A Hero of Our Time June 12

This evening was rich with incident. About three versts from Kislovodsk, there is a rock formation called the Ring, in a ravine through which the Podkumok River flows. It is a gate formed by nature; it rises up on a high hill, and through it the setting sun throws its last flaming glance to the world. A large cavalcade set off to see the sunset through this little rock-window. No one among us, to tell the truth, was thinking about the sun. I rode next to the princess; and on our way home, we had to ford the Podkumok. The smallest little mountain streams are especially dangerous because their depths are an absolute kaleidoscope: every day, they change due to the pressure of the waves; where a stone lay yesterday, today there is a hole. I took the princess’s horse by the reins, and led her to the water, which wasn’t more than knee-high; we gently started to advance along the diagonal, against the flow. It is well known that you mustn’t look at the water when crossing a quickly flowing stream, for your head will immediately spin. I forgot to forewarn Princess Mary of this.

We were in the middle, in the rapids, when she suddenly swayed in the saddle. “I am not well!” she uttered in a weak voice . . . I quickly bent toward her, and threw my arm around her lithe waist. “Look upward!” I whispered to her. “It’s nothing, don’t be scared, I am with you.”

She felt better. She wanted to be released from my arm, but I wound it even tighter around her delicate figure. My cheek almost touched her cheek. Flames wafted from her.

“What are you doing with me? Good God . . . !”

I wasn’t paying attention to her quivering and embarrassment, and my lips touched her delicate little cheeks; she flinched but didn’t say anything. We were riding at the back, no one saw. When we managed to get to the bank, everyone had already set off at a trot. The princess held her horse back. I stayed next to her. It was obvious that she was agitated by my silence, but I swore not to say a word—out of curiosity. I wanted to see how she would disentangle herself from this embarrassing situation.

“Either you despise me or love me very much!” she said finally with a voice containing tears. “Maybe you wanted to laugh at me, to perturb my soul, and then to leave. This would be so despicable, so base, that the supposition alone . . . oh no! Tell me,” she added with a voice of tender confidence. “Is there something in me that denies me respect? Your audacious behavior . . . I should, I should forgive you for it because I allowed for it . . . Answer me, say something, I want to hear your voice!”

There was such female impatience in these last words that I smiled involuntarily. Thankfully, it had started to darken outside. I didn’t answer.

“You stay silent?” she continued. “Maybe you want me to tell you that I love you first?”

I said nothing . . .

“Is that what you want?” she continued, quickly turning to me . . . There was something frightening in the resolve of her gaze and voice . . .

“What for?” I replied, shrugging my shoulders.

She struck her horse with the whip and went off at full speed along the narrow, dangerous road; it happened so quickly that I barely managed to catch up and then only once she had joined the rest of the group. She talked and laughed in alternation all the way home. There was something feverish in her movements. She didn’t look at me once. Everyone noticed this unusual jollity. And the Princess Ligovsky was overjoyed inside, looking at her daughter. But her daughter was simply having a nervous fit: she would spend the night without sleeping and would weep too. This thought gave me immense pleasure: there are moments when I understand vampires18 . . . But I also have a reputation for being a good fellow and aspire to this name too!

Dismounting from their horses, the ladies went in to Princess Ligovsky’s house. I was agitated and I galloped to the mountains to disperse the thoughts that were thronging in my head. The dewy evening breathed a ravishing coolness. The moon was rising from behind the dark mountaintops. Every step made by my unshod horse resounded dully in the silence of the ravine. At the waterfall, I let my horse drink, and I greedily took two breaths of the fresh air of the southern night, and set off on my return journey. I passed through the slobodka. The lights in the windows were going out. The sentries on the ramparts of the fortress and the Cossacks on the surrounding picquets called to each other in long, drawn-out sounds.

I noticed an extraordinary light from one of the houses of the slobodka, which was built on the edge of the precipice; from time to time, the discordant sounds of talking and shouting rang out, indicating that it was a military carousal. I dismounted and stole up to the window; the shutters were not too tightly shut, which allowed me to see the revelers and to catch their words. They were talking about me.

The dragoon captain, flushed with wine, was banging his fist on the table, demanding attention.

“Gentlemen!” he said. “This is like nothing I’ve seen before. Pechorin needs to be taught a lesson! Those Petersburg fledglings are always giving themselves airs, until you hit them on the nose! He thinks that he is the only one who has lived in good society, since he always wears clean gloves and polished boots.”

“And what of that haughty smile! I am convinced, meanwhile, that he is a coward, yes, a coward!”

“I think the same,” said Grushnitsky, “and he likes a riposte. I once said a great deal of things that would have normally incited a person to hack me to pieces on the spot, but Pechorin addressed everything from an amusing perspective. I didn’t challenge him, of course, because that was for him to do. Yes, and I didn’t want to have any more business with him . . .”

“Grushnitsky is being vicious toward him because he snatched the princess away,” someone said.

“What a thing to invent! It’s true, I pursued the princess a little, yes, and I have now given it up, because I don’t want to get married, and it isn’t within my principles to compromise a young lady.”

“Yes, I believe you, that he is a prime coward, that is Pechorin, and not Grushnitsky—oh, Grushnitsky is a clever fellow, and what’s more he is my true friend!” said the dragoon captain again. “Gentlemen! Is anyone here going to defend him? No one? Excellent! And would you like to test his bravery? It will amuse us . . .”

“Yes, we would—but how?”

“Well, listen now: Grushnitsky is especially angry with him—so he has the principal role! He will find something wrong with some sort of silliness and will challenge Pechorin to a duel . . . Wait now, this is where it gets interesting . . . He will challenge him to a duel: good! And everything—the challenge, the preparations, the stipulations—will be as solemn and awful as possible. I will take care of this. I will be your second, my poor friend! Good! Only here is the hitch: we won’t put bullets in the pistols. I posit that Pechorin will lose his nerve—I will put them at six paces apart, damn it! Are you all in agreement, gentlemen?”

“Glorious plan! We agree! Why not?” resounded from all sides.

“And you, Grushnitsky?”

I awaited Grushnitsky’s answer with agitation. A cold fury possessed me at the thought that were it not for this happenstance, then I would have been made a laughing stock by these idiots. If Grushnitsky hadn’t agreed to it, I would have thrown myself upon him. But after a certain silence, he stood up from his place and, extending a hand to the captain, said very importantly, “Very well, I agree to it.”

It is difficult to describe the rapture of the whole honored company at this.

I returned home, agitated by two different feelings. The first was sorrow. “Why do they all hate me so much?” I thought. Why? Have I insulted someone? No. Surely I am not one of those people who can incite ill will at first appearance? And I felt a poisonous malevolence, little by little, filling my soul.

“Watch yourself, Mr. Grushnitsky!” I was saying, walking up and down my room. “You can’t play with me like this. You may pay dearly for the approval of your stupid comrades. I am not your toy!”

I didn’t sleep all night. By morning, I was as yellow as a sour orange.

In the morning I met the young princess at the well. “Are you unwell?” she said, looking at me intently.

“I didn’t sleep last night.”

“I didn’t either . . . I have accused you . . . Perhaps it was unwarranted? But explain yourself, and I can forgive you everything . . .”


“Everything . . . only tell me the truth . . . and quickly . . . Can’t you see that I have thought about it so much, tried to explain everything, to justify your behavior. Maybe you are afraid of certain obstacles in the form of my relatives . . . This is nothing. When they find out . . . (her voice quivered) I will prevail upon them. Or is it your personal situation . . . but you know that I could sacrifice everything for the person I loved . . . Oh, say something quickly, take pity . . . You don’t despise me—don’t you?” She grabbed my hand. Princess Ligovsky walked in front of us with Vera’s husband and didn’t see anything. But we could be seen by the cure-seekers strolling past, the most curious scandalmongers of all, and I quickly freed my hand from her passionate grip.

“I will tell you the whole truth,” I replied to the young princess, “I won’t justify, nor will I explain my actions. I don’t love you . . .”

Her lips paled slightly . . .

“Leave me alone,” she said, only just distinguishably.

I shrugged my shoulders, turned, and walked off.