Read CHAPTER IV of The Comedienne , free online book, by Wladyslaw Reymont, on ReadCentral.com.

“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 Anointed, Cabinski.

“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 of howls.

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 personally.”

“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? . . .”

“Orlowska.”

“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 acting, recently?”

“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 Cabinski.

“Silence, you clown! . . .” she yelled throwing her lighted cigarette at him.

“Wait, wait, you backstairs prima donna,” he hissed, growing pale with rage.

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 shouted.

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.

“You cow!”

“You fool!”

“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 and departed.

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 others.

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, dears!”

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 alone!”

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 with them.

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 Cabinska, appearing.

“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, Madame Directress.”

“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 honor!”

“Please ma’am it is already noon,” interrupted the nurse, who had returned.

“You are bound for the theater, Madame Directress?”

“Yes, I’ll drop in to see the rehearsal, and then take a walk about town.”

“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 honeyed tones.

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 money.

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 stage!”

“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 nothing.”

“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.

“A novice.”

“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 him.

“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 Ujazdowski Square.

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. Counselor?”

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. Counselor?”

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 cheeks.

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 Janina modestly.

“Oh, my artistic intuition never deceives me! . . . I pray you sit nearer to me! So you have never before been in the theater, mademoiselle?”

“No.”

“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 days.

“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 everything.

“If you knew how sincerely I sympathize with you, madame! . . . What a dreadful fate!”

“That is already past! . . .” answered Cabinska, dropping into her chair.

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 salary.”

“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 Cabinska.

“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 them.

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 don’t trip.”

“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 costume.

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 past.”

“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 left.”

“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 his costume.

“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 without them!”

“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 all noises.

“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 insulting!”

“It’s base and ridiculous!”

“For God’s sake! what’s all this about?” cried Cabinski in desperation.

“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 management.”

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.