Three deaths By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy –  Three deaths – contents
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Chapter I

It was autumn.

Along the highway came two equipages at a brisk pace. In the first carriage sat two women. One was a lady, thin and pale. The other, her maid, with a brilliant red complexion, and plump. Her short, dry locks escaped from under a faded cap; her red hand, in a torn glove, put them back with a jerk. Her full bosom, incased in a tapestry shawl, breathed of health; her restless black eyes now gazed through the window at the fields hurrying by them, now rested on her mistress, now peered solicitously into the corners of the coach.

Before the maid’s face swung the lady’s bonnet on the rack; on her knees lay a puppy; her feet were raised by packages lying on the floor, and could almost be heard drumming upon them above the noise of the creaking of the springs, and the rattling of the windows.

The lady, with her hands resting in her lap and her eyes shut, feebly swayed on the cushions which supported her back, and, slightly frowning, struggled with a cough.

She wore a white nightcap, and a blue neckerchief twisted around her delicate pale neck. A straight line, disappearing under the cap, parted her blonde hair, which was smoothly pomaded; and there was a dry, deathly appearance about the whiteness of the skin in this simple parting. The withered and rather sallow skin was loosely drawn over her delicate and pretty features, and there was a hectic flush on the cheeks and cheek-bones. Her lips were dry and restless, her thin eyelashes had lost their curve, and a cloth travelling capote made straight folds over her sunken chest. Although her eyes were closed, her face gave the impression of weariness, irascibility, and habitual suffering.

The lackey, leaning back, was napping on the coach-box. The hired driver,[88] shouting in a clear voice, urged on his four powerful and sweaty horses, occasionally looking back at the other driver, who was shouting just behind them in an open barouche. The tires of the wheels, in their even and rapid course, left wide parallel tracks on the limy mud of the highway.

The sky was gray and cold, a moist mist was falling over the fields and the road. It was suffocating in the carriage, and smelt of eau-de-cologne and dust. The invalid leaned back her head, and slowly opened her eyes. Her great eyes were brilliant, and of a beautiful dark color. “Again!” said she, nervously pushing away with her beautiful attenuated hand the end of her maid’s cloak, which occasionally hit against her knee. Her mouth contracted painfully.

Matriósha raised her cloak in both hands, lifting herself up on her strong legs, and then sat down again, farther away. Her fresh face was suffused with a brilliant scarlet.

The invalid’s handsome dark eyes eagerly followed the maid’s motions; and then with both hands she took hold of the seat, and did her best to raise herself a little higher, but her strength was not sufficient.

Again her mouth became contracted, and her whole face took on an expression of unavailing, angry irony.

“If you would only help me…. Ah! It’s not necessary. I can do it myself. Only have the goodness not to put those pillows behind me…. On the whole, you had better not touch them, if you don’t understand!”

The lady closed her eyes, and then again, quickly raising the lids, gazed at her maid.

Matriósha looked at her, and gnawed her red lower lip. A heavy sigh escaped from the sick woman’s breast; but the sigh was not ended, but was merged in a fit of coughing. She scowled, and turned her face away, clutching her chest with both hands. When the coughing fit was over, she once more shut her eyes, and continued to sit motionless. The coach and the barouche rolled into the village. Matriósha drew her fat hand from under her shawl, and made the sign of the cross.

“What is this?” demanded the lady.

“A post-station, madame.”

“Why did you cross yourself, I should like to know?”

“The church, madame.”

The lady looked out of the window, and began slowly to cross herself, gazing with all her eyes at the great village church, in front of which the invalid’s carriage was now passing.

The two vehicles came to a stop together at the post-house. The sick woman’s husband and the doctor dismounted from the barouche, and came to the coach.

“How are you feeling?” asked the doctor, taking her pulse.

“Well, my dear, aren’t you fatigued?” asked the husband, in French. “Wouldn’t you like to go out?”

Matriósha, gathering up the bundles, squeezed herself into the corner, so as not to interfere with the conversation.

“No matter, it’s all the same thing,” replied the invalid. “I will not get out.”

The husband, after standing there a little while, went into the post-house. Matriósha, jumping from the carriage, tiptoed across the muddy road, into the enclosure.

“If I am miserable, there is no reason why the rest of you should not have breakfast,” said the sick woman, smiling faintly to the doctor, who was standing by her window.

“It makes no difference to them how I am,” she remarked to herself as the doctor, turning from her with slow step, started to run up the steps of the station-house. “They are well, and it’s all the same to them. O my God!”

“How now, Eduard Ivánovitch,” said the husband, as he met the doctor, and rubbing his hands with a gay smile. “I have ordered my travelling-case brought; what do you say to that?”

“That’s worth while,” replied the doctor.

“Well now, how about her?” asked the husband with a sigh, lowering his voice and raising his brows.

“I have told you that she cannot reach Moscow, much less Italy, especially in such weather.”

“What is to be done, then? Oh! my God! my God!”

The husband covered his eyes with his hand…. “Give it here,” he added, addressing his man, who came bringing the travelling-case.

“You’ll have to stop somewhere on the route,” replied the doctor, shrugging his shoulders.

“But tell me, how can that be done?” rejoined the husband. “I have done every thing to keep her from going: I have spoken to her of our means, and of our children whom we should have to leave behind, and of my business. She would not hear a word. She has made her plans for living abroad, as though she were well. But if I should tell her what her real condition is, it would kill her.”

“Well, she is a dead woman now: you may as well know it, Vasíli Dmítritch. A person cannot live without lungs, and there is no way of making lungs grow again. It is melancholy, it is hard, but what is to be done about it? It is my business and yours to make her last days as easy as possible. It is the confessor that is needed here.”

“Oh, my God! Now just perceive how I am situated, in speaking to her of her last will. Let come whatever may, yet I cannot speak of that. And yet you know how good she is.”

“Try at least to persuade her to wait until the roads are frozen,” said the doctor, shaking his head significantly: “something might happen during the journey.”

“Aksiúsha, oh, Aksiúsha!” cried the superintendent’s daughter, throwing a cloak over her head and tiptoeing down the muddy back steps. “Come along. Let us have a look at the Shirkínskaya lady: they say she’s got lung-trouble, and they’re taking her abroad. I never saw how any one looked in consumption.”

Aksiúsha jumped down from the door-sill; and the two girls, hand in hand, hurried out of the gates. Shortening their steps, they walked by the coach, and stared in at the lowered window. The invalid bent her head toward them; but when she saw their inquisitiveness, she frowned and turned away.

“Oh, de-e-ar!” said the superintendent’s daughter, vigorously shaking her head…. “How wonderfully pretty she used to be, and how she has changed! It is terrible! Did you see? Did you see, Aksiúsha?”

“Yes, but how thin she is!” assented Aksiúsha. “Let us go by and look again; we’ll make believe go to the well. Did you see, she turned away from us; still I got a good view of her. Isn’t it too bad, Masha?”

“Yes, but what terrible mud!” replied Masha, and both of them started to run back within the gates.

“It’s evident that I have become a fright,” thought the sick woman…. “But we must hurry, hurry, and get abroad, and there I shall soon get well.”

“Well, and how are you, my dear?” inquired the husband, coming to the carriage with still a morsel of something in his mouth.

“Always one and the same question,” thought the sick woman, “and he’s even eating!”

“It’s no consequence,” she murmured between her teeth.

“Do you know, my dear, I am afraid that this journey in such weather will only make you worse. Eduard Ivánovitch says the same thing. Hadn’t we better turn back?”

She maintained an angry silence.

“The weather will improve maybe, the roads will become good, and that would be better for you; then at least we could start all together.”

“Pardon me. If I had not listened to you so long, I should at this moment be at Berlin and have entirely recovered.”

“What’s to be done, my angel? it was impossible, as you know. But now if you would wait a month, you would be ever so much better; I could finish up my business, and we could take the children with us.”

“The children are well, and I am ill.”

“But just see here, my love, if in this weather you should grow worse on the road…. At least we should be at home.”

“What is the use of being at home?… Die at home?” replied the invalid peevishly.

But the word die evidently startled her, and she turned upon her husband a supplicating and inquiring look. He dropped his eyes, and said nothing.

The sick woman’s mouth suddenly contracted in a childish fashion, and the tears sprang to her eyes. Her husband covered his face with his handkerchief, and silently turned from the carriage.

“No, I will go,” cried the invalid; and lifting her eyes to the sky, she clasped her hands, and began to whisper incoherent words. “My God! why must it be?” she said, and the tears flowed more violently. She prayed long and fervently, but still there was just the same sense of constriction and pain in her chest, just the same gray melancholy in the sky and the fields and the road; just the same autumnal mist, neither thicker nor more tenuous, but ever the same in its monotony, falling on the muddy highway, on the roofs, on the carriage, and on the sheep-skin coats of the drivers, who were talking in strong, gay voices, as they were oiling and adjusting the carriage.

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Chapter II > > >

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy –  Three deaths – contents

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