Oblomov, p.53
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       Oblomov, p.53

           Ivan Goncharov
 

  ‘Yes, oh yes!’ she replied trustfully, glad that some of her chains had been taken off. ‘All alone, I am going mad. If only you knew how wretched I was! I don’t know whether I am to blame or not, whether I ought to be ashamed of my past or be sorry for it, whether to hope for the future or to despair. You have been talking of your sufferings, but you never suspected mine. Hear me out, then, but not with your intellect – I’m afraid of your intellect – better with your heart; perhaps it will realize that I have no mother, that I was completely at sea,’ she added softly in a toneless voice. ‘No,’ she hastily corrected herself a moment later, ‘do not spare me. If it was love, you’d better – go.’ She paused for a minute. ‘But come back later, when you don’t feel anything but friendship for me again. But if it was frivolous coquetry, then punish me, run away from me as far as you can and forget me! Listen.’

  In reply, he pressed both her hands warmly.

  Olga’s confession began, long and detailed. Distinctly, word for word, she transferred from her mind into his all that had so long been gnawing at it, that had made her blush, that had once made her happy and moved her deeply until she suddenly fell into a slough of doubt and sorrow. She told of their walks, of the park, of her hopes, of Oblomov’s renascence and of his fall, of the spray of lilac, even of the kiss. She only passed over in silence the sultry evening in the garden – probably because she still could not decide what had come over her then. At first only her embarrassed whisper could be heard, but as she went on with her story, her voice became clearer and more unconstrained; from a whisper it rose to an undertone, and then to full, deep notes. She finished calmly, just as though she were telling somebody else’s story. She felt as though a curtain were being raised and the past, into which she had till that moment been afraid to look, slowly unfolded before her. Her eyes were opened to many things and she would have looked boldly at her companion if it had not been dark.

  She finished and waited for the verdict. But dead silence was his answer. What did he have to say to it? She could not hear a word, not a movement, not a breath even, as though there were no one in the room with her. This muteness made her feel doubtful again. The silence continued. What did it mean? What verdict was being prepared for her by the most perspicacious and most lenient judge in the whole world? All the rest would condemn her without mercy, he alone could be her counsel, it was he she would have chosen – he would have understood it all, weighed it, and settled it in her favour better than she herself could have done. But he was silent: had she lost her case? She felt terrified again.

  The door was opened and the two candles brought in by the maid lighted up their corner.

  She threw a timid but eager and questioning glance at him. He had crossed his arms and was looking at her with such gentle, frank eyes, enjoying her confusion. A great weight lifted from her heart. She sighed with relief and nearly cried. Forbearance towards herself and confidence in him all at once returned to her. She was happy like a child that has been forgiven, soothed, and fondled.

  ‘Is that all?’ he asked softly.

  ‘All!’ she said.

  ‘And his letter?’

  She took the letter out of her case and gave it him. He went up to the candle, read it, and put it on the table. And his eyes turned on her again with an expression she had not seen in them for a long time. The old self-confident, slightly ironical, and infinitely kind friend who used to spoil her was standing before her. There was not a trace of suffering or doubt in his face. He took both her hands, kissed them, then pondered deeply. She, too, grew quiet and watched without blinking the movement of thought in his face.

  Suddenly he got up.

  ‘Good heavens, if I had known that it was a question of Oblomov, I shouldn’t have suffered so!’ he said, looking so kindly and trustfully at her as though she had not had that terrible past.

  She felt so light-hearted, so festive. All her worries had gone. She saw clearly that it was before him alone she had been ashamed, and that he did not think of punishing her and running away. What did she care for the opinion of the whole world!

  He was again self-possessed and cheerful; but this was not enough for her. She saw that she had been acquitted; but, as the accused, she wanted to hear the verdict. He picked up his hat.

  ‘Where are you off to?’ she asked.

  ‘You are excited, and you must have a rest,’ he said. ‘We’ll talk to-morrow.’

  ‘Do you want me to lie awake all night?’ she interrupted, keeping him back by the hand and making him resume his seat. ‘You want to go without telling me what it – was, what I am now, and what – I am going to be. Have pity on me: who else will tell me? Who will punish me if I deserve it or – who will forgive me?’ she added, looking at him with such tender affection that he threw down his hat and nearly threw himself at her feet.

  ‘Angel – allow me to say – my angel!’ he said. ‘Don’t torment yourself for nothing: there is no need to punish or pardon you. In fact, I have nothing to add to your story. What doubts can you have? You want to know what it was? You want me to tell you its name? You’ve known it long ago. Where is Oblomov’s letter?’

  He picked up the letter from the table.

  ‘Listen,’ he said, and he read: ‘“Your present I love you is not real love, but the love you will feel in future. It is merely your unconscious need of love which, for lack of proper food, sometimes finds expression with women in caressing a child, in love for another woman, or simply in tears or fits of hysteria…. You have made a mistake” (Stolz read, emphasizing the words) “the man before you is not the one you have been expecting and dreaming of. Wait – he will come, and then you will come to your senses and you will feel vexed and ashamed of your mistake”… You see how true it is,’ he said. ‘You were vexed and ashamed of – your mistake. There is nothing to add to this. He was right and you did not believe him – that is all your guilt amounts to. You should have parted at the time but he could not resist your beauty, and you were touched by his – dove-like tenderness!’ he added, not without a touch of irony.

  ‘I did not believe him. I thought one’s heart could not be mistaken.’

  ‘Yes, it can, and sometimes very disastrously! But with you it never went as far as the heart,’ he added. ‘It was imagination and vanity on one side, and weakness on the other. And you were afraid that there would be no more sunshine in your life, that that pale ray had lit up your life and would be followed by eternal night.’

  ‘What about my tears?’ she said. ‘Did they not come from my heart when I cried? I was not lying, I was sincere.’

  ‘Dear me, women will shed tears about anything! You said yourself that you were sorry for the bunch of lilac and your favourite seat in the park. Add to that injured vanity, your failure as Oblomov’s saviour, a certain degree of habit – and there you have lots of reasons for tears!’

  ‘And our meetings and walks – are they mistakes, too? You remember I – I went to his flat,’ she concluded in embarrassment, wishing, it seemed, to stifle those words herself.

  She was trying to accuse herself only so as to make him defend her the more warmly, to appear more and more justified in his eyes.

  ‘I can see from your account that during your last meetings you had nothing even to talk about. Your so-called “love” lacked all inner content – it could not have gone any farther. You had parted before your final separation, and you were faithful not to love but to its phantoms which you had yourself invented – that is the whole mystery.’

  ‘And the kiss?’ she whispered so softly that he guessed rather than heard it.

  ‘Oh, that’s awfully important,’ he said with ironic severity, ‘for that you ought to go – without your sweet at dinner.’

  He was looking at her with ever-growing tenderness and affection.

  ‘A joke is no condonation of such a mistake,’ she retorted sternly, offended by his indifference and casual tone. ‘I should have felt happier if you had punished me by some harsh wo
rd and called my misdemeanour by its proper name.’

  ‘I should not have joked if it were a question of someone else and not of Ilya,’ he said by way of apology. ‘If it had been somebody else your mistake might have ended in – disaster, but I know Oblomov.’

  ‘Someone else, never!’ she interrupted him, flaring up. ‘I got to know him better than you do.’

  ‘There you are!’ he assented.

  ‘But if – if he had changed, if he had come to life and listened to me and – don’t you think I’d have loved him then? Could it have been a lie and a mistake even then?’ she said, anxious to examine the position from every point of view so that there should be nothing whatever left unexplained.

  ‘That is, if another man had been in his place,’ Stolz interrupted. ‘In that case, no doubt, your relationship would have grown into love, would have become consolidated, and then – – But that is another love-story and another hero, and it has nothing to do with us.’

  She sighed as though throwing the last load off her mind. Both were silent.

  ‘Oh, how lovely it is to – recover!’ she said slowly, as though opening up like a flower, and turned on him a look of such deep gratitude, such warm and unparalleled friendship that in her glance he seemed to catch a glimpse of the spark he had been vainly seeking for almost a year.

  A thrill of happiness went through him.

  ‘No, it is I who am recovering,’ he said, looking thoughtful. ‘Oh, had I only known that the hero of your romance was Ilya! How much time was wasted, how much bad feeling bred! Why? Whatever for?’ he kept on repeating almost with vexation.

  But suddenly he seemed to recover from his vexation and came to himself after his heavy brooding. His forehead was smooth and his eyes were bright again.

  ‘It seems it was inevitable, but,’ he added with rapture, ‘I am no longer worried now, I am – happy!’

  ‘It’s like a dream, as though nothing had happened,’ she said pensively, barely audibly, amazed at her sudden regeneration. ‘You have taken away not only the shame and remorse, but also the bitterness and the pain – everything. How did you do it?’ she asked softly. ‘But will it all pass – this mistake?’

  ‘Why, I should think it has passed already!’ he said, looking at her for the first time with eyes full of passion, and not concealing it. ‘I mean, all that has been.’

  ‘And what’s going to be – will not be – a mistake, but the real thing?’ she asked, hesitantly.

  ‘It is written here,’ he declared, picking up the letter again, ‘“The man before you is not the one you’ve been waiting for and dreaming of: he will come and you will come to your senses,” and, I may add, will fall in love, so much in love that not only a year but a whole lifetime will be too short for that love, but I do not know – with whom,’ he concluded, looking intently at her.

  She dropped her eyes and compressed her lips, but from under her eyelids a gleam of light broke through, and, though she tried hard, her lips could not control a smile. Then she looked at him and laughed so happily that tears came into her eyes.

  ‘I’ve told you what has happened to you and what is going to happen,’ he concluded, ‘but you never gave me an answer to my question, which you did not let me finish.’

  ‘But what can I say?’ she said in embarrassment. ‘And if I could, should I have the right to say what you want me to say and what – you deserve so much?’ she added in a whisper, looking shyly at him.

  He seemed once more to catch in her glance a spark of great affection; again he trembled with happiness.

  ‘Don’t hurry,’ he added. ‘Tell me what I deserve when your heart’s mourning, your mourning of propriety, is over. This year, too, has taught me something. Now I want you to answer one question. Shall I go away or shall I stay?’

  ‘Listen! You’re flirting with me!’ she cried gaily suddenly.

  ‘Oh no,’ he observed gravely. ‘That is not the question I asked before. It has quite a different meaning now: if I stay, it will be as – what?’

  She was suddenly embarrassed.

  ‘You see, I am not flirting!’ he laughed, pleased to have caught her. ‘For after our talk to-night we shall have to treat each other differently: we are no longer the same people we were yesterday.’

  ‘I don’t know,’ she whispered, still more embarrassed.

  ‘May I give you a piece of advice?’

  ‘Speak – I’ll carry it out blindly!’ she added, with almost passionate submissiveness.

  ‘Marry me while you are waiting for him to come!’

  ‘I daren’t yet – –’ she whispered, burying her face in her hand, excited but happy.

  ‘Why don’t you dare?’ he asked, in a whisper, drawing her head down to him.

  ‘But this past?’ she whispered again, putting her head on his chest as though he were her mother.

  He softly removed her hands from her face, kissed her head, and looked with pleasure at her embarrassed face and at the tears that started to her eyes and were again absorbed by them.

  ‘It will wither like your lilac,’ he concluded. ‘You’ve had your lesson, now it’s time to make use of it. Life is beginning: give your future to me and do not worry about anything – I vouch for it all. Let us go to your aunt.’

  Stolz went home late. ‘I have found what I was looking for,’ he thought, gazing with a lover’s eyes at the sky, the trees, the lake, and even the mist rising from the water. ‘I’ve got it at last! So many years of patience, of craving for love, of economy of spiritual powers! How long I have waited – at last I have been rewarded. This is it – a man’s greatest happiness!’

  His happiness pushed all his other interests into the background: the office, his father’s dog-cart, the chamois-leather gloves, the greasy accounts – the whole of his business life. The only thing that came back to his memory was his mother’s fragrant room, Herz’s variations, the prince’s gallery, the blue eyes, the powdered chestnut hair – and Olga’s tender voice rang through it all: in his mind he heard her singing….

  ‘Olga – my wife!’ he whispered, with a quiver of passion. ‘Everything is found, there is nothing more to look for, there is nowhere further to go.’

  And he walked home in a thoughtful daze of happiness, not noticing his way or the streets….

  Olga followed him for some time with her eyes, then she opened the window and for several minutes breathed the cool air of the night; her agitation gradually died down and her breast rose and fell evenly. She gazed at the lake, into the far distance, and fell into such a serene and deep reverie that it seemed as though she were asleep. She wanted to catch what she was thinking and feeling, but could not. Her thoughts drifted along as evenly as waves, her blood flowed smoothly in her veins. She felt happy, but she could not tell where her happiness began or ended and what it was. She wondered why she felt so calm and peaceful, why she was so wonderfully happy, why her mind was so utterly at peace, while – –

  ‘I am his fiancée,’ she whispered.

  ‘I am engaged!’ a girl thinks with a proud tremor, having at last reached the moment which sheds a radiance over the whole of her life, and looking down upon the dark path along which she walked alone and unnoticed only yesterday.

  Why, then, did Olga feel no tremor? She, too, had walked along a lonely and inconspicuous path, and at the crossroads had met him, who gave her his hand and led her out, not into the dazzling sunlight, but, as it were, to a broad, overflowing river, to wide fields, and friendly, smiling hills. The brilliant light did not force her to screw up her eyes, her heart did not stand still, her imagination did not catch fire. Her eyes rested with quiet joy on the broad stream of life, on its vast fields and green hills. A shiver did not run down her spine, her eyes did not gleam with pride: it was only when she transferred her gaze from the fields and hills to the man who gave her his hand that she felt a tear slowly rolling down her cheek….

  She still sat as though asleep – so quiet was the dream of her happine
ss: she did not stir, she hardly breathed. Sunk in a trance, her mental gaze was fixed on a blue still night, warm and fragrant and pervaded by a gently shimmering radiance. The phantom vision of happiness spread out its broad wings and sailed slowly, like a cloud in the sky, over her head….

  In that dream she did not see herself wrapped in gauze and lace for a couple of hours and in everyday rags for the rest of her life. She did not dream of a festive board, of lights, or of merry shouts; she dreamed of happiness, but such ordinary and unadorned happiness that once more, without a tremor of pride, but with deep emotion, she whispered: ‘I am his fiancée.’

  5

  DEAR me, how dull and gloomy everything was in Oblomov’s flat about eighteen months after his name-day, when Stolz had inadvertently turned up to dinner. Oblomov himself had grown more fat and flabby; boredom had eaten itself into his eyes and looked out of them like some kind of disease. He would walk up and down the room, then lie down and gaze at the ceiling; he would pick up a book from the bookcase, skim through a few lines, yawn, and begin to drum with his fingers on the table. Zakhar had grown still more clumsy and slovenly; patches appeared on his elbows; he looked wretched and starved, as though he had not enough to eat, slept badly, and did the work of three men. Oblomov’s dressing-gown was worn out and however carefully the holes in it were mended it kept giving way everywhere and not only along the seams: he should have got a new one long ago. The blanket on the bed was also worn out and patched here and there; the curtains at the windows were faded and, though clean, looked like rags.

 

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