Chapter the Fifth: The Last Days of Marcus Karenin - Section 3

The next morning Karenin got up early and watched the sun rise over the mountains, and breakfasted lightly, and then young Gardener, his secretary, came to consult him upon the spending of his day. Would he care to see people? Or was this gnawing pain within him too much to permit him to do that?

‘I’d like to talk,’ said Karenin. ‘There must be all sorts of lively-minded people here. Let them come and gossip with me. It will distract me—and I can’t tell you how interesting it makes everything that is going on to have seen the dawn of one’s own last day.’

‘Your last day!’

‘Fowler will kill me.’

‘But he thinks not.’

‘Fowler will kill me. If he does not he will not leave very much of me. So that this is my last day anyhow, the days afterwards if they come at all to me, will be refuse. I know....’

Gardener was about to speak when Karenin went on again.

‘I hope he kills me, Gardener. Don’t be—old-fashioned. The thing I am most afraid of is that last rag of life. I may just go on—a scarred salvage of suffering stuff. And then—all the things I have hidden and kept down or discounted or set right afterwards will get the better of me. I shall be peevish. I may lose my grip upon my own egotism. It’s never been a very firm grip. No, no, Gardener, don’t say that! You know better, you’ve had glimpses of it. Suppose I came through on the other side of this affair, belittled, vain, and spiteful, using the prestige I have got among men by my good work in the past just to serve some small invalid purpose....’

He was silent for a time, watching the mists among the distant precipices change to clouds of light, and drift and dissolve before the searching rays of the sunrise.

‘Yes,’ he said at last, ‘I am afraid of these anaesthetics and these fag ends of life. It’s life we are all afraid of. Death!—nobody minds just death. Fowler is clever—but some day surgery will know its duty better and not be so anxious just to save something . . . provided only that it quivers. I’ve tried to hold my end up properly and do my work. After Fowler has done with me I am certain I shall be unfit for work—and what else is there for me? . . . I know I shall not be fit for work....

‘I do not see why life should be judged by its last trailing thread of vitality.... I know it for the splendid thing it is—I who have been a diseased creature from the beginning. I know it well enough not to confuse it with its husks. Remember that, Gardener, if presently my heart fails me and I despair, and if I go through a little phase of pain and ingratitude and dark forgetfulness before the end.... Don’t believe what I may say at the last.... If the fabric is good enough the selvage doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. So long as you are alive you are just the moment, perhaps, but when you are dead then you are all your life from the first moment to the last....’