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Chapter 19

"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?"


"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.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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