The Comedienne by Wladyslaw Reymont
WLADYSLAW S. REYMONT
Translated from the Polish by Edmund Obecny
Frontispiece by Frederick Dorr Steele
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London
The Knickerbocker press 1920
Copyright, 1920 by G. P. Putnam's Sons
The provincial actors of Poland are sometimes colloquially called
comedians, as distinguished from their more pretentious brethren of
the metropolitan stage in Warsaw. The word, however, does not
characterize a player of comedy parts. Indeed, the provincials, usually
performing in open air theatres, play every conceivable role, and as in
the case of Janina, the heroine of this story, the life of the
Comedienne often embraces far more tragedy than comedy.
Wladyslaw Reymont is the most widely known of living Polish writers.
The Academy of Science of Cracow nominated him for the Nobel Prize for
Literature. He is the author of numerous novels dealing with various
phases of everyday life in Poland, many of them translated into French,
German, and Swedish. The Comedienne is the first of his works to appear
Reymont himself was a peasant, rising from the bottom until to-day
the light of his recognized genius shines in the very forefront of the
It is interesting to note that for several years the author was
himself a Comedian, traveling about what was then Russian Poland with
a company of provincial players.
Bukowiec, a station on the Dombrowa railroad, lies in a beautiful
spot. A winding line was cut among the beech and pine covered hills,
and at the most level point, between a mighty hill towering above the
woods with its bald and rocky summit, and a long narrow valley,
glistening with pools and marshes, was placed the station. This
two-story building of rough brick containing the quarters of the
station-master and his assistant, a small wooden house at the side for
the telegrapher and the minor employees, another similar one near the
last switches for the watchman, three switch-houses at various points,
and a freight-house were the only signs of human habitation.
Surrounding the station on all sides were the murmuring woods, while
above, a strip of blue sky, slashed with gray clouds, extended like a
The sun was veering toward the south and glowing ever brighter and
warmer; the reddish slopes of the rocky hill, with its ragged summit
gashed by spring freshets, were bathed in a flood of golden sunlight.
The calm of a spring afternoon diffused itself over all. The trees
stood motionless without a murmur in their boughs. The sharp emerald
leaves of the beeches drooped drowsily, as though lulled to sleep by
the light, the warmth, and the silence. The twitter of birds sounded at
rare intervals from the thickets, and only the cry of the water-fowls
on the marshes and the somnolent hum of insects filled the air. Above
the blue line of rails stretching in an endless chain of curves and
zigzags, the warm air glowed with shifting hues of violet light.
Out of the office of the station-master came a short, squarely-built
man with light, almost flaxen hair. He was dressed, or rather squeezed
into a stylish surtout and held his hat in his hand while a workman
helped him on with his overcoat.
The station-master stood before him, stroking his grayish beard with
an automatic gesture and smiling in a friendly manner. He also was
stocky, strongly-knit, and broad shouldered, and in his blue eyes,
flashing jovially from beneath heavy eyebrows and a square forehead,
there also gleamed determination and an unbending will. His straight
nose, full lips, a certain contraction of the brows, and the sharp
direct glance of his eyes, that seemed like a dagger-strokeall these
typified a violent nature.
Good-bye, until to-morrow! . . . said the blonde man merrily,
extending his big hand in farewell.
Good-bye! . . . Oh come, let me hug you. To-morrow we'll celebrate
the big event with a good drink.
I am a little afraid of that to-morrow.
Courage, my boy! Don't fear, I give you my word that everything
will turn out all right. Ill tell Jenka all about it immediately. You
will come to us to-morrow for dinner, propose to her, be accepted by
her, in a month you will be married and we shall be neighbors . . .
hey! I like you immensely, Mr. Andrew! I always dreamed of having such
a son. Unfortunately I haven't any, but at least I'll have a
They kissed each other heartily; the younger jumped into a light
mountain rig waiting near the platform and drove away at a swift pace
along a narrow road leading through the wood. He glanced back, tipped
his hat, sent a deeper bow to the windows of the second story, and
disappeared in the shadow of the trees. After riding a little way, he
sprang from the carriage, ordered the driver to go on, and continued
his journey on foot by a short cut.
The station-master, as soon as his guest had vanished from sight,
reentered his office and busied himself with his official
correspondence. He was highly satisfied that Grzesikiewicz had asked
him for his daughter's hand and he had promised her to him in the
certainty that she would agree.
Grzesikiewicz, although not handsome, was sensible and very rich.
The woods among which stood the station and a few neighboring
farmhouses were the property of his father. The elder Grzesikiewicz was
primarily a peasant, who had transformed himself from an innkeeper into
a trader and had made a fabulous fortune by the sale of timber and
Many people in the neighborhood still remembered that the old man
used to be called Grzesik in his youth. They often ridiculed him for
it, but no one upbraided him for changing his name, for he did not pose
as an aristocrat, nor did he assume an overbearing air toward others
because of his wealth.
He was a peasant, and in spite of all changes remained a peasant to
the very core. His son received a thorough education and now helped his
father. Two years ago he had made the acquaintance of the
station-master's daughter after her return from the academy at Kielce
and had fallen violently in love with her. His father offered no
opposition, but told him plainly to go ahead and marry if he wanted.
Andrew met the girl quite often, became ever more deeply enamored of
her, but never dared to speak to her of his love. She liked him, but at
the same time her attitude was so frank and straightforward that his
intended words of endearment and confessions of love always froze upon
his lips before he had half uttered them. He felt that she belonged to
a higher breed of women, inaccessible to such a churl as he often
frankly called himself; but precisely because of his lowly origin he
loved her all the more intensely.
Finally, he decided to speak to her father about it.
Orlowski received him with open arms, and in his arbitrary way,
without consulting his daughter, at once gave him his word that all
would be well. Grzesikiewicz was therefore thinking that Janina would
not refuse him, that she must have already spoken of the matter with
Why not! he whispered to himself. He was young, wealthy, and well,
he loved her so dearly. In a month our marriage will take place, he
added hurriedly and that thought filled him with such joy that he began
to run swiftly through the woods, breaking branches off the trees,
kicking the rotted stumps that were in his way, knocking off the heads
of spring mushrooms, whistling and smiling. And he thought, too, how
glad his mother would be to hear the news.
She was an old peasant woman, who with the exception of her dress
had not changed in the least on account of her wealth. She thought of
Janina as of a princess. Her one dream was to have for a
daughter-in-law a real lady, an aristocrat whose beauty and high birth
would dazzle her, for her husband and his money and the respect which
the entire neighborhood showed him did not suffice her. She was always
conscious of being a peasant and received all honors with a true
Andy! she often said to her son. Andy, I wish you would marry
Miss Orlowska. That's what I call a real lady! When she looks at you,
she makes you shudder with awe and wish to fall at her feet and beg
some boon of her. . . . She must be very good for whenever she meets
folks in the woods she greets them in God's name, chats with them, and
pets the children . . . another would be incapable of that! Gentle
birth will always out. I sent her a basket of mushrooms and when she
met me she kissed my hand for it. And she is not lacking in wisdom. Ho!
ho! she knows that I have a prize of a son. Andy, marry her. Hurry, and
make hay while the sun shines!
Andrew would usually laugh at his mother's prattle, kiss her hand,
and promise her to settle at once everything according to her wishes.
We will have a princess in our house and seat her in state in the
parlor! Don't fear, Andy, I will not let her soil her hands with
anything. I will wait upon her, serve her, hand her everything she
needs; all she has to do is to read French books and play on the piano,
for that is what a lady is for! his mother would add.
And he was just as much of a peasant as she deep within himself;
beneath the smooth veneer of the civilized and educated man seethed a
primitive unbridled energy and the desire for a wifea woman to rule
him. This young Hercules, who, when he felt like it, could fling
unaided into the wagon two-hundred pound sacks of wheat, and who often
had to toil like a common laborer to quell with weariness the riotous
tides that often rose in his healthy blood, unexhausted through dozens
of generations dreamed of Janina and was vanquished by her beauty and
He now rushed along through the woods like a whirlwind and then flew
across the fields, all green with the first vigorous shoots of the
spring wheat, to tell his mother of the happiness awaiting him. He knew
that he would find her in her favorite room whose walls were adorned
with three rows of holy picturesin gilt frames for that was the only
luxury that she allowed herself.
The station-master, in the meanwhile, finished writing his official
report, signed it, made an entry in his journal, placed it in an
envelope, addressed it to the Expeditor of the Station of Bukowiec,
and called: Anthony!
A servant appeared at the door.
Take this to the dispatcher! ordered Orlowski.
The servant took the letter without a word and with the solemnest
mien in the world laid it upon a table on the other side of the window.
The station-master arose, stretched himself, took off his red cap, and
walked over to that table; then he put on an ordinary cap with a red
border and with the greatest gravity opened the letter that he had
written a moment ago. He read it, wrote on the other side a few lines
in reply, again signing his name, and then addressed it to the Local
Station-Master and had Anthony deliver it to himself.
All the officials of the railway knew his mania and made merry at
his expense. There was no expediter in Bukowiec, hence he performed
both functions, that of station-master and dispatcher but at two
As the station-master he was his own superior, so he often had
moments of truly insane joy when, noticing some error in his accounts,
or some omission in his duty as a dispatcher, he would indite a
complaint against himself.
Everybody made fun of him, but he paid no attention and persisted in
following his own way, saying in justification: Order and system are
the foundations of everything; if they are lacking, all else fails!
Having finished his tasks, he locked all the drawers of his desk,
glanced out on the platform, and went to his home. He entered not by
way of the anteroom, but through the kitchen, for he had to know all
that was going on. He peeped into the stove, gave the fire a jab with
the poker, scolded the servant-girl because of some water spilled on
the floor, and then proceeded to the dining-room.
Where is Jenka? he asked.
Miss Janina will be here in a minute, answered Mrs. Krenska, a
sort of housekeeper and duenna in one person, a pretty blonde with
What are you preparing for dinner?
The Director's favorite dish; chicken fricassee, sorrel soup, and
Extravagance! By God, what extravagance! Soup and one kind of meat
is enough even for a king! You will ruin me!
But Mr. Director . . . I ordered this meal prepared especially for
Bosh! You women have nothing in your heads but fricassees, sweets,
and dainties. All that is bosh!
You judge us unfairly, sir; we generally economize more than men
Aha! You economize so that you can later buy yourselves more
fineries . . . I know, you needn't tell me.
Mrs. Krenska did not answer, but began to set the table for dinner.
Just then, Janina entered. She was a girl of about twenty-two, tall,
well-formed, and broad-shouldered. Her features were not very regular;
she had black eyes, a straight forehead, a trifle too broad, dark
eyebrows strongly accented, a Roman nose, and full glowing lips. Her
eyes had a deep expression indicating an introspective nature; her lips
were tightly drawn together in what seemed to be a semblance of dignity
or hidden temper. Two deep lines clouded her clear forehead. Gorgeous,
wavy blonde hair, with a reddish tinge, crowned her small round head.
Her amber-gold complexion had the mellowness of a ripe peach. There was
something strange about her voice: an alto that at times dropped into a
deep baritone of almost masculine accents.
She bowed her head to her father and seated herself on the opposite
side of the table.
Grzesikiewicz was here to see me to-day, said Orlowski slowly
serving the soup, for he always presided over the meals.
Janina glanced at him calmly.
He asked me for your hand, Jenka.
What did you tell him, Mr. Director? quickly interposed Mrs.
That is our affair, he answered sternly. Our affair . . . I told
him all would be well, he said, turning to Janina. He will be here
to-morrow for dinner and you can talk it over between yourselves.
What's the use, father! Since you have told him that all would be
well, you can receive him yourself to-morrow and tell him from me that
everything is far from well. . . . I do not wish to speak with him.
To-morrow I will go to Kielce!
Bosh! If you were not a crazy fool, you would understand what an
excellent husband he would make for you! Even though Grzesikiewicz is a
peasant he's worth more to you than a prince, for he wants you . . .
and he wants you because he's a fool. He could afford to take his pick
of the best. . . . You ought to be grateful to him for choosing you. He
will propose to you to-morrow and in a month from now you will be Mrs.
I will not be his wife! If he can get another, let him do so.
I swear to God that you will be Mrs. Grzesikiewicz!
No! I will not have him or anyone else! I will not marry!
Fool! he retorted brutally. You will marry because you need a
roof over your head, food and dress, and someone to look after you. . .
. I don't intend to ruin myself completely for your sake . . . and when
I am gone, what then?
I have my dower; I will get along without the aid of Grzesikiewicz
or anyone like him. Aha, so your object in wanting to marry me is
simply to provide for my support! She regarded him defiantly.
And what of it? For what else do women marry? They marry for love
and marry those whom they love.
You're a fool, I tell you once again, he shouted vehemently,
helping himself to another portion of chicken. Love is nothing but
this sauce, you can eat the chicken just as well without it; sauce is
nothing but an invention, a freak and a modern fad!
No self-respecting woman sells herself to the first man that comes
along merely because he is capable of supporting her!
You're a fool. They all do it, they all sell themselves. Love is
childish prattle and nonsense. Don't irritate me.
It is not a question of irritating you, father, or whether love is
nonsense or not; it is a question of my future which you dispose of as
though it belonged to you. Already at the time that Zielenkiewicz
proposed to me. I told you that I do not intend to marry at all.
Zielenkiewicz is merely Zielenkiewicz, but Grzesikiewicz is a very
lord, and what I call a man! He is kind-hearted, wise for did he not
graduate from the academy at Dublany and as strong as a bull. A fellow
who can master the wildest horse and who, when he struck a peasant in
the face the other day, knocked out six of his teeth with one blow such
a fellow is not good enough for you! I swear he is ideal, the highest
of all ideals!
Yes, your ideal is an incomparable one; he'd make a good
You are as crazy as your mother was. Wait! Andrew will muzzle you
and show you how such women are ruled. He will not spare the whip.
Janina violently shoved aside her chair, threw her spoon on the
table, and left the room, slamming the door after her.
Don't sit there gaping, but order the cutlets served for me, he
shouted at Mrs. Krenska, who gazed after Janina with a sympathetic
She handed him the dish with a servile mien, whispering to him with
a solicitous tone in her voice, Mr. Director, you must not irritate
yourself so, it is not good for your health.
Such is my fate! he drawled. I can't even eat in peace, without
having to listen to these everlasting squabbles.
He then began to air at length his grievances and complaints over
Janina's stubbornness, her wilful character, and his continual troubles
Mrs. Krenska obsequiously pretended to agree with him, and
occasionally emphasized some detail. She complained discreetly that she
also had to bear a great deal because of Janina, sighed deeply, and
wheedled him at every opportunity. She brought in the coffee and arrack
and poured it for him herself. While doing so she fawned upon him,
touched his hands and arms, as though accidentally, lowered her eyes,
and kept up a continual flirtation, trying to awaken some spark in him.
Orlowski's anger slowly abated, and having drunk his coffee, he
ejaculated, Thank you! I swear to God that you alone understand me. .
. . You are a kind woman, Mrs. Krenska.
Mr. Director, if I could only show you what I feel, what she
faltered, dropping her eyes.
Orlowski pressed her hand and went to his own room for a nap.
Mrs. Krenska ordered the table cleared and afterwards, when she was
alone, took up some sewing and sat near the window facing the station
platform. Occasionally she would look up from her work and gaze at the
woods, or at the long line of rails, but everything seemed deserted and
silent. Finally, unable to sit still any longer, she arose and began to
pace around the table with a soft, feline step, smiling and repeating
to herself: I will get him, I will get him! At last I will find a
little rest in my life, my wanderings will come to an end!
Scenes from the past floated before her memory: whole years of
wandering with a company of provincial actors. Krenska had abandoned
the theater because she managed to catch a young fellow who married
her. She lived with him for two whole years . . . two years which she
recalled with bitterness. Her husband was insanely jealous and
frequently beat her.
At last he died and she was free, but she had no longer any desire
to return to the theater. She shuddered at the thought of resuming that
eternal pilgrimage from town to town and the everlasting poverty of a
provincial actor's life. Moreover, she realized that she was growing
old and homely. So she sold all her household furnishings, received a
pension from the management to which her husband had belonged, and for
half a year played the role of a widow. She was very eager to marry a
second time and sedulously spread her nets, but all in vain, for her
own temperament stood in the way. With money in her pocket, there
awakened in her again the former actress with her careless and sporty
disposition and craving for pleasure and enjoyment. Being still
seductive, she was surrounded by a swarm of various admirers with whom
she squandered all she had, together with the reputation which she had
succeeded in establishing for herself with the aid of her husband.
Krenska had no abilities of any kind, but she possessed a great deal
of cleverness, so, instead of resigning herself to despair when the
last of her admirers had forsaken her, she inserted an advertisement in
the Kielce Gazette reading: Middle-aged widow of a government official
desires position as a housekeeper to widower, or as a social
She did not have to wait long for results. Her advertisement was
answered in person by Orlowski, who was badly in need of a
house-keeper, for Janina was still attending school and he could not
himself manage the servants. Krenska seemed so quiet, humble, and full
of grief over the loss of her husband that he did not ask her any
questions, but engaged her immediately.
Orlowski was a widower who possessed a good salary, a few thousand
dollars in cash, and an only daughteran absent daughter whom he
detested. Krenska at first tried to turn the heads of the station
officials, but very soon sized up the situation and immediately began
playing a new role whereby she perseveringly strove to attain the last
Orlowski became used to her. She knew how to make herself
indispensable and always to show that indispensability so skillfully
that it did not offend.
Moreover, the gray autumn days and the long wintry evenings brought
her nearer to her goal, for Orlowski, who was fifty-eight years old and
had rheumatism, was always a maniac, but during his rheumatic attacks
he would become a raving maniac. She alone knew how to mollify and
manage him with her inherent cleverness, sharpened by many years of
theatrical experience. There was only one obstacle in her wayJanina.
Krenska realized that as long as Janina was at home she could
accomplish nothing. She decided to wait and waited patiently.
Orlowski loved his daughter with hatred, that is, he loved her
because he hated her. He hated her because she was the daughter of his
wife, whose memory he violently cursedhis wife, who after two years
of conjugal life, left him, because she could no longer endure his
tyranny and eccentricities. He brought legal action against her and
tried to force her to return to him, but their separation became a
permanent one. He raved with anger, but his relentlessness, unexampled
stubbornness, and insane pride prevented him from begging his wife to
return, which she might have done, for she was a good woman. Her only
failing was an illness that baffled all the provincial doctors. She had
the soul of a mimosa, so sensitive that every tear, pain, or grief
would cast her into despair. Moreover she had an abnormal fear of
thunderstorms, showers, frogs, dark rooms, unlucky numbers, and all
loud sounds; so this husband of hers was killing her with his
Within a few years after their separation she died of nervous
prostration, leaving Janina, who was then ten years old. Orlowski
immediately took her away from his wife's family by force.
An additional reason for his hatred of Janina was because she
happened to be a girl. With his wild and violent disposition he wanted
a son on whom he could exercise not only his fists, but also his
everyday humor. He had dreamed of a son and fancied that he would be a
big and half-wild fellow, energetic and as strong as an oak.
He immediately sent Janina to a boarding-school, seeing her only
once a year during her vacation. She spent the Christmas and Easter
holidays at her aunt's home.
For these vacations, which were now in their third year, he would
wait impatiently, for he was weary of being alone at his remote
station. And as soon as Janina arrived hostilities between them would
Janina grew up rapidly, and her mental and physical development were
of the best, but having been conceived, born, and reared in an
environment of continual hatred and quarrels and nursed with the tears
and complaints of her mother at her father's brutality, she naturally
disliked him and feared his scorn. This developed in her secretiveness
and resentment. She rebelled against his despotism and niggardliness.
Janina inherited a few thousand rubles from her mother, and her
father told her plainly that the interest on that sum would have to
suffice her, for he did not intend to give her a single kopeck. She
attended a first-class boarding-school, but after paying her fees and,
later, her expenses at the academy she had so little left for her
immediate needs that she had to continually think of how to make ends
meet and to feel ashamed because of her worn shoes and dresses.
In a few years her classmates began to fear her, even the teachers
often gave way to her, for she had her father's violent character and
brooked no restraint. She never wept nor complained, but she was ever
ready to avenge her wrongs with her fists, irrespective of what might
happen to her. At the same time she was always one of the brightest
scholars in her class.
All sincerely disliked her, but had to grant her supremacy. She
herself became conscious of her superiority over the throng of her
classmates, who treated her with aloofness, laughed at her shabby
dresses and shoes, and barred her from all intimacy with them. Later
she paid them back with unrelenting vengeance.
There were times when Orlowski was proud of Janina and warmly
defended her before his friends, for the whole neighborhood was shocked
at her tomboyish adventures. She would tramp through the woods late at
night and in all kinds of weather, alone, like a young wild-boar
separated from the herd. She was not a bit ashamed of climbing up trees
for birds' nests, nor of riding astride in horse-races with the peasant
lads on the pasturage. To avoid her father she would stay away from
home for whole days at a time, dreaming of her return to school, while
at school she would again dream of returning to the solitude of her
Such was Janina up to about the eighteenth year of her life when she
graduated from high school and returned home for good. In her outward
life she quieted down, but inwardly she became even more restless than
With her friend, Helen Walder, ideally beautiful and day dreaming of
the emancipation of woman, she had parted. Helen went to Paris to study
science. Janina had no desire to go, for she didn't feel the need of
any knowledge of an abstract nature. She yearned for something that
would exert a more potent influence upon her temperament something that
would absorb her whole being for all time.
Men, Janina avoided almost entirely, for they angered her with their
impudence; the women bored her with their everlasting repetition of
gossip, troubles, and intrigues. People in general seemed to keep aloof
from her. All sorts of stories about her, more or less false, were
circulated in the neighborhood.
She was a puzzle to all who knew her. Meanwhile, in her own soul she
was waging a battle with her desires, to which she knew not how to give
a definite form. She asked herself why she lived. She buried herself in
books, but found no comfort there. She felt that she must find
something that would absorb and thrill her entire being, felt that she
would find it sooner or later, but in the meanwhile the agony of
waiting almost drove her mad.
Zielenkiewicz, the owner of a heavily mortgaged village, proposed to
her. Janina laughed outright at him and told him to his face that she
did not intend to pay his debts with her dower.
She had reached her twenty-first year and was beginning to lose
patience, when a commonplace occurrence decided her whole future.
In a nearby town an amateur theatrical was being arranged. Three
one-act plays were selected and the parts had already been assigned,
when there came a hitch: no one wanted to accept the role of Pawlowa in
Blizinski's The March Bachelor.
The dramatic coach insisted on presenting this play, for he wanted
to twit a certain neighbor with it, but none of the ladies would play
the parts of Pawlowa or Eulalia.
Someone proposed that they request Janina Orlowska to take the part
of Pawlowa, for they knew that she dared anything. She accepted it
rather indifferently, and Mrs. Krenska, in whom memories of her
histrionic past had suddenly awakened, induced Orlowski to announce
that an amateur had also been found for the part of Eulalia.
The rehearsals lasted for about three months, for the cast of the
players was changed several timesthe usual fuss and confusion of
provincial theaters where none of the ladies want to assume the part of
an old, quarrelsome, or shady character, or that of a maid, but all
wish to be heroines.
Krenska, whom Janina kept at a respectful distance from herself,
never confiding anything to her nor asking her advice, found a good
reason in the play for approaching her. She began to give her lessons
in the art of acting, untiringly.
So absorbed did she become with her part, so deeply did she enter
into the character, and so well did it fit her that she gave a very
creditable presentation. She was every inch a peasant woman, a genuine
Pawlowa, and received a clamorous ovation at the end of the play. This
momentary triumph and the consciousness of her power filled her with a
wild and unrestrained joy. It was with a feeling of intense regret that
she saw the final curtain fall.
Krenska also created quite a furore. It was a role that she had
often played with great success on the real stage. During the
intermissions everyone was speaking only of her and of Janina.
A comedienne! A born actress! whispered the ladies, regarding
Janina with a sort of contemptuous pity.
Orlowski, whom they thanked and congratulated for having so talented
a daughter and companion, shrugged his shoulders. He was, however,
satisfied, for he went behind the scenes, petted Janina, and kissed
Good, good! . . . Nothing extraordinary, but at least I don't have
to feel ashamed of you, was all the praise that he gave them.
After the performance Janina drew closer to Krenska and the latter,
in a moment of weakness, betrayed the secret concerning her past life.
She revealed to Janina a new realm, wondrous and alluring.
She listened with rapt attention to Krenska's accounts of the stage,
her numerous appearances and triumphs, and the vivid life of an actor.
As she related her experiences Krenska was herself carried away by
enthusiasm and painted them in glowing colors; she no longer remembered
the miseries of that life and held up only the brightest pictures to
the gaze of the enraptured girl. She pulled out of her trunk faded and
musty copies of roles she had once impersonated, read them to Janina
and played them, stirred by memories of the past.
All this fascinated the girl and awoke in her certain strong
desires, but it did not, as yet, absorb her; it was not, as yet, that
mysterious something for which she had been waiting so long.
She began to read with great interest the theatrical criticisms and
the details about actors in the newspapers. Finally, whether actuated
by ennui or by an instinctive impulse, she bought a complete set of
Shakespeare's works and, forthwith, was lost! She found that
something for which she had sought so long; she found her hero, her
aim, her idealit was the theater. She devoured Shakespeare with all
the inherent intensity of her nature.
It would be difficult to epitomize the violent upheaval that now
took place in Janina's soul, the wild soaring of her imagination, and
the enlargement and expansion of her whole being. There swarmed about
her a vast throng of characters evil, noble, base, petty, heroic, and
struggling souls. There passed through her such tones and words, such
overwhelming thoughts and emotions that she felt as though the whole
universe was contained in her soul!
She became consumed with a desire for the theater and for unusual
emotions. The winters seemed too warm for her, the snowfalls too light;
the springs dragged along too slowly, the summers were too cool, the
autumns too dry; all this she visioned in her imagination in far
grander outlines. She wished to see the acme of beauty, the acme of
evil, and every act magnified to titanic proportions.
Orlowski knew a little about her disease, but he smiled at it in
You comedienne! he called her, scoffingly.
Krenska would add fuel to this fire, for she wished at any cost to
see Janina leave home. She persuaded her of her talent and warmly
praised the theatrical career.
Janina could not pluck up courage to take the decisive step. She
feared those dark and vague presentiments and an unaccountable feeling
of terror at times would seize upon her. She could not summon the
necessary determination. A storm of some kind only could uproot her and
carry her far away from home in the same way as it uprooted the trees
and scattered them over the desolate fields. She was waiting now for
some chance happening to cast her into the world. Krenska, in the
meanwhile, kept her informed of the activities of the provincial
theatrical companies. Janina made certain preparations and savings. Her
father paid her regularly the interest on her inheritance and this
enabled her in a year's time to lay aside about two hundred rubles.
Grzesikiewicz's proposal and her father's insistance on her marriage
roused a stormy protest in her.
No, no, no! she repeated to herself, pacing excitedly up and down
her room. I will not marry!
Janina had never contemplated matrimony seriously. At times the
vision of a great, overwhelming love would gleam through her mind, and
she would dream of it for a while; but of marriage she had never given
She even liked Grzesikiewicz, because he would never speak lightly
to her about love, nor enact those amorous comedies to which other
admirers had accustomed her. She liked him for the simplicity with
which he would relate all that he had to suffer at school, how he was
abused and humiliated as the son of a peasant and innkeeper and how he
paid them back in peasant fashion with his fists. He would smile while
relating this to her, but there was in his smile a trace of sorrow.
She opened the door of her father's room and was about to tell him
abruptly and decisively that there was no need of Grzesikiewicz's
coming, but Orlowski was already enjoying his after-dinner nap, seated
in a big arm-chair with his feet propped against the window-sill. The
sun was shining straight into his face which was almost entirely
bronzed from sunburn.
No, no, no! . . . Even though I have to run away from home, I will
not marry! she repeated to herself fiercely.
But immediately there followed this determination a feeling of
I will go to my uncle's house. . . . Yes! . . . and from there I
will go to the stage. No one can force me to stay here.
Thereupon, the blood would rush to her head with indignation and she
would immediately gaze with courage into the future, determined to meet
anything that might happen rather than submit.
She heard her father arise and then go to the window; she listened
to the station bells, and to the jabbering of a few Jews who were
boarding the train; she saw the red cap of her father, and the yellow
striped cap of the telegrapher conversing through his window with some
lady; she saw and heard all, but understood nothing, so absorbed was
she in thought.
Krenska entered and in her habitual way began to circle around the
table with quiet, cat-like motion before she spoke. Her face bore an
expression of sympathy and there was tenderness in her voice.
The young woman glanced at her.
No! I assure you that I will not! she said with emphasis.
Your father gave Grzesikiewicz his word of honor . . . he will
demand unquestioning obedience . . . what will come of it?
No! I will not marry! . . . My father can retract his word; he
cannot compel me
Yes . . . but there will be an awful rumpus, an awful rumpus!
I have stood so many, I can stand some more.
I am afraid that this one will not end so smoothly. Your father has
such a dreadful temper. . . . I can't understand how you are able to
bear as much as you do. . . . If I were in your place, Miss Janina, I
know what I should do . . . and do it now, immediately!
I am anxious to know . . . give me your advice.
First of all, I would leave home to avoid all this trouble before
it begins. I would go to Warsaw.
Well, and what would you do next? asked Janina with trembling
I would join some theater and let happen what will!
Yes, that's a good idea, but . . . but
And she broke off, for the old helplessness and fears reasserted
themselves. She sat silent without answering Krenska.
Janina put on a jacket and felt hat and taking a stick wandered off
into the woods.
She climbed to the top of that rocky hill from which spread out
below her a wide view of the woods, the villages beyond them, and an
endless expanse of fields. She sat gazing about her for a while, but
the calm that reigned all around, contrasted with the feeling of
unquiet and foreboding in her own soul, as before an impending storm,
gave her no peace.
At dusk Janina returned home. She did not speak either to her father
or to Krenska but immediately after supper went to her own room and sat
reading George Sand's Consuelo until a late hour.
During the night she was perturbed with unquiet dreams from which
she started up every now and then, perspiring heavily, and awoke fully
before dawn, unable to sleep any longer. She lay upon her bed with wide
open eyes, gazing fixedly at the ceiling on which flickered a patch of
light reflected from the station lamp. A train went roaring by and she
listened for a long while to its rhythmic rumbling and clatter that
seemed like a whole choir of voices and tones streaming in through her
At the farther end of the room, steeped in a twilight full of pale
gleams that flickered like severed rays from a light long since
extinguished, she seemed to see apparitions and vague outlines of
mysterious scenes, figures, and sounds. Her wearied brain peopled the
room with the phantoms of hallucination. She beheld, as it were, a vast
edifice with a long row of columns that seemed to emerge from the dusk
and take shape. In the morning she arose so worn out that she could
scarcely stand on her feet.
She heard her father issuing orders for a sumptuous dinner and saw
them making preparations. Krenska circled about her on tiptoe and
smiled at her with a subtle, ironical smile that irritated Janina. She
felt dazed with exhaustion and the storm that was brewing within her,
and beheld everything with indifference, for her mind was continually
dwelling on the impending battle with her father. She tried to read or
occupy herself with something, but was too nervous.
She ran off to the woods, but immediately came back, for she knew
not what to do there. A lethargy seemed to take hold of her and benumb
her with an ever greater fear. Try as she would, Janina could not shake
off this depressing mood.
She sat down at the piano and began mechanically to play scales, but
the somnolent monotony of the tones only added to her nervousness.
Later she played some of Chopin's Nocturnes, lingered over those
mysterious tones that seemed like strains from another world, full of
tears, pain, cries of anguish, and bleak despair; the radiance of cold
moonlight nights, moans like the whisper of departing souls, the
laughter of parting, the soft vibrations of subtle, sad life.
Suddenly, Janina stopped playing and burst into tears. She wept for
a long time, not knowing why she wept she who since her mother's death
had not shed a single tear.
For the first time in her life which up till now had been one
continuous struggle, revolt, and protest she felt overcome by distress.
There awakened in her an irresistible longing to share her sorrows with
someone, a longing to confide to some sympathetic heart those
bewildered thoughts and feelings, that unexplainable misery and fear.
She yearned for sympathy, feeling that her distress would be smaller,
her anguish less violent, her tears not so bitter, if she could open
her heart before some sincere woman friend.
Krenska summoned her to dinner, announcing that Grzesikiewicz was
She wiped away the traces of tears from her eyes, arranged her hair
Grzesikiewicz kissed her hand and seated himself beside her at the
Orlowski was in a holiday humor and every now and then twitted
Janina and hurled triumphant glances at her.
Grzesikiewicz was silent and uneasy; occasionally he would speak,
but in such a low tone, Janina could scarcely hear what he said. Mrs.
Krenska was plainly excited.
A gloomy atmosphere hung over them all. The dinner dragged wearily
on. Orlowski at times became wrapt in thought, and would then knit his
brows, angrily tug at his beard, and fling murderous glances at his
After dinner they went to the parlor. Black coffee and cognac were
served. Orlowski quickly gulped down his coffee and left the room,
kissing Janina on the forehead and growling some unintelligible remark
as he departed.
They remained alone.
Janina kept looking out of the window. Grzesikiewicz, all flushed
and flustered and unlike himself, began to say something, taking little
swallows of coffee in between, until, finally, he drained it off at the
gulp and shoved his cup and saucer aside so vigorously that they went
tumbling over the table.
She laughed at his violence and embarrassment.
At a moment like this a man could swallow a lamp without noticing
it, he remarked.
That would be quite a feat, she answered, again bursting into
Are you laughing at me? he asked uneasily.
No, only the idea of swallowing a lamp seemed comical.
They relapsed into silence. Janina fidgeted with the window-shade,
while Grzesikiewicz tore at his gloves and impulsively bit his
moustache; he was literally shaking with emotion.
It is so hard for me, so awfully hard! he began, raising his eyes
to her entreatingly.
Why? she queried tersely and evasively.
Well, because . . . because . . . For God's sake, I can't stand it
any longer! No, I can't endure this torment any longer, so I'll come
right out with it: I love you, Miss Janina, and beg you for your hand,
he cried aloud, at once sighing with immense relief. But immediately he
struck his forehead with his hand and, taking Janina's hand, began
I have loved you ever so long, but feared to tell you. And now I
don't know how to express it as I would like to. . . . I love you and
beg you to be my wife. . . .
He kissed her hand fervently and gazed at her with his blue, honest
eyes burning with blind love. His lips twitched nervously and a pallor
overspread his features.
Janina arose from her chair and, looking straight into his eyes,
answered slowly and quietly: I do not love you.
All her nervousness had vanished.
Grzesikiewicz recoiled violently, as though someone had struck him,
as though he did not understand. He said with a trembling voice:
Miss Janina . . . be my wife . . . I love you!
I do not love you . . . I cannot therefore marry you . . . I will
not marry at all! she answered in the same cold tone, but at the last
word her voice wavered with an accent of pity for him.
God! cried Grzesikiewicz, holding his hand to his head. What does
it mean? . . . You will not marry! . . . You will not be my wife! . . .
You do not love me!
He threw himself impulsively on his knees before her, seized her
hands, and, covering them with kisses, began, with what seemed almost
tears of feverish terror, to entreat her fervently, humbly.
You do not love me? . . . You will love me in time. I swear that I,
my mother, and my father will be your slaves. I will wait if you wish .
. . Say that in a year, or two, or even five, you will love me. . . . I
will wait. . . . I swear to you that I will wait! But do not say no to
me! For God's sake do not say that, for I shall go mad with despair!
How can it be? You do not love me! . . . But I love you . . . we all
love you . . . we cannot live without you! . . . no. . . . Your father
told me that . . . that . . . and now . . . God! I will go crazy! What
are you doing to me! What are you doing to me!
Springing up from the floor he fairly cried aloud with pain.
Mechanically he pulled off his gloves, tore them to pieces and flung
them on the floor, buttoned up his coat to the topmost button, and
struggling to control himself said: Farewell, Miss Janina. But always
. . . everywhere . . . forever . . . I will . . . he whispered with
great effort, bowed his head and went toward the door.
Andrew! she called after him forcibly.
Grzesikiewicz turned back from the door.
Andrew, she said in a pleading voice, I do not love you, but I
respect you. . . . I cannot marry you, I cannot . . . but I will always
think of you as of a noble man. Surely you will understand that it
would be a base thing for me to marry a man whom I do not love . . . I
know that you detest falsehood and hypocrisy and so do I. Forgive me
for hurting you, but I also suffer . . . I also am not happy oh no!
Janina if you would only . . . if you would only . . .
She regarded him with such a sorrowful expression that he became
silent. Then slowly he left the room.
Janina still sat there dazed, staring at the door through which he
had gone, when Orlowski entered the room.
He had met Grzesikiewicz on the stairs and in his face had read what
Janina uttered a little cry of fear, so great a change had come over
him. His face was ashen-gray, his eyes seemed to bulge from their
sockets, his head swayed violently from side to side.
He seated himself near the table and with a quiet, smothered voice
asked, What did you tell Grzesikiewicz?
What I told you yesterday; that I do not love him and will not
marry him! she answered boldly, but she was startled at the seeming
calm with which her father spoke.
Why? he queried sharply, as though he did not understand her.
I told him that I do not love him and do not wish to marry at all.
. . .
You are a fool! . . . a fool! . . . a fool! he hissed at her
through his tightly set teeth.
She regarded him calmly and all her old obstinacy returned.
I said that you would marry him. I gave my word that you would
marry him, and you will marry him!
I will not! . . . no one is able to force me! she answered
sullenly, looking with steady gaze into her father's eyes.
I will drag you to the altar. I will compel you! . . . You must! .
. . he cried hoarsely.
You will marry Grzesikiewicz, I tell you; I, your father, command
you to do so! You will obey me immediately, or I will kill you!
Very well, kill me, if you want to, but I'll not obey you!
I will drive you out of this house! he shouted.
I will disown you!
Very well! she answered with growing determination. Janina felt
that with each word her heart was hardening with greater resolve.
I'll drive you out . . . do you hear? . . . and even though you die
of hunger, I never want to hear of you again!
Janina! I warn you, don't drive me to extremity. I beg you marry
Grzesikiewicz, my daughter, my child! . . . Isn't it for your good? You
have no one but me in the world and I am old . . . I will die . . . and
you will remain alone without protection or support. . . . Janina, you
have never loved me! . . . If you knew how unhappy I have been
throughout my life, you would take pity on me!
No! . . . Never! . . . she answered, unmoved even by his pleading.
I ask you for the last time! he shouted.
For the last time I tell you no! she flung back at him.
Orlowski hurled his chair to the floor with such force that it was
shattered to pieces. He tore open the collar of his shirt, so violent
was the paroxysm of fury that had seized him, and with the broken arm
of the chair in his hand, he sprang at Janina to strike her, but the
cold, almost scornful, expression of her face brought him to his
Get out of here! he roared, pointing to the door, get out! . . .
Do you hear? I turn you out of my home forever! . . . You will never
again pass this threshold while I live, for I will kill you like a mad
dog and throw you out of the door! . . . I have no longer any
Very well, I will go . . . she answered mechanically.
I no longer have any daughter! Henceforth I don't want to know you
or hear anything of you! . . . Go and perish . . . I will kill you! . .
. he shouted, rushing up and down the room like a madman.
His insane violence now burst out in full force. He rushed out of
the house and from the window Janina saw him running toward the woods.
She sat silent, dumb, and as though turned to ice. She had expected
everything, but never this. She burned with resentment but not a single
tear clouded her eye. She gazed about her distractedly, for that hoarse
cry still rang in her ears: Get out of here! . . . get out!
I will go, I will go . . . she whispered in a humble and broken
voice through the tears that filled her heart, I will go. . . .
God, my God! why am I so unhappy? she cried after a while.
Krenska, who had heard all, approached her. With feigned tears in
her eyes she began to comfort her, but Janina gently pushed her away.
It was not that which she needed; not that kind of comforting.
My father has driven me out . . . I must leave . . . she said,
marveling at her own words.
But that is preposterous! . . . Surely your father can be placated.
. . .
No . . . I will not stay here any longer. I have enough of this
torment . . . enough . . . .
Are you going to your aunt's house?
Janina was sunk in thought for a moment, but suddenly her gloomy
face brightened with a flash of determination.
I will go and join the theater. The die is cast! . . .
Krenska glanced at her sharply.
Come, help me pack my trunk. I will leave on the next train.
The next passenger train does not go to Kielce.
It doesn't matter. I will go to Strzemieszyce, and from there, by
the Viennese line to Warsaw. . . .
If I were you, Janina, I'd think it over. . . . Later you may
regret it. . . .
What's done can't be undone! . . .
And without paying any further attention to Krenska's remarks,
Janina began to pack. Her lingerie, her dresses, her books and notes,
and various trifles she carefully folded away into her school-day
trunk, as though she were returning from her vacation.
At the end she bade farewell to Krenska indifferently. Outwardly she
appeared calm and cool, while a slight tremor of her lips alone, and an
inner tremor that she could not still, were the only traces of the
She ordered her things carried downstairs, and, having still an
hour's time, she went to the woods.
Forever . . . she said in a subdued tone, as though addressing the
trees that seemed to bend toward her with a mournful murmur and
rustling of their leaves.
Forever! . . . she whispered, gazing at the crimson gleams of the
setting sun that filtered through the tangled branches of the beeches
and shone upon the ground.
The woods seemed wrapt in a great silence, as though they were
listening to her words of final farewell and dumbly wondering how one
who had been born and reared in their midst, who had lived with their
life, who had dreamed so many dreams in their embracing silence, could
The trees murmured mournfully. A sigh like a song of farewell and a
sad reproach echoed through the wood. The ferns stirred with a gentle
motion, the young hazel leaves fluttered restlessly, the pines rustled
softly with their slender needles the whole wood trembled and became
alive with a prolonged moan. The song of the birds sounded in broken,
startled little snatches, while over the sky, and over the earth
carpeted with leaves and golden mosses and snowy valley-lilies, and
through the whole verdant wood there flitted mysterious shadows, sounds
and calls like the echo of sorrowful sobbing.
Stay with me! . . . Stay! the wood seemed to say.
The torrent roared noisily, swept away the broken boughs that
impeded its course, circled and descended in a cloud of foam, a cascade
of mist shining in the sun with all the colors of the rainbow; it went
irresistibly onward, triumphantly, whispering: Go! . . . Go!
Then there followed a great silence, broken only by the hum of
insects and the dull clatter of falling acorns.
Forever! . . . whispered Janina.
She arose and started back toward the station. She walked slowly,
looking about her with fond, lingering gaze upon the trees, the
woodpaths, and the hillsides.
Then she began to think of the new existence before her. There
slowly arose in her soul a certain self-conscious power and increasing
When she spied her father on the station platform, not so much as a
tremor disturbed her. Already there loomed between them that new world
which already lured her.
She even went to the station-master's office for a ticket. She stood
before the window and asked for it in a loud voice. Orlowski (for he
sold the tickets himself) raised his head with a violent start and
something like a red shadow passed over his face, but he did not utter
a word. He calmly handed her her change and stared at her coldly,
stroking his beard.
On leaving, she turned her head and met his burning gaze. He started
violently back from the window and swore aloud, while she went on, only
somehow she went more slowly and her legs trembled under her. That
gleam of his eyes, as though bloody with tears, struck deep into her
The train arrived and she got on. From the window of the car she
still kept gazing at the station. Krenska waved to her with a
handkerchief from the house and pretended she was wiping away tears.
Orlowski, in a red cap and immaculately white gloves, paced up and
down the platform with a stiff official air and did not glance even
once in her direction.
The bell rang and the train pulled out.
The telegrapher was bowing his farewell to her, but she did not see
him; she saw only how her father slowly turned about and entered the
Forever! . . . she whispered. Orlowski came in for supper at the
Krenska, in spite of her joy at Janina's departure, was uneasy; she
glanced into his eyes with a feeling of fear, walked about even more
silently than usual, and was humbler and smaller than ever before.
Orlowski seemed to be wrestling with himself, for he did not burst
forth in curses and did not even mention Janina.
On the following day only he locked Janina's room and put the key
away in his desk.
He did not sleep that night; his eyes were sunken and his face
deathly pale. Krenska heard him walking up and down his room all night,
but on the following day he was at work as usual.
At dinner Krenska plucked up courage to speak to him about
Aha . . . I have still to settle with you! he said.
Krenska grew pale. She began to speak to him about Janina, about her
sympathy for her, how she had tried to dissuade her from leaving, how
earnestly she had begged her.
You're a fool! he hurled at her. She left because she wanted to.
. . . Let her break her neck, if she wants to!
Krenska began to commiserate his loneliness.
A cur! he snarled, spitting beside him in scorn. You, madame, can
leave to-day. I will pay you what is due you and then get out of this
house as fast as you can go, or I swear to God I'll have my workmen
throw you out! If I am to be alone I'll be entirely alone . . . without
any guardians! A cur!
Banging his glass against the table with such force that it flew
into splinters, he went out.
The little garden theater was beginning to awaken.
The curtain arose with a creaking sound and there appeared a
barefooted and disheveled boy, clad only in a smock, who began to sweep
the temple of art. The dust floated out in large clouds on the garden,
settling on the red cloth coverings of the chairs and on the leaves of
a few consumptive chestnut trees.
The waiters and servants of the restaurant began to put things to
order under the large veranda. One could hear the clatter of washed
glasses, the beating of rugs, the moving of chairs and the subdued
whispers of the buffet-tender who arranged with a certain unction her
rows of bottles, platters containing sandwiches, and huge bouquets a la
Makart, resembling dried brooms. The glaring rays of the sun peered in
at the sides of the garden and a throng of black sparrows swayed on the
branches and perched on the chairs, clamoring for crumbs.
The clock over the buffet was slowly and solemnly striking the hour
of ten, when a tall slim boy rushed in on the veranda; a torn cap was
perched on the top of his touseled red hair, his freckled face wore a
mischievous smile, and his nose was upturned. He ran straight to the
Be careful, Wicek, or you'll lose your shoes! . . . called the
I don't care; I'll get them remodeled! he retorted jovially,
gazing down at his shoes which clung miraculously to his feet despite
the fact that they were minus both soles and tops.
Please, miss, let me have a thimbleful of beer! he cried bowing
Have you the price? asked the barmaid, extending her palm.
This evening, I'll pay you. I give you my word, I'll pay you for it
without fail, he begged.
The barmaid merely shrugged her shoulders.
O come on, let me have it, miss. . . . I'll recommend you to the
Shah of Persia. . . . Such a broad dame ought to have quite a pull with
him. . . .
The waiters burst out laughing, while the barmaid banged her metal
tray against the counter.
Wicek! called someone from the entrance.
At your service, Mr. Manager.
Are they all here for the rehearsal?
Oh! They'll all be here without fail! he answered, laughing
Did you notify them? . . . Did you go to them with the circular?
Yes, they all signed it.
Did you take the play-bill to the director?
The director was still behind the scenes: he was lying in bed and
gazing at his toes.
You should have given it to his wife.
But Mrs. Directress was in the midst of a tussle with her children;
it was a little too noisy there.
You will go with this letter to Comely Street. . . . Do you know
where it is?
A few times over, 'She's quite a respectable dame,' as a certain
man in the front row said of Miss Nicolette the other day.
You will take this, wait for an answer, and come right back.
But Mr. Manager, will I get something for going?
Didn't I give you something on account only last night?
Oh . . . only a copper! I spent it for beer and sardines, paid the
balance of my rent, gave my shoemaker a deposit for a new pair of
shoes, and now I'm dead broke!
You're a monkey! Here, take this . . . .
Blessed are the hands that dispense forty-cent pieces! he cried
with a comical grimace, shuffled his shoes, and ran out.
Set the stage for the rehearsal! called the manager, seating
himself on the veranda.
The members of the company assembled slowly. They greeted each other
in silence and scattered over the garden.
Dobek, called the stage-manager to a tall man who was making
straight for the buffet. You guzzle from morn till night, and at the
rehearsals I cannot hear a word you say. . . . Your prompting isn't
worth a bean!
Mr. Manager, I had a bad dream that ran something like this: Night
. . . a well . . . I stumbled and fell into it . . . I was frozen stiff
with fear . . . I called for help . . . no help was near . . . splash!
. . . and I was up to my neck in water. . . . Brr! . . . I still feel
so cold that nothing will warm me.
Oh, hang your dreams! You drink from morn till night.
That's because I can't drink like others: from night till morn.
Brr! I feel so beastly chilled!
I'll order some hot tea for you.
Thank you, I'm quite well Mr. Topolski, and use herbs only when I'm
sick. Must, the extracted juice, the constituent of rye, that's the
only stuff that is worthy of the complete man that I have the honor to
consider myself, Mr. Manager.
The director entered and Dobek went to the bar.
Did you assign all the roles of Nitouche? the director asked.
Not quite, answered Topolski, those women . . . there are three
candidates for Nitouche.
Good morning, Mr. Director! called one of the pillars of the
theater, Majkowska, a handsome actress dressed in a light gown, a
silken wrap, and a white hat with a big ostrich feather. She was all
rosy from a good night's sleep and from an invisible layer of rouge.
She had large, dark-blue eyes, full and carmined lips, classical
features, and a proud bearing. She played the principle roles.
Come here a minute, Mr. Director . . . there is a little matter I
would like to speak to you about.
Always at your service, madame. Perhaps you need some money?
ventured the director with a troubled mien.
For the present . . . no. What will you have to drink, Mr.
Ho! Ho! Somebody's blood is going to be shed! he cried with a
I asked what will you drink, Mr. Director?
Oh, I don't know. I'd take a glass of cognac, but . . .
You're afraid of your wife? She does not appear in Nitouche, does
No, but . . .
Waiter! Two cognacs and sandwiches. . . . You will give the role of
Nitouche to Nicolette, will you not, Mr. Director? Please do so, for I
have a good reason for asking it. Remember, Mr. Cabinski, that I never
ask for a thing in vain, and do this for me . . .
That's already the fourth candidate for the part! . . . God! all
that I have to stand because of these women!
Which of them wants this part?
Well, Kaczkowska, my wife, Mimi, and now, Nicolette. . . .
Waiter! Two more cognacs, she called, rapping on the tray with her
glass. You will give the part to Nicolette, Mr. Director, I know for a
certainty that she will not accept it, for with her wooden voice she
could dance, but not sing. But you see, Mr. Director, this is the very
reason for giving it to her.
Well . . . not to mention my own wife, Mimi and Kaczkowska will
tear off my head if I do!
You'll not lose much by that! I'll explain the matter to them. We
will have a splendid farce, for you see that gentleman friend of hers
will be present at to-day's rehearsal. Yesterday she boasted to him
that you had her in mind when you announced in the papers that the role
of Nitouche will be played by the beautiful and dashing Mme. X.X.
Cabinski began to laugh quietly.
Only don't breathe a word about it. You'll see what will happen.
Before him she will pretend to accept the part to show off. Halt will
immediately begin to rehearse her and will make a fool of her before
everyone. You will then take away her part and give it to whomever you
You women are terrible in your malice.
Bah, therein lies our strength.
They went out into the garden hall where several members of the
company were already waiting for the rehearsal to begin. They sat about
on chairs in little groups laughing, joking, telling tales, and
complaining while the tuning of the orchestra furnished an
accompaniment to the buzz of voices.
On the veranda an increasing number of guests was assembling and the
hum of voices, the clatter of plates and the noisy shifting of chairs
grew ever louder. The smoke of cigarettes ascended in clouds to the
iron roof beams.
Janina Orlowska entered. She sat down at one of the tables and
inquired of the waiter:
Can you tell me if the director of the theater has already
There he is!
Which one of them.
What will you have, madame?
I beg your pardon, which of those gentlemen is Mr. Cabinski?
A seven! . . . four whiskies! someone called to the waiter from a
Just a minute, just a minute!
Beer! came another voice.
Which of those gentlemen is the director? patiently asked Janina
for the second time.
I will serve you in a minute, madam! said the waiter bowing on all
To Janina it seemed that they were all staring at her and that the
waiters, as they passed with their hands full of beer-glasses and
plates, cast such strange glances that she blushed in spite of herself.
Presently the waiter returned, bringing the coffee she had ordered.
Do you wish to see the director, madame?
He is sitting there in the first row of seats. That short man in a
white vest . . . there! Do you see him?
I do. Thank you!
Shall I tell him you wish to speak to him?
No. Anyway he seems to be busy.
He is only chatting.
And who are those gentlemen with whom he is talking?
They are also members of our companyactors.
She paid for the coffee, giving the waiter a ruble. He fumbled about
a long time, as though looking for change, but, seeing that she was
gazing in another direction, he bowed and thanked her.
Having finished her coffee, Janina went into the hall. She passed by
the director and took a cursory look at him. All that she saw was a
large, pale, anaemic face, covered with grayish splotches.
A few actors standing near him impressed her as handsome people. She
noticed in their gestures, their smooth shaven faces, their easy,
smiling airs something so superior to the men whom she had hitherto
known, that she listened to their conversation with rapt attention.
The uncurtained stage, wrapt in darkness, drew her with its hidden
For the first time Janina saw the theater at close range and the
actors off stage. The theater seemed to her like a Grecian temple and
those people, whose profiles she had before her, and whose eloquent
voices sounded in her ears, seemed like true priests of art.
She was regarding everything about her with interest, when she
suddenly noticed that the waiter who had served her was whispering
something to the director and pointing to her with a slight gesture.
There ran through Janina a tremor of fear, strange and depressing.
She did not look up again, but felt that someone was approaching, that
someone's glances were resting on her head and encircling her figure.
She was still at a loss how to begin and what to say, but felt that
she must speak.
She arose when she noticed Cabinski standing before her.
I am Mr. Cabinski, the director.
She stood there unable to utter a word.
You deigned to ask for me, madame? he queried with a courteous
bow, signifying that he was ready to listen to her.
Yes . . . if you please . . . Mr. Director. I wished to ask you . .
. perhaps you could, she stuttered, unable for the moment to find the
right words to express what she wished to say.
Pray rest a little, madame, and calm yourself. Is it something very
important? he whispered, bending toward her and at the same time
winking significantly to the actors who were looking on.
Oh, it is very important! she answered, meeting his gaze. I wish
to ask you, Mr. Director, if you would accept me as a member of your
This last sentence she uttered quickly as though fearing that her
courage and voice might fail her ere it was spoken.
Ah! . . . is that all? . . . You wish to be engaged, miss? He
stiffened suddenly, studying her with a critical gaze.
I journeyed here especially for that purpose. You will not refuse
me, Mr. Director, will you?
With whom did you appear before?
Pardon me, but I don't quite understand.
With what company? . . . Where?
I have never before appeared in the theater. I came here straight
from the country for the express purpose of joining it.
You have never appeared before? . . . Then, I have no place for
you! and he turned to go.
Janina was seized with a desperate fear that her quest would fail,
so with courage and a tone of strong entreaty in her voice she began to
Mr. Director! I journeyed here especially to join your company. I
love the theater so ardently that I cannot live without it! . . . Do
not refuse me! I do not know anyone here in Warsaw. I came to you
because I had read so much about you in the papers. I feel that I could
play . . . I have memorized so many roles! . . . You will see, Mr.
Director . . . if you only let me appear . . . you will see!
Cabinski was silent.
Or perhaps you would prefer to have me call to-morrow? . . . I can
wait a few days, if you wish, she added, seeing that he did not
answer, but was observing her intently.
Her voice trembled with entreaty; it modulated with ease and there
was so much originality and warmth in her tone that Cabinski listened
to her with pleasure.
Now I have no time, but after the rehearsal we can discuss the
matter more thoroughly, he said.
She wanted impulsively to press his hand and thank him for the
promise, but her courage failed her, for she noticed that an increasing
number of people were curiously observing them.
Hey there, Cabinski!
Director! What's that . . . a rendezvous? In broad daylight, before
the eyes of all, and scarcely three flights away from Pepa?
Such were the bantering remarks hurled at him from every direction
after his parting with Janina.
Who is the charmer?
Director, it's rather careless to carry on such an affair right
there in the limelight.
Ha! ha! now we've got you! . . . You posed as a flawless crystal,
my muddy amber! called one of the company, a fleshless individual with
habitually contorted lips that seemed to spew gall and malice.
Go to the devil, my dear! This is the first time I saw her,
A pretty woman! What does she want?
A novice of some kind . . . she's seeking an engagement.
Take her, Director. There are never too many pretty women on the
The director has enough of those calves.
Don't fear, Wladek, they do not encumber the budget, for Cabinski
has a custom of failing to pay his actors, particularly the young and
Thereat they all began laughing.
Treat us to a whiskey, Director, and I will tell you something,
Glas began anew.
Well, what is it?
That the manager will treat us to another. . . .
My funny sir, your belly grows at the expense of your wit . . . you
are beginning to prate like a fool, remarked Wladek.
Only for fools . . . Glas maliciously thrust back at Wladek and
retired behind the scenes.
John! came the voice of the director's wife from the veranda.
Cabinski went out to meet her.
She was a tall, stout woman with a face that still retained traces
of great beauty, now carefully preserved with paint; she had coarse
features, large eyes, narrow lips, and a very low forehead. Her dress
was of an exaggerated youthful style and color, so that from afar she
gave the impression of being a young woman.
She was very proud of her director-husband, of her dramatic talent,
and of her children, of which she had four. In real life she was fond
of playing the role of a matron occupied only with her home and the
upbringing of her children, while in truth she was nothing but a
comedienne, both in life and behind the scenes. On the stage she
impersonated dramatic mothers and all the elder, unhappy women, never
understanding her parts, but acting them, nevertheless, with fervor and
She was a terror to her servants, to her own children, and to young
actresses whom she suspected of possessing talents. She had a shrewish
temper which she masked before others with an exaggerated calm and
Good morning, gentlemen! . . . she called, leaning with a careless
attitude on her husband's arm.
The company thronged around her, Majkowska greeting her with an
How charming Madame Directress looks to-day, remarked Glas.
Your vision must have improved, for the directress always looks
charming! interposed Wladek.
How is your health? . . . Yesterday's performance must have taxed
You played superbly! . . . We all stood behind the scenes in rapt
The critics were all weeping. I saw Zarski wiping his eyes with his
After sneezing . . . he has a bad catarrh, called someone from the
The public was fascinated and swept off its feet in the third act .
. . they arose in their chairs.
That's because they wanted to run away from such a treat, came the
mocking voice again.
How many bouquets did you receive, Madame Directress?
Ask the director, he paid the bill.
Ah, Mr. Counselor, you are unbearable to-day! cried the directress
in a sweet voice, although almost pale with rage, for all the actors
were growing red in the face in their effort to keep from laughing.
It's intended as a kindness. . . . All the rest of them are saying
pretty things, let me say something sensible.
You are an impertinent man, Mr. Counselor! . . . How can you say
such things? . . .
Moreover, what do I care about the theater! If I played well, I owe
it to my husband; if I played badly it's the fault of the director for
forcing me to appear continually in new roles! If I had my way, I would
lock myself up with my children and confine myself to domestic affairs.
. . . My God! art is such a big thing and we are all, compared with it,
so small, so small that I tremble with fear before each new
performance! she declaimed.
Please let me have a word with you in private, called Majkowska.
Do you see? . . . there is not even time to talk of art! she
sighed deeply and departed.
An old scarecrow!
An everlasting cow! . . . She thinks she is an artist!
Yesterday she bellowed terribly.
She flung herself around the stage as though she had St. Vitus'
Hush! . . . according to her that is realism!
On the veranda Majkowska was concluding her conversation with Mrs.
Will you give me your word of honor, Madame Directress?
Of course, I'll see to it right away.
It must be done. Nicolette has made herself impossible in this
company. Why, she even dares to criticize your own playing! Yesterday I
saw her making disparaging remarks to that editor, Majkowska
What! she dares to meddle with me?
I never indulge in gossip, nor do I want to sow hatred, but
What did she say? . . . in the presence of the editor, did you say?
Ah, the vile coquette!
Majkowska smothered a smile, but hastily replied, No, I'll not tell
you . . . I do not like to repeat gossip!
Well, I'll pay her back for it! . . . Wait, we'll teach her a
lesson! hissed the directress.
Dobek, prompter! . . . get into your box!
Ladies and gentlemen, the rehearsal commences!
To the stage! to the stage! was the cry that went up all over the
hall as the actors hurried behind the scenes.
Mr. Director! called Majkowska, you can give the role to
Nicolette . . . your wife agrees to it.
Very well, my dears, very well . . . .
He went out on the veranda where Nicolette was already seated with a
young gentleman, very fastidiously dressed.
We request your presence at the rehearsal, Miss Nicolette. . . .
What are you rehearsing? asked Nicolette.
Nitouche . . . why, don't you know that you are to appear in the
title role? . . . I have already advertised it in the papers.
Kazckowska, who had at that moment entered and was looking at them,
hastily covered her face with her parasol, so as not to burst out
laughing at the comical look of embarrassment on Nicolette's face.
I am too indisposed at present to take part in the rehearsal, she
said, scrutinizing Cabiniski and Kaczkowska.
Evidently she suspected some ruse, but Cabinski, with the solemnest
mien in the world, handed her the role.
Here is your part, madame. . . . We begin immediately, he said,
But Mr. Director! my dear Director, I pray you, go on with the
rehearsal without me! . . . I have such a headache that I doubt I could
sing, she pleaded.
It can't be done. We begin immediately.
Oh, please do sing, Miss Nicolette! I'm crazy to hear you sing!
begged the squire.
What is it, my soprano?
And the directress appeared, pointing to Janina who was standing
behind the scenes.
A novice, answered Cabinski.
Are you going to engage her?
Yes, we need chorus girls. The sisters from Prague have left, for
they made nothing but scandals.
She looks rather homely, opined Mrs. Cabinska.
But she has a very scenic face! . . . and also a very nice, though
Janina did not lose a word of this conversation, carried on in an
undertone; she had also heard the chorus of praise that went up on the
directress's appearance, and later, the chorus of derision. She gazed
with a bewildered look on that whole company.
Clear the stage! clear the stage!
Those standing on the stage hastily moved back behind the scenes,
for at the moment the entire chorus rushed out in a gallop: a throng of
women, chiefly young women, but with painted faces, faded and blighted
by their feverish life. There were blondes and brunettes, small and
tall, thin and stout a motley gathering from all spheres of life. There
were among them the faces of madonnas with defiant glances, and the
smooth, round faces, expressionless and unintelligent, of peasant
girls. And all were boredly cynical, or, at least, appeared so.
They began to sing.
Halt! Start over again! roared the director of the orchestra, an
individual with a big red face and huge mutton-chop whiskers.
The chorus retired and came back again with heavy step, carrying on
a sort of collective can-canade, but every minute there was heard the
sharp bang of the conductor's baton against his desk and the hoarse
yellHalt! Start over again! And swinging his baton he would mutter
under his nose: You cattle!
The chorus rehearsal dragged on interminably. The actors, scattered
about in the seats, yawned wearily and those who took part in the
evening's performance paced up and down behind the scenes,
indifferently waiting for their turn to rehearse.
In the men's dressing-room Wicek was shining the shoes of the
stage-manager and giving him a hasty account of his mission to Comely
Did you deliver the letter? . . . Have you an answer?
I should smile! and he handed Topolski a long pink envelope.
Wicek! . . . If you squeal a word of this to anyone, you clown, you
know what awaits you!
That's stale news! . . . The lady said just that, too. Only she
added a ruble to her warning.
Maurice! called Majkowska sharply, appearing at the door of the
Wait a minute. . . . I can't go with only one shoe shined, can I!
Why didn't you have the maid shine them?
The maid is always at your service and I can't get a single thing
Well, go and hire another.
All right, but it will be for myself alone.
Nicolette, to the stage!
Call her! cried Cabinski from the stage to those sitting around in
Come, Maurice, whispered Majkowska. It'll be worth seeing.
Nicolette, to the stage! cried those in the chairs.
In a moment! Here I am . . . and Nicolette, with a sandwich in her
mouth and a box of candy under her arm, rushed for the stage entrance
with such violence that the floor creaked under her steps.
What the devil do you mean by appearing so late! This is a
rehearsal . . . we are all waiting, angrily muttered the conductor of
the orchestra. .
I am not the only one you are waiting for, she retorted.
Precisely, we are waiting only for you, madame, and you know we
have not come here to argue. . . . On with the rehearsal!
But I have not yet learned a single line. Let Kaczkowska sing . . .
that is a part for her!
The part was given to you, wasn't it? . . . Well, then there's no
use arguing! Let us begin.
Oh, director! Can't we postpone it till this afternoon? Just now,
it . . .
Try it, Miss Nicolette . . . that part is well adapted to your
voice. . . . I myself asked the director to give it to you, encouraged
Mrs. Cabinska with a friendly smile.
Nicolette listened, scanning the faces of the whole company, but
they were all immobile. Only the young gentleman smiled amorously at
her from the chairs.
The conductor raised his baton, the orchestra began to play, and the
prompter gave her the first words of her part.
Nicolette, who was noted for never being able to learn her role, now
tripped up in the very first line and sang it as falsely as possible.
They began over again; it went a little better, but Halt, as they
called the conductor, intentionally skipped a measure, causing her to
make an awful mess of it.
A chorus of laughter arose on the stage.
A musical cow!
To the ballet with such a voice and such an ear!
Nicolette, on the verge of tears, approached Cabinski.
I told you that I could not sing just now. . . . I had not even
time to glance at my part.
Aha, so you cannot, madame? . . . Please hand me the role! . . .
Kaczkowska will sing it.
I can sing, but just now I am unable to . . . I don't want to
To turn the heads of gentlemen, to make intrigues, to slander
others before the press reporters, to go gallivanting all about town .
. . for that you have time! hissed Mrs. Cabinska.
Oh, go and mind your children . . . but don't you dare to meddle
with my affairs.
Director! She insults me, that . . .
Hand me the part, ordered Cabinski. You can sing in the chorus,
madame, since you are unable to sing a role.
Oh no! . . . Just for that I am going to sing it! . . . I don't
care a snap for these vile intrigues!
Who are you saying that to? cried Cabinska, jumping up from her
chair. Well, to you, if you like.
You are dismissed from the company! interposed Cabinski.
Oh, go to the devil, all of you! shouted Nicolette throwing the
role into Cabinski's face. It's known long ago that in your company
there is no place for a respectable woman!
Get out of here, you adventuress!
Cabinska sprang at her, but halfway across she stopped short and
burst into tears.
On the right there is a sofa . . . it will be more comfortable for
you to faint on, Madame Directress! called someone from the chairs.
The company smiled with set faces.
Pepa! . . . my wife! . . . calm yourself. . . . For God's sake
can't we ever do any thing without these continual rumpuses!
Am I the cause of it?
I'm not blaming you . . . but you could at least calm yourself . .
. there's no reason for you acting this way!
So that is the kind of husband and father you are! . . . that is
the kind of director! she shouted in fury.
Hold out only one hour, and you'll go straight to heaven, you
martyr! someone called to Cabinski.
Sir, queried a spectator, holding up one of the actors by the
button of his coat. Sir, are they playing something new?
First of all, that is a button from my coat which you have pulled
off! cried the actor, and that, my dear sir, is the first act of a
moving farce entitled Behind the Scenes; it is given each day with
The stage became deserted. The orchestra was tuning its instruments;
Halt went for a drink of beer, and the company scattered about the
garden. Cabinski, holding his head with both hands, paced up and down
the stage like a madman, complaining half in anger, half in
commiseration, for his wife was still quietly continuing her spasms.
Oh what people! What people! What scandals!
Janina, startled by the brutality of the spectacle she had just
witnessed, retreated behind the farthermost scene. She felt that it was
now impossible to speak with the director.
So these are artists! . . . this is the theater! she was thinking.
The rehearsal, after a short intermission, began anew with
Kaczkowska as the titular heroine.
Majkowska was in a splendid humor, being so successfully rid of her
The director, after his wife's departure, rubbed his hands in glee
and motioned to Topolski. They went out to the buffet for a drink.
Without a doubt he must have made something on his break with
Stanislawski, the oldest member of the company, walked up and down
the dressing-room, spitting with disgust and muttering to Mirowska, who
was sitting on a chair with her feet curled up under her.
Scandals . . . nothing but scandals! . . . how can we expect to
have any success! . . .
Mirowska nodded her assent, smiling faintly and keeping steadily on
with the crocheting of a handkerchief.
After the rehearsal Janina boldly approached Cabinski.
Mr. Director she began.
Ah, it is you, miss? . . . I will accept you. Come to-morrow before
the performance, and we will talk it over. I have not the time now.
Thank you ever so much, sir! she answered overjoyed.
Have you any kind of a voice?
Do you sing?
At home I used to sing a little . . . but I do not think I have a
stage voice . . . however, I . . .
Only come a little earlier and we shall try you out. . . . I shall
speak to the musical director.
The Lazienki Park in Warsaw was athrob with the breath of spring.
The roses bloomed and the jasmines diffused their heavy odor through
the park. It was so quiet and lovely there, that Janina sat for a few
hours near the lake, forgetting everything.
The swans with spreading wings, like white cloudlets, floated over
the azure bosom of the water; the marble statues glowed with immaculate
whiteness; the fresh and luxuriant foliage was like a vast sea of
emerald steeped in golden sunlight; the red blossoms of the chestnut
trees floated down on the ground, the waters and the lawns, and
flickered like rosy sparks among the shadows of the trees.
The noisy hum of the city reached here in a subdued echo and lost
itself among the bushes.
Janina had come here straight from the theater. What she had seen
disquieted her; she felt within herself a dull pain of disillusionment
She did not wish to remember anything, but only kept repeating to
herself, I'm in the theater! . . . I'm in the theater!
There passed before her mind the figures of her future companions.
Instinctively she felt that in those faces there was nothing friendly,
only, envy and hypocrisy.
Presently she proceeded to her hotel at which she had stopped on the
advice of her fellow-travelers, on the train to Warsaw. It was a cheap
affair on the outskirts of the city and frequented chiefly by petty
farm officials and the actors of small provincial theaters.
She was given a small room on the third floor, with a window looking
out upon the red roofs of the old city, extending in crooked and
irregular lines. It was such an ugly view that, on returning from
Lazienki, with her eyes and soul still full of the green of the verdure
and the golden sunlight, she immediately pulled down the shades and
began to unpack her trunk.
She had not yet had time to think of her father. The city, the
hubbub and bustle which engulfed her immediately upon her arrival at
the station, the weariness caused by the journey and by the last
moments at Bukowiec, and afterwards those feverish hours at the
theater, the rehearsal, the park, the waiting for evening and her own
coming rehearsal all this had so completely absorbed her that she
forgot almost entirely about home.
She dressed carefully, for she wished to appear at her best.
When she arrived at the garden-theater the lights were already
turned on and the public was beginning to assemble. She went boldly
behind the scenes. The stage hands were arranging the decorations; of
the company, no one was as yet present.
In the dressing-rooms the gaslights flared brightly. The costumer
was preparing gaudy costumes, and the make-up man sat whistling and
combing a wig with long, bright tresses.
In the ladies' dressing-room an old woman was standing under the
gaslight, sewing something.
Janina explored all the corners, examining everything, emboldened by
the fact that no one paid the slightest attention to her. The walls
behind the huge canvas decorations were dirty, with their plaster
broken off, and covered with sticky dampness. The floors, the moldings,
the shabby furniture and decorations, that seemed to her like beggarly
rags, were thick with dust and filth. The odor of mastic, cosmetics,
and burnt hair, floating over the stage, nauseated her.
She viewed the canvas scenes of what were supposed to be magnificent
castles, the chambers of the kings of operetta, gorgeous landscapes and
beheld at close view a cheap smear of colors which could satisfy only
the grossest of senses and then only from a distance. In the storeroom
she saw cardboard crowns; the satin robes were poor imitations, the
velvets were cheap taffeta, the ermines were painted cambric, the gold
was gilded paper, the armor was of cardboard, the swords and daggers of
She gazed at that future kingdom of hers as though wishing to
convince herself of its worthiness. And, though it was sham, tinsel,
lies, and comedy she tried to see above it all something infinitely
The stage was not yet set, and was only dimly lighted. Janina
crossed it a few times with the stately stride of a heroine, then
again, with the light, graceful airiness of an ingenue, or with the
quick feverish step of a woman who carries with her death and
destruction; and with each new impersonation, her face assumed the
appropriate expression, her eyes glowed with the flame of the
Eumenides, with storm, desire, conflict, or, kindling with the mood of
love, longing, anxiety they shone like stars on a spring night.
She passed through these various transformations unconsciously,
impelled by the memory of the plays and roles she had read, and so
great was her abstraction, that she forgot about everything and paid no
attention to the stagehands, who were moving about her.
My Al used to act the same way . . . the same way! said a quiet
voice from behind the scenes near the ladies' dressing-room.
Janina paused in confusion. She saw standing there a middle-aged
woman of medium height, with a withered face and stern demeanor.
You have joined our company, miss? she inquired with a sharp
energetic voice, piercing Janina with her round, owl-like eyes.
Not quite. . . . I am about to have a trial with the musical
director. Ah, yes, Mr. Cabinski even said that it was to take place
before the performance! . . . she cried, recalling what he had told
Aha! with that drunkard . . .
Janina glanced at her, surprised.
Have you set your heart on being with us, miss?
In the theater? . . . yes! . . . I journeyed here for that very
From whence? asked the elderly woman abruptly.
From home, answered Janina, but more quietly and with a certain
Ah . . . I see . . . you are entirely new to the profession! . . .
Well, well! that is curious! . . .
Why? . . . why should it be so strange for one who loves the
theater to try to join it? . . .
Oh, that's what all of them say! . . . while in truth, each of them
runs away either from something . . . or for something. . . .
Janina was conscious of an accent of hidden malice in her voice. Do
you know, madam, how soon the musical director will arrive? she asked.
I don't! snapped back the elderly woman, and walked away.
Janina moved back a little, for just then the workmen were spreading
a huge waxed canvas over the stage. She was gazing at this
absent-mindedly, when the elderly woman reappeared and addressed her in
a milder tone, I will give you a piece of advice, miss. . . . It is
necessary for you to win over the musical director.
But how am I to do it?
Have you money?
I have, but
If you will listen to me, I will advise you.
You must get him a little drunk, then the rehearsal will come off
Janina glanced at her in amazement.
Ha! ha! laughed the other quietly. Ha! ha! she is a real
After a moment she whispered, Let us go to the dressing-room. I
will enlighten you a little . . .
She pulled Janina after her, and afterwards, busying herself with
pinning a dress on a mannikin, she remarked, We must get acquainted.
Tell me, madam, how about that musical director? asked Janina.
It's necessary to buy him some cognac. Yes! she added after a
moment, Cognac, beer, and sandwiches will, perhaps, be sufficient.
How much would that cost?
I think that for three rubles you can give him a decent treat. Let
me have the money and I will order everything for you. I had better go
Janina gave her the money.
Sowinska left and in about a quarter of an hour returned,
Well, everything is settled! Come along, miss, the director is
Behind the restaurant hall there was a room with a piano. Halt,
flushed and sleepy, was already waiting there.
Cabinski spoke to me about you, miss! he began. What can you
sing? . . . Whew! how warm I feel! . . . Perhaps you will raise the
window? he said, turning to Sowinska.
Janina felt disturbed by his hoarse voice and his inflamed, drunken
face, but she sat down to the piano, wondering what she should select
Ah! you also play, miss? . . . he queried in great surprise.
Yes, she answered, and began playing the introduction to some
song, without seeing the signs that Sowinska was making to her.
Please sing something for me, he said, I want to hear only your
voice. . . . Or perhaps you could sing some solo part?
Mr. Director . . . I feel that I have a calling for the drama, or
even for the comedy, but never for the opera.
But we are not talking about the opera . . .
About what, then?
About this . . . the operetta! he cried, striking his knee. Sing,
Miss! . . . I have only a little time and I am burning up with this
She began to sing a song of Tosti's. The director listened, but at
the same time gazed at Sowinska and pointed to his parched lips.
When Janina had ended, he cried, Very well . . . we will accept you
. . . I must hurry out, for I'm roasting.
Perhaps you will have a drink of something with us, Mr. Director? .
. . she queried timidly, understanding the signs that Sowinska gave
He pretended to excuse himself, but in the end remained.
Sowinska ordered the waiter to bring half a bottle of cognac, three
beers and some sandwiches, and, having drained her own glass, she
hastily left them, saying that she had forgotten something in the
Halt shoved his chair nearer to Janina's.
Hm! . . . you have a voice, miss . . . a very nice voice . . . he
said and laid his big red paw upon her knee, while with the other he
began to pour some brandy into his beer.
She moved back a little, disgusted.
You can put on a bold front on the stage. . . . I will help you . .
. he added, draining his glass at one gulp.
If you will be so kind, Mr. Director . . . Janina said, drawing
away from him.
I will see to it . . . I will take care of you!
And suddenly he took her about the waist and drew her to him.
Janina shoved him back with such force that he fell sprawling upon
the table, and then ran to the door, ready to cry out.
Whew! . . . wait a minute . . . you're a fool! . . . stay! . . . I
wanted to take care of you, help you, but since you're such a blooming
fool, go and hang yourself! . . .
He drank the rest of his cognac and left.
On the veranda sat Cabinski with the stage-manager.
Has she any kind of a voice? he inquired of Halt, for he had
seen Janina entering the room. A soprano?
Ho, ho! something unheard of . . . almost an alto!
Janina sat for about an hour in that room, unable to control the
indignation and rage that shook her. There were lucid moments when she
would spring up as though ready to rush out and away from those people,
but immediately she would sink down again with a moan.
Where will I go? she asked herself, and then added with a sudden
determination. No, I will stay! . . . I will bear all, if it is
necessary . . . I must! . . . I must!
Janina became set in her stubborn determination. She collected
within herself all her powers for impending battle with misfortune,
with obstacles, with the whole evil and hostile world and for a moment,
she saw herself on some dizzying height where was fame and the
intoxication of triumph.
Presently Sowinska came in.
Thank you, for your advice . . . and for leaving me with a pig! . .
. the girl exclaimed, half weeping.
I was in a hurry . . . he did not eat you, did he? . . . He's a
good man. . . .
Then leave your daughter alone with that good man! retorted Janina
harshly. My daughter is not an actress, answered Sowinska.
Oh! . . . It doesn't matter . . . It's only a lesson for me, she
whispered, turning away.
She met Cabinski and, approaching him, asked, Will you accept me,
You may consider yourself engaged, he answered. As for your
salary we shall speak of that another day.
What am I to play? . . . I should like to take the part of Clara in
The Iron Master.
Cabinski glanced at her sharply and covered his mouth with his hand
so as not to burst out laughing.
Just a moment . . . just a moment . . . you must first acquaint
yourself with the stage. In the meanwhile, you will appear with the
chorus. Halt told me that you know how to play the piano and read
notes. To-morrow I will give you some scores of the operettas we play
and you can learn the chorus parts.
Janina went to the dressing-room and had scarcely opened the door,
when someone pushed her back, slammed the door in her face and called
out angrily: Upstairs with you! that is where the chorus girls
She set her teeth and went upstairs.
The dressing-room of the chorus was a long, narrow and low
apartment. Rows of unshaded gaslights burned above long bare, board
tables extending along the walls on three sides of the room. The walls
were covered with unbeveled and unpainted boards which were scribbled
all over with names, dates jokes and caricatures, done in charcoal or
rouge paint. On the bare wall hung a whole string of dresses and
About twenty women sat undressed before mirrors of various shapes,
and before each one there burned candles.
Janina spying an unoccupied chair, near the door, sat down and began
to look about her.
I beg your pardon, but that is my seat! called a stout brunette.
Janina stood aside.
Did you come to see someone? . . . asked the same chorus-girl,
rubbing her face with vaseline before applying powder.
No. I came to the dressing-room. I am one of the company, answered
Janina rather loudly.
Oh, you are?
A few heads raised themselves above the tables and a few pairs of
eyes were centered upon Janina.
Janina told the brunette her name.
Girls! . . . this new one calls herself Orlowska. Get acquainted
with her! called the brunette.
A few of those sitting nearest her stretched out their hands in
greeting and then proceeded with their make-up.
Louise, loan me some powder.
Go buy it!
Say Sowinska! called down one of the girls through the open door
to the lower dressing-room, I met that same guy . . . you know! . . .
I was walking along Nowy Swiat.
Tell it to the marines! Who would fall for such a scarecrow as
you! put in another.
I've bought a new suit . . . look! cried a small, very pretty
You mean he bought it for you!
Goodness, no! . . . I bought it from my own savings.
Persian lamb! . . . oh! . . . Do you think we'll believe you? . . .
Come now, you bought it out of that fellow's savings, didn't you?
It's pure lily! . . . The waist is low-cut with a yoke of
cream-colored embroidery, the skirt is plain with a shirred hem, the
hat is trimmed with violets, another girl was recounting, as she
slipped her ballet skirts over her head.
Listen there, you lily-colored kid . . . give me back that ruble
that you owe me . . . .
After the play when I get it I'll give it back to you, honest!
Ha! ha! Cabinski will give it to you, like fun . . .
I tell you, my dear, I'm getting desperate. . . . He coughed a
little . . . but I thought nothing of it . . . until yesterday, when I
looked down his little throat I saw . . . white spots . . . I ran for
the doctor . . . he examined him and said: diphtheria! I sat by him all
night, rubbed his throat every hour . . . he couldn't say a word, only
showed me with his little finger how it hurt . . . and the tears
streamed down his face so pitifully that I thought I'd die of grief . .
. I left the janitress with him, for I must make some money . . . I
left my cloak to cover him with . . . but all, all that is not enough!
. . . a slim and pretty actress with a face worn by suffering and
poverty was telling her neighbor in a subdued voice, while she curled
her hair, carmined her pale lips, and with the pencil gave a defiant
touch to her eyes dimmed by tears and sleepiness.
Helen! your mother asked about you to-day . . .
Surely, not about me . . . my mother died long ago.
Don't tell me that! Majkowska knows you and your mother well and
saw you together on Marshalkowska Street the other day.
Majkowska ought to buy herself a pair of glasses, if she's so blind
as that . . . I was going downtown with the housekeeper.
The other girls began to laugh at her. The one who had denied her
mother blew out her candle and left in irritation.
She's ashamed of her own mother. That's true, but such a mother! .
A plain peasant woman. She compromises her before everybody. . . .
At least, she could refrain from making a show before other people!
How so? Can a girl be ashamed of her mother? . . . cried Janina,
who had been sitting in silence, until those last words stirred her to
You are a newcomer, so you don't know anything, several answered
her at once.
May I come in? . . . called a masculine voice from without.
You can't! you can't! chorused the girls energetically.
Zielinska! your editor has come.
A tall, stout chorus girl, rustling her skirts, passed out of the
Shepska! take a look out after them.
Shepska went out, but came back immediately.
They've gone downstairs.
The stage bell rang violently.
To the stage! called the stage-director at the door. We begin
There arose an indescribable hubbub. All the girls began to talk and
shout at the same time; they ran about, tore away hairpins and curling
irons from one another, powdered themselves, quarreled over trifles,
blew out candles, hastily closed their dressing-cases and rushed down
the stairs in crowds, for the second bell had already sounded.
Janina descended last of all and stood behind the scenes. The
performance began. They were playing some kind of half fairy-like
operetta. Janina could hardly recognize those people or that theater
everything had undergone such a magical transformation and taken on a
new beauty under the influence of powder, paint, and light! . . .
The music, with the quiet caressing tones of the flute, floated
through the silence and stole into Janina's soul, lulling it sweetly .
. . and later, a dance of some kind, soft, voluptuous, and
intoxicating, enveloped her with its charm, lured and rocked her on the
waves of rhythm and held her in an ecstatic lethargy.
She felt herself drawn ever farther into a confused whirl of lights,
tones and colors. Her impulsive and sensuous nature, struggling
hitherto with the drab commonplace of everyday events and people, was
fascinated. It was almost as she had visioned it in her soul; full of
lights, music, thrilling accents, ecstatic swoons, strong colors, and
stormy and overpowering emotions, breaking with the force of
The suffocating odor of powder dust floated about her like a cloud,
while from the crowded hall there flowed a stream of hot breaths and
desiring glances that broke against the stage like a magnetic wave,
drowning in forgetfulness all that was not song, music, and pleasure.
When the act ended and a storm of applause broke loose, she was on
the verge of fainting. She bent her head and eagerly drank in those
murmurs resembling lightning flashes and, like them blinding the soul.
She breathed in those cries of the delighted public with her full
breath and with all the might of her soul that craved for fame. She
closed her eyes, so that that impression, that picture might last
The enchanting vision had dissolved. Over the stage moved men in
their shirt sleeves and without vests; they were changing the scenes,
arranging the furniture, fastening the props. She saw the grimy necks,
the dirty and ugly faces, the coarse and hardened hands and the heavy
She went out on the stage and through a slit in the curtain gazed
out on the dim hall packed full of people. She saw hundreds of young
faces, women's faces, smiling and still stirred by the music, while
their owners fanned themselves; the men in their black evening clothes
formed dark spots scattered at regular intervals, upon the light
background of feminine toilettes.
Janina felt a strange disappointment as she realized that the faces
of the public were very much like those of Grzesikiewicz, her father,
her home acquaintances, the principal of her boarding school, the
professors at the academy and the telegrapher at Bukowiec. For the
moment, it seemed to her that that was a sheer impossibility. How so? .
. . She, of course, knew what to think about those others, whom long
ago she had classified as fools, light-heads, drunkards, gossipers,
silly geese and house-hens; small and shallow souls, a band of common
eaters-of-bread, sunk in the shallow morass of material existence. And
these people that filled the theater and doled out applause, and whom
she had once thought of as demi-gods were they the same as those
others? Janina asked herself, that, wonderingly.
Madame! said a voice beside her.
She tore her face away from the curtain. At her side stood a
handsome, elegantly dressed young man who was holding his hand to his
hat, smiling in a conventional manner.
Just let me look a moment . . . he said.
Janina moved away a bit.
He glanced through the slit in the curtain and relinquished her
place to her.
Pardon me, pardon me for disturbing you . . . he said.
Oh, I've looked all I wanted to, sir . . . she answered.
Not a very interesting sight, is it? . . . he queried. The most
authentic Philistia; trade-mongers and shoemakers. . . . Perhaps you
think, madame, that they come to hear, and admire the play? Oh, no! . .
. they come here to display their new clothes, have supper, and kill
time. . . .
Well then, who does come for the play itself? she asked.
In this place, no one. . . . At the Grand Theater and at the
Varieties . . . there, perhaps, you may yet find a group, a very small
group who love art and who come for the sake of art alone. I have often
touched upon that matter in the papers.
Mr. Editor, let me have a cigarette! called an actor from behind
At your service. He handed the actor a silver cigarette-case.
Janina, moving away, gazed with admiration at the writer, delighted
with the opportunity of observing such a man at close range.
How many times in the country while listening to the everlasting
conversations about farming, politics, rainy and clear weather, she had
dreamed of this other world, of people who would discourse to her of
ideals, art, humanity, progress and poetry, and who impersonated in
themselves all those ideals.
You must not be very long in this company for I have not had the
pleasure of seeing you before . . .
I was engaged only to-day.
Have you appeared elsewhere before?
No, never on the real stage. . . . I took part only in amateur
That is the way nearly all dramatic talent develops. I know . . . I
happen to know . . . Modrzejewska herself often mentioned that fact to
me, he remarked, with a condescending smile.
Mr. Editor . . . do your duty! called Kaczkowska, extending her
The editor buttoned her gloves, kissed each of her hands a few
times, received a slap on the shoulder in reward and retreated to the
curtain where Janina was standing.
So this is your first appearance in the theater? . . . he asked.
No doubt it's a case of the family opposing . . . inflexible
determination on your part . . . the isolation and dullness of the
countryside . . . your first appearance as an amateur . . . stage
fright . . . success . . . the recognition of the divine spark within
yourself . . . your dreams of the real stage . . . tears . . .
sleepless nights . . . a struggle with an adverse environment . . .
finally, consent . . . or perhaps a secret escape in the night . . .
fear . . . anxiety . . . going the rounds of the directors . . .
seeking an engagement . . . ecstasy . . . art . . . godliness! he
spoke rapidly, telegraphically.
You have almost guessed it, Mr. Editor . . . it was the same with
me, said Janina.
You see, mademoiselle, I knew so from the first. It's intuition
that's all! I'll take care of you, upon my word! . . . I'll insert a
little item about you in our next issue. Later, give a few details
under a sensational headline, next, a longer article about the new star
on the horizon of dramatic art, he sped on. . . . You will sweep them
off their feet . . . the directors will tear you away from each other,
and in about a year or two . . . you will be in the Grand Theater at
Warsaw! . . .
But, Mr. Editor, no one knows me; no one, as yet, knows whether I
have talent . . .
You have talent, my word! My intuition tells me that. . . . Do not
believe the testimony of the senses, mademoiselle, hold yourself aloof
from all reasoning, throw to the dogs all calculations, but do not fail
to believe intuition! . . .
Come here, editor . . . hurry! called someone to him.
Au revoir! au revoir! he said, throwing a kiss to Janina and
touching the brim of his hat as he disappeared.
Janina arose from her seat, but that same intuition which he had
advised her to heed, told her not to take his words seriously. He
seemed to her a light-headed individual given to hasty judgments. That
promise of notices and articles in the papers and his extravagant
praises of her talent seemed to her merely insincere twaddle. Even his
face, gestures, and manner of speaking reminded her of a certain
notorious braggart living in the vicinity of Bukowiec.
The second act of the play commenced.
Janina looked on, but it did not carry her away as the first had
How do you like our theater? . . . asked the brunette chorus girl,
whom she had met in the dressing-room.
Very well! answered Janina.
Bah! the theater is like a plague; when it infects anyone, you
might as well say amen! . . . whispered the brunette, her voice hard.
Behind the scenes, in the almost dark passages between the
decorations there was a great number of people. The actors stood in the
passages and certain pairs were crouched in the darkness; whispers and
discreet laughs sounded on all sides.
The stage-director, an old, bald man without a collar and dressed
only in a vest, with a scenario in one hand and a bell in the other,
ran up and down at the back.
To the stage! You enter immediately, madame! . . . enter! he cried
all perspired and flushed, and ran on again, gathered from the
dressing-rooms those who were needed on the stage, and at the
appropriate moment whispered: Enter!
Janina saw how the actors suddenly interrupted their conversations,
left each other in the midst of some sentence, stood down half-empty
glasses, and rushed for the entrances, waiting for their turn,
immovable and silent or nervously whispering the words of their roles,
and entering into their characters; she saw the quivering of lips and
eyelids, the trembling of legs, the sudden paleness beneath the layer
of paint, and the feverish glances of stage fright . . .
Enter! sounded a voice like the crack of a whip.
Almost everyone started violently, hastily assumed the required
facial expression, crossed himself a few times and went on.
Each time the stage door opened a thrill went through Janina at that
wave of strange fire, that streamed toward her from the public.
She began again to lose herself in the play. That mysterious gloom,
those garish hues and forms, emerging from the shadows and suddenly
flooded with light, the strains of invisible music, the echo of
singing, the sound of subdued footfalls and strange whispers in the
darkness, the feverish rapture of the public, the glowing eyes, the
excitement, the thundering applause, like a far-away storm, streams of
dazzling light alternating with darkness, the throng of people, the
pathetic ring of words, tragic cries, heart-rending sobs, moans,
weeping, a whole melodrama, pompously and noisily acted all this filled
Janina with a fervor different from the one she had felt in the first
act, the fervor of energy and action. She went through the playing with
all the actors, suffered together with those paper heroes and heroines,
feared with them and loved with them; she felt their nervousness before
entering the stage, trembled with emotion in the pathetic moments of
the play, while certain words and cries sent so strange and painful a
tremor through her that they brought the tears to her eyes and a faint
cry to her lips.
An increasing number of people from the audience began to come
behind the scenes. Boxes of candy, bouquets, and single flowers
circulated freely from hand to hand. Beer, whisky, and cognac were
drunk and cakes were snatched from a huge tray. Gusts of laughter broke
out here and there, jokes exploded like fireworks in the air. Some of
the chorus girls had dressed and were going out into the garden.
Janina saw actors in their negligee only, parading up and down
before their dressing-rooms; women, in white petticoats with naked
shoulders and with half of their stage make-up removed, were strolling
about the stage and peeping through the curtain at the public. On
noticing some stranger, they would retreat uttering little shrieks,
smiling coquettishly, and darting significant glances.
Waiters from the restaurant, maids, and stage hands went flying
about like hunting hounds.
A pair of pants and a cape!
A cane for the stage and a letter!
Wicek! run to the director and tell him that it is time for him to
dress for the last act!
Set the stage!
Wicek! send me some rouge, beer, and sandwiches! . . . called one
actress across the stage.
In the dressing-rooms reigned chaos, forced and hurried changing of
dress, feverish make-up with cosmetics that were almost melting from
the heat, and quarrels . . . .
If you pass before me again on the stage, sir, I'll kick your
shins, as I live!
Go kick your dog! My part calls for that . . . here, read it!
You intentionally hide me from view!
What did I tell you! said another. I merely popped out and
immediately there arose a murmur of applause.
It was only the wind and that fellow thinks it was applause,
answered another voice.
There was a murmur of disgust, because you bungled your part.
How the deuce can one keep from bungling when Dobek prompts like a
Speak yourself, and I will then stop . . . we'll see what a fool
you'll make of yourself! . . . I put word after word into his ear as
with a shovel and . . . nothing doing! . . . I shout out so loudly that
Halt kicks at the stage for silence . . . but that fellow still stands
there like a dummy! retorted Dobek.
I always know my part; you trip me up intentionally.
Tailor! a belt, a sword and a hat . . . hurry!
Mary! if you tell me to go, there will go with me night and
suffering, loneliness and tears . . . Mary! do you not hear me? I . . .
It is the voice of the heart that loves you . . . the voice . . .
repeated Wladek, pacing up and down the dressing-room with his role and
gesticulating wildly, deaf to all that was going on about him.
Hey there, Wladek . . . put on the soft pedal. . . . You'll have
enough opportunity to roar and groan on the stage until our ears are
sore, called someone.
Gentlemen! haven't you perhaps seen Peter? inquired an actress,
poking her head through the door.
Gentlemen, see if Peter isn't sitting somewhere under the table,
Milady . . . Peter went upstairs with a very pretty little dame.
Murder him, madame! he's unfaithful!
Such were the remarks, punctuated with laughter, that greeted her.
The actress vanished and from the other side of the stage one could
hear her asking everyone, Have you seen Peter?
She will go crazy some day from jealousy over him! . . . remarked
A respectable woman!
But that doesn't prevent her from being a fool.
How are you, Editor!
Oh, it's the editor, is it! . . . that means we'll have beer and
And here comes the counselor! . . .
Good evening Counselor!
What news at the box office?
Fine! . . . The theater is sold out, for I saw Gold smoking a
Praised be the gods! The advances on our salaries will be larger.
How do you do, Bolek! . . . Don't come in here, or you will melt
like butter . . . we have a little Africa here to-day . . .
We'll cool ourselves immediately, for I've ordered the beer . . .
To the stage, everybody! . . . The people to the stage! The priests
to the stage! The soldiers to the stage! shouted the stage-director,
rushing from one dressing-room to the other.
After a moment, all had vanished.
It was well after ten o'clock, the next morning at her hotel when
Janina awoke, worn-out completely; for the moment, she could not
understand, where she was.
She no longer felt any of yesterday's feverish raptures, but rather
a quiet gladness that she was already in the theater. At moments, the
bright tone of her mood was overcast by some shadow, some presentiment,
or unconscious memory from the past; it was the glimmering of something
unpleasant which, although it quickly vanished, left traces of
She hastily drank her tea and was about to go out, when someone
gently rapped at the door.
Come in! she called.
There entered an old Jewish woman, neatly dressed, with a big box
under her arm.
Good morning, miss!
Good morning, she answered, surprised by the visit.
Perhaps you will buy something, miss? . . . I have good, cheap
wares. Perhaps you need some jewelry? Perhaps some gloves or hairpins,
they are pure silver. I have all kinds of articles at different prices
and all are genuine Parisian goods! . . . she chattered on rapidly,
spreading the contents of her box on the table, while her little black
eyes with heavy red lids, like the eyes of a hawk, wandered about the
room and took stock of everything.
Janina kept silent.
It won't harm you to look at them . . . insisted the Jewess. I
have cheap things and pretty things! Perhaps you will have some
ribbons, or laces, or stockings? . . . or will you have some of these
silk handkerchiefs? . . .
Janina began to examine the collection spread out on the table and
selected a few yards of some ribbon.
Perhaps your mother will also buy something? . . . ventured the
Jewess, looking at her intently.
I am alone.
Alone? she drawled, with an inquisitive contraction of her
Yes, but I don't intend to live here, explained Janina, as though
Perhaps I might recommend a boarding house to you? . . . I know a
certain widow who . . .
Very well, interrupted the girl, you might find me a room with
some private family on Nowy Swiat, near the theater . . .
You belong to the theater, miss? . . . ah! . . .
Perhaps you need something else? . . . I have beautiful things for
No, I have all I want.
I will sell them cheap . . . as I'm an honest woman . . . cheap!
They are just what you want for the theater.
I don't need anything.
May I die, if they are not dirt cheap! . . . These are such hard
She replaced all her wares in the box and drew closer to Janina.
Perhaps you will give me a chance to make something? . . .
I won't buy anything else, for I don't need it! answered Jane,
I don't mean that!
The old woman began to whisper hurriedly I know nice young men . .
. do you understand, miss? . . . rich young men! . . . That is not my
business, but they asked me to . . . They'll come to see you themselves
. . . Nice, rich, young men.
What? . . . What? cried Janina.
Why are you so excited, Miss?
Get out of here, or I'll call the servant! shouted Janina.
Goodness, what a temper! . . . I knew at least ten ladies, who were
the same as you in the beginning and afterwards they were ready to kiss
my hands, if only I would introduce them to some gentleman . . .
She did not finish, for Janina opened the door, and pushed her out.
At the theater she met Sowinska on the veranda, and immediately, in
the politest manner, asked her if she did not know of some room she
could rent with a private family.
Ah, that just fits in fine! . . . If you wish, there is a room in
our house that you may have. We can let you have it cheap, together
with your meals. It is a very nice room on the lower floor, with
windows facing the south, and a separate entrance from the hall.
They agreed on the price and Janina said she would pay her a month's
rent in advance.
So that all's settled! said Sowinska. You will find our house
very quiet, for my daughter has no children. . . . Come, I will show
you the room.
Not until after the rehearsal; and if you haven't the time to wait,
leave me the address and I will find the place myself.
Sowinska gave her the address and went away.
Janina was handed her notes and took part in the rehearsal, singing
Kaczkowska wanted Halt to accompany her at the piano.
Give me a rest, madame! I have no time! he answered.
If you wish, madame, I will accompany you, providing it is from
notes . . . proposed Janina.
Kaczkowska drew her eagerly away to the room with the piano and kept
her busy for about an hour; but the whole company at once became
interested in this chorus girl who could play the piano.
Afterward Cabinska spoke with Janina a long time, and requested her
to come to her home the following day after the rehearsal.
Janina went straight from the theater to Sowinska's house to look at
The Management has the honor of requesting the presence of the lady
and gentleman artists of the Company, as also the members of the
orchestra and the choruses, at a tea and social to be held at the home
of the Director on the 6th of this month, after the performance. The
Director of the Society of Dramatic Artists. (Signed) John, the
Well, what do you say, Pepa? . . . Will this do? . . . the
Director asked his wife after he had read aloud the invitation.
Teddy! be quiet, I can't hear what father is reading. Mamma, Eddy
took my roll!
Papa, Teddy called me a jackass!
Silence! By God! with those children . . . Quiet them, Pepa.
If you give me a penny, pa, I'll be quiet.
And me too, me too!
Cabinski held the whip on his knee under the table and waited; as
soon as the children had advanced near enough, he sprang up and began
to belabor them.
There arose a squealing and screeching; the door flew open and the
junior directors went sliding down the banisters to the accompaniment
Cabinski calmly proceeded to read over again the invitation.
At what time do you wish to invite them?
After the performance.
You'll have to ask some of the reporters. But that must be done
I haven't time.
Ask someone from the chorus to write the invitations for you.
Bah! And let them make stupid mistakes? Perhaps you will write them
for me, Pepa? . . . You have a neat hand.
No, it's not proper that I, the wife of the director, should write
to strange men. I told that . . . what is the name of the girl whom you
engaged for the chorus? . . .
Yes . . . I told her to come here to-day. I like her. Kaczkowska
told me that she plays the piano excellently, so the thought struck me
that . . .
Well then, let her write the invitations; if she plays the piano,
she must also know how to write.
Not only that, but I think that she could teach Jadzia how to play
. . .
Do you know, that's not at all a bad idea! . . . We might include
that in her future salary.
How much are you paying her? she asked, lighting a cigarette.
I have not yet agreed upon a price . . . but I will pay her as much
as I pay the others, he answered with a strange smile.
Which means that . . .
That I'll pay her a great, a great deal . . . in the future.
Ha! ha! ha!
Both began to laugh, and then became silent.
John, what do you propose for the supper?
I don't know as yet . . . I'll talk it over at the restaurant.
We'll arrange it somehow . . .
Cabinski proceeded to make a clean copy of the invitation, while
Pepa sat in a rocking-chair, puffing away at her cigarette.
John! . . . Haven't you noticed anything peculiar about Majkowska's
No, nothing . . . if she performs a little spasmodically, that's
merely her style.
A little! . . . Why, she goes into epileptic fits! The editor told
me the papers are calling attention to it.
For God's sake, Pepa! Do you want to drive away our best actress?
You ousted Nicolette, who had a gallery of her own.
Well, and you had a great liking for her too; I happen to know
something about that.
And I could tell you something about that editor of yours . . .
What business is that of yours! . . . Do I interfere when you go
prowling about backrooms with chorus girls?
But neither do I ask you what you do! . . . So what's the use of
quarreling about it? . . . Only I will not let you touch Majkowska!
With you it's merely a question of intrigue, while with me it's one of
existence. You know right well that there is not another such pair of
heroic actors as Mela Majkowska and Topolski, anywhere in the
provinces, and perhaps not even at the Warsaw Theater. To tell the
truth, they are the sole props of our company! You want to oust Mela,
do you? . . . I tell you she has the sympathy of the whole public, the
press praises her . . . and she has real talent! . . .
And I? . . . she asked threateningly, facing him.
You? . . . You also have talent, but . . . he added softly, but .
There are no 'buts' about it! You are an absolute idiot. . . . You
have no conception whatever about acting, or plays, or artists. You are
yourself a great artist, oh, such a great artist! Do you remember how
you played the part of Francis in The Robbers? . . . Do you? . . . If
you don't, I'll tell you . . . You played it like a shoemaker, like a
circus clown! . . .
Cabinski sprang up as though someone had struck him with a whip.
That's a lie! The famous Krolikowski played it in the same way;
they advised me to imitate him, and I did . . .
Krolikowski played like you? . . . You're a fool, my artist!
Pepa, you had better keep quiet, or I'll tell you what you are!
O tell me, please do tell me! she cried out in a rage.
Nothing great, nor even anything small, my dear.
Tell me plainly what you mean . . .
Well then, I'll tell you that you are not a Modrzejewska, laughed
Silence, you clown! . . . she yelled throwing her lighted
cigarette at him.
Wait, wait, you backstairs prima donna, he hissed, growing pale
Cabinski in his dressing gown, torn at the elbows, in his night
clothes and slippers, began to pace up and down the room, while Pepa,
just as she had arisen from sleep, unwashed, with yesterday's stage
make-up still adorning her face, and her hair all disheveled, whirled
around in circles, her white and soiled petticoat rustling.
They stared at each other with furious and threatening glances.
Their old competitive enmity burst out in full force. They hated each
other as artists because they mutually and irresistibly envied each
other their talents and success with the public.
I played poorly, did I? . . . I played like a circus clown? . . .
He seized a glass from one of the racks and hurled it to the floor.
Quickly Pepa intercepted him and screened the dishes with her body.
Get out of the way! he growled threateningly, clenching his fists.
These are mine! she cried and threw the whole heap of dishes at
his feet with such force that they broke into little bits.
Please ma'am, let me have the money for breakfast, said the maid,
at that instant entering.
Let my husband give it to you! answered Cabinska, and with a proud
stride, went into the next room, slamming the door after her.
Let me have the money, sir. It's late and the children are crying!
He laid a ruble on the table, brushed his top hat with his sleeve
The nurse took a pitcher and a basket for rolls and went out.
The Cabinskis had no more time to think of their household than of
their children, and cared for nothing, absorbed entirely by the
theater, their roles, and their struggle for success. The canvas walls
of the stage scenes and decorations representing elegant salons and
interiors sufficed them entirely; there they breathed more freely and
felt better. In the same way a canvas scene depicting some wild
landscape with a castle on the summit of a chocolate-colored hill and a
wood painted below sufficed them as a substitute for real fields and
woods. The smell of mastic, cosmetics, and perfume were to them the
sweetest odors. They merely came home to sleep, their real home, where
they lived habitually, was on the stage and behind the scenes.
Cabinski had been in the theater some twenty years, playing
continually, and still, he desired each new role for himself and envied
Pepa never took account of anything, but listened only to her
momentary instinct and sometimes to her husband. She doted on the
melodrama, on strained and nerve-thrilling situations; she liked a
sweeping gesture, an exalted tone of voice, and glaring novelties. Her
pathos was often of the exaggerated variety, but she played with
fervor. A certain play, or some accent or word would move her so deeply
that even after leaving the stage she would still shed real tears
behind the scenes.
She knew her parts better than anyone else, for she would memorize
them with mechanical precision. For her children she cared about as
much as for her old dresses: she bore them and left them to the care of
her husband and the nurse.
Immediately after Cabinski's departure Pepa called through the door,
Nurse, come here!
The nurse had just returned with the coffee and the boys whom she
had dragged in from the yard with difficulty.
She served the breakfast to the children and promised: Eddy . . .
you will get a pair of new shoes . . . papa will buy them for you.
Teddy will get a new suit and Jadzia a dress . . . Drink your coffee,
She patted their heads, handed them the rolls and wiped their faces
with maternal solicitude. She loved them and fussed over them as though
they were her own children.
Nurse! shouted Cabinska, sticking her head through the door.
Yes, I hear you.
Where is Tony?
She's gone to the laundry.
You will go, nurse, for my dress to Sowinska on Widok Street. Do
you know where it is? . . .
Of course, I know! . . . That skinny woman who's as cross as a
chained dog. . . .
Go right away.
Mamma! . . . let us also go with nurse . . . begged the children,
for they feared their mother.
You will take the children along with you, nurse.
Of course, that's understood . . . I wouldn't leave them here
She dressed the children, put on a sort of woolen dress with broad
red and white stripes, covered her head with a kerchief, and went out
Cabinska dressed and was about to go out, when the bell rang. A
small, rather corpulent and very active gentleman pushed his way in. It
was the counselor.
His face was carefully shaven, he wore gold-rimmed glasses on his
small nose, and a smile, that seemed glued there, on his thin lips.
May I come in? . . . Will Madame Directress permit it? . . . Only
for a minute, for I must be right off again! . . . he recited rapidly.
Of course, the esteemed counselor is always welcome. . . . called
Good morning! Pray let me kiss your little hand. . . . You look
charming to-day. I merely dropped in here on my way . . .
Please be seated.
The counselor sat down, wiped his glasses with his handkerchief,
smoothed his very sparse, but ungrayed black hair, hastily crossed his
legs, and blinked a few times with neuralgic eyes.
I read in to-day's Messenger a very flattering mention about you,
It's unmerited, for I don't know how that role ought to be played.
You played it beautifully, wonderfully!
Oh, you're a naughty flatterer, Mr. Counselor! . . . she chided.
I speak nothing but the truth, the unadulterated truth, my word of
Please ma'am it is already noon, interrupted the nurse, who had
You are bound for the theater, Madame Directress?
Yes, I'll drop in to see the rehearsal, and then take a walk about
Then we will go together, agreed? . . . asked the counselor. On
the way we shall settle a little piece of business.
Cabinska glanced at him uneasily. He was again blinking his eyes,
crossing his feet, and adjusting his glasses which had a habit of
continually slipping off.
No doubt he wants that money, . . . thought Cabinska, as they were
going down the stairs.
The counselor, in the meanwhile, was smiling and chirping away in
This strange individual would show up at the garden-theater at the
very first performance and vanish after the last, until the following
spring. He freely loaned money which was never returned to him. He
would give suppers, bring gifts of candy to the actresses, take the
young novices under his wing and was always reputed to be in love with
some actress platonically. Immediately upon his first appearance,
Cabinski had borrowed one hundred rubles from him and before all those
present he had intentionally forced him to accept as security his
wife's bracelet with the object of convincing them that he had no
They entered the theater and quietly took their seats, for the
rehearsal was already in full swing and Kaczkowska with Topolski were
just in the midst of a capital love scene.
The counselor listened, bowed on all sides with a smile and
whispered to the directress: Love is a splendid thing . . . on the
Even in life it is not bad, she remarked.
True love is very rare in life, so I prefer it on the stage, for
here I can enjoy it every day, he spoke hurriedly, and his eyelids
began to blink again.
You have been disillusioned, Counselor?
Oh no, by no means! . . . How are you, Piesh!
Well, sated with food, and bored, replied a tall actor with a
handsome, thoughtful face, extending his hand.
Will you smoke some Egyptian cigarettes?
I will, if you will let me have some, he answered coolly.
Mrs. Piesh is as well and as jealous as ever, eh? . . . inquired
the counselor, handing him a cigarette.
Just as you are always in a good humor . . . Both are diseases.
So you consider humor a disease, eh? asked the counselor.
I hold that a normal man ought to be indifferent and care for
How long have you been riding that hobbyhorse?
Truth is usually learned late.
How long will you stick to that truth?
Perhaps forever, if I can find nothing better.
Piesh, to the stage! came the voice of the stage-director.
The actor arose stiffly, and with a quick, automatic step, went
behind the scenes.
A curious, a very curious fellow! whispered the counselor.
Yes, but very tiresome with his ever-lasting truths, ideals, and
other foolish haberdashery! cried a young actor dressed like a doll in
a light suit, a pink-striped shirt and yellow calf-skin pumps.
Ah, Wawrzecki! . . . You must have again slain some innocent
beauty, for your face is as radiant as the sun . . .
It's easy for you to joke, Mr. Counselor! . . . he defended
himself with a knowing smile, advancing his shapely foot. He posed
gracefully, raised his hand, and flashed his jeweled rings, for the
directress was gazing at him through half-closed eyes.
Well then, in your estimation who is not tiresome, eh? . . . Come
now, confess my boy!
The counselor, for he has humor and a good heart; the director when
he pays; the public when it applauds us; pretty and kind women, the
spring, if it is warm; people, when they are happy, all that is
beautiful pleasant and smiling; while tiresome things are all those
that are ugly: cares, tears, suffering, poverty, old age and cold. . .
Who is that young lady over there? inquired the counselor,
pointing to Janina who was listening attentively to the rehearsal.
She has an engaging expression. Her face shows good breeding and
intelligence. Do you know who she is? . . .
Wicek! called Cabinska to the boy who was playing about the
garden, go and ask that lady, standing near the box, to come here.
Wicek ran over to Janina circled about her, glanced into her eyes
and said: The old woman over there wishes to see you.
What old woman? . . . Who? . . . she asked, unable to understand
Cabinska, Mrs. Pepa, the directress, of course! . . .
Janina approached slowly, while the counselor observed her intently.
Please have a seat, mademoiselle. This is our dear counselor, the
patron of our theater, spoke Cabinska, introducing him.
I beg your pardon! cried the counselor, grasping her hand and
turning the palm to the light.
Don't be afraid, Miss Orlowska! . . . The counselor has an innocent
mania of fortune telling, cried Cabinska merrily, peering over the
shoulder of the counselor into the palm he was examining.
Ho! ho! a strange one, a strange one! whispered the old man.
He took from his pocket a small magnifying-glass and through it
examined minutely the lines of the palm, the fingernails, the finger
joints, and the entire hand.
Ladies and gentlemen! We tell fortunes here from the hands, the
feet, and something else besides! . . . Here we predict the future, and
dispense talent, virtue, and money in the future. Admission only five
copecks, only five copecks! . . . for the poorer people only ten
groszy! Please step in, ladies and gentlemen, please step in! cried
Wawrzecki, excellently imitating the voice of the show criers on
The actors and actresses surrounded the trio on all sides.
Tell us something, Mr. Counselor!
Will she marry soon?
When will she eclipse Modrzejewska?
Will she get a rich hubby?
How many suitors has she had in the past?
The counselor did not answer, but quietly continued to examine both
of Janina's palms.
She heard those derisive remarks, but was unable to move, for that
strange man actually held her pinned to her seat. She felt herself
burning with anger, yet could not move her hands which he held.
Finally, the counselor released her and said to those surrounding
them: For once you might refrain from your clownishness, for sometimes
it is not so foolish as it is inhuman. I beg your pardon, mademoiselle,
for having exposed you to their rudeness, . . . I greatly beg your
pardon, but I simply could not resist examining your hands; that is my
weakness. . . .
He kissed her hand ostentatiously and turned to the surprised
Cabinska: Come, let us go, Mrs. Directress!
Janina was consumed with such curiosity, that, in spite of all those
spectators, she asked quietly: Will you not tell me anything Mr.
The counselor gazed about him, and then bent toward Janina and
whispered very quietly: Now, I cannot . . . In two weeks, when I
return, I will tell you all.
Oh come, Counselor! cried Cabinska, Oh, I almost forgot! . . .
Will it be possible for you to come to see me after the rehearsal Miss
Orlowska? she asked, turning to Janina.
Certainly, I'll come, answered Janina, resuming her seat.
Where shall we go, Madame Directress? asked the counselor. He
seemed less jovial, and wrapt in thought.
I suppose we might go to my pastry shop.
Cabinska did not question him, and only after they had seated
themselves at the pastry shop, where she regularly spent a few hours
each day, drinking chocolate, smoking cigarettes, and gazing at the
street crowds, did she venture to ask him with a pretended
indifference: What did you notice in that hussy's hands, Mr.
The counselor shifted impatiently, put his binoculars upon his nose,
and called to the waiter, Black coffee and very light chocolate!
Then he turned to Cabinska. You see, that is a secret . . . to be
sure, one that means little, but nevertheless, not my own to disclose.
Cabinska insisted, for merely to say: a secret, throws all women
out of balance; but he told her nothing, only remarking abruptly, I am
leaving town, Mrs. Directress.
Where are you going? she inquired, greatly surprised.
I must . . . he said, I will return in two weeks. Before I go, I
would like to settle our . . .
Cabinska frowned and waited to hear what he would say further.
For you see, it might happen that I would return only in the fall
when you will no longer be in Warsaw.
I surmised long ago that you were an old usurer, Cabinska was
thinking, tinkling her glass with a spoon.
Some fruit cakes! he called to the waiter and then, turning to her
again, continued . . . And that is why I wish to return to you, dear
lady, your bracelet.
But we have not yet the money. Our success is continually being
interrupted . . . we have so many old payments to meet . . .
Oh, don't bother about the money. Imagine that I am giving you this
for your name day as a small token of friendship . . . will you? he
asked, slipping the bracelet upon her plump wrist.
Oh, Counselor, Counselor! if I did not love my John so much, I
would . . . she cried, overjoyed at regaining her bracelet without any
obligations. She squeezed his hands so heartily and beamed upon him
with her joyous gaze so closely, that he felt her breath upon his
He gently pushed her aside, biting his lips.
Ah, Counselor, you are an ideal man!
Oh, let us drop that! . . . You can invite me to be a godfather to
your next child.
Oh, you're a rogue, Mr. Counselor! . . . What's that? . . . you
already want to depart?
My train leaves in two hours. Goodbye!
He paid the bill at the buffet and hurried away, sending her a smile
through the window.
Cabinska still sat there, gazing out upon the street.
Is it possible that he loves me? she thought to herself, sipping
her cooled chocolate.
She pulled some role out of her pocket, read a few lines, and again
gazed out upon the street.
The dilapidated hacks, pulled by lean horses, dragged along lazily;
the tramways rumbled by; along the sidewalks people threaded like a
long, immovable ribbon.
The clock chimed three. Cabinska arose and started for home, walking
slowly until she spied the editor walking with Nicolette and the calm
horizon of her mind suddenly became clouded.
He, with Nicolette? . . . with that . . . base intriguer?
Already from a distance she scorched them with the gaze of a Gorgon.
At the corner of Warecka Street, Nicolette suddenly disappeared and
the editor approached her with a beaming countenance.
Good morning! . . . he cried, extending his hand.
Pepa measured him coolly and turned her face away.
What sort of nonsense is this, Pepa? he asked, quietly.
Oh, you are unspeakably mean! she retorted.
A comedy of some kind again? . . . he queried.
You dare to speak to me in that way?
Well . . . I'll quit then and merely say: good-day! he snapped
back angrily, bowed stiffly and, before she could bethink herself,
jumped into a hack and drove away.
Cabinska was petrified with indignation.
Cabinska, on returning home whipped the children, scolded the nurse,
and locked herself in her room.
She heard her husband enter, ask for her, and knock at her door;
when dinner was served, she did not come out, but paced angrily up and
down her room.
Soon thereafter, Janina arrived. Cabinska greeted her cordially in
her boudoir, becoming suddenly unrecognizably hospitable.
Janina left alone, began to explore that boudoir with curiosity,
for, although the entire house looked like a junk shop, or a railroad
waiting-room of the third class, filled with packs, valises and trunks,
this one room possessed an almost luxurious air. It had two windows
opening upon the garden, the walls were decorated with a paper
resembling brocatelle, and cupids were painted on the ceiling. The
grotesquely carved furniture was upholstered with crimson silk striped
with gold. A cream-colored rug in imitation of antique Italian covered
the floor. A set of Shakespeare, bound in gilded morocco lay on a
lacquered table painted in Chinese designs.
Janina did not pay much attention to all this, for she was entirely
absorbed by the wreaths hanging on the walls which bore such
inscriptions as these: To our companion on the occasion of her
birthday, To a distinguished artist, From the grateful public, To
the Directress from the Company, From the admirers of your talent.
The laurel branches and palm leaves were yellow and shrunken from age
and hung there covered with dust and cobwebs. The broad white, yellow,
and red ribbons streamed down the walls like separate colors of the
rainbow with their gold-stamped letters proclaiming glories that had
long since passed into oblivion. Those inscriptions and withered
wreaths gave the room the appearance of a mortuary chapel.
Janina was looking through an album, when Cabinska quietly entered.
Her face wore an expression of suffering and melancholy; she dropped
down heavily into a chair, sighed deeply and whispered, Pardon me for
letting you bore yourself here.
Oh I didn't feel a bit bored!
This is my sanctuary. Here I lock myself up when life becomes
unbearable. I come here to recall a happy past and to dream of that
which will never more return . . she added, indicating the roles and
the wreaths hanging on the walls.
Are you ill, Madame Directress? . . . perhaps I am intruding, and
solitude is the best medicine. Janina spoke with sincere sympathy.
Oh, please stay! . . . It affords me real relief to speak with a
person who is, as yet, a stranger to this world of falsehood and
vanity! she said with emphasis, as though reciting a role.
I don't know whether I am worthy of your confidence, answered
Oh, my artistic intuition never deceives me! . . . I pray you sit
nearer to me! So you have never before been in the theater,
How I envy you! . . . Ah, if I could begin over again, I would not
know all this bitterness and disappointment! Do you love the theater?
I have sacrificed almost everything for it.
Oh, the fate of artists is a sad one! One must sacrifice all;
peace, domestic happiness, love, family, and friends and for what? . .
. for that which they write about us; for such wreaths that last only a
few days; for the handclaps of the tiresome throng. . . . Oh, beware
the provinces, mademoiselle! . . . Look at me . . . Do you see those
wreaths? . . . They are splendid and withered, are they not? And yet,
not so long ago I played at Lwow. . . .
She paused for a moment as though fascinated by the memory of those
The stages of the whole world were open to me. The director of the
Comedie Francaise came purposely to see me and offer me an engagement.
. . .
You possess also a mastery of French, madame?
Do not interrupt me. I was paid a salary of several thousand
rubles; the papers could not find words strong enough to praise my
acting; I was pelted with flowers and bracelets set with diamonds! (She
unconsciously adjusted her cheap bracelet.) Counts and princes courted
my favors. . . . Then came a great misfortune which changed everything;
I fell in love . . . Yes, do not wonder at that! I loved, as deeply as
it is possible to love, the most beautiful and best man in the whole
world. . . . He was a nobleman, a prince and heir to a large estate. We
were about to be married. I cannot tell you how happy we were! . . .
Then . . . like a bolt from the blue sky . . . his family, the old
prince, a tyrannical magnate without a heart parted us. . . . He took
him away and wanted to pay me a hundred thousand guldens or even a
million, if only I would renounce my beloved. I threw the money at his
feet and showed him the door. He avenged himself cruelly. He spread the
most dishonorable calumnies about me, bribed the press, and persecuted
me at every step, the base wretch! . . . I had to leave Lwow and my
life took an entirely different turn . . . a different turn . . .
Cabinska paced up and down the room, tears in her eyes, love in her
smile, a sad bitterness upon her lips, a tragic mask of resignation
upon her face, forsaken, violent grief in her voice.
She acted the tale with such mastery that Janina believed
If you knew how sincerely I sympathize with you, madame! . . . What
a dreadful fate!
That is already past! . . . answered Cabinska, dropping into her
She herself had come almost to believe in those stories, retold with
numerous variations a hundred times over to all those who were willing
to listen. Sometimes, on ending her account, moved by the picture of
that fancied misfortune, she would actually suffer.
Cabinska had acted the parts of so many unfortunate and betrayed
women that she had already lost all memory of the bounds of her own
individuality; her own emotions became merged and identified in ever
greater degree with the characters which she impersonated, and thus it
happened that her fanciful tales were not downright lies.
After a long silence, Cabinska asked in a calm voice, You live at
Mrs. Sowinska's, mademoiselle?
Not yet, answered Janina, I have already rented the room, but
they have to renovate it. In the meanwhile, I am living at the hotel.
Kaczkowska and Halt told me that you play the piano very well.
A little bit.
I wanted to ask you, if you would not teach my Yadzia? . . . She is
a very bright girl and has a good ear for music.
With real pleasure. My knowledge is rather limited, but I can teach
your daughter the rudiments of music. . . . Only, I don't know whether
I will have enough time. . . .
Oh, certainly! And as to your fee, we shall include that in your
Very well. . . . Is your daughter already started?
Excellently. You can convince yourself immediately. . . . Nurse,
bring Yadzia here! called Cabinska.
They passed into the next room in which stood the director's bed, a
few packs and baskets, and an old rattle-box of a piano.
Janina heard Yadzia play and agreed that she would give her lessons
regularly between two and three o'clock in the afternoon, when her
parents were not at home.
When are you to make your first appearance at the theater? asked
To-day, in the Gypsy Baron.
Have you a costume?
Miss Falkowska promised to loan me one.
Come with me. . . . Perhaps I'll find something for you. . . .
They went into the room where the children slept with the nurse.
Cabinska pulled out of a package a fairly well-preserved costume and
gave it to Janina.
You see, mademoiselle, we furnish the costumes, but since the
members of the company prefer to have their own, because ours, of
course, cannot be so very elegant, ours often lie here unused. . . . I
will loan you this one.
I also will have my own.
That is best.
They took leave of each other very cordially and the nurse carried
Janina's costume after her to the hotel.
With such passionate eagerness did Janina anticipate her first
appearance on the stage, that she arrived at the theater when there was
hardly anyone as yet behind the scenes. The chorus girls assembled
slowly and dressed even more slowly. Conversation, laughter, subdued
whisperings went on as usual, but she heard nothing, so preoccupied was
she with her dressing.
They all began to help her, laughing because she did not even have
powder or rouge.
What, you never powdered yourself? they chorused.
No . . . What for? . . . she answered simply.
We'll have to make her a face, for she's too pale, remarked one of
They rubbed her face with a layer of white cosmetic, shaded this
with rouge, carmined her lips, underscored her eyes with a little
pencil dipped in black pigment, and curled and pinned her hair. She was
passed on from hand to hand and given a thousand advices and warnings.
On entering the stage look straight at the public, so that you
And before you enter, see that you cross yourself.
Always enter with your right foot foremost.
Now you look fine! . . . but do you want to appear on the stage in
short skirts without wearing tights?
I haven't any! . . .
All began to laugh at her embarrassed look.
I will loan you a pair, cried Zielinska. I think they'll fit
you. They treated her with undisguised favor, for they had heard that
she was to teach Cabinska's daughter and that Pepa had loaned her a
Janina, looking in the mirror, hardly recognized herself. It seemed
as though she wore a mask, only slightly resembling her own face and
with that strange expression that all the chorus girls wore.
She went downstairs to Sowinska.
My dear madame, tell me truly, how do I look? she begged, all
excited and flushed.
Sowinska scrutinized her from all sides and, with her finger, spread
the rouge more thoroughly on her cheeks.
Who gave you that costume? she asked.
Madame Directress loaned it to me.
Oh! something must have melted her today!
She told me such sad stories. . . .
The actress! . . . if she only played that way on the stage there
would be no better in the world.
You must be joking, madame! . . . She told me about Lwow and her
She's a liar, that old hag! She was then the sweetheart of some
hussar and made such scandals that they turned her out of the theater.
What was she at the Lwow theater? . . . a chorus girl only. Ho! ho!
those are old tricks. . . . We all know them here long since!
Tell me how I look? asked Janina at length.
Beautiful. . . . I'll wager they'll all be chasing after you!
An increasing nervousness seized Janina. She walked up and down the
stage, peered through the hole in the curtain, viewed herself in all
the mirrors, and then tried to sit still and wait, but could not endure
it. The feverish excitement and nervousness attendant upon a first
appearance shook her as with the ague. She could not stand or sit still
for a single moment.
It seemed as though she did not see the people, the preparations
that were going on about her, the lights, or even the stage itself, but
only had in her brain the reflection of a confused and moving mass of
eyes and faces. At each moment she would gaze with terror at the
audience and feel as though her heart were ceasing to beat.
When the bell rang for the second time, she hurried off the stage
and took her place in the chorus that was already assembled behind the
scenes; while waiting for the moment to enter, she unconsciously
crossed herself, and her whole body trembled so violently that one of
the chorus girls, noticing her confusion, took her by the arm.
Enter! shouted the stage-director. The throng carried her along
with it and pushed her to the front of the stage.
The sudden silence and magnified glare of light restored her senses
somewhat, and after leaving the stage she stood behind one of the
scenes and completely regained her composure.
On her second entrance she felt only a slight tremor. She sang,
heard the music, and gazed straight at the public. She was also
emboldened by seeing the editor sitting in the front row and
encouraging her with a friendly smile. She kept looking at him and
after that she was able to distinguish with increasing clearness
individual faces in the audience.
In some scene in which the chorus promenaded about the back of the
stage, while a comic dialogue was going on at the front, Janina's
companions indulged in whispered conversations.
Brona, look! Your fellow is there in the third row toward the
Oh look! Dasha is in the theater . . . goodness, how she is dolled
up. . . .
Siwinska! fasten my hooks, for I feel my skirt is falling down.
Lou! your wig is coming off.
Look to your own shags!
I'm going to Marceline with someone to-morrow . . . perhaps you
will go with us, Zielinska?
Look at the eyes that student is making at me!
I don't care a snap for penniless plugs.
But what merry chaps they are!
No, thank you! They have nothing but whiskey and sardines. That's a
treat, only for those of the street.
Hush! Cabinska is sitting in that box.
My gracious, what a maidenly make-up she has to-day!
Quiet, we sing!
Behind the scenes stood a great variety of people: waitresses,
stage-hands, restaurant boys, and actors waiting for their cues to
enter all these were gazing on the stage.
Cabinska's nurse, with the two eldest children, was sitting near the
proscenium under the ropes of the curtain.
Wawrzecki from behind the scenes was violently beckoning to Mimi who
was just then singing a duet with Wladek. In the pauses, the actress
would spitefully stick out her tongue at him.
Give me the key to the house . . . I forgot my shoes, and I need
them right away! he whispered.
It's in my skirt pocket in the dressing-room, she answered,
backing away toward the center of the stage with a broad musical phrase
on her lips.
Halt was banging the desk with his baton, for Wladek was cutting
short his tones and continually wavering. The threatening anger of the
orchestra director only made him all the more nervous, and his singing
was growing steadily worse.
The damned Hun is purposely trying to trip me! he muttered angrily
under his breath, embracing the singing Mimi in the love scene.
For God's sake don't squeeze me so hard! panted Mimi, at the same
time smiling at him rapturously.
For I adore you with the frenzy of love . . . for I adore you!
sang Wladek with fiery intonation.
Are you crazy? I will be all black and blue and . .
She suddenly broke off, for Wladek had finished his song and the
applause came roaring like an avalanche, so she pulled him by the hand
and they walked to the front of the stage to bow to the audience.
During the intermission Janina observed the editor standing in the
center aisle, conversing with some stout, blond man.
Can you tell me, sir, with what paper that editor is connected?
Janina asked the stage-director, who was supervising the arrangement of
the scenery for the next act.
With no paper, probably. He's merely a theatrical critic.
He told me himself that . . .
Ha, ha! laughed the stage-director, I see you're green!
But he is sitting in the chairs reserved for the press, persisted
Janina stating what she thought was a convincing argument.
What of that? There are more of his kind there. Do you see that
light blonde? He alone is a real writer and the rest are merely
migratory birds. God alone knows what their occupation is . . . but
since they hobnob with everybody, talk a lot, have money from
somewhere, and occupy the foremost places everywhere, no one even
bothers asking who they are.
Ah, you look so fascinating, so fascinating cried the editor at
that instant rushing in upon the stage and already from a distance
extending his hands to her. A veritable portrait by Greuze! Only a
little more courage and everything will go smoothly. I will insert an
item to-morrow about your first appearance on the stage.
Thank you, she answered coolly, without looking at him.
The editor turned about and made off for the actors' dressing-room.
Good evening, gentlemen! he called entering.
How are things going in the hall? Were you at the box office? . .
Nearly all the seats are sold out.
How is the play taking?
Well, very well! . . . I see, Mr. Director that you have
replenished the chorus: that charming, new blonde attracts all eyes . .
Good, good. . . . Hurry there, give me my belly!
Mr. Director, please let me have an order for two rubles. I must
immediately send for my boots, begged some actor, hastily pulling on
After the performance! answered Cabinski, holding the pillow to
his stomach, tie it fast, Andy!
They wrapt him about with long strips like a mummy.
Mr. Director, I need my boots on the stage. . . . I cannot play
Go to the devil, my dear sir, and don't disturb me now. . . .
Ring! he called to the stage-director.
Cabinski, whenever he played, created a big confusion in the
dressing-room. He always suffered from stage fright, so he would try to
overcome it by shouting, scolding, and quarreling over every trifle.
The costumer, the tailor, the property man all had to hustle about him
and continually remind him lest he forget something. Despite the fact
that he always commenced dressing early, he was always late. Only on
the stage did he recover his equanimity.
Now it was the same; his cane had been mislaid and he rushed about,
wildly shouting: My cane! Who took my cane! . . . My cane! Damn it! I
must go right on!
You snort like an elephant in the dressing-room, but on the stage
you buzz as quietly as a fly, slowly remarked Stanislawski, who hated
If you don't like to hear it, go out into the hall.
I'll stay right here, and I want quiet. No one can dress in peace
with you around.
Podesta, to the stage! called the stage-director.
Cabinski ran out, grabbed a cane out of somebody's hand, tied a
black handkerchief about his neck and rushed on the stage.
Stanislawski departed behind the scenes, all the others dispersed,
and the dressing-room became deserted, only the tailor remaining to
gather up the costumes scattered over the floor and tables and take
them to the storeroom.
In the dressing-room of the leading ladies of the caste such a storm
had broken loose that Cabinski, who was just leaving the stage, went
there to pour oil on the troubled waters.
As he entered, Kaczkowska threw herself at him from one side and
Mimi from the other; both grasped him by the hands and each sought to
out-shout the other.
If you allow such things to happen, Director, I will leave the
company! . . .
It's a scandal, Director! . . . everybody saw it. . . . I will not
stay in her company another hour!
Director! she . . .
Now don't lie!
It's base and ridiculous!
For God's sake! what's all this about? cried Cabinski in
I will tell you how it happened, Director.
It is I who ought to tell, for she is a liar!
Now my dears, please be quiet or I swear I'll go right out.
It was this way. I received a bouquet, for it was most plainly
intended for me, and this . . . lady, who happened to be standing
nearer, cut me off and took my bouquet. . . . And, instead of giving it
to me, to whom it belonged, she brazenly bowed and kept it for
herself! cried Kaczkowska amid tears and bursts of anger.
At that Mimi began to cry.
Mimi, you will blur the paint under your eyes! called someone.
Mimi immediately stopped crying.
What do you ladies want me to do? asked Cabinski, when he found an
opportunity to speak.
Tell her to give me back that bouquet and apologize.
I can, but with my fist . . . retorted Mimi. You can ask the
chorus, Director . . . they all saw.
The chorus from the fourth act! called Cabinski behind the scenes.
There entered a throng of women and men already half-undressed, and
among them Janina.
Well, let us arrange a judgment of Solomon!
An increasing number of onlookers began to crowd into the
dressing-room and derisive remarks, aimed at the generally disliked
Kaczkowska, flew about.
Who saw to whom the bouquet was given? asked Cabinski.
We weren't taking notice, all replied, unwilling to incur the
disfavor of either of the contestants. Only Janina who detested
injustice, finally said: The bouquet was given to Miss Zarzecka. I
stood beside her and saw distinctly.
What does that calf want here? She came from the street and thinks
she can interfere in what's none of her business! cried Kaczkowska.
Janina advanced, her voice hoarse with anger.
You have no right to insult me, madame! she cried. Do you hear! I
haven't ever let anyone insult me, nor will I!
A strange silence suddenly fell, for all were impressed by the
dignity and force of Janina's words. She glared at Kaczkowska with
glowing eyes and then turned on her heel and left the room.
Cabinski had fled to the box office after hastily divesting himself
of his costume.
Whew! she's a sound nut, that new one.
Kaczkowska will never forgive her that . . .
What can she do? . . . Miss Orlowska has the backing of the
Mimi, immediately after the play, went to the dressing-room of the
chorus where she found Janina still agitated.
How good you are! cried the actress effusively.
What I did was right . . . that's all, Janina replied.
Take a trip with us to Bielany, won't you? begged Mimi.
When? . . . And who are going?
We're going within the next few days. There will be Wawrzecki, I, a
certain author, a very jolly chap, whose play we are to present,
Majkowska, Topolski and you. You must come with us!
After lengthy persuasions and kisses, which Janina received
indifferently, she finally agreed to accompany them.
They waited for Wawrzecki and afterwards all went together to a
pastry shop for tea, taking with them also Topolski, who there composed
a circular addressed to the whole company requesting them to appear
without fail at the morrow's rehearsal, punctually at ten o'clock.
For Cabinski all days on which there was a performance were
important days, but only three days were extraordinary: Christmas Eve,
Easter Day, and . . . the name day of his wife which fell on the 19th
of July, sacred to St. Vincent de Paul. On those three days the
director and his wife would hold a reception on a grand scale.
Cabinski the miser would vanish, and in his place would appear
Cabinski the munificent, dispensing hospitality after the ancient
custom of the Polish nobility, while certain deeply hidden hereditary
cells of lavishness opened up in his ego. The guests were received and
feted generously and no expense was spared. And, if later, as a result
of this, advances on salaries were smaller for a month or so, their
deferment more frequent, and the director's complaints of a deficit
more numerous, hardly anyone minded, for all enjoyed themselves to the
utmost, particularly on the name day of the directress.
Cabinska's Christian name was Vincentine, but none bothered their
heads about why her husband called her Pepa, for nobody was
interested to that extent.
In accordance with the announcement of Topolski, the company
assembled punctually for the rehearsal. They were to play The Martyr by
D'Ennery, in which the title role, one of the showiest and most
lachrymose in her repertory, was invariably acted each year by the
directress. She played it really well, putting into it her entire store
of tears and vocal lamentations, and had the deep satisfaction of
thrilling the public.
Those name day performances were usually a real benefit for all
kinds of novices, for the caste was purposely made up of the poorest
players so that the acting of Pepa might thereby shine forth more
Cabinska went direct to the stage without speaking to anyone and
during the entire rehearsal wore on her face an expression of tender
emotion and absorption. At the end of the rehearsal the entire company
gathered about her and Topolski came forward. Cabinska modestly lowered
her eyes and, pretending to be surprised, waited.
Allow me, esteemed Directress to extend to you in the name of your
fellow-actors and actresses their most cordial felicitations on the
occasion of your name day and to wish you with all our hearts that you
may continue to remain for a long time the ornament of our stage and a
blessing to your husband and children. In grateful appreciation of your
artistic services and your companionship, the company begs you, my dear
madame, to accept this humble token of our affection which is only a
poor return for your goodness and kind-heartedness.
Topolski ended and handed her an open case in which was a set of
sapphire gems bought from the contributions of the whole company. He
kissed her hand and stepped aside.
Then all began to approach Cabinska separately; the men kissed her
hands, while the women threw themselves on her neck with protestations
of friendship and good wishes.
Wladek, who had been the first to pay his tribute at hand-kissing,
drew Topolski aside behind the scenes.
Spit out the dregs of that congratulatory tommyrot, or you'll
poison yourself with such a big dose of hypocrisy.
But it won't poison her.
Bah! the sapphires cost one hundred and twenty rubles; for so much
money she can listen a whole week.
Thank you, thank you with my whole heart! You put me to shame my
dear comrades, for in truth I do not know what I have done to merit so
much kindness, said Cabinska with emotion. Really, the sapphires were
The director smiled, rubbed his hands, and invited all to his home
after the performance.
The directress singled out for a particularly effusive kiss Janina
who, led by sympathy, had brought her a lovely bouquet of roses,
explaining that she had not contributed to the fund for the general
gift as it was collected before her advent into the company.
Cabinska would not part with Janina and took her along with her to
Truly, they must be very good people and must love you, said
Janina at the table.
Once a year will not ruin them, answered Cabinska merrily.
Together they went to the pastry shop so as not to interfere with
the preparations that were being made for the evening reception. She
sat there relating to Janina the history of her past name day
celebrations with a tender pathos which could not, however, disguise a
certain feeling of bitterness and uneasiness over the fact that the
editor had not even sent her a card of greeting.
The performance was a real ovation. From the public she received a
mass of flowers, while the editor sent her a big basket of them
together with an imposing bracelet.
That overwhelmed her. As soon as he appeared behind the scenes, she
drew him into the darkest corner and kissed him with fiery passion.
The Cabinski home presented an unusual appearance. In the first
room, in the middle of a huge rug that completely covered the dirty
floor, was a circular stand bearing a fan-shaped palm, while two
mirrors with marble consoles stood in the corners. Heavy,
cherry-colored, velvet portieres were draped over the windows and the
doors. A clump of azaleas and rhododendrons between the windows formed
an oasis of gorgeous greenery, accentuating the beautiful lines of a
yellowish plaster statue of Venus de Milo which stood on a pedestal
draped with purple cloth.
The piano at the further end of the room, decked with a garland of
artificial flowers, bore upon it a huge golden tray stacked with
visiting cards. Four little tables with little blue chairs surrounding
them were placed in the most brilliantly lighted parts of the room. The
tarnished and chipped gilded frames of the mirrors were skillfully
masked with red muslin, pinned artistically with flowers. The torn wall
paper was covered with pictures. The whole salon presented so elegant
and artistic an appearance, that Cabinska, on returning from the
theater stood amazed and cried out enthusiastically: A splendid scene!
. . . John you are a master-decorator!
Heavens! . . . it's as beautiful as in a comedy! added the nurse,
crossing the salon on tiptoe.
The second and larger room which ordinarily served the purpose of a
store room, crammed with scenic odds and ends, had now been transformed
into a dining room and dazzled with its restaurant-like splendor: the
whiteness of its table covers, its polished trays, its bouquets of
flowers, its mass of burnished dishes, and its formality.
Cabinska hardly had time to dress herself in a stately lily-colored
gown in which her faded complexion, ruined by cosmetics, took on a
youthful expression and freshness, when the company began thronging in.
The ladies retired to Cabinska's room adjoining the boudoir, while the
gentlemen left their street attire in the kitchen divided in two by a
French wall painted in the style of Louis XV, which had been brought
from the stage.
Wicek, in theatrical livery that consisted of boots with yellow,
cardboard tops, a blue spencer a few sizes too big for him, decked with
red cord and a mass of gold buttons, helped the actors to lay aside
their wraps with a grave and stiff mien, like a real groom from an
English comedy; but his roguish disposition could not long endure the
What a monkey the director has made of me, eh? My own mother
wouldn't know me in these duds. No doubt I'll have to pay for it all by
going without supper or absolution! he whispered, smiling.
The ladies all in gala array, rouged and charming, began to fill the
room with a stiff and icy atmosphere, sitting about immovable and shy.
Janina arrived rather late, for she had a long distance to come from
her hotel, and wished to dress carefully. She greeted everyone, and her
eyes wandered with a look of surprise over the room, struck by the tone
of solemnity that reigned over all. Dressed in a cream-colored silk
gown shading off into heliotrope, with gentians in her hair and
corsage, tall and lithe, with her rosy complexion and reddish-golden
hair, she looked very original and beautiful. She possessed a great
deal of grace and natural distinction, and moved about with ease, as
though accustomed to the atmosphere of the salon, while the rest of the
company felt unnatural and constrained by the theatrical elegance of
their surroundings. They walked about, conversed and smiled, as though
they were on the stage, playing some very difficult role that demanded
continual attention. One could see that the very carpet under their
feet restrained them, that they sat down with a certain fear on the
silk-lined chairs, that they seemed to be merely passing through the
room, afraid to touch any of the objects about them.
It was a festive reception with wine served by the restaurant
waiters, and with trays of cakes and liqueurs circulating about in
ponderous bottles. This only added to the restraint of the ladies. They
knew not how to eat or drink gracefully, they feared to stain their
dresses and the furniture and feared also to serve as the butt of
ridicule for a few gentlemen who were not at all impressed with this
sham elegance, and were gazing at them and making spiteful remarks.
Majkowska, who to-day presented a truly stately appearance in her
light yellow dress with a border of roses, with her black, almost ebony
hair, olive complexion, and classically beautiful facea typical
Veronesetook Janina by the arm and gracefully promenaded about the
salon with her, casting proud glances at those about them.
On the other hand, her mother, whom some mischievous person had
seated on a little tabouret, was undergoing agonies. She had in one
hand a glassful of wine, in the other a tart and a cake in her lap. She
drank the wine and was at a loss what to do with the glass. She gazed
pleadingly at her daughter, grew red in the face, and finally asked
Zielinska, who was sitting near her: My dear lady, what shall I do
with this glass?
Stand it under the chair.
The old woman did as she was advised. Everyone began to laugh at
her, so she picked it up again and held it in her hand.
Old Mrs. Niedzielska, the mother of Wladek and the owner of a house
on Piwna Street, who was always honored by the Cabinskis, sat under the
shade of the palm grove with Kaczkowska, and continually followed her
son with her eyes.
The men in the dining room were, meanwhile, storming the buffet.
Where do you get your everlasting humor, Glas? asked Razowiec,
who, although he was the gloomiest actor in the company, played the
parts of the merriest rakes and the funniest uncles.
That is a public secret. I do not worry, and I have a good
digestion, answered Glas.
You have precisely that which I am lacking. . . . Do you know I
tried the recipe which you recommended, but got no results . . .
nothing will help me any more. I feel certain that I shall not outlive
this winter for if my stomach does not pain me it is my back, if it
isn't my back then it's my heart, or else this dreadful pain passes
into my neck and racks my spine as with an iron rod.
Imagination! Drink a cognac to me. . . . Don't think of your
illness and you'll be well.
You laugh, but I tell you truly that I can no longer sleep for
whole nights at a time . . . .
Imagination, I tell you! Drink a cognac to me!
It is easy for those who have never suffered to ridicule.
I have suffered, my God, I have suffered. | . . Drink a cognac to
me! I once ate in the restaurant 'Under the Star' such a cutlet that I
lay in bed a whole week after it and writhed like an eel with pain.
They retired to the further end of the buffet near the window and
continued their conversation. The one complained and lamented, the
other ceaselessly laughed, saying every minute, Drink a cognac to me!
Maurice, called Majkowska in a whisper, lifting the portieres.
Topolski bent over toward her and she murmured into his ear: I love
you! . . . do you know? . . . and she passed on, conversing with
Throughout the salon formed small groups of people conversing.
Cabinski kept running about continually, inviting the guests to
drink, pouring out the liquors for them, and kissing everybody.
Pepa sat in the salon with the editor and Kotlicki, who was one of
the steady patrons of the theater. She was relating something in a
lively and jovial tone, for the editor would every now and then burst
out in a discreet laugh, while Kotlicki would contort into a smile, his
long equine face, and gather about him his coat-tails. All that was
known about him was that he was rich and ennuied.
Kotlicki listened patiently enough, but, at last, bending toward
Cabinska, he asked in a wooden, expressionless voice, When does the
culminating act of to-day's performance beginthe supper?
Immediately . . . we are waiting only for the owner of the house to
No doubt the rent for the last quarter must be unpaid, if you show
her so much consideration, he whispered ironically.
You always see everything in the worst light! she answered,
throwing a flower at him.
To-day I merely see that the directress is fascinating, that
Majkowska has the mien of a lioness, and that the lady who is walking
with her . . . but who is she?
A newly engaged chorus girl.
Well, I see that yonder aspirant to the dramatic art is beautiful
by virtue of her originality and alone possesses more distinction than
all the rest of them taken together. Furthermore, I see that Mimi
to-day resembles a freshly baked roll, white and round and rosy; that
Rosinska has the face of a black poodle who has fallen into a bin of
flour and not yet succeeded in shaking it off, and that her Sophie
looks like a freshly washed and combed little greyhound. Kaczkowska
looks like a frying pan covered with melted butter; Mrs. Piesh like a
hen seeking her strayed chicks; and Mrs. Glas like a calf enveloped in
a rainbow. Where the dickens did she get all those colors she wears?
You are a merciless mocker!
You can make me relent, Directress, by hurrying the supper . . .
he answered and became silent.
The directress began telling in detail about a new joke that
Majkowska had played on Topolski. Kotlicki, listening to it, frowned
It is too bad that there is not a law which would compel you ladies
to pierce your tongues instead of your ears, he said derisively,
enveloping himself in a cloud of cigar smoke and observing Janina who
was still promenading with Majkowska.
Both beamed with satisfaction, realizing the attention they
attracted. Janina's eyes were joyous, and her crimson lips smiled
charmingly revealing her pearly teeth.
Wladek was engaged in some lengthy conversation with his mother and
also followed Janina with his eyes. Meeting the glances of Kotlicki he
Shortly they were joined by Sophie Rosinska, a fourteen-year old
typical actor's child with the long, thin mouth of a greyhound, a pale
complexion, and the large eyes of a madonna. Her short, curled hair
shook with every motion of her head and her thin, narrow lips fairly
bit with their spitefulness as she related something to Majkowska in
her lively voice.
Sophie! energetically called Mrs. Rosinska.
Sophie left them and sat down beside her mother, gloomy and sulky.
I constantly keep telling you not to have anything to do with
Majkowska! whispered Rosinska, adjusting the curls on her daughter's
Don't bother me with your nonsense. Mamma! . . . I'm sick and tired
of listening to it! I like Miss Mela because she isn't a scarecrow like
those others, saucily prattled Sophie and smiled with childish naivete
at Niedzielska, who was looking at her.
Wait till we get home. I'll fix you!
All right, all right . . . we'll see about that, Mother!
Mrs. Rosinska turned to Stanislawski, who sat beside her all the
while and chatted without drinking anything. She began to make remarks
about Majkowska, with whom she was always on a war footing, for they
had almost the same repertory and Majkowska had, in addition, talent,
youth, and beauty, none of which Rosinska possessed. Rosinska hated all
young women, for in each she now saw a rival and a thief stealing her
roles and her favor with the public.
Lately she had become intimate with Stanislawski for she felt that
something similar was happening to him. He never spoke to her about it,
nor ever complained, but now, when he bent toward her his thin, waxen
face all seamed with wrinkles as fine as hairs, his yellowish eyes
Did you notice how Cabinska played to-day? she asked him.
Did I notice? answered Stanislawski, I see that every day. I know
long ago what they are . . . long ago! What is Cabinski himself? . . .
A clown and tightrope walker who in our days would not even have been
permitted to play the part of a lackey! . . . And Wladek! he's an
artist, is he? . . . A beast who makes a public house of the stage! . .
. He plays only for his mistresses! His noblemen are shoemakers and
barbers, while his barbers and shoemakers are loafers from the water
front . . . What do they introduce on the stage? . . . Hooligans, the
street, slang and mud. . . . And what is Glas? . . . A drunkard in
life, which is a minor consideration, but it is not permissible for a
true artist to wander about taverns with the most disgusting hoodlums;
it is not permissible for a true artist to introduce on the stage the
hiccoughs of a drunkard and vulgar brutality. . . . Take Ziolkowski's
The Master and the Apprentice for instance: there you have a type, a
finished type of a drunkard presented in broad and classical outlines;
there is gesture and pose and mimicry, but there is also nobility. What
does Glas make of that role? . . . He makes a filthy, repulsive,
drunken shoemaker of the lowest order. That is their art! . . . And
Piesh? . . . Piesh is also not much better, although he bears the stamp
of a good artist . . . but his acting is a miserable and an everlasting
botch; he has a humor on the stage, like that of fighting dogs, but not
human and noble . . . and not ours! . . .
He became silent a moment and rubbed his eyes with his long skinny
hand with thin, knotty fingers.
And Krzykiewicz? . . . and Wawrzecki? . . . and Razowiec? . . .
perhaps they are artists, eh? . . . Artists! . . . Do you remember
Kalacinski? . . . He was an artist! Or Krzensinski, Stobinski, Felek,
and Chelchowski? . . . Those were artists who could bring down the
house! . . . What are our actors compared with them? . . . he asked
encompassing with an inimical glance the company about them. What is
this band of shoemakers, tailors, paper hangers, barbers? . . .
Comedians, ragamuffins, and clowns! . . . Bah! art is going to the
dogs. In a few more years when we are gone, they will make of the stage
a barroom, a circus, or a storage warehouse.
Do you hear? . . . they give me half-sheet roles of old men and old
nincompoops, to me! . . . do you hear? . . . to me, who for forty years
have upheld the entire classical repertory to me! Oh! oh! he hissed
quietly tearing his finger nails convulsively.
Topolski! . . . Topolski alone has a talent, but what does he do
with it? . . . A bandit, a Singalese, who goes into epileptic fits on
the stage, who is ready to put a barn on the stage if those new authors
require it. They call that realism, while in truth it is nothing but
roguery! . . .
And the women? . . . you forget the women, sir! . . . Who plays the
parts of sweethearts and heroines? . . . Who is in the chorus? . . .
scrub-women and barmaids, who have made of the theater a screen for
their licentiousness. But that's nothing . . . the directors want that;
what do they care if these women possess neither talent, intelligence
nor beauty! . . . They give them the most important roles. They act the
parts of heroines and look like chambermaids or like those who walk the
streets! . . . But what do the directors care as long as the business
keeps going and the box office is sold out . . . that's all they care
about! She spoke rapidly and the blood rushed to her face so violently
that she became all red, in spite of the thick layer of powder and
The stage-director, who was once the celebrated hero of a few
theaters, and old Mirowska who was still retained only as a favor
because of her old age and brilliant past completed the camp of the
veterans of the old actors' guard, who had fought in other times, and
looked upon the present with gloomy eyes. They stood beneath the bridge
of a sinking ship, hence no one even heard their cries of despair.
Kotlicki beckoned to Wladek and made room for him beside himself.
Wladek in passing Janina cast a glance of fiery passion at her, and
then sat down near Kotlicki, rubbing his knee which bothered him
whenever he sat for any length of time.
Rheumatism is already there, eh? . . . while fame and money are
still far away! . . . Kotlicki began mockingly.
Oh, the deuce take fame! . . . Money I wouldn't mind having . . .
Do you think you will ever get it?
I will . . . my faith in that is unfailing! At times it seems to me
as though I already felt it in my pocket.
That's true. Your mother owns a house.
And six children and a pile of debts as high as the chimney! . . .
No, not that! . . . I will get the money elsewhere . . .
In the meanwhile, according to your old custom you borrow it
wherever you can, eh? Kotlicki mocked on.
Oh, don't fear. I'll return yours this month yet, without fail.
I will wait even until the reappearance of the comet of 1812; it
will pass this way again in about a year. . . .
Don't mock me. . . . You'd not hurt people as much with a club as
you do with your cynicism.
That's my weapon! answered Kotlicki, contracting his brows.
Perhaps, before long, I shall marry and then I will pay up all my
debts. . . .
Kotlicki turned violently towards him, glanced straight into his
eyes and began to laugh with his quiet, neighing voice, screwing his
face into a grimace.
That is the finest piece of invention that I have ever heard!
No, I seriously intend to marry and have already selected
something: a brownstone house and a girl of twenty, a light blonde,
plump, graceful and resolute. . . . If my mother helps me, I shall
marry before this season is over.
And what of the theater?
I will organize a company of my own.
Kotlicki laughed again.
Your mother is too sensible and I am sure that she will not let
herself be caught on that hook, my dear! . . . Why are you ogling that
beauty in the cream-colored dress so persistently, eh?
Oh she's a cocoanut of a woman!
Yes, but that cocoanut is too hard for your weak teeth. You won't
crack it, and you're likely to lose a tooth in trying. . . .
Do you know what the savages do? . . . When they haven't a knife or
a stone handy, they light a fire, put the cocoanut in it, and the heat
bursts it open . . .
And when there is no fire to be had, what then? . . . You don't
answer me, my clever chap? . . . Then I'll tell you: when there is no
fire to be had, they content themselves with gazing on the cocoanut,
consoling themselves with the thought that someone else will show them
how to do it.
Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of the owner of
the house. A confused murmur arose from those assembled. Cabinska went
forward to greet her with extended hand and the mien of resplendent
It is a pleasure to meet you! . . a real pleasure! she announced
with a faint smile, condescendingly extending her hand to the persons
whom Cabinska introduced to her. She sought to appear coldly
indifferent, while in reality she had been dying from curiosity ever
since the morning to view these noted women about whom she had heard so
Cabinski approached her smiling, with wine and cakes in his hand,
but Pepa was already inviting all to sit down to supper.
The landlady excused herself for being late, but her thin voice was
drowned amid the hubbub of the guests seating themselves at the table.
She was given an honorary place between Pepa, Majkowska, and the
editor. Kotlicki seated himself at the end of the table alongside of
Janina, while Wladek wedged himself in between Janina and Zielinska.
After a toast pronounced by the editor in honor of the celebrant,
conversation burst forth like a cascade and with unrestrained flow
filled the entire room. All began to talk at the same time, to laugh
and to joke. Inebriation began to envelop all brains in a rosy mist of
merriment and to weave joy around all hearts.
In the middle of the supper the doorbell rang violently.
Who can that be? asked Cabinska. Nurse, go and open the door!
The nurse was busy about a side table where the children were
eating; she went immediately to open the door.
Who came? inquired Cabinska.
Oh, nobody! Only that unchristened little goldfish! she answered
Those sitting nearest burst out laughing.
Ah, yes. Our dear and invaluable Gold!
Gold entered and bowed to the company, tugging at his sparse, yellow
How are you, goldfish?
Hey there, Treasurer! Oh pearl of treasurers, come over to us.
The treasurer bowed, paying no attention to the jibes that were
hurled at him.
Mrs. Directress will pardon me for coming late, but my family lives
in the Jewish quarter and I really had to stay with them till the end
of the Sabbath, he explained to Cabinska.
Have a seat, sir. If you can't eat, you're at least allowed to
drink, invited Cabinski, making room for Gold alongside himself.
Gold located himself carefully and began to eat. When the company
had forgotten him a bit, he ventured to address them:
I have brought you the latest news, for I see no one knows it, as
yet. . . .
He took a newspaper from his side pocket and began to read aloud:
Miss Snilowska, the noted and talented artist of the provincial
theaters, playing under the pseudonym of 'Nicolette' has received
permission to make her debut in the Warsaw Theater. She will make her
first appearance next Tuesday in Sardou's Odette. We hope that the
management, in engaging Miss Snilowska, has added a very valuable
acquisition to the stage.
He folded away the paper and calmly continued to eat. The company
was struck dumb with amazement.
Nicolette on the Warsaw stage! . . . Nicolette making her debut! .
. . Nicolette! . . . they whispered with subdued voices.
Everybody began to look at Majkowska and Pepa, but both were silent.
Majkowska's face wore a scornful expression while Pepa, unable to
conceal the anger that raged within her, tore distractedly at the lace
on her sleeves.
No doubt she is now blessing that intrigue that caused her to leave
us, for it helped instead of harming her, said someone.
Or else it was her talent that helped her! intentionally added
Talent? cried Cabinska, Nicolette and talent! Ha! ha! ha! Why she
could not even play a chambermaid on our stage!
Nevertheless in the Warsaw Theater she will play the second-best
roles, interposed Kotlicki.
The Warsaw Theater! The Warsaw Theater! That is a still poorer show
than ours! added Glas.
Ho! ho! what do the Warsaw Theater and its actors amount to! . . .
Nothing great, to be sure! shouted Krzykiewicz, all flushed with
drinking as he filled the landlady's glass with wine.
Only pay us such salaries as their actors get, and you will see who
we are! called Piesh.
That's true! Piesh is right. Who can think only of art when his
rent is in arrears?
That's a falsehood! That would mean that you could make an artist
of any swineherd whom you fed, called Stanislawski across the table.
Poverty is a fire that burns rubbish, but the true metal only comes
out of it all the purer, quickly said Topolski.
Nonsense! It comes out not purer, but only more sooty, and
afterwards the rust devours it all the more quickly. A bottle is worth
something not because it may have once contained the choicest Tokay,
but because it's now full of brandy! stammered Glas in a drunken
The Warsaw Theater! My God! with the exception of two or three
persons it's full of the scum of the profession which the provinces no
longer could stand.
Just let the press give us the support it gives them, let it insert
half a column daily about us and round up the public for us each day as
it does for them! . . .
Well, what then? . . . Even at that you'd remain nothing but
Wawrzecki! sneered Kotlicki.
Yes, but the public would come and see that Wawrzecki is not a bit
worse and perhaps a great deal better actor than those patented
Let me speak! whimpered Glas, vainly trying to rise from his chair
and steady himself.
The public! . . . the public is a flock of sheep which runs where
it is driven by the shepherds.
Don't say that, Topolski . . .
Don't try to deny it, Kotlicki! I tell you that the public is a
pack of fools, but its leaders are even greater fools!
Let me speak, mumbled Glas in a voice that was already growing
inaudible, while he leaned on the table and gazed at the candles with
Glas, go to sleep, for you're drunk, said Topolski sharply.
I am drunk? . . . I am drunk? . . . stuttered Glas, his face as
ruddy as the dawn.
The wine and liquors circulated more freely, and the guests began
shifting their seats.
Wladek seated himself between Majkowska and the landlady, embarking
on a flirtation with the latter. Mimi, growing exhilarated, approached
Kaczkowska, with whom she had already exchanged glances and friendly
words across the table. They now sat close together, holding each other
about the waist like the sincerest friends.
Janina, who had been answering Kotlicki only in brief sentences,
preoccupied with what she saw and heard about her glanced at him with
an amazed and questioning look.
You are surprised? he asked.
Yes, for not so long ago they were so angry at one another.
Bosh! that was only a little comedy, played fairly well in their
momentary mood . . .
A comedy? . . . and I thought that . . .
That they would begin to pull each other's hair, no doubt . . . for
even that sometimes happens behind the stage between the best of
friends and actors. From what planet have you dropped down that these
people surprise you so greatly? . . .
I came from the country where one hears hardly anything about
artists, only about the theater itself, she answered
Ah, in that case, I beg your pardon. . . . Now I understand your
amazement and I will presume to enlighten you that all those quarrels,
rumpuses, intrigues, envies, and even fights are nothing but nerves,
nerves, nerves! They vibrate in all of these people at the slightest
touch, like the strings of an old piano. Their tears, their angers, and
their hatreds are all momentary, and their loves last about a week, at
the longest. It is the comedy of life of nervous individuals, acted a
hundredfold better than that which they present on the stage, for it is
played instinctively. I might describe it thus: all women in the
theater are hysterical, and the men, whether great or small, are
neurasthenics. Here you will find everything but real human beings.
Have you been long in the theater?
This is my first month.
No wonder that everything amazes you; but in a month or so you'll
no longer see anything surprising; everything will then appear to you
natural and commonplace.
In other words, you infer that I also will become a subject to
hysteria, she gaily added.
Yes. I give you my word that I am speaking with absolute sincerity.
You think you can live with impunity in this environment without
becoming like all the rest of them; while I tell you that that is a
natural necessity. Suppose we expatiate on that a bit . . . will you
In the country you must know the woods. . . . Now please recall to
your mind the woodsmen. Have they not in themselves something of that
wood which they are continually chopping? They become stiff and
stalwart, gloomy and indifferent. And what of the butcher? Does not a
man who is continually occupied in killing, who breathes in the odor of
raw meat and steaming blood, in time become stamped with the same
characteristics as those beasts which he has slain? He does, and I
would say that he is himself a beast. And what of the peasant? Do you
know the village well?
Imagine for a moment the green fields in springtime, golden in the
summer, russet-gray and mournful in the autumn, white and hard like a
desert in the winter. Now behold the peasant as he is from his birth
until his death . . . the average, normal peasant. The peasant boy is
like a wild, unbridled colt, like the irresistible urge of the spring.
In the prime of his manhood he is like the summer, a physical
potentate, hard as the earth baked by the July sun, gray as his fallows
and pastures, slow as the ripening of the grain. Autumn corresponds
entirely to the old age of the peasant that desperate, ugly old age
with its bleared eyes and earthy complexion, like the ground beneath
the plow; it lacks strength and goes about in beggars' garments like
the earth that has been reft of the bulk of its fruits with only a few
dried and yellow stalks sticking out here and there in the potato
fields; the peasant is already slowly returning to the earth from
whence he sprung, the earth which itself becomes dumb and silent after
the harvest and lies there in the pale autumn sunlight, quiet, passive,
and drowsy. . . . Afterwards comes winter: the peasant in his white
coffin, in his new boots and clean shirt, lies down to rest in that
earth which has, like him, arrayed itself in a white shroud of snow and
fallen to sleep that earth whose life he was a part of, which he
unconsciously loved, and with which he dies together, as cold and hard
as those ice-covered furrows that nourished him. . . .
Kotlicki meditated a moment and then continued: And yet you think
that you can remain in the theater without becoming a hysterical type?
That's impossible! This phantom life, this daily portrayal of new
characters, feelings and thoughts upon that shifting plane of
impressions, amid artificial stimulants this must metamorphose every
human being, demolish his former personality and recast or rather
disintegrate his soul so that you can put almost any stamp upon it. You
must become a chameleon; on the stage, for art's sake, in life, from
In other words, one must degenerate to become an artist, added
Well, what of that? . . . Even though you fall, others will surely
reach the goal and convince themselves that it wasn't worth reaching
that it isn't worth striving for, nor shedding a single tear, nor
bearing a single pang . . . for everything is illusion, illusion,
illusion . . . .
They became silent. Janina felt a sudden chill depression. That
former fear of the unknown, experienced at Bukowiec, now took
possession of her.
Kotlicki leaned with one elbow on the table and looked absently into
the crystal carafes containing the arrack. He poured out and drank
glass after glass. The conversation with Janina had wearied him; he
continued to speak to her, but felt vexed at himself for having said so
much. His yellow face, covered with freckles and short reddish hair,
hard and seamed with deep lines, resembled a horse's face as it was
reflected in the red glass of the carafe.
Gazing at Janina he saw so much strength and inner health, so many
desires, dreams, and hopes, that he muttered to himself in a hollow,
dissatisfied tone: What for? . . . What for? . . .
Then he gulped down another glass of wine and became absorbed in the
general conversation. Voices sounded harshly, faces were red, and eyes
glowed through a mist of alcoholic intoxication, while many lips were
already mumbling indistinctly and incoherently. All were talking at
once, arguing heatedly and quarreling volubly, unceremoniously
swearing, shouting or laughing.
The candles, almost burnt out, were replaced by new ones. Gray dawn,
filtering in through the reed shades in thin streaks, dimmed the glare
of the lights.
The guests rose from the table and scattered about the adjoining
rooms. Cabinska, followed by a few ladies, repaired to the boudoir for
tea. In the first room a few tables were arranged and a game of cards
Only Gold still sat at the festal board and ate, relating something
to Glas, who was now quite drunk.
They are poor people. . . . My sister is a widow with six children;
I help her as much as I can, but that doesn't amount to much. . . .
And, in the meanwhile, the children are growing up and need ever more .
. . Gold was saying.
Then cheat us more, you dog's face! . . .
The elder is about to take up a medical course, the next in age is
a store clerk and the rest of them are such small and weak and sickly
tots that it pains one to look at them!
Then drown them, like puppies! . . . Drown them and be done with
it! mumbled Glas.
You are very drunk . . . whispered Gold scornfully, you have no
idea what children are! . . .
Get married and you'll have kids of your own . . . stuttered Glas.
I can't . . . I must first see that these are provided for,
replied Gold quietly grasping a cup of tea in both hands and sipping it
in little gulps, I must first make men of them . . . he added, his
All around there was a hum of voices as in a beehive when the swarm
of young bees is ready to fly out into the world. The hidden desires,
envies, feuds, and troubles broke out irresistibly. The talking grew
louder, people were denounced without pardon, slandered without mercy,
reviled and derided without pity. Those assembled there had now become
their natural selves: no one masked himself any longer nor confined
himself within the bounds of one role. All played a thousand different
roles. The hidden comedy of souls now found its stage, its audience,
and its actors, often very talented ones.
Janina exhilarated by the wine, conversed with Wawrzecki about the
theater. Afterwards she strayed about the rooms, watched the men
playing cards, and listened to a variety of conversations and
Janina roused herself from her meditations, for Kotlicki stood
before her with a cup of tea in his hand and with his sharp ennuied
voice began to speak: You are observing the company, mademoiselle?
Truly, what remarkable energy there is in all their actions, what
strong souls they now appear to be!
Your malice also has strength . . . she replied slowly.
And is wasted on slander and ridicule, you wished to add, didn't
We shall see, we shall see . . . he said slowly, standing his cup
upon the table and then, taking leave of Janina he left quietly.
In the anteroom where the sleepy Wicek handed him his overcoat, he
heard the monotonous whispering of the children's voices behind the
screen. He raised the curtain and saw Cabinski's four little boys
kneeling in their nightgowns and repeating their prayers after the
A small night-lamp, glowing before a holy picture above the nurse's
bed, faintly illumined that group of children and the old, gray-haired
woman, who humbly bowed to the ground, struck her breast with her hand
and whispered in a tearful voice: O Lamb of God, who purgest the sins
of the world!
The children repeated the words after her with drowsy voices and
beat their breasts with their little hands.
Kotlicki withdrew quietly and without a smile. Only when he had
reached the stairs, he whispered: Well, well! We shall see, we shall
see. . . .
Janina started for the boudoir, but Niedzielska stopped her and drew
her into a conversation; later Wladek joined them.
The company began to break up.
Do you live far away? Niedzielska asked Janina.
On Podwal Street, but in a week at most I am moving to Widok
Ah, that's good, for we live on Piwna Street, so we can go
together. . . .
They left immediately. Niedzielska took Janina by the arm, while
Wladek walked alongside, a little angry because he had to accompany his
mother; he swore to himself, while aloud he made melancholy remarks
about the weather.
The streets were deserted and silent. Dawn was already illumining
the dark depths of the horizon and the outlines of the houses became
distinct. The gas lamps extended like an endless golden chain with
their links of pale flames diffusing a mist of light upon the dew
covered sidewalks and the gray walls of the houses. The fresh brisk
breeze of a July morning swept down the streets with a strange charm
and tranquility. The houses stood silent, still wrapt in slumber.
Arrived at her hotel Niedzielska kissed Janina with a sudden
friendliness and they parted.
Will you find it comfortable here?
I think so. It is quiet and light. . . . Who lived here before me?
Miss Nicolette. She is now at the Warsaw Theater . . . That's a
No, not entirely. They are likely not to engage her. . . .
Oh, they'll engage her all right. . . . Miss Zarnecka is clever,
said Mme. Anna, the daughter of Sowinska into whose home Janina had
She was twenty-four years old, neither homely nor pretty with an
indefinite color of hair and eyes, but with a very definite slenderness
and bad temper.
She conducted a dressmaking establishment under the name of Mme.
Anna and although she made her living on actresses and very often
received free tickets to the theater, she never went there and hated
artists. There were often scenes over this with her mother, but old
Sowinska, would not so much as listen to any suggestion that she should
abandon the theater. She had become so deeply rooted there that she
could not tear herself away, although Mme. Anna would turn almost
yellow from shame over the fact that her mother was a theatrical
seamstress. She was disgustingly stingy, ignorant, pitiless, and
Mme. Anna examined Janina's wardrobe with ill-concealed malice.
All that will have to be made over, for it smells of the country,
Janina began to protest a little, maintaining that the same styles
could often be seen in the streets.
Yes, but who wears them, please take notice of that: shop women or
shoemakers' wives; a self-respecting woman will not wear such rags!
Mme. Anna scornfully persisted.
Well then, have them made over. I can pay you immediately for the
work and also a full month's rent in advance.
Oh, there's no hurry. You'll need to buy a few costumes.
I'll have enough left for that.
Janina paid thirty rubles for her room.
I am already settled for good, she later said to the old woman who
dropped in to see her.
Bosh, it won't be for long! In two months you'll be moving again.
An actor's life is a gypsy life, from wagon to wagon, from town to
town. . . .
Perhaps at some time I'll be able to settle down permanently, said
Sowinska smiled gloomily. That is the way one thinks in the
beginning, but afterwards . . . afterwards it ends in eternal
wandering. . . . You become worn-out like a rag and die on a hotel
Not all end in that way, answered Janina gaily, paying little
What are you laughing at? . . . It's not at all funny! cried
Am I laughing? . . . I merely said that not all end in that way.
All ought to end in that way, every one of them! Sowinska shouted
angrily and left.
Janina could not understand either her violent anger, or her last
The days sped on. Janina absorbed the theater into herself ever more
deeply. She attended the rehearsals regularly, afterwards went to give
lessons for two hours to Cabinska's daughter, and later would go home
for dinner, prepare her wardrobe for the performance, and at about
eight in the evening start off again for the theater.
On the days when no operettas were played and the choruses were
free, she went to the Summer Theater and there, squeezed high up in the
gallery, spent entire evenings dreaming. She devoured with her eyes the
actresses, their gestures, costumes, mimicry, and voices. She followed
the action of the plays so closely that later she could re-create them
in her mind with detailed accuracy and often, after returning from the
theater, she would light the candles, stand before the large mirror,
and repeat the acting which she had seen, observing intently every
quiver of her facial expression and trying out every conceivable pose.
But she was seldom satisfied with herself.
The plays which she saw left her cold and bored. She was not stirred
by the bourgeois dramas with their eternal conventional conflicts and
flirtations. She repeated the banal lines of these plays apathetically
and in the midst of some scene would stop and go to bed.
She asked Cabinski to give her a role in the cast of a new play, but
he put her off with nothing.
I am keeping you in mind, but first you must familiarize yourself
with the stage. . . . When we present some melodrama or folk play you
will get a bigger role . . . was all he said.
In the meanwhile they were playing only operettas, for they filled
Janina smiled in reply to Cabinski's vague promises, although torn
by impatience. But she had already learned to control her feelings and
to wear a mask of smiling indifference. She consoled herself with the
thought that sooner or later she would have done with the chorus and
that the moment must at last arrive when she would appear in a real
She had already become saturated with the atmosphere in which she
lived. And that public, so strange and capricious, which some accused
of ignorance, of a total lack of taste and higher desires, and others
of indifference, but to which all paid homage and before which they all
cringed and trembled, begging its favors that public even filled Janina
with anger. There was something strange in her attitude. She would
dress very fastidiously for the stage, merely for the purpose of
attracting attention to herself; she would adopt the most graceful
poses, but whenever she felt the gaze of the multitude it would send a
depressing shudder through her.
Shoemakers! she would whisper scornfully, thereafter remaining in
In the dressing-room chorus girls passively submitted to Janina, for
they feared her, knowing that she had intimate and continual relations
with the management. They were likewise impressed by the fact that
Wladek followed her continually and that Kotlicki, who formerly used to
come behind the scenes only occasionally, now sat there daily
throughout the whole performance and conversed with Janina with his hat
off. She was surrounded by a sort of invisible aura of unconscious
respect, for although many surmises were made about her on account of
Kotlicki, no one ever dared insinuate anything to her face.
At first, Janina inclined toward the leading actresses of the
company and wanted to enter upon a more intimate acquaintance with
them, but they discouraged her, for whenever she began to speak to them
about the theater or about art, they would become silent, or else
commence to tell her about their own triumphs.
Stanislawski and the stage-director were Janina's sincere friends.
Many times during the rehearsals they would go upstairs to the deserted
dressing-rooms or to the storeroom under the stage, and there tell
stories of the theater and the actors of their day an epoch that was
already dead. They would conjure up before her eyes great figures,
great souls, and great passions almost like those she had dreamed of.
How much advice they gave her concerning enunciations, classical
pose, and the best manner of reciting her lines! She listened with
interest, but when she tried to play the fragment of some role
according to their instructions, she found she could not do it, and
they would then appear so stiff, pathetic and unnatural that she began
to treat them with an indulgent pity.
With Mme. Anna, Janina lived on a footing of cool politeness. With
Sowinska she was a little more intimate, for the old woman fawned upon
her as a tenant who regularly paid her rent in advance. Sowinska was
coarse and violent. There were certain days that she would eat nothing,
nor even go to the theater, but would sit locked in her room, crying,
or at moments swearing extraordinarily.
After such days she seemed even more energetic and would indulge
with greater zest in behind-the-stage intrigues. She would walk among
the audience and speak quietly with the young men who hung about the
theater. She would bring the actresses invitations to suppers,
bouquets, candy, and letters and would seek with a genuine zeal to
induce the stubborn ones to yield to the advances made to them. She
accompanied the girls as a chaperon to carousals and knew just when to
find an important reason for leaving. At such times there would gleam
under her mask of kindhearted and wrinkled old age an expression of
Janina overheard once how the old woman spoke to Shepska, who had
joined the theater after being seduced by a member of the chorus.
Listen to me, madame! . . . What does your lover give you? A home
on Brewery Street and sardines with tea for breakfast, dinner and
supper. . . . It's a shame to waste yourself on such a poor fool! Don't
you know that you could live as comfortably as you wish and laugh at
Cabinski! Why should you have scruples! . . . A person profits by life
only as he enjoys it! . . . A young and pretty girl ought not waste
herself on a penniless nobody. . . . Perhaps you think you will the
sooner get a role by remaining where you are? . . . Oho! when pears
grow on a pine tree! Only those are given roles who have someone
Usually she accomplished her purpose, and though often offered
costly presents, seldom accepted anything.
I don't want them. If I advise anyone, it's because I wish them
well, she would answer briefly.
Janina who had learned enough of the more intimate phases of life
behind the scenes, regarded Sowinska with a certain awe. She knew that
it was not for gain that the old woman shoved the younger ones into the
mire of degradation, but for some hidden reason. At times, she feared
her, unable to endure the enigmatic look with which Sowinska
scrutinized her face. She felt instinctively that Sowinska seemed to be
waiting for something or watching for some opportunity.
On one of those lachrymose days of Sowinska's Janina, who was just
starting for the theater, dropped in to see her.
Entering the room she stood amazed. Sowinska was kneeling beside an
open trunk, while on the bed, the table and the chairs were spread the
parts of some theatrical costume and on the floor were lying stacks of
faded copies of roles. Sowinska was holding in her hand the photograph
of a young man with a strange face, long and so thin that all the cheek
bones could be seen distinctly protruding through the skin. He had an
abnormally high forehead with wide temples and a huge head. Large eyes
gazed out of the pale face like the sunken hollows in a dead man's
Sowinska turned to the girl with the photograph in her hands and in
a voice trembling with anguish, whispered: Look, this is my son . . .
and these are my sacred relics!
Was he an artist?
An artist? . . . I should say so, but not like those monkeys of
Cabinski's. How he played! The papers wrote about him. He was in Plock
and I went to see him. When he appeared in The Robbers the whole
theater shook with applause and cries of admiration. I sat behind the
scenes and when I heard his voice and saw him I was so overcome with
emotion that I thought I would die for very joy!
I loved him so dearly that I would have let myself be torn to
shreds for him! . . . He was an artist, an artist! He never owned a
penny and poverty often devoured him like a dog, but I tried to help
him as much as I could. I slaved for him and lived on nothing but tea
and bread to save something for him.
She ceased speaking while tears flowed softly down her faded, pale
Janina, after a long silence, asked quietly: Where is your son
Where? she answered, rising from the floor. Where? . . . He is
dead! He shot himself.
She began to breathe heavily.
My whole life has been like that! she began again. His father was
a tailor and I kept a shop. In the beginning all went well for we had
plenty of money and a decent home. My husband worked for a circus and
shortly a performer caught his eye and he followed her into the world
when the circus moved on.
She sighed heavily.
I merely set my teeth tightly together. I toiled like a galley
slave to gain a mere living for myself and daughter, but I was stricken
by an epidemic. When I came out of it, everything went to the dogs, for
my shop was sold to cover my debts. I was practically turned out into
the street without a penny. An unspeakable rage seized me. I borrowed
money wherever I could and together with my child went to seek my
husband. I found him living with a shopkeeper in such comfort that he
had forgotten all about us. I took him by the neck and brought him back
with us to Warsaw. . . . He staid with me a whole year, bestowed
another child upon me, and ran away again. My daughter grew up, we took
home sewing, and managed to make a living somehow.
Then after some years they brought back my husband stone-blind. I
gave him a nook in my home, for my children desired it. God was at
least merciful enough to take him away.
Later, I married off my daughter to a peasant. One day about two
years ago, I was present at my daughter's name day party to which a few
relatives and friends had been invited. In the midst of it they brought
me a telegram from Suwalki asking me to come immediately, for my son
was very ill.
She paused for a moment, gazed blankly about the room and in a low
voice, filled with despair whispered on, lifting her pale face to
He was already dead. . . . They were waiting for me to bury him. .
Later they told me that he had fallen in love with a chorus girl
and killed himself for her! They showed her to me. She was the vilest
sort. And that was why he killed himself . . . .
When I caught her in the street, I would have killed her, killed
her like a mad dog to avenge my wrong and anguish! . . . Sowinska
shouted aloud, clenching her fists.
Such is my life, such! I curse it every day, but cannot forget . .
. all that still burns here in my bosom . . . I am in the theater, for
it always seems to me that he will return, that he is already dressing
and will immediately appear on the stage . . .
My God, God! . . . Ah, it was not he that was to blame, but she . .
. you girls tear to pieces a mother's heart . . . I would trample you
all underfoot like so many worms, into the mud, into poverty, so that
you might agonize as I do . . . so that you might suffer, suffer,
suffer. . . .
She ceased, breathing heavily. Her yellow waxen face glared with
wild hatred. Her wrinkles twitched and her pale bitten lips seethed.
Janina had been standing all the while eagerly absorbing her every
word and gesture. The overwhelming reality of Sowinska's grief, so
simple and strong, had called forth a responsive chord in her own
She was standing in the street, wondering where she should go, when
a voice behind her said: Good morning, Miss Orlowska!
She turned about quickly. Mrs. Niedzielska, Wladek's mother, was
standing before her with a smile on her aged, simple face.
Janina greeted her hastily.
I was about to take a walk, she said.
Perhaps you will drop into my house for a minute? . . . begged
Niedzielska quietly. I am so much alone that often for whole days I
don't see anyone except Anna and the janitor.
She hobbled slowly along.
Certainly, I still have a little time before the performance,
You're not in the theater very long, are you?
Only three weeks.
I could tell that right away!
I can't exactly explain. I watched you at Cabinska's party and
immediately knew that you were a newcomer. I even mentioned it to
Wladek . . .
Please make yourself at home. . . . I'll be with you in a minute.
Niedzielska played hostess quite grandly, once they were arrived at her
Janina, left alone, observed with curiosity the old-fashioned
mahogany table covered with an embroidered net doily which stood before
a huge lounge upholstered with black horsehair; the chairs, upholstered
with the same material, had lyre-shaped backs. A yellow polished
dresser was filled with grotesque porcelain, greenish pitchers, colored
bric-a-brac, wineglasses with monograms, and flower-painted teacups
standing on high legs. A clock under a bell glass, old, faded steel
engravings of the Empire period, a lamp with a green shade on a
separate table, a few pots with miserable flowers on the window sill
and two cages with canaries constituted the entire furnishings.
Let us have a drink of coffee . . . said Niedzielska, reentering.
She took from the dresser two showy cups and placed them on the
table. Then she went to the kitchen and brought in the coffee, already
poured into two chipped bowls, and a plate with a few stale cakes.
O goodness, I forgot that I had already set the cups on the table .
. . well, it doesn't matter. We can drink the coffee just as well out
of these, can't we? . . . she said, at once adding, dear me, I forgot
the sugar! Do you like your coffee sweet, mademoiselle?
The old woman left the room and through the door Janina could hear
her taking sugar out of a glass bowl. She brought in on a little saucer
Please have some in your coffee. . . . You see at my age I can't
have anything sweet, she said, drinking audibly.
Finally, after perhaps half an hour, in which her hostess chattered
interminably and Janina listened with increasing weariness, the girl
got up to go, and at the very door she met Wladek.
Visiting my mother! he exclaimed.
Certainly. There's nothing wrong in that, she answered, smiling at
Heavens! No doubt she's been telling you what a scoundrel I am. I
beg your pardon for having had to listen.
Oh, it didn't offend me in the least.
It only made you laugh, I know. The whole theater is laughing at my
expense, for all the ladies have already been here.
Your mother loves you, Janina spoke seriously.
That love is beginning to choke me like a bone in my throat! he
answered sourly and wanted to add something else, but Janina bowed
silently and passed on.
Wladek did not have the courage to follow her and went upstairs.
What is happening in my own home? she thought as she walked toward
the theater. What is my father doing? . . .
And she suddenly felt within herself a glimmer of sympathy for that
tyrant. She saw now how lonely he must be among strangers who ridiculed
During the whole performance, the vision of her father constantly
recurred in her memory. She asked herself what it was that had made him
so cruel, and why he hated her?
Kotlicki brought her a bouquet of roses. She received it coolly,
without even glancing at him.
I see that you are out of sorts to-day, he said, taking her hand.
She pulled it away.
Majkowska, who was just then passing, whispered, pointing to
Rosinska: What a scarecrow! What conventional acting! She is incapable
of producing even a single accent of true feeling!
Behind Janina some gentleman in a high hat was pressing the hands of
one of the chorus girls.
Things are turning out fine, for to-morrow, there will be no
rehearsal and we can go to Bielany in the afternoon. Wait for us at
your home, we will drop in and take you along with us, whispered Mimi.
I also am going on that outing, said Kotlicki, you are going too,
Probably . . . but if I couldn't go it would be just as great a
In that case I wouldn't go either.
He bent so closely over Janina that she felt his breath upon her
I don't understand you, she said, moving away from him.
I am going along only for your sake, he whispered in a still
For my sake? . . . she queried, glancing at him sharply, and
stirred by a sudden aversion.
Yes . . . surely you must have guessed by now that I love you,
said Kotlicki, drawing together his lips which were trembling and
looking at her pleadingly.
There they say the same, only they play a little better! she
remarked scornfully, pointing to the stage.
Kotlicki drew himself erect, a sullen shadow passed over his equine
face, his eyes gleaming threateningly.
I will convince you! . . .
Very well, but to-morrow at Bielany, not now, Janina coolly
extended her hand in farewell and left for the dressing-room.
Kotlicki gazed after her covetously, biting his lips.
A comedienne! he finally whispered, leaving the theater.
Janina awoke at about half-past ten in the morning. Sowinska had
just brought in her breakfast.
Was anyone here to see me? . . . she asked.
Sowinska nodded her head and handed Janina a letter.
About an hour ago a ruddy fellow delivered it and asked me to give
it to you.
Janina nervously tore open the envelope and immediately recognized
the handwriting of Grzesikiewicz:
My Dear Miss Orlowska,
I have purposely come to Warsaw to see you on a very important
matter. If you will kindly deign to be home at eleven o'clock I shall
be there at that hour. Please pardon my boldness. Allow me to kiss your
hands and remain
Your humble servant,
What's going to happen? . . . thought Janina, dressing hastily.
What kind of important matter can it be that he writes of? Concerning
my father? . . . Can it be that he is ill and longing for me? . . . Oh
She quickly drank her tea, tidied her room and patiently awaited
Grzesikiewicz's visit. The thought of seeing, at last some one of her
own people from Bukowiec even filled her with a certain joy.
Perhaps he will propose to me again? Janina thought to herself.
And she saw his big weather-beaten face, bronzed by the sun, and those
blue eyes gazing so mildly from beneath his shock of flaxen hair. She
remembered too, his embarrassed shyness.
A good, honest man! she said to herself, walking up and down the
room; but then the thought occurred to her that his visit was likely to
spoil her intended trip to Bielany, and her enthusiasm began to cool.
She determined she would speak to him briefly.
I wonder what he wants of me? Janina asked herself uneasily,
assuming the most impossible things.
My father must be very sick and wants me to come to him, she
She stood in the center of the room almost dazed, with fear that she
must return to Bukowiec.
No, it is impossible! . . . I couldn't stand it there a single week
. . . and moreover, he drove me away from home forever . . .
A chaotic conflict between hate, sorrow, and a quiet, scarcely
perceptible feeling of homesickness began to rage in Janina's heart.
The bell rang in the anteroom.
Janina sat down and waited quietly. She heard the door opening, the
voices of Grzesikiewicz and Sowinska, and the sound of an overcoat
being hung up.
May I come in? asked a voice outside.
Please do, she whispered, choking with trepidation as she arose
from her chair.
Grzesikiewicz entered. His face was even more sunburnt than usual
and his blue eyes seemed bluer. He walked stiffly and erectly like a
petrified block of meat squeezed into a tight surtout with difficulty.
He almost threw his hat upon a basket standing near the door and,
kissing Janina's hand, said quickly: Good morning . . .
He straightened himself, scanned her face with his eyes and sat down
heavily in a chair.
I had a hard time finding you . . . he began, and suddenly broke
off. Then, as if to bolster up his courage, he attempted to shove aside
a chair that interfered with his actions but pushed it so hard that it
He sprang up, all red in the face, and began to apologize.
Janina smiled, so vividly did that impulsive action remind her of
their last talk and that unfortunate proposal. And for a moment it
seemed to her that it was now that he was to propose and that they were
sitting in the quiet parlor at Bukowiec. She could not explain to
herself the impression that he made on her with that honest face, worn
by suffering, and with those bright blue eyes which seemed to bring
with them echoes of those beloved fields and woods, those quiet glens,
that golden sunlight and the free and bounteous life of nature. For one
fleeting moment her mind dwelt on all this, but at the same time there
awoke memories of all her sufferings and her banishment.
She handed him a box of cigarettes and said in an easy tone,
breaking the somewhat prolonged silence: You give proof of no small
courage and . . . kindness by visiting me after all that has happened.
. . .
Do you remember what I told you the last time, he answered,
subduing and softening his voice, that I would never and always! . . .
That I would never cease and would always continue to love you!
Janina moved impatiently, for his deeply sincere accent pained her.
I beg your pardon . . . if it makes you angry, I will not say
another word about myself . . . he said with resignation.
What is the news from home? she asked, raising her eyes to his.
How can I tell you? . . . It's something that beggars all
description. You would not know your father; he has become an
impossible autocrat in his official duties, and outside of them he goes
hunting, visits his neighbors, whistles to himself . . . but has become
so thin and worn that it is hard to recognize him. Worry is eating him
away like a canker.
Why? . . . What is there for my father to worry about?
My God! How can you ask such a question? Are you joking, or haven't
you a spark of feeling in you? . . . Why is he worrying? . . . Because
you are away . . . because he, like all of us, is dying with longing
for you! . . .
And what about Krenska? . . . Janina asked with apparent calmness,
although stirred deeply by what he had told her.
What has Krenska to do with this? . . . He threw her out the very
next day after your departure, afterwards received a few days' official
leave from his duties and left Bukowiec. . . . In about a week he
returned so woebegone and haggard that we scarcely recognized him. Even
strangers are crying over him, but you had no pity on him and went
forth into the world . . . and what kind of world, besides? . . .
Janina sprang up violently from her chair.
Yes, you may be angry with me if you will, but I love you, I love
you too well, and we all love you too well to be denied the right to
speak what we feel. Have me thrown out of here if you will, and I'll
not complain, but I'll wait for you at the street door or meet you
anywhere else and keep telling you that your father is dying without
you and that he is growing sicker and weaker every day! My mother came
across him not so long ago in the woods: he was lying in some bushes
and crying like a child. You are killing him. Both of you are killing
each other with your pride and unrelenting stubbornness. You are the
best woman in the world and I feel that you will not leave him alone,
that you will return and give up theatrical life. . . . Aren't you
ashamed of associating with such a band of scoundrels? . . . How can
you possibly exhibit yourself on the stage! . . .
He broke off and breathing heavily, wiped his eyes with his
handkerchief. Never before had he said so much at one time.
Janina sat with bowed head, her face as pale as a sheet, her lips
set tightly and her heart filled with a storm of rebellion and
suffering. That sharp voice which she had just heard had in it such a
tearful, deep and soul-stirring expression and those words: Your
father is suffering . . . your father is crying . . . your father is
longing for you! penetrated her with so sharp a grief and harried her
so painfully, that at moments she wanted to spring up and go to him as
quickly as she could; but then again, memories of the past would flood
her brain and she would become cool and hardened. Finally she recalled
the theater and became entirely indifferent.
No! He has driven me away forever. . . . I am alone in the world
and will remain alone. I could not live without the theater! Janina
said to herself and there arose in her again that mad desire for
Grzesikiewicz also became silent, his eyes clouding mistily. He
devoured her with his eyes, and had a great desire to fall on his knees
before her, kiss her hands and feet and the hem of her dress and beg
her to listen to him . . . Then again, when he remembered the whole
tragedy of the situation, he felt like springing up from his chair and
smashing everything that came in his way; or again such a violent grief
would convulse him that he could have cried aloud in sheer despair.
He sat and gazed at that beloved face, now pale and worn, on which
the feverish night life of the theater had already left its imprint,
and he felt that he would give his very life for her, if she would only
Janina finally bent on him eyes that were glowing with irrevocable
You must know how my father hates me; you must also know that, when
I refused to marry you, he drove me out of his house forever . . . he
almost cursed me and drove me out . . . she repeated with bitterness.
I left because I had to, but I will never return. I will not exchange
the freedom of the theater for slavery at home. Things happened as they
did because they had to. My father told me at that time that he had no
longer a daughter, and I now answer that I have no longer a father. We
have parted and will never be reunited again. I am entirely able to
shift for myself, and art will suffice me for everything.
So you will not return? asked Grzesikiewicz, for that was all he
understood of her words.
No! I have no home and I will not forsake the theater! replied
Janina in a calm voice, regarding him coolly, but her pale lips
trembled a little and her bosom throbbed violently, convulsed by the
You will kill him . . . he loves you so . . . he will not outlive
such a blow . . . . said Grzesikiewicz gently.
No, Andrew, my father does not love me. A person whom you love you
do not torment for whole years at a time and then drive away from home
like the worst. . . . Even a dog does not turn its young ones out . . .
even an animal never does what was done to me!
I have seen and know how bitterly he regrets those reckless words
and how hard it is for him to live without you. I swear that you will
make him happy by returning! That you will restore him to life!
Did he tell you that he desired me to return to Bukowiec? Perhaps
he has given you a letter for me? Please tell me the whole truth! she
Grzesikiewicz hesitated in confusion and became even sadder.
No. He neither said anything about it, nor gave me a letter for
you, he answered, lowering his voice.
So that is how much he loves me and how greatly he longs to see me?
Ha! ha! ha! she laughed harshly.
Don't you know him yet? He will die of thirst rather than beg a
glass of water. When I was leaving and told him where I was going, he
did not say a word, but looked at me in such a way and gripped my hand
so firmly that I understood him entirely. . . .
No, you did not understand him at all. My father is not at all
concerned about me; he is only concerned over the fact that the whole
neighborhood must be speaking about my departure and my joining the
theater. . . . Surely, Krenska must have left no stone unturned. . . .
He is concerned only about the gossip that is circulating. He feels
disgraced through me. He would like to see me broken and begging
forgiveness at his feet. That is what he is anxious about!
You do not know him! Such hearts . . .
Janina hastily interrupted him: Let us not speak of hearts where on
one side they do not at all enter into the question, where they are
entirely lacking and there is only an insane . . .
So then? . . . he asked rising, for he was choking with a spasm of
The bell in the hall rang sharply, evidently pulled violently by
I will never return, said Janina with final determination.
Janina . . . have mercy . . .
I do not understand that word, she answered with emphasis, and I
repeat: never! unless it be . . . after I am dead.
Don't say that, for . . .
He did not finish for the door suddenly swung wide open and Mimi
with Wawrzecki came rushing in.
Well, are you coming? Hurry and dress yourself, for we start
immediately! . . . Ah, I beg your pardon, I did not know you had a
visitor, cried Mimi, observing Grzesikiewicz who took his hat, bowed
automatically, and, without looking at anyone, whispered.
And without more ado he left.
Janina sprang up as though she wished to detain him, but Kotlicki
and Topolski were just then entering and greeted her jocularly. After
them came some third person.
What sort of broad gentleman was that? As I live, it is the first
time that I saw such a mass of meat in a surtout! cried that third
This is Mr. Glogowski. In a week we are to present his play and in
a month he will be famous throughout Europe! said Wawrzecki,
And in three months my fame will reach Mars with all its
appurtenances! . . . If you are going to bluff, at least let it be a
good bluff laughed Glogowski.
Janina greeted them all, and in a subdued voice answered Mimi who
was asking her about Grzesikiewicz: An old friend of mine and former
neighbor, a very honest man . . .
He must be flushed with money, that youth . . . he looks it!
Yes, he is wealthy. His family owns the largest sheep-growing ranch
in Congressional Poland . . .
A shepherd! . . . he rather looks as though he were a keeper of
elephants! . . . jested Wawrzecki.
Kotlicki only smiled and discreetly observed Janina.
Something must have happened here . . . for her voice shows she is
deeply moved, he thought. Perhaps that was her former lover? . . .
Come, hurry, for Mela is waiting downstairs in a hack, cried Mimi
Janina dressed hastily and they all went out together.
They rode to the bank of the Wisla and from there took a boat to
All were in a springtime humor, except Janina. She sat gloomily rapt
Kotlicki chatted jovially, Wawrzecki jested with Glogowski and the
women took part in the merriment, but Janina hardly heard a thing that
was being said. She was still pondering her conversation with
Grzesikiewicz and the heavy feeling it had left in her heart.
Is anything troubling you? Kotlicki asked with anxiety in his
Me? Oh nothing! . . . I was just musing upon human misery, she
It is not worth thinking of anything that is not pleasure, full of
life and youth . . .
Don't complete that nonsense. It is just as if you were to eat off
the butter on a piece of bread and then muse over your dry crust that
you did a foolish thing after all, interposed Glogowski, I see you do
not like to eat, only to lick at things.
My dear sir, I have the honor of knowing that ever since I was a
schoolboy, Kotlicki retorted sarcastically.
That isn't the point; the point is that you advocate downright
silly things. For instance indulgence, while you have had ample
opportunity to prove upon yourself the sad results of that jolly
Both in life and in literature you are always paradoxical.
I'll wager you have weak lungs, arthritis, neurasthenia and . . .
Count up to twenty.
They began to argue vehemently and then to quarrel.
The boat had passed the railroad bridge and the vast calm of the
open country enveloped them on all sides. The sun was shining brightly,
but a chill dampness arose from the murky waters of the river. The
small waves, saturated with light, like serpents with gleaming scales,
splashed about in the sunlight. The long sand dunes resembled water
giants, basking in the sun with yellow upturned bellies. A string of
scows floated before them; the pilot in a small cockleshell boat rowed
on in front and every now and then would raise his voice in a cry which
echoed across the water and reached them in a confused medley of tones.
A few boatmen plied their oars with automatic motion and their sad song
was wafted to the party and floated above their heads. Afterwards a
growing silence began to spread around them.
The mild verdure of the shores, the sunlit trail of the waters
gleaming with the sheeny softness of satin, the gentle rocking of the
boat, the rhythmical stroke of the oars unconsciously imposed a silence
I will not return! thought Janina, automatically repeating those
words, while she gazed upon the blue expanse of waters and pursued with
her eyes the waves that fled swiftly on before her, I will not
She felt that loneliness was embracing her with ever wider arms and
surrounding her soul with an emptiness into which she gazed defiantly.
Her sorrow, the thought of her father and Grzesikiewicz, all her former
acquaintances and her whole past seemed to be flowing on far behind her
so that she saw them dimly in the distant gray mist and only the faint
echo of an entreaty or of weeping seemed to reach her now and then.
No! she would not have the strength to turn back and swim against
that current that was bearing her onward. Nevertheless, she felt that
tears were dropping upon her heart and burning it with bitterness.
They disembarked at the landing-stage at Bielany and began to wind
their way up the hill.
Janina walked ahead of the company with Kotlicki who did not leave
her for a moment.
You owe me a reply, he said after a while, assuming a tender
I answered you yesterday, and to-day you owe me an explanation,
she said harshly, for now, after that recent conversation with
Grzesikiewicz and all that it had cost her, she felt an almost physical
aversion and hatred toward Kotlicki; he struck her as repulsive and
An explanation? . . . Can one explain love or analyze a feeling? .
. . he began, uneasily biting his thin lips. He did not like the tone
of her voice.
Let us be sincere, for what you told me is . . . she cried
Is sincerity itself.
No, it is only a comedy! Janina retorted sharply and felt a great
desire to strike him in the face.
You offend me! One can believe a person's feelings without sharing
them, he said in a quieter tone so that those who followed them would
Now please listen to what I have to say! I want to tell you that
your comedy not only wearies me, but is beginning to anger me. I am
still too little a hysterical actress and too much a normal woman to
take pleasure in such acting. I was never taught by my mother, the
secret code of a woman's conduct toward a man, nor did they warn me of
man's falsehood and baseness. I observed that quickly enough for
myself, and see it every day behind the scenes. You think that to every
woman who is in the theater you can boldly talk about your love as
though it were some trifle, in the hope that perhaps she will swallow
your bait! Actresses are so playful and so silly, aren't they? she
said with stinging scorn. Would you dare to tell me the same, if I
were at home? No, you wouldn't dare tell me you loved me, if you
didn't, for there, I would be a woman in your eyes, while here I am
only an actress; for there, I would have behind me a father, mother,
brothers or some convention which would prohibit you from many things.
But here, you don't hesitate. And why? Because here I am alone and an
actress, that is a woman to whom you can with impunity tell lies, whom
you can with impunity possess and then cast off and go your way without
the slightest fear of losing your reputation. Oh, you can be sure, Mr.
Kotlicki, that I will not become your mistress, nor any other man's if
I do not love him! I have already thought much, too much, about the
matter to be deceived by fine phrases! She spoke rapidly, and her
sharp words fell like blows.
He trembled with impatience and gazed on her in amazement. He did
not know her, and had not assumed for a moment that he would find an
actress who would tell him such things to his face. He gazed at her
through half-closed eyes, and stammered ever more frequently, so
immensely did he like her for her courage. She fascinated him by her
strength of character and honesty, for by those words she had spoken,
by her face which faithfully reflected all her inner feelings, and by
the sincere tones of her voice he began to perceive that she was an
honest and uncommon girl; and in addition she was so beautiful!
The whip was rawhide with leaden weights at the end of it. You beat
with a womanly fury both the guilty and the innocent, said Kotlicki,
and seeing that Janina did not answer he added after a while, Is this
not enough for you? If it would be possible during that entire
flagellation to kiss your hands, I beg you to continue . . .
Kotlicki! . . . Wait a minute there and help us carry the baskets!
. . . called Wawrzecki.
The men carried the baskets with the provisions, while the whole
company walked along the steep river bank, seeking a convenient spot
for a camping ground.
All about them the lonely wood rustled softly with its young oak
leaves and juniper bushes. They halted under a grove of verdant oaks.
Behind them was the woodland solitude while beneath them the Wisla
gleamed in the sunlight and murmured with its blue waves breaking
against the shore.
After the preliminary drinks and sandwiches all became lively.
Well, now let us drink the health of the initiators of the outing!
cried Glogowski, filling the glasses.
Let us rather drink to the success of your new play, cried several
No, that will not help it any . . . it will turn out a fiasco
anyway . . .
Perhaps Topolski will now reveal to us his secret plan, said
Kotlicki who was calmly stretched out on his plaid beside Janina.
Let that rest! After we have had plenty to eat and still more to
drink will be time enough. Perhaps the ladies will untie those
packages, cried Wawrzecki.
Napkins were spread out on the grass and a variety of dainties was
brought forward and set upon them amid laughter.
That's nice, but where is the tea? exclaimed Janina.
Kotlicki jumped up.
The tea is here and also the samovar, only you, sir, will have to
go for some water. We shall go together for it to the Wisla! cried
Majkowska, shaking the charcoal out of a pitcher.
Kotlicki frowned a bit, but went along with her. In a few minutes
the samovar was started, Glogowski proving himself a real master.
That is my specialty! he shouted blowing at the fire like a pair
of bellows. And I must tell you ladies that very often, more often
than I like, I lack coal. It is then that my inventive genius comes to
the fore: I stoke the fire with papers or, if that is also missing, I
pluck a board from the floor and, willy nilly, the tea is produced.
You must lead a very diversified life! remarked Topolski with a
A trifle! Just a trifle . . . but I won't say that I relish it.
I proclaim to all in general and to everyone in particular that the
tea is beginning to boil! . . . Now, ladies, assume the roles of
Hebes! called Glogowski.
Janina poured out the tea for all of them before sitting down near
I am organizing a dramatic society, began Topolski.
I will tell you the only way to do it: you engage a few score of
the theatrical tribe by promising them high salaries and give them
small advances; you look for a lady treasurer who is wise enough to
have a bond and naive enough to deposit it; with it you buy the
necessary accessories, have them sent on account and you are ready
either to begin, or to break up. And in two months you can repeat the
same prescription until you get results, jested Wawrzecki.
Wawrzecki, quit your confounded nonsense! cried the irritated
Topolski, drinking one glass of brandy after another. That kind of
company any idiot can organize, any Cabinski. I don't want a band of
players who will scatter to the four winds as soon as someone lures
them with the promise of a big advance, but a strong organization with
a well-defined plan, an organization as solid as a stonewall!
You often broke up companies yourself and yet you think you can
manage actors? . . . persisted Wawrzecki.
I am sure of it. Listen all! This is how I would go about it:
condition oneabout five thousand rubles to begin with; I fish out of
all the companies their best forces, thirty persons at most; I pay them
moderately but honestly; I assure dividends . . . Come now, you had
better give up dreaming about dividends! growled Kotlicki.
There will be a dividend! there must be! cried Topolski with
growing enthusiasm. I select my plays: a series of typical and
classical things; these will be the walls and foundations of my
edifice; furthermore, all the more important novelties and all the
folkplays, but away with operetta, away with clownishness, away with
the circus, away with everything that is not true art! I want to have a
theater and not a puppet show! artists are not clowns! he cried in an
ever louder voice.
Topolski began to cough so violently that all the veins in his neck
swelled like whipcords. He coughed for a long time, then took a drink
of brandy and began talking again, but in a quieter and slower voice,
without looking at anyone, or seeing anything beyond this dream of his
whole life, which he related in short and tangled sentences.
Kotlicki, who was not stirred even for a moment by that speech full
of inspiration as well as illogicality, remarked: You are a little
late. Antoine in Paris has long ago put into practice what you propose;
those are his ideas . . .
No, those are my ideas, my dreams; for twenty years already I am
carrying them within me! cried Topolski, growing suddenly livid as
though struck by lightning, and gazing in a dazed way at Kotlicki.
What of that, when others have already partially realized those
dreams and given them their name . . .
Thieves! they have stolen my idea! they have stolen my idea!
shouted Topolski and fell over half-senseless on the grass, covering
his face with his hands, sobbing convulsively and stammering in a
drunken voice: They have stolen my idea! . . . Help! they have stolen
my idea! And he continued to roll about on the grass, sobbing like a
Not because of the fact that that idea is already known do I see
the impossibility of realizing such a project, began Glogowski calmly,
but because our public has not yet reached the point where it is ready
for such a theater and does not feel the need of such a stage. In the
meanwhile, give them the farce full of acrobatic stunts and leg-shows,
a half-naked ballet, cancan howling, a little, cheap kitchen
sentimentality, a heap of empty phrases on the subject of virtue,
morality, the family, duty, love, and . . .
Count up to twenty . . . laughed Kotlicki.
Just as is the public, so are its theaters; one is worth as much as
the other! remarked Majkowska.
He who wants to rule the multitude and rule over it, must flatter
it and do that which the multitude wants; he must give it that which it
needs; he must first be its slave so that he may later become its
master, said Kotlicki slowly and with unction.
I will say: no! I neither want to cringe to the mob, nor be its
master; I prefer to go my own way alone . . . answered Glogowski
A splendid standpoint! From it you can laugh at everyone to your
Miss Janina, please let me have some tea! cried the already
irritated Glogowski, springing up violently, throwing his hat at a tree
and feverishly rumpling his sparse hair.
You are ever a fiery radical of native breed, said Kotlicki with a
And you are a poor fish, a seal, a whale . . .
Count up to twenty!
Those are fine arguments, indeed! . . . Here is a much better one,
cried Wawrzecki, handing Glogowski his cane.
Glogowski calmed himself, gazed around a moment and began drinking
Majkowska was listening silently, while Mimi, stretched out on
Wawrzecki's overcoat, was fast asleep.
Janina was serving tea to all and did not lose a word of that
conversation. She had already forgotten about Grzesikiewicz, about her
father, and about her talk with Kotlicki, and was entirely engrossed by
the questions that were now being discussed, while Topolski's dreams
fascinated her by their fantasies. Such general discussions on art and
artistic subjects absorbed her entirely.
What about your dramatic society? she asked Topolski who was just
raising his head.
It will be . . . it must be formed! answered Topolski.
I warrant you it will be, interposed Kotlicki, not the kind that
Topolski desires but that which will be the best within the bounds of
possibility. It will even be possible to introduce certain improvements
by way of variety and attraction, but we shall leave the reformation of
the theater to someone else; for that you would need hundreds of
thousands of rubles and you would have to start it in Paris.
The reformation of the theater will not originate with the
managers, and as for dramatic creativity, what is it really? . . . The
seeking of something in the dark, a dog-like scenting about, an aimless
straying, or the antics of a flea. A genius must arrive to
revolutionize the modern theater; I already have a feeling that one is
coming . . . asserted Glogowski.
How is that? . . . Aren't the existing masterpieces of the drama
sufficient for creating an ideal theater? queried Janina.
No . . . those masterpieces belong to the past; we need other
works. For us those masterpieces are a very important archeology,
So in your estimation Shakespeare is antiquated?
Sh! let us not speak of him; he is the whole universe; we can
merely contemplate him, but never understand him . . .
A Utopian and classic: an echo of the Encyclopedists and the French
Revolution. He represents nobility, order, German doctrinarianism and
pathetic and wearisome declamation.
And Goethe? ventured Janina, who had developed a great liking for
Glogowski's paradoxical definitions.
That means only Faust, but Faust is so complicated a machine that
since the death of the inventor no one knows how to wind it or start it
going. The commentators push its wheels, take it apart, clean it, and
dust it, but the machine will not go and already is beginning to rust a
little. . . . Moreover, it is a furious aristocracy. That Mr. Faust is
first of all not the ideal type of man, but an experimenter; he is
nothing but the brain of one of those learned rabbis who spend their
whole lives on pondering whether it is proper to enter the synagogue
with the right or the left foot first; he is a vivisector, who, after
breaking the heart of Margaret in the process of his experimentation,
and fearing the threat of imprisonment, and being unable by virtue of
his shortsightedness to see anything beyond his study and his retorts,
makes a sport of complaining and laments that life is base and
knowledge is worthless. In truth, it requires a great deal of genuinely
German arrogance to maintain when you have a catarrh that everybody
else has it or ought to have it.
I prefer such merry works to your wise plays, whispered Kotlicki.
Oh, and what of Shelley and Byron? begged Janina, whose interest
was fully aroused.
I prefer foolishness even when it presumes to speak rather than
when it seeks to create something Glogowski hastily flung back at
Aha, Byron! . . . Byron is a steam engine producing a rebellious
energy; a lord who was dissatisfied in England and dissatisfied in
Venice with Suiciolla, for although he had a warm climate and money he
was bored. He is a rebel-individualist, a strong, passionate monster; a
lord who is always seething with fury and using all the forces of his
wonderful talent to spite his enemies. He slapped England's face with
masterpieces. He is a mighty protestant out of boredom and in his own
Shelley again, is a divine lingo for the public of Saturn; he is
the poet of the elements and not for us mortals.
Glogowski became silent and went to pour himself some tea.
We are still listening; at least, I am waiting with impatience for
you to continue your very interesting exposition, exclaimed Janina.
Very well, but I am going to skip over a great many immortals so as
to finish sooner.
You can continue on the condition that you'll do so without
tinkling the bells and beating the tambourine.
Kotlicki, keep quiet! You are a miserable philistine, a typical
representative of your base species and you are denied a voice when
human beings are speaking!
Gentlemen, please quit your arguing, for I can't sleep, pitifully
Yes, yes, it isn't at all amusing! added Majkowska with a mighty
Wawrzecki began again to fill the glasses. Glogowski moved close to
Janina and began enthusiastically to expound to her his theory.
Ibsen makes a strange impression on me; he foreshadows someone
mightier than himself who is yet to come; he is like the light of dawn
before the rising sun. And as regards the newest, over-praised and
over-advertised Germans: Suderman and Company they are merely a loud
prating about small things; much ado about nothing. They wish to
convince the world for instance that it is unnecessary to wear
suspenders with your trousers, because you can sometimes wear them
So we have finally got to the point where there are no more left to
dispose of, interposed Kotlicki. One got a whack over the head,
another a jab in the ribs, a third a very polite kick and so forth . .
No, my dear sir, I still remain! rejoined Glogowski, with a
We demolished vast edifices for the sake of a soap bubble.
Perhaps, but since even in soap bubbles the sun is reflected . . .
Therefore, let us have another drink of brandy! exclaimed
Topolski, who had been silent up till now.
Throw out all that argumentation to the dogs! . . . Let us drink
and quit thinking! chimed in Wawrzecki.
That last statement is an epitome of yourself, Wawrzecki! remarked
Let us drink and love one another! proposed Kotlicki, rousing
himself and tinkling his glass against the bottle.
To that I will agree, as I am Glogowski, I will agree, for love
alone is the soul of the world!
Wait a minute, I will sing you something about love, cried
Wawrzecki, and he proceeded to drone an amorous ditty.
Bravo Wawrzecki! cried the entire company and with that they all
abandoned themselves to pure merriment, ceased arguing and babbled any
nonsense that came to their lips.
Most esteemed ladies and gentlemen! the sky is beginning to cloud
and on earth the bottles are all empty. Let us beat a retreat! finally
But how? chorused a few voices.
We will go on foot, for it is not more than a mile to Warsaw.
We'll hire some husky fellow to carry the baskets for us. I'll go
and see if I can find someone, said Wawrzecki, and he went off in the
direction of a monastery.
Before he returned all were ready for the homeward journey. The
general mood of gayety had even risen, for Mimi was dancing a waltz
with Glogowski on the greensward. Topolski was so drunk that he
continually kept talking to himself and quarreling with Majkowska.
Kotlicki smiled and kept close to Janina who had become very sportive
and merry. She smiled at him and conversed with him, hardly remembering
his recent proposal. He was sure that the impression of it had merely
glided over her soul and sunk away in forgetfulness.
They walked in disordered groups as is usual after an outing. Janina
was weaving a wreath of oak leaves, while Kotlicki was helping her and
amusing her with piquant remarks. She listened to him, but when they
entered into a bigger and real wood where the ground was covered with
dense underbrush, she suddenly became grave, gazed at the trees with
such great joy, touched their trunks and branches with such tenderness,
her lips and eyes glowed with such rapture, that Kotlicki asked her,
pointing to the trees: No doubt they must be good friends of yours?
Yes indeed, good and sincere friends and not comedians! she
replied with a light irony in her voice.
You have a very vengeful memory. You neither believe, nor forgive.
I desire only one thing: to be able to convince you . . .
Then marry me! she exclaimed quickly, turning towards him.
I beg for your hand! he murmured in the same tone.
They glanced straight into each other's eyes and both suddenly
became gloomy. Janina knitted her brows and began unconsciously to tear
her unfinished wreath with her teeth, while Kotlicki bowed his head and
Come, let us hurry, we shall be late for the performance! called
someone, and they hastened to catch up with the rest of the company.
So to-morrow there is to be a read rehearsal of my play? Glogowski
was asking Topolski.
To be exact, it will be only a reading of the play itself, for
Dobek has not yet finished writing out the roles, answered Topolski.
Great Scott! and when do you expect to present it?
Don't fear, the Philistines will hiss and hoot you soon enough,
without your hurrying! Kotlicki twitted him.
We shall present it in a week from next Tuesday . . . at least I
would have it so, replied Topolski.
Or, strictly speaking, there will remain for rehearsals and for the
learning of the roles only four days. No one will know his part, no one
will be able to master it even passably in so short a time. That's
nothing short of murder, cold-blooded murder! cried Glogowski.
You'll treat Dobek to a few whiskeys and he will safely pull the
play through for you, suggested Wawrzecki.
Yes, he will shout for everybody. . . . As the matter stands, it is
best to announce that there will take place merely a reading of the
You needn't worry about me, I'll learn my role, Majkowska assured
And I also, added Janina.
I know the ladies always know their parts but the men . . .
The men will play their parts well without having to learn them,
remarked Wawrzecki. Don't you know that Glas never studies his roles!
A few rehearsals familiarize him with the situations of the play and
the prompter does the rest.
That's why he plays so splendidly! sneered Glogowski.
What do you want? He's a good actor and not at all a bad comedian.
Yes, because he always knows how to improvise some nonsense with
which to cover up his bungling.
Please give me an entirely serious answer. Were those last words of
yours only a joke or were they an expression of your wishes and a
condition? Kotlicki again whispered to Janina as a certain idea
entered into his head.
Every variety is good, providing it is not wearisome. Have you
heard that before? answered Janina impatiently.
Thank you! I will remember it. . . . But do you know this: patience
is the first condition of success.
Kotlicki glanced at her quizzically, bowed to her with his head, and
retired among the rest of the company. He possessed a brazen
self-confidence and decided, at all events, to wait.
Kotlicki was not one of those whom a woman can drive away from
herself with scorn or even with insults. He accepted everything and
carefully stored it away in his memory for a future reckoning. He was a
man who had a contempt for women, who told people what he thought to
their very faces, and who always craved women and love. He ignored the
fact that he was ugly, for he knew he was rich enough to buy any woman
that he might desire. He belonged to that category of men which is
ready for anything.
He now walked along smiling at some thought that was in his mind,
and striking with his cane the weeds that were in his path.
It grew dark and the rain began to fall in large drops.
We will get drenched like chickens! laughed Mimi, opening her
Miss Janina, my umbrella is at your service, called Glogowski.
Thank you very much, but as far as I am able, I do not use any
protection against the rain; I just dote on getting wet in the rain.
You have the instincts of . . . he broke off suddenly and pressed
his hand to his mouth with a comical gesture.
Finish what you began to say . . . please do . . .
You have the instincts of fish and geese. . . . I am curious to
know how they have developed in you.
Janina smiled, for she remembered her old autumn and winter tramps
through the woods in the greatest storms and rainfalls, and she
answered merrily: I like such things. I am used from my childhood to
endure rains and rough weather . . . I am simply wild about storms.
My, what fiery blood! It must be something atavistic.
It's merely a habit or an inner need which has grown to the
proportions of a passion.
Glogowski offered his arm to Janina; she accepted and began to
relate to him in an easy, friendly tone the various adventures she had
experienced on her excursions in the country. She felt as unrestrained
in his company as though she had known him from childhood. At moments
she would even forget that this was the first time in her life that she
had met him. She was won over to him by his bright and happy face and
by the somewhat mild sincerity of his character; she felt in him a
brotherly and honest soul.
Glogowski listened to her, answered her questions, and observed her
with curiosity. Finally, choosing an appropriate moment, he said
frankly: May the deuce take me, but you are an interesting woman, a
very interesting one! I will tell you something; just now a certain
thought struck me and I offer it to you hot from the griddle, only
don't think it strange. I detest conventionality, social hypocrisy, the
affectation of actresses, etc., count up to twenty! . . . and that is
just what I fail, as yet, to see in you. Oho! I immediately noticed
that you were free from all that. Frankly, I like you as a certain type
that one meets very rarely. It is interesting, interesting! he
repeated, almost to himself. We might become friends! he cried
delightedly, speaking his thoughts aloud, For, although women always
disappoint me, because sooner or later the female of the species crops
out in every one of them, still, a new experiment might be worth
something . . . .
Frankness in return for frankness, said Janina, laughing at the
lightning-like swiftness with which he formed determinations. You also
are an interesting specimen.
Well, then, we agree! Let us shake and be good friends! he
exclaimed, extending his hand.
But I haven't yet finished what I wanted to say: I must tell you
that I do without confidants and friends entirely. That smacks of
sentimentality and is not very safe.
Bosh! Friendship is worth more than love. I see it's beginning to
pour in earnest. It is the dogs crying over rejected friendship. I
shall have the opportunity of meeting you more often, shall I not? For
you have within you something . . . something like a piece of a certain
kind of soul that one comes across very rarely.
I am at the theater every day for rehearsals and almost every day
at the performances.
Oh the deuce take it, that won't do at all! If I attended on you
for only once a week, it would give rise to so much gossip, twaddle,
Oh I don't care what people say about me! Janina laughed with an
Ho! ho! I see you are of the fighting variety . . . a regular
gamecock! I like a person who treats with scant ceremony that old rag
called public opinion.
I think that as long as I have nothing to reproach myself with, I
can listen calmly to what they say about me.
Pride, a capital pride!
Why don't you bring out your play in the Warsaw Theater?
Because they did not want to produce it. That, you see, is a very
elegant and highly perfumed establishment and only for a very delicate
and subtly feeling public, while my play does not smell a bit of the
salon; at the most, it smells of the fields, a little of the woods and
a trifle of the peasant's hut. There they want, not truth, but
flirtation, conventionality bluffing, etc., count up to twenty.
Moreover, I had no backing, and they already have their patented play
I thought it was only necessary to write something good and they
would immediately produce it.
Great Scott! No! . . . quite the reverse is true. Just look how
much I must bear before even such as Cabinski presents my play! . . .
Now raise that to the fourth power and only then will you have some
conception of the joys of a beginning comedy writer, who, in addition,
does not know how to secure patronage for his plays.
They became silent. The rain fell incessantly and was already
forming big puddles of water along the road. Glogowski gazed gloomily
at the city whose towers appeared outlined upon the misty horizon.
A base city! he grumbled angrily. For three years I have vainly
been trying to conquer it. I am struggling and killing myself, and yet,
not even a dog knows me.
If you keep on telling them that they are base knaves and fools you
will never conquer them.
I will. They will not love me, to be sure, but they will have to
reckon with me, they must! However, such citadels are most easily
stormed by actors, singers, and dancers. They make a clean sweep of
everything with only one appearance.
But their triumph is only for a day. After they have left the stage
all trace of them is lost like that of a stone cast into the water!
said Janina with a certain bitterness, gazing fixedly at the ever
nearer appearing, crowded walls of Warsaw. Only at that moment did she
realize that the fame of which she dreamed was merely the fame of a
It seems to me that you have an appetite for the same thing that I
have, remarked Glogowski.
I have! she answered with emphasis and her voice resounded with
the explosive force of something that had been long pent up.
I have! she repeated, but this time in a much quieter tone and
without enthusiasm. The light died away in Janina's eyes and they
strayed aimlessly over those heights of the city in the distance,
without understanding anything, for she was perturbed by the thought of
that ephemeral fame, for she remembered the faded wreaths of Cabinska
and the bygone fame of Stanislawski, for she was thinking with growing
bitterness of those thousands of famous actors who were dead and whose
names even were forgotten. Janina felt a distressing conflict of
feelings in her breast. She leaned more heavily on Glogowski's arm and
walked on without saying another word.
At Zakroczymska Street they took a hack; Kotlicki jumped in and went
along with them, forming a party of three. Janina eyed him angrily, but
he pretended he did not notice it and gazed at her with his everlasting
smile. Glogowski and Kotlicki accompanied her to her home. She had only
enough time left to rush into the house, change her dress, take the
things she needed and immediately start off again for the theater.
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
What, I don't pay you? What else do you live on?
What do we live on? . . . Certainly not your absurd and merely
Oh, and you are also late? he cried to Janina who was just
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
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!
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!
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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 . . .
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
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
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
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
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
Don't lie! I was not drunk and I remember exactly who broke it,
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
He is, undoubtedly. I am to see him in a few days to sign a
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
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
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!
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
I saw and cannot yet calm my indignation.
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
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
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
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
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
Mr. Counselor, you owe me something, she began, sitting down
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Don't be angry with me. I merely stated a fact that came to my
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
But you know they dote on songs and dances.
Then let them go to a vaudeville show! retorted Glogowski. And he
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
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
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
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:
They're calling for you, go out to them, someone whispered into
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
First I will kick you and may you croak! hissed Glogowski
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
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
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.
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
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
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
If it is to drink, good; if it is to talk, I'll say good night!
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
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
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
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.
It was already dawning.
Sowinska opened the door for her and grumbled in irritation: You
should have come home earlier, instead of waking people at this hour of
Janina did not answer, bowing her head as under a blow.
The base wretches! The base wretches! That was the one cry that
arose in her heart, filled with rebellion and hatred.
Janina no longer felt the shame and the humiliation, but only a
boundless rage. She ran about the room as though she were mad,
unknowingly ripped her waist and, unable to control her fury, fell
exhausted upon her bed with her clothes on.
Her sleep was one dreadful torment. She sprang up every minute with
a cry as though to run away, then again, she raised her hand as though
with a glass full of wine and shouted through her sleep: Vive! She
would begin to sing or to cry every now and then with her feverish
lips: The base wretches! The base wretches!
In a few days after the premiere of The Churls, which remained upon
the bill, but attracted ever smaller audiences, Glogowski came to
What is the matter with you? . . . she exclaimed, extending her
hand in friendly greeting.
Nothing. . . . Well, I improved my play a little. Did you read the
Some of them.
I have brought all the reviews, said Glogowski. I'll read them.
He began to read.
One of the important weeklies maintained that The Churls was a very
good, original, and superbly realistic play; that with Glogowski there
had, at last, appeared a real dramatist who had let a current of fresh
air into the stagnant and anaemic atmosphere of our dramatic
creativity, and had given us real people and real life. The only cause
for regret was that the staging of the play was beneath criticism and
the acting of it, with one or two exceptions, scandalous.
The reviewer of one of the most estimable dailies for two whole days
rambled on in a special supplement about the history of the theater in
France and about German actors, he discussed theatrical novelties and
after every two paragraphs or so would remark in parenthesis: I saw
him at the Odeon, I heard this at the Burg Theater I admired such
acting in London, etc. Then he adduced various theatrical anecdotes,
praised actors who had died half a century ago, harked back to the past
of the stage, spoke in several paragraphs about the red rags of
radicalism that had begun to appear on the stage, praised with paternal
indulgence the actors appearing in The Churls, flattered Cabinski and
wound up by saying that he would probably give his opinion of the play
itself only after the author had written another one, for this one was
merely to be forgiven a novice.
A third reviewer contended that the play was not at all bad and
would even be excellent, if the author had chosen to honor theatrical
traditions and added music and dances to it.
A fourth took a diametrically opposite viewpoint, maintaining that
the play was positively worthless, that it was rubbish, but that the
author possessed at least the one merit that he had avoided the cut and
dried formulas by failing to introduce the usual songs and dances which
always lower the value of folk plays.
In the fifth review a specialist on garden-theaters wrote about a
hundred paragraphs somewhat to this effect: The Churls by Mr.
Glogowski hm! . . . not a bad thing . . . it would even be entirely
good . . . but . . . although, considering again . . . at any rate . .
. one must have the courage to tell the truth. . . . At all events . .
. be that as it may . . . (with a little qualifying phrase) the author
has a talent. The play is . . . hm . . . let us see, how can we define
it? About two months ago I wrote something about it, so I refer those
that are interested to my former article. . . . They played it
excellently, and he enumerated the entire cast, placing beside the
name of each actress a sugary epithet, and an ingratiating remark, a
polite description, a melancholy equivocation and an empty phrase.
What do you call all that? inquired Janina.
A libretto for an operetta. Entitle it Theatrical Criticisms and
set it to music and you will have such a show that the whole nation
will flock to it as to a church festival.
And what answer did you give to all that?
I? . . . Nothing, of course! I merely turned my back on them and,
since I have a splendid plan for a new play, I shall immediately start
working on it. I have received a job as a dramatic coach at Radomsk and
I shall go there for a half year. I am only waiting for the final
Is it absolutely necessary for you to go?
Yes, I must! Dramatic coaching is my only means of support. For two
months I have been without any occupation and now I am penniless. I
presented the play at my own expense, paid my respects to the public,
had a good time at Warsaw and now it is time to quit! It is time to
ring down the curtain so that I may prepare for another farce. Goodbye,
Miss Janina. Before I leave, I'll drop in here or at the theater.
He shook hands with her, exclaimed, May the deuce take me! and
Janina was sad. She had become so accustomed to Glogowski, to his
eccentricities, paradoxes, and to that rough and ready manner which was
merely a screen for his shyness and hypersensitive delicacy that regret
filled her at the thought that she was now to remain alone.
She had no more money left and was living solely on what she
received at the theater. Janina dared not admit it to herself, but with
each new request for money she would be reminded of her home and of
those times when it was unnecessary for her to think of anything, for
she had all she needed. She felt deeply humiliated by this almost daily
begging for a few meager copecks, but there was no way out of it,
unless it was the one that she constantly read in the gray eyes of
Sowinska and saw exemplified in the life of her companions.
Almost each evening Janina would stroll on Theater Place. If she was
in a great hurry, she would only pass through the place, get a glimpse
of the Grand Theater and return home again, but if she had plenty of
time she would find a seat on the square or on a bench near the tramcar
station and from there gaze at the rows of columns, at the lofty
profile of the theater's facade and lose herself in dreaming. She
somehow felt that those walls drew her irresistibly to them. She
experienced moments of deep delight when passing under the colonnade,
or when in the calm of a bright night she viewed the long gray mass of
the edifice. That huge stone giant seemed to speak to her and she would
listen to the whispers, the echoes, and the sounds that floated from
it. Spread out before her in the dim twilight and visible to her soul
alone, there would pass before her imagination the scenes that were
acted there not long ago.
An additional reason for losing herself in dreams was to dull the
pinch of poverty, that had become more acute, for the second half of
the theatrical season, from a financial standpoint, was a great deal
worse than the first. The attendance was increasingly smaller because
of the continual rains and the cold evenings and, of course, the pay of
the actors was proportionately smaller.
It often happened that Cabinski in the middle of a performance would
take the cash box and make away with it under the pretext that he was
ill, leaving only a few rubles to be divided among the company and, if
he was caught before he made his escape, he would almost cry.
And if he led anyone by the arm in a friendly manner to the box
office it was a prearranged sign for Gold, who was to say that there
was no money to be had. If he did not lead a person in this manner, the
treasurer would assume a worried look and complain: I haven't even
enough to pay the gas bills and where am I going to get the money for
the rent? Why, there isn't enough to pay running expenses.
Let him have at least something. Perhaps we can put off the payment
of some bill to-day . . . Cabinski would pretend to intercede.
He would then leave an order for the payment of the money and walk
away. But it almost always so happened that Gold did not have the sum
for which the order was made out. The amount paid was always short,
even if it were only by a few copecks. The actors called him all sorts
of names, but each took what was offered.
Gold pretended to be insulted and usually appealed to the
directress, who would always sit in the box office whenever she was not
taking part in the play. Cabinska would then sharply reproach the
actors and loudly praise the honesty of Gold, who with the small salary
that he received helped his sister, in addition to supporting himself.
Gold would beam with joy at the remembrance of his sister; his eyes
would flash with tenderness and at such moments he would fervently
promise to pay the missing amount on the following day without fail;
but he never paid.
The performances were rattled off to get through with them, for the
general disorder caused by Cabinski's over-thieveries was growing ever
greater and, moreover, the nearness of the departure for Warsaw, the
debts in which all were swamped, the approach of winter and the worry
over securing new engagements did not put anyone in a mood for playing.
And all the while Cabinski, kissed everyone and promised to pay, but
never did so. He knew how to arrange matters so skillfully and acted so
excellently the part of a man worried about the welfare of everyone
that Janina feeling his troubles and believing him, often lacked the
courage to remind him of the money he owed her. Moreover, she knew that
between the director and his wife there went on a continual battle over
expenses and that the nurse often bought various things for the
children out of her own savings, while Cabinska would sit twice as long
at the pastry shop to avoid hearing the complaints.
Slowly, but in an ever narrowing circle, poverty hemmed Janina in
and clouded her face with ceaseless worry.
Janina suffered all the more in her present condition because she
was unable to seclude herself from other people as she used to do at
Bukowiec after every quarrel with her father. She could not rave with
the gales and calm herself inwardly by sheer physical exhaustion. She
tramped about the city but everywhere she met too many people. She
would have gladly confided to Glogowski all that troubled her, but had
not the courage to do so, for she was restrained by pride. Glogowski
seemed to guess her condition, or at least her worries, and would often
remind her that she ought to tell him everything . . . everything. But
she did not do so.
She stayed at home as little as possible, and whenever she entered
the house she tried to do it so quietly that no one might hear her. It
was not the possibility that she might find herself thrown out into the
street on the morrow that frightened her, but the fact that Mme. Anna
or Sowinska might say to her curtly: Pay what you owe me.
But that moment finally arrived. While eating her dinner Janina knew
the inevitable had come. She caught just one glance of Mme. Anna's eyes
while she was serving the soup and in them read everything.
After the meal, which to Janina had been torture, Mme. Anna followed
her immediately and, in the most unconcerned manner, began to relate
something about a fantastic customer. Then, suddenly, as though she had
remembered something, she said: Oh yes, I almost forgot! Perhaps you
will let me have that half-month's rent, for I must pay the landlord
I haven't the money to-day . . . she wanted to add something else,
but her voice failed her.
What do you mean? Please give me what you owe me! I hope you don't
think that I can feed anyone free of charge . . . just for fun, or for
the sake of having them as an ornament in my home! A fine ornament
indeed, that stays up all night and comes home only in the wee hours of
You needn't fear that I won't pay you! cried Janina suddenly
I need the money right away!
You will have it . . . in an hour! answered Janina, making some
sudden determination; she glanced with such scorn at Mme. Anna that the
latter left without a word, slamming the door after her.
From her companions Janina had heard something about the pawnshop
and she immediately went there to pawn her gold bracelet, the only one
that she possessed.
On returning home she immediately paid Mme. Anna, who was surprised,
but not very polite.
Having done that Janina added: I will have my meals at the
restaurant; I don't want to trouble you.
Just as you like. If things here don't suit you, you are free to do
as you please! whispered the deeply humiliated Mme. Anna.
By that one act Janina incurred the enmity of the whole house.
I will sell everything I possess . . . even to the last button!
she said to herself with bitter resolve.
And Janina calculated that for one half of what she had been paying
Mme. Anna she could get all the food that she needed. Wolska directed
her to a cheap lunch-room and she went there for her dinners; when she
had not money enough for that, a roll with a sardine had to suffice her
for the entire day.
But one day the theater was closed, for there were only twenty
rubles in the treasury; on the following day the performance was
postponed because of a heavy downpour. Janina, like everyone else, did
not receive a single copeck from Cabinski and during those two days had
absolutely nothing to eat.
This first hunger which she could not appease because she had
nothing to appease it with had a fearful effect upon her. She felt
within herself a strange and unceasing pain.
Starvation! Starvation! Janina whispered to herself in terror.
Hitherto she had known it by its name only. Now she wondered at that
sensation of hunger within her. It seemed strange to her that she felt
like eating and hadn't the money even to buy herself a roll!
Is it possible that I have nothing to eat? Janina asked herself.
From the kitchen there was wafted to her the smell of frying meat.
She shut the door tightly for that smell nauseated her.
Janina remembered with a strange emotion that the majority of great
artists in various ages also suffered poverty and hunger. The thought
consoled her for a while. She felt as though she were anointed with the
first pang of martyrdom for art's sake.
She smiled in the mirror with a melancholy look at her yellowish and
worn face. She tried to read to rid herself, as it were, of her own
personality, but she could not, for she constantly felt that growing
She gazed out of the window at the long yard surrounded on all sides
by the high windows of the adjoining houses, but she saw how in a few
houses people were sitting down to the table and saw the workmen in the
yard also eating their dinner from small clay pots. She quickly drew
back from the window for she felt hunger like a steel hand with sharp
claws tearing her even more violently.
Everybody is eating! Janina said to herself as though this was the
first time that she had taken note of that fact.
Later she lay down and slept until the evening without going either
to the rehearsal or to Cabinska's home, but she felt even weaker upon
awaking and had a painful dizziness in her head, while that keen and
constant sapping sensation within herself tormented her so that she
In the evening in the dressing-room a boisterous gayety possessed
Janina; she laughed continually, joked and made fun of her companions
quarreled over some trifle with Mimi and then flirted from the stage
with the occupants of the front row of seats.
When the counselor appeared behind the scenes right after the first
act with a box of candy, Janina greeted him joyously and pressed his
hand so tightly that the old man became confused. Afterwards she sat
down in some dark corner, waiting for the stage-director to cry:
Enter! When the darkness and silence enveloped her, she broke into
After the performance Janina received a quadruple payment on account
two whole rubles. Cabinski gave them to her himself in secret so that
the others might not see it.
Janina went out for supper on the veranda and became intoxicated
with one glass of whiskey so that she herself requested Wladek to
escort her home.
From that evening Wladek followed her like a shadow and began openly
to show her his love, paying no attention to the fact that his mother
was asking everybody in the theater about him and constantly tracking
both him and Janina.
One day Glogowski came rushing into Janina's home and cried out
already from the doorway: Well, I have come back again to my Zulus! .
He flung his hat on a trunk, sat on the bed and began to roll a
Janina gazed at him calmly and thought how strange it was that the
coming of this friend who had interested her so deeply in the past
should now leave her so indifferent.
So you do not weep with joy at seeing me again, eh? Ha! I'll have
to resign myself to it. No doubt the dogs alone will weep over me! May
the deuce take me! But don't you happen to know what is the matter with
Kotlicki? He does not come to the theater any more and I can't find him
anywhere. He must have journeyed somewhere.
I have not seen him since the night of that supper, answered
There must be some reason for his disappearance! Probably some
adventure, some love affair, some . . . But why should I bother about
such a green monkey, eh? Isn't that true?
Indeed it is! whispered Janina, turning her face toward the
Oh! and what does that mean? he cried, glancing sharply into her
eyes. Goodness, how you have changed! Sunken and glassy eyes,
yellowish complexion, sharpened features. . . . What does it all mean?
he asked in a quieter tone.
Suddenly he struck his hand to his forehead and began to run up and
down the room like a maniac.
What an idiot I am. What a monster! Here I am parading about
Warsaw, while here real, artistic poverty has quartered itself in
earnest! Miss Janina, he cried, taking her hand and looking steadily
into her eyes, Miss Janina! I want you to tell me everything as at
confession. May the deuce take me, but you must tell me!
Janina was silent; but seeing his honest face and hearing that
sympathetic voice whose accents had a strange way of gripping one's
heart, she suddenly felt overcome by feeling, and tears stood in her
eyes. She could not speak for emotion.
Well, well, there's no use crying, for I shall depart anyway, he
said jokingly to hide his own emotion. Now, just listen to me . . .
but without any protests or loud opposition, for I detest
parliamentarism! I see you are in poverty and theatrical poverty in the
bargain. . . . Well, I happen to know what it's like. Now, for
goodness' sake, stop blushing. Poverty that is honestly acquired is not
anything to be ashamed of! It's nothing but an ordinary smallpox which
all people who are worth anything in this world have to pass through.
Ho! ho! I have been playing blindman's buff with troubles since many a
year! Well, I shall end what I am saying in a gallop. Let us do this .
He turned around, took from his pocketbook thirty rubles, that is,
all the money that had been sent him for his journey, placed it under
Janina's pillow and returned to his former seat.
'Now we are agreed, are we not, my cousin . . .' said Louis XI
after beheading the Duke of Anjou. I will accept no appeal and if you
dare to . . .
He grasped his hat and extending his hand, said softly: Good-bye,
With a desperate motion, Janina hastily barred the door with her
No, no! Do not humiliate me! I am unfortunate enough as it is, she
whispered, firmly holding his hand.
There you have a woman's philosophy! May the deuce take me, but
that which I did is as natural as the fact that I will some day blow
out my brains and that you will become a great actress!
Janina began to expostulate with him, and finally to urge him to
take back his money, saying that she did not need it, that she would
not accept it, and showing a deep aversion to being helped.
Glogowski became gloomy and said roughly: What! May the deuce take
me, but of the two of us I certainly am not the fool! But no! I refuse
to get provoked about it. I shall sit down calmly and talk it over with
you seriously. I don't want you to get angry at me over such an empty
thing as money. You don't want to take it, although you need it, and
why? Because a false shame deters you, because you have been taught
that such simple human things as helping one another lowers one's
pride. Such conceptions are already becoming putrid. To the museum with
them! Those are foolish and evil prejudices. May the deuce take me, but
it requires a European brain and hysterical subtlety to hesitate to
accept money from a human being like yourself when you are in need. Why
and to what purpose do you think the human herd unites itself into some
form of society? Is it mutually to devour and rob one another or
mutually to help one another? I know you will tell me that it is
otherwise, but I answer you that that is precisely why we have so much
evil in this world. And once we recognize a thing as evil we ought to
shun it. Man ought to do good. That is his duty. To do good is the
wisest mathematics. But Great Scott! What's the use of my making so
much ado about it! he cried in irritation.
He continued to speak for a long while yet, scoffed, swore
occasionally, shouted: May the deuce take me, and raged fiercely, but
in his voice there was so much sincere and deep friendliness, such
heartfelt kindness, that Janina, although she was not at all convinced,
accepted his proffered aid with a grateful handclasp only because she
did not wish to offend him by refusing.
Well, that is what I like! And now . . . good-bye! he said,
arising to go.
Good-bye! I wish to thank you once more and I am so very grateful
and obligated to you . . . murmured Janina.
If you only knew how much kindness people have shown me! I would
like to repay only one hundredth part of it to others. I will add yet
that we shall no doubt meet each other in the spring.
Where? asked Janina.
Bah! I don't know! but that it will be in the theater of that I am
sure, for I have determined to join the theater in the spring, if only
for a half year so that I may gain a better knowledge of the stage.
Oh, that's an excellent idea!
Now we are even with one another, as my father used to say after he
had massaged my hide so that it shone as though freshly tanned. I leave
you my address and say nothing, only remind you that you are to tell me
everything by letter . . . everything! Do you give me your word?
I give you my word! Janina answered gravely.
I trust your word as though it were that of a man, although with
women a word of honor is usually an empty word only, which they make
use of, but never fulfill. Goodbye!
Glogowski pressed both her hands firmly, raised them a little as
though he were eager to kiss them, but quickly dropped them again,
glanced into her eyes, laughed a trifle unnaturally and departed.
Janina sat thinking for a long time about him. She felt so deep a
gratitude toward him and felt so cheered and strengthened by her talk
with him that she regretted she did not know on what train Glogowski
was leaving, for she had a desire to see him once more.
Then again, there arose in her something that protested loudly
against the aid he had given her, something that saw in that kindness
Alms! Janina whispered bitterly and felt a burning pain of
Can't I live alone, can't I get along by my own unaided strength,
can't I be sufficient unto myself? Must I continually lean on someone
for support? Must there always be someone watching over me? The others
know how to help themselves, why can't I? she asked herself.
Janina pondered over this, but a moment later she went to the
pawnshop to redeem her bracelet and on the way bought herself an
inexpensive autumn hat.
Life dragged on for her slowly, sluggishly, and wearily.
Janina was sustained only by the hope, or rather by a deep faith
that all this would change radically and soon, and in this longing
anticipation she began to pay ever more attention to Wladek. She knew
that he loved her. She listened almost daily to his confessions and
proposals, smiling deep within herself and thinking that in spite of
all she could not become that which her companions became. Their mode
of life aroused a deep aversion in her for she felt a truly organic
revulsion to all forms of filth. But these attentions of Wladek had at
least this effect, that they awakened in her for the first time
conscious thoughts of love.
She dreamed at moments of loving a man to whom she could give
herself entirely and for all time; she dreamed of a united life full of
ecstasy and love, such a love as poets presented in their plays; and
then there would pass before her mind the figures of all the great
lovers about whom she had read, passionate whispers, burning embraces,
volcanic passions and that whole Titanic love life, the remembrance of
which sent a tremor of delight through her.
Janina did not know whence these dreams came, but they would visit
her ever more frequently in spite of the poverty which again began to
grow more distressing, and the frequent hunger that gripped her as it
were in bony embrace. Her bracelet again went to the pawnshop, for she
continually had to buy some new article of wear for the stage, so that
often she was forced to deny herself food only to be able to buy what
she needed. New plays were continually presented to draw the public but
success was as far off as ever.
Such a situation harassed and tormented Janina dreadfully, robbing
her of her strength, but it also awakened a rebellion which began to
seethe silently within her. She felt at first an indefinable animosity
toward everybody. She regarded with a fierce envy the women whom she
met on the street.
Often, she would be seized with a mad desire to stop one of those
well-dressed ladies and ask her whether she knew what poverty was. She
observed intently their faces, their clothes, and their smiles and came
to the painful conclusion that these ladies could not know that there
were other people who suffered, wept, and were hungry. But later Janina
began to reason that she herself was dressed in the same way as these
other women; that there may be among them others in the same plight as
she, and that perhaps unknowingly they passed her on the way, hungry
and desperate, hurling the same glances at other passers-by that she
did. She tried to distinguish the faces of such sufferers in the
multitude, but could not. All appeared to be satisfied and happy.
Then, something like the triumph of her own ascendancy over this
well-dressed and well-fed multitude lit up Janina's face. She felt
herself to be far superior to this world of everyday mortals.
I have an idea, an aim! she thought. What do they live for? What
is their object in life? she would often ask herself. And unable to
answer that question, Janina would smile pityingly at the emptiness of
A race of butterflies that knows not whence, nor why, nor to what
end their life has been given them! she whispered, sating herself to
her heart's content with that silent scorn of people that was growing
to abnormal proportions in her.
Cabinska, Janina now hated with her whole soul, for although Pepa
always treated her with a sugary affability, she never paid her for
Yadzia's piano lessons, taking advantage of Janina's situation and
abilities with a hypocritical smile of friendliness. Janina could not
sever relations with her, for she felt distinctly that behind that mask
of politeness that Pepa wore there was hidden a fury who would not
forgive her that. Furthermore, she hated Cabinska as a woman, a mother,
and an actress. She had come to know her well, and moreover, in her
present period of continual strain and struggle, she had either to love
or hate someone immensely. Janina did not love anyone as yet, but
already she hated.
Do you know it is hardly believable that such an incompetent judge
as the directress should herself assign the roles for all our plays!
she once remarked to Wladek greatly embittered by the fact that she had
been ignored in the selection of the cast for an old melodramatic
caricature entitled Martin, the Foundling.
It is too bad that you did not ask her for a role for, as you see,
the director can do nothing, said Wladek.
Quite true! That's a good idea! I'll try it to-morrow.
Ask her for the role of 'Mary' in Doctor Robin which we are to
present next week. Some amateur wishes to join our company and he is to
make his debut as 'Garrick.'
What sort of role is that of 'Mary?'
A splendid display role! I think that you would act it superbly. I
can bring you the play, if you wish.
Good! we can read it together.
On the morrow Janina received a solemn promise from Cabinska that
she would be given the part.
In the afternoon Wladek brought Doctor Robin. This was his first
visit to Janina's home, so he took care to appear particularly
handsome, elegant, polite, and somewhat absent-minded. He acted love
and respect for Janina with the skill of a virtuoso; he was very quiet,
as though from an excess of happiness.
For the first time I feel shy and happy! he said, kissing Janina's
Why shy? You are always so sure of yourself on the stage! she
answered, a bit confused.
Yes, on the stage, where one only plays happiness, but not here . .
. where I am really happy.
Happy? she repeated.
Wladek glanced at Janina with such passionate intensity, with such
mastery of facial expression, accentuated by a rapturous smile,
simulating the ecstasy and transport of love, that had he shown this on
the stage he would have been warmly applauded. Janina understood him
excellently and something stirred in her as though some new string in
her heart had been lightly plucked.
Wladek began to read the play. With each of Mary's words, Janina's
enthusiastic nature burst forth anew. With bated breath, and eyes fixed
on Wladek, she listened, not daring to mar, either by word or gesture,
the impression that his reading made on her. She feared to dispel the
charm that spoke through his eloquent voice and in the velvety softness
of his black eyes.
When he had finished reading, the girl cried out in rapture: What a
I am willing to wager that you will make a furore in it, remarked
Yes . . . I feel that I could play it fairly well. 'Garrick, that
creator of souls, so mighty in Coriolanus!' she whispered, repeating a
remembered line of the play.
And Janina's face glowed with such fervor, so radiant did she become
with her deep inner joy, that Wladek scarcely recognized her.
You are an enthusiast, he said.
Yes, because I love art! Give all for art and everything is
contained in art! . . . that is my motto. Beyond art I see almost
nothing, answered Janina suddenly kindling anew with ardor.
Even love? asked Wladek.
But art appears to me to be a greater and completer expression of
the ideal than love . . . answered Janina.
But it is more alien to human beings and not so necessary to life
as is love. Without art the world could exist, but without love . . .
never! Moreover, art causes more painful disappointments than love.
But it also gives greater joys. Love is an individual emotion; art
is a social emotion, a synthesis. One loves it with one's humanity, one
suffers for it, but only through art does one sometimes become
Those are dreams. Thousands have given their lives to become
convinced of that and thousands have cursed that unattainable mirage.
But those thousands had their lives filled with that mirage and
felt more than one can feel, who dreams about nothing.
But since they were not happy, what is it all worth?
And are most people happy?
A thousandfold more so than we!
Wladek emphasized that we significantly.
Never! cried Janina, for our happiness lies in pain as it does in
joy, in dejection as well as ecstasy. Even this in itself is happiness:
to be able to develop one's self spiritually; to reach far out into
infinity with the arms of desire; to create new worlds in our mind,
larger and more beautiful than those surrounding us; to chant, even
through tears and pain, hymns to beauty and immortality; to dream, but
to dream so intensely as to forget about life entirely and to live in
Janina felt so great a flood of happiness and inspiration flowing
into her soul that she spoke, as it were, only in periods of her
thought, so that she might express herself at least in part. She spoke,
entirely forgetful of the fact that some one was listening to her and
spun out aloud ever grander and ever more evanescent dreams.
Wladek at first listened attentively, but later grew impatient.
A comedienne! he thought with irony. And he was sure that Janina
was unfurling before him the peacock feathers of fervor and enthusiasm
merely to fascinate and conquer him. He did not answer or interrupt
her, for it finally began to bore him.
That role of 'Mary' is a trifle too sentimental . . . added Janina
after a longer silence.
To me it seemed merely lyrical, answered Wladek.
I should like some time to play 'Ophelia.'
Are you familiar with Hamlet? asked Wladek, somewhat surprised.
During the last two years I have read nothing but dramas and
dreamed of the stage, she answered simply.
Truly it is worth bending the knee before such enthusiasm!
Why? All that is necessary is to help it, to give it a field, an
opportunity. . . .
If I only could. . . . Believe me when I say, that with my whole
heart I desire to see you reach the heights of art.
I believe you, Janina answered in a quieter tone. And I thank you
very much for Doctor Robin.
May I copy out the role for you?
I will copy it myself; it will give me a certain pleasure.
While you are learning it, I could act as a prompter for you, if
Oh, I should not want to take up any of your time . . .
Exclude a few hours each day for the performance and the rest of my
time is yours to dispose of as you will, he said with fervor.
They gazed at each other a moment.
Janina gave Wladek her hand; he held and kissed it for a long time.
Beginning with to-morrow I shall start to learn the part for I have
a day off, said Janina.
I also do not appear on the stage to-morrow.
Wladek went out a little angry at himself, for although he called
Janina a comedienne she had made him feel abashed with her simplicity
and enthusiasm. Moreover, he felt in her a certain intellectual and
Janina feverishly applied herself to the study of Doctor Robin. In a
few days she knew not only the role of Mary, but had memorized the
entire play. So intensely eager was she to play the role, that it
seemed as though she were staking her whole life on this performance.
Her former dreams that had been subdued a bit by poverty and the
feverish life of the theater now again burst forth with a flaming
intensity that dazzled and hypnotized her. The theater again took so
powerful a hold on Janina that there was no room in her consciousness
for anything else. In her hours of ecstasy it appeared to her like a
mystic altar suspended high above the gray vale of everyday life and
glowing with flames like a second burning bush of Moses; it seemed to
her like a miracle that endured eternally.
Wladek came to see Janina each day in the interval between the
rehearsal and the performance, although he was already beginning to be
immensely bored by her endlessly repeated raptures and was growing
impatient over the fact that in her mad absorption in art she did not
pay much attention to him. He could not penetrate her morbid
enthusiasm, as he called it, with his love, but he nevertheless
continued to go to her.
He began to desire Janina's love ever more strongly. He was invited
by her naivete and by the talent which he felt she possessed. Moreover,
he had long since desired just such an elegant and educated mistress.
He wanted by all means to possess this refined and genteel girl, who
was so different from his former mistresses and who captivated him by
the charm of her superiority. His triumph would be all the greater, he
told himself, because of the fact that she seemed to him one of those
ladies of the fashionable world upon whom he would often cast covetous
glances in the Ujazdowskie Allees.
Janina had not told Wladek that she loved him, but he already saw it
in her eyes and spun an ever stronger web about her made up of smiles,
passionate words, sighs, and exaggerated respect.
For Janina this was the most beautiful period that she had known in
her life. Poverty she treated with scorn, as though it were only a
temporary thing that would soon pass away.
Sowinska, after Wladek's frequent visits, became more intimate and
friendly with Janina and advised her to sell those parts of her
wardrobe which she did not need, even offering to do it for her.
And so life went on for Janina who was oblivious to everything else
but that performance of Doctor Robin which she awaited with the
greatest impatience. She lived, as it were, in a troubled dream.
Through the prism of dreams the world again appeared brighter to her,
and people kind. She forgot about everything, even about Glogowski,
whose recent letter she laid away only half read, for she now lived
entirely in the future. She fortified herself against the present with
dreams of what was to come.
Furthermore, Janina loved Wladek. She did not know how it had come
about, but she now knew that she could not do without him. She felt
very happy and peaceful, when, leaning on his arm, she walked along the
streets and listened to his low, melodious voice. The soft velvety
glances of his dark eyes made her glow with passion and a sweet
helplessness . . . .
Everything about him attracted her. He appeared so beautiful upon
the stage! He acted with such fervor and lyricism the parts of unhappy
lovers in the melodramas! He spoke, moved about and posed with such
charming simplicity. He was the favorite of the public; even the press
bestowed frequent praises upon him and predicted a brilliant artistic
future for him.
It pleased Janina to see him applauded on the stage. And so
skillfully did he know how to exhibit the resources of his brain, that
he was generally taken for an educated man, while in reality he
possessed only cleverness and the brazenness of a Warsaw loafer and
trickster. Moreover, for Janina he was the first and only man to whom
she had ever surrendered herself. It seemed to her that this bound them
for all time and indissolubly.
It happened, as it were, of itself, after one of the rehearsals of
Doctor Robin in which Wladek acted as a substitute in the role of
Garrick. When they had left the theater he spoke or rather declaimed
to her about love with a volcanic outburst of passion and accentuated
his emotion with such pathos that he stirred her to the very depths of
her soul. She felt sudden tears of tenderness welling up in her eyes;
and a desire for tremendous happiness through life and death remained
in her dreaming heart. Her whole soul was absorbed in the desire for
Janina did not even know what was happening to her, for she could
not resist the fascination of his voice. That musical pleading of love,
those burning kisses, and those passionate glances flooded her entire
being with an overwhelming and mad desire for joy. She abandoned
herself to him with the passiveness of a fascinated creature, without a
word of protest or resistance, but also without a consciousness of what
she was doing; in a word, she was hypnotized.
She did not even know what it was in him that she loved: the actor
masterfully playing upon her emotions and enthusiasm, or the man.
Janina did not think of this. She loved him because she loved him and
because he personified the theater and art for her.
It seemed to Janina that through his eyes she saw farther and
deeper. Her soul was growing (as the peasants describe certain stages
in the development of youth), so besides her distant plans of fame in
the future, she needed something for herself alone, she needed to
strengthen herself and support herself on some loving heart which would
at the same time serve as a stepping-stone for her own elevation. She
no longer felt lonely, for she could now reveal to Wladek her most
secret thoughts, dreams, and projects for the future and go over
various heroic roles together with him. He was a sort of physical
complement of her, and outlet for her excessive energy and dreams.
Janina did not submerge and lose herself in Wladek's being, but
rather absorbed him into herself. And not for one moment did she think
that she had surrendered herself to him, that he was henceforth her
lover and lord and that she belonged to him! She did not even consider
whether he had a soul or not. It sufficed her to know that he was
handsome, popular, that he loved her and that she needed him. Even in
her most intimate confidences and whispers of love there was a tone of
unconscious superiority. She spoke with him continually but almost
never asked him for his opinion and very seldom listened to his
replies. Wladek could not understand this, but he was conscious of it
and it acted as an unpleasant restraint upon him, for in spite of their
intimate relation, he could not feel at ease with her in his own way.
It wounded his self-love, but he had no way of remedying it. He
possessed her body, but not her soul that mysterious something, that
love that gives itself for life and eternity and makes of itself a
footstool for the lover. This attitude of Janina's irritated him, but
nevertheless attracted him so irresistibly that he doubled his
pretenses of love, thinking that by a larger dose of sentimental
falsehood, and a better acting of emotion he would at last captivate
and conquer her completely. However, he did not succeed in doing so.
Janina, aside from this love, gradually renounced everything, yet in
spite of that she felt content. She often suffered hunger, but it was
enough for her to have Wladek at her side and to become absorbed in her
role, to forget about the whole world.
The performance of Doctor Robin was postponed from day to day, for
the amateur who was to make his debut in it became ill. In the
meanwhile, other plays had to be given; so Janina was forced to content
herself with waiting. She was consumed by impatience and the ambition
to rise at once above the throng of her companions and was also
impelled by the hope of ending her poverty by this means and finally,
by the need of her own soul which had formed its own conception of the
character of Mary and had to give it forth.
Janina did not even pay attention to what was brewing behind the
scenes where every day schemes and projects for new companies were
formed, only to be abandoned after a few days. Krzykiewicz had already
delicately suggested to Janina on a few occasions that, if she wished,
she could secure an engagement with Ciepieszewski. She declined, for
she remembered Topolski's project and wished to wait for its
realization, knowing that he was counting on her for sure.
Topolski was in reality organizing a company. It was meant to be a
secret as yet, but everyone knew about it. It was openly said that
Mimi, Wawrzecki, Piesh with his wife, and a few of the younger forces
had already signed a contract and that Topolski had quietly closed a
deal for the Lubelsk Theater, a new building that had just been opened.
It was known for certain that Kotlicki and others had advanced him the
Cabinski, of course, knew all about this and loudly ridiculed these
projects. He knew very well that he could win back all those who had
joined Topolski by merely giving them larger advances on their
salaries. He predicted that Topolski would not hold out for one season
and would go to smash, for he did not believe that anyone was willing
to loan him money for organizing a new company.
There are no longer any such fools! he said aloud with conviction.
What amused him most was Topolski's proposed reform of the theater
which he unceremoniously termed an idiocy. Cabinski knew the public
well and knew what it wanted.
Topolski held frequent soirees at his home to which he invited all
those whom he might need. But he did not yet speak openly about his
company, leaving that to Wawrzecki who treated the matter
enthusiastically as though it were his own and used it to taunt
Cabinski with and to create more frequent rumpuses about his overdue
Janina was present at a few of these evenings at Topolski's house,
but was bored by them, for the men would usually play cards, while the
women, if they were not gossiping or complaining, would enclose
themselves within a narrow circle for secret whispering from which they
barred Janina, fearing that she might betray something to Cabinski, to
whose home she went daily to give piano lessons.
At the last of these evenings, while they were having tea, Majkowska
quietly begged Janina to stay a little longer, promising that she and
Topolski would accompany her home.
Wladek never appeared at these affairs, for he was an open and
stanch supporter of Cabinski.
After all the rest had gone Topolski sat opposite Janina and began
to tell her about the company he was organizing.
It will be an exemplary theater for true art! I have a splendid
ensemble of actors; I have made a contract for one of the best
theaters, the library is ready to be sent away and the costumes are
already half completed, hence we have almost all that is needed.
What are you still lacking? asked Janina, determining immediately
to ask for an engagement.
A little money . . . a mere trifle of about a thousand rubles as a
working capital for the first month, answered Topolski.
Couldn't you borrow it?
Yes . . . and that is precisely what I want to talk over with you
in a friendly way, for we already count you as one of us. I will give
you a good salary and alternating roles with Mela for I know that you
are a capable actress. You have the appearance, the voice and the
temperament, and, aside from intelligence, that is just what is
required to make an excellent actress.
Oh thank you, thank you sincerely! cried Janina beaming with joy.
And so elated was she that she kissed Majkowska, who, as was her habit,
was almost lying on the table and gazing absently at the lamp.
But you must help us! said Topolski after a short pause.
I? What can I do? she asked in surprise.
A great deal! If you only want to . . . he answered.
Well! if you say that I can, then, of course I shall be glad to
help, for it is not only my duty, but also in my own interest! But I'm
very curious to know what I can do.
It's a question of that one thousand rubles. The money is already
assured, only there is one little condition . . .
What is it? Janina asked curiously.
Topolski drew closer to her, took hold of her hands in a friendly
way and only then answered:
Miss Janina not only our theater, but your entire artistic future
depends on this, so I will tell you frankly that there is someone who
is ready to give even two thousand rubles, but he said that he would
give them only to you personally, otherwise not at all.
Who is that person? she asked uneasily.
Janina dropped her head and for a while a deep silence reigned in
the room. Topolski gazed at her uneasily, while Majkowska had upon her
face an indescribably derisive smile.
Janina almost cried out with pain, so repulsive did that name and
proposal strike her and after a moment she arose from her chair and
said in a determined voice: No! I will not go to Kotlicki . . . and
that which you have proposed to me is insulting and outrageous! Only in
the theater can people lose so entirely their moral sense as to
persuade others to base acts and purposely push them into the mire of
degradation, so that they themselves may profit. You have miscalculated
this time, my dear sir! I have not fallen so low as that. What hurts me
is that you could think even for a moment that I would agree to go to
Kotlicki, to Kotlicki, who is more repulsive to me than the basest
reptile! she cried, carried away by passion.
Miss Janina! Let us speak it over calmly and sensibly, without
You dare to tell me not to get excited?
I must, for you are simply inexperienced; consequently that which I
ask of you appears to you as something monstrous, something that will
immediately sink you in the mud, dishonor you, and shame you.
For God's sake, what is it then, if not just that! Janina cried in
Let us stop playing a comedy, let us drop this game of
hide-and-seek and look at things as they are and we shall see that I am
not proposing anything out of the ordinary to you. What am I asking of
you? Merely that you go to Kotlicki for the money which is to be the
foundation of our common future, the money which will create our
theater for us and without which none of us can budge from Warsaw. So
what is there wrong in this? What wrong can there be in that which will
make almost all of us happy?
What? Is it possible that you do not see any wrong in the fact that
I, a woman should go alone to the home of a man? And for what will he
give me that one thousand or two thousand rubles?
When you lived with Glogowski no one regarded it as wrong. Now,
when you are living with Wladek who blames you for it? After all, what
is there so dreadfully dishonorable about it? We all live that way; and
are we thereby committing anything base? . . . No! for that is a
secondary thing, for we have something more important in our minds:
No, I will not go! answered Janina quietly, depressed by the
discovery that they all knew about her relation with Wladek.
She continued to listen to Topolski without hearing or understanding
his words. He began to expostulate with her, to beg, and to explain
that they were all sacrificing their very lives for the theater,
something more than the mere whim of a woman. He pointed out to her
that by her refusal she would deal a mortal blow to the newly organized
company; that they were all counting on her and would be grateful to
her until death, for by her sacrifice she would insure the welfare of
dozens of people; that the new theater would be connected with her
name. He wished by all means to break down her opposition which he
could not understand, but Janina remained unmoved.
If my life itself depended on it, I would not go; I would prefer to
die! said Janina with final determination.
Well then, good-bye! answered Topolski angrily.
Janina kept looking at him and still wanted to explain herself more
fully, but Majkowska threw her cloak over her shoulders for her,
brutally placed her hat on her head, and showering her with insults,
opened the door widely before her.
Janina like an automaton, permitted her to do what she wanted with
her and, like an automaton she walked down the stairs and along the
streets to her home.
She felt sorry for the new company and regretted the prospect that
she was losing by breaking with Topolski but at the same time she felt
an unbearable shame consuming her at the thought that these people
should take her for such a degraded being by daring to make such
proposals to her and expecting that she would fulfill them.
Janina could not calm herself. That night she dreamed now of
Kotlicki, now of Wladek, then again of the theater. She heard how all
were cursing and reviling her, she saw as it were, a band of people
covered with rags and with hatred glowing in their eyes, pursuing her
with curses and trying to beat her. In those vaguely outlined faces she
recognized Mela, Topolski, Mimi, and Wawrzecki. Again, she dreamed that
she was walking along the street and that everybody was staring at her
so strangely and so horribly that she felt like sinking into the earth
to avoid their glances; but she had no strength to move and that
multitude slowly filed by her while Topolski stood pointing at her and
crying in a loud and derisive voice: Behold! she lived with Glogowski
and is now the mistress of Wladek!
Janina could not bear that; she screamed wildly in her sleep for she
saw, as it were, her father approaching her with Krenska at his side,
pointing at her and calling: She lived with Glogowski and now is the
mistress of Wladek!
God, oh God! she moaned, writhing with the torment of that dream.
And the throng of familiar faces continued to grow. There appeared
the priest from Bukowiec, the teachers of her boarding school, her
former companions and Grzesikiewicz. All, all passed by her hastily and
stared at her with such a dreadful, horrible smile that it pierced her
like a dagger and scourged her like a whip.
Janina awoke with tear-streaming eyes and utterly exhausted.
Before the rehearsal Wladek came to see her. For the first time she
threw herself into his arms of her own accord.
They all know! she whispered, hiding her face upon his breast.
Wladek immediately surmised what she meant and answered: Well, what
of it? Is it a crime?
He sat down in an ill humor, began to rub his knee and tossed about
angrily in his chair.
Janina noticed his mood and, forgetting about herself, inquired:
What is the matter with you? Are you ill?
There is nothing the matter with me, only I owe someone a few
rubles and am unable to pay them back. I can't ask my mother for the
money, for she is sick again and it would only finish her! Cabinski
will not give it to me either, and I am at my wit's end!
He was, of course, lying, for he had been playing cards the whole
night long and had lost all he had. Janina remembered the help she had
received from Glogowski, so without hesitation she took off her gold
watch and chain and laid it before Wladek.
I have no money. Take this and pawn it and pay your debt and what
you have left over bring me back, for I also have nothing, she said
No, I shall not take it! What do you want to do that for? I really
don't need it. . . . My dear child! . . . remonstrated Wladek in his
first impulse of honesty.
Please take it. . . . If you love me you will take it.
Wladek demurred a little while yet, but the thought struck him that
with the money he might play again to win back what he had lost.
No! What would that look like! he whispered, his resistance
growing ever weaker.
Go right away and on your way back stop in for me and we shall have
breakfast together, urged Janina.
Wladek kissed her, as though he were embarrassed, muttered something
about gratitude, but finally took the watch and went to pawn it.
He returned quickly with thirty rubles. He immediately borrowed
twenty from Janina and wanted even to give her a receipt for them, but
she became so angry that he had to apologize to her. Then they went out
Thenceforward they lived together. At the theater everyone knew
about their relation, but it was such a usual thing, that no one paid
attention to it. Only Sowinska would sometimes taunt Janina on the
score and slight her and, whereas not so long ago she had done nothing
but praise Wladek, she now told the vilest sort of tales about him. She
delighted in tormenting Janina in this manner, and avenged herself in
this way for the loss of her son's love.
At last it was announced that stage rehearsals of Doctor Robin were
to begin. Wladek brought this information to Janina, because for a few
days she had been very weak and had not left her home at all. She felt
an oppressive drowsiness and exhaustion and an unbearable pain in her
back. Then again such a feeling of helplessness and discouragement
would possess her that she wanted to cry and had no desire to stir from
her bed, but lay for whole days, gazing blankly at the ceiling. The
humming sensation in her head returned and she suffered such a burning
thirst that nothing could quench it. However, on hearing that she was
to take part in the play, Janina immediately felt well and strong
She went to the rehearsal, trembling with fear, but on seeing the
person who was to play Garrick, she quickly mastered herself. This
amateur was hardly more than a boy, skinny, awkward, and simple-minded.
He lisped and waddled about like a duck, but since he was the cousin of
one of the influential journalists who backed him, he regarded
everybody at the theater with a haughty expression and treated them
with an air of condescension. The members of the company delicately
ridiculed him to his face and laughed loudly at him behind his back.
Everybody was present at the rehearsal, as though they had all
agreed upon it beforehand.
No sooner did Janina enter upon the stage than Majkowska
ostentatiously withdrew behind the scenes, while Topolski did not so
much as nod his head to her in greeting. Janina realized that relations
with them were severed for good, but she had no time to think about it,
for the rehearsal began immediately. Despite the fact that she had at
first intended merely to recite her role, Janina could not now refrain
from marking it, at least in its broad outlines.
She was irritated by the fact that everyone was looking at her and
that from all directions numerous eyes were fixed upon her. It seemed
to her that she saw ridicule in their glances and derision on all those
lips, so at moments she would start nervously and break out with all
the force of her temperament, or again, she would speak too softly.
Majkowska stood there hissing and laughing together with Zarnecka
and loudly voicing her opinion of Janina's acting. Topolski, the
stage-manager, made her leave and reenter the stage several times, for
in her excitement, she did not enter properly.
Janina knew what they were doing, so she did not take very much to
heart Mela's ridicule or Topolski's pedantic instructions. She played
on and rendered her role forcibly, if a little unevenly.
There followed a characteristic silence; nobody laughed nor jested
The stage-director walked up and down behind the scenes contentedly
rubbing his hands and grunting: Good, good, but she does not yet put
enough pathos into it!
Why, don't you hear she is already shouting, not speaking!
Majkowska jeered at him.
My dear madame! You go into convulsions on the stage, and none of
us, out of politeness, blames you for it, answered Stanislawski for
Not that way! Who waves his arms in that manner? Are you trying to
make a windmill of yourself? cried Topolski.
Don't discourage her, remember it is her first rehearsal! cried
Cabinska from the seats.
You walk about the stage like a goose! again remarked the
irritated Topolski to Janina.
She wouldn't be at all bad as a washerwoman! hissed Mela.
In spite of all, although she felt tears of wrath rising to her
eyes, Janina played on, without letting herself be confused and never
for a moment losing her presence of mind.
When she had finished, Cabinska ostentatiously kissed her and began
to praise her aloud so that Majkowska could hear: I congratulate you
and have no doubt that you will play the part excellently!
Work out the details a little better, Stanislawski advised her.
Why, this is merely a rehearsal! I already have the entire
character worked out in my head.
We shall now have a real heroine, for one that is beautiful and
talented at the same time! cried Rosinska in a very loud voice.
Majkowska glared at her furiously, but did not reply.
Janina felt so happy that she had a desire to kiss everybody.
In two days the performance was to take place. That interval was
like one immense vista of light in which Janina seemed eagerly
absorbed. It seemed to her that she was entirely satisfied.
At last! At last! Now, all my poverty and humiliation will end!
Janina whispered rapturously to herself. She thought that a repertory
of roles would immediately be assigned to her. She gave free reign to
her imagination and already saw herself upon some pinnacle. She was
already in that promised land of powerful emotions about which she
dreamed every day in that realm that swarmed before her eyes with a
stately throng of heroic figures, superhuman passions, and dazzling
beauty, a realm in which there reigned a perfect harmony between dreams
Janina smiled with pity at those days of want and poverty, as though
she were bidding farewell to them forever. Everything that surrounded
her, even Wladek, paled into insignificance before her fascinated eyes.
A thousand times she repeated the role of Mary. She sat for hours
at a time before the mirror, practicing the appropriate facial
expression and became feverish with impatience while awaiting the
arrival of the momentous day. At night, Janina would sit half asleep in
her bed and gaze before her. It seemed to her that she saw the crowded
theater and the representatives of the press, that she heard the quiet
murmurs of the public, saw their enraptured glances, and that she
entered the stage and played. . . . Half unconsciously she would repeat
the words of her role, kindle with ardor, declaim them with exaltation.
Then, overcome by drowsiness again, she would smile through tears of
happiness for she heard most distinctly that well-known and thrilling
thunder of applause and cries of: Orlowska! Orlowska! And with that
smile on her face she would fall asleep and wake again to continue her
Janina sold whatever she could to buy the appropriate costume for
her part. With a smile of contentment she would drive away Wladek so
that he might not interfere with her.
On that day which was to be for her so important and decisive,
Cabinski, before the general rehearsal, took away her part and gave it
Intrigue and envy had gained their end. Cabinski was forced to
yield, for Topolski had threatened to leave the company immediately
unless he took away the role from Janina and gave it to Majkowska. It
was the way he chose to avenge himself because of Janina's refusal to
go to Kotlicki.
Struck to the very heart, Janina almost lost her reason under this
blow. She began to stagger on her feet and felt that the whole theater
was whirling about her and that everything was sinking with her into a
bottomless darkness. She cast a glance of unspeakable grief at all
those about her, as though seeking for help, but on the faces of most
of the members of the company there was an expression of merriment over
what they thought was a splendid joke, and the beastly joy of cretins
at the suppression of talent. They mocked the defeated aspirant with
their glances; burning taunts and jibes began to fall from all sides
like stones upon her soul crushed by an unexpected blow. Brutal laughs
arose, scourging her as with a whip and all the baseness of human
delight in the pain of others found its object and outlet.
And Janina stood there without a word or motion, with that dreadful
pain in her heart in which it seemed as though all the arteries had
been torn open and were flooding it with the blood of despair.
She collected enough strength to ask: Why may I not play the part?
Because you may not and that settles it! answered Cabinski curtly.
And he immediately left the theater, because he dreaded a scene and
felt a trifle sorry for Janina.
She remained standing behind the scenes with that overwhelming and
sharp pain of disappointment tearing at her soul. She felt such an
emptiness and loneliness that at moments it seemed to her as though she
were all alone in the world and that something had pinned her to the
earth with an immense weight and was crushing her down, that she was
falling with lightning speed to the bottom of some deep abyss where a
grayish-green whirlpool was dimly roaring.
Her thoughts and feelings were breaking and snapping under the
tremendous strain and tears of hopeless abandonment flooded her eyes.
She went to the dressing-room and sat down in the darkest corner.
Her dreams were crumbling to pieces: those wonderful realms were
vanishing and sinking away in the misty distance, those enchanting
visions were waving like torn rags in her brain and soul.
The dull grayness of the dirty walls and decorations about her and
the throng of shabby, jeering beggars seemed to saturate and oppress
her whole being. She felt so utterly weary, broken, sick, and helpless
that she went out into the hall to look for Wladek to take her home,
but she could not find him. He had cautiously disappeared, so Janina
went back to the dressing-room and sat there in a daze.
Beware of dreams! Beware of water! she repeated to herself,
remembering with difficulty who had told her that. And suddenly, Janina
became pale and reeled back for such a chaos began to whirl in her
brain that she thought she would go mad . . . .
For a long time she sat in a senseless torpor and wept without being
able to restrain herself, for after partly regaining her consciousness
the memory of all her sufferings and disappointments came back to her
again. At last utterly worn out, and, lulled by the silence that
enveloped the theater after the rehearsal, she fell asleep.
She was awakened by Rosinska who on that day had come earlier to the
dressing-room, for she was to begin the play. When she saw the sleeping
girl, the older actress was moved to pity. The remaining shreds of her
womanhood covered by the artificiality of theatrical life, awoke in her
at the sight of that pale face, worn by poverty and dejection.
Miss Janina whispered Rosinska tenderly.
Janina arose and began nervously to wipe away the traces of tears
from her face.
Have you not seen Mr. Niedzielski? she asked Rosinska.
No. My poor child, so that is what they have done to you! But you
must not take it so much to heart. If you want to be an artist you must
bear a great deal, suffer a great deal. My dear, if you only knew what
I had to go through and still have to. If you wanted to grieve over all
the afflictions that come to you, become irritated over all the gossip
they spread about you or weep over every intrigue in which they try to
entangle you, you would have neither any tears, nor eyes, nor strength
left! There's no use crying over it, for things can't be any different
in the theater! Moreover, you haven't lost anything by it! That one
disappointment makes you richer by one more experience.
Perhaps they are right, after all. I must have no talent whatever,
if Cabinski took away the role from me . . . .
It is just because you have a talent that they played this trick on
you. I heard what the cousin of that amateur said at the first
What good will all that do me, when I can't play and have nothing
to live on.
That is all the doing of Majkowska. She forced Cabinski to take the
role away from you.
I know she bears me a grudge, but I can't conceive why she should
revenge herself in such an inhuman way!
You don't know her yet. . . . I don't know what you two quarreled
about, but I do know that when she saw you on the stage at the first
rehearsal she became so greatly afraid that you might eclipse her that
she immediately began to lay plans for your undoing. I saw how she hung
about that amateur, how she fawned upon his cousin and Cabinski, how
she kissed the hands of the directress! I saw with my own eyes! Did you
ever hear of anyone degrading one's self in that manner? But she
attained her end. She has already done away with many another in the
same way. You probably do not know what I, an actress of long standing
and with so large a repertory, have to suffer on her account. You could
not notice what was being schemed, for it was all done so quickly that
besides myself, probably no one else knew about it. Such a creature as
she always has luck! But wait I will fix her to-day! I'll pay her back
for the both of us!
The dressing-room slowly began to fill with actresses, their noisy
chatter and the smell of powder and pigments that were being warmed
over the candles. They were beginning to dress.
At last Majkowska came in, stately and triumphant, with a bouquet in
her hands and roses in her corsage. Seeing Janina sitting alongside of
Rosinska she frowned and cried angrily: If I am not mistaken, this is
not the dressing-room of the chorus girls.
You are mistaken, you pantomime artist! retorted Rosinska.
I am not speaking to you.
But I am answering you. Please stay here, she said, turning to
Janina who wanted to leave.
Don't you begin with me! Do you think I'm going to dress together
with novices, eh?
Wait, you'll get a separate cell with a strait-jacket of your own.
You can't miss it.
Shut your mouth! You forty-year-old simp.
My age is none of your business, you ruined heroine!
She looks like a drenched hen on the stage and yet dares to raise
her voice here.
Everybody in the dressing-room was shaking with laughter, while
Rosinska and Majkowska began to quarrel ever more vulgarly, without
however interrupting for a moment their make-up and hasty dressing.
Janina listened to the quarrel in silence. She hardly felt any
grievance toward Majkowska for depriving her of the role, but only a
physical aversion to her person. Majkowska now appeared to her so
filthy, brazen, and base that even her voice sounded disgusting.
Only when they began to play Doctor Robin, Janina stood behind the
scenes to see what would be done with her role. It is impossible to
describe that subtle, excruciating pain that rent her soul when she saw
Majkowska as Mary on the stage. She felt that that other woman was
tearing out piecemeal from her brain and heart every word, every
gesture, every pose and accent.
They are mine, mine! she breathed, unable to help herself. Mine!
And she devoured Mela with her eyes and then closed them so that she
might not behold any more of it, nor torment herself with remembering
the role as she had conceived it. The thief! she finally whispered so
loudly that Majkowska trembled on the stage.
Rosinska sat behind the scenes on the other side of the stage. As
soon as Majkowska entered there began a scene upon the stage for she
repeated each word after Mela in an undertone and in a false
intonation, laughed aloud at her acting, ridiculed and mimicked her
At first Majkowska paid no attention to this, but finally she could
no longer refrain from looking behind the scenes and could not help
hearing that raillery and mimicry of herself. She could not catch the
prompter's words and stopped short in the middle of a sentence, while
Rosinska continued to crowd her ever more mercilessly.
Majkowska grew furious with impotent rage, but her playing was
becoming worse all the time and she felt it, and began to throw herself
about the stage as though she were obsessed. Behind every scene she saw
faces laughing at her; even Dobek in his box stopped his mouth with his
hand so heartily amused was he by what was going on. That deprived
Majkowksa of the rest of her self-control.
As soon as she left the stage she threw herself at Rosinska with her
fists. There arose such a rumpus that the men had to part the two
actresses, for they had begun pulling the hair out of each other's
wigs. Majkowska was forcibly led to the dressing-room. She raged like a
mad woman and got an attack of hysteria. She smashed mirrors, tore up
costumes, and tossed about so violently that they had to call a doctor
and tie her hands and feet.
Cabinska pulled out the rest of his hair in despair, but the actors
laughed in their dressing-rooms and enjoyed themselves immensely.
The curtain had to be lowered in the middle of the play, and
Topolski, almost pale with anger announced to the audience: Ladies and
Gentlemen! Because of the sudden and serious indisposition of Miss
Majkowska, Doctor Robin cannot be concluded. The following play on the
program will immediately begin.
Janina despite the satisfaction that she felt at the fiasco of her
enemy, began to feel sorry for Majkowska when she saw her senseless and
suffering. She was not yet enough of an actress to feel indifferent to
it, so she went to her, but seeing in the room the doctor, and
Cabinski, who was quarreling with Rosinska she hastily retreated.
Rosinska, Wolska, and Mirowska declared outright to Cabinski that if
Majkowska remained in the company they would leave it the very next
Cabinski fled, but he next ran into Stanislawski and Krzykiewicz who
told him the same with the addition that they would not remain a day
longer with him for they were ashamed to be in a company where such
public scandals occurred.
The director almost went crazy, for he was not prepared for such a
thing. He tried to squirm out of it as best as he could, made promises,
gave orders on the treasurer to all who wanted them and, spying Janina
called aloud to her with the object of mollifying somewhat his previous
conduct: If you want something from the treasurer, I will give you an
order, for I must leave right away.
Janina asked for five rubles. He did not even so much as make a wry
face but gave it to her and immediately ran off to Pepa, but on the way
he was again tackled by that amateur and his cousin and things began to
grow so noisy behind the scenes that the public listened uneasily,
wondering what was the matter.
The performance was concluded amid the silence of the audience; not
one handclap sounded.
Janina, on leaving the box office with the money, met Niedzielska
hobbling slowly along.
She stopped and wanted to greet her, but Niedzielska looked at her
threateningly and barked: What do you want, you! you! She coughed
violently, threatened Janina with her cane with which she supported
herself, and dragged herself on.
Janina unconsciously looked about her, to see if she could spy
Wladek anywhere, but he had already vanished. She had not seen him
since that morning.
Wladek purposely avoided her, for he had reached the decisive
conclusion that it was better to have intercourse only with ordinary
women, for with them it was not necessary to restrain one's self, to
pretend, and to be continually forced to take everything into account.
Moreover, Janina had made a fiasco as an actress and continued to be
nothing but a chorus girl, and his mother had threatened to disinherit
him because of her.
Janina gazed for a long time after the old woman, who, no doubt, was
going to seek her son, and then she went slowly home.
Janina lay sick in bed.
It seemed to her as though she were at the bottom of a well and,
from those depths into which they had shoved her she could see only the
pale, distant blue of the sky, sometimes complete darkness, sometimes
the twinkling of the stars, then again some wings, flying past, would
cast a shadow over her eyes so that she lost knowledge of everything.
She only felt that those eddies of life without, its voices, noises,
cries, fears, and despair oozed down the smooth sides of the well and
flowed into her soul as into a reservoir, penetrating her whole soul
with an unconscious pain which she, however, felt with every fiber of
The days dragged on as slowly as though they were strung on the
chain of ages, as slowly as they drag on for those who have lost
everything, even hope.
Janina sent word to the director that she was sick, but no one came
to see her. Cabinska merely sent Wicek to say that Yadzia was longing
for her piano lessons, and nothing more.
There, they were playing, learning, creating something and living!
Here, she lay sunken in a complete apathy, like a crushed soul that
hardly dares at moments to think that it still exists and then again
sinks into an agony which cannot, however, end in the oblivion of
Janina was not really physically ill, for nothing pained her, but
was dying from inner exhaustion. It seemed to her as though she had
spent the whole store of her strength in those three months of
theatrical life and that she was now dying from the hunger of her soul
that had nothing left with which to keep it alive.
Throughout those long days, throughout that endless agony of silent
nights she slowly pondered the nature of everyone whom she had met
here; and that slow, but entirely one-sided, cognizance of her
environment filled her with bitter sadness.
There is no happiness on earth . . . Janina whispered to herself,
and it seemed to her that hitherto she had had a cataract blinding her
eyes which fate had now brutally torn off. She now saw, but there were
moments in which she yearned for her former blindness and groping in
There is no happiness! she repeated bitterly, and rebellious
pessimism mastered her soul entirely.
Everywhere Janina saw only evil and baseness. There passed before
her the forms of all her acquaintances and she scornfully thrust them
all down into one pit, not excluding Wladek. He had dropped in only
once to see her and began to excuse himself for his absence, but she
impatiently interrupted him and asked him to go away.
She already knew him well enough and wondered as the thought
occurred to her that she had ever loved him.
Why? Why? Janina asked herself.
Shame and regret began to fill her at the thought that she had
fallen so low and for him. He now appeared to her miserable and common.
She could not forgive herself.
What fatality placed him in my path of life? Janina asked herself
further. In her own eyes she felt deeply humiliated.
I did not love him, she pondered and a shudder of disgust shook
her. He began to grow hateful to her.
And the theater also, lost a great deal of its glamor for Janina in
those hours of reflection. She now looked at it through the prism of
those continual quarrels and behind-the-scenes intrigues, through the
vanity of its priests and through her own disappointments.
It is not as I used to see it formerly! she lamented.
Everything became increasingly smaller and grayer to Janina's inner
vision. Everywhere she began to discover rags, sham, and falsehood.
People obscured everything for her with their baseness and pettiness.
She no longer desired to reign as a queen upon the stage.
What is that? What is that? she whispered to herself and saw a
motley, heterogeneous public that was indifferent to the quality of a
play. It came to the theater to amuse itself and laugh; it hankered for
clownishness and the circus.
What is that? Comedianism for profit and for the amusement of the
multitude, Janina answered herself. The stage now appeared to her as a
real arena for the feats of clowns and trained monkeys.
I wanted to be an entertainer of the mob! And where does art come
in? What is pure art, the ideal, for which hundreds of people sacrifice
What is it and where is it to be found? she asked herself
uneasily, beginning to see that everything is rather an amusement than
an aim in itself.
Literature, poetry, music, painting, and all the fine arts passed
before Janina's mind. She could not separate their utilitarian aspect
from their purely artistic one. She saw that all artists played, sang,
and created only to amuse that vast, brutal, mob. For it they
sacrificed their lives, their strength, and their dreams; for it they
struggled and suffered, lived and died.
To Janina that vast multitude of Grzesikiewiczs, Kotlickis, and
counselors, appeared in its ignorance and low instincts like a cruel
master who, with a half-mocking, half-favoring smile, looked down upon
that entire human throng of artists that painted, played, recited,
created, and begged with a nervous look for his favor and recognition.
And she saw one immense wave of human beings spreading over the wide
plains of earth, swaying slowly and going nowhere; and on the other
side all those artists who were passing through the mob in all
directions, loudly proclaiming something, singing with inspired voices,
pointing to the expanse of heaven, calling attention to the stars,
trying to bring about some order in this disorderly, teeming multitude,
opening paths among it, imploring it in deep tones. But the multitude
either laughed or merely nodded its assent, but did not budge from its
place. It surged and pushed about and trampled the artists underfoot.
What is that? Why? Janina asked herself, greatly terrified. If
they do not need us then we ought to let them alone, keeping ourselves
apart from them and living only for ourselves and with ourselves. But
again everything became confused in her mind and she could not conceive
how it would be possible to live apart from the rest of humanity and
concluded that it would not be worth living at all in that way. Her
thoughts whirled in confusion through her brain.
Sowinska, who now took care of her with motherly solicitude, came in
and interrupted her frenzied thoughts.
Why don't you go home? she advised Janina sincerely.
Never! answered Janina.
Why should you wear yourself out in that way? You will rest a
little, gain new strength, and return again to the theater.
No, answered Janina quietly.
I forgot to tell you that old Mrs. Niedzielska was here to see me
Do you know her? asked the younger woman.
Not at all, but she had some business with me. Oh, she is a sly
fox, that old hag! added Sowinska.
Perhaps she is a bit too miserly, but otherwise she is a rather
Honest? You'll find out yet for yourself how honest she is.
Why? asked Janina, but without curiosity, for it didn't at all
interest her now.
I will only say this much . . . that she does not love you in the
least, not in the least!
That's strange, for I never did her any wrong, answered Janina.
Sowinska's demeanor suddenly changed, for she glanced angrily at
Janina and wanted to say something sharp, but seeing that Janina's face
wore an expression of complete indifference, she refrained and left the
Janina thought about Bukowiec.
I have no home, she thought, even without bitterness. The whole
wide world is my home, she added, but suddenly remembered what
Grzesikiewicz had told her about her father and stirred as though some
hidden pain had awakened in her. An uneasiness, not such as besets one
on the eve of some event, but such as one feels on remembering some
good that one has lost forever, filled Janina's heart. It was the pain
of the past like the quiet remembrance of the dead.
But those memories of Bukowiec and those lonely nights when she
dreamed, forgetting about everything, and created for herself such
wondrous worlds, now flashed upon her mind in all their vividness. Only
the memory of that exuberant and majestic nature, those vast fields,
and those silent glens full of murmurs and bird songs, verdure, and
wild grandeur swathed Janina in melancholy and lulled her weary soul
with its charms.
The woods in which she was reared, those dim depths full of
unspeakable wonders, those gigantic trees to which she was united by a
thousand affinities, outlined themselves in her mind ever more
powerfully. Janina longed for them now and listened through the nights,
for it seemed to her that she heard the grave autumnal murmur of the
forest, the somnolent rustling of its branches. It seemed that she felt
within herself the slow, endless swaying of those giant trees, the soft
motions of the verdure bathed in golden sunlight, the joyous cry of the
birds, the fragrance of the young pine saplings and juniper bushes the
whole leisurely life of nature.
Janina lay for whole hours at a time, without a word, thought, or
motion, for her soul was there in those verdant woods. She wandered
over the meadows covered with wild raspberries and waving grass,
strayed across the fields where the rye grew high like a wood, swaying
and murmuring in the breeze and gleaming with dew in the sunlight,
penetrated the groves full of the pungent smell of the resin. She
followed each road, each boundary, each wood path, greeted everything
that lived there and cried out to the fields, woods, the hills, and the
sky: I have come! I have come! smiling as though she had found a lost
These invigorating memories restored Janina's health almost
entirely. On the eighth day she felt strong enough for a walk. She was
longing for the fresh air, the verdure unsoiled by city dust, the
sunlight, and the vast open spaces. She felt that the city was stifling
her, that here, at every step, she had to limit her own ego and
continually struggle against all the barriers of custom and dependence.
Janina passed through the Place of Arms and, going beyond the
Citadel, she walked along the damp sand dunes to Bielany.
An unbroken silence enveloped her on all sides. The sun shone
brightly and warmly, but from the water there blew a brisk,
She gazed at the quiet river flecked with spots of white foam and at
the indistinct silhouettes of boats trailing along in midstream. She
breathed in deeply the calm that surrounded her and felt a resurgence
of her wasted strength.
Janina lay down upon the yellowish sand of the bank and, gazing at
the gleaming expanse of waters, forgot everything. It seemed to her as
though she were flowing on with the current of the river, passing the
shores, houses, and woods and hurrying on continually into a blue and
boundless distance like the illimitable expanse of heaven that hung
over her. It seemed to her as though she no longer remembered anything,
but felt only the ineffable delight of rocking with the waves.
Janina suddenly awoke from that half dream, for there passed near
her an old man with a fishing rod in his hand. He looked at her in
passing, sat down almost beside her on the very edge of the river, cast
his line into the water and waited.
He had so honest a face that she felt a desire to speak to him and
was thinking how to begin, when he addressed her first: Would you like
to take a trip over to the other side?
Janina glanced at him questioningly.
Aha! I see that we don't understand each other. I thought that you
wanted to drown yourself, he said.
I wasn't even thinking about death, she replied quietly.
Ha! ha! It would be an unexpected honor for the river.
He adjusted his fishing tackle and became silent, centering all his
attention on the fish that had begun to circle about the bait and the
A deeper silence, as it were, diffused itself about and began to
fill Janina's soul with a blissful calm. She felt that an immense
goodness was pervading her, that the majesty of that expanse of heaven,
of the waters and the verdure was uplifting her and drawing from her
breast a hymn of thanksgiving and the pure joy of living, free from all
The old man cast a sidelong glance at her and on his narrow lips
there hovered an unfathomable smile.
Janina felt that look and in turn glanced at him. Their eyes met in
a long and friendly gaze.
She felt a sudden and irresistible impulse to reveal the depths of
her soul to him.
She moved closer to him and said quietly: I was not thinking about
Then you were seeking calm?
Yes, I wanted to take a look at nature and to forget.
Forget about what?
About life! Janina whispered hoarsely and tears of violent grief
filled her eyes.
You are a child. It must have been some disappointment in love,
some thwarted ambition, or perhaps the lack of a dinner that put you in
such a tragic mood.
All that taken together is not enough to make one feel very, very
unhappy, answered Janina.
All that taken together is one big zero, for according to my way of
thinking there is nothing that can make wholly unhappy an individual
who knows himself, he said.
Who are you . . . that is, what do you do? he asked, after pausing
I am in the theater, answered the girl.
Aha! the world of comedy! Simulation which you afterwards take for
reality. Chimeras! All that warps the human soul. The greatest actors
are merely phonographs wound up sometimes by sages, sometimes by
geniuses, but most often by fools. And they speak to even greater
fools. Actors, artists, creators are merely blind instruments of nature
which uses them to reveal itself and for ends known to itself alone! To
them it seems that they are something real, but that is a sad
deception, for they are merely instruments which are thrown into the
discard when they are no longer needed or have lost their usefulness.
Who are you? Janina asked, almost unknowingly, stirred by his
An old man as you see, who fishes and likes to chat. Oh yes, I am
very old. I come here for a few hours every day in the summertime, if
the weather is fair, and catch fish, if they let themselves be caught.
What good will it do you to know who I am? My name will tell you
nothing. In the sum total of humanity I am merely a pawn which is given
a certain number upon entrance into this world and retains the same at
the time of its exit. I am a cell of feeling long ago registered and
classified by my fellow-beings as a 'ne'er-do-well,' he said, smiling.
I had no intention of offending you by my question.
I never get angry about anything. Only foolish people anger
themselves or rejoice. A man ought merely to look on, observe, and go
his own way, he added, drawing a gudgeon from his hook.
Janina was a bit chilled by his gravity and by his decisive way of
speaking which admitted of no discussion.
Are you from the Warsaw Theater? he asked, throwing out his line
No, I am in Cabinski's company. No doubt you know him.
I don't know him, nor have I heard about him.
Is it possible that you have never heard anything about Cabinski,
nor read about the Tivoli? asked Janina greatly surprised that there
could be anyone in Warsaw who did not know and was not interested in
I do not go to the theater at all and I do not read the papers, he
One can see right away that you must not be more than twenty years
old, for you cry out in amazement, 'Impossible!' and look at me as
though I were a lunatic or a barbarian.
But after talking with you, it was impossible for me to assume even
for a moment that . . .
That I am not interested in the theater, yes, that I do not read
the papers, he concluded for her.
I can't even understand why.
Well, because that does not interest me at all, he answered
Are you not at all interested in what is going on in the world, in
how people are living, what they are doing, what they are thinking?
No. To you that doubtless appears monstrous; nevertheless it is
entirely natural. Do our peasants interest themselves in the theater or
in world affairs? They do not. Isn't that true?
Yes, but they are peasants and that is entirely different.
It is the same thing, merely with this addition; that for them your
famous and great men do not exist at all and it doesn't make the
slightest difference to them whether Newton or Shakespeare ever lived
or not. And they are just as well off with their ignorance, just as
Janina became silent, for what he had said appeared to her
paradoxical and not very true.
What will I learn from your newspapers and your theaters? Merely
that people love, hate, and fight one another the same as ever; that
evil and brute force continue to reign as they always have done; that
the world and life are merely a big mill in which brains and
consciences are ground to dust. It is more comfortable to know nothing
rather than that, he continued.
But is it right for anyone to seclude himself so egoistically from
all that is going on in the world? asked Janina.
Precisely in that lies wisdom. To desire nothing for ourselves,
care for nothing, and be indifferent that is what we ought to aim at.
Is it possible to attain such a state of complete apathy?
It is attained through the experience of life and through thinking.
Remember that the smallest pleasure, a mere momentary satisfaction,
always costs us more dearly than it is really worth. The average man
will not, for instance, pay a thousand rubles for a pear, for he knows
that would be an insane absurdity, and moreover, he knows the relative
value of a thousand rubles and of a pear. But out of the capital of his
life he is ready to squander thousands for mere triflesfor a light
love affair that lasts only as long as it takes a two cent pear to
ripen, for he has never considered the almost priceless value of his
own vital energy and becomes blind to all, like a bull when the
toreador flashes a red rag before his eyes, and pays for that blindness
with a part of his life. The majority of human beings die, not from
natural necessity, like a lamp when its oil has burned out, but from
bankruptcy, from squandering their powers and strength on foolish
things that are worth a thousand times less than one day of life.
I would not want to live such a cold and calculated life without
frenzies, dreams, and love.
The world would not come to an end, if people did not love.
It would be better to kill one's self than to live and dry up like
Suicide is the vulgar cry of the animal who suffers; it is the
rebellion of the atom against the laws of the universe. One must allow
the candle of one's life to burn out slowly and calmly to the very
endin that lies happiness.
So that is happiness? asked Janina, feeling a sudden chill
penetrating her soul.
Yes. Peace is happiness. To negate everything, to kill one's
desires and passions, to tear out of oneself illusions and whims that
is the way to attain it. It means to hold fast your soul in the grip of
self-knowledge and prevent it from dissipating itself in foolish
Who would want to live under such a yoke? What soul could endure
The soul is knowledge.
So you advocate nothing but stony indifference and peace! Never to
know of feel anything else but this! No, I prefer the ordinary trend of
There is still another way: the best remedy for our mental
sufferings is to expand our hearts, to become one with nature.
Let us drop that. I don't like to speak about it, for it stirs me
They both remained silent for a long while. The old man gazed into
the water and mumbled something to himself, while Janina was rapt in
All is foolishness, he began anew. Behold and wonder at the
water, if nothing more; it will suffice you for a long time. Observe
the birds, the stars, and the elements; trace the growth of the trees,
listen to the wind, drink in perfumes and hues and everywhere you will
find unparalleled, everlasting miracles. It will replace for you
entirely life among people. Only do not gaze at nature with the eyes of
the vulgar, for then the most beautiful bird songs will sound to you
like a mere screeching; the most majestic forest will seem nothing but
so much kindling wood; in animals you will see nothing but meat for
food; the meadows will appear to you as so much hay; for then, instead
of feeling, you will be calculating.
All human beings are like that.
There are a few who can read from the book of nature and find in it
sustenance for their life.
Again they became silent.
The sun began to sink behind the hills on the opposite shore and to
shine ever more coldly as though it were burnt out, dyeing the water
blood red with its parting rays. The thickets seemed to shrink, for
they appeared to grow lower and wider at their bases. The yellowish
sands on the river bank became shrouded by the gray dusk. The distant
horizon seemed to sink away in the mists which rose up as though they
were the smoke of the burnt-out, smoldering sun. An even deeper silence
descended and enveloped the earth in sleep, as though it were weary of
the labors of the day.
Janina pondered over the words of the old man and a quiet, gloomy
sadness filled her heart and cast a vague and shadowy fear over her
mind. A feeling of passive submission and torpor overcame her.
She arose to go, for it was already growing dark.
Are you going? she asked the old man.
Yes, it is already time and it is quite a way to Warsaw.
Then we shall go together.
He put away his fishing tackle in his cane, deposited the fish in a
small can and began to walk along with Janina at a swift enough pace.
I do not know your name, he began to say slowly, and I'm not at
all interested in that, but I see that you must not be very happy in
life. I am a crazy old man, as my neighbors call me, and an old mason,
as the town gossips like to add; I'm alone and, reconciled to my fate,
I am awaiting the end. Some time ago I knew a little of what it means
to suffer and love, but that is past long ago, long ago, he whispered,
gazing as it were, into a distant past, with a faint smile of
remembrance on his face. The greatest boon that man possesses is his
ability to forget, otherwise he could not live at all. But all this
does not interest you in the least, does it? I sometimes chatter
nonsense, catch myself talking to myself, and often forget things, for
I'm just an old man, you see. You have an honest-looking face, so I
will give you this bit of advice; whenever you suffer, when everything
disappoints you and life becomes unbearable flee from the city, go into
the open country, breathe in the fresh air, bathe in the sunlight, gaze
at the sky, think about eternity and pray . . . and you will forget all
your troubles. You will feel better and stronger. The misery of the
people of to-day arises from their estrangement from nature and from
God, from loneliness of the soul. And I will tell you one more thing;
forgive everything and be merciful to all. People are bad only through
their ignorance, therefore you be good. The greatest wisdom is in the
greatest kindness. I am here every day while it is warm. Perhaps we
shall meet again sometime. Good-bye, and may you be happy. He nodded
his head kindly in farewell.
She gazed a long time after him until he vanished from her sight
near the church of St. Mary. Janina rubbed her eyes, for it seemed to
her that this meeting had been merely a hallucination.
No, that cannot be, she whispered to herself, for she still felt
upon her face the pure gaze of his peaceful old eyes and heard his
voice saying: Be good! Pray! Forgive! She repeated the words to
herself as she walked along the street.
Forgive! and she saw her father and afterwards the theater,
Cabinski, Majkowska, Kotlicki, Mme. Anna, and Sowinska and remembered
those days of suffering, abuse, and insult.
Be good! and she saw again Mirowska, who bore the most painful
wrongs with a smile, who never did anyone any harm, and yet was the
laughing stock of the entire company. Then, there was Wolska, who at
the expense of her own life saved her child from death and who was
cheated and forced into poverty. There was Cabinska's nurse sacrificing
herself for a stranger's children. There was, too, the old
stage-director, slighted by everybody; there were the peasants in the
country, treated like animals, and the exploited workmen in the cities.
There were all the swindles, cheatings, and crimes which were going on
continually. Janina felt that something within her was trembling,
breaking, and crying out in protest; that the suffering of all humanity
was pouring into her soul; that all the injustice, all the wrongs, all
the suffering and tears stood before her, and a grave voice from above
was saying: Be good, forgive, pray, while round about her a jeering
laughter arose, as though in response to it.
She arrived at her home and for a long time could not calm herself.
She pressed her hands to her head as though trying to still those
tumultuous thoughts that were whirling through her brain in such
confusion that she could not distinguish truth from falsehood. For in a
moment of clairvoyant vision she had seen that both the good and the
bad suffered equally, that all were struggling, all were clamoring for
salvation and protesting against life.
I shall go mad! I shall go mad! Janina whispered to herself.
On the next morning Wladek came to see her. He seemed to be so good
and kissed her hand so tenderly that she could not help noticing his
devotion. He complained about Cabinski and aired at length his
grievances against his mother.
Janina regarded him with a cold look, for she understood almost at
once that he wished to borrow money from her.
Go and buy me some powder, for I must go to the theater to-day,
she said to him.
Wladek rose eagerly to fulfill her behest.
Close the door after you, for I am going to dress.
He closed the door with the latch to which he had his own key, and
On the street, almost at the very door Wladek spied the counselor. A
sudden idea flashed through his mind, for he smiled and cordially
approached the old man.
Good morning, esteemed counselor.
Good morning, how are you feeling, eh?
Thank you, I am entirely well, only Miss Orlowska is ill. The
directress has just asked me to see how she was getting along.
What? Miss Janina is ill? They told me so behind the scenes, but I
did not believe it, for I thought . . .
Yes, she is sick. I am just now going for some medicine.
Is she dangerously ill?
Oh no, but would you like to convince yourself personally?
The counselor started violently, but then, adjusting his glasses, he
said: Indeed, I would like to. I wished to do so many times before,
but she is so inaccessible.
I will smooth the way for you.
You are joking. How can that be done? Although, considering my
friendly attitude toward her . . .
You can see her. Here is the latchkey to her room. She will receive
you; she even told me that she would be pleased to have her friends
visit her, for she spends entire days all alone.
But if . . .
Go. If she received me, she will receive you all the more readily.
I will be back in about an hour and then we can have a chat. So
saying, Wladek left hurriedly.
The counselor wiped his glasses, fidgeted about nervously, and had
not yet made up his mind whether to enter or not, when Wladek turned
back and called:
My dear counselor! Lend me four rubles, will you? I would first
have to look for Cabinski to get the money and the medicine is needed
here right away. I have taken an unpleasant task upon myself, but what
is one going to do when companionship demands it? I will return the
money to you this evening, only please don't say anything about this.
And pardon my boldness.
The counselor willingly reached for his pocket book and, handing
Wladek ten rubles said: I am glad I can help you. If any more is
needed, tell Miss Janina to mention only a word to me and she can have
Wladek went off with the money, whistling merrily.
The counselor entered the house, quietly opened the door to Janina's
apartment, took off his hat and coat and walked into the room.
Janina was combing her hair and paid no attention to the opening of
the door, for she thought that Wladek had returned.
The counselor coughed a few times and approached her with extended
Janina sprang up hastily and threw a scarf over her naked shoulders.
Mr. Wladyslaw has just told me that you were ill, so I thought it
would be a sin not to come to see you, said the counselor, speaking
rapidly, adjusting his glasses and smiling a colorless, banal smile.
Janina stared at him in amazement, for a moment, but when she felt
the touch of his cold, clammy hand in her own, she grew red with anger,
sprang toward the door so violently that the scarf fell to the floor,
revealing the stately lines of her shoulders, and opening the door with
an energetic gesture, cried: Leave the room!
But I give you my word of honor that I hadn't even the slightest
intention of offending you. As a well-wishing friend I came here merely
to offer you my sympathy. Mr. Wladyslaw . . .
Is a scoundrel!
To that I'll agree, but you needn't get angry at me and express
your indignation in such a drastic manner; that is a trifle too . . .
Please leave the room immediately! cried Janina, trembling with
A comedienne! A comedienne, upon my word! whispered the counselor
to himself, hastily putting on his overcoat, for he was irritated and
offended. He hurried out, angrily slamming the door after him.
Oh, what a scoundrel! What a scoundrel! and I belong to such a man
. . . I! They are jackals, not human beings, jackals! Wherever one
turns there is mud and filth!
And so great grew Janina's indignation, that she cried almost aloud
through her tears: Base wretches! wretches! wretches!
Soon afterwards, Wladek returned bringing with him the powder, a
bottle of whisky and a package of sandwiches. He eyed Janina curiously
and looked about the room.
The counselor was here! she flung at him harshly.
The actor laughed cynically and exclaimed in a barroom jargon, I
cornered him. Now we can have a little feast.
Janina was about to tell him how base he was, but suddenly there
rang in her ears those words: Be good! Forgive!
She restrained herself and began to laugh, but so harshly and so
long that she fell upon the bed and, tossing about on it, began to
repeat amid that dreadful, hysterical laughter: Be good! Forgive!
After a week's intermission there began again for Janina her former
hard life and an even harder battle, because now it had become a
struggle for mere daily bread.
She sang, as before, in the chorus, dressed as a chorus girl, peered
through the curtain at the public, whose attendance at the theater was
decreasing every day, strayed about the stage and the dressing-rooms
during the intermissions, and listened to the whispered conversations,
the music, and the quarrels. But how different now were her thoughts
and her feelings, how different now and unlike her former self was
She no longer sought in the eyes of the public enthusiasm and love
of art, nor did she cast challenging glances at the front rows of
seats, for poverty had taught her how to estimate from the stage the
size of the audience and from it to draw deductions as to the
proportionate size of her salary. Poverty taught her to take covertly
from the storeroom the bread that was often used on the stage and to
eat it on the way home; frequently this was her entire daily
sustenance. No one admired her now, or escorted her home; nor did she
contend with anyone about art.
Kotlicki had completely vanished, the counselor was angry at Janina
and kept away from the theater, while Wladek spoke with her only at
times and visited her ever more rarely, offering as his excuse his
mother's growing weakness and the need of being with her.
Janina knew that he was lying, but she did not contradict him, for
he was entirely indifferent to her. She felt a deep contempt for him,
but could not break with him entirely because there still lingered deep
down in her consciousness a memory of the happy hours they had spent
together. She treated him coldly and did not let him kiss her, but she
could not tell him outright that he was a scoundrel, for he was, in a
way, the last link uniting her strange soul with the world.
Janina had grown frightfully thin. Her complexion became pale and
unhealthy, and from her enlarged glassy eyes there looked forth a
dreadful and constant hunger! She walked about the theater like a
shadow, apparently quiet and calm, but with that feeling of unceasing
hunger mercilessly tearing her within and with despair in her face.
There were whole days when she had not a bite of food, when she felt
a painful emptiness in her head and heard only one thing echoing
through her brain: If I could only get something to eat! Something to
eat! Aside from that one desire, everything vanished from her mind and
had no importance.
A similar poverty existed throughout the whole company. The women
shifted as best they could, but the men, particularly the more honest
ones, sold everything they possessed, even their wigs, to save
With what terror they awaited each evening! Are we going to play
to-night? This whisper could be heard all over the theater: in the
dressing-rooms, behind the scenes, in the restaurant-garden where the
autumn wind frolicked, and on the deserted veranda, where the waiters,
vainly waiting for guests, repeated it. It was also repeated by Gold,
who sat huddled in his box office, shivering with cold.
An oppressive silence reigned in the dressing-rooms. The funniest
jokes of Glas could not chase the clouds of worry from the brows of the
actors. They became careless in their make-up and none of them learned
their roles, for everybody was waiting in dread suspense for the
performance and every now and then going to the box office and asking
in a whisper: Are we going to play to-night?
Cabinski presented a new play every day, but he could not draw the
public. He gave The Trip Around Warsaw and The Robbers, and still the
house was empty. They played such curtain-raisers as Don Cesar de
Bazan, The Statue of the Commander, and The Fortune Teller of La
Voisin, but the theater remained as deserted as ever.
For goodness' sake, what do you want? the director cried to the
public from behind the curtain.
Do you think they themselves know what they want? If there were
three hundred people present, then another three hundred would appear,
but when there are only fifty with the addition of cold and rain, then
only twenty remain, the editor explained to Cabinski, for of all those
numerous acquaintances who used to come behind the scenes he alone
remained, the rest having dispersed with the first rains.
The public is a herd that does not know where it is going to graze
on the following day, said Mr. Peter, with animosity.
Oh yes, they hated that public, and yet prayed to it. They cursed
it, called it a herd and cattle, threatened it with their fists and
spat upon it, but only let that public appear in larger numbers, and
they fell upon their faces before it and felt a deep gratitude toward
that capricious lady, who had a different humor each day and each day
bestowed her favors upon someone else.
The public is a harlot! a harlot! whispered Topolski
threateningly. To-day she is with a monarch, to-morrow with a clown!
You have told the truth, but it will not give you even a ruble,
answered Wawrzecki, whose humor still survived, but had already become
sharp and bitter, for Mimi had left the company and gone to join
another one at Posen.
Several members of the company had already left, although there
still remained a whole week till the end of the season. Especially the
choruses had almost entirely dispersed, for they suffered the most from
The rains continued to fall in the morning, the afternoon, and the
evening. The atmosphere at the theater became unbearable. There were
draughts in the dressing-rooms, and mud covered the floors, for the
roof leaked everywhere. The cold was intense.
To Janina it seemed that this theater was slowly falling apart and
burying everyone among its ruins, while that other one on Theatrical
Place stood strong and invincible.
Its ponderous walls had grown black from the rains and it appeared
even sterner and mightier than before and filled Janina with a pious,
unexplainable awe whenever she gazed at it. It sometimes seemed to her
that this vast edifice rested its columns on piles of corpses and that
it drank the blood, the lives, and the brains of the actors in the
smaller theaters and throve and grew mighty on them.
I shall go mad! I shall go mad! often whispered Janina, pressing
her burning head with her hands, for dreams and hallucinations
tormented her even more than hunger.
There was still another thing which made her deathly silent, so that
she would sit for whole hours listening within herself, and thinking of
those strange, indefinable impressions and feelings which pervaded her
ever more frequently. Janina felt that something dreadful was happening
within her, that those sudden fits of trembling and weeping which would
seize her without any explainable cause, those violently changing moods
to which she gave way and those strange sufferings were somehow
unnatural and resulted from something about which she feared to think.
She had no mother, nor anyone in whom she could confide and who would
enlighten her, but there came a moment when with womanly instinct she
knew that she was about to become a mother.
Janina wept for a long time after that discovery, but her tears were
not tears of despair, but only of tender pity, sensitiveness and shame
at the same time. She felt then that death had crouched behind her and
was standing so close that it sent a shudder of frenzy through her
entire being and cast her into an apathetic indifference. She ceased to
think and surrendered herself passively, with the fatalism of people
who have suffered long or who have been crushed by some overwhelming
misfortune, to the wave that bore her on and did not even ask whither
it was taking her.
One day, unable to endure any longer the sharp pangs of hunger,
Janina began to look around her room for something which she might
sell. She began feverishly to rummage in her trunks. She had only a few
light theatrical costumes.
Sowinska was again reminding her almost every day about her overdue
rent and that daily nagging was an unbearable torment. Janina could not
ask her to sell those costumes, for she knew that Sowinska would
unscrupulously keep the money, so she decided to sell them herself.
She wrapped one of the costumes in a piece of paper and went to the
door to wait for a buyer of old clothes, but the porter was walking
about the yard, servant girls were going to and fro, and in the windows
of the houses she saw the faces of women who had often cast scornful
glances at her. No, she could not sell here, for in a moment the whole
house would know about her poverty. She went to one of the adjoining
houses and waited a short while.
Any old things to buy! Any old things to buy! came the hoarse
voice of an old Jew.
Janina called him. The Jew turned his head and came to her. He was
as dirty as he was old. She went with him to the stoop of some house.
Do you want to sell anything? asked the Jew, laying his bag and
stick on the stairs and bending his thin face and red eyes over the
Yes, answered Janina, unwrapping the paper.
The Jew took the costume in his dirty hands, spread it out in the
sunlight, looked over it a few times, smiled imperceptibly, put it back
in the paper, wrapped it up, picked up his bag and stick and said,
Such fineries are not for me. He began to descend the stairway,
derisively smacking his lips.
I will sell it cheap, Janina called after him, thinking with fear
that perhaps she might get at least a ruble or a half-ruble for it.
If you have some old shoes or pillow-slips, I will buy them, but
such a thing is of no use to me. Who will buy it? Rubbish!
I will sell it cheap, she whispered.
Well, how much do you want for it?
May I fall down dead, if that is worth more than twenty kopecks.
What is it worth, who will buy it? and he came back, unwrapped the
costume, and again examined it indifferently.
The ribbons alone cost me a few rubles, said Janina, and she
became silent, deciding that she would take the twenty kopecks.
Ribbons! What's that . . . all pieces! chattered the Jew, glancing
over the costume hastily. Well, I will give you thirty kopecks. Do you
want it? As I'm an honest man, I can't give you more . . . I have a
good heart, but I can't. Well, do you want it?
This barter filled Janina with such disgust, shame, and grief, that
she felt like throwing down everything and running away.
The Jew counted out the money to her, took the costume and went
away. From the window of her room Janina saw how in the full light of
the yard he examined the dress once more.
What shall I do with this? she whispered helplessly, pressing in
her hand the dirty and sticky kopecks.
Janina owed money to Mme. Anna for the rent of her room, to the
tender of the theater-buffet, and to a few of her companions of the
chorus, but she no longer thought of this, only took the thirty kopecks
and went out to the store to buy herself something to eat.
She returned home, and having eaten, she wished to take a little
nap, but Sowinska entered and told her that someone was waiting for her
for the last half-hour and immediately there entered Niedzielska's
servant girl with eyes all red from crying.
Please Miss, come along with me, for my mistress is very sick and
wants to see you without fail, she said.
Is Madame Niedzielska so seriously ill? cried Janina, springing up
from the bed and hurriedly putting on her hat.
The priest has already been there this afternoon with the sacrament
and she has only a few hours to live, whispered the faithful old
servant with tears in her eyes. She can scarcely draw her breath and
all I understood her to say was that I should run to you and tell you
that she wants to see you right away. And where is Mr. Wladyslaw?
How can I know? He ought to be with his mother, answered Janina.
He ought to, but he is a worthless son, whispered the servant in
hollow tones. Already for a week he has not been at home, for he had
an awful quarrel with his mother. My God! My God! how he swore at her
and abused her and even wanted to strike her. O merciful Lord, that is
the way he repaid her for loving him so dearly that she even denied
herself food to supply him with money. She was such a miser that she
did not want to spend money for a doctor or any medicines and he . . .
oh! oh, God will punish him severely for his mother's tears! I know
that you are not to blame for it, miss . . . I can guess that . . . but
. . . she whispered quietly, hobbling alongside of Janina and every
now and then wiping her eyes, all red from crying and loss of sleep.
Janina hardly heard a word of what she was saying for the noise and
the din in the street and the splashing of water flowing from the
drainpipes to the sidewalk drowned out everything else. She went along
only because the dying woman had summoned her.
The first room of Niedzielska's home was almost filled with people
and Janina greeted them as she passed through it, but no one answered
her and all eyes followed her with a peculiar curiosity.
In the room where Niedzielska lay, there were also a few persons
seated about her bed. Janina went straight to the sick woman. She was
lying flat on her back, but fixed her eyes upon Janina as soon as she
had crossed the threshold.
On Janina's entrance the persons in the room stopped talking so
abruptly that the sudden silence sent a strange thrill through her. She
met Niedzielska's gaze and could not tear her eyes away from it. She
sat down alongside of the bed, greeting her in a subdued voice.
The old woman grasped her hand tightly and in a quiet voice with a
very strong accent asked: Where is Wladek?
Her brows knit themselves in an expression of severity and something
like hatred gleamed in the yellowish whites of her eyes.
I don't know. How am I to know? answered Janina almost frightened
by her question.
You don't know, you thief! You have stolen my son and yet, you dare
tell me that you don't know! gasped Niedzielska, striving to raise her
voice a little, but it sounded hollow and wild. Her eyes opened ever
wider and gleamed with hatred and menace, her pale lips quivered
nervously, and her thin, yellow face twitched continually. She raised
herself a bit on her bed and in a hoarse voice, as though rallying her
remaining strength cried: You streetwalker! You thief! You . . . and
she fell back exhausted, with a hollow groan.
Janina sprang up, as though an electric shock had passed through
her, but the old woman gripped her wrist so tightly that she fell back
again on her chair, unable to free her hand. She glanced about
desperately at everybody, in the room, but their faces were stern. She
closed her eyes for a moment to shut out the sight of the yellowish
wrinkled faces of those women who stood facing her like specters
glaring at her with their skeleton-like faces in the shadowy twilight
of the room.
So that is she! So young and already . . .
A base serpent.
I would kill her like a dog, if she tried to do the same with my
I would have her locked up and sent to the workhouse.
In my days such women as that were put into the pillory as a
punishment. I remember well.
Be quiet! quiet! whispered an old man trying to pacify the women.
And for her he ran away to the comedians, for her he squandered so
much money, for such a low-down thing as she, he beat his mother! May
you perish, you base serpent!
Such were the voices full of hatred and scorn that hissed all about
Janina and the poisonous malignity that dripped from their words and
glances flooded her heart with an ocean of pain and shame. She wanted
to cry out: Mercy, people! I am innocent, but her head bent ever
lower on her breast and she had an ever dimmer consciousness of where
she was and what was happening to her. Janina's soul had already been
weakened too much by misery to resist this blow. An immense wave of
fear began to shake her, for it seemed to her that the hand of the old
woman which held her so tightly and those dreadful eyes bulging from
their sockets were drawing her down into a dark abyss and that this was
death and the end of everything.
Later, Janina no longer heard anything that was being said and saw
no one but the dying woman. At moments, she still felt a desire to
spring up and run away from there but it was a mere flicker of will
that passed through her nerves without reaching her consciousness.
So many previous sufferings, and now this blow at her very heart,
benumbed her brain with a quiet madness. She grew frightfully pale and
sat as though dead, gazing at the face of the dying woman. Those same
fragments of thoughts and visions now swarmed through her brain that
had done so once before: that same vast mass of greenish waters seemed
to submerge her consciousness. She was not even aware that they had
torn her away from Niedzielska and shoved her into a corner where she
stood immovable and bereft of her senses.
Niedzielska was dying. It seemed as though she had only been waiting
for Janina before giving herself up to death, for anger and hatred kept
her alive a few hours longer. Now, there followed a general
dissolution. She lay there rigid and straight, with her hands upon the
coverlet, which they tugged at automatically, and with her sad eyes
gazing upward as though into the eternity into which she was entering.
The consecrated candle shed a yellowish light upon her face
impearled with the sweat of her last struggle and death agony. Her gray
hair, scattered in a disheveled mass upon the pillow, formed a sort of
background upon which appeared in sharper relief her withered head,
shaking with the unconscious and frightful convulsions of death. She
breathed heavily and slowly and gasped with effort, catching the air
with her pale lips. At moments her face would writhe and her mouth
twitch with a dreadful spasm of pain and she would raise her hands as
though she wanted to tear apart her throat to get more air. Her white
and fever-coated tongue slipped spasmodically from her mouth and so
tense did her body become in the struggle with death that the veins
stood out like black whip cords on; her temples and throat.
The silence was full of weeping and sobbing of those kneeling about
and the awful groans of the dying woman. Feverishly whispered prayers,
tear-streaming eyes, the sobbing of the servant and the children filled
the room with an atmosphere of dreadful and overwhelming tragedy. The
dark shadows at the farther end of the room trembled as though
engulfing it all. The candles diffused a yellowish, ghastly light that
seemed to steep everything in boundless grief.
The room filled up completely with kneeling people and only she, who
lay there rigid, unconscious, and dying, reigned from the throne of
death over that bowed throng begging for mercy.
An old man with silvery gray hair made his way to the bed, knelt
down, took a prayer book from his pocket and, by the light of the
candle, began to read the Penitential Psalms. He had a clear and
melodious voice and the words of the psalms, like a murmuring rainbow,
or like flashes of lightning full of terror, tears, might, and heavenly
grace, floated above the heads of all those present:
Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my
bones are vexed.
Thou art my hiding place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble . .
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked, but he that trusteth in the
Lord, mercy shall compass him about.
My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore and my kinsmen
stand afar off.
They also that seek after my life lay snares for me; and they that
seek for my hurt speak mischievous things and imagine deceits all day
The words rang out ever stronger and eddied through the air like the
breath of a mighty power that bent low all foreheads and cast them down
into the dust with tears of sorrow, penance, and supplication. All
those present repeated them after the old man and that confused,
tearful and monotonous murmur of voices awoke Janina from her torpor.
She felt that she was still alive, so she knelt down on the threshold
of the room and with fever-parched lips whispered those sweet words
long since forgotten, and drew from them a deep comfort full of sadness
Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be
whiter than snow.
Hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down
into the pit.
And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that
afflict my soul, for I am thy servant.
She repeated the words fervently and large tears rolled down her
face, uniting with the tears of all the other mourners and purging her
soul of all sorrows and memory of what had passed. But after a while
those tears began to stream so freely and stifle her so that Janina
quietly arose and left the place.
On the street she met Wladek running toward the house in haste and
fear. He stopped to ask her about his mother, but she went on without
even glancing at him.
Almost all feelings were dead within Janina, save that of a deathly
weariness. She entered the lighted Church of St. Ann on the Cracow
Suburb and, seating herself in one of the pews, gazed at the
illuminated altar and the throng of kneeling worshipers. She heard the
solemn tones of the organ and a wave of song rising above it. She saw
looking at her from the walls and the altars the peaceful and happy
faces of saints, but all this did not awaken a single emotion in her.
Thou wilt cut off mine enemies and destroy all them that afflict my
soul. Thou wilt destroy them . . . Janina repeated mechanically and
left the church. No, no, she could not pray she could not.
Janina slept after all this with a deep, stony sleep that was free
On the following day Cabinski gave her a big role that used to be
Mimi's. Janina accepted it with indifference. With the same
indifference she went to Niedzielska's funeral. She walked at the end
of the procession unnoticed by anyone and gazed indifferently at the
thousands of graves in the cemetery and at the coffin and not a
scintilla of feeling stirred in her even at the sound of the sobbing
over the grave. Something had broken within her and she had lost all
ability to feel what was going on about her.
In the evening Janina went to the theater for the performance. She
dressed as usual and sat thoughtlessly gazing at the rows of candles
pasted to the tables, at the scribbled walls and at the rows of
actresses sitting before their mirrors.
Sowinska continually hung about the dressing-room and observed her
Her companions spoke to Janina, but she did not answer them. Every
now and then, she fell into a state of torpor in which one beholds
without seeing anything and lives without feeling, while deep within,
at the very bottom of her consciousness, there was reflected the image
of that dying woman and there swarmed and hissed those stinging and
scornful whispers of her neighbors, mixed with the words of the
Suddenly, a tremor ran through Janina, for a voice reached her from
the stage which sounded like Grzesikiewicz's; so she arose and went
Wladek was standing on the stage, engaged in a lively conversation
with Majkowska, whose naked shoulders he was kissing.
Janina paused behind one of the scenes, for some feeling without a
name passed through her heart, like the sharp, cold edge of a dagger,
but was swiftly gone again, awakening in her a certain knowledge.
Mr. Niedzielski! she called.
The actor threw back his shoulders, while across his clean-shaven
face there passed a shadow of impatience and boredom. He whispered yet
a few words into the ear of Mela, who smiled and departed, and then,
without trying to disguise his ill humor, he approached Janina.
Did you want anything? he asked irascibly.
Yes . . .
In the despondency that filled her at that moment Janina wanted to
tell him that she was unhappy and ill. She longed to hear a warm word
of sympathy and felt an irresistible need of telling her troubles to
someone and of weeping on some friendly breast, but on hearing the
sharp tone of Wladek's voice, she suddenly remembered how much she had
suffered through him and how base he was, so she suppressed those
desires within herself.
Are we going to play to-day? she asked.
We are. There are about a hundred rubles in the treasury.
Ask them for some money for me.
What do you think! Do you want me to make a fool of myself?
Moreover, I'm going right home.
Janina glanced at him and said in a quiet, expressionless voice:
Take me home, for I feel so very miserable.
I have no time, I must immediately run to my own home, for already
they are all waiting for me there.
Oh, how base you are! How base you are! she whispered.
Wladek recoiled a few steps, not knowing whether he should smile, or
pretend to be offended.
Are you saying that to me, to me? he asked. He did not dare to
swear, for that girl with her proud face and glance of a lady imposed
respect upon him and thrust back into his throat, as it were, the
brutalities that he wanted to hurl at her.
To you! Janina answered. You are base! You are the basest person
in the world . . . do you hear! . . . the basest!
Janina! he cried endearingly, as though he wanted to shield
himself thereby from her accusation.
I forbid you to address me in that manner, it insults me!
Have you gone crazy, or what has happened to you? What sort of
farce do you call that! he choked out in anger.
I have found out what you are and I scorn you with my whole soul.
Whew! So that is the kind of pathetic role you have chosen to play?
Are you preparing it for your debut at the Warsaw Theater?
Janina answered him only with a look of scorn and walked away.
Sowinska came up to her and with a mysterious and cruel pity in her
voice whispered: It isn't good for you to get so irritated and also,
you ought not lace yourself so tightly.
It may harm you, because . . . because . . . and she whispered the
rest into Janina's ear.
The blood rushed to Janina's face with shame at the thought that
Sowinska had recognized her condition which she was seeking to conceal.
She had no more strength left to reply to her, nor time either, for she
had to go on the stage.
They were playing The Peasant Emigration and Janina appeared in the
first act as a super.
In the men's dressing-room that evening, a storm broke out. In the
intermission before the so-called Christmas Eve scene of the play,
Topolski, who was acting the part of Bartek Kozica, sent to Cabinski
a letter, or a sort of ultimatum demanding fifty rubles for himself and
Majkowska and, in case of a denial, refusing to play any further. While
waiting for Cabinski's reply, he began slowly to remove his make-up.
Cabinski came running almost with tears in his eyes and cried: I
will give you twenty rubles. Oh, oh! you people have no mercy on me!
Give me fifty rubles and we shall continue to play; if you don't
then . . . Here he unglued one half of his mustache and began to take
off his leggings.
For God's sake man! there is only one hundred rubles in all in the
treasury and that is hardly enough to cover the expenses.
Let me have fifty rubles immediately, or else you can finish the
play yourself or return the public its money, calmly said Topolski,
pulling off his other legging.
Up till now, I had thought that you, at least, were a man! Just
think what you are doing to us all, pleaded Cabinski.
Don't you see, Director . . . I am undressing.
The intermission was being prolonged and the public outside was
beginning to shout and stamp its feet with impatience.
No, I should sooner have expected death than that! And you, who are
my best friend, are you going to go back on me now? continued
My dear Director, there's no use talking any further. You can fool
everyone else, but not me.
But I haven't the money. If I give you thirty rubles now, I will
have nothing left with which to pay the rent of the theater! cried
Cabinski in despair, running about the dressing-room.
I have said: if you do not give us fifty rubles, we shall go
In the hall there began to rise a very pandemonium of shouts and
All right, here is fifty rubles, take them. You are robbing your
own companions, but you don't care a rap about that, for you'll have
something with which to organize your own company. Here, take them, but
that ends all relations between us!
Don't worry about my company; I shall reserve the position of a
stage-hand for you.
Sooner will you check coats in my theater, before I join yours.
Silence, you clown!
I'll call the police and they'll quiet you right away! shouted the
I'll silence you immediately, you circus performer! cried
Topolski, who had just finished dressing, and, taking Cabinski by the
collar, he gave him a kick that sent him flying out of the
dressing-room; then he himself went out on the stage.
The performance was concluded peacefully, but a new quarrel started
around the box office. The actors and actresses stood there in a close
group so that only their heads and faces, shining with the grease used
to wash off the paint, were visible in the gaslight. They were all
shouting for money and demanding their overdue salaries. They shook
their fists threateningly at the cashier's window, their eyes flashed
lightning, and their voices were hoarse from shouting.
Cabinski, still red and trembling from the abuse that had just met
him, quarreled with everybody and swore and wanted to pay only the
Whoever isn't satisfied with what he gets, let him go to Topolski!
It's all the same to me . . . he cried.
Janina approached the window and said: Director, you promised to
pay me to-day.
I haven't the money!
But neither have I, she begged quietly.
I am not paying the others either, and yet, they do not importune
me as you do.
Mr. Cabinski, I am almost dying from hunger, she answered
Then go and earn some money. All the others know how to help
themselves. I like naive women, but only on the stage. A comedienne! Go
to Topolski, he will advance you the money.
Oh, Topolski assuredly won't let the members of his company suffer
poverty. He will pay each what is due him and will not cheat people!
cried Janina impulsively.
Then you can go straight to him and don't show up here again!
shouted Cabinski, driven to fury by the mention of Topolski.
Listen there, Director! began Glas, but Janina listened no longer
and, pushing her way through the crowd, left the theater.
Go and earn it . . . she repeated to herself.
She walked along the almost empty streets. The gas-lamps cast a
ghastly, yellowish glare like that of funeral tapers on the silent and
deserted thoroughfares and alleys. The dark-blue vault of the sky hung
over the city like a huge canopy embroidered with brightly
scintillating stars. A cool breeze swept down the streets and chilled
Janina to the marrow.
Go and earn it! she again repeated to herself, passing before the
Grand Theater. She had come here without being aware of it.
Janina glanced at the building and turned back. An unbearable pain
racked her head, as though there was a burning iron ring about it. She
was so utterly weak and worn-out that at moments she could scarcely
resist the desire to sit down on the curbstone and remain there. Then
again, so desperate a realization of her poverty filled her that she
was almost ready to give herself to anyone who might ask, if she could
only relieve that agonized trembling within herself, that almost
deathly weakness and exhaustion.
She dragged herself heavily along the streets, for she no longer
knew what to do, and the chill night air, the silence, and that deathly
weariness gave her a sort of painful ecstasy. Before her eyes there
hovered only phantom forms and fiery spots, so that she knew not where
she was or what was happening to her. She felt only one thing and that
was that she would no longer be able to endure it.
What am I going to do further? Janina asked thoughtlessly, looking
The silence of the sleeping city and the silence of the dark heavens
seemed to be the only answer to her question.
Janina felt as though she were falling swiftly down a steep incline
and that there, at the very bottom, lay the outstretched corpse of
Death! she answered herself. Death! and she gazed fixedly at
that dead face with the congealed tears on its cheeks, and not fear,
but an immense silence enveloped her soul.
She looked all about her as though she were seeking for the cause of
that deep silence at her side.
Then, she began thinking of her father, of the theater, and of
herself, but as though they were things which she had only seen or read
What am I going to do? Janina asked herself aloud after she had
returned home. It was impossible for her to see or even to imagine what
the morrow would be like.
In this condition I can't go to the theater, I can't go anywhere.
But what am I going to do? That question smote her now and then, as
with a club.
Day began to dawn and flood the room with its drab and gray light,
but Janina still sat on the same spot, gazing blankly out of the
window, with deeply sunken eyes and whispering with lips blackened by
fever: What am I going to do? What am I going to do?
The season ended. Cabinski was leaving for Plock with an entirely
new company, for Topolski had taken away his best forces and the rest
had scattered among various companies.
In the pastry shop on Nowy Swiat, Krzykiewicz, who had broken with
Ciepieszewski, was organizing a company of his own. Stanislawski was
also starting a small company on a profit-sharing basis. Topolski was
already preparing his company for its trip to Lublin.
The local garden-theaters were all closed for the season and a
deathly silence reigned over them. The stages were boarded up and the
dressing-rooms and entrances locked. The verandas were strewn with
broken chairs and rubbish. The autumn leaves fluttered from the trees
and torn scraps of programs of the last performances rustled about
sadly in the breeze. The season was over.
Nobody visited the theater any more, for the migratory birds were
preparing for their flight, only Janina from force of habit, still
would come here, gaze a moment at the deserted haunts and return again.
Cabinska wrote her a very cordial letter, inviting her to her home.
Janina went there and found that they were already packing up for their
journey. Immense trunks and baskets stood in the middle of the rooms, a
large pile of various stage paraphernalia together with mattresses and
bedding lay on the floor the entire outfit of a nomadic life.
In Cabinska's room, Janina no longer found either the wreaths or the
furniture, or the canopied bed; there shone only the bare walls with
the plaster broken here and there by the hasty removal of pictures and
the pulling out of hooks. A long basket stood in the middle of the room
and the nurse, perspiring from her exertion, was packing into it Pepa's
wardrobe. Cabinska, with a cigarette in her mouth, directed the packing
and continually scolded the children, who were tumbling in great glee
over the mattresses and the straw strewn about the packages.
She greeted Janina with exaggerated cordiality and said: There is
such a dust in here that it is unbearable. Nurse, be careful how you
pack, so that you don't crush my dresses. Let us go out on the street,
she said to Janina, putting on her coat and hat.
She pulled Janina along to her pastry shop and there, over a cup of
chocolate, began to apologize to her for the discourtesy that Cabinski
had shown her at the box office.
Believe me, the director was so excited that he really did not know
what he was saying. And can you wonder at it? He was giving his best
efforts and even pawning his personal effects, only that the company
might lack nothing and, in the meanwhile, along comes Topolski, creates
a rumpus and breaks up his company. Even a saint would lose patience in
those circumstances and, moreover, Topolski told my husband that you
were going to join his company.
Janina answered nothing, for she was now entirely indifferent toward
the whole matter, but when Cabinska told her that on that very
afternoon they were leaving for Plock and that she should immediately
pack her things, for the expressman would call for them directly, she
answered with decision: Thank you for your kindness, Mrs. Directress,
but I shall not go.
Cabinska could scarcely believe her ears and cried out in amazement:
Have you already secured an engagement and where?
Nowhere, nor do I intend to, answered the girl.
How is that! Are you going to abandon the stage? You who have a big
future before you!
I have had more than enough of acting, answered Janina with
Come now, don't reproach me with it, you know it's your first year
on the stage and they wouldn't give you big roles at once, anywhere.
Oh, I am no longer going to try for them.
And I had already been planning that in Plock you would live
together with us and that would not only make it easier for you, but my
daughter also could derive more benefit from it. Please think it over
and I, on my part, assure you that you will also get roles.
No, no! I have enough of poverty and have absolutely no more
strength left to bear it any further and, moreover, I cannot, I cannot
. . . answered Janina quietly, with tears in her eyes, for that
proposal flashed before her mind like the dawn of a better future and
awakened for a moment her old enthusiasm and dreams of artistic
triumph. But immediately she thought of her present condition and the
sufferings that she would have to endure on that account, so she added
with even greater emphasis: No, I cannot! I cannot!
But she could not hold back the tears which continued to stream
quietly down her face until even Cabinska was touched and, drawing
nearer to her, whispered with sincere sympathy, For God's sake what is
the matter with you? Tell me, perhaps I shall be able to help you.
In reply Janina blushed faintly, warmly clasped Cabinska's hand, and
hastily left the pastry shop.
Tears were stifling her; life was stifling her.
Immediately afterward Stanislawski came to Janina and urged her to
leave with him for the small provincial towns. He was organizing a
company of from eight to nine persons in which each was to hold a
share. He offered Janina leading roles and spoke in glowing terms of
the certain success that awaited them in the provincial towns. He
enumerated all those whom he was engaging: all young people and
novices, full of energy, zeal, and talent. And he promised himself that
he would lead them along the path of true art, that his company would
be in the nature of a school for drama and that he would be a real
teacher and father, who would make of these people true artists worthy
of the theater and its traditions.
Janina refused Stanislawski briefly. She thanked him heartily for
the kindness he had shown her during the summer and took leave of him
cordially, as though forever.
When he had gone, she determined finally to end it all. She had not
yet told herself decisively: I will die! So far, if someone had told
her that she was contemplating suicide she would have denied it
sincerely, but already that thought and desire were lurking in the
subconscious depths of her mind.
Janina knew when the Cabinskis were leaving, so she went down to the
steamboat landing. She stood upon the bridge and watched them steam
away. She gazed at the gray waves of the Wisla splashing against the
sides of the pier and at the distant horizon veiled in autumn mists,
and such an intense sadness and grief overwhelmed her that she could
not move from the spot, or tear her eyes away from the water.
Night fell and Janina still stood there, gazing before her. The rows
of lights on the river banks sprang up from the darkness like golden
flowers and dotted the rocking, greenish surface of the water with
quivering gleams. The din and hum of the city echoed dimly behind her,
the hacks sped with noisy clatter across the bridge, the bells of the
tramcars clanged incessantly, crowds of people passed by with laughter;
sometimes the echo of a song reached Janina, or the merry tones of a
hand organ, then again, a warm breath of wind, saturated with the raw
odor of the river, fanned her feverish face. All these sights and
sounds beat against her as against a lifeless statue and rebounded
again without making any impression on her.
The water in its depths began to pass through ever stranger
transformations: it turned black, but that blackness was interwoven
with gleams of light, flames of red, streaks of violet, and rays of
yellow, like the glowing flame of pain. There, in those silent depths,
there seemed to be a better and fuller life, for the waves murmured so
joyously, broke against the piers and stone bulwarks and, as though
with frenzied laughter, united again, blended, tumbled over one another
and flowed on. Janina seemed almost to hear their care free laughter,
their calling to one another and their voice of mighty joy.
What are you doing here? suddenly said a voice behind her.
Janina trembled and turned around slowly. Wolska was standing before
her and curiously and uneasily watching her.
Oh, nothing, I was just gazing about.
Come with me, the air here isn't healthy, said Wolska, taking
Janina by the arm, for she read in her dimmed eyes a suicidal intent.
Janina allowed herself to be led away and only after they had gone
some distance, she asked quietly, So you have not left with Cabinski?
I couldn't. You see, my Johnnie's health is again worse. The doctor
has forbidden me to move him from bed and I believe that it would kill
him, whispered Wolska sadly. I had to stay, for, of course, I can't
send him to the hospital. If it comes to the worst, we shall die
together, but I will not forsake him. The doctor still gives me some
hope that he will recover.
Janina gazed with a strange feeling at the face of Wolska which,
though worn and faded, beamed with a deep motherly love. She looked
like a beggar woman in her dark, stained cloak and gray dress, frayed
at the bottom; she wore a straw hat and black mended gloves and carried
a parasol which was rusty from continual use. But through all this
poverty there shone, as bright as the sun, her love for her child. She
saw and heeded nothing else, for all that did not concern her child had
no meaning for her.
Janina walked alongside of her, gazing with admiration at this
woman. She knew her story. Wolska was the daughter of a rich and
intelligent family. She fell in love with an actor, or else with the
theater itself, and went on the stage and, although later her lover
abandoned her and she suffered poverty and humiliation, she could not
tear herself away from the theater and now, she centered all her love
and all her hopes upon her child that had been seriously ill since the
Where does she get all her strength? thought Janina and then,
turning to Wolska, she asked: What are you doing now?
Wolska shuddered, a faint blush flitted over her worn face and her
lips quivered with a painful expression as she answered: I sing . . .
What else could I do? I must live and must earn enough to pay Johnnie's
doctor bills. I must. Although it fills me with shame to do it, I must.
Alas, such is my fate, such is my fate! she moaned complainingly.
But I don't know what you mean, said Janina, who could not
understand why Wolska should feel ashamed to earn a living by singing.
Because, you see, Miss Janina, I don't want anybody to know about
it. . . . You will keep it to yourself, won't you? she begged with
tears in her eyes.
Certainly I give you my word. Moreover, whom would I tell? . . . I
am all alone in the world.
I sing in a restaurant on Podwal St., said Wolska in a low and
In a restaurant! whispered Janina, standing stock-still in
What else could I do? Tell me, what else could I do? I need money
for food and rent. How else could I earn it, when I don't even know how
to sew? At home I knew how to play on the piano a bit and could speak a
little French, but of course, that would not bring me a penny now. I
saw an advertisement in the Courier for a singer, so I went there and
got the position. They pay me a ruble a day together with meals and . .
. but tears choked her voice and she grasped Janina's hand and pressed
it feverishly. Janina returned the hand-clasp with a similar one and
they walked on in silence.
Come along with me, won't you? It will make me feel a little more
at ease, said Wolska.
Janina willingly agreed.
They entered the restaurant Under the Bridge on Podwal St. It was
a long and narrow garden with a few miserable trees. At the very
entrance there was a well. A whitewashed fence on the left side of the
garden divided it from the neighboring property which must have been a
lumberyard, for piles of beams and boards could be seen looming above
the fence. A few kerosene lanterns illuminated the place. A number of
little white tables with varnished tops and around them three times
that number of rough-hewn chairs constituted the entire furnishings of
that summer restaurant. A small office on the ground floor and the top
of the neighboring house enclosed the right side of the garden, while
at the back there arose a high, rough brick wall with small, dirty, and
barred windows; it was the rear of the former Kochanowski Palace,
standing on the corner of Miodowa and Kapitulna Streets.
Near the fence, a small stage shaded by a canvas roof with its two
open sides facing toward the audience, formed a sort of niche, the
walls of which were covered with a cheap, blue paper dotted with silver
stars. The smoking kerosene footlights on one side of the stage cast a
drab light upon a musician with a disheveled gray beard and
grease-stained coat, who was pounding away at the keyboard of a
wretched piano with an automatic motion of his arms and head.
The garden was filled with a public of working-class people and
those from the poorer section of the city.
Janina and Wolska pushed their way through the crowd to that little
office building in which there was a dressing-room for the performers,
divided into a men's and women's compartment by a red cretonne curtain.
I am already waiting! came a hoarse, drunken voice from behind the
You can begin your part, I will come right away! answered Wolska,
dressing herself in feverish haste in a grotesque, red costume.
In a few minutes she was all ready for her appearance. Janina
followed her out and took a seat facing the stage. Wolska, all flushed
with hurrying and still closing the last buttons and hooks of her
costume, appeared on the stage, greeting the public with a long bow.
The musician struck the yellow keys and at the same moment there arose
the tones of a song:
Once upon a stump among the hills, Between the oaks there sat two
turtle-doves, And I know not for what sport of love's They kissed each
other with their bills.
The strains of the old, sentimental song from The Cracovians and the
Mountaineers floated on, interrupted only by frequent bursts of
applause, the banging of beer glasses against the tables, the clatter
of plates, the slamming of doors and the reports or rifles in the
shooting galleries. The lanterns diffused a hazy and muddy light; girls
in white aprons and with their hands full of beer glasses, passed in
and out among the tables, flirted with the drinking men and flung
cynical remarks and answers at those who accosted them. Ribald laughter
and coarse jokes flew around like fire-works and were immediately
answered by broad, thoughtless merriment.
The public expressed its satisfaction with the singing by shouting,
beating time with their canes, and banging their beer glasses. At
moments the wind would entirely drown out the singing, or bend the few
wretched trees with a rustling sound and scatter the leaves over the
stage and the heads of the public.
Wolska continued to sing. Her red vaudeville costume, with low-cut
front, gleamed like a gaudy spot against the blue background of the
stage and excellently accentuated her thin, thickly painted face, her
sunken and pale eyes, and her sharp features which looked like the
skeleton-like face of a starving man. She swayed from side to side with
a heavy motion to the measure of the song:
Such ardent love took hold of me, I embraced Stach most tenderly.
Her voice floated through the garden with a hollow, rasping sound
and added to the din made by that noisy and drunken crowd. Brutal
laughs broke out in sharp, penetrating scales, and those bravos emitted
by the drunken threats of a Sunday public and interrupted by hiccoughs,
beat against the stage with a hoarse and hollow roar together with the
biting jibes that were not spared the singer. But she heard nothing and
sang on, indifferent and cold to all that surrounded her. She flung
forth tones, words, and mimicry with the automatism of a hypnotized
woman, only at moments, her eyes would seek Janina's as though they
were begging for pity.
Janina grew pale and red by turns, unable to endure any longer that
alcohol-saturated atmosphere and that drunken din which filled her with
aversion and disgust.
I would rather die! she thought. Oh, no, she would never be able
to amuse such a public. She would spit in its eyes and scorn herself
and then . . . if there were no other way out . . . drown herself in
Wolska finished her song and her partner, dressed in a Cracovian
costume, went about among the drinking crowd with his notes in his
hand, collecting money. Remarks that froze one with their cynicism and
brutal frankness, were hurled into his face, but he only smiled with
the dull smile of a habitual drunkard, nervously twitched his lips and
humbly bowed his thanks for those ten-copeck pieces that were thrown on
Wolska, with closed eyes, stood beside the piano, nervously tugged
at the golden lace of her waist and, groaning with painful anxiety,
counted in her mind the number of copecks which her partner placed
together with the notes beside her. The pianist again struck the keys
and Wolska and her partner began to sing together some comic couplets,
interwoven with a kind of Krakowiak which they danced in a half
Janina could hardly wait for the end of the performance and, without
saying anything about the impression that that drinking den had made on
her, she took leave of Wolska and fairly ran away from that garden,
that public, and that degradation.
During the entire day following, she did not leave her home. She ate
nothing and hardly thought at all, but lay in bed and gazed blankly at
the ceiling, following with her eyes, the last fly that crept drowsily
and half dead over it.
In the evening, Sowinska came in, sat down on a trunk and, without
any introduction, said harshly: The room is already rented to another
tenant, so to-morrow you can clear out of here. And since you owe us
fifteen rubles, I will keep all your duds and give them back to you
only when you pay me the money.
Very well, answered Janina and she looked at Sowinska
indifferently, as though nothing out of the ordinary were at stake.
Very well, I shall go! she added in a quieter tone and arose from the
You will doubtlessly manage to help yourself in some way, won't
you? You will yet come to see me in a carriage, eh? said Sowinska and
an ugly, hostile light gleamed in her owlish eyes.
Very well, repeated Janina in the same mechanical way and began to
pace up and down the room.
Sowinska, growing tired of waiting for some kind of reply, left the
So all is ended! whispered Janina in a hollow voice and the
thought of death became a conscious reality in her mind and shone
What is death? A forgetting, a forgetting! she answered herself
aloud, standing still and sinking her eyes in those murky deeps that
opened up before her soul.
Yes, a forgetting, a forgetting! she repeated slowly and for a
long time sat motionless, gazing at the flame of the lamp.
The night dragged on slowly, the house became quiet, the lights were
gradually extinguished in the long rows of windows and an ever deeper
silence spread itself about, until everything became steeped in this
The gray light of dawn was already beginning to streak the horizon
and to illumine the faint outlines of the housetops when Janina awoke
from her torpor and gazed about the room. She felt fully determined, so
she sprang up from her chair and, driven on by some thought that lit up
her eyes with a strange fire, walked quietly to the door and opened it.
But the noisy click of the latch which she closed after her penetrated
her with such a strange, sharp fear that she reeled back against the
frame of the door and breathed heavily for a few moments. Finally, she
quietly pulled off her shoes and boldly, but with the utmost caution,
passed through the hall and entered a large room adjoining the kitchen
which was used as a dining room and a workroom in the day time and as a
sleeping room for Mme. Anna's apprentices at night. The close and heavy
air of the room almost suffocated Janina. With outstretched hands and
bated breath, she stole toward the kitchen so slowly that those minutes
seemed an eternity to her. At moments, she paused and, overcoming her
trembling that awful trembling listened to the loud breathing and
snoring of those sleeping there and then went on again, setting her
teeth with a desperate strength. Large drops of perspiration rolled
down her forehead from exertion and fear and her heart beat so slowly
and painfully that she almost felt the pulsation of it in her throat.
The kitchen door was open and Janina passed through it like a shadow,
but she stumbled against the bed of the servant-girl, which stood very
near the door. She grew numb with fear and for a long time stood
motionless and breathless, almost in a state of suspended animation,
gazing with terrified eyes at the bed whose dim outlines she could
scarcely make out in the darkness. But finally, rallying all her
strength and courage, she walked boldly to the shelf upon which stood
various kitchen utensils and supplies and felt one after another with
the greatest caution, until finally, her hand rested upon a flat oblong
bottle containing essence of vinegar. She had seen it here a few hours
ago and now, having found it, she snatched it up so violently from
among the other articles that a tin cover fell with a crash upon the
floor. Janina unconsciously bent her head in terror, for the clash of
the falling cover resounded with such a tremendous echo in her brain
that it seemed as though the whole world were crashing down on her.
Who's there? called the servant, awakened by the noise. Who's
there? she repeated in a louder voice.
It is I . . . I came for a drink of water, answered Janina with a
choking voice, after a long while, nervously pressing the bottle to her
breast. The servant indistinctly mumbled something and did not speak
Janina ran to her room, as though pursued by the furies of madness,
no longer caring whether anyone heard her or might awaken and, having
reached it, locked the door and only then collapsed, half dead from,
exhaustion and trembled so violently that she thought she would fall to
pieces. The tears, which she did not even feel, began to stream down
her face. They gave her so great a relief that she fell asleep. In the
morning Sowinska again reminded her that it was time to move and,
brutally opening the door before her, told her to get out. Janina
dressed hastily and, without answering a word, left the house.
She walked along the streets, feeling nothing but her homelessness
and that dizziness in her head which was engulfing all her thoughts.
She passed through Nowy Swiat and the Ujazdowskie Allees and did not
stop until she reached the lake in Lazienki Park.
The trees stood dying and their yellow leaves spread a golden carpet
over the paths. The tranquillity of an autumn day hung in the air and
only now and then a flock of sparrows flew by with a noisy twitter, or
the swans upon the lake cried out mournfully and beat with their wings
the muddy-green water that looked like worn velvet. All around could be
seen the destruction wrought by the hand of golden autumn. Wherever it
touched the trees, there the leaves withered and fell to the ground,
the grass dried up and the last autumn asters bent their lifeless heads
and dripped with dew, as though weeping tears after death.
Death! whispered Janina, pressing in her hands the bottle that she
had secured on the previous night and she sat down, perhaps on the same
bench on which she had sat that spring. It seemed to her that she was
slowly drowsing away and that her thoughts were fading, for her
consciousness had begun to disintegrate and she was already ceasing to
feel and to know. Everything was falling away from her and dying, like
the nature about her that also seemed to be burning out and drawing its
A rapturous feeling, full of peace and calm, filled Janina's heart,
for the entire past was vanishing from her memory; all her miseries,
all her disappointments, and all her struggles faded away, paled and
dispersed, as though absorbed by that pale autumn sun that hung over
the park. It seemed to her that she had never passed through them,
never felt anything, never suffered anything. It seemed to her that she
was curling up within herself, growing smaller and shrinking, like that
withered leaf that hung upon the barbed wire of the fence, all ready to
drop and be hurled down into the abyss of death by that light breath of
wind. Then again it seemed to her that she was ripping to pieces, like
that spider web that tangled itself about the grass and floated in
glistening filaments through the air; that she was unwinding into such
gossamer strands, into ever finer and finer filaments, until she had
vanished away into infinity and lost all consciousness of herself. This
feeling moved her strongly and a strange tenderness and pity for
herself filled her heart with sorrow.
Poor girl! How unhappy she is! whispered Janina, as though she was
speaking of some other person.
Janina's soul was so rapidly disintegrating in its agony that she no
longer had a full and clear conception of what the miseries were that
had vanquished her, what misfortunes had broken her, nor did she know
why she was weeping or who she was.
Death! she repeated mechanically and that word found a deep and
unconscious echo in her brain and nerves and pressed only a few tears
from her eyes.
She stopped, without knowing why, before the marble figure of the
dancing Faun. The rains had darkened his stony body and rusted the
locks of his hair that curled like hyacinths, and his face, furrowed by
streams of water, seemed to have grown longer since the spring, but in
his eyes there gleamed and burned that same mockery and his crooked
legs continued their mad dance. Lo! lo! lo! he seemed to sing,
shaking his flute, laughing and jeering at everything, and raising
boldly to the sun his head which was crowned as though with a
bacchantic wreath by the withered leaves that had fallen on it.
Janina gazed at him, but being unable to remember or understand
anything, she passed on.
On Nowy Swiat, in one of the chambres garnies, she asked for a room,
ink, letter-paper, and envelopes. When everything had been supplied,
Janina locked herself up in the room and wrote two letters: one brief,
dry, and painfully ironical letter to her father and another longer and
entirely calm one to Glogowski. She notified them both of her suicide.
She addressed the letters with the greatest accuracy and laid them in a
Afterwards Janina calmly took from her pocket the bottle with the
poison, uncorked it, held the liquid up to the light and then, without
thinking or hesitating any longer drank it to the very dregs.
Suddenly, she stretched out her arms, a gleam of terror shot across
her face, her eyes closed, as though blinded by some measureless void
that opened before, and she fell prone upon the floor, in dreadful
convulsions of pain.
A few days later, Kotlicki, having returned from Lublin where he had
installed Topolski's company, was sitting in a coffee-house, looking
over the newspapers, and by some strange chance his eye fell upon the
following item among the local accidents of the day:
THE SUICIDE OF AN ACTRESS
On Tuesday, in the chambres garnies on Nowy Swiat, the servants
were aroused by moans issuing from one of the rooms which an hour ago
had been engaged by an unknown woman. They broke open the door and a
dreadful sight met their eyes. Upon the floor lay writhing in pain a
young and beautiful woman. Two letters left behind by her revealed that
she was a certain Janina Orlowska, a former chorus girl who appeared
last season in the N. N. Theater under Cabinski's management.
A physician was called and the unconscious woman was taken to the
Hospital of the Infant Jesus. Her condition is serious but it still
holds forth some hope. Miss Orlowska poisoned herself with essence of
vinegar, as is attested by the bottle that was found in her room. The
cause of her desperate act is unknown, but an investigation is being
made. . . .
Kotlicki read this over several times, knitted his brows, tugged at
his mustache, read it again and, finally, crumpled up The Courier and
threw it in anger upon the floor.
A comedienne! A comedienne! he whispered scornfully, biting his