I stayed at an
inn where all travelers stay and where, incidentally, there is no
one to serve you a roast pheasant or a plate of cabbage soup, for
the three veterans in charge are either so stupid or so drunk that
there is nothing to be got from them.
I was told that I would have to stay there for another three days,
because the "occasional" [okaziya, or detail] from Yekaterinograd
hadn't come in yet, and therefore couldn't set out on the return
trip. What an occasion! But a bad pun is no consolation to a
Russian and in order to while away the time I decided to write
down Maksim Maksimich's story about Bela, quite unaware that it
would turn out to be the first link in a long chain of tales. So
you see how an occurrence insignificant in itself may have serious
consequences . . . But perhaps you don't know what an "occasional"
is? It's an escort of half a company of infantry and a gun
detailed to protect the caravans crossing Kabarda from Vladikavkaz
The first day was very boring, but early the next morning a
carriage drove into the yard. It was Maksim Maksimich! We greeted
each other like old friends. I offered him the use of my room. He
didn't stand on ceremony. He even clapped me on the shoulder, and
his mouth twisted into what passed for a smile. An odd man!
Maksim Maksimich was well versed in the culinary arts and turned
out a wonderful roast pheasant with an excellent pickled cucumber
sauce. I must admit that without him I would've had only a cold
snack. A bottle of Kakherian wine helped us overlook the modesty
of the meal, which consisted of only one course. Afterwards we lit
our pipes and settled down for a smoke, I near the window and he
next to the stove where a fire was going, for the day was chilly
and raw. We sat in silence--what was there to say? . . . He'd
already told me all that was interesting about himself, and I had
nothing to tell him. I looked out of the window. A long string of
low houses, sprawling along the bank of the Terek, which here
spreads wider and wider, was visible through the trees, while in
the distance was the blue serrated wall of the mountains with
Kazbek in its white cardinal's hat peeping over it. Mentally I was
bidding them goodbye. I felt sorry to leave them . . .
We sat that way for a long time. The sun was setting behind the
frigid peaks and a milky mist was spreading through the valleys
when we heard the tinkling of bells and the shouting of drivers
outside. Several carts with grimy Armenians drove into the
courtyard, followed by an empty carriage whose lightness, comfort
and elegance gave it a distinctly foreign air. Behind walked a man
with a huge mustache wearing a braided jacket. He was rather well
dressed for a manservant, but the way he knocked the ashes from
his pipe and shouted at the coachman left no doubt as to his
position. He was obviously the pampered servant of an indolent
gentleman--something of a Russian Figaro. "Tell me, my good man,"
I called to him from the window, "is it the 'occasional'?" He
looked at me rather insolently, straightened his neckerchief and
turned away. An Armenian who'd been walking beside him smiled and
replied for him that it was indeed the "occasional" and that it
would set out on the return trip the next morning. "Thank God!"
said Maksim Maksimich who had just come to the window. "A fine
carriage!" he added. "Probably some official on his way to conduct
a hearing in Tiflis. You can see he doesn't know our hills. No, my
dear fellow, they're not for the likes of you. Even an English
carriage wouldn't stand the jolting! I wonder who it is--let's
find out . . ." We went into the hallway, at the far end of which
a door was open into a side room. The valet and the driver were
lugging in suitcases.
"Listen, friend," the captain asked the valet, "whose is that fine
carriage, eh? A splendid carriage indeed!" The valet muttered
something inaudible without turning and went on unstrapping a
case. This was too much for Maksim Maksimich, who tapped the
insolent fellow on the shoulder and said: "I'm talking to you, my
man . . ."
"Whose carriage? My master's."
"And who is your master?"
"What did you say? Pechorin? Good God! Did he ever serve in the
Caucasus?" Maksim Maksimich exclaimed, pulling at my sleeve. His
eyes lit up with joy.
"I believe so . . . but I haven't been with him long."
"Well, well, there you are! Grigoriy Aleksandrovich is his name,
isn't it? Your master and I used to know each other well," he
added, with a friendly slap on the valet's shoulder that nearly
made him lose his balance.
"Excuse me, sir, you are in my way," said the latter, frowning.
"What of it, man! Don't you know I'm an old friend of your
master's, we lived together, too. Now, where can I find him?"
The servant announced that Pechorin had stayed behind to dine and
spend the night with Colonel N----.
"He won't be here tonight?" said Maksim Maksimich. "Or perhaps
you, my good man, will have some reason to see him? If you do,
tell him Maksim Maksimich is here--you just tell him that and
he'll know . . . I'll tip you eighty kopecks..."
The valet put on a superior air on hearing this modest offer, but
nevertheless promised Maksim Maksimich to run his errand.
"He'll come at once, I'm sure!" Maksim Maksimich told me
triumphantly. "I'll go out to the gates to meet him. Pity I don't
Maksim Maksimich sat down on a bench outside the gate and I went
into my room. I must admit that I too awaited the appearance of
this Pechorin with some eagerness, for though the captain's story
had not given me too favorable a picture of the man, some of his
traits nevertheless struck me as quite remarkable. In an hour one
of the veterans brought in a steaming samovar and a teapot.
"Maksim Maksimich, will you have some tea?" I called to him from
"Thank you, I really don't care for any."
"You'd better have some. It's late already and getting chilly."
"No, thank you ..."
"Well, as you wish!" I said and sat down to tea alone. In ten
minutes or so the old man came in. "I suppose you are right," he
said. "Better have some tea . . . You see, I was waiting. His man
has been gone a long time--looks as if something has detained
He hastily gulped down a cup of tea, refused a second, and went
back to the gate, obviously upset. It was clear that the old man
was hurt by Pechorin's unconcern, all the more so since he had
spoken to me so recently about their friendship, and only an hour
before had been certain that Pechorin would come running as soon
as he heard his name.
It was late and dark when I again opened the window and called to
remind Maksim Maksimich that it was time to go to bed. He muttered
something in reply and I urged him again to come in, but he didn't
Leaving a candle on the bench, I lay down on the couch, wrapped
myself in my overcoat and was soon asleep. I would have slept
peacefully all night had not Maksim Maksimich awakened me when he
came in very late. He threw his pipe on the table, began pacing up
and down the room, then fussed with the stove. Finally he lay
down, coughing, spitting, and tossing about for a long time.
"Bedbugs bothering you?" I asked.
"Yes, bedbugs," he replied with a heavy sigh.
I woke up early next morning, but Maksim Maksimich had already got
up. I found him sitting on the bench at the gate. "I've got to see
the commandant," he said, "so if Pechorin comes will you please
send for me?"
I promised to do so. He ran off as if his legs had regained the
strength and agility of youth.
It was a fresh, fine morning. Golden clouds piled up on the
mountains in a phantom range of summits. In front of the gates was
a broad square, and beyond it the market place was seething with
people, for it was Sunday. Bare-footed Ossetian boys, birchbark
baskets laden with honeycombs strapped to their backs, crowded
around me, but I drove them away for I was too preoccupied to give
them much thought. The good captain's anxiety was beginning to
claim me too.
Ten minutes had not passed when the man for whom we had been
waiting appeared at the far end of the square. With him was
Colonel N----, who left him at the inn and turned back towards the
fort. I immediately sent one of the veterans for Maksim Maksimich.
Pechorin was met by his valet who reported that the horses would
be harnessed in a moment, handed him a box of cigars, and, having
received a few instructions, went off to carry them out. His
master lit a cigar, yawned once or twice and sat down on a bench
on the other side of the gate. Now I would like to draw you his
He was of medium height. His erect, lithe figure and broad
shoulders suggested a strong physique equal to all the hardships
of the road and variations of climate, unweakened by either the
dissolute life of the capital or emotional storms. His dusty
velvet coat was open except for the last two buttons, revealing an
expanse of dazzlingly white shirt that betrayed the habits of a
gentleman. His soiled gloves seemed to have been made for his
small, aristocratic hands, and when he pulled off a glove, I was
amazed at the slenderness of his white fingers. His walk was
careless and indolent, but I noticed he didn't swing his arms--a
sure sign of a certain reticence of character. But these are my
personal opinions based on my own observations, and I can't compel
you to accept them blindly. When he sank down on the bench his
straight frame sagged as if he hadn't a bone in his back. His
whole posture now betrayed some nervous weakness. He sat as the
thirty-year-old coquette in Balzac's book might sit in a cushioned
easy chair after an exhausting ball. At first glance I wouldn't
have thought him more than twenty-three years old, though later I
was ready to admit he looked thirty. There was something childlike
in his smile. His skin was as delicate as a woman's, and his
naturally curly fair hair made a pleasing frame for his pale,
noble brow on which only careful scrutiny could disclose a fine
network of wrinkles that probably were a good deal more in
evidence at times of anger or spiritual anxiety. In spite of his
light hair, his mustache and eyebrows were black--as much a sign
of pedigree in a man as a black mane and tail are in a white
horse. To complete the portrait, I will say that he had a slightly
turned-up nose and that his teeth were dazzlingly white and his
eyes hazel--but about his eyes I must say a few more words.
Firstly, they didn't laugh when he did. Have you ever had
opportunity to observe this peculiarity in some people? It's a
sign either of evil nature or of deep constant sadness. They shone
with a phosphorescent glow, if one may so put it, under
half-closed eyelids. It was no reflection of spiritual warmth or
fertile imagination. It was the flash of smooth steel, blinding
but cold. His glance was brief but piercing and oppressive, it had
the disturbing effect of an indiscreet question, and might have
seemed audacious had it not been so calmly casual. Perhaps all
these observations came to my mind only because I happened to know
some details about his life, and another person might've obtained
an entirely different impression, but since you won't learn about
him from anyone else, you'll have to be satisfied with this
portrayal. I must say in conclusion that, on the whole, he was
handsome indeed and had one of those unusual faces that are
particularly pleasing to society ladies.
The horses were harnessed, the bell attached to the shaft bow
tinkled, and the valet had already reported twice to Pechorin that
the carriage was waiting. But still there was no sign of Maksim
Maksimich. Luckily Pechorin was deep in thought. He stared at the
blue jagged ridge of the Caucasus, apparently in no hurry to be on
his way. I crossed over to him. "If you would care to wait a
while," I said, "you will have the pleasure of meeting an old
"Ah, that's right!" he replied quickly. "I was told about him
yesterday. But where is he?" I looked out over the square and saw
Maksim Maksimich running towards us for all he was worth . . . In
a few minutes he had reached us. He could barely catch his breath,
beads of perspiration rolled down his face, damp strands of gray
hair that had escaped from under his cap stuck to his forehead,
and his knees shook. He was about to throw his arms around
Pechorin's neck, but the latter extended his hand rather coldly,
though his smile was pleasant enough. For a moment the captain was
taken aback, then he eagerly gripped the hand with both of his. He
was still unable to speak.
"This is a pleasure, dear Maksim Maksimich. How are you?" said
"And thou?...And you?..." faltered the old man, tears welling up
in his eyes. "It's a long time . . . a very long time . . . But
where are you off to?"
"On my way to Persia . . . and then farther..."
"Not immediately, I hope? Won't you stay awhile, my dear man? We
haven't seen each other for so long . . ."
"I must go, Maksim Maksimich," was the reply.
"My God, what's the hurry? I have so much to tell you and so many
questions to ask . . . How are things, anyway? Retired, eh? What
have you been doing?"
"I've been bored stiff," replied Pechorin, smiling.
"Remember our life in the fort? Wonderful hunting country, wasn't
it? How you loved to hunt! Remember Bela?"
Pechorin turned white a little and turned away.
"Yes, I remember," he said, deliberately yawning almost in the
Maksim Maksimich urged him to stay on for another hour or two.
"We'll have a fine dinner," he said. "I have two pheasants and the
Kakhetian here is excellent . . . not the same as in Georgia, of
course, but the best to be had here. And we could talk . . .
you'll tell me about your stay in St. Petersburg, won't you?"
"I really have nothing to tell, dear Maksim Maksimich. And I have
to say goodbye now, for I must be off . . . In rather a hurry . .
. It was kind of you not to have forgotten me," he added, taking
the old man's hand.
The old man frowned. He was both grieved and hurt, though he did
his best to conceal his feelings. "Forgotten!" he muttered. "No,
I've forgotten nothing. Oh well, never mind . . . Only I didn't
expect our meeting would be like this."
"Come, now," said Pechorin, embracing him in a friendly way. "I
don't think I have changed. Ar any rate, it can't be helped. We
all are destined to go our several ways. God knows whether we'll
meet again." This he said as he climbed into the carriage and the
coachman was already gathering up the reins.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute!" Maksim Maksimich suddenly shouted,
holding the carriage door. "It completely slipped my mind . . . I
still have your papers, Grigoriy Aleksandrovich . . . Been
carrying them around with me . . . Thought I'd find you in
Georgia, never dreaming the Lord would have us meet here . . .
What do you want me to do with them?"
"Whatever you want," replied Pechorin. "Farewell!"
"So you are off to Persia . . . When do you expect to be back?"
Maksim Maksimich shouted after him.
The carriage was already some distance off, but Pechorin waved in
a way that could well be interpreted to mean: "I doubt whether I
will return, nor is there any reason why I should!"
Long after the tinkling of the bell and the clatter of wheels
against the flinty surface of the road had faded into the
distance, the poor old fellow stood glued to the spot, lost in
he said at last, trying his best to preserve a nonchalant air
though tears of disappointment still showed in his eyes, "we were
friends, of course, but what's friendship nowadays? What am I to
him? I'm neither rich nor titled, and besides, I'm much older.
What a dandy his visit to St. Petersburg has made him! Look at
that carriage, and the pile of luggage . . . and the haughty
valet!" This he said with an ironic smile. "Tell me," he went on,
turning to me, "what do you think of it all! What sort of a demon
is driving him to Persia now? Ridiculous, isn't it? I knew all
along, of course, that he was the flighty sort of fellow you can't
count on. It's a pity though that he had to come to a bad end . .
. but it couldn't be otherwise, as you can see. I've always said
that nothing good will come of those who forget old friends." At
that he turned away to conceal his agitation and began pacing up
and down the courtyard beside his carriage, pretending to examine
the wheels, while the tears kept filling up his eyes.
"Maksim Maksimich," said I, walking up to him. "What were the
papers Pechorin left with you?"
"The Lord knows! Some notes or other. . ."
"What do you intend to do with them?"
"Eh? I'll have them made into cartridges."
"You'd do better to give them to me."
He looked at me in amazement, muttered something under his breath
and began to rummage through his suitcase. He took out one
notebook and threw it contemptuously on the ground. The second,
the third and the tenth all shared the fate of the first. There
was something childish about the old man's resentment, and I was
both amused and sorry for him.
"That's the lot," he said. "I congratulate you on your find."
"And I may do whatever I want with them?"
"Print them in the newspapers if you like, what do I care? Yes,
indeed, am I a friend of his or a relative? True, we shared the
same roof for a long time, but then I've lived with all sorts of
I took the papers and carried them off before the captain could
change his mind. Soon we were told that the "occasional" would set
out in an hour, and I gave orders to harness the horses. The
captain came into my room as I was putting on my hat. He showed no
sign of preparing for the journey. There was a strained coldness
"Aren't you coming, Maksim Maksimich?"
"I haven't seen the commandant, and I have to deliver some
government property to him."
"But didn't you go to see him?"
"Yes, of course," he stammered, "but he wasn't in and I didn't
wait for him."
I understood what he meant. For the first time in his life,
perhaps, the poor old man had neglected his duties for his
personal convenience, to put it in official language, and this had
been his reward!
"I'm very sorry, Maksim Maksimich," I said, "very sorry indeed,
that we have to part so soon."
"How can we ignorant old fogies keep up with you haughty young men
of the world? Here, with Circassian bullets flying about, you put
up with us somehow . . . but if we chanced to meet later on you'd
be ashamed to shake hands with the likes of us."
"I haven't deserved this reproach, Maksim Maksimich."
"I'm just speaking at random, you know. Anyway, I wish you luck
and a pleasant journey."
We separated rather coldly. Good Maksim Maksimich was now an
obstinate, cantankerous captain. And why? Because Pechorin through
absent-mindedness or for some other reason had merely extended his
hand when his old friend wanted to fling himself into his embrace.
It's sad to see a young man's finest hopes and dreams shattered,
to see him lose the rosy illusions with which he viewed man's
deeds and emotions, although there is still hope that he may
exchange the old delusions for new ones no less transitory but
also no less sweet. But what is there to exchange them for at
Maksim Maksimich's age? Without wishing it, the heart would harden
and the soul wither . . .
I set out alone.