Hamlet by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Hamlet – Contents

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When Kostromsky had quieted down a little after this rude outburst of temper, he at once became weaker, slacker and more drunken than before; he even forgot that the play had not yet finished. He went into his dressing-room, slowly undressed, and began lazily to rub the paint from his face with vaseline.

The manager, puzzled by his long absence, ran into his room at last and stared in amazement.

“Alexander Yevgrafitch! Please! What are you doing? It’s time for you to go on!”

“Go away, go away!” muttered Kostromsky tearfully, speaking through his nose, and wiping his face with the towel. “I’ve finished everything … go away and leave me in peace!”

“What d’you mean, go away? Have you gone out of your mind? The audience is waiting!”

“Leave me alone!” cried Kostromsky.

The manager shrugged his shoulders and went out. In a few moments the curtain was raised, and the public, having been informed of Kostromsky’s sudden illness, began to disperse slowly and silently as if they were going away from a funeral.

They had indeed been present at the funeral of a great and original talent, and Kostromsky was right when he said that he had “finished.” He had locked the door, and sat by himself in front of the mirror in his dressing-room between two gas burners, the flames of which flared with a slight noise. From old habit he was carefully wiping his face, all smeared over with drunken but bitter tears. His mind recalled, as through a mist, the long line of splendid triumphs which had accompanied the first years of his career. Wreaths … bouquets … thousands of presents … the eternal raptures of the crowd … the flattery of newspapers … the envy of his companions … the fabulous benefits … the adoration of the most beautiful of women…. Was it possible that all this was past? Could his talent really have gone—vanished? Perhaps it had left him long ago, two or three years back! And he, Kostromsky, what was he now? A theme for dirty theatrical gossip; an object of general mockery and ill-will; a man who had alienated all his friends by his unfeeling narrow-mindedness, his selfishness, his impatience, his unbridled arrogance…. Yes, it was all past!

“And if the Almighty”—the well-known lines flashed into his memory—“had not fixed his canon ’gainst self-slaughter…. Oh, my God, my God!” The burning, helpless tears trickled down his erstwhile beautiful face and mingled with the colours of the paint.

All the other actors had left the theatre when Kostromsky came out of his dressing-room. It was almost dark on the stage. Some workmen were wandering about, removing the last decorations. He walked along gropingly, with quiet footfalls, avoiding the heaps of property rubbish which were scattered everywhere about, and making his way towards the street.

Suddenly he was arrested by the sound of the restrained sobbing of a woman.

“Who is there?” he cried, going into a corner, with an undefined impulse of pity.

The dark figure made no answer; the sobs increased.

“Who’s crying there?” he asked again, in fear, and at once recognised that it was Yureva who was sobbing there.

The girl was weeping, her thin shoulders heaving with convulsive shudders.

It was strange. For the first time in his life Kostromsky’s hard heart suddenly overflowed with a deep pity for this unprotected girl, whom he had so unjustifiably insulted. He placed his hand on her head and began to speak to her in an impressive and affectionate voice, quite naturally and unaffectedly.

“My child! I was dreadfully rude to you to-day. I won’t ask your forgiveness; I know I could never atone for your tears. But if you could have known what was happening in my soul, perhaps you would forgive me and be sorry for me…. To-day, only to-day, I have understood that I have outlived my fame. What grief is there to compare with that? What, in comparison with that, would mean the loss of a mother, of a beloved child, of a lover? We artists live by terrible enjoyments; we live and feel for those hundreds and thousands of people who come to look at us. Do you know … oh, you must understand that I’m not showing off, I’m speaking quite simply to you…. Yes. Do you know that for the last five years there’s not been an actor in the world whose name was greater than mine? Crowds have lain at my feet, at the feet of an illiterate draper’s assistant. And suddenly, in one moment, I’ve fallen headlong from those marvellous heights….” He covered his face with his hands. “It’s terrible!”

Yureva had stopped weeping, and was looking at Kostromsky with deep compassion.

“You see, my dear,” he went on, taking her cold hands in his. “You have a great and undoubted talent. Keep on the stage. I won’t talk to you about such trivialities as the envy and intrigues of those who cannot act, or about the equivocal protection afforded by patrons of dramatic art, or about the gossip of that marsh which we call Society. All these are trifles, and not to be compared with those stupendous joys which a contemptible but adoring crowd can give to us. But”—Kostromsky’s voice trembled nervously—“but do not outlive your fame. Leave the stage directly you feel that the sacred flame in you is burning low. Do not wait, my child, for the public to drive you away.”

And turning quickly away from Yureva, who was trying to say something and even holding out her hands to him, he hurriedly walked off the stage.

“Wait a moment, Alexander Yevgrafitch,” the manager called after him as he went out into the street, “come into the office for your money.”

“Get away!” said Kostromsky, waving his hand, in vexation, irritably. “I have finished. I have finished with it all.”

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Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin -Hamlet – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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