A Hero of Our Time Part 24

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CHAPTER VIII. 11th June.

I OFTEN ask myself why I am so obstinately endeavouring to win the love of a young girl whom I do not wish to deceive, and whom I will never marry. Why this woman-like coquetry? Vera loves me more than Princess Mary ever will. Had I regarded the latter as an invincible beauty, I should perhaps have been allured by the difficulty of the undertaking...

However, there is no such difficulty in this case! Consequently, my present feeling is not that restless craving for love which torments us in the early days of our youth, flinging us from one woman to another until we find one who cannot endure us. And then begins our constancy--that sincere, unending pa.s.sion which may be expressed mathematically by a line falling from a point into s.p.a.ce--the secret of that endlessness lying only in the impossibility of attaining the aim, that is to say, the end.

From what motive, then, am I taking all this trouble?--Envy of Grushnitski? Poor fellow!

He is quite undeserving of it. Or, is it the result of that ugly, but invincible, feeling which causes us to destroy the sweet illusions of our neighbour in order to have the petty satisfaction of saying to him, when, in despair, he asks what he is to believe:

"My friend, the same thing happened to me, and you see, nevertheless, that I dine, sup, and sleep very peacefully, and I shall, I hope, know how to die without tears and lamentations."

There is, in sooth, a boundless enjoyment in the possession of a young, scarce-budded soul! It is like a floweret which exhales its best perfume at the kiss of the first ray of the sun. You should pluck the flower at that moment, and, breathing its fragrance to the full, cast it upon the road: perchance someone will pick it up! I feel within me that insatiate hunger which devours everything it meets upon the way; I look upon the sufferings and joys of others only from the point of view of their relation to myself, regarding them as the nutriment which sustains my spiritual forces. I myself am no longer capable of committing follies under the influence of pa.s.sion; with me, ambition has been repressed by circ.u.mstances, but it has emerged in another form, because ambition is nothing more nor less than a thirst for power, and my chief pleasure is to make everything that surrounds me subject to my will. To arouse the feeling of love, devotion and awe towards oneself--is not that the first sign, and the greatest triumph, of power? To be the cause of suffering and joy to another--without in the least possessing any definite right to be so--is not that the sweetest food for our pride? And what is happiness?--Satisfied pride. Were I to consider myself the best, the most powerful man in the world, I should be happy; were all to love me, I should find within me inexhaustible springs of love. Evil begets evil; the first suffering gives us the conception of the satisfaction of torturing another. The idea of evil cannot enter the mind without arousing a desire to put it actually into practice. "Ideas are organic ent.i.ties," someone has said. The very fact of their birth endows them with form, and that form is action. He in whose brain the most ideas are born accomplishes the most. From that cause a genius, chained to an official desk, must die or go mad, just as it often happens that a man of powerful const.i.tution, and at the same time of sedentary life and simple habits, dies of an apoplectic stroke.

Pa.s.sions are naught but ideas in their first development; they are an attribute of the youth of the heart, and foolish is he who thinks that he will be agitated by them all his life. Many quiet rivers begin their course as noisy waterfalls, and there is not a single stream which will leap or foam throughout its way to the sea. That quietness, however, is frequently the sign of great, though latent, strength. The fulness and depth of feelings and thoughts do not admit of frenzied outbursts. In suffering and in enjoyment the soul renders itself a strict account of all it experiences and convinces itself that such things must be. It knows that, but for storms, the constant heat of the sun would dry it up! It imbues itself with its own life--pets and punishes itself like a favourite child. It is only in that highest state of self-knowledge that a man can appreciate the divine justice.

On reading over this page, I observe that I have made a wide digression from my subject... But what matter?... You see, it is for myself that I am writing this diary, and, consequently anything that I jot down in it will in time be a valuable reminiscence for me.

Grushnitski has called to see me to-day. He flung himself upon my neck; he has been promoted to be an officer. We drank champagne. Doctor Werner came in after him.

"I do not congratulate you," he said to Grushnitski.

"Why not?"

"Because the soldier's cloak suits you very well, and you must confess that an infantry uniform, made by one of the local tailors, will not add anything of interest to you... Do you not see? Hitherto, you have been an exception, but now you will come under the general rule."

"Talk away, doctor, talk away! You will not prevent me from rejoicing.

He does not know," added Grushnitski in a whisper to me, "how many hopes these epaulettes have lent me... Oh!... Epaulettes, epaulettes! Your little stars are guiding stars! No! I am perfectly happy now!"

"Are you coming with us on our walk to the hollow?" I asked him.

"I? Not on any account will I show myself to Princess Mary until my uniform is finished."

"Would you like me to inform her of your happiness?"

"No, please, not a word... I want to give her a surprise"...

"Tell me, though, how are you getting on with her?"

He became embarra.s.sed, and fell into thought; he would gladly have bragged and told lies, but his conscience would not let him; and, at the same time, he was ashamed to confess the truth.

"What do you think? Does she love you?"...

"Love me? Good gracious, Pechorin, what ideas you do have!... How could she possibly love me so soon?... And a well-bred woman, even if she is in love, will never say so"...

"Very well! And, I suppose, in your opinion, a well-bred man should also keep silence in regard to his pa.s.sion?"...

"Ah, my dear fellow! There are ways of doing everything; often things may remain unspoken, but yet may be guessed"...

"That is true... But the love which we read in the eyes does not pledge a woman to anything, whilst words... Have a care, Grushnitski, she is befooling you!"

"She?" he answered, raising his eyes heavenward and smiling complacently. "I am sorry for you, Pechorin!"...

He took his departure.

In the evening, a numerous company set off to walk to the hollow.

In the opinion of the learned of Pyatigorsk, the hollow in question is nothing more nor less than an extinct crater. It is situated on a slope of Mount Mashuk, at the distance of a verst from the town, and is approached by a narrow path between brushwood and rocks. In climbing up the hill, I gave Princess Mary my arm, and she did not leave it during the whole excursion.

Our conversation commenced with slander; I proceeded to pa.s.s in review our present and absent acquaintances; at first I exposed their ridiculous, and then their bad, sides. My choler rose. I began in jest, and ended in genuine malice. At first she was amused, but afterwards frightened.

"You are a dangerous man!" she said. "I would rather perish in the woods under the knife of an a.s.sa.s.sin than under your tongue... In all earnestness I beg of you: when it comes into your mind to speak evil of me, take a knife instead and cut my throat. I think you would not find that a very difficult matter."

"Am I like an a.s.sa.s.sin, then?"...

"You are worse"...

I fell into thought for a moment; then, a.s.suming a deeply moved air, I said:

"Yes, such has been my lot from very childhood! All have read upon my countenance the marks of bad qualities, which were not existent; but they were a.s.sumed to exist--and they were born. I was modest--I was accused of slyness: I grew secretive. I profoundly felt both good and evil--no one caressed me, all insulted me: I grew vindictive. I was gloomy--other children merry and talkative; I felt myself higher than they--I was rated lower: I grew envious. I was prepared to love the whole world--no one understood me: I learned to hate. My colourless youth flowed by in conflict with myself and the world; fearing ridicule, I buried my best feelings in the depths of my heart, and there they died. I spoke the truth--I was not believed: I began to deceive. Having acquired a thorough knowledge of the world and the springs of society, I grew skilled in the science of life; and I saw how others without skill were happy, enjoying gratuitously the advantages which I so unweariedly sought. Then despair was born within my breast--not that despair which is cured at the muzzle of a pistol, but the cold, powerless despair concealed beneath the mask of amiability and a good-natured smile. I became a moral cripple. One half of my soul ceased to exist; it dried up, evaporated, died, and I cut it off and cast it from me. The other half moved and lived--at the service of all; but it remained un.o.bserved, because no one knew that the half which had perished had ever existed.

But, now, the memory of it has been awakened within me by you, and I have read you its epitaph. To many, epitaphs in general seem ridiculous, but to me they do not; especially when I remember what reposes beneath them. I will not, however, ask you to share my opinion. If this outburst seems absurd to you, I pray you, laugh! I forewarn you that your laughter will not cause me the least chagrin."

At that moment I met her eyes: tears were welling in them. Her arm, as it leaned upon mine, was trembling; her cheeks were aflame; she pitied me! Sympathy--a feeling to which all women yield so easily, had dug its talons into her inexperienced heart. During the whole excursion she was preoccupied, and did not flirt with anyone--and that is a great sign!

We arrived at the hollow; the ladies left their cavaliers, but she did not let go my arm. The witticisms of the local dandies failed to make her laugh; the steepness of the declivity beside which she was standing caused her no alarm, although the other ladies uttered shrill cries and shut their eyes.

On the way back, I did not renew our melancholy conversation, but to my idle questions and jests she gave short and absent-minded answers.

"Have you ever been in love?" I asked her at length.

She looked at me intently, shook her head and again fell into a reverie.

It was evident that she was wis.h.i.+ng to say something, but did not know how to begin. Her breast heaved... And, indeed, that was but natural!

A muslin sleeve is a weak protection, and an electric spark was running from my arm to hers. Almost all pa.s.sions have their beginning in that way, and frequently we are very much deceived in thinking that a woman loves us for our moral and physical merits; of course, these prepare and predispose the heart for the reception of the holy flame, but for all that it is the first touch that decides the matter.

"I have been very amiable to-day, have I not?" Princess Mary said to me, with a forced smile, when we had returned from the walk.

We separated.

She is dissatisfied with herself. She accuses herself of coldness... Oh, that is the first, the chief triumph!

To-morrow, she will be feeling a desire to recompense me. I know the whole proceeding by heart already--that is what is so tiresome!

CHAPTER IX. 12th June.

A Hero of Our Time Part 24

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A Hero of Our Time Part 24 summary

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