A Hero of Our Time Part 28

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THIS evening has been fertile in events. About three versts from Kislovodsk, in the gorge through which the Podk.u.mok flows, there is a cliff called the Ring. It is a naturally formed gate, rising upon a lofty hill, and through it the setting sun throws its last flaming glance upon the world. A numerous cavalcade set off thither to gaze at the sunset through the rock-window. To tell the truth, not one of them was thinking about the sun. I rode beside Princess Mary. On the way home, we had to ford the Podk.u.mok. Mountain streams, even the smallest, are dangerous; especially so, because the bottom is a perfect kaleidoscope: it changes every day owing to the pressure of the current; where yesterday there was a rock, to-day there is a cavity. I took Princess Mary's horse by the bridle and led it into the water, which came no higher than its knees. We began to move slowly in a slanting direction against the current. It is a well-known fact that, in crossing rapid streamlets, you should never look at the water, because, if you do, your head begins to whirl directly. I forgot to warn Princess Mary of that.

We had reached the middle and were right in the vortex, when suddenly she reeled in her saddle.

"I feel ill!" she said in a faint voice.

I bent over to her rapidly and threw my arm around her supple waist.

"Look up!" I whispered. "It is nothing; just be brave! I am with you."

She grew better; she was about to disengage herself from my arm, but I clasped her tender, soft figure in a still closer embrace; my cheek almost touched hers, from which was wafted flame.

"What are you doing to me?... Oh, Heaven!"...

I paid no attention to her alarm and confusion, and my lips touched her tender cheek. She shuddered, but said nothing. We were riding behind the others: n.o.body saw us.

When we made our way out on the bank, the horses were all put to the trot. Princess Mary kept hers back; I remained beside her. It was evident that my silence was making her uneasy, but I swore to myself that I would not speak a single word--out of curiosity. I wanted to see how she would extricate herself from that embarra.s.sing position.

"Either you despise me, or you love me very much!" she said at length, and there were tears in her voice. "Perhaps you want to laugh at me, to excite my soul and then to abandon me... That would be so base, so vile, that the mere supposition... Oh, no!" she added, in a voice of tender trustfulness; "there is nothing in me which would preclude respect; is it not so? Your presumptuous action... I must, I must forgive you for it, because I permitted it... Answer, speak, I want to hear your voice!"...

There was such womanly impatience in her last words that, involuntarily, I smiled; happily it was beginning to grow dusk... I made no answer.

"You are silent!" she continued; "you wish, perhaps, that I should be the first to tell you that I love you."...

I remained silent.

"Is that what you wish?" she continued, turning rapidly towards me....

There was something terrible in the determination of her glance and voice.

"Why?" I answered, shrugging my shoulders.

She struck her horse with her riding-whip and set off at full gallop along the narrow, dangerous road. It all happened so quickly that I was scarcely able to overtake her, and then only by the time she had joined the rest of the company.

All the way home she was continually talking and laughing. There was something feverish in her movements; not once did she look in my direction. Everybody observed her unusual gaiety. Princess Ligovski rejoiced inwardly as she looked at her daughter. However, the latter simply has a fit of nerves: she will spend a sleepless night, and will weep.

This thought affords me measureless delight: there are moments when I understand the Vampire... And yet I am reputed to be a good fellow, and I strive to earn that designation!

On dismounting, the ladies went into Princess Ligovski's house. I was excited, and I galloped to the mountains in order to dispel the thoughts which had thronged into my head. The dewy evening breathed an intoxicating coolness. The moon was rising from behind the dark summits.

Each step of my unshod horse resounded hollowly in the silence of the gorges. I watered the horse at the waterfall, and then, after greedily inhaling once or twice the fresh air of the southern night.

I set off on my way back. I rode through the village. The lights in the windows were beginning to go out; the sentries on the fortress-rampart and the Cossacks in the surrounding pickets were calling out in drawling tones to one another.

In one of the village houses, built at the edge of a ravine, I noticed an extraordinary illumination. At times, discordant murmurs and shouting could be heard, proving that a military carouse was in full swing. I dismounted and crept up to the window. The shutter had not been made fast, and I could see the banqueters and catch what they were saying.

They were talking about me.

The captain of dragoons, flushed with wine, struck the table with his fist, demanding attention.

"Gentlemen!" he said, "this won't do! Pechorin must be taught a lesson!

These Petersburg fledglings always carry their heads high until they get a slap in the face! He thinks that because he always wears clean gloves and polished boots he is the only one who has ever lived in society.

And what a haughty smile! All the same, I am convinced that he is a coward--yes, a coward!"

"I think so too," said Grushnitski. "He is fond of getting himself out of trouble by pretending to be only having a joke. I once gave him such a talking to that anyone else in his place would have cut me to pieces on the spot. But Pechorin turned it all to the ridiculous side. I, of course, did not call him out because that was his business, but he did not care to have anything more to do with it."

"Grushnitski is angry with him for having captured Princess Mary from him," somebody said.

"That's a new idea! It is true I did run after Princess Mary a little, but I left off at once because I do not want to get married; and it is against my rules to compromise a girl."

"Yes, I a.s.sure you that he is a coward of the first water, I mean Pechorin, not Grushnitski--but Grushnitski is a fine fellow, and, besides, he is my true friend!" the captain of dragoons went on.

"Gentlemen! n.o.body here stands up for him? n.o.body? So much the better!

Would you like to put his courage to the test? It would be amusing"...

"We would; but how?"

"Listen here, then: Grushnitski in particular is angry with him--therefore to Grushnitski falls the chief part. He will pick a quarrel over some silly trifle or other, and will challenge Pechorin to a duel... Wait a bit; here is where the joke comes in... He will challenge him to a duel; very well! The whole proceeding--challenge, preparations, conditions--will be as solemn and awe-inspiring as possible--I will see to that. I will be your second, my poor friend!

Very well! Only here is the rub; we will put no bullets in the pistols.

I can answer for it that Pechorin will turn coward--I will place them six paces apart, devil take it! Are you agreed, gentlemen?"

"Splendid idea!... Agreed!... And why not?"... came from all sides.

"And you, Grushnitski?"

Tremblingly I awaited Grushnitski's answer. I was filled with cold rage at the thought that, but for an accident, I might have made myself the laughing-stock of those fools. If Grushnitski had not agreed, I should have thrown myself upon his neck; but, after an interval of silence, he rose from his place, extended his hand to the captain, and said very gravely:

"Very well, I agree!"

It would be difficult to describe the enthusiasm of that honourable company.

I returned home, agitated by two different feelings. The first was sorrow.

"Why do they all hate me?" I thought--"why? Have I affronted anyone? No.

Can it be that I am one of those men the mere sight of whom is enough to create animosity?"

And I felt a venomous rage gradually filling my soul.

"Have a care, Mr. Grushnitski!" I said, walking up and down the room: "I am not to be jested with like this! You may pay dearly for the approbation of your foolish comrades. I am not your toy!"...

I got no sleep that night. By daybreak I was as yellow as an orange.

In the morning I met Princess Mary at the well.

"You are ill?" she said, looking intently at me.

"I did not sleep last night."

"Nor I either... I was accusing you... perhaps groundlessly. But explain yourself, I can forgive you everything"...

"Everything?"...

"Everything... only speak the truth... and be quick... You see, I have been thinking a good deal, trying to explain, to justify, your behaviour. Perhaps you are afraid of opposition on the part of my relations... that will not matter. When they learn"...

A Hero of Our Time Part 28

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A Hero of Our Time Part 28 summary

You're reading A Hero of Our Time Part 28. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov already has 217 views.

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