Nanna by Emile Zola. - HTML preview
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garden, from which, on this rainy evening of the close of April, issued a sensation of damp despite the great logs burning on the hearth. The sun never shone down into the THE COUNTESS SABINE, as it had become customary room; in the daytime it was dimly lit up by a faint greenish to call Mme Muffat de Beuville in order to distin light, but at night, when the lamps and the chandelier were guish her from the count’s mother, who had died burning, it looked merely a serious old chamber with its the year before, was wont to receive every Tuesday in her massive mahogany First Empire furniture, its hangings and house in the Rue Miromesnil at the corner of the Rue de chair coverings of yellow velvet, stamped with a large de-Pentievre. It was a great square building, and the Muffats sign. Entering it, one was in an atmosphere of cold dignity, had lived in it for a hundred years or more. On the side of of ancient manners, of a vanished age, the air of which the street its frontage seemed to slumber, so lofty was it seemed devotional.
and dark, so sad and conventlike, with its great outer shut-Opposite the armchair, however, in which the count’s ters, which were nearly always closed. And at the back in a mother had died—a square armchair of formal design and little dark garden some trees had grown up and were strain-inhospitable padding, which stood by the hearthside—the ing toward the sunlight with such long slender branches Countess Sabine was seated in a deep and cozy lounge, that their tips were visible above the roof.
the red silk upholsteries of which were soft as eider down.
This particular Tuesday, toward ten o’clock in the It was the only piece of modern furniture there, a fanciful evening, there were scarcely a dozen people in the draw-item introduced amid the prevailing severity and clashing ing room. When she was only expecting intimate friends with it.
the countess opened neither the little drawing room nor
“So we shall have the shah of Persia,” the young woman the dining room. One felt more at home on such occasions was saying.
and chatted round the fire. The drawing room was very They were talking of the crowned heads who were com-large and very lofty; its four windows looked out upon the ing to Paris for the exhibition. Several ladies had formed a 52
circle round the hearth, and Mme du Joncquoy, whose Behind her seat her husband, a magistrate, stood listening brother, a diplomat, had just fulfilled a mission in the East, with serious air. It was rumored that she deceived him quite was giving some details about the court of Nazr-ed-Din.
openly, but people pardoned her offense and received her
“Are you out of sorts, my dear?” asked Mme Chantereau, just the same, because, they said, “she’s not answerable for the wife of an ironmaster, seeing the countess shivering her actions.”
slightly and growing pale as she did so.
“Oh that Leonide!” the Countess Sabine contented her-
“Oh no, not at all,” replied the latter, smiling. “I felt a self by murmuring, smiling her faint smile the while.
little cold. This drawing room takes so long to warm.” With a languid movement she eked out the thought that And with that she raised her melancholy eyes and was in her. After having lived there seventeen years she scanned the walls from floor to ceiling. Her daughter certainly would not alter her drawing room now. It would Estelle, a slight, insignificant-looking girl of sixteen, the henceforth remain just such as her mother-in-law had thankless period of life, quitted the large footstool on wished to preserve it during her lifetime. Then returning to which she was sitting and silently came and propped up the subject of conversation:
one of the logs which had rolled from its place. But Mme
“I have been assured,” she said, “that we shall also have de Chezelles, a convent friend of Sabine’s and her junior the king of Prussia and the emperor of Russia.” by five years, exclaimed:
‘Yes, some very fine fetes are promised,” said Mme du
“Dear me, I would gladly be possessed of a drawing room Joncquoy.
such as yours! At any rate, you are able to receive visitors.
The banker Steiner, not long since introduced into this They only build boxes nowadays. Oh, if I were in your circle by Leonide de Chezelles, who was acquainted with place!”
the whole of Parisian society, was sitting chatting on a sofa She ran giddily on and with lively gestures explained how between two of the windows. He was questioning a deputy, she would alter the hangings, the seats—everything, in fact.
from whom he was endeavoring with much adroitness to Then she would give balls to which all Paris should run.
elicit news about a movement on the stock exchange of 53
which he had his suspicions, while the Count Muffat, stand-of arable land or forest, which amounted, in fact, to quite a ing in front of them, was silently listening to their talk, respectable slice of his vast estates in Picardy.
looking, as he did so, even grayer than was his wont.
“I advise you to call other people skeptics! Why, you Four or five young men formed another group near the don’t believe a thing yourself,” said Leonide, making shift door round the Count Xavier de Vandeuvres, who in a low to find him a little space in which to sit down at her side.
tone was telling them an anecdote. It was doubtless a very
“It’s you who spoil your own pleasures.” risky one, for they were choking with laughter.
“Exactly,” he replied. “I wish to make others benefit by Companionless in the center of the room, a stout man, a my experience.”
chief clerk at the Ministry of the Interior, sat heavily in an But the company imposed silence on him: he was scan-armchair, dozing with his eyes open. But when one of the dalizing M. Venot. And, the ladies having changed their young men appeared to doubt the truth of the anecdote positions, a little old man of sixty, with bad teeth and a Vandeuvres raised his voice.
subtle smile, became visible in the depths of an easy chair.
“You are too much of a skeptic, Foucarmont; you’ll spoil There he sat as comfortably as in his own house, listening all your pleasures that way.”
to everybody’s remarks and making none himself. With a And he returned to the ladies with a laugh. Last scion of slight gesture he announced himself by no means scandal-a great family, of feminine manners and witty tongue, he ized. Vandeuvres once more assumed his dignified bearing was at that time running through a fortune with a rage of and added gravely:
life and appetite which nothing could appease. His racing
“Monsieur Venot is fully aware that I believe what it is stable, which was one of the best known in Paris, cost him one’s duty to believe.”
a fabulous amount of money; his betting losses at the Im-It was an act of faith, and even Leonide appeared satis-perial Club amounted monthly to an alarming number of fied. The young men at the end of the room no longer pounds, while taking one year with another, his mistresses laughed; the company were old fogies, and amusement was would be always devouring now a farm, now some acres not to be found there. A cold breath of wind had passed 54
over them, and amid the ensuing silence Steiner’s nasal
“Madame,” he said, “I have not forgotten your extremely voice became audible. The deputy’s discreet answers were kind invitation.”
at last driving him to desperation. For a second or two the She smiled and made a pretty little speech. The journal-Countess Sabine looked at the fire; then she resumed the ist, after bowing to the count, stood for some moments in conversation.
the middle of the drawing room. He only recognized Steiner
“I saw the king of Prussia at Baden-Baden last year. He’s and accordingly looked rather out of his element. But still full of vigor for his age.” Vandeuvres turned and came and shook hands with him.
“Count Bismarck is to accompany him,” said Mme du And forthwith, in his delight at the meeting and with a sud-Joncquoy. “Do you know the count? I lunched with him at den desire to be confidential, Fauchery buttonholed him my brother’s ages ago, when he was representative of and said in a low voice:
Prussia in Paris. There’s a man now whose latest successes
“It’s tomorrow. Are you going?”
I cannot in the least understand.”
“But why?” asked Mme Chantereau.
“At midnight, at her house.
“Good gracious, how am I to explain? He doesn’t please
“I know, I know. I’m going with Blanche.” me. His appearance is boorish and underbred. Besides, so He wanted to escape and return to the ladies in order to far as I am concerned, I find him stupid.” urge yet another reason in M. de Bismarck’s favor. But With that the whole room spoke of Count Bismarck, Fauchery detained him.
and opinions differed considerably. Vandeuvres knew him
“You never will guess whom she has charged me to and assured the company that he was great in his cups invite.”
and at play. But when the discussion was at its height the And with a slight nod he indicated Count Muffat, who door was opened, and Hector de la Falois made his ap-was just then discussing a knotty point in the budget with pearance. Fauchery, who followed in his wake, ap-Steiner and the deputy.
proached the countess and, bowing:
“It’s impossible,” said Vandeuvres, stupefaction and mer-55
riment in his tones. “My word on it! I had to swear that I old town house. Fauchery scrutinized her and yet hesitated.
would bring him to her. Indeed, that’s one of my reasons One of his friends, a captain who had recently died in for coming here.”
Mexico, had, on the very eve of his departure, made him Both laughed silently, and Vandeuvres, hurriedly rejoin-one of those gross postprandial confessions, of which even ing the circle of ladies, cried out: the most prudent among men are occasionally guilty. But
“I declare that on the contrary Monsieur de Bismarck is of this he only retained a vague recollection; they had dined exceedingly witty. For instance, one evening he said a not wisely but too well that evening, and when he saw the charmingly epigrammatic thing in my presence.” countess, in her black dress and with her quiet smile, seated La Faloise meanwhile had heard the few rapid sentences in that Old World drawing room, he certainly had his doubts.
thus whisperingly interchanged, and he gazed at Fauchery A lamp which had been placed behind her threw into clear in hopes of an explanation which was not vouchsafed him.
relief her dark, delicate, plump side face, wherein a certain Of whom were they talking, and what were they going to heaviness in the contours of the mouth alone indicated a do at midnight tomorrow? He did not leave his cousin’s species of imperious sensuality.
side again. The latter had gone and seated himself. He was
“What do they want with their Bismarck?” muttered La especially interested by the Countess Sabine. Her name had Faloise, whose constant pretense it was to be bored in good often been mentioned in his presence, and he knew that, society. “One’s ready to kick the bucket here. A pretty idea having been married at the age of seventeen, she must now of yours it was to want to come!” be thirty-four and that since her marriage she had passed a Fauchery questioned him abruptly.
cloistered existence with her husband and her mother-in-
“Now tell me, does the countess admit someone to her law. In society some spoke of her as a woman of religious embraces?”
chastity, while others pitied her and recalled to memory
“Oh dear, no, no! My dear fellow!” he stammered, mani-her charming bursts of laughter and the burning glances of festly taken aback and quite forgetting his pose. “Where her great eyes in the days prior to her imprisonment in this d’you think we are?”
After which he was conscious of a want of up-to-dateness naturally he had found himself in favor after the second of in this outburst of indignation and, throwing himself back December. He hadn’t much gaiety of manner either, but he on a great sofa, he added:
passed for a very honest man of straightforward intentions
“Gad! I say no! But I don’t know much about it. There’s and understanding. Add to these a code of old aristocratic a little chap out there, Foucarmont they call him, who’s to ideas and such a lofty conception of his duties at court, of be met with everywhere and at every turn. One’s seen faster his dignities and of his virtues, that he behaved like a god men than that, though, you bet. However, it doesn’t con-on wheels. It was the Mamma Muffat who had given him cern me, and indeed, all I know is that if the countess in-this precious education with its daily visits to the confes-dulges in high jinks she’s still pretty sly about it, for the sional, its complete absence of escapades and of all that is thing never gets about—nobody talks.” meant by youth. He was a practicing Christian and had Then although Fauchery did not take the trouble to ques-attacks of faith of such fiery violence that they might be tion him, he told him all he knew about the Muffats. Amid likened to accesses of burning fever. Finally, in order to the conversation of the ladies, which still continued in front add a last touch to the picture, La Faloise whispered some-of the hearth, they both spoke in subdued tones, and, see-thing in his cousin’s ear.
ing them there with their white cravats and gloves, one
“You don’t say so!” said the latter.
might have supposed them to be discussing in chosen
“On my word of honor, they swore it was true! He was phraseology some really serious topic. Old Mme Muffat still like that when he married.” then, whom La Faloise had been well acquainted with, was Fauchery chuckled as he looked at the count, whose face, an insufferable old lady, always hand in glove with the with its fringe of whiskers and absence of mustaches, priests. She had the grand manner, besides, and an authori-seemed to have grown squarer and harder now that he was tative way of comporting herself, which bent everybody to busy quoting figures to the writhing, struggling Steiner.
her will. As to Muffat, he was an old man’s child; his fa-
“My word, he’s got a phiz for it!” murmured Fauchery.
ther, a general, had been created count by Napoleon I, and
“A pretty present he made his wife! Poor little thing, how 57
he must have bored her! She knows nothing about any-mother’s death. A terrible man was the marquis, a man thing, I’ll wager!”
about whom strange tales were beginning to be told, and Just then the Countess Sabine was saying something to that despite his lofty piety! Fauchery asked if he should him. But he did not hear her, so amusing and extraordi-have the honor of meeting him. Certainly her father was nary did he esteem the Muffats’ case. She repeated the coming, but only very late; he had so much work on hand!
The journalist thought he knew where the old gentleman
“Monsieur Fauchery, have you not published a sketch of passed his evenings and looked grave. But a mole, which Monsieur de Bismarck? You spoke with him once?” he noticed close to her mouth on the countess’s left cheek, He got up briskly and approached the circle of ladies, surprised him. Nana had precisely the same mole. It was endeavoring to collect himself and soon with perfect ease curious. Tiny hairs curled up on it, only they were golden of manner finding an answer:
in Nana’s case, black as jet in this. Ah well, never mind!
“Dear me, madame, I assure you I wrote that ‘portrait’
This woman enjoyed nobody’s embraces.
with the help of biographies which had been published in
“I have always felt a wish to know Queen Augusta,” she Germany. I have never seen Monsieur de Bismarck.” said. “They say she is so good, so devout. Do you think He remained beside the countess and, while talking with she will accompany the king?”
her, continued his meditations. She did not look her age;
“It is not thought that she will, madame,” he replied.
one would have set her down as being twenty-eight at most, She had no lovers: the thing was only too apparent. One for her eyes, above all, which were filled with the dark blue had only to look at her there by the side of that daughter of shadow of her long eyelashes, retained the glowing light of hers, sitting so insignificant and constrained on her foot-youth. Bred in a divided family, so that she used to spend stool. That sepulchral drawing room of hers, which ex-one month with the Marquis de Chouard, another with the haled odors suggestive of being in a church, spoke as plainly marquise, she had been married very young, urged on, as words could of the iron hand, the austere mode of exist-doubtless, by her father, whom she embarrassed after her ence, that weighed her down. There was nothing sugges-58
tive of her own personality in that ancient abode, black his escape from the circle of ladies. “We’ll hook it!” with the damps of years. It was Muffat who made himself But Steiner, deserted at last by the Count Muffat and the felt there, who dominated his surroundings with his devo-deputy, came up in a fury. Drops of perspiration stood on tional training, his penances and his fasts. But the sight of his forehead, and he grumbled huskily: the little old gentleman with the black teeth and subtle smile
“Gad! Let ‘em tell me nothing, if nothing they want to whom he suddenly discovered in his armchair behind the tell me. I shall find people who will talk.” group of ladies afforded him a yet more decisive argument.
Then he pushed the journalist into a corner and, altering He knew the personage. It was Theophile Venot, a retired his tone, said in accents of victory: lawyer who had made a specialty of church cases. He had
“It’s tomorrow, eh? I’m of the party, my bully!” left off practice with a handsome fortune and was now
“Indeed!” muttered Fauchery with some astonishment.
leading a sufficiently mysterious existence, for he was re-
“You didn’t know about it. Oh, I had lots of bother to ceived everywhere, treated with great deference and even find her at home. Besides, Mignon never would leave me somewhat feared, as though he had been the representa-alone.”
tive of a mighty force, an occult power, which was felt to
“But they’re to be there, are the Mignons.” be at his back. Nevertheless, his behavior was very humble.
“Yes, she told me so. In fact, she did receive my visit, He was churchwarden at the Madeleine Church and had and she invited me. Midnight punctually, after the play.” simply accepted the post of deputy mayor at the town house The banker was beaming. He winked and added with a of the Ninth Arrondissement in order, as he said, to have peculiar emphasis on the words:
something to do in his leisure time. Deuce take it, the count-
“You’ve worked it, eh?”
ess was well guarded; there was nothing to be done in that
“Eh, what?” said Fauchery, pretending not to understand quarter.
him. “She wanted to thank me for my article, so she came
“You’re right, it’s enough to make one kick the bucket and called on me.”
here,” said Fauchery to his cousin when he had made good
“Yes, yes. You fellows are fortunate. You get rewarded.
By the by, who pays the piper tomorrow?” had risen briskly from her seat in order to go and greet her, The journalist made a slight outward movement with his and she had taken both her hands in hers and addressed her arms, as though he would intimate that no one had ever as her “dear Madame Hugon.” Seeing that his cousin been able to find out. But Vandeuvres called to Steiner, viewed this little episode with some curiosity, La Faloise who knew M. de Bismarck. Mme du Joncquoy had almost sought to arouse his interest and in a few brief phrases convinced herself of the truth of her suppositions; she con-explained the position. Mme Hugon, widow of a notary, cluded with these words:
lived in retirement at Les Fondettes, an old estate of her
“He gave me an unpleasant impression. I think his face is family’s in the neighborhood of Orleans, but she also kept evil. But I am quite willing to believe that he has a deal of up a small establishment in Paris in a house belonging to wit. It would account for his successes.” her in the Rue de Richelieu and was now passing some
“Without doubt,” said the banker with a faint smile. He weeks there in order to settle her youngest son, who was was a Jew from Frankfort.
reading the law and in his “first year.” In old times she had Meanwhile La Faloise at last made bold to question his been a dear friend of the Marquise de Chouard and had cousin. He followed him up and got inside his guard: assisted at the birth of the countess, who, prior to her mar-
“There’s supper at a woman’s tomorrow evening? With riage, used to stay at her house for months at a time and which of them, eh? With which of them?” even now was quite familiarly treated by her.
Fauchery motioned to him that they were overheard and
“I have brought Georges to see you,” said Mme Hugon must respect the conventions here. The door had just been to Sabine. “He’s grown, I trust.” opened anew, and an old lady had come in, followed by a The young man with his clear eyes and the fair curls which young man in whom the journalist recognized the truant suggested a girl dressed up as a boy bowed easily to the schoolboy, perpetrator of the famous and as yet unforgotten countess and reminded her of a bout of battledore and
“tres chic” of the Blonde Venus first night. This lady’s ar-shuttlecock they had had together two years ago at Les rival caused a stir among the company. The Countess Sabine Fondettes.
“Philippe is not in Paris?” asked Count Muffat.
taurant. Impelled by a sort of sensuous curiosity, he had
“Dear me, no!” replied the old lady. “He is always in always wanted an introduction into the Muffats’ circle, and garrison at Bourges.” She had seated herself and began now that his friend was in Mexico through all eternity, who talking with considerable pride of her eldest son, a great could tell what might happen? “We shall see,” he thought.
big fellow who, after enlisting in a fit of waywardness, It was a folly, doubtless, but the idea kept tormenting him; had of late very rapidly attained the rank of lieutenant.
he felt himself drawn on and his animal nature aroused.
All the ladies behaved to her with respectful sympathy, The big chair had a rumpled look—its nether cushions had and conversation was resumed in a tone at once more been tumbled, a fact which now amused him.
amiable and more refined. Fauchery, at sight of that re-
“Well, shall we be off?” asked La Faloise, mentally vow-spectable Mme Hugon, that motherly face lit up with such ing that once outside he would find out the name of the a kindly smile beneath its broad tresses of white hair, woman with whom people were going to sup.
thought how foolish he had been to suspect the Countess
“All in good time,” replied Fauchery.
Sabine even for an instant.
But he was no longer in any hurry and excused himself Nevertheless, the big chair with the red silk upholsteries on the score of the invitation he had been commissioned to in which the countess sat had attracted his attention. Its give and had as yet not found a convenient opportunity to style struck him as crude, not to say fantastically sugges-mention. The ladies were chatting about an assumption of tive, in that dim old drawing room. Certainly it was not the the veil, a very touching ceremony by which the whole of count who had inveigled thither that nest of voluptuous Parisian society had for the last three days been greatly idleness. One might have described it as an experiment, moved. It was the eldest daughter of the Baronne de marking the birth of an appetite and of an enjoyment. Then Fougeray, who, under stress of an irresistible vocation, had he forgot where he was, fell into brown study and in thought just entered the Carmelite Convent. Mme Chantereau, a even harked back to that vague confidential announcement distant cousin of the Fougerays, told how the baroness had imparted to him one evening in the dining room of a res-been obliged to take to her bed the day after the ceremony, 61
so overdone was she with weeping.
looked at her as she sat quaintly perched, in her volumi-
“I had a very good place,” declared Leonide. “I found it nous ball dress of pale blue satin, on the corner of her arm-interesting.”
chair. She looked as slight and impudent as a boy, and he Nevertheless, Mme Hugon pitied the poor mother. How ended by feeling astonished at seeing her there. People sad to lose a daughter in such a way!
comported themselves better at Caroline Hequet’s, whose
“I am accused of being overreligious,” she said in her mother had arranged her house on serious principles. Here quiet, frank manner, “but that does not prevent me think-was a perfect subject for an article. What a strange world ing the children very cruel who obstinately commit such was this world of Paris! The most rigid circles found them-suicide.”
selves invaded. Evidently that silent Theophile Venot, who
“Yes, it’s a terrible thing,” murmured the countess, shiv-contented himself by smiling and showing his ugly teeth, ering a little, as became a chilly person, and huddling her-must have been a legacy from the late countess. So, too, self anew in the depths of her big chair in front of the fire.
must have been such ladies of mature age as Mme Then the ladies fell into a discussion. But their voices Chantereau and Mme du Joncquoy, besides four or five were discreetly attuned, while light trills of laughter now old gentlemen who sat motionless in corners. The Count and again interrupted the gravity of their talk. The two Muffat attracted to the house a series of functionaries, dis-lamps on the chimney piece, which had shades of rose-tinguished by the immaculate personal appearance which colored lace, cast a feeble light over them while on scat-was at that time required of the men at the Tuileries. Among tered pieces of furniture there burned but three other lamps, others there was the chief clerk, who still sat solitary in the so that the great drawing room remained in soft shadow.
middle of the room with his closely shorn cheeks, his va-Steiner was getting bored. He was describing to Fauchery cant glance and his coat so tight of fit that he could scarce an escapade of that little Mme de Chezelles, whom he sim-venture to move. Almost all the young men and certain ply referred to as Leonide. “A blackguard woman,” he said, individuals with distinguished, aristocratic manners were lowering his voice behind the ladies’ armchairs. Fauchery the Marquis de Chouard’s contribution to the circle, he 62
having kept touch with the Legitimist party after making tary pause of conversation the invited guests had become his peace with the empire on his entrance into the Council suddenly aware that the count’s mother, in all her glacial of State. There remained Leonide de Chezelles and Steiner, stateliness, had returned among them.
an ugly little knot against which Mme Hugon’s elderly and But the Countess Sabine had once more resumed: amiable serenity stood out in strange contrast. And
“Well, at last the news of it got about. The young man Fauchery, having sketched out his article, named this last was likely to die, and that would explain the poor child’s group “Countess Sabine’s little clique.” adoption of the religious life. Besides, they say that Mon-
“On another occasion,” continued Steiner in still lower sieur de Fougeray would never have given his consent to tones, “Leonide got her tenor down to Montauban. She the marriage.”
was living in the Chateau de Beaurecueil, two leagues far-
“They say heaps of other things too,” cried Leonide ther off, and she used to come in daily in a carriage and giddily.
pair in order to visit him at the Lion d’Or, where he had She fell a-laughing; she refused to talk. Sabine was won put up. The carriage used to wait at the door, and Leonide over by this gaiety and put her handkerchief up to her lips.
would stay for hours in the house, while a crowd gathered And in the vast and solemn room their laughter sounded a round and looked at the horses.”
note which struck Fauchery strangely, the note of delicate There was a pause in the talk, and some solemn mo-glass breaking. Assuredly here was the first beginning of ments passed silently by in the lofty room. Two young men the “little rift.” Everyone began talking again. Mme du were whispering, but they ceased in their turn, and the Joncquoy demurred; Mme Chantereau knew for certain hushed step of Count Muffat was alone audible as he that a marriage had been projected but that matters had crossed the floor. The lamps seemed to have paled; the fire gone no further; the men even ventured to give their opin-was going out; a stern shadow fell athwart the old friends ions. For some minutes the conversation was a babel of of the house where they sat in the chairs they had occupied opinions, in which the divers elements of the circle, whether there for forty years back. It was as though in a momen-Bonapartist or Legitimist or merely worldly and skeptical, 63
appeared to jostle one another simultaneously. Estelle had But interrupting himself, he returned to the subject of rung to order wood to be put on the fire; the footman turned tomorrow’s supper.
up the lamps; the room seemed to wake from sleep.
“What’s so tiresome of those shows is that it’s always Fauchery began smiling, as though once more at his ease.
the same set of women. One wants a novelty. Do try and
“Egad, they become the brides of God when they couldn’t invent a new girl. By Jove, happy thought! I’ll go and be-be their cousin’s,” said Vandeuvres between his teeth.
seech that stout man to bring the woman he was trotting The subject bored him, and he had rejoined Fauchery.
about the other evening at the Varietes.”
“My dear fellow, have you ever seen a woman who was He referred to the chief clerk, sound asleep in the middle really loved become a nun?”
of the drawing room. Fauchery, afar off, amused himself He did not wait for an answer, for he had had enough of by following this delicate negotiation. Vandeuvres had sat the topic, and in a hushed voice: himself down by the stout man, who still looked very se-
“Tell me,” he said, “how many of us will there be tomor-date. For some moments they both appeared to be discuss-row? There’ll be the Mignons, Steiner, yourself, Blanche ing with much propriety the question before the house, and I; who else?”
which was, “How can one discover the exact state of feel-
“Caroline, I believe, and Simonne and Gaga without ing that urges a young girl to enter into the religious life?” doubt. One never knows exactly, does one? On such occa-Then the count returned with the remark: sions one expects the party will number twenty, and you’re
“It’s impossible. He swears she’s straight. She’d refuse, really thirty.”
and yet I would have wagered that I once saw her at Vandeuvres, who was looking at the ladies, passed Laure’s.”
abruptly to another subject:
“Eh, what? You go to Laure’s?” murmured Fauchery with
“She must have been very nice-looking, that Du Joncquoy a chuckle. “You venture your reputation in places like that?
woman, some fifteen years ago. Poor Estelle has grown I was under the impression that it was only we poor devils lankier than ever. What a nice lath to put into a bed!” of outsiders who—”
“Ah, dear boy, one ought to see every side of life.”
“What! You don’t love music, madame?” cried Mme du Then they sneered and with sparkling eyes they com-Joncquoy, lifting her eyes to heaven. “Is it possible there pared notes about the table d’hote in the Rue des Martyrs, should be people who don’t love music?” where big Laure Piedefer ran a dinner at three francs a The exclamation of surprise was general. No one had head for little women in difficulties. A nice hole, where all dropped a single word concerning the performance at the the little women used to kiss Laure on the lips! And as the Varietes, at which the good Mme Hugon had not under-Countess Sabine, who had overheard a stray word or two, stood any of the allusions. The ladies knew the piece but turned toward them, they started back, rubbing shoulders said nothing about it, and with that they plunged into the in excited merriment. They had not noticed that Georges realm of sentiment and began discussing the masters in a Hugon was close by and that he was listening to them, tone of refined and ecstatical admiration. Mme du Joncquoy blushing so hotly the while that a rosy flush had spread was not fond of any of them save Weber, while Mme from his ears to his girlish throat. The infant was full of Chantereau stood up for the Italians. The ladies’ voices had shame and of ecstasy. From the moment his mother had turned soft and languishing, and in front of the hearth one turned him loose in the room he had been hovering in the might have fancied one’s self listening in meditative, reli-wake of Mme de Chezelles, the only woman present who gious retirement to the faint, discreet music of a little chapel.
struck him as being the thing. But after all is said and done,
“Now let’s see,” murmured Vandeuvres, bringing Nana licked her to fits!
Fauchery back into the middle of the drawing room, “not-
“Yesterday evening,” Mme Hugon was saying, “Georges withstanding it all, we must invent a woman for tomorrow.
took me to the play. Yes, we went to the Varietes, where I Shall we ask Steiner about it?”
certainly had not set foot for the last ten years. That child
“Oh, when Steiner’s got hold of a woman,” said the jour-adores music. As to me, I wasn’t in the least amused, but he nalist, “it’s because Paris has done with her.” was so happy! They put extraordinary pieces on the stage Vandeuvres, however, was searching about on every side.
nowadays. Besides, music delights me very little, I confess.”
“Wait a bit,” he continued, “the other day I met 65
Foucarmont with a charming blonde. I’ll go and tell him to the service, and he’s going to try to get Louise from the bring her.”
And he called to Foucarmont. They exchanged a few
“Is it not true, Monsieur de Vandeuvres,” asked Mme words rapidly. There must have been some sort of compli-Chantereau, raising her voice, “that Wagner’s music was cation, for both of them, moving carefully forward and step-hissed last Sunday?”
ping over the dresses of the ladies, went off in quest of
“Oh, frightfully, madame,” he made answer, coming for-another young man with whom they continued the discus-ward with his usual exquisite politeness.
sion in the embrasure of a window. Fauchery was left to Then, as they did not detain him, he moved off and con-himself and had just decided to proceed to the hearth, where tinued whispering in the journalist’s ear: Mme du Joncquoy was announcing that she never heard
“I’m going to press some more of them. These young Weber played without at the same time seeing lakes, for-fellows must know some little ladies.” ests and sunrises over landscapes steeped in dew, when a With that he was observed to accost men and to engage hand touched his shoulder and a voice behind him remarked: them in conversation in his usual amiable and smiling way
“It’s not civil of you.”
in every corner of the drawing room. He mixed with the
“What d’you mean?” he asked, turning round and recog-various groups, said something confidently to everyone and nizing La Faloise.
walked away again with a sly wink and a secret signal or
“Why, about that supper tomorrow. You might easily have two. It looked as though he were giving out a watchword got me invited.”
in that easy way of his. The news went round; the place of Fauchery was at length about to state his reasons when meeting was announced, while the ladies’ sentimental dis-Vandeuvres came back to tell him: sertations on music served to conceal the small, feverish
“It appears it isn’t a girl of Foucarmont’s. It’s that man’s rumor of these recruiting operations.
flame out there. She won’t be able to come. What a piece
“No, do not speak of your Germans,” Mme Chantereau of bad luck! But all the same I’ve pressed Foucarmont into was saying. “Song is gaiety; song is light. Have you heard 66
Patti in the Barber of Seville?”
once; only he made him promise to bring Clarisse with him,
“She was delicious!” murmured Leonide, who strummed and when La Faloise pretended to scruple about certain none but operatic airs on her piano.
points he quieted him by the remark: Meanwhile the Countess Sabine had rung. When on Tues-
“Since I invite you that’s enough!” days the number of visitors was small, tea was handed round Nevertheless, La Faloise would have much liked to know the drawing room itself. While directing a footman to clear the name of the hostess. But the countess had recalled a round table the countess followed the Count de Vandeuvres and was questioning him as to the manner in Vandeuvres with her eyes. She still smiled that vague smile which the English made tea. He often betook himself to which slightly disclosed her white teeth, and as the count England, where his horses ran. Then as though he had been passed she questioned him.
inwardly following up quite a laborious train of thought
“What are you plotting, Monsieur de Vandeuvres?” during his remarks, he broke in with the question:
“What am I plotting, madame?” he answered quietly.
“And the marquis, by the by? Are we not to see him?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Oh, certainly you will! My father made me a formal
“Really! I saw you so busy. Pray, wait, you shall make promise that he would come,” replied the countess. “But yourself useful!”
I’m beginning to be anxious. His duties will have kept him.” She placed an album in his hands and asked him to put it Vandeuvres smiled a discreet smile. He, too, seemed to on the piano. But he found means to inform Fauchery in a have his doubts as to the exact nature of the Marquis de low whisper that they would have Tatan Nene, the most Chouard’s duties. Indeed, he had been thinking of a pretty finely developed girl that winter, and Maria Blond, the same woman whom the marquis occasionally took into the coun-who had just made her first appearance at the Folies-try with him. Perhaps they could get her too.
Dramatiques. Meanwhile La Faloise stopped him at every In the meantime Fauchery decided that the moment had step in hopes of receiving an invitation. He ended by offer-come in which to risk giving Count Muff his invitation.
ing himself, and Vandeuvres engaged him in the plot at The evening, in fact, was drawing to a close.
“Are you serious?” asked Vandeuvres, who thought a going to finish its contents. As to the countess, she went in joke was intended.
a leisurely way from one guest to another, never pressing
“Extremely serious. If I don’t execute my commission them, indeed, only pausing a second or two before the she’ll tear my eyes out. It’s a case of landing her fish, you gentlemen whom she viewed with an air of dumb interro-know.”
gation before she smiled and passed on. The great fire had
“Well then, I’ll help you, dear boy.” flushed all her face, and she looked as if she were the sister Eleven o’clock struck. Assisted by her daughter, the of her daughter, who appeared so withered and ungainly at countess was pouring out the tea, and as hardly any guests her side. When she drew near Fauchery, who was chatting save intimate friends had come, the cups and the platefuls with her husband and Vandeuvres, she noticed that they of little cakes were being circulated without ceremony. Even grew suddenly silent; accordingly she did not stop but the ladies did not leave their armchairs in front of the fire handed the cup of tea she was offering to Georges Hugon and sat sipping their tea and nibbling cakes which they held beyond them.
between their finger tips. From music the talk had declined
“It’s a lady who desires your company at supper,” the to purveyors. Boissier was the only person for sweetmeats journalist gaily continued, addressing Count Muffat.
and Catherine for ices. Mme Chantereau, however, was all The last-named, whose face had worn its gray look all the for Latinville. Speech grew more and more indolent, and a evening, seemed very much surprised. What lady was it?
sense of lassitude was lulling the room to sleep. Steiner
“Oh, Nana!” said Vandeuvres, by way of forcing the had once more set himself secretly to undermine the deputy, invitation.
whom he held in a state of blockade in the corner of a The count became more grave than before. His eyelids settee. M. Venot, whose teeth must have been ruined by trembled just perceptibly, while a look of discomfort, such sweet things, was eating little dry cakes, one after the other, as headache produces, hovered for a moment athwart his with a small nibbling sound suggestive of a mouse, while forehead.
the chief clerk, his nose in a teacup, seemed never to be
“But I’m not acquainted with that lady,” he murmured.
“Come, come, you went to her house,” remarked was in disorder; his blue eyes shone like tapers, so fiercely Vandeuvres.
had the vice, which for some days past had surrounded
“What d’you say? I went to her house? Oh yes, the other him, inflamed and stirred his blood. At last he was going to day, in behalf of the Benevolent Organization. I had for-plunge into all that he had dreamed of!
gotten about it. But, no matter, I am not acquainted with
“I don’t know the address,” La Faloise resumed.
her, and I cannot accept.”
“She lives on a third floor in the Boulevard Haussmann, He had adopted an icy expression in order to make them between the Rue de l’Arcade and the Rue Pesquier,” said understand that this jest did not appear to him to be in Georges all in a breath.
good taste. A man of his position did not sit down at tables And when the other looked at him in much astonishment, of such women as that. Vandeuvres protested: it was to be he added, turning very red and fit to sink into the ground a supper party of dramatic and artistic people, and talent with embarrassment and conceit:
excused everything. But without listening further to the
“I’m of the party. She invited me this morning.” arguments urged by Fauchery, who spoke of a dinner where But there was a great stir in the drawing room, and the Prince of Scots, the son of a queen, had sat down be-Vandeuvres and Fauchery could not continue pressing the side an ex-music-hall singer, the count only emphasized count. The Marquis de Chouard had just come in, and ev-his refusal. In so doing, he allowed himself, despite his great eryone was anxious to greet him. He had moved painfully politeness, to be guilty of an irritated gesture.
forward, his legs failing under him, and he now stood in Georges and La Faloise, standing in front of each other the middle of the room with pallid face and eyes blinking, drinking their tea, had overheard the two or three phrases as though he had just come out of some dark alley and exchanged in their immediate neighborhood.
were blinded by the brightness of the lamps.
“Jove, it’s at Nana’s then,” murmured La Faloise. “I might
“I scarcely hoped to see you tonight, Father,” said the have expected as much!”
countess. “I should have been anxious till the morning.” Georges said nothing, but he was all aflame. His fair hair He looked at her without answering, as a man might who 69
fails to understand. His nose, which loomed immense on Vandeuvres had exchanged glances with Fauchery. They his shorn face, looked like a swollen pimple, while his lower both happened to be behind the marquis, and they were lip hung down. Seeing him such a wreck, Mme Hugon, full scanning him suspiciously. When Vandeuvres found an of kind compassion, said pitying things to him.
opportunity to take him aside and to speak to him about
“You work too hard. You ought to rest yourself. At our the good-looking creature he was in the habit of taking age we ought to leave work to the young people.” down into the country, the old man affected extreme sur-
“Work! Ah yes, to be sure, work!” he stammered at last.
prise. Perhaps someone had seen him with the Baroness
“Always plenty of work.”
Decker, at whose house at Viroflay he sometimes spent a He began to pull himself together, straightening up his day or so. Vandeuvres’s sole vengeance was an abrupt bent figure and passing his hand, as was his wont, over question:
his scant gray hair, of which a few locks strayed behind
“Tell me, where have you been straying to? Your elbow his ears.
is covered with cobwebs and plaster.”
“At what are you working as late as this?” asked Mme
“My elbow,” he muttered, slightly disturbed. “Yes indeed, du Joncquoy. “I thought you were at the financial minister’s it’s true. A speck or two, I must have come in for them on reception?”
my way down from my office.”
But the countess intervened with: Several people were taking their departure. It was close
“My father had to study the question of a projected law.” on midnight. Two footmen were noiselessly removing the
“Yes, a projected law,” he said; “exactly so, a projected empty cups and the plates with cakes. In front of the hearth law. I shut myself up for that reason. It refers to work in the ladies had re-formed and, at the same time, narrowed factories, and I was anxious for a proper observance of the their circle and were chatting more carelessly than before Lord’s day of rest. It is really shameful that the govern-in the languid atmosphere peculiar to the close of a party.
ment is unwilling to act with vigor in the matter. Churches The very room was going to sleep, and slowly creeping are growing empty; we are running headlong to ruin.” shadows were cast by its walls. It was then Fauchery spoke 70
of departure. Yet he once more forgot his intention at sight stool. They had raised their voices without noticing her, of the Countess Sabine. She was resting from her cares as and she must have overheard them. Nevertheless, she con-hostess, and as she sat in her wonted seat, silent, her eyes tinued sitting there stiff and motionless, not a hair having fixed on a log which was turning into embers, her face lifted on her thin neck, which was that of a girl who has appeared so white and so impassable that doubt again pos-shot up all too quickly. Thereupon they retired three or sessed him. In the glow of the fire the small black hairs on four paces, and Vandeuvres vowed that the countess was a the mole at the corner of her lip became white. It was Nana’s very honest woman. Just then voices were raised in front very mole, down to the color of the hair. He could not of the hearth. Mme du Joncquoy was saying: refrain from whispering something about it in Vandeuvres’s
“I was willing to grant you that Monsieur de Bismarck ear. Gad, it was true; the other had never noticed it before.
was perhaps a witty man. Only, if you go as far as to talk of And both men continued this comparison of Nana and the genius—”
countess. They discovered a vague resemblance about the The ladies had come round again to their earliest topic of chin and the mouth, but the eyes were not at all alike. Then, conversation.
too, Nana had a good-natured expression, while with the
“What the deuce! Still Monsieur de Bismarck!” muttered countess it was hard to decide—she might have been a cat, Fauchery. “This time I make my escape for good and all.” sleeping with claws withdrawn and paws stirred by a scarce-
“Wait a bit,” said Vandeuvres, “we must have a definite perceptible nervous quiver.
no from the count.”
“All the same, one could have her,” declared Fauchery.
The Count Muffat was talking to his father-in-law and a Vandeuvres stripped her at a glance.
certain serious-looking gentleman. Vandeuvres drew him
“Yes, one could, all the same,” he said. “But I think noth-away and renewed the invitation, backing it up with the ing of the thighs, you know. Will you bet she has no thighs?” information that he was to be at the supper himself. A man He stopped, for Fauchery touched him briskly on the arm might go anywhere; no one could think of suspecting evil and showed him Estelle, sitting close to them on her foot-where at most there could only be curiosity. The count 71
listened to these arguments with downcast eyes and ex-get their overcoats in the anteroom. Georges, who could pressionless face. Vandeuvres felt him to be hesitating when not leave without his mother, had stationed himself at the the Marquis de Chouard approached with a look of inter-door, where he gave the exact address. “Third floor, door rogation. And when the latter was informed of the ques-on your left.” Yet before going out Fauchery gave a final tion in hand and Fauchery had invited him in his turn, he glance. Vandeuvres had again resumed his position among looked at his son-in-law furtively. There ensued an embar-the ladies and was laughing with Leonide de Chezelles.
rassed silence, but both men encouraged one another and Count Muffat and the Marquis de Chouard were joining in would doubtless have ended by accepting had not Count the conversation, while the good Mme Hugon was falling Muffat perceived M. Venot’s gaze fixed upon him. The asleep open-eyed. Lost among the petticoats, M. Venot little old man was no longer smiling; his face was cadaver-was his own small self again and smiled as of old. Twelve ous, his eyes bright and keen as steel.
struck slowly in the great solemn room.
‘No,” replied the count directly, in so decisive a tone that
“What—what do you mean?” Mme du Joncquoy re-further insistence became impossible.
sumed. “You imagine that Monsieur de Bismarck will make Then the marquis refused with even greater severity war on us and beat us! Oh, that’s unbearable!” of expression. He talked morality. The aristocratic Indeed, they were laughing round Mme Chantereau, who classes ought to set a good example. Fauchery smiled had just repeated an assertion she had heard made in Alsace, and shook hands with Vandeuvres. He did not wait for where her husband owned a foundry.
him and took his departure immediately, for he was due
“We have the emperor, fortunately,” said Count Muffat at his newspaper office.
in his grave, official way.
“At Nana’s at midnight, eh?”
It was the last phrase Fauchery was able to catch. He La Faloise retired too. Steiner had made his bow to the closed the door after casting one more glance in the direc-countess. Other men followed them, and the same phrase tion of the Countess Sabine. She was talking sedately with went round—”At midnight, at Nana’s”—as they went to the chief clerk and seemed to be interested in that stout 72
individual’s conversation. Assuredly he must have been with a supper which should set people talking. As her deceiving himself. There was no “little rift” there at all. It dining room was too small, the manager had arranged was a pity.
the table in the drawing room, a table with twenty-five
“You’re not coming down then?” La Faloise shouted up covers, placed somewhat close together.
to him from the entrance hall.
“Is everything ready?” asked Nana when she returned at And out on the pavement, as they separated, they once midnight.
“Oh! I don’t know,” replied Zoe roughly, looking beside
“Tomorrow, at Nana’s.”
herself with worry. “The Lord be thanked, I don’t bother about anything. They’re making a fearful mess in the kitchen CHAPTER IV
and all over the flat! I’ve had to fight my battles too. The other two came again. My eye! I did just chuck ‘em out!” She referred, of course, to her employer’s old admirers, SINCE MORNING ZOE had delivered up the flat to a the tradesman and the Walachian, to whom Nana, sure of managing man who had come from Brebant’s with her future and longing to shed her skin, as she phrased it, a staff of helpers and waiters. Brebant was to sup-had decided to give the go-by.
ply everything, from the supper, the plates and dishes,
“There are a couple of leeches for you!” she muttered.
the glass, the linen, the flowers, down to the seats and
“If they come back threaten to go to the police.” footstools. Nana could not have mustered a dozen nap-Then she called Daguenet and Georges, who had re-kins out of all her cupboards, and not having had time to mained behind in the anteroom, where they were hanging get a proper outfit after her new start in life and scorning up their overcoats. They had both met at the stage door in to go to the restaurant, she had decided to make the res-the Passage des Panoramas, and she had brought them home taurant come to her. It struck her as being more the thing.
with her in a cab. As there was nobody there yet, she She wanted to celebrate her great success as an actress shouted to them to come into the dressing room while Zoe 73
was touching up her toilet. Hurriedly and without chang-she said. “Did you see? There were thousands there to-ing her dress she had her hair done up and stuck white night. Zoe, my girl, you will wait in here. Don’t go to roses in her chignon and at her bosom. The little room was bed, I shall want you. By gum, it is time they came. Here’s littered with the drawing-room furniture, which the work-company!”
men had been compelled to roll in there, and it was full of She ran off while Georges stayed where he was with the a motley assemblage of round tables, sofas and armchairs, skirts of his coat brushing the floor. He blushed, seeing with their legs in air for the most part. Nana was quite Daguenet looking at him. Notwithstanding which, they had ready when her dress caught on a castor and tore upward.
conceived a tender regard the one for the other. They rear-At this she swore furiously; such things only happened to ranged the bows of their cravats in front of the big dress-her! Ragingly she took off her dress, a very simple affair of ing glass and gave each other a mutual dose of the white foulard, of so thin and supple a texture that it clung clothesbrush, for they were all white from their close con-about her like a long shift. But she put it on again directly, tact with Nana.
for she could not find another to her taste, and with tears
“One would think it was sugar,” murmured Georges, gig-in her eyes declared that she was dressed like a ragpicker.
gling like a greedy little child.
Daguenet and Georges had to patch up the rent with pins, A footman hired for the evening was ushering the guests while Zoe once more arranged her hair. All three hurried into the small drawing room, a narrow slip of a place in round her, especially the boy, who knelt on the floor with which only four armchairs had been left in order the bet-his hands among her skirts. And at last she calmed down ter to pack in the company. From the large drawing room again when Daguenet assured her it could not be later than beyond came a sound as of the moving of plates and sil-a quarter past twelve, seeing that by dint of scamping her ver, while a clear and brilliant ray of light shone from words and skipping her lines she had effectually shortened under the door. At her entrance Nana found Clarisse the third act of the Blonde Venus.
Besnus, whom La Faloise had brought, already installed
“The play’s still far too good for that crowd of idiots,” in one of the armchairs.
“Dear me, you’re the first of ‘em!” said Nana, who, now world? Then he winked as though to encourage Steiner, that she was successful, treated her familiarly.
but the latter was disconcerted by Rose’s clear gaze and
“Oh, it’s his doing,” replied Clarisse. “He’s always afraid contented himself by kissing Nana’s hand.
of not getting anywhere in time. If I’d taken him at his word Just then the Count de Vandeuvres made his appearance I shouldn’t have waited to take off my paint and my wig.” with Blanche de Sivry. There was an interchange of pro-The young man, who now saw Nana for the first time, found bows, and Nana with the utmost ceremony conducted bowed, paid her a compliment and spoke of his cousin, Blanche to an armchair. Meanwhile Vandeuvres told them hiding his agitation behind an exaggeration of politeness.
laughingly that Fauchery was engaged in a dispute at the But Nana, neither listening to him nor recognizing his face, foot of the stairs because the porter had refused to allow shook hands with him and then went briskly toward Rose Lucy Stewart’s carriage to come in at the gate. They could Mignon, with whom she at once assumed a most distin-hear Lucy telling the porter he was a dirty blackguard in guished manner.
the anteroom. But when the footman had opened the door
“Ah, how nice of you, my dear madame! I was so anx-she came forward with her laughing grace of manner, an-ious to have you here!”
nounced her name herself, took both Nana’s hands in hers
“It’s I who am charmed, I assure you,” said Rose with and told her that she had liked her from the very first and equal amiability.
considered her talent splendid. Nana, puffed up by her novel
“Pray, sit down. Do you require anything?” role of hostess, thanked her and was veritably confused.
“Thank you, no! Ah yes, I’ve left my fan in my pelisse, Nevertheless, from the moment of Fauchery’s arrival she Steiner; just look in the right-hand pocket.” appeared preoccupied, and directly she could get near him Steiner and Mignon had come in behind Rose. The banker she asked him in a low voice:
turned back and reappeared with the fan while Mignon
“Will he come?”
embraced Nana fraternally and forced Rose to do so also.
“No, he did not want to,” was the journalist’s abrupt re-Did they not all belong to the same family in the theatrical ply, for he was taken by surprise, though he had got ready 75
some sort of tale to explain Count Muffat’s refusal.
phrased it. There was Gaga, majestic in a blue velvet dress Seeing the young woman’s sudden pallor, he became con-which was too tight for her, and Caroline Hequet, clad as scious of his folly and tried to retract his words.
usual in ribbed black silk, trimmed with Chantilly lace. Lea
“He was unable to; he is taking the countess to the ball at de Horn came next, terribly dressed up, as her wont was, the Ministry of the Interior tonight.” and after her the big Tatan Nene, a good-humored fair girl
“All right,” murmured Nana, who suspected him of ill with the bosom of a wet nurse, at which people laughed, will, “you’ll pay me out for that, my pippin.” and finally little Maria Blond, a young damsel of fifteen, as She turned on her heel, and so did he; they were angry.
thin and vicious as a street child, yet on the high road to Just then Mignon was pushing Steiner up against Nana, success, owing to her recent first appearance at the Folies.