FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 31

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Running halfway down the staircase,
Levin caught a sound he knew, a familiar cough in
the hall.  But he heard it indistinctly through
the sound of his own footsteps, and hoped he was mistaken. 
Then he caught sight of a long, bony, familiar figure,
and now it seemed there was no possibility of mistake;
and yet he still went on hoping that this tall man
taking off his fur cloak and coughing was not his
brother Nikolay.

Levin loved his brother, but being
with him was always a torture.  Just now, when
Levin, under the influence of the thoughts that had
come to him, and Agafea Mihalovna’s hint, was
in a troubled and uncertain humor, the meeting with
his brother that he had to face seemed particularly
difficult.  Instead of a lively, healthy visitor,
some outsider who would, he hoped, cheer him up in
his uncertain humor, he had to see his brother, who
knew him through and through, who would call forth
all the thoughts nearest his heart, would force him
to show himself fully.  And that he was not disposed
to do.

Angry with himself for so base a feeling,
Levin ran into the hall; as soon as he had seen his
brother close, this feeling of selfish disappointment
vanished instantly and was replaced by pity. 
Terrible as his brother Nikolay had been before in
his emaciation and sickliness, now he looked still
more emaciated, still more wasted.  He was a
skeleton covered with skin.

He stood in the hall, jerking his
long thin neck, and pulling the scarf off it, and
smiled a strange and pitiful smile.  When he
saw that smile, submissive and humble, Levin felt something
clutching at his throat.

“You see, I’ve come to
you,” said Nikolay in a thick voice, never for
one second taking his eyes off his brother’s
face.  “I’ve been meaning to a long
while, but I’ve been unwell all the time. 
Now I’m ever so much better,” he said,
rubbing his beard with his big thin hands.

“Yes, yes!” answered Levin. 
And he felt still more frightened when, kissing him,
he felt with his lips the dryness of his brother’s
skin and saw close to him his big eyes, full of a
strange light.

A few weeks before, Konstantin Levin
had written to his brother that through the sale of
the small part of the property, that had remained
undivided, there was a sum of about two thousand roubles
to come to him as his share.

Nikolay said that he had come now
to take this money and, what was more important, to
stay a while in the old nest, to get in touch with
the earth, so as to renew his strength like the heroes
of old for the work that lay before him.  In spite
of his exaggerated stoop, and the emaciation that
was so striking from his height, his movements were
as rapid and abrupt as ever.  Levin led him into
his study.

His brother dressed with particular
care ­a thing he never used to do ­combed
his scanty, lank hair, and, smiling, went upstairs.

He was in the most affectionate and
good-humored mood, just as Levin often remembered
him in childhood.  He even referred to Sergey
Ivanovitch without rancor.  When he saw Agafea
Mihalovna, he made jokes with her and asked after
the old servants.  The news of the death of Parfen
Denisitch made a painful impression on him. 
A look of fear crossed his face, but he regained his
serenity immediately.

“Of course he was quite old,”
he said, and changed the subject.  “Well,
I’ll spend a month or two with you, and then
I’m off to Moscow.  Do you know, Myakov
has promised me a place there, and I’m going
into the service.  Now I’m going to arrange
my life quite differently,” he went on. 
“You know I got rid of that woman.”

“Marya Nikolaevna?  Why, what for?”

“Oh, she was a horrid woman! 
She caused me all sorts of worries.” 
But he did not say what the annoyances were. 
He could not say that he had cast off Marya Nikolaevna
because the tea was weak, and, above all, because
she would look after him, as though he were an invalid.

“Besides, I want to turn over
a new leaf completely now.  I’ve done silly
things, of course, like everyone else, but money’s
the last consideration; I don’t regret it. 
So long as there’s health, and my health, thank
God, is quite restored.”

Levin listened and racked his brains,
but could think of nothing to say.  Nikolay probably
felt the same; he began questioning his brother about
his affairs; and Levin was glad to talk about himself,
because then he could speak without hypocrisy. 
He told his brother of his plans and his doings.

His brother listened, but evidently
he was not interested by it.

These two men were so akin, so near
each other, that the slightest gesture, the tone of
voice, told both more than could be said in words.

Both of them now had only one thought ­the
illness of Nikolay and the nearness of his death ­which
stifled all else.  But neither of them dared
to speak of it, and so whatever they said ­
not uttering the one thought that filled their minds ­was
all falsehood.  Never had Levin been so glad
when the evening was over and it was time to go to
bed.  Never with any outside person, never on
any official visit had he been so unnatural and false
as he was that evening.  And the consciousness
of this unnaturalness, and the remorse he felt at
it, made him even more unnatural.  He wanted
to weep over his dying, dearly loved brother, and
he had to listen and keep on talking of how he meant
to live.

As the house was damp, and only one
bedroom had been kept heated, Levin put his brother
to sleep in his own bedroom behind a screen.

His brother got into bed, and whether
he slept or did not sleep, tossed about like a sick
man, coughed, and when he could not get his throat
clear, mumbled something.  Sometimes when his
breathing was painful, he said, “Oh, my God!”
Sometimes when he was choking he muttered angrily,
“Ah, the devil!” Levin could not sleep
for a long while, hearing him.  His thoughts were
of the most various, but the end of all his thoughts
was the same ­ death.  Death, the inevitable
end of all, for the first time presented itself to
him with irresistible force.  And death, which
was here in this loved brother, groaning half asleep
and from habit calling without distinction on God
and the devil, was not so remote as it had hitherto
seemed to him.  It was in himself too, he felt
that.  If not today, tomorrow, if not tomorrow,
in thirty years, wasn’t it all the same! 
And what was this inevitable death ­he
did not know, had never thought about it, and what
was more, had not the power, had not the courage to
think about it.

“I work, I want to do something,
but I had forgotten it must all end; I had forgotten ­death.”

He sat on his bed in the darkness,
crouched up, hugging his knees, and holding his breath
from the strain of thought, he pondered.  But
the more intensely he thought, the clearer it became
to him that it was indubitably so, that in reality,
looking upon life, he had forgotten one little fact ­that
death will come, and all ends; that nothing was even
worth beginning, and that there was no helping it
anyway.  Yes, it was awful, but it was so.

“But I am alive still. 
Now what’s to be done? what’s to be done?”
he said in despair.  He lighted a candle, got
up cautiously and went to the looking-glass, and began
looking at his face and hair.  Yes, there were
gray hairs about his temples.  He opened his mouth. 
His back teeth were beginning to decay.  He
bared his muscular arms.  Yes, there was strength
in them.  But Nikolay, who lay there breathing
with what was left of lungs, had had a strong, healthy
body too.  And suddenly he recalled how they
used to go to bed together as children, and how they
only waited till Fyodor Bogdanitch was out of the
room to fling pillows at each other and laugh, laugh
irrepressibly, so that even their awe of Fyodor Bogdanitch
could not check the effervescing, overbrimming sense
of life and happiness.  “And now that bent,
hollow chest…and I, not knowing what will become
of me, or wherefore…”

“K…ha!  K…ha! 
Damnation!  Why do you keep fidgeting, why don’t
you go to sleep?” his brother’s voice called
to him.

“Oh, I don’t know, I’m not sleepy.”

“I have had a good sleep, I’m
not in a sweat now.  Just see, feel my shirt;
it’s not wet, is it?”

Levin felt, withdrew behind the screen,
and put out the candle, but for a long while he could
not sleep.  The question how to live had hardly
begun to grow a little clearer to him, when a new,
insoluble question presented itself ­death.

“Why, he’s dying ­yes,
he’ll die in the spring, and how help him? 
What can I say to him?  What do I know about
it?  I’d even forgotten that it was at
all.”

 

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