FOR many a day after his illness Oblomov's mood was one of dull and painful despondency; but gradually this became replaced with a phase of mute indifference, in which he would spend hours in watching the snow fall and listening to the grinding of the landlady's coffee-mill, to the barking of the housedogs 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 the landlady he returned kindly, indifferent answers, and to the youngsters he gave lessons in reading and writing, while smiling wearily, involuntarily at their playfulness. Little by little he regained his former mode of life. One day Schtoltz walked into his room.
"Well, Ilya?" he said, with a questioning sternness which caused Oblomov to lower 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 set my 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 which you 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 her aunt--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 his confusion.
"Yes, the whole of it--even to the point of the sprig of lilac. Do you not feel ashamed of yourself, Ilya? Does it not hurt you? Are you not consumed with regret and remorse?"
"Yes; please do not remind me of it," interrupted Oblomov hurriedly. "So great was my agony when I perceived the gulf set between us that I fell ill of a fever. Ah, Schtoltz, if you love me, do not torture me, do not mention her name. Long ago I pointed out to her her mistake, but she would not listen to me. Indeed I am not so much to blame."
"I am not blaming you," said Schtoltz gently; "for I have read your letter. It is 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 at once, 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 the exact truth. As a matter of fact, she is well and happy, and bids me give you her greeting. Also, she wanted to write to you, but I dissuaded her on the ground that it would only cause you pain."
"Thank God for that!" cried Oblomov, almost with tears of joy. "Oh, I am so glad, Schtoltz! Pray let me embrace you, and then let us drink to her happiness!"
"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, Oblomovka over 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 before my eyes. Sometimes, too, when I am asleep, some one seems to come and strike me 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, that if you do not change your mode of life you will soon be seized with dropsy or a stroke. As for your future, I have no hopes of it at all. If Olga, that angel, could not bear you from your swamp on her wings, neither shall I succeed in doing so. However, to the end I shall stand by you: and when I say that, I am voicing not only my own wish, but also that of Olga. For she desires you not to perish utterly, not to be buried alive; she desires that at least I shall make an attempt to dig you from the tomb."
"Then she has not forgotten me?" cried Oblomov with emotion--adding: "As though I were worthy of her remembrance!
"No, she has not forgotten you, and, I think, never will. Indeed, she is not the sort of person to forget you. Some day you must go and pay her a visit in the country."
"Yes, yes--but not now," urged Oblomov. "Even at this moment I--I--" He pointed to 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 would find yourself in darkness. Ah, Ilya, Ilya! Life passes too swiftly for it to be spent in slumber. Would, rather, it were a perpetual fire!--that one could live for hundreds and hundreds of years! Then what an immensity of work would one not do!"
"You and I are of different types," said Oblomov. "You have wings; you do not merely 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 need to be periodically scratched. In short, my organism and yours are wholly dissimilar."
"Fie, fie! Man was created to order his own being, and even to change his own nature; yet, instead, he goes and develops a paunch, and then supposes that nature has laid upon him that burden. Once upon a time you too had wings. Now you 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 at Oblomovka, and amid the circle of your aunts and nurses and valets, you had begun to waste your intellect, and to be unable to put on your own socks, and so forth. Hence your present inability to live."
"All that may be so," said Oblomov with a sigh; "but now it is too late to turn 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 had now grown corpulent, and from his eyes ennui peered forth like a disease. At intervals, too, he would rise and pace the room, then lie down again, then take a book from the table, read a few lines of it, yawn, and begin drumming with his fingers upon the table's surface. As for Zakhar, he was more seedy and untidy than ever. The elbows of his coat were patched, and he had about him 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, the seams were coming apart in various places. Likewise the coverlet of the bed was ragged, while the curtains, though clean, were faded and hanging in strips.
Suddenly the landlady entered to announce a visitor, and also to say that it was 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 grown stout, yet your face is pale."
"Yes, I am not well," agreed Oblomov. "Somehow my left leg has lost all feeling." 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 I keep 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 living in 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 had quite sloughed his lethargy. "I feel as though you had removed a great burden from my mind. True, when you were last here, you assured me that she had forgiven me; but all this time I have been unable to rest for the gnawing at my 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 features stiffened, 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 usual apathetic moodiness. For a moment or two he did not raise his eyes; but when he did so they were full of kindly tears.
"Dear Schtoltz!" he cried, embracing his friend. "And dear Olga! May God bless you both! How pleased I am! Pray tell her so."
"I will tell her that in all the world there exists not my friend Oblomov's equal." Schtoltz was profoundly moved.
"No, tell her, rather, that I was fated to meet her, in order that I might set her on the right road. Tell her also that I bless both that meeting and the road which she has now taken. To think that that road might have been different! As it is, I have nothing to blush for, and nothing of which to repent. You have relieved my soul of a great burden, and all within it is bright. I thank you, I thank you!"
"I will tell her what you have said," replied Schtoltz. "She has indeed reason for never forgetting you, for you would have been worthy of her--yes, worthy of her, you who have a heart as deep as the sea. You must come and visit us in the country."
"No," replied the other. "It is not that I am afraid of witnessing your married happiness, or of becoming jealous of her love for you. Yet I will not come."
"Then of what are you afraid?"
"Of growing envious of you. In your happiness I should see, as in a mirror, my own bitter, broken life. Yet no life but this do I wish, or have it in my power, to live. Do not, therefore, disturb it. Memories are the height of poetry only when they are memories of happiness. When they graze wounds over which scars have formed they become an aching pain. Let us speak of something else. Let me thank you for all the care and attention which you have devoted to my affairs. Yet never can I properly requite you. Seek, rather, requital in your own heart, and in your happiness with Olga Sergievna. Likewise, forgive me 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 read the statements of accounts which I have sent you?"
Oblomov remained silent.
"What? You have not read them?" exclaimed Schtoltz, aghast. "Then where are they?"
"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 with unmended socks or with a shirt turned inside out. She supervises every detail."
He ate and drank with great gusto--so much so that Schtoltz contemplated him with amazement.
"Drink, dear friend, drink," said Oblomov. "This is splendid vodka. Even Olga could not make vodka or patties or mushroom stews equal to these. They are like what we used to have at Oblomovka. No man could be better looked after by a woman than I am by my landlady, Agafia Matvievna. Nevertheless I, I--" He hesitated.
"Well, what? " prompted Schtoltz.
"I owe her ten thousand roubles on note of hand."
"Ten thousand roubles? To your landlady? For board and lodging?" gasped Schtoltz, horrified.
"Yes. You see, the sum has gone on accumulating, for I live generously, and the 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 of him. Such things are everyday occurrences, yet I had not guessed it."
Desirous of taking Oblomov away with him, he nevertheless found all his efforts in that direction ineffectual.
"I ask you once again," he said. "In what relation do you stand to your landlady?"
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 a very serious warning indeed."
"A warning against what?"
"A warning against a pit into which you may fall. Now I must be going. I will tell Olga that we may expect to see you this summer, whether at our place or at Oblomovka."
Then Schtoltz departed.
Not for some years did he visit the capital again, for Olga's health necessitated a lengthy sojourn in the Crimea. For some reason or other her recovery after the birth of a child had been slow.
"How happy I am!" was her frequent reflection. Yet, no sooner had she passed her life in admiring review than she would find herself relapsing into a meditative mood. What a curious person she was!--a person who, in proportion as her felicity became more complete, plunged ever deeper and deeper into a brooding over the past! Delving into the recesses of her own mind, she began to realize that this peaceful existence, this halting at various stages of felicity, annoyed her. However, with an effort of will she shook her soul clear of this despondency, and quickened her steps through life in a feverish desire to seek noise and movement and occupation. Yet the bustle of society brought her small relief, and she would retire again into her corner--there to rid her spirit of the unwonted sense of depression. Then she would go out once more, and busy herself with petty household cares which confined her to the nursery and the' duties of a nurse and a mother, or join her husband in reading and discussing serious books or poetry. Her main fear was lest she should fall ill of the disease, the apathetic malady, of Oblomovka. Yet, for all her efforts to slough these phases of torpor and of spiritual coma, a dream of happiness other than the present used to steal upon her, and wrap her in a haze of inertia, and cause her whole being to halt, as for a rest from the exertions of life. Again, to this mood there would succeed a phase of torture and weariness and apprehension--a phase of dull sorrowfulness which kept asking itself dim, indefinite questions and ceaselessly pondering upon them. And as she listened to those questions she would examine herself, yet never discover what it was she yearned for, nor why, at times, she seemed to tire of her comfortable existence, to demand of it new and unfamiliar impressions, and to be gazing ahead in search of something.
"What does it all mean?" she would say to herself with a shudder. "Is there really anything more that I require, or that I need wish for? Whither am I travelling? I have no farther to go--my journey is ended. Yet have I really completed my cycle of existence? Is this really all--all?" Then she would glance timidly around her, and wonder, in doubt and trembling, what such whispers of the soul might portend. With anxious eyes she would scan the earth, the heavens, and the wilds, yet find therein no answer, but merely gloom, profundity, and remoteness. All nature seemed to be saying the same thing; in nature she could perceive only a ceaseless, uniform current of life to which there was neither a beginning nor an ending. Of course, she knew whom she could consult concerning these tremors--she knew who could return the needed answers to her questionings. But what would those answers import? What if Schtoltz should say that her self-questionings represented the murmurings of an unsympathetic, an unwomanly, heart--that his quondam idol possessed but a blasé, 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 new and unwonted pangs of hers! Consequently, whenever, in spite of her best efforts to conceal the fact, her eyes lost their velvety softness, and acquired a dry and feverish glitter; whenever, too, a heavy cloud overspread her face, and she could not force herself to smile, and to talk, and to listen indifferently to the latest news in the political world, or to descriptions of interesting phenomena in some new walk of learning, or to remarks upon some new 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 those sudden alarms which had been hers during the period when her girlish nerves had been excited even to the point of self-expression. So if, while resting on some calm, beautiful evening, there came stealing upon her, even amid her husband's talk and caresses, a feeling of weariness and indifference to everything, she would merely ask herself despairingly what it all meant. At one moment she would become, as it were, turned to stone, and sit silent; at another she would make feverish attempts to conceal her strange malady. Finally a headache would supervene, and she would retire to rest. Yet all the while 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 him as nervously as she would have done for confession to a priest.