Oblomov, p.43
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       Oblomov, p.43

           Ivan Goncharov

  She took up the socks and was about to leave the room.

  ‘Why are you in such a hurry?’ he said. ‘Do sit down, I’m not busy.’

  ‘Some other time, on a holiday; and you, please, come and have coffee with us. I’m sorry, but it’s washing day and I must go and see if Akulina has begun.’

  ‘Oh, well, I must not detain you,’ said Oblomov, looking at her elbows and back.

  ‘I also got your dressing-gown out of the box-room,’ she went on. ‘It can be washed and mended: such nice material! It’s good for many more years!’

  ‘There was no need for it. I’m not wearing it any more, I’m afraid; it’s no use to me.’

  ‘Well, never mind, let them wash it: perhaps you will wear it one day – when you are married!’ she finished, smiling and shutting the door behind her.

  His sleepiness suddenly left him. He pricked up his ears and opened his eyes wide.

  ‘She, too, knows about it – everybody knows about it!’ he said, sitting down on the chair he had offered the landlady. ‘Oh, Zakhar, Zakhar!’

  Again a flood of ‘pathetic’ words was let loose on Zakhar, again Anisya’s nose was set in motion as she assured him that it was the first time she had heard the landlady speak about the wedding, that she never breathed a word about it in her talks with the landlady, that there was no question of any wedding, and, indeed, the whole thing was impossible. The whole thing, she opined, must have been invented by the common enemy of mankind, and as for her, she was ready to sink through the ground, and the landlady was also ready to take the icon off the wall and take an oath that she had never heard of the llyinsky young lady, and was thinking of someone else…. Anisya went on and on, so that in the end he had to wave her out of the room. Next day Zakhar asked if he might go and see some of his friends in Gorokhovaya Street, but Oblomov told him off so effectively that he was glad to get out of the room.

  ‘They don’t know anything about it, so you must spread the slanderous story there. Stay at home!’ Oblomov added sternly.

  Wednesday passed. On Thursday Oblomov received another letter from Olga, asking what it all meant, what had happened, and why he had not come. She wrote that she had cried all the evening and hardly slept all night.

  ‘She cries, she can’t sleep, my angel!’ Oblomov exclaimed. ‘Lord, why does she love me? Why do I love her? Why did we meet? It’s all Andrey’s fault: he inoculated me with love as with a vaccine. And what sort of a life is it? All the time worries and anxieties! When at last am I to get rest and peaceful happiness?’

  Sighing loudly, he lay down, got up, and even went out into the street, intent on trying to discover what was the right way to live a life which would be full and yet would go on quietly day after day, drop by drop, in mute contemplation of nature and slow, scarcely moving events of a peaceful busy family life. He did not want to think of it as a broad river, rushing along noisily with boiling waves, as Stolz thought of it.

  ‘It is a disease,’ Oblomov said, ‘a fever, rushing over rapids, with burst dams and floods.’

  He wrote to Olga that he had caught a slight cold in the Summer Gardens, had had to drink a decoction and stay indoors for two days, that it had now passed and he hoped to see her on Sunday. She wrote back praising him for having been careful, advising him to stay in on Sunday, too, if necessary, adding that she did not mind being bored for a week provided he took care of himself. The letter was brought by Nikita, the same Nikita who, according to Anisya, was chiefly responsible for the gossip. He brought some new books from Olga, who wanted Oblomov to read them and tell her when they met whether they were worth reading. She asked how he was, and after writing an answer, Oblomov gave it to Nikita, and having seen him off, he followed him with his eyes to the gate to make sure he did not stray into the kitchen and repeat the ‘slanderous’ story there or that Zakhar did not see him off into the street. He was glad of Olga’s suggestion that he should take care and not come on Sunday, and he wrote to say that for a complete recovery it was really necessary for him to stay indoors for a few more days. On Sunday he paid a visit to the landlady, drank coffee, ate hot pie, and sent Zakhar across the river for ice-cream and sweets for the children at dinner. Zakhar returned across the river with some difficulty: the bridges had been removed, the Neva being on the point of freezing. Oblomov could not possibly go to Olga’s on Wednesday, either. Of course, he could have rushed at once across the river, stayed for a few days at Ivan Gerasimovich’s and visited Olga every day, even dined there. He had a quite legitimate excuse: the Neva had caught him while he was on the other side and he could not get across. Oblomov’s first impulse was to do this, and he had already lowered his feet from his bed, but after a moment’s reflection he slowly resumed his recumbent position, with a sigh and a preoccupied air. ‘No, let the gossip die down and let the people who visit Olga’s house forget me a little and meet me there again daily only after the official announcement of our engagement. It’s a bore to wait,’ he added with a sigh, taking up Olga’s books, ‘but it can’t be helped.’ He read some fifteen pages. Masha came to ask whether he would like to come and watch the river freezing over: everyone was going. He went and came back for tea. So the days passed. Oblomov was bored; he read, went for walks, and when he was at home he looked through the landlady’s door to exchange a few words with her to pass the time. He even ground three pounds of coffee for her one day, and with such zeal that his forehead was covered in perspiration. He tried to give her a book to read. She read the title to herself, moving her lips slowly, and returned the book, declaring that she would borrow it at Christmas and make Vanya read it aloud, and then Granny would listen too, but she was too busy at present.

  Meanwhile, a plank footway was laid across the Neva, and one day the dog’s desperate barking and jumping on the chain announced Nikita’s second visit, with a note inquiring after Oblomov’s health, and a book. Oblomov, afraid that he might have to cross the river over the planks, hid from Nikita, writing to Olga that he had a small swelling in his throat, that he was still uncertain whether he ought to go out and that ‘cruel fate deprived him of seeing his precious Olga for a few more days’. He gave strict orders to Zakhar not to talk to Nikita and again followed Olga’s footman to the gate with his eyes, and shook a minatory finger at Anisya when she poked her nose out of the kitchen and wanted to ask Nikita something.


  A WEEK passed. Getting up in the morning, Oblomov first of all inquired anxiously whether the bridges had been put back.

  ‘Not yet,’ he was told, and he spent the day peacefully listening to the ticking of the clock, the rattling of the coffee mill, and the singing of the canaries. The chicks no longer chirped; they had long ago grown into middle-aged hens and were hiding in their hen-houses. He had not had time to read the books Olga had sent him: having read as far as the hundred and fifth page of one book, he put it away face downwards, and so it lay for several days. Instead he spent more time with the landlady’s children. Vanya was such an intelligent boy, he memorized the capital cities of Europe in three lessons, and Oblomov promised to buy him a small globe as soon as he went to the other side of the river; and little Masha hemmed three handkerchiefs for him – badly, it is true, but how amusingly she worked with her tiny little hands, running to show him every inch of her work. He talked to his landlady incessantly every time he caught sight of her elbows through the half-open door. He could tell by the movements of her elbows what she was doing, whether she was sieving, grinding, or ironing. He even tried to talk to Granny, but she never could finish a conversation: she would stop half-way through a word, lean against a wall with her fist, bent double, and begin coughing, as though she were doing some hard work, then she would utter a groan, and that was the end of the conversation. The landlady’s brother alone he never saw; he caught a glimpse of him rushing past the window with the large parcel, but he never heard anything of him in the house. Even when Oblomov accidentally entered the room where they were all having dinner, hudd
led together for lack of space, the landlady’s brother quickly wiped his lips with his fingers and disappeared into his attic.

  One morning, as soon as Oblomov woke up without a care in the world and began drinking his coffee, Zakhar suddenly announced that the bridges had been put back. Oblomov’s heart missed a beat.

  ‘It’s Sunday to-morrow,’ he said to himself. ‘I’ll have to go to Olga’s, manfully endure all day the significant glances of all sorts of curious strangers, then tell her when I intend to talk to her aunt.’

  And he was still in the position where he found it absolutely impossible to move an inch forward. He imagined vividly how their engagement would be announced, how all sorts of ladies and gentlemen would arrive the next day and the day after that, how he would suddenly become an object of curiosity, how his health would be drunk at the dinner specially given to celebrate his engagement to Olga. Then – as Olga’s fiancé he would be expected to buy her a present.

  ‘A present!’ he said to himself in horror and burst out laughing bitterly. A present! And he had only 200 roubles in his pocket! Even if his money arrived, it would not be before Christmas, and perhaps later, after the corn had been sold, and when that would be, how much corn there was and what it would fetch – all that the letter would explain, and there was no letter. So what on earth was he to do? Farewell, his fortnight’s rest! And amid these worries he saw Olga’s beautiful face, her fluffy expressive eyebrows, her intelligent, grey-blue eyes, her sweet head, and her plait of hair, which was so long that it accentuated the noble proportions of her figure, from her head to her shoulders and waist. But no sooner did he begin to quiver with love than he was crushed by the thought: what was he to do, how was he to tackle the question of marriage, where was he to get the money, and what were they to live on afterwards?…

  ‘I will wait a little longer; perhaps the letter will come tomorrow or the day after,’ and he began to calculate when his letter could have arrived in the country, how long his neighbour would take over his reply, and how long the answer would take to reach him. ‘It must come in another three or at most four days – I’ll go to Olga’s a little later,’ he decided, ‘particularly as she can hardly be expected to know whether the bridges have been put back or not.’

  ‘Katya, have the bridges been put back?’ Olga asked her maid as soon as she woke that morning.

  And this question was repeated every day. Oblomov did not suspect it.

  ‘I don’t know, miss. I haven’t seen the coachman or the caretaker to-day, and Nikita does not know.’

  ‘You never can answer my questions!’ Olga said with displeasure, examining the chain round her neck as she lay in bed.

  ‘I’ll find out at once, miss. I didn’t dare to go out, thinking that you would wake, or I’d have run down long ago.’

  And Katya disappeared from the room. Olga opened the drawer of her bedside table and took out Oblomov’s last note.

  ‘He’s ill, the poor darling,’ she thought anxiously. ‘He is alone there, he is bored… Oh dear, how much longer…’ She had not finished the sentence when Katya, all flushed, flew into the room.

  ‘They were put back last night!’ she cried joyfully, caught Olga, who had jumped out of bed, in her arms, threw her dressing-gown round her, and helped her into her tiny slippers. Olga quickly opened a box, took something out of it, and put it in Katya’s hand. Katya kissed her hand. All this – her jumping out of bed, the coin dropped into Katya’s hand and Katya’s kiss – happened in one minute. ‘Oh, to-morrow’s Sunday: how lucky! He’ll be coming!’ thought Olga. She dressed quickly, had her breakfast, and went shopping with her aunt.

  ‘Let’s go to Mass at Smolny to-morrow, Auntie,’ she begged.

  Her aunt screwed up her eyes, thought it over, then said:

  ‘Very well, only it’s so far, my dear! Why do you want to go there in winter?’

  Olga wanted to go there simply because Oblomov had pointed out the church to her from the river, and she wished to pray there – for him, that he should be well, that he should love her, that he should be happy with her, that – this uncertainty and indecision should end as soon as possible. Poor Olga!

  Sunday came. Olga somehow contrived that the dinner should be to Oblomov’s liking. She put on her white dress, concealed under the lace the bracelet he had given her, did her hair in the way he liked; she had arranged for the piano to be tuned the day before, and in the morning tried singing Casta diva. Her voice had not sounded so well since her return from the country. Then she waited.

  The baron, who found her waiting for Oblomov, said that she looked again as pretty as in summer, but that she was a little thinner.

  ‘The lack of country air and the slightly irregular mode of life have perceptibly affected you,’ he said. ‘What you need, my dear Olga, is the country and the air of the fields.’

  He kissed her hand a few times, his dyed moustache leaving a little stain on her fingers.

  ‘Yes, the country,’ she replied wistfully, not to him but speaking into space to someone else.

  ‘A propos of the country,’ he added. ‘Your lawsuit will be finished next month, and in April you will be able to leave for your estate. It is not big, but the situation is wonderful! You will be pleased. What a house! What a garden! There’s a pavilion on a hill – you will love it! The view of the river – you don’t remember it, do you? You were only five when your father left the estate and took you away.’

  ‘Oh, how glad I shall be!’ she said, and sank into thought.

  ‘Now it’s settled,’ she decided, ‘we’ll go there, but he won’t find out about it till – –’

  ‘Next month, baron?’ she asked quickly. ‘Are you sure?’

  ‘I’m as sure of that as I am of the fact that you are beautiful, and especially to-day,’ he said, and went to her aunt.

  Olga did not stir from her place, dreaming of the happiness that was so near, but she decided not to tell Oblomov her news and her plans for the future. She intended to watch to the end the change love wrought in Oblomov’s lazy soul, to see how the great weight would lift from him, how he would not be able finally to resist the prospect of happiness, how he would receive a favourable reply from the country and, radiant with joy, would rush to her and put it at her feet, and how both of them would run to her aunt, and then – – Then she would suddenly tell him that she too had an estate, a garden, a pavilion, a view of the river and a house that was ready to live in, that they must go there first and then to Oblomovka. ‘No,’ she thought, ‘I don’t want a favourable reply, for he will put on airs and won’t even feel glad that I have an estate of my own, a house, a garden. No, I’d rather he came looking upset by a disagreeable letter with the news that his estate was in a bad way and that he had to go there himself. He’d rush headlong off to Oblomovka, hastily make all the necessary arrangements, forget to see to a great many things, be unable to do many others, do everything just anyhow, rush back, and suddenly discover that it had not been necessary for him to go at all – that she had a house, a garden, and a pavilion with a view, that they had a place where they could live without bothering about his Oblomovka…. No, no, she was not going to tell him; she would hold out to the end. Let him go to his estate, let him bestir himself, let him come to life – for her alone, in the name of their future happiness. Oh – no! Why should she send him to his estate? Why should they part? No – when, all dressed for the journey, he – pale and woebegone – came to say good-bye to her, she would tell him suddenly that there was no need for him to go till summer, that they would go together then….

  So she dreamed on, and she ran to the baron and skilfully suggested to him that he should not reveal the news to anyone, absolutely not to anyone. By anyone she had only Oblomov in mind.

  ‘Very well; why should I?’ he agreed. ‘Except perhaps to Mr Oblomov, if the subject should be mentioned….’

  Olga restrained herself and said unconcernedly:

  ‘No, please, don’t tell him, either.

  ‘Oh, all right; you know your will is law so far as I’m concerned,’ the baron added gallantly.

  She was not without guile. If she wanted very much to look at Oblomov when other people were present, she would first look at two or three other people and only then at him. How much thought – and all for Oblomov. How many times had her cheeks begun to burn ! How many times did she touch this or that key of the piano to see if it had not been tuned too high, or shifted the music from one place to another! And he did not come! What could it mean? Three o’clock. Four o’clock – he wasn’t there! At half-past four she began visibly to wilt – her beauty was gone, her bloom faded, and she sat down at the table looking pale. No one seemed to have noticed anything, they were all eating the dishes which had been prepared for him, and talking cheerfully and unconcernedly. After dinner, in the evening – still he did not come. Till ten o’clock she fluctuated between hope and fear; at ten o’clock she went to her room. At first she vented on him all the bitterness that had accumulated in her heart; there was no word too sarcastic or too spiteful in her vocabulary for her to hurl it accusingly at his head. Then she felt suddenly as though her body were on fire and then turned cold as ice. ‘He is ill, alone – he cannot even write,’ it flashed through her head. This conviction took complete possession of her and kept her awake all night. She fell into a feverish slumber for a couple of hours, was delirious in the night, but got up in the morning calm and resolute, though pale.

  On Monday morning the landlady looked into Oblomov’s study and said:

  ‘Some girl is asking for you.’

  ‘Me? Impossible!’ replied Oblomov. ‘Where is she?’

  ‘She’s here. She came to our door by mistake. Shall I show her in?’

  Oblomov had hardly time to make up his mind when Katya appeared before him. The landlady went out.


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