Not only did Prince Andrew know he would die, but he felt that he was dying and was already half dead. He was conscious of an aloofness from everything earthly and a strange and joyous lightness of existence. Without haste or agitation he awaited what was coming. That inexorable, eternal, distant, and unknown the presence of which he had felt continually all his life- was now near to him and, by the strange lightness he experienced, almost comprehensible and palpable...
Formerly he had feared the end. He had twice experienced that terribly tormenting fear of death- the end- but now he no longer understood that fear.
He had felt it for the first time when the shell spun like a top before him, and he looked at the fallow field, the bushes, and the sky, and knew that he was face to face with death. When he came to himself after being wounded and the flower of eternal, unfettered love had instantly unfolded itself in his soul as if freed from the bondage of life that had restrained it, he no longer feared death and ceased to think about it.
During the hours of solitude, suffering, and partial delirium he spent after he was wounded, the more deeply he penetrated into the new principle of eternal love revealed to him, the more he unconsciously detached himself from earthly life. To love everything and everybody and always to sacrifice oneself for love meant not to love anyone, not to live this earthly life. And the more imbued he became with that principle of love, the more he renounced life and the more completely he destroyed that dreadful barrier which- in the absence of such love- stands between life and death. When during those first days he remembered that he would have to die, he said to himself: "Well, what of it? So much the better!"
But after the night in Mytishchi when, half delirious, he had seen her for whom he longed appear before him and, having pressed her hand to his lips, had shed gentle, happy tears, love for a particular woman again crept unobserved into his heart and once more bound him to life. And joyful and agitating thoughts began to occupy his mind. Recalling the moment at the ambulance station when he had seen Kuragin, he could not now regain the feeling he then had, but was tormented by the question whether Kuragin was alive. And he dared not inquire.
His illness pursued its normal physical course, but what Natasha referred to when she said: "This suddenly happened," had occurred two days before Princess Mary arrived. It was the last spiritual struggle between life and death, in which death gained the victory. It was the unexpected realization of the fact that he still valued life as presented to him in the form of his love for Natasha, and a last, though ultimately vanquished, attack of terror before the unknown.
It was evening. As usual after dinner he was slightly feverish, and his thoughts were preternaturally clear. Sonya was sitting by the table. He began to doze. Suddenly a feeling of happiness seized him.
"Ah, she has come!" thought he.
And so it was: in Sonya's place sat Natasha who had just come in noiselessly.
Since she had begun looking after him, he had always experienced this physical consciousness of her nearness. She was sitting in an armchair placed sideways, screening the light of the candle from him, and was knitting a stocking. She had learned to knit stockings since Prince Andrew had casually mentioned that no one nursed the sick so well as old nurses who knit stockings, and that there is something soothing in the knitting of stockings. The needles clicked lightly in her slender, rapidly moving hands, and he could clearly see the thoughtful profile of her drooping face. She moved, and the ball rolled off her knees. She started, glanced round at him, and screening the candle with her hand stooped carefully with a supple and exact movement, picked up the ball, and regained her former position.
He looked at her without moving and saw that she wanted to draw a deep breath after stooping, but refrained from doing so and breathed cautiously.
At the Troitsa monastery they had spoken of the past, and he had told her that if he lived he would always thank God for his wound which had brought them together again, but after that they never spoke of the future.
"Can it or can it not be?" he now thought as he looked at her and listened to the light click of the steel needles. "Can fate have brought me to her so strangely only for me to die?... Is it possible that the truth of life has been revealed to me only to show me that I have spent my life in falsity? I love her more than anything in the world! But what am I to do if I love her?" he thought, and he involuntarily groaned, from a habit acquired during his sufferings.
On hearing that sound Natasha put down the stocking, leaned nearer to him, and suddenly, noticing his shining eyes, stepped lightly up to him and bent over him.
"You are not asleep?"
"No, I have been looking at you a long time. I felt you come in. No one else gives me that sense of soft tranquillity that you do... that light. I want to weep for joy."
Natasha drew closer to him. Her face shone with rapturous joy.
"Natasha, I love you too much! More than anything in the world."
"And I!"- She turned away for an instant. "Why too much?" she asked.
"Why too much?... Well, what do you, what do you feel in your soul, your whole soul- shall I live? What do you think?"
"I am sure of it, sure!" Natasha almost shouted, taking hold of both his hands with a passionate movement.
He remained silent awhile.
"How good it would be!" and taking her hand he kissed it.
Natasha felt happy and agitated, but at once remembered that this would not do and that he had to be quiet.
"But you have not slept," she said, repressing her joy. "Try to sleep... please!"
He pressed her hand and released it, and she went back to the candle and sat down again in her former position. Twice she turned and looked at him, and her eyes met his beaming at her. She set herself a task on her stocking and resolved not to turn round till it was finished.
Soon he really shut his eyes and fell asleep. He did not sleep long and suddenly awoke with a start and in a cold perspiration.
As he fell asleep he had still been thinking of the subject that now always occupied his mind- about life and death, and chiefly about death. He felt himself nearer to it.
"Love? What is love?" he thought.
"Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source." These thoughts seemed to him comforting. But they were only thoughts. Something was lacking in them, they were not clear, they were too one-sidedly personal and brain-spun. And there was the former agitation and obscurity. He fell asleep.
He dreamed that he was lying in the room he really was in, but that he was quite well and unwounded. Many various, indifferent, and insignificant people appeared before him. He talked to them and discussed something trivial. They were preparing to go away somewhere. Prince Andrew dimly realized that all this was trivial and that he had more important cares, but he continued to speak, surprising them by empty witticisms. Gradually, unnoticed, all these persons began to disappear and a single question, that of the closed door, superseded all else. He rose and went to the door to bolt and lock it. Everything depended on whether he was, or was not, in time to lock it. He went, and tried to hurry, but his legs refused to move and he knew he would not be in time to lock the door though he painfully strained all his powers. He was seized by an agonizing fear. And that fear was the fear of death. It stood behind the door. But just when he was clumsily creeping toward the door, that dreadful something on the other side was already pressing against it and forcing its way in. Something not human- death- was breaking in through that door, and had to be kept out. He seized the door, making a final effort to hold it back- to lock it was no longer possible- but his efforts were weak and clumsy and the door, pushed from behind by that terror, opened and closed again.
Once again it pushed from outside. His last superhuman efforts were vain and both halves of the door noiselessly opened. It entered, and it was death, and Prince Andrew died.
But at the instant he died, Prince Andrew remembered that he was asleep, and at the very instant he died, having made an effort, he awoke.
"Yes, it was death! I died- and woke up. Yes, death is an awakening!" And all at once it grew light in his soul and the veil that had till then concealed the unknown was lifted from his spiritual vision. He felt as if powers till then confined within him had been liberated, and that strange lightness did not again leave him.
When, waking in a cold perspiration, he moved on the divan, Natasha went up and asked him what was the matter. He did not answer and looked at her strangely, not understanding.
That was what had happened to him two days before Princess Mary's arrival. From that day, as the doctor expressed it, the wasting fever assumed a malignant character, but what the doctor said did not interest Natasha, she saw the terrible moral symptoms which to her were more convincing.
From that day an awakening from life came to Prince Andrew together with his awakening from sleep. And compared to the duration of life it did not seem to him slower than an awakening from sleep compared to the duration of a dream.
There was nothing terrible or violent in this comparatively slow awakening.
His last days and hours passed in an ordinary and simple way. Both Princess Mary and Natasha, who did not leave him, felt this. They did not weep or shudder and during these last days they themselves felt that they were not attending on him (he was no longer there, he had left them) but on what reminded them most closely of him- his body. Both felt this so strongly that the outward and terrible side of death did not affect them and they did not feel it necessary to foment their grief. Neither in his presence nor out of it did they weep, nor did they ever talk to one another about him. They felt that they could not express in words what they understood.
They both saw that he was sinking slowly and quietly, deeper and deeper, away from them, and they both knew that this had to be so and that it was right.
He confessed, and received communion: everyone came to take leave of him. When they brought his son to him, he pressed his lips to the boy's and turned away, not because he felt it hard and sad (Princess Mary and Natasha understood that) but simply because he thought it was all that was required of him, but when they told him to bless the boy, he did what was demanded and looked round as if asking whether there was anything else he should do.
When the last convulsions of the body, which the spirit was leaving, occurred, Princess Mary and Natasha were present.
"Is it over?" said Princess Mary when his body had for a few minutes lain motionless, growing cold before them. Natasha went up, looked at the dead eyes, and hastened to close them. She closed them but did not kiss them, but clung to that which reminded her most nearly of him- his body.
"Where has he gone? Where is he now?..."
When the body, washed and dressed, lay in the coffin on a table, everyone came to take leave of him and they all wept.
Little Nicholas cried because his heart was rent by painful perplexity. The countess and Sonya cried from pity for Natasha and because he was no more. The old count cried because he felt that before long, he, too, must take the same terrible step.
Natasha and Princess Mary also wept now, but not because of their own personal grief; they wept with a reverent and softening emotion which had taken possession of their souls at the consciousness of the simple and solemn mystery of death that had been accomplished in their presence.
Eric von Hippel
Erik S. Raymond