The Petite Duchesse was being rehearsed at the Varietes. The first act had just been carefully gone through, and the second was about to begin. Seated in old armchairs in front of the stage, Fauchery and Bordenave were discussing various points while the prompter, Father Cossard, a little humpbacked man perched on a straw-bottomed chair, was turning over the pages of the manuscript, a pencil between his lips.
"Well, what are they waiting for?" cried Bordenave on a sudden, tapping the floor savagely with his heavy cane. "Barillot, why don't they begin?"
"It's Monsieur Bosc that has disappeared," replied Barillot, who was acting as second stage manager.'
Then there arose a tempest, and everybody shouted for Bosc while Bordenave swore.
"Always the same thing, by God! It's all very well ringing for 'em: they're always where they've no business to be. And then they grumble when they're kept till after four o'clock."
But Bosc just then came in with supreme tranquillity.
"Eh? What? What do they want me for? Oh, it's my turn! You ought to have said so. All right! Simonne gives the cue: 'Here are the guests,' and I come in. Which way must I come in?"
"Through the door, of course," cried Fauchery in great exasperation.
"Yes, but where is the door?"
At this Bordenave fell upon Barillot and once more set to work swearing and hammering the boards with his cane.
"By God! I said a chair was to be put there to stand for the door, and every day we have to get it done again. Barillot! Where's Barillot? Another of 'em! Why, they're all going!"
Nevertheless, Barillot came and planted the chair down in person, mutely weathering the storm as he did so. And the rehearsal began again. Simonne, in her hat and furs, began moving about like a maidservant busy arranging furniture. She paused to say:
"I'm not warm, you know, so I keep my hands in my muff."
Then changing her voice, she greeted Bosc with a little cry:
"La, it's Monsieur le Comte. You're the first to come, Monsieur le Comte, and Madame will be delighted."
Bosc had muddy trousers and a huge yellow overcoat, round the collar of which a tremendous comforter was wound. On his head he wore an old hat, and he kept his hands in his pockets. He did not act but dragged himself along, remarking in a hollow voice:
"Don't disturb your mistress, Isabelle; I want to take her by surprise."
The rehearsal took its course. Bordenave knitted his brows. He had slipped down low in his armchair and was listening with an air of fatigue. Fauchery was nervous and kept shifting about in his seat. Every few minutes he itched with the desire to interrupt, but he restrained himself. He heard a whispering in the dark and empty house behind him.
"Is she there?" he asked, leaning over toward Bordenave.
The latter nodded affirmatively. Before accepting the part of Geraldine, which he was offering her, Nana had been anxious to see the piece, for she hesitated to play a courtesan's part a second time. She, in fact, aspired to an honest woman's part. Accordingly she was hiding in the shadows of a corner box in company with Labordette, who was managing matters for her with Bordenave. Fauchery glanced in her direction and then once more set himself to follow the rehearsal.
Only the front of the stage was lit up. A flaring gas burner on a support, which was fed by a pipe from the footlights, burned in front of a reflector and cast its full brightness over the immediate foreground. It looked like a big yellow eye glaring through the surrounding semiobscurity, where it flamed in a doubtful, melancholy way. Cossard was holding up his manuscript against the slender stem of this arrangement. He wanted to see more clearly, and in the flood of light his hump was sharply outlined. As to Bordenave and Fauchery, they were already drowned in shadow. It was only in the heart of this enormous structure, on a few square yards of stage, that a faint glow suggested the light cast by some lantern nailed up in a railway station. It made the actors look like eccentric phantoms and set their shadows dancing after them. The remainder of the stage was full of mist and suggested a house in process of being pulled down, a church nave in utter ruin. It was littered with ladders, with set pieces and with scenery, of which the faded painting suggested heaped-up rubbish. Hanging high in air, the scenes had the appearance of great ragged clouts suspended from the rafters of some vast old-clothes shop, while above these again a ray of bright sunlight fell from a window and clove the shadow round the flies with a bar of gold.
Meanwhile actors were chatting at the back of the stage while awaiting their cues. Little by little they had raised their voices.
"Confound it, will you be silent?" howled Bordenave, raging up and down in his chair. "I can't hear a word. Go outside if you want to talk; WE are at work. Barillot, if there's any more talking I clap on fines all round!"
They were silent for a second or two. They were sitting in a little group on a bench and some rustic chairs in the corner of a scenic garden, which was standing ready to be put in position as it would be used in the opening act the same evening. In the middle of this group Fontan and Prulliere were listening to Rose Mignon, to whom the manager of the Folies-Dramatique Theatre had been making magnificent offers. But a voice was heard shouting:
"The duchess! Saint-Firmin! The duchess and Saint-Firmin are wanted!"
Only when the call was repeated did Prulliere remember that he was Saint-Firmin! Rose, who was playing the Duchess Helene, was already waiting to go on with him while old Bosc slowly returned to his seat, dragging one foot after the other over the sonorous and deserted boards. Clarisse offered him a place on the bench beside her.
"What's he bawling like that for?" she said in allusion to Bordenave. "Things will be getting rosy soon! A piece can't be put on nowadays without its getting on his nerves."
Bosc shrugged his shoulders; he was above such storms. Fontan whispered:
"He's afraid of a fiasco. The piece strikes me as idiotic."
Then he turned to Clarisse and again referred to what Rose had been telling them:
"D'you believe in the offers of the Folies people, eh? Three hundred francs an evening for a hundred nights! Why not a country house into the bargain? If his wife were to be given three hundred francs Mignon would chuck my friend Bordenave and do it jolly sharp too!"
Clarisse was a believer in the three hundred francs. That man Fontan was always picking holes in his friends' successes! Just then Simonne interrupted her. She was shivering with cold. Indeed, they were all buttoned up to the ears and had comforters on, and they looked up at the ray of sunlight which shone brightly above them but did not penetrate the cold gloom of the theater. In the streets outside there was a frost under a November sky.
"And there's no fire in the greenroom!" said Simonne. "It's disgusting; he IS just becoming a skinflint! I want to be off; I don't want to get seedy."
"Silence, I say!" Bordenave once more thundered.
Then for a minute or so a confused murmur alone was audible as the actors went on repeating their parts. There was scarcely any appropriate action, and they spoke in even tones so as not to tire themselves. Nevertheless, when they did emphasize a particular shade of meaning they cast a glance at the house, which lay before them like a yawning gulf. It was suffused with vague, ambient shadow, which resembled the fine dust floating pent in some high, windowless loft. The deserted house, whose sole illumination was the twilight radiance of the stage, seemed to slumber in melancholy and mysterious effacement. Near the ceiling dense night smothered the frescoes, while from the several tiers of stage boxes on either hand huge widths of gray canvas stretched down to protect the neighboring hangings. In fact, there was no end to these coverings; bands of canvas had been thrown over the velvet-covered ledges in front of the various galleries which they shrouded thickly. Their pale hue stained the surrounding shadows, and of the general decorations of the house only the dark recesses of the boxes were distinguishable. These served to outline the framework of the several stories, where the seats were so many stains of red velvet turned black. The chandelier had been let down as far as it would go, and it so filled the region of the stalls with its pendants as to suggest a flitting and to set one thinking that the public had started on a journey from which they would never return.
Just about then Rose, as the little duchess who has been misled into the society of a courtesan, came to the footlights, lifted up her hands and pouted adorably at the dark and empty theater, which was as sad as a house of mourning.
"Good heavens, what queer people!" she said, emphasizing the phrase and confident that it would have its effect.
Far back in the corner box in which she was hiding Nana sat enveloped in a great shawl. She was listening to the play and devouring Rose with her eyes. Turning toward Labordette, she asked him in a low tone:
"You are sure he'll come?"
"Quite sure. Without doubt he'll come with Mignon, so as to have an excuse for coming. As soon as he makes his appearance you'll go up into Mathilde's dressing room, and I'll bring him to you there."
They were talking of Count Muffat. Labordette had arranged this interview with him on neutral ground. He had had a serious talk with Bordenave, whose affairs had been gravely damaged by two successive failures. Accordingly Bordenave had hastened to lend him his theater and to offer Nana a part, for he was anxious to win the count's favor and hoped to be able to borrow from him.
"And this part of Geraldine, what d'you thing of it?" continued Labordette.
But Nana sat motionless and vouchsafed no reply. After the first act, in which the author showed how the Duc de Beaurivage played his wife false with the blonde Geraldine, a comic-opera celebrity, the second act witnessed the Duchess Helene's arrival at the house of the actress on the occasion of a masked ball being given by the latter. The duchess has come to find out by what magical process ladies of that sort conquer and retain their husbands' affections. A cousin, the handsome Oscar de Saint-Firmin, introduces her and hopes to be able to debauch her. And her first lesson causes her great surprise, for she hears Geraldine swearing like a hodman at the duke, who suffers with most ecstatic submissiveness. The episode causes her to cry out, "Dear me, if that's the way one ought to talk to the men!" Geraldine had scarce any other scene in the act save this one. As to the duchess, she is very soon punished for her curiosity, for an old buck, the Baron de Tardiveau, takes her for a courtesan and becomes very gallant, while on her other side Beaurivage sits on a lounging chair and makes his peace with Geraldine by dint of kisses and caresses. As this last lady's part had not yet been assigned to anyone, Father Cossard had got up to read it, and he was now figuring away in Bosc's arms and emphasizing it despite himself. At this point, while the rehearsal was dragging monotonously on, Fauchery suddenly jumped from his chair. He had restrained himself up to that moment, but now his nerves got the better of him.
"That's not it!" he cried.
The actors paused awkwardly enough while Fontan sneered and asked in his most contemptuous voice:
"Eh? What's not it? Who's not doing it right?"
"Nobody is! You're quite wrong, quite wrong!" continued Fauchery, and, gesticulating wildly, he came striding over the stage and began himself to act the scene.
"Now look here, you Fontan, do please comprehend the way Tardiveau gets packed off. You must lean forward like this in order to catch hold of the duchess. And then you, Rose, must change your position like that but not too soon--only when you hear the kiss."
He broke off and in the heat of explanation shouted to Cossard:
"Geraldine, give the kiss! Loudly, so that it may be heard!"
Father Cossard turned toward Bosc and smacked his lips vigorously.
"Good! That's the kiss," said Fauchery triumphantly. "Once more; let's have it once more. Now you see, Rose, I've had time to move, and then I give a little cry--so: 'Oh, she's given him a kiss.' But before I do that, Tardiveau must go up the stage. D'you hear, Fontan? You go up. Come, let's try it again, all together."
The actors continued the scene again, but Fontan played his part with such an ill grace that they made no sort of progress. Twice Fauchery had to repeat his explanation, each time acting it out with more warmth than before. The actors listened to him with melancholy faces, gazed momentarily at one another, as though he had asked them to walk on their heads, and then awkwardly essayed the passage, only to pull up short directly afterward, looking as stiff as puppets whose strings have just been snapped.
"No, it beats me; I can't understand it," said Fontan at length, speaking in the insolent manner peculiar to him.
Bordenave had never once opened his lips. He had slipped quite down in his armchair, so that only the top of his hat was now visible in the doubtful flicker of the gaslight on the stand. His cane had fallen from his grasp and lay slantwise across his waistcoat. Indeed, he seemed to be asleep. But suddenly he sat bolt upright.
"It's idiotic, my boy," he announced quietly to Fauchery.
"What d'you mean, idiotic?" cried the author, growing very pale. "It's you that are the idiot, my dear boy!"
Bordenave began to get angry at once. He repeated the word "idiotic" and, seeking a more forcible expression, hit upon "imbecile" and "damned foolish." The public would hiss, and the act would never be finished! And when Fauchery, without, indeed, being very deeply wounded by these big phrases, which always recurred when a new piece was being put on, grew savage and called the other a brute, Bordenave went beyond all bounds, brandished his cane in the air, snorted like a bull and shouted:
"Good God! Why the hell can't you shut up? We've lost a quarter of an hour over this folly. Yes, folly! There's no sense in it. And it's so simple, after all's said and done! You, Fontan, mustn't move. You, Rose, must make your little movement, just that, no more; d'ye see? And then you come down. Now then, let's get it done this journey. Give the kiss, Cossard."
Then ensued confusion. The scene went no better than before. Bordenave, in his turn, showed them how to act it about as gracefully as an elephant might have done, while Fauchery sneered and shrugged pityingly. After that Fontan put his word in, and even Bosc made so bold as to give advice. Rose, thoroughly tired out, had ended by sitting down on the chair which indicated the door. No one knew where they had got to, and by way of finish to it all Simonne made a premature entry, under the impression that her cue had been given her, and arrived amid the confusion. This so enraged Bordenave that he whirled his stick round in a terrific manner and caught her a sounding thwack to the rearward. At rehearsal he used frequently to drub his former mistress. Simonne ran away, and this furious outcry followed her:
"Take that, and, by God, if I'm annoyed again I shut the whole shop up at once!"
Fauchery pushed his hat down over his forehead and pretended to be going to leave the theater. But he stopped at the top of the stage and came down again when he saw Bordenave perspiringly resuming his seat. Then he, too, took up his old position in the other armchair. For some seconds they sat motionless side by side while oppressive silence reigned in the shadowy house. The actors waited for nearly two minutes. They were all heavy with exhaustion and felt as though hey had performed an overwhelming task.
"Well, let's go on," said Bordenave at last. He spoke in his usual voice and was perfectly calm.
"Yes, let's go on," Fauchery repeated. "We'll arrange the scene tomorrow."
And with that they dragged on again and rehearsed their parts with as much listlessness and as fine an indifference as ever. During the dispute between manager and author Fontan and the rest had been taking things very comfortably on the rustic bench and seats at the back of the stage, where they had been chuckling, grumbling and saying fiercely cutting things. But when Simonne came back, still smarting from her blow and choking with sobs, they grew melodramatic and declared that had they been in her place they would have strangled the swine. She began wiping her eyes and nodding approval. It was all over between them, she said. She was leaving him, especially as Steiner had offered to give her a grand start in life only the day before. Clarisse was much astonished at this, for the banker was quite ruined, but Prulliere began laughing and reminded them of the neat manner in which that confounded Israelite had puffed himself alongside of Rose in order to get his Landes saltworks afloat on 'change. Just at that time he was airing a new project, namely, a tunnel under the Bosporus. Simonne listened with the greatest interest to this fresh piece of information.
As to Clarisse, she had been raging for a week past. Just fancy, that beast La Faloise, whom she had succeeded in chucking into Gaga's venerable embrace, was coming into the fortune of a very rich uncle! It was just her luck; she had always been destined to make things cozy for other people. Then, too, that pig Bordenave had once more given her a mere scrap of a part, a paltry fifty lines, just as if she could not have played Geraldine! She was yearning for that role and hoping that Nana would refuse it.
"Well, and what about me?" said Prulliere with much bitterness. "I haven't got more than two hundred lines. I wanted to give the part up. It's too bad to make me play that fellow Saint-Firmin; why, it's a regular failure! And then what a style it's written in, my dears! It'll fall dead flat, you may be sure."
But just then Simonne, who had been chatting with Father Barillot, came back breathless and announced:
"By the by, talking of Nana, she's in the house."
"Where, where?" asked Clarisse briskly, getting up to look for her.
The news spread at once, and everyone craned forward. The rehearsal was, as it were, momentarily interrupted. But Bordenave emerged from his quiescent condition, shouting:
"What's up, eh? Finish the act, I say. And be quiet out there; it's unbearable!"
Nana was still following the piece from the corner box. Twice Labordette showed an inclination to chat, but she grew impatient and nudged him to make him keep silent. The second act was drawing to a close, when two shadows loomed at the back of the theater. They were creeping softly down, avoiding all noise, and Nana recognized Mignon and Count Muffat. They came forward and silently shook hands with Bordenave.
"Ah, there they are," she murmured with a sigh of relief.
Rose Mignon delivered the last sentences of the act. Thereupon Bordenave said that it was necessary to go through the second again before beginning the third. With that he left off attending to the rehearsal and greeted the count with looks of exaggerated politeness, while Fauchery pretended to be entirely engrossed with his actors, who now grouped themselves round him. Mignon stood whistling carelessly, with his hands behind his back and his eyes fixed complacently on his wife, who seemed rather nervous.
"Well, shall we go upstairs?" Labordette asked Nana. "I'll install you in the dressing room and come down again and fetch him."
Nana forthwith left the corner box. She had to grope her way along the passage outside the stalls, but Bordenave guessed where she was as she passed along in the dark and caught her up at the end of the corridor passing behind the scenes, a narrow tunnel where the gas burned day and night. Here, in order to bluff her into a bargain, he plunged into a discussion of the courtesan's part.
"What a part it is, eh? What a wicked little part! It's made for you. Come and rehearse tomorrow."
Nana was frigid. She wanted to know what the third act was like.
"Oh, it's superb, the third act is! The duchess plays the courtesan in her own house and this disgusts Beaurivage and makes him amend his way. Then there's an awfully funny QUID PRO QUO, when Tardiveau arrives and is under the impression that he's at an opera dancer's house."
"And what does Geraldine do in it all?" interrupted Nana.
"Geraldine?" repeated Bordenave in some embarrassment. "She has a scene--not a very long one, but a great success. It's made for you, I assure you! Will you sign?"
She looked steadily at him and at length made answer:
"We'll see about that all in good time."
And she rejoined Labordette, who was waiting for her on the stairs. Everybody in the theater had recognized her, and there was now much whispering, especially between Prulliere, who was scandalized at her return, and Clarisse who was very desirous of the part. As to Fontan, he looked coldly on, pretending unconcern, for he did not think it becoming to round on a woman he had loved. Deep down in his heart, though, his old love had turned to hate, and he nursed the fiercest rancor against her in return for the constant devotion, the personal beauty, the life in common, of which his perverse and monstrous tastes had made him tire.
In the meantime, when Labordette reappeared and went up to the count, Rose Mignon, whose suspicions Nana's presence had excited, understood it all forthwith. Muffat was bothering her to death, but she was beside herself at the thought of being left like this. She broke the silence which she usually maintained on such subjects in her husband's society and said bluntly:
"You see what's going on? My word, if she tries the Steiner trick on again I'll tear her eyes out!"
Tranquilly and haughtily Mignon shrugged his shoulders, as became a man from whom nothing could be hidden.
"Do be quiet," he muttered. "Do me the favor of being quiet, won't you?"
He knew what to rely on now. He had drained his Muffat dry, and he knew that at a sign from Nana he was ready to lie down and be a carpet under her feet. There is no fighting against passions such as that. Accordingly, as he knew what men were, he thought of nothing but how to turn the situation to the best possible account.
It would be necessary to wait on the course of events. And he waited on them.
"Rose, it's your turn!" shouted Bordenave. "The second act's being begun again."
"Off with you then," continued Mignon, "and let me arrange matters."
Then he began bantering, despite all his troubles, and was pleased to congratulate Fauchery on his piece. A very strong piece! Only why was his great lady so chaste? It wasn't natural! With that he sneered and asked who had sat for the portrait of the Duke of Beaurivage, Geraldine's wornout roue. Fauchery smiled; he was far from annoyed. But Bordenave glanced in Muffat's direction and looked vexed, and Mignon was struck at this and became serious again.
"Let's begin, for God's sake!" yelled the manager. "Now then, Barillot! Eh? What? Isn't Bosc there? Is he bloody well making game of me now?"
Bosc, however, made his appearance quietly enough, and the rehearsal began again just as Labordette was taking the count away with him. The latter was tremulous at the thought of seeing Nana once more. After the rupture had taken place between them there had been a great void in his life. He was idle and fancied himself about to suffer through the sudden change his habits had undergone, and accordingly he had let them take him to see Rose. Besides, his brain had been in such a whirl that he had striven to forget everything and had strenuously kept from seeking out Nana while avoiding an explanation with the countess. He thought, indeed, that he owed his dignity such a measure of forgetfulness. But mysterious forces were at work within, and Nana began slowly to reconquer him. First came thoughts of her, then fleshly cravings and finally a new set of exclusive, tender, well-nigh paternal feelings.
The abominable events attendant on their last interview were gradually effacing themselves. He no longer saw Fontan; he no longer heard the stinging taunt about his wife's adultery with which Nana cast him out of doors. These things were as words whose memory vanished. Yet deep down in his heart there was a poignant smart which wrung him with such increasing pain that it nigh choked him. Childish ideas would occur to him; he imagined that she would never have betrayed him if he had really loved her, and he blamed himself for this. His anguish was becoming unbearable; he was really very wretched. His was the pain of an old wound rather than the blind, present desire which puts up with everything for the sake of immediate possession. He felt a jealous passion for the woman and was haunted by longings for her and her alone, her hair, her mouth, her body. When he remembered the sound of her voice a shiver ran through him; he longed for her as a miser might have done, with refinements of desire beggaring description. He was, in fact, so dolorously possessed by his passion that when Labordette had begun to broach the subject of an assignation he had thrown himself into his arms in obedience to irresistible impulse. Directly afterward he had, of course, been ashamed of an act of self-abandonment which could not but seem very ridicubus in a man of his position; but Labordette was one who knew when to see and when not to see things, and he gave a further proof of his tact when he left the count at the foot of the stairs and without effort let slip only these simple words:
"The right-hand passage on the second floor. The door's not shut."
Muffat was alone in that silent corner of the house. As he passed before the players' waiting room, he had peeped through the open doors and noticed the utter dilapidation of the vast chamber, which looked shamefully stained and worn in broad daylight. But what surprised him most as he emerged from the darkness and confusion of the stage was the pure, clear light and deep quiet at present pervading the lofty staircase, which one evening when he had seen it before had been bathed in gas fumes and loud with the footsteps of women scampering over the different floors. He felt that the dressing rooms were empty, the corridors deserted; not a soul was there; not a sound broke the stillness, while through the square windows on the level of the stairs the pale November sunlight filtered and cast yellow patches of light, full of dancing dust, amid the dead, peaceful air which seemed to descend from the regions above.
He was glad of this calm and the silence, and he went slowly up, trying to regain breath as he went, for his heart was thumping, and he was afraid lest he might behave childishly and give way to sighs and tears. Accordingly on the first-floor landing he leaned up against a wall--for he was sure of not being observed--and pressed his handkerchief to his mouth and gazed at the warped steps, the iron balustrade bright with the friction of many hands, the scraped paint on the walls--all the squalor, in fact, which that house of tolerance so crudely displayed at the pale afternoon hour when courtesans are asleep. When he reached the second floor he had to step over a big yellow cat which was lying curled up on a step. With half-closed eyes this cat was keeping solitary watch over the house, where the close and now frozen odors which the women nightly left behind them had rendered him somnolent.
In the right-hand corridor the door of the dressing room had, indeed, not been closed entirely. Nana was waiting. That little Mathilde, a drab of a young girl, kept her dressing room in a filthy state. Chipped jugs stood about anyhow; the dressing table was greasy, and there was a chair covered with red stains, which looked as if someone had bled over the straw. The paper pasted on walls and ceiling was splashed from top to bottom with spots of soapy water and this smelled so disagreeably of lavender scent turned sour that Nana opened the window and for some moments stayed leaning on the sill, breathing the fresh air and craning forward to catch sight of Mme Bron underneath. She could hear her broom wildly at work on the mildewed pantiles of the narrow court which was buried in shadow. A canary, whose cage hung on a shutter, was trilling away piercingly. The sound of carriages in the boulevard and neighboring streets was no longer audible, and the quiet and the wide expanse of sleeping sunlight suggested the country. Looking farther afield, her eye fell on the small buildings and glass roofs of the galleries in the passage and, beyond these, on the tall houses in the Rue Vivienne, the backs of which rose silent and apparently deserted over against her. There was a succession of terrace roofs close by, and on one of these a photographer had perched a big cagelike construction of blue glass. It was all very gay, and Nana was becoming absorbed in contemplation, when it struck her someone had knocked at the door.
She turned round and shouted:
At sight of the count she shut the window, for it was not warm, and there was no need for the eavesdropping Mme Bron to listen. The pair gazed at one another gravely. Then as the count still kept standing stiffly in front of her, looking ready to choke with emotion, she burst out laughing and said:
"Well! So you're here again, you silly big beast!"
The tumult going on within him was so great that he seemed a man frozen to ice. He addressed Nana as "madame" and esteemed himself happy to see her again. Thereupon she became more familiar than ever in order to bounce matters through.
"Don't do it in the dignified way! You wanted to see me, didn't you? But you didn't intend us to stand looking at one another like a couple of chinaware dogs. We've both been in the wrong--Oh, I certainly forgive you!"
And herewith they agreed not to talk of that affair again, Muffat nodding his assent as Nana spoke. He was calmer now but as yet could find nothing to say, though a thousand things rose tumultuously to his lips. Surprised at his apparent coldness, she began acting a part with much vigor.
"Come," she continued with a faint smile, "you're a sensible man! Now that we've made our peace let's shake hands and be good friends in future."
"What? Good friends?" he murmured in sudden anxiety.
"Yes; it's idiotic, perhaps, but I should like you to think well of me. We've had our little explanation out, and if we meet again we shan't, at any rate look like a pair of boobies."
He tried to interrupt her with a movement of the hand.
"Let me finish! There's not a man, you understand, able to accuse me of doing him a blackguardly turn; well, and it struck me as horrid to begin in your case. We all have our sense of honor, dear boy."
"But that's not my meaning!" he shouted violently. "Sit down--listen to me!" And as though he were afraid of seeing her take her departure, he pushed her down on the solitary chair in the room. Then he paced about in growing agitation. The little dressing room was airless and full of sunlight, and no sound from the outside world disturbed its pleasant, peaceful, dampish atmosphere. In the pauses of conversation the shrillings of the canary were alone audible and suggested the distant piping of a flute.
"Listen," he said, planting himself in front of her, "I've come to possess myself of you again. Yes, I want to begin again. You know that well; then why do you talk to me as you do? Answer me; tell me you consent."
Her head was bent, and she was scratching the blood-red straw of the seat underneath her. Seeing him so anxious, she did not hurry to answer. But at last she lifted up her face. It had assumed a grave expression, and into the beautiful eyes she had succeeded in infusing a look of sadness.
"Oh, it's impossible, little man. Never, never, will I live with you again."
"Why?" he stuttered, and his face seemed contracted in unspeakable suffering.
"Why? Hang it all, because--It's impossible; that's about it. I don't want to."
He looked ardently at her for some seconds longer. Then his legs curved under him and he fell on the floor. In a bored voice she added this simple advice:
"Ah, don't be a baby!"
But he was one already. Dropping at her feet, he had put his arms round her waist and was hugging her closely, pressing his face hard against her knees. When he felt her thus--when he once more divined the presence of her velvety limbs beneath the thin fabric of her dress--he was suddenly convulsed and trembled, as it were, with fever, while madly, savagely, he pressed his face against her knees as though he had been anxious to force through her flesh. The old chair creaked, and beneath the low ceiling, where the air was pungent with stale perfumes, smothered sobs of desire were audible.
"Well, ad after?" Nana began saying, letting him do as he would. "All this doesn't help you a bit, seeing that the thing's impossible. Good God, what a child you are!"
His energy subsided, but he still stayed on the floor, nor did he relax his hold of her as he said in a broken voice:
"Do at least listen to what I came to offer you. I've already seen a town house close to the Parc Monceau--I would gladly realize your smallest wish. In order to have you all to myself, I would give my whole fortune. Yes, that would be my only condition, that I should have you all to myself! Do you understand? And if you were to consent to be mine only, oh, then I should want you to be the loveliest, the richest, woman on earth. I should give you carriages and diamonds and dresses!"
At each successive offer Nana shook her head proudly. Then seeing that he still continued them, that he even spoke of settling money on her--for he was at loss what to lay at her feet--she apparently lost patience.
"Come, come, have you done bargaining with me? I'm a good sort, and I don't mind giving in to you for a minute or two, as your feelings are making you so ill, but I've had enough of it now, haven't I? So let me get up. You're tiring me."
She extricated herself from his clasp, and once on her feet:
"No, no, no!" she said. "I don't want to!"
With that he gathered himself up painfully and feebly dropped into a chair, in which he leaned back with his face in his hands. Nana began pacing up and down in her turn. For a second or two she looked at the stained wallpaper, the greasy toilet table, the whole dirty little room as it basked in the pale sunlight. Then she paused in front of the count and spoke with quiet directness.
"It's strange how rich men fancy they can have everything for their money. Well, and if I don't want to consent--what then? I don't care a pin for your presents! You might give me Paris, and yet I should say no! Always no! Look here, it's scarcely clean in this room, yet I should think it very nice if I wanted to live in it with you. But one's fit to kick the bucket in your palaces if one isn't in love. Ah, as to money, my poor pet, I can lay my hands on that if I want to, but I tell you, I trample on it; I spit on it!"
And with that she assumed a disgusted expression. Then she became sentimental and added in a melancholy tone:
"I know of something worth more than money. Oh, if only someone were to give me what I long for!"
He slowly lifted his head, and there was a gleam of hope in his eyes.
"Oh, you can't give it me," she continued; "it doesn't depend on you, and that's the reason I'm talking to you about it. Yes, we're having a chat, so I may as well mention to you that I should like to play the part of the respectable woman in that show of theirs."
"What respectable woman?" he muttered in astonishment.
"Why, their Duchess Helene! If they think I'm going to play Geraldine, a part with nothing in it, a scene and nothing besides--if they think that! Besides, that isn't the reason. The fact is I've had enough of courtesans. Why, there's no end to 'em! They'll be fancying I've got 'em on the brain; to be sure they will! Besides, when all's said and done, it's annoying, for I can quite see they seem to think me uneducated. Well, my boy, they're jolly well in the dark about it, I can tell you! When I want to be a perfect lady, why then I am a swell, and no mistake! Just look at this."
And she withdrew as far as the window and then came swelling back with the mincing gait and circumspect air of a portly hen that fears to dirty her claws. As to Muffat, he followed her movements with eyes still wet with tears. He was stupefied by this sudden transition from anguish to comedy. She walked about for a moment or two in order the more thoroughly to show off her paces, and as she walked she smiled subtlely, closed her eyes demurely and managed her skirts with great dexterity. Then she posted herself in front of him again.
"I guess I've hit it, eh?"
"Oh, thoroughly," he stammered with a broken voice and a troubled expression.
"I tell you I've got hold of the honest woman! I've tried at my own place. Nobody's got my little knack of looking like a duchess who don't care a damn for the men. Did you notice it when I passed in front of you? Why, the thing's in my blood! Besides, I want to play the part of an honest woman. I dream about it day and night--I'm miserable about it. I must have the part, d'you hear?"
And with that she grew serious, speaking in a hard voice and looking deeply moved, for she was really tortured by her stupid, tiresome wish. Muffat, still smarting from her late refusals, sat on without appearing to grasp her meaning. There was a silence during which the very flies abstained from buzzing through the quiet, empty place.
"Now, look here," she resumed bluntly, "you're to get them to give me the part."
He was dumfounded, and with a despairing gesture:
"Oh, it's impossible! You yourself were saying just now that it didn't depend on me."
She interrupted him with a shrug of the shoulders.
"You'll just go down, and you'll tell Bordenave you want the part. Now don't be such a silly! Bordenave wants money--well, you'll lend him some, since you can afford to make ducks and drakes of it."
And as he still struggled to refuse her, she grew angry.
"Very well, I understand; you're afraid of making Rose angry. I didn't mention the woman when you were crying down on the floor--I should have had too much to say about it all. Yes, to be sure, when one has sworn to love a woman forever one doesn't usually take up with the first creature that comes by directly after. Oh, that's where the shoe pinches, I remember! Well, dear boy, there's nothing very savory in the Mignon's leavings! Oughtn't you to have broken it off with that dirty lot before coming and squirming on my knees?"
He protested vaguely and at last was able to get out a phrase.
"Oh, I don't care a jot for Rose; I'll give her up at once."
Nana seemed satisfied on this point. She continued:
"Well then, what's bothering you? Bordenave's master here. You'll tell me there's Fauchery after Bordenave--"
She had sunk her voice, for she was coming to the delicate part of the matter. Muffat sat silent, his eyes fixed on the ground. He had remained voluntarily ignorant of Fauchery's assiduous attentions to the countess, and time had lulled his suspicions and set him hoping that he had been deceiving himself during that fearful night passed in a doorway of the Rue Taitbout. But he still felt a dull, angry repugnance to the man.
"Well, what then? Fauchery isn't the devil!" Nana repeated, feeling her way cautiously and trying to find out how matters stood between husband and lover. "One can get over his soft side. I promise you, he's a good sort at bottom! So it's a bargain, eh? You'll tell him that it's for my sake?"
The idea of taking such a step disgusted the count.
"No, no! Never!" he cried.
She paused, and this sentence was on the verge of utterance:
"Fauchery can refuse you nothing."
But she felt that by way of argument it was rather too much of a good thing. So she only smiled a queer smile which spoke as plainly as words. Muffat had raised his eyes to her and now once more lowered them, looking pale and full of embarrassment.
"Ah, you're not good natured," she muttered at last.
"I cannot," he said with a voice and a look of the utmost anguish. "I'll do whatever you like, but not that, dear love! Oh, I beg you not to insist on that!"
Thereupon she wasted no more time in discussion but took his head between her small hands, pushed it back a little, bent down and glued her mouth to his in a long, long kiss. He shivered violently; he trembled beneath her touch; his eyes were closed, and he was beside himself. She lifted him to his feet.
"Go," said she simply.
He walked off, making toward the door. But as he passed out she took him in her arms again, became meek and coaxing, lifted her face to his and rubbed her cheek against his waistcoat, much as a cat might have done.
"Where's the fine house?" she whispered in laughing embarrassment, like a little girl who returns to the pleasant things she has previously refused.
"In the Avenue de Villiers."
"And there are carriages there?"
"Oh, how good you are, my old pet! You know it was all jealousy just now! And this time I solemnly promise you it won't be like the first, for now you understand what's due to a woman. You give all, don't you? Well then, I don't want anybody but you! Why, look here, there's some more for you! There and there AND there!"
When she had pushed him from the room after firing his blood with a rain of kisses on hands and on face, she panted awhile. Good heavens, what an unpleasant smell there was in that slut Mathilde's dressing room! It was warm, if you will, with the tranquil warmth peculiar to rooms in the south when the winter sun shines into them, but really, it smelled far too strong of stale lavender water, not to mention other less cleanly things! She opened the window and, again leaning on the window sill, began watching the glass roof of the passage below in order to kill time.
Muffat went staggering downstairs. His head was swimming. What should he say? How should he broach the matter which, moreover, did not concern him? He heard sounds of quarreling as he reached the stage. The second act was being finished, and Prulliere was beside himself with wrath, owing to an attempt on Fauchery's part to cut short one of his speeches.
"Cut it all out then," he was shouting. "I should prefer that! Just fancy, I haven't two hundred lines, and they're still cutting me down. No, by Jove, I've had enough of it; I give the part up."
He took a little crumpled manuscript book out of his pocket and fingered its leaves feverishly, as though he were just about to throw it on Cossard's lap. His pale face was convulsed by outraged vanity; his lips were drawn and thin, his eyes flamed; he was quite unable to conceal the struggle that was going on inside him. To think that he, Prulliere, the idol of the public, should play a part of only two hundred lines!
"Why not make me bring in letters on a tray?" he continued bitterly.
"Come, come, Prulliere, behave decently," said Bordenave, who was anxious to treat him tenderly because of his influence over the boxes. "Don't begin making a fuss. We'll find some points. Eh, Fauchery, you'll add some points? In the third act it would even be possible to lengthen a scene out."
"Well then, I want the last speech of all," the comedian declared. "I certainly deserve to have it."
Fauchery's silence seemed to give consent, and Prulliere, still greatly agitated and discontented despite everything, put his part back into his pocket. Bosc and Fontan had appeared profoundly indifferent during the course of this explanation. Let each man fight for his own hand, they reflected; the present dispute had nothing to do with them; they had no interest therein! All the actors clustered round Fauchery and began questioning him and fishing for praise, while Mignon listened to the last of Prulliere's complaints without, however, losing sight of Count Muffat, whose return he had been on the watch for.
Entering in the half-light, the count had paused at the back of the stage, for he hesitated to interrupt the quarrel. But Bordenave caught sight of him and ran forward.
"Aren't they a pretty lot?" he muttered. "You can have no idea what I've got to undergo with that lot, Monsieur le Comte. Each man's vainer than his neighbor, and they're wretched players all the same, a scabby lot, always mixed up in some dirty business or other! Oh, they'd be delighted if I were to come to smash. But I beg pardon--I'm getting beside myself."
He ceased speaking, and silence reigned while Muffat sought how to broach his announcement gently. But he failed and, in order to get out of his difficulty the more quickly, ended by an abrupt announcement:
"Nana wants the duchess's part."
Bordenave gave a start and shouted:
"Come now, it's sheer madness!"
Then looking at the count and finding him so pale and so shaken, he was calm at once.
"Devil take it!" he said simply.
And with that there ensued a fresh silence. At bottom he didn't care a pin about it. That great thing Nana playing the duchess might possibly prove amusing! Besides, now that this had happened he had Muffat well in his grasp. Accordingly he was not long in coming to a decision, and so he turned round and called out:
The count had been on the point of stopping him. But Fauchery did not hear him, for he had been pinned against the curtain by Fontan and was being compelled to listen patiently to the comedian's reading of the part of Tardiveau. Fontan imagined Tardiveau to be a native of Marseilles with a dialect, and he imitated the dialect. He was repeating whole speeches. Was that right? Was this the thing? Apparently he was only submitting ideas to Fauchery of which he was himself uncertain, but as the author seemed cold and raised various objections, he grew angry at once.
Oh, very well, the moment the spirit of the part escaped him it would be better for all concerned that he shouldn't act it at all!
"Fauchery!" shouted Bordenave once more.
Thereupon the young man ran off, delighted to escape from the actor, who was wounded not a little by his prompt retreat.
"Don't let's stay here," continued Bordenave. "Come this way, gentlemen."
In order to escape from curious listeners he led them into the property room behind the scenes, while Mignon watched their disappearance in some surprise. They went down a few steps and entered a square room, whose two windows opened upon the courtyard. A faint light stole through the dirty panes and hung wanly under the low ceiling. In pigeonholes and shelves, which filled the whole place up, lay a collection of the most varied kind of bric-a-brac. Indeed, it suggested an old-clothes shop in the Rue de Lappe in process of selling off, so indescribable was the hotchpotch of plates, gilt pasteboard cups, old red umbrellas, Italian jars, clocks in all styles, platters and inkpots, firearms and squirts, which lay chipped and broken and in unrecognizable heaps under a layer of dust an inch deep. An unendurable odor of old iron, rags and damp cardboard emanated from the various piles, where the debris of forgotten dramas had been collecting for half a century.
"Come in," Bordenave repeated. "We shall be alone, at any rate."
The count was extremely embarrassed, and he contrived to let the manager risk his proposal for him. Fauchery was astonished.
"Eh? What?" he asked.
"Just this," said Bordenave finally. "An idea has occurred to us. Now whatever you do, don't jump! It's most serious. What do you think of Nana for the duchess's part?"
The author was bewildered; then he burst out with:
"Ah no, no! You're joking, aren't you? People would laugh far too much."
"Well, and it's a point gained already if they do laugh! Just reflect, my dear boy. The idea pleases Monsieur le Comte very much."
In order to keep himself in countenance Muffat had just picked out of the dust on a neighboring shelf an object which he did not seem to recognize. It was an eggcup, and its stem had been mended with plaster. He kept hold of it unconsciously and came forward, muttering:
"Yes, yes, it would be capital."
Fauchery turned toward him with a brisk, impatient gesture. The count had nothing to do with his piece, and he said decisively:
"Never! Let Nana play the courtesan as much as she likes, but a lady--No, by Jove!"
"You are mistaken, I assure you," rejoined the count, growing bolder. "This very minute she has been playing the part of a pure woman for my benefit."
"Where?" queried Fauchery with growing surprise.
"Upstairs in a dressing room. Yes, she has, indeed, and with such distinction! She's got a way of glancing at you as she goes by you--something like this, you know!"
And eggcup in hand, he endeavored to imitate Nana, quite forgetting his dignity in his frantic desire to convince the others. Fauchery gazed at him in a state of stupefaction. He understood it all now, and his anger had ceased. The count felt that he was looking at him mockingly and pityingly, and he paused with a slight blush on his face.
"Egad, it's quite possible!" muttered the author complaisantly. "Perhaps she would do very well, only the part's been assigned. We can't take it away from Rose."
"Oh, if that's all the trouble," said Bordenave, "I'll undertake to arrange matters."
But presently, seeing them both against him and guessing that Bordenave had some secret interest at stake, the young man thought to avoid aquiescence by redoubling the violence of his refusal. The consultation was on the verge of being broken up.
"Oh, dear! No, no! Even if the part were unassigned I should never give it her! There, is that plain? Do let me alone; I have no wish to ruin my play!"
He lapsed into silent embarrassment. Bordenave, deeming himself DE TROP, went away, but the count remained with bowed head. He raised it with an effort and said in a breaking voice:
"Supposing, my dear fellow, I were to ask this of you as a favor?"
"I cannot, I cannot," Fauchery kept repeating as he writhed to get free.
Muffat's voice became harder.
"I pray and beseech you for it! I want it!"
And with that he fixed his eyes on him. The young man read menaces in that darkling gaze and suddenly gave way with a splutter of confused phrases:
"Do what you like--I don't care a pin about it. Yes, yes, you're abusing your power, but you'll see, you'll see!"
At this the embarrassment of both increased. Fauchery was leaning up against a set of shelves and was tapping nervously on the ground with his foot. Muffat seemed busy examining the eggcup, which he was still turning round and about.
"It's an eggcup," Bordenave obligingly came and remarked.
"Yes, to be sure! It's an eggeup," the count repeated.
"Excuse me, you're covered with dust," continued the manager, putting the thing back on a shelf. "If one had to dust every day there'd be no end to it, you understand. But it's hardly clean here--a filthy mess, eh? Yet you may believe me or not when I tell you there's money in it. Now look, just look at all that!"
He walked Muffat round in front of the pigeonholes and shelves and in the greenish light which filtered through the courtyard, told him the names of different properties, for he was anxious to interest him in his marine-stores inventory, as he jocosely termed it.
Presently, when they had returned into Fauchery's neighborhood, he said carelessly enough:
"Listen, since we're all of one mind, we'll finish the matter at once. Here's Mignon, just when he's wanted."
For some little time past Mignon had been prowling in the adjoining passage, and the very moment Bordenave began talking of a modification of their agreement he burst into wrathful protest. It was infamous--they wanted to spoil his wife's career--he'd go to law about it! Bordenave, meanwhile, was extremely calm and full of reasons. He did not think the part worthy of Rose, and he preferred to reserve her for an operetta, which was to be put on after the Petite Duchesse. But when her husband still continued shouting he suddenly offered to cancel their arrangement in view of the offers which the Folies-Dramatiques had been making the singer. At this Mignon was momenrarily put out, so without denying the truth of these offers he loudly professed a vast disdain for money. His wife, he said, had been engaged to play the Duchess Helene, and she would play the part even if he, Mignon, were to be ruined over it. His dignity, his honor, were at stake! Starting from this basis, the discussion grew interminable. The manager, however, always returned to the following argument: since the Folies had offered Rose three hundred francs a night during a hundred performances, and since she only made a hundred and fifty with him, she would be the gainer by fifteen thousand francs the moment he let her depart. The husband, on his part, did not desert the artist's position. What would people say if they saw his wife deprived of her part? Why, that she was not equal to it; that it had been deemed necessary to find a substitute for her! And this would do great harm to Rose's reputation as an artist; nay, it would diminish it. Oh no, no! Glory before gain! Then without a word of warning he pointed out a possible arrangement: Rose, according to the terms of her agreement, was pledged to pay a forfeit of ten thousand francs in case she gave up the part. Very well then, let them give her ten thousand francs, and she would go to the Folies-Dramatiques. Bordenave was utterly dumfounded while Mignon, who had never once taken his eyes off the count, tranquilly awaited results.
"Then everything can be settled," murmured Muffat in tones of relief; "we can come to an understanding."
"The deuce, no! That would be too stupid!" cried Bordenave, mastered by his commercial instincts. "Ten thousand francs to let Rose go! Why, people would make game of me!"
But the count, with a multiplicity of nods, bade him accept. He hesitated, and at last with much grumbling and infinite regret over the ten thousand francs which, by the by, were not destined to come out of his own pocket he bluntly continued:
"After all, I consent. At any rate, I shall have you off my hands."
For a quarter of an hour past Fontan had been listening in the courtyard. Such had been his curiosity that he had come down and posted himself there, but the moment he understood the state of the case he went upstairs again and enjoyed the treat of telling Rose. Dear me! They were just haggling in her behalf! He dinned his words into her ears; she ran off to the property room. They were silent as she entered. She looked at the four men. Muffat hung his head; Fauchery answered her questioning glance with a despairing shrug of the shoulders; as to Mignon, he was busy discussing the terms of the agreement with Bordenave.
"What's up?" she demanded curtly.
"Nothing," said her husband. "Bordenave here is giving ten thousand francs in order to get you to give up your part."
She grew tremulous with anger and very pale, and she clenched her little fists. For some moments she stared at him, her whole nature in revolt. Ordinarily in matters of business she was wont to trust everything obediently to her husband, leaving him to sign agreements with managers and lovers. Now she could but cry:
"Oh, come, you're too base for anything!"
The words fell like a lash. Then she sped away, and Mignon, in utter astonishment, ran after her. What next? Was she going mad? He began explaining to her in low tones that ten thousand francs from one party and fifteen thousand from the other came to twenty-five thousand. A splendid deal! Muffat was getting rid of her in every sense of the word; it was a pretty trick to have plucked him of this last feather! But Rose in her anger vouchsafed no answer. Whereupon Mignon in disdain left her to her feminine spite and, turning to Bordenave, who was once more on the stage with Fauchery and Muffat, said:
"We'll sign tomorrow morning. Have the money in readiness."
At this moment Nana, to whom Labordette had brought the news, came down to the stage in triumph. She was quite the honest woman now and wore a most distinguished expression in order to overwhelm her friends and prove to the idiots that when she chose she could give them all points in the matter of smartness. But she nearly got into trouble, for at the sight of her Rose darted forward, choking with rage and stuttering:
"Yes, you, I'll pay you out! Things can't go on like this; d'you understand?" Nana forgot herself in face of this brisk attack and was going to put her arms akimbo and give her what for. But she controlled herself and, looking like a marquise who is afraid of treading on an orange peel, fluted in still more silvery tones.
"Eh, what?" said she. "You're mad, my dear!"
And with that she continued in her graceful affectation while Rose took her departure, followed by Mignon, who now refused to recognize her. Clarisse was enraptured, having just obtained the part of Geraldine from Bordenave. Fauchery, on the other hand, was gloomy; he shifted from one foot to the other; he could not decide whether to leave the theater or no. His piece was bedeviled, and he was seeking how best to save it. But Nana came up, took him by both hands and, drawing him toward her, asked whether he thought her so very atrocious after all. She wasn't going to eat his play--not she! Then she made him laugh and gave him to understand that he would be foolish to be angry with her, in view of his relationship to the Muffats. If, she said, her memory failed her she would take her lines from the prompter. The house, too, would be packed in such a way as to ensure applause. Besides, he was mistaken about her, and he would soon see how she would rattle through her part. By and by it was arranged that the author should make a few changes in the role of the duchess so as to extend that of Prulliere. The last-named personage was enraptured. Indeed, amid all the joy which Nana now quite naturally diffused, Fontan alone remained unmoved. In the middle of the yellow lamplight, against which the sharp outline offa, there were twenty thousand francs' worth of POINT DE VENISE lace. The furniture was lacquered blue and white under designs in silver filigree, and everywhere lay such numbers of white bearskins that they hid the carpet. This was a luxurious caprice on Nana's part, she having never been able to break herself of the habit of sitting on the floor to take her stockings off. Next door to the bedroom the little saloon was full of an amusing medley of exquisitely artistic objects. Against the hangings of pale rose-colored silk--a faded Turkish rose color, embroidered with gold thread--a whole world of them stood sharply outlined. They were from every land and in every possible style. There were Italian cabinets, Spanish and Portuguese coffers, models of Chinese pagodas, a Japanese screen of precious workmanship, besides china, bronzes, embroidered silks, his goatlike profile shone out with great distinctness, he stood showing off his figure and affecting the pose of one who has been cruelly abandoned. Nana went quietly up and shook hands with him.
"How are you getting on?"
"Oh, pretty fairly. And how are you?"
"Very well, thank you."That was all. They seemed to have only parted at the doors of the theater the day before. Meanwhile the players were waiting about, but Bordenave said that the third act would not be rehearsed. And so it chanced that old Bosc went grumbling away at the proper time, whereas usually the company were needlessly detained and lost whole afternoons in consequence. Everyone went off. Down on the pavement they were blinded by the broad daylight and stood blinking their eyes in a dazed sort of way, as became people who had passed three hours squabbling with tight-strung nerves in the depths of a cellar. The count, with racked limbs and vacant brain, got into a conveyance with Nana, while Labordette took Fauchery off and comforted him.
A month later the first night of the Petite Duchesse proved supremely disastrous to Nana. She was atrociously bad and displayed such pretentions toward high comedy that the public grew mirthful. They did not hiss--they were too amused. From a stage box Rose Mignon kept greeting her rival's successive entrances with a shrill laugh, which set the whole house off. It was the beginning of her revenge. Accordingly, when at night Nana, greatly chagrined, found herself alone with Muffat, she said furiously:
"What a conspiracy, eh? It's all owing to jealousy. Oh, if they only knew how I despise 'em! What do I want them for nowadays? Look here! I'll bet a hundred louis that I'll bring all those who made fun today and make 'em lick the ground at my feet! Yes, I'll fine-lady your Paris for you, I will!"