The Comedienne
by Wladyslaw Reymont
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Because of the rain a few of the other chorus girls were also late. Cabinski, expecting an empty house on account of the weather, was irritated and rushed up and down the stage, shouting to all those who were entering: "I see you girls are getting lazy. It is already past eight o'clock and not one of you is yet dressed."

"We have been attending vespers at the Church of St. Charles of Borromeus," explained Zielinska.

"Don't try to fool me with vespers! The deuce with vespers! Tend to that which gives you your bread!"

"You provide us so generously with it, Mr. Director!" angrily retorted Louise.

"What, I don't pay you? What else do you live on?"

"What do we live on? . . . Certainly not your absurd and merely promised salaries!"

"Oh, and you are also late?" he cried to Janina who was just entering.

"I appear only in the third act, so I still have plenty of time."

"Wicek! go run and get Miss Rosinska. Where is Sophie? Hurry up and begin! May the devil take you all!" shouted Cabinski growing exasperated.

He peered through the slit in the curtain.

"The theater is already filled, by God, and not a soul is, as yet, in the dressing-rooms! Afterwards they complain that I don't pay them! Gentlemen! for God's sake, hurry and get dressed and begin!"

"Right away, as soon as we finish this game."

A few undressed actors with their make-up half-completed were playing a game of poker. Stanislawski alone sat in a corner of the dressing-room before his mirror and was making up his face. Already for the third time he was rubbing off the paint with a towel and making up anew. He gymnasticated his mouth, contracted his brows in anger, puckered his forehead and cast all sorts of glances. He was rehearsing a character and with each change of his physiognomy, he mumbled beneath his breath the corresponding parts of his role, only now and then tossing in the direction of the card players a ten-copeck piece and two words: "A four . . . ten coppers!"

"The public is starting a rumpus! It's time to ring and begin!" pleaded Cabinski.

"Don't disturb us, Director. Let them wait. . . . A trump! . . . Shell out the coin!"

"A jack . . . you pay!"

"A queen of hearts . . . hand over five shekles!"

"All's ready! Stake something on Desdemona, Director," cried one of the players, shuffling and stacking the cards.

"She will betray me!" hissed Cabinski.

"Doesn't she betray you anyway?"

"Ring!" shouted Cabinski to the stage-director, hearing a stamping of feet in the hall.

For a few minutes nothing was heard but the rustling of cards, falling with lightning-like rapidity upon the table.

"Four aces . . . you're done for!"

"Shell out!"

"A jack!"

"A five . . . that's good. I'll at least make something."

"A queen of hearts."

"Have some consideration for the ladies!" persisted Cabinski.

"A queen of spades. Shell out!"

"Enough of that! Hurry and dress yourselves! The audience is already beginning to howl."

"If that amuses them, why interfere?"

"You'll change your minds about it, if they leave the theater and demand their money back!" cried Cabinski, rushing out in utter desperation.

The actors threw down their cards and all began to dress themselves in feverish haste and to complete their make-up.

"What do we play first?"

"The Vow."


"You can ring, I am coming!" called Stanislawski, as he slowly made his way to the stage.

"Hurry! or they'll wreck the theater!" cried Cabinski in the doorway.

They were giving a so-called "dramatic bouquet," or "as you like it," that is: a comic sketch, a one-act operetta, a scene from a drama and a solo dance. Almost the entire company took part in the performance.

Janina sat behind the scenes and watched the stage, waiting for her turn. She felt greatly overwrought by the happenings of that entire day. She closed her eyes and became rapt in a quiet meditation of the words of Grzesikiewicz, who had again recurred to her memory, but suddenly, she started with a shudder, for behind his face she saw emerging the satyr-like face of Kotlicki with its mocking smile; then, there passed before her mind a vision of Glogowski with his large head and kindly look. She rubbed her eyes as though to drive those visions away from her, but that smile of Kotlicki would not leave her memory.

"What a disgusting poodle that Rosinska is!" whispered Majkowska, standing before Janina.

Janina roused herself and looked up at Majkowska with a certain dissatisfaction. What interest did all that have for her at the present moment? And she already began to feel vexed and impatient at that eternal battle of all with everybody. She wasn't a bit concerned about Rosinska, whose acting was, in reality, impossible, and nauseatingly sentimental.

"Cabinski would do well to keep her off the stage," continued Majkowska without heeding Janina's silence, but she broke off quickly, for there approached them just then Sophie, Rosinska's daughter, who was to dance a solo pas with a shawl.

She stood beside Majkowska, all dressed for the dance. In that costume she looked like a girl of twelve; her figure was undeveloped, her face was thin and mobile, while her gray eyes and cynically contorted, carmined lips wore the expression of an experienced courtesan. She watched the acting of her mother, hissing between her teeth with dissatisfaction. Finally, she bent over toward Majkowska and whispered so that Janina could not hear her: "Just look how that old woman is playing!"

"Who? Your mother?"

"Yes. Just look at the eyes she is making at that fellow in the high hat! Hopping about like an old turkey hen, too! Gee whiz, how she has dolled herself up! She's bent on making herself look young and doesn't even know how to make up her face decently. I am ashamed of her. She thinks that all are such fools that they will not notice her artificial beauty. Ha! ha! She can't fool me, for one. When she dresses, she locks herself up so as not to let me see how she pads and pieces herself together, ha! ha!" she laughed with an almost hostile expression. "Those men are such simps that they believe everything they see. . . . She buys everything for herself and I can't even beg money for a parasol from her."

"Sophie, who ever heard of speaking that way about one's mother!" Majkowska reproved her.

"Oh slush! a mother isn't anything so great! In about four years I can become a mother myself, a few times, if I want to; but I'm not so foolish as all that . . . no kids for mine, not on your life! I'd have to be some fool!"

"You are a nasty and silly kid! I'm going to tell your mother immediately . . ." indignantly whispered Majkowska, walking away.

"She's a silly fool herself, even though she is an actress of standing." Sophie hurled after her, pouting her lips spitefully.

"Stop that! You're preventing me from hearing what is being said on the stage."

"You won't lose much, Miss Janina! The old woman has a voice like a cracked pot," continued Sophie unabashed.

Janina made an impatient motion.

"And if you only knew how she lies to me! At Lublin there came to our house a certain gentleman named Kulasiewicz, whom I called 'Kulas' for he never even brought me any candy. She spanked me for it and told me that he was my father. . . . Ha! ha! ha! I know what kind of 'fathers' they are. . . . At Lublin, there was Kulas, at Lodz, Kaminski and now, she has two of them. . . . She tries to hide the fact, and thinks that I envy her. I'd have to be some fool for that! Such penniless jiggers you can pick up anywhere by the bushel . . ."

"Stop that, Sophie, you are a wicked girl!" whispered Janina, boiling with indignation at the cynicism of that actor's child.

"What's wrong in what I say? Isn't it true?" she answered with a wonderful accent of true innocence.

"You ask me what's wrong! Where will you find another child who says such horrid things about her mother?"

"Well, why is she such a fool? All of the other actresses have lovers who at least have money, while she . . . look at what she's got! I also would be better off if she were wiser. . . . Believe me, when I grow up, I'll not be such a fool as she! . . ."

Janina staggered back, staring at her in amazement, but Sophie did not understand that and, bending more closely over her, whispered significantly: "Have you already got someone, Miss Janina?"

She hurried away immediately, for the curtain had already descended and her dance was to begin right away in the entr' acte.

Janina shuddered as though something unclean had touched her. A cold chill passed through her and a blush of shame and humiliation covered her face.

"What filth!" she whispered to herself; Sophie, unconscious of her was all smiling and radiant on the stage.

Sophie's long thin mouth like that of a greyhound merely flashed now and then in the wild tempo of the waltz she was performing. She danced with such temperament and skill that a storm of applause greeted her. Someone even threw her a bouquet. She picked it up and, retreating from the stage, smiled coquettishly like a veteran actress, sniffing in with distended nostrils those signs of the public's satisfaction.

"Miss Janina," she cried behind the scenes. "Look, I got a bouquet! Now Cabinski must give me a raise. They came especially to see me dance . . . Do you hear how they are recalling me!" and she leaped out upon the open stage to bow to the public.

"Your stage prating isn't worth a fig!" she said to the actresses. "If it weren't for the dance the theater would be empty." And she pirouetted on tiptoe, laughed triumphantly and went off to her dressing-room.

The company had begun to play an act of a very lachrymose drama entitled The Daughter of Fabricius. Topolski appeared in the role of Fabricius and Majkowska impersonated his daughter. They played entirely well although Topolski was still so drunk that he didn't know where he was, but he nevertheless acted so perfectly that no one was aware of it. Only Stanislawski stood behind the scenes and laughed aloud at his automatic motions and the blank expression of his eyes. Majkowska was upholding Topolski every now and then, for he would have fallen on the stage.

"Mirowska! come here and see how they are acting!" called Stanislawski to the old actress who was to-day apathetically disposed, his eyes glowing with feverish animosity.

"That is my role! I ought to be playing it. Look what he has made of it, the drunken beast!" he hissed between his tightly set teeth. And when, applause, that was in spite of everything, merited, broke out, Stanislawski became pale with rage and grasped at one of the scenes to keep from falling over, so great an envy was choking him.

"Cattle! Cattle!" he whispered hoarsely, shaking his fist threateningly at the public.

Then he went to look for the stage-director but being unable to find him, came back. He continued to walk about excited and angry, scarcely able to stand on his feet.

"My daughter! . . . My beloved child! so you do not spurn your aged father? . . . You press to your pure heart your criminal father? . . . You do not flee from his tears and kisses?" came floating from the stage Topolski's ardent whisper and struck the old actor so forcibly that he stood still, thrilled by the acting, forgot entirely about his envy, repeated those words in a whisper and put into those quiet accents of fatherly love so much feeling and tears, so much blood and inspiration and appeared at the same time so funny standing in the dim light behind the scenes with hands pathetically outstretched into empty space, with head bent forward and eyes fixed upon the rope of the curtain, that Wicek, who saw him, ran to the dressing-room crying: "Gentlemen, come and see Stanislawski showing something new behind the scenes."

They all rushed in a crowd to view the sight and, seeing him still standing in the same pathetic pose, burst out laughing in unison.

"Ha! ha! a South American monkey!"

"That is an African mammoth, that has lived for a hundred years, devoured human beings, devoured paper, devoured roles, devoured fame until it died from indigestion," cried Wawrzecki, imitating the voice and speech of a provincial showman.

Stanislawski suddenly roused himself, glanced in back of him and encountering the derisive gazes that were centered on him, trembled, and sadly dropped his head upon his breast.

Janina who had witnessed this entire scene and who in the moments of the old actor's ecstasy had not even dared to move a finger for fear of disturbing him, could no longer restrain herself when she saw tears in his eyes and that whole band of cattle jeering at him. She walked up to Stanislawski and kissed his hand with involuntary respect.

"My child! my child!" he whispered feebly turning his head to hide the tears that were streaming from his eyes ever more profusely. He pressed her hand tightly and went out.

A storm of wild sorrow, pain, and hatred shook Stanislawski so violently that he could scarcely descend the stairs. He went out into the hall, encompassed the stage and the public with a gaze of unspeakable sadness and walked across the veranda toward the street, but turned about abruptly and remained.

"He would make a very venerable guardian!" cried someone to Janina after Stanislawski's departure.

"He might organize a new company and play lovers together with her!" added another voice.

"Jackals! Jackals!" cried Janina aloud, staring defiantly at them. And she had a great desire to spit in the eyes of all those cowards, so violent a wave of hatred surged through her and so base and cruel did they all appear to her. She restrained herself however, and resumed her seat, but for a long time could not calm herself.

When Janina went on the stage with the chorus, she was still trembling and agitated and the first person she saw in the audience was Grzesikiewicz who sat in the front row of seats. Their eyes met; he made a motion as though he wanted to leave, while she stood amazed for one brief instant in the center of the stage, but immediately collected herself, for she also spied Kotlicki sitting not far away and closely observing Grzesikiewicz and further on Niedzielska who was standing near the stalls and smiling at her in a friendly manner.

Janina did not look at Grzesikiewicz, but she felt his eyes upon her and that began to add to her agitation and excitement. She remembered that she had on short skirts and a peculiar shame filled her at the thought that she was standing before him in these gaudy, theatrical togs. It is impossible to describe what took place within her. Never before had she felt like this. In her stage appearances she usually gazed at the public with an expression of aloofness as on a foolish and slavish throng, but to-day it seemed to her as though she were standing in the front part of a huge cage like some animal on exhibition, while that audience had come to view her and amuse itself with her antics. For the first time she saw that smile which was not on any particular face, but which, nevertheless, hovered over all faces and seemed to fill the theater; it was a smile of indulgent and unconscious irony, a smile of crushing superiority that is seen on the faces of older people when they watch the playing of children. She felt it everywhere.

Afterwards Janina saw only the eyes of Grzesikiewicz immovably fixed upon her. She violently tore herself away from that gaze and looked in another direction, but saw, nevertheless, how Grzesikiewicz got up and left the theater. To be sure, she was not waiting for him, nor did she expect to see him again, yet his departure touched her painfully. She gazed as though with a certain feeling of disappointment at the empty seat which he had occupied just a moment ago and then she retreated with the chorus to the back of the stage.

Glas stood before the very box of the prompter and quietly and significantly began to knock with his foot to Dobek for he was to sing some solo part of which, as was his usual custom, he did not know a single word. Halt signaled to him with his baton and Glas with a comically attuned face began to sing some remembered word and strain his ears for a cue from Dobek, but Dobek was silent.

Halt rapped at his desk energetically, but Glas kept on singing one and the same thing over and over again, whispering pleadingly to Dobek in the pauses: "Prompt! Prompt!"

The chorus, scattered at the back of the stage, began to be confused by the situation, while behind the scenes someone began to recite aloud to Glas, the words of the unfortunate song, but Glas, all perspiring and red with anger and emotion kept on singing, in a circle: "You are mine, oh lovely Rose!" without hearing anything, or knowing what was going on about him.

"Prompt!" he whispered once more in despair, for already the orchestra and a part of the audience had noticed what was happening and was laughing at him. He kicked Dobek in the face and suddenly stood mute and motionless, gazing with a blank expression at the public, for Dobek, having received a kick in the teeth, grabbed Glas by the leg and held him tightly.

"Do you see, my boy! Next time don't try to get frisky!" whispered the prompter, holding Glas so tightly by the leg that he could not move. "You are done for! You tried to fix Dobek, now Dobek has fixed you! Now we are even!"

The situation was saved by Halt and Kaczkowska who began to sing the following number. Dobek let go Glas's leg, retreated as deeply as he could into his box and calmly continued to prompt from memory, smiling good-naturedly at Cabinski, who was shaking his fist threateningly at him from behind the scenes.

Janina had not yet succeeded in making out what was happening at the front of the stage, for she saw Grzesikiewicz returning with a large bouquet in his hand. He resumed his former seat and only when the chorus again appeared on the proscenium did he rise, walk over to the orchestra and throw the flowers at Janina's feet. Then he turned about calmly, passed through the hall and vanished, without caring that he had called forth a sensation in the theater.

The girl automatically picked up the flowers and retreated to the back of the stage behind her companions, feeling the eyes of the whole audience centered upon her.

"Is there a 'soul' in it?" whispered Zieliaska, pointing to the bouquet.

"Look in the center of the flowers, perhaps you will find something among them," another one of the chorus girls whispered to her.

Janina did not look, but felt a deep gratitude toward Grzesikiewicz for those flowers. After the curtain fell she left the stage without paying any attention to the violent quarrel that broke out between Glas and Dobek.

Glas was jumping with rage, while Dobek was slowly putting on his overcoat and calmly and tauntingly answering: "An eye for an eye. Sweet is vengeance to the human heart."

He had revenged himself for the trick that Glas had played on him on the foregoing day when he had got Dobek drunk and together with Wladek made him up as a negro. Dobek as soon as he had sobered a bit had calmly gone straight from the saloon to the theater without knowing what had happened to his physiognomy. They had a roaring good time behind the scenes, but Dobek swore vengeance and kept his word, threatening in addition that he would yet get square with Wladek.

Cabinski, irritated by what had happened on the stage, said all kinds of things to Glas, but the latter did not answer him, so deeply humiliated was he by his breakdown on the stage.

Janina all dressed in her street attire, was only waiting for Sowinska to go home with her, when Wladek sidled up to her and softly asked:

"Will you allow me to accompany you? . . ."

"I am going with Sowinska and besides you live in another part of the city," answered Janina.

"Sowinska has just requested me to tell you that she will not return for an hour. She is at the director's house."

"Well then, let us go."

"Perhaps your bouquet is in the way, let me carry it for you . . ." he said, extending his hand to take the flowers.

"Oh no, thank you . . . ." answered Janina.

"It must be very precious! . . ." he said, emphasizing his words with a laugh.

"I don't know how much it costs," she answered coldly, showing no disposition to converse with him.

Wladek laughed, then he spoke about his mother and finally said: "Perhaps you will come to see us? My mother is ill and for a few days she has not left her bed."

"Your mother is ill? Why, I saw her in the theater to-day."

"Is that possible!" he cried in real confusion. "I give you my word that I was certain she was ill . . . for my mother told me that for a few days she has not risen from her bed."

"My mother is trying some scheme on me . . ." he finally added with a frown.

Old Niedzielska was merely continually and persistently spying on him and always had to know with whom he was carrying on a romance, for she constantly trembled at the thought that Wladek might marry some actress.

He took leave of Janina with an attitude of exaggerated respect at the very door of her house and told her that he must go to see his mother to convince himself about her illness.

As soon as Janina had entered the house, Wladek went to the theater and, meeting Sowinska, held a long and secret conversation with her. The old woman eyed him derisively and promised him her support.

Then he hurried away to Krzykiewicz's house for a game of cards, for they would often arrange such card-playing evenings now at this, now at another actor's home, to which they would invite many of their friends from the public.

Janina, having entered her room, placed her flowers in a vase with water and, retiring to sleep, gazed once more at the roses and tenderly whispered: "How good he is!"


"Please miss, here's the circular!" cried Wicek, entering Janina's room.

"What is the news? . . ."

"The reading of that new play, or something like that!" he replied prying about the room.

Janina signed her name to the circular in which the stage-manager summoned the entire company to appear at noon for the reading of Glogowski's play The Churls.

"A fine bouquet!" exclaimed Wicek, eyeing the flowers standing in the vase. "You might still melt it. . . ."

"Speak like a human being!" said Janina, handing back the signed paper.

"That means I could still sell that bouquet for you."

"But who sells such bouquets and who buys them? . . ."

"Pardon me, miss, but I see you are still green! Some ladies as soon as they receive flowers, sell them to the old woman who peddles flowers in the evening at the theater. I could get a ruble easy for that. If you would give it to me . . ."

"You can't have it. . . . But here's something else for you."

Wicek humbly kissed Janina's hand, overjoyed with the ruble she gave him.

After Wicek's departure Janina changed the water in the vase with the flowers and was just standing it on the table when Sowinska entered with her breakfast.

Sowinska was to-day all radiant: her gray, owlish eyes were beaming with unaccustomed friendliness.

The old woman stood the coffee on the table and, pointing to the bouquet, remarked with a smile: "What beautiful flowers! Are they from that gentleman who was here yesterday?"

"Yes," came the curt reply.

"I know someone who would be very pleased to send you the same kind every day. . . ." Sowinska spoke in a tone of pretended indifference, as she tidied the room.

"Flowers?" asked Janina.

"Well . . . and something more, if it were accepted."

"That person would have to be quite a fool."

"Don't you know that love makes fools of everyone?"

"That may be," answered Janina curtly.

"Don't you surmise who it is?"

"I'm not at all curious."

"Yet, you know him very well."

"Thank you, but I don't need any information."

"Don't get angry. . . . What is there wrong in it? . . ." slowly drawled Sowinska.

"Ah, so it is you who presume to tell me that? . . ."

"Yes I, and you know that I wish you as well as I wish my own daughter."

"You wish me as well as your own daughter?" slowly repeated Janina, looking straight into the other's face.

Sowinska dropped her eyes and silently left the room, but behind the door she paused and shook her fist threateningly.

"You saint! Wait!" she hissed.

When Janina reached the theater she found only Piesh, Topolski, and Glogowski present.

Glogowski approached her with a smile, extending his hand.

"Good morning. I was thinking about you yesterday; you must unfailingly thank me for that. . . ."

"I do thank you! But I'm curious to know . . ."

"I assure you I didn't think ill about you. . . . I didn't think about you as others of my sex would think about such beautiful women as you, no! May I croak if I did! I thought . . . 'Where does your strength come from?'"

"No doubt from the same source as weakness comes from; it's inherent," answered Janina seating herself.

"You must have some nice little dogma and with your mind fixed on that you go forward. That dogma has reddish-yellow hair, a yearly income of about ten thousand rubles, he wears binoculars and . . ." jested Topolski.

"And . . . forget the rest of it! It's always time enough for nonsense, that never grows old," Glogowski interrupted Topolski.

"You'll also drink with us, won't you, Miss Janina?"

"Thank you! I don't drink."

"But you must . . . if it be only to moisten your lips. It is the beginning of the funeral celebration over my play," joked Glogowski.

"Exaggeration!" mumbled Piesh.

"Well, we shall see! Come on, Mr. Piesh, Mr. Topolski, let's have another," cried Glogowski, pouring out the cognac.

He smiled and joked continually, led the arriving actors to the buffet and seemed very lively, but one could see that under his forced gayety there was a hidden anxiety and doubt regarding the success of his play.

On the veranda a noisy little revel had begun, where Glogowski was treating everybody, but the humors of all those present seemed to be partially dampened by the drizzling weather. Cabinski every now and then gazed up at the sky, took off his top hat and scratched his head with dissatisfaction. Pepa walked about as glum as an autumn day . . . Majkowska glared at Topolski with fiery eyes and seemed to have a great desire to create a scene, for her lips were pale and her eyes red, either from crying or sleeplessness. Glas also stalked about like a poisoned man after yesterday's fiasco and failed to utter a single one of his usual jokes. Razowiec was examining his tongue in a mirror and lamenting to Mrs. Piesh. Even Wawrzecki was not "in the proper situation," as he chose to describe his indisposition.

"It is half-past twelve. . . . Come, let's begin to read the play," said Topolski, the stage-manager.

A table was pushed out into the center of the stage, chairs were placed around it and Topolski, armed with a pencil, began to read.

Glogowski did not sit down, but kept walking about in big circles and every time he passed Janina he would whisper some remark at which she laughed quietly, while he continued to pace about, rumple his hair, throw his hat into the air and smoke one cigarette after another, all the time, however, listening attentively to the reading.

Outside the rain continued to drizzle and the water dripped monotonously down the drainpipes. The drab, dull daylight streamed in upon the stage. Glas amused himself by throwing cigarette butts at Dobek's nose, while Wladek gently blew at the head of the dozing Mirowska. From the dressing-room came the buzz of a saw cutting wood and the hammering of nails it was the stage mechanician preparing his props for the evening performance.

"Mr. Glogowski, we shall have to cut out a little here," remarked Topolski occasionally.

"Go ahead!" Glogowski would reply, continuing his promenade.

The whispers grew louder.

"Kaminska will you go downtown with me? I want to buy some material for a dress."

"All right, we shall look over some autumn capes while we're at it."

"What is that going to be? . . . an insertion?" Rosinska asked Mrs. Piesh who was busily crocheting something.

"Yes, do you see what a nice design it is? I got a sample from the directress."

Again there followed a moment of complete silence in which was heard nothing but the even voice of the stage-manager, the dripping of the rain and the buzz of the saw in the dressing-room.

"Let me have a cigarette," said Wawrzecki turning to Wladek. "Did you win anything at cards yesterday?"

"I lost, as usual, just as I was on the point of making a big haul of three hundred rubles. Some luck, eh? . . . A certain plan has occurred to my mind! . . ." Wladek leaned over toward Wawrzecki and began to whisper secretly into his ear.

"What have you done about your living quarters?" Krzykiewicz asked Glas, handing him a cigarette.

"Oh, nothing, I'm still living in the same place."

"Are you paying your rent?"

"Not yet, but soon!" answered the comedian, winking one of his eyes.

"Listen Glas! I heard that Cabinski is buying a house on Leszno Street."

"What are you trying to tell me! By Gad, I'd immediately move into it to make up for the salary he owes me. Where would he get the money?"

"Ciepieszewski saw him with the agents who have the house for sale."

"Nurse!" called Cabinska.

The nurse hastily entered carrying a letter under her apron.

"It wasn't I, it was Felka who broke that looking-glass. She threw a champagne bottle aiming at the chandelier, but struck the mirror instead. Bang! and immediately thirty rubles were added to the bill. That fat guy of hers merely frowned," one of the chorus girls was relating.

"Don't lie! I was not drunk and I remember exactly who broke it," retorted Felka.

"You remember do you? Do you also remember how you jumped off the table and then took off your shoes and . . . ha! ha! ha! ha!"

"Be quiet there!" sharply called Topolski to the chorus girls.

They subdued their voices, but Mimi began almost aloud to tell Kaczkowska about a new style of hat she had seen on Long Street.

"If it goes on that way much longer, I won't be able to stand it! The landlord has ordered me to move. Yesterday I pawned almost the last rag, for I had to buy my Johnnie some wine. The poor little fellow is convalescing so slowly. He already wants to get out of bed and is getting restless and peevish. If Ciepieszewski doesn't engage me and pay me in advance, the landlord will throw me out into the street," whispered Wolska to one of her companions of the chorus.

"But are you sure Ciepieszewski is organizing a company?" asked her listener.

"He is, undoubtedly. I am to see him in a few days to sign a contract."

"So you're not going to stay with Cabinski?"

"No, he doesn't want to pay the overdue salary he owes me."

Thirty years were written plainly on Wolska's wearied face on which worry had left its deep marks. The thick layer of powder and rouge could not conceal those wrinkles, nor the unrest that glowed in her eyes. She had a six-year-old son who had been ill since the spring. She defended him desperately, at the expense of starving herself.

"Counselor! Welcome to our company!" cried Glas, spying the old man, who for a few weeks had not been seen in the theater.

The counselor entered and began greeting everybody. The reading of the play was interrupted, for all sprang up from their seats.

"Good morning! Good morning! Am I interrupting you?"

"No, no!" chorused the actors.

"Have a seat, Counselor. We shall listen together," cried Cabinska.

"Ah, young master! my regards to you!" called the counselor to Glogowski.

"An old idiot!" growled Glogowski, nodding his head and hiding behind the scenes, for he was already exasperated at those continual interruptions and conversations.

"Silence! For goodness' sake, this is getting to be like a real synagogue!" cried the irritated Topolski and began to read on. But no one listened any longer. The directress left with the counselor and, one by one, the others quietly slipped out after her. The rain began to pour heavily and beat so noisy a tattoo upon the tin roof of the theater that it drowned out all other sounds. It became so dark, that Topolski could not see to read.

The entire company removed to the men's dressing-room. It was lighter and warmer there, so they began to chat.

Janina stood together with Glogowski in the doorway and was saying something in an enthusiastic voice about the theater when Rosinska interrupted her with derision: "Goodness, you seem to be obsessed by the theater! . . . Well, well, I would never have believed such a thing possible had I not heard it . . . ."

"Why, it's simple enough; the theater holds everything that I desire."

"I, on the other hand, only begin to live outside of the theater."

"Then why don't you abandon the stage?"

"If I only could break away. I'd not stay here another hour!" she answered with bitterness.

"That's merely talk! Each one of us could break away from the theater, if we only would," said Wolska quietly. "For me this life is harder than for any of you and I know that if I forsook the stage my lot would be much better, but whenever I think that I shall have to quit the stage some day, so great a fear besets me that it seems as though I should die without it."

"The theater is a slow poisoning, a dying by inches each day!" complained Razowiec.

"Don't you whine, for your sickness comes not from the theater, but from your stomach," remarked Wawrzecki.

"That continual dying and poisoning is, nevertheless, a kind of ecstasy!" began Janina anew.

"Oh, a splendid ecstasy! If you want to call hunger, continual envy, and the inability to live otherwise, an ecstasy!" sneered Rosinska.

"Happy are they who have not fallen a prey to that disease, or escaped it in time" added Razowiec.

"But isn't it better to live and suffer and die in that way, as long as you have art as your goal. A thousand times would I prefer to live that way than to be my husband's servant, the slave of my children, and a household chattel!" exclaimed Janina with a passionate outburst.

Wladek began to declaim with a comical pathos:

"Oh priestess, most elect! To thee, in this temple of art, High altars I'll erect!

"Please forgive me that," continued Wladek. "I myself say that outside of art there is nothing! If it were not for the theater . . ."

"You would have become a cobbler!" interposed Glas.

"Only a very young and a very naive woman can talk like that," spitefully exclaimed Kaczkowska.

"Or one who does not yet know what Cabinski's salary tastes like," added Rosinska.

"Oh, thou art worthy of pity! You have enthusiasm . . . poverty will rob you of it; you have inspiration . . . poverty will rob you of it; you have youth, talent, and beauty . . . poverty will rob you of it all!" declaimed Piesh in the stern tones of an oracle.

"No, all that is nothing! . . . But such a company, such artists, such plays as these will ruin everything. And if you are able to endure such a hell then you will become a great artist!" whispered Stanislawski sourly.

"A master has proclaimed it, so bow your heads, oh multitude, and say that it must be so!" jeered Wawrzecki.

"Fool! . . ." snarled Stanislawski.

"Mummy!" retorted Wawrzecki.

"I'll tell you how I began my career," said Wladek. "I was in the fourth grade at school when I saw Rossi in Hamlet and from that moment the theater claimed me entirely! I pilfered cash from my father to buy tragedies and attended the theater. I spent whole days and nights in learning roles, and dreamed that I would conquer the whole world . . ."

"And you're nothing but a tyro in Cabinski's company," jeered Dobek.

"I learned that Richter had come to Warsaw and intended to open a school of dramatic art," continued Wladek. "I went to see him, for I felt that I had talent and wished to learn. He lived on St. John's Street. I came to his house and rang the bell. He opened the door himself, let me in and then locked it. I began to perspire with fear and didn't know how to begin. I stood first on one foot and then on the other. He was calmly washing a saucepan. Then, he poured some oil into an oil-stove, took off his coat, put on a house-jacket and began to peel potatoes.

"After a long silence, seeing that I would not get him to respond in that way, I began to stammer something about my calling, my love of art, my desire to learn and so forth. . . . He continued to peel his potatoes. Finally, I asked him to give me lessons. He glanced at me and grumbled: 'How old are you, my boy?' I stood there dumbfounded like a mummy and he continued to question: 'Did you come with your mother?' Tears began to fill my eyes, while he spoke again: 'Your father will give you a walloping, and they'll expel you from school.' I felt so distressed and humiliated that I could not utter a word 'Recite some verse for me, young man,' he said quietly, all the while systematically peeling his potatoes."

"So your inclination to roar on the stage harks away back to those days, eh?" jeered Glas.

"Glas, don't interrupt me. . . . Ha! thought I, I'll have to show him! And although I was all trembling with emotion I assumed a tragic pose and began to recite. . . . I writhed, shouted, burst out in a fit of passion like Othello, seethed with hatred, like a samovar and finally finished, all covered with perspiration. 'Some more,' said Richter, continually peeling the potatoes, while not a single muscle of his face betrayed what he thought of it all. I thought that everything was going fine, so I selected 'Hagar.' I despaired like Niobe, cursed like Lear, pleaded, threatened, and ended up, all exhausted and breathless. He said: 'Still more!' He stopped peeling the potatoes and began to chop meat. Enraptured by the tone of encouragement I selected from Slowacki's Mazeppa that prison-scene from the fourth act and recited the whole of it. I put into it so much feeling and force that I became hoarse; my hair stood on end, I trembled, forgot my surroundings, inspiration carried me away, fire blazed from me as from a stove, my voice melted in tears. Tragedy swept me off my feet, the room began to dance about me, a colored mist swam before my eyes, my breath was beginning to fail, I began to grow weak and to choke with emotion, and I seemed about to faint . . . when he sneezed and began to wipe tears from his eyes with his coat-sleeve. I stopped reciting. He laid down the onion that he was slicing, put a pitcher into my hand and calmly said to me: 'Go and bring me some water.' I brought it. He spilled the potatoes into it, stood them on the oil-stove and lit the wick. I timidly asked him whether I could come to take lessons from him. 'Yes, come' he answered, 'you can sweep the floor and carry water for me. Do you know how to speak Chinese?' 'No,' I answered, not knowing what he was driving at. 'Well, then learn it and come back to me and we shall then speak about the theater!' . . . I shall never forget that moment as long as I live."

"Don't get mawkish over it, for Glogowski won't treat you to any more beer anyway," remarked Glas.

"Say what you will, but it is art alone that makes life worth something," persisted Wladek.

"And didn't you see Richter again?" asked Janina curiously.

"How could he . . . he hasn't learned Chinese yet," interposed Glas.

"No, I didn't go to see him; and moreover, when they expelled me from school I immediately ran away from home and joined Krzyzanowski's company," answered Wladek.

"You were with Krzyzanowski?" asked someone.

"For a whole year I walked with him, his wife, his son, the immortal Leo and one other actress. I say that I 'walked' because in those days we seldom used other means of locomotion. Very often there was nothing to eat, but I could act and declaim as much as I liked. I had an enormous repertoire. With a cast of four persons we presented Shakespeare and Schiller, most wonderfully made over for our own use by Krzyzanowski, who besides that had a great many plays of his own with double or quadruple titles."

While the rain continued interminably, they drew together in a still closer circle and chatted. Suddenly their conversation was interrupted by loud cries from the stage.

"Quiet! what is that?" asked everybody.

"Aha! Majkowska versus Topolski in a scene of free love."

Janina went out to see what was happening. On the almost totally dark stage the heroic pair were engaged in a quarrel.

"Where were you?" cried Majkowska, springing at Topolski with clenched fists.

"Let me alone, Mela."

"Where were you all last night?"

"I tell you, please go away. . . . If you are ill, go home."

"You were playing cards again, weren't you? And I haven't even enough money for a dress! I couldn't even buy myself a supper last night!"

"Why didn't you want the money when you could have had it?"

"Oh, yes, you'd want me to have money so that you could gamble it away. You would even help me to get the money for that purpose . . . you base scoundrel!"

She sprang at him with nervous fury. Her beautiful, statuesque face glowed with rage. She grasped his arm, pinched him and shook him, without herself knowing what she was doing.

Topolski, losing his patience, struck her violently away from him.

Majkowska with almost a roar so little did her voice seem to have in it anything human and with spasmodic laughter, and crying, and tragic wringing of hands, fell on her knees before him.

"Maurice, my soul's beloved, forgive me! . . . Light of my life! Ha! ha! ha! you damned scoundrel, you! . . . My dearest, my dearest, forgive me! . . ."

She groveled to his feet, grasped his hands and began rapturously to kiss them.

Topolski stood there gloomily. He felt ashamed of his own anger, so he merely chewed his cigarette and whispered quietly: "Come, get up from the floor and stop playing that comedy. . . . Have you no shame! . . . In a minute you will have everybody in here looking at you."

Majkowska's mother, an old woman, resembling a witch, came running up to her and tried to raise her from the floor.

"Mela, my daughter!" she cried.

"Mother, take that crazy woman away from here; she is continually creating scandals," said Topolski and went out into the hall.

"My dear daughter! Do you see! I told you and begged you not to go with such a poor fool! . . . See what your love has brought you to, my Mela! Come, get up, my child!"

"Go to the devil, mother!" cried Majkowska, pushing away her mother.

Then she sprang up from the floor and began to pace rapidly up and down the stage. In this violent motion she must have spent the rest of her anger, for she began to hum and smile to herself and afterwards called to Janina in the most natural voice: "Perhaps you will take a walk with me? . . ."

"Very well, it has even stopped raining . . ." answered the younger woman, glancing at her face.

"I have a fine lover, haven't I? . . . Did you see what was going on?"

"I saw and cannot yet calm my indignation."

"Oh, nonsense!"

"How can you stand such a thing?"

"I love him too much to pay attention to such trifles."

Janina began to laugh nervously, and said: "Such things are to be seen only in the operetta . . . well, and behind the scenes."

"Bah, I will avenge myself for it!"

"You will avenge yourself? I'm very curious to know how. . . ."

"I will marry him . . . I will make him marry me!"

"So that will be your vengeance?" inquired Janina in amazement.

"There couldn't be a better one. Oh, I'll make his life warm for him! . . . Come, I have to buy some chocolate."

"You didn't have money for supper?" cried Janina involuntarily.

"Ha! ha! ha! How naive you still are! You saw the gentlemen who sends me bouquets and yet, you think that I have no money! Where were you brought up?"

Suddenly, she changed the tone of her voice and asked Janina inquisitively: "Tell me, have you also someone? . . ."

"I have art!" answered Janina gravely, not even offended by her question.

"You are either very ambitious or very wise . . . I did not know you before . . ." said Majkowska and began to listen more attentively.

"Ambitious . . . perhaps, for I have only one object in belonging to the theater and that is art."

"Come, don't try to play a farce with me! Ha! ha! Art, as an aim of life! That is a theme for a fine couplet, but it is an old trick."

"That depends on the person in question."

Majkowska became silent and began gloomily to ponder.

"It was hard to catch up with you!" called someone behind them.

"Oh, what brings you here, Counselor? So you are off duty?" spitefully whispered Majkowska, for she knew that the counselor always attended Cabinska.

"I want to change my mistress. . . . I am seeking a new position."

"In my service the duties are very exacting."

"Oh, in that case, thank you! I am already too old . . . I know someone who would be more considerate for my age." And he bowed to Janina with studied courtesy.

"Will you come with us, Counselor?" asked Majkowska.

"Certainly, but you must permit me to lead the way, ladies."

"Very well, we'll agree to whatever you suggest."

"I propose that we have breakfast at Versailles. '"

"I must return to the theater," said Janina.

"They've not yet finished reading the play."

"They'll finish it without you. Come, let us go," urged Majkowska.

They walked slowly, for the rain had stopped entirely and the July sun was drying the mud in the streets. The counselor wiggled about, gazed into Janina's eyes and smiled significantly; he bowed to acquaintances he met on the way and before the younger ones he assumed the pose of a conquerer.

The "Versailles Restaurant" was empty. They seated themselves near the balcony and the counselor ordered a very choice breakfast.

It was after three o'clock when they returned to the theater. The rehearsal of the day's performance was in full swing. Cabinski was about to grumble at them for coming late, but Majkowska gave him such a crushing look that he merely frowned and walked away.

Her mother approached her with a letter. Majkowska read it, immediately scribbled a few words in reply and handed them to the old woman.

"Deliver this right away, mother," she said.

"Mela, but suppose I don't find him in?" asked her mother.

"Then wait, but do not give it to anyone else but him! Here's something for your trouble, mother . . ." and tapping her throat with her fingers after the custom of drinkers she gave her a forty copeck piece.

The greenish eyes of the old woman gleamed with gratitude and she hurried away with the message.

Janina looked for Glogowski, but he had already left, so she went out into the hall to the counselor who had returned with them, for she remembered that he had promised to tell her what he had read in her palm.

"Mr. Counselor, you owe me something," she began, sitting down beside him.

"Upon my word I don't remember that I owe you anything."

"You promised to tell me what you had read in my palm not so long ago."

"Yes, but not here. Come, we had better go to the dressing-room so that it won't attract anyone's attention."

They went to the dressing-room of the chorus.

The counselor spent quite a while examining both her hands very minutely and finally said with some embarrassment: "Upon my word, this is the first time that I see such strange hands!"

"Oh, please tell me everything!"

"I can't. . . . And I don't know whether it's true."

"It makes no difference whether it is true or not, you must tell me by all means, my dear Counselor!" coaxed Janina.

"A mental disorder of some kind, it seems. . . . Of course I don't know and I don't believe it. I tell you only what I see But . . . but . . ."

"And what of the theater?" Janina asked.

"You will be famous . . . you will be very famous!" he whispered hurriedly without looking at her.

"That isn't true; you didn't see that there!" she exclaimed, reading the falsehood in his eyes.

"My word! my word of honor all that is written there! You will achieve fame, but through so much suffering, through so many tears. . . . Beware of dreaming!"

And he kissed her hand.

The noisy buzz of voices merged with tones of music broke the stillness in which both of them had become rapt.

For a little while Janina sat alone, after her companion withdrew, torn by dim forebodings.

"You are going to be very famous! Beware of dreaming!" she kept repeating to herself.

That evening the counselor sent to Janina a bouquet, a box of candy, and a letter inviting her to supper at the "Idyl," mentioning that Topolski and Majkowska were also to be there.

She read it and, not knowing what to do, asked Sowinska.

"Sell the bouquet, eat the candy, and go to the supper."

"So that is your advice? . . ." asked Janina.

Sowinska scornfully shrugged her shoulders.

Janina angrily threw the bouquet in a corner, distributed the candy among the chorus girls, and after the performance went straight home, highly indignant at the counselor whom she had looked upon as a very serious and honest man.

On the next day at the rehearsal Majkowska remarked tauntingly to Janina: "You are an immaculate romanticist."

"No, only I respect myself," answered Janina.

"Get thee to a nunnery!" declaimed Majkowska.

In the afternoon Janina went as usual to Cabinska's home to give Yadzia her piano lesson, but she could not forget that scornful shrug of Sowinska's shoulders and Majkowska's words.

She finished the lesson and then sat for a long time playing Chopin's Nocturnes, finding in their melancholy strains a balm for her own sorrows.

"Miss Janina . . . My husband has left a role here for you!" called Cabinska from the other room.

Janina closed the piano and began to peruse the role. It consisted of a few words from Glogowski's new play and did not satisfy her in the least, for it was nothing but a short little episode. Nevertheless, this was to be her first real appearance in the drama.

The play had been postponed until the following Thursday and rehearsals of it were to be held every afternoon, for Glogowski had earnestly requested that and generously treated the entire cast each day to get them to learn their roles well.

A few days after receiving her first role Janina's first month at Sowinska's expired. The old woman reminded her of it in the morning, asking for the money as soon as possible.

Janina gave her ten rubles, solemnly promising to pay the balance in a few days. She had only a few rubles left of her entire capital. She thought in astonishment how she had spent the two hundred rubles which she had brought with her from Bukowiec.

"What am I going to do?" Janina asked herself, determining as soon as possible to ask Cabinski for her overdue salary.

She did so at the very next rehearsal.

"I haven't the money!" cried Cabinski at once. "Moreover, I never pay beginners in my company for the first month. It's strange that no one informed you about that. Others are already here a whole season and they don't bother me about their salaries."

Janina listened in consternation and finally said frankly: "Mr. Director, in a week's time I will not have a penny left to live on."

"And that old . . . counselor . . . can't he give it to you? . . . Surely, everyone knows that . . ."

"Oh, Mr. Director!" whispered Janina, blushing deeply.

"A pretty deceiver!" he muttered with a cynical twist of his lips.

Janina forcibly suppressed her indignation and said: "In the meantime I need ten rubles, for I must buy myself a costume for the new play."

"Ten rubles! Ha! ha! ha! That's great! Even Majkowska does not ask for so much at one time! Ten rubles! what delightful simplicity!" Cabinski laughed heartily and then, turning to go, he said: "Remind me of it this evening and I will give you an order to the treasurer."

That evening Janina received one ruble.

Janina knew that the chorus girls even after the most profitable performance received only fifty copecks on account and usually only two gold pieces or forty groszy. Only now, did she recall those sad and worn faces of the elder actresses. There were revealed to her now many things that she had never seen before, or seeing them, had never understood. Her own want opened wide her eyes to the poverty that oppressed everyone in the theater and those hidden daily struggles with it that they often disguised under a glittering veil of gayety.

That daily standing before the treasurer's window and fairly begging for money, which she was now compelled to do, cast a shadow over Janina's soul and filled her with bitterness. It made her all the more eager to get a larger role so that she might get out of that hated chorus, but Cabinski steadily put her off.

Kotlicki hovered about Janina incessantly, but did not renew his proposal and seemed to be waiting his chance.

Wladek was, the most companionable of all in regard to Janina and told everyone that she visited his mother. Niedzielska continually spied on Wladek, for she already suspected him of liking Janina.

The girl received Wladek's attentions with the same indifference that she received Kotlicki's, with the same indifference that she received the bouquets and candy which the counselor sent her every day. None of these three silent admirers interested her in the least and she kept them at a respectable distance from herself by her coolness.

The other actresses ridiculed Janina's inflexibility, but in their hearts they sincerely envied her. She ignored their spiteful remarks, for she knew that to answer them would be merely to invite a greater avalanche of ridicule.

Janina liked only Glogowski, who because of the coming presentation of his play would spend whole days at the theater. He openly singled her out as an object of his special regard from among all the women, spoke only with her on weighty subjects and treated her alone as a human being. She felt highly flattered and grateful. She liked him especially because he never mentioned love to her, nor boasted. Often they would go together for walks in Lazienki Park. Janina associated with him on a footing of sincere friendship.

After the final rehearsal of The Churls, Glogowski and Janina left the theater together. He seemed to be more gloomy than usual. He was racked with anxiety over his play that was to be given that evening, yet he laughed aloud.

"Suppose we take a ride to the Botanical Gardens. Do you agree?" he suggested.

Janina assented and they started off.

They found an unoccupied seat near one of the pools, under a huge plane tree and for a time sat there in silence.

The garden was fairly empty. A few persons seated here and there upon the benches appeared like shadows in the sultry air. The last roses of summer gleamed with their bright hues through the foliage of the low-hanging branches; the stocks in the central flower-bed diffused a heavy fragrance. The birds twittered only at rare intervals with somnolent voices. The trees stood motionless as though listening to the sunlit tranquility of that August day. Only now and then some leaf or withered twig would float down in a spiral line upon the lawns. The golden splashes of sunlight filtering through the branches formed a shifting mosaic upon the grass and gleamed like strips of pale platinum.

"Let the devil take it all!" Glogowski occasionally flung out into the silence and distractedly rumpled his hair.

Janina merely glanced at him, loath to mar with words the silence that enveloped her that calm of nature lulled to sleep by the excessive warmth. She also was lulled by some unknown tenderness that had no connection with any particular thing, but seemed to float down out of space, from the blue sky, from the transparent whiteness of the slowly sailing clouds from the deep verdure of the trees.

"For goodness' sake, say something, or I'll go crazy, or get hydrophobia! . . ." he suddenly exclaimed.

Janina burst out laughing, "Well, let us talk about this evening, if about nothing else," ventured the girl.

"Do you want to drive me crazy altogether? May the deuce take me, but I fear I won't endure till this evening!"

"But haven't you told me that this is not your first play, so . . ."

"Yes, but at the presentation of each new one the ague always shakes me, for always at the last moment I see that I have written rubbish, tommyrot, cheap trash . . ."

"I don't pretend to be a judge, but I liked the play immensely. It is so frank."

"What? Do you mean that seriously?" he cried.

"Of course."

"For you see, I told myself that if this play fails, I shall . . ."

"Will you give up writing?"

"No, but I shall vanish from the horizon for a few months and write another one. I will write a second, a third . . . I will write until I produce a perfectly good one! I must!"

"Tell me, do you think Majkowska will make a good Antka in my play?" he suddenly asked.

"It seems to me that that role is well-suited to her."

"Maurice also will play his part well, but the rest of them are a miserable lot and the staging terrible. It's bound to turn out a fiasco!"

"Mimi knows nothing about the peasants and her imitation of their dialect is ludicrous," remarked Janina.

"I heard her and it pained me to listen! Do you know the peasants? Ah, Great Scott!" he cried impulsively. "Why don't you act that role? . . ."

"Because they didn't give it to me."

"Why didn't you tell me about that sooner? May the deuce take me, but even if I had to smash up the whole theater I would have forced them to give you that role!"

"The director gave me the part of Phillip's wife."

"That's merely a super, an episode . . . it could have been given to anyone. I feel that Mimi is going to chatter like a soubrette from an operetta. See what you have caused me! By glory, what a mess! If you think that life is a charming operetta, you are greatly mistaken!"

"I already happen to know something about that . . ." answered Janina with a bitter smile.

"So far you don't know anything . . . you will learn it only later on. But after all women usually have an easier time of it. We men have to fight hard to grasp our share and have to pay dearly. God knows how dearly."

"Don't you think the women pay anything?"

"It's this way: women, and particularly those on the stage, owe the minimum part of their success to their talents or themselves; the maximum part to their lovers who support them and the rest to the gallantry of those men who hope to be able to support them some day."

Janina answered nothing, for there flashed before her mind a picture of Majkowska with Topolski in back of her, Mimi with Wawrzecki, Kaczkowska with one of the journalists and so on through almost all of them.

"Don't be angry with me. I merely stated a fact that came to my mind."

"No. I'm not angry. I admit you're entirely right."

"With you, it will not be that way, I feel it. Come, let us go now!" he suddenly cried, jumping up from the bench.

"I will say something more . . ." said Glogowski when they were already walking down the shaded paths on their way back, "I will repeat what I said on the day that I first met you at Bielany; let us be friends! . . . It's no use trying to deny it, man is a gregarious beast: he always needs someone near him so that his lot on this earth may be half-way bearable . . . Man does not stand alone; he must lean against and link up with others, go together with them and feel together with them to be able to accomplish anything. To be sure, one kindred soul suffices. Let us be friends!"

"All right," said Janina, "but I will lay down one condition."

"Quick, for God's sake! For perhaps I will not accept it!"

"It is this: give me your word of honor that you will never, never speak to me about love, and that you will not fall in love with me. You can even confide in me, if you wish, all your love affairs and disappointments."

"Agreed, all along the line! I seal that with my solemn word of honor!" cried Glogowski.

They gravely pressed each others' hands.

"This is a union of pure souls with ideal aims!" he laughed, winking his eyes. "Something makes me feel so merry now that I could take my own head in my hands and kiss it heartily."

"It is a premonition of the triumph of your Churls."

"Don't remind me of that. I know what awaits me. But I must now bid farewell to you."

"Aren't you going to escort me home?"

"No . . . Oh well, all right, but I warn you I will talk to you about . . . love!" he cried gayly.

"Well, in that case, good-by! May God preserve you from such falsehoods."

"Your ears must have surfeited on that rubbish, if the very mention of it nauseates you. . . ."

"Go now if you wish . . . I will tell you about it some other time. . . ."

Glogowski leaped into a hack and drove away in haste toward Comely Street and Janina went home.

She tried on the peasant costume which Mme. Anna was making for her appearance and thought with a smile of the alliance that she had formed with Glogowski.

At the theater it was evident that a premiere was to be given. All the members of the company appeared earlier, dressed and made up more carefully than usual and only Krzykiewicz, as was his custom, paraded about the dressing-room and the stage half-dressed with his rouge pot in his hand.

Stanislawski, who when he played, usually came about two hours before the performance, was already dressed and only now and then added an extra touch to his make-up.

Wawrzecki, with his role in his hand paced up and down the dressing-room rehearsing in an undertone.

The stage-director ran about more swiftly than usual and in the ladies' dressing-room livelier quarrels were going on. Everyone was more nervous to-day. The prompter supervised the stage arrangements and watched the public that was beginning to fill the hall. The chorus girls, who were to act as supers, were already dressed in their peasant costumes and straggled all about the stage.

"Dobek!" called Majkowska. "My dear fellow, only support me well! . . . I know my part, but in the second act slip me the words of that monologue a little louder."

Dobek nodded his head and had not yet returned to his post when Glas accosted him.

"Dobek! Will you have a drink of whisky, eh? Perhaps you'd like a sandwich?" he asked the prompter in a solicitous tone.

"To the sandwich add a beer," answered Dobek, smiling blissfully.

"My good fellow, don't fail me! I really know my part to-day, but I'm likely to get stuck here and there . . ."

"Well, well! only don't lie down yourself and you can be sure I won't let you perish."

And in this way, every other minute some actor or actress would approach Dobek, who solemnly promised to "uphold" them all.

"Dobek! I need only the first words of each line . . . remember!" reminded Topolski at the very last.

Glogowski strayed about the stage, himself set up the interior of the peasants' hut, gave instructions to the actors and uneasily scanned the first row of seats occupied by the representatives of the press.

"It will be warm for me to-morrow!" he whispered to himself, and began to walk about feverishly, for he was unable to stand or sit still in one spot. Finally, he went out into the garden-hall, stood leaning against a chestnut tree and watched with beating heart the first act of his play which had just begun.

The audience sat coldly and quietly listening. An oppressive silence filled the hall. Glogowski saw hundreds of eyes and immovable heads, he even saw the restaurant waiters standing on chairs beneath the veranda, watching the stage. The voices of the actors resounded distinctly, floating out to that dark, densely packed mass of people.

Glogowski sat down in the darkest corner behind the scenes on a heap of decorations, covered his face with his hands and listened.

Scene followed scene, and still that same ominous silence reigned. Glogowski was unable to sit there quietly! He heard the baritone voice of Topolski, the soprano of Majkowska and the somewhat hoarse voice of Glas, but it was not that which he wished to hear. Not that! He bit his fingers so violently that tears came to his eyes from the pain.

The first act ended.

A few lukewarm handclaps broke out here and there and died away again in the general silence.

Glogowski sprang up and with craning neck and feverishly gleaming eyes waited, but he heard only the thump of the falling curtain and the buzz of voices suddenly rising in the hall.

During the intermission he again observed the public. Their faces wore a strange expression. The members of the press frowned, and whispered something among themselves, while certain of them made notes.

"I feel cold!" whispered Glogowski to himself, shaking as though with an icy chill. And he began to stray distractedly all about the theater.

"I congratulate you!" said Kotlicki, pressing Glogowski's hand. "The play is too severe and brutal, but it is something new!"

"Which means neither fish nor flesh!" answered Glogowski with a forced smile.

"We'll see how it will be further on. . . . The public is surprised to see a folk play without dances. . . ."

"What the devil do they want! It is not a ballet!" muttered Glogowski impatiently.

"But you know they dote on songs and dances."

"Then let them go to a vaudeville show!" retorted Glogowski. And he walked away.

After the second act the applause was louder and more prolonged.

In the dressing-rooms the humor of the actors began to rise to its usual level.

Cabinski had already twice sent Wicek to the box office to find out how things were going there. Gold's first reply was: "Good," and his second: "Sold out."

Glogowski continued to torment himself, but now in a different way, for having heard the applause for which he had so feverishly waited, he had calmed himself a bit and sat behind the scenes watching the play. Now he became pale with anger, kicked his hat with his foot and hissed with impatience, for he could no longer endure what he saw. Out of his peasant characters, which were in every inch true to life, they were making banal figures of the sentimental melodrama, puppets dressed in folk costumes. The playing of the men actors was at least to some extent bearable, but the women, with the exception of Majkowska and Mirowska, who acted the part of an old beggar woman, played abominably. Instead of speaking their parts, they rattled them off in a singsong voice, and over-emphasized hatred, love, and laughter. Everything was done so mechanically, artificially, and thoughtlessly, without a grain of truth or sincerity that Glogowski fairly choked with despair. It was merely a masquerade.

"Sharper! More energetically!" he whispered, stamping his foot, but no one paid any attention to his exhortations.

Suddenly, a smile flitted over his lips, for he saw Janina entering the stage. She caught that smile and that saved her, for her voice had died in her breast. She was trembling from stage fright so that she did not see the stage, nor the actors, nor the public; it seemed to her that she was engulfed in a sea of light. When she saw that friendly smile she immediately recovered her calm and courage.

Janina was merely to grasp a broom, take her drunken husband by the collar, shout a few lines of imprecation and complaint and then drag him out forcibly through the door. She did all this a trifle too violently, but with such realism that she gave the impression of an infuriated peasant woman.

Glogowski went to Janina. She stood on the stairs leading to the dressing-room; her eyes beamed with a certain deep satisfaction.

"Very good! . . . that was a real peasant woman. You have a temperament and a voice and those are two first-rate endowments!" said Glogowski, and tip-toed back to his seat.

"Perhaps we ought to give an encore of that scene?" whispered Cabinski into his ear.

"Dry up and go to the devil!" answered Glogowski in the same quiet whisper and felt a great desire to strike Cabinski. But just then, a new thought occurred to his mind, for he saw the nurse standing nearby.

"Nurse!" he called to her.

The nurse unwillingly approached Glogowski.

"Tell me, nurse, what do you think of that comedy?" he asked her curiously.

"The title is very unpolitic . . . 'churls'! Everyone knows that peasants are not nobles, but to call them by such a scornful name for the amusement of others is a downright sin!"

"Well, that is of minor importance . . . but do you think those characters resemble real peasants?"

"Yes, you have hit upon the real thing. Peasants are just like that, only they don't dress so elegantly, nor are they so refined in their bearing and speech. But pardon me, sir, if I say one thing; what's the use of it all? Present, if you wish, nobles, Jews, or any other kind of ragamuffins, but to make a laughing-stock and a comedy of honest tillers of the soil is a downright shame! God is like to punish you for such frivolity! A husbandman is a husbandman . . . beware of trifling with him!" she added in conclusion and continued to gaze at the stage with an ever greater severity and almost with tears of indignation in her eyes.

Glogowski had no time to wonder at her attitude for just then the third act ended amid thunderous applause and calls for the author, but he did not go out to bow.

A few journalists came to shake hands with him and praise his play. He listened to them indifferently, for already his mind was occupied with a plan for remaking that play. Now first did he see in detail its various inconsistencies and the things that were lacking, and immediately completed them in his mind, added new scenes, changed about situations and was so absorbed with his task that he no longer paid any attention to how they were playing the fourth act.

Again applause filled the entire hall and the unanimous cry of: "Author! Author!"

"They're calling for you, go out to them," someone whispered into Glogowski's ear.

"The deuce I will! Go to the devil, sweet brother!"

Majkowska and Topolski were also being recalled.

Majkowska, all breathless, ran up to Glogowski.

"Mr. Glogowski! come, hurry!" she cried, taking him by the hand.

"Let me alone!" he growled threateningly.

Majkowska left him and Glogowski sat there and continued to think. Neither the applause, nor the demands for his appearance nor the success of his play interested him any longer, for he was sorely worried by the knowledge that his play was entirely bad. He saw its defects ever more plainly and the knowledge that another one of his efforts had proved vain made him writhe with pain. With helpless rage he listened to the public applauding the rude and characteristically comic episodes which were merely the background upon which the souls of his Churls had to be outlined, while the theme and thesis of the play itself passed without making any impression.

"Mr. Glogowski I want you to go out after the fifth act if they call for you," Janina said to him decisively.

"But please consider, who is calling for me! Don't you see that it is the gallery? Don't you see the smiles of derision upon the faces of the press and the public in the first rows of seats? I tell you the play is bad, abominable and rotten! Wait and see what they will write about it to-morrow."

"What will happen to-morrow we shall see to-morrow. To-day there is success and your splendid play."

"Splendid!" he cried painfully. "If you could see the plan of it that I have here in my head, if you could see how splendid and complete it is here, you would know that what they are playing is merely a poor rag and a fragment."

Immediately afterwards Cabinski, Topolski, and Kotlicki approached Glogowski and urged him to appear before the public, but still he resisted. Only at the end of the play when the entire audience was wildly applauding and calling for the author, Glogowski went out on the stage with Majkowska, bowed ostentatiously, smoothed his shock of hair and clumsily retreated behind the scenes.

"If the play had dances, songs, and music, I wager it would run to the end of the season," said Cabinski.

"Dry up, or drink yourself to death, but do not tell me such nonsense," shouted Glogowski. "The next thing you know, the restaurant-keeper will come running in here and begin to berate me because for the same reasons he sold less beer and whiskey; a public that must listen and laughs seldom prefers hot tea."

"But my dear sir, nobody writes plays for himself, he writes them for other human beings."

"Yes, for human beings, but not for Zulus," retorted Glogowski.

Kotlicki again approached Glogowski and spoke to him for a long while. Glogowski frowned and said: "First of all, I haven't the money for it, for it would cost a great deal and, in the second place, I am not at all anxious to be 'one of our well-known and celebrated,' for that is a prostitution of one's talent!"

"I can be of service to you with my funds, if you wish. . . . I presume that our old ties of companionship at school . . ."

"Let us drop that! . . ." Glogowski violently interrupted him. "But that has given me a certain idea . . . Suppose we arrange a little supper, but only for a few persons, eh?"

"Good! we will draw up a list right away; Mr. and Mrs. Cabinski, Majkowska and Topolski, Mimi and Wawrzecki and Glas, as an entertainer, of course. Whom else shall we include?"

Kotlicki wished to suggest Janina, but was restrained from saying so openly.

"Aha! I know . . . Miss Orlowska . . . the Filipka of my play! Did you see how superbly she acted the part?"

"Indeed, she played it well . . ." answered Kotlicki, glancing suspiciously at Glogowski, for he thought that he also had designs upon Janina.

"Go and invite them. I will come right away."

Kotlicki went out into the restaurant garden, while Glogowski hurried upstairs to the chorus dressing-room and called through the door: "Miss Orlowska!"

Janina peered out.

"Please hurry and get dressed for the whole crowd of us is going out for supper and you can't refuse."

About a half hour later they were all sitting in a room of one of the large restaurants on Nowy Swiat.

The whiskey and lunch were attacked energetically for the nervous strain of the last few hours had sharpened everybody's appetite. They spoke little, but drank a great deal.

Janina did not wish to drink, but Glogowski begged her and cried out: "You must drink and that settles it. You must drink, if only to celebrate such an honorable burial as we have held to-day."

She drank one glass on trial, but afterwards was forced to drink others; moreover, she felt that it helped her, for she had not yet rid herself of stage nervousness and was trembling about the fate of the play.

After various courses had been served, the waiters placed on the table a whole battery of bottles full of wines and liqueurs.

"Now we'll have something to fight with!" cried Glas jovially, tinkling a bottle with his knife.

"You will fall a victim to your own triumph, if you continue to attack with the same fervor," laughed Wawrzecki.

"You people can talk, while we drink!" called Kotlicki, raising his glass. "Here's to the health of our author!"

"May you choke, you Zulu!" growled Glogowski, rising and touching glasses with everybody.

"May he live long and write a new masterpiece each year!" cried Cabinski, already quite tipsy.

"You, Director, also create masterpieces almost every year, yet no one upbraids you for it," jested Glas.

"With the help of God and man, gentlemen, yes, yes!" answered Cabinski.

Mimi burst out laughing and all joined her.

"Come let me hug you! For once you do not lie!" cried Glas.

Pepa almost died laughing.

"Here's to the health of Mr. and Mrs. Director!" called Wawrzecki.

"May they live long and with the help of God and man create more masterpieces!"

"Here's to the health of the whole company!"

"And now let us drink to the public."

"Permit me to interrupt you a moment. Since I alone here represent the public, therefore render homage to me. Approach me with respect and drink to me. You may even kiss me and ask me for some favor. I will consider your request and bestow whatever I am able to!" cried Kotlicki gleefully.

He took a glass from the table, stood before a mirror and waited.

"Can you beat that for conceit! I will be the first to undergo the ordeal!" cried Glogowski, and with brimming glass, already a bit wobbly on his pins he approached Kotlicki.

"Most esteemed and gracious lady! I give you plays written with my heart's blood; only understand and value them justly!" he declaimed with mock pathos, kissing Kotlicki's face.

"If you, oh master, will write them for me, if you will not offend me with brutalities, if you will reckon with me and write for me alone so that I can enjoy and entertain myself, then I will give you success!"

"First I will kick you and may you croak!" hissed Glogowski bitterly.

Cabinski approached next.

"Most esteemed public! You are the sun, you are beauty, you are omnipotence, you are wisdom, you are the highest judge! Yours are these children of Melpomene and for you do they live, play, and sing! Tell me, oh mighty lady, why are you not kind to us? I entreat you, oh enlightened one, give us each day a full theater!"

"My dear! Have a little money when you come to Warsaw, have a large repertoire, a select company, beautiful choruses and give those plays which I like and your treasury will be bursting with gold."

"Esteemed public!" cried Glas, with a comical pathos, kissing Kotlicki's beard.

"Speak!" said Kotlicki.

"Esteemed female! Give me some money and then have your head shaved, a yellow jacket put on you and green paper pasted about you and we will see that you are sent where you belong."

"I can't promise you money, but I assure you, you'll get . . . delirium tremens, my son . . ." answered Kotlicki!

"Topolski, it's your turn!"

"Give me a rest! I have enough of your puppet shows."

Cabinska also did not wish to take part in the amusement, but Mimi bowed comically and stroked Kotlicki's face.

"My dear! my precious public!" she entreated in caressing tones. "Keep Wladek from continually falling in love with some new charmer and . . . see, I could make use of a bracelet, then a green suit for the fall, some furs for the winter and . . . see that the director pays me my salary."

"You will get what you wish, for you desired it sincerely, and here is the address."

He handed her his visiting card.

"Fine! Bravo!" cried the company.

"Miss Majkowska may now approach, for I promise her a great deal in advance," announced Kotlicki.

"You are an old deceiver, dear public! You promise continually, but you never give me what you promise!" said Mela.

"I will give you . . . in a year from now a debut at the Warsaw Theater and surely engage you."

Majkowska shrugged her shoulders indifferently and sat down.

"Miss Orlowska!"

Janina arose; she felt a trifle dizzy but at the same time she was so jolly and the game appeared so comical to her, that she approached Kotlicki and called out in an entreating tone: "I desire only one thing: to be able to play. I ask only to be given roles."

"We shall speak about that with the director and you will get them."

"Let us quit that, for it is getting wearisome, Kotlicki! Come over here, we are starting the second round of drinks."

They began to drink in earnest. The room became full of buzzing voices and cigarette smoke. Each of the assembled company argued and persuaded separately, and everyone shouted nonsense.

Majkowska leaned with her elbows upon the table and, beating time with a knife against a bottle of champagne, sang gayly.

The directress argued loudly with Mimi. Topolski was silent and drank to himself alone. Wawrzecki was relating various funny anecdotes to Janina, while Glogowski, Glas, and Kotlicki were engaged in a controversy about the public.

Janina laughed and bickered with Wawrzecki, but already the wine had taken such an effect upon her that she hardly knew what she was doing. The room whirled around with her and the candles elongated themselves to the size of torches. Once she would feel a mad desire to dance, then again to launch bottles like ducks into the large mirrors which appeared to be water to her; or again, she tried hard to understand what Glogowski was just then saying. Glogowski, all flushed and tipsy, with disheveled hair and with his necktie on his back, was shouting, waving his hands, striking his fist against Glas's stomach instead of the table.

Glogowski shouted on: "To the dogs with the public's judgment! I tell you the play is bad! And if the audience applauded it and you now praise it, that is the best proof that I am right. There were a thousand of you; it is so hard for a thousand people to agree upon the truth. The individual alone is a thinking man, but the multitude is an ignorant herd that knows nothing."

"The multitude is a great man, proclaims an old proverb," whispered Kotlicki sententiously.

"It proclaims nonsense! The multitude is nothing but a big noise, a big illusion, a big hallucination," retorted Glogowski.

"Master, you seem to be devilishly sure of yourself."

"Dilettante, I merely know myself."

"By ginger! so many crazes in such a weak box!" whispered Glas, feeling Glogowski's chest.

"Genius does not abide in meat. A fat man is merely a fat animal. A lofty soul abhors fat. A healthy stomach and normality denote merely the average mortal and the average mortal is nothing but a boor."

"And such paradoxes are merely chaff."

"For asses and pseudo-intelligentsia."

"Dixit, brother! The Rhenish speaks through your lips."

"Begin all over again!" interrupted Glas, grabbing them both around the neck.

"If it is to drink, good; if it is to talk, I'll say good night!" yelled Kotlicki.

"Then let us drink!"

"Wawrzecki, dog's face! Get Mimi and another girl and we'll arrange a little chorus."

They immediately got together and intoned a gay song. Only Glogowski did not sing, for he leaned against Cabinski and fell fast asleep and Janina's head was so heavy that she could not utter a single tone.

The singing continued with increasing gayety, while Janina felt an irresistible drowsiness overpowering her, felt herself reeling from her chair.

Later she was half-conscious of someone supporting her, covering her, leading her and felt that she was riding in a hack. She felt something near her which she could not make out, felt a hot breath on her face, and arms stealing about her waist; she heard the rumble of wheels and with difficulty distinguished a voice whispering into her ear: "I love you, I love you!" but she could not understand what it all meant.

Suddenly she trembled, for she felt hot kisses upon her mouth. She sprang up violently and recovered her senses.

Kotlicki was sitting beside her, holding her about the waist and kissing her. She wanted to shove him away from her, but her hands dropped heavily to her side; she wanted to scream out loud, but had no strength left; drowsiness overpowered her again and threw her into a lethargy, as it were.

Finally, the hack stopped and the sudden silence awakened her. She saw that she was standing on the sidewalk and that Kotlicki was ringing the doorbell of some house.

"God! God!" she whispered in bewilderment, unable to understand where she was.

Only then did Janina realize everything in a flash when Kotlicki drew close to her and whispered sweetly: "Come!"

She tore herself away from him with the force of great fear. He tried to put his arm about her again but she shoved him back with such violence that he went hurtling against the wall and then she ran as though bereft of her senses, for it seemed to her that he was pursuing, that he was already catching up with her and ready to seize her. Her heart beat like a trip hammer and her face burned with shame and terror.

"God! God!" she breathed, running ever faster.

The streets were deserted and she was frightened by the sound of her own footsteps, by the hacks that she met at the street corners, by the shadows that fell from the house walls and by that awful stony silence of the sleeping city in which there seemed to tremble sounds of weeping, sobs, and some horrible, dissolute laughter and drunken cries that made her shudder. She paused in the shadow of a doorway, looked about her in terror, and gradually remembered all that had happened: the play, the supper, how she had drunk, the singing and how someone was again forcing her to drink; and amid all those confused fragments of her memory there appeared the long equine face of Kotlicki, the ride in the hack, and his kisses!

"The vile wretch! The vile wretch!" she whispered to herself, recovering herself entirely; and she clenched her fists until the nails dug into her flesh, so violent a wave of anger and hatred surged through her. She was choking with tears of helplessness and such humiliation that she sobbed spasmodically as she returned home.

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