Oblomov, p.34
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       Oblomov, p.34

           Ivan Goncharov

  She instantly drew back a step; the triumphant radiance, the colour left her face, and her gentle eyes blazed sternly.

  ‘Never! Never! Don’t come near me!’ she said in alarm, almost in horror, stretching out both arms and her parasol to keep him at a distance and standing motionless, as though rooted to the spot, without breathing, in a stern attitude, and looking sternly at him, her head half turned.

  He sobered down suddenly: it was not the gentle Olga who stood before him, but an offended goddess of pride and anger with compressed lips and lightning in her eyes.

  ‘I’m sorry!’ he muttered in confusion, feeling utterly crushed.

  She turned slowly and walked on, glancing fearfully over her shoulder to see what he was doing. But he was doing nothing: he was walking slowly like a dog that had been scolded and that was walking with its tail between its legs. She had quickened her pace, but seeing his face, suppressed a smile, and walked on more calmly, though still shuddering from time to time. The colour came and went in her cheeks. As she walked, her face cleared, her breathing became more even and quieter, and once more she proceeded on her way with measured steps. She saw how sacred her ‘never’ was to Oblomov, and her fit of anger subsided gradually and gave way to pity. She walked slower and slower. She wanted to soften her outburst and she was trying to find some excuse for speaking.

  ‘I’ve made a mess of everything! That was my real mistake. “Never!” Good God! The lilac has withered,’ he thought, looking at the flowers on the tree. ‘Yesterday has withered, too, and the letter has withered, and this moment, the best in my life, when a woman has told me for the first time, like a voice from heaven, what good there is in me, has also withered!’

  He looked at Olga – she stood, waiting for him, with lowered eyes.

  ‘Please, give me the letter,’ she said softly.

  ‘It has withered!’ he replied sadly, giving her the letter.

  She drew close to him once more and bent down her head; her eyes were closed. She was almost trembling. He gave her the letter; she did not raise her head or move away.

  ‘You frightened me,’ she added softly.

  ‘I’m sorry, Olga,’ he murmured.

  She said nothing.

  ‘This stern “never!”…’ he said sadly and sighed.

  ‘It will wither!’ she said in a barely audible whisper, and blushed.

  She cast a shy, tender glance at him, took both his hands, pressed them warmly in hers, and then put them to her heart.

  ‘Do you hear how fast it is beating?’ she said. ‘You frightened me! Let me go!’

  And without looking at him, she turned round and ran along the path, lifting the hem of her skirt lightly.

  ‘Where are you off to?’ he cried. ‘I’m tired, I can’t keep up with you.’

  ‘Leave me,’ she repeated with burning cheeks. ‘I’m running to sing, sing, sing! There’s such a tightness in my chest that it almost hurts me!’

  He remained standing and gazed after her a long time, as if she were an angel that was flying away.

  ‘Will the moment wither too?’ he thought almost sadly, and he did not seem to know whether he was walking or standing.

  ‘The lilacs are over,’ he thought again. ‘Yesterday is over, and the night with its phantoms and its stifling horrors is over too.… Yes, and this moment will also be gone like the lilac. But while last night was drawing to a close, this morning was beginning to dawn.’

  ‘What is it, then?’ he said aloud in a daze. ‘And love too – love? And I had thought that like a hot noonday sun it would hang over lovers and that nothing would stir or breathe in its atmosphere; but there is no rest in love, either, and it moves on and on like all life, Stolz says. And the Joshua has not yet been born who could tell it: “Stand still and do not move!” What will happen to-morrow?’ he asked himself anxiously and wistfully, and walked home slowly.

  Passing under Olga’s windows he heard the strains of Schubert in which her tightened chest found relief and seemed to be sobbing with happiness.

  Oh, how wonderful life was!


  ATHOME Oblomov found another letter from Stolz, which began and ended with the words: ‘Now or never!’ It was full of reproaches for his immobility and included an invitation to come to Switzerland, where Stolz himself was going, and then to Italy. If Oblomov could not manage it, Stolz suggested that he should go to the country to see to his affairs, rouse his peasants to work, find out the exact amount of his income, and give the necessary orders for the building of the new house. ‘Remember our agreement: now or never,’ he concluded. ‘Now, now, now!’ Oblomov repeated. ‘Andrey does not know what a wonderful thing has happened in my life. What more does he want from me? Could I possibly be as busy as I am now? Let him try it! You read about the French and the English being always busy working, just as if they had nothing but business in mind. They travel all over Europe, and even in Asia and Africa, and not on business, either: some draw or paint, some excavate antiquities, some shoot lions or catch snakes. If they don’t do that, they sit at home in honourable idleness, have lunches and dinners with friends and ladies – that is what all their business amounts to! Why should I be expected to work hard? All Andrey thinks of is work and work, like a horse! Whatever for? I have plenty to eat and I’m decently dressed. Still, Olga did ask me again if I meant to go to Oblomovka.…’

  He threw himself into work. He wrote, made plans, even paid a visit to an architect. Soon the plan of the house and the garden lay on his little table. It was a large, roomy house with two balconies. ‘Here is my room, here is Olga’s, there’s the bedroom, the nursery…’ he thought with a smile. ‘But, dear me, the peasants, the peasants…’ and the smile disappeared and he frowned. ‘My neighbour writes to me, goes into all sorts of details, talks of land to be put under the plough, the yield of grain per acre.… What a bore! And he proposes that we should share the expense of making a road to a big trading village, and a bridge over a stream, asks for three thousand roubles and wants me to mortgage Oblomovka.… How do I know it is really necessary? If any good will come of it? He isn’t trying to cheat me, is he? I daresay he is an honest man – Stolz knows him – but he may be mistaken, and my money will be lost! Three thousand – it’s a lot of money! Where am I to get it? No, it’s too risky! He also writes that some of the peasants ought to be settled on the waste-land, and demands an answer at once – everything, it seems, must be done at once. He undertakes to send me all the documents for the mortgage of the estate. Send him a deed of trust and go to the courts to have it witnessed – what next! And I have no idea where the courts are and which door to try when I get there.’

  Oblomov did not answer his neighbour’s letter for a fortnight, and in the meantime even Olga asked him if he had been to the courts. A few days earlier Stolz sent a letter to him and one to Olga, asking what he was doing. Olga, no doubt, could keep only a superficial watch over her friend’s doings, and that, too, only in her own sphere. She could tell whether he looked happy, went everywhere readily, came to the woods at the appointed hour, was interested in the latest news or general conversation. She kept a particularly anxious watch that he did not lose sight of his main purpose in life. If she did ask him about the courts, it was only because she had to answer Stolz’s questions about the affairs of their friend.

  The summer was at its height; it was the end of July; the weather was excellent. Oblomov hardly ever parted from Olga. On fine days he was in the park with her, in the noonday heat he accompanied her to the woods, where he sat at her feet among the pine-trees, reading aloud; she had started another piece of embroidery – this time for him. In their hearts, too, it was hot summer: clouds sometimes scudded across their sky and passed away. If he had troubled dreams and doubt knocked at his heart, Olga kept watch over him like a guardian angel; she looked with her bright eyes into his face, discovered what was troubling him – and all was well again, and feeling flowed peacefully like a river reflecting the ever new pat
terns of the sky. Olga’s views on life, love, and everything had grown still clearer and more definite. She looked about her with more confidence and was not worried about the future; her mind had developed and her character had grown in depth and poetic diversity, showed new propensities; it was consistent, clear, steady, and natural. She had a kind of persistence which not only overcame all the storms that lay in wait for her, but also Oblomov’s laziness and apathy. If she decided that something should be done, it was done without delay. You heard of nothing else; and if you did not hear of it, you could see that she had only that one thing in mind, that she would not forget or give up or lose her head, but would take everything into account and get what she was out to get. Oblomov could not understand where she got her strength from nor how she could possibly know what to do and how to do it whatever circumstance might arise. ‘It’s because one of her eyebrows is never straight, but is raised a little, and there is a very thin and hardly perceptible line over it,’ he thought. ‘It’s there – in that crease – that her stubbornness lies concealed.’ However calm and contented her expression might be, this crease was never smoothed out and her eyebrows never lay level. But she was never overbearing in her ways and inclinations and she never exercised her strength crudely. Her stubbornness and determination did not make her less attractive as a woman. She did not want to be a lioness, to put a foolish admirer out of countenance by a sharp remark, or to surprise the whole drawing-room by the smartness of her wit, so that someone in a corner should cry, ‘Bravo! bravo!’ She even possessed the sort of timidity that is peculiar to many women: it is true, she did not tremble at the sight of a mouse or faint if a chair fell down, but she was afraid to walk too far from home, she turned aside if she saw a suspicious-looking peasant. She closed her window at night to make sure burglars did not climb in – all like a woman. Besides, she was so easily accessible to the feelings of pity and compassion. It was not difficult to make her cry; the way to her heart was easy to find. In love she was so tender, in her relations to everyone she showed so much kindness and affectionate attention – in short, she was a woman. There was sometimes a flash of sarcasm in her speech, but it was so brilliant and graceful, and it revealed so gentle and charming a mind, that one was only too glad to be its victim. On the other hand, she was not afraid of draughts and went lightly dressed at dusk – with no ill effect. She was brimming over with health, she had an excellent appetite, and knew how to prepare her favourite dishes herself. No doubt many other women are like that, too; but they do not know what to do in an emergency, and if they do, it is only what they have learnt or heard, and if they don’t they immediately refer to the authority of a cousin or an aunt.… Many do not even know what it is they want, and if they make up their minds about something they do it so listlessly that it is difficult to say whether they really want to do it or not. This is probably because their eyebrows are arched evenly and have been plucked with the fingers and because there is no crease on their foreheads.

  A kind of secret relationship, invisible to others, had been established between Olga and Oblomov: every look, every insignificant word uttered in the presence of others, had a special meaning for them. They saw in everything a reference to love. Olga sometimes flushed crimson, in spite of her self-confidence, if someone told at table a love-story that was similar to her own; and as all love-stories are very much alike, she often had to blush. Oblomov, too, at the mention of it, would suddenly seize, in his confusion, such a fistful of biscuits that someone was quite sure to laugh. They had grown cautious and sensitive. Sometimes Olga did not tell her aunt that she had seen Oblomov, and he would say at home that he was going to town and walk to the park instead. But however clear-sighted and practical she was, Olga began to develop some strange, morbid symptoms, in spite of her good health. She was at times overcome by a restlessness which she could not explain and which worried her. Sometimes as she walked arm in arm with Oblomov in the noonday heat, she leaned lazily against his shoulder and walked on mechanically, in a kind of exhaustion, and was obstinately silent. Her cheerfulness deserted her; she looked tired and listless and often fixed her eyes on some point and had not the energy to turn them on some other object. She felt wretched, some weight pressed on her breast and perturbed her. She took off her cloak, her kerchief, but it did not help – she still felt something weighing her down, oppressing her. She would have liked to lie down under a tree and stay there for hours. Oblomov was at a loss what to do; he fanned her with a branch, but she stopped him with a gesture of impatience, and went on feeling wretched. Then she sighed suddenly, glanced round her with interest, looked at him, pressed his hand, smiled, and her cheerfulness returned, she laughed and was self-possessed once more.

  One evening especially she had an attack of this restlessness, a kind of somnambulism of love, and revealed herself to Oblomov in a new light. It was hot and sultry; from the forest came the hollow rumble of a warm wind; the sky was overcast. It was growing darker and darker.

  ‘It’s going to rain,’ said the baron, and went home.

  Olga’s aunt retired to her room. Olga went on playing the piano pensively, but stopped at last.

  ‘I can’t go on,’ she said to Oblomov. ‘My fingers are trembling. I feel stifled. Let’s go into the garden.’

  They walked for some time along the paths hand in hand. Her hands were moist and soft. They entered the park. The trees and bushes were merged into a gloomy mass; one could not see two paces ahead; only the winding, sandy paths showed white. Olga looked intently into the darkness and drew closer to Oblomov. They wandered about aimlessly in silence.

  ‘I am afraid!’ Olga said suddenly with a start as they groped their way down a narrow avenue between two black, impenetrable walls of trees.

  ‘What of?’ he asked. ‘Don’t be afraid, darling; I am with you.’

  ‘I am afraid of you too!’ she said in a whisper. ‘Oh, but it is such a delightful fear! It makes my heart miss a beat. Give me your hand, feel how it beats!’

  She trembled and looked round. ‘See? See?’ she whispered with a start, clutching at his shoulders with both hands. ‘Don’t you see someone flitting about in the darkness?’

  She pressed closer to him.

  ‘There’s no one there,’ he said, but a cold shiver ran down his spine.

  ‘Darling,’ she whispered, ‘close my eyes quickly with something – tightly, please. Now I’m all right… it’s my nerves,’ she added agitatedly. ‘Look, there it is again! Who is it? Let us sit down.…’

  He felt his way to a seat and got her to sit down on it.

  ‘Let us go back, Olga,’ he entreated her. ‘You’re not well.’

  She put her head on his shoulder.

  ‘No,’ she said, ‘the air is fresher here. I feel so tight here – near the heart.’

  She breathed hotly against his cheek. He touched her head – it was hot too. She breathed irregularly and often heaved a sigh.

  ‘Don’t you think we’d better go into the house?’ Oblomov repeated anxiously. ‘You ought to lie down.’

  ‘No, no; please, leave me alone; don’t disturb me,’ she said languidly, almost inaudibly. ‘Something’s on fire here – here…’ she pointed to her chest.

  ‘Do let us go back, please,’ Oblomov hurried her.

  ‘No, wait. This will pass.…’

  She squeezed his hand and now and then looked close into his eyes and was silent a long time. Presently she began to cry, quietly at first, then broke into sobs. He did not know what to do.

  ‘For heaven’s sake, Olga, let us hurry indoors,’ he said in alarm.

  ‘It’s nothing,’ she said, whispering. ‘Don’t disturb me. Let me have a good cry – my tears will make me feel better – it’s just my nerves.…’

  He listened in the darkness to her heavy breathing, felt her warm tears on his hand, the convulsive pressure of her fingers. He did not stir or breathe. Her head lay on his shoulder and her breath burnt his cheek. He, too, was trembling, but he dared
not touch her cheek with his lips. After some time she grew more composed and her breathing became more regular. She did not utter a sound. He wondered if she were asleep and was afraid to stir.

  ‘Olga!’ he called her in a whisper.

  ‘What?’ she replied also in a whisper, and sighed aloud. ‘Now,’ she said languidly, ‘it’s passed. I’m better. I can breathe freely.’

  ‘Let us go,’ he said.

  ‘Let’s,’ she repeated reluctantly. ‘My darling!’ she whispered langourously squeezing his hand and, leaning against his shoulder, she walked home with unsteady steps.

  He looked at her in the drawing-room. She seemed weak and was smiling a strange, unconscious smile as though she were in a trance. He made her sit down on the sofa, knelt before her and, deeply touched, kissed her hand a few times. She looked at him with the same smile, not attempting to take her hands away, and, as he turned to go, followed him to the door with her eyes.

  In the doorway he turned round: she was still gazing at him, and there was the same look of exhaustion in her face and the same ardent smile as though she were not able to control it.… He went away wondering. He had seen that smile somewhere: he remembered a picture of a woman with such a smile – only it was not Cordelia.…

  The next day he sent to inquire how Olga was. She was quite well, was the reply she sent back, and would he please come to dinner, and in the evening they were all going for a three-mile drive to see the fireworks. He could not believe it and went to see for himself. Olga was as fresh as a daisy: her eyes were bright and cheerful, her cheeks rosy, and her voice strong and melodious. But she was suddenly confused, and almost cried out, when Oblomov came up to her, and flushed crimson when he asked how she was feeling after last night.

  ‘It was just a slight nervous upset,’ she said hurriedly. ‘Auntie says I ought to go to bed earlier. This has only happened to me lately and…’

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