A Hero of Our Time Part 34

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"From Princess Ligovski's; her daughter is ill--nervous exhaustion...

That is not the point, though. This is what I have come to tell you: the authorities are suspicious, and, although it is impossible to prove anything positively, I should, all the same, advise you to be cautious.

Princess Ligovski told me to-day that she knew that you fought a duel on her daughter's account. That little old man--what's his name?--has told her everything. He was a witness of your quarrel with Grushnitski in the restaurant. I have come to warn you. Good-bye. Maybe we shall not meet again: you will be banished somewhere."

He stopped on the threshold; he would gladly have pressed my hand...

and, had I shown the slightest desire to embrace him, he would have thrown himself upon my neck; but I remained cold as a rock--and he left the room.

That is just like men! They are all the same: they know beforehand all the bad points of an act, they help, they advise, they even encourage it, seeing the impossibility of any other expedient--and then they wash their hands of the whole affair and turn away with indignation from him who has had the courage to take the whole burden of responsibility upon himself. They are all like that, even the best-natured, the wisest...


NEXT morning, having received orders from the supreme authority to betake myself to the N----Fortress, I called upon Princess Ligovski to say good-bye.

She was surprised when, in answer to her question, whether I had not anything of special importance to tell her, I said I had come to wish her good-bye, and so on.

"But I must have a very serious talk with you."

I sat down in silence.

It was clear that she did not know how to begin; her face grew livid, she tapped the table with her plump fingers; at length, in a broken voice, she said:

"Listen, Monsieur Pechorin, I think that you are a gentleman."

I bowed.

"Nay, I am sure of it," she continued, "although your behaviour is somewhat equivocal, but you may have reasons which I do not know; and you must now confide them to me. You have protected my daughter from slander, you have fought a duel on her behalf--consequently you have risked your life... Do not answer. I know that you will not acknowledge it because Grushnitski has been killed"--she crossed herself. "G.o.d forgive him--and you too, I hope... That does not concern me... I dare not condemn you because my daughter, although innocently, has been the cause. She has told me everything... everything, I think. You have declared your love for her... She has admitted hers to you."--Here Princess Ligovski sighed heavily.--"But she is ill, and I am certain that it is no simple illness! Secret grief is killing her; she will not confess, but I am convinced that you are the cause of it... Listen: you think, perhaps, that I am looking for rank or immense wealth--be undeceived, my daughter's happiness is my sole desire. Your present position is unenviable, but it may be bettered: you have means; my daughter loves you; she has been brought up in such a way that she will make her husband a happy man. I am wealthy, she is my only child... Tell me, what is keeping you back?... You see, I ought not to be saying all this to you, but I rely upon your heart, upon your honour--remember she is my only daughter... my only one"...

She burst into tears.

"Princess," I said, "it is impossible for me to answer you; allow me to speak to your daughter, alone"...

"Never!" she exclaimed, rising from her chair in violent agitation.

"As you wish," I answered, preparing to go away.

She fell into thought, made a sign to me with her hand that I should wait a little, and left the room.

Five minutes pa.s.sed. My heart was beating violently, but my thoughts were tranquil, my head cool. However a.s.siduously I sought in my breast for even a spark of love for the charming Mary, my efforts were of no avail!

Then the door opened, and she entered. Heavens! How she had changed since I had last seen her--and that but a short time ago!

When she reached the middle of the room, she staggered. I jumped up, gave her my arm, and led her to a chair.

I stood facing her. We remained silent for a long time; her large eyes, full of unutterable grief, seemed to be searching in mine for something resembling hope; her wan lips vainly endeavoured to smile; her tender hands, which were folded upon her knees, were so thin and transparent that I pitied her.

"Princess," I said, "you know that I have been making fun of you?... You must despise me."

A sickly flush suffused her cheeks.

"Consequently," I continued, "you cannot love me"...

She turned her head away, leaned her elbows on the table, covered her eyes with her hand, and it seemed to me that she was on the point of tears.

"Oh, G.o.d!" she said, almost inaudibly.

The situation was growing intolerable. Another minute--and I should have fallen at her feet.

"So you see, yourself," I said in as firm a voice as I could command, and with a forced smile, "you see, yourself, that I cannot marry you.

Even if you wished it now, you would soon repent. My conversation with your mother has compelled me to explain myself to you so frankly and so brutally. I hope that she is under a delusion: it will be easy for you to undeceive her. You see, I am playing a most pitiful and ugly role in your eyes, and I even admit it--that is the utmost I can do for your sake. However bad an opinion you may entertain of me, I submit to it...

You see that I am base in your sight, am I not?... Is it not true that, even if you have loved me, you would despise me from this moment?"...

She turned round to me. She was pale as marble, but her eyes were sparkling wondrously.

"I hate you"... she said.

I thanked her, bowed respectfully, and left the room.

An hour afterwards a postal express was bearing me rapidly from Kislovodsk. A few versts from Essentuki I recognized near the roadway the body of my spirited horse. The saddle had been taken off, no doubt by a pa.s.sing Cossack, and, in its place, two ravens were sitting on the horse's back. I sighed and turned away...

And now, here in this wearisome fortress, I often ask myself, as my thoughts wander back to the past: why did I not wish to tread that way, thrown open by destiny, where soft joys and ease of soul were awaiting me?... No, I could never have become habituated to such a fate! I am like a sailor born and bred on the deck of a pirate brig: his soul has grown accustomed to storms and battles; but, once let him be cast upon the sh.o.r.e, and he chafes, he pines away, however invitingly the shady groves allure, however brightly s.h.i.+nes the peaceful sun. The livelong day he paces the sandy sh.o.r.e, hearkens to the monotonous murmur of the onrus.h.i.+ng waves, and gazes into the misty distance: lo! yonder, upon the pale line dividing the blue deep from the grey clouds, is there not glancing the longed-for sail, at first like the wing of a seagull, but little by little severing itself from the foam of the billows and, with even course, drawing nigh to the desert harbour?



(By the Author)

THE preface to a book serves the double purpose of prologue and epilogue. It affords the author an opportunity of explaining the object of the work, or of vindicating himself and replying to his critics. As a rule, however, the reader is concerned neither with the moral purpose of the book nor with the attacks of the Reviewers, and so the preface remains unread. Nevertheless, this is a pity, especially with us Russians! The public of this country is so youthful, not to say simple-minded, that it cannot understand the meaning of a fable unless the moral is set forth at the end. Unable to see a joke, insensible to irony, it has, in a word, been badly brought up. It has not yet learned that in a decent book, as in decent society, open invective can have no place; that our present-day civilisation has invented a keener weapon, none the less deadly for being almost invisible, which, under the cloak of flattery, strikes with sure and irresistible effect. The Russian public is like a simple-minded person from the country who, chancing to overhear a conversation between two diplomatists belonging to hostile courts, comes away with the conviction that each of them has been deceiving his Government in the interest of a most affectionate private friends.h.i.+p.

The unfortunate effects of an over-literal acceptation of words by certain readers and even Reviewers have recently been manifested in regard to the present book. Many of its readers have been dreadfully, and in all seriousness, shocked to find such an immoral man as Pechorin set before them as an example. Others have observed, with much ac.u.men, that the author has painted his own portrait and those of his acquaintances!... What a stale and wretched jest! But Russia, it appears, has been const.i.tuted in such a way that absurdities of this kind will never be eradicated. It is doubtful whether, in this country, the most ethereal of fairy-tales would escape the reproach of attempting offensive personalities.

Pechorin, gentlemen, is in fact a portrait, but not of one man only: he is a composite portrait, made up of all the vices which flourish, fullgrown, amongst the present generation. You will tell me, as you have told me before, that no man can be so bad as this; and my reply will be: "If you believe that such persons as the villains of tragedy and romance could exist in real life, why can you not believe in the reality of Pechorin? If you admire fictions much more terrible and monstrous, why is it that this character, even if regarded merely as a creature of the imagination, cannot obtain quarter at your hands? Is it not because there is more truth in it than may be altogether palatable to you?"

You will say that the cause of morality gains nothing by this book. I beg your pardon. People have been surfeited with sweetmeats and their digestion has been ruined: bitter medicines, sharp truths, are therefore necessary. This must not, however, be taken to mean that the author has ever proudly dreamed of becoming a reformer of human vices. Heaven keep him from such impertinence! He has simply found it entertaining to depict a man, such as he considers to be typical of the present day and such as he has often met in real life--too often, indeed, unfortunately both for the author himself and for you. Suffice it that the disease has been pointed out: how it is to be cured--G.o.d alone knows!


[Footnote 1: A retail shop and tavern combined.]

A Hero of Our Time Part 34

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A Hero of Our Time Part 34 summary

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