A Hero of Our Time Part 30

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"What a terrible fright she had last night," he said. "Of course, it was bound to happen just at the very time when I was absent."

We sat down to breakfast near the door leading into a corner-room in which about a dozen young men were sitting. Grushnitski was amongst them. For the second time destiny provided me with the opportunity of overhearing a conversation which was to decide his fate. He did not see me, and, consequently, it was impossible for me to suspect him of design; but that only magnified his fault in my eyes.

"Is it possible, though, that they were really Circa.s.sians?" somebody said. "Did anyone see them?"

"I will tell you the whole truth," answered Grushnitski: "only please do not betray me. This is how it was: yesterday, a certain man, whose name I will not tell you, came up to me and told me that, at ten o'clock in the evening, he had seen somebody creeping into the Ligovskis' house. I must observe that Princess Ligovski was here, and Princess Mary at home.

So he and I set off to wait beneath the windows and waylay the lucky man."

I confess I was frightened, although my companion was very busily engaged with his breakfast: he might have heard things which he would have found rather displeasing, if Grushnitski had happened to guess the truth; but, blinded by jealousy, the latter did not even suspect it.

"So, do you see?" Grushnitski continued. "We set off, taking with us a gun, loaded with blank cartridge, so as just to give him a fright.

We waited in the garden till two o'clock. At length--goodness knows, indeed, where he appeared from, but he must have come out by the gla.s.s door which is behind the pillar; it was not out of the window that he came, because the window had remained unopened--at length, I say, we saw someone getting down from the balcony... What do you think of Princess Mary--eh? Well, I admit, it is hardly what you might expect from Moscow ladies! After that what can you believe? We were going to seize him, but he broke away and darted like a hare into the shrubs. Thereupon I fired at him."

There was a general murmur of incredulity.

"You do not believe it?" he continued. "I give you my word of honour as a gentleman that it is all perfectly true, and, in proof, I will tell you the man's name if you like."

"Tell us, tell us, who was he?" came from all sides.

"Pechorin," answered Grushnitski.

At that moment he raised his eyes--I was standing in the doorway opposite to him. He grew terribly red. I went up to him and said, slowly and distinctly:

"I am very sorry that I did not come in before you had given your word of honour in confirmation of a most abominable calumny: my presence would have saved you from that further act of baseness."

Grushnitski jumped up from his seat and seemed about to fly into a pa.s.sion.

"I beg you," I continued in the same tone: "I beg you at once to retract what you have said; you know very well that it is all an invention. I do not think that a woman's indifference to your brilliant merits should deserve so terrible a revenge. Bethink you well: if you maintain your present att.i.tude, you will lose the right to the name of gentleman and will risk your life."

Grushnitski stood before me in violent agitation, his eyes cast down.

But the struggle between his conscience and his vanity was of short duration. The captain of dragoons, who was sitting beside him, nudged him with his elbow. Grushnitski started, and answered rapidly, without raising his eyes:

"My dear sir, what I say, I mean, and I am prepared to repeat... I am not afraid of your menaces and am ready for anything."

"The latter you have already proved," I answered coldly; and, taking the captain of dragoons by the arm, I left the room.

"What do you want?" asked the captain.

"You are Grushnitski's friend and will no doubt be his second?"

The captain bowed very gravely.

"You have guessed rightly," he answered.

"Moreover, I am bound to be his second, because the insult offered to him touches myself also. I was with him last night," he added, straightening up his stooping figure.

"Ah! So it was you whose head I struck so clumsily?"...

He turned yellow in the face, then blue; suppressed rage was portrayed upon his countenance.

"I shall have the honour to send my second to you to-day," I added, bowing adieu to him very politely, without appearing to have noticed his fury.

On the restaurant-steps I met Vera's husband. Apparently he had been waiting for me.

He seized my hand with a feeling akin to rapture.

"n.o.ble young man!" he said, with tears in his eyes. "I have heard everything. What a scoundrel! Ingrate!... Just fancy such people being admitted into a decent household after this! Thank G.o.d I have no daughters! But she for whom you are risking your life will reward you.

Be a.s.sured of my constant discretion," he continued. "I have been young myself and have served in the army: I know that these affairs must take their course. Good-bye."

Poor fellow! He is glad that he has no daughters!...

I went straight to Werner, found him at home, and told him the whole story--my relations with Vera and Princess Mary, and the conversation which I had overheard and from which I had learned the intention of these gentlemen to make a fool of me by causing me to fight a duel with blank cartridges. But, now, the affair had gone beyond the bounds of jest; they probably had not expected that it would turn out like this.

The doctor consented to be my second; I gave him a few directions with regard to the conditions of the duel. He was to insist upon the affair being managed with all possible secrecy, because, although I am prepared, at any moment, to face death, I am not in the least disposed to spoil for all time my future in this world.

After that I went home. In an hour's time the doctor returned from his expedition.

"There is indeed a conspiracy against you," he said. "I found the captain of dragoons at Grushnitski's, together with another gentleman whose surname I do not remember. I stopped a moment in the ante-room, in order to take off my goloshes. They were squabbling and making a terrible uproar. 'On no account will I agree,' Grushnitski was saying: 'he has insulted me publicly; it was quite a different thing before'...

"'What does it matter to you?' answered the captain. 'I will take it all upon myself. I have been second in five duels, and I should think I know how to arrange the affair. I have thought it all out. Just let me alone, please. It is not a bad thing to give people a bit of a fright. And why expose yourself to danger if it is possible to avoid it?'...

"At that moment I entered the room. They suddenly fell silent. Our negotiations were somewhat protracted. At length we decided the matter as follows: about five versts from here there is a hollow gorge; they will ride thither tomorrow at four o'clock in the morning, and we shall leave half an hour later. You will fire at six paces--Grushnitski himself demanded that condition. Whichever of you is killed--his death will be put down to the account of the Circa.s.sians. And now I must tell you what I suspect: they, that is to say the seconds, may have made some change in their former plan and may want to load only Grushnitski's pistol. That is something like murder, but in time of war, and especially in Asiatic warfare, such tricks are allowed. Grushnitski, however, seems to be a little more magnanimous than his companions. What do you think? Ought we not to let them see that we have guessed their plan?"

"Not on any account, doctor! Make your mind easy; I will not give in to them."

"But what are you going to do, then?"

"That is my secret."

"Mind you are not caught... six paces, you know!"

"Doctor, I shall expect you to-morrow at four o'clock. The horses will be ready... Goodbye."

I remained in the house until the evening, with my door locked. A manservant came to invite me to Princess Ligovski's--I bade him say that I was ill.

Two o'clock in the morning... I cannot sleep... Yet sleep is what I need, if I am to have a steady hand to-morrow. However, at six paces it is difficult to miss. Aha! Mr. Grushnitski, your wiles will not succeed!... We shall exchange roles: now it is I who shall have to seek the signs of latent terror upon your pallid countenance. Why have you yourself appointed these fatal six paces? Think you that I will tamely expose my forehead to your aim?...

No, we shall cast lots... And then--then--what if his luck should prevail? If my star at length should betray me?... And little wonder if it did: it has so long and faithfully served my caprices.

Well? If I must die, I must! The loss to the world will not be great; and I myself am already downright weary of everything. I am like a guest at a ball, who yawns but does not go home to bed, simply because his carriage has not come for him. But now the carriage is here...


My whole past life I live again in memory, and, involuntarily, I ask myself: 'why have I lived--for what purpose was I born?'... A purpose there must have been, and, surely, mine was an exalted destiny, because I feel that within my soul are powers immeasurable... But I was not able to discover that destiny, I allowed myself to be carried away by the allurements of pa.s.sions, inane and ign.o.ble. From their crucible I issued hard and cold as iron, but gone for ever was the glow of n.o.ble aspirations--the fairest flower of life. And, from that time forth, how often have I not played the part of an axe in the hands of fate! Like an implement of punishment, I have fallen upon the head of doomed victims, often without malice, always without pity... To none has my love brought happiness, because I have never sacrificed anything for the sake of those I have loved: for myself alone I have loved--for my own pleasure.

I have only satisfied the strange craving of my heart, greedily draining their feelings, their tenderness, their joys, their sufferings--and I have never been able to sate myself. I am like one who, spent with hunger, falls asleep in exhaustion and sees before him sumptuous viands and sparkling wines; he devours with rapture the aerial gifts of the imagination, and his pains seem somewhat a.s.suaged. Let him but awake: the vision vanishes--twofold hunger and despair remain!

And to-morrow, it may be, I shall die!... And there will not be left on earth one being who has understood me completely. Some will consider me worse, others, better, than I have been in reality... Some will say: 'he was a good fellow'; others: 'a villain.' And both epithets will be false. After all this, is life worth the trouble? And yet we live--out of curiosity! We expect something new... How absurd, and yet how vexatious!

A Hero of Our Time Part 30

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A Hero of Our Time Part 30 summary

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