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HOME > Short Stories > Nacha Regules > CHAPTER XI
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 Mme. Annette's house, facing a well-known park, was the most aristocratic of its kind in all Buenos Aires. It was a resort of millionaires, prominent politicians, and representatives of the city's best families. At times half the cabinet was to be found there, not, of course, assembled in council. Public report had it that when the Chamber of Deputies lacked a quorum, it was customary to telephone to Mme. Annette's; and never had this measure, unparliamentary though it might be, failed to produce satisfactory results. At the very entrance one began to breathe an air of luxury; then one stepped into a world of silks, embroideries, gilt furniture, rich rugs, and heavy hangings. A persistent aroma of rose water was wafted through the rooms, where a subdued, mysterious, light invited to low-voiced conversation. Nacha was waiting in a small inner reception room. A woman, whom she did not know, was also sitting there; "Madame" had left them for a moment to receive a caller. Suddenly a familiar figure appeared in the doorway. "Amelia!" Nacha, with an exclamation of surprise, ran to meet her friend, and kissed her.
"You here! Why, didn't you get married?" She lowered her voice at the question. Amelia might feel ashamed in the presence of the strange woman....
"Yes, I got married.... But ... here I am just the same!"
She talked in a very loud voice, laughed boldly, and emphasized whatever she had to say with graceful movements of her snake-like body and her long thin arms. She was dressed in a somewhat fantastic and exuberant fashion, not without elegance. A strong scent of violets pervaded the atmosphere about her.
"I should worry!" she continued; "Listen, little one. I'll admit that when I got married I had some idea of living respectably. That's the truth. You can say what you like. But you don't know what I married. He used to work when he was a bachelor—in a dry goods store. But after we were married he left his job, and wanted to live on me—thought I could go right on doing what I did before. Well, this is what I said to him: I said, "All right. I'll go back to the old life; but feed you with the money I earn? Not much! So here I am. How do I look? Not getting old very fast, eh?"
"You look splendid, Amelia, and more attractive than ever. What a figure you have!"
"It isn't so bad, is it? But it's wasted on the old fogies who come here. It makes you tired. Say, do you remember the wild times we had, Nacha, when we were just kids, and I called myself an anarchist, and said everybody ought to have one good fling at life?"
"And aren't you an anarchist now?"
"Me? You're crazy, little one. No more of those fool ideas for me. Listen, I'm convinced now that we girls of the profession are one of the strongest pillars of society...."
She flung this out in ringing tones; and then, at Nacha's horrified expression, burst out laughing, throwing herself over to one side of her chair with the sensuous grace and calm indifference of a cat.
Madame's arrival interrupted this conversation. When she saw Amelia she greeted her with flattering warmth, and immediately left the room with her. The stranger looked at Nacha and seemed about to speak. But Nacha was lost in wonderment over all the things that may drive a woman to her ruin. Amelia was frankness itself, and if she said she had married with the hope of leading a decent life, it must be true; so then it was her husband, on whom she had built all her hopes of decency, who had thrust her back into vice!
She was interrupted in her thoughts by the entrance of a very young girl, at whom Nacha gazed, charmed and astonished by the grace, and innocent expression, of this delightful little person. She could not take her eyes away from her; the girl, answering her shy smile, asked, simply,
"What's your name? You look so good!"
"I'm not good, but I should like to be!"
The child—she seemed no older—sat down beside Nacha, and began to talk with her. Although she was actually seventeen, her slight, almost frail, figure made her seem barely fourteen or fifteen. Nacha was horrified by this little creature's presence in that place. Didn't her parents know where she was? And how could Mme. Annette let her come there? And the men, those respectable gentlemen who were such good friends of Madame's, how could they fail to utter a word of protest or of pity? No, she could not understand the world; for it despised her and all women like her, insulted her and pushed her towards crime and every form of misery; yet she was capable of feeling pity for the girl at her side; and she knew many women of her sort who would not have allowed a horror such as this child's presence there, to be committed. She wanted to ask this young thing to tell her how she came to be in such a place, but she hesitated. The other woman's presence embarrassed her.
"Tell me," Nacha whispered, taking the girl's hand. "Why is it—how does it happen that—?"
The child raised her clear innocent eyes to Nacha's, in wonder.
"Why do you come to this house?" Nacha asked finally, blushing for her curiosity.
The girl raised troubled eyes to Nacha; then she replied quite simply, without the slightest suggestion of reproach toward anyone in her voice:
"My aunt sends me."
"And how long have you been coming here?"
"Two months."
"And before that—you had a sweetheart? Who deceived you?"
"No, I never had a sweetheart. My aunt made me come—"
"I can't believe it! So this is what life has become for you! Why, you ought to be out playing with other children.
Nacha could scarcely breathe for indignation. Then little by little, she brought out the child's story.
About eight years before, the girl's aunt had visited her parents, who were Spanish and lived in great poverty in La Coru?a. This aunt was rich, and owned a store in Buenos Aires. Her little niece attracted her; and as the child's parents had ten other children, they gave her up to what seemed to them a prosperous future. Her aunt took her back with her, always treated her kindly; but the store no longer prospered, and finally, she was forced to close it. She told her little niece one day that they were so poor she would have to earn some money.
"We hadn't anything to eat," the child went on. "I didn't see what my aunt could do. And I didn't know what the place was she was sending me to. So I came, as she told me. But when I went home I cried, and said to my aunt I couldn't come to this house any more.... My aunt begged me to be brave, and told me that she was responsible for everything. But—it seemed so bad to me! I felt everything was all wrong. But my aunt says that when people do what they are forced to do, they are not really bad.... Can that be true? Tell me what you think?"
Nacha overwhelmed with horror, did not know what to reply.
"And is it wrong?"
Mme. Annette came in at this point and took the girl away with her. Nacha got up from her chair and rushed after them; but from the threshold of the room into which Madame had swept, she caught sight of a man and stopped short. Then she came back to the strange woman, towards whom, until this moment, she had felt a slight hostility.
"What a shame that is!" she broke out. "I have never in my life heard anything like that child's story. Exploited by her own aunt!"
"Don't be so angry," said the woman gently, as Nacha, beside herself with indignation, sat down.
"It's no good complaining. I have seen so many awful things that nothing shocks me, absolutely nothing!"
Her words were correct but had a foreign accent. S............
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