A Hero of Our Time
Yes, they were happy! In point of fact, I had been expecting a tragic ending — when, lo! After a few days, we learned that the old man had been murdered. This is how it happened. So, one day, Kazbich went and waited by the roadside, about three versts beyond the village. The old man was returning from one of his futile searches for his daughter; his retainers were lagging behind. It was dusk. Deep in thought, he was riding at a walking pace when, suddenly, Kazbich darted out like a cat from behind a bush, sprang up behind him on the horse, flung him to the ground with a thrust of his dagger, seized the bridle and was off.
A few of the retainers saw the whole affair from the hill; they dashed off in pursuit of Kazbich, but failed to overtake him. I was involuntarily struck by the aptitude which the Russian displays for accommodating himself to the customs of the people in whose midst he happens to be living. I know not whether this mental quality is deserving of censure or commendation, but it proves the incredible pliancy of his mind and the presence of that clear common sense which pardons evil wherever it sees that evil is inevitable or impossible of annihilation.
IN the meantime we had finished our tea. The horses, which had been put to long before, were freezing in the snow. In the west the moon was growing pale, and was just on the point of plunging into the black clouds which were hanging over the distant summits like the shreds of a torn curtain. We went out of the hut. The dancing choirs of the stars were interwoven in wondrous patterns on the distant horizon, and, one after another, they flickered out as the wan resplendence of the east suffused the dark, lilac vault of heaven, gradually illumining the steep mountain slopes, covered with the virgin snows.
To right and left loomed grim and mysterious chasms, and masses of mist, eddying and coiling like snakes, were creeping thither along the furrows of the neighbouring cliffs, as though sentient and fearful of the approach of day. We started off. The five lean jades dragged our wagons with difficulty along the tortuous road up Mount Get. We ourselves walked behind, placing stones under the wheels whenever the horses were spent.
The road seemed to lead into the sky, for, so far as the eye could discern, it still mounted up and up, until finally it was lost in the cloud which, since early evening, had been resting on the summit of Mount Get, like a kite awaiting its prey. The snow crunched under our feet.
The atmosphere grew so rarefied that to breathe was painful; ever and anon the blood rushed to my head, but withal a certain rapturous sensation was diffused throughout my veins and I felt a species of delight at being so high up above the world. A childish feeling, I admit, but, when we retire from the conventions of society and draw close to nature, we involuntarily become as children: each attribute acquired by experience falls away from the soul, which becomes anew such as it was once and will surely be again.
He whose lot it has been, as mine has been, to wander over the desolate mountains, long, long to observe their fantastic shapes, greedily to gulp down the life-giving air diffused through their ravines — he, of course, will understand my desire to communicate, to narrate, to sketch those magic pictures.
Well, at length we reached the summit of Mount Gut and, halting, looked around us. Upon the mountain a grey cloud was hanging, and its cold breath threatened the approach of a storm; but in the east everything was so clear and golden that we — that is, the staff-captain and I— forgot all about the cloud. Yes, the staff-captain too; in simple hearts the feeling for the beauty and grandeur of nature is a hundred-fold stronger and more vivid than in us, ecstatic composers of narratives in words and on paper. And, indeed, such a panorama I can hardly hope to see elsewhere.
Beneath us lay the Koishaur Valley, intersected by the Aragva and another stream as if by two silver threads; a bluish mist was gliding along the valley, fleeing into the neighbouring defiles from the warm rays of the morning. To right and left the mountain crests, towering higher and higher, intersected each other and stretched out, covered with snows and thickets; in the distance were the same mountains, which now, however, had the appearance of two cliffs, one like to the other.
And all these snows were burning in the crimson glow so merrily and so brightly that it seemed as though one could live in such a place for ever. The sun was scarcely visible behind the dark-blue mountain, which only a practised eye could distinguish from a thunder-cloud; but above the sun was a blood-red streak to which my companion directed particular attention. We must make haste, or perhaps it will catch us on Mount Krestov. Chains were put under the wheels in place of drags, so that they should not slide, the drivers took the horses by the reins, and the descent began.
I shuddered, as the thought occurred to me that often in the depth of night, on that very road, where two wagons could not pass, a courier drives some ten times a year without climbing down from his rickety vehicle. One of our drivers was a Russian peasant from Yaroslavl, the other, an Ossete. The latter took out the leaders in good time and led the shaft-horse by the reins, using every possible precaution — but our heedless compatriot did not even climb down from his box!
When I remarked to him that he might put himself out a bit, at least in the interests of my portmanteau, for which I had not the slightest desire to clamber down into the abyss, he answered:.
And he was right. We might just as easily have failed to arrive at all; but arrive we did, for all that. And if people would only reason a little more they would be convinced that life is not worth taking such a deal of trouble about. Perhaps, however, you would like to know the conclusion of the story of Bela? In the first place, this is not a novel, but a collection of travelling-notes, and, consequently, I cannot make the staff-captain tell the story sooner than he actually proceeded to tell it.
Therefore, you must wait a bit, or, if you like, turn over a few pages. Though I do not advise you to do the latter, because the crossing of Mount Krestov or, as the erudite Gamba calls it, le mont St. Well, then, we descended Mount Gut into the Chertov Valley. We found it choked with snow-drifts, which reminded us rather vividly of Saratov, Tambov, and other charming localities of our fatherland.
Upon the summit stood out the black outline of a stone cross, and past it led an all but imperceptible road which travellers use only when the side-road is obstructed with snow. Our drivers, declaring that no avalanches had yet fallen, spared the horses by conducting us round the mountain. At a turning we met four or five Ossetes, who offered us their services; and, catching hold of the wheels, proceeded, with a shout, to drag and hold up our cart.
And, indeed, it is a dangerous road; on the right were masses of snow hanging above us, and ready, it seemed, at the first squall of wind to break off and drop into the ravine; the narrow road was partly covered with snow, which, in many places, gave way under our feet and, in others, was converted into ice by the action of the sun by day and the frosts by night, so that the horses kept falling, and it was with difficulty that we ourselves made our way. On the left yawned a deep chasm, through which rolled a torrent, now hiding beneath a crust of ice, now leaping and foaming over the black rocks.
In two hours we were barely able to double Mount Krestov — two versts in two hours! Meanwhile the clouds had descended, hail and snow fell; the wind, bursting into the ravines, howled and whistled like Nightingale the Robber. Concerning that stone cross, by the way, there exists the strange, but widespread, tradition that it had been set up by the Emperor Peter the First when travelling through the Caucasus.
In the first place, however, the Emperor went no farther than Daghestan; and, in the second place, there is an inscription in large letters on the cross itself, to the effect that it had been erected by order of General Ermolov, and that too in the year Nevertheless, the tradition has taken such firm root, in spite of the inscription, that really you do not know what to believe; the more so, as it is not the custom to believe inscriptions.
To reach the station Kobi, we still had to descend about five versts, across ice-covered rocks and plashy snow. The horses were exhausted; we were freezing; the snowstorm droned with ever-increasing violence, exactly like the storms of our own northern land, only its wild melodies were sadder and more melancholy.
A Hero of Our Time | Summary & Analysis | kacinoqe.tk
There mayest thou unfold thy cold wings, but here thou art stifled and confined, like an eagle beating his wings, with a shriek, against the grating of his iron cage! At any moment we may tumble into an abyss or stick fast in a cleft; and a little lower down, I dare say, the Baidara has risen so high that there is no getting across it. Oh, this Asia, I know it! Like people, like rivers! The drivers, shouting and cursing, belaboured the horses, which snorted, resisted obstinately, and refused to budge on any account, notwithstanding the eloquence of the whips.
There is something black yonder on the slope — probably huts. Travellers always stop there in bad weather, sir.
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They are delighted to seize any pretext for extorting a tip! They scent out by instinct a chance of taking advantage of people. As if it was impossible to find the way without them! Accordingly we turned aside to the left, and, somehow or other, after a good deal of trouble, made our way to the wretched shelter, which consisted of two huts built of stone slabs and rubble, surrounded by a wall of the same material. Our ragged hosts received us with alacrity.
I learned afterwards that the Government supplies them with money and food upon condition that they put up travellers who are overtaken by storm. I am certain that what you have already told me was not the end of it. A story with such an unusual beginning must also have an unusual ending. Bela was a splendid girl. In the end I grew accustomed to her just as if she had been my own daughter, and she loved me. I must tell you that I have no family. So I was glad to have found someone to spoil.
She used to sing to us or dance the Lezginka. And what a dancer she was! Not one! Grigori Aleksandrovich dressed her up like a doll, petted and pampered her, and it was simply astonishing to see how pretty she grew while she lived with us. The sunburn disappeared from her face and hands, and a rosy colour came into her cheeks. What a merry girl she was! Always making fun of me, the little rogue! Heaven forgive her! Grigori Aleksandrovich, as I think I have already mentioned, was passionately fond of hunting; he was always craving to be off into the forest after boars or wild goats — but now it would be as much as he would do to go beyond the fortress rampart.
All at once, however, I saw that he was beginning again to have fits of abstraction, walking about his room with his hands clasped behind his back. One day after that, without telling anyone, he set off shooting. During the whole morning he was not to be seen; then the same thing happened another time, and so on — oftener and oftener. Bela was sitting on the bed, wearing a black silk jacket, and looking rather pale and so sad that I was alarmed.
At one time I fancied that he had been wounded by a wild boar, at another time, that he had been carried off by a Chechene into the mountains. But, now, I have come to think that he no longer loves me. I am not putting any constraint on him. You see it is impossible for him to stop in here with you for ever, as if he was sewn on to your petticoat. He is a young man and fond of hunting. But that did not last long either; she fell upon the bed again and buried her face in her hands.
You know I have never been accustomed to the society of women. For some time both of us remained silent. A most unpleasant situation, sir! We went, and walked in silence to and fro along the rampart of the fortress. At length she sat down on the sward, and I sat beside her. In truth, now, it is funny to think of it all! On one side, the wide clearing, seamed by a few clefts, was bounded by the forest which stretched out to the very ridge of the mountains.
Here and there, on the clearing, villages were to be seen sending forth their smoke, and there were droves of horses roaming about. On the other side flowed a tiny stream, and close to its banks came the dense undergrowth which covered the flinty heights joining the principal chain of the Caucasus. We sat in a corner of the bastion, so that we could see everything on both sides. Suddenly I perceived someone on a grey horse riding out of the forest; nearer and nearer he approached until finally he stopped on the far side of the river, about a hundred fathoms from us, and began to wheel his horse round and round like one possessed.
Who is it he has come to amuse? What are you spinning round like a humming-top for? Quite the contrary! My grenadier took aim. Just as the powder flashed in the pan Kazbich jogged his horse, which gave a bound to one side. He stood up in his stirrups, shouted something in his own language, made a threatening gesture with his whip — and was off. Bela threw herself on his neck without a single complaint, without a single reproach for his lengthy absence! Even I was angry with him by this time! How easily you might have run up against him, you know! These mountaineers are a vindictive race!
Do you suppose he does not guess that you gave Azamat some help? And I wager that he recognised Bela to-day! I was vexed that his feelings towards the poor girl had changed; to say nothing of his spending half the day hunting, his manner towards her had become cold. He rarely caressed her, and she was beginning perceptibly to pine away; her little face was becoming drawn, her large eyes growing dim.
I only know this, that if I am the cause of unhappiness in others I myself am no less unhappy. Of course, that is a poor consolation to them — only the fact remains that such is the case. In my early youth, from the moment I ceased to be under the guardianship of my relations, I began madly to enjoy all the pleasures which money could buy — and, of course, such pleasures became irksome to me. Then I launched out into the world of fashion — and that, too, soon palled upon me. I fell in love with fashionable beauties and was loved by them, but my imagination and egoism alone were aroused; my heart remained empty.
I began to read, to study — but sciences also became utterly wearisome to me. I saw that neither fame nor happiness depends on them in the least, because the happiest people are the uneducated, and fame is good fortune, to attain which you have only to be smart. Then I grew bored. Soon afterwards I was transferred to the Caucasus; and that was the happiest time of my life.
I hoped that under the bullets of the Chechenes boredom could not exist — a vain hope! In a month I grew so accustomed to the buzzing of the bullets and to the proximity of death that, to tell the truth, I paid more attention to the gnats — and I became more bored than ever, because I had lost what was almost my last hope.
When I saw Bela in my own house; when, for the first time, I held her on my knee and kissed her black locks, I, fool that I was, thought that she was an angel sent to me by sympathetic fate. Again I was mistaken; the love of a savage is little better than that of your lady of quality, the barbaric ignorance and simplicity of the one weary you as much as the coquetry of the other. I am not saying that I do not love her still; I am grateful to her for a few fairly sweet moments; I would give my life for her — only I am bored with her.
Whether I am a fool or a villain I know not; but this is certain, I am also most deserving of pity — perhaps more than she.
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My soul has been spoiled by the world, my imagination is unquiet, my heart insatiate. To me everything is of little moment. I become as easily accustomed to grief as to joy, and my life grows emptier day by day. One expedient only is left to me — travel. Heaven forfend! I shall go to America, to Arabia, to India — perchance I shall die somewhere on the way. At any rate, I am convinced that, thanks to storms and bad roads, that last consolation will not quickly be exhausted!
Is it possible that the young men there are all like that? I replied that there were a good many people who used the same sort of language, that, probably, there might even be some who spoke in all sincerity; that disillusionment, moreover, like all other vogues, having had its beginning in the higher strata of society, had descended to the lower, where it was being worn threadbare, and that, now, those who were really and truly bored strove to conceal their misfortune as if it were a vice.
The staff-captain did not understand these subtleties, shook his head, and smiled slyly. Involuntarily I recalled to mind a certain lady, living in Moscow, who used to maintain that Byron was nothing more nor less than a drunkard. For a long time I refused.
What novelty was a wild boar to me? We took four or five soldiers and set out early in the morning. It is evident enough that we have happened on an unlucky day! That is just the kind of man he was; whatever he set his heart on he had to have — evidently, in his childhood, he had been spoiled by an indulgent mother. At last, at midday, we discovered one of those cursed wild boars — Bang! That was an unlucky day, to be sure! So, after a short rest, we set off homeward. We had almost reached the fortress, and only the brushwood concealed it from view. Suddenly a shot rang out.
We glanced at each other, both struck with the self-same suspicion. We galloped headlong in the direction of the shot, looked, and saw the soldiers clustered together on the rampart and pointing towards a field, along which a rider was flying at full speed, holding something white across his saddle. Grigori Aleksandrovich yelled like any Chechene, whipped his gun from its cover, and gave chase — I after him.
At length I recognised Kazbich, only I could not make out what it was that he was holding in front of him. I fancy at that moment he remembered his Karagyoz! Always taking fire at the wrong moment! It gave a few fiery leaps forward, stumbled, and fell to its knees. Kazbich sprang off, and then we perceived that it was a woman he was holding in his arms — a woman wrapped in a veil. It was Bela — poor Bela! He shouted something to us in his own language and raised his dagger over her. Delay was useless; I fired in my turn, at haphazard. Probably the bullet struck him in the shoulder, because he dropped his hand suddenly.
When the smoke cleared off, we could see the wounded horse lying on the ground and Bela beside it; but Kazbich, his gun flung away, was clambering like a cat up the cliff, through the brushwood. We jumped off our horses and rushed to Bela. Poor girl! She was lying motionless, and the blood was pouring in streams from her wound. The villain! If he had struck her to the heart — well and good, everything would at least have been finished there and then; but to stab her in the back like that — the scoundrel! She was unconscious. We tore the veil into strips and bound up the wound as tightly as we could.
In vain Pechorin kissed her cold lips — it was impossible to bring her to. The latter was drunk, but he came, examined the wound, and announced that she could not live more than a day. He was mistaken, though. It was a very hot day, you know, and she sat on a rock and dipped her feet in the water. Up crept Kazbich, pounced upon her, silenced her, and dragged her into the bushes. Then he sprang on his horse and made off. In the meantime she succeeded in crying out, the sentries took the alarm, fired, but wide of the mark; and thereupon we arrived on the scene.
They may not want a thing, but they will steal it, for all that. And, besides, he had been in love with her for a long time. We were sitting by her bed. As soon as ever she opened her eyes she began to call Pechorin. She shook her little head and turned to the wall — she did not want to die!
She talked incoherently about her father, her brother; she yearned for the mountains, for her home. Then she spoke of Pechorin also, called him various fond names, or reproached him for having ceased to love his janechka. He listened to her in silence, his head sunk in his hands; but yet, during the whole time, I did not notice a single tear-drop on his lashes. I do not know whether he was actually unable to weep or was mastering himself; but for my part I have never seen anything more pitiful.
For an hour or so she lay motionless, pale, and so weak that it was hardly possible to observe that she was breathing. After that she grew better and began to talk: only about what, think you?
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Such thoughts come only to the dying! She lamented that she was not a Christian, that in the other world her soul would never meet the soul of Grigori Aleksandrovich, and that in Paradise another woman would be his companion. The thought occurred to me to baptize her before her death.
I told her my idea; she looked at me undecidedly, and for a long time was unable to utter a word. Finally she answered that she would die in the faith in which she had been born. A whole day passed thus. What a change that day made in her! Her pale cheeks fell in, her eyes grew ever so large, her lips burned.
She felt a consuming heat within her, as though a red-hot blade was piercing her breast. We did not close our eyes or leave the bedside. She suffered terribly, and groaned; and directly the pain began to abate she endeavoured to assure Grigori Aleksandrovich that she felt better, tried to persuade him to go to bed, kissed his hand and would not let it out of hers. Before the morning she began to feel the death agony and to toss about. She knocked the bandage off, and the blood flowed afresh.
When the wound was bound up again she grew quiet for a moment and begged Pechorin to kiss her. He fell on his knees beside the bed, raised her head from the pillow, and pressed his lips to hers — which were growing cold. She threw her trembling arms closely round his neck, as if with that kiss she wished to yield up her soul to him. Why, what would have become of her if Grigori Aleksandrovich had abandoned her?
And that is what would have happened, sooner or later. We opened the windows, but it was hotter outside than in the room; we placed ice round the bed — all to no purpose. I knew that that intolerable thirst was a sign of the approaching end, and I told Pechorin so. Yes, my friend, many a time have I seen people die in hospitals or on the field of battle, but this was something altogether different!
Still, this one thing grieves me, I must confess: she died without even once calling me to mind. Yet I loved her, I should think, like a father! Well, God forgive her! And, to tell the truth, what am I that she should have remembered me when she was dying? We put a looking-glass to her lips — it was undimmed! For a long time we walked side by side, to and fro, speaking not a word and with our hands clasped behind our backs.
His face expressed nothing out of the common — and that vexed me. Had I been in his place, I should have died of grief. At length he sat down on the ground in the shade and began to draw something in the sand with his stick. He raised his head and burst into a laugh! At that laugh a cold shudder ran through me. I went away to order a coffin. I possessed a little piece of Circassian stuff, and I covered the coffin with it, and decked it with some Circassian silver lace which Grigori Aleksandrovich had bought for Bela herself. Around her little grave white acacia shrubs and elder-trees have now grown up.
I should have liked to erect a cross, but that would not have done, you know — after all, she was not a Christian. I saw that it would be disagreeable to him, so what would have been the use? About three months later he was appointed to the E—— Regiment, and departed for Georgia. We have never met since. Yet, when I come to think of it, somebody told me not long ago that he had returned to Russia — but it was not in the general orders for the corps. Besides, to the like of us news is late in coming. Hereupon — probably to drown sad memories — he launched forth into a lengthy dissertation on the unpleasantness of learning news a year late.
The snowstorm subsided, the sky became clear, and we set off. On the way I involuntarily let the conversation turn on Bela and Pechorin. I have heard that with the Shapsugs, on our right flank, there is a certain Kazbich, a dare-devil fellow who rides about at a walking pace, in a red tunic, under our bullets, and bows politely whenever one hums near him — but it can scarcely be the same person! In Kobi, Maksim Maksimych and I parted company. I posted on, and he, on account of his heavy luggage, was unable to follow me. We had no expectation of ever meeting again, but meet we did, and, if you like, I will tell you how — it is quite a history.
You must acknowledge, though, that Maksim Maksimych is a man worthy of all respect. If you admit that, I shall be fully rewarded for my, perhaps, too lengthy story. I spare you a description of the mountains, as well as exclamations which convey no meaning, and word-paintings which convey no image — especially to those who have never been in the Caucasus. I also omit statistical observations, which I am quite sure nobody would read.
I put up at the inn which is frequented by all who travel in those parts, and where, by the way, there is no one you can order to roast your pheasant and cook your cabbage-soup, because the three veterans who have charge of the inn are either so stupid, or so drunk, that it is impossible to knock any sense at all out of them. What a misadventure! But a bad pun is no consolation to a Russian, and, for the sake of something to occupy my thoughts, I took it into my head to write down the story about Bela, which I had heard from Maksim Maksimych — never imagining that it would be the first link in a long chain of novels: you see how an insignificant event has sometimes dire results!
It is a convoy — composed of half a company of infantry, with a cannon — which escorts baggage-trains through Kabardia from Vladikavkaz to Ekaterinograd. The first day I found the time hang on my hands dreadfully. Early next morning a vehicle drove into the courtyard. Maksim Maksimych! We met like a couple of old friends. I offered to share my own room with him, and he accepted my hospitality without standing upon ceremony; he even clapped me on the shoulder and puckered up his mouth by way of a smile — a queer fellow, that! Maksim Maksimych was profoundly versed in the culinary art.
He roasted the pheasant astonishingly well and basted it successfully with cucumber sauce. I was obliged to acknowledge that, but for him, I should have had to remain on a dry-food diet. A bottle of Kakhetian wine helped us to forget the modest number of dishes — of which there was one, all told.
Then we lit our pipes, took our chairs, and sat down — I by the window, and he by the stove, in which a fire had been lighted because the day was damp and cold. We remained silent. What had we to talk about? He had already told me all that was of interest about himself and I had nothing to relate.
I looked out of the window. I took a mental farewell of them; I felt sorry to leave them. Thus we sat for a considerable time. The sun was sinking behind the cold summits and a whitish mist was beginning to spread over the valleys, when the silence was broken by the jingling of the bell of a travelling-carriage and the shouting of drivers in the street. A few vehicles, accompanied by dirty Armenians, drove into the courtyard of the inn, and behind them came an empty travelling-carriage. Its light movement, comfortable arrangement, and elegant appearance gave it a kind of foreign stamp.
Behind it walked a man with large moustaches. He was wearing a Hungarian jacket and was rather well dressed for a manservant. From the bold manner in which he shook the ashes out of his pipe and shouted at the coachman it was impossible to mistake his calling. He was obviously the spoiled servant of an indolent master — something in the nature of a Russian Figaro. He gave me a rather insolent glance, straightened his cravat, and turned away.
You can see that he is unacquainted with our little mountains! They are not for the like of you; why, they would shake even an English carriage to bits! Let us go and find out. We went out into the corridor, at the end of which there was an open door leading into a side room. The manservant and a driver were dragging portmanteaux into the room. Without turning round the manservant growled something to himself as he undid a portmanteau. Maksim Maksimych grew angry. Did he not serve in the Caucasus? His eyes were sparkling with joy. Just so! Grigori Aleksandrovich?
But where has he put up? The manservant made a scornful face on hearing such a modest promise, but he assured Maksim Maksimych that he would execute his commission. Maksim Maksimych sat down on a little bench outside the gate, and I went to my room. Still, certain traits in his character struck me as remarkable. His man has been gone a long time now, but evidently something has detained him.
The staff-captain hurriedly sipped a cup of tea, refused a second, and went off again outside the gate — not without a certain amount of disquietude. It was already late and dark when I opened the window again and began to call Maksim Maksimych, saying that it was time to go to bed. He muttered something through his teeth. I repeated my invitation — he made no answer. I left a candle on the stove-seat, and, wrapping myself up in my cloak, I lay down on the couch and soon fell into slumber; and I would have slept on quietly had not Maksim Maksimych awakened me as he came into the room.
It was then very late. He threw his pipe on the table, began to walk up and down the room, and to rattle about at the stove. At last he lay down, but for a long time he kept coughing, spitting, and tossing about. I woke early the next morning, but Maksim Maksimych had anticipated me. I found him sitting on the little bench at the gate. I gave my promise. He ran off as if his limbs had regained their youthful strength and suppleness. The morning was fresh and lovely. Golden clouds had massed themselves on the mountaintops like a new range of aerial mountains.
Before the gate a wide square spread out; behind it the bazaar was seething with people, the day being Sunday. Barefooted Ossete boys, carrying wallets of honeycomb on their shoulders, were hovering around me. Before ten minutes had passed the man we were awaiting appeared at the end of the square. He was walking with Colonel N. I immediately despatched one of the old soldiers for Maksim Maksimych. His master lit a cigar, yawned once or twice, and sat down on the bench on the other side of the gate. I must now draw his portrait for you.
He was of medium height. His shapely, slim figure and broad shoulders gave evidence of a strong constitution, capable of enduring all the hardships of a nomad life and changes of climates, and of resisting with success both the demoralising effects of life in the Capital and the tempests of the soul. His velvet overcoat, which was covered with dust, was fastened by the two lower buttons only, and exposed to view linen of dazzling whiteness, which proved that he had the habits of a gentleman.
His gloves, soiled by travel, seemed as though made expressly for his small, aristocratic hand, and when he took one glove off I was astonished at the thinness of his pale fingers. His gait was careless and indolent, but I noticed that he did not swing his arms — a sure sign of a certain secretiveness of character. These remarks, however, are the result of my own observations, and I have not the least desire to make you blindly believe in them. When he was in the act of seating himself on the bench his upright figure bent as if there was not a single bone in his back.
From my first glance at his face I should not have supposed his age to be more than twenty-three, though afterwards I should have put it down as thirty. His smile had something of a child-like quality. His skin possessed a kind of feminine delicacy. His fair hair, naturally curly, most picturesquely outlined his pale and noble brow, on which it was only after lengthy observation that traces could be noticed of wrinkles, intersecting each other: probably they showed up more distinctly in moments of anger or mental disturbance.
Notwithstanding the light colour of his hair, his moustaches and eyebrows were black — a sign of breeding in a man, just as a black mane and a black tail in a white horse. To complete the portrait, I will add that he had a slightly turned-up nose, teeth of dazzling whiteness, and brown eyes — I must say a few words more about his eyes. In the first place, they never laughed when he laughed. Have you not happened, yourself, to notice the same peculiarity in certain people? It is a sign either of an evil disposition or of deep and constant grief.
From behind his half-lowered eyelashes they shone with a kind of phosphorescent gleam — if I may so express myself — which was not the reflection of a fervid soul or of a playful fancy, but a glitter like to that of smooth steel, blinding but cold. His glance — brief, but piercing and heavy — left the unpleasant impression of an indiscreet question and might have seemed insolent had it not been so unconcernedly tranquil.
It may be that all these remarks came into my mind only after I had known some details of his life, and it may be, too, that his appearance would have produced an entirely different impression upon another; but, as you will not hear of him from anyone except myself, you will have to rest content, nolens volens, with the description I have given.
In conclusion, I will say that, speaking generally, he was a very good-looking man, and had one of those original types of countenance which are particularly pleasing to women. Fortunately Pechorin was sunk in thought as he gazed at the jagged, blue peaks of the Caucasus, and was apparently by no means in a hurry for the road.
I looked in the direction of the square and there I descried Maksim Maksimych running as hard as he could. In a few moments he was beside us. He was scarcely able to breathe; perspiration was rolling in large drops from his face; wet tufts of grey hair, escaping from under his cap, were glued to his forehead; his knees were shaking. He was still unable to speak. But where are you off to? Wait a little, my dear fellow! Surely we are not going to part at once? What a long time it is since we have seen each other!
But where are you going to in such a hurry? There was so much I should have liked to tell you! So much to question you about! Well, what of yourself? Have you retired? How have you been getting along? A splendid country for hunting! You were awfully fond of shooting, you know! And Bela? We will have a talk. You will tell me about your life in Petersburg. However, good-bye, it is time for me to be off.
Theatre review: A Hero Of Our Time, C royale
I am in a hurry. Well, God be with you! It is not like this that I thought we should meet. That will do, that will do! What can we do?
Everyone must go his own way. Are we ever going to meet again? While saying this he had taken his seat in the carriage, and the coachman was already gathering up the reins. Your papers were left with me, Grigori Aleksandrovich. I drag them about everywhere I go. I thought I should find you in Georgia, but this is where it has pleased Heaven that we should meet. But when will you return? By this time the carriage was a long way off, but Pechorin made a sign with his hand which might be interpreted as meaning:.
The jingle of the bell and the clatter of the wheels along the flinty road had long ceased to be audible, but the poor old man still remained standing in the same place, deep in thought. What could I be to him? What a carriage! What a quantity of luggage! And such a haughty manservant too! Come, what the devil is he off to Persia for now?
Good Lord, it is ridiculous — ridiculous! But I always knew that he was a fickle man, and one you could never rely on! But, indeed, it is a pity that he should come to a bad end. I always did say that there is no good to be got out of a man who forgets his old friends! Hereupon he turned away in order to hide his agitation and proceeded to walk about the courtyard, around his cart, pretending to be examining the wheels, whilst his eyes kept filling with tears every moment. He looked at me in surprise, growled something through his teeth, and began to rummage in his portmanteau.
Out he drew a writing-book and threw it contemptuously on the ground; then a second — a third — a tenth shared the same fate. There was something childish in his vexation, and it struck me as ridiculous and pitiable. What is it to me? Am I a friend or relation of his? It is true that for a long time we lived under one roof. I seized the papers and lost no time in carrying them away, fearing that the staff-captain might repent his action. I ordered the horses to be put to.
I had already put my cap on when the staff-captain entered the room. Apparently he had not got ready for departure. His manner was somewhat cold and constrained. I understood. You young men are fashionable and proud: under the Circassian bullets you are friendly enough with us. We took a rather cold farewell of each other. The kind-hearted Maksim Maksimych had become the obstinate, cantankerous staff-captain!
And why? Because Pechorin, through absent-mindedness or from some other cause, had extended his hand to him when Maksim Maksimych was going to throw himself on his neck! Sad it is to see when a young man loses his best hopes and dreams, when from before his eyes is withdrawn the rose-hued veil through which he has looked upon the deeds and feelings of mankind; although there is the hope that the old illusions will be replaced by new ones, none the less evanescent, but, on the other hand, none the less sweet.
But wherewith can they be replaced when one is at the age of Maksim Maksimych? Do what you will, the heart hardens and the soul shrinks in upon itself. Heaven grant that my readers may not punish me for such an innocent deception! I must now give some explanation of the reasons which have induced me to betray to the public the inmost secrets of a man whom I never knew. If I had even been his friend, well and good: the artful indiscretion of the true friend is intelligible to everybody; but I only saw Pechorin once in my life — on the high-road — and, consequently, I cannot cherish towards him that inexplicable hatred, which, hiding its face under the mask of friendship, awaits but the death or misfortune of the beloved object to burst over its head in a storm of reproaches, admonitions, scoffs and regrets.
On reading over these notes, I have become convinced of the sincerity of the man who has so unsparingly exposed to view his own weaknesses and vices. And, so, it is nothing but the desire to be useful that has constrained me to print fragments of this diary which fell into my hands by chance. Although I have altered all the proper names, those who are mentioned in it will probably recognise themselves, and, it may be, will find some justification for actions for which they have hitherto blamed a man who has ceased henceforth to have anything in common with this world. We almost always excuse that which we understand.
There still remains in my hands a thick writing-book in which he tells the story of his whole life. Some time or other that, too, will present itself before the tribunal of the world, but, for many and weighty reasons, I do not venture to take such a responsibility upon myself now. My answer is: the title of this book.
I know not. Taman is the nastiest little hole of all the seaports of Russia. I was all but starved there, to say nothing of having a narrow escape of being drowned. I arrived late at night by the post-car. I explained that I was an officer bound for the active-service detachment on Government business, and I proceeded to demand official quarters. The headborough conducted us round the town. Whatever hut we drove up to we found to be occupied.
The weather was cold; I had not slept for three nights; I was tired out, and I began to lose my temper. It is uncanny! Failing to grasp the exact signification of the last phrase, I ordered him to go on, and, after a lengthy peregrination through muddy byways, at the sides of which I could see nothing but old fences, we drove up to a small cabin, right on the shore of the sea.
The full moon was shining on the little reed-thatched roof and the white walls of my new dwelling. In the courtyard, which was surrounded by a wall of rubble-stone, there stood another miserable hovel, smaller and older than the first and all askew. The shore descended precipitously to the sea, almost from its very walls, and down below, with incessant murmur, plashed the dark-blue waves. The moon gazed softly upon the watery element, restless but obedient to it, and I was able by its light to distinguish two ships lying at some distance from the shore, their black rigging motionless and standing out, like cobwebs, against the pale line of the horizon.
I had with me, in the capacity of soldier-servant, a Cossack of the frontier army. Ordering him to take down the portmanteau and dismiss the driver, I began to call the master of the house. No answer! I knocked — all was silent within! What could it mean? At length a boy of about fourteen crept out from the hall.
The door opened of its own accord, and a breath of moisture-laden air was wafted from the hut. It lit up two white eyes. He was totally blind, obviously so from birth. He stood stock-still before me, and I began to examine his features. I confess that I have a violent prejudice against all blind, one-eyed, deaf, dumb, legless, armless, hunchbacked, and such-like people. But what could be read upon a face from which the eyes are missing? For a long time I gazed at him with involuntary compassion, when suddenly a scarcely perceptible smile flitted over his thin lips, producing, I know not why, a most unpleasant impression upon me.
I began to feel a suspicion that the blind boy was not so blind as he appeared to be. In vain I endeavoured to convince myself that it was impossible to counterfeit cataracts; and besides, what reason could there be for doing such a thing? But I could not help my suspicions. I am easily swayed by prejudice. I entered the hut. Its whole furniture consisted of two benches and a table, together with an enormous chest beside the stove.
There was not a single ikon to be seen on the wall — a bad sign! The sea-wind burst in through the broken window-pane. I drew a wax candle-end from my portmanteau, lit it, and began to put my things out. My sabre and gun I placed in a corner, my pistols I laid on the table. I spread my felt cloak out on one bench, and the Cossack his on the other. In ten minutes the latter was snoring, but I could not go to sleep — the image of the boy with the white eyes kept hovering before me in the dark. About an hour passed thus. The moon shone in at the window and its rays played along the earthen floor of the hut.
Suddenly a shadow flitted across the bright strip of moonshine which intersected the floor. I raised myself up a little and glanced out of the window. Again somebody ran by it and disappeared — goodness knows where! It seemed impossible for anyone to descend the steep cliff overhanging the shore, but that was the only thing that could have happened. I rose, threw on my tunic, girded on a dagger, and with the utmost quietness went out of the hut.
The blind boy was coming towards me. I hid by the fence, and he passed by me with a sure but cautious step. He was carrying a parcel under his arm. He turned towards the harbour and began to descend a steep and narrow path. Meanwhile the moon was becoming overcast by clouds and a mist had risen upon the sea. The lantern alight in the stern of a ship close at hand was scarcely visible through the mist, and by the shore there glimmered the foam of the waves, which every moment threatened to submerge it.
Descending with difficulty, I stole along the steep declivity, and all at once I saw the blind boy come to a standstill and then turn down to the right. But, judging by the confidence with which he stepped from rock to rock and avoided the water-channels, this was evidently not the first time that he had made that journey. Finally he stopped, as though listening for something, squatted down upon the ground, and laid the parcel beside him.
Concealing myself behind a projecting rock on the shore, I kept watch on his movements. After a few minutes a white figure made its appearance from the opposite direction. It came up to the blind boy and sat down beside him. At times the wind wafted their conversation to me. An interval of silence followed. One thing, however, struck me — in talking to me the blind boy spoke in the Little Russian dialect, but now he was expressing himself in pure Russian. Just listen! I confess that, much as I tried to make out in the distance something resembling a boat, my efforts were unsuccessful.
About ten minutes passed thus, when a black speck appeared between the mountains of the waves! At one time it grew larger, at another smaller. Slowly rising upon the crests of the waves and swiftly descending from them, the boat drew near to the shore. Reflecting thus, I gazed with an involuntary beating of the heart at the poor boat. It dived like a duck, and then, with rapidly swinging oars — like wings — it sprang forth from the abyss amid the splashes of the foam.
Out of it stepped a man of medium height, wearing a Tartar sheepskin cap. He waved his hand, and all three set to work to drag something out of the boat. The cargo was so large that, to this day, I cannot understand how it was that the boat did not sink. Each of them shouldered a bundle, and they set off along the shore, and I soon lost sight of them.
I had to return home; but I confess I was rendered uneasy by all these strange happenings, and I found it hard to await the morning. My Cossack was very much astonished when, on waking up, he saw me fully dressed. I did not, however, tell him the reason. For some time I stood at the window, gazing admiringly at the blue sky all studded with wisps of cloud, and at the distant shore of the Crimea, stretching out in a lilac-coloured streak and ending in a cliff, on the summit of which the white tower of the lighthouse was gleaming.
Then I betook myself to the fortress, Phanagoriya, in order to ascertain from the Commandant at what hour I should depart for Gelenjik. But the Commandant, alas! The vessels lying in the harbour were all either guard-ships or merchant-vessels which had not yet even begun to take in lading. And, indeed, what sort of a blind boy is that? He goes everywhere alone, to fetch water and to buy bread at the bazaar. It is evident they have become accustomed to that sort of thing here. I entered the hovel. A blazing fire was burning in the stove, and they were cooking a dinner which struck me as being a rather luxurious one for poor people.
To all my questions the old woman replied that she was deaf and could not hear me. There was nothing to be got out of her. I turned to the blind boy who was sitting in front of the stove, putting twigs into the fire. I did not go anywhere. With the bundle? What bundle? What are you touching him for? Shappi Khorsandi. Gina Miller. Our view. Sign the petition. Spread the word. Steve Coogan. Rugby union. Motor racing. US sports. Rugby League. Movers List. Geoffrey Macnab. Tech news. Tech culture. News videos. Explainer videos. Sport videos. Money transfers.
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