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The Chorus Girl and Other Stories

A Trivial Incident
IT was a sunny August midday as, in company with a Russian prince who had come
down in the world, I drove into the immense so-called Shabelsky pine-forest where we
were intending to look for woodcocks. In virtue of the part he plays in this story my poor
prince deserves a detailed description. He was a tall, dark man, still youngish, though
already somewhat battered by life; with long moustaches like a police captain's; with
prominent black eyes, and with the manners of a retired army man. He was a man of
Oriental type, not very intelligent, but straightforward and honest, not a bully, not a fop,
and not a rake--virtues which, in the eyes of the general public, are equivalent to a
certificate of being a nonentity and a poor creature. People generally did not like him (he
was never spoken of in the district, except as "the illustrious duffer"). I personally found
the poor prince extremely nice with his misfortunes and failures, which made up indeed
his whole life. First of all he was poor. He did not play cards, did not drink, had no
occupation, did not poke his nose into anything, and maintained a perpetual silence but
yet he had somehow succeeded in getting through thirty to forty thousand roubles left
him at his father's death. God only knows what had become of the money. All that I can
say is that owing to lack of supervision a great deal was stolen by stewards, bailiffs, and
even footmen; a great deal went on lending money, giving bail, and standing security.
There were few landowners in the district who did not owe him money. He gave to all
who asked, and not so much from good nature or confidence in people as from
exaggerated gentlemanliness as though he would say: "Take it and feel how comme il
faut I am!" By the time I made his acquaintance he had got into debt himself, had learned
what it was like to have a second mortgage on his land, and had sunk so deeply into
difficulties that there was no chance of his ever getting out of them again. There were
days when he had no dinner, and went about with an empty cigar-holder, but he was
always seen clean and fashionably dressed, and always smelt strongly of ylang-ylang.
The prince's second misfortune was his absolute solitariness. He was not married, he had
no friends nor relations. His silent and reserved character and his comme il faut
deportment, which became the more conspicuous the more anxious he was to conceal his
poverty, prevented him from becoming intimate with people. For love affairs he was too
heavy, spiritless, and cold, and so rarely got on with women. . . .
When we reached the forest this prince and I got out of the chaise and walked along a
narrow woodland path which was hidden among huge ferns. But before we had gone a
hundred paces a tall, lank figure with a long oval face, wearing a shabby reefer jacket, a
straw hat, and patent leather boots, rose up from behind a young fir-tree some three feet
high, as though he had sprung out of the ground. The stranger held in one hand a basket
of mushrooms, with the other he playfully fingered a cheap watch-chain on his waistcoat.
On seeing us he was taken aback, smoothed his waistcoat, coughed politely, and gave an
agreeable smile, as though he were delighted to see such nice people as us. Then, to our
complete surprise, he came up to us, scraping with his long feet on the grass, bending his
whole person, and, still smiling agreeably, lifted his hat and pronounced in a sugary voice
with the intonations of a whining dog:
 
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