've certainly seen
that face somewhere. Where, I don't remember. But it can't have
been in a pretty place--oh no, I'm sure it wasn't in a pretty
And turning toward her friend, she added, "So she's made you promise
to come and see her? What does she want with you?"
"What does she want with me? 'Gad! To talk, I expect--to be with
me a bit. It's her politeness."
Nana looked steadily at Satin. "Tut, tut," she said softly. After
all, it didn't matter to her! Yet seeing that the lady was keeping
them waiting, she declared that she would not stay longer, and
accordingly they both took their departure.
The next day Fontan informed Nana that he was not coming home to
dinner, and she went down early to find Satin with a view to
treating her at a restaurant. The choice of the restaurant involved
infinite debate. Satin proposed various brewery bars, which Nana
thought detestable, and at last persuaded her to dine at Laure's.
This was a table d'hote in the Rue des Martyrs, where the dinner
cost three francs.
Tired of waiting for the dinner hour and not knowing what to do out
in the street, the pair went up to Laure's twenty minutes too early.
The three dining rooms there were still empty, and they sat down at
a table in the very saloon where Laure Piedefer was enthroned on a
high bench behind a bar. This Laure was a lady of some fifty
summers, whose swelling contours were tightly laced by belts and
corsets. Women kept entering in quick procession, and each, in
passing, craned upward so as to overtop the saucers raised on the
counter and kissed Laure on the mouth with tender familiarity, while
the monstrous creature tried, with tears in her eyes, to divide her
attentions among them in such a way as to make no one jealous. On
the other hand, the servant who waited on the ladies was a tall,
lean woman. She seemed wasted with disease, and her eyes were
ringed with dark lines and glowed with somber fire. Very rapidly
the three saloons filled up. There were some hundred customers, and
they had seated themselves wherever they could find vacant places.
The majority were nearing the age of forty: their flesh was puffy
and so bloated by vice as almost to hide the outlines of their
flaccid mouths. But amid all these gross bosoms and figures some
slim, pretty girls were observable. These still wore a modest
expression despite their impudent gestures, for they were only
beginners in their art, who had started life in the ballrooms of the
slums and had been brought to Laure's by some customer or other.
Here the tribe of bloated women, excited by the sweet scent of their
youth, jostled one another and, while treating them to dainties,
formed a perfect court round them, much as old amorous bachelors
might have done. As to the men, they were not numerous. There were
ten or fifteen of them at the outside, and if we except four tall
fellows who had come to see the sight and were cracking jokes and
taking things easy, they behaved humbly enough amid this whelming
flood of petticoats.
"I say, their stew's very good, ain't it?" said Satin.
Nana nodded with much satisfaction. It was the old substantial
dinner you get in a country hotel and consisted of vol-au-vent a la
financiere, fowl boiled in rice, beans with a sauce and vanilla
creams, iced and flavored with burnt sugar. The ladies made an
especial onslaught on the boiled fowl and rice: their stays seemed
about to burst; they wiped their lips with slow, luxurious
movements. At first Nana had been afraid of meeting old friends who
might have asked her silly questions, but she grew calm at last, for
she recognized no one she knew among that extremely motley throng,
where faded dresses and lamentable hats contrasted strangely with
handsome costumes, the wearers of which fraternized in vice with
their shabbier neighbors. She was momentarily interested, however,
at the sight of a young man with short curly hair and insolent face
who kept a whole tableful of vastly fat women breathlessly attentive
to his slightest caprice. But when the young man began to laugh his
"Good lack, it's a woman!"
She let a little cry escape as she spoke, and Satin, who was
stuffing herself with boiled fowl, lifted up her head and whispered:
"Oh yes! I know her. A smart lot, eh? They do just fight for
Nana pouted disgustingly. She could not understand the thing as
yet. Nevertheless, she remarked in her sensible tone that there was
no disputing about tastes or colors, for you never could tell what
you yourself might one day have a liking for. So she ate her cream
with an air of philosophy, though she was perfectly well aware that
Satin with her great blue virginal eyes was throwing the neighboring
tables into a state of great excitement. There was one woman in
particular, a powerful, fair-haired person who sat close to her and
made herself extremely agreeable. She seemed all aglow with
affection and pushed toward the girl so eagerly that Nana was on the
point of interfering.
But at that very moment a woman who was entering the room gave her a
shock of surprise. Indeed, she had recognized Mme Robert. The
latter, looking, as was her wont, like a pretty brown mouse, nodded
familiarly to the tall, lean serving maid and came and leaned upon
Laure's counter. Then both women exchanged a long kiss. Nana
thought such an attention on the part of a woman so distinguished
looking very amusing, the more so because Mme Robert had quite
altered her usual modest expression. On the contrary, her eye roved
about the saloon as she kept up a whispered conversation. Laure had
resumed her seat and once more settled herself down with all the
majesty of an old image of Vice, whose face has been worn and
polished by the kisses of the faithful. Above the range of loaded
plates she sat enthroned in all the opulence which a hotelkeeper
enjoys after forty years of activity, and as she sat there she
swayed her bloated following of large women, in comparison with the
biggest of whom she seemed monstrous.
But Mme Robert had caught sight of Satin, and leaving Laure, she ran
up and behaved charmingly, telling her how much she regretted not
having been at home the day before. When Satin, however, who was
ravished at this treatment, insisted on finding room for her at the
table, she vowed she had already dined. She had simply come up to
look about her. As she stood talking behind her new friend's chair
she leaned lightly on her shoulders and in a smiling, coaxing manner
"Now when shall I see you? If you were free--"
Nana unluckily failed to hear more. The conversation vexed her, and
she was dying to tell this honest lady a few home truths. But the
sight of a troop of new arrivals paralyzed her. It was composed of
smart, fashionably dressed women who were wearing their diamonds.
Under the influence of perverse impulse they had made up a party to
come to Laure's--whom, by the by, they all treated with great
familiarity--to eat the three-franc dinner while flashing their
jewels of great price in the jealous and astonished eyes of poor,
bedraggled prostitutes. The moment they entered, talking and
laughing in their shrill, clear tones and seeming to bring sunshine
with them from the outside world, Nana turned her head rapidly away.
Much to her annoyance she had recognized Lucy Stewart and Maria
Blond among them, and for nearly five minutes, during which the
ladies chatted with Laure before passing into the saloon beyond, she
kept her head down and seemed deeply occupied in rolling bread pills
on the cloth in front of her. But when at length she was able to
look round, what was her astonishment to observe the chair next to
hers vacant! Satin had vanished.
"Gracious, where can she be?" she loudly ejaculated.
The sturdy, fair woman who had been overwhelming Satin with civil
attentions laughed ill-temperedly, and when Nana, whom the laugh
irritated, looked threatening she remarked in a soft, drawling way:
"It's certainly not me that's done you this turn; it's the other
Thereupon Nana understood that they would most likely make game of
her and so said nothing more. She even kept her seat for some
moments, as she did not wish to show how angry she felt. She could
hear Lucy Stewart laughing at the end of the next saloon, where she
was treating a whole table of little women who had come from the
public balls at Montmartre and La Chapelle. It was very hot; the
servant was carrying away piles of dirty plates with a strong scent
of boiled fowl and rice, while the four gentlemen had ended by
regaling quite half a dozen couples with capital wine in the hope of
making them tipsy and hearing some pretty stiffish things. What at
present most exasperated Nana was the thought of paying for Satin's
dinner. There was a wench for you, who allowed herself to be amused
and then made off with never a thank-you in company with the first
petticoat that came by! Without doubt it was only a matter of three
francs, but she felt it was hard lines all the same--her way of
doing it was too disgusting. Nevertheless, she paid up, throwing
the six francs at Laure, whom at the moment she despised more than
the mud in the street. In the Rue des Martyrs Nana felt her
bitterness increasing. She was certainly not going to run after
Satin! It was a nice filthy business for one to be poking one's
nose into! But her evening was spoiled, and she walked slowly up
again toward Montmartre, raging against Mme Robert in particular.
Gracious goodness, that woman had a fine cheek to go playing the
lady--yes, the lady in the dustbin! She now felt sure she had met
her at the Papillon, a wretched public-house ball in the Rue des
Poissonniers, where men conquered her scruples for thirty sous. And
to think a thing like that got hold of important functionaries with
her modest looks! And to think she refused suppers to which one did
her the honor of inviting her because, forsooth, she was playing the
virtuous game! Oh yes, she'd get virtued! It was always those
conceited prudes who went the most fearful lengths in low corners
nobody knew anything about.
Revolving these matters, Nana at length reached her home in the Rue
Veron and was taken aback on observing a light in the window.
Fontan had come home in a sulk, for he, too, had been deserted by
the friend who had been dining with him. He listened coldly to her
explanations while she trembled lest he should strike her. It
scared her to find him at home, seeing that she had not expected him
before one in the morning, and she told him a fib and confessed that
she had certainly spent six francs, but in Mme Maloir's society. He
was not ruffled, however, and he handed her a letter which, though
addressed to her, he had quietly opened. It was a letter from
Georges, who was still a prisoner at Les Fondettes and comforted
himself weekly with the composition of glowing pages. Nana loved to
be written to, especially when the letters were full of grand,
loverlike expressions with a sprinkling of vows. She used to read
them to everybody. Fontan was familiar with the style employed by
Georges and appreciated it. But that evening she was so afraid of a
scene that she affected complete indifference, skimming through the
letter with a sulky expression and flinging it aside as soon as
read. Fontan had begun beating a tattoo on a windowpane; the
thought of going to bed so early bored him, and yet he did not know
how to employ his evening. He turned briskly round:
"Suppose we answer that young vagabond at once," he said.
It was the custom for him to write the letters in reply. He was
wont to vie with the other in point of style. Then, too, he used to
be delighted when Nana, grown enthusiastic after the letter had been
read over aloud, would kiss him with the announcement that nobody
but he could "say things like that." Thus their latent affections
would be stirred, and they would end with mutual adoration.
"As you will," she replied. "I'll make tea, and we'll go to bed
Thereupon Fontan installed himself at the table on which pen, ink
and paper were at the same time grandly displayed. He curved his
arm; he drew a long face.
"My heart's own," he began aloud.
And for more than an hour he applied himself to his task, polishing
here, weighing a phrase there, while he sat with his head between
his hands and laughed inwardly whenever he hit upon a peculiarly
tender expression. Nana had already consumed two cups of tea in
silence, when at last he read out the letter in the level voice and
with the two or three emphatic gestures peculiar to such
performances on the stage. It was five pages long, and he spoke
therein of "the delicious hours passed at La Mignotte, those hours
of which the memory lingered like subtle perfume." He vowed
"eternal fidelity to that springtide of love" and ended by declaring
that his sole wish was to "recommence that happy time if, indeed,
happiness can recommence."
"I say that out of politeness, y'know," he explained. "The moment
it becomes laughable--eh, what! I think she's felt it, she has!"
He glowed with triumph. But Nana was unskillful; she still
suspected an outbreak and now was mistaken enough not to fling her
arms round his neck in a burst of admiration. She thought the
letter a respectable performance, nothing more. Thereupon he was
much annoyed. If his letter did not please her she might write
another! And so instead of bursting out in loverlike speeches and
exchanging kisses, as their wont was, they sat coldly facing one
another at the table. Nevertheless, she poured him out a cup of
"Here's a filthy mess," he cried after dipping his lips in the
mixture. "You've put salt in it, you have!"
Nana was unlucky enough to shrug her shoulders, and at that he grew
"Aha! Things are taking a wrong turn tonight!"
And with that the quarrel began. It was only ten by the clock, and
this was a way of killing time. So he lashed himself into a rage
and threw in Nana's teeth a whole string of insults and all kinds of
accusations which followed one another so closely that she had no
time to defend herself. She was dirty; she was stupid; she had
knocked about in all sorts of low places! After that he waxed
frantic over the money question. Did he spend six francs when he
dined out? No, somebody was treating him to a dinner; otherwise he
would have eaten his ordinary meal at home. And to think of
spending them on that old procuress of a Maloir, a jade he would
chuck out of the house tomorrow! Yes, by jingo, they would get into
a nice mess if he and she were to go throwing six francs out of the
window every day!
"Now to begin with, I want your accounts," he shouted. "Let's see;
hand over the money! Now where do we stand?"
All his sordid avaricious instincts came to the surface. Nana was
cowed and scared, and she made haste to fetch their remaining cash
out of the desk and to bring it him. Up to that time the key had
lain on this common treasury, from which they had drawn as freely as
"How's this?" he said when he had counted up the money. "There are
scarcely seven thousand francs remaining out of seventeen thousand,
and we've only been together three months. The thing's impossible."
He rushed forward, gave the desk a savage shake and brought the
drawer forward in order to ransack it in the light of the lamp. But
it actually contained only six thousand eight hundred and odd
francs. Thereupon the tempest burst forth.
"Ten thousand francs in three months!" he yelled. "By God! What
have you done with it all? Eh? Answer! It all goes to your jade
of an aunt, eh? Or you're keeping men; that's plain! Will you
"Oh well, if you must get in a rage!" said Nana. "Why, the
calculation's easily made! You haven't allowed for the furniture;
besides, I've had to buy linen. Money goes quickly when one's
settling in a new place."
But while requiring explanations he refused to listen to them.
"Yes, it goes a deal too quickly!" he rejoined more calmly. "And
look here, little girl, I've had enough of this mutual housekeeping.
You know those seven thousand francs are mine. Yes, and as I've got
'em, I shall keep 'em! Hang it, the moment you become wasteful I
get anxious not to be ruined. To each man his own."
And he pocketed the money in a lordly way while Nana gazed at him,
dumfounded. He continued speaking complaisantly:
"You must understand I'm not such a fool as to keep aunts and
likewise children who don't belong to me. You were pleased to spend
your own money--well, that's your affair! But my money--no, that's
sacred! When in the future you cook a leg of mutton I'll pay for
half of it. We'll settle up tonight--there!"
Straightway Nana rebelled. She could not help shouting:
"Come, I say, it's you who've run through my ten thousand francs.
It's a dirty trick, I tell you!"
But he did not stop to discuss matters further, for he dealt her a
random box on the ear across the table, remarking as he did so:
"Let's have that again!"
She let him have it again despite his blow. Whereupon he fell upon
her and kicked and cuffed her heartily. Soon he had reduced her to
such a state that she ended, as her wont was, by undressing and
going to bed in a flood of tears.
He was out of breath and was going to bed, in his turn, when he
noticed the letter he had written to Georges lying on the table.
Whereupon he folded it up carefully and, turning toward the bed,
remarked in threatening accents:
"It's very well written, and I'm going to post it myself because I
don't like women's fancies. Now don't go moaning any more; it puts
my teeth on edge."
Nana, who was crying and gasping, thereupon held her breath. When
he was in bed she choked with emotion and threw herself upon his
breast with a wild burst of sobs. Their scuffles always ended thus,
for she trembled at the thought of losing him and, like a coward,
wanted always to feel that he belonged entirely to her, despite
everything. Twice he pushed her magnificently away, but the warm
embrace of this woman who was begging for mercy with great, tearful
eyes, as some faithful brute might do, finally aroused desire. And
he became royally condescending without, however, lowering his
dignity before any of her advances. In fact, he let himself be
caressed and taken by force, as became a man whose forgiveness is
worth the trouble of winning. Then he was seized with anxiety,
fearing that Nana was playing a part with a view to regaining
possession of the treasury key. The light had been extinguished
when he felt it necessary to reaffirm his will and pleasure.
"You must know, my girl, that this is really very serious and that I
keep the money."
Nana, who was falling asleep with her arms round his neck, uttered a
"Yes, you need fear nothing! I'll work for both of us!"
But from that evening onward their life in common became more and
more difficult. From one week's end to the other the noise of slaps
filled the air and resembled the ticking of a clock by which they
regulated their existence. Through dint of being much beaten Nana
became as pliable as fine linen; her skin grew delicate and pink and
white and so soft to the touch and clear to the view that she may be
said to have grown more good looking than ever. Prulliere,
moreover, began running after her like a madman, coming in when
Fontan was away and pushing her into corners in order to snatch an
embrace. But she used to struggle out of his grasp, full of
indignation and blushing with shame. It disgusted her to think of
him wanting to deceive a friend. Prulliere would thereupon begin
sneering with a wrathful expression. Why, she was growing jolly
stupid nowadays! How could she take up with such an ape? For,
indeed, Fontan was a regular ape with that great swingeing nose of
his. Oh, he had an ugly mug! Besides, the man knocked her about
"It's possible I like him as he is," she one day made answer in the
quiet voice peculiar to a woman who confesses to an abominable
Bosc contented himself by dining with them as often as possible. He
shrugged his shoulders behind Prulliere's back--a pretty fellow, to
be sure, but a frivolous! Bosc had on more than one occasion
assisted at domestic scenes, and at dessert, when Fontan slapped
Nana, he went on chewing solemnly, for the thing struck him as being
quite in the course of nature. In order to give some return for his
dinner he used always to go into ecstasies over their happiness. He
declared himself a philosopher who had given up everything, glory
included. At times Prulliere and Fontan lolled back in their
chairs, losing count of time in front of the empty table, while with
theatrical gestures and intonation they discussed their former
successes till two in the morning. But he would sit by, lost in
thought, finishing the brandy bottle in silence and only
occasionally emitting a little contemptuous sniff. Where was
Talma's tradition? Nowhere. Very well, let them leave him jolly
well alone! It was too stupid to go on as they were doing!
One evening he found Nana in tears. She took off her dressing
jacket in order to show him her back and her arms, which were black
and blue. He looked at her skin without being tempted to abuse the
opportunity, as that ass of a Prulliere would have been. Then,
"My dear girl, where there are women there are sure to be ructions.
It was Napoleon who said that, I think. Wash yourself with salt
water. Salt water's the very thing for those little knocks. Tut,
tut, you'll get others as bad, but don't complain so long as no
bones are broken. I'm inviting myself to dinner, you know; I've
spotted a leg of mutton."
But Mme Lerat had less philosophy. Every time Nana showed her a
fresh bruise on the white skin she screamed aloud. They were
killing her niece; things couldn't go on as they were doing. As a
matter of fact, Fontan had turned Mme Lerat out of doors and had
declared that he would not have her at his house in the future, and
ever since that day, when he returned home and she happened to be
there, she had to make off through the kitchen, which was a horrible
humiliation to her. Accordingly she never ceased inveighing against
that brutal individual. She especially blamed his ill breeding,
pursing up her lips, as she did so, like a highly respectable lady
whom nobody could possibly remonstrate with on the subject of good
"Oh, you notice it at once," she used to tell Nana; "he hasn't the
barest notion of the very smallest proprieties. His mother must
have been common! Don't deny it--the thing's obvious! I don't
speak on my own account, though a person of my years has a right to
respectful treatment, but YOU--how do YOU manage to put up with his
bad manners? For though I don't want to flatter myself, I've always
taught you how to behave, and among our own people you always
enjoyed the best possible advice. We were all very well bred in our
family, weren't we now?"
Nana used never to protest but would listen with bowed head.
"Then, too," continued the aunt, "you've only known perfect
gentlemen hitherto. We were talking of that very topic with Zoe at
my place yesterday evening. She can't understand it any more than I
can. 'How is it,' she said, 'that Madame, who used to have that
perfect gentleman, Monsieur le Comte, at her beck and call'--for
between you and me, it seems you drove him silly--'how is it that
Madame lets herself be made into mincemeat by that clown of a
fellow?' I remarked at the time that you might put up with the
beatings but that I would never have allowed him to be lacking in
proper respect. In fact, there isn't a word to be said for him. I
wouldn't have his portrait in my room even! And you ruin yourself
for such a bird as that; yes, you ruin yourself, my darling; you
toil and you moil, when there are so many others and such rich men,
too, some of them even connected with the government! Ah well, it's
not I who ought to be telling you this, of course! But all the
same, when next he tries any of his dirty tricks on I should cut him
short with a 'Monsieur, what d'you take me for?' You know how to
say it in that grand way of yours! It would downright cripple him."
Thereupon Nana burst into sobs and stammered out:
"Oh, Aunt, I love him!"
The fact of the matter was that Mme Lerat was beginning to feel
anxious at the painful way her niece doled out the sparse,
occasional francs destined to pay for little Louis's board and
lodging. Doubtless she was willing to make sacrifices and to keep
the child by her whatever might happen while waiting for more
prosperous times, but the thought that Fontan was preventing her and
the brat and its mother from swimming in a sea of gold made her so
savage that she was ready to deny the very existence of true love.
Accordingly she ended up with the following severe remarks:
"Now listen, some fine day when he's taken the skin off your back,
you'll come and knock at my door, and I'll open it to you."
Soon money began to engross Nana's whole attention. Fontan had
caused the seven thousand francs to vanish away. Without doubt they
were quite safe; indeed, she would never have dared ask him
questions about them, for she was wont to be blushingly diffident
with that bird, as Mme Lerat called him. She trembled lest he
should think her capable of quarreling with him about halfpence. He
had certainly promised to subscribe toward their common household
expenses, and in the early days he had given out three francs every
morning. But he was as exacting as a boarder; he wanted everything
for his three francs--butter, meat, early fruit and early
vegetables--and if she ventured to make an observation, if she
hinted that you could not have everything in the market for three
francs, he flew into a temper and treated her as a useless, wasteful
woman, a confounded donkey whom the tradespeople were robbing.
Moreover, he was always ready to threaten that he would take
lodgings somewhere else. At the end of a month on certain mornings
he had forgotten to deposit the three francs on the chest of
drawers, and she had ventured to ask for them in a timid, roundabout
way. Whereupon there had been such bitter disputes and he had
seized every pretext to render her life so miserable that she had
found it best no longer to count upon him. Whenever, however, he
had omitted to leave behind the three one-franc pieces and found a
dinner awaiting him all the same, he grew as merry as a sandboy,
kissed Nana gallantly and waltzed with the chairs. And she was so
charmed by this conduct that she at length got to hope that nothing
would be found on the chest of drawers, despite the difficulty she
experienced in making both ends meet. One day she even returned him
his three francs, telling him a tale to the effect that she still
had yesterday's money. As he had given her nothing then, he
hesitated for some moments, as though he dreaded a lecture. But she
gazed at him with her loving eyes and hugged him in such utter self-
surrender that he pocketed the money again with that little
convulsive twitch or the fingers peculiar to a miser when he regains
possession of that which has been well-nigh lost. From that day
forth he never troubled himself about money again or inquired whence
it came. But when there were potatoes on the table he looked
intoxicated with delight and would laugh and smack his lips before
her turkeys and legs of mutton, though of course this did not
prevent his dealing Nana sundry sharp smacks, as though to keep his
hand in amid all his happiness.
Nana had indeed found means to provide for all needs, and the place
on certain days overflowed with good things. Twice a week,
regularly, Bosc had indigestion. One evening as Mme Lerat was
withdrawing from the scene in high dudgeon because she had noticed a
copious dinner she was not destined to eat in process of
preparation, she could not prevent herself asking brutally who paid
for it all. Nana was taken by surprise; she grew foolish and began
"Ah, that's a pretty business," said the aunt, who had divined her
Nana had resigned herself to it for the sake of enjoying peace in
her own home. Then, too, the Tricon was to blame. She had come
across her in the Rue de Laval one fine day when Fontan had gone out
raging about a dish of cod. She had accordingly consented to the
proposals made her by the Tricon, who happened just then to be in
difficulty. As Fontan never came in before six o'clock, she made
arrangements for her afternoons and used to bring back forty francs,
sixty francs, sometimes more. She might have made it a matter of
ten and fifteen louis had she been able to maintain her former
position, but as matters stood she was very glad thus to earn enough
to keep the pot boiling. At night she used to forget all her
sorrows when Bosc sat there bursting with dinner and Fontan leaned
on his elbows and with an expression of lofty superiority becoming a
man who is loved for his own sake allowed her to kiss him on the
In due course Nana's very adoration of her darling, her dear old
duck, which was all the more passionately blind, seeing that now she
paid for everything, plunged her back into the muddiest depths of
her calling. She roamed the streets and loitered on the pavement in
quest of a five-franc piece, just as when she was a slipshod baggage
years ago. One Sunday at La Rochefoucauld Market she had made her
peace with Satin after having flown at her with furious reproaches
about Mme Robert. But Satin had been content to answer that when
one didn't like a thing there was no reason why one should want to
disgust others with it. And Nana, who was by way of being wide-
minded, had accepted the philosophic view that you never can tell
where your tastes will lead you and had forgiven her. Her curiosity
was even excited, and she began questioning her about obscure vices
and was astounded to be adding to her information at her time of
life and with her knowledge. She burst out laughing and gave vent
to various expressions of surprise. It struck her as so queer, and
yet she was a little shocked by it, for she was really quite the
philistine outside the pale of her own habits. So she went back to
Laure's and fed there when Fontan was dining out. She derived much
amusement from the stories and the amours and the jealousies which
inflamed the female customers without hindering their appetites in
the slightest degree. Nevertheless, she still was not quite in it,
as she herself phrased it. The vast Laure, meltingly maternal as
ever, used often to invite her to pass a day or two at her Asnieries
Villa, a country house containing seven spare bedrooms. But she
used to refuse; she was afraid. Satin, however, swore she was
mistaken about it, that gentlemen from Paris swung you in swings and
played tonneau with you, and so she promised to come at some future
time when it would be possible for her to leave town.
At that time Nana was much tormented by circumstances and not at all
festively inclined. She needed money, and when the Tricon did not
want her, which too often happened, she had no notion where to
bestow her charms. Then began a series of wild descents upon the
Parisian pavement, plunges into the baser sort of vice, whose
votaries prowl in muddy bystreets under the restless flicker of gas
lamps. Nana went back to the public-house balls in the suburbs,
where she had kicked up her heels in the early ill-shod days. She
revisited the dark corners on the outer boulevards, where when she
was fifteen years old men used to hug her while her father was
looking for her in order to give her a hiding. Both the women would
speed along, visiting all the ballrooms and restaurants in a quarter
and climbing innumerable staircases which were wet with spittle and
spilled beer, or they would stroll quietly about, going up streets
and planting themselves in front of carriage gates. Satin, who had
served her apprenticeship in the Quartier Latin, used to take Nana
to Bullier's and the public houses in the Boulevard Saint-Michel.
But the vacations were drawing on, and the Quarter looked too
starved. Eventually they always returned to the principal
boulevards, for it was there they ran the best chance of getting
what they wanted. From the heights of Montmartre to the observatory
plateau they scoured the whole town in the way we have been
describing. They were out on rainy evenings, when their boots got
worn down, and on hot evenings, when their linen clung to their
skins. There were long periods of waiting and endless periods of
walking; there were jostlings and disputes and the nameless, brutal
caresses of the stray passer-by who was taken by them to some
miserable furnished room and came swearing down the greasy stairs
The summer was drawing to a close, a stormy summer of burning
nights. The pair used to start out together after dinner, toward
nine o'clock. On the pavements of the Rue Notre Dame de la Lorette
two long files of women scudded along with tucked-up skirts and bent
heads, keeping close to the shops but never once glancing at the
displays in the shopwindows as they hurried busily down toward the
boulevards. This was the hungry exodus from the Quartier Breda
which took place nightly when the street lamps had just been lit.
Nana and Satin used to skirt the church and then march off along the
Rue le Peletier. When they were some hundred yards from the Cafe
Riche and had fairly reached their scene of operations they would
shake out the skirts of their dresses, which up till that moment
they had been holding carefully up, and begin sweeping the
pavements, regardless of dust. With much swaying of the hips they
strolled delicately along, slackening their pace when they crossed
the bright light thrown from one of the great cafes. With shoulders
thrown back, shrill and noisy laughter and many backward glances at
the men who turned to look at them, they marched about and were
completely in their element. In the shadow of night their
artificially whitened faces, their rouged lips and their darkened
eyelids became as charming and suggestive as if the inmates of a
make-believe trumpery oriental bazaar had been sent forth into the
open street. Till eleven at night they sauntered gaily along among
the rudely jostling crowds, contenting themselves with an occasional
"dirty ass!" hurled after the clumsy people whose boot heels had
torn a flounce or two from their dresses. Little familiar
salutations would pass between them and the cafe waiters, and at
times they would stop and chat in front of a small table and accept
of drinks, which they consumed with much deliberation, as became
people not sorry to sit down for a bit while waiting for the
theaters to empty. But as night advanced, if they had not made one
or two trips in the direction of the Rue la Rochefoucauld, they
became abject strumpets, and their hunt for men grew more ferocious
than ever. Beneath the trees in the darkening and fast-emptying
boulevards fierce bargainings took place, accompanied by oaths and
blows. Respectable family parties--fathers, mothers and daughters--
who were used to such scenes, would pass quietly by the while
without quickening their pace. Afterward, when they had walked from
the opera to the GYMNASE some half-score times and in the deepening
night men were rapidly dropping off homeward for good and all, Nana
and Satin kept to the sidewalk in the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre.
There up till two o'clock in the morning restaurants, bars and ham-
and-beef shops were brightly lit up, while a noisy mob of women hung
obstinately round the doors of the cafes. This suburb was the only
corner of night Paris which was still alight and still alive, the
only market still open to nocturnal bargains. These last were
openly struck between group and group and from one end of the street
to the other, just as in the wide and open corridor of a disorderly
house. On such evenings as the pair came home without having had
any success they used to wrangle together. The Rue Notre Dame de la
Lorette stretched dark and deserted in front of them. Here and
there the crawling shadow of a woman was discernible, for the
Quarter was going home and going home late, and poor creatures,
exasperated at a night of fruitless loitering, were unwilling to
give up the chase and would still stand, disputing in hoarse voices
with any strayed reveler they could catch at the corner of the Rue
Breda or the Rue Fontaine.
Nevertheless, some windfalls came in their way now and then in the
shape of louis picked up in the society of elegant gentlemen, who
slipped their decorations into their pockets as they went upstairs
with them. Satin had an especially keen scent for these. On rainy
evenings, when the dripping city exhaled an unpleasant odor
suggestive of a great untidy bed, she knew that the soft weather and
the fetid reek of the town's holes and corners were sure to send the
men mad. And so she watched the best dressed among them, for she
knew by their pale eyes what their state was. On such nights it was
as though a fit of fleshly madness were passing over Paris. The
girl was rather nervous certainly, for the most modish gentlemen
were always the most obscene. All the varnish would crack off a
man, and the brute beast would show itself, exacting, monstrous in
lust, a past master in corruption. But besides being nervous, that
trollop of a Satin was lacking in respect. She would blurt out
awful things in front of dignified gentlemen in carriages and assure
them that their coachmen were better bred than they because they
behaved respectfully toward the women and did not half kill them
with their diabolical tricks and suggestions. The way in which
smart people sprawled head over heels into all the cesspools of vice
still caused Nana some surprise, for she had a few prejudices
remaining, though Satin was rapidly destroying them.
"Well then," she used to say when talking seriously about the
matter, "there's no such thing as virtue left, is there?"
From one end of the social ladder to the other everybody was on the
loose! Good gracious! Some nice things ought to be going on in
Paris between nine o'clock in the evening and three in the morning!
And with that she began making very merry and declaring that if one
could only have looked into every room one would have seen some
funny sights--the little people going it head over ears and a good
lot of swells, too, playing the swine rather harder than the rest.
Oh, she was finishing her education!
One evenlng when she came to call for Satin she recognized the
Marquis de Chouard. He was coming downstairs with quaking legs; his
face was ashen white, and he leaned heavily on the banisters. She
pretended to be blowing her nose. Upstairs she found Satin amid
indescribable filth. No household work had been done for a week;
her bed was disgusting, and ewers and basins were standing about in
all directions. Nana expressed surprise at her knowing the marquis.
Oh yes, she knew him! He had jolly well bored her confectioner and
her when they were together. At present he used to come back now
and then, but he nearly bothered her life out, going sniffing into
all the dirty corners--yes, even into her slippers!
"Yes, dear girl, my slippers! Oh, he's the dirtiest old beast,
always wanting one to do things!"
The sincerity of these low debauches rendered Nana especially
uneasy. Seeing the courtesans around her slowly dying of it every
day, she recalled to mind the comedy of pleasure she had taken part
in when she was in the heyday of success. Moreover, Satin inspired
her with an awful fear of the police. She was full of anecdotes
about them. Formerly she had been the mistress of a plain-clothes
man, had consented to this in order to be left in peace, and on two
occasions he had prevented her from being put "on the lists." But
at present she was in a great fright, for if she were to be nabbed
again there was a clear case against her. You had only to listen to
her! For the sake of perquisites the police used to take up as many
women as possible. They laid hold of everybody and quieted you with
a slap if you shouted, for they were sure of being defended in their
actions and rewarded, even when they had taken a virtuous girl among
the rest. In the summer they would swoop upon the boulevard in
parties of twelve or fifteen, surround a whole long reach of
sidewalk and fish up as many as thirty women in an evening. Satin,
however, knew the likely places, and the moment she saw a plain-
clothes man heaving in sight she took to her heels, while the long
lines of women on the pavements scattered in consternation and fled
through the surrounding crowd. The dread of the law and of the
magistracy was such that certain women would stand as though
paralyzed in the doorways of the cafes while the raid was sweeping
the avenue without. But Satin was even more afraid of being
denounced, for her pastry cook had proved blackguard enough to
threaten to sell her when she had left him. Yes, that was a fake by
which men lived on their mistresses! Then, too, there were the
dirty women who delivered you up out of sheer treachery if you were
prettier than they! Nana listened to these recitals and felt her
terrors growing upon her. She had always trembled before the law,
that unknown power, that form of revenge practiced by men able and
willing to crush her in the certain absence of all defenders.
Saint-Lazare she pictured as a grave, a dark hole, in which they
buried live women after they had cut off their hair. She admitted
that it was only necessary to leave Fontan and seek powerful
protectors. But as matters stood it was in vain that Satin talked
to her of certain lists of women's names, which it was the duty of
the plainclothes men to consult, and of certain photographs
accompanying the lists, the originals of which were on no account to
be touched. The reassurance did not make her tremble the less, and
she still saw herself hustled and dragged along and finally
subjected to the official medical inspection. The thought of the
official armchair filled her with shame and anguish, for had she not
bade it defiance a score of times?
Now it so happened that one evening toward the close of September,
as she was walking with Satin in the Boulevard Poissonniere, the
latter suddenly began tearing along at a terrible pace. And when
Nana asked her what she meant thereby:
"It's the plain-clothes men!" whispered Satin. "Off with you! Off
with you!" A wild stampede took place amid the surging crowd.
Skirts streamed out behind and were torn. There were blows and
shrieks. A woman fell down. The crowd of bystanders stood
hilariously watching this rough police raid while the plain-clothes
men rapidly narrowed their circle. Meanwhile Nana had lost Satin.
Her legs were failing her, and she would have been taken up for a
certainty had not a man caught her by the arm and led her away in
front of the angry police. It was Prulliere, and he had just
recognized her. Without saying a word he turned down the Rue
Rougemont with her. It was just then quite deserted, and she was
able to regain breath there, but at first her faintness and
exhaustion were such that he had to support her. She did not even
"Look here," he said, "you must recover a bit. Come up to my
He lodged in the Rue Bergere close by. But she straightened herself
up at once.
"No, I don't want to."
Thereupon he waxed coarse and rejoined:
"Why don't you want to, eh? Why, everybody visits my rooms."
"Because I don't."
In her opinion that explained everything. She was too fond of
Fontan to betray him with one of his friends. The other people
ceased to count the moment there was no pleasure in the business,
and necessity compelled her to it. In view of her idiotic obstinacy
Prulliere, as became a pretty fellow whose vanity had been wounded,
did a cowardly thing.
"Very well, do as you like!" he cried. "Only I don't side with you,
my dear. You must get out of the scrape by yourself."
And with that he left her. Terrors got hold of her again, and
scurrying past shops and turning white whenever a man drew nigh, she
fetched an immense compass before reaching Montmartre.
On the morrow, while still suffering from the shock of last night's
terrors, Nana went to her aunt's and at the foot of a small empty
street in the Batignolles found herself face to face with
Labordette. At first they both appeared embarrassed, for with his
usual complaisance he was busy on a secret errand. Nevertheless, he
was the first to regain his self-possession and to announce himself
fortunate in meeting her. Yes, certainly, everybody was still
wondering at Nana's total eclipse. People were asking for her, and
old friends were pining. And with that he grew quite paternal and
ended by sermonizing.
"Frankly speaking, between you and me, my dear, the thing's getting
stupid. One can understand a mash, but to go to that extent, to be
trampled on like that and to get nothing but knocks! Are you
playing up for the 'Virtue Prizes' then?"
She listened to him with an embarrassed expression. But when he
told her about Rose, who was triumphantly enjoying her conquest of
Count Muffat, a flame came into her eyes.
"Oh, if I wanted to--" she muttered.
As became an obliging friend, he at once offered to act as
intercessor. But she refused his help, and he thereupon attacked
her in an opposite quarter.
He informed her that Bordenave was busy mounting a play of
Fauchery's containing a splendid part for her.
"What, a play with a part!" she cried in amazement. "But he's in it
and he's told me nothing about it!"
She did not mention Fontan by name. However, she grew calm again
directly and declared that she would never go on the stage again.
Labordette doubtless remained unconvinced, for he continued with
"You know, you need fear nothing with me. I get your Muffat ready
for you, and you go on the stage again, and I bring him to you like
a little dog!"
"No!" she cried decisively.
And she left him. Her heroic conduct made her tenderly pitiful
toward herself. No blackguard of a man would ever have sacrificed
himself like that without trumpeting the fact abroad. Nevertheless,
she was struck by one thing: Labordette had given her exactly the
same advice as Francis had given her. That evening when Fontan came
home she questioned him about Fauchery's piece. The former had been
back at the Varietes for two months past. Why then had he not told
her about the part?
"What part?" he said in his ill-humored tone. "The grand lady's
part, maybe? The deuce, you believe you've got talent then! Why,
such a part would utterly do for you, my girl! You're meant for
comic business--there's no denying it!"
She was dreadfully wounded. All that evening he kept chaffing her,
calling her Mlle Mars. But the harder he hit the more bravely she
suffered, for she derived a certain bitter satisfaction from this
heroic devotion of hers, which rendered her very great and very
loving in her own eyes. Ever since she had gone with other men in
order to supply his wants her love for him had increased, and the
fatigues and disgusts encountered outside only added to the flame.
He was fast becoming a sort of pet vice for which she paid, a
necessity of existence it was impossible to do without, seeing that
blows only stimulated her desires. He, on his part, seeing what a
good tame thing she had become, ended by abusing his privileges.
She was getting on his nerves, and he began to conceive so fierce a
loathing for her that he forgot to keep count of his real interests.
When Bosc made his customary remarks to him he cried out in
exasperation, for which there was no apparent cause, that he had had
enough of her and of her good dinners and that he would shortly
chuck her out of doors if only for the sake of making another woman
a present of his seven thousand francs. Indeed, that was how their
One evening Nana came in toward eleven o'clock and found the door
bolted. She tapped once--there was no answer; twice--still no
answer. Meanwhile she saw light under the door, and Fontan inside
did not trouble to move. She rapped again unwearyingly; she called
him and began to get annoyed. At length Fontan's voice became
audible; he spoke slowly and rather unctuously and uttered but this
She beat on the door with her fists.
She banged hard enough to smash in the woodwork.
And for upward of a quarter of an hour the same foul expression
buffeted her, answering like a jeering echo to every blow wherewith
she shook the door. At length, seeing that she was not growing
tired, he opened sharply, planted himself on the threshold, folded
his arms and said in the same cold, brutal voice:
"By God, have you done yet? What d'you want? Are you going to let
us sleep in peace, eh? You can quite see I've got company tonight."
He was certainly not alone, for Nana perceived the little woman from
the Bouffes with the untidy tow hair and the gimlet-hole eyes,
standing enjoying herself in her shift among the furniture she had
paid for. But Fontan stepped out on the landing. He looked
terrible, and he spread out and crooked his great fingers as if they
"Hook it or I'll strangle you!"
rhereupon Nana burst into a nervous fit of sobbing. She was
frightened and she made off. This time it was she that was being
kicked out of doors. And in her fury the thought of Muffat suddenly
occurred to her. Ah, to be sure, Fontan, of all men, ought never to
have done her such a turn!
When she was out in the street her first thought was to go and sleep
with Satin, provided the girl had no one with her. She met her in
front of her house, for she, too, had been turned out of doors by
her landlord. He had just had a padlock affixed to her door--quite
illegally, of course, seeing that she had her own furniture. She
swore and talked of having him up before the commissary of police.
In the meantime, as midnight was striking, they had to begin
thinking of finding a bed. And Satin, deeming it unwise to let the
plain-clothes men into her secrets, ended by taking Nana to a woman
who kept a little hotel in the Rue de Laval. Here they were
assigned a narrow room on the first floor, the window of which
opened on the courtyard. Satin remarked:
"I should gladly have gone to Mme Robert's. There's always a corner
there for me. But with you it's out of the question. She's getting
absurdly jealous; she beat me the other night."
When they had shut themselves in, Nana, who had not yet relieved her
feelings, burst into tears and again and again recounted Fontan's
dirty behavior. Satin listened complaisantly, comforted her, grew
even more angry than she in denunciation of the male sex.
"Oh, the pigs, the pigs! Look here, we'll have nothing more to do
Then she helped Nana to undress with all the small, busy attentions,
becoming a humble little friend. She kept saying coaxingly:
"Let's go to bed as fast as we can, pet. We shall be better off
there! Oh, how silly you are to get crusty about things! I tell
you, they're dirty brutes. Don't think any more about 'em. I--I
love you very much. Don't cry, and oblige your own little darling
And once in bed, she forthwith took Nana in her arms and soothed and
comforted her. She refused to hear Fontan's name mentioned again,
and each time it recurred to her friend's lips she stopped it with a
kiss. Her lips pouted in pretty indignation; her hair lay loose
about her, and her face glowed with tenderness and childlike beauty.
Little by little her soft embrace compelled Nana to dry her tears.
She was touched and replied to Satin's caresses. When two o'clock
struck the candle was still burning, and a sound of soft, smothered
laughter and lovers' talk was audible in the room.
But suddenly a loud noise came up from the lower floors of the
hotel, and Satin, with next to nothing on, got up and listened
"The police!" she said, growing very pale.
"Oh, blast our bad luck! We're bloody well done for!"
Often had she told stories about the raids on hotel made by the
plainclothes men. But that particular night neither of them had
suspected anything when they took shelter in the Rue de Laval. At
the sound of the word "police" Nana lost her head. She jumped out
of bed and ran across the room with the scared look of a madwoman
about to jump out of the window. Luckily, however, the little
courtyard was roofed with glass, which was covered with an iron-wire
grating at the level of the girls' bedroom. At sight of this she
ceased to hesitate; she stepped over the window prop, and with her
chemise flying and her legs bared to the night air she vanished in
"Stop! Stop!" said Satin in a great fright. "You'll kill
Then as they began hammering at the door, she shut the window like a
good-natured girl and threw her friend's clothes down into a
cupboard. She was already resigned to her fate and comforted
herself with the thought that, after all, if she were to be put on
the official list she would no longer be so "beastly frightened" as
of yore. So she pretended to be heavy with sleep. She yawned; she
palavered and ended by opening the door to a tall, burly fellow with
an unkempt beard, who said to her:
"Show your hands! You've got no needle pricks on them: you don't
work. Now then, dress!"
"But I'm not a dressmaker; I'm a burnisher," Satin brazenly
Nevertheless, she dressed with much docility, knowing that argument
was out of the question. Cries were ringing through the hotel; a
girl was clinging to doorposts and refusing to budge an inch.
Another girl, in bed with a lover, who was answering for her
legality, was acting the honest woman who had been grossly insulted
and spoke of bringing an action against the prefect of police. For
close on an hour there was a noise of heavy shoes on the stairs, of
fists hammering on doors, of shrill disputes terminating in sobs, of
petticoats rustling along the walls, of all the sounds, in fact,
attendant on the sudden awakening and scared departure of a flock of
women as they were roughly packed off by three plain-clothes men,
headed by a little oily-mannered, fair-haired commissary of police.
After they had gone the hotel relapsed into deep silence.
Nobody had betrayed her; Nana was saved. Shivering and half dead
with fear, she came groping back into the room. Her bare feet were
cut and bleeding, for they had been torn by the grating. For a long
while she remained sitting on the edge of the bed, listening and
listening. Toward morning, however, she went to sleep again, and at
eight o'clock, when she woke up, she escaped from the hotel and ran
to her aunt's. When Mme Lerat, who happened just then to be
drinking her morning coffee with Zoe, beheld her bedraggled plight
and haggard face, she took note of the hour and at once understood
the state of the case.
"It's come to it, eh?" she cried. "I certainly told you that he
would take the skin off your back one of these days. Well, well,
come in; you'll always find a kind welcome here."
Zoe had risen from her chair and was muttering with respectful
"Madame is restored to us at last. I was waiting for Madame."
But Mme Lerat insisted on Nana's going and kissing Louiset at once,
because, she said, the child took delight in his mother's nice ways.
Louiset, a sickly child with poor blood, was still asleep, and when
Nana bent over his white, scrofulous face, the memory of all she had
undergone during the last few months brought a choking lump into her
"Oh, my poor little one, my poor little one!" she gasped, bursting
into a final fit of sobbing.
The Petite Duchesse was being rehearsed at the Varietes. The first
act had just been carefully gone through, and the second was about
to begin. Seated in old armchairs in front of the stage, Fauchery
and Bordenave were discussing various points while the prompter,
Father Cossard, a little humpbacked man perched on a straw-bottomed
chair, was turning over the pages of the manuscript, a pencil
between his lips.
"Well, what are they waiting for?" cried Bordenave on a sudden,
tapping the floor savagely with his heavy cane. "Barillot, why
don't they begin?"
"It's Monsieur Bosc that has disappeared," replied Barillot, who was
acting as second stage manager.'
Then there arose a tempest, and everybody shouted for Bosc while
"Always the same thing, by God! It's all very well ringing for 'em:
they're always where they've no business to be. And then they
grumble when they're kept till after four o'clock."
But Bosc just then came in with supreme tranquillity.
"Eh? What? What do they want me for? Oh, it's my turn! You ought
to have said so. All right! Simonne gives the cue: 'Here are the
guests,' and I come in. Which way must I come in?"
"Through the door, of course," cried Fauchery in great exasperation.
"Yes, but where is the door?"
At this Bordenave fell upon Barillot and once more set to work
swearing and hammering the boards with his cane.
"By God! I said a chair was to be put there to stand for the door,
and every day we have to get it done again. Barillot! Where's
Barillot? Another of 'em! Why, they're all going!"
Nevertheless, Barillot came and planted the chair down in person,
mutely weathering the storm as he did so. And the rehearsal began
again. Simonne, in her hat and furs, began moving about like a
maidservant busy arranging furniture. She paused to say:
"I'm not warm, you know, so I keep my hands in my muff."
Then changing her voice, she greeted Bosc with a little cry:
"La, it's Monsieur le Comte. You're the first to come, Monsieur le
Comte, and Madame will be delighted."
Bosc had muddy trousers and a huge yellow overcoat, round the collar
of which a tremendous comforter was wound. On his head he wore an
old hat, and he kept his hands in his pockets. He did not act but
dragged himself along, remarking in a hollow voice:
"Don't disturb your mistress, Isabelle; I want to take her by
The rehearsal took its course. Bordenave knitted his brows. He had
slipped down low in his armchair and was listening with an air of
fatigue. Fauchery was nervous and kept shifting about in his seat.
Every few minutes he itched with the desire to interrupt, but he
restrained himself. He heard a whispering in the dark and empty
house behind him.
"Is she there?" he asked, leaning over toward Bordenave.
The latter nodded affirmatively. Before accepting the part of
Geraldine, which he was offering her, Nana had been anxious to see
the piece, for she hesitated to play a courtesan's part a second
time. She, in fact, aspired to an honest woman's part. Accordingly
she was hiding in the shadows of a corner box in company with
Labordette, who was managing matters for her with Bordenave.
Fauchery glanced in her direction and then once more set himself to
follow the rehearsal.
Only the front of the stage was lit up. A flaring gas burner on a
support, which was fed by a pipe from the footlights, burned in
front of a reflector and cast its full brightness over the immediate
foreground. It looked like a big yellow eye glaring through the
surrounding semiobscurity, where it flamed in a doubtful, melancholy
way. Cossard was holding up his manuscript against the slender stem
of this arrangement. He wanted to see more clearly, and in the
flood of light his hump was sharply outlined. As to Bordenave and
Fauchery, they were already drowned in shadow. It was only in the
heart of this enormous structure, on a few square yards of stage,
that a faint glow suggested the light cast by some lantern nailed up
in a railway station. It made the actors look like eccentric
phantoms and set their shadows dancing after them. The remainder of
the stage was full of mist and suggested a house in process of being
pulled down, a church nave in utter ruin. It was littered with
ladders, with set pieces and with scenery, of which the faded
painting suggested heaped-up rubbish. Hanging high in air, the
scenes had the appearance of great ragged clouts suspended from the
rafters of some vast old-clothes shop, while above these again a ray
of bright sunlight fell from a window and clove the shadow round the
flies with a bar of gold.
Meanwhile actors were chatting at the back of the stage while
awaiting their cues. Little by little they had raised their voices.
"Confound it, will you be silent?" howled Bordenave, raging up and
down in his chair. "I can't hear a word. Go outside if you want to
talk; WE are at work. Barillot, if there's any more talking I clap
on fines all round!"
They were silent for a second or two. They were sitting in a little
group on a bench and some rustic chairs in the corner of a scenic
garden, which was standing ready to be put in position as it would
be used in the opening act the same evening. In the middle of this
group Fontan and Prulliere were listening to Rose Mignon, to whom
the manager of the Folies-Dramatique Theatre had been making
magnificent offers. But a voice was heard shouting:
"The duchess! Saint-Firmin! The duchess and Saint-Firmin are
Only when the call was repeated did Prulliere remember that he was
Saint-Firmin! Rose, who was playing the Duchess Helene, was already
waiting to go on with him while old Bosc slowly returned to his
seat, dragging one foot after the other over the sonorous and
deserted boards. Clarisse offered him a place on the bench beside
"What's he bawling like that for?" she said in allusion to
Bordenave. "Things will be getting rosy soon! A piece can't be put
on nowadays without its getting on his nerves."
Bosc shrugged his shoulders; he was above such storms. Fontan
"He's afraid of a fiasco. The piece strikes me as idiotic."
Then he turned to Clarisse and again referred to what Rose had been
"D'you believe in the offers of the Folies people, eh? Three
hundred francs an evening for a hundred nights! Why not a country
house into the bargain? If his wife were to be given three hundred
francs Mignon would chuck my friend Bordenave and do it jolly sharp
Clarisse was a believer in the three hundred francs. That man
Fontan was always picking holes in his friends' successes! Just
then Simonne interrupted her. She was shivering with cold. Indeed,
they were all buttoned up to the ears and had comforters on, and
they looked up at the ray of sunlight which shone brightly above
them but did not penetrate the cold gloom of the theater. In the
streets outside there was a frost under a November sky.
"And there's no fire in the greenroom!" said Simonne. "It's
disgusting; he IS just becoming a skinflint! I want to be off; I
don't want to get seedy."
"Silence, I say!" Bordenave once more thundered.
Then for a minute or so a confused murmur alone was audible as the
actors went on repeating their parts. There was scarcely any
appropriate action, and they spoke in even tones so as not to tire
themselves. Nevertheless, when they did emphasize a particular
shade of meaning they cast a glance at the house, which lay before
them like a yawning gulf. It was suffused with vague, ambient
shadow, which resembled the fine dust floating pent in some high,
windowless loft. The deserted house, whose sole illumination was
the twilight radiance of the stage, seemed to slumber in melancholy
and mysterious effacement. Near the ceiling dense night smothered
the frescoes, while from the several tiers of stage boxes on either
hand huge widths of gray canvas stretched down to protect the
neighboring hangings. In fact, there was no end to these coverings;
bands of canvas had been thrown over the velvet-covered ledges in
front of the various galleries which they shrouded thickly. Their
pale hue stained the surrounding shadows, and of the general
decorations of the house only the dark recesses of the boxes were
distinguishable. These served to outline the framework of the
several stories, where the seats were so many stains of red velvet
turned black. The chandelier had been let down as far as it would
go, and it so filled the region of the stalls with its pendants as
to suggest a flitting and to set one thinking that the public had
started on a journey from which they would never return.
Just about then Rose, as the little duchess who has been misled into
the society of a courtesan, came to the footlights, lifted up her
hands and pouted adorably at the dark and empty theater, which was
as sad as a house of mourning.
"Good heavens, what queer people!" she said, emphasizing the phrase
and confident that it would have its effect.
Far back in the corner box in which she was hiding Nana sat
enveloped in a great shawl. She was listening to the play and
devouring Rose with her eyes. Turning toward Labordette, she asked
him in a low tone:
"You are sure he'll come?"
"Quite sure. Without doubt he'll come with Mignon, so as to have an
excuse for coming. As soon as he makes his appearance you'll go up
into Mathilde's dressing room, and I'll bring him to you there."
They were talking of Count Muffat. Labordette had arranged this
interview with him on neutral ground. He had had a serious talk
with Bordenave, whose affairs had been gravely damaged by two
successive failures. Accordingly Bordenave had hastened to lend him
his theater and to offer Nana a part, for he was anxious to win the
count's favor and hoped to be able to borrow from him.
"And this part of Geraldine, what d'you thing of it?" continued
But Nana sat motionless and vouchsafed no reply. After the first
act, in which the author showed how the Duc de Beaurivage played his
wife false with the blonde Geraldine, a comic-opera celebrity, the
second act witnessed the Duchess Helene's arrival at the house of
the actress on the occasion of a masked ball being given by the
latter. The duchess has come to find out by what magical process
ladies of that sort conquer and retain their husbands' affections.
A cousin, the handsome Oscar de Saint-Firmin, introduces her and
hopes to be able to debauch her. And her first lesson causes her
great surprise, for she hears Geraldine swearing like a hodman at
the duke, who suffers with most ecstatic submissiveness. The
episode causes her to cry out, "Dear me, if that's the way one ought
to talk to the men!" Geraldine had scarce any other scene in the
act save this one. As to the duchess, she is very soon punished for
her curiosity, for an old buck, the Baron de Tardiveau, takes her
for a courtesan and becomes very gallant, while on her other side
Beaurivage sits on a lounging chair and makes his peace with
Geraldine by dint of kisses and caresses. As this last lady's part
had not yet been assigned to anyone, Father Cossard had got up to
read it, and he was now figuring away in Bosc's arms and emphasizing
it despite himself. At this point, while the rehearsal was dragging
monotonously on, Fauchery suddenly jumped from his chair. He had
restrained himself up to that moment, but now his nerves got the
better of him.
"That's not it!" he cried.
The actors paused awkwardly enough while Fontan sneered and asked in
his most contemptuous voice:
"Eh? What's not it? Who's not doing it right?"
"Nobody is! You're quite wrong, quite wrong!" continued Fauchery,
and, gesticulating wildly, he came striding over the stage and began
himself to act the scene.
"Now look here, you Fontan, do please comprehend the way Tardiveau
gets packed off. You must lean forward like this in order to catch
hold of the duchess. And then you, Rose, must change your position
like that but not too soon--only when you hear the kiss."
He broke off and in the heat of explanation shouted to Cossard:
"Geraldine, give the kiss! Loudly, so that it may be heard!"
Father Cossard turned toward Bosc and smacked his lips vigorously.
"Good! That's the kiss," said Fauchery triumphantly. "Once more;
let's have it once more. Now you see, Rose, I've had time to move,
and then I give a little cry--so: 'Oh, she's given him a kiss.' But
before I do that, Tardiveau must go up the stage. D'you hear,
Fontan? You go up. Come, let's try it again, all together."
The actors continued the scene again, but Fontan played his part
with such an ill grace that they made no sort of progress. Twice
Fauchery had to repeat his explanation, each time acting it out with
more warmth than before. The actors listened to him with melancholy
faces, gazed momentarily at one another, as though he had asked them
to walk on their heads, and then awkwardly essayed the passage, only
to pull up short directly afterward, looking as stiff as puppets
whose strings have just been snapped.
"No, it beats me; I can't understand it," said Fontan at length,
speaking in the insolent manner peculiar to him.
Bordenave had never once opened his lips. He had slipped quite down
in his armchair, so that only the top of his hat was now visible in
the doubtful flicker of the gaslight on the stand. His cane had
fallen from his grasp and lay slantwise across his waistcoat.
Indeed, he seemed to be asleep. But suddenly he sat bolt upright.
"It's idiotic, my boy," he announced quietly to Fauchery.
"What d'you mean, idiotic?" cried the author, growing very pale.
"It's you that are the idiot, my dear boy!"
Bordenave began to get angry at once. He repeated the word
"idiotic" and, seeking a more forcible expression, hit upon
"imbecile" and "damned foolish." The public would hiss, and the act
would never be finished! And when Fauchery, without, indeed, being
very deeply wounded by these big phrases, which always recurred when
a new piece was being put on, grew savage and called the other a
brute, Bordenave went beyond all bounds, brandished his cane in the
air, snorted like a bull and shouted:
"Good God! Why the hell can't you shut up? We've lost a quarter of
an hour over this folly. Yes, folly! There's no sense in it. And
it's so simple, after all's said and done! You, Fontan, mustn't
move. You, Rose, must make your little movement, just that, no
more; d'ye see? And then you come down. Now then, let's get it
done this journey. Give the kiss, Cossard."
Then ensued confusion. The scene went no better than before.
Bordenave, in his turn, showed them how to act it about as
gracefully as an elephant might have done, while Fauchery sneered
and shrugged pityingly. After that Fontan put his word in, and even
Bosc made so bold as to give advice. Rose, thoroughly tired out,
had ended by sitting down on the chair which indicated the door. No
one knew where they had got to, and by way of finish to it all
Simonne made a premature entry, under the impression that her cue
had been given her, and arrived amid the confusion. This so enraged
Bordenave that he whirled his stick round in a terrific manner and
caught her a sounding thwack to the rearward. At rehearsal he used
frequently to drub his former mistress. Simonne ran away, and this
furious outcry followed her:
"Take that, and, by God, if I'm annoyed again I shut the whole shop
up at once!"
Fauchery pushed his hat down over his forehead and pretended to be
going to leave the theater. But he stopped at the top of the stage
and came down again when he saw Bordenave perspiringly resuming his
seat. Then he, too, took up his old position in the other armchair.
For some seconds they sat motionless side by side while oppressive
silence reigned in the shadowy house. The actors waited for nearly
two minutes. They were all heavy with exhaustion and felt as though
they had performed an overwhelming task.
"Well, let's go on," said Bordenave at last. He spoke in his usual
voice and was perfectly calm.
"Yes, let's go on," Fauchery repeated. "We'll arrange the scene
And with that they dragged on again and rehearsed their parts with
as much listlessness and as fine an indifference as ever. During
the dispute between manager and author Fontan and the rest had been
taking things very comfortably on the rustic bench and seats at the
back of the stage, where they had been chuckling, grumbling and
saying fiercely cutting things. But when Simonne came back, still
smarting from her blow and choking with sobs, they grew melodramatic
and declared that had they been in her place they would have
strangled the swine. She began wiping her eyes and nodding
approval. It was all over between them, she said. She was leaving
him, especially as Steiner had offered to give her a grand start in
life only the day before. Clarisse was much astonished at this, for
the banker was quite ruined, but Prulliere began laughing and
reminded them of the neat manner in which that confounded Israelite
had puffed himself alongside of Rose in order to get his Landes
saltworks afloat on 'change. Just at that time he was airing a new
project, namely, a tunnel under the Bosporus. Simonne listened with
the greatest interest to this fresh piece of information.
As to Clarisse, she had been raging for a week past. Just fancy,
that beast La Faloise, whom she had succeeded in chucking into
Gaga's venerable embrace, was coming into the fortune of a very rich
uncle! It was just her luck; she had always been destined to make
things cozy for other people. Then, too, that pig Bordenave had
once more given her a mere scrap of a part, a paltry fifty lines,
just as if she could not have played Geraldine! She was yearning
for that role and hoping that Nana would refuse it.
"Well, and what about me?" said Prulliere with much bitterness. "I
haven't got more than two hundred lines. I wanted to give the part
up. It's too bad to make me play that fellow Saint-Firmin; why,
it's a regular failure! And then what a style it's written in, my
dears! It'll fall dead flat, you may be sure."
But just then Simonne, who had been chatting with Father Barillot,
came back breathless and announced:
"By the by, talking of Nana, she's in the house."
"Where, where?" asked Clarisse briskly, getting up to look for her.
The news spread at once, and everyone craned forward. The rehearsal
was, as it were, momentarily interrupted. But Bordenave emerged
from his quiescent condition, shouting:
"What's up, eh? Finish the act, I say. And be quiet out there;
Nana was still following the piece from the corner box. Twice
Labordette showed an inclination to chat, but she grew impatient and
nudged him to make him keep silent. The second act was drawing to a
close, when two shadows loomed at the back of the theater. They
were creeping softly down, avoiding all noise, and Nana recognized
Mignon and Count Muffat. They came forward and silently shook hands
"Ah, there they are," she murmured with a sigh of relief.
Rose Mignon delivered the last sentences of the act. Thereupon
Bordenave said that it was necessary to go through the second again
before beginning the third. With that he left off attending to the
rehearsal and greeted the count with looks of exaggerated
politeness, while Fauchery pretended to be entirely engrossed with
his actors, who now grouped themselves round him. Mignon stood
whistling carelessly, with his hands behind his back and his eyes
fixed complacently on his wife, who seemed rather nervous.
"Well, shall we go upstairs?" Labordette asked Nana. "I'll install
you in the dressing room and come down again and fetch him."
Nana forthwith left the corner box. She had to grope her way along
the passage outside the stalls, but Bordenave guessed where she was
as she passed along in the dark and caught her up at the end of the
corridor passing behind the scenes, a narrow tunnel where the gas
burned day and night. Here, in order to bluff her into a bargain,
he plunged into a discussion of the courtesan's part.
"What a part it is, eh? What a wicked little part! It's made for
you. Come and rehearse tomorrow."
Nana was frigid. She wanted to know what the third act was like.
"Oh, it's superb, the third act is! The duchess plays the courtesan
in her own house and this disgusts Beaurivage and makes him amend
his way. Then there's an awfully funny QUID PRO QUO, when Tardiveau
arrives and is under the impression that he's at an opera dancer's
"And what does Geraldine do in it all?" interrupted Nana.
"Geraldine?" repeated Bordenave in some embarrassment. "She has a
scene--not a very long one, but a great success. It's made for you,
I assure you! Will you sign?"
She looked steadily at him and at length made answer:
"We'll see about that all in good time."
And she rejoined Labordette, who was waiting for her on the stairs.
Everybody in the theater had recognized her, and there was now much
whispering, especially between Prulliere, who was scandalized at her
return, and Clarisse who was very desirous of the part. As to
Fontan, he looked coldly on, pretending unconcern, for he did not
think it becoming to round on a woman he had loved. Deep down in
his heart, though, his old love had turned to hate, and he nursed
the fiercest rancor against her in return for the constant devotion,
the personal beauty, the life in common, of which his perverse and
monstrous tastes had made him tire.
In the meantime, when Labordette reappeared and went up to the
count, Rose Mignon, whose suspicions Nana's presence had excited,
understood it all forthwith. Muffat was bothering her to death, but
she was beside herself at the thought of being left like this. She
broke the silence which she usually maintained on such subjects in
her husband's society and said bluntly:
"You see what's going on? My word, if she tries the Steiner trick
on again I'll tear her eyes out!"
Tranquilly and haughtily Mignon shrugged his shoulders, as became a
man from whom nothing could be hidden.
"Do be quiet," he muttered. "Do me the favor of being quiet, won't
He knew what to rely on now. He had drained his Muffat dry, and he
knew that at a sign from Nana he was ready to lie down and be a
carpet under her feet. There is no fighting against passions such
as that. Accordingly, as he knew what men were, he thought of
nothing but how to turn the situation to the best possible account.
It would be necessary to wait on the course of events. And he
waited on them.
"Rose, it's your turn!" shouted Bordenave. "The second act's being
"Off with you then," continued Mignon, "and let me arrange matters."
Then he began bantering, despite all his troubles, and was pleased
to congratulate Fauchery on his piece. A very strong piece! Only
why was his great lady so chaste? It wasn't natural! With that he
sneered and asked who had sat for the portrait of the Duke of
Beaurivage, Geraldine's wornout roue. Fauchery smiled; he was far
from annoyed. But Bordenave glanced in Muffat's direction and
looked vexed, and Mignon was struck at this and became serious
"Let's begin, for God's sake!" yelled the manager. "Now then,
Barillot! Eh? What? Isn't Bosc there? Is he bloody well making
game of me now?"
Bosc, however, made his appearance quietly enough, and the rehearsal
began again just as Labordette was taking the count away with him.
The latter was tremulous at the thought of seeing Nana once more.
After the rupture had taken place between them there had been a
great void in his life. He was idle and fancied himself about to
suffer through the sudden change his habits had undergone, and
accordingly he had let them take him to see Rose. Besides, his
brain had been in such a whirl that he had striven to forget
everything and had strenuously kept from seeking out Nana while
avoiding an explanation with the countess. He thought, indeed, that
he owed his dignity such a measure of forgetfulness. But mysterious
forces were at work within, and Nana began slowly to reconquer him.
First came thoughts of her, then fleshly cravings and finally a new
set of exclusive, tender, well-nigh paternal feelings.
The abominable events attendant on their last interview were
gradually effacing themselves. He no longer saw Fontan; he no
longer heard the stinging taunt about his wife's adultery with which
Nana cast him out of doors. These things were as words whose memory
vanished. Yet deep down in his heart there was a poignant smart
which wrung him with such increasing pain that it nigh choked him.
Childish ideas would occur to him; he imagined that she would never
have betrayed him if he had really loved her, and he blamed himself
for this. His anguish was becoming unbearable; he was really very
wretched. His was the pain of an old wound rather than the blind,
present desire which puts up with everything for the sake of
immediate possession. He felt a jealous passion for the woman and
was haunted by longings for her and her alone, her hair, her mouth,
her body. When he remembered the sound of her voice a shiver ran
through him; he longed for her as a miser might have done, with
refinements of desire beggaring description. He was, in fact, so
dolorously possessed by his passion that when Labordette had begun
to broach the subject of an assignation he had thrown himself into
his arms in obedience to irresistible impulse. Directly afterward
he had, of course, been ashamed of an act of self-abandonment which
could not but seem very ridicubus in a man of his position; but
Labordette was one who knew when to see and when not to see things,
and he gave a further proof of his tact when he left the count at
the foot of the stairs and without effort let slip only these simple
"The right-hand passage on the second floor. The door's not shut."
Muffat was alone in that silent corner of the house. As he passed
before the players' waiting room, he had peeped through the open
doors and noticed the utter dilapidation of the vast chamber, which
looked shamefully stained and worn in broad daylight. But what
surprised him most as he emerged from the darkness and confusion of
the stage was the pure, clear light and deep quiet at present
pervading the lofty staircase, which one evening when he had seen it
before had been bathed in gas fumes and loud with the footsteps of
women scampering over the different floors. He felt that the
dressing rooms were empty, the corridors deserted; not a soul was
there; not a sound broke the stillness, while through the square
windows on the level of the stairs the pale November sunlight
filtered and cast yellow patches of light, full of dancing dust,
amid the dead, peaceful air which seemed to descend from the regions
He was glad of this calm and the silence, and he went slowly up,
trying to regain breath as he went, for his heart was thumping, and
he was afraid lest he might behave childishly and give way to sighs
and tears. Accordingly on the first-floor landing he leaned up
against a wall--for he was sure of not being observed--and pressed
his handkerchief to his mouth and gazed at the warped steps, the
iron balustrade bright with the friction of many hands, the scraped
paint on the walls--all the squalor, in fact, which that house of
tolerance so crudely displayed at the pale afternoon hour when
courtesans are asleep. When he reached the second floor he had to
step over a big yellow cat which was lying curled up on a step.
With half-closed eyes this cat was keeping solitary watch over the
house, where the close and now frozen odors which the women nightly
left behind them had rendered him somnolent.
In the right-hand corridor the door of the dressing room had,
indeed, not been closed entirely. Nana was waiting. That little
Mathilde, a drab of a young girl, kept her dressing room in a filthy
state. Chipped jugs stood about anyhow; the dressing table was
greasy, and there was a chair covered with red stains, which looked
as if someone had bled over the straw. The paper pasted on walls
and ceiling was splashed from top to bottom with spots of soapy
water and this smelled so disagreeably of lavender scent turned sour
that Nana opened the window and for some moments stayed leaning on
the sill, breathing the fresh air and craning forward to catch sight
of Mme Bron underneath. She could hear her broom wildly at work on
the mildewed pantiles of the narrow court which was buried in
shadow. A canary, whose cage hung on a shutter, was trilling away
piercingly. The sound of carriages in the boulevard and neighboring
streets was no longer audible, and the quiet and the wide expanse of
sleeping sunlight suggested the country. Looking farther afield,
her eye fell on the small buildings and glass roofs of the galleries
in the passage and, beyond these, on the tall houses in the Rue
Vivienne, the backs of which rose silent and apparently deserted
over against her. There was a succession of terrace roofs close by,
and on one of these a photographer had perched a big cagelike
construction of blue glass. It was all very gay, and Nana was
becoming absorbed in contemplation, when it struck her someone had
knocked at the door.
She turned round and shouted:
At sight of the count she shut the window, for it was not warm, and
there was no need for the eavesdropping Mme Bron to listen. The
pair gazed at one another gravely. Then as the count still kept
standing stiffly in front of her, looking ready to choke with
emotion, she burst out laughing and said:
"Well! So you're here again, you silly big beast!"
The tumult going on within him was so great that he seemed a man
frozen to ice. He addressed Nana as "madame" and esteemed himself
happy to see her again. Thereupon she became more familiar than
ever in order to bounce matters through.
"Don't do it in the dignified way! You wanted to see me, didn't
you? But you didn't intend us to stand looking at one another like
a couple of chinaware dogs. We've both been in the wrong--Oh, I
certainly forgive you!"
And herewith they agreed not to talk of that affair again, Muffat
nodding his assent as Nana spoke. He was calmer now but as yet
could find nothing to say, though a thousand things rose
tumultuously to his lips. Surprised at his apparent coldness, she
began acting a part with much vigor.
"Come," she continued with a faint smile, "you're a sensible man!
Now that we've made our peace let's shake hands and be good friends
"What? Good friends?" he murmured in sudden anxiety.
"Yes; it's idiotic, perhaps, but I should like you to think well of
me. We've had our little explanation out, and if we meet again we
shan't, at any rate look like a pair of boobies."
He tried to interrupt her with a movement of the hand.
"Let me finish! There's not a man, you understand, able to accuse
me of doing him a blackguardly turn; well, and it struck me as
horrid to begin in your case. We all have our sense of honor, dear
"But that's not my meaning!" he shouted violently. "Sit down--
listen to me!" And as though he were afraid of seeing her take her
departure, he pushed her down on the solitary chair in the room.
Then he paced about in growing agitation. The little dressing room
was airless and full of sunlight, and no sound from the outside
world disturbed its pleasant, peaceful, dampish atmosphere. In the
pauses of conversation the shrillings of the canary were alone
audible and suggested the distant piping of a flute.
"Listen," he said, planting himself in front of her, "I've come to
possess myself of you again. Yes, I want to begin again. You know
that well; then why do you talk to me as you do? Answer me; tell me
Her head was bent, and she was scratching the blood-red straw of the
seat underneath her. Seeing him so anxious, she did not hurry to
answer. But at last she lifted up her face. It had assumed a grave
expression, and into the beautiful eyes she had succeeded in
infusing a look of sadness.
"Oh, it's impossible, little man. Never, never, will I live with
"Why?" he stuttered, and his face seemed contracted in unspeakable
"Why? Hang it all, because--It's impossible; that's about it. I
don't want to."
He looked ardently at her for some seconds longer. Then his legs
curved under him and he fell on the floor. In a bored voice she
added this simple advice:
"Ah, don't be a baby!"
But he was one already. Dropping at her feet, he had put his arms
round her waist and was hugging her closely, pressing his face hard
against her knees. When he felt her thus--when he once more divined
the presence of her velvety limbs beneath the thin fabric of her
dress--he was suddenly convulsed and trembled, as it were, with
fever, while madly, savagely, he pressed his face against her knees
as though he had been anxious to force through her flesh. The old
chair creaked, and beneath the low ceiling, where the air was
pungent with stale perfumes, smothered sobs of desire were audible.
"Well, and after?" Nana began saying, letting him do as he would.
"All this doesn't help you a bit, seeing that the thing's
impossible. Good God, what a child you are!"
His energy subsided, but he still stayed on the floor, nor did he
relax his hold of her as he said in a broken voice:
"Do at least listen to what I came to offer you. I've already seen
a town house close to the Parc Monceau--I would gladly realize your
smallest wish. In order to have you all to myself, I would give my
whole fortune. Yes, that would be my only condition, that I should
have you all to myself! Do you understand? And if you were to
consent to be mine only, oh, then I should want you to be the
loveliest, the richest, woman on earth. I should give you carriages
and diamonds and dresses!"
At each successive offer Nana shook her head proudly. Then seeing
that he still continued them, that he even spoke of settling money
on her--for he was at loss what to lay at her feet--she apparently
"Come, come, have you done bargaining with me? I'm a good sort, and
I don't mind giving in to you for a minute or two, as your feelings
are making you so ill, but I've had enough of it now, haven't I? So
let me get up. You're tiring me."
She extricated herself from his clasp, and once on her feet:
"No, no, no!" she said. "I don't want to!"
With that he gathered himself up painfully and feebly dropped into a
chair, in which he leaned back with his face in his hands. Nana
began pacing up and down in her turn. For a second or two she
looked at the stained wallpaper, the greasy toilet table, the whole
dirty little room as it basked in the pale sunlight. Then she
paused in front of the count and spoke with quiet directness.
"It's strange how rich men fancy they can have everything for their
money. Well, and if I don't want to consent--what then? I don't
care a pin for your presents! You might give me Paris, and yet I
should say no! Always no! Look here, it's scarcely clean in this
room, yet I should think it very nice if I wanted to live in it with
you. But one's fit to kick the bucket in your palaces if one isn't
in love. Ah, as to money, my poor pet, I can lay my hands on that
if I want to, but I tell you, I trample on it; I spit on it!"
And with that she assumed a disgusted expression. Then she became
sentimental and added in a melancholy tone:
"I know of something worth more than money. Oh, if only someone
were to give me what I long for!"
He slowly lifted his head, and there was a gleam of hope in his eyes.
"Oh, you can't give it me," she continued; "it doesn't depend on
you, and that's the reason I'm talking to you about it. Yes, we're
having a chat, so I may as well mention to you that I should like to
play the part of the respectable woman in that show of theirs."
"What respectable woman?" he muttered in astonishment.
"Why, their Duchess Helene! If they think I'm going to play
Geraldine, a part with nothing in it, a scene and nothing besides--
if they think that! Besides, that isn't the reason. The fact is
I've had enough of courtesans. Why, there's no end to 'em! They'll
be fancying I've got 'em on the brain; to be sure they will!
Besides, when all's said and done, it's annoying, for I can quite
see they seem to think me uneducated. Well, my boy, they're jolly
well in the dark about it, I can tell you! When I want to be a
perfect lady, why then I am a swell, and no mistake! Just look at
And she withdrew as far as the window and then came swelling back
with the mincing gait and circumspect air of a portly hen that fears
to dirty her claws. As to Muffat, he followed her movements with
eyes still wet with tears. He was stupefied by this sudden
transition from anguish to comedy. She walked about for a moment or
two in order the more thoroughly to show off her paces, and as she
walked she smiled subtlely, closed her eyes demurely and managed her
skirts with great dexterity. Then she posted herself in front of
"I guess I've hit it, eh?"
"Oh, thoroughly," he stammered with a broken voice and a troubled
"I tell you I've got hold of the honest woman! I've tried at my own
place. Nobody's got my little knack of looking like a duchess who
don't care a damn for the men. Did you notice it when I passed in
front of you? Why, the thing's in my blood! Besides, I want to
play the part of an honest woman. I dream about it day and night--
I'm miserable about it. I must have the part, d'you hear?"
And with that she grew serious, speaking in a hard voice and looking
deeply moved, for she was really tortured by her stupid, tiresome
wish. Muffat, still smarting from her late refusals, sat on without
appearing to grasp her meaning. There was a silence during which
the very flies abstained from buzzing through the quiet, empty place.
"Now, look here," she resumed bluntly, "you're to get them to give
me the part."
He was dumfounded, and with a despairing gesture:
"Oh, it's impossible! You yourself were saying just now that it
didn't depend on me."
She interrupted him with a shrug of the shoulders.
"You'll just go down, and you'll tell Bordenave you want the part.
Now don't be such a silly! Bordenave wants money--well, you'll lend
him some, since you can afford to make ducks and drakes of it."
And as he still struggled to refuse her, she grew angry.
"Very well, I understand; you're afraid of making Rose angry. I
didn't mention the woman when you were crying down on the floor--I
should have had too much to say about it all. Yes, to be sure, when
one has sworn to love a woman forever one doesn't usually take up
with the first creature that comes by directly after. Oh, that's
where the shoe pinches, I remember! Well, dear boy, there's nothing
very savory in the Mignon's leavings! Oughtn't you to have broken
it off with that dirty lot before coming and squirming on my knees?"
He protested vaguely and at last was able to get out a phrase.
"Oh, I don't care a jot for Rose; I'll give her up at once."
Nana seemed satisfied on this point. She continued:
"Well then, what's bothering you? Bordenave's master here. You'll
tell me there's Fauchery after Bordenave--"
She had sunk her voice, for she was coming to the delicate part of
the matter. Muffat sat silent, his eyes fixed on the ground. He
had remained voluntarily ignorant of Fauchery's assiduous attentions
to the countess, and time had lulled his suspicions and set him
hoping that he had been deceiving himself during that fearful night
passed in a doorway of the Rue Taitbout. But he still felt a dull,
angry repugnance to the man.
"Well, what then? Fauchery isn't the devil!" Nana repeated, feeling
her way cautiously and trying to find out how matters stood between
husband and lover. "One can get over his soft side. I promise you,
he's a good sort at bottom! So it's a bargain, eh? You'll tell him
that it's for my sake?"
The idea of taking such a step disgusted the count.
"No, no! Never!" he cried.
She paused, and this sentence was on the verge of utterance: