A Hero of Our Time
M. Y. Lermontov
Part 5 out of 5
I SOMETIMES despise myself. . . Is not that
the reason why I despise others also? . . .
I have grown incapable of noble impulses; I
am afraid of appearing ridiculous to myself. In
my place, another would have offered Princess
Mary son coeur et sa fortune; but over me the
word "marry" has a kind of magical power.
However passionately I love a woman, if she only
gives me to feel that I have to marry her -- then
farewell, love! My heart is turned to stone, and
nothing will warm it anew. I am prepared for
any other sacrifice but that; my life twenty times
over, nay, my honour I would stake on the for-
tune of a card . . . but my freedom I will never
sell. Why do I prize it so highly? What is there
in it to me? For what am I preparing myself?
What do I hope for from the future? . . . In
truth, absolutely nothing. It is a kind of innate
dread, an inexplicable prejudice. . . There are
people, you know, who have an unaccountable
dread of spiders, beetles, mice. . . Shall I con-
fess it? When I was but a child, a certain old
woman told my fortune to my mother. She pre-
dicted for me death from a wicked wife. I was
profoundly struck by her words at the time: an
irresistible repugnance to marriage was born with-
in my soul. . . Meanwhile, something tells me
that her prediction will be realized; I will try, at
all events, to arrange that it shall be realized as
late in life as possible.
YESTERDAY, the conjurer Apfelbaum ar-
rived here. A long placard made its appear-
ance on the door of the restaurant, informing the
most respected public that the above-mentioned
marvellous conjurer, acrobat, chemist, and opti-
cian would have the honour to give a magnificent
performance on the present day at eight o'clock
in the evening, in the saloon of the Nobles' Club
(in other words, the restaurant); tickets -- two
rubles and a half each.
Everyone intends to go and see the marvellous
conjurer; even Princess Ligovski has taken a
ticket for herself, in spite of her daughter being
After dinner to-day, I walked past Vera's win-
dows; she was sitting by herself on the balcony.
A note fell at my feet:
"Come to me at ten o'clock this evening by the
large staircase. My husband has gone to Pyati-
gorsk and will not return before to-morrow morn-
ing. My servants and maids will not be at home;
I have distributed tickets to all of them, and to
the princess's servants as well. I await you; come
"Aha!" I said to myself, "so then it has
turned out at last as I thought it would."
At eight o'clock I went to see the conjurer.
The public assembled before the stroke of nine.
The performance began. On the back rows of
chairs I recognized Vera's and Princess Ligovski's
menservants and maids. They were all there,
every single one. Grushnitski, with his lorgnette,
was sitting in the front row, and the conjurer
had recourse to him every time he needed a hand-
kerchief, a watch, a ring and so forth.
For some time past, Grushnitski has ceased to
bow to me, and to-day he has looked at me rather
insolently once or twice. It will all be remem-
bered to him when we come to settle our scores.
Before ten o'clock had struck, I stood up and
It was dark outside, pitch dark. Cold, heavy
clouds were lying on the summit of the surround-
ing mountains, and only at rare intervals did the
dying breeze rustle the tops of the poplars which
surrounded the restaurant. People were crowd-
ing at the windows. I went down the mountain
and, turning in under the gate, I hastened my
pace. Suddenly it seemed to me that somebody
was following my steps. I stopped and looked
round. It was impossible to make out anything
in the darkness. However, out of caution, I
walked round the house, as if taking a stroll.
Passing Princess Mary's windows, I again heard
steps behind me; a man wrapped in a cloak ran
by me. That rendered me uneasy, but I crept
up to the flight of steps, and hastily mounted the
dark staircase. A door opened, and a little hand
seized mine. . .
"Nobody has seen you?" said Vera in a
whisper, clinging to me.
"Now do you believe that I love you? Oh!
I have long hesitated, long tortured myself. . .
But you can do anything you like with me."
Her heart was beating violently, her hands were
cold as ice. She broke out into complaints and
jealous reproaches. She demanded that I should
confess everything to her, saying that she would
bear my faithlessness with submission, because
her sole desire was that I should be happy. I did
not quite believe that, but I calmed her with
oaths, promises and so on.
"So you will not marry Mary? You do not
love her? . . . But she thinks. . . Do you
know, she is madly in love with you, poor
girl!" . . .
. . . . .
About two o'clock in the morning I opened the
window and, tying two shawls together, I let my-
self down from the upper balcony to the lower,
holding on by the pillar. A light was still burn-
ing in Princess Mary's room. Something drew
me towards that window. The curtain was not
quite drawn, and I was able to cast a curious
glance into the interior of the room. Mary was
sitting on her bed, her hands crossed upon her
knees; her thick hair was gathered up under a
lace-frilled nightcap; her white shoulders were
covered by a large crimson kerchief, and her little
feet were hidden in a pair of many-coloured
Persian slippers. She was sitting quite still, her
head sunk upon her breast; on a little table in
front of her was an open book; but her eyes,
fixed and full of inexpressible grief, seemed for
the hundredth time to be skimming the same
page whilst her thoughts were far away.
At that moment somebody stirred behind a
shrub. I leaped from the balcony on to the
sward. An invisible hand seized me by the
"Aha!" said a rough voice: "caught! . . .
I'll teach you to be entering princesses' rooms at
"Hold him fast!" exclaimed another, spring-
ing out from a corner.
It was Grushnitski and the captain of dragoons.
I struck the latter on the head with my fist,
knocked him off his feet, and darted into the
bushes. All the paths of the garden which covered
the slope opposite our houses were known to me.
"Thieves, guard!" . . . they cried.
A gunshot rang out; a smoking wad fell almost
at my feet.
Within a minute I was in my own room,
undressed and in bed. My manservant had only
just locked the door when Grushnitski and the
captain began knocking for admission.
"Pechorin! Are you asleep? Are you
there?" . . . cried the captain.
"I am in bed," I answered angrily.
"Get up! Thieves! . . . Circassians!" . . .
"I have a cold," I answered. "I am afraid of
catching a chill."
They went away. I had gained no useful pur-
pose by answering them: they would have been
looking for me in the garden for another hour
Meanwhile the alarm became terrific. A
Cossack galloped up from the fortress. The com-
motion was general; Circassians were looked for
in every shrub -- and of course none were found.
Probably, however, a good many people were left
with the firm conviction that, if only more
courage and despatch had been shown by the
garrison, at least a score of brigands would have
failed to get away with their lives.
THIS morning, at the well, the sole topic of
conversation was the nocturnal attack by
the Circassians. I drank the appointed number
of glasses of Narzan water, and, after sauntering
a few times about the long linden avenue, I met
Vera's husband, who had just arrived from Pyati-
gorsk. He took my arm and we went to the
restaurant for breakfast. He was dreadfully un-
easy about his wife.
"What a terrible fright she had last night,"
he said. "Of course, it was bound to happen
just at the very time when I was absent."
We sat down to breakfast near the door leading
into a corner-room in which about a dozen young
men were sitting. Grushnitski was amongst them.
For the second time destiny provided me with
the opportunity of overhearing a conversation
which was to decide his fate. He did not see me,
and, consequently, it was impossible for me to
suspect him of design; but that only magnified
his fault in my eyes.
"Is it possible, though, that they were really
Circassians?" somebody said. "Did anyone see
"I will tell you the whole truth," answered
Grushnitski: "only please do not betray me. This
is how it was: yesterday, a certain man, whose
name I will not tell you, came up to me and told
me that, at ten o'clock in the evening, he had seen
somebody creeping into the Ligovskis' house. I
must observe that Princess Ligovski was here, and
Princess Mary at home. So he and I set off to
wait beneath the windows and waylay the lucky
I confess I was frightened, although my com-
panion was very busily engaged with his break-
fast: he might have heard things which he would
have found rather displeasing, if Grushnitski had
happened to guess the truth; but, blinded by
jealousy, the latter did not even suspect it.
"So, do you see?" Grushnitski continued.
"We set off, taking with us a gun, loaded with
blank cartridge, so as just to give him a fright.
We waited in the garden till two o'clock. At
length -- goodness knows, indeed, where he ap-
peared from, but he must have come out by the
glass door which is behind the pillar; it was not
out of the window that he came, because the
window had remained unopened -- at length, I
say, we saw someone getting down from the
balcony. . . What do you think of Princess
Mary -- eh? Well, I admit, it is hardly what you
might expect from Moscow ladies! After that
what can you believe? We were going to seize
him, but he broke away and darted like a hare
into the shrubs. Thereupon I fired at him."
There was a general murmur of incredulity.
"You do not believe it?" he continued. "I
give you my word of honour as a gentleman that
it is all perfectly true, and, in proof, I will tell
you the man's name if you like."
"Tell us, tell us, who was he?" came from
"Pechorin," answered Grushnitski.
At that moment he raised his eyes -- I was stand-
ing in the doorway opposite to him. He grew
terribly red. I went up to him and said, slowly
"I am very sorry that I did not come in before
you had given your word of honour in confirma-
tion of a most abominable calumny: my presence
would have saved you from that further act of
Grushnitski jumped up from his seat and
seemed about to fly into a passion.
"I beg you," I continued in the same tone:
"I beg you at once to retract what you have
said; you know very well that it is all an inven-
tion. I do not think that a woman's indifference
to your brilliant merits should deserve so terrible
a revenge. Bethink you well: if you maintain
your present attitude, you will lose the right to
the name of gentleman and will risk your
Grushnitski stood before me in violent agita-
tion, his eyes cast down. But the struggle be-
tween his conscience and his vanity was of short
duration. The captain of dragoons, who was sit-
ting beside him, nudged him with his elbow.
Grushnitski started, and answered rapidly, with-
out raising his eyes:
"My dear sir, what I say, I mean, and I am
prepared to repeat. . . I am not afraid of your
menaces and am ready for anything."
"The latter you have already proved," I an-
swered coldly; and, taking the captain of dra-
goons by the arm, I left the room.
"What do you want?" asked the captain.
"You are Grushnitski's friend and will no
doubt be his second?"
The captain bowed very gravely.
"You have guessed rightly," he answered.
"Moreover, I am bound to be his second, because
the insult offered to him touches myself also. I
was with him last night," he added, straightening
up his stooping figure.
"Ah! So it was you whose head I struck so
clumsily?" . . .
He turned yellow in the face, then blue; sup-
pressed rage was portrayed upon his counte-
"I shall have the honour to send my second to
you to-day," I added, bowing adieu to him very
politely, without appearing to have noticed his
On the restaurant-steps I met Vera's husband.
Apparently he had been waiting for me.
He seized my hand with a feeling akin to
"Noble young man!" he said, with tears in his
eyes. "I have heard everything. What a scoun-
drel! Ingrate! . . . Just fancy such people
being admitted into a decent household after
this! Thank God I have no daughters! But she
for whom you are risking your life will reward
you. Be assured of my constant discretion," he
continued. "I have been young myself and
have served in the army: I know that these
affairs must take their course. Good-bye."
Poor fellow! He is glad that he has no
daughters! . . .
I went straight to Werner, found him at home,
and told him the whole story -- my relations with
Vera and Princess Mary, and the conversation
which I had overheard and from which I had
learned the intention of these gentlemen to make
a fool of me by causing me to fight a duel with
blank cartridges. But, now, the affair had gone
beyond the bounds of jest; they probably had
not expected that it would turn out like this.
The doctor consented to be my second; I gave
him a few directions with regard to the condi-
tions of the duel. He was to insist upon the
affair being managed with all possible secrecy, be-
cause, although I am prepared, at any moment,
to face death, I am not in the least disposed to
spoil for all time my future in this world.
After that I went home. In an hour's time the
doctor returned from his expedition.
"There is indeed a conspiracy against you," he
said. "I found the captain of dragoons at Grush-
nitski's, together with another gentleman whose
surname I do not remember. I stopped a moment
in the ante-room, in order to take off my goloshes.
They were squabbling and making a terrible up-
roar. 'On no account will I agree,' Grushnitski
was saying: 'he has insulted me publicly; it was
quite a different thing before' . . .
"'What does it matter to you?' answered the
captain. 'I will take it all upon myself. I have
been second in five duels, and I should think I
know how to arrange the affair. I have thought
it all out. Just let me alone, please. It is not a
bad thing to give people a bit of a fright. And
why expose yourself to danger if it is possible to
avoid it?' . . .
"At that moment I entered the room. They
suddenly fell silent. Our negotiations were some-
what protracted. At length we decided the
matter as follows: about five versts from here
there is a hollow gorge; they will ride thither to-
morrow at four o'clock in the morning, and we
shall leave half an hour later. You will fire at six
paces -- Grushnitski himself demanded that con-
dition. Whichever of you is killed -- his death
will be put down to the account of the Circas-
sians. And now I must tell you what I suspect:
they, that is to say the seconds, may have made
some change in their former plan and may want
to load only Grushnitski's pistol. That is some-
thing like murder, but in time of war, and espe-
cially in Asiatic warfare, such tricks are allowed.
Grushnitski, however, seems to be a little more
magnanimous than his companions. What do you
think? Ought we not to let them see that we
have guessed their plan?"
"Not on any account, doctor! Make your
mind easy; I will not give in to them."
"But what are you going to do, then?"
"That is my secret."
"Mind you are not caught . . . six paces, you
"Doctor, I shall expect you to-morrow at four
o'clock. The horses will be ready . . . Good-
I remained in the house until the evening, with
my door locked. A manservant came to invite me
to Princess Ligovski's -- I bade him say that I
. . . . .
Two o'clock in the morning. . . I cannot
sleep. . . Yet sleep is what I need, if I am to
have a steady hand to-morrow. However, at six
paces it is difficult to miss. Aha! Mr. Grushnit-
ski, your wiles will not succeed! . . . We shall
exchange roles: now it is I who shall have to
seek the signs of latent terror upon your pallid
countenance. Why have you yourself appointed
these fatal six paces? Think you that I will
tamely expose my forehead to your aim? . . .
No, we shall cast lots. . . And then -- then --
what if his luck should prevail? If my star at
length should betray me? . . . And little wonder
if it did: it has so long and faithfully served
Well? If I must die, I must! The loss to the
world will not be great; and I myself am already
downright weary of everything. I am like a guest
at a ball, who yawns but does not go home to bed,
simply because his carriage has not come for him.
But now the carriage is here. . . Good-bye! . . .
My whole past life I live again in memory, and,
involuntarily, I ask myself: 'why have I lived --
for what purpose was I born?' . . . A purpose
there must have been, and, surely, mine was an
exalted destiny, because I feel that within my
soul are powers immeasurable. . . But I was
not able to discover that destiny, I allowed myself
to be carried away by the allurements of passions,
inane and ignoble. From their crucible I issued
hard and cold as iron, but gone for ever was the
glow of noble aspirations -- the fairest flower of
life. And, from that time forth, how often have
I not played the part of an axe in the hands of
fate! Like an implement of punishment, I have
fallen upon the head of doomed victims, often
without malice, always without pity. . . To none
has my love brought happiness, because I have
never sacrificed anything for the sake of those
I have loved: for myself alone I have loved --
for my own pleasure. I have only satisfied the
strange craving of my heart, greedily draining
their feelings, their tenderness, their joys, their
sufferings -- and I have never been able to sate
myself. I am like one who, spent with hunger,
falls asleep in exhaustion and sees before him
sumptuous viands and sparkling wines; he de-
vours with rapture the aerial gifts of the imagina-
tion, and his pains seem somewhat assuaged. Let
him but awake: the vision vanishes -- twofold
hunger and despair remain!
And to-morrow, it may be, I shall die! . . .
And there will not be left on earth one being who
has understood me completely. Some will con-
sider me worse, others, better, than I have been
in reality. . . Some will say: 'he was a good
fellow'; others: 'a villain.' And both epithets
will be false. After all this, is life worth the
trouble? And yet we live -- out of curiosity!
We expect something new. . . How absurd,
and yet how vexatious!
IT is now a month and a half since I have
been in the N---- Fortress.
Maksim Maksimych is out hunting. . . I am
alone. I am sitting by the window. Grey clouds
have covered the mountains to the foot; the sun
appears through the mist as a yellow spot. It
is cold; the wind is whistling and rocking the
shutters. . . I am bored! . . . I will continue
my diary which has been interrupted by so many
I read the last page over: how ridiculous it
seems! . . . I thought to die; it was not to be.
I have not yet drained the cup of suffering, and
now I feel that I still have long to live.
How clearly and how sharply have all these
bygone events been stamped upon my memory!
Time has not effaced a single line, a single
I remember that during the night preceding
the duel I did not sleep a single moment. I was
not able to write for long: a secret uneasiness
took possession of me. For about an hour I paced
the room, then I sat down and opened a novel by
Walter Scott which was lying on my table. It
was "The Scottish Puritans." At first I read
with an effort; then, carried away by the
magical fiction, I became oblivious of every-
 None of the Waverley novels, of course, bears this title.
The novel referred to is doubtless "Old Mortality," on which
Bellini's opera, "I Puritani di Scozia," is founded.
At last day broke. My nerves became com-
posed. I looked in the glass: a dull pallor covered
my face, which preserved the traces of harassing
sleeplessness; but my eyes, although encircled
by a brownish shadow, glittered proudly and
inexorably. I was satisfied with myself.
I ordered the horses to be saddled, dressed my-
self, and ran down to the baths. Plunging into
the cold, sparkling water of the Narzan Spring, I
felt my bodily and mental powers returning. I
left the baths as fresh and hearty as if I was off
to a ball. After that, who shall say that the
soul is not dependent upon the body! . . .
On my return, I found the doctor at my rooms.
He was wearing grey riding-breeches, a jacket
and a Circassian cap. I burst out laughing when
I saw that little figure under the enormous shaggy
cap. Werner has a by no means warlike counte-
nance, and on that occasion it was even longer
"Why so sad, doctor?" I said to him. "Have
you not a hundred times, with the greatest
indifference, escorted people to the other world?
Imagine that I have a bilious fever: I may get
well; also, I may die; both are in the usual
course of things. Try to look on me as a patient,
afflicted with an illness with which you are still
unfamiliar -- and then your curiosity will be
aroused in the highest degree. You can now make
a few important physiological observations upon
me. . . Is not the expectation of a violent death
itself a real illness?"
The doctor was struck by that idea, and he
We mounted our horses. Werner clung on to
his bridle with both hands, and we set off. In a
trice we had galloped past the fortress, through
the village, and had ridden into the gorge. Our
winding road was half-overgrown with tall grass
and was intersected every moment by a noisy
brook, which we had to ford, to the great despair
of the doctor, because each time his horse would
stop in the water.
A morning more fresh and blue I cannot
remember! The sun had scarce shown his face
from behind the green summits, and the blending
of the first warmth of his rays with the dying
coolness of the night produced on all my feelings
a sort of sweet languor. The joyous beam of the
young day had not yet penetrated the gorge; it
gilded only the tops of the cliffs which overhung
us on both sides. The tufted shrubs, growing in
the deep crevices of the cliffs, besprinkled us with
a silver shower at the least breath of wind. I
remember that on that occasion I loved Nature
more than ever before. With what curiosity did
I examine every dewdrop trembling upon the
broad vine leaf and reflecting millions of rainbow-
hued rays! How eagerly did my glance en-
deavour to penetrate the smoky distance! There
the road grew narrower and narrower, the cliffs
bluer and more dreadful, and at last they met, it
seemed, in an impenetrable wall.
We rode in silence.
"Have you made your will?" Werner suddenly
"And if you are killed?"
"My heirs will be found of themselves."
"Is it possible that you have no friends, to
whom you would like to send a last farewell?" . . .
I shook my head.
"Is there, really, not one woman in the world
to whom you would like to leave some token
in remembrance?" . . .
"Do you want me to reveal my soul to you,
doctor?" I answered. . . "You see, I have
outlived the years when people die with the name
of the beloved on their lips and bequeathing to a
friend a lock of pomaded -- or unpomaded -- hair.
When I think that death may be near, I think of
myself alone; others do not even do as much.
The friends who to-morrow will forget me or,
worse, will utter goodness knows what falsehoods
about me; the women who, while embracing
another, will laugh at me in order not to arouse
his jealousy of the deceased -- let them go! Out
of the storm of life I have borne away only a
few ideas -- and not one feeling. For a long time
now I have been living, not with my heart, but
with my head. I weigh, analyse my own passions
and actions with severe curiosity, but without
sympathy. There are two personalities within
me: one lives -- in the complete sense of the
word -- the other reflects and judges him; the
first, it may be, in an hour's time, will take fare-
well of you and the world for ever, and the second
-- the second? . . . Look, doctor, do you see those
three black figures on the cliff, to the right?
They are our antagonists, I suppose?" . . .
We pushed on.
In the bushes at the foot of the cliff three
horses were tethered; we tethered ours there
too, and then we clambered up the narrow path
to the ledge on which Grushnitski was awaiting
us in company with the captain of dragoons and
his other second, whom they called Ivan Ignate-
vich. His surname I never heard.
"We have been expecting you for quite a long
time," said the captain of dragoons, with an
I drew out my watch and showed him the
He apologized, saying that his watch was
There was an embarrassing silence for a
few moments. At length the doctor inter-
"It seems to me," he said, turning to Grush-
nitski, "that as you have both shown your readi-
ness to fight, and thereby paid the debt due to
the conditions of honour, you might be able to
come to an explanation and finish the affair
"I am ready," I said.
The captain winked to Grushnitski, and the
latter, thinking that I was losing courage, assumed
a haughty air, although, until that moment, his
cheeks had been covered with a dull pallor. For
the first time since our arrival he lifted his eyes
on me; but in his glance there was a certain
disquietude which evinced an inward struggle.
"Declare your conditions," he said, "and
anything I can do for you, be assured" . . .
"These are my conditions: you will this very
day publicly recant your slander and beg my
pardon" . . .
"My dear sir, I wonder how you dare make such
a proposal to me?"
"What else could I propose?" . . .
"We will fight."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Be it so; only, bethink you that one of us
will infallibly be killed."
"I hope it will be you" . . .
"And I am so convinced of the contrary" . . .
He became confused, turned red, and then
burst out into a forced laugh.
The captain took his arm and led him aside;
they whispered together for a long time. I had
arrived in a fairly pacific frame of mind, but all
this was beginning to drive me furious.
The doctor came up to me.
"Listen," he said, with manifest uneasiness,
"you have surely forgotten their conspiracy! . . .
I do not know how to load a pistol, but in
this case. . . You are a strange man! Tell
them that you know their intention -- and they
will not dare. . . What sport! To shoot you
like a bird" . . .
"Please do not be uneasy, doctor, and wait
awhile. . . I shall arrange everything in such a
way that there will be no advantage on their side.
Let them whisper" . . .
"Gentlemen, this is becoming tedious," I said
to them loudly: "if we are to fight, let us fight;
you had time yesterday to talk as much as you
"We are ready," answered the captain. "Take
your places, gentlemen! Doctor, be good enough
to measure six paces" . . .
"Take your places!" repeated Ivan Ignatevich,
in a squeaky voice.
"Excuse me!" I said. "One further con-
dition. As we are going to fight to the death, we
are bound to do everything possible in order that
the affair may remain a secret, and that our
seconds may incur no responsibility. Do you
agree?" . . .
"Well, then, this is my idea. Do you see that
narrow ledge on the top of the perpendicular
cliff on the right? It must be thirty fathoms, if
not more, from there to the bottom; and, down
below, there are sharp rocks. Each of us will
stand right at the extremity of the ledge -- in such
manner even a slight wound will be mortal: that
ought to be in accordance with your desire, as
you yourselves have fixed upon six paces. Which-
ever of us is wounded will be certain to fall
down and be dashed to pieces; the doctor
will extract the bullet, and, then, it will be
possible very easily to account for that sudden
death by saying it was the result of a fall. Let
us cast lots to decide who shall fire first. In
conclusion, I declare that I will not fight on any
"Be it so!" said the captain after an expres-
sive glance at Grushnitski, who nodded his head
in token of assent. Every moment he was
changing countenance. I had placed him in an
embarrassing position. Had the duel been fought
upon the usual conditions, he could have aimed
at my leg, wounded me slightly, and in such wise
gratified his vengeance without overburdening
his conscience. But now he was obliged to fire in
the air, or to make himself an assassin, or, finally,
to abandon his base plan and to expose himself to
equal danger with me. I should not have liked
to be in his place at that moment. He took the
captain aside and said something to him with
great warmth. His lips were blue, and I saw
them trembling; but the captain turned away
from him with a contemptuous smile.
"You are a fool," he said to Grushnitski rather
loudly. "You can't understand a thing! . . .
Let us be off, then, gentlemen!"
The precipice was approached by a narrow
path between bushes, and fragments of rock
formed the precarious steps of that natural stair-
case. Clinging to the bushes we proceeded to
clamber up. Grushnitski went in front, his
seconds behind him, and then the doctor
"I am surprised at you," said the doctor,
pressing my hand vigorously. "Let me feel your
pulse! . . . Oho! Feverish! . . . But nothing
noticeable on your countenance . . . only
your eyes are gleaming more brightly than
Suddenly small stones rolled noisily right
under our feet. What was it? Grushnitski had
stumbled; the branch to which he was clinging
had broken off, and he would have rolled
down on his back if his seconds had not held
"Take care!" I cried. "Do not fall pre-
maturely: that is a bad sign. Remember Julius
AND now we had climbed to the summit of
the projecting cliff. The ledge was covered
with fine sand, as if on purpose for a duel.
All around, like an innumerable herd, crowded
the mountains, their summits lost to view in
the golden mist of the morning; and towards the
south rose the white mass of Elbruz, closing the
chain of icy peaks, among which fibrous clouds,
which had rushed in from the east, were already
roaming. I walked to the extremity of the ledge
and gazed down. My head nearly swam. At the
foot of the precipice all seemed dark and cold as
in a tomb; the moss-grown jags of the rocks,
hurled down by storm and time, were awaiting
The ledge on which we were to fight formed
an almost regular triangle. Six paces were mea-
sured from the projecting corner, and it was de-
cided that whichever had first to meet the fire of
his opponent should stand in the very corner with
his back to the precipice; if he was not killed
the adversaries would change places.
I determined to relinquish every advantage to
Grushnitski; I wanted to test him. A spark of
magnanimity might awake in his soul -- and then
all would have been settled for the best. But his
vanity and weakness of character had perforce to
triumph! . . . I wished to give myself the full
right to refrain from sparing him if destiny were
to favour me. Who would not have concluded
such an agreement with his conscience?
"Cast the lot, doctor!" said the captain.
The doctor drew a silver coin from his pocket
and held it up.
"Tail!" cried Grushnitski hurriedly, like a
man suddenly aroused by a friendly nudge.
"Head," I said.
The coin spun in the air and fell, jingling. We
all rushed towards it.
"You are lucky," I said to Grushnitski. "You
are to fire first! But remember that if you do
not kill me I shall not miss -- I give you my word
He flushed up; he was ashamed to kill an un-
armed man. I looked at him fixedly; for a
moment it seemed to me that he would throw
himself at my feet, imploring forgiveness; but
how to confess so base a plot? . . . One expe-
dient only was left to him -- to fire in the air! I
was convinced that he would fire in the air! One
consideration alone might prevent him doing so --
the thought that I would demand a second
"Now is the time!" the doctor whispered to
me, plucking me by the sleeve. "If you do not
tell them now that we know their intentions, all
is lost. Look, he is loading already. . . If you
will not say anything, I will" . . .
"On no account, doctor!" I answered, hold-
ing him back by the arm. "You will spoil every-
thing. You have given me your word not to
interfere. . . What does it matter to you?
Perhaps I wish to be killed" . . .
He looked at me in astonishment.
"Oh, that is another thing! . . . Only do not
complain of me in the other world" . . .
Meanwhile the captain had loaded his pistols
and given one to Grushnitski, after whispering
something to him with a smile; the other he gave
I placed myself in the corner of the ledge, plant-
ing my left foot firmly against the rock and bend-
ing slightly forward, so that, in case of a slight
wound, I might not fall over backwards.
Grushnitski placed himself opposite me and, at
a given signal, began to raise his pistol. His knees
shook. He aimed right at my forehead. . . Un-
utterable fury began to seethe within my
Suddenly he dropped the muzzle of the pistol
and, pale as a sheet, turned to his second.
"I cannot," he said in a hollow voice.
"Coward!" answered the captain.
A shot rang out. The bullet grazed my knee.
Involuntarily I took a few paces forward in
order to get away from the edge as quickly as
"Well, my dear Grushnitski, it is a pity that
you have missed!" said the captain. "Now it is
your turn, take your stand! Embrace me first:
we shall not see each other again!"
They embraced; the captain could scarcely re-
frain from laughing.
"Do not be afraid," he added, glancing cun-
ningly at Grushnitski; "everything in this world
is nonsense. . . Nature is a fool, fate a turkey-
hen, and life a copeck!"
 Popular phrases, equivalent to: "Men are fools, fortune
is blind, and life is not worth a straw."
After that tragic phrase, uttered with becoming
gravity, he went back to his place. Ivan Ignate-
vich, with tears, also embraced Grushnitski, and
there the latter remained alone, facing me. Ever
since then, I have been trying to explain to myself
what sort of feeling it was that was boiling within
my breast at that moment: it was the vexation
of injured vanity, and contempt, and wrath en-
gendered at the thought that the man now look-
ing at me with such confidence, such quiet inso-
lence, had, two minutes before, been about to kill
me like a dog, without exposing himself to the
least danger, because had I been wounded a little
more severely in the leg I should inevitably have
fallen over the cliff.
For a few moments I looked him fixedly in the
face, trying to discern thereon even a slight trace
of repentance. But it seemed to me that he was
restraining a smile.
"I should advise you to say a prayer before you
die," I said.
"Do not worry about my soul any more than
your own. One thing I beg of you: be quick
"And you do not recant your slander? You
do not beg my forgiveness? . . . Bethink you
well: has your conscience nothing to say to
"Mr. Pechorin!" exclaimed the captain of
dragoons. "Allow me to point out that you are
not here to preach. . . Let us lose no time, in
case anyone should ride through the gorge and
we should be seen."
"Very well. Doctor, come here!"
The doctor came up to me. Poor doctor! He
was paler than Grushnitski had been ten minutes
The words which followed I purposely pro-
nounced with a pause between each -- loudly
and distinctly, as the sentence of death is pro-
"Doctor, these gentlemen have forgotten, in
their hurry, no doubt, to put a bullet in
my pistol. I beg you to load it afresh -- and
"Impossible!" cried the captain, "impossible!
I loaded both pistols. Perhaps the bullet has
rolled out of yours. . . That is not my fault!
And you have no right to load again. . . No
right at all. It is altogether against the rules,
I shall not allow it" . . .
"Very well!" I said to the captain. "If so,
then you and I shall fight on the same terms" . . .
He came to a dead stop.
Grushnitski stood with his head sunk on his
breast, embarrassed and gloomy.
"Let them be!" he said at length to the cap-
tain, who was going to pull my pistol out of the
doctor's hands. "You know yourself that they
In vain the captain made various signs to him.
Grushnitski would not even look.
Meanwhile the doctor had loaded the pistol and
handed it to me. On seeing that, the captain spat
and stamped his foot.
"You are a fool, then, my friend," he said: "a
common fool! . . . You trusted to me before, so
you should obey me in everything now. . . But
serve you right! Die like a fly!" . . .
He turned away, muttering as he went:
"But all the same it is absolutely against the
"Grushnitski!" I said. "There is still time:
recant your slander, and I will forgive you every-
thing. You have not succeeded in making a fool
of me; my self-esteem is satisfied. Remem-
ber -- we were once friends" . . .
His face flamed, his eyes flashed.
"Fire!" he answered. "I despise myself and
I hate you. If you do not kill me I will lie in
wait for you some night and cut your throat.
There is not room on the earth for both of
us" . . .
When the smoke had cleared away, Grushnitski
was not to be seen on the ledge. Only a slender
column of dust was still eddying at the edge of
There was a simultaneous cry from the rest.
"Finita la commedia!" I said to the doctor.
He made no answer, and turned away with
I shrugged my shoulders and bowed to Grush-
AS I descended by the path, I observed Grush-
nitski's bloodstained corpse between the
clefts of the rocks. Involuntarily, I closed my
Untying my horse, I set off home at a walking
pace. A stone lay upon my heart. To my eyes
the sun seemed dim, its beams were powerless to
I did not ride up to the village, but turned to
the right, along the gorge. The sight of a man
would have been painful to me: I wanted to be
alone. Throwing down the bridle and letting my
head fall on my breast, I rode for a long time, and
at length found myself in a spot with which I was
wholly unfamiliar. I turned my horse back and
began to search for the road. The sun had al-
ready set by the time I had ridden up to Kislo-
vodsk -- myself and my horse both utterly spent!
My servant told me that Werner had called,
and he handed me two notes: one from Werner,
the other . . . from Vera.
I opened the first; its contents were as follows:
"Everything has been arranged as well as could
be; the mutilated body has been brought in;
and the bullet extracted from the breast. Every-
body is convinced that the cause of death was an
unfortunate accident; only the Commandant,
who was doubtless aware of your quarrel, shook
his head, but he said nothing. There are no
proofs at all against you, and you may sleep in
peace . . . if you can. . . . Farewell!" . . .
For a long time I could not make up my mind
to open the second note. . . What could it be
that she was writing to me? . . . My soul was
agitated by a painful foreboding.
Here it is, that letter, each word of which is
indelibly engraved upon my memory:
"I am writing to you in the full assurance that
we shall never see each other again. A few years
ago on parting with you I thought the same.
However, it has been Heaven's will to try me a
second time: I have not been able to endure the
trial, my frail heart has again submitted to the
well-known voice. . . You will not despise me
for that -- will you? This letter will be at once a
farewell and a confession: I am obliged to tell
you everything that has been treasured up in my
heart since it began to love you. I will not accuse
you -- you have acted towards me as any other
man would have acted; you have loved me as a
chattel, as a source of joys, disquietudes and
griefs, interchanging one with the other, without
which life would be dull and monotonous. I
have understood all that from the first. . . But
you were unhappy, and I have sacrificed myself,
hoping that, some time, you would appreciate my
sacrifice, that some time you would understand
my deep tenderness, unfettered by any condi-
tions. A long time has elapsed since then: I
have fathomed all the secrets of your soul. . .
and I have convinced myself that my hope was
vain. It has been a bitter blow to me! But my
love has been grafted with my soul; it has grown
dark, but has not been extinguished.
"We are parting for ever; yet you may be
sure that I shall never love another. Upon you
my soul has exhausted all its treasures, its tears,
its hopes. She who has once loved you cannot
look without a certain disdain upon other men,
not because you have been better than they, oh,
no! but in your nature there is something pecu-
liar -- belonging to you alone, something proud
and mysterious; in your voice, whatever the
words spoken, there is an invincible power. No
one can so constantly wish to be loved, in no one
is wickedness ever so attractive, no one's glance
promises so much bliss, no one can better make
use of his advantages, and no one can be so truly
unhappy as you, because no one endeavours so
earnestly to convince himself of the contrary.
"Now I must explain the cause of my hurried
departure; it will seem of little importance to
you, because it concerns me alone.
"This morning my husband came in and told
me about your quarrel with Grushnitski. Evi-
dently I changed countenance greatly, because he
looked me in the face long and intently. I almost
fainted at the thought that you had to fight a
duel to-day, and that I was the cause of it; it
seemed to me that I should go mad. . . But
now, when I am able to reason, I am sure that
you remain alive: it is impossible that you should
die, and I not with you -- impossible! My hus-
band walked about the room for a long time. I
do not know what he said to me, I do not remem-
ber what I answered. . . Most likely I told him
that I loved you. . . I only remember that, at
the end of our conversation, he insulted me with
a dreadful word and left the room. I heard him
ordering the carriage. . . I have been sitting at
the window three hours now, awaiting your re-
turn. . . But you are alive, you cannot have
died! . . . The carriage is almost ready. . .
Good-bye, good-bye! . . . I have perished -- but
what matter? If I could be sure that you will
always remember me -- I no longer say love -- no,
only remember . . . Good-bye, they are com-
ing! . . . I must hide this letter.
"You do not love Mary, do you? You will
not marry her? Listen, you must offer me that
sacrifice. I have lost everything in the world for
you" . . .
Like a madman I sprang on the steps, jumped
on my Circassian horse which was being led about
the courtyard, and set off at full gallop along the
road to Pyatigorsk. Unsparingly I urged on the
jaded horse, which, snorting and all in a foam,
carried me swiftly along the rocky road.
The sun had already disappeared behind a black
cloud, which had been resting on the ridge of the
western mountains; the gorge grew dark and
damp. The Podkumok, forcing its way over the
rocks, roared with a hollow and monotonous
sound. I galloped on, choking with impatience.
The idea of not finding Vera in Pyatigorsk struck
my heart like a hammer. For one minute, again
to see her for one minute, to say farewell, to
press her hand. . . I prayed, cursed, wept,
laughed. . . No, nothing could express my
anxiety, my despair! . . . Now that it seemed
possible that I might be about to lose her for ever,
Vera became dearer to me than aught in the
world -- dearer than life, honour, happiness! God
knows what strange, what mad plans swarmed in
my head. . . Meanwhile I still galloped, urging
on my horse without pity. And, now, I began to
notice that he was breathing more heavily; he
had already stumbled once or twice on level
ground. . . I was five versts from Essentuki --
a Cossack village where I could change horses.
All would have been saved had my horse been
able to hold out for another ten minutes. But
suddenly, in lifting himself out of a little gulley
where the road emerges from the mountains at a
sharp turn, he fell to the ground. I jumped down
promptly, I tried to lift him up, I tugged at his
bridle -- in vain. A scarcely audible moan burst
through his clenched teeth; in a few moments
he expired. I was left on the steppe, alone; I
had lost my last hope. I endeavoured to walk --
my legs sank under me; exhausted by the
anxieties of the day and by sleeplessness, I fell
upon the wet grass and burst out crying like a
For a long time I lay motionless and wept
bitterly, without attempting to restrain my tears
and sobs. I thought my breast would burst. All
my firmness, all my coolness, disappeared like
smoke; my soul grew powerless, my reason silent,
and, if anyone had seen me at that moment, he
would have turned aside with contempt.
When the night-dew and the mountain breeze
had cooled my burning brow, and my thoughts
had resumed their usual course, I realized that to
pursue my perished happiness would be unavail-
ing and unreasonable. What more did I want? --
To see her? -- Why? Was not all over between
us? A single, bitter, farewell kiss would not have
enriched my recollections, and, after it, parting
would only have been more difficult for us.
Still, I am pleased that I can weep. Perhaps,
however, the cause of that was my shattered
nerves, a night passed without sleep, two minutes
opposite the muzzle of a pistol, and an empty
It is all for the best. That new suffering
created within me a fortunate diversion -- to speak
in military style. To weep is healthy, and then,
no doubt, if I had not ridden as I did and had
not been obliged to walk fifteen versts on my way
back, sleep would not have closed my eyes on that
I returned to Kislovodsk at five o'clock in the
morning, threw myself on my bed, and slept the
sleep of Napoleon after Waterloo.
By the time I awoke it was dark outside. I sat by
the open window, with my jacket unbuttoned --
and the mountain breeze cooled my breast, still
troubled by the heavy sleep of weariness. In
the distance beyond the river, through the tops
of the thick lime trees which overshadowed it,
lights were glancing in the fortress and the vil-
lage. Close at hand all was calm. It was dark in
Princess Ligovski's house.
The doctor entered; his brows were knit;
contrary to custom, he did not offer me his
"Where have you come from, doctor?"
"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
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 Ligov-
ski to say good-bye.
She was surprised when, in answer to her ques-
tion, whether I had not anything of special im-
portance 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."
"Nay, I am sure of it," she continued, "al-
though 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.
"God forgive him -- and you too, I hope. . .
That does not concern me. . . I dare not con-
demn you because my daughter, although inno-
cently, 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, per-
haps, that I am looking for rank or immense
wealth -- be undeceived, my daughter's happiness
is my sole desire. Your present position is un-
enviable, 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
She fell into thought, made a sign to me with
her hand that I should wait a little, and left the
Five minutes passed. My heart was beating
violently, but my thoughts were tranquil, my
head cool. However assiduously 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 some-
thing resembling hope; her wan lips vainly en-
deavoured 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
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
"Oh, God!" 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
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 passing 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 case
upon the shore, and he chafes, he pines away,
however invitingly the shady groves allure, how-
ever brightly shines the peaceful sun. The live-
long day he paces the sandy shore, hearkens to the
monotonous murmur of the onrushing 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?
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
(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 youth-
ful, 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 civilisa-
tion has invented a keener weapon, none the less
deadly for being almost invisible, which, under
the cloak of flattery, strikes with sure and irre-
sistible 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 friendship.
The unfortunate effects of an over-literal accep-
tation of words by certain readers and even Re-
viewers 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 acumen, that the author has painted
his own portrait and those of his acquaint-
ances! . . . What a stale and wretched jest!
But Russia, it appears, has been constituted 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 offen-
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, full-
grown, 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 fic-
tions 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 palat-
able 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 im-
pertinence! 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 -- God alone knows!
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