Oblomov, p.3
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       Oblomov, p.3

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘Don’t I, sir?’ Zakhar said in a hurt voice. ‘As if I wasn’t trying. Working my fingers to the bone, I am. Dusting and sweeping nearly every day.’

  He pointed to the middle of the floor and the table at which Oblomov had dinner.

  ‘Look there, sir, there,’ he said; ‘everything’s swept up and tidy as for a wedding. What more do you want?’

  ‘And what’s this?’ Oblomov interrupted him, pointing to the walls and the ceiling. ‘And this! And this!’

  He pointed to the towel left on the sofa since the day before and to a plate with a piece of bread on it, forgotten on the table.

  ‘Well, sir, I daresay I might take this away,’ said Zakhar, picking up the plate with a condescending air.

  ‘Only that? And what about the dust on the walls – the cobwebs?’ Oblomov said, pointing to the walls.

  ‘I usually sweep the walls before Easter, sir. I clean the icons then, too, and take off the cobwebs.’

  ‘And the books and pictures – when do you dust them?’

  ‘The books and pictures, sir, I do before Christmas: Anisya and I turn out all the book-cases then. How do you expect me to clean the place now? You’re at home all day, aren’t you?’

  ‘I sometimes go to the theatre or visit friends – that’s when you ought to do it.’

  ‘Can’t do things at night, can I, sir?’

  Oblomov gave him a reproachful look, shook his head, and sighed. Zakhar cast an indifferent glance out of the window and sighed, too. The master seemed to think: ‘Well, my dear chap, you’re even more of an Oblomov than I am.’ And Zakhar, quite likely, thought to himself: ‘Fiddlesticks! All you’re good at is to use high-sounding and aggravating words – you don’t care a fig for the dust and the cobwebs!’

  ‘Don’t you realize,’ said Oblomov, ‘that moths thrive on dust? And sometimes I can even see a bug on the wall!’

  ‘I’ve got fleas as well, sir,’ Zakhar remarked unconcernedly.

  ‘You think that’s all right, do you?’ Oblomov said. ‘Why, it’s vermin!’

  Zakhar grinned all over his face, so that his eyebrows and side-whiskers parted, and a red flush spread all over his face.

  ‘Isn’t my fault, sir, if there are bugs in the world,’ he said with naïve surprise. ‘I didn’t invent them, did I?’

  ‘It’s because of the dirt,’ Oblomov interrupted him. ‘What nonsense you do talk!’

  ‘I didn’t invent dirt, either.’

  ‘You’ve got mice running about in your room at night – I can hear them.’

  ‘I didn’t invent the mice, either. There are lots of these creatures everywhere, sir: mice and moths and bugs.’

  ‘How is it other people have neither moths nor bugs?’

  Zakhar’s face expressed incredulity, or rather a calm certainty that this never happened.

  ‘I’ve got lots of everything, sir,’ he said obstinately. ‘You can’t expect me to see to every bug. I can’t crawl into their cracks, can I?’

  He seemed to be thinking to himself: ‘And what would sleep be like without a bug?’

  ‘Sweep up the dirt out of the corners – then there won’t be any,’ Oblomov instructed him.

  ‘Sweep it up to-day and there’ll be plenty of it to-morrow,’ said Zakhar.

  ‘No, there won’t,’ his master interrupted him. ‘There shouldn’t be.’

  ‘There will be,’ the servant insisted; ‘I know, sir.’

  ‘Well, if there is, you must sweep it up again.’

  ‘What, sir? Sweep out all the corners every day?’ Zakhar asked. ‘Why, what sort of life would that be? I’d rather be dead!’

  ‘But why are other people’s rooms clean?’ Oblomov retorted. ‘Look at the piano-tuner’s opposite: it’s a pleasure to look at his place, and he has only one maid.’

  ‘And where, sir, do you expect Germans to get dirt from?’ Zakhar objected suddenly. ‘See how they live! The whole family gnaw a bone all the week. A coat passes from the father to the son and from the son back again to the father. His wife and daughters wear short frocks: their legs stick out under them like geese.… Where are they to get dirt from? They’re not like us, with stacks of worn-out clothes lying in wardrobes for years. They don’t get a whole corner full of crusts of bread during the winter. They don’t waste a crust, they don’t! They make them into rusks and have them with their beer!’

  Zakhar spat through his teeth at the thought of such a niggardly existence.

  ‘It’s no good your talking!’ replied Oblomov. ‘You’d better tidy up the rooms.’

  ‘Well, sir, I’d be glad to tidy up sometimes, but you won’t let me.’

  ‘There he goes again! It’s I who won’t let him, if you please!’

  ‘Of course it’s you, sir. You’re always at home: how can I tidy the place with you here? Go out for a whole day and I’ll get it nice and tidy.’

  ‘Good Lord! what next? Go out indeed! You’d better go back to your room.’

  ‘But really, sir,’ Zakhar insisted. ‘Why don’t you go out to-day, and Anisya and me will get everything ship-shape. Though, mind you, sir, we shan’t be able to do everything by ourselves – not the two of us: we should have to get some charwomen to come and wash.…’

  ‘Good Lord! what an idea – charwomen! Go on, back to your room,’ said Oblomov.

  He was sorry he had started the conversation with Zakhar. He kept forgetting that as soon as he touched on that delicate subject he got involved in endless trouble. Oblomov would have liked to have his rooms clean, but he could not help wishing that it would all happen somehow of itself, without any fuss; but the moment Zakhar was asked to dust, scrub, and so on, he always made a fuss. Every time it was mentioned he began proving that it would mean a tremendous lot of trouble, knowing very well that the very thought of it terrified his master.

  Zakhar left the room and Oblomov sank into thought. A few minutes later it again struck the half-hour.

  ‘Good heavens,’ Oblomov said almost in dismay, ‘it’ll soon be eleven o’clock, and I haven’t got up and washed! Zakhar! Zakhar!’

  ‘Dear, oh dear! What now?’ Zakhar’s voice came from the passage followed by the familiar sound of a jump.

  ‘Is my water ready?’ Oblomov asked.

  ‘Been ready for hours,’ Zakhar replied. ‘Why don’t you get up, sir?’

  ‘Why didn’t you tell me it was ready? I’d have got up long ago. Go now, I’ll follow you presently. I have some work to do. I’ll sit down and write.’

  Zakhar went out, but a minute later returned with a greasy notebook covered with writing and scraps of paper.

  ‘If you’re going to write, sir, you might as well check these accounts – they have to be paid.’

  ‘What accounts? What has to be paid?’ Oblomov asked, looking displeased.

  ‘The butcher, the greengrocer, the laundress, and the baker, sir. They are all asking for money.’

  ‘All they think of is money!’ Oblomov grumbled. ‘And why don’t you give me a few bills at a time? Why do you produce them all at once?’

  ‘But every time I do, sir, you tell me to go – it’s always tomorrow, to-morrow.’

  ‘Well, can’t we put it off till to-morrow now?’

  ‘No, sir. They keep on pestering me, sir. They won’t give us any credit. To-day’s the first of the month.’

  ‘Oh dear!’ said Oblomov dejectedly. ‘A fresh worry! Well, what are you standing there for? Put them on the table. I’ll get up presently, wash, and have a look at them. So my water is ready, is it?’

  ‘It’s ready, sir,’ said Zakhar.

  ‘All right, now – –’ he groaned and was about to raise himself in his bed in order to get up.

  ‘I forgot to tell you, sir,’ Zakhar began. ‘Just a few hours ago, while you were still asleep, the house agent sent the porter to say that we must move – they want the flat.’

  ‘Well, what about it? If they want it, we shall of course move. What are you pestering me for? I
t’s the third time you’ve told me.’

  ‘They’re pestering me too, sir.’

  ‘Tell them we’re going to move.’

  ‘They say, sir, you’ve been promising to move for the last month but you still don’t move. They’re threatening to tell the police.’

  ‘Let them!’ Oblomov said resolutely. ‘We’ll move as soon as the weather gets warmer – in three weeks or so.’

  ‘In three weeks, sir? Why, sir, the agent says the workmen are coming in in a fortnight’s time. They’re going to break the whole place down. You’ll have to move to-morrow or the day after – that’s what he says, sir!’

  ‘Does he? He’s in too much of a hurry! He wants us to move at once, does he? Don’t you dare even to mention the flat to me again. I’ve told you once before and you’re at it again. Take care!’

  ‘But what am I to do, sir?’ Zakhar asked.

  ‘What are you to do? So that’s the way you want to wriggle out of your responsibilities?’ replied Oblomov. ‘You’re asking me! What do I care? So long as you don’t bother me, you can make any arrangements you like, provided we haven’t got to move out of this flat! You won’t do anything for your master, will you?’

  ‘But what can I do, sir?’ Zakhar began, speaking in a soft, hoarse voice. ‘It’s not my house, is it? How can we refuse to go, if we’re being chucked out? Now, if it was my house, sir, I’d have been only too glad – –’

  ‘Can’t you persuade them somehow? Tell them we’ve been living here for years, always paid the rent regularly – –’

  ‘I told them that, sir.’

  ‘Oh? Well, what did they say?’

  ‘Why, sir, what do you think they said? They just keep on saying we must move because they have to do all sorts of alterations. You see, sir, they want to convert this flat and the doctor’s next door into one big flat in time for the landlord’s son’s wedding.’

  ‘Goodness me, how do you like that?’ Oblomov said with vexation. ‘To think that there are such donkeys who want to get married!’

  He turned over on his back.

  ‘Why don’t you write to the landlord, sir?’ said Zakhar. ‘Perhaps he wouldn’t bother you then, but tell the workmen to break down the flat next door first.’

  Zakhar pointed somewhere to the right.

  ‘Oh, very well, I’ll write as soon as I get up. You’d better go back to your room now, and I’ll think it over,’ he added. ‘It seems that you can’t do anything and I shall have to arrange this stupid affair myself too.’

  Zakhar went out of the room and Oblomov began thinking. But he could not make up his mind what he was to think of first: the bailiff’s letter, or moving out of the flat, or looking through the accounts. He was lost in a flood of worldly cares, and remained lying in bed, turning over from side to side. At times sudden cries were heard in the room: ‘Oh dear, oh dear! You can’t run away from life – it gets at you everywhere!’

  It is difficult to say how long he would have remained in this state of indecision, if there had not been a ring at the front door.

  ‘There’s someone at the door already,’ said Oblomov, wrapping his dressing-gown round him, ‘and I haven’t got up yet. Oh, it’s disgraceful! I wonder who it can be so early?’

  And without attempting to get up, he looked curiously at the door.

  2

  A YOUNG MAN of twenty-five, looking the picture of health, with laughing cheeks, lips, and eyes, entered the room. It made one envious to look at him.

  He was irreproachably groomed and dressed, and his countenance, linen, gloves, and frock-coat had a dazzling freshness. An elegant chain with numberless tiny trinkets stretched across his waistcoat. He pulled out a handkerchief of the finest lawn, inhaled the perfumes of the Orient, then, passing it lightly across his face and his shiny hat, flicked his patent leather boots with it.

  ‘Oh, Volkov, how are you?’ said Oblomov.

  ‘How are you, Oblomov?’ the dazzling gentleman said, walking up to him.

  ‘Don’t come near me,’ Oblomov cried, ‘don’t come near me; you’re straight from the cold street!’

  ‘Oh, you spoilt darling, you sybarite!’ Volkov said, looking for a place to put down his hat, but, seeing the dust everywhere, he decided to keep it in his hand. He parted the skirts of his frock-coat to sit down, but after a careful glance at the arm-chair, remained standing.

  ‘You aren’t up yet! What an old-fashioned dressing-gown you’re wearing – I haven’t seen one like it for ages!’

  ‘It’s a perfectly good dressing-gown,’ said Oblomov, lovingly wrapping the wide folds of the garment round him.

  ‘Are you well?’ asked Volkov.

  ‘Well? Good Lord, no!’ Oblomov answered, yawning. ‘Couldn’t feel worse. High blood pressure, you know. And how are you?’

  ‘Me? I’m all right. In perfect health, and having a jolly good time,’ the young man added with feeling.

  ‘Where do you come from so early?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘From my tailor’s. How do you like my frock-coat? Splendid, isn’t it?’ he said, turning round before Oblomov.

  ‘Splendid! In excellent taste,’ said Oblomov. ‘But why is it so wide at the back?’

  ‘It’s a riding-coat; for riding on horseback.’

  ‘Oh, I see! But do you ride?’

  ‘Of course I do! I had the coat specially made for to-day. It’s the first of May to-day: Goryunov and I are going to Yekaterinhof. Oh, you don’t know, do you? Misha Goryunov has received his commission – so we’re celebrating to-day,’ Volkov added with enthusiasm.

  ‘Oh, indeed,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘He has a chestnut horse,’ Volkov went on. ‘All the horses in his regiment are chestnut; and mine is a black one. How will you go – will you walk or drive?’

  ‘Oh, I don’t think I’ll go at all,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘Not go to Yekaterinhof on the first of May? Good Lord, Oblomov!’ Volkov cried in surprise. ‘Why, everyone will be there!’

  ’Not everyone, surely,’ Oblomov observed lazily.

  ‘Do come, my dear fellow! Sofya Nikolayevna and Lydia will be alone in the carriage, and the seat opposite is entirely at your disposal.’

  ‘No, that seat is too small for me. And, besides, what on earth am I going to do there?’

  ‘Very well, in that case Misha could hire another horse for you.’

  ‘The things he thinks of!’ Oblomov said, almost to himself. ‘Why are you so interested in the Goryunovs?’

  ‘Oh!’ Volkov said, flushing crimson. ‘Shall I tell you?’

  ‘Do.’

  ‘You won’t tell anyone – on your word of honour?’ Volkov went on, sitting down on the sofa beside him.

  ‘I won’t.’

  ‘I – I’m in love with Lydia,’ he whispered.

  ‘Bravo! How long? – She’s very charming, I believe.’

  ‘For three weeks,’ Volkov said with a deep sigh. ‘And Misha is in love with Dashenka.’

  ‘Which Dashenka?’

  ‘Where have you been, Oblomov? You don’t know Dashenka? Why, the whole town is crazy about her dancing. To-night I’m going to the ballet with him: he wants to throw a bouquet on to the stage. I must introduce him into society. He’s so shy – a novice. Oh, good Lord, I have got to go and buy some camelias.’

  ‘Whatever for? You’d better come and dine with me. We’d have a talk. I’m afraid two awful things have happened to me – –’

  ‘Sorry, I can’t. I’m dining at Prince Tyumenev’s. The Goryunovs will be there and she – my darling Lydia,’ he added in a whisper. ‘Why have you given up the prince? It’s such a gay house! So wealthy! And their country cottage! Buried in flowers! They’ve added a balcony to it – gothique. I understand they’re going to have dances there in the summer – tableaux vivants! You’ll be coming, won’t you?’

  ‘No, I don’t think I will.’

  ‘Oh, what a splendid house! On their Wednesday at homes last winter there were never fewe
r than fifty people there – sometimes, indeed, there were as many as a hundred!’

  ‘Good heavens, I can imagine how horribly boring it must have been.’

  ‘Boring! How can you say that? The more the merrier. Lydia, too, used to come, but I never noticed her there, then suddenly –

  In vain to banish her from my mind I try,

  And by reason, my passion to tame– –’

  he sang, and without thinking sat down in the arm-chair, but jumped up immediately and began dusting his clothes.

  ‘How awfully dusty your room is!’ he said.

  ‘It’s all Zakhar’s fault!’ Oblomov complained.

  ‘Well, I must be off,’ said Volkov. ‘Must get those camelias for Misha’s bouquet. Au revoir.’

  ‘Come and have tea with me in the evening, after the ballet, and tell me all about it,’ Oblomov invited him.

  ‘I’m sorry, I’ve promised to go to the Mussinskys’; it’s their At Home to-day. Won’t you come, too? I’ll introduce you.’

  ‘No, thank you. What should I do there?’

  ‘At the Mussinskys’? Why, half the town is there! What should you do there? It’s a house where they talk about everything.’

  ‘That’s what I find so boring – talking about everything,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘Well, why don’t you go to the Mezdrovs’?’ Volkov interrupted him. ‘There they talk about one thing only – art. All you hear there is – the Venetian school, Bach and Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci – –’

  ‘Always the same thing – how boring!’ said Oblomov with a yawn. ‘Pedants, I suppose.’

  ‘There’s no pleasing you. Why, there are hundreds of houses you can go to. Everyone has definite visiting days now: the Savinovs have dinners on Thursdays, the Maklashins on Fridays, the Vyaznikovs on Sundays, Prince Tyumenev on Wednesdays. I’m engaged every day of the week,’ Volkov concluded with shining eyes.

  ‘And don’t you find it exhausting to go rushing about day after day?’

  ‘Exhausting? Good Lord, no! It’s great fun!’ Volkov said happily. ‘In the morning I read the papers – one must be au courant with everything, know the news. Thank heavens my job in the Civil Service doesn’t require my presence at the office. All I’m supposed to do is to have dinner twice a week with the head of my department. Then I go visiting people I haven’t seen for some time – well, then – er – there’s always a new actress in the Russian or in the French theatre. The opera season will be opening soon and I shall book seats for it. And now I’m in love – summer is coming – Misha has been promised leave – we’ll go for a month to their estate for a change. We can do some shooting there. They have splendid neighbours who give bals champêtres. Lydia and I will go for walks in the woods, go boating, pick flowers – Oh!’ and he spun round and round with delight. ‘However, I must be off. Good-bye,’ he said, trying in vain to have a good look at himself in the dusty mirror.

 

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