Four Short Stories HTML version

Chapter VII
One December evening three months afterward Count Muffat was strolling in the Passage
des Panoramas. The evening was very mild, and owing to a passing shower, the passage
had just become crowded with people. There was a perfect mob of them, and they
thronged slowly and laboriously along between the shops on either side. Under the
windows, white with reflected light, the pavement was violently illuminated. A perfect
stream of brilliancy emanated from white globes, red lanterns, blue transparencies, lines
of gas jets, gigantic watches and fans, outlined in flame and burning in the open. And the
motley displays in the shops, the gold ornaments of the jeweler's, the glass ornaments of
the confectioner's, the light-colored silks of the modiste's, seemed to shine again in the
crude light of the reflectors behind the clear plate-glass windows, while among the
bright-colored, disorderly array of shop signs a huge purple glove loomed in the distance
like a bleeding hand which had been severed from an arm and fastened to a yellow cuff.
Count Muffat had slowly returned as far as the boulevard. He glanced out at the roadway
and then came sauntering back along the shopwindows. The damp and heated atmosphere
filled the narrow passage with a slight luminous mist. Along the flagstones, which had
been wet by the drip-drop of umbrellas, the footsteps of the crowd rang continually, but
there was no sound of voices. Passers-by elbowed him at every turn and cast inquiring
looks at his silent face, which the gaslight rendered pale. And to escape these curious
manifestations the count posted himself in front of a stationer's, where with profound
attention contemplated an array of paperweights in the form of glass bowls containing
floating landscapes and flowers.
He was conscious of nothing: he was thinking of Nana. Why had she lied to him again?
That morning she had written and told him not to trouble about her in the evening, her
excuse being that Louiset was ill and that she was going to pass the night at her aunt's in
order to nurse him. But he had felt suspicious and had called at her house, where he
learned from the porter that Madame had just gone off to her theater. He was astonished
at this, for she was not playing in the new piece. Why then should she have told him this
falsehood, and what could she be doing at the Varietes that evening? Hustled by a passer-
by, the count unconsciously left the paperweights and found himself in front of a glass
case full of toys, where he grew absorbed over an array of pocketbooks and cigar cases,
all of which had the same blue swallow stamped on one corner. Nana was most certainly
not the same woman! In the early days after his return from the country she used to drive
him wild with delight, as with pussycat caresses she kissed him all round his face and
whiskers and vowed that he was her own dear pet and the only little man she adored. He
was no longer afraid of Georges, whom his mother kept down at Les Fondettes. There
was only fat Steiner to reckon with, and he believed he was really ousting him, but he did
not dare provoke an explanation on his score. He knew he was once more in an
extraordinary financial scrape and on the verge of being declared bankrupt on 'change, so
much so that he was clinging fiercely to the shareholders in the Landes Salt Pits and