A Hero of Our Time Part 8

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"It was like this: in spite of Pechorin's prohibition, she went out of the fortress and down to the river. It was a very hot day, you know, and she sat on a rock and dipped her feet in the water. Up crept Kazb.i.+.c.h, pounced upon her, silenced her, and dragged her into the bushes. Then he sprang on his horse and made off. In the meantime she succeeded in crying out, the sentries took the alarm, fired, but wide of the mark; and thereupon we arrived on the scene."

"But what did Kazb.i.+.c.h want to carry her off for?"

"Good gracious! Why, everyone knows these Circa.s.sians are a race of thieves; they can't keep their hands off anything that is left lying about! They may not want a thing, but they will steal it, for all that.

Still, you mustn't be too hard on them. And, besides, he had been in love with her for a long time."

"And Bela died?"

"Yes, she died, but she suffered for a long time, and we were fairly knocked up with her, I can tell you. About ten o'clock in the evening she came to herself. We were sitting by her bed. As soon as ever she opened her eyes she began to call Pechorin.

"'I am here beside you, my janechka' (that is, 'my darling'), he answered, taking her by the hand.

"'I shall die,' she said.

"We began to comfort her, telling her that the doctor had promised infallibly to cure her. She shook her little head and turned to the wall--she did not want to die!...

"At night she became delirious, her head burned, at times a feverish paroxysm convulsed her whole body. She talked incoherently about her father, her brother; she yearned for the mountains, for her home... Then she spoke of Pechorin also, called him various fond names, or reproached him for having ceased to love his janechka.

"He listened to her in silence, his head sunk in his hands; but yet, during the whole time, I did not notice a single tear-drop on his lashes. I do not know whether he was actually unable to weep or was mastering himself; but for my part I have never seen anything more pitiful.

"Towards morning the delirium pa.s.sed off. For an hour or so she lay motionless, pale, and so weak that it was hardly possible to observe that she was breathing. After that she grew better and began to talk: only about what, think you? Such thoughts come only to the dying!... She lamented that she was not a Christian, that in the other world her soul would never meet the soul of Grigori Aleksandrovich, and that in Paradise another woman would be his companion. The thought occurred to me to baptize her before her death. I told her my idea; she looked at me undecidedly, and for a long time was unable to utter a word. Finally she answered that she would die in the faith in which she had been born.

A whole day pa.s.sed thus. What a change that day made in her! Her pale cheeks fell in, her eyes grew ever so large, her lips burned. She felt a consuming heat within her, as though a red-hot blade was piercing her breast.

"The second night came on. We did not close our eyes or leave the bedside. She suffered terribly, and groaned; and directly the pain began to abate she endeavoured to a.s.sure Grigori Aleksandrovich that she felt better, tried to persuade him to go to bed, kissed his hand and would not let it out of hers. Before the morning she began to feel the death agony and to toss about. She knocked the bandage off, and the blood flowed afresh. When the wound was bound up again she grew quiet for a moment and begged Pechorin to kiss her. He fell on his knees beside the bed, raised her head from the pillow, and pressed his lips to hers--which were growing cold. She threw her trembling arms closely round his neck, as if with that kiss she wished to yield up her soul to him.--No, she did well to die! Why, what would have become of her if Grigori Aleksandrovich had abandoned her? And that is what would have happened, sooner or later.

"During half the following day she was calm, silent and docile, however much the doctor tortured her with his fomentations and mixtures.

"'Good heavens!' I said to him, 'you know you said yourself that she was certain to die, so what is the good of all these preparations of yours?'

"'Even so, it is better to do all this,' he replied, 'so that I may have an easy conscience.'

"A pretty conscience, forsooth!

"After midday Bela began to suffer from thirst. We opened the windows, but it was hotter outside than in the room; we placed ice round the bed--all to no purpose. I knew that that intolerable thirst was a sign of the approaching end, and I told Pechorin so.

"'Water, water!' she said in a hoa.r.s.e voice, raising herself up from the bed.

"Pechorin turned pale as a sheet, seized a gla.s.s, filled it, and gave it to her. I covered my eyes with my hands and began to say a prayer--I can't remember what... Yes, my friend, many a time have I seen people die in hospitals or on the field of battle, but this was something altogether different! Still, this one thing grieves me, I must confess: she died without even once calling me to mind. Yet I loved her, I should think, like a father!... Well, G.o.d forgive her!... And, to tell the truth, what am I that she should have remembered me when she was dying?...

"As soon as she had drunk the water, she grew easier--but in about three minutes she breathed her last! We put a looking-gla.s.s to her lips--it was undimmed!

"I led Pechorin from the room, and we went on to the fortress rampart.

For a long time we walked side by side, to and fro, speaking not a word and with our hands clasped behind our backs. His face expressed nothing out of the common--and that vexed me. Had I been in his place, I should have died of grief. At length he sat down on the ground in the shade and began to draw something in the sand with his stick. More for form's sake than anything, you know, I tried to console him and began to talk. He raised his head and burst into a laugh! At that laugh a cold shudder ran through me... I went away to order a coffin.

"I confess it was partly to distract my thoughts that I busied myself in that way. I possessed a little piece of Circa.s.sian stuff, and I covered the coffin with it, and decked it with some Circa.s.sian silver lace which Grigori Aleksandrovich had bought for Bela herself.

"Early next morning we buried her behind the fortress, by the river, beside the spot where she had sat for the last time. Around her little grave white acacia shrubs and elder-trees have now grown up. I should have liked to erect a cross, but that would not have done, you know--after all, she was not a Christian."

"And what of Pechorin?" I asked.

"Pechorin was ill for a long time, and grew thin, poor fellow; but we never spoke of Bela from that time forth. I saw that it would be disagreeable to him, so what would have been the use? About three months later he was appointed to the E----Regiment, and departed for Georgia.

We have never met since. Yet, when I come to think of it, somebody told me not long ago that he had returned to Russia--but it was not in the general orders for the corps. Besides, to the like of us news is late in coming."

Hereupon--probably to drown sad memories--he launched forth into a lengthy dissertation on the unpleasantness of learning news a year late.

I did not interrupt him, nor did I listen.

In an hour's time a chance of proceeding on our journey presented itself. The snowstorm subsided, the sky became clear, and we set off. On the way I involuntarily let the conversation turn on Bela and Pechorin.

"You have not heard what became of Kazb.i.+.c.h?" I asked.

"Kazb.i.+.c.h? In truth, I don't know. I have heard that with the Shapsugs, on our right flank, there is a certain Kazb.i.+.c.h, a dare-devil fellow who rides about at a walking pace, in a red tunic, under our bullets, and bows politely whenever one hums near him--but it can scarcely be the same person!"...

In Kobi, Maksim Maksimych and I parted company. I posted on, and he, on account of his heavy luggage, was unable to follow me. We had no expectation of ever meeting again, but meet we did, and, if you like, I will tell you how--it is quite a history... You must acknowledge, though, that Maksim Maksimych is a man worthy of all respect... If you admit that, I shall be fully rewarded for my, perhaps, too lengthy story.

BOOK II MAKSIM MAKSIMYCH

AFTER parting with Maksim Maksimych, I galloped briskly through the gorges of the Terek and Darial, breakfasted in Kazbek, drank tea in Lars, and arrived at Vladikavkaz in time for supper. I spare you a description of the mountains, as well as exclamations which convey no meaning, and word-paintings which convey no image--especially to those who have never been in the Caucasus. I also omit statistical observations, which I am quite sure n.o.body would read.

I put up at the inn which is frequented by all who travel in those parts, and where, by the way, there is no one you can order to roast your pheasant and cook your cabbage-soup, because the three veterans who have charge of the inn are either so stupid, or so drunk, that it is impossible to knock any sense at all out of them.

I was informed that I should have to stay there three days longer, because the "Adventure" had not yet arrived from Ekaterinograd and consequently could not start on the return journey. What a misadventure!

[18]... But a bad pun is no consolation to a Russian, and, for the sake of something to occupy my thoughts, I took it into my head to write down the story about Bela, which I had heard from Maksim Maksimych--never imagining that it would be the first link in a long chain of novels: you see how an insignificant event has sometimes dire results!... Perhaps, however, you do not know what the "Adventure" is? It is a convoy--composed of half a company of infantry, with a cannon--which escorts baggage-trains through Kabardia from Vladikavkaz to Ekaterinograd.

The first day I found the time hang on my hands dreadfully. Early next morning a vehicle drove into the courtyard... Aha! Maksim Maksimych!...

We met like a couple of old friends. I offered to share my own room with him, and he accepted my hospitality without standing upon ceremony; he even clapped me on the shoulder and puckered up his mouth by way of a smile--a queer fellow, that!...

Maksim Maksimych was profoundly versed in the culinary art. He roasted the pheasant astonis.h.i.+ngly well and basted it successfully with cuc.u.mber sauce. I was obliged to acknowledge that, but for him, I should have had to remain on a dry-food diet. A bottle of Kakhetian wine helped us to forget the modest number of dishes--of which there was one, all told.

Then we lit our pipes, took our chairs, and sat down--I by the window, and he by the stove, in which a fire had been lighted because the day was damp and cold. We remained silent. What had we to talk about? He had already told me all that was of interest about himself and I had nothing to relate. I looked out of the window. Here and there, behind the trees, I caught glimpses of a number of poor, low houses straggling along the bank of the Terek, which flowed seaward in an ever-widening stream; farther off rose the dark-blue, jagged wall of the mountains, behind which Mount Kazbek gazed forth in his highpriest's hat of white. I took a mental farewell of them; I felt sorry to leave them...

Thus we sat for a considerable time. The sun was sinking behind the cold summits and a whitish mist was beginning to spread over the valleys, when the silence was broken by the jingling of the bell of a travelling-carriage and the shouting of drivers in the street. A few vehicles, accompanied by dirty Armenians, drove into the courtyard of the inn, and behind them came an empty travelling-carriage. Its light movement, comfortable arrangement, and elegant appearance gave it a kind of foreign stamp. Behind it walked a man with large moustaches. He was wearing a Hungarian jacket and was rather well dressed for a manservant.

From the bold manner in which he shook the ashes out of his pipe and shouted at the coachman it was impossible to mistake his calling. He was obviously the spoiled servant of an indolent master--something in the nature of a Russian Figaro.

"Tell me, my good man," I called to him out of the window. "What is it?--Has the 'Adventure' arrived, eh?"

He gave me a rather insolent glance, straightened his cravat, and turned away. An Armenian, who was walking near him, smiled and answered for him that the "Adventure" had, in fact, arrived, and would start on the return journey the following morning.

"Thank heavens!" said Maksim Maksimych, who had come up to the window at that moment. "What a wonderful carriage!" he added; "probably it belongs to some official who is going to Tiflis for a judicial inquiry. You can see that he is unacquainted with our little mountains! No, my friend, you're not serious! They are not for the like of you; why, they would shake even an English carriage to bits!--But who could it be? Let us go and find out."

We went out into the corridor, at the end of which there was an open door leading into a side room. The manservant and a driver were dragging portmanteaux into the room.

"I say, my man!" the staff-captain asked him: "Whose is that marvellous carriage?--Eh?--A beautiful carriage!"

Without turning round the manservant growled something to himself as he undid a portmanteau. Maksim Maksimych grew angry.

A Hero of Our Time Part 8

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A Hero of Our Time Part 8 summary

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