A.P. Chekhov - 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. . . .
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 would
understand, one might get twenty thousand for the idea alone!
Even you would understand if I were to tell you about it. Only
you . . . don't chatter about it . . . not a word . . . but I
fancy I have talked to you about it already. Have I talked to
you about sausage-skins?"
"M'm . . . by and by."
"I believe I have. . . . Do you see the point of it? Now the
provision shops and the sausage-makers get their sausage-skins
locally, and pay a high price for them. Well, but if one were to
bring sausage-skins from the Caucasus where they are worth
nothing, and where they are thrown away, then . . . where do you
suppose the sausage-makers would buy their skins, here in the
slaughterhouses or from me? From me, of course! Why, I shall
sell them ten times as cheap! Now let us look at it like this:
every year in Petersburg and Moscow and in other centres these
same skins would be bought to the. . . to the sum of five
hundred thousand, let us suppose. That's the minimum. Well, and
if. . . ."
"You can tell me to-morrow . . . later on. . . ."
"Yes, that's true. You are sleepy, pardon, I am just going . . .
say what you like, but with capital you can do good business
everywhere, wherever you go. . . . With capital even out of
cigarette ends one may make a million. . . . Take your
theatrical business now. Why, for example, did Lentovsky come to
grief? It's very simple. He did not go the right way to work
from the very first. He had no capital and he went headlong to
the dogs. . . . He ought first to have secured his capital, and
then to have gone slowly and cautiously. . . . Nowadays, one can
easily make money by a theatre, whether it is a private one or a
people's one. . . . If one produces the right plays, charges a
low price for admission, and hits the public fancy, one may put
a hundred thousand in one's pocket the first year. . . . You
don't understand, but I am talking sense. . . . You see you are
fond of hoarding capital; you are no better than that fool
Zagvozdkin, you heap it up and don't know what for. . . . You
won't listen, you don't want to. . . . If you were to put it
into circulation, you wouldn't have to be rushing all over the
place . . . . You see for a private theatre, five thousand would
be enough for a beginning. . . . Not like Lentovsky, of course,
but on a modest scale in a small way. I have got a manager
already, I have looked at a suitable building. . . . It's only
the money I haven't got. . . . If only you understood things you
would have parted with your Five per cents . . . your Preference
shares. . . ."
"No, merci. . . . You have fleeced me enough already. . . . Let
me alone, I have been punished already. . . ."
"If you are going to argue like a woman, then of course . . ."
sighs Nikitin, getting up. "Of course. . . ."
"Let me alone. . . . Come, go away and don't keep me awake. . .
. I am sick of listening to your nonsense."
"H'm. . . . To be sure . . . of course! Fleeced. . . plundered.
. . . What we give we remember, but we don't remember what we
"I have never taken anything from you."
"Is that so? But when we weren't a celebrated singer, at whose
expense did we live then? And who, allow me to ask, lifted you
out of beggary and secured your happiness? Don't you remember
"Come, go to bed. Go along and sleep it off."
"Do you mean to say you think I am drunk? . . . if I am so low
in the eyes of such a grand lady. . . I can go away altogether."
"Do. A good thing too."
"I will, too. I have humbled myself enough. And I will go."
"Oh, my God! Oh, do go, then! I shall be delighted!"
"Very well, we shall see."
Nikitin mutters something to himself, and, stumbling over the
chairs, goes out of the bedroom. Then sounds reach her from the
entry of whispering, the shuffling of goloshes and a door being
shut. Mari d'elle has taken offence in earnest and gone out.
"Thank God, he has gone!" thinks the singer. "Now I can sleep."
And as she falls asleep she thinks of her mari d'elle, what sort
of a man he is, and how this affliction has come upon her. At
one time he used to live at Tchernigov, and had a situation
there as a book-keeper. As an ordinary obscure individual and
not the mari d'elle, he had been quite endurable: he used to go
to his work and take his salary, and all his whims and projects
went no further than a new guitar, fashionable trousers, and an
amber cigarette-holder. Since he had become "the husband of a
celebrity" he was completely transformed. The singer remembered
that when first she told him she was going on the stage he had
made a fuss, been indignant, complained to her parents, turned
her out of the house. She had been obliged to go on the stage
without his permission. Afterwards, when he learned from the
papers and from various people that she was earning big sums, he
had 'forgiven her,' abandoned book-keeping, and become her
hanger-on. The singer was overcome with amazement when she
looked at her hanger-on: when and where had he managed to pick
up new tastes, polish, and airs and graces? Where had he learned
the taste of oysters and of different Burgundies? Who had taught
him to dress and do his hair in the fashion and call her
'Nathalie' instead of Natasha?"
"It's strange," thinks the singer. "In old days he used to get
his salary and put it away, but now a hundred roubles a day is
not enough for him. In old days he was afraid to talk before
schoolboys for fear of saying something silly, and now he is
overfamiliar even with princes . . . wretched, contemptible
But then the singer starts again; again there is the clang of
the bell in the entry. The housemaid, scolding and angrily
flopping with her slippers, goes to open the door. Again some
one comes in and stamps like a horse.
"He has come back!" thinks the singer. "When shall I be left in
peace? It's revolting!" She is overcome by fury.
"Wait a bit. . . . I'll teach you to get up these farces! You
shall go away. I'll make you go away!"
The singer leaps up and runs barefoot into the little
drawing-room where her mari usually sleeps. She comes at the
moment when he is undressing, and carefully folding his clothes
on a chair.
"You went away!" she says, looking at him with bright eyes full
of hatred. "What did you come back for?"
Nikitin remains silent, and merely sniffs.
"You went away! Kindly take yourself off this very minute! This
very minute! Do you hear?"
Mari d'elle coughs and, without looking at his wife, takes off
"If you don't go away, you insolent creature, I shall go," the
singer goes on, stamping her bare foot, and looking at him with
flashing eyes. "I shall go! Do you hear, insolent . . .
worthless wretch, flunkey, out you go!"
"You might have some shame before outsiders," mutters her
husband. . . .
The singer looks round and only then sees an unfamiliar
countenance that looks like an actor's. . . . The countenance,
seeing the singer's uncovered shoulders and bare feet, shows
signs of embarrassment, and looks ready to sink through the
"Let me introduce . . ." mutters Nikitin, "Bezbozhnikov, a
The singer utters a shriek, and runs off into her bedroom.
"There, you see . . ." says mari d'elle, as he stretches himself
on the sofa, "it was all honey just now . . . my love, my dear,
my darling, kisses and embraces . . . but as soon as money is
touched upon, then. . . . As you see . . . money is the great
thing. . . . Good night!"
A minute later there is a snore.
mari d'elle: lit., husband of her