Oblomov, p.38
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       Oblomov, p.38

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  Suddenly his eyes lighted on familiar objects: the whole room was littered with his belongings. Tables covered in dust; chairs heaped in a pile on the bed; mattresses, crockery, cupboards – all thrown together in confusion.

  ‘What on earth? Haven’t they done anything about them – sorted them out, tidied them up?’ he said. ‘How disgusting!’

  Suddenly a door creaked behind him, and the woman he had seen with the bare neck and elbows came into the room. She was about thirty. Her complexion was so fair and her face so plump that it seemed that the colour could not force its way through her cheeks. She had practically no eyebrows, and in their place she had two seemingly slightly swollen shiny patches with scanty fair hair on them. Her eyes were grey and as good-humoured as the whole expression of her face; her hands were white but coarse, with knotted blue veins standing out. She wore a close-fitting dress, and it was quite obvious that she used no artifice, not even an extra petticoat, to increase the size of her hips and make her waist look smaller. That was why even when she was dressed, as long as she wore no shawl she would without any danger to her modesty serve a sculptor or a painter as a model of a fine, well-developed bosom. In comparison with her smart shawl and Sunday bonnet, her dress looked old and worn.

  She had not been expecting visitors, and when Oblomov asked to see her, she threw on her Sunday shawl over her ordinary everyday dress and covered her head with a bonnet. She came in timidly and stopped, looking shyly at Oblomov.

  He got up and bowed.

  ‘I have the pleasure of meeting Mrs Pshenitzyn, have I not?’ he asked.

  ‘Yes, sir,’ she replied. ‘Would you perhaps like to speak to my brother?’ she asked hesitantly. ‘I’m afraid he is at the office. He never comes home before five.’

  ‘No, it was you I wanted to see,’ Oblomov began when she had sat down on the sofa as far away from him as possible, looking at the ends of her shawl which covered her down to the ground like a horse-cloth. She hid her hands under the shawl too.

  ‘I have rented rooms, but now, owing to certain circumstances, I have to find a flat in another part of the town, so I have come to discuss the matter with you.’

  She listened to him dully and fell into thought.

  ‘I’m afraid my brother isn’t in,’ she said after a pause.

  ‘But this house is yours, isn’t it?’ Oblomov said.

  ‘Yes,’ she replied briefly.

  ‘Well, in that case you ought to be able to decide for yourself, oughtn’t you?’

  ‘But my brother isn’t in, and he attends to everything,’ she said monotonously, looking straight at Oblomov for the first time and then lowering her eyes to the shawl again.

  ‘She has an ordinary but pleasant face,’ Oblomov decided condescendingly. ‘Must be a good woman!’

  At that moment a little girl’s head was thrust through the door. Agafya Matveyevna nodded to her sternly without being observed by Oblomov, and she disappeared.

  ‘And in what Ministry does your brother work?’

  ‘In some Government office.’

  ‘Which one?’

  ‘Where peasants are registered. I’m afraid I don’t know what it’s called.’

  She smiled good-naturedly, and almost at once her face assumed its normal expression.

  ‘Do you live here alone with your brother?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘No, I have two children by my late husband, a boy aged eight and a girl aged six,’ the landlady began talking readily enough and her face became more animated, ‘and we have also our grandmother living with us; she’s an invalid and can hardly walk, and she only goes to church; she used to go to the market with Akulina, but she has given it up since St Nicholas’ day: her legs have begun to swell. And even in church she has to sit on the steps most of the time. That is all. Sometimes my sister-in-law stays with us and Mr Tarantyev.’

  ‘And does Mr Tarantyev stay with you often?’ Oblomov asked.

  ‘He sometimes stays for a month. He is a great friend of my brother’s. They are always together.’

  And she fell silent, having exhausted all her supply of ideas and words.

  ‘How quiet it is here!’ said Oblomov. ‘If it were not for the dog barking, one might think there was not a living soul here.’

  She smiled in reply.

  ‘Do you often go out?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘Occasionally, in summer. The other day, on a Friday, we went to the Gunpowder Works.’

  ‘Why, do many people go there?’ asked Oblomov, gazing through an opening in the shawl at her high bosom, firm as a sofa cushion and never agitated.

  ‘No, there weren’t many this year. It rained in the morning, but it cleared up later. Usually there are lots of people there.’

  ‘Where else do you go?’

  ‘Hardly anywhere. My brother goes fishing with Mr Tarantyev and makes fish soup there, but we are always at home.’

  ‘Not always, surely?’

  ‘Yes, indeed. Last year we went to Kolpino, and sometimes we go to the woods here. It’s my brother’s name-day on June 24th, and all his colleagues from the office come to dinner.’

  ‘Do you pay any visits?’

  ‘My brother does, but the children and I only go on Easter Sunday and at Christmas to dinner with my husband’s relatives.’

  There was nothing else to talk about.

  ‘I see you have flowers. Do you like them?’ he asked.

  She smiled. ‘No,’ she said; ‘I have no time for flowers. The children and Akulina have been to the count’s garden and the gardener has given them these. The geraniums and the aloe have been here a long time – when my husband was still alive.’

  At that moment Akulina suddenly burst into the room: a large cock was cackling and struggling desperately in her hands.

  ‘Is this the cock I am to give to the shopkeeper, ma’am?’ she asked.

  ‘Really, Akulina, go away!’ the landlady said, shamefacedly. ‘Can’t you see I have a visitor?’

  ‘I only came to ask,’ Akulina said, holding the cock by its feet head downwards. ‘He offers seventy copecks for it.’

  ‘Go back to the kitchen,’ said Agafya Matveyevna. ‘The grey speckled one, not that one,’ she added hurriedly, and blushed with shame, hiding her hands under the shawl and looking down.

  ‘Household cares!’ said Oblomov.

  ‘Yes. We have lots of hens and we sell eggs and chickens. The people from our street, in the summer cottages, and in the count’s house, buy them from us,’ she replied, looking at Oblomov much more boldly.

  Her face assumed a business-like and thoughtful expression; even her vacant look disappeared when she talked about a subject she was familiar with. Any question that had nothing to do with what she was interested in, she answered with a smile and silence.

  ‘You ought to have sorted it out,’ Oblomov observed, pointing to the heap of his belongings.

  ‘I wanted to, but my brother told me not to touch it,’ she interrupted quickly, looking at Oblomov very boldly this time. ‘“Goodness knows what he has in his cupboards and tables,” he said, “if anything should be lost, he’ll never leave us alone.”’

  She stopped and smiled.

  ‘What a careful man your brother is,’ Oblomov remarked.

  She smiled faintly again and once more assumed her usual expression. Her smile was just a matter of form with her with which she disguised her ignorance of what to say or do in any given circumstance.

  ‘I’m afraid I can’t wait for him,’ said Oblomov. ‘Will you be so good as to tell him that, owing to a change in my circumstances, I no longer need the flat and therefore ask you to let it to somebody else? And I, for my part, will also try to find a tenant for you.’

  She listened vacantly, blinking from time to time.

  ‘Will you please tell him that so far as our agreement is concerned – –’

  ‘But he isn’t at home now,’ she repeated. ‘You’d better come again to-morrow: It’s Saturday, and he does not go
to the office.’

  ‘I’m sorry, but I’m terribly busy – I haven’t a moment to spare,’ Oblomov excused himself. ‘Be so good as to tell him that as the deposit will be yours and I would find you a tenant – –’

  ‘My brother isn’t at home,’ she said monotonously. ‘I don’t know why he isn’t back yet.’ She looked out into the street. ‘He usually walks past the windows and one can see him as he comes along, but he isn’t here!’

  ‘I’m afraid I must go,’ said Oblomov.

  ‘And what am I to tell my brother when he comes? When are you moving in?’ she asked, getting up from the sofa.

  ‘Tell him what I have asked you,’ Oblomov said. ‘Owing to my changed circumstances – –’

  ‘You had better come to-morrow and talk to him yourself,’ she repeated.

  ‘I’m sorry, I can’t come to-morrow.’

  ‘Well, the day after to-morrow, then, on Sunday. We usually have vodka and snacks after Mass. And Mr Tarantyev comes, too.’

  ‘Does he?’

  ‘Yes, indeed, he does,’ she said.

  ‘I’m afraid the day after to-morrow I can’t come either,’ Oblomov pleaded impatiently.

  ‘Next week, then,’ she said. ‘And when are you going to move in?’ she asked. ‘I’d have the floors scrubbed and the rooms dusted.’

  ‘I’m not going to move in,’ he said.

  ‘You aren’t? But what shall we do with your things?’

  ‘Will you kindly tell your brother,’ Oblomov began slowly, fixing his eyes straight on her bosom, ‘that owing to changed circumstances – –’

  ‘He’s very late to-day, I’m afraid, I can’t see him,’ she said monotonously, looking at the fence which divided the yard from the street. ‘I know his footsteps: I can recognize anyone walking along the wooden pavement. Not many people walk here….’

  ‘So you will tell him what I said, won’t you?’ Oblomov said, bowing and walking to the door.

  ‘I’m sure he’ll be here himself in half an hour,’ the landlady said with an agitation which was quite unusual for her, as though trying to detain Oblomov with her voice.

  ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t wait any longer,’ he declared, opening the front door.

  Seeing him on the steps, the dog began barking and trying to break its chain again. The driver, who had fallen asleep leaning on his elbow, began to back the horses; the hens again scattered in all directions in alarm; several heads peeped out of the windows.

  ‘So I’ll tell my brother that you called,’ the landlady said anxiously when Oblomov had sat down in the carriage.

  ‘Yes, and please tell him that because of changed circumstances I cannot keep the flat and that I’ll pass it on to somebody else or perhaps he might look for – –’

  ‘He usually comes home at this time,’ she said, listening absent-mindedly to him. ‘I’ll tell him that you intend to call again.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Oblomov, ‘I’ll call again in a few days.’

  The carriage drove out of the yard to the accompaniment of the desperate barking of the dog and went swaying over the dried-up mounds of mud in the unpaved street. A middle-aged man in a shabby overcoat appeared at the end of it, with a big paper parcel under his arm, a thick stick in his hands, and rubber shoes on his feet in spite of the dry, hot day. He walked quickly, looking from side to side and stepping as heavily as though he meant to break through the wooden pavement. Oblomov turned round to look at him, and saw that he turned in at the gate of Mrs Pshenitzyn’s house.

  ‘That, I suppose, is her brother coming back,’ he concluded. ‘But to hell with him! I’d have had to spend an hour talking to him, and I’m hungry, and it’s so hot! Besides, Olga is waiting for me – another time.

  ‘Go on, faster!’ he said to the driver.

  ‘And what about going in search of another flat?’ he suddenly remembered, as he looked at the fences on either side of the road. ‘I must go back to Morskaya or Konyushennaya – another time!’ he decided.

  ‘Faster, driver, faster!’

  3

  AT the end of August it began to rain, and smoke came out of the chimneys of the summer cottages that had stoves, and the people in those that had not went about with kerchiefs tied round their heads; at last, all the summer cottages were gradually deserted.

  Oblomov had not been to town again, and one morning the Ilyinskys’ furniture was carted and carried past his windows. Though to leave his flat, to dine out, and not lie down all day no longer seemed an heroic feat to him, he was now faced with the problem of how to spend the evenings. To remain alone in the country when the park and the woods were deserted and when Olga’s windows were shuttered seemed utterly impossible to him. He walked through her empty rooms, walked round the park, came down the hill, and his heart was oppressed with sadness. He told Zakhar and Anisya to go to Vyborg, where he decided to stay until he found another flat, and himself went to town, had a quick dinner at a restaurant, and spent the evening at Olga’s.

  But autumn evenings in town were not like the long bright days and evenings in the park and the woods. In town he could not see her three times a day; there Katya did not run with a message to him, and he could not send Zakhar three miles with a note. In fact, all the flowering summer poem of their love seemed to have come to a stop, as though its subject-matter had run out. Sometimes they were silent for half an hour on end. Olga would be absorbed in her work, counting to herself the squares of the pattern with her needle, and he would be absorbed in a chaos of thoughts, living in a future that was far ahead of the present moment. Only at times, as he gazed intently at her, would he give a passionate start, or she would glance at him and smile, catching a glimpse of a tender look. He went to town and dined at Olga’s three days in succession under the pretext that his rooms were not ready yet, that he was going to move during the week and could not settle down in his new flat before that. But on the fourth day he felt that it would be improper to call again, and after walking up and down the pavement before Olga’s house for some time, he sighed and drove home. On the fifth day Olga told him to go to a certain shop where she would be and then walk back to her home with her while the carriage followed them. All this was awkward: they met people they knew, they exchanged greetings, and some of them stopped for a chat.

  ‘Oh dear, how awful!’ he said, perspiring with apprehension and the awkwardness of the situation.

  Olga’s aunt, too, looked at him with her large, languorous eyes, inhaling her smelling-salts thoughtfully, as though she had a headache. And what a long journey it was! Driving from Vyborg and back again in the evening took him three hours.

  ‘Let us tell your aunt,’ Oblomov insisted, ‘then I can stay with you all day and no one will say anything.’

  ‘But have you been to the courts?’ Olga asked.

  Oblomov was greatly tempted to say that he had been there and done everything, but he knew that Olga had only to look at him searchingly to discover the lie in his face. He sighed in reply.

  ‘Oh, if you only knew how difficult it is!’ he said.

  ‘And have you spoken to your landlady’s brother? Have you found a flat?’ she asked afterwards, without raising her eyes.

  ‘He’s never at home in the morning, and in the evenings I am here,’ said Oblomov, glad to have found some satisfactory excuse.

  Now Olga sighed, but said nothing.

  ‘I will most certainly speak to the landlady’s brother tomorrow,’ Oblomov tried to soothe her. ‘It is Sunday to-morrow and he won’t go to the office.’

  ‘Until all this is settled,’ Olga said reflectively, ‘we can’t tell Auntie and we must not see so much of each other.’

  ‘Yes, yes – that’s true,’ he added hastily in alarm.

  ‘You’d better dine with us on Sundays, our at home day, and then, say, on Wednesdays, alone,’ she decided. ‘And on other days we can meet at the theatre. I’ll let you know when we are going and you to come.’

  ‘Yes, that’s true,’ he
said, glad that she took upon herself the arrangement of their future meetings.

  ‘And if it’s a fine day,’ she concluded, ‘I’ll go for a walk in the Summer Gardens and you can come there. That will remind us of the park – the park!’ she repeated with feeling.

  He kissed her hand in silence and said good-bye to her till Sunday. She followed him with her eyes sadly, then sat down at the piano and became absorbed in the strains of the music. Her heart was weeping for something, and the notes, too, wept. She wanted to sing, but could not bring herself to.

  When he got up on the following morning, Oblomov put on the indoor coat he used to wear in the country cottage. He had parted with his dressing-gown long ago, having given orders to put it away in the wardrobe. Zakhar walked clumsily to the table with the coffee and rolls, holding the tray unsteadily in his hands as usual. Anisya, also as usual, thrust her head through the door to see whether Zakhar would carry the cups safely to the table and hid herself noiselessly as soon as Zakhar put down the tray on the table or rushed up to him quickly if he dropped something, so as to save the others from falling. When this happened Zakhar began to swear first at the things, then at his wife, making as if to hit her in the chest with his elbow.

  ‘What excellent coffee! Who makes it?’ Oblomov asked.

  ‘The landlady herself, sir,’ said Zakhar. ‘She’s been making it for the last five days. “You’re putting in too much chicory and don’t boil it enough – let me do it,” she said.’

  ‘Excellent,’ Oblomov repeated, pouring himself another cup, ‘Thank her.’

  ‘Here she is herself,’ said Zakhar, pointing to the half-open door of a side room. ‘That must be their pantry, I expect. She works there. They keep sugar, tea, and coffee there as well as the crockery.’

  Oblomov could see only the landlady’s back, the back of her head, a bit of her white neck, and her bare elbows.

  ‘Why is she moving her elbows about so rapidly there?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘I’m sure I don’t know, sir. Must be making lace, I expect.’

  Oblomov watched her as she moved her elbows, bent her back, and straightened out again. When she bent down, he could see her clean petticoat and stockings, and her round, firm legs.

 
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