They listened to her entreaties, and after consulting together, took her into the company as a “countess”—the name they used for the minor actresses who usually came on to the stage in crowds or in dumb parts. To begin with Masha used to play maid-servants and pages, but when Madame Beobahtov, the flower of Limonadov’s company, eloped, they made her ingenue. She acted badly, lisped, and was nervous. She soon grew used to it, however, and began to be liked by the audience. Fenogenov was much displeased.
“To call her an actress!” he used to say. “She has no figure, no deportment, nothing whatever but silliness.”
In one provincial town the company acted Schiller’s “Robbers.” Fenogenov played Franz, Masha, Amalie. The tragedian shouted and quivered. Masha repeated her part like a well-learnt lesson, and the play would have gone off as they generally did had it not been for a trifling mishap. Everything went well up to the point where Franz declares his love for Amalie and she seizes his sword. The tragedian shouted, hissed, quivered, and squeezed Masha in his iron embrace. And Masha, instead of repulsing him and crying “Hence!” trembled in his arms like a bird and did not move,... she seemed petrified.
“Have pity on me!” she whispered in his ear. “Oh, have pity on me! I am so miserable!”
“You don’t know your part! Listen to the prompter!” hissed the tragedian, and he thrust his sword into her hand.
After the performance, Limonadov and Fenogenov were sitting in the ticket box-office engaged in conversation.
“Your wife does not learn her part, you are right there,” the manager was saying. “She doesn’t know her line.... Every man has his own line,... but she doesn’t know hers....”
Fenogenov listened, sighed, and scowled and scowled.
Next morning, Masha was sitting in a little general shop writing:
“Papa, he beats me! Forgive us! Send us some money!”
A COLLEGIATE assessor called Miguev stopped at a telegraph-post in the course of his evening walk and heaved a deep sigh. A week before, as he was returning home from his evening walk, he had been overtaken at that very spot by his former housemaid, Agnia, who said to him viciously:
“Wait a bit! I’ll cook you such a crab that’ll teach you to ruin innocent girls! I’ll leave the baby at your door, and I’ll have the law of you, and I’ll tell your wife, too....”
And she demanded that he should put five thousand roubles into the bank in her name. Miguev remembered it, heaved a sigh, and once more reproached himself with heartfelt repentance for the momentary infatuation which had caused him so much worry and misery.