The Region of Dead Calm

by Ivan S. Turgenev

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Gavríla Stepánitch Akílin, at whose house the ball was appointed, belonged to the category of landed proprietors who evoked the admiration of the neighbours by their ingenuity in living well on very insignificant means. Although he did not own more than four hundred serfs, he was in the habit of entertaining the whole government in a huge stone mansion, with a tower and a flag on the tower, erected by himself. The property had descended to him from his father, and had never been distinguished for being well ordered; Gavríla Stepánitch had been an absentee for a long time—had been in the service in Petersburg. At last, twenty-five years before the date of our story, he returned to his native place, with the rank of Collegiate Assessor,[24] and, with a wife and three daughters, had simultaneously undertaken reorganisation and building operations, had gradually set up an orchestra, and had begun to give dinners. At first everybody had prophesied for him speedy and inevitable ruin; more than once rumours had become current to the effect that Gavríla Stepánitch’s estate was to be sold under the hammer; but the years passed, dinners, balls, banquets, concerts, followed each other in their customary order, new buildings sprang out of the earth like mushrooms, and still Gavríla Stepánitch’s estate was not sold under the hammer, and he himself continued to live as before, and had even grown stout of late.

Then the neighbours’ gossip took another direction; they began to hint at certain vast sums which were said to be concealed; they talked of a treasure.... “And if he were only a good farmer, ...” so argued the nobles among themselves; “but that’s just what he isn’t, you know! Not at all! So it is deserving of surprise, and incomprehensible.” However that may have been, every one went very gladly to Gavríla Stepánitch’s house. He received his guests cordially, and played cards for any stake they liked. He was a grey-haired little man, with a small, pointed head, a yellow face, and yellow eyes, always carefully shaven and perfumed with eau-de-cologne; both on ordinary days and on holidays he wore a roomy blue dress-coat, buttoned to the chin, a large stock, in which he had a habit of hiding his chin, and he was foppishly fastidious about his linen; he screwed up his eyes and thrust out his lips when he took snuff, and spoke very politely and softly, incessantly employing the letter s.[25]

In appearance, Gavríla Stepánitch was not distinguished by vivacity, and, in general, his exterior was not prepossessing, and he did not look like a clever man, although, at times, craft gleamed in his eye. He had settled his two elder daughters advantageously; the youngest was still at home, and of marriageable age. Gavríla Stepánitch also had a wife, an insignificant and wordless being.

At seven o’clock in the evening, Vladímir Sergyéitch presented himself at the Ipátoffs’ in dress-suit and white gloves. He found them all entirely dressed; the little girls were sitting sedately, afraid of mussing their starched white frocks; old Ipátoff, on catching sight of Vladímir Sergyéitch in his dress-suit, affectionately upbraided him, and pointed to his own frock-coat; Márya Pávlovna wore a muslin gown of a deep rose colour, which was extremely becoming to her. Vladímir Sergyéitch paid her several compliments. Márya Pávlovna’s beauty attracted him, although she was evidently shy of him; he also liked Nadézhda Alexyéevna, but her free-and-easy manners somewhat disconcerted him. Moreover, in her remarks, her looks, her very smiles, mockery frequently peeped forth, and this disturbed his citified and well-bred soul. He would not have been averse to making fun of others with her, but it was unpleasant to him to think that she was probably capable of jeering at himself.

The ball had already begun; a good many guests had assembled, and the home-bred orchestra was crashing and booming and screeching in the gallery, when the Ipátoff family, accompanied by Vladímir Sergyéitch, entered the hall of the Akílin house. The host met them at the very door, thanked Vladímir Sergyéitch for his tender procuration of an agreeable surprise,—that was the way he expressed himself,—and, taking Ipátoff’s arm, he led him to the drawing-room, to the card-tables. Gavríla Stepánitch had received a bad education, and everything in his house, both the music and the furniture and the food and the wines, not only could not be called first-class, but were not even fit to be ranked as second-class. On the other hand, there was plenty of everything, and he himself did not put on airs, was not arrogant ... the nobles demanded nothing more from him, and were entirely satisfied with his entertainment. At supper, for instance, the caviare was served cut up in chunks and heavily salted; but no one objected to your taking it in your fingers, and there was plenty wherewith to wash it down: wines which were cheap, it is true, but were made from grapes, nevertheless, and not some other concoction. The springs in Gavríla Stepánitch’s furniture were rather uncomfortable, owing to their stiffness and inflexibility; but, not to mention the fact that there were no springs whatever in many of the couches and easy-chairs, any one could place under him a worsted cushion, and there was a great number of such cushions lying about, embroidered by the hands of Gavríla Stepánitch’s spouse herself—and then there was nothing left to desire.

In a word, Gavríla Stepánitch’s house could not possibly have been better adapted to the sociable and unceremonious style of ideas of the inhabitants of *** county, and it was solely owing to Mr. Akílin’s modesty that at the assemblies of the nobility he was not elected Marshal, but a retired Major Podpékin, a greatly respected and worthy man, despite the fact that he brushed his hair over to the right temple from the left ear, dyed his moustache a lilac hue, and as he suffered from asthma, had of late fallen into melancholy.

So, then, the ball had already begun. They were dancing a quadrille of ten pairs. The cavaliers were the officers of a regiment stationed close by, and divers not very youthful squires, and two or three officials from the town. Everything was as it should be, everything was proceeding in due order. The Marshal of the Nobility was playing cards with a retired Actual Councillor of State,[26] and a wealthy gentleman, the owner of three thousand souls. The actual state councillor wore on his forefinger a ring with a diamond, talked very softly, kept the heels of his boots closely united, and did not move them from the position used by dancers of former days, and did not turn his head, which was half concealed by a capital velvet collar. The wealthy gentleman, on the contrary, was constantly laughing at something or other, elevating his eyebrows, and flashing the whites of his eyes. The poet Bodryakóff, a man of shy and clumsy aspect, was chatting in a corner with the learned historian Evsiukóff: each had clutched the other by the button. Beside them, one noble, with a remarkably long waist, was expounding certain audacious opinions to another noble who was timidly staring at his forehead. Along the wall sat the mammas in gay-hued caps; around the doors pressed the men of simple cut, young fellows with perturbed faces, and elderly fellows with peaceable ones; but one cannot describe everything. We repeat: everything was as it should be.

Nadézhda Alexyéevna had arrived even earlier than the Ipátoffs; Vladímir Sergyéitch saw her dancing with a young man of handsome appearance in a dandified dress-suit, with expressive eyes, thin black moustache, and gleaming teeth; a gold chain hung in a semicircle on his stomach. Nadézhda Alexyéevna wore a light-blue gown with white flowers; a small garland of the same flowers encircled her curly head; she was smiling, fluttering her fan, and gaily gazing about her; she felt that she was the queen of the ball. Vladímir Sergyéitch approached her, made his obeisance, and looking her pleasantly in the face, he asked her whether she remembered her promise of the day before.

“What promise?”

“Why, that you would dance the mazurka with me.”

“Yes, of course I will dance it with you.”

The young man who stood alongside Nadézhda Alexyéevna suddenly flushed crimson.

“You have probably forgotten, mademoiselle,”—he began,—“that you had already previously promised to-day’s mazurka to me.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna became confused.

“Akh! good heavens, what am I to do?”—she said:—“excuse me, pray, M’sieu Steltchínsky, I am so absent-minded; I really am ashamed....”

M’sieu Steltchínsky made no reply, and merely dropped his eyes; Vladímir Sergyéitch assumed a slight air of dignity.

“Be so good, M’sieu Steltchínsky,”—went on Nadézhda Alexyéevna; “you and I are old acquaintances, but M’sieu Astákhoff is a stranger among us; do not place me in an awkward position: permit me to dance with him.”

“As you please,”—returned the young man.—“But you must begin.”

“Thanks,”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna, and fluttered off to meet her vis-à-vis.

Steltchínsky followed her with his eyes, then looked at Vladímir Sergyéitch. Vladímir Sergyéitch, in his turn, looked at him, then stepped aside.

The quadrille soon came to an end. Vladímir Sergyéitch strolled about the hall a little, then he betook himself to the drawing-room and paused at one of the card-tables. Suddenly he felt some one touch his hand from behind; he turned round—before him stood Steltchínsky.

“I must have a couple of words with you in the next room, if you will permit,”—said the latter, in French, very courteously, and with an accent which was not Russian.

Vladímir Sergyéitch followed him.

Steltchínsky halted at a window.

“In the presence of ladies,”—he began, in the same language as before,—“I could not say anything else than what I did say; but I hope you do not think that I really intend to surrender to you my right to the mazurka with M-lle Véretyeff.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch was astounded.

“Why so?”—he asked.

“Because, sir,”—replied Steltchínsky, quietly, laying his hand on his breast and inflating his nostrils,—“I don’t intend to,—that’s all.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch also laid his hand on his breast, but did not inflate his nostrils.

“Permit me to remark to you, my dear sir,”—he began,—“that by this course you may drag M-lle Véretyeff into unpleasantness, and I assume....”

“That would be extremely unpleasant to me, but no one can prevent your declining, declaring that you are ill, or going away....”

“I shall not do it. For whom do you take me?”

“In that case, I shall be compelled to demand satisfaction from you.”

“In what sense do you mean ... satisfaction?”

“The sense is evident.”

“You will challenge me to a duel?”

“Precisely so, sir, if you do not renounce the mazurka.”

Steltchínsky endeavoured to utter these words as negligently as possible. Vladímir Sergyéitch’s heart set to beating violently. He looked his wholly unexpected antagonist in the face. “Phew, O Lord, what stupidity!” he thought.

“You are not jesting?”—he articulated aloud.

“I am not in the habit of jesting in general,”—replied Steltchínsky, pompously;—“and particularly with people whom I do not know. You will not renounce the mazurka?”—he added, after a brief pause.

“I will not,”—retorted Vladímir Sergyéitch, as though deliberating.

“Very good! We will fight to-morrow.”

“Very well.”

“To-morrow morning my second will call upon you.”

And with a courteous inclination, Steltchínsky withdrew, evidently well pleased with himself.

Vladímir Sergyéitch remained a few minutes longer by the window.

“Just look at that, now!”—he thought.—“This is the result of thy new acquaintances! What possessed me to come? Good! Splendid!”

But at last he recovered himself, and went out into the hall.

In the hall they were already dancing the polka. Before Vladímir Sergyéitch’s eyes Márya Pávlovna flitted past with Piótr Alexyéitch, whom he had not noticed up to that moment; she seemed pale, and even sad; then Nadézhda Alexyéevna darted past, all beaming and joyous, with some youthful, bow-legged, but fiery artillery officer; on the second round, she was dancing with Steltchínsky. Steltchínsky shook his hair violently when he danced.

“Well, my dear fellow,”—suddenly rang out Ipátoff’s voice behind Vladímir Sergyéitch’s back;—“you’re only looking on, but not dancing yourself? Come, confess that, in spite of the fact that we live in a dead-calm region, so to speak, we aren’t badly off, are we, hey?”

“Good! damn the dead-calm region!” thought Vladímir Sergyéitch, and mumbling something in reply to Ipátoff, he went off to another corner of the hall.

“I must hunt up a second,”—he pursued his meditations;—“but where the devil am I to find one? I can’t take Véretyeff; I know no others; the devil only knows what a stupid affair this is!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch, when he got angry, was fond of mentioning the devil.

At this moment, Vladímir Sergyéitch’s eyes fell upon The Folding Soul, Iván Ílitch, standing idly by the window.

“Wouldn’t he do?”—he thought, and shrugging his shoulders, he added almost aloud:—“I shall have to take him.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch stepped up to him.

“A very strange thing has just happened to me,”—began our hero with a forced smile:—“just imagine some young man or other, a stranger to me, has challenged me to a duel; it is utterly impossible for me to refuse; I am in indispensable need of a second: will not you act?”

Although Iván Ílitch was characterised, as we know, by imperturbable indifference, yet such an unexpected proposition startled even him. Thoroughly perplexed, he riveted his eyes on Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Yes,”—repeated Vladímir Sergyéitch;—“I should be greatly indebted to you. I am not acquainted with any one here. You alone....”

“I can’t,”—said Iván Ílitch, as though just waking up;—“I absolutely can’t.”

“Why not? You are afraid of unpleasantness; but all this will, I hope, remain a secret....{258}”

As he spoke these words, Vladímir Sergyéitch felt himself blushing and growing confused.

“Excuse me, I can’t possibly,”—repeated Iván Ílitch, shaking his head and drawing back, in which operation he again overturned a chair.

For the first time in his life it was his lot to reply to a request by a refusal; but then, the request was such a queer one!

“At any rate,”—pursued Vladímir Sergyéitch, in an agitated voice, as he grasped his hand,—“do me the favour not to speak to any one concerning what I have said to you. I earnestly entreat this of you.”

“I can do that, I can do that,”—hastily replied Iván Ílitch;—“but the other thing I cannot do, say what you will; I positively am unable to do it.”

“Well, very good, very good,”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch;—“but do not forget that I rely on your discretion.... I shall announce to-morrow to that gentleman,” he muttered to himself with vexation,—“that I could not find a second, so let him make what arrangements he sees fit, for I am a stranger here. And the devil prompted me to apply to that gentleman! But what else was there for me to do?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch was very, very unlike his usual self.

In the meantime, the ball went on. Vladímir Sergyéitch would have greatly liked to depart at once, but departure was not to be thought of until the end of the mazurka. How was he to give up to his delighted antagonist? Unhappily for Vladímir Sergyéitch, the dances were in charge of a free-and-easy young gentleman with long hair and a sunken chest, over which, in semblance of a miniature waterfall, meandered a black satin neckcloth, transfixed with a huge gold pin. This young gentleman had the reputation, throughout the entire government, of being a man who had assimilated, in their most delicate details, all the customs and rules of the highest society, although he had lived in Petersburg only six months altogether, and had not succeeded in penetrating any loftier heights than the houses of Collegiate Assessor Sandaráki and his brother-in-law, State Councillor Kostandaráki. He superintended the dances at all balls, gave the signal to the musicians by clapping his hands, and in the midst of the roar of the trumpets and the squeaking of the violins shouted: “En avant deux!” or “Grande chaîne!” or “A vous, mademoiselle!” and was incessantly flying, all pale and perspiring, through the hall, slipping headlong, and bowing and scraping. He never began the mazurka before midnight. “And that is a concession,”—he was wont to say;—“in Petersburg I would keep you in torment until two o’clock.”

This ball seemed very long to Vladímir Sergyéitch. He prowled about like a shadow from hall to drawing-room, now and again exchanging cold glances with his antagonist, who never missed a single dance, and undertook to invite Márya Pávlovna for a quadrille, but she was already engaged—and a couple of times he bandied words with the anxious host, who appeared to be harassed by the tedium which was written on the countenance of the new guest. At last, the music of the longed-for mazurka thundered out. Vladímir Sergyéitch hunted up his lady, brought two chairs, and seated himself with her, near the end of the circle, almost opposite Steltchínsky.

The young man who managed affairs was in the first pair, as might have been expected. With what a face he began the mazurka, how he dragged his lady after him, how he beat the floor with his foot, and twitched his head the while,—all this is almost beyond the power of human pen to describe.

“But it seems to me, M’sieu Astákhoff, that you are bored,”—began Nadézhda Alexyéevna, suddenly turning to Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“I? Not in the least. What makes you think so?”

“Why, because I do from the expression of your face.... You have never smiled a single time since you arrived. I had not expected that of you. It is not becoming to you positive gentlemen to be misanthropical and to frown à la Byron. Leave that to the authors.”

“I notice, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, that you frequently call me a positive man, as though mockingly. It must be that you regard me as the coldest and most sensible of beings, incapable of anything which.... But do you know, I will tell you something; a positive man is often very sad at heart, but he does not consider it necessary to display to others what is going on there inside of him; he prefers to hold his peace.”

“What do you mean by that?”—inquired Nadézhda Alexyéevna, surveying him with a glance.

“Nothing, ma’am,”—replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, with feigned indifference, assuming an air of mystery.


“Really, nothing.... You shall know some day, later on.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna wanted to pursue her questions, but at that moment a young girl, the host’s daughter, led up to her Steltchínsky and another cavalier in blue spectacles.

“Life or death?”—she asked in French.

“Life,”—exclaimed Nadézhda Alexyéevna; “I don’t want death just yet.”

Steltchínsky bowed; she went off with him.

The cavalier in the blue glasses, who was called Death, started off with the host’s daughter. Steltchínsky had invented the two designations.

“Tell me, please, who is that Mr. Steltchínsky?”—inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch of Nadézhda Alexyéevna, as soon as the latter returned to her place.

“He is attached to the Governor’s service, and is a very agreeable man. He does not belong in these parts. He is somewhat of a coxcomb, but that runs in the blood of all of them. I hope you have not had any explanations with him on account of the mazurka?”

“None whatever, I assure you,”—replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, with a little hesitation.

“I’m such a forgetful creature! You can’t imagine!”

“I am bound to be delighted with your forgetfulness: it has afforded me the pleasure of dancing with you to-night.”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna gazed at him, with her eyes slightly narrowed.

“Really? You find it agreeable to dance with me?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch answered her with a compliment. Little by little he got to talking freely. Nadézhda Alexyéevna was always charming, and particularly so that evening; Vladímir Sergyéitch thought her enchanting. The thought of the duel on the morrow, while it fretted his nerves, imparted brilliancy and vivacity to his remarks; under its influence he permitted himself slight exaggerations in the expression of his feelings.... “I don’t care!” he thought. Something mysterious, involuntarily sad, something elegantly-hopeless peeped forth in all his words, in his suppressed sighs, in his glances which suddenly darkened. At last, he got to chattering to such a degree that he began to discuss love, women, his future, the manner in which he conceived of happiness, what he demanded of Fate.... He explained himself allegorically, by hints. On the eve of his possible death, Vladímir Sergyéitch flirted with Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

She listened to him attentively, laughed, shook her head, now disputed with him, again pretended to be incredulous.... The conversation, frequently interrupted by the approach of ladies and cavaliers, took a rather strange turn toward the end.... Vladímir Sergyéitch had already begun to interrogate Nadézhda Alexyéevna about herself, her character, her sympathies. At first she parried the questions with a jest, then, suddenly, and quite unexpectedly to Vladímir Sergyéitch, she asked him when he was going away.

“Whither?”—he said, in surprise.

“To your own home.”

“To Sásovo?”

“No, home, to your village, a hundred versts from here.”

Vladímir Sergyéitch cast down his eyes.

“I should like to go as promptly as possible,”—he said with a preoccupied look on his face.—“To-morrow, I think ... if I am alive. For I have business on hand. But why have you suddenly taken it into your head to ask me about that?”

“Because I have!”—retorted Nadézhda Alexyéevna.

“But what is the reason?”

“Because I have!”—she repeated.—“I am surprised at the curiosity of a man who is going away to-morrow, and to-day wants to find out about my character....”

“But, pardon me ...” began Vladímir Sergyéitch....

“Ah, here, by the way ... read this,”—Nadézhda Alexyéevna interrupted him with a laugh, as she handed him a motto-slip of paper from bonbons which she had just taken from a small table that stood near by, as she rose to meet Márya Pávlovna, who had stopped in front of her with another lady.

Márya Pávlovna was dancing with Piótr Alexyéitch. Her face was covered with a flush, and was flaming, but not cheerful.

Vladímir Sergyéitch glanced at the slip of paper; thereon, in wretched French letters, was printed:

“Qui me néglige me perd.”

He raised his eyes, and encountered Steltchínsky’s gaze bent upon him. Vladímir Sergyéitch smiled constrainedly, threw his elbow over the back of the chair, and crossed his legs—as much as to say: “I don’t care for thee!”

The fiery artillery officer brought Nadézhda Alexyéevna up to her chair with a dash, pirouetted gently in front of her, bowed, clicked his spurs, and departed. She sat down.

“Allow me to inquire,”—began Vladímir Sergyéitch, with pauses between his words,—“in what sense I am to understand this billet?...”

“But what in the world does it say?”—said Nadézhda Alexyéevna.—“Ah, yes! ‘Qui me néglige me perd.’ Well! that’s an admirable rule of life, which may be of service at every step. In order to make a success of anything, no matter what, one must not neglect anything whatsoever.... One must endeavour to obtain everything; perhaps one will obtain something. But I am ridiculous. I ... I am talking to you, a practical man, about rules of life....”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna burst into a laugh, and Vladímir Sergyéitch strove, in vain, to the very end of the mazurka, to renew their previous conversation. Nadézhda Alexyéevna avoided it with the perversity of a capricious child. Vladímir Sergyéitch talked to her about his sentiments, and she either did not reply to him at all, or else she called his attention to the gowns of the ladies, to the ridiculous faces of some of the men, to the skill with which her brother danced, to the beauty of Márya Pávlovna; she began to talk about music, about the day before, about Egór Kapítonitch and his wife, Matryóna Márkovna ... and only at the very close of the mazurka, when Vladímir Sergyéitch was beginning to make her his farewell bow, did she say, with an ironical smile on her lips and in her eyes:

“So you are positively going to-morrow?”

“Yes; and very far away, perhaps,”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch, significantly.

“I wish you a happy journey.”

And Nadézhda Alexyéevna swiftly approached her brother, merrily whispered something in his ear, then asked aloud:

“Grateful to me? Yes? art thou not? otherwise he would have asked her for the mazurka.”

He shrugged his shoulders, and said:

“Nevertheless, nothing will come of it....”

She led him off into the drawing-room.

“The flirt!”—thought Vladímir Sergyéitch, and taking his hat in his hand, he slipped unnoticed from the hall, hunted up his footman, to whom he had previously given orders to hold himself in readiness, and was already donning his overcoat, when suddenly, to his intense surprise, the lackey informed him that it was impossible to depart, as the coachman, in some unknown manner, had drunk to intoxication, and that it was utterly impossible to arouse him. After cursing the coachman in a remarkably brief but extremely powerful manner (this took place in the anteroom, outside witnesses were present), and informing his footman that if the coachman was not in proper condition by daylight to-morrow, then no one in the world would be capable of picturing to himself what the result would be, Vladímir Sergyéitch returned to the hall, and requested the major-domo to allot him a chamber, without waiting for supper, which was already prepared in the drawing-room. The master of the house suddenly popped up, as it were, out of the floor, at Vladímir Sergyéitch’s very elbow (Gavríla Stepánitch wore boots without heels, and therefore moved about without the slightest sound), and began to hold him back, assuring him that there would be caviar of the very best quality for supper; but Vladímir Sergyéitch excused himself on the plea of a headache. Half an hour later he was lying in a small bed, under a short coverlet, and trying to get to sleep.

But he could not get to sleep. Toss as he would from side to side, strive as he would to think of something else, the figure of Steltchínsky importunately towered up before him.... Now he is taking aim ... now he has fired.... “Astákhoff is killed,” says some one. Vladímir Sergyéitch could not be called a brave man, yet he was no coward; but even the thought of a duel, no matter with whom, had never once entered his head.... Fight! with his good sense, peaceable disposition, respect for the conventions, dreams of future prosperity, and an advantageous marriage! If it had not been a question of his own person, he would have laughed heartily, so stupid and ridiculous did this affair seem to him. Fight! with whom, and about what?!

“Phew! damn it! what nonsense!”—he exclaimed involuntarily aloud.—“Well, and what if he really does kill me?”—he continued his meditations;—“I must take measures, make arrangements.... Who will mourn for me?”

And in vexation he closed his eyes, which were staringly-wide open, drew the coverlet up around his neck ... but could not get to sleep, nevertheless....

Dawn was already breaking, and exhausted with the fever of insomnia, Vladímir Sergyéitch was beginning to fall into a doze, when suddenly he felt some weight or other on his feet. He opened his eyes.... On his bed sat Véretyeff.

Vladímir Sergyéitch was greatly amazed, especially when he noticed that Véretyeff had no coat on, that beneath his unbuttoned shirt his bare breast was visible, that his hair was tumbling over his forehead, and that his very face appeared changed. Vladímir Sergyéitch got half-way out of bed....

“Allow me to ask ...” he began, throwing his hands apart....

“I have come to you,”—said Véretyeff, in a hoarse voice;—“excuse me for coming in such a guise.... We have been drinking a bit yonder. I wanted to put you at ease. I said to myself: ‘Yonder lies a gentleman who, in all probability, cannot get to sleep.—Let’s help him.’—Understand; you are not going to fight to-morrow, and can go to sleep....”

Vladímir Sergyéitch was still more amazed than before.

“What was that you said?”—he muttered.

“Yes; that has all been adjusted,”—went on Véretyeff;—“that gentleman from the banks of the Visla ... Steltchínsky ... makes his apologies to you ... to-morrow you will receive a letter.... I repeat to you:—all is settled.... Snore away.”

So saying, Véretyeff rose, and directed his course, with unsteady steps, toward the door.

“But permit me, permit me,”—began Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“How could you have found out, and how can I believe....”

“Akh! you think that I ... you know ...” (and he reeled forward slightly).... “I tell you ... he will send a letter to you to-morrow.... You do not arouse any particular sympathy in me, but magnanimity is my weak side. But what’s the use of talking.... It’s all nonsense anyway.... But confess,”—he added, with a wink;—“you were pretty well scared, weren’t you, hey?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch flew into a rage.

“Permit me, in conclusion, my dear sir,”—said he....

“Well, good, good,”—Véretyeff interrupted him with a good-natured smile.—“Don’t fly into a passion. Evidently you are not aware that no ball ever takes place without that sort of thing. That’s the established rule. It never amounts to anything. Who feels like exposing his brow? Well, and why not bluster, hey? at newcomers, for instance? In vino veritas. However, neither you nor I know Latin. But I see by your face that you are sleepy. I wish you good night, Mr. Positive Man, well-intentioned mortal. Accept this wish from another mortal who isn’t worth a brass farthing himself. Addio, mio caro!”

And Véretyeff left the room.

“The devil knows what this means!”—exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch, after a brief pause, banging his fist into the pillow;—“no one ever heard the like!... this must be cleared up! I won’t tolerate this!”

Nevertheless, five minutes later he was already sleeping softly and profoundly.... Danger escaped fills the soul of man with sweetness, and softens it.

This is what had taken place before that unanticipated nocturnal interview between Véretyeff and Vladímir Sergyéitch.

In Gavríla Stepánitch’s house lived his grand-nephew, who occupied bachelor quarters in the lower story. When there were balls on hand, the young men dropped in at his rooms between the dances, to smoke a hasty pipe, and after supper they assembled there for a friendly drinking-bout. A good many of the guests had dropped in on him that night. Steltchínsky and Véretyeff were among the number; Iván Ílitch, The Folding Soul, also wandered in there in the wake of the others. They brewed a punch. Although Iván Ílitch had promised Astákhoff that he would not mention the impending duel to any one whomsoever, yet, when Véretyeff accidentally asked him what he had been talking about with that glum fellow (Véretyeff never alluded to Astákhoff otherwise), The Folding Soul could not contain himself, and repeated his entire conversation with Vladímir Sergyéitch, word for word.

Véretyeff burst out laughing, then lapsed into meditation.

“But with whom is he going to fight?”—he asked.

“That’s what I cannot say,”—returned Iván Ílitch.

“At all events, with whom has he been talking?”

“With different people.... With Egór Kapítonitch. It cannot be that he is going to fight with him?’

Véretyeff went away from Iván Ílitch.

So, then, they made a punch, and began to drink. Véretyeff was sitting in the most conspicuous place. Jolly and profligate, he held the pre-eminence in gatherings of young men. He threw off his waistcoat and neckcloth. He was asked to sing; he took a guitar and sang several songs. Heads began to wax rather hot; the young men began to propose toasts. Suddenly Steltchínsky, all red in the face, sprang upon the table, and elevating his glass high above his head, exclaimed loudly:

“To the health ... of I know whom,”—he hastily caught himself up, drank off his liquor, and smashed his glass on the floor, adding:—“May my foe be shivered into just such pieces to-morrow!”

Véretyeff, who had long had his eye on him, swiftly raised his head....

“Steltchínsky,”—said he,—“in the first place, get off the table; that’s indecorous, and you have very bad boots into the bargain; and, in the second place, come hither, I will tell thee something.{273}”

He led him aside.

“Hearken, brother; I know that thou art going to fight to-morrow with that gentleman from Petersburg.”

Steltchínsky started.

“How ... who told thee?”

“I tell thee it is so. And I also know on whose account thou art going to fight.”

“Who is it? I am curious to know.”

“Akh, get out with thee, thou Talleyrand! My sister’s, of course. Come, come, don’t pretend to be surprised. It gives you a goose-like expression. I can’t imagine how this has come about, but it is a fact. That will do, my good fellow,”—pursued Véretyeff.—“What’s the use of shamming? I know, you see, that you have been paying court to her this long time.”

“But, nevertheless, that does not prove....”

“Stop, if you please. But hearken to what I am about to say to you. I won’t permit that duel under any circumstances whatsoever. Dost understand? All this folly will descend upon my sister. Excuse me: so long as I am alive ... that shall not be. As for thou and I, we shall perish—we’re on the road to it; but she must live a long time yet, and live happily. Yes, I swear,”—he added, with sudden heat,—“that I will betray all others, even those who might be ready to sacrifice everything for me, but I will not permit any one to touch a single hair of her head.”

Steltchínsky emitted a forced laugh.

“Thou art drunk, my dear fellow, and art raving ... that’s all.”

“And art not thou, I’d like to know? But whether I am drunk or not, is a matter of not the slightest consequence. But I’m talking business. Thou shalt not fight with that gentleman, I guarantee that. And what in the world possessed thee to have anything to do with him? Hast grown jealous, pray? Well, those speak the truth who say that men in love are stupid! Why she danced with him simply in order to prevent his inviting.... Well, but that’s not the point. But this duel shall not take place.”

“H’m! I should like to see how thou wilt prevent me?”

“Well, then, this way: if thou dost not instantly give me thy word to renounce this duel, I will fight with thee myself.”


“My dear fellow, entertain no doubt on that score. I will insult thee on the spot, my little friend, in the presence of every one, in the most fantastic manner, and then fight thee across a handkerchief, if thou wilt. But I think that will be disagreeable to thee, for many reasons, hey?”

Steltchínsky flared up, began to say that this was intimidation,[28] that he would not permit any one to meddle with his affairs, that he would not stick at anything ... and wound up by submitting, and renouncing all attempts on the life of Vladímir Sergyéitch. Véretyeff embraced him, and half an hour had not elapsed, before the two had already drunk Brüderschaft for the tenth time,—that is to say, they drank with arms interlocked.... The young man who had acted as floor-manager of the ball also drank Brüderschaft with them, and at first clung close to them, but finally fell asleep in the most innocent manner, and lay for a long time on his back in a condition of complete insensibility.... The expression of his tiny, pale face was both amusing and pitiful.... Good heavens! what would those fashionable ladies, his acquaintances, have said, if they had beheld him in that condition! But, luckily for him, he was not acquainted with a single fashionable lady.

Iván Ílitch also distinguished himself on that night. First he amazed the guests by suddenly striking up: “In the country a Baron once dwelt.”

“The hawfinch! The hawfinch has begun to sing!”—shouted all. “When has it ever happened that a hawfinch has sung by night?”

“As though I knew only one song,”—retorted Iván Ílitch, who was heated with liquor;—“I know some more, too.”

“Come, come, come, show us your art.”

Iván Ílitch maintained silence for a while, and suddenly struck up in a bass voice: “Krambambuli,[29] bequest of our fathers!” but so incoherently and strangely, that a general outburst of laughter immediately drowned his voice, and he fell silent. When all had dispersed, Véretyeff betook himself to Vladímir Sergyéitch, and the brief conversation already reported, ensued between them.

On the following day, Vladímir Sergyéitch drove off to his own Sásovo very early. He passed the whole morning in a state of excitement, came near mistaking a passing merchant for a second, and breathed freely only when his lackey brought him a letter from Steltchínsky. Vladímir Sergyéitch perused that letter several times,—it was very adroitly worded.... Steltchínsky began with the words: “La nuit porte conseil, Monsieur,”—made no excuses whatever, because, in his opinion, he had not insulted his antagonist in any way; but admitted that he had been somewhat irritated on the preceding evening, and wound up with the statement that he held himself entirely at the disposition of Mr. Astákhoff (“de M-r Astákhoff”), but no longer demanded satisfaction himself. After having composed and despatched a reply, which was filled, simultaneously with courtesy which bordered on playfulness, and a sense of dignity, in which, however, no trace of braggadocio was perceptible, Vladímir Sergyéitch sat down to dinner, rubbing his hands, ate with great satisfaction, and immediately afterward set off, without having even sent relays on in advance. The road along which he drove passed at a distance of four versts from Ipátoff’s manor.... Vladímir Sergyéitch looked at it.

“Farewell, region of dead calm!”—he said with a smile.

The images of Nadézhda Alexyéevna and Márya Pávlovna presented themselves for a moment to his imagination; he dismissed them with a wave of his hand, and sank into a doze.

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