The Region of Dead Calm

by Ivan S. Turgenev

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On reaching home Véretyeff did not undress, and a couple of hours later, when the flush of dawn was just colouring the sky, he was no longer in the house.

Half-way between his estate and Ipátoff’s, on the very brink of a broad ravine, stood a small birch grove. The young trees grew very close together, and no axe had yet touched their graceful trunks; a shadow which was not dense, but continuous, spread from the tiny leaves on the soft, thin grass, all mottled with the golden heads of buttercups,[23] the white dots of wood-campanula, and the tiny deep-crimson crosses of wild pinks. The recently-risen sun flooded the whole grove with a powerful though not brilliant light; dewdrops glittered everywhere, while here and there large drops kindled and glowed red; everything exhaled freshness, life, and that innocent triumph of the first moments of the morning, when everything is still so bright and still so silent. The only thing audible was the carolling voices of the larks above the distant fields, and in the grove itself two or three small birds were executing, in a leisurely manner, their brief songs, and then, apparently, listening to see how their performance had turned out. From the damp earth arose a strong, healthy scent; a pure, light breeze fluttered all about in cool gusts. Morning, glorious morning, breathed forth from everything—everything looked and smiled of the morning, like the rosy, freshly-washed face of a baby who has just waked up.

Not far from the ravine, in the middle of a small glade, on an outspread cloak, sat Véretyeff. Márya Pávlovna was standing beside him, leaning against a birch-tree, with her hands clasped behind her.

Both were silent. Márya Pávlovna was gazing fixedly into the far distance; a white scarf had slipped from her head to her shoulders, the errant breeze was stirring and lifting the ends of her hastily-knotted hair. Véretyeff sat bent over, tapping the grass with a small branch.

“Well,”—he began at last,—“are you angry with me?”

Márya Pávlovna made no reply.

Véretyeff darted a glance at her.

“Másha, are you angry?”—he repeated.

Márya Pávlovna scanned him with a swift glance from head to foot turned slightly away, and said:


“What for?”—asked Véretyeff, and flung away his branch.

Again Márya Pávlovna made no reply.

“But, as a matter of fact, you have a right to be angry with me,”—began Véretyeff, after a brief pause.—“You must regard me as a man who is not only frivolous, but even....”

“You do not understand me,”—interrupted Márya Pávlovna.—“I am not in the least angry with you on my own account.”

“On whose account, then?”

“On your own.”

Véretyeff raised his head and laughed.

“Ah! I understand!”—he said.—“Again! again the thought is beginning to agitate you: ‘Why don’t I make something of myself?’ Do you know what, Másha, you are a wonderful being; by Heaven, you are! You worry so much about other people and so little about yourself. There is not a bit of egoism in you; really, really there isn’t. There’s no other girl in the world like you. It’s a pity about one thing: I decidedly am not worthy of your affection; I say that without jesting.”

“So much the worse for you. You feel and do nothing.”—Again Véretyeff laughed.

“Másha, take your hand from behind your back, and give it to me,”—he said, with insinuating affection in his voice.

Márya Pávlovna merely shrugged her shoulders.

“Give me your beautiful, honest hand; I want to kiss it respectfully and tenderly. Thus does a giddy-pated scholar kiss the hand of his condescending tutor.”

And Véretyeff reached out toward Márya Pávlovna.

“Enough of that!”—said she. “You are always laughing and jesting, and you will jest away your life like that.”

“H’m! jest away my life! A new expression! But I hope, Márya Pávlovna, that you used the verb ‘to jest’ in the active sense?”

Márya Pávlovna contracted her brows.

“Enough of that, Véretyeff,”—she repeated.

“To jest away life,”—went on Véretyeff, half rising;—“but you are imagining me as worse than I am; you are wasting your life in seriousness. Do you know, Másha, you remind me of a scene from Púshkin’s ‘Don Juan.’ You have not read Púshkin’s ‘Don Juan’?”


“Yes, I had forgotten, you see, that you do not read verses.—In that poem guests come to a certain Laura; she drives them all away and remains alone with Carlos. The two go out on the balcony; the night is wonderful. Laura admires, and Carlos suddenly begins to demonstrate to her that she will grow old in course of{241} time.—‘Well,’ replies Laura, ‘it may be cold and rainy in Paris now, but here, with us, “the night is redolent of orange and of laurel.” Why make guesses at the future?’ Look around you, Másha; is it not beautiful here? See how everything is enjoying life, how young everything is. And aren’t we young ourselves?”

Véretyeff approached Márya Pávlovna; she did not move away from him, but she did not turn her head toward him.

“Smile, Másha,”—he went on;—“only with your kind smile, not with your usual grin. I love your kind smile. Raise your proud, stern eyes.—What ails you? You turn away. Stretch out your hand to me, at least.”

“Akh, Véretyeff,”—began Másha;—“you know that I do not understand how to express myself. You have told me about that Laura. But she was a woman, you see.... A woman may be pardoned for not thinking of the future.”

“When you speak, Másha,”—returned Véretyeff,—“you blush incessantly with self-love and modesty: the blood fairly flows in a crimson flood into your cheeks. I’m awfully fond of that in you.”

Márya Pávlovna looked Véretyeff straight in the eye.

“Farewell,”—she said, and threw her scarf over her head.

Véretyeff held her back. “Enough, enough. Stay!”—he cried.—“Come, why are you going? Issue your commands! Do you want me to enter the service, to become an agriculturist? Do you want me to publish romances with accompaniment for the guitar; to print a collection of poems, or of drawings; to busy myself with painting, sculpture, dancing on the rope? I’ll do anything, anything, anything you command, if only you will be satisfied with me! Come, really now, Másha, believe me.”

Again Márya Pávlovna looked at him.

“You will do all that in words only, not in deeds. You declare that you will obey me....”

“Of course I do.”

“You obey, but how many times have I begged you....”

“What about?”

Márya Pávlovna hesitated.

“Not to drink liquor,”—she said at last.

Véretyeff laughed.

“Ekh, Másha! And you are at it, too! My sister is worrying herself to death over that also. But, in the first place, I’m not a drunkard at all; and in the second place, do you know why I drink? Look yonder, at that swallow.... Do you see how boldly it manages its tiny body,—and hurls it wherever it wishes? Now it has soared aloft, now it has darted downward. It has even piped with joy: do you hear? So that’s why I drink, Másha, in order to feel those same sensations which that swallow experiences.... Hurl yourself whithersoever you will, soar wheresoever you take a fancy....”

“But to what end?”—interrupted Másha.

“What do you mean by that? What is one to live on then?”

“But isn’t it possible to get along without liquor?”

“No, it is not; we are all damaged, rumpled. There’s passion ... it produces the same effect. That’s why I love you.”

“Like wine.... I’m much obliged to you.”

“No, Másha, I do not love you like wine. Stay, I’ll prove it to you sometime,—when we are married, say, and go abroad together. Do you know, I am planning in advance how I shall lead you in front of the Venus of Milo. At this point it will be appropriate to say:

“And when she stands with serious eyes
Before the Chyprian of Milos—
Twain are they, and the marble in comparison
Suffers, it would seem, affront....

“What makes me talk constantly in poetry to-day? It must be that this morning is affecting me. What air! ’Tis exactly as though one were quaffing wine.”

“Wine again,”—remarked Márya Pávlovna.

“What of that! A morning like this, and you with me, and not feel intoxicated! ‘With serious eyes....’ Yes,”—pursued Véretyeff, gazing intently at Márya Pávlovna,—“that is so.... For I remember, I have beheld, rarely, but yet I have beheld these dark, magnificent eyes, I have beheld them tender! And how beautiful they are then! Come, don’t turn away, Másha; pray, smile at least ... show me your eyes merry, at all events, if they will not vouchsafe me a tender glance.”

“Stop, Véretyeff,”—said Márya Pávlovna.—“Release me! It is time for me to go home.”

“But I’m going to make you laugh,”—interposed Véretyeff; “by Heaven, I will make you laugh. Eh, by the way, yonder runs a hare....”

“Where?”—asked Márya Pávlovna.

“Yonder, beyond the ravine, across the field of oats. Some one must have startled it; they don’t run in the morning. I’ll stop it on the instant, if you like.”

And Véretyeff whistled loudly. The hare immediately squatted, twitched its ears, drew up its fore paws, straightened itself up, munched, sniffed the air, and again began to munch with its lips. Véretyeff promptly squatted down on his heels, like the hare, and began to twitch his nose, sniff, and munch like it. The hare passed its paws twice across its muzzle and shook itself,—they must have been wet with dew,—stiffened its ears, and bounded onward. Véretyeff rubbed his hands over his cheeks and shook himself also.... Márya Pávlovna could not hold out, and burst into a laugh.

“Bravo!”—cried Véretyeff, springing up. “Bravo! That’s exactly the point—you are not a coquette. Do you know, if any fashionable young lady had such teeth as you have she would laugh incessantly. But that’s precisely why I love you, Másha, because you are not a fashionable young lady, don’t laugh without cause, and don’t wear gloves on your hands, which it is a joy to kiss, because they are sunburned, and one feels their strength.... I love you, because you don’t argue, because you are proud, taciturn, don’t read books, don’t love poetry....”

“I’ll recite some verses to you, shall I?”—Márya Pávlovna interrupted him, with a certain peculiar expression on her face.

“Verses?”—inquired Véretyeff, in amazement.

“Yes, verses; the very ones which that Petersburg gentleman recited last night.”

“‘The Upas-Tree’ again?... So you really were declaiming in the garden, by night? That’s just like you.... But does it really please you so much?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Recite it.”

Márya Pávlovna was seized with shyness....

“Recite it, recite it,”—repeated Véretyeff.

Márya Pávlovna began to recite; Véretyeff stood in front of her, with his arms folded on his breast, and bent himself to listen. At the first line Márya Pávlovna raised her eyes heavenward; she did not wish to encounter Véretyeff’s gaze. She recited in her even, soft voice, which reminded one of the sound of a violoncello; but when she reached the lines:

“And the poor slave expired at the feet Of his invincible sovereign....” her voice began to quiver, her impassive, haughty brows rose ingenuously, like those of a little girl, and her eyes, with involuntary devotion, fixed themselves on Véretyeff....

He suddenly threw himself at her feet and embraced her knees.

“I am thy slave!”—he cried.—“I am at thy feet, thou art my sovereign, my goddess, my ox-eyed Hera, my Medea....”

Márya Pávlovna attempted to repulse him, but her hands sank helplessly in his thick curls, and, with a smile of confusion, she dropped her head on her breast....

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