ONE day, about noon, two gentlemen were walking along a pavement in the
Veaborg Quarter, while behind them a carriage quietly paced. One of the
gentlemen was Schtoltz, the other a literary friend of his—a stout
individual with an apathetic face and sleepy, meditative eyes. As they drew
level with a church, Mass had just ended, and the congregation was pouring
into the street. In front of them a knot of beggars was collecting a rich
and varied harvest.
"I wonder where these mendicants come from," said the literary gentleman,
glancing at the reapers.
"Out of sundry nooks and corners, I suppose," replied the other
"That is not what I meant. What I meant is, how have they descended to
their present position of beggars? Have they come to it suddenly or
gradually, for a good reason or for a bad one?"
"Why are you so anxious to know? Are you contemplating writing a
'Mysteries of Petrograd'?"
"Perhaps I am," the literary gentleman explained with an indolent yawn.
"Then here is a chance for you. Ask any one of them, and, for the sum of
a rouble, he will sell you his story, which, jotted down, you could resell
to the nobility. For instance, take this old man here. He looks a good
example of the normal type. Hi, old man! We want you!"
The old man turned his head at the summons, doffed his cap, and
approached the two gentlemen.
"Good sirs," he whined, "pray help a poor man who has been wounded in
thirty battles and grown old in war."
"It is Zakhar!" exclaimed Schtoltz in astonishment. "It is you,
Zakhar, is it not?" But Zakhar said nothing. Then suddenly he shaded his
eyes from the sun, and, staring intently at Schtoltz, muttered—"Pardon me,
your Honour—I do not recognize you. I am nearly blind."
"What? You have forgotten your old friend, the barin Schtoltz?"
the other asked reproachfully.
"Dear, dear! Is it really your Honour? My bad sight has got the
better of me."
Catching Schtoltz impetuously by the hand, the old man imprinted kiss
after kiss upon the skirt of his coat.
"The Lord Himself has permitted a poor lost wretch to see a joyful day!"
he said, half-laughing, half-crying. Over his face, and particularly over
his nose, there had spread a purplish tinge, while his head was almost
completely bald, and his whiskers, though still long, looked so matted and
entangled as to resemble pieces of felt wherein snowballs have been wrapped.
As for his clothing, it consisted of an old, faded cloak, with one of the
lapels missing, and a pair of down-at-heel goloshes. In his hands was a cap
from which the fur had become worn away.
"Ah, good sir!" he repeated. "Heaven has indeed granted me joy for
"But why are you in this state?" Schtoltz inquired. "Are you not ashamed
"Yes, your Honour; but what else could I do?" And Zakhar heaved a
profound sigh. "How else was I to live? So long as Anisia was alive I had
not to go wandering about like this, for I was given bite and sup
whenever I wanted it; but she died of cholera (Heaven rest her soul!), and
her brother straightway refused to support me, saying that I was nothing but
an old hanger-on. From Michei Andreitch Tarantiev too I received shameful
abuse, and neither of them—would you believe it, your Honour?—ever gave me
a morsel of bread! Indeed, had it not been for the barinia, God
bless her"—and Zakhar crossed himself—"I should long ago have perished of
the cold; but for a while she gave me a bit of clothing, and as much bread
as I could eat, and a place by the stove of a night. Then they took to
rating her on my account; so at last I left the house to wander whither my
eyes might lead me. This is the second year that I have been dragging out
this miserable existence."
"But why did you not go and seek a situation?" Schtoltz inquired.
"Where was I to get one at this time of day, your Honour? True, I tried
for two, but was unsuccessful. Things are not what they used to be:
everything has changed for the worse. Nowadays masters require their
lacqueys to look respectable, and the gentry no longer keep their halls
chock-full of footmen. Indeed, 'tis seldom that you will find so many as
two footmen in a house. Yes," he went on, "the gentry actually take
off their own boots! They have even gone so far as to invent a machine to do
it with!" Evidently the idea cut Zakhar to the heart. "Yes," he repeated,
"our gentry are a shame and a disgrace to the country. They are fast coming
to rack and ruin." A sigh of profound regret followed.
"At one place," presently he resumed, "I did obtain a situation. 'Twas
with a German merchant, who engaged me to be his hall lacquey. After a
while, however, he sent me to serve in the pantry. Now, was that my
proper business? One day I was carrying some crockery across the room on a
tray, and the floor happened to be smooth and slippery, and down I fell, and
the tray and the crockery with me. So I was turned out of doors. Next, an
old countess took a fancy to my looks. 'He is of respectable appearance,'
she said to herself, and added me to her staff of Swiss lacqueys. The post
was a light one, and bid fair to be permanent, too. All that I had to do was
to sit as solemnly as possible on a chair, to cross one leg over the other,
and, when any rascal called, not to answer him, but just to grunt and send
the fellow away—or else give him a box on the ear. Of course, to the gentry
one had to behave differently—just to wave one's staff like this." Zakhar
gave an illustration of what he meant. "As I say, 'twas an easy job, and the
lady, God bless her! was not over-difficult to please. But one day she
happened to peep into my room and to see there a bug. With that she bristled
up and shrieked as though it had been I who had invented bugs! When
was a household ever without a bug? So the next time she passed me
she pretended that I smelt of liquor, and dismissed me."
"Yes, and you smell of it now—and very strongly," remarked Schtoltz.
"To my sorrow, I suppose so," whined Zakhar, wrinkling his brow bitterly.
"Well, then I tried to get a coachman's job, and took service with a
gentleman; but one day I had my feet frost-bitten (for I was over-old and
weak for the job), and another day the brute of a horse fell down and nearly
broke my ribs, and another day I ran over an old woman and got taken to the
"Well, well! Instead of drinking and getting yourself into trouble, come
to my house, and I will give you a corner there until it is time for us to
return to the country. Do you hear?"
"Yes, your HonourÄyes; but, but—" Zakhar sighed again. "I would rather
not leave these parts. You see, the grave is here—the grave where my old
patron is lying." Zakhar sobbed. "Only to-day I have been there to commend
his soul to God. What a barin the Lord God has taken from us!
'Twould have been good for us if he could have lived another hundred years.
Yes, only to-day I have been visiting his grave. Whenever I am near the spot
I go and sit beside it, and shed tears—ah, such tears! And sometimes, too,
when all is quiet there, I seem to hear him calling to me once more,
'Zakhar! Zakhar!'—and shivers go running down my back. Never lived there
such a barin as he! And how fond of yourself he was, your Honour!
May the Lord remember him when the heavenly kingdom shall come!"
"You ought to see our little Andrei," said Schtoltz. "If you like, you
can have charge of him." And he handed the old man some money.
"Yes, I will come! How could I not come when it is to see little
Andrei Ilyitch? By this time he must be grown into a tall young gentleman.
What joy the Lord has reserved for me this day! Yes, I will come,
your Honour, and may God send you good health and many a long year of life!"
But it was after a departing carriage that Zakhar was dispatching his
"Did you hear the old beggar's story?" Schtoltz asked of his companion.
"Yes. Who was the Oblomov whom he mentioned?"
"He was—Oblomov. More than once I have spoken to you of him."
"Ah, I think I remember the name. Yes, he was a friend and comrade of
yours, was he not? What became of him?"
"He came to rack and ruin—though for no apparent reason." As he spoke
Schtoltz sighed heavily. Then he added: "His intellect was equal to that of
his fellows, his soul was as clear and as bright as glass, his disposition
was kindly, and he was a gentleman to the core. Yet he—he fell."
"Wherefore? What was the cause?"
"The cause?" re-echoed Schtoltz. "The cause was—the disease of
"The disease of Oblomovka?" queried the literary gentleman in some
perplexity. " What is that?"
"Some day I will tell you. For the moment leave me to my thoughts and
memories. Hereafter you shall write them down, for they might prove of value
to some one."
In time Schtoltz related to his friend what herein is to be found