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A Desperate Character and Other Stories by Ivan Turgenev

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'She doesn't care for me a bit, that's clear, at last; that's beyond all
doubt, at last,' Pyetushkov muttered in an undertone, gesticulating with
his head and hands as though he were explaining to a perfectly
extraneous person some perfectly extraneous fact.

'Yes,' Onisim resumed, 'there are women like that.'

'There are,' listlessly repeated Pyetushkov, in a tone half questioning,
half perplexed.

Onisim looked intently at his master.

'Ivan Afanasiitch,' he began, 'wouldn't you have a snack of something?'

'Wouldn't I have a snack of something?' repeated Pyetushkov.

'Or may be you'd like to have a pipe?'

'To have a pipe?' repeated Pyetushkov.

'So this is what it's coming to,' muttered Onisim. 'It's gone deep,
it seems.'


The creak of boots resounded in the passage, and then there was heard
the usual suppressed cough which announces the presence of a person
of subordinate position. Onisim went out and promptly came back,
accompanied by a diminutive soldier with a little, old woman's face,
in a patched cloak yellow with age, and wearing neither breeches nor
cravat. Pyetushkov was startled; while the soldier drew himself up,
wished him good day, and handed him a large envelope bearing the
government seal. In this envelope was a note from the major in
command of the garrison: he called upon Pyetushkov to come to him
without fail or delay.

Pyetushkov turned the note over in his hands, and could not refrain from
asking the messenger, did he know why the major desired his presence,
though he was very well aware of the utter futility of his question.

'We cannot tell!' the soldier cried, with great effort, yet hardly
audibly, as though he were half asleep.

'Isn't he summoning the other officers?' Pyetushkov pursued.

'We cannot tell,' the soldier cried a second time, in just the
same voice.

'All right, you can go,' pronounced Pyetushkov.

The soldier wheeled round to the left, scraping his foot as he did so,
and slapping himself below the spine (this was considered smart in the
twenties), withdrew.

Pyetushkov exchanged glances with Onisim, who at once assumed a look of
anxiety. Without a word Ivan Afanasiitch set off to the major's.

The major was a man of sixty, corpulent and clumsily built, with a red
and bloated face, a short neck, and a continual trembling in his
fingers, resulting from excessive indulgence in strong drink. He
belonged to the class of so-called 'bourbons,' that's to say, soldiers
risen from the ranks; had learned to read at thirty, and spoke with
difficulty, partly from shortness of breath, partly from inability to
follow his own thought. His temperament exhibited all the varieties
known to science: in the morning, before drinking, he was melancholy; in
the middle of the day, choleric; and in the evening, phlegmatic, that is
to say, he did nothing at that time but snore and grunt till he was put
to bed. Ivan Afanasiitch appeared before him during the choleric period.
He found him sitting on a sofa, in an open dressing-gown, with a pipe
between his teeth. A fat, crop-eared cat had taken up her position
beside him.

'Aha! he's come!' growled the major, casting a sidelong glance out of
his pewtery eyes upon Pyetushkov, and not stirring from his place. 'Sit
down. Well, I'm going to give you a talking to. I've wanted to get hold
of you this long while.'

Pyetushkov sank into a chair.

'For,' the major began, with an unexpected lurch of his whole body,
'you're an officer, d'ye see, and so you've got to behave yourself
according to rule. If you'd been a soldier, I'd have flogged you, and
that's all about it, but, as 'tis, you're an officer. Did any one ever
see the like of it? Disgracing yourself--is that a nice thing?'

'Allow me to know to what these remarks may refer?' Pyetushkov was

'I'll have no arguing! I dislike that beyond everything. I've said: I
dislike it; and that's all about it! Ugh--why, your hooks are not in
good form even;--what a disgrace! He sits, day in and day out, at the
baker's shop; and he a gentleman born! There's a petticoat to be found
there--and so there he sits. Let her go to the devil, the petticoat!
Why, they do say he puts the bread in the oven. It's a stain on the
uniform ... so it is!'

'Allow me to submit,' articulated Pyetushkov with a cold chill at his
heart, 'that all this, as far as I can make out, refers to my private
life, so to say....'

'No arguing with me, I tell you! Private life, he protests, too! If it
had been a matter of the service I'd have sent you straight to the
guard-room! Alley, marsheer! Because of the oath. Why, there was a whole
birch copse, maybe, used upon my back, so I should think I know the
service; every rule of discipline I'm very well up in. And I'd have you
to understand, I say this just for the honour of the uniform. You're
disgracing the uniform ... so you are. I say this like a father ... yes.
Because all that's put in my charge. I've to answer for it. And you dare
to argue too!' the major shrieked with sudden fury, and his face turned
purple, and he foamed at the mouth, while the cat put its tail in the
air and jumped down to the ground. 'Why, do you know ... why, do you
know what I can do? ... I can do anything, anything, anything! Why, do
you know whom you're talking to? Your superior officer gives you orders
and you argue! Your superior officer ... your superior officer....'

Here the major positively choked and spluttered, while poor Pyetushkov
could only draw himself up and turn pale, sitting on the very edge of
his chair.

'I must have' ... the major continued, with an imperious wave of his
trembling hand, 'I must have everything ... up to the mark! Conduct
first-class! I'm not going to put up with any irregularities! You can
make friends with whom you like, that makes no odds to me! But if you
are a gentleman, why, act as such ... behave like one! No putting bread
in the oven for me! No calling a draggletail old woman auntie! No
disgracing the uniform! Silence! No arguing!'

The major's voice broke. He took breath, and turning towards the door
into the passage, bawled, 'Frolka, you scoundrel! The herrings!'

Pyetushkov rose hurriedly and darted away, almost upsetting the
page-boy, who ran to meet him, carrying some sliced herring and a stout
decanter of spirits on an iron tray.

'Silence! No arguing!' sounded after Pyetushkov the disjointed
exclamations of his exasperated superior officer.


A queer sensation overmastered Ivan Afanasiitch when, at last, he found
himself in the street.

'Why am I walking as it were in a dream?' he thought to himself. 'Am I
out of my mind, or what? Why, it passes all belief, at last. Come, damn
it, she's tired of me, come, and I've grown tired of her, come, and ...
What is there out of the way in that?

Pyetushkov frowned.

'I must put an end to it, once for all,' he said almost aloud. 'I'll go
and speak out decisively for the last time, so that it may never come
up again.'

Pyetushkov made his way with rapid step to the baker's shop. The nephew
of the hired man, Luka, a little boy, friend and confidant of the goat
that lived in the yard, darted swiftly to the little gate, directly he
caught sight of Ivan Afanasiitch in the distance.

Praskovia Ivanovna came out to meet Pyetushkov.

'Is your niece at home?' asked Pyetushkov.

'No, sir.'

Pyetushkov was inwardly relieved at Vassilissa's absence.

'I came to have a few words with you, Praskovia Ivanovna.'

'What about, my good sir?'

'I'll tell you. You comprehend that after all ... that has passed ...
after such, so to say, behaviour (Pyetushkov was a little confused) ...
in a word ... But, pray, don't be angry with me, though.'

'Certainly not, sir.'

'On the contrary, enter into my position, Praskovia Ivanovna.'

'Certainly, sir.'

'You're a reasonable woman, you'll understand of yourself, that ... that
I can't go on coming to see you any more.'

'Certainly, sir,' Praskovia Ivanovna repeated slowly.

'I assure you I greatly regret it; I confess it is positively painful to
me, genuinely painful ...'

'You know best, sir,' Praskovia Ivanovna rejoined serenely. 'It's for
you to decide, sir. And, oh, if you'll allow me, I'll give you your
little account, sir.'

Pyetushkov had not at all anticipated such a prompt acquiescence. He had
not desired acquiescence at all; he had only wanted to frighten
Praskovia Ivanovna, and above all Vassilissa. He felt wretched.

'I know,' be began, 'this will not be disagreeable to Vassilissa; on the
contrary, I believe she will be glad.'

Praskovia Ivanovna got out her reckoning beads, and began rattling
the counters.

'On the other hand,' continued Pyetushkov, growing more and more
agitated, 'if Vassilissa were, for instance, to give an explanation of
her behaviour ... possibly.... Though, of course ... I don't know,
possibly, I might perceive that after all there was no great matter for
blame in it.'

'There's thirty-seven roubles and forty kopecks in notes to your
account, sir,' observed Praskovia Ivanovna. 'Here, would you be pleased
to go through it?'

Ivan Afanasiitch made no reply.

'Eighteen dinners at seventy kopecks each; twelve roubles sixty

'And so we are to part, Praskovia Ivanovna.'

'If so it must be, sir. Things do turn out so. Twelve samovars at ten
kopecks each ...'

'But you might just tell me, Praskovia Ivanovna, where it was Vassilissa
went, and what it was she ...'

'Oh, I never asked her, sir.... One rouble twenty kopecks in silver.'

Ivan Afanasiitch sank into meditation.

'Kvas and effervescing drinks,' pursued Praskovia Ivanovna, holding the
counters apart on the frame not with her first, but her third finger,
'half a rouble in silver. Sugar and rolls for tea, half a rouble. Four
packets of tobacco bought by your orders, eighty kopecks in silver. To
the tailor Kuprian Apollonov ...'

Ivan Afanasiitch suddenly raised his head, put out his hand and mixed up
the counters.

'What are you about, my good man?' cried Praskovia Ivanovna. 'Don't you
trust me?'

'Praskovia Ivanovna,' replied Pyetushkov, with a hurried smile, 'I've
thought better of it. I was only, you know ... joking. We'd better
remain friends and go on in the old way. What nonsense it is! How can we
separate--tell me that, please?'

Praskovia Ivanovna looked down and made him no reply.

'Come, we've been talking nonsense, and there's an end of it,' pursued
Ivan Afanasiitch, walking up and down the room, rubbing his hands,
and, as it were, resuming his ancient rights. 'Amen! and now I'd
better have a pipe.'

Praskovia Ivanovna still did not move from her place....

'I see you are angry with me,' said Pyetushkov.

'I've offended you, perhaps. Well! well! forgive me generously.'

'How could you offend me, my good sir? No offence about it.... Only,
please, sir,' added Praskovia Ivanovna, bowing, 'be so good as not to go
on coming to us.'


'It's not for you, sir, to be friends with us, your honour. So, please,
do us the favour ...'

Praskovia Ivanovna went on bowing.

'What ever for?' muttered the astounded Pyetushkov.

'Oh, nothing, sir. For mercy's sake ...'

'No, Praskovia Ivanovna, you must explain this! ...'

'Vassilissa asks you. She says, "I thank you, thank you very much, and
from my heart; only for the future, your honour, give us up."'

Praskovia Ivanovna bowed down almost to Pyetushkov's feet.

'Vassilissa, you say, begs me not to come?'

'Just so, your honour. When your honour came in to-day, and said what
you did, that you didn't wish, you said, to visit us any more, I felt
relieved, sir, that I did; thinks I, Well, thank God, how nicely it's
all come about! But for that, I should have had hard work to bring my
tongue to say it.... Be so good, sir.'

Pyetushkov turned red and pale almost at the same instant. Praskovia
Ivanovna still went on bowing....

'Very good,' Ivan Afanasiitch cried sharply. 'Good-bye.'

He turned abruptly and put on his cap.

'But the little bill, sir....'

'Send it ... my orderly shall pay you.'

Pyetushkov went with resolute steps out of the baker's shop, and did not
even look round.


A fortnight passed. At first Pyetushkov bore up in an extraordinary way.
He went out, and visited his comrades, with the exception, of course, of
Bublitsyn; but in spite of the exaggerated approbation of Onisim, he
almost went out of his mind at last from wretchedness, jealousy, and
ennui. Conversations with Onisim about Vassilissa were the only thing
that afforded him some consolation. The conversation was always begun,
'scratched up,' by Pyetushkov; Onisim responded unwillingly.

'It's a strange thing, you know,' Ivan Afanasiitch would say, for
instance, as he lay on the sofa, while Onisim stood in his usual
attitude, leaning against the door, with his hands folded behind his
back, 'when you come to think of it, what it was I saw in that girl. One
would say that there was nothing unusual in her. It's true she has a
good heart. That one can't deny her.'

'Good heart, indeed!' Onisim would answer with displeasure.

'Come, now, Onisim,' Pyetushkov went on, 'one must tell the truth. It's
a thing of the past now; it's no matter to me now, but justice is
justice. You don't know her. She's very good-hearted. Not a single
beggar does she let pass by; she'll always give, if it's only a crust of
bread. Oh! And she's of a cheerful temper, that one must allow, too.'

'What a notion! I don't know where you see the cheerful temper!'

'I tell you ... you don't know her. And she's not mercenary either ...
that's another thing. She's not grasping, there's no doubt of it. Why I
never gave her anything, as you know.'

'That's why she's flung you over.'

'No, that's not why!' responded Pyetushkov with a sigh.

'Why, you're in love with her to this day,' Onisim retorted malignantly.
'You'd be glad to go back there as before.'

'That's nonsense you're talking. No, my lad, you don't know me either, I
can see. Be sent away, and then go dancing attendance--no, thank you,
I'd rather be excused. No, I tell you. You may believe me, it's all a
thing of the past now.'

'Pray God it be so!'

'But why ever shouldn't I be fair to her, now after all? If now I say
she's not good-looking--why, who'd believe me?'

'A queer sort of good looks!'

'Well, find me,--well, mention anybody better-looking ...'

'Oh, you'd better go back to her, then! ...'

'Stupid! Do you suppose that's why I say so? Understand me ...'

'Oh! I understand you,' Onisim answered with a heavy sigh.

Another week passed by. Pyetushkov had positively given up talking with
his Onisim, and had given up going out. From morning till night he lay
on the sofa, his hands behind his head. He began to get thin and pale,
eat unwillingly and hurriedly, and did not smoke at all. Onisim could
only shake his head, as he looked at him.

'You're not well, Ivan Afanasiitch,' he said to him more than once.

'No, I'm all right,' replied Pyetushkov.

At last, one fine day (Onisim was not at home) Pyetushkov got up,
rummaged in his chest of drawers, put on his cloak, though the sun was
rather hot, went stealthily out into the street, and came back a quarter
of an hour later.... He carried something under his cloak....

Onisim was not at home. The whole morning he had been sitting in his
little room, deliberating with himself, grumbling and swearing between
his teeth, and, at last, he sallied off to Vassilissa. He found her in
the shop. Praskovia Ivanovna was asleep on the stove, rhythmically and
soothingly snoring.

'Ah, how d'ye do, Onisim Sergeitch,' began Vassilissa, with a smile;
'why haven't we seen anything of you for so long?'

'Good day.'

'Why are you so depressed? Would you like a cup of tea?'

'It's not me we're talking about now,' rejoined Onisim, in a tone
of vexation.

'Why, what then?'

'What! Don't you understand me? What! What have you done to my master,
come, you tell me that.'

'What I've done to him?'

'What have you done to him? ... You go and look at him. Why, before we
can look round, he'll be in a decline, or dying outright, maybe.'

'It's not my fault, Onisim Sergeitch.'

'Not your fault! God knows. Why, he's lost his heart to you. And you,
God forgive you, treated him as if he were one of yourselves. Don't
come, says you, I'm sick of you. Why, though he's not much to boast of,
he's a gentleman anyway. He's a gentleman born, you know.... Do you
realise that?'

'But he's such a dull person, Onisim Sergeitch....'

'Dull! So you must have merry fellows about you!'

'And it's not so much that he's dull: he's so cross, so jealous.'

'Ah, you, you're as haughty as a princess! He was in your way, I
dare say!'

'But you yourself, Onisim Sergeitch, if you remember, were put out with
him about it; "Why is he such friends?" you said; "what's he always
coming for?"'

'Well, was I to be pleased with him for it, do you suppose?'

'Well, then, why are you angry with me now? Here, he's given up coming.'

Onisim positively stamped.

'But what am I to do with him, if he's such a madman?' he added,
dropping his voice.

'But how am I in fault? What can I do?'

'I'll tell you what: come with me to him.'

'God forbid!'

'Why won't you come?'

'But why should I go to see him? Upon my word!'

'Why? Why, because he says you've a good heart; let me see if you've a
good heart.'

'But what good can I do him?'

'Oh, that's my business. You may be sure things are in a bad way, since
I've come to you. It's certain I could think of nothing else to do.'

Onisim paused for a while.

'Well, come along, Vassilissa, please, come along.'

'Oh, Onisim Sergeitch, I don't want to be friendly with him again ...'

'Well, and you needn't--who's talking of it? You've only to say a
couple of words; to say, Why does your honour grieve? ... give over....
That's all.'

'Really, Onisim Sergeitch ...'

'Why, am I to go down on my knees to you, eh? All right--there, I'm on
my knees ...'

'But really ...'

'Why, what a girl it is! Even that doesn't touch her! ...'

Vassilissa at last consented, put a kerchief on her head, and went out
with Onisim.

'You wait here a little, in the passage,' he said to her, when they
reached Pyetushkov's abode, 'and I'll go and let the master know ...'

He went in to Ivan Afanasiitch. Pyetushkov was standing in the middle of
the room, both hands in his pockets, his legs excessively wide apart; he
was slightly swaying backwards and forwards. His face was hot, and his
eyes were sparkling.

'Hullo, Onisim,' he faltered amiably, articulating the consonants very
indistinctly and thickly: 'hullo, my lad. Ah, my lad, when you weren't
here ... he, he, he ...' Pyetushkov laughed and made a sudden duck
forward with his nose. 'Yes, it's an accomplished fact, he, he, he....
However,' he added, trying to assume a dignified air, 'I'm all right.'
He tried to lift his foot, but almost fell over, and to preserve his
dignity pronounced in a deep bass, 'Boy, bring my pipe!'

Onisim gazed in astonishment at his master, glanced round.... In the
window stood an empty dark-green bottle, with the inscription: 'Best
Jamaica rum.'

'I've been drinking, my lad, that's all,' Pyetushkov went on. 'I've
been and taken it. I've been drinking, and that's all about it. And
where've you been? Tell us ... don't be shy ... tell us. You're a good
hand at a tale.'

'Ivan Afanasiitch, mercy on us!' wailed Onisim.

'To be sure. To be sure I will,' replied Pyetushkov with a vague wave of
his hand. 'I'll have mercy on you, and forgive you. I forgive every one,
I forgive you, and Vassilissa I forgive, and every one, every one. Yes,
my lad, I've been drinking.... Dri-ink-ing, lad.... Who's that?' he
cried suddenly, pointing to the door into the passage; 'who's there?'

'Nobody's there,' Onisim answered hastily: 'who should be there? ...
where are you going?'

'No, no,' repeated Pyetushkov, breaking away from Onisim, 'let me go, I
saw--don't you talk to me,--I saw there, let me go.... Vassilissa!' he
shrieked all at once.

Pyetushkov turned pale.

'Well ... well, why don't you come in?' he said at last. 'Come in,
Vassilissa, come in. I'm very glad to see you, Vassilissa.'

Vassilissa glanced at Onisim and came into the room. Pyetushkov went
nearer to her.... He heaved deep, irregular breaths. Onisim watched him.
Vassilissa stole timid glances at both of them.

'Sit down, Vassilissa,' Ivan Afanasiitch began again: 'thanks for
coming. Excuse my being ... what shall I say? ... not quite fit to be
seen. I couldn't foresee, couldn't really, you'll own that yourself.
Come, sit down, see here, on the sofa ... So ... I'm expressing myself
all right, I think.'

Vassilissa sat down.

'Well, good day to you,' Ivan Afanasiitch pursued. 'Come, how are you?
what have you been doing?'

'I'm well, thank God, Ivan Afanasiitch. And you?'

'I? as you see! A ruined man. And ruined by whom? By you, Vassilissa.
But I'm not angry with you. Only I'm a ruined man. You ask him. (He
pointed to Onisim.) Don't you mind my being drunk. I'm drunk, certainly;
only I'm a ruined man. That's why I'm drunk, because I'm a ruined man.'

'Lord have mercy on us, Ivan Afanasiitch!'

'A ruined man, Vassilissa, I tell you. You may believe me. I've never
deceived you. Oh, and how's your aunt?'

'Very well, Ivan Afanasiitch. Thank you.'

Pyetushkov began swaying violently.

'But you're not quite well to-day, Ivan Afanasiitch. You ought to
lie down.'

'No, I'm quite well, Vassilissa. No, don't say I'm not well; you'd
better say I've fallen into evil ways, lost my morals. That's what would
be just. I won't dispute that.'

Ivan Afanasiitch gave a lurch backwards. Onisim ran forward and held his
master up.

'And who's to blame for it? I'll tell you, if you like, who's to blame.
I'm to blame, in the first place. What ought I to have said? I ought to
have said to you: Vassilissa, I love you. Good--well, will you marry me?
Will you? It's true you're a working girl, granted; but that's all
right. It's done sometimes. Why, there, I knew a fellow, he got married
like that. Married a Finnish servant-girl. Took and married her. And
you'd have been happy with me. I'm a good-natured chap, I am! Never you
mind my being drunk, you look at my heart. There, you ask this ...
fellow. So, you see, I turn out to be in fault. And now, of course, I'm
a ruined man.'

Ivan Afanasiitch was more and more in need of Onisim's support.

'All the same, you did wrong, very wrong. I loved you, I respected
you ... what's more, I'm ready to go to church with you this minute. Will
you? You've only to say the word, and we'll start at once. Only you
wounded me cruelly ... cruelly. You might at least have turned me away
yourself--but through your aunt, through that fat female! Why, the only
joy I had in life was you. I'm a homeless man, you know, a poor lonely
creature! Who is there now to be kind to me? who says a kind word to me?
I'm utterly alone. Stript bare as a crow. You ask this ...' Ivan
Afanasiitch began to cry. 'Vassilissa, listen what I say to you,' he
went on: 'let me come and see you as before. Don't be afraid.... I'll
be ... quiet as a mouse. You can go and see whom you like, I'll--be all
right: not a word, no protests, you know. Eh? do you agree? If you like,
I'll go down on my knees.' (And Ivan Afanasiitch bent his knees, but
Onisim held him up under the arms.) 'Let me go! It's not your business!
It's a matter of the happiness of a whole life, don't you understand,
and you hinder....'

Vassilissa did not know what to say.

'You won't ... Well, as you will! God be with you. In that case, good-bye!
Good-bye, Vassilissa. I wish you all happiness and prosperity ... but
I ... but I ...'

And Pyetushkov sobbed violently. Onisim with all his might held him up
from behind ... first his face worked, then he burst out crying. And
Vassilissa cried too.


Ten years later, one might have met in the streets of the little town of
O---- a thinnish man with a reddish nose, dressed in an old green coat
with a greasy plush collar. He occupied a small garret in the baker's
shop, with which we are familiar. Praskovia Ivanovna was no longer of
this world. The business was carried on by her niece, Vassilissa, and
her husband, the red-haired, dim-eyed baker, Demofont. The man in the
green coat had one weakness: he was over fond of drink. He was, however,
always quiet when he was tipsy. The reader has probably recognised him
as Ivan Afanasiitch.

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