A Hero of Our Time Part 14

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"Very well, sir."

I stuffed a pistol in my belt and went out. She was waiting for me at the edge of the cliff. Her attire was more than light, and a small kerchief girded her supple waist.

"Follow me!" she said, taking me by the hand, and we began to descend.

I cannot understand how it was that I did not break my neck. Down below we turned to the right and proceeded to take the path along which I had followed the blind boy the evening before. The moon had not yet risen, and only two little stars, like two guardian lighthouses, were twinkling in the dark-blue vault of heaven. The heavy waves, with measured and even motion, rolled one after the other, scarcely lifting the solitary boat which was moored to the sh.o.r.e.

"Let us get into the boat," said my companion.

I hesitated. I am no lover of sentimental trips on the sea; but this was not the time to draw back. She leaped into the boat, and I after her; and I had not time to recover my wits before I observed that we were adrift.

"What is the meaning of this?" I said angrily.

"It means," she answered, seating me on the bench and throwing her arms around my waist, "it means that I love you!"...

Her cheek was pressed close to mine, and I felt her burning breath upon my face. Suddenly something fell noisily into the water. I clutched at my belt--my pistol was gone! Ah, now a terrible suspicion crept into my soul, and the blood rushed to my head! I looked round. We were about fifty fathoms from the sh.o.r.e, and I could not swim a stroke! I tried to thrust her away from me, but she clung like a cat to my clothes, and suddenly a violent wrench all but threw me into the sea. The boat rocked, but I righted myself, and a desperate struggle began.

Fury lent me strength, but I soon found that I was no match for my opponent in point of agility...

"What do you want?" I cried, firmly squeezing her little hands.

Her fingers crunched, but her serpent-like nature bore up against the torture, and she did not utter a cry.

"You saw us," she answered. "You will tell on us."

And, with a supernatural effort, she flung me on to the side of the boat; we both hung half overboard; her hair touched the water. The decisive moment had come. I planted my knee against the bottom of the boat, caught her by the tresses with one hand and by the throat with the other; she let go my clothes, and, in an instant, I had thrown her into the waves.

It was now rather dark; once or twice her head appeared for an instant amidst the sea foam, and I saw no more of her.

I found the half of an old oar at the bottom of the boat, and somehow or other, after lengthy efforts, I made fast to the harbour. Making my way along the sh.o.r.e towards my hut, I involuntarily gazed in the direction of the spot where, on the previous night, the blind boy had awaited the nocturnal mariner. The moon was already rolling through the sky, and it seemed to me that somebody in white was sitting on the sh.o.r.e. Spurred by curiosity, I crept up and crouched down in the gra.s.s on the top of the cliff. By thrusting my head out a little way I was able to get a good view of everything that was happening down below, and I was not very much astonished, but almost rejoiced, when I recognised my water-nymph.

She was wringing the seafoam from her long hair. Her wet garment outlined her supple figure and her high bosom.

Soon a boat appeared in the distance; it drew near rapidly; and, as on the night before, a man in a Tartar cap stepped out of it, but he now had his hair cropped round in the Cossack fas.h.i.+on, and a large knife was sticking out behind his leather belt.

"Yanko," the girl said, "all is lost!"

Then their conversation continued, but so softly that I could not catch a word of it.

"But where is the blind boy?" said Yanko at last, raising his voice.

"I have told him to come," was the reply.

After a few minutes the blind boy appeared, dragging on his back a sack, which they placed in the boat.

"Listen!" said Yanko to the blind boy. "Guard that place! You know where I mean? There are valuable goods there. Tell"--I could not catch the name--"that I am no longer his servant. Things have gone badly. He will see me no more. It is dangerous now. I will go seek work in another place, and he will never be able to find another dare-devil like me.

Tell him also that if he had paid me a little better for my labours, I would not have forsaken him. For me there is a way anywhere, if only the wind blows and the sea roars."

After a short silence Yanko continued.

"She is coming with me. It is impossible for her to remain here. Tell the old woman that it is time for her to die; she has been here a long time, and the line must be drawn somewhere. As for us, she will never see us any more."

"And I?" said the blind boy in a plaintive voice.

"What use have I for you?" was the answer.

In the meantime my Undine had sprung into the boat. She beckoned to her companion with her hand. He placed something in the blind boy's hand and added:

"There, buy yourself some gingerbreads."

"Is this all?" said the blind boy.

"Well, here is some more."

The money fell and jingled as it struck the rock.

The blind boy did not pick it up. Yanko took his seat in the boat; the wind was blowing from the sh.o.r.e; they hoisted the little sail and sped rapidly away. For a long time the white sail gleamed in the moonlight amid the dark waves. Still the blind boy remained seated upon the sh.o.r.e, and then I heard something which sounded like sobbing. The blind boy was, in fact, weeping, and for a long, long time his tears flowed... I grew heavy-hearted. For what reason should fate have thrown me into the peaceful circle of honourable smugglers? Like a stone cast into a smooth well, I had disturbed their quietude, and I barely escaped going to the bottom like a stone.

I returned home. In the hall the burnt-out candle was spluttering on a wooden platter, and my Cossack, contrary to orders, was fast asleep, with his gun held in both hands. I left him at rest, took the candle, and entered the hut. Alas! my cashbox, my sabre with the silver chasing, my Daghestan dagger--the gift of a friend--all had vanished! It was then that I guessed what articles the cursed blind boy had been dragging along. Roughly shaking the Cossack, I woke him up, rated him, and lost my temper. But what was the good of that? And would it not have been ridiculous to complain to the authorities that I had been robbed by a blind boy and all but drowned by an eighteen-year-old girl?

Thank heaven an opportunity of getting away presented itself in the morning, and I left Taman.

What became of the old woman and the poor blind boy I know not.

And, besides, what are the joys and sorrows of mankind to me--me, a travelling officer, and one, moreover, with an order for post-horses on Government business?



I ONCE happened to spend a couple of weeks in a Cossack village on our left flank. A battalion of infantry was stationed there; and it was the custom of the officers to meet at each other's quarters in turn and play cards in the evening.

On one occasion--it was at Major S----'s--finding our game of Boston not sufficiently absorbing, we threw the cards under the table and sat on for a long time, talking. The conversation, for once in a way, was interesting. The subject was the Mussulman tradition that a man's fate is written in heaven, and we discussed the fact that it was gaining many votaries, even amongst our own countrymen. Each of us related various extraordinary occurrences, pro or contra.

"What you have been saying, gentlemen, proves nothing," said the old major. "I presume there is not one of you who has actually been a witness of the strange events which you are citing in support of your opinions?"

"Not one, of course," said many of the guests. "But we have heard of them from trustworthy people."...

"It is all nonsense!" someone said. "Where are the trustworthy people who have seen the Register in which the appointed hour of our death is recorded?... And if predestination really exists, why are free will and reason granted us? Why are we obliged to render an account of our actions?"

At that moment an officer who was sitting in a corner of the room stood up, and, coming slowly to the table, surveyed us all with a quiet and solemn glance. He was a native of Servia, as was evident from his name.

The outward appearance of Lieutenant Vulich was quite in keeping with his character. His height, swarthy complexion, black hair, piercing black eyes, large but straight nose--an attribute of his nation--and the cold and melancholy smile which ever hovered around his lips, all seemed to concur in lending him the appearance of a man apart, incapable of reciprocating the thoughts and pa.s.sions of those whom fate gave him for companions.

He was brave; talked little, but sharply; confided his thoughts and family secrets to no one; drank hardly a drop of wine; and never dangled after the young Cossack girls, whose charm it is difficult to realise without having seen them. It was said, however, that the colonel's wife was not indifferent to those expressive eyes of his; but he was seriously angry if any hint on the subject was made.

A Hero of Our Time Part 14

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A Hero of Our Time Part 14 summary

You're reading A Hero of Our Time Part 14. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov already has 194 views.

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