Four Short Stories
Toward one in the morning, in the great bed of the Venice point draperies, Nana and the
count lay still awake. He had returned to her that evening after a three days sulking fit.
The room, which was dimly illumined by a lamp, seemed to slumber amid a warm, damp
odor of love, while the furniture, with its white lacquer and silver incrustations, loomed
vague and wan through the gloom. A curtain had been drawn to, so that the bed lay
flooded with shadow. A sigh became audible; then a kiss broke the silence, and Nana,
slipping off the coverlet, sat for a moment or two, barelegged, on the edge of the bed. The
count let his head fall back on the pillow and remained in darkness.
"Dearest, you believe in the good God, don't you?" she queried after some moments'
reflection. Her face was serious; she had been overcome by pious terrors on quitting her
Since morning, indeed, she had been complaining of feeling uncomfortable, and all her
stupid notions, as she phrased it, notions about death and hell, were secretly torturing her.
From time to time she had nights such as these, during which childish fears and atrocious
fancies would thrill her with waking nightmares. She continued:
"I say, d'you think I shall go to heaven?"
And with that she shivered, while the count, in his surprise at her putting such singular
questions at such a moment, felt his old religious remorse returning upon him. Then with
her chemise slipping from her shoulders and her hair unpinned, she again threw herself
upon his breast, sobbing and clinging to him as she did so.
"I'm afraid of dying! I'm afraid of dying!" He had all the trouble in the world to disengage
himself. Indeed, he was himself afraid of giving in to the sudden madness of this woman
clinging to his body in her dread of the Invisible. Such dread is contagious, and he
reasoned with her. Her conduct was perfect—she had only to conduct herself well in
order one day to merit pardon. But she shook her head. Doubtless she was doing no one
any harm; nay, she was even in the constant habit of wearing a medal of the Virgin,
which she showed to him as it hung by a red thread between her breasts. Only it had been
foreordained that all unmarried women who held conversation with men would go to hell.
Scraps of her catechism recurred to her remembrance. Ah, if one only knew for certain,
but, alas, one was sure of nothing; nobody ever brought back any information, and then,
truly, it would be stupid to bother oneself about things if the priests were talking
foolishness all the time. Nevertheless, she religiously kissed her medal, which was still
warm from contact with her skin, as though by way of charm against death, the idea of
which filled her with icy horror. Muffat was obliged to accompany her into the dressing
room, for she shook at the idea of being alone there for one moment, even though she had
left the door open. When he had lain down again she still roamed about the room, visiting