Oblomov

Part 4
Chapter 5


    

FIVE years have passed, and more than one change has taken place in the Veaborg Quarter. The street which used to lead, unenclosed, to Oblomov's humble abode is now lined with villas. In the midst of them a tall stone Government office rears its head between the sunlight and the windows of that quiet, peaceful little house which the sun's rays once warmed so cheerfully.

The house itself has grown old and crazy: it wears a dull, neglected look like that of a man who is unshaven and unwashed. In places the paint has peeled away, and in others the gutters are broken. To the latter is due the fact that pools of dirty water stand in the courtyard, and that thrown across them is a piece of old planking. Should a visitor approach the wicket, the old watchdog no longer leaps nimbly to the extent of his chain, but gives tongue hoarsely and lazily from the interior of his kennel.

And, within the house, what changes have taken place! Over it there reigns a different housewife to the former one, and different children sport in play. Again is seen about the premises the lean countenance of Tarantiev, rather than the kindly, careless features of Alexiev; while of Zakhar and Anisia also there is not a sign discernible. A new cook performs, rudely and unwillingly, the quiet behests of Agafia Matvievna, and our old friend Akulina—her apron girded around her middle—washes up, as formerly, the domestic crockery and the pots and pans. Lastly, the same old sleepy dvornik whiles away the same old idle life in the same old den by the gates, and at a given hour each morning, as well as always at the hour of the evening meal, there flashes past the railings of the fence the figure of Agafia's brother, clad, summer and winter alike, in galoshes, and always carrying under his arm a large bundle of documents.

But what of Oblomov? Where is he—where? Under a modest urn in the adjoining cemetery his body rests among the shrubs. All is quiet where he is lying; only a lilac-tree, planted there by a loving hand, waves its boughs to and fro over the grave as it mingles its scent with the sweet, calm odour of wormwood. One would think that the Angel of Peace himself were watching over the dead man's slumbers. . . .

Despite his wife's ceaseless and devoted care for every moment of his existence, the prolonged inertia, the unbroken stillness, the sluggish gliding from day to day had ended by quietly arresting the machine of life. Thus Oblomov met his end, to all appearances without pain, without distress, even as stops a watch which its owner has forgotten to wind up. No one witnessed his last moments or heard his expiring gasp. A second stroke of apoplexy occurred within a year of the first, and, like its precursor, passed away favourably. Later, however, Oblomov became pale and weak, took to eating little and seldom walking in the garden, and increased in moodiness and taciturnity as the days went on. At times he would even burst into tears, for he felt death drawing nearer, and was afraid of it. One or two relapses occurred, from which he rallied, and then Agafia Matvievna entered his room, one morning, to find him resting on his deathbed as quietly as he had done in sleep—the only difference being that his head had slipped a little from the pillow, and that one of his hands was convulsively clutching the region of the heart in a manner which suggested that the pain had there centred itself until the circulation of the blood had stopped for ever.

After his death Agafia Matvievna's sister-in-law, Irina Paptelievna, assumed control of the establishment. That is to say, she arrogated to herself the right to rise late in the morning, to drink three cups of coffee for breakfast, to change her dress three times a day, and to confine her housewifely energies to seeing that her gowns were starched to the utmost degree of stiffness. More she would not trouble to undertake, and, as before, Agafia Matvievna remained the active pendulum of the domestic clock. Not only did she superintend the kitchen and the dining-room, and prepare tea and coffee for the entire household, but also she did the general mending and supervised the linen, the children, Akulina, and the dvornik.

Why was this? Was she not Madame Oblomov and the proprietress of a landed estate? Might she not have maintained a separate, an independent establishment, and have wanted for nothing, and have been at no one's beck and call? What had led her to take upon her shoulders the burden of another's housekeeping, the care of another's children, and all those petty details which women usually assume only at the call of love, or in obedience to sacred family ties, or for the purpose of earning a morsel of daily bread? Where, too, were Zakhar and Anisia—now become, by every right of law, her servants? Where, too, was the little treasure, Andrei, which Oblomov had bequeathed her? Where, finally, were her children by her first husband?

Those children were now all provided for. That is to say, Vania had finished his schooling and entered Government service, his sister had married the manager of a Government office, and little Andrei had been committed to the care of Schtoltz and his wife, who looked upon him as a member of their own family. Never for a moment did Agafia Matvievna mentally compare his lot, or place it on a level with, that of her first children—although, unconsciously it may be, she allotted them all an equal place in her heart. In her opinion the little Andrei's upbringing, mode of life, and future career stood divided by an immeasurable gulf from the fortunes of Vania and his sister.

"What are they?" she would say to herself when she called to see Andrei. "They are children born of the people, whereas this one was born a young barin."

Then she would caress the boy, if not with actual timidity, at all events with a certain touch of caution, and add to herself with something like respect: "What a white skin he has! 'Tis almost transparent. And what tiny hands and feet, too, and what silky hair! He is just like his dead father." Consequently she was the more ready to accede to Schtoltz's request when he asked her that he (Schtoltz) should educate the youngster; since she felt sure that Schtoltz's household was far more the lad's proper place than was her own establishment, where he would have been thrown among her grimy young nephews.

Clad in black, she would glide like a shadow from room to room of the house—opening and shutting cupboards, sewing, making lace, but doing everything quietly, and without the least sign of energy. When spoken to, she would reply as though to do so were an effort. Moreover, her eyes no longer glanced swiftly from object to object, as they had done in the old days: rather, they remained fixed in a sort of ever concentrated gaze. Probably they had assumed that gaze during the hour when she had stood looking at her dead husband's face.

That the light of her life was fast flickering before going out, that God had breathed His breath into her existence and taken it away again, and that her sun had shone brilliantly and was setting for ever, she clearly understood. Yes, that sun was setting for ever, but not before she had learnt the reason why she had been given life, and the fact that she had not lived in vain. Greatly she had loved, and to the full: she had loved Oblomov as a lover, as a husband, and as a barin. But around her there was no one to comprehend this; wherefore she kept her grief the more closely locked in her own bosom.

Only, next winter, when Schtoltz came to town, she ran to see him, and to gaze hungrily at little Andrei, whom she covered with caresses. Presently she tried to say something—to thank Schtoltz, and to pour out before him all that had been accumulating in her heart in the absence of an outlet. Such words he would have understood perfectly, had they been uttered. But the task was beyond her—she could only throw herself upon Olga, glue her lips to her hand, and burst into such a torrent of scalding tears that perforce Olga wept with her, and Schtoltz, greatly moved, hastened from the room. All three had now a common bond of sympathy—that bond being the memory of Oblomov's unsullied soul. More than once Schtoltz and Olga besought the widow to come and live with them in the country, but always she replied: "Where I was born and have lived my live, there must I also die." Likewise, when Schtoltz proposed to render her an account of his management of the Oblomovkan property, she returned him the income therefrom, with a request that he should lay it by for the benefit of little Andrei.

"'Tis his, not mine," she said. "He is the barin, and I will continue to live as I have always done.



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