Part 7 out of 12
"Fauchery can refuse you nothing."
But she felt that by way of argument it was rather too much of a
good thing. So she only smiled a queer smile which spoke as plainly
as words. Muffat had raised his eyes to her and now once more
lowered them, looking pale and full of embarrassment.
"Ah, you're not good natured," she muttered at last.
"I cannot," he said with a voice and a look of the utmost anguish.
"I'll do whatever you like, but not that, dear love! Oh, I beg you
not to insist on that!"
Thereupon she wasted no more time in discussion but took his head
between her small hands, pushed it back a little, bent down and
glued her mouth to his in a long, long kiss. He shivered violently;
he trembled beneath her touch; his eyes were closed, and he was
beside himself. She lifted him to his feet.
"Go," said she simply.
He walked off, making toward the door. But as he passed out she
took him in her arms again, became meek and coaxing, lifted her face
to his and rubbed her cheek against his waistcoat, much as a cat
might have done.
"Where's the fine house?" she whispered in laughing embarrassment,
like a little girl who returns to the pleasant things she has
"In the Avenue de Villiers."
"And there are carriages there?"
"Oh, how good you are, my old pet! You know it was all jealousy
just now! And this time I solemnly promise you it won't be like the
first, for now you understand what's due to a woman. You give all,
don't you? Well then, I don't want anybody but you! Why, look
here, there's some more for you! There and there AND there!"
When she had pushed him from the room after firing his blood with a
rain of kisses on hands and on face, she panted awhile. Good
heavens, what an unpleasant smell there was in that slut Mathilde's
dressing room! It was warm, if you will, with the tranquil warmth
peculiar to rooms in the south when the winter sun shines into them,
but really, it smelled far too strong of stale lavender water, not
to mention other less cleanly things! She opened the window and,
again leaning on the window sill, began watching the glass roof of
the passage below in order to kill time.
Muffat went staggering downstairs. His head was swimming. What
should he say? How should he broach the matter which, moreover, did
not concern him? He heard sounds of quarreling as he reached the
stage. The second act was being finished, and Prulliere was beside
himself with wrath, owing to an attempt on Fauchery's part to cut
short one of his speeches.
"Cut it all out then," he was shouting. "I should prefer that!
Just fancy, I haven't two hundred lines, and they're still cutting
me down. No, by Jove, I've had enough of it; I give the part up."
He took a little crumpled manuscript book out of his pocket and
fingered its leaves feverishly, as though he were just about to
throw it on Cossard's lap. His pale face was convulsed by outraged
vanity; his lips were drawn and thin, his eyes flamed; he was quite
unable to conceal the struggle that was going on inside him. To
think that he, Prulliere, the idol of the public, should play a part
of only two hundred lines!
"Why not make me bring in letters on a tray?" he continued bitterly.
"Come, come, Prulliere, behave decently," said Bordenave, who was
anxious to treat him tenderly because of his influence over the
boxes. "Don't begin making a fuss. We'll find some points. Eh,
Fauchery, you'll add some points? In the third act it would even be
possible to lengthen a scene out."
"Well then, I want the last speech of all," the comedian declared.
"I certainly deserve to have it."
Fauchery's silence seemed to give consent, and Prulliere, still
greatly agitated and discontented despite everything, put his part
back into his pocket. Bosc and Fontan had appeared profoundly
indifferent during the course of this explanation. Let each man
fight for his own hand, they reflected; the present dispute had
nothing to do with them; they had no interest therein! All the
actors clustered round Fauchery and began questioning him and
fishing for praise, while Mignon listened to the last of Prulliere's
complaints without, however, losing sight of Count Muffat, whose
return he had been on the watch for.
Entering in the half-light, the count had paused at the back of the
stage, for he hesitated to interrupt the quarrel. But Bordenave
caught sight of him and ran forward.
"Aren't they a pretty lot?" he muttered. "You can have no idea what
I've got to undergo with that lot, Monsieur le Comte. Each man's
vainer than his neighbor, and they're wretched players all the same,
a scabby lot, always mixed up in some dirty business or other! Oh,
they'd be delighted if I were to come to smash. But I beg pardon--
I'm getting beside myself."
He ceased speaking, and silence reigned while Muffat sought how to
broach his announcement gently. But he failed and, in order to get
out of his difficulty the more quickly, ended by an abrupt
"Nana wants the duchess's part."
Bordenave gave a start and shouted:
"Come now, it's sheer madness!"
Then looking at the count and finding him so pale and so shaken, he
was calm at once.
"Devil take it!" he said simply.
And with that there ensued a fresh silence. At bottom he didn't
care a pin about it. That great thing Nana playing the duchess
might possibly prove amusing! Besides, now that this had happened
he had Muffat well in his grasp. Accordingly he was not long in
coming to a decision, and so he turned round and called out:
The count had been on the point of stopping him. But Fauchery did
not hear him, for he had been pinned against the curtain by Fontan
and was being compelled to listen patiently to the comedian's
reading of the part of Tardiveau. Fontan imagined Tardiveau to be a
native of Marseilles with a dialect, and he imitated the dialect.
He was repeating whole speeches. Was that right? Was this the
thing? Apparently he was only submitting ideas to Fauchery of which
he was himself uncertain, but as the author seemed cold and raised
various objections, he grew angry at once.
Oh, very well, the moment the spirit of the part escaped him it
would be better for all concerned that he shouldn't act it at all!
"Fauchery!" shouted Bordenave once more.
Thereupon the young man ran off, delighted to escape from the actor,
who was wounded not a little by his prompt retreat.
"Don't let's stay here," continued Bordenave. "Come this way,
In order to escape from curious listeners he led them into the
property room behind the scenes, while Mignon watched their
disappearance in some surprise. They went down a few steps and
entered a square room, whose two windows opened upon the courtyard.
A faint light stole through the dirty panes and hung wanly under the
low ceiling. In pigeonholes and shelves, which filled the whole
place up, lay a collection of the most varied kind of bric-a-brac.
Indeed, it suggested an old-clothes shop in the Rue de Lappe in
process of selling off, so indescribable was the hotchpotch of
plates, gilt pasteboard cups, old red umbrellas, Italian jars,
clocks in all styles, platters and inkpots, firearms and squirts,
which lay chipped and broken and in unrecognizable heaps under a
layer of dust an inch deep. An unendurable odor of old iron, rags
and damp cardboard emanated from the various piles, where the debris
of forgotten dramas had been collecting for half a century.
"Come in," Bordenave repeated. "We shall be alone, at any rate."
The count was extremely embarrassed, and he contrived to let the
manager risk his proposal for him. Fauchery was astonished.
"Eh? What?" he asked.
"Just this," said Bordenave finally. "An idea has occurred to us.
Now whatever you do, don't jump! It's most serious. What do you
think of Nana for the duchess's part?"
The author was bewildered; then he burst out with:
"Ah no, no! You're joking, aren't you? People would laugh far too
"Well, and it's a point gained already if they do laugh! Just
reflect, my dear boy. The idea pleases Monsieur le Comte very
In order to keep himself in countenance Muffat had just picked out
of the dust on a neighboring shelf an object which he did not seem
to recognize. It was an eggcup, and its stem had been mended with
plaster. He kept hold of it unconsciously and came forward,
"Yes, yes, it would be capital."
Fauchery turned toward him with a brisk, impatient gesture. The
count had nothing to do with his piece, and he said decisively:
"Never! Let Nana play the courtesan as much as she likes, but a
lady--No, by Jove!"
"You are mistaken, I assure you," rejoined the count, growing
bolder. "This very minute she has been playing the part of a pure
woman for my benefit."
"Where?" queried Fauchery with growing surprise.
"Upstairs in a dressing room. Yes, she has, indeed, and with such
distinction! She's got a way of glancing at you as she goes by you--
something like this, you know!"
And eggcup in hand, he endeavored to imitate Nana, quite forgetting
his dignity in his frantic desire to convince the others. Fauchery
gazed at him in a state of stupefaction. He understood it all now,
and his anger had ceased. The count felt that he was looking at him
mockingly and pityingly, and he paused with a slight blush on his
"Egad, it's quite possible!" muttered the author complaisantly.
"Perhaps she would do very well, only the part's been assigned. We
can't take it away from Rose."
"Oh, if that's all the trouble," said Bordenave, "I'll undertake to
But presently, seeing them both against him and guessing that
Bordenave had some secret interest at stake, the young man thought
to avoid aquiescence by redoubling the violence of his refusal. The
consultation was on the verge of being broken up.
"Oh, dear! No, no! Even if the part were unassigned I should never
give it her! There, is that plain? Do let me alone; I have no wish
to ruin my play!"
He lapsed into silent embarrassment. Bordenave, deeming himself DE
TROP, went away, but the count remained with bowed head. He raised
it with an effort and said in a breaking voice:
"Supposing, my dear fellow, I were to ask this of you as a favor?"
"I cannot, I cannot," Fauchery kept repeating as he writhed to get
Muffat's voice became harder.
"I pray and beseech you for it! I want it!"
And with that he fixed his eyes on him. The young man read menaces
in that darkling gaze and suddenly gave way with a splutter of
"Do what you like--I don't care a pin about it. Yes, yes, you're
abusing your power, but you'll see, you'll see!"
At this the embarrassment of both increased. Fauchery was leaning
up against a set of shelves and was tapping nervously on the ground
with his foot. Muffat seemed busy examining the eggcup, which he
was still turning round and about.
"It's an eggcup," Bordenave obligingly came and remarked.
"Yes, to be sure! It's an eggeup," the count repeated.
"Excuse me, you're covered with dust," continued the manager,
putting the thing back on a shelf. "If one had to dust every day
there'd be no end to it, you understand. But it's hardly clean
here--a filthy mess, eh? Yet you may believe me or not when I tell
you there's money in it. Now look, just look at all that!"
He walked Muffat round in front of the pigeonholes and shelves and
in the greenish light which filtered through the courtyard, told him
the names of different properties, for he was anxious to interest
him in his marine-stores inventory, as he jocosely termed it.
Presently, when they had returned into Fauchery's neighborhood, he
said carelessly enough:
"Listen, since we're all of one mind, we'll finish the matter at
once. Here's Mignon, just when he's wanted."
For some little time past Mignon had been prowling in the adjoining
passage, and the very moment Bordenave began talking of a
modification of their agreement he burst into wrathful protest. It
was infamous--they wanted to spoil his wife's career--he'd go to law
about it! Bordenave, meanwhile, was extremely calm and full of
reasons. He did not think the part worthy of Rose, and he preferred
to reserve her for an operetta, which was to be put on after the
Petite Duchesse. But when her husband still continued shouting he
suddenly offered to cancel their arrangement in view of the offers
which the Folies-Dramatiques had been making the singer. At this
Mignon was momenrarily put out, so without denying the truth of
these offers he loudly professed a vast disdain for money. His
wife, he said, had been engaged to play the Duchess Helene, and she
would play the part even if he, Mignon, were to be ruined over it.
His dignity, his honor, were at stake! Starting from this basis,
the discussion grew interminable. The manager, however, always
returned to the following argument: since the Folies had offered
Rose three hundred francs a night during a hundred performances, and
since she only made a hundred and fifty with him, she would be the
gainer by fifteen thousand francs the moment he let her depart. The
husband, on his part, did not desert the artist's position. What
would people say if they saw his wife deprived of her part? Why,
that she was not equal to it; that it had been deemed necessary to
find a substitute for her! And this would do great harm to Rose's
reputation as an artist; nay, it would diminish it. Oh no, no!
Glory before gain! Then without a word of warning he pointed out a
possible arrangement: Rose, according to the terms of her agreement,
was pledged to pay a forfeit of ten thousand francs in case she gave
up the part. Very well then, let them give her ten thousand francs,
and she would go to the Folies-Dramatiques. Bordenave was utterly
dumfounded while Mignon, who had never once taken his eyes off the
count, tranquilly awaited results.
"Then everything can be settled," murmured Muffat in tones of
relief; "we can come to an understanding."
"The deuce, no! That would be too stupid!" cried Bordenave,
mastered by his commercial instincts. "Ten thousand francs to let
Rose go! Why, people would make game of me!"
But the count, with a multiplicity of nods, bade him accept. He
hesitated, and at last with much grumbling and infinite regret over
the ten thousand francs which, by the by, were not destined to come
out of his own pocket he bluntly continued:
"After all, I consent. At any rate, I shall have you off my hands."
For a quarter of an hour past Fontan had been listening in the
courtyard. Such had been his curiosity that he had come down and
posted himself there, but the moment he understood the state of the
case he went upstairs again and enjoyed the treat of telling Rose.
Dear me! They were just haggling in her behalf! He dinned his
words into her ears; she ran off to the property room. They were
silent as she entered. She looked at the four men. Muffat hung his
head; Fauchery answered her questioning glance with a despairing
shrug of the shoulders; as to Mignon, he was busy discussing the
terms of the agreement with Bordenave.
"What's up?" she demanded curtly.
"Nothing," said her husband. "Bordenave here is giving ten thousand
francs in order to get you to give up your part."
She grew tremulous with anger and very pale, and she clenched her
little fists. For some moments she stared at him, her whole nature
in revolt. Ordinarily in matters of business she was wont to trust
everything obediently to her husband, leaving him to sign agreements
with managers and lovers. Now she could but cry:
"Oh, come, you're too base for anything!"
The words fell like a lash. Then she sped away, and Mignon, in
utter astonishment, ran after her. What next? Was she going mad?
He began explaining to her in low tones that ten thousand francs
from one party and fifteen thousand from the other came to twenty-
five thousand. A splendid deal! Muffat was getting rid of her in
every sense of the word; it was a pretty trick to have plucked him
of this last feather! But Rose in her anger vouchsafed no answer.
Whereupon Mignon in disdain left her to her feminine spite and,
turning to Bordenave, who was once more on the stage with Fauchery
and Muffat, said:
"We'll sign tomorrow morning. Have the money in readiness."
At this moment Nana, to whom Labordette had brought the news, came
down to the stage in triumph. She was quite the honest woman now
and wore a most distinguished expression in order to overwhelm her
friends and prove to the idiots that when she chose she could give
them all points in the matter of smartness. But she nearly got into
trouble, for at the sight of her Rose darted forward, choking with
rage and stuttering:
"Yes, you, I'll pay you out! Things can't go on like this; d'you
understand?" Nana forgot herself in face of this brisk attack and
was going to put her arms akimbo and give her what for. But she
controlled herself and, looking like a marquise who is afraid of
treading on an orange peel, fluted in still more silvery tones.
"Eh, what?" said she. "You're mad, my dear!"
And with that she continued in her graceful affectation while Rose
took her departure, followed by Mignon, who now refused to recognize
her. Clarisse was enraptured, having just obtained the part of
Geraldine from Bordenave. Fauchery, on the other hand, was gloomy;
he shifted from one foot to the other; he could not decide whether
to leave the theater or no. His piece was bedeviled, and he was
seeking how best to save it. But Nana came up, took him by both
hands and, drawing him toward her, asked whether he thought her so
very atrocious after all. She wasn't going to eat his play--not
she! Then she made him laugh and gave him to understand that he
would be foolish to be angry with her, in view of his relationship
to the Muffats. If, she said, her memory failed her she would take
her lines from the prompter. The house, too, would be packed in
such a way as to ensure applause. Besides, he was mistaken about
her, and he would soon see how she would rattle through her part.
By and by it was arranged that the author should make a few changes
in the role of the duchess so as to extend that of Prulliere. The
last-named personage was enraptured. Indeed, amid all the joy which
Nana now quite naturally diffused, Fontan alone remained unmoved.
In the middle of the yellow lamplight, against which the sharp
outline of his goatlike profile shone out with great distinctness,
he stood showing off his figure and affecting the pose of one who
has been cruelly abandoned. Nana went quietly up and shook hands
"How are you getting on?"
"Oh, pretty fairly. And how are you?"
"Very well, thank you."
That was all. They seemed to have only parted at the doors of the
theater the day before. Meanwhile the players were waiting about,
but Bordenave said that the third act would not be rehearsed. And
so it chanced that old Bosc went grumbling away at the proper time,
whereas usually the company were needlessly detained and lost whole
afternoons in consequence. Everyone went off. Down on the pavement
they were blinded by the broad daylight and stood blinking their
eyes in a dazed sort of way, as became people who had passed three
hours squabbling with tight-strung nerves in the depths of a cellar.
The count, with racked limbs and vacant brain, got into a conveyance
with Nana, while Labordette took Fauchery off and comforted him.
A month later the first night of the Petite Duchesse proved
supremely disastrous to Nana. She was atrociously bad and displayed
such pretentions toward high comedy that the public grew mirthful.
They did not hiss--they were too amused. From a stage box Rose
Mignon kept greeting her rival's successive entrances with a shrill
laugh, which set the whole house off. It was the beginning of her
revenge. Accordingly, when at night Nana, greatly chagrined, found
herself alone with Muffat, she said furiously:
"What a conspiracy, eh? It's all owing to jealousy. Oh, if they
only knew how I despise 'em! What do I want them for nowadays?
Look here! I'll bet a hundred louis that I'll bring all those who
made fun today and make 'em lick the ground at my feet! Yes, I'll
fine-lady your Paris for you, I will!"
Thereupon Nana became a smart woman, mistress of all that is foolish
and filthy in man, marquise in the ranks of her calling. It was a
sudden but decisive start, a plunge into the garish day of gallant
notoriety and mad expenditure and that daredevil wastefulness
peculiar to beauty. She at once became queen among the most
expensive of her kind. Her photographs were displayed in
shopwindows, and she was mentioned in the papers. When she drove in
her carriage along the boulevards the people would turn and tell one
another who that was with all the unction of a nation saluting its
sovereign, while the object of their adoration lolled easily back in
her diaphanous dresses and smiled gaily under the rain of little
golden curls which ran riot above the blue of her made-up eyes and
the red of her painted lips. And the wonder of wonders was that the
great creature, who was so awkward on the stage, so very absurd the
moment she sought to act the chaste woman, was able without effort
to assume the role of an enchantress in the outer world. Her
movements were lithe as a serpent's, and the studied and yet
seemingly involuntary carelessness with which she dressed was really
exquisite in its elegance. There was a nervous distinction in all
she did which suggested a wellborn Persian cat; she was an
aristocrat in vice and proudly and rebelliously trampled upon a
prostrate Paris like a sovereign whom none dare disobey. She set
the fashion, and great ladies imitated her.
Nana's fine house was situated at the corner of the Rue Cardinet, in
the Avenue de Villiers. The avenue was part of the luxurious
quarter at that time springing up in the vague district which had
once been the Plaine Monceau. The house had been built by a young
painter, who was intoxicated by a first success, and had been
perforce resold almost as soon as it was habitable. It was in the
palatial Renaissance manner and had fantastic interior arrangements
which consisted of modern conveniences framed in a setting of
somewhat artificial originality. Count Muffat had bought the house
ready furnished and full of hosts of beautiful objects--lovely
Eastern hangings, old credences, huge chairs of the Louis XIII
epoch. And thus Nana had come into artistic surroundings of the
choicest kind and of the most extravagantly various dates. But
since the studio, which occupied the central portion of the house,
could not be of any use to her, she had upset existing arrangements,
establishing a small drawing room on the first floor, next to her
bedroom and dressing room, and leaving a conservatory, a large
drawing room and a dining room to look after themselves underneath.
She astonished the architect with her ideas, for, as became a
Parisian workgirl who understands the elegancies of life by
instinct, she had suddenly developed a very pretty taste for every
species of luxurious refinement. Indeed, she did not spoil her
house overmuch; nay, she even added to the richness of the
furniture, save here and there, where certain traces of tender
foolishness and vulgar magnificence betrayed the ex-flower seller
who had been wont to dream in front of shopwindows in the arcades.
A carpet was spread on the steps beneath the great awning over the
front door in the court, and the moment you entered the hall you
were greeted by a perfume as of violets and a soft, warm atmosphere
which thick hangings helped to produce. A window, whose yellow- and
rose-colored panes suggested the warm pallor of human flesh, gave
light to the wide staircase, at the foot of which a Negro in carved
wood held out a silver tray full of visiting cards and four white
marble women, with bosoms displayed, raised lamps in their uplifted
hands. Bronzes and Chinese vases full of flowers, divans covered
with old Persian rugs, armchairs upholstered in old tapestry,
furnished the entrance hall, adorned the stairheads and gave the
first-floor landing the appearance of an anteroom. Here men's
overcoats and hats were always in evidence, and there were thick
hangings which deadened every sound. It seemed a place apart: on
entering it you might have fancied yourself in a chapel, whose very
air was thrilling with devotion, whose very silence and seclusion
were fraught with mystery.
Nana only opened the large and somewhat too-sumptuous Louis XVI
drawing room on those gala nights when she received society from the
Tuileries or strangers of distinction. Ordinarily she only came
downstairs at mealtimes, and she would feel rather lost on such days
as she lunched by herself in the lofty dining room with its Gobelin
tapestry and its monumental sideboard, adorned with old porcelain
and marvelous pieces of ancient plate. She used to go upstairs
again as quickly as possible, for her home was on the first floor,
in the three rooms, the bed, dressing and small drawing room above
described. Twice already she had done the bedchamber up anew: on
the first occasion in mauve satin, on the second in blue silk under
lace. But she had not been satisfied with this; it had struck her
as "nohowish," and she was still unsuccessfully seeking for new
colors and designs. On the elaborately upholstered bed, which was
as low as a sofa, there were twenty thousand francs' worth of POINT
DE VENISE lace. The furniture was lacquered blue and white under
designs in silver filigree, and everywhere lay such numbers of white
bearskins that they hid the carpet. This was a luxurious caprice on
Nana's part, she having never been able to break herself of the
habit of sitting on the floor to take her stockings off. Next door
to the bedroom the little saloon was full of an amusing medley of
exquisitely artistic objects. Against the hangings of pale rose-
colored silk--a faded Turkish rose color, embroidered with gold
thread--a whole world of them stood sharply outlined. They were
from every land and in every possible style. There were Italian
cabinets, Spanish and Portuguese coffers, models of Chinese pagodas,
a Japanese screen of precious workmanship, besides china, bronzes,
embroidered silks, hangings of the finest needlework. Armchairs
wide as beds and sofas deep as alcoves suggested voluptuous idleness
and the somnolent life of the seraglio. The prevailing tone of the
room was old gold blended with green and red, and nothing it
contained too forcibly indicated the presence of the courtesan save
the luxuriousness of the seats. Only two "biscuit" statuettes, a
woman in her shift, hunting for fleas, and another with nothing at
all on, walking on her hands and waving her feet in the air,
sufficed to sully the room with a note of stupid originality.
Through a door, which was nearly always ajar, the dressing room was
visible. It was all in marble and glass with a white bath, silver
jugs and basins and crystal and ivory appointments. A drawn curtain
filled the place with a clear twilight which seemed to slumber in
the warm scent of violets, that suggestive perfume peculiar to Nana
wherewith the whole house, from the roof to the very courtyard, was
The furnishing of the house was a most important undertaking. Nana
certainly had Zoe with her, that girl so devoted to her fortunes.
For months she had been tranquilly awaiting this abrupt, new
departure, as became a woman who was certain of her powers of
prescience, and now she was triumphant; she was mistress of the
house and was putting by a round sum while serving Madame as
honestly as possible. But a solitary lady's maid was no longer
sufficient. A butler, a coachman, a porter and a cook were wanted.
Besides, it was necessary to fill the stables. It was then that
Labordette made himself most useful. He undertook to perform all
sorts of errands which bored the count; he made a comfortable job of
the purchase of horses; he visited the coachbuilders; he guided the
young woman in her choice of things. She was to be met with at the
shops, leaning on his arm. Labordette even got in the servants--
Charles, a great, tall coachman, who had been in service with the
Duc de Corbreuse; Julien, a little, smiling, much-becurled butler,
and a married couple, of whom the wife Victorine became cook while
the husband Francois was taken on as porter and footman. The last
mentioned in powder and breeches wore Nana's livery, which was a
sky-blue one adorned with silver lace, and he received visitors in
the hall. The whole thing was princely in the correctness of its
At the end of two months the house was set going. The cost had been
more than three hundred thousand francs. There were eight horses in
the stables, and five carriages in the coach houses, and of these
five one was a landau with silver embellishments, which for the
moment occupied the attention of all Paris. And amid this great
wealth Nana began settling down and making her nest. After the
third representation of the Petite Duchesse she had quitted the
theater, leaving Bordenave to struggle on against a bankruptcy
which, despite the count's money, was imminent. Nevertheless, she
was still bitter about her failure. It added to that other
bitterness, the lesson Fontan had given her, a shameful lesson for
which she held all men responsible. Accordingly she now declared
herself very firm and quite proof against sudden infatuations, but
thoughts of vengeance took no hold of her volatile brain. What did
maintain a hold on it in the hours when she was not indignant was an
ever-wakeful lust of expenditure, added to a natural contempt for
the man who paid and to a perpetual passion for consumption and
waste, which took pride in the ruin of her lovers.
At starting Nana put the count on a proper footing and clearly
mapped out the conditions of their relationship. The count gave
twelve thousand francs monthly, presents excepted, and demanded
nothing in return save absolute fidelity. She swore fidelity but
insisted also on being treated with the utmost consideration, on
enjoying complete liberty as mistress of the house and on having her
every wish respected. For instance, she was to receive her friends
every day, and he was to come only at stated times. In a word, he
was to repose a blind confidence in her in everything. And when he
was seized with jealous anxiety and hesitated to grant what she
wanted, she stood on her dignity and threatened to give him back all
he had given or even swore by little Louiset to perform what she
promised. This was to suffice him. There was no love where mutual
esteem was wanting. At the end of the first month Muffat respected
But she desired and obtained still more. Soon she began to
influence him, as became a good-natured courtesan. When he came to
her in a moody condition she cheered him up, confessed him and then
gave him good advice. Little by little she interested herself in
the annoyances of his home life, in his wife, in his daughter, in
his love affairs and financial difficulties; she was very sensible,
very fair and right-minded. On one occasion only did she let anger
get the better of her, and that was when he confided to her that
doubtless Daguenet was going to ask for his daughter Estelle in
marriage. When the count began making himself notorious Daguenet
had thought it a wise move to break off with Nana. He had treated
her like a base hussy and had sworn to snatch his future father-in-
law out of the creature's clutches. In return Nana abused her old
Mimi in a charming fashion. He was a renegade who had devoured his
fortune in the company of vile women; he had no moral sense. True,
he did not let them pay him money, but he profited by that of others
and only repaid them at rare intervals with a bouquet or a dinner.
And when the count seemed inclined to find excuses for these
failings she bluntly informed him that Daguenet had enjoyed her
favors, and she added disgusting particulars. Muffat had grown
ashen-pale. There was no question of the young man now. This would
teach him to be lacking in gratitude!
Meanwhile the house had not been entirely furnished, when one
evening after she had lavished the most energetic promises of
fidelity on Muffat Nana kept the Count Xavier de Vandeuvres for the
night. For the last fortnight he had been paying her assiduous
court, visiting her and sending presents of flowers, and now she
gave way not so much out of sudden infatuation as to prove that she
was a free woman. The idea of gain followed later when, the day
after, Vandeuvres helped her to pay a bill which she did not wish to
mention to the other man. From Vandeuvres she would certainly
derive from eight to ten thousand francs a month, and this would
prove very useful as pocket money. In those days he was finishing
the last of his fortune in an access of burning, feverish folly.
His horses and Lucy had devoured three of his farms, and at one gulp
Nana was going to swallow his last chateau, near Amiens. He seemed
in a hurry to sweep everything away, down to the ruins of the old
tower built by a Vandeuvres under Philip Augustus. He was mad for
ruin and thought it a great thing to leave the last golden bezants
of his coat of arms in the grasp of this courtesan, whom the world
of Paris desired. He, too, accepted Nana's conditions, leaving her
entire freedom of action and claiming her caresses only on certain
days. He was not even naively impassioned enough to require her to
make vows. Muffat suspected nothing. As to Vandeuvres, he knew
things would take place for a certainty, but he never made the least
allusion to them and pretended total ignorance, while his lips wore
the subtle smile of the skeptical man of pleasure who does not seek
the impossible, provided he can have his day and that Paris is aware
From that time forth Nana's house was really properly appointed.
The staff of servants was complete in the stable, in the kitchen and
in my lady's chamber. Zoe organized everything and passed
successfully through the most unforeseen difficulties. The
household moved as easily as the scenery in a theater and was
regulated like a grand administrative concern. Indeed, it worked
with such precision that during the early months there were no jars
and no derangements. Madame, however, pained Zoe extremely with her
imprudent acts, her sudden fits of unwisdom, her mad bravado. Still
the lady's maid grew gradually lenient, for she had noticed that she
made increased profits in seasons of wanton waste when Madame had
committed a folly which must be made up for. It was then that the
presents began raining on her, and she fished up many a louis out of
the troubled waters.
One morning when Muffat had not yet left the bedroom Zoe ushered a
gentleman into the dressing room, where Nana was changing her
underwear. He was trembling violently.
"Good gracious! It's Zizi!" said the young woman in great
It was, indeed, Georges. But when he saw her in her shift, with her
golden hair over her bare shoulders, he threw his arms round her
neck and round her waist and kissed her in all directions. She
began struggling to get free, for she was frightened, and in
smothered tones she stammered:
"Do leave off! He's there! Oh, it's silly of you! And you, Zoe,
are you out of your senses? Take him away and keep him downstairs;
I'll try and come down."
Zoe had to push him in front of her. When Nana was able to rejoin
them in the drawing room downstairs she scolded them both, and Zoe
pursed up her lips and took her departure with a vexed expression,
remarking that she had only been anxious to give Madame a pleasure.
Georges was so glad to see Nana again and gazed at her with such
delight that his fine eyes began filling with tears. The miserable
days were over now; his mother believed him to have grown reasonable
and had allowed him to leave Les Fondettes. Accordingly, the moment
he had reached the terminus, he had got a conveyance in order the
more quickly to come and kiss his sweet darling. He spoke of living
at her side in future, as he used to do down in the country when he
waited for her, barefooted, in the bedroom at La Mignotte. And as
he told her about himself, he let his fingers creep forward, for he
longed to touch her after that cruel year of separation. Then he
got possession of her hands, felt about the wide sleeves of her
dressing jacket, traveled up as far as her shoulders.
"You still love your baby?" he asked in his child voice.
"Oh, I certainly love him!" answered Nana, briskly getting out of
his clutches. "But you come popping in without warning. You know,
my little man, I'm not my own mistress; you must be good!"
Georges, when he got out of his cab, had been so dizzy with the
feeling that his long desire was at last about to be satisfied that
he had not even noticed what sort of house he was entering. But now
he became conscious of a change in the things around him. He
examined the sumptuous dining room with its lofty decorated ceiling,
its Gobelin hangings, its buffet blazing with plate.
"Yes, yes!" he remarked sadly.
And with that she made him understand that he was never to come in
the mornings but between four and six in the afternoon, if he cared
to. That was her reception time. Then as he looked at her with
suppliant, questioning eyes and craved no boon at all, she, in her
turn, kissed him on the forehead in the most amiable way.
"Be very good," she whispered. "I'll do all I can."
But the truth was that this remark now meant nothing. She thought
Georges very nice and would have liked him as a companion, but as
nothing else. Nevertheless, when he arrived daily at four o'clock
he seemed so wretched that she was often fain to be as compliant as
of old and would hide him in cupboards and constantly allow him to
pick up the crumbs from Beauty's table. He hardly ever left the
house now and became as much one of its inmates as the little dog
Bijou. Together they nestled among Mistress's skirts and enjoyed a
little of her at a time, even when she was with another man, while
doles of sugar and stray caresses not seldom fell to their share in
her hours of loneliness and boredom.
Doubtless Mme Hugon found out that the lad had again returned to
that wicked woman's arms, for she hurried up to Paris and came and
sought aid from her other son, the Lieutenant Philippe, who was then
in garrison at Vincennes. Georges, who was hiding from his elder
brother, was seized with despairing apprehension, for he feared the
latter might adopt violent tactics, and as his tenderness for Nana
was so nervously expansive that he could not keep anything from her,
he soon began talking of nothing but his big brother, a great,
strong fellow, who was capable of all kinds of things.
"You know," he explained, "Mamma won't come to you while she can
send my brother. Oh, she'll certainly send Philippe to fetch me."
The first time he said this Nana was deeply wounded. She said
"Gracious me, I should like to see him come! For all that he's a
lieutenant in the army, Francois will chuck him out in double-quick
Soon, as the lad kept returning to the subject of his brother, she
ended by taking a certain interest in Philippe, and in a week's time
she knew him from head to foot--knew him as very tall and very
strong and merry and somewhat rough. She learned intimate details,
too, and found out that he had hair on his arms and a birthmark on
his shoulder. So thoroughly did she learn her lesson that one day,
when she was full of the image of the man who was to be turned out
of doors by her orders, she cried out:
"I say, Zizi, your brother's not coming. He's a base deserter!"
The next day, when Georges and Nana were alone together, Francois
came upstairs to ask whether Madame would receive Lieutenant
Philippe Hugon. Georges grew extremely white and murmured:
"I suspected it; Mamma was talking about it this morning."
And he besought the young woman to send down word that she could not
see visitors. But she was already on her feet and seemed all aflame
as she said:
"Why should I not see him? He would think me afraid. Dear me,
we'll have a good laugh! Just leave the gentleman in the drawing
room for a quarter of an hour, Francois; afterward bring him up to
She did not sit down again but began pacing feverishly to and fro
between the fireplace and a Venetian mirror hanging above an Italian
chest. And each time she reached the latter she glanced at the
glass and tried the effect of a smile, while Georges sat nervously
on a sofa, trembling at the thought of the coming scene. As she
walked up and down she kept jerking out such little phrases as:
"It will calm the fellow down if he has to wait a quarter of an
hour. Besides, if he thinks he's calling on a tottie the drawing
room will stun him! Yes, yes, have a good look at everything, my
fine fellow! It isn't imitation, and it'll teach you to respect the
lady who owns it. Respect's what men need to feel! The quarter of
an hour's gone by, eh? No? Only ten minutes? Oh, we've got plenty
She did not stay where she was, however. At the end of the quarter
of an hour she sent Georges away after making him solemnly promise
not to listen at the door, as such conduct would scarcely look
proper in case the servants saw him. As he went into her bedroom
Zizi ventured in a choking sort of way to remark:
"It's my brother, you know--"
"Don't you fear," she said with much dignity; "if he's polite I'll
Francois ushered in Philippe Hugon, who wore morning dress. Georges
began crossing on tiptoe on the other side of the room, for he was
anxious to obey the young woman. But the sound of voices retained
him, and he hesitated in such anguish of mind that his knees gave
way under him. He began imagining that a dread catastrophe would
befall, that blows would be struck, that something abominable would
happen, which would make Nana everlastingly odious to him. And so
he could not withstand the temptation to come back and put his ear
against the door. He heard very ill, for the thick portieres
deadened every sound, but he managed to catch certain words spoken
by Philippe, stern phrases in which such terms as "mere child,"
"family," "honor," were distinctly audible. He was so anxious about
his darling's possible answers that his heart beat violently and
filled his head with a confused, buzzing noise. She was sure to
give vent to a "Dirty blackguard!" or to a "Leave me bloody well
alone! I'm in my own house!" But nothing happened--not a breath
came from her direction. Nana seemed dead in there! Soon even his
brother's voice grew gentler, and he could not make it out at all,
when a strange murmuring sound finally stupefied him. Nana was
sobbing! For a moment or two he was the prey of contending feelings
and knew not whether to run away or to fall upon Philippe. But just
then Zoe came into the room, and he withdrew from the door, ashamed
at being thus surprised.
She began quietly to put some linen away in a cupboard while he
stood mute and motionless, pressing his forehead against a
windowpane. He was tortured by uncertainty. After a short silence
the woman asked:
"It's your brother that's with Madame?"
"Yes," replied the lad in a choking voice.
There was a fresh silence.
"And it makes you anxious, doesn't it, Monsieur Georges?"
"Yes," he rejoined in the same painful, suffering tone.
Zoe was in no hurry. She folded up some lace and said slowly:
"You're wrong; Madame will manage it all."
And then the conversation ended; they said not another word. Still
she did not leave the room. A long quarter of an hour passed, and
she turned round again without seeming to notice the look of
exasperation overspreading the lad's face, which was already white
with the effects of uncertainty and constraint. He was casting
sidelong glances in the direction of the drawing room.
Maybe Nana was still crying. The other must have grown savage and
have dealt her blows. Thus when Zoe finally took her departure he
ran to the door and once more pressed his ear against it. He was
thunderstruck; his head swam, for he heard a brisk outburst of
gaiety, tender, whispering voices and the smothered giggles of a
woman who is being tickled. Besides, almost directly afterward,
Nana conducted Philippe to the head of the stairs, and there was an
exchange of cordial and familiar phrases.
When Georges again ventured into the drawing room the young woman
was standing before the mirror, looking at herself.
"Well?" he asked in utter bewilderment.
"Well, what?" she said without turning round. Then negligently:
"What did you mean? He's very nice, is your brother!"
"So it's all right, is it?"
"Oh, certainly it's all right! Goodness me, what's come over you?
One would have thought we were going to fight!"
Georges still failed to understand.
"I thought I heard--that is, you didn't cry?" he stammered out.
"Me cry!" she exclaimed, looking fixedly at him. "Why, you're
dreaming! What makes you think I cried?"
Thereupon the lad was treated to a distressing scene for having
disobeyed and played Paul Pry behind the door. She sulked, and he
returned with coaxing submissiveness to the old subject, for he
wished to know all about it.
"And my brother then?"
"Your brother saw where he was at once. You know, I might have been
a tottie, in which case his interference would have been accounted
for by your age and the family honor! Oh yes, I understand those
kinds of feelings! But a single glance was enough for him, and he
behaved like a well-bred man at once. So don't be anxious any
longer. It's all over--he's gone to quiet your mamma!"
And she went on laughingly:
"For that matter, you'll see your brother here. I've invited him,
and he's going to return."
"Oh, he's going to return," said the lad, growing white. He added
nothing, and they ceased talking of Philippe. She began dressing to
go out, and he watched her with his great, sad eyes. Doubtless he
was very glad that matters had got settled, for he would have
preferred death to a rupture of their connection, but deep down in
his heart there was a silent anguish, a profound sense of pain,
which he had no experience of and dared not talk about. How
Philippe quieted their mother's fears he never knew, but three days
later she returned to Les Fondettes, apparently satisfied. On the
evening of her return, at Nana's house, he trembled when Francois
announced the lieutenant, but the latter jested gaily and treated
him like a young rascal, whose escapade he had favored as something
not likely to have any consequences. The lad's heart was sore
within him; he scarcely dared move and blushed girlishly at the
least word that was spoken to him. He had not lived much in
Philippe's society; he was ten years his junior, and he feared him
as he would a father, from whom stories about women are concealed.
Accordingly he experienced an uneasy sense of shame when he saw him
so free in Nana's company and heard him laugh uproariously, as
became a man who was plunging into a life of pleasure with the gusto
born of magnificent health. Nevertheless, when his brother shortly
began to present himself every day, Georges ended by getting
somewhat used to it all. Nana was radiant.
This, her latest installation, had been involving all the riotous
waste attendant on the life of gallantry, and now her housewarming
was being defiantly celebrated in a grand mansion positively
overflowing with males and with furniture.
One afternoon when the Hugons were there Count Muffat arrived out of
hours. But when Zoe told him that Madame was with friends he
refused to come in and took his departure discreetly, as became a
gallant gentleman. When he made his appearance again in the evening
Nana received him with the frigid indignation of a grossly affronted
"Sir," she said, "I have given you no cause why you should insult
me. You must understand this: when I am at home to visitors, I beg
you to make your appearance just like other people."
The count simply gaped in astonishment. "But, my dear--" he
endeavored to explain.
"Perhaps it was because I had visitors! Yes, there were men here,
but what d'you suppose I was doing with those men? You only
advertise a woman's affairs when you act the discreet lover, and I
don't want to be advertised; I don't!"
He obtained his pardon with difficulty, but at bottom he was
enchanted. It was with scenes such as these that she kept him in
unquestioning and docile submission. She had long since succeeded
in imposing Georges on him as a young vagabond who, she declared,
amused her. She made him dine with Philippe, and the count behaved
with great amiability. When they rose from table he took the young
man on one side and asked news of his mother. From that time forth
the young Hugons, Vandeuvres and Muffat were openly about the house
and shook hands as guests and intimates might have done. It was a
more convenient arrangement than the previous one. Muffat alone
still abstained discreetly from too-frequent visits, thus adhering
to the ceremonious policy of an ordinary strange caller. At night
when Nana was sitting on her bearskins drawing off her stockings, he
would talk amicably about the other three gentlemen and lay especial
stress on Philippe, who was loyalty itself.
"It's very true; they're nice," Nana would say as she lingered on
the floor to change her shift. "Only, you know, they see what I am.
One word about it and I should chuck 'em all out of doors for you!"
Nevertheless, despite her luxurious life and her group of courtiers,
Nana was nearly bored to death. She had men for every minute of the
night, and money overflowed even among the brushes and combs in the
drawers of her dressing table. But all this had ceased to satisfy
her; she felt that there was a void somewhere or other, an empty
place provocative of yawns. Her life dragged on, devoid of
occupation, and successive days only brought back the same
monotonous hours. Tomorrow had ceased to be; she lived like a bird:
sure of her food and ready to perch and roost on any branch which
she came to. This certainty of food and drink left her lolling
effortless for whole days, lulled her to sleep in conventual
idleness and submission as though she were the prisoner of her
trade. Never going out except to drive, she was losing her walking
powers. She reverted to low childish tastes, would kiss Bijou from
morning to night and kill time with stupid pleasures while waiting
for the man whose caresses she tolerated with an appearance of
complaisant lassitude. Amid this species of self-abandonment she
now took no thought about anything save her personal beauty; her
sole care was to look after herself, to wash and to perfume her
limbs, as became one who was proud of being able to undress at any
moment and in face of anybody without having to blush for her
At ten in the morning Nana would get up. Bijou, the Scotch griffon
dog, used to lick her face and wake her, and then would ensue a game
of play lasting some five minutes, during which the dog would race
about over her arms and legs and cause Count Muffat much distress.
Bijou was the first little male he had ever been jealous of. It was
not at all proper, he thought, that an animal should go poking its
nose under the bedclothes like that! After this Nana would proceed
to her dressing room, where she took a bath. Toward eleven o'clock
Francois would come and do up her hair before beginning the
elaborate manipulations of the afternoon.
At breakfast, as she hated feeding alone, she nearly always had Mme
Maloir at table with her. This lady would arrive from unknown
regions in the morning, wearing her extravagantly quaint hats, and
would return at night to that mysterious existence of hers, about
which no one ever troubled. But the hardest to bear were the two or
three hours between lunch and the toilet. On ordinary occasions she
proposed a game of bezique to her old friend; on others she would
read the Figaro, in which the theatrical echoes and the fashionable
news interested her. Sometimes she even opened a book, for she
fancied herself in literary matters. Her toilet kept her till close
on five o'clock, and then only she would wake from her daylong
drowse and drive out or receive a whole mob of men at her own house.
She would often dine abroad and always go to bed very late, only to
rise again on the morrow with the same languor as before and to
begin another day, differing in nothing from its predecessor.
The great distraction was to go to the Batignolles and see her
little Louis at her aunt's. For a fortnight at a time she forgot
all about him, and then would follow an access of maternal love, and
she would hurry off on foot with all the modesty and tenderness
becoming a good mother. On such occasions she would be the bearer
of snuff for her aunt and of oranges and biscuits for the child, the
kind of presents one takes to a hospital. Or again she would drive
up in her landau on her return from the Bois, decked in costumes,
the resplendence of which greatly excited the dwellers in the
solitary street. Since her niece's magnificent elevation Mme Lerat
had been puffed up with vanity. She rarely presented herself in the
Avenue de Villiers, for she was pleased to remark that it wasn't her
place to do so, but she enjoyed triumphs in her own street. She was
delighted when the young woman arrived in dresses that had cost four
or five thousand francs and would be occupied during the whole of
the next day in showing off her presents and in citing prices which
quite stupefied the neighbors. As often as not, Nana kept Sunday
free for the sake of "her family," and on such occasions, if Muffat
invited her, she would refuse with the smile of a good little
shopwoman. It was impossible, she would answer; she was dining at
her aunt's; she was going to see Baby. Moreover, that poor little
man Louiset was always ill. He was almost three years old, growing
quite a great boy! But he had had an eczema on the back of his
neck, and now concretions were forming in his ears, which pointed,
it was feared, to decay of the bones of the skull. When she saw how
pale he looked, with his spoiled blood and his flabby flesh all out
in yellow patches, she would become serious, but her principal
feeling would be one of astonishment. What could be the matter with
the little love that he should grow so weakly? She, his mother, was
so strong and well!
On the days when her child did not engross attention Nana would
again sink back into the noisy monotony of her existence, with its
drives in the Bois, first nights at the theater, dinners and suppers
at the Maison-d'Or or the Cafe Anglais, not to mention all the
places of public resort, all the spectacles to which crowds rushed--
Mabille, the reviews, the races. But whatever happened she still
felt that stupid, idle void, which caused her, as it were, to suffer
internal cramps. Despite the incessant infatuations that possessed
her heart, she would stretch out her arms with a gesture of immense
weariness the moment she was left alone. Solitude rendered her low
spirited at once, for it brought her face to face with the emptiness
and boredom within her. Extremely gay by nature and profession, she
became dismal in solitude and would sum up her life in the following
ejaculation, which recurred incessantly between her yawns:
"Oh, how the men bother me!"
One afternoon as she was returning home from a concert, Nana, on the
sidewalk in the Rue Montmartre, noticed a woman trotting along in
down-at-the-heel boots, dirty petticoats and a hat utterly ruined by
the rain. She recognized her suddenly.
"Stop, Charles!" she shouted to the coachman and began calling:
Passers-by turned their heads; the whole street stared. Satin had
drawn near and was still further soiling herself against the
"Do get in, my dear girl," said Nana tranquilly, disdaining the
And with that she picked her up and carried her off, though she was
in disgusting contrast to her light blue landau and her dress of
pearl-gray silk trimmed with Chantilly, while the street smiled at
the coachman's loftily dignified demeanor.
From that day forth Nana had a passion to occupy her thoughts.
Satin became her vicious foible. Washed and dressed and duly
installed in the house in the Avenue de Villiers, during three days
the girl talked of Saint-Lazare and the annoyances the sisters had
caused her and how those dirty police people had put her down on the
official list. Nana grew indignant and comforted her and vowed she
would get her name taken off, even though she herself should have to
go and find out the minister of the interior. Meanwhile there was
no sort of hurry: nobody would come and search for her at Nana's--
that was certain. And thereupon the two women began to pass tender
afternoons together, making numberless endearing little speeches and
mingling their kisses with laughter. The same little sport, which
the arrival of the plainclothes men had interrupted in the Rue de
Laval, was beginning again in a jocular sort of spirit. One fine
evening, however, it became serious, and Nana, who had been so
disgusted at Laure's, now understood what it meant. She was upset
and enraged by it, the more so because Satin disappeared on the
morning of the fourth day. No one had seen her go our. She had,
indeed, slipped away in her new dress, seized by a longing for air,
full of sentimental regret for her old street existence.
That day there was such a terrible storm in the house that all the
servants hung their heads in sheepish silence. Nana had come near
beating Francois for not throwing himself across the door through
which Satin escaped. She did her best, however, to control herself,
and talked of Satin as a dirty swine. Oh, it would teach her to
pick filthy things like that out of the gutter!
When Madame shut herself up in her room in the afternoon Zoe heard
her sobbing. In the evening she suddenly asked for her carriage and
had herself driven to Laure's. It had occurred to her that she
would find Satin at the table d'hote in the Rue des Martyrs. She
was not going there for the sake of seeing her again but in order to
catch her one in the face! As a matter of fact Satin was dining at
a little table with Mme Robert. Seeing Nana, she began to laugh,
but the former, though wounded to the quick, did not make a scene.
On the contrary, she was very sweet and very compliant. She paid
for champagne made five or six tablefuls tipsy and then carried off
Satin when Mme Robert was in the closets. Not till they were in the
carriage did she make a mordant attack on her, threatening to kill
her if she did it again.
After that day the same little business began again continually. On
twenty different occasions Nana, tragically furious, as only a
jilted woman can be ran off in pursuit of this sluttish creature,
whose flights were prompted by the boredom she suffered amid the
comforts of her new home. Nana began to talk of boxing Mme Robert's
ears; one day she even meditated a duel; there was one woman too
many, she said.
In these latter times, whenever she dined at Laure's, she donned her
diamonds and occasionally brought with her Louise Violaine, Maria
Blond and Tatan Nene, all of them ablaze with finery; and while the
sordid feast was progressing in the three saloons and the yellow
gaslight flared overhead, these four resplendent ladies would demean
themselves with a vengeance, for it was their delight to dazzle the
little local courtesans and to carry them off when dinner was over.
On days such as these Laure, sleek and tight-laced as ever would
kiss everyone with an air of expanded maternity. Yet
notwithstanding all these circumstances Satin's blue eyes and pure
virginal face remained as calm as heretofore; torn, beaten and
pestered by the two women, she would simply remark that it was a
funny business, and they would have done far better to make it up at
once. It did no good to slap her; she couldn't cut herself in two,
however much she wanted to be nice to everybody. It was Nana who
finally carried her off in triumph, so assiduously had she loaded
Satin with kindnesses and presents. In order to be revenged,
however, Mme Robert wrote abominable, anonymous letters to her
For some time past Count Muffat had appeared suspicious, and one
morning, with considerable show of feeling, he laid before Nana an
anonymous letter, where in the very first sentences she read that
she was accused of deceiving the count with Vandeuvres and the young
"It's false! It's false!" she loudly exclaimed in accents of
"You swear?" asked Muffat, already willing to be comforted.
"I'll swear by whatever you like--yes, by the head of my child!"
But the letter was long. Soon her connection with Satin was
described in the broadest and most ignoble terms. When she had done
reading she smiled.
"Now I know who it comes from," she remarked simply.
And as Muffat wanted her denial to the charges therein contained,
she resumed quietly enough:
"That's a matter which doesn't concern you, dear old pet. How can
it hurt you?"
She did not deny anything. He used some horrified expressions.
Thereupon she shrugged her shoulders. Where had he been all this
time? Why, it was done everywhere! And she mentioned her friends
and swore that fashionable ladies went in for it. In fact, to hear
her speak, nothing could be commoner or more natural. But a lie was
a lie, and so a moment ago he had seen how angry she grew in the
matter of Vandeuvres and the young Hugons! Oh, if that had been
true he would have been justified in throttling her! But what was
the good of lying to him about a matter of no consequence? And with
that she repeated her previous expression:
"Come now, how can it hurt you?"
Then as the scene still continued, she closed it with a rough
"Besides, dear boy, if the thing doesn't suit you it's very simple:
the house door's open! There now, you must take me as you find me!"
He hung his head, for the young woman's vows of fidelity made him
happy at bottom. She, however, now knew her power over him and
ceased to consider his feelings. And from that time forth Satin was
openly installed in the house on the same footing as the gentlemen.
Vandeuvres had not needed anonymous letters in order to understand
how matters stood, and accordingly he joked and tried to pick
jealous quarrels with Satin. Philippe and Georges, on their parts,
treated her like a jolly good fellow, shaking hands with her and
cracking the riskiest jokes imaginable.
Nana had an adventure one evening when this slut of a girl had given
her the go-by and she had gone to dine in the Rue des Martyrs
without being able to catch her. While she was dining by herself
Daguenet had appeared on the scene, for although he had reformed, he
still occasionally dropped in under the influence of his old vicious
inclinations. He hoped of course that no one would meet him in
these black recesses, dedicated to the town's lowest depravity.
Accordingly even Nana's presence seemed to embarrass him at the
outset. But he was not the man to run away and, coming forward with
a smile, he asked if Madame would be so kind as to allow him to dine
at her table. Noticing his jocular tone, Nana assumed her
magnificently frigid demeanor and icily replied:
"Sit down where you please, sir. We are in a public place."
Thus begun, the conversation proved amusing. But at dessert Nana,
bored and burning for a triumph, put her elbows on the table and
began in the old familiar way:
"Well, what about your marriage, my lad? Is it getting on all
"Not much," Daguenet averred.
As a matter of fact, just when he was about to venture on his
request at the Muffats', he had met with such a cold reception from
the count that he had prudently refrained. The business struck him
as a failure. Nana fixed her clear eyes on him; she was sitting,
leaning her chin on her hand, and there was an ironical curve about
"Oh yes! I'm a baggage," she resumed slowly. "Oh yes, the future
father-in-law will have to be dragged from between my claws! Dear
me, dear me, for a fellow with NOUS, you're jolly stupid! What!
D'you mean to say you're going to tell your tales to a man who
adores me and tells me everything? Now just listen: you shall marry
if I wish it, my little man!"
For a minute or two he had felt the truth of this, and now he began
scheming out a method of submission. Nevertheless, he still talked
jokingly, not wishing the matter to grow serious, and after he had
put on his gloves he demanded the hand of Mlle Estelle de Beuville
in the strict regulation manner. Nana ended by laughing, as though
she had been tickled. Oh, that Mimi! It was impossible to bear him
a grudge! Daguenet's great successes with ladies of her class were
due to the sweetness of his voice, a voice of such musical purity
and pliancy as to have won him among courtesans the sobriquet of
"Velvet-Mouth." Every woman would give way to him when he lulled
her with his sonorous caresses. He knew this power and rocked Nana
to sleep with endless words, telling her all kinds of idiotic
anecdotes. When they left the table d'hote she was blushing rosy-
red; she trembled as she hung on his arm; he had reconquered her.
As it was very fine, she sent her carriage away and walked with him
as far as his own place, where she went upstairs with him naturally
enough. Two hours later, as she was dressing again, she said:
"So you hold to this marriage of yours, Mimi?"
"Egad," he muttered, "it's the best thing I could possibly do after
all! You know I'm stony broke."
She summoned him to button her boots, and after a pause:
"Good heavens! I've no objection. I'll shove you on! She's as dry
as a lath, is that little thing, but since it suits your game--oh,
I'm agreeable: I'll run the thing through for you."
Then with bosom still uncovered, she began laughing:
"Only what will you give me?"
He had caught her in his arms and was kissing her on the shoulders
in a perfect access of gratitude while she quivered with excitement
and struggled merrily and threw herself backward in her efforts to
"Oh, I know," she cried, excited by the contest. "Listen to what I
want in the way of commission. On your wedding day you shall make
me a present of your innocence. Before your wife, d'you
"That's it! That's it!" he said, laughing even louder than Nana.
The bargain amused them--they thought the whole business very good,
Now as it happened, there was a dinner at Nana's next day. For the
matter of that, it was the customary Thursday dinner, and Muffat,
Vandeuvres, the young Hugons and Satin were present. The count
arrived early. He stood in need of eighty thousand francs wherewith
to free the young woman from two or three debts and to give her a
set of sapphires she was dying to possess. As he had already
seriously lessened his capital, he was in search of a lender, for he
did not dare to sell another property. With the advice of Nana
herself he had addressed himself to Labordette, but the latter,
deeming it too heavy an undertaking, had mentioned it to the
hairdresser Francis, who willingly busied himself in such affairs in
order to oblige his lady clients. The count put himself into the
hands of these gentlemen but expressed a formal desire not to appear
in the matter, and they both undertook to keep in hand the bill for
a hundred thousand francs which he was to sign, excusing themselves
at the same time for charging a matter of twenty thousand francs
interest and loudly denouncing the blackguard usurers to whom, they
declared, it had been necessary to have recourse. When Muffat had
himself announced, Francis was putting the last touches to Nana's
coiffure. Labordette also was sitting familiarly in the dressing
room, as became a friend of no consequence. Seeing the count, he
discreetly placed a thick bundle of bank notes among the powders and
pomades, and the bill was signed on the marble-topped dressing
table. Nana was anxious to keep Labordette to dinner, but he
declined--he was taking a rich foreigner about Paris. Muffat,
however, led him aside and begged him to go to Becker, the jeweler,
and bring him back thence the set of sapphires, which he wanted to
present the young woman by way of surprise that very evening.
Labordette willingly undertook the commission, and half an hour
later Julien handed the jewel case mysteriously to the count.
During dinnertime Nana was nervous. The sight of the eighty
thousand francs had excited her. To think all that money was to go
to tradespeople! It was a disgusting thought. After soup had been
served she grew sentimental, and in the splendid dining room,
glittering with plate and glass, she talked of the bliss of poverty.
The men were in evening dress, Nana in a gown of white embroidered
satin, while Satin made a more modest appearance in black silk with
a simple gold heart at her throat, which was a present from her kind
friend. Julien and Francois waited behind the guests and were
assisted in this by Zoe. All three looked most dignified.
"It's certain I had far greater fun when I hadn't a cent!" Nana
She had placed Muffat on her right hand and Vandeuvres on her left,
but she scarcely looked at them, so taken up was she with Satin, who
sat in state between Philippe and Georges on the opposite side of
"Eh, duckie?" she kept saying at every turn. "How we did use to
laugh in those days when we went to Mother Josse's school in the Rue
When the roast was being served the two women plunged into a world
of reminiscences. They used to have regular chattering fits of this
kind when a sudden desire to stir the muddy depths of their
childhood would possess them. These fits always occurred when men
were present: it was as though they had given way to a burning
desire to treat them to the dunghill on which they had grown to
woman's estate. The gentlemen paled visibly and looked embarrassed.
The young Hugons did their best to laugh, while Vandeuvres nervously
toyed with his beard and Muffat redoubled his gravity.
"You remember Victor?" said Nana. "There was a wicked little fellow
for you! Why, he used to take the little girls into cellars!"
"I remember him perfectly," replied Satin. "I recollect the big
courtyard at your place very well. There was a portress there with
"Mother Boche--she's dead."
"And I can still picture your shop. Your mother was a great fatty.
One evening when we were playing your father came in drunk. Oh, so
At this point Vandeuvres tried to intercept the ladies'
reminiscences and to effect a diversion,
"I say, my dear, I should be very glad to have some more truffles.
They're simply perfect. Yesterday I had some at the house of the
Duc de Corbreuse, which did not come up to them at all."
"The truffles, Julien!" said Nana roughly.
Then returning to the subject:
"By Jove, yes, Dad hadn't any sense! And then what a smash there
was! You should have seen it--down, down, down we went, starving
away all the time. I can tell you I've had to bear pretty well
everything and it's a miracle I didn't kick the bucket over it, like
Daddy and Mamma."
This time Muffat, who was playing with his knife in a state of
infinite exasperation, made so bold as to intervene.
"What you're telling us isn't very cheerful."
"Eh, what? Not cheerful!" she cried with a withering glance. "I
believe you; it isn't cheerful! Somebody had to earn a living for
us dear boy. Oh yes, you know, I'm the right sort; I don't mince
matters. Mamma was a laundress; Daddy used to get drunk, and he
died of it! There! If it doesn't suit you--if you're ashamed of my
They all protested. What was she after now? They had every sort of
respect for her family! But she went on:
"If you're ashamed of my family you'll please leave me, because I'm
not one of those women who deny their father and mother. You must
take me and them together, d'you understand?"
They took her as required; they accepted the dad, the mamma, the
past; in fact, whatever she chose. With their eyes fixed on the
tablecloth, the four now sat shrinking and insignificant while Nana,
in a transport of omnipotence, trampled on them in the old muddy
boots worn long since in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or. She was
determined not to lay down the cudgels just yet. It was all very
fine to bring her fortunes, to build her palaces; she would never
leave off regretting the time when she munched apples! Oh, what
bosh that stupid thing money was! It was made for the tradespeople!
Finally her outburst ended in a sentimentally expressed desire for a
simple, openhearted existence, to be passed in an atmosphere of
When she got to this point she noticed Julien waiting idly by.
"Well, what's the matter? Hand the champagne then!" she said. "Why
d'you stand staring at me like a goose?"
During this scene the servants had never once smiled. They
apparently heard nothing, and the more their mistress let herself
down, the more majestic they became. Julien set to work to pour out
the champagne and did so without mishap, but Francois, who was
handing round the fruit, was so unfortunate as to tilt the fruit
dish too low, and the apples, the pears and the grapes rolled on the
"You bloody clumsy lot!" cried Nana.
The footman was mistaken enough to try and explain that the fruit
had not been firmly piled up. Zoe had disarranged it by taking out
"Then it's Zoe that's the goose!" said Nana.
"Madame--" murmured the lady's maid in an injured tone.
Straightway Madame rose to her feet, and in a sharp voice and with
royally authoritative gesture:
"We've had enough of this, haven't we? Leave the room, all of you!
We don't want you any longer!"
This summary procedure calmed her down, and she was forthwith all
sweetness and amiability. The dessert proved charming, and the
gentlemen grew quite merry waiting on themselves. But Satin, having
peeled a pear, came and ate it behind her darling, leaning on her
shoulder the while and whispering sundry little remarks in her ear,
at which they both laughed very loudly. By and by she wanted to
share her last piece of pear with Nana and presented it to her
between her teeth. Whereupon there was a great nibbling of lips,
and the pear was finished amid kisses. At this there was a burst of
comic protest from the gentlemen, Philippe shouting to them to take
it easy and Vandeuvres asking if one ought to leave the room.
Georges, meanwhile, had come and put his arm round Satin's waist and
had brought her back to her seat.
"How silly of you!" said Nana. "You're making her blush, the poor,
darling duck. Never mind, dear girl, let them chaff. It's our own
little private affair."
And turning to Muffat, who was watching them with his serious
"Isn't it, my friend?"
"Yes, certainly," he murmured with a slow nod of approval.
He no longer protested now. And so amid that company of gentlemen
with the great names and the old, upright traditions, the two women
sat face to face, exchanging tender glances, conquering, reigning,
in tranquil defiance of the laws of sex, in open contempt for the
male portion of the community. The gentlemen burst into applause.
The company went upstairs to take coffee in the little drawing room,
where a couple of lamps cast a soft glow over the rosy hangings and
the lacquer and old gold of the knickknacks. At that hour of the
evening the light played discreetly over coffers, bronzes and china,
lighting up silver or ivory inlaid work, bringing into view the
polished contours of a carved stick and gleaming over a panel with
glossy silky reflections. The fire, which had been burning since
the afternoon, was dying out in glowing embers. It was very warm--
the air behind the curtains and hangings was languid with warmth.
The room was full of Nana's intimate existence: a pair of gloves, a
fallen handkerchief, an open book, lay scattered about, and their
owner seemed present in careless attire with that well-known odor of
violets and that species of untidiness which became her in her
character of good-natured courtesan and had such a charming effect
among all those rich surroundings. The very armchairs, which were
as wide as beds, and the sofas, which were as deep as alcoves,
invited to slumber oblivious of the flight of time and to tender
whispers in shadowy corners.
Satin went and lolled back in the depths of a sofa near the
fireplace. She had lit a cigarette, but Vandeuvres began amusing
himself by pretending to be ferociously jealous. Nay, he even
threatened to send her his seconds if she still persisted in keeping
Nana from her duty. Philippe and Georges joined him and teased her
and badgered her so mercilessly that at last she shouted out:
"Darling! Darling! Do make 'em keep quiet! They're still after
"Now then, let her be," said Nana seriously. "I won't have her
tormented; you know that quite well. And you, my pet, why d'you
always go mixing yourself up with them when they've got so little
Satin, blushing all over and putting out her tongue, went into the
dressing room, through the widely open door of which you caught a
glimpse of pale marbles gleaming in the milky light of a gas flame
in a globe of rough glass. After that Nana talked to the four men
as charmingly as hostess could. During the day she had read a novel
which was at that time making a good deal of noise. It was the
history of a courtesan, and Nana was very indignant, declaring the
whole thing to be untrue and expressing angry dislike to that kind
of monstrous literature which pretends to paint from nature. "Just
as though one could describe everything," she said. Just as though
a novel ought not to be written so that the reader may while away an
hour pleasantly! In the matter of books and of plays Nana had very
decided opinions: she wanted tender and noble productions, things
that would set her dreaming and would elevate her soul. Then
allusion being made in the course of conversation to the troubles
agitating Paris, the incendiary articles in the papers, the
incipient popular disturbances which followed the calls to arms
nightly raised at public meetings, she waxed wroth with the
Republicans. What on earth did those dirty people who never washed
really want? Were folks not happy? Had not the emperor done
everything for the people? A nice filthy lot of people! She knew
'em; she could talk about 'em, and, quite forgetting the respect
which at dinner she had just been insisting should be paid to her
humble circle in the Rue de la Goutte-d'Or, she began blackguarding
her own class with all the terror and disgust peculiar to a woman
who had risen successfully above it. That very afternoon she had
read in the Figaro an account of the proceedings at a public meeting
which had verged on the comic. Owing to the slang words that had
been used and to the piggish behavior of a drunken man who had got
himself chucked, she was laughing at those proceedings still.
"Oh, those drunkards!" she said with a disgusted air. "No, look you
here, their republic would be a great misfortune for everybody! Oh,
may God preserve us the emperor as long as possible!"
"God will hear your prayer, my dear," Muffat replied gravely. "To
be sure, the emperor stands firm."
He liked her to express such excellent views. Both, indeed,
understood one another in political matters. Vandeuvres and
Philippe Hugon likewise indulged in endless jokes against the
"cads," the quarrelsome set who scuttled off the moment they clapped
eyes on a bayonet. But Georges that evening remained pale and
"What can be the matter with that baby?" asked Nana, noticing his
"With me? Nothing--I am listening," he muttered.
But he was really suffering. On rising from table he had heard
Philippe joking with the young woman, and now it was Philippe, and
not himself, who sat beside her. His heart, he knew not why,
swelled to bursting. He could not bear to see them so close
together; such vile thoughts oppressed him that shame mingled with
his anguish. He who laughed at Satin, who had accepted Steiner and
Muffat and all the rest, felt outraged and murderous at the thought
that Philippe might someday touch that woman.
"Here, take Bijou," she said to comfort him, and she passed him the
little dog which had gone to sleep on her dress.
And with that Georges grew happy again, for with the beast still
warm from her lap in his arms, he held, as it were, part of her.
Allusion had been made to a considerable loss which Vandeuvres had
last night sustained at the Imperial Club. Muffat, who did not
play, expressed great astonishment, but Vandeuvres smilingly alluded
to his imminent ruin, about which Paris was already talking. The
kind of death you chose did not much matter, he averred; the great
thing was to die handsomely. For some time past Nana had noticed
that he was nervous and had a sharp downward droop of the mouth and
a fitful gleam in the depths of his clear eyes. But he retained his
haughty aristocratic manner and the delicate elegance of his
impoverished race, and as yet these strange manifestations were
only, so to speak, momentary fits of vertigo overcoming a brain
already sapped by play and by debauchery. One night as he lay
beside her he had frightened her with a dreadful story. He had told
her he contemplated shutting himself up in his stable and setting
fire to himself and his horses at such time as he should have
devoured all his substance. His only hope at that period was a
horse, Lusignan by name, which he was training for the Prix de
Paris. He was living on this horse, which was the sole stay of his
shaken credit, and whenever Nana grew exacting he would put her off
till June and to the probability of Lusignan's winning.
"Bah! He may very likely lose," she said merrily, "since he's going
to clear them all out at the races."
By way of reply he contented himself by smiling a thin, mysterious
smile. Then carelessly:
"By the by, I've taken the liberty of giving your name to my
outsider, the filly. Nana, Nana--that sounds well. You're not
"Vexed, why?" she said in a state of inward ecstasy.
The conversation continued, and same mention was made of an
execution shortly to take place. The young woman said she was
burning to go to it when Satin appeared at the dressing-room door
and called her in tones of entreaty. She got up at once and left
the gentlemen lolling lazily about, while they finished their cigars
and discussed the grave question as to how far a murderer subject to
chronic alcoholism is responsible for his act. In the dressing room
Zoe sat helpless on a chair, crying her heart out, while Satin
vainly endeavored to console her.
"What's the matter?" said Nana in surprise.
"Oh, darling, do speak to her!" said Satin. "I've been trying to
make her listen to reason for the last twenty minutes. She's crying
because you called her a goose."
"Yes, madame, it's very hard--very hard," stuttered Zoe, choked by a
fresh fit of sobbing.
This sad sight melted the young woman's heart at once. She spoke
kindly, and when the other woman still refused to grow calm she sank
down in front of her and took her round the waist with truly cordial
"But, you silly, I said 'goose' just as I might have said anything
else. How shall I explain? I was in a passion--it was wrong of me;
now calm down."
"I who love Madame so," stuttered Zoe; "after all I've done for
Thereupon Nana kissed the lady's maid and, wishing to show her she
wasn't vexed, gave her a dress she had worn three times. Their
quarrels always ended up in the giving of presents! Zoe plugged her
handkerchief into her eyes. She carried the dress off over her arm
and added before leaving that they were very sad in the kitchen and
that Julien and Francois had been unable to eat, so entirely had
Madame's anger taken away their appetites. Thereupon Madame sent
them a louis as a pledge of reconciliation. She suffered too much
if people around her were sorrowful.
Nana was returning to the drawing room, happy in the thought that
she had patched up a disagreement which was rendering her quietly
apprehensive of the morrow, when Satin came and whispered vehemently
in her ear. She was full of complaint, threatened to be off if
those men still went on teasing her and kept insisting that her
darling should turn them all out of doors for that night, at any
rate. It would be a lesson to them. And then it would be so nice
to be alone, both of them! Nana, with a return of anxiety, declared
it to be impossible. Thereupon the other shouted at her like a
violent child and tried hard to overrule her.
"I wish it, d'you see? Send 'em away or I'm off!"
And she went back into the drawing room, stretched herself out in
the recesses of a divan, which stood in the background near the
window, and lay waiting, silent and deathlike, with her great eyes
fixed upon Nana.
The gentlemen were deciding against the new criminological theories.
Granted that lovely invention of irresponsibility in certain
pathological cases, and criminals ceased to exist and sick people
alone remained. The young woman, expressing approval with an
occasional nod, was busy considering how best to dismiss the count.
The others would soon be going, but he would assuredly prove
obstinate. In fact, when Philippe got up to withdraw, Georges
followed him at once--he seemed only anxious not to leave his
brother behind. Vandeuvres lingered some minutes longer, feeling
his way, as it were, and waiting to find out if, by any chance, some
important business would oblige Muffat to cede him his place. Soon,
however, when he saw the count deliberately taking up his quarters
for the night, he desisted from his purpose and said good-by, as
became a man of tact. But on his way to the door, he noticed Satin
staring fixedly at Nana, as usual. Doubtless he understood what
this meant, for he seemed amused and came and shook hands with her.
"We're not angry, eh?" he whispered. "Pray pardon me. You're the
nicer attraction of the two, on my honor!"
Satin deigned no reply. Nor did she take her eyes off Nana and the
count, who were now alone. Muffat, ceasing to be ceremonious, had
come to sit beside the young woman. He took her fingers and began
kissing them. Whereupon Nana, seeking to change the current of his
thoughts, asked him if his daughter Estelle were better. The
previous night he had been complaining of the child's melancholy
behavior--he could not even spend a day happily at his own house,
with his wife always out and his daughter icily silent.
In family matters of this kind Nana was always full of good advice,
and when Muffat abandoned all his usual self-control under the
influence of mental and physical relaxation and once more launched
out into his former plaints, she remembered the promise she had
"Suppose you were to marry her?" she said. And with that she
ventured to talk of Daguenet. At the mere mention of the name the
count was filled with disgust. "Never," he said after what she had
She pretended great surprise and then burst out laughing and put her
arm round his neck.
"Oh, the jealous man! To think of it! Just argue it out a little.
Why, they slandered me to you--I was furious. At present I should
be ever so sorry if--"
But over Muffat's shoulder she met Satin's gaze. And she left him
anxiously and in a grave voice continued:
"This marriage must come off, my friend; I don't want to prevent
your daughter's happiness. The young man's most charming; you could
not possibly find a better sort."
And she launched into extraordinary praise of Daguenet. The count
had again taken her hands; he no longer refused now; he would see
about it, he said, they would talk the matter over. By and by, when
he spoke of going to bed, she sank her voice and excused herself.
It was impossible; she was not well. If he loved her at all he
would not insist! Nevertheless, he was obstinate; he refused to go
away, and she was beginning to give in when she met Satin's eyes
once more. Then she grew inflexible. No, the thing was out of the
question! The count, deeply moved and with a look of suffering, had
risen and was going in quest of his hat. But in the doorway he
remembered the set of sapphires; he could feel the case in his
pocket. He had been wanting to hide it at the bottom of the bed so
that when she entered it before him she should feel it against her
legs. Since dinnertime he had been meditating this little surprise
like a schoolboy, and now, in trouble and anguish of heart at being
thus dismissed, he gave her the case without further ceremony.
"What is it?" she queried. "Sapphires? Dear me! Oh yes, it's that
set. How sweet you are! But I say, my darling, d'you believe it's
the same one? In the shopwindow it made a much greater show."
That was all the thanks he got, and she let him go away. He noticed
Satin stretched out silent and expectant, and with that he gazed at
both women and without further insistence submitted to his fate and
went downstairs. The hall door had not yet closed when Satin caught
Nana round the waist and danced and sang. Then she ran to the
"Oh, just look at the figure he cuts down in the street!" The two
women leaned upon the wrought-iron window rail in the shadow of the
curtains. One o'clock struck. The Avenue de Villiers was deserted,
and its double file of gas lamps stretched away into the darkness of
the damp March night through which great gusts of wind kept
sweeping, laden with rain. There were vague stretches of land on
either side of the road which looked like gulfs of shadow, while
scaffoldings round mansions in process of construction loomed upward
under the dark sky. They laughed uncontrollably as they watched
Muffat's rounded back and glistening shadow disappearing along the
wet sidewalk into the glacial, desolate plains of new Paris. But
Nana silenced Satin.
"Take care; there are the police!"
Thereupon they smothered their laughter and gazed in secret fear at
two dark figures walking with measured tread on the opposite side of
the avenue. Amid all her luxurious surroundings, amid all the royal
splendors of the woman whom all must obey, Nana still stood in
horror of the police and did not like to hear them mentioned any
oftener than death. She felt distinctly unwell when a policeman
looked up at her house. One never knew what such people might do!
They might easily take them for loose women if they heard them
laughing at that hour of the night. Satin, with a little shudder,
had squeezed herself up against Nana. Nevertheless, the pair stayed
where they were and were soon interested in the approach of a
lantern, the light of which danced over the puddles in the road. It
was an old ragpicker woman who was busy raking in the gutters.
Satin recognized her.
"Dear me," she exclaimed, "it's Queen Pomare with her wickerwork
And while a gust of wind lashed the fine rain in their faces she
told her beloved the story of Queen Pomare. Oh, she had been a
splendid girl once upon a time: all Paris had talked of her beauty.
And such devilish go and such cheek! Why, she led the men about
like dogs, and great people stood blubbering on her stairs! Now she
was in the habit of getting tipsy, and the women round about would
make her drink absinthe for the sake of a laugh, after which the
street boys would throw stones at her and chase her. In fact, it
was a regular smashup; the queen had tumbled into the mud! Nana
listened, feeling cold all over.
"You shall see," added Satin.
She whistled a man's whistle, and the ragpicker, who was then below
the window, lifted her head and showed herself by the yellow flare
of her lantern. Framed among rags, a perfect bundle of them, a face
looked out from under a tattered kerchief--a blue, seamed face with
a toothless, cavernous mouth and fiery bruises where the eyes should
be. And Nana, seeing the frightful old woman, the wanton drowned in
drink, had a sudden fit of recollection and saw far back amid the
shadows of consciousness the vision of Chamont--Irma d'Anglars, the
old harlot crowned with years and honors, ascending the steps in
front of her chateau amid abjectly reverential villagers. Then as
Satin whistled again, making game of the old hag, who could not see
"Do leave off; there are the police!" she murmured in changed tones.
"In with us, quick, my pet!"
The measured steps were returning, and they shut the window.
Turning round again, shivering, and with the damp of night on her
hair, Nana was momentarily astounded at sight of her drawing room.
It seemed as though she had forgotten it and were entering an
unknown chamber. So warm, so full of perfume, was the air she
encountered that she experienced a sense of delighted surprise. The
heaped-up wealth of the place, the Old World furniture, the fabrics
of silk and gold, the ivory, the bronzes, were slumbering in the
rosy light of the lamps, while from the whole of the silent house a
rich feeling of great luxury ascended, the luxury of the solemn
reception rooms, of the comfortable, ample dining room, of the vast
retired staircase, with their soft carpets and seats. Her
individuality, with its longing for domination and enjoyment and its
desire to possess everything that she might destroy everything, was
suddenly increased. Never before had she felt so profoundly the
puissance of her sex. She gazed slowly round and remarked with an
expression of grave philosophy:
"Ah well, all the same, one's jolly well right to profit by things
when one's young!"
But now Satin was rolling on the bearskins in the bedroom and
"Oh, do come! Do come!"
Nana undressed in the dressing room, and in order to be quicker
about it she took her thick fell of blonde hair in both hands and
began shaking it above the silver wash hand basin, while a downward
hail of long hairpins rang a little chime on the shining metal.
One Sunday the race for the Grand Prix de Paris was being run in the
Bois de Boulogne beneath skies rendered sultry by the first heats of
June. The sun that morning had risen amid a mist of dun-colored
dust, but toward eleven o'clock, just when the carriages were
reaching the Longchamps course, a southerly wind had swept away the
clouds; long streamers of gray vapor were disappearing across the
sky, and gaps showing an intense blue beyond were spreading from one
end of the horizon to the other. In the bright bursts of sunlight
which alternated with the clouds the whole scene shone again, from
the field which was gradually filling with a crowd of carriages,
horsemen and pedestrians, to the still-vacant course, where the
judge's box stood, together with the posts and the masts for
signaling numbers, and thence on to the five symmetrical stands of
brickwork and timber, rising gallery upon gallery in the middle of
the weighing enclosure opposite. Beyond these, bathed in the light
of noon, lay the vast level plain, bordered with little trees and
shut in to the westward by the wooded heights of Saint-Cloud and the
Suresnes, which, in their turn, were dominated by the severe
outlines of Mont-Valerien.
Nana, as excited as if the Grand Prix were going to make her
fortune, wanted to take up a position by the railing next the
winning post. She had arrived very early--she was, in fact, one of
the first to come--in a landau adorned with silver and drawn, a la
Daumont, by four splendid white horses. This landau was a present
from Count Muffat. When she had made her appearance at the entrance
to the field with two postilions jogging blithely on the near horses
and two footmen perching motionless behind the carriage, the people
had rushed to look as though a queen were passing. She sported the
blue and white colors of the Vandeuvres stable, and her dress was
remarkable. It consisted of a little blue silk bodice and tunic,
which fitted closely to the body and bulged out enormously behind
her waist, thereby bringing her lower limbs into bold relief in such
a manner as to be extremely noticeable in that epoch of voluminous
skirts. Then there was a white satin dress with white satin sleeves
and a sash worn crosswise over the shoulders, the whole ornamented
with silver guipure which shone in the sun. In addition to this, in
order to be still more like a jockey, she had stuck a blue toque
with a white feather jauntily upon her chignon, the fair tresses
from which flowed down beyond her shoulders and resembled an
enormous russet pigtail.
Twelve struck. The public would have to wait more than three hours
for the Grand Prix to be run. When the landau had drawn up beside
the barriers Nana settled herself comfortably down as though she
were in her own house. A whim had prompted her to bring Bijou and
Louiset with her, and the dog crouched among her skirts, shivering
with cold despite the heat of the day, while amid a bedizenment of
ribbons and laces the child's poor little face looked waxen and dumb
and white in the open air. Meanwhile the young woman, without
troubling about the people near her, talked at the top of her voice
with Georges and Philippe Hugon, who were seated opposite on the
front seat among such a mountain of bouquets of white roses and blue
myosotis that they were buried up to their shoulders.
"Well then," she was saying, "as he bored me to death, I showed him
the door. And now it's two days that he's been sulking."
She was talking of Muffat, but she took care not to confess to the
young men the real reason for this first quarrel, which was that one
evening he had found a man's hat in her bedroom. She had indeed
brought home a passer-by out of sheer ennui--a silly infatuation.
"You have no idea how funny he is," she continued, growing merry
over the particulars she was giving. "He's a regular bigot at
bottom, so he says his prayers every evening. Yes, he does. He's
under the impression I notice nothing because I go to bed first so
as not to be in his way, but I watch him out of the corner of my
eye. Oh, he jaws away, and then he crosses himself when he turns
round to step over me and get to the inside of the bed."
"Jove, it's sly," muttered Philippe. "That's what happens before,
but afterward, what then?"
She laughed merrily.
"Yes, just so, before and after! When I'm going to sleep I hear him
jawing away again. But the biggest bore of all is that we can't
argue about anything now without his growing 'pi.' I've always been
religious. Yes, chaff as much as you like; that won't prevent me
believing what I do believe! Only he's too much of a nuisance: he
blubbers; he talks about remorse. The day before yesterday, for
instance, he had a regular fit of it after our usual row, and I
wasn't the least bit reassured when all was over."
But she broke off, crying out:
"Just look at the Mignons arriving. Dear me, they've brought the
children! Oh, how those little chaps are dressed up!"
The Mignons were in a landau of severe hue; there was something
substantially luxurious about their turnout, suggesting rich retired
tradespeople. Rose was in a gray silk gown trimmed with red knots
and with puffs; she was smiling happily at the joyous behavior of
Henri and Charles, who sat on the front seat, looking awkward in
their ill-fitting collegians' tunics. But when the landau had drawn
up by the rails and she perceived Nana sitting in triumph among her
bouquets, with her four horses and her liveries, she pursed up her
lips, sat bolt upright and turned her head away. Mignon, on the
other hand, looking the picture of freshness and gaiety, waved her a
salutation. He made it a matter of principle to keep out of
"By the by," Nana resumed, "d'you know a little old man who's very
clean and neat and has bad teeth--a Monsieur Venot? He came to see
me this morning."
"Monsieur Venot?" said Georges in great astonishment. "It's
impossible! Why, the man's a Jesuit!"
"Precisely; I spotted that. Oh, you have no idea what our
conversation was like! It was just funny! He spoke to me about the
count, about his divided house, and begged me to restore a family
its happiness. He was very polite and very smiling for the matter
of that. Then I answered to the effect that I wanted nothing
better, and I undertook to reconcile the count and his wife. You
know it's not humbug. I should be delighted to see them all happy
again, the poor things! Besides, it would be a relief to me for
there are days--yes, there are days--when he bores me to death."
The weariness of the last months escaped her in this heartfelt
outburst. Moreover, the count appeared to be in big money
difficulties; he was anxious and it seemed likely that the bill