A Hero of Our Time I BELA

I was traveling post from Tiflis. The entire load of my cart consisted of one valise of average size, half-filled with my travel notes about Georgia. The majority of these, luckily for you, were lost; but the valise with the rest of my things, luckily for me, remained intact.

The sun was just beginning to hide behind snowy peaks when I entered the Koyshaursky Valley. The Ossetian cart driver sang songs at full voice as he tirelessly urged the horses onward, so that we might succeed in climbing Koyshaursky Mountain before nightfall. What a glorious place, this valley! On every side there are unassailable mountains and reddish promontories, hung with green ivy and crowned with clumps of plane trees; there are yellow precipices, covered with the lines of gullies; and right up high: a gold fringe of snow. Below, the Aragva River, having gathered another nameless rivulet which noisily unearthed itself from a black and gloomy chasm, extends like a silver thread, glittering like a scaly snake.

We arrived at the foot of the Koyshaursky Mountain and stopped at a dukhan.1 Two dozen or so Georgians and other mountain dwellers were crowded noisily there. Nearby, a caravan of camels had stopped for a night’s shelter. I was supposed to hire some bullocks to drag my cart up this forsaken mountain, because it was autumn already, there was black ice, and this slope was about two versts2 in length.

There was nothing else to be done so I hired the six bullocks and a few Ossetians. One of them hoisted my valise onto his shoulders; the others started to prod the bullocks using their voices alone.

Behind my cart, another was being pulled by a foursome of bullocks as though it took no effort, even though it was full to the brim. This disparity surprised me. The owner walked behind his cart, smoking a little Kabardian pipe plated in silver. He wore an officer’s frock coat without epaulets and a shaggy Circassian hat. He seemed about fifty years old; the dark complexion of his face showed that it was long acquainted with the Transcaucasian sun, but the premature graying of his mustache didn’t correspond with his solid gait and bright appearance. I walked up to him and bowed; he silently returned the bow and pushed out an enormous cloud of smoke.

“It seems you and I will be traveling companions?”

He bowed again silently.

“Might you be going to Stavropol?”

“Yes, indeed . . . on official business.”

“Tell me, if you would, why is your heavy cart being pulled easily by four bullocks, when mine, which is empty, can barely be moved by six beasts with the help of these Ossetians?”

He smiled slyly and looked at me with emphasis.

“You have only recently arrived in the Caucasus, perhaps?”

“About a year ago,” I replied.

He smiled a second time.

“Well . . . what?”

“Yes! What awful rogues, these Asiatics! You think they’re urging those bullocks with what they’re saying? Devil knows what they’re crying out. The bulls, though, they understand them. You could yoke twenty to your cart even, and the bullocks still wouldn’t move as long as they cry out like that . . . Awful cheats! But what do you expect of them? . . . They love to make off with the money of passersby . . . the spoiled little swindlers! You’ll see, they have yet to ask you for vodka money. I know them, you see, and won’t have them lead me along!”

“And have you served here long?”

“I served here before under Alexei Petrovich,” he replied, assuming a dignified air. “When he arrived at the front I was a second lieutenant,” he added, “and under him I received two promotions for action against the mountain-dwellers.”

“And now, you are . . . ?”

“Now I consider myself to be in the battalion of the third line. And you, might I be so bold as to ask . . . ?”

I told him.

My conversation with the man ended, and we continued in silence one after the other. We found snow at the summit of the mountain. The sun set, and night followed day without interval, as is often the way in the south; but thanks to the tint of the snows we were easily able to make out the road, which continued up the mountain, though not as steeply as before. I gave orders to deposit my valise on the cart, exchange the bullocks for horses, and for the last time, I looked back down to see the valley. But a thick fog had covered it completely, having surged in waves up from the gorge, and not one sound from below could now fly up and reach our hearing. The Ossetians noisily clustered around me and requested something for vodka, but the staff captain shouted at them so menacingly that they ran off instantly.

“What a people!” he said. “They can’t even name the word for bread in Russian, but they’ve learned to say ‘Officer, give us something for our vodka!’ I think even the Tatars are a better sort—at least they don’t drink . . .”

One verst remained to the station. It was quiet all around us, so quiet that you could follow the flight of a mosquito by its buzzing. The deep gorge to our left was growing black; beyond it, the dark-blue summit of the mountain faced us, pitted with creases, covered in layers of snow, and silhouetted against a pale band of sky above the horizon, which was conserving the last reflection of the sunset. Stars began to sparkle in the dark sky, and strangely it seemed to me that they were a great deal higher than they are in the north. Bare, black rocks stuck out on both sides of the road; in some places shrubs peeped out from under the snow, but not one dry leaf stirred. It was cheering to hear the snorting of a tired troika3 and the uneven rattling of a small Russian bell in the midst of this dead dream of nature.

“Tomorrow will be glorious weather!” I said. The staff captain didn’t say a word and pointed his finger at the high mountain that was rising in front of us.

“What is it?”

“Gud Mountain.”

“And what is that?”

“See how it’s smoking.”

And it was true, Gud Mountain was smoking. Light little currents of cloud were creeping down its slopes, and a black storm cloud sat at its summit, so black that it looked like a blot on the dark sky.

We could just make out the posting house, the roofs of its surrounding saklyas,4 and their welcoming little fires twinkling at us, when suddenly a damp, cold wind blew in, a droning sound started in the gorge, and a drizzle began. I barely managed to throw on my felt cloak5 as snow began to pour down. I looked over at the staff captain in deference . . .

“We’ll have to spend the night here,” he said with vexation. “You’ll never get across the mountain in this sort of snow-storm. Well? Have there been any avalanches on the Krestovaya?” he asked the cart driver.

“No, there haven’t,” replied the cart driver. “But there’s a lot hanging up there—a lot.”

We were led off to spend the night in a smoky saklya since there was no bedchamber for travelers stopping at the station. I invited my fellow traveler to drink a glass of tea with me, for I had with me a cast-iron tea-kettle—the one and only comfort on my travels in the Caucasus.

The saklya was pinned to the rock-face on one side. Three slippery, wet steps led to its door. I felt my way through the entrance, and stumbled upon a cow (to these people, a cow-shed is easily substituted for servants’ quarters). I didn’t know where to put myself: there were sheep bleating in one corner, a dog was growling in the other. Fortunately, a dim light shone from the side and helped me to find another opening, which resembled a door. It gave onto a rather entertaining scene: a wide saklya, the roof of which was propped up on two soot-covered posts and filled with people. A little fire chattered, which had been laid on the bare earth in the center of the room; smoke was being forced back through an opening in the roof by the wind, and it unfurled throughout the room in such a dense shroud that I couldn’t make out my surroundings for a long time. Two old women, a multitude of children, and a lean Georgian sat by the fire, all of them in rags. There was nothing to do but take shelter by the fire and begin to smoke our pipes. Soon the tea-kettle started to fizz with friendliness.

“A wretched people!” I said to the staff captain, pointing to our dirty hosts, who were looking at us silently, sort of dumbfounded.

“Such dim-witted folk!” he replied. “Can you believe it? They can’t do anything, aren’t capable of any kind of learning! At least our Kabardin or Chechens, though they are robbers, and paupers too, they make up for it by being daredevils. But these ones have no affinity for weapons: you won’t find a decent dagger on any of them. Genuine Ossetians!”

“Were you in Chechnya for a long time?”

“Yes, I was posted there for about ten years with my company in the fortress at Kamenny Brod—do you know it?”

“Heard of it.”

“Well, old fellow, let me tell you, we were fed up with those bandits! Now, thank God, it’s quieter. But there was a time when if you took a hundred steps beyond the ramparts, there was a shaggy devil lying in wait. If you even stopped to gape, you’d have a lasso around your neck or a bullet in the back of your head. Oh, they’re clever ones . . . !”

“So, you’ve had many adventures I would think?” I said, my curiosity excited.

“How could I not?! Indeed I have . . .”

Here he started to pluck at the left side of his mustache, hung his head, and became pensive. I wanted terribly to extract some little story from him—a desire characteristic of all those who travel and write. Meanwhile, the tea was brewed; I took two little traveling glasses from my valise, filled them and set one of them in front of him. He took a sip and said, as if to himself: “Yes, I have!” This exclamation gave me more hope. I know that old soldiers of the Caucasus love to talk, to tell tales; and they rarely get the chance to do so. This one had been in post for five-odd years somewhere in the sticks with his military company, and not once in those five years did anyone say “good day” to him (because a sergeant-major always says “Preserve your health”). And there was plenty to chat about: the local peoples were savage, a curious people; there was danger present every day; miraculous events occurred; and you couldn’t help but regret that so little of this gets recorded.

“You wouldn’t like to add some rum?” I said to my interlocutor. “I have white rum from Tiflis. It’s cold outside now.”

“No, thank you sir, I don’t drink.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, that’s right. I’ve taken an oath. You see, once when I was still a second lieutenant, we had a little too much to drink between us, and at night the alarm sounded. So we merrily turned out in front of the soldiers in our merry state, and we got it in the neck when Alexei Petrovich found out. Good God how furious he was! He nearly had us court-martialed. There’s no doubt that if you spend a whole year without seeing a soul, and you add vodka to that, you’ll be a missing person!”

Hearing this, I almost lost hope.

“Yes, and there’s the Circassians,” he continued. “As soon as they drink up the bouza6 at a wedding or funeral, the knives come out. Once I barely managed to walk away intact, even though I was the guest of a peaceable prince.”7 “How did that happen?”

“Well,” he packed his pipe, drew on it, and began his account, “allow me to explain. I was posted at the fortress near the Terek River with my company—almost five years ago. Once, in the autumn, a transport arrived with provisions. And in that transport was an officer—a young man, of about twenty-five years. He presents himself to me in full uniform and announces that he has orders to remain with me at the fortress. He was such a thin and fair thing, the full-dress uniform he wore was so new, that I guessed then and there that he hadn’t been long in the Caucasus.

“ ‘Would I be right in saying,’ I asked him, ‘that you have been transferred here from Russia?’

“ ‘Indeed, Mr. Staff Captain,’ he replied.

“I took him by the hand and said: ‘Very pleased, very pleased to meet you. You will find it somewhat tedious . . . but you and I will live together at ease. Yes, please, call me simply Maxim Maximych, and please—why this full uniform? Present yourself to me in your military cap.’

“They took him to his quarters and he settled at the fortress.”

“And what was his name?” I asked Maxim Maximych.

“His name was . . . Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin. A wonderful fellow, I dare say. Only a little strange too. For example, he would spend the whole day hunting in a drizzling cold that would freeze and exhaust most others to the bone—but to him it was nothing. And then, at other times, he would be sitting in his room, and the wind would blow, and he’d swear to you that he was catching cold. A shutter would bang and he’d shiver and go pale. But I can attest that he would go out after wild boar, one on one. Sometimes whole hours would go by without a word from him, and then other times, he’d start telling a story, and immediately your belly would ache from laughing . . . Yes, he had a good deal of great oddities, and he must have been a rich man—he had so many expensive things!”

“Did he stay with you long?” I asked again.

“Almost a year. But that year is certainly memorable for me; he created a lot of trouble for me, but that is not why I mention it. It seems, in fact, that there is a type of person who is destined from birth to be subjected to various unusual things!”

“Unusual?” I exclaimed with a look of curiosity, helping him to more tea.

“Well, I’ll explain. About six versts from the fortress lived a peaceable prince.8 His young son, a boy of about fifteen, took to visiting us every day for one reason or another. Grigory Alexandrovich and I spoiled him, we did. And he was such a rascal, and nimble at whatever he did—whether he was picking up a hat at full gallop or firing a rifle. There was just one thing about him that was no good: he had a terrible weakness for money. Once, for a laugh, Grigory Alexandrovich promised him a gold piece if he would steal the best goat in his father’s herd. And what do you think? The very next night he dragged it in by its horns. But if we ever thought to tease him, his eyes would fill with blood, and he’d be at the ready with his dagger.

“‘Eh, Azamat, don’t lose your head now,’ I told him, ‘you’ll get it cut off!’

“Once the old prince himself came and invited us to a wedding. He was giving away his eldest daughter’s hand in marriage. Given I was his kunak,9 I couldn’t, you know, decline—he is a Tatar after all. So we went. We were met at the aul10 by a lot of dogs barking loudly. The women, having seen us, hid themselves. Those whose faces we could see were far from beautiful.

“ ‘I had a much higher opinion of Circassian women,’ said Grigory Alexandrovich.

“ ‘Wait a moment!’ I replied, laughing. I had something in mind.

“A crowd of people had gathered in the prince’s saklya. The Asiatics, you know, have a custom of inviting everyone and anyone to their weddings. They received us with every honor, and led us to their special rooms. I, however, did not forget to note where they put our horses—you know, in the event of unforeseen circumstances.”

“How do they celebrate weddings?” I asked the staff captain.

“Oh, in the usual way. At the beginning the Mullah reads them something from the Koran. Then he gives presents to the young couple and all their relatives. They eat, drink bouza and then they begin trick riding—and there’s always one, some dirty ragamuffin on a lousy and lame nag, who poses, plays the clown, and makes the good company laugh. Then, when it gets dark, in the special rooms, what we would call a ‘ball’ starts up. A poor little old man strums away on a . . . I forget what it is in their language . . . well, yes, it’s something like our balalaika. 11 The girls and the young men stand in two rows, facing each other, and they clap their palms together and sing. And then one of the girls and one of the men come forward into the middle and start to address each other in sung verse with whatever comes to them (any old thing), and the others join in with the chorus. Pechorin and I sat in the honored seats, and then our host’s youngest daughter, a girl of sixteen, approached him, and sang him a . . . how can I put it? A sort of compliment.”

“And what did she sing—do you remember?”

“Yes, it seems it was something like, ‘Our young dzhigits12 are strapping, and their caftans are covered in silver, but the young Russian officer is more strapping than they, and the galloon 13 he wears is in gold. He is like a poplar among them—only he won’t grow; he doesn’t bloom in our garden.’

“Pechorin stood up, bowed to her, put his hand to his head and to his heart, and asked me to reply to her; I know how to speak like them and translated his answer.

“When she walked away from us, I whispered to Grigory Alexandrovich:

“ ‘Well, what do you think of her?’

“ ‘Enchanting!’ he replied. ‘What is her name?’

“ ‘Her name is Bela,’ I replied.

“And indeed, she was fine: tall, slim, with black eyes like a hill chamois14 that cast a look straight into your soul. Pechorin, in his reverie, didn’t take his eyes off her, and she looked over at him from under her brow fairly often too. But it wasn’t only Pechorin who admired the winning princess: from the corner of the room two other eyes were looking at her, fixed and fiery. I looked over and recognized my old acquaintance Kazbich. He was, you understand, neither peaceable nor unpeaceable as it were. There were lots of suspicions about him, even though he wasn’t ever discovered making even one bit of mischief. Sometimes, he would bring sheep to us at the fortress, and he sold them cheaply—he never haggled. You would give what he asked—come what may, he wouldn’t bend. They say that he loves to roam along the Kuban River with the abreks,15 and to tell the truth, he had a thievish snout on him. He was small, spindly, wide-shouldered . . . And then his cunning—he was as cunning as a demon! His beshmet16 was always in tatters and patches, but his weapon was in silver. And his horse was famous in the whole Kabarde—you couldn’t even dream of a better horse. Not for nothing that all the horsemen envied him—and they tried to steal him more than once but never managed it. I can see that horse even now: black as jet, legs like bow-strings, and eyes no worse than Bela’s—and what strength! He’ll gallop at least 50 versts—and he’s well-trained too—runs like a dog after his master, and knows the man’s voice even! They say that Kazbich never ties him up. What a perfect horse for a thief!

“That evening, Kazbich was as sullen as ever, and I noticed that he had a chain mail shirt under his beshmet. ‘He’s wearing this chain mail shirt for a reason,’ I thought. ‘He has probably laid a plan.’

“It became stuffy in the saklya, and I went out into the fresh air to revive myself. Night had already fallen on the mountains, and a thundercloud began to wander along the ravines.

“It occurred to me to look in on our horses in the shelter, to see if they had feed, and besides, caution is never a hindrance—after all, I had a splendid horse. The Kabardin have, more than once, looked at it and repeated ingratiatingly, ‘Yakshi tkhe, chek yakshi!’17

“I steal along the fence and suddenly I hear voices; I immediately recognized one voice: it was the rake Azamat, the son of our host. The other spoke more thinly and more quietly. ‘What are they talking about?’ I thought. ‘Not about my horse surely . . .’ So, I sat down by the fence and began listening, trying not to miss a word. Occasionally, the noise of singing and the sound of talking would fly over from the saklya, deafening this conversation that was so interesting to me.

“‘Splendid horse you have!’ said Azamat. ‘If I was master of the house and owned a herd of three hundred mares, then I would give you half of them for your steed, Kazbich!’

“‘Ah! Kazbich!’ I thought and remembered the chain mail shirt.

“‘Yes,’ replied Kazbich, after a certain silence, ‘you won’t find one like it in the whole of the Kabarde. Once—this was beyond the Terek River—I was riding with the abreks to recapture herds from the Russians. We’d had no luck and scattered, each in his own direction. Four Cossacks rushed up behind me; I heard the yells of the gyaurs18 behind me and I saw a thick wood in front of me. I sat low to the saddle, entrusted myself to Allah, and for the first time in my life I insulted my horse with lashings of my whip. Like a bird he dived between branches; sharp thorns tore my clothes, dry elm branches beat me across the face. My horse leapt over tree stumps, ripped shrubs apart with his breast. Perhaps I should have abandoned him at the forest’s edge, and hidden myself on foot in the woods, but I was sorry to part with him—and the prophet rewarded me. Several bullets squealed over my head; I could hear the Cossacks in hot pursuit . . . Suddenly, before me there was a gully; my steed paused for thought—and jumped. His hind hooves had come away from the opposite bank, and he hung there from his front legs. I cast away the reins and threw myself into the gully; this saved my horse: he sprang out. The Cossacks saw all this, only not one of them came down to look for me. They probably thought that I had killed myself, and I heard them give up trying to catch my horse. My heart was bleeding. I crawled through thick grasses along the length of the gully—and then I see: the forest had ended, several Cossacks are riding into a clearing and then, running right up to them is Karagyoz.19 They all threw themselves at him with a cry; they chased him for a long, long time, and twice one of them almost managed to throw a lasso around his neck. I started to tremble, cast my eyes down, and began praying. After a few moments I lift my eyes and see: my Karagyoz is flying, his tail fluttering as free as the wind, and the gyaurs are far behind, one after the other moving along the steppe on worn-out horses. By Allah, it’s the truth, the real truth! I sat in my gully until late into the night. Suddenly, what do you think happens, Azamat? In the darkness I hear a horse running along the gully’s edge, snorting, neighing, and beating his hooves on the ground. I recognized the voice of my Karagyoz: it was him—my lifelong friend! . . . Since then, we have never separated.’

“And I could hear how he patted the smooth neck of his steed with his hand, giving him various affectionate names.

“‘If I had a herd of a thousand mares,’ said Azamat, ‘then I’d give them all to you for your Karagyoz.’

“‘Yok,20 not interested,’ replied Kazbich indifferently.

“‘Listen, Kazbich,’ Azamat said, fawning at him, ‘you’re a kind person, you’re a brave dzhigit, but my father is afraid of the Russians and won’t let me into the mountains. Give me your horse, and I will do anything you want. I will steal my father’s best rifle or saber for you, whatever you desire—and his saber is real gurda.21 Hold the blade in your hand, and it will stick itself into a body—a chain mail shirt like yours wouldn’t stand a chance.’

“Kazbich said nothing.

“‘The first time I saw your horse,’ continued Azamat, ‘he was turning circles and jumping underneath you, flaring his nostrils, with splinters of flint flying from his hooves, and something I can’t explain happened in my soul—it has made me weary ever since. I look at my father’s best steeds with scorn, I am ashamed to be seen on them, and a longing has seized me, and I have sat for whole days on the cliff edge in anguish, while thoughts come to me every minute of your jet-black horse with his elegant gait, with his smooth, arrow-straight spine. He once looked me in the eye with his bold eyes, as though he wanted to utter a word. I will die, Kazbich, if you don’t sell him to me!’ said Azamat, with a trembling voice.

“I could hear that he had started to weep—but I must tell you that Azamat was a very persistent little boy, and sometimes, nothing would drive away his tears, even when he was younger.

“The reaction to his tears sounded a bit like laughter.

“‘Listen!’ said Azamat with a firm voice. ‘You’ll see, I’ll resolve everything. If you want I’ll steal my sister for you. How she dances! How she sings! And she embroiders with gold—it’s a marvel! No one has ever had such a wife—even the Turkish Padishah22 . . . Do you want me to get her? Wait for me tomorrow night over there, in the ravine, by the stream. I’ll go past with her on our way to the next aul—and she is yours. Isn’t Bela at least worth your steed? Don’t tell me Bela isn’t worth your steed?’

“Kazbich said nothing for a long, long time; finally, instead of an answer, he struck up an ancient song in a low voice:

The many lovely girls of our land,

their dark eyes sparkle with stars and,

Love them: a sweet and enviable destiny,

Better though is courage and liberty.

Gold will buy you four wives yes,

But a spirited horse has no price,

In a wind-storm on the Steppe he’ll abide,

He won’t betray you, he won’t lie.a23

“In vain, Azamat begged him to agree, he wept and flattered him, and swore oaths. In the end, Kazbich impatiently cut him short:

“‘Away with you, you silly little boy! Where would you be going on my horse? He’d throw you off within the first three paces, and you’d break your head on a rock.’

“‘Me!?’ cried Azamat in a fury, and the iron of the child’s dagger began to ring against the chain mail shirt. A strong hand pushed him swiftly off, and the boy struck so hard against the wattle fencing that it started to sway.

“‘Let the games begin!’ I thought, and rushed into the stable, bridled our horses, and led them out into the back courtyard. After just two minutes, there was a terrible commotion in the saklya. This is what had happened: Azamat had run inside with a torn beshmet, saying that Kazbich had tried to knife him. Everyone grabbed up their weapons and leapt out—and the fun began! A cry, a noise, shots; but Kazbich was already mounted, and twirled down the street among the crowd, like a demon, brushing them off with his saber.

“‘Best not to feel the heel of someone else’s meal,’ I said to Grigory Alexandrovich, catching hold of his arm, ‘wouldn’t it be better for us to be off now?’

“‘No, wait a moment, let’s see how it ends.’

“‘Well, it’s likely to end badly. These Asiatics are always like this—they pull out the bouza, and the carnage begins!’

“We mounted our horses, and galloped home.”

“And what happened to Kazbich?” I asked the staff captain impatiently.

“Well, what do you think happens to his sort?” he replied, drinking the rest of his tea. “He slipped away!”

“Wasn’t he wounded?” I asked.

“God only knows! They are hardy, these bandits! I’ve even seen them in action, and there was one I saw still waving his saber around after he’d been stuck so full of bayonet holes, he was like a sieve.”

The staff captain, after a certain silence, stamped his foot on the ground and continued. “I’ll never forgive myself for one thing though: the devil possessed me, and when we arrived at the fortress, I recounted everything that I’d heard by the fence to Grigory Alexandrovich. He laughed—so cunning! —and then planned a little something himself.”

“What was it? Tell me please.”

“Well, there’s nothing to be done about it—I’ve started telling you so I’ll have to continue.

“Four days later, Azamat arrives at the fortress. As usual, he called in on Grigory Alexandrovich, who always fed him sweets. I was there. A conversation started up about horses, and Pechorin started to sing the praises of Kazbich’s horse: how frisky he was, how beautiful, like a chamois—and well, simply, in his words, there wasn’t another like it in the world.

“The little eyes of the Tatar boy started to sparkle, but it was as if Pechorin hadn’t noticed. I started to talk about something different, but before you knew it he would deflect the conversation right back to Kazbich’s horse. And this story continued itself every time Azamat came to us. Three weeks later, I started to notice that Azamat was turning pale and withering, as happens to characters when love strikes in a novel. How extraordinary!

“And, you see, I only found out about this next bit later: Grigory Alexandrovich had teased him so unmercifully that the boy was almost driven to drown himself. Once he said to him, ‘I see, Azamat, that you love this horse to the point of pain—but you’re as unlikely to see it as you are the back of your head! Tell me, what would you give to the person who made a present of the horse to you?’

“‘Anything he wanted,’ replied Azamat.

“‘In that case, I will get him for you, only on one condition . . . swear you will do what I ask.’

“‘I swear . . . And you swear too!’

“‘Good! I swear you will have the horse. Only in exchange for it, you must give me your sister Bela; Karagyoz will be her bride-money. I hope that this trade will be advantageous to you.’

“Azamat said nothing.

“‘You don’t want to? Well, as you like! I thought that you were a man, but you’re still a child. It’s too soon for you to be riding . . .’

“Azamat blushed.

“‘And what about my father?’ he said.

“‘Doesn’t he ever go anywhere?’

“‘True . . .’

“‘Are we agreed?’

“‘Agreed,’ Azamat whispered, as pale as death. ‘But when?’

“‘The next time Kazbich comes here. He has promised to drive a dozen sheep to us. The rest is my business. You’ll see, Azamat!’

“So they arranged the matter . . . and truth be told, it was a bad business! Afterward I was saying so to Pechorin and he only replied that a wild Circassian girl should be happy to have as kind a husband as he, because according to their ways, he would be her husband. And that Kazbich is a bandit, who should be punished. You judge for yourself, what could I have said to that? . . . At the time, though, I knew no details of their plot. And then Kazbich arrived one day, asking if we needed any sheep or honey; I ordered him to bring some the next day.

“‘Azamat!’ said Grigory Alexandrovich. ‘Tomorrow Karagyoz will be in my hands. If Bela isn’t here tonight, then you won’t set eyes on your horse . . .’

“‘Fine!’ said Azamat, and galloped to the aul.

“That evening Grigory Alexandrovich armed himself and left the fortress. How they arranged this matter, I don’t know—but that night both returned, and the sentry saw a woman across Azamat’s saddle, whose hands and feet were bound, and whose head was shrouded in a yashmak.”24

“And the horse?” I asked the staff captain.

“Yes, yes. The day before, Kazbich had arrived early in the morning, having driven a dozen sheep to us for sale. He tied up his horse at the fence and came in to see me. I treated him to tea, because though he was a bandit, he was my kunak all the same.

“We started talking about this and that . . . And suddenly I see Kazbich flinch and change countenance. He went to the window: but the window, unfortunately, gave onto the back yard.

“‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

“‘My horse! . . . Horse!’ he said, trembling all over.

“Indeed, I could clearly hear the trotting of hooves. ‘It’s true, some Cossack has arrived . . .’

“‘No! Urus—yaman, yaman!’25 he started to bellow and threw himself headlong in their direction, like a wild snow leopard. In two leaps he was already in the courtyard; at the gates of the fortress, the sentry blocked his way with a rifle; he jumped over the rifle and started running down the road . . . Dust spiraled up in the distance—Azamat was galloping off on the spirited Karagyoz. As he ran, Kazbich pulled his rifle out of its case and took a shot. For about a minute he stood there trying to believe his bad luck. After that he began to scream. He struck his rifle against a rock and it broke into fragments, he collapsed onto the ground and began to sob like a child . . . And then, the inhabitants of the fortress gathered around him—but he didn’t notice any of them. They stood around, had a chat, and went back. I ordered money to be put down next to him for the sheep—and he didn’t touch it, but lay face-down, like a corpse. Can you believe that he lay there like that till late evening and then through the night? . . . It wasn’t until the next morning that he came into the fortress and started requesting that the abductor be named. The sentry, who saw Azamat untie the horse and ride off on him, didn’t consider it necessary to conceal. At the sound of the name, Kazbich’s eyes began to sparkle and he headed for the aul of Azamat’s father.”

“And the father?”

“Yes, well, that’s the thing. Kazbich didn’t find him—he had gone off somewhere for six days, otherwise how could Azamat have managed to make off with his sister?

“And when the father returned, there was no daughter. And there was no son—the cunning boy, it seems he figured out that he would lose his head if he were caught. So he left: and probably, attached himself to some band of abreks. He has laid his head down on the other side of the Terek or the Kuban—and it serves him right!

“I admit that I saw a fair amount of trouble for it too. As soon as I learned that the Circassian girl was with Grigory Alexandrovich, I donned my epaulets and sword, and I went to him.

“He was lying in the front room on a bed, with one arm behind his head, and the other holding an extinguished pipe. The door to the second room was locked, and the key to its lock was missing. I saw all this immediately . . . I started to cough, and to tap my heels at the threshold—but he pretended he hadn’t heard.

“‘Ensign, sir!’ I said as sternly as I could. ‘Can you not see that you have a visitor?’

“‘Ah, greetings, Maxim Maximych! Would you like a pipe?’ he replied, not rising even slightly.

“‘Excuse me! I am not Maxim Maximych: I am the staff captain.’

“‘All the same. Would you like some tea? If you only knew what worries are troubling me!’

“‘I know everything,’ I said, having walked up to the bed.

“‘All the better: I don’t have it in me to recount it.’

“‘Ensign, sir, you have committed a misdemeanor, for which I too may have to answer . . .’

“‘Come, come! What is the matter? It would seem that we have long split everything in half.’

“‘How could you make such jokes? Your sword, if you please!’

“‘Mitka, my sword!’

“Mitka brought the sword. Having fulfilled my duty, I sat down on his bed and said: ‘Listen Grigory Alexandrovich, admit that it was a bad thing you did.’

“‘What was a bad thing?’

“‘That you took Bela . . . And as for that rogue Azamat! . . . Come on, admit it,’ I said.

“‘And what if I like her?’

“Well, what would you have liked me to reply to that? . . . I was at a dead end. However, after a certain length of silence I said to him that if her father started to ask for her, then he’d have to give her back!

“‘Totally unnecessary!’

“‘And if he finds out she’s here?’

“‘How will he find out?’

“I was again faced with a dead-end.

“‘Listen, Maxim Maximych!’ said Pechorin, lifting himself up a little. ‘You’re a kind fellow, so consider: if we return the savage’s daughter to him, he will murder her or sell her. The deed is done, and there’s no need to ruin things further—leave her with me, and you can keep my sword . . .’

“‘Well, show her to me,’ I said.

“‘She is behind that door. But just now, I myself tried in vain to see her—she is sitting in the corner, wrapped in a shawl. She isn’t talking, isn’t looking up—as frightened as a wild chamois. I’ve engaged our lady-innkeeper; she knows Tatar, she will take care of her and will train her to accept the thought that she is mine, because she isn’t going to belong to anyone except me,’ he added, banging his fist on the table. And I agreed to that too . . . What else could I do? There are people with whom one must absolutely agree.”

“And then?” I asked Maxim Maximych. “Did he really train her to be his or did she wither away in her unwillingness, out of longing for her motherland?”

“For pity’s sake, why would she long for her motherland? The same hills are visible from the fortress as from the aul—these savages need nothing more than that. And furthermore, every day Grigory Alexandrovich gave her something: for the first few days, she silently and proudly pushed the presents away, which were then passed to the lady-innkeeper, exciting her eloquence. Ah, presents! What a woman will do for some colorful rag! . . . But I digress . . . For a long time Pechorin tussled with her; and in the meantime he learned Tatar, and she started to understand our language. Bit by bit she became accustomed to looking at him, at first furtively, from the side. Still pining, she sang her songs under her breath, so that, sometimes, I also became sad when I listened to her from the adjacent room. I will never forget one scene: I walked past and looked through the window; Bela was sitting on the stove-bench, her head hanging down onto her chest, and Grigory Alexandrovich stood in front of her.

“‘Listen, my peri,’26 he was saying, ‘you know that sooner or later you will have to be mine, why do you torture me so? Is it that you love some Chechen? If that is so, then I’ll send you home now.’ She shuddered just noticeably and shook her head. ‘Or,’ he continued, ‘am I completely hateful to you?’ She exhaled. ‘Or does your faith prohibit you from loving me?’ She paled and said nothing. ‘Trust me. Allah is the same for every tribe, and if he allows me to love you, why would he forbid you to requite me with the same?’ She looked at him in the face intently, as if she were struck with this new thought; her eyes expressed mistrust and a desire to be convinced. What eyes! They sparkled as though they were two pieces of coal. ‘Listen, my sweet, good Bela!’ continued Pechorin. ‘See how I love you; I am prepared to give anything in order to cheer you up. I want you to be happy. But if you’re going to pine, then I’ll die. Tell me, will you be more cheerful?’

“She became pensive, not lowering her black eyes from him. And then she smiled affectionately and nodded her head in a sign of agreement. He took her hand and started to persuade her to kiss him; she weakly defended herself and only repeated, ‘Pleeze, pleeze, duon’t, duon’t.’ He started to insist; she trembled, and started to cry.

“‘I am your captive,’ she was saying, ‘your slave. Of course, you can force me,’ and she shed more tears.

“Grigory Alexandrovich struck his fist against his forehead and leapt out into the next room. I went in to see him. He was pacing sullenly back and forth, with his arms crossed on his chest.

“‘What’s the matter, old friend?’ I said to him.

“‘A devil, not a woman!’ he replied. ‘Only I’ll give you my honest word, that she will be mine . . .’

“I shook my head.

“‘Would you like to bet on it?’ he said. ‘Give me a week’s time!’


“We shook on it, and went our separate ways.

“The very next day, he sent a messenger to Kizlyar for various purchases. There was a multitude of Persian goods among them, so many that they can’t be listed.

“‘What do you think, Maxim Maximych,’ he said on showing me the gifts, ‘will the Asiatic beauty withstand such a battery?’

“‘You don’t know Circassian girls,’ I replied. ‘They are not at all like Georgian girls, or the Tatar girls from beyond the Caucasus—not at all. They have their own rules. They are brought up otherwise.’ Grigory Alexandrovich smiled and started to whistle a marching song.

“Well, it seemed I was right: the presents worked only partially. She became more affectionate, more trusting—and that was it. So he went to his last resort. One morning, he ordered a horse to be saddled, dressed himself like a Circassian, armed himself, and went to her rooms.

“‘Bela!’ he said. ‘You know how much I love you. I decided to carry you away, thinking that once you knew me, you would love me too. I was mistaken—farewell! You may be the mistress of everything I possess. If you want, you may return to your father—you are free. I am guilty before you and must punish myself. Farewell, I am going now. Where? How could I know? I may not manage to chase bullets or dodge the thrusts of swords for long: then think of me, and forgive me.’ He turned away and reached his hand back toward her in a parting gesture. She didn’t take the hand, and she said nothing. I could see through a crack as I stood behind the door and I felt such pity for her—such a deathly pallor had spread over that lovely little face!

“Not hearing a reply, Pechorin took a few steps toward the door; he was trembling—and shall I tell you? I think he was in such a state that he would have gone through with the business, though it all began in jest. That’s what sort of person he was—unfathomable! He had barely touched the door when she jumped up, sobbed, and threw her arms around his neck. Can you believe it? Standing behind the door, I too started to weep, that’s to say, you know, I didn’t exactly weep, but just—what silliness!”

The staff captain went silent.

“Yes, I admit,” he said after that, tugging at his mustache, “It started to bother me that no woman has ever loved me as much as that.”

“And did their happiness last?” I asked.

“Yes, she confessed that from the first day she saw Pechorin, he often visited her dreams and that never has a man made such an impression on her. Yes, they were happy!”

“How boring!” I exclaimed without meaning to. I had really been expecting a tragic outcome, and suddenly my hopes were unexpectedly dashed! “But, it can’t be,” I continued, “that the father didn’t figure out that she was at the fortress?”

“Well, it seems that he had his suspicions. A few days later, we learned that the old man was killed. Here is how it happened . . .”

My attention was awakened again.

“I should tell you that Kazbich imagined that Azamat had stolen his horse with the consent of his father, at least that’s what I figure. So, one day, he waited on the road, at three versts from the aul. The old man was returning from a fruitless search for his daughter. His retinue was some way behind, it was twilight, and he was going along at an absentminded pace. Suddenly Kazbich dived out of a bush like a cat, and, with a thrust of his dagger, threw the prince to the ground, took the reins—and was off. Some of the retinue had seen the whole thing from a knoll and tore off in pursuit, only they didn’t catch him.”

“He was compensating himself for the loss of his horse, and taking his vengeance too,” I said, to prompt an opinion from my interlocutor.

“Of course, in their terms,” said the staff captain, “he was absolutely right.”

I couldn’t help but be struck by the Russian’s ability to adapt to the customs of the people among whom he finds himself living. I don’t know if this characteristic of mind deserves reprimand or praise, but it does prove his incredible flexibility and the presence of that clear common sense, which forgives evil where it seems unavoidable, or impossible to destroy.

In the meantime, the tea had been drunk. Our horses, harnessed for some time now, were chilled to the bone in the snow. The moon paled in the West and seemed prepared to be plunged into her black clouds, hanging across the distant peaks like the tatters of a ripped curtain. We emerged from the saklya. Contrary to the predictions of my fellow traveler, the weather had clarified and promised us a quiet morning. Dances of stars wove themselves on the distant horizon into marvelous patterns and one star after another was extinguished. A palish reflection from the east spread into the dark-violet vault of the sky, gradually illuminating the steep slopes of the mountain, covered in virgin snows. To the left and to the right somber, mysterious precipices grew black, and mists, twisting and winding like snakes, crawled along the wrinkles of the nearby rock-faces as though they were sensing the approaching day and were scared of it.

All was quiet on the earth and in the sky, like the heart of a person during the minute of morning prayer. But, occasionally a cool wind would spring up from the east, lifting the manes of the horses, which were coated in frost. We set off; five skinny nags hauled our carts with difficulty along the winding road up Gud Mountain. We walked on foot behind them, putting rocks behind the wheels when the horses ran out of strength. It looked as though the road led to the sky because as far as the eye could see, it kept ascending, and finally, became lost in the clouds, which had rested on the heights of Gud Mountain since the day before, like a kite awaiting its prey. The snow crunched under our feet; the air became so rare that it was painful to breathe; blood flooded into our heads every minute, and with it, some sort of gratifying feeling spread to every vein. I was so delighted to be so high above the world: it was a childlike feeling, I won’t deny it, but withdrawing from the demands of society, and drawing near to nature, we become children without meaning to, and everything that has been acquired falls away from the soul—and it becomes as it once was, and probably will be once again. A person who has found himself wandering, like me, among desert mountains for a long, long time, and peering at their fantastical shapes, and who has greedily swallowed the life-giving air which pours into its gorges—that person, I’m certain, will understand my desire to relate, to tell, to paint these magical pictures. And so, at last, we gained the summit of Gud Mountain, stopped and looked around: there was a gray cloud suspended over it, and its cold breath threatened an approaching storm. But in the east, everything was so clear and golden, that we, that is the staff captain and I, forgot about it completely . . . Yes, even the staff captain forgot: the simple people among us have hearts in which the feeling of beauty, and the grandeur of nature, is stronger—a hundredfold more vivid than in us, the rapturous storytellers in words and on paper.

“I imagine you are used to these magnificent views . . .” I said to him.

“And one can get used to the whistle of bullets too, that is, used to hiding the involuntary throbbing of one’s heart.”

“I hear, on the contrary, that for some old soldiers such music is even pleasing.”

“Granted, it could be pleasing—but only because that same heart is beating more strongly than usual.

“Look,” he added, pointing to the east, “what country!” Indeed, it is likely that I shall never again see the likes of this panorama: the Koyshaursky Valley lay below us, intersected by the Aragva River and another a small river, like two silver threads. A light bluish mist was crawling along it, fleeing the warm rays of morning to the neighboring canyons. On the left and the right, the hackles of the mountains, one higher than the next, were criss-crossing and stretching along, covered in snows, bushes. In the distance, there were similar hills, where no two rock-faces were alike—and the snows burned with a rosy luster, so uplifting, so bright, that it seemed you could live here forever. The sun was just showing itself from behind the dark-blue mountains, which only an accustomed eye could discern from the thunderclouds; but there were blood-red streaks above the sun, to which my comrade was paying particular attention.

“I told you,” he exclaimed, “that there would be a lot of weather today—we must hurry, otherwise, it will catch us on the Krestovaya. Move along!” he cried to the cart drivers.

We put chains under the wheels as brakes to stop them from rolling away, and we took the horses by their bridles and started our descent. There was a crag on our right, and such a precipice fell away to the left, that a whole village of Ossetians living at its base looked like a swallow’s nest. I shuddered at the thought that some ten times a year, in the deafness of night, some courier comes along this road, where two carts can’t pass at the same time, without once climbing off his jolting carriage. One of our cart drivers was a Russian muzhik27 from Yaroslavl, the other was Ossetian. The Ossetian led his shaft-horse by the bridle, having taken every possible precaution, and unyoked the other horses beforehand. But our carefree Russ28 never once came down off his seat. When I pointed out to him that he might take some care, not least for the sake of my valise, after which I did not at all desire to clamber into this abyss, he replied to me, “Ah, sir! God willing we’ll do it no worse than anyone else has; we’re not the first.” And he was right, we might not have made it, but we did in fact make it, and if everyone discussed things more, then they would convince themselves that life isn’t worth the constant worry . . .

But perhaps you want to know how the Bela story ends? Firstly, I am not writing a novel, but travel notes: so it follows that I can’t make the staff captain start recounting the tale before he actually starts telling it to me. So, wait a while, or, if you like, turn a few pages—only I don’t advise you to do that because the traverse across the Krestovaya Mountain (or as the scholar Gamba calls it, the Mont St. Christophe) is worthy of your interest.

So, we came down off Gud Mountain into the Chertova Valley . . . now there’s a romantic name! You immediately imagine a nest of evil spirits in between the unassailable crags—but not at all: the name of the Chertova Valley comes from cherta (as in boundary) not chert (as in devil), because apparently this was once the border of Georgia. This valley was crammed with snowdrifts, rather vividly reminiscent of Saratov, Tambov and other dear little29 places of our fatherland.

“That is Krestovaya!”30 the staff captain said to me, when we were traveling down into the Chertova Valley, pointing to a mountain, covered in swaddling snow. A stone cross made a black silhouette at its peak, and a road, just barely visible, led past it, along which people travel when the road flanking the hill is obstructed by snow. Our cart drivers relayed to us that there hadn’t yet been any avalanches, and, in consideration of the horses, they led us around on the flanking road. At the bend, we met about five men, Ossetians. They offered us their services, and catching hold of our wheels, with one cry, they took to dragging and supporting our carts. And to be sure, the road was dangerous: on the right, heaps of snow hung over our heads, ready, it seemed, to come away and fall into the ravine at the first gust of wind. The narrow road was partly covered in snow, which collapsed beneath your feet in some parts, and in other places had turned into ice after the effects of sun-rays and night frosts, so that it was with difficulty that we pushed our way through. The horses fell from time to time; a deep fissure gaped to our left in which a stream flowed downhill, sometimes hidden by an icy crust, sometimes jumping with foam along the black rocks. We barely managed to make our way around Krestovaya Mountain in two hours—two versts in two hours! In the meantime, the clouds had descended, pouring down hail and snow. The wind, digging itself into the ravine, bellowed and whistled like a Nightingale-Robber,31 and soon the stone cross was covered in mist, waves of which, one more dense and more packed than the next, accumulated from the east . . . Incidentally, a strange but universal legend exists about this cross. It seems it was put here by Emperor Peter the First, who traveled through the Caucasus. But first of all, Tsar Peter had only been to Dagestan, and second, an engraving on the cross in large letters says that the cross was put here under the orders of General Yermolov in 1824 exactly. But the legend, ignoring the engraving, has taken root such that really, you’re not sure whom to believe, which is only added to by the fact that we aren’t used to believing engravings anyway.

We still had to descend about five versts along the ice-covered rock-face and muddy snows to reach Kobi station. The horses were exhausted, and we were chilled to the bone. The storm droned stronger and stronger, just like our native northern storms—only this one’s wild melodies were more sad, more plaintive. “You’re an exile too,” I thought, “you cry for your wide, sweeping Steppe. There, you have room to unfurl your cold wings, but here it so stifled and cramped—you are like an eagle, who beats against the iron bars of his cage with a cry.”

“No good!” said the staff captain. “See, nothing is visible here, only mist and snow, and you have to watch or we’ll fall into an abyss or get lodged in a hole, and there, a little lower down, no doubt the Baidar River is running so high that you couldn’t cross it. Such is Asia! Whether its people or its rivers, you can’t count on anything in any way!”

With shouts and curses, the cart drivers thrashed the horses, which snorted, dug in their heels and wouldn’t move from their places for anything on the earth, never mind the eloquence of the whips.

“Your Honor,” one of them said finally, “it seems we won’t get to Koba today. Will you not give the order, while you can, for us to turn left? You see, those are probably saklyas over there that blacken the landscape on the hillside. Travelers always stop there in bad weather; they’re saying that they’ll lead us through if you give them a little something for vodka,” he added, pointing to the Ossetians.

“I know, old man, I know it without you telling me!” said the staff captain. “These rogues! They’ll seize any chance in order to extract something for their vodka.”

“You must admit, though,” I said, “that things would be worse without them.”

“Yes, that is so, that is so,” he muttered, “but these cart drivers! They pick up the scent of advantage and take it when they can—and it’s as if you wouldn’t even find the road without them!”

Here, we turned to the left and somehow, after many obstacles, made it to the meager refuge, which consisted of two saklyas, connected by flagstones and cobblestones, and encircled by a wall of the same stone. We interrupted the hosts, who took us in cordially. I found out afterward that the government pays them and supports them under the condition that they take in travelers caught in storms.

“Things are improving!” I said, taking a seat at the fire. “Now you will tell me the rest of the story about Bela. I am sure that it didn’t finish where you left it.”

“And why are you so sure of that?” replied the staff captain, winking with a sly smile.

“From the fact that things are not settled. What started in an unusual way, should also end unusually.”

“You’ve guessed it . . .”

“I’m glad.”

“It is good that it gives you joy, but for me, really, it is sad to recollect it. She was a glorious girl, Bela! I became so used to her, by the end, it was as though she were a daughter, and she loved me. I have to tell you, that I don’t have a family. Since the age of about twelve, I haven’t heard a thing about my father or mother, and I didn’t think to furnish myself with a wife earlier—and now, you know, it wouldn’t be very becoming to do so. I was glad to have someone to spoil. She would sometimes sing us songs, or dance the lezginka32 . . . and how she danced! I have seen our provincial gentle-women, and once I was in Moscow at the Club of Nobility, about twenty years ago—but what of them! They were nothing in comparison! . . . Grigory Alexandrovich dressed her up like a doll, tended to her, pampered her, and she grew prettier, like a miracle. The suntan descended from her face and arms, and a pinkness got up into her cheeks . . . Oh, she was really something, happy, always playing tricks on me, the mischief-maker . . . God forgive her!”

“What happened when you told her about her father’s death?”

“We hid it from her for a long time, while she was getting used to her situation. But when we told her, she cried for two days, and then forgot about it.

“About four months went by, and things couldn’t have been better. Grigory Alexandrovich, I’ve already mentioned I think, loved hunting with a passion. He would sometimes have such an urge to go out after boar or wild goat—but during that time he wouldn’t even step outside of the fortress ramparts. Then he started to seem distracted again; he paced his room, hands behind his back. And then once, without a word to anyone, he went off hunting, and was absent the whole morning. It happened again, and then it became more and more frequent . . . ‘Not good,’ I thought, ‘it seems a black cat has run between them!’

“One morning I go in to see him when I see before my eyes: Bela sitting on the bed in a black silk beshmet, the poor pale thing was so sad that I took fright.

“‘But where’s Pechorin?’ I asked.


“‘Did he leave today?’ She was silent, as if it was hard for her to get it out.

“‘No, yesterday,’ she finally said, heavily exhaling.

“‘Has something happened with him?’

“‘I spent the whole day yesterday thinking and thinking,’ she replied through tears, ‘and came up with various misfortunes: it occurred to me that he had either been injured by a vicious wild boar, or that a Chechen had dragged him off into the hills . . . But now, it just seems to me that he doesn’t love me.’

“‘Really, my dear, you couldn’t have thought up anything worse!’

“She started to cry and then, proudly raised her head, wiped away her tears, and continued:

“‘If he doesn’t love me, then who is preventing him from sending me home? I am not forcing him. But if it continues this way, then I’ll go off myself: I am not his slave—I am the daughter of a prince!’

“I started to try to assure her.

“‘Listen Bela, he can’t sit here forever as if he were sewn to your skirts. He is a young man, and loves to chase wild things—he goes off, but he’ll come back. And if you’re going to pine, then he’ll soon tire of it.’

“‘True, true!’ she replied. “I’ll be cheerful.’

“And with a loud laugh, she took up her tambourine, started to sing, dance, and bounce around me. Only this didn’t last long, and again she fell down on the bed and covered her face with her hands.

“What was I to do with her? I have never interacted much with women, you know. I was thinking and thinking about what might comfort her and couldn’t think of a thing. We were both silent for a time . . . A very unpleasant situation!

“Finally I said to her: ‘Why don’t we go for a walk along the ramparts? The weather is glorious!’ This was September. And really, the day was marvelous, bright and it wasn’t hot. All the mountains were visible, as if laid out on a platter. We went and walked along the fortress ramparts, back and forth, in silence. Finally she sat on some grass, and I sat next to her. But really, it’s funny to look back and think about how I ran around after her, like some sort of nanny.

“Our fortress stood at a high point, and the view from the ramparts was excellent. On one side, there was a wide glade, pitted with several gullies, finishing at a forest that stretched to the peak of the mountain. Here and there, auls were sending up smoke, herds were ranging. A rivulet ran on the other side, flanked by the thick shrubbery, which covered the stony ridges connecting to the central chain of the Caucasus. We sat on the corner of a bastion, so we could see everything on either side. And then I saw: someone emerging from the forest on a gray horse, getting closer and closer, and finally stopping on the other side of the stream, about a hundred sazhens33 from us, and twirling his horse, like a madman. What an extraordinary thing!

“‘Look there, Bela,’ I said, ‘you have young eyes, who is this dzhigit—and who is he here to entertain?’

“She looked over and cried out, ‘It’s Kazbich!’

“‘Ach, that scamp! What—has he come to laugh at us?’ I’m peering down and she’s right, it’s Kazbich: that’s his swarthy snout, ragged and dirty, as always.

“‘That’s my father’s horse,’ said Bela, grabbing my hand. She was shaking like a leaf and her eyes were sparkling. ‘Aha!’ I thought, ‘that roguish blood hasn’t quieted down in you either, my darling!’

“‘Come over here,’ I said to the sentry. ‘Train your rifle, and help this clever man off his horse—and you’ll get a silver ruble for it!’

“‘Yes, Your Honor. But he isn’t standing still!’

“‘Make him move!’ I said, laughing . . .

“‘Hello there, kind sir!’ shouted the sentry, waving at him. ‘Slow down, why are you twirling like a spinning top?’

“Kazbich actually stopped and started to listen attentively—he probably thought that someone was initiating negotiations with him—not at all!

“My grenadier took aim . . . Batz! . . . Missed. As soon as the gunpowder flared at the barrel, Kazbich nudged his horse and it leapt to the side. He came up a little in his stirrups and cried something in his own language, threatening us with his whip—and that was the last we saw of him.

“‘Shame on you!’ I said to the sentry.

“‘Your Honor! He’s gone off to die,’ he replied. ‘Those damned people don’t die instantly.’

“A quarter of an hour later, Pechorin returned from hunting. Bela threw herself around his neck, without complaint, without any reproach for his long absence . . .

“But even I was getting angry with him. ‘For pity’s sake,’ I said, ‘just here, a moment ago, Kazbich was by the stream and we fired at him. It’s been a while since you’ve come across him, hasn’t it? These mountain-dwelling people are vindictive. Do you think he has guessed that you had a part in helping Azamat? I’ll wager that he recognized Bela just now. And I know that about a year ago, he liked her tremendously—he told me so himself—and if he had figured out how to collect a decent amount of bride-money, then he’d probably have sought a marriage with her . . .’

“Pechorin then fell to thinking. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘we must be more careful . . . Bela, from today you must not walk on the fortress ramparts.’

“In the evening, I had a long, elucidating discussion with him. I was vexed that he had so changed toward the poor girl. Apart from the fact that he would spend half the day hunting, his treatment of her had turned cold, he rarely caressed her, and she had noticeably started to wither, her little face was drawn, and her big eyes had lost their luster.

“Sometimes you would ask her:

“‘Why such a big sigh Bela? Are you sad?’


“‘Is there something you would like?’


“‘Do you miss your kin?’

“‘I don’t have kin.’

“Sometimes you would get nothing more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ out of her for whole days.

“So I told him as much.

“‘Listen, Maxim Maximych,’ he replied. ‘I have an unfortunate character—whether it is how I was brought up, or whether God created me this way, I don’t know. I only know that if I am the cause of unhappiness in others, then I am no less unhappy myself. In my early youth, from the moment I left the care of my parents, I began furiously enjoying all the many pleasures you can obtain for money, and then, it seems, these pleasures became loathsome to me. Then I set forth into the wide world, and soon I’d had enough of society too. I fell in love with society beauties and was loved by them too—but their love only inflamed my imagination and pride, leaving my heart empty . . . I started to read, to study—but academics also bored me. I realized that neither glory nor happiness depends on them, because the happiest people are the ignorant. Glory comes from good fortune, and to attain it, you must merely be cunning. And then everything became tedious . . . Soon after, they transferred me to the Caucasus: this was the happiest time of my life. I hoped that boredom didn’t exist under Chechen bullets, but it was in vain—within a month I was so used to their whirring and to the nearness of death, that really, I paid more attention to the mosquitoes. And I was more bored than before, because I had lost what was nearly my last hope. When I saw Bela in my home, when for the first time I held her on my knees, I kissed her black curls, like a fool, I thought that she was an angel, sent to me by compassionate Fate . . . I was again mistaken. The love of a savage girl is not much better than the love of a noblewoman. The ignorance and simple-heartedness of the one becomes as tiresome as the coquettishness of the other. If you like, I still love her, I am grateful to her for several sufficiently sweet minutes. I would give my life for her, only I am bored in her company . . . Whether I’m a fool or a scoundrel, I don’t know. But one thing is sure—that I am as worthy of pity, maybe even more so, as she is. The soul inside me is corrupted by the world, my imagination is restless, my heart is insatiable. Nothing is ever enough. I have become as used to sorrow as I am to delight, and my life becomes more empty from one day to the next. There is only one remedy left for me: travel. As soon as I can, I will set off—only not to Europe, God forbid! I’ll go to America, to Arabia, to India—maybe I’ll perish somewhere along the way! At least, I am certain, that this final solace will not be exhausted too quickly, with the help of storms and bad roads.’

“He spoke like this for a long time, and his words engraved themselves on my memory because it was the first time I had heard such things from a twenty-five-year-old, and, God willing, it will be the last . . . How extraordinary!

“So tell me,” the staff captain continued, addressing himself to me, “from the sound of things, you have been in the capital recently—surely the youth there are not all like that?”

I answered that there are many people who speak in the same way; that there are, probably, some that are telling the truth; however, disillusionment, like every fashion, having begun at the highest social strata, had descended to the lower strata, who were now wearing it out, and that now, those who are most bored of all try to hide this misfortune as though it were a vice. The staff captain didn’t understand these nuances, shook his head, and smiled slyly.

“And it was the French, no doubt, who brought in this fashion of boredom?”

“No, the English.”

“Aha, that’s it!” he replied. “Indeed, they have always been inveterate drunks!”

I couldn’t help remembering one Muscovite lady, who had assured me that Byron had been nothing more than a drunk. But the staff captain’s observation was more pardonable: in order to restrain himself from wine, he, of course, was trying to persuade himself that all the misfortunes of the world have their origins in drink.

Meanwhile, he continued his story in this way:

“Kazbich didn’t appear again. Only, and I don’t know why, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that it was not for nothing that he had come, and that he was preparing himself for something nefarious.

“One day, Pechorin had tried to persuade me to go boar-hunting with him. I refused at length. Wild boar was no marvel to me! But, he managed to drag me off with him anyway. We took about five soldiers and set off early in the morning. Until ten o’clock we darted about the rushes and forest without seeing one beast.

“‘Ho! Shouldn’t we go back?’ I said. ‘What is there to aim at? It’s clear that it’s turned out to be an unlucky day!’ But Grigory Alexandrovich did not want to turn back without some sort of quarry, never mind the intense heat and exhaustion . . . that’s the kind of person he was—as soon as something occurs to him, he has to have it. He must have been spoiled by his mama as a child . . . Finally, at midday, we tracked down a damned boar. Paff! Paff! . . . No luck. It fled into the rushes. That’s the sort of unlucky day it was! . . . Then we paused to catch our breath for a moment, and set off home.

“We rode side by side, saying nothing, with loose reins, and we were right near the fortress—only bushes were hiding it from view. Suddenly a shot was fired . . . and we looked at each other. We were seized by the same suspicion . . . We galloped headlong toward the shot, and saw that soldiers had gathered in a bunch on the ramparts and were pointing to a field. And there, flying along, was a horseman carrying something white in his saddle. Grigory Alexandrovich gave out a cry worthy of a Chechen, pulled his rifle from its case and was off. I followed.

“Fortunately, due to our unsuccessful hunting efforts, our horses were not worn out, they strained under our saddles, and with each moment we were closer and closer . . . And at last, I recognized Kazbich, though I couldn’t make out what it was that he was holding in front of him. I drew up to Pechorin and yelled to him: ‘It’s Kazbich!’ And he looked at me, nodded, and struck his horse with his whip.

“At last we were within a rifle shot’s distance of him. Whether it was that Kazbich’s horse was exhausted, or that it was a worse horse than ours, much as he tried, it wasn’t making much progress. I imagine at that moment Kazbich was harking back to his Karagyoz . . .

“As I watched, Pechorin took aim with his rifle at full gallop . . . ‘Don’t shoot!’ I yelled to him. ‘Hold your fire! We’ll catch up with him!’ But—young men! Forever flaring up when they shouldn’t . . . A shot rang out, and the bullet broke the horse’s back leg. It sprang along another ten times or so, compelled by the heat of the moment, then stumbled and fell to its knees. Kazbich leapt off, and then we saw that he was holding a woman covered in a yashmak in his arms . . . It was Bela . . . Poor Bela! He then shouted something in his tongue and raised his dagger over her . . . There wasn’t a moment to waste. I took a shot in turn, a random shot. It looked as though the bullet had hit him in the shoulder because his arm suddenly fell . . . But when the smoke had dispersed, the horse lay wounded on the ground, and Bela next to it. And Kazbich, having thrown his rifle into the bushes, was clambering up the cliff like a cat. I would have liked to pick him off, but I didn’t have a ready cartridge! We jumped off our horses and rushed to Bela. The poor thing, she was lying there, unmoving, and blood was pouring in streams from her wound. That scoundrel—he could have at least struck her in the heart and ended it all with one blow, but to stick her in the back . . . the most treacherous of attacks! She wasn’t conscious. We tore up the yashmak and bandaged the wound as tightly as we could. Pechorin kissed her cold lips, but to no avail—nothing could bring her to her senses.

“Pechorin mounted his horse. I lifted her from the ground and somehow installed her in his saddle. He embraced her with his arm, and we went back to the fortress. After several minutes of silence, Grigory Alexandrovich said to me, ‘Listen, Maxim Maximych, we won’t get her back alive like this.’

“ ‘Right!’ I said. We gave our horses their heads, and rode at full tilt. A crowd of people awaited us at the gates of the fortress. Carefully we transferred the wounded girl to Pechorin’s quarters and sent for the doctor. Though he was drunk, he made it; he inspected her wound and announced that she wouldn’t live more than a day—but he was mistaken . . .”

“Did she get better?” I asked the staff captain, grabbing his arm, unable to help myself from feeling glad.

“No,” he replied, “the doctor was mistaken in that she lasted two more days.”

“But explain to me—how did Kazbich manage to kidnap her?”

“Here’s how: in spite of Pechorin’s rules, she left the fortress and went down to the stream. It was, you see, very hot that day. She was sitting on a rock and lowered her feet into the water. Then Kazbich crept up and grabbed her, covered her mouth, and dragged her into the bushes, where he jumped on his horse and he was off! In the meantime she managed to let out a cry, the sentry was alerted, and he fired a shot, which missed, and that’s when we appeared.”

“But why did Kazbich want to take her?”

“For pity’s sake! These Circassians are notoriously thieving folk. If anything is lying around, they can’t help but pinch it. Even if they don’t need it, they’ll steal it anyway . . . but they must be forgiven for that! Besides, he had liked her for a long time.”

“And Bela died?”

“She died. But she suffered for a long time, and we suffered very much with her. At about ten o’clock in the evening she came to. We were sitting at her bedside and as soon as she opened her eyes, she started asking for Pechorin.

“‘I’m here, beside you, my djanechka,’ he replied (our word for this is ‘sweetheart’), taking her hand. ‘I am dying!’ she said. We started comforting her, saying that the doctor had promised to cure her without fail. She shook her head and turned toward the wall: she didn’t want to die!

“That night she started to become delirious. Her head was burning, the trembling of a fever ran up and down her body.

She was uttering disconnected phrases about her father, her brother. She wanted to go to the mountains, to go home . . . Then she also started speaking about Pechorin, calling him various affectionate things or reproaching him for ceasing to love his djanechka . . .

“He listened to her without saying anything, his head lowered into his hands. But I never once noticed a tear on his lashes. Indeed, he either couldn’t cry or he was containing himself—I don’t know. Personally, I have never laid eyes on anything more pitiable.

“The delirium lifted toward morning. For an hour, she lay there motionless and pale, with such feebleness that it was barely possible to see her breathing. Then she seemed better, and she started talking—but what do you think she was on about? . . . This kind of thing only occurs to the dying! She had started lamenting the fact that she wasn’t a Christian, and that in the other world, her soul wouldn’t meet Pechorin’s, and that some other woman would become his companion in heaven. I had an idea to christen her before she died and I suggested it to her. She looked at me with indecision and couldn’t utter anything for a long while. Eventually, she responded saying she would die of the same faith with which she was born. A whole day passed in this way. How she changed over the course of that day! Her pale cheeks sank, her eyes grew larger and larger, her lips burned. She felt an inner heat, as though there was a piece of burning-hot iron in her breast.

“The next night fell; we didn’t close our eyes, didn’t leave her bedside. She was suffering terribly, moaning, and when the pain subsided, she would try to convince Grigory Alexandrovich that she was better, persuading him to get some sleep, she kissed his hand, she wouldn’t release it from her own. Before morning she began to feel the anguish of death, she started to toss around, dislodged her bandage, and she bled again. When they dressed the wound, she was calm for a minute and started asking Pechorin if he would kiss her. He got onto his knees by the bed, lifted her head a little from the pillow, and pressed his lips to her ever-colder lips. She threw her shaking arms tightly around his neck as though with this kiss she wanted to convey her soul to him . . . But she did well to die! What would have become of her if Grigory Alexandrovich had abandoned her? It would have happened sooner or later . . .

“The first half of the next day she was quiet, un-talking and obedient, as the doctor tortured her with poultices and mixtures.

“‘For pity’s sake!’ I said to him. ‘You said yourself that she would die for certain, so why all these medical preparations? ’

“‘It’s still better than nothing, Maxim Maximych,’ he responded, ‘for the sake of a peaceful conscience.’ A peaceful conscience!

“After midday, she started to be tormented by thirst. We opened the window, but it was hotter in the courtyard than in her room. We put pieces of ice by her bed but nothing was helping. I knew that this was an unbearable thirst—a sign of the approaching end—and told this to Pechorin. ‘Water! Water!’ she said with a hoarse voice, rising up slightly in her bed.

“He became as white as a sheet, grabbed a glass, poured water into it and gave it to her. I covered my eyes with my hands and started to recite a prayer, I don’t remember which . . . Yes, my dear sir, I have often seen people dying in hospitals and on battlefields—but it didn’t compare—didn’t compare! . . . And what’s more, I should confess, that there’s something that particularly saddens me: she didn’t once think of me before her death. And, it seems, I loved her like a father . . . God forgive her! . . . But, in actuality, it must be said: who am I that she should remember me before her death?

“As soon as she had taken a drink of water, she felt a certain ease, and after three minutes she perished. We put a mirror up to her lips—it was clear! . . . I led Pechorin straight out of the room, and we went to the fortress ramparts. For a long time we walked back and forth along the ramparts side by side, without saying a word, our hands clasped behind our backs. His face expressed nothing in particular and I became vexed. In his place I would have died of grief. Eventually, he sat on the ground, in the shade, and started scratching something in the sand with a stick. I wanted to comfort him, and started to say something, mostly out of a sense of decency, you know. And he raised his head and burst out laughing . . . a chill ran along my skin with that laughter . . . I went off to order the coffin.

“I admit that I was occupying myself with this task partly in order to distract myself. I had a piece of thermalam,34 with which I lined her coffin, and I decorated it with the Circassian silver galloon, which Grigory Alexandrovich had bought for her earlier anyway.

“The next day, in the early morning, we buried her behind the fortress, by the stream, near the place where last she had sat. White acacia and elders have now spread around her grave. I wanted to mount a cross, but, you know, it wouldn’t be right: after all, she wasn’t a Christian . . .”

“And what happened to Pechorin?” I asked.

“Pechorin was unwell for a long while, he wasted away, poor fellow, but we never spoke of Bela again. I saw that it would have been unpleasant for him—so why mention it? About three months later he was appointed to the E——regiment and he left for Georgia. We haven’t seen each other since then . . . Yes, I seem to remember someone telling me not long ago that he had returned to Russia, but it wasn’t in corps orders. But then, news is always late in arriving to the likes of us.”

Then he launched into a long dissertation about how unpleasant it is to receive news a year after the fact—probably in an effort to dampen his sad memories.

I didn’t interrupt him, but I didn’t listen either.

After an hour, an opportunity to continue our journey arose. The blizzard had abated, the sky had cleared, and we set off. On the road, I couldn’t help but start a conversation about Bela and Pechorin again.

“Did you ever hear what happened to Kazbich?” I asked.

“To Kazbich? I really don’t know . . . I heard that there is some Kazbich in the right flank of the Shapsugs, a daring fellow, who rides around at a slow pace under our fire, and very courteously takes a bow when a bullet buzzes near him—but it’s unlikely that it’s the same man!”

In Kobi I parted ways with Maxim Maximych. I went on, traveling post, and he was unable to follow me since his load was heavy. We didn’t have a hope of ever meeting again, but nonetheless we did. And if you like, I’ll tell you about it—but that’s another story . . . Won’t you agree, however, that Maxim Maximych is a man worthy of respect? . . . If you agree, then I will have been rewarded for my story, overlong though it may have been.