A Hero of Our Time Part 27

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I took a few steps... She drew herself up in the chair, her eyes sparkled.

I stopped still, took hold of the handle of the door, and said:

"Forgive me, Princess. I have acted like a madman... It will not happen another time; I shall see to that... But how can you know what has been taking place hitherto within my soul? That you will never learn, and so much the better for you. Farewell."

As I was going out, I seemed to hear her weeping.

I wandered on foot about the environs of Mount Mashuk till evening, fatigued myself terribly and, on arriving home, flung myself on my bed, utterly exhausted.

Werner came to see me.

"Is it true," he asked, "that you are going to marry Princess Mary?"

"What?"

"The whole town is saying so. All my patients are occupied with that important piece of news; but you know what these patients are: they know everything."

"This is one of Grushnitski's tricks," I said to myself.

"To prove the falsity of these rumours, doctor, I may mention, as a secret, that I am moving to Kislovodsk to-morrow"...

"And Princess Mary, too?"

"No, she remains here another week"...

"So you are not going to get married?"...

"Doctor, doctor! Look at me! Am I in the least like a bridegroom, or any such thing?"

"I am not saying so... But you know there are occasions..." he added, with a crafty smile--"in which an honourable man is obliged to marry, and there are mothers who, to say the least, do not prevent such occasions... And so, as a friend, I should advise you to be more cautious. The air of these parts is very dangerous. How many handsome young men, worthy of a better fate, have I not seen departing from here straight to the altar!... Would you believe me, they were even going to find a wife for me! That is to say, one person was--a lady belonging to this district, who had a very pale daughter. I had the misfortune to tell her that the latter's colour would be restored after wedlock, and then with tears of grat.i.tude she offered me her daughter's hand and the whole of her own fortune--fifty souls, [28] I think. But I replied that I was unfit for such an honour."

Werner left, fully convinced that he had put me on my guard.

I gathered from his words that various ugly rumours were already being spread about the town on the subject of Princess Mary and myself: Grushnitski shall smart for this!

CHAPTER XIII. 18th June.

I HAVE been in Kislovodsk three days now. Every day I see Vera at the well and out walking. In the morning, when I awake, I sit by my window and direct my lorgnette at her balcony. She has already been dressed long ago, and is waiting for the signal agreed upon. We meet, as though unexpectedly, in the garden which slopes down from our houses to the well. The life-giving mountain air has brought back her colour and her strength. Not for nothing is Narzan called the "Spring of Heroes." The inhabitants aver that the air of Kislovodsk predisposes the heart to love and that all the romances which have had their beginning at the foot of Mount Mashuk find their consummation here. And, in very fact, everything here breathes of solitude; everything has an air of secrecy--the thick shadows of the linden avenues, bending over the torrent which falls, noisy and foaming, from flag to flag and cleaves itself a way between the mountains now becoming clad with verdure--the mist-filled, silent ravines, with their ramifications straggling away in all directions--the freshness of the aromatic air, laden with the fragrance of the tall southern gra.s.ses and the white acacia--the never-ceasing, sweetly-slumberous babble of the cool brooks, which, meeting at the end of the valley, flow along in friendly emulation, and finally fling themselves into the Podk.u.mok. On this side, the ravine is wider and becomes converted into a verdant dell, through which winds the dusty road. Every time I look at it, I seem to see a carriage coming along and a rosy little face looking out of the carriage-window. Many carriages have already driven by--but still there is no sign of that particular one. The village which lies behind the fortress has become populous. In the restaurant, built upon a hill a few paces distant from my lodgings, lights are beginning to flash in the evening through the double row of poplars; noise and the jingling of gla.s.ses resound till late at night.

In no place are such quant.i.ties of Kakhetian wine and mineral waters drunk as here.

"And many are willing to mix the two,

But that is a thing I never do."

Every day Grushnitski and his gang are to be found brawling in the inn, and he has almost ceased to greet me.

He only arrived yesterday, and has already succeeded in quarrelling with three old men who were going to take their places in the baths before him.

Decidedly, his misfortunes are developing a warlike spirit within him.

CHAPTER XIV. 22nd June.

AT last they have arrived. I was sitting by the window when I heard the clattering of their carriage. My heart throbbed... What does it mean?

Can it be that I am in love?... I am so stupidly const.i.tuted that such a thing might be expected of me.

I dined at their house. Princess Ligovski looked at me with much tenderness, and did not leave her daughter's side... a bad sign! On the other hand, Vera is jealous of me in regard to Princess Mary--however, I have been striving for that good fortune. What will not a woman do in order to chagrin her rival? I remember that once a woman loved me simply because I was in love with another woman. There is nothing more paradoxical than the female mind; it is difficult to convince a woman of anything; they have to be led into convincing themselves. The order of the proofs by which they demolish their prejudices is most original; to learn their dialectic it is necessary to overthrow in your own mind every scholastic rule of logic. For example, the usual way:

"This man loves me; but I am married: therefore I must not love him."

The woman's way:

"I must not love him, because I am married; but he loves me--therefore"...

A few dots here, because reason has no more to say. But, generally, there is something to be said by the tongue, and the eyes, and, after these, the heart--if there is such a thing.

What if these notes should one day meet a woman's eye?

"Slander!" she will exclaim indignantly.

Ever since poets have written and women have read them (for which the poets should be most deeply grateful) women have been called angels so many times that, in very truth, in their simplicity of soul, they have believed the compliment, forgetting that, for money, the same poets have glorified Nero as a demiG.o.d...

It would be unreasonable were I to speak of women with such malignity--I who have loved nothing else in the world--I who have always been ready to sacrifice for their sake ease, ambition, life itself... But, you see, I am not endeavouring, in a fit of vexation and injured vanity, to pluck from them the magic veil through which only an accustomed glance can penetrate. No, all that I say about them is but the result of

"A mind which coldly hath observed,

A heart which bears the stamp of woe." [29]

Women ought to wish that all men knew them as well as I because I have loved them a hundred times better since I have ceased to be afraid of them and have comprehended their little weaknesses.

By the way: the other day, Werner compared women to the enchanted forest of which Ta.s.so tells in his "Jerusalem Delivered." [30]

"So soon as you approach," he said, "from all directions terrors, such as I pray Heaven may preserve us from, will take wing at you: duty, pride, decorum, public opinion, ridicule, contempt... You must simply go straight on without looking at them; gradually the monsters disappear, and, before you, opens a bright and quiet glade, in the midst of which blooms the green myrtle. On the other hand, woe to you if, at the first steps, your heart trembles and you turn back!"

CHAPTER XV. 24th June.

A Hero of Our Time Part 27

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A Hero of Our Time Part 27 summary

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