Part 9 out of 12
Empire mahogany furniture, its yellow velvet hangings, its moldy
ceiling through which the damp had soaked. Now from the very
threshold of the entrance hall mosaics set off with gold were
glittering under the lights of lofty candelabras, while the marble
staircase unfurled, as it were, a delicately chiseled balustrade.
Then, too, the drawing room looked splendid; it was hung with Genoa
velvet, and a huge decorative design by Boucher covered the ceiling,
a design for which the architect had paid a hundred thousand francs
at the sale of the Chateau de Dampierre. The lusters and the
crystal ornaments lit up a luxurious display of mirrors and precious
furniture. It seemed as though Sabine's long chair, that solitary
red silk chair, whose soft contours were so marked in the old days,
had grown and spread till it filled the whole great house with
voluptuous idleness and a sense of tense enjoyment not less fierce
and hot than a fire which has been long in burning up.
People were already dancing. The band, which had been located in
the garden, in front of one of the open windows, was playing a
waltz, the supple rhythm of which came softly into the house through
the intervening night air. And the garden seemed to spread away and
away, bathed in transparent shadow and lit by Venetian lamps, while
in a purple tent pitched on the edge of a lawn a table for
refreshments had been established. The waltz, which was none other
than the quaint, vulgar one in the Blonde Venus, with its laughing,
blackguard lilt, penetrated the old hotel with sonorous waves of
sound and sent a feverish thrill along its walls. It was as though
some fleshly wind had come up out of the common street and were
sweeping the relics of a vanished epoch out of the proud old
dwelling, bearing away the Muffats' past, the age of honor and
religious faith which had long slumbered beneath the lofty ceilings.
Meanwhile near the hearth, in their accustomed places, the old
friends of the count's mother were taking refuge. They felt out of
their element--they were dazzled and they formed a little group amid
the slowly invading mob. Mme du Joncquoy, unable to recognize the
various rooms, had come in through the dining saloon. Mme
Chantereau was gazing with a stupefied expression at the garden,
which struck her as immense. Presently there was a sound of low
voices, and the corner gave vent to all sorts of bitter reflections.
"I declare," murmured Mme Chantereau, "just fancy if the countess
were to return to life. Why, can you not imagine her coming in
among all these crowds of people! And then there's all this gilding
and this uproar! It's scandalous!"
"Sabine's out of her senses," replied Mme du Joncquoy. "Did you see
her at the door? Look, you can catch sight of her here; she's
wearing all her diamonds."
For a moment or two they stood up in order to take a distant view of
the count and countess. Sabine was in a white dress trimmed with
marvelous English point lace. She was triumphant in beauty; she
looked young and gay, and there was a touch of intoxication in her
continual smile. Beside her stood Muffat, looking aged and a little
pale, but he, too, was smiling in his calm and worthy fashion.
"And just to think that he was once master," continued Mme
Chantereau, "and that not a single rout seat would have come in
without his permission! Ah well, she's changed all that; it's her
house now. D'you remember when she did not want to do her drawing
room up again? She's done up the entire house."
But the ladies grew silent, for Mme de Chezelles was entering the
room, followed by a band of young men. She was going into ecstasies
and marking her approval with a succession of little exclamations.
"Oh, it's delicious, exquisite! What taste!" And she shouted back
to her followers:
"Didn't I say so? There's nothing equal to these old places when
one takes them in hand. They become dazzling! It's quite in the
grand seventeenth-century style. Well, NOW she can receive."
The two old ladies had again sat down and with lowered tones began
talking about the marriage, which was causing astonishment to a good
many people. Estelle had just passed by them. She was in a pink
silk gown and was as pale, flat, silent and virginal as ever. She
had accepted Daguenet very quietly and now evinced neither joy nor
sadness, for she was still as cold and white as on those winter
evenings when she used to put logs on the fire. This whole fete
given in her honor, these lights and flowers and tunes, left her
"An adventurer," Mme du Joncquoy was saying. "For my part, I've
never seen him."
"Take care, here he is," whispered Mme Chantereau.
Daguenet, who had caught sight of Mme Hugon and her sons, had
eagerly offered her his arm. He laughed and was effusively
affectionate toward her, as though she had had a hand in his sudden
"Thank you," she said, sitting down near the fireplace. "You see,
it's my old corner."
"You know him?" queried Mme du Joncquoy, when Daguenet had gone.
"Certainly I do--a charming young man. Georges is very fond of him.
Oh, they're a most respected family."
And the good lady defended him against the mute hostility which was
apparent to her. His father, held in high esteem by Louis Philippe,
had been a PREFET up to the time of his death. The son had been a
little dissipated, perhaps; they said he was ruined, but in any
case, one of his uncles, who was a great landowner, was bound to
leave him his fortune. The ladies, however, shook their heads,
while Mme Hugon, herself somewhat embarrassed, kept harking back to
the extreme respectability of his family. She was very much
fatigued and complained of her feet. For some months she had been
occupying her house in the Rue Richelieu, having, as she said, a
whole lot of things on hand. A look of sorrow overshadowed her
smiling, motherly face.
"Never mind," Mme Chantereau concluded. "Estelle could have aimed
at something much better."
There was a flourish. A quadrille was about to begin, and the crowd
flowed back to the sides of the drawing room in order to leave the
floor clear. Bright dresses flitted by and mingled together amid
the dark evening coats, while the intense light set jewels flashing
and white plumes quivering and lilacs and roses gleaming and
flowering amid the sea of many heads. It was already very warm, and
a penetrating perfume was exhaled from light tulles and crumpled
silks and satins, from which bare shoulders glimmered white, while
the orchestra played its lively airs. Through open doors ranges of
seated ladies were visible in the background of adjoining rooms;
they flashed a discreet smile; their eyes glowed, and they made
pretty mouths as the breath of their fans caressed their faces. And
guests still kept arriving, and a footman announced their names
while gentlemen advanced slowly amid the surrounding groups,
striving to find places for ladies, who hung with difficulty on
their arms, and stretching forward in quest of some far-off vacant
armchair. The house kept filling, and crinolined skirts got jammed
together with a little rustling sound. There were corners where an
amalgam of laces, bunches and puffs would completely bar the way,
while all the other ladies stood waiting, politely resigned and
imperturbably graceful, as became people who were made to take part
in these dazzling crushes. Meanwhile across the garden couples, who
had been glad to escape from the close air of the great drawing
room, were wandering away under the roseate gleam of the Venetian
lamps, and shadowy dresses kept flitting along the edge of the lawn,
as though in rhythmic time to the music of the quadrille, which
sounded sweet and distant behind the trees.
Steiner had just met with Foucarmont and La Faloise, who were
drinking a glass of champagne in front of the buffet.
"It's beastly smart," said La Faloise as he took a survey of the
purple tent, which was supported by gilded lances. "You might fancy
yourself at the Gingerbread Fair. That's it--the Gingerbread Fair!"
In these days he continually affected a bantering tone, posing as
the young man who has abused every mortal thing and now finds
nothing worth taking seriously.
"How surprised poor Vandeuvres would be if he were to come back,"
murmured Foucarmont. "You remember how he simply nearly died of
boredom in front of the fire in there. Egad, it was no laughing
"Vandeuvres--oh, let him be. He's a gone coon!" La Faloise
disdainfully rejoined. "He jolly well choused himself, he did, if
he thought he could make us sit up with his roast-meat story! Not a
soul mentions it now. Blotted out, done for, buried--that's what's
the matter with Vandeuvres! Here's to the next man!"
Then as Steiner shook hands with him:
"You know Nana's just arrived. Oh, my boys, it was a state entry.
It was too brilliant for anything! First of all she kissed the
countess. Then when the children came up she gave them her blessing
and said to Daguenet, 'Listen, Paul, if you go running after the
girls you'll have to answer for it to me.' What, d'you mean to say
you didn't see that? Oh, it WAS smart. A success, if you like!"
The other two listened to him, openmouthed, and at last burst out
laughing. He was enchanted and thought himself in his best vein.
"You thought it had really happened, eh? Confound it, since Nana's
made the match! Anyway, she's one of the family."
The young Hugons were passing, and Philippe silenced him. And with
that they chatted about the marriage from the male point of view.
Georges was vexed with La Faloise for telling an anecdote.
Certainly Nana had fubbed off on Muffat one of her old flames as
son-in-law; only it was not true that she had been to bed with
Daguenet as lately as yesterday. Foucarmont made bold to shrug his
shoulders. Could anyone ever tell when Nana was in bed with anyone?
But Georges grew excited and answered with an "I can tell, sir!"
which set them all laughing. In a word, as Steiner put it, it was
all a very funny kettle of fish!
The buffet was gradually invaded by the crowd, and, still keeping
together, they vacated their positions there. La Faloise stared
brazenly at the women as though he believed himself to be Mabille.
At the end of a garden walk the little band was surprised to find M.
Venot busily conferring with Daguenet, and with that they indulged
in some facile pleasantries which made them very merry. He was
confessing him, giving him advice about the bridal night! Presently
they returned in front of one of the drawing-room doors, within
which a polka was sending the couples whirling to and fro till they
seemed to leave a wake behind them among the crowd of men who
remained standing about. In the slight puffs of air which came from
outside the tapers flared up brilliantly, and when a dress floated
by in time to the rat-tat of the measure, a little gust of wind
cooled the sparkling heat which streamed down from the lusters.
"Egad, they're not cold in there!" muttered La Faloise.
They blinked after emerging from the mysterious shadows of the
garden. Then they pointed out to one another the Marquis de Chouard
where he stood apart, his tall figure towering over the bare
shoulders which surrounded him. His face was pale and very stern,
and beneath its crown of scant white hair it wore an expression of
lofty dignity. Scandalized by Count Muffat's conduct, he had
publicly broken off all intercourse with him and was by way of never
again setting foot in the house. If he had consented to put in an
appearance that evening it was because his granddaughter had begged
him to. But he disapproved of her marriage and had inveighed
indignantly against the way in which the government classes were
being disorganized by the shameful compromises engendered by modern
"Ah, it's the end of all things," Mme du Joncquoy whispered in Mme
Chantereau's ear as she sat near the fireplace. "That bad woman has
bewitched the unfortunate man. And to think we once knew him such a
true believer, such a noblehearted gentleman!"
"It appears he is ruining himself," continued Mme Chantereau. "My
husband has had a bill of his in his hands. At present he's living
in that house in the Avenue de Villiers; all Paris is talking about
it. Good heavens! I don't make excuses for Sabine, but you must
admit that he gives her infinite cause of complaint, and, dear me,
if she throws money out of the window, too--"
"She does not only throw money," interrupted the other. "In fact,
between them, there's no knowing where they'll stop; they'll end in
the mire, my dear."
But just then a soft voice interrupted them. It was M. Venot, and
he had come and seated himself behind them, as though anxious to
disappear from view. Bending forward, he murmured:
"Why despair? God manifests Himself when all seems lost."
He was assisting peacefully at the downfall of the house which he
erewhile governed. Since his stay at Les Fondettes he had been
allowing the madness to increase, for he was very clearly aware of
his own powerlessness. He had, indeed, accepted the whole position--
the count's wild passion for Nana, Fauchery's presence, even
Estelle's marriage with Daguenet. What did these things matter? He
even became more supple and mysterious, for he nursed a hope of
being able to gain the same mastery over the young as over the
disunited couple, and he knew that great disorders lead to great
conversions. Providence would have its opportunity.
"Our friend," he continued in a low voice, "is always animated by
the best religious sentiments. He has given me the sweetest proofs
"Well," said Mme du Joncquoy, "he ought first to have made it up
with his wife."
"Doubtless. At this moment I have hopes that the reconciliation
will be shortly effected."
Whereupon the two old ladies questioned him.
But he grew very humble again. "Heaven," he said, "must be left to
act." His whole desire in bringing the count and the countess
together again was to avoid a public scandal, for religion tolerated
many faults when the proprieties were respected.
"In fact," resumed Mme du Joncquoy, "you ought to have prevented
this union with an adventurer."
The little old gentleman assumed an expression of profound
astonishment. "You deceive yourself. Monsieur Daguenet is a young
man of the greatest merit. I am acquainted with his thoughts; he is
anxious to live down the errors of his youth. Estelle will bring
him back to the path of virtue, be sure of that."
"Oh, Estelle!" Mme Chantereau murmured disdainfully. "I believe the
dear young thing to be incapable of willing anything; she is so
This opinion caused M. Venot to smile. However, he went into no
explanations about the young bride and, shutting his eyes, as though
to avoid seeming to take any further interest in the matter, he once
more lost himself in his corner behind the petticoats. Mme Hugon,
though weary and absent-minded, had caught some phrases of the
conversation, and she now intervened and summed up in her tolerant
way by remarking to the Marquis de Chouard, who just then bowed to
"These ladies are too severe. Existence is so bitter for every one
of us! Ought we not to forgive others much, my friend, if we wish
to merit forgiveness ourselves?"
For some seconds the marquis appeared embarrassed, for he was afraid
of allusions. But the good lady wore so sad a smile that he
recovered almost at once and remarked:
"No, there is no forgiveness for certain faults. It is by reason of
this kind of accommodating spirit that a society sinks into the
abyss of ruin."
The ball had grown still more animated. A fresh quadrille was
imparting a slight swaying motion to the drawing-room floor, as
though the old dwelling had been shaken by the impulse of the dance.
Now and again amid the wan confusion of heads a woman's face with
shining eyes and parted lips stood sharply out as it was whirled
away by the dance, the light of the lusters gleaming on the white
skin. Mme du Joncquoy declared that the present proceedings were
senseless. It was madness to crowd five hundred people into a room
which would scarcely contain two hundred. In fact, why not sign the
wedding contract on the Place du Carrousel? This was the outcome of
the new code of manners, said Mme Chantereau. In old times these
solemnities took place in the bosom of the family, but today one
must have a mob of people; the whole street must be allowed to enter
quite freely, and there must be a great crush, or else the evening
seems a chilly affair. People now advertised their luxury and
introduced the mere foam on the wave of Parisian society into their
houses, and accordingly it was only too natural if illicit
proceedings such as they had been discussing afterward polluted the
hearth. The ladies complained that they could not recognize more
than fifty people. Where did all this crowd spring from? Young
girls with low necks were making a great display of their shoulders.
A woman had a golden dagger stuck in her chignon, while a bodice
thickly embroidered with jet beads clothed her in what looked like a
coat of mail. People's eyes kept following another lady smilingly,
so singularly marked were her clinging skirts. All the luxuriant
splendor of the departing winter was there--the overtolerant world
of pleasure, the scratch gathering a hostess can get together after
a first introduction, the sort of society, in fact, in which great
names and great shames jostle together in the same fierce quest of
enjoyment. The heat was increasing, and amid the overcrowded rooms
the quadrille unrolled the cadenced symmetry of its figures.
"Very smart--the countess!" La Faloise continued at the garden door.
"She's ten years younger than her daughter. By the by, Foucarmont,
you must decide on a point. Vandeuvres once bet that she had no
This affectation of cynicism bored the other gentlemen, and
Foucarmont contented himself by saying:
"Ask your cousin, dear boy. Here he is."
"Jove, it's a happy thought!" cried La Faloise. "I bet ten louis
she has thighs."
Fauchery did indeed come up. As became a constant inmate of the
house, he had gone round by the dining room in order to avoid the
crowded doors. Rose had taken him up again at the beginning of the
winter, and he was now dividing himself between the singer and the
countess, but he was extremely fatigued and did not know how to get
rid of one of them. Sabine flattered his vanity, but Rose amused
him more than she. Besides, the passion Rose felt was a real one:
her tenderness for him was marked by a conjugal fidelity which drove
Mignon to despair.
"Listen, we want some information," said La Faloise as he squeezed
his cousin's arm. "You see that lady in white silk?"
Ever since his inheritance had given him a kind of insolent dash of
manner he had affected to chaff Fauchery, for he had an old grudge
to satisfy and wanted to be revenged for much bygone raillery,
dating from the days when he was just fresh from his native
"Yes, that lady with the lace."
The journalist stood on tiptoe, for as yet he did not understand.
"The countess?" he said at last.
"Exactly, my good friend. I've bet ten louis--now, has she thighs?"
And he fell a-laughing, for he was delighted to have succeeded in
snubbing a fellow who had once come heavily down on him for asking
whether the countess slept with anyone. But Fauchery, without
showing the very slightest astonishment, looked fixedly at him.
"Get along, you idiot!" he said finally as he shrugged his
Then he shook hands with the other gentlemen, while La Faloise, in
his discomfiture, felt rather uncertain whether he had said
something funny. The men chatted. Since the races the banker and
Foucarmont had formed part of the set in the Avenue de Villiers.
Nana was going on much better, and every evening the count came and
asked how she did. Meanwhile Fauchery, though he listened, seemed
preoccupied, for during a quarrel that morning Rose had roundly
confessed to the sending of the letter. Oh yes, he might present
himself at his great lady's house; he would be well received! After
long hesitation he had come despite everything--out of sheer
courage. But La Faloise's imbecile pleasantry had upset him in
spite of his apparent tranquillity.
"What's the matter?" asked Philippe. "You seem in trouble."
"I do? Not at all. I've been working: that's why I came so late."
Then coldly, in one of those heroic moods which, although unnoticed,
are wont to solve the vulgar tragedies of existence:
"All the same, I haven't made my bow to our hosts. One must be
He even ventured on a joke, for he turned to La Faloise and said:
"Eh, you idiot?"
And with that he pushed his way through the crowd. The valet's full
voice was no longer shouting out names, but close to the door the
count and countess were still talking, for they were detained by
ladies coming in. At length he joined them, while the gentlemen who
were still on the garden steps stood on tiptoe so as to watch the
scene. Nana, they thought, must have been chattering.
"The count hasn't noticed him," muttered Georges. "Look out! He's
turning round; there, it's done!"
The band had again taken up the waltz in the Blonde Venus. Fauchery
had begun by bowing to the countess, who was still smiling in
ecstatic serenity. After which he had stood motionless a moment,
waiting very calmly behind the count's back. That evening the
count's deportment was one of lofty gravity: he held his head high,
as became the official and the great dignitary. And when at last he
lowered his gaze in the direction of the journalist he seemed still
further to emphasize the majesty of his attitude. For some seconds
the two men looked at one another. It was Fauchery who first
stretched out his hand. Muffat gave him his. Their hands remained
clasped, and the Countess Sabine with downcast eyes stood smiling
before them, while the waltz continually beat out its mocking,
"But the thing's going on wheels!" said Steiner.
"Are their hands glued together?" asked Foucarmont, surprised at
this prolonged clasp. A memory he could not forget brought a faint
glow to Fanchery's pale cheeks, and in his mind's eye he saw the
property room bathed in greenish twilight and filled with dusty
bric-a-brac. And Muffat was there, eggcup in hand, making a clever
use of his suspicions. At this moment Muffat was no longer
suspicious, and the last vestige of his dignity was crumbling in
ruin. Fauchery's fears were assuaged, and when he saw the frank
gaiety of the countess he was seized with a desire to laugh. The
thing struck him as comic.
"Aha, here she is at last!" cried La Faloise, who did not abandon a
jest when he thought it a good one. "D'you see Nana coming in over
"Hold your tongue, do, you idiot!" muttered Philippe.
"But I tell you, it is Nana! They're playing her waltz for her, by
Jove! She's making her entry. And she takes part in the
reconciliation, the devil she does! What? You don't see her?
She's squeezing all three of 'em to her heart--my cousin Fauchery,
my lady cousin and her husband, and she's calling 'em her dear
kitties. Oh, those family scenes give me a turn!"
Estelle had come up, and Fauchery complimented her while she stood
stiffly up in her rose-colored dress, gazing at him with the
astonished look of a silent child and constantly glancing aside at
her father and mother. Daguenet, too, exchanged a hearty shake of
the hand with the journalist. Together they made up a smiling
group, while M. Venot came gliding in behind them. He gloated over
them with a beatified expression and seemed to envelop them in his
pious sweetness, for he rejoiced in these last instances of self-
abandonment which were preparing the means of grace.
But the waltz still beat out its swinging, laughing, voluptuous
measure; it was like a shrill continuation of the life of pleasure
which was beating against the old house like a rising tide. The
band blew louder trills from their little flutes; their violins sent
forth more swooning notes. Beneath the Genoa velvet hangings, the
gilding and the paintings, the lusters exhaled a living heat and a
great glow of sunlight, while the crowd of guests, multiplied in the
surrounding mirrors, seemed to grow and increase as the murmur of
many voices rose ever louder. The couples who whirled round the
drawing room, arm about waist, amid the smiles of the seated ladies,
still further accentuated the quaking of the floors. In the garden
a dull, fiery glow fell from the Venetian lanterns and threw a
distant reflection of flame over the dark shadows moving in search
of a breath of air about the walks at its farther end. And this
trembling of walls and this red glow of light seemed to betoken a
great ultimate conflagration in which the fabric of an ancient honor
was cracking and burning on every side. The shy early beginnings of
gaiety, of which Fauchery one April evening had heard the vocal
expression in the sound of breaking glass, had little by little
grown bolder, wilder, till they had burst forth in this festival.
Now the rift was growing; it was crannying the house and announcing
approaching downfall. Among drunkards in the slums it is black
misery, an empty cupboard, which put an end to ruined families; it
is the madness of drink which empties the wretched beds. Here the
waltz tune was sounding the knell of an old race amid the suddenly
ignited ruins of accumulated wealth, while Nana, although unseen,
stretched her lithe limbs above the dancers' heads and sent
corruption through their caste, drenching the hot air with the
ferment of her exhalations and the vagabond lilt of the music.
On the evening after the celebration of the church marriage Count
Muffat made his appearance in his wife's bedroom, where he had not
entered for the last two years. At first, in her great surprise,
the countess drew back from him. But she was still smiling the
intoxicated smile which she now always wore. He began stammering in
extreme embarrassment; whereupon she gave him a short moral lecture.
However, neither of them risked a decisive explanation. It was
religion, they pretended, which required this process of mutual
forgiveness, and they agreed by a tacit understanding to retain
their freedom. Before going to bed, seeing that the countess still
appeared to hesitate, they had a business conversation, and the
count was the first to speak of selling the Bordes. She consented
at once. They both stood in great want of money, and they would
share and share alike. This completed the reconciliation, and
Muffat, remorseful though he was, felt veritably relieved.
That very day, as Nana was dozing toward two in the afternoon, Zoe
made so bold as to knock at her bedroom door. The curtains were
drawn to, and a hot breath of wind kept blowing through a window
into the fresh twilight stillness within. During these last days
the young woman had been getting up and about again, but she was
still somewhat weak. She opened her eyes and asked:
"Who is it?"
Zoe was about to reply, but Daguenet pushed by her and announced
himself in person. Nana forthwith propped herself up on her pillow
and, dismissing the lady's maid:
"What! Is that you?" she cried. "On the day of your marriage?
What can be the matter?"
Taken aback by the darkness, he stood still in the middle of the
room. However, he grew used to it and came forward at last. He was
in evening dress and wore a white cravat and gloves.
"Yes, to be sure, it's me!" he said. "You don't remember?"
No, she remembered nothing, and in his chaffing way he had to offer
himself frankly to her.
"Come now, here's your commission. I've brought you the handsel of
And with that, as he was now by the bedside, she caught him in her
bare arms and shook with merry laughter and almost cried, she
thought it so pretty of him.
"Oh, that Mimi, how funny he is! He's thought of it after all! And
to think I didn't remember it any longer! So you've slipped off;
you're just out of church. Yes, certainly, you've got a scent of
incense about you. But kiss me, kiss me! Oh, harder than that,
Mimi dear! Bah! Perhaps it's for the last time."
In the dim room, where a vague odor of ether still lingered, their
tender laughter died away suddenly. The heavy, warm breeze swelled
the window curtains, and children's voices were audible in the
avenue without. Then the lateness of the hour tore them asunder and
set them joking again. Daguenet took his departure with his wife
directly after the breakfast.
Toward the end of September Count Muffat, who was to dine at Nana's
that evening, came at nightfall to inform her of a summons to the
Tuileries. The lamps in the house had not been lit yet, and the
servants were laughing uproariously in the kitchen regions as he
softly mounted the stairs, where the tall windows gleamed in warm
shadow. The door of the drawing room up-stairs opened noiselessly.
A faint pink glow was dying out on the ceiling of the room, and the
red hangings, the deep divans, the lacquered furniture, with their
medley of embroidered fabrics and bronzes and china, were already
sleeping under a slowly creeping flood of shadows, which drowned
nooks and corners and blotted out the gleam of ivory and the glint
of gold. And there in the darkness, on the white surface of a wide,
outspread petticoat, which alone remained clearly visible, he saw
Nana lying stretched in the arms of Georges. Denial in any shape or
form was impossible. He gave a choking cry and stood gaping at
Nana had bounded up, and now she pushed him into the bedroom in
order to give the lad time to escape.
"Come in," she murmured with reeling senses, "I'll explain."
She was exasperated at being thus surprised. Never before had she
given way like this in her own house, in her own drawing room, when
the doors were open. It was a long story: Georges and she had had a
disagreement; he had been mad with jealousy of Philippe, and he had
sobbed so bitterly on her bosom that she had yielded to him, not
knowing how else to calm him and really very full of pity for him at
heart. And on this solitary occasion, when she had been stupid
enough to forget herself thus with a little rascal who could not
even now bring her bouquets of violets, so short did his mother keep
him--on this solitary occasion the count turned up and came straight
down on them. 'Gad, she had very bad luck! That was what one got
if one was a good-natured wench!
Meanwhile in the bedroom, into which she had pushed Muffat, the
darkness was complete. Whereupon after some groping she rang
furiously and asked for a lamp. It was Julien's fault too! If
there had been a lamp in the drawing room the whole affair would not
have happened. It was the stupid nightfall which had got the better
of her heart.
"I beseech you to be reasonable, my pet," she said when Zoe had
brought in the lights.
The count, with his hands on his knees, was sitting gazing at the
floor. He was stupefied by what he had just seen. He did not cry
out in anger. He only trembled, as though overtaken by some horror
which was freezing him. This dumb misery touched the young woman,
and she tried to comfort him.
"Well, yes, I've done wrong. It's very bad what I did. You see I'm
sorry for my fault. It makes me grieve very much because it annoys
you. Come now, be nice, too, and forgive me."
She had crouched down at his feet and was striving to catch his eye
with a look of tender submission. She was fain to know whether he
was very vexed with her. Presently, as he gave a long sigh and
seemed to recover himself, she grew more coaxing and with grave
kindness of manner added a final reason:
"You see, dearie, you must try and understand how it is: I can't
refuse it to my poor friends."
The count consented to give way and only insisted that Georges
should be dismissed once for all. But all his illusions had
vanished, and he no longer believed in her sworn fidelity. Next day
Nana would deceive him anew, and he only remained her miserable
possessor in obedience to a cowardly necessity and to terror at the
thought of living without her.
This was the epoch in her existence when Nana flared upon Paris with
redoubled splendor. She loomed larger than heretofore on the
horizon of vice and swayed the town with her impudently flaunted
splendor and that contempt of money which made her openly squander
fortunes. Her house had become a sort of glowing smithy, where her
continual desires were the flames and the slightest breath from her
lips changed gold into fine ashes, which the wind hourly swept away.
Never had eye beheld such a rage of expenditure. The great house
seemed to have been built over a gulf in which men--their worldly
possessions, their fortunes, their very names--were swallowed up
without leaving even a handful of dust behind them. This courtesan,
who had the tastes of a parrot and gobbled up radishes and burnt
almonds and pecked at the meat upon her plate, had monthly table
bills amounting to five thousand francs. The wildest waste went on
in the kitchen: the place, metaphorically speaking was one great
river which stove in cask upon cask of wine and swept great bills
with it, swollen by three or four successive manipulators.
Victorine and Francois reigned supreme in the kitchen, whither they
invited friends. In addition to these there was quite a little
tribe of cousins, who were cockered up in their homes with cold
meats and strong soup. Julien made the trades-people give him
commissions, and the glaziers never put up a pane of glass at a cost
of a franc and a half but he had a franc put down to himself.
Charles devoured the horses' oats and doubled the amount of their
provender, reselling at the back door what came in at the carriage
gate, while amid the general pillage, the sack of the town after the
storm, Zoe, by dint of cleverness, succeeded in saving appearances
and covering the thefts of all in order the better to slur over and
make good her own. But the household waste was worse than the
household dishonesty. Yesterday's food was thrown into the gutter,
and the collection of provisions in the house was such that the
servants grew disgusted with it. The glass was all sticky with
sugar, and the gas burners flared and flared till the rooms seemed
ready to explode. Then, too, there were instances of negligence and
mischief and sheer accident--of everything, in fact, which can
hasten the ruin of a house devoured by so many mouths. Upstairs in
Madame's quarters destruction raged more fiercely still. Dresses,
which cost ten thousand francs and had been twice worn, were sold by
Zoe; jewels vanished as though they had crumbled deep down in their
drawers; stupid purchases were made; every novelty of the day was
brought and left to lie forgotten in some corner the morning after
or swept up by ragpickers in the street. She could not see any very
expensive object without wanting to possess it, and so she
constantly surrounded herself with the wrecks of bouquets and costly
knickknacks and was the happier the more her passing fancy cost.
Nothing remained intact in her hands; she broke everything, and this
object withered, and that grew dirty in the clasp of her lithe white
fingers. A perfect heap of nameless debris, of twisted shreds and
muddy rags, followed her and marked her passage. Then amid this
utter squandering of pocket money cropped up a question about the
big bills and their settlement. Twenty thousand francs were due to
the modiste, thirty thousand to the linen draper, twelve thousand to
the bootmaker. Her stable devoured fifty thousand for her, and in
six months she ran up a bill of a hundred and twenty thousand francs
at her ladies' tailor. Though she had not enlarged her scheme of
expenditure, which Labordette reckoned at four hundred thousand
francs on an average, she ran up that same year to a million. She
was herself stupefied by the amount and was unable to tell whither
such a sum could have gone. Heaps upon heaps of men, barrowfuls of
gold, failed to stop up the hole, which, amid this ruinous luxury,
continually gaped under the floor of her house.
Meanwhile Nana had cherished her latest caprice. Once more
exercised by the notion that her room needed redoing, she fancied
she had hit on something at last. The room should be done in velvet
of the color of tea roses, with silver buttons and golden cords,
tassels and fringes, and the hangings should be caught up to the
ceiling after the manner of a tent. This arrangement ought to be
both rich and tender, she thought, and would form a splendid
background to her blonde vermeil-tinted skin. However, the bedroom
was only designed to serve as a setting to the bed, which was to be
a dazzling affair, a prodigy. Nana meditated a bed such as had
never before existed; it was to be a throne, an altar, whither Paris
was to come in order to adore her sovereign nudity. It was to be
all in gold and silver beaten work--it should suggest a great piece
of jewelry with its golden roses climbing on a trelliswork of
silver. On the headboard a band of Loves should peep forth laughing
from amid the flowers, as though they were watching the voluptuous
dalliance within the shadow of the bed curtains. Nana had applied
to Labordette who had brought two goldsmiths to see her. They were
already busy with the designs. The bed would cost fifty thousand
francs, and Muffat was to give it her as a New Year's present.
What most astonished the young woman was that she was endlessly
short of money amid a river of gold, the tide of which almost
enveloped her. On certain days she was at her wit's end for want of
ridiculously small sums--sums of only a few louis. She was driven
to borrow from Zoe, or she scraped up cash as well as she could on
her own account. But before resignedly adopting extreme measures
she tried her friends and in a joking sort of way got the men to
give her all they had about them, even down to their coppers. For
the last three months she had been emptying Philippe's pockets
especially, and now on days of passionate enjoyment he never came
away but he left his purse behind him. Soon she grew bolder and
asked him for loans of two hundred francs, three hundred francs--
never more than that--wherewith to pay the interest of bills or to
stave off outrageous debts. And Philippe, who in July had been
appointed paymaster to his regiment, would bring the money the day
after, apologizing at the same time for not being rich, seeing that
good Mamma Hugon now treated her sons with singular financial
severity. At the close of three months these little oft-renewed
loans mounted up to a sum of ten thousand francs. The captain still
laughed his hearty-sounding laugh, but he was growing visibly
thinner, and sometimes he seemed absent-minded, and a shade of
suffering would pass over his face. But one look from Nana's eyes
would transfigure him in a sort of sensual ecstasy. She had a very
coaxing way with him and would intoxicate him with furtive kisses
and yield herself to him in sudden fits of self-abandonment, which
tied him to her apron strings the moment he was able to escape from
his military duties.
One evening, Nana having announced that her name, too, was Therese
and that her fete day was the fifteenth of October, the gentlemen
all sent her presents. Captain Philippe brought his himself; it was
an old comfit dish in Dresden china, and it had a gold mount. He
found her alone in her dressing room. She had just emerged from the
bath, had nothing on save a great red-and-white flannel bathing wrap
and was very busy examining her presents, which were ranged on a
table. She had already broken a rock-crystal flask in her attempts
to unstopper it.
"Oh, you're too nice!" she said. "What is it? Let's have a peep!
What a baby you are to spend your pennies in little fakements like
She scolded him, seeing that he was not rich, but at heart she was
delighted to see him spending his whole substance for her. Indeed,
this was the only proof of love which had power to touch her.
Meanwhile she was fiddling away at the comfit dish, opening it and
shutting it in her desire to see how it was made.
"Take care," he murmured, "it's brittle."
But she shrugged her shoulders. Did he think her as clumsy as a
street porter? And all of a sudden the hinge came off between her
fingers and the lid fell and was broken. She was stupefied and
remained gazing at the fragments as she cried:
"Oh, it's smashed!"
Then she burst out laughing. The fragments lying on the floor
tickled her fancy. Her merriment was of the nervous kind, the
stupid, spiteful laughter of a child who delights in destruction.
Philippe had a little fit of disgust, for the wretched girl did not
know what anguish this curio had cost him. Seeing him thoroughly
upset, she tried to contain herself.
"Gracious me, it isn't my fault! It was cracked; those old things
barely hold together. Besides, it was the cover! Didn't you see
the bound it gave?
And she once more burst into uproarious mirth.
But though he made an effort to the contrary, tears appeared in the
young man's eyes, and with that she flung her arms tenderly round
"How silly you are! You know I love you all the same. If one never
broke anything the tradesmen would never sell anything. All that
sort of thing's made to be broken. Now look at this fan; it's only
held together with glue!"
She had snatched up a fan and was dragging at the blades so that the
silk was torn in two. This seemed to excite her, and in order to
show that she scorned the other presents, the moment she had ruined
his she treated herself to a general massacre, rapping each
successive object and proving clearly that not one was solid in that
she had broken them all. There was a lurid glow in her vacant eyes,
and her lips, slightly drawn back, displayed her white teeth. Soon,
when everything was in fragments, she laughed cheerily again and
with flushed cheeks beat on the table with the flat of her hands,
lisping like a naughty little girl:
"All over! Got no more! Got no more!"
Then Philippe was overcome by the same mad excitement, and, pushing
her down, he merrily kissed her bosom. She abandoned herself to him
and clung to his shoulders with such gleeful energy that she could
not remember having enjoyed herself so much for an age past.
Without letting go of him she said caressingly:
"I say, dearie, you ought certainly to bring me ten louis tomorrow.
It's a bore, but there's the baker's bill worrying me awfully."
He had grown pale. Then imprinting a final kiss on her forehead, he
Silence reigned. She was dressing, and he stood pressing his
forehead against the windowpanes. A minute passed, and he returned
to her and deliberately continued:
"Nana, you ought to marry me."
This notion straightway so tickled the young woman that she was
unable to finish tying on her petticoats.
"My poor pet, you're ill! D'you offer me your hand because I ask
you for ten louis? No, never! I'm too fond of you. Good gracious,
what a silly question!"
And as Zoe entered in order to put her boots on, they ceased talking
of the matter. The lady's maid at once espied the presents lying
broken in pieces on the table. She asked if she should put these
things away, and, Madame having bidden her get rid of them, she
carried the whole collection off in the folds of her dress. In the
kitchen a sorting-out process began, and Madame's debris were shared
among the servants.
That day Georges had slipped into the house despite Nana's orders to
the contrary. Francois had certainly seen him pass, but the
servants had now got to laugh among themselves at their good lady's
embarrassing situations. He had just slipped as far as the little
drawing room when his brother's voice stopped him, and, as one
powerless to tear himself from the door, he overheard everything
that went on within, the kisses, the offer of marriage. A feeling
of horror froze him, and he went away in a state bordering on
imbecility, feeling as though there were a great void in his brain.
It was only in his own room above his mother's flat in the Rue
Richelieu that his heart broke in a storm of furious sobs. This
time there could be no doubt about the state of things; a horrible
picture of Nana in Philippe's arms kept rising before his mind's
eye. It struck him in the light of an incest. When he fancied
himself calm again the remembrance of it all would return, and in
fresh access of raging jealousy he would throw himself on the bed,
biting the coverlet, shouting infamous accusations which maddened
him the more. Thus the day passed. In order to stay shut up in his
room he spoke of having a sick headache. But the night proved more
terrible still; a murder fever shook him amid continual nightmares.
Had his brother lived in the house, he would have gone and killed
him with the stab of a knife. When day returned he tried to reason
things out. It was he who ought to die, and he determined to throw
himself out of the window when an omnibus was passing.
Nevertheless, he went out toward ten o'clock and traversed Paris,
wandered up and down on the bridges and at the last moment felt an
unconquerable desire to see Nana once more. With one word, perhaps,
she would save him. And three o'clock was striking when he entered
the house in the Avenue de Villiers.
Toward noon a frightful piece of news had simply crushed Mme Hugon.
Philippe had been in prison since the evening of the previous day,
accused of having stolen twelve thousand francs from the chest of
his regiment. For the last three months he had been withdrawing
small sums therefrom in the hope of being able to repay them, while
he had covered the deficit with false money. Thanks to the
negligence of the administrative committee, this fraud had been
constantly successful. The old lady, humbled utterly by her child's
crime, had at once cried out in anger against Nana. She knew
Philippe's connection with her, and her melancholy had been the
result of this miserable state of things which kept her in Paris in
constant dread of some final catastrophe. But she had never looked
forward to such shame as this, and now she blamed herself for
refusing him money, as though such refusal had made her accessory to
his act. She sank down on an armchair; her legs were seized with
paralysis, and she felt herself to be useless, incapable of action
and destined to stay where she was till she died. But the sudden
thought of Georges comforted her. Georges was still left her; he
would be able to act, perhaps to save them. Thereupon, without
seeking aid of anyone else--for she wished to keep these matters
shrouded in the bosom of her family--she dragged herself up to the
next story, her mind possessed by the idea that she still had
someone to love about her. But upstairs she found an empty room.
The porter told her that M. Georges had gone out at an early hour.
The room was haunted by the ghost of yet another calamity; the bed
with its gnawed bedclothes bore witness to someone's anguish, and a
chair which lay amid a heap of clothes on the ground looked like
something dead. Georges must be at that woman's house, and so with
dry eyes and feet that had regained their strength Mme Hugon went
downstairs. She wanted her sons; she was starting to reclaim them.
Since morning Nana had been much worried. First of all it was the
baker, who at nine o'clock had turned up, bill in hand. It was a
wretched story. He had supplied her with bread to the amount of a
hundred and thirty-three francs, and despite her royal housekeeping
she could not pay it. In his irritation at being put off he had
presented himself a score of times since the day he had refused
further credit, and the servants were now espousing his cause.
Francois kept saying that Madame would never pay him unless he made
a fine scene; Charles talked of going upstairs, too, in order to get
an old unpaid straw bill settled, while Victorine advised them to
wait till some gentleman was with her, when they would get the money
out of her by suddenly asking for it in the middle of conversation.
The kitchen was in a savage mood: the tradesmen were all kept posted
in the course events were taking, and there were gossiping
consultations, lasting three or four hours on a stretch, during
which Madame was stripped, plucked and talked over with the wrathful
eagerness peculiar to an idle, overprosperous servants' hall.
Julien, the house steward, alone pretended to defend his mistress.
She was quite the thing, whatever they might say! And when the
others accused him of sleeping with her he laughed fatuously,
thereby driving the cook to distraction, for she would have liked to
be a man in order to "spit on such women's backsides," so utterly
would they have disgusted her. Francois, without informing Madame
of it, had wickedly posted the baker in the hall, and when she came
downstairs at lunch time she found herself face to face with him.
Taking the bill, she told him to return toward three o'clock,
whereupon, with many foul expressions, he departed, vowing that he
would have things properly settled and get his money by hook or by
Nana made a very bad lunch, for the scene had annoyed her. Next
time the man would have to be definitely got rid of. A dozen times
she had put his money aside for him, but it had as constantly melted
away, sometimes in the purchase of flowers, at others in the shape
of a subscription got up for the benefit of an old gendarme.
Besides, she was counting on Philippe and was astonished not to see
him make his appearance with his two hundred francs. It was regular
bad luck, seeing that the day before yesterday she had again given
Satin an outfit, a perfect trousseau this time, some twelve hundred
francs' worth of dresses and linen, and now she had not a louis
Toward two o'clock, when Nana was beginning to be anxious,
Labordette presented himself. He brought with him the designs for
the bed, and this caused a diversion, a joyful interlude which made
the young woman forget all her troubles. She clapped her hands and
danced about. After which, her heart bursting wish curiosity, she
leaned over a table in the drawing room and examined the designs,
which Labordette proceeded to explain to her.
"You see," he said, "this is the body of the bed. In the middle
here there's a bunch of roses in full bloom, and then comes a
garland of buds and flowers. The leaves are to be in yellow and the
roses in red-gold. And here's the grand design for the bed's head;
Cupids dancing in a ring on a silver trelliswork."
But Nana interrupted him, for she was beside herself with ecstasy.
"Oh, how funny that little one is, that one in the corner, with his
behind in the air! Isn't he now? And what a sly laugh! They've
all got such dirty, wicked eyes! You know, dear boy, I shall never
dare play any silly tricks before THEM!"
Her pride was flattered beyond measure. The goldsmiths had declared
that no queen anywhere slept in such a bed. However, a difficulty
presented itself. Labordette showed her two designs for the
footboard, one of which reproduced the pattern on the sides, while
the other, a subject by itself, represented Night wrapped in her
veil and discovered by a faun in all her splendid nudity. He added
that if she chose this last subject the goldsmiths intended making
Night in her own likeness. This idea, the taste of which was rather
risky, made her grow white with pleasure, and she pictured herself
as a silver statuette, symbolic of the warm, voluptuous delights of
"Of course you will only sit for the head and shoulders," said
She looked quietly at him.
"Why? The moment a work of art's in question I don't mind the
sculptor that takes my likeness a blooming bit!"
Of course it must be understood that she was choosing the subject.
But at this he interposed.
"Wait a moment; it's six thousand francs extra."
"It's all the same to me, by Jove!" she cried, bursting into a
laugh. "Hasn't my little rough got the rhino?"
Nowadays among her intimates she always spoke thus of Count Muffat,
and the gentlemen had ceased to inquire after him otherwise.
"Did you see your little rough last night?" they used to say.
"Dear me, I expected to find the little rough here!"
It was a simple familiarity enough, which, nevertheless, she did not
as yet venture on in his presence.
Labordette began rolling up the designs as he gave the final
explanations. The goldsmiths, he said, were undertaking to deliver
the bed in two months' time, toward the twenty-fifth of December,
and next week a sculptor would come to make a model for the Night.
As she accompanied him to the door Nana remembered the baker and
"By the by, you wouldn't be having ten louis about you?"
Labordette made it a solemn rule, which stood him in good stead,
never to lend women money. He used always to make the same reply.
"No, my girl, I'm short. But would you like me to go to your little
She refused; it was useless. Two days before she had succeeded in
getting five thousand francs out of the count. However, she soon
regretted her discreet conduct, for the moment Labordette had gone
the baker reappeared, though it was barely half-past two, and with
many loud oaths roughly settled himself on a bench in the hall. The
young woman listened to him from the first floor. She was pale, and
it caused her especial pain to hear the servants' secret rejoicings
swelling up louder and louder till they even reached her ears. Down
in the kitchen they were dying of laughter. The coachman was
staring across from the other side of the court; Francois was
crossing the hall without any apparent reason. Then he hurried off
to report progress, after sneering knowingly at the baker. They
didn't care a damn for Madame; the walls were echoing to their
laughter, and she felt that she was deserted on all hands and
despised by the servants' hall, the inmates of which were watching
her every movement and liberally bespattering her with the filthiest
of chaff. Thereupon she abandoned the intention of borrowing the
hundred and thirty-three francs from Zoe; she already owed the maid
money, and she was too proud to risk a refusal now. Such a burst of
feeling stirred her that she went back into her room, loudly
"Come, come, my girl, don't count on anyone but yourself. Your
body's your own property, and it's better to make use of it than to
let yourself be insulted."
And without even summoning Zoe she dressed herself with feverish
haste in order to run round to the Tricon's. In hours of great
embarrassment this was her last resource. Much sought after and
constantly solicited by the old lady, she would refuse or resign
herself according to her needs, and on these increasingly frequent
occasions when both ends would not meet in her royally conducted
establishment, she was sure to find twenty-five louis awaiting her
at the other's house. She used to betake herself to the Tricon's
with the ease born of use, just as the poor go to the pawnshop.
But as she left her own chamber Nana came suddenly upon Georges
standing in the middle of the drawing room. Not noticing his waxen
pallor and the somber fire in his wide eyes, she gave a sigh of
"Ah, you've come from your brother."
"No," said the lad, growing yet paler.
At this she gave a despairing shrug. What did he want? Why was he
barring her way? She was in a hurry--yes, she was. Then returning
to where he stood:
"You've no money, have you?"
"That's true. How silly of me! Never a stiver; not even their
omnibus fares Mamma doesn't wish it! Oh, what a set of men!"
And she escaped. But he held her back; he wanted to speak to her.
She was fairly under way and again declared she had no time, but he
stopped her with a word.
"Listen, I know you're going to marry my brother."
Gracious! The thing was too funny! And she let herself down into a
chair in order to laugh at her ease.
"Yes," continued the lad, "and I don't wish it. It's I you're going
to marry. That's why I've come."
"Eh, what? You too?" she cried. "Why, it's a family disease, is
it? No, never! What a fancy, to be sure! Have I ever asked you to
do anything so nasty? Neither one nor t'other of you! No, never!"
The lad's face brightened. Perhaps he had been deceiving himself!
"Then swear to me that you don't go to bed with my brother."
"Oh, you're beginning to bore me now!" said Nana, who had risen with
renewed impatience. "It's amusing for a little while, but when I
tell you I'm in a hurry--I go to bed with your brother if it pleases
me. Are you keeping me--are you paymaster here that you insist on
my making a report? Yes, I go to bed with your brother."
He had caught hold of her arm and squeezed it hard enough to break
it as he stuttered:
"Don't say that! Don't say that!"
With a slight blow she disengaged herself from his grasp.
"He's maltreating me now! Here's a young ruffian for you! My
chicken, you'll leave this jolly sharp. I used to keep you about
out of niceness. Yes, I did! You may stare! Did you think I was
going to be your mamma till I died? I've got better things to do
than to bring up brats."
He listened to her stark with anguish, yet in utter submission. Her
every word cut him to the heart so sharply that he felt he should
die. She did not so much as notice his suffering and continued
delightedly to revenge herself on him for the annoyance of the
"It's like your brother; he's another pretty Johnny, he is! He
promised me two hundred francs. Oh, dear me; yes, I can wait for
'em. It isn't his money I care for! I've not got enough to pay for
hair oil. Yes, he's leaving me in a jolly fix! Look here, d'you
want to know how matters stand? Here goes then: it's all owing to
your brother that I'm going out to earn twenty-five louis with
At these words his head spun, and he barred her egress. He cried;
he besought her not to go, clasping his hands together and blurting
"Oh no! Oh no!"
"I want to, I do," she said. "Have you the money?"
No, he had not got the money. He would have given his life to have
the money! Never before had he felt so miserable, so useless, so
very childish. All his wretched being was shaken with weeping and
gave proof of such heavy suffering that at last she noticed it and
grew kind. She pushed him away softly.
"Come, my pet, let me pass; I must. Be reasonable. You're a baby
boy, and it was very nice for a week, but nowadays I must look after
my own affairs. Just think it over a bit. Now your brother's a
man; what I'm saying doesn't apply to him. Oh, please do me a
favor; it's no good telling him all this. He needn't know where I'm
going. I always let out too much when I'm in a rage."
She began laughing. Then taking him in her arms and kissing him on
"Good-by, baby," she said; "it's over, quite over between us; d'you
understand? And now I'm off!"
And she left him, and he stood in the middle of the drawing room.
Her last words rang like the knell of a tocsin in his ears: "It's
over, quite over!" And he thought the ground was opening beneath
his feet. There was a void in his brain from which the man awaiting
Nana had disappeared. Philippe alone remained there in the young
woman's bare embrace forever and ever. She did not deny it: she
loved him, since she wanted to spare him the pain of her infidelity.
It was over, quite over. He breathed heavily and gazed round the
room, suffocating beneath a crushing weight. Memories kept
recurring to him one after the other--memories of merry nights at La
Mignotte, of amorous hours during which he had fancied himself her
child, of pleasures stolen in this very room. And now these things
would never, never recur! He was too small; he had not grown up
quickly enough; Philippe was supplanting him because he was a
bearded man. So then this was the end; he could not go on living.
His vicious passion had become transformed into an infinite
tenderness, a sensual adoration, in which his whole being was
merged. Then, too, how was he to forget it all if his brother
remained--his brother, blood of his blood, a second self, whose
enjoyment drove him mad with jealousy? It was the end of all
things; he wanted to die.
All the doors remained open, as the servants noisily scattered over
the house after seeing Madame make her exit on foot. Downstairs on
the bench in the hall the baker was laughing with Charles and
Francois. Zoe came running across the drawing room and seemed
surprised at sight of Georges. She asked him if he were waiting for
Madame. Yes, he was waiting for her; he had for-gotten to give her
an answer to a question. And when he was alone he set to work and
searched. Finding nothing else to suit his purpose, he took up in
the dressing room a pair of very sharply pointed scissors with which
Nana had a mania for ceaselessly trimming herself, either by
polishing her skin or cutting off little hairs. Then for a whole
hour he waited patiently, his hand in his pocket and his fingers
tightly clasped round the scissors.
"Here's Madame," said Zoe, returning. She must have espied her
through the bedroom window.
There was a sound of people racing through the house, and laughter
died away and doors were shut. Georges heard Nana paying the baker
and speaking in the curtest way. Then she came upstairs.
"What, you're here still!" she said as she noticed him. "Aha!
We're going to grow angry, my good man!"
He followed her as she walked toward her bedroom.
"Nana, will you marry me?"
She shrugged her shoulders. It was too stupid; she refused to
answer any more and conceived the idea of slamming the door in his
"Nana, will you marry me?"
She slammed the door. He opened it with one hand while he brought
the other and the scissors out of his pocket. And with one great
stab he simply buried them in his breast.
Nana, meanwhile, had felt conscious that something dreadful would
happen, and she had turned round. When she saw him stab himself she
was seized with indignation.
"Oh, what a fool he is! What a fool! And with my scissors! Will
you leave off, you naughty little rogue? Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
She was scared. Sinking on his knees, the boy had just given
himself a second stab, which sent him down at full length on the
carpet. He blocked the threshold of the bedroom. With that Nana
lost her head utterly and screamed with all her might, for she dared
not step over his body, which shut her in and prevented her from
running to seek assistance.
"Zoe! Zoe! Come at once. Make him leave off. It's getting
stupid--a child like that! He's killing himself now! And in my
place too! Did you ever see the like of it?"
He was frightening her. He was all white, and his eyes were shut.
There was scarcely any bleeding--only a little blood, a tiny stain
which was oozing down into his waistcoat. She was making up her
mind to step over the body when an apparition sent her starting
back. An old lady was advancing through the drawing-room door,
which remained wide open opposite. And in her terror she recognized
Mme Hugon but could not explain her presence. Still wearing her
gloves and hat, Nana kept edging backward, and her terror grew so
great that she sought to defend herself, and in a shaky voice:
"Madame," she cried, "it isn't I; I swear to you it isn't. He
wanted to marry me, and I said no, and he's killed himself!"
Slowly Mme Hugon drew near--she was in black, and her face showed
pale under her white hair. In the carriage, as she drove thither,
the thought of Georges had vanished and that of Philippe's misdoing
had again taken complete possession of her. It might be that this
woman could afford explanations to the judges which would touch
them, and so she conceived the project of begging her to bear
witness in her son's favor. Downstairs the doors of the house stood
open, but as she mounted to the first floor her sick feet failed
her, and she was hesitating as to which way to go when suddenly
horror-stricken cries directed her. Then upstairs she found a man
lying on the floor with bloodstained shirt. It was Georges--it was
her other child.
Nana, in idiotic tones, kept saying:
"He wanted to marry me, and I said no, and he's killed himself."
Uttering no cry, Mme Hugon stooped down. Yes, it was the other one;
it was Georges. The one was brought to dishonor, the other
murdered! It caused her no surprise, for her whole life was ruined.
Kneeling on the carpet, utterly forgetting where she was, noticing
no one else, she gazed fixedly at her boy's face and listened with
her hand on his heart. Then she gave a feeble sigh--she had felt
the heart beating. And with that she lifted her head and
scrutinized the room and the woman and seemed to remember. A fire
glowed forth in her vacant eyes, and she looked so great and
terrible in her silence that Nana trembled as she continued to
defend herself above the body that divided them.
"I swear it, madame! If his brother were here he could explain it
"His brother has robbed--he is in prison," said the mother in a hard
Nana felt a choking sensation. Why, what was the reason of it all?
The other had turned thief now! They were mad in that family! She
ceased struggling in self-defense; she seemed no longer mistress in
her own house and allowed Mme Hugon to give what orders she liked.
The servants had at last hurried up, and the old lady insisted on
their carrying the fainting Georges down to her carriage. She
preferred killing him rather than letting him remain in that house.
With an air of stupefaction Nana watched the retreating servants as
they supported poor, dear Zizi by his legs and shoulders. The
mother walked behind them in a state of collapse; she supported
herself against the furniture; she felt as if all she held dear had
vanished in the void. On the landing a sob escaped her; she turned
and twice ejaculated:
"Oh, but you've done us infinite harm! You've done us infinite
That was all. In her stupefaction Nana had sat down; she still wore
her gloves and her hat. The house once more lapsed into heavy
silence; the carriage had driven away, and she sat motionless, not
knowing what to do next. her head swimming after all she had gone
through. A quarter of an hour later Count Muffat found her thus,
but at sight of him she relieved her feelings in an overflowing
current of talk. She told him all about the sad incident, repeated
the same details twenty times over, picked up the bloodstained
scissors in order to imitate Zizi's gesture when he stabbed himself.
And above all she nursed the idea of proving her own innocence.
"Look you here, dearie, is it my fault? If you were the judge would
you condemn me? I certainly didn't tell Philippe to meddle with the
till any more than I urged that wretched boy to kill himself. I've
been most unfortunate throughout it all. They come and do stupid
things in my place; they make me miserable; they treat me like a
And she burst into tears. A fit of nervous expansiveness rendered
her soft and doleful, and her immense distress melted her utterly.
"And you, too, look as if you weren't satisfied. Now do just ask
Zoe if I'm at all mixed up in it. Zoe, do speak: explain to
The lady's maid, having brought a towel and a basin of water out of
the dressing room, had for some moments past been rubbing the carpet
in order to remove the bloodstains before they dried.
"Oh, monsieur, " she declared, "Madame is utterly miserable!"
Muffat was still stupefied; the tragedy had frozen him, and his
imagination was full of the mother weeping for her sons. He knew
her greatness of heart and pictured her in her widow's weeds,
withering solitarily away at Les Fondettes. But Nana grew ever more
despondent, for now the memory of Zizi lying stretched on the floor,
with a red hole in his shirt, almost drove her senseless.
"He used to be such a darling, so sweet and caressing. Oh, you
know, my pet--I'm sorry if it vexes you--I loved that baby! I can't
help saying so; the words must out. Besides, now it ought not to
hurt you at all. He's gone. You've got what you wanted; you're
quite certain never to surprise us again."
And this last reflection tortured her with such regret that he ended
by turning comforter. Well, well, he said, she ought to be brave;
she was quite right; it wasn't her fault! But she checked her
lamentations of her own accord in order to say:
"Listen, you must run round and bring me news of him. At once! I
He took his hat and went to get news of Georges. When he returned
after some three quarters of an hour he saw Nana leaning anxiously
out of a window, and he shouted up to her from the pavement that the
lad was not dead and that they even hoped to bring him through. At
this she immediately exchanged grief for excess of joy and began to
sing and dance and vote existence delightful. Zoe, meanwhile, was
still dissatisfied with her washing. She kept looking at the stain,
and every time she passed it she repeated:
"You know it's not gone yet, madame."
As a matter of fact, the pale red stain kept reappearing on one of
the white roses in the carpet pattern. It was as though, on the
very threshold of the room, a splash of blood were barring the
"Bah!" said the joyous Nana. "That'l be rubbed out under people's
After the following day Count Muffat had likewise forgotten the
incident. For a moment or two, when in the cab which drove him to
the Rue Richelieu, he had busily sworn never to return to that
woman's house. Heaven was warning him; the misfortunes of Philippe
and Georges were, he opined, prophetic of his proper ruin. But
neither the sight of Mme Hugon in tears nor that of the boy burning
with fever had been strong enough to make him keep his vow, and the
short-lived horror of the situation had only left behind it a sense
of secret delight at the thought that he was now well quit of a
rival, the charm of whose youth had always exasperated him. His
passion had by this time grown exclusive; it was, indeed, the
passion of a man who has had no youth. He loved Nana as one who
yearned to be her sole possessor, to listen to her, to touch her, to
be breathed on by her. His was now a supersensual tenderness,
verging on pure sentiment; it was an anxious affection and as such
was jealous of the past and apt at times to dream of a day of
redemption and pardon received, when both should kneel before God
the Father. Every day religion kept regaining its influence over
him. He again became a practicing Christian; he confessed himself
and communicated, while a ceaseless struggle raged within him, and
remorse redoubled the joys of sin and of repentance. Afterward,
when his director gave him leave to spend his passion, he had made a
habit of this daily perdition and would redeem the same by ecstasies
of faith, which were full of pious humility. Very naively he
offered heaven, by way of expiatory anguish, the abominable torment
from which he was suffering. This torment grew and increased, and
he would climb his Calvary with the deep and solemn feelings of a
believer, though steeped in a harlot's fierce sensuality. That
which made his agony most poignant was this woman's continued
faithlessness. He could not share her with others, nor did he
understand her imbecile caprices. Undying, unchanging love was what
he wished for. However, she had sworn, and he paid her as having
done so. But he felt that she was untruthful, incapable of common
fidelity, apt to yield to friends, to stray passers-by, like a good-
natured animal, born to live minus a shift.
One morning when he saw Foucarmont emerging from her bedroom at an
unusual hour, he made a scene about it. But in her weariness of his
jealousy she grew angry directly. On several occasions ere that she
had behaved rather prettily. Thus the evening when he surprised her
with Georges she was the first to regain her temper and to confess
herself in the wrong. She had loaded him with caresses and dosed
him with soft speeches in order to make him swallow the business.
But he had ended by boring her to death with his obstinate refusals
to understand the feminine nature, and now she was brutal.
"Very well, yes! I've slept with Foucarmont. What then? That's
flattened you out a bit, my little rough, hasn't it?"
It was the first time she had thrown "my little rough" in his teeth.
The frank directness of her avowal took his breath away, and when he
began clenching his fists she marched up to him and looked him full
in the face.
"We've had enough of this, eh? If it doesn't suit you you'll do me
the pleasure of leaving the house. I don't want you to go yelling
in my place. Just you get it into your noodle that I mean to be
quite free. When a man pleases me I go to bed with him. Yes, I do--
that's my way! And you must make up your mind directly. Yes or
no! If it's no, out you may walk!"
She had gone and opened the door, but he did not leave. That was
her way now of binding him more closely to her. For no reason
whatever, at the slightest approach to a quarrel she would tell him
he might stop or go as he liked, and she would accompany her
permission with a flood of odious reflections. She said she could
always find better than he; she had only too many from whom to
choose; men in any quantity could be picked up in the street, and
men a good deal smarter, too, whose blood boiled in their veins. At
this he would hang his head and wait for those gentler moods when
she wanted money. She would then become affectionate, and he would
forget it all, one night of tender dalliance making up for the
tortures of a whole week. His reconciliation with his wife had
rendered his home unbearable. Fauchery, having again fallen under
Rose's dominion, the countess was running madly after other loves.
She was entering on the forties, that restless, feverish time in the
life of women, and ever hysterically nervous, she now filled her
mansion with the maddening whirl of her fashionable life. Estelle,
since her marriage, had seen nothing of her father; the undeveloped,
insignificant girl had suddenly become a woman of iron will, so
imperious withal that Daguenet trembled in her presence. In these
days he accompanied her to mass: he was converted, and he raged
against his father-in-law for ruining them with a courtesan. M.
Venot alone still remained kindly inclined toward the count, for he
was biding his time. He had even succeeded in getting into Nana's
immediate circle. In fact, he frequented both houses, where you
encountered his continual smile behind doors. So Muffat, wretched
at home, driven out by ennui and shame, still preferred to live in
the Avenue de Villiers, even though he was abused there.
Soon there was but one question between Nana and the count, and that
was "money." One day after having formally promised her ten
thousand francs he had dared keep his appointment empty handed. For
two days past she had been surfeiting him with love, and such a
breach of faith, such a waste of caresses, made her ragingly
abusive. She was white with fury.
"So you've not got the money, eh? Then go back where you came from,
my little rough, and look sharp about it! There's a bloody fool for
you! He wanted to kiss me again! Mark my words--no money, no
He explained matters; he would be sure to have the money the day
after tomorrow. But she interrupted him violently:
"And my bills! They'll sell me up while Monsieur's playing the
fool. Now then, look at yourself. D'ye think I love you for your
figure? A man with a mug like yours has to pay the women who are
kind enough to put up with him. By God, if you don't bring me that
ten thousand francs tonight you shan't even have the tip of my
little finger to suck. I mean it! I shall send you back to your
At night he brought the ten thousand francs. Nana put up her lips,
and he took a long kiss which consoled him for the whole day of
anguish. What annoyed the young woman was to have him continually
tied to her apron strings. She complained to M. Venot, begging him
to take her little rough off to the countess. Was their
reconciliation good for nothing then? She was sorry she had mixed
herself up in it, since despite everything he was always at her
heels. On the days when, out of anger, she forgot her own interest,
she swore to play him such a dirty trick that he would never again
be able to set foot in her place. But when she slapped her leg and
yelled at him she might quite as well have spat in his face too: he
would still have stayed and even thanked her. Then the rows about
money matters kept continually recurring. She demanded money
savagely; she rowed him over wretched little amounts; she was
odiously stingy with every minute of her time; she kept fiercely
informing him that she slept with him for his money, not for any
other reasons, and that she did not enjoy it a bit, that, in fact,
she loved another and was awfully unfortunate in needing an idiot of
his sort! They did not even want him at court now, and there was
some talk of requiring him to send in his resignation. The empress
had said, "He is too disgusting." It was true enough. So Nana
repeated the phrase by way of closure to all their quarrels.
"Look here! You disgust me!"
Nowadays she no longer minded her ps and qs; she had regained the
most perfect freedom.
Every day she did her round of the lake, beginning acquaintanceships
which ended elsewhere. Here was the happy hunting ground par
excellence, where courtesans of the first water spread their nets in
open daylight and flaunted themselves amid the tolerating smiles and
brilliant luxury of Paris. Duchesses pointed her out to one another
with a passing look--rich shopkeepers' wives copied the fashion of
her hats. Sometimes her landau, in its haste to get by, stopped a
file of puissant turnouts, wherein sat plutocrats able to buy up all
Europe or Cabinet ministers with plump fingers tight-pressed to the
throat of France. She belonged to this Bois society, occupied a
prominent place in it, was known in every capital and asked about by
every foreigner. The splendors of this crowd were enhanced by the
madness of her profligacy as though it were the very crown, the
darling passion, of the nation. Then there were unions of a night,
continual passages of desire, which she lost count of the morning
after, and these sent her touring through the grand restaurants and
on fine days, as often as not, to "Madrid." The staffs of all the
embassies visited her, and she, Lucy Stewart, Caroline Hequet and
Maria Blond would dine in the society of gentlemen who murdered the
French language and paid to be amused, engaging them by the evening
with orders to be funny and yet proving so blase and so worn out
that they never even touched them. This the ladies called "going on
a spree," and they would return home happy at having been despised
and would finish the night in the arms of the lovers of their
When she did not actually throw the men at his head Count Muffat
pretended not to know about all this. However, he suffered not a
little from the lesser indignities of their daily life. The mansion
in the Avenue de Villiers was becoming a hell, a house full of mad
people, in which every hour of the day wild disorders led to hateful
complications. Nana even fought with her servants. One moment she
would be very nice with Charles, the coachman. When she stopped at
a restaurant she would send him out beer by the waiter and would
talk with him from the inside of her carriage when he slanged the
cabbies at a block in the traffic, for then he struck her as funny
and cheered her up. Then the next moment she called him a fool for
no earthly reason. She was always squabbling over the straw, the
bran or the oats; in spite of her love for animals she thought her
horses ate too much. Accordingly one day when she was settling up
she accused the man of robbing her. At this Charles got in a rage
and called her a whore right out; his horses, he said, were
distinctly better than she was, for they did not sleep with
everybody. She answered him in the same strain, and the count had
to separate them and give the coachman the sack. This was the
beginning of a rebellion among the servants. When her diamonds had
been stolen Victorine and Francois left. Julien himself
disappeared, and the tale ran that the master had given him a big
bribe and had begged him to go, because he slept with the mistress.
Every week there were new faces in the servants' hall. Never was
there such a mess; the house was like a passage down which the scum
of the registry offices galloped, destroying everything in their
path. Zoe alone kept her place; she always looked clean, and her
only anxiety was how to organize this riot until she had got enough
together to set up on her own account in fulfillment of a plan she
had been hatching for some time past.
These, again, were only the anxieties he could own to. The count
put up with the stupidity of Mme Maloir, playing bezique with her in
spite of her musty smell. He put up with Mme Lerat and her
encumbrances, with Louiset and the mournful complaints peculiar to a
child who is being eaten up with the rottenness inherited from some
unknown father. But he spent hours worse than these. One evening
he had heard Nana angrily telling her maid that a man pretending to
be rich had just swindled her--a handsome man calling himself an
American and owning gold mines in his own country, a beast who had
gone off while she was asleep without giving her a copper and had
even taken a packet of cigarette papers with him. The count had
turned very pale and had gone downstairs again on tiptoe so as not
to hear more. But later he had to hear all. Nana, having been
smitten with a baritone in a music hall and having been thrown over
by him, wanted to commit suicide during a fit of sentimental
melancholia. She swallowed a glass of water in which she had soaked
a box of matches. This made her terribly sick but did not kill her.
The count had to nurse her and to listen to the whole story of her
passion, her tearful protests and her oaths never to take to any man
again. In her contempt for those swine, as she called them, she
could not, however, keep her heart free, for she always had some
sweetheart round her, and her exhausted body inclined to
incomprehensible fancies and perverse tastes. As Zoe designedly
relaxed her efforts the service of the house had got to such a pitch
that Muffat did not dare to push open a door, to pull a curtain or
to unclose a cupboard. The bells did not ring; men lounged about
everywhere and at every moment knocked up against one another. He
had now to cough before entering a room, having almost caught the
girl hanging round Francis' neck one evening that he had just gone
out of the dressing room for two minutes to tell the coachman to put
the horses to, while her hairdresser was finishing her hair. She
gave herself up suddenly behind his back; she took her pleasure in
every corner, quickly, with the first man she met. Whether she was
in her chemise or in full dress did not matter. She would come back
to the count red all over, happy at having cheated him. As for him,
he was plagued to death; it was an abominable infliction!
In his jealous anguish the unhappy man was comparatively at peace
when he left Nana and Satin alone together. He would have willingly
urged her on to this vice, to keep the men off her. But all was
spoiled in this direction too. Nana deceived Satin as she deceived
the count, going mad over some monstrous fancy or other and picking
up girls at the street corners. Coming back in her carriage, she
would suddenly be taken with a little slut that she saw on the
pavement; her senses would be captivated, her imagination excited.
She would take the little slut in with her, pay her and send her
away again. Then, disguised as a man, she would go to infamous
houses and look on at scenes of debauch to while away hours of
boredom. And Satin, angry at being thrown over every moment, would
turn the house topsy-turvy with the most awful scenes. She had at
last acquired a complete ascendancy over Nana, who now respected
her. Muffat even thought of an alliance between them. When he
dared not say anything he let Satin loose. Twice she had compelled
her darling to take up with him again, while he showed himself
obliging and effaced himself in her favor at the least sign. But
this good understanding lasted no time, for Satin, too, was a little
cracked. On certain days she would very nearly go mad and would
smash everything, wearing herself out in tempest of love and anger,
but pretty all the time. Zoe must have excited her, for the maid
took her into corners as if she wanted to tell her about her great
design of which she as yet spoke to no one.
At times, however, Count Muffat was still singularly revolted. He
who had tolerated Satin for months, who had at last shut his eyes to
the unknown herd of men that scampered so quickly through Nana's
bedroom, became terribly enraged at being deceived by one of his own
set or even by an acquaintance. When she confessed her relations
with Foucarmont he suffered so acutely, he thought the treachery of
the young man so base, that he wished to insult him and fight a
duel. As he did not know where to find seconds for such an affair,
he went to Labordette. The latter, astonished, could not help
"A duel about Nana? But, my dear sir, all Paris would be laughing
at you. Men do not fight for Nana; it would be ridiculous."
The count grew very pale and made a violent gesture.
"Then I shall slap his face in the open street."
For an hour Labordette had to argue with him. A blow would make the
affair odious; that evening everyone would know the real reason of
the meeting; it would be in all the papers. And Labordette always
finished with the same expression:
"It is impossible; it would be ridiculous."
Each time Muffat heard these words they seemed sharp and keen as a
stab. He could not even fight for the woman he loved; people would
have burst out laughing. Never before had he felt more bitterly the
misery of his love, the contrast between his heavy heart and the
absurdity of this life of pleasure in which it was now lost. This
was his last rebellion; he allowed Labordette to convince him, and
he was present afterward at the procession of his friends, who lived
there as if at home.
Nana in a few months finished them up greedily, one after the other.
The growing needs entailed by her luxurious way of life only added
fuel to her desires, and she finished a man up at one mouthful.
First she had Foucarmont, who did not last a fortnight. He was
thinking of leaving the navy, having saved about thirty thousand
francs in his ten years of service, which he wished to invest in the
United States. His instincts, which were prudential, even miserly,
were conquered; he gave her everything, even his signature to notes
of hand, which pledged his future. When Nana had done with him he
was penniless. But then she proved very kind; she advised him to
return to his ship. What was the good of getting angry? Since he
had no money their relations were no longer possible. He ought to
understand that and to be reasonable. A ruined man fell from her
hands like a ripe fruit, to rot on the ground by himself.
Then Nana took up with Steiner without disgust but without love.
She called him a dirty Jew; she seemed to be paying back an old
grudge, of which she had no distinct recollection. He was fat; he
was stupid, and she got him down and took two bites at a time in
order the quicker to do for this Prussian. As for him, he had
thrown Simonne over. His Bosphorous scheme was getting shaky, and
Nana hastened the downfall by wild expenses. For a month he
struggled on, doing miracles of finance. He filled Europe with
posters, advertisements and prospectuses of a colossal scheme and
obtained money from the most distant climes. All these savings, the
pounds of speculators and the pence of the poor, were swallowed up
in the Avenue de Villiers. Again he was partner in an ironworks in
Alsace, where in a small provincial town workmen, blackened with
coal dust and soaked with sweat, day and night strained their sinews
and heard their bones crack to satisfy Nana's pleasures. Like a
huge fire she devoured all the fruits of stock-exchange swindling
and the profits of labor. This time she did for Steiner; she
brought him to the ground, sucked him dry to the core, left him so
cleaned out that he was unable to invent a new roguery. When his
bank failed he stammered and trembled at the idea of prosecution.
His bankruptcy had just been published, and the simple mention of
money flurried him and threw him into a childish embarrassment. And
this was he who had played with millions. One evening at Nana's he
began to cry and asked her for a loan of a hundred francs wherewith
to pay his maidservant. And Nana, much affected and amused at the
end of this terrible old man who had squeezed Paris for twenty
years, brought it to him and said:
"I say, I'm giving it you because it seems so funny! But listen to
me, my boy, you are too old for me to keep. You must find something
else to do."
Then Nana started on La Faloise at once. He had for some time been
longing for the honor of being ruined by her in order to put the
finishing stroke on his smartness. He needed a woman to launch him
properly; it was the one thing still lacking. In two months all
Paris would be talking of him, and he would see his name in the
papers. Six weeks were enough. His inheritance was in landed
estate, houses, fields, woods and farms. He had to sell all, one
after the other, as quickly as he could. At every mouthful Nana
swallowed an acre. The foliage trembling in the sunshine, the wide
fields of ripe grain, the vineyards so golden in September, the tall
grass in which the cows stood knee-deep, all passed through her
hands as if engulfed by an abyss. Even fishing rights, a stone
quarry and three mills disappeared. Nana passed over them like an
invading army or one of those swarms of locusts whose flight scours
a whole province. The ground was burned up where her little foot
had rested. Farm by farm, field by field, she ate up the man's
patrimony very prettily and quite inattentively, just as she would
have eaten a box of sweet-meats flung into her lap between
mealtimes. There was no harm in it all; they were only sweets! But
at last one evening there only remained a single little wood. She
swallowed it up disdainfully, as it was hardly worth the trouble
opening one's mouth for. La Faloise laughed idiotically and sucked
the top of his stick. His debts were crushing him; he was not worth
a hundred francs a year, and he saw that he would be compelled to go
back into the country and live with his maniacal uncle. But that
did not matter; he had achieved smartness; the Figaro had printed
his name twice. And with his meager neck sticking up between the
turndown points of his collar and his figure squeezed into all too
short a coat, he would swagger about, uttering his parrotlike
exclamations and affecting a solemn listlessness suggestive of an
emotionless marionette. He so annoyed Nana that she ended by
Meanwhile Fauchery had returned, his cousin having brought him.
Poor Fauchery had now set up housekeeping. After having thrown over
the countess he had fallen into Rose's hands, and she treated him as
a lawful wife would have done. Mignon was simply Madame's major-
domo. Installed as master of the house, the journalist lied to Rose
and took all sorts of precautions when he deceived her. He was as
scrupulous as a good husband, for he really wanted to settle down at
last. Nana's triumph consisted in possessing and in ruining a
newspaper that he had started with a friend's capital. She did not
proclaim her triumph; on the contrary, she delighted in treating him
as a man who had to be circumspect, and when she spoke of Rose it
was as "poor Rose." The newspaper kept her in flowers for two
months. She took all the provincial subscriptions; in fact, she
took everything, from the column of news and gossip down to the
dramatic notes. Then the editorial staff having been turned topsy-
turvy and the management completely disorganized, she satisfied a
fanciful caprice and had a winter garden constructed in a corner of
her house: that carried off all the type. But then it was no joke
after all! When in his delight at the whole business Mignon came to
see if he could not saddle Fauchery on her altogether, she asked him
if he took her for a fool. A penniless fellow living by his
articles and his plays--not if she knew it! That sort of
foolishness might be all very well for a clever woman like her poor,
dear Rose! She grew distrustful: she feared some treachery on
Mignon's part, for he was quite capable of preaching to his wife,
and so she gave Fauchery his CONGE as he now only paid her in fame.
But she always recollected him kindly. They had both enjoyed
themselves so much at the expense of that fool of a La Faloise!
They would never have thought of seeing each other again if the
delight of fooling such a perfect idiot had not egged them on! It
seemed an awfully good joke to kiss each other under his very nose.
They cut a regular dash with his coin; they would send him off full
speed to the other end of Paris in order to be alone and then when
he came back, they would crack jokes and make allusions he could not
understand. One day, urged by the journalist, she bet that she
would smack his face, and that she did the very same evening and
went on to harder blows, for she thought it a good joke and was glad
of the opportunity of showing how cowardly men were. She called him
her "slapjack" and would tell him to come and have his smack! The
smacks made her hands red, for as yet she was not up to the trick.
La Faloise laughed in his idiotic, languid way, though his eyes were
full of tears. He was delighted at such familiarity; he thought it
One night when he had received sundry cuffs and was greatly excited:
"Now, d'you know," he said, "you ought to marry me. We should be as
jolly as grigs together, eh?"
This was no empty suggestion. Seized with a desire to astonish
Paris, he had been slyly projecting this marriage. "Nana's husband!
Wouldn't that sound smart, eh?" Rather a stunning apotheosis that!
But Nana gave him a fine snubbing.
"Me marry you! Lovely! If such an idea had been tormenting me I
should have found a husband a long time ago! And he'd have been a
man worth twenty of you, my pippin! I've had a heap of proposals.
Why, look here, just reckon 'em up with me: Philippe, Georges,
Foucarmont, Steiner--that makes four, without counting the others
you don't know. It's a chorus they all sing. I can't be nice, but
they forthwith begin yelling, 'Will you marry me? Will you marry
She lashed herself up and then burst out in fine indignation:
"Oh dear, no! I don't want to! D'you think I'm built that way?
Just look at me a bit! Why, I shouldn't be Nana any longer if I
fastened a man on behind! And, besides, it's too foul!"
And she spat and hiccuped with disgust, as though she had seen all
the dirt in the world spread out beneath her.
One evening La Faloise vanished, and a week later it became known
that he was in the country with an uncle whose mania was botany. He
was pasting his specimens for him and stood a chance of marrying a
very plain, pious cousin. Nana shed no tears for him. She simply
said to the count:
"Eh, little rough, another rival less! You're chortling today. But
he was becoming serious! He wanted to marry me."
He waxed pale, and she flung her arms round his neck and hung there,
laughing, while she emphasized every little cruel speech with a
"You can't marry Nana! Isn't that what's fetching you, eh? When
they're all bothering me with their marriages you're raging in your
corner. It isn't possible; you must wait till your wife kicks the
bucket. Oh, if she were only to do that, how you'd come rushing
round! How you'd fling yourself on the ground and make your offer
with all the grand accompaniments--sighs and tears and vows!
Wouldn't it be nice, darling, eh?"
Her voice had become soft, and she was chaffing him in a ferociously
wheedling manner. He was deeply moved and began blushing as he paid
her back her kisses. Then she cried:
"By God, to think I should have guessed! He's thought about it;
he's waiting for his wife to go off the hooks! Well, well, that's
the finishing touch! Why, he's even a bigger rascal than the
Muffat had resigned himself to "the others." Nowadays he was
trusting to the last relics of his personal dignity in order to
remain "Monsieur" among the servants and intimates of the house, the
man, in fact, who because he gave most was the official lover. And
his passion grew fiercer. He kept his position because he paid for
it, buying even smiles at a high price. He was even robbed and he
never got his money's worth, but a disease seemed to be gnawing his
vitals from which he could not prevent himself suffering. Whenever
he entered Nana's bedroom he was simply content to open the windows
for a second or two in order to get rid of the odors the others left
behind them, the essential smells of fair-haired men and dark, the
smoke of cigars, of which the pungency choked him. This bedroom was
becoming a veritable thoroughfare, so continually were boots wiped
on its threshold. Yet never a man among them was stopped by the
bloodstain barring the door. Zoe was still preoccupied by this
stain; it was a simple mania with her, for she was a clean girl, and
it horrified her to see it always there. Despite everything her
eyes would wander in its direction, and she now never entered
Madame's room without remarking:
"It's strange that don't go. All the same, plenty of folk come in
Nana kept receiving the best news from Georges, who was by that time
already convalescent in his mother's keeping at Les Fondettes, and
she used always to make the same reply.
"Oh, hang it, time's all that's wanted. It's apt to grow paler as
feet cross it."
As a matter of fact, each of the gentlemen, whether Foucarmont,
Steiner, La Faloise or Fauchery, had borne away some of it on their
bootsoles. And Muffat, whom the bloodstain preoccupied as much as
it did Zoe, kept studying it in his own despite, as though in its
gradual rosy disappearance he would read the number of men that
passed. He secretly dreaded it and always stepped over it out of a
vivid fear of crushing some live thing, some naked limb lying on the
But in the bedroom within he would grow dizzy and intoxicated and
would forget everything--the mob of men which constantly crossed it,
the sign of mourning which barred its door. Outside, in the open
air of the street, he would weep occasionally out of sheer shame and
disgust and would vow never to enter the room again. And the moment
the portiere had closed behind him he was under the old influence
once more and felt his whole being melting in the damp warm air of
the place, felt his flesh penetrated by a perfume, felt himself
overborne by a voluptuous yearning for self-annihilation. Pious and
habituated to ecstatic experiences in sumptuous chapels, he there
re-encountered precisely the same mystical sensations as when he
knelt under some painted window and gave way to the intoxication of
organ music and incense. Woman swayed him as jealously and
despotically as the God of wrath, terrifying him, granting him
moments of delight, which were like spasms in their keenness, in
return for hours filled with frightful, tormenting visions of hell
and eternal tortures. In Nana's presence, as in church, the same
stammering accents were his, the same prayers and the same fits of
despair--nay, the same paroxysms of humility peculiar to an accursed
creature who is crushed down in the mire from whence he has sprung.
His fleshly desires, his spiritual needs, were confounded together
and seemed to spring from the obscure depths of his being and to
bear but one blossom on the tree of his existence. He abandoned
himself to the power of love and of faith, those twin levers which
move the world. And despite all the struggles of his reason this
bedroom of Nana's always filled him with madness, and he would sink
shuddering under the almighty dominion of sex, just as he would
swoon before the vast unknown of heaven.
Then when she felt how humble he was Nana grew tyrannously
triumphant. The rage for debasing things was inborn in her. It did
not suffice her to destroy them; she must soil them too. Her
delicate hands left abominable traces and themselves decomposed
whatever they had broken. And he in his imbecile condition lent
himself to this sort of sport, for he was possessed by vaguely
remembered stories of saints who were devoured by vermin and in turn
devoured their own excrements. When once she had him fast in her
room and the doors were shut, she treated herself to a man's infamy.
At first they joked together, and she would deal him light blows and
impose quaint tasks on him, making him lisp like a child and repeat
tags of sentences.
"Say as I do: 'tonfound it! Ickle man damn vell don't tare about
He would prove so docile as to reproduce her very accent.
"'Tonfound it! Ickle man damn vell don't tare about it!"
Or again she would play bear, walking on all fours on her rugs when
she had only her chemise on and turning round with a growl as though
she wanted to eat him. She would even nibble his calves for the fun
of the thing. Then, getting up again:
"It's your turn now; try it a bit. I bet you don't play bear like
It was still charming enough. As bear she amused him with her white
skin and her fell of ruddy hair. He used to laugh and go down on
all fours, too, and growl and bite her calves, while she ran from
him with an affectation of terror.
"Are we beasts, eh?" she would end by saying. "You've no notion how
ugly you are, my pet! Just think if they were to see you like that
at the Tuileries!"
But ere long these little games were spoiled. It was not cruelty in
her case, for she was still a good-natured girl; it was as though a
passing wind of madness were blowing ever more strongly in the shut-
up bedroom. A storm of lust disordered their brains, plunged them
into the delirious imaginations of the flesh. The old pious terrors
of their sleepless nights were now transforming themselves into a
thirst for bestiality, a furious longing to walk on all fours, to
growl and to bite. One day when he was playing bear she pushed him
so roughly that he fell against a piece of furniture, and when she
saw the lump on his forehead she burst into involuntary laughter.
After that her experiments on La Faloise having whetted her
appetite, she treated him like an animal, threshing him and chasing
him to an accompaniment of kicks.
"Gee up! Gee up! You're a horse. Hoi! Gee up! Won't you hurry
up, you dirty screw?"
At other times he was a dog. She would throw her scented
handkerchief to the far end of the room, and he had to run and pick
it up with his teeth, dragging himself along on hands and knees.
"Fetch it, Caesar! Look here, I'll give you what for if you don't
look sharp! Well done, Caesar! Good dog! Nice old fellow! Now
And he loved his abasement and delighted in being a brute beast. He
longed to sink still further and would cry:
"Hit harder. On, on! I'm wild! Hit away!"
She was seized with a whim and insisted on his coming to her one
night clad in his magnificent chamberlain's costume. Then how she
did laugh and make fun of him when she had him there in all his
glory, with the sword and the cocked hat and the white breeches and
the full-bottomed coat of red cloth laced with gold and the symbolic
key hanging on its left-hand skirt. This key made her especially
merry and urged her to a wildly fanciful and extremely filthy
discussion of it. Laughing without cease and carried away by her
irreverence for pomp and by the joy of debasing him in the official