The Chorus Girl (Chekhov/Fell)
ONE day while she was still pretty and young and her voice was sweet, Nikolai Kolpakoff, an admirer of hers, was sitting in a room on the second floor of her cottage. The afternoon was unbearably sultry and hot. Kolpakoff, who had just dined and drunk a whole bottle of vile port, felt thoroughly ill and out of sorts. Both he and she were bored, and were waiting for the heat to abate so that they might go for a stroll.
Suddenly a bell rang in the hall. Kolpakoff, who was sitting in his slippers without a coat, jumped up and looked at Pasha with a question in his eyes.
"It is probably the postman or one of the girls," said the singer.
Kolpakoff was not afraid of the postman or of Pasha's girl friends, but nevertheless he snatched up his coat and disappeared into the next room while Pasha ran to open the door. What was her astonishment when she saw on the threshold, not the postman nor a girl friend, but an unknown woman, beautiful and young ! Her dress was distinguished and she was evidently a lady.
The stranger was pale and was breathing heavily as if she were out of breath from climbing the stairs.
"What can I do for you?" Pasha inquired.
The lady did not reply at once. She took a step forward, looked slowly around the room, and sank into a chair as if her legs had collapsed under her from faintness or fatigue. Her pale lips moved silently, trying to utter words which would not come.
"Is my husband here?" she asked at last, raising her large eyes with their red and swollen lids to Pasha's face.
"What husband do you mean?" Pasha whispered, suddenly taking such violent fright that her hands and feet grew as cold as ice. "What husband?" she repeated beginning to tremble.
"My husband—Nikolai Kolpakoff."
"N—no, my lady. I don't know your husband."
A minute passed in silence. The stranger drew her handkerchief several times across her pale lips, and held her breath in an effort to subdue an inward trembling, while Pasha stood before her as motionless as a statue, gazing at her full of uncertainty and fear.
"So you say he is not here?" asked the lady. Her voice was firm now and a strange smile had twisted her lips.
"I—I—don't know whom you mean ! "
"You are a revolting, filthy, vile creature!" muttered the stranger looking at Pasha with hatred and disgust. "Yes, yes, you are revolting. I am glad indeed that an opportunity has come at last for me to tell you this !"
Pasha felt that she was producing the effect of something indecent and foul on this lady in black, with the angry eyes and the long, slender fingers, and she was ashamed of her fat, red cheeks, the pock-mark on her nose, and the lock of hair on her forehead that would never stay up. She thought that if she were thin and her face were not powdered, and she had not that curl on her forehead, she would not feel so afraid and ashamed standing there before this mysterious, unknown lady.
"Where is my husband ?" the lady went on. "However it makes no difference to me whether he is here or not, I only want you to know that he has been caught embezzling funds intrusted to him, and that the police are looking for him. He is going to be arrested. Now see what you have done!"
The lady rose and began to walk up and down in violent agitation. Pasha stared at her; fear rendered her uncomprehending.
"He will be found to-day and arrested," the lady repeated with a sob full of bitterness and rage. "I know who has brought this horror upon him ! Disgusting, abominable woman ! Horrible, bought creature ! (Here the lady's lips curled and her nose wrinkled with aversion.) I am impotent. Listen to me, you low woman. I am impotent and you are stronger than I, but there is One who will avenge me and my children. God's eyes see all things. He is just. He will call you to account for every tear I have shed, every sleepless night I have passed. The time will come when you will remember me !"
Once more silence fell. The lady walked to and fro wringing her hands. Pasha continued to watch her dully, uncomprehendingly, dazed with doubt, waiting for her to do something terrible.
"I don't know what you mean, my lady ! " she suddenly cried, and burst into tears.
"That's a lie !" screamed the lady, her eyes flashing with anger. "I know all about it! I have known about you for a long time. I know that he has been coming here every day for the last month."
"Yes—and what if he has ? Is it my fault ? I have a great many visitors, but I don't force any one to come. They are free to do as they please."
"I tell you he is accused of embezzlement! He has taken money that didn't belong to him, and for the sake of a woman like you—for your sake, he has brought himself to commit a crime ! Listen to me," the lady said sternly, halting before Pasha. "You are an unprincipled woman, I know. You exist to bring misfortune to men, that is the object of your life, but I cannot believe that you have fallen so low as not to have one spark of humanity left in your breast. He has a wife, he has children, oh, remember that ! There is one means of saving us from poverty and shame; if I can find nine hundred roubles today he will be left in peace. Only nine hundred roubles !"
"What nine hundred roubles?" asked Pasha feebly. "I—I don't know—I didn't take—"
"I am not asking you to give me nine hundred roubles, you have no money, and I don't want anything that belongs to you. It is something else that I ask. Men generally give presents of jewellery to women like you. All I ask is that you should give me back the things that my husband has given you."
"My lady, he has never given me anything !" wailed Pasha beginning to understand.
"Then where is the money he has wasted.' He has squandered in some way his own fortune, and mine, and the fortunes of others. Where has the money gone ? Listen, I implore you ! I was excited just now and said some unpleasant things, but I ask you to forgive me ! I know you must hate me, but if pity exists for you, oh, put yourself in my place ! I implore you to give me the jewellery!"
"H'm—" said Pasha shrugging her shoulders. "I should do it with pleasure, only I swear before God he never gave me a thing. He didn't, indeed. But, no, you are right," the singer suddenly stammered in confusion. "He did give me two little things. Wait a minute, I'll fetch them for you if you want them."
Pasha pulled out one of the drawers of her bureau, and took from it a bracelet of hollow gold, and a narrow ring set with a ruby.
"Here they are!" she said, handing them to her visitor.
The lady grew angry and a spasm passed over her features. She felt that she was being insulted.
"What is this you are giving me ? " she cried. "I'm not asking for alms, but for the things that do not belong to you, for the things that you have extracted from my weak and unhappy husband by your position. When I saw you on the wharf with him on Thursday you were wearing costly brooches and bracelets. Do you think you can play the innocent baby with me? I ask you for the last time: will you give me those presents or not?"
"You are strange, I declare," Pasha exclaimed, beginning to take offense. "I swear to you that I have never had a thing from your Nikolai, except this bracelet and ring. He has never given me anything, but these and some little cakes."
"Little cakes!" the stranger laughed suddenly. "His children are starving at home, and he brings you little cakes ! So you won't give up the things ? "
Receiving no answer, the lady sat down, her eyes grew fixed, and she seemed to be debating something.
"What shall I do ? " she murmured. "If I can't get nine hundred roubles he will be ruined as well as the children and myself. Shall I kill this creature, or shall I go down on my knees to her?"
The lady pressed her handkerchief to her eyes and burst into tears.
"Oh, I beseech you !" she sobbed. "It is you who have disgraced and ruined my husband; now save him ! You can have no pity for him, I know; but the children, remember the children ! What have they done to deserve this?"
Pasha imagined his little children standing on the street corner weeping with hunger, and she, too, burst into tears.
"What can I do, my lady?" she cried. "You say I am a wicked creature who has ruined your husband, but I swear to you before God I have never had the least benefit from him ! Mota is the only girl in our chorus who has a rich friend, the rest of us all live on bread and water. Your husband is an educated, pleasant gentleman, that's why I received him. We can't pick and choose."
"I want the jewellery; give me the jewellery! I am weeping, I am humiliating myself; see, I shall fall on my knees before you ! "
Pasha screamed with terror and waved her arms. She felt that this pale, beautiful lady, who spoke the same refined language that people did in plays, might really fall on her knees before her, and for the very reason that she was so proud and high-bred, she would exalt herself by doing this, and degrade the little singer.
"Yes, yes, I'll give you the jewellery!" Pasha cried hastily, wiping her eyes. "Take it, but it did not come from your husband ! I got it from other visitors. But take it, if you want it ! "
Pasha pulled out an upper drawer of the bureau, and took from it a diamond brooch, a string of corals, two or three rings, and a bracelet. These she handed to the lady.
"Here is the jewellery, but I tell you again your husband never gave me a thing. Take it, and may you be the richer for having it ! " Pasha went on, offended by the lady's threat that she would go down on her knees. "You are a lady and his lawful wife—keep him at home then ! The idea of it ! As if I had asked him to come here ! He came because he wanted to!"
The lady looked through her tears at the jewellery that Pasha had handed her and said:
"This isn't all. There is scarcely five hundred roubles' worth here."
Pasha violently snatched a gold watch, a cigarette-case, and a set of studs out of the drawer and flung up her arms, exclaiming:
"Now I am cleaned out ! Look for yourself !"
Her visitor sighed. With trembling hands she wrapped the trinkets in her handkerchief, and went out without a word, without even a nod.
The door of the adjoining room opened and Kolpakoff came out. His face was pale and his head was shaking nervously, as if he had just swallowed a very bitter draught. His eyes were full of tears.
"I'd like to know what you ever gave me!" Pasha attacked him vehemently. "When did you ever give me the smallest present?"
"Presents—they are a detail, presents!" Kolpakoff cried, his head still shaking. "Oh, my God, she wept before you, she abased herself!"
"I ask you again: what have you ever given me?" screamed Pasha.
"My God, she—a respectable, a proud woman, was actually ready to fall on her knees before—before this—wench ! And I have brought her to this ! I allowed it !"
He seized his head in his hands.
"No," he groaned out, "I shall never forgive myself for this—never! Get away from me, wretch!" he cried, backing away from Pasha with horror, and keeping her off with outstretched, trembling hands. "She was ready to go down on her knees, and before whom?—Before you! Oh, my God!"
He threw on his coat and, pushing Pasha contemptuously aside, strode to the door and went out.
Pasha flung herself down on the sofa and burst into loud wails. She already regretted the things she had given away so impulsively, and her feelings were hurt. She remembered that a merchant had beaten her three years ago for nothing, yes, absolutely for nothing, and at that thought she wept louder than ever.