A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov

Book II: Maksim Maksimych

AFTER parting with Maksim Maksimych, I galloped briskly through the gorges of the Terek and Darial, breakfasted in Kazbek, drank tea in Lars, and arrived at Vladikavkaz in time for supper. I spare you a description of the mountains, as well as exclamations which convey no meaning, and word-paintings which convey no image — especially to those who have never been in the Caucasus. I also omit statistical observations, which I am quite sure nobody would read.

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

I was informed that I should have to stay there three days longer, because the “Adventure” had not yet arrived from Ekaterinograd and consequently could not start on the return journey. What a misadventure!† . . . But a bad pun is no consolation to a Russian, and, for the sake of something to occupy my thoughts, I took it into my head to write down the story about Bela, which I had heard from Maksim Maksimych — never imagining that it would be the first link in a long chain of novels: you see how an insignificant event has sometimes dire results! . . . Perhaps, however, you do not know what the “Adventure” is? It is a convoy — composed of half a company of infantry, with a cannon — which escorts baggage-trains through Kabardia from Vladikavkaz to Ekaterinograd.

† In Russian — okaziya=occasion, adventure, etc.; chto za okaziya=how unfortunate!

The first day I found the time hang on my hands dreadfully. Early next morning a vehicle drove into the courtyard . . . Aha! Maksim Maksimych! . . . We met like a couple of old friends. I offered to share my own room with him, and he accepted my hospitality without standing upon ceremony; he even clapped me on the shoulder and puckered up his mouth by way of a smile — a queer fellow, that! . . .

Maksim Maksimych was profoundly versed in the culinary art. He roasted the pheasant astonishingly well and basted it successfully with cucumber sauce. I was obliged to acknowledge that, but for him, I should have had to remain on a dry-food diet. A bottle of Kakhetian wine helped us to forget the modest number of dishes — of which there was one, all told. Then we lit our pipes, took our chairs, and sat down — I by the window, and he by the stove, in which a fire had been lighted because the day was damp and cold. We remained silent. What had we to talk about? He had already told me all that was of interest about himself and I had nothing to relate. I looked out of the window. Here and there, behind the trees, I caught glimpses of a number of poor, low houses straggling along the bank of the Terek, which flowed seaward in an ever-widening stream; farther off rose the dark-blue, jagged wall of the mountains, behind which Mount Kazbek gazed forth in his high-priest’s hat of white. I took a mental farewell of them; I felt sorry to leave them. . .

Thus we sat for a considerable time. The sun was sinking behind the cold summits and a whitish mist was beginning to spread over the valleys, when the silence was broken by the jingling of the bell of a travelling-carriage and the shouting of drivers in the street. A few vehicles, accompanied by dirty Armenians, drove into the courtyard of the inn, and behind them came an empty travelling-carriage. Its light movement, comfortable arrangement, and elegant appearance gave it a kind of foreign stamp. Behind it walked a man with large moustaches. He was wearing a Hungarian jacket and was rather well dressed for a manservant. From the bold manner in which he shook the ashes out of his pipe and shouted at the coachman it was impossible to mistake his calling. He was obviously the spoiled servant of an indolent master — something in the nature of a Russian Figaro.

“Tell me, my good man,” I called to him out of the window. “What is it? — Has the ‘Adventure’ arrived, eh?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I am speaking to you, my friend!” he said, touching the uncivil fellow on the shoulder.

“Whose carriage? — My master’s.”

“And who is your master?”

“Pechorin —”

“What did you say? What? Pechorin? — Great Heavens! . . . Did he not serve in the Caucasus?” exclaimed Maksim Maksimych, plucking me by the sleeve. His eyes were sparkling with joy.

“Yes, he served there, I think — but I have not been with him long.”

“Well! Just so! . . . Just so! . . . Grigori Aleksandrovich? . . . that is his name, of course? Your master and I were friends,” he added, giving the manservant a friendly clap on the shoulder with such force as to cause him to stagger.

“Excuse me, sir, you are hindering me,” said the latter, frowning.

“What a fellow you are, my friend! Why, don’t you know, your master and I were bosom friends, and lived together? . . . But where has he put up?”

The servant intimated that Pechorin had stayed to take supper and pass the night at Colonel N——‘s.

“But won’t he be looking in here in the evening?” said Maksim Maksimych. “Or, you, my man, won’t you be going over to him for something? . . . If you do, tell him that Maksim Maksimych is here; just say that — he’ll know! — I’ll give you half a ruble for a tip!”

The manservant made a scornful face on hearing such a modest promise, but he assured Maksim Maksimych that he would execute his commission.

“He’ll be sure to come running up directly!” said Maksim Maksimych, with an air of triumph. “I will go outside the gate and wait for him! Ah, it’s a pity I am not acquainted with Colonel N——!”

Maksim Maksimych sat down on a little bench outside the gate, and I went to my room. I confess that I also was awaiting this Pechorin’s appearance with a certain amount of impatience — although, from the staff-captain’s story, I had formed a by no means favourable idea of him. Still, certain traits in his character struck me as remarkable. In an hour’s time one of the old soldiers brought a steaming samovar and a teapot.

“Won’t you have some tea, Maksim Maksimych?” I called out of the window.

“Thank you. I am not thirsty, somehow.”

“Oh, do have some! It is late, you know, and cold!”

“No, thank you” . . .

“Well, just as you like!”

I began my tea alone. About ten minutes afterwards my old captain came in.

“You are right, you know; it would be better to have a drop of tea — but I was waiting for Pechorin. His man has been gone a long time now, but evidently something has detained him.”

The staff-captain hurriedly sipped a cup of tea, refused a second, and went off again outside the gate — not without a certain amount of disquietude. It was obvious that the old man was mortified by Pechorin’s neglect, the more so because a short time previously he had been telling me of their friendship, and up to an hour ago had been convinced that Pechorin would come running up immediately on hearing his name.

It was already late and dark when I opened the window again and began to call Maksim Maksimych, saying that it was time to go to bed. He muttered something through his teeth. I repeated my invitation — he made no answer.

I left a candle on the stove-seat, and, wrapping myself up in my cloak, I lay down on the couch and soon fell into slumber; and I would have slept on quietly had not Maksim Maksimych awakened me as he came into the room. It was then very late. He threw his pipe on the table, began to walk up and down the room, and to rattle about at the stove. At last he lay down, but for a long time he kept coughing, spitting, and tossing about.

“The bugs are biting you, are they not?” I asked.

“Yes, that is it,” he answered, with a heavy sigh.

I woke early the next morning, but Maksim Maksimych had anticipated me. I found him sitting on the little bench at the gate.

“I have to go to the Commandant,” he said, “so, if Pechorin comes, please send for me.” . . .

I gave my promise. He ran off as if his limbs had regained their youthful strength and suppleness.

The morning was fresh and lovely. Golden clouds had massed themselves on the mountaintops like a new range of aerial mountains. Before the gate a wide square spread out; behind it the bazaar was seething with people, the day being Sunday. Barefooted Ossete boys, carrying wallets of honeycomb on their shoulders, were hovering around me. I cursed them; I had other things to think of — I was beginning to share the worthy staff-captain’s uneasiness.

Before ten minutes had passed the man we were awaiting appeared at the end of the square. He was walking with Colonel N., who accompanied him as far as the inn, said good-bye to him, and then turned back to the fortress. I immediately despatched one of the old soldiers for Maksim Maksimych.

Pechorin’s manservant went out to meet him and informed him that they were going to put to at once; he handed him a box of cigars, received a few orders, and went off about his business. His master lit a cigar, yawned once or twice, and sat down on the bench on the other side of the gate. I must now draw his portrait for you.

He was of medium height. His shapely, slim figure and broad shoulders gave evidence of a strong constitution, capable of enduring all the hardships of a nomad life and changes of climates, and of resisting with success both the demoralising effects of life in the Capital and the tempests of the soul. His velvet overcoat, which was covered with dust, was fastened by the two lower buttons only, and exposed to view linen of dazzling whiteness, which proved that he had the habits of a gentleman. His gloves, soiled by travel, seemed as though made expressly for his small, aristocratic hand, and when he took one glove off I was astonished at the thinness of his pale fingers. His gait was careless and indolent, but I noticed that he did not swing his arms — a sure sign of a certain secretiveness of character. These remarks, however, are the result of my own observations, and I have not the least desire to make you blindly believe in them. When he was in the act of seating himself on the bench his upright figure bent as if there was not a single bone in his back. The attitude of his whole body was expressive of a certain nervous weakness; he looked, as he sat, like one of Balzac’s thirty-year-old coquettes resting in her downy arm-chair after a fatiguing ball. From my first glance at his face I should not have supposed his age to be more than twenty-three, though afterwards I should have put it down as thirty. His smile had something of a child-like quality. His skin possessed a kind of feminine delicacy. His fair hair, naturally curly, most picturesquely outlined his pale and noble brow, on which it was only after lengthy observation that traces could be noticed of wrinkles, intersecting each other: probably they showed up more distinctly in moments of anger or mental disturbance. Notwithstanding the light colour of his hair, his moustaches and eyebrows were black — a sign of breeding in a man, just as a black mane and a black tail in a white horse. To complete the portrait, I will add that he had a slightly turned-up nose, teeth of dazzling whiteness, and brown eyes — I must say a few words more about his eyes.

In the first place, they never laughed when he laughed. Have you not happened, yourself, to notice the same peculiarity in certain people? . . . It is a sign either of an evil disposition or of deep and constant grief. From behind his half-lowered eyelashes they shone with a kind of phosphorescent gleam — if I may so express myself — which was not the reflection of a fervid soul or of a playful fancy, but a glitter like to that of smooth steel, blinding but cold. His glance — brief, but piercing and heavy — left the unpleasant impression of an indiscreet question and might have seemed insolent had it not been so unconcernedly tranquil.

It may be that all these remarks came into my mind only after I had known some details of his life, and it may be, too, that his appearance would have produced an entirely different impression upon another; but, as you will not hear of him from anyone except myself, you will have to rest content, nolens volens, with the description I have given. In conclusion, I will say that, speaking generally, he was a very good-looking man, and had one of those original types of countenance which are particularly pleasing to women.

The horses were already put to; now and then the bell jingled on the shaft-bow;† and the manservant had twice gone up to Pechorin with the announcement that everything was ready, but still there was no sign of Maksim Maksimych. Fortunately Pechorin was sunk in thought as he gazed at the jagged, blue peaks of the Caucasus, and was apparently by no means in a hurry for the road.

† The duga.

I went up to him.

“If you care to wait a little longer,” I said, “you will have the pleasure of meeting an old friend.”

“Oh, exactly!” he answered quickly. “They told me so yesterday. Where is he, though?”

I looked in the direction of the square and there I descried Maksim Maksimych running as hard as he could. In a few moments he was beside us. He was scarcely able to breathe; perspiration was rolling in large drops from his face; wet tufts of grey hair, escaping from under his cap, were glued to his forehead; his knees were shaking . . . He was about to throw himself on Pechorin’s neck, but the latter, rather coldly, though with a smile of welcome, stretched out his hand to him. For a moment the staff-captain was petrified, but then eagerly seized Pechorin’s hand in both his own. He was still unable to speak.

“How glad I am to see you, my dear Maksim Maksimych! Well, how are you?” said Pechorin.

“And . . . thou . . . you?”† murmured the old man, with tears in his eyes. “What an age it is since I have seen you! . . . But where are you off to?” . . .

† “Thou” is the form of address used in speaking to an intimate friend, etc. Pechorin had used the more formal “you.”

“I am going to Persia — and farther.” . . .

“But surely not immediately? . . . Wait a little, my dear fellow! . . . Surely we are not going to part at once? . . . What a long time it is since we have seen each other!” . . .

“It is time for me to go, Maksim Maksimych,” was the reply.

“Good heavens, good heavens! But where are you going to in such a hurry? There was so much I should have liked to tell you! So much to question you about! . . . Well, what of yourself? Have you retired? . . . What? . . . How have you been getting along?”

“Getting bored!” answered Pechorin, smiling.

“You remember the life we led in the fortress? A splendid country for hunting! You were awfully fond of shooting, you know! . . . And Bela?” . . .

Pechorin turned just the slightest bit pale and averted his head.

“Yes, I remember!” he said, almost immediately forcing a yawn.

Maksim Maksimych began to beg him to stay with him for a couple of hours or so longer.

“We will have a splendid dinner,” he said. “I have two pheasants; and the Kakhetian wine is excellent here . . . not what it is in Georgia, of course, but still of the best sort . . . We will have a talk . . . You will tell me about your life in Petersburg . . . Eh?” . . .

“In truth, there’s nothing for me to tell, dear Maksim Maksimych . . . However, good-bye, it is time for me to be off . . . I am in a hurry . . . I thank you for not having forgotten me,” he added, taking him by the hand.

The old man knit his brows. He was grieved and angry, although he tried to hide his feelings.

“Forget!” he growled. “I have not forgotten anything . . . Well, God be with you! . . . It is not like this that I thought we should meet.”

“Come! That will do, that will do!” said Pechorin, giving him a friendly embrace. “Is it possible that I am not the same as I used to be? . . . What can we do? Everyone must go his own way . . . Are we ever going to meet again? — God only knows!”

While saying this he had taken his seat in the carriage, and the coachman was already gathering up the reins.

“Wait, wait!” cried Maksim Maksimych suddenly, holding on to the carriage door. “I was nearly forgetting altogether. Your papers were left with me, Grigori Aleksandrovich . . . I drag them about everywhere I go . . . I thought I should find you in Georgia, but this is where it has pleased Heaven that we should meet. What’s to be done with them?” . . .

“Whatever you like!” answered Pechorin. “Good-bye.” . . .

“So you are off to Persia? . . . But when will you return?” Maksim Maksimych cried after him.

By this time the carriage was a long way off, but Pechorin made a sign with his hand which might be interpreted as meaning:

“It is doubtful whether I shall return, and there is no reason, either, why I should!”

The jingle of the bell and the clatter of the wheels along the flinty road had long ceased to be audible, but the poor old man still remained standing in the same place, deep in thought.

“Yes,” he said at length, endeavouring to assume an air of indifference, although from time to time a tear of vexation glistened on his eyelashes. “Of course we were friends — well, but what are friends nowadays? . . . What could I be to him? I’m not rich; I’ve no rank; and, moreover, I’m not at all his match in years! — See what a dandy he has become since he has been staying in Petersburg again! . . . What a carriage! . . . What a quantity of luggage! . . . And such a haughty manservant too!” . . .

These words were pronounced with an ironical smile.

“Tell me,” he continued, turning to me, “what do you think of it? Come, what the devil is he off to Persia for now? . . . Good Lord, it is ridiculous — ridiculous! . . . But I always knew that he was a fickle man, and one you could never rely on! . . . But, indeed, it is a pity that he should come to a bad end . . . yet it can’t be otherwise! . . . I always did say that there is no good to be got out of a man who forgets his old friends!” . . .

Hereupon he turned away in order to hide his agitation and proceeded to walk about the courtyard, around his cart, pretending to be examining the wheels, whilst his eyes kept filling with tears every moment.

“Maksim Maksimych,” I said, going up to him, “what papers are these that Pechorin left you?”

“Goodness knows! Notes of some sort” . . .

“What will you do with them?”

“What? I’ll have cartridges made of them.”

“Hand them over to me instead.”

He looked at me in surprise, growled something through his teeth, and began to rummage in his portmanteau. Out he drew a writing-book and threw it contemptuously on the ground; then a second — a third — a tenth shared the same fate. There was something childish in his vexation, and it struck me as ridiculous and pitiable. . .

“Here they are,” he said. “I congratulate you on your find!” . . .

“And I may do anything I like with them?”

“Yes, print them in the newspapers, if you like. What is it to me? Am I a friend or relation of his? It is true that for a long time we lived under one roof . . . but aren’t there plenty of people with whom I have lived?” . . .

I seized the papers and lost no time in carrying them away, fearing that the staff-captain might repent his action. Soon somebody came to tell us that the “Adventure” would set off in an hour’s time. I ordered the horses to be put to.

I had already put my cap on when the staff-captain entered the room. Apparently he had not got ready for departure. His manner was somewhat cold and constrained.

“You are not going, then, Maksim Maksimych?”

“No, sir!”

“But why not?”

“Well, I have not seen the Commandant yet, and I have to deliver some Government things.”

“But you did go, you know.”

“I did, of course,” he stammered, “but he was not at home . . . and I did not wait.”

I understood. For the first time in his life, probably, the poor old man had, to speak by the book, thrown aside official business ‘for the sake of his personal requirements’ . . . and how he had been rewarded!

“I am very sorry, Maksim Maksimych, very sorry indeed,” I said, “that we must part sooner than necessary.”

“What should we rough old men be thinking of to run after you? You young men are fashionable and proud: under the Circassian bullets you are friendly enough with us . . . but when you meet us afterwards you are ashamed even to give us your hand!”

“I have not deserved these reproaches, Maksim Maksimych.”

“Well, but you know I’m quite right. However, I wish you all good luck and a pleasant journey.”

We took a rather cold farewell of each other. The kind-hearted Maksim Maksimych had become the obstinate, cantankerous staff-captain! And why? Because Pechorin, through absent-mindedness or from some other cause, had extended his hand to him when Maksim Maksimych was going to throw himself on his neck! Sad it is to see when a young man loses his best hopes and dreams, when from before his eyes is withdrawn the rose-hued veil through which he has looked upon the deeds and feelings of mankind; although there is the hope that the old illusions will be replaced by new ones, none the less evanescent, but, on the other hand, none the less sweet. But wherewith can they be replaced when one is at the age of Maksim Maksimych? Do what you will, the heart hardens and the soul shrinks in upon itself.

I departed — alone.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38