A Hero of Our Time May 23

At around seven o’clock in the evening I was strolling along the boulevard. Grushnitsky, seeing me from a distance, walked up to me: some kind of amusing delight was shining in his eyes. He shook my hand tightly and said in a tragic voice:

“I thank you, Pechorin . . . Do you understand me?”

“No. But in any case, you needn’t thank me,” I replied, not having any good deed on my conscience.

“What? And yesterday? Have you forgotten? . . . Mary told me everything . . .”

“What? Do you now share everything? Gratitude too?”

“Listen,” said Grushnitsky very significantly, “please, don’t mock my love if you want to remain my friend . . . You see: I love her to distraction . . . and I think, I hope, that she loves me similarly . . . I have a request of you: that you will be their guest this evening. And promise me that you will observe everything. I know that you are experienced in these things. You know women better than I do . . . Women! Women! Who can fathom them? Their smiles contradict their gaze, their words promise and beckon, but the tone of their voices pushes you aside . . . Within one minute they can understand and anticipate our most secret thoughts, and then miss the clearest hints . . . Take the princess: yesterday her eyes burned with passion, and they rested on me. Today they are cloudy and cold . . .”

“This might be the effect of the waters,” I responded.

“You always think the worst . . . materialist!” he added disdainfully. “However, let us move on to other matters.”

And, satisfied with his bad pun, he cheered up.

At nine o’clock we went to the Princess Ligovsky together.

I saw Vera at the window when I walked past her windows. We threw each other a fugitive look. Soon after us, she came into the Ligovsky drawing room. The Princess Ligovsky introduced her to me as her relative. We drank tea; there were many guests; the conversation was commonplace. I strove to ingratiate myself to Princess Ligovsky, telling jokes, making her laugh heartily a few times; the young princess also wanted to laugh more than once but held herself back, in order not to depart from her accepted role. She finds that languor suits her—and perhaps she is not wrong. Grushnitsky, it seems, was very pleased that my jollity did not communicate itself to her.

After tea, everyone went to the hall.

“Are you satisfied with my obedience, Vera?” I said, walking past her.

She threw me a look, full of love and gratitude. I am used to these looks—they once formed my bliss. The Princess Ligovsky sat the young princess at the piano; everyone asked her to sing something. I stayed quiet and made use of this commotion by going to the window with Vera, who wanted to tell me something very important concerning us both . . . It came out as nonsense . . .

Meanwhile, my indifference was vexing to the young princess, as far as I could tell from one angry, brilliant look . . . Oh, I understand this dialogue marvelously—mute but expressive, short but strong!

She sang: her voice was not bad, but she sings badly . . . though I wasn’t listening. Grushnitsky, however, was leaning his elbows on the piano opposite her, and every minute saying under his breath, “Charmant! Delicieux!”

“Listen,” Vera said to me, “I don’t want you to become acquainted with my husband, but you must immediately ingratiate yourself with Princess Ligovsky. This will be easy for you: you can do anything you want to do. We will see each other only here . . .”


She blushed and continued: “You know that I am your slave: I was never able to resist you . . . and I will be punished for this: you will cease to love me! At least I want to guard my reputation . . . Not for my own sake: you know that perfectly well! . . . Oh, I beg you: don’t torture me as you did before with empty doubts and feigned coldness. I may soon die, I feel that I am weakening from day to day . . . and despite this, I cannot think about a future life, I think only of you. You men don’t understand the pleasure of a glance, a squeeze of a hand, and, I swear to you, listening to your voice, I feel such a profound, strange bliss, that the hottest kiss could not replace it.”

Meanwhile, Princess Mary stopped singing. A murmur of praise distributed itself around her. I went up to her after everyone and said something to her about her voice that was rather offhand.

“I was even more flattered,” she said, “to see that you didn’t listen to me at all. But maybe you don’t like music?”

“On the contrary . . . after dinner especially.”

“Grushnitsky is right, when he says that you have the most prosaic tastes . . . and I see that you like music in a gastronomical respect . . .”

“You are again mistaken: I am not a gastronome at all. I have a particularly foul gut. But music after dinner lulls me to sleep, and sleep after dinner is especially healthy: therefore, I like music in a medical respect. In the evening, on the other hand, it agitates my nerves too much: it makes me either too sad, or too merry. One and the other are so exhausting, when there isn’t a circumstantial reason to be sad or make merry, and besides, sadness in company is amusing, but an exaggerated merriness is not appropriate . . .”

She didn’t continue listening until I had finished but walked right off and sat next to Grushnitsky, and some kind of sentimental dialogue started between them. It looked as though the princess was responding to his wise phrases rather distractedly and inappropriately, even though she was trying to look as if she were listening to him with attention, for he sometimes looked at her with surprise, striving to guess the cause of the inner anxiety conveying itself occasionally in her uneasy glances . . .

But I have found you out, darling princess, beware! You want to pay me back in my own coin, and prick my vanity—but you won’t succeed! And if you declare war with me, then I will be merciless.

Over the rest of the evening I interfered with their conversation on purpose several times, but she would meet my remarks rather dryly, and with feigned vexation, I finally withdrew. The princess rejoiced in triumph; Grushnitsky did too.

Rejoice, my friends, and hurry . . . you won’t have long to rejoice. What is to be done? I have a premonition . . . Upon becoming acquainted with a woman, I have always guessed, without error, whether she would love me or not . . .

I spent the remaining part of the evening next to Vera and we discussed every single thing about the past . . . Why she loves me so much, really, I don’t know! Furthermore she is the one woman who has understood me completely, with all my small-minded weaknesses, my evil passions . . . Can it be that evil is so very attractive?

I left with Grushnitsky. On the street, he took me by the arm and after a long silence he said:


I wanted to tell him “you’re a fool,” but I held back and only shrugged my shoulders.