Anna karenina, p.125
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       Anna Karenina, p.125

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  PART FIVE

  Princess Shtcherbatskaya considered that it was out of the question forthe wedding to take place before Lent, just five weeks off, since nothalf the trousseau could possibly be ready by that time. But she couldnot but agree with Levin that to fix it for after Lent would be puttingit off too late, as an old aunt of Prince Shtcherbatsky's was seriouslyill and might die, and then the mourning would delay the wedding stilllonger. And therefore, deciding to divide the trousseau into twoparts--a larger and smaller trousseau--the princess consented to havethe wedding before Lent. She determined that she would get the smallerpart of the trousseau all ready now, and the larger part should be madelater, and she was much vexed with Levin because he was incapable ofgiving her a serious answer to the question whether he agreed to thisarrangement or not. The arrangement was the more suitable as,immediately after the wedding, the young people were to go to thecountry, where the more important part of the trousseau would not bewanted.

  Levin still continued in the same delirious condition in which it seemedto him that he and his happiness constituted the chief and sole aim ofall existence, and that he need not now think or care about anything,that everything was being done and would be done for him by others. Hehad not even plans and aims for the future, he left its arrangement toothers, knowing that everything would be delightful. His brother SergeyIvanovitch, Stepan Arkadyevitch, and the princess guided him in doingwhat he had to do. All he did was to agree entirely with everythingsuggested to him. His brother raised money for him, the princess advisedhim to leave Moscow after the wedding. Stepan Arkadyevitch advised himto go abroad. He agreed to everything. "Do what you choose, if it amusesyou. I'm happy, and my happiness can be no greater and no less foranything you do," he thought. When he told Kitty of StepanArkadyevitch's advice that they should go abroad, he was much surprisedthat she did not agree to this, and had some definite requirements ofher own in regard to their future. She knew Levin had work he loved inthe country. She did not, as he saw, understand this work, she did noteven care to understand it. But that did not prevent her from regardingit as a matter of great importance. And then she knew their home wouldbe in the country, and she wanted to go, not abroad where she was notgoing to live, but to the place where their home would be. Thisdefinitely expressed purpose astonished Levin. But since he did not careeither way, he immediately asked Stepan Arkadyevitch, as though it werehis duty, to go down to the country and to arrange everything there tothe best of his ability with the taste of which he had so much.

  "But I say," Stepan Arkadyevitch said to him one day after he had comeback from the country, where he had got everything ready for the youngpeople's arrival, "have you a certificate of having been at confession?"

  "No. But what of it?"

  "You can't be married without it."

  "_Aie, aie, aie!_" cried Levin. "Why, I believe it's nine years sinceI've taken the sacrament! I never thought of it."

  "You're a pretty fellow!" said Stepan Arkadyevitch laughing, "and youcall me a Nihilist! But this won't do, you know. You must take thesacrament."

  "When? There are four days left now."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch arranged this also, and Levin had to go toconfession. To Levin, as to any unbeliever who respects the beliefs ofothers, it was exceedingly disagreeable to be present at and take partin church ceremonies. At this moment, in his present softened state offeeling, sensitive to everything, this inevitable act of hypocrisy wasnot merely painful to Levin, it seemed to him utterly impossible. Now,in the heyday of his highest glory, his fullest flower, he would have tobe a liar or a scoffer. He felt incapable of being either. But though herepeatedly plied Stepan Arkadyevitch with questions as to thepossibility of obtaining a certificate without actually communicating,Stepan Arkadyevitch maintained that it was out of the question.

  "Besides, what is it to you--two days? And he's an awfully nice cleverold fellow. He'll pull the tooth out for you so gently, you won't noticeit."

  Standing at the first litany, Levin attempted to revive in himself hisyouthful recollections of the intense religious emotion he had passedthrough between the ages of sixteen and seventeen.

  But he was at once convinced that it was utterly impossible to him. Heattempted to look at it all as an empty custom, having no sort ofmeaning, like the custom of paying calls. But he felt that he could notdo that either. Levin found himself, like the majority of hiscontemporaries, in the vaguest position in regard to religion. Believehe could not, and at the same time he had no firm conviction that it wasall wrong. And consequently, not being able to believe in thesignificance of what he was doing nor to regard it with indifference asan empty formality, during the whole period of preparing for thesacrament he was conscious of a feeling of discomfort and shame at doingwhat he did not himself understand, and what, as an inner voice toldhim, was therefore false and wrong.

  During the service he would first listen to the prayers, trying toattach some meaning to them not discordant with his own views; thenfeeling that he could not understand and must condemn them, he tried notto listen to them, but to attend to the thoughts, observations, andmemories which floated through his brain with extreme vividness duringthis idle time of standing in church.

  He had stood through the litany, the evening service and the midnightservice, and the next day he got up earlier than usual, and withouthaving tea went at eight o'clock in the morning to the church for themorning service and the confession.

  There was no one in the church but a beggar soldier, two old women, andthe church officials. A young deacon, whose long back showed in twodistinct halves through his thin undercassock, met him, and at oncegoing to a little table at the wall read the exhortation. During thereading, especially at the frequent and rapid repetition of the samewords, "Lord, have mercy on us!" which resounded with an echo, Levinfelt that thought was shut and sealed up, and that it must not betouched or stirred now or confusion would be the result; and so standingbehind the deacon he went on thinking of his own affairs, neitherlistening nor examining what was said. "It's wonderful what expressionthere is in her hand," he thought, remembering how they had been sittingthe day before at a corner table. They had nothing to talk about, as wasalmost always the case at this time, and laying her hand on the tableshe kept opening and shutting it, and laughed herself as she watched heraction. He remembered how he had kissed it and then had examined thelines on the pink palm. "Have mercy on us again!" thought Levin,crossing himself, bowing, and looking at the supple spring of thedeacon's back bowing before him. "She took my hand then and examined thelines 'You've got a splendid hand,' she said." And he looked at his ownhand and the short hand of the deacon. "Yes, now it will soon be over,"he thought. "No, it seems to be beginning again," he thought, listeningto the prayers. "No, it's just ending: there he is bowing down to theground. That's always at the end."

  The deacon's hand in a plush cuff accepted a three-rouble noteunobtrusively, and the deacon said he would put it down in the register,and his new boots creaking jauntily over the flagstones of the emptychurch, he went to the altar. A moment later he peeped out thence andbeckoned to Levin. Thought, till then locked up, began to stir inLevin's head, but he made haste to drive it away. "It will come rightsomehow," he thought, and went towards the altar-rails. He went up thesteps, and turning to the right saw the priest. The priest, a little oldman with a scanty grizzled beard and weary, good-natured eyes, wasstanding at the altar-rails, turning over the pages of a missal. With aslight bow to Levin he began immediately reading prayers in the officialvoice. When he had finished them he bowed down to the ground and turned,facing Levin.

  "Christ is present here unseen, receiving your confession," he said,pointing to the crucifix. "Do you believe in all the doctrines of theHoly Apostolic Church?" the priest went on, turning his eyes away fromLevin's face and folding his hands under his stole.

  "I have doubted, I doubt everything," said Levin in a voice that jarredon himself, and he ceased speaking.

  The priest waited a few
seconds to see if he would not say more, andclosing his eyes he said quickly, with a broad, Vladimirsky accent:

  "Doubt is natural to the weakness of mankind, but we must pray that Godin His mercy will strengthen us. What are your special sins?" he added,without the slightest interval, as though anxious not to waste time.

  "My chief sin is doubt. I have doubts of everything, and for the mostpart I am in doubt."

  "Doubt is natural to the weakness of mankind," the priest repeated thesame words. "What do you doubt about principally?"

  "I doubt of everything. I sometimes even have doubts of the existence ofGod," Levin could not help saying, and he was horrified at theimpropriety of what he was saying. But Levin's words did not, it seemed,make much impression on the priest.

  "What sort of doubt can there be of the existence of God?" he saidhurriedly, with a just perceptible smile.

  Levin did not speak.

  "What doubt can you have of the Creator when you behold His creation?"the priest went on in the rapid customary jargon. "Who has decked theheavenly firmament with its lights? Who has clothed the earth in itsbeauty? How explain it without the Creator?" he said, lookinginquiringly at Levin.

  Levin felt that it would be improper to enter upon a metaphysicaldiscussion with the priest, and so he said in reply merely what was adirect answer to the question.

  "I don't know," he said.

  "You don't know! Then how can you doubt that God created all?" thepriest said, with good-humored perplexity.

  "I don't understand it at all," said Levin, blushing, and feeling thathis words were stupid, and that they could not be anything but stupid insuch a position.

  "Pray to God and beseech Him. Even the holy fathers had doubts, andprayed to God to strengthen their faith. The devil has great power, andwe must resist him. Pray to God, beseech Him. Pray to God," he repeatedhurriedly.

  The priest paused for some time, as though meditating.

  "You're about, I hear, to marry the daughter of my parishioner and sonin the spirit, Prince Shtcherbatsky?" he resumed, with a smile. "Anexcellent young lady."

  "Yes," answered Levin, blushing for the priest. "What does he want toask me about this at confession for?" he thought.

  And, as though answering his thought, the priest said to him:

  "You are about to enter into holy matrimony, and God may bless you withoffspring. Well, what sort of bringing-up can you give your babes if youdo not overcome the temptation of the devil, enticing you toinfidelity?" he said, with gentle reproachfulness. "If you love yourchild as a good father, you will not desire only wealth, luxury, honorfor your infant; you will be anxious for his salvation, his spiritualenlightenment with the light of truth. Eh? What answer will you make himwhen the innocent babe asks you: 'Papa! who made all that enchants me inthis world--the earth, the waters, the sun, the flowers, the grass?' Canyou say to him: 'I don't know'? You cannot but know, since the Lord Godin His infinite mercy has revealed it to us. Or your child will ask you:'What awaits me in the life beyond the tomb?' What will you say to himwhen you know nothing? How will you answer him? Will you leave him tothe allurements of the world and the devil? That's not right," he said,and he stopped, putting his head on one side and looking at Levin withhis kindly, gentle eyes.

  Levin made no answer this time, not because he did not want to enterupon a discussion with the priest, but because, so far, no one had everasked him such questions, and when his babes did ask him thosequestions, it would be time enough to think about answering them.

  "You are entering upon a time of life," pursued the priest, "when youmust choose your path and keep to it. Pray to God that He may in Hismercy aid you and have mercy on you!" he concluded. "Our Lord and God,Jesus Christ, in the abundance and riches of His lovingkindness,forgives this child..." and, finishing the prayer of absolution, thepriest blessed him and dismissed him.

  On getting home that day, Levin had a delightful sense of relief at theawkward position being over and having been got through without hishaving to tell a lie. Apart from this, there remained a vague memorythat what the kind, nice old fellow had said had not been at all sostupid as he had fancied at first, and that there was something in itthat must be cleared up.

  "Of course, not now," thought Levin, "but some day later on." Levin feltmore than ever now that there was something not clear and not clean inhis soul, and that, in regard to religion, he was in the same positionwhich he perceived so clearly and disliked in others, and for which heblamed his friend Sviazhsky.

  Levin spent that evening with his betrothed at Dolly's, and was in veryhigh spirits. To explain to Stepan Arkadyevitch the state of excitementin which he found himself, he said that he was happy like a dog beingtrained to jump through a hoop, who, having at last caught the idea, anddone what was required of him, whines and wags its tail, and jumps up tothe table and the windows in its delight.

 

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