FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 4

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

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“They’ve come!”
“Here he is!” “Which one?”
“Rather young, eh?” “Why, my dear
soul, she looks more dead than alive!” were the
comments in the crowd, when Levin, meeting his bride
in the entrance, walked with her into the church.

Stepan Arkadyevitch told his wife
the cause of the delay, and the guests were whispering
it with smiles to one another.  Levin saw nothing
and no one; he did not take his eyes off his bride.

Everyone said she had lost her looks
dreadfully of late, and was not nearly so pretty on
her wedding day as usual; but Levin did not think
so.  He looked at her hair done up high, with
the long white veil and white flowers and the high,
stand-up, scalloped collar, that in such a maidenly
fashion hid her long neck at the sides and only showed
it in front, her strikingly slender figure, and it
seemed to him that she looked better than ever ­not
because these flowers, this veil, this gown from Paris
added anything to her beauty; but because, in spite
of the elaborate sumptuousness of her attire, the
expression of her sweet face, of her eyes, of her
lips was still her own characteristic expression of
guileless truthfulness.

“I was beginning to think you
meant to run away,” she said, and smiled to
him.

“It’s so stupid, what
happened to me, I’m ashamed to speak of it!”
he said, reddening, and he was obliged to turn to Sergey
Ivanovitch, who came up to him.

“This is a pretty story of yours
about the shirt!” said Sergey Ivanovitch, shaking
his head and smiling.

“Yes, yes!” answered Levin,
without an idea of what they were talking about.

“Now, Kostya, you have to decide,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch with an air of mock dismay,
“a weighty question.  You are at this moment
just in the humor to appreciate all its gravity. 
They ask me, are they to light the candles that have
been lighted before or candles that have never been
lighted?  It’s a matter of ten roubles,”
he added, relaxing his lips into a smile.  “I
have decided, but I was afraid you might not agree.”

Levin saw it was a joke, but he could not smile.

“Well, how’s it to be
then? ­unlighted or lighted candles? that’s
the question.”

“Yes, yes, unlighted.”

“Oh, I’m very glad. 
The question’s decided!” said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, smiling.  “How silly men are,
though, in this position,” he said to Tchirikov,
when Levin, after looking absently at him, had moved
back to his bride.

“Kitty, mind you’re the
first to step on the carpet,” said Countess
Nordston, coming up.  “You’re a nice
person!” she said to Levin.

“Aren’t you frightened,
eh?” said Marya Dmitrievna, an old aunt.

“Are you cold?  You’re
pale.  Stop a minute, stoop down,” said
Kitty’s sister, Madame Lvova, and with her plump,
handsome arms she smilingly set straight the flowers
on her head.

Dolly came up, tried to say something,
but could not speak, cried, and then laughed unnaturally.

Kitty looked at all of them with the
same absent eyes as Levin.

Meanwhile the officiating clergy had
got into their vestments, and the priest and deacon
came out to the lectern, which stood in the forepart
of the church.  The priest turned to Levin saying
something.  Levin did not hear what the priest
said.

“Take the bride’s hand
and lead her up,” the best man said to Levin.

It was a long while before Levin could
make out what was expected of him.  For a long
time they tried to set him right and made him begin
again ­because he kept taking Kitty by the
wrong arm or with the wrong arm ­till he
understood at last that what he had to do was, without
changing his position, to take her right hand in his
right hand.  When at last he had taken the bride’s
hand in the correct way, the priest walked a few paces
in front of them and stopped at the lectern. 
The crowd of friends and relations moved after them,
with a buzz of talk and a rustle of skirts.  Someone
stooped down and pulled out the bride’s train. 
The church became so still that the drops of wax
could be heard falling from the candles.

The little old priest in his ecclesiastical
cap, with his long silvery-gray locks of hair parted
behind his ears, was fumbling with something at the
lectern, putting out his little old hands from under
the heavy silver vestment with the gold cross on the
back of it.

Stepan Arkadyevitch approached him
cautiously, whispered something, and making a sign
to Levin, walked back again.

The priest lighted two candles, wreathed
with flowers, and holding them sideways so that the
wax dropped slowly from them he turned, facing the
bridal pair.  The priest was the same old man
that had confessed Levin.  He looked with weary
and melancholy eyes at the bride and bridegroom, sighed,
and putting his right hand out from his vestment,
blessed the bridegroom with it, and also with a shade
of solicitous tenderness laid the crossed fingers
on the bowed head of Kitty.  Then he gave them
the candles, and taking the censer, moved slowly away
from them.

“Can it be true?” thought
Levin, and he looked round at his bride.  Looking
down at her he saw her face in profile, and from the
scarcely perceptible quiver of her lips and eyelashes
he knew she was aware of his eyes upon her. 
She did not look round, but the high scalloped collar,
that reached her little pink ear, trembled faintly. 
He saw that a sigh was held back in her throat, and
the little hand in the long glove shook as it held
the candle.

All the fuss of the shirt, of being
late, all the talk of friends and relations, their
annoyance, his ludicrous position ­all suddenly
passed away and he was filled with joy and dread.

The handsome, stately head-deacon
wearing a silver robe and his curly locks standing
out at each side of his head, stepped smartly forward,
and lifting his stole on two fingers, stood opposite
the priest.

“Blessed be the name of the
Lord,” the solemn syllables rang out slowly
one after another, setting the air quivering with waves
of sound.

“Blessed is the name of our
God, from the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,”
the little old priest answered in a submissive, piping
voice, still fingering something at the lectern. 
And the full chorus of the unseen choir rose up,
filling the whole church, from the windows to the
vaulted roof, with broad waves of melody.  It
grew stronger, rested for an instant, and slowly died
away.

They prayed, as they always do, for
peace from on high and for salvation, for the Holy
Synod, and for the Tsar; they prayed, too, for the
servants of God, Konstantin and Ekaterina, now plighting
their troth.

“Vouchsafe to them love made
perfect, peace and help, O Lord, we beseech Thee,”
the whole church seemed to breathe with the voice
of the head deacon.

Levin heard the words, and they impressed
him.  “How did they guess that it is help,
just help that one wants?” he thought, recalling
all his fears and doubts of late.  “What
do I know? what can I do in this fearful business,”
he thought, “without help?  Yes, it is
help I want now.”

When the deacon had finished the prayer
for the Imperial family, the priest turned to the
bridal pair with a book:  “Eternal God,
that joinest together in love them that were separate,”
he read in a gentle, piping voice:  “who
hast ordained the union of holy wedlock that cannot
be set asunder, Thou who didst bless Isaac and Rebecca
and their descendants, according to Thy Holy Covenant;
bless Thy servants, Konstantin and Ekaterina, leading
them in the path of all good works.  For gracious
and merciful art Thou, our Lord, and glory be to Thee,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, now and ever
shall be.”

“Amen!” the unseen choir
sent rolling again upon the air.

“‘Joinest together in
love them that were separate.’  What deep
meaning in those words, and how they correspond with
what one feels at this moment,” thought Levin. 
“Is she feeling the same as I?”

And looking round, he met her eyes,
and from their expression he concluded that she was
understanding it just as he was.  But this was
a mistake; she almost completely missed the meaning
of the words of the service; she had not heard them,
in fact.  She could not listen to them and take
them in, so strong was the one feeling that filled
her breast and grew stronger and stronger.  That
feeling was joy at the completion of the process that
for the last month and a half had been going on in
her soul, and had during those six weeks been a joy
and a torture to her.  On the day when in the
drawing room of the house in Arbaty Street she had
gone up to him in her brown dress, and given herself
to him without a word ­on that day, at that
hour, there took place in her heart a complete severance
from all her old life, and a quite different, new,
utterly strange life had begun for her, while the
old life was actually going on as before.  Those
six weeks had for her been a time of the utmost bliss
and the utmost misery.  All her life, all her
desires and hopes were concentrated on this one man,
still uncomprehended by her, to whom she was bound
by a feeling of alternate attraction and repulsion,
even less comprehended than the man himself, and all
the while she was going on living in the outward conditions
of her old life.  Living the old life, she was
horrified at herself, at her utter insurmountable
callousness to all her own past, to things, to habits,
to the people she had loved, who loved her ­to
her mother, who was wounded by her indifference, to
her kind, tender father, till then dearer than all
the world.  At one moment she was horrified at
this indifference, at another she rejoiced at what
had brought her to this indifference.  She could
not frame a thought, not a wish apart from life with
this man; but this new life was not yet, and she could
not even picture it clearly to herself.  There
was only anticipation, the dread and joy of the new
and the unknown.  And now behold ­anticipation
and uncertainty and remorse at the abandonment of
the old life ­all was ending, and the new
was beginning.  This new life could not but have
terrors for her inexperience; but, terrible or not,
the change had been wrought six weeks before in her
soul, and this was merely the final sanction of what
had long been completed in her heart.

Turning again to the lectern, the
priest with some difficulty took Kitty’s little
ring, and asking Levin for his hand, put it on the
first joint of his finger.  “The servant
of God, Konstantin, plights his troth to the servant
of God, Ekaterina.”  And putting his big
ring on Kitty’s touchingly weak, pink little
finger, the priest said the same thing.

And the bridal pair tried several
times to understand what they had to do, and each
time made some mistake and were corrected by the priest
in a whisper.  At last, having duly performed
the ceremony, having signed the rings with the cross,
the priest handed Kitty the big ring, and Levin the
little one.  Again they were puzzled, and passed
the rings from hand to hand, still without doing what
was expected.

Dolly, Tchirikov, and Stepan Arkadyevitch
stepped forward to set them right.  There was
an interval of hesitation, whispering, and smiles;
but the expression of solemn emotion on the faces of
the betrothed pair did not change:  on the contrary,
in their perplexity over their hands they looked more
grave and deeply moved than before, and the smile
with which Stepan Arkadyevitch whispered to them that
now they would each put on their own ring died away
on his lips.  He had a feeling that any smile
would jar on them.

“Thou who didst from the beginning
create male and female,” the priest read after
the exchange of rings, “from Thee woman was
given to man to be a helpmeet to him, and for the procreation
of children.  O Lord, our God, who hast poured
down the blessings of Thy Truth according to Thy Holy
Covenant upon Thy chosen servants, our fathers, from
generation to generation, bless Thy servants Konstantin
and Ekaterina, and make their troth fast in faith,
and union of hearts, and truth, and love….”

Levin felt more and more that all
his ideas of marriage, all his dreams of how he would
order his life, were mere childishness, and that it
was something he had not understood hitherto, and now
understood less than ever, though it was being performed
upon him.  The lump in his throat rose higher
and higher, tears that would not be checked came into
his eyes.

 

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