A Hero of Our Time Part 1

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A Hero of Our Time.

by M. Y. Lermontov.

FOREWORD

THIS novel, known as one of the masterpieces of Russian Literature, under the t.i.tle "A Hero of our Time," and already translated into at least nine European languages, is now for the first time placed before the general English Reader.

The work is of exceptional interest to the student of English Literature, written as it was under the profound influence of Byron and being itself a study of the Byronic type of character.

The Translators have taken especial care to preserve both the atmosphere of the story and the poetic beauty with which the Poet-novelist imbued his pages.

BOOK I BELA

THE HEART OF A RUSSIAN

CHAPTER I

I was travelling post from Tiflis.

All the luggage I had in my cart consisted of one small portmanteau half filled with travelling-notes on Georgia; of these the greater part has been lost, fortunately for you; but the portmanteau itself and the rest of its contents have remained intact, fortunately for me.

As I entered the Koishaur Valley the sun was disappearing behind the snow-clad ridge of the mountains. In order to accomplish the ascent of Mount Koishaur by nightfall, my driver, an Ossete, urged on the horses indefatigably, singing zealously the while at the top of his voice.

What a glorious place that valley is! On every hand are inaccessible mountains, steep, yellow slopes scored by water-channels, and reddish rocks draped with green ivy and crowned with cl.u.s.ters of plane-trees.

Yonder, at an immense height, is the golden fringe of the snow. Down below rolls the River Aragva, which, after bursting noisily forth from the dark and misty depths of the gorge, with an unnamed stream clasped in its embrace, stretches out like a thread of silver, its waters glistening like a snake with flas.h.i.+ng scales.

Arrived at the foot of Mount Koishaur, we stopped at a dukhan. [1] About a score of Georgians and mountaineers were gathered there in a noisy crowd, and, close by, a caravan of camels had halted for the night. I was obliged to hire oxen to drag my cart up that accursed mountain, as it was now autumn and the roads were slippery with ice. Besides, the mountain is about two versts [2] in length.

There was no help for it, so I hired six oxen and a few Ossetes. One of the latter shouldered my portmanteau, and the rest, shouting almost with one voice, proceeded to help the oxen.

Following mine there came another cart, which I was surprised to see four oxen pulling with the greatest ease, notwithstanding that it was loaded to the top. Behind it walked the owner, smoking a little, silver-mounted Kabardian pipe. He was wearing a s.h.a.ggy Circa.s.sian cap and an officer's overcoat without epaulettes, and he seemed to be about fifty years of age. The swarthiness of his complexion showed that his face had long been acquainted with Transcaucasian suns, and the premature greyness of his moustache was out of keeping with his firm gait and robust appearance. I went up to him and saluted. He silently returned my greeting and emitted an immense cloud of smoke.

"We are fellow-travellers, it appears."

Again he bowed silently.

"I suppose you are going to Stavropol?"

"Yes, sir, exactly--with Government things."

"Can you tell me how it is that that heavily-laden cart of yours is being drawn without any difficulty by four oxen, whilst six cattle are scarcely able to move mine, empty though it is, and with all those Ossetes helping?"

He smiled slyly and threw me a meaning glance.

"You have not been in the Caucasus long, I should say?"

"About a year," I answered.

He smiled a second time.

"Well?"

"Just so, sir," he answered. "They're terrible beasts, these Asiatics!

You think that all that shouting means that they are helping the oxen?

Why, the devil alone can make out what it is they do shout. The oxen understand, though; and if you were to yoke as many as twenty they still wouldn't budge so long as the Ossetes shouted in that way of theirs....

Awful scoundrels! But what can you make of them? They love extorting money from people who happen to be travelling through here. The rogues have been spoiled! You wait and see: they will get a tip out of you as well as their hire. I know them of old, they can't get round me!"

"You have been serving here a long time?"

"Yes, I was here under Aleksei Petrovich," [3] he answered, a.s.suming an air of dignity. "I was a sub-lieutenant when he came to the Line; and I was promoted twice, during his command, on account of actions against the mountaineers."

"And now--?"

"Now I'm in the third battalion of the Line. And you yourself?"

I told him.

With this the conversation ended, and we continued to walk in silence, side by side. On the summit of the mountain we found snow. The sun set, and--as usually is the case in the south--night followed upon the day without any interval of twilight. Thanks, however, to the sheen of the snow, we were able easily to distinguish the road, which still went up the mountain-side, though not so steeply as before. I ordered the Ossetes to put my portmanteau into the cart, and to replace the oxen by horses. Then for the last time I gazed down upon the valley; but the thick mist which had gushed in billows from the gorges veiled it completely, and not a single sound now floated up to our ears from below. The Ossetes surrounded me clamorously and demanded tips; but the staff-captain shouted so menacingly at them that they dispersed in a moment.

"What a people they are!" he said. "They don't even know the Russian for 'bread,' but they have mastered the phrase 'Officer, give us a tip!'

In my opinion, the very Tartars are better, they are no drunkards, anyhow."...

We were now within a verst or so of the Station. Around us all was still, so still, indeed, that it was possible to follow the flight of a gnat by the buzzing of its wings. On our left loomed the gorge, deep and black. Behind it and in front of us rose the dark-blue summits of the mountains, all trenched with furrows and covered with layers of snow, and standing out against the pale horizon, which still retained the last reflections of the evening glow. The stars twinkled out in the dark sky, and in some strange way it seemed to me that they were much higher than in our own north country. On both sides of the road bare, black rocks jutted out; here and there shrubs peeped forth from under the snow; but not a single withered leaf stirred, and amid that dead sleep of nature it was cheering to hear the snorting of the three tired post-horses and the irregular tinkling of the Russian bell. [4]

"We will have glorious weather to-morrow," I said.

The staff-captain answered not a word, but pointed with his finger to a lofty mountain which rose directly opposite us.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Mount Gut."

"Well, what then?"

"Don't you see how it is smoking?"

True enough, smoke was rising from Mount Gut. Over its sides gentle cloud-currents were creeping, and on the summit rested one cloud of such dense blackness that it appeared like a blot upon the dark sky.

By this time we were able to make out the Post Station and the roofs of the huts surrounding it; the welcoming lights were twinkling before us, when suddenly a damp and chilly wind arose, the gorge rumbled, and a drizzling rain fell. I had scarcely time to throw my felt cloak round me when down came the snow. I looked at the staff-captain with profound respect.

"We shall have to pa.s.s the night here," he said, vexation in his tone.

"There's no crossing the mountains in such a blizzard.--I say, have there been any avalanches on Mount Krestov?" he inquired of the driver.

"No, sir," the Ossete answered; "but there are a great many threatening to fall--a great many."

A Hero of Our Time Part 1

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A Hero of Our Time Part 1 summary

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