FOR many a day after his illness Oblomov's mood was one of dull and painfu_espondency; but gradually this became replaced with a phase of mut_ndifference, in which he would spend hours in watching the snow fall an_istening to the grinding of the landlady's coffee-mill, to the barking of th_ousedogs as they rattled at their chains, to the creaking of Zakhar's boots, and to the measured tick of the clock's pendulum. As of old, Agafia Matvievna, his landlady, would come and propose one or another dish for his delectation; also her children would come running to and fro through his rooms. To th_andlady he returned kindly, indifferent answers, and to the youngsters h_ave lessons in reading and writing, while smiling wearily, involuntarily a_heir playfulness. Little by little he regained his former mode of life. On_ay Schtoltz walked into his room.
"Well, Ilya?" he said, with a questioning sternness which caused Oblomov t_ower his eyes and remain silent.
"Then it is to be 'never'?" went on his friend.
"'Never'?" queried Oblomov.
"Yes. Do you not remember my saying to you, 'Now or never'?"
"I do," the other returned. "But I am not the man I then was. I have now se_y affairs in order, and my plans for improving my estate are nearly finished, and I write regularly for two journals, and I have read all the books whic_ou left behind you."
"But why have you never come to join me abroad?" asked Schtoltz.
"Something prevented me."
Oblomov gathered animation at the question.
"Where is she?" he exclaimed. "I heard that she had gone abroad with he_unt—that she went there soon after, after—"
"Soon after she had recognized her mistake," concluded Schtoltz.
"You know the story, then?" said Oblomov, scarcely able to conceal hi_onfusion.
"Yes, the whole of it—even to the point of the sprig of lilac. Do you not fee_shamed of yourself, Ilya? Does it not hurt you? Are you not consumed wit_egret and remorse?"
"Yes; please do not remind me of it," interrupted Oblomov hurriedly. "So grea_as my agony when I perceived the gulf set between us that I fell ill of _ever. Ah, Schtoltz, if you love me, do not torture me, do not mention he_ame. Long ago I pointed out to her her mistake, but she would not listen t_e. Indeed I am not so much to blame."
"I am not blaming you," said Schtoltz gently; "for I have read your letter. I_s I that am most to blame—then she—then you least of all."
"How is she now?"
"How is she? She is in great distress. She weeps, and will not be comforted."
Mingled anguish, sympathy, and alarm showed themselves on Oblomov's features.
"What?" he cried, rising to his feet. "Come, Schtoltz! We must go to her a_nce, in order that I may beg her pardon on my knees."
Schtoltz thought it well to change his tactics.
"Do you sit still," he said with a laugh. "I have not been telling you th_xact truth. As a matter of fact, she is well and happy, and bids me give yo_er greeting. Also, she wanted to write to you, but I dissuaded her on th_round that it would only cause you pain."
"Thank God for that!" cried Oblomov, almost with tears of joy. "Oh, I am s_lad, Schtoltz! Pray let me embrace you, and then let us drink to he_appiness!"
"But why are you hidden away in this corner?" asked Schtoltz after a pause.
"Because it is quiet here—there is no one to disturb me."
"I suppose so," retorted Schtoltz. " In fact, you have here—well, Oblomovk_ver again, only worse." He glanced about him. "And how are you now?"
"I am not very well. My breathing is bad, and spots persist in floating befor_y eyes. Sometimes, too, when I am asleep, some one seems to come and strik_e a blow upon the back and head, so that I leap up with a start."
"Listen, Ilya," said Schtoltz gravely. "I tell you, in all seriousness, tha_f you do not change your mode of life you will soon be seized with dropsy o_ stroke. As for your future, I have no hopes of it at all. If Olga, tha_ngel, could not bear you from your swamp on her wings, neither shall _ucceed in doing so. However, to the end I shall stand by you: and when I sa_hat, I am voicing not only my own wish, but also that of Olga. For sh_esires you not to perish utterly, not to be buried alive; she desires that a_east I shall make an attempt to dig you from the tomb."
"Then she has not forgotten me?" cried Oblomov with emotion—adding: "As thoug_ were worthy of her remembrance!
"No, she has not forgotten you, and, I think, never will. Indeed, she is no_he sort of person to forget you. Some day you must go and pay her a visit i_he country."
"Yes, yes—but not now," urged Oblomov. "Even at this moment I—I—" He pointe_o his heart.
"What does it contain?" asked Schtoltz. "Love?"
"No, shame and sorrow. Ah, life, life!"
"What of it?"
"It disturbs me—it allows me no rest."
"Were it to do so, the flame of your candle would soon go out, and you woul_ind yourself in darkness. Ah, Ilya, Ilya! Life passes too swiftly for it t_e spent in slumber. Would, rather, it were a perpetual fire!—that one coul_ive for hundreds and hundreds of years! Then what an immensity of work woul_ne not do!"
"You and I are of different types," said Oblomov. "You have wings; you do no_erely exist—you also fly. You have gifts and ambition; you do not grow fat; specks do not dance before your eyes; and the back of your neck does not nee_o be periodically scratched. In short, my organism and yours are wholl_issimilar."
"Fie, fie! Man was created to order his own being, and even to change his ow_ature; yet, instead, he goes and develops a paunch, and then supposes tha_ature has laid upon him that burden. Once upon a time you too had wings. No_ou have laid them aside."
"Where are they?" asked Oblomov. "I am powerless, completely powerless."
"Rather, you are determined to be powerless. Even during your boyhood a_blomovka, and amid the circle of your aunts and nurses and valets, you ha_egun to waste your intellect, and to be unable to put on your own socks, an_o forth. Hence your present inability to live."
"All that may be so," said Oblomov with a sigh; "but now it is too late t_urn back."
"And what am I to say to Olga on my return?"
Oblomov hung his head in sad and silent meditation.
"Say nothing," at length he said. "Or say that you have not seen me… ."
A year and a half later Oblomov was sitting in his dull, murky rooms. He ha_ow grown corpulent, and from his eyes ennui peered forth like a disease. A_ntervals, too, he would rise and pace the room, then lie down again, the_ake a book from the table, read a few lines of it, yawn, and begin drummin_ith his fingers upon the table's surface. As for Zakhar, he was more seed_nd untidy than ever. The elbows of his coat were patched, and he had abou_im a pinched and hungry air, as though his appetite were bad, his sleep poor, and his work three times as much as it ought to have been. Oblomov's dressing- gown also was patched: yet, carefully though the holes had been mended, th_eams were coming apart in various places. Likewise the coverlet of the be_as ragged, while the curtains, though clean, were faded and hanging i_trips.
Suddenly the landlady entered to announce a visitor, and also to say that i_as neither Tarantiev nor Alexiev.
"Then it must be Schtoltz again!" thought Oblomov, with a sense of horror.
"What can he want with me? However, it does not matter."
"How are you?" inquired Schtoltz when he entered the room. "You have grow_tout, yet your face is pale."
"Yes, I am not well," agreed Oblomov. "Somehow my left leg has lost al_eeling." Schtoltz threw at him a keen glance, and then eyed the dressing- gown, the curtains, and the coverlet.
"Never mind," said Oblomov confusedly. "You know that never at any time do _eep my place tidy. But how is Olga?"
"She has not forgotten you. Possibly you will end by forgetting her?"
"No, never! Never could I forget the time when I was really alive and livin_n Paradise. Where is she, then?"
"In the country."
"With her aunt?"
"Yes—and also with her husband."
"So she is married? Has she been married long? And is she happy?" Oblomov ha_uite sloughed his lethargy. "I feel as though you had removed a great burde_rom my mind. True, when you were last here, you assured me that she ha_orgiven me; but all this time I have been unable to rest for the gnawing a_y heart… . Tell me who the fortunate man is?"
"Who he is? " repeated Schtoltz. "Why, cannot you guess, Ilya!"
Oblomov's gaze grew more intent, and for a moment or two his feature_tiffened, and every vestige of colour left his cheeks.
"Surely it is not yourself? " he asked abruptly.
"It is. I married her last year."
The agitation faded from Oblomov's expression, and gave place to his usua_pathetic moodiness. For a moment or two he did not raise his eyes; but whe_e did so they were full of kindly tears.
"Dear Schtoltz!" he cried, embracing his friend. "And dear Olga! May God bles_ou both! How pleased I am! Pray tell her so."
"I will tell her that in all the world there exists not my friend Oblomov'_qual." Schtoltz was profoundly moved.
"No, tell her, rather, that I was fated to meet her, in order that I might se_er on the right road. Tell her also that I bless both that meeting and th_oad which she has now taken. To think that that road might have bee_ifferent! As it is, I have nothing to blush for, and nothing of which t_epent. You have relieved my soul of a great burden, and all within it i_right. I thank you, I thank you!"
"I will tell her what you have said," replied Schtoltz. "She has indeed reaso_or never forgetting you, for you would have been worthy of her—yes, worthy o_er, you who have a heart as deep as the sea. You must come and visit us i_he country."
"No," replied the other. "It is not that I am afraid of witnessing you_arried happiness, or of becoming jealous of her love for you. Yet I will no_ome."
"Then of what are you afraid?"
"Of growing envious of you. In your happiness I should see, as in a mirror, m_wn bitter, broken life. Yet no life but this do I wish, or have it in m_ower, to live. Do not, therefore, disturb it. Memories are the height o_oetry only when they are memories of happiness. When they graze wounds ove_hich scars have formed they become an aching pain. Let us speak of somethin_lse. Let me thank you for all the care and attention which you have devote_o my affairs. Yet never can I properly requite you. Seek, rather, requital i_our own heart, and in your happiness with Olga Sergievna. Likewise, forgiv_e for having failed to relieve you of your duties with regard to Oblomovka.
It is my fixed intention to go there before long."
"You will find great changes occurred in the place. Doubtless you have rea_he statements of accounts which I have sent you?"
Oblomov remained silent.
"What? You have not read them?" exclaimed Schtoltz, aghast. "Then where ar_hey?"
"I do not know. Wait a little, and I will look for them after dinner."
"Ah, Ilya, Ilya! Scarcely do I know whether to laugh or to weep."
"Never mind. We will attend to the affair after dinner. First let us eat."
During the meal Oblomov bestowed high encomiums upon his landlady's cooking.
"She looks after everything," he said. "Never will you see me either wit_nmended socks or with a shirt turned inside out. She supervises ever_etail."
He ate and drank with great gusto—so much so that Schtoltz contemplated hi_ith amazement.
"Drink, dear friend, drink," said Oblomov. "This is splendid vodka. Even Olg_ould not make vodka or patties or mushroom stews equal to these. They ar_ike what we used to have at Oblomovka. No man could be better looked after b_ woman than I am by my landlady, Agafia Matvievna. Nevertheless I, I—" H_esitated.
"Well, what? " prompted Schtoltz.
"I owe her ten thousand roubles on note of hand."
"Ten thousand roubles? To your landlady? For board and lodging?" gaspe_chtoltz, horrified.
"Yes. You see, the sum has gone on accumulating, for I live generously, an_he debt includes accounts for peaches, pineapples, and so forth."
"Ilya," said Schtoltz, "what is this woman to you?"
The other made no reply.
"She is robbing him," thought his friend. "She is wheedling his all out o_im. Such things are everyday occurrences, yet I had not guessed it."
Desirous of taking Oblomov away with him, he nevertheless found all hi_fforts in that direction ineffectual.
"I ask you once again," he said. "In what relation do you stand to you_andlady?"
Again Oblomov reddened.
"Why are you desirous of knowing?" he countered.
"Because, on the score of our old friendship, I think it my duty to give you _ery serious warning indeed."
"A warning against what?"
"A warning against a pit into which you may fall. Now I must be going. I wil_ell Olga that we may expect to see you this summer, whether at our place o_t Oblomovka."
Then Schtoltz departed.
Not for some years did he visit the capital again, for Olga's healt_ecessitated a lengthy sojourn in the Crimea. For some reason or other he_ecovery after the birth of a child had been slow.
"How happy I am!" was her frequent reflection. Yet, no sooner had she passe_er life in admiring review than she would find herself relapsing into _editative mood. What a curious person she was!—a person who, in proportion a_er felicity became more complete, plunged ever deeper and deeper into _rooding over the past! Delving into the recesses of her own mind, she bega_o realize that this peaceful existence, this halting at various stages o_elicity, annoyed her. However, with an effort of will she shook her sou_lear of this despondency, and quickened her steps through life in a feveris_esire to seek noise and movement and occupation. Yet the bustle of societ_rought her small relief, and she would retire again into her corner—there t_id her spirit of the unwonted sense of depression. Then she would go out onc_ore, and busy herself with petty household cares which confined her to th_ursery and the' duties of a nurse and a mother, or join her husband i_eading and discussing serious books or poetry. Her main fear was lest sh_hould fall ill of the disease, the apathetic malady, of Oblomovka. Yet, fo_ll her efforts to slough these phases of torpor and of spiritual coma, _ream of happiness other than the present used to steal upon her, and wrap he_n a haze of inertia, and cause her whole being to halt, as for a rest fro_he exertions of life. Again, to this mood there would succeed a phase o_orture and weariness and apprehension—a phase of dull sorrowfulness whic_ept asking itself dim, indefinite questions and ceaselessly pondering upo_hem. And as she listened to those questions she would examine herself, ye_ever discover what it was she yearned for, nor why, at times, she seemed t_ire of her comfortable existence, to demand of it new and unfamilia_mpressions, and to be gazing ahead in search of something.
"What does it all mean?" she would say to herself with a shudder. "Is ther_eally anything more that I require, or that I need wish for? Whither am _ravelling? I have no farther to go—my journey is ended. Yet have I reall_ompleted my cycle of existence? Is this really all—all?" Then she woul_lance timidly around her, and wonder, in doubt and trembling, what suc_hispers of the soul might portend. With anxious eyes she would scan th_arth, the heavens, and the wilds, yet find therein no answer, but merel_loom, profundity, and remoteness. All nature seemed to be saying the sam_hing; in nature she could perceive only a ceaseless, uniform current of lif_o which there was neither a beginning nor an ending. Of course, she knew who_he could consult concerning these tremors—she knew who could return th_eeded answers to her questionings. But what would those answers import? Wha_f Schtoltz should say that her self-questionings represented the murmuring_f an unsympathetic, an unwomanly, heart—that his quondam idol possessed but _lasé, dissatisfied soul from which nothing good was to be looked for? Yes, how greatly she might fall in his estimation, were he to discover these ne_nd unwonted pangs of hers! Consequently, whenever, in spite of her bes_fforts to conceal the fact, her eyes lost their velvety softness, an_cquired a dry and feverish glitter; whenever, too, a heavy cloud oversprea_er face, and she could not force herself to smile, and to talk, and to liste_ndifferently to the latest news in the political world, or to descriptions o_nteresting phenomena in some new walk of learning, or to remarks upon som_ew creation of art—well, then she hid herself away, on the plea of illness.
Yet she felt no desire to give way to tears; she experienced none of thos_udden alarms which had been hers during the period when her girlish nerve_ad been excited even to the point of self-expression. So if, while resting o_ome calm, beautiful evening, there came stealing upon her, even amid he_usband's talk and caresses, a feeling of weariness and indifference t_verything, she would merely ask herself despairingly what it all meant. A_ne moment she would become, as it were, turned to stone, and sit silent; a_nother she would make feverish attempts to conceal her strange malady.
Finally a headache would supervene, and she would retire to rest. Yet all th_hile it was a difficult matter for her to evade the keen eyes of her husband.
This she knew well, and therefore prepared herself for conversation with hi_s nervously as she would have done for confession to a priest.