THERE entered a young fellow of about twenty-five. Beaming with health an_rreproachably dressed to a degree which dazzled the eye with it_mmaculateness of linen and gorgeousness of jewellery, he was a figur_alculated to excite envy.
"Good morning, Volkov!"cried Oblomov. "And good morning to you," returned th_adiant gentleman, approaching the bed and looking about him for a spo_hereon to deposit a hat. However, perceiving only dust, he retained hi_eadgear in his hand. Next he drew aside the skirts of his coat (preparator_o sitting down), but a hasty inspection of the nearest chair convinced hi_hat he had far better remain standing.
"So you are not yet up?" he went on. "And why on earth are you wearing _ightshirt? They have quite gone out of fashion."
"'Tis not a nightshirt, it is a dressing-gown," said Oblomov, nestlin_ovingly into the ample folds of the garment. "Where are you from?"
"From the tailor's. Do you think this frock-coat a nice one?" And he turne_imself round and round for Oblomov's inspection.
"Splendid! Made with excellent taste!" was the verdict. "Only why is it s_road behind?"
"The better to ride in it. It is a riding-coat. I ordered it for to-day fo_he reason that this is the first of May and I am to go to the Ekaterinho_ith Gorunov. He has just got his promotion, and we intend to cut a dash o_he strength of it. He has a roan horse—all the horses in his regiment ar_oans—and I a black. How are you going—in a carriage or on foot?"
"By neither method," replied Oblomov.
"What? To-day is the first of May, and you are not going to the Ekaterinhov?
Why, every one will be there!"
"Not quite every one," Oblomov lazily remarked.
"You must go, though. Sophia Nikolaevna and Lydia will be occupying two of th_eats in our carriage, but the seat facing them will be vacant. Come with us, I tell you."
"No, I do not intend to occupy the vacant seat. What sort of a figure should _ut on it?"
"Then, if you like, Mischa Gorunov shall lend you a horse."
"Of what is the fellow thinking?" said Oblomov as though to himself. "How com_ou and the Gorunov family to be so friendly with one another?"
"Give me your word of honour not to repeat what I may tell you, and I wil_xplain."
"Herewith I give it."
"Very well. I am in love with Lydia."
"Splendid! Have you been in love with her long? She seems a charming girl."
"I have been in love with her for three weeks," said Volkov, with a sigh. "An_ischa, for his part, is in love with Dashenka."
"Who is Dashenka?"
"What! You do not know Dashenka? Why, the whole town is raving over he_ancing. To-night I am going to the Opera with Mischa, and he is to throw he_ bouquet. Well, I must be off to buy the necessary camelias for it."
"Come back, then, and take lunch with me. I should like to have a talk wit_ou, for I have just experienced two misfortunes."
"Impossible, I fear, for I am lunching with Prince Tiumenev. All th_orunovs—yes, and Lydia, too—are to be there. What a cheerful house it is! An_o is Tiumenev's country place. I have heard that it is to be the scene o_umberless dances and tableaux this summer. Are you likely to be one of th_uests?"
"No—I think not."
"What hospitality the Prince dispenses! This winter his guests averaged fifty, and sometimes a hundred."
"How wearisome the whole thing must have been!"
"What! Wearisome? Why, the more the merrier. Lydia, too, used to b_here—though in those days I never so much as noticed her. In fact, never onc_id I do so until one day I found myself vainly trying to forget her, vainl_itting reason in the lists with love.'" Volkov hummed the concluding words, and seated himself carelessly upon a chair. Almost instantly he leaped to hi_eet again, and brushed the dust from his trousers.
"What quantities of dirt you keep everywhere!" he remarked.
"'Tis Zakhar's fault, not mine," replied Oblomov.
"Well, now I must be off, as it is absolutely necessary that I should bu_hose camelias for Mischa's bouquet. Au revoir!"
"Come and have tea after the opera, and tell me all about it."
No, that is impossible, for I am promised to supper at the Musinskis'. It i_heir reception day, you know. However, meet me there, and I'll present you."
"What is toward at the Musinskis'?"
"What, indeed? Why, entertainment in a house where you hear all the news."
"Like everything else, it would bore me."
"Then go and call upon the Mezdrovs, where the talk centres upon one topic, and one topic alone—the arts. Of nothing else will you hear but the Venetia_chool, Beethoven, Bach, Leonardo da Vinci, and so forth."
"All of them boring subjects!" said Oblomov with a yawn. "What a lot o_edants the Mezdrovs must be! Do you never get tired of running about fro_ouse to house?"
"Tired? Why should I? Every morning I like to go out and learn the news (than_od, my official duties never require my actual presence, save twice a week, when they consist of lunching with and doing the civil to the General). Afte_hat I proceed to call upon any people upon whom I have not called for a lon_hile. Next there will be some new actress—whether at the Russian theatre o_t the French. Besides, always there is the Opera, to which I am a subscriber.
Furthermore, I am in love, and Mischa is about to enjoy a month's leave fro_is regiment, and the summer is on the point of beginning, and Mischa and _ntend to retire to his country house for a change of air. We shall hav_lenty of sport there, since he possesses excellent neighbours and they giv_als champêtres. Also I shall be able to escort Lydia for walks through th_oods, and to row her about in a boat, and to pluck flowers for her benefit.
At the present moment I must leave you. Good-bye!"
Rising, he endeavoured to look at himself in a dust-coated mirror; after whic_e departed—though returning once more to show his friend the newest thing i_arisian gloves and an Easter card which Prince Tiumenev had recently sen_im.
"What a life!" thought Oblomov, with a shrug of his shoulders. "What good ca_ man get out of it? It is merely a squandering and a wasting of his all. O_ourse, an occasional look into a theatre is not a bad thing, nor is being i_ove—for Lydia is a delightful girl, and pursuits like plucking flowers wit_er and rowing her about in a boat even I should enjoy; but to have to be i_en different places every day, as Volkov has—!"
He turned over on his back and congratulated himself that he at leas_herished no vain social aspirations. 'Twas better to lie where he was and t_reserve both his nerves and his human dignity… .
Another ring at the doorbell interrupted his reflections. This time th_isitor turned out to be a gentleman in a dark frock-coat with crested button_hose most prominent features were a clean-shaven chin, a pair of blac_hiskers around a haggard (but quiet and sensible) face, and a thoughtfu_mile.
"Good day, Sudbinski!" cried Oblomov cheerfully.
"Good day to you," replied the gentleman. "'Tis a long time since I last sa_ou, but you know what this devilish Civil Service means. Look at that bagfu_f reports which I have brought with me! And not only that, but I have had t_eave word at the office that a messenger will find me here should I b_anted. Never do I get a single moment to myself."
"So you were on the way to your office? How come you to be going so late? You_sual hour used to be nine."
"Yes, it used to be nine, but now I go at twelve."
"Ah, I see: you have recently been made the head of a department. Since when?"
"Since Easter," replied Sudbinski, with a meaning nod. "But what a lot o_ork! It is terrible! From eight to twelve in the morning I am slaving a_ome; from twelve to five at the Chancellory; and all the evening at hom_gain. I have quite lost touch with my acquaintances."
"Come and lunch with me to-day, and we will drink to your promotion," sai_blomov.
"No, to-day I am lunching with the Vice-Director, as well as have a report t_repare by Thursday. You see, one cannot rely upon provincial advices, bu_ust verify every return personally. Are you going to the Ekaterinhov to-day?"
"No, for I am not very well," replied Oblomov, knitting his brows. "Moreover, like yourself, I have some work to do."
"I am very sorry," said Sudbinski; "for it is a fine day, and the only day o_hich I myself can hope for a little rest."
"And what news have you?" asked Oblomov.
"Oh, a good deal—of a sort. We are required no longer to write at the end o_ur official letters 'Your humble servant,' but merely 'Accept the assuranc_f my profound respect.' Also we have been told that we are to cease to mak_ut formal documents in duplicate. Likewise, our office has just been allotte_hree new tables and a couple of confidential clerks. Lastly, the Commissio_as now concluded its sittings. There's a budget of news for you!"
"And what of our old comrades?"
"Nothing at present, except that Svinkin has lost his case."
"And to think that you work from eight to twelve, and from twelve to five, an_gain in the evening! Dear, dear!"
"Well, what should I do if I were not in the Service?" asked Sudbinski.
"You would just read and write on your own account."
"But it is not given to every one to be a littérateur. For example, yo_ourself write nothing."
"No, for I have some property on my hands," said Oblomov with a sigh. "But _m working out a new system for it; I am going to introduce reforms of variou_inds. The affair worries me terribly."
"Well, for my part, I must work, in order to make a little money. Besides, _m to be married this coming autumn."
"Indeed! And to whom?"
"To Mademoiselle Murashina. Do you remember their country villa, next to mine?
I think you came to tea with me and met her there?"
"No, I have no recollection of it. Is she pretty?
"Yes, charming. Suppose, one day, we go to lunch with her?"
Oblomov hesitated. "Very well," he said after a pause; "only—"
"What about next week?"
"Certainly. Next week let it be. But at the moment I have no suitable clothes… . Is your fiancée a financial catch?"
"Yes, for her father is a State councillor, and intends to give her te_housand roubles, as well as to let us have half his official house (a hous_f twelve rooms—the whole being furnished, heated, and lighted at the publi_xpense); so we ought to do very well. Herewith I invite you to be my best ma_t the wedding."
Once more the doorbell rang.
"Good-bye," said Sudbinski. "I am annoyed that, as I surmise, I should b_anted at the office."
"Then stay where you are," urged Oblomov. "I desire your advice, for tw_isfortunes have just befallen me."
"No, no; I had better come and see you another day." And Sudbinski took hi_eave.
"Plunged up to the ears in work, good friend!" thought Oblomov as he watche_im depart. "Yes, and blind and deaf and dumb to everything else in the world!
Yet by going into society and, at the same time, busying yourself about you_ffairs you will yet win distinction and promotion. Such is what they call '_areer'! Yet of how little use is a man like that! His intellect, his will, his feelings—what do they avail him? So many luxuries is what they are—nothin_ore. Such an individual lives out his little span without achieving a singl_hing worth mentioning; and meanwhile he works in an office from morning til_ight—yes, from morning till night, poor wretch!"
Certainly a modicum of quiet satisfaction was to be derived from the though_hat from nine o'clock until three, and from eight o'clock until nine on th_ollowing day, he, Oblomov, could remain lying prone on a sofa instead o_aving to trot about with reports and to inscribe multitudes of documents.
Yes, he preferred, rather, leisure for the indulgence of his feelings an_magination. Plunged in a philosophical reverie, he overlooked the fact tha_y his bedside there was standing a man whose lean, dark face was almos_overed with a pair of whiskers, a moustache, and an imperial. Also the new- comer's dress was studied in its negligence.
"Good morning, Oblomov," he said.
"Good morning, Penkin," was the response. "I should like to show you a lette_hich I have just received from my starosta. Whence have you sprung?"
"From the newsagent's, near by. I went to see if the papers are yet out. Hav_ou read my latest article?"
"Then you ought to do so."
"What is it about?" Oblomov asked with a faint yawn.
"About trade, about the emancipation of women, about the beautiful April day_ith which we have been favoured, and about the newly formed fire-brigade. Ho_ome you not to have read that article? In it you will see portrayed the whol_f our daily life. Over and above anything else, you will read therein a_rgument in favour of the present realistic tendency in literature."
"And have you no other work on hand?" inquired Oblomov.
"Yes, a good deal. I write two newspaper articles a week, besides reviewing _umber of books. In addition, I have just finished a tale of my own."
"What is it about?"
"It tells how, in a certain town, the governor used to beat the citizens wit_is own hand."
"The realistic tendency, right enough!" commented Oblomov.
"Quite so," said the delighted litteérateur. "In my tale (which is novel an_aring in its idea) a traveller witnesses a beating of this kind, seeks a_nterview with the governor of the province, and lays before him a complaint.
At once the said governor of the province orders an official who happens to b_roceeding to that town for the purpose of conducting another investigation t_nquire also into the truth of the complaint just laid, and likewise t_ollect evidence as to the character and behaviour of the local administrator.
The official in question calls together the local citizens, on the pretext o_ trade conference, and incidentally sounds them concerning the other matter.
And what do you suppose they do? They merely smile, present their compliments, and load the governor of the town with praises! Thereafter the official make_xtraneous inquiries, and is informed that the said citizens are rogues wh_rade in rotten merchandise, give underweight, cheat the Treasury, and indulg_n wholesale immorality; wherefore the beatings have been a just retribution."
"Then you intend the assaults committed by the governor to figure in the stor_s the fatum of the old tragedians?"
"Quite so," said Penkin. "You have great quickness of apprehension, and ough_ourself to tackle the writing of stories. Yes, it has always been my idea t_xpose the arbitrariness of our local governors, the decline of morality amon_he masses, the faulty organization existing among our subordinate officials, and the necessity of drastic, but legal, measures to counterbalance thes_vils. 'Tis a novel idea for a story, is it not?"
"Certainly; and to me who read so little a peculiarly novel one."
"True, I have never once seen you with a book in your hand. Nevertheless, _eseech you to read a poem which, I may say, is shortly to appear. It i_alled 'The Love of a Blackmailer for a Fallen Woman.' The identity of th_uthor I am not at liberty to disclose—at all events yet."
"Pray give me an idea of this poem."
"It exposes, as you will see, the whole mechanism of the social movement—but _echanism that is painted only in poetic colours. Each spring of that engin_s touched upon, and each degree of the social scale held up to the light. W_ee summoned to the bar, as it were, a weak, but vicious, lord, with a swar_f blackmailers who are engaged in cheating him. Also various categories o_allen women are dissected—French women, German women, and others; the whol_eing done with vivid and striking verisimilitude. Certain extracts from th_oem have come to my ears, and I may say that the author is a great man—on_ears in him the notes both of Dante and of Shakespeare."
"And whence has he originated?" asked Oblomov, leaning forward i_stonishment; but Penkin, perceiving that he had now said too much, merel_epeated that Oblomov must read the poem, and judge for himself. This Oblomo_eclined to do.
"Why?" asked Penkin. "The thing will make a great stir and be much talke_bout."
"Very well: let people talk. 'Tis all some folks have to do. 'Tis thei_étier."
"Nevertheless, read it yourself, for curiosity's sake."
"What have I not seen in books!" commented the other. "Surely folk must writ_uch things merely to amuse themselves?"
"Yes; even as I do. At the same time, what truth, what verisimilitude, do yo_ot find in books! How powerfully some of them move one through the vivi_ortraiture which they contain! Whomsoever these authors take—a tchinovnik, a_fficer, or a blackmailer—they paint them as living creatures."
"But what have those authors to worry about, seeing that if, as you say, on_hooses to take a given model for amusement's sake, the picture is sure t_ucceed? Yet no: real life is not to be described like that. In a system o_hat kind there is no understanding or sympathy, nor a particle of what w_all humanity. 'Tis all self-conceit—no more. Folk describe thieves and falle_omen as though they were apprehending them in the streets and taking them t_rison. Never in the tales of such writers is the note of 'hidden tears' to b_etected—only that of gross, manifest malice and love of ridicule."
"And what more would you have? You yourself have said (and very aptly so) tha_eething venom, a taste for bilious incitement to vice, and a sneerin_ontempt for the fallen are the only ingredients needed."
"No, not the only ones," said Oblomov, firing up. "Picture a thief or a falle_oman or a cheated fool, if you like, but do not forget the rest of mankind.
What about humanity, pray? Writers like yourself try to write only with th_ead. What? Do you suppose the intellect can work separately from the heart?
Why, the intellect needs love to fertilize it. Rather, stretch out your han_o the fallen and raise him, weep over him if he is lost beyond recall, but i_o case make sport of him, for he is one to whom there should be extended onl_ompassion. See in him yourself, and act accordingly. That done, I will rea_ou, and bow my head before you. But in the writings of the school of which _ave spoken, what art, what poetical colouring, are you able to discover?
Should you elect to paint debauchery and the mire, at least do so withou_aking any claim to poetry."
"What? You bid me depict nature—roses, nightingales, a winter's morning, an_ll that sort of thing—when things like these are seething and whirling aroun_s? Nay, we need, rather, the bare physiology of society. No longer are lov_ongs required."
"Give me man, and man alone," said Oblomov. "And, having given me him, do yo_ry to love him."
"What? To love the usurer, the hypocrite, the peculating and stupid official?
Why should I do that? 'Tis evident you have had little experience o_iterature! Such fellows want punishing—want turning out of the civic circl_nd the community."
"Out of 'the civic circle and the community,' you say?" ejaculated Oblomo_ith a gasp as he rose and stood before Penkin. "That is tantamount to sayin_hat once in that faulty vessel there dwelt the supreme element—that, ruine_hough the man may be, he is still a human being, as even are you and I. Tur_im out, indeed! How are you going to turn him out of the circle of humanity, out of the bosom of Nature, out of the mercy of God?" Oblomov came near t_houting as he said this, and his eyes were blazing.
"How excited you have grown!" said Penkin in astonishment; whereupon eve_blomov realized that he had gone too far. He pulled himself up, yawne_lightly, and stretched himself out sluggishly upon the sofa. For a whil_ilence reigned.
"What kind of books do you mostly read?" inquired Penkin.
"Books of travel," replied Oblomov.
Again there was a silence.
"And will you read the poem when it has come out?" continued Penkin. "If so, _ill bring you a copy of it."
Oblomov shook his head.
"Nor my story?"
Oblomov signified assent.
"Very well, then. Now I must be off to press," continued Penkin. "Do you kno_hy I came to see you to-day? I came because I wanted to propose to you _isit to the Ekaterinhov. I have a conveyance of my own, and, inasmuch as, to- morrow, I must write an article on current events, I thought we might jointl_ook over my notes on the subject, and you might advise me as to any poin_mitted. We should enjoy the expedition, I think. Let us go."
"No, I am not well," said Oblomov with a frown, covering himself with the bed- clothes. "But you might come and lunch with me to-day, and then talk. I hav_ust experienced a couple of misfortunes."
"Ah! The whole of our staff is to lunch at St. George's, I fear, and then t_o on to the festival. Also, at night I have my article to write, and th_rinter must receive the manuscript by daylight at the latest. Good-bye!"
"At night I have my article to write," mused Oblomov after his friend'_eparture. "Then when does he sleep? However, he is making some five thousan_oubles a year, so his work is so much bread and butter to him. Yet to thin_f being continually engaged in writing, in wasting one's intellect upo_rifles, in changing one's opinions, in offering one's brain and one'_magination for sale, in doing violence to one's own nature, in giving way t_bullitions of enthusiasm—and the whole without a single moment's rest, or th_alling of a single halt! Yes, to think of being forced to go on writing, writing, like the wheel of a machine—writing to-morrow, writing the day after, writing though the summer is approaching and holidays keep passing one by!
Does he never stop to draw breath, the poor wretch?" Oblomov glanced at th_able, where everything lay undisturbed, and the ink had become dried up, an_ot a pen was to be seen; and as he looked he rejoiced to think that he wa_ying there as careless as a newborn baby—not worrying at all, nor seeking t_ffer anything for sale.
"But what of the starosta's letter and the notice to quit?" Yes, suddenly h_ad remembered these things; and once more he became absorbed in thought.
Again the doorbell rang.
"Why is every one seeking me out to-day?" he wondered as he waited to see wh_ext should enter. This time the new-comer proved to be a man of uncertai_ge—of the age when it is difficult to guess the exact number of years. Also, he was neither handsome nor ugly, neither tall nor short, neither fair no_ark. In short, he was a man whom Nature had dowered with no sharp-cut, distinguishing features, whether good or bad, mental or physical.
"Ha!" said Oblomov as he greeted him. "So it is you, Alexiev? Whence are yo_ome?"
"To tell the truth, I had not thought to call upon you to-day," replied th_isitor, "but by chance I met Ovchinin, and he carried me off to his quarters, whither I, in my turn, have now come to convey you."
"To convey me to, to—?"
"To Ovchinin's. Already Alianov, Pchailo, and Kolimiagin are there."
"But why have they collected together? And what do they want with me?"
"Ovchinin desires you to lunch with him, and then to accompany him and th_est of us to the Ekaterinhov. Likewise he has instructed me to warn you t_ire a conveyance. Come, get up! 'Tis fully time you were dressed."
"How am I to dress? I have not yet washed myself."
"Then do so at once."
With that Alexiev fell to pacing the room. Presently he halted before _icture which he had seen a thousand times before; then he glanced once o_wice out of the window, took from a whatnot an article of some sort, turne_t over in his hands, looked at it from every point of view, and replaced th_ame. That done, he resumed his pacing and whistling—the whole being designe_o avoid hindering Oblomov from rising and performing his ablutions. Te_inutes passed.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Alexiev suddenly.
"What is the matter with me?"
"I mean, why are you still in bed?"
I cannot tell you. Is it really necessary that I should get up?"
"Of course it is necessary, for they are waiting for us. Besides, you sai_hat you would like to go."
"To go where? I have no such desire."
"Only this moment you said we would go and lunch at Ovchinin's, and the_roceed to the Ekaterinhov!"
"No, I cannot. It would mean my going out into the damp. Besides, rain i_oming on. The courtyard looks quite dark."
"As a matter of fact, not a single cloud is in the sky, and the courtyar_ooks dark only because you never have your windows washed."
"Well, well!" said Oblomov. " By the way, have I yet told you of m_isfortunes—of the letter from my starosta, and of the notice given me to qui_his flat?"
"No," answered Alexiev. "What about the letter?
The document not being immediately forthcoming, Zakhar was summoned to searc_or it; and after it had been discovered beneath the counterpane Oblomov rea_t to his friend—though passing over certain greetings, added to inquiries a_o the recipient's health. The gist of the epistle was that the bulk of th_rops on Oblomov's estate were likely to fail for want of rain.
"Never mind," said Alexiev. "One must never give way to despair."
"And what would you do in my place?"
"I should first of all consider matters. Never ought one to come to a hast_ecision."
Crumpling the letter in his hands, Oblomov leaned forward with his elbows o_is knees, and remained in that posture for a considerable time—his brai_looded with disturbing reflections.
"I wish Schtoltz would come!" at length he remarked. "He has written that h_s about to do so, but God knows what has happened to him! He could solve th_ituation."
Suddenly the doorbell rang with such vehemence that both men started, an_akhar came hurrying out of his pantry.