Oblomov, p.20Ivan Goncharov
‘Who’s that?’ he asked hoarsely.
‘It’s me, sir. Get up, please.’
‘Go away!’ Oblomov muttered and sank into heavy sleep again. Instead of snoring, he began whistling through the nose. Zakhar pulled him by his dressing-gown.
‘What do you want?’ Oblomov asked sternly, opening both eyes suddenly.
‘You told me to wake you, sir.’
‘I know. You’ve done your duty and now clear out! Leave the rest to me.…’
‘I won’t go,’ Zakhar said, touching him again by the sleeve.
‘There now,’ Oblomov said gently, ‘leave me alone.’ And burying his face in the pillow, he was about to start snoring again.
‘You mustn’t, sir,’ said Zakhar. ‘I’d gladly leave you be, but I can’t.’
And he touched his master once more.
‘Now, do me a favour and don’t disturb me,’ Oblomov said earnestly, opening his eyes.
‘Aye, and if I did you the favour, you’d be angry with me for not waking you.’
‘Oh dear, what a man!’ said Oblomov. ‘Just let me sleep for one more minute – just one minute! I know myself – –’
Oblomov suddenly fell silent, overcome by sleep.
‘You know how to sleep all right!’ said Zakhar, convinced that his master did not hear him. ‘Look at him – sleeping like a log! What’s the good of a man like you? Get up, I tell you!’ Zakhar roared.
‘What’s that? What’s that?’ Oblomov said menacingly, raising his head.
‘Why don’t you get up, sir?’ Zakhar answered gently.
‘Yes, but what did you say, eh? How dare you talk to me like this – eh?’
‘Dare what, sir?’
‘Speak so rudely.’
‘You must have dreamt it, sir. I swear, you dreamt it.’
‘You thought I was asleep, did you? Well, I wasn’t. I heard everything.’
And he dropped off again.
‘Well,’ Zakhar said in despair, ‘what is one to do? What are you lying about like a log for? It makes one sick to look at you. Just look at him! Damn!
‘Get up! Get up!’ he suddenly said in a frightened voice. ‘Sir, look what’s happening!’
Oblomov quickly raised his head, looked about him, and lay down again with a deep sigh.
‘Leave me alone!’ he said gravely. ‘I told you to wake me and now I cancel my order – you hear? I’ll wake when I like.’
Sometimes Zakhar left him alone, saying: ‘Oh, sleep if you like, damn you!’ But sometimes he insisted on having his way, and he did that this time.
‘Get up, get up!’ he roared at the top of his voice, seizing Oblomov with both hands by the skirt of his dressing-gown and by the sleeve.
Oblomov suddenly jumped out of bed and rushed at Zakhar.
‘You wait,’ he said, ‘I’ll teach you how to disturb your master when he wants to sleep!’
Zakhar took to his heels, but at the third step Oblomov shook off his sleep and began stretching and yawning.
‘Give me – some kvas,’ he said, between his yawns.
At this moment someone behind Zakhar’s back burst into a peal of laughter. Both looked round.
‘Stolz! Stolz!’ Oblomov shouted joyfully, rushing towards his visitor.
‘Andrey Ivanich!’ Zakhar said with a grin. Stolz went on roaring with laughter; he had witnessed the whole scene.
STOLZ was only half German; on his father’s side. His mother was Russian; he was of the Eastern Orthodox faith; his native tongue was Russian; he learnt it from his mother and from books, in the University lecture-rooms, in his games with the village children, in conversations with their fathers and in the Moscow markets. The German language he inherited from his father and learnt from books.
Stolz had been brought up in the village of Verkhlyovo, where his father was steward. Ever since he was a boy of eight he had sat with his father over maps, spelt out the verses of Herder, Wieland, and the Bible, cast up the badly written accounts of the peasants, artisans, and factory hands, and read with his mother the stories from the sacred books, learnt by heart Krylov’s fables, and spelt out the verses of Télémaque. When his lessons were over he went bird-nesting with the village boys, and quite often the squeaking of young jackdaws came from his pocket during a lesson or at prayers. Sometimes when his father was sitting under a tree in the garden in the afternoon, smoking a pipe, and his mother was knitting a jersey or embroidering, a noise and shouts were heard from the street and a whole crowd of people would break into the house.
‘What’s the matter?’ his mother asked in alarm.
‘I expect they have brought Andrey again,’ his father replied calmly.
The doors burst open, and a crowd of peasants, women and boys, rushed into the garden. And, indeed, they had brought Andrey, but in what a state! Without his boots, his clothes torn, and his nose bleeding – or the nose of some other boy. His mother was always worried when Andrey disappeared for a day, and had not her husband positively forbidden her to interfere with the boy, she would have always kept him at her side. She washed him, changed his clothes, and for a whole day Andrey walked about looking such a clean and well-behaved little boy, but in the evening and sometimes in the morning someone again brought him home dirty, dishevelled, and unrecognizable, or the peasants would bring him back on the top of a hay-cart, or he would return with the fishermen, asleep on a net in their boat.
His mother cried, but his father did not mind at all – he actually laughed.
‘He’ll be a good Bursch – a good Bursch,’ he said sometimes.
‘But really, dear,’ his mother complained, ‘not a day passes without his coming home with a bruise, and the other day he came back with his nose bleeding.’
‘What kind of a child would he be if he never made his nose bleed – or someone else’s?’ his father said with a laugh.
His mother would burst into tears, but after a little while she would sit down at the piano and forget her troubles over Herz, her tears dropping on the keys. But soon Andrey came back or was brought home, and he began recounting his adventures so vividly and with such animation that he would make her laugh; and he was so quick too! Soon he was able to read Télémaque as well as she, and to play duets with her. Once he disappeared for a whole week. His mother cried her eyes out; his father did not seem to mind at all – he just walked in the garden smoking his pipe.
‘Now if Oblomov’s son had disappeared,’ he said in reply to his wife’s suggestion to go and look for him, ‘I’d have roused the whole village and the rural police, but Andrey will come back. He’s a good Bursch.’
Next morning Andrey was discovered sleeping peacefully in his bed. Under the bed lay a gun and a pound of powder and shot.
‘Where have you been?’ His mother began firing questions at him. ‘Where did you get the gun? Why don’t you speak?’
‘Oh, nowhere!’ was all he would say.
His father asked whether he had prepared the translation of Cornelius Nepos into German. ‘No,’ he replied.
His father took him by the collar, led him out of the gate, put his cap on his head and gave him such a kick from behind that he fell down.
‘Go back to where you’ve come from,’ he added, ‘and come back with a translation of two chapters instead of one, and learn the part from the French comedy for your mother – don’t show yourself until you have done it.’ Andrey returned in a week, bringing the translation and having learnt the part.
When he grew older, his father took him in the trap with him, gave him the reins, and told him to drive to the factory, then to the fields, and to the town, to the shops and to the Government offices, or to have a look at some special clay which he took in his fingers, sniffed, sometimes licked, and gave to his son to sniff, explaining what kind of clay it was and what it was good for. Or they would go to see how potash or tar was made or how lard was refined.
At fourteen or fifteen the boy wen
‘Recht gut, mein lieber Junge!’ his father said, after hearing his report, patting him on the shoulder with his large hand, and gave him two or three roubles, according to the importance of the commission.
His mother spent a long time afterwards washing the soot, dirt, clay, and oil off her darling. She was not altogether pleased with this business-like, practical education. She was afraid that her son would become the same kind of middle-class business man as his father’s people. She regarded the whole German nation as a crowd of patented middle-class tradesmen, and she disliked the coarseness, independence, and self-conceit with which the German masses everywhere asserted the civic rights they had acquired in the course of centuries, just like a cow that always carries her horns about with her and does not know where to hide them. In her opinion there was not and there could not be a single gentleman in the whole German nation. She could not discover any softness, delicacy, or true understanding in the German character, nothing that makes life so agreeable in good society, which makes it possible to infringe some rule, violate some generally accepted custom, or refuse to obey some regulation. No, those boorish fellows insisted on carrying out whatever had been assigned to them or what they happened to take into their heads – they were determined to act according to the rules if they had to knock through a wall with their heads.
She had been a governess in a rich family and had had an opportunity of going abroad, travelled all over Germany, and gained the impression that all Germans were just one mass of shop assistants, artisans, and store-keepers, smoking short pipes and spitting through their teeth; army officers straight as sticks with faces of common soldiers; and ordinary-looking officials – men who were capable only of hard work, of earning a living by the sweat of their brows, of keeping commonplace order, living dull lives and fulfilling their duties in a pedantic manner – all of them middle-class citizens with angular manners, large, coarse hands, plebeian freshness of complexion, and coarse speech. ‘However well you dress a German,’ she thought, ‘even if he wears the finest and whitest shirt, patent-leather boots and even yellow gloves, he still looks as though he had been made of boot leather; his rough, red hands would protrude from the white cuffs, and however elegant the clothes he wears, he looks always, if not like a baker, then like a barman. His rough hands seem to be asking for an awl or at least for a fiddle in an orchestra.’ In her son she hoped to see an ideal gentleman, for though he was the son of a middle-class German and a parvenu, his mother was a Russian lady, and he was a fair-skinned, well-built boy, with small hands and feet, a clear face and bright, alert eyes, such as she had often seen in rich Russian families and abroad, too, though not of course among the Germans. And this son of hers would be turning the mill-stones in the flour-mill, return home from the factory and the fields, like his father, covered in oil and manure, with rough, red, filthy hands and a wolfish appetite! She began cutting her son’s nails, curling his hair, making him elegant collars and cuffs, ordering his coats in the town; she taught him to listen to the wistful melodies of Herz, sang to him about flowers, about the poetry of life, whispered to him about the brilliant calling of a soldier or a writer, and dreamed with him of the exalted part some men are destined to play. And all these prospects were to be ruined by the clicking of an abacus, the sorting out of the greasy receipts of the peasants, his dealings with factory workers! She grew to hate even the trap in which her darling Andrey drove to the town, and the oilskin cap his father had given him, and the green chamois-leather gloves – all of them coarse attributes of a life of labour. Unfortunately, Andrey was a good scholar, and his father made him coach the other boys in his small boarding-school. But this perhaps would not have mattered so much if he did not pay him a salary, just like a German, as if he were some artisan, often roubles a month, and made him sign a receipt for it.
Be comforted, good mother: your son has grown up on Russian soil and not in a crowd of humdrum people with middle-class bovine horns and hands turning mill-stones. Oblomovka was nearby: there it was a perpetual holiday! There they looked upon work as a heavy burden; there the master did not get up at dawn and go to factories and spend his time near oily wheels and springs. In Verkhlyovo itself there was a big mansion, shut up for most of the year, and the high-spirited boy often found his way in, and there he saw large halls and galleries hung with dark portraits of people who did not have fresh, plebeian complexions and big, rough hands – he saw languid, light-blue eyes, powdered hair, delicate faces, full bosoms, lovely, blue-veined hands in lace cuffs, resting proudly on the hilt of a sword; he saw a whole succession of generations that had lived uselessly-noble lives in luxury, clad in brocades, velvet, and lace. These portraits told him the story of glorious days, battles and famous names, a story of old times which was very different from the one his father had told him a hundred times, spitting and smoking his pipe, of his life in Saxony spent between turnips and potatoes, between the market and the kitchen garden.
Once in three years this big mansion suddenly filled with people and overflowed with life – fêtes and balls followed each other, and in the long galleries lights burned at nights. The prince and the princess arrived with their family: the prince – a grey-haired old man, with a faded, parchment-like face, dull, protruding eyes and a large, bald head; he had three stars on his coat, wore velvet boots, and carried a gold snuff-box and a cane with a sapphire top; the princess was a handsome woman of majestic size and height, whom no one, not even the prince himself, it would appear, had ever approached closely or embraced or kissed, though she had five children. She seemed to be above the world into which she descended once in three years; she did not speak to anyone or go anywhere, but spent her time in the green corner room with three old ladies, and walked to church under an awning across the garden and sat there on a chair behind a screen.
In addition to the prince and the princess, there was a whole gay and lively world in the house, so that little Andrey looked with his childish green eyes at three or four different social sets, and eagerly and unconsciously absorbed with his quick mind the different types of this motley crowd as one does the gaily-dressed people at a fancy-dress ball. There were the young princes, Pierre and Michel, the first of whom at once showed Andrey how they sound the reveille in the cavalry and the infantry, what sabres and spurs the hussars and the dragoons wear, what the colour of the horses of the different regiments is, and what regiment one has to join on leaving school so as not to disgrace oneself.
As soon as Michel made the acquaintance of little Andrey, he put him in position and began performing wonderful tricks with his fists, hitting Andrey on the nose or in the stomach, and telling him afterwards that it was English boxing. Three days later Andrey, without any special training, smashed his nose for him both in the English and the Russian fashion, merely with the aid of a pair of muscular arms and rude country health, and gained the respect of both young princes. Then there were the two princesses, tall and slender girls of eleven and twelve, who were smartly dressed, who spoke and bowed to no one, and who were afraid of peasants. Their governess, Mademoiselle Ernestine, who used to take coffee with Andrey’s mother, and who taught her how to curl his hair, would sometimes put his head on her lap, twisting his hair in paper curlers till it hurt, then take his cheeks in her white hands and kiss him affectionately! Then there was their German tutor who made snuff-boxes and buttons on a turner’s wheel; their teacher of music, who was drunk from one Sunday to another; and a whole bevy of maids and, finally, a pack of big and little dogs. All this filled the house and the village with noise, uproar, clatter, shouts, and music.
Oblomovka, on the one hand, and the prince’s mansion with its life of ease and luxury, on the other, clashed with the German element, and Andrey grew up to be neither a good Bursch nor a philistine.
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