Anna karenina, p.144
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       Anna Karenina, p.144

           graf Leo Tolstoy

  Chapter 20

  The next day the sick man received the sacrament and extreme unction.During the ceremony Nikolay Levin prayed fervently. His great eyes,fastened on the holy image that was set out on a card table covered witha colored napkin, expressed such passionate prayer and hope that it wasawful to Levin to see it. Levin knew that this passionate prayer andhope would only make him feel more bitterly parting from the life he soloved. Levin knew his brother and the workings of his intellect: he knewthat his unbelief came not from life being easier for him without faith,but had grown up because step by step the contemporary scientificinterpretation of natural phenomena crushed out the possibility offaith; and so he knew that his present return was not a legitimate one,brought about by way of the same working of his intellect, but simply atemporary, interested return to faith in a desperate hope of recovery.Levin knew too that Kitty had strengthened his hope by accounts of themarvelous recoveries she had heard of. Levin knew all this; and it wasagonizingly painful to him to behold the supplicating, hopeful eyes andthe emaciated wrist, lifted with difficulty, making the sign of thecross on the tense brow, and the prominent shoulders and hollow, gaspingchest, which one could not feel consistent with the life the sick manwas praying for. During the sacrament Levin did what he, an unbeliever,had done a thousand times. He said, addressing God, "If Thou dost exist,make this man to recover" (of course this same thing has been repeatedmany times), "and Thou wilt save him and me."

  After extreme unction the sick man became suddenly much better. He didnot cough once in the course of an hour, smiled, kissed Kitty's hand,thanking her with tears, and said he was comfortable, free from pain,and that he felt strong and had an appetite. He even raised himself whenhis soup was brought, and asked for a cutlet as well. Hopelessly ill ashe was, obvious as it was at the first glance that he could not recover,Levin and Kitty were for that hour both in the same state of excitement,happy, though fearful of being mistaken.

  "Is he better?"

  "Yes, much."

  "It's wonderful."

  "There's nothing wonderful in it."

  "Anyway, he's better," they said in a whisper, smiling to one another.

  This self-deception was not of long duration. The sick man fell into aquiet sleep, but he was waked up half an hour later by his cough. Andall at once every hope vanished in those about him and in himself. Thereality of his suffering crushed all hopes in Levin and Kitty and in thesick man himself, leaving no doubt, no memory even of past hopes.

  Without referring to what he had believed in half an hour before, asthough ashamed even to recall it, he asked for iodine to inhale in abottle covered with perforated paper. Levin gave him the bottle, and thesame look of passionate hope with which he had taken the sacrament wasnow fastened on his brother, demanding from him the confirmation of thedoctor's words that inhaling iodine worked wonders.

  "Is Katya not here?" he gasped, looking round while Levin reluctantlyassented to the doctor's words. "No; so I can say it.... It was for hersake I went through that farce. She's so sweet; but you and I can'tdeceive ourselves. This is what I believe in," he said, and, squeezingthe bottle in his bony hand, he began breathing over it.

  At eight o'clock in the evening Levin and his wife were drinking tea intheir room when Marya Nikolaevna ran in to them breathlessly. She waspale, and her lips were quivering. "He is dying!" she whispered. "I'mafraid will die this minute."

  Both of them ran to him. He was sitting raised up with one elbow on thebed, his long back bent, and his head hanging low.

  "How do you feel?" Levin asked in a whisper, after a silence.

  "I feel I'm setting off," Nikolay said with difficulty, but with extremedistinctness, screwing the words out of himself. He did not raise hishead, but simply turned his eyes upwards, without their reaching hisbrother's face. "Katya, go away!" he added.

  Levin jumped up, and with a peremptory whisper made her go out.

  "I'm setting off," he said again.

  "Why do you think so?" said Levin, so as to say something.

  "Because I'm setting off," he repeated, as though he had a liking forthe phrase. "It's the end."

  Marya Nikolaevna went up to him.

  "You had better lie down; you'd be easier," she said.

  "I shall lie down soon enough," he pronounced slowly, "when I'm dead,"he said sarcastically, wrathfully. "Well, you can lay me down if youlike."

  Levin laid his brother on his back, sat down beside him, and gazed athis face, holding his breath. The dying man lay with closed eyes, butthe muscles twitched from time to time on his forehead, as with onethinking deeply and intensely. Levin involuntarily thought with him ofwhat it was that was happening to him now, but in spite of all hismental efforts to go along with him he saw by the expression of thatcalm, stern face that for the dying man all was growing clearer andclearer that was still as dark as ever for Levin.

  "Yes, yes, so," the dying man articulated slowly at intervals. "Wait alittle." He was silent. "Right!" he pronounced all at once reassuringly,as though all were solved for him. "O Lord!" he murmured, and sigheddeeply.

  Marya Nikolaevna felt his feet. "They're getting cold," she whispered.

  For a long while, a very long while it seemed to Levin, the sick man laymotionless. But he was still alive, and from time to time he sighed.Levin by now was exhausted from mental strain. He felt that, with nomental effort, could he understand what it was that was _right_. Hecould not even think of the problem of death itself, but with no will ofhis own thoughts kept coming to him of what he had to do next; closingthe dead man's eyes, dressing him, ordering the coffin. And, strange tosay, he felt utterly cold, and was not conscious of sorrow nor of loss,less still of pity for his brother. If he had any feeling for hisbrother at that moment, it was envy for the knowledge the dying man hadnow that he could not have.

  A long time more he sat over him so, continually expecting the end. Butthe end did not come. The door opened and Kitty appeared. Levin got upto stop her. But at the moment he was getting up, he caught the sound ofthe dying man stirring.

  "Don't go away," said Nikolay and held out his hand. Levin gave him his,and angrily waved to his wife to go away.

  With the dying man's hand in his hand, he sat for half an hour, an hour,another hour. He did not think of death at all now. He wondered whatKitty was doing; who lived in the next room; whether the doctor lived ina house of his own. He longed for food and for sleep. He cautiously drewaway his hand and felt the feet. The feet were cold, but the sick manwas still breathing. Levin tried again to move away on tiptoe, but thesick man stirred again and said: "Don't go."


  The dawn came; the sick man's condition was unchanged. Levin stealthilywithdrew his hand, and without looking at the dying man, went off to hisown room and went to sleep. When he woke up, instead of news of hisbrother's death which he expected, he learned that the sick man hadreturned to his earlier condition. He had begun sitting up again,coughing, had begun eating again, talking again, and again had ceased totalk of death, again had begun to express hope of his recovery, and hadbecome more irritable and more gloomy than ever. No one, neither hisbrother nor Kitty, could soothe him. He was angry with everyone, andsaid nasty things to everyone, reproached everyone for his sufferings,and insisted that they should get him a celebrated doctor from Moscow.To all inquiries made him as to how he felt, he made the same answerwith an expression of vindictive reproachfulness, "I'm sufferinghorribly, intolerably!"

  The sick man was suffering more and more, especially from bedsores,which it was impossible now to remedy, and grew more and more angry witheveryone about him, blaming them for everything, and especially for nothaving brought him a doctor from Moscow. Kitty tried in every possibleway to relieve him, to soothe him; but it was all in vain, and Levin sawthat she herself was exhausted both physically and morally, though shewould not admit it. The sense of death, which had been evoked in all byhis taking leave of life on the night when he had sent for
his brother,was broken up. Everyone knew that he must inevitably die soon, that hewas half dead already. Everyone wished for nothing but that he shoulddie as soon as possible, and everyone, concealing this, gave himmedicines, tried to find remedies and doctors, and deceived him andthemselves and each other. All this was falsehood, disgusting,irreverent deceit. And owing to the bent of his character, and becausehe loved the dying man more than anyone else did, Levin was mostpainfully conscious of this deceit.

  Levin, who had long been possessed by the idea of reconciling hisbrothers, at least in face of death, had written to his brother, SergeyIvanovitch, and having received an answer from him, he read this letterto the sick man. Sergey Ivanovitch wrote that he could not come himself,and in touching terms he begged his brother's forgiveness.

  The sick man said nothing.

  "What am I to write to him?" said Levin. "I hope you are not angry withhim?"

  "No, not the least!" Nikolay answered, vexed at the question. "Tell himto send me a doctor."

  Three more days of agony followed; the sick man was still in the samecondition. The sense of longing for his death was felt by everyone nowat the mere sight of him, by the waiters and the hotel-keeper and allthe people staying in the hotel, and the doctor and Marya Nikolaevna andLevin and Kitty. The sick man alone did not express this feeling, but onthe contrary was furious at their not getting him doctors, and went ontaking medicine and talking of life. Only at rare moments, when theopium gave him an instant's relief from the never-ceasing pain, he wouldsometimes, half asleep, utter what was ever more intense in his heartthan in all the others: "Oh, if it were only the end!" or: "When will itbe over?"

  His sufferings, steadily growing more intense, did their work andprepared him for death. There was no position in which he was not inpain, there was not a minute in which he was unconscious of it, not alimb, not a part of his body that did not ache and cause him agony. Eventhe memories, the impressions, the thoughts of this body awakened in himnow the same aversion as the body itself. The sight of other people,their remarks, his own reminiscences, everything was for him a source ofagony. Those about him felt this, and instinctively did not allowthemselves to move freely, to talk, to express their wishes before him.All his life was merged in the one feeling of suffering and desire to berid of it.

  There was evidently coming over him that revulsion that would make himlook upon death as the goal of his desires, as happiness. Hitherto eachindividual desire, aroused by suffering or privation, such as hunger,fatigue, thirst, had been satisfied by some bodily function givingpleasure. But now no physical craving or suffering received relief, andthe effort to relieve them only caused fresh suffering. And so alldesires were merged in one--the desire to be rid of all his sufferingsand their source, the body. But he had no words to express this desireof deliverance, and so he did not speak of it, and from habit asked forthe satisfaction of desires which could not now be satisfied. "Turn meover on the other side," he would say, and immediately after he wouldask to be turned back again as before. "Give me some broth. Take awaythe broth. Talk of something: why are you silent?" And directly theybegan to talk he would close his eyes, and would show weariness,indifference, and loathing.

  On the tenth day from their arrival at the town, Kitty was unwell. Shesuffered from headache and sickness, and she could not get up all themorning.

  The doctor opined that the indisposition arose from fatigue andexcitement, and prescribed rest.

  After dinner, however, Kitty got up and went as usual with her work tothe sick man. He looked at her sternly when she came in, and smiledcontemptuously when she said she had been unwell. That day he wascontinually blowing his nose, and groaning piteously.

  "How do you feel?" she asked him.

  "Worse," he articulated with difficulty. "In pain!"

  "In pain, where?"


  "It will be over today, you will see," said Marya Nikolaevna. Though itwas said in a whisper, the sick man, whose hearing Levin had noticed wasvery keen, must have heard. Levin said hush to her, and looked round atthe sick man. Nikolay had heard; but these words produced no effect onhim. His eyes had still the same intense, reproachful look.

  "Why do you think so?" Levin asked her, when she had followed him intothe corridor.

  "He has begun picking at himself," said Marya Nikolaevna.

  "How do you mean?"

  "Like this," she said, tugging at the folds of her woolen skirt. Levinnoticed, indeed, that all that day the patient pulled at himself, as itwere, trying to snatch something away.

  Marya Nikolaevna's prediction came true. Towards night the sick man wasnot able to lift his hands, and could only gaze before him with the sameintensely concentrated expression in his eyes. Even when his brother orKitty bent over him, so that he could see them, he looked just the same.Kitty sent for the priest to read the prayer for the dying.

  While the priest was reading it, the dying man did not show any sign oflife; his eyes were closed. Levin, Kitty, and Marya Nikolaevna stood atthe bedside. The priest had not quite finished reading the prayer whenthe dying man stretched, sighed, and opened his eyes. The priest, onfinishing the prayer, put the cross to the cold forehead, then slowlyreturned it to the stand, and after standing for two minutes more insilence, he touched the huge, bloodless hand that was turning cold.

  "He is gone," said the priest, and would have moved away; but suddenlythere was a faint stir in the mustaches of the dead man that seemedglued together, and quite distinctly in the hush they heard from thebottom of the chest the sharply defined sounds:

  "Not quite ... soon."

  And a minute later the face brightened, a smile came out under themustaches, and the women who had gathered round began carefully layingout the corpse.

  The sight of his brother, and the nearness of death, revived in Levinthat sense of horror in face of the insoluble enigma, together with thenearness and inevitability of death, that had come upon him that autumnevening when his brother had come to him. This feeling was now evenstronger than before; even less than before did he feel capable ofapprehending the meaning of death, and its inevitability rose up beforehim more terrible than ever. But now, thanks to his wife's presence,that feeling did not reduce him to despair. In spite of death, he feltthe need of life and love. He felt that love saved him from despair, andthat this love, under the menace of despair, had become still strongerand purer. The one mystery of death, still unsolved, had scarcely passedbefore his eyes, when another mystery had arisen, as insoluble, urginghim to love and to life.

  The doctor confirmed his suppositions in regard to Kitty. Herindisposition was a symptom that she was with child.

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