The Chorus Girl and Other Stories
THE party of sportsmen spent the night in a peasant's hut on some newly mown hay. The
moon peeped in at the window; from the street came the mournful wheezing of a
concertina; from the hay came a sickly sweet, faintly troubling scent. The sportsmen
talked about dogs, about women, about first love, and about snipe. After all the ladies of
their acquaintance had been picked to pieces, and hundreds of stories had been told, the
stoutest of the sportsmen, who looked in the darkness like a haycock, and who talked in
the mellow bass of a staff officer, gave a loud yawn and said:
"It is nothing much to be loved; the ladies are created for the purpose of loving us men.
But, tell me, has any one of you fellows been hated--passionately, furiously hated? Has
any one of you watched the ecstasies of hatred? Eh?"
No answer followed.
"Has no one, gentlemen?" asked the staff officer's bass voice. "But I, now, have been
hated, hated by a pretty girl, and have been able to study the symptoms of first hatred
directed against myself. It was the first, because it was something exactly the converse of
first love. What I am going to tell, however, happened when I knew nothing about love or
hate. I was eight at the time, but that made no difference; in this case it was not he but she
that mattered. Well, I beg your attention. One fine summer evening, just before sunset, I
was sitting in the nursery, doing my lesson with my governess, Zinotchka, a very
charming and poetical creature who had left boarding school not long before. Zinotchka
looked absent-mindedly towards the window and said:
"'Yes. We breathe in oxygen; now tell me, Petya, what do we breathe out?'
"'Carbonic acid gas,' I answered, looking towards the same window.
"'Right,' assented Zinotchka. 'Plants, on the contrary, breathe in carbonic acid gas, and
breathe out oxygen. Carbonic acid gas is contained in seltzer water, and in the fumes
from the samovar. . . . It is a very noxious gas. Near Naples there is the so-called Cave of
Dogs, which contains carbonic acid gas; a dog dropped into it is suffocated and dies.'
"This luckless Cave of Dogs near Naples is a chemical marvel beyond which no
governess ventures to go. Zinotchka always hotly maintained the usefulness of natural
science, but I doubt if she knew any chemistry beyond this Cave.
"Well, she told me to repeat it. I repeated it. She asked me what was meant by the
horizon. I answered. And meantime, while we were ruminating over the horizon and the
Cave, in the yard below, my father was just getting ready to go shooting. The dogs
yapped, the trace horses shifted from one leg to another impatiently and coquetted with
the coachman, the footman packed the waggonette with parcels and all sorts of things.
Beside the waggonette stood a brake in which my mother and sisters were sitting to drive