Table of Contents
Chapter 5, We find ourselves transported
WE find ourselves transported to a land where neither sea nor mountains nor crags nor precipices nor lonely forests exist—where, in short, there exists nothing grand or wild or immense.
Of what advantage, indeed, is the grand, the immense? The ocean depresses the soul of man, and at the sight of its boundless expanse of billows—an expanse whereon the weary eye is allowed no resting-place from the uniformity of the picture—the heart of man grows troubled within him, and he derives no solace from the roaring and mad rolling of the waves. Ever since the world began, those waves have sung the same dim, enigmatical song. Ever since the world began, they have voiced but the querulous lament of a monster which, everlastingly doomed to torment, utters a chorus of shrill, malicious cries. On the shores of the sea no bird warbles; only the silent gulls, like lost spirits, flit wearily along its margin, or circle over its surface. In the presence of that turmoil of nature the roar even of the wildest beast sounds weak, and the voice of man becomes wholly overwhelmed. Yes, beside it man's form looks so small and fragile that it is swallowed up amid the myriad details of the gigantic picture. That alone may be why contemplation of the ocean depresses man's soul. During periods, also, of calm and immobility his spirit derives no comfort from the spectacle; for in the scarcely perceptible oscillation of the watery mass he sees ever the slumbering, incomprehensible force which, until recently, has been mocking his proud will and, as it were, submerging his boldest schemes, his most dearly cherished labours and endeavours.
In the same way, mountains and gorges were not created to afford man encouragement, inasmuch as, with their terrible, menacing aspect, they seem to him the fangs and talons of some gigantic wild beast—of a beast which is reaching forth in an effort to devour him. Too vividly they remind him of his own frail build; too painfully they cause him to go in fear for his life. And over the summits of those crags and precipices the heavens look so remote and unattainable that they seem to have become removed out of the ken of humanity.
Not so that peaceful corner of the earth upon which our hero, in his slumber, opened his eyes. There, on the contrary, the heavens seemed to hug the earth—not in order that they might the better aim their thunderbolts, but in order that they might the closer enfold it in a loving embrace. In fact, they hovered low in order that, like a sheltering, paternal roof, they might guard this chosen corner of the earth from every adversity. Meanwhile the sun shone warm and bright during half the year, and, withdrawing, did so so slowly and reluctantly that it seemed ever to be turning back for one more look at the beloved spot, as though wishing to give it one more bright, warm day before the approaching weather of autumn. Also the hills of that spot were no more than reduced models of the terrible mountains which, in other localities, rear themselves to aff right the imagination. Rather, they resembled the gentle slopes down which one may roll in sport, or where one may sit and gaze dreamily at the declining sun. Below them, toying and frisking, ran a stream. In one place it discharged itself into a broad pool, in another it hurried along in a narrow thread, in a third it slackened its pace to a sudden mood of reverie, and, barely gliding over the stones, threw out on either side small rivulets whereof the gentle burbling seemed to invite sleep. Everywhere the vicinity of this corner of the earth presented a series of landscape studies and cheerful, smiling vistas. The sandy, shelving bank of the stream, a small copse which descended from the summit of that bank to the water, a winding ravine of which the depths were penetrated by a rill, a plantation of birch-trees—all these things seemed purposely to be fitted into one another, and to have been drawn by the hand of a master. Both the troubled heart and the heart which has never known care might have yearned to hide themselves in this forgotten corner of the world, and to live its life of ineffable happiness. Everything promised a quiet existence which should last until the grey hairs were come, and thereafter a death so gradual as almost to resemble the approach of sleep.
There the yearly round fulfils itself in a regular, serene order. As the calendar ordains, spring comes in in March, when turbid rivulets begin to run from the hills, and the earth, thawing, steams with tepid vapour. Then the peasant, doffing his sheepskin, goes out in shirtsleeves alone, and shades his eyes with his hand as gladly he shrugs his shoulders and drinks his fill of the gleaming sunlight. Then, with a shaft in either hand, he draws forth the cart which has been lying, bottom upwards, under the tiltshed, or examines and sounds with his foot the plough which has been reposing in the penthouse. All this is in preparation for the usual routine of toil, since in that region spring sees no return of sudden snowstorms to heap the fields and crack the branches. On the other hand, Winter, like a cold, unapproachable beauty, retains her character until the lawful season of thaw has arrived. Never does she mock one with unexpected softenings of the air; never does she triple-harness the earth with unheard-of degrees of frost. Everything proceeds according to rote—according to a generally prescribed order of nature. Although, in November, there begin snow and frost which, towards the festival of Epiphany, increase to the point of freezing to an icicle the beard of the peasant who has stepped out of his hut for a breath of fresh air, the sensitive nose can, by February, detect the kindly odour of approaching spring.
Next, the summer is peculiarly ravishing. Only in that particular spot can one find that fresh, dry perfume which is the scent neither of laurel nor of lemon, but of mingled wormwood, pine, and cherry-blossom. Only there, also, can one find those bright days when the sun's rays are warm, but never scorching, and the sky remains cloudless for three months on end. As the bright days draw on they lengthen, week by week; and during that period the evenings are hot and the nights stifling, while the stars twinkle in the heavens with the welcoming mien of friends. And when rain at length arrives, how beneficent is its coming! Boisterously, richly, merrily it spates forth, like the large, hot tears of a man unexpectedly relieved of care; and as soon as ever it has passed the sun appears with a new smile of love, to dry the fields and the hillocks, and to cause all the countryside to assume an answering smile of delight. How gladly, too, the peasant greets the rain!"The good rain washes us, and the sun will dry us again," is his saying as he exposes his face to the tepid downpour and lets it play upon his shoulders and back. Moreover, in that region thunder is never terrible, but, rather, benevolent, and always occurs at one particular season (generally on Saint Elias' Day, in order that the people's established tradition may be fulfilled). Also it would appear that, every year, both the number and the intensity of the peals remain the sameÄas though for each year the heavenly treasury had allotted a given measure of electricity. But of terrible and destructive storms that country can show no record.
Nor has the country whereof I am speaking ever been visited with the Egyptian or other plagues. Never has any member of its population beheld a dire manifestation of Heaven, nor a thunderbolt, nor an unlooked-for darkness; nor do venomous vermin abide there, and the locust comes. not thither, and lions, tigers, bears, and wolves are unknown (owing to the fact that the country contains no fastnesses for them to dwell in). In short, over the fields and around the village wander only lowing cattle, bleating sheep, and cackling poultry.
Yet none but God knows whether a poet or a visionary would find himself satisfied with the natural features of this peaceful spot. Such gentlemen, we know, love to gaze upon the moon, and to listen to the strains of nightingales; they love to see Luna clothe herself in coquettish, aureate cloud, and then glide mysteriously through the boughs of trees, and send forth clusters of silver beams to delight the eyes of her worshippers. But in this country of Oblomov's dream no one knows such a moon; there Luna's features, as she looks down upon the villages and the fields, resembles, rather, a polished, cheery copper basin, and in vain would the poet fasten ravished eyes upon her, for she would return his gaze with the same indifference as that with which a round-faced rustic beauty meets the eloquent, passionate glances of a town gallant.
Nor has a nightingale ever been heard in that country—perchance for the reason that the region contains no shaded arbours or gardens of roses. But what an abundance of quails it can show!—so much so that in summer, when the harvest is in course of being gathered, urchins can catch them even in their hands! Yet it must not be supposed that thereafter the quails furnish a gastronomic dainty. Such an outrage would be repugnant to the moral sense of the inhabitants, since the quail is a bird, and therefore legally prohibited from being used for food. Consequently it lives but to delight the popular ear with its song, and in almost every house there hangs beneath the eaves a wicker cage wherein a member of that feathered species sits penned.
Even the general aspect of this modest, unaffected spot would fail to please the poet or the visionary. Never would it be theirs to behold a scene in which all nature—woodland, lake, cotter's hut, and sandy hillside—is burning with a purplish glow, while sharply defined against a purple background may be seen, moving along a sandy, winding road, a cavalcade of countrymen in attendance upon some great lady who is journeying towards a ruined castle—a castle where they will find awaiting them the telling of legends concerning the Wars of the Roses, the eating of wild goats for supper, and the singing of ballads to the lute by a young English damsel—a scene of Scottish or Swiss flavour of the kind which has been made familiar to our imagination by the pen of Sir Walter Scott.
Of this there is nothing in our country. How quiet and dreamy are the three or four villages which constitute that restful region! They lie not far from one another, and seem to have been thrown into their respective positions by some giant hand, and ever since to have maintained those positions. In particular, one hut stands on the edge of a ravine, with one-half its bulk projecting over the declivity, but supported on three props. Within it some three or four generations have spent happy, peaceful lives; for though it looks scarcely large enough to house a chicken, it is none the less tenanted by a well-to-do peasant and his wife. Onisim Suslov is the peasant's name, and he cannot stand upright in his abode. The veranda actually overhangs the ravine, and to reach it one has with one hand to grasp the herbage, and, with the other, the gable before setting foot upon the structure itself. Another of the huts is, as it were, gummed to the side of a hill, like a swallow's nest, while three others stand close beside it, and two are situated at the bottom of the ravine.
In the village all is quiet. The doors of its solitary little dwellings stand open, but not a soul is to be seen. Only the flies circle and buzz in clusters. Were you to enter one of the huts, you would call aloud in vain, for your only answer would be the deathlike silence, except that here and there you might hear the gasping of an invalid or the deep cough of some old woman who is living out her days upon the stove. Also, there might appear from behind the fence a long-haired, barefooted youngster of three, clad only in a shirt, who would gaze mutely at the new-comer, and then timidly hide himself again.
The same deep silence, the same deep peace, lies also upon the fields. Only somewhere over the distant soil there can be seen moving, like an ant, a sunburnt ploughman. Occasionally he leans upon his plough to clear his forehead of the sweat. Even the manners of that region are possessed of a still restfulness which nothing can disturb. Never has a robbery or a murder or a similar happening been known there; never have the inhabitants succumbed to strong passions, or experienced hazardous adventures. Indeed, what passions, what adventures would have the power to move them? No man has ever strayed beyond his own circle, for the local inhabitants dwell far from other men, and both the nearest village and the nearest country town lie distant from twenty-five to thirty versts. True, at given seasons the peasants cart their grain to the river wharf which lies nearest to them, and once a year, also, they attend a fair; but they maintain no relations beyond these. In fact, all their interests are centred in themselves. True, they know that eighty versts away there stands the provincial capital; but few of them have ever journeyed thither. Also they know that beyond it stand Saratov and Nizhni Novgorod—likewise they have heard that such places as Moscow and Petrograd exist, and that on the farther side of them dwell folk who are known as Germans and French; but beyond that point there begins for them, as it did for the ancients, a mysterious world of unknown countries which are peopled with monsters and two-headed giants, and bounded on the outer side by a void of mist, and, again, by the colossal fish which bears the world on its back. Moreover, since this peaceful corner of the universe is almost inaccessible, there filters thither but few items of news concerning the great white universe. Indeed, even traders in rustic wares who live twenty versts away know no more than they do. Likewise, it never enters into their heads to compare their lot with those of other men—to inquire whether other men are rich or poor, comfortable or in need, for these peasants live in the fortunate belief that no circumstances could ever be different to their own—that all other folk must surely be living even as they are, and that to live in any other fashion would be a sin. Were you to assure them that others plough, sow, reap, or sell their produce in any way than that which obtains in this particular spot, the inhabitants would not believe you. That being so, how could any element of vexation or disturbance ever come nigh them? True, they resemble the rest of humanity in that they have their cares and weaknesses and obligations of tax-payment and fits of laziness and lethargy; but these press upon them but lightly, and occasion no real stirring of the blood. Indeed, during the past five years not a single soul of that local population of hundreds has died either a violent death or a natural. Even should a man or a woman expire of old age or a senile disease, it is not long before the rest have got over their astonishment at the unusual occurrence. In the same way, after the trader Tarass had come near to steaming himself to death in his hut, and had had to be revived with cold water, the affair caused scarcely any stir in the neighbourhood.
Of crimes, one only—that of theft of produce from market gardens—is at all prevalent. Also, once two pigs and a chicken mysteriously disappeared. True, the latter event threw the district into something of a turmoil, but was unanimously ascribed to a pedlar who, the previous evening, had passed through the district on his way to a fair. In general, such untoward incidents are of the greatest rarity.
However, in a ditch in a paddock near the bridge once there was found lying a man—apparently a member of a party which had just traversed the neighbourhood en route for the country town. Some boys were the first to notice him, and at once they came running home with a horrifying tale of a great serpent or werewolf which was crouching in a hole. To this they added a statement that the said creature had pursued them, and come near to devouring Kuzka. From far and near the peasants armed themselves with hatchets and pitchforks, and proceeded to the ditch en masse.
"Whither away?" the old men said reprovingly. "Are you mad? What do you want to do? Leave things alone, and no harm will come of it!"
Nevertheless the peasants set forth, and, when about a hundred paces from the spot, began to adjure the monster in varying terms. But no answer was returned. Next, after halting a moment, the party advanced a little further. The man seemed still to be lying in the ditch, with his head resting against a fence, while beside him lay a satchel and a cudgel (on the latter of which was slung a pair of boots). Yet the peasants could not summon up the necessary courage to approach him or to touch him.
"Hi, friend!" they shouted—one scratching his head and another the back of his neck. "What are you doing there? Who are you? What is the matter?"
The traveller made as though to raise his head a little, but failed. Evidently he was ill or tired out. Then a peasant ventured to touch him with a pitchfork.
"Don't interfere with him, don't interfere with him!" cried the rest. "How do we know what he is, seeing that he refuses to speak? Leave him alone, friends!"
"Yes, we had better go away," added certain others. "What has he to do with us? Harm might come of him."
So all returned to the village, and told the elder men that, lying in a ditch, there was a strange man who would not speak, and whose identity was known only to God.
"If he does not belong to these parts, leave him alone," advised the elders from the spot where, with hands on knees, they were sitting resting on a bank. "Yes, leave him to himself. 'Tis no use your going there."
This, then, was the corner of the world whither Oblomov passed in his sleep. Of the three or four scattered villages in the region, one was named Sosnovka, and a second Vavilovka—the two being distant from one another about a verst. Together they constituted Oblomov's hereditary estate, and bore the joint title of Oblomovka. In Sosnovka stood the manor-house and the farm, while five versts from the village there lay the hamlet of Verklevo—once the property of the Oblomovs, but long since passed into other hands. The same hamlet had attached to it a number of outlying huts. As a whole, Verklevo belonged to a rich landowner, a constant absentee, and the estate was managed by a German bailiff. There you have the geography of this remote corner of the world.
Oblomov dreamed that, aged seven, he awoke in his little cot at home. He felt merry and full of life. What a goodly, handsome, plump youngster he was, with cheeks of such rotundity that, however desperately any other young scamp might have tried to rival them by inflation of his own, no competitor could possibly have succeeded. Oblomov's nurse had long been waiting for him to awake, and now she began to draw on for him his stockings. This he refused to allow her to do; which end he attained by frisking and kicking, while she tried to catch hold of his leg, and the pair laughed joyously together. Finally, she lifted him on to her lap, and washed him, and combed his hair; after which she conducted him to his mother. On seeing his long-dead parent, the sleeping Oblomov's form trembled with delight and affection, and from under his unconscious eyelids there stole and remained two burning tears… .
Upon him his mother showered affectionate kisses, and gazed at him with tender solicitude to see whether his eyes were clear and healthy. Did he in any way ail? she inquired. Had he (this to his nurse) slept quietly, or had he lain awake all night? Had he had any dreams? Had he been at all feverish? Lastly, she took him by the hand, and led him to the sacred ikon. Kneeling with one arm around his form, she prompted him in the words of the prayers, while the boy repeated them with scanty attention, since he preferred, rather, to turn his eyes to the windows, whence the freshness and scent of a lilac-tree was flooding the room.
"Shall we go for a walk to-day, mamma?" suddenly he asked.
"Yes, darling," she replied hastily, but kept her gaze fixed upon the ikon, and hurriedly concluded the sacred formula. Yet into the words of that formula her very soul was projected, whereas the little one repeated them only in nonchalant fashion.
The prayer over, they went to greet his father, and then to take morning tea. Beside the table Oblomov could see seated the aunt of eighty who had always lived with them. Never did she cease to grumble at the ancient serving-maid who, her head trembling with senility, stood behind her chair to wait upon her. Also there were present three old maiden ladies who were distant relatives of his father's; a weak-minded gentleman named Chekmenev, who, the brother-in-law of Oblomov's mother, was the owner of seven serfs, and happened to be staying with Oblomov's parents; and certain other old men and women. The latter, the domestic staff and retinue of the Oblomov family, caught hold of the little Ilya Ilyitch, and started to heap him with caresses and attentions—so much so that he had much ado to wipe away the traces of these unsought kisses. Then there began the feeding of the child with rolls, biscuits, and cream; after which his mother bestowed upon him another embrace, and sent him out to walk round the garden and the courtyard and the lake—accompanying her farewell with particular instructions to the nurse that never must she leave the child alone for a single moment, nor yet must she allow him to approach the horses, the dogs, or the goat, nor yet must she take him far from home. Above all things, never must the nurse suffer him to approach the ravine, which was the most dreaded spot in the neighbourhood, and bore an evil reputation. Once there had been found there a dog which confessed itself a mad one, inasmuch as it had run headlong from folk who chased it with hatchets and pitchforks, and had disappeared behind a neighbouring hill. Likewise to the ravine carrion was carted, while robbers and wolves and various other creatures which never existed in the world at all were supposed to dwell there.
But to these warnings of his mother's the child paid little heed. Already he was outside, in the courtyard. With gleeful surprise (as though for the first time in his life) he went the round of his parents' establishment, with its gates sagging outwards, its dinted roof where lichen grew, its tottering veranda, its various annexes and outbuildings, and its overgrown garden. Also he yearned to ascend to the hanging gallery which girdled the house, that thence he might see the river; but the gallery was now in decay, and scarcely able to hold together, so that none but the servants trod it, and at no time did the gentry walk there. Heedless of his mother's warnings, however, the little Oblomov was on the point of making for its seductive steps when the nurse showed herself on the veranda, and caught hold of him. Next, he rushed from her towards the hay-loft, with the intention of scaling its steep ladder; and just had she time to destroy successive schemes of ascending to the pigeon-cote, of penetrating to the cattle-yard, and—Heaven preserve us all!—of making his way to the ravine!
"God bless the child!" exclaimed the nurse. "Will you be quiet, then, young sir? You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" Indeed, the whole day, as well as every day and every night, was spent by her in similar alarums and excursions, in alternations of torture and relief on the child's account, in terror because he had fallen and broken his nose, in gratification at his warm, childish caresses, and in dim anxiety concerning his ultimate future. Only these and like emotions made her old heart beat and her old blood grow warm; only these retained in her the drowsy life which, but for them, would long ago have flickered out.
Yet the child was not always mischievous. Sometimes he would grow suddenly quiet as, sitting beside her, he gazed fixedly before him with his childish intellect taking in the various phenomena which presented themselves to his vision. Such phenomena were sinking fast into his mind, to grow and ripen there even as it grew and ripened.
The morning was a splendid one, and the air still fresh, since the sun had not yet attained much height. From the house, from the trees, from the dovecote, and from the gallery there streamed long shadows which formed, in the garden and in the orchard, cool corners which invited meditation and sleep. Only in the distance a rye-field was glowing with flame, and the river sparkling and flashing in the rays of the sun until actually it hurt the eyes to look at it.
"Why is it so dark in one place and bright in another?" asked the child. "Will it soon be bright everywhere?"
"Yes. That is because the sun has come out to meet the moon, and at times keeps frowning because he cannot catch sight of her. By and by he will catch sight of her. Then he will send out his light once more."
The child pondered, and gazed at the scene around him. Before him he could see Antip driving the watercart, with another Antip, ten times as large as the real one, accompanying him, and the barrel of the cart looking as large as a house, and the horse's shadow covering the whole of the pond. Then the shadows seemed to take two strides across the pond, and then to move behind the hill, though the figure of Antip had not yet left the courtyard. In his turn the child took a couple of strides, and then a third, to see if he too would end by disappearing behind the hill, which he had a great longing to ascend, for the purpose of ascertaining what had become of the horse. Consequently he set off towards the gates—but only to hear his mother calling from a window—"Nurse, nurse, do you not see that the boy has just run out into the sunshine? Pray bring him back into the shade, or he will get a sunstroke, and be ill, and sick, and unable to eat! Besides, he might run down into the ravine!"
"Oh, the naughty darling!" the nurse muttered to herself as she dragged him back on to the veranda. The child looked about him with the keen, observant glance of a "grown-up" who is debating how best a morning can be spent. Not a trifle, not a circumstance, escaped the child's inquisitive attention, so that insensibly the picture of his home life engraved itself upon his mind, and his sensitive intellect nourished itself on living examples, and involuntarily modelled its programme of life on the life which surrounded it.
Never at any time could it be said that the morning was wasted in the Oblomovs' establishment. The sound of knives in. the kitchen as they minced cutlets and vegetables, reached even to the village; while from the servants' quarters came the hum of a spindle, coupled with the thin, low voice of an old woman—but a voice so low that with difficulty could one distinguish whether she were weeping, or whether she were merely improvising to herself a mournful "song without words." Also, on Antip returning with the watercart, there would advance to meet it, with pails, cans, and pitchers, a number of maidservants and grooms, while from the storehouse an old woman would a vessel of meal and a pile of eggs, and carry them to the kitchen. There, on the cook suddenly throwing some water out of the window, the cat Arapka—which, with eyes fixed upon the view, had spent the morning in agitating the tip of her tail and licking herself—came in for a splashing.
The head of the family, too, was not idle, for he spent the morning in sitting by the window and following with his eyes everything which took place in the courtyard.
"Hi, Ignashka, what have you there, you rascal?" he cried to a man who happened to cross the open space.
"Some knives to be sharpened in the scullery," the man replied, without looking at his master.
"Very well, then. Mind you sharpen them properly."
Next, the master stopped one of the maid-servants.
"Where are you going?" he inquired.
"To the cellar to get some milk for the table," she replied, shading her eyes with her hand.
"Good!" he pronounced. "And see that you don't spill any. You, Zakharka—where are you off to once more? This is the third time I have seen you gadding about. Go back to your place in the hall." Whereupon Zakharka returned to her day-dreams at the post mentioned. Again, as soon as the cows returned from pasture, old Oblomov was always there to see that they were properly watered. Also, when, from his post at the window, he chanced to observe the yard-dog chasing one of the hens he hastened to take the necessary measures against a recurrence of such conduct. In the same way, his wife was fully employed. For three hours she discussed with Averka, the tailor, the best ways and means of converting a waistcoat of her husband's into a jacket for her son—herself drawing the requisite lines in chalk, and seeing to it that Averka should pilfer not a morsel of the cloth. Thereafter she passed to the maids' room, where she parcelled out to each damsel the day's portion of lacemaking; whence she departed to summon one of her personal maids to attend her in the garden, for the purpose of seeing how the apples were swelling, which of them had fallen or were turning ripe, which trees wanted grafting or pruning, and so forth. But her chief care was the kitchen and the dinner. Concerning the latter she consulted the entire household, including the aged aunt. Each member of the family proposed a special dish, and the sum of these proposals was taken into consideration, adjudicated upon in detail, and adopted or rejected according to the final decision of the mistress. From time to time, also, a maid was dispatched to the culinary regions to remind the cook of this, or to tell her to add that, or to instruct her to change the other, while conveying to her sugar, honey, and wine for flavouring, and also seeing to it that the said cook was using everything which had been measured out. In fact, the supervision of food was the first and the principal domestic preoccupation of Oblomovka. What calves were not fattened for the year's festivals! What poultry was not reared! What forethought and care and skill were not devoted to the consumption of comestibles! Game fowls and pullets were set apart solely for birthdays and other solemn occasions wherefore they were stuffed with nuts. For the same reason geese were caught several days beforehand, and hung up in bags until wanted, in order that, being restrained from exercise, they might put on the more fat. And what a roasting and a pickling and a baking would sometimes take place, and what mead and kvass were there not brewed, and what pies were there not compounded!
Until noon, therefore, everything at Oblomovka was in a state of bustle and commotion. Life was indeed full and antlike and in evidence! Even on Sundays and holidays these labour-loving ants did not desist from their toil, for on such days the clatter of knives in the kitchen sounded louder and more rapid than ever, a maid made several journeys from the storeroom to the kitchen with double quantities of meal and eggs, and in the poultry-run an added amount of cackling and of bloodshed took place. Likewise, on such days there was baked a gigantic pie, which was eaten by the gentry on the same and the following days, and by the maids on the third and fourth; after which, should it survive to the fifth day, the last stale remnants, devoid of stuffing, were given, as a special favour, to Antip, who, crossing himself, undauntedly attacked the rock-hard fragments—though it was in the thought that it had recently been the gentry's pie rather than in the pie itself that he took most delight; even as an archæologist rejoices to drink even the poorest wine from the shell of a thousand-year-old vessel.
All this the boy noted with his childish, ever-watchful mind. He perceived that, after mornings thus usefully and busily spent, there ensued noon and dinner. On the present occasion noontide was sultry, and not a cloud was in the sky. Indeed, the sun seemed to be standing still to scorch the grass, and the air to have ceased to circulate—to be hanging without the slightest movement. Neither from tree nor lake could the faintest rustle be heard, and over the village and the countryside there hung an unbroken stillness, as though everything in them were dead. Only from afar could a human voice be distinguished, while, some twenty sazhens away, the drone of a flying beetle, with the snoring of some one who had sunk into the thick herbage to enjoy a refreshing sleep, came gently to the ear. Even the house was possessed by a silence as of death, for the hour of post-prandial slumber had arrived. The boy's father, mother, and aged grand-aunt, with their attendants, could be seen disposed in various corners; and, should any one not possess a particular corner, he or she repaired either to the hay-loft or to the garden or to a cool resting-place among the growing hay or, with face protected from the flies with a handkerchief, to a spot where the scorching heat would assist digestion after the enormous dinner. Even the gardener stretched himself out beneath a bush by the side of his plot, and the coachman in the stable.
Little Oblomov proceeded to peep into the servants' hall, where the inmates were sleeping as though slumber had become an epidemic. On the benches, on the floor, and on the threshold they slept, while their children crawled about the courtyard and fashioned mud pies. Indeed, the very dogs had crawled into their kennels, since there was no longer any one to bark at. In short, one might have traversed the entire establishment without meeting a single soul; and everything in it could with ease have been stolen, and removed in carts from the courtyard, since no one would have been there to prevent the deed. The prevailing lethargy was all-consuming, all-conquering—a true image of death; seeing that, but for the fact that from various corners there came snores in different notes and keys, every one seemed wholly to have departed this life. Only at rare intervals would some one raise his head with a start, gaze around him with vacant eyes, and then turn over to the other side.
After dinner the child accompanied his nurse for a second airing out of doors. Yet, despite her mistress's injunctions and her own resolves, the old woman could not altogether resist the general call of sleep, and began to fall a victim to the all-prevalent malady of Oblomovka. At first she kept a vigilant eye upon her little charge, and, chiding him for his waywardness, never let him stray from her side; but presently, after giving him strict instructions not to go beyond the gates, nor to interfere with the goat, nor to climb either the dovecote or the gallery, she settled herself in a shady spot, with the ostensible intention of at once knitting a stocking and of watching over young Oblomov. Next she took to checking him only in lazy fashion, as her head nodded and she said to herself: "Look you, he will certainly climb those stairs to the gallery, or else "—her eyes had almost closed—"he will run down into the ravine." With that her head sank forward, and the stocking slipped from her hands. In a second her open mouth had emitted a gentle snore, and the boy had disappeared from her vision.
Needless to say, this was the moment which the youngster had been impatiently awaiting, for it marked the beginning of an independent existence, and he was now alone in the wide, wide world. On tiptoe he left the nurse's side, and, peeping cautiously at the other slumberers, kept stopping to throw a second glance at any one who chanced to stir, or to spit, or to snuffle in his sleep. At last, with a tremor of joy in his heart, he made for the gallery, ascended the creaking stairs at a run, scaled also the dovecote, explored the recesses of the garden, listened to the buzzing of beetles, and followed with his eyes their flight through the air. Next, on hearing a chirping sound in the grass, he sought and captured the disturber of the public peace, in the shape of a dragon-fly, whose wings he proceeded to tear off, and whose body to impale upon a straw, in order that he might see how, thus hampered, the creature would contrive to fly. Afterwards, fearing almost to breathe, he watched a spider suck blood from a captured fly, while the wretched victim struggled and buzzed in the spider's claws. Finally the tragedy was brought to an end by the boy slaying both torturer and tortured. Next, he repaired to the moat to search for sundry small roots which he knew of; which found, he peeled them, and then devoured the same with relish, in the make-believe that they were the apples and preserves which his mamma was accustomed to give him. This item exhausted, he hied him through the entrance gates—his object in so doing being to reach a birch copse which looked to him so close at hand that, should he take the direct route, and not the circuitous high-road (that is to say, should he walk straight across the moat, and through the osier plantation), he would be able to attain his goal in five minutes. But, alas! he felt afraid, for he had heard tales of wood goblins, of brigands, and of fearsome wild beasts. Next, the spirit moved him to make for the ravine, which lay a hundred paces from the garden; so, running to the edge of the declivity, and puckering his eyes, he gazed into its depths as into Vulcan's crater. Suddenly to his mind recurred all the tales and traditions concerning the spot; and terror seized him, and, half-dead, half-alive, he rushed back and threw himself into his nurse's arms. Awakened, she sprang up, straightened the cap on her head, arranged her grey curls with one finger, and pretended never to have been to sleep at all. Glancing suspiciously at the little Ilya, and then at the gentry s windows, she began with tremulous hands to work the knitting needles of the stocking which had been lying in her lap.
Meanwhile the heat had decreased, and everything in nature had revived a little, since the sun was fast declining towards the forest. Gradually the stillness indoors also began to be broken. Here and there a door creaked, footsteps could be heard crossing the yard, and some one sneezed in the hay-loft. Soon from the kitchen a man came hurrying under the weight of a huge samovar, and the entire household then assembled for tea—one man with his face flushed and his eyes still dim, another man with red marks on his cheek and temple, a third speaking in a voice not his own for drowsiness, and all of them snuffling, wheezing, yawning, scratching their heads, and stretching themselves in a semi-waking condition. It seemed that dinner and sleep had combined to arouse an unquenchable thirst which parched the throat, for even dozens of cupfuls of tea could not assuage it, and, amid a chorus of sighs and grunts, resort had to be made to bilberry wine, to perry, to kvass, and even to more medicinal methods of moistening this avidity of gullet. The company sought relief from thirst as from a Heaven-sent plague, and all felt as exhausted as though they were travelling in the Arabian desert, and could nowhere find a spring.
By his mother's side the child gazed at the strange faces around him, and listened to the drowsy, drawling talk. Yet the spectacle delighted him, and he found each stray word interesting.
After tea every one took up some minor occupation or another. One man repaired to the riverside, and strolled along the brink—kicking pebbles into the water as he did so. Another took a seat in a window, and followed with his eyes each passing occurrence. Should a cat cross the courtyard, or a jackdaw fly by, the watcher scanned both the one and the other, and turned his head to right and to left in order to do so. In the same way will dogs spend whole days at a window—their heads thrust into the sunlight, and their gaze taking stock of every passer-by.
The mother took little Ilya's head in her hands, drew it down into her lap, and combed his hair with a gentle caress as, inviting her maids to admire him, she talked concerning his future, and preordained for him the hero's part in some splendid epic. For their part, the maids foretold for him mountains of gold.
At length dusk began to draw in. Once more the fire crackled in the kitchen, and the clatter of knives became audible. Supper was being prepared. Meanwhile the rest of the servants gathered at the entrance gates, and thence came sounds of laughter, and of music, and of the playing of gorielki. The sun had sunk behind the forest, yet still was sending forth rays in a fiery, faintly warm streak which, as it passed over the surface of the treetops, touched to gold the tips of the pines. Finally these rays successively expired, until only a solitary beam could be seen fixed, needle-like, in a cluster of boughs before going to join its comrades. Objects then began to lose their outline, and the scene to become blurred in, first greyness, then a blank almost of total obscurity. The songs of birds grew fainter, then ceased altogether, save for one persistent singer which, as though disagreeing with its fellows, continued to break the silence with intermittent warbling. Presently it too took to uttering its song at rarer intervals, and to whistling with more feeble insistence; until finally it breathed a last soft-drawn note, gave a flutter or two which gently stirred the foliage around it, and—fell asleep.
After that all was silent, save that some crickets were chirping in chorus and against one another. A mist was rising from the earth, and spreading over lake and river. Like everything else, the latter had sunk to rest; and though something caused it to splash for a last time, the water instantly resumed its absolute immobility. In the air a dampness could be detected, and the air itself could be felt growing warmer and warmer. Amid it the trees looked like groups of monsters; and when, suddenly, something cracked in the weird depths of the forest, it might have been thought that one of those monsters had been shifting its position, and with its foot had snapped a dry bough in doing so. Overhead, the first star could be seen glowing like a living eye, while in the windows of the house were a few twinkling lights. The hour of nature's most solemn, all-embracing silence had arrived—the hour when the creative brain can work at its best, and when poetic thought seethes most ardently, and when the heart flames with the greatest heat of passion or with the greatest poignancy of grief—the hour when the cruel soul ripens to a maximum of strength and composure as it meditates evil—the hour when, at Oblomovka, every one settled down to a night of profound, calm restfulness.
"Let us go for a walk," said little Ilya to his mother.
"God bless the child!" she cried. "How could we go for a walk? It is now damp, and you would get your little feet wet. Besides, we should find it dreadful out of doors, for at this hour the wood goblin is abroad, and he carries off little boys."
"To what place does he carry them, and what is he like, and where does he live?" asked the child; whereupon the mother gave full rein to her unbridled fancy. As she did so the child listened with blinking eyes until at length, on sleep completely overcoming him, the nurse approached, took him from his mother's lap, and bore him to bed, with his head hanging over her shoulder.
"Another day is over, praise be to God!" said the inmates of Oblomovka as, yawning, they made the sign of the cross and then retired to rest. "Well spent it has been, and God send that to-morrow be like it. Glory, O Lord, to Thee this night! Glory, O Lord, to Thee!"
Oblomov dreamed a second dream. On a long winter's evening he was pressing close to his nurse, and she was whispering of some unknown country where neither cold nor darkness were known, and where miracles took place, and where rivers ran honey and milk, and where no one did anything the year round, and where only good boys like Ilya Ilyitch himself walked day by day in company with maidens such as neither tongue nor pen could hope to describe. Also (the nurse said) there dwelt there a kind witch who sometimes revealed herself to mortals in the shape of a pikefish; and this witch singled out as her especial favourite a quiet, inoffensive boor who formerly had been the butt of his fellows, and, for some unknown reason, heaped him with her bounty, so that always he possessed plenty to eat, and clothes ever ready to wear, and ended by marrying a marvellous beauty whose name was Militrissa Kirbitievna.
The nurse related the story, and the child, with alert eyes and ears, hung upon her words. So artfully did the nurse or tradition eliminate from the story all resemblance to everyday life that the boy's keen intellect and imagination, fired by the device, remained enthralled until, in later years, he had come even to man's estate. As a matter of fact, the tale which the nurse thus lovingly related was the legend of the fool Emel—that clever, biting satire upon our forefathers and, it may be, also upon ourselves. True, in proportion as he grew up, little Oblomov came to learn that no such things as rivers of honey and milk, or even such persons as kind witches, really existed; yet, though he came to smile at his nurse's stories, that smile was never wholly sincere, since always it would be accompanied by a sigh. For him the legend confounded itself with life, and, unconsciously, he found himself regretting that the legend differed from life, and that life differed from the legend. Involuntarily he would dream of Militrissa Kirbitievna, and feel attracted towards the country whereof nothing was known except that folk there went for walks, and were free from sorrow and care. Never could he rid himself of a longing to spend his days in lying upon the stove (even as the favourite of the legend had done), and to be dressed in ready-made, unearned clothes, and to eat at the expense of a benevolent witch. To the same story had his father and his grandfather listened as, shaped according to the stereotyped version current throughout antiquity, it had issued from the mouths of male and female nurses through the long course of ages and of generations.
Then Oblomov's nurse proceeded to draw another picture for the imagination of her charge. That is to say, she told him of the exploits of the Russian Achilleses and Ulysseses, and of the manner in which those heroes had been used to wander about Russia, and to kill and slay; and of how once they had disputed as to which of them could best drain a beaker of wine at a draught. Also, she told the boy of cruel robbers, of sleeping princesses, and of cities and peoples which had been turned into stone. Lastly, she passed to Russian demonology, to dead folk, to monsters, and to werewolves. With a simplicity, yet a sincerity, worthy of Homer, with a lifelike similitude of detail and a power of clear-cut relief that might have vied with the great Greek poet's, she fired the boy's intellect and imagination to a love for that Iliad which our heroes founded during the dim ages when man had not yet become adapted to the sundry perils and mysteries of nature and of life—when still he trembled before werewolves and wood demons, and sought refuge with protectors like Alesha Popovitch from the calamities which surrounded him—when air and water and forest and field alike were under the continued sway of the supernatural. Truly the life of a mortal of those days must have been full of fear and trembling, seeing that, should he but cross his threshold, he stood in danger of being devoured by a wild beast, or of having his throat cut by a brigand, or of being despoiled of his all by a Tartar, or of disappearing from human ken without trace left! Again, celestial portents would be seen in the shape of pillars and balls of fire, while over a freshly made grave a light would glow, and some one would seem to be walking through the forest with a lantern, and laughing horribly, and flashing bright eyes amid the gloom. And in man's own personality much that passed his understanding would also take shape and materialize. No matter how long or how righteously a man might have lived, he would suddenly start babbling, or shout aloud in a voice not his own, or go wandering o' nights in a trance, or involuntarily begin beating and assaulting his fellows. And just at the moment when such things happened a hen would crow like a cock, and a raven would croak from the gable! Consequently feeble mankind, peering tremblingly at life, sought in its own imagination, its own nature, a key to the mysteries which surrounded it: and it may be that the immobility, the inertia, the absence of all active passion or incident or peril which such a retired existence imposed upon man led him to create, in the midst of the world of nature, another and an impossible world, in which he found comfort and relief for his idle intellect, explanations of the more ordinary sequences of events, and extraneous solutions of extraordinary phenomena. In fact, our poor forefathers lived by instinct. Neither wholly giving rein to nor wholly restraining their volition, they found themselves either naïvely surprised at or overcome with terror by the evils and the misfortunes which befell them, and resorted for the causes of these things to the dim, dumb hieroglyphics of nature. In their opinion, death might come of carrying a corpse from a house head foremost instead of with feet in front, and a fire be caused by the fact of a dog having howled, three nights running, beneath a window. Hence always they were at pains to remove a dead person feet foremost—though continuing to eat the same quantity of food as before, and to sleep on the bare ground; while, with regard to a howling dog, always they drove away the animal with blows—though continuing to scatter sparks broadcast over tinder-dry floors.
To this day the Russian, though surrounded by a stern, unimaginative world of reality, loves to believe the seductive tales of antiquity. And long will it be before he will have been weaned from that belief. In the Same way, as little Oblomov listened to his nurse's legends concerning the Golden Fleece, the great Cassowary Bird, and the cells and secret dungeons of the Enchanted Castle, he became more and more fired to the idea that he too was destined to become the hero of doughty deeds. Tale succeeded to tale, and the nurse pursued her narrative with such ardour and vividness and attractiveness of description that at times her breath choked in her throat. For she too half-believed the legends which she related; so that, during the telling of them, her eyes would shoot fire, her head shake with excitement, and her voice attain an unwonted pitch, while the child, overcome with mysterious horror, would press closer and closer to her side, and have tears in his eyes. Whether the narrative treated of dead men rising from the tomb at midnight, or of victims languishing in slavery to a monster, or of a bear with a wooden leg which went roaming the villages and farms in search of the natural limb which had been chopped from its body, the boy's hair bristled with fear, his childish imagination alternately seethed and froze, and he experienced the harassing, the sickly sweet, process of having his nerves played upon like the strings of an instrument. When his nurse repeated the words of the bear, "Creak, creak, wooden leg! I have visited every village and farm, and have found all the women asleep save one, who is now sitting on my back, and searing my flesh, and weaving my coat into cloth"; when, also, the bear entered the right hut, and was just getting ready to pounce upon the true ravisher of his natural leg—why, then the boy could stand it no longer, but, trembling and whimpering, flung himself into his nurse's arms with tears of terror—yet also with a laugh of joy to think that he was not in the clutches of the bear, but sitting on the stove couch beside his old guardian. Full of strange phantoms was his mind, and fear and grief had sunk deep (and, possibly, for ever) into his soul. Mournfully he gazed about him, and saw that everything in life was charged with evil and misfortune. And as he did so he would keep thinking of the magic country where neither cruelty nor noise nor grief existed, and where Militrissa Kirbitievna lived, and where folk were fed and clothed for nothing… .
Not only over the Oblomovkan children, but also over the Oblomovkan adults, did this legend exercise a lifelong sway. Every one in the house and the village alike—from the barin and his wife down to the blacksmith Tarass—became a trifle nervous as evening drew on, seeing that at that hour every tree became transformed into a giant, and every bush into a robbers' den. The rattle of a shutter, the howl of the wind in the chimney, caused these folk to turn pale. At Epiphany-tide not a man or a woman of them would go out of doors after ten o'clock at night; and never during the season of Easter would any one venture o' nights into the stable, lest there he should be confronted by the domovoi, by the horse demon.
At Oblomovka everything was believed in—including even ghosts and werewolves. Had you informed an inmate of the place that a haycock was walking about in the fields, he would have believed it. Had you spread abroad a rumour that (say) a certain sheep was not a sheep at all, but something else, or that Martha or Stepanida had become turned into a witch, the company would thenceforth have walked in terror both of the sheep and of the maidservant. Never would their heads have thought it necessary to inquire why the sheep had ceased to be a sheep, or why Martha or Stepanida had become turned into a witch. Rather these credulous folk would have thrown themselves upon any doubter—so strong was Oblomovka's belief in supernatural phenomena.
Later, little Oblomov came to see that the world is ordered on a simple plan, and that dead folk never rise from the tomb, and that no sooner do giants appear than they are clapped into booths, as robbers are cast into prison: yet, though his actual belief in such marvels vanished, there remained behind a sediment of terror and of unaccountable sadness. Nothing was to be apprehended from monsters—that he knew full well; but always he stood in awe of something which seemed to be awaiting him at every step; and, if left alone in a dark room, or if fated to catch sight of a corpse, he would tremble with that sense of oppressive foreboding which his infancy had instilled into his very being. Inclined, of a morning, to laugh at his fears, of an evening his countenance paled again.
In the next dream Oblomov saw himself a boy of thirteen or fourteen. By this time he was going to school at the village of Verklevo, five versts from Oblomovka, where an old German named Schtoltz kept a small educational establishment for the sons of neighbouring gentry. Schtoltz had a son of his own—one Andrei, a boy almost of the same age as Oblomov; while likewise he had been given charge of a boy who did few lessons, for the reason that he suffered from scrofula and was accustomed to spend most of his days with his eyes and ears bandaged, and weepiog quietly because he was not living with his grandmother, but, rather, in a strange house and amid hard-hearted folk who never petted him or baked him his favourite pies. These three boys constituted the only pupils. As for the tutor himself, he was both capable and strict—like most Germans; wherefore Oblomov might have received a good education had Oblomovka stood five hundred versts from Verklevo. As it was, the atmosphere, the mode of life, and the customs of Oblomovka extended also to Verklevo, and the one place represented a sort of replica of the other, until only old Schtoltz's establishment stood clear of the primordial mist of laziness, of simplicity of morals, of inertia, and of immobility for which Oblomovka was distinguished. With the scenes, the incidents, and the morals of that mode of life young Oblomov's mind and heart had become saturated before even he had seen his first book. Who knows how early the growth of the intellectual germ in the youthful brain begins? Can we, in that youthful consciousness, follow the growth of first impressions and ideas? Possibly, even before a child has learnt to speak, or even to walk, or even to do more than to look at things with the dumb, fixed gaze which his elders call "dull," it has already discerned and envisaged the meaning, the inter-connection, of such phenomena as encompass its sphere—and that though the child is still powerless to communicate the fact, whether to itself or to others.
Thus for a long time past young Oblomov may have remarked and understood what was being said and done in his presence; for a long time past he may have understood why his father, in plush breeches and a wadded, cinnamon-coloured coat, walked to and fro with his hands behind his back, and took snuff, and sneezed, while his mother passed from coffee to tea, and from tea to dinner, in the daily round, and his father always refused to believe how many sheaves had been cut and reaped, but was for ever looking out for derelictions of duty, and, a handkerchief in his hand, holding forth on the subject of irregularities, and turning the whole place upside down. Briefly, for a long time past the boy may have decided in his mind that that, and no other, order of life was the right one. For how else could he have decided? In what manner did the "grown-ups" of Oblomovka live? God only knows whether they ever asked themselves for what purpose life had been given them. Did they, at all events, return themselves any answer to that question? No, no answer at all, since the whole thing seemed to them at once simple and clear. Had they, then, never heard of a hard life wherein people walk with anxious hearts, and roam the face of the earth, and devote their existence to everlasting toil? No, the good folk of Oblomovka had no belief in disturbing the mind; they never adopted as their mode of life a round of ceaseless aspirations somewhither, and towards an indefinite end. In fact, they feared the distraction of passion as they did fire; and as, in other spheres, men's and women's bodies burn with the volcanic violence of inward and spiritual flame, so the souls of the denizens of Oblomovka lay plunged in an undisturbed inertia which possessed their ease-loving organisms to the core. Consequently, life did not stamp them, as it stamped others, with premature wrinkles; nor did it deal out to them any morally destructive blows or misfortunes. These good-humoured folk looked upon life as, rather, an idyll of peace and inactivity—though an idyll occasionally broken by such untoward incidents as sicknesses, losses, quarrels, and rare bouts of labour. That labour they endured as a punishment formerly imposed upon their forefathers also; yet they never loved it, and invariably escaped its incidence whenever they found it possible so to do. Such an avoidance they considered permissible, for never did they worry themselves with vague moral or intellectual questions. In this manner they flourished in constant health and cheerfulness: for which reason most of them lived to a green old age. Men of forty would look like youths, and old men, instead of battling with the approach of a hard and painful end, lived to the utmost possible limit, and then died, as it were, unawares, and with a gentle chilling of the frame, and an imperceptible drawing of the closing breath. No wonder that in these days folk say that the people used to be more robust!
Yes, it was more robust, for the reason that in those days parents did not hurry to explain to a boy the meaning of life, and to prepare him for life as for something at once difficult and solemn. No, they did not weary a child with books which would cloud his head with questions likely to devour the heart and the intellect, and to shorten existence. Rather, the standard of life was furnished him and taught him by parents who had received it ready-made from their parents, together with a testamentary injunction to preserve the integrity, the inviolability of that standard as they would have done that of the Vestal flame. As things were done in the time of Oblomovkan fathers and grandfathers, so were they done in the time of the present Oblomov's tenure of the estate. Of what needed he to think? Concerning what needed he to trouble his head? What needed he to learn? What ends needed he to compass? The Oblomovs required nothing—their life flowed like a peaceful river, and all that they had to do was to sit on the bank of that river, and to observe the inevitable phenomena which, successively, and unsought, presented themselves to the eyes of each observer.
Before the vision of the sleeping Oblomov there next uprose a series of living pictures of the three chief acts of Oblomovkan life, as played in the presence of his family, of his relatives, and of his friends—namely, the three acts of birth, of marriage, and of death. This was succeeded by a varied procession of minor incidents of life, whether grave or gay—of baptisms, birthdays, family festivals, Shrovetides, Easters, convivial feasts, family gatherings, welcomes, farewells, and occasions of official congratulation or condolence. These passed before Oblomov's vision with solemn exactitude, and also he beheld the bearing of familiar faces at these ceremonies, according as they were affected by vanity or by care. No matter what the festival might be—whether a betrothal or a solemn wedding or a name-day—every possible social rule had to be consulted, and no mistake made as to where each person was to sit, what presents, and to what value, ought to be given, who was to walk with whom at the ceremony, and what signals had best be made during its course.
Do you think, then, that goodly children would not result from such formal unitings? For answer you would need but to look at the rosy, heavy little cupids which the mothers of the place carried or led by the hand. Every one of those mothers would have insisted that their little ones were the plumpest, the whitest, and the healthiest children possible. Another local custom was to make a lark-pie as soon as spring came in. Without it spring would not have been spring at all, for observances of this kind comprised the whole life, the whole scientific knowledge, of the inhabitants, all of whose joys and sorrows were bound up with Oblomovka, and whose hearts beat high at the anticipation of such local rites and feasts and ceremonies. Yet no sooner had they christened, married, or buried an individual than they forgot both the latter and his (or her) fate, and relapsed into their usual apathy until aroused by a new occasion—by a baptism, a wedding, or other happening of the kind. Directly a child was born the parents made it their first care to perform over the little one every ceremony prescribed by decorum, and then to follow up the christening with a banquet. Thereafter the child's bringing up began according to a system dictated by the mother and the nurse for his healthy development, and for his protection from cold, from the evil eye, and from sundry other inimical influences. Indeed, no pains were spared to keep the youngster in good appetite and spirits. Also as soon as he was able to fend for himself, and a nurse had become a superfluity, his mother would be seized with a desire to procure for him a helpmeet as strong and as ruddy as himself; whereupon there would ensue a further epoch of rites and feastings, until eventually a marriage had been arranged. Always this consummation represented the epitome of life's incidents, and as soon as it was reached there began a repetition of births, rites, and banquets, until, finally, a funeral ceremony interrupted the festivities—though not for long, since other faces would appear to succeed the old ones, and children would become youths and maidens, and plight their troth to one another, and marry one another, and produce individuals similar to themselves. Thus life stretched out in a continuous, uniform chain which broke off imperceptibly only when the tomb had been reached.
True, there were times when other cares overtook the good folk of Oblomovka, but always they faced the situation with stoical immobility, and the said cares, after circling over their heads, flew away like birds which, having sought to cling to a smooth, perpendicular wall, find that they are fluttering their wings in vain against the stubborn stone, and therefore spread those pinions and depart. For instance, on one occasion a portion of the gallery around the house fell upon, and buried under its ruins, a hen-coop full of poultry, as well as, in doing so, narrowly missed a serving-woman who happened to be sitting near the spot with her husband. At once the establishment was in an uproar. Every one came running to the scene, under the impression that not only the hencoop, but also the barinia and little Ilya, were lying under the débris. Every one held up his or her hands in horror, and fell to blaming every one else for not having foreseen the catastrophe. Every one expressed surprise that the gallery had fallen, and also surprise that it had not fallen long ago. Upon that there ensued a clamour and a discussion as to how things could best be put right; after which, with sighs of regret for the poultry, the company slowly dispersed, while strictly forbidding little Ilya to approach the ruins. Three weeks later Andrushka, Petrushka, and Vassika were ordered to chop the planks and the remainder of the balustrade in pieces, and then to remove the fragments to the outbuildings, lest the road should become obstructed; and in the outbuildings those fragments tossed about until the following spring. Every time that the elder Oblomov saw them from the window he fell to thinking what had best be done with them. Summoning the carpenter, he took counsel with the man as to whether he had better build a new gallery or pull down what was left of the old one; until finally he dismissed his subordinate with the words, "Do you wait a little until I have considered the matter further." The same thing went on until, one day, either Vassika or Motika reported to the barin that that morning, while he (Vassika or Motika) had been climbing over the remains of the old gallery, the corners of it had come away from the walls, and more of the structure had fallen; whereupon the carpenter was summoned to a final consultation, and the upshot was that some of the old fragments were used to prop the remaining portions of the gallery. Sure enough, by the close of the month this had been done.
"Aye, that gallery looks as good as new, the old man said to his wife. "See how splendidly Thedot has re-erected the beams! They resemble the pillars which the Governor has just had fitted to his house. The job has been well done, and will last for a long time."
Here some one reminded him that it would be as well also to have the gates rehung and the veranda repaired, since the holes in the steps to the latter were affording access, not only to the cats, but also to the pigs.
"Yes, yes, it ought to be done," said the barin thoughtfully. Then he went out to look at the veranda. "Yes, certainly the thing is breaking up," he continued as he see-sawed one of the planks like a cradle.
"They have been loose ever since the veranda was made," some one remarked.
"How so?" asked the barin. "They are loose only because the floor has not been mended for sixteen years. It was done then by Luka. He was a carpenter, if you like! Now he is dead, may God rest his soul! Workmen are not as clever as they used to be—they merely spoil things."
From that old Oblomov turned his attention to something else; and to this day—so report has it—the veranda is rickety, though not actually fallen to pieces. Certainly Luka must have been a good workman!
However, to do the master and the mistress justice, they were capable of being shaken out of their apathy, even to the point of growing angry and heated, should any failure or misfortune occur. How, they would inquire, could such and such a matter have come to be overlooked or neglected? At once due measures must be taken. Perhaps this would be relative to the fact that the footbridge over the moat needed mending, or that the garden fence called for repairs at a spot where the planking was lying flat upon the ground and allowing the cattle to enter and spoil the shrubs. Indeed, so solicitous was the barin for his property that once, when walking in the garden, he, with his own hands, and with many grunts and groans, lifted up a length of fencing, and ordered the gardener to fix a couple of props to the same; and to this activity on the part of the proprietor was due the fact that the said fence remained upright during the whole of the remainder of the summer—until once more a winter snowstorm laid it low. Also, when Antip, with his horse and water-cart, fell through the bridge into the moat three new planks were inserted into the structure! Indeed, Antip had not recovered from his bruising before the bridge was looking almost as good as new! And even when the garden fence collapsed a second time the cows and the goats did not reap very much advantage from the event. True, they managed to devour a few currant-bushes, and also to strip a dozen lime-trees; but before they could begin also upon the apple-trees an order was issued that the fence should be properly dug in and reditched. But this was only after two cows and a goat had been caught redhanded. You should have seen the distension of their stomachs with the generous fare! …
Once more Oblomov dreamed that he was in the great, dark drawing-room at home. The long winter's evening was closing in, and his mother, seated on the sofa and engaged in quietly knitting a boy's stocking, was yawning occasionally, and scratching her head with a knitting-needle. Beside her were two maids—their heads bent over their work as industriously they fashioned a holiday garment either for young Ilya or for his father or for themselves. Meanwhile the barin, with hands clasped behind his back, was pacing cheerfully to and fro, or seating himself on a chair for a moment or two before resuming his walk. Ever and anon, too, he would take a pinch of snuff, sneeze, and then take another pinch. As for light, it came from a single tallow candle, and even the said candle was a luxury permitted only on autumn and winter evenings; for in summer every one contrived to rise and to go to bed by daylight, so that candles might be saved altogether. This was a practice which had arisen partly from custom and partly from economy. Of every commodity not produced at home, but requiring, rather, to be bought, the good folk of Oblomovka were extremely parsimonious; so that, although they would willingly slaughter a fine gamefowl or a dozen young pullets for a guest's entertainment, not a raisin too much would be put into a pudding, and every face would whiten if the said guest should pour himself out a second glassful of wine. Very seldom, however, did such contretemps occur: only the most abandoned of wretches would have done things like those—and guests of that kidney never obtained even admittance to Oblomovka. Local manners required that, what though twice or thrice invited to partake of a given dish or a given bottle of wine, the guest should not do so, since he was supposed to be aware that even the first invitation had conveyed a secret prayer that he would kindly abstain from the dish or bottle of wine after merely tasting of the same. Nor were two candles lit for every guest, since candles required to be bought in the town, and therefore, like all other purchased articles, were kept under lock and key by the lady of the house, and, with the candle-ends, were counted before being stored away.
In short, Oblomovka disliked disbursing hard cash; so much so that, however much a given article might be required, the money for it would be handed out with reluctance, however insignificant the sum. As for any considerable outlay, it was accompanied with groans, lamentations, and high words, since the Oblomovkans would suffer any kind of misfortune rather than part with their coin. For this reason the sofa in the drawing-room had long been in rags, and the leather on the barin's arm-chair leather only by courtesy, since most of its cord and rope stuffing was now exposed, and only a single strip of the original covering clung to the back of the chair—the rest having, during the past five years, become split into strips, and fallen away. For the same reason the entrance gates had sagged, and the veranda become rickety. Nevertheless, to pay out, say, from two to five hundred roubles for a given purpose, however necessary that purpose might be, seemed to the inhabitants of the establishment something almost approaching suicide. In fact, on hearing that a young landowner of the neighbourhood had gone to Moscow and there paid three hundred roubles for a dozen shirts, twenty-five for a pair of boots, and forty for a waistcoat (it was on the occasion of the landowner's marriage), old Oblomov crossed himself, and exclaimed with an expression of horror: "That young man ought to be clapped into prison!" In general, the Oblomovkans paid no heed to politico-economic axioms concerning the necessity of swift, brisk circulation of capital, or concerning the active production and exchange of commodities. In the simplicity of their souls they considered that the best theory, as well as the best practice, with regard to capital was to hoard it.
On chairs in the drawing-room there would be seated snoring, in different attitudes, the gentry and customary intimates of the house. For the most part a profound silence would reign among them, for they saw one another every day, and their respective stores of intellectual wealth had long been tapped and explored, while news from without arrived but scantily. Indeed, amid the stillness the only sound to be heard would be that of old Oblomov's heavy, workaday slippers, the dull beat of the clock in its case, and the snapping of thread as one or another of the sewing party bit or broke off a piece. Perhaps after half an hour of this one of those present would yawn—then make the sign of the cross over the lips, and murmur: "Lord, pardon me!" Next, some one would follow suit, and then a third, until the infectious desire to ventilate the lungs had gone the round of the company. Next, old Oblomov would approach the window, look through it, and say with a touch of surprise: "Only five o'clock, yet already it is dark in the courtyard!"
"Yes," some one would answer, "'tis always dark by this time. The long evenings are beginning to draw in."
In spring, contrariwise, the company would fall to expressing surprise and gratification at the thought that the long days were approaching. Yet, had you inquired what the long days meant to them, they could not possibly have told you! After this episode silence would resume its sway, until, perhaps, in snuffing the candle, some one would chance to extinguish it. Upon that every one would give a start, and one of the company would be sure to ejaculate: "An unexpected guest is making his way in our direction." In fact, it was not an uncommon phenomenon for the incident to give rise to a lengthy conversation.
Time, at Oblomovka, was reckoned mostly by festivals, by the seasons of the year, and by various family and domestic events—no reference whatsoever being made to months or to the days of a month. This may have partly arisen from the fact that none but old Oblomov were capable of distinguishing between the names of the months and the dates in a given month.
Presently the head of the family would relapse into meditation, while little Ilya, lolling behind his mother's back, would also be sunk in dreams, and at times actually dozing. Suddenly old Oblomov would (to take a typical incident) halt in the middle of his pacing, and clap his hand anxiously to the tip of his nose; whereupon there would ensue some such dialogue as the following:—
The master of the house: What on earth is the matter with me? See! Some one must have passed away, for the tip of my nose is itching!
His wife: Good Lord! Why should any one have passed away because the tip of your nose is sore? Some one has passed away only when the bridge of one's nose is hurting one. What a forgetful man you are, to be sure! Were you to say a thing like that before strangers, you would make us blush for you.
The master of the house: But every part of my nose is hurting me?
His wife: Pain at the side of it means news to come; in the eyebrows, sorrow; in the forehead, a greeting; on the right side, a man; on the left side, a woman; in the ears, rain; in the lips, a kiss; in the whiskers, a present of something to eat; in the elbow, a new place to sleep in; and in the sole of the foot, a journey.
And so forth, and so forth.
Lastly, when nine o'clock had struck there would follow supper; after which the company would disperse to rest, and sleep would once more reign over the care-free heads of the Oblomovkans.
In his dream Oblomov saw not only an evening spent in this manner, but whole weeks and months and years of such evenings. Never did anything occur to interrupt the uniformity of that life, nor were the Oblomovkans in any way wearied by it, since they could conceive no other existence, and would have turned from any other with distaste. Had there been imported into that existence any change due to circumstances, they would have regretted the fact, and felt troubled by the thought that to-morrow was not going to be precisely as to-day. What wanted they with the diversity, the changes, the incidents, for which others yearned? "Let others drink of that cup," said they; "but for us Oblomovkans—no such thing. Let others live as they please." Incident—even pleasing incident—they considered to bring disturbance and fuss and worry and commotion in its train, so that one could not sit quietly in one's seat and just talk and eat one's meals. Therefore, as decade succeeded decade, the Oblomovkans dozed and yawned, and indulged in good-humoured laughter at rustic jests, and assembled in corners to relate of what they had dreamed during the previous night. Had their dreams been unpleasant, the company at once became thoughtful and nervous, and refrained from jesting. On the other hand, had their dreams been of a prophetic nature, at once the company grew cheerful or despondent, according as the visions had promised sorrow or joy. Lastly, had their dreams called for the consideration of some portent, the company proceeded to take such active measures as might be necessary to deal with the situation. Also, every one indulged in card-playing, games of "fools," and so forth; while, as for the womenfolk, they would discuss the neighbourhood, and pry not only into its family life and social gaiety, but also into its secret ends and desires. About these they would dispute, and then pass censure upon various persons (more particularly upon unfaithful husbands), and relate details of birthdays, christenings, namedays, and dinner parties, with the lists of the invited and non-invited guests. Likewise they would show one another various articles of their wardrobes, and the hostess would proudly vaunt the merits of her sheets, her knitted garments, and her lace of home manufacture. Yet at length even these things would begin to pall; whereupon coffee, tea, and cakes would be served, and a silence, broken only by desultory remarks, ensue.
Of course, also, there were certain rare occasions when these methods of spending the time were interrupted by such happenings as the entire household falling ill of a fever, or some member of it either tripping over a stake in the dark or falling out of the hayloft or being struck on the head by a beam which had slipped from the roof. Yet, as I say, such events were rare, and when they occurred, every known and tried domestic remedy was brought into play. The injured spot was rubbed with ointment, a dose of holy water was administered, a prayer was muttered—and all was well. On the other hand, a winter headache was quite a common phenomenon, and in that case the household would retire to bed, groans and sighs would resound from every room, one person would wrap up his head in a cucumber poultice and a towel, another place cranberries in his ears and inhale horseradish, a third walk about in the frost with nothing on but his shirt, and a fourth, half-conscious, roll about the floor. It was at regular periods of once or twice a month that this happened, for the reason that the Oblomovkans did not like to allow any superfluous heat to escape by the chimney, but covered the stoves when the flames were rising high. Consequently upon no single stove-couch or stove could a hand be laid without danger of that hand being blistered.
Only once was the monotony of Oblomovkan life broken by a wholly unexpected circumstance. The household, exhausted by the labours of dinner, had assembled for tea, when there entered a local peasant who had just been making an expedition to the town. Thrusting his hand into his bosom, he with difficulty produced a much-creased letter, addressed to the master of the house. Every one sat thunderstruck, and even the master himself changed countenance. Not an eye was there which did not dart glances at the missive. Not a nose was there which was not strained in its direction.
"How unlooked for!" at length said the mistress of the household as she recovered herself. "From whom can the letter have come?"
Old Oblomov took it, and turned it over in his hands, as though at a loss what to do with the epistle.
"Where did you get it from?" he inquired of the peasant. "And who gave it you?"
"I got it at the inn where I put up," replied the man. "Twice did folk come from the post-office to inquire if any peasantry from Oblomovka were there, since a letter was awaiting the barin. The first time they came, I kept quiet, and the postman took the letter away; but afterwards the deacon of Verklevo saw me, and they came and gave me the letter, and made me pay five kopecks for it. I asked them what I was to do with the letter, and they said that I was to hand it to your Honour."
"Then at first you refused it?" the mistress remarked sharply.
"Yes, I refused it. What should we want with letters? We have no need for them, nor had I any orders to take charge of such things. So I was afraid to touch it. 'Don't you go too fast with that thing,' I said to myself. Yet how the postman abused me! He would have complained to the authorities had I left the letter where it was."
"Fool!" exclaimed the lady of the house.
"And from whom can it be?" said old Oblomov meditatively as he studied the address. "Somehow I seem to know the handwriting."
Upon that the missive fell to being passed from one person to another; and much guessing and discussion began. Finally the company had to own itself nonplussed. The master of the house ordered his spectacles to be fetched, and quite an hour and a half were consumed in searching for the same; but at length he put them on, and then bethought him of opening the letter.
"Wait a moment," said his wife, hastily arresting his hand. "Do not break the seal. Who knows what the letter may contain? It may portend something dreadful, some misfortune. To what have we not come nowadays? To-morrow, or the day after, will be soon enough. The letter will not walk away of itself."
So the letter was placed under lock and key, and tea passed round. In fact, the document would have lain there for a year, had it not constituted a phenomenon so unusual as to continue to excite the Oblomovkans' curiosity. Both after tea and on the following day the talk was of nothing else. At length things could no longer be borne, and on the fourth day, the company being assembled, the seal was diffidently broken, and old Oblomov glanced at the signature.
"Radistchev!" he exclaimed. "So the message is from Philip Matveitch!"
"Oh! Ah! From him, indeed?" resounded on all sides. "To think that he is actually alive! Glory be to God! And what does he say?"
Upon that old Oblomov started to read the letter aloud. It seemed that Philip Matveitch desired him to forward the recipe for a certain beer which was brewed at Oblomovka.
"Then send it, send it," exclaimed the chorus. "Yes, and also write him an answer."
Two weeks elapsed.
"Really we must write that note," old Oblomov kept repeating. "Where is the recipe?"
"Where is it? " retorted his wife. "Why, it still has to be looked for. Wait a little. Why need we hurry? Should God be good, we shall soon be having another festival, and eating flesh again. Let us write then. I tell you, the recipe won't run away."
"Yes, I daresay it would be better to write when we have reached the festival."
Sure enough, the said festival arrived, and again there was talk of the letter. In fact, old Oblomov did in truth get himself ready to write it. He shut himself up in his study, he put on his spectacles, and he sat down to the table. Everything in the house was profoundly quiet, since orders had been issued that the establishment was not to stamp upon the floor, nor, indeed, to make a noise of any kind. "The barin is writing," was said in much the same tone of respectful awe that might have been used had a dead person been lying in the house.
Hardly had old Oblomov inscribed the words "Dear Sir"—slowly and crookedly, and with a shaking hand, and as cautiously as though he had been engaged in a dangerous task—when there entered to him his wife.
"I have searched and searched," she said, "but can find no recipe. Nevertheless the bedroom wardrobe still remains to be ransacked, so how can you write the letter now?"
"It ought to go by the next post," her husband remarked.
"And what will it cost to go?"
Old Oblomov produced an ancient calendar. "Forty kopecks," he said.
"What? You are going to throw away forty kopecks on such a trifle?" she exclaimed. "We had far better wait until we are sending other things also to the town. Let the peasants know about it."
"That might be better," agreed old Oblomov, tapping his pen against the table. With that he replaced the pen in the inkstand, and took off his spectacles.
"Yes, it might be better," he concluded. And to this day no one knows how long Philip Matveitch had to wait for that recipe.
Also, there were times when old Oblomov actually took a book in his hands. What book it might be he did not care, for he felt no actual craving to read; he looked upon literature as a mere luxury which could easily be indulged in, or be done without, even as one might have a picture on one's wall, or one might not—one might go out for an occasional walk, or one might not. Hence, as I say, he was indifferent to the identity of a book, since he looked upon such articles as mere instruments of distraction from ennui and lack of employment. Also, he always adopted towards authors that half-contemptuous attitude which used to be maintained by gentry of the ancien régime; for, like many of his day, he considered a writer of books to be a roisterer, a ne'er-do -well, a drunkard, a sort of merry-andrew. Also, he would read aloud items of intelligence from journals three years old—such items as, "It is reported from The Hague that, on returning to the Palace from a short drive, the King gazed at the assembled onlookers through his spectacles," or "At Vienna such and such an Ambassador has just presented his Letter of Credentials."
Again, there was a day when he read aloud the intelligence that a certain work by a foreign writer had just been translated into Russian.
"The only reason why they go in for translating such things," remarked a small landowner who happened to be present, "is that they may wheedle more money out of us dvoriané."
Meanwhile the little Ilya was engaged in journeying backwards and forwards to Schtoltz's school. Every Monday, when he awoke, he felt overcome with depression, should he happen to hear Vassika's rasping voice shout aloud from the veranda: "Antipka, harness the piebald, as the young barin has to drive over to the German's!" Yes, then Ilya's heart would tremble, and he would repair sadly to his mother, who would know why he did so, and begin to gild the pill, while secretly sighing to herself at the thought that she was to be parted from the lad for a whole week. Indeed, on such mornings he could scarcely be given enough to eat, and scarcely could a sufficiency of buns and cakes and pies and sweetmeats be made to take with him (the said sufficiency being based upon an assumption that at the German's the pupils fared far from richly).
"One couldn't overeat oneself there," said the Oblomovkans. "For dinner one gets nothing but soup, roast, and cabbage, for tea only cold meat, and for supper morgen fri…
However, there were Mondays when he did not hear Vassika's voice ordering the piebald to be harnessed, and when his mother met him with a smile and the pleasant tidings that he was not to go to school that day, since the following Thursday would be a holiday, and it was not worth while for him to make the journey to and fro for a stay only of three days. At other times he would be informed that that week was the Week of Kindred, and that therefore cake-baking, and not book-learning, would be the order of the day. Or on a Monday morning his mother would glance at him, and, say: "Your eyes look dull to-day. Are you sure that you are well?" Then she would shake her head dubiously, and though the crafty youngster would be in perfect health, he would hold his tongue on the subject. Thereafter she would continue: "You must stay at home this week, for God knows what might happen to you at that other place." And in her decision she would be confirmed by the whole of the rest of the household. True, these fond parents were not blind to the value of education it was that they realized only its external value. That is to say, they could not look beyond the fact that education enabled folk to get on in the world so far as the acquisition of rank, crosses, and money was concerned. Certain evil rumours had arisen regarding the necessity of learning not only one's letters, but also various branches of science which until now had remained unknown to the world of Oblomovka; but, as I say, the good folk of that place had only the dimmest, the remotest, comprehension of any internal demand for education, and therefore desired to secure for their little Ilya only certain showy advantages, and no more—to wit, a fine uniform, and the getting of him into the Civil Service (his mother even foresaw him become a provincial governor!). Yet this, they thought, ought to be attained at as little cost as possible, and by means of a covert evasion of the various rocks and barriers which lay strewn about the path of enlightenment. Yes, those rocks and barriers, they said, must be walked around, not scaled; learning must be assimilated lightly, and not at the cost of exhaustion both of body and mind. In their view the process need be continued only until the little Ilya had obtained some sort of a certificate to the effect that he had been through "a course of the arts and sciences."
But to this Oblomovkan system old Schtoltz was wholly opposed; and probably his German persistency would have carried the day, had he not had to contend with difficulties even in his own camp. That is to say, his son was accustomed to spoil young Oblomov by doing his exercises for him, and prompting him in his translations. Also, young Oblomov could clearly discern the differences between his home life and life at school. At home, no sooner would he have awakened than he would find Zakhar standing by his bed. Even as the nurse had done, Zakhar would draw on for the lad his stockings, and put on his boots; and if Master Ilya—now become a boy of fourteen—did not altogether approve of Zakhar's performances he would nudge the valet on the nose with his toe. Moreover, should the boy at any time want anything, he had three or four servants to hasten to do his bidding; and in this fashion he never learnt what it was to do a single thing for himself. Yet in the end his parents' fond solicitude wearied him, for at no time could he even cross the courtyard, or descend the staircase, without hearing himself followed by shouts of "Where are you going to, Ilya?" or "How can you do that?" or "You will fall and hurt yourself!" Thus, pampered like an exotic plant in a greenhouse, he grew up slowly and drowsily, and in a way which turned his energies inwards, and gradually caused them to wither.
Yet on rare occasions he would still awake as fresh and vigorous and cheerful as ever; he would awake feeling that an imp of mischief was egging him on to climb the roof, or to go and roll in a field, or to rush round the meadow where the hay was being cut, or to perch himself on the top of a fence, or to start teasing the farm dogs—in short, to take to running hither and thither and everywhere.
At length the thing was no longer to be borne; no longer could he resist the imp's prompting. One winter's morning, capless, he leaped from the veranda into the courtyard, and thence through the entrance gates. Thereafter, rolling a snowball hastily in his hands, he darted towards a crowd of boys. The fresh air cut his face, the frost nipped his ears, his mouth and throat felt choked with cold, but in his breast there was a great joy. He rushed forward as fast as his legs could carry him, he shouted and he laughed. In two seconds he was in the thick of the boys. One snowball he threw—it achieved a miss; a second snowball he threw—it achieved the same; and just as he was seizing a third his face became converted into one large clot of snow. He fell, and, being unused to falling, hurt himself; yet still he laughed merrily, though the tears had sprung to his eyes. Behind the knot of youngsters ran two dogs, pulling at their clothes; for, as every one knows, dogs cannot with equanimity see a human being running. Thus the whole gang sped through the village—a noisy, shouting, barking crew. At length the lads were caught, and justice was meted out—to one on the head, to a second on the ears, to a third on the rump. Also, the fathers of the culprits were threatened with retribution. As for the young barin, he was hastily thrust into a snatched-up greatcoat, then into his father's sheepskin, and, lastly, into a couple of quilts; after which he was borne homeward in triumph. The entire household had expected to behold him arrive in a moribund condition; and indescribable was his parents' delight on seeing him carried in both alive and unharmed. Yes, they gave thanks to God, they dosed the boy with mint and elderberry wine and raspberry syrup, and they kept him three days in bed—although the one thing that would have done him any good would have been to have let him go out again and play in the snow!
Entering quietly, Zakhar tried to arouse the sleeper, but failed. Suddenly a loud laugh proceeded from the neighbourhood of the door. Oblomov started up.
"Schtoltz! Schtoltz!" he cried rapturously as he threw himself upon the newcomer.