Oblomov, p.50
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       Oblomov, p.50

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  They said good-bye.

  3

  THE day after St Elijah’s Day, Tarantyev and Ivan Matveyevich met again at the tavern in the evening.

  ‘Tea!’ Ivan Matveyevich gave his order gloomily, and when the waiter had brought tea and a bottle of rum he thrust the bottle back vexatiously. ‘This isn’t rum, it’s more like old nails,’ he said, and taking out his own bottle from the pocket of his overcoat, he uncorked it and let the waiter sniff at it. ‘Don’t you offer me any of your rum again,’ he observed.

  ‘Well, old man,’ he said after the waiter had gone. ‘Things don’t look very bright, do they?’

  ‘No,’ Tarantyev replied furiously; ‘the devil must have brought him! What a rogue that German is! Destroyed the deed of trust and got the estate on a lease! It’s unheard of! He’ll fleece the poor little sheep, I warrant you.’

  ‘If he knows his business, old man, then I’m afraid there may be trouble. When he finds out that the taxes have been collected and it was we who received the money, he may take criminal proceedings against us.’

  ‘Criminal proceedings, indeed! You’re becoming scared, old man! It isn’t the first time Zatyorty has put his paw in a landowner’s pocket. He knows how to steer clear of the law. You don’t suppose he gives receipts to the peasants, do you? You can be sure there are no strangers about when he takes the money. The German will get into a temper and shout, and that will be the end of it. Criminal proceedings, my foot!’

  ‘Do you think so?’ Ivan Matveyevich said, brightening up. ‘Well, in that case let’s have a drink!’

  He poured out some more rum for himself and Tarantyev.

  ‘Well,’ he said comfortingly, ‘things are not as bad as they sometimes seem, especially after a drink.’

  ‘In the meantime, old man,’ Tarantyev went on, ‘you’d better do this: make out some bills – any you like – for fuel or cabbage or whatever you please, since Oblomov has transferred the management of his household to your sister, and show it to him. And when Zatyorty arrives we shall say that all the taxes he collected went to meet the expenses.’

  ‘But what if he should take the bills and show them to the German? The German will tot them up and then he might – –’

  ‘Rubbish! He’ll put them away somewhere, and the devil himself won’t find them. By the time the German comes back, the whole thing will be forgotten.’

  ‘Do you think so? Let’s have a drink, old man,’ said Ivan Matveyevich, pouring out a glass. ‘It’s a pity to dilute such fine stuff with tea. Have a sniff: three roubles. What do you say to a fine dish of salted cabbage soup and fish?’

  ‘Not a bad idea.’

  ‘Hey, waiter!’

  ‘What a rogue,’ Tarantyev began furiously again. ‘Let me rent it, he says. Why, such a thing would never occur to us Russians! It’s the sort of thing they do in Germany. Farms and leaseholds – it’s the sort of thing they go in for there. You wait, he’ll swindle him out of all his money by making him invest it in some shares.’

  ‘Shares?’ asked Ivan Matveyevich. ‘What are they? I’m afraid I don’t quite understand.’

  ‘It’s a German invention!’ said Tarantyev spitefully. ‘Some swindler, for instance, gets an idea of building fireproof houses and undertakes to build a town: he needs money, of course, so he starts selling papers at, say, five hundred roubles each, and a crowd of blockheads buy them and sell them to each other. If the business is reported to be doing well, the bits of paper rise in price; if it’s doing badly, the whole thing goes bust. All you’ve got left is worthless bits of paper. Where is the town? you ask. Oh, they say, it’s burnt down, or, there wasn’t enough capital to finish building it, and the inventor has in the meantime run off with your money. That’s what shares are! And the German will drag him into it, mark my words. It’s a wonder he hasn’t done it already. I have stood in the way, you see. Done all I could to save a neighbour from ruin!’

  ‘Well, that’s finished and done with, I’m afraid. We shan’t get any more taxes from Oblomovka,’ Ivan Matveyevich said, as he got slightly drunk.

  ‘Oh, to hell with him, old man! You’ve got plenty of money, haven’t you?’ Tarantyev replied, also slightly befuddled. ‘Got an inexhaustible source – keep drawing from it and don’t let up. Let’s have a drink!’

  ‘Not much of a source, old man. All you collect is one – and three-rouble notes all your life – –’

  ‘But you’ve been collecting it for twenty years, old man, so what have you got to grumble about?’

  ‘Twenty years, did you say?’ Ivan Matveyevich answered thickly. ‘You’ve forgotten that I’ve only been secretary for ten years. Before that there were only ten - and twenty-copeck pieces jingling in my pocket, and sometimes, I’m ashamed to say, I had to take a few coppers. What an awful life! Oh, old man, there are lucky people in the world who for a single word they whisper in someone’s ear or a line they dictate, or simply for signing their name on a piece of paper, suddenly get such a swelling in their pocket as though a pillow had been placed there, so that they could sleep on it. Oh,’ he cried dreamily, getting more and more drunk, ‘if only I could do things like that! Never be seen by petitioners, who dare not come near me. Get into my carriage and shout, “To the club!” and at the club important chaps wearing stars shake hands with me. I play cards, but not for five-copeck stakes! And the dinners – the dinners I have. I’d be ashamed even to mention cabbage soup with fish – make a wry face with disgust. Spring chickens in winter; aye, get it specially ordered, I would, and wild strawberries in April! At home my wife would be wearing real lace, my children would have a governess, smartly dressed, their hair beautifully brushed. Oh dear, old man, there is a paradise, but our sins keep us out of it. Let’s have a drink! Here they are, bringing our cabbage soup!’

  ‘Don’t grumble, old man; you’ve got plenty of money – plenty of money,’ said Tarantyev, quite tipsy by now, with bloodshot eyes. ‘Thirty-five thousand in silver – that’s no joke, is it?’

  ‘Quiet, quiet, old man,’ Ivan Matveyevich interrupted. ‘What about it? It’s only thirty-five thousand. Think how long it will take me to make it up to fifty! And, besides, you won’t be admitted to paradise even with fifty. If I get married, I’ll have to live very carefully, count every rouble, forget about Jamaica rum – what sort of life is that?’

  ‘But you must admit, old man, it’s a comfortable sort of life – a rouble from one fellow, two from another, and by the end of the day you’ve put away seven roubles. No bother, no one the wiser, no stigma, no smoke. While if you happen to put your name to some big affair once, you sometimes have to spend your whole life trying painfully to scratch it out. No, old man, you mustn’t be unfair to yourself.’

  Ivan Matveyevich was not listening; he had been thinking of something for some time.

  ‘Listen, old man,’ he suddenly began, opening his eyes wide and so pleased about something that he seemed to have become sober; ‘but – no! I’m afraid I’d better not tell you – can’t let such a glorious little bird out of my head – it’s a real treasure, it is…. Let’s have a drink, old man, let’s have a drink quick!’

  ‘I won’t drink before you tell me,’ said Tarantyev, pushing away his glass.

  ‘It’s a very important business, old man,’ Ivan Matveyevich whispered, glancing at the door.

  ‘Well?’ Tarantyev asked impatiently.

  ‘It’s a real find. You see, old man, it’s the same as putting your name to a big affair, upon my word, it is!’

  ‘What is it, for goodness’ sake? Won’t you tell me?’

  ‘It’s a gift – a gift!’

  ‘Well?’ Tarantyev egged him on.

  ‘Wait a bit, I must think it over. Yes, it’s as safe as houses, it’s perfectly legal. All right, old man, I’ll tell, but only because I need you; I couldn’t very well carry it out without you. Otherwise – God’s my witness – I shouldn’t have told you for anything in the world. It’s not the sort of thing you can ver
y well confide to another soul.’

  ‘Am I a stranger to you, old man? I believe I can claim to have been useful to you many times, as a witness and for making copies – remember? What a swine you are!’

  ‘Look here, my dear fellow, hold your tongue, will you? I know the sort of chap you are – always letting the cat out of the bag!’

  ‘Who the hell can hear us here?’ Tarantyev said with annoyance. ‘Have I ever forgotten myself? Why keep me in suspense? Come on, out with it!’

  ‘Now, listen: Oblomov is a bit of a coward, and he has no idea how things are done. He lost his head over that agreement, and he did not know what to do with the deed of trust when he got it; he doesn’t even remember the amount of the tax the peasants have to pay him. He told me himself that he did not know anything.’

  ‘Well?’ Tarantyev cried impatiently.

  ‘Well, he’s been going to my sister’s rooms much too often. The other day he sat there till after midnight, and when he met me in the hall he pretended not to see me. So we’ll just wait and see what’s going to happen and – you’ll have to take him aside and have a talk to him about it. Tell him that it isn’t nice to bring dishonour on a family, that she is a widow, that people are talking about it, and that she’ll find it impossible to get married again, that she had a proposal of marriage from a rich merchant, but now that he had heard that Oblomov was spend-the evenings with her, he is no longer anxious to carry on with his suit….’

  ‘Well, what will happen is that he will get frightened, take to his bed and sigh, turning from side to side like a hog – that’s all,’ said Tarantyev. ‘What do we get out of it? Where’s your gift?’

  ‘Don’t be an ass! You tell him that I am going to lodge a complaint against him, that I have had him watched, that I have witnesses….’

  ‘Well?’

  ‘Well, if he gets thoroughly frightened, you can tell him that the whole thing can be settled in a friendly way by his sacrificing a small sum.’

  ‘But where will he get the money?’ asked Tarantyev. ‘If he is frightened, he’ll promise anything you like, even ten thousand.’

  ‘You just give me a wink, I’ll have an IOU ready – in my sister’s name, to the effect that he, Oblomov, had borrowed ten thousand from widow So-and-so, to be repaid within – and so on.’

  ‘What’s the use of that, old man? I don’t understand: the money will go to your sister and her children. What do we get out of it?’

  ‘And my sister will give me an IOU for the same amount. I’ll make her sign it.’

  ‘But what if she doesn’t? What if she refuses?’

  ‘Who? My sister?’

  And Ivan Matveyevich burst into a shrill laugh.

  ‘She’ll sign, old man, don’t you worry. She’d sign her own death warrant without asking what it was. She’ll just smile. She’ll put down her name, Agafya Pshenitzyn, write it across the page crookedly, and never know what she has signed. You see, you and I will have nothing to do with it at all. My sister will have a claim against the Collegiate Secretary Oblomov, and I against the widow of the Collegiate Secretary Pshenitzyn. Let the German fly into a temper – it’s all perfectly legal!’ he said, raising his trembling hands. ‘Let’s have a drink, old man!’

  ‘Perfectly legal!’ Tarantyev cried delightedly. ‘Let’s have a drink!’

  ‘And if it comes off without a hitch, we can have another try in two years’ time. It’s perfectly legal!’

  ‘Perfectly legal!’ Tarantyev cried again, nodding approvingly. ‘Let’s have another!’

  ‘Another? I don’t mind if I do.’

  And they drank.

  ‘The only thing I’m afraid of,’ said Ivan Matveyevich, ‘is that Oblomov may refuse and write first to the German. If he does that, we’re sunk! We can’t bring an action against him: she’s a widow, after all, not a spinster.’

  ‘Write?’ said Tarantyev. ‘Of course he’ll write – in two years’ time. And if he refuses, I’ll tell him off properly!’

  ‘No, no, heaven forbid! You’ll spoil it all, old man. He’d say we forced him, he might even mention blows – and that would be a criminal offence. No, that won’t do. What we could do, though, is to have a friendly collation with him first – he’s very partial to currant vodka. As soon as he gets a little tipsy, you give me the wink and I’ll come in with the IOU. He won’t even look at the sum, and sign as he signed the agreement, and after it has been witnessed at the notary’s it will be too late for him to do anything. Besides, a gentleman like him will be ashamed to admit that he signed it when he was not sober. It’s perfectly legal!’

  ‘Perfectly legal!’ Tarantyev repeated.

  ‘Let his heirs have Oblomovka then!’

  ‘Aye, let them! Let’s have a drink, old man!’

  ‘To the health of all blockheads!’ said Ivan Matveyevich.

  They drank.

  4

  WE must now go back a little to the time before Stolz’s arrival on Oblomov’s name-day and to another place, far from Vyborg. There the reader will meet people he knows, about whom stolz did not tell Oblomov all he knew, either for some special reasons of his own or, perhaps, because Oblomov did not ask all there was to ask – also, no doubt, for special reasons of his own.

  One day Stolz was walking down a boulevard in Paris, glancing absent-mindedly at the passers-by and the shop signboards without pausing to look at anything in particular. He had not had any letters from Russia for some time, neither from Kiev, nor from Odessa, nor from Petersburg. He was bored and, having posted three more letters, he was on his way home. Suddenly his eyes lighted on something with amazement and then assumed their usual expression. Two ladies crossed the boulevard and went into a shop. ‘No, it can’t be,’ he thought. ‘What an idea! I’d have known about it! It can’t be them.’ All the same, he went up to the shop window and examined the ladies through the glass. ‘Can’t see a thing! They are standing with their backs to the windows!’ Stolz went into the shop and asked for something. One of the ladies turned to the light and he recognized Olga Ilyinsky – and did not recognize her! He was about to rush up to her, but stopped and began watching her narrowly. Good Lord, what a change! It was she and not she. The features were the same as hers, but she was pale, her eyes seemed a little hollow, there was no childish smile on her lips, no naivety, no placidity. Some grave, sorrowful thought was hovering over her eyebrows, and her eyes said a great deal they had not known and had not said before. She did not look as she used to – frankly, calmly, and serenely – a cloud of sorrow or perplexity lay over her face.

  He went up to her. Her eyebrows contracted a little; for a moment she looked at him in bewilderment, then she recognized him; her eyebrows parted and lay symmetrically, and her eyes shone with the light of a calm and deep, not an impulsive, joy. A brother would be happy if his favourite sister had been as glad to see him.

  ‘Goodness, is it you?’ she cried in a voice that penetrated to the very soul and that was joyful to the point of ecstasy.

  Her aunt turned round quickly, and all three of them began speaking at once. He reproached them for not having written to him, and they made excuses. They had arrived in Paris only two days before and had been looking for him everywhere. At one address they were told that he had gone to Lyons, and they did not know what to do.

  ‘But what made you come? And not a word to me!’ he reproached them.

  ‘We made up our minds so quickly,’ said Olga’s aunt, ‘that we didn’t want to write to you. Olga wanted to give you a surprise.’

  He glanced at Olga: her face did not confirm her aunt’s words. He looked at her more closely, but she was impervious, inaccessible to his scrutiny.

  ‘What is the matter with her?’ Stolz thought. ‘I used to guess her thoughts at once, but now – what a change!’

  ‘How you have grown up, Olga Sergeyevna!’ he said aloud. ‘I don’t recognize you. And it’s scarcely a year since we met. What have you been doing? Tell me!’

 
Oh, nothing special,’ she said, examining some material.

  ‘How is your singing?’ Stolz asked, continuing to study his new Olga and trying to read the unfamiliar expression on her face; but her expression flashed and disappeared like lightning.

  ‘I haven’t sung for ages,’ she said in a casual tone of voice. ‘For two months or more.’

  ‘And how is Oblomov?’ he asked suddenly. ‘Is he alive? Does he write to you?’

  At this point Olga might have betrayed her secret had not her aunt come to her rescue.

  ‘Just fancy,’ she said, walking out of the shop, ‘he used to visit us every day, then he suddenly vanished. After we had made our arrangements for going abroad, I sent a message to him, but was told that he was ill and received no one; so we did not see him again.’

  ‘Didn’t you know anything, either?’ Stolz asked Olga solicitously.

  Olga was examining through her lorgnette a carriage that was driving past.

  ‘He really had fallen ill,’ she said, looking with feigned attention at the carriage. ‘Look, Auntie, it’s our travelling companions that have just driven past.’

  ‘No, you must give me a full account of my Ilya,’ Stolz insisted. ‘What have you done to him? Why haven’t you brought him with you?’

  ‘Mais ma tante vient de dire,’ she said.

  ‘He’s frightfully lazy,’ the aunt observed, ‘and so shy that as soon as three or four visitors arrived he went home. Just fancy, he booked a seat at the opera for the season and did not hear half the operas!’

  ‘He did not hear Rubini,’ Olga added.

  Stolz shook his head and sighed.

  ‘How is it you made up your minds to go abroad? Is it for long? What gave you the idea so suddenly?’ Stolz asked.

  ‘It’s for her,’ the aunt said, pointing to Olga. ‘On the doctor’s advice. Petersburg was having a distinctly bad effect on her health, and we went away for the winter, but haven’t decided yet where to spend it – at Nice or in Switzerland.’

  ‘Yes, you have certainly changed a lot,’ Stolz said, looking closely at Olga and scrutinizing every line on her face.

 

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