The Region of Dead Calm

by Ivan S. Turgenev

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It was a sunny, cold January day; a multitude of people were strolling on the Névsky Prospékt. The clock on the tower of the city hall marked three o’clock. Along the broad stone slabs, strewn with yellow sand, was walking, among others, our acquaintance Vladímir Sergyéitch Astákhoff. He has grown very virile since we parted from him; his face is framed in whiskers, and he has grown plump all over, but he has not aged. He was moving after the crowd at a leisurely pace, and now and then casting a glance about him; he was expecting his wife; she had preferred to drive up in the carriage with her mother. Vladímir Sergyéitch married five years ago, precisely in the manner which he had always desired: his wife was wealthy, and with the best of connections. Courteously lifting his splendidly brushed hat when he met his numerous acquaintances, Vladímir Sergyéitch was still stepping out with the free stride of a man who is satisfied with his lot, when suddenly, just at the Passage,[30] he came near colliding with a gentleman in a Spanish cloak and foraging-cap, with a decidedly worn face, a dyed moustache, and large, swollen eyes. Vladímir Sergyéitch drew aside with dignity, but the gentleman in the foraging-cap glanced at him, and suddenly exclaimed:

“Ah! Mr. Astákhoff, how do you do?”

Vladímir Sergyéitch made no reply, and stopped short in surprise. He could not comprehend how a gentleman who could bring himself to walk on the Névsky in a foraging-cap could be acquainted with his name.

“You do not recognise me,”—pursued the gentleman in the cap:—“I saw you eight years ago, in the country, in the T*** Government, at the Ipátoffs’. My name is Véretyeff.”

“Akh! Good heavens! excuse me!”—exclaimed Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“But how you have changed since then!...”

“Yes, I have grown old,”—returned Piótr Alexyéitch, passing his hand, which was devoid of a glove, over his face.—“But you have not changed.”

Véretyeff had not so much aged as fallen away and sunk down. Small, delicate wrinkles covered his face; and when he spoke, his lips and cheeks twitched slightly. From all this it was perceptible that the man had been living hard.

“Where have you disappeared to all this time, that you have not been visible?”—Vladímir Sergyéitch asked him.

“I have been wandering about here and there. And you have been in Petersburg all the while?”

“Yes, most of the time.”

“Are you married?”


And Vladímir Sergyéitch assumed a rather severe mien, as though with the object of saying to Véretyeff: “My good fellow, don’t take it into thy head to ask me to present thee to my wife.”

Véretyeff understood him, apparently. An indifferent sneer barely flitted across his lips.

“And how is your sister?”—inquired Vladímir Sergyéitch.—“Where is she?”

“I cannot tell you for certain. She must be in Moscow. I have not received any letters from her this long time!”

“Is her husband alive?”


“And Mr. Ipátoff?”

“I don’t know; probably he is alive also; but he may be dead.”

“And that gentleman—what the deuce was his name?—Bodryakóff,—what of him?”

“The one you invited to be your second—you remember, when you were so scared? Why, the devil knows!”

Vladímir Sergyéitch maintained silence for a while, with dignity written on his face.

“I always recall with pleasure those evenings,”—he went on,—“when I had the opportunity” (he had nearly said, “the honour”) “of making the acquaintance of your sister and yourself. She was a very amiable person. And do you sing as agreeably as ever?”

“No; I have lost my voice.... But that was a good time!”

“I visited Ipátovka once afterward,”—added Vladímir Sergyéitch, elevating his eyebrows mournfully. “I think that was the name of that village—on the very day of a terrible event....”

“Yes, yes, that was frightful, frightful,”—Véretyeff hastily interrupted him.—“Yes, yes. And do you remember how you came near fighting with my present brother-in-law?”

“H’m! I remember!”—replied Vladímir Sergyéitch, slowly.—“However, I must confess to you that so much time has elapsed since then, that all that sometimes seems to me like a dream....”

“Like a dream,”—repeated Véretyeff, and his pale cheeks flushed;—“like a dream ... no, it was not a dream, for me at all events. It was the time of youth, of mirth and happiness, the time of unlimited hopes, and invincible powers; and if it was a dream, then it was a very beautiful dream. And now, you and I have grown old and stupid, we dye our moustaches, and saunter on the Névsky, and have become good for nothing; like broken-winded nags, we have become utterly vapid and worn out; it cannot be said that we are pompous and put on airs, nor that we spend our time in idleness; but I fear we drown our grief in drink,—that is more like a dream, and a hideous dream. Life has been lived, and lived in vain, clumsily, vulgarly—that’s what is bitter! That’s what one would like to shake off like a dream, that’s what one would like to recover one’s self from!... And then ... everywhere, there is one frightful memory, one ghost.... But farewell!”

Véretyeff walked hastily away; but on coming opposite the door of one of the principal confectioners on the Névsky, he halted, entered, and after drinking a glass of orange vodka at the buffet, he wended his way through the billiard-room, all dark and dim with tobacco-smoke, to the rear room. There he found several acquaint{298}ances, his former comrades—Pétya Lazúrin, Kóstya Kovróvsky, and Prince Serdiukóff, and two other gentlemen who were called simply Vasiúk, and Filát. All of them were men no longer young, though unmarried; some of them had lost their hair, others were growing grey; their faces were covered with wrinkles, their chins had grown double; in a word, these gentlemen had all long since passed their prime, as the saying is. Yet all of them continued to regard Véretyeff as a remarkable man, destined to astonish the universe; and he was wiser than they only because he was very well aware of his utter and radical uselessness. And even outside of his circle, there were people who thought concerning him, that if he had not ruined himself, the deuce only knows what he would have made of himself.... These people were mistaken. Nothing ever comes of Véretyeffs.

Piótr Alexyéitch’s friends welcomed him with the customary greetings. At first he dumbfounded them with his gloomy aspect and his splenetic speeches; but he speedily calmed down, cheered up, and affairs went on in their wonted rut.

But Vladímir Sergyéitch, as soon as Véretyeff left him, contracted his brows in a frown and straightened himself up. Piótr Alexyéitch’s unexpected sally had astounded, even offended him extremely.

“‘We have grown stupid, we drink liquor, we dye our moustaches’ ... parlez pour vous, mon cher,”—he said at last, almost aloud, and emitting a couple of snorts caused by an access of involuntary indignation, he was preparing to continue his stroll.

“Who was that talking with you?”—rang out a loud and self-confident voice behind him.

Vladímir Sergyéitch turned round and beheld one of his best friends, a certain Mr. Pompónsky. This Mr. Pompónsky, a man of lofty stature, and stout, occupied a decidedly important post, and never once, from his very earliest youth, had he doubted himself.

“Why, a sort of eccentric,”—said Vladímir Sergyéitch, linking his arm in Mr. Pompónsky’s.

“Good gracious, Vladímir Sergyéitch, is it permissible for a respectable man to chat on the street with an individual who wears a foraging-cap on his head? ’Tis indecent! I’m amazed! Where could you have made acquaintance with such a person?”

“In the country.”

“In the country.... One does not bow to one’s country neighbours in town.... ce n’est pas comme il faut. A gentleman should always bear himself like a gentleman if he wishes that....”

“Here is my wife,”—Vladímir Sergyéitch hastily interrupted him.—“Let us go to her.”

And the two gentlemen directed their steps to a low-hung, elegant carriage, from whose window there peered forth the pale, weary, and irritatingly-arrogant little face of a woman who was still young, but already faded.

Behind her another lady, also apparently in a bad humour,—her mother,—was visible. Vladímir Sergyéitch opened the door of the carriage, and offered his arm to his wife. Pompónsky gave his to the mother-in-law, and the two couples made their way along the Névsky Prospékt, accompanied by a short, black-haired footman in yellowish-grey gaiters, and with a big cockade on his hat.

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