Oblomov, p.11
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       Oblomov, p.11

           Ivan Goncharov

  ‘Oh Lord, oh Lord!’ he murmured, overflowing with happiness, and came back to reality. He heard five people shouting their wares in the courtyard: ‘Potatoes! Who wants sand – sand? Coals! Coals! Spare a few coppers for building a temple of God, ladies and gentlemen!’ And from the house that was being built next door came the sound of axes and the shouts of workmen.

  ‘Oh dear!’ Oblomov sighed mournfully aloud. ‘What a life! How horrible these town noises are! When will the heavenly life I long for come? When shall I return to my native woods and fields? Oh,’ he thought, ‘if only I were lying under a tree on the grass now, looking at the sun through the branches and counting the birds on them. Some rosy-cheeked maid-servant with soft, round bare arms and a sunburnt neck would bring me my lunch or dinner, lowering her eyes, the pretty rogue, and smiling.… Oh, when will this time come at last?’

  ‘And what about my plan, the bailiff, the flat?’ he suddenly heard a voice inside him say.

  ‘Yes, yes!’ Oblomov said hurriedly. ‘At once! At once!’

  He quickly rose and sat up on the sofa, then he lowered his feet to the floor, got into both his slippers at once, and sat like that for several minutes; then he got up and stood thinking for a minute or two.

  ‘Zakhar! Zakhar!’ he called loudly, looking at the table and the inkstand.

  ‘Oh, what is it now?’ Zakhar muttered as he jumped off the stove. ‘I wonder I’ve still strength left to drag my feet about,’ he added in a hoarse whisper.

  ‘Zakhar!’ Oblomov repeated thoughtfully, without taking his eyes off the table. ‘Look here, old fellow,’ he began, pointing to the inkstand, but sank into thought again, without finishing the sentence.

  Then he raised his arms slowly, his knees gave way, as he began stretching himself and yawning.

  ‘We’ve still got some cheese left,’ he said slowly, still stretching himself, ‘and – er – yes, bring me some Madeira; dinner won’t be for some time yet, so I think I’ll have a little lunch.…’

  ‘Where was it left, sir?’ Zakhar said. ‘There was nothing left.’

  ‘What do you mean?’ Oblomov interrupted him. ‘I remember very well – it was a piece as big as that.’

  ‘No, sir,’ Zakhar insisted stubbornly. ‘There wasn’t any piece left at all.’

  ‘There was!’ said Oblomov.

  ‘There wasn’t,’ replied Zakhar.

  ‘Well, go and buy some.’

  ‘Give me the money, please, sir.’

  ‘There’s some change on the table, take it.’

  ‘There’s only one rouble forty copecks, sir, and the cheese costs one rouble sixty copecks.’

  ‘There were some coppers there too.’

  ‘I never saw them, sir,’ said Zakhar, shifting from one foot to another. ‘There was some silver and it’s still there, but there were no coppers.’

  ‘There were – the pedlar gave them to me himself yesterday.’

  ‘Yes, sir, I saw him give you your change,’ said Zakhar, ‘but I never saw no coppers.’

  ‘I wonder if Tarantyev took it,’ Oblomov thought irresolutely. ‘But no, he would have taken all the change.’

  ‘What else is there left?’ he asked.

  ‘Nothing, sir. There may be some ham left over from yesterday,’ said Zakhar. ‘I’ll go and ask Anisya. Shall I bring it?’

  ‘Bring what there is. But how is it there’s no cheese left?’

  ‘Well, there isn’t,’ said Zakhar, and went out.

  Oblomov slowly and thoughtfully paced about the study.

  ‘Yes,’ he said softly, ‘there’s plenty to do. Take the plan alone – lots of work still to be done on it! I’m sure there was some cheese left,’ he added thoughtfully. ‘It’s that Zakhar who’s eaten it and he’s just saying there wasn’t any. And where could the coppers have gone to?’ he went on, rummaging on the table.

  A quarter of an hour later Zakhar opened the door with the tray, which he carried in both hands. As he came into the room, he wanted to shut the door with his foot, but missed it and nearly fell over; a wine-glass, the stopper of the decanter, and a roll dropped to the floor.

  ‘You can’t take a step without dropping something,’ said Oblomov. ‘Well, pick up what you’ve dropped! Look at him, standing there and admiring his handiwork!’

  Zakhar, still holding the tray, bent down to pick up the roll, but as he squatted down, he realized that both his hands were still occupied and he could not possibly do so.

  ‘Well, sir, pick it up!’ Oblomov said sarcastically. ‘Why don’t you? What’s wrong?’

  ‘Oh, damn you all!’ Zakhar burst out furiously, addressing himself to the articles on the floor. ‘Who ever heard of having lunch before dinner?’

  And, putting down the tray, he picked up the things from the floor; taking the roll, he blew on it and then put it on the table.

  Oblomov began his lunch, and Zakhar remained standing at some distance from him, glancing at him sideways and evidently intending to say something. But Oblomov went on eating without taking the slightest notice of him. Zakhar coughed once or twice. Oblomov still paid no attention.

  ‘The landlord’s agent, sir, has just called again,’ Zakhar at last began timidly. ‘The builder has been to see him and asked if he could have a look at our flat. It’s all about the conversion, sir.…’

  Oblomov went on eating without answering a word.

  ‘Sir,’ Zakhar said after a pause, more quietly than ever.

  Oblomov pretended not to hear.

  ‘They say we must move next week, sir,’ Zakhar wheezed.

  Oblomov drank a glass of wine and said nothing.

  ‘What are we going to do, sir?’ Zakhar asked almost in a whisper.

  ‘I told you not to mention it to me again,’ Oblomov said sternly and, getting up, went up to Zakhar.

  Zakhar drew back from him.

  ‘What a venomous creature you are, Zakhar!’ Oblomov added with feeling.

  Zakhar was hurt.

  ‘Me, sir?’ he said. ‘Me venomous? I haven’t killed nobody.’

  ‘Why, of course you are venomous,’ Oblomov repeated. ‘You poison my life.’

  ‘No, sir,’ Zakhar insisted. ‘I’m not venomous, sir!’

  ‘Why, then, do you pester me about the flat?’

  ‘But what can I do, sir?’

  ‘What can I do?’

  ‘But you were going to write to the landlord, weren’t you, sir?’

  ‘Well, of course, I will write. But you must have patience. One can’t do it all at once.’

  ‘You ought to write to him now, sir.’

  ‘Now, now! I have much more important business to attend to. You think it’s just like chopping wood? Bang – and it’s done? Look,’ Oblomov said, turning a dry pen in the inkwell, ‘there no ink in the inkwell, either. How can I write?’

  ‘I’ll dilute it with kvas at once,’ said Zakhar, picking up the inkstand, and he walked quickly out of the room, while Oblomov began looking for note-paper.

  ‘I don’t think we have any note-paper in the house,’ he said, rummaging in a drawer and running his fingers over the table. ‘No, there isn’t! Oh, that Zakhar – what a damn nuisance the fellow is!’

  ‘Well,’ said Oblomov to Zakhar as he came back, ‘aren’t you a venomous creature? You never look after anything! Why isn’t there any note-paper in the house?’

  ‘But really, sir, how can you say that? I am a Christian, I am. Why do you call me venomous? Venomous, indeed! I was born and grew up in the old master’s time. He’d call me a puppy, and box my ears, but I never heard him call me that! He’d never have thought of such a word, he wouldn’t! There is no telling what you might do next! Here’s the paper, sir.’

  He picked up half a sheet of grey note-paper from the bookcase and gave it to Oblomov.

  ‘You don’t suppose I can write a letter on this, do you?’ Oblomov asked, throwing down the paper. ‘I’ve been using it to cover my glass at night so that nothing – venomous mig
ht drop into it!’

  Zakhar turned away and looked at the wall.

  ‘Oh, never mind, give it to me and I’ll write a rough draft and Alexeyev will copy it.’

  Oblomov sat down at the table and quickly wrote: ‘Dear Sir…’

  ‘What awful ink!’ said Oblomov. ‘Next time you’d better look out, Zakhar, and see everything’s done properly.’

  He thought a little and began writing.

  ‘The flat which I occupy on the second floor of the house in which you propose to make some alterations, entirely conforms to my mode of life and habits acquired by my long residence in this house. Having been informed by my serf, Zakhar Trofimov, that you had asked him to tell me that the flat I occupy…’

  Oblomov paused and read what he had written.

  ‘It’s awkward,’ he said. ‘There are two whichs at the beginning and two thats at the end.’

  He read it through in a whisper and transposed the words: which now seemed to refer to the floor – again awkward. He corrected it somehow and began thinking how he could avoid using that twice. He crossed out a word and then put it in again. He transposed that three times, but it either made nonsense or was too near the other that.

  ‘Can’t get rid of the second that!’ he said impatiently. ‘Oh, to hell with the letter! Rack my brains over such trifles! I’ve lost the knack of writing business letters. Good Lord, it’s almost three o’clock!’

  ‘Well, Zakhar, here you are!’

  He tore the letter into four and threw it on the floor.

  ‘Did you see that?’ he asked.

  ‘I saw it,’ replied Zakhar, picking up the bits of paper.

  ‘So don’t pester me any more about the flat, there’s a good fellow. And what have you got there?’

  ‘The bills, sir.’

  ‘Oh, good heavens, you’ll be the death of me! Well, how much is it? Tell me quickly?’

  ‘Eighty-six roubles and fifty-four copecks – to the butcher, sir.’

  Oblomov threw up his hands in dismay.

  ‘Have you gone mad? Such a lot of money for the butcher only?’

  ‘If you don’t pay for three months, sir, it’s liable to mount up. It’s all written down here. No one has stolen it!’

  ‘And you still say you’re not venomous, do you?’ said Oblomov. ‘Spent a million on beef! And what good does it do you? None at all as far as I can see.’

  ‘I didn’t eat it,’ Zakhar muttered angrily.

  ‘You didn’t, didn’t you?’

  ‘So you begrudge me my food now, do you, sir? Here, have a look at it yourself!’ And he shoved the bills to Oblomov.

  ‘Well, who else is there?’ said Oblomov, pushing away the greasy little books with vexation.

  ‘There’s another one hundred and twenty-one roubles and eighteen copecks owing to the baker and greengrocer.’

  ‘This is sheer ruin! It’s just madness!’ Oblomov said, losing his temper. ‘Are you a cow that you have munched so much greenstuff?’

  ‘No, sir, I’m a venomous creature!’ Zakhar observed bitterly, turning almost entirely away from his master. ‘If you didn’t let Mr Tarantyev come, you wouldn’t have to pay so much,’ he added.

  ‘Well, how much does it come to altogether? Count!’ said Oblomov and began counting himself.

  Zakhar was calculating on his fingers.

  ‘Goodness only knows how much it comes to: every time it’s different,’ said Oblomov. ‘Well, what do you make it? Two hundred, isn’t it?’

  ‘Half a minute, sir! Give me time!’ said Zakhar, screwing up his eyes and muttering. ‘Eight tens and ten tens – eighteen and two more tens – –’

  ‘Oh, you’ll never finish it,’ said Oblomov. ‘You’d better go back to your room and let me have the bills to-morrow, and see about the paper and ink too.… What a lot of money! I told you to pay a little at a time, but no! he prefers to pay all at once – what people!’

  ‘Two hundred and five roubles and seventy-two copecks,’ said Zakhar, having added it up. ‘Won’t you give me the money, sir?’

  ‘You want it at once, do you? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little longer. I’ll check it to-morrow.’

  ‘Just as you like, sir, only they’re asking for it – –’

  ‘All right, all right! Leave me alone, will you? I said tomorrow, and to-morrow you will have it. You go back to your room, and I’ll do a bit of work. I’ve something more important to worry about.’

  Oblomov settled in his chair and tucked his feet under him, but before he had time to start thinking, the doorbell rang.

  A shortish man with a small paunch, a fair complexion, red cheeks, and a bald head, covered at the back by a thick fringe of black hair, came into the room. The bald patch on his head was round, clean, and so shiny that it seemed to have been carved out of ivory. The visitor’s face was remarkable for the carefully attentive look with which he regarded everything he saw; there was an expression of reserve in his eyes and of discretion in his smile; his behaviour was distinguished by a modestly official decorum. He was wearing a comfortable frock-coat which opened widely and easily like a gate at a single touch. His linen was dazzlingly white, as though to match his bald head. On the forefinger of his right hand he wore a massive ring with some dark stone in it.

  ‘Doctor, how nice to see you!’ Oblomov cried, holding out one hand to the visitor and pulling up a chair for him with the other.

  ‘I’ve got tired of your being well all the time and not calling me in, so I called without being asked,’ the doctor replied jestingly. ‘Well, no,’ he added seriously afterwards. ‘I have been upstairs with your neighbour and have called in to see how you are.’

  ‘Thank you. And how’s the patient?’

  ‘Not so good, I’m afraid. He may last for three or four weeks or perhaps till the autumn, and then – it’s a dropsy in the chest; I’m afraid there’s no hope. Well, and how are you?’

  Oblomov shook his head sadly.

  ‘I’m not feeling at all well, doctor. I’ve been thinking of calling you in. I don’t know what to do. My digestion is awful; I’ve such a feeling of heaviness in the pit of the stomach, terrible heartburn, and attacks of breathlessness,’ Oblomov said, looking miserable.

  ‘Give me your hand,’ said the doctor, closing his eyes for a minute and feeling Oblomov’s pulse.

  ‘Any cough?’ he asked.

  ‘At night, especially after supper.’

  ‘I see. Any palpitations? Headache?’

  The doctor asked several more questions of the same kind, then he bent his bald head and thought deeply. After two minutes he suddenly raised his head and said in a firm voice:

  ‘If you spend another two or three years in this climate, and go on lying about and eating rich, heavy food, you’ll die of a stroke.’

  Oblomov gave a start.

  ‘What am I to do? Tell me, for heaven’s sake!’ he cried.

  ‘What everyone else does – go abroad.’

  ‘Abroad?’ Oblomov repeated in surprise.

  ‘Yes, why not?’

  ‘But! Good Lord, doctor – abroad! How can I?’

  ‘Why can’t you?’

  Oblomov looked silently at himself, at his study, and repeated mechanically:


  ‘What is there to prevent you?’

  ‘Why, everything.’

  ‘Everything? Have you no money?’

  ‘Well, as a matter of fact, I haven’t any money at all,’ Oblomov said quickly, glad of this perfectly natural excuse. ‘Just have a look what my bailiff writes me. Where’s the letter? Where have I put it? Zakhar!’

  ‘All right, all right,’ said the doctor. ‘That isn’t my business. It is my duty to tell you that you must change the manner of your life, the place, air, occupation – everything, everything.’

  ‘Very well, I’ll think about it,’ said Oblomov. ‘Where ought I to go and what must I do?’

  ‘Go to Kissingen or Ems,’ the doctor began. ‘Sp
end June and July there, drink the waters, then go to Switzerland or the Tyrol for a grape cure. Spend September and October there – –’

  ‘Good Lord, the Tyrol!’ Oblomov whispered in a barely audible voice.

  ‘… then to some dry place, say, to Egypt – –’

  ‘Good Lord!’ thought Oblomov.

  ‘Avoid worry and vexation – –’

  ‘It’s all very well for you to talk,’ said Oblomov. ‘You don’t get such letters from the bailiff.’

  ‘You must also avoid thinking,’ the doctor went on.


  ‘Yes, mental strain.’

  ‘And what about my plan for reorganizing my estate? Good heavens, doctor, I’m not a piece of wood, am I?’

  ‘Well, do as you like. It’s my duty to warn you. That’s all. You must also avoid passionate entanglements; they interfere with the cure. You must try and divert yourself by riding, dancing, moderate exercise in the fresh air, pleasant conversation, especially with ladies, so that your heart should be stirred lightly and only by pleasant sensations.’

  Oblomov listened to him dejectedly.

  ‘And then?’ he asked.

  ‘And then keep away from reading and writing – that’s very important! Hire a villa with a southern aspect, with lots of flowers, and see there are women about you and music – –’

  ‘What sort of food ought I to have?’

  ‘Avoid meat and animal food in general, also starchy food and meat jellies. You may have thin soup and vegetables, only remember there’s cholera about, so you must be careful. You may walk for about eight hours a day. Get yourself a shotgun – –’

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