A Hero of Our Time Part 15
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There was only one pa.s.sion which he did not conceal--the pa.s.sion for gambling. At the green table he would become oblivious of everything. He usually lost, but his constant ill success only aroused his obstinacy.
It was related that, on one occasion, during a nocturnal expedition, he was keeping the bank on a pillow, and had a terrific run of luck.
Suddenly shots rang out. The alarm was sounded; all but Vulich jumped up and rushed to arms.
"Stake, va banque!" he cried to one of the most ardent gamblers.
"Seven," the latter answered as he hurried off.
Notwithstanding the general confusion, Vulich calmly finished the deal--seven was the card. By the time he reached the cordon a violent fusillade was in progress. Vulich did not trouble himself about the bullets or the sabres of the Chechenes, but sought for the lucky gambler.
"Seven it was!" he cried out, as at length he perceived him in the cordon of skirmishers who were beginning to dislodge the enemy from the wood; and going up to him, he drew out his purse and pocket-book and handed them to the winner, notwithstanding the latter's objections on the score of the inconvenience of the payment. That unpleasant duty discharged, Vulich dashed forward, carried the soldiers along after him, and, to the very end of the affair, fought the Chechenes with the utmost coolness.
When Lieutenant Vulich came up to the table, we all became silent, expecting to hear, as usual, something original.
"Gentlemen!" he said--and his voice was quiet though lower in tone than usual--"gentlemen, what is the good of futile discussions? You wish for proofs? I propose that we try the experiment on ourselves: whether a man can of his own accord dispose of his life, or whether the fateful moment is appointed beforehand for each of us. Who is agreeable?"
"Not I. Not I," came from all sides.
"There's a queer fellow for you! He does get strange ideas into his head!"
"I propose a wager," I said in jest.
"What sort of wager?"
"I maintain that there is no such thing as predestination," I said, scattering on the table a score or so of ducats--all I had in my pocket.
"Done," answered Vulich in a hollow voice. "Major, you will be judge.
Here are fifteen ducats, the remaining five you owe me, kindly add them to the others."
"Very well," said the major; "though, indeed, I do not understand what is the question at issue and how you will decide it!"
Without a word Vulich went into the major's bedroom, and we followed him. He went up to the wall on which the major's weapons were hanging, and took down at random one of the pistols--of which there were several of different calibres. We were still in the dark as to what he meant to do. But, when he c.o.c.ked the pistol and sprinkled powder in the pan, several of the officers, crying out in spite of themselves, seized him by the arms.
"What are you going to do?" they exclaimed. "This is madness!"
"Gentlemen!" he said slowly, disengaging his arm. "Who would like to pay twenty ducats for me?"
They were silent and drew away.
Vulich went into the other room and sat by the table; we all followed him. With a sign he invited us to sit round him. We obeyed in silence--at that moment he had acquired a certain mysterious authority over us. I stared fixedly into his face; but he met my scrutinising gaze with a quiet and steady glance, and his pallid lips smiled. But, notwithstanding his composure, it seemed to me that I could read the stamp of death upon his pale countenance. I have noticed--and many old soldiers have corroborated my observation--that a man who is to die in a few hours frequently bears on his face a certain strange stamp of inevitable fate, so that it is difficult for practised eyes to be mistaken.
"You will die to-day!" I said to Vulich.
He turned towards me rapidly, but answered slowly and quietly:
"May be so, may be not."...
Then, addressing himself to the major, he asked:
"Is the pistol loaded?"
The major, in the confusion, could not quite remember.
"There, that will do, Vulich!" exclaimed somebody. "Of course it must be loaded, if it was one of those hanging on the wall there over our heads.
What a man you are for joking!"
"A silly joke, too!" struck in another.
"I wager fifty rubles to five that the pistol is not loaded!" cried a third.
A new bet was made.
I was beginning to get tired of it all.
"Listen," I said, "either shoot yourself, or hang up the pistol in its place and let us go to bed."
"Yes, of course!" many exclaimed. "Let us go to bed."
"Gentlemen, I beg of you not to move," said Vulich, putting the muzzle of the pistol to his forehead.
We were all petrified.
"Mr. Pechorin," he added, "take a card and throw it up in the air."
I took, as I remember now, an ace of hearts off the table and threw it into the air. All held their breath. With eyes full of terror and a certain vague curiosity they glanced rapidly from the pistol to the fateful ace, which slowly descended, quivering in the air. At the moment it touched the table Vulich pulled the trigger... a flash in the pan!
"Thank G.o.d!" many exclaimed. "It wasn't loaded!"
"Let us see, though," said Vulich.
He c.o.c.ked the pistol again, and took aim at a forage-cap which was hanging above the window. A shot rang out. Smoke filled the room; when it cleared away, the forage-cap was taken down. It had been shot right through the centre, and the bullet was deeply embedded in the wall.
For two or three minutes no one was able to utter a word. Very quietly Vulich poured my ducats from the major's purse into his own.
Discussions arose as to why the pistol had not gone off the first time. Some maintained that probably the pan had been obstructed; others whispered that the powder had been damp the first time, and that, afterwards, Vulich had sprinkled some fresh powder on it; but I maintained that the last supposition was wrong, because I had not once taken my eyes off the pistol.
"You are lucky at play!" I said to Vulich...
"For the first time in my life!" he answered, with a complacent smile.
"It is better than 'bank' and 'shtoss.'" 
"But, on the other hand, slightly more dangerous!"
"Well? Have you begun to believe in predestination?
"I do believe in it; only I cannot understand now why it appeared to me that you must inevitably die to-day!"
And this same man, who, such a short time before, had with the greatest calmness aimed a pistol at his own forehead, now suddenly fired up and became embarra.s.sed.
"That will do, though!" he said, rising to his feet. "Our wager is finished, and now your observations, it seems to me, are out of place."
A Hero of Our Time Part 15
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A Hero of Our Time Part 15 summary
You're reading A Hero of Our Time Part 15. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov already has 204 views.
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