Oblomov, p.46
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       Oblomov, p.46

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘I went to a secondary school, but my father took me away from the fifth form and got me a job in a Government office. I’m afraid my education doesn’t amount to much. Reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic – I did not go beyond that. I got used to my work – more or less, and I am just managing to make ends meet. But your case is different, sir. You’re a really educated man.’

  ‘Yes, I suppose so,’ Oblomov affirmed with a sigh. ‘It’s true I’ve studied higher mathematics, political economy, and law, but I haven’t got the knack for business in spite of it. You see, though I have studied higher mathematics, I can’t tell what my income amounts to. I returned to the country and did my best to find out how things were done there, I mean, in our house, on our estate, and all around. Well, it was not at all according to the laws I had learnt. I came here, thinking to make a career with the help of political economy. I was told, however, that my learning would come in useful in time, in my old age, perhaps, but that first I had to obtain a high rank in the Civil Service and to do that only one thing was needed – drawing up documents. So I just could not adapt myself to that kind of work and I became simply a gentleman, whereas you did adapt yourself. That’s why I want you to tell me how to solve my problem.’

  ‘I daresay I could, sir,’ said Ivan Matveyevich at last. ‘I daresay I could.’

  Oblomov stopped before him, waiting to hear what he would say.

  ‘You could entrust it all to an expert and transfer the deed of trust to him,’ added Ivan Matveyevich.

  ‘But where am I to find such a man?’ asked Oblomov.

  ‘A colleague of mine, Isay Fomich Zatyorty, who has a slight stammer, is such an experienced and business-like man. He was the manager of a big estate for three years, but the owner dismissed him because of his stammer. So he got a job at my office.’

  ‘But can he be relied on?’

  ‘Don’t worry, he is as honest as they make ’em! He’d spend his own money to please the man who trusted him. He’s been in our office for twelve years.’

  ‘How could he go to the country, if he has to be at your office?’

  ‘That’s nothing. He could get leave for four months. If you make up your mind, I’ll bring him here. He wouldn’t go there for nothing, would he?’

  ‘Of course not,’ Oblomov agreed.

  ‘You’ll pay his travelling expenses and so much per day for his living allowance and then, when his work is done, a certain sum by arrangement. Don’t worry, he’ll go!’

  ‘Thank you very much,’ said Oblomov, holding out his hand. ‘You’ve lifted a load off my mind. What is his name?’

  ‘Isay Fomich Zatyorty,’ Ivan Matveyevich repeated, hurriedly wiping his hand on the cuff of his other sleeve, taking Oblomov’s hand for a moment and immediately hiding it in his sleeve again. ‘I’ll have a talk to him to-morrow, sir, and bring him along.’

  ‘Yes, come to dinner and we’ll talk it over. Thank you very much!’ said Oblomov, seeing Ivan Matveyevich to the door.

  10

  IN the evening of the same day Ivan Matveyevich and Tarantyev were sitting in one of the rooms of the upper floor of a two-storied house which, on one side, faced the street where Oblomov lived and, on the other, the quay. It was a so-called ‘tavern’, which always had two or three empty cabs waiting at its front door, the cabmen staying on the ground floor and drinking tea out of their saucers. The upper floor was reserved for the ‘gentlemen’ of Vyborg.

  Glasses of tea and a bottle of rum stood on a table before Ivan Matveyevich and Tarantyev.

  ‘Real Jamaica rum,’ said Ivan Matveyevich, pouring some into his glass with a shaking hand. ‘Have some, old man.’

  ‘You must admit it,’ retorted Tarantyev, ‘you owe me this treat. You’d not have got such a tenant if you’d waited till the house had rotted away.’

  ‘True enough,’ Ivan Matveyevich interrupted. ‘And if our business comes off and Zatyorty goes to the country, you’ll get your commission.’

  ‘I’m afraid, old man, you’re damned stingy,’ said Tarantyev. ‘One has to bargain with you. Fifty roubles for such a lodger!’

  ‘I’m afraid he may be leaving – he’s threatening to,’ observed Ivan Matveyevich.

  ‘Don’t talk nonsense – a man of experience like you, too! Where will he go? He wouldn’t be driven out even by force now.’

  ‘And the wedding? I hear he’s getting married.’

  Tarantyev burst out laughing.

  ‘He getting married! What do you bet that he won’t?’ he replied. ‘Why, he can’t go to bed without Zakhar’s help, and you talk of marriage! Till now I’ve been giving him a helping hand; if it hadn’t been for me, old man, he would have died of starvation or been clapped into jail. If the police inspector called or his landlord asked him for something, he never knew what to do – I had to do everything for him! He doesn’t understand a thing!’

  ‘You’re right. He told me he didn’t know what they did in a district court or in a Government department. He has no idea what sort of peasants he has. What a fool! I nearly burst out laughing.’

  ‘And the agreement, the agreement we drew up!’ Tarantyev boasted. ‘You’re a past-master in drawing up documents, old man, I grant you that! It reminded me of my father. I wasn’t bad at it, either, but I’m afraid I’ve lost the knack – aye, I’ve lost the knack! The moment I sit down at the table my eyes begin to water. He never bothered to read it, just signed it! Barns, stables, kitchen gardens, and all!’

  ‘Yes, old man, while there are blockheads in Russia who sign papers without reading them, people like us can still manage to live. But for that life would have been terrible – things have grown so bad! In the old days it was different. What money have I made after twenty-five years in the Civil Service? Enough to live on in Vyborg without showing my nose anywhere else – plenty to eat, I’m not complaining! But, I’m afraid, a flat on Liteyny, carpets, a rich wife, and children who are admitted to the best houses – that’s a dream of the past! I haven’t got the right face for it, I’m told, and my fingers are red – Why do I drink? How can I help drinking? Just try! Worse than a footman – aye, to-day a footman doesn’t wear boots like mine and changes his shirt every day. The trouble is, I haven’t had the right education – the youngsters have got miles ahead of me: show off, read and talk French….’

  ‘And have no idea of practical affairs,’ added Tarantyev.

  ‘That’s where you’re wrong, old man: they have, but it’s different now. Everyone wants things to be as simple as possible and everyone is doing his best to trip us up. This is not the way to write, that’s quite unnecessary, a waste of time – you could do it much more quickly – always tripping us up.’

  ‘But the agreement is signed: they did not trip us up there, did they?’ said Tarantyev.

  ‘That, of course, is sacred. Let’s drink, old man. He’ll send Zatyorty to Oblomovka, and Zatyorty will gradually suck him dry: let his heirs get all that is left over….’

  ‘Let them,’ Tarantyev observed. ‘And there aren’t any real heirs, either: third cousins, some very distant relatives.’

  ‘It’s his marriage I’m afraid of!’ said Ivan Matveyevich.

  ‘Don’t be afraid, I tell you. Mark my words!’

  ‘No?’ Ivan Matveyevich retorted gaily. ‘You know,’ he added in a whisper, ‘he’s casting sheep’s eyes at my sister.’

  ‘Not really?’ Tarantyev said in astonishment.

  ‘Mum’s the word! I tell you I know what I’m talking about.’

  ‘Well, old man,’ Tarantyev said, hardly able to recover from his surprise, ‘I’d never have dreamed of it! And what about her?’

  ‘What about her? You know her, don’t you?’ he said, banging his fist on the table. ‘She can’t be expected to look after her interests, can she? A cow – that’s what she is, a blamed cow: hit her or hug her, she goes on grinning like a horse at a nose-bagful of oats. Another woman in her place would – oh, well! But I’ll keep an eye on them, I pro
mise you – you realize what it may mean, don’t you?’

  11

  ‘FOUR months! Another four months of constraint, secret meetings, suspicious faces, smiles!’ thought Oblomov as he mounted the stairs to the Ilyinskys’ flat. ‘Good Lord, when will it end? And I’m sure Olga will hurry me: to-day, to-morrow. She is so insistent, so inexorable! It’s difficult to convince her….’

  Oblomov reached Olga’s room without meeting anybody. Olga was sitting in her small sitting-room, next to her bedroom, absorbed in reading a book. He appeared before her so suddenly that she gave a start, then held out her hand affectionately and with a smile, but her eyes seemed to be still reading the book; she looked absent-minded.

  ‘Are you alone?’ he asked.

  ‘Yes, Auntie has gone to Tsarskoye Selo. She wanted me to go with her. We shall be almost alone at dinner. Only Maria Semyonovna is coming; otherwise I should not have been able to receive you. You can’t talk to Auntie to-day. What an awful bore it is! But to-morrow – –’ she added and smiled. ‘And what if I had gone to Tsarskoye Selo to-day?’ she asked, jestingly.

  He made no answer.

  ‘Are you worried?’ she asked.

  ‘I had a letter from the country,’ he said dully.

  ‘Where is it? Have you got it on you?’

  He gave her the letter.

  ‘I can’t read the writing,’ she said, glancing at it.

  He took the letter from her and read it aloud. She became thoughtful.

  ‘What now?’ she said after a pause.

  ‘I consulted my landlady’s brother,’ Oblomov replied, ‘and he recommended me as my agent a certain Isay Fomich Zatyorty: I’ll give him the necessary instructions to settle everything.’

  ‘A perfect stranger!’ Olga objected in surprise. ‘To collect the taxes, to look into the affairs of the peasants, to see to the sale of the corn….’

  ‘He tells me Zatyorty is the soul of honour, he has been working in the same office with him for twelve years…. The only thing is he stammers a little….’

  ‘And what is your landlady’s brother like? Do you know him?’

  ‘No, but he seems to be such a practical, business-like man. Besides, I’m living in his house – he would be ashamed to cheat me!’

  Olga said nothing and sat with her eyes fixed on the ground.

  ‘You see, I should have to go there myself otherwise,’ said Oblomov, ‘and I must say I should not like to do that. I’ve lost the habit of travelling, especially in winter – in fact, I have never done it.’

  She was still looking down, tapping the floor with the toe of her shoe.

  ‘Even if I did go,’ Oblomov went on, ‘nothing would come of it, for I shan’t get what I want. The peasants will cheat me, the bailiff will say what he pleases and I shall have to believe him, and he would give as much money as he liked. Oh, if only Andrey had been here: he’d have settled everything!’ he added sadly.

  Olga smiled, that is, she smiled only with her lips and not with her heart: there was bitterness in her heart. She began looking out of the window, screwing up one eye slightly and watching every carriage that passed.

  ‘It seems Zatyorty managed a big estate once,’ he went on, ‘and the owner dismissed him only because he stammered. I’ll let him have a deed of trust and give him the plans: he will arrange the purchase of the materials for building the house, collect the taxes from the peasants, sell the corn, bring the money, and then – – Oh, dear Olga,’ he went on, kissing her hands, ‘I’m so glad that I haven’t got to leave you! I couldn’t bear to part from you. To be alone without you in the country – oh, that would be awful! Only we must be very careful now.’

  She looked at him with wide-open eyes and waited.

  ‘Yes,’ he began slowly, almost stammering, ‘we mustn’t see each other too often. Yesterday they again started talking about us at the landlady’s and – and I don’t want that. As soon as everything is settled and my agent sees about the building and brings the money – I mean, all this will be finished in about a year and – and we shan’t have to part any more and – and we’ll tell your aunt – and – and – –’

  He looked up at Olga: she had fainted. Her head was bent sideways and her teeth showed from between her lips, which had turned blue. He didn’t notice, while indulging in his dreams of their future happiness, that at the words: ‘As soon as everything is settled, and my agent sees…’ Olga had turned pale and did not hear the end of the sentence.

  ‘Olga! Good heavens, she has fainted!’ he said and pulled at the bell.

  ‘Your mistress has fainted,’ he said to Katya, when she ran into the room. ‘Water, quick!… And the smelling salts!’

  ‘Goodness, sir, she has been so happy all the morning! What’s happened to her?’ she whispered, bringing the smelling-salts from the aunt’s table and bustling over Olga with a glass of water.

  Olga came to, got up with the help of Katya and Oblomov and walked unsteadily to her bedroom.

  ‘It’ll pass,’ she said weakly; ‘it’s just my nerves. I slept badly last night. I’ll feel better presently and come back.’

  Left to himself, Oblomov put his ear to the door, tried to look through the keyhole, but heard and saw nothing. Half an hour later he walked down the corridor to the maid’s room and asked Katya how her mistress was.

  ‘She’s all right,’ said Katya. ‘She lay down and sent me away. I went in later and found her sitting in the arm-chair.’

  Oblomov went back to the sitting-room, looked through the keyhole of Olga’s bedroom again, but heard nothing. He tapped on the door with his finger – there was no reply. He sat down and pondered. He did a great deal of thinking in that hour and a half, there were a great many changes in his ideas, and he took many new decisions. At last he made up his mind to go to the country together with his agent, but first to get the consent of Olga’s aunt to the announcement of their engagement, to ask Ivan Gerasimovich to find a flat and even to borrow some money – a little, to cover the expenses of the wedding. This loan he could repay out of the money he would get for the corn. Why, then, was he so dejected? Oh dear, how everything could change in a minute! In the country he and his agent would make all the necessary arrangements for the collection of the taxes, and, besides, he could write to Stolz, who would lend him some money and then come and get everything in Oblomovka ship-shape, make roads, build bridges, and open a school…. And he would be there with Olga! Lord, that was happiness! How was it he had never thought of it before? Suddenly he felt so light-hearted and gay; he began pacing the room, snapping his fingers and almost shouting with joy. He went up to Olga’s door and called to her in a cheerful voice.

  ‘Olga, Olga!’ he cried, putting his lips to the keyhole. ‘I’ve something to tell you! I’m sure you don’t know what it is!’

  He even decided not to leave her that day, until after her aunt returned. ‘We’ll tell her to-day and I’ll go home as Olga’s fiancé!’

  The door opened quietly and Olga appeared: he looked at her and suddenly his heart sank. His joy vanished: Olga seemed to have aged. She was pale, but her eyes glittered; an intense inner life was hidden in her tightly closed lips and in every feature of her face, a life bound, as with ice, by her enforced calm and immobility. In her eyes he read a decision, but what kind of a decision he could not yet tell, though his heart pounded as it had never done before. Such moments he had not experienced in his life before.

  ‘Listen, Olga. Please don’t look at me like that – it frightens me!’ he said. ‘I’ve changed my mind, I’ll have to arrange it all quite differently,’ he went on, gradually lowering his voice, pausing and trying to grasp the meaning of the new expression of her eyes, lips, and eloquent eyebrows. ‘I’ve decided to go to the country myself together with my agent – so that I – I could – –’ he finished almost inaudibly.

  She was silent, looking at him intently, like a phantom. He guessed vaguely the verdict that awaited him, and picked up his hat, but hesitated t
o ask: he was afraid of hearing the fatal decision against which there might be no appeal. At last he mastered himself.

  ‘Have I understood you aright?’ he asked her in a changed voice.

  She slowly and gently bowed her head in assent. Though he had guessed her thought already, he turned pale and remained standing before her. She looked a little languid, but seemed as calm and immobile as a stone statue. It was the preternatural calm when a concentrated intention or a wounded feeling gives one the power of complete self-control, but only for one moment. She was like a wounded man who closes his wound with his hand so that he can say all that he has to say and then die.

  ‘You won’t hate me?’ he asked.

  ‘Whatever for?’ she said weakly.

  ‘For everything I’ve done to you.’

  ‘What have you done?’

  ‘I’ve loved you: that’s an insult!’

  She smiled pityingly.

  ‘For having made a mistake,’ he said, bowing his head. ‘Perhaps you will forgive me if you recall that I warned you how ashamed you would be, how you would be sorry – –’

  ‘I am not sorry. I feel so miserable, so miserable – –’ she said, stopping short to take breath.

  ‘I feel worse,’ Oblomov replied, ‘but I deserve it. Why should you torture yourself?’

  ‘For my pride,’ she said. ‘I am punished, I had relied too much on my own powers – that was where I was mistaken, and not what you feared. It was not of youth and beauty that I dreamed; I had thought that I’d bring you back to life, that you could still live for me – whereas you died long ago. I had not foreseen that mistake, but kept waiting and hoping and – now!’ she concluded with a sigh, barely able to speak.

  She fell silent and then sat down.

  ‘I can’t stand: my legs tremble. A stone would have come to life from what I have done,’ she went on in a languid voice. ‘Now I won’t do anything, I won’t go anywhere, not even to the Summer Gardens: it’s no use – you are dead ! You agree with me, Ilya, don’t you?’ she added after a pause. ‘You won’t ever reproach me for having parted from you out of pride or caprice, will you?’

 

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