The Region of Dead Calm

by Ivan S. Turgenev

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Mikhaílo Nikoláevitch Ipátoff’s manor consisted of two separate small mansions, built opposite each other on the two sides of a huge pond through which ran a river. A long dam, planted with silver poplars, shut off the pond; almost on a level with it the red roof of a small hand-mill was visible. Built exactly alike, and painted with the same lilac hue, the tiny houses seemed to be exchanging glances across the broad, watery expanse, with the glittering panes of their small, clean windows. From the middle of each little house a circular terrace projected, and a sharp-peaked pediment rose aloft, supported by four white pillars set close together. The ancient park ran all the way round the pond; lindens stretched out in alleys, and stood in dense clumps; aged pine-trees, with pale yellow boles, dark oaks, magnificent maples here and there reared high in air their solitary crests; the dense verdure of the thickly-spreading lilacs and acacias advanced close up to the very sides of the two little houses, leaving revealed only their fronts, from which winding paths paved with brick ran down the slope. Motley-hued ducks, white and grey geese were swimming in separate flocks on the clear water of the pond; it never became covered with scum, thanks to abundant springs which welled into its “head” from the base of the steep, rocky ravine. The situation of the manor was good, pleasant, isolated, and beautiful.

In one of the two little houses dwelt Mikhaíl Nikoláevitch himself; in the other lived his mother, a decrepit old woman of seventy years. When he drove on to the dam, Vladímir Sergyéitch did not know to which house to betake himself. He glanced about him: a small urchin of the house-serfs was fishing, as he stood barefooted on a half-rotten tree-stump. Vladímir Sergyéitch hailed him.

“But to whom are you going—to the old lady or to the young master?”—replied the urchin, without taking his eyes from his float.

“What lady?”—replied Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“I want to find Mikhaílo Nikoláitch.”

“Ah! the young master? Well, then, turn to the right.”

And the lad gave his line a jerk, and drew from the motionless water a small, silvery carp. Vladímir Sergyéitch drove to the right.

Mikhaíl Nikoláitch was playing at draughts with The Folding Soul when the arrival of Vladímir Sergyéitch was announced to him. He was delighted, sprang from his arm-chair, ran out into the anteroom and there kissed the visitor three times.

“You find me with my invariable friend, Vladímir Sergyéitch,”—began the loquacious little old man:—“with Iván Ílitch, who, I will remark in passing, is completely enchanted with your affability.” (Iván Ílitch darted a silent glance at the corner.) “He was so kind as to remain to play draughts with me, while all my household went for a stroll in the park; but I will send for them at once....”

“But why disturb them?”—Vladímir Sergyéitch tried to expostulate....

“Not the least inconvenience, I assure you. Hey, there, Vánka, run for the young ladies as fast as thou canst ... tell them that a guest has favoured us with a visit. And how does this locality please you? It’s not bad, is it? Kaburdín has composed some verses about it. ‘Ipátovka, refuge lovely’—that’s the way they begin,—and the rest of it is just as good, only I don’t remember all of it. The park is large, that’s the trouble; beyond my means. And these two houses, which are so much alike, as you have, perhaps, deigned to observe, were erected by two brothers—my father Nikolái, and my uncle Sergyéi; they also laid out the park; they were exemplary friends ... Damon and ... there now! I’ve forgotten the other man’s name....”

“Pythion,”—remarked Iván Ílitch.

“Not really? Well, never mind.” (At home the old man talked in a much more unconventional manner than when he was paying calls.)—“You are, probably, not ignorant of the fact, Vladímir Sergyéitch, that I am a widower, that I have lost my wife; my elder children are in government educational institutions, and I have with me only the youngest two, and my sister-in-law lives with me—my wife’s sister; you will see her directly. But why don’t I offer you some refreshment? Iván Ílitch, my dear fellow, see to a little luncheon ... what sort of vodka are you pleased to prefer?”

“I drink nothing until dinner.”

“Goodness, how is that possible! However, as you please. The truest hospitality is to let the guest do as he likes. We are very simple-mannered folk here, you see. Here with us, if I may venture so to express myself, we live not so much in a lonely as in a dead-calm place, a remote nook—that’s what! But why don’t you sit down?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch seated himself, without letting go of his hat.

“Permit me to relieve you,”—said Ipátoff, and delicately taking his hat from him, he carried it off to a corner, then returned, looked his visitor in the eye with a cordial smile, and, not knowing just what agreeable thing to say to him, inquired, in the most hearty manner,—whether he was fond of playing draughts.

“I play all games badly,”—replied Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“And that’s a very fine thing in you,”—returned Ipátoff:—“but draughts is not a game, but rather a diversion—a way of passing leisure time; isn’t that so, Iván Ílitch?”

Iván Ílitch cast an indifferent glance at Ipátoff, as though he were thinking to himself, “The devil only knows whether it is a game or a diversion,” but, after waiting a while, he said:

“Yes; draughts don’t count.”

“Chess is quite another matter, they say,”—pursued Ipátoff;—“’tis a very difficult game, I’m told. But, in my opinion ... but yonder come my people!”—he interrupted himself, glancing through the half-open glass door, which gave upon the park.

Vladímir Sergyéitch rose, turned round, and beheld first two little girls, about ten years of age, in pink cotton frocks and broad-brimmed hats, who were running alertly up the steps of the terrace; not far behind them a tall, plump, well-built young girl of twenty, in a dark gown, made her appearance. They all entered the house, and the little girls courtesied sedately to the visitor.

“Here, sir, let me present you,”—said the host;—“my daughters, sir. This one here is named Kátya, and this one is Nástya, and this is my sister-in-law, Márya Pávlovna, whom I have already had the pleasure of mentioning to you. I beg that you will love and favour them.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch made his bow to Márya Pávlovna; she replied to him with a barely perceptible inclination of the head.

Márya Pávlovna held in her hand a large, open knife; her thick, ruddy-blond hair was slightly dishevelled,—a small green leaf had got entangled in it, her braids had escaped from the comb,—her dark-skinned face was flushed, and her red lips were parted; her gown looked crumpled. She was breathing fast; her eyes were sparkling; it was evident that she had been working in the garden. She immediately left the room; the little girls ran out after her.

“She’s going to rearrange her toilet a bit,”—remarked the old man, turning to Vladímir Sergyéitch;—“they can’t get along without that, sir!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch grinned at him in response, and became somewhat pensive. Márya Pávlovna had made an impression on him. It was long since he had seen such a purely Russian beauty of the steppes. She speedily returned, sat down on the divan, and remained motionless. She had smoothed her hair, but had not changed her gown,—had not even put on cuffs. Her features expressed not precisely pride, but rather austerity, almost harshness; her brow was broad and low, her nose short and straight; a slow, lazy smile curled her lips from time to time; her straight eyebrows contracted scornfully. She kept her large, dark eyes almost constantly lowered. “I know,” her repellent young face seemed to be saying; “I know that you are all looking at me; well, then, look; you bore me.” But when she raised her eyes, there was something wild, beautiful, and stolid about them, which was suggestive of the eyes of a doe. She had a mag{190}nificent figure. A classical poet would have compared her to Ceres or Juno.

“What have you been doing in the garden?”—Ipátoff asked her, being desirous of bringing her into the conversation.

“I have been cutting off dead branches, and digging up the flower-beds,” she replied, in a voice which was rather low, but agreeable and resonant.

“And are you tired?”

“The children are; I am not.”

“I know,”—interposed the old man, with a smile;—“thou art a regular Bobélina! And have you been to grandmamma’s?”

“Yes; she is asleep.”

“Are you fond of flowers?”—Vladímir Sergyéitch asked her.


“Why dost thou not put on thy hat when thou goest out of doors?”—Ipátoff remarked to her.—“Just see how red and sunburned thou art.”

She silently passed her hand over her face. Her hands were not large, but rather broad, and decidedly red. She did not wear gloves.

“And are you fond of gardening?”—Vladímir Sergyéitch put another question to her.


Vladímir Sergyéitch began to narrate what a fine garden there was in his neighbourhood, belonging to a wealthy landed proprietor named N***.—The head gardener, a German, received in wages alone two thousand rubles, silver[16]—he said, among other things.

“And what is the name of that gardener?”—inquired Iván Ílitch, suddenly.

“I don’t remember,—Meyer or Müller, I think. But why do you ask?”

“For no reason in particular, sir,”—replied Iván Ílitch.—“To find out his name.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch continued his narration. The little girls, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch’s daughters, entered, sat down quietly, and quietly began to listen....

A servant made his appearance at the door, had announced that Egór Kapítonitch had arrived.

“Ah! Ask him in, ask him in!”—exclaimed Ipátoff.

There entered a short, fat little old man, one of the sort of people who are called squat or dumpy, with a puffy and, at the same time, a wrinkled little face, after the fashion of a baked apple. He wore a grey hussar jacket with black braiding and a standing collar; his full coffee-coloured velveteen trousers ended far above his ankles.

“Good morning, my most respected Egór Kapítonitch,”—exclaimed Ipátoff, advancing to meet him.—“We haven’t seen each other for a long time.”

“Couldn’t be helped,”—returned Egór Kapítonitch in a lisping and whining voice, after having preliminarily exchanged salutations with all present;—“surely you know, Mikhaíl Sergyéitch, whether I am a free man or not?”

“And how are you not a free man, Egór Kapítonitch?”

“Why, of course I’m not, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch; there’s my family, my affairs.... And there’s Matryóna Márkovna to boot,” and he waved his hand in despair.

“But what about Matryóna Márkovna?”

And Ipátoff launched a slight wink at Vladímir Sergyéitch, as though desirous of exciting his interest in advance.

“Why, everybody knows,”—returned Egór Kapítonitch, as he took a seat;—“she’s always discontented with me, don’t you know that? Whatever I say, it’s wrong, not delicate, not decorous. And why it isn’t decorous, the Lord God alone knows. And the young ladies, my daughters that is to say, do the same, taking pattern by their mother. I don’t say but what Matryóna Márkovna is a very fine woman, but she’s awfully severe on the score of manners.”

“But, good gracious! in what way are your manners bad, Egór Kapítonitch?”

“That’s exactly what I’d like to know myself; but, evidently, she’s hard to suit. Yesterday, for instance, I said at table: ‘Matryóna Márkovna,’” and Egór Kapítonitch imparted to his voice an insinuating inflection,—“‘Matryóna Márkovna,’ says I, ‘what’s the meaning of this,—that Aldóshka isn’t careful with the horses, doesn’t know how to drive?’ says I; ‘there’s the black stallion quite foundered.’—I-iikh! how Matryóna Márkovna did flare up, and set to crying shame on me: ‘Thou dost not know how to express thyself decently in the society of ladies,’ says she; and the young ladies instantly galloped away from the table, and on the next day, the Biriúloff young ladies, my wife’s nieces, had heard all about it. And how had I expressed myself badly? And no matter what I say—and sometimes I really am incautious,—no matter to whom I say it, especially at home,—those Biriúloff girls know all about it the next day. A fellow simply doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes I’m just sitting so, thinking after my fashion,—I breathe hard, as perhaps you know,—and Matryóna Márkovna sets to berating me again: ‘Don’t snore,’ says she; ‘nobody snores nowadays!’—‘What art thou scolding about, Matryóna Márkovna?’ says I. ‘Good mercy, thou shouldst have compassion, but thou scoldest.’ So I don’t meditate at home any more. I sit and look down—so—all the time. By Heaven, I do. And then, again, not long ago, we got into bed; ‘Matryóna Márkovna,’ says I, ‘what makes thee spoil thy page-boy, mátushka?[17] Why, he’s a regular little pig,’ says I, ‘and he might wash his face of a Sunday, at least.’ And what happened? It strikes me that I said it distantly, tenderly, but I didn’t hit the mark even then; Matryóna Márkovna began to cry shame on me again: ‘Thou dost not understand how to behave in the society of ladies,’ says she; and the next day the Biriúloff girls knew all about it. What time have I to think of visits under such circumstances, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch?”

“I’m amazed at what you tell me,”—replied Ipátoff;—“I did not expect that from Matryóna Márkovna. Apparently, she is....”

“An extremely fine woman,”—put in Egór Kapítonitch;—“a model wife and mother, so to speak, only strict on the score of manners. She says that ensemble is necessary in everything, and that I haven’t got it. I don’t speak French, as you are aware, I only understand it. But what’s that ensemble that I haven’t got?”

Ipátoff, who was not very strong in French himself, only shrugged his shoulders.

“And how are your children—your sons, that is to say?”—he asked Egór Kapítonitch after a brief pause.

Egór Kapítonitch darted an oblique glance at him.

“My sons are all right. I’m satisfied with them. The girls have got out of hand, but I’m satisfied with my sons. Lyólya discharges his service well, his superior officers approve of him; that Lyólya of mine is a clever fellow. Well, Míkhetz—he’s not like that; he has turned out some sort of a philanthropist.”

“Why a philanthropist?”

“The Lord knows; he speaks to nobody, he shuns folks. Matryóna Márkovna mostly abashes him. ‘Why dost thou take pattern by thy father?’ she says to him. ‘Do thou respect him, but copy thy mother as to manners.’ He’ll get straightened out, he’ll turn out all right also.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch asked Ipátoff to introduce him to Egór Kapítonitch. They entered into conversation. Márya Pávlovna did not take part in it; Iván Ílitch seated himself beside her, and said two words, in all, to her; the little girls came up to him, and began to narrate something to him in a whisper.... The housekeeper entered, a gaunt old woman, with her head bound up in a dark kerchief, and announced that dinner was ready. All wended their way to the dining-room.

The dinner lasted for quite a long time. Ipátoff kept a good cook, and ordered pretty good wines, not from Moscow, but from the capital of the government. Ipátoff lived at his ease, as the saying goes. He did not own more than three hundred souls, but he was not in debt to any one, and had brought his estate into order. At table, the host himself did the greater part of the talking; Egór Kapítonitch chimed in, but did not forget himself, at the same time; he ate and drank gloriously. Márya Pávlovna preserved unbroken silence, only now and then replying with half-smiles to the hurried remarks of the two little girls, who sat one on each side of her. They were, evidently, very fond of her. Vladímir Sergyéitch made several attempts to enter into conversation with her, but without particular success. Folding Soul Bodryakóff even ate indolently and languidly. After dinner all went out on the terrace to drink coffee. The weather was magnificent; from the garden was wafted the sweet perfume of the lindens, which were then in full flower; the summer air, slightly cooled by the thick shade of the trees, and the humidity of the adjacent pond, breathed forth a sort of caressing warmth. Suddenly, from behind the poplars of the dam, the trampling of a horse’s hoofs became audible, and a moment later, a horsewoman made her appearance in a long riding-habit and a grey hat, mounted on a bay horse; she was riding at a gallop; a page was galloping behind her, on a small, white cob.

“Ah!”—exclaimed Ipátoff,—“Nadézhda Alexyéevna is coming. What a pleasant surprise!”

“Alone?”—asked Márya Pávlovna, who up to that moment had been standing motionless in the doorway.

“Alone.... Evidently, something has detained Piótr Alexyéevitch.”

Márya Pávlovna darted a sidelong glance from beneath her brows, a flush overspread her face, and she turned away.

In the meantime, the horsewoman had ridden through the wicket-gate into the garden, galloped up to the terrace, and sprang lightly to the ground, without waiting either for her groom or for Ipátoff, who had started to meet her. Briskly gathering up the train of her riding-habit, she ran up the steps, and springing upon the terrace, exclaimed blithely:

“Here I am!”

“Welcome!”—said Ipátoff.—“How unexpected, how charming this is! Allow me to kiss your hand....”

“Certainly,”—returned the visitor; “only, you must pull off the glove yourself.—I cannot.” And, extending her hand to him, she nodded to Márya Pávlovna.—“Just fancy, Másha, my brother will not be here to-day,”—she said, with a little sigh.

“I see for myself that he is not here,”—replied Márya Pávlovna in an undertone.

“He bade me say to thee that he is busy. Thou must not be angry. Good morning, Egór Kapítonitch; good morning, Iván Ílitch; good morning, children.... Vásya,”—added the guest, turning to her small groom,—“order them to walk Little Beauty up and down well, dost hear? Másha, please give me a pin, to fasten up my train.... Come here, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch.”

Ipátoff went closer to her.

“Who is that new person?”—she asked, quite loudly.

“That is a neighbour, Astákhoff, Vladímir Sergyéevitch, you know, the owner of Sásovo. I’ll introduce him if you like, shall I?”

“Very well ... afterward. Akh, what splendid weather!”—she went on.—“Egór Kapítonitch, tell me—can it be possible that Matryóna Márkovna growls even in such weather as this?”

“Matryóna Márkovna never grumbles in any sort of weather, madam; and she is merely strict on the score of manners....”

“And what are the Biriúloff girls doing? They know all about it the next day, don’t they?...” And she burst into a ringing, silvery laugh.

“You are pleased to laugh constantly,”—returned Egór Kapítonitch.—“However, when should a person laugh, if not at your age?”

“Egór Kapítonitch, don’t get angry, my dear man! Akh, I’m tired; allow me to sit down....”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna dropped into an arm-chair, and playfully pulled her hat down over her very eyes.

Ipátoff led Vladímir Sergyéitch up to her.

“Permit me, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, to present to you our neighbour, Mr. Astákhoff, of whom you have, probably, heard a great deal.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch made his bow, while Nadézhda Alexyéevna looked up at him from under the brim of her round hat.

“Nadézhda Alexyéevna Véretyeff, our neighbour,”—went on Ipátoff, turning to Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“She lives here with her brother, Piótr Alexyéitch, a retired lieutenant of the Guards. She is a great friend of my sister-in-law, and bears good will to our household in general.”

“A whole formal inventory,”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna, laughing, and, as before, scanning Vladímir Sergyéitch from under her hat.

But, in the meantime, Vladímir Sergyéitch was thinking to himself: “Why, this is a very pretty woman also.” And, in fact, Nadézhda Alexyéevna was a very charming young girl. Slender and graceful, she appeared much younger than she really was. She was already in her twenty-eighth year. She had a round face, a small head, fluffy fair hair, a sharp, almost audaciously upturned little nose, and merry, almost crafty little eyes. Mockery fairly glittered in them, and kindled in them in sparks. Her features, extremely vivacious and mobile, sometimes assumed an almost amusing expression; humour peered forth from them. Now and then, for the most part suddenly, a shade of pensiveness flitted across her face,—and at such times it became gentle and kindly; but she could not surrender herself long to meditation. She easily seized upon the ridiculous sides of people, and drew very respectable caricatures. Everybody had petted her ever since she was born, and that is something which is immediately perceptible; people who have been spoiled in childhood preserve a certain stamp to the end of their lives. Her brother loved her, although he asserted that she stung, not like a bee, but like a wasp; because a bee stings and then dies, whereas it signifies nothing for a wasp to sting. This comparison enraged her.

“Have you come here for long?”—she asked Vladímir Sergyéitch, dropping her eyes, and twisting her riding-whip in her hands.

“No; I intend to go away from here to-morrow.”



“Home? Why, may I venture to ask?”

“What do you mean by ‘why’? I have affairs at home which do not brook delay.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna looked at him.

“Are you such a ... punctual man?”

“I try to be a punctual man,”—replied Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“In our sedate era, every honourable man must be sedate and punctual.”

“That is perfectly just,”—remarked Ipátoff.—“Isn’t that true Iván Ílitch?”

Iván Ílitch merely glanced at Ipátoff; but Egór Kapítonitch remarked:

“Yes, that’s so.”

“‘Tis a pity,”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna;—“precisely what we lack is a jeune premier. You know how to act comedy, I suppose?”

“I have never put my powers in that line to the test.”

“I am convinced that you would act well. You have that sort of bearing ... a stately mien, which is indispensable in a jeune premier. My brother and I are preparing to set up a theatre here. However, we shall not act comedies only: we shall act all sorts of things—dramas, ballets, and even tragedies. Why wouldn’t Másha do for Cleopatra or Phèdre? Just look at her!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch turned round.... Márya Pávlovna was gazing thoughtfully into the distance, as she stood leaning her head against the door, with folded arms.... At that moment, her regular features really did suggest the faces of ancient statues. She did not catch Nadézhda Alexyéevna’s last words; but, perceiving that the glances of all present were suddenly directed to her, she immediately divined what was going on, blushed, and was about to retreat into the drawing-room.... Nadézhda Alexyéevna briskly grasped her by the hand and, with the coquettish caressing action of a kitten, drew her toward her, and kissed that almost masculine hand. Márya Pávlovna flushed more vividly than before.

“Thou art always playing pranks, Nádya,”—she said.

“Didn’t I speak the truth about thee? I am ready to appeal to all.... Well, enough, enough, I won’t do it again. But I will say again,”—went on Nadézhda Alexyéevna, addressing Vladímir Sergyéitch,—“that it is a pity you are going away. We have a jeune premier, it is true; he calls himself so, but he is very bad.”

“Who is he? permit me to inquire.”

“Bodryakóff the poet. How can a poet be a jeune premier? In the first place, he dresses in the most frightful way; in the second place, he writes epigrams, and gets shy in the presence of every woman, even in mine. He lisps, one of his hands is always higher than his head, and I don’t know what besides. Tell me, please, M’sieu Astákhoff, are all poets like that?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch drew himself up slightly.

“I have never known a single one of them, personally; but I must confess that I have never sought acquaintance with them.”

“Yes, you certainly are a positive man. We shall have to take Bodryakóff; there’s nothing else to be done. Other jeunes premiers are even worse. That one, at all events, will learn his part by heart. Másha, in addition to tragic rôles, will fill the post of prima donna.... You haven’t heard her sing, have you, M’sieu Astákhoff?”

“No,”—replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, displaying his teeth in a smile; “and I did not know....”

“What is the matter with thee to-day, Nádya?”—said Márya Pávlovna, with a look of displeasure.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna sprang to her feet.

“For Heaven’s sake, Másha, do sing us something, please.... I won’t let thee alone until thou singest us something, Másha dearest. I would sing myself, to entertain the visitors, but thou knowest what a bad voice I have. But, on the other hand, thou shalt see how splendidly I will accompany thee.”

Márya Pávlovna made no reply.

“There’s no getting rid of thee,”—she said at last.—“Like a spoiled child, thou art accustomed to have all thy caprices humoured. I will sing, if you like.”

“Bravo, bravo!”—exclaimed Nadézhda Alexyéevna, clapping her hands.—“Let us go into the drawing-room, gentlemen.—And as for caprices,”—she added, laughing,—“I’ll pay you off for that! Is it permissible to expose my weaknesses in the presence of strangers? Egór Kapítonitch, does Matryóna Márkovna shame you thus before people?”

“Matryóna Márkovna,”—muttered Egór Kapítonitch,—“is a very worthy lady; only, on the score of manners....”

“Well, come along, come along!”—Nadézhda Alexyéevna interrupted him, and entered the drawing-room.

All followed her. She tossed off her hat and seated herself at the piano. Márya Pávlovna stood near the wall, a good way from Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“Másha,”—said the latter, after reflecting a little,—“sing us ‘The farm-hand is sowing the grain.’”

Márya Pávlovna began to sing. Her voice was pure and powerful, and she sang well—simply, and without affectation. All listened to her with great attention, while Vladímir Sergyéitch could not conceal his amazement. When Márya Pávlovna had finished, he stepped up to her, and began to assure her that he had not in the least expected....

“Wait, there’s something more coming!”—Nadézhda Alexyéevna interrupted him.—“Másha, I will soothe thy Topknot[19] soul:—Now sing us ‘Humming, humming in the trees.’”

“Are you a Little Russian?”—Vladímir Sergyéitch asked her.

“I am a native of Little Russia,” she replied, and began to sing “Humming, humming.”

At first she uttered the words in an indifferent manner; but the mournfully passionate lay of her fatherland gradually began to stir her, her cheeks flushed scarlet, her glance flashed, her voice rang out fervently. She finished.

“Good heavens! How well thou hast sung that!”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna, bending over the keys.—“What a pity that my brother was not here!”

Márya Pávlovna instantly dropped her eyes, and laughed with her customary bitter little laugh.

“You must give us something more,”—remarked Ipátoff.

“Yes, if you will be so good,”—added Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Excuse me, I will not sing any more to-day,”—said Márya Pávlovna, and left the room.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna gazed after her, first reflected, then smiled, began to pick out “The farm-hand is sowing the grain” with one finger, then suddenly began to play a brilliant polka, and without finishing it, struck a loud chord, clapped to the lid of the piano, and rose.

“‘Tis a pity that there is no one to dance with!”—she exclaimed.—“It would be just the thing!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch approached her.

“What a magnificent voice Márya Pávlovna has,”—he remarked;—“and with how much feeling she sings!”

“And are you fond of music?”

“Yes ... very.”

“Such a learned man, and you are fond of music!”

“But what makes you think that I am learned?”

“Akh, yes; excuse me, I am always forgetting that you are a positive man. But where has Márya Pávlovna gone? Wait, I’ll go after her.”

And Nadézhda Alexyéevna fluttered out of the drawing-room.

“A giddy-pate, as you see,”—said Ipátoff, coming up to Vladímir Sergyéitch;—“but the kindest heart. And what an education she received you cannot imagine; she can express herself in all languages. Well, they are wealthy people, so that is comprehensible.”

“Yes,”—articulated Vladímir Sergyéitch, abstractedly,—“she is a very charming girl. But permit me to inquire, Was your wife also a native of Little Russia?”

“Yes, she was, sir, My late wife was a Little Russian, as her sister Márya Pávlovna is. My wife, to tell the truth, did not even have a perfectly pure pronunciation; although she was a perfect mistress of the Russian language, still she did not express herself quite correctly; they pronounce i, ui, there, and their kha and zhe are peculiar also, you know; well, Márya Pávlovna left her native land in early childhood. But the Little Russian blood is still perceptible, isn’t it?”

“Márya Pávlovna sings wonderfully,”—remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Really, it is not bad. But why don’t they bring us some tea? And where have the young ladies gone? ’Tis time to drink tea.”

The young ladies did not return very speedily. In the meantime, the samovár was brought, the table was laid for tea. Ipátoff sent for them. Both came in together. Márya Pávlovna seated herself at the table to pour the tea, while Nadézhda Alexyéevna walked to the door opening on the terrace, and began to gaze out into the garden. The brilliant summer day had been succeeded by a clear, calm evening; the sunset was flaming; the broad pond, half flooded with its crimson, stood a motionless mirror, grandly reflecting in its deep bosom all the airy depths of the sky, and the house, and the trees turned upside down, and had grown black, as it were. Everything was silent round about. There was no noise anywhere.

“Look, how beautiful!”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna to Vladímir Sergyéitch, as he approached her;—“down below there, in the pond, a star has kindled its fire by the side of the light in the house; the house-light is red, the other is golden. And yonder comes grandmamma,”—she added in a loud voice.

From behind a clump of lilac-bushes a small calash made its appearance. Two men were drawing it. In it sat an old lady, all wrapped up, all doubled over, with her head resting on her breast. The ruffle of her white cap almost completely concealed her withered and contracted little face. The tiny calash halted in front of the terrace. Ipátoff emerged from the drawing-room, and his little daughters ran out after him. They had been constantly slipping from room to room all the evening, like little mice.

“I wish you good evening, dear mother,”—said Ipátoff, stepping up close to the old woman, and elevating his voice.—“How do you feel?”

“I have come to take a look at you,”—said the old woman in a dull voice, and with an effort.—“What a glorious evening it is. I have been asleep all day, and now my feet have begun to ache. Okh, those feet of mine! They don’t serve me, but they ache.”

“Permit me, dear mother, to present to you our neighbour, Astákhoff, Vladímir Sergyéitch.”

“I am very glad to meet you,”—returned the old woman, scanning him with her large, black, but dim-sighted eyes.—“I beg that you will love my son. He is a fine man; I gave him what education I could; of course, I did the best a woman could. He is still somewhat flighty, but, God willing, he will grow steady, and ’tis high time he did; ’tis time for me to surrender matters to him. Is that you, Nádya?”—added the old woman, glancing at Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“Yes, grandmamma.”

“And is Másha pouring tea?”

“Yes, grandmamma, she is pouring tea.”

“And who else is there?”

“Iván Ílitch, and Egór Kapítonitch.”

“The husband of Matryóna Márkovna?”

“Yes, dear mother.”

The old woman mumbled with her lips.

“Well, good. But why is it, Mísha, that I can’t manage to get hold of the overseer? Order him to come to me very early to-morrow morning; I shall have a great deal of business to arrange with him. I see that nothing goes as it should with you, without me. Come, that will do, I am tired; take me away.... Farewell, bátiushka; I don’t remember your name and patronymic,”—she added, addressing Vladímir Sergyéitch. “Pardon an old woman. But don’t come with me, grandchildren, it isn’t necessary. All you care for is to run all the time. Másha spoils you. Well, start on.”

The old woman’s head, which she had raised with difficulty, fell back again on her breast....

The tiny calash started, and rolled softly away.

“How old is your mother?”—inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Only in her seventy-third year; but it is twenty-six years since her legs failed her; that happened soon after the demise of my late father. But she used to be a beauty.”

All remained silent for a while.

Suddenly, Nadézhda Alexyéevna gave a start. “Was that—a bat flying past? Áï, what a fright!”

And she hastily returned to the drawing-room.

“It is time for me to go home, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch; order my horse to be saddled.”

“And it is time for me to be going, too,”—remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Where are you going?”—said Ipátoff.—“Spend the night here. Nadézhda Alexyéevna has only two versts to ride, while you have fully twelve. And what’s your hurry, too, Nadézhda Alexyéevna? Wait for the moon; it will soon be up now. It will be lighter to ride.”

“Very well,”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna.—“It is a long time since I had a moonlight ride.”

“And will you spend the night?”—Ipátoff asked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Really, I don’t know.... However, if I do not incommode you....”

“Not in the least, I assure you; I will immediately order a chamber to be prepared for you.”

“But it is nice to ride by moonlight,”—began Nadézhda Alexyéevna, as soon as candles were brought, tea was served, and Ipátoff and Egór Kapítonitch had sat down to play preference together, while The Folding Soul seated himself silently beside them:—“especially through the forest, between the walnut-trees. It is both terrifying and agreeable, and what a strange play of light and shade there is—it always seems as though some one were stealing up behind you, or in front of you....”

Vladímir Sergyéitch smirked condescendingly.

“And here’s another thing,”—she went on;—“have you ever happened to sit beside the forest on a warm, dark, tranquil night? At such times it always seems to me as though two persons were hotly disputing in an almost inaudible whisper, behind me, close at my very ear.”

“That is the blood beating,”—said Ipátoff.

“You describe in a very poetical way,”—remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch. Nadézhda Alexyéevna glanced at him.

“Do you think so?... In that case, my description would not please Másha.”

“Why? Is not Márya Pávlovna fond of poetry?”

“No; she thinks all that sort of thing is made up—is all false; and she does not like that.”

“A strange reproach!”—exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch. “Made up! How could it be otherwise? But, after all, what are composers for?”

“Well, there, that’s exactly the point; but I am sure you cannot be fond of poetry.”

“On the contrary, I love good verses, when they really are good and melodious, and—how shall I say it?—when they present ideas, thoughts....”

Márya Pávlovna rose.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna turned swiftly toward her.

“Whither art thou going, Másha?”

“To put the children to bed. It is almost nine o’clock.”

“But cannot they go to bed without thee?”

But Márya Pávlovna took the children by the hand and went away with them.

“She is out of sorts to-day,”—remarked Nadézhda Alexyéevna;—“and I know why,”—she added in an undertone.—“But it will pass off.”

“Allow me to inquire,”—began Vladímir Sergyéitch,—“where you intend to spend the winter?”

“Perhaps here, perhaps in Petersburg. It seems to me that I shall be bored in Petersburg.”

“In Petersburg! Good gracious! How is that possible?”

And Vladímir Sergyéitch began to describe all the comforts, advantages, and charm of life in our capital. Nadézhda Alexyéevna listened to him with attention, never taking her eyes from him. She seemed to be committing his features to memory, and laughed to herself from time to time.

“I see that you are very eloquent,”—she said at last.—“I shall be obliged to spend the winter in Petersburg.”

“You will not repent of it,”—remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“I never repent of anything; it is not worth the bother. If you have perpetrated a blunder, try to forget it as speedily as possible—that’s all.”

“Allow me to ask,”—began Vladímir Sergyéitch, after a brief pause, and in the French language;—“have you known Márya Pávlovna long?”

“Allow me to ask,”—retorted Nadézhda Alexyéevna, with a swift laugh;—“why you have put precisely that question to me in French?”

“Because ... for no particular reason....”

Again Nadézhda Alexyéevna laughed.

“No; I have not known her very long. But she is a remarkable girl, isn’t she?”

“She is very original,”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch, through his teeth.

“And in your mouth—in the mouth of positive persons—does that constitute praise? I do not think so. Perhaps I seem original to you, also? But,”—she added, rising from her seat and casting a glance through the window,—“the moon must have risen; that is its light on the poplars. It is time to depart.... I will go and give order that Little Beauty shall be saddled.”

“He is already saddled, ma’am,”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna’s groom, stepping out from the shadow in the garden into a band of light which fell on the terrace.

“Ah! Well, that’s very good, indeed! Másha, where art thou? Come and bid me good-bye.”

Márya Pávlovna made her appearance from the adjoining room. The men rose from the card-table.

“So you are going already?”—inquired Ipátoff.

“I am; it is high time.”

She approached the door leading into the garden.

“What a night!”—she exclaimed.—“Come here; hold out your face to it; do you feel how it seems to breathe upon you? And what fragrance! all the flowers have waked up now. They have waked up—and we are preparing to go to sleep.... Ah, by the way, Másha,”—she added:—“I have told Vladímir Sergyéitch, you know, that thou art not fond of poetry. And now, farewell ... yonder comes my horse....”

And she ran briskly down the steps of the terrace, swung herself lightly into the saddle, said, “Good-bye until to-morrow!”—and lashing her horse on the neck with her riding-switch, she galloped off in the direction of the dam.... The groom set off at a trot after her.

All gazed after her....

“Until to-morrow!”—her voice rang out once more from behind the poplars.

The hoof-beats were still audible for a long time in the silence of the summer night. At last, Ipátoff proposed that they should go into the house again.

“It really is very nice out of doors,”—he said;—“but we must finish our game.”

All obeyed him. Vladímir Sergyéitch began to question Márya Pávlovna as to why she did not like poetry.

“Verses do not please me,”—she returned, with apparent reluctance.

“But perhaps you have not read many verses?”

“I have not read them myself, but I have had them read to me.”

“And is it possible that they did not please you?”

“No; none of them.”

“Not even Púshkin’s verses?”

“Not even Púshkin’s.”


Márya Pávlovna made no answer; but Ipátoff, twisting round across the back of his chair, remarked, with a good-natured laugh, that she not only did not like verses, but sugar also, and, in general, could not endure anything sweet.

“But, surely, there are verses which are not sweet,”—retorted Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“For example?”—Márya Pávlovna asked him.

Vladímir Sergyéitch scratched behind his ear.... He himself knew very few verses by heart, especially of the sort which were not sweet.

“Why, here now,”—he exclaimed at last;—“do you know Púshkin’s ‘The Upas-Tree’?[21] No? That poem cannot possibly be called sweet.”

“Recite it,”—said Márya Pávlovna, dropping her eyes.

Vladímir Sergyéitch first stared at the ceiling, frowned, mumbled something to himself, and at last recited “The Upas-Tree.”

After the first four lines, Márya Pávlovna slowly raised her eyes, and when Vladímir Sergyéitch ended, she said, with equal slowness:

“Please recite it again.”

“So these verses do please you?”—asked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Recite it again.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch repeated “The Upas-Tree.” Márya Pávlovna rose, went out into the next room, and returned with a sheet of paper, an inkstand and a pen.

“Please write that down for me,”—she said to Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Certainly; with pleasure,”—he replied, beginning to write.—“But I must confess that I am puzzled to know why these verses have pleased you so. I recited them simply to prove to you that not all verses are sweet.”

“So am I!”—exclaimed Ipátoff.—“What do you think of those verses, Iván Ílitch?”

Iván Ílitch, according to his wont, merely glanced at Ipátoff, but did not utter a word.

“Here, ma’am,—I have finished,”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch, as he placed an interrogation-point at the end of the last line.

Márya Pávlovna thanked him, and carried the written sheet off to her own room.

Half an hour later supper was served, and an hour later all the guests dispersed to their rooms. Vladímir Sergyéitch had repeatedly addressed Márya Pávlovna; but it was difficult to conduct a conversation with her, and his anecdotes did not seem to interest her greatly. He probably would have fallen asleep as soon as he got into bed had he not been hindered by his neighbour, Egór Kapítonitch. Matryóna Márkovna’s husband, after he was fully undressed and had got into bed, talked for a very long time with his servant, and kept bestowing reprimands on him. Every word he uttered was perfectly audible to Vladímir Sergyéitch: only a thin partition separated them.

“Hold the candle in front of thy breast,”—said Egór Kapítonitch, in a querulous voice;—“hold it so that I can see thy face. Thou hast aged me, aged me, thou conscienceless man—hast aged me completely.”

“But, for mercy’s sake, Egór Kapítonitch, how have I aged you?”—the servant’s dull and sleepy voice made itself heard.

“How? I’ll tell thee how. How many times have I said to thee: ‘Mítka,’ I have said to thee, ‘when thou goest a-visiting with me, always take two garments of each sort, especially’ ... hold the candle in front of thy breast ... ‘especially underwear.’ And what hast thou done to me to-day?”

“What, sir?”

“‘What, sir?’ What am I to put on to-morrow?”

“Why, the same things you wore to-day, sir.”

“Thou hast aged me, malefactor, aged me. I was almost beside myself with the heat to-day, as it was. Hold the candle in front of thy breast, I tell thee, and don’t sleep when thy master is talking to thee.”

“Well, but Matryóna Márkovna said, sir, ‘That’s enough. Why do you always take such a mass of things with you? They only get worn out for nothing.’”

“Matryóna Márkovna.... Is it a woman’s business, pray, to enter into that? You have aged me. Okh, you have made me old before my time!”

“Yes; and Yakhím said the same thing, sir.”

“What’s that thou saidst?”

“I say, Yakhím said the same thing, sir.”

“Yakhím! Yakhím!”—repeated Egór Kapítonitch, reproachfully.—“Ekh, you have aged me, ye accursed, and don’t even know how to speak Russian intelligibly. Yakhím! Who’s Yakhím! Efrím,—well, that might be allowed to pass, it is permissible to say that; because the genuine Greek name is Evthímius, dost understand me?... Hold the candle in front of thy breast.... So, for the sake of brevity, thou mayest say Efrím, if thou wilt, but not Yakhím by any manner of means. Yákhim!” added Egór Kapítonitch, emphasising the syllable Ya.—“You have aged me, ye malefactors. Hold the candle in front of thy breast!”

And for a long time, Egór Kapítonitch continued to berate his servant, in spite of sighs, coughs, and other tokens of impatience on the part of Vladímir Sergyéitch....

At last he dismissed his Mítka, and fell asleep; but Vladímir Sergyéitch was no better off for that: Egór Kapítonitch snored so mightily and in so deep a voice, with such playful transitions from high tones to the very lowest, with such accompanying whistlings, and even snappings, that it seemed as though the very partition were shaking in response to him; poor Vladímir Sergyéitch almost wept. It was very stifling in the chamber which had been allotted to him, and the feather-bed whereon he was lying embraced his whole body in a sort of crawling heat.

At last, in despair, Vladímir Sergyéitch rose, opened the window, and began with avidity to inhale the nocturnal freshness. The window looked out on the park. It was light overhead, the round face of the full moon was now clearly reflected in the pond, and stretched itself out in a long, golden sheaf of slowly transfused spangles. On one of the paths Vladímir Sergyéitch espied a figure in woman’s garb; he looked more intently; it was Márya Pávlovna; in the moonlight her face seemed pale. She stood motionless, and suddenly began to speak.... Vladímir Sergyéitch cautiously put out his head....

“But a man—with glance imperious—
Sent a man to the Upas-tree....”
reached his ear....

“Come,”—he thought,—“the verses must have taken effect....”

And he began to listen with redoubled attention.... But Márya Pávlovna speedily fell silent, and turned her face more directly toward him; he could distinguish her large, dark eyes, her severe brows and lips....

Suddenly, she started, wheeled round, entered the shadow cast by a dense wall of lofty acacias, and disappeared. Vladímir Sergyéitch stood for a considerable time at the window, then got into bed again, but did not fall asleep very soon.

“A strange being,”—he thought, as he tossed from side to side;—“and yet they say that there is nothing particular in the provinces.... The idea! A strange being! I shall ask her to-morrow what she was doing in the park.”

And Egór Kapítonitch continued to snore as before.

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