A Hero of Our Time Part 11
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CONCERNING PECHORIN'S DIARY
I LEARNED not long ago that Pechorin had died on his way back from Persia. The news afforded me great delight; it gave me the right to print these notes; and I have taken advantage of the opportunity of putting my name at the head of another person's productions. Heaven grant that my readers may not punish me for such an innocent deception!
I must now give some explanation of the reasons which have induced me to betray to the public the inmost secrets of a man whom I never knew. If I had even been his friend, well and good: the artful indiscretion of the true friend is intelligible to everybody; but I only saw Pechorin once in my life--on the high-road--and, consequently, I cannot cherish towards him that inexplicable hatred, which, hiding its face under the mask of friends.h.i.+p, awaits but the death or misfortune of the beloved object to burst over its head in a storm of reproaches, admonitions, scoffs and regrets.
On reading over these notes, I have become convinced of the sincerity of the man who has so unsparingly exposed to view his own weaknesses and vices. The history of a man's soul, even the pettiest soul, is hardly less interesting and useful than the history of a whole people; especially when the former is the result of the observations of a mature mind upon itself, and has been written without any egoistical desire of arousing sympathy or astonishment. Rousseau's Confessions has precisely this defect--he read it to his friends.
And, so, it is nothing but the desire to be useful that has constrained me to print fragments of this diary which fell into my hands by chance.
Although I have altered all the proper names, those who are mentioned in it will probably recognise themselves, and, it may be, will find some justification for actions for which they have hitherto blamed a man who has ceased henceforth to have anything in common with this world. We almost always excuse that which we understand.
I have inserted in this book only those portions of the diary which refer to Pechorin's sojourn in the Caucasus. There still remains in my hands a thick writing-book in which he tells the story of his whole life. Some time or other that, too, will present itself before the tribunal of the world, but, for many and weighty reasons, I do not venture to take such a responsibility upon myself now.
Possibly some readers would like to know my own opinion of Pechorin's character. My answer is: the t.i.tle of this book. "But that is malicious irony!" they will say... I know not.
BOOK III THE FIRST EXTRACT FROM PECHORIN'S DIARY
TAMAN is the nastiest little hole of all the seaports of Russia. I was all but starved there, to say nothing of having a narrow escape of being drowned.
I arrived late at night by the post-car. The driver stopped the tired troika  at the gate of the only stone-built house that stood at the entrance to the town. The sentry, a Cossack from the Black Sea, hearing the jingle of the bell, cried out, sleepily, in his barbarous voice, "Who goes there?" An under-officer of Cossacks and a headborough 
came out. I explained that I was an officer bound for the active-service detachment on Government business, and I proceeded to demand official quarters. The headborough conducted us round the town. Whatever hut we drove up to we found to be occupied. The weather was cold; I had not slept for three nights; I was tired out, and I began to lose my temper.
"Take me somewhere or other, you scoundrel!" I cried; "to the devil himself, so long as there's a place to put up at!"
"There is one other lodging," answered the headborough, scratching his head. "Only you won't like it, sir. It is uncanny!"
Failing to grasp the exact signification of the last phrase, I ordered him to go on, and, after a lengthy peregrination through muddy byways, at the sides of which I could see nothing but old fences, we drove up to a small cabin, right on the sh.o.r.e of the sea.
The full moon was s.h.i.+ning on the little reed-thatched roof and the white walls of my new dwelling. In the courtyard, which was surrounded by a wall of rubble-stone, there stood another miserable hovel, smaller and older than the first and all askew. The sh.o.r.e descended precipitously to the sea, almost from its very walls, and down below, with incessant murmur, plashed the dark-blue waves. The moon gazed softly upon the watery element, restless but obedient to it, and I was able by its light to distinguish two s.h.i.+ps lying at some distance from the sh.o.r.e, their black rigging motionless and standing out, like cobwebs, against the pale line of the horizon.
"There are vessels in the harbour," I said to myself. "To-morrow I will set out for Gelenjik."
I had with me, in the capacity of soldier-servant, a Cossack of the frontier army. Ordering him to take down the portmanteau and dismiss the driver, I began to call the master of the house. No answer! I knocked--all was silent within!... What could it mean? At length a boy of about fourteen crept out from the hall.
"Where is the master?"
"There isn't one."
"What! No master?"
"And the mistress?"
"She has gone off to the village."
"Who will open the door for me, then?" I said, giving it a kick.
The door opened of its own accord, and a breath of moisture-laden air was wafted from the hut. I struck a lucifer match and held it to the boy's face. It lit up two white eyes. He was totally blind, obviously so from birth. He stood stock-still before me, and I began to examine his features.
I confess that I have a violent prejudice against all blind, one-eyed, deaf, dumb, legless, armless, hunchbacked, and such-like people. I have observed that there is always a certain strange connection between a man's exterior and his soul; as, if when the body loses a limb, the soul also loses some power of feeling.
And so I began to examine the blind boy's face. But what could be read upon a face from which the eyes are missing?... For a long time I gazed at him with involuntary compa.s.sion, when suddenly a scarcely perceptible smile flitted over his thin lips, producing, I know not why, a most unpleasant impression upon me. I began to feel a suspicion that the blind boy was not so blind as he appeared to be. In vain I endeavoured to convince myself that it was impossible to counterfeit cataracts; and besides, what reason could there be for doing such a thing? But I could not help my suspicions. I am easily swayed by prejudice...
"You are the master's son?" I asked at length.
"Who are you, then?"
"An orphan--a poor boy."
"Has the mistress any children?"
"No, her daughter ran away and crossed the sea with a Tartar."
"What sort of a Tartar?"
"The devil only knows! A Crimean Tartar, a boatman from Kerch."
I entered the hut. Its whole furniture consisted of two benches and a table, together with an enormous chest beside the stove. There was not a single ikon to be seen on the wall--a bad sign! The sea-wind burst in through the broken window-pane. I drew a wax candle-end from my portmanteau, lit it, and began to put my things out. My sabre and gun I placed in a corner, my pistols I laid on the table. I spread my felt cloak out on one bench, and the Cossack his on the other. In ten minutes the latter was snoring, but I could not go to sleep--the image of the boy with the white eyes kept hovering before me in the dark.
About an hour pa.s.sed thus. The moon shone in at the window and its rays played along the earthen floor of the hut. Suddenly a shadow flitted across the bright strip of moons.h.i.+ne which intersected the floor. I raised myself up a little and glanced out of the window. Again somebody ran by it and disappeared--goodness knows where! It seemed impossible for anyone to descend the steep cliff overhanging the sh.o.r.e, but that was the only thing that could have happened. I rose, threw on my tunic, girded on a dagger, and with the utmost quietness went out of the hut.
The blind boy was coming towards me. I hid by the fence, and he pa.s.sed by me with a sure but cautious step. He was carrying a parcel under his arm. He turned towards the harbour and began to descend a steep and narrow path.
"On that day the dumb will cry out and the blind will see," I said to myself, following him just close enough to keep him in sight.
Meanwhile the moon was becoming overcast by clouds and a mist had risen upon the sea. The lantern alight in the stern of a s.h.i.+p close at hand was scarcely visible through the mist, and by the sh.o.r.e there glimmered the foam of the waves, which every moment threatened to submerge it.
Descending with difficulty, I stole along the steep declivity, and all at once I saw the blind boy come to a standstill and then turn down to the right. He walked so close to the water's edge that it seemed as if the waves would straightway seize him and carry him off. But, judging by the confidence with which he stepped from rock to rock and avoided the water-channels, this was evidently not the first time that he had made that journey. Finally he stopped, as though listening for something, squatted down upon the ground, and laid the parcel beside him.
Concealing myself behind a projecting rock on the sh.o.r.e, I kept watch on his movements. After a few minutes a white figure made its appearance from the opposite direction. It came up to the blind boy and sat down beside him. At times the wind wafted their conversation to me.
"Well?" said a woman's voice. "The storm is violent; Yanko will not be here."
"Yanko is not afraid of the storm!" the other replied.
"The mist is thickening," rejoined the woman's voice, sadness in its tone.
"In the mist it is all the easier to slip past the guards.h.i.+ps," was the answer.
"And if he is drowned?"
A Hero of Our Time Part 11
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A Hero of Our Time Part 11 summary
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