Anna karenina, p.100
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       Anna Karenina, p.100

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 31

  Running halfway down the staircase, Levin caught a sound he knew, afamiliar cough in the hall. But he heard it indistinctly through thesound of his own footsteps, and hoped he was mistaken. Then he caughtsight of a long, bony, familiar figure, and now it seemed there was nopossibility of mistake; and yet he still went on hoping that this tallman taking off his fur cloak and coughing was not his brother Nikolay.

  Levin loved his brother, but being with him was always a torture. Justnow, when Levin, under the influence of the thoughts that had come tohim, and Agafea Mihalovna's hint, was in a troubled and uncertain humor,the meeting with his brother that he had to face seemed particularlydifficult. Instead of a lively, healthy visitor, some outsider whowould, he hoped, cheer him up in his uncertain humor, he had to see hisbrother, who knew him through and through, who would call forth all thethoughts nearest his heart, would force him to show himself fully. Andthat he was not disposed to do.

  Angry with himself for so base a feeling, Levin ran into the hall; assoon as he had seen his brother close, this feeling of selfishdisappointment vanished instantly and was replaced by pity. Terrible ashis brother Nikolay had been before in his emaciation and sickliness,now he looked still more emaciated, still more wasted. He was a skeletoncovered with skin.

  He stood in the hall, jerking his long thin neck, and pulling the scarfoff it, and smiled a strange and pitiful smile. When he saw that smile,submissive and humble, Levin felt something clutching at his throat.

  "You see, I've come to you," said Nikolay in a thick voice, never forone second taking his eyes off his brother's face. "I've been meaning toa long while, but I've been unwell all the time. Now I'm ever so muchbetter," he said, rubbing his beard with his big thin hands.

  "Yes, yes!" answered Levin. And he felt still more frightened when,kissing him, he felt with his lips the dryness of his brother's skin andsaw close to him his big eyes, full of a strange light.

  A few weeks before, Konstantin Levin had written to his brother thatthrough the sale of the small part of the property, that had remainedundivided, there was a sum of about two thousand roubles to come to himas his share.

  Nikolay said that he had come now to take this money and, what was moreimportant, to stay a while in the old nest, to get in touch with theearth, so as to renew his strength like the heroes of old for the workthat lay before him. In spite of his exaggerated stoop, and theemaciation that was so striking from his height, his movements were asrapid and abrupt as ever. Levin led him into his study.

  His brother dressed with particular care--a thing he never used todo--combed his scanty, lank hair, and, smiling, went upstairs.

  He was in the most affectionate and good-humored mood, just as Levinoften remembered him in childhood. He even referred to Sergey Ivanovitchwithout rancor. When he saw Agafea Mihalovna, he made jokes with her andasked after the old servants. The news of the death of Parfen Denisitchmade a painful impression on him. A look of fear crossed his face, buthe regained his serenity immediately.

  "Of course he was quite old," he said, and changed the subject. "Well,I'll spend a month or two with you, and then I'm off to Moscow. Do youknow, Myakov has promised me a place there, and I'm going into theservice. Now I'm going to arrange my life quite differently," he wenton. "You know I got rid of that woman."

  "Marya Nikolaevna? Why, what for?"

  "Oh, she was a horrid woman! She caused me all sorts of worries." But hedid not say what the annoyances were. He could not say that he had castoff Marya Nikolaevna because the tea was weak, and, above all, becauseshe would look after him, as though he were an invalid.

  "Besides, I want to turn over a new leaf completely now. I've done sillythings, of course, like everyone else, but money's the lastconsideration; I don't regret it. So long as there's health, and myhealth, thank God, is quite restored."

  Levin listened and racked his brains, but could think of nothing to say.Nikolay probably felt the same; he began questioning his brother abouthis affairs; and Levin was glad to talk about himself, because then hecould speak without hypocrisy. He told his brother of his plans and hisdoings.

  His brother listened, but evidently he was not interested by it.

  These two men were so akin, so near each other, that the slightestgesture, the tone of voice, told both more than could be said in words.

  Both of them now had only one thought--the illness of Nikolay and thenearness of his death--which stifled all else. But neither of them daredto speak of it, and so whatever they said--not uttering the one thoughtthat filled their minds--was all falsehood. Never had Levin been so gladwhen the evening was over and it was time to go to bed. Never with anyoutside person, never on any official visit had he been so unnatural andfalse as he was that evening. And the consciousness of thisunnaturalness, and the remorse he felt at it, made him even moreunnatural. He wanted to weep over his dying, dearly loved brother, andhe had to listen and keep on talking of how he meant to live.

  As the house was damp, and only one bedroom had been kept heated, Levinput his brother to sleep in his own bedroom behind a screen.

  His brother got into bed, and whether he slept or did not sleep, tossedabout like a sick man, coughed, and when he could not get his throatclear, mumbled something. Sometimes when his breathing was painful, hesaid, "Oh, my God!" Sometimes when he was choking he muttered angrily,"Ah, the devil!" Levin could not sleep for a long while, hearing him.His thoughts were of the most various, but the end of all his thoughtswas the same--death. Death, the inevitable end of all, for the firsttime presented itself to him with irresistible force. And death, whichwas here in this loved brother, groaning half asleep and from habitcalling without distinction on God and the devil, was not so remote asit had hitherto seemed to him. It was in himself too, he felt that. Ifnot today, tomorrow, if not tomorrow, in thirty years, wasn't it all thesame! And what was this inevitable death--he did not know, had neverthought about it, and what was more, had not the power, had not thecourage to think about it.

  "I work, I want to do something, but I had forgotten it must all end; Ihad forgotten--death."

  He sat on his bed in the darkness, crouched up, hugging his knees, andholding his breath from the strain of thought, he pondered. But the moreintensely he thought, the clearer it became to him that it wasindubitably so, that in reality, looking upon life, he had forgotten onelittle fact--that death will come, and all ends; that nothing was evenworth beginning, and that there was no helping it anyway. Yes, it wasawful, but it was so.

  "But I am alive still. Now what's to be done? what's to be done?" hesaid in despair. He lighted a candle, got up cautiously and went to thelooking-glass, and began looking at his face and hair. Yes, there weregray hairs about his temples. He opened his mouth. His back teeth werebeginning to decay. He bared his muscular arms. Yes, there was strengthin them. But Nikolay, who lay there breathing with what was left oflungs, had had a strong, healthy body too. And suddenly he recalled howthey used to go to bed together as children, and how they only waitedtill Fyodor Bogdanitch was out of the room to fling pillows at eachother and laugh, laugh irrepressibly, so that even their awe of FyodorBogdanitch could not check the effervescing, overbrimming sense of lifeand happiness. "And now that bent, hollow chest ... and I, not knowingwhat will become of me, or wherefore..."

  "K...ha! K...ha! Damnation! Why do you keep fidgeting, why don't you goto sleep?" his brother's voice called to him.

  "Oh, I don't know, I'm not sleepy."

  "I have had a good sleep, I'm not in a sweat now. Just see, feel myshirt; it's not wet, is it?"

  Levin felt, withdrew behind the screen, and put out the candle, but fora long while he could not sleep. The question how to live had hardlybegun to grow a little clearer to him, when a new, insoluble questionpresented itself--death.

  "Why, he's dying--yes, he'll die in the spring, and how help him? Whatcan I say to him? What do I know about it? I'd even forgotten that itwas at all."

 

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