Oblomov, p.41
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       Oblomov, p.41

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘I must get that idea out of Zakhar’s head,’ he decided, in a tumult of excitement one moment and painfully thoughtful the next. ‘I must make him believe that it is utterly absurd.’

  An hour later he called in Zakhar. Zakhar pretended not to hear and was about to steal quietly into the kitchen. He had opened one half of the door without making any noise, but he missed it and caught his shoulder against the other half so clumsily that both halves flew open with a bang.

  ‘Zakhar!’ Oblomov shouted imperiously.

  ‘Yes, sir?’ Zakhar replied from the passage.

  ‘Come here!’ said Oblomov.

  ‘If you want me to bring you anything, sir, tell me what it is and I’ll fetch it,’ he replied.

  ‘Come here!’ Oblomov said slowly and insistently.

  ‘Oh, I wish I was dead!’ Zakhar wheezed, shuffling into the room. ‘What do you want, sir?’ he asked, getting stuck in the doorway.

  ‘Come here!’ Oblomov said in a solemn and mysterious voice, indicating a place so close to himself that Zakhar would have to sit almost on his master’s knees.

  ‘Where do you want me to come?’ Zakhar protested, remaining stubbornly at the door. ‘There’s no room there, and I can hear from here just as well.’

  ‘Come here when you’re told!’ Oblomov said sternly.

  Zakhar took a step and stood still like a monument, looking out of the window at the wandering hens and turning a brush-like side-whisker to his master. His agitation had wrought a change in Oblomov in one hour. His face looked pinched and his eyes wandered uneasily.

  ‘I’m in for it now!’ thought Zakhar, looking gloomier and gloomier.

  ‘How could you have asked your master such an absurd question?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘He’s off!’ thought Zakhar, blinking in expectation of ‘pathetic words’.

  ‘I ask you: how could you have got such a preposterous idea into your head?’ Oblomov repeated.

  Zakhar said nothing.

  ‘Do you hear, Zakhar? What right have you to think such things, let alone say them?’

  ‘I think, sir, I’d better call Anisya,’ Zakhar replied, taking a step towards the door.

  ‘I want to speak to you and not to Anisya,’ Oblomov replied. ‘Why did you invent such a preposterous story?’

  ‘I didn’t invent it, sir,’ said Zakhar. ‘The Ilyinskys’ servants told me.’

  ‘And who told them?’

  ‘I’m sure I don’t know, sir. Katya told Semyon, Semyon told Nikita, Nikita told Vasilisa, Vasilisa told Anisya, and Anisya told me,’ said Zakhar.

  ‘Oh dear, all of them!’ Oblomov cried in horror. ‘It’s all nonsense, absurdity, lies, slanders – do you hear?’ Oblomov said, rapping his fist on the table. ‘It cannot be!’

  ‘Why not, sir?’ Zakhar interrupted indifferently. ‘It’s an ordinary sort of thing – a wedding is! You’re not the only one to get married – everyone does it.’

  ‘Everyone!’ Oblomov repeated. ‘You certainly enjoy comparing me to other people! This cannot be! It isn’t and it will never be! A wedding is an ordinary sort of thing – did you hear that? What is a wedding?’

  Zakhar glanced at Oblomov, but seeing his master’s furious eyes, at once looked at a corner, on the right.

  ‘Listen, I’ll explain to you what it is. “A wedding, a wedding,” idle people will begin to say – women, children, in servants’ halls, in shops, in the markets. A man ceases to be Ilya Ilyich or Pyotr Petrovich, and is called “the fiancé”. The day before nobody would look at him, and the next day all are staring at him, as if he were a rogue or something. They won’t leave him alone in the theatre or in the street. “There he is,” they all whisper, “there!” And how many people come up to him during the day, each trying to look as stupid as possible, as you look just now’ (Zakhar turned away quickly and looked at the yard), ‘and to say something utterly preposterous. That’s how it all starts. And, like a damned soul, you have got to drive every day to your fiancée first thing in the morning, always wearing pale-yellow gloves and brand-new clothes; you must never appear to be bored, you must never eat and drink properly, but live on air and bouquets! And this has to go on for three or four months! Do you see? Do you think I could do that?’

  Oblomov stopped to see whether his description of the disadvantages of marriage had any effect on Zakhar.

  ‘Shall I go now, sir?’ Zakhar asked, turning to the door.

  ‘No, wait! You’re good at spreading false rumours, and you may as well know why they are false.’

  ‘What’s there for me to know?’ said Zakhar, examining the walls.

  ‘You’ve forgotten how much rushing about an engaged couple have to do. It wouldn’t be you – would it now – who’d be running for me to the tailor, the cobbler, and the furniture shop? I couldn’t be everywhere at once, could I? The whole town will know about it. “Have you heard? – Oblomov is getting married!” “No! Who to?” “Who is she? When’s the wedding?”,’ Oblomov said in different voices. ‘They’ll be talking of nothing else. Why, I shall have a nervous breakdown because of it, and you can do nothing better than talk of a wedding!’

  He glanced at Zakhar again.

  ‘Shall I call Anisya, sir?’ asked Zakhar.

  ‘What do I want Anisya for? It was you and not Anisya who made this wild suggestion.’

  ‘What have I done to deserve such punishment?’ Zakhar whispered, heaving a sigh that raised his shoulders.

  ‘And did you think of the expense of it?’ Oblomov went on. ‘Where am I to get the money? You saw how much money I had, didn’t you?’ Oblomov asked almost menacingly. ‘And the flat? I have to pay a thousand roubles here, pay three thousand for a new flat, and goodness only knows how much for doing it up! Then there’s the carriage, the cook, the living expenses! Where am I to get it all from?’

  ‘How do other people with three hundred serfs get married?’ Zakhar retorted, and was immediately sorry for it, for his master started so violently that he nearly jumped out of his chair.

  ‘Are you talking of “other people” again? Take care!’ he said, shaking his finger. ‘Other people live in two, or – at most – in three rooms: the dining-room and the drawing-room are the same, and some people sleep there, too, the children in the next room. One maid does the work of the whole place. The mistress herself goes to market! Do you think Olga Sergeyevna will go to market?’

  ‘Well, sir, I could go to the market, couldn’t I?’ Zakhar observed.

  ‘Do you know how much Oblomovka brings in?’ Oblomov asked. ‘You’ve heard what the bailiff wrote, haven’t you? The income is “about two thousand less”! And there’s the road to be constructed, school to be opened, the house to be built…. How could I think of a wedding? What are you talking about?’

  Oblomov stopped. He was himself horrified at this terrible and comfortless prospect. The roses, the orange-blossom, the brilliant festivities, the whisper of admiration in the crowd – all had faded suddenly. He grew pale and sank into thought. Then he gradually recovered, looked round and saw Zakhar.

  ‘What is it?’ he asked gloomily.

  ‘Why, sir, you told me to stand here!’ said Zakhar.

  ‘Go!’ said Oblomov with an impatient wave of the hand.

  Zakhar stepped over the threshold quickly.

  ‘No, wait!’ Oblomov stopped him suddenly.

  ‘One minute it’s go and the next wait!’ Zakhar grumbled, holding on to the door.

  ‘How did you dare to spread such ridiculous rumours about me?’ Oblomov asked in an agitated whisper.

  ‘But when did I spread them, sir? It wasn’t me, sir, but the Ilyinsky servants who said that you had proposed – –’

  ‘Sh-sh-sh!’ Oblomov hissed, waving his hand menacingly. ‘Not a word, do you hear? Never!’

  ‘Yes, sir,’ Zakhar replied timidly.

  ‘So you won’t spread this preposterous story abroad, will you?’

  ‘No, sir,’ Zakhar replied quietly, not gr
asping the meaning of half the words but knowing only that they were ‘pathetic’.

  ‘Remember, then, if you hear anyone talking about it, or if anyone should ask you, say the whole thing is nonsense and that there never was or could be anything of the sort!’ Oblomov added in a whisper.

  ‘Yes, sir,’ Zakhar whispered almost inaudibly.

  Oblomov looked round and shook a finger at Zakhar, who was blinking in alarm and tiptoeing towards the door.

  ‘Who was the first to speak of it?’ Oblomov asked, overtaking him.

  ‘Katya told Semyon, Semyon told Nikita,’ Zakhar whispered, ‘Nikita told Vasilisa – –’

  ‘And you told everybody!’ Oblomov hissed menacingly. ‘I’ll show you how to spread slanders about your master! You’ll see!’

  ‘Why are you torturing me with your pathetic words, sir?’ asked Zakhar. ‘I’ll call Anisya: she knows everything.’

  ‘What does she know? Come on, out with it!’

  Zakhar at once rushed through the door and walked into the kitchen with extraordinary rapidity.

  ‘Leave your frying-pan and go to the master!’ he said to Anisya, pointing with his thumb to the door.

  Anisya gave the frying-pan to Akulina, unloosed the hem of her skirt, which she had tucked in at the waist, patted herself on the hips, and, wiping her nose with a forefinger, went in to the master. She calmed Oblomov in five minutes by telling him that no one had ever said anything about a wedding: she did not mind taking her oath on it and taking the icon down from the wall that this was the first time she had heard of it; she had heard something quite different: it was the baron who had made a proposal of marriage to the young lady….

  ‘The baron!’ Oblomov asked, jumping to his feet, and not only his heart, but also his hands and feet turned cold.

  ‘That’s nonsense too!’ Anisya hastened to say, seeing that she had got herself out of the frying-pan into the fire. ‘That was merely what Katya said to Semyon, Semyon to Marfa, and Nikita said that it would not be a bad thing if your master made an offer of marriage to our young lady….’

  ‘What a fool that Nikita is!’ observed Oblomov.

  ‘Yes, sir, he certainly is a fool,’ Anisya confirmed. ‘He looks asleep when he sits behind the carriage. And Vasilisa did not believe him, either,’ she went on, talking very fast. ‘She told me on Assumption Day that the nurse herself had said to her that Miss Olga was not thinking of marrying and that it was hardly possible that our master would not have found a wife for himself if he had meant to marry, and that she had met Samoylo the other day and that he thought it a big joke: a wedding, indeed! And it didn’t look like a wedding, but more like a funeral, that auntie kept having headaches, and Miss Olga cried and never uttered a word, and no trousseau being made; Miss Olga had hundreds of stockings that needed darning, and that last week they pawned their silver….’

  ‘Pawned their silver? So they have no money, either!’ Oblomov thought, raising his eyes to the walls in horror and fixing them on Anisya’s nose, because there was nothing else he could fix them on. She seemed to be saying all this with her nose and not with her mouth.

  ‘Mind, don’t talk any more nonsense!’ Oblomov said, shaking his finger at her.

  ‘Talk, sir? Why, sir, I don’t think about it, let alone talk,’ Anisya rattled on, just as though she were chopping up sticks. ‘Besides, sir, there’s nothing to talk about, is there? It’s the first time I’ve heard of it to-day, and that’s the truth, may the Lord strike me dead if it isn’t! I wasn’t half surprised when you told me about it, sir. I was scared, that I was, trembled all over! Whoever heard of such a thing? What wedding? No one has dreamt of it. I never say a word to anyone; I’m always in the kitchen, I am. Haven’t seen the Ilyinsky servants for a month, I’m sure I don’t remember their names no more. And who is there to talk to here? With the landlady we talk of nothing except housekeeping, and with the granny one can’t talk at all: she coughs and, besides, she’s deaf too! Akulina is a fool, and the caretaker is a drunkard. There’s only the children left, and you don’t expect me to talk to them, do you, sir? And, besides, I’ve forgotten what Miss Olga looks like, I have….’

  ‘All right, all right,’ Oblomov said, waving her out of the room impatiently.

  ‘How do you expect me to talk of something that doesn’t exist, sir?’ Anisya concluded as she was going out of the room. ‘And if Nikita did say something of the kind, he is too big a fool to be taken any notice of. I’m sure it would never have occurred to me – slaving away all day long as I am, and I have other things to think of. Why, such a thing, indeed! There’s the icon on the wall – –’ With these words the speaking nose disappeared behind the door, but it went on talking for another minute behind the door.

  ‘So that’s what it is! Anisya too says that it is hardly possible,’ Oblomov said in a whisper, clasping his hands. ‘Happiness, happiness! How fragile you are, how uncertain! The veil, the wreath of orange-blossom, love, love! And where is the money? And what are we to live on? You, too, have to be bought, love, pure and lawful blessing!’

  From that moment Oblomov’s peace of mind and dreams were gone. He slept badly, ate little, and looked at everything absent-mindedly and morosely. He had wanted to frighten Zakhar, but had frightened himself more when he grasped the practical aspect of marriage and saw that it was not only a poetical but also a practical and official step to important and serious reality and a whole series of stern duties. His conversation with Zakhar turned out differently from what he had imagined. He recalled how solemnly he had intended to break the news to Zakhar, how Zakhar would have shouted with joy and fallen at his feet, how he would have given him twenty-five roubles and Anisya ten….

  He remembered everything – his thrill of happiness, Olga’s hand, her passionate kiss – and his heart sank: ‘It’s gone, faded away!’ a voice inside him said.

  ‘So what now?’

  5

  OBLOMOV did not know how he would face Olga, what she would say to him and what he would say to her, and decided not to go to see her on Wednesday, but to put off their meeting till Sunday, when there would be many visitors there and they would have no chance of talking alone. He did not want to tell her about the stupid stories of the servants so as not to worry her with what could not be remedied. Not to tell her would also be difficult, for he would not be able to pretend to her: she would be sure to get out of him everything he had hidden in the deepest recesses of his heart.

  Having arrived at this decision, he calmed down a little and wrote another letter to the neighbour to whom he had entrusted the care of his affairs, in which he asked him to reply as soon as possible, adding that he hoped that his reply would be satisfactory. Then he began thinking how he could spend that long and unendurable day, which would otherwise have been filled with Olga’s presence, the invisible communion of their souls, and her singing. And Zakhar suddenly had to worry him at such an inopportune moment! He decided to dine at Ivan Gerasimovich’s so as to notice that unendurable day as little as possible. By Sunday he would be able to prepare himself and perhaps by then he would already have received the letter from the country.

  The next day came. He was awakened by the furious barking of the dog and its desperate jumping on the chain. Someone had come into the yard and was asking for someone. The caretaker called Zakhar: Zakhar brought Oblomov a letter that had been posted in town.

  ‘From the Ilyinsky young lady,’ Zakhar said.

  ‘How do you know?’ Oblomov asked angrily. ‘Nonsense!’

  ‘You always used to get such letters from her in summer,’ Zakhar persisted.

  ‘Is she well?’ Oblomov thought, opening the letter. ‘What does it mean?’

  ‘I don’t want to wait for Wednesday’ (wrote Olga) ‘I miss you so much after so long a time that I will expect you tomorrow for certain at three o’clock in the Summer Gardens.’

  That was all.

  Again he became deeply perturbed; again he grew restless with anxiety at th
e thought of how he was going to talk to Olga and of how he would look at her.

  ‘I can’t do it – I don’t know how to,’ he said. ‘I wish I could ask Stolz – –’

  But he set his mind at rest with the thought that Olga would most probably come with her aunt or with Maria Semyonovna, who was so fond of her and could not admire her enough. He hoped that in their presence he would be able to disguise his embarrassment, and he prepared himself to be talkative and gallant. ‘And at dinner time, too,’ he thought as he set out, none too eagerly, for the Summer Gardens. ‘What an hour to choose!’ As soon as he entered the long avenue, he saw a veiled woman get up from a seat and walk towards him. He did not think it was Olga: alone! Impossible! She would never do a thing like that and, besides, would have no excuse for leaving home unchaperoned. However – it seemed to be her way of walking: her feet moved so lightly and rapidly that they did not seem to walk but to glide; her head and neck, too, were bent forward as though she were looking for something on the ground at her feet. Another man would have recognized her by her hat or dress, but he could never tell what dress or hat Olga was wearing even after spending a whole morning with her. There was hardly anybody in the garden; an elderly gentleman was walking very briskly, apparently taking his constitutional, and two – not ladies, but women, and a nurse with two children who looked blue with the cold. The leaves had fallen and one could see right through the bare branches; the crows on the trees cawed so unpleasantly. It was a bright and clear day, though, and warm, if one were wrapped up properly. The veiled woman was coming nearer and nearer….

  ‘It is she!’ said Oblomov, stopping in alarm and unable to believe his eyes.

  ‘Is it you?’ he asked, taking her hand. ‘What’s the matter?’

  ‘I’m so glad you’ve come,’ she said without answering his question. ‘I thought you wouldn’t come, and I was beginning to be afraid.’

  ‘How did you get here? How did you manage it?’ he asked, thrown into confusion.

  ‘Please, don’t! What does it matter? Why all these questions? It’s so silly! I wanted to see you and I came – that’s all!’

 
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