A Hero of Our Time Part 23

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"No, guess!--O, you who guess everything in the world!"

CHAPTER VI. 30th May.

ABOUT seven o'clock in the evening, I was walking on the boulevard.

Grushnitski perceived me a long way off, and came up to me. A sort of ridiculous rapture was s.h.i.+ning in his eyes. He pressed my hand warmly, and said in a tragic voice:

"I thank you, Pechorin... You understand me?"

"No; but in any case it is not worth grat.i.tude," I answered, not having, in fact, any good deed upon my conscience.

"What? But yesterday! Have you forgotten?... Mary has told me everything"...

"Why! Have you everything in common so soon as this? Even grat.i.tude?"...

"Listen," said Grushnitski very earnestly; "pray do not make fun of my love, if you wish to remain my friend... You see, I love her to the point of madness... and I think--I hope--she loves me too... I have a request to make of you. You will be at their house this evening; promise me to observe everything. I know you are experienced in these matters, you know women better than I... Women! Women! Who can understand them?

Their smiles contradict their glances, their words promise and allure, but the tone of their voice repels... At one time they grasp and divine in a moment our most secret thoughts, at another they cannot understand the clearest hints... Take Princess Mary, now: yesterday her eyes, as they rested upon me, were blazing with pa.s.sion; to-day they are dull and cold"...

"That is possibly the result of the waters," I replied.

"You see the bad side of everything... materialist," he added contemptuously. "However, let us talk of other matters."

And, satisfied with his bad pun, he cheered up.

At nine o'clock we went to Princess Ligovski's together.

Pa.s.sing by Vera's windows, I saw her looking out. We threw a fleeting glance at each other. She entered the Ligovskis' drawing-room soon after us. Princess Ligovski presented me to her, as a relation of her own. Tea was served. The guests were numerous, and the conversation was general.

I endeavoured to please the Princess, jested, and made her laugh heartily a few times. Princess Mary, also, was more than once on the point of bursting out laughing, but she restrained herself in order not to depart from the role she had a.s.sumed. She finds languor becoming to her, and perhaps she is not mistaken. Grushnitski appears to be very glad that she is not infected by my gaiety.

After tea we all went into the drawingroom.

"Are you satisfied with my obedience, Vera?" I said as I was pa.s.sing her.

She threw me a glance full of love and grat.i.tude. I have grown accustomed to such glances; but at one time they const.i.tuted my felicity. The Princess seated her daughter at the pianoforte, and all the company begged her to sing. I kept silence, and, taking advantage of the hubbub, I went aside to the window with Vera, who wished to say something of great importance to both of us... It turned out to be--nonsense...

Meanwhile my indifference was vexing Princess Mary, as I was able to make out from a single angry, gleaming glance which she cast at me...

Oh! I understand the method of conversation wonderfully well: mute but expressive, brief but forceful!...

She began to sing. She has a good voice, but she sings badly... However, I was not listening.

Grushnitski, on the contrary, leaning his elbows on the grand piano, facing her, was devouring her with his eyes and saying in an undertone every minute: "Charmant! Delicieux!"

"Listen," said Vera to me, "I do not wish you to make my husband's acquaintance, but you must, without fail, make yourself agreeable to the Princess; that will be an easy task for you: you can do anything you wish. It is only here that we shall see each other"...

"Only here?"...

She blushed and continued:

"You know that I am your slave: I have never been able to resist you...

and I shall be punished for it, you will cease to love me! At least, I want to preserve my reputation... not for myself--that you know very well!... Oh! I beseech you: do not torture me, as before, with idle doubts and feigned coldness! It may be that I shall die soon; I feel that I am growing weaker from day to day... And, yet, I cannot think of the future life, I think only of you... You men do not understand the delights of a glance, of a pressure of the hand... but as for me, I swear to you that, when I listen to your voice, I feel such a deep, strange bliss that the most pa.s.sionate kisses could not take its place."

Meanwhile, Princess Mary had finished her song. Murmurs of praise were to be heard all around. I went up to her after all the other guests, and said something rather carelessly to her on the subject of her voice.

She made a little grimace, pouting her lower lip, and dropped a very sarcastic curtsey.

"That is all the more flattering," she said, "because you have not been listening to me at all; but perhaps you do not like music?"...

"On the contrary, I do... After dinner, especially."

"Grushnitski is right in saying that you have very prosaic tastes... and I see that you like music in a gastronomic respect."

"You are mistaken again: I am by no means an epicure. I have a most wretched digestion. But music after dinner puts one to sleep, and to sleep after dinner is healthful; consequently I like music in a medicinal respect. In the evening, on the contrary, it excites my nerves too much: I become either too melancholy or too gay. Both are fatiguing, where there is no positive reason for being either sorrowful or glad.

And, moreover, melancholy in society is ridiculous, and too great gaiety is unbecoming"...

She did not hear me to the end, but went away and sat beside Grushnitski, and they entered into a sort of sentimental conversation.

Apparently the Princess answered his sage phrases rather absent-mindedly and inconsequently, although endeavouring to show that she was listening to him with attention, because sometimes he looked at her in astonishment, trying to divine the cause of the inward agitation which was expressed at times in her restless glance...

But I have found you out, my dear Princess! Have a care! You want to pay me back in the same coin, to wound my vanity--you will not succeed! And if you declare war on me, I will be merciless!

In the course of the evening, I purposely tried a few times to join in their conversation, but she met my remarks rather coldly, and, at last, I retired in pretended vexation. Princess Mary was triumphant, Grushnitski likewise. Triumph, my friends, and be quick about it!...

You will not have long to triumph!... It cannot be otherwise. I have a presentiment... On making a woman's acquaintance I have always unerringly guessed whether she would fall in love with me or not.

The remaining part of the evening I spent at Vera's side, and talked to the full about the old days... Why does she love me so much? In truth, I am unable to say, all the more so because she is the only woman who has understood me perfectly, with all my petty weaknesses and evil pa.s.sions... Can it be that wickedness is so attractive?...

Grushnitski and I left the house together. In the street he took my arm, and, after a long silence, said:


"You are a fool," I should have liked to answer. But I restrained myself and only shrugged my shoulders.

CHAPTER VII. 6th June.

ALL these days I have not once departed from my system. Princess Mary has come to like talking to me; I have told her a few of the strange events of my life, and she is beginning to look on me as an extraordinary man. I mock at everything in the world, especially feelings; and she is taking alarm. When I am present, she does not dare to embark upon sentimental discussions with Grushnitski, and already, on a few occasions, she has answered his sallies with a mocking smile. But every time that Grushnitski comes up to her I a.s.sume an air of meekness and leave the two of them together. On the first occasion, she was glad, or tried to make it appear so; on the second, she was angry with me; on the third--with Grushnitski.

"You have very little vanity!" she said to me yesterday. "What makes you think that I find Grushnitski the more entertaining?"

I answered that I was sacrificing my own pleasure for the sake of the happiness of a friend.

"And my pleasure, too," she added.

I looked at her intently and a.s.sumed a serious air. After that for the whole day I did not speak a single word to her... In the evening, she was pensive; this morning, at the well, more pensive still. When I went up to her, she was listening absent-mindedly to Grushnitski, who was apparently falling into raptures about Nature, but, so soon as she perceived me, she began to laugh--at a most inopportune moment--pretending not to notice me. I went on a little further and began stealthily to observe her. She turned away from her companion and yawned twice. Decidedly she had grown tired of Grushnitski--I will not talk to her for another two days.

A Hero of Our Time Part 23

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A Hero of Our Time Part 23 summary

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