Oblomov, p.36Ivan Goncharov
‘But why? Who asked you to?’
‘But I meant in case you fell in love with somebody else.…’
‘With somebody else! Are you mad? Why should I if I love you? Would you fall in love with another woman?’
‘Why do you listen to me? I’m talking a lot of nonsense and you believe me. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t that at all I wanted to say.’
‘What did you want to say, then?’
‘I wanted to say that I feel guilty before you, that I’ve felt guilty a long time.…’
‘What of? How?’ she asked. ‘Don’t you love me? Was it a joke, perhaps? Tell me at once!’
‘No, no, it isn’t that!’ he said in anguish. ‘You see, what I mean is,’ he began irresolutely. ‘We meet – er – secretly.…’
‘Secretly? Why secretly? I tell Auntie almost every time that I’ve seen you.’
‘Not every time, surely?’ he asked anxiously.
‘Why, what’s wrong with that?’
‘I’m sorry: I should have told you long ago that it isn’t – done.’
‘You did tell me.’
‘Did I? Yes, of course I – er – I hinted at it. Well, I’m glad to say I’ve done my duty, then.’
He cheered up, glad that Olga had so lightly relieved him of his responsibility.
‘Anything – er – no, that’s all,’ he replied.
‘It isn’t true,’ Olga observed positively. ‘There is something else. You haven’t told me everything.’
‘Well, you see,’ he began, trying to assume a casual tone, ‘I thought that – –’
He stopped, she waited.
‘– we ought not to meet so often.…’ He glanced at her timidly.
She was silent.
‘Why not?’ she asked after thinking it over for a short while.
‘You see, I’m awfully worried – it’s my conscience. We spend so much time alone. I – I grow excited, my heart beats fast and you too are – er – agitated. I can’t help being afraid,’ he concluded, speaking with difficulty.
‘You are young and you don’t know all the dangers, Olga. Sometimes a man loses his mastery over himself. He is possessed by some evil power, his heart is plunged into darkness, his eyes flash lightnings. He is no longer capable of thinking clearly: respect for purity and innocence is carried away by a whirlwind; he does not know what he is doing; he is overcome by passion, he can no longer control himself – and it is then that an abyss opens up at his feet.’
‘Well, what of it? Let it!’ she said, looking at him open-eyed.
He said nothing; there was nothing more he could say.
She gazed at him for some time as though trying to read his mind in the lines of his forehead; she recalled his every word and look and, running over the whole history of their love, she got as far as the dark evening in the garden and suddenly blushed.
‘You do talk a lot of nonsense, darling,’ she said hurriedly, looking away. ‘I never saw any lightnings in your eyes. You – you mostly look at me like – like my nanny Kuzminichna,’ she added, laughing.
‘You are joking, Olga, and I’m talking seriously and – and I haven’t said everything yet.’
‘What else?’ she asked. ‘What abyss are you talking about?’
‘I mean that – that we ought not to meet – alone.’
‘Because it isn’t nice.’
She thought it over.
‘Yes,’ she said thoughtfully, ’they say it isn’t nice. But why?’
‘What will people say when they know, when the story spreads – –’
‘Who will say? I have no mother: she alone could have asked me why I saw you, and only in answer to her would I have cried and said that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, nor you either. She’d have believed me. Who else is there?’ she asked.
‘Your aunt,’ said Oblomov.
‘My aunt?’ Olga shook her head sadly. ‘She would never ask. If I went away for good she would not go to look for me or ask me any questions, and I should never go back to tell her where I had been and what I had done. Who else is there?’
‘Others – everybody. The other day Sonia looked at you and me and smiled, and all the ladies and gentlemen who were with her also smiled.’
He told her what an anxious time he had been through since then.
‘While she looked at me,’ he added, ‘I didn’t mind; but when she looked in the same way at you, a chill went through me.’
‘Well?’ she asked coldly.
‘Well, I’ve been worried to death ever since, racking my brains how to prevent it from becoming public. I was anxious not to frighten you. I’ve long wanted to talk it over with you.’
‘You need not have troubled,’ she replied. ‘I knew it without your telling me.’
‘You knew it?’ he asked in surprise.
‘Of course. Sonia talked to me, tried to find out everything, taunted me, and even told me how I should behave with you.’
‘And you never told me anything about it, Olga!’ he reproached her.
‘You never told me anything about your anxiety, either.’
‘What did you say to her?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. What could I say? I just blushed.’
‘Good Lord, so it has gone as far as that: you blush!’ he cried in horror. ‘How careless we are! What will come of it?’
She looked questioningly at him.
‘I don’t know,’ she said shortly.
Oblomov had thought that by sharing his trouble with Olga he would set his own mind at rest and draw strength from her words and looks, but finding she had no clear and decisive answer, he suddenly lost courage. His face expressed irresolution, his eyes wandered dejectedly. Inwardly he was already in a feverish ferment. He had almost forgotten Olga: in his mind’s eye he saw Sonia with her husband and the visitors; he heard their laughter and gossip. Olga, usually so resourceful, was silent, looked coldly at him and still more coldly said, ‘I don’t know.’ He did not trouble, or did not know how, to find out the secret meaning of that ‘I don’t know’. He, too, was silent: without someone else’s help his thoughts and intentions never matured and, like ripe apples, fell to the ground of themselves: they needed to be plucked.
Olga gazed at him for a few minutes, then put on her cloak, picked up the kerchief from a branch, and putting it round her head slowly, took her parasol.
‘Where are you going? It’s quite early!’ he said, coming to himself suddenly.
‘No, I’m afraid it’s late. You’re quite right,’ she said, dejectedly and thoughtfully. ‘We have gone too far and there is no way out: we must part as quickly as possible and forget the past. Good-bye,’ she added, dryly and bitterly and, bending her head, walked down the path.
‘Good heavens, Olga, what are you talking about! Not meet again? Why, I – – Olga!’
She was not listening and walked on, the dry sand crunching under her feet.
‘Olga Sergeyevna!’ he called.
She did not hear and walked on.
‘For God’s sake, come back!’ he cried with tears in his voice. ‘Even a criminal must be given a hearing.… Good heavens, she can’t be so heartless! There’s woman for you!’
He sat down and buried his face in his hands. He could hear her footsteps no longer.
‘She’s gone!’ he said, almost in terror, and raised his head.
Olga was before him.
He seized her hand joyfully.
‘You haven’t gone,’ he said. ‘You will not go, will you? Please, don’t go. Remember, if you go away – I am a dead man!’
‘And if I don’t go away, I am a criminal and you, too – remember that, Ilya!’
‘Oh, no – –’
‘No? Why, if Sonia and her husband discover us together once more – I am ruined.’
He gave a start.
What at home had seemed so simple, natural, and necessary to him, what pleased him so much that he regarded it as his happiness, suddenly appeared as a sort of abyss to him. He had not the courage to cross it. The step he had to take was bold and decisive.
‘Someone’s coming!’ said Olga.
There was the sound of footsteps on a path.
‘It couldn’t be Sonia, could it?’ asked Oblomov, looking petrified with terror.
Two men and a woman – complete strangers – went past. Oblomov breathed freely.
‘Olga,’ he began hurriedly, taking her by the hand, ‘let’s go over there, where there is no one. Let us sit down.’
He made her sit down on a bench, himself sitting on the grass at her feet.
‘You flared up,’ he said, ‘went away, and I had not finished what I wanted to say, Olga.’
‘And I’ll go away again and I won’t come back if you play with me again,’ she said. ‘You liked my tears once, and now perhaps you would like to see me at your feet and so little by little make me your slave, be capricious, moralize, weep, be frightened and frighten me, and then ask what we are to do. I’d like you to remember, sir,’ she suddenly added proudly, getting up, ‘that I’ve grown up a lot since I met you, and I know what the game you are playing is called, but – you will never see my tears any more!’
‘I swear I am not playing with you,’ he cried earnestly.
‘So much the worse for you,’ she remarked dryly. ‘I have only one thing to say to all your apprehensions, warnings, and conundrums: till our meeting to-day I have loved you and did not know what I ought to do – now I know,’ she concluded decisively, making ready to go, ‘and I’m not going to ask your advice.’
‘And I know too,’ he said, retaining her by the hand and making her sit down again, and he stopped for a moment, plucking up courage to go on. ‘Just imagine,’ he began; ‘my heart is full of one desire, my head of one thought, but my will and my tongue won’t obey me: I want to speak and I can’t utter the words. And yet it is so simple, so – – Help me, Olga!’
‘I don’t know what is in your mind, sir, do I?’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, please, without the sir: your proud glance is killing me, every word you say freezes me like ice.…’
‘You’re crazy,’ she said, putting her hand on his head.
‘That’s right, now I’ve received the gift of thought and speech! Olga,’ he said, kneeling before her, ‘will you marry me?’
She was silent and turned her face away.
‘Olga, give me your hand,’ he went on.
She did not give it. He took it and put it to his lips. She did not withdraw it. Her hand was warm, soft, and just a tiny bit moist. He tried to look into her face, but she turned away more and more.
‘Silence?’ he asked anxiously, kissing her hand.
‘Is a sign of consent,’ she finished the sentence for him softly, still not looking at him.
‘What are you feeling now?’ he asked, recalling his dream about the shy consent and the tears. ‘What are you thinking?’
‘The same as you,’ she replied, continuing to look somewhere in the direction of the forest, only the heaving of her bosom showed that she was restraining herself.
‘Has she tears in her eyes?’ Oblomov wondered, but she was obstinately looking down.
‘Are you calm?’ he said, trying to draw her closer. ‘Are you indifferent?’
‘Not indifferent, but calm.’
‘Because I foresaw it long ago and I’ve got used to the thought.’
‘Long ago!’ he repeated in surprise.
‘Yes, from the moment I gave you the spray of lilac, I called you in my mind – –’ She broke off.
‘From that moment!’
He put out his arms wide to embrace her.
‘The abyss is opening up, lightnings are flashing – take care!’ she said slyly, cleverly avoiding his embrace and pushing away his hand with her parasol.
He recalled her stern ‘Never!’ and desisted.
‘But you have never told me or showed me in any way – –’ he said.
‘We do not marry, but are given or taken in marriage.’
‘From that moment – not really?’ he said reflectively.
‘Do you think that I would have been here alone with you if I had not known you?’ she said proudly. ‘Would I have sat in the summer-house with you in the evenings? Would I have listened to you and trusted you?’
‘Then it’s – –’ he began, changing colour and letting go her hand.
A strange thought occurred to him. She was looking at him with serene pride and waited unwaveringly; and what he wanted at that moment was not pride and determination, but tears, passion, intoxicating happiness, if only for a moment – and then let life go on unruffled and calm for ever! And suddenly no violent tears of unexpected happiness and no shy consent! How was he to understand it? And the serpent of doubt awoke and stirred uneasily in his heart. Did she love him or was she merely anxious to marry him?
‘But there is another road to happiness,’ he said.
‘Which?’ she asked.
‘Sometimes love does not wait and endure and calculate.… A woman is all on fire, she trembles all over, she experiences at once such agonies and such joys that – –’
‘I don’t know what kind of road you mean.’
‘A road upon which a woman sacrifices everything: her peace of mind, public opinion, respect, and finds her reward in love which takes the place of everything for her.’
‘Need we walk along such a road?’
‘Would you have liked to look for happiness at the cost of my peace of mind and self-respect?’
‘Oh no, no! I swear to God I never would,’ he said warmly.
‘Then why did you speak of it?’
‘I – I don’t know – –’
‘But I do know: you were anxious to find out whether I would have sacrificed my peace of mind to you and gone with you along that road? Isn’t that so?’
‘Yes, I think you must be right. Well?’
‘Never,’ she said firmly. ‘Not for anything in the world.’
He thought it over and then sighed.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is a terrible road, and a woman must love very much to go after a man on it – to face ruin and go on loving.’
He looked at her face questioningly: he saw nothing there: her face was calm and only the crease over her eyebrow stirred a little.
‘Imagine,’ he said, ‘that Sonia, who is not worth your little finger, suddenly refused to recognize you in the street.’
Olga smiled and she looked as serene as ever. Oblomov, on the other hand, was too vain to resist the temptation to obtain some sacrifice from Olga and revel in it.
‘Imagine that men did not lower their eyes with timid respect as they approached you, but looked at you with a bold and meaningful glance.’
He glanced at her: she was absorbed in pushing a pebble along the sand with her parasol.
‘You would enter a drawing-room and several bonnets would stir with indignation. One of the women would go and sit farther away from you – and your pride would be the same as ever and you would know perfectly well that you were higher and better than they – –’
‘Why are you telling me all these horrors?’ she said calmly. ‘I shall never go that way.’
‘Never?’ Oblomov asked dejectedly.
‘Never!’ she repeated.
‘Yes,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘you would not have the strength to face shame. You might not be afraid of death: it is not the execution that is so terrible, but the preparations for it, the hourly tortures. You would not have been able to stand it. You would have pined away, wouldn’t you?’
He kept peering into her face to see
She looked cheerful: the picture of horror did not upset her; a light smile was playing on her lips.
‘I don’t want to pine away or die,’ she said. ‘It’s all wrong; one can love all the more and yet not follow that road.…’
‘But why wouldn’t you follow it,’ he asked insistently, almost with vexation, ‘if you are not afraid?’
‘Because – people who follow it always end up eventually by – parting,’ she said, ‘and I – to part from you!.…’
She paused, put her hand on his shoulder, looked intently at him and, suddenly, flinging away her parasol, quickly and ardently threw her arms round his neck, kissed him, and, flushing crimson, pressed her face to his breast, adding softly:
He uttered a joyful cry and sank on the grass at her feet.
OBLOMOV walked home feeling deliriously happy. His blood coursed exultantly in his veins and his eyes were shining. It seemed to him that even his hair was ablaze. It was thus that he entered his room – and suddenly the radiance disappeared, and his eyes became fixed with unpleasant surprise on one place: Tarantyev was sitting in his chair.
‘Why do you keep people waiting for hours?’ Tarantyev asked sternly, giving him his hirsute hand. ‘Where have you been gadding about? And that old devil of yours has got out of hand completely. I asked him for a bite to eat – there wasn’t anything; I asked for vodka, and he refused to give me any, either.’
‘I’ve been for a walk in the woods,’ Oblomov said casually, still unable to recover from the shock of Tarantyev’s visit, and at such a moment, too!
He had forgotten the gloomy surroundings in which he had lived for so many years and was no longer used to their stifling atmosphere. Tarantyev had in a twinkling brought him down, as it were, from heaven into a swamp. Oblomov kept asking himself painfully what Tarantyev had come for and how long he was going to stay. He suffered agonies at the thought that Tarantyev might stay to dinner and that he would be unable to go to the Ilyinskys’. He had to get rid of Tarantyev at any price – that was the only thing that mattered to him now. He waited gloomily and in silence for Tarantyev to speak.
‘Why don’t you go and have a look at your flat, old man?’ asked Tarantyev.
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes