A Hero of Our Time Part 31

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IT is now a month and a half since I have been in the N----Fortress.

Maksim Maksimych is out hunting... I am alone. I am sitting by the window. Grey clouds have covered the mountains to the foot; the sun appears through the mist as a yellow spot. It is cold; the wind is whistling and rocking the shutters... I am bored!... I will continue my diary which has been interrupted by so many strange events.

I read the last page over: how ridiculous it seems!... I thought to die; it was not to be. I have not yet drained the cup of suffering, and now I feel that I still have long to live.

How clearly and how sharply have all these bygone events been stamped upon my memory! Time has not effaced a single line, a single shade.

I remember that during the night preceding the duel I did not sleep a single moment. I was not able to write for long: a secret uneasiness took possession of me. For about an hour I paced the room, then I sat down and opened a novel by Walter Scott which was lying on my table. It was "The Scottish Puritans." [301] At first I read with an effort; then, carried away by the magical fiction, I became oblivious of everything else.

At last day broke. My nerves became composed. I looked in the gla.s.s: a dull pallor covered my face, which preserved the traces of hara.s.sing sleeplessness; but my eyes, although encircled by a brownish shadow, glittered proudly and inexorably. I was satisfied with myself.

I ordered the horses to be saddled, dressed myself, and ran down to the baths. Plunging into the cold, sparkling water of the Narzan Spring, I felt my bodily and mental powers returning. I left the baths as fresh and hearty as if I was off to a ball. After that, who shall say that the soul is not dependent upon the body!...

On my return, I found the doctor at my rooms. He was wearing grey riding-breeches, a jacket and a Circa.s.sian cap. I burst out laughing when I saw that little figure under the enormous s.h.a.ggy cap. Werner has a by no means warlike countenance, and on that occasion it was even longer than usual.

"Why so sad, doctor?" I said to him. "Have you not a hundred times, with the greatest indifference, escorted people to the other world? Imagine that I have a bilious fever: I may get well; also, I may die; both are in the usual course of things. Try to look on me as a patient, afflicted with an illness with which you are still unfamiliar--and then your curiosity will be aroused in the highest degree. You can now make a few important physiological observations upon me... Is not the expectation of a violent death itself a real illness?"

The doctor was struck by that idea, and he brightened up.

We mounted our horses. Werner clung on to his bridle with both hands, and we set off. In a trice we had galloped past the fortress, through the village, and had ridden into the gorge. Our winding road was half-overgrown with tall gra.s.s and was intersected every moment by a noisy brook, which we had to ford, to the great despair of the doctor, because each time his horse would stop in the water.

A morning more fresh and blue I cannot remember! The sun had scarce shown his face from behind the green summits, and the blending of the first warmth of his rays with the dying coolness of the night produced on all my feelings a sort of sweet languor. The joyous beam of the young day had not yet penetrated the gorge; it gilded only the tops of the cliffs which overhung us on both sides. The tufted shrubs, growing in the deep crevices of the cliffs, besprinkled us with a silver shower at the least breath of wind. I remember that on that occasion I loved Nature more than ever before. With what curiosity did I examine every dewdrop trembling upon the broad vine leaf and reflecting millions of rainbowhued rays! How eagerly did my glance endeavour to penetrate the smoky distance! There the road grew narrower and narrower, the cliffs bluer and more dreadful, and at last they met, it seemed, in an impenetrable wall.

We rode in silence.

"Have you made your will?" Werner suddenly inquired.


"And if you are killed?"

"My heirs will be found of themselves."

"Is it possible that you have no friends, to whom you would like to send a last farewell?"...

I shook my head.

"Is there, really, not one woman in the world to whom you would like to leave some token in remembrance?"...

"Do you want me to reveal my soul to you, doctor?" I answered... "You see, I have outlived the years when people die with the name of the beloved on their lips and bequeathing to a friend a lock of pomaded--or unpomaded--hair. When I think that death may be near, I think of myself alone; others do not even do as much. The friends who to-morrow will forget me or, worse, will utter goodness knows what falsehoods about me; the women who, while embracing another, will laugh at me in order not to arouse his jealousy of the deceased--let them go! Out of the storm of life I have borne away only a few ideas--and not one feeling. For a long time now I have been living, not with my heart, but with my head.

I weigh, a.n.a.lyse my own pa.s.sions and actions with severe curiosity, but without sympathy. There are two personalities within me: one lives--in the complete sense of the word--the other reflects and judges him; the first, it may be, in an hour's time, will take farewell of you and the world for ever, and the second--the second?... Look, doctor, do you see those three black figures on the cliff, to the right? They are our antagonists, I suppose?"...

We pushed on.

In the bushes at the foot of the cliff three horses were tethered; we tethered ours there too, and then we clambered up the narrow path to the ledge on which Grushnitski was awaiting us in company with the captain of dragoons and his other second, whom they called Ivan Ignatevich. His surname I never heard.

"We have been expecting you for quite a long time," said the captain of dragoons, with an ironical smile.

I drew out my watch and showed him the time.

He apologized, saying that his watch was fast.

There was an embarra.s.sing silence for a few moments. At length the doctor interrupted it.

"It seems to me," he said, turning to Grushnitski, "that as you have both shown your readiness to fight, and thereby paid the debt due to the conditions of honour, you might be able to come to an explanation and finish the affair amicably."

"I am ready," I said.

The captain winked to Grushnitski, and the latter, thinking that I was losing courage, a.s.sumed a haughty air, although, until that moment, his cheeks had been covered with a dull pallor. For the first time since our arrival he lifted his eyes on me; but in his glance there was a certain disquietude which evinced an inward struggle.

"Declare your conditions," he said, "and anything I can do for you, be a.s.sured"...

"These are my conditions: you will this very day publicly recant your slander and beg my pardon"...

"My dear sir, I wonder how you dare make such a proposal to me?"

"What else could I propose?"...

"We will fight."

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Be it so; only, bethink you that one of us will infallibly be killed."

"I hope it will be you"...

"And I am so convinced of the contrary"...

He became confused, turned red, and then burst out into a forced laugh.

The captain took his arm and led him aside; they whispered together for a long time. I had arrived in a fairly pacific frame of mind, but all this was beginning to drive me furious.

The doctor came up to me.

"Listen," he said, with manifest uneasiness, "you have surely forgotten their conspiracy!... I do not know how to load a pistol, but in this case... You are a strange man! Tell them that you know their intention--and they will not dare... What sport! To shoot you like a bird"...

"Please do not be uneasy, doctor, and wait awhile... I shall arrange everything in such a way that there will be no advantage on their side.

Let them whisper"...

"Gentlemen, this is becoming tedious," I said to them loudly: "if we are to fight, let us fight; you had time yesterday to talk as much as you wanted to."

"We are ready," answered the captain. "Take your places, gentlemen!

Doctor, be good enough to measure six paces"...

A Hero of Our Time Part 31

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A Hero of Our Time Part 31 summary

You're reading A Hero of Our Time Part 31. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov already has 204 views.

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