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Chapter 31

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

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

"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

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 all wet, isn't 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."

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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