ZAKHAR, after closing the door successively behind Tarantiev and Alexiev, stood expecting to receive a summons from his master, inasmuch as he had overheard the fact that the latter had undertaken to write a letter. But in Oblomov's study all remained silent as the tomb. Zakhar peeped through the chink of the door, and perceived that his master was lying prone on the sofa, with his head resting on the palm of his hand. The valet entered the room.
"Why have you lain down again?" he asked.
"Do not disturb me: cannot you see that I am reading?" was Oblomov's abrupt reply.
"Nay, but you ought to wash, and then to write that letter," urged Zakhar, determined not to be shaken off.
"Yes, I suppose I ought. I will do so presently. Just now I am engaged in thought."
As a matter of fact, he did read a page of the book which was lying open—a page which had turned yellow with a month's exposure. That done, he laid it down and yawned.
"How it all wearies me!" he whispered, stretching, and then drawing up, his legs. Glancing at the ceiling as once more he relapsed into a voluptuous state of coma, he said to himself with momentary sternness: "No—business first." Then he rolled over, and clasped his hands behind his head.
As he lay there he thought of his plans for improving his property. Swiftly he passed in review certain grave and fundamental schemes affecting his plough-land and its taxation; after which he elaborated a new and stricter course to be taken against laziness and vagrancy on the part of the peasantry, and then passed to sundry ideas for ordering his own life in the country.
First of all, he became engrossed in a design for a new house. Eagerly he lingered over a probable disposition of the rooms, and fixed in his mind the dimensions of the dining-room and the billiard-room, and determined which way the windows of his study must face. Indeed, he even gave a thought to the furniture and to the carpets. Next, he designed a wing for the building, calculated the number of guests whom that wing would accommodate, and set aside proper sites for the stables, the coachhouses, and the servants' quarters. Finally he turned his attention to the garden. The old lime and oak-trees should all be left as they were, but the apple-trees and pear-trees should be done away with, and succeeded by acacias. Also, he gave a moment's consideration to the idea of a park, but, after calculating the cost of its upkeep, came to the conclusion that such a luxury would prove too expensive—wherefore he passed to the designing of orangeries and aviaries.
So vividly did these attractive visions of the future development of his estate flit before his eyes that he came to fancy himself already settled there, and engaged in witnessing the result of several years' working of his schemes.
On a fair summer's evening he seemed to be sitting at a tea-table on the terrace of Oblomovka—sitting under a canopy of leafy shade which the sun was powerless to penetrate. From a long pipe in his hand he was lazily inhaling smoke, and revelling both in the delightful view which stretched beyond the circle of the trees and in the coolness and the quiet of his surroundings. In the distance some fields were turning to gold as the sun, setting behind a familiar birch-grove, tinged to red the mirror-like surface of the lake. From the fields a mist had risen, for the chill of evening was falling, and dusk approaching apace. To his ears, at intervals, came the clatter of peasantry as they returned homewards, and at the entrance gates the servants of the establishment were sitting at ease, while from their vicinity came the sound of echoing voices and laughter, the playing of balalaiki, and the chattering of girls as they pursued the sport of gorielki. Around him, also, his little ones were frisking—at times climbing on to his knee and hanging about his neck; while behind the samovar was seated the real ruler of all that his eyes were beholding his divinity, a woman, his wife! … And in the dining-room—a room at once elegant and simply appointed—a cheerful fire was glowing, and Zakhar, now promoted to the dignity of a major-domo, and adorned with whiskers turned wholly grey, was laying a large, round table to a pleasant accompanying tinkle of crystal and silver as he arranged, here a decanter and there a fork.
Presently the dreamer saw his wife and himself sit down to a bountiful supper. Yes, and with them was Schtoltz, the comrade of his youth, his unchanging friend, with other well-known faces. Lastly, he could see the inmates of the house retiring to rest… .
Oblomov's features blushed with delight at the vision. So clear, so vivid, so poetical was it all that for a moment he lay with his face buried in the sofa cushions. Suddenly there had come upon him a dim longing for love and quiet happiness; suddenly he had become athirst for the fields and the hills of his native place, for his home, for a wife, for children… .
After lying face downwards for a moment or two, he turned upon his back. His features were alight with generous emotion, and for the time being he was—happy.
Again the charming seductiveness of sleep-waking enfolded him in its embrace. He pictured to himself a small colony of friends who should come and settle in the villages and farms within a radius of fifteen or twenty versts of his country house. Every day they should visit one another's houses—whether to dine or to sup or to dance; until everywhere around him he would be able to see only bright faces framed in sunny days—faces which should be ever free of care and wrinkles, and round, and merry, and ruddy, and double-chinned, and of unfailing appetite. In all his neighbourhood there should be constant summertide, constant gaiety, unfailing good fare, the joys of perennial lassitude… .
"My God, my God!" he cried in the fullness of his delight: and with that he awoke. Once more to his ears came the cries of hawkers in the courtyard as they vended coal, sand, and potatoes; once more he could hear some one begging for subscriptions to build a church; once more from a neighbouring building which was in course of erection there streamed a babel of workmen's shouts, mingled with the clatter of tools.
"Ah!" he sighed with a sense of pain. "Such is real life! What ugliness there is in the roar of the capital! When shall I attain the life of paradise—the life for which I yearn? Shall I ever see my own fields, my own forests? Would that at this moment I were lying on the grass under a tree, and gazing upwards at the sun through the boughs, and trying to count the birds which come and go over my head!"
But what about the plans for improving the estate? And what about the starosta and the flat? Once again these things knocked at his memory.
"Yes, yes," he answered them. "Seichass—presently."
With that he rose to a sitting posture on the sofa, lowered his legs to the level of his slippers, and slipped the latter on to his feet; after which he sat still for a little while. At length he attained a wholly erect posture, and remained meditating for a couple of minutes.
"Zakhar! Zakhar!" he shouted as he eyed the table and the inkstand. " I want you to, to—" Further he failed to get, but mutely pointed to the inkstand, and then relapsed into thought.
The doorbell rang, and a little man with a bald head entered.
"Hullo, doctor!" Oblomov exclaimed as he extended one hand towards his guest, and with the other one drew forward a chair. "What chance brings you here?"
"The chance that, since all of you decline to be ill, and never send for me, I am forced to come of myself," replied the doctor jestingly. "But no," he added, in a more serious tone. "The truth is, I had to visit a neighbour of yours on the upper floor, and thought I might as well take you on the way. How are you?"
Oblomov shook his head despondently. "Poorly, doctor," he said. " I have just been thinking of consulting you. My stomach will scarcely digest anything, there is a pain in the pit of it, and my breath comes with difficulty."
"Give me your wrist," said the doctor. He closed his eyes and felt the patient's pulse. "And have you a cough?" he inquired.
"Yes—at night-time, but more especially while I am at supper."
"Hm! And does your heart throb at all, or your head ache?" He then added other questions, bowed his bald pate, and subsided into profound meditation. At length he straightened himself with a jerk, and said with an air of decision—"Two or three years more of this room, of lying about, of eating rich, heavy foods, and you will have a stroke."
"Then what ought I to do, doctor? Tell me, for Heaven's sake!"
"Merely what other people do—namely, go abroad."
"Pardon me, doctor, but how am I to do that?"
"Why should you not? Does money prevent you, or what?"
"Yes, yes; money is the reason," replied Oblomov, gladly catching at the excuse, which was the most natural one that could possibly have been devised. "See here—just read what my starosta writes."
"Quite so, but that is no business of mine," said the doctor. "My business is to inform you that you must change your mode of life, and also your place of residence. You must have fresh air—you must have something to do. Go to Kissingen or to Ems, and remain there during June and July, whilst you drink the waters. Then go on to Switzerland, or to the Tyrol, and partake of the local grape cure. That you can do during September and October."
"Oh, the devil take the Tyrol!" murmured Oblomov under his breath.
"Next, transfer yourself to some dry place like Egypt, and put away from you all cares and worries."
"Excellent!" said Oblomov. "I only wish that starostas' letters like this one reached you!"
"Also you must do no thinking whatsoever."
"No thinking, you say?"
"Yes—you must impose upon the brain no exertion."
"But what about my plans for my estate? I am not a log, if you will pardon my saying so."
"Oh, very well. I have merely been warning you. Likewise, you must avoid emotion of every kind, for that sort of thing is sure to militate against a successful cure. Try, rather, to divert yourself with riding, with dancing, with moderate exercise in the open air, and with pleasant conversation—more especially conversation with the opposite sex. These things are designed to make your heart beat more lightly, and to experience none but agreeable emotions. Again, you must lay aside all reading and writing. Rent a villa which faces south and lies embowered in flowers, and surround yourself also with an atmosphere of music and women."
"And may I eat at all?"
"Yes, certainly; but avoid all animal and farinaceous food, as well as anything which may be served cold. Eat only light soups and vegetables. Even in this great care will need to be exercised, for cholera, I may tell you, is about. Walk eight hours out of every twenty-four; go in for shooting."
"Good Lord!" groaned Oblomov.
"Finally," concluded the doctor, "go to Paris for the winter, where, surrounded by a whirlpool of gaiety, you will best be able to distract your mind from your habitual brooding. Cultivate theatres, balls, masquerades, the streets, society, friends, noise, and laughter."
"Anything else?" inquired Oblomov, with ill-concealed impatience. The doctor reflected a moment.
"Yes; also get the benefit of sea air," he said. "Cross over to England, or else go for a voyage to America."
With that he rose to take his leave. "Should you carry out these instructions to the letter—" he began.
"Yes, yes. Of course I shall carry them out!" said Oblomov bitterly as he accompanied the physician to the door.
The doctor having departed, Oblomov threw himself back into an arm-chair, clasped his hands behind his head, and remained sitting in an almost unthinking heap. Roused by Zakhar to consider once more the question of changing his quarters, he engaged in a long and heated conversation with the valet. Eventually he dismissed the man to his den, but could not dismiss from his own mind certain comparisons which Zakhar had drawn between his master's life and the life of ordinary people. How strange that suddenly there should have dawned in him thoughts concerning human fate and destiny! All at once he found his mind drawing a parallel between that destiny and his own existence; all at once questions of life arose before his vision, like owls in an ancient ruin flushed from sleep by a stray ray of sunlight. Somehow he felt pained and grieved at his arrested development, at the check which had taken place in his moral growth, at the weight which appeared to be pressing upon his every faculty. Also gnawing at his heart there was a sense of envy that others should be living a life so full and free, while all the time the narrow, pitiful little pathway of his own existence was being blocked by a great boulder. And in his hesitating soul there arose a torturing consciousness that many sides of his nature had never yet been stirred, that others had never even been touched, and that not one of them had attained complete formation. Yet with this there went an aching suspicion that, buried in his being, as in a tomb, there still remained a moribund element of sweetness and light, and that it was an element which, though hidden in his personality, as a nugget lies lurking in the bowels of the earth, might once have become minted into sterling coin. But the treasure was now overlaid with rubbish—was now thickly littered over with dust. 'Twas as though some one had stolen from him, and besmirched, the store of gifts with which life and the world had dowered him; so that always he would be prevented from entering life's field and sailing across it with the aid of intellect and of will. Yes, at the very start a secret enemy had laid a heavy hand upon him and diverted him from the road of human destiny. And now he seemed to be powerless to leave the swamps and wilds in favour of that road. All around him was a forest, and ever the recesses of his soul were growing dimmer and darker, and the path more and more tangled, while the consciousness of his condition kept awaking within him less and less frequently—to arouse only for a fleeting moment his slumbering faculties. Brain and volition alike had become paralysed, and, to all appearances, irrevocably—the events of his life had become whittled down to microscopical proportions. Yet even with them he was powerless to cope—he was powerless to pass from one of them to another. Consequently they bandied him to and fro like the waves of the ocean. Never was he able to oppose to any event elasticity of will; never was he able to conceive, as the result of any event, a reasoned-out impulse. Yet to confess this, even to himself, always cost him a bitter pang: his fruitless regrets for lost opportunities, coupled with burning reproaches of conscience, always pricked him like needles, and led him to strive to put away such reproaches and to discover a scapegoat… .
Once again Oblomov sank asleep; and as he slept he dreamed of a different period, of different people, of a different place from the present. Let us follow him thither.