Leo Tolstoy Archive

Family Happiness
Chapter 3

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

Leo Tolstoy

One day, during the grain harvest, Macha, Sonia, and I, went into the garden after dinner, to our favorite bench under the shade of the linden-trees at the head of the ravine, whence we could see the fields and the woods. For three days Sergius Mikaïlovitch had not been to see us, and we looked for him all the more confidently to-day, as he had promised our intendant to visit the harvest fields.

About two o’clock we saw him coming over the rising ground in the middle of a rye field. Macha, giving me a smile, ordered a servant to bring out some peaches and cherries, which he was very fond of, then stretched herself upon the bench and was soon fast asleep. I broke off a little linden bough, its leaves and bark fresh with young sap, and, while I fanned Macha, went on with my reading, not without turning every instant to watch the field-path by which he must come to us. Sonia had established herself on a linden root, and was busy putting up a green arbor for her dolls.

The day was very warm, without wind, it seemed as if we were in a hot-house; the clouds, lying in a low circle upon the horizon, had looked angry in the morning, and there had been a threat of storm, which, as was always the case, had excited and agitated me. But since mid-day the clouds had dispersed, the sun was free in a clear sky, the thunder was only muttering at a single point, rolling slowly through the depths of a heavy cloud which, seeming to unite earth and heaven, blended with the dust of the fields, and was furrowed by pale zig-zags of distant lightning. It was evident that for us at least there was no more to be dreaded for that day. In the part of the road running behind the garden there was continual sound and motion, now the slow, long grind of a wagon loaded with sheaves, now the quick jolt of the empty telégas[2] as they passed each other, or the rapid steps of the drivers, whose white smocks we could see fluttering as they hurried along. The thick dust neither blew away nor fell, it remained suspended above the hedges, a hazy background for the clear green leaves of the garden trees. Farther off, about the barn, resounded more voices, more grinding wheels; and I could see the yellow sheaves, brought in the carts to the enclosure, being tossed off into the air, and heaped up, until at length I could distinguish the stacks, rising like oval sharp-roofed buildings, and the silhouettes of the peasants swarming about them. Presently, there were new telégas moving in the dusty fields, new piles of yellow sheaves, and in the distance the wheels, the voices, the chanted songs.

The dust and heat invaded everything, except our little favorite nook of the garden. Yet on all sides, in the dust and heat, the blaze of the burning sun, the throng of laborers chattered, made merry, and kept in continual movement. As for me, I looked at Macha, sleeping so sweetly on our bench, her face shaded by her cambric handkerchief; the black juicy cherries on the plate; our light, dazzlingly clean dresses, the carafe of clear water, where the sun’s rays were playing in a little rainbow; and I felt a sense of rare comfort. “What must I do?” thought I; “perhaps it is wicked to be so happy? But can we diffuse our happiness around us? How, and to whom, can we wholly consecrate ourselves—ourselves and this very happiness?”

The sun had disappeared behind the tops of the old birch-trees bordering the path, the dust had subsided; the distances of the landscape stood out, clear and luminous, under the slanting rays; the clouds had dispersed entirely, long ago; on the other side of the trees I could see, near the barn, the pointed tops rise upon three new stacks of grain, and the peasants descend from them; finally, for the last time that day, the telégas passed rapidly, making the air resound with their noisy jolts; the women were going homeward, singing, their rakes on their shoulders, and their binding withes hanging at their girdles; and still Sergius Mikaïlovitch did not come, although long ago I had seen him at the foot of the mountain. Suddenly he appeared at the end of the path, from a direction where I had not been looking for him at all, for he had to skirt the ravine to reach it. Raising his hat he came towards me, his face lighted up with sudden joy. At the sight of Macha, still asleep, his eyes twinkled, he bit his lip, and began tip-toeing elaborately. I saw at once that he was in one of those fits of causeless gaiety which I liked so much in him, and which, between ourselves, we called “le transport sauvage.” At such times he was like a boy just let out of school, his whole self from head to foot instinct with delight and happiness.

“How do you do, little violet, how goes the day with you? Well?” said he, in a low voice, coming near and pressing my hand.... “And with me? oh, charmingly, also!” he replied to my similar question, “to-day I am really not over thirteen years old; I would like to ride a stick-horse,—I want to climb the trees!”

Le transport sauvage!” I commented, looking into his laughing eyes, and feeling this transport sauvage take possession of me also.

“Yes,” he murmured, at the same time raising his eyebrows with an inquiring glance, and keeping back a smile. “But why are you so furious with our poor Macha Karlovna?”

In fact I then became conscious that, while I was gazing up at him and continuing to brandish my linden bough, I had whipped off Macha’s handkerchief, and was sweeping her face with the leaves. I could not help laughing.

“And she will say she has not been asleep,” I said, whispering, as if afraid of waking her; but I did not do it altogether for that,—it was so delightful to whisper when I spoke to him!

He moved his lips in almost dumb show, imitating me, and as if he, on his side, was saying something that no one else must hear. Then, spying the plate of cherries, he pretended to seize it and carry it off by stealth, running away towards Sonia, and dropping on the grass under the linden-tree in the midst of her accumulation of dolls. Sonia was about to fly into a little rage, but he made peace with her by proposing a new game, the point of which lay in seeing which of the two could devour the most cherries.

“Shall I order some more?” I asked, “or shall we go gather them for ourselves?”

He picked up the plate, piled Sonia’s dolls in it, and we all three started for the cherry orchard. Sonia, shouting with laughter, trotted after him, tugging at his coat to make him give her back her family. He did so; and turning gravely to me:

“Come, how can you convince me that you are not a violet?” he said, still speaking very low, though there was now no one for him to be afraid of waking; “as soon as I came near you, after having been through so much dust and heat and fatigue, I seemed to perceive the fragrance of a violet, not, it is true, that violet with the powerful perfume, but the little early one, you know, which steals out first, still modest, to breathe at once the expiring snow and the springing grass....”

“But, tell me, is the harvest coming on well?” I put in hastily, to cover the happy confusion his words caused me.

“Wonderfully! what excellent people these all are,—the more one knows them, the more one loves them.”

“Oh, yes!—A little while ago, before you came, I sat watching their work, and it really went to my conscience to see them toiling so faithfully, while I was just idly taking my ease, and....”

“Do not play with these sentiments, Katia,” he interrupted, with a serious manner, giving me at the same time a caressing glance, “there is holy work there. May God guard you from posing in such matters!”

“But it was only to you that I said that!”

“I know it.—Well, and our cherries?”

The cherry orchard was locked, not a single gardener was to be found (he had sent them all to the harvest fields). Sonia ran off to look for the key; but, without waiting for her return, he climbed up at a corner by catching hold of the meshes of the net, and jumped down inside the wall.

“Will you give me the plate?” he asked me, from within.

“No, I want to gather some, myself; I will go get the key, I doubt if Sonia can find it.”

But at that moment a sudden fancy seized me, to find out what he was doing there, how he looked, in short his demeanor when he supposed no one could see him. Or rather, honestly, perhaps just then I did not feel like losing sight of him for a single instant. So on my tip-toes, through the nettles, I made a circuit around the little orchard and gained the opposite side, where the enclosure was lower; there, stepping up on an empty tub, I found the wall but breast-high, and leaned over. I made a survey of everything within; looked at the crooked old trees, the large serrated leaves, the black, vertical clusters of juicy fruit; and, slipping my head under the net, I could observe Sergius Mikaïlovitch through the twisted boughs of an old cherry-tree. He was certainly confident that I had gone, and that no one could see him.

With bared head and closed eyes he was sitting on the moldering trunk of an old tree, absently rolling between his fingers a bit of cherry-gum. All at once, he opened his eyes, and murmured something, with a smile. The word and smile were so little in keeping with what I knew of him that I was ashamed of having watched him. It really seemed to me that the word was: Katia! “That cannot be!” I said to myself. “Dear Katia!” he repeated lower, and still more tenderly. And this time I heard the two words distinctly. My heart began to beat so fast, I was so filled with joyful emotion, I even felt, as it were, such a kind of shock, that I had to hold on to the wall with both hands, to keep myself from falling, and so betraying myself. He heard my movement, and glanced behind him, startled; then suddenly casting down his eyes he blushed, reddening like a child. He made an effort to speak to me, but could not, and this failure made his face grow deeper and deeper scarlet. Yet he smiled as he looked at me. I smiled at him too. He looked all alive with happiness; this was no longer, then,—oh, no, this was no longer an old uncle lavishing cares and caresses upon me; I had there before my eyes a man on my own level, loving me and fearing me; a man whom I myself feared, and loved. We did not speak, we only looked at each other. But suddenly he bent his brows darkly; smile and glow went out of his eyes simultaneously, and his bearing became again cold and fatherly, as if we had been doing something wrong, as if he had regained control of himself and was counseling me to do the same.

“Get down from there, you will hurt yourself,” said he. “And arrange your hair; you ought to see what you look like!”

“Why does he dissemble so? Why does he wish to wound me?” I thought, indignantly. And at the moment came an irresistible desire to move him again, and to try my power over him.

“No, I want to gather some cherries, myself,” I said; and grasping a neighboring bough with my hands, I swung myself over the wall. He had no time to catch me, I dropped to the ground in the middle of the little space.

“What folly is this?” he exclaimed, flushing again, and endeavoring to conceal his alarm under a semblance of anger. “You might injure yourself! And how are you going to get out?”

He was much more perturbed than when he first caught sight of me; but now this agitation no longer gladdened me, on the contrary it made me afraid. I was attacked by it in my turn; I blushed, moved away, no longer knowing what to say to him, and began to pick cherries very fast, without having anything to put them in. I reproached myself, I repented, I was frightened, it seemed to me that by this step I had ruined myself forever in his eyes. We both remained speechless, and the silence weighed heavily upon both. Sonia, running back with the key, freed us from our embarrassing situation. However, we still persistently avoided speaking to each other, both preferring to address little Sonia instead. When we were again with Macha, (who vowed she had not been asleep, and had heard everything that had gone on,) my calmness returned, while he, on his side, made another effort to resume his tone of paternal kindness. But the effort was not successful, and did not deceive me at all. A certain conversation that had taken place two days before still lived in my memory.

Macha had announced her opinion that a man loves more easily than a woman, and also more easily expresses his love. She added:

“A man can say that he loves, and a woman cannot.”

“Now it seems to me that a man neither ought nor can say that he loves,” was his reply.

I asked him why.

“Because it would always be a lie. What is this discovery that a man loves? As if he had only to pronounce the word, and there must immediately spring from it something extraordinary, some phenomenon or other, exploding all at once! It seems to me that those people who say to you solemnly: ‘I love you,’ either deceive themselves, or, which is worse, deceive others.”

“Then you think a woman is to know that she is loved, without being told?” asked Macha.

“That I do not know; every man has his own fashion of speech. But such feelings make themselves understood. When I read a novel, I always try to imagine the embarrassed air of Lieutenant Crelski or Alfred, as he declares: ‘Eléonore, I love thee!’ which speech he fancies is going to produce something astounding, all of a sudden,—while in reality it causes nothing at all, neither in her nor in him: features, look, everything, remain precisely the same!”

He spoke jestingly, but I thought I detected an undertone of serious meaning, which might have some reference to me; and Macha never allowed even playful aspersions upon her heroes of romance.

“Always paradoxes!” she exclaimed. “Come now, be honest, have you yourself never said to a woman that you loved her?”

“Never have I said so, never have I bowed a knee,” he replied laughing, “and never will I!”

“Yes, he need not tell me that he loves me!” I thought, now vividly recalling this conversation. “He does love me, and I know it. And all his efforts to seem indifferent cannot take away this conviction!”

During the whole evening he said very little to me, but in every word, in every look and motion, I felt love, and no longer had any doubts. The only thing that vexed and troubled me was that he should still judge it necessary to conceal this feeling, and to feign coldness, when already all was so clear, and we might have been so easily and so frankly happy almost beyond the verge of possibility. Then, too, I was tormenting myself as though I had committed a crime, for having jumped down into the cherry orchard to join him, and it seemed as if he must have ceased to esteem me, and must feel resentment against me.

After tea, I went to the piano, and he followed.

“Play something, Katia, I have not heard you for a long time,” he said, joining me in the drawing-room. “I wished ... Sergius Mikaïlovitch!” And suddenly I looked right into his eyes. “You are not angry with me?”

“Why should I be?”

“Because I did not obey you this afternoon,” said I, blushing.

He understood me, shook his head, and smiled. And this smile said that perhaps he would willingly have scolded me a little, but had no longer the strength to do so.

“That is done with, then, isn’t it? And we are good friends again?” I asked, seating myself at the piano.

“I think so, indeed!”

The large, lofty apartment was lighted, only by the two candles upon the piano, and the greater portion of it was in semi-darkness; through the open windows we beheld the luminous stillness of the summer night. The most perfect calm reigned, only broken at intervals by Macha’s footfall in the adjoining room, which was not yet lighted, or by an occasional restless snort or stamp from our visitor’s horse, which was tied under one of the casements. Sergius Mikaïlovitch was seated behind me, so that I could not see him, but in the imperfect darkness of the room, in the soft notes that filled it, in the very depths of my being, I seemed to feel his presence. Every look, every movement, though I could not distinguish them, seemed to enter and echo in my heart. I was playing Mozart’s Caprice-sonata, which he had brought me, and which I had learned before him and for him. I was not thinking at all of what I played, but I found that I was playing well and thought he was pleased. I shared his enjoyment, and without seeing him, I knew that from his place his eyes were fixed on me. By a quite involuntary movement, while my fingers continued to run over the keys, unconscious of what they were doing, I turned and looked at him; his head stood out in dark relief against the luminous background of the night. He was sitting with his brow resting on his hand, watching me attentively with sparkling eyes. As mine met them, I smiled, and stopped playing. He smiled also, and made a motion with his head towards my notes, as if reproaching me and begging me to keep on. Just then the moon, midway in her course, soared in full splendor from a light cloud, pouring into the room waves of silvery radiance which overcame the feeble gleam of our wax candles, and swept in a sea of glory over the inlaid floor. Macha said that what I had done was like nothing at all, that I had stopped at the very loveliest part, and that, besides, I had played miserably; he, on the contrary, insisted that I had never succeeded better than this evening, and began pacing about restlessly, from the dim drawing-room into the hall, from the hall back again into the drawing-room, and every time he passed he looked at me and smiled. I smiled too though without any reason; I wanted to laugh, so happy was I at what had taken place that day, at that moment even. While the door hid him from me for an instant I pounced upon Macha and began to kiss her in my pet place on her soft throat under her chin, but when he reappeared I was perfectly grave, although it was hard work to keep from laughing.

“What has happened to her, to-day?” Macha said.

He made no answer, but began to tease and make laughing conjectures. He knew well enough what had happened to me!

“Just see what a night!” he said presently, from the door of the drawing-room, opening on the garden balcony.

We went and stood by him, and indeed I never remember such a night. The full moon shone down upon us from above the house with a glory I have never seen in her since; the long shadows of the roof, of the slender columns and tent-shaped awning of the terrace stretched out in oblique foreshortening, over the gravel walk and part of the large oval of turf. The rest lay in brilliant light, glistening with dew-drops turned by the moon’s rays to liquid silver. A wide path, bordered with flowers, was diagonally cut into at one edge by the shadows of tall dahlias and their supporting stakes, and then ran on, an unbroken band of white light and gleaming pebbles until it was lost in the mist of distance. The glass roof of the orangery sparkled through the trees, and a soft vapor stealing up the sides of the ravine grew denser every moment. The tufts of lilac, now partially faded, were pierced through and through by the light; every slender foot-stalk was visible, and the tiny flowers, freshened by the dew, could easily be distinguished from each other. In the paths light and shadow were so blended that one would no longer have said there were trees and paths, but transparent edifices shaken with soft vibrations. On the right of the house all was obscure, indistinct, almost a horror of darkness. But out of it sprang, more resplendent from the black environment, the fantastic head of a poplar which, by some strange freak, ended abruptly close above the house in an aureole of clear light, instead of rising to lose itself in the distant depths of dark blue sky.

“Let us go to walk,” said I.

Macha consented, but added that I must put on my galoshes.

“It is not necessary,” I said; “Sergius Mikaïlovitch will give me his arm.”

As if that could keep me from getting my feet wet! But at that moment, to each of us three, such absurdity was admissible, and caused no astonishment. He had never given me his arm, and now I took it of my own accord, and he did not seem surprised. We all three descended to the terrace. The whole universe, the sky, the garden, the air we breathed, no longer appeared to me what I had always known.

As I looked ahead of me in the path we were pursuing, I began to fancy that one could not go beyond, that there the possible world ended, and that all there would abide forever in its present loveliness.

However, as we went on, this enchanted wall, this barrier built of pure beauty, receded before us and yielded us passage, and I found myself in the midst of familiar objects, garden, trees, paths, dry leaves. These were certainly real paths that we were pursuing, where we crossed alternate spaces of light and spheres of darkness, where the dry leaves rustled beneath our feet, and the dewy sprays softly touched my cheek as we passed. It was really he, who walked by my side with slow, steady steps and with distant formality, allowed my arm to rest upon his own. It was the real moon, high in the heavens, whose light came down to us through the motionless branches.

Once I looked at him. There was only a single linden in the part of the path we were then following, and I could see his face clearly. He was so handsome; he looked so happy....

He was saying: “Are you not afraid?” But the words I heard, were: “I love thee, dear child! I love thee! I love thee!” His look said it, and his arm said it; the light, the shadow, the air, and all things repeated it.

We went through the whole garden, Macha walked near us, taking short steps, and panting a little, she was so tired. She said it was time to go in, and I was so sorry for the poor creature. “Why does not she feel like us?” I thought. “Why is not everybody always young and happy? How full this night is of youth and happiness,—and we too!”

We returned to the house, but it was a long time before Sergius Mikaïlovitch went away. Macha forgot to remind us that it was late; we talked of all sorts of things, perhaps trivial enough, sitting side by side without the least suspicion that it was three o’clock in the morning. The cocks had crowed for the third time, before he went. He took leave of us as usual, not saying anything particular. But I could not doubt that from this day he was mine, and I could no longer lose him. Now that I recognized that I loved him, I told Macha all. She was delighted and touched, but the poor woman got no sleep that night; and as for me, after walking a long, long time up and down the terrace, I went to the garden again, seeking to recall every word, every incident, as I wandered through the paths where we had so lately passed together. I did not go to bed, that night, and, for the first time in my life, I saw the sun rise and knew what the dawn of day is. Never again have I seen such a night and such a morning. But I still kept asking myself why he did not tell me frankly that he loved me. “Why,” thought I, “does he invent such or such difficulties, why does he consider himself old, when everything is so simple and so beautiful? Why lose thus a precious time which perhaps will never return? Let him say that he loves, let him say it in words, let him take my hand in his, bend down his head and say: “I love.” Let his face flush, and his eyes fall before me, and then I will tell him all. Or, rather, I will tell him nothing, I will only hold him fast in my arms and let my tears flow. But if I am mistaken?—if he does not love me?” This thought suddenly crossed my mind.

I was terrified by my own feeling. Heaven knows where it might have led me; already the memory of his confusion and my own when I suddenly dropped down into the cherry orchard beside him, weighed upon me, oppressed my heart. The tears filled my eyes, and I began to pray. Then a thought, a strange thought, came to me, which brought me a great quietness, and rekindled my hope. This was, the resolution to commence my devotions, and to choose my birthday as my betrothal day.

How and why? How could it come to pass? That I knew nothing about,—but from this moment I believed that it would be so. In the meantime, broad day had come, and every one was rising as I returned to my chamber.