Chapter 16

PRINCE ANDREY did not only know that he would die, but felt indeed that he was dying; that he was already half-dead. He experienced a sense of aloofness from everything earthly, and a strange and joyous lightness in his being. Neither impatient, nor troubled, he lay awaiting what was before him.… The menacing, the eternal, the unknown, and remote, the presence of which he had never ceased to feel during the whole course of his life, was now close to him, and—from that strange lightness of being, that he experienced—almost comprehensible and palpable.

In the past he had dreaded the end. Twice he had experienced that terribly agonising feeling of the dread of death, of the end, and now he had ceased to understand it.

The first time he had experienced that feeling when the grenade was rotating before him, and he looked at the stubble, at the bushes, at the sky, and knew that death was facing him. When he had come to himself after his wound, and instantly, as though set free from the cramping bondage of life, there had sprung up in his soul that flower of love, eternal, free, not dependent on this life, he had no more fear, and no more thought, of death.

In those hours of solitary suffering and half-delirium that he spent afterwards, the more he passed in thought into that new element of eternal love, revealed to him, the further he unconsciously travelled from earthly life. To love everything, every one, to sacrifice self always for love, meant to love no one, meant not to live this earthly life. And the further he penetrated into that element of love, the more he renounced life, and the more completely he annihilated that fearful barrier that love sets up between life and death. Whenever, during that first period, he remembered that he had to die, he said to himself: “Well, so much the better.”

But after that night at Mytishtchy, when in his half-delirium she, whom he had longed for, appeared before him, and when pressing her hand to his lips, he wept soft, happy tears, love for one woman stole unseen into his heart, and bound him again to life. And glad and disturbing thoughts began to come back to him. Recalling that moment at the ambulance station, when he had seen Kuragin, he could not now go back to his feeling then. He was fretted by the question whether he were alive. And he dared not ask.

His illness went through its regular physical course; but what Natasha had called “this change” had come upon him two days before Princess Marya’s arrival. It was the last moral struggle between life and death, in which death gained the victory. It was the sudden consciousness that life, in the shape of his love for Natasha, was still precious to him, and the last and vanquished onslaught of terror before the unknown.

It happened in the evening. He was, as usually after dinner, in a slightly feverish condition, and his thoughts were particularly clear. Sonya was sitting at the table. He fell into a doze. He felt a sudden sense of happiness.

“Ah, she has come in!” he thought.

Natasha had, in fact, just come in with noiseless steps, and was sitting in Sonya’s place.

Ever since she had been looking after him he had always felt this physical sense of her presence. She was in a low chair beside him, knitting a stocking, and sitting so as to screen the light of the candle from him. She had learned to knit since Prince Andrey had once said to her that no one made such a good sick-nurse as an old nurse who knitted stockings, and that there was something soothing about knitting. Her slender fingers moved the needles rapidly with a slight click, and the dreamy profile of her drooping head could be clearly seen by him. She made a slight movement; the ball rolled off her knee. She started, glanced round at him, and, screening the light with her hand, bent over with a cautious, supple, and precise movement, picked up the ball, and sat back in the same attitude as before.

He gazed at her without stirring, and saw that after her movements she wanted to draw a deep breath, but did not dare to, and breathed with careful self-restraint.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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