One Sunday the race for the Grand Prix de Paris was being run in the Bois de Boulogne beneath skies rendered sultry by the first heats of June. The sun that morning had risen amid a mist of dun-colored dust, but toward eleven o'clock, just when the carriages were reaching the Longchamps course, a southerly wind had swept away the clouds; long streamers of gray vapor were disappearing across the sky, and gaps showing an intense blue beyond were spreading from one end of the horizon to the other. In the bright bursts of sunlight which alternated with the clouds the whole scene shone again, from the field which was gradually filling with a crowd of carriages, horsemen and pedestrians, to the still-vacant course, where the judge's box stood, together with the posts and the masts for signaling numbers, and thence on to the five symmetrical stands of brickwork and timber, rising gallery upon gallery in the middle of the weighing enclosure opposite. Beyond these, bathed in the light of noon, lay the vast level plain, bordered with little trees and shut in to the westward by the wooded heights of Saint-Cloud and the Suresnes, which, in their turn, were dominated by the severe outlines of Mont-Valerien.
Nana, as excited as if the Grand Prix were going to make her fortune, wanted to take up a position by the railing next the winning post. She had arrived very early--she was, in fact, one of the first to come--in a landau adorned with silver and drawn, a la Daumont, by four splendid white horses. This landau was a present from Count Muffat. When she had made her appearance at the entrance to the field with two postilions jogging blithely on the near horses and two footmen perching motionless behind the carriage, the people had rushed to look as though a queen were passing. She sported the blue and white colors of the Vandeuvres stable, and her dress was remarkable. It consisted of a little blue silk bodice and tunic, which fitted closely to the body and bulged out enormously behind her waist, thereby bringing her lower limbs into bold relief in such a manner as to be extremely noticeable in that epoch of voluminous skirts. Then there was a white satin dress with white satin sleeves and a sash worn crosswise over the shoulders, the whole ornamented with silver guipure which shone in the sun. In addition to this, in order to be still more like a jockey, she had stuck a blue toque with a white feather jauntily upon her chignon, the fair tresses from which flowed down beyond her shoulders and resembled an enormous russet pigtail.
Twelve struck. The public would have to wait more than three hours for the Grand Prix to be run. When the landau had drawn up beside the barriers Nana settled herself comfortably down as though she were in her own house. A whim had prompted her to bring Bijou and Louiset with her, and the dog crouched among her skirts, shivering with cold despite the heat of the day, while amid a bedizenment of ribbons and laces the child's poor little face looked waxen and dumb and white in the open air. Meanwhile the young woman, without troubling about the people near her, talked at the top of her voice with Georges and Philippe Hugon, who were seated opposite on the front seat among such a mountain of bouquets of white roses and blue myosotis that they were buried up to their shoulders.
"Well then," she was saying, "as he bored me to death, I showed him the door. And now it's two days that he's been sulking."
She was talking of Muffat, but she took care not to confess to the young men the real reason for this first quarrel, which was that one evening he had found a man's hat in her bedroom. She had indeed brought home a passer-by out of sheer ennui--a silly infatuation.
"You have no idea how funny he is," she continued, growing merry over the particulars she was giving. "He's a regular bigot at bottom, so he says his prayers every evening. Yes, he does. He's under the impression I notice nothing because I go to bed first so as not to be in his way, but I watch him out of the corner of my eye. Oh, he jaws away, and then he crosses himself when he turns round to step over me and get to the inside of the bed."
"Jove, it's sly," muttered Philippe. "That's what happens before, but afterward, what then?"
She laughed merrily.
"Yes, just so, before and after! When I'm going to sleep I hear him jawing away again. But the biggest bore of all is that we can't argue about anything now without his growing 'pi.' I've always been religious. Yes, chaff as much as you like; that won't prevent me believing what I do believe! Only he's too much of a nuisance: he blubbers; he talks about remorse. The day before yesterday, for instance, he had a regular fit of it after our usual row, and I wasn't the least bit reassured when all was over."
But she broke off, crying out:
"Just look at the Mignons arriving. Dear me, they've brought the children! Oh, how those little chaps are dressed up!"
The Mignons were in a landau of severe hue; there was something substantially luxurious about their turnout, suggesting rich retired tradespeople. Rose was in a gray silk gown trimmed with red knots and with puffs; she was smiling happily at the joyous behavior of Henri and Charles, who sat on the front seat, looking awkward in their ill-fitting collegians' tunics. But when the landau had drawn up by the rails and she perceived Nana sitting in triumph among her bouquets, with her four horses and her liveries, she pursed up her lips, sat bolt upright and turned her head away. Mignon, on the other hand, looking the picture of freshness and gaiety, waved her a salutation. He made it a matter of principle to keep out of feminine disagreements.
"By the by," Nana resumed, "d'you know a little old man who's very clean and neat and has bad teeth--a Monsieur Venot? He came to see me this morning."
"Monsieur Venot?" said Georges in great astonishment. "It's impossible! Why, the man's a Jesuit!"
"Precisely; I spotted that. Oh, you have no idea what our conversation was like! It was just funny! He spoke to me about the count, about his divided house, and begged me to restore a family its happiness. He was very polite and very smiling for the matter of that. Then I answered to the effect that I wanted nothing better, and I undertook to reconcile the count and his wife. You know it's not humbug. I should be delighted to see them all happy again, the poor things! Besides, it would be a relief to me for there are days--yes, there are days--when he bores me to death."
The weariness of the last months escaped her in this heartfelt outburst. Moreover, the count appeared to be in big money difficulties; he was anxious and it seemed likely that the bill which Labordette had put his name to would not be met.
"Dear me, the countess is down yonder," said Georges, letting his gaze wander over the stands.
"Where, where?" cried Nana. "What eyes that baby's got! Hold my sunshade, Philippe."
But with a quick forward dart Georges had outstripped his brother. It enchanted him to be holding the blue silk sunshade with its silver fringe. Nana was scanning the scene through a huge pair of field glasses.
"Ah yes! I see her," she said at length. "In the right-hand stand, near a pillar, eh? She's in mauve, and her daughter in white by her side. Dear me, there's Daguenet going to bow to them."
Thereupon Philippe talked of Daguenet's approaching marriage with that lath of an Estelle. It was a settled matter--the banns were being published. At first the countess had opposed it, but the count, they said, had insisted. Nana smiled.
"I know, I know," she murmured. "So much the better for Paul. He's a nice boy--he deserves it"
And leaning toward Louiset:
"You're enjoying yourself, eh? What a grave face!"
The child never smiled. With a very old expression he was gazing at all those crowds, as though the sight of them filled him with melancholy reflections. Bijou, chased from the skirts of the young woman who was moving about a great deal, had come to nestle, shivering, against the little fellow.
Meanwhile the field was filling up. Carriages, a compact, interminable file of them, were continually arriving through the Porte de la Cascade. There were big omnibuses such as the Pauline, which had started from the Boulevard des Italiens, freighted with its fifty passengers, and was now going to draw up to the right of the stands. Then there were dogcarts, victorias, landaus, all superbly well turned out, mingled with lamentable cabs which jolted along behind sorry old hacks, and four-in-hands, sending along their four horses, and mail coaches, where the masters sat on the seats above and left the servants to take care of the hampers of champagne inside, and "spiders," the immense wheels of which were a flash of glittering steel, and light tandems, which looked as delicately formed as the works of a clock and slipped along amid a peal of little bells. Every few seconds an equestrian rode by, and a swarm of people on foot rushed in a scared way among the carriages. On the green the far-off rolling sound which issued from the avenues in the Bois died out suddenly in dull rustlings, and now nothing was audible save the hubbub of the ever-increasing crowds and cries and calls and the crackings of whips in the open. When the sun, amid bursts of wind, reappeared at the edge of a cloud, a long ray of golden light ran across the field, lit up the harness and the varnished coach panels and touched the ladies' dresses with fire, while amid the dusty radiance the coachmen, high up on their boxes, flamed beside their great whips.
Labordette was getting out of an open carriage where Gaga, Clarisse and Blanche de Sivry had kept a place for him. As he was hurrying to cross the course and enter the weighing enclosure Nana got Georges to call him. Then when he came up:
"What's the betting on me?" she asked laughingly.
She referred to the filly Nana, the Nana who had let herself be shamefully beaten in the race for the Prix de Diane and had not even been placed in April and May last when she ran for the Prix des Cars and the Grande Poule des Produits, both of which had been gained by Lusignan, the other horse in the Vandeuvres stable. Lusignan had all at once become prime favorite, and since yesterday he had been currently taken at two to one.
"Always fifty to one against," replied Labordette.
"The deuce! I'm not worth much," rejoined Nana, amused by the jest. "I don't back myself then; no, by jingo! I don't put a single louis on myself."
Labordette went off again in a great hurry, but she recalled him. She wanted some advice. Since he kept in touch with the world of trainers and jockeys he had special information about various stables. His prognostications had come true a score of times already, and people called him the "King of Tipsters."
"Let's see, what horses ought I to choose?" said the young woman. "What's the betting on the Englishman?"
"Spirit? Three to one against. Valerio II, the same. As to the others, they're laying twenty-five to one against Cosinus, forty to one against Hazard, thirty to one against Bourn, thirty-five to one against Pichenette, ten to one against Frangipane."
"No, I don't bet on the Englishman, I don't. I'm a patriot. Perhaps Valerio II would do, eh? The Duc de Corbreuse was beaming a little while ago. Well, no, after all! Fifty louis on Lusignan; what do you say to that?"
Labordette looked at her with a singular expression. She leaned forward and asked him questions in a low voice, for she was aware that Vandeuvres commissioned him to arrange matters with the bookmakers so as to be able to bet the more easily. Supposing him to have got to know something, he might quite well tell it her. But without entering into explanations Labordette persuaded her to trust to his sagacity. He would put on her fifty louis for her as he might think best, and she would not repent of his arrangement.
"All the horses you like!" she cried gaily, letting him take his departure, "but no Nana; she's a jade!"
There was a burst of uproarious laughter in the carriage. The young men thought her sally very amusing, while Louiset in his ignorance lifted his pale eyes to his mother's face, for her loud exclamations surprised him. However, there was no escape for Labordette as yet. Rose Mignon had made a sign to him and was now giving him her commands while he wrote figures in a notebook. Then Clarisse and Gaga called him back in order to change their bets, for they had heard things said in the crowd, and now they didn't want to have anything more to do with Valerio II and were choosing Lusignan. He wrote down their wishes with an impassible expression and at length managed to escape. He could be seen disappearing between two of the stands on the other side of the course.
Carriages were still arriving. They were by this time drawn up five rows deep, and a dense mass of them spread along the barriers, checkered by the light coats of white horses. Beyond them other carriages stood about in comparative isolation, looking as though they had stuck fast in the grass. Wheels and harness were here, there and everywhere, according as the conveyances to which they belonged were side by side, at an angle, across and across or head to head. Over such spaces of turf as still remained unoccupied cavaliers kept trotting, and black groups of pedestrians moved continually. The scene resembled the field where a fair is being held, and above it all, amid the confused motley of the crowd, the drinking booths raised their gray canvas roofs which gleamed white in the sunshine. But a veritable tumult, a mob, an eddy of hats, surged round the several bookmakers, who stood in open carriages gesticulating like itinerant dentists while their odds were pasted up on tall boards beside them.
"All the same, it's stupid not to know on what horse one's betting," Nana was remarking. "I really must risk some louis in person."
She had stood up to select a bookmaker with a decent expression of face but forgot what she wanted on perceiving a perfect crowd of her acquaintance. Besides the Mignons, besides Gaga, Clarisse and Blanche, there were present, to the right and left, behind and in the middle of the mass of carriages now hemming in her landau, the following ladies: Tatan Nene and Maria Blond in a victoria, Caroline Hequet with her mother and two gentlemen in an open carriage, Louise Violaine quite alone, driving a little basket chaise decked with orange and green ribbons, the colors of the Mechain stables, and finally, Lea de Horn on the lofty seat of a mail coach, where a band of young men were making a great din. Farther off, in a huit ressorts of aristocratic appearance, Lucy Stewart, in a very simple black silk dress, sat, looking distinguished beside a tall young man in the uniform of a naval cadet. But what most astounded Nana was the arrival of Simonne in a tandem which Steiner was driving, while a footman sat motionless, with folded arms, behind them. She looked dazzling in white satin striped with yellow and was covered with diamonds from waist to hat. The banker, on his part, was handling a tremendous whip and sending along his two horses, which were harnessed tandemwise, the leader being a little warm-colored chestnut with a mouselike trot, the shaft horse a big brown bay, a stepper, with a fine action.
"Deuce take it!" said Nana. "So that thief Steiner has cleared the Bourse again, has he? I say, isn't Simonne a swell! It's too much of a good thing; he'll get into the clutches of the law!"
Nevertheless, she exchanged greetings at a distance. Indeed, she kept waving her hand and smiling, turning round and forgetting no one in her desire to be seen by everybody. At the same time she continued chatting.
"It's her son Lucy's got in tow! He's charming in his uniform. That's why she's looking so grand, of course! You know she's afraid of him and that she passes herself off as an actress. Poor young man, I pity him all the same! He seems quite unsuspicious."
"Bah," muttered Philippe, laughing, "she'll be able to find him an heiress in the country when she likes."
Nana was silent, for she had just noticed the Tricon amid the thick of the carriages. Having arrived in a cab, whence she could not see anything, the Tricon had quietly mounted the coach box. And there, straightening up her tall figure, with her noble face enshrined in its long curls, she dominated the crowd as though enthroned amid her feminine subjects. All the latter smiled discreetly at her while she, in her superiority, pretended not to know them. She wasn't there for business purposes: she was watching the races for the love of the thing, as became a frantic gambler with a passion for horseflesh.
"Dear me, there's that idiot La Faloise!" said Georges suddenly.
It was a surprise to them all. Nana did not recognize her La Faloise, for since he had come into his inheritance he had grown extraordinarily up to date. He wore a low collar and was clad in a cloth of delicate hue which fitted close to his meager shoulders. His hair was in little bandeaux, and he affected a weary kind of swagger, a soft tone of voice and slang words and phrases which he did not take the trouble to finish.
"But he's quite the thing!" declared Nana in perfect enchantment.
Gaga and Clarisse had called La Faloise and were throwing themselves at him in their efforts to regain his allegiance, but he left them immediately, rolling off in a chaffing, disdainful manner. Nana dazzled him. He rushed up to her and stood on the carriage step, and when she twitted him about Gaga he murmured:
"Oh dear, no! We've seen the last of the old lot! Mustn't play her off on me any more. And then, you know, it's you now, Juliet mine!"
He had put his hand to his heart. Nana laughed a good deal at this exceedingly sudden out-of-door declaration. She continued:
"I say, that's not what I'm after. You're making me forget that I want to lay wagers. Georges, you see that bookmaker down there, a great red-faced man with curly hair? He's got a dirty blackguard expression which I like. You're to go and choose--Oh, I say, what can one choose?"
"I'm not a patriotic soul--oh dear, no!" La Faloise blurted out. "I'm all for the Englishman. It will be ripping if the Englishman gains! The French may go to Jericho!"
Nana was scandalized. Presently the merits of the several horses began to be discussed, and La Faloise, wishing to be thought very much in the swim, spoke of them all as sorry jades. Frangipane, Baron Verdier's horse, was by The Truth out of Lenore. A big bay horse he was, who would certainly have stood a chance if they hadn't let him get foundered during training. As to Valerio II from the Corbreuse stable, he wasn't ready yet; he'd had the colic in April. Oh yes, they were keeping that dark, but he was sure of it, on his honor! In the end he advised Nana to choose Hazard, the most defective of the lot, a horse nobody would have anything to do with. Hazard, by jingo--such superb lines and such an action! That horse was going to astonish the people.
"No," said Nana, "I'm going to put ten louis on Lusignan and five on Boum."
La Faloise burst forth at once:
"But, my dear girl, Boum's all rot! Don't choose him! Gasc himself is chucking up backing his own horse. And your Lusignan--never! Why, it's all humbug! By Lamb and Princess--just think! By Lamb and Princess--no, by Jove! All too short in the legs!"
He was choking. Philippe pointed out that, notwithstanding this, Lusignan had won the Prix des Cars and the Grande Poule des Produits. But the other ran on again. What did that prove? Nothing at all. On the contrary, one ought to distrust him. And besides, Gresham rode Lusignan; well then, let them jolly well dry up! Gresham had bad luck; he would never get to the post.
And from one end of the field to the other the discussion raging in Nana's landau seemed to spread and increase. Voices were raised in a scream; the passion for gambling filled the air, set faces glowing and arms waving excitedly, while the bookmakers, perched on their conveyances, shouted odds and jotted down amounts right furiously. Yet these were only the small fry of the betting world; the big bets were made in the weighing enclosure. Here, then, raged the keen contest of people with light purses who risked their five-franc pieces and displayed infinite covetousness for the sake of a possible gain of a few louis. In a word, the battle would be between Spirit and Lusignan. Englishmen, plainly recognizable as such, were strolling about among the various groups. They were quite at home; their faces were fiery with excitement; they were afready triumphant. Bramah, a horse belonging to Lord Reading, had gained the Grand Prix the previous year, and this had been a defeat over which hearts were still bleeding. This year it would be terrible if France were beaten anew. Accordingly all the ladies were wild with national pride. The Vandeuvres stable became the rampart of their honor, and Lusignan was pushed and defended and applauded exceedingly. Gaga, Blanche, Caroline and the rest betted on Lusignan. Lucy Stewart abstained from this on account of her son, but it was bruited abroad that Rose Mignon had commissioned Labordette to risk two hundred louis for her. The Tricon, as she sat alone next her driver, waited till the last moment. Very cool, indeed, amid all these disputes, very far above the ever-increasing uproar in which horses' names kept recurring and lively Parisian phrases mingled with guttural English exclamations, she sat listening and taking notes majestically.
"And Nana?" said Georges. "Does no one want her?"
Indeed, nobody was asking for the filly; she was not even being mentioned. The outsider of the Vandeuvres's stud was swamped by Lusignan's popularity. But La Faloise flung his arms up, crying:
"I've an inspiration. I'll bet a louis on Nana."
"Bravo! I bet a couple," said Georges.
"And I three," added Philippe.
And they mounted up and up, bidding against one another good- humoredly and naming prices as though they had been haggling over Nana at an auction. La Faloise said he would cover her with gold. Besides, everybody was to be made to back her; they would go and pick up backers. But as the three young men were darting off to propagandize, Nana shouted after them:
"You know I don't want to have anything to do with her; I don't for the world! Georges, ten louis on Lusignan and five on Valerio II."
Meanwhile they had started fairly off, and she watched them gaily as they slipped between wheels, ducked under horses' heads and scoured the whole field. The moment they recognized anyone in a carriage they rushed up and urged Nana's claims. And there were great bursts of laughter among the crowd when sometimes they turned back, triumphantly signaling amounts with their fingers, while the young woman stood and waved her sunshade. Nevertheless, they made poor enough work of it. Some men let themselves be persuaded; Steiner, for instance, ventured three louis, for the sight of Nana stirred him. But the women refused point-blank. "Thanks," they said; "to lose for a certainty!" Besides, they were in no hurry to work for the benefit of a dirty wench who was overwhelming them all with her four white horses, her postilions and her outrageous assumption of side. Gaga and Clarisse looked exceedingly prim and asked La Faloise whether he was jolly well making fun of them. When Georges boldly presented himself before the Mignons' carriage Rose turned her head away in the most marked manner and did not answer him. One must be a pretty foul sort to let one's name be given to a horse! Mignon, on the contrary, followed the young man's movements with a look of amusement and declared that the women always brought luck.
"Well?" queried Nana when the young men returned after a prolonged visit to the bookmakers.
"The odds are forty to one against you," said La Faloise.
"What's that? Forty to one!" she cried, astounded. "They were fifty to one against me. What's happened?"
Labordette had just then reappeared. The course was being cleared, and the pealing of a bell announced the first race. Amid the expectant murmur of the bystanders she questioned him about this sudden rise in her value. But he replied evasively; doubtless a demand for her had arisen. She had to content herself with this explanation. Moreover, Labordette announced with a preoccupied expression that Vandeuvres was coming if he could get away.
The race was ending unnoticed; people were all waiting for the Grand Prix to be run--when a storm burst over the Hippodrome. For some minutes past the sun had disappeared, and a wan twilight had darkened over the multitude. Then the wind rose, and there ensued a sudden deluge. Huge drops, perfect sheets of water, fell. There was a momentary confusion, and people shouted and joked and swore, while those on foot scampered madly off to find refuge under the canvas of the drinking booths. In the carriages the women did their best to shelter themselves, grasping their sunshades with both hands, while the bewildered footmen ran to the hoods. But the shower was already nearly over, and the sun began shining brilliantly through escaping clouds of fine rain. A blue cleft opened in the stormy mass, which was blown off over the Bois, and the skies seemed to smile again and to set the women laughing in a reassured manner, while amid the snorting of horses and the disarray and agitation of the drenched multitude that was shaking itself dry a broad flush of golden light lit up the field, still dripping and glittering with crystal drops.
"Oh, that poor, dear Louiset!" said Nana. "Are you very drenched, my darling?"
The little thing silently allowed his hands to be wiped. The young woman had taken out her handkerchief. Then she dabbed it over Bijou, who was trembling more violently than ever. It would not matter in the least; there were a few drops on the white satin of her dress, but she didn't care a pin for them. The bouquets, refreshed by the rain, glowed like snow, and she smelled one ecstatically, drenching her lips in it as though it were wet with dew.
Meanwhile the burst of rain had suddenly filled the stands. Nana looked at them through her field glasses. At that distance you could only distinguish a compact, confused mass of people, heaped up, as it were, on the ascending ranges of steps, a dark background relieved by light dots which were human faces. The sunlight filtered in through openings near the roof at each end of the stand and detached and illumined portions of the seated multitude, where the ladies' dresses seemed to lose their distinguishing colors. But Nana was especially amused by the ladies whom the shower had driven from the rows of chairs ranged on the sand at the base of the stands. As courtesans were absolutely forbidden to enter the enclosure, she began making exceedingly bitter remarks about all the fashionable women therein assembled. She thought them fearfully dressed up, and such guys!
There was a rumor that the empress was entering the little central stand, a pavilion built like a chalet, with a wide balcony furnished with red armchairs.
"Why, there he is!" said Georges. "I didn't think he was on duty this week."
The stiff and solemn form of the Count Muffat had appeared behind the empress. Thereupon the young men jested and were sorry that Satin wasn't there to go and dig him in the ribs. But Nana's field glass focused the head of the Prince of Scots in the imperial stand.
"Gracious, it's Charles!" she cried.
She thought him stouter than formerly. In eighteen months he had broadened, and with that she entered into particulars. Oh yes, he was a big, solidly built fellow!
All round her in the ladies' carriages they were whispering that the count had given her up. It was quite a long story. Since he had been making himself noticeable, the Tuileries had grown scandalized at the chamberlain's conduct. Whereupon, in order ro retain his position, he had recently broken it off with Nana. La Faloise bluntly reported this account of matters to the young woman and, addressing her as his Juliet, again offered himself. But she laughed merrily and remarked:
"It's idiotic! You won't know him; I've only to say, 'Come here,' for him to chuck up everything."
For some seconds past she had been examining the Countess Sabine and Estelle. Daguenet was still at their side. Fauchery had just arrived and was disturbing the people round him in his desire to make his bow to them. He, too, stayed smilingly beside them. After that Nana pointed with disdainful action at the stands and continued:
"Then, you know, those people don't fetch me any longer now! I know 'em too well. You should see 'em behind scenes. No more honor! It's all up with honor! Filth belowstairs, filth abovestairs, filth everywhere. That's why I won't be bothered about 'em!"
And with a comprehensive gesture she took in everybody, from the grooms leading the horses on to the course to the sovereign lady busy chatting with with Charles, a prince and a dirty fellow to boot.
"Bravo, Nana! Awfully smart, Nana!" cried La Faloise enthusiastically.
The tolling of a bell was lost in the wind; the races continued. The Prix d'Ispahan had just been run for and Berlingot, a horse belonging to the Mechain stable, had won. Nana recalled Labordette in order to obtain news of the hundred louis, but he burst out laughing and refused to let her know the horses he had chosen for her, so as not to disturb the luck, as he phrased it. Her money was well placed; she would see that all in good time. And when she confessed her bets to him and told him how she had put ten louis on Lusignan and five on Valerio II, he shrugged his shoulders, as who should say that women did stupid things whatever happened. His action surprised her; she was quite at sea.
Just then the field grew more animated than before. Open-air lunches were arranged in the interval before the Grand Prix. There was much eating and more drinking in all directions, on the grass, on the high seats of the four-in-hands and mail coaches, in the victorias, the broughams, the landaus. There was a universal spread of cold viands and a fine disorderly display of champagne baskets which footmen kept handing down out of the coach boots. Corks came out with feeble pops, which the wind drowned. There was an interchange of jests, and the sound of breaking glasses imparted a note of discord to the high-strung gaiety of the scene. Gaga and Clarisse, together with Blanche, were making a serious repast, for they were eating sandwiches on the carriage rug with which they had been covering their knees. Louise Violaine had got down from her basket carriage and had joined Caroline Hequet. On the turf at their feet some gentlemen had instituted a drinking bar, whither Tatan, Maria, Simonne and the rest came to refresh themselves, while high in air and close at hand bottles were being emptied on Lea de Horn's mail coach, and, with infinite bravado and gesticulation, a whole band were making themselves tipsy in the sunshine, above the heads of the crowd. Soon, however, there was an especially large crowd by Nana's landau. She had risen to her feet and had set herself to pour out glasses of champagne for the men who came to pay her their respects. Francois, one of the footmen, was passing up the bottles while La Faloise, trying hard to imitate a coster's accents, kept pattering away:
"'Ere y're, given away, given away! There's some for everybody!"
"Do be still, dear boy," Nana ended by saying. "We look like a set of tumblers."
She thought him very droll and was greatly entertained. At one moment she conceived the idea of sending Georges with a glass of champagne to Rose Mignon, who was affecting temperance. Henri and Charles were bored to distraction; they would have been glad of some champagne, the poor little fellows. But Georges drank the glassful, for he feared an argument. Then Nana remembered Louiset, who was sitting forgotten behind her. Maybe he was thirsty, and she forced him to take a drop or two of wine, which made him cough dreadfully.
"'Ere y'are, 'ere y'are, gemmen!" La Faloise reiterated. "It don't cost two sous; it don't cost one. We give it away."
But Nana broke in with an exclamation:
"Gracious, there's Bordenave down there! Call him. Oh, run, please, please do!"
It was indeed Bordenave. He was strolling about with his hands behind his back, wearing a hat that looked rusty in the sunlight and a greasy frock coat that was glossy at the seams. It was Bordenave shattered by bankruptcy, yet furious despite all reverses, a Bordenave who flaunted his misery among all the fine folks with the hardihood becoming a man ever ready to take Dame Fortune by storm.
"The deuce, how smart we are!" he said when Nana extended her hand to him like the good-natured wench she was.
Presently, after emptying a glass of champagne, he gave vent to the followmg profoundly regretful phrase:
"Ah, if only I were a woman! But, by God, that's nothing! Would you like to go on the stage again? I've a notion: I'll hire the Gaite, and we'll gobble up Paris between us. You certainly owe it me, eh?"
And he lingered, grumbling, beside her, though glad to see her again; for, he said, that confounded Nana was balm to his feelings. Yes, it was balm to them merely to exist in her presence! She was his daughter; she was blood of his blood!
The circle increased, for now La Faloise was filling glasses, and Georges and Philippe were picking up friends. A stealthy impulse was gradually bringing in the whole field. Nana would fling everyone a laughing smile or an amusing phrase. The groups of tipplers were drawing near, and all the champagne scattered over the place was moving in her direction. Soon there was only one noisy crowd, and that was round her landau, where she queened it among outstretched glasses, her yellow hair floating on the breeze and her snowy face bathed in the sunshine. Then by way of a finishing touch and to make the other women, who were mad at her triumph, simply perish of envy, she lifted a brimming glass on high and assumed her old pose as Venus Victrix.
But somebody touched her shoulder, and she was surprised, on turning round, to see Mignon on the seat. She vanished from view an instant and sat herself down beside him, for he had come to communicate a matter of importance. Mignon had everywhere declared that it was ridiculous of his wife to bear Nana a grudge; he thought her attitude stupid and useless.
"Look here, my dear," he whispered. "Be careful: don't madden Rose too much. You understand, I think it best to warn you. Yes, she's got a weapon in store, and as she's never forgiven you the Petite Duchesse business--"
"A weapon," said Nana; "what's that blooming well got to do with me?"
"Just listen: it's a letter she must have found in Fauchery's pocket, a letter written to that screw Fauchery by the Countess Muffat. And, by Jove, it's clear the whole story's in it. Well then, Rose wants to send the letter to the count so as to be revenged on him and on you."
"What the deuce has that got to do with me?" Nana repeated. "It's a funny business. So the whole story about Fauchery's in it! Very well, so much the better; the woman has been exasperating me! We shall have a good laugh!"
"No, I don't wish it," Mignon briskly rejoined. "There'll be a pretty scandal! Besides, we've got nothing to gain."
He paused, fearing lest he should say too much, while she loudly averred that she was most certainly not going to get a chaste woman into trouble.
But when he still insisted on his refusal she looked steadily at him. Doubtless he was afraid of seeing Fauchery again introduced into his family in case he broke with the countess. While avenging her own wrongs, Rose was anxious for that to happen, since she still felt a kindness toward the journalist. And Nana waxed meditative and thought of M. Venot's call, and a plan began to take shape in her brain, while Mignon was doing his best to talk her over.
"Let's suppose that Rose sends the letter, eh? There's food for scandal: you're mixed up in the business, and people say you're the cause of it all. Then to begin with, the count separates from his wife."
"Why should he?" she said. "On the contrary--"
She broke off, in her turn. There was no need for her to think aloud. So in order to be rid of Mignon she looked as though she entered into his view of the case, and when he advised her to give Rose some proof of her submission--to pay her a short visit on the racecourse, for instance, where everybody would see her--she replied that she would see about it, that she would think the matter over.
A commotion caused her to stand up again. On the course the horses were coming in amid a sudden blast of wind. The prize given by the city of Paris had just been run for, and Cornemuse had gained it. Now the Grand Prix was about to be run, and the fever of the crowd increased, and they were tortured by anxiety and stamped and swayed as though they wanted to make the minutes fly faster. At this ultimate moment the betting world was surprised and startled by the continued shortening of the odds against Nana, the outsider of the Vandeuvres stables. Gentlemen kept returning every few moments with a new quotation: the betting was thirty to one against Nana; it was twenty-five to one against Nana, then twenty to one, then fifteen to one. No one could understand it. A filly beaten on all the racecourses! A filly which that same morning no single sportsman would take at fifty to one against! What did this sudden madness betoken? Some laughed at it and spoke of the pretty doing awaiting the duffers who were being taken in by the joke. Others looked serious and uneasy and sniffed out something ugly under it all. Perhaps there was a "deal" in the offing. Allusion was made to well-known stories about the robberies which are winked at on racecourses, but on this occasion the great name of Vandeuvres put a stop to all such accusations, and the skeptics in the end prevailed when they prophesied that Nana would come in last of all.
"Who's riding Nana?" queried La Faloise.
Just then the real Nana reappeared, whereat the gentlemen lent his question an indecent meaning and burst into an uproarious fit of laughter. Nana bowed.
"Price is up," she replied.
And with that the discussion began again. Price was an English celebrity. Why had Vandeuvres got this jockey to come over, seeing that Gresham ordinarily rode Nana? Besides, they were astonished to see him confiding Lusignan to this man Gresham, who, according to La Faloise, never got a place. But all these remarks were swallowed up in jokes, contradictions and an extraordinarily noisy confusion of opinions. In order to kill time the company once more set themselves to drain bottles of champagne. Presently a whisper ran round, and the different groups opened outward. It was Vandeuvres. Nana affected vexation.
"Dear me, you're a nice fellow to come at this time of day! Why, I'm burning to see the enclosure."
"Well, come along then," he said; "there's still time. You'll take a stroll round with me. I just happen to have a permit for a lady about me."
And he led her off on his arm while she enjoyed the jealous glances with which Lucy, Caroline and the others followed her. The young Hugons and La Faloise remained in the landau behind her retreating figure and continued to do the honors of her champagne. She shouted to them that she would return immediately.
But Vandeuvres caught sight of Labordette and called him, and there was an interchange of brief sentences.
"You've scraped everything up?"
"To what amount?"
"Fifteen hundred louis--pretty well all over the place."
As Nana was visibly listening, and that with much curiosity, they held their tongues. Vandeuvres was very nervous, and he had those same clear eyes, shot with little flames, which so frightened her the night he spoke of burning himself and his horses together. As they crossed over the course she spoke low and familiarly.
"I say, do explain this to me. Why are the odds on your filly changing?"
He trembled, and this sentence escaped him:
"Ah, they're talking, are they? What a set those betting men are! When I've got the favorite they all throw themselves upon him, and there's no chance for me. After that, when an outsider's asked for, they give tongue and yell as though they were being skinned."
"You ought to tell me what's going to happen--I've made my bets," she reioined. "Has Nana a chance?"
A sudden, unreasonable burst of anger overpowered him.
"Won't you deuced well let me be, eh? Every horse has a chance. The odds are shortening because, by Jove, people have taken the horse. Who, I don't know. I should prefer leaving you if you must needs badger me with your idiotic questions."
Such a tone was not germane either to his temperament or his habits, and Nana was rather surprised than wounded. Besides, he was ashamed of himself directly afterward, and when she begged him in a dry voice to behave politely he apologized. For some time past he had suffered from such sudden changes of temper. No one in the Paris of pleasure or of society was ignorant of the fact that he was playing his last trump card today. If his horses did not win, if, moreover, they lost him the considerable sums wagered upon them, it would mean utter disaster and collapse for him, and the bulwark of his credit and the lofty appearance which, though undermined, he still kept up, would come ruining noisily down. Moreover, no one was ignorant of the fact that Nana was the devouring siren who had finished him off, who had been the last to attack his crumbling fortunes and to sweep up what remained of them. Stories were told of wild whims and fancies, of gold scattered to the four winds, of a visit to Baden- Baden, where she had not left him enough to pay the hotel bill, of a handful of diamonds cast on the fire during an evening of drunkenness in order to see whether they would burn like coal. Little by little her great limbs and her coarse, plebeian way of laughing had gained complete mastery over this elegant, degenerate son of an ancient race. At that time he was risking his all, for he had been so utterly overpowered by his taste for ordure and stupidity as to have even lost the vigor of his skepticism. A week before Nana had made him promise her a chateau on the Norman coast between Havre and Trouville, and now he was staking the very foundations of his honor on the fulfillment of his word. Only she was getting on his nerves, and he could have beaten her, so stupid did he feel her to be.
The man at the gate, not daring to stop the woman hanging on the count's arm, had allowed them to enter the enclosure. Nana, greatly puffed up at the thought that at last she was setting foot on the forbidden ground, put on her best behavior and walked slowly by the ladies seated at the foot of the stands. On ten rows of chairs the toilets were densely massed, and in the blithe open air their bright colors mingled harmoniously. Chairs were scattered about, and as people met one another friendly circles were formed, just as though the company had been sitting under the trees in a public garden. Children had been allowed to go free and were running from group to group, while over head the stands rose tier above crowded tier and the light-colored dresses therein faded into the delicate shadows of the timberwork. Nana stared at all these ladies. She stared steadily and markedly at the Countess Sabine. After which, as she was passing in front of the imperial stand, the sight of Muffat, looming in all his official stiffness by the side of the empress, made her very merry.
"Oh, how silly he looks!" she said at the top of her voice to Vandeuvres. She was anxious to pay everything a visit. This small parklike region, with its green lawns and groups of trees, rather charmed her than otherwise. A vendor of ices had set up a large buffet near the entrance gates, and beneath a rustic thatched roof a dense throng of people were shouting and gesticulating. This was the ring. Close by were some empty stalls, and Nana was disappointed at discovering only a gendarme's horse there. Then there was the paddock, a small course some hundred meters in circumference, where a stable help was walking about Valerio II in his horsecloths. And, oh, what a lot of men on the graveled sidewalks, all of them with their tickets forming an orange-colored patch in their bottonholes! And what a continual parade of people in the open galleries of the grandstands! The scene interested her for a moment or two, but truly, it was not worth while getting the spleen because they didn't admit you inside here.
Daguenet and Fauchery passed by and bowed to her. She made them a sign, and they had to come up. Thereupon she made hay of the weighing-in enclosure. But she broke off abruptly:
"Dear me, there's the Marquis de Chouard! How old he's growing! That old man's killing himself! Is he still as mad about it as ever?"
Thereupon Daguenet described the old man's last brilliant stroke. The story dated from the day before yesterday, and no one knew it as yet. After dangling about for months he had bought her daughter Amelie from Gaga for thirty thousand francs, they said.
"Good gracious! That's a nice business!" cried Nana in disgust. "Go in for the regular thing, please! But now that I come to think of it, that must be Lili down there on the grass with a lady in a brougham. I recognized the face. The old boy will have brought her out."
Vandeuvres was not listening; he was impatient and longed to get rid of her. But Fauchery having remarked at parting that if she had not seen the bookmakers she had seen nothing, the count was obliged to take her to them in spite of his obvious repugnance. And she was perfectly happy at once; that truly was a curious sight, she said!
Amid lawns bordered by young horse-chestnut trees there was a round open enclosure, where, forming a vast circle under the shadow of the tender green leaves, a dense line of bookmakers was waiting for betting men, as though they had been hucksters at a fair. In order to overtop and command the surrounding crowd they had taken up positions on wooden benches, and they were advertising their prices on the trees beside them. They had an ever-vigilant glance, and they booked wagers in answer to a single sign, a mere wink, so rapidly that certain curious onlookers watched them openmouthed, without being able to understand it all. Confusion reigned; prices were shouted, and any unexpected change in a quotation was received with something like tumult. Occasionally scouts entered the place at a run and redoubled the uproar as they stopped at the entrance to the rotunda and, at the tops of their voices, announced departures and arrivals. In this place, where the gambling fever was pulsing in the sunshine, such announcements were sure to raise a prolonged muttering sound.
"They are funny!" murmured Nana, greatly entertained.
"Their features look as if they had been put on the wrong way. Just you see that big fellow there; I shouldn't care to meet him all alone in the middle of a wood."
But Vandeuvres pointed her out a bookmaker, once a shopman in a fancy repository, who had made three million francs in two years. He was slight of build, delicate and fair, and people all round him treated him with great respect. They smiled when they addressed him, while others took up positions close by in order to catch a glimpse of him.
They were at length leaving the ring when Vandeuvres nodded slightly to another bookmaker, who thereupon ventured to call him. It was one of his former coachmen, an enormous fellow with the shoulders of an ox and a high color. Now that he was trying his fortunes at race meetings on the strength of some mysteriously obtained capital, the count was doing his utmost to push him, confiding to him his secret bets and treating him on all occasions as a servant to whom one shows one's true character. Yet despite this protection, the man had in rapid succession lost very heavy sums, and today he, too, was playing his last card. There was blood in his eyes; he looked fit to drop with apoplexy.
"Well, Marechal," queried the count in the lowest of voices, "to what amount have you laid odds?"
"To five thousand louis, Monsieur le Comte," replied the bookmaker, likewise lowering his voice. "A pretty job, eh? I'll confess to you that I've increased the odds; I've made it three to one."
Vandeuvres looked very much put out.
"No, no, I don't want you to do that. Put it at two to one again directly. I shan't tell you any more, Marechal."
"Oh, how can it hurt, Monsieur le Comte, at this time o' day?" rejoined the other with the humble smile befitting an accomplice. "I had to attract the people so as to lay your two thousand louis."
At this Vandeuvres silenced him. But as he was going off Marechal remembered something and was sorry he had not questioned him about the shortening of the odds on the filly. It would be a nice business for him if the filly stood a chance, seeing that he had just laid fifty to one about her in two hundreds.
Nana, though she did not understand a word of what the count was whispering, dared not, however, ask for new explanations. He seemed more nervous than before and abruptly handed her over to Labordette, whom they came upon in front of the weighing-in room.
"You'll take her back," he said. "I've got something on hand. Au revoir!"
And he entered the room, which was narrow and low-pitched and half filled with a great pair of scales. It was like a waiting room in a suburban station, and Nana was again hugely disillusioned, for she had been picturing to herself something on a very vast scale, a monumental machine, in fact, for weighing horses. Dear me, they only weighed the jockeys! Then it wasn't worth while making such a fuss with their weighing! In the scale a jockey with an idiotic expression was waiting, harness on knee, till a stout man in a frock coat should have done verifying his weight. At the door a stable help was holding a horse, Cosinus, round which a silent and deeply interested throng was clustering.
The course was about to be cleared. Labordette hurried Nana but retraced his steps in order to show her a little man talking with Vandeuvres at some distance from the rest.
"Dear me, there's Price!" he said.
"Ah yes, the man who's mounting me," she murmured laughingly.
And she declared him to be exquisitely ugly. All jockeys struck her as looking idiotic, doubtless, she said, because they were prevented from growing bigger. This particular jockey was a man of forty, and with his long, thin, deeply furrowed, hard, dead countenance, he looked like an old shriveled-up child. His body was knotty and so reduced in size that his blue jacket with its white sleeves looked as if it had been thrown over a lay figure.
"No," she resumed as she walked away, "he would never make me very happy, you know."
A mob of people were still crowding the course, the turf of which had been wet and trampled on till it had grown black. In front of the two telegraphs, which hung very high up on their cast-iron pillars, the crowd were jostling together with upturned faces, uproariously greeting the numbers of the different horses as an electric wire in connection with the weighing room made them appear. Gentlemen were pointing at programs: Pichenette had been scratched by his owner, and this caused some noise. However, Nana did not do more than cross over the course on Labordette's arm. The bell hanging on the flagstaff was ringing persistently to warn people to leave the course.
"Ah, my little dears," she said as she got up into her landau again, "their enclosure's all humbug!"
She was welcomed with acclamation; people around her clapped their hands.
"Bravo, Nana! Nana's ours again!"
What idiots they were, to be sure! Did they think she was the sort to cut old friends? She had come back just at the auspicious moment. Now then, 'tenshun! The race was beginning! And the champagne was accordingly forgotten, and everyone left off drinking.
But Nana was astonished to find Gaga in her carriage, sitting with Bijou and Louiset on her knees. Gaga had indeed decided on this course of action in order to be near La Faloise, but she told Nana that she had been anxious to kiss Baby. She adored children.
"By the by, what about Lili?" asked Nana. "That's certainly she over there in that old fellow's brougham. They've just told me something very nice!"
Gaga had adopted a lachrymose expression.
"My dear, it's made me ill," she said dolorously. "Yesterday I had to keep my bed, I cried so, and today I didn't think I should be able to come. You know what my opinions were, don't you? I didn't desire that kind of thing at all. I had her educated in a convent with a view to a good marriage. And then to think of the strict advice she had and the constant watching! Well, my dear, it was she who wished it. We had such a scene--tears--disagreeable speeches! It even got to such a point that I caught her a box on the ear. She was too much bored by existence, she said; she wanted to get out of it. By and by, when she began to say, ''Tisn't you, after all, who've got the right to prevent me,' I said to her: 'you're a miserable wretch; you're bringing dishonor upon us. Begone!' And it was done. I consented to arrange about it. But my last hope's blooming well blasted, and, oh, I used to dream about such nice things!"
The noise of a quarrel caused them to rise. It was Georges in the act of defending Vandeuvres against certain vague rumors which were circulating among the various groups.
"Why should you say that he's laying off his own horse?" the young man was exclaiming. "Yesterday in the Salon des Courses he took the odds on Lusignan for a thousand louis."
"Yes, I was there," said Philippe in affirmation of this. "And he didn't put a single louis on Nana. If the betting's ten to one against Nana he's got nothing to win there. It's absurd to imagine people are so calculating. Where would his interest come in?"
Labordette was listening with a quiet expression. Shrugging his shoulders, he said:
"Oh, leave them alone; they must have their say. The count has again laid at least as much as five hundred louis on Lusignan, and if he's wanted Nana to run to a hundred louis it's because an owner ought always to look as if he believes in his horses."
"Oh, bosh! What the deuce does that matter to us?" shouted La Faloise with a wave of his arms. "Spirit's going to win! Down with France--bravo, England!"
A long shiver ran through the crowd, while a fresh peal from the bell announced the arrival of the horses upon the racecourse. At this Nana got up and stood on one of the seats of her carriage so as to obtain a better view, and in so doing she trampled the bouquets of roses and myosotis underfoot. With a sweeping glance she took in the wide, vast horizon. At this last feverish moment the course was empty and closed by gray barriers, between the posts of which stood a line of policemen. The strip of grass which lay muddy in front of her grew brighter as it stretched away and turned into a tender green carpet in the distance. In the middle landscape, as she lowered her eyes, she saw the field swarming with vast numbers of people, some on tiptoe, others perched on carriages, and all heaving and jostling in sudden passionate excitement.
Horses were neighing; tent canvases flapped, while equestrians urged their hacks forward amid a crowd of pedestrians rushing to get places along the barriers. When Nana turned in the direction of the stands on the other side the faces seemed diminished, and the dense masses of heads were only a confused and motley array, filling gangways, steps and terraces and looming in deep, dark, serried lines against the sky. And beyond these again she over looked the plain surrounding the course. Behind the ivy-clad mill to the right, meadows, dotted over with great patches of umbrageous wood, stretched away into the distance, while opposite to her, as far as the Seine flowing at the foot of a hill, the avenues of the park intersected one another, filled at that moment with long, motionless files of waiting carriages; and in the direction of Boulogne, on the left, the landscape widened anew and opened out toward the blue distances of Meudon through an avenue of paulownias, whose rosy, leafless tops were one stain of brilliant lake color. People were still arriving, and a long procession of human ants kept coming along the narrow ribbon of road which crossed the distance, while very far away, on the Paris side, the nonpaying public, herding like sheep among the wood, loomed in a moving line of little dark spots under the trees on the skirts of the Bois.
Suddenly a cheering influence warmed the hundred thousand souls who covered this part of the plain like insects swarming madly under the vast expanse of heaven. The sun, which had been hidden for about a quarter of an hour, made his appearance again and shone out amid a perfect sea of light. And everything flamed afresh: the women's sunshades turned into countless golden targets above the heads of the crowd. The sun was applauded, saluted with bursts of laughter. And people stretched their arms out as though to brush apart the clouds.
Meanwhile a solitary police officer advanced down the middle of the deserted racecourse, while higher up, on the left, a man appeared with a red flag in his hand.
"It's the starter, the Baron de Mauriac," said Labordette in reply to a question from Nana. All round the young woman exclamations were bursting from the men who were pressing to her very carriage step. They kept up a disconnected conversation, jerking out phrases under the immediate influence of passing impressions. Indeed, Philippe and Georges, Bordenave and La Faloise, could not be quiet.
"Don't shove! Let me see! Ah, the judge is getting into his box. D'you say it's Monsieur de Souvigny? You must have good eyesight-- eh?--to be able to tell what half a head is out of a fakement like that! Do hold your tongue--the banner's going up. Here they are-- 'tenshun! Cosinus is the first!"
A red and yellow banner was flapping in mid-air at the top of a mast. The horses came on the course one by one; they were led by stableboys, and the jockeys were sitting idle-handed in the saddles, the sunlight making them look like bright dabs of color. After Cosinus appeared Hazard and Boum. Presently a murmur of approval greeted Spirit, a magnificent big brown bay, the harsh citron color and black of whose jockey were cheerlessly Britannic. Valerio II scored a success as he came in; he was small and very lively, and his colors were soft green bordered with pink. The two Vandeuvres horses were slow to make their appearance, but at last, in Frangipane's rear, the blue and white showed themselves. But Lusignan, a very dark bay of irreproachable shape, was almost forgotten amid the astonishment caused by Nana. People had not seen her looking like this before, for now the sudden sunlight was dyeing the chestnut filly the brilliant color of a girl's red-gold hair. She was shining in the light like a new gold coin; her chest was deep; her head and neck tapered lightly from the delicate, high- strung line of her long back.
"Gracious, she's got my hair!" cried Nana in an ecstasy. "You bet you know I'm proud of it!"
The men clambered up on the landau, and Bordenave narrowly escaped putting his foot on Louiset, whom his mother had forgotten. He took him up with an outburst of paternal grumbling and hoisted him on his shoulder, muttering at the same time:
"The poor little brat, he must be in it too! Wait a bit, I'll show you Mamma. Eh? Look at Mummy out there."
And as Bijou was scratching his legs, he took charge of him, too, while Nana, rejoicing in the brute that bore her name, glanced round at the other women to see how they took it. They were all raging madly. Just then on the summit of her cab the Tricon, who had not moved till that moment, began waving her hand and giving her bookmaker her orders above the heads of the crowd. Her instinct had at last prompted her; she was backing Nana.
La Faloise meanwhile was making an insufferable noise. He was getting wild over Frangipane.
"I've an inspiration," he kept shouting. "Just look at Frangipane. What an action, eh? I back Frangipane at eight to one. Who'll take me?"
"Do keep quiet now," said Labordette at last. "You'll be sorry for it if you do."
"Frangipane's a screw," Philippe declared. "He's been utterly blown upon already. You'll see the canter."
The horses had gone up to the right, and they now started for the preliminary canter, passing in loose order before the stands. Thereupon there was a passionate fresh burst of talk, and people all spoke at once.
"Lusignan's too long in the back, but he's very fit. Not a cent, I tell you, on Valerio II; he's nervous--gallops with his head up-- it's a bad sign. Jove! Burne's riding Spirit. I tell you, he's got no shoulders. A well-made shoulder--that's the whole secret. No, decidedly, Spirit's too quiet. Now listen, Nana, I saw her after the Grande Poule des Produits, and she was dripping and draggled, and her sides were trembling like one o'clock. I lay twenty louis she isn't placed! Oh, shut up! He's boring us with his Frangipane. There's no time to make a bet now; there, they're off!"
Almost in tears, La Faloise was struggling to find a bookmaker. He had to be reasoned with. Everyone craned forward, but the first go- off was bad, the starter, who looked in the distance like a slim dash of blackness, not having lowered his flag. The horses came back to their places after galloping a moment or two. There were two more false starts. At length the starter got the horses together and sent them away with such address as to elicit shouts of applause.
"Splendid! No, it was mere chance! Never mind--it's done it!"
The outcries were smothered by the anxiety which tortured every breast. The betting stopped now, and the game was being played on the vast course itself. Silence reigned at the outset, as though everyone were holding his breath. White faces and trembling forms were stretched forward in all directions. At first Hazard and Cosinus made the running at the head of the rest; Valerio II followed close by, and the field came on in a confused mass behind. When they passed in front of the stands, thundering over the ground in their course like a sudden stormwind, the mass was already some fourteen lengths in extent. Frangipane was last, and Nana was slightly behind Lusignan and Spirit.
"Egad!" muttered Labordette, "how the Englishman is pulling it off out there!"
The whole carriageload again burst out with phrases and exclamations. Everyone rose on tiptoe and followed the bright splashes of color which were the jockeys as they rushed through the sunlight.
At the rise Valerio II took the lead, while Cosinus and Hazard lost ground, and Lusignan and Spirit were running neck and neck with Nana still behind them.
"By jingo, the Englishman's gained! It's palpable!" said Bordenave. "Lusignan's in difficulties, and Valerio II can't stay."
"Well, it will be a pretty biz if the Englishman wins!" cried Philippe in an access of patriotic grief.
A feeling of anguish was beginning to choke all that crowded multitude. Another defeat! And with that a strange ardent prayer, which was almost religious, went up for Lusignan, while people heaped abuse on Spirit and his dismal mute of a jockey. Among the crowd scattered over the grass the wind of excitement put up whole groups of people and set their boot soles flashing in air as they ran. Horsemen crossed the green at a furious gallop. And Nana, who was slowly revolving on her own axis, saw beneath her a surging waste of beasts and men, a sea of heads swayed and stirred all round the course by the whirlwind of the race, which clove the horizon with the bright lightning flash of the jockeys. She had been following their movement from behind while the cruppers sped away and the legs seemed to grow longer as they raced and then diminished till they looked slender as strands of hair. Now the horses were running at the end of the course, and she caught a side view of them looking minute and delicate of outline against the green distances of the Bois. Then suddenly they vanished behind a great clump of trees growing in the middle of the Hippodrome.
"Don't talk about it!" cried Georges, who was still full of hope. "It isn't over yet. The Englishman's touched."
But La Faloise was again seized with contempt for his country and grew positively outrageous in his applause of Spirit. Bravo! That was right! France needed it! Spirit first and Frangipane second-- that would be a nasty one for his native land! He exasperated Labordette, who threatened seriously to throw him off the carriage.
"Let's see how many minutes they'll be about it," said Bordenave peaceably, for though holding up Louiset, he had taken out his watch.
One after the other the horses reappeared from behind the clump of trees. There was stupefaction; a long murmur arose among the crowd. Valerio II was still leading, but Spirit was gaining on him, and behind him Lusignan had slackened while another horse was taking his place. People could not make this out all at once; they were confused about the colors. Then there was a burst of exclamations.
"But it's Nana! Nana? Get along! I tell you Lusignan hasn't budged. Dear me, yes, it's Nana. You can certainly recognize her by her golden color. D'you see her now? She's blazing away. Bravo, Nana! What a ripper she is! Bah, it doesn't matter a bit: she's making the running for Lusignan!"
For some seconds this was everybody's opinion. But little by little the filly kept gaining and gaining, spurting hard all the while. Thereupon a vast wave of feeling passed over the crowd, and the tail of horses in the rear ceased to interest. A supreme struggle was beginning between Spirit, Nana, Lusignan and Valerio II. They were pointed out; people estimated what ground they had gained or lost in disconnected, gasping phrases. And Nana, who had mounted up on the coach box, as though some power had lifted her thither, stood white and trembling and so deeply moved as not to be able to speak. At her side Labordette smiled as of old.
"The Englishman's in trouble, eh?" said Philippe joyously. "He's going badly."
"In any case, it's all up with Lusignan," shouted La Faloise. "Valerio II is coming forward. Look, there they are all four together."
The same phrase was in every mouth.
"What a rush, my dears! By God, what a rush!"
The squad of horses was now passing in front of them like a flash of lightning. Their approach was perceptible--the breath of it was as a distant muttering which increased at every second. The whole crowd had thrown themselves impetuously against the barriers, and a deep clamor issued from innumerable chests before the advance of the horses and drew nearer and nearer like the sound of a foaming tide. It was the last fierce outburst of colossal partisanship; a hundred thousand spectators were possessed by a single passion, burning with the same gambler's lust, as they gazed after the beasts, whose galloping feet were sweeping millions with them. The crowd pushed and crushed--fists were clenched; people gaped, openmouthed; every man was fighting for himself; every man with voice and gesture was madly speeding the horse of his choice. And the cry of all this multitude, a wild beast's cry despite the garb of civilization, grew ever more distinct:
"Here they come! Here they come! Here they come!"
But Nana was still gaining ground, and now Valerio II was distanced, and she was heading the race, with Spirit two or three necks behind. The rolling thunder of voices had increased. They were coming in; a storm of oaths greeted them from the landau.
"Gee up, Lusignan, you great coward! The Englishman's stunning! Do it again, old boy; do it again! Oh, that Valerio! It's sickening! Oh, the carcass! My ten louis damned well lost! Nana's the only one! Bravo, Nana! Bravo!"
And without being aware of it Nana, upon her seat, had begun jerking her hips and waist as though she were racing herself. She kept striking her side--she fancied it was a help to the filly. With each stroke she sighed with fatigue and said in low, anguished tones:
"Go it, go it!"
Then a splendid sight was witnessed. Price, rising in his stirrups and brandishing his whip, flogged Nana with an arm of iron. The old shriveled-up child with his long, hard, dead face seemed to breath flame. And in a fit of furious audacity and triumphant will he put his heart into the filly, held her up, lifted her forward, drenched in foam, with eyes of blood. The whole rush of horses passed with a roar of thunder: it took away people's breaths; it swept the air with it while the judge sat frigidly waiting, his eye adjusted to its task. Then there was an immense re-echoing burst of acclamation. With a supreme effort Price had just flung Nana past the post, thus beating Spirit by a head.
There was an uproar as of a rising tide. "Nana! Nana! Nana!" The cry rolled up and swelled with the violence of a tempest, till little by little it filled the distance, the depths of the Bois as far as Mont Valerien, the meadows of Longchamps and the Plaine de Boulogne. In all parts of the field the wildest enthusiasm declared itself. "Vive Nana! Vive la France! Down with England!" The women waved their sunshades; men leaped and spun round, vociferating as they did so, while others with shouts of nervous laughter threw their hats in the air. And from the other side of the course the enclosure made answer; the people on the stands were stirred, though nothing was distinctly visible save a tremulous motion of the air, as though an invisible flame were burning in a brazier above the living mass of gesticulating arms and little wildly moving faces, where the eyes and gaping mouths looked like black dots. The noise did not cease but swelled up and recommenced in the recesses of faraway avenues and among the people encamped under the trees, till it spread on and on and attained its climax in the imperial stand, where the empress herself had applauded. "Nana! Nana! Nana!" The cry rose heavenward in the glorious sunlight, whose golden rain beat fiercely on the dizzy heads of the multitude.
Then Nana, looming large on the seat of her landau, fancied that it was she whom they were applauding. For a moment or two she had stood devoid of motion, stupefied by her triumph, gazing at the course as it was invaded by so dense a flood of people that the turf became invisible beneath the sea of black hats. By and by, when this crowd had become somewhat less disorderly and a lane had been formed as far as the exit and Nana was again applauded as she went off with Price hanging lifelessly and vacantly over her neck, she smacked her thigh energetically, lost all self-possession, triumphed in crude phrases:
"Oh, by God, it's me; it's me. Oh, by God, what luck!"
And, scarce knowing how to give expression to her overwhelming joy, she hugged and kissed Louiset, whom she now discovered high in the air on Bordenave's shoulder.
"Three minutes and fourteen seconds," said the latter as he put his watch back in his pocket.
Nana kept hearing her name; the whole plain was echoing it back to her. Her people were applauding her while she towered above them in the sunlight, in the splendor of her starry hair and white-and-sky- blue dress. Labordette, as he made off, had just announced to her a gain of two thousand louis, for he had put her fifty on Nana at forty to one. But the money stirred her less than this unforeseen victory, the fame of which made her queen of Paris. All the other ladies were losers. With a raging movement Rose Mignon had snapped her sunshade, and Caroline Hequet and Clarisse and Simonne--nay, Lucy Stewart herself, despite the presence of her son--were swearing low in their exasperation at that great wench's luck, while the Tricon, who had made the sign of the cross at both start and finish, straightened up her tall form above them, went into an ecstasy over her intuition and damned Nana admiringly as became an experienced matron.
Meanwhile round the landau the crush of men increased. The band of Nana's immediate followers had made a fierce uproar, and now Georges, choking with emotion, continued shouting all by himself in breaking tones. As the champagne had given out, Philippe, taking the footmen with him, had run to the wine bars. Nana's court was growing and growing, and her present triumph caused many loiterers to join her. Indeed, that movement which had made her carriage a center of attraction to the whole field was now ending in an apotheosis, and Queen Venus was enthroned amid suddenly maddened subjects. Bordenave, behind her, was muttering oaths, for he yearned to her as a father. Steiner himself had been reconquered-- he had deserted Simonne and had hoisted himself upon one of Nana's carriage steps. When the champagne had arrived, when she lifted her brimming glass, such applause burst forth, and "Nana! Nana! Nana!" was so loudly repeated that the crowd looked round in astonishment for the filly, nor could any tell whether it was the horse or the woman that filled all hearts.
While this was going on Mignon came hastening up in defiance of Rose's terrible frown. That confounded girl simply maddened him, and he wanted to kiss her. Then after imprinting a paternal salute on both her cheeks:
"What bothers me," he said, "is that now Rose is certainly going to send the letter. She's raging, too, fearfully."
"So much the better! It'll do my business for me!" Nana let slip.
But noting his utter astonishment, she hastily continued:
"No, no, what am I saying? Indeed, I don't rightly know what I'm saying now! I'm drunk."
And drunk, indeed, drunk with joy, drunk with sunshine, she still raised her glass on high and applauded herself.
"To Nana! To Nana!" she cried amid a redoubled uproar of laughter and bravoes, which little by little overspread the whole Hippodrome.
The races were ending, and the Prix Vaublanc was run for. Carriages began driving off one by one. Meanwhile, amid much disputing, the name of Vandeuvres was again mentioned. It was quite evident now: for two years past Vandeuvres had been preparing his final stroke and had accordingly told Gresham to hold Nana in, while he had only brought Lusignan forward in order to make play for the filly. The losers were vexed; the winners shrugged their shoulders. After all, wasn't the thing permissible? An owner was free to run his stud in his own way. Many others had done as he had! In fact, the majority thought Vandeuvres had displayed great skill in raking in all he could get about Nana through the agency of friends, a course of action which explained the sudden shortening of the odds. People spoke of his having laid two thousand louis on the horse, which, supposing the odds to be thirty to one against, gave him twelve hundred thousand francs, an amount so vast as to inspire respect and to excuse everything.
But other rumors of a very serious nature were being whispered about: they issued in the first instance from the enclosure, and the men who returned thence were full of exact particulars. Voices were raised; an atrocious scandal began to be openly canvassed. That poor fellow Vandeuvres was done for; he had spoiled his splendid hit with a piece of flat stupidity, an idiotic robbery, for he had commissioned Marechal, a shady bookmaker, to lay two thousand louis on his account against Lusignan, in order thereby to get back his thousand and odd openly wagered louis. It was a miserable business, and it proved to be the last rift necessary to the utter breakup of his fortune. The bookmaker being thus warned that the favorite would not win, had realized some sixty thousand francs over the horse. Only Labordette, for lack of exact and detailed instructions, had just then gone to him to put two hundred louis on Nana, which the bookmaker, in his ignorance of the stroke actually intended, was still quoting at fifty to one against. Cleared of one hundred thousand francs over the filly and a loser to the tune of forty thousand, Marechal, who felt the world crumbling under his feet, had suddenly divined the situation when he saw the count and Labordette talking together in front of the enclosure just after the race was over. Furious, as became an ex-coachman of the count's, and brutally frank as only a cheated man can be, he had just made a frightful scene in public, had told the whole story in atrocious terms and had thrown everyone into angry excitement. It was further stated that the stewards were about to meet.
Nana, whom Philippe and Georges were whisperingly putting in possession of the facts, gave vent to a series of reflections and yet ceased not to laugh and drink. After all, it was quite likely; she remembered such things, and then that Marechal had a dirty, hangdog look. Nevertheless, she was still rather doubtful when Labordette appeared. He was very white.
"Well?" she asked in a low voice.
"Bloody well smashed up!" he replied simply.
And he shrugged his shoulders. That Vandeuvres was a mere child! She made a bored little gesture.
That evening at the Bal Mabille Nana obtained a colossal success. When toward ten o'clock she made her appearance, the uproar was afready formidable. That classic night of madness had brought together all that was young and pleasure loving, and now this smart world was wallowing in the coarseness and imbecility of the servants' hall. There was a fierce crush under the festoons of gas lamps, and men in evening coats and women in outrageous low-necked old toilets, which they did not mind soiling, were howling and surging to and fro under the maddening influence of a vast drunken fit. At a distance of thirty paces the brass instruments of the orchestra were inaudible. Nobody was dancing. Stupid witticisms, repeated no one knew why, were going the round of the various groups. People were straining after wit without succeeding in being funny. Seven women, imprisoned in the cloakroom, were crying to be set free. A shallot had been found, put up to auction and knocked down at two louis. Just then Nana arrived, still wearing her blue- and-white racecourse costume, and amid a thunder of applause the shallot was presented to her. People caught hold of her in her own despite, and three gentlemen bore her triumphantly into the garden, across ruined grassplots and ravaged masses of greenery. As the bandstand presented an obstacle to her advance, it was taken by storm, and chairs and music stands were smashed. A paternal police organized the disorder.
It was only on Tuesday that Nana recovered from the excitements of victory. That morning she was chatting with Mme Lerat, the old lady having come in to bring her news of Louiset, whom the open air had upset. A long story, which was occupying the attention of all Paris, interested her beyond measure. Vandeuvres, after being warned off all racecourses and posted at the Cercle Imperial on the very evening after the disaster, had set fire to his stable on the morrow and had burned himself and his horses to death.
"He certainly told me he was going to," the young woman kept saying. "That man was a regular maniac! Oh, how they did frighten me when they told me about it yesterday evening! You see, he might easily have murdered me some fine night. And besides, oughtn't he to have given me a hint about his horse? I should at any rate have made my fortune! He said to Labordette that if I knew about the matter I would immediately inform my hairdresser and a whole lot of other men. How polite, eh? Oh dear, no, I certainly can't grieve much for him."
After some reflection she had grown very angry. Just then Labordette came in; he had seen about her bets and was now the bearer of some forty thousand francs. This only added to her bad temper, for she ought to have gained a million. Labordette, who during the whole of this episode had been pretending entire innocence, abandoned Vandeuvres in decisive terms. Those old families, he opined, were worn out and apt to make a stupid ending.
"Oh dear no!" said Nana. "It isn't stupid to burn oneself in one's stable as he did. For my part, I think he made a dashing finish; but, oh, you know, I'm not defending that story about him and Marechal. It's too silly. Just to think that Blanche has had the cheek to want to lay the blame of it on me! I said to her: 'Did I tell him to steal?' Don't you think one can ask a man for money without urging him to commit crime? If he had said to me, 'I've got nothing left,' I should have said to him, 'All right, let's part.' And the matter wouldn't have gone further."
"Just so," said the aunt gravely "When men are obstinate about a thing, so much the worse for them!"
"But as to the merry little finish up, oh, that was awfully smart!" continued Nana. "It appears to have been terrible enough to give you the shudders! He sent everybody away and boxed himself up in the place with a lot of petroleum. And it blazed! You should have seen it! Just think, a great big affair, almost all made of wood and stuffed with hay and straw! The flames simply towered up, and the finest part of the business was that the horses didn't want to be roasted. They could be heard plunging, throwing themselves against the doors, crying aloud just like human beings. Yes, people haven't got rid of the horror of it yet."
Labordette let a low, incredulous whistle escape him. For his part, he did not believe in the death of Vandeuvres. Somebody had sworn he had seen him escaping through a window. He had set fire to his stable in a fit of aberration, but when it had begun to grow too warm it must have sobered him. A man so besotted about the women and so utterly worn out could not possibly die so pluckily.
Nana listened in her disillusionment and could only remark:
"Oh, the poor wretch, it was so beautiful!"
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