Oblomov, p.29
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       Oblomov, p.29

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  The aunt looked at them carefully and shook her head slowly.

  ‘As you like, my dear, but if I were you I’d take straw-coloured or pensée.’

  ‘No, Auntie, I’d rather take these,’ Olga said gently, and took what she wanted.

  Olga asked her aunt’s advice not because she regarded her as an authority whose word was law, but as she would have asked any woman more experienced than she.

  ‘You’ve read this book, Auntie,’ she used to say. ‘What is it like?’

  ‘Oh, it’s horrible!’ said the aunt, pushing the book away, but not hiding it or taking any other measures to prevent Olga from reading it.

  And it would never have occurred to Olga to read it. If neither knew what the book was like, they asked Baron von Landwagen or Stolz, if he was available, and the book was read or not, according to their verdict.

  ‘My dear,’ the aunt might say sometimes, ‘I was told something yesterday about the young man who often talks to you at the Zavadskys’ – a rather silly story.’

  And that was all. She left it to Olga to decide whether to talk to him or not.

  Oblomov’s appearance in the house gave rise to no questions and attracted no particular attention on the part of the aunt, the baron, or Stolz himself. Stolz wanted to introduce his friend to a house where a certain decorum was observed, where people were not only not supposed to have a nap after their dinner, but where it was not considered proper to cross one’s legs, where one was expected to change for dinner and remember what one was talking about – in short, where one could not doze off or sink idly into a chair and where there was always lively conversation on some topic of general interest. Stolz, besides, thought that the presence of a sympathetic, intelligent, lively, and a little ironical young woman in Oblomov’s somnolent life would be like bringing into a gloomy, dark room a lamp that would shed an even light into all corners, raise its temperature by a few degrees and make it much more cheerful. That was all he tried to achieve in introducing his friend to Olga. He did not foresee that he was introducing a bomb that was liable to explode – neither did Olga, nor Oblomov.

  Oblomov spent two hours with Olga’s aunt, taking care to be on his best behaviour, without crossing his legs once and talking with the utmost decorum about everything; he even succeeded in twice pushing the footstool under her feet very dexterously. The baron arrived, smiled politely, and shook hands affably. Oblomov behaved still more decorously, and all three were extremely pleased with one another. Olga’s aunt had considered Olga’s walks and private talks with Oblomov as – or rather, she did not consider them at all. To go out for walks with a young man, a dandy, would have been quite a different matter: she would not have said anything even then, but with her usual tact would have imperceptibly arranged things differently: she would have accompanied them herself once or twice, sent someone else to chaperon her niece another time, and the walks would have come to an end by themselves. But to go out for a walk with ‘Mr Oblomov’, to sit with him in the corner of the large drawing-room or on the balcony – what did that matter? He was over thirty, and he was the last person in the world to talk sweet nothings to her or give her any improper books to read. Such a thing never occurred to any of them. Besides, the aunt had heard Stolz ask Olga on the eve of his departure not to let Oblomov doze, not to allow him to sleep in the daytime, but to worry him, make him do things, give him all sorts of commissions – in short, to take charge of him. And she, too, was asked not to lose sight of Oblomov, to invite him as often as possible, to see that he joined them in their walks and excursions, to rouse him in every possible way, if he did not go abroad.

  While Oblomov sat with her aunt, Olga did not show herself, and time dragged on slowly. Oblomov was again getting hot and cold in turns. Now he guessed the reason for this change in Olga and somehow this change worried him more than the first. His first blunder had made him ashamed and frightened, but now he was feeling worried, awkward, chilled, and miserable, as in damp, rainy weather. He had made it clear to her that he had guessed she loved him, and perhaps he had guessed it at an inopportune moment. That was indeed an insult that could scarcely be put right. And even if the moment had been opportune, how clumsy he had been! He was simply a brainless coxcomb! He might have frightened away the feeling that was timidly knocking at her young, virginal heart, to settle there lightly and warily like a bird on a branch: let there be the slightest sound, the faintest rustle – and away it flies. He waited nervously and with trepidation for Olga to come down to dinner, wondering what she would say, how she would speak, and how she would look at him.…

  She came down – and he could not help admiring her; he hardly recognized her. Her face was different, even her voice was not the same. The young, naïve, almost childish smile not once appeared on her lips; she did not once look at him with wide-open eyes questioningly or puzzled or with good-natured curiosity, as though she had nothing more to ask, find out, or be surprised at. Her eyes did not follow him as before. She looked at him as though she had known him for years and had studied him thoroughly, and, finally, as though he were nothing to her, no more than the baron – in short, he felt as though he had not seen her for a whole year during which she had grown into a woman. There was no trace of sternness or of the vexation of the day before; she joked and even laughed, and replied in detail to the questions she would have left unanswered before. It was obvious that she had made up her mind to force herself to behave as other people, which she had never done before. The freedom, the naturalness, which made it possible for her to say what was in her mind, was no longer there. Where had it all gone?

  After dinner he went up to ask her if she would care to go for a walk. Without answering him, she turned to her aunt and asked:

  ‘Shall we all go for a walk?’

  ‘Yes, if we don’t go too far,’ said the aunt. ‘Ask for my parasol, please.’

  And they all went. They walked without enthusiasm, looked at Petersburg in the distance, went as far as the woods, and returned to the balcony.

  ‘I don’t expect you feel like singing to-day, do you?’ asked Oblomov. ‘I’m afraid to ask you,’ he added, wondering whether her restraint would come to an end, her former cheerfulness return, and whether there was a chance of recapturing even for a moment, in a word, a smile or at least in her singing, her former sincerity, naïvety, and trustfulness.

  ‘It’s too hot!’ the aunt observed.

  ‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Olga, ‘I’ll try,’ and she sang one song.

  He listened and could not believe his ears. It was not she: where was the old passionate note? She sang so clearly, so correctly, and at the same time so – so like all young girls who were asked to sing in company: without passion. She had taken her soul out of her singing, and not a single nerve stirred in her listener. Was she playing a deep game, pretending or angry? It was impossible to tell: she looked at him kindly, she spoke readily, but she spoke as she sang, like everyone else.… What did it mean?

  Without waiting for tea, Oblomov took his hat and said good-bye.

  ‘Do come more often,’ said the aunt. ‘We’re always alone on week-days, if you’re not afraid to be bored, and on Sundays there’s always someone coming to see us, so you will certainly not be bored then.’

  The baron got up politely and bowed to him.

  Olga nodded to him as to an old friend, and when he was going out she turned to the window and looked out, listening with indifference to Oblomov’s retreating steps.

  These two hours and the next three or four days, or at most a week, had a profound effect on her and moved her a long way forward. Only women are capable of such a rapid expansion of all their powers and development of all sides of their nature. She seemed to be going through the course of life by hours rather than by days. And every hour the smallest and barely perceptible experience or incident that flashes past a man’s nose like a bird, is seized with inexpressible quickness by a young girl: she follows its flight in the distance, and the cu
rve it describes remains indelibly engraved on her memory as a sign or a lesson. Where a man needs a signpost with an inscription, a girl is satisfied with a faint rustle of the wind or a hardly audible tremor of the air. Why does a girl, whose face was so care-free and so ridiculously naïve, suddenly look so grave? What is she thinking of? It seems everything is contained in this thought of hers, the whole of man’s logic, of his speculative and experimental philosophy, the whole system of life! The cousin who not so long ago left her a little girl has finished his course, put on his epaulettes, runs up to her gaily, intending to pat her as before on the shoulder, to spin her round by the hands, to jump with her over chairs and sofas – but after one intent look at her face, he suddenly grows timid, walks away confused, realizing that he is still a boy while she is already a woman! Why? What has happened? A drama? Some great event? Some news that the whole town knows? Nothing has happened – mother, uncle, aunt, nurse, maid know nothing about it. Nor has there been time for anything to happen: she has danced two mazurkas and a few quadrilles and she had a headache for some reason: she spent a sleepless night.… And then it all passed off, except that there was something new in her face: she looked differently, she stopped laughing aloud, she did not eat a whole pear at one go, or tell how ‘at school they used to – –’. She, too, had finished her course.

  The next day, and the day after, Oblomov, like the cousin, hardly recognized Olga, and looked at her timidly, while she looked at him simply, just as at other people, without her former curiosity or kindliness.

  ‘What is the matter with her? What is she thinking or feeling now?’ he tormented himself with questions. ‘I’m hanged if I can make head or tail of it.’ And how indeed could he grasp the fact that what had happened to her, happens to a man of twenty-five with the help of twenty-five professors and libraries, after roaming about the world, and sometimes even at the cost of the loss of some of his moral freshness and physical and intellectual fitness – that is, that she had become a fully conscious human being. This she had achieved easily and practically at no cost at all.

  ‘No,’ Oblomov decided, ‘this is awfully boring. I’ll move to Vyborg, I’ll work, read, then go to Oblomovka – alone!’ he added with profound dejection. ‘Without her! Farewell, my paradise, my bright and peaceful ideal of life!’

  He did not go to Olga’s on the fourth or the fifth day; he did not read or write; he tried to go for a walk, but on coming out on to the dusty road going uphill, he said to himself: ‘Why should I drag myself out in such a heat?’ He yawned, went back home, lay down on the sofa, and sank into a heavy sleep as he used to in Gorokhovaya Street, in his dusty room, with the curtains drawn. His dreams were confused. Waking up, he saw the table set for dinner: cold fish and vegetable soup, Vienna steak. Zakhar stood looking sleepily out of the window; in the next room Anisya was rattling the plates. He had his dinner and sat down by the window. It was so boring, so absurd – always alone! Again he did not want to do anything or go out anywhere.

  ‘Have a look, sir, at the kitten our neighbours have given us,’ Anisya said, hoping to distract him and putting the kitten on his knee. ‘Would you like it? You asked for one yesterday.’

  He began stroking the kitten, but that, too, was boring.

  ‘Zakhar!’ he said.

  ‘Yes, sir?’ Zakhar responded listlessly.

  ‘I’m thinking of moving to town.’

  ‘To town, sir? But we have no flat.’

  ‘Why, we have one in Vyborg.’

  ‘But, sir, that’ll only mean moving from one summer cottage to another,’ Zakhar said. ‘Who do you want to see there? Not Mr Tarantyev, sir?’

  ‘But it’s not comfortable here.’

  ‘So it’s moving again, is it, sir? Good Lord, haven’t we had enough trouble as it is? Can’t find two cups and the broom, and I daresay they’re lost unless Mr Tarantyev has taken them off.’

  Oblomov said nothing. Zakhar went out and came back at once, dragging a trunk and a travelling bag.

  ‘And what are we to do with this, sir?’ he asked, kicking the trunk. ‘We might as well sell it.’

  ‘Have you gone off your head, man?’ Oblomov interrupted angrily. ‘I shall be going abroad in a few days.’

  ‘Abroad, sir?’ Zakhar said with a sudden grin. ‘You’ve been talking about it, that’s true enough, but going abroad, sir, is a different matter.’

  ‘Why do you think it so strange? I’m going, and that’s that. My passport is ready.’

  ‘And who’ll take your boots off there?’ Zakhar remarked ironically. ‘Not the maid-servants by any chance? Why, sir, you’ll be lost without me there!’

  He grinned again, his whiskers and eyebrows moving in opposite directions.

  ‘You’re talking a lot of nonsense!’ Oblomov said with vexation. ‘Take this out and go!’

  Next morning, as soon as Oblomov woke up at about nine o’clock, Zakhar, who had brought him his breakfast, told him that he had met the young lady on his way to the baker’s.

  ‘What young lady?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘What young lady? Why, the Ilyinsky young lady, Olga Sergeyevna.’

  ‘Well?’ Oblomov asked impatiently.

  ‘Well, sir, she sent you her greetings, and asked how you were and what you were doing.’

  ‘What did you say?’

  ‘Me, sir? I said you were all right – what could be wrong with you?’

  ‘Why do you add your idiotic reflections?’ Oblomov remarked. ‘What could be wrong with him! How do you know what’s wrong with me? Well, what else?’

  ‘She asked where you had dinner yesterday.’

  ‘Well?’

  ‘I said, sir, you had dinner at home, and supper at home, too. Why, the young lady asked, does he have supper? Well, sir, I told her you only had two chickens for supper.’

  ‘Id-i-ot!’ Oblomov said with feeling.

  ‘Why idiot, sir?’ said Zakhar. ‘Isn’t it true? I can show you the bones if you like.’

  ‘You are an idiot!’ Oblomov repeated. ‘Well, what did she say?’

  ‘She smiled, sir. Why so little? she asked.’

  ‘Oh dear, what an idiot!’ Oblomov repeated. ‘You might as well have told her that you put on my shirt inside out.’

  ‘She didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell her,’ Zakhar replied.

  ‘What else did she ask you?’

  ‘She asked me what you’d been doing all these days.’

  ‘Well, what did you say?’

  ‘I said you did nothing but just lay about.’

  ‘Oh Lord!’ Oblomov cried in great vexation, raising his fists to his temples. ‘Get out!’ he added sternly. ‘If ever again you dare to tell such stories about me you’ll see what I shall do to you! What a venomous creature this man is!’

  ‘You don’t expect me to go about telling lies at my age, do you, sir?’ Zakhar tried to justify himself.

  ‘Get out!’ Oblomov repeated.

  Zakhar did not mind abuse so long as his master did not use ‘pathetic words’.

  ‘I told her that you thought of moving to Vyborg,’ Zakhar concluded.

  ‘Go!’ Oblomov cried imperiously.

  Zakhar went out, heaving a loud sigh that could be heard all over the passage, and Oblomov began drinking tea. He drank his tea, and out of the large supply of rolls of different shapes he ate only one, fearful of some new indiscretion on Zakhar’s part. Then he lit a cigar, sat down at the table, opened a book, read a page, and was about to turn it over when he discovered that the pages had not been cut. He tore the pages with his finger, which left festoons round the edges. It was not his book but Stolz’s, and Stolz was so absurdly fussy about things, and especially about his books! Every little thing – papers, pencils, and so on – had to remain exactly as he had put them down. He should have taken a paper-knife, but it was not there; he could of course have asked for a paper-knife, but he preferred instead to replace the book and go to the sofa; he had no sooner put his head on the embroidered cu
shion so as to lie down more comfortably than Zakhar came into the room.

  ‘The young lady, sir, asked you to come to – oh dear, what do you call it?’ he announced.

  ‘Why didn’t you tell me about it two hours ago?’ Oblomov asked hastily.

  ‘You ordered me out of the room, sir,’ Zakhar replied. ‘You never let me finish.…’

  ‘Oh, you’ll be the death of me, Zakhar,’ Oblomov cried pathetically.

  ‘Oh dear, he’s starting again,’ Zakhar thought, turning his left whisker towards his master and gazing at the wall. ‘Just as he did the other day – sure to say something horrible.’

  ‘Where am I supposed to go?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘Well, sir, that what-d’you-call-it – the garden, is it?’

  ‘The park?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘Yes, sir, the park. She said to me, sir, would your master like to go for a walk, she said. I’ll be there, she said.’

  ‘Help me to dress!’

  Oblomov ran all over the park, looked round all the flowerbeds, glanced into the summer-houses – not a sign of Olga. He walked along the avenue where they had had their talk, and found her there on a seat near the place where she had plucked and thrown away the sprig of lilac.

  ‘I thought you would never come,’ she said in a kindly voice.

  ‘I’ve been looking for you all over the park,’ he replied.

  ‘I knew you would be looking for me and sat down in this avenue on purpose. I thought you would be quite sure to walk through it.’

  He was about to ask her what made her think so, but glancing at her, he said nothing. She looked different, not as she had been when they walked here, but as he had left her last time, when her expression had so greatly alarmed him. Even her kindness seemed somehow restrained, and her expression so concentrated and so definite; he saw that she would no longer be put off with guesses, hints, and naïve questions, that she had left that gay and childish moment behind her. Much of what had remained unsaid between them, and that might have been approached with a sly question, had been settled without words or explanations, goodness knows how, and there was no going back on it.

 
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