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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘Oblomov’
By Ivan Goncharov (1812–1891)
 
IN Garókhavaya Street, in one of those immense houses the population of which would suffice for a whole provincial city, there lay one morning in bed in his apartment Ílya Ílyitch Oblomov. He was a pleasant-appearing man of two or three and twenty, of medium stature, with dark gray eyes; but his face lacked any fixed idea or concentration of purpose. A thought would wander like a free bird over his features, flutter in his eyes, light on his parted lips, hide itself in the wrinkles of his brow, then entirely vanish away; and over his whole countenance would spread the shadeless light of unconcern.  1
  From his face this indifference extended to the attitudes of his whole body, even to the folds of his dressing-gown. Occasionally his eyes were darkened by an expression of weariness or disgust, but neither weariness nor disgust could for an instant dispel from his face the indolence which was the dominant and habitual expression not only of his body, but also of his very soul. And his soul was frankly and clearly betrayed in his eyes, in his smile, in every movement of his head, of his hands.  2
  A cool superficial observer, glancing at Oblomov as he passed him by, would have said, “He must be a good-natured, simple-hearted fellow.” Any one looking deeper, more sympathetically, would after a few moments’ scrutiny turn away with a smile, with a feeling of agreeable uncertainty.  3
  Oblomov’s complexion was not florid, not tawny, and not positively pallid, but was indeterminate,—or seemed to be so, perhaps because it was flabby; not by reason of age, but by lack of exercise or of fresh air or of both. His body, to judge by the dull, transparent color of his neck, by his little plump hands, his drooping shoulders, seemed too effeminate for a man. His movements, even if by chance he were aroused, were kept under restraint likewise by a languor and by a laziness that was not devoid of its own peculiar grace.  4
  If a shadow of an anxious thought arose from his spirit and passed across his face, his eyes would grow troubled, the wrinkles in his brow would deepen, a struggle of doubt or pain would seem to begin: but rarely indeed would this troubled thought crystallize into the form of a definite idea; still more rarely would it be transformed into a project.  5
  All anxiety would be dissipated in a sigh and settle down into apathy or languid dreaming.  6
  How admirably Oblomov’s house costume suited his unruffled features and his effeminate body! He wore a dressing-gown of Persian material—a regular Oriental khalát, without the slightest suggestion of anything European about it, having no tassels, no velvet, no special shape. It was ample in size, so that he might have wrapped it twice around him. The sleeves, in the invariable Asiatic style, grew wider and wider from the wrist to the shoulder. Although this garment had lost its first freshness, and in places had exchanged its former natural gloss for another that was acquired, it still preserved the brilliancy of its Oriental coloring and its firmness of texture.  7
  The khalát had in Oblomov’s eyes a multitude of precious properties: it was soft and supple; the body was not sensible of its weight; like an obedient slave, it accommodated itself to every slightest motion.  8
  Oblomov while at home always went without cravat and without waistcoat, for the simple reason that he liked simplicity and comfort. The slippers which he wore were long, soft, and wide; when without looking he put down one foot from the bed to the floor it naturally fell into one of them.  9
  Oblomov’s remaining in bed was not obligatory upon him, as in the case of a sick man or of one who was anxious to sleep; nor was it accidental, as in the case of one who was weary; nor was it for mere pleasure, as a sluggard would have chosen: it was the normal condition of things with him. When he was at home—and he was almost always at home—he invariably lay in bed and invariably in the room where we have just found him: a room which served him for sleeping-room, library, and parlor. He had three other rooms, but he rarely glanced into them; in the morning, perhaps, but even then not every day, but only when his man came to sweep the rooms—and this, you may be sure, was not done every day. In these rooms the furniture was protected with covers; the curtains were always drawn.  10
  The room in which Oblomov was lying appeared at first glance to be handsomely furnished, There were a mahogany bureau, two sofas upholstered in silk, handsome screens embroidered with birds and fruits belonging to an imaginary nature. There were damask curtains, rugs, a number of paintings, bronzes, porcelains, and a quantity of beautiful bric-a-brac. But the experienced eye of a man of pure taste would have discovered at a single hasty glance that everything there betrayed merely the desire to keep up appearances in unimportant details, while really avoiding the burden. That had indeed been Oblomov’s object when he furnished his room. Refined taste would not have been satisfied with those heavy ungraceful mahogany chairs, with those conventional étagères. The back of one sofa was dislocated; the veneering was broken off in places. The same characteristics were discoverable in the pictures and the vases, and all the ornaments.  11
  The proprietor himself, however, looked with such coolness and indifference on the decoration of his apartment that one might think he asked with his eyes, “Who brought you here and set you up?” As the result of such an indifferent manner of regarding his possessions, and perhaps of the still more indifferent attitude of Oblomov’s servant Zakhár, the appearance of the room, if it were examined rather more critically, was amazing because of the neglect and carelessness which held sway there. On the walls, around the pictures, spiders’ webs, loaded with dust, hung like festoons; the mirrors, instead of reflecting objects, would have served better as tablets for scribbling memoranda in the dust that covered them. The rugs were rags. On the sofa lay a forgotten towel; on the table you would generally find in the morning a plate or two with the remains of the evening meal, the salt-cellar, gnawed bones, and crusts of bread. Were it not for these plates, and the pipe half smoked out and flung down on the bed, or even the master himself stretched out on it, it might easily have been supposed that the room was uninhabited, it was so dusty, so lacking in all traces of human care. On the étagères, to be sure, lay two or three opened books or a crumpled newspaper; on the bureau stood an inkstand with pens; but the pages where the books were open were covered thick with dust and had turned yellow, evidently long ago thrown aside; the date of the newspaper was long past; and if any one had dipped a pen into the inkstand it would have started forth only a frightened, buzzing fly!  12
  Ílya Ílyitch was awake, contrary to his ordinary custom, very early,—at eight o’clock. Some anxiety was preying on his mind. Over his face passed alternately now apprehension, now annoyance, now vexation. It was evident that an internal conflict had him in its throes, and his intellect had not as yet come to his aid.  13
  The fact was that the evening before, Oblomov had received from the stárosta (steward) of his estate a letter filled with disagreeable tidings. It is not hard to guess what unpleasant details one’s steward may write about: bad harvests, large arrearages, diminution in receipts, and the like. But although his stárosta had written his master almost precisely the same kind of letter the preceding year and the year before that, nevertheless this latest letter came upon him exactly the same, as a disagreeable surprise.  14
  Was it not hard?—he was facing the necessity of considering the means of taking some measures!  15
  However, it is proper to show how far Ílya Ílyitch was justified in feeling anxiety about his affairs.  16
  When he received the first letter of disagreeable tenor from his stárosta some years before, he was already contemplating a plan for a number of changes and improvements in the management of his property. This plan presupposed the introduction of various new economical and protectional measures; but the details of the scheme were still in embryo, and the stárosta’s disagreeable letters were annually forthcoming, urging him to activity and really disturbing his peace of mind. Oblomov recognized the necessity of coming to some decision if he were to carry out his plan.  17
  As soon as he woke he decided to get up, bathe, and after drinking his tea, to think the matter over carefully, then to write his letters; and in short, to act in this matter as was fitting. But for half an hour he had been still in bed tormenting himself with this proposition; but finally he came to the conclusion that he would still have time to do it after tea, and that he might drink his tea as usual in bed with all the more reason, because one can think even if one is lying down!  18
  And so he did. After his tea he half sat up in bed, but did not entirely rise; glancing down at his slippers, he started to put his foot into one of them, but immediately drew it back into bed again.  19
  As the clock struck half-past nine, Ílya Ílyitch started up.  20
  “What kind of a man am I?” he said aloud in a tone of vexation. “Conscience only knows. It is time to do something: where there’s a will—Zakhár!” he cried.  21
  In a room which was separated merely by a narrow corridor from Ílya Ílyitch’s library, nothing was heard at first except the growling of the watch-dog; then the thump of feet springing down from somewhere. It was Zakhár leaping down from his couch on the stove, where he generally spent his time immersed in drowsiness.  22
  An elderly man appeared in the room: he was dressed in a gray coat, through a hole under the armpit of which emerged a part of his shirt; he also wore a gray waistcoat with brass buttons. His head was as bald as his knee, and he had enormous reddish side-whiskers already turning gray—so thick and bushy that they would have sufficed for three ordinary individuals.  23
  Zakhár would never have taken pains to change in any respect either the form which God had bestowed on him, or the costume which he wore in the country. His raiment was made for him in the style which he had brought with him from his village. His gray coat and waistcoat pleased him, for the very reason that in his semi-fashionable attire he perceived a feeble approach to the livery which he had worn in former times when waiting on his former masters (now at rest), either to church or to parties; but liveries in his recollections were merely representative of the dignity of the Oblomov family. There was nothing else to recall to the old man the comfortable and liberal style of life on the estate in the depths of the country. The older generation of masters had died, the family portraits were at home, and in all probability were going to rack and ruin in the garret; the traditions of the former life and importance of the house of Oblomov were all extinct, or lived only in the memories of a few old people still lingering in the country.  24
  Consequently, precious in the eyes of Zakhár was the gray coat: in this he saw a faint emblem of vanished greatness, and he found similar indications in some of the characteristics of his master’s features and notions, reminding of his parentage, and in his caprices, which although he grumbled at them under his breath and aloud, yet he prized secretly as manifestations of the truly imperious will and autocratic spirit of a born noble. Had it not been for these whims, he would not have felt that his master was in any sense above him; had it not been for them, there would have been nothing to bring back to his mind his younger days, the village which they had abandoned so long ago, and the traditions about that ancient home,—the sole chronicles preserved by aged servants, nurses, and nursemaids, and handed down from mouth to mouth.  25
  The house of the Oblomovs was rich in those days, and had great influence in that region; but afterwards somehow or other everything had gone to destruction, and at last by degrees had sunk out of sight, overshadowed by parvenus of aristocratic pretensions. Only the few gray-haired retainers of the house preserved and interchanged their reminiscences of the past, treasuring them like holy relics.  26
  This was the reason why Zakhár so loved his gray coat. Possibly he valued his side-whiskers because of the fact that he saw in his childhood many of the older servants with this ancient and aristocratic adornment.  27
  Ílya Ílyitch, immersed in contemplation, took no notice of Zakhár, though the servant had been silently waiting for some time. At last he coughed.  28
  “What is it you want?” asked Ílya Ílyitch.  29
  “You called me, didn’t you?”  30
  “Called you? I don’t remember what I called you for,” he replied, stretching and yawning. “Go back to your room; I will try to think what I wanted.”  31
  Zakhár went out, and Ílya Ílyitch lay down on the bed again and began to cogitate upon that cursed letter.  32
  A quarter of an hour elapsed.  33
  “There now,” he exclaimed, “I have dallied long enough; I must get up. However, I must read the stárosta’s letter over again more attentively, and then I will get up—Zakhár!” The same noise of leaping down from the stove, and the same growling of the dog, only more emphatic.  34
  Zakhár made his appearance, but again Oblomov was sunk deep in contemplation. Zakhár stood a few moments, looking sulkily and askance at his master, and finally he turned to go.  35
  “Where are you going?” suddenly demanded Oblomov.  36
  “You have nothing to say to me, and why should I waste my time standing here?” explained Zakhár, in a hoarse gasp which served him in lieu of a voice, he having lost his voice, according to his own account, while out hunting with the dogs when he had to accompany his former master, and when a powerful wind seemed to blow in his throat. He half turned round, and stood in the middle of the room and glared at his master.  37
  “Have your legs quite given out, that you can’t stand a minute? Don’t you see I am worried? Now, please wait a moment! wasn’t it lying there just now? Get me that letter which I received last evening from the stárosta. What did you do with it?”  38
  “What letter? I haven’t seen any letter,” replied Zakhár.  39
  “Why, you yourself took it from the postman, you scoundrel!”  40
  “It is where you put it; how should I know anything about it?” said Zakhár, beginning to rummage about among the papers and various things that littered the table.  41
  “You never know anything at all. There, look on the basket. No, see if it hasn’t been thrown on the sofa.—There, the back of that sofa hasn’t been mended yet. Why have you not got the carpenter to mend it? ’Twas you who broke it. You never think of anything!”  42
  “I didn’t break it,” retorted Zakhár; “it broke itself; it was not meant to last forever; it had to break some time.”  43
  Ílya Ílyitch did not consider it necessary to refute this argument. He contented himself with asking:—  44
  “Have you found it yet?”  45
  “Here are some letters.”  46
  “But they are not the right ones.”  47
  “Well, there’s nothing else,” said Zakhár.  48
  “Very good, be gone,” said Ílya Ílyitch impatiently. “I am going to get up. I will find it.”  49
  Zakhár went to his room, but he had hardly laid his hand on his couch to climb up to it before the imperative cry was heard again:—  50
  “Zakhár! Zakhár!”  51
  “Oh, good Lord!” grumbled he, as he started to go for the third time to Oblomov’s library. “What a torment all this is! Oh that death would come and take me from it!”  52
  “What do you want?” he asked, as he stood with one hand on the door, and glaring at Oblomov as a sign of his surliness, at such an angle that he had to look at his master out of the corner of his eyes; while his master could see only one of his enormous side-whiskers, so bushy that you might have expected to have two or three birds come flying out from them.  53
  “My handkerchief, quick! You might have known what I wanted. Don’t you see?” remarked Ílya Ílyitch sternly.  54
  Zakhár displayed no special dissatisfaction or surprise at such an order or such a reproach on his master’s part, regarding both, so far as he was concerned, as perfectly natural.  55
  “But who knows where your handkerchief is?” he grumbled, circling about the room and making a careful examination of every chair, although it could be plainly seen that there was nothing whatever on them.  56
  “It is a perfect waste of time,” he remarked, opening the door into the drawing-room in order to see if there was any sign of it there.  57
  “Where are you going? Look for it here; I have not been in that room since day before yesterday. And make haste,” urged Ílya Ílyitch.  58
  “Where is the handkerchief? There isn’t any handkerchief,” exclaimed Zakhár rummaging and searching in every corner.  59
  “Oh, there it is,” he suddenly cried angrily, “under you. There is the end of it sticking out. You were lying on it, and yet you ask me to find your handkerchief for you!”  60
  And Zakhár, without awaiting any reply, turned and started to go out. Oblomov was somewhat ashamed of his own blunder. But he quickly discovered another pretext for putting Zakhár in the wrong.  61
  “What kind of neatness do you call this everywhere here! Look at the dust and dirt! Good heavens! look here, look here! See these corners! You don’t do anything at all.”  62
  “And so I don’t do anything,” repeated Zakhár in a tone betokening deep resentment. “I am growing old, I shan’t live much longer! But God knows I use the duster for the dust, and I sweep almost every day.”  63
  He pointed to the middle of the floor, and at the table where Oblomov had dined. “Here, look here,” he went on: “it has all been swept and all put in order, fit for a wedding. What more is needed?”  64
  “Well then, what is this?” cried Ílya Ílyitch, interrupting him and calling his attention to the walls and the ceiling. “And that? and that?”  65
  He pointed to a yesterday’s napkin which had been flung down, and to a plate which had been left lying on the table with a dry crust of bread on it.  66
  “Well, as for that,” said Zakhár as he picked up the plate, “I will take care of it.”  67
  “You will take care of it, will you? But how about the dust and the cobwebs on the walls?” said Oblomov, making ocular demonstration.  68
  “I put that off till Holy Week; then I clean the sacred images and sweep down the cobwebs.”  69
  “But how about dusting the books and pictures?”  70
  “The books and pictures? Before Christmas; then Anísiya and I look over all the closets. But now when should we be able to do it? You are always at home.”  71
  “I sometimes go to the theatre or go out to dine: you might—”  72
  “Do house-cleaning at night?”  73
  Oblomov looked at him reproachfully, shook his head, and uttered a sigh; but Zakhár gazed indifferently out of the window and also sighed deeply. The master seemed to be thinking, “Well, brother, you are even more of an Oblomov than I am myself;” while Zakhár probably said to himself, “Rubbish! You as my master talk strange and melancholy words, but how do dust and cobwebs concern you?”  74
  “Don’t you know that moths breed in dust?” asked Ílya Ílyitch. “I have even seen bugs on the wall!”  75
  “Well, I have fleas on me sometimes,” replied Zakhár in a tone of indifference.  76
  “Well, is that anything to boast about? That is shameful,” exclaimed Oblomov.  77
  Zakhár’s face was distorted by a smirking smile, which seemed to embrace even his eyebrows and his side-whiskers, which for this reason spread apart; and over his whole face up to his very forehead extended a ruddy spot.  78
  “Why, am I to blame that there are bugs on the wall?” he asked in innocent surprise: “was it I who invented them?”  79
  “They come from lack of cleanliness,” insisted Oblomov. “What are you talking about?”  80
  “I am not the cause of the uncleanliness.”  81
  “But you have mice in your room there running about at night—I hear them.”  82
  “I did not invent the mice. There are all kinds of living creatures—mice and cats and fleas—lots of them everywhere.”  83
  “How is it that other people don’t have moths and bugs?”  84
  Zakhár’s face expressed incredulity, or rather a calm conviction that this was not so.  85
  “I have plenty of them,” he said without hesitation. “One can’t look after every bug and crawl into the cracks after them.”  86
  It seemed to be his thought, “What kind of a sleeping-room would that be that had no bugs in it?”  87
  “Now do you see to it that you sweep and brush them out of the corners; don’t let there be one left,” admonished Oblomov.  88
  “If you get it all cleaned up it will be just as bad again to-morrow,” remonstrated Zakhár.  89
  “It ought not to be as bad,” interrupted the master.  90
  “But it is,” insisted the servant; “I know all about it.”  91
  “Well then, if the dust collects again, brush it out again.”  92
  “What is that you say? Brush out all the corners every day?” exclaimed Zakhár. “What a life that would be! Better were it that God should take my soul!”  93
  “Why are other people’s houses clean?” urged Oblomov. “Just look at the piano-tuner’s rooms: see how neat they look, and only one maid—”  94
  “Oh, these Germans!” exclaimed Zakhár suddenly interrupting. “Where do they make any litter? Look at the way they live! Every family gnaws a whole week on a single bone. The coat goes from the father’s back to the son’s, and back from the son’s to the father’s. The wives and daughters wear little short skirts, and when they walk they all lift up their legs like ducks—where do they get any dirt? They don’t do as we do—leave a whole heap of soiled clothes in the closet for a year at a time, or fill up the corners with bread crusts for the winter. Their crusts are never flung down at random: they make zweiback out of them, and eat them when they drink their beer!”  95
  Zakhár expressed his disgust at such a penurious way of living by spitting through his teeth.  96
  “Say nothing more,” expostulated Ílya Ílyitch. “Do better work with your house-cleaning.”  97
  “One time I would have cleaned up, but you yourself would not allow it,” said Zakhár.  98
  “That is all done with! Don’t you see I have entirely changed?”  99
  “Of course you have; but still you stay at home all the time: how can one begin to clean up when you are right here? If you will stay out of the house for a whole day, then I will have a general clearing-up.”  100
  “What an idea! Get out of here. You had better go to your own room.”  101
  “All right!” persisted Zakhár; “but I tell you, the moment you go out, Anísiya and I will clear the whole place up. And we two would finish with it in short metre; then you will want some women to wash everything.”  102
  “Oh, what schemes you invent! Women! away with you!” cried Ílya Ílyitch.  103
  He was by this time disgusted with himself for having led Zakhár into this conversation. He had quite forgotten that the attainment of this delicate object was at the expense of considerable confusion. Oblomov would have liked a state of perfect cleanliness, but he would require that it should be brought about in some imperceptible manner, as it were of itself; but Zakhár always induced a discussion as soon as he was asked to have any sweeping done, or the floors washed, and the like. In such a contingency he was sure to point out the necessity of a terrible disturbance in the house, knowing very well that the mere suggestion of such a thing would fill his master with horror.  104
  Zakhár went away, and Oblomov relapsed into cogitation. After some minutes the half-hour struck again.  105
  “What time is it?” exclaimed Ílya Ílyitch with a dull sense of alarm. “Almost eleven o’clock! Can it be that I am not up yet nor had my bath? Zakhár! Zakhár!”  106
  “Oh, good God! what is it now?” was heard from the ante-room, and then the well-known thump of feet.  107
  “Is my bath ready?” asked Oblomov.  108
  “Ready? yes, long ago,” replied Zakhár. “Why did you not get up?”  109
  “Why didn’t you tell me it was ready? I should have got up long ago if you had. Go on; I will follow you immediately. I have some business to do; I want to write.”  110
  Zakhár went out, but in the course of a few minutes he returned with a greasy copy-book all scribbled over, and some scraps of paper.  111
  “Here, if you want to write—and by the way, be kind enough to verify these accounts: we need the money to pay them.”  112
  “What accounts? what money?” demanded Ílya Ílyitch with a show of temper.  113
  “From the butcher, from the grocer, from the laundress, from the baker; they all are clamoring for money.”  114
  “Nothing but bother about money,” growled Ílya Ílyitch. “But why didn’t you give them to me one at a time instead of all at once?”  115
  “You see you always kept putting me off: ‘To-morrow,’ always ‘To-morrow.’”  116
  “Well, why shouldn’t we put them off till to-morrow now?”  117
  “No! they are dunning you; they won’t give any longer credit. To-morrow’s the first of the month.”  118
  “Akh!” cried Oblomov in vexation, “new bother! Well, why are you standing there? Put them on the table. I will get up immediately, take my bath, and look them over,” said Ílya Ílyitch. “Is it all ready for my bath?”  119
  “What do you mean—‘ready’?” said Zakhár.  120
  “Well, now—”  121
  With a groan he started to make the preliminary movement of getting up.  122
  “I forgot to tell you,” began Zakhár, “while you were still asleep the manager sent word by the dvórnik that it was imperatively necessary that you vacate the apartment: it is wanted.”  123
  “Well, what of that? If the apartment is wanted of course we will move out. Why do you bother me with it? This is the third time you have spoken to me about it.”  124
  “They bother me about it also.”  125
  “Tell them that we will move out.”  126
  “He says, ‘For a month you have been promising,’ says he, ‘and still you don’t move out,’ says he: ‘we’ll report the matter to the police.’”  127
  “Let him report,” cried Oblomov resolutely: “we will move out as soon as it is a little warmer, in the course of three weeks.”  128
  “Three weeks, indeed! The manager says that the workmen are coming in a fortnight: everything is to be torn out. ‘Move,’ says he, ‘either to-morrow or day after to-morrow.’”  129
  “Eh—eh—eh—that’s too short notice: to-morrow? See here, what next? How would this minute suit? But don’t you dare speak a word to me about apartments. I have already told you that once, and here you are again. Do you hear?”  130
  “But what shall I do?” demanded Zakhár.  131
  “What shall you do? Now how is he going to get rid of me?” replied Ílya Ílyitch. “He makes me responsible! How does it concern me? Don’t you trouble me any further, but make any arrangements you please, only so that we don’t have to move yet. Can’t you do your best for your master?”  132
  “But Ílya Ílyitch, little father [bátiushka], what arrangements shall I make?” began Zakhár in a hoarse whisper. “The house is not mine; how can we help being driven out of the place if they resort to force? If only the house were mine, then I would with the greatest pleasure—”  133
  “There must be some way of bringing him around: tell him we have lived here so long; tell him we’ll surely pay him.”  134
  “I have,” said Zakhár.  135
  “Well, what did he say?”  136
  “What did he say? He repeated his everlasting ‘Move out,’ says he; ‘we want to make repairs on the apartment.’ He wants to do over this large apartment and the doctor’s for the wedding of the owner’s son.”  137
  “Oh, my good Lord!” exclaimed Oblomov in despair; “what asses they are to get married!”  138
  He turned over on his back.  139
  “You had better write to the owner, sir,” said Zakhár. “Then perhaps he would not drive us out, but would give us a renewal of the lease.”  140
  Zakhár as he said this made a gesture with his right hand.  141
  “Very well, then; as soon as I get up I will write him. You go to your room and I will think it over. You need not do anything about this,” he added; “I myself shall have to work at all this miserable business myself.”  142
  Zakhár left the room, and Oblomov began to ponder.  143
  But he was in a quandary which to think about,—his stárosta’s letter, or the removal to new lodgings, or should he undertake to make out his accounts? He was soon swallowed up in the flood of material cares and troubles, and there he still lay turning from side to side. Every once in a while would be heard his broken exclamation, “Akh, my God! life touches everything, reaches everywhere!”  144
  No one knows how long he would have lain there a prey to this uncertainty, had not the bell rung in the ante-room.  145
  “There is some one come already!” exclaimed Oblomov, wrapping himself up in his khalát, “and here I am not up yet; what a shame! Who can it be so early?”  146
  And still lying on his bed, he gazed curiously at the door.  147
 
 
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