Oblomov

Part 2
Chapter 3


    

NEXT morning, however, he rose pale and sombre. There were traces of sleeplessness on his features, wrinkles on his brow, and a lack of fire and eagerness in his eyes. Once upon a time he would have sunk back upon the pillow after drinking his tea, but now he had grown out of the habit, and contented himself with resting his elbow where his head had just been lying. Something in him was working strongly; but that something was not love. True, Olga's image was still before him, but only at a distance, and in a mist, and shorn of its rays, like that of some stranger. With aching eyes he gazed at it for a moment or two, and then sighed.

"To live as God wills, and not as oneself wills, is a wise rule," he murmured. "Nevertheless—"

"Clearly that is so," presently he went on. "Otherwise, one would fall into a chaos of contradictions such as no human mind, however daring and profound, could hope to resolve. Yesterday one has wished, to-day one attains the madly longed-for object, and to-morrow one will blush to think that one ever desired it. Therefore one will fall to cursing life. And all because of a proud, independent striding through existence and a wilful 'I will'! No; rather does one need to feel one's way, to close one's eyes, to avoid becoming either intoxicated with happiness or inclined to repine because it has escaped one. Yes, that is life. Who was it first pictured life as happiness and gratification? The fool! 'Life is a duty,' says Olga. 'Life is a grave obligation which must be fulfilled as such.'" He heaved a profound sigh.

"No, I cannot visit Olga to-day," he went on. "My eyes are now open, and I see my duty before me. Better part with her now, while it is still possible, than later, when I shall have sworn to part with her no more."

How had this mood of his come about? What wind had suddenly affected him? How had it brought with it these clouds? Wherefore was he now for assuming such a grievous yoke? Only last night he had looked into Olga's soul, and seen there a radiant world and a smiling destiny; only last night he had read both her horoscope and his own. What had since happened?

Frequently, in summer, one goes to sleep while the weather is still and cloudless, and the stars are glimmering softly. "How beautiful the countryside will look to-morrow under the bright beams of morning!" one thinks to oneself. "And how glad one will be to dive into the depths of the forest and seek refuge from the heat!" Then suddenly one awakes to the beating of rain, to the sight of grey, mournful clouds, to a sense of cold and damp.

In Oblomov's breast the poison was working swiftly and vigorously. In thought he reviewed his life, and for the hundredth time felt his heart ache with repentance and regret for what he had lost. He kept picturing to himself what, by now, he would have been had he strode boldly ahead, and lived a fuller and a broader life, and exerted his faculties; whence be passed to the question of his present condition, and of the means whereby Olga had contrived to become fond of him, and of the reason why she still was so. "Is she not making a mistake?" was a thought which suddenly flashed through his mind like lightning; and as it did so the lightning seemed to strike his heart, and to shatter it. He groaned with the pain. "Yes, she is making a mistake," he kept saying again and again. "She merely loves me as she works embroidery on canvas. In a quiet, leisurely manner a pattern has evolved itself, and she has turned it over, and admired it. Soon she will lay it aside, and forget all about it. Yes, her present affection is a mere making ready to fall in love, a mere experiment of which I am the subject, for the reason that I chanced to be the first subject to come to hand." So he collated the circumstances, and compared them. Never would she have noticed him at all, had not Schtoltz pointed him out, and infected her young, impressionable heart with sympathy for his (Oblomov's) position, and therefore implanted in her a desire to see if possibly she could shake that dreamy soul from its lethargy before leaving it once more to its own devices.

"Yes, that is how the case stands," he said to himself with an access of revulsion. He rose and lit a candle with a trembling hand. "'Tis just that and nothing more. Her heart was ready to accept love—it was tensely awaiting it—and I happened to fall in her way, and at the same time to fall into a blunder. Only would some one else need to arrive for her to renounce that blunder. As soon as ever she saw that some one else she would turn from me with horror. In fact, I am stealing what belongs to another; I am no better than a thief. My God, to think that I should have been so blind!"

Glancing into the mirror, he saw himself pale, dull, and sallow. Involuntarily he pictured to his mind those handsome young fellows who would one day come her way. Suddenly she would take fire, glance at him, and—burst out laughing! A second time he glanced into the mirror. No, he was not the type with which women could fall in love! He flung himself down upon the bed, and buried his face in the pillow. "Forgive me, Olga!" he murmured. "And may you always be happy!"

He gave orders that he was to be reported as "not at home" to any one who might call from the Ilyinskis' house. Then he sat down to write Olga a letter. He wrote it swiftly. In fact, the pen flew over the pages. And when he had finished the missive he was surprised to find that his spirits felt cheered, and his mind easier.

"Why so?" he reflected. "Probably because I have put into what I have just written the whole sorrow of my heart."

Next, he dispatched the letter by the hand of Zakhar, and, leaving the house, turned into the park, and seated himself on the grass. Among the turf-shoots ants were scurrying hither and thither, and jostling one another, and parting again. From above, the scene looked like the commotion in a human market-place—it showed the same bustle, the same congestion, the same swarm of population. Here and there, too, a bumble bee buzzed over a flower, and then crept into its chalice, while a knot of flies had glued themselves to a drop of sap on the trunk of a lime-tree, in the foliage a bird was repeating an ever-insistent note (as though calling to its mate), and a couple of butterflies were tumbling through the air in a giddy, fluttering, intricate movement which resembled a waltz. Everywhere from the herbage strong scents could be detected arising; everywhere there could be heard a ceaseless chirping and twittering.

Suddenly he saw Olga approaching. Walking very quietly, she was wiping her eyes with a handkerchief as she did so. He had not expected those tears. Somehow they seemed to sear his heart. He rose and ran to meet her.

"Olga, Olga!" were his first tender words.

She started, looked at him with an air of astonishment, and turned away. He followed her.

"You are weeping?" he said.

"Yes, and 'tis you have made me do so," she replied, while her form shook with sobs. "But it is beyond your power to comfort me."

"That miserable letter!" he ejaculated, suddenly becoming full of remorse.

For answer she opened a basket which she was carrying, took from it the letter, and handed it to him.

"Take it away," she said. "The sight of it will only make me weep more bitterly."

He stuffed it silently into his pocket, and, with head bent, seated himself beside her.

"Give me credit for good intentions," he urged. "In any case the letter was evidence only of my care for your happiness—of the fact that I was thinking of it in advance, and was ready to sacrifice myself on its account. Do you think that I wrote the message callously—that inwardly I was not shedding tears the whole time? Why should I have acted as I did?"

"Why, indeed?" she interrupted. "For the reason that you wished to surprise me here, and to see whether I was weeping, and how bitterly. Had you really meant the letter as you say, you would be making preparations to go abroad instead of meeting me as you are now doing. Last night you wanted my 'I love you'; to-day you want to see my tears; and to-morrow, I daresay, you will be wishing that I were dead!"

"How can you wrong me like that? Believe me, I would give half my life to see smiles on your face instead of tears."

"Yes—now that you have seen a woman weeping on your account. But no; you have no heart. You say that you had no desire to make me weep. Had that been so, you would not have acted as you have done."

"Then what ought I to do?" he asked tenderly. "Will you let me beg your pardon?"

"No; only children beg pardon, or persons who have jostled some one in a crowd. Moreover, even when granted, such pardon is worth nothing."

"But what if the letter should be true, and your affection for me all a mistake?" he suggested.

"You are afraid, then?—you are afraid of falling into a well?—you are afraid lest some day I should hurt you by ceasing to be fond of you?"

"Would I could sink into the ground!" he reflected. The pain was increasing in proportion as he divined Olga's thoughts.

"On the other hand," she went on, "suppose you were to weary of love, even as you have wearied of books, of work, and of the world in general? Suppose that, fearing no rival, you were to go to sleep by my side (as you do on your sofa at home), and that my voice were to become powerless to wake you? Suppose that your present swelling of heart were to pass away, and your dressing-gown come to acquire more value in your eyes than myself? Often and often do such questions prevent my sleeping; yet I do not, on that account, trouble you with conjectures as to the future. Always I hope for better things, for, with me, happiness has cast out fear. Only for one thing have I long been sitting and waiting—namely, for happiness; until at length I had come to believe that I had found it. . . . Even if I have made a mistake, at least this "—and she laid her hand upon her heart—" does not convict me of guilt. God knows that I never desired such a fate! And I had been so happy!" She broke off abruptly.

"Then be happy again," urged Oblomov.

"No. Rather, go you whither you have always been wishing to go," she said softly.

"You are wiser than I am," he murmured, twisting a sprig of acacia between his fingers.

"No, I am simpler and more daring than you. What are you afraid of? Do you really think that I should cease to love you?"

"With you by my side I fear nothing," he replied. "With you by my side nothing terrible can fall to my lot."



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