(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This double story-within-a-story is presented by Ivan Petrovich Belkin, a gregarious but even-tempered army officer who committed to paper much of what others had told him before his untimely death. The first of his tales, which was related to him by Lieutenant-Colonel I. L. P., takes place among the garrison stationed in the village of N——. At the outset, so the story goes, all present in the garrison are awed and mystified by one Silvio; generous without any thought of recompense, he has retired at an early age from the hussars and exists on an uncertain income. His skill at pistol shooting has taken on nearly legendary proportions. It is said that he can take a loaded pistol and shoot a fly dead from across a room. Already rumors are current that he is troubled by some past dueling incident.

More enigmatic is Silvio’s curt dismissal of an episode that the others consider to be manifestly grounds for a duel. During a game of cards, another officer, Lieutenant R——, twice challenges Silvio’s scorekeeping, and thus, his reckoning of the money stakes; after two silent rebuffs, he hurls a candlestick at their host. In a cold fury, Silvio demands that he leave. The others expect a formal test of honor and are greatly surprised when Silvio later accepts a slight apology.

One day Silvio receives a letter and immediately begins to pack his possessions. He holds a final dinner for the regiment, and afterward he requests the narrator to stay behind. Pallid, preoccupied, but with devilish coolness, Silvio remarks on the general puzzlement when he did not duel with the unruly officer. Then he informs his guest that six years before, he had fought another hussar, who was also left alive. He shows the narrator a red cap from his previous regiment, with a bullet hole above the...

(The entire section is 736 words.)