The Shot

CHAP­TER I.

We were sta­tioned in the lit­tle town of N—. The life of an of­fi­cer in the army is well known. In the morn­ing, drill and the rid­ing-school; din­ner with the Colonel or at a Jew­ish restau­rant; in the evening, punch and cards. In N—- there was not one open house, not a sin­gle mar­riage­able girl. We used to meet in each other’s rooms, where, ex­cept our uni­forms, we never saw any­thing.

One civil­ian only was ad­mit­ted into our so­ci­ety. He was about thirty- five years of age, and there­fore we looked upon him as an old fel­low. His ex­pe­ri­ence gave him great ad­van­tage over us, and his ha­bit­ual tac­i­tur­nity, stern dis­po­si­tion, and caus­tic tongue pro­duced a deep im­pres­sion upon our young minds. Some mys­tery sur­rounded his ex­is­tence; he had the ap­pear­ance of a Russ­ian, al­though his name was a for­eign one. He had for­merly served in the Hus­sars, and with dis­tinc­tion. No­body knew the cause that had in­duced him to re­tire from the ser­vice and set­tle in a wretched lit­tle vil­lage, where he lived poorly and, at the same time, ex­trav­a­gantly. He al­ways went on foot, and con­stantly wore a shabby black over­coat, but the of­fi­cers of our reg­i­ment were ever wel­come at his table. His din­ners, it is true, never con­sisted of more than two or three dishes, pre­pared by a re­tired sol­dier, but the cham­pagne flowed like water. No­body knew what his cir­cum­stances were, or what his in­come was, and no­body dared to ques­tion him about them. He had a col­lec­tion of books, con­sist­ing chiefly of works on mil­i­tary mat­ters and a few nov­els. He will­ingly lent them to us to read, and never asked for them back; on the other hand, he never re­turned to the owner the books that were lent to him. His prin­ci­pal amuse­ment was shoot­ing with a pis­tol. The walls of his room were rid­dled with bul­lets, and were as full of holes as a hon­ey­comb. A rich col­lec­tion of pis­tols was the only lux­ury in the hum­ble cot­tage where he lived. The skill which he had ac­quired with his fa­vorite weapon was sim­ply in­cred­i­ble: and if he had of­fered to shoot a pear off some­body’s for­age-cap, not a man in our reg­i­ment would have hes­i­tated to place the ob­ject upon his head.

Our con­ver­sa­tion often turned upon duels. Sil­vio—so I will call him— never joined in it. When asked if he had ever fought, he dryly replied that he had; but he en­tered into no par­tic­u­lars, and it was ev­i­dent that such ques­tions were not to his lik­ing. We came to the con­clu­sion that he had upon his con­science the mem­ory of some un­happy vic­tim of his ter­ri­ble skill. More­over, it never en­tered into the head of any of us to sus­pect him of any­thing like cow­ardice. There are per­sons whose mere look is suf­fi­cient to repel such a sus­pi­cion. But an un­ex­pected in­ci­dent oc­curred which as­tounded us all.

One day, about ten of our of­fi­cers dined with Sil­vio. They drank as usual, that is to say, a great deal. After din­ner we asked our host to hold the bank for a game at faro. For a long time he re­fused, for he hardly ever played, but at last he or­dered cards to be brought, placed half a hun­dred ducats upon the table, and sat down to deal. We took our places round him, and the play began. It was Sil­vio’s cus­tom to pre­serve a com­plete si­lence when play­ing. He never dis­puted, and never en­tered into ex­pla­na­tions. If the punter made a mis­take in cal­cu­lat­ing, he im­me­di­ately paid him the dif­fer­ence or noted down the sur­plus. We were ac­quainted with this habit of his, and we al­ways al­lowed him to have his own way; but among us on this oc­ca­sion was an of­fi­cer who had only re­cently been trans­ferred to our reg­i­ment. Dur­ing the course of the game, this of­fi­cer ab­sently scored one point too many. Sil­vio took the chalk and noted down the cor­rect ac­count ac­cord­ing to his usual cus­tom. The of­fi­cer, think­ing that he had made a mis­take, began to enter into ex­pla­na­tions. Sil­vio con­tin­ued deal­ing in si­lence. The of­fi­cer, los­ing pa­tience, took the brush and rubbed out what he con­sid­ered was wrong. Sil­vio took the chalk and cor­rected the score again. The of­fi­cer, heated with wine, play, and the laugh­ter of his com­rades, con­sid­ered him­self grossly in­sulted, and in his rage he seized a brass can­dle­stick from the table, and hurled it at Sil­vio, who barely suc­ceeded in avoid­ing the mis­sile. We were filled with con­ster­na­tion. Sil­vio rose, white with rage, and with gleam­ing eyes, said:

“My dear sir, have the good­ness to with­draw, and thank God that this has hap­pened in my house.”

None of us en­ter­tained the slight­est doubt as to what the re­sult would be, and we al­ready looked upon our new com­rade as a dead man. The of­fi­cer with­drew, say­ing that he was ready to an­swer for his of­fence in what­ever way the banker liked. The play went on for a few min­utes longer, but feel­ing that our host was no longer in­ter­ested in the game, we with­drew one after the other, and re­paired to our re­spec­tive quar­ters, after hav­ing ex­changed a few words upon the prob­a­bil­ity of there soon being a va­cancy in the reg­i­ment.

The next day, at the rid­ing-school, we were al­ready ask­ing each other if the poor lieu­tenant was still alive, when he him­self ap­peared among us. We put the same ques­tion to him, and he replied that he had not yet heard from Sil­vio. This as­ton­ished us. We went to Sil­vio’s house and found him in the court­yard shoot­ing bul­let after bul­let into an ace pasted upon the gate. He re­ceived us as usual, but did not utter a word about the event of the pre­vi­ous evening. Three days passed, and the lieu­tenant was still alive. We asked each other in as­ton­ish­ment: “Can it be pos­si­ble that Sil­vio is not going to fight?”

Sil­vio did not fight. He was sat­is­fied with a very lame ex­pla­na­tion, and be­came rec­on­ciled to his as­sailant.

This low­ered him very much in the opin­ion of all our young fel­lows. Want of courage is the last thing to be par­doned by young men, who usu­ally look upon brav­ery as the chief of all human virtues, and the ex­cuse for every pos­si­ble fault. But, by de­grees, every­thing be­came for­got­ten, and Sil­vio re­gained his for­mer in­flu­ence.

I alone could not ap­proach him on the old foot­ing. Being en­dowed by na­ture with a ro­man­tic imag­i­na­tion, I had be­come at­tached more than all the oth­ers to the man whose life was an enigma, and who seemed to me the hero of some mys­te­ri­ous drama. He was fond of me; at least, with me alone did he drop his cus­tom­ary sar­cas­tic tone, and con­verse on dif­fer­ent sub­jects in a sim­ple and un­usu­ally agree­able man­ner. But after this un­lucky evening, the thought that his honor had been tar­nished, and that the stain had been al­lowed to re­main upon it in ac­cor­dance with his own wish, was ever pre­sent in my mind, and pre­vented me treat­ing him as be­fore. I was ashamed to look at him. Sil­vio was too in­tel­li­gent and ex­pe­ri­enced not to ob­serve this and guess the cause of it. This seemed to vex him; at least I ob­served once or twice a de­sire on his part to enter into an ex­pla­na­tion with me, but I avoided such op­por­tu­ni­ties, and Sil­vio gave up the at­tempt. From that time for­ward I saw him only in the pres­ence of my com­rades, and our con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions came to an end.

The in­hab­i­tants of the cap­i­tal, with minds oc­cu­pied by so many mat­ters of busi­ness and plea­sure, have no idea of the many sen­sa­tions so fa­mil­iar to the in­hab­i­tants of vil­lages and small towns, as, for in­stance, the await­ing the ar­rival of the post. On Tues­days and Fri­days our reg­i­men­tal bu­reau used to be filled with of­fi­cers: some ex­pect­ing money, some let­ters, and oth­ers news­pa­pers. The pack­ets were usu­ally opened on the spot, items of news were com­mu­ni­cated from one to an­other, and the bu­reau used to pre­sent a very an­i­mated pic­ture. Sil­vio used to have his let­ters ad­dressed to our reg­i­ment, and he was gen­er­ally there to re­ceive them.

One day he re­ceived a let­ter, the seal of which he broke with a look of great im­pa­tience. As he read the con­tents, his eyes sparkled. The of­fi­cers, each oc­cu­pied with his own let­ters, did not ob­serve any­thing.

“Gen­tle­men,” said Sil­vio, “cir­cum­stances de­mand my im­me­di­ate de­par­ture;

I leave to-night. I hope that you will not refuse to dine with me for

the last time. I shall ex­pect you, too,” he added, turn­ing to­wards me.

“I shall ex­pect you with­out fail.”

With these words he hastily de­parted, and we, after agree­ing to meet at

Sil­vio’s, dis­persed to our var­i­ous quar­ters.

I ar­rived at Sil­vio’s house at the ap­pointed time, and found nearly the whole reg­i­ment there. All his things were al­ready packed; noth­ing re­mained but the bare, bul­let-rid­dled walls. We sat down to table. Our host was in an ex­cel­lent humor, and his gayety was quickly com­mu­ni­cated to the rest. Corks popped every mo­ment, glasses foamed in­ces­santly, and, with the ut­most warmth, we wished our de­part­ing friend a pleas­ant jour­ney and every hap­pi­ness. When we rose from the table it was al­ready late in the evening. After hav­ing wished every­body good-bye, Sil­vio took me by the hand and de­tained me just at the mo­ment when I was prepar­ing to de­part.

“I want to speak to you,” he said in a low voice.

I stopped be­hind.

The guests had de­parted, and we two were left alone. Sit­ting down op­po­site each other, we silently lit our pipes. Sil­vio seemed greatly trou­bled; not a trace re­mained of his for­mer con­vul­sive gayety. The in­tense pal­lor of his face, his sparkling eyes, and the thick smoke is­su­ing from his mouth, gave him a truly di­a­bol­i­cal ap­pear­ance. Sev­eral min­utes elapsed, and then Sil­vio broke the si­lence.

“Per­haps we shall never see each other again,” said he; “be­fore we part, I should like to have an ex­pla­na­tion with you. You may have ob­served that I care very lit­tle for the opin­ion of other peo­ple, but I like you, and I feel that it would be painful to me to leave you with a wrong im­pres­sion upon your mind.”

He paused, and began to knock the ashes out of his pipe. I sat gaz­ing silently at the ground.

“You thought it strange,” he con­tin­ued, “that I did not de­mand sat­is­fac­tion from that drunken idiot R—-. You will admit, how­ever, that hav­ing the choice of weapons, his life was in my hands, while my own was in no great dan­ger. I could as­cribe my for­bear­ance to gen­eros­ity alone, but I will not tell a lie. If I could have chas­tised R—- with­out the least risk to my own life, I should never have par­doned him.”

I looked at Sil­vio with as­ton­ish­ment. Such a con­fes­sion com­pletely as­tounded me. Sil­vio con­tin­ued:

“Ex­actly so: I have no right to ex­pose my­self to death. Six years ago I re­ceived a slap in the face, and my enemy still lives.”

My cu­rios­ity was greatly ex­cited.

“Did you not fight with him?” I asked. “Cir­cum­stances prob­a­bly sep­a­rated you.”

“I did fight with him,” replied Sil­vio; “and here is a sou­venir of our duel.”

Sil­vio rose and took from a card­board box a red cap with a gold tas­sel and em­broi­dery (what the French call a bon­net de po­lice); he put it on— a bul­let had passed through it about an inch above the fore­head.

“You know,” con­tin­ued Sil­vio, “that I served in one of the Hus­sar reg­i­ments. My char­ac­ter is well known to you: I am ac­cus­tomed to tak­ing the lead. From my youth this has been my pas­sion. In our time dis­solute­ness was the fash­ion, and I was the most out­ra­geous man in the army. We used to boast of our drunk­en­ness; I beat in a drink­ing bout the fa­mous Bourt­soff [Foot­note: A cav­alry of­fi­cer, no­to­ri­ous for his drunken es­capades], of whom Denis David­off [Foot­note: A mil­i­tary poet who flour­ished in the reign of Alexan­der I] has sung. Duels in our reg­i­ment were con­stantly tak­ing place, and in all of them I was ei­ther sec­ond or prin­ci­pal. My com­rades adored me, while the reg­i­men­tal com­man­ders, who were con­stantly being changed, looked upon me as a nec­es­sary evil.

“I was calmly en­joy­ing my rep­u­ta­tion, when a young man be­long­ing to a wealthy and dis­tin­guished fam­ily—I will not men­tion his name—joined our reg­i­ment. Never in my life have I met with such a for­tu­nate fel­low! Imag­ine to your­self youth, wit, beauty, un­bounded gayety, the most reck­less brav­ery, a fa­mous name, un­told wealth—imag­ine all these, and you can form some idea of the ef­fect that he would be sure to pro­duce among us. My su­premacy was shaken. Daz­zled by my rep­u­ta­tion, he began to seek my friend­ship, but I re­ceived him coldly, and with­out the least re­gret he held aloof from me. I took a ha­tred to him. His suc­cess in the reg­i­ment and in the so­ci­ety of ladies brought me to the verge of de­spair. I began to seek a quar­rel with him; to my epi­grams he replied with epi­grams which al­ways seemed to me more spon­ta­neous and more cut­ting than mine, and which were de­cid­edly more amus­ing, for he joked while I fumed. At last, at a ball given by a Pol­ish landed pro­pri­etor, see­ing him the ob­ject of the at­ten­tion of all the ladies, and es­pe­cially of the mis­tress of the house, with whom I was upon very good terms, I whis­pered some grossly in­sult­ing re­mark in his ear. He flamed up and gave me a slap in the face. We grasped our swords; the ladies fainted; we were sep­a­rated; and that same night we set out to fight.

“The dawn was just break­ing. I was stand­ing at the ap­pointed place with my three sec­onds. With in­ex­plic­a­ble im­pa­tience I awaited my op­po­nent. The spring sun rose, and it was al­ready grow­ing hot. I saw him com­ing in the dis­tance. He was walk­ing on foot, ac­com­pa­nied by one sec­ond. We ad­vanced to meet him. He ap­proached, hold­ing his cap filled with black cher­ries. The sec­onds mea­sured twelve paces for us. I had to fire first, but my ag­i­ta­tion was so great, that I could not de­pend upon the steadi­ness of my hand; and in order to give my­self time to be­come calm, I ceded to him the first shot. My ad­ver­sary would not agree to this. It was de­cided that we should cast lots. The first num­ber fell to him, the con­stant fa­vorite of for­tune. He took aim, and his bul­let went through my cap. It was now my turn. His life at last was in my hands; I looked at him ea­gerly, en­deav­or­ing to de­tect if only the faintest shadow of un­easi­ness. But he stood in front of my pis­tol, pick­ing out the ripest cher­ries from his cap and spit­ting out the stones, which flew al­most as far as my feet. His in­dif­fer­ence an­noyed me be­yond mea­sure. ‘What is the use,’ thought I, ‘of de­priv­ing him of life, when he at­taches no value what­ever to it?’ A ma­li­cious thought flashed through my mind. I low­ered my pis­tol.

“‘You don’t seem to be ready for death just at pre­sent,’ I said to him: ‘you wish to have your break­fast; I do not wish to hin­der you.’

“‘You are not hin­der­ing me in the least,’ replied he. ‘Have the good­ness to fire, or just as you please—the shot re­mains yours; I shall al­ways be ready at your ser­vice.’

“I turned to the sec­onds, in­form­ing them that I had no in­ten­tion of fir­ing that day, and with that the duel came to an end.

“I re­signed my com­mis­sion and re­tired to this lit­tle place. Since then not a day has passed that I have not thought of re­venge. And now my hour has ar­rived.”

Sil­vio took from his pocket the let­ter that he had re­ceived that morn­ing, and gave it to me to read. Some one (it seemed to be his busi­ness agent) wrote to him from Moscow, that a CER­TAIN PER­SON was going to be mar­ried to a young and beau­ti­ful girl.

“You can guess,” said Sil­vio, “who the cer­tain per­son is. I am going to Moscow. We shall see if he will look death in the face with as much in­dif­fer­ence now, when he is on the eve of being mar­ried, as he did once with his cher­ries!”

With these words, Sil­vio rose, threw his cap upon the floor, and began pac­ing up and down the room like a tiger in his cage. I had lis­tened to him in si­lence; strange con­flict­ing feel­ings ag­i­tated me.

The ser­vant en­tered and an­nounced that the horses were ready. Sil­vio grasped my hand tightly, and we em­braced each other. He seated him­self in his tel­ega, in which lay two trunks, one con­tain­ing his pis­tols, the other his ef­fects. We said good-bye once more, and the horses gal­loped off.

CHAP­TER II.

Sev­eral years passed, and fam­ily cir­cum­stances com­pelled me to set­tle in the poor lit­tle vil­lage of M—-. Oc­cu­pied with agri­cul­tural pur­suits, I ceased not to sigh in se­cret for my for­mer noisy and care­less life. The most dif­fi­cult thing of all was hav­ing to ac­cus­tom my­self to pass­ing the spring and win­ter evenings in per­fect soli­tude. Until the hour for din­ner I man­aged to pass away the time some­how or other, talk­ing with the bailiff, rid­ing about to in­spect the work, or going round to look at the new build­ings; but as soon as it began to get dark, I pos­i­tively did not know what to do with my­self. The few books that I had found in the cup­boards and store­rooms I al­ready knew by heart. All the sto­ries that my house­keeper Kir­ilovna could re­mem­ber I had heard over and over again. The songs of the peas­ant women made me feel de­pressed. I tried drink­ing spir­its, but it made my head ache; and more­over, I con­fess I was afraid of be­com­ing a drunk­ard from mere cha­grin, that is to say, the sad­dest kind of drunk­ard, of which I had seen many ex­am­ples in our dis­trict.

I had no near neigh­bors, ex­cept two or three top­ers, whose con­ver­sa­tion con­sisted for the most part of hic­cups and sighs. Soli­tude was prefer­able to their so­ci­ety. At last I de­cided to go to bed as early as pos­si­ble, and to dine as late as pos­si­ble; in this way I short­ened the evening and length­ened out the day, and I found that the plan an­swered very well.

Four ver­sts from my house was a rich es­tate be­long­ing to the Count­ess B—-; but no­body lived there ex­cept the stew­ard. The Count­ess had only vis­ited her es­tate once, in the first year of her mar­ried life, and then she had re­mained there no longer than a month. But in the sec­ond spring of my her­mit­i­cal life a re­port was cir­cu­lated that the Count­ess, with her hus­band, was com­ing to spend the sum­mer on her es­tate. The re­port turned out to be true, for they ar­rived at the be­gin­ning of June.

The ar­rival of a rich neigh­bor is an im­por­tant event in the lives of coun­try peo­ple. The landed pro­pri­etors and the peo­ple of their house­holds talk about it for two months be­fore­hand and for three years af­ter­wards. As for me, I must con­fess that the news of the ar­rival of a young and beau­ti­ful neigh­bor af­fected me strongly. I burned with im­pa­tience to see her, and the first Sun­day after her ar­rival I set out after din­ner for the vil­lage of A—-, to pay my re­spects to the Count­ess and her hus­band, as their near­est neigh­bor and most hum­ble ser­vant. A lackey con­ducted me into the Count’s study, and then went to an­nounce me. The spa­cious apart­ment was fur­nished with every pos­si­ble lux­ury. Around the walls were cases filled with books and sur­mounted by bronze busts; over the mar­ble man­tel­piece was a large mir­ror; on the floor was a green cloth cov­ered with car­pets. Un­ac­cus­tomed to lux­ury in my own poor cor­ner, and not hav­ing seen the wealth of other peo­ple for a long time, I awaited the ap­pear­ance of the Count with some lit­tle trep­i­da­tion, as a sup­pli­ant from the provinces awaits the ar­rival of the min­is­ter. The door opened, and a hand­some-look­ing man, of about thirty- two years of age, en­tered the room. The Count ap­proached me with a frank and friendly air; I en­deav­ored to be self-pos­sessed and began to in­tro­duce my­self, but he an­tic­i­pated me. We sat down. His con­ver­sa­tion, which was easy and agree­able, soon dis­si­pated my awk­ward bash­ful­ness; and I was al­ready be­gin­ning to re­cover my usual com­po­sure, when the Count­ess sud­denly en­tered, and I be­came more con­fused than ever. She was in­deed beau­ti­ful. The Count pre­sented me. I wished to ap­pear at ease, but the more I tried to as­sume an air of un­con­straint, the more awk­ward I felt. They, in order to give me time to re­cover my­self and to be­come ac­cus­tomed to my new ac­quain­tances, began to talk to each other, treat­ing me as a good neigh­bor, and with­out cer­e­mony. Mean­while, I walked about the room, ex­am­in­ing the books and pic­tures. I am no judge of pic­tures, but one of them at­tracted my at­ten­tion. It rep­re­sented some view in Switzer­land, but it was not the paint­ing that struck me, but the cir­cum­stance that the can­vas was shot through by two bul­lets, one planted just above the other.

“A good shot that!” said I, turn­ing to the Count.

“Yes,” replied he, “a very re­mark­able shot. . . . Do you shoot well?” he con­tin­ued.

“Tol­er­a­bly,” replied I, re­joic­ing that the con­ver­sa­tion had turned at last upon a sub­ject that was fa­mil­iar to me. “At thirty paces I can man­age to hit a card with­out fail,—I mean, of course, with a pis­tol that I am used to.”

“Re­ally?” said the Count­ess, with a look of the great­est in­ter­est. “And you, my dear, could you hit a card at thirty paces?”

“Some day,” replied the Count, “we will try. In my time I did not shoot badly, but it is now four years since I touched a pis­tol.”

“Oh!” I ob­served, “in that case, I don’t mind lay­ing a wager that Your Ex­cel­lency will not hit the card at twenty paces; the pis­tol de­mands prac­tice every day. I know that from ex­pe­ri­ence. In our reg­i­ment I was reck­oned one of the best shots. It once hap­pened that I did not touch a pis­tol for a whole month, as I had sent mine to be mended; and would you be­lieve it, Your Ex­cel­lency, the first time I began to shoot again, I missed a bot­tle four times in suc­ces­sion at twenty paces. Our cap­tain, a witty and amus­ing fel­low, hap­pened to be stand­ing by, and he said to me: ‘It is ev­i­dent, my friend, that your hand will not lift it­self against the bot­tle.’ No, Your Ex­cel­lency, you must not ne­glect to prac­tise, or your hand will soon lose its cun­ning. The best shot that I ever met used to shoot at least three times every day be­fore din­ner. It was as much his cus­tom to do this as it was to drink his daily glass of brandy.”

The Count and Count­ess seemed pleased that I had begun to talk.

“And what sort of a shot was he?” asked the Count.

“Well, it was this way with him, Your Ex­cel­lency: if he saw a fly set­tle on the wall—you smile, Count­ess, but, be­fore Heaven, it is the truth— if he saw a fly, he would call out: ‘Kouzka, my pis­tol!’ Kouzka would bring him a loaded pis­tol—bang! and the fly would be crushed against the wall.”

“Won­der­ful!” said the Count. “And what was his name?”

“Sil­vio, Your Ex­cel­lency.”

“Sil­vio!” ex­claimed the Count, start­ing up. “Did you know Sil­vio?”

“How could I help know­ing him, Your Ex­cel­lency: we were in­ti­mate friends; he was re­ceived in our reg­i­ment like a brother of­fi­cer, but it is now five years since I had any tid­ings of him. Then Your Ex­cel­lency also knew him?”

“Oh, yes, I knew him very well. Did he ever tell you of one very strange in­ci­dent in his life?”

“Does Your Ex­cel­lency refer to the slap in the face that he re­ceived from some black­guard at a ball?”

“Did he tell you the name of this black­guard?”

“No, Your Ex­cel­lency, he never men­tioned his name, . . . Ah! Your Ex­cel­lency!” I con­tin­ued, guess­ing the truth: “par­don me . . . I did not know . . . could it re­ally have been you?”

“Yes, I my­self,” replied the Count, with a look of ex­tra­or­di­nary ag­i­ta­tion; “and that bul­let-pierced pic­ture is a me­mento of our last meet­ing.”

“Ah, my dear,” said the Count­ess, “for Heaven’s sake, do not speak about that; it would be too ter­ri­ble for me to lis­ten to.”

“No,” replied the Count: “I will re­late every­thing. He knows how I in­sulted his friend, and it is only right that he should know how Sil­vio re­venged him­self.”

The Count pushed a chair to­wards me, and with the liveli­est in­ter­est I lis­tened to the fol­low­ing story:

“Five years ago I got mar­ried. The first month—the hon­ey­moon—I spent here, in this vil­lage. To this house I am in­debted for the hap­pi­est mo­ments of my life, as well as for one of its most painful rec­ol­lec­tions.

“One evening we went out to­gether for a ride on horse­back. My wife’s horse be­came restive; she grew fright­ened, gave the reins to me, and re­turned home on foot. I rode on be­fore. In the court­yard I saw a trav­el­ling car­riage, and I was told that in my study sat wait­ing for me a man, who would not give his name, but who merely said that he had busi­ness with me. I en­tered the room and saw in the dark­ness a man, cov­ered with dust and wear­ing a beard of sev­eral days’ growth. He was stand­ing there, near the fire­place. I ap­proached him, try­ing to re­mem­ber his fea­tures.

“‘You do not rec­og­nize me, Count?’ said he, in a quiv­er­ing voice.

“‘Sil­vio!’ I cried, and I con­fess that I felt as if my hair had sud­denly stood on end.

“‘Ex­actly,’ con­tin­ued he. ‘There is a shot due to me, and I have come to dis­charge my pis­tol. Are you ready?’

“His pis­tol pro­truded from a side pocket. I mea­sured twelve paces and took my stand there in that cor­ner, beg­ging him to fire quickly, be­fore my wife ar­rived. He hes­i­tated, and asked for a light. Can­dles were brought in. I closed the doors, gave or­ders that no­body was to enter, and again begged him to fire. He drew out his pis­tol and took aim. . . . I counted the sec­onds. . . . I thought of her. . . . A ter­ri­ble minute passed! Sil­vio low­ered his hand.

“‘I re­gret,’ said he, ‘that the pis­tol is not loaded with cherry- stones . . . the bul­let is heavy. It seems to me that this is not a duel, but a mur­der. I am not ac­cus­tomed to tak­ing aim at un­armed men. Let us begin all over again; we will cast lots as to who shall fire first.’

“My head went round. . . . I think I raised some ob­jec­tion. . . . At last we loaded an­other pis­tol, and rolled up two pieces of paper. He placed these lat­ter in his cap—the same through which I had once sent a bul­let—and again I drew the first num­ber.

“‘You are dev­il­ish lucky, Count,’ said he, with a smile that I shall never for­get.

“I don’t know what was the mat­ter with me, or how it was that he man­aged to make me do it . . . but I fired and hit that pic­ture.”

The Count pointed with his fin­ger to the per­fo­rated pic­ture; his face glowed like fire; the Count­ess was whiter than her own hand­ker­chief; and I could not re­strain an ex­cla­ma­tion.

“I fired,” con­tin­ued the Count, “and, thank Heaven, missed my aim. Then Sil­vio . . . at that mo­ment he was re­ally ter­ri­ble . . . Sil­vio raised his hand to take aim at me. Sud­denly the door opens, Masha rushes into the room, and with a loud shriek throws her­self upon my neck. Her pres­ence re­stored to me all my courage.

“‘My dear,’ said I to her, ‘don’t you see that we are jok­ing? How fright­ened you are! Go and drink a glass of water and then come back to us; I will in­tro­duce you to an old friend and com­rade.’

“Masha still doubted.

“‘Tell me, is my hus­band speak­ing the truth?’ said she, turn­ing to the ter­ri­ble Sil­vio: ‘is it true that you are only jok­ing?’

“‘He is al­ways jok­ing, Count­ess,’ replied Sil­vio: ‘once he gave me a slap in the face in a joke; on an­other oc­ca­sion he sent a bul­let through my cap in a joke; and just now, when he fired at me and missed me, it was all in a joke. And now I feel in­clined for a joke.’

“With these words he raised his pis­tol to take aim at me—right be­fore her! Masha threw her­self at his feet.

“‘Rise, Masha; are you not ashamed!’ I cried in a rage: ‘and you, sir, will you cease to make fun of a poor woman? Will you fire or not?’

“‘I will not,’ replied Sil­vio: ‘I am sat­is­fied. I have seen your con­fu­sion, your alarm. I forced you to fire at me. That is suf­fi­cient. You will re­mem­ber me. I leave you to your con­science.’

“Then he turned to go, but paus­ing in the door­way, and look­ing at the pic­ture that my shot had passed through, he fired at it al­most with­out tak­ing aim, and dis­ap­peared. My wife had fainted away; the ser­vants did not ven­ture to stop him, the mere look of him filled them with ter­ror. He went out upon the steps, called his coach­man, and drove off be­fore I could re­cover my­self.”

The Count was silent. In this way I learned the end of the story, whose be­gin­ning had once made such a deep im­pres­sion upon me. The hero of it I never saw again. It is said that Sil­vio com­manded a de­tach­ment of Het­airists dur­ing the re­volt under Alexan­der Ip­si­lanti, and that he was killed in the bat­tle of Sk­oulana.

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