IN the Veaborg Quarter peace and quietness reigned supreme. They reigned i_ts unwashed streets, with their wooden sidewalks, and in its lean garden_mid the nettle-encumbered ditches, where a goat with a ragged cord around it_eck was diligently engaged in cropping the herbage and snatching dul_ntervals of slumber. At midday, however, the high, smart boots of a cler_lattered along a sidewalk, the muslin curtain at a window was pulled aside t_dmit the features of a Civil Service official's lady, and for a brief momen_here showed itself over a garden fence the fresh young face of a girl—the_he face of a companion—then the face which had first appeared, as two maiden_aughed and tittered during the process of swinging each other on a garde_wing.
Also in the abode of Oblomov's landlady all was quiet. Had you entered th_ittle courtyard, you would have happened upon an idyllic scene. The poultr_ould have started running hither and thither in fussy alarm, and the dog_iven tongue in furious accents, while Akulina would have paused in he_ursuit of milking the cow, and the dvornik in his task of chopping firewood, in order that they might gaze unhampered at the visitor. "Whom do you wish t_ee?" the dvornik would have inquired; and on your mentioning Oblomov's name, or that of the mistress of the house, he would have pointed to the steps o_he front door, and then resumed his task of wood-chopping; whereupon th_isitor would have followed the neat, sanded path to the steps (which he woul_ave found covered with a plain, clean carpet of some sort), and, reaching fo_he brightly polished knob of the doorbell, would have had the door opened t_im by Anisia, one of the children, the landlady herself, or Zakhar.
Everything in Agafia Matvievna's establishment smacked of an opulence and _omestic sufficiency which had been lacking in the days when she had share_ouse with her brother, Tarantiev's bosom friend. The kitchen, the lumberroom, and the pantry were alike fitted with cupboards full of china, crockery, an_ousehold wares of every sort; while in cases were set out Oblomov's plate an_rticles of silver (long ago redeemed, and never since pledged). In short, th_lace abounded in such commodities as are to be found in the abode of ever_rugal housewife. Also, so carefully was everything packed in camphor an_ther preservatives that when Agafia Matvievna went to open the doors of th_upboards she could scarcely stand against the overwhelming perfume of mingle_arcotics which came forth, and had to turn her head aside for a few moments.
Hams hung from the ceiling of the storeroom (to avoid damage by mice), and, with them, cheeses, loaves of sugar, dried fish, and bags of nuts an_reserved mushrooms. On a table stood tubs of butter, pots of sour cream, baskets of apples, and God knows what else besides, for it would require th_en of a second Homer to describe in full, and in detail, all that had becom_ccumulated in the various corners and on the various floors of this littl_est of domestic life. As for the kitchen, it was a veritable palladium o_ctivity on the part of the mistress and her efficient assistant, Anisia.
Everything was kept indoors and in its proper place; throughout ther_revailed a system of orderliness and cleanliness ; and only into on_articular nook of the house did a ray of light, a breath of air, the goo_ousewife's eye, and the nimble, all-furbishing hand of the domestic neve_enetrate. That nook was Zakhar's den. Lacking a window, it was so constantl_lunged in darkness that its resemblance to a lair rather than to a huma_abitation was rendered the more complete. Whenever Zakhar surprised in hi_en the mistress of the house (come thither to plan a cleaning or variou_mprovements) he explained to her, in forcible terms, that it was not _oman's business to sweep out a place where faggots, blacking, and boots ough_o lie, and that it mattered not a jot that clothes should be tossed in a hea_n the floor, or that the bed in the stove corner had become overspread wit_ust, seeing that it was he, and not she, whose function it was to repose upo_hat bed. As for a besom, a few planks, a couple of bricks, the remains of _arrel, and two blocks of wood which he always kept in his room, he could not, he averred, get on in his domestic duties without them (though why that was s_e left to the imagination). Finally, according to his own statement, neithe_he dust nor the cobwebs in the least inconvenienced him—to which he begged t_dd a reminder that, since he never obtruded his nose into the kitchen, h_hould be the more pleased if he could be left alone by those to whom th_itchen was at all times open. Once, when he surprised Anisia in his sanctum, he threatened her so furiously with uplifted fist that the case was referre_o the court of superior instance—that is to say, to Oblomov himself, wh_alked supinely to the door of the den, inserted his head therein, scanned th_partment and its contents, sneezed, and returned mutely to his own quarters.
"What have you gained by it all?" said Zakhar to the mistress and he_yrmidon, who had accompanied Oblomov, in the hope that his participation i_he affair would lead to a change of some sort. Then the old valet laughed t_imself in a way which twisted his eyebrows and whiskers askew.
In the other rooms of the house, however, everything looked bright and clea_nd fresh. The old stuff curtains had disappeared, and the doors and window_f the drawing-room and the study were hung with blue and green drapery an_uslin curtains—the work of Agafia Matvievna's own hands. Indeed, for days a_ time Oblomov, prone upon his sofa, had watched her bare elbows flicker t_nd fro as she plied needle and thread; nor had he once gone to sleep to th_ound of thread being alternately inserted and bitten off, as had been hi_ustom in the old days at Oblomovka.
"Enough of work," he had nevertheless said to her at intervals, "Pray ceas_our labours for a while."
"Nay," she had always replied, "God loves those who toil."
Nor was his coffee prepared for him with less care, attention, and skill tha_ad been the case before he had changed his old quarters for his present ones.
Giblet soup, macaroni with Parmesan cheese, soup concocted of kvass and herbs, home-fed pullets—all these dishes succeeded one another in regular rotation, and by so doing helped to make agreeable breaks in the otherwise monotonou_outine of the little establishment. Nor did the sun, whenever shining, fai_o brighten his room from morning till night—thanks to the fact that th_arket-gardens on either side of the building prevented that luminary's ray_rom being shaded off by any obstacle. Outside, ducks quacked cheerfully, while, within, a geranium, added to a few hyacinths which the children ha_rought home, filled the little apartment with a perfume which mingle_leasantly with the smoke of Havana cigars and the scent of the cinnamon o_he vanilla which the mistress of the house would be preparing with bare, energetic arms.
Thus Oblomov lived in a sort of gilded cage—a cage within which, as in _iorama, the only changes included alternations of day and night and of th_easons. Of changes of the disturbing kind which stir up the sediment from th_ottom of life's bowl—a sediment only too frequently both bitter an_bnoxious—there were none. Ever since the day when Schtoltz had cleared him o_ebt, and Tarantiev and Tarantiev's friend had taken themselves off for good, every adverse element had disappeared from Oblomov's existence, and ther_urrounded him only good, kind, sensible folk who had agreed to underpin hi_xistence with theirs, and to help him not to notice it, nor to feel it, as i_ursued its even course. Everything was, as it were, at peace, and of tha_eace, that inertia, Oblomov represented the complete, the natural, embodimen_nd expression. After passing in review and considering his mode of life, h_ad sunk deeper and deeper therein, until finally he had come to th_onclusion that he had no farther to go, and nothing farther to seek, and tha_he ideal of his life would best be preserved where he was—albeit withou_oetry, without those finer shades wherewith his imagination had once painte_or him a spacious, careless course of manorial life on his own estate an_mong his own peasantry and servants.
Upon his present mode of life he looked as a continuation of the Oblomovka_xistence (only with a different colouring of locality, and, to a certai_xtent, of period). Here, as at Oblomovka, he had succeeded in escaping life, in driving a bargain with it, and ensuring to himself an inviolable seclusion.
Inwardly he congratulated himself on having left behind him the irksome, irritating demands and menaces of mundane existence—on having placed a grea_istance between himself and the horizon where there may be seen flashing th_ightning-bolts of keen pleasure, and whence come the thunder-peals of sudde_ffliction, and where flicker the false hopes and the splendid visions o_verage happiness, and where independence of thought gradually engulfs an_evours a man, and where passion slays him outright, and where the intellec_ails or triumphs, and where humanity engages in constant warfare, and leave_he field of battle in a state of exhaustion and of ever-unsatisfied, ever- insatiable desire. Never having experienced the consolations to be won i_ombat, he had none the less renounced them, and felt at ease only in a remot_orner to which action and fighting and the actual living of life were alik_trangers.
Yet moments there were when his imagination stirred within him again, and whe_here recurred to his mind forgotten memories and unrealized dreams, and whe_e felt in his conscience whispered reproaches for having made of his life s_ittle as he had done. And whenever that occurred he slept restlessly, awok_t intervals, leaped out of bed, and shed chill tears of hopelessness over th_right ideal that was now extinguished for ever. He shed them as folk she_hem over a dead friend whom with bitter regret they recognize to have bee_eglected during his lifetime. Then he would glance at his surroundings, hu_o himself his present blessings, and grow comforted on noting how quietly, how restfully, the sun was rising amid a blaze of glory. Thus he had come to _ecision that not only was his life compounded in the best manner fo_xpressing the possibilities to which the idealistic-peaceful side of huma_xistence may attain, but also that it had been expressly created for, an_reordained to, that purpose. To others, he reflected, let it fall to expres_ife's restless aspects ; to others let it be given to exercise forces o_onstruction and destruction; to each man be allotted his true métier.
Such the philosophy which our Plato of Oblomovka elaborated for the purpose o_ulling himself to sleep amid the problems and the stern demands of duty an_f destiny. He had been bred and nourished to play the part, not of _ladiator in the arena but of a peaceful onlooker at the struggle. Never coul_is diffident, lethargic spirit have faced either the raptures or the blows o_ife. Hence he expressed only one of its aspects, and had no mind either t_ucceed in it, or to change anything in it, or to repent of his decision. A_he years flowed on both emotion and repining came to manifest themselves a_arer and rarer intervals, until, by quiet, imperceptible degrees, he becam_inally interned in the plain, otiose tomb of retirement which he ha_ashioned with his own hands, even as desert anchorites who have turned fro_he world dig for themselves a material sepulchre. Of reorganizing his estate, and removing thither with his household, he had given up all thought. Th_teward whom Schtoltz had placed in charge of Oblomovka regularly sent him th_ncome therefrom, and the peasantry proffered him flour and poultry a_hristmastide, and everything on the estate was prospering.
Meanwhile he ate heartily and much, even as he had done at Oblomovka. Also, h_alked and worked sluggishly and little—again, as he had done at Oblomovka.
Lastly, in spite of his advancing years, he drank beer and vodka à raisin wit_omplete insouciance, and took to sleeping ever more and more protractedl_fter dinner.
But suddenly a change occurred. One day, after his usual quota of slumber an_ay dreams, he tried to rise from the sofa, but failed, and his tongue refuse_o obey him. Terrified, he could compass only a gesture when he tried to cal_or help. Had he been living with Zakhar alone, he might have continued t_ignal for assistance until next morning, or have died, and not been foun_here till the following day; but, as it was, the eyes of his landlady ha_een watching over him like the eyes of Providence itself, and it cost her n_kill of wit, but only an instinct of the heart, to divine that all was no_ell with Oblomov. No sooner had the instinct dawned upon her than Anisia wa_ispatched in a cab for a doctor, while Agafia Matvievna herself applied ic_o the patient's head, and extracted from her medicine chest the whole armour_f smelling-bottles and fomentations which custom and report had designate_or use at such a juncture. Even Zakhar managed to get one of his boots on, and, thus shod, to fuss around his master in company with the doctor, th_istress of the house, and Anisia.
At length, blood having been let, Oblomov returned to consciousness, and wa_nformed that he had just sustained an apoplectic stroke, and that he mus_dopt a different course of life. Henceforth, vodka, beer, wine, coffee, an_ich food were, with certain exceptions, to be prohibited, while in thei_lace there were prescribed for him daily exercise and a regular amount o_leep of an exclusively nocturnal nature. Even then these remedies would hav_ome to nothing but for Agafia Matvievna's watchfulness; but she had the wi_o to introduce the system that the entire household involuntarily assisted i_ts working. Thus, partly by cunning and partly by kindness, she contrived t_ean Oblomov from his attractive indulgences in wine, postprandial slumber, and fish pasties. For instance, as soon as ever he began to doze, either _hair would be upset in an adjoining room, or, of its own volition, some ol_nd worthless crockery would begin flying into splinters, or the childre_ould start making a noise, and be told, fortissimo, to be gone. Lastly, should even this not prove effective, her own kindly voice would be hear_alling to him, in order to ask him some question or another.
Also, the garden path was lengthened, and on it Oblomov accomplished, mornin_nd evening, a constitutional of some two hours' duration. With him ther_ould walk the landlady—or, if she could not attend, one of the children, o_is old friend, the irresponsible and to every man both humble and agreeabl_lexiev. One morning Oblomov, leaning on the boy Vania's arm, slowly paced th_ath. By this time Vania had grown into almost a youth, and found it hard t_estrict his brisk, rapid step to Oblomov's more tardy gait. As the elder ma_alked he made little use of one of his legs, which was a trace of the strok_hich he had recently sustained.
"Let us go indoors now, Vaniushka," he said; wherefore they directed thei_teps towards the door. But to meet them there issued Agafia Matvievna.
"Why are you coming in so early?" she inquired.
"Early, indeed? Why, we have paced the path twenty times each way, and fro_ere to the fence is a distance of fifty sazhens; wherefore we have covere_wo versts in all."
"And how many times do you say you have paced it?" she inquired of Vania.
"Do not lie, but look me straight in the face," she continued, fixing him wit_er gaze. "I have been watching you the whole time. Remember next Sunday.
Possibly I might not let you go to the party that night."
"Well, mother," the boy said at length, "we have paced the path only twelv_imes."
"Ah, you rogue!" exclaimed Oblomov. "You were nipping off acacia-leaves al_he time, whereas I was keeping the most careful account."
"Then you must go and do some more walking," decided the landlady. "Besides, the fish soup is not yet ready." And she closed the door upon the pair.
Oblomov, much against his will, completed another eight pacings of the path, and then entered the dining-room. On the large round table the fish soup wa_ow steaming, and all hastened to take their usual seats—Oblomov in solitar_tate on the sofa, the landlady on his right, and the rest in due sequence.
"I will help you to this herring, as it is the fattest," said Agafi_atvievna.
"Very well," he remarked. "Only, I think that a pie would go well with it."
"Oh dear! I have forgotten the pies! I meant to make some last night, but m_emory is all gone to pieces!" The artful Agafia Matvievna! "Besides, I a_fraid that I have forgotten the cutlets and the cabbage. In fact, you mus_ot expect very much of a dinner to-day." This was addressed ostensibly t_lexiev.
"Never mind," he replied. "I can eat anything."
"But why not cook him some pork and peas, or a beef-steak?" asked Oblomov.
"I did go to the butcher's for a beefsteak, but there was not a single morse_f good beef left. However, I have made Monsieur Alexiev a cherry compôt_nstead. I know he likes that." The truth was that cherry compôte was not ba_or Oblomov wherefore the complacent Alexiev had no choice but both to eat i_nd to like it.
After dinner no power on earth could prevent Oblomov from assuming a recumben_osition; so, to obviate his going to sleep, the landlady was accustomed t_lace beside him his coffee, and then to inspire her children to play games o_he floor, so that, willy-nilly, Oblomov should be forced to join in thei_port. Presently she withdrew to the kitchen to see if the coffee was ye_eady, and, meanwhile, the children's clatter died away. Almost at once _entle snore arose in the room—then a louder one—then one louder still; an_hen Agafia Matvievna returned with the steaming coffee-pot she encountere_uch a volume of snoring as would have done credit to a post-house.
Angrily she shook her head at Alexiev.
"It is not my fault," he said deprecatingly. "I tried to stir up the children, but they would not listen to me."
Swiftly depositing the coffee-pot upon the table, she caught up littl_ndriusha from the floor, and gently seated him upon the sofa by Oblomov'_ide; whereupon the child wriggled towards him, climbed his form until he ha_eached his face, and grasped him firmly by the nose.
"Hi! Hullo! Who is that?" cried Oblomov uneasily as he opened his eyes.
"You had gone to sleep, so Andriusha climbed on to the sofa and awoke you,"
replied the landlady kindly.
"I had gone to sleep, indeed?" retorted Oblomov, laying his arm around th_ittle one. "Do you think I did not hear him creeping along on all fours? Why, I hear everything. To think of the little rascal catching me by the nose! I'l_ive it him! But there, there." Tenderly embracing the child, he deposited hi_n the floor again, and heaved a profound sigh. "Tell us the news, Iva_lexiev," he said.
"You have heard it all. I have nothing more to tell."
"How so? You go into society, and I do not. Is there nothing new in th_olitical world?"
"It is being said that the earth is growing colder every day, and that one da_t will become frozen altogether."
"Away with you! Is that politics?"
A silence ensued. Oblomov quietly relapsed into a state of coma that wa_either sleeping nor waking. He merely let his thoughts wander at will, without concentrating them upon anything in particular as calmly he listene_o the beating of his heart and occasionally blinked his eyes. Thus he san_nto a vague, enigmatical condition which partook largely of the nature o_allucination. In rare instances there come to a man fleeting moments o_bstraction when he seems to be reliving past stages of his life. Whether h_as previously beheld in sleep the phenomena which are passing before hi_ision, or whether he has gone through a previous existence and has sinc_orgotten it, we cannot say; but at all events he can see the same person_round him as were present in the first instance, and hear the same words a_ere uttered then.
So was it with Oblomov now. Gradually there spread itself about him the hus_hich he had known long ago. He could hear the beating of the well-know_endulum, the snapping of the thread as it was bitten off, and the repetitio_f familiar whispered sentences like "I cannot make the thread go through th_ye of the needle. Pray do it for me, Masha—your eyesight is keener tha_ine."
Lazily, mechanically he looked into his landlady's face; and straightway fro_he recesses of his memory there arose a picture which, somewhere, had bee_ell known to him.
To his vision there dawned the great, dark drawing-room in the house of hi_outh, lit by a single candle. At the table his mother and her guests wer_itting over their needlework, while his father was silently pacing up an_own. Somehow the present and the past had become fused and interchanged, s_hat, as the little Oblomov, he was dreaming that at length he had reached th_nchanted country where the rivers run milk and honey, and bread can b_btained without toil, and every one walks clad in gold and silver.
Once again he could hear the old legends and the old folk-tales, mingled wit_he clatter of knives and crockery in the kitchen. Once again he was pressin_lose to his nurse to listen to her tremulous, old woman's voice. "That i_ilitrissa Kirbitievna," she was saying as she pointed to the figure of hi_andlady. Also, the same clouds seemed to be floating in the blue zenith tha_sed to float there of yore, and the same wind to be blowing in at the window, and ruffling his hair, and the same cock of the Oblomovkan poultry-yard to b_trutting and crowing below. Suddenly a dog barked. Some other guest must b_rriving! Would it be old Schtoltz and his little boy from Verklevo? Yes, probably, for to-day is a holiday. And in very truth it is they—he can hea_heir footsteps approaching nearer and nearer! The door opens, and "Andrei!"
he exclaims excitedly, for there, sure enough, stands his friend—but now grow_o manhood, and no longer a little boy! …