Toward the end of September Count Muffat, who was to dine at Nana’s that evening, came at nightfall to inform her of a summons to the Tuileries. The lamps in the house had not been lit yet, and the servants were laughing uproariously in the kitchen regions as he softly mounted the stairs, where the tall windows gleamed in warm shadow. The door of the drawing room up-stairs opened noiselessly. A faint pink glow was dying out on the ceiling of the room, and the red hangings, the deep divans, the lacquered furniture, with their medley of embroidered fabrics and bronzes and china, were already sleeping under a slowly creeping flood of shadows, which drowned nooks and corners and blotted out the gleam of ivory and the glint of gold. And there in the darkness, on the white surface of a wide, outspread petticoat, which alone remained clearly visible, he saw Nana lying stretched in the arms of Georges. Denial in any shape or form was impossible. He gave a choking cry and stood gaping at them.
Nana had bounded up, and now she pushed him into the bedroom in order to give the lad time to escape.
“Come in,” she murmured with reeling senses, “I’ll explain.”
She was exasperated at being thus surprised. Never before had she given way like this in her own house, in her own drawing room, when the doors were open. It was a long story: Georges and she had had a disagreement; he had been mad with jealousy of Philippe, and he had sobbed so bitterly on her bosom that she had yielded to him, not knowing how else to calm him and really very full of pity for him at heart. And on this solitary occasion, when she had been stupid enough to forget herself thus with a little rascal who could not even now bring her bouquets of violets, so short did his mother keep him—on this solitary occasion the count turned up and came straight down on them. ’Gad, she had very bad luck! That was what one got if one was a good-natured wench!
Meanwhile in the bedroom, into which she had pushed Muffat, the darkness was complete. Whereupon after some groping she rang furiously and asked for a lamp. It was Julien’s fault too! If there had been a lamp in the drawing room the whole affair would not have happened. It was the stupid nightfall which had got the better of her heart.
“I beseech you to be reasonable, my pet,” she said when Zoe had brought in the lights.
The count, with his hands on his knees, was sitting gazing at the floor. He was stupefied by what he had just seen. He did not cry out in anger. He only trembled, as though overtaken by some horror which was freezing him. This dumb misery touched the young woman, and she tried to comfort him.
“Well, yes, I’ve done wrong. It’s very bad what I did. You see I’m sorry for my fault. It makes me grieve very much because it annoys you. Come now, be nice, too, and forgive me.”