“Provided they don’t break anything,” she murmured.
She began to feel some anxiety, for she fancied she felt their hot breath coming through chinks in the door. But Zoe ushered Labordette in, and the young woman gave a little shout of relief. He was anxious to tell her about an account he had settled for her at the justice of peace’s court. But she did not attend and said:
“I’ll take you along with me. We’ll have dinner together, and afterward you shall escort me to the Varietes. I don’t go on before half-past nine.”
Good old Labordette, how lucky it was he had come! He was a fellow who never asked for any favors. He was only the friend of the women, whose little bits of business he arranged for them. Thus on his way in he had dismissed the creditors in the anteroom. Indeed, those good folks really didn’t want to be paid. On the contrary, if they had been pressing for payment it was only for the sake of complimenting Madame and of personally renewing their offers of service after her grand success of yesterday.
“Let’s be off, let’s be off,” said Nana, who was dressed by now.
But at that moment Zoe came in again, shouting:
“I refuse to open the door any more. They’re waiting in a crowd all down the stairs.”
A crowd all down the stairs! Francis himself, despite the English stolidity of manner which he was wont to affect, began laughing as he put up his combs. Nana, who had already taken Labordette’s arm, pushed him into the kitchen and effected her escape. At last she was delivered from the men and felt happily conscious that she might now enjoy his society anywhere without fear of stupid interruptions.
“You shall see me back to my door,” she said as they went down the kitchen stairs. “I shall feel safe, in that case. Just fancy, I want to sleep a whole night quite by myself—yes, a whole night! It’s sort of infatuation, dear boy!”
The countess Sabine, as it had become customary to call Mme Muffat de Beuville in order to distinguish her from the count’s mother, who had died the year before, was wont to receive every Tuesday in her house in the Rue Miromesnil at the corner of the Rue de Pentievre. It was a great square building, and the Muffats had lived in it for a hundred years or more. On the side of the street its frontage seemed to slumber, so lofty was it and dark, so sad and convent-like, with its great outer shutters, which were nearly always closed. And at the back in a little dark garden some trees had grown up and were straining toward the sunlight with such long slender branches that their tips were visible above the roof.