Part 8 out of 12
which Labordette had put his name to would not be met.
"Dear me, the countess is down yonder," said Georges, letting his
gaze wander over the stands.
"Where, where?" cried Nana. "What eyes that baby's got! Hold my
But with a quick forward dart Georges had outstripped his brother.
It enchanted him to be holding the blue silk sunshade with its
silver fringe. Nana was scanning the scene through a huge pair of
"Ah yes! I see her," she said at length. "In the right-hand stand,
near a pillar, eh? She's in mauve, and her daughter in white by her
side. Dear me, there's Daguenet going to bow to them."
Thereupon Philippe talked of Daguenet's approaching marriage with
that lath of an Estelle. It was a settled matter--the banns were
being published. At first the countess had opposed it, but the
count, they said, had insisted. Nana smiled.
"I know, I know," she murmured. "So much the better for Paul. He's
a nice boy--he deserves it"
And leaning toward Louiset:
"You're enjoying yourself, eh? What a grave face!"
The child never smiled. With a very old expression he was gazing at
all those crowds, as though the sight of them filled him with
melancholy reflections. Bijou, chased from the skirts of the young
woman who was moving about a great deal, had come to nestle,
shivering, against the little fellow.
Meanwhile the field was filling up. Carriages, a compact,
interminable file of them, were continually arriving through the
Porte de la Cascade. There were big omnibuses such as the Pauline,
which had started from the Boulevard des Italiens, freighted with
its fifty passengers, and was now going to draw up to the right of
the stands. Then there were dogcarts, victorias, landaus, all
superbly well turned out, mingled with lamentable cabs which jolted
along behind sorry old hacks, and four-in-hands, sending along their
four horses, and mail coaches, where the masters sat on the seats
above and left the servants to take care of the hampers of champagne
inside, and "spiders," the immense wheels of which were a flash of
glittering steel, and light tandems, which looked as delicately
formed as the works of a clock and slipped along amid a peal of
little bells. Every few seconds an equestrian rode by, and a swarm
of people on foot rushed in a scared way among the carriages. On
the green the far-off rolling sound which issued from the avenues in
the Bois died out suddenly in dull rustlings, and now nothing was
audible save the hubbub of the ever-increasing crowds and cries and
calls and the crackings of whips in the open. When the sun, amid
bursts of wind, reappeared at the edge of a cloud, a long ray of
golden light ran across the field, lit up the harness and the
varnished coach panels and touched the ladies' dresses with fire,
while amid the dusty radiance the coachmen, high up on their boxes,
flamed beside their great whips.
Labordette was getting out of an open carriage where Gaga, Clarisse
and Blanche de Sivry had kept a place for him. As he was hurrying
to cross the course and enter the weighing enclosure Nana got
Georges to call him. Then when he came up:
"What's the betting on me?" she asked laughingly.
She referred to the filly Nana, the Nana who had let herself be
shamefully beaten in the race for the Prix de Diane and had not even
been placed in April and May last when she ran for the Prix des Cars
and the Grande Poule des Produits, both of which had been gained by
Lusignan, the other horse in the Vandeuvres stable. Lusignan had
all at once become prime favorite, and since yesterday he had been
currently taken at two to one.
"Always fifty to one against," replied Labordette.
"The deuce! I'm not worth much," rejoined Nana, amused by the jest.
"I don't back myself then; no, by jingo! I don't put a single louis
Labordette went off again in a great hurry, but she recalled him.
She wanted some advice. Since he kept in touch with the world of
trainers and jockeys he had special information about various
stables. His prognostications had come true a score of times
already, and people called him the "King of Tipsters."
"Let's see, what horses ought I to choose?" said the young woman.
"What's the betting on the Englishman?"
"Spirit? Three to one against. Valerio II, the same. As to the
others, they're laying twenty-five to one against Cosinus, forty to
one against Hazard, thirty to one against Bourn, thirty-five to one
against Pichenette, ten to one against Frangipane."
"No, I don't bet on the Englishman, I don't. I'm a patriot.
Perhaps Valerio II would do, eh? The Duc de Corbreuse was beaming a
little while ago. Well, no, after all! Fifty louis on Lusignan;
what do you say to that?"
Labordette looked at her with a singular expression. She leaned
forward and asked him questions in a low voice, for she was aware
that Vandeuvres commissioned him to arrange matters with the
bookmakers so as to be able to bet the more easily. Supposing him
to have got to know something, he might quite well tell it her. But
without entering into explanations Labordette persuaded her to trust
to his sagacity. He would put on her fifty louis for her as he
might think best, and she would not repent of his arrangement.
"All the horses you like!" she cried gaily, letting him take his
departure, "but no Nana; she's a jade!"
There was a burst of uproarious laughter in the carriage. The young
men thought her sally very amusing, while Louiset in his ignorance
lifted his pale eyes to his mother's face, for her loud exclamations
surprised him. However, there was no escape for Labordette as yet.
Rose Mignon had made a sign to him and was now giving him her
commands while he wrote figures in a notebook. Then Clarisse and
Gaga called him back in order to change their bets, for they had
heard things said in the crowd, and now they didn't want to have
anything more to do with Valerio II and were choosing Lusignan. He
wrote down their wishes with an impassible expression and at length
managed to escape. He could be seen disappearing between two of the
stands on the other side of the course.
Carriages were still arriving. They were by this time drawn up five
rows deep, and a dense mass of them spread along the barriers,
checkered by the light coats of white horses. Beyond them other
carriages stood about in comparative isolation, looking as though
they had stuck fast in the grass. Wheels and harness were here,
there and everywhere, according as the conveyances to which they
belonged were side by side, at an angle, across and across or head
to head. Over such spaces of turf as still remained unoccupied
cavaliers kept trotting, and black groups of pedestrians moved
continually. The scene resembled the field where a fair is being
held, and above it all, amid the confused motley of the crowd, the
drinking booths raised their gray canvas roofs which gleamed white
in the sunshine. But a veritable tumult, a mob, an eddy of hats,
surged round the several bookmakers, who stood in open carriages
gesticulating like itinerant dentists while their odds were pasted
up on tall boards beside them.
"All the same, it's stupid not to know on what horse one's betting,"
Nana was remarking. "I really must risk some louis in person."
She had stood up to select a bookmaker with a decent expression of
face but forgot what she wanted on perceiving a perfect crowd of her
acquaintance. Besides the Mignons, besides Gaga, Clarisse and
Blanche, there were present, to the right and left, behind and in
the middle of the mass of carriages now hemming in her landau, the
following ladies: Tatan Nene and Maria Blond in a victoria, Caroline
Hequet with her mother and two gentlemen in an open carriage, Louise
Violaine quite alone, driving a little basket chaise decked with
orange and green ribbons, the colors of the Mechain stables, and
finally, Lea de Horn on the lofty seat of a mail coach, where a band
of young men were making a great din. Farther off, in a HUIT
RESSORTS of aristocratic appearance, Lucy Stewart, in a very simple
black silk dress, sat, looking distinguished beside a tall young man
in the uniform of a naval cadet. But what most astounded Nana was
the arrival of Simonne in a tandem which Steiner was driving, while
a footman sat motionless, with folded arms, behind them. She looked
dazzling in white satin striped with yellow and was covered with
diamonds from waist to hat. The banker, on his part, was handling a
tremendous whip and sending along his two horses, which were
harnessed tandemwise, the leader being a little warm-colored
chestnut with a mouselike trot, the shaft horse a big brown bay, a
stepper, with a fine action.
"Deuce take it!" said Nana. "So that thief Steiner has cleared the
Bourse again, has he? I say, isn't Simonne a swell! It's too much
of a good thing; he'll get into the clutches of the law!"
Nevertheless, she exchanged greetings at a distance. Indeed, she
kept waving her hand and smiling, turning round and forgetting no
one in her desire to be seen by everybody. At the same time she
"It's her son Lucy's got in tow! He's charming in his uniform.
That's why she's looking so grand, of course! You know she's afraid
of him and that she passes herself off as an actress. Poor young
man, I pity him all the same! He seems quite unsuspicious."
"Bah," muttered Philippe, laughing, "she'll be able to find him an
heiress in the country when she likes."
Nana was silent, for she had just noticed the Tricon amid the thick
of the carriages. Having arrived in a cab, whence she could not see
anything, the Tricon had quietly mounted the coach box. And there,
straightening up her tall figure, with her noble face enshrined in
its long curls, she dominated the crowd as though enthroned amid her
feminine subjects. All the latter smiled discreetly at her while
she, in her superiority, pretended not to know them. She wasn't
there for business purposes: she was watching the races for the love
of the thing, as became a frantic gambler with a passion for
"Dear me, there's that idiot La Faloise!" said Georges suddenly.
It was a surprise to them all. Nana did not recognize her La
Faloise, for since he had come into his inheritance he had grown
extraordinarily up to date. He wore a low collar and was clad in a
cloth of delicate hue which fitted close to his meager shoulders.
His hair was in little bandeaux, and he affected a weary kind of
swagger, a soft tone of voice and slang words and phrases which he
did not take the trouble to finish.
"But he's quite the thing!" declared Nana in perfect enchantment.
Gaga and Clarisse had called La Faloise and were throwing themselves
at him in their efforts to regain his allegiance, but he left them
immediately, rolling off in a chaffing, disdainful manner. Nana
dazzled him. He rushed up to her and stood on the carriage step,
and when she twitted him about Gaga he murmured:
"Oh dear, no! We've seen the last of the old lot! Mustn't play her
off on me any more. And then, you know, it's you now, Juliet mine!"
He had put his hand to his heart. Nana laughed a good deal at this
exceedingly sudden out-of-door declaration. She continued:
"I say, that's not what I'm after. You're making me forget that I
want to lay wagers. Georges, you see that bookmaker down there, a
great red-faced man with curly hair? He's got a dirty blackguard
expression which I like. You're to go and choose--Oh, I say, what
can one choose?"
"I'm not a patriotic soul--oh dear, no!" La Faloise blurted out.
"I'm all for the Englishman. It will be ripping if the Englishman
gains! The French may go to Jericho!"
Nana was scandalized. Presently the merits of the several horses
began to be discussed, and La Faloise, wishing to be thought very
much in the swim, spoke of them all as sorry jades. Frangipane,
Baron Verdier's horse, was by The Truth out of Lenore. A big bay
horse he was, who would certainly have stood a chance if they hadn't
let him get foundered during training. As to Valerio II from the
Corbreuse stable, he wasn't ready yet; he'd had the colic in April.
Oh yes, they were keeping that dark, but he was sure of it, on his
honor! In the end he advised Nana to choose Hazard, the most
defective of the lot, a horse nobody would have anything to do with.
Hazard, by jingo--such superb lines and such an action! That horse
was going to astonish the people.
"No," said Nana, "I'm going to put ten louis on Lusignan and five on
La Faloise burst forth at once:
"But, my dear girl, Boum's all rot! Don't choose him! Gasc himself
is chucking up backing his own horse. And your Lusignan--never!
Why, it's all humbug! By Lamb and Princess--just think! By Lamb
and Princess--no, by Jove! All too short in the legs!"
He was choking. Philippe pointed out that, notwithstanding this,
Lusignan had won the Prix des Cars and the Grande Poule des
Produits. But the other ran on again. What did that prove?
Nothing at all. On the contrary, one ought to distrust him. And
besides, Gresham rode Lusignan; well then, let them jolly well dry
up! Gresham had bad luck; he would never get to the post.
And from one end of the field to the other the discussion raging in
Nana's landau seemed to spread and increase. Voices were raised in
a scream; the passion for gambling filled the air, set faces glowing
and arms waving excitedly, while the bookmakers, perched on their
conveyances, shouted odds and jotted down amounts right furiously.
Yet these were only the small fry of the betting world; the big bets
were made in the weighing enclosure. Here, then, raged the keen
contest of people with light purses who risked their five-franc
pieces and displayed infinite covetousness for the sake of a
possible gain of a few louis. In a word, the battle would be
between Spirit and Lusignan. Englishmen, plainly recognizable as
such, were strolling about among the various groups. They were
quite at home; their faces were fiery with excitement; they were
afready triumphant. Bramah, a horse belonging to Lord Reading, had
gained the Grand Prix the previous year, and this had been a defeat
over which hearts were still bleeding. This year it would be
terrible if France were beaten anew. Accordingly all the ladies
were wild with national pride. The Vandeuvres stable became the
rampart of their honor, and Lusignan was pushed and defended and
applauded exceedingly. Gaga, Blanche, Caroline and the rest betted
on Lusignan. Lucy Stewart abstained from this on account of her
son, but it was bruited abroad that Rose Mignon had commissioned
Labordette to risk two hundred louis for her. The Tricon, as she
sat alone next her driver, waited till the last moment. Very cool,
indeed, amid all these disputes, very far above the ever-increasing
uproar in which horses' names kept recurring and lively Parisian
phrases mingled with guttural English exclamations, she sat
listening and taking notes majestically.
"And Nana?" said Georges. "Does no one want her?"
Indeed, nobody was asking for the filly; she was not even being
mentioned. The outsider of the Vandeuvres's stud was swamped by
Lusignan's popularity. But La Faloise flung his arms up, crying:
"I've an inspiration. I'll bet a louis on Nana."
"Bravo! I bet a couple," said Georges.
"And I three," added Philippe.
And they mounted up and up, bidding against one another good-
humoredly and naming prices as though they had been haggling over
Nana at an auction. La Faloise said he would cover her with gold.
Besides, everybody was to be made to back her; they would go and
pick up backers. But as the three young men were darting off to
propagandize, Nana shouted after them:
"You know I don't want to have anything to do with her; I don't for
the world! Georges, ten louis on Lusignan and five on Valerio II."
Meanwhile they had started fairly off, and she watched them gaily as
they slipped between wheels, ducked under horses' heads and scoured
the whole field. The moment they recognized anyone in a carriage
they rushed up and urged Nana's claims. And there were great bursts
of laughter among the crowd when sometimes they turned back,
triumphantly signaling amounts with their fingers, while the young
woman stood and waved her sunshade. Nevertheless, they made poor
enough work of it. Some men let themselves be persuaded; Steiner,
for instance, ventured three louis, for the sight of Nana stirred
him. But the women refused point-blank. "Thanks," they said; "to
lose for a certainty!" Besides, they were in no hurry to work for
the benefit of a dirty wench who was overwhelming them all with her
four white horses, her postilions and her outrageous assumption of
side. Gaga and Clarisse looked exceedingly prim and asked La
Faloise whether he was jolly well making fun of them. When Georges
boldly presented himself before the Mignons' carriage Rose turned
her head away in the most marked manner and did not answer him. One
must be a pretty foul sort to let one's name be given to a horse!
Mignon, on the contrary, followed the young man's movements with a
look of amusement and declared that the women always brought luck.
"Well?" queried Nana when the young men returned after a prolonged
visit to the bookmakers.
"The odds are forty to one against you," said La Faloise.
"What's that? Forty to one!" she cried, astounded. "They were
fifty to one against me. What's happened?"
Labordette had just then reappeared. The course was being cleared,
and the pealing of a bell announced the first race. Amid the
expectant murmur of the bystanders she questioned him about this
sudden rise in her value. But he replied evasively; doubtless a
demand for her had arisen. She had to content herself with this
explanation. Moreover, Labordette announced with a preoccupied
expression that Vandeuvres was coming if he could get away.
The race was ending unnoticed; people were all waiting for the Grand
Prix to be run--when a storm burst over the Hippodrome. For some
minutes past the sun had disappeared, and a wan twilight had
darkened over the multitude. Then the wind rose, and there ensued a
sudden deluge. Huge drops, perfect sheets of water, fell. There
was a momentary confusion, and people shouted and joked and swore,
while those on foot scampered madly off to find refuge under the
canvas of the drinking booths. In the carriages the women did their
best to shelter themselves, grasping their sunshades with both
hands, while the bewildered footmen ran to the hoods. But the
shower was already nearly over, and the sun began shining
brilliantly through escaping clouds of fine rain. A blue cleft
opened in the stormy mass, which was blown off over the Bois, and
the skies seemed to smile again and to set the women laughing in a
reassured manner, while amid the snorting of horses and the disarray
and agitation of the drenched multitude that was shaking itself dry
a broad flush of golden light lit up the field, still dripping and
glittering with crystal drops.
"Oh, that poor, dear Louiset!" said Nana. "Are you very drenched,
The little thing silently allowed his hands to be wiped. The young
woman had taken out her handkerchief. Then she dabbed it over
Bijou, who was trembling more violently than ever. It would not
matter in the least; there were a few drops on the white satin of
her dress, but she didn't care a pin for them. The bouquets,
refreshed by the rain, glowed like snow, and she smelled one
ecstatically, drenching her lips in it as though it were wet with
Meanwhile the burst of rain had suddenly filled the stands. Nana
looked at them through her field glasses. At that distance you
could only distinguish a compact, confused mass of people, heaped
up, as it were, on the ascending ranges of steps, a dark background
relieved by light dots which were human faces. The sunlight
filtered in through openings near the roof at each end of the stand
and detached and illumined portions of the seated multitude, where
the ladies' dresses seemed to lose their distinguishing colors. But
Nana was especially amused by the ladies whom the shower had driven
from the rows of chairs ranged on the sand at the base of the
stands. As courtesans were absolutely forbidden to enter the
enclosure, she began making exceedingly bitter remarks about all the
fashionable women therein assembled. She thought them fearfully
dressed up, and such guys!
There was a rumor that the empress was entering the little central
stand, a pavilion built like a chalet, with a wide balcony furnished
with red armchairs.
"Why, there he is!" said Georges. "I didn't think he was on duty
The stiff and solemn form of the Count Muffat had appeared behind
the empress. Thereupon the young men jested and were sorry that
Satin wasn't there to go and dig him in the ribs. But Nana's field
glass focused the head of the Prince of Scots in the imperial stand.
"Gracious, it's Charles!" she cried.
She thought him stouter than formerly. In eighteen months he had
broadened, and with that she entered into particulars. Oh yes, he
was a big, solidly built fellow!
All round her in the ladies' carriages they were whispering that the
count had given her up. It was quite a long story. Since he had
been making himself noticeable, the Tuileries had grown scandalized
at the chamberlain's conduct. Whereupon, in order ro retain his
position, he had recently broken it off with Nana. La Faloise
bluntly reported this account of matters to the young woman and,
addressing her as his Juliet, again offered himself. But she
laughed merrily and remarked:
"It's idiotic! You won't know him; I've only to say, 'Come here,'
for him to chuck up everything."
For some seconds past she had been examining the Countess Sabine and
Estelle. Daguenet was still at their side. Fauchery had just
arrived and was disturbing the people round him in his desire to
make his bow to them. He, too, stayed smilingly beside them. After
that Nana pointed with disdainful action at the stands and
"Then, you know, those people don't fetch me any longer now! I know
'em too well. You should see 'em behind scenes. No more honor!
It's all up with honor! Filth belowstairs, filth abovestairs, filth
everywhere. That's why I won't be bothered about 'em!"
And with a comprehensive gesture she took in everybody, from the
grooms leading the horses on to the course to the sovereign lady
busy chatting with with Charles, a prince and a dirty fellow to
"Bravo, Nana! Awfully smart, Nana!" cried La Faloise
The tolling of a bell was lost in the wind; the races continued.
The Prix d'Ispahan had just been run for and Berlingot, a horse
belonging to the Mechain stable, had won. Nana recalled Labordette
in order to obtain news of the hundred louis, but he burst out
laughing and refused to let her know the horses he had chosen for
her, so as not to disturb the luck, as he phrased it. Her money was
well placed; she would see that all in good time. And when she
confessed her bets to him and told him how she had put ten louis on
Lusignan and five on Valerio II, he shrugged his shoulders, as who
should say that women did stupid things whatever happened. His
action surprised her; she was quite at sea.
Just then the field grew more animated than before. Open-air
lunches were arranged in the interval before the Grand Prix. There
was much eating and more drinking in all directions, on the grass,
on the high seats of the four-in-hands and mail coaches, in the
victorias, the broughams, the landaus. There was a universal spread
of cold viands and a fine disorderly display of champagne baskets
which footmen kept handing down out of the coach boots. Corks came
out with feeble pops, which the wind drowned. There was an
interchange of jests, and the sound of breaking glasses imparted a
note of discord to the high-strung gaiety of the scene. Gaga and
Clarisse, together with Blanche, were making a serious repast, for
they were eating sandwiches on the carriage rug with which they had
been covering their knees. Louise Violaine had got down from her
basket carriage and had joined Caroline Hequet. On the turf at
their feet some gentlemen had instituted a drinking bar, whither
Tatan, Maria, Simonne and the rest came to refresh themselves, while
high in air and close at hand bottles were being emptied on Lea de
Horn's mail coach, and, with infinite bravado and gesticulation, a
whole band were making themselves tipsy in the sunshine, above the
heads of the crowd. Soon, however, there was an especially large
crowd by Nana's landau. She had risen to her feet and had set
herself to pour out glasses of champagne for the men who came to pay
her their respects. Francois, one of the footmen, was passing up
the bottles while La Faloise, trying hard to imitate a coster's
accents, kept pattering away:
"'Ere y're, given away, given away! There's some for everybody!"
"Do be still, dear boy," Nana ended by saying. "We look like a set
She thought him very droll and was greatly entertained. At one
moment she conceived the idea of sending Georges with a glass of
champagne to Rose Mignon, who was affecting temperance. Henri and
Charles were bored to distraction; they would have been glad of some
champagne, the poor little fellows. But Georges drank the glassful,
for he feared an argument. Then Nana remembered Louiset, who was
sitting forgotten behind her. Maybe he was thirsty, and she forced
him to take a drop or two of wine, which made him cough dreadfully.
"'Ere y'are, 'ere y'are, gemmen!" La Faloise reiterated. "It don't
cost two sous; it don't cost one. We give it away."
But Nana broke in with an exclamation:
"Gracious, there's Bordenave down there! Call him. Oh, run,
please, please do!"
It was indeed Bordenave. He was strolling about with his hands
behind his back, wearing a hat that looked rusty in the sunlight and
a greasy frock coat that was glossy at the seams. It was Bordenave
shattered by bankruptcy, yet furious despite all reverses, a
Bordenave who flaunted his misery among all the fine folks with the
hardihood becoming a man ever ready to take Dame Fortune by storm.
"The deuce, how smart we are!" he said when Nana extended her hand
to him like the good-natured wench she was.
Presently, after emptying a glass of champagne, he gave vent to the
followmg profoundly regretful phrase:
"Ah, if only I were a woman! But, by God, that's nothing! Would
you like to go on the stage again? I've a notion: I'll hire the
Gaite, and we'll gobble up Paris between us. You certainly owe it
And he lingered, grumbling, beside her, though glad to see her
again; for, he said, that confounded Nana was balm to his feelings.
Yes, it was balm to them merely to exist in her presence! She was
his daughter; she was blood of his blood!
The circle increased, for now La Faloise was filling glasses, and
Georges and Philippe were picking up friends. A stealthy impulse
was gradually bringing in the whole field. Nana would fling
everyone a laughing smile or an amusing phrase. The groups of
tipplers were drawing near, and all the champagne scattered over the
place was moving in her direction. Soon there was only one noisy
crowd, and that was round her landau, where she queened it among
outstretched glasses, her yellow hair floating on the breeze and her
snowy face bathed in the sunshine. Then by way of a finishing touch
and to make the other women, who were mad at her triumph, simply
perish of envy, she lifted a brimming glass on high and assumed her
old pose as Venus Victrix.
But somebody touched her shoulder, and she was surprised, on turning
round, to see Mignon on the seat. She vanished from view an instant
and sat herself down beside him, for he had come to communicate a
matter of importance. Mignon had everywhere declared that it was
ridiculous of his wife to bear Nana a grudge; he thought her
attitude stupid and useless.
"Look here, my dear," he whispered. "Be careful: don't madden Rose
too much. You understand, I think it best to warn you. Yes, she's
got a weapon in store, and as she's never forgiven you the Petite
"A weapon," said Nana; "what's that blooming well got to do with
"Just listen: it's a letter she must have found in Fauchery's
pocket, a letter written to that screw Fauchery by the Countess
Muffat. And, by Jove, it's clear the whole story's in it. Well
then, Rose wants to send the letter to the count so as to be
revenged on him and on you."
"What the deuce has that got to do with me?" Nana repeated. "It's a
funny business. So the whole story about Fauchery's in it! Very
well, so much the better; the woman has been exasperating me! We
shall have a good laugh!"
"No, I don't wish it," Mignon briskly rejoined. "There'll be a
pretty scandal! Besides, we've got nothing to gain."
He paused, fearing lest he should say too much, while she loudly
averred that she was most certainly not going to get a chaste woman
But when he still insisted on his refusal she looked steadily at
him. Doubtless he was afraid of seeing Fauchery again introduced
into his family in case he broke with the countess. While avenging
her own wrongs, Rose was anxious for that to happen, since she still
felt a kindness toward the journalist. And Nana waxed meditative
and thought of M. Venot's call, and a plan began to take shape in
her brain, while Mignon was doing his best to talk her over.
"Let's suppose that Rose sends the letter, eh? There's food for
scandal: you're mixed up in the business, and people say you're the
cause of it all. Then to begin with, the count separates from his
"Why should he?" she said. "On the contrary--"
She broke off, in her turn. There was no need for her to think
aloud. So in order to be rid of Mignon she looked as though she
entered into his view of the case, and when he advised her to give
Rose some proof of her submission--to pay her a short visit on the
racecourse, for instance, where everybody would see her--she replied
that she would see about it, that she would think the matter over.
A commotion caused her to stand up again. On the course the horses
were coming in amid a sudden blast of wind. The prize given by the
city of Paris had just been run for, and Cornemuse had gained it.
Now the Grand Prix was about to be run, and the fever of the crowd
increased, and they were tortured by anxiety and stamped and swayed
as though they wanted to make the minutes fly faster. At this
ultimate moment the betting world was surprised and startled by the
continued shortening of the odds against Nana, the outsider of the
Vandeuvres stables. Gentlemen kept returning every few moments with
a new quotation: the betting was thirty to one against Nana; it was
twenty-five to one against Nana, then twenty to one, then fifteen to
one. No one could understand it. A filly beaten on all the
racecourses! A filly which that same morning no single sportsman
would take at fifty to one against! What did this sudden madness
betoken? Some laughed at it and spoke of the pretty doing awaiting
the duffers who were being taken in by the joke. Others looked
serious and uneasy and sniffed out something ugly under it all.
Perhaps there was a "deal" in the offing. Allusion was made to
well-known stories about the robberies which are winked at on
racecourses, but on this occasion the great name of Vandeuvres put a
stop to all such accusations, and the skeptics in the end prevailed
when they prophesied that Nana would come in last of all.
"Who's riding Nana?" queried La Faloise.
Just then the real Nana reappeared, whereat the gentlemen lent his
question an indecent meaning and burst into an uproarious fit of
laughter. Nana bowed.
"Price is up," she replied.
And with that the discussion began again. Price was an English
celebrity. Why had Vandeuvres got this jockey to come over, seeing
that Gresham ordinarily rode Nana? Besides, they were astonished to
see him confiding Lusignan to this man Gresham, who, according to La
Faloise, never got a place. But all these remarks were swallowed up
in jokes, contradictions and an extraordinarily noisy confusion of
opinions. In order to kill time the company once more set
themselves to drain bottles of champagne. Presently a whisper ran
round, and the different groups opened outward. It was Vandeuvres.
Nana affected vexation.
"Dear me, you're a nice fellow to come at this time of day! Why,
I'm burning to see the enclosure."
"Well, come along then," he said; "there's still time. You'll take
a stroll round with me. I just happen to have a permit for a lady
And he led her off on his arm while she enjoyed the jealous glances
with which Lucy, Caroline and the others followed her. The young
Hugons and La Faloise remained in the landau behind her retreating
figure and continued to do the honors of her champagne. She shouted
to them that she would return immediately.
But Vandeuvres caught sight of Labordette and called him, and there
was an interchange of brief sentences.
"You've scraped everything up?"
"To what amount?"
"Fifteen hundred louis--pretty well all over the place."
As Nana was visibly listening, and that with much curiosity, they
held their tongues. Vandeuvres was very nervous, and he had those
same clear eyes, shot with little flames, which so frightened her
the night he spoke of burning himself and his horses together. As
they crossed over the course she spoke low and familiarly.
"I say, do explain this to me. Why are the odds on your filly
He trembled, and this sentence escaped him:
"Ah, they're talking, are they? What a set those betting men are!
When I've got the favorite they all throw themselves upon him, and
there's no chance for me. After that, when an outsider's asked for,
they give tongue and yell as though they were being skinned."
"You ought to tell me what's going to happen--I've made my bets,"
she reioined. "Has Nana a chance?"
A sudden, unreasonable burst of anger overpowered him.
"Won't you deuced well let me be, eh? Every horse has a chance.
The odds are shortening because, by Jove, people have taken the
horse. Who, I don't know. I should prefer leaving you if you must
needs badger me with your idiotic questions."
Such a tone was not germane either to his temperament or his habits,
and Nana was rather surprised than wounded. Besides, he was ashamed
of himself directly afterward, and when she begged him in a dry
voice to behave politely he apologized. For some time past he had
suffered from such sudden changes of temper. No one in the Paris of
pleasure or of society was ignorant of the fact that he was playing
his last trump card today. If his horses did not win, if, moreover,
they lost him the considerable sums wagered upon them, it would mean
utter disaster and collapse for him, and the bulwark of his credit
and the lofty appearance which, though undermined, he still kept up,
would come ruining noisily down. Moreover, no one was ignorant of
the fact that Nana was the devouring siren who had finished him off,
who had been the last to attack his crumbling fortunes and to sweep
up what remained of them. Stories were told of wild whims and
fancies, of gold scattered to the four winds, of a visit to Baden-
Baden, where she had not left him enough to pay the hotel bill, of a
handful of diamonds cast on the fire during an evening of
drunkenness in order to see whether they would burn like coal.
Little by little her great limbs and her coarse, plebeian way of
laughing had gained complete mastery over this elegant, degenerate
son of an ancient race. At that time he was risking his all, for he
had been so utterly overpowered by his taste for ordure and
stupidity as to have even lost the vigor of his skepticism. A week
before Nana had made him promise her a chateau on the Norman coast
between Havre and Trouville, and now he was staking the very
foundations of his honor on the fulfillment of his word. Only she
was getting on his nerves, and he could have beaten her, so stupid
did he feel her to be.
The man at the gate, not daring to stop the woman hanging on the
count's arm, had allowed them to enter the enclosure. Nana, greatly
puffed up at the thought that at last she was setting foot on the
forbidden ground, put on her best behavior and walked slowly by the
ladies seated at the foot of the stands. On ten rows of chairs the
toilets were densely massed, and in the blithe open air their bright
colors mingled harmoniously. Chairs were scattered about, and as
people met one another friendly circles were formed, just as though
the company had been sitting under the trees in a public garden.
Children had been allowed to go free and were running from group to
group, while over head the stands rose tier above crowded tier and
the light-colored dresses therein faded into the delicate shadows of
the timberwork. Nana stared at all these ladies. She stared
steadily and markedly at the Countess Sabine. After which, as she
was passing in front of the imperial stand, the sight of Muffat,
looming in all his official stiffness by the side of the empress,
made her very merry.
"Oh, how silly he looks!" she said at the top of her voice to
Vandeuvres. She was anxious to pay everything a visit. This small
parklike region, with its green lawns and groups of trees, rather
charmed her than otherwise. A vendor of ices had set up a large
buffet near the entrance gates, and beneath a rustic thatched roof a
dense throng of people were shouting and gesticulating. This was
the ring. Close by were some empty stalls, and Nana was
disappointed at discovering only a gendarme's horse there. Then
there was the paddock, a small course some hundred meters in
circumference, where a stable help was walking about Valerio II in
his horsecloths. And, oh, what a lot of men on the graveled
sidewalks, all of them with their tickets forming an orange-colored
patch in their bottonholes! And what a continual parade of people
in the open galleries of the grandstands! The scene interested her
for a moment or two, but truly, it was not worth while getting the
spleen because they didn't admit you inside here.
Daguenet and Fauchery passed by and bowed to her. She made them a
sign, and they had to come up. Thereupon she made hay of the
weighing-in enclosure. But she broke off abruptly:
"Dear me, there's the Marquis de Chouard! How old he's growing!
That old man's killing himself! Is he still as mad about it as
Thereupon Daguenet described the old man's last brilliant stroke.
The story dated from the day before yesterday, and no one knew it as
yet. After dangling about for months he had bought her daughter
Amelie from Gaga for thirty thousand francs, they said.
"Good gracious! That's a nice business!" cried Nana in disgust. "Go
in for the regular thing, please! But now that I come to think of
it, that must be Lili down there on the grass with a lady in a
brougham. I recognized the face. The old boy will have brought her
Vandeuvres was not listening; he was impatient and longed to get rid
of her. But Fauchery having remarked at parting that if she had not
seen the bookmakers she had seen nothing, the count was obliged to
take her to them in spite of his obvious repugnance. And she was
perfectly happy at once; that truly was a curious sight, she said!
Amid lawns bordered by young horse-chestnut trees there was a round
open enclosure, where, forming a vast circle under the shadow of the
tender green leaves, a dense line of bookmakers was waiting for
betting men, as though they had been hucksters at a fair. In order
to overtop and command the surrounding crowd they had taken up
positions on wooden benches, and they were advertising their prices
on the trees beside them. They had an ever-vigilant glance, and
they booked wagers in answer to a single sign, a mere wink, so
rapidly that certain curious onlookers watched them openmouthed,
without being able to understand it all. Confusion reigned; prices
were shouted, and any unexpected change in a quotation was received
with something like tumult. Occasionally scouts entered the place
at a run and redoubled the uproar as they stopped at the entrance to
the rotunda and, at the tops of their voices, announced departures
and arrivals. In this place, where the gambling fever was pulsing
in the sunshine, such announcements were sure to raise a prolonged
"They ARE funny!" murmured Nana, greatly entertained.
"Their features look as if they had been put on the wrong way. Just
you see that big fellow there; I shouldn't care to meet him all
alone in the middle of a wood."
But Vandeuvres pointed her out a bookmaker, once a shopman in a
fancy repository, who had made three million francs in two years.
He was slight of build, delicate and fair, and people all round him
treated him with great respect. They smiled when they addressed
him, while others took up positions close by in order to catch a
glimpse of him.
They were at length leaving the ring when Vandeuvres nodded slightly
to another bookmaker, who thereupon ventured to call him. It was
one of his former coachmen, an enormous fellow with the shoulders of
an ox and a high color. Now that he was trying his fortunes at race
meetings on the strength of some mysteriously obtained capital, the
count was doing his utmost to push him, confiding to him his secret
bets and treating him on all occasions as a servant to whom one
shows one's true character. Yet despite this protection, the man
had in rapid succession lost very heavy sums, and today he, too, was
playing his last card. There was blood in his eyes; he looked fit
to drop with apoplexy.
"Well, Marechal," queried the count in the lowest of voices, "to
what amount have you laid odds?"
"To five thousand louis, Monsieur le Comte," replied the bookmaker,
likewise lowering his voice. "A pretty job, eh? I'll confess to
you that I've increased the odds; I've made it three to one."
Vandeuvres looked very much put out.
"No, no, I don't want you to do that. Put it at two to one again
directly. I shan't tell you any more, Marechal."
"Oh, how can it hurt, Monsieur le Comte, at this time o' day?"
rejoined the other with the humble smile befitting an accomplice.
"I had to attract the people so as to lay your two thousand louis."
At this Vandeuvres silenced him. But as he was going off Marechal
remembered something and was sorry he had not questioned him about
the shortening of the odds on the filly. It would be a nice
business for him if the filly stood a chance, seeing that he had
just laid fifty to one about her in two hundreds.
Nana, though she did not understand a word of what the count was
whispering, dared not, however, ask for new explanations. He seemed
more nervous than before and abruptly handed her over to Labordette,
whom they came upon in front of the weighing-in room.
"You'll take her back," he said. "I've got something on hand. Au
And he entered the room, which was narrow and low-pitched and half
filled with a great pair of scales. It was like a waiting room in a
suburban station, and Nana was again hugely disillusioned, for she
had been picturing to herself something on a very vast scale, a
monumental machine, in fact, for weighing horses. Dear me, they
only weighed the jockeys! Then it wasn't worth while making such a
fuss with their weighing! In the scale a jockey with an idiotic
expression was waiting, harness on knee, till a stout man in a frock
coat should have done verifying his weight. At the door a stable
help was holding a horse, Cosinus, round which a silent and deeply
interested throng was clustering.
The course was about to be cleared. Labordette hurried Nana but
retraced his steps in order to show her a little man talking with
Vandeuvres at some distance from the rest.
"Dear me, there's Price!" he said.
"Ah yes, the man who's mounting me," she murmured laughingly.
And she declared him to be exquisitely ugly. All jockeys struck her
as looking idiotic, doubtless, she said, because they were prevented
from growing bigger. This particular jockey was a man of forty, and
with his long, thin, deeply furrowed, hard, dead countenance, he
looked like an old shriveled-up child. His body was knotty and so
reduced in size that his blue jacket with its white sleeves looked
as if it had been thrown over a lay figure.
"No," she resumed as she walked away, "he would never make me very
happy, you know."
A mob of people were still crowding the course, the turf of which
had been wet and trampled on till it had grown black. In front of
the two telegraphs, which hung very high up on their cast-iron
pillars, the crowd were jostling together with upturned faces,
uproariously greeting the numbers of the different horses as an
electric wire in connection with the weighing room made them appear.
Gentlemen were pointing at programs: Pichenette had been scratched
by his owner, and this caused some noise. However, Nana did not do
more than cross over the course on Labordette's arm. The bell
hanging on the flagstaff was ringing persistently to warn people to
leave the course.
"Ah, my little dears," she said as she got up into her landau again,
"their enclosure's all humbug!"
She was welcomed with acclamation; people around her clapped their
"Bravo, Nana! Nana's ours again!"
What idiots they were, to be sure! Did they think she was the sort
to cut old friends? She had come back just at the auspicious
moment. Now then, 'tenshun! The race was beginning! And the
champagne was accordingly forgotten, and everyone left off drinking.
But Nana was astonished to find Gaga in her carriage, sitting with
Bijou and Louiset on her knees. Gaga had indeed decided on this
course of action in order to be near La Faloise, but she told Nana
that she had been anxious to kiss Baby. She adored children.
"By the by, what about Lili?" asked Nana. "That's certainly she
over there in that old fellow's brougham. They've just told me
something very nice!"
Gaga had adopted a lachrymose expression.
"My dear, it's made me ill," she said dolorously. "Yesterday I had
to keep my bed, I cried so, and today I didn't think I should be
able to come. You know what my opinions were, don't you? I didn't
desire that kind of thing at all. I had her educated in a convent
with a view to a good marriage. And then to think of the strict
advice she had and the constant watching! Well, my dear, it was she
who wished it. We had such a scene--tears--disagreeable speeches!
It even got to such a point that I caught her a box on the ear. She
was too much bored by existence, she said; she wanted to get out of
it. By and by, when she began to say, ''Tisn't you, after all,
who've got the right to prevent me,' I said to her: 'you're a
miserable wretch; you're bringing dishonor upon us. Begone!' And
it was done. I consented to arrange about it. But my last hope's
blooming well blasted, and, oh, I used to dream about such nice
The noise of a quarrel caused them to rise. It was Georges in the
act of defending Vandeuvres against certain vague rumors which were
circulating among the various groups.
"Why should you say that he's laying off his own horse?" the young
man was exclaiming. "Yesterday in the Salon des Courses he took the
odds on Lusignan for a thousand louis."
"Yes, I was there," said Philippe in affirmation of this. "And he
didn't put a single louis on Nana. If the betting's ten to one
against Nana he's got nothing to win there. It's absurd to imagine
people are so calculating. Where would his interest come in?"
Labordette was listening with a quiet expression. Shrugging his
shoulders, he said:
"Oh, leave them alone; they must have their say. The count has
again laid at least as much as five hundred louis on Lusignan, and
if he's wanted Nana to run to a hundred louis it's because an owner
ought always to look as if he believes in his horses."
"Oh, bosh! What the deuce does that matter to us?" shouted La
Faloise with a wave of his arms. "Spirit's going to win! Down with
A long shiver ran through the crowd, while a fresh peal from the
bell announced the arrival of the horses upon the racecourse. At
this Nana got up and stood on one of the seats of her carriage so as
to obtain a better view, and in so doing she trampled the bouquets
of roses and myosotis underfoot. With a sweeping glance she took in
the wide, vast horizon. At this last feverish moment the course was
empty and closed by gray barriers, between the posts of which stood
a line of policemen. The strip of grass which lay muddy in front of
her grew brighter as it stretched away and turned into a tender
green carpet in the distance. In the middle landscape, as she
lowered her eyes, she saw the field swarming with vast numbers of
people, some on tiptoe, others perched on carriages, and all heaving
and jostling in sudden passionate excitement.
Horses were neighing; tent canvases flapped, while equestrians urged
their hacks forward amid a crowd of pedestrians rushing to get
places along the barriers. When Nana turned in the direction of the
stands on the other side the faces seemed diminished, and the dense
masses of heads were only a confused and motley array, filling
gangways, steps and terraces and looming in deep, dark, serried
lines against the sky. And beyond these again she over looked the
plain surrounding the course. Behind the ivy-clad mill to the
right, meadows, dotted over with great patches of umbrageous wood,
stretched away into the distance, while opposite to her, as far as
the Seine flowing at the foot of a hill, the avenues of the park
intersected one another, filled at that moment with long, motionless
files of waiting carriages; and in the direction of Boulogne, on the
left, the landscape widened anew and opened out toward the blue
distances of Meudon through an avenue of paulownias, whose rosy,
leafless tops were one stain of brilliant lake color. People were
still arriving, and a long procession of human ants kept coming
along the narrow ribbon of road which crossed the distance, while
very far away, on the Paris side, the nonpaying public, herding like
sheep among the wood, loomed in a moving line of little dark spots
under the trees on the skirts of the Bois.
Suddenly a cheering influence warmed the hundred thousand souls who
covered this part of the plain like insects swarming madly under the
vast expanse of heaven. The sun, which had been hidden for about a
quarter of an hour, made his appearance again and shone out amid a
perfect sea of light. And everything flamed afresh: the women's
sunshades turned into countless golden targets above the heads of
the crowd. The sun was applauded, saluted with bursts of laughter.
And people stretched their arms out as though to brush apart the
Meanwhile a solitary police officer advanced down the middle of the
deserted racecourse, while higher up, on the left, a man appeared
with a red flag in his hand.
"It's the starter, the Baron de Mauriac," said Labordette in reply
to a question from Nana. All round the young woman exclamations
were bursting from the men who were pressing to her very carriage
step. They kept up a disconnected conversation, jerking out phrases
under the immediate influence of passing impressions. Indeed,
Philippe and Georges, Bordenave and La Faloise, could not be quiet.
"Don't shove! Let me see! Ah, the judge is getting into his box.
D'you say it's Monsieur de Souvigny? You must have good eyesight--
eh?--to be able to tell what half a head is out of a fakement like
that! Do hold your tongue--the banner's going up. Here they are--
'tenshun! Cosinus is the first!"
A red and yellow banner was flapping in mid-air at the top of a
mast. The horses came on the course one by one; they were led by
stableboys, and the jockeys were sitting idle-handed in the saddles,
the sunlight making them look like bright dabs of color. After
Cosinus appeared Hazard and Boum. Presently a murmur of approval
greeted Spirit, a magnificent big brown bay, the harsh citron color
and black of whose jockey were cheerlessly Britannic. Valerio II
scored a success as he came in; he was small and very lively, and
his colors were soft green bordered with pink. The two Vandeuvres
horses were slow to make their appearance, but at last, in
Frangipane's rear, the blue and white showed themselves. But
Lusignan, a very dark bay of irreproachable shape, was almost
forgotten amid the astonishment caused by Nana. People had not seen
her looking like this before, for now the sudden sunlight was dyeing
the chestnut filly the brilliant color of a girl's red-gold hair.
She was shining in the light like a new gold coin; her chest was
deep; her head and neck tapered lightly from the delicate, high-
strung line of her long back.
"Gracious, she's got my hair!" cried Nana in an ecstasy. "You bet
you know I'm proud of it!"
The men clambered up on the landau, and Bordenave narrowly escaped
putting his foot on Louiset, whom his mother had forgotten. He took
him up with an outburst of paternal grumbling and hoisted him on his
shoulder, muttering at the same time:
"The poor little brat, he must be in it too! Wait a bit, I'll show
you Mamma. Eh? Look at Mummy out there."
And as Bijou was scratching his legs, he took charge of him, too,
while Nana, rejoicing in the brute that bore her name, glanced round
at the other women to see how they took it. They were all raging
madly. Just then on the summit of her cab the Tricon, who had not
moved till that moment, began waving her hand and giving her
bookmaker her orders above the heads of the crowd. Her instinct had
at last prompted her; she was backing Nana.
La Faloise meanwhile was making an insufferable noise. He was
getting wild over Frangipane.
"I've an inspiration," he kept shouting. "Just look at Frangipane.
What an action, eh? I back Frangipane at eight to one. Who'll take
"Do keep quiet now," said Labordette at last. "You'll be sorry for
it if you do."
"Frangipane's a screw," Philippe declared. "He's been utterly blown
upon already. You'll see the canter."
The horses had gone up to the right, and they now started for the
preliminary canter, passing in loose order before the stands.
Thereupon there was a passionate fresh burst of talk, and people all
spoke at once.
"Lusignan's too long in the back, but he's very fit. Not a cent, I
tell you, on Valerio II; he's nervous--gallops with his head up--
it's a bad sign. Jove! Burne's riding Spirit. I tell you, he's
got no shoulders. A well-made shoulder--that's the whole secret.
No, decidedly, Spirit's too quiet. Now listen, Nana, I saw her
after the Grande Poule des Produits, and she was dripping and
draggled, and her sides were trembling like one o'clock. I lay
twenty louis she isn't placed! Oh, shut up! He's boring us with
his Frangipane. There's no time to make a bet now; there, they're
Almost in tears, La Faloise was struggling to find a bookmaker. He
had to be reasoned with. Everyone craned forward, but the first go-
off was bad, the starter, who looked in the distance like a slim
dash of blackness, not having lowered his flag. The horses came
back to their places after galloping a moment or two. There were
two more false starts. At length the starter got the horses
together and sent them away with such address as to elicit shouts of
"Splendid! No, it was mere chance! Never mind--it's done it!"
The outcries were smothered by the anxiety which tortured every
breast. The betting stopped now, and the game was being played on
the vast course itself. Silence reigned at the outset, as though
everyone were holding his breath. White faces and trembling forms
were stretched forward in all directions. At first Hazard and
Cosinus made the running at the head of the rest; Valerio II
followed close by, and the field came on in a confused mass behind.
When they passed in front of the stands, thundering over the ground
in their course like a sudden stormwind, the mass was already some
fourteen lengths in extent. Frangipane was last, and Nana was
slightly behind Lusignan and Spirit.
"Egad!" muttered Labordette, "how the Englishman is pulling it off
The whole carriageload again burst out with phrases and
exclamations. Everyone rose on tiptoe and followed the bright
splashes of color which were the jockeys as they rushed through the
At the rise Valerio II took the lead, while Cosinus and Hazard lost
ground, and Lusignan and Spirit were running neck and neck with Nana
still behind them.
"By jingo, the Englishman's gained! It's palpable!" said Bordenave.
"Lusignan's in difficulties, and Valerio II can't stay."
"Well, it will be a pretty biz if the Englishman wins!" cried
Philippe in an access of patriotic grief.
A feeling of anguish was beginning to choke all that crowded
multitude. Another defeat! And with that a strange ardent prayer,
which was almost religious, went up for Lusignan, while people
heaped abuse on Spirit and his dismal mute of a jockey. Among the
crowd scattered over the grass the wind of excitement put up whole
groups of people and set their boot soles flashing in air as they
ran. Horsemen crossed the green at a furious gallop. And Nana, who
was slowly revolving on her own axis, saw beneath her a surging
waste of beasts and men, a sea of heads swayed and stirred all round
the course by the whirlwind of the race, which clove the horizon
with the bright lightning flash of the jockeys. She had been
following their movement from behind while the cruppers sped away
and the legs seemed to grow longer as they raced and then diminished
till they looked slender as strands of hair. Now the horses were
running at the end of the course, and she caught a side view of them
looking minute and delicate of outline against the green distances
of the Bois. Then suddenly they vanished behind a great clump of
trees growing in the middle of the Hippodrome.
"Don't talk about it!" cried Georges, who was still full of hope.
"It isn't over yet. The Englishman's touched."
But La Faloise was again seized with contempt for his country and
grew positively outrageous in his applause of Spirit. Bravo! That
was right! France needed it! Spirit first and Frangipane second--
that would be a nasty one for his native land! He exasperated
Labordette, who threatened seriously to throw him off the carriage.
"Let's see how many minutes they'll be about it," said Bordenave
peaceably, for though holding up Louiset, he had taken out his
One after the other the horses reappeared from behind the clump of
trees. There was stupefaction; a long murmur arose among the crowd.
Valerio II was still leading, but Spirit was gaining on him, and
behind him Lusignan had slackened while another horse was taking his
place. People could not make this out all at once; they were
confused about the colors. Then there was a burst of exclamations.
"But it's Nana! Nana? Get along! I tell you Lusignan hasn't
budged. Dear me, yes, it's Nana. You can certainly recognize her
by her golden color. D'you see her now? She's blazing away.
Bravo, Nana! What a ripper she is! Bah, it doesn't matter a bit:
she's making the running for Lusignan!"
For some seconds this was everybody's opinion. But little by little
the filly kept gaining and gaining, spurting hard all the while.
Thereupon a vast wave of feeling passed over the crowd, and the tail
of horses in the rear ceased to interest. A supreme struggle was
beginning between Spirit, Nana, Lusignan and Valerio II. They were
pointed out; people estimated what ground they had gained or lost in
disconnected, gasping phrases. And Nana, who had mounted up on the
coach box, as though some power had lifted her thither, stood white
and trembling and so deeply moved as not to be able to speak. At
her side Labordette smiled as of old.
"The Englishman's in trouble, eh?" said Philippe joyously. "He's
"In any case, it's all up with Lusignan," shouted La Faloise.
"Valerio II is coming forward. Look, there they are all four
The same phrase was in every mouth.
"What a rush, my dears! By God, what a rush!"
The squad of horses was now passing in front of them like a flash of
lightning. Their approach was perceptible--the breath of it was as
a distant muttering which increased at every second. The whole
crowd had thrown themselves impetuously against the barriers, and a
deep clamor issued from innumerable chests before the advance of the
horses and drew nearer and nearer like the sound of a foaming tide.
It was the last fierce outburst of colossal partisanship; a hundred
thousand spectators were possessed by a single passion, burning with
the same gambler's lust, as they gazed after the beasts, whose
galloping feet were sweeping millions with them. The crowd pushed
and crushed--fists were clenched; people gaped, openmouthed; every
man was fighting for himself; every man with voice and gesture was
madly speeding the horse of his choice. And the cry of all this
multitude, a wild beast's cry despite the garb of civilization, grew
ever more distinct:
"Here they come! Here they come! Here they come!"
But Nana was still gaining ground, and now Valerio II was distanced,
and she was heading the race, with Spirit two or three necks behind.
The rolling thunder of voices had increased. They were coming in; a
storm of oaths greeted them from the landau.
"Gee up, Lusignan, you great coward! The Englishman's stunning! Do
it again, old boy; do it again! Oh, that Valerio! It's sickening!
Oh, the carcass! My ten louis damned well lost! Nana's the only
one! Bravo, Nana! Bravo!"
And without being aware of it Nana, upon her seat, had begun jerking
her hips and waist as though she were racing herself. She kept
striking her side--she fancied it was a help to the filly. With
each stroke she sighed with fatigue and said in low, anguished
"Go it, go it!"
Then a splendid sight was witnessed. Price, rising in his stirrups
and brandishing his whip, flogged Nana with an arm of iron. The old
shriveled-up child with his long, hard, dead face seemed to breath
flame. And in a fit of furious audacity and triumphant will he put
his heart into the filly, held her up, lifted her forward, drenched
in foam, with eyes of blood. The whole rush of horses passed with a
roar of thunder: it took away people's breaths; it swept the air
with it while the judge sat frigidly waiting, his eye adjusted to
its task. Then there was an immense re-echoing burst of
acclamation. With a supreme effort Price had just flung Nana past
the post, thus beating Spirit by a head.
There was an uproar as of a rising tide. "Nana! Nana! Nana!" The
cry rolled up and swelled with the violence of a tempest, till
little by little it filled the distance, the depths of the Bois as
far as Mont Valerien, the meadows of Longchamps and the Plaine de
Boulogne. In all parts of the field the wildest enthusiasm declared
itself. "Vive Nana! Vive la France! Down with England!" The
women waved their sunshades; men leaped and spun round, vociferating
as they did so, while others with shouts of nervous laughter threw
their hats in the air. And from the other side of the course the
enclosure made answer; the people on the stands were stirred, though
nothing was distinctly visible save a tremulous motion of the air,
as though an invisible flame were burning in a brazier above the
living mass of gesticulating arms and little wildly moving faces,
where the eyes and gaping mouths looked like black dots. The noise
did not cease but swelled up and recommenced in the recesses of
faraway avenues and among the people encamped under the trees, till
it spread on and on and attained its climax in the imperial stand,
where the empress herself had applauded. "Nana! Nana! Nana!" The
cry rose heavenward in the glorious sunlight, whose golden rain beat
fiercely on the dizzy heads of the multitude.
Then Nana, looming large on the seat of her landau, fancied that it
was she whom they were applauding. For a moment or two she had
stood devoid of motion, stupefied by her triumph, gazing at the
course as it was invaded by so dense a flood of people that the turf
became invisible beneath the sea of black hats. By and by, when
this crowd had become somewhat less disorderly and a lane had been
formed as far as the exit and Nana was again applauded as she went
off with Price hanging lifelessly and vacantly over her neck, she
smacked her thigh energetically, lost all self-possession, triumphed
in crude phrases:
"Oh, by God, it's me; it's me. Oh, by God, what luck!"
And, scarce knowing how to give expression to her overwhelming joy,
she hugged and kissed Louiset, whom she now discovered high in the
air on Bordenave's shoulder.
"Three minutes and fourteen seconds," said the latter as he put his
watch back in his pocket.
Nana kept hearing her name; the whole plain was echoing it back to
her. Her people were applauding her while she towered above them in
the sunlight, in the splendor of her starry hair and white-and-sky-
blue dress. Labordette, as he made off, had just announced to her a
gain of two thousand louis, for he had put her fifty on Nana at
forty to one. But the money stirred her less than this unforeseen
victory, the fame of which made her queen of Paris. All the other
ladies were losers. With a raging movement Rose Mignon had snapped
her sunshade, and Caroline Hequet and Clarisse and Simonne--nay,
Lucy Stewart herself, despite the presence of her son--were swearing
low in their exasperation at that great wench's luck, while the
Tricon, who had made the sign of the cross at both start and finish,
straightened up her tall form above them, went into an ecstasy over
her intuition and damned Nana admiringly as became an experienced
Meanwhile round the landau the crush of men increased. The band of
Nana's immediate followers had made a fierce uproar, and now
Georges, choking with emotion, continued shouting all by himself in
breaking tones. As the champagne had given out, Philippe, taking
the footmen with him, had run to the wine bars. Nana's court was
growing and growing, and her present triumph caused many loiterers
to join her. Indeed, that movement which had made her carriage a
center of attraction to the whole field was now ending in an
apotheosis, and Queen Venus was enthroned amid suddenly maddened
subjects. Bordenave, behind her, was muttering oaths, for he
yearned to her as a father. Steiner himself had been reconquered--
he had deserted Simonne and had hoisted himself upon one of Nana's
carriage steps. When the champagne had arrived, when she lifted her
brimming glass, such applause burst forth, and "Nana! Nana! Nana!"
was so loudly repeated that the crowd looked round in astonishment
for the filly, nor could any tell whether it was the horse or the
woman that filled all hearts.
While this was going on Mignon came hastening up in defiance of
Rose's terrible frown. That confounded girl simply maddened him,
and he wanted to kiss her. Then after imprinting a paternal salute
on both her cheeks:
"What bothers me," he said, "is that now Rose is certainly going to
send the letter. She's raging, too, fearfully."
"So much the better! It'll do my business for me!" Nana let slip.
But noting his utter astonishment, she hastily continued:
"No, no, what am I saying? Indeed, I don't rightly know what I'm
saying now! I'm drunk."
And drunk, indeed, drunk with joy, drunk with sunshine, she still
raised her glass on high and applauded herself.
"To Nana! To Nana!" she cried amid a redoubled uproar of laughter
and bravoes, which little by little overspread the whole Hippodrome.
The races were ending, and the Prix Vaublanc was run for. Carriages
began driving off one by one. Meanwhile, amid much disputing, the
name of Vandeuvres was again mentioned. It was quite evident now:
for two years past Vandeuvres had been preparing his final stroke
and had accordingly told Gresham to hold Nana in, while he had only
brought Lusignan forward in order to make play for the filly. The
losers were vexed; the winners shrugged their shoulders. After all,
wasn't the thing permissible? An owner was free to run his stud in
his own way. Many others had done as he had! In fact, the majority
thought Vandeuvres had displayed great skill in raking in all he
could get about Nana through the agency of friends, a course of
action which explained the sudden shortening of the odds. People
spoke of his having laid two thousand louis on the horse, which,
supposing the odds to be thirty to one against, gave him twelve
hundred thousand francs, an amount so vast as to inspire respect and
to excuse everything.
But other rumors of a very serious nature were being whispered
about: they issued in the first instance from the enclosure, and the
men who returned thence were full of exact particulars. Voices were
raised; an atrocious scandal began to be openly canvassed. That
poor fellow Vandeuvres was done for; he had spoiled his splendid hit
with a piece of flat stupidity, an idiotic robbery, for he had
commissioned Marechal, a shady bookmaker, to lay two thousand louis
on his account against Lusignan, in order thereby to get back his
thousand and odd openly wagered louis. It was a miserable business,
and it proved to be the last rift necessary to the utter breakup of
his fortune. The bookmaker being thus warned that the favorite
would not win, had realized some sixty thousand francs over the
horse. Only Labordette, for lack of exact and detailed
instructions, had just then gone to him to put two hundred louis on
Nana, which the bookmaker, in his ignorance of the stroke actually
intended, was still quoting at fifty to one against. Cleared of one
hundred thousand francs over the filly and a loser to the tune of
forty thousand, Marechal, who felt the world crumbling under his
feet, had suddenly divined the situation when he saw the count and
Labordette talking together in front of the enclosure just after the
race was over. Furious, as became an ex-coachman of the count's,
and brutally frank as only a cheated man can be, he had just made a
frightful scene in public, had told the whole story in atrocious
terms and had thrown everyone into angry excitement. It was further
stated that the stewards were about to meet.
Nana, whom Philippe and Georges were whisperingly putting in
possession of the facts, gave vent to a series of reflections and
yet ceased not to laugh and drink. After all, it was quite likely;
she remembered such things, and then that Marechal had a dirty,
hangdog look. Nevertheless, she was still rather doubtful when
Labordette appeared. He was very white.
"Well?" she asked in a low voice.
"Bloody well smashed up!" he replied simply.
And he shrugged his shoulders. That Vandeuvres was a mere child!
She made a bored little gesture.
That evening at the Bal Mabille Nana obtained a colossal success.
When toward ten o'clock she made her appearance, the uproar was
afready formidable. That classic night of madness had brought
together all that was young and pleasure loving, and now this smart
world was wallowing in the coarseness and imbecility of the
servants' hall. There was a fierce crush under the festoons of gas
lamps, and men in evening coats and women in outrageous low-necked
old toilets, which they did not mind soiling, were howling and
surging to and fro under the maddening influence of a vast drunken
fit. At a distance of thirty paces the brass instruments of the
orchestra were inaudible. Nobody was dancing. Stupid witticisms,
repeated no one knew why, were going the round of the various
groups. People were straining after wit without succeeding in being
funny. Seven women, imprisoned in the cloakroom, were crying to be
set free. A shallot had been found, put up to auction and knocked
down at two louis. Just then Nana arrived, still wearing her blue-
and-white racecourse costume, and amid a thunder of applause the
shallot was presented to her. People caught hold of her in her own
despite, and three gentlemen bore her triumphantly into the garden,
across ruined grassplots and ravaged masses of greenery. As the
bandstand presented an obstacle to her advance, it was taken by
storm, and chairs and music stands were smashed. A paternal police
organized the disorder.
It was only on Tuesday that Nana recovered from the excitements of
victory. That morning she was chatting with Mme Lerat, the old lady
having come in to bring her news of Louiset, whom the open air had
upset. A long story, which was occupying the attention of all
Paris, interested her beyond measure. Vandeuvres, after being
warned off all racecourses and posted at the Cercle Imperial on the
very evening after the disaster, had set fire to his stable on the
morrow and had burned himself and his horses to death.
"He certainly told me he was going to," the young woman kept saying.
"That man was a regular maniac! Oh, how they did frighten me when
they told me about it yesterday evening! You see, he might easily
have murdered me some fine night. And besides, oughtn't he to have
given me a hint about his horse? I should at any rate have made my
fortune! He said to Labordette that if I knew about the matter I
would immediately inform my hairdresser and a whole lot of other
men. How polite, eh? Oh dear, no, I certainly can't grieve much
After some reflection she had grown very angry. Just then
Labordette came in; he had seen about her bets and was now the
bearer of some forty thousand francs. This only added to her bad
temper, for she ought to have gained a million. Labordette, who
during the whole of this episode had been pretending entire
innocence, abandoned Vandeuvres in decisive terms. Those old
families, he opined, were worn out and apt to make a stupid ending.
"Oh dear no!" said Nana. "It isn't stupid to burn oneself in one's
stable as he did. For my part, I think he made a dashing finish;
but, oh, you know, I'm not defending that story about him and
Marechal. It's too silly. Just to think that Blanche has had the
cheek to want to lay the blame of it on me! I said to her: 'Did I
tell him to steal?' Don't you think one can ask a man for money
without urging him to commit crime? If he had said to me, 'I've got
nothing left,' I should have said to him, 'All right, let's part.'
And the matter wouldn't have gone further."
"Just so," said the aunt gravely "When men are obstinate about a
thing, so much the worse for them!"
"But as to the merry little finish up, oh, that was awfully smart!"
continued Nana. "It appears to have been terrible enough to give
you the shudders! He sent everybody away and boxed himself up in
the place with a lot of petroleum. And it blazed! You should have
seen it! Just think, a great big affair, almost all made of wood
and stuffed with hay and straw! The flames simply towered up, and
the finest part of the business was that the horses didn't want to
be roasted. They could be heard plunging, throwing themselves
against the doors, crying aloud just like human beings. Yes, people
haven't got rid of the horror of it yet."
Labordette let a low, incredulous whistle escape him. For his part,
he did not believe in the death of Vandeuvres. Somebody had sworn
he had seen him escaping through a window. He had set fire to his
stable in a fit of aberration, but when it had begun to grow too
warm it must have sobered him. A man so besotted about the women
and so utterly worn out could not possibly die so pluckily.
Nana listened in her disillusionment and could only remark:
"Oh, the poor wretch, it was so beautiful!"
Toward one in the morning, in the great bed of the Venice point
draperies, Nana and the count lay still awake. He had returned to
her that evening after a three days sulking fit. The room, which
was dimly illumined by a lamp, seemed to slumber amid a warm, damp
odor of love, while the furniture, with its white lacquer and silver
incrustations, loomed vague and wan through the gloom. A curtain
had been drawn to, so that the bed lay flooded with shadow. A sigh
became audible; then a kiss broke the silence, and Nana, slipping
off the coverlet, sat for a moment or two, barelegged, on the edge
of the bed. The count let his head fall back on the pillow and
remained in darkness.
"Dearest, you believe in the good God, don't you?" she queried after
some moments' reflection. Her face was serious; she had been
overcome by pious terrors on quitting her lover's arms.
Since morning, indeed, she had been complaining of feeling
uncomfortable, and all her stupid notions, as she phrased it,
notions about death and hell, were secretly torturing her. From
time to time she had nights such as these, during which childish
fears and atrocious fancies would thrill her with waking nightmares.
"I say, d'you think I shall go to heaven?"
And with that she shivered, while the count, in his surprise at her
putting such singular questions at such a moment, felt his old
religious remorse returning upon him. Then with her chemise
slipping from her shoulders and her hair unpinned, she again threw
herself upon his breast, sobbing and clinging to him as she did so.
"I'm afraid of dying! I'm afraid of dying!" He had all the trouble
in the world to disengage himself. Indeed, he was himself afraid of
giving in to the sudden madness of this woman clinging to his body
in her dread of the Invisible. Such dread is contagious, and he
reasoned with her. Her conduct was perfect--she had only to conduct
herself well in order one day to merit pardon. But she shook her
head. Doubtless she was doing no one any harm; nay, she was even in
the constant habit of wearing a medal of the Virgin, which she
showed to him as it hung by a red thread between her breasts. Only
it had been foreordained that all unmarried women who held
conversation with men would go to hell. Scraps of her catechism
recurred to her remembrance. Ah, if one only knew for certain, but,
alas, one was sure of nothing; nobody ever brought back any
information, and then, truly, it would be stupid to bother oneself
about things if the priests were talking foolishness all the time.
Nevertheless, she religiously kissed her medal, which was still warm
from contact with her skin, as though by way of charm against death,
the idea of which filled her with icy horror. Muffat was obliged to
accompany her into the dressing room, for she shook at the idea of
being alone there for one moment, even though she had left the door
open. When he had lain down again she still roamed about the room,
visiting its several corners and starting and shivering at the
slightest noise. A mirror stopped her, and as of old she lapsed
into obvious contemplation of her nakedness. But the sight of her
breast, her waist and her thighs only doubled her terror, and she
ended by feeling with both hands very slowly over the bones of her
"You're ugly when you're dead," she said in deliberate tones.
And she pressed her cheeks, enlarging her eyes and pushing down her
jaw, in order to see how she would look. Thus disfigured, she
turned toward the count.
"Do look! My head'll be quite small, it will!"
At this he grew vexed.
"You're mad; come to bed!"
He fancied he saw her in a grave, emaciated by a century of sleep,
and he joined his hands and stammered a prayer. It was some time
ago that the religious sense had reconquered him, and now his daily
access of faith had again assumed the apoplectic intensity which was
wont to leave him well-nigh stunned. The joints of his fingers used
to crack, and he would repeat without cease these words only: "My
God, my God, my God!" It was the cry of his impotence, the cry of
that sin against which, though his damnation was certain, he felt
powerless to strive. When Nana returned she found him hidden
beneath the bedclothes; he was haggard; he had dug his nails into
his bosom, and his eyes stared upward as though in search of heaven.
And with that she started to weep again. Then they both embraced,
and their teeth chattered they knew not why, as the same imbecile
obsession over-mastered them. They had already passed a similar
night, but on this occasion the thing was utterly idiotic, as Nana
declared when she ceased to be frightened. She suspected something,
and this caused her to question the count in a prudent sort of way.
It might be that Rose Mignon had sent the famous letter! But that
was not the case; it was sheer fright, nothing more, for he was
still ignorant whether he was a cuckold or no.
Two days later, after a fresh disappearance, Muffat presented
himself in the morning, a time of day at which he never came. He
was livid; his eyes were red and his whole man still shaken by a
great internal struggle. But Zoe, being scared herself, did not
notice his troubled state. She had run to meet him and now began
"Oh, monsieur, do come in! Madame nearly died yesterday evening!"
And when he asked for particulars:
"Something it's impossible to believe has happened--a miscarriage,
Nana had been in the family way for the past three months. For long
she had simply thought herself out of sorts, and Dr Boutarel had
himself been in doubt. But when afterward he made her a decisive
announcement, she felt so bored thereby that she did all she
possibly could to disguise her condition. Her nervous terrors, her
dark humors, sprang to some extent from this unfortunate state of
things, the secret of which she kept very shamefacedly, as became a
courtesan mother who is obliged to conceal her plight. The thing
struck her as a ridiculous accident, which made her appear small in
her own eyes and would, had it been known, have led people to chaff
"A poor joke, eh?" she said. "Bad luck, too, certainly."
She was necessarily very sharp set when she thought her last hour
had come. There was no end to her surprise, too; her sexual economy
seemed to her to have got out of order; it produced children then
even when one did not want them and when one employed it for quite
other purposes! Nature drove her to exasperation; this appearance
of serious motherhood in a career of pleasure, this gift of life
amid all the deaths she was spreading around, exasperated her. Why
could one not dispose of oneself as fancy dictated, without all this
fuss? And whence had this brat come? She could not even suggest a
father. Ah, dear heaven, the man who made him would have a splendid
notion had he kept him in his own hands, for nobody asked for him;
he was in everybody's way, and he would certainly not have much
happiness in life!
Meanwhile Zoe described the catastrophe.
"Madame was seized with colic toward four o'clock. When she didn't
come back out of the dressing room I went in and found her lying
stretched on the floor in a faint. Yes, monsieur, on the floor in a
pool of blood, as though she had been murdered. Then I understood,
you see. I was furious; Madame might quite well have confided her
trouble to me. As it happened, Monsieur Georges was there, and he
helped me to lift her up, and directly a miscarriage was mentioned
he felt ill in his turn! Oh, it's true I've had the hump since
In fact, the house seemed utterly upset. All the servants were
galloping upstairs, downstairs and through the rooms. Georges had
passed the night on an armchair in the drawing room. It was he who
had announced the news to Madame's friends at that hour of the
evening when Madame was in the habit of receiving. He had still
been very pale, and he had told his story very feelingly, and as
though stupefied. Steiner, La Faloise, Philippe and others,
besides, had presented themselves, and at the end of the lad's first
phrase they burst into exclamations. The thing was impossible! It
must be a farce! After which they grew serious and gazed with an
embarrassed expression at her bedroom door. They shook their heads;
it was no laughing matter.
Till midnight a dozen gentlemen had stood talking in low voices in
front of the fireplace. All were friends; all were deeply exercised
by the same idea of paternity. They seemed to be mutually excusing
themselves, and they looked as confused as if they had done
something clumsy. Eventually, however, they put a bold face on the
matter. It had nothing to do with them: the fault was hers! What a
stunner that Nana was, eh? One would never have believed her
capable of such a fake! And with that they departed one by one,
walking on tiptoe, as though in a chamber of death where you cannot
"Come up all the same, monsieur," said Zoe to Muffat. "Madame is
much better and will see you. We are expecting the doctor, who
promised to come back this morning."
The lady's maid had persuaded Georges to go back home to sleep, and
upstairs in the drawing room only Satin remained. She lay stretched
on a divan, smoking a cigarette and scanning the ceiling. Amid the
household scare which had followed the accident she had been white
with rage, had shrugged her shoulders violently and had made
ferocious remarks. Accordingly, when Zoe was passing in front of
her and telling Monsieur that poor, dear Madame had suffered a great
"That's right; it'll teach him!" said Satin curtly.
They turned round in surprise, but she had not moved a muscle; her
eyes were still turned toward the ceiling, and her cigarette was
still wedged tightly between her lips.
"Dear me, you're charming, you are!" said Zoe.
But Satin sat up, looked savagely at the count and once more hurled
her remark at him.
"That's right; it'll teach him!"
And she lay down again and blew forth a thin jet of smoke, as though
she had no interest in present events and were resolved not to
meddle in any of them. No, it was all too silly!
Zoe, however, introduced Muffat into the bedroom, where a scent of
ether lingered amid warm, heavy silence, scarce broken by the dull
roll of occasional carriages in the Avenue de Villiers. Nana,
looking very white on her pillow, was lying awake with wide-open,
meditative eyes. She smiled when she saw the count but did not
"Ah, dear pet!" she slowly murmured. "I really thought I should
never see you again."
Then as he leaned forward to kiss her on the hair, she grew tender
toward him and spoke frankly about the child, as though he were its
"I never dared tell you; I felt so happy about it! Oh, I used to
dream about it; I should have liked to be worthy of you! And now
there's nothing left. Ah well, perhaps that's best. I don't want
to bring a stumbling block into your life."
Astounded by this story of paternity, he began stammering vague
phrases. He had taken a chair and had sat down by the bed, leaning
one arm on the coverlet. Then the young woman noticed his wild
expression, the blood reddening his eyes, the fever that set his
"What's the matter then?" she asked. "You're ill too."
"No," he answered with extreme difficulty.
She gazed at him with a profound expression. Then she signed to Zoe
to retire, for the latter was lingering round arranging the medicine
bottles. And when they were alone she drew him down to her and
"What's the matter with you, darling? The tears are ready to burst
from your eyes--I can see that quite well. Well now, speak out;
you've come to tell me something."
"No, no, I swear I haven't," he blurted out. But he was choking
with suffering, and this sickroom, into which he had suddenly
entered unawares, so worked on his feelings that he burst out
sobbing and buried his face in the bedclothes to smother the
violence of his grief. Nana understood. Rose Mignon had most
assuredly decided to send the letter. She let him weep for some
moments, and he was shaken by convulsions so fierce that the bed
trembled under her. At length in accents of motherly compassion she
"You've had bothers at your home?"
He nodded affirmatively. She paused anew, and then very low:
"Then you know all?"
He nodded assent. And a heavy silence fell over the chamber of
suffering. The night before, on his return from a party given by
the empress, he had received the letter Sabine had written her
lover. After an atrocious night passed in the meditation of
vengeance he had gone out in the morning in order to resist a
longing which prompted him to kill his wife. Outside, under a
sudden, sweet influence of a fine June morning, he had lost the
thread of his thoughts and had come to Nana's, as he always came at
terrible moments in his life. There only he gave way to his misery,
for he felt a cowardly joy at the thought that she would console
"Now look here, be calm!" the young woman continued, becoming at the
same time extremely kind. "I've known it a long time, but it was
certainly not I that would have opened your eyes. You remember you
had your doubts last year, but then things arranged themselves,
owing to my prudence. In fact, you wanted proofs. The deuce,
you've got one today, and I know it's hard lines. Nevertheless, you
must look at the matter quietly: you're not dishonored because it's
He had left off weeping. A sense of shame restrained him from
saying what he wanted to, although he had long ago slipped into the
most intimate confessions about his household. She had to encourage
him. Dear me, she was a woman; she could understand everything.
When in a dull voice he exclaimed:
"You're ill. What's the good of tiring you? It was stupid of me to
have come. I'm going--"
"No," she answered briskly enough. "Stay! Perhaps I shall be able
to give you some good advice. Only don't make me talk too much; the
medical man's forbidden it."
He had ended by rising, and he was now walking up and down the room.
Then she questioned him:
"Now what are you going to do?
"I'm going to box the man's ears--by heavens, yes!"
She pursed up her lips disapprovingly.
"That's not very wise. And about your wife?"
"I shall go to law; I've proofs."
"Not at all wise, my dear boy. It's stupid even. You know I shall
never let you do that!"
And in her feeble voice she showed him decisively how useless and
scandalous a duel and a trial would be. He would be a nine days'
newspaper sensation; his whole existence would be at stake, his
peace of mind, his high situation at court, the honor of his name,
and all for what? That he might have the laughers against him.
"What will it matter?" he cried. "I shall have had my revenge."
"My pet," she said, "in a business of that kind one never has one's
revenge if one doesn't take it directly."
He paused and stammered. He was certainly no poltroon, but he felt
that she was right. An uneasy feeling was growing momentarily
stronger within him, a poor, shameful feeling which softened his
anger now that it was at its hottest. Moreover, in her frank desire
to tell him everything, she dealt him a fresh blow.
"And d'you want to know what's annoying you, dearest? Why, that you
are deceiving your wife yourself. You don't sleep away from home
for nothing, eh? Your wife must have her suspicions. Well then,
how can you blame her? She'll tell you that you've set her the
example, and that'll shut you up. There, now, that's why you're
stamping about here instead of being at home murdering both of 'em."
Muffat had again sunk down on the chair; he was overwhelmed by these
home thrusts. She broke off and took breath, and then in a low
"Oh, I'm a wreck! Do help me sit up a bit. I keep slipping down,
and my head's too low."
When he had helped her she sighed and felt more comfortable. And
with that she harked back to the subject. What a pretty sight a
divorce suit would be! Couldn't he imagine the advocate of the
countess amusing Paris with his remarks about Nana? Everything
would have come out--her fiasco at the Varietes, her house, her
manner of life. Oh dear, no! She had no wish for all that amount
of advertising. Some dirty women might, perhaps, have driven him to
it for the sake of getting a thundering big advertisement, but she--
she desired his happiness before all else. She had drawn him down
toward her and, after passing her arm around his neck, was nursing
his head close to hers on the edge of the pillow. And with that she
"Listen, my pet, you shall make it up with your wife."
But he rebelled at this. It could never be! His heart was nigh
breaking at the thought; it was too shameful. Nevertheless, she
kept tenderly insisting.
"You shall make it up with your wife. Come, come, you don't want to
hear all the world saying that I've tempted you away from your home?
I should have too vile a reputation! What would people think of me?
Only swear that you'll always love me, because the moment you go
with another woman--"
Tears choked her utterance, and he intervened with kisses and said:
"You're beside yourself; it's impossible!"
"Yes, yes," she rejoined, "you must. But I'll be reasonable. After
all, she's your wife, and it isn't as if you were to play me false
with the firstcomer."
And she continued in this strain, giving him the most excellent
advice. She even spoke of God, and the count thought he was
listening to M. Venot, when that old gentleman endeavored to
sermonize him out of the grasp of sin. Nana, however, did not speak
of breaking it off entirely: she preached indulgent good nature and
suggested that, as became a dear, nice old fellow, he should divide
his attentions between his wife and his mistress, so that they would
all enjoy a quiet life, devoid of any kind of annoyance, something,
in fact, in the nature of a happy slumber amid the inevitable
miseries of existence. Their life would be nowise changed: he would
still be the little man of her heart. Only he would come to her a
bit less often and would give the countess the nights not passed
with her. She had got to the end of her strength and left off,
speaking under her breath:
"After that I shall feel I've done a good action, and you'll love me
all the more."
Silence reigned. She had closed her eyes and lay wan upon her
pillow. The count was patiently listening to her, not wishing her
to tire herself. A whole minute went by before she reopened her
eyes and murmured:
"Besides, how about the money? Where would you get the money from
if you must grow angry and go to law? Labordette came for the bill
yesterday. As for me, I'm out of everything; I have nothing to put
Then she shut her eyes again and looked like one dead. A shadow of
deep anguish had passed over Muffat's brow. Under the present
stroke he had since yesterday forgotten the money troubles from
which he knew not how to escape. Despite formal promises to the
contrary, the bill for a hundred thousand francs had been put in
circulation after being once renewed, and Labordette, pretending to
be very miserable about it, threw all the blame on Francis,
declaring that he would never again mix himself up in such a matter
with an uneducated man. It was necessary to pay, for the count
would never have allowed his signature to be protested. Then in
addition to Nana's novel demands, his home expenses were
extraordinarily confused. On their return from Les Fondettes the
countess had suddenly manifested a taste for luxury, a longing for
worldly pleasures, which was devouring their fortune. Her ruinous
caprices began to be talked about. Their whole household management
was altered, and five hundred thousand francs were squandered in
utterly transforming the old house in the Rue Miromesnil. Then
there were extravagantly magnificent gowns and large sums
disappeared, squandered or perhaps given away, without her ever
dreaming of accounting for them. Twice Muffat ventured to mention
this, for he was anxious to know how the money went, but on these
occasions she had smiled and gazed at him with so singular an
expression that he dared not interrogate her further for fear of a
too-unmistakable answer. If he were taking Daguenet as son-in-law
as a gift from Nana it was chiefly with the hope of being able to
reduce Estelle's dower to two hundred thousand francs and of then
being free to make any arrangements he chose about the remainder
with a young man who was still rejoicing in this unexpected match.
Nevertheless, for the last week, under the immediate necessity of
finding Labordette's hundred thousand francs, Muffat had been able
to hit on but one expedient, from which he recoiled. This was that
he should sell the Bordes, a magnificent property valued at half a
million, which an uncle had recently left the countess. However,
her signature was necessary, and she herself, according to the terms
of the deed, could not alienate the property without the count's
authorization. The day before he had indeed resolved to talk to his
wife about this signature. And now everything was ruined; at such a
moment he would never accept of such a compromise. This reflection
added bitterness to the frightful disgrace of the adultery. He
fully understood what Nana was asking for, since in that ever-
growing self-abandonment which prompted him to put her in
possession of all his secrets, he had complained to her of his
position and had confided to her the tiresome difficulty he was in
with regard to the signature of the countess.
Nana, however, did not seem to insist. She did not open her eyes
again, and, seeing her so pale, he grew frightened and made her
inhale a little ether. She gave a sigh and without mentioning
Daguenet asked him some questions.
"When is the marriage?"
"We sign the contract on Tuesday, in five days' time," he replied.
Then still keeping her eyelids closed, as though she were speaking
from the darkness and silence of her brain:
"Well then, pet, see to what you've got to do. As far as I'm
concerned, I want everybody to be happy and comfortable."
He took her hand and soothed her. Yes, he would see about it; the
important thing now was for her to rest. And the revolt within him
ceased, for this warm and slumberous sickroom, with its all-
pervading scent of ether, had ended by lulling him into a mere
longing for happiness and peace. All his manhood, erewhile maddened
by wrong, had departed out of him in the neighborhood of that warm
bed and that suffering woman, whom he was nursing under the
influence of her feverish heat and of remembered delights. He
leaned over her and pressed her in a close embrace, while despite
her unmoved features her lips wore a delicate, victorious smile.
But Dr Boutarel made his appearance.
"Well, and how's this dear child?" he said familiarly to Muffat,
whom he treated as her husband. "The deuce, but we've made her
The doctor was a good-looking man and still young. He had a superb
practice among the gay world, and being very merry by nature and
ready to laugh and joke in the friendliest way with the demimonde
ladies with whom, however, he never went farther, he charged very
high fees and got them paid with the greatest punctuality.
Moreover, he would put himself out to visit them on the most trivial
occasions, and Nana, who was always trembling at the fear of death,
would send and fetch him two or three times a week and would
anxiously confide to him little infantile ills which he would cure
to an accompaniment of amusing gossip and harebrained anecdotes.
The ladies all adored him. But this time the little ill was
Muffat withdrew, deeply moved. Seeing his poor Nana so very weak,
his sole feeling was now one of tenderness. As he was leaving the
room she motioned him back and gave him her forehead to kiss. In a
low voice and with a playfully threatening look she said:
"You know what I've allowed you to do. Go back to your wife, or
it's all over and I shall grow angry!"
The Countess Sabine had been anxious that her daughter's wedding
contract should be signed on a Tuesday in order that the renovated
house, where the paint was still scarcely dry, might be reopened
with a grand entertainment. Five hundred invitations had been
issued to people in all kinds of sets. On the morning of the great
day the upholsterers were still nailing up hangings, and toward nine
at night, just when the lusters were going to be lit, the architect,
accompanied by the eager and interested countess, was given his
It was one of those spring festivities which have a delicate charm
of their own. Owing to the warmth of the June nights, it had become
possible to open the two doors of the great drawing room and to
extend the dancing floor to the sanded paths of the garden. When
the first guests arrived and were welcomed at the door by the count
and the countess they were positively dazzled. One had only to
recall to mind the drawing room of the past, through which flitted
the icy, ghostly presence of the Countess Muffat, that antique room
full of an atmosphere of religious austerity with its massive First