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 Nacha had not been able to sleep. Rarely, even in her unhappy life, had she spent so bad a night. On arriving home from the cabaret, Arnedo had gone to bed in silence. This Indian-like taciturnity of his always terrified her. Dread of the man's violence, fear of being once more abandoned, and forced to return to her former precarious circumstances, mingled with the anxieties the day had brought her. Carlos Riga, she had only that morning learned, was dying in a hospital ward. Yet curiously, what tortured her more than grief for her former lover or fear for her own life, was the uneasiness aroused within her by the memory of how she had treated that unknown man who had so chivalrously come to her defense in the cabaret. He had been ready to risk his life for her, and she had rewarded him with a laugh, a laugh half of fear, half of distraction; but to him it must have seemed one of treacherous mockery. Into her heart that night a new, a strangely engrossing uneasiness had come, a presentiment which she could not have explained, but which she knew she must conceal from Arnedo as though it were a crime. It was a sense of impending evil, an accumulation of forebodings—reminiscences that the news of Riga's condition had brought up, memories of the evening itself; bits of her own past; pictures, which her frightened imagination painted, of a terrible future—a future with at best such poor, such ill-nourished, such unsubstantial hopes—all blending into a vague conviction that Fate had decreed some great misfortune for her.
How she longed for the relief of slumber! She would need to look fresh and happy when she faced Arnedo the following day. This preoccupation filled her insomnia with a sort of hectic frenzy.
To destroy all traces of the hours of torment she was enduring, she imagined herself digging little graves for them, and burying them one by one under a dust of forgetfulness. Meanwhile, in her desire for the dawn, she turned on the light every few minutes to see what time it was. Four o'clock, half-past four, five! Never had a night lasted so long! She thought the clock must be slow, and got up to see if there were any signs of coming day. Darkness was still unbroken. Only a faint glow in the depths of the sky seemed to presage the possibility of morning. How she hungered for light in that overwhelming darkness!
And meanwhile the image of the man in the cabaret haunted her. He looked at her so strangely! No one else had ever looked at her in just this fashion. There was not in his eyes that desire which she saw in the eyes of other men. It was something else, something else! Especially from the moment when all the café had turned on her! Why had he gazed at her so persistently? A few nights before, in this same cabaret, her eyes had met those of this man. She had not been able to keep from looking at him; she had not been able to avoid his gaze when he looked her way. And then he had followed her home—doubtless to find out where she lived. She had seen him lingering there in the street and had stepped out on the balcony for a moment.... Who was he? Did he want to take her from Arnedo, to have her for himself? Why should he wish to defend her when his doing so could only injure her? He was to blame, in large measure, for Pampa's bad humor. As for Pampa, she hated him; but she could not leave him. He had broken her spirit. He could insult her and knock her about; but instead of turning against him, she would become more submissive and obedient than before. Why? How strange life was! She would never understand herself. At times it seemed as though another being dwelt within, forcing her to do things she could not otherwise account for. Why else, for example, should she have behaved so meanly, so contemptibly, towards this man who had defended her; who, clearly, was interested in her; who was, perhaps, in love with her? Why? Why? That whole long night she had tried not to think of this stranger; but to no avail. There was something about the way he held himself, something in his eyes, and in the words he spoke, which set him apart from everyone else she knew. And this distinction fascinated her. With what spirit he had faced that hostile gang! Something was drawing her towards him. It would frighten her to meet him again—yet she longed for just such an encounter. Why should she want to see him? She did not know! She refused to know!
Only the memory of the poet who had been her lover softened the pain of that unending night. He at least was good! He was loyal! He was compassionate! His heart knew the most beautiful words in the world with which to console; he had developed her intelligence, taught her to bow her head to irremediable injustice. Only this, perhaps, had saved her from the hard, cynical desperation of other women who had, like her, been overcome by wrong. And now he was dying. He was perhaps already dead. She had seen a report of his illness in a newspaper the night before; and the shock of it had left her helpless to disguise the sadness which possessed her as she sat with the others in the cabaret.
She felt responsible in a certain way for Riga's death. Had she not abandoned him at the very moment when he most needed her support? And why had she behaved so? Why was there this incessant contradiction in her life? She had run away from home at the very time when she had become most attached to her mother and her sister. She had loved Riga passionately, and she had fled from him. She felt sympathy and admiration for the man in the cabaret, and she had mocked him. Why did she always act in this unaccountable way? Then Riga took entire possession of her thoughts, and she lived over again the time that had elapsed between their first meeting and her tragic abandonment of him.
It was in her mother's boarding house that they had begun their friendship. Later, after her misfortune, she learned of the poet's difficulties. Surrounded as she was by gross, vulgar people, she thought of him as a noble and pure spirit. Years later, when she was working as a waitress in a café, she met him again. They saw one another several times, compared their troubles, were touched by each other's sufferings. So they went to live together. This union lasted three years; and in the midst of poverty, grief and despair, they came to adore one another. They both worked hard; but Destiny seemed bent on sucking their blood. As their circumstances became poorer and poorer, Riga took refuge in drink and stopped writing. She had gone hungry, taking the bread from her own mouth to feed him, to keep him alive. But a day came when she had no more reserves of courage. She had endured all she could. Life and youth cried out for their rights; and she went away, exhausted physically and morally, weeping out all the remaining strength of her broken heart.
A little before seven o'clock, taking care not to waken Arnedo, she got out of bed again, and tiptoed to the door of the apartment, stepped out to the elevator and rang the bell. When the car came up she asked for the Patria, the newspaper to which Arnedo subscribed. The postman had not yet delivered the mail and Nacha sent the boy out to get the paper. While waiting for him to come back she walked restlessly back and forth, from the window opening on the street, to the front door. It was a dull, oppressive, cloudy morning; the sky had a yellowish, dirty look. The air was very damp and on the window-panes and outside woodwork large drops of moisture hung. Nacha had a painful presentiment. Certainly such a day could bring nothing good. Pale, trembling, she ran to the door the moment she heard the elevator start again.
She snatched the paper eagerly from the boy's hand, opened it and looked frantically at the inner page. The item, alas, was there, the news which pierced her heart, and seemed like a claw tearing at her breast! Shrinking, scarcely able to stand upright, she went to the sitting-room and, still clutching the newspaper, threw herself on the sofa. Now it seemed to her that her life was indeed all spent. She lay there a long time, weeping. This man, to whom the newspaper bade farewell with words of affection, was Carlos Riga, the poet who was all generosity, all goodness, the boy who had been her lover and her friend in the best years of her life! He was the inspired dreamer who had freed her soul from the vulgar preoccupations of her kind; he was the idealist who had shared illusions and hopes with her; he was the man who had never spoken to her a word that was not kind and affectionate. No tears were enough for this loss. What though she never saw him and could not see him? She needed to know that he was alive, so as not to be altogether bad, so as not to become utterly unworthy. She wept. For death, in taking Riga away, broke her last connection with the only happy hours she had known in her life as slave and outcast.
She sat up on the sofa at last and read and re-read the Patria's tribute to the dead poet. Then she went to a closet and took from it Riga's "Poems," which she had bought before he became her lover—later he had written in a dedication which filled the first two blank pages. With tears in her eyes she glanced over the well-known verses, but as some of Pampa's snores echoed through the apartment, she hastily kissed the volume, and put it back in its hiding place, fearful lest Pampa should appear. She must also conceal the traces of her weeping lest Arnedo get up suddenly and see her swollen face.
She returned to the sitting-room with the idea of writing perhaps to her sister. She heard the cook stirring about in the kitchen. A talk with the woman might distract her. With affected cheeriness she went out and ordered breakfast.
How afraid she was to linger in any place where she might encounter Arnedo! But she knew that he would demand an explanation of her gloom of the night before, of her refusal to obey his orders and dance. She went to the dining-room, in the corner of the apartment farthest away from the room where Pampa was sleeping. These devices seemed to postpone for awhile the moment she dreaded. What was Pampa going to say? He might beat her! He might drive her out of the house! What could she look forward to? Several times she asked the maid whether el Se?or was getting up. In this way she learned when he was awake, when he asked for his breakfast, when he went to take his bath. Strange he should not be asking for her. And this silence terrified her! Finally, at noon, knowing that he must be nearly dressed, she tried to prepare herself to face him; but she was restless, anxious and nervous.
She heard his step approaching the dining-room. The door opened. Scarcely glancing at her, and without a word of greeting, from the threshold Pampa motioned to her to come to him.
As she went into the sitting-room, Nacha felt Arnedo's piercing gaze upon her face. She did not know where to turn her eyes. Back to a table, his hands in his pockets, Pampa stood watching her with a hard smile, apparently enjoying her distress.
"Well," he said at last, "I want to know what was the matter with you last night?"
"Nothing! I was ill—I told you."
She sat down as she spoke. Pampa, paying no attention to her answer, began to whistle a tango. Half dead with fear, Nacha had scarcely been able to articulate the words.
"Sick, eh?"
His hard eyes swept the girl sarcastically. A long silence followed, broken only by the jangling of some keys which Pampa was turning over and over in one of his pockets. He pretended to smile; then suddenly, exasperated, almost shouting, and with an ugly word, he broke out,
"Sick! Do you think you can get away with that excuse?"
Nacha, in terror, drew back towards the sofa, her knees and hands unsteady. Stammering, half crying, she begged him not to shout so. She had not meant to offend him!
"I've good reason to shout," he continued. "I've told you, haven't I, that I wouldn't stand your making up to anybody! You wore that fool face of yours last night because you think you're in love with someone—for all I know with that mangy cur who butted in. Well, I'm not going to be made a fool of, understand? I'm not going to support a woman who goes around cry-babying and putting on."
"I was sick, I tell you."
"And I tell you, you weren't! If you say that again, I'll break every bone you've got in your body!"
"Pampa! please, don't talk so loud!"
Arnedo began to pace up and down, a torrent of vituperation and curses flowing from his lips, his eyes glittering with savage cruelty. Nacha thought for a moment of telling him the truth, that her tears were due to her grief for the death of a man she had loved; but she knew Arnedo would not believe her. Besides, would not her feeling for a man she had broken with, irritate Pampa for the very reason that he could not understand such subtleties of emotion? It seemed safest to be silent, to endure his insults and his anger without replying.
At last, having worked off some of his temper, Arnedo announced that he was going out, and would not be back for lunch. Nacha followed him to the door, submissive, and still frightened. She even drew up to him as though expecting a caress; but Arnedo brushed her aside contemptuously and slammed the front door behind him.
Though Nacha could not restrain an access of nervous weeping she felt, after all, a sort of relief. The scene had "ended well" for her! Her thoughts were free now to return to Riga. She would go to the cemetery, and at least see where they were burying him. And she would wear black, very simple black, so as not to attract attention! In those moments at least she must appear worthy of the humble poet who had loved her!
She had just finished dressing when the maid announced a caller.
"Who is it?"
"A gentleman. He will not give his name."
Nacha's heart began to beat more quickly, and with an unaccountable expectancy.
"You know very well that I don't receive calls from gentlemen.... Is he well dressed?"
The maid nodded.
"Tell him I am not at home. Just a moment—well—yes, tell him I am not at home!"
The maid left the room, but returned almost immediately.
"He wouldn't go, Ma'am," she reported, considerably alarmed; "He walked right in.... He looks all right, but...."
Nacha, with some uneasiness, went into the sitting-room. To her amazement she found herself face to face with the stranger of the cabaret.

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