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 of things.
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 to heaven.
"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 aloud.
"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 ecstatic delight?"
"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.