"ARE you certain that nothing remains to you of your property--that there is no hope of anything?" asked Olga a few days later.
"Yes, I am certain," he replied--then added with a touch of hesitation in his tone: "But perhaps within a year or so--"
"Within a year or so you may be able to order your life and your affairs? Reflect a moment."
He sighed, for he was fighting a battle with himself, and the battle was reflected in his face.
"Listen," she went on. "Remember that you and I are no longer children, and that we are not jesting, and that the matter may affect our whole lives. Inquire sternly of your conscience, therefore, and tell me (for I know you, as well as trust you) whether you can stand by me your life long, and be to me all that I need? You know me as I know you: consequently you understand what it is that I am trying to say. Should you return me a bold, a considered 'Yes,' I will cancel a certain decision of mine--I will give you my hand, and together we will go abroad, or to your estate, or to the Veaborg Quarter."
"Ah, if you knew how much I love you!" he began.
"I desire no protestations of love--only a brief answer."
"Do not torture me, Olga," he cried with weariness in his tone.
"Then am I right in what I suppose?" she asked.
"Yes--you are right," was the firm, but significant, reply.
There followed a long pause.
"Shall I tell you what you would have done had we married?" at length she said. "Day by day you would have relapsed farther and farther into your slough. And I? You see what I am--that I am not yet grown old, and that I shall never cease to live. But you would have taken to waiting for Christmas, and then for Shrovetide, and to attending evening parties, and to dancing, and to thinking of nothing at all. You would have retired to rest each night with a sigh of thankfulness that the day had passed so quickly; and each morning you would have awakened with a prayer that to-day might be exactly as yesterday. That would have been our future. Is it not so? Meanwhile I should have been fading away. Do you really think that in such a life you would have been happy?"
He tried to rise and leave the room, but his feet refused their office. He tried to say something, but his throat seemed dry, and no sound would come. All he could do was to stretch out his hand.
"Forgive me!" he murmured.
She too tried to speak, but could not. She too tried to extend her hand, but it fell back. Finally, her face contracted painfully, and, sinking forward upon his shoulder, she burst into a storm of sobbing. It was as though all her weapons had slipped from her grasp, and once more she was just a woman--a woman defenceless in her fight with sorrow.
"Good-bye, good-bye!" she said amid her spasms of weeping. He sat listening painfully to her sobs, but felt as though he could say nothing to check them. Sinking into a chair, and burying her face in her handkerchief, she wept bitter, burning tears, with her head bowed upon the table.
"Olga," at length he said, "why torture yourself in this way? You love me, and could never survive a parting. Take me, therefore, as I am, and love in me just so much as may be worthy of it."
Without raising her head, she made a gesture of refusal.
"No, no," she forced herself to gasp. "Nor need you fear for me and my grief. I know myself. I am merely weeping my heart out, and shall then weep no more. Do not hinder me, but go. God has punished me. Yet how it hurts, how it hurts!"
Her sobs redoubled.
"But suppose the pain should not pass?" he said. "Suppose it should wreck your health? Tears like these are tears of poison. Olga, darling, do not weep. Forget the past."
"No, no; let me weep. I am weeping not so much for the future as for the past." She could scarcely utter the words. "It was all so bright--but now it is gone! It is not I that am weeping; it is my memory--my memory of the summer, of the park--that is pouring out its grief. Do you remember those things? Yes, I am yearning for the avenue, and for the lilac that you gave me . . . They had struck their roots into my heart, and--and the plucking of them up is painful indeed!"
In her despair she bowed her head, and sobbed again--repeating: "Oh, how it hurts! Oh, how it hurts!"
"But suppose you were to die of this?" he said in sudden alarm. "Olga, Olga! Think a moment!"
"No, no," she interrupted, raising her head, and striving to look at him through her tears. "Not long ago I realized that I was loving in you only what I wished you to contain--that it was only the future Oblomov of my dreams--it was so dear to me. Ilya, you are good and honourable and tender; but you are all this only as is a dove which, with its head hidden under its wing, wishes to see nothing better. All your life you would have sat perched beneath the eaves. But I am different--I wish for more than that; though what it is I wish for even I myself could scarcely say. On the other hand, do you think that you could have taught me what that something is, that you could have supplied me with what I lack, that you could have given me all that I--?"
Oblomov's legs were tottering under him. Sinking into a chair, he wiped his hands and forehead with his handkerchief. The words had been harsh--they had stung him to the quick. Somehow, too, they had seared him inwardly, while outwardly they had chilled him as with a breath of frost. No more could he do than smile the sort of pitiful, deprecating smile which may be seen on the face of a beggar who is being rated for his sorry clothing--the sort of smile which says: "I am poor and naked and hungry. Beat me, therefore--beat me."
Suddenly Olga realized the sting which her words had contained, and threw herself impetuously upon him.
"Forgive me, my friend," she said tenderly and with tears in her voice. "I did not think what I was saying, for I am almost beside myself. Yes, forget all that has happened, and let us be as formerly--let all remain unchanged."
"No," he replied, as abruptly he rose to his feet and checked her outburst with a decisive gesture. "All cannot remain unchanged. Nor need you regret that you have told me the truth. I have well deserved it."
She burst into a renewed fit of weeping.
"Go!" she said, twisting her tear-soaked handkerchief in her hands. "I cannot bear this any longer. To me at least the past is dear."
She covered her face, and the sobs poured forth afresh.
"Why has everything thus come to rack and ruin?" she cried. "Who has put a curse upon you, Ilya? Why have you done this? You are clever and kind and good and noble; yet you can wreck our lives in this way! What nameless evil has undone you?"
"It has a name," he said almost inaudibly. She looked at him questioningly with tear-filled eyes. "That name," he added, "is 'The Disease of Oblomovka.'"
Turning with bowed head, he departed.
Whither he wandered, or what he did, he never afterwards knew. Late at night he returned home. His landlady, hearing his knock, awoke Zakhar, who undressed his master, and wrapped him in the old dressing-gown.
"How comes that to be here?" asked Oblomov, glancing at the garment.
"I was given it by the landlady to-day," replied Zakhar. "She has just cleaned and mended it."
Sinking into an arm-chair, Oblomov remained there. All around was growing dim and dreamlike. As he sat there with his head resting on his hand he neither remarked the dimness nor heard the striking of the hours. All his mind was plunged in a chaos of formless, indefinite thoughts which, like the clouds in the sky, passed aimlessly, disconnectedly athwart the surface of his brain. Of none of them could he catch the actual substance. His heart felt crushed, and for the moment the life in it was in abeyance. Mechanically he gazed in front of him without even noticing that day was breaking, or that his landlady's dry cough was once more audible, or that the dvornik was beginning to cut firewood in the courtyard, or that the usual clatter in the house had begun again. At length he went to bed, and fell into a leaden, an uncomfortable sleep . . . .
"To-day is Sunday," whispered the kindly voice of the landlady, "and I have baked you a pie. Will you not have some?"
He returned no answer, for he was in a high fever.