A Hero of Our Time is an 1840 novel by Mikhail Lermontov, "the poet of the Caucasus". He died at the age of 26 after being shot through the heart in a duel.
Wikipedia describes this book as
a set of five loosely linked stories unfolding the drama of the two conflicting characters, Pechorin and Grushnitsky, who move side by side towards a tragic finale as if driven by destiny itself ... Lermontov's magnum opusI offer it for the T Stands for Tuesday weekly blog gathering, noting that the excerpt below ends with this: "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."
You can read it online in English translation here. It begins:
I was traveling along the military road back from Tiflis. The only luggage in the little cart was one small suitcase half full of travel notes about Georgia. Fortunately for you most of them have been lost since then, though luckily for me the case and the rest of the things in it have survived.This counts towards my Russia book challenge.
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 the guerrillas."
"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 carriage bells.
"Tomorrow will be a fine day," I observed, but the captain did not reply. Instead he pointed to a tall mountain rising directly ahead of us.
"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.