The Region of Dead Calm

by Ivan S. Turgenev

Previous Chapter Next Chapter


More than three months had passed. Autumn had long since set in; the yellow forests had grown bare, the tomtits had arrived, and—unfailing sign of the near approach of winter—the wind had begun to howl and wail. But there had been no heavy rains, as yet, and mud had not succeeded in spreading itself over the roads. Taking advantage of this circumstance, Vladímir Sergyéitch set out for the government capital,{278} for the purpose of winding up several matters of business. He spent the morning in driving about, and in the evening went to the club. In the vast, gloomy hall of the club he encountered several acquaintances, and, among others, the old retired captain of cavalry Flitch, a busybody, wit, gambler, and gossip, well known to every one. Vladímir Sergyéitch entered into conversation with him.

“Ah, by the way!”—suddenly exclaimed the retired cavalry-captain; “an acquaintance of yours passed through here the other day, and left her compliments for you.”

“Who was she?”

“Madame Steltchínsky.”

“I don’t know any Madame Steltchínsky.”

“You knew her as a girl.... She was born Véretyeff.... Nadézhda Alexyéevna. Her husband served our Governor. You must have seen him also.... A lively man, with a moustache.... He’s hooked a splendid woman, with money to boot.”

“You don’t say so,”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“So she has married him.... H’m! And where have they gone?”

“To Petersburg. She also bade me remind you of a certain bonbon motto.... What sort of a motto was it, allow me to inquire?”

And the old gossip thrust forward his sharp nose.

“I don’t remember, really; some jest or other,”—returned Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“But permit me to ask, where is her brother now?”

“Piótr? Well, he’s in a bad way.”

Mr. Flitch rolled up his small, foxy eyes, and heaved a sigh.

“Why, what’s the matter?”—asked Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“He has taken to dissipation! He’s a ruined man.”

“But where is he now?”

“It is absolutely unknown where he is. He went off somewhere or other after a gipsy girl; that’s the most certain thing of all. He’s not in this government, I’ll guarantee that.”

“And does old Ipátoff still live there?”

“Mikhaíl Nikoláitch? That eccentric old fellow? Yes, he still lives there.”

“And is everything in his household ... as it used to be?”

“Certainly, certainly. Here now, why don’t you marry his sister-in-law? She’s not a woman, you know, she’s simply a monument, really. Ha, ha! People have already been talking among us ... ‘why,’ say they....”

“You don’t say so, sir,”—articulated Vladímir Sergyéitch, narrowing his eyes.

At that moment, Flitch was invited to a cardgame, and the conversation terminated.

Vladímir Sergyéitch had intended to return home promptly; but suddenly he received by special messenger a report from the overseer, that six of the peasants’ homesteads had burned down in Sásovo, and he decided to go thither himself. The distance from the government capital to Sásovo was reckoned at sixty versts. Vladímir Sergyéitch arrived toward evening at the wing with which the reader is already acquainted, immediately gave orders that the overseer and clerk should be summoned, scolded them both in proper fashion, inspected the scene of the conflagration next morning, took the necessary measures, and after dinner, after some wavering, set off to visit Ipátoff. Vladímir Sergyéitch would have remained at home, had he not heard from Flitch of Nadézhda Alexyéevna’s departure; he did not wish to meet her; but he was not averse to taking another look at Márya Pávlovna.

Vladímir Sergyéitch, as on the occasion of his first visit, found Ipátoff busy at draughts with The Folding Soul. The old man was delighted to see him; yet it seemed to Vladímir Sergyéitch as though his face were troubled, and his speech did not flow freely and readily as of old.

Vladímir Sergyéitch exchanged a silent glance with Iván Ílitch. Both winced a little; but they speedily recovered their serenity.

“Are all your family well?”—inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Yes, thank God, I thank you sincerely,”—replied Ipátoff.—“Only Márya Pávlovna isn’t quite ... you know, she stays in her room most of the time.”

“Has she caught cold?”

“No ... she just likes to. She will make her appearance at tea.”

“And Egór Kapítonitch? What is he doing?”

“Akh! Egór Kapítonitch is a dead man. His wife has died.”

“It cannot be!”

“She died in twenty-four hours, of cholera. You wouldn’t know him now, he has become simply unrecognisable. ‘Without Matryóna Márkovna,’ he says, ‘life is a burden to me. I shall die,’ he says, ‘and God be thanked,’ he says; ‘I don’t wish to live,’ says he. Yes, he’s done for, poor fellow.”

“Akh! good heavens, how unpleasant that is!”—exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“Poor Egór Kapítonitch!”

All were silent for a time.

“I hear that your pretty neighbour has married,”—remarked Vladímir Sergyéitch, flushing faintly.

“Nadézhda Alexyéevna? Yes, she has.”

Ipátoff darted a sidelong glance at Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“Certainly ... certainly, she has married and gone away.”

“To Petersburg?{282}”

“To St. Petersburg.”

“Márya Pávlovna must miss her, I think. I believe they were great friends.”

“Of course she misses her. That cannot be avoided. But as for friendship, I’ll just tell you, that the friendship of girls is even worse than the friendship of men. So long as they are face to face, it’s all right; but, otherwise, it vanishes.”

“Do you think so?”

“Yes, by Heaven, ’tis so! Take Nadézhda Alexyéevna, for example. She hasn’t written to us since she went away; but how she promised, even vowed that she would! In truth, she’s in no mood for that now.”

“And has she been gone long?”

“Yes; it must be fully six weeks. She hurried off on the very day after the wedding, foreign fashion.”

“I hear that her brother is no longer here, either?”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch, after a brief pause.

“No; he is not. They are city folk, you see; as though they would live long in the country!”

“And does no one know where he has gone?”


“He just went into a rage, and—slap-bang on the ear,” remarked Iván Ílitch.

“He just went into a rage, and—slap-bang on the ear,” repeated Ipátoff. “Well, and how about yourself, Vladímir Sergyéitch,—what nice things have you been doing?”—he added, wheeling round on his chair.

Vladímir Sergyéitch began to tell about himself; Ipátoff listened and listened to him, and at last exclaimed:

“But why doesn’t Márya Pávlovna come? Thou hadst better go for her, Iván Ílitch.”

Iván Ílitch left the room, and returning, reported that Márya Pávlovna would be there directly.

“What’s the matter? Has she got a headache?”—inquired Ipátoff, in an undertone.

“Yes,” replied Iván Ílitch.

The door opened, and Márya Pávlovna entered. Vladímir Sergyéitch rose, bowed, and could not utter a word, so great was his amazement: so changed was Márya Pávlovna since he had seen her the last time! The rosy bloom had vanished from her emaciated cheeks; a broad black ring encircled her eyes; her lips were bitterly compressed; her whole face, impassive and dark, seemed to have become petrified.

She raised her eyes, and there was no spark in them.

“How do you feel now?” Ipátoff asked her.

“I am well,”—she replied; and sat down at the table, on which the samovár was already bubbling.

Vladímir Sergyéitch was pretty thoroughly bored that evening. But no one was in good spirits. The conversation persisted in taking a cheerless turn.

“Just listen,”—said Ipátoff, among other things, as he lent an ear to the howling of the wind;—“what notes it emits! The summer is long since past; and here is autumn passing, too, and winter is at the door. Again we shall be buried in snow-drifts. I hope the snow will fall very soon. Otherwise, when you go out into the garden, melancholy descends upon you.... Just as though there were some sort of a ruin there. The branches of the trees clash together.... Yes, the fine days are over!”

“They are over,”—repeated Iván Ílitch.

Márya Pávlovna stared silently out of the window.

“God willing, they will return,”—remarked Ipátoff.

No one answered him.

“Do you remember how finely they sang songs here that time?”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch.

“I should think they did,”—replied the old man, with a sigh.

“But you might sing to us,”—went on Vladímir Sergyéitch, turning to Márya Pávlovna;—“you have such a fine voice.”

She did not answer him.

“And how is your mother?”—Vladímir Sergyéitch inquired of Ipátoff, not knowing what to talk about.

“Thank God! she gets on nicely, considering her ailments. She came over in her little carriage to-day. She’s a broken tree, I must tell you—creak, creak, and the first you know, some young, strong sapling falls over; but she goes on standing and standing. Ekh, ha, ha!”

Márya Pávlovna dropped her hands in her lap, and bowed her head.

“And, nevertheless, her existence is hard,”—began Ipátoff again;—“rightly is it said: ‘old age is no joy.’”

“And there’s no joy in being young,”—said Márya Pávlovna, as though to herself.

Vladímir Sergyéitch would have liked to return home that night, but it was so dark out of doors that he could not make up his mind to set out. He was assigned to the same chamber, up-stairs, in which, three months previously, he had passed a troubled night, thanks to Egór Kapítonitch....

“Does he snore now?”—thought Vladímir Sergyéitch, as he recalled his drilling of his servant, and the sudden appearance of Márya Pávlovna in the garden....

Vladímir Sergyéitch walked to the window, and laid his brow against the cold glass. His own face gazed dimly at him from out of doors, as though his eyes were riveted upon a black cur{286}tain, and it was only after a considerable time that he was able to make out against the starless sky the branches of the trees, writhing wildly in the gloom. They were harassed by a turbulent wind.

Suddenly it seemed to Vladímir Sergyéitch as though something white had flashed along the ground.... He gazed more intently, laughed, shrugged his shoulders, and exclaiming in an undertone: “That’s what imagination will do!” got into bed.

He fell asleep very soon; but he was not fated to pass a quiet night on this occasion either. He was awakened by a running to and fro, which arose in the house.... He raised his head from the pillow.... Agitated voices, exclamations, hurried footsteps were audible, doors were banging; now the sound of women weeping rang out, shouts were set up in the garden, other cries farther off responded.... The uproar in the house increased, and became more noisy with every moment.... “Fire!” flashed through Vladímir Sergyéitch’s mind. In alarm he sprang from his bed, and rushed to the window; but there was no redness in the sky; only, in the garden, points of flame were moving briskly along the paths,—caused by people running about with lanterns. Vladímir Sergyéitch went quickly to the door, opened it, and ran directly into Iván Ílitch. Pale, dishevelled, half-clothed, the latter was dashing onward, without himself knowing whither.

“What is it? What has happened?”—inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch, excitedly, seizing him by the arm.

“She has disappeared; she has thrown herself into the water,”—replied Iván Ílitch, in a choking voice.

“Who has thrown herself into the water? Who has disappeared?”

“Márya Pávlovna! Who else could it be but Márya Pávlovna? She has perished, the darling! Help! Good heavens, let us run as fast as we can! Be quick, my dear people!”

And Iván Ílitch rushed down the stairs.

Vladímir Sergyéitch put on his shoes somehow, threw his cloak over his shoulders, and ran after him.

In the house he no longer encountered any one, all had hastened out into the garden; only the little girls, Ipátoff’s daughters, met him in the corridor, near the anteroom; deadly pale with terror, they stood there in their little white petticoats, with clasped hands and bare feet, beside a night-lamp set on the floor. Through the drawing-room, past an overturned table, flew Vladímir Sergyéitch to the terrace. Through the grove, in the direction of the dam, light and shadows were flashing....

“Go for boat-hooks! Go for boat-hooks as quickly as possible!”—Ipátoff’s voice could be heard shouting.

“A net, a net, a boat!”—shouted other voices.

Vladímir Sergyéitch ran in the direction of the shouts. He found Ipátoff on the shore of the pond; a lantern hung on a bough brilliantly illuminated the old man’s grey head. He was wringing his hands, and reeling like a drunken man; by his side, a woman lay writhing and sobbing on the grass; round about men were bustling. Iván Ílitch had already advanced into the water up to his knees, and was feeling the bottom with a pole; a coachman was undressing, trembling all over as he did so; two men were dragging a boat along the shore; a sharp trampling of hoofs was audible along the village street.... The wind swept past with a shriek, as though endeavouring to quench the lantern, while the pond plashed noisily, darkling in a menacing way....

“What do I hear?”—exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch, rushing up to Ipátoff.—“Is it possible?”

“The boat-hooks—fetch the boat-hooks!”—moaned the old man by way of reply to him....

“But good gracious, perhaps you are mistaken, Mikhaíl Nikoláitch....”

“No, mistaken indeed!”—said the woman who was lying on the grass, Márya Pávlovna’s maid, in a tearful voice. “Unlucky creature that I am, I heard her myself, the darling, throw herself into the water, and struggling in the water, and screaming: ‘Save me!’ and then, once more: ‘Save me!’”

“Why didn’t you prevent her, pray?”

“But how was I to prevent her, dear little father, my lord? Why, when I discovered it, she was no longer in her room, but my heart had a foreboding, you know; these last days she has been so sad all the time, and has said nothing; so I knew how it was, and rushed straight into the garden, just as though some one had made me do it; and suddenly I heard something go splash! into the water: ‘Save me!’ I heard the cry: ‘Save me!’... Okh, my darling, light of my eyes!”

“But perhaps it only seemed so to thee!”

“Seemed so, forsooth! But where is she? what has become of her?”

“So that is what looked white to me in the gloom,” thought Vladímir Sergyéitch....

In the meanwhile, men had run up with boat-hooks, dragged thither a net, and begun to spread it out on the grass, a great throng of people had assembled, a commotion had arisen, and a jostling ... the coachman seized one boat-hook, the village elder seized another, both sprang into the boat, put off, and set to searching the water with the hooks; the people on the shore lighted them. Strange and dreadful did their movements seem, and their shadows in the gloom, above the agitated pond, in the dim and uncertain light of the lanterns.

“He ... here, the hook has caught!”—suddenly cried the coachman.

All stood stock-still where they were.

The coachman pulled the hook toward him, and bent over.... Something horned and black slowly came to the surface....

“A tree-stump,”—said the coachman, pulling away the hook.

“But come back, come back!”—they shouted to him from the shore.—“Thou wilt accomplish nothing with the hooks; thou must use the net.”

“Yes, yes, the net!”—chimed in others.

“Stop,”—said the elder;—“I’ve got hold of something also ... something soft, apparently,”—he added, after a brief pause.

A white spot made its appearance alongside the boat....

“The young lady!”—suddenly shouted the elder.—“’Tis she!”

He was not mistaken.... The hook had caught Márya Pávlovna by the sleeve of her gown. The coachman immediately seized her, dragged her out of the water ... in a couple of powerful strokes the boat was at the shore.... Ipátoff, Iván Ílitch, Vladímir Sergyéitch, all rushed to Márya Pávlovna, raised her up, bore her home in their arms, immediately undressed her, and began to roll her, and warm her.... But all their efforts, their exertions, proved vain.... Márya Pávlovna did not come to herself.... Life had already left her.

Early on the following morning, Vladímir Sergyéitch left Ipátovka; before his departure, he went to bid farewell to the dead woman. She was lying on the table in the drawing-room in a white gown.... Her thick hair was not yet entirely dry, a sort of mournful surprise was expressed on her pale face, which had not had time to grow distorted; her parted lips seemed to be trying to speak, and ask something; ... her hands, convulsively clasped, as though with grief, were pressed tight to her breast.... But with whatever sorrowful thought the poor drowned girl had perished, death had laid upon her the seal of its eternal silence and peace ... and who understands what a dead face expresses during those few moments when, for the last time, it meets the glance of the living before it vanishes forever and is destroyed in the grave?

Vladímir Sergyéitch stood for a while in decorous meditation before the body of Márya Pávlovna, crossed himself thrice, and left the room, without having noticed Iván Ílitch who was weeping softly in one corner.... And he was not the only one who wept that day: all the servants in the house wept bitterly: Márya Pávlovna had left a good memory behind her.

The following is what old Ipátoff wrote, a week later, in reply to a letter which had come, at last, from Nadézhda Alexyéevna:

“One week ago, dear Madam, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, my unhappy sister-in-law, your acquaintance, Márya Pávlovna, wilfully ended her own life, by throwing herself by night into the pond, and we have already committed her body to the earth. She decided upon this sad and terrible deed, without having bidden me farewell, without leaving even a letter or so much as a note, to declare her last will.... But you know better than any one else, Nadézhda Alexyéevna, on whose soul this great and deadly sin must fall! May the Lord God judge your brother, for my sister-in-law could not cease to love him, nor survive the separation....”

Nadézhda Alexyéevna received this letter in Italy, whither she had gone with her husband, Count de Steltchínsky, as he was called in all the hotels. He did not visit hotels alone, however; he was frequently seen in gambling-houses, in the Kur-Saal at the baths.... At first he lost a great deal of money, then he ceased to lose, and his face assumed a peculiar expression, not precisely suspicious, nor yet precisely insolent, like that which a man has who unexpectedly gets involved in scandals.... He saw his wife rarely. But Nadézhda Alexyéevna did not languish in his absence. She developed a passion for painting and the fine arts. She associated chiefly with artists, and was fond of discussing the beautiful with young men. Ipátoff’s letter grieved her greatly, but did not prevent her going that same day to “the Dogs’ Cave,” to see how the poor animals suffocated when immersed in sulphur fumes.

She did not go alone. She was escorted by divers cavaliers. Among their number, a certain Mr. Popelin, an artist—a Frenchman, who had not finished his course—with a small beard, and dressed in a checked sack-coat, was the most agreeable. He sang the newest romances in a thin tenor voice, made very free-and-easy jokes, and although he was gaunt of form, yet he ate a very great deal.

Return to the The Region of Dead Calm Summary Return to the Ivan S. Turgenev Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson