A Hero of Our Time Part 22

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"That will be easy enough," replied the obliging captain, and he directed his steps to the other room.

I went up to Princess Mary immediately, and, availing myself of the local customs which allowed one to dance with a stranger, I invited her to waltz with me.

She was scarcely able to keep from smiling and letting her triumph be seen; but quickly enough she succeeded in a.s.suming an air of perfect indifference and even severity. Carelessly she let her hand fall upon my shoulder, inclined her head slightly to one side, and we began to dance.

I have never known a waist more voluptuous and supple! Her fresh breath touched my face; at times a lock of hair, becoming separated from its companions in the eddy of the waltz, glided over my burning cheek...

I made three turns of the ballroom (she waltzes surprisingly well).

She was out of breath, her eyes were dulled, her half-open lips were scarcely able to whisper the indispensable: "merci, monsieur."

After a few moments' silence I said to her, a.s.suming a very humble air:

"I have heard, Princess, that although quite unacquainted with you, I have already had the misfortune to incur your displeasure... that you have considered me insolent. Can that possibly true?"

"Would you like to confirm me in that opinion now?" she answered, with an ironical little grimace--very becoming, however, to her mobile countenance.

"If I had the audacity to insult you in any way, then allow me to have the still greater audacity to beg your pardon... And, indeed, I should very much like to prove to you that you are mistaken in regard to me"...

"You will find that a rather difficult task"...

"But why?"...

"Because you never visit us and, most likely, there will not be many more of these b.a.l.l.s."

"That means," I thought, "that their doors are closed to me for ever."

"You know, Princess," I said to her, with a certain amount of vexation, "one should never spurn a penitent criminal: in his despair he may become twice as much a criminal as before... and then"...

Sudden laughter and whispering from the people around us caused me to turn my head and to interrupt my phrase. A few paces away from me stood a group of men, amongst them the captain of dragoons, who had manifested intentions hostile to the charming Princess. He was particularly well pleased with something or other, and was rubbing his hands, laughing and exchanging meaning glances with his companions. All at once a gentleman in an evening-dress coat and with long moustaches and a red face separated himself from the crowd and directed his uncertain steps straight towards Princess Mary. He was drunk. Coming to a halt opposite the embarra.s.sed Princess and placing his hands behind his back, he fixed his dull grey eyes upon her, and said in a hoa.r.s.e treble:

"Permettez... but what is the good of that sort of thing here... All I need say is: I engage you for the mazurka"...

"Very well!" she replied in a trembling voice, throwing a beseeching glance around. Alas! Her mother was a long way off, and not one of the cavaliers of her acquaintance was near. A certain aide-de-camp apparently saw the whole scene, but he concealed himself behind the crowd in order not to be mixed up in the affair.

"What?" said the drunken gentleman, winking to the captain of dragoons, who was encouraging him by signs. "Do you not wish to dance then?... All the same I again have the honour to engage you for the mazurka... You think, perhaps, that I am drunk! That is all right!... I can dance all the easier, I a.s.sure you"...

I saw that she was on the point of fainting with fright and indignation.

I went up to the drunken gentleman, caught him none too gently by the arm, and, looking him fixedly in the face, requested him to retire.

"Because," I added, "the Princess promised long ago to dance the mazurka with me."

"Well, then, there's nothing to be done! Another time!" he said, bursting out laughing, and he retired to his abashed companions, who immediately conducted him into another room.

I was rewarded by a deep, wondrous glance.

The Princess went up to her mother and told her the whole story. The latter sought me out among the crowd and thanked me. She informed me that she knew my mother and was on terms of friends.h.i.+p with half a dozen of my aunts.

"I do not know how it has happened that we have not made your acquaintance up to now," she added; "but confess, you alone are to blame for that. You fight shy of everyone in a positively unseemly way. I hope the air of my drawingroom will dispel your spleen... Do you not think so?"

I uttered one of the phrases which everybody must have ready for such an occasion.

The quadrilles dragged on a dreadfully long time.

At last the music struck up from the gallery, Princess Mary and I took up our places.

I did not once allude to the drunken gentleman, or to my previous behaviour, or to Grushnitski. The impression produced upon her by the unpleasant scene was gradually dispelled; her face brightened up; she jested very charmingly; her conversation was witty, without pretensions to wit, vivacious and spontaneous; her observations were sometimes profound... In a very involved sentence I gave her to understand that I had liked her for a long time. She bent her head and blushed slightly.

"You are a strange man!" she said, with a forced laugh, lifting her velvet eyes upon me.

"I did not wish to make your acquaintance," I continued, "because you are surrounded by too dense a throng of adorers, in which I was afraid of being lost to sight altogether."

"You need not have been afraid; they are all very tiresome"...

"All? Not all, surely?"

She looked fixedly at me as if endeavouring to recollect something, then blushed slightly again and finally p.r.o.nounced with decision:

"All!"

"Even my friend, Grushnitski?"

"But is he your friend?" she said, manifesting some doubt.

"Yes."

"He, of course, does not come into the category of the tiresome"...

"But into that of the unfortunate!" I said, laughing.

"Of course! But do you consider that funny? I should like you to be in his place"...

"Well? I was once a cadet myself, and, in truth, it was the best time of my life!"

"Is he a cadet, then?"... she said rapidly, and then added: "But I thought"...

"What did you think?"...

"Nothing! Who is that lady?"

Thereupon the conversation took a different direction, and it did not return to the former subject.

And now the mazurka came to an end and we separated--until we should meet again. The ladies drove off in different directions. I went to get some supper, and met Werner.

"Aha!" he said: "so it is you! And yet you did not wish to make the acquaintance of Princess Mary otherwise than by saving her from certain death."

"I have done better," I replied. "I have saved her from fainting at the ball"...

"How was that? Tell me."

A Hero of Our Time Part 22

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A Hero of Our Time Part 22 summary

You're reading A Hero of Our Time Part 22. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov already has 240 views.

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