Oblomov, p.54Ivan Goncharov
Zakhar brought an old table-cloth, spread it over half of the table near Oblomov, then carefully with his tongue between his teeth, brought the tray with a decanter of vodka, put bread on the table and went out. The landlady’s door opened and Agafya Matveyevna came in, carrying dexterously a frying-pan with a sizzling omelette. She, too, had changed terribly, and not to her advantage. She had grown thinner. She no longer had the plump, round cheeks which turned neither red nor pale; her scanty eyebrows were no longer shiny; her eyes were sunken. She wore an old cotton dress; her hands were sunburnt or rough with work, with the heat or the water, or both. Akulina was no longer in the house. Anisya had to do the work in the kitchen and in the vegetable garden; she had to look after the poultry, scrub the floors, and do the washing; as she could not manage it all by herself, Agafya Matveyevna had willy-nilly to do the work in the kitchen: she did little pounding, grating, and sieving, because they could afford but little coffee, cinnamon, and almonds, and she never even thought about lace. She had more often nowadays to chop onions, grate horse-radish, and similar condiments. There was a look of profound dejection on her face. But it was not about herself or her own coffee that she sighed; she was worried not because she had no opportunity to be busy and keep house on a big scale, to pound cinnamon, to put vanilla into the sauce, or boil thick cream, but because Oblomov had not tasted these things for over a year, because his coffee was not bought in large quantities from the best shops, but for ten copecks in the little shop round the corner; because his cream was not brought by a Finnish woman, but was supplied by the same little shop; because instead of a juicy chop, she was bringing him an omelette for lunch, fried with a tough piece of ham that had grown stale in the same little shop.
But what did it mean? It meant that for over a year the income from Oblomovka, sent punctually by Stolz, went in payment of the IOU given by Oblomov to the landlady.
The ‘perfectly legal’ transaction of the landlady’s brother had been successful beyond expectation. At the first hint from Tarantyev at the ‘disgraceful affair’, Oblomov flushed and was thrown into confusion; then they came to an agreement, then all the three of them had a drink, and Oblomov signed an IOU which had to be met at the end of four years. A month later Agafya Matveyevna signed a similar IOU made out in her brother’s name, without suspecting what it was and why she was signing it. Her brother told her that it was a document relating to the ownership of the house and asked her to write: ‘This IOU so-and-so’ (rank, name, and surname) ‘has signed with her own hand.’ The only objection she raised was that she would have so much to write, and she asked her brother to make Vanya write instead, because he wrote beautifully now and she might make a mess of it. But her brother insisted most firmly that she should do it herself, and she wrote it crookedly and slantingly and in big letters. She never heard of it again.
In signing the IOU, Oblomov partly comforted himself by the thought that the money would benefit Agafya Matveyevna’s children, and on the following day, when his head had cleared, he recalled the affair with shame and tried to forget it, avoiding his landlady’s brother; when Tarantyev brought up the subject, he threatened to leave the house immediately and go to the country. Afterwards, when he received the money from his estate, the landlady’s brother came to see him and declared that he, Oblomov, might find it easier to start paying at once out of his income, for then the claim would be paid in three years, while if he waited for the time the payment fell due, his estate would have to be sold by auction, since Oblomov had not the necessary amount in cash and was not likely to have it. Oblomov realized into what clutches he had fallen when all the money sent by Stolz went to the payment of his debt and he had only a small sum left to live on. The landlady’s brother was in a hurry to finish this voluntary arrangement with his debtor in about two years, fearing that something or other might happen to upset his plans, and that was why Oblomov suddenly found himself in difficulties. At first he did not notice it very much owing to his habit of never knowing how much money he had in his pocket; but Ivan Matveyevich took it into his head to become engaged to the daughter of some corn-chandler, and he rented a flat and moved out. Agafya Matveyevna’s ambitious housekeeping plans were suddenly curtailed: sturgeon, snow-white veal, turkey made their appearance in another kitchen, in Ivan Matveyevich’s new flat. There in the evenings the rooms were lit up, and his future relations, his colleagues, and Tarantyev gathered; everything had found its way there. Agafya Matveyevna and Anisya were suddenly left with nothing to do, gaping in astonishment over their empty pots and pans. Agafya Matveyevna learnt for the first time that she possessed only a house, a kitchen garden, and chickens, and that neither cinnamon nor vanilla grew in her garden; she saw that the shopkeepers in the market gradually stopped bowing low to her and smiling and that these bows and smiles were now addressed to the tall, well-dressed new cook of her brother’s.
Oblomov had given the landlady all the money her brother had left him to live on, and for three or four months she went on as before as if nothing had happened, ground pounds of coffee, pounded cinnamon, roasted veal and turkey, and went on doing it to the last day on which she spent her last seventy copecks and came to tell him that she had no more money left. He turned over three times on the sofa at the news, then looked into the drawer of his desk; he had not any either. He tried to remember where he had put it and could not; he fumbled on the table for some coppers and asked Zakhar, who replied that he had not the faintest idea. She went to see her brother and naïvely told him that there was no money in the house.
‘And what did you and his lordship squander the thousand roubles I gave him for living expenses on?’ he asked. ‘Where am I to get the money from? You know I am going to be married. I can’t provide for two families, and you and your gentleman had better cut your coat according to your cloth.’
‘Why are you reproaching me with him?’ she said. ‘What has he done to you? He doesn’t harm anyone. He keeps to himself. It wasn’t I who enticed him to our house. You and Tarantyev did that.’
He gave her ten roubles and told her that he had no more. But having discussed the matter afterwards with Tarantyev at the ‘tavern’, he decided that it was impossible to abandon Oblomov and his sister in this way, for the news of it might reach Stolz, who would turn up unexpectedly, find out what was happening, and quite likely do something so that they would not have time to collect the debt in spite of its being ‘perfectly legal’. He was a German and, therefore, a crafty old rascal!
He agreed to give her an additional fifty roubles a month, intending to recover that money from Oblomov’s income three years hence; but he made it absolutely clear to his sister, and even declared his readiness to take an oath on it, that he would not let them have another farthing; he calculated how much they would have to spend on food, how they ought to cut down their expenses, and even told her what dishes she had to cook and when; having, finally, ascertained how much she could get for her chickens and cabbage, he declared that with all this she could live on the fat of the land.
For the first time in her life Agafya Matveyevna thought not of housekeeping but something else; for the first time she burst into tears, not because she was vexed with Akulina for breaking the crockery and not because her brother had scolded her for not doing the fish long enough; for the first time she was faced with the threat of privation, a threat directed not against her, but against Oblomov.
‘How can a gentleman like him’ she mused, ‘start eating buttered turnips instead of asparagus, mutton instead of hazel-grouse, salted pike-perch and, perhaps, brawn from the little shop instead of Gatchina trout and amber-coloured sturgeon….’ The horror of it! She did not think it out to the end, but dressed hurriedly, took a cab, and went to see her husband’s relatives – not at Easter or Christmas to a family dinner, but early in the morning, greatly worried, to tell them a strange tale and to ask them what she was to do and to get some money from them; they had plenty of money: they would give it to her at once when th
Oblomov had his lunch, heard Masha read French, spent some time in Agafya Matveyevna’s room watching her mend Vanya’s school tunic, turning it a dozen times this way and that, and at the same time rushing into the kitchen to have a look at the mutton roasting for dinner and to see whether it was time to make the fish soup.
‘You shouldn’t take so much trouble, really you shouldn’t,’ Oblomov said. ‘Give it a rest!’
‘Who’s going to take trouble, if not I?’ she said. ‘As soon as I’ve put two patches here, I’ll get the fish soup ready. What a naughty boy Vanya is, to be sure! Only last week I mended his coat, and now he’s torn it again! What are you laughing at?’ she turned to Vanya, who was sitting at the table in his shirt and trousers held up by one brace. ‘If I don’t mend it before morning, you will not be able to run out of the gate. I expect the boys must have torn it. You’ve been fighting, haven’t you?’
‘No, Mummie, it got torn by itself,’ said Vanya.
‘By itself, did it? You ought to be sitting at home and doing your homework and not running about in the streets. Next time Mr Oblomov says that you’re not doing your French lessons properly, I’ll take your shoes off as well: you’ll have to do your homework then!’
‘I don’t like French.’
‘Why not?’ asked Oblomov.
‘Oh, they’ve a lot of bad words in French.’
Agafya Matveyevna flushed. Oblomov burst out laughing. It was not the first time that the subject of ‘bad words’ had been raised.
‘Be quiet, you naughty boy,’ she said. ‘Wipe your nose, can’t you?’
Vanya sniffed, but did not wipe his nose.
‘Wait till I get the money from the country – I’ll have two coats made for him,’ Oblomov interjected. ‘A blue tunic and a school uniform next year: he’ll be going to a secondary school next year.’
‘Oh,’ said Agafya Matveyevna, ‘his old one will do very well yet. I shall need the money for housekeeping. We’ll have to lay in a supply of salt beef and I’ll make some jam for you. I must go and see if Anisya has brought the sour cream.’
She got up.
‘What are we having for dinner to-day?’ asked Oblomov.
‘Fish soup, roast mutton, and curd dumplings.’
Oblomov said nothing.
Suddenly a carriage drew up, there was a knock at the gate followed by the barking and jumping of the dog. Oblomov went back to his room thinking someone had come to see the landlady: the butcher, the greengrocer, or some such person. Such a visit was usually accompanied by requests for money, a refusal by the landlady, threats by the shopkeepers, followed by entreaties and abuse, slamming of doors, banging of gates, and the desperate barking and jumping of the dog – an unpleasant scene altogether. But this time a carriage had driven up – what could it mean? Butchers and greengrocers did not drive about in carriages.
Suddenly the landlady rushed into his room in a panic.
‘A visitor for you!’ she said.
‘Who? Tarantyev or Alexeyev?’
‘No, no, the gentleman who came to dinner on your name-day.’
‘Stolz?’ Oblomov cried in alarm, looking round for a way of escape. ‘What will he say when he sees…. Tell him I’m not at home!’ he added hurriedly, retreating to the landlady’s room.
Anisya was just about to open the door for the visitor. Agafya Matveyevna had time to give her Oblomov’s order. Stolz believed her, though he could not help expressing his surprise at Oblomov’s not being in.
‘Very well, tell your master that I’ll be here in two hours and have dinner with him,’ he said, and went to the public park in the vicinity.
‘He’ll come to dinner!’ Anisya cried in alarm.
‘He’ll come to dinner!’ Agafya Matveyevna repeated to Oblomov in a panic.
‘You’ll have to prepare another dinner,’ Oblomov decided after a pause.
She gave him a look full of terror. All she had left was fifty copecks, and it was still ten days to the first of the month, when her brother gave her the money. She could get no more credit.
‘We shan’t have time,’ she observed timidly. ‘He’ll have to be satisfied with what we have.’
‘But he won’t eat it. He hates fish soup, he doesn’t even eat sturgeon soup. He never touches mutton, either.’
‘I could get some tongue from the sausage shop,’ she said as though with sudden inspiration. ‘It’s not far from here.’
‘That’s all right, do that. And get some vegetables, fresh kidney beans….!’
‘Kidney beans are eighty copecks a pound,’ she was about to say, but didn’t.
‘Very well, I will,’ she said, making up her mind definitely to get cabbage instead of the beans.
‘Get a pound of Swiss cheese,’ he commanded, having no idea of Agafya Matveyevna’s means. ‘And nothing more. I’ll apologize and say we had not expected him…. Oh yes, could you perhaps get some nice clear soup, too?’
She was about to leave the room.
‘And the wine?’ he suddenly remembered.
She answered with a new look of horror.
‘You must send out for some Lafitte,’ he concluded cooll
STOLZ arrived two hours later.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ he asked.’ How changed you are! You look pale and bloated! Are you well?’
‘No, Andrey, not at all well,’ Oblomov said embracing him. ‘My left leg keeps going dead.’
‘Your room is in such an awful mess!’ Stolz said, looking round. ‘Why don’t you throw away this dressing-gown of yours? Look at it! It’s all in patches.’
‘Habit, Andrey. I’d be sorry to part from it.’
‘And the blankets, the curtains!’ Stolz began. ‘Is that also habit? Sorry to change these rags? Good Lord, man, can you really sleep in this bed? What is the matter with you?’
‘Oh, nothing,’ Oblomov said, looking embarrassed. ‘As you know, I never was very particular about my rooms…. Come, let’s have dinner. Hey, Zakhar! Lay the table quick. Well, how are you? Are you staying here long? Where have you come from?’
‘Guess what I’m doing and where I’ve come from?’ Stolz asked. ‘Why, I don’t suppose you get any news from the outside world here, do you?’
Oblomov looked at him with interest, waiting to hear what he had to say.
‘How is Olga?’ he asked.
‘Oh, so you haven’t forgotten her, have you?’ said Stolz. ‘I did not think you would remember.’
‘No, Andrey, I couldn’t forget her, could I? That would have meant forgetting that I had been alive once, that I had been in paradise…. And now here I am!’ he sighed. ‘But where is she?’
‘She’s looking after her estate.’
‘With her aunt?’ asked Oblomov.
‘And with her husband.’
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes