Oblomov, p.39
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       Oblomov, p.39

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘A civil servant’s widow, but she has elbows fit for a countess, and with dimples, too!’ Oblomov thought.

  At midday, Zakhar came to ask if he would like to taste their pie: the landlady had sent it to him with her compliments.

  ‘It’s Sunday, sir, and they’re baking a pie to-day.’

  ‘I can imagine the sort of pie it is,’ Oblomov said carelessly. ‘With carrots and onions!’

  ‘No, sir,’ Zakhar said, ‘it’s not worse than ours at Oblomovka – with chickens and fresh mushrooms.’

  ‘Oh, that must be nice: bring me some! Who does the baking? That dirty peasant woman?’

  ‘Not her!’ Zakhar said scornfully. ‘If it wasn’t for her mistress, she wouldn’t know how to mix the dough. She’s always in the kitchen, the landlady is. She and Anisya baked the pie, sir.’

  Five minutes later a bare arm, scarcely covered with the shawl he had already seen, was thrust through the door of the side-room, holding a plate with a huge piece of steaming hot pie.

  ‘Thank you very much,’ Oblomov cried, accepting the pie, and glancing through the door, he fixed his eyes upon the enormous bosom and bare shoulders. The door was hastily closed.

  ‘Wouldn’t you like some vodka?’ the voice asked.

  ‘Thank you, I don’t drink,’ Oblomov said, still more affably. ‘What kind have you?’

  ‘Our own home-made one,’ the voice said. ‘We infuse it from currant leaves ourselves.’

  ‘I’ve never drunk a currant-leaf liqueur,’ said Oblomov. ‘Please let me try it.’

  The bare arm was thrust through the door again with a glass of vodka on a plate. Oblomov drank it and liked it very much.

  ‘Thank you very much,’ he said, trying to peep through the door, but the door was slammed to.

  ‘Why don’t you let me have a look at you and wish you good morning?’ Oblomov reproached her.

  The landlady smiled behind the door. ‘I’m sorry, but I’m still wearing my everyday dress: I’ve been in the kitchen all the time, you see. I’ll dress presently, and my brother will soon be coming from Mass,’ she replied.

  ‘Oh, à propos of your brother,’ Oblomov observed. ‘I’d like to have a talk with him. Tell him I want to see him, please.’

  ‘All right, I’ll tell him when he comes.’

  ‘And who is it coughing?’ Oblomov asked. ‘What a dry cough!’

  ‘It’s Granny. She’s been coughing for the last seven years.’

  And the door was slammed to.

  ‘How – how simple she is,’ Oblomov thought. ‘And there is something about her. And she is very clean, too!’

  He had not met the landlady’s brother yet. Every now and then early in the morning, when he was still in bed, he caught sight of a man with a large paper parcel under his arm rushing off on the other side of the fence and disappearing in the street; at five o’clock the same man with the paper parcel rushed past the windows and disappeared behind the front door. He was never heard in the house. And yet there could be no doubt, especially in the mornings, that the house was full of people: there was a clatter of knives in the kitchen; the peasant woman could be heard rinsing something in a corner of the yard; the caretaker was chopping wood or bringing the barrel of water; through the wall the children could be heard crying, or there came the sound of the old woman’s dry, persistent cough.

  Oblomov had the four best rooms in the house. The landlady and her family occupied the two back rooms, and her brother lived upstairs in the attic. Oblomov’s study and bedroom looked out into the yard, the drawing-room faced the little garden, and the reception-room the big kitchen garden with the cabbages and potatoes. At the drawing-room windows the curtains were of faded chintz. Plain chairs, in imitation walnut, were placed along the walls; a card-table stood under the looking-glass; on the window-sills were pots of geranium and African marigold, and four cages with siskins and canaries hung in the windows.

  The landlady’s brother walked in on tiptoe and bowed three times in answer to Oblomov’s greeting. His civil servant’s uniform was buttoned to the top, so that it was impossible to say whether he wore a shirt under it or not; his tie was done up in a knot and the ends tucked in. He was a man of about forty with a straight tuft of hair on the forehead and two similar tufts over his temples, waving carelessly in the wind and resembling a dog’s ears of medium size. His grey eyes never looked directly at an object, but first glanced at it stealthily and only then fixed themselves upon it. He seemed to be ashamed of his hands, and as he talked he tried to hide them behind his back, or put one behind his back and thrust the other in the breast of his coat. When giving some paper to his chief and explaining some point in it, he kept one hand behind his back and carefully pointed to some line or word with the middle finger of the other hand, which he held with his nail downwards, and, having shown it, at once withdrew his hand, perhaps because his fingers were rather thick and red and shook a little and he believed, with good reason, that it was not quite nice to display them too often.

  ‘I believe, sir,’ he said, throwing his double glance at Oblomov, ‘that you were so good as to ask me to come and see you.’

  ‘Yes,’ Oblomov replied courteously, ‘I wanted to talk to you about my flat. Please sit down.’

  After the second invitation Ivan Matveyich ventured to sit down, leaning over with his entire body and thrusting his hands into his sleeves.

  ‘I’m afraid I have to look for another flat,’ said Oblomov, ‘and I should therefore like to sub-let this one.’

  ‘It is difficult to sub-let it now,’ Ivan Matveyevich said, coughing into his hands and hiding them quickly in his sleeves. ‘If you’d come to see me at the end of summer, there were lots of people after it.’

  ‘I did call, but you were not in,’ Oblomov interrupted.

  ‘My sister told me,’ the civil servant added. ‘But don’t worry about your flat: you’ll be very comfortable here. The birds are not disturbing you, are they?’

  ‘Which birds?’

  ‘The hens, sir.’

  Though Oblomov constantly heard from early morning the deep cackling of a broody hen and the chirping of chicks under his window, he paid no attention to it. Olga’s image was before his mind’s eye and he scarcely noticed what happened around him.

  ‘No, I don’t mind that,’ he said. ‘I thought you were talking about the canaries: they start twittering from early morning.’

  ‘We will take them out,’ Ivan Matveyevich answered.

  ‘That doesn’t matter, either,’ Oblomov observed. ‘But I’m afraid my circumstances make it impossible for me to stay.’

  ‘Just as you like, sir,’ Ivan Matveyevich replied. ‘But if you don’t find another tenant, what about our agreement? Will you pay compensation? You’ll be sure to lose on it.’

  ‘How much does it amount to?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘I will bring the account.’

  He brought the agreement and an abacus.

  ‘Here we are, sir,’ he said. ‘The rent of the flat is eight hundred roubles, you’ve paid a hundred roubles deposit, which leaves seven hundred.’

  ‘But, surely,’ Oblomov interrupted him, ‘you can’t possibly demand a year’s rent when I haven’t been here a fortnight!’

  ‘But why not, sir?’ Ivan Matveyevich retorted gently and conscientiously. ‘It would be unjust to expect my sister to suffer loss. She is a poor widow who lives by letting rooms and perhaps makes enough on her chickens and eggs to buy some clothes for the children.’

  ‘But, good Lord, I just can’t afford it,’ Oblomov said. ‘Just think, I haven’t been here a fortnight. It’s unfair. Why should I pay so much?’

  ‘Just have a look, sir, at what it says in the agreement,’ Ivan Matveyevich said, pointing to two lines with his middle finger and then hiding it in his sleeve. ‘Read, please.’

  ‘“Should I, Oblomov, wish to leave the flat before the expiration of the lease, I undertake to let it to another tenant on the same terms or, fail
ing this, to compensate Mrs Pshenitzyn by paying her a year’s rent up to the first of June next year,”’ Oblomov read. ‘But how is that?’ he said. ‘That’s unfair.’

  ‘That’s the law, sir,’ observed Ivan Matveyevich. ‘You signed it yourself. Here is your signature.’

  The finger again appeared under the signature and disappeared again.

  ‘How much?’ said Oblomov.

  ‘Seven hundred roubles,’ Ivan Matveyevich began clicking on the abacus with the same finger, bending it quickly every time and hiding it in his fist, ‘and one hundred and fifty roubles for the stables and the shed.’

  And he clicked the beads of the abacus again.

  ‘But really, sir, I have no horses – I don’t keep any, so what do I want stables and a shed for?’ Oblomov retorted spiritedly.

  ‘It’s in the contract, sir,’ Ivan Matveyevich observed, pointing to the line with a finger. ‘Mr Tarantyev said you would keep horses.’

  ‘Mr Tarantyev was lying!’ Oblomov said in vexation. ‘Let me have the agreement!’

  ‘I can let you have a copy of it, sir; the agreement belongs to my sister,’ Ivan Matveyevich retorted mildly, taking the agreement. ‘“In addition,”’ Ivan Matveyevich read, ‘“for kitchen garden produce, such as cabbages, turnips, and other vegetables for one person, approximately two hundred and fifty roubles….’

  And he was about to click the beads again.

  ‘What kitchen garden? What cabbages? What are you talking about? I know nothing about it!’ Oblomov rejoined almost menacingly.

  ‘It’s here, sir! In the contract. Mr Tarantyev said that you wanted it included….’

  ‘So you’re also settling without me what I am to have for my table, are you? I don’t want your cabbages and turnips,’ Oblomov said, getting up.

  Ivan Matveyevich, too, got up from his chair.

  ‘Without you, sir? Why, here is your signature!’ he retorted.

  Again his thick finger shook over the signature and the whole paper shook in his hand.

  ‘How much do you make it in all?’ Oblomov asked impatiently.

  ‘For painting the doors and the ceiling, for altering the windows in the kitchen, and for new hinges for the doors – one hundred and fifty-four roubles and twenty-eight copecks.’

  ‘What? Have I got to pay for this too?’ Oblomov asked in astonishment. ‘The landlord always pays for that. No one moves into an undecorated flat.’

  ‘Well, sir, it says in the agreement that you have to pay for it,’ said Ivan Matveyevich, pointing from a distance to the appropriate clause. ‘One thousand three hundred and fifty-four roubles and twenty-eight copecks altogether, sir!’ he concluded gently, hiding both his hands with the agreement behind his back.

  ‘But where am I to get it?’ Oblomov said, pacing the room. ‘I haven’t any money. What do I want your cabbages and turnips for?’

  ‘Just as you like, sir!’ Ivan Matveyevich added quietly. ‘But you needn’t worry; you’ll find it very comfortable here. As for the money, my sister can wait.’

  ‘I’m sorry but I can’t stay; I can’t because of my circumstances. Do you hear?’

  ‘Yes, sir, just as you like,’ Ivan Matveyevich replied obediently, withdrawing a step.

  ‘All right, I’ll think it over and try to sub-let the flat,’ said Oblomov, nodding to him.

  ‘You’ll find it’s not as easy as you think, sir. However, just as you like,’ Ivan Matveyevich concluded, and, bowing three times, left the room.

  Oblomov took out his wallet and counted his money: there were only 305 roubles. He was dumbfounded.

  ‘What have I done with my money?’ Oblomov asked himself in astonishment, almost in terror. ‘At the beginning of summer I received from the country one thousand two hundred roubles, and now there are only three hundred left!’

  He began adding up, trying to remember all he had spent, and could remember only 250 roubles.

  ‘Where has the money gone?’ he said.

  ‘Zakhar! Zakhar!’

  ‘Yes, sir?’

  ‘Where has all our money gone?’ he asked. ‘You see, we’ve none left!’

  Zakhar began fumbling in his pockets, took out half-a-rouble and a ten-copeck piece and put them on the table.

  ‘I’m very sorry, sir,’ he said, ‘I forgot to return it – been left over from the moving.’

  ‘What are you shoving this small change under my nose for? Tell me what have we done with eight hundred roubles?’

  ‘How should I know, sir? Do I know where you spend your money, what you pay the cabbies in fares?’

  ‘Yes, the carriage did cost a lot,’ Oblomov remembered, looking at Zakhar. ‘You don’t remember what we paid the cabby in the country?’

  ‘Remember that, sir? Of course not. One day you told me to give him thirty roubles, so I remember that.’

  ‘If only you had written it down !’Oblomov said reprovingly. ‘It’s bad to be illiterate.’

  ‘I’ve spent all my life without knowing how to read or write, sir, and thank God I’m no worse than other people,’ Zakhar said, looking sideways.

  ‘Stolz is right about the need for schools in the country,’ thought Oblomov.

  ‘The Ilyinskys, sir,’ Zakhar went on, ‘had a footman who could read and write and he pinched their silver from the sideboard.’

  ‘Did he now?’ Oblomov thought apprehensively. ‘Yes, indeed, servants who can read and write are all so immoral – spend all their time in public-houses with accordions, guzzling tea…. No, it’s much too soon to open schools!’

  ‘Well, what other expenses did we have?’ he asked.

  ‘How do I know, sir? You gave Mr Tarantyev some money when he came to see you in the country.’

  ‘So I did!’ Oblomov cried, looking pleased at having been reminded of it. ‘So that is thirty roubles to the cabby and I think another twenty-five to Tarantyev. What else?’

  He looked questioningly and thoughtfully at Zakhar. Zakhar looked gloomily at him.

  ‘Would Anisya remember, do you think?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘That fool remember, sir?’ Zakhar said contemptuously. ‘What does a woman know?’

  ‘I can’t remember!’ Oblomov concluded miserably. ‘We haven’t had any burglars, have we?’

  ‘If we had had burglars, they would have taken everything,’ said Zakhar, leaving the room.

  Oblomov sat down in an arm-chair and pondered. ‘Where am I to get the money?’ he thought desperately. ‘When will they send some from the country – and how much?’

  He glanced at the clock: it was two – time to go to Olga’s. This was the day he was to dine there. He cheered up gradually, ordered a cab, and drove to Morskaya Street.

  4

  HE told Olga that he had talked it over with the landlady’s brother and added hastily that he hoped to be able to sub-let the flat in the course of the week. Olga went out with her aunt to pay a visit before dinner and he went to look at flats in the vicinity. He called at two houses; in one he found a vacant four-roomed flat at 4,000 roubles and in the other he was asked 6,000 roubles for a five-roomed one. ‘Terrible! terrible!’ he repeated, stopping his ears and running away from the astonished caretakers. Adding to these sums the thousand odd roubles he had to pay Mrs Pshenitzyn, he was so terrified that he could not add up the total and, quickening his pace, rushed back to Olga’s. There was company there. Olga was very animated, talked, sang, and created a sensation. Only Oblomov listened absently, while she was talking and singing for him alone, because she did not want him to sit there looking crestfallen, but that everything in him, too, should be talking and singing.

  ‘Come to the theatre to-morrow – we have a box,’ she said.

  ‘In the evening, through the mud, and all that way!’ Oblomov thought, but, looking into her eyes, he answered her smile with a smile of consent.

  ‘Book a stall for the season,’ she added. ‘The Mayevskys are coming next week. Auntie invited them to our box.’

&nbs
p; And she looked into his eyes to see how pleased he was.

  ‘Heavens,’ he thought in horror, ‘and I have only three hundred roubles left.’

  ‘Ask the baron; he knows everyone, and book a seat for you to-morrow.’

  And again she smiled, and looking at her he smiled too and, still smiling, asked the baron to book a seat for him, and the baron, also with a smile, undertook to do so.

  ‘Now you will be in the stalls,’ Olga added, ‘and when you have finished your business, you will take your place in our box by right.’

  And she smiled for the last time as she smiled when she was perfectly happy. Oh, how happy he suddenly felt when Olga slightly lifted the veil over the seductive vista, concealed in smiles as in flowers! He forgot all about the money, and it was only when on the following morning he saw Ivan Matveyevich with his parcel dash past his window that he remembered the deed of trust and asked his landlady’s brother to have it witnessed at the courts. Ivan Matveyevich read it, declared that there was one obscure point in it, and undertook to get it cleared up. The document was copied out again, then witnessed and posted. Oblomov told Olga triumphantly about it, and was pleased to leave it at that for a long time. He was glad that there was no need to look for a flat till he received an answer from the country and that in the meantime he would be getting something for his money. ‘One could live perfectly well here,’ he thought, ‘if it were not so far from everything, for strict order reigns in the house and it is run excellently.’ And, indeed, the place was run beautifully. Though he had his meals prepared separately, the landlady kept an eye on his food too. He went into the kitchen one day and found his landlady and Anisya almost in each other’s arms. If there is an affinity of souls, if kindred spirits recognize each other from afar, it had never been more clearly proved than in the sympathy Agafya Matveyevna and Anisya felt for each other. They understood and appreciated one another at the first glance, word and movement. By the way Anisya, rolling up her sleeves and armed with a rag and a poker, brought into order a kitchen that had not been in use for six months, and at a stroke brushed away the dust from the shelves, the walls, and the tables; by the wide sweep of her broom along the floor and the benches, by the speed with which she removed the ashes from the stove – Agafya Matveyevna appreciated the sort of treasure Anisya was and what a great help she could be to her in the house. Anisya, for her part, having only once observed how Agafya Matveyevna reigned in her kitchen, how her hawk eyes without eyebrows saw every clumsy movement of the slow Akulina; how she rapped out her orders to take something out, to put in, to add salt, to warm up something, how at the market she would tell unerringly, at a glance, or at most by a touch of a finger, the age of a chicken, how long a fish had been out of water, when parsley or lettuce had been cut – gazed at her with admiration and respectful fear, and decided that she, Anisya, had missed her real vocation and that the true field of her activities was not Oblomov’s kitchen, where her constant scurrying and her restless and nervous feverishness of movements were directed solely towards catching in the air a plate or glass dropped by Zakhar, and where her experience and subtlety of mind were suppressed by her husband’s sullen jealousy and coarse arrogance. The two women understood each other and became inseparable. When Oblomov dined out, Anisya spent her time in the landlady’s kitchen, and out of love for the culinary art, darted from one corner to another, put pots in and took them out again, and almost at the same moment opened the cupboard, got out what was wanted, and slammed the door to again before Akulina had time to grasp what it was all about. Anisya’s reward was dinner, six or more cups of coffee in the morning and the same number in the evening, and a long, frank conversation with the landlady and sometimes whispered confidences from her.

 
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