A Hero of Our Time Part 13

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Over the waves

They scatter and flee!

The sea I will hail

With obeisance deep:

"Thou base one, hark!

Thou must not fail

My little barque

From harm to keep!"

For lo! 'tis bearing

Most precious gear,

And brave and daring

The arms that steer

Within the dark

My little barque.

Involuntarily the thought occurred to me that I had heard the same voice the night before. I reflected for a moment, and when I looked up at the roof again there was no girl to be seen. Suddenly she darted past me, with another song on her lips, and, snapping her fingers, she ran up to the old woman. Thereupon a quarrel arose between them. The old woman grew angry, and the girl laughed loudly. And then I saw my Undine running and gambolling again. She came up to where I was, stopped, and gazed fixedly into my face as if surprised at my presence. Then she turned carelessly away and went quietly towards the harbour. But this was not all. The whole day she kept hovering around my lodging, singing and gambolling without a moment's interruption. Strange creature! There was not the slightest sign of insanity in her face; on the contrary, her eyes, which were continually resting upon me, were bright and piercing.

Moreover, they seemed to be endowed with a certain magnetic power, and each time they looked at me they appeared to be expecting a question.

But I had only to open my lips to speak, and away she would run, with a sly smile.

Certainly never before had I seen a woman like her. She was by no means beautiful; but, as in other matters, I have my own prepossessions on the subject of beauty. There was a good deal of breeding in her... Breeding in women, as in horses, is a great thing: a discovery, the credit of which belongs to young France. It--that is to say, breeding, not young France--is chiefly to be detected in the gait, in the hands and feet; the nose, in particular, is of the greatest significance. In Russia a straight nose is rarer than a small foot.

My songstress appeared to be not more than eighteen years of age. The unusual suppleness of her figure, the characteristic and original way she had of inclining her head, her long, light-brown hair, the golden sheen of her slightly sunburnt neck and shoulders, and especially her straight nose--all these held me fascinated. Although in her sidelong glances I could read a certain wildness and disdain, although in her smile there was a certain vagueness, yet--such is the force of predilections--that straight nose of hers drove me crazy. I fancied that I had found Goethe's Mignon--that queer creature of his German imagination. And, indeed, there was a good deal of similarity between them; the same rapid transitions from the utmost restlessness to complete immobility, the same enigmatical speeches, the same gambols, the same strange songs.

Towards evening I stopped her at the door and entered into the following conversation with her.

"Tell me, my beauty," I asked, "what were you doing on the roof to-day?"

"I was looking to see from what direction the wind was blowing."

"What did you want to know for?"

"Whence the wind blows comes happiness."

"Well? Were you invoking happiness with your song?"

"Where there is singing there is also happiness."

"But what if your song were to bring you sorrow?"

"Well, what then? Where things won't be better, they will be worse; and from bad to good again is not far."

"And who taught you that song?"

"n.o.body taught me; it comes into my head and I sing; whoever is to hear it, he will hear it, and whoever ought not to hear it, he will not understand it."

"What is your name, my songstress?"

"He who baptized me knows."

"And who baptized you?"

"How should I know?"

"What a secretive girl you are! But look here, I have learned something about you"--she neither changed countenance nor moved her lips, as though my discovery was of no concern to her--"I have learned that you went to the sh.o.r.e last night."

And, thereupon, I very gravely retailed to her all that I had seen, thinking that I should embarra.s.s her. Not a bit of it! She burst out laughing heartily.

"You have seen much, but know little; and what you do know, see that you keep it under lock and key."

"But supposing, now, I was to take it into my head to inform the Commandant?" and here I a.s.sumed a very serious, not to say stern, demeanour.

She gave a sudden spring, began to sing, and hid herself like a bird frightened out of a thicket. My last words were altogether out of place.

I had no suspicion then how momentous they were, but afterwards I had occasion to rue them.

As soon as the dusk of evening fell, I ordered the Cossack to heat the teapot, campaign fas.h.i.+on. I lighted a candle and sat down by the table, smoking my travelling-pipe. I was just about to finish my second tumbler of tea when suddenly the door creaked and I heard behind me the sound of footsteps and the light rustle of a dress. I started and turned round.

It was she--my Undine. Softly and without saying a word she sat down opposite to me and fixed her eyes upon me. Her glance seemed wondrously tender, I know not why; it reminded me of one of those glances which, in years gone by, so despotically played with my life. She seemed to be waiting for a question, but I kept silence, filled with an inexplicable sense of embarra.s.sment. Mental agitation was evinced by the dull pallor which overspread her countenance; her hand, which I noticed was trembling slightly, moved aimlessly about the table. At one time her breast heaved, and at another she seemed to be holding her breath. This little comedy was beginning to pall upon me, and I was about to break the silence in a most prosaic manner, that is, by offering her a gla.s.s of tea; when suddenly, springing up, she threw her arms around my neck, and I felt her moist, fiery lips pressed upon mine. Darkness came before my eyes, my head began to swim. I embraced her with the whole strength of youthful pa.s.sion. But, like a snake, she glided from between my arms, whispering in my ear as she did so:

"To-night, when everyone is asleep, go out to the sh.o.r.e."

Like an arrow she sprang from the room.

In the hall she upset the teapot and a candle which was standing on the floor.

"Little devil!" cried the Cossack, who had taken up his position on the straw and had contemplated warming himself with the remains of the tea.

It was only then that I recovered my senses.

In about two hours' time, when all had grown silent in the harbour, I awakened my Cossack.

"If I fire a pistol," I said, "run to the sh.o.r.e."

He stared open-eyed and answered mechanically:

A Hero of Our Time Part 13

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A Hero of Our Time Part 13 summary

You're reading A Hero of Our Time Part 13. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov already has 198 views.

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