Here we see Pechorin in action, pulling a robbery, 19th century style. Here he begins the operation.
The restaurant ballroom turned into a Nobles’ Club hall. By nine o’clock everybody was there. Princess Ligovskaya and her daughter were among the last to arrive. Many of the ladies eyed Princess Mary with envy and ill will, for she dresses with very good taste. Those who consider themselves the local aristocrats concealed their envy and attached themselves to her. What else could be expected? Wherever there is feminine society, there is an immediate division into the upper and lower circles. Grushnitsky stood among the crowd outside the window, pressing his face to the glass and eating his goddess with his eyes; in passing she gave him a barely noticeable nod. He beamed like the sun . . . The first dance was a polonaise, then the orchestra struck up a waltz. Spurs jingled and coat tails whirled.
I stood behind a fat lady sprouting rose-colored feathers. The splendor of her gown was reminiscent of the farthingale age and the blotchiness of her coarse skin of the happy epoch of the black-taffeta beauty spot. The biggest wart on her neck was concealed beneath a clasp. She was saying to her partner, a captain of dragoons: “This young Princess Ligovskaya is an unbearable minx. Think of it, she bumped into me and didn’t bother to apologize, and actually turned round to look at me through her eyeglass. . . C’est impayable! What cause has she to give herself airs? It would do her good to be taught a lesson . . .”
“Leave it to me!” replied the obliging captain and repaired to another room.
I went over at once to Princess Mary and asked for the waltz, taking advantage of the freedom of the local customs which allow one to dance with strangers.
She was scarcely able to suppress a smile and thus conceal her triumph, but quickly enough she managed to assume a totally indifferent and even severe appearance. She carelessly laid her hand on my shoulder, tilted her head a bit to one side, and off we started. I know no other waist so voluptuous and supple. Her sweet breath caressed my face. Now and then a ringlet of hair broke loose from its companions in the whirl of the dance and brushed my burning cheek . . . I made three turns round the room. (She waltzes delightfully.) She was panting, her eyes looked blurred and her separated lips could hardly whisper the necessary “Merci, monsieur”.
After a few minutes of silence I said, assuming the humblest of expressions: “I have heard, Princess, that while still an utter stranger to you, I had the misfortune to evoke your displeasure, that you found me impertinent . . . Is that really true?”
“And you would like to strengthen that opinion now?” she replied, with an ironical little grimace that, incidentally, matched well the quick mobility of her features.
“If I had the audacity to offend you in any way, will you allow me the greater audacity of asking your forgiveness? Really, I’d like very much to prove that you were mistaken in your opinion of me . . .”
“That will be a rather difficult task for you .
“Because you don’t come to our house and these balls probably won’t be repeated frequently.”
“That means,” thought I, “their doors are closed to me for all time.”
“Do you know, Princess,” said I with a shade of annoyance, “that one should never spurn a repentant sinner, for out of sheer desperation he may become twice as sinful . . . and then . . .”
Laughter and whispering around us made me break off and look round. A few paces away stood a group of men, among them the captain of dragoons who had expressed his hostile intentions toward the charming princess. He seemed to be highly pleased with something, rubbing his hands, laughing loudly and exchanging winks with his comrades. Suddenly a gentleman in a tail coat and with long mustaches and a red face stepped out of their midst and walked unsteadily towards Princess Mary. He was obviously drunk. Stopping in front of the bewildered princess, with his hands behind his back, he directed his bleary gray eyes at her and said in a wheezy high-pitched voice: “Permettez . . . oh, to heck with it . . . I’ll just take you for the mazurka. . .”
“What do you want, sir?” she said with a tremor in her voice, casting about a glance for help from somebody. But, alas, her mother was far away, nor were there any of the gallants she knew nearby, except one adjutant who, I believe, saw what was going on, but hid behind the crowd to avoid being involved in an unpleasant scene.
“Well, well!” said the drunken gentleman, winking at the captain of dragoons who was spurring him on with encouraging signals. “You would rather not? I once more have the honor of inviting you pour mazurk . . . Maybe you think I’m drunk? That’s all right! Dance all the better, I assure you . . .”
I saw she was on the verge of fainting from terror and shame.
I stepped up to the intoxicated gentleman, gripped him firmly enough by the arm and, looking him straight in the eyes, asked him to go away, because, I added, the princess had long since promised me the mazurka.
“Oh, I see! Another time, then!” he said, with a laugh, and rejoined his cronies who, looking rather crestfallen, guided him out of the room.
I was rewarded with a deeply charming glance.
Princess Mary went over to her mother and told her what had happened, and the latter sought me out in the crowd to thank me. She told me that she knew my mother and was a friend of a half a dozen of my aunts.
“I simply can’t understand how it is we haven’t met before,” she added, “though you must admit that it’s your own fault. You hold yourself so aloof you know, you really do. I hope the atmosphere of my drawing room will dispel your spleen . . . Don’t you think so?”
I replied with one of those polite phrases everyone must have in store for occasions like this.
The quadrilles dragged out as if they would never end.
Finally the mazurka struck up and I sat down beside the young princess.
I made no reference to the drunken gentleman, nor to my previous conduct, nor yet to Grushnitsky. The impression the unpleasant incident had made on her gradually faded, her face glowed, and she chatted charmingly. Her conversation was sharp without pretensions to wit, it was vivacious and free of restraint, and some of her observations were profound indeed . . . I let her understand in a confused, rambling sort of way that I had long been attracted by her. She bent her head and blushed faintly.
“You are a strange man!” she said presently with a constrained laugh and smile, raising her velvety eyes to me.
“I didn’t want to be introduced to you,” I continued, “because you are surrounded by too great a crowd of admirers and I was afraid I might get completely lost in them.”
“You had nothing to fear. They are all exceedingly dull . . .”
“All of them? Really, all?”
She looked at me closely as if trying to recall something, then blushed faintly again and finally said in a definite tone of voice: “All of them!”
“Even my friend Grushnitsky?”
“Is he your friend?” she asked with some doubt.
“He, of course, cannot be classed as a bore.”
“But as an unfortunate, perhaps?” said I, laughingly.
“Of course! Why are you amused? I would like to see you in his place.”
“Why? I was a cadet once myself, and believe me, that was the finest period of my life!”
“Is he a cadet?” she asked quickly, adding a moment later: “And I thought…”
“What did you think?”
“Nothing, nothing at all . . . Who is that lady?”
The conversation took a different turn and this subject was not brought up again.
The mazurka ended and we separated–until we meet again. The ladies went home. Going in for supper, I met Werner.
“Aha,” he said, “so that’s it! And you said you would only make the young princess’s acquaintance by rescuing her from certain death?”
“I did better,” I replied, “I saved her from fainting at the ball!”
“What happened? Tell me!”
“No, you will have to guess. Oh you, who can divine everything under the sun!”
The next day, did Grushnitsky comprehend what was happening?
I was walking on the boulevard about seven o’clock in the evening. Grushnitsky, seeing me from afar, came over, a ridiculously rapturous light gleaming in his eyes. He clasped my hand tightly and said in a tragic tone: “I thank you, Pechorin . . . You understand me, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t. In any case there’s nothing to thank me for,” I replied, for I really had no good deed on my conscience.
“Why, what about yesterday? Have you forgotten? Mary told me everything…”
“You don’t say you already share everything? And gratitude too?”
“Listen,” said Grushnitsky with an impressive air. “Please don’t make fun of my love if you wish to remain my friend . . . You see, I love her madly . . . and I believe, I hope, that she loves me too. I have a favor to ask of you: you will be visiting them this evening, promise me to observe everything. I know you are experienced in these matters and you know women better than I do. Oh women, women! Who really does understand them? Their smiles contradict their glances, their words promise and beguile, but their tone of voice repulses. They either figure out in a flash your innermost thought or they don’t get the most obvious hint . . . Take the young princess, for instance: yesterday her eyes glowed with passion when they dwelt on me, but now they’re dull and cold . . .”
“That perhaps is the effect of the waters,” replied I.
“You always look at the seamy side of things . . . you materialist!” he added scornfully. “But let us get down to another matter.” Pleased with this bad pun, his spirits rose.