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Beauty and The Beast(Chapter6)

2006-08-22 23:01

  Chapter VI.

  It was something at least, that the plastic and not un-virtuous nature of the young man was directed towards a definite object. The elements out of which he was made, although somewhat diluted, were active enough to make him uncomfortable, so long as they remained in a confused state. He had very little power of introversion, but he was sensible that his temperament was changing,——that he grew more cheerful and contented with life,—— that a chasm somewhere was filling up,——just in proportion as his acquaintance with the old music-master and his daughter became more familiar. His visits were made so brief, were so adroitly timed and accounted for by circumstances, that by the close of Lent he could feel justified in making the Easter call of a friend, and claim its attendant privileges, without fear of being repulsed.

  That Easter call was an era in his life. At the risk of his wealth and rank being suspected, he dressed himself in new and rich garments, and hurried away towards the Smolnoi. The old nurse, Katinka, in her scarlet gown, opened the door for him, and was the first to say, "Christ is arisen!" What could he do but give her the usual kiss? Formerly he had kissed hundreds of serfs, men and women, on the sacred anniversary, with a passive good-will. But Katinka's kiss seemed bitter, and he secretly rubbed his mouth after it. The music-master came next: grisly though he might be, he was the St. Peter who stood at the gate of heaven. Then entered Helena, in white, like an angel. He took her hand, pronounced the Easter greeting, and scarcely waited for the answer, "Truly he has arisen!" before his lips found the way to hers. For a second they warmly trembled and glowed together; and in another second some new and sweet and subtle relation seemed to be established between their natures.

  That night Prince Boris wrote a long letter to his "chere maman," in piquantly misspelt French, giving her the gossip of the court, and such family news as she usually craved. The purport of the letter, however, was only disclosed in the final paragraph, and then in so negative a way that it is doubtful whether the Princess Martha fully understood it.

  "Poing de mariajes pour moix!" he wrote,——but we will drop the original,——"I don't think of such a thing yet. Pashkoff dropped a hint, the other day, but I kept my eyes shut. Perhaps you remember her?——fat, thick lips, and crooked teeth. Natalie D—— said to me, "Have you ever been in love, Prince?" Have I, Maman? I did not know what answer to make. What is love? How does one feel, when one has it? They laugh at it here, and of course I should not wish to do what is laughable. Give me a hint: forewarned is forearmed, you know,"——etc., etc.

  Perhaps the Princess Martha did suspect something; perhaps some word in her son's letter touched a secret spot far back in her memory, and renewed a dim, if not very intelligible, pain. She answered his question at length, in the style of the popular French romances of that day. She had much to say of dew and roses, turtledoves and the arrows of Cupid.

  "Ask thyself," she wrote, "whether felicity comes with her presence, and distraction with her absence,——whether her eyes make the morning brighter for thee, and her tears fall upon thy heart like molten lava,——whether heaven would be black and dismal without her company, and the flames of hell turn into roses under her feet."

  It was very evident that the good Princess Martha had never felt—— nay, did not comprehend——a passion such as she described.

  Prince Boris, however, whose veneration for his mother was unbounded, took her words literally, and applied the questions to himself. Although he found it difficult, in good faith and sincerity, to answer all of them affirmatively (he was puzzled, for instance, to know the sensation of molten lava falling upon the heart), yet the general conclusion was inevitable: Helena was necessary to his happiness.

  Instead of returning to Kinesma for the summer, as had been arranged, he determined to remain in St. Petersburg, under the pretence of devoting himself to military studies. This change of plan occasioned more disappointment to the Princess Martha than vexation to Prince Alexis. The latter only growled at the prospect of being called upon to advance a further supply of rubles, slightly comforting himself with the muttered reflection,——

  "Perhaps the brat will make a man of himself, after all."

  It was not many weeks, in fact, before the expected petition came to hand. The Princess Martha had also foreseen it, and instructed her son how to attack his father's weak side. The latter was furiously jealous of certain other noblemen of nearly equal wealth, who were with him at the court of Peter the Great, as their sons now were at that of Elizabeth. Boris compared the splendor of these young noblemen with his own moderate estate, fabled a few "adventures" and drinking-bouts, and announced his determination of doing honor to the name which Prince Alexis of Kinesma had left behind him in the capital.

  There was cursing at the castle when the letter arrived. Many serfs felt the sting of the short whip, the slumber-flag was hoisted five minutes later than usual, and the consumption of Cognac was alarming; but no mirror was smashed, and when Prince Alexis read the letter to his poor relations, he even chuckled over some portions of it. Boris had boldly demanded twenty thousand rubles, in the desperate hope of receiving half that amount,——and he had calculated correctly.

  Before midsummer he was Helena's accepted lover. Not, however, until then, when her father had given his consent to their marriage in the autumn, did he disclose his true rank. The old man's face lighted up with a glow of selfish satisfaction; but Helena quietly took her lover's hand, and said,——

  "Whatever you are, Boris, I will be faithful to you."

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