FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 17

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

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The hotel of the provincial town where
Nikolay Levin was lying ill was one of those provincial
hotels which are constructed on the newest model of
modern improvements, with the best intentions of cleanliness,
comfort, and even elegance, but owing to the public
that patronizes them, are with astounding rapidity
transformed into filthy taverns with a pretension of
modern improvement that only makes them worse than
the old-fashioned, honestly filthy hotels.  This
hotel had already reached that stage, and the soldier
in a filthy uniform smoking in the entry, supposed
to stand for a hall-porter, and the cast-iron, slippery,
dark, and disagreeable staircase, and the free and
easy waiter in a filthy frock coat, and the common
dining room with a dusty bouquet of wax flowers adorning
the table, and filth, dust, and disorder everywhere,
and at the same time the sort of modern up-to-date
self-complacent railway uneasiness of this hotel,
aroused a most painful feeling in Levin after their
fresh young life, especially because the impression
of falsity made by the hotel was so out of keeping
with what awaited them.

As is invariably the case, after they
had been asked at what price they wanted rooms, it
appeared that there was not one decent room for them;
one decent room had been taken by the inspector of
railroads, another by a lawyer from Moscow, a third
by Princess Astafieva from the country.  There
remained only one filthy room, next to which they
promised that another should be empty by the evening. 
Feeling angry with his wife because what he had expected
had come to pass, which was that at the moment of
arrival, when his heart throbbed with emotion and anxiety
to know how his brother was getting on, he should
have to be seeing after her, instead of rushing straight
to his brother, Levin conducted her to the room assigned
them.

“Go, do go!” she said,
looking at him with timid and guilty eyes.

He went out of the door without a
word, and at once stumbled over Marya Nikolaevna,
who had heard of his arrival and had not dared to
go in to see him.  She was just the same as when
he saw her in Moscow; the same woolen gown, and bare
arms and neck, and the same good-naturedly stupid,
pockmarked face, only a little plumper.

“Well, how is he? how is he?”

“Very bad.  He can’t
get up.  He has kept expecting you.  He…. 
Are you…with your wife?”

Levin did not for the first moment
understand what it was confused her, but she immediately
enlightened him.

“I’ll go away.  I’ll
go down to the kitchen,” she brought out. 
“Nikolay Dmitrievitch will be delighted. 
He heard about it, and knows your lady, and remembers
her abroad.”

Levin realized that she meant his
wife, and did not know what answer to make.

“Come along, come along to him!” he said.

But as soon as he moved, the door
of his room opened and Kitty peeped out.  Levin
crimsoned both from shame and anger with his wife,
who had put herself and him in such a difficult position;
but Marya Nikolaevna crimsoned still more.  She
positively shrank together and flushed to the point
of tears, and clutching the ends of her apron in both
hands, twisted them in her red fingers without knowing
what to say and what to do.

For the first instant Levin saw an
expression of eager curiosity in the eyes with which
Kitty looked at this awful woman, so incomprehensible
to her; but it lasted only a single instant.

“Well! how is he?” she
turned to her husband and then to her.

“But one can’t go on talking
in the passage like this!” Levin said, looking
angrily at a gentleman who walked jauntily at that
instant across the corridor, as though about his affairs.

“Well then, come in,”
said Kitty, turning to Marya Nikolaevna, who had recovered
herself, but noticing her husband’s face of
dismay, “or go on; go, and then come for me,”
she said, and went back into the room.

Levin went to his brother’s
room.  He had not in the least expected what
he saw and felt in his brother’s room. 
He had expected to find him in the same state of self-deception
which he had heard was so frequent with the consumptive,
and which had struck him so much during his brother’s
visit in the autumn.  He had expected to find
the physical signs of the approach of death more marked ­greater
weakness, greater emaciation, but still almost the
same condition of things.  He had expected himself
to feel the same distress at the loss of the brother
he loved and the same horror in face of death as he
had felt then, only in a greater degree.  And
he had prepared himself for this; but he found something
utterly different.

In a little dirty room with the painted
panels of its walls filthy with spittle, and conversation
audible through the thin partition from the next room,
in a stifling atmosphere saturated with impurities,
on a bedstead moved away from the wall, there lay
covered with a quilt, a body.  One arm of this
body was above the quilt, and the wrist, huge as a
rake-handle, was attached, inconceivably it seemed,
to the thin, long bone of the arm smooth from the
beginning to the middle.  The head lay sideways
on the pillow.  Levin could see the scanty locks
wet with sweat on the temples and tense, transparent-looking
forehead.

“It cannot be that that fearful
body was my brother Nikolay?” thought Levin. 
But he went closer, saw the face, and doubt became
impossible.  In spite of the terrible change in
the face, Levin had only to glance at those eager
eyes raised at his approach, only to catch the faint
movement of the mouth under the sticky mustache, to
realize the terrible truth that this death-like body
was his living brother.

The glittering eyes looked sternly
and reproachfully at his brother as he drew near. 
And immediately this glance established a living
relationship between living men.  Levin immediately
felt the reproach in the eyes fixed on him, and felt
remorse at his own happiness.

When Konstantin took him by the hand,
Nikolay smiled.  The smile was faint, scarcely
perceptible, and in spite of the smile the stern expression
of the eyes was unchanged.

“You did not expect to find
me like this,” he articulated with effort.

“Yes…no,” said Levin,
hesitating over his words.  “How was it
you didn’t let me know before, that is, at the
time of my wedding?  I made inquiries in all
directions.”

He had to talk so as not to be silent,
and he did not know what to say, especially as his
brother made no reply, and simply stared without dropping
his eyes, and evidently penetrated to the inner meaning
of each word.  Levin told his brother that his
wife had come with him.  Nikolay expressed pleasure,
but said he was afraid of frightening her by his condition. 
A silence followed.  Suddenly Nikolay stirred,
and began to say something.  Levin expected something
of peculiar gravity and importance from the expression
of his face, but Nikolay began speaking of his health. 
He found fault with the doctor, regretting he had not
a celebrated Moscow doctor.  Levin saw that he
still hoped.

Seizing the first moment of silence,
Levin got up, anxious to escape, if only for an instant,
from his agonizing emotion, and said that he would
go and fetch his wife.

“Very well, and I’ll tell
her to tidy up here.  It’s dirty and stinking
here, I expect.  Marya! clear up the room,”
the sick man said with effort.  “Oh, and
when you’ve cleared up, go away yourself,”
he added, looking inquiringly at his brother.

Levin made no answer.  Going
out into the corridor, he stopped short.  He
had said he would fetch his wife, but now, taking
stock of the emotion he was feeling, he decided that
he would try on the contrary to persuade her not to
go in to the sick man.  “Why should she
suffer as I am suffering?” he thought.

“Well, how is he?” Kitty
asked with a frightened face.

“Oh, it’s awful, it’s
awful!  What did you come for?” said Levin.

Kitty was silent for a few seconds,
looking timidly and ruefully at her husband; then
she went up and took him by the elbow with both hands.

“Kostya! take me to him; it
will be easier for us to bear it together.  You
only take me, take me to him, please, and go away,”
she said.  “You must understand that for
me to see you, and not to see him, is far more painful. 
There I might be a help to you and to him. 
Please, let me!” she besought her husband, as
though the happiness of her life depended on it.

Levin was obliged to agree, and regaining
his composure, and completely forgetting about Marya
Nikolaevna by now, he went again in to his brother
with Kitty.

Stepping lightly, and continually
glancing at her husband, showing him a valorous and
sympathetic face, Kitty went into the sick-room, and,
turning without haste, noiselessly closed the door. 
With inaudible steps she went quickly to the sick
man’s bedside, and going up so that he had not
to turn his head, she immediately clasped in her fresh
young hand the skeleton of his huge hand, pressed
it, and began speaking with that soft eagerness, sympathetic
and not jarring, which is peculiar to women.

“We have met, though we were
not acquainted, at Soden,” she said.  “You
never thought I was to be your sister?”

“You would not have recognized
me?” he said, with a radiant smile at her entrance.

“Yes, I should.  What a
good thing you let us know!  Not a day has passed
that Kostya has not mentioned you, and been anxious.”

But the sick man’s interest did not last long.

Before she had finished speaking,
there had come back into his face the stern, reproachful
expression of the dying man’s envy of the living.

“I am afraid you are not quite
comfortable here,” she said, turning away from
his fixed stare, and looking about the room. 
“We must ask about another room,” she said
to her husband, “so that we might be nearer.”

 

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