A Hero of Our Time Part 29

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Her voice shook.

"I will win them over by entreaties. Or, is it your own position?...

But you know that I can sacrifice everything for the sake of the man I love... Oh, answer quickly--have pity... You do not despise me--do you?"

She seized my hand.

Princess Ligovski was walking in front of us with Vera's husband, and had not seen anything; but we might have been observed by some of the invalids who were strolling about--the most inquisitive gossips of all inquisitive folk--and I rapidly disengaged my hand from her pa.s.sionate pressure.

"I will tell you the whole truth," I answered. "I will not justify myself, nor explain my actions: I do not love you."

Her lips grew slightly pale.

"Leave me," she said, in a scarcely audible voice.

I shrugged my shoulders, turned round, and walked away.

CHAPTER XVI. 25th June.

I SOMETIMES despise myself... Is not that the reason why I despise others also?... I have grown incapable of n.o.ble impulses; I am afraid of appearing ridiculous to myself. In my place, another would have offered Princess Mary son coeur et sa fortune; but over me the word "marry" has a kind of magical power. However pa.s.sionately I love a woman, if she only gives me to feel that I have to marry her--then farewell, love! My heart is turned to stone, and nothing will warm it anew. I am prepared for any other sacrifice but that; my life twenty times over, nay, my honour I would stake on the fortune of a card... but my freedom I will never sell. Why do I prize it so highly? What is there in it to me? For what am I preparing myself? What do I hope for from the future?... In truth, absolutely nothing. It is a kind of innate dread, an inexplicable prejudice... There are people, you know, who have an unaccountable dread of spiders, beetles, mice... Shall I confess it? When I was but a child, a certain old woman told my fortune to my mother. She predicted for me death from a wicked wife. I was profoundly struck by her words at the time: an irresistible repugnance to marriage was born within my soul...

Meanwhile, something tells me that her prediction will be realized; I will try, at all events, to arrange that it shall be realized as late in life as possible.

CHAPTER XVII. 26th June.

YESTERDAY, the conjurer Apfelbaum arrived here. A long placard made its appearance on the door of the restaurant, informing the most respected public that the above-mentioned marvellous conjurer, acrobat, chemist, and optician would have the honour to give a magnificent performance on the present day at eight o'clock in the evening, in the saloon of the n.o.bles' Club (in other words, the restaurant); tickets--two rubles and a half each.

Everyone intends to go and see the marvellous conjurer; even Princess Ligovski has taken a ticket for herself, in spite of her daughter being ill.

After dinner to-day, I walked past Vera's windows; she was sitting by herself on the balcony. A note fell at my feet:

"Come to me at ten o'clock this evening by the large staircase. My husband has gone to Pyatigorsk and will not return before to-morrow morning. My servants and maids will not be at home; I have distributed tickets to all of them, and to the princess's servants as well. I await you; come without fail."

"Aha!" I said to myself, "so then it has turned out at last as I thought it would."

At eight o'clock I went to see the conjurer. The public a.s.sembled before the stroke of nine. The performance began. On the back rows of chairs I recognized Vera's and Princess Ligovski's menservants and maids. They were all there, every single one. Grushnitski, with his lorgnette, was sitting in the front row, and the conjurer had recourse to him every time he needed a handkerchief, a watch, a ring and so forth.

For some time past, Grushnitski has ceased to bow to me, and to-day he has looked at me rather insolently once or twice. It will all be remembered to him when we come to settle our scores.

Before ten o'clock had struck, I stood up and went out.

It was dark outside, pitch dark. Cold, heavy clouds were lying on the summit of the surrounding mountains, and only at rare intervals did the dying breeze rustle the tops of the poplars which surrounded the restaurant. People were crowding at the windows. I went down the mountain and, turning in under the gate, I hastened my pace. Suddenly it seemed to me that somebody was following my steps. I stopped and looked round. It was impossible to make out anything in the darkness. However, out of caution, I walked round the house, as if taking a stroll. Pa.s.sing Princess Mary's windows, I again heard steps behind me; a man wrapped in a cloak ran by me. That rendered me uneasy, but I crept up to the flight of steps, and hastily mounted the dark staircase. A door opened, and a little hand seized mine...

"n.o.body has seen you?" said Vera in a whisper, clinging to me.

"n.o.body."

"Now do you believe that I love you? Oh! I have long hesitated, long tortured myself... But you can do anything you like with me."

Her heart was beating violently, her hands were cold as ice. She broke out into complaints and jealous reproaches. She demanded that I should confess everything to her, saying that she would bear my faithlessness with submission, because her sole desire was that I should be happy. I did not quite believe that, but I calmed her with oaths, promises and so on.

"So you will not marry Mary? You do not love her?... But she thinks...

Do you know, she is madly in love with you, poor girl!"...

About two o'clock in the morning I opened the window and, tying two shawls together, I let myself down from the upper balcony to the lower, holding on by the pillar. A light was still burning in Princess Mary's room. Something drew me towards that window. The curtain was not quite drawn, and I was able to cast a curious glance into the interior of the room. Mary was sitting on her bed, her hands crossed upon her knees; her thick hair was gathered up under a lace-frilled nightcap; her white shoulders were covered by a large crimson kerchief, and her little feet were hidden in a pair of many-coloured Persian slippers. She was sitting quite still, her head sunk upon her breast; on a little table in front of her was an open book; but her eyes, fixed and full of inexpressible grief, seemed for the hundredth time to be skimming the same page whilst her thoughts were far away.

At that moment somebody stirred behind a shrub. I leaped from the balcony on to the sward. An invisible hand seized me by the shoulder.

"Aha!" said a rough voice: "caught!... I'll teach you to be entering princesses' rooms at night!"

"Hold him fast!" exclaimed another, springing out from a corner.

It was Grushnitski and the captain of dragoons.

I struck the latter on the head with my fist, knocked him off his feet, and darted into the bushes. All the paths of the garden which covered the slope opposite our houses were known to me.

"Thieves, guard!"... they cried.

A gunshot rang out; a smoking wad fell almost at my feet.

Within a minute I was in my own room, undressed and in bed. My manservant had only just locked the door when Grushnitski and the captain began knocking for admission.

"Pechorin! Are you asleep? Are you there?"... cried the captain.

"I am in bed," I answered angrily.

"Get up! Thieves!... Circa.s.sians!"...

"I have a cold," I answered. "I am afraid of catching a chill."

They went away. I had gained no useful purpose by answering them: they would have been looking for me in the garden for another hour or so.

Meanwhile the alarm became terrific. A Cossack galloped up from the fortress. The commotion was general; Circa.s.sians were looked for in every shrub--and of course none were found. Probably, however, a good many people were left with the firm conviction that, if only more courage and despatch had been shown by the garrison, at least a score of brigands would have failed to get away with their lives.

CHAPTER XVIII. 27th June.

THIS morning, at the well, the sole topic of conversation was the nocturnal attack by the Circa.s.sians. I drank the appointed number of gla.s.ses of Narzan water, and, after sauntering a few times about the long linden avenue, I met Vera's husband, who had just arrived from Pyatigorsk. He took my arm and we went to the restaurant for breakfast.

He was dreadfully uneasy about his wife.

A Hero of Our Time Part 29

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A Hero of Our Time Part 29 summary

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