A Hero of Our Time Part 19

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"I have a presentiment," said the doctor, "that poor Grushnitski will be your victim."

"Proceed, doctor."

"Princess Ligovski said that your face was familiar to her. I observed that she had probably met you in Petersburg--somewhere in society...

I told her your name. She knew it well. It appears that your history created a great stir there... She began to tell us of your adventures, most likely supplementing the gossip of society with observations of her own... Her daughter listened with curiosity. In her imagination you have become the hero of a novel in a new style... I did not contradict Princess Ligovski, although I knew that she was talking nonsense."

"Worthy friend!" I said, extending my hand to him.

The doctor pressed it feelingly and continued:

"If you like I will present you"...

"Good heavens!" I said, clapping my hands. "Are heroes ever presented?

In no other way do they make the acquaintance of their beloved than by saving her from certain death!"...

"And you really wish to court Princess Mary?"

"Not at all, far from it!... Doctor, I triumph at last! You do not understand me!... It vexes me, however," I continued after a moment's silence. "I never reveal my secrets myself, but I am exceedingly fond of their being guessed, because in that way I can always disavow them upon occasion. However, you must describe both mother and daughter to me.

What sort of people are they?"

"In the first place, Princess Ligovski is a woman of forty-five,"

answered Werner. "She has a splendid digestion, but her blood is out of order--there are red spots on her cheeks. She has spent the latter half of her life in Moscow, and has grown stout from leading an inactive life there. She loves spicy stories, and sometimes says improper things herself when her daughter is out of the room. She has declared to me that her daughter is as innocent as a dove. What does that matter to me?... I was going to answer that she might be at her ease, because I would never tell anyone. Princess Ligovski is taking the cure for her rheumatism, and the daughter, for goodness knows what. I have ordered each of them to drink two tumblers a day of sulphurous water, and to bathe twice a week in the diluted bath. Princess Ligovski is apparently unaccustomed to giving orders. She cherishes respect for the intelligence and attainments of her daughter, who has read Byron in English and knows algebra: in Moscow, evidently, the ladies have entered upon the paths of erudition--and a good thing, too! The men here are generally so unamiable, that, for a clever woman, it must be intolerable to flirt with them. Princess Ligovski is very fond of young people; Princess Mary looks on them with a certain contempt--a Moscow habit! In Moscow they cherish only wits of not less than forty."

"You have been in Moscow, doctor?"

"Yes, I had a practice there."

"Continue."

"But I think I have told everything... No, there is something else: Princess Mary, it seems, loves to discuss emotions, pa.s.sions, etcetera.

She was in Petersburg for one winter, and disliked it--especially the society: no doubt she was coldly received."

"You have not seen anyone with them today?"

"On the contrary, there was an aide-de-camp, a stiff guardsman, and a lady--one of the latest arrivals, a relation of Princess Ligovski on the husband's side--very pretty, but apparently very ill... Have you not met her at the well? She is of medium height, fair, with regular features; she has the complexion of a consumptive, and there is a little black mole on her right cheek. I was struck by the expressiveness of her face."

"A mole!" I muttered through my teeth. "Is it possible?"

The doctor looked at me, and, laying his hand on my heart, said triumphantly:

"You know her!"

My heart was, in fact, beating more violently than usual.

"It is your turn, now, to triumph," I said. "But I rely on you: you will not betray me. I have not seen her yet, but I am convinced that I recognise from your portrait a woman whom I loved in the old days... Do not speak a word to her about me; if she asks any questions, give a bad report of me."

"Be it so!" said Werner, shrugging his shoulders.

When he had departed, my heart was compressed with terrible grief.

Has destiny brought us together again in the Caucasus, or has she come hither on purpose, knowing that she would meet me?... And how shall we meet?... And then, is it she?... My presentiments have never deceived me. There is not a man in the world over whom the past has acquired such a power as over me. Every recollection of bygone grief or joy strikes my soul with morbid effect, and draws forth ever the same sounds... I am stupidly const.i.tuted: I forget nothing--nothing!

After dinner, about six o'clock, I went on to the boulevard. It was crowded. The two princesses were sitting on a bench, surrounded by young men, who were vying with each other in paying them attention. I took up my position on another bench at a little distance off, stopped two Dragoon officers whom I knew, and proceeded to tell them something.

Evidently it was amusing, because they began to laugh loudly like a couple of madmen. Some of those who were surrounding Princess Mary were attracted to my side by curiosity, and gradually all of them left her and joined my circle. I did not stop talking; my anecdotes were clever to the point of absurdity, my jests at the expense of the queer people pa.s.sing by, malicious to the point of frenzy. I continued to entertain the public till sunset. Princess Mary pa.s.sed by me a few times, arm-inarm with her mother, and accompanied by a certain lame old man.

A few times her glance as it fell upon me expressed vexation, while endeavouring to express indifference...

"What has he been telling you?" she inquired of one of the young men, who had gone back to her out of politeness. "No doubt a most interesting story--his own exploits in battle?"...

This was said rather loudly, and probably with the intention of stinging me.

"Aha!" I thought to myself. "You are downright angry, my dear Princess.

Wait awhile, there is more to follow."

Grushnitski kept following her like a beast of prey, and would not let her out of his sight. I wager that to-morrow he will ask somebody to present him to Princess Ligovski. She will be glad, because she is bored.

CHAPTER III. 16th May.

IN the course of two days my affairs have gained ground tremendously.

Princess Mary positively hates me. Already I have had repeated to me two or three epigrams on the subject of myself--rather caustic, but at the same time very flattering. She finds it exceedingly strange that I, who am accustomed to good society, and am so intimate with her Petersburg cousins and aunts, do not try to make her acquaintance. Every day we meet at the well and on the boulevard. I exert all my powers to entice away her adorers, glittering aides-de-camp, pale-faced visitors from Moscow, and others--and I almost always succeed. I have always hated entertaining guests: now my house is full every day; they dine, sup, gamble, and alas! my champagne triumphs over the might of Princess Mary's magnetic eyes!

I met her yesterday in Chelakhov's shop. She was bargaining for a marvellous Persian rug, and implored her mother not to be n.i.g.g.ardly: the rug would be such an ornament to her boudoir... I outbid her by forty rubles, and bought it over her head. I was rewarded with a glance in which the most delightful fury sparkled. About dinnertime, I ordered my Circa.s.sian horse, covered with that very rug, purposely to be led past her windows. Werner was with the princesses at the time, and told me that the effect of the scene was most dramatic. Princess Mary wishes to preach a crusade against me, and I have even noticed that, already, two of the aides-de-camp salute me very coldly, when they are in her presence--they dine with me every day, however.

Grushnitski has a.s.sumed an air of mystery; he walks with his arms folded behind his back and does not recognise anyone. His foot has got well all at once, and there is hardly a sign of a limp. He has found an opportunity of entering into conversation with Princess Ligovski and of paying Princess Mary some kind of a compliment. The latter is evidently not very fastidious, for, ever since, she answers his bow with a most charming smile.

"Are you sure you do not wish to make the Ligovskis' acquaintance?" he said to me yesterday.

"Positive."

"Good gracious! The pleasantest house at the waters! All the best society of Pyatigorsk is to be found there"...

"My friend, I am terribly tired of even other society than that of Pyatigorsk. So you visit the Ligovskis?"

"Not yet. I have spoken to Princess Mary once or twice, but that is all. You know it is rather awkward to go and visit them without being invited, although that is the custom here... It would be a different matter if I was wearing epaulettes"...

"Good heavens! Why, you are much more interesting as it is! You simply do not know how to avail yourself of your advantageous position... Why, that soldier's cloak makes a hero and a martyr of you in the eyes of any lady of sentiment!"

Grushnitski smiled complacently.

"What nonsense!" he said.

"I am convinced," I continued, "that Princess Mary is in love with you already."

He blushed up to the ears and looked big.

Oh, vanity! Thou art the lever with which Archimedes was to lift the earthly sphere!...

A Hero of Our Time Part 19

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A Hero of Our Time Part 19 summary

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