FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 1

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Princess Shtcherbatskaya considered
that it was out of the question for the wedding to
take place before Lent, just five weeks off, since
not half the trousseau could possibly be ready by
that time.  But she could not but agree with Levin
that to fix it for after Lent would be putting it
off too late, as an old aunt of Prince Shtcherbatsky’s
was seriously ill and might die, and then the mourning
would delay the wedding still longer.  And therefore,
deciding to divide the trousseau into two parts ­a
larger and smaller trousseau ­the princess
consented to have the wedding before Lent.  She
determined that she would get the smaller part of
the trousseau all ready now, and the larger part should
be made later, and she was much vexed with Levin because
he was incapable of giving her a serious answer to
the question whether he agreed to this arrangement
or not.  The arrangement was the more suitable
as, immediately after the wedding, the young people
were to go to the country, where the more important
part of the trousseau would not be wanted.

Levin still continued in the same
delirious condition in which it seemed to him that
he and his happiness constituted the chief and sole
aim of all 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.  He
had not even plans and aims for the future, he left
its arrangement to others, knowing that everything
would be delightful.  His brother Sergey Ivanovitch,
Stepan Arkadyevitch, and the princess guided him in
doing what he had to do.  All he did was to agree
entirely with everything suggested to him.  His
brother raised money for him, the princess advised
him to leave Moscow after the wedding.  Stepan
Arkadyevitch advised him to go abroad.  He agreed
to everything.  “Do what you choose, if
it amuses you.  I’m happy, and my happiness
can be no greater and no less for anything you do,”
he thought.  When he told Kitty of Stepan Arkadyevitch’s
advice that they should go abroad, he was much surprised
that she did not agree to this, and had some definite
requirements of her own in regard to their future. 
She knew Levin had work he loved in the country. 
She did not, as he saw, understand this work, she
did not even care to understand it.  But that
did not prevent her from regarding it as a matter
of great importance.  And then she knew their
home would be in the country, and she wanted to go,
not abroad where she was not going to live, but to
the place where their home would be.  This definitely
expressed purpose astonished Levin.  But since
he did not care either way, he immediately asked Stepan
Arkadyevitch, as though it were his duty, to go down
to the country and to arrange everything there to
the 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 come back from the
country, where he had got everything ready for the
young people’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 since I’ve taken the sacrament! 
I never thought of it.”

“You’re a pretty fellow!”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch laughing, “and you
call me a Nihilist!  But this won’t do,
you know.  You must take the sacrament.”

“When?  There are four days left now.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch arranged this
also, and Levin had to go to confession.  To
Levin, as to any unbeliever who respects the beliefs
of others, it was exceedingly disagreeable to be present
at and take part in church ceremonies.  At this
moment, in his present softened state of feeling,
sensitive to everything, this inevitable act of hypocrisy
was not merely painful to Levin, it seemed to him
utterly impossible.  Now, in the heyday of his
highest glory, his fullest flower, he would have to
be a liar or a scoffer.  He felt incapable of
being either.  But though he repeatedly plied
Stepan Arkadyevitch with questions as to the possibility
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 clever
old fellow.  He’ll pull the tooth out for
you so gently, you won’t notice it.”

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

But he was at once convinced that
it was utterly impossible to him.  He attempted
to look at it all as an empty custom, having no sort
of meaning, like the custom of paying calls. 
But he felt that he could not do that either. 
Levin found himself, like the majority of his contemporaries,
in the vaguest position in regard to religion. 
Believe he could not, and at the same time he had
no firm conviction that it was all wrong.  And
consequently, not being able to believe in the significance
of what he was doing nor to regard it with indifference
as an empty formality, during the whole period of
preparing for the sacrament he was conscious of a
feeling of discomfort and shame at doing what he did
not himself understand, and what, as an inner voice
told him, was therefore false and wrong.

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

He had stood through the litany, the
evening service and the midnight service, and the
next day he got up earlier than usual, and without
having tea went at eight o’clock in the morning
to the church for the morning service and the confession.

There was no one in the church but
a beggar soldier, two old women, and the church officials. 
A young deacon, whose long back showed in two distinct
halves through his thin undercassock, met him, and
at once going to a little table at the wall read the
exhortation.  During the reading, especially at
the frequent and rapid repetition of the same words,
“Lord, have mercy on us!” which resounded
with an echo, Levin felt that thought was shut and
sealed up, and that it must not be touched or stirred
now or confusion would be the result; and so standing
behind the deacon he went on thinking of his own affairs,
neither listening nor examining what was said. 
“It’s wonderful what expression there
is in her hand,” he thought, remembering how
they had been sitting the day before at a corner table. 
They had nothing to talk about, as was almost always
the case at this time, and laying her hand on the
table she kept opening and shutting it, and laughed
herself as she watched her action.  He remembered
how he had kissed it and then had examined the lines
on the pink palm.  “Have mercy on us again!”
thought Levin, crossing himself, bowing, and looking
at the supple spring of the deacon’s back bowing
before him.  “She took my hand then and
examined the lines ‘You’ve got a splendid
hand,’ she said.”  And he looked at
his own hand 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, listening to the prayers.  “No,
it’s just ending:  there he is bowing down
to the ground.  That’s always at the end.”

The deacon’s hand in a plush
cuff accepted a three-rouble note unobtrusively, and
the deacon said he would put it down in the register,
and his new boots creaking jauntily over the flagstones
of the empty church, he went to the altar.  A
moment later he peeped out thence and beckoned to
Levin.  Thought, till then locked up, began to
stir in Levin’s head, but he made haste to drive
it away.  “It will come right somehow,”
he thought, and went towards the altar-rails. 
He went up the steps, and turning to the right saw
the priest.  The priest, a little old man with
a scanty grizzled beard and weary, good-natured eyes,
was standing at the altar-rails, turning over the
pages of a missal.  With a slight bow to Levin
he began immediately reading prayers in the official
voice.  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 the Holy Apostolic Church?”
the priest went on, turning his eyes away from Levin’s
face and folding his hands under his stole.

“I have doubted, I doubt everything,”
said Levin in a voice that jarred on himself, and
he ceased speaking.

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

“Doubt is natural to the weakness
of mankind, but we must pray that God in 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 most part
I am in doubt.”

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

“I doubt of everything. 
I sometimes even have doubts of the existence of
God,” Levin could not help saying, and he was
horrified at the impropriety 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 said hurriedly,
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 the heavenly firmament with its
lights?  Who has clothed the earth in its beauty? 
How explain it without the Creator?” he said,
looking inquiringly at Levin.

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

“I don’t know,” he said.

“You don’t know! 
Then how can you doubt that God created all?”
the priest said, with good-humored perplexity.

“I don’t understand it
at all,” said Levin, blushing, and feeling that
his words were stupid, and that they could not be anything
but stupid in such a position.

“Pray to God and beseech Him. 
Even the holy fathers had doubts, and prayed to God
to strengthen their faith.  The devil has great
power, and we must resist him.  Pray to God, beseech
Him.  Pray to God,” he repeated hurriedly.

The priest paused for some time, as
though meditating.

“You’re about, I hear,
to marry the daughter of my parishioner and son in
the spirit, Prince Shtcherbatsky?” he resumed,
with a smile.  “An excellent young lady.”

“Yes,” answered Levin,
blushing for the priest.  “What does he
want to ask 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 with offspring. 
Well, what sort of bringing-up can you give your
babes if you do not overcome the temptation of the
devil, enticing you to infidelity?” he said,
with gentle reproachfulness.  “If you love
your child as a good father, you will not desire only
wealth, luxury, honor for your infant; you will be
anxious for his salvation, his spiritual enlightenment
with the light of truth.  Eh?  What answer
will you make him when the innocent babe asks you: 
’Papa! who made all that enchants me in this
world ­the earth, the waters, the sun, the
flowers, the grass?’ Can you say to him: 
‘I don’t know’?  You cannot but
know, since the Lord God in 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 him when you know nothing? 
How will you answer him?  Will you leave him
to the 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 with
his kindly, gentle eyes.

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

“You are entering upon a time
of life,” pursued the priest, “when you
must choose your path and keep to it.  Pray to
God that He may in His mercy 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, the priest
blessed him and dismissed him.

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

“Of course, not now,”
thought Levin, “but some day later on.” 
Levin felt more than ever now that there was something
not clear and not clean in his soul, and that, in
regard to religion, he was in the same position which
he perceived so clearly and disliked in others, and
for which he blamed his friend Sviazhsky.

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

 

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