The sun was
already slipping behind a snow-capped ridge when I drove into
Koishaur Valley. The Ossetian coachman, singing at the top of his
voice, tirelessly urged his horses on in order to reach the summit
of Koishaur Mountain before nightfall. What a glorious spot this
valley is! All around it tower awesome mountains, reddish crags
draped with hanging ivy and crowned with clusters of plane trees,
yellow cliffs grooved by torrents, with a gilded fringe of snow
high above, while down below the Aragva River embraces a nameless
stream that noisily bursts forth from a black, gloom-filled gorge
and then stretches in a silvery ribbon into the distance, its
surface shimmering like the scaly back of a snake.
On reaching the foot of the Koishaur Mountain we stopped outside a
tavern where some twenty Georgians and mountaineers made up a
noisy assembly. Nearby a camel caravan had halted for the night. I
saw I would need oxen to haul my carriage to the top of the
confounded mountain, for it was already fall and a thin layer of
ice covered the ground, and the climb was a mile and a half long.
So I had no choice but to rent six oxen and several Ossetians. One
of them lifted up my suitcase and the others started helping the
oxen along--though they did little more than shout.
Behind my carriage came another pulled by four oxen with no
visible effort, though the vehicle was piled high with baggage.
This rather surprised me. In the wake of the carriage walked its
owner, puffing at a small silver-inlaid Kabardian pipe. He was
wearing an officer's coat without epaulets and a shaggy Circassian
cap. He looked about fifty, his tan face showed a long
relationship with the Caucasian sun, and his prematurely gray
mustache did not match his firm step and vigorous appearance. I
went up to him and bowed. He silently returned my greeting,
blowing out an enormous cloud of smoke.
"I guess we're fellow travelers?"
He bowed again, but did not say a word.
"I suppose you're going to Stavropol?"
"Yes, sir, I am . . . with some government baggage."
"Will you please explain to me how it is that four oxen easily
manage to pull your heavy carriage while six animals can barely
haul my empty one with the help of all these Ossetians?"
He smiled wisely, casting a glance at me as if to size me up.
"I bet you haven't been long in the Caucasus?"
"About a year," I replied.
He smiled again.
"Why do you ask?"
"No particular reason, sir. They're awful good-for-nothings, these
Asiatics! You don't think their yelling helps much, do you? You
can't tell what the hell they're saying. But the oxen understand
them all right. Hitch up twenty of the animals if you want to and
they won't budge as soon as those fellows begin yelling in their
own language. . . Terrific cheats, they are. But what can you do
about them? They do like to skin the traveler. Spoiled, they are,
the robbers! . . . you'll see they'll make you tip them too. I
know them by now, they won't fool me!"
"Have you served long in these parts?"
"Yes, ever since General Aleksey Yermolov was here," he replied,
drawing himself up. "When he arrived at the line I was a second
lieutenant, and under him was promoted twice for service against
"Now I'm in the third line battalion. And you, may I ask?"
I told him.
This brought the conversation to an end and we walked along side
by side in silence. On top of the mountain we ran into snow. The
sun set and night followed day without any interval in between as
is usual in the South. Thanks to the glistening snow, however, we
could easily pick out the road which still continued to climb,
though less steeply than before. I gave orders to put my suitcase
in the carriage and replace the oxen with horses, and turned to
look back at the valley down below for the last time, but a thick
mist that rolled in waves from the gorges blanketed it completely
and not a sound reached us from its depths. The Ossetians loudly
pestered me, demanding money for vodka. But the captain shouted at
them so fiercely that they went away in a second.
"You see what they're like!" he grumbled. "They don't know enough
Russian to ask for a piece of bread, but they've learned to beg
for tips: 'Officer, give me money for vodka!' Even the Tatars are
better--at least, they don't drink alcohol. . . ."
About a mile remained to the stage coach station. It was quiet all
around, so quiet that you could trace the flight of a mosquito by
its buzz. A deep gorge yawned black to the left. Beyond it and
ahead of us the dark blue mountain peaks wrinkled with gorges and
gullies and topped by layers of snow loomed against the pale
horizon that still retained the last glimmer of twilight. Stars
began to twinkle in the dark sky, and, strangely enough, it seemed
that they were far higher here than in our northern sky in Russia.
On both sides of the road naked black boulders jutted up from the
ground, and here and there some shrubs peeped from under the snow.
Not a single dead leaf rustled, and it was pleasant to hear in the
midst of this lifeless sleepiness of nature the snorting of the
tired stage coach horses and the uneven tinkling of the Russian
"Tomorrow will be a fine day," I observed, but the captain did not
reply. Instead he pointed to a tall mountain rising directly ahead
"What's that?" I asked.
"See how it smokes?"
Indeed, Mount Gud was smoking. Light wisps of mist crept along its
sides while a black cloud rested on the summit, so black that it
stood out as a blotch even against the dark sky.
We could already make out the stage coach station and the roofs of
the huts around it, and welcoming lights were dancing ahead when
the gusts of cold raw wind came whistling down the gorge and it
began to drizzle. Barely had I thrown a felt cape over my
shoulders than the snow came. I looked at the captain with respect
now . . .
"We'll have to stay here overnight," he said, annoyed. "You can't
get through the hills in a blizzard like this. Seen any avalanches
on Cross Mountain?" he asked a coachman.
"No, sir," the Ossetian replied. "But there's a lot just waiting
to come down."
As there was no room for travelers at the inn, we were given a
place to stay in a smoky hut. I invited my fellow traveler to join
me for tea, since I had with me a cast-iron tea-kettle--my sole
comfort on my Caucasian travels.
The hut was built against a cliff. Three wet, slippery steps led
up to the door. I groped my way in and stumbled upon a cow, for
these people have a cow shed for an entry room. I couldn't figure
out where to go. On one side sheep were bleating and on the other
a dog growled. Fortunately a glimmer of light showed through the
gloom and guided me to another opening that looked like a door.
Here a rather interesting scene confronted me: the spacious hut
with a roof supported by two smoke-blackened posts was full of
people. A fire built on the bare earth crackled in the middle, and
the smoke, forced back by the wind through the opening in the
roof, hung so thick that it took some time before I could see
anything around me. By the fire sat two old women, a swarm of
children and a lean Georgian man, all of them dressed in rags.
There was nothing to do but to make ourselves comfortable by the
fire and light up our pipes, and soon the tea-kettle was singing
"Pitiable creatures!" I observed to the captain, nodding toward
our grimy hosts who stared at us silently with something like
"A dull-witted people," he replied. "Believe me, they can't do
anything, nor can they learn anything either. Our Kabardians or
Chechens might be bums and tramps, but at least they're brave
fighters. However, these guys take no interest in weapons or war:
you won't find a decent knife on a single one of them. But what
can you expect from Ossetians!"
"Were you long in the Chechen region?"
"Quite a while--ten years stationed at a fort with a company, out
by the Stone Ford. You know the place?"
"Heard of it."
"Yes, sir, we had enough of those gangs--now, thank God, things
are quieter, but there was a time when you didn't dare go out a
hundred paces beyond the rampart without some hairy devil stalking
you, ready to put a noose around your neck or a bullet through the
back of your head the minute he caught you napping. But they were
brave men anyway."
"You must have had a whole lot of adventures?" I asked, with
"Aye, many indeed..."
He began to pull at the left tip of his mustache, his head
drooped, and he sank into deep thought. I very badly wanted to get
some sort of tale out of him--a desire that is natural to anyone
who travels about taking notes. In the meantime the tea came to
the boil. I dug out two travelers' glasses from my suitcase,
poured out tea and placed one before the captain. He took a sip
and muttered as if to himself: "Yes, many indeed!" The exclamation
raised my hopes, for I knew that Caucasian old-timers like to talk
and tell a story: they seldom have a chance to do so, for a man
may be stationed a full five years with a company somewhere in the
back woods without anyone to greet him with a "Hello" (his
sergeant always says, "Good morning, sir.") And there is so much
to talk about: the wild, strange people all around, the constant
dangers, and the remarkable adventures--one can't help thinking it
sad that we write down so little of it.
"Like to add a little rum?" I asked. "I have some white rum from
Tiflis, it'll warm you up in this cold."
"No, thanks, I don't drink."
"Well . . . swore off the stuff. Once when I was still a second
lieutenant we went on a brief spree, you know how it is, and that
very night there was an alert. So we showed up before the ranks a
little bit high, and there was hell to pay when old Yermolov found
out. Lord preserve me from seeing a man as furious as he was. We
escaped being court-martialed by a whisker. That's the way it is:
sometimes you spend a whole year without seeing anyone, and if you
get drunk you've had it."
On hearing this I nearly lost hope.
"Take even the Circassians," he went on, "as soon as they drink
their fill of booza at a wedding or a funeral the knife fight
begins. Once I barely managed to escape alive although I was the
guest of a neutral prince."
"How did it happen?"
"Well," he filled and lit his pipe, took a long pull on it, and
began the story, "you see, I was stationed at the time at a fort
beyond the Terek with a company--that was nearly five years back.
Once in the fall a supply convoy came up, and with it an officer,
a young man of about twenty-five. He reported to me in full dress
uniform and announced that he had been ordered to join me at the
fort. He was so slim and white, and so fashionably dressed up that
I could tell at once that he was a newcomer to the Caucasus. 'You
must've been transferred here from Russia?' I asked him. 'Yes,
sir,' he replied. I took his hand and said: 'Glad to have you
here, very glad. It'll be a bit dull for you . . . but we'll get
along real good, I'm sure, us two. Just call me Maksim Maksimich,
if you like, and, another thing--please don't bother wearing full
dress uniform. Just come around in your service cap.' He was shown
his quarters and he settled down in the fort."
"What was his name?" I asked Maksim Maksimich.
"Grigoriy Aleksandrovich Pechorin. A fine man he was, I assure
you, though a bit odd. For instance, he would spend days on end
hunting in rain or cold--everybody else would be chilled and
exhausted, but not he. Yet sometimes a mere draft in his room
would be enough for him to declare he had caught cold--a banging
shutter might make him jump and turn pale, yet I myself saw him go
at a wild boar single-handed. Sometimes you couldn't get a word
out of him for hours on end, but when he occasionally did start
telling stories you'd split your sides laughing . . . Yes, sir, a
most odd sort of young man he was, and, apparently, rich too,
judging by the load of expensive trinkets he had."
"How long was he with you?" I asked.
"Just about a year. But it was a year I won't forget. He caused me
plenty of trouble, God forgive him!--though that's not what I
remember about him. But after all, there are people who, when they
are born, the big book of life has it already written down that
all sorts of amazing things will happen to them!"
"Amazing things?" I exclaimed eagerly as I poured him some more
"I'll tell you the story. Some four miles from the fort there
lives a loyal prince. His son, a boy of about fifteen, got into
the habit of riding over to see us. Not a day passed that he
didn't come for one reason or another. Grigoriy Aleksandrovich and
I really spoiled him. What a daredevil he was, good at everything:
he could pick up a cap from the ground at full gallop, and he was
a crack shot. But there was one bad thing about him: he had a
terrible weakness for money. Once for a joke Pechorin promised him
a gold coin if he stole the best goat from his father's herd, and
what do you think? The very next night he dragged the animal in by
the horns. Sometimes, if we just tried teasing him, he would flare
up and reach for his dagger. 'You'll come to a bad end, Azamat,' I
would tell him. 'Yaman [Bad!] --You won't keep your skull on your
"Once the old prince himself came over to invite us to a wedding.
He was giving away his elder daughter and since we were kunaks
[blood brothers] there was no way to say no, of course, Tatar or
not. So we went. A pack of barking dogs met us in the village. On
seeing us the women hid themselves--the faces we did catch a
glimpse of were far from pretty. 'I had a much better opinion of
Circassian women,' Grigoriy Aleksandrovich said to me. 'You wait a
while,' I replied, smiling. I had something up my sleeve.
"There was quite a crowd assembled in the prince's house. It's the
custom among those Asiatics, you know, to invite to their weddings
everyone they happen to meet. We were welcomed with all the honors
due to us and shown to the best room. Before going in, though, I
took care to remember where they put our horses--just in case, you
"How do they celebrate weddings?" I asked the captain.
"Oh, in the usual way. First the mullah reads them something from
the Koran, then presents are given to the newlyweds and all their
relatives. They eat, and drink booza, until finally the
horsemanship display begins, and there is always some kind of
filthy clown dressed in rags riding a mangy lame nag playing the
fool to amuse the company. Later, when it grows dark, what we
would call a ball begins in the best room. Some miserable old man
strums away on a three-stringed . . . can't remember what they
call it . . . something like our balalaika. The girls and young
men line up in two rows facing each other, clap their hands and
sing. Then one of the girls and a man step into the center and
begin to chant verses to each other, improvising as they go, while
the rest pick up the refrain. Pechorin and I occupied the place of
honor, and as we sat there the host's younger daughter, a girl of
sixteen or so, came up to him and sang to him . . . what should I
call it . . . a sort of compliment."
"You don't remember what she sang by any chance?"
"Yes, I think it went something like this: 'Our young horsemen are
strong and their caftan robes are encrusted with silver, but the
young Russian officer is even stronger still and his epaulets are
of gold. He is like a poplar among the others, yet he shall
neither grow nor bloom in our orchard.' Pechorin rose, bowed to
her, pressing his hand to his forehead and heart, and asked me to
reply to her. Knowing their language well I translated his reply.
"When she walked away I whispered to him: 'Well, what do you think
"'Exquisite,' replied he. 'What is her name?' 'Her name is Bela,'
"And indeed, she was beautiful: tall, slim, and her eyes as black
as a gazelle's looked right into your soul. Pechorin grew
thoughtful and did not take his eyes off her, and she frequently
stole a glance at him. But Pechorin was not the only one who
admired the pretty princess: from a corner of the room another
pair of eyes, fixed and flaming, stared at her. I looked closer
and recognized somebody I knew, Kazbich. He was a man you couldn't
say was loyal, though there was nothing to show he was hostile
towards us. There were a good many suspicions but he had never
been caught at any tricks. Occasionally he brought sheep to us at
the fort and sold them cheap, but he never bargained: you had to
pay him what he asked--he would never cut a price even if his life
depended on it. It was said of him that he'd ride out beyond the
Kuban River with the bandits, and to tell the truth, he did look
like a guerrilla: he was short, wiry and broad-shouldered. And
nimble he was, as clever as the devil! The embroidered shirt he
wore was always torn and patched, but his weapons were ornamented
with silver. As for his horse, it was famous in all Kabarda, and
indeed, you couldn't think of a better horse. The horsemen all
around had very good reason to be jealous, and time and again they
tried to steal the animal, but never could. I can still see the
horse as if he were before me now: as black as tar, with legs like
taut violin strings and eyes no less beautiful than Bela's. He was
a strong animal too, could gallop thirty miles at a stretch, and
as for training, he would follow his master like a dog and always
came when he called him. Kazbich never bothered to tie up the
animal. A regular bandit horse!
"That evening Kazbich was gloomier than I had ever seen him, and I
noticed that he had a coat of mail under his shirt. 'There must be
a reason for the armor,' thought I. 'He is evidently plotting
"It was stuffy indoors, so I stepped out into the fresh air. The
night was settling on the hills and the mist was beginning to
weave in and out among the gorges.
"It occurred to me to look into the shelter where our horses stood
and see whether they were being fed, and besides, caution never
hurt anything. After all, I had a fine horse and a good many
Kabardians had cast fond glances at him and said: 'Yakshi tkhe,
chek yakshi!' [Good horse, excellent!]
"I was picking my way along the fence when suddenly I heard
voices. One of the speakers I recognized right away: it was that
good-for-nothing Azamat, our host's son. The other spoke more
slowly and quietly. 'I wonder what they're up to,' thought I. 'I
hope it's not about my horse.' I dropped down behind the fence and
cocked my ears, trying not to miss a word. It was impossible to
hear everything, for now and then the singing and the hum of
voices from the hut drowned out the conversation I was so
interested to hear.
"'That's a fine horse you have,' Azamat was saying. 'Were I the
master of my house and the owner of a herd of three hundred mares,
I'd give half of them for your horse, Kazbich!'
"'So it's Kazbich,' I thought and remembered the coat of mail.
"'You're right,' Kazbich replied after a momentary silence, 'you
won't find another like him in all Kabarda. Once, beyond the Terek
it was, I rode with the guerrillas to pick up some Russian horses.
We were unlucky though, and had to scatter. Four Cossacks came
after me--I could already hear the infidels shouting behind me,
and ahead of me was a thicket. I bent low in the saddle, trusted
myself to Allah and for the first time in my life insulted the
horse by striking him. Like a bird he flew between the branches,
the thorns tore my clothes, and the dry elm twigs lashed my face.
The horse leapt over tree stumps and crashed through the brush. It
would have been better for me to slip off him in some glade and
take cover in the woods on foot, but I couldn't bear to part with
him, so I held on, and the Prophet rewarded me. Some bullets
whistled past overhead! I could hear the Cossacks, now dismounted,
running along on my trail . . . Suddenly a deep gully opened up in
front--my horse hesitated for a moment, and then jumped. But on
the other side his hind legs slipped off the sheer edge and he was
left holding on by the forelegs. I dropped the reins and slipped
into the gully. This saved the horse, who managed to pull himself
up. The Cossacks saw all this, but none of them came down into the
ravine to look for me--they probably gave me up for dead. Then I
heard them going after my horse. My heart bled as I crawled
through the thick grass of the gully until I was out of the woods.
Now I saw some Cossacks riding out from the thicket into the open
and my Karagyoz galloping straight at them. With a shout they made
a dash for him. They chased him for a long time. One of them
almost got a lasso around his neck once or twice--I trembled,
turned away and began praying. Looking up a few moments later I
saw my Karagyoz flying free as the wind, his tail streaming while
the infidels trailed far behind in the plain on their exhausted
horses. I swear by Allah this is the truth, the truest truth! I
sat in my gully until far into the night. And what do you think
happened, Azamat? Suddenly through the darkness I heard a horse
running along the edge of the gully, snorting, neighing and
stamping his hoofs--I recognized the voice of my Karagyoz, for it
was he, my comrade! Since then we have never separated.'
"You could hear the man patting the smooth neck of the horse and
whispering to him all kinds of pet names.
"'Had I a herd of a thousand mares,' said Azamat, 'I would give it
to you for your Karagyoz.'
"'Iok, No, I wouldn't take it,' replied Kazbich indifferently.
"'Listen, Kazbich,' Azamat coaxed him. 'You are a good man and a
brave warrior; my father fears the Russians and doesn't let me go
into the mountains. Give me your horse and I'll do anything you
want, I'll steal for you my father's best musket or sword,
whatever you wish--and his saber is a real Gurda. Lay the blade
against your hand and it will cut deep into the flesh. Mail like
yours won't stop it.'
"Kazbich was silent.
"'When I first saw your horse,' Azamat went on, 'prancing under
you, his nostrils open wide and sparks flying under his hoofs,
something strange happened in my soul, and I lost interest in
everything. I have nothing but contempt now for my father's best
horses, I'm ashamed to be seen riding them, and I have been sick
at heart. In my misery I've spent days on end sitting on a hill,
thinking of nothing but your fleet-footed Karagyoz with his proud
stride and sleek back as straight as an arrow, his blazing eyes
looking into mine as if he wanted to speak to me. I'll die,
Kazbich, if you will not sell him to me,' said Azamat in a
"I thought I heard him sob; and I must tell you that Azamat was a
most stubborn lad and even when he was younger nothing could ever
make him cry.
"In reply to his tears I heard something like a laugh.
"'Listen!' said Azamat, his voice firm now. 'You see I am ready to
do anything. I could steal my sister for you if you want. How she
can dance and sing! And her gold embroidery is something
wonderful! The Turkish Padishah himself never had a wife like her.
If you want her, wait for me tomorrow night in the gorge where the
stream flows. I'll go by with her on the way to the next
village--and she'll be yours. Isn't Bela worth your steed?'
"For a long, long time Kazbich was silent. At last instead of
replying, he began softly singing an old song:
'Many fair maids in this village of mine,
Their eyes are dark pools where the stars seem to shine.
Sweet flits the time making love to a maid,
Sweeter's the freedom of any young blade.
Wives by the dozen are purchased with gold,
But a spirited steed is worth riches untold;
Swift o'er the plains like a whirlwind he flies,
Never betrays you, and never tells lies.'
[ Author's note:] I apologize to my readers for having put
Kazbich's song, which of course was told in prose, into verse; but
habit is second nature.
"In vain Azamat pleaded with him; he tried tears, flattery, and
profanity, until finally Kazbich lost patience with him: 'Get away
with you, boy! Are you crazy? You could never ride my horse! He'd
throw you after the first three paces and you'd smash your head
against a rock.'
"'Me?' Azamat screamed in a fury, and his child's dagger rang
against the coat of mail. A strong arm flung him back and he fell
against the corral fence so violently that it shook. 'Now the fun
will begin,' thought I and dashed into the stable, bridled our
horses and led them to the yard at the back. Two minutes later a
terrific uproar broke out in the hut. This is what happened:
Azamat ran into the hut in a torn shirt shouting that Kazbich had
tried to kill him. Everybody rushed out and went for their
rifles--and the fun was on! There was screaming and shouting and
shots were fired, but Kazbich was already on his horse spinning
around like a demon in the midst of the crowd swinging away with
his saber. 'It'd be big trouble to get mixed up in this,' said I
to Grigoriy Aleksandrovich as I caught him by the arm. 'Hadn't we
better scram as fast as we can?'
"'Let's wait a bit and see how it ends.'
"'It's sure to end badly--that's what always happens with these
Asiatics, as soon as they have enough drink they go slashing each
other.' We got on our horses and rode home.
"What happened to Kazbich?" I asked impatiently.
"What can happen to these people?" replied the captain, finishing
his glass of tea. "He got away, of course."
"Not even wounded, was he?" I asked.
"The Lord only knows. They're tough, the bandits! I have seen some
of them in engagements; a man may be cut to ribbons with bayonets
and still he will continue brandishing his saber." After a brief
silence the captain went on, stamping his foot: "There is one
thing I'll never forgive myself for. When we got back to the fort,
the devil prompted me to tell Pechorin what I had overheard behind
the fence. He laughed--the fox--though; he was already cooking up
"What was it? I'd like to hear it."
"I suppose I'll have to tell you. Since I've begun telling the
story, I might as well finish.
"Some four days later, Azamat rode up to the fort. As usual, he
went in to see Grigoriy Aleksandrovich, who always had some
tidbits for him. I was there too. The talk turned to horses, and
Pechorin began to praise Kazbich's horse; as spirited and graceful
as a chamois the steed was, and, as Pechorin put it, there simply
was no other horse like it in all the world.
"The Tatar boy's eyes lit up, but Pechorin pretended not to notice
it; I tried to change the subject, but at once he brought it back
to Kazbich's horse. This happened each time Azamat came. About
three weeks later I noticed that Azamat was growing pale and
wasting away as they do from love in novels. What was it all
"You see, I got the whole story later. Pechorin egged him on to a
point where the lad was simply desperate. Finally he put it
point-blank: 'I can see, Azamat, that you want that horse very
badly. Yet you have as little chance of getting it as of seeing
the back of your own head. Now tell me what would you give if
someone were to present it to you?'
"'Anything he asks,' replied Azamat.
"'In that case I'll get the horse for you, but on one condition .
. . Swear you will carry it out?'
"'I swear . . . And you must swear too!'
"'Good! I swear you'll get the horse, only you have to give me
your sister Bela in exchange. Karagyoz will be the bride money
[kalim]! I hope the bargain suits you.'
"Azamar was silent.
"'You don't want to? As you wish. I thought you were a man, but I
see you're still a child: you're too young to ride in the saddle.'
"Azamat flared up. 'What about my father?' he asked.
"'Doesn't he ever go away anywhere?'
"'That's true, he does . . . .'
"'So you agree?'
"'I agree,' whispered Azamat, pale as death itself. 'When?'
"'The next time Kazbich comes here; he has promised to bring a
dozen sheep. The rest is my affair. You take care of your end of
the bargain, Azamar!'
"So they arranged the whole business, and I must say it was a
rotten business indeed. Later I said so to Pechorin, but he only
replied that the primitive Circassian girl ought to be happy to
have such a fine husband as himself, for, after all, everybody
would regard him as her husband, and that Kazbich was a bandit who
should be punished anyway. Judge for yourself, what could I say
against this? But at the time I knew nothing about the conspiracy.
So one day Kazbich came asking whether we wanted sheep and honey,
and I told him to bring some the day after. 'Azamat,' Grigoriy
Aleksandrovich said to the lad, 'tomorrow Karagyoz will be in my
hands. If Bela is not here tonight you will not see the horse . .
"'Good!' said Azamat and galloped back to his village. In the
evening Grigoriy Aleksandrovich armed himself and rode out of the
fort. How they managed everything, I don't know--but at night they
both returned and the sentry saw a woman lying across Azamat's
saddle with hands and feet tied and head wrapped in a veil."
"And the horse?" I asked the captain.
"Just a moment. Early the next morning Kazbich came, driving along
the dozen sheep he wanted to sell. Tying his horse to a fence, he
came to see me and I regaled him with tea, for, scoundrel though
he was, he nevertheless was a kunak of mine.
"We began to chat about this and that. Suddenly I saw Kazbich
jump--his face twisted and he dashed for the window, but it
unfortunately opened to the backyard. 'What's wrong with you?' I
"'My horse . . . horse!' he said, shaking all over.
"And true enough I heard the beat of hoofs. 'Some Cossack must
"'No! Urus yaman, yaman, [A bad, bad Russian!]' he cried and
dashed out like a wild panther. In two strides he was in the
courtyard; at the gates of the fort a sentry barred his way with a
musket, but he leaped over the weapon and began running down the
road. In the distance a cloud of dust whirled--it was Azamat
urging on the spirited Karagyoz. Kazbich drew his pistol from its
canvas bag and fired as he ran. For a minute he stood motionless
until he was certain he had missed. Then he screamed, dashed the
gun to pieces against the stones, and rolled on the ground crying
like a baby . . . People from the fort gathered around him--but he
did not see anyone, and after standing about for a while talking
it over they all went back. I had the money for the sheep placed
next to him, but he did not touch it; he only lay there face down
like a corpse. Would you believe it, he lay like that the rest of
the day and all through the night? Only the next morning he
returned to the fort to ask whether anyone could tell him who the
thief was. A sentry who had seen Azamat untie the horse and gallop
off did not think it necessary to conceal the fact. When Kazbich
heard the name his eyes flashed and he set out for the village
where Azamat's father lived.'
"What did the father do?"
"The whole trouble was that Kazbich didn't find him. He had gone
off somewhere for six days or so. If he hadn't done that, could
Azamat have carried off his sister?
"The father returned to find both daughter and son gone. The lad
was a smart one--he knew very well that his head wouldn't be worth
anything if he got caught. So he has been missing ever since. Most
likely he joined some guerrilla band and perhaps ended his mad
career on the Russian side of the Terek, or maybe the Kuban. And
that's no more than he deserved!
"I must admit that it wasn't easy for me either. As soon as I
learned that the Circassian girl was in Pechorin's quarters, I put
on my epaulets and strapped on my sword and went to see him.
"He was lying on the bed in the front room, one hand under his
head and the other holding a pipe that had gone out. The door
leading to the next room was locked, and there was no key in the
lock; all this I noticed at once. I coughed and stamped my heels
on the threshold, but he pretended not to hear.
"'Ensign! Attention!' I said as severely as I could. 'Don't you
realize that I've come to see you?'
"'Ah, how do you do, Maksim Maksimich. Have a pipe,' he replied
without getting up.
"'I beg your pardon! I am no Maksim Maksimich: I am captain to
"'Oh, it's all the same. Would you care to have some tea? If you
only knew what a load I've got on my mind!'
"'I know everything,' I replied, walking up to the bed.
"'That's all the better, then. I am in no mood to go over it
"'Ensign, you have committed an offense for which I too may have
to answer . . .'
"'Well, why not? Have we not always shared everything equally?'
"'This is no time to joke. Will you surrender your sword?'
"'Mitka, my sword!'
"Mitka brought the sword. Having thus done my duty, I sat down on
the bed and said: 'Listen here, Grigoriy Aleksandrovich, you'd
best admit that it's wrong.'
"'That you kidnapped Bela. What a crook that Azamat is! Come now,
admit it,' I said to him.
"'Why should I? She happens to please me.'
"Now what could I say to that? I didn't know what to do.
Nevertheless after a moment's silence I told him he would have to
give the girl back if her father insisted.
"'I don't see why I should!'
"'But what if he finds out that she is here?'
"'How will he?'
"Again I was in a blind alley.
"'Listen, Maksim Maksimich,' said Pechorin, rising, 'you're a good
soul--if we give the girl to that barbarian he'll either kill her
or sell her. What has been done cannot be undone, and it won't do
to spoil things by being overzealous. You keep my sword, but leave
her with me . . .'
"'Supposing you let me see her,' said I.
"'She's behind that door; I myself have been trying in vain to see
her. She sits there in a corner all huddled up in her shawl and
will neither speak nor look at you; she's as timid as a gazelle. I
hired the innkeeper's wife who speaks Tatar to look after her and
get her accustomed to the idea that she's mine--for she will never
belong to anyone but myself,' he added, striking the table with
"I agreed to this too . . . What would you have had me do? There
are some people who always get their own way."
""What happened in the end?" I asked Maksim Maksimich. "Did he
actually win her over or did she pine away in captivity, longing
for her native village?"
"Now why should she have longed for her native village? She could
see the very same mountains from the fort as she had seen from the
village, and that's all these barbarians want. Moreover, Grigoriy
Aleksandrovich gave her some present every day. At first she
proudly tossed the gifts aside without a word, whereupon they
became the property of the innkeeper's wife and stimulated her
eloquence. Ah, gifts! What wouldn't a woman do for a little
colored cloth! But I'm getting off the subject . . . Pechorin
tried long and hard to win her. In the meantime he learned to
speak Tatar and she began to understand our language. Little by
little she learned to look at him, at first sideways, but she was
always melancholy and I too couldn't help feeling sad when I heard
her from the next room singing her native songs in a low voice.
I'll never forget a scene I once witnessed while passing the
window: Bela was seated on a couch, her head bowed, and Grigoriy
Aleksandrovich stood before her. 'Listen, baby,' he was saying,
'don't you realize that sooner or later you must be mine--why then
do you torment me so? Or perhaps you love some Chechen? If you do,
I'll let you go home at once.' She shuddered barely perceptibly
and shook her head. 'Or,' he went on, 'am I altogether hateful to
you?' She sighed. 'Perhaps your faith forbids your loving me?' She
grew pale but did not say a word. 'Believe me, there is only one
Allah for all people, and if he permits me to love you why should
he forbid you to return my love?' She looked him straight in the
face as if struck by this new thought: her eyes betrayed suspicion
and sought reassurance. And what eyes she had! They shone like two
"'Listen to me, sweet, kind Bela!' Pechorin continued. 'You can
see how I love you. I am ready to do anything to cheer you: I want
you to be happy, and if you keep on grieving, I will die. Tell me,
you will be more cheerful?' She thought for a moment, her black
eyes searching his face, then smiled tenderly and nodded in
agreement. He took her hand and began to persuade her to kiss him.
But she resisted weakly and repeated over and over again: 'Please,
please, no, no.' He became persistent; she trembled and began to
sob. 'I am your captive, your slave,' she said, 'and of course you
can force me.' And again there were tears.
"Pechorin struck his forehead with his fist and ran into the next
room. I went in to him: he was gloomily pacing up and down with
arms folded. 'What now, old man?' I asked him. 'A she-devil,
that's what she is!' he replied. 'But I give you my word that she
will be mine!' I shook my head. 'But you want to bet?' he said.
'Give me a week.' 'Done!' We shook on it and separated.
"The next day he sent off a messenger to Kizlyar to make some
purchases, and there was no end to the array of various kinds of
Persian cloth that was brought back.
do you think, Maksim Maksimich,' he said as he showed me the
gifts, 'will an Asiatic beauty be able to resist a bunch of stuff
like this?' 'You don't know these Circassian girls,' I replied.
'They're nothing like Georgian or Transcaucasian Tatar
women--nothing like them. They have their own rules of conduct.
Different upbringing, you know.' Grigoriy Aleksandrovich smiled
and began whistling a march.
"It turned out that I was right: the gifts did only half the
trick; she became more friendly and confiding--but nothing more.
So he decided to play his last card. One morning he ordered his
horse saddled, dressed in Circassian fashion, armed himself, and
went in to her. 'Bela,' he said, 'you know how I love you. I
decided to carry you off believing that when you came to know me
you would love me too. But I made a mistake. So, farewell, I leave
you the mistress of everything I have, and if you want to, you can
return to your father--you are free, I have wronged you and must
be punished. Farewell, I will ride away: where, I don't know.
Perhaps it will not be long before I am cut down by a bullet or a
saber blow; when that happens, remember me and try to forgive me.'
He turned away and extended his hand to her in parting. She didn't
take the hand, nor did she say a word. Standing behind the door I
saw her through the crack, and I was sorry for her--such a deathly
white had spread over her pretty little face. Hearing no reply,
Pechorin took several steps towards the door. He was trembling,
and do you know, I quite believe he was capable of actually doing
what he threatened. The Lord knows that's the kind of man he was.
But barely had he touched the door when she sprang up, sobbing,
and threw her arms around his neck. Believe me, I also wept
standing there behind the door, that is, I didn't exactly weep,
but--well, never mind, it was just silliness.'
The captain fell silent.
"I might as well confess," he said after a while, tugging at his
mustache, "I was annoyed because no woman had ever loved me like
"How long did their happiness last?" I asked.
"Well, she admitted that Pechorin had often appeared in her dreams
since the day she first saw him and that no other man had ever
made such an impression on her. Yes, they were happy!"
"How boring!" I exclaimed involuntarily. Indeed, I was expecting a
tragic end and it was a disappointment to see my hopes collapse so
suddenly. "Don't tell me the father didn't guess she was with you
in the fort?"
"I believe he did suspect. A few days later, however, we heard
that the old man had been killed. This is how it happened..."
My interest was again aroused.
"I should tell you that Kazbich had the idea that Azamat had
stolen the horse with his father's consent, at least, so I think.
So he lay in ambush one day a couple of miles beyond the village
when the old man was returning from a futile search for his
daughter. The old man had left his cohorts lagging behind and was
plunged deep in thought as he rode slowly down the road through
the deepening twilight, when Kazbich suddenly sprang catlike from
behind a bush, leapt behind him on the horse, cut him down with a
blow of his dagger and grabbed the reins. Some of his men saw it
all from a hill, but though they set out in pursuit they couldn't
"So he compensated himself for the loss of his horse and took
revenge as well," I said in order to draw an opinion out of my
"Of course he was absolutely right according to their rules," said
I was struck by the ability of this Russian to reconcile himself
to the customs of the peoples among whom he happens to live. I
don't know whether this mental quality is a virtue or a vice, but
it does reveal a remarkable flexibility and that sober common
sense which forgives evil wherever it feels it to be necessary, or
impossible to eradicate.
Meanwhile we had finished our tea. Outside, the horses had been
harnessed long since and were now standing shivering in the snow;
the moon, becoming pale in the western sky, was about to immerse
itself in the black clouds that trailed like tattered bits of a
torn curtain from the mountain peaks in the distance. We stepped
out of the hut. Contrary to my companion's prediction, the weather
had cleared and promised a calm morning. The dances of stars,
intertwined in a fantastic pattern in the distant heavens, went
out one after another as the pale glimmer of the east spread out
over the dark lilac sky, gradually casting its glow on the steep
mountainsides blanketed by virginal snow. To right and left yawned
gloomy, mysterious abysses, and the mist, coiling and twisting
like a snake, crawled into them along the cracks and crevices of
the cliffs as if in fearful anticipation of the coming day.
There was a great peace in the heavens and on earth as there is in
one's heart at a morning prayer. Only now and then the cool east
wind came in gusts, ruffling the hoary manes of the horses. We set
out, the five lean nags hauling our carriages with difficulty
along the tortuous road up Mount Gud. We walked behind, setting
stones under the wheels when the horses could pull no longer; it
seemed as if the road must lead straight to heaven, for it rose
higher and higher as far as the eye could see and finally was lost
in the cloud that had been resting on the mountain summit since
the day before, like a vulture awaiting its prey. The snow
crunched underfoot; the air grew so rare that it was painful to
breathe; I continually felt the blood rushing to my head, yet a
feeling of elation coursed through my being and somehow it felt
good to be so far above the world--a childish feeling, I admit,
but as we drift farther away from the conventions of society and
draw closer to nature we become children again whether we wished
to or not--the soul is unburdened of whatever it has acquired and
it becomes what it once was and what it will surely be again.
Anyone who has had occasion, as I have, to roam in the desolate
mountains, feasting his eyes upon their fantastic shapes and
drinking in the invigorating air of the gorges, will understand my
urge to describe, to portray, to paint these magic canvases. Ar
least we reached the summit of Mount Gud and paused to look around
us; a gray cloud rested on the mountain top and its cold breath
held the threat of an imminent blizzard; but the east was so clear
and golden that we, that is, the captain and I, promptly forgot
about it . . . Yes, the captain too: for simple hearts feel the
beauty and majesty of nature a hundred times more keenly than do
we, rapturous tellers of stories spoken or written.
"You are no doubt accustomed to these magnificent scenes,' I said
"Yes, sir, you can get accustomed even to the whining of bullets,
I mean, accustomed to concealing the involuntary acceleration of
"On the contrary, I have been told that to some old soldiers it is
"Yes, it is sweet too, if you please--but only because it makes
the heart beat faster. Look," he added, pointing to the east,
"what a country!'
Indeed it was a panorama I can hardly hope to see again: below us
lay the Koishaur Valley, the Aragva and another river tracing
their course across it like two silver threads. A bluish mist
crept over it, seeking refuge in the neighboring gorge from the
warm rays of the morning. To the right and to the left the
mountain ridges, one higher than the other, crisscrossed and
stretched out into the distance covered with snow and shrubs.
Mountains as far as the eye could see, but no two crags alike--and
all these expanses of snow burned with a rosy glow so merry and so
vivid that one wanted to stay there for ever. The sun barely
showed from behind a dark-blue mountain which only the experienced
eye could distinguish from a storm cloud, but above it stretched a
crimson belt to which my comrade now drew my attention. "I told
you," he exclaimed, "there's bad weather ahead. We'll have to
hurry or it may catch us on the Mountain of the Cross. Get going,
there!" he shouted to the coachmen.
Chains were passed through the wheels for brakes to prevent them
from getting out of control. Leading the horses by their bridles
we began the trip down. To the right of us was a cliff, and to the
left an abyss so deep that an Ossetian village at the bottom
looked like a swallow's nest. I shuddered at the thought that a
dozen times a year some courier rides through the dark night along
this road too narrow for two carts to pass, without getting off
his jolting carriage. One of our drivers was a Russian peasant
from Yaroslavl, the other an Ossetian. The Ossetian took the
leading horse by the bridle after unhitching the first pair in
good time and taking every other possible precaution, but our
happy-go-lucky Russian didn't even bother to get down from the
box. When I suggested that he might have shown some concern, if
only for my suitcase, which I had no desire to go down into the
abyss to recover, he replied: "Don't worry, sir! With God's help
we'll get there just as well as they. This is not the first time
we've done it." And he was right--true, we might not have got
through safely, yet we did. And if all men gave the matter more
thought they would realize that life is not worth worrying over
too much . . .
Perhaps you wish to hear the story of Bela to the end? Firstly,
however, I am not writing a novel but simply travel notes, and
hence I cannot make the captain resume his story sooner than he
actually did. So you will have to wait, or, if you wish to do so,
skip a few pages; only I do not advise you to, for the crossing of
Mount Krestovaya, Mountain of the Cross (or le Mont St Christophe
as the learned Gamba calls it) is worthy of your interest. And so
we descended from Mount Gud to Chertova Valley. There's a romantic
name for you! Perhaps you already visualize the den of the Evil
Spirit among the inaccessible crags--but if you do, you are
mistaken: Chertova Valley derives its name from the word cherta
[line or boundary] and not chort [devil], for the boundary of
Georgia once passed here. The valley was buried under snow drifts
which gave the scene a rather strong resemblance to Sararov,
Tambov and other spots dear to us in our mother country.
"There's Kresrovaya," said the captain as we came down to Chertova
Valley, pointing to a hill shrouded by snow. On the summit the
black outline of a stone cross was visible, and past it ran a
barely visible road which was used only when the road along the
mountainside was snow bound. Our drivers said that there were no
snow slides yet and in order to make it easier for the horses they
took us the long way. Around a bend in the road we came upon five
Ossetians who offered us their services, and, grabbing hold of the
wheels and shouting, they began to help our carriage along. The
road was dangerous indeed. To our right masses of snow hung
overhead ready, it seemed, to crash down into the gorge with the
first blast of wind. Some sections of the narrow road were covered
with snow, which here and there gave way underfoot; others had
been turned to ice under the action of the sun's rays and night
frosts, so that we made headway with difficulty. The horses kept
slipping, and to the left of us yawned a deep fissure with a
turbulent stream at the bottom that now slipped our of sight under
a crust of ice, now plunged in frothy fury amidst black boulders.
It took us all of two hours to go around Mount Cross--two hours to
negotiate barely one mile! In the meantime the clouds came lower
and it began to hail and snow. The wind bursting into the gorges
howled and whistled like the Nightingale Robber, and soon the
stone cross was blotted out by the mist which was coming in waves
from the east, each wave thicker than the last. Incidentally,
there is a queer but generally accepted legend that this cross was
raised by Emperor Peter I when he traveled through the Caucasus.
Yet, in the first place, Peter was only in Daghestan, and,
secondly, an inscription in big letters on the cross said it had
been put up on the orders of General Yermolov, in 1824, to be
exact. Despite the inscription, the legend had taken such firm
root that one is at a loss to know what to believe, all the more
so since we are not used to putting our faith in inscriptions.
We had another three miles to go down along the ice-coated rocky
ledges and through soft snow before reaching the station at Kobi.
The horses were exhausted and we were thoroughly chilled, while
the blizzard blew harder and harder much like our native, northern
snow storms, except its wild refrain was sadder and more mournful.
"You too are an exile," thought I, "mourning your wide, boundless
steppes where there was space to spread out your icy wings, whilst
here you are choked and hemmed in like the eagle who beats against
the bars of his iron cage."
"Looks bad," the captain was saying. "Nothing visible but mist and
snow. If we don't take care we'll find ourselves falling into a
gorge or getting stuck in some hole, and the Baidara down there
will probably be running too high to cross. That's Asia for you!
The rivers are as unreliable as the people."
The drivers shouted and swore as they whipped the snorting,
balking horses which refused to take another step in spite of the
eloquence of the whips. "Your Honor," one of the drivers finally
said, "we can't reach Kobi today. Had we not better turn to the
left while there is still time? Over on that slope there are some
huts, I believe. Travelers always stay over there in bad weather."
Then he added, pointing to an Ossetian: "They say they'll guide us
there if you give them some money for vodka."
"I know it, buddy, I know without you telling me!" said the
captain. "These crooks! They always think up something to pick up
"All the same you have to admit that we'd be worse off without
them," said I.
"Maybe, maybe," he muttered, "but I know these guides! They can
tell by instinct when to take advantage of you--as if you couldn't
find your way without them."
So we turned to the left and somehow after a good deal of trouble
made our way to the scanty refuge consisting of two huts built of
slabs and stones and surrounded by a wall of the same material.
The tattered inhabitants gave us a cordial welcome. Later I found
out that the government pays and feeds them on condition that they
take in wayfarers who are caught by the storm.
"It's all for the best," said I, taking a seat by the fire. "Now
you'll be able to tell me the rest of the story about Bela; I'm
sure that wasn't the end of it."
"What makes you so sure?" replied the captain, with a sly smile
and a twinkle in his eye.
"Because things don't happen like that. Anything that begins so
strangely must end in the same way."
"Well, you guessed right . . ."
"Glad to hear it."
"It's all very well for you to be glad, but for me it is really
sad to recall. She was a fine girl, Bela was! I grew as fond of
her in the end as if she were my own daughter, and she was fond of
me too. I ought to tell you that I have no family. I haven't heard
about my father or mother for some twelve years now, and I didn't
think about getting a wife earlier--and now, you've got to admit,
it would no longer be quite right. So I was happy to have found
someone to spoil. She would sing to us or dance the Lezghinka . .
. And how she danced! I've seen our provincial fine ladies and
once some twenty years ago I was at the Nobles' Club in Moscow,
but none of them could hold a candle to her. Pechorin dressed her
up like a doll, petted and fondled her, and she grew so lovely
that it was amazing. The tan disappeared from her face and arms,
and her cheeks grew rosy . . . How gay she was! How she used to
tease me, the little vixen . . . May God forgive her!"
"What happened when you told her about her father's death?"
"We kept it from her for a long time, until she became accustomed
to her new position. And when she was told, she cried for a couple
of days and then forgot about it.
"For about four months everything went splendidly. Pechorin, I
must have already told you, had a passion for hunting. Some
irresistible force used to draw him to the forest to stalk wild
boar or goats, but now he scarcely ventured beyond the ramparts.
Then I noticed he was growing restless again--he would pace up and
down the room with his arms folded behind his back. One day
without saying a word to anyone he took his gun and went out, and
was gone all morning. That happened once, twice, and then more and
more frequently. Things are going badly, I thought, something must
have come between them!
"One morning when I dropped in to see them--I can visualize it
now--I found Bela sitting on the bed wearing a black silk beshmet
and looking so pale and sad that I was really alarmed.
"'Where's Pechorin?' I asked.
"'When did he leave? Today?'
"She did not reply, it seemed difficult for her to speak.
"'No, yesterday,' she finally said with a deep sigh.
"'I hope nothing has happened to him.'
"'All day yesterday I thought and thought,' she said, her eyes
full of tears, 'and imagined all kinds of terrible things. First I
thought a wild boar had injured him, then that the Chechen had
carried him off to the mountains . . . And now I'm beginning to
think that he doesn't love me.'
"'Truly, my dear, you couldn't have imagined anything worse!'
"She broke into tears, and then proudly raised her head, dried her
eyes, and continued: 'If he doesn't love me, what prevents him
from sending me home? I am not forcing myself on him. And if this
goes on I will leave myself! I am not his slave, I am a prince's
"I tried to reason with her. 'Listen, Bela, he can't sit here all
the time like he's tied to your apron strings. He's a young man
and likes to hunt. He'll go and he'll come back, but if you're
going to mope around he'll only get tired of you quicker.'
"'You're right,' she replied. 'I'll be happy.' Laughing, she
picked up her tambourine and began to sing and dance for me. But
very soon she threw herself on the bed again and hid her face in
"What was I to do? You see, I'd never had dealings with women. I
racked my brains for some way to comfort her but couldn't think of
anything. For a time we both were silent. A most unpleasant
situation, I assure you!
"At length I said: 'Would you like to go for a walk with me on the
rampart? The weather's fine.' It was September, and the day was
really wonderful, sunny but not too hot, the mountains as clearly
visible as if laid out on a platter. We went out, and in silence
walked up and down the ramparts of the fortress. After a while she
sat down on the turf, and I sat next to her. It's really funny to
recall how I fussed over her like a nanny.
"Our fort was on a big hill, and the view from the parapet was
excellent: on one side was a wide meadow crossed by gullies and
ending in a forest that stretched all the way to the top of the
mountain ridge, and here and there on this expanse you could see
the smoke of villages and herds of grazing horses, while on the
other side flowed a creek bordered by dense bushes that covered
the flinty hills merging with the main chain of the Caucasus. We
were sitting at a corner of a bastion and so we had a perfect view
of either side. As I scanned the landscape, a man riding a gray
horse emerged from the woods and came closer and closer, until he
finally stopped on the far side of the creek two hundred yards or
so from where we were and began spinning around on his horse like
mad. What the hell was that?
"'Your eyes are younger than mine, Bela, see if you can make out
that horseman,' said I. 'I wonder whom he is trying to impress
with that display.'
"She looked and cried out: 'It's Kazbich!'
"'Ah, the bandit! Has he come to mock us?' Now I could see it was
Kazbich: the same dark face, and as ragged and dirty as ever.
'That's my father's horse,' Bela said, grabbing my arm; she
trembled like a leaf and her eyes flashed. 'Aha, my little one,'
thought I, 'bandit blood talks in you too.'
"'Come here,' I called to a sentry, 'take aim and knock that
fellow off for me and you'll get a ruble in silver.' 'Yes, Your
Honor, only he doesn't stay still . . .' 'Tell him to,' said I,
laughing. 'Hey, there!' shouted the sentry waving his arm, 'wait a
minute, will you, stop spinning like a top!' Kazbich actually
paused to listen, probably thinking we wanted to negotiate, the
insolent beggar! My grenadier took aim . . . bang! . . . and
missed, for as soon as the powder flashed in the pan, Kazbich gave
a jab to the horse making it leap aside. He stood up in his
stirrups, shouted something in his own language, shook his whip
menacingly in the air--and in a flash was gone.
"'You ought to be ashamed of yourself!' I said to the sentry.
"'Your Honor! He's gone off to die,' he replied. 'Such a cussed
crowd they are you can't kill them with one shot.'
"A quarter of an hour later Pechorin returned from the chase. Bela
ran to meet him and threw her arms around his neck, and not a
single complaint, not a single reproach for his long absence did I
hear . . . Even I had lost patience with him. 'Look here,' said I,
'Kazbich was on the other side of the river just now and we fired
at him; you could easily have run into him too. These mountaineers
are revenging people, and do you think he doesn't suspect you
helped Azamat? I'll bet he saw Bela here. And I happen to know
that a year ago he was sure attracted by her--told me so himself,
in fact. Had he had any hope of raising a substantial bride-price
he surely would have asked for her in marriage . . .' Pechorin was
serious now. 'Yes,' he said, 'we have to be more careful . . .
Bela, after today you mustn't go out on the ramparts any more.'
"That evening I had a long talk with him; it made me sad that he
had changed toward the poor girl, for besides being out hunting
half the time, he began to treat her coldly, rarely showing her
any affection. She began to waste away visibly, her face grew
thin, and her eyes lost their glow. Whenever I asked her, 'Why are
you sighing, Bela? Are you sad?' she would reply 'No.' 'Do you
want anything?' 'No!' 'Are you homesick for your family?' 'I have
no family.' For days on end you couldn't get more than 'yes' or
'no' out of her.
"I decided to have a talk with him about this. 'Listen, Maksim
Maksimich,' he replied, 'I have an unfortunate character. Whether
it is my upbringing that made me like that or God who created me
so, I don't know. I know only that if I cause unhappiness to
others I myself am no less unhappy. I realize this is poor
consolation for them--but the fact remains that it's so. In my
early youth after leaving my parents, I plunged into all the
pleasures money could buy, and naturally these pleasures grew
distasteful to me. Then I went into high society, but soon enough
grew tired of it; I fell in love with beautiful society women and
was loved by them, but their love only aggravated my imagination
and vanity while my heart remained desolate . . . I began to read
and to study, but wearied of learning too. I saw that neither fame
nor happiness depended on it in the slightest, for the happiest
people were the most ignorant, and fame was a matter of luck, to
achieve which you only had to be clever. And I grew bored . . .
Soon I was transferred to the Caucasus--this was the happiest time
of my life. I hoped that boredom would not survive under Chechen
bullets--but it's no use. In a month I had become so accustomed to
their whine and the breath of death that, to tell the truth, the
mosquitoes bothered me more, and life became more boring than ever
because I had now lost practically my last hope. When I saw Bela
in my quarters, when I held her on my lap and first kissed her
raven locks, I foolishly thought she was an angel sent down to me
by a compassionate Providence . . . Again I was mistaken: the love
of a savage girl is little better than that of a well-born lady.
The ignorance and simplicity of the one are as boring as the
coquetry of the other. I still love her, if you want to know. I am
grateful to her for a few rather blissful moments. I am ready to
die for her even, but I am really bored with her . . . I don't
know whether I am a fool or a scoundrel, but the fact is that I am
to be pitied as much, if not more than she. My soul has been
warped by the world, my mind is restless, my heart
insatiable--nothing satisfies me. I grow accustomed to sorrow as
readily as to joy, and my life becomes emptier from day to day.
Only one thing is left for me, and that is to travel. As soon as
possible I'll set out--not for Europe, God forbid--but for
America, Arabia, India--and maybe I'll die somewhere on the road!
Ar least I'm sure that with the help of storms and bad roads this
consolation won't soon cease to be a last resort.' He talked long
in this vein and his words seared themselves in my memory for it
was the first time I had heard such talk from a man of
twenty-five, and, I hope to God, the last. Amazing! You probably
were in the capital recently; perhaps you can tell me," the
captain went on, talking to me, "whether the young people there
are all like that?"
I replied that there are many who speak in the same way, and that
most likely some of them are speaking the truth; but that
disillusionment, having begun like all vogues in the upper strata
of society, had descended to the lower, which wear it out, and
that nowadays those who are really the most bored try hard to
conceal that misfortune as if it were a vice. The captain didn't
understand these subtleties, and he shook his head and smiled
shyly. "It was the French, I suppose, who made boredom
"No, the English."
"Ah, so that's it!" he replied. "Of course, they've always been
Involuntarily I recalled one Moscow lady who claimed Byron was
nothing more than a drunkard. The captain's remark, however, was
more excusable, for in order to abstain from drink he naturally
tried to reassure himself that all the misfortunes in the world
are caused by intemperance.
"Kazbich did not come again," he went on with his story. "Still,
for some unknown reason, I couldn't get rid of the idea that his
visit was to some purpose and that he was scheming something evil.
"One day Pechorin persuaded me to go hunting wild boar with him. I
tried to resist, for what was a wild boar to me, but finally he
did drag me with him. We set out early in the morning, taking five
soldiers with us. Until ten o'clock we poked about the reeds and
the woods without seeing a single animal. 'What do you say to
turning back?' said I. 'What's the use of being stubborn? You can
see for yourself it's an unlucky day.' But Pechorin didn't want to
return empty-handed in spite of the hear and fatigue . . . That's
how he was: if he set his mind on something, he had to get it--his
mother must have spoiled him as a child . . . At last around noon
we came upon the cussed boar--bang! . . . bang! . . . but no: the
beast slipped into the reeds . . . yes, it was indeed our unlucky
day. After a short rest we set out for home.
"We rode side by side, in silence, reins hanging loose, and had
almost reached the fort, though we couldn't yet see it for the
brush, when a shot rang out. We looked at each other, and the same
suspicion flashed through our minds. Galloping in the direction of
the sound, we saw a group of soldiers huddled together on the
rampart, pointing to the field where a horseman was scooting off
into the distance at breakneck speed with something white across
his saddle. Pechorin yelled not a bit worse than any Chechen, drew
his pistol from its holster and dashed in pursuit, and I after
"Luckily, because of our poor hunting luck, our horses were quite
fresh. They strained under the saddle, and with every moment we
gained on our target. Finally I recognized Kazbich, though I
couldn't make out what he was holding in front of him. I drew up
next to Pechorin and shouted to him: 'It's Kazbich!' He looked at
me, nodded and struck his horse with the stick.
"At last we were within gunshot range of Kazbich. Whether his
horse was exhausted or whether it was worse than ours I don't
know, but he wasn't able to get much speed out of the animal in
spite of his efforts to urge it on. I am sure he was thinking of
his Karagyoz then . . .
"I looked up and saw Pechorin aiming on the gallop. 'Don't shoot!'
I yelled. 'Save the charge, we'll catch up with him soon enough.'
But that's youth for you: always foolhardy at the wrong time . . .
The shot rang out and the bullet wounded the horse in a hind leg.
The animal made another dozen leaps before it stumbled and fell on
its knees. Kazbich sprang from the saddle, and now we saw he was
holding a woman bound in a veil in his arms. It was Bela . . .
poor Bela! He shouted something to us in his own language and
raised his knife over her . . . There was no time to waste and I
fired impulsively. I must have hit him in the shoulder, for his
arm suddenly dropped. When the smoke blew away there was the
wounded horse lying on the ground and Bela next to it, while
Kazbich, who had thrown away his gun, was scrambling up a cliff
through the bushes like a cat. I wanted to pick him off but my gun
needed reloading now. We slipped out of the saddle and ran toward
Bela. The poor girl lay motionless, blood streaming from her
wound. The villain! Had he struck her in the heart, it all would
have been over in a moment, but to stab her in the back in the
foulest way! She was unconscious. We tore the veil into strips and
bandaged the wound as tightly as we could. In vain did Pechorin
kiss her cold lips--nothing could bring her back to consciousness.
his horse and I raised her up from the ground, somehow managing to
place her in front of him in the saddle. He put his arm around her
and we started back. After several minutes of silence, Grigoriy
Aleksandrovich spoke: 'Listen, Maksim Maksimich, we'll never get
her home alive at this pace.' 'You're right,' I said, and we
spurred the horses to full gallop. At the fort gates a crowd was
awaiting us. We carried the wounded girl gently into Pechorin's
quarters and sent for the surgeon. Although he was drunk, he came
at our summons, and after examining the wound said the girl could
not live more than a day. But he was wrong . . .
"She recovered, then?" I asked the captain, hanging onto his arm,
glad in spite of myself.
"No," he replied, "the surgeon was wrong only in that she lived
another two days."
"But, tell me, how did Kazbich manage to kidnap her?"
"It was like this: disobeying Pechorin's instructions, she had
left the fort and gone to the river. It was very hot, you know,
and she had sat down on a rock and dipped her feet into the water.
Kazbich crept up, grabbed and gagged her, dragged her into the
bushes, jumped on his horse and galloped off. She managed to
scream, however, and the sentries gave the alarm, fired after him
but missed, and that's when we arrived on the scene."
"Why did Kazbich want to carry her off?"
"My dear sir! These Circassians are notorious thieves. Their
fingers itch for anything that lies unguarded. Whether they need
it or not, they steal--they just can't help themselves! Besides he
had long had his eye on Bela."
"And she died?"
"Yes, but she suffered a great deal, and we too suffered enough
watching her. About ten o'clock at night she regained
consciousness. We were sitting at her bedside. As soon as she
opened her eyes, she asked for Pechorin. 'I am here, beside you,
my dzhanechka,' (that is, "darling" in our language) he replied,
taking her hand. 'I will die,' she said. We began to reassure her,
saying that the surgeon had promised to cure her without fail, but
she shook her head and turned to the wall. She didn't want to die!
"During the night she grew delirious. Her head was on fire and
every now and then she shook with fever. She was now talking
incoherently about her father and brother. She wanted to go back
to her mountains and home . . . Then she also talked about
Pechorin, calling him all kinds of tender names or reproaching him
for not loving his dzhanechka any more . . .
"He listened in silence, his head resting on his hands. But
throughout it all I didn't notice a single tear on his
lashes--whether he held himself in deliberately, I don't know. As
for myself, I had never witnessed anything more heart-breaking.
"By morning the delirium passed. For about an hour she lay
motionless, pale and so weak that her breathing was barely
perceptible. Presently she felt better and began to speak again,
but can you guess of what? Such thoughts can occur only to the
dying. She regretted that she was not a Christian and that in the
world beyond, her soul would never meet Grigoriy Aleksandrovich's,
that some other woman would be his soulmate in paradise. It
occurred to me that she might be baptized before death, but when I
suggested this she looked at me in indecision for a long time,
unable to say a word. At last she replied that she would die in
the faith in which she had been born. So the whole day passed. How
she changed in that day! Her death-white cheeks grew sunken, her
eyes seemed to become larger and larger, and her lips were
burning. The fever within her was like a red-hot iron pressing
upon her breast.
"The second night came, and we sat at her bedside without closing
an eyelid. She was in terrible agony, she moaned, but as soon as
the pain subsided a little she tried to assure Pechorin that she
was feeling better, urged him to get some sleep, and kissed his
hand and clung to it with her own. Just before daybreak the agony
of death set in, and she tossed on the bed, tearing off the
bandage so that the blood flowed again. When the wound was dressed
she calmed down for a moment and asked Pechorin to kiss her. He
knelt next to the bed, raised her head from the pillow and pressed
his lips against hers, which were now growing chill. She twisted
her trembling arms tightly around his neck as if by this kiss she
wished to give her soul to him. Yes, it was good that she died!
What would have happened to her had Pechorin abandoned her? And
that was bound to happen sooner or later . . .
"The first half of the next day she was quiet, silent and
submissive in spite of the way our surgeon tortured her with hot
wet pads and other remedies. 'My good man!' I protested. 'You
yourself said she would not live, why then all these medicines of
yours?' 'Got to do it, just the same, Maksim Maksimich,' he
replied, 'so that my conscience will be at peace.' Conscience my
"In the afternoon she was tortured by thirst. We opened the
windows, but it was hotter outside than in the room. We placed ice
next to her bed, but nothing helped. I knew that this unbearable
thirst was a sign that the end was approaching, and I said so to
Pechorin. 'Water, water,' she repeated hoarsely, raising herself
from the bed.
"He went white as a sheet, picked up a glass, filled it with
water, and gave it to her. I buried my face in my hands and began
to recite a prayer, I can't remember which. Yes, sir, I had been
through a great deal in my time, had seen men die in hospitals and
on the battlefield, but it had been nothing like this! Nothing! I
must confess that there was something else that made me sad--not
once before her death did she remember me, and I think I loved her
like a father. Well . . . May God forgive her! But then who am I
that anyone would remember me on their death bed?
"As soon as she had drunk the water she felt better, and some
three minutes later she passed away. We pressed a mirror to her
lips, but nothing showed on it. I led Pechorin out of the room,
and then we walked on the fort wall, pacing back and forth side by
side for a long while without uttering a word, our hands behind
our backs. It angered me to detect no sign of emotion on his face,
for in his place I'd have died of grief. Finally, he sat down on
the ground in the shade and began to draw something in the sand
with a stick. I began to speak, wishing to console him, more for
the sake of good form than anything else, you know, whereupon he
looked up and laughed . . . That laugh sent cold shivers running
up and down my spine . . . I went to order the coffin.
"I confess that it was partly for distraction that I occupied
myself with this business. I covered the coffin with a piece of
Persian silk I had and ornamented it with some Circassian silver
lace Grigoriy Aleksandrovich had bought for her.
"Early the next morning we buried her beyond the fort, next to the
spot on the river bank where she had sat that last time. The small
grave is now surrounded by white acacia and elder bushes. I wanted
to put up a cross, but that was a bit awkward, you know, for after
all she was not a Christian . . .
"What did Pechorin do?' I asked.
"He was sick for a long time and lost weight, the poor guy. But we
never spoke about Bela after that. I saw it'd be painful for him,
so why should I mention her? Some three months later he was
ordered to join the N---- regiment, and he went to Georgia. I
haven't seen him since. Oh yes, I remember someone telling me
recently that he had returned to Russia, though it hadn't been
mentioned in the divisional orders. Usually it takes a long time
before news reaches us here."
Here, probably to drown his sad memories, he launched upon a long
dissertation concerning the disadvantages of hearing year-old
I neither interrupted him nor listened.
An hour later it was already possible to continue our journey. The
blizzard had died down and the sky cleared up, and we set out. On
the road, however, I couldn't help directing the conversation back
to Bela and Pechorin.
"Did you ever happen to hear what became of Kazbich?" I asked.
"Kazbich? Really, I don't know. I have heard that the Shapsugs on
the right flank of the line have a Kazbich, a daredevil fellow who
wears a red beshmet, rides at a trot under our fire and bows with
exaggerated politeness whenever a bullet whistles near him, but I
doubt whether it's the same man."
Maksim Maksimich and I separated at Kobi, for I took the fast
coach and he couldn't keep pace with me because of the heavy
baggage. At the time we didn't think we'd ever meet again, yet we
did, and if you wish, I'll tell you about it, but that is a story
in itself . . . You must admit, however, that Maksim Maksimich is
a man you can respect. If you do admit it, I'll be amply rewarded
for my story, overlong though it may have been.