Nanna by Emile Zola. - HTML preview
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“So much the worse,” said Nana; “I’ll write to him this
“No, now I remember,” said the young woman, sitting afternoon. And if he doesn’t receive my letter, then tomor-up. “It’s all changed. I wanted to tell him so this morning.
row you will stop him coming in.” He would run against the nigger! We should have a nice In the meantime Zoe was walking softly about the room.
She spoke of yesterday’s great hit. Madame had shown
“Madame did not warn me; I couldn’t be aware of it,” such talent; she sang so well! Ah! Madame need not fret at murmured Zoe. “When Madame changes her days she will all now!
do well to tell me so that I may know. Then the old miser is Nana, her elbow dug into her pillow, only tossed her head no longer due on the Tuesday?”
in reply. Her nightdress had slipped down on her shoul-Between themselves they were wont thus gravely to nick-ders, and her hair, unfastened and entangled, flowed over name as “old miser” and “nigger” their two paying visi-them in masses.
tors, one of whom was a tradesman of economical tenden-
“Without doubt,” she murmured, becoming thoughtful; cies from the Faubourg Saint-Denis, while the other was a
“but what’s to be done to gain time? I’m going to have all Walachian, a mock count, whose money, paid always at sorts of bothers today. Now let’s see, has the porter come the most irregular intervals, never looked as though it had upstairs yet this morning?”
been honestly come by. Daguenet had made Nana give him Then both the women talked together seriously. Nana the days subsequent to the old miser’s visits, and as the owed three quarters’ rent; the landlord was talking of seiz-trader had to be at home by eight o’clock in the morning, ing the furniture. Then, too, there was a perfect downpour 31
of creditors; there was a livery-stable man, a needlewoman, that poor Mimi, he stands in great need of a loan himself; a a ladies’ tailor, a charcoal dealer and others besides, who fall in stocks has cleaned him out—he can’t even bring me came every day and settled themselves on a bench in the flowers now.”
little hall. The charcoal dealer especially was a dreadful She was speaking of Daguenet. In the self-abandonment fellow—he shouted on the staircase. But Nana’s greatest of her awakening she had no secrets from Zoe, and the cause of distress was her little Louis, a child she had given latter, inured to such confidences, received them with birth to when she was sixteen and now left in charge of a respeciful sympathy. Since Madame condescended to speak nurse in a village in the neighborhood of Rambouillet. This to her of her affairs she would permit herself to say what woman was clamoring for the sum of three hundred francs she thought. Besides, she was very fond of Madame; she before she would consent to give the little Louis back to had left Mme Blanche for the express purpose of taking her. Nana, since her last visit to the child, had been seized service with her, and heaven knew Mme Blanche was strain-with a fit of maternal love and was desperate at the thought ing every nerve to have her again! Situations weren’t lack-that she could not realize a project, which had now being; she was pretty well known, but she would have stayed come a hobby with her. This was to pay off the nurse and with Madame even in narrow circumstances, because she to place the little man with his aunt, Mme Lerat, at the believed in Madame’s future. And she concluded by stat-Batignolles, whither she could go and see him as often as ing her advice with precision. When one was young one she liked.
often did silly things. But this time it was one’s duty to Meanwhile the lady’s maid kept hinting that her mistress look alive, for the men only thought of having their fun.
ought to have confided her necessities to the old miser.
Oh dear, yes! Things would right themselves. Madame had
“To be sure, I told him everything,” cried Nana, “and he only to say one word in order to quiet her creditors and told me in answer that he had too many big liabilities. He find the money she stood in need of.
won’t go beyond his thousand francs a month. The nigger’s
“All that doesn’t help me to three hundred francs,” Nana beggared just at present; I expect he’s lost at play. As to kept repeating as she plunged her fingers into the vagrant 32
convolutions of her back hair. “I must have three hundred Zoe ushered in a tall old lady who wore ringlets and francs today, at once! It’s stupid not to know anyone who’ll looked like a countess who haunts lawyers’ offices. Then give you three hundred francs.”
she effaced herself, disappearing noiselessly with the lithe, She racked her brains. She would have sent Mme Lerat, serpentine movement wherewith she was wont to with-whom she was expecting that very morning, to Rambouil-draw from a room on the arrival of a gentleman. However, let. The counteraction of her sudden fancy spoiled for her she might have stayed. The Tricon did not even sit down.
the triumph of last night. Among all those men who had Only a brief exchange of words took place.
cheered her, to think that there wasn’t one to bring her
“I have someone for you today. Do you care about it?” fifteen louis! And then one couldn’t accept money in that
“Yes. How much?”
way! Dear heaven, how unfortunate she was! And she kept
harking back again to the subject of her baby—he had blue
“At what o’clock?”
eyes like a cherub’s; he could lisp “Mamma” in such a funny
“At three. It’s settled then?”
voice that you were ready to die of laughing!
But at this moment the electric bell at the outer door was Straightway the Tricon talked of the state of the weather.
heard to ring with its quick and tremulous vibration. Zoe It was dry weather, pleasant for walking. She had still four returned, murmuring with a confidential air: or five persons to see. And she took her departure after
“It’s a woman.”
consulting a small memorandum book. When she was once She had seen this woman a score of times, only she made more alone Nana appeared comforted. A slight shiver agi-believe never to recognize her and to be quite ignorant of tated her shoulders, and she wrapped herself softly up again the nature of her relations with ladies in difficulties.
in her warm bedclothes with the lazy movements of a cat
“She has told me her name—Madame Tricon.” who is susceptible to cold. Little by little her eyes closed,
“The Tricon,” cried Nana. “Dear me! That’s true. I’d and she lay smiling at the thought of dressing Louiset pret-forgotten her. Show her in.”
tily on the following day, while in the slumber into which 33
she once more sank last night’s long, feverish dream of
“Perhaps Madame has not seen the papers. There’s a very endlessly rolling applause returned like a sustained accom-nice article in the Figaro.”
paniment to music and gently soothed her lassitude.
He had brought the journal. Mme Lerat put on her spec-At eleven o’clock, when Zoe showed Mme Lerat into tacles and read the article aloud, standing in front of the the room, Nana was still asleep. But she woke at the noise window as she did so. She had the build of a policeman, and cried out at once:
and she drew herself up to her full height, while her nos-
“It’s you. You’ll go to Rambouillet today?” trils seemed to compress themselves whenever she uttered
“That’s what I’ve come for,” said the aunt. “There’s a a gallant epithet. It was a notice by dauchery, written just train at twenty past twelve. I’ve got time to catch it.” after the performance, and it consisted of a couple of very
“No, I shall only have the money by and by,” replied the glowing columns, full of witty sarcasm about the artist and young woman, stretching herself and throwing out her of broad admiration for the woman.
bosom. “You’ll have lunch, and then we’ll see.”
“Excellent!” Francis kept repeating.
Zoe brought a dressing jacket.
Nana laughed good-humoredly at his chaffing her about
“The hairdresser’s here, madame,” she murmured.
her voice! He was a nice fellow, was that Fauchery, and But Nana did not wish to go into the dressing room. And she would repay him for his charming style of writing. Mme she herself cried out:
Lerat, after having reread the notice, roundly declared that
“Come in, Francis.”
the men all had the devil in their shanks, and she refused to A well-dressed man pushed open the door and bowed. Just explain her self further, being fully satisfied with a brisk at that moment Nana was getting out of bed, her bare legs in allusion of which she alone knew the meaning. Francis fin-full view. But she did not hurry and stretched her hands out so ished turning up and fastening Nana’s hair. He bowed and as to let Zoe draw on the sleeves of the dressing jacket. Francis, said:
on his part, was quite at his ease and without turning away
“I’ll keep my eye on the evening papers. At half-past five waited with a sober expression on his face.
as usual, eh?”
“Bring me a pot of pomade and a pound of burnt al-dirty past with things in it which it was as well not to stir monds from Boissier’s,” Nana cried to him across the draw-up every day. She had left off seeing her niece for a long ing room just as he was shutting the door after him.
time because among the family she was accused of ruining Then the two women, once more alone, recollected that herself along with the little thing. Good God, as though they had not embraced, and they planted big kisses on each that were possible! She didn’t ask for confidences; she be-other’s cheeks. The notice warmed their hearts. Nana, who lieved that Nana had always lived decently, and now it was up till now had been half asleep, was again seized with the enough for her to have found her again in a fine position fever of her triumph. Dear, dear, ’twas Rose Mignon that and to observe her kind feelings toward her son. Virtue would be spending a pleasant morning! Her aunt having and hard work were still the only things worth anything in been unwilling to go to the theater because, as she averred, this world.
sudden emotions ruined her stomach, Nana set herself to
“Who is the baby’s father?” she said, interrupting her-describe the events of the evening and grew intoxicated at self, her eyes lit up with an expression of acute curiosity.
her own recital, as though all Paris had been shaken to the Nana was taken by surprise and hesitated a moment.
ground by the applause. Then suddenly interrupting her-
“A gentleman,” she replied.
self, she asked with a laugh if one would ever have imag-
“There now!” rejoined the aunt. “They declared that you ined it all when she used to go traipsing about the Rue de had him by a stonemason who was in the habit of beating la Goutte-d’Or. Mme Lerat shook her head. No, no, one you. Indeed, you shall tell me all about it someday; you never could have foreseen it! And she began talking in her know I’m discreet! Tut, tut, I’ll look after him as though turn, assuming a serious air as she did so and calling Nana he were a prince’s son.”
“daughter.” Wasn’t she a second mother to her since the She had retired from business as a florist and was living first had gone to rejoin Papa and Grandmamma? Nana was on her savings, which she had got together sou by sou, till greatly softened and on the verge of tears. But Mme Lerat now they brought her in an income of six hundred francs a declared that the past was the past—oh yes, to be sure, a year. Nana promised to rent some pretty little lodgings for 35
her and to give her a hundred francs a month besides. At at her with a sweet expression and a die-away smile. In the the mention of this sum the aunt forgot herself and shrieked meantime Nana, who averred that she was as hungry as a to her niece, bidding her squeeze their throats, since she wolf, threw herself on the radishes and gobbled them up had them in her grasp. She was meaning the men, of course.
without bread. Mme Lerat had become ceremonious; she Then they both embraced again, but in the midst of her refused the radishes as provocative of phlegm. By and by rejoicing Nana’s face, as she led the talk back to the sub-when Zoe had brought in the cutlets Nana just chipped the ject of Louiset, seemed to be overshadowed by a sudden meat and contented herself with sucking the bones. Now recollection.
and again she scrutinized her old friend’s hat out of the
“Isn’t it a bore I’ve got to go out at three o’clock?” she corners of her eyes.
muttered. “It is a nuisance!”
“It’s the new hat I gave you?” she ended by saying.
Just then Zoe came in to say that lunch was on the table.
“Yes, I made it up,” murmured Mme Maloir, her mouth They went into the dining room, where an old lady was full of meat.
already seated at table. She had not taken her hat off, and The hat was smart to distraction. In front it was greatly she wore a dark dress of an indecisive color midway be-exaggerated, and it was adorned with a lofty feather. Mme tween puce and goose dripping. Nana did not seem sur-Maloir had a mania for doing up all her hats afresh; she prised at sight of her. She simply asked her why she hadn’t alone knew what really became her, and with a few stitches come into the bedroom.
she could manufacture a toque out of the most elegant
“I heard voices,” replied the old lady. “I thought you had headgear. Nana, who had bought her this very hat in order company.”
not to be ashamed of her when in her company out of doors, Mme Maloir, a respectable-looking and mannerly woman, was very near being vexed.
was Nana’s old friend, chaperon and companion. Mme
“Push it up, at any rate,” she cried.
Lerat’s presence seemed to fidget her at first. Afterward,
“No, thank you,” replied the old lady with dignity. “It when she became aware that it was Nana’s aunt, she looked doesn’t get in my way; I can eat very comfortably as it is.” 36
After the cutlets came cauliflowers and the remains of Zoe do? She made believe to tumble as she crossed the a cold chicken. But at the arrival of each successive dish drawing room; the old boy rushed up to her assistance, Nana made a little face, hesitated, sniffed and left her plate-flew to the kitchen to fetch her a glass of water, and M.
ful untouched. She finished her lunch with the help of Octave slipped away.
“Oh, she’s a good girl, you bet!” said Nana, who was Dessert took a long time. Zoe did not remove the cloth listening to her with tender interest and a sort of submis-before serving the coffee. Indeed, the ladies simply pushed sive admiration.
back their plates before taking it. They talked continually
“Now I’ve had my troubles,” began Mme Lerat. And of yesterday’s charming evening. Nana kept rolling ciga-edging up to Mme Maloir, she imparted to her certain con-rettes, which she smoked, swinging up and down on her fidential confessions. Both ladies took lumps of sugar backward-tilted chair. And as Zoe had remained behind dipped in cognac and sucked them. But Mme Maloir was and was lounging idly against the sideboard, it came about wont to listen to other people’s secrets without even con-that the company were favored with her history. She said fessing anything concerning herself. People said that she she was the daughter of a midwife at Bercy who had failed lived on a mysterious allowance in a room whither no one in business. First of all she had taken service with a dentist ever penetrated.
and after that with an insurance agent, but neither place All of a sudden Nana grew excited.
suited her, and she thereupon enumerated, not without a
“Don’t play with the knives, Aunt. You know it gives me certain amount of pride, the names of the ladies with whom a turn!”
she had served as lady’s maid. Zoe spoke of these ladies as Without thinking about it Mme Lerat had crossed two one who had had the making of their fortunes. It was very knives on the table in front of her. Notwithstanding this, certain that without her more than one would have had the young woman defended herself from the charge of su-some queer tales to tell. Thus one day, when Mme Blanche perstition. Thus, if the salt were upset, it meant nothing, was with M. Octave, in came the old gentleman. What did even on a Friday; but when it came to knives, that was too 37
much of a good thing; that had never proved fallacious.
her bedroom. An inkstand consisting of a bottle of ink worth There could be no doubt that something unpleasant was about three sous stood untidily on one of the pieces of going to happen to her. She yawned, and then with an air, furniture, with a pen deep in rust beside it. The letter was of profound boredom:
for Daguenet. Mme Maloir herself wrote in her bold En-
“Two o’clock already. I must go out. What a nuisance!” glish hand, “My darling little man,” and then she told him The two old ladies looked at one another. The three not to come tomorrow because “that could not be” but women shook their heads without speaking. To be sure, hastened to add that “she was with him in thought at every life was not always amusing. Nana had tilted her chair back moment of the day, whether she were near or far away.” anew and lit a cigarette, while the others sat pursing up
“And I end with ‘a thousand kisses,’” she murmured.
their lips discreetly, thinking deeply philosophic thoughts.
Mme Lerat had shown her approval of each phrase with
“While waiting for you to return we’ll play a game of an emphatic nod. Her eyes were sparkling; she loved to bezique,” said Mme Maloir after a short silence. “Does find herself in the midst of love affairs. Nay, she was seized Madame play bezique?”
with a desire to add some words of her own and, assuming Certainly Mme Lerat played it, and that to perfection. It a tender look and cooing like a dove, she suggested: was no good troubling Zoe, who had vanished—a corner
“A thousand kisses on thy beautiful eyes.” of the table would do quite well. And they pushed back the
“That’s the thing: ‘a thousand kisses on thy beautiful tablecloth over the dirty plates. But as Mme Maloir was eyes’!” Nana repeated, while the two old ladies assumed a herself going to take the cards out of a drawer in the side-beatified expression.
board, Nana remarked that before she sat down to her game Zoe was rung for and told to take the letter down to a it would be very nice of her if she would write her a letter.
commissionaire. She had just been talking with the theater It bored Nana to write letters; besides, she was not sure of messenger, who had brought her mistress the day’s playbill her spelling, while her old friend could turn out the most and rehearsal arrangements, which he had forgotten in the feeling epistles. She ran to fetch some good note paper in morning. Nana had this individual ushered in and got him 38
to take the latter to Daguenet on his return. Then she put
“It would be better, dearie, to give up your expedition at questions to him. Oh yes! M. Bordenave was very pleased; once.”
people had already taken seats for a week to come; Ma-
“No, be quick about it,” said Mme Lerat, shuffling the dame had no idea of the number of people who had been cards. “I shall take the half-past four o’clock train if you’re asking her address since morning. When the man had taken back here with the money before four o’clock.” his departure Nana announced that at most she would only
“Oh, there’ll be no time lost,” she murmured.
be out half an hour. If there were any visitors Zoe would Ten minutes after Zoe helped her on with a dress and a make them wait. As she spoke the electric bell sounded. It hat. It didn’t matter much if she were badly turned out.
was a creditor in the shape of the man of whom she jobbed Just as she was about to go downstairs there was a new her carriages. He had settled himself on the bench in the ring at the bell. This time it was the charcoal dealer. Very anteroom, and the fellow was free to twiddle his thumbs well, he might keep the livery-stable keeper company—it till night—there wasn’t the least hurry now.
would amuse the fellows. Only, as she dreaded a scene,
“Come, buck up!” said Nana, still torpid with laziness she crossed the kitchen and made her escape by the back and yawning and stretching afresh. “I ought to be there stairs. She often went that way and in return had only to now!”
lift up her flounces.
Yet she did not budge but kept watching the play of her
“When one is a good mother anything’s excusable,” said aunt, who had just announced four aces. Chin on hand, she Mme Maloir sententiously when left alone with Mme Lerat.
grew quite engrossed in it but gave a violent start on hear-
“Four kings,” replied this lady, whom the play greatly ing three o’clock strike.
“Good God!” she cried roughly.
And they both plunged into an interminable game.
Then Mme Maloir, who was counting the tricks she had The table had not been cleared. The smell of lunch and won with her tens and aces, said cheeringly to her in her the cigarette smoke filled the room with an ambient, steamy soft voice:
vapor. The two ladies had again set to work dipping lumps 39
of sugar in brandy and sucking the same. For twenty min-
“a slip of a lad! I wanted to send him away again, but he’s utes at least they played and sucked simultaneously when, such a pretty boy with never a hair on his chin and blue the electric bell having rung a third time, Zoe bustled into eyes and a girl’s face! So I told him to wait after all. He’s the room and roughly disturbed them, just as if they had got an enormous bouquet in his hand, which he never once been her own friends.
consented to put down. One would like to catch him one—
“Look here, that’s another ring. You can’t stay where a brat like that who ought to be at school still!” you are. If many foiks call I must have the whole flat. Now Mme Lerat went to fetch a water bottle to mix herself off you go, off you go!”
some brandy and water, the lumps of sugar having ren-Mme Maloir was for finishing the game, but Zoe looked dered her thirsty. Zoe muttered something to the effect that as if she was going to pounce down on the cards, and so she really didn’t mind if she drank something too. Her she decided to carry them off without in any way altering mouth, she averred, was as bitter as gall.
their positions, while Mme Lerat undertook the removal
“So you put him—?” continued Mme Maloir.
of the brandy bottle, the glasses and the sugar. Then they
“Oh yes, I put him in the closet at the end of the room, both scudded to the kitchen, where they installed them-the little unfurnished one. There’s only one of my lady’s selves at the table in an empty space between the dish-trunks there and a table. It’s there I stow the lubbers.” cloths, which were spread out to dry, and the bowl still full And she was putting plenty of sugar in her grog when of dishwater.
the electric bell made her jump. Oh, drat it all! Wouldn’t
“We said it was three hundred and forty. It’s your turn.” they let her have a drink in peace? If they were to have a
“I play hearts.”
peal of bells things promised well. Nevertheless, she ran When Zoe returned she found them once again absorbed.
off to open the door. Returning presently, she saw Mme After a silence, as Mme Lerat was shuffling, Mme Maloir Maloir questioning her with a glance.
asked who it was.
“It’s nothing,” she said, “only a bouquet.”
“Oh, nobody to speak of,” replied the servant carelessly; All three refreshed themselves, nodding to each other in 40
token of salutation. Then while Zoe was at length busy afternoons she got it over in double-quick time. But Mme clearing the table, bringing the plates out one by one and Maloir declared that one didn’t always manage things as putting them in the sink, two other rings followed close one wished. Truly, life was beset with obstacles, averred upon one another. But they weren’t serious, for while keep-Mme Lerat. The best course was to wait. If her niece was ing the kitchen informed of what was going on she twice long in coming it was because her occupations detained repeated her disdainful expression: her; wasn’t it so? Besides, they weren’t overworked—it
“Nothing, only a bouquet.”
was comfortable in the kitchen. And as hearts were out, Notwithstanding which, the old ladies laughed between Mme Lerat threw down diamonds.
two of their tricks when they heard her describe the looks The bell began again, and when Zoe reappeared she was of the creditors in the anteroom after the flowers had ar-burning with excitement.
rived. Madame would find her bouquets on her toilet table.
“My children, it’s fat Steiner!” she said in the doorway, What a pity it was they cost such a lot and that you could lowering her voice as she spoke. “I’ve put him in the little only get ten sous for them! Oh dear, yes, plenty of money sitting room.”
Thereupon Mme Maloir spoke about the banker to Mme
“For my part,” said Mme Maloir, “I should be quite con-Lerat, who knew no such gentleman. Was he getting ready tent if every day of my life I got what the men in Paris had to give Rose Mignon the go-by? Zoe shook her head; she spent on flowers for the women.”
knew a thing or two. But once more she had to go and
“Now, you know, you’re not hard to please,” murmured open the door.
Mme Lerat. “Why, one would have only just enough to
“Here’s bothers!” she murmured when she came back.
buy thread with. Four queens, my dear.”
“It’s the nigger! ’Twasn’t any good telling him that my It was ten minutes to four. Zoe was astonished, could lady’s gone out, and so he’s settled himself in the bedroom.
not understand why her mistress was out so long. Ordi-We only expected him this evening.” narily when Madame found herself obliged to go out in the At a quarter past four Nana was not in yet. What could 41
she be after? It was silly of her! Two other bouquets were
“Here you are! It’s lucky!” said Mme Lerat, pursing up brought round, and Zoe, growing bored looked to see if her lips, for she was still vexed at Mme Maloir’s “five hun-there were any coffee left. Yes, the ladies would willingly dred.” “You may flatter yourself at the way you keep folks finish off the coffee; it would waken them up. Sitting waiting.”
hunched up on their chairs, they were beginning to fall
“Madame isn’t reasonable; indeed, she isn’t!” added Zoe.
asleep through dint of constantly taking their cards between Nana was already harassed, and these reproaches exas-their fingers with the accustomed movement. The half-hour perated her. Was that the way people received her after the sounded. Something must decidedly have happened to worry she had gone through?
Madame. And they began whispering to each other.
“Will you blooming well leave me alone, eh?” she cried.
Suddenly Mme Maloir forgot herself and in a ringing voice
“Hush, ma’am, there are people in there,” said the maid.
announced: “I’ve the five hundred! Trumps, Major Quint!” Then in lower tones the young Woman stuttered
“Oh, do be quiet!” said Zoe angrily. “What will all those breathlessly:
gentlemen think?” And in the silence which ensued and
“D’you suppose I’ve been having a good time? Why, there amid the whispered muttering of the two old women at was no end to it. I should have liked to see you there! I strife over their game, the sound of rapid footsteps ascended was boiling with rage! I felt inclined to smack somebody.
from the back stairs. It was Nana at last. Before she had And never a cab to come home in! Luckily it’s only a step opened the door her breathlessness became audible. She from here, but never mind that; I did just run home.” bounced abruptly in, looking very red in the face. Her skirt,
“You have the money?” asked the aunt.
the string of which must have been broken, was trailing
“Dear, dear! That question!” rejoined Nana.
over the stairs, and her flounces had just been dipped in a She had sat herself down on a chair close up against the puddle of something unpleasant which had oozed out on stove, for her legs had failed her after so much running, the landing of the first floor, where the servant girl was a and without stopping to take breath she drew from behind regular slut.
her stays an envelope in which there were four hundred-42
franc notes. They were visible through a large rent she had were counted out on a corner of the table, and Mme Lerat torn with savage fingers in order to be sure of the con-took her departure at once after having promised to bring tents. The three women round about her stared fixedly at Louiset back with her the following day.
the envelope, a big, crumpled, dirty receptacle, as it lay
“You say there’s company there?” continued Nana, still clasped in her small gloved hands.
sitting on the chair and resting herself.
It was too late now—Mme Lerat would not go to Ram-
“Yes, madame, three people.”
bouillet till tomorrow, and Nana entered into long expla-And Zoe mentioned the banker first. Nana made a face.
Did that man Steiner think she was going to let herself be
“There’s company waiting for you,” the lady’s maid bored because he had thrown her a bouquet yesterday repeated.
But Nana grew excited again. The company might wait:
“Besides, I’ve had enough of it,” she declared. “I shan’t she’d go to them all in good time when she’d finished. And receive today. Go and say you don’t expect me now.” as her aunt began putting her hand out for the money:
“Madame will think the matter over; Madame will re-
“Ah no! Not all of it,” she said. “Three hundred francs ceive Monsieur Steiner,” murmured Zoe gravely, without for the nurse, fifty for your journey and expenses, that’s budging from her place. She was annoyed to see her mis-three hundred and fifty. Fifty francs I keep.” tress on the verge of committing another foolish mistake.
The big difficulty was how to find change. There were Then she mentioned the Walachian, who ought by now not ten francs in the house. But they did not even address to find time hanging heavy on his hands in the bedroom.
themselves to Mme Maloir who, never having more than a Whereupon Nana grew furious and more obstinate than six-sou omnibus fair upon her, was listening in quite a dis-ever. No, she would see nobody, nobody! Who’d sent her interested manner. At length Zoe went out of the room, such a blooming leech of a man?
remarking that she would go and look in her box, and she
“Chuck ‘em all out! I—I’m going to play a game of brought back a hundred francs in hundred-sou pieces. They bezique with Madame Maloir. I prefer doing that.” 43
The bell interrupted her remarks. That was the last straw.
the cards; she had never yet taken her hat off, but now in Another of the beggars yet! She forbade Zoe to go and order to be more at her ease she undid the strings and threw open the door, but the latter had left the kitchen without them back over her shoulders.
listening to her, and when she reappeared she brought back In the dressing room, where Zoe rapidly helped her on a couple of cards and said authoritatively: with a tea gown, Nana revenged herself for the way in
“I told them that Madame was receiving visitors. The which they were all boring her by muttering quiet curses gentlemen are in the drawing room.” upon the male sex. These big words caused the lady’s maid Nana had sprung up, raging, but the names of the Mar-not a little distress, for she saw with pain that her mistress quis de Chouard and of Count Muffat de Beuville, which was not rising superior to her origin as quickly as she could were inscribed on the cards, calmed her down. For a mo-have desired. She even made bold to beg Madame to calm ment or two she remained silent.
“Who are they?” she asked at last. “You know them?”
“You bet,” was Nana’s crude answer; “they’re swine; they
“I know the old fellow,” replied Zoe, discreetly pursing glory in that sort of thing.”
up her lips.
Nevertheless, she assumed her princesslike manner, as And her mistress continuing to question her with her eyes, she was wont to call it. But just when she was turning to she added simply:
go into the drawing room Zoe held her back and herself
“I’ve seen him somewhere.”
introduced the Marquis de Chouard and the Count Muffat This remark seemed to decide the young woman. Re-into the dressing room. It was much better so.
gretfully she left the kitchen, that asylum of steaming
“I regret having kept you waiting, gentlemen,” said the warmth, where you could talk and take your ease amid the young woman with studied politeness.
pleasant fumes of the coffeepot which was being kept warm The two men bowed and seated themselves. A blind of over a handful of glowing embers. She left Mme Maloir embroidered tulle kept the little room in twilight. It was behind her. That lady was now busy reading her fortune by the most elegant chamber in the flat, for it was hung with 44
some light-colored fabric and contained a cheval glass little assenting movements of her head, making rapid reflec-framed in inlaid wood, a lounge chair and some others with tions at the same time. It must be the old man that had brought arms and blue satin upholsteries. On the toilet table the the other one: he had such wicked eyes. And yet the other bouquets—roses, lilacs and hyacinths—appeared like a very was not to be trusted either: the veins near his temples were ruin of flowers. Their perfume was strong and penetrating, so queerly puffed up. He might quite well have come by while through the dampish air of the place, which was full himself. Ah, now that she thought of it, it was this way: the of the spoiled exhalations of the washstand, came occa-porter had given them her name, and they had egged one sional whiffs of a more pungent scent, the scent of some another on, each with his own ends in view.
grains or dry patchouli ground to fine powder at the bot-
“Most certainly, gentlemen, you were quite right to come tom of a cup. And as she gathered herself together and up,” she said with a very good grace.
drew up her dressing jacket, which had been ill fastened, But the electric bell made her tremble again. Another Nana had all the appearance of having been surprised at call, and that Zoe always opening the door! She went on: her toilet: her skin was still damp; she smiled and looked
“One is only too happy to be able to give.” quite startled amid her frills and laces.
At bottom she was flattered.
“Madame, you will pardon our insistence,” said the Count
“Ah, madame,” rejoined the marquis, “if only you knew Muffat gravely. “We come on a quest. Monsieur and I are about it! there’s such misery! Our district has more than members of the Benevolent Organization of the district.” three thousand poor people in it, and yet it’s one of the The Marquis de Chouard hastened gallantly to add: richest. You cannot picture to yourself anything like the
“When we learned that a great artiste lived in this house present distress—children with no bread, women ill, ut-we promised ourselves that we would put the claims of terly without assistance, perishing of the cold!” our poor people before her in a very special manner. Talent
“The poor souls!” cried Nana, very much moved.
is never without a heart.”
Such was her feeling of compassion that tears flooded Nana pretended to be modest. She answered them with her fine eyes. No longer studying deportment, she leaned 45
forward with a quick movement, and under her open dress-pointing toward the door; doubtless he knew that kind of ing jacket her neck became visible, while the bent position ring. Muffat looked at him; then they averted their gaze of her knees served to outline the rounded contour of the mutually. They felt awkward and once more assumed their thigh under the thin fabric of her skirt. A little flush of frigid bearing, the one looking square-set and solid with blood appeared in the marquis’s cadaverous cheeks. Count his thick head of hair, the other drawing back his lean shoul-Muffat, who was on the point of speaking, lowered his ders, over which fell his fringe of thin white locks.
eyes. The air of that little room was too hot: it had the
“My faith,” said Nana, bringing the ten big silver pieces close, heavy warmth of a greenhouse. The roses were with-and quite determined to laugh about it, “I am going to enering, and intoxicating odors floated up from the patchouli trust you with this, gentlemen. It is for the poor.” in the cup.
And the adorable little dimple in her chin became appar-
“One would like to be very rich on occasions like this,” ent. She assumed her favorite pose, her amiable baby ex-added Nana. “Well, well, we each do what we can. Believe pression, as she held the pile of five-franc pieces on her me, gentlemen, if I had known—”
open palm and offered it to the men, as though she were She was on the point of being guilty of a silly speech, so saying to them, “Now then, who wants some?” The count melted was she at heart. But she did not end her sentence was the sharper of the two. He took fifty francs but left and for a moment was worried at not being able to remem-one piece behind and, in order to gain possession of it, had ber where she had put her fifty francs on changing her dress.
to pick it off the young woman’s very skin, a moist, supple But she recollected at last: they must be on the corner of skin, the touch of which sent a thrill through him. She was her toilet table under an inverted pomatum pot. As she thoroughly merry and did not cease laughing.
was in the act of rising the bell sounded for quite a long
“Come, gentlemen,” she continued. “Another time I hope time. Capital! Another of them still! It would never end.
to give more.”
The count and the marquis had both risen, too, and the The gentlemen no longer had any pretext for staying, ears of the latter seemed to be pricked up and, as it were, and they bowed and went toward the door. But just as they 46
were about to go out the bell rang anew. The marquis could cried out, laughing more heartily than ever: not conceal a faint smile, while a frown made the count
“There are a pair of beggars for you! Why, they’ve got look more grave than before. Nana detained them some away with my fifty francs!”
seconds so as to give Zoe time to find yet another corner She wasn’t vexed. It struck her as a joke that MEN should for the newcomers. She did not relish meetings at her house.
have got money out of her. All the same, they were swine, Only this time the whole place must be packed! She was for she hadn’t a sou left. But at sight of the cards and the therefore much relieved when she saw the drawing room letters her bad temper returned. As to the letters, why, she empty and asked herself whether Zoe had really stuffed said “pass” to them. They were from fellows who, after them into the cupboards.
applauding her last night, were now making their declara-
“Au revoir, gentlemen,” she said, pausing on the thresh-tions. And as to the callers, they might go about their busi-old of the drawing room.
It was as though she lapped them in her laughing smile Zoe had stowed them all over the place, and she called and clear, unclouded glance. The Count Muffat bowed attention to the great capabilities of the flat, every room in slightly. Despite his great social experience he felt that he which opened on the corridor. That wasn’t the case at Mme had lost his equilibrium. He needed air; he was overcome Blanche’s, where people had all to go through the drawing with the dizzy feeling engendered in that dressing room room. Oh yes, Mme Blanche had had plenty of bothers with a scent of flowers, with a feminine essence which over it!
choked him. And behind his back, the Marquis de Chouard,
“You will send them all away,” continued Nana in pursu-who was sure that he could not be seen, made so bold as to ance of her idea. “Begin with the nigger.” wink at Nana, his whole face suddenly altering its expres-
“Oh, as to him, madame, I gave him his marching orders sion as he did so, and his tongue nigh lolling from his mouth.
a while ago,” said Zoe with a grin. “He only wanted to tell When the young woman re-entered the little room, where Madame that he couldn’t come to-night.” Zoe was awaiting her with letters and visiting cards, she There was vast joy at this announcement, and Nana 47
clapped her hands. He wasn’t coming, what good luck!
The maid still waited, in order to give her mistress time She would be free then! And she emitted sighs of relief, as for reflection. Would not Madame be proud to get such a though she had been let off the most abominable of tor-rich gentleman away from her rival Rose Mignon—a man, tures. Her first thought was for Daguenet. Poor duck, why, moreover, who was known in all the theaters?
she had just written to tell him to wait till Thursday! Quick,
“Now make haste, my dear,” rejoined Nana, who perfectly quick, Mme Maloir should write a second letter! But Zoe understood the situation, “and tell him he pesters me.” announced that Mme Maloir had slipped away unnoticed, But suddenly there was a reversion of feeling. Tomor-according to her wont. Whereupon Nana, after talking of row she might want him. Whereupon she laughed, winked sending someone to him, began to hesitate. She was very once or twice and with a naughty little gesture cried out: tired. A long night’s sleep—oh, it would be so jolly! The
“After all’s said and done, if I want him the best way thought of such a treat overcame her at last. For once in a even now is to kick him out of doors.” way she could allow herself that!
Zoe seemed much impressed. Struck with a sudden ad-
“I shall go to bed when I come back from the theater,” miration, she gazed at her mistress and then went and she murmured greedily, “and you won’t wake me before chucked Steiner out of doors without further deliberation.
Meanwhile Nana waited patiently for a second or two in Then raising her voice:
order to give her time to sweep the place out, as she phrased
“Now then, gee up! Shove the others downstairs!” it. No one would ever have expected such a siege! She Zoe did not move. She would never have dreamed of craned her head into the drawing room and found it empty.
giving her mistress overt advice, only now she made shift The dining room was empty too. But as she continued her to give Madame the benefit of her experience when Ma-visitation in a calmer frame of mind, feeling certain that dame seemed to be running her hot head against a wall.
nobody remained behind, she opened the door of a closet
“Monsieur Steiner as well?” she queried curtly.
and came suddenly upon a very young man. He was sitting
“Why, certainly!” replied Nana. “Before all the rest.” on the top of a trunk, holding a huge bouquet on his knees 48
and looking exceedingly quiet and extremely well behaved.
her hands and kissed them with all the gluttonous eager-
“Goodness gracious me!” she cried. “There’s one of ‘em ness peculiar to his charming time of life. She had to beat in there even now!” The very young man had jumped down him to make him let go. There was a dreadful little drib-at sight of her and was blushing as red as a poppy. He did bling customer for you! But as she scolded him she flushed not know what to do with his bouquet, which he kept shift-rosy-red and began smiling. And with that she sent him ing from one hand to the other, while his looks betrayed about his business, telling him that he might call again. He the extreme of emotion. His youth, his embarrassment and staggered away; he could not find the doors.
the funny figure he cut in his struggles with his flowers Nana went back into her dressing room, where Francis melted Nana’s heart, and she burst into a pretty peal of made his appearance almost simultaneously in order to dress laughter. Well, now, the very children were coming, were her hair for the evening. Seated in front of her mirror and they? Men were arriving in long clothes. So she gave up all bending her head beneath the hairdresser’s nimble hands, airs and graces, became familiar and maternal, tapped her she stayed silently meditative. Presently, however, Zoe leg and asked for fun:
“You want me to wipe your nose; do you, baby?”
“There’s one of them, madame, who refuses to go.”
“Yes,” replied the lad in a low, supplicating tone.
“Very well, he must be left alone,” she answered quietly.
This answer made her merrier than ever. He was seven-
“If that comes to that they still keep arriving.” teen years old, he said. His name was Georges Hugon.
“Bah! Tell ‘em to wait. When they begin to feel too hun-He was at the Varietes last night and now he had come to gry they’ll be off.” Her humor had changed, and she was see her.
now delighted to make people wait about for nothing. A
“These flowers are for me?”
happy thought struck her as very amusing; she escaped
from beneath Francis’ hands and ran and bolted the doors.
“Then give ‘em to me, booby!”
They might now crowd in there as much as they liked; they But as she took the bouquet from him he sprang upon would probably refrain from making a hole through the 49
wall. Zoe could come in and out through the little door-some rough touch and hasty rings which sounded through way leading to the kitchen. However, the electric bell rang the house with shivering rapidity. It was a regular peal, as more lustily than ever. Every five minutes a clear, lively Zoe said, a peal loud enough to upset the neighborhood, little ting-ting recurred as regularly as if it had been pro-seeing that a whole mob of men were jabbing at the ivory duced by some well-adjusted piece of mechanism. And button, one after the other. That old joker Bordenave had Nana counted these rings to while the time away withal.
really been far too lavish with her address. Why, the whole But suddenly she remembered something.
of yesterday’s house was coming!
“I say, where are my burnt almonds?”
“By the by, Francis, have you five louis?” said Nana.
Francis, too, was forgetting about the burnt almonds.
He drew back, looked carefully at her headdress and then But now he drew a paper bag from one of the pockets of quietly remarked:
his frock coat and presented it to her with the discreet ges-
“Five louis, that’s according!”
ture of a man who is offering a lady a present. Neverthe-
“Ah, you know if you want securities. . .” she continued.
less, whenever his accounts came to be settled, he always And without finishing her sentence, she indicated the ad-put the burnt almonds down on his bill. Nana put the bag joining rooms with a sweeping gesture. Francis lent the between her knees and set to work munching her sweet-five louis. Zoe, during each momentary respite, kept com-meats, turning her head from time to time under the ing in to get Madame’s things ready. Soon she came to hairdresser’s gently compelling touch.
dress her while the hairdresser lingered with the intention
“The deuce,” she murmured after a silence, “there’s a of giving some finishing touches to the headdress. But the troop for you!”
bell kept continually disturbing the lady’s maid, who left Thrice, in quick succession, the bell had sounded. Its sum-Madame with her stays half laced and only one shoe on.
monses became fast and furious. There were modest tin-Despite her long experience, the maid was losing her head.
tinnabulations which seemed to stutter and tremble like a After bringing every nook and corner into requisition and first avowal; there were bold rings which vibrated under putting men pretty well everywhere, she had been driven 50
to stow them away in threes and fours, which was a course arranged for them. Thus on his way in he had dismissed of procedure entirely opposed to her principles. So much the creditors in the anteroom. Indeed, those good folks the worse for them if they ate each other up! It would really didn’t want to be paid. On the contrary, if they had afford more room! And Nana, sheltering behind her care-been pressing for payment it was only for the sake of fully bolted door, began laughing at them, declaring that complimenting Madame and of personally renewing their she could hear them pant. They ought to be looking lovely offers of service after her grand success of yesterday.
in there with their tongues hanging out like a lot of
“Let’s be off, let’s be off,” said Nana, who was dressed bowwows sitting round on their behinds. Yesterday’s suc-by now.
cess was not yet over, and this pack of men had followed But at that moment Zoe came in again, shouting: up her scent.
“I refuse to open the door any more. They’re waiting in
“Provided they don’t break anything,” she murmured.
a crowd all down the stairs.”
She began to feel some anxiety, for she fancied she felt A crowd all down the stairs! Francis himself, despite the their hot breath coming through chinks in the door. But English stolidity of manner which he was wont to affect, Zoe ushered Labordette in, and the young woman gave a began laughing as he put up his combs. Nana, who had little shout of relief. He was anxious to tell her about an already taken Labordette’s arm, pushed him into the kitchen account he had settled for her at the justice of peace’s court.
and effected her escape. At last she was delivered from the But she did not attend and said:
men and felt happily conscious that she might now enjoy
“I’ll take you along with me. We’ll have dinner together, his society anywhere without fear of stupid interruptions.
and afterward you shall escort me to the Varietes. I don’t
“You shall see me back to my door,” she said as they go on before half-past nine.”
went down the kitchen stairs. “I shall feel safe, in that case.
Good old Labordette, how lucky it was he had come! He Just fancy, I want to sleep a whole night quite by myself—
was a fellow who never asked for any favors. He was only yes, a whole night! It’s sort of infatuation, dear boy!” the friend of the women, whose little bits of business he 51