A Hero of Our Time June 16

This morning at the well there was talk and nothing else about the nocturnal attack of the Circassians. Having drunk the prescribed number of glasses of Narzan, I walked the length of the linden avenue about ten times and encountered Vera’s husband, who had just arrived from Pyatigorsk. He took me by the arm, and we went to the restaurant to have breakfast. He was terribly worried about his wife.

“How frightened she was last night!” he was saying. “And that it would happen at the moment of my absence.”

We settled down to breakfast by the door that led to a corner room in which ten or so young men were sitting, and amongst their number was Grushnitsky. Fate, for a second time, had provided me with the occasion of overhearing a conversation that was supposed to decide his fate. He didn’t see me, and therefore I couldn’t be suspicious of his designs. But this only augments his guilt in my eyes.

“It can’t really be that they were Circassians,” someone said. “Did anyone see them?”

“I will tell you the whole story,” replied Grushnitsky, “only, please, don’t give me away. Here is how it was: yesterday a man whom I won’t name comes to me and tells me that just before ten o’clock in the evening he saw someone stealing up to the Ligovsky house. I must remark that the Princess Ligovsky was here, but the young princess was at home. So he and I set off to lie in wait for the lucky man under the window.”

I admit that I took fright at this, even though my interlocutor was very busy with his breakfast: he could have overheard things that would be rather unpleasant for him, if Grushnitsky had guessed the truth. But blind with jealousy, he didn’t suspect it.

“So you see,” continued Grushnitsky, “we set off just simply to scare him, having taken a gun with us, loaded with blank cartridges. Toward two o’clock we were waiting in the garden. Finally, and God knows where he appeared from, only it wasn’t from the window, because it wasn’t open—he must have come out of the glass door that is behind the columns—finally, I say, we see someone coming down from the balcony . . . What kind of princess can she be? Ah? Well, I do declare, young Muscovite ladies! After this, what can you trust? We wanted to capture him, but he broke free, and, like a hare, fled into the bushes. Then I shot at him.”

A grumble of disbelief could be heard around Grushnitsky.

“You don’t believe me?” he continued. “I give you my honest, noble word, that all this is the absolute truth, and in evidence, if you like, I will give the gentleman’s name.”

“Tell us, tell us—who is it, then?” could be heard from every side.

“Pechorin,” replied Grushnitsky.

At that moment, he raised his eyes—I was standing in the doorway opposite him. He blushed horribly. I walked up to him and said slowly and distinctly:

“I am very sorry to have come in after you have already given your honest word in the confirmation of this disgusting slander. My presence saves you from further depravity.”

Grushnitsky leapt up from his place and made motions of becoming impassioned.

“I request of you,” I continued in the same tone, “I request of you that you retract your words right now. You know very well that this is a fabrication. I don’t think that the indifference of a woman toward your shining merits deserves such terrible vengeance. Consider this well: in maintaining your opinion, you are losing the right to be called a noble man and are risking your life.”

Grushnitsky stood in front of me, having lowered his eyes, in fierce agitation. But the struggle between his conscience and his vanity was short-lived. The dragoon captain, sitting next to him, nudged him with his elbow. He flinched and quickly answered me without lifting his eyes:

“Gracious sir, when I say something, then it is what I think, and I am prepared to repeat it . . . I am not afraid of your threats and am prepared for anything . . .”

“You have already demonstrated the latter,” I replied to him coldly, and, taking the dragoon captain by the arm, I left the room.

“What can I do for you?” asked the captain.

“You are Grushnitsky’s friend, and will be his second, I assume?”

The captain bowed very importantly.

“You have guessed it,” he answered. “I am even obliged to be his second, since the insult caused to him concerns me too. I was with him yesterday night,” he added, straightening his slightly round-shouldered figure.

“Oh! So it was you whom I hit so clumsily on the head?”

He turned yellow, then blue. The concealed spite showed on his face.

“I will have the honor of sending my second to you today,” I added, bowing very politely and giving the impression that I wasn’t paying attention to his fury.

I met Vera’s husband on the terrace of the restaurant. It seems that he had been waiting for me.

He grasped my hand with a feeling that looked like delight.

“Noble young man!” said he, with tears in his eyes. “I heard everything. What a swine! Ingrate! . . . What proper household would entertain them after this?! Thank God I don’t have daughters. But you will be rewarded by the young lady for whom you are risking your life. You can be sure of my modesty for the time being,” he continued. “I was once young myself and served in the military—I know not to intervene in these matters. Farewell.”

Poor man! He is happy that he doesn’t have daughters . . .

I went straight to Werner, found him at home, and told him everything—my relations with Vera and with the princess and the conversation that I overheard, from which I learned the intention of these gentlemen to make a fool of me, to make me fire blank cartridges. But now the matter had departed from the boundaries of a joke. They probably didn’t expect such a result. The doctor agreed to be my second. I gave him several instructions concerning the stipulations of the duel. He should insist that the matter is worked out as secretly as possible, because though I am ready to expose myself to death at any time, I am not in the least inclined toward ruining my future in this world forever.

After this I went home. The doctor returned from his mission an hour later.

“There is definitely a plot against you,” he said. “I found the dragoon captain and another gentleman, whose last name I don’t remember, at Grushnitsky’s place. I paused for a minute in the entrance hall in order to remove my galoshes. There was a terrible noise and argument going on inside . . .

“‘I won’t agree to that for anything!’ Grushnitsky was saying. ‘He insulted me publicly—before that it was entirely different . . .’

“‘What is it to you?’ answered the dragoon captain. ‘I’ll take it all onto myself. I have been a second in five duels and I know well how to arrange it all. I have devised everything. If you please, just don’t get in my way. Giving someone a scare is no bad thing. And why expose yourself to danger, if you can escape it?’

“At that minute I walked up. They went silent. Our negotiations lasted rather a long time; finally we decided the matter thus: about five versts from here, there is a hidden gully. They will go there tomorrow at four o’clock in the morning, and we will depart half an hour after them. Shots will be at six paces—this was requested by Grushnitsky. The dead body will be attributed to the Circassians. Now, these are my suspicions: they, the seconds that is, have somewhat changed their prior plans it seems, and they want to load a bullet into Grushnitsky’s pistol alone. This is a little similar to murder, but in wartime, and especially an Asiatic war, such stratagems are allowed. Only Grushnitsky, it would seem, is a little more noble than his friends. What do you think? Shall we reveal to him that we have figured it out?”

“Not for anything in this world, Doctor! Be calm, I will not give in to them.”

“What then do you want to do?”

“That is my secret.”

“Watch you don’t get caught . . . especially at six paces!”

“Doctor, I will wait for you tomorrow at four o’clock. The horses will be ready . . . Good-bye.”

I sat at home until evening, and shut myself in my room. A lackey came to call me to the Princess Ligovsky—I ordered him to tell them I was ill.

Two o’clock at night . . . I cannot sleep . . . But I must fall asleep, so that tomorrow my hand won’t shake. However, at six paces, it is hard to miss. Ah! Mr. Grushnitsky! You won’t succeed in your hoax . . . We will swap roles. Now it is I who shall look for the symptoms of secret fear on your pale face. Why did you set yourself these fateful six paces? You think that I will offer you my forehead without a struggle . . . but we are casting lots! . . . But then . . . then . . . what if his luck outweighs mine . . . if my star has at last betrayed me? . . . It would be no surprise: it has faithfully served my whims for so long, there is no more constancy in the heavens than on earth.

So? If I die, then I die! The loss to the world won’t be great. Yes, and I’m fairly bored with myself already. I am like a man who is yawning at a ball, whose reason for not going home to bed is only that his carriage hasn’t arrived yet. But the carriage is ready . . . farewell!

I run through the memory of my past in its entirety and can’t help asking myself: Why have I lived? For what purpose was I born? . . . There probably was one once, and I probably did have a lofty calling, because I feel a boundless strength in my soul . . . But I didn’t divine this calling. I was carried away with the baits of passion, empty and unrewarding. I came out of their crucible as hard and cold as iron, but I had lost forever the ardor for noble aspirations, the best flower of life. Since then, how many times have I played the role of the ax in the hands of fate! Like an instrument of execution, I fell on the head of doomed martyrs, often without malice, always without regret . . . My love never brought anyone happiness, because I never sacrificed anything for those I loved: I loved for myself, for my personal pleasure. I was simply satisfying a strange need of the heart, with greediness, swallowing their feelings, their joys, their suffering—and was never sated. Just as a man, tormented by hunger, goes to sleep in exhaustion and dreams of sumptuous dishes and sparkling wine before him. He devours the airy gifts of his imagination with rapture, and he feels easier. But as soon as he wakes: the dream disappears . . . and all that remains is hunger and despair redoubled!

And, maybe, I will die tomorrow! . . . And not one being on this earth will have ever understood me totally. Some thought of me as worse, some as better, than I actually am . . . Some will say “he was a good fellow,” others will say I was a swine. Both one and the other would be wrong. Given this, does it seem worth the effort to live? And yet, you live, out of curiosity, always wanting something new . . . Amusing and vexing!

It is already a month and a half now since I arrived at Fortress N——. Maxim Maximych has gone hunting . . . I am alone. I am sitting at the window. Gray storm clouds have covered the mountains down to their foothills. The sun, through the mist, looks like a yellow stain. It’s cold. The wind is whistling and shaking the shutters . . . How boring! I will take up writing my diaries again, which was interrupted by many strange events.

As I re-read this last page: funny! I thought I would die. This was impossible. I had not yet drained the cup of suffering, and now feel that I have a long while still to live.

How clearly and sharply these past events flood back to my memory! Not one line, not one hue, has been wiped away by time!

I remember that for the duration of the night preceding the duel, I didn’t sleep a minute. I couldn’t write for long: a mysterious anxiety possessed me. For an hour I walked around my room, then I sat down and opened the novel by Walter Scott that had been lying on the table. Since it was Old Mortality, I read it at the start with strain, and then I sank into reveries, carried away by the magical flight of imagination . . . Do they recompense the Scottish bard in the next world for each gratifying minute that his book gives?

Finally the day dawned. My nerves had become calm. I looked at myself in the mirror: a dull pallor had spread over my face, preserving the traces of agonizing insomnia. But my eyes, though encircled with brown shadows, shone proudly and inexorably. I remained content with myself.

Having ordered the horses to be saddled, I dressed and ran down to the bathhouse. Plunging into the cold bubblings of the Narzan, I felt my bodily and spiritual strengths returning. I left the baths fresh and bright, as though I were preparing for a ball. Tell me that the soul and body aren’t connected after that!

Returning, I found the doctor at my quarters. He was wearing gray riding breeches, an arkhaluk,20 and a Circassian hat. I started roaring with laughter upon seeing this small figure under an enormous shaggy hat: his face was not at all bellicose and, at that moment in time, it was even longer than usual.

“What makes you so sad, doctor?” I said to him. “Haven’t you led people a hundred times to the next world with supreme indifference? Imagine that I have a bilious fever. I may recover, I may die. Either would be according to the order of things. Try to look at me as if I were a patient, afflicted by an illness that is unknown to you—and then your curiosity will be aroused to the highest degree. You can make some important physiological observations of me . . . Is not the expectation of a violent death a genuine illness in fact?”

This thought struck the doctor, and he cheered up.

We mounted our horses. Werner seized the reins with both hands, and we set off. In an instant we galloped past the fortress, through the slobodka, and entered the gully; the road twisted along it, half-overgrown with high grasses, intersecting constantly with a noisy stream, across which we had to ford frequently, to the great despair of the doctor, because each time we did his horse stopped in the water.

I don’t remember a morning more blue and fresh! The sun had barely appeared from behind the green heights, and the confluence of the heat of its rays and the dying chill of night brought feelings of a sort of sweet anguish to everything. The young day had not yet sent one joyful ray into the gully. But it gilded the summits of the crags hanging over us on either side. The thick-leaved bushes, growing in their deep cracks, showered us with silver rain at the least breath of wind. I remember, at this point, I felt a love for nature greater than at any time before. How interesting to watch a single dewdrop, quivering on a wide vine-leaf and reflecting millions of rainbow rays! How greedily my gaze sought to penetrate the foggy distance! There the path became narrower all the time, the crags bluer and more fearsome, and, finally, it seemed that they converged into an impenetrable wall. We rode in silence.

“Have you written your will?” Werner suddenly asked.


“And in the case of your death?”

“My beneficiaries will appear by themselves.”

“Surely you have friends to whom you would like to send a final farewell?”

I shook my head.

“Surely there is one woman in the world to whom you might like to leave something for memory’s sake?”

“Would you like, doctor,” I replied to him, “that I bare my soul to you? . . . You see, I have grown out of the times when a person dies, pronouncing the name of their beloved, and bequeathing to their friend a lock of their pomaded or unpomaded hair. Considering near and possible death, I think only about myself—some don’t even do that. The friends who will tomorrow forget me, or, worse, those who will pin God knows what cock-and-bull stories on me, and the women who, embracing another, will laugh at me, in order not to arouse jealousy toward the deceased—good luck to them! I have carried only a few ideas out of life’s storm—and not one feeling. I have long lived according to the head, not the heart. I consider and analyze my personal passions and actions with a strict curiosity, but without sympathy. There are two people within me: one who lives in the full sense of the word, and the other who reasons and judges him. The first, maybe, in an hour’s time may bid forevermore farewell to you and the world, and the second . . . the second? Look doctor: do you see there on that precipice, to the right, three figures blackening the landscape? They are our adversaries I suppose?”

We set off at a trot.

At the foot of the rock-face, in the bushes, three horses were tied up. We tied ours there too, and clambered up the narrow footpath to the little platform, where we were awaited by Grushnitsky, the dragoon captain, and his other second called Ivan Ignatievitch (I have never heard his last name).

“We have been expecting you for a long time,” said the dragoon captain with an ironic smile.

I pulled out my timepiece and showed it to him.

He apologized, saying that his watch was running fast.

An embarrassing silence endured for several minutes. Finally the doctor broke it, addressing himself to Grushnitsky.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that, having both demonstrated a readiness to fight and having paid these debts to the conditions of honor, you could both, gentlemen, make yourselves understood now and end this matter amicably.”

“I am willing,” I said.

The captain winked at Grushnitsky, and the latter, thinking I was being a coward, assumed a proud air, though until this minute a dull pallor had spread over his cheeks. For the first time since we arrived, he raised his eyes to me. But there was some sort of unrest in his gaze, indicating an inner struggle.

“Clarify your conditions,” he said, “and I will do everything that I can for you, you may rest assured . . .”

“Here are my conditions: that you now publicly retract your slander and ask my forgiveness . . .”

“Gracious sir, I am astonished that you deign to propose such things to me.”

“What could I propose to you otherwise?”

“We will shoot . . .”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“As you please, only remember that one of us will certainly be killed.”

“Would that it were you . . .”

“And I feel assured of the opposite . . .”

He became embarrassed, turned red, then laughed forcedly.

The captain took him by the arm and led him off to the side. They whispered for a long time. I had arrived in a rather peaceable mood, but all this was starting to madden me.

The doctor walked up to me.

“Listen,” he said with evident anxiety. “I suppose you have forgotten about their plot? . . . I don’t know how to load a pistol, but if it comes to that . . . You are a strange man! Tell them that you know their intentions, and they won’t dare . . . What is this—hunting? They’ll shoot you like a bird . . .”

“Please, don’t worry, doctor, and wait . . . I will arrange it all so that there is no advantage to their side. Let them whisper . . .”

“Gentlemen, this is getting tiresome!” I said to them loudly. “If we’re going to fight then let’s fight. You had time yesterday to discuss the matter in its entirety.”

“We are ready,” the captain answered.

“Take your positions, gentlemen! . . . Doctor, measure six paces, if you please.”

“Take your positions!” repeated Ivan Ignatievitch in a squeaky voice.

“Allow me!” I said, “. . . one more condition. Since we are fighting to the death, then we are obliged to do everything possible to make sure that this remains secret and that our seconds aren’t held responsible. Do you all agree?”

“Absolutely agreed.”

“So, this is what I have devised. Do you see, at the top of that sheer rock-face on the right, there is a narrow platform? From there to the bottom would be about thirty sazhens, if not more. Below, there are sharp rocks. Each of us will stand at the edge of the platform—this way, even a light wound will be fatal. This should complement your wishes, since you yourselves set six paces. Whoever is wounded will fly to the bottom without fail and will smash into smithereens. The doctor will extract the bullet, and then this sudden death can be easily explained by an unfortunate leap. We will cast lots to decide who shoots first. I inform you of my inference that I won’t otherwise fight.”

“As you please!” said the dragoon captain, having looked over at Grushnitsky expressively, who himself nodded his head as a sign of agreement. His face was changing by the minute. I had put him in a difficult situation. Shooting under the usual conditions, he could have aimed at my leg and lightly wounded me, and satisfied his revenge in this way without burdening his conscience too much. But now, he had to shoot at the air, or commit murder, or, finally, abandon his vile scheme and be subjected to an equal danger to mine. At that moment, I wouldn’t have wished to be in his place. He led the captain aside and started to talk to him about something with great heat. I saw how his lips were turning blue and trembling. But the captain turned away from him with a contemptuous smile. “You are a fool!” he said to Grushnitsky rather loudly. “You don’t understand anything! Let us be off gentlemen!”

The narrow path led between bushes on the slope; the loose steps of this natural staircase were made up of debris from the rock face; hanging on to the shrubs, we started to clamber up. Grushnitsky walked at the front, his seconds behind him, and then the doctor and me.

“You surprise me,” said the doctor, taking me firmly by the hand. “Let me take your pulse! . . . Oho! A fever! . . . But nothing is evident from the face . . . only your eyes are shining more brightly than usual.”

Suddenly, small rocks started noisily rolling down toward our feet. What was this? The branch that Grushnitsky had been holding onto had snapped; he slipped, and he would have slid down to the bottom on his back, had his seconds not held him up.

“Be careful!” I cried to him. “Don’t fall before it’s time—it’s a bad omen. Remember Julius Caesar!”

We had just climbed to the top of the bluff. The little platform was covered with a fine sand, as though designed for the purposes of a duel. The mountain summits clustered like an innumerable flock all around us, disappearing in the golden clouds of the morning; the white bulk of Elbrus rose up in the south, a lock in the chain of icy pinnacles; stringy clouds, racing in from the east, wandered among the peaks. I went up to the edge of the little platform, looked down, and my head was almost spinning—it looked cold and dark down there, like a grave. The mossy jagged edges of rock, scattered by thunderstorm and time, were awaiting their spoils.

The little platform on which we were meant to fight made a nearly perfect triangle. They measured six paces from the protruding corner and decided that the first of us to whom it would come to face unfriendly fire would stand in that corner, with his back to the edge. If he wasn’t killed then the opponents would switch places.

I had decided to give Grushnitsky every advantage. I wanted to test him. Perhaps a spark of magnanimity would be awakened in his soul, and then everything would turn out for the best; but vanity and weakness of character were to be victorious . . . I wanted to give myself full rights to have no mercy on him, if fate would pardon me. Who hasn’t negotiated such conditions with their conscience?

“Cast lots, Doctor!” said the captain.

The doctor pulled a silver coin out of his pocket and held it up.

“Tails!” cried Grushnitsky, hurriedly, like a man who has been suddenly wakened by a friendly nudge.

“Heads!” I said.

The coin soared up and fell ringing. Everyone rushed toward it.

“You are lucky,” I said to Grushnitsky. “You shoot first! But remember that if you don’t kill me, then I won’t miss. I give you my honest word.”

He blushed. He was ashamed to kill an unarmed man. I looked at him intently. For about a minute it seemed to me that he would throw himself at my feet, begging forgiveness. But how could you admit to such a vile scheme? One means remained for him—to shoot into the air. I was sure that he would shoot into the air! Just one thing could prevent this: the thought that I would request a second duel.

“It’s time,” the doctor whispered to me, tugging me by the sleeve. “If you don’t now say that we know their intentions, then everything is lost. Look, he is already loading . . . if you don’t say something then I will . . .”

“Not for anything in the world, doctor!” I answered, holding him back by the arm. “You will ruin everything. You gave me your word that you wouldn’t get in my way . . . What is it to you? Perhaps I want to be killed . . .”

He looked at me in surprise.

“Oh, that is another matter! . . . Only don’t complain about me in the next world . . .”

Meanwhile the captain was loading his pistols; he handed one to Grushnitsky, whispering something to him with a little smile; and handed the other to me.

I stood in the corner of the little platform, having tightly wedged my left foot against a rock and leaning a little forward so that in the event of a light wound I would not topple backward.

Grushnitsky stood opposite me, and when given the signal he began to raise his pistol. His knees were shaking. He aimed straight at my forehead . . .

An indescribable rage started boiling in my breast. Suddenly he lowered the muzzle of the pistol and, turning pale as a sheet, turned to his second.

“I can’t,” he said in a dull voice.

“Coward!” the captain responded.

A shot rang out. The bullet scratched my knee. I couldn’t help taking a few steps forward, to move away from the edge as soon as possible.

“Well, brother Grushnitsky, too bad that you missed!” said the captain. “Now it’s your turn: take up your position! Embrace me first: we won’t see each other again!”

They embraced; the captain could barely keep himself from laughing. “Don’t be afraid,” he added, slyly looking at Grushnitsky. “Everything on earth is nonsense! . . . Nature is a fool, fate is a turkey, and life is a kopeck!”

With this tragic phrase, delivered with decorous importance, he walked to his place. Grushnitsky was then also embraced by a teary-eyed Ivan Ignatievitch and then remained alone before me. I am still trying to explain to myself what kind of feeling was agitating then in my breast: it was the vexation of insulted vanity, and contempt, and anger, borne of the thought that this man, looking at me now with such assurance, with such calm impertinence, had, but two minutes ago, without exposing himself to any danger, wanted to kill me like a dog, for if he had wounded me a little more forcefully, I would have definitely fallen from the crag.

I looked him intently in the face for several minutes, trying to note at least a faint trace of repentance. But it seemed to me that he was holding back a smile.

“I advise you to pray to God before you die,” I said to him then.

“Don’t worry more about my soul than your own. Just one thing I’ll ask of you: fire sooner.”

“And you don’t retract your slander? You won’t ask my forgiveness? . . . Think now, isn’t your conscience telling you something?”

“Mr. Pechorin!” cried the dragoon captain. “You are not here to hear a confession, allow me to remark . . . Let us be done with this. Suppose someone were to pass through the gully—and were to see us.”

“Very good, doctor, come here.”

The doctor approached. The poor doctor! He was paler than Grushnitsky had been ten or so minutes ago.

I pronounced the following words purposefully, with pauses, loudly and distinctly, just as they pronounce death sentences:

“Doctor, these gentlemen, likely in haste, have forgotten to put a bullet in my pistol. I ask you to load it again—and well!”

“It’s not possible!” cried the captain. “It’s not possible! I loaded both pistols. Unless, perhaps the ball rolled out of yours . . . and that’s not my fault! But you don’t have the right to reload . . . no right . . . this is completely against the rules, and I don’t allow it . . .”

“Good!” I said to the captain, “if that is so, then you and I will shoot under the very same conditions . . .” He stopped short.

Grushnitsky stood, having lowered his head onto his breast, embarrassed and dismal.

“Let them!” he said finally to the captain, who wanted to pull my pistol from the doctor’s hands . . . “You know yourself that they are right.”

In vain, the captain was making various signals to him—and Grushnitsky didn’t want to look.

In the meantime, the doctor had loaded the pistol and given it to me. Having seen this, the captain spat and stamped his foot.

“You are such a fool, brother,” he said. “A vulgar fool! . . . Since you put yourself in my hands you should listen to me in everything . . . It serves you right! Die, like a fly . . .”

He turned and walked off, muttering, “And anyway, this is completely against the rules.”

“Grushnitsky!” I said. “There is still time. Retract your slander, and I will forgive you everything. You didn’t succeed in fooling me, and my vanity is satisfied—remember, we were once friends . . .”

His face flared up, his eyes sparkled.

“Shoot!” he answered. “I despise myself, and I hate you. If you don’t kill me, I will stab you from around a corner one night. There isn’t room on this earth for both of us . . .”

I shot . . .

When the smoke had dissipated, there was no Grushnitsky on the platform. Only a light pillar of dust still curled up at the edge of the precipice.

Everyone cried out in one voice.

“É finita la commedia!”21 I said to the doctor.

He didn’t reply and turned away in horror.

I shrugged my shoulders and exchanged bows with Grushnitsky’s seconds.

Going down the path, I noticed Grushnitsky’s bloody corpse between fissures in the rock. I couldn’t help closing my eyes . . . Leading my horse away, I set off for home at a walking pace. There was a stone in my heart. The sun seemed dim to me, its rays didn’t warm me.

Before reaching the slobodka, I turned right along the gully. The sight of another person would have been distressing to me. I wanted to be alone. Having let go of the reins and lowered my head onto my breast, I rode for a long time, and finally found myself in a place that was entirely unknown to me. I turned the horse around and started to search for the road. The sun was already setting when I rode up toward Kislovodsk, worn out, on a worn-out horse.

My lackey told me that Werner had come by and delivered two notes. One from him, the other . . . from Vera.

I unsealed the first, and it had the following contents:

Everything was arranged as best as it could have been. The body has been brought back, disfigured, the bullet pulled from its breast. Everyone is convinced that the cause of his death was an unfortunate accident. The commandant, to whom our disagreement is probably known, only shook his head but didn’t say anything. There is no evidence of any kind against you, and you can sleep peacefully . . . If you are able . . . Farewell . . .

I took a long time in deciding to open the second note . . . What could she have written to me? . . . A heavy foreboding worried my soul.

This is it, the letter, of which each word is indelibly marked onto my memory:

I am writing to you in the full certainty that we will never see each other again. I thought the same several years or so ago upon parting ways with you. But it pleased the heavens to test me a second time. I didn’t withstand this test—my weak heart submitted again to that familiar voice . . . you won’t despise me for this, isn’t that true? This letter will take the place of a farewell and a confession: I am obliged to tell you everything that has accumulated in my heart since the moment it started loving you. I won’t begin by accusing you. You have behaved with me as any other man would have behaved with me. You loved me as property, as a source of joy, anxiety, and sadness, all mutually exchangeable, without which life is tedious and monotonous. I understood this at the beginning. But you were unhappy and I sacrificed myself, hoping that at some point you would value my sacrifice, that at some point you would understand my profound affection, which didn’t come with any conditions. Much time has passed since then. I penetrated every secret of your soul . . . and became convinced that it had been a useless aspiration. How bitter it was for me! But my love had grown into my soul. It had dimmed but it had not gone out.

We are parting forever. However, you can be sure that I will never love another. My soul spent all of its treasures on you, its tears and its hopes too. Having once loved you, it is impossible for me to look at other men without a certain contempt—not because you are better than them—oh no! But there is something in your nature that is special, that belongs to you alone, something proud and mysterious. In your voice, no matter what you have said, there is an invincible power. No one is capable of wanting to be loved as much as you. Evil is not as attractive in anyone but you, no one’s gaze promises as much bliss, no one is able to use their advantages better, and no one can be as sincerely unhappy as you, because no one strives as much to convince himself of the contrary.

Now I should explain to you the reason for my hasty departure. It will seem of little importance to you, because it affects me alone.

This morning, my husband came to me and told me about your disagreement with Grushnitsky. Evidently, my face changed very much, because he looked me in the eyes, long and hard. I nearly fainted at the thought that you were to fight today and that I was the reason for it. It seemed to me that I would go mad . . . but now that I can reason, I am sure that you will remain alive. It is impossible that you would die without me, impossible! My husband paced the room for a long time. I don’t know what he was saying to me, I don’t remember what I was saying in reply . . . I probably told him that I love you . . . I only remember that near the end of our conversation, he insulted me with the most terrible words and left. I listened as he ordered the carriage to be harnessed . . . And here it is already three o’clock as I sit at the window and wait for your return . . . But you are alive—you cannot die! . . . The carriage is almost ready . . . Farewell, farewell . . . I am perished—but what does it matter? . . . If only I could be sure that you will always remember me—I won’t speak of love—no, only remembering . . . Farewell. They’re coming . . . I must hide this letter . . .

Is it true that you are not in love with Mary? You won’t marry her? Listen, you must do this for me as a sacrifice: I have lost everything in this world to you . . .

Like a lunatic, I leapt out onto the veranda and jumped on my Circassian horse, who was being led around the courtyard, and set off at full tilt along the road to Pyatigorsk. I spurred the worn-out horse mercilessly onward, and he rushed me along the rocky road, snorting and covered with foam.

The sun had already concealed itself in the black clouds that were resting on the ridge of the western mountains. It was becoming dark and damp in the gully. The Podkumok River forced its way through the rocks, bellowing darkly and monotonously. I rode at a furious pace, gasping for breath out of impatience. The thought of not finding her in Pyatigorsk was beating me like a hammer on the heart!

One minute, just to see her for one more minute, to bid farewell, to squeeze her hand . . . I prayed, I cursed, I wept, I laughed . . . No, nothing could express my troubled mind, my desperation! . . . Before the possibility of losing her forever, Vera became dearer to me than everything in the world—dearer than life itself, than honor, than happiness! God knows what peculiar, what mad ideas swarmed in my head . . . And meanwhile, I continued to ride at a furious pace, spurring my horse mercilessly onward. And then I started to notice that my horse was breathing more heavily. He had already stumbled twice on even ground . . . There were five versts more to Essentukov—a Cossack station, where I could exchange my horse.

All would have been saved had my horse had enough strength for another ten minutes! But suddenly, passing up out of a small gully, at an egress from the mountains, on a tight bend, he crashed to the ground. I swiftly jumped off—at this point I wanted to get him up and was holding the reins—all in vain. A faint moan escaped from between his clenched teeth; after a few minutes, he expired. I was left alone on the Steppe, having lost my last hope. I tried to continue on foot; my legs gave way, exhausted with the distress of the day and insomnia, then I fell onto the wet grass and cried like an infant.

For a long time I lay motionless and wept bitterly, not making any attempt to restrain my tears and sobbing. I thought that my breast would explode. All my hardness, all my cool indifference, disappeared like smoke. My soul lost its strength, my reason went quiet, and if someone had seen me at that minute, they would have turned away in disdain.

When the dew of night and the mountain wind had refreshed my hot head, and my thoughts had returned to regular order, I understood that chasing after a perished happiness was useless and heedless. What did I need? To see her? Why? Had not everything ended between us? One bitter departing kiss wouldn’t distill my memories, and would only make it harder to part ways thereafter.

It was pleasant, to me, however, that I could cry! As for the rest, it may be that the cause of this was shattered nerves, a night without sleep, two minutes in the face of a pistol’s muzzle, and an empty stomach.

All will be better! This new suffering, to use a military idiom, has given me a fortunate diversion. Weeping is healthy. And moreover, it is likely that, had I not set off on horseback, and not been made to walk fifteen versts back, then sleep wouldn’t have closed my eyes that night.

I returned to Kislovodsk at five o’clock in the morning, threw myself on my bed, and slept the sleep of Napoleon after Waterloo.

When I wakened, it was already dark in the courtyard. I sat by the open window, unbuttoned my arkhaluk, and the mountain wind refreshed my breast, which had still not calmed with the heavy sleep of fatigue. The lights of the fortress and the slobodka twinkled in the distance, beyond the river, through the tops of the thick linden trees that overshadowed it. All was quiet in our courtyard; it was dark in the house of the Princess Ligovsky.

The doctor came by. His brow was crossed, and he did not extend his hand to me as he would usually.

“Where have you come from, Doctor?”

“From the Princess Ligovsky. Her daughter is ill—with a weakening of the nerves . . . But that is not the matter, this is: the town authorities have guessed the truth, even though they can’t positively prove anything. However, I advise you to be more careful. The Princess Ligovsky was telling me today that she knows that you dueled for her daughter’s sake. That little old man told her everything . . . what was his name? He was witness to your skirmish with Grushnitsky in the restaurant. I have come to warn you. Farewell. It may be that we will never see each other again, that they will dispatch you somewhere.”

He stopped at the threshold. He wanted to shake my hand . . . and if I had given him the slightest indication of such a desire on my part, he would have thrown his arms around my neck. But I stayed cold, like a rock—and he walked out.

People! They are all the same: they know all the bad aspects to a deed in advance, and they help you, advise you, even approve of it, seeing that no other way is possible—and then they wash their hands of it and turn away with indignation from the person who had the courage to take the whole burden of responsibility onto himself. They are all the same, even the kindest, the most intelligent of them!

The next morning, having received an order from the authorities to take myself to the Fortress N——, I went to the Princess Ligovsky to bid them farewell.

She was astonished when, to her question of whether I had something especially important to say to her, I replied that I wished her happiness, et cetera.

“Well, I need to speak with you about something very serious.”

I sat down, saying nothing.

It was obvious that she didn’t know how to begin. Her face turned crimson, her plump fingers tapped the table. Finally she started like this, in a broken voice:

“Listen, Monsieur Pechorin! I think that you are a noble man.”

I bowed.

“Indeed I am convinced of it,” she continued, “though your behavior has been somewhat dubious. But you may have your reasons, which I don’t know, and you must now confide them to me. You defended my daughter from slander, you dueled for her sake—which is to say that you risked your life for her . . . Don’t say anything, I know that you won’t admit to it, because Grushnitsky is killed (she made the sign of the cross). God will forgive him—and, I hope He will forgive you too! . . . But this is not my concern, I cannot judge you because my daughter, though she was innocent, was nonetheless the cause of it. She told me everything . . . I think it was everything. You declared your love for her . . . she confessed hers to you (here the princess exhaled heavily). But she is ill, and I am sure that this is not a simple illness! A secret sadness is killing her. She doesn’t admit to it, but I am sure that you are the cause of it . . . Listen, you may think that I am seeking an official with enormous wealth for her—disabuse yourself! I only want the happiness of my daughter. Your current situation is unenviable, but it can be righted. You have means. My daughter loves you, she is brought up to make a husband happy. I am wealthy, and she is my only child . . . Tell me, what is holding you back? You see, I wasn’t supposed to tell you all of this, but I count upon your heart, upon your honor. Remember that I have only one daughter . . . only one . . .”

She started to weep.

“Princess,” I said. “It is impossible for me to answer you. Allow me please to speak with your daughter alone . . .”

“Never!” she exclaimed, getting up from her chair with great emotion.

“As you wish,” I replied, preparing myself to leave.

She became distracted, gestured to me with her hand that I should wait, and went out.

About five minutes passed. My heart was pounding, but my thoughts were calm, my head was cold. As much as I tried to find a spark of love in my heart toward the lovely Mary, my strivings were in vain.

Then the doors opened, and she came in. Good God! How she had changed since I had last seen her—was it that long ago?

Walking to the middle of the room, she swayed. I jumped up, gave her my arm, and led her to an armchair.

I stood opposite her. We were silent for a long time. Her big eyes, filled with indescribable sorrow it seemed, were looking into mine with something resembling hope. Her pale lips tried to smile in vain. Her delicate hands, crossed on her knees, were so thin and transparent that I felt pity for her.

“Princess,” I said, “did you know that I was mocking you? . . . You should despise me.”

A sickly flush appeared in her cheeks.

I continued, “Therefore, you cannot love me . . .”

She turned away, leaned her elbows on the table, and covered her eyes with her hand, and it seemed to me that they glistened with tears.

“My God!” she uttered, barely distinguishably.

This was becoming unbearable—in a minute I would fall to her feet.

“So, as you can see yourself,” I said, with as firm a voice as I could, and a forced grin, “you can see for yourself that I cannot marry you; even if you might want this right now, you would soon rue it. My conversation with your mama has forced me to clarify this so plainly and grossly. I hope that she is in error. It will be easy for you to persuade her to the contrary. You see, in your eyes, I am playing the most pitiful and vile role, and I am even admitting to it. This is all I can do for you. Whatever bad opinion you hold of me, I submit to it . . . You see, I am lowly before you. Isn’t it true that even if at one time you loved me, that from this minute you despise me?”

She turned to me, pale as marble—only her eyes sparkled marvelously.

“I hate you,” she said.

I thanked her, bowed politely, and left.

An hour later, a courier troika was rushing me from Kislovodsk. A few versts from Essentukov I recognized the corpse of my spirited horse near the road. The saddle was removed—probably by passing Cossacks—and instead of the saddle, on his back stood two crows. I exhaled and turned away . . .

And now, here, in this boring fortress, I often ask myself, running through thoughts of the past: why didn’t I want to follow the path opened to me by fate, where quiet happiness and spiritual peace awaited me? . . . No, such a fate wouldn’t have agreed with me! I am like a sailor, born and bred on the deck of a pirate ship. His soul has got used to storms and battles, and, when thrown ashore, he pines and languishes much as the shady groves beckon him, much as the peaceful sun shines at him. He walks along the coastal sands all day, listening to the monotonous murmur of the lapping waves and peering into the cloudy distance: is that the sail he seeks, on the pale line that separates the blue deep from the little gray storm clouds—at first resembling the wing of a seagull, but little by little, separating from the foam of the boulders, with a steady approach toward the deserted jetty . . .