A Hero of Our Time Part 20

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"You are always jesting!" he said, pretending to be angry. "In the first place, she knows so little of me as yet"...

"Women love only those whom they do not know!"

"But I have no pretensions whatsoever to pleasing her. I simply wish to make the acquaintance of an agreeable household; and it would be extremely ridiculous if I were to cherish the slightest hope... With you, now, for instance, it is a different matter! You Petersburg conquerors! You have but to look--and women melt... But do you know, Pechorin, what Princess Mary said of you?"...

"What? She has spoken to you already about me?"...

"Do not rejoice too soon, though. The other day, by chance, I entered into conversation with her at the well; her third word was, 'Who is that gentleman with such an unpleasant, heavy glance? He was with you when'... she blushed, and did not like to mention the day, remembering her own delightful little exploit. 'You need not tell me what day it was,' I answered; 'it will ever be present to my memory!'... Pechorin, my friend, I cannot congratulate you, you are in her black books... And, indeed, it is a pity, because Mary is a charming girl!"...

It must be observed that Grushnitski is one of those men who, in speaking of a woman with whom they are barely acquainted, call her my Mary, my Sophie, if she has had the good fortune to please them.

I a.s.sumed a serious air and answered:

"Yes, she is good-looking... Only be careful, Grushnitski! Russian ladies, for the most part, cherish only Platonic love, without mingling any thought of matrimony with it; and Platonic love is exceedingly embarra.s.sing. Princess Mary seems to be one of those women who want to be amused. If she is bored in your company for two minutes on end--you are lost irrevocably. Your silence ought to excite her curiosity, your conversation ought never to satisfy it completely; you should alarm her every minute; ten times, in public, she will slight people's opinion for you and will call that a sacrifice, and, in order to requite herself for it, she will torment you. Afterwards she will simply say that she cannot endure you. If you do not acquire authority over her, even her first kiss will not give you the right to a second. She will flirt with you to her heart's content, and, in two years' time, she will marry a monster, in obedience to her mother, and will a.s.sure herself that she is unhappy, that she has loved only one man--that is to say, you--but that Heaven was not willing to unite her to him because he wore a soldier's cloak, although beneath that thick, grey cloak beat a heart, pa.s.sionate and n.o.ble"...

Grushnitski smote the table with his fist and fell to walking to and fro across the room.

I laughed inwardly and even smiled once or twice, but fortunately he did not notice. It is evident that he is in love, because he has grown even more confiding than heretofore. Moreover, a ring has made its appearance on his finger, a silver ring with black enamel of local workmans.h.i.+p. It struck me as suspicious... I began to examine it, and what do you think I saw? The name Mary was engraved on the inside in small letters, and in a line with the name was the date on which she had picked up the famous tumbler. I kept my discovery a secret. I do not want to force confessions from him, I want him, of his own accord, to choose me as his confidant--and then I will enjoy myself!...

To-day I rose late. I went to the well. I found n.o.body there. The day grew hot. White, s.h.a.ggy cloudlets were flitting rapidly from the snow-clad mountains, giving promise of a thunderstorm; the summit of Mount Mashuk was smoking like a just extinguished torch; grey wisps of cloud were coiling and creeping like snakes around it, arrested in their rapid sweep and, as it were, hooked to its p.r.i.c.kly brushwood. The atmosphere was charged with electricity. I plunged into the avenue of the vines leading to the grotto.

I felt low-spirited. I was thinking of the lady with the little mole on her cheek, of whom the doctor had spoken to me... "Why is she here?" I thought. "And is it she? And what reason have I for thinking it is? And why am I so certain of it? Is there not many a woman with a mole on her cheek?" Reflecting in such wise I came right up to the grotto. I looked in and I saw that a woman, wearing a straw hat and wrapped in a black shawl, was sitting on a stone seat in the cold shade of the arch. Her head was sunk upon her breast, and the hat covered her face. I was just about to turn back, in order not to disturb her meditations, when she glanced at me.

"Vera!" I exclaimed involuntarily.

She started and turned pale.

"I knew that you were here," she said.

I sat down beside her and took her hand. A long-forgotten tremor ran through my veins at the sound of that dear voice. She gazed into my face with her deep, calm eyes. Mistrust and something in the nature of reproach were expressed in her glance.

"We have not seen each other for a long time," I said.

"A long time, and we have both changed in many ways."

"Consequently you love me no longer?"...

"I am married!"... she said.

"Again? A few years ago, however, that reason also existed, but, nevertheless"...

She plucked her hand away from mine and her cheeks flamed.

"Perhaps you love your second husband?"...

She made no answer and turned her head away.

"Or is he very jealous?"

She remained silent.

"What then? He is young, handsome and, I suppose, rich--which is the chief thing--and you are afraid?"...

I glanced at her and was alarmed. Profound despair was depicted upon her countenance; tears were glistening in her eyes.

"Tell me," she whispered at length, "do you find it very amusing to torture me? I ought to hate you. Since we have known each other, you have given me naught but suffering"...

Her voice shook; she leaned over to me, and let her head sink upon my breast.

"Perhaps," I reflected, "it is for that very reason that you have loved me; joys are forgotten, but sorrows never"...

I clasped her closely to my breast, and so we remained for a long time. At length our lips drew closer and became blent in a fervent, intoxicating kiss. Her hands were cold as ice; her head was burning.

And hereupon we embarked upon one of those conversations which, on paper, have no sense, which it is impossible to repeat, and impossible even to retain in memory. The meaning of the sounds replaces and completes the meaning of the words, as in Italian opera.

She is decidedly averse to my making the acquaintance of her husband, the lame old man of whom I had caught a glimpse on the boulevard.

She married him for the sake of her son. He is rich, and suffers from attacks of rheumatism. I did not allow myself even a single scoff at his expense. She respects him as a father, and will deceive him as a husband... A strange thing, the human heart in general, and woman's heart in particular.

Vera's husband, Semyon Vasilevich G----v, is a distant relation of Princess Ligovski. He lives next door to her. Vera frequently visits the Princess. I have given her my promise to make the Ligovskis'

acquaintance, and to pay court to Princess Mary in order to distract attention from Vera. In such way, my plans have been not a little deranged, but it will be amusing for me...

Amusing!... Yes, I have already pa.s.sed that period of spiritual life when happiness alone is sought, when the heart feels the urgent necessity of violently and pa.s.sionately loving somebody. Now my only wish is to be loved, and that by very few. I even think that I would be content with one constant attachment. A wretched habit of the heart!...

One thing has always struck me as strange. I have never made myself the slave of the woman I have loved. On the contrary, I have always acquired an invincible power over her will and heart, without in the least endeavouring to do so. Why is this? Is it because I never esteem anything highly, and she has been continually afraid to let me out of her hands? Or is it the magnetic influence of a powerful organism? Or is it, simply, that I have never succeeded in meeting a woman of stubborn character?

I must confess that, in fact, I do not love women who possess strength of character. What business have they with such a thing?

Indeed, I remember now. Once and once only did I love a woman who had a firm will which I was never able to vanquish... We parted as enemies--and then, perhaps, if I had met her five years later we would have parted otherwise...

Vera is ill, very ill, although she does not admit it. I fear she has consumption, or that disease which is called "fievre lente"--a quite unRussian disease, and one for which there is no name in our language.

The storm overtook us while in the grotto and detained us half an hour longer. Vera did not make me swear fidelity, or ask whether I had loved others since we had parted... She trusted in me anew with all her former unconcern, and I will not deceive her: she is the only woman in the world whom it would never be within my power to deceive. I know that we shall soon have to part again, and perchance for ever. We will both go by different ways to the grave, but her memory will remain inviolable within my soul. I have always repeated this to her, and she believes me, although she says she does not.

At length we separated. For a long time I followed her with my eyes, until her hat was hidden behind the shrubs and rocks. My heart was painfully contracted, just as after our first parting. Oh, how I rejoiced in that emotion! Can it be that youth is about to come back to me, with its salutary tempests, or is this only the farewell glance, the last gift--in memory of itself?... And to think that, in appearance, I am still a boy! My face, though pale, is still fresh; my limbs are supple and slender; my hair is thick and curly, my eyes sparkle, my blood boils...

Returning home, I mounted on horseback and galloped to the steppe. I love to gallop on a fiery horse through the tall gra.s.s, in the face of the desert wind; greedily I gulp down the fragrant air and fix my gaze upon the blue distance, endeavouring to seize the misty outlines of objects which every minute grow clearer and clearer. Whatever griefs oppress my heart, whatever disquietudes torture my thoughts--all are dispersed in a moment; my soul becomes at ease; the fatigue of the body vanquishes the disturbance of the mind. There is not a woman's glance which I would not forget at the sight of the tufted mountains, illumined by the southern sun; at the sight of the dark-blue sky, or in hearkening to the roar of the torrent as it falls from cliff to cliff.

I believe that the Cossacks, yawning on their watch-towers, when they saw me galloping thus needlessly and aimlessly, were long tormented by that enigma, because from my dress, I am sure, they took me to be a Circa.s.sian. I have, in fact, been told that when riding on horseback, in my Circa.s.sian costume, I resemble a Kabardian more than many a Kabardian himself. And, indeed, so far as regards that n.o.ble, warlike garb, I am a perfect dandy. I have not a single piece of gold lace too much; my weapon is costly, but simply wrought; the fur on my cap is neither too long nor too short; my leggings and shoes are matched with all possible accuracy; my tunic is white; my Circa.s.sian jacket, dark-brown. I have long studied the mountaineer seat on horseback, and in no way is it possible to flatter my vanity so much as by acknowledging my skill in horsemans.h.i.+p in the Cossack mode. I keep four horses--one for myself and three for my friends, so that I may not be bored by having to roam about the fields all alone; they take my horses with pleasure, and never ride with me.

It was already six o'clock in the evening, when I remembered that it was time to dine. My horse was jaded. I rode out on to the road leading from Pyatigorsk to the German colony, to which the society of the watering-place frequently rides en piquenique. The road meanders between bushes and descends into little ravines, through which flow noisy brooks beneath the shade of tall gra.s.ses. All around, in an amphitheatre, rise the blue ma.s.ses of Mount Beshtau and the Zmeiny, Zhelezny and Lysy Mountains. [26] Descending into one of those ravines, I halted to water my horse. At that moment a noisy and glittering cavalcade made its appearance upon the road--the ladies in black and dark-blue riding habits, the cavaliers in costumes which formed a medley of the Circa.s.sian and Nizhegorodian. [27] In front rode Grushnitski with Princess Mary.

The ladies at the watering-place still believe in attacks by Circa.s.sians in broad daylight; for that reason, doubtless, Grushnitski had slung a sabre and a pair of pistols over his soldier's cloak. He looked ridiculous enough in that heroic attire.

I was concealed from their sight by a tall bush, but I was able to see everything through the leaves, and to guess from the expression of their faces that the conversation was of a sentimental turn. At length they approached the slope; Grushnitski took hold of the bridle of the Princess's horse, and then I heard the conclusion of their conversation:

"And you wish to remain all your life in the Caucasus?" said Princess Mary.

A Hero of Our Time Part 20

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A Hero of Our Time Part 20 summary

You're reading A Hero of Our Time Part 20. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov already has 225 views.

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