Emile Zola. Nana
At nine o'clock in the evening the body of the house at the Theatres des Varietes was still all but empty. A few individuals, it is true, were sitting quietly waiting in the balcony and stalls, but these were lost, as it were, among the ranges of seats whose coverings of cardinal velvet loomed in the subdued light of the dimly burning luster. A shadow enveloped the great red splash of the curtain, and not a sound came from the stage, the unlit footlights, the scattered desks of the orchestra. It was only high overhead in the third gallery, round the domed ceiling where nude females and children flew in heavens which had turned green in the gaslight, that calls and laughter were audible above a continuous hubbub of voices, and heads in women's and workmen's caps were ranged, row above row, under the wide-vaulted bays with their gilt- surrounding adornments. Every few seconds an attendant would make her appearance, bustling along with tickets in her hand and piloting in front of her a gentleman and a lady, who took their seats, he in his evening dress, she sitting slim and undulant beside him while her eyes wandered slowly round the house.
Two young men appeared in the stalls; they kept standing and looked about them.
'Didn't I say so, Hector?' cried the elder of the two, a tall fellow with little black mustaches. 'We're too early! You might quite well have allowed me to finish my cigar.'
An attendant was passing.
'Oh, Monsieur Fauchery,' she said familiarly, 'it won't begin for half an hour yet!'
'Then why do they advertise for nine o'clock?' muttered Hector, whose long thin face assumed an expression of vexation. 'Only this morning Clarisse, who's in the piece, swore that they'd begin at nine o'clock punctually.'
For a moment they remained silent and, looking upward, scanned the shadowy boxes. But the green paper with which these were hung rendered them more shadowy still. Down below, under the dress circle, the lower boxes were buried in utter night. In those on the second tier there was only one stout lady, who was stranded, as it were, on the velvet-covered balustrade in front of her. On the right hand and on the left, between lofty pilasters, the stage boxes, bedraped with long-fringed scalloped hangings, remained untenanted. The house with its white and gold, relieved by soft green tones, lay only half disclosed to view, as though full of a fine dust shed from the little jets of flame in the great glass luster.
'Did you get your stage box for Lucy?' asked Hector.
'Yes,' replied his companion, 'but I had some trouble to get it. Oh, there's no danger of Lucy coming too early!'
He stifled a slight yawn; then after a pause:
'You're in luck's way, you are, since you haven't been at a first night before. The Blonde Venus will be the event of the year. People have been talking about it for six months. Oh, such music, my dear boy! Such a sly dog, Bordenave! He knows his business and has kept this for the exhibition season.' Hector was religiously attentive. He asked a question.
'And Nana, the new star who's going to play Venus, d'you know her?'
'There you are; you're beginning again!' cried Fauchery, casting up his arms. 'Ever since this morning people have been dreeing me with Nana. I've met more than twenty people, and it's Nana here and Nana there! What do I know? Am I acquainted with all the light ladies in Paris? Nana is an invention of Bordenave's! It must be a fine one!'
He calmed himself, but the emptiness of the house, the dim light of the luster, the churchlike sense of self- absorption which the place inspired, full as it was of whispering voices and the sound of doors banging--all these got on his nerves.
'No, by Jove,' he said all of a sudden, 'one's hair turns gray here. I--I'm going out. Perhaps we shall find Bordenave downstairs. He'll give us information about things.'
Downstairs in the great marble-paved entrance hall, where the box office was, the public were beginning to show themselves. Through the three open gates might have been observed, passing in, the ardent life of the boulevards, which were all astir and aflare under the fine April night. The sound of carriage wheels kept stopping suddenly; carriage doors were noisily shut again, and people began entering in small groups, taking their stand before the ticket bureau and climbing the double flight of stairs at the end of the hall, up which the women loitered with swaying hips. Under the crude gaslight, round the pale, naked walls of the entrance hall, which with its scanty First Empire decorations suggested the peristyle of a toy temple, there was a flaring display of lofty yellow posters bearing the name of 'Nana' in great black letters. Gentlemen, who seemed to be glued to the entry, were reading them; others, standing about, were engaged in talk, barring the doors of the house in so doing, while hard by the box office a thickset man with an extensive, close-shaven visage was giving rough answers to such as pressed to engage seats.
'There's Bordenave,' said Fauchery as he came down the stairs. But the manager had already seen him.
'Ah, ah! You're a nice fellow!' he shouted at him from a distance. 'That's the way you give me a notice, is it? Why, I opened my Figaro this morning--never a word!'
'Wait a bit,' replied Fauchery. 'I certainly must make the acquaintance of your Nana before talking about her. Besides, I've made no promises.'
Then to put an end to the discussion, he introduced his cousin, M. Hector de la Faloise, a young man who had come to finish his education in Paris. The manager took the young man's measure at a glance. But Hector returned his scrutiny with deep interest. This, then, was that Bordenave, that showman of the sex who treated women like a convict overseer, that clever fellow who was always at full steam over some advertising dodge, that shouting, spitting, thigh- slapping fellow, that cynic with the soul of a policeman! Hector was under the impression that he ought to discover some amiable observation for the occasion.
'Your theater--' he began in dulcet tones.
Bordenave interrupted him with a savage phrase, as becomes a man who dotes on frank situations.
'Call it my brothel!'
At this Fauchery laughed approvingly, while La Faloise stopped with his pretty speech strangled in his throat, feeling very much shocked and striving to appear as though he enjoyed the phrase. The manager had dashed off to shake hands with a dramatic critic whose column had considerable influence. When he returned La Faloise was recovering. He was afraid of being treated as a provincial if he showed himself too much nonplused.
'I have been told,' he began again, longing positively to find something to say, 'that Nana has a delicious voice.'
'Nana?' cried the manager, shrugging his shoulders. 'The voice of a squirt!'
The young man made haste to add:
'Besides being a first-rate comedian!'
'She? Why she's a lump! She has no notion what to do with her hands and feet.'
La Faloise blushed a little. He had lost his bearings. He stammered:
'I wouldn't have missed this first representation tonight for the world. I was aware that your theater--'
'Call it my brothel,' Bordenave again interpolated with the frigid obstinacy of a man convinced.
Meanwhile Fauchery, with extreme calmness, was looking at the women as they came in. He went to his cousin's rescue when he saw him all at sea and doubtful whether to laugh or to be angry.
'Do be pleasant to Bordenave--call his theater what he wishes you to, since it amuses him. And you, my dear fellow, don't keep us waiting about for nothing. If your Nana neither sings nor acts you'll find you've made a blunder, that's all. It's what I'm afraid of, if the truth be told.'
'A blunder! A blunder!' shouted the manager, and his face grew purple. 'Must a woman know how to act and sing? Oh, my chicken, you're too STOOPID. Nana has other good points, by heaven!-- something which is as good as all the other things put together. I've smelled it out; it's deuced pronounced with her, or I've got the scent of an idiot. You'll see, you'll see! She's only got to come on, and all the house will be gaping at her.'
He had held up his big hands which were trembling under the influence of his eager enthusiasm, and now, having relieved his feelings, he lowered his voice and grumbled to himself:
'Yes, she'll go far! Oh yes, s'elp me, she'll go far! A skin--oh, what a skin she's got!'
Then as Fauchery began questioning him he consented to enter into a detailed explanation, couched in