In a Cossack village, Pechorin and the other officers get tired of playing boston, a card game. They start talking about predestination. Some of the men are for it, and some believe that men make their own destinies. Each side provides stories to support their stances. Vulich, a lieutenant with a penchant for gambling, gets into the discussion. He once gambled through gunfire between natives and Russian officers.
Vulich tells the men that he has a way to prove whether predestination exists or not. Pechorin bets twenty gold coins on the premise that predestination does not exist. Vulich bets on the opposite, and then reveals his plan. Vulich's plan involves him risking his life. The men try to stop him, but they eventually give up and watch the lieutenant's crazy scheme play out.
As Pechorin studies Vulich's face, Pechorin sees the mark of death on Vulich's face. Pechorin tells Vulich, "You're going to die today" (151). Vulich continues with his plans anyway. He has a pistol in his hand. He has no idea if it is loaded or not, and no one else seems to know as well. Vulich takes the gun and aims it at his head.
Everyone holds their breath. Vulich shoots, but the gun misfires. The other officers believe the gun to be empty. Vulich aims the gun again, this time at the wall. A bullet flies into the wall. Everyone is stunned, and Vulich collects his money. Pechorin walks home and thinks of the incident.
On his way home, Pechorin runs into a slain pig and two Cossacks who ask him if he has seen a drunken man. Pechorin thinks nothing of these two scenes until four in the morning, when three officers awaken him. They tell him that Vulich has been killed. A drunken Cossack had cut both a pig and Vulich in half with a sword. Vulich essentially dies thirty minutes after winning the bet.
The three officers bring Pechorin to the cottage where Vulich's murderer has barricaded himself, and Pechorin overhears the murderer's name from an old Cossack captain. It is Yefimich. Yefimich disregards pleas urging him to surrender. His mother is on the scene, but she refuses to cooperate with the officers trying to arrest him. The old Cossack captain and the major do not want to send men into cottage because Yefimich is armed. Pechorin has an idea, and he acts on it. He sneaks into the cottage through a window in the back and surprises Yefimich. Pechorin manages to subdue Yefimich and makes it through the situation with a bullet only "[ripping] an epaulette from [his] shoulder" (156).
The last scene of this short story brings back Maxim Maximych. Pechorin leaves the Cossack village and returns to the fort where he and Maxim Maximych have formed a bond. He tells Maxim Maximych about Vulich's death. Pechorin tries to get Maxim Maximych's input on predestination, but Maxim Maximych does not offer a strong discourse. Pechorin realizes that Maxim Maximych is "not at all keen on metaphysical discussions" (157).
Curiosity and gambling are two important themes not just in this short story, but also in the novel as a whole. Curiosity drives the plot in each of the short stories in this novel. In this particular short story, Vulich risks his life to satisfy his curiosity and the other officers' curiosity. They want to know if predestination exists. Pechorin also places his life in danger to satisfy his curiosity. He puts predestination to another test when he barges into the cottage. In "Bela," Maxim Maximych's curiosity leads him to an important piece of information. By spying on a conversation between Azamat and Kazbich, he learns that Azamat is willing to trade Bela for Karagyoz. Maxim Maximych passes this information on to Pechorin, and Pechorin employs the information to obtain Bela. In "Maxim Maximych," Maxim Maximych's curiosity about the carriage and the servant lead him to Pechorin. In "Taman," Pechorin's curiosity compels him to follow the blind boy. Finally, in "Princess Mary," Grushnitsky's death comes as a result of his curiosity. He stakes out outside of Princess Mary's residence in order to discover the identity of the man he sees going inside of it. Grushnitsky discovers that the man is Pechorin. When he opens his mouth about what he witnessed, Pechorin overhears and decides to defend Princess Mary's honor through a duel. Grushnitsky dies in the duel.
In terms of gambling as a theme, Vulich bets his life one time, but Pechorin gambles with his life in each of the novel's short stories. In this particular short story, Pechorin barges into the cottage, even though Vulich's murderer is armed. Pechorin is self-destructive. The cottage scene is the only place in the novel in which his self-destructive tendencies result in something noble. He apprehends Vulich's murderer.
It is ironic that Pechorin is the one that apprehends Yefimich and holds him accountable for his actions. Throughout the novel, Pechorin does not take responsibilities for any of his actions. He washes his hands clean of everything, and accomplices like Maxim Maximych and Werner also fail to hold him accountable for his actions. Instead, they distance themselves from their parts in Pechorin's schemes. In recounting the story about Bela and Pechorin to the unnamed narrator, Maxim Maximych tries to make his part in Pechorin's schemes seem incidental. According to Maxim Maximych, he has tea with Kazbich because they are kunaks and not to distract the tribesman as Azamat steals his horse.
Yefimich's mother is also important to the significance of this story. Parental figures in this novel are useless. Yefimich's mother watches as the officers attempt to apprehend her son. When they ask for her help, she says and does nothing. In "Bela," the old chief is absent when Azamat kidnaps Bela. Once he returns, Kazbich immediately kills him.
Maxim Maximych, who becomes a father figure to Bela in her captivity, is also useless. When Bela cries over Pechorin's cold demeanor, Maxim Maximych tells her that her tears will only drive Pechorin further away. When Bela continues to cry, Maxim Maximych quickly realizes the ineffectiveness of his words. In "Taman," the old woman appears in only one scene, and she pretends to be deaf in the scene. Moreover, Yanko tells the blind boy at the end of the story to "Tell the old woman it's time she died. She's lived too long, she's had her time" (68). Last but not least, in "Princess Mary," Princess Ligovskoy is oblivious to Pechorin's schemes. She believes him to be in love with her daughter and even offers Pechorin her blessings for a wedding.