Leo Tolstoy Archive

Family Happiness
Chapter 2

Written: 1859
Source: Original text uploaded to Gutenberg.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021

Leo Tolstoy

The spring came. My former ennui had disappeared, and in exchange I felt the dreamy vernal sadness, woven of unknown hopes and unslaked desires. But my life was no longer the existence I had led during the early winter; I occupied myself with Sonia, with music, with studies, and I often went into the garden, to spend a long, long, time in wandering alone through the shady walks, or in sitting motionless upon some quiet bench. God knows what I was thinking, what I was wishing, what I was hoping! Sometimes for whole nights, especially if it was moonlight, I would remain kneeling at my window with my elbows on the sill; morning would find me there; and sometimes, without Macha’s knowing it, I would steal down into the garden again after I was in my simple night-dress, and fly through the dew to the little pond; once I even went out into the fields, and spent the rest of the night roaming alone about the park.

Now it is difficult for me to recall, still less to comprehend, the reveries which at this period filled my imagination. If I can succeed in remembering them, I can hardly believe that these reveries were my own, so strange were they, so outside of real life.

At the end of May, Sergius Mikaïlovitch, as he had promised, returned from his journey.

The first time he came to see us was in the evening, when we were not expecting him at all. We were sitting on the terrace, preparing to take tea. The garden was in full verdure, and at Pokrovski nightingales had their homes on all sides in the thick shrubbery. Here and there, large clumps of lilacs raised their heads, enameled with the white or pale purple of their opening flowers. The leaves in the birch alleys seemed transparent in the rays of the setting sun. The terrace lay in refreshing shade, and the light evening dew was gathering upon the grass. In the court-yard behind the garden were heard the sounds of closing day, and the lowing of cows returning to their stable; poor half-witted Nikone came along the path at the foot of the terrace with his huge watering-pot, and soon the torrents of cool water traced in darkening circles over the newly-dug earth of the dahlia beds. Beside us on the terrace, the shining samovar hissed and sputtered on the white cloth, flanked by cream, pancakes, and sweetmeats. Macha, with her plump hands, was dipping the cups in hot water like a good housekeeper. As to me, with an appetite sharpened by my late bath, I could not wait for tea, but was eating a crust of bread soaked in fresh, rich cream. I had on a linen blouse with loose sleeves, and my damp hair was bound in a handkerchief.

Macha was the first to perceive him.

“Ah! Sergius Mikaïlovitch!” she cried; “we were just talking about you.”

I rose to run in and change my dress; but he met me as I reached the door.

“Come, Katia, no ceremony in the country,” said he, smiling, and looking at my head and my handkerchief, “you have no scruples before Gregory,—I can be Gregory to you.”

But at the same time it darted into my mind that he was not looking at me precisely as Gregory would have done, and this embarrassed me.

“I will be back directly,” I replied, drawing away from him.

“What is wrong about it?” he exclaimed, following me, “one might take you for a little peasant girl!”

“How strangely he looked at me,” I thought, as I hastened up-stairs to dress myself. “At last, thank Heaven, here he is, and we shall be gayer!” And with a parting glance at the mirror I flew down again, not even trying to conceal my eager delight, and reached the terrace, out of breath. He was sitting near the table, talking to Macha about our business matters. Noticing me, he gave me a smile, and went on talking. Our affairs, he said, were in very satisfactory condition. We had nothing to do but to finish our country summer, and then we could go, either to St. Petersburg for Sonia’s education, or abroad.

“That would be very well, if you would come abroad with us,” said Macha, “but by ourselves we should be like people lost in the woods.”

“Ah! would to Heaven I could go around the world with you,” was the half-jesting, half-serious answer.

“Well and good,” said I, “let us go around the world then!”

He smiled and shook his head.

“And my mother? And my business? Come, we will let the tour of the world alone, now, and you can tell me how you have passed your time. Can it be possible that you have had the blues again?”

When I told him that I had been able, without him, to employ myself and not to yield to ennui, and Macha had confirmed the good account, he praised me, with the same words and looks of encouragement he would have used to a child, and as if he had a perfect right to do so. It seemed to me quite natural that I should tell him frankly and minutely everything I had done that was right, and also, on the contrary, own to him, as if in the confessional, whatever I had done that might deserve his censure. The evening was so beautiful that, when the tea-tray was carried away, we remained upon the terrace, and I found the conversation so interesting that I only gradually became aware that all the sounds from the house were ceasing around us. Upon all sides arose the penetrating night perfume of flowers, the turf was drenched with heavy dew, the nightingale in a lilac bush near us was executing his roulades, stopping abruptly at the sound of our voices. The starry sky seemed to stoop close above our heads.

What warned me that night had come, was the swift, heavy rush of a bat beneath the awning of the terrace, and its blind, terrified circling around my white dress. I fell back against the wall, and almost cried out, but with another dull swoop it was off again and lost in the blackness of the garden.

“How I love your Pokrovski,” said Sergius Mikaïlovitch, interrupting the conversation.... “One could linger for a lifetime on this terrace!”

“Well,” said Macha, “linger!”

“Ah, yes! linger; but life—does not pause!”

“Why do you not marry?” continued Macha; “you would make an excellent husband!”

“Why?” he repeated, smiling. “People long ago, ceased to count me a marriageable man!”

“What!” replied Macha, “thirty-six years old, and already you pretend to be tired of living?”

“Yes, certainly, and even so tired that I desire nothing but rest. To marry, one must have something else to offer. There, ask Katia,” he added, pointing me out with a nod “Girls of her age are the ones for marriage. For us ... our rôle is to enjoy their happiness.”

There was a secret melancholy, a certain tension in the tone of his voice, which did not escape me. He kept silence a moment; neither Macha nor I said anything.

“Imagine now,” he resumed, turning towards the table again, “if all at once, by some deplorable accident, I should marry a young girl of seventeen, like Katia Alexandrovna! That is a very good example, and I am pleased that it applies so well to the point ... there could not be a better instance.”

I began to laugh, but I could not at all understand what pleased him so much, nor to what it applied so well.

“Come, now, tell me the truth, ‘hand on heart,’” he went on, turning to me with a bantering air, “would it not be a great misfortune for you, to bind your life to a man already old, who has had his day, and wants nothing except to stay just where he is, while you,—Heaven knows where you would not want to run off to, as the fancy took you!”

I felt uncomfortable, and was silent, not knowing very well what to say in reply.

“I am not making a proposal for your hand,” said he, laughing, “but, now, tell us the truth are you dreaming of such a husband, as you wander through your alleys in the evening, and would he not be a great misfortune?”

“Not so great a misfortune ...” I began.

“And not so great a boon, either,” he finished for me.

“Yes ... but I may be mistaken....”

He interrupted me again.

“You see?... she is perfectly right.... I like her honesty, and am delighted that we have had this conversation. I will add that—to me—it would have been a supreme misfortune!”

“What an original you are! you have not changed in the least!” said Macha, leaving the terrace to order supper to be served.

After her departure we were silent, and all was still around us. Then the solitary nightingale recommenced, not his abrupt, undecided notes of early evening, but his night song, slow and tranquil, whose thrilling cadence filled the garden; and from far down the ravine came for the first time a response from another nightingale. The one near us was mute for a moment, listening, then burst out anew in a rapture of song, louder and clearer than before. Their voices resounded, calm and supreme, amid that world of night which is their own and which we inhabit as aliens. The gardener went by, on his way to his bed in the orange-house, we heard his heavy boots on the path as he went farther and farther from us. Some one in the direction of the mountain blew two shrill, quick notes on a whistle, then all was still once more. Scarcely a leaf was heard to move; yet all at once the awning of the terrace puffed out slowly, stirred by a breath of air, and a more penetrating perfume stole up to us from below. The silence embarrassed me, but I did not know what to say. I looked at him. His eyes, bright in the darkness, were fixed upon me.

“It is good to live in this world!” he murmured.

I know not why, but at the words I sighed.

“Well?” he questioned.

“Yes, it is good to live in this world!” I repeated.

Again the silence fell upon us, and again I felt ill at ease. I could not get it out of my head that I had hurt him, by agreeing with him that he was old; I would have liked to console him, but did not know how to set about it.

“But good-bye!” he said, rising, “my mother expects me to supper. I have hardly seen her to-day.”

“I would have liked to play you my new sonata.”

“Another time,” he replied coldly, at least so it seemed to me; then, moving off a step, he said with a careless gesture: “Good-bye!”

I was more than ever convinced that I had given him pain, and this distressed me. Macha and I went with him, as far as the porch, and stood there awhile looking down the road where he had disappeared. When we no longer caught the slightest echo from his horse’s feet, I began to walk about the terrace and watch the garden, and I remained a long time there, amid the heavy mist that deadened all the sounds of night, busy seeing and hearing whatever my fancy chose to make me see and hear.

He came a second time, a third time, and the little embarrassment caused by our strange conversation soon vanished, and never returned.

Throughout the whole summer he came to see us two or three times a week; I was so accustomed to him that, when a longer time than usual passed without his coming, it seemed to me painful to live alone; I was secretly indignant with him, and thought he was behaving badly in thus deserting me. He transformed himself for me, as it were, into a friendly comrade; inducing the most sincere frankness on my part, giving me advice and encouragement, scolding me sometimes, checking me when necessary. But despite these efforts to remain always upon my level, I was conscious that, besides all I knew of him, there existed within him an entire world, to which I was a stranger, and he did not think it was necessary to admit me; and this, more than anything else, tended to keep up my feeling of deference, and at the same time to attract me towards him. I knew from Macha and the neighbors that, besides his attentive care of his old mother, with whom he lived, besides his agricultural interests, and our guardianship, he had also on hand certain matters affecting all the nobles, which caused him much trouble and annoyance; but how he faced this complex situation, what were his thoughts, his plans, his hopes, I could never discover from him. If I endeavored to lead the conversation to his own affairs, a certain line appeared upon his brow, which seemed to say: “Stop there, if you please; what is that to you?” And he would immediately speak of something else. At first this offended me, then I grew so accustomed to it that we never talked of anything but what concerned me; which I finally came to think quite a matter of course.

At first, too, I felt some displeasure, (while afterwards, on the contrary, it had a kind of charm,) in seeing the perfect indifference, I might almost say contempt, which he showed for my appearance. Never, by word or look, did he give the least idea that he thought me pretty; far from it, he frowned and began to laugh if any one remarked before him that I was “not bad-looking.” He even took pleasure in criticizing the defects in my face, and teasing me about them. The fashionable dresses, the coiffures, with which Macha delighted to adorn me on our holidays, only excited his raillery, which chagrined my good Macha not a little, and at first disconcerted me. Macha, who had settled in her own mind that I was pleasing to Sergius Mikaïlovitch, could not at all comprehend why he did not prefer that a woman whom he admired should appear at her best. But I soon discovered what was the matter. He wished to believe that I was not coquettish. As soon as I understood this there no longer remained a trace of coquetry in my dress, hair, or manner; it was replaced—usual and shallow little trick—by another coquetry, the assumption of simplicity, before I had attained the point of really being artless. I saw that he loved me: whether as a child or woman I had not hitherto asked myself: this love was dear to me, and feeling that he considered me the best girl in the world, I could not help wishing that the delusion might continue to blind him. And indeed I deceived him almost involuntarily. But in deluding him, I was nevertheless growing more what he thought me. I felt that it would be better and more worthy of him to unveil to him the good points of my soul rather than those of my person. My hair, my hands, my face, my carriage, whatever they might be, whether good or bad,—it seemed to me he could appreciate at one glance, and that he knew very well that, had I desired to deceive him, I could add nothing at all to my exterior. My soul, on the contrary, he did not know: because he loved it, because just at this time it was in full process of growth and development, and finally because in such a matter it was easy to deceive him, and that I was in fact deceiving him. What relief I felt in his presence, when once I comprehended all this! The causeless agitation, the need of movement, which in some way oppressed me, completely disappeared. It seemed to me henceforth that whether opposite or beside me, whether standing or sitting, whether I wore my hair dressed high or low, he looked at me always with satisfaction, that he now knew me entirely; and I imagined that he was as well pleased with me, as I myself was. I verily believe that if, contrary to his custom, he had suddenly said to me as others did that I was pretty, I should even have been a little sorry. But, on the other hand, what joy, what serenity, I felt in the depth of my soul, if, upon the occasion of my expressing some thought or letting fall a few words, he looked at me attentively and said in a moved tone which he strove to render light and jesting:

“Yes, yes, there is something in you! You are a good girl, and I ought to tell you so.”

And for what did I receive this recompense which filled my heart with joy and pride? Perhaps because I had said that I sympathized with old Gregory’s love for his little daughter, perhaps because I had been affected to tears while reading a poem or a romance, perhaps for preferring Mozart to Schuloff! I was amazed by this new intuition, which enabled me to divine what was good and what one ought to like, though as yet I had no positive knowledge of either. Most of my past habits and tastes were displeasing to him, and a look or an imperceptible movement of his eyebrows was enough to make me understand his disapproval of what I was about to do; while a certain air of slightly disdainful pity, which was peculiar to him, would at once make me believe that I no longer liked what had formerly pleased me. If the thought of giving me advice upon any subject, occurred to him, I knew beforehand what he was going to say to me. He questioned me with a glance, and already this glance had drawn from me the thought he wished to ascertain. All my thoughts, all my feelings during that time, were not my own; they were his, which suddenly became mine, penetrating and illuminating my life. In a manner insensible to me, I began to see everything with other eyes, Macha, my servants, Sonia, as well as myself and my own occupations. The books which formerly I had read only in order to ward off ennui appeared to me all at once one of the greatest charms of life, and for no reason except that we talked, he and I, of books, that we read them together, that he brought them to me. Hitherto I had considered my work with Sonia, the lessons I gave her, as a painful obligation, only fulfilled from a sense of duty; now that he sometimes came to assist at these lessons one of my delights was to observe Sonia’s progress. To learn an entire piece of music had always seemed impossible, and now, knowing that he would listen and perhaps applaud it, I thought nothing of going over the same passage forty times in succession, poor Macha would end by stopping her ears with cotton wool, while I would not consider the performance at all tiresome. The old sonatas spoke out under my fingers in a very different and very superior voice. Even Macha, whom I had always known and loved as myself, seemed totally changed. It was only now that I understood that nothing had compelled her to be what she had been to us, a mother, a friend, a slave to our whims and fancies. I comprehended all the abnegation, all the devotion, of this loving creature, I realized the greatness of my obligations to her, and loved her so much the more. He had already taught me to regard our people, our peasants, our droroviés,[1] our men and women servants, in a totally different light. It is an odd fact, but at seventeen years of age, I was living in the midst of them a far greater stranger to them than to people I had never seen; not once had it crossed my mind that they were beings capable like myself of love, desires, regrets. Our garden, our woods, our fields, which I had known ever since I was born, suddenly became quite new to me, and I began to admire their loveliness. There was no error in the remark which he so often made, that, in life, there was but one certain happiness: to live for others. This had appeared strange to me, and I had not been able to understand it; but the conviction, unknown even to my own mind, was penetrating little by little into the depths of my heart. In short, he had opened before me a new life, full of present delights, without having in any wise changed or added to my old existence, save by developing each of my own sensations. From my infancy everything around me had remained buried in a sort of silence, only awaiting his presence to lift up a voice, speak to my soul, and fill it with happiness.

Often, in the course of this summer, I would go up to my chamber, throw myself upon my bed, and there, in place of the old anguish of the spring, full of desires and hopes for the future, I would feel myself wrapped in another emotion, that of present happiness. I could not sleep, I would get up and go and sit on the side of Macha’s bed, and tell her that I was perfectly happy,—which, as I look back upon it to-day was perfectly needless; she could see it well enough for herself. She would reply that neither had she anything more to wish for, that she too was very happy, and would embrace me. I believed her, so entirely natural and necessary did it seem to me for every one to be happy. But Macha had her night’s rest to think of, so, pretending to be angry, she would drive me away from her bed, and drop off to sleep; I, on the contrary, would lie for a long time running over all my reasons for being gladsome. Sometimes I would rise, and begin my prayers a second time, praying in the fullness of my heart that I might thank God better for all the happiness He had granted me. In my chamber all was peaceful; there was no sound save the long-drawn regular breathing of the sleeping Macha, and the ticking of the watch by her side; I would return to bed, murmur a few words, cross myself, or kiss the little cross hanging at my neck. The doors were locked, the shutters fast over the windows, the buzzing of a fly struggling in a corner came to my ear. I could have wished never to leave this room; desired that morning might never come to dissipate the atmosphere impregnated with my soul, that enveloped me. It seemed to me that my dreams, my thoughts, my prayers, were so many animated essences which in this darkness lived with me, fluttered about my pillow, hovered above my head. And every thought was his thought, every feeling his feeling. I did not yet know what love was, I thought that it might always be thus—that it might give itself and ask nothing in return.