OBLOMOV recovered consciousness. Before him Schtoltz was standing--but the Schtoltz of the present, not the Schtoltz of a daydream.
Swiftly the landlady caught up the baby Andriusha, swept the table clear of her work, and carried off the children. Alexiev also disappeared, and Schtoltz and Oblomov found themselves alone. For a moment or two they gazed at one another amid a tense silence.
"Is that really you, Schtoltz?" asked Oblomov in tones scarcely audible for emotion--such tones as a man employs only towards his dearest friend and after a long separation.
"Yes, it is I," replied Schtoltz quietly. "And you--are you quite well?"
Oblomov embraced him heartily. In that embrace were expressed all the long-concealed grief and joy which, fermenting ever in his soul, had never, since Schtoltz's last departure, been expressed to any human being. Then they seated themselves, and once more gazed at one another.
"Are you really well?" Schtoltz asked again.
"Yes, thank God!" replied Oblomov.
"But you have been ill?"
"Yes--I was seized with a stroke."
"Ah, Ilya, Ilya! Evidently you have let yourself go again. What have you been doing? Actually, it is five years since last we saw one another!"
Oblomov sighed, but said nothing. "And why did you not come to Oblomovka?" pursued Schtoltz. "And why have you never written to me?"
"What was there to say?" was Oblomov's sad reply. "You know me. Consequently you need ask no more."
"So you are still living in these rooms?" And Schtoltz surveyed the room as he spoke. "Why have you not moved?"
"Because I am still here. I do not think the move will ever take place."
"Why are you so sure?"
"Because I am sure."
Again Schtoltz eyed him closely, then became thoughtful, and started to pace the room.
"And what of Olga Sergievna?" was Oblomov's next question. "Where is she now, and does she still remember me?" At this point he broke off abruptly.
"Yes, she is well, and has of you a remembrance as clear as though she had parted from you yesterday. Presently I will tell you where she is."
"And your children?"
"The children too are well. But are you jesting when you say that you are going to remain where you are? My express purpose in coming here is to carry you off to our place in the country."
"No, no!" cried Oblomov, though lowering his voice as he glanced at the door. Evidently the proposal had disturbed him greatly. "Do not say a word about it," he pleaded. "Do not begin your arguments again."
"But why will you not come? What is the matter with you? You know me well, and know that long ago I undertook this task, and shall never relinquish it. Hitherto business affairs have occupied my time, but now I am free once more. Come and live with us, or, at all events, near us. Olga and I have decided that you must do so. Thank God that I have found you the same as before, and not worse! My hopes of doing that had been small. Let us be off at once. I am prepared even to abduct you by force. You must change your mode of life, as you well know."
To this speech Oblomov listened with impatience.
"Do not speak so loudly," he urged. "In there--"
"Is the landlady, and, should she hear us, she will think that I am going to leave her."
"And why should you not leave her? Let her think what she likes!"
"Listen, Andrei." Oblomov's tone was one of unwonted firmness. "Do not continue your useless attempts to persuade me. Come what may, I must remain where I am."
Schtoltz gazed at his friend in astonishment, but Oblomov returned the gaze with quiet resolution on his features.
"Remain here, and you are lost," said Schtoltz. "This house, that woman, this way of living?--I tell you the thing cannot be. Let us go."
He caught Oblomov by the sleeve, and started to drag him towards the door.
"Why do you want to take me away?" asked Oblomov, hanging back.
"Because I want you to leave this den, this swamp, for the world of light and air and health and normal existence." Schtoltz was speaking sternly, and almost in a tone of command. "To what point have you sunk?" he went on. "What is going to become of you? Think for a moment. Are you so attached to this mode of life that you wish to go to sleep like a mole in its burrow? Remember that--"
"I desire to remember nothing. Do not disturb the past. It can never be brought back again." Into Oblomov's face there had come a full consciousness of his power to think, to reason, and to will. "What is it you wish me to do? From the world to which you would abduct me I have parted for ever; and to solder together two pieces which have started asunder is impossible. I have grown to look upon this nook as my world. Should you uproot me from it, I shall die."
"But look at the place, at the people with whom you are living!"
"I know what you mean--I am perfectly conscious of the facts. Ah, Andrei, believe me when I say that so well do I feel and understand things that for many a day past I have been ashamed to show myself abroad. Yet I cannot accompany you on your road. Even did I wish it, such a course is out of my power. Possibly, when you were last here, I might have made the attempt; but now"--here he dropped his eyes for a moment and paused--"now it is too late. Go, and waste no further time upon me. Your friendship, as God in heaven knows, I value; but your disturbance of my peace I do not value."
"Nothing that you can say will turn me from my purpose. I intend to carry you off, and the more so because I suspect certain things. Look here. Put on a garment of some sort, and come and spend the evening at my rooms. I have much to tell you, for I suppose you know what is afoot at our place?"
Oblomov looked at him inquiringly.
"Ah, I had forgotten," Schtoltz went on. "You no longer go into society. Well, come with me, and I will tell you the whole story. Also, do you know who is waiting for me in a carriage at the gates? I will go and call her in."
"What? Olga?" As the words burst tremulously from Oblomov's lips his face underwent a sudden change. "For God's sake do not bring her here! Go, go, for God's sake!"
But the elder man refused to move, although his friend half started to push him towards the door.
"I cannot return to her without you," he said. "I have pledged my word on that. If you will not come with me to-day, then you must come to-morrow. You are merely putting me off for a time: you will never put me off for ever. Even should it be the day after to-morrow, we still shall meet again."
Oblomov said nothing, but hung his head as though afraid to meet Schtoltz's eye.
"When are you coming, therefore?" went on Schtoltz. "Olga will be sure to ask me when."
"Ah, Andrei," cried the other in a tone of affectionate appeal as he embraced his friend and laid his head upon his shoulder, "Pray leave me and--forget me."
"What? For ever?" cried Schtoltz in astonishment as he withdrew a little from Oblomov's embrace in order the better to look him in the face.
"Yes," whispered Oblomov.
Schtoltz stepped back a pace or two.
"Can this really be you, Ilya?" he exclaimed reproachfully. "Do you really reject me in favour of that woman, of that landlady of yours?" He started with a sudden pang. "So that child which I saw just now is your child? Ah, Ilya, Ilya! Come hence at once. How you have fallen! What is that woman to you?"
"She is my wife," said Oblomov simply.
Schtoltz stood petrified.
"Yes, and the child is my son," Oblomov continued. "He has been called Andrei after yourself." Somehow he seemed to breathe more freely now that he had got rid of the burden of these disclosures. As for Schtoltz, his face fell, and he gazed around the room with vacant eyes. A gulf had opened before him, a high wall had suddenly shot up, and Oblomov seemed to have ceased to exist--he seemed to have vanished from his friend's sight, and to have fallen headlong. The only feeling in Schtoltz's mind was an aching sorrow of the kind which a man experiences when, hastening to visit a friend after a long parting, he finds that for many a day past that friend has been dead.
"You are lost!" he kept whispering mechanically. "What am I to say to Olga?"
At length Oblomov caught the last words, and tried to say something, but failed. All he could do was to extend his hands in Schtoltz's direction. Silently, convulsively the pair embraced, even as before death or a battle. In that embrace was left no room for words or tears or expressions of feeling.
"Never forget my little Andrei," was Oblomov's last choking utterance. Slowly and silently Schtoltz left the house. Slowly and silently he crossed the courtyard and entered the carriage. When he had gone Oblomov reseated himself upon the sofa in his room, rested his elbows upon the table, and buried his face in his hands . . . .
"No, never will I forget your little Andrei," thought Schtoltz sadly as he drove homewards. "Ah, Ilya, you are lost beyond recall! It would be useless now to tell you that your Oblomovka is no longer in ruins, that its turn is come again, and that it is basking in the rays of the sun. It would be useless now to tell you that, some four years hence, it will have a railway-station, and that your peasantry are clearing away the rubbish there, and that before long an iron road will be carrying your grain to the wharves, and that already local schools have been built. Such a dawn of good fortune would merely affright you; it would merely cause your unaccustomed eyes to smart. Yet along the road which you could not tread I will lead your little Andrei; and with him I will put into practice those theories whereof you and I used to dream in the days of our youth. Farewell, Oblomovka of the past! You have outlived your day!" For the last time Schtoltz looked back at Oblomov's diminutive establishment.
"What do you say?" asked Olga with a beating heart.
"Nothing," Schtoltz answered dryly and abruptly.
"Is he alive and well?"
"Yes," came the reluctant reply.
"Then why have you returned so soon? Why did you not call me to the house, or else bring him out to see me? Let me go back, please."
"No, you cannot."
"Why so? What has happened there? Will you not tell me?"
Schtoltz continued to say nothing.
"Again I ask you: what is the matter with him?"
"The disease of Oblomovka," was the grim response. And throughout the rest of the journey homeward Schtoltz refused to answer a single one of Olga's questions.