Oblomov, p.44
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       Oblomov, p.44

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘Katya!’ Oblomov cried in surprise. ‘Is it you? What’s the matter?’

  ‘Miss Olga is outside,’ Katya said in a whisper. ‘She has sent me to ask – –’

  Oblomov turned pale.

  ‘Miss Olga!’ he whispered in horror. ‘It can’t be true, Katya. You’re joking, aren’t you? Please, don’t torture me!’

  ‘It is true, sir. She’s waiting in a hired carriage near the teashop. She wants to come here. She sent me to tell you to send Zakhar away. She’ll be here in half an hour.’

  ‘I’d better go and see her myself. She can’t possibly come here, can she?’ said Oblomov.

  ‘You won’t have time, sir. She may come in any minute. She thinks you’re not well. Good-bye, I must run. My mistress is waiting for me – she’s alone….’

  And she went away.

  Oblomov put on his boots, waistcoat, and tie with extraordinary rapidity and called Zakhar.

  ‘Zakhar,’ Oblomov said with feverish agitation, ‘the other day you asked my permission to go and see your friends in Garokhavaya Street, didn’t you? Well, you may go now!’

  ‘I won’t go, sir,’ Zakhar replied emphatically.

  ‘Oh yes, you will!’ Oblomov persisted.

  ‘I can’t go visiting people on weekdays, can I? I won’t go!’ Zakhar said obstinately.

  ‘Go and have a good time. Don’t be obstinate when your master does you a favour and lets you off – go and see your friends!’

  ‘I don’t care about my friends, sir!’

  ‘But don’t you want to see them?’

  ‘No, sir. They’re all such rascals that every time I see them I never want to see them again!’

  ‘Go – go for goodness’ sake!’ Oblomov kept repeating insistently, and the blood rushed to his face.

  ‘No, sir,’ Zakhar replied unconcernedly. ‘I’ll stay all day at home to-day, but on Sunday, sir, I’d be glad to go out.’

  ‘You’re going now – at once!’ Oblomov hurried him agitatedly. ‘You must – –’

  ‘But why should I go all that way for nothing?’

  ‘Well, just go for a walk for a couple of hours. Look at that sleepy face of yours – you want some fresh air!’

  ‘There’s nothing wrong with my face, sir,’ Zakhar said, looking lazily out of the window. ‘It’s the right sort of face for the likes of me.’

  ‘Goodness me,’ Oblomov thought, mopping his brow, ‘she’s sure to be here any moment.’

  ‘Please go for a walk, Zakhar, I beg you. Here, take twenty copecks and go and have a drink with one of your pals.’

  ‘I’d rather sit down on the front steps, sir. I can’t go for a walk in the frost, can I? I could sit down at the gate, of course. I don’t mind doing that.’

  ‘No,’ Oblomov said quickly, ‘you must go farther than the gate. Go to another street – to the left – over there, towards the park – across the river.’

  ‘What’s up?’ Zakhar thought. ‘Driving me out for a walk! It’s never happened before!’

  ‘I’d rather wait till Sunday, sir!’

  ‘Are you going or not?’ Oblomov said through clenched teeth, advancing upon Zakhar.

  Zakhar disappeared and Oblomov called Anisya.

  ‘Go to the market,’ he said to her, ‘and buy something for dinner.’

  ‘But, sir, everything has been bought for dinner, and it’ll soon be ready,’ the nose began to expostulate.

  ‘Shut up and listen!’ Oblomov shouted so peremptorily that Anisya was frightened.

  ‘Buy – well, some asparagus,’ he said, trying to think of something to send her for.

  ‘But, sir, asparagus is out of season – you will never find any there – –’

  ‘Be off!’ he shouted, and she ran off. ‘Run there as fast as you can,’ he shouted after her, ‘and don’t look round, and when coming back walk as slowly as possible and don’t show your nose here for two hours.’

  ‘That’s a funny business and no mistake,’ Zakhar said to Anisya, running across her at the gate. ‘He has sent me for a walk and given me twenty copecks. Where does he think I can go walking?’

  ‘He’s your master and he has a right to tell you what to do,’ the sharp-witted Anisya observed. ‘You’d better go to Artemy, the count’s coachman, and treat him to tea: he is always treating you, and I’ll run down to the market.’

  ‘What a funny idea, Artemy!’ Zakhar said to the coachman. ‘Master has told me to go for a walk and given me money for a drink….’

  ‘Are you sure he’s not intending to get drunk himself?’ Artemy remarked wittily. ‘He gave you something so that you shouldn’t envy him. Come on!’

  He winked at Zakhar and motioned with his head to a certain street.

  ‘Come on,’ Zakhar repeated, motioning towards the same street. ‘Dear, dear,’ he wheezed to himself with a grin, ‘fancy sending me out for a walk!’

  They went away, but Anisya ran to the first crossroads, squatted down in a ditch behind a fence, and waited to see what happened.

  Oblomov listened intently and waited. Someone took hold of the iron ring of the gate and at the same moment the dog began barking desperately and jumping on the chain.

  ‘Damn the dog!’ Oblomov muttered, grinding his teeth.

  He snatched up his cap and rushed out to the front gate, opened it, and brought Olga to the front steps almost in his arms. She was alone. Katya was waiting for her in the carriage not far from the gate.

  ‘Are you well? You’re not in bed? What is the matter with you?’ she asked quickly, without taking off her coat or hat and looking him up and down when she came into his study.

  ‘I’m better now, my throat is – er – almost well,’ he said, touching his throat and coughing a little.

  ‘Why didn’t you come yesterday?’ she asked, casting so inquisitorial a glance at him that he could not utter a word.

  ‘How could you do a thing like this, Olga?’ he said in horror. ‘Do you know what you are doing?’

  ‘We’ll discuss that later!’ she interrupted him impatiently. ‘I ask you, what’s the meaning of your keeping away from me?’

  He made no answer.

  ‘You haven’t got a stye, have you?’ she asked.

  He made no answer.

  ‘You haven’t been ill,’ she said, knitting her brows. ‘There was nothing wrong with your throat.’

  ‘No, I haven’t,’ replied Oblomov in the voice of a schoolboy.

  ‘You’ve deceived me!’ she cried, looking at him in astonishment. ‘Why?’

  ‘I can explain everything, Olga.’ He tried to justify himself. ‘An important reason forced me to stay away from you for a fortnight – I was afraid of – –’

  ‘Of – what?’ she asked, sitting down and taking off her hat and coat.

  He took both from her and put them on the sofa.

  ‘Talk, gossip….’

  ‘But you were not afraid of my spending sleepless nights, imagining all sorts of things and almost falling ill?’ she said, looking searchingly at him.

  ‘You don’t know what’s going on in me, Olga,’ he said, pointing to his head and heart. ‘I’m worried to death; you don’t know what’s happened, do you?’

  ‘What has happened?’ she asked coldly.

  ‘How far the rumours about you and me have spread! I did not want to worry you, and I was afraid to show myself at your place.’

  He told her everything he had heard from Zakhar and Anisya, recalled the conversation of the dandies, and finished by saying that he had not been able to sleep ever since, and that in every glance he saw a question or a reproach or a sly hint at their meetings.

  ‘But we have decided to tell Auntie this week,’ she said. ‘Then all these rumours will have to stop.’

  ‘Yes, but I did not want to speak to your aunt this week, till I received my letter. I know that she will not ask me about my love, but about my estate, that she will want to know all the details, and I cannot explain anything to her till I
ve received an answer from my agent.’

  She sighed.

  ‘If I didn’t know you,’ she said thoughtfully, ‘I don’t know what I might have thought. You were afraid of worrying me by footmen’s gossip, but you were not afraid of causing me all this anxiety! I simply can’t understand you!’

  ‘You see, I thought that their talk would upset you. Katya, Marfa, Semyon, and that fool Nikita, goodness only knows what they are saying – –’

  ‘I’ve known for a long time what they are saying,’ she said imperturbably.

  ‘Who told you?’

  ‘Katya and Nanny told me about it long ago. They asked me about you, congratulated me….’

  ‘Congratulated you? Did they really?’ he asked in horror. ‘And what did you say?’

  ‘Oh, nothing. I just thanked them. I gave Nurse a kerchief, and she promised to go on foot to St Sergius’s shrine to offer up a prayer for me. I undertook to arrange Katya’s marriage with a pastry-cook: she, too, is in love…’

  He looked at her with frightened and astonished eyes.

  ‘You visited us every day, so it’s natural that the servants should talk about it,’ she added. ‘They are always the first to talk. It was the same with Sonia: why does it frighten you so much?’

  ‘So that’s where the rumours came from!’ he said in a drawn-out voice.

  ‘They are not unfounded, are they? It’s true, isn’t it?’

  ‘It is true,’ Oblomov repeated, in a tone of voice that sounded neither like a denial nor like a question. ‘Yes,’ he added after a pause, ‘you are quite right. But, you see, I don’t want them to know about our meetings; that’s why I am so afraid.’

  ‘You are afraid – you tremble like a boy…. I can’t understand it! You are not stealing me, are you?’

  He felt ill at ease; she looked attentively at him.

  ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘there’s some kind of a lie here somewhere, there’s something wrong. Come here and tell me all you have on your mind. You could have stayed away for a couple of days or even for a week as a precaution, but you should have warned me, you should have written to me. You know I am no longer a child and I can’t be so easily upset by some nonsense. What does it all mean?’

  He pondered a little, kissed her hand, and sighed.

  ‘This is what I think it is, Olga,’ he said. ‘All this time my imagination has been so frightened on your account by all these horrors, my mind has been so tortured by worries, my heart has been so sore with hopes that seemed to be on the point of fulfilment one moment and on the point of being shattered at another, and with expectations that my whole organism is shaken and has grown numb – it needs a rest even if it is only for a time – –’

  ‘But why haven’t I grown numb? Why do I seek a rest only beside you?’

  ‘You are young and strong, you love me serenely and peacefully, while I – but you don’t know how much I love you!’ he said, sliding down to the floor and kissing her hands.

  ‘No, I don’t think I do – really. You are so strange that I don’t know what to think. My mind misgives me and I lose hope – soon we shall cease to understand each other: if that happens, it will go badly with us.’

  They were silent.

  ‘What have you been doing all this time?’ she asked, looking round the room for the first time. ‘It isn’t nice here – such low ceilings! The windows are small, the wallpaper old…. What are your other rooms like?’

  He rushed to show her his flat so as not to have to answer her questions about what he had been doing all that time. When she resumed her seat on the sofa, he again sat down on the rug at her feet.

  ‘Well, what have you been doing this fortnight?’ She repeated her question.

  ‘Reading, writing, thinking of you.’

  ‘Have you read my books? What are they like? I think I’ll take them back.’

  She picked up a book from the table and looked at the open page: it was covered with dust.

  ‘You haven’t been reading!’ she said.

  ‘No,’ he replied.

  She looked at the crumpled, embroidered cushions, at the untidiness of the room, the dusty windows, the writing-desk, turned over several dust-covered papers, touched the pen in the dry inkwell, and looked at him in amazement.

  ‘What have you been doing?’ she repeated. ‘You haven’t been reading or writing, have you?’

  ‘I had so little time,’ he began, faltering. ‘When I get up in the morning they are tidying the rooms, they keep disturbing me, there follows the talk about dinner, the landlady’s children come in and ask me to correct their sums, then there’s dinner. After dinner – when is there time to read?’

  ‘You slept after dinner,’ she said in so positive a tone of voice that after a moment’s hesitation, he replied softly:

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘But why?’

  ‘So as not to notice the time: you were not with me, Olga, and life without you is dull and unbearable.’

  He stopped short, and she looked sternly at him.

  ‘Ilya,’ she began earnestly, ‘do you remember the day in the park when you told me that you felt alive again, when you assured me that I was the aim of your life and your ideal, when you took me by the hand and said that it was yours – do you remember how I gave you my consent?’

  ‘How could I forget it? Hasn’t it transformed my whole life? Don’t you see how happy I am?’

  ‘No, I don’t. You have deceived me,’ she said coldly. ‘You’re letting yourself go once more….’

  ‘Deceived you? Aren’t you ashamed to say that? I swear I’d throw myself into an abyss this very minute – –’

  ‘Yes, indeed, if the abyss were here right at your feet at this moment,’ she interrupted, ‘but if it were put off for three days you would have changed your mind and got frightened, especially if Zakhar or Anisya began talking about it. That is not love.’

  ‘Do you doubt my love?’ he began warmly. ‘Do you think that I am delaying out of fear for myself, and not for you? Don’t I guard your good name? Don’t I watch over you like a mother so that no gossip should dare to touch you? Oh, Olga! Ask for proofs! I tell you again that if you could be happier with another man, I’d resign my rights to him without a murmur. If someone had to sacrifice his life for you, I’d be happy to die!’ he concluded with tears in his eyes.

  ‘But that’s not necessary, no one asks you to! What do I need your life for? Just do what is necessary. It’s an old trick of dishonest people to offer sacrifices which are unnecessary and which cannot be made so as to get out of making those that are necessary. You’re not crafty – I know that, but – –’

  ‘You don’t know what these passions and anxieties have cost me!’ he went on. ‘I have had no other thought since I met you. And now, too, I repeat that you are my only aim, you alone. I shall die, I shall go mad if I have not got you beside me! I breathe, look, think, and feel only with you. Why are you surprised that I fall asleep and go to pieces on the days I don’t see you? Nothing pleases me, I’m sick of everything, I’m just a machine: I walk about and do all sorts of things without noticing what I am doing. You are the fire and the force of this machine,’ he declared, kneeling and straightening himself.

  His eyes gleamed as they used to do in the park in summer. Pride and strength of will shone in them once more.

  ‘I am ready to go at once where you tell me, to do what you wish. When you look at me, when you talk or sing, I feel that I am alive.’

  Olga listened to these passionate effusions with thoughtful gravity.

  ‘Listen, Ilya,’ she said, ‘I believe in your love and in my power over you. Why, then, do you frighten me by your indecision? Why do you make me doubt you? You say I am your aim – and you go towards it so slowly and timidly. And you have still far to go, for you must rise above me. I expect it of you! I have watched happy people in love,’ she added with a sigh. ‘Everything they do is full of energy and their rest is not like yours: they do not drop their
heads, their eyes are always open, they seem hardly ever to sleep, they act! And you – no, I’m afraid it does not look as if love or I were your aim in life.’

  She shook her head doubtfully.

  ‘You are, my darling, you are!’ he said, kissing her hands again excitedly as he lay at her feet. ‘You alone! Heavens, what happiness!’ he repeated as though in a delirium. ‘And you imagine that it is possible to deceive you, to fall asleep after such an awakening, not to become a hero! You shall see – you and Andrey,’ he went on, looking round with inspired eyes, ‘to what heights the love of a woman like you can raise a man! Look, look at me. Have I not come back to life, am I not alive at this moment? Let us leave this place! Let’s go, let’s go! I can’t stay here for another moment: I feel stifled, rotten!’ he said, looking round him with undisguised disgust. ‘Let me go on feeling like this the whole of to-day…. Oh, if only the fire that burns in me now would go on burning to-morrow and always! But when you are away, it goes out and I sink! Now I am alive, I have come back from the dead. I think I – – Olga, Olga! You’re the most beautiful thing in the world, you’re first among all women, you – you – –’

  He pressed his face to her hand and fell silent. He could not bring himself to utter another word. He pressed his hand to his heart to quiet his agitation, fixed his passionate, moist eyes on Olga, and remained motionless.

  ‘He’s tender, tender, tender!’ Olga kept thinking, but with a sigh, and not as she used to think in the park, and she sank into deep thought.

  ‘It’s time I went,’ she said affectionately as she recovered from her reverie.

  He suddenly came to himself.

  ‘Oh dear, are you here? At my place?’ he said.

  His inspired look disappeared, and instead he began looking round timidly. His tongue uttered no more ardent speeches. He grabbed her hat and coat hurriedly, and in his confusion he tried to put the coat on her head. She laughed.

  ‘Don’t be afraid for me,’ she calmed him. ‘Auntie has gone out for the whole day. At home Nurse alone knows that I am out, and Katya, of course. Please see me off.’

  She allowed him to take her arm and, calmly and without the slightest excitement, in the proud consciousness of her innocence, crossed the yard to the accompaniment of the desperate barking of the dog, jumping on the chain, entered her carriage, and drove away. Heads were peering from the landlady’s windows, and Anisya’s head peeped out of the ditch from behind the fence round the corner. When the carriage had turned into another street, Anisya came back and said she had been all over the market and could find no asparagus.

 
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