FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 19

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

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“Thou hast hid these things
from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them
unto babes.”  So Levin thought about his
wife as he talked to her that evening.

Levin thought of the text, not because
he considered himself “wise and prudent.” 
He did not so consider himself, but he could not
help knowing that he had more intellect than his wife
and Agafea Mihalovna, and he could not help knowing
that when he thought of death, he thought with all
the force of his intellect.  He knew too that
the brains of many great men, whose thoughts he had
read, had brooded over death and yet knew not a hundredth
part of what his wife and Agafea Mihalovna knew about
it.  Different as those two women were, Agafea
Mihalovna and Katya, as his brother Nikolay had called
her, and as Levin particularly liked to call her now,
they were quite alike in this.  Both knew, without
a shade of doubt, what sort of thing life was and what
was death, and though neither of them could have answered,
and would even not have understood the questions that
presented themselves to Levin, both had no doubt of
the significance of this event, and were precisely
alike in their way of looking at it, which they shared
with millions of people.  The proof that they
knew for a certainty the nature of death lay in the
fact that they knew without a second of hesitation
how to deal with the dying, and were not frightened
of them.  Levin and other men like him, though
they could have said a great deal about death, obviously
did not know this since they were afraid of death,
and were absolutely at a loss what to do when people
were dying.  If Levin had been alone now with
his brother Nikolay, he would have looked at him with
terror, and with still greater terror waited, and
would not have known what else to do.

More than that, he did not know what
to say, how to look, how to move.  To talk of
outside things seemed to him shocking, impossible,
to talk of death and depressing subjects ­also
impossible.  To be silent, also impossible. 
“If I look at him he will think I am studying
him, I am afraid; if I don’t look at him, he’ll
think I’m thinking of other things.  If
I walk on tiptoe, he will be vexed; to tread firmly,
I’m ashamed.”  Kitty evidently did
not think of herself, and had no time to think about
herself:  she was thinking about him because she
knew something, and all went well.  She told
him about herself even and about her wedding, and
smiled and sympathized with him and petted him, and
talked of cases of recovery and all went well; so
then she must know.  The proof that her behavior
and Agafea Mihalovna’s was not instinctive,
animal, irrational, was that apart from the physical
treatment, the relief of suffering, both Agafea Mihalovna
and Kitty required for the dying man something else
more important than the physical treatment, and something
which had nothing in common with physical conditions. 
Agafea Mihalovna, speaking of the man just dead,
had said:  “Well, thank God, he took the
sacrament and received absolution; God grant each
one of us such a death.”  Katya in just
the same way, besides all her care about linen, bedsores,
drink, found time the very first day to persuade the
sick man of the necessity of taking the sacrament
and receiving absolution.

On getting back from the sick-room
to their own two rooms for the night, Levin sat with
hanging head not knowing what to do.  Not to
speak of supper, of preparing for bed, of considering
what they were going to do, he could not even talk
to his wife; he was ashamed to.  Kitty, on the
contrary, was more active than usual.  She was
even livelier than usual.  She ordered supper
to be brought, herself unpacked their things, and
herself helped to make the beds, and did not even
forget to sprinkle them with Persian powder. 
She showed that alertness, that swiftness of reflection
comes out in men before a battle, in conflict, in the
dangerous and decisive moments of life ­those
moments when a man shows once and for all his value,
and that all his past has not been wasted but has
been a preparation for these moments.

Everything went rapidly in her hands,
and before it was twelve o’clock all their things
were arranged cleanly and tidily in her rooms, in
such a way that the hotel rooms seemed like home: 
the beds were made, brushes, combs, looking-glasses
were put out, table napkins were spread.

Levin felt that it was unpardonable
to eat, to sleep, to talk even now, and it seemed
to him that every movement he made was unseemly. 
She arranged the brushes, but she did it all so that
there was nothing shocking in it.

They could neither of them eat, however,
and for a long while they could not sleep, and did
not even go to bed.

“I am very glad I persuaded
him to receive extreme unction tomorrow,” she
said, sitting in her dressing jacket before her folding
looking glass, combing her soft, fragrant hair with
a fine comb.  “I have never seen it, but
I know, mamma has told me, there are prayers said
for recovery.”

“Do you suppose he can possibly
recover?” said Levin, watching a slender tress
at the back of her round little head that was continually
hidden when she passed the comb through the front.

“I asked the doctor; he said
he couldn’t live more than three days. 
But can they be sure?  I’m very glad, anyway,
that I persuaded him,” she said, looking askance
at her husband through her hair.  “Anything
is possible,” she added with that peculiar,
rather sly expression that was always in her face when
she spoke of religion.

Since their conversation about religion
when they were engaged neither of them had ever started
a discussion of the subject, but she performed all
the ceremonies of going to church, saying her prayers,
and so on, always with the unvarying conviction that
this ought to be so.  In spite of his assertion
to the contrary, she was firmly persuaded that he
was as much a Christian as she, and indeed a far better
one; and all that he said about it was simply one
of his absurd masculine freaks, just as he would say
about her broderie anglaise that good people
patch holes, but that she cut them on purpose, and
so on.

“Yes, you see this woman, Marya
Nikolaevna, did not know how to manage all this,”
said Levin.  “And…I must own I’m
very, very glad you came.  You are such purity
that….”  He took her hand and did not
kiss it (to kiss her hand in such closeness to death
seemed to him improper); he merely squeezed it with
a penitent air, looking at her brightening eyes.

“It would have been miserable
for you to be alone,” she said, and lifting
her hands which hid her cheeks flushing with pleasure,
twisted her coil of hair on the nape of her neck and
pinned it there.  “No,” she went
on, “she did not know how….  Luckily,
I learned a lot at Soden.”

“Surely there are not people there so ill?”

“Worse.”

“What’s so awful to me
is that I can’t see him as he was when he was
young.  You would not believe how charming he
was as a youth, but I did not understand him then.”

“I can quite, quite believe
it.  How I feel that we might have been friends!”
she said; and, distressed at what she had said, she
looked round at her husband, and tears came into her
eyes.

“Yes, might have been,”
he said mournfully.  “He’s just one
of those people of whom they say they’re not
for this world.”

“But we have many days before
us; we must go to bed,” said Kitty, glancing
at her tiny watch.

 

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