It is difficult to say whether or not the feeling which had awakened in our hero's breast was the feeling of love; for it is problematical whether or not men who are neither stout nor thin are capable of any such sentiment. Nevertheless, something strange, something which he could not altogether explain, had come upon him. It seemed as though the ball, with its talk and its clatter, had suddenly become a thing remote--that the orchestra had withdrawn behind a hill, and the scene grown misty, like the carelessly painted-in background of a picture. And from that misty void there could be seen glimmering only the delicate outlines of the bewitching maiden. Somehow her exquisite shape reminded him of an ivory toy, in such fair, white, transparent relief did it stand out against the dull blur of the surrounding throng.
Herein we see a phenomenon not infrequently observed--the phenomenon of the Chichikovs of this world becoming temporarily poets. At all events, for a moment or two our Chichikov felt that he was a young man again, if not exactly a military officer. On perceiving an empty chair beside the mother and daughter, he hastened to occupy it, and though conversation at first hung fire, things gradually improved, and he acquired more confidence.
At this point I must reluctantly deviate to say that men of weight and high office are always a trifle ponderous when conversing with ladies. Young lieutenants--or, at all events, officers not above the rank of captain--are far more successful at the game. How they contrive to be so God only knows. Let them but make the most inane of remarks, and at once the maiden by their side will be rocking with laughter; whereas, should a State Councillor enter into conversation with a damsel, and remark that the Russian Empire is one of vast extent, or utter a compliment which he has elaborated not without a certain measure of intelligence (however strongly the said compliment may smack of a book), of a surety the thing will fall flat. Even a witticism from him will be laughed at far more by him himself than it will by the lady who may happen to be listening to his remarks.
These comments I have interposed for the purpose of explaining to the reader why, as our hero conversed, the maiden began to yawn. Blind to this, however, he continued to relate to her sundry adventures which had befallen him in different parts of the world. Meanwhile (as need hardly be said) the rest of the ladies had taken umbrage at his behaviour. One of them purposely stalked past him to intimate to him the fact, as well as to jostle the Governor's daughter, and let the flying end of a scarf flick her face; while from a lady seated behind the pair came both a whiff of violets and a very venomous and sarcastic remark. Nevertheless, either he did not hear the remark or he PRETENDED not to hear it. This was unwise of him, since it never does to disregard ladies' opinions. Later-but too late--he was destined to learn this to his cost.
In short, dissatisfaction began to display itself on every feminine face. No matter how high Chichikov might stand in society, and no matter how much he might be a millionaire and include in his expression of countenance an indefinable element of grandness and martial ardour, there are certain things which no lady will pardon, whosoever be the person concerned. We know that at Governor's balls it is customary for the onlookers to compose verses at the expense of the dancers; and in this case the verses were directed to Chichikov's address. Briefly, the prevailing dissatisfaction grew until a tacit edict of proscription had been issued against both him and the poor young maiden.
But an even more unpleasant surprise was in store for our hero; for whilst the young lady was still yawning as Chichikov recounted to her certain of his past adventures and also touched lightly upon the subject of Greek philosophy, there appeared from an adjoining room the figure of Nozdrev. Whether he had come from the buffet, or whether he had issued from a little green retreat where a game more strenuous than whist had been in progress, or whether he had left the latter resort unaided, or whether he had been expelled therefrom, is unknown; but at all events when he entered the ballroom, he was in an elevated condition, and leading by the arm the Public Prosecutor, whom he seemed to have been dragging about for a long while past, seeing that the poor man was glancing from side to side as though seeking a means of putting an end to this personally conducted tour. Certainly he must have found the situation almost unbearable, in view of the fact that, after deriving inspiration from two glasses of tea not wholly undiluted with rum, Nozdrev was engaged in lying unmercifully. On sighting him in the distance, Chichikov at once decided to sacrifice himself. That is to say, he decided to vacate his present enviable position and make off with all possible speed, since he could see that an encounter with the newcomer would do him no good. Unfortunately at that moment the Governor buttonholed him with a request that he would come and act as arbiter between him (the Governor) and two ladies--the subject of dispute being the question as to whether or not woman's love is lasting. Simultaneously Nozdrev descried our hero and bore down upon him.
"Ah, my fine landowner of Kherson!" he cried with a smile which set his fresh, spring-rose-pink cheeks a-quiver. "Have you been doing much trade in departed souls lately?" With that he turned to the Governor. "I suppose your Excellency knows that this man traffics in dead peasants?" he bawled. "Look here, Chichikov. I tell you in the most friendly way possible that every one here likes you--yes, including even the Governor. Nevertheless, had I my way, I would hang you! Yes, by God I would!"
Chichikov's discomfiture was complete.