A Hero of Our Time June 5

Half an hour before the ball began, Grushnitsky appeared at my place in the total brilliance of a full dress infantry uniform. There was a little bronze chain attached to his third button, on which hung a double lorgnette; his epaulets of incredible size were turned up like the little wings of Cupid; his boots squeaked; in his left hand he held brown kid-gloves and a military cap, and with his right hand he fluffed up the wavy tuft of his crested hair into little curls. His face expressed self-satisfaction with a touch of uncertainty. His festive appearance and his proud demeanor would have made me laugh if it had been in accordance with my plans.

He cast his military cap and gloves onto the table and started to pull down his coattails and to adjust himself in the mirror. He had an enormous black neckcloth, which was wound around an extremely high stiffener, the bristles of which supported his chin and stuck out half an inch above his collar. But it seemed to him that it showed too little so he pulled it up further, to his ears. Since the collar of his uniform was very tight, this great effort made his face fill with blood.

“They say that these days you are chasing after my princess awfully much,” he said rather carelessly, without looking at me.

“What would fools like us be doing drinking tea?” I replied, repeating the favorite proverb of one of the cleverest rakes of a previous era, as once extolled by Pushkin.13

“Tell me, does this uniform sit well on me? Oh, that damnable Jew! How this cuts into me under the arms! Do you not have any perfume?”

“For pity’s sake, do you need more? You already reek of rose pomade . . .”

“Never mind. Pass it here . . .”

He poured half the vial under his neckcloth, into his handkerchief and onto his sleeves.

“Are you going to dance?” he asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“I am afraid that I will have to start the mazurka with the princess—and I barely know even one of the figures . . .”

“Have you reserved her for the mazurka?”

“Not yet . . .”

“Careful that you have not been preempted . . .”

“Really?” he said, clapping his hand on his forehead. “See you later . . . I am going to wait for her at the entrance.” He grabbed his military cap and ran off.

I set off half an hour later. The street was dark and empty; a crowd was squeezing around the hall or the tavern (whichever you’d like to call it); its windows were illuminated; the evening wind carried the sounds of a military band to me. I walked slowly. I was melancholy . . . Can it be that my single purpose on this earth is to destroy the hopes of others? Since I have been living and breathing, fate has somehow always led me into the dramatic climaxes of others’ lives, as if without me no one would be able to die, or to come to despair! I have been the necessary character of the fifth act; I have played the sorry role of executioner or traitor involuntarily. What was fate’s intent in all this? . . . Was I appointed the author of bourgeois tragedies and family novels—or collaborator to those who supply stories to the “Library for Reading”?14 . . . How could I know? How many people begin life thinking that they will end it like Alexander the Great or Lord Byron, and yet remain a titular counselor for the duration . . .

Entering the hall, I hid in a crowd of men and started to make my observations. Grushnitsky stood by the princess and was saying something with great heat; she was listening to him absentmindedly, looking from side to side, putting her fan to her lips; her face expressed impatience; her eyes were searching for someone. I quietly walked up behind them, in order to listen to their conversation.

“You torture me, princess!” Grushnitsky was saying. “You have changed awfully since I last saw you . . .”

“You have also changed,” she replied, throwing him a quick look, in which he couldn’t discern the hidden mockery.

“Me? I have changed? . . . Oh never! You know that isn’t possible! A person who sees you but once will forever carry your divine image away with him.”

“Don’t . . .”

“Why do you no longer want to hear what not long ago you frequently received so favorably?”

“Because I don’t like repetition . . .” she said, laughing.

“Oh, I have been bitterly mistaken! . . . I thought, like a lunatic, that at least these epaulets would give me the right to hope . . . No, I would have been better off keeping that contemptible soldier’s greatcoat forever, to which I perhaps owed your attention . . .”

“It’s true, the greatcoat suited your face much better . . .” At that moment I went up to the princess and bowed. She blushed slightly and quickly said, “Isn’t it true, Monsieur Pechorin, that the gray greatcoat suited Monsieur Grushnitsky much better?”

“I don’t agree with you,” I replied. “Why, he looks even younger in his uniform.”

Grushnitsky could not endure this blow; like all boys, he makes a pretense of being an old man. He thinks that there are deep traces of passion on his face that substitute for the imprint of years. He threw me a furious look, clicked his heels, and walked off.

“But admit,” I said to the princess, “though he has always been amusing, not long ago you found him interesting too . . . in his gray greatcoat?”

She lowered her eyes and did not reply.

Grushnitsky pursued the princess the whole evening, dancing either with her or vis-à-vis. He devoured her with his eyes, sighed often, and exasperated her with his entreaties and reproaches.

By the third quadrille, she already detested him.

“I didn’t expect this of you,” he said, walking up to me and taking me by the arm.


“You are dancing the mazurka with her?” he asked in a solemn voice. “She admitted it to me.”

“And so? Was it a secret?”

“It stands to reason . . . I should have expected this from a girl . . . from a coquette . . . I will have revenge!”

“Blame your greatcoat or your epaulets, but why take against her? What is she guilty of—that she doesn’t like you anymore?”

“Why would she give me hope, then?”

“Why did you have hope? To want and strive for something, I understand, but who entertains hopes?”

“You have lost the bet—only not completely,” he said, smiling spitefully.

The mazurka began. Grushnitsky picked the princess only, and the other cavaliers picked her constantly too; there was obviously a conspiracy against me—all the better. She wants to speak to me, and is being prevented from it—then she will want it twice over.

I pressed her hand twice, and on the second time she snatched it away, not saying a word.

“I will sleep badly tonight,” she said to me when the mazurka had finished.

“Grushnitsky is to blame.”

“Oh no!” and her face became so pensive, so melancholy, that I swore to myself I would kiss her hand this evening without fail.

People started to leave. Having seated the princess in her carriage, I quickly pressed her little hand to my lips. It was dark, and no one could have seen it.

I went back into the hall, satisfied with myself.

Some youths were dining at the big table, and Grushnitsky was with them. When I came in, they all fell silent: they were obviously talking about me. Many had grumbled at me since the previous ball, especially the dragoon captain—but now they had definitely formed an adversarial gang against me, under the command of Grushnitsky. He had such a proud and brave look to him . . . I am very pleased. I love enemies, though not in the Christian way. They amuse me, excite my blood. Being always on one’s guard, catching every glance, the significance of every word, guessing at intentions, frustrating their plots, pretending to be tricked, and suddenly, with a shove, upturning the whole enormous and arduously built edifice of their cunning and schemes—that’s what I call life.

For the rest of supper, Grushnitsky conversed in whispers and winks with the dragoon captain.