FROM that time forth she lived in him alone, while he, for his part,
racked his brains to avoid incurring the loss of her esteem. Whenever she
detected in his soul—and she could probe that soul very deeply—the least
trace of its former characteristics, she would work for him to heap himself
with reproaches for his lethargy and fear of life. Just as he was about to
yawn, as he was actually opening his mouth for the purpose, her astonished
glance would transfix him, and cause his mouth to snap with a click which
jarred his teeth. Still more did he hasten to resume his alacrity whenever
he perceived that his lassitude was communicating itself to her, and
threatening to render her cold and contemptuous. Instantly he would undergo
a revival of strenuous activity; and then the shadow between them would
disappear, and mutual sympathy once more beat in strong, clear accord. Yet
this solicitude on his part had not, as yet, its origin in the magic ring of
love. Indeed, the effect of his charmed toils was negative rather than
positive. True, he no longer slept all day—on the contrary, he rode, read,
walked, and even thought of resuming his writing and his agricultural
schemes; yet the ultimate direction, the inmost significance, of his life
still remained confined to the sphere of good intentions. Particularly
disturbing did he find it whenever Olga plied him with some particular
question or another, and demanded of him, as of a professor, full
satisfaction of her curiosity. This occurred frequently, and arose not out
of pedantry on her part, but out of a desire to know the right and the wrong
At times a given question would absorb her even to the point of
forgetting her consideration for Oblomov. For instance, on one occasion,
when she had besought his opinion concerning double stars, and he was
incautious enough to refer her to Herschel, he was dispatched to purchase
the great authority's book, and commanded to read it through, and to explain
the same to her full satisfaction. On another occasion he was rash enough to
let slip a word or two concerning various schools of painting; wherefore he
had to undergo another week's reading and explaining, and also to pay sundry
visits to the Hermitage Museum. In the end how he trembled whenever she
asked him a question!
"Why do you not say something?" she would say to him. "Surely it cannot
be that the subject wearies you?" "No, but how I love you!" he would reply,
as though awakening from a trance; to which she would retort—"Do you
really? But that is not what I have just asked you." On another occasion he
said to her—"Cannot you see what is taking place in me? To me, speaking is
a difficulty. Give me your hand, give me your hand! There seems to be
something hindering me, something weighing me down. It is a something that
is like the great rock which oppresses a man during deep sorrow. And,
strangely enough, the effect of it is the same whether I happen to be sad or
gay. Somehow my breath seems to hurt me as I draw it, and occasionally I
come near to weeping. Yet, like a man overcome with grief, I feel that I
should be lightened and relieved if I could weep. What, think you, is amiss
with me?" She looked at him with a smile of happiness which nothing could
disturb. Evidently no weight was pressing upon her heart.
"Shall I tell you?" she said.
"You are in love."
He kissed her hand.
"And you?" he asked. "Are you in love?"
"In love?" she repeated. " I do not like the term for myself. I like you:
that is better."
"'I like you'?" he re-echoed. "But a mother or a father or a nurse or
even a dog may be liked: the phrase may be used as a garment, even
as can, can—"Even as can an old dressing-gown," she suggested with a smile.
Presently she added—"Whether I am actually in love with you or not I hardly
know. Perhaps it is a stage that has not yet arrived. All I know is that I
have never liked father or mother or nurse or dog as I like you. I feel lost
without you. To be parted from you for a short while makes me sorry; to be
parted from you for a long while makes me sad; and, were you to die, I
should wear mourning for the rest of my life, and never again be able to
smile. To me such love is life, and life is—"
"Is a duty, an obligation. Consequently love also is a duty. God has sent
me that duty, and has bid me perform it." As she spoke she raised her eyes
"Who can have inspired her with these ideas?" Oblomov thought to himself.
"Neither through experience nor through trial nor through 'fire and smoke'
can she have attained this clear, simple conception of life and of love."
"Then, since there is joy in life, is there also suffering?" he asked
"I do not know," she replied. "That lies beyond my experience as much as
it lies beyond my understanding."
"But how well I understand it!"
"Ah!" she said merrily. "What glances you throw at me sometimes! Even my
aunt has noticed it."
"But how can there be joy in love if it never brings one moments of
"What?" she replied with a glance at the scene around her. "Is not all
this so much ecstatic delight?" She looked at him, smiled, and gave
him her hand. "Do you think," she continued, "that presently I shall not be
sorry when you take your leave? Do you think that I shall not go to bed the
earlier in order that I may the sooner fall asleep, and cheat the wearisome
night, and be able to see you again in the morning?"
The light in Oblomov's face had become brighter and brighter with each
successive question, and his gaze more and more suffused with radiance.