Oblomov, p.13
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       Oblomov, p.13

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  Not understanding what he had done, Zakhar did not know what verb to use at the end of his speech.

  ‘And I,’ went on Oblomov in the voice of a man who had been insulted and whose merits had not been sufficiently appreciated, ‘and I go on working and worrying day and night, sometimes with a burning head and a sinking heart. I lie awake at night, toss about, always thinking how to improve things – and for whom? Who is it I’m worrying about? All for you, for the peasants, and that means you, too… I daresay when you see me pull my blankets over my head you think I lie there asleep like a log. But no, I don’t sleep, I keep thinking all the time what I can do that my peasants should not suffer any hardships, that they should not envy the peasants belonging to other people, that they should not complain against me to God on the Day of Judgement, but should pray for me and remember me for the good I had done them. Ungrateful ones!’ Oblomov concluded bitterly.

  Zakhar was completely overcome by the last pathetic words. He began to whimper quietly.

  ‘Please, sir,’ he implored, ‘don’t carry on like that! What are you saying, sir? Oh, Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, what a terrible calamity has befallen us!’

  ‘And you,’ Oblomov went on, without listening to him – ‘you ought to be ashamed to say such things. That’s the sort of snake I’ve warmed in my bosom!’

  ‘Snake!’ Zakhar repeated, throwing up his hands and bursting out sobbing so loudly that it sounded as though two dozen beetles had flown into the room and begun buzzing. ‘When have I mentioned a snake?’ he said amidst his sobs. ‘Why, I never even dream of the cursed things!’

  Each had ceased to understand the other and, at last, they no longer understood themselves.

  ‘How could you have brought yourself to say a thing like that?’ Oblomov went on. ‘And in my plan I had assigned you a house of your own, a kitchen garden, a quantity of corn, and a regular wage! I had appointed you my steward, my butler, and my business manager! The peasants would bow low to you, they would all call you Zakhar Trofimych, Zakhar Trofimych! And you’re still dissatisfied, you put me on the same level as the “others”! That’s how you reward me! That’s how you abuse your master!’

  Zakhar continued to sob, and Oblomov himself was moved. While admonishing Zakhar, he was filled with the consciousness of the benefits he had conferred on his peasants, and he uttered his last reproaches in a trembling voice and with tears in his eyes.

  ‘Well, you can go now,’ he said to Zakhar in a conciliatory tone of voice. ‘Wait, give me some more kvas! My throat is parched. You might have thought of it yourself – can’t you hear your master is hoarse? That’s what you have brought me to! I hope,’ he went on when Zakhar had brought him the kvas, ‘you’ve understood your misdemeanour and that you won’t ever again compare your master to “other people”! To atone for your guilt, you must make some arrangement with the landlord so that we have not got to move. This is how much you care for your master’s peace of mind: you have thoroughly upset me and made it impossible for me to think of any new and useful idea. And who will suffer from it? You will. It is to my peasants that I have devoted all my life, it is for all of you that I have resigned from the service and sit shut up in my room. Well, never mind! There, it’s striking three. Only two hours left before dinner, and what can one do in two hours? Nothing. And there’s lots to be done. Oh well, I shall have to put off my letter till the next post and jot down the plan to-morrow. And now I’ll lie down for an hour: I’m worn out. Draw the blinds, shut the door, and be sure I’m not disturbed. Wake me at half-past four.’

  Zakhar began to seal up his master in the study; first he covered him up and tucked the blanket under him, then he drew the blinds, closed the doors tightly, and retired to his own room.

  ‘May you never get up again, you devil,’ he growled, wiping away the traces of tears and climbing on the stove. ‘A devil he is, and no mistake! A house of your own, a kitchen garden, wages!’ Zakhar, who had understood only the last words, muttered. ‘He knows how to talk, he does, just like cutting your heart with a knife! This is my house and my kitchen garden, and this is where I’ll peg out!’ he said, hitting the stove furiously. ‘Wages! If I didn’t pick up a few coppers now and then, I shouldn’t have anything to buy tobacco with or to treat my friend. Curse you!… I wish I was dead and buried!’

  Oblomov lay on his back, but he did not fall asleep at once. He kept thinking and thinking, and got more and more agitated.

  ‘Two misfortunes at once!’ he said, pulling the blanket over his head. ‘How is one to stand up to it?’

  But actually those two misfortunes – that is, the bailiff’s ominous letter and the moving – no longer worried Oblomov and were already becoming mere disturbing memories.

  ‘The troubles the bailiff is threatening me with are still far off,’ he thought. ‘All sorts of things can happen before that: the rains may save the crops, the bailiff may make good the arrears, the runaway peasants may be returned to their “place of domicile” as he writes.… And where could those peasants have gone to?’ he thought, getting more and more absorbed in an artistic examination of that circumstance. ‘They could not have gone off at night, in the damp and without provisions. Where would they sleep? Not in the woods, surely? They just can’t stay there! There may be a bad smell in a peasant’s cottage but at least it’s warm.… And what am I so worried about?’ he thought. ‘Soon my plan will be ready – why be frightened before I need to? Oh, you – –’

  He was a little more troubled by the thought of moving. That was the new and the latest misfortune. But in his present hopeful mood that fact, too, was already pushed into the background. Though he vaguely realized that he would have to move, particularly as Tarantyev had taken a hand in this business, he postponed it in his mind for at least a week, and thus gained a whole week of peace! ‘And perhaps Zakhar will succeed in coming to some arrangement so that it will not be necessary to move at all. Perhaps it could be arranged somehow! They might agree to put it off till next summer or give up the idea of conversion altogether; well, arrange it in one way or another! After all, I really can’t – move!’

  So he kept agitating and composing himself in turn, and, as always, found in the soothing and comforting words perhaps, somehow, in one way or another, a whole ark of hope and consolation as in the old ark of the Covenant, and succeeded with their help in warding off the two misfortunes for the time being. Already a slight, pleasant numbness spread over his body and began to cast a mist over his senses with sleep, just as the surface of the water is misted over with the first, timid frosts; another moment and his consciousness would have slipped away heaven only knows where, when suddenly he came to and opened his eyes.

  ‘But, good Lord, I haven’t washed! I haven’t done a thing!’ he whispered. ‘I was going to put down my plan on paper, and I haven’t done so. I haven’t written to the police inspector or the Governor. I began a letter to the landlord, but haven’t finished it. I haven’t checked the bills – or given Zakhar the money – a whole morning wasted!’

  He sank into thought. ‘What’s the matter with me? And would the “others” have done that?’ flashed through his mind. ‘“Others, others” – who are they?’

  He became absorbed in a comparison of himself with those ‘others’. He thought and thought, and presently an idea quite different from the one he had been expounding to Zakhar was formed in his mind. He had to admit that another one would have managed to write all the letters so that which and that would never have clashed with one another, that another would have moved to a new flat, carried out the plan, gone to the country.…

  ‘Why, I, too, could have done it,’ he reflected. ‘I can write well enough. I have written more complicated things than ordinary letters in my time! What has become of it all? And what is there so terrible about moving? It’s only a question of making up one’s mind! The “others”,’ he added a further characteristic of those other people, ‘never wear a dressing-gown’ – here he yawned –
they hardly ever sleep, they enjoy life, they go everywhere, see everything, are interested in everything.… And I – I am not like them!’ he added sadly and sank into deep thought. He even put his head out from under the blanket.

  It was one of the most clear-sighted and courageous moments of Oblomov’s life. Oh, how dreadful he felt when there arose in his mind a clear and vivid idea of human destiny and the purpose of a man’s life, and when he compared this purpose with his own life, and when various vital problems wakened one after another in his mind and began whirling about confusedly, like frightened birds awakened suddenly by a ray of sunlight in some dark ruin. He felt sad and sorry at the thought of his own lack of education, at the arrested development of his spiritual powers, at the feeling of heaviness which interfered with everything he planned to do; and was overcome by envy of those whose lives were rich and full, while a huge rock seemed to have been thrown across the narrow and pitiful path of his own existence. Slowly there arose in his mind the painful realization that many sides of his nature had never been awakened, that others were barely touched, that none had developed fully. And yet he was painfully aware that something good and fine lay buried in him as in a grave, that it was perhaps already dead or lay hidden like gold in the heart of a mountain, and that it was high time that gold was put into circulation. But the treasure was deeply buried under a heap of rubbish and silt. It was as though he himself had stolen and buried in his own soul the treasures bestowed on him as a gift by the world and life. Something prevented him from launching out into the ocean of life and devoting all the powers of his mind and will to flying across it under full sail. Some secret enemy seemed to have laid a heavy hand upon him at the very start of his journey and cast him a long way off from the direct purpose of human existence. And it seemed that he would never find his way to the straight path from the wild and impenetrable jungle. The forest grew thicker and darker in his soul and around him; the path was getting more and more overgrown; clear consciousness awakened more and more seldom, and roused the slumbering powers only for a moment. His mind and will had long been paralysed and, it seemed, irretrievably. The events of his life had dwindled to microscopic dimensions, but even so he could not cope with them; he did not pass from one to another, but was tossed to and fro by them as by waves; he was powerless to oppose one by the resilience of his will or to follow another by the force of his reason. He felt bitter at having to confess it all to himself in secret. Fruitless regrets for the past, burning reproaches of his conscience pricked him like needles, and he tried hard to throw off the burden of those reproaches, to find someone else to blame and turn their sting against. But who?

  ‘It’s all – Zakhar’s fault,’ he whispered.

  He recalled the details of the scene with Zakhar, and his face burned with shame. ‘What if someone had overheard it?’ he wondered, turning cold at the thought. ‘Thank goodness Zakhar won’t be able to repeat it to anyone, and no one would believe him, either.’

  He sighed, cursed himself, turned from side to side, looked for someone to blame and could not find anyone. His moans and groans even reached Zakhar’s ears.

  ‘It’s that kvas that’s given him wind,’ Zakhar muttered angrily.

  ‘Why am I like this?’ Oblomov asked himself almost with tears, hiding his head under the blanket again. ‘Why?’

  After seeking in vain for the hostile source that prevented him from living as he should, as the ‘others’ lived, he sighed, closed his eyes, and a few minutes later drowsiness began once again to benumb his senses.

  ‘I, too, would have liked – liked,’ he murmured, blinking with difficulty, ‘something like that – has nature treated me so badly – no, thank God – I’ve nothing to complain of – –’ There followed a resigned sigh. He was passing from agitation to his normal state of calm and apathy. ‘It’s fate, I suppose – can’t do anything about it,’ he was hardly able to whisper, overcome by sleep. ‘Some two thousand less than last year,’ he said suddenly in a loud voice, as though in a delirium. ‘Wait – wait a moment – –’ And he half awoke. ‘Still,’ he whispered again, ‘it would be interesting – to know why – I am like that!’ His eyelids closed tightly. ‘Yes – why? Perhaps it’s – because – –’ He tried to utter the words but could not.

  So he never arrived at the cause, after all; his tongue and lips stopped in the middle of the sentence and remained half open. Instead of a word, another sigh was heard, followed by the sound of the even snoring of a man who was peacefully asleep.

  Sleep stopped the slow and lazy flow of his thoughts and instantly transferred him to another age and other people, to another place, where we, too, gentle reader, will follow him in the next chapter.

  9

  OBLOMOV’S DREAM

  WHERE ARE WE? In what blessed little corner of the earth has Oblomov’s dream transferred us? What a lovely spot!

  It is true there is no sea there, no high mountains, cliffs or precipices, no virgin forests – nothing grand, gloomy, and wild. But what is the good of the grand and the wild? The sea, for instance? Let it stay where it is! It merely makes you melancholy: looking at it, you feel like crying. The heart quails at the sight of the boundless expanse of water, and the eyes grow tired of the endless monotony of the scene. The roaring and the wild pounding of the waves do not caress your feeble ears; they go on repeating their old, old song, gloomy and mysterious, the same since the world began; and the same old moaning is heard in it, the same complaints as though of a monster condemned to torture, and piercing, sinister voices. No birds twitter around; only silent sea-gulls like doomed creatures, mournfully fly to and fro near the coast and circle over the water.

  The roar of a beast is powerless beside these lamentations of nature, the human voice, too, is insignificant, and man himself is so little and weak, so lost among the small details of the vast picture! Perhaps it is because of this that he feels so depressed when he looks at the sea. Yes, the sea can stay where it is! Its very calm and stillness bring no comfort to a man’s heart; in the barely perceptible swell of the mass of waters man still sees the same boundless, though slumbering, force which can so cruelly mock his proud will and bury so deeply his brave schemes, and all his labour and toil.

  Mountains and precipices, too, have not been created for man’s enjoyment. They are as terrifying and menacing as the teeth and claws of a wild beast rushing upon him; they remind us too vividly of our frailty and keep us continually in fear of our lives. And the sky over the peaks and the precipices seems so far and unattainable, as though it had recoiled from men.

  The peaceful spot where our hero suddenly found himself was not like that. The sky there seems to hug the earth, not in order to fling its thunderbolts at it, but to embrace it more tightly and lovingly; it hangs as low overhead as the trustworthy roof of the parental house, to preserve, it would seem, the chosen spot from all calamities. The sun there shines brightly and warmly for about six months of the year and withdraws gradually, as though reluctantly, as though turning back to take another look at the place it loves and to give it a warm, clear day in the autumn, amid the rain and slush.

  The mountains there seem to be only small-scale models of the terrifying mountains far away that frighten the imagination. They form a chain of gently sloping hillocks, down which it is pleasant to slide on one’s back in play, or to sit on watching the sunset dreamily.

  The river runs gaily, sporting and playing; sometimes it spreads into a wide pond, and sometimes it rushes along in a swift stream, or grows quiet, as though lost in meditation, and creeps slowly along the pebbles, breaking up into lively streams on all sides, whose rippling lulls you pleasantly to sleep.

  The whole place, for ten or fifteen miles around, consists of a series of picturesque, smiling, gay landscapes. The sandy, sloping banks of the clear stream, the small bushes that steal down to the water from the hills, the twisting ravine with a brook running at the bottom, and the birch copse – all seem to have been carefully chosen and comp
osed with the hand of a master.

  A heart worn out by tribulations or wholly unacquainted with them cries out to hide itself in that secluded spot and live there happily and undisturbed. Everything there promises a calm, long life, till the hair turns white with age and death comes unawares, like sleep.

  The year follows a regular and imperturbable course there. Spring arrives in March, according to the calendar, muddy streams run down the hills, the ground thaws, and a warm mist rises from it; the peasant throws off his sheepskin, comes out into the open only in his shirt and, shielding his eyes with a hand, stands there enjoying the sunshine and shakes his shoulders with pleasure; then he pulls the overturned cart first by one shaft, then by the other, or examines and kicks with his foot at the plough that lies idle in the shed, getting ready for his usual labours. No sudden blizzards return in the spring, covering the fields or breaking down the trees with snow. Like a cold and unapproachable beauty, winter remains true to its character till the lawfully appointed time for warmth; it does not tease with sudden thaws or bend one double with unheard of frosts; everything goes on in the usual way prescribed by nature. In November snow and frost begin, and by Twelfth-day it grows so cold that a peasant leaving his cottage for a minute returns with hoar-frost on his beard; and in February a sensitive nose already feels the soft breath of approaching spring in the air. But the summer – the summer is especially enchanting in that part of the country. The air there is fresh and dry; it is not filled with the fragrance of lemons and laurels, but only with the scent of wormwood, pine, and wild cherry; the days are bright with slightly burning but not scorching sunshine, and for almost three months there is not a cloud in the sky. As soon as clear days come, they go on for three or four weeks; the evenings are warm and the nights are close. The stars twinkle in such a kindly and friendly way from the sky. If rain comes, it is such a beneficent summer rain! It falls briskly, abundantly, splashing along merrily like the big, warm tears of a man overcome with sudden joy; and as soon as it stops the sun once more looks down with a bright smile of love on the hills and fields and dries them; and the whole countryside responds to the sun with a happy smile. The peasant welcomes the rain joyfully. ‘The rain will wet me and the sun will dry me,’ he says, holding up delightedly his face, shoulders, and back to the warm shower. Thunderstorms are not a menace but a blessing there; they always occur at the appointed times, hardly ever missing St Elijah’s day on the second of August, as though to confirm the well-known legend among the people. The strength and number of thunder-claps also seem to be the same each year, as though a definite amount of electricity had been allotted annually for the whole place. Terrible storms, bringing devastation in their wake, are unheard-of in those parts, and no report of them has ever appeared in the newspapers. And nothing would ever have been published about that thrice-blessed spot had not a twenty-eight-year-old peasant widow, Marina Kulkov, given birth to quadruplets, an event the Press could not possibly have ignored.

 

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