ON arriving at his rooms again, Oblomov never noticed that Zakhar gave him a cold dinner, or that, after it, he rolled into bed and slept heavily and insensibly, like a stone. Next day he received a letter in which Olga said that she had spent the whole night weeping.
"She has been unable to sleep!" he thought to himself. "Poor angel! Why does she care for me so much? And why am I so fond of her? Would we had never met! It is all Schtoltz's fault. He shed love over us as he might have shed a disease. What sort of a life is this? Nothing but anxiety and emotion! How can it ever lead to peaceful happiness and rest?"
Sighing deeply, he threw himself upon the sofa--then rose again, and went out into the street, as though seeking the normal existence which pursues a daily, gradual course of contemplation of nature, and constitutes a series of calm, scarcely perceptible phenomena of family life. Of existence as a spacious, a turbulent, a billowing river, as Schtoltz always conceived it to be, he could form no conception whatever.
He wrote to Olga that he had taken a slight chill in the Summer Gardens--wherefore he must stay at home for a couple of days; but that he hoped soon to be better, and to see her on the following Sunday. In reply she wrote that he must take the greatest care of himself; that even on Sunday he must not come should he not be well enough; and that a whole week's separation would be bearable to her if thereby he were enabled to avoid risking his health. This excuse for omitting the Sunday visit Oblomov gladly seized upon; wherefore he sent back word that, as a matter of fact, a few days' additional convalescence would be no more than prudent.
Day succeeded day throughout the week. He read, he walked about the streets, and, occasionally, he looked in upon his landlady for the purpose of exchanging a couple of words and drinking some of her excellent coffee. So comfortable did she make him that he even thought of giving her a book to read; but when he did so she merely read the headings of a chapter or two, and then returned him the volume, saying that later she would get her little girl to read the work to her.
Meanwhile Olga received unexpected news. This was to the effect that a lawsuit with regard to her property had ended in her favour, and that within a month's time she would be able, should she wish, to enter into actual possession. But of this, and of her other plans for the future, she decided not to tell Oblomov, but to spend the present hour in dreams of the happiness that was to be hers and his when she had seen love complete its revolution in his apathetic soul, and the slothfulness fall from his shoulders.
That very day he was to come. Yet three o'clock arrived--four o'clock--and no Oblomov. By half-past five the beauty and the freshness of her features had begun to fade. Insensibly her form assumed a drooping posture, and as she sat at the table her face was pale. Yet no one noticed this. The rest of the guests consumed the dishes which she had prepared for him alone, and carried on a desultory, indifferent chatter of conversation. Until ten o'clock she vacillated between hope and despair. Then, on the arrival of that hour, she withdrew to her room. At first she showered upon his head all the resentment that was seething within her. Not a word of mordant sarcasm in her vocabulary would she not have devoted to his punishing, had he been present. But after a while her mind passed from fierceness to a thought which chilled it like ice.
"He is sick," was that thought. "He is lonely and ill, and unable even to write."
So much did the idea gain upon her that she passed a sleepless night, and rose pale, quiet, and determined. The same morning--it was Monday--the landlady informed Oblomov that a visitor desired to see him.
"To see me? Surely not?" he exclaimed. "Where is she?"
"Outside. Shall I send her away?"
Oblomov was about to assent when Olga's maid, Katia, entered the room. Oblomov changed countenance. "How come you to be here?" he asked.
"My mistress is outside," she replied, "and has sent me in to bid you go to her." There was no help for it, so he went out, and found Olga alone.
"Are you quite well?" she exclaimed. "What has been the matter with you?" With that they entered his study.
"I am better now--the sore throat is almost gone," he replied; and as he spoke he touched the part mentioned, and coughed slightly.
"Then why did you not come last night?" She raked him with a glance so keen that for the moment he found himself tongue-tied.
"And why have you taken such a step as this?" he countered. "Surely you know what you are doing?"
"Never mind," she retorted impatiently. "I do not believe you have been ill at all."
"No--I have not," he confessed.
"You have been deceiving me? Why so?"
"I will explain later. Important reasons have kept me away from you for a fortnight."
"What are they?"
I--I am afraid of scandal, of people's tongues."
"And not of the fact that possibly I might pass sleepless nights--that possibly I might be so anxious as to be unable to rest?"
"You cannot think what is passing within me," he said, pointing to his head, and then to his heart. "I am all on edge, all on fire."
With that he told her what Zakhar had said to him, and ended with a statement that, like herself, he could not sleep, and that in every glance he saw a question, or a sneer, or a veiled hint at the relations which might be existing between her and himself.
"Let us decide to tell my aunt this week," she replied, "and at once this chatter will cease. Had I not known you so well, I should scarcely have been able to understand the fact that you can be afraid of servants' gossip, yet not of making me anxious. Really I cannot understand you."
"Listen," presently she went on. "There is more in this than meets the eye. Tell me all that is in your mind. What does it mean?"
He looked at her--then kissed her hand and sighed.
"What have you been doing during the past week or so?" she persisted as she glanced round the room. "What a wretched place you have got! The windows are small, and the curtains dirty. Where are your other rooms?"
He hastened to show her them, in the hope that he might divert her mind from the question of his late doings; but she only repeated the question.
"I have been reading," he replied, "and writing, and thinking of you."
"Have you yet read my books?" she inquired. "Where are they? I will take them back with me."
One of them happened to be lying on the table. She looked at the page at which it was open, and saw that the page was covered with dust.
"You have not read them!" she exclaimed.
"No," he confessed.
Once more she looked at the mess and disorder in the room, and then inquired:
"Then what have you been doing? You have neither been writing nor reading."
"No; I have not had time to do so. In this place, as soon as one rises, the rooms need to be swept, and other interruptions occur afterwards. Next, when dinner is over--"
"When dinner is over you need to go to sleep."
So positive in its assurance was her tone that after a moment's hesitation he replied that her conjecture was correct.
"Why do you do that?"
"In order to pass the time. You are not here with me, Olga, and life is wearisome and unbearable without you."
Her gaze became so stern that he broke off abruptly.
"Listen, Ilya," she said very gravely. "Do you remember saying in the park that at length your life had been fired to flame, and that you believed me to be the aim, the ideal, of your life?"
"How should I not remember it, seeing that it has revolutionized my whole existence? Cannot you see how happy I am?"
"No, I do not see it," she replied coldly. "Not only have you deceived me, but also you are letting yourself relapse into your former ways."
"Deceived you? I swear to God that, were that so, I would leap into the pit of Hell!"
"Yes,--if the pit of Hell were just beneath your feet; but, were you to put off doing so, even for a day or two, you would straightway change your mind, and become nervous about the deed--more especially should Zakhar and the rest begin gossiping on the subject! That is not love."
"Ah, you have no idea how these cares and distractions have injured my health!" he exclaimed. "Ever since I have known you, nothing but anxiety has been my lot. Yet deprivation of you would cause me to die or to go out of my mind. Only through you can I breathe or feel or see. Is it, then, wonderful that, when you are not with me, I fall ill? Without you everything is wearisome and distasteful. I feel like a machine, I walk and act without knowing ever what I am doing. Yes, I am like a machine whereof only you are the fuel, the motive power. . . ."
When she had gone he trod the floor as on air. "How clearly she sees life!" he reflected. "How unerringly from that book of wisdom is she able to divine her road!" Yes, his life and hers had been bound to come together like two rivers, for she, and only she, was his true guide and instructor.
Next day there arrived a letter from the lawyer on his estate. He read it throughÄ then let it slip from his fingers to the ground. The gist of the document was that his property was greatly involved, and that, if he wished matters to be set in order, he must hasten to take up his residence on the spot.
"Then marriage is not to be thought of for at least another year," he reflected with dismay. "First of all I shall need to complete my plans for the estate, and then to consult an architect, and then, and then--" He broke off with a sigh.