Oblomov, p.42
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       Oblomov, p.42

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  She pressed his hand warmly and looked at him gaily and light-heartedly, so openly and obviously enjoying the moment stolen from fate that he envied her for not sharing her playful mood. However troubled he was, he could not help forgetting himself for a moment when he saw her face showing no trace of the concentrated thought that could be discerned in the play of her eyebrows and in the crease on her forehead; this time she appeared to be without that wonderful maturity that so often disturbed him in her features. At that moment her face expressed such childlike confidence in their future happiness and in him…. She was very charming.

  ‘Oh, I’m so glad! I’m so glad!’ she went on repeating, smiling and looking at him. ‘I didn’t think I’d see you to-day. I felt so terribly depressed yesterday – I don’t know why, and I wrote to you. Are you glad?’

  She looked at his face.

  ‘Why are you so sullen to-day? Won’t you tell me? Aren’t you glad? I thought you’d be mad with joy, and you seem to be asleep. Wake up, sir, Olga is with you!’

  She pushed him away a little reproachfully.

  ‘Aren’t you well? What is the matter with you?’ she persisted.

  ‘No, I’m well and happy,’ he hastened to say, to make quite sure that she was not driven to wring the innermost secrets of his heart from him. ‘I’m only worried about your coming alone – –’

  ‘That’s my worry,’ she said impatiently. ‘Would you have liked it better if I had come with my aunt?’

  ‘Yes, I would, Olga.’

  ‘Had I known I’d have asked her,’ Olga interrupted in an injured voice, letting go his hand. ‘I thought there was no greater happiness for you than being with me.’

  ‘And so there isn’t and there cannot be!’ Oblomov replied. ‘But how could you come alone – –’

  ‘Let us not waste our time discussing it,’ she said light-heartedly. ‘Let’s talk of something else. Listen. Oh, I was going to tell you something…. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten….’

  ‘Not how you came here alone?’ he said, looking round anxiously.

  ‘Oh no! Aren’t you tired of repeating the same thing over and over again? What was I going to say? Oh, never mind. I’m sure to remember it later. Oh, how lovely it is here! The leaves have all fallen, feuilles d’automne – remember Victor Hugo? Look at the sunshine there – there’s the Neva…. Come, let’s go to the Neva and take a boat….’

  ‘Good Lord, what are you talking about? It’s so cold, and I’ve only a quilted coat on.’

  ‘I, too, have a quilted dress. What does it matter? Come along, let’s go.’

  She ran and dragged him after her. He resisted and grumbled. However, he had to get into a boat and go for a row on the river.

  ‘How did you get here by yourself alone?’ Oblomov kept asking anxiously.

  ‘Shall I tell you?’ she teased him roguishly when they got to the middle of the river. ‘I can now: you won’t run away from here, as you would have done there….’

  ‘Why?’ he asked fearfully.

  ‘Are you coming to-morrow?’ she asked instead of an answer.

  ‘Oh dear,’ thought Oblomov, ‘she seems to have read in my thoughts that I did not mean to come.’

  ‘Yes,’ he said aloud.

  ‘In the morning, for the whole day.’

  He hesitated.

  ‘Then I won’t tell you,’ she said.

  ‘Yes, I’ll come for the day.’

  ‘Well, you see,’ she began gravely, ‘I asked you to come here to-day to tell you – –’

  ‘What?’ he asked in a panic.

  ‘To come – to us to-morrow.’

  ‘Oh, for goodness’ sake!’ he interrupted impatiently. ‘But how did you get here?’

  ‘Here?’ she repeated absent-mindedly. ‘How did I get here? Why, I just came. Wait – but why talk about it at all?’

  She put her hand into the river and took a handful of water and threw it in his face. He screwed up his eyes and gave a start. She laughed.

  ‘How cold the water is – my hand feels frozen! Goodness, how lovely it is here! Oh, I am so happy!’ she went on, looking about her. ‘Let’s come again to-morrow, but straight from home.’

  ‘Haven’t you come straight from home now? Where have you come from then?’ he asked hastily.

  ‘From a shop,’ she replied.

  ‘What shop?’

  ‘What shop? I told you in the garden – –’

  ‘You didn’t,’ he cried impatiently.

  ‘Didn’t I? How strange! I’ve forgotten! I left home with a footman to go to the jeweller’s – –’

  ‘Well?’

  ‘Well, that’s all. What church is this?’ she suddenly asked the boatman, pointing at a church in the far distance.

  ‘Which one? That over there?’ the boatman asked.

  ‘The Smolny,’ Oblomov said impatiently. ‘Well, so you went to the shop and what did you do there?’

  ‘Oh, there were lovely things there – I saw such a beautiful bracelet!’

  ‘I’m not interested in bracelets,’ Oblomov interrupted. ‘What happened then?’

  ‘That’s all,’ she added absent-mindedly, absorbed in looking about her.

  ‘Where’s the footman?’ Oblomov pestered her.

  ‘Gone home,’ she replied curtly, examining a building on the opposite bank.

  ‘And what about you?’

  ‘Oh, how lovely it is over there! Couldn’t we go there?’ she asked, pointing with her parasol to the opposite bank. ‘You live there, don’t you?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘In which street? Show me!’

  ‘But what about the footman?’ Oblomov asked.

  ‘Oh, nothing,’ she replied in a casual tone of voice. ‘I sent him for my bracelet. He went home and I came here.’

  ‘But how could you do that?’ said Oblomov, staring at her.

  He looked alarmed, and she, too, made an alarmed face.

  ‘Talk seriously, Olga. Stop joking?’

  ‘I’m not joking,’ she said quietly. ‘That’s exactly what happened. I left my bracelet at home on purpose, and Auntie asked me to go to the jeweller’s. You’d never have thought of anything like that!’ she added with pride, as though she really had done something extraordinary.

  ‘And if the footman comes back?’ he asked.

  ‘I asked them to tell him to wait for me because I had had to go to another shop – and I came here – –’

  ‘And if your aunt asks you in which other shop you went?’

  ‘I’ll say I was at the dressmaker’s.’

  ‘And what if she asks the dressmaker?’

  ‘And what if the Neva flows away into the sea, what if our boat capsizes, what if Morskaya Street and our house sink through the ground, and what if you suddenly fell out of love with me – –’ she said, and threw some water in his face again.

  ‘But the footman must have returned by now and is waiting,’ he said, wiping his face. ‘Boatman, back to the bank!’

  ‘Don’t, don’t!’ she told the boatman.

  ‘To the bank! The footman has returned!’ Oblomov insisted.

  ‘Let him! Don’t let’s go back!’

  But Oblomov insisted on having it his own way and walked hurriedly through the Summer Gardens with her, while she, for her part, walked slowly, leaning on his arm.

  ‘Why are you in such a hurry?’ she said. ‘Wait, I’d like to be with you a little longer.’

  She walked still more slowly, clinging to his shoulder and peering into his face, and he spoke gravely and boringly about duty and obligations. She listened absent-mindedly, with a languid smile, bending her head and looking down or peering into his face again and thinking of something else.

  ‘Listen, Olga,’ he said at last solemnly, ‘at the risk of making you feel vexed with me and bringing your reproaches down on me, I must tell you definitely that we have gone too far. It is my duty, I – I think it incumbent upon me to tell you so.’

  ‘Tell me
what?’ she asked with impatience.

  ‘That we are doing wrong by meeting in secret.’

  ‘You said so when we were in the country,’ she said pensively.

  ‘Yes, but at the time I was carried away: I pushed you away with one hand and held you back with the other. You were trustful and I – I seemed to deceive you. My feeling for you was still new then – –’

  ‘And now it is no longer new and you are beginning to be bored.’

  ‘Oh no, Olga! You’re unjust. I say it was new, and that is why I had no time, why I would not come to my senses. My conscience worries me: you are young, you don’t know the world and people, and, besides, you are so pure, your love is so sacred, that it never occurs to you what severe censure we are incurring by what we are doing – and I most of all.’

  ‘But what are we doing?’ she said, stopping.

  ‘What do you mean? You are deceiving your aunt, leaving home secretly and meeting a man alone…. Try admitting all this on Sunday before your visitors.’

  ‘Why shouldn’t I admit it?’ she said calmly. ‘I daresay I will.’

  ‘And you will see,’ he went on, ‘that your aunt will faint, the ladies will rush out of the room, and the men will look at you boldly and knowingly.’

  She fell into thought.

  ‘But,’ she countered, ‘we are engaged, aren’t we?’

  ‘Yes, yes, dear Olga,’ he said, pressing both her hands, ‘and that is why we ought to be all the more careful and circumspect. I want to lead you down this very avenue proudly and before the eyes of all the world, and not by stealth; I want people to lower their eyes before you respectfully, and not look at you boldly and knowingly; I don’t want anyone to suspect you, a proud girl, of having lost your head and, forgetting all shame and good breeding, being carried away and neglecting your duty – –’

  ‘I haven’t forgotten shame, or good breeding, or duty,’ she replied proudly, taking her hand away from him.

  ‘I know, I know, my innocent angel; but it isn’t I who am saying this, it’s what people and society will be saying, and they will never forgive you it. Do, for God’s sake, understand what I want. I want you to be as pure and irreproachable in the eyes of the world as you are in reality.’

  She walked on sunk in thought.

  ‘Please understand why I am telling you this: you will be unhappy, and I alone shall be responsible for it. People will say that I seduced you, that I concealed the abyss from you on purpose. You are pure and safe with me, but how can you make people believe it? Who will believe you?’

  ‘That’s true,’ she said, with a shudder. ‘Listen,’ she added resolutely. ‘Let us tell Auntie everything and let her give us her blessing to-morrow….’

  Oblomov turned pale.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked.

  ‘Wait, Olga! Why be in such a hurry?’ he hastened to say.

  His lips were trembling.

  ‘But didn’t you hurry me a fortnight ago?’ she asked, looking coldly and attentively at him.

  ‘I hadn’t thought of all the preparations at the time, and there are so many of them!’ he said, sighing. ‘Let us wait for the letter from the country.’

  ‘Why wait for the letter? Will this or that answer make you change your mind?’ she asked, looking at him even more attentively.

  ‘What an idea! Of course not! But I must take it into consideration, for we shall have to tell your aunt when our wedding is to be. It is not of love we shall be talking to her, but of all sorts of business matters for which I am not yet prepared.’

  ‘We will talk about that when you get the letter, but meanwhile everyone will know that we are engaged and we shall be able to see each other every day. I’m awfully bored,’ she added. ‘The days seem to go on for ever; everybody notices it, they go on pestering me and hinting slyly at you…. Oh, I’m sick of it all!’

  ‘Hinting at me?’ Oblomov could hardly bring himself to say the words.

  ‘Yes, thanks to Sonia.’

  ‘You see? You see? You wouldn’t listen to me then and were angry with me.’

  ‘What is there to see? I don’t see anything, except that you’re a coward. I’m not afraid of their hints.’

  ‘I’m not a coward, I’m merely careful…. Well, for goodness’ sake let’s get out of here, Olga. Look, there’s a carriage with some people we know. Oh dear, it throws me into a perspiration…. Let’s go, let’s go,’ he said fearfully, infecting her with his fear.

  ‘Yes, come quick!’ she said in a whisper, talking very fast.

  And they almost ran along the avenue to the end of the gardens without uttering a word. Oblomov kept throwing terrified glances about him, and she bent her head very low and covered herself with her veil.

  ‘To-morrow, then!’ she said when they reached the shop where the footman was waiting for her.

  ‘No, I’d rather come the day after to-morrow – or on Friday or Saturday,’ he replied.

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Because, you see, Olga, I’m always wondering whether the letter will arrive.’

  ‘Well, it might, of course. But to-morrow come just for dinner, do you hear?’

  ‘Yes, yes, all right!’ he added hastily, and she went into the shop.

  ‘Dear me, how far things have gone! What a heavy weight has dropped on me all of a sudden! What am I going to do now? Son ia! Zakhar! Those dandies!’

  6

  HE did not notice that Zakhar served him a perfectly cold dinner, nor did he notice how after dinner he found himself in bed and fell fast asleep. The following day he was dismayed at the thought of going to see Olga. That was impossible! He imagined vividly how significantly they would all look at him. The hall porter, as it was, met him in a particularly kindly way. Semyon rushed headlong to fetch a glass of water whenever he asked for one. Katya and the nurse saw him off with a friendly smile. ‘Her fiancé, her fiancé!’ was written on all their faces, but he had not yet asked her aunt’s consent, he hadn’t a penny, and he did not know when he would have any, or what his income from the estate would be this year; there was no house in the country – some fiancé! He decided that until he received definite news from the country he would see Olga only on Sundays in the presence of witnesses. On the following morning he consequently did not think of getting ready to go to Olga’s. He did not shave or dress, but lazily turned over the pages of some French journals he had brought from the Ilyinskys’ the week before; he did not keep looking incessantly at the clock and did not frown because the hand did not move forward fast enough. Zakhar and Anisya thought that he would be dining out as usual and did not ask him what he would like for dinner. He scolded them sharply, declaring that he did not dine at the Ilyinskys’ every Wednesday, that it was ‘slander’, that he sometimes dined at Ivan Gerasimovich’s, and that in future he would always have his dinners at home, except on Sundays, and not every Sunday, either. Anisya immediately rushed off to the market to buy giblets for Oblomov’s favourite soup. The landlady’s children came in to see him: he corrected Vanya’s sums and found two mistakes. He ruled Masha’s copybook and wrote large As, then he listened to the singing of the canaries and looked through the half-open door at the landlady’s rapidly moving elbows. Soon after one o’clock the landlady asked him from behind the door if he would like something to eat: she had been baking cheese-cakes. Cheese-cakes and a glass of currant vodka were placed before him. Oblomov’s agitation somewhat subsided, and he fell into a state of dull torpor in which he remained till dinner. After dinner, when lying down on the sofa he began nodding, overcome by drowsiness, the door leading into the landlady’s rooms opened and Agafya Matveyevna appeared, with two pyramids of socks in each hand. She put them down on two chairs, and Oblomov jumped up and offered her the third one, but she did not sit down; it was not her habit: she was always on her feet, always busy and bustling about.

  ‘I’ve been sorting out your socks to-day,’ she said. ‘Fifty-five pairs, and almost all need darning.’

&nb
sp; ‘How kind you are!’ Oblomov said, walking up to her and taking hold of her elbows playfully.

  She smiled. ‘Why should you trouble?’ he said. ‘It really makes me feel ashamed.’

  ‘It’s nothing,’ she replied. ‘It’s my job to look after these things. You’ve got no one to sort them out, and I like doing it. Twenty pairs are no good at all: it’s not worth while darning them.’

  ‘Please don’t trouble. Throw them all away. Why waste your time with this rubbish? I can buy new ones….’

  ‘Why throw them away? These can all be mended,’ and she began quickly to count the socks that could still be mended.

  ‘But sit down, please,’ he offered her a chair again. ‘Why do you stand?’

  ‘No, thank you very much, I really have no time,’ she said, refusing the chair again. ‘It’s my washing day, and I have to get the clothes ready.’

  ‘You’re a real wonder, and not a housekeeper!’ he said, fixing his gaze on her neck and bosom.

  She smiled.

  ‘So what shall I do?’ she asked. ‘Darn the socks or not? I’ll order some wool. An old woman brings it to us from the country. It’s not worth while buying it here: it’s such poor stuff.’

  ‘Yes, do by all means, since you are so kind,’ said Oblomov. ‘Only I really am ashamed to be giving you so much trouble.’

  ‘Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve nothing else to do, have I? These I will re-foot myself, and those I’ll give to Granny. My sister-in-law is coming to stay with us to-morrow, we shan’t have anything to do in the evenings, and we’ll mend them. My Masha is already learning to knit, only she keeps dropping the stitches: the needles are too big for her little hands.’

  ‘Is Masha already beginning to knit?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘Yes, indeed.’

  ‘I don’t know how to thank you,’ said Oblomov. He looked at her with the same pleasure with which he had looked at her hot cheese-cakes that morning. ‘I am very, very grateful to you and I will not remain in your debt, especially not in Masha’s. I’ll buy her silk frocks and dress her up like a little doll.’

  ‘Why, you mustn’t think of it! You’ve nothing to be grateful to me for. What does she want silk dresses for? She never has enough cotton ones: she wears things out so quickly, especially her shoes: we can’t buy them fast enough in the market.’

 
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