Mari d'Elle

It was a free night. Natalya Andreyevna Bronin (her married name was Nikitin), the opera singer, is lying in her bedroom, her whole being abandoned to repose. She lies, deliciously drowsy, thinking of her little daughter who lives somewhere far away with her grandmother or aunt.… The child is more precious to her than the public, bouquets, notices in the papers, adorers … and she would be glad to think about her till morning. She is happy, at peace, and all she longs for is not to be prevented from lying undisturbed, dozing and dreaming of her little girl.

All at once the singer starts, and opens her eyes wide: there is a harsh abrupt ring in the entry. Before ten seconds have passed the bell tinkles a second time and a third time. The door is opened noisily and some one walks into the entry stamping his feet like a horse, snorting and puffing with the cold.

“Damn it all, nowhere to hang one’s coat!” the singer hears a husky bass voice. “Celebrated singer, look at that! Makes five thousand a year, and can’t get a decent hat-stand!”

“My husband!” thinks the singer, frowning. “And I believe he has brought one of his friends to stay the night too.… Hateful!”

No more peace. When the loud noise of some one blowing his nose and putting off his goloshes dies away, the singer hears cautious footsteps in her bedroom.… It is her husband, mari d’elle, Denis Petrovitch Nikitin. He brings a whiff of cold air and a smell of brandy. For a long while he walks about the bedroom, breathing heavily, and, stumbling against the chairs in the dark, seems to be looking for something.…

“What do you want?” his wife moans, when she is sick of his fussing about. “You have woken me.”

“I am looking for the matches, my love. You … you are not asleep then? I have brought you a message.… Greetings from that … what’s-his-name? … red-headed fellow who is always sending you bouquets.… Zagvozdkin.… I have just been to see him.”

“What did you go to him for?”

“Oh, nothing particular.… We sat and talked and had a drink. Say what you like, Nathalie, I dislike that individual—I dislike him awfully! He is a rare blockhead. He is a wealthy man, a capitalist; he has six hundred thousand, and you would never guess it. Money is no more use to him than a radish to a dog. He does not eat it himself nor give it to others. Money ought to circulate, but he keeps tight hold of it, is afraid to part with it.… What’s the good of capital lying idle? Capital lying idle is no better than grass.”

Mari d’elle gropes his way to the edge of the bed and, puffing, sits down at his wife’s feet.

“Capital lying idle is pernicious,” he goes on. “Why has business gone downhill in Russia? Because there is so much capital lying idle among us; they are afraid to invest it. It’s very different in England.… There are no such queer fish as Zagvozdkin in England, my girl.… There every farthing is in circulation.… Yes.… They don’t keep it locked up in chests there.…”

“Well, that’s all right. I am sleepy.”

“Directly.… Whatever was it I was talking about? Yes.… In these hard times hanging is too good for Zagvozdkin.… He is a fool and a scoundrel.… No better than a fool. If I asked him for a loan without security—why, a child could see that he runs no risk whatever. He doesn’t understand, the ass! For ten thousand he would have got a hundred. In a year he would have another hundred thousand. I asked, I talked … but he wouldn’t give it me, the blockhead.”

“I hope you did not ask him for a loan in my name.”

“H’m.… A queer question.…” Mari d’elle is offended. “Anyway he would sooner give me ten thousand than you. You are a woman, and I am a man anyway, a business-like person. And what a scheme I propose to him! Not a bubble, not some chimera, but a sound thing, substantial! If one could hit on a man who

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