FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 20

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

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The next day the sick man received
the sacrament and extreme unction.  During the
ceremony Nikolay Levin prayed fervently.  His
great eyes, fastened on the holy image that was set
out on a card table covered with a colored napkin,
expressed such passionate prayer and hope that it
was awful to Levin to see it.  Levin knew that
this passionate prayer and hope would only make him
feel more bitterly parting from the life he so loved. 
Levin knew his brother and the workings of his intellect: 
he knew that his unbelief came not from life being
easier for him without faith, but had grown up because
step by step the contemporary scientific interpretation
of natural phenomena crushed out the possibility of
faith; and so he knew that his present return was
not a legitimate one, brought about by way of the same
working of his intellect, but simply a temporary,
interested return to faith in a desperate hope of
recovery.  Levin knew too that Kitty had strengthened
his hope by accounts of the marvelous recoveries she
had heard of.  Levin knew all this; and it was
agonizingly painful to him to behold the supplicating,
hopeful eyes and the emaciated wrist, lifted with
difficulty, making the sign of the cross on the tense
brow, and the prominent shoulders and hollow, gasping
chest, which one could not feel consistent with the
life the sick man was praying for.  During the
sacrament Levin did what he, an unbeliever, had done
a thousand times.  He said, addressing God, “If
Thou dost exist, make this man to recover” (of
course this same thing has been repeated many times),
“and Thou wilt save him and me.”

After extreme unction the sick man
became suddenly much better.  He did not cough
once in the course of an hour, smiled, kissed Kitty’s
hand, thanking her with tears, and said he was comfortable,
free from pain, and that he felt strong and had an
appetite.  He even raised himself when his soup
was brought, and asked for a cutlet as well. 
Hopelessly ill as he was, obvious as it was at the
first glance that he could not recover, Levin and
Kitty were for that hour both in the same state of
excitement, happy, though fearful of being mistaken.

“Is he better?”

“Yes, much.”

“It’s wonderful.”

“There’s nothing wonderful in it.”

“Anyway, he’s better,”
they said in a whisper, smiling to one another.

This self-deception was not of long
duration.  The sick man fell into a quiet sleep,
but he was waked up half an hour later by his cough. 
And all at once every hope vanished in those about
him and in himself.  The reality of his suffering
crushed all hopes in Levin and Kitty and in the sick
man himself, leaving no doubt, no memory even of past
hopes.

Without referring to what he had believed
in half an hour before, as though ashamed even to
recall it, he asked for iodine to inhale in a bottle
covered with perforated paper.  Levin gave him
the bottle, and the same look of passionate hope with
which he had taken the sacrament was now fastened
on his brother, demanding from him the confirmation
of the doctor’s words that inhaling iodine worked
wonders.

“Is Katya not here?” he
gasped, looking round while Levin reluctantly assented
to the doctor’s words.  “No; so I
can say it….  It was for her sake I went through
that farce.  She’s so sweet; but you and
I can’t deceive ourselves.  This is what
I believe in,” he said, and, squeezing the bottle
in his bony hand, he began breathing over it.

At eight o’clock in the evening
Levin and his wife were drinking tea in their room
when Marya Nikolaevna ran in to them breathlessly. 
She was pale, and her lips were quivering.  “He
is dying!” she whispered.  “I’m
afraid will die this minute.”

Both of them ran to him.  He
was sitting raised up with one elbow on the bed, his
long back bent, and his head hanging low.

“How do you feel?” Levin
asked in a whisper, after a silence.

“I feel I’m setting off,”
Nikolay said with difficulty, but with extreme distinctness,
screwing the words out of himself.  He did not
raise his head, but simply turned his eyes upwards,
without their reaching his brother’s face. 
“Katya, go away!” he added.

Levin jumped up, and with a peremptory
whisper made her go out.

“I’m setting off,” he said again.

“Why do you think so?” said Levin, so
as to say something.

“Because I’m setting off,”
he repeated, as though he had a liking for the phrase. 
“It’s the end.”

Marya Nikolaevna went up to him.

“You had better lie down; you’d be easier,”
she said.

“I shall lie down soon enough,”
he pronounced slowly, “when I’m dead,”
he said sarcastically, wrathfully.  “Well,
you can lay me down if you like.”

Levin laid his brother on his back,
sat down beside him, and gazed at his face, holding
his breath.  The dying man lay with closed eyes,
but the muscles twitched from time to time on his
forehead, as with one thinking deeply and intensely. 
Levin involuntarily thought with him of what it was
that was happening to him now, but in spite of all
his mental efforts to go along with him he saw by
the expression of that calm, stern face that for the
dying man all was growing clearer and clearer that
was still as dark as ever for Levin.

“Yes, yes, so,” the dying
man articulated slowly at intervals.  “Wait
a little.”  He was silent.  “Right!”
he pronounced all at once reassuringly, as though
all were solved for him.  “O Lord!”
he murmured, and sighed deeply.

Marya Nikolaevna felt his feet. 
“They’re getting cold,” she whispered.

For a long while, a very long while
it seemed to Levin, the sick man lay motionless. 
But he was still alive, and from time to time he
sighed.  Levin by now was exhausted from mental
strain.  He felt that, with no mental effort,
could he understand what it was that was right
He could not even think of the problem of death itself,
but with no will of his own thoughts kept coming to
him of what he had to do next; closing the dead man’s
eyes, dressing him, ordering the coffin.  And,
strange to say, he felt utterly cold, and was not
conscious of sorrow nor of loss, less still of pity
for his brother.  If he had any feeling for his
brother at that moment, it was envy for the knowledge
the dying man had now that he could not have.

A long time more he sat over him so,
continually expecting the end.  But the end did
not come.  The door opened and Kitty appeared. 
Levin got up to stop her.  But at the moment
he was getting up, he caught the sound of the dying
man stirring.

“Don’t go away,”
said Nikolay and held out his hand.  Levin gave
him his, and angrily waved to his wife to go away.

With the dying man’s hand in
his hand, he sat for half an hour, an hour, another
hour.  He did not think of death at all now. 
He wondered what Kitty was doing; who lived in the
next room; whether the doctor lived in a house of
his own.  He longed for food and for sleep. 
He cautiously drew away his hand and felt the feet. 
The feet were cold, but the sick man was still breathing. 
Levin tried again to move away on tiptoe, but the
sick man stirred again and said:  “Don’t
go.”

The dawn came; the sick man’s
condition was unchanged.  Levin stealthily withdrew
his hand, and without looking at the dying man, went
off to his own room and went to sleep.  When he
woke up, instead of news of his brother’s death
which he expected, he learned that the sick man had
returned to his earlier condition.  He had begun
sitting up again, coughing, had begun eating again,
talking again, and again had ceased to talk of death,
again had begun to express hope of his recovery, and
had become more irritable and more gloomy than ever. 
No one, neither his brother nor Kitty, could soothe
him.  He was angry with everyone, and said nasty
things to everyone, reproached everyone for his sufferings,
and insisted that they should get him a celebrated
doctor from Moscow.  To all inquiries made him
as to how he felt, he made the same answer with an
expression of vindictive reproachfulness, “I’m
suffering horribly, intolerably!”

The sick man was suffering more and
more, especially from bedsores, which it was impossible
now to remedy, and grew more and more angry with everyone
about him, blaming them for everything, and especially
for not having brought him a doctor from Moscow. 
Kitty tried in every possible way to relieve him,
to soothe him; but it was all in vain, and Levin saw
that she herself was exhausted both physically and
morally, though she would not admit it.  The
sense of death, which had been evoked in all by his
taking leave of life on the night when he had sent
for his brother, was broken up.  Everyone knew
that he must inevitably die soon, that he was half
dead already.  Everyone wished for nothing but
that he should die as soon as possible, and everyone,
concealing this, gave him medicines, tried to find
remedies and doctors, and deceived him and themselves
and each other.  All this was falsehood, disgusting,
irreverent deceit.  And owing to the bent of his
character, and because he loved the dying man more
than anyone else did, Levin was most painfully conscious
of this deceit.

Levin, who had long been possessed
by the idea of reconciling his brothers, at least
in face of death, had written to his brother, Sergey
Ivanovitch, and having received an answer from him,
he read this letter to the sick man.  Sergey
Ivanovitch wrote that he could not come himself, and
in touching terms he begged his brother’s forgiveness.

The sick man said nothing.

“What am I to write to him?”
said Levin.  “I hope you are not angry
with him?”

“No, not the least!” Nikolay
answered, vexed at the question.  “Tell
him to send me a doctor.”

Three more days of agony followed;
the sick man was still in the same condition. 
The sense of longing for his death was felt by everyone
now at the mere sight of him, by the waiters and the
hotel-keeper and all the people staying in the hotel,
and the doctor and Marya Nikolaevna and Levin and
Kitty.  The sick man alone did not express this
feeling, but on the contrary was furious at their
not getting him doctors, and went on taking medicine
and talking of life.  Only at rare moments, when
the opium gave him an instant’s relief from
the never-ceasing pain, he would sometimes, half asleep,
utter what was ever more intense in his heart than
in all the others:  “Oh, if it were only
the end!” or:  “When will it be over?”

His sufferings, steadily growing more
intense, did their work and prepared him for death. 
There was no position in which he was not in pain,
there was not a minute in which he was unconscious
of it, not a limb, not a part of his body that did
not ache and cause him agony.  Even the memories,
the impressions, the thoughts of this body awakened
in him now the same aversion as the body itself. 
The sight of other people, their remarks, his own
reminiscences, everything was for him a source of agony. 
Those about him felt this, and instinctively did not
allow themselves to move freely, to talk, to express
their wishes before him.  All his life was merged
in the one feeling of suffering and desire to be rid
of it.

There was evidently coming over him
that revulsion that would make him look upon death
as the goal of his desires, as happiness.  Hitherto
each individual desire, aroused by suffering or privation,
such as hunger, fatigue, thirst, had been satisfied
by some bodily function giving pleasure.  But
now no physical craving or suffering received relief,
and the effort to relieve them only caused fresh suffering. 
And so all desires were merged in one ­the
desire to be rid of all his sufferings and their source,
the body.  But he had no words to express this
desire of deliverance, and so he did not speak of
it, and from habit asked for the satisfaction of desires
which could not now be satisfied.  “Turn
me over on the other side,” he would say, and
immediately after he would ask to be turned back again
as before.  “Give me some broth. 
Take away the broth.  Talk of something: 
why are you silent?” And directly they began
to talk he would close his eyes, and would show weariness,
indifference, and loathing.

On the tenth day from their arrival
at the town, Kitty was unwell.  She suffered
from headache and sickness, and she could not get
up all the morning.

The doctor opined that the indisposition
arose from fatigue and excitement, and prescribed
rest.

After dinner, however, Kitty got up
and went as usual with her work to the sick man. 
He looked at her sternly when she came in, and smiled
contemptuously when she said she had been unwell. 
That day he was continually blowing his nose, and groaning
piteously.

“How do you feel?” she asked him.

“Worse,” he articulated with difficulty. 
“In pain!”

“In pain, where?”

“Everywhere.”

“It will be over today, you
will see,” said Marya Nikolaevna.  Though
it was said in a whisper, the sick man, whose hearing
Levin had noticed was very keen, must have heard. 
Levin said hush to her, and looked round at the sick
man.  Nikolay had heard; but these words produced
no effect on him.  His eyes had still the same
intense, reproachful look.

“Why do you think so?”
Levin asked her, when she had followed him into the
corridor.

“He has begun picking at himself,” said
Marya Nikolaevna.

“How do you mean?”

“Like this,” she said,
tugging at the folds of her woolen skirt.  Levin
noticed, indeed, that all that day the patient pulled
at himself, as it were, trying to snatch something
away.

Marya Nikolaevna’s prediction
came true.  Towards night the sick man was not
able to lift his hands, and could only gaze before
him with the same intensely concentrated expression
in his eyes.  Even when his brother or Kitty bent
over him, so that he could see them, he looked just
the same.  Kitty sent for the priest to read
the prayer for the dying.

While the priest was reading it, the
dying man did not show any sign of life; his eyes
were closed.  Levin, Kitty, and Marya Nikolaevna
stood at the bedside.  The priest had not quite
finished reading the prayer when the dying man stretched,
sighed, and opened his eyes.  The priest, on
finishing the prayer, put the cross to the cold forehead,
then slowly returned it to the stand, and after standing
for two minutes more in silence, he touched the huge,
bloodless hand that was turning cold.

“He is gone,” said the
priest, and would have moved away; but suddenly there
was a faint stir in the mustaches of the dead man
that seemed glued together, and quite distinctly in
the hush they heard from the bottom of the chest the
sharply defined sounds: 

“Not quite…soon.”

And a minute later the face brightened,
a smile came out under the mustaches, and the women
who had gathered round began carefully laying out
the corpse.

The sight of his brother, and the
nearness of death, revived in Levin that sense of
horror in face of the insoluble enigma, together with
the nearness and inevitability of death, that had
come upon him that autumn evening when his brother
had come to him.  This feeling was now even stronger
than before; even less than before did he feel capable
of apprehending the meaning of death, and its inevitability
rose up before him more terrible than ever. 
But now, thanks to his wife’s presence, that
feeling did not reduce him to despair.  In spite
of death, he felt the need of life and love. 
He felt that love saved him from despair, and that
this love, under the menace of despair, had become
still stronger and purer.  The one mystery of
death, still unsolved, had scarcely passed before
his eyes, when another mystery had arisen, as insoluble,
urging him to love and to life.

The doctor confirmed his suppositions
in regard to Kitty.  Her indisposition was a
symptom that she was with child.

 

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