Tales of Belkin

The Shot

This story was told to Belkin by Colonel I.L.P., who in the early days of his military career was stationed at a country outpost. The officers always visit a peculiar man named Silvio to play cards. Silvio is always practising shooting, and the walls of his house are full with bullet holes. On one occasion the host is insulted by one of his guests, but he does not challenge his guest to a duel, as custom dictates. He is then considered to be a coward by most of the officers, but explains his situation to the narrator, his only confidant: years ago he engaged in a duel, in which his opponent was eating cherries while waiting for him to shoot. He decided that as life apparently was meaningless to the endlessly fortunate young man, he would not shoot, but rather ask to postpone the duel. If he had now engaged the officer in a duel over the card game, he would almost certainly have killed him, but also taken the small risk of dying before being able to exact revenge. However, Silvio soon learns that his former opponent is engaged to be married, and so may now no longer be indifferent towards life. This is the moment Silvio has been waiting for, and he leaves to get his revenge.

After several years, the narrator leaves active duty on his parents' death and leaves for his country estate (exactly as we are told Belkin himself did in the preface). After a while, his neighbors arrive, in particular a pretty young countess, and the narrator visits them soon after. On the wall he notices a painting of a Swiss landscape with two bullet holes very close together. The narrator, seeing this, tells his neighbor about a man he knew in the army who was an extraordinary shot, and tells the count of Silvio. The count is overcome with fear, and informs the narrator that he was Silvio's opponent, and shortly after his wedding Silvio claimed his right to a duel. The neighbor draws the right to shoot first, but misses, and the bullet ends up in the painting. As Silvio aims to shoot, the neighbor's bride enters the room. Silvio takes pity on her and then without aiming, shoots the painting in almost exactly the same spot as the count, thereby both sparing the count's life and demonstrating how easily he could have ended it. Silvio, honor satisfied, leaves the couple, and is later, we are informed, killed leading a regiment in battle. The narrator never meets him again.

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