A Hero of Our Time May 16

Over the last two days, my affairs have progressed tremendously. The young princess decidedly hates me. Two or three epigrams at my expense have already been circulated, and they were rather biting but also very flattering. It is horribly strange to her that, accustomed as I am to good society, and as friendly as I am with her cousins and aunties, I am not making any attempt to become acquainted with her. We encounter each other every day at the well and on the boulevard. I make every effort, and do my utmost to distract her admirers—the shining adjutants, pale Muscovites and others—and I am almost always successful. I have always hated having guests but now I have a full house every day; they have dinner, supper, they gamble—and, alas, my champagne is triumphing over the power of her magnetic little eyes!

Yesterday, I encountered her in Chelakhov’s shop. She was bargaining for a marvelous Persian rug. The young princess was entreating her mama not to begrudge her—this rug would decorate her dressing room so nicely! . . . I offered forty rubles more and bought it—and for that I was rewarded with a look that shined with the most ravishing fury. Near dinner-time, I ordered my Circassian horse to be led past her window, covered with this rug, just for fun. Werner was at their house at the time and told me that the effect of this scene was most dramatic. The young princess now wants to drum up a militia against me. I have already noticed that two adjutants bow to me very dryly in her presence, even though they dine at my house every day.

Grushnitsky has taken on a mysterious look: he walks around, with his hands behind his back, and doesn’t acknowledge anyone. His leg has suddenly healed: he barely limps. He has found occasion both to enter into conversation with the Princess Ligovsky, and to give some sort of compliment to the young princess. She, evidently, is not very discriminating, because since then she has replied to his bows with the sweetest of smiles.

“You are resolute in not wanting to be introduced to the Ligovskys?” he said to me yesterday.


“As you please! It is the most pleasant household at the spa! All the best society here . . .”

“My friend, I’m tired even of the best society that is not here. Have you been to their house?”

“Not yet. I have spoken twice with the young princess, not more, but you know, somehow it is not appropriate to impose oneself on a household, though it is done here . . . It would be another matter if I wore epaulets . . .”

“Come now! You are much more interesting as you are! You simply don’t know how to make best use of your advantageous situation . . . That soldier’s greatcoat makes you into a hero or a martyr in the eyes of any sentimental young lady.”

Grushnitsky smiled in a self-satisfied way.

“What nonsense!” he said.

“I am sure,” I continued, “that the young princess is already in love with you.”

He blushed to his ears and puffed out his chest.

Oh vanity! You are the lever with which Archimedes wanted to raise the earthly globe!

“Everything is a joke to you!” he said, pretending to be angry. “Firstly, she knows me so little yet . . .”

“Women only love those that they don’t know.”

“Well, I don’t have the least impression that she likes me. I simply want to make acquaintance with a pleasant household, and it would be very funny if I had any hopes . . . But you, for example, are another matter! You Petersburg conquerors: one look from you and the women melt . . . And do you know, Pechorin, that the young princess has been talking about you?”

“What? She has already spoken of me to you?”

“Well, don’t start rejoicing yet. I somehow entered a conversation with her at the well, by accident. And her third comment was: ‘Who is this gentleman who has such an unpleasant and oppressive gaze? He was with you when . . .’

“She blushed and didn’t want to say which day, having remembered her charming gesture.

“‘You don’t have to tell me which day,’ I responded to her. ‘It will always be in my memory . . .’

“My friend Pechorin! I congratulate you: you are on her black list . . . and this is a shame indeed! Because Mary is very charming . . .”

It must be remarked that Grushnitsky is one of those people, who, in speaking about a woman with whom they are barely acquainted, will call her my Mary, my Sophie, if she has the good fortune to have taken their fancy.

I assumed a serious air and responded to him:

“Yes, she is not foolish . . . But be careful, Grushnitsky! Young Russian ladies live on platonic love for the most part, without adding the thought of marriage to it. And platonic love is the most unsettling of all. The young princess, it seems, is one of those ladies who want you to entertain them. If they are bored with you for more than two minutes in a row, then you are irretrievably finished. Your silence must excite her curiosity, your conversation should never quench it. You must continue to disturb her with every passing minute. She will disregard considered opinion for you ten times in public, then call it a sacrifice; and in order to reward herself for it, she will torment you, and afterward will simply say that she cannot stand you. If you don’t gain power over her, then her first kiss will not give you the right to a second. She will flirt with you abundantly, and after about two years she will marry a monster, out of deference to her mother, and will start to convince herself that she is wretched, that she only loved one person—you, that is—but that the heavens didn’t unite her with him, because he wore a soldier’s greatcoat, though under that thick, gray greatcoat, an ardent and noble heart was beating . . .”

Grushnitsky banged his fist on the table and started to pace the room.

I was laughing loudly inside and almost smiled twice, but he, fortunately, didn’t notice this. It was clear that he was in love, because he became even more gullible than before. He even began to wear a silver ring with black enamel, made locally. It seemed a little dubious to me . . . I started to scrutinize it and what did I see? . . . Engraved on the inside in tiny letters, was the name “Mary,” and next to it, the date of the day she picked up the famous glass. I hid my discovery. I don’t want to force a confession from him. I want him to choose me as a confidante, and then I will really enjoy it . . .

Today I was up late; I arrived at the well—and no one was there anymore. The day began to get hot. White, shaggy rain clouds quickly sped down from the snowy mountains, promising a storm. The head of Mount Mashuk was smoking like an extinguished torch. Gray shreds of cloud twisted and crawled around it, like snakes, and they seemed to be held back in their strivings, as if they had been caught up in its prickly shrubbery. The air was filled with electricity. I went deep into the grapevine alley that led to a grotto; I was melancholy. I was thinking about the young woman whom the doctor had mentioned, with the mole on her cheek . . . Why is she here? Is it she? And why do I think that it is she? And why am I even convinced of it? Are women with moles on their cheeks so very rare? Thinking in this way, I walked right up to the grotto and looked: on a stone bench in the cool shadows of its entrance, a woman was sitting, wrapped in a black shawl, wearing a straw hat, with her head lowered onto her chest. The hat covered her face. I wanted to turn, in order not to ruin her daydreaming, when she caught sight of me.

“Vera!” I exclaimed involuntarily.

She shuddered and went pale.

“I knew you were here,” she said.

I sat next to her and took her hand. A long forgotten feeling of awe ran along my veins at the sound of this sweet voice. She looked me in the eyes with her deep and peaceful eyes. They expressed mistrust and something like reproach.

“We haven’t seen each other in a long while,” I said.

“A long time, and we have both changed in many ways!”

“I assume you don’t love me anymore?”

“I am married!” she said.

“Again? But this reason also existed a few years ago, and yet . . .”

She pulled her hand out of mine, and her cheeks blazed.

“Maybe you love your second husband?”

She didn’t answer and turned away.

“Or he is very jealous?”


“Well? He is young, handsome, special, faithful, rich, and you are afraid . . .”

I looked at her and became scared: her face expressed deep despair; tears were sparkling in her eyes.

“Tell me,” she finally whispered, “is it fun for you to torture me? . . . I should really hate you. Ever since we have known each other, you have given me nothing but suffering . . .” Her voice trembled, she leaned toward me, and lowered her head onto my breast.

“Perhaps,” I thought, “this is exactly why you loved me: joys are forgotten, but sadness, never . . .”

I hugged her tightly and we stayed like that for a long time. Finally, our lips approached each other and merged into a hot, intoxicating kiss. Her hands were as cold as ice, and her head was burning. Then one of those conversations started up between us, which don’t make any sense on paper, which you can’t repeat, and which you can’t even remember. The meanings of the sounds replace and add to the meanings of the words, as in an Italian opera.

She absolutely doesn’t want me to be introduced to her husband—the limping little old man whom I saw in passing on the boulevard. She married him for her son’s sake. He is rich and suffers from rheumatism. I didn’t allow myself to make even one mockery of him: she respects him, like a father—and will deceive him like a husband . . . It is a strange thing the human heart in general—and the female one in particular!

Vera’s husband, Semyon Vasilievich G——v, is a distant relative of Princess Ligovsky. He lives near her. Vera is often a guest of the princess. I gave her my word that I would make acquaintance with the Ligovskys and would flirt with the princess in order to deflect attention from her. This way, my plans won’t be spoiled in the slightest and it will be amusing for me . . .

Amusing! . . . Yes, I have already surpassed that period in a soul’s life when it seeks only happiness, when the heart feels a necessity to love someone strongly and ardently. Now I only want to be loved, and at that, only by a very few. It seems to me, even, that one constant attachment would be enough for me—a sorry habit of the heart!

One thing has always been strange to me: I have never been a slave to any woman. On the contrary, I have always gained indomitable power over a woman’s will and heart, absolutely without trying to do so. Why is this? Is it because I never prize anything and that they are permanently afraid to let me out of their grasp? Or is it the magnetic influence of a powerful organism? Or have I simply not succeeded in meeting a woman with an obstinate character?

I must admit that I absolutely do not like women of character: it is not their business!

It’s true, I now remember: once, only once, I loved a woman with a firm will, whom I could never conquer . . . We parted as enemies—and yet, maybe, if we had met some five years later, we might have parted differently . . .

Vera is ill, very ill, though she doesn’t admit to it. I am afraid that she has consumption, or that illness which they call fièvre lente—this is altogether not a Russian illness, and it has no name in our language.

The thunderstorm caught us in the grotto and kept us there for another half hour. She didn’t make me swear my loyalty, didn’t ask if I had loved any others since we parted . . . She put herself in my hands again with her former lack of concern—and I do not deceive her: she is the one woman in the world whom I would not have the strength to deceive. I know we will soon part again, and perhaps forever: we are following different paths to the grave. But the memory of her will remain inviolable in my soul. I have always repeated this to her, and she believes me, even though she says the opposite.

Finally, we separated. I followed her with my gaze for a long time, until her hat was hidden behind the shrubbery and the cliffs. My heart was tightening painfully, as it had after our first parting. Oh, how I was glad of this feeling! Could it be that youth wishes to return to me with its wholesome storms, or is this only its departing glance, its last gift, as a keepsake . . . ? It is amusing to think that I am still a boy to look at: my face, though pale, is still fresh; my limbs are well-built and lithe; my thick curls wave, my eyes glow, my blood stirs hotly . . .

Returning home, I mounted my horse and galloped into the Steppe. I love galloping through the long grass on a hot-tempered horse, in the face of the winds of the desert. I gulp the fragrant air with greediness and I direct my gaze into the blue distances, trying to make out the cloudy details of various objects, which become clearer and clearer with every minute. Any bitterness that weighs on the heart, any agitation that tortures the thoughts—it is all dispersed within a minute. The soul becomes lighter, and the exhaustion of the body conquers the anxiety of the mind. There isn’t one female gaze that I wouldn’t forget upon looking at leafy mountains, illuminated by the southern sun, or looking at the blue sky, or noticing the sound of a waterfall, falling from crag to crag.

I think that the Cossacks, yawning in their watchtowers, seeing me galloping without need or aim, would long be tortured by such a riddle, or, they would likely take me for a Circassian, given my attire. I have actually been told that on horseback, in Circassian costume, I look more Kabardin than most Kabardins. And when it comes to this noble battle attire, I am a perfect dandy: not one bit of extraneous galloon; an expensive weapon with simple finishings; the fur on my hat isn’t too long, too short; leggings and high boots fitted to utter exactitude; a white beshmet, and a dark-brown cherkeska.7 I have long studied the mountain riding style: nothing would flatter my vanity more than an acknowledgment of my art in the Caucasian manner of horsemanship. I keep four horses: one for myself, three for friends, to avoid the boredom of roaming about the fields on one’s own. They take my horses with pleasure and never go out together with me. It was already six hours after midday when I realized it was time to dine. My horse was worn out. I went out onto the road that leads from Pyatigorsk to the German colony where the spa community often goes en pique-nique. The road goes meandering between shrubs, descending into small gullies where brooks flow under the canopy of the long grasses. The blue masses of the peaks—Beshtau, Zmeinaya, Zheleznaya, and Lisaya8—tower above and around like an amphitheater. Having descended into one of the gullies, called balkas in the local dialect, I stopped to let my horse drink. At that moment a noisy and shiny cavalcade appeared on the road. There were ladies in light-blue and black riding habits, and cavaliers in outfits made up of a mixture of Circassian and Nizhny Novgorod styles; and Grushnitsky rode at the front with Princess Mary.

Ladies of the spa still believe in the possibility of attacks by Circassians in broad daylight—that’s probably why Grushnitsky hung a saber and a pair of pistols over his soldier’s greatcoat. He was rather amusing-looking in these heroic vestments. A tall bush hid me from them, but through its leaves I could see everything and could guess from the expressions on their faces that their conversation was sentimental in nature. At last they approached the slope; Grushnitsky took the reins of the princess’s horse, and then I heard the end of their conversation.

“And do you want to spend your whole life in the Caucasus?” the princess was saying.

“What is Russia to me!” replied her cavalier. “A country where thousands of people will look at me with contempt since they are richer than I am, when here, here, this thick greatcoat didn’t prevent me from making acquaintance with you . . .”

“Quite the opposite . . .” said the princess, blushing.

Grushnitsky’s face showed pleasure. He continued:

“Here my life flows past noisily, imperceptibly, and quickly, under the gunfire of savages, and if God would send me a bright female gaze every year, a gaze like the one . . .”

At that moment they came up beside me; I struck my horse with my whip and came out of the bush . . .

“Mon dieu, un Circassien!”9 the princess cried out in horror.

In order to completely disabuse her of this, I replied in French, slightly bowing:

“Ne craignez rien, madame—je ne suis pas plus dangereux que votre cavalier.”10

She was embarrassed—but by what? By her mistake or by my reply, which may have seemed audacious to her? I would hope that the latter suggestion is correct. Grushnitsky threw me a look of displeasure.

Late that evening, at eleven o’clock that is, I went out for a stroll along the linden alley of the boulevard. The city was sleeping, the lights of fires flashed in a few windows. Craggy crests loomed black on three sides: the ridges of Mount Mashuk, on whose peaks lay a sinister little cloud. The moon smoked in the east. In the distance the snowy mountains sparkled with a silver fringe. The calls of the sentries alternated with noises from the hot springs, which are released at night. From time to time, the ringing clatter of horses scattered along the street, accompanied by the creaking of a Nogay wagon,11 and doleful Tatar song. I sat on a bench and became lost in my thoughts . . . I felt the necessity to give vent to my thoughts in a conversation with a friend . . . but with whom?

“What is Vera doing right now?” I thought . . . I would give dearly to be holding her hand at this moment. Suddenly I hear quick and uneven steps . . . It’s probably Grushnitsky . . . It is!

“Where have you come from?”

“From the Princess Ligovsky,” he said very significantly.

“How Mary sings!”

“Do you know what?” I said to him. “I’ll wager that she doesn’t know you’re a cadet but thinks you were demoted . . .”

“Maybe! What is it to me?” he said absentmindedly.

“Well, I’m just saying . . .”

“And do you know that you made her terribly angry today? She felt it was an outrageous audacity. It took enormous effort but I managed to convince her that you are so well brought up and so well acquainted with society that you couldn’t have had the intention of insulting her. She says that you have an insolent gaze, that you probably have a very high opinion of yourself.”

“She isn’t mistaken . . . and do you not wish to defend her honor?”

“I regret that I do not have this right yet . . .”

“O-ho!” I thought, “he obviously has hopes already . . .”

“But then again, it’s worse for you,” continued Grushnitsky. “Now it will be difficult for you to make their acquaintance— a pity! Theirs is one of the most pleasant households I have ever known . . .”

I smiled inwardly.

“The most pleasant household to me is currently my own,” I said, yawning, and stood up to leave.

“But you must admit that you are contrite?”

“What nonsense! If I so wished, I could be at the princess’s house tomorrow evening . . .”

“We shall see . . .”

“And, in order to please you, I will even flirt with the princess . . .”

“Yes, if she deigns to speak to you . . .”

“I am waiting for the moment when your conversation bores her . . . Farewell!”

“And I am off to wander—I’m not at all able to fall asleep these days . . . Listen, why don’t we go to the restaurant, where we can gamble . . . I need strong sensations today . . .”

“I hope you lose . . .”

I went home.