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HOME > Short Stories > Nacha Regules > CHAPTER XVIII
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 One afternoon in June, distressed by the oppressive humidity and suffocating heat that precedes a storm, Monsalvat went out on the balcony of his room, and from there he saw Nacha coming home. Her slow dragging step startled him, seeming to announce a catastrophe. He met her in the court and asked what had happened. Nacha, speechless, held out her hand to him. She seemed crushed, defeated by life. Monsalvat felt certain that something serious must have happened, or Nacha, reserved as she always was, would never have clung in such fashion to his hand in the presence of others. Heads were poked out of the windows and the women and some of the men talking or working in the patio looked at one another and began to laugh. However, Monsalvat and Nacha were too much preoccupied by their anxiety to separate. Monsalvat took Nacha to her room, supporting her by an arm; and there she told him what had happened.
She had for some days recently felt tired and ill, the result of standing so many hours at a stretch, and so frequently climbing three or four pairs of stairs, as the employees were not allowed to use the elevators. That afternoon she had been ordered to carry a mannequin down several flights. She demurred, saying that her strength would give out; but the manager turned a deaf ear. Laden with the heavy wooden figure, she reached the bottom of the first flight, staggering and faint with the strain. She set it down resolved to go no further with it; but a message reached her to the effect that if she did not comply with her orders, she would be dismissed. So she attempted to go down another flight, some of the employees laughing at the ridiculous figure she presented, others silently pitying her. She tried to pull herself together for a final effort, went down a few steps, and then—she did not know how it happened—she fell, and rolled down a half flight to the landing. When she regained consciousness, she found herself surrounded by employees. The manager, watch in hand, was observing her, and the mannequin lay in pieces near by. She asked to go home and was told that she would forfeit her pay for the hours she was absent, also for the time during which she had lain unconscious. That explained the manager's presence with his watch! And somehow this last cruelty, trifling as it was, took the heart out of her. What was she but a slave, worth only so many hours work to her owner? Then she was also told that she must pay for the mannequin.—Pay for it? Cold, frightened, wide-eyed, she had scarcely understood what they were saying. Pay, yes, pay so much every month, ten dollars a month knocked off her salary. That was what they meant. "How was she going to live on what was left?" "You can manage," they replied. "That's your business, not ours." She had no strength to argue the matter. Money, tradition, power were all against her. Probably they had right on their side too, as they had everything else!
When Monsalvat left her, he found Mauli and some others of his neighbors near the door. They grimaced at him. The caretaker, who had just left the group, to avoid Fernando's seeing him, stepped into a doorway and turned his back. Monsalvat passed by quite indifferent to the manoeuvre.
But no sooner was he out of sight than the man turned around and went to Nacha's door and knocked. Nacha, still crying, let him in. He was a person of disagreeable aspect, due chiefly to his over-meek and righteous expression, and his trick of keeping his eyes on the ground, and never looking at anyone he was speaking to. He never laughed, and walked very softly, with his arms close to his body. To his tenants he was merciless. Should they perchance fall two weeks behind with their rent, they were dispossessed even though sick in bed. A coward, he could nevertheless always count on the protection of the police in case of need.
"I have come ... Miss—(or would Madame, perhaps, be more appropriate?) to say that I am obliged—to give you notice. I hope you understand. Your conduct in this house cannot be allowed by any one who takes his responsibilities—as I hope I take mine—seriously. My landlady has the utmost confidence in me, and, under the circumstances...."
Nacha did not understand. She looked at the deceptive, hypocritical face, trying to guess what words it was going to utter. She could not imagine what this man wanted of her.
"There now—you're playing innocent. Well, I don't like to explain too much in detail.... It would be better if you noticed for yourself that this is a decent house, and it isn't a house where women—ah—women, such as you.... Ha! Ha! In short, Miss, or Missus, no more calls from gentlemen! If you want that kind of thing, you know, there are ... well, there are places...."
"You are mistaken!" cried Nacha, suddenly springing to her feet.
The man lowered his eyes with an exaggeration of humility, and seemed to shrink, as he replied: "Of course we are all human, and of course, likely to make mistakes. Ha-ha! But we know something about you, Miss. No, I'm not saying anything ... but.... Can you deny having lived in a certain "house" on —— Street, eh? Am I mistaken about that, eh? Ha ha!"
Nacha, in a fury, drew near him. She was impelled to strike him and drive him out of there by main force; but she thought of the scandal it would cause, and of Monsalvat; and she remembered that the odious creature in front of her had certain powers, as representing the landlady: he was the figurehead for a multi-millionairess, ruling for her, collecting her rents.... To prevent her losing thirty or forty dollars he put the hungry or the sick out on the street, or widows with their broods of children. It was his function to turn over the entire amount of monthly rent to the fine lady, his employer, so that she could eventually distribute handsome sums to convents and sisterhoods!
"For all of me, Miss, you could stay. I don't interfere with people's business. But the landlady—ha-ha!—doesn't want women of your kind...."
Nacha was losing her self-possession, and with a scream of anger, she broke out, "Shut up, you devil! What kind? Get out of here this instant, you coward!"
He opened the door and from the threshold shouted so that every one could hear him, but all the while keeping his appearance of humility:
"What kind? Your kind, Missus, and we don't want none of your kind here!"
Nacha threw herself on the floor, trembling, and with no strength left; and she heard a laugh, cruel and startling, coming up from the patio. It went through her like a knife. Her whole being rebelled. She wanted to shout out in protest; but she could only be vanquished. Then a chill crept in through her body to her very heart and soul. She shook for hours in its grip.
Monsalvat knew nothing of what had happened; for it chanced that he had lessons to give that evening and during the moment when he stopped at Nacha's room on his return from supper, she did not let him see how ill she was. He was still concerned about her accident at the store, and urged her not to take it too much to heart. He was going to sell his tenement very soon, and whatever money he received from it would be hers.
Three nights a week Monsalvat held classes for some of the workmen in the district. He had begun with three or four pupils, but they had increased in numbers until now he had a class of twenty or thirty. They all knew how to read. He talked to them about history, about the different countries he had travelled in, about ethics. His simple eloquence attracted these simple workers. As he commented upon some of the day's occurrences, or a passage in some book, he summoned before them a vision of a new society, of an era of love, and justice. At such times his voice rang with human sympathy and a strange mystic fervor.
But on that night Monsalvat could not speak to his class in this strain; for there was hate in his heart. The cruel treatment Nacha had suffered in the store had stirred him to the depths of his consciousness, and a multitude of details accumulated there and forgotten, had risen to the surface, looming large with sudden significance.
As the workmen filed into the room they shook hands with Monsalvat and excha............
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