“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!”
Toward one in the morning, in the great bed of the Venice point draperies, Nana and the count lay still awake. He had returned to her that evening after a three days sulking fit. The room, which was dimly illumined by a lamp, seemed to slumber amid a warm, damp odor of love, while the furniture, with its white lacquer and silver incrustations, loomed vague and wan through the gloom. A curtain had been drawn to, so that the bed lay flooded with shadow. A sigh became audible; then a kiss broke the silence, and Nana, slipping off the coverlet, sat for a moment or two, barelegged, on the edge of the bed. The count let his head fall back on the pillow and remained in darkness.
“Dearest, you believe in the good God, don’t you?” she queried after some moments’ reflection. Her face was serious; she had been overcome by pious terrors on quitting her lover’s arms.
Since morning, indeed, she had been complaining of feeling uncomfortable, and all her stupid notions, as she phrased it, notions about death and hell, were secretly torturing her. From time to time she had nights such as these, during which childish fears and atrocious fancies would thrill her with waking nightmares. She continued: