Oblomov, p.35
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       Oblomov, p.35

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  She did not finish and turned away as though asking him to spare her. But she did not know herself why she was confused. Why should the memory of that evening and her attack of nerves worry her so much? She felt ashamed of something and annoyed with someone. Was it with herself or with Oblomov? And at moments she could not help feeling that Oblomov had grown nearer and dearer to her, that she felt attracted to him to the point of tears, as though she had entered into a kind of mysterious relationship with him since the night before. She could not fall asleep for a long time, and in the morning she walked alone in agitation along the avenue, from the house to the park and from the park to the house, thinking hard, lost in conjectures, frowning, blushing, smiling at something, and still unable to decide what it was all about. ‘Oh, Sonia,’ she thought in annoyance, ‘how lucky you are! You’d have decided at once!’

  And Oblomov? Why had he been so mute and motionless with her the night before, though her breath was burning his cheek, her warm tears fell on his hand, and he had almost carried her home in his arms and overheard the indiscreet whisper of her heart? Would another man have acted like that? Other men looked so impudently – –

  Though Oblomov had spent his youth among young people who knew everything, who had long ago solved all life’s problems, who did not believe in anything, and who analysed everything in a manner both detached and wise, he still believed in friendship, love, and honour, and however much he was, or might still be, mistaken about people, and however much his heart bled because of it, his fundamental conception of goodness and his faith in it had never been shaken. He secretly worshipped the purity of a woman, acknowledged its rights and power, and was willing to make sacrifices for its sake. But he had not enough strength of character publicly to acknowledge the doctrine of goodness and respect for innocence. He drank in its fragrance in secret, but publicly he sometimes joined the chorus of the cynics, who dreaded being suspected of chastity and respect for it, adding his own frivolous words to their boisterous chorus. He never clearly grasped how much weight attaches to a good, true, and pure word thrown into the torrent of human speeches and how profoundly it alters its course; he did not realize that when said boldly and aloud, with courage and without a blush of false shame, it is not drowned in the hideous shouts of worldly satyrs, but sinks like a pearl in the gulf of public life, and always finds a shell for itself. Many people stop short before uttering a good word, flushing bright red with shame, while they utter a frivolous one boldly and aloud, without suspecting that, unfortunately, it will not be lost, either, but will leave a long trail of sometimes ineradicable evil behind it. Oblomov, however, never put his frivolous words into practice: there was not a single stain on his conscience, nor could he be reproached with cold and heartless cynicism that knows neither passion nor struggle. He could not bear to hear the daily stories of how one man had changed his horses and furniture and another his woman, and of how much money these changes had cost. He often suffered for a man who had lost his human dignity, grieved for a woman, a complete stranger to him, whose reputation was ruined, but he said nothing, afraid of public opinion. One had to guess all this: Olga did guess it.

  Men laugh at such eccentric fellows, but women recognize them at once; pure and chaste women love them – from a feeling of sympathy; depraved ones seek intimacy with them – as a relief from their depravity.

  Summer was drawing to a close. The mornings and evenings were growing dark and damp. Not only lilac, but lime blossom was over, the berries had been gathered. Oblomov and Olga saw each other every day. He had caught up with life – that is, he mastered all the facts he had neglected for years; he knew why the French ambassador had left Rome, why the English were sending troopships to the East, and he was interested in the new roads being made in France and Germany. But he gave no thought to the road from Oblomovka to the large village, he had not had the deed of trust witnessed in the courts, and had not answered Stolz’s letter. The only subjects he mastered were those mentioned in the daily conversations at Olga’s house, or read in the newspapers received there, and thanks to Olga’s insistence he made a point of following current foreign literature. Everything else dissolved in pure love. In spite of the frequent changes in the rosy atmosphere, its main characteristic was a cloudless horizon. If Olga sometimes wondered about Oblomov and her love for him, if that love left her any free time or any free place in her heart, if not all her questions found a complete and ready answer in his mind, and his will did not respond to hers and he replied only by a long, passionate glance to her high spirits and bounding energy – if that happened, she sank into desolate brooding: something cold as a snake crept into her heart, wakened her from her day-dreams, and the warm, fairytale world of love was transformed into a grey autumn day. She wondered why she was dissatisfied, why her happiness was incomplete. What was lacking? What more did she want? Was it not her fate, her mission in life, to love Oblomov? That love was justified by his gentleness, by his pure faith in goodness, and above all by his tenderness, a tenderness she had never seen in a man’s eyes. What did it matter if he did not always respond to her glance, if his voice sounded differently from what she had seemed to hear once – was it in her dreams or in reality?… It was her imagination, her nerves: why listen to it and complicate matters unnecessarily? And, besides, if she wanted to escape this love – how was she to do it? The thing was done: she was already in love, and to discard love at will, like a dress, was impossible. ‘You can’t love twice in your life,’ she thought. ‘People say it is immoral.’ That was how she was studying love, greeting every fresh step with a tear or a smile and pondering over it. It was afterwards that the concentrated expression appeared under which both tears and smiles were hidden and which alarmed Oblomov so much. But she never even hinted to Oblomov about her thoughts and struggles.

  Oblomov did not study love; he gave himself up to the sweet drowsiness which he had once described in such glowing terms to Stolz. At times he began to believe in a life that was for ever cloudless, and once again he dreamt of Oblomovka, full of kind, friendly, and untroubled faces, of sitting on the verandah, of meditations that arise from perfect happiness. He sometimes indulged in these meditations even now, and twice without Olga’s knowledge he even fell asleep in the woods while waiting for her. Then, suddenly, a cloud appeared unexpectedly.…

  One day they were returning slowly and silently from a walk, and just as they were about to cross the high road, they saw a cloud of dust coming towards them, followed by a carriage in which Sonia and her husband and another lady and gentleman were driving.

  ‘Olga! Olga! Olga Sergeyevna!’ they cried.

  The carriage stopped. The ladies and gentlemen alighted, surrounded Olga, and began to exchange greetings and kisses. They all spoke together, and for some time did not notice Oblomov. Then they all looked at him suddenly, one gentleman through a lorgnette.

  ‘Who is this?’ Sonia asked quietly.

  ‘Ilya Ilyich Oblomov,’ Olga introduced him.

  They all walked to Olga’s house. Oblomov felt uncomfortable: he lagged behind the company and had already raised his foot over a fence to escape home through the rye when a look from Olga made him come back. He would not have minded if all these ladies and gentlemen had not looked at him so strangely. This, too, would not perhaps have mattered, for people had always looked at him like that before because of his sleepy and bored expression and his slovenly clothes. But the ladies and gentlemen looked in the same strange way at Olga, too, and their equivocal glances struck a chill into his heart; something seemed to gnaw at his heart, and the pain he felt was so excruciating that he could not bear it and went home, and was thoughtful and morose.

  On the following day Olga’s charming chatter and affectionate playfulness could not cheer him. In reply to her insistent questions, he had to plead a headache and submit patiently to having seventy-five-copecks’ worth of eau-de-Cologne poured on his head. Then, the day after that when they came back home late, Olga’s aunt looked someh
ow too wisely at them, especially at him, and then lowering her large, slightly puffy eyelids, thoughtfully sniffed her smelling-salts for a minute while her eyes seemed to be still looking at them. Oblomov felt unhappy, but he said nothing. He did not dare to confide his doubts to Olga, fearing to worry and alarm her, and, if the truth be told, he was also afraid for himself, afraid of disturbing their cloudless and unruffled world by so grave a question. For it was no longer a question whether or not it was a mistake on her part to have fallen in love with him, but whether the whole thing was not a mistake – those meetings of theirs in the woods alone and sometimes late in the evening.

  ‘I dared to ask for a kiss,’ he thought with horror, ‘and that is already a criminal offence against the moral code, and not a small one either! There are many stages before it: pressure of the hand, declaration, letter.… We’ve been through all that. But,’ he thought, raising his head, ‘my intentions are honourable, and I – –’

  And suddenly the cloud vanished, and he saw before him Oblomovka, bright and festive, basking in the brilliant sunshine, with its green hills and silvery river; he was walking dreamily with Olga down a long avenue, his arm round her waist; or he was sitting in the summer-house with her, or on the verandah.… Everyone bowed his head before her in adoration – in a word, everything was just as he had described it to Stolz.

  ‘Yes, yes,’ he thought in alarm again, ‘but I ought to have started with that. The thrice repeated “I love you”, the sprig of lilac, the declaration of love – all that ought to be the pledge of lifelong happiness, and never be repeated again, if the woman be pure. But what am I doing? What am I?’ the question kept hammering in his head. ‘I am a seducer, a lady-killer! All that is left for me to do is to follow the example of that dirty old rake with salacious eyes and a red nose, and stick a rose stolen from a woman in my buttonhole and whisper to my friends about my conquest so that – so that – – Oh Lord, where have I landed myself! That’s where the abyss is! And Olga is not soaring high above it – she is at the bottom – why? why?’

  He exhausted himself and cried like a child at the thought that the rainbow colours of his life had suddenly faded and that Olga was going to be sacrificed. His whole love was a crime, a blot on his conscience. Then his agitation subsided for a moment and he realized that there was a perfectly legal solution of his problem: to hold out his hand with a wedding ring to Olga.…

  ‘Yes, yes,’ he murmured, trembling with joy, ‘and her answer will be a look of shy consent.… She won’t utter a word; she will flush crimson and smile with all her heart, then her eyes will fill with tears.…’

  Tears and a smile, a silently held out hand, followed by lively, playful joy, a happy urgency in all her movements, a long, long conversation, an exchange of whispered confidences, and a secret agreement to merge two lives into one! A love, unseen by anyone but themselves, would shine through every triviality, in every conversation about everyday affairs. And no one would dare to insult them with a look.…

  His face suddenly became stern and grave.

  ‘Yes,’ he said to himself, ‘that’s where the world of straightforward, honourable, and lasting happiness is to be found! I felt ashamed to pluck these flowers, to rush about in the fragrance of love like a boy, to arrange assignations, walk in the moonlight, listening to the beats of a young girl’s heart, to catch the excitement of her dream.… Oh God!’ He blushed to the roots of his hair. ‘This very evening Olga shall know what stern duties are imposed by love; to-day I shall have my last meeting with her alone – to-day – –’

  He put his hand to his heart. It was beating strongly and regularly, as an honest man’s heart should. He was again upset at the thought of how grieved Olga would be when he told her that they must not meet; then he would tell her timidly of his intentions, but first he would find out what she thought and would enjoy her confusion.… Then he saw in his mind’s eye her shy consent, her smile, her tears, a silently held out hand, a long, mysterious whispering and kisses before the whole world.

  12

  HE RAN to look for Olga. He was told at her house that she had gone out; he went to the village – she was not there. He saw her walking up a hill in the distance, looking like an angel ascending the sky, so light was her step, so graceful her movements. He went after her, but she seemed scarcely to touch the grass with her feet, just as if she were really flying away. Half-way up the hill he began calling to her.

  She waited for him, but as soon as he came within ten feet of her, she walked on, again leaving a big distance between them, then stopped once more and laughed. He stopped at last, certain that she would not escape him. She ran down a few paces to him, gave him her hand, and, laughing, dragged him after her. They entered the wood: he took off his hat, and she mopped his forehead with her handkerchief and began fanning his face with her parasol.

  Olga was especially lively, talkative, and vivacious but, after a sudden outburst of affection, lapsed suddenly into thought.

  ‘Guess what I was doing yesterday,’ she asked when they sat down in the shade.

  ‘Reading?’

  She shook her head.

  ‘Writing?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Singing?’

  ‘No. Telling fortunes!’ she said. ‘The countess’s housekeeper came to see us yesterday. She can tell fortunes by cards and I asked her to tell mine.’

  ‘Well, what did she tell you?’

  ‘Nothing much. A journey, then a crowd of people, and a fair man everywhere, everywhere.… I blushed all over when she said suddenly in Katya’s presence that a king of diamonds was thinking about me. When she wanted to tell me whom I was thinking of, I mixed up the cards and ran away. You were thinking about me, weren’t you?’ she suddenly asked.

  ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘if only I could think less of you!’

  ‘And what about me?’ she said thoughtfully. ‘I seem to have forgotten that life can be different. When you were sulky last week and did not come for two days – you remember, you were cross – I suddenly changed and became terribly bad-tempered. I quarrelled with Katya as you do with Zakhar. I saw she was crying to herself and I wasn’t at all sorry for her. I didn’t answer Auntie, I didn’t listen to what she said, I didn’t do anything and didn’t want to go anywhere. But as soon as you came I grew quite different suddenly. I made Katya a present of my lilac dress.…’

  ‘That is love!’ he cried dramatically.

  ‘What is? A lilac dress?’

  ‘Everything! I can recognize myself in what you say. For me, too, life is not worth living without you. At night I keep dreaming of blossoming valleys. When I see you, I feel kind and active; when I don’t, I am bored, I feel lazy, I want to lie down and not think of anything.… Love, and never be ashamed of – your love.…’

  He fell silent suddenly. ‘What am I talking about? That’s not what I came for!’ he thought and began to clear his throat. He frowned.

  ‘And what if I should suddenly die?’ she asked.

  ‘What an idea!’ he said carelessly.

  ‘Oh, yes,’ she went on, ‘I’ll catch a cold and take to my bed with a high temperature. You will come here and not find me; you’ll come to us and they will tell you that I am ill. The same thing next day. The shutters in my room will be closed. The doctor will shake his head. Katya will come out to you on tiptoe, in tears, and whisper: “She is ill, she is dying.…”’

  ‘Oh!’ Oblomov cried suddenly.

  She laughed. ‘What will become of you then?’ she asked, looking at his face.

  ‘What will become of me? I’ll go off my head or shoot myself, and then you’ll get suddenly well again!’

  ‘No, no, don’t,’ she said nervously. ‘We are talking a lot of nonsense! Only you must never come to me when you’re dead: I’m afraid of ghosts.’

  He laughed and so did she.

  ‘Goodness, what children we are!’ she said, growing serious.

  He cleared his throat again.

  ‘Listen
– I want to say something.’

  ‘What?’ she asked, turning round to him quickly.

  He kept silent apprehensively.

  ‘Go on,’ she said, pulling him lightly by the sleeve.

  ‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ he said, becoming frightened.

  ‘Yes, you have something on your mind, haven’t you?’

  He was silent.

  ‘If it’s something dreadful, then you’d better not tell me!’ she said. ‘No, tell me!’ she suddenly added again.

  ‘But it’s nothing – just nonsense.’

  ‘No, no, I don’t believe you: there is something; tell me!’ she insisted, holding him by the lapels of his coat so closely that he had to keep turning his head from side to side so as not to kiss her.

  He would not have turned it but for the fact that her stern ‘Never!’ still rang in his ears.

  ‘Tell me!’ she persisted.

  ‘I can’t – it’s not necessary,’ he pleaded.

  ‘Why then did you preach to me that “confidence is the basis of mutual happiness”; that “not a single twist in one’s heart should be hidden from a friend’s eye”? Whose words are those?’

  ‘All I wanted to say,’ he began slowly, ‘was that I love you so much, so much that if – –’

  He hesitated.

  ‘Well?’ she asked impatiently.

  ‘That if you fell in love with someone who could make you happier than I, then I – I’d swallow my grief in silence and give up my place to him.’

  She let go of his coat suddenly.

  ‘Why?’ she asked in surprise. ‘I can’t understand it. I shouldn’t give you up to anyone. I don’t want you to be happy with another woman. This is a bit too clever. I don’t understand it.’

  Her glance wandered thoughtfully over the trees.

  ‘Then you don’t love me, do you?’ she asked after a while.

  ‘On the contrary, I love you so unselfishly that I’m ready to sacrifice myself for you.’

 
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