Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 934
This short story takes place in a little town in Russia. This town is home to a military outpost. The speaker comments on the mundane and regimented life of the military officers. He mentions that only one civilian manages to find his way into their daily life. The speaker calls this man Silvio, and the reader learns that he is a rather "stern" individual in his mid-thirties who retired from the military and now resides in the village. He welcomes the officers to his dinner table, where the meals are rather plain, but "the champagne [flows] like water." The speaker relays that the most notable trait of Silvio is his hobby of shooting his pistol. However, whenever the soldiers discuss duels or anything having to do with using one's shooting skills against another, Silvio remains quiet.
At one particular dinner, the officers play a game of faro. During the card game, Silvio and a new officer to the regiment get into a disagreement. The officer is offended by Silvio's refusal to admit what he perceives to be a mistake in the scoring of the game. In anger, he throws a brass candlestick at Silvio. Silvio asks the officer to leave, and the other watching officers wonder when Silvio will get his revenge.
However, days pass, and the soldiers are amazed that no attempt at retaliation has been made against the new officer. Silvio loses his honor and respect among the soldiers and is labeled a coward.
Shortly after, Silvio receives a letter. He explains that he must leave town and requests that the officers join him for one last dinner. Towards the end of the evening, Silvio pulls the speaker aside. He explains the reasons for his refusal to seek revenge against the offending soldier who attempted to do him harm during the card game. He states that he would have had an unfair advantage against his offender, and he explains that his life purpose requires that he not put himself in any danger whatsoever until he can satisfy his ultimate goal.
After this statement, Silvio recounts that he was honored and highly esteemed in his old regiment. He enjoyed his reputation and was quite vexed when a new soldier joined his regiment. This new soldier was handsome, well-liked, and brave. Silvio's growing envy made him seek quarrels and confrontations with the young man. One night, while the two are attending a ball, Silvio whispers insulting words into his enemy's ear. The soldier then slaps Silvio, and the two "set out to fight" later that night.
At their next meeting, Silvio is nervous about the impending fight. He offers the officer first shot in order to calm his nerves, but the officer says that they will "cast lots" instead. The officer wins first shot, and his bullet goes through Silvio's cap. As Silvio prepares to shoot, he is angered by the ease and indifference with which his enemy awaits his upcoming shot. Silvio refuses to fire at a person who is so flippant about his own life, and he says that ever since then he has awaited his chance at revenge.
Silvio states that this chance at revenge was provided when he received the previously mentioned letter. The letter is from Moscow. It states that the very man he refused to shoot is now going to be married. Silvio decides his revenge will be perfect, for now his enemy has a new love that will make him truly afraid of death.
Silvio leaves on his mission, and many years pass. The speaker has settled in a village where he lives...
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mostly in solitude. Not far from his home lies an estate belonging to a wealthy countess. The countess is rarely at the estate, so when news arrives that she will be coming there to spend the summer, the speaker is excited. Upon her arrival, he goes to pay his respects.
There, he meets the countess and her husband. The count is a friendly man, and the speaker and he enter into a conversation. During this conversation, the speaker notices a canvas on the wall. This canvas has two bullet holes. The topic of shooting comes up, and the count admits that he was not a bad shot in his time. He also states that it has been four years since he shot a pistol. The speaker then brings up the shooting skill of his old friend Silvio. At this point, the count reveals that he too knew Silvio, and he informs the speaker that he was the object of Silvio's long desired revenge.
The count tells the speaker that not long after he was married, he came home to find Silvio waiting for him in his study. Silvio stated that he had come for his shot. The count explains that Silvio did not want to shoot him in murder, so he demanded that they cast lots to determine who fired first. The count explains that he won, fired, and missed, and in doing so, shot a bullet through the canvas mentioned previously. When Silvio raised his pistol to shoot, the countess entered the room and threw herself at Silvio's feet in hopes that he would be merciful. Silvio felt compassion for the woman and was satisfied at the count's emotional response to his actions. Instead of aiming at the count, he shot the painting in almost the same spot as the count did minutes before. At this point, he left.
The speaker's final comments are of what he later learns about Silvio's life. He heard Silvio was killed fighting in the battle of Skoulana.