Oblomov, p.25
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       Oblomov, p.25

           Ivan Goncharov

  She was fond of music, but preferred to sing mostly to herself or to Stolz or to some schoolfriend; and, according to Stolz, she sang better than any professional singer. As soon as Stolz sat down beside her, she began laughing and her laughter was so melodious, so sincere, and so infectious that whoever heard it was sure to laugh too, without knowing why. But Stolz did not make her laugh all the time; half an hour later she listened to him with interest, and occasionally gazed at Oblomov with redoubled interest – and Oblomov felt like sinking through the ground because of her glances.

  ‘What are they saying about me?’ he thought, looking at them anxiously out of the corner of his eye.

  He was on the point of leaving when Olga’s aunt called him to the table and made him sit down beside her, under the crossfire of the glances of all the other visitors. He turned round to Stolz apprehensively, but Stolz had gone; he glanced at Olga, and met the same interested gaze fixed upon him.

  ‘She is still looking at me!’ he thought, glancing in confusion at his clothes.

  He even wiped his face with his handkerchief, wondering if his nose was smudged, and touched his tie to see if it had come undone, for that sometimes happened to him; but no, everything seemed to be in order, and she was still looking at him! The footman brought him a cup of tea and a tray with cakes. He wanted to suppress his feeling of embarrassment and to be free and easy – and picked up such a pile of rusks and biscuits that a little girl who sat next to him giggled. Others eyed the pile curiously.

  ‘Good heavens, she too is looking!’ thought Oblomov. ‘What am I going to do with this pile?’

  He could see without looking that Olga had got up from her seat and walked to another end of the room. He felt greatly relieved. But the little girl gazed intently at him, waiting to see what he would do with the biscuits. ‘I must hurry up and eat them,’ he thought, and started putting them away quickly; luckily they seemed to melt in his mouth. Only two biscuits remained; he breathed freely and plucked up courage to look where Olga had gone. Oh dear, she was standing by a bust, leaning against the pedestal and watching him! She had apparently left her old place in order to be able to watch him more freely; she had noticed his gaucherie with the biscuits. At supper she sat at the other end of the table and she was talking and eating without apparently paying any attention to him. But no sooner did Oblomov turn apprehensively in her direction in the hope that she was not looking at him than he met her eyes, full of curiosity and at the same time so kind, too.…

  After supper Oblomov hastily took leave of Olga’s aunt: she invited him to dinner the next day and asked him to convey the invitation to Stolz as well. Oblomov bowed and walked across the whole length of the room without raising his eyes. Behind the piano was the screen and the door – he looked up: Olga sat at the piano and looked at him with great interest. He thought she smiled. ‘I expect,’ he decided, ‘Andrey must have told her that I had odd socks on yesterday or that my shirt was inside out!’ He drove home, out of spirits, both because of this suspicion and still more because of the invitation to dine which he had answered with a bow – that is to say, he had accepted it.

  From that moment Olga’s persistent gaze haunted Oblomov. In vain did he stretch out full length on his back, in vain did he assume the laziest and most comfortable positions – he simply could not go to sleep. His dressing-gown seemed hateful to him, Zakhar stupid and unbearable, and the dust and cobwebs intolerable. He told Zakhar to take out of the room several worthless pictures some patron of poor artists had forced upon him; he himself put right the blind which had not functioned for months, called Anisya and told her to clean the windows, brushed away the cobwebs, and then lay down on his side and spent an hour thinking of – Olga. At first he tried hard to recall what she looked like, drawing her portrait from memory. Strictly speaking, Olga was no beauty – that is, her cheeks were not of a vivid colour, and her eyes did not burn with an inward fire; her lips were not corals nor her teeth pearls, nor were her hands as tiny as those of a child of five nor her fingernails shaped like grapes. But if she were made into a statue, she would have been a model of grace and harmony. She was rather tall, and the size of her head was in strict proportion to her height, and the oval of her face to the size of her head; all this, in turn, was in perfect harmony with her shoulders and waist. Anyone who met her, even if he were absent-minded, could not help stopping for a moment before a creature so carefully and artistically made. Her exquisite nose was slightly aquiline; her lips were thin and for the most part tightly closed; a sign of concentrated thought. Her keen, bright, and wide-awake blue-grey eyes, which never missed anything, shone, too, with the same light and thought. The brows lent a peculiar beauty to her eyes: they were not arched, they had not been plucked into two thin lines above the eyes – no, they were two brown, fluffy, almost straight streaks, which seldom lay symmetrically: one was a little higher than the other, forming a tiny wrinkle above it which seemed to say something, as if some idea was hidden there. When she walked, her head, which was so gracefully and nobly poised on her slender, proud neck, was slightly inclined; her whole body moved evenly, striding along with so light a step that it was almost imperceptible.

  ‘Why did she look so intently at me yesterday?’ Oblomov thought. ‘Andrey swears that he never mentioned my socks and shirt to her, but spoke of his friendship for me, of how we had grown up and gone to school together – about all the good things we had experienced together, and he also told her how unhappy I was, how everything that is fine in me perishes for lack of sympathy and activity, how feebly life flickers in me and how – – But what was there to smile at?’ Oblomov continued to muse. ‘If she had a heart it ought to have throbbed or bled with pity, but instead – oh well, what does it matter what she did! I’d better stop thinking about her! I’ll go and dine there to-day – and then I shall never cross the threshold of her house!’

  Day followed day, and he never left Olga’s house. One fine morning Tarantyev moved all his belongings to his friend’s in Vyborg, and Oblomov spent three days as he had not done for years: without a bed, or a sofa, dining at Olga’s aunt’s. Then suddenly it appeared that the summer villa opposite to theirs was vacant. Oblomov rented it without inspecting it and settled there. He was with Olga from morning till night; he read to her, sent her flowers, went with her on the lake, on the hills – he, Oblomov! All sorts of strange things happen in the world, but how could this have come to pass? Well, it was like this:

  When Stolz and he dined at Olga’s, Oblomov suffered the same agonies at dinner as on the previous day: he ate and talked knowing that she was looking at him, feeling that her gaze rested on him like sunshine, burning him, exciting him, stirring his nerves and blood. It was only after smoking a cigar on the balcony that he succeeded in hiding for a moment from her silent, persistent gaze. ‘What is it all about?’ he asked himself, fidgeting nervously. ‘It’s sheer agony! Have I come here to be laughed at by her? She does not look at anyone else like that – she dare not. I’m quieter than the others – so she – I’ll talk to her,’ he decided. ‘I’d rather myself say in words what she’s trying to drag out of me with her eyes.’

  Suddenly she appeared before him at the balcony door; he offered her a chair and she sat down beside him.

  ‘Is it true that you’re awfully bored?’ she asked him.

  ‘It’s true, but not awfully,’ he replied. ‘I have some work to do.’

  ‘Mr Stolz told me that you were drawing up some scheme. Are you?’

  ‘Yes. I want to go and live in the country, so I’m gradually preparing myself for it.’

  ‘But aren’t you going abroad?’

  ‘Yes, certainly, as soon as Mr Stolz is ready.’

  ‘Are you glad you’re going?’ she asked.

  ‘Yes, I’m very glad.…’

  He looked at her: a smile crept all over her face, gleaming in her eyes or spreading over her cheeks; only her lips were tightly closed as always.

  He could not bring himse
lf to lie to her calmly.

  ‘I’m a little – er – lazy,’ he said, ‘but – –’

  He could not help feeling at the same time rather annoyed that she should so easily, almost without saying a word, have extracted from him a confession of laziness. ‘What is she to me? I’m not afraid of her, am I?’ he thought.

  ‘Lazy?’ she retorted, with hardly perceptible slyness. ‘Is it possible? A man and lazy – I don’t understand it.’

  ‘What is there not to understand?’ he thought. ‘It seems simple enough.’

  ‘I sit at home most of the time,’ he said. ‘That is why Andrey thinks that I – –’

  ‘But,’ she said, ‘I expect you write and read a lot. Have you read – –’ She looked intently at him.

  ‘No, I haven’t!’ he suddenly blurted out, afraid that she might try to cross-examine him.

  ‘What?’ she asked, laughing.

  He, too, laughed.

  ‘I thought you were going to ask me about some novel. I don’t read fiction.’

  ‘You’re wrong. I was going to ask you about books of travel.…’

  He looked keenly at her: her whole face was laughing, but not her lips.

  ‘Oh, but she’s – one must be careful with her,’ Oblomov thought.

  ‘What do you read?’ she asked curiously.

  ‘As a matter of fact, I do like books of travel mostly.’

  ‘To Africa?’ she asked softly and slyly.

  He blushed, guessing not without good reason that she knew not only what he read, but also how he read it.

  ‘Are you a musician?’ she asked, to help him to recover from his embarrassment.

  At that moment Stolz came up.

  ‘Ilya, I’ve told Olga that you’re passionately fond of music and asked her to sing something – Casta diva.’

  ‘Why have you been telling stories about me?’ Oblomov replied. ‘I’m not at all passionately fond of music.’

  ‘How do you like that?’ Stolz interrupted. ‘He seems offended! I recommend him to you as a decent chap and he hastens to disillusion you.’

  ‘I merely decline the part of a lover of music: it’s a doubtful and difficult part!’

  ‘What music do you like best?’ asked Olga.

  ‘It’s a difficult question to answer. Any music. I sometimes listen with pleasure to a hoarse barrel-organ, some tune I can’t get out of my mind, and at other times I’ll leave in the middle of an opera; Meyerbeer may move me, or even a bargeman’s song: it all depends on what mood I’m in, I’m afraid! Sometimes I feel like stopping my ears to Mozart.’

  ‘That means that you are really fond of music.’

  ‘Sing something, Olga Sergeyevna,’ Stolz asked.

  ‘But if Mr Oblomov is in such a mood that he feels like stopping his ears?’ she said, addressing Oblomov.

  ‘I suppose I ought to pay some compliment at this point,’ replied Oblomov. ‘I’m afraid I’m not good at it, and even if I were, I shouldn’t have dared to.…’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘Well,’ Oblomov observed ingenuously, ‘what if you sing badly? I’d feel awful afterwards.’

  ‘As with the biscuits yesterday,’ she suddenly blurted out, and blushed – she would have given anything not to have said it. ‘I’m awfully sorry,’ she said.

  Oblomov did not expect that and he was utterly confused.

  ‘It’s wicked treachery!’ he said in a low voice.

  ‘No, perhaps just a little revenge and that, too, quite unpremeditated, I assure you – because you hadn’t even a compliment for me.’

  ‘Maybe I shall have when I hear you.’

  ‘Do you want me to sing?’ she asked.

  ‘It’s he who wants you to,’ Oblomov replied, pointing to Stolz.

  ‘And you?’

  Oblomov shook his head.

  ‘I can’t want what I don’t know.’

  ‘You’re rude, Ilya,’ Stolz observed. ‘That’s what comes of lying about at home and putting on socks that – –’

  ‘But, my dear fellow,’ Oblomov interrupted him quickly, not letting him finish, ‘I could easily have said, “Oh, I shall be very glad, very happy, you sing so wonderfully, of course,”’ he went on, addressing Olga, ‘“it will give me,” etcetera. You didn’t really want me to say that, did you?’

  ‘But you might, I think, have expressed a wish that I should sing – oh, just out of curiosity.’

  ‘I daren’t,’ Oblomov replied. ‘You’re not an actress.’

  ‘Very well,’ she said to Stolz, ‘I’ll sing for you.’

  ‘Ilya,’ said Stolz, ‘have your compliment ready.’

  Meanwhile it grew dark. The lamp was lit, and it looked like the moon through the ivy-covered trellis. The dusk had hidden the outlines of Olga’s face and figure and had thrown, as it were, a crêpe veil over her; her face was in the shadow; only her mellow but powerful voice with the nervous tremor of feeling in it could be heard. She sang many love-songs and arias at Stolz’s request; some of them expressed suffering with a vague premonition of happiness, and others joy with an undercurrent of sorrow already discernible in it. The words, the sounds, the pure, strong girlish voice made the heart throb, the nerves tremble, the eyes shine and fill with tears. One wanted to die listening to the sounds and at the same time one’s heart was eager for more life.

  Oblomov was enchanted, overcome; he could hardly hold back his tears or stifle the shout of joy that was ready to escape from his breast. He had not for many years felt so alive and strong – his strength seemed to be welling out from the depths of his soul ready for any heroic deed. He would have gone abroad that very moment if all he had to do was to step into a carriage and go off.

  In conclusion she sang Casta diva: his transports, the thoughts that flashed like lightning through his head, the cold shiver that ran through his body – all this crushed him; he felt completely shattered.

  ‘Are you satisfied with me to-day?’ Olga asked Stolz suddenly as she finished singing.

  ‘Ask Oblomov what he thinks,’ said Stolz.

  ‘Oh!’ Oblomov cried, snatching Olga’s hand suddenly and letting it go at once in confusion. ‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured.

  ‘Do you hear?’ Stolz said to her. ‘Tell me honestly, Ilya, how long is it since this sort of thing happened to you?’

  ‘It could have happened this morning if a hoarse barrel-organ had passed by Mr Oblomov’s windows,’ Olga interposed, but she spoke so kindly and gently that she took the sting out of the sarcasm.

  He gave her a reproachful look.

  ‘He hasn’t yet taken out the double windows, so he can’t hear what’s happening outside,’ Stolz added.

  Oblomov gave Stolz a reproachful look.

  Stolz took Olga’s hand.

  ‘I don’t know why, but you sang to-day as you have never sung before, Olga Sergeyevna – at any rate, I’ve not heard you sing like that for a long time. This is my compliment,’ he said, kissing every finger of her hand.

  Stolz was about to say good-bye. Oblomov, too, wanted to go, but Stolz and Olga insisted that he should stay.

  ‘I have some business to attend to,’ Stolz observed, ‘but you’d merely go to lie down – and it’s still too early.’

  ‘Andrey! Andrey!’ Oblomov said imploringly. ‘No,’ he added, ‘I’m afraid I can’t stay – I must go!’ And he went.

  He did not sleep all night; sad and thoughtful, he walked up and down the room; he went out at daybreak, walked along the Neva and then along the streets, and goodness only knows what he was feeling and thinking. Three days later he was there again, and in the evening, when the other visitors had sat down to play cards, he found himself at the piano alone with Olga. Her aunt had a headache and she was sitting in her study sniffing smelling-salts.

  ‘Would you like me to show you the collection of drawings Mr Stolz brought me from Odessa?’ Olga asked. ‘He didn’t show it to you, did he?’

  ‘You’re not trying to entertain me like a h
ostess, are you?’ asked Oblomov. ‘You needn’t trouble.’

  ‘Why not? I don’t want you to be bored. I want you to feel at home here. I want you to be comfortable, free, and at your ease, so that you shouldn’t go away – to lie down.’

  ‘She’s a spiteful, sarcastic creature,’ Oblomov thought, admiring, in spite of himself, her every movement.

  ‘You want me to be free and at ease and not be bored, do you?’ he repeated.

  ‘Yes,’ she answered, looking at him as she had done before, but with an expression of still greater curiosity and kindness.

  ‘If you do,’ Oblomov said, ‘you must, to begin with, not look at me as you are looking now and as you did the other day – –’

  She looked at him with redoubled curiosity.

  ‘For it is this look that makes me feel uncomfortable.… Where’s my hat?’

  ‘Why does it make you feel uncomfortable?’ she asked gently, and her look lost its expression of curiosity, becoming just kind and affectionate.

  ‘I don’t know. Only I can’t help feeling that with that look you are trying to extract from me everything that I don’t want other people to know – you, in particular.’

  ‘But why not? You are a friend of Mr Stolz and he is my friend, therefore – –’

  ‘– therefore,’ he finished the sentence for her, ‘there is no reason why you should know all that Mr Stolz knows about me.’

  ‘There is no reason, but there is a chance.’

  ‘Thanks to my friend’s frankness – a bad service on his part.’

  ‘You haven’t any secrets, have you?’ she asked. ‘Crimes, perhaps?’ she added, laughing and moving away from him.

  ‘Perhaps,’ he answered, with a sigh.

  ‘Oh, it is a great crime,’ she said softly and timidly, ‘to put on odd socks.’

  Oblomov grabbed his hat.

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