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Chapter 20

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

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

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 ho 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

"How do you feel?" she asked him.

"Worse," he articulated with difficulty. "In pain!"

"In pain, where?"


"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.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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