Leo Tolstoy Archive

Family Happiness
Chapter 5

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

Leo Tolstoy

There was no reason to delay our marriage, and neither he nor I desired to do so. It is true that Macha longed to go to Moscow to order my trousseau, and Sergius’ mother considered it incumbent upon him before marrying to buy a new carriage and more furniture and have the whole house renovated, but we both insisted that this could all be done quite as well afterwards, and that we would be married at the end of the fortnight succeeding my birthday, without trousseau, parade, guests, groomsmen, supper, champagne, or any of the traditional attributes of a wedding. He told me that his mother was unwilling to have the great event take place without the music, the avalanche of trunks, the refurnished house, which, at a cost of thirty thousand rubles, had accompanied her own marriage; and how, without his knowledge, she had ransacked for treasures all the chests in the lumber rooms, and held sober consultations with Mariouchka, the housekeeper, on the subject of certain new carpets and curtains, quite indispensable to our happiness. On our side, Macha was similarly employed, with my maid Kouzminicha. She could not be laughed out of this; being firmly persuaded that when Sergius and I ought to have been discussing our future arrangements, we wasted our time in soft speeches (as was perhaps natural in our position); while of course, in fact, the very substance of our future happiness was dependent upon the cut and embroidery of my dresses, and the straight hems on our table-cloths and napkins. Between Pokrovski and Nikolski, every day and several times a day, mysterious communications were exchanged as to the progressing preparations; and though apparently Macha and the bridegroom’s mother were upon the tenderest terms, one felt sure of the constant passage of shafts of keen and hostile diplomacy between the two powers.

Tatiana Semenovna, his mother, with whom I now became more fully acquainted, was a woman of the old school, starched and stiff, and a severe mistress. Sergius loved her, not only from duty as a son, but also with the sentiment of a man who saw in her the best, the most intelligent, the tenderest, and the most amiable woman in the world. Tatiana had always been cordial and kind to us, particularly to me, and she was delighted that her son should marry; but as soon as I became betrothed to him it appeared to me that she wished to make me feel that he might have made a better match, and that I ought never to forget the fact. I perfectly understood her, and was entirely of her opinion.

During these last two weeks, Sergius and I saw each other every day; he always dined with us and remained until midnight; but, though he often told me—and I knew he was telling the truth—that he could not now live without me, yet he never spent the whole day with me, and even, after a fashion, continued to attend to his business matters. Our outward relations, up to the very time of our marriage, were exactly what they had been; we still said “you” to each other, he did not even kiss my hand, and not only did he not seek, but he actually avoided occasions of finding himself alone with me, as if he feared giving himself up too much to the great and dangerous love he bore in his heart.

All these days the weather was bad, and we spent most of them in the drawing-room; our conversations being held in the corner between the piano and the window.

“Do you know that there is one thing I have been wishing to say to you for a long time?” he said, late one evening, when we were alone in our corner. “I have been thinking of it, all the time you have been at the piano.”

“Tell me nothing, I know all,” I replied.

“Well then, we will say no more about it.”

“Oh, yes, indeed, tell me; what is it?” I asked.

“It is this. You remember me telling you that story about A. and B.?”

“As if I could help remembering that foolish story! How lucky that it has ended so....”

“A little more, and I would have destroyed my happiness with my own hand; you saved me; but the thing is, that I was not truthful with you, then; it has been on my conscience, and now I wish to tell you all.”

“Ah, please do not!”

“Do not be afraid,” he said, smiling, “it is only that I must justify myself. When I began to talk to you, I wished to debate the question.”

“Why debate?” said I, “that is never necessary.”

He looked at me in silence, then went on.

“In regard to the end of that story,—what I said to you, then, was not nonsense; clearly there was something to fear, and I was right to fear it. To receive everything from you, and give you so little! You are yet a child, yet an unexpanded flower, you love for the first time, while I....”

“Oh, yes, tell me the truth!” I exclaimed. But all at once I was afraid of his answer. “No, do not tell me!” I added.

“Whether I have loved before? is that it?” he said, instantly divining my thought. “It is easy to tell you that. No, I have not loved. Never has such a feeling.... So, do you not see how imperative it was for me to reflect, before telling you that I loved you? What am I giving you? Love, it is true....”

“Is that so little?” I asked, looking into his face.

“Yes, that is little, my darling, little for you. You have beauty and youth. Often, at night, I cannot sleep for happiness; I am incessantly thinking how we are going to live together. I have already lived much, yet it seems to me that I have but just now come to the knowledge of what makes happiness. A sweet, tranquil life, in our retired corner, with the possibility of doing good to those to whom it is so easy to do it, and who, nevertheless, are so little used to it; then work,—work, whence, you know, some profit always springs; recreation, also, nature, books, music, the affection of some congenial friend; there is my happiness, a happiness higher than I ever dreamed of. And beyond all that, a loved one like you, perhaps a family; in one word, all that a man can desire in this world!”

“Yes,” said I.

“For me, whose youth is done, yes; but for you ...” he continued. “You have not yet lived; perhaps you might have wished to pursue your happiness in some other path, and in some other path perhaps you might have found it. At present it seems to you that what I speak of is indeed happiness, because you love me....”

“No, I have never desired nor liked any but this sweet home life. And you have just said precisely what I think, myself.”

He smiled.

“It seems so to you, my darling. But that is little for you. You have beauty and youth,” he repeated, thoughtfully.

I was beginning to feel provoked at seeing that he would not believe me, and that in a certain way he was reproaching me with my beauty and my youth.

“Come now, why do you love me?” I asked, rather hotly: “for my youth or for myself?”

“I do not know, but I do love,” he replied, fixing upon me an observant look, full of alluring sweetness.

I made no response, but involuntarily met his eyes. All at once, a strange thing happened to me. I ceased to see what was around me, his face itself disappeared from before me, and I could distinguish nothing but the fire of the eyes exactly opposite mine; then it seemed to me that these eyes themselves were piercing into me, then all became confused, I could no longer see anything at all, and I was obliged to half close my eyelids to free myself from the mingled sensation of joy and terror produced by this look.

Towards evening of the day previous to that appointed for our marriage, the weather cleared. After the heavy continuous rains of the summer we had the first brilliant autumnal sunset. The sky was pure, rigid, and pale. I went to sleep, happy in the thought that the next day would be bright, for our wedding. I woke in the morning with the sun upon me, and with the thought that here already was the day ... as if it astonished and frightened me. I went to the garden. The sun had just risen, and was shining through the linden-trees, whose yellow leaves were floating down and strewing the paths. There was not one cloud to be seen in the cold serene sky.

“Is it possible that it is to-day?” I asked myself, not venturing to believe in my own happiness. “Is it possible that to-morrow I shall not wake here, that I shall open my eyes in that house of Nikolski, with its columns, in a place now all strange to me! Is it possible that henceforward I shall not be expecting him, shall not be going to meet him, shall not talk about him any more in the evenings, with Macha? Shall I no longer sit at the piano in our drawing-room at Pokrovski, with him beside me? Shall I no longer see him go away, and tremble with fear for him because the night is dark?” But I remembered that he had told me, the night before, that it was his last visit; and, besides, Macha had made me try on my wedding-dress. So that, by moments, I would believe, and then doubt again. Was it really true that this very day I was to begin to live with a mother-in-law, without Nadine, without old Gregory, without Macha? That at night I would not embrace my old nurse, and hear her say, making the sign of the cross, as she always did; “Good-night, my young lady?” That I would no longer hear Sonia’s lessons, or play with her, or rap on the partition wall in the morning and hear her gay laugh? Was it possible that it was really to-day that I was to become, in a measure, an alien to myself, and that a new life, realizing my hopes and my wishes, was opening before me? And was it possible that this new life, just beginning, was to be for ever? I waited impatiently for Sergius, so hard it was for me to remain alone with these thoughts. He came early, and it was only when he was actually there that I was sure that to-day I was really going to be his wife, and no longer felt frightened at the thought.

Before dinner we went to church, to hear the service for the dead, in commemoration of my father.

“Oh, if he were still in this world!” thought I, as I was returning home, leaning silently on the arm of the man who had been his dearest friend. While the prayers were being read, kneeling with my brow pressed upon the cold flag-stones of the chapel floor, my father had been so vividly brought before my mind, that I could not help believing that he comprehended me and blessed my choice, and I imagined that, at the moment, his soul was hovering above us, and that his benediction rested upon me. These remembrances, these hopes, my happiness and my regrets, blended within me into a feeling at once solemn and sweet, which seemed, as it were, to be set in a frame of clear quiet air, stillness, bare fields, pale heavens whose brilliant but enfeebled rays vainly strove to bring the color to my cheek. I persuaded myself that my companion was understanding and sharing my feelings. He walked with slow steps, in silence, and his face, which I glanced into from time to time, bore the impress of that intense state of the soul, which is neither sadness nor joy, and which perfectly harmonized with surrounding nature and with my heart.

All at once, he turned towards me, and I saw that he had something to say to me. What if he were not going to speak of what was in my thoughts? But without even naming him he spoke of my father, and added:

“One day he happened to say to me, laughingly, ‘You will marry my little Katia!’”

“How glad he would have been, to-day,” I responded, pressing closer to the arm on which I leaned.

“Yes, you were then but a child,” he went on, looking deep into my eyes; “I kissed those eyes and loved them simply because they were so like his, and I was far from thinking that one day they would be so dear to me in themselves.”

We were still walking slowly along the field-path, scarcely traceable among the trodden and scattered stubble, and heard no sound save our own footsteps and voices. The sun poured down floods of light that gave no warmth. When we spoke, our voices seemed to resound and hang suspended above our heads in the motionless atmosphere. We might have thought we two were alone upon the earth, alone beneath that blue vault vibrating with cold scintillations from the sun.

When we arrived at the house, we found his mother already there, with the few guests whom we had felt obliged to invite, and I was not again alone with him until we had left the church and were in the carriage on our way to Nikolski.

The church had been almost empty. At one glance I had seen his mother, standing near the choir; Macha, with her wet cheeks and lilac cap-ribbons; and two or three droroviés, who were gazing at me with curious eyes. I heard the prayers, I repeated them, but they had no meaning for me. I could not pray, myself, I only kept looking stupidly at the images, the wax tapers, the cross embroidered on the chasuble the priest had on, the iconostase, the church windows, but did not seem able to understand anything at all; I only felt that something very extraordinary was being done to me. When the priest turned towards us with the cross, when he gave us his congratulations, and said that he had baptized me and that now God had permitted him also to marry me; when Macha and Sergius’ mother embraced us, when I heard Gregory’s voice calling the carriage, I was astonished and frightened at the thought that all was finished, though no marvelous change, corresponding with the sacrament which had just been performed over me, had taken place in my soul. We kissed each other, and this kiss appeared to me so odd, so out of keeping with ourselves, that I could not help thinking: “It is only that?” We went out upon the parvise, the noise of the wheels echoed loudly within the arch of the church; I felt the fresh air upon my face, and was conscious that, Sergius with his hat under his arm, had assisted me into the carriage. Through the window I saw that the moon was shining in her place in the frosty sky. He took his seat beside me, and shut the door. Something, at this moment, seemed to strike through my heart, as if the assurance with which he did this had given me a wound. The wheels glanced against a stone, then began to revolve upon the smooth road, and we were gone. Drawn back into a corner of the carriage, I watched the fields flooded with light, and the flying road. Nevertheless, without looking at him, I was feeling that there he was, beside me. “Here, then, is all that this first moment from which I have expected so much, brings me?” I thought, and all at once I had a sense of humiliation and offense at finding myself seated thus alone with him and so close to him. I turned towards him, intending to say something, no matter what. But no word would come from my lips; one would have said that no trace of my former tenderness lingered within my heart, but that it was entirely replaced by this impression of alarm and offense.

“Up to this moment, I still dared not believe that this might be!” he softly responded to my glance. “And I ... I am afraid ... I know not why!”

“Afraid of me, Katia?” he said, taking my hand, and bending his head over it.

My hand rested within his, lifeless; my heart stopped beating.

“Yes,” I murmured.

But, at the same moment, my heart suddenly began to beat again, my hand trembled and clasped his, warmth returned to me; my eyes, in the dim light, sought his eyes, and I felt, all at once, that I was no longer afraid of him; that this terror had been but a new love, yet more tender and strong than the old. I knew that I was wholly his, and that I was happy to be wholly in his power.