Four Short Stories HTML version

Chapter X
Thereupon Nana became a smart woman, mistress of all that is foolish and filthy in man,
marquise in the ranks of her calling. It was a sudden but decisive start, a plunge into the
garish day of gallant notoriety and mad expenditure and that daredevil wastefulness
peculiar to beauty. She at once became queen among the most expensive of her kind. Her
photographs were displayed in shopwindows, and she was mentioned in the papers.
When she drove in her carriage along the boulevards the people would turn and tell one
another who that was with all the unction of a nation saluting its sovereign, while the
object of their adoration lolled easily back in her diaphanous dresses and smiled gaily
under the rain of little golden curls which ran riot above the blue of her made-up eyes and
the red of her painted lips. And the wonder of wonders was that the great creature, who
was so awkward on the stage, so very absurd the moment she sought to act the chaste
woman, was able without effort to assume the role of an enchantress in the outer world.
Her movements were lithe as a serpent's, and the studied and yet seemingly involuntary
carelessness with which she dressed was really exquisite in its elegance. There was a
nervous distinction in all she did which suggested a wellborn Persian cat; she was an
aristocrat in vice and proudly and rebelliously trampled upon a prostrate Paris like a
sovereign whom none dare disobey. She set the fashion, and great ladies imitated her.
Nana's fine house was situated at the corner of the Rue Cardinet, in the Avenue de
Villiers. The avenue was part of the luxurious quarter at that time springing up in the
vague district which had once been the Plaine Monceau. The house had been built by a
young painter, who was intoxicated by a first success, and had been perforce resold
almost as soon as it was habitable. It was in the palatial Renaissance manner and had
fantastic interior arrangements which consisted of modern conveniences framed in a
setting of somewhat artificial originality. Count Muffat had bought the house ready
furnished and full of hosts of beautiful objects—lovely Eastern hangings, old credences,
huge chairs of the Louis XIII epoch. And thus Nana had come into artistic surroundings
of the choicest kind and of the most extravagantly various dates. But since the studio,
which occupied the central portion of the house, could not be of any use to her, she had
upset existing arrangements, establishing a small drawing room on the first floor, next to
her bedroom and dressing room, and leaving a conservatory, a large drawing room and a
dining room to look after themselves underneath. She astonished the architect with her
ideas, for, as became a Parisian workgirl who understands the elegancies of life by
instinct, she had suddenly developed a very pretty taste for every species of luxurious
refinement. Indeed, she did not spoil her house overmuch; nay, she even added to the
richness of the furniture, save here and there, where certain traces of tender foolishness
and vulgar magnificence betrayed the ex-flower seller who had been wont to dream in
front of shopwindows in the arcades.
A carpet was spread on the steps beneath the great awning over the front door in the
court, and the moment you entered the hall you were greeted by a perfume as of violets