A.P. Chekhov - Zinotchka
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
" 'Yes. We breathe in oxygen; now tell me, Petya, what do we
" 'Carbonic acid gas,' I answered, looking towards the same
" '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 to a name-day party at the Ivanetskys'. No one
was left in the house but Zinotchka, me, and my eldest brother,
a student, who had toothache. You can imagine my envy and my
" 'Well, what do we breathe in?' asked Zinotchka, looking at the
" 'Oxygen. . .'
" 'Yes. And the horizon is the name given to the place where it
seems to us as though the earth meets the sky.'
"Then the waggonette drove off, and after it the brake. . . . I
saw Zinotchka take a note out of her pocket, crumple it up
convulsively and press it to her temple, then she flushed
crimson and looked at her watch.
" 'So, remember,' she said, 'that near Naples is the so-called
Cave of Dogs. . . .' She glanced at her watch again and went on:
'where the sky seems to us to meet the earth. . . .'
"The poor girl in violent agitation walked about the room, and
once more glanced at her watch. There was another half-hour
before the end of our lesson.
" 'Now arithmetic,' she said, breathing hard and turning over
the pages of the sum-book with a trembling hand. 'Come, you work
out problem 325 and I . . . will be back directly.'
"She went out. I heard her scurry down the stairs, and then I
saw her dart across the yard in her blue dress and vanish
through the garden gate. The rapidity of her movements, the
flush on her cheeks and her excitement, aroused my curiosity.
Where had she run, and what for? Being intelligent beyond my
years I soon put two and two together, and understood it all:
she had run into the garden, taking advantage of the absence of
my stern parents, to steal in among the raspberry bushes, or to
pick herself some cherries. If that were so, dash it all, I
would go and have some cherries too. I threw aside the sum-book
and ran into the garden. I ran to the cherry orchard, but she
was not there. Passing by the raspberries, the gooseberries, and
the watchman's shanty, she crossed the kitchen garden and
reached the pond, pale, and starting at every sound. I stole
after her, and what I saw, my friends, was this. At the edge of
the pond, between the thick stumps of two old willows, stood my
elder brother, Sasha; one could not see from his face that he
had toothache. He looked towards Zinotchka as she approached
him, and his whole figure was lighted up by an expression of
happiness as though by sunshine. And Zinotchka, as though she
were being driven into the Cave of Dogs, and were being forced
to breathe carbonic acid gas, walked towards him, scarcely able
to move one leg before the other, breathing hard, with her head
thrown back. . . . To judge from appearances she was going to a
rendezous for the first time in her life. But at last she
reached him. . . . For half a minute they gazed at each other in
silence, as though they could not believe their eyes. Thereupon
some force seemed to shove Zinotchka; she laid her hands on
Sasha's shoulders and let her head droop upon his waistcoat.
Sasha laughed, muttered something incoherent, and with the
clumsiness of a man head over ears in love, laid both hands on
Zinotchka's face. And the weather, gentlemen, was exquisite. . .
. The hill behind which the sun was setting, the two willows,
the green bank, the sky -- all together with Sasha and Zinotchka
were reflected in the pond . . . perfect stillness . . . you can
imagine it. Millions of butterflies with long whiskers gleamed
golden above the reeds; beyond the garden they were driving the
cattle. In fact, it was a perfect picture.
"Of all I had seen the only thing I understood was that Sasha
was kissing Zinotchka. That was improper. If maman heard of it
they would both catch it. Feeling for some reason ashamed I went
back to the nursery, not waiting for the end of the rendezvous.
There I sat over the sum-book, pondered and reflected. A
triumphant smile strayed upon my countenance. On one side it was
agreeable to be the possessor of another person's secret; on the
other it was also very agreeable that such authorities as Sasha
and Zinotchka might at any moment be convicted by me of
ignorance of the social proprieties. Now they were in my power,
and their peace was entirely dependent on my magnanimity. I'd
let them know.
"When I went to bed, Zinotchka came into the nursery as usual to
find out whether I had dropped asleep without undressing and
whether I had said my prayers. I looked at her pretty, happy
face and grinned. I was bursting with my secret and itching to
let it out. I had to drop a hint and enjoy the effect.
" 'I know,' I said, grinning. 'Gy--y.'
" 'What do you know?'
" 'Gy--y! I saw you near the willows kissing Sasha. I followed
you and saw it all.'
"Zinotchka started, flushed all over, and overwhelmed by 'my
hint' she sank down on the chair, on which stood a glass of
water and a candlestick.
" 'I saw you . . . kissing . . .' I repeated, sniggering and
enjoying her confusion. 'Aha! I'll tell mamma!'
"Cowardly Zinotchka gazed at me intently, and convincing herself
that I really did know all about it, clutched my hand in despair
and muttered in a trembling whisper:
" 'Petya, it is low. . . . I beg of you, for God's sake. . . .
Be a man . . . don't tell anyone. . . . Decent people don't spy.
. . . It's low. . . . I entreat you.'
"The poor girl was terribly afraid of my mother, a stern and
virtuous lady -- that was one thing; and the second was that my
grinning countenance could not but outrage her first love so
pure and poetical, and you can imagine the state of her heart.
Thanks to me, she did not sleep a wink all night, and in the
morning she appeared at breakfast with blue rings round her
eyes. When I met Sasha after breakfast I could not refrain from
grinning and boasting:
" 'I know! I saw you yesterday kissing Mademoiselle Zina!'
"Sasha looked at me and said:
" 'You are a fool.'
"He was not so cowardly as Zinotchka, and so my effect did not
come off. That provoked me to further efforts. If Sasha was not
frightened it was evident that he did not believe that I had
seen and knew all about it; wait a bit, I would show him.
"At our lessons before dinner Zinotchka did not look at me, and
her voice faltered. Instead of trying to scare me she tried to
propitiate me in every way, giving me full marks, and not
complaining to my father of my naughtiness. Being intelligent
beyond my years I exploited her secret: I did not learn my
lessons, walked into the schoolroom on my head, and said all
sorts of rude things. In fact, if I had remained in that vein
till to-day I should have become a famous blackmailer. Well, a
week passed. Another person's secret irritated and fretted me
like a splinter in my soul. I longed at all costs to blurt it
out and gloat over the effect. And one day at dinner, when we
had a lot of visitors, I gave a stupid snigger, looked
fiendishly at Zinotchka and said:
" 'I know. Gy--y! I saw! . . .'
" 'What do you know?' asked my mother.
"I looked still more fiendishly at Zinotchka and Sasha. You
ought to have seen how the girl flushed up, and how furious
Sasha's eyes were! I bit my tongue and did not go on. Zinotchka
gradually turned pale, clenched her teeth, and ate no more
dinner. At our evening lessons that day I noticed a striking
change in Zinotchka's face. It looked sterner, colder, as it
were, more like marble, while her eyes gazed strangely straight
into my face, and I give you my word of honour I have never seen
such terrible, annihilating eyes, even in hounds when they
overtake the wolf. I understood their expression perfectly, when
in the middle of a lesson she suddenly clenched her teeth and
hissed through them:
" 'I hate you! Oh, you vile, loathsome creature, if you knew how
I hate you, how I detest your cropped head, your vulgar,
"But at once she took fright and said:
" 'I am not speaking to you, I am repeating a part out of a
play. . . .'
"Then, my friends, at night I saw her come to my bedside and
gaze a long time into my face. She hated me passionately, and
could not exist away from me. The contemplation of my hated pug
of a face had become a necessity to her. I remember a lovely
summer evening . . . with the scent of hay, perfect stillness,
and so on. The moon was shining. I was walking up and down the
avenue, thinking of cherry jam. Suddenly Zinotchka, looking pale
and lovely, came up to me, she caught hold of my hand, and
breathlessly began expressing herself:
" 'Oh, how I hate you! I wish no one harm as I do you! Let me
tell you that! I want you to understand that!'
"You understand, moonlight, her pale face, breathless with
passion, the stillness . . . little pig as I was I actually
enjoyed it. I listened to her, looked at her eyes. . . . At
first I liked it, and enjoyed the novelty. Then I was suddenly
seized with terror, I gave a scream, and ran into the house at
"I made up my mind that the best thing to do was to complain to
maman. And I did complain, mentioning incidentally how Sasha had
kissed Zinotchka. I was stupid, and did not know what would
follow, or I should have kept the secret to myself. . . . After
hearing my story maman flushed with indignation and said:
" 'It is not your business to speak about that, you are still
very young. . . . But, what an example for children.'
"My maman was not only virtuous but diplomatic. To avoid a
scandal she did not get rid of Zinotchka at once, but set to
work gradually, systematically, to pave the way for her
departure, as one does with well-bred but intolerable people. I
remember that when Zinotchka did leave us the last glance she
cast at the house was directed at the window at which I was
sitting, and I assure you, I remember that glance to this day.
"Zinotchka soon afterwards became my brother's wife. She is the
Zinaida Nikolaevna whom you know. The next time I met her I was
already an ensign. In spite of all her efforts she could not
recognize the hated Petya in the ensign with his moustache, but
still she did not treat me quite like a relation. . . . And even
now, in spite of my good-humoured baldness, meek corpulence, and
unassuming air, she still looks askance at me, and feels put out
when I go to see my brother. Hatred it seems can no more be
forgotten than love. . . .
"Tchoo! I hear the cock crowing! Good-night. Milord! Lie down!"
name-day party: Russians celebrate the feast day of the saint
after whom they are named