Oblomov, p.19Ivan Goncharov
Meanwhile there was an uproar at home: darling Ilya had vanished! A noise, shouts. Zakhar rushed into the yard, followed by Vaska, Mitka, Vanka – all running about in confusion. Two dogs ran madly after them, catching them by the heels, for, as everyone knows, dogs cannot bear to see a running man. Shouting and yelling, the servants raced through the village, followed by the barking dogs. At last they came across the boys and began meting out justice: pulled them by the hair and ears, hit them across the back, and told off their fathers. Then they got hold of the young master, wrapped him in the sheepskin they had brought, then in his father’s fur coat and two blankets, and carried him home in triumph. At home they had despaired of seeing him again, giving him up for lost; but the joy of his parents at seeing him alive and unhurt was indescribable. They offered up thanks to the Lord, then gave him mint and elderberry tea to drink, followed by raspberry tea in the evening, and kept him three days in bed – yet only one thing could have done him good – playing snowball again.…
AS SOON as Oblomov’s snoring reached Zakhar’s ears, he jumped quietly and cautiously off the stove, tiptoed into the passage, locked his master in, and went to the gate.
‘Oh, Zakhar Trofimych, how are you? Haven’t seen you for ages!’ coachmen, valets, women, and errand boys by the gate cried in various voices.
‘What’s your master doing? Gone out, has he?’ the caretaker asked.
‘Asleep as usual,’ Zakhar said gloomily.
‘Is he now?’ a coachman asked. ‘A bit too early, isn’t it? Is he ill?’
‘Ill, indeed! Drunk as a lord!’ said Zakhar with such conviction that he might really have known it for a fact. ‘Would you believe it? Drank a bottle and a half of Madeira by himself and two quarts of kvas, so he’s sleeping it off now.’
‘Go on!’ the coachman said enviously.
‘What made him have so much to drink to-day?’ one of the women asked.
‘It isn’t only to-day, Tatyana Ivanovna,’ Zakhar replied, casting his sidelong glance at her. ‘He’s gone off the rails, that he has – makes me sick to talk of it!’
‘Just like my mistress,’ she remarked with a sigh.
‘Is she going out anywhere to-day, Tatyana Ivanovna?’ inquired the coachman. ‘I’d like to go to a place not far from here.’
‘Not her!’ replied Tatyana. ‘She’s sitting there with her sweetheart, and they can’t take their eyes off each other.’
‘He’s been coming to you pretty often lately,’ said the caretaker. ‘A damned nuisance he is at nights, I must say. Everyone’s come in, all the visitors have left, but he is always the last to go, and he makes a row if the main entrance is closed. Catch me guarding the front door for him!’
‘What a fool he is, my dears,’ said Tatyana. ‘You won’t find another one like him, I’m sure! The presents he gives her! She dresses up in all her finery like a peacock, and struts about so importantly, but if you’d only seen the petticoats and stockings she wears! Doesn’t wash her neck for a fortnight, but paints her face. Sometimes I can’t help thinking to myself, “Oh you poor creature, you ought to put a kerchief on your head and go to a monastery to pray for your sins, you ought to.”’
All laughed, except Zakhar.
‘She never misses, Tatyana Ivanovna doesn’t,’ approving voices said.
‘But, really, how could gentlemen have anything to do with a woman like that?’ Tatyana went on.
‘Where are you going to?’ someone asked her. ‘What have you in that bundle?’
‘I’m taking a dress to the dressmaker’s. My fine lady has sent me. Too big, if you please! But when Dunyasha and I start lacing her into her corsets, we can’t do anything with our hands for three days afterwards – everything snaps in them! But I must go – good-bye for the present.’
‘Good-bye, good-bye,’ said some.
‘Good-bye, Tatyana Ivanovna,’ said the coachman. ‘Come along and see me in the evening.’
‘Well, I don’t know, I’m sure. I may and I mayn’t. Good-bye.’
‘Well, good-bye,’ they all said.
‘Good-bye, good luck to you,’ she replied, going away.
‘Good-bye, Tatyana Ivanovna,’ the coachman called after her.
‘Good-bye!’ she cried loudly in the distance.
When she had gone, Zakhar seemed to have been waiting his turn to speak. He sat down on the iron post by the gate and began swinging his legs, watching the passers-by and the people in the carriages gloomily and absent-mindedly.
‘Well, how is your master to-day, Zakhar Trofimych?’ asked the caretaker.
‘Just as ever,’ said Zakhar. ‘Doesn’t know what he wants. And it was all because of you that I had so much trouble to-day: all about the flat! He’s furious – don’t want to move.’
‘It’s not my fault, is it?’ said the caretaker. ‘I don’t mind if he stays there for ever, I’m sure. I’m not the landlord, am I? Of course, if I were the landlord – but then I’m not.…’
‘He doesn’t swear at you, does he?’ someone’s coachman asked.
‘He swears something awful! I don’t know how I can stand it!’
‘Well, I shouldn’t worry! It means he’s a good master if he swears all the time!’ a valet said, opening a round snuff-box slowly and noisily, and all the hands except Zakhar’s stretched out for a pinch.
There was general sniffing, sneezing, and spitting.
‘If he swears, it’s all the better,’ the valet went on. ‘The more he swears, the better it is: at least he won’t strike you if he swears. Now, I had a master who grabbed you by the hair before you knew what was wrong.’
Zakhar waited contemptuously for him to finish his tirade and then went on, addressing the coachmen.
‘So, you see,’ he said, ‘he’s quite likely to disgrace a fellow for nothing at all without turning a hair!’
‘Difficult to please, is he?’ asked the caretaker.
‘Dear me,’ Zakhar wheezed meaningfully, screwing up his eyes. ‘I can’t tell you how difficult he is to please! One thing’s wrong, and another thing’s not right, and I don’t know how to walk, or how to serve, and I break everything, and I don’t clean the place, and I steal things and I eat everything up – damn him! He was going on at me to-day something awful! And what about? There was a little bit of cheese left over from last week – you would be ashamed to throw it to a dog, but no, a servant mustn’t touch it! He asked for it and I said there was nothing left of it, so off he went! “You ought to be hanged,” he says, “you ought to be boiled in pitch,” he says, “and torn limb from limb with red-hot pincers! You ought to have an ashen stake driven through you,” he says. And on he goes, on and on and on. What do you think? The other day I scalded his foot – I’m hanged if I know how it happened – and he screamed something awful! If I hadn’t jumped back, he’d have hit me in the chest with his fist – I could see he wanted to – knocked me down, he would have!’
The coachman shook his head.
‘A smart gentleman and no mistake,’ said the caretaker. ‘Don’t give you much rope, he don’t.’
‘What I says is,’ the same valet said phlegmatically, ‘that if he swears at you, he’s a good chap. One who doesn’t swear is a hundred times worse: he looks and looks at you and before you know what’s wrong, he’s grabbed you by the hair!’
‘It didn’t do him no good,’ said Zakhar, without paying any attention to the valet who had interrupted him. ‘His foot hasn’t healed up yet. He still keeps putting ointment on it – let him!’
‘A high-spirited gentleman,’ said the caretaker.
‘Oh, terrible!’ Zakhar went on. ‘One day he’s sure to kill someone, you’ll see if he don’t. And for every little thing he calls me “bald-headed —” – I’d rather not say the rest. To-day he thought of something new: “venomous”, he said! How could he say a thing like that!’
‘Well, that’s nothing,’ the valet went on. ‘If he swears, you ought to be pleased – God ble
‘And it served you right,’ observed Zakhar, angered by his unasked-for interference. ‘I’d have treated you worse, I would.’
‘What is it he calls you, Zakhar Trofimych, a “bald-headed devil”?’ asked a boy-servant of fifteen.
Zakhar turned his head slowly and fixed him with a malignant glance.
‘Look out, my lad,’ he said sharply, ‘you’re too clever by half! You may belong to a general, but I’ll pull your hair, for all that! Back to your place with you!’
The boy walked away a few yards and stopped, looking at Zakhar with a smile.
‘What are you grinning at?’ Zakhar growled furiously. ‘Wait till I lay my hands on you. I’ll box your ears, I will. I’ll teach you how to grin at me!’
At that moment a huge footman in gaiters and shoulder-knots and with his livery coat unbuttoned ran out of the main entrance of the house. He went up to the page-boy, slapped his face, and called him a fool.
‘What’s the matter, Matvey Moiseich?’ asked the ashamed and bewildered boy, holding his cheek and blinking convulsively. ‘What’s this for?’
‘Oh, so you’re talking, are you?’ replied the footman. ‘I’m looking all over the house for you, and you are here!’
He grabbed him by the hair, bent down his head, and hit him methodically three times with his fist across the neck.
‘The master’s rung five times,’ he added by way of a moral, ‘and I’m blamed because of you, you puppy! Off you go!’
And he pointed imperiously to the staircase. The boy stood still for a moment in a kind of stupor, blinked twice, glanced at the footman, and, seeing that he could not expect anything from him except a repetition of the same punishment, tossed his hair and ran briskly up the stairs.
What a triumph for Zakhar!
‘Give it him good and proper, Matvey Moiseich! Give him some more, some more!’ he said, beaming maliciously. ‘That wasn’t enough! Well done, Matvey Moiseich! Thank you! He’s too clever by half! That’s for calling me a “bald-headed devil”! You won’t be jeering at me again, will you now?’
The servants laughed, sympathizing with the footman, who had beaten the boy, and with Zakhar, who rejoiced maliciously at it. No one sympathized with the page-boy.
‘That’s exactly how my old master used to go on,’ the valet, who had kept interrupting Zakhar, began again. ‘You’d be thinking of having some fun and he’d seem to guess your thoughts and grab you just as Matvey Moiseich grabbed Andrey. What does it matter if he does call you a “bald-headed devil”?’
‘I daresay his master, too, would have grabbed you,’ the coachman replied, pointing at Zakhar. ‘Look at the growth on your head! But how is he to grab Zakhar Trofimych? His head’s like a pumpkin. Unless, of course, he caught him by the two beards on his jaws – aye, he could do that and all!’
They all burst out laughing, but Zakhar was thunderstruck by this sally of the coachman, who was the only one among them he talked to as a friend.
‘You wait till I tell my master,’ he began wheezing furiously at the coachman, ‘he’ll find something to grab you by: he’ll iron out that beard for you – look, it’s covered in icicles!’
‘Your master must be a terror, to iron out the beards of other people’s coachmen! No, sir: you get your own coachmen first and then stroke their beards for them, but I’m afraid you’re talking a bit too soon now!’
‘You don’t want us to engage a rogue like you for our coachman, do you?’ Zakhar wheezed. ‘You’re not good enough to draw my master’s carriage, you aren’t!’
‘Some master!’ the coachman observed sarcastically. ‘Where did you dig him up?’
He burst out laughing, followed by the caretaker, the barber, the footman, and the defender of the system of swearing.
‘You may laugh,’ Zakhar wheezed, ‘but wait till I tell my master! As for you,’ he added, turning to the caretaker, ‘you ought to restrain these scoundrels, instead of laughing. What are you here for? To keep order. And what do you do? I’m going to tell my master. You wait, sir: you’ll catch it!’
‘Come, come, Zakhar Trofimych,’ said the caretaker, trying to calm him. ‘What has he done to you?’
‘How dare he talk like that about my master?’ Zakhar replied warmly, pointing at the coachman. ‘Does he know who my master is?’ he asked in a reverential voice. ‘Why,’ he said, addressing the coachman, ‘you wouldn’t see a master like that in your dreams! Such a kindly, clever, handsome gentleman! And yours is just like an underfed nag! It’s disgraceful to see you driving out with your brown mare – just like beggars! All you eat is turnips and kvas. Look at that shabby coat of yours – all in holes!’
It should be observed here that the coachman’s coat had not a single hole in it.
‘Why, I couldn’t find one like yours if I tried,’ the coachman interrupted, quickly pulling out the piece of shirt that was showing under Zakhar’s arm.
‘Now, now, that will do,’ the caretaker repeated, trying to keep them apart.
‘Oh, so you’re tearing my clothes, are you?’ Zakhar cried, pulling out some more of his own shirt. ‘You wait, I’ll show it to my master! Look what he’s done – he has torn my coat!’
‘Me torn your coat!’ said the coachman, somewhat alarmed. ‘I suppose your master gave you a good thrashing.…’
‘My master?’ Zakhar said. ‘Why, he’s the soul of kindness – he wouldn’t hurt a fly, he would not, bless him! Living with him is like heaven – I have never wanted for anything and he never as much as called me a fool. I live in comfort and peace, I eat the same food as he, I can go out when I like – that’s the sort of way I live! And in the country I have a house of my own, a kitchen garden, as much corn as I like, and all the peasants bow low to me! I’m the steward and the butler! And you with your master – –’
He was so enraged that his voice failed him, so that he could not finally annihilate his adversary. He paused for a minute to gather strength and think of some really venomous word, but he was too furious to do so.
‘You wait and see what happens to you for tearing my clothes,’ he said at last. ‘They’ll teach you to tear them!’
In attacking his master, they hurt him to the quick, too. His ambition and vanity were roused, his loyalty was awakened, and expressed itself with all its force. He was ready to pour out the vials of his wrath not only on his adversary, but also on his adversary’s master and the master’s friends and relations, though he did not know whether he had any. He repeated with amazing precision all the slanderous stories about their masters he had gathered from his previous talks with the coachman.
‘And you and your master,’ he said, ‘are damned paupers. Jews, worse than Germans. I know who his grandfather was: a stall-holder in the flea-market. When your visitors left last night I wondered if they were not burglars who had got into the house: I felt sorry for them! His mother, too, used to sell stolen and threadbare clothes in the flea-market.’
‘Come, come, now!’ the caretaker tried to calm him.
‘Oh yes,’ Zakhar said, ‘my master is a born gentleman, thank God. All his friends are generals, counts, and princes. It isn’t every count he’ll invite to dinner, either; some of them come and have to wait in the hall.… All sorts of writers keep coming, too.…’
‘What sort of writers are they?’ asked the caretaker, intent on stopping the quarrel. ‘Are they civil servants or what?’
‘No,’ explained Zakhar, ‘they are gentlemen who invent everything they want themselves.’
‘What are they doing at your place?’ asked the caretaker.
‘Why, one of them will ask for a pipe of tobacco, another for a glass of sherry,’ said Zakhar, and paused, noticing that almost everyone was smiling sarcastically.
‘And you’re a lot of scoundrels, every one of you!’ he sai
‘Wait, wait! What’s the hurry?’ the caretaker cried. ‘Zakhar Trofimych! Let’s go and have a drink – come on!’
Zakhar stopped, turned back quickly, and, without looking at the other servants, rushed out into the street. He reached the door of the inn opposite the gate without paying heed to any of them, then he turned round, cast a sombre glance at the company, and motioning them even more sombrely to follow him, disappeared inside.
The others dispersed, too: some went into the inn, others went home: only the valet remained.
‘Well,’ he said thoughtfully and phlegmatically to himself, slowly opening his snuff-box, ‘what if he tells his master? You can see from everything that his master is a kind man – he’d only swear! There’s no harm in that, is there? Now, another one will just stare at you and then grab you by the hair.…’
SOON AFTEB YOUR Zakhar carefully and noiselessly opened the front door of his master’s flat and tiptoed to his room; then he walked up to the door of his master’s study, put his ear to it and, bending down, peeped through the key-hole.
From the study came the sound of regular snoring.
‘Asleep,’ he whispered. ‘I must wake him – it’ll be half-past four soon.’
He cleared his throat and went into the study.
‘Sir! sir!’ he began quietly, standing at the head of the bed. The snoring continued.
‘Oh, he’s fast asleep!’ said Zakhar. ‘Like a regular bricklayer! Sir!’
Zakhar touched Oblomov’s sleeve lightly.
‘Get up, sir! It’s half-past four!’
Oblomov just mumbled something, but did not wake.
‘Get up, sir! It’s disgraceful!’ Zakhar said, raising his voice.
‘Sir!’ Zakhar repeated, touching his master on the sleeve.
Oblomov turned his head a little, with difficulty opened one eye and looked at Zakhar as though he had been stricken with paralysis.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes