The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy

V

So one month passed and then another. Just before the New Year his brother-inlaw came to town and stayed at their house. Ivan Ilych was at the law courts and Praskovya Fedorovna had gone shopping. When Ivan Ilych came home and entered his study he found his brother-inlaw there — a healthy, florid man — unpacking his portmanteau himself. He raised his head on hearing Ivan Ilych’s footsteps and looked up at him for a moment without a word. That stare told Ivan Ilych everything. His brother-inlaw opened his mouth to utter an exclamation of surprise but checked himself, and that action confirmed it all.

“I have changed, eh?”

“Yes, there is a change.”

And after that, try as he would to get his brother-inlaw to return to the subject of his looks, the latter would say nothing about it. Praskovya Fedorovna came home and her brother went out to her. Ivan Ilych locked to door and began to examine himself in the glass, first full face, then in profile. He took up a portrait of himself taken with his wife, and compared it with what he saw in the glass. The change in him was immense. Then he bared his arms to the elbow, looked at them, drew the sleeves down again, sat down on an ottoman, and grew blacker than night.

“No, no, this won’t do!” he said to himself, and jumped up, went to the table, took up some law papers and began to read them, but could not continue. He unlocked the door and went into the reception-room. The door leading to the drawing-room was shut. He approached it on tiptoe and listened.

“No, you are exaggerating!” Praskovya Fedorovna was saying.

“Exaggerating! Don’t you see it? Why, he’s a dead man! Look at his eyes — there’s no life in them. But what is it that is wrong with him?”

“No one knows. Nikolaevich [that was another doctor] said something, but I don’t know what. And Seshchetitsky [this was the celebrated specialist] said quite the contrary . . . ”

Ivan Ilych walked away, went to his own room, lay down, and began musing; “The kidney, a floating kidney.” He recalled all the doctors had told him of how it detached itself and swayed about. And by an effort of imagination he tried to catch that kidney and arrest it and support it. So little was needed for this, it seemed to him. “No, I’ll go to see Peter Ivanovich again.” [That was the friend whose friend was a doctor.] He rang, ordered the carriage, and got ready to go.

“Where are you going, Jean?” asked his wife with a specially sad and exceptionally kind look.

This exceptionally kind look irritated him. He looked morosely at her.

“I must go to see Peter Ivanovich.”

He went to see Peter Ivanovich, and together they went to see his friend, the doctor. He was in, and Ivan Ilych had a long talk with him.

Reviewing the anatomical and physiological details of what in the doctor’s opinion was going on inside him, he understood it all.

There was something, a small thing, in the vermiform appendix. It might all come right. Only stimulate the energy of one organ and check the activity of another, then absorption would take place and everything would come right. He got home rather late for dinner, ate his dinner, and conversed cheerfully, but could not for a long time bring himself to go back to work in his room. At last, however, he went to his study and did what was necessary, but the consciousness that he had put something aside — an important, intimate matter which he would revert to when his work was done — never left him. When he had finished his work he remembered that this intimate matter was the thought of his vermiform appendix. But he did not give himself up to it, and went to the drawing-room for tea. There were callers there, including the examining magistrate who was a desirable match for his daughter, and they were conversing, playing the piano, and singing. Ivan Ilych, as Praskovya Fedorovna remarked, spent that evening more cheerfully than usual, but he never for a moment forgot that he had postponed the important matter of the appendix. At eleven o’clock he said goodnight and went to his bedroom. Since his illness he had slept alone in a small room next to his study. He undressed and took up a novel by Zola, but instead of reading it he fell into thought, and in his imagination that desired improvement in the vermiform appendix occurred. There was the absorption and evacuation and the reestablishment of normal activity. “Yes, that’s it!” he said to himself. “One need only assist nature, that’s all.” He remembered his medicine, rose, took it, and lay down on his back watching for the beneficent action of the medicine and for it to lessen the pain. “I need only take it regularly and avoid all injurious influences. I am already feeling better, much better.” He began touching his side: it was not painful to the touch. “There, I really don’t feel it. It’s much better already.” He put out the light and turned on his side . . . “The appendix is getting better, absorption is occurring.” Suddenly he felt the old, familiar, dull, gnawing pain, stubborn and serious. There was the same familiar loathsome taste in his mouth. His heart sand and he felt dazed. “My God! My God!” he muttered. “Again, again! And it will never cease.” And suddenly the matter presented itself in a quite different aspect. “Vermiform appendix! Kidney!” he said to himself. “It’s not a question of appendix or kidney, but of life and . . . death. Yes, life was there and now it is going, going and I cannot stop it. Yes. Why deceive myself? Isn’t it obvious to everyone but me that I’m dying, and that it’s only a question of weeks, days . . . it may happen this moment. There was light and now there is darkness. I was here and now I’m going there! Where?” A chill came over him, his breathing ceased, and he felt only the throbbing of his heart.

“When I am not, what will there be? There will be nothing. Then where shall I be when I am no more? Can this be dying? No, I don’t want to!” He jumped up and tried to light the candle, felt for it with trembling hands, dropped candle and candlestick on the floor, and fell back on his pillow.

“What’s the use? It makes no difference,” he said to himself, staring with wide-open eyes into the darkness. “Death. Yes, death. And none of them knows or wishes to know it, and they have no pity for me. Now they are playing.” (He heard through the door the distant sound of a song and its accompaniment.) “It’s all the same to them, but they will die too! Fools! I first, and they later, but it will be the same for them. And now they are merry . . . the beasts!”

Anger choked him and he was agonizingly, unbearably miserable. “It is impossible that all men have been doomed to suffer this awful horror!” He raised himself.

“Something must be wrong. I must calm myself — must think it all over from the beginning.” And he again began thinking. “Yes, the beginning of my illness: I knocked my side, but I was still quite well that day and the next. It hurt a little, then rather more. I saw the doctors, then followed despondency and anguish, more doctors, and I drew nearer to the abyss. My strength grew less and I kept coming nearer and nearer, and now I have wasted away and there is no light in my eyes. I think of the appendix — but this is death! I think of mending the appendix, and all the while here is death! Can it really be death?” Again terror seized him and he gasped for breath. He leant down and began feeling for the matches, pressing with his elbow on the stand beside the bed. It was in his way and hurt him, he grew furious with it, pressed on it still harder, and upset it. Breathless and in despair he fell on his back, expecting death to come immediately.

Meanwhile the visitors were leaving. Praskovya Fedorovna was seeing them off. She heard something fall and came in.

“What has happened?”

“Nothing. I knocked it over accidentally.”

She went out and returned with a candle. He lay there panting heavily, like a man who has run a thousand yards, and stared upwards at her with a fixed look.

“What is it, Jean?”

“No . . . o . . . thing. I upset it.” (“Why speak of it? She won’t understand,” he thought.)

And in truth she did not understand. She picked up the stand, lit his candle, and hurried away to see another visitor off. When she came back he still lay on his back, looking upwards.

“What is it? Do you feel worse?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head and sat down.

“Do you know, Jean, I think we must ask Leshchetitsky to come and see you here.”

This meant calling in the famous specialist, regardless of expense. He smiled malignantly and said “No.” She remained a little longer and then went up to him and kissed his forehead.

While she was kissing him he hated her from the bottom of his soul and with difficulty refrained from pushing her away.

“Good night. Please God you’ll sleep.”

“Yes.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tolstoy/leo/t65d/chapter5.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04