The Chorus Girl and Other Stories
THE STORY OF A PROVINCIAL
THE Superintendent said to me: "I only keep you out of regard for your worthy father;
but for that you would have been sent flying long ago." I replied to him: "You flatter me
too much, your Excellency, in assuming that I am capable of flying." And then I heard
him say: "Take that gentleman away; he gets upon my nerves."
Two days later I was dismissed. And in this way I have, during the years I have been
regarded as grown up, lost nine situations, to the great mortification of my father, the
architect of our town. I have served in various departments, but all these nine jobs have
been as alike as one drop of water is to another: I had to sit, write, listen to rude or stupid
observations, and go on doing so till I was dismissed.
When I came in to my father he was sitting buried in a low arm-chair with his eyes
closed. His dry, emaciated face, with a shade of dark blue where it was shaved (he looked
like an old Catholic organist), expressed meekness and resignation. Without responding
to my greeting or opening his eyes, he said:
"If my dear wife and your mother were living, your life would have been a source of
continual distress to her. I see the Divine Providence in her premature death. I beg you,
unhappy boy," he continued, opening his eyes, "tell me: what am I to do with you?"
In the past when I was younger my friends and relations had known what to do with me:
some of them used to advise me to volunteer for the army, others to get a job in a
pharmacy, and others in the telegraph department; now that I am over twenty-five, that
grey hairs are beginning to show on my temples, and that I have been already in the
army, and in a pharmacy, and in the telegraph department, it would seem that all earthly
possibilities have been exhausted, and people have given up advising me, and merely
sigh or shake their heads.
"What do you think about yourself?" my father went on. "By the time they are your age,
young men have a secure social position, while look at you: you are a proletarian, a
beggar, a burden on your father!"
And as usual he proceeded to declare that the young people of to-day were on the road to
perdition through infidelity, materialism, and self-conceit, and that amateur theatricals
ought to be prohibited, because they seduced young people from religion and their duties.
"To-morrow we shall go together, and you shall apologize to the superintendent, and
promise him to work conscientiously," he said in conclusion. "You ought not to remain
one single day with no regular position in society."